Winter is (finally) waning

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the mid-Atlantic, where summers are hot and (horrendously) humid and winters are relatively mild. My first winter in Montréal was a big change. I learned, in the worst way possible, that -40 Fahrenheit is also -40 Celsius. Now that we live in Vancouver I am more tolerant of rain and overcast days than I thought I’d ever be. Part of why Vancouverites put up with grey, wet winters is because they usually don’t need to shovel snow and can generally get by with a mid-weight winter coat. Unfortunately, this winter was not a typical one. We had several significant snowfalls and long stretches of below-freezing temperatures. And so, rather than laughing at their compatriots across the country like usual, Vancouverites sullenly turned up the heat, learned the importance of ice scrapers, and literally caused a shortage of road salt.

One of my coping mechanisms this winter was doing everything I could not to let the cold and snow stop me from running, which besides keeping me from developing unwanted ‘insulation’, has become an effective stress-reliever. And so, while many Vancouverites swore off outdoor exercise for a few months, I can proudly report that I only took to the treadmill once (and it was just as awful as I remembered). My arguably unreasonable efforts were rewarded in early March right after one of the last snowfalls of the season, when I achieved a 10K personal best in the West Van Run (44:07). The snow stopped just a few hours before the race started and resumed shortly after I finished. A special shoutout to Sacha for braving the elements to cheer me on and be my personal race photographer.

IMG_6287

The end of winter has also come with a big change for both of us. We decided to submit our intent to vacate our current apartment, which put into motion a predictably frenzied search for a new place. We ended up being quite lucky, as we were accepted just a couple of weeks into our search. We have been packing for the last two weeks, and will be moving in April 1st. Because rental units are in such high demand, the unit we are moving into will only be vacated the day before we move in, so like thousands of others in the same position we will be staying in an AirBnB for a night before we pick up the new set of keys. The whole process has reinforced my conviction that the acquisition of unnecessary ‘stuff’ only leads to regret (and a good deal of swearing) later.

Looking ahead, I think we will have just enough time to get settled in our new place before we start to pack for our next trip, Cuba! We are headed to Cayo Santa Maria in mid-May for some much-needed sunshine (see above rant on winter). Hopefully by then Vancouver will be sunny and dry like it’s supposed to be…

 

Time flies when you’re…busy

I wish I could say that life has just been nonstop fun to the point where I’ve just been unable to write, but that would simply be untrue. The reality is, life is complicated and variable. The last year has been especially variable for both of us: we moved to a new city with a different climate, started new jobs, and have met many new people. I’m not trying make excuses for not writing, though. I’ve never been one for formal New Years resolutions, but one thing I am trying to work on is being more mindful and trying to prioritize what brings me joy and satisfaction. Writing has always been something I have enjoyed, so I am making a conscious effort to write more consistently on this blog.

So, you may ask (or not, in which case you can save yourself a lot of reading): What have you guys been up to since April 2016?

After waiting for what seemed like forever, with locals apologizing for an uncharacteristically rainy June), July and August were beautiful here. Sunny and clear almost every day, but with temperatures generally staying below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many Vancouverites complain that it’s “hot” above 80, but those of us raised in the mid-Atlantic know better.

We finished the summer with an amazing trip south, starting in San Francisco and winding our way down the coast before heading over to Palm Springs, the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas. San Francisco remains one of my favorite places in the US, and we were lucky to have blue skies and warm weather the entire time we were there (if you know San Francisco weather, you know this is often not the case). We enjoyed staying in the Mission neighborhood, finding it a convenient home base for the various places we went (including across the Golden Gate despite Sacha’s fear of heights, walking along the waterfront, trekking up Lombard Street, and experiencing one of the world’s first (and proudest) queer neighbourhoods. It is indeed true that San Fran is expensive (our Airbnb was more expensive per night than our newly-built hotel in Vegas), but that is the reality of living on a highly desirable peninsula (as we know all too well in Vancouver).

dsc00066
Sacha at the Golden Gate.
dsc00121
At the Palace of Arts.
dsc00181
Looking down Lombard Street toward Coit Tower.
dsc00231
The Painted Ladies of San Francisco.

After San Francisco we drove down the coast to Santa Cruz to visit my aunts. It was so great to see them, and they were nice enough to let us stay with them and show us around to a couple wine-tasting rooms downtown. From there we continued South to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and then on through Big Sur. Unfortunately the weather was pretty grey south of Santa Cruz, due in part to an ongoing fire in the area. We stopped for a night in Guadalupe (where we had true Cal-Mex food) and stayed at a lovely little bed and breakfast, exploring nearby San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria the next day.

dsc00271
A beautiful morning in Monterey.
dsc00292
The look of pure joy after having just spotted a few dolphins.
dsc00311
Even when cloudy, Big Sur is gorgeous. Sacha is okay too.
dsc00325
Hanging out with some seals.
dsc00342
The sun returned while we were exploring the coast near San Luis Obispo.
dsc00361
And it continued to clear up as we moved down the coast to Santa Barbara.

On our way out of the area, it became abundantly clear how important California is to North American produce supply. It’s amazing how many different vegetables and fruits are grown, especially in the region south of Big Sur. Unfortunately, a seemingly chronic drought has caused a lot of hardship in the area. For those of us expecting to find affordable avocados thousands of miles away, it’s easy to take southern California produce for granted.

As the weather began to clear up again, we made our way further South to Santa Barbara for lunch, and then on to Los Angeles. We stayed several days in LA, which gave us an opportunity to see a lot in America’s second-largest city, one neither of us had visited before. As I expected, LA is not my favorite place and I’m not sure I would be happy living there. Sacha enjoyed it, though, and we were able to link up with a branch of his family while we were there. We did a number of the touristy things: Universal Studios Hollywood, Griffith Park including the Observatory, Santa Monica (not technically LA), Venice Beach, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, and a beautiful few hours on Manhattan Beach on our last day. But we also ventured downtown, which is a sad reminder of how segregated cities can be. There are people living in tents on the sidewalk, just a few blocks away from skyscrapers housing financial headquarters and law firms.

00cd00c5-5f34-4d18-bc47-109ee4ae2247
Perhaps the most touristy part of the entire trip.

 

img_5804
Venice Beach.
img_5851
Looking towards downtown LA from Griffith Observatory.
img_5855
Not fooling anyone in Beverly Hills.
dsc00392-copy
Showing off my farmer’s tan at Manhattan Beach.

One of the things we planned really well on this trip was the order of destinations. After staying in two large cities and several sizeable towns, I think we appreciated Palm Springs even more than we would have otherwise. It is truly a place for slowing down and relaxing, especially in the summer when it’s over 100 degrees during the day. We got some much-needed rest while in the desert, but we also spent some time hiking (doable because it’s a dry heat) in the Coachella Valley and a bit further afield in Joshua Tree National Park.

dsc00402
Hiking through a palm oasis in the Coachella Valley.
dsc00447
Proof that you can hike in 100 degree weather and not be drenched in sweat.
dsc00451
The desert scape of Joshua Tree National Park.

After Palm Springs, we drove for several hours to get to the Grand Canyon, a stop we threw into the itinerary fairly late. I had been there before, but it had been a long time and we both agreed it was a place Sacha should see. We had absolutely perfect weather – it was just the right temperature to hike into the Canyon quite a ways and do a couple of shorter hikes elsewhere along the South Rim.

dsc00460
View from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
dsc00515
Hiking into the Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail.
dsc00539
Ending a quick but great trip to one of the best National Parks.

The final stop was Las Vegas, where we spent the first evening walking the strip and doing typical Vegas things (including sharing one of those silly frozen alcoholic drinks in the tall plastic containers). We capped off the trip by seeing Céline Dion at the Colosseum, crossing an item off Sacha’s bucket list.

In November we were lucky enough to be able to spend a week in Paris visiting Sacha’s family following the birth of his nephew. As we didn’t know exactly when the baby would be born, it was a very last-minute trip but we were both so thankful it worked out.

img_6109
Finally made it to the Louvre on this trip.

Sacha and I spent Christmas at my parents’ house with both of my siblings, and even though it was a short trip it was so nice to be back home again with everyone together. Chris is now in South Africa and Leslie is of course in college, so it’s increasingly difficult for us all to be in the same place at the same time.

img_6164
New Years Day was a snowy one in Vancouver.

In addition to an increased focus on mindfulness, the New Year has brought me a renewed passion for running. I have been running regularly since 2015, and it has proven to be a great stress reliever (something I definitely need). Throughout this time I have never really considered training for anything in particular, but I recently decided to register for my first race, a 10K in early March here in Vancouver. I have to say I’m a bit nervous – not about the distance, but because I haven’t raced since my sophomore year of high school (and back then I was a sprinter). To be honest, though, if I can more or less match my current PR and not injure myself during the training process or during the race itself, I will be satisfied. Alongside my increased interest in running I’ve also developed a greater interest in what I eat. For my birthday back in November, Sacha bought me a cookbook co-written by Shalane Flanagan (one of the most accomplished American runners), which has helped me see that not all cookbook recipes are time consuming or require obscure ingredients.

Finally, I am happy to report that things are going well professionally for both of us. Sacha was recently promoted to Sous Chef, and I began working at a law firm back in October. It’s nice not to be worrying about finding a “real” job anymore.

That’s about all for us at the moment. I apologize for this radio-silence-followed-by-a-novel post, and I hope you all are doing well (and staying positive) thus far in 2017.

#NoNewClothes and Other Money-Saving Endeavors

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a month since I last posted, and my only excuse is that when you work 35+ hours each week, finding time to not only come up with a topic but articulate it is difficult.

This post is actually quite timely, all things considered. Sacha and I are finally not using nearly 100% of our paychecks on basic necessities, which makes life significantly less stressful. We have both always been pretty thrifty, but I have to say that having some extra cash each month does encourage you to start thinking about all those things you’d like to have at some point (you know, the whole ‘money burning a hole in your pocket’ thing). Our behavior changed almost without us noticing. For example, we started eating out again, something we both really enjoy doing but had put on hiatus since the holidays. The alarm went off when I came home from work with a steal of a deal on a new cashmere scarf. I was met with a judgmental ‘what the hell do you need that for?’ look. It’s true that we all buy things we don’t need, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But Sacha was right to shame me. Our financial situation is certainly not at a point where we should be buying unnecessary goods that serve no immediate purpose. So, given my already expansive scarf collection, it was not appropriate for me to buy yet another. Before we went to sleep that night, I proposed a pact: no new clothes in April, as part of a broader effort to continue to save more and spend less.

So here we are, one week in. So far, so good. I know not buying clothes for a month may not seem like an actual challenge, but I realized that a significant chunk of my non-essential spending on goods (as opposed to services like eating out and getting my hair cut) is on clothing. I also work part time at one of my favorite clothing retailers, so it’s tempting to utilize the discount offered.  Sacha even suggested that each time either of us wants something, we write down the price and tally it up at the end of April. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet. One thing that helped was watching a documentary called “The True Cost,” which is a sobering look at the garment industry, especially how it’s changed since the rise of “fast fashion” retailers like Zara and H&M. I’ve always been interested in sustainable garment production, but even I didn’t know just how polluting the industry is and how much waste there is. And of course, how poorly the workers are treated in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia, where workers can’t unionize to demand better conditions or higher wages. The documentary had been on my list of things to watch for months, but I picked an apt time to watch it. Here’s to saving money and contributing a bit less to the second-most polluting industry in the world.

Like I said, we are trying to save money more generally as well. One thing that has worked out well so far is buying certain things at Costco once a month (at most) to reduce costly trips to the local grocery store or drugstore, where things like paper towels and soap are significantly more expensive. This has worked out especially well for meat. We just buy the giant pack at Costco, portion it out when we get home and then freeze the portions so that they are ready to be thawed the day of. It’s not the most glamorous or even the most sustainable option, but it does save money, which is the primary goal right now. Another strategy is using our Nespresso machine, which Sacha got for free, instead of blowing through money at Starbucks. At less than $1 per cup, Nespresso is a much cheaper option than buying it on the go. The coffee that Nespresso sources is also so much better than what Starbucks has (much more pleasant to drink black). It’s also nice to be able to have a variety of types on hand at any given moment. Sacha’s preference for intense espresso doesn’t interfere with my preference for lighter roasts.

To be sure, there are a number of things we could be doing to save money, such as cutting out our periodic day trips to places in the Lower Mainland. But we decided that some leisure spending is necessary to keep us from losing it, so to speak. I’ll let you know in the next couple of posts how things are going in terms of saving. Until then, enjoy the constantly warming weather.

One day, two seasons: Spring in Vancouver and our trip to Whistler

Coming from Montréal, we think it’s warm pretty much every single day here. I’m still trying to figure out why I see people wearing parkas downtown . We’ve also noticed that if you don’t like the weather, there is a good chance it will change significantly in just a few hours. It could be raining cats and dogs through the night and into the morning, but be sunny and too warm for your rain jacket by mid-afternoon. Today I left for my errands with my hood up but walked home with my coat open.

Spring flowers in West Vancouver

The most dramatic example of the variable weather we have had so far is when we spent last Saturday in Whistler, site of several events during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. We spent a couple hours in the morning running errands in Vancouver and picking up the rental car before slowly making our way northwest. When we stopped to get coffee in West Vancouver before hitting the highway to Whistler, I noticed daffodils ready to bloom on the side of the road. It’s not that this has never happened in Baltimore before, but it’s normal in Vancouver, which will take some getting used to. Since then, nearly every grocery store has started offering an assortment of plants for sale just outside its entrance. Shorts and swimsuits have started appearing in stores, and I’m getting tired of overhearing people talking about their upcoming trip to Mexico.

As expected, the temperature began to drop and we started to see snow as we approached Whistler. While the valley wasn’t snow-covered, the slopes certainly were, and we had to fight hordes of skiers and snowboarders for parking. We spent the afternoon walking around the Olympic Village, eating a leisurely lunch, and admiring the truly breathtaking scenery. At some point, when we aren’t so poor, we will return to do the Peak 2 Peak experience, where you take the lift up Whistler Mountain, then take a gondola across to Blackcomb Mountain. Out last stop was the Sliding Centre, home to bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton during the Olympics. It was interesting to see it covered in snow as the last time I visited it was July and quite warm. On our way back down the mountain, it actually started snowing.

Our trip back to the city was a slow one, partly because of traffic but partly because we wanted to stop at a few of the viewpoints. The route, called the Sea to Sky Highway because of its path along Howe Sound and its major elevation changes, is truly one of the most beautiful drives in North America, akin to driving along cliffs in Glacier National Park or Yellowstone. We arrived at one particular viewpoint just in time capture the setting sun across the water.

Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky Highway

Even when you live in a city as green and livable as Vancouver, there is no substitute for the occasional trip to see how stunning nature can be. Still on our list for the near future: Vancouver Island (home to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia) and the various islands between mainland Canada and mainland USA.

In our next post, we’ll be sharing a few of our favorite spots to eat, have coffee, and hang out in Vancouver. Until then, enjoy the transitional season we find ourselves in regardless of where you may be.

Ryan

The problem with popularity: Apartment hunting in Vancouver

In the last post I promised a post soon about job hunting. Because that is still in flux and I am weirdly superstitious about job offers, I’ll save that post for next time. I can, however, talk about the process we went through to find an apartment because, as of late last week, we have secured a place by putting down a deposit. Once we move in and get everything cleaned (and buy some furniture?!), I’ll give you a tour. For now, have a laugh at our micro-kitchen (don’t mind the mess, the previous tenants are in the midst of moving into a real person house, God help them):

IMG_4975 (1)

Apartment hunting in Vancouver is not for the faint of heart. It requires flexibility, endurance, and a lot of wine. That being said, we knew it would be tough. The Vancouver housing market, for both renters and buyers, has been crazy for years. Since last January, the average price of a home in Metro Vancouver increased nearly 30% to around $1.3 million. A couple of days ago, residents in one neighborhood protested outside of a house slated for demolition – it was built in 1996 and is worth $7.4 million. The protesters, and many across the Vancouver region, simply can’t believe that it makes economic sense to tear down such valuable dwellings to make way for new, even more expensive ones.

As renters, Sacha and I experienced the hot market in a different, but still painful, way. Hoping to stay close to downtown, we knew we would be paying a lot, just as one does in any major city. What we weren’t prepared for is how quickly rentals come onto and go off of the market. From the time we arrived to the time we secured our apartment, we checked Craigslist and a host of other sites every single day. In many cases, postings would pop up sometime in the morning, or even overnight, and the suite in question would be rented (that means lease signed and deposit paid) by the end of the day. A couple of hours could easily be the difference between getting a place and having to start all over again. For one particular rental, we arranged a viewing at a building managed by an older couple. She was one of the nicest landlords we had met thus far and the apartment was well priced and in a great location. Knowing that we were young and had recently come to Vancouver she told us to think it over and get back to her in a few days or so in order to fill out an application. When I called the next day, her husband answered. When I asked about the apartment, he cut me off and said “Oh, we’re all booked up.” I’m not sure if they have some good cop/bad cop thing going on or what, but that was the wakeup call we needed to put our game faces on.

Ironically, the apartment we ended up signing for was one we never expected to get. We had both just been hired, me on a very part-time basis, several other people were at the viewing with us and had also filled out applications, and the landlord said she had not been able to get in touch with Sacha’s previous landlord in Montreal. I guess everyone else backed out though, because we got a great one bedroom unit two blocks from the beach. ‘And for how much?’, you may be asking. I’d rather not talk about it, to be quite honest. Rest assured, it could be much, much worse. And, hey, both of us can walk to work! Now excuse me while I go search for change in my coat pockets.

Ryan

Au revoir Montréal, hello Vancouver

Let me start by explaining what is happening with this blog. It began as a way to keep people back home abreast of my life while abroad in Turkey a year ago. For those of you who do not know, I recently graduated from McGill in December. Commencement will be in June, but I am officially the holder of my very own BA degree. Sometime last semester my boyfriend and I decided to move to Vancouver after the holidays. Long story, short: It’s super easy for me to stay in Canada and work ($255 to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and a trip to Bellingham, WA and back gives me 3 years) but it is quite difficult for him to legally work in the United States. After deciding long ago that somewhere Anglophone would be best so that he can perfect his English, it essentially came down to Toronto or Vancouver. Neither of us had lived on the West Coast before so in the end we said ‘Why not?’ and began the process of moving across the continent. Before I go on, I want those of you who have subscribed to this blog to know that you are free to unsubscribe without judgement. You signed up for my study abroad blog, and while those posts will always be here, this blog will now feature stories from Vancouver. If that interests you, I would love to have you stay. Without further ado, our move:

Sacha and I returned to Montreal on 7 January after a lovely few weeks in Baltimore with my family and friends, giving us just over a week to say our last goodbyes before flying to Vancouver. One of the things we did in Baltimore was schedule a pickup date for a lot of our stuff, so we spent a while boxing everything up so that the BC-based moving company could just load the stuff on the truck and takeoff (it’s cheaper that way). On the day of, we carried each box downstairs right before the start of our pickup window (3 to 7 PM). At around 5 PM, I called just to make sure they were still running on schedule and was assured that they would be there by 7. At 6:50, I called and was told they would make it by 8:30. Come 9:00, the office had closed and still not truck. So we angrily carried everything back up the stairs out of the ensuing snowstorm. At around 11:20, right as I was about to shut off my laptop for the night, my phone starting ringing but I wasn’t able to get out of bed in time. But then Sacha’s starting ringing, so I answered and was met by a breathless man apologizing for being so late and promising he would be there “soon.” He asked if that was okay and I flat out said no and asked him if he knew what time it was. The next day I was informed the next pickup day available was in a week, the day before our flight was to leave Montreal. Needless to say we decided to find another company. Thankfully things went smoothly with them, and our stuff has arrived in BC and is waiting until we move into our permanent apartment in March.

IMG_4925

The trip from Montreal to Vancouver on 20 January was predictably eventful. It started with our Car2Go that morning. As you can see from the photo I took, we barely made it in one piece. Talk about being too cheap to pay for a $40 cab. Once we arrived in Vancouver, we got to the baggage claim before Sacha realized he had left a painting in a tube on board. After waiting for 20 minutes for an Air Canada agent to retrieve it and bring it to us (because, of course, we had already left the secure area), we hailed a cab (after having enough Car2Go fun for the day) to our AirBnB downtown. While waiting for the painting I had purchased a latte which I set on the floor of the cab while loading the luggage. About 10 minutes into the trip I realized with horror that I had forgotten about and it had spilled quite a bit. Because we were already running late for our check-in and the mats were those super durable waterproof kind, I didn’t say anything. Karma bit me in the ass when we arrived. The cabbie noticed the spill just as he was about to drive away and got very angry, threatening to slap a $50 cleaning fee on the fare. Luckily, we were able to locate some paper towels and water to help him wipe up the spill so we were spared the fee. Sacha notified me that after his forgetfulness earlier we were now even.

17 days later and we are finally getting settled here in Vancouver. Look for a post soon about how much ‘fun’ the job search has been for me and, on a related note, how much Sacha and I ‘love’ visiting 15 apartments to find one. For now, enjoy the Super Bowl. I literally forgot it was happening until yesterday, I guess I’m practically Canadian.

Ryan