B is for beach in this weeks Alphabet photo hosted by the lovely Charly at PODcast
Our beaches here in Canada are not white sands and palm trees but they are, in my humble opinion, equally as beautiful and last weekend I was lucky enough to spend the weekend camping by this one. 😀
I’m so glad Tara gave us ‘A Favourite Place’ as our theme for this weeks Gallery post rather than ‘My favourite place’ which would imply I would have to make an impossible decision. How could I possibly choose between my home town, a small east coast town that I loved from the time I was small and always vowed I would move to or the quaint Cornish fishing villages I visited as a child, my grandparents lounge full of happy childhood memories or the beautiful remote campgrounds we have discovered since we moved to Canada? I couldn’t.
So I chose a spot here in Canada that we have visited many times and I will revisit many more times, it is stunning in every season and I could stand and look upon it for hours. It’s also a fantastic place to people spot so when you have done marvelling at the view you can turn around and watch the people who visit from all four corners of the world and wonder at their stories and what brought them here. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the spectacular, breathtaking, beautiful Niagara Falls
Have you ever done one of those quizzes on Facebook about where you have travelled or what you have done, you know the ones designed to make yourself feel superior to your friends because you have travelled further afar than them? I digress. I was reading one a few months back and looked through all the places to visit in Canada, not to post the results I hasten to add, but to check out all the ‘must do’ things that we may not have done yet and one of them was to ice skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I was really excited about our trip to Ottawa in January but a little disappointed that the canal doesn’t usually open for skating until the end of January. I was delighted to discover that, due to the unseasonably cold winter we have been having this year, the Canal was open a whole month early than normal and we would be able to skate on it.
The Rideau Canal is famous for being the world’s longest skating rink at 7.8km and is used by tourists and locals alike, locals use it to skate to work and school in the winter, how cool is that!? I admit I didn’t skate an awful lot, the ice was extremely bumpy and not exactly like the ice rinks that I am used to, but I did it. We hired skates, instead of lugging our own all that way, which in hindsight was a mistake as the hire skates were expensive and incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t last on the ice very long, truth be told, well it was -30C so you can’t blame me! But we did have time to sneak in a quick Beavertail, a freshly cooked flat doughnut like Canadian delicacy and an absolute must for après skating!
What is really strange about the whole experience is this; Growing up in England you are told never to go near frozen ponds or lakes as they are extremely unsafe, yet here we are in Ottawa skating on a frozen canal perfectly safely and the next day I took this shot of downtown Ottawa with the canal in the middle showing, not only skaters but buildings on the canal not to mention the great big truck with the snow plough clearing the snow from the ice.
It’s hard to believe there will be boats floating on here in a few weeks isn’t it!
Across the Ottawa River via the Alexandra Bridge in Gatineau, Quebec is the best museum I have ever been to, the Canadian Museum of Civilization. It charts Canadian history from the First Nations to modern times through out the provinces from East Coast to West. It is Canada’s most visited museum but it is often overlooked by tourists as it isn’t included in many Ottawa city guides due to it being in another Province even though it is actually only about 2 km from Parliament Hill.
We arrived as the museum opened and had the place to ourselves in the beginning and even though we walked around it all day long until our legs ached we didn’t get around all of it, the building is enormous!
The First Peoples Exhibits take up the entire ground floor and was my favourite part of the museum and the display of totem poles in the Grand Hall was simply breathtaking.
There was an interesting display on the first immigrants to Canada, this photo in particular made me smile.
And a rather unnerving temporary exhibition on Vodou.
I will not attempt to describe the whole museum as it was so vast but if you are ever in the area be sure to pay it a visit, take the whole day and wear comfy shoes!
Tara wants to see something beautiful for this weeks Gallery, well that shouldn’t be too hard because one thing Canada has in abundance, even in the depths of winter, is natural beauty.
This is the upside of -20C, when your nasal hairs freeze every time you inhale (I kid you not!) and stepping outside for a minute needs 10 minutes of preparation with hats, gloves, scarves & boots. Mother nature rewards us for putting up with bone chilling cold and frozen extremities with beautiful blue skies and sunshine and some pretty impressive icicles!
This year, 2014, is the year our family applies for Canadian Citizenship, as it will mark 3 years since we became Permanent Residents. It seemed only right that our first trip to somewhere new was a visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa.
Although Toronto, which is right on our doorstep, is a far larger city I had a yearning to go to the capital to check out the Parliament buildings, the museums and the Rideau Canal. So just after New Year we packed the thermals and headed off in snow and -30C wind-chill to discover the delights of Ottawa!
For some strange reason on January 3rd at 10am and -35C Parliament Hill was mostly deserted and we pretty much had the place to ourselves! We managed to walk straight in and join a free tour of the Centre Block that took us around the House of Commons Chamber, the Senate and the Library of Parliament. The library was the most stunning room with a beautiful statue of a young Queen Victoria in the middle. Unfortunately they do not allow photos in there so I had to fight the urge to try to take a few candid shots with my Iphone! (being arrested in our nations Capital was NOT on my ‘to do’ list 😀 )
Originally built in the 1860’s Parliament Hill is among the oldest buildings in Canada, although much of it was rebuilt following a fire in 1916. The building itself is in stark contrast to the very modern feel of the majority of Canada’s cities.
There is an unmistakable British presence in the building, Queen Elizabeth II is still our head of state after all and many of the paintings and carvings around the walls are of British Monarchy especially Queen Victoria who was on the reigning Monarch when the nation of Canada was created in 1867.
If you ever go to Ottawa you should take a tour of Parliament Hill, the tour was interesting and informative, the building is quite spectacular and an added bonus is the tour is free of charge!
Check one on my Ottawa ‘to do’ list, next stop – The Museum of Civilisation.
It turns out that our first two winters in Canada were just mother nature lulling us into a false sense of security. Our first winter here 2011/2012 was nicknamed “the winter that never was” and was one of the mildest on record. Sure, it felt cold to us, but the temperatures didn’t stay below freezing for long before it popped back up above zero. We have an obligation to keep the pavement/sidewalk outside the house clear of snow and as I recall we did it 3 times that winter.
Winter 2012/2013 was a similar story; we didn’t have any significant snow fall until December 26th (coincidentally, exactly the same day as the previous year). January was a rollercoaster of cold and relatively mild. February, on the other hand was very snowy. ‘Snowmaggedon’ hit midway through the month when it did not stop snowing for over 24 hours and dumped almost two feet of snow and was followed by -20C wind chills. We saw the edge of Lake Ontario frozen for the first time that month.
Fast forward to the present day and the winter of 2013/2014.
As of today, January 7th. The City of Toronto has issued 7 extreme cold alerts (periods when the temperature doesn’t rise above -15C), the entire winter last year between December and April only saw 9 alerts in total. This week alone has seen an ‘arctic vortex’ bringing windchills in the -40C….We are only 3 weeks into winter. I have shoveled the driveway around 8 times already and there is a Province wide shortage of salt due to the Ice Storm before Christmas. The edge of the lake was already frozen in December.
This winter is turning out to be nothing short of brutal. I have bottles of water in my car that have been frozen solid since November. My lawn has been under a foot of snow for the last 6 weeks. The sack of potatoes I had in my garage froze solid and had to be thrown away. The windchills we have experienced in the last few days can cause frostbite to exposed skin in just 5 minutes. At these temperatures (-25C) if you boil a kettle of water and throw it into the air it will freeze before it reaches the ground! Snow boots, a down coat, hats and gloves are every day attire, you do not leave the house without them.
Toronto is one of the southern most points of Canada and that, along with it’s proximity to Lake Ontario, means our temperatures are relatively mild compared to the rest of the country but less than a month into the winter of 2013/2014, it is already proving to be quite a challenge to us newbie expats.
Saturday December 21st 2013
The weather forecasters have been reporting an incoming ‘Texas low” for a few days now. Apparently it’s a huge system but its impact is largely unknown due to the fact that the temperature will be hovering around zero. Below zero will mean snow, above zero means rain but at zero the storm could produce freezing rain and ice. As the forecasters are often very dramatic in their presentation of the weather, I don’t stress about it but make a mental note of where the torches and batteries are and charge up my gadgets as we head out for dinner at a friends house.
We leave our friends after a lovely Christmas dinner and giggle as we slip and slide down the road. It is clear the feared ice storm has arrived, the roads are slick and the car is covered in a layer of ice but we scrape it off and slowly drive home.
Sunday December 22nd
The electricity goes out, it flashes on and off for a while before it goes out for good
Cracking and crashing sounds rouse me from sleep. I am immediately aware that something unusual is happening and my heart begins to thump in panic. The house is cold and quiet and the lack of street lights alerts me to the fact that the power is still out. I go to the window and the scene that greets me is shocking. The beautiful 80-foot Elm trees at the bottom of the garden are literally crumbling under the weight of the ice that covers them, huge branches crack and crash to the ground. Lightning flashes across the sky and at lower levels intense blue flashes indicate trees taking out power lines across the neighbourhood. I watch the trees sway precariously in the breeze and start to question whether buying a house so close to huge trees was wise. I can’t possibly sleep so I spend the next hour or so in a sleep deprived state wondering whether the trees will come crashing through the roof or not.
The utility companies must be trying to reconnect the power it comes on momentarily as another intense blue light flashes across the sky and we are plunged into darkness again. I finally drift off to sleep.
It’s finally light enough outside to begin to assess the impact of the storm. The back garden is littered with branches which continue to fall from the trees, the power is still out and everything is covered in ice. We light the log fire, find the battery radio and get our camping stove out to make tea.
From the reports on the radio it is clear a huge area and some 500,000 people across the province are without power. Hubbie decides to venture out in search of a generator. It takes over 30 minutes to chip the ice of his truck enough so that he can open the door. My car, that was parked up to the garage doors, has slid on the ice back down the driveway.
Dejected, Hubbie returns home, there was no chance of securing an alternative power source.
We join Hubbies family for an unconventional Christmas dinner by candlelight, beef cooked on a barbecue and mash and veg cooked on a gas hob. It was delicious which is amazing considering the circumstances that it was cooked in!
We return to a cold, dark home and decide to camp out in the family room to be near the fire. The temperature is going to be -12 overnight, we’re in for a chilly one!
Monday December 23rd
I get up with Hubbie to make him tea before he goes off to work, we stoke up the fire to try to put some heat into the frigid house. After he leaves I climb back into my makeshift bed on the sofa to await daylight.
Despite no electricity we still have plenty of hot water so I decide to have a hot shower to warm myself up. In hindsight it was not the best idea. Getting out of a hot shower into a freezing cold bathroom makes me colder than I was in the first place. What I wouldn’t do for an opportunity to wash my hair and a hairdryer…
My instinctive response in a crisis is to keep busy so the boys and I keep ourselves occupied by getting the wood in to keep the fire stocked and then we venture outside to start clearing the ice. With nothing but sub zero temperatures and snow in the forecast it’s important that we try to clear as much of the ice as possible. Several months of snow on top of ice will make for treacherous conditions every time we step foot outside the front door plus the fact that we have an obligation to keep the pavement/sidewalk outside the house clear means we have little option but to get to work. The entire house, drive, car is covered in an inch of ice, It’s hard backbreaking work first smashing the ice and then shoveling it up but it certainly warms us up! The neighbours are out too so we cheer ourselves up reflecting on the situation and exchanging stories. It turns out weather situations like this are, thankfully, extremely rare.
I’m in the garage getting the last of the wood in when I hear a joyous yell from inside, the power is back, 36 freezing cold dark hours are finally at an end! 😀
We lose power intermittently over the next few days as the province struggles to get back to normal. As we venture out of the house the predominant feature is the fallen trees and branches, which litter the roads and pathways. Only the arrival of spring in 3-4 moths will tell us how much damage has been caused by something as simple and destructive as ice.
‘Feeling festive’ is not easy when you live on a different continent from your loved ones. The Christmas season is, in my humble opinion, the most difficult time of year for an expat. Every media outlet spews a constant stream of cheesy images of the ‘traditional’ Christmas (you know the ones, 15 people sat around the table with a turkey the size of an ostrich!) just acts as a constant reminder that the expat Christmas is not like that.
Over the last two years I have developed a few coping strategies, things I do to help me get into the Christmas spirit.
1. Make a Christmas playlist and burn a CD of all my favourite seasonal songs. I play it in the car and at home and sing along (loudly and usually out of tune!)
2. Enjoy the weather. It’s hard not to feel festive when you open the curtains to this in the morning! Doing your Christmas shopping wrapped up in wooly hats, scarves and gloves feels so much more like Christmas is supposed to be.
3. Bake mince pies. Mince pies aren’t widely available in Canada and those that are taste pretty icky! Thankfully I managed to make my own with guidance from my Delia Smith cookbook brought with me from England. A time consuming yet thoroughly rewarding endeavour and seriously, does anything smell more festive than mince Pies…?