Friday, 29 April 2016

The Big Adventure Part 9 - Vancouver Island

my version of Emily Carr's painting "Odds and Ends"
Blog 18

I am writing this blog on the 21st anniversary of my arrival in Canada. While I love the Canadian nature, regained my love for painting and have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time creating or teaching art, I am still not sure that my move to Canada was the right thing for me. My ties to my family and friends in Germany are still very strong. I miss being more actively involved in their lives, whether it is in good times or in challenging moments. For my husband and children this longing is often hard to understand as the people who are important to me are mostly strangers to them.

I feel lucky that I have made some very good friends here in Canada - most of them through our shared love of art. However, the bonds are different compared to those of my friends in Germany. I guess it is because we never spent time together until I was a wife and mother. 

I am thankful for my husband's parents and siblings who treated me as an equal part of the family from the moment they met me. They supported us in our decision even though they thought that our plan to move together to Canada was very risky. Once I started getting serious about my art, they have continuously encouraged my artistic endeavors.

I certainly have adapted to the life in Canada and changed. While I keep in touch with my family and friends, I am certainly not up to date with the cultural and economic changes in Germany. As everyone who lives away from his mother country, I hold on to the memories and traditions to keep my culture alive and sometimes might see the grass as greener in Germany. I guess what it comes down to is that I will always be torn between Germany and Canada, feeling that I neither fully belong to one country nor the other. 

When I left off my memories of our trip to Vancouver at the beginning of April, my future husband and I had just embarked a ferry to Vancouver Island. On the two hour trip, we saw the water framed by the snow-peaked mountains and one lonely sailboat. We docked in Nanaimo. We had planned to drive to Kelsey Bay along the Johnstone Strait with a huge concentration of orca whales. However, we wanted to have enough time to visit Victoria and leave the island two days later again as the prices for the ferry were higher on the weekends.

We turned back to Qualicum Beach and continued in the direction of Port Alberni. We stopped at Cathedral Grove, a part of the MacMillan Provincial Park, with Douglas firs which are up to 800 years old. I have never seen such humongous trees. Ingo took some great pictures of us among those huge trees.

When we finally settled into our motel in Port Alberni it was almost 8 pm. The days just seemed to fly by. We had so much fun discovering the areas that we totally lost track of time. Usually, we were much too tired at night to go out but rested in our room.

The motor inn in Port Alberni offered not only a suite but also had its own pizzeria which delivered the pizza straight to our room. What could be more convenient? You just have to ignore how unhealthy the food itself was. The constant fatty and sweet foods created lots of problems for my stomach. I was definitely not used to so much fat and sugar in my diet.

The next morning we went to the harbour and took in the idyllic view. We felt like being in a nature documentary. We even saw a tugboat hauling lots of wood into the harbour. The forest industry is still one of the most important industries in this area.

I hope you liked my travelogue. Please feel free to share my blog with family and friends. To find out what we experienced the next day, please return to my blog next week.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Plein Air Ensemble Spring Painting Trip (Part 3)

Blog 17

This is the last part of the travelogue about the Plein Air Ensemble spring trip to Orford in the Eastern Townships.

Monday was still very cold, with temperatures under -10 degrees in the morning. However, the sun was shining. Hélène and I went for a drive to Georgeville and Fitch Bay in the morning, hoping the temperatures would rise enough for painting outside in the afternoon.

Georgeville is an English style village with a wharf, the St. George’s Anglican Church, and several houses, as well as a typical general store for the late 19th century. After exploring the wharf area, we continued on “Chemin Magoon” which has some great views of Lake Memphremagog. However, those views would be better for a fall or winter painting. Right now, the rather monochrome landscape did not inspire us for a painting. Instead, we saw a small waterfall.

 Before we settled for the waterfall, we wanted to see Fitch Bay and its witch house. The scenic route 247 led to the small village of Fitch Bay which had an ancestral home with a witch weather vane known by locals as the witch house. We also followed Narrow's Road to the covered bridge, another great site for a fall painting.

At the end, we went back to the waterfall. Even though the temperatures had climbed to -7 degrees, painting was hard. I had to go three times to the car to warm up my fingers and feet. As the painting was very challenging, I have to admit that my frustration rose. However, Hélène was on a roll, so we stayed for about two hours.

Frozen Pond, oil, 8" x 10"
Later in the afternoon, we went back to the marsh in Magog, where I was able to finish the previous day's painting, even though the pond was again completely frozen. The day before parts of the surface were free of ice, and the falling snow melted even more of the icy surface. A very weird trick of nature. I still do not know how this was possible as it was below zero, but once the snow came, further parts of the lake were suddenly free of ice.

We just made it back in time to be at the hotel for happy hour. I am sure we set a new record for getting ready. Luckily, nobody came early.

Due to the long dinners, we had our show and tell before the meal. Even though the weather was not in our favour, everyone was able to produce a couple of nice paintings. Not all of them were created “en plein air” but most of them showed images of the Memphremagog region.

Hélène and I had planned to paint one last time on the morning of our travel day back home, but with temperatures of almost – 20 degrees considering the wind chill, we just packed our car and headed home. It definitely was a much nicer drive than on the way to Orford. The clear blue sky and the sun made hope of the spring to come but it also made everything look washed out. The colours were a lot more intense in the rain.

It is sad that the time passed so fast but we will see each other again on our fall trip at the end of September when we will go one more time to the Opeongo Mountain Resort in Eganville. Ontario.

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue. I can easily recommend the region for everyone who loves nature. There are so many hiking paths, ski hills, lakes, and tourist attractions that there is definitely something to explore for everyone. We will definitely come back.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Plein Air Ensemble Spring 2016 trip to Orford, Quebec (part 2)

Blog 16

This is the continuation of last week's blog about the Plein Air Ensemble spring trip to Orford in the Eastern Townships.

Saturday, the weather had finally changed for the better. While the temperatures had dropped, we finally woke up to a sunny day. Hélène and I decided to go back to Bolton where we had seen the picturesque view from a bridge. However, it took us a couple of detours to get to the spot. First, we lost our way and ended almost back at our starting point, then we decided to paint the beautiful treed island on the route 423 in the morning, and the bridge in the afternoon.

It did not go the way we had planned. As we were not able to park on the shoulder of the road, we tried to get permission from the closest property owner to park our car in their driveway. When we did not reach anyone, we just parked the car at the entrance of the driveway. We had just carried our equipment to the side of the lake, when a neighbour approached us letting us know that this was private property and the owner would definitely not like us to paint there. Very frustrated, we packed our gear together. While most property owners are more than welcoming, once in awhile you meet someone who is less than thrilled about the idea of anyone coming even close to their property.

When we finally reached the bridge at Chemin de Bolton Centre it was almost noon. Each of us set up on a different side of the bridge. Even though the sun was shining, the wind was cold enough that I had put on my snow pants after a while.

We only interrupted our creative process for a shared lunch before we continued until around 3 pm. As the sun had disappeared and dark clouds surrounded us, we chose not to start another painting. We had just started to pack our equipment back into the car when it started to rain again.

We checked out several other areas for painting potential but were not successful. While most areas were beautiful, they were not interesting enough for a painting. The best spots were on private properties, or the view was blocked by houses.

After happy hour, we were treated to a great demonstration of painting on tissue paper by our fellow artist Shernya. She uses these painted tissue sheets as backgrounds and starting points for her acrylic paintings. We were all so inspired that we would have eagerly tried this process right away. It is definitely an interesting technique I want to try out.

Sunday started out sunny again. However, the temperatures had fallen drastically and the wind was fierce. Hélène and I wanted to brave the cold and went out anyway. Our first stop was Lac Stukely where it was so windy that any activity was almost impossible. We decided to try our luck at the area of the Orford Art Centre but the only way to deal with the wind gusts was to paint from the inside of the car. Hélène and I created a watercolour sketch of the pond before we returned back to the hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon, we returned to Marais de la Rivière aux Cérises to paint one of the small ponds of the area. We even found a somewhat sheltered spot, but the air was still very cold. Nevertheless, we started painting even though it was difficult to warm up our hands. I had just finished blocking in the colours, when it started to snow. At first, we kept on going but when the snow picked up I just had enough. I was cold to the bones and just wanted to find shelter in the car. Hélène stayed not much longer.

We were both ready for a nice hot cup of chocolate and some downtime at the hotel. It turned out, we had been the only ones who braved the wind and low temperatures. Everyone else had stayed in the temporary studio in the hotel or painted from the car.

Being a plein air painter certainly has its challenges. However, on a bright sunny day it is just marvelous to be able to become part of nature. I just love to listen to the birds and the rushing water, the rustling of the leaves and the smell of fresh air.

Next week, I will finish my review of this Plein Air Ensemble painting trip. I hope you have enjoyed my stories and will return to my blog next week. If you know anyone who might be interested in my blogs please forward the link to them. Thank you in advance for helping me reach a bigger audience.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Plein Air Ensemble Trip to Orford, Quebec

Blog 15

This week, I took a break from my look back to my first couple of months in Canada. There is a good reason for it: I was away with the Plein Air Ensemble for our spring trip to Orford which is in the Eastern Townships.

My friend Hélène and I went on Thursday, March 31 in horrible weather conditions. On top of the heavy rain, we had lots of fog so that the visibility was really poor.

When we arrived at the hotel, we saw that we had a nice suite with a huge king size bed, a hot tub on the upper level and a pull-out sofa and the bathroom on the lower level. We decided to toss a coin to decide who would get each floor. I got lucky as it turned out that I would be able to enjoy the romantic upper level.

Due to the bad weather, we decided to get the shopping for the following days' happy hours out of the way.

When the rain stopped, we decided to go to the “Marais de la Rivière aux Cérises” which offers 6 km of trails through woodlands, marshes, swamps and bogs. It has the biggest boardwalk I have ever seen. The scenery was just amazing despite the gray sky. However, on our way back to the parking lot, we got completely lost, which was even worse as it started to get dark and big rain clouds were moving back in. After we passed the same spot three times, we finally realized where to find the exit. I have to tell you, we were both happy when we were back at the car. It definitely was a little scary.

Due to our three hour walk, we just made it to dinner. We were extremely hungry, but we were treated royally. We could pick our own courses from the menu, consisting of appetizer, main course and dessert. The food was just fantastic! I hardly ever had such delicious food. Every dish came artistically presented on our plates, a real treat for all the senses.

The next morning, we awoke to more rain which continued until the late afternoon. There was no way we could paint outside. As we did not feel like painting inside, we decided to look for picturesque painting spots. Our first stop was the “Centre d'arts Orford” with its small lake that looked very nice with the ascending fog. We also admired the many park sculptures made from all kinds of materials. Realizing that there were cottages all around, Hélène and I went into the gallery to inquire about accommodations. The manager had a nice talk with us, then showed us the rooms of the inn that is on the premises. It would be perfect for our group. The hotel Villegia Chéribourg is fantastic but this luxury comes with a price, and is not necessary for our trips. We do not have time to use most of the facilities like the spa and the exercise room anyway.

After a full day of painting, we are usually too tired for physical exercise and instead provide our own evening entertainment consisting of a demonstration, an art-related movie, or games. On the last evening, we have our show-and-tell.

When we continued our discovery tour, we almost hit a young moose that crossed the road toward Mont Orford. What a beautiful animal! Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to get a good shot with my camera. 
We followed the route 112 to Eastman, then continued on the 245 to Bolton. While we saw many nice spots, we could not have put up our equipment safely on the narrow shoulders of the roads. Finally, at “Chemin de Bolton Centre” we found a bridge with two nice views of the Missisquoi River. In Bolton Centre, we saw a beautiful waterfall – unfortunately, on the grounds of a spa. However, there was a nice gazebo at the side of the river that offered possibilities as a painting site. We kept driving towards Knowlton at Lac Brome on the 243. At one point we saw a small lake with a small island of trees. It was breathtaking. However, parking was an issue again. When we finally reached Knowlton, we were wet and hungry.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Star Café, then continued to Foster, from where we took the10 back to Magog. We came back early enough to be able to prepare everything for the Happy Hour and squeeze in a swim and time in the outdoor whirlpool. Just then the sun came out. It was so relaxing.

During Happy Hour, we welcomed the group of artists. This time, it was only a small group of 14 artists as the accommodations were more expensive than what we are used to. However, in the winter months it is hard to find hotels or inns at a reasonable price, especially since the prices for groceries and utilities have forced the hotel industry to adjust their prices. Many smaller places are not equipped for the cold season and open only after the long weekend in May.

Dinner was again delicious, better than anything we ever had during our trips. This is the first time that we are able to choose à la carte. The only disadvantage is that dinner takes about two and a half hours. There is no time for our evening activities but we have lots of time to get to know each other better.

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue. To hear more about our painting trip, please visit my blog again next week.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Big Adventure – part 8: Continuing to Explore Vancouver

Blog 14

Vancouver had so much to offer, but we had to plan our trip with our small budget in mind. Instead of taking the skyride to Grouse Mountain, the famous Vancouver mountain with a fantastic view over the city, we decided to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Cleveland Dam with its impressive waterfall.

I saw my very first IMAX movie in Vancouver, a double feature of “Antarctica” and “Into the Deep”. I could hardly believe how real everything looked, like we were right in the movie, able to touch everything. I was impressed with the five story high screen and the digital sound system. What filled me with wonder and excitement is taken for granted today.

At one point, we switched from the motel to a bed and breakfast establishment because we found out that they did not charge the hotel tax. Plus we even had a fridge and microwave oven in our room which was handy, as the constant restaurant visits made a big hole in our wallet.

Stanley Park was one of the area we visited regularly during our stay. We found the place of the “Seven Sisters”, six gigantic Douglas Firs and one Red Cedar, that were a big tourist attraction. After those seven giants had died and had to be chopped off, their stomps were left as reminders.

We visited the Vancouver Aquarium which is also located in Stanley Park. I love the aquatic life and was fascinated by the species we saw, especially the whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, fish and plants. I have had both fish and water turtles for most of my life. I was quite devastated when I had to leave my three water turtles behind in Germany, and very delighted when we finally found a new pair that entertain us in our living room.

We also had a first look at the new swimming pool at Stanley Park that had created a lot of headlines because one of the slides designed in the shape of a seal had a ball balanced on its head. The opponents argued that the ball had to be removed because animals should not be depicted in a way that was not appropriate for their species. This would be just for the amusement of humans. At the end the ball was removed. However, no-one complained about the other slide, a multicoloured turtle with a silly yellow hat.

As I have a sweet tooth, we also could not miss a visit to the “Sirloiner and Cheesecake Factory”. The atmosphere and the food were great. After I had one of their big salads, we had to take the $4/piece cheesecake with white chocolate to go. I am not surprised the cheesecake was so expensive considering the prices of dairy. I was wondering how people could even afford to dine out. With taxes and tip, the meals, and especially the drinks, were very expensive.

Another day, we went to a muffin cafe and I tried a cherry muffin with almonds. Delicious! Muffins were totally unknown in Germany at that time. However, within the last couple of years, these personal cakes have also been introduced to Germany as I can see from the many recipes in my mother's magazines.

We also visited Mount Seymour Provincial Park that is located approximately 15 kilometres north of Downtown Vancouver. We went on a long, partially challenging, hike and enjoyed the fantastic view over the city.

Another interesting sight was the Burnaby Village Museum, where we could study the life in the Burnaby Region at the turn of the century. Burnaby is east of Vancouver, about a 20 minute drive. The museum is located at Deer Lake Park. It is a reconstructed village that contains historical buildings. Costumed staff demonstrated the traditional trades.

Another highlight was the Van Dusen Botanical Garden. I could hardly get enough of the rhododendrons and poppies as well as the wild flowers which were in full bloom. While I sketched a little bit, Ingo had a nap on the grass. I could have stayed for hours to soak it all up.

On the final evening of our stay, we had dinner at “The Only Other Fish and Oyster Cafe”, a small restaurant on Granville Island. You could order any kind of fish dish. The chefs were just separated by a bar and were joking with the customers. I really enjoyed myself and the delicious meal of salmon, rice, and Caesar salad.

The next day, we took the ferry to Vancouver Island. We really like what Vancouver had to offer, and cherished everything we saw. We also knew that it would not be the right place for us to live. Job opportunities were not too great and the cost of living seemed very high, not even considering the cost of apartments or houses. A move to Vancouver would also have meant that we would not even be able to see Ingo's family on a regular basis, and it was even further from Germany.

Today, on the release of this blog, I will be in Villegia Chéribourg in the Magog-Orford region where the Plein Air Ensemble will spent the spring painting trip. For the next two weeks, I will take a break from my view into the “rear view mirror”. Instead, I will write about the painting trip, hopefully with photos from new paintings.