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Monday, 11 September 2017

Summer Days, Winter Nights

The warm and gentle start that Vancouver was able to give me for my travels was endearing, but I was completely ready for more. Yearning even, the wash of desire to see what more was out there beyond the city limits, past the vicinity of the man made lights. My mind reeled from the stories and the amazing photographs of previous travels, and excitement coursed through me thinking I would be able to experience it for myself very soon. The beauty and individual charms of Whistler and Victoria couldn’t possibly fail to satiate those cravings, and would surely last me until the world renowned Rocky Mountains finally becomes graspable. There were no bounds to the glorious feeling of seeing everything for myself, so close it felt like I was barely an inch away from reaching out and touching it.

After the shorts and singlets, bicycles and iced lattes of Vancouver, the drive to Whistler in our almost winter attire felt bizarre and almost a little bit silly. Admittedly, it was an easy thing to forget as the sea-to-sky highway, named for its formidable illusion of blending the water into the blue above, took us out to the most reminiscent part of Canada that looked and felt like home. Time seemed to pass by so fast it was beyond possibility, and it was astoundingly quick before we approached Shannon falls. A small hike up and we were rewarded with delicate streams of water that fell like wisps of smoke from the rocks. Whimsical and mysterious, like nature was teasing me with a little hint of what it could do. And approaching the snow dusted mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb a few short moments later, then did I realise what I had seen was undoubtedly only a small slither. I was blown away with the grandiose of these mountains that seemed to expand as we approached, emphasised by the almost half hour gondola journey that took us all the way up to the top. The small blankets of white being now closer in the distance transformed the view into something entirely different, a glimmer of winter through the summer days I had been enjoying down below. I didn’t even need to stand on the Olympic podium to feel on top of the world at that moment as the flags blew in the wind beside us against the stunning backdrop, but how could I pass up that opportunity?

Being the absolute nutters we were, Dad and I waited for that rare glass bottom gondola that ran from peak to peak to try to spot those infamous grizzly bears milling around the pines below. It was almost distracting to step in and have that extra surface to look through as the four walls of glass on the sides already gave a stunning enough display of the nature around us. Even with the help of the nice Irish folk and having no such luck spotting the bears, we decided to stop sulking and treat ourselves to a Canadian favourite, meanwhile enjoying the transformation of the view in front of us as the clouds parted for streams of sunlight to leak through. The rich taste of poutine warmed our tummies and gave us the fuel to further our thrilling journey by sitting on a sky chair hovering stories above the ground to appreciate the lakes and grasslands with no barriers, no obstructions. Even as the winds whipped at us and the snow was nowhere beneath our feet, it was calming that I could spend time enjoying everything with my Dad, as if we were sitting in full gear and our long fumbling skis back in New Zealand after our runs. We made sure we had enough time to do a quick explore of Whistler village to enjoy a nice drink when we reached the bottom again. Even being packed with people from the large mountain biking event happening while we were there, that holiday vibe was not at all lost within the bustling activity. Besides, we were far from exhausted, and that energy of that lively atmosphere only gave us a rush that kept us buzzing even after we turned our backs from the snow capped wonders of the west coast.

It was as if the Earth spun impossibly fast, but summer blasted in for our next day’s adventure to Vancouver Island and its floral enchantment of a capital, Victoria. The ride on the early bus almost simulated a feeling of gliding on the serene blue water around us as it travelled on the pier that approached the bay for docking. It still amazes me that the ferry services are able to take not just passengers but cars and even large vehicles across at the same time. On the dock where a chilly breeze blew through, the motion of the boat was almost undetectable and the sun shone to split the ripples into glimmering shards in the water. A lovely woman even let me use her special glasses to then see the much talked about rare eclipse, with the moon orbiting past to join us in soaking up the warm of the sun. As if it knew that this fresh summer day was not one to shy away from and and instead promised to set the scene for Vancouver Island’s most beautiful display. But after all this time with the clean white of clouds and snow, the miraculous blue of the seas and the sky, I was hopeful to see some other pops of colour. Needless to say, what I instead received was an explosion of it as we entered the city centre of Victoria about an hour later. Flower patches and blossoming bouquets were absolutely everywhere as we strolled along the harbour. The architectural feel of the parliament, hotel and museum structures stood out even more prominently under the summer bloom around. The old vibe resonated through the town even as we reached the edge of the island. There, it was really interesting to see the starting point of the TransCanada highway, Mile Zero and discover some of the historical significances of it. Almost symbolic of my travels in a way: To be at the starting point and know that within the next several months, I’ll be moving through the way the country in the same way the roads were paved.

But the most incredible destination of the day unlike anything that seems humanly possible to maintain and upkeep were the stunning Butchart Gardens. Entering them was like stepping foot into an extravagant florist’s dream: Petals of all sizes, bursts of all colour, arrangements of all sorts no matter where you turned. It was almost hard not to take gorgeous pictures that looked like something like it was taken straight out of a magazine from all the vibrancy around, leaning towards being ostentatious even. There were no complaints though as colours painted themselves on the camera screen with flawless effort, and every new view became more intriguing than the last. It was easy to lose yourself in there and spend hours exploring even just one section of the massive gardens, each with its own distinct flair and layout. But even with such a bright and happy atmosphere, the disagreements began to bubble between Dad and I. Perhaps in the slow building heat, the fatigue of the week had begun to catch up to us. It was in that moment that I had a self realisation where capturing these travel memories on camera was only a very small aspect of it, something that should be secondary to actually living in the moment. Living the experience was worth a thousand times more than spending all my time getting a perfect shot. Everything aside, we were still little children at heart and it was nothing a little ice-cream couldn’t fix. Dwelling on it didn’t seem possible, not when the Dad’s mango sorbet seemed to disappear like it was sucked into a hoover while I licked my honey and lavender one as slowly as possible to make it last. I would be lying if I said the trip didn’t take fair bit out of us and the energy started to seep out slowly. As if I could pretend we didn’t lazily snooze around on the ferry back, the sunshine still lingering beneath our skin even as it faded away from the sky.

Winter one day, summer the next. Without experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second. It would seem appropriate to mention that I have once been told that people only discuss the weather when there is really nothing much to talk about. In any case, here I am with a million things bursting from my mind that I want to recapture on the page and all I can focus on is the strange but somewhat marvelling changes. That stark but thrilling contrast to give me the most wonderful opportunity to capture some of the gems in British Columbia. Sitting here a few weeks later in a cafĂ© writing this post and reliving the vivid imagery in my mind embodies the entirety of travel blogging for me. The journey that produced a thousand pictures has created an indisputably incredible impression of the country I will call home for the next couple of months, even if it cannot be more different than night and day.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Fresh Page, New Adventure, Hello Vancouver

Every new chapter needs just a small prologue to start.

Two and a half years it’s been, but every moment of my Europe travels is still beautifully engraved in my mind. There has been nothing more rewarding than revisiting such not only a world so different to the one I experience in New Zealand, but to have special memories and thoughts written down which are purely mine to reminisce. Like every dream, you eventually fall back to Earth from floating on the clouds, but I’m more than prepared for this next one. So give me your best Canada, and I promise you I’ll give all of mine.

I can’t deny that flutter of a heartbeat walking toward my plane with my Dad beside me, ready to take my first steps into MapleLand. Five months is nothing but a short burst, but the longest time I would be away from home. No tears just like last time, but the absence of intense fear that struck me on my way to France was refreshing. Only a slow burning hum of anticipation. One that still steeped inside after a long bleary flight to the bright and beautiful Vancouver.

I have heard nothing short of praises of this glowing city, and can definitely approve of a lot of those compliments having spent close to a week to explore the combination of its natural beauty and developed architecture. We wasted absolutely no time to see as much as we could while we had a car and headed out the very next day out to walk over the astounding Capilano Suspension Bridge. The geeky civil engineer in me was just amazed at how capable this hanging structure was, only because the number of people swinging and swaying on it could give anybody a small heart attack. The tree top and cliff side walks were equally impressive, the metal rods and ropes creating a stark juxtaposition with the greenery around us.

Maybe it was the thought of home, but having that taste still wasn’t enough to satisfy our cravings for more of Vancouver’s natural offerings. Crossing over Lion’s Gate Bridge, the sun started beaming on us as we set out to do one of my most favourite activities – biking along the waterfront. That feeling of wind through my hair was absolutely liberating, not to mention that gorgeous sight of still water working its magical forces to keep those yachts in place against a brilliant background of blues and greens. Those moments as the gentle summer heat radiated over everything, I started to understand why Vancouver has such a firm grasp on being the most livable city in the world. With it’s stunning trifecta of lush trees, calm seaside and clear skies, perhaps finally New Zealand will have some competition, and a serious one at that. And afterwards, the visit Granville Island and its local market gave me warm memories of my European market trips, replacing those steamy coffee cups with iced drinks that had wet droplets trickling down the sides. The myriad of shapes and colours, the gentle buzz of murmuring, the scents that change with every direction you turn; They never fail to put a smile on my face.

The weather was an absolute gift to us every single day we were there: The sun shone with every ounce of its might without fail against the flawless blue. Our morning walk in the Queen Elizabeth Park Gardens had that perfect lighting to see blooming flowers of all kinds around us. But while it was expected of the gardens to have that relaxed ease, our visit of the University of British Columbia had that same pleasant atmosphere to our surprise. Being my top option for exchange, and trying not to be give the impression of being a bit touchy with this, I had to see what it was all about. If anything, give myself some basis for comparison of these renowned Canadian universities. I can say that it most definitely did not disappoint. Driving down the student residence area with the little houses felt like a movie, and the absolute pristine road lined with trees and their swaying light green leaves was just such a different university sight to what I’ve been used to. But all admiration aside, even with the grand Museum of Anthropology looking like a work of art sitting right on the edge of campus, I’m holding out for an even better one waiting for me on the other side of the country.

Wasting that sunshine was not an option, and so the oldest neighbourhood in Gastown had to be visited. If I’m being brutally honesty, the initial premise and, in my own snobbish opinion, the unflattering name doesn’t present the greatest intrigue for what turned out to be a very quaint but quirky side of Vancouver. This small little area really does have a such a charming vibe. Tiny shops were selling all sorts of antiques and artsy items. Modest cafes were sprinkled through the streets. The less than attractive name somehow seemed more fitting however as we approached the old steam clock, which to my delight was another blend of manmade structure with the sweet flowers hanging from the posts giving a pretty contrast. As unbelievable as it sounds considering everything I had seen till this point, won my heart instantly. The beauty of this elegant steampunk type clock comes from the glass that shows all the intricate mechanisms inside, and that sweet whistling with a gentle puff of steam as every quarter hour was magical, both day and night. Of course I ended up going back for a night time stroll later on, only to fall in love with it even more with its moonlit glow under the twinkling lights. Everything at night was a little bit different, from the trees wrapped in dainty fairy lights to the glowing neon colours that burst from the stadium. It really was a magical kind of experience.

The days had an ever present nonchalant vibe no matter where I was or what I was seeing. One of the most interesting aspects of the downtown district itself was that in during the peak of day, never did it seem clustered by the bustling movements in the heart of the city. Whether it’s the larger shopping avenues like Robson Street or the smaller roads shaded by the towering trees, that claustrophobic, almost stifling feeling was simply absent. It’s a rare feeling to walk through and reach Canada Place to feel like you’re on a vacation stroll through what are meant to be the busiest streets of Vancouver. The wharf stretched out so that we could admire the park from afar, and our casual meandering eventually led us to appreciate the technological advances hidden within Vancouver. The Flyover was eye-opening to say the least as the experience took us through the wonders of Canada, using stimulated visuals and smells and other effects to recreate flying over the country. And gosh was it really something else. But it was the Science Centre that took me back to a younger age where I felt like a carefree child again, unable to contain the giddiness and excitement of seeing all these fascinating things around the exhibition. My Dad and I could finally put away those lingering stresses everyone always carries with them and laugh at each other with how utterly idiotic we looked completing the challenges. Our fierce competitiveness and maturity of toddlers when it comes to showing each other up only sent us in giggling fits and brought back the nostalgia. It was blissful in a way as we appreciated this bonding time, setting aside our differences like turning back the clock to more simple times.

And perhaps that is the best way to describe Vancouver to me. A bright, peaceful, smile inducing place. Somehow rich in remnants of home with every glance. Simple, in the most endearing way.