Jolly Hockey Sticks

The last few days have been spent mostly imbibing some of Canada’s best beers and eating my own body-weight in turkey. This has been great but doesn’t really give me much to blog about.

Luckily our lovely hosts decided to treat us to some Canadian culture – a visit to a hockey game! The Canucks were playing at home tonight but tickets were either hard to come by or hideously expensive. That left us with the Vancouver Giants, the rather successful Western Hockey League (junior) team.

Pacific Coliseum

It was a bit of a drive over to the Pacific Coliseum where they play but it was worth the trek across town. I’ve watched a couple of games before while visiting my sister in Toronto (go Leafs!) but this was my first live hockey game.

Start

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was amused by the rampant advertising at every available opportunity and appalled by the price of the beer ($6 for a small cup FFS!). It’s a really fast-moving game with sticks flying all over the place and testosterone-enabled hockey players intent on causing as many injuries as possible to the opposing team.

Fight!

There were a couple of decent sets of fisticuffs and some really exciting play at times. The second period was a bit dull – the Giants quietened down after an aggressive start and their opposition (the Blazers) managed to get back into the game. However the final period sizzled and I even stopped taking photos for a while to watch what was going on.

Goal!

I’m not sure that we’ll be able to see any more games before we head back but I’m glad that we went. It’s definitely worth ignoring the overpaid NHL prima-donnas to see the Junior league teams.

The best Christmas Eve – ever!

After several days of almost relentless rain we finally got some sunshine yesterday. We’d been intending to head over to Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain for a few days so we really couldn’t miss the chance of visiting those two places while the weather was so good.

Both Capilano and Grouse Mountain are over on the North Shore while we’re staying on the south side of Vancouver. It’s not far in miles but you have to battle with the appalling traffic downtown to get there. Most people seemed to have stayed at home though, so the journey wasn’t as bad as feared.

We arrived at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in decent time and paid the $25 entry. It’s well worth visiting if you’re in the area – it’s a 19th century rope suspension bridge over a spectacular gorge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

It’s rather bouncy! The span is quite impressive considering the age of the bridge and the view on both sides is lovely. It heads over the other side of the gorge where they’ve also built a very interesting and beautifully designed Treetops Adventure where you walk across some more rope bridges up amongst the impressive firs. There are some small ponds filled with rainbow trout too, along with some slightly tacky reindeer made out of wire and Christmas lights.

On Reflection

I could have spent hours in here but daylight is short around this time of year and so after a quick lunch we headed over to Grouse Mountain, a rather spectacular snow-topped peak for skiers and snowboarders. Well, we weren’t going to be doing either of those things – we were just going for the view!

Grouse Mountain

What a bloody view! I don’t think I have ever seen anything as beautiful in my entire life. The weather was perfect and even with the sun shining fiercely into our eyes we could still see Vancouver over the tops of the snow-laden trees. Boy, did I get snap-happy!

Just.... wow!

Everywhere I looked there was something breath-taking to admire. Even with so many people up here (the ski lifts were very busy) there was still plenty of unspoiled vistas for me to photograph, like the one above which is probably my favourite shot of the day.

I’ve not been skiing before but it looks like a LOT of fun. We’ll be trying the ski thing down in Oregon in a few days but today was just all about the view. It wasn’t too cold (a tropical -2 centigrade) so I was able to wander around without wearing my gloves, thus making it much easier to press the shutter on my camera.

It’s a shame that we didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife but I did see a couple of eagles flying around one of the peaks while we were waiting to ascend and there were three of four wolves near the car park. Wolves!

It was a shame to have to leave but as it was Christmas Eve the last lift down was at 6pm, and with at least an hour wait to get down we decided to get in line early. I missed the main sunset but I did get some decent shots while the sun was quite low in the sky.

The sun sets

We were expecting to have to wait for two hours to get back across from the North Shore (the traffic is usually that bad!) but the Christmas traffic was quite light and we were home within the hour. I can’t wait to get back up there though! I’ve been told to expect some more impressive scenery around Mount Hood. Looking forward to that!

Granville Island

Yesterday it rained. It rained a lot until late afternoon when the grey lifted and we were able to enjoy the fresh air without getting drenched.

We thought about heading up one of the local mountains but when we arrived downtown we could see that there were some big, black clouds obscuring the peaks. It was snowing like buggery up there so we decided to spend some time walking around the Granville Island area instead.

There are some really interesting shops around there and a great-looking market. We also found a nice little coffee shop where we saw some fantastic art by June Harmon. She’d displayed some of her work around the walls of the cafe and I was mesmerised by one charcoal drawing of a violinist and someone playing the accordion. It turned out that she was actually there so I was able to chat to her briefly. Have a look at her gallery – her work is excellent.

We also took a walk around False Creek – a rather lovely inlet that heads into the heart of Vancouver. We walked all the way around and got some great views of downtown. The sun almost came out a couple of times too! There are lots of moored yachts to admire on the way round and I got a few good shots.

Boats

I hope to get some photos in the sunshine next time we’re in town.

Festival of Lights

As I was saying yesterday, Vancouver seems to have an extraordinary quantity of rain. We’ve had one day of sunshine so far but we’ve also had some pretty persistent drizzle since. It’s almost like we’re at home. However, we’re not letting that get us down as we’re still getting out and about.

I had a few hours of internet time yesterday while Jo and Jen were off out looking at wedding dresses (for them not us!). When they returned we headed downtown to take in some of the local sights. The traffic in Vancouver is appalling. From all accounts the city has a hideously outdated road layout that just can’t cope with the sheer weight of traffic and so the daily commute is an utter nightmare. It took quite a while to head downtown because of this, plus the fact that there seems to be a large percentage of discourteous, clueless drivers.

Anyway, we managed to park up somewhere near Canada Place which is one of the main harbours in Vancouver. It’s also the home of a very impressive exhibition centre, some very expensive hotels and an absolutely spectacular view back towards downtown Vancouver, as you can see here: View from Canada Place

It had started drizzling when I took this shot but I’d managed to attach my gorillapod to a railing and get some decent photos off before my camera got too wet. After testing the waterproofing of our coats we decided to grab some food and a little beer so we visited a local bar.

After a rather good bowl of chilli and some local brews we headed back out into the increasing levels of precipitation. We ended up at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in order to see the rather impressive Festival of Lights. The gardens looked really impressive and they’d spent a hell of a lot of time and money dressing everything in sight with thousands upon thousands of pretty lights.

Festival of lights

The rain was persisting rather a lot at this point but I could hardly refuse to try and get some shots of this spectacle. It was tricky to get anything taken with the lack of places to attach my gorillapod so some of my shots were taken while leaning up against a nearby tree. The photo above was helped by a nearby bench so I could wrap the gorillapod around the armrest.

The lights were gorgeous so it’s a shame that it was raining so hard. My Helly Hansen coat does appear to be very waterproof though, which is nice.

Boundary Bay

Vancouver has a reputation as a wet, miserable part of Canada. The weather does seem to be similar to the UK – it was raining when we arrived and the forecast for the local area is suggesting more rain. It’s just like home!

Luckily for us yesterday was sunny, if a little chilly in the wind. We decided to take a walk down to Boundary Bay, a local nature spot. Jen mentioned that we might get to see some bald eagles down there plus a few ospreys and other hawks.

Vancouver from Boundary Bay

The place was just chock full of some of the most beautiful birds you could imagine! On our recent holiday to Scotland we were hoping to see some eagles but the buggers were rather hard to find up there. Over here, in the Bay, we were hard pressed to look in any direction and not see any.

The eagles tended to stay a good distance away, on the most part, but then we had the pleasure of seeing this little beauty right in front of us:

Eagle Eyes

He wasn’t as large as I expected, so perhaps this was a youngish bird but what a gorgeous eagle! He flew right past us and perched in this tree. I was able to stand right underneath and get this photo while he was surveying the local area for lunch. I waited for quite a while in the hope that he’d take off again but it seemed he was having an extended break from hunting and amateur wildlife photography.

We left him alone and headed back. I shall most certainly be going back there though, as we were also lucky enough to see some blue herons and plenty of hawks of varying sizes. The Boundary Bay area is a great photographic setting – there are some houses facing over the water and you can see downtown Vancouver in the distance with the impressive mountain range behind. It was a little hazy but I’ll be sure to get some more photos over our stay.

The evening presented a different sort of challenge. We went bowling, but were only able to get a lane with five pins and not ten. Apparently there was an “elite” evening, whatever that is, and all the ten-pin bowling lanes were spoken for. Still, five was fun but it seems a lot harder than with ten! Especially when I was drinking some of the local brews while trying to do so. The bowling alley is attached to a local brewery pub and I have to say that the beer was generally quite excellent. Very good for North American standards and far nicer than the usual crap you get from macro-breweries. I particularly enjoyed the Nut Brown Ale, Extra Special Bitter and the Stout, although my head is not thanking me today!

Hello from Tsawwassen

Well, here we are in the Canadian town of Tsawwassen, just outside Vancouver in British Columbia.

We flew out yesterday from Gatwick on an Air Transat flight and we’re staying with friends over Christmas and New Year. The flight was great, apart from my usual problems with seat pitch. Most airlines realy don’t provide enough leg space for tall people like me and Air Transat seemed as bad as they come. I could hardly move during the flight because my knees were pretty much jammed into the back of the seat in front. Still, the cabin staff were very friendly and check-in was spectacularly efficient – not at all like the usual enormous queues you have to suffer with. They were all-together very good, although if all other things were considered equal I would choose a different airline with more legroom.

We pretty much chased sunset all the way over here and landed at 4:30pm local time. It was pissing it down – just like at home! The weather around Vancouver is generally pretty similar to the UK so we’re expecting lots of grey miserable weather – until we head up into the mountains and see a couple of feet of snow!

Naturally, the time difference has completely stuffed up our sleeping patterns. We went to bed at about 8:30pm last night (4:30am UK time) but woke up at about 4am this morning. Our hosts were obviously still in the land of nod so we ate some breakfast, drank coffee and watched some truly awful Canadian TV until they got up.

Today is shopping day while our body clocks catch. It’s a good way to avoid the rain and wind, which is pretty bad at the moment. Later in our stay we’ll be heading down to Oregon to ski and take photos of eagles.

I’m so looking forward to all this!