Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Trip to the Big Smoke

A word of explanation is required here. The Big Smoke is Vancouver. When you live part of the year in a town of 17,000 yet a city of 603,000 is only an hour away any trip to town takes on an adventurous feel. On this occasion I had a couple appointments and had to check the mail. Exciting no?

Here is a picture of Scooterchick at our first appointment. Adorable? I believe so!!!

This is the office where we were for our first appointment. We were there for about an hour more or less then we went to check the mail.

By now we were ready for a bite to eat. We chose a Greek restaurant this time, and shared some appetizers. The food was good and the company divine as usual.

We had to drive out to Port Coquitlam for our next appointment, then came back in along Lougheed Highway. While we were driving back in we passed through Maillardville  which grew up around a sawmill started by Frank Ross and James McLaren. They founded Fraser Mills and hired a group of 110 French Canadians to come and work the mill in 1909. They brought another group out a year later.

It was named for Father Edmond Maillard a priest who was transplanted from France to take care of their spiritual needs. Maillardville became the largest Francophone community west of Manitoba.

A little further on we stopped at a large garden center to look around. Apparently they have some new floral arrivals, these ones designed by Dr. Seuss.

They have a number of water features set up. I am a total sucker for any type of water feature or fountain. again, I don't know why....but the sound of running water just soothes my soul.

They have these of all different shapes and sizes to fit the available space. Depending on the room you have available, there is an example to fit all spaces. Here is Scooterchick admiring one such installation. This one features a waterfall and a pond.

Here is one for a limited space location. Although it looks like stone, it's resin cast so it's fairly light and maneuverable. Just add water and plug in.

At this store they are willing to help you to figure out anything garden related. They even have as display on how they can help you lay out a garden bed.....novel idea.

We carried on in our travels, and thought it might be about time to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. I decided on a cinnamon bun, Scooterchick got some lemon pound cake. She couldn't finish her let me help you with that.

This is a shot of the place we stopped. JJ Bean in Park and Tilford Center in North Vancouver. We are no longer using Starbucks since Howard Schwartz declared in a shareholders meeting that if we didn't agree with  his personal beliefs we should avoid spending money in his establishment. Okay!

This is the friendly Barrista, pulling shots at the bar.

We were waiting to attend a movie that started at 7:15. I took a picture of a flower bed in front of the theater just before going in. The movie we went to see was Oblivion, the latest with Tom Cruise.
While visually stunning, it was thin on plot but had a lot of special effects. It was the premier showing in this  market. I don't believe I've ever been to a premier show before. The place was packed.

Well okay then....goodbye now.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring has Sprung

The interesting thing about spring is that it seems to come around about once a year.  Just about the time we’re all good and sick of winter, the sun starts to poke its head out through the clouds, the temperatures start to ameliorate and our gardens start to take on a slightly more colorful hue.

Here in the great NorthWet we can usually tell when spring is on the way by the appearance of first Crocus and then Daffodils.  When we can see the Daffodils blooming in Vancouver we know our garden is about ready to start blooming as well in Squamish.  As the flowers start to come up we usually see the Grape Hyacinth followed by the buds of the True Hyacinth, and then come the Tulips.

You can see the tulip bulbs just about ready to bloom in the garden in the center of the yard.  We tried to plant a variety of colors; these ones are about a foot tall.

Under the window the tulips are more uniform in color.  We chose red because it shows up well against the white building.  We also took the opportunity of putting out our solar garden lights.  In the evening after the sun goes down it is very pretty, accenting the blooms that we have in the garden.

In these pictures you can also see the carpet of Pine Cones which we have put down to discourage cats from using our garden as a litter box.  We have also sprinkled ground orange peel, and we have a spray mixture of garlic, onion, chamomile tea, Cayenne pepper and a little canola oil as a carrier.  This can be sprayed on the garden or on occasion in a straight stream directly upon the cat.

On this particular day we had occasion to take a trip to Vancouver. Although the day was sprinkling part of the time, for the most part the sun was shining and provided us with excellent views down Howe Sound.

Here we have another view also looking across and up Howe sound. The flowers you see in the foreground are flowering currant which is a wild variety which grows in this area.  I have not checked to find out whether they bear fruit. That would be a wonderful bonus if they did. You may recall my post about blackberries from last summer. More forage would be excellent.

I have included a picture of the road for those of you who are not conversant with the Sea to Sky Highway.  It has been vastly improved as part of the requirements for securing the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  It is now four lanes for the majority of the distance between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler.  Prior to the improvement there were a number of names for the highway,, one of which was the “”highway of death” due to approximately 12 to 15 traffic accident fatalities per year on the old road.  We also called it the Sea to Skid highway because it was notorious for being unpredictable during periods of heavy rain.  You can see in this picture how the rock face goes almost straight up from the edge of the highway.

Imagine if you will a twisty two lane road with rock wall on one side and a straight drop down to the railway tracks and ocean on the other.  There were many stretches of road with no barrier between the road edge and a drop off of hundreds of feet. Driving that highway was always an adventure, and this improved one seems considerably more commonplace in comparison.

Here we have a picture of the beloved Scooterchick who also stepped out of the car to take a quick picture when I stopped to get mine.  You can tell from a quick glance at her attire that it’s still quite chilly.  The temperature was probably in the vicinity of 40 or 41° F.

Here are a couple more pictures taken looking down Howe sound with the sun shining on the water.  You can tell that it’s still quite cloudy but the weather is starting to improve.

This is almost the same view except that I've tried to encompass something in the very lower portion of the frame.  If you can see it, is an area of houses right along the waterfront north of Horseshoe Bay.  This is a gated enclave of about a dozen to 15 houses right along the waterfront below the railway tracks.  Many years ago there was a marina here, and someone had enough forethought to purchase the marina and rezone the property for individual lots.  All of these houses are worth several million dollars.

When we arrived in West Vancouver we stopped by a one of our favorite places to browse, the Maple Leaf Garden Spot.  It is located just east of Marine Drive in West Vancouver near an area known as and under a if.  They always have a wide variety of plants and shrubs and trees, and often we see something there which we would not have seen anywhere else.

Here they have a wall garden made up of succulent plants.  It’s rather a novel approach for someone who has available wall space in their yard, the can have a lovely display a small succulents and/or ground cover arrayed in a geometric fashion.  I consider it rather clever.

You can tell from looking down the main aisle at this garden center just how large this place actually is.  It comprises the better part of one block long by the equivalent of three lots wide.  They always have an interesting variety of plants.

Here are some calla lilies. I took a picture of these because although the yellow is not so unusual, the purple is.  I don’t know if I've ever seen the purple ones growing in anyone’s garden, so I imagine that they must be relatively new arrival on the horticultural scene.

Here is a display of Hydrangeas.  Hydrangeas are very popular in this area because they are easy to care for and make a very nice show during their blooming period.  It seems that the bloom lasts for probably 4 to 6 weeks, and if the plants are dead headed when winter closes in your almost certain of another great bloom the following year.  They range in color from deep purple all the way up into white these ones are in the purple and blue varieties.

Here we have a shot of more ranging from red through pink and into white.  Although they start out in 6 inch pots they usually grow to about 4 to 5 feet high with a 5 to 6 foot spread.  I've seen them grown in all but the rockiest areas of gardens.  They do appreciate part shade or late afternoon sun and dislike wet feet.

 Here we have several trays of succulents.  I’m always surprised that they seem to grow so well in this area considering they look like a desert plant, but they do rather well if placed in a sunny and sheltered area.  It also seems that the rockier the territory they’re planted in, the more they like it.

Of course this is the time of year when we normally see lots of pansies. Here are some yellow ones.  Every good gardener knows that it’s appropriate to take some time just to sit in the sun relax and read.  This character appears to be following that very philosophy.

Almost immediately across the aisle from this fellow there is a display of geraniums, another couple of individuals are intently poring over a book.  Their concentration seems so intense that they fail to notice the small black bird which is sitting adjacent to one’s right hand shoulder.

A little further along we have two individuals that seem to be cavorting in lovely spring weather.  He appears to be lifting her high into the air and some sort of ballet move while she balances a lily pad on upraised right arm oblivious to the bear in the background.

This picture shows a display of heather.  These range from dark purple through light purple up and through green and almost into the white category.  All the winter heather is starting to turn brown at this time of year but there others which are just coming into their blooming season.

At the end of one row we find a display of azaleas with a flowering bush which is also common here.  This is Pieris Mountain Fire.  It must be easy to grow because it’s ubiquitous, and always puts on a good show.

Having had an opportunity to get our visual fill of all things blooming, we decided it might be a good idea to get something to eat.  We drove over to Commercial Drive in Vancouver which used to be known as the Italian part of town, and now is a bit more international. 

This mural is painted on the side of a body shop.  Looking closely at it we can tell if it was done by someone with a complete lack of understanding of things automotive, but they've given it a good effort with some bright colors in an effort to represent to passage of history.

We stopped at a restaurant called Belgian Fries. After perusing their menu we decided to try some of their poutine. Poutine for those who have never had the opportunity to sample it, is fresh hand cut French fries cooked to a golden brown and then tossed with white cheese curds just prior to being covered in gravy. 

To hear the description one would think it was all together nauseating, but one bite will convince you otherwise and make you a lifelong devotee if it’s done right.  We also ordered some chicken wings half sweet and half hot.  The sweet wasn't overly sweet but the hot was blistering.  It was like lava on the tongue and lips.

After having endured that onslaught I thought perhaps some ice cream would extinguish the burn. We walked down to the block to Cafe Calabria.  This is a picture of the front of the restaurant which does look rather Italian.  There is a good reason for that which we found as we stepped into the interior.

A few steps up from the bar where they serve you coffee is a more private dining area that simply screams Italia Vecchio.  It starts with a fountain of a merman apparently blowing a call on a conch shell from which waters streaming.

When was the last time that you were in a coffee shop which featured the full size knight on horseback?  Fortunately it was a statue, as I’m not sure how he ever would've ridden in through the door, and might have had considerable difficulty riding out.

They also have a fireplace with what appears to be a garden gnome, beside a bust of Julius Caesar.  Without actually having really close look I’m assuming it was Julius Caesar, but I would recognize the garden gnome anywhere even when he was closed in Italian Forest garb.

If one turns to the left and looks behind the bar where they serve the gelato and sandwiches, you can see a Roman soldier in full battle armor.  He is one of two or three soldiers that are in the store.  I did find it interesting that this statue was almost 7 feet tall.  Whether Roman soldiers were selected for service due to their height or not I do not know, but I suspect that the majority of Roman soldiers of that era were in the vicinity of five and half to six feet tall.  Perhaps with the passage of time an extra foot has been added on for good measure.

I also do not recall ever having been in a coffee shop where they had full size suits of armor.  I think they make for interesting conversation pieces should one wish to discuss things other than coffee.  My darling Scooterchick had a pinwheel cookie and I had two scoops of gelato, one being Tiramisu and the other Pistachio.  The interesting thing about gelato is that it’s almost always made freshly on the premises.  And since its ingredients are so simple, namely milk or cream, sugar and flavorings it does not keep well so it gets used up quite rapidly.  The other thing about gelato is that when you put it in your mouth it basically melts away leaving only the flavor behind with no aftertaste and seems entirely devoid of the stabilizers, gums or additives which store bought ice cream contains. We both had coffee which in retrospect was not a good idea at 7 p.m.  We ended up staying up until 2:30 a.m.

On one wall a woman has someone delivering her a large sum of money.  One can imagine that he was an early Italian ship captain coming back with the booty from his voyage for the owner or noblewoman who financed the voyage to begin with.

The ceiling is also painted, a la Sistine chapel.  While the paintings may not be of museum quality, it’s evident that somebody took care to ensure that they were faithfully if not proportionally reproduced.

The sun was going down as we walked back towards the car and I managed to get this shot looking west towards the sunset. I used a light pole to provide shade for the lens to get the picture.  I like the way that the wan early evening light shines through the trees and onto the looking down the street.

This picture is the sun going down and the night coming up on Commercial drive looking towards First Avenue.  The pedestrian traffic has now slowed down to a mere trickle and the traffic is almost nonexistent.  It’s time to head back in the direction of Squamish.

Leaving town we travel over the Second Narrows Bridge and the sun was putting on a brilliant display.  It’s often like this at this time the year.  When there are clouds and possibly even some rain hanging low on the horizon the sun shines through to create a brilliant and almost violent orange glow.  Knowing that we had only a few minutes to capture this and it’s after effects, we hurried back down into West Vancouver and tried to take some pictures by the beach.

Here in the foreground we can see a couple of seagulls getting ready to relax and spend the night. By now the sun is under lighting the clouds. while remaining ambient light illuminates the tops, and approaching night from the east catches the eastern edges. The gulls seem convincingly if not spectacularly unimpressed. 

As the sun continued to go down over the horizon the color is starting to fade there’s still time for one more quick shot. You can see the difference one minute makes. I love photographing sunsets at this time of year. Their ephemeral nature makes every minute present a different view.

I threw in one more gratuitous  shot of me and my beloved, pulled over along the side of the road somewhere in Arizona a couple weeks ago.  You can see that we’re happy travelers in sunnier climes, but we do enjoy time in the Great NorthWet occasionally.

I am glad that you like to travel along with us as we go, and that you are looking forward to our next adventure.  See you then...............................