Vancouver et al – rain or shine

This last weekend I traveled to the Vancouver area, location of the 2010 Winter Olympics, in hopes of seeing the majestic mountains to the north and the expansive open waters to the west and south. Other than a quick glimpse of both as the plane descended into the Vancouver airport, I was met with mountains of clouds and streams of rain.

Snowcapped mountains north of Vancouver bathed in the light of the setting sun.

Snowcapped mountains north of Vancouver bathed in the light of the setting sun.

This city of roughly 600,000 inhabitants chose one of nature’s most stunning backdrops to set down roots. If you can’t decide whether you want to live or vacation in the mountains or go to the sea – Vancouver provides both. You can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon during certain times of the year. Generally the winter months often find Vancouver shrouded in clouds and rain. Or 8 inches of snow can be dropped one day and sunny and 70 the next day.

Vancouver is all about activity. Being on the move. Seeing the sights. Taking in the great eating experiences. When I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan between 2000-2010, a group of girlfriends and I would head west to Vancouver to escape the cold of the frozen tundra for an eating and shopping extravaganza. We stayed by the waterfront to be within walking distance to Robson Street, the place to shop and eat. Or put your ‘runners’ (Canadian for tennis shoes) and hoof it down to Stanley Park – a massive green space that is fronted almost entirely by water.

 

Running a cross country race on a warm sunny day through Stanley Park in Vancouver a day after 8" of snow dropped.

Running a cross-country race on a warm sunny day through Stanley Park in Vancouver a day after 8″ of snow fell.

Or take some form of public transportation down to Granville Island – an island within the city with something for everyone. A destination spot for locals and tourists. Check out the Public Market, showcasing the city’s best selection of fresh seafood, other local produce, and unique often locally made products – from hand painted silk scarves to hand carved wooden boats to float in the waters surrounding Vancouver. I love walking through the meandering streets taking in the smells, sights and sounds.

The gals hanging out at one of the many boutique shops on Granville Island.

The gals hanging out at one of the many boutique shops on Granville Island.

My two main sports while I was growing up were skiing and golfing. The Vancouver area would have been a great place for me to visit during those developmental years. Ninety minutes to the north of Vancouver, along the appropriately named Sea to Sky Highway is Whistler – where the alpine and nordic events took place in the 2010 Olympics. Touted as some of the best skiing worldwide, it has been ranked as the #1 overall resort in North America by the readers of Ski magazine.

With golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., your golf game can be as equally challenged as your skiing acumen is by the slopes. The natural setting of glacial mountains as a backdrop while the course winds along the banks of the River of Golden Dreams, may make it hard to focus on your game, but can also quickly melt away the frustration of a bad hole – as how could you not marvel in the glory of such beauty and just be happy to be alive and where you are.

Golfing in Canada with glacial mountains providing a majestic backdrop.

Golfing in Canada with glacial mountains providing a majestic backdrop.

But back to Vancouver and the surrounding areas. This last weekend found me winding my way eastward through the inland waterways, through Surrey, and on into the well-developed suburb of Langley, to watch my son play university level basketball at the Langley Events Center. I crossed the heavily sedimented Fraser River, the longest river in BC; trekked through North America’s largest peat bog in the aromatic Delta Nature Reserve-a/k/a Burns Bog; and on into Langley which sits a half hour drive from the U.S. Canada Border.

This border crossing is the home of the Peace Arch, erected in 1921 – which sits directly across the border line in the median between the entry and exit lanes to both countries. Within in the arch are open iron gates on either side with the inscription, “May these gates never be closed” – and to date they have never been closed, signifying the peaceful unity that lives between the two countries.

The Peace Arch straddles the border line of U.S. in Canada in southern BC.

The Peace Arch straddles the border line of U.S. in Canada in southern BC.

If you have time, take the 90-minute ride ferry over to Victoria on Vancouver Island – it’s worth the effort. With a population to rival Vancouver, most of the Island’s 750,000 inhabitants live in the greater Victoria area, which sits at the southern tip of the island and is actually south of the Canada/US border line, and the only part of Canada below the 49th parallel. Stay at the Empress Hotel which sits on the most prime piece of waterfront in Victoria. Or if you really have a lot of time, head up west coast of the Island. About half way up, sits the Wikaninnish Inn. I’ve yet to visit, but it’s on my bucket list to experience one of the most amazing spa settings and to watch a Pacific Ocean storm rage along this rugged coastline.

Wikaninnish Inn, Vancouver Island, BC

Needless to say there are a multitude of things to do in the greater Vancouver area. There would be no wasted time with a minimum of a week spent in corner of British Columbia, one of the most eye-popping natural beauties in the world.

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

In the year 2000 my husband’s job took us to a little known place, at least to most Americans, called Regina (Latin for queen), Saskatchewan. At the time we lived only a seven hour drive away from there, but had never heard of Regina. As the years waged on we learned it was not exactly the hotbed of Canada either. I lost count of how many times other Canadians gave us their condolences on having to live in Regina.

When we moved there, a part of our permanent residency application requested we go to the police station to be finger printed. The officer who was finger printing us asked, “Where in the states are you moving to?” When we told him that we were Americans and we were moving to Regina, not Canadians moving to the US, he laughed and said they didn’t get many people making that move.

It wasn’t until our first winter spent in Regina that we became acutely aware of the reputation Regina had earned of being a place people moved away from, not to. Winter came and it didn’t fully leave for another eight months. The local joke in southern Saskatchewan is you can see your dog run away for three days because it’s so flat. This flat terrain allows the winds to howl and blow unencumbered. The only thing to slow it down is the 100’s of trees that were hand planted by the early settlers back in the early 1900’s.

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

Temps can reach 30-40 below zero. In Canada they measure temps using celsius not fahrenheit, but at those temps celsius and fahrenheit are virtually the same. And these kinds of temps don’t stick around for a day or two but can stick around for weeks at a time. Your skin can freeze in seconds at these temps. Car tires can break and their electronic systems can freeze up.

We quickly learned how these hearty residents got through these long hard winters. They took extended winter ‘holidays’ of upwards of 3-4 weeks at a time or several long weekends to warm weather destinations to thaw out. But beyond that they are doers. Reginans don’t hide out until winter passes, they bundle up and venture out. In the ten plus years my kids attended school in Regina they never had a snow day or school called off because of cold temps.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

I definitely have to say there is something to people in the northern colder climates having thicker blood than those in the southern warmer climates. My husband and I spent the last weekend in Regina to watch our son play basketball at the university. Regina was going into their second week of sub 20F degree temps. I bundled up to walk the two blocks from our hotel to meet up with a couple of girlfriends – one who waltzed in wearing a long sleeve thin shirt and a faux fur vest – and I think I was colder!

As you can imagine, hockey is king in this Canadian city – home of the WHL Regina Pats, a training ground for future NHLer’s. But this growing metropolis – pop. 195,000 in 2000 and nearing 230,000 in 2014 – is game for all games. The CFL Roughriders, the 101st and 2013 Grey Cup Champions, have some of the most ardent football fans in all of Canada. Regina is home to Olympic level curlers and snowboarders. Ice fishing, basketball, snowmobiling, ringette, Globe Theatre, science museum, IMAX theater, 5-pin bowling, Agribition, RCMP, cross-country skiing, MacKenzie Art Gallery and the casino can all keep one busy throughout the long winter months.

The sign says it all! 30,000 Roughrider fans fill the stands of the outdoor Mosaic Stadium to create a ‘sea of green’ also dubbed ‘Rider Nation’.

Wascana Lake, a man-made lake, is the main city attraction. The beautifully domed provincial legislative building sits at the southwest shore of this highly active lake. With wide paved paths skirting the edges of the lake and its far-reaching tributaries, the area is great for walking – year round. The lake draws attention from across the country and even further bringing in competitions for dragon boat racing, wake boarding, canoeing and other events. Weddings are held on the island and fireworks reflect off the lake on July 1st, Canadian Independence Day.

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

A statue of Queen Elizabeth riding Burmese, a horse given to her by the RCMP, stands in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature building on the shores of Wascana Lake in Regina

The Queen City (Regina), so nicknamed because of being named after Queen Victoria by her daughter Princess Louise who was Governor General of Canada during the founding of Regina. In the years since, the city has been visited by a lengthy and notable list of royalty: The Queen Mum, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and Fergie, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret.

But it’s the people who make Regina worth the visit. Growing up in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota nice’ is the mantra, one experiences a similar vibe in Regina. We originally had plans to stay for 3-5 years, but ended up staying for 10 years, because we had settled into a community of great friends that eventually drew our son back to go to university and draws us back to spend time with people who became lifelong friends, no matter how many miles separate us now. Over the years many locals moved away for better job opportunities or tax reprieve, but moved back for quality of life and cost of living. Long live Regina (the Queen)!

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture