Hello Snow!

It’s finally here! The lifts are open, puffy jackets are being pulled out of storage and thighs are being psyched for days of hard work .The ski season has started!

Whistler
Oh Canada . . 

Last weekend I finally got to go snowboarding at Whistler. I missed the 2013 Australian ski season entirely, so it’s been over a year since my board’s had a workout. I was pretty nervous at the start, but once I’d thrown myself down a run or two it all came flooding back. Nothing’s more fun than flying down a mountain on your board (or skis if you’re a skier, the debate rages on).

Whistler
The snow’s finally arrived!

It’s pretty early in the season and my Canadian friends told me it will definitely get better. Only a few runs were open, they complained, so it was really busy. And the snow coverage wasn’t that great. But don’t worry, they’d reassure me, this is nothing. Wait a few weeks and then you’ll see what Whistler is really about.

Mt Hotham
You think that’s patchy snow? This is patchy snow – Mt Hotham’s 2013 season opening
Photo Credit: News.com.au

As an Australian though, I thought it was pretty bloody amazing already. Yeah not all the runs are open so it was busy, but I’ve seen worse. And some of the runs further down the mountain had patchy coverage. It was still nothing compared to a bad day back home (check out this article and video if you want to see really patchy runs).

Whistler
Back on my board

So as far as I’m concerned if last weekend wasn’t impressive, what I’ve got to look forward to is going to be brilliant! Bring on the snow!

Advertisements

No More Empanadas

It’s was a sad day today on Denman St when I realised that the House of Empanadas was closed.

IMG_4891
The House of Empanadas on Denman is over

The sign on the door says ‘closed for renovations’, but I peaked through the paper and the layout has changed. It’s no longer the House of Empanadas. I love Vietnamese as much as the next girl, but this was the only place in the West End I knew of that made dulce de leche empanadas. I hadn’t even gotten to try their tres leche cake yet. It’s a sad, sad day.

Does anyone know if they’re just moving? Otherwise, does anyone know any good Latin dessert places in Downtown Vancouver?

New York, New York

New York. Where do you even start?

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a reason to visit New York. It was a bit of a spur of the moment trip, not entirely planned and at first I was a bit hesitant to spend the money. But then it’s New York. If there’s an opportunity to go, how much of a reason do you need?

New York
Times Square

I don’t even know where to start. What can you say about a city that has just so much of everything. So much energy, excitement and drive. So many people on a tiny, tiny island (or just next to it if you’re in Brooklyn). So many things to do, see and taste. I’ve been to New York twice and each time I’ve left wondering if the city might be a little too much for me. But while I’m there I’m going to do as much as I can.

I won’t take you through a blow by blow recount of my 5 days in New York. But I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite memories.

Central Park, Strawberry Fields and Horrible Coffee
I’ve always really enjoyed Central Park. As a new Vancouverite, I often found New York’s lack of nature a bit daunting. There are small parks here and there, and there is the waterfront. But 90% of the day you won’t be able to see any natural scenery. Unless you’re in Central Park.

Central Park feels like a tiny escape from the craziness of New York. Sitting just outside the park’s border is traffic and road works and million tuk tuk drivers wanting to take you on  a tour. But inside it’s quiet, people are leisurely riding bikes around and it feels strangely isolated for a park that’s only 3.4km2 in area.

New York
Strawberry Fields in Central Park

The Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park  is both dedicated to the life of John Lennon and marks the spot where Yoko Ono scattered his ashes. It’s a really lovely part of the part. A little more crowded with all the tourists taking selfies of themselves on the mosaic. But people’s interest in the memorial helps give the space it’s energy. There were also a number of buskers at the memorial, playing Beatles songs of course, and it was a lovely place to have your morning coffee.

New York
The worse coffee I had in New York, or in a very long time. Disappointing.

The only sad part about the park was my coffee. We did a quick google for the best coffee in the area and came up with The Sensuous Bean on W. 70th St. At first I was very excited. The cafe had the makings of really great coffee. It’s more of a coffee bean wholesaler that happens to also make coffee and it smelt absolutely amazing. Sadly, however, the coffee tasted nothing like the smell. It was easily the worst latte I’ve had in North America. It was weak, thin, bitter and utterly disappointing. The only thing worse was my friends brew coffee, which was so weak she could have been drinking water. Who would have thought you could get coffee that bad in a city like New York?

Musicals
It’s so common it’s almost a cliche isn’t it. Everyone who visits New York goes to a musical. It’d be reasonable to think that, in a city of over 8 million people, there are other things to do than line up with the rest of the camera wearing tourists in Times Square for cheap tickets?

The things is though, musicals are amazing.

I saw Matilda and it absolutely blew me away. I hadn’t read the book since I was a kid and if I’m honest, we only chose this musical because Wicked was sold out. But I was always completely drawn in by the atmosphere and emotion of Tim Minchin’s musical. The play was uplifting, the way the book was when I read it as a child. But it also maintained the dry whit and sarcasm that separates it from other children’s stories. It kind of looks down it’s nose at fluffy, disney tales while still conveying to the audience a sense of hope and possibility.

I think the Youtube clip below says it all. The cast in the clip is the cast in the Broadway production. How can you be anything other than impressed by so much talent from such tiny, tiny children!

Eating Out
Food is everywhere in New York. All those Sex and the City jokes about using your oven for storage must be true. I personally find it hard to imagine a life without cooking. It’s one of my favourite past times and an important way I unwind. But I completely understand that if you lived in like New York, it would be easy to forget how to use your oven.

New York
New York Pizza – Enormous Slices

There’s such a strong culture of eating out in New York. Restaurants are everywhere and open all hours. Best of all there’s a million different choices. You can find cheap street food (like enormous slices of pizza) and gourmet restaurants all jumbled together in the same block. And that applies to almost every block in the city.

Below is a picture of my favourite snack of the trip. It was a really cold day and after many tiring hours of shopping, we stopped by the Northside Bakery in Greenpoint. It’s a classic, unpretentious bakery with a wall of breads and a cabinet of baked treats all ready to tempt you off that diet (no carbs doesn’t work anyway!). It also has a hot food cabinet that serves pierogis and these. I don’t know what it’s called but the dough was poatoey and it was filled with meat. The perfect way to warm up on an autumn day.

New York
The perfect (mystery) autumn snack

High Line
The first time I heard about the High Line was Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized. I was impressed by the way the project brought together so many important urban design issues: issues around reusing spaces while maintaining their history, around revitalising areas while still trying to preserve their own personality. I’ve wanted to visit the High Line ever since.

New York
View From The High Line

The High Line is a public park built on an old, elevated freight line. It’s a stretch of nature that weaves through New York, intermingled with art projects and an often stunning views of the waterfront. It elevation allows you to view the city from a different, slightly removed perspective from which you start to appreciate it’s true enormity and controlled chaos. While the project isn’t criticism free, it has connected with a lot of people and helped start a dialogue about how we want to manage our cities.

It was autumn when I visited so all the seasonal plants were a bit muted and subdued. It would be amazing to visit during the summer. But I think this subdued form, in a way, makes the High Line more authentic. It follows the seasons and allows people to connect to nature within the concrete jungle that is New York.

Brooklyn
One difference between this trip and my other visit to New York was this time I stayed in Brooklyn. It’s got all the fun of the island: the bars, the restaurants and tattoo parlours (there’s on on every block). But it’s not a built up and the skyline is lower. You feel like you have a bit more space in Brooklyn, a bit more room to breath. It’s true that I don’t know much about New York, but Brooklyn was the area that I could most image myself living in.

And if you’re looking for a tattoo, I highly recommend Greenpoint Tattoo. I’m no tattoo aficionado, but they’re friendly, helpful and I really like their classic style.

New York
Brooklyn. Bitch.

Ahh New York. It’s a city that’s inspired millions; both those who are lucky enough to live there and those lucky enough to visit. And I can’t wait to come back.

Cafe Review: Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café

My cafe reviews, if anyone has noticed, are not just reviews of cafe’s in my local area. I’m also slowly working my way through the Huffington Post’s ‘Best Coffee In Vancouver’ List. As a newcomer to the city, I thought I’d see what everyone else’s favourite coffees were. High on Huffington Post’s list is the Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe.

Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café
Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe

REVIEW: Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café
1059 Alberni St
West End, Downtown Vancouver

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Something I feel goes hand in hand with coffee are baked treats, such as macaroons. Macaroons can be a bit tricky though. It’s easy to dismiss them as pretentious and a waste of money; how many other French biscuits can charge $2.50 a pop? But, if reasonably priced, I do love a good macaroon. It’s the perfect bite sized treat and maybe it’s healthier to spend too much on a small biscuit than too little on a large, carb filled muffin. That’s what I tell myself at least.

Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe
Macaroons, yum!

When I got to the Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe, it was obvious that they could help me with my love of baked treats. I ordered a decadent looking cassis macaroon. Something I should admit though, is that I ordered it without knowing what cassis was. I had to google it afterwards. Crème de cassis, it turns out, is “sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants” and an excellent macaroon flavour. The macaroon was delicious and at $1 it’s easily the best I’ve had in Vancouver.

Something else I should admit to is that I ordered a cassis macaroon without knowing what cassis was. I had to google it afterwards. Crème de cassis, it turns out, is “sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants” and an excellent macaroon flavour. The macaroon was delicious and at $1 it’s easily the best I’ve had in Vancouver.
Creme de cassis, you learn something new every day

Thierry’s itself has a bit of a mixed atmosphere. It has the displays of a high end chocolatier, the queues of a bakery and the seating of a café. The interior is decorated in dark brown wood and they were playing French jazz when I visited (not just regular jazz, French jazz). All of this combines to give you the impression that you’re in a very fancy place.

Sadly, the coffee didn’t agree with this. It had a nice aroma, but a bitter aftertaste that lingered. My barista experience is limited, but I think it comes from not cleaning the machine properly. Not so terrible to black list the cafe, but I wouldn’t go back to Theirry for the coffee alone. If you’re looking for a sweet treat on Alberni St, Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café is an easy choice. But if you’re looking for a really good coffee, I’d keep walking.

Hot Tip For Airports

Another day, another trip to an airport. As much as I love travelling, I’m ready to be back in Vancouver. It’s time to keep my feet on the ground and enjoy winter in Canada.

Airports and endless escalators
Airports and escalators, the two go hand in hand

Hot tip for hanging out in airports; don’t wonder out of the secure area looking for junior mints. Just because you can leave through one door, doesn’t mean you can come back in.

If you do leave, you’ll have to travel all the way back to start and go through security all over again. Which can take over an hour. Junior mints are great, but not worth the stress.

House Hunting In Vancouver

Number 2 on my top 5 things to do when you land in a city is find accommodation.

Vancouver
Photo Credit: CBC News

Finding accommodation is probably one of the most stressful parts of moving cities. While you can stay in a hostel for as long as you want, it’s more expensive and less convenient than just moving to a shared apartment. Also having a proper address makes other parts of settling into a new city easier (for example getting a bank account).

So you’ve decided you’re going to look for your own place. Where do you start? While there are a lot of things you can’t control in a move, here are a few tips to make finding a pad easier.

Investigate Different Neighbourhoods
One of my favourite things about Vancouver is how different its neighbourhoods can be. They all have their own personality, culture and claims to fame. The question is how can new Vancouverites choose where to live if they don’t know the lay of the land?

If you’re moving to Vancouver for a specific job or university, then that question is taken care of for you. But if you don’t, the task of choosing a neighbourhood can be kind of overwhelming. There are some formal government websites that describe Vancouver’s big neighbourhoods. These websites can, however, be a bit sterile and manage to make all of the cities areas sound the same.

I also found this, slightly more controversial, map of Vancouver. It did the rounds a couple of years ago and, from the look of the comments, offended as many people as it made laugh. I’d take it with a grain of salt. I suspect its creator didn’t mean for it to be taken literally. But it can be useful for giving you a general impression of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods. Or at least what people say when they’re making fun of them.

Websites
I was a bit lazy and only used Craigslist when I was searching for a room in Vancouver. It’s just so convenient. It has all the search options you’d want (area, type of room, min and max etc) and I really like it’s map view (see below). It allows you to see all the different apartments in an area and really compare locations (everyone says their location is super convenient, but it’s not always true). The only complaint I have is you can’t add other locations (like skytrain stops or work) to the map. First world problem I know. Having to open that second tab for Google Maps is so hard.

Craigs List
Craigslist’s Map View

Another website that I’ve heard of is Easyroommate.com. In order to search through adds you have create a profile and since I already have a house I haven’t made one. Forcing people to create profiles might, however, improve the quality of the adds so Easyroommate could be a very good site to use.

EasyRoomMate
EasyRoommate

Start Early, But Not Too Early
Timing your house hunt can be a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand you want to start looking as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the better your chances right? Most rooms in Vancouver, however, seem to be on monthly rent cycles. So people only put adds up 4 weeks before they need you to move in. So if you’re too early it’s unlikely you’ll hear back from many people. It would be a risky move for them.

I found that people started replying to my emails once I was 2 weeks away from landing in Vancouver. And the closer it got to my flight, the more interested people seemed. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of risk for a landlord to take on someone before they meet them. One way around this is to give them a local friend’s contact number who can be a referee. My friend was able to call a couple of land lords and I think built a lot of confidence. It also gives your friend a chance to go quiz the landlord and see if the apartment sounds good by local standards.

Check What They Mean By ‘Ground Floor’
A friend warned me that, in Vancouver, when people describe a room as ‘ground floor’ what they often mean is windowless basement. I never looked into any ground floor rooms myself, but I do remember finding some ground floor room in Kitsilano with slightly odd descriptions.

Ground Floor?
Ground Floor? – Photo Credit: TheTinyLife

Things Sometimes Fall Through
Whether you’re looking to rent a room or subletting a room youself, anyone whose gone through the process knows that nothing’s really settled until money has been paid. Up until then, things can and do fall through. Before moving to Vancouver my boyfriend and I agreed to move into a Yaletown apartment with 2 other people. We had a couple of skype chats with the landlord who seemed really nice, we organised a Western Union transfer and I felt good that accommodation had been sorted. Then 4 days before we flew out we got an email saying that the deal was off. The owner’s situation had changed and the room was no longer available. She didn’t take any of the money, but we still had to pay Western Union’s fees and didn’t have anywhere to stay.

It all worked out for the best in the end. I really love our apartment in the West End. We have a great housemate and rent is cheaper than Yaletown. But it was still a really stressful things to go through just before we flew out. While you can’t prepare for this sort of thing, I’d recommend getting as much confirmation as you possible can before you land. And be nice to people if you end up turning down offers. You never know when you might need to call them back!

Bellingham and Seattle (Part 2)

As I previously mentioned, I had high hopes for my road trip to Bellingham and Seattle. It was a test run for all the road trips I’m hoping to do in North America. So if it didn’t work out, I probably shouldn’t have bought the van.

This was my second time in Seattle and, as much as I enjoyed the nature and scenery of Snoqualmie National Forest, it was great to be back in downtown Seattle.

Seattle
The Seattle Museum of Flight

The city is a lovely mix of bustling action and diversity, and all set with Washington State’s lush and slightly rainy charm.

If I’m honest, I didn’t do a lot of exploring on this trip. I’d already gone up the Space Needle (the view is lovely) and been to the EMP Museum (a museum of music, sci fi and popular culture, lots of fun and very interesting). So instead my boyfriend and I spent the whole day indulging our senses at the Pike Place Market.

Seattle
Exotic produce at the Pike Place Markets

The Pike Place Market is a Seattle institution and tourist attraction in it’s own right. It’s a hub of local speciality food and craft stores, a farmers market and seafood restaurants all rolled into one. In some ways it’s the perfect tourist attraction. There’s a lot to see and do, it says a lot about Seattle’s culture and with all the free samples it’s cheap fun.

We started the day with chocolate croissants and coffee at Le Panier bakery. Don’t be put off by the huge line. It moves quickly and the chocolate croissant was worth it. Then after sampling cheeses and truffle oil, we had a peek at the first ever Starbucks. I have to put it out there: I didn’t know Starbucks started at Pike Place until we arrived. But once we went inside I understood why people were queuing. This is where Starbucks started. It’s like you’re average, local café. Except it went on to take over the world. It’s crazy when you think about it.

Seattle
Starbucks: Established in 1971

After Starbucks we perused local farmer’s produce, wandered through isles of spices and watched the fish monger show, which is another Seattle institution. I won’t ruin it for you with spoilers, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a look.

Seattle
All the spices in the world!
Seattle
The famous fish mongers

The next day we did do one proper tourist activity: the Museum of Flight. My boyfriend and I both work with technology (i.e. are nerds), so the museum of flight was perfect for us. All the history and interactive exhibitions are great, particularly the World War 1 and World War 2 exhibitions. But what I loved the most was being able to get up close, and sometimes even inside, the planes. My favourites were the UAV and the Space Simulator (pictured at the top of the page).

Seattle
A UAV at the Museum of Flight

Maybe the best part of visiting Seattle was knowing that, now we live in Vancouver, we’re bound to come back. And soon. There’s so much to do and only 3 hours drive from Vancouver, so there’s plenty of time to do it at a proper leisurely pace.