Canada and USA 2016: Vancouver

We had two days in Vancouver between skiing in Whistler and taking the train on to Seattle. We booked Urban Hideaway guesthouse through hostelbookers on a whim because hotels were pretty expensive and I fancied a couple if nights somewhere with a bit of personality. It was a great decision, Patrick (the owner) listened to what we’re into and gave us recommendations on what to do without being overly intrusive. He really helped us make the best of our time.

Day one: cycling Stanley park

On Patrick’s advice we walked down Robson to Denman street and picked up a couple of bikes. You’re spoiled for choice when you get there, it’s just a case of scoping out the best rates. Don’t do what we did and forget your credit card – most places want you to leave it as a guarantee so we were limited to the place that would take our driving licenses instead. The bikes seemed a similar standard in all the shops and we paid $5/hour per person capped at $20/day. The cheapest we saw was $3.75/day and $15 cap which we couldn’t take advantage of because of the credit card situation. The bikes…… weren’t great. 3 gears on mine, 8 on Ben’s and zero suspension. Fine for a couple if hours round the park, bone shaking on anything gravelly and a nightmare up hills. They’re fine for the park though so don’t let that put you off.

We spent the next couple of hours cycling. We started off riding the perimeter of Stanley park enjoying the scenery. Expect slow cyclists on the path but don’t worry, going fast would be a total waste of the scenery.

image

On Patrick’s advice we took a left off the sea wall onto Tatlow walk which took us through the forest. Due to the aforementioned limitations of the bikes this involved pushing them up a steep gravelly hill at first, however we were rewarded with a nice downhill and complete tranquility among the trees. With noone else around we could fully appreciate the beauty of the forest and the quirks of individual trees.

image

image

image

We finished our route by cycling all the way up round False Creek then back to the rental shop. It was a great way to get a feel for the city and the cycle lane was unbroken the whole way. Amazing coming from the traumas I’d cycling in London!

We ended by walking up to English bay to watch the sunset which was pretty spectacular.

image

Day 2: hiking Lynn canyon

After filling up in the make your own breakfast at the guesthouse we again took Patrick’s advice and took the sea bus from waterfront station just a couple if blocks away to North Vancouver. The sea bus itself was a cool thing to do, giving a great view if the city. On the other side we took a quick look around the food market by the port and picked up baked goods to eat for lunch on our hike. We then hopped on the 229 bus which took us almost all the way to the canyon (we could have taken the 228 the whole way but got impatient) and walked the last 15 minutes to the visitor centre. The canyon itself is a huge network of trails that take you around rivers and lakes with spectacular views. As we were meeting my friend for coffee mid afternoon we only had time for the relatively short (about 4km) trail to Rice Lake. It was definitely worth while, we hardly saw anyone and the surface of the lake was totally still. A lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

image

image

After that we headed to the Vancouver branch of Purebread for the aforementioned coffee then headed back to pack ahead of our early wake up for the train to Seattle the next morning.

Advertisements

Canada and USA 2016: Whistler skiing

Our trip started when we landed in Vancouver late Friday evening. Getting out of the airport was an up and down experience. Immigration was super fast but baggage took ages and we waited 45 minutes in the rain for our airport hotel shuttle and another 15 in line for hotel check inn. We stayed at the Days Inn and while our room was very comfortable and service friendly, the long wait made it pretty stressful after a 10 hour flight. Next time we would take the sky train which has a station right outside the airport and another a 5 minute walk from the hotel. It costs about $2 each, much cheaper than the $20 we were quoted for a taxi!

Next morning we had our first success of the trip. After a 30 minute journey into town we hopped on the Epic Rides shuttle to Whistler. At $35 per person for a return trip this is around a quarter of the price of the airport shuttle and from what I’ve read doesn’t take much longer as it goes directly to Whistler without the airport pick ups made by the bus that goes direct from the airport. Service was friendly and we were in Whistler on time in around 1 hour 30 mins. Definitely recommended!

In Whistler we stayed at the Alpenglow. This was pretty much the only thing left when I booked but we were really pleased with it. For around £70 a night (for 2) we had a decent sized studio with kitchenette and an awesome view of the mountains. Not to mention it’s a 10 minute walk from the main transit up the mountain, has a built in yoga studio and is right next to several of the top rated restaurants in Whistler!

image

image

Our first afternoon was spent picking up vouchers for our prebooked skiing lessons and getting fitted for rental gear. If you go I would definitely recommend doing this the night before as you get served really fast and can check your skis and poles into the the storage room by the gondola free of charge if you rent from a resort store.

We went for the 3 for 2 max4 lesson deal which gave us 3 days of lessons, lift pass and rental for around £250 each. Never having skied before we initially shuddered at this but having looked at other resorts since and based on our experience I can confidently say this was great value. Our instructors were really friendly and we made so much progress over the 3 days, heading straight out onto the slopes in our fourth day. We found the food and drink available on the mountain surprisingly affordable with a hot meal (decent portion) coming in between $10-$15 Canadian. Water is provided for free so no need to buy expensive bottles.

We chose to ski solo on our fourth day. If you do decide to add on a day lay minute, you can buy a ski pass online by automatically topping up your rfid card (given to you at the start of your trip and worn in a left hand pocket to automatically open lift gates) for $109 compared to $129 at the window. You can also secure online discounted prices for rentals up to the night before by calling the reservation line. You’re probably in for a slightly painful time on hold but it’s worth it given you have to book online 3 days before the get the discount.

We also went for the $20 add on for the Fresh Tracks breakfast which let’s you board the gondola from 7.15 and includes a breakfast buffet. This was so worth it. For only £10 each we got a substantial breakfast and the chance to enjoy the hoards. A piece of advice – we arrived at 7 thinking we’d have plenty of time and there were already I’d say about 400 people in front. Enough anyway that we didn’t board a gondola until 7.45! The deal is limited to the first 650 so make sure not to leave it too late.

In terms of weather we’re told we were lucky to avoid rain but we had a lovely mix of snow and sunshine. We never got cold fingers and toes (helped by the little hand and toe warmers you can buy for a couple of dollars in many stores) and were often a little too warm with our multiple layers. We feel like we were truly spoiled for our first ski holiday!

We obviously aren’t experts on the runs but from what we saw the variety and scenery would make Whistler well worth the trip for any level of skier. We repeatedly skied Pony Trail then decided to venture up to the peak. We’re glad we did as even the lift itself is quite an experience. We didn’t expect to accidentally end up on not one but two blues while doing so which was a great adrenaline rush but kind of terrifying for our novice skills!

image

image

One more thing to mention about skiing in whistler. … everyone was so friendly, from the rental guys to the lifties, the waiters and the great chats with had while riding chair lifts. It made it an extra special experience from beginning to end.

Celeidh time

I spent this evening at a Celeidh with my colleagues, it was ace! In case you don’t know, a Celeidh is essentially a barn dance where a live band play folk songs, a leader in stage instructs the dancers on what to do then you just go for it. Hilarity ensues as everyone inevitably crashes into each other. People also get incredibly sweaty, it’s not for you if you dislike interacting with the sweat of randoms!

image

The best thing about it though was hanging out with my colleagues. They really are the best, and it was nice to see them let that hair down somewhere other than the pub.

So today, I salute the excellent people I’ve had the privilege to work with over the last 6 years. You are the best.

What does success mean to me?

I was recently diagnosed with an annoying eye condition called blepharitis which causes dry eyes and is treated by lying back with a hot compress on your eyes for 10 minutes a day. I have been persistently ignoring this advice for the last month since I saw the optician but with more and more dryness I finally caved and bought myself what I’ll term the “blepharitis survival kit”. Tonight was my first session of lying flat with the hot compress and I decided to pass the time by listening to a ted talk from Alan de Botton on what it means to be successful.

He made many good points in the (I think he’s awesome) but the one that really jumped out was the importance of finding a vision of success that is yours, not your parents, societies or something you’ve been otherwise conditioned to believe. This got me thinking that many of the things that have driven me in life to this point – financial security, doing well in school, working late and being a loyal and trustworthy employee, never saying no to a work request no matter how annoying and so on – are things my parents instilled in me from a very young age, but are they really what I hold dear? Undoutedly they have served me well and got me to a place where I’m reasonably secure financial and able to do many things I want with my spare time, but are they really what will make me happy in the long term?

I think the answer is in fact no. They’re important in terms of giving me and my future family a comfortable life but they in themselves aren’t the reason for being. I don’t want to work late out of loyalty to my employer, yes that is important but I want the overriding motivation to be a happy future with ben and my friends and family. I want my life to be about finding the joy in every moment, the good in other people and helping them to see it in each other.

Best places to run abroad (and a couple not to)

I like to fit in a run whenever I’m in a new city. Its a great way to see the place and to enjoy a bit of time alone. Yes, people may think I’m nuts but I love it so here is a summary of the places of tried, which ones were great and which ones made me wish I hadn’t bothered to walk out the door in the first place

Great

Buenos Aires: I was intimated by the city at first but the roads are quiet and temperature manageable in the early morning, lots of people run and the nature reserve (the Costanera Del Sud I think) is perfect with miles of trails close to the centre of town

Chilean patagonia: beautiful towns with well maintained and marked lakeside paths. My favorite running in South America.

Stockholm: lovely big parks and weather was perfect
Helsinki: nice temperature, lots of lakes and a long river path to run along

New York: Central Park is iconic and there are loads of places to refuel afterwards. There are a lot of other runners so you don’t feel weird

The hotel gym: no brainer

Portugal: along the algarve in spring. It’s hilly and rugged but beautiful

Bath: great scenery and a good path along the canal

Reykjavik: ran with my friend Dave and the scenery was incredible. Cold too, nice and bracing before breakfast

Derby: you can run for miles along the canal, it’s lovely

Not

Swiss alps: ridiculously step, I made it about 500m. It was fun running downhill though and the view is amazing.

Budapest: soooo hot. Like 40 degrees hot. Also, everyone stays out really late so when I headed out at 7am I saw plenty of people out at clubs or having an end of night kebab.

Cusco: The altitude is a killer and I didn’t see anyone else running which put me off. Also, narrow streets and hoards of tourists don’t make it easy.

Sucre: There were actually several locals running here but again, the altitude got me.

La Paz: unexpectedly, I found a large park with lots of runners but wasn’t in running gear and found the hills at 5,000m altitude difficult even when walking.

Venice: this may be worst place I’ve ever run.  Loads of tourists even at 6am and I got totally lost on the windy streets which don’t seem to conform to any maps of the city.

Palau Tioman, Malaysia: so hot I got a migraine on finishing, and people looked at me strangely

Koh Tao: pretty but the heat got me again

Nicaragua: I tried a few times while there as I was bored but it was just so hot. I considered it a good day when I made it 2 miles. Pure in Granada has a few treadmills and is quite shady – I did 5k there a couple of times but stopped as I got nauseous afterwards.

Costa Rica: this was actually ok with a slightly more manageable temperature than nicaragua and more shade but the drivers were crazy

Fine

Oslo: not much to see but clear paths and decent sized parks

Copenhagen: we were staying out in the sticks so a bit boring but totally doable with plenty of routes and nice weather

Singapore: hot but lots of people out running and the temperature is manageable at dusk. Pretty good running in the botanical garden and by the river too. Just try not to fall over and gash your knee like I managed.

Valencia: hot but lots of locals out running and an old river bed come park in the centre of the city where I managed 13 miles without trauma

Bocas del Toro, Panama: got up early and made it 8k here, I enjoyed the long road around the island and relatively little traffic.

And the places I didn’t even try

Panama (too hot and the pavement was horrendous/non-existent)
Toronto (too tired and cycling was more interesting)

Healthy snacks

I sometimes struggle to come up with healthy snack and resort to the biscuit jar. If you’re anything like me, here are a few ideas to keep your snacking fresh which are easy to keep in the work fridge or your desk drawer:

Rye bread with peanut butter and optional yoghurt

This is leftover from my marathon days when I would always, without fail, have  piece of rye bread toast with peanut butter and dried cranberries the night before a long run. You toast the rye bread, spread on peanut butter then you can mix in some natural yoghurt if you’re feeling adventurous. It sounds strange but gives it a nice, creamy texture. I also sometimes put dried or fresh fruit on top to add a little something sweet.

Chopped fruit with nakd bits and nuts

Simple! Slice up some fruit, I like apple, pair or figs, then add in a few nakd bits (they’re like the bars but tiny versions that come in a small bag) and some nuts. I like to put in salted nuts, I know its bad but it tastes so good!

Raw cheesecake

I’ve been taking in this recipe to work all week: http://poppycross.co.uk/recipes/raw-salted-caramel-cheesecake-from-raw-cured/, and planning to take my own blueberry vanilla mousse (recipe to come) next week.

Healthy snack bars

Nakd bars, trek bars and so on. Easy and reasonably healthy although I try not to go crazy as they give me a massive sugar rush.

Welsh cakes

Ok, not technically healthy but I love them! They’re made with butter and sugar but are less sweet than a cake and I find them very satisfying. I like them best toasted with some peanut butter. Its definitely not traditional but it is delicious.

Bagels

A half or whole bagel (depending on whether I’ve run) with cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, avocado or a mix of the above never fails to satisfy.

Recipe: Mostly raw blueberry vanilla mousse

I’m really into making raw and vegan desserts at the moment. It’s fun to try strange combinations of ingredients and see theme come together into something that doesn’t taste bad at all (although admittedly often nothing like the thing it’s trying to copy!). I also love that they’re usually easy to whip up with not too many ingredients. Perfect for everyday sweet cravings or when you want something different to take to work as an afternoon snack.

A few days ago I made a raw salted caramel cheesecake I find on another blog (it’s here and tasted yum!) And had some cashews left over so decided to try another cheesecake recipe. When I started though I couldn’t gave the painful process of blending up the nuts for the base with my less than adequate blender so decided to just make the ‘cheese’ portion as a kind of mouse. That got me wondering whether some leftover sweet potato would enhance the result and I’m happy to say it did! The result was a perfectly sweet, beautifully textured mousse type dessert.

To make it I soaked

100g of cashews and
6 dates

in water until soft (I blitzed in the microwave to speed up the process this time but have previously left overnight).

Next I put one small sweet potato in the microwave and blitzed it until soft, putting it in a bowl of cold water to cool then peeling off the skin.

I then chopped the cooked sweet potato into small pieces, added into the bowl with the dates, cashews and just enough water to cover the mixture (I partly drained the dates and cashews, retaining some of the water to use in the mix). Next I blended the whole lot with a hand blender until smooth.

The final step is to add your mix ins, this is the fun bit! I mixed vanilla essence into the whole lot, then split half between 3 glass pots that I’d saved from Gu desserts. Into the other half I blended some blueberries, again keeping going until smooth, then added this into the pots on top of the original mix to give a fun layered look. Once done I popped then into the fridge to set overnight. All done in 15 minutes!

image

The picture really doesn’t do it justice, it tastes good I promise!