Whistler, couchsurfing and the kindness of strangers

21 Feb

So initially when I started looking into the whole year in Canada business an awful lot of people were telling me about this Whistler place. I mean I’d heard of it, I seem to remember there was an OC style show about it a couple of years ago, it ran on RTÉ2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistler_(TV_series) …terrible stuff, but it did make me aware of the mountain’s existence. Oh yeah and the winter olympics were there, I suppose that was big. Anyways I was fairly sure I’d pop up and down a few times and get a little bit of skiing in. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an obsession! Lately every other minute I’m in Vancouver I find my mind sliding off on a train of thought to Whistler.. How will we get there this weekend? Where will we stay? Which days will we go? Where will we ski? Who’s gonna be there?

It’s a very wonderful place. I’ve been skiing a bit in Austria and Italy and both were awesome but Whistler is on an entirely different level. There is just so much choice! So many lifts, runs, random places to escape off to, and so much snow! We’ve been told this winter has been especially good and I certainly won’t disagree. Even the busiest runs treat you to gorgeous powder, and for the more skilled and daring out there you’ve got all kinds of exciting off piste discoveries to make. So far we’ve been a little more adventurous with each trip, edging our way beyond run boundaries, trying to find little jumps and attempting to navigate moguls, technique could definitely stand to get better but then how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Sometimes we make it down ok, other times there are hilarious falls, but the snow is so deep it’s like being thrown onto a pillow. You just laugh, bounce back up and start down again. Just typing this is making me excited for the next trip!

Whistler adds a new level of awesomeness to being in Vancouver really. As well as all the other things being here has to recommend it you are close enough to the mountains that ‘Want to go skiing tomorrow?’ isn’t a ridiculous question. Being a UBC student helps too. The normal cost of a Whistler season pass varies betwen $1100 and $2100 depending on when you buy it. We got ours at just under $500. At the time it seemed like such a massive investment, now it seems like the biggest bargain ever invented. Still heading up there every weekend to get the value out of that pass was looking like it was going to cost us all the arms and legs we needed for skiing so we started trying to find ways to work around the main costs- accommodation and getting there, and I reckon it’s brought some of the best Canadian fun so far. First of all it led us to the insanely ingenious concept of couchsurfing (see couchsurfing.org). For those of you who haven’t heard of it before the basic idea of couchsurfing is that hosts advertise their couch on the website as a free place for travellers to stay and surfers get in touch to see if they can come crash. Simple but brilliant, we had heard about it before coming over but it was accommodation desperation that inspired us to actually sign up and throw ourselves in. So far we’ve landed 4 couches and in all cases the craic was mighty! Instead of staying in a hostel where you have to rely on the advice of other visitors about where to ski, what time to go out, what days are best and which clubs have free cover you immediately get landed with a pack of folks who have lived there for months and are up for taking you out and getting  merry together. Whistler’s a particularly good spot for couchsurfing since there’s such a huge population of young people who are there to have as much fun as possible while doing just enough work to get by or none at all if they have the savings. So pretty much everyone you meet will always be keen for some kind of antics. Thus far we’ve had some ridiculous, hilarious nights with our couchsurfing hosts and been treated so amazingly well

I’m sure there will be those that read this and think that the couchsurfing idea sounds like absolute madness, dangerous madness. Certainly I’ve been met with a raised eyebrow or two when explaining my recent sleeping arrangements. ‘But what if you end up staying with total psychos?’ or ‘what if they steal all your stuff?’. Well I guess my response is that the host takes on the same risks and more with us really. I mean we haven’t been going alone, there have been 3 or four of us each time, so it’s not like we have left ourselves vulnerable to being lured by ourselves into some predator’s lair, we may be girls but there’s definite safety in numbers. And this person is allowing us into their home (even telling us how to get back in by ourselves in case we should get lost) so if anyone has potential to steal stuff it’s the surfer. But people who have concerns like this are really missing the point. You are supposed to trust the person you stay with is a decent sort. The website lets people leave positive references for each other so you aren’t exactly going on nothing when you stay anyway but a large part of the loveliness is just taking for granted that bad things won’t happen when you put your faith in another human being that you don’t know. Life is better when you believe that most of the people you meet will be good, there are more opportunities for adventure. Couchsurfing is all about having adventures with strangers. It’s a way for locals and visitors to mix and share in all the brilliant things a place has to offer. The couch surfer gets to experience it the way residents do, avoiding tourist traps and generally benefiting from local knowledge, while the host gets to see their home through the eyes of an enthusiastic visitor. The kinds of people you meet through the website are invariably open and friendly given the nature of the exercise, but other than that you aren’t guaranteed to have anything in common, you get the chance to meet people you would never encounter in the ordinary exercise of your life.

In the same vein of  moneysaving and networking outside our usual social sphere we have also been hitching back and forth from Vancouver (in groups of course, no solo hitching and i mean we are carrying skis so if it came to it we’d be well equipped to defend ourselves). It means a free ride, which in times of ski expense is handy but it’s also another chance to meet somebody new and I like to think that generally we brighten up their journey by providing them with some company and chat. Between hitching and couchsurfing the last few months have really shown us  how much good can come from the kindness of strangers and that isn’t something we take for granted. Right now we are without cars, couches or many resources, but you can’t expect to gain as we have lately from other people’s generosity without giving something back. In the short term karma returns can be with small random acts of kindness, giving things away for free, volunteering at events, helping somebody pick things up after their bag bursts in the middle of the road. But hosting couches and giving lifts will definitely be on the agenda when I have the necessary elements for either. Letting people you don’t know into your life is risky. But at the moment I feel like you stand to lose a lot more by shutting people out than by giving them a chance. You never know who will hop into the back of your car.


Coppers yeh beaut!

19 Jan

It’s the 18th day of a new year. Unspoiled and just barely out of its wrapper, 2011 is full of delicious potential for deadliness! As I’m sure the world has noticed it has been a while since my last post. There have been distractions i’m afraid. Mostly in the shape of late nights spent desperately trying to understand evidence or write about islamic law, ski trips, Seattle trips and Passion pit (the latter a particularly sweet slice of awesomeness). in short the kinds of things I’d usually want most to be writing about (yes even exams, I’ve got a very ranty draft squirrelled away which basically lambasts them for their utter pointlessness. Might be best if it never sees the light of day actually…). But all of these things seem too far away now. i mean it’s a new year, hardly time to go reaching way back into the old one. So instead I’m gonna focus on the most recent banter and antics, the very cream of which took place not in Vancouver at all but in Dublin, and where in Dublin but Coppers?

I’ve been meaning to get to the brilliance of Coppers (or Copper Face Jacks if we’re being formal) for quite the while now. For the uninitiated Coppers is a mammoth club in the Camden/ Harcourt area. Before entering there are a few things that you should know. First of all since it’s a fairly huge place you should always be fairly merry when spending an evening there, you need to be a little bit drunk to endure the vast amount of time you’ll inevitably spend looking for folks after losing them on the stairs/ while you were catching up with somebody from school/ Irish college/ holidays. It’s also important to be aware that Coppers has a (deserved) reputation for being something of a cattle market. In other words, the majority of its patrons are there in search of the shift. So do expect people to come onto you in both traditional and creative fashion, and to see an awful lot of messy people getting pretty into each other on the dancefloor.

Now that you have some idea of what’s in store you can concentrate on enjoying the special Coppers atmosphere. I spent two awesome nights there over the Christmas with some of my very favourite people. Ridiculous dancing, running all over the place. Fairly standard nights in Coppers but then a standard night there is a bit brilliant, I guess put it down to the fantastic mix of people you find in there. Coppers is famous for being the haunt of primary school teachers (and teachers in training), nurses, Gardaí and country people up for the GAA but you can also expect to find a nice handful of Dublin people as well as businessmen and lawyers in their late 30s who have ended up there after a rowdy one at Doheny and Nesbitts.

It’s packed out every night of the week, the soundtrack split between chart and old school cheese. You’ll give it socks on the dancefloor, have hilarious chats in the smoking area, steal an abandoned drink or two, run away from the owner, lose the friends you came with, find new ones and at the very least you’ll go home with somebody’s phone number and a huge smile on your face.

what a miracle!

6 Nov

It’s autumn for real now. Took a stroll down to Wreck Beach this evening and half the leaves are brown and gold and some of them were falling as we walked. I know I should be panicking at the season change since it’s going to bring the unending rain we’ve been warned about but so far it’s been just lovely. At home you only get those crisp days when it’s cold enough to see your breath, here we’ve had a whole week of them and I haven’t had to wear a coat once.

We’ve ticked a few more typical Canadian experiences off the list. Two weeks ago it was Thanksgiving here and one of the girls volunteered to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner- turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie (which I did NOT expect to like but in the event it was pretty spectacular, ditto the pecan pie), the whole shebang- it was epic! We all brought along our own food contributions too, Kirsty and I volunteered to make a veggie dish, take a look at the recipe below, it’s a variation on a bbcgoodfood classic. When all of the food had been laid out on the table (feast is the word!) and 15 or so ravenous exchange people were just about to lay into it, one of our cooks asked us all to stand and give thanks- you know, that tradition that’s supposed to be the point of the day! I know it sounds a bit cringey but it was actually really lovely and I think having a holiday that’s all about stopping for a minute and being grateful for what you have is a brilliant idea. I like to think that i don’t take the things in my life for granted and I really believe in telling the people you love how much you appreciate them and how much they matter. If it’s something you don’t do often enough or haven’t done lately Thanksgiving is a good time to step back and remember that really life is pretty good. I also really like that it’s a secular holiday, I mean almost all of the big occasions in the Irish calendar are linked to Christianity, and I guess that makes sense since we’re a pretty homogeneous little country but some people do get left out and at Thanksgiving nobody does because it’s just about eating a massive meal and hanging out with your family, which are things universally enjoyed.

The wonderful dinner came at the tail end of a really fantastic weekend so we had that to be thankful for. We went on a bit of an adventure through the Fraser valley and up to Adams River in search of the spawning sockeye salmon. Every 4 years masses of them swim upstream to the exact spot where they were born to lay their eggs and then they die. It’s strange that salmon have no parent-child relationship, who do they blame all of their problems on when they reach adulthood?

The trip was a truly marvellous laugh. It was Crazybones brainchild- she’d heard about these determined salmon, and that at a certain point somewhere east or north of Vancouver there were so many that they filled whole river. So 5 of us packed off in a rented car with only a vague notion of where we were going and limited knowledge of how to get there. We drove until we hit a small town called Hope. I know- it sounds like the name of a sitcom. And it did have a certain Twin Peaks vibe. Its an unassuming little place, petrol stations, a dairy queen, a couple of shops and bars a very ordinary place in an extraordinary setting- it sits nestled in the shadow of the massive, splendid mountains and the Fraser River thunders along its edge- yet the town is so normal looking, it barely seems to notice its impressive surrounds, if it does it just carries on regardless, minding its own business. When I told people we had visited their faces took on almost sympathetic expressions ‘there wouldn’t be much to do at night in Downtown Hope huh?’. Actually there is rather a lot, Friday night in Hope was one of the funnest I’ve spent in Canada!

It started off with a sign that read ‘karaoke at the Eagles, guests welcome’, assuming the Eagles was a pub we made our way up there, post a pleasant dinner and a few glasses of Naked Grape, only to learn from a lady in the Car Park that the Eagles was not a bar at all but the local headquarters of an organisation called the Fraternal Order of  Eagles. The old FOE is a social club with a charitable message which claims responsibility for Mother’s Day, Friday karaoke was buzzing with Hope’s most high profile FOE members. The sign had told us guests were welcome but that was a little bit of a misrepresentation- members like members you see, luckily we bumped into one of the more fun loving of these just outside the Eagles and she signed us in as her responsibilities (if we’d behaved badly she would have been banned for a month). Luckily we were a hit, breaking the ice with a lively rendition of Proud Mary complete with frenetic dancing and crowd participation. Having gotten ourselves nicely warmed out we continued to roll out the hits until closing (partly because Naomi kept signing us up to sing without telling us, hence a mystified me being called away from a hilarious chat to belt out Billy Rae Cyrus’ Achie Breaky heart….cringe and off key don’t begin to cover it). Afterwards Darlene and Naomi, our new best friends in Hope led us to the Gold Rush, the main meeting point of Hope’s hot young things where we got more chances to dance like mentals and generally soak up the place’s brilliance.

Over the next 2 days salmon hunting began in earnest. They had been and gone from the Fraser Valley so on the advice of the man who runs the river rafting in those parts we headed further north towards Kamloops to the Adam’s River. The journey took us through a variety of landscapes and from the windows of the car we saw some breath taking things. On plenty of occassions we hopped out to take snaps like this one

Popped by Coquihalla national Park to see the Othello tunnels, a line of tunnels (as you may have guessed) that were blasted through the granite walls of a canyon by Andrew McCullough,  a mad, visionary 19th century engineer. He was like a human salmon really, chasing that impossible dream, finding a way nobody thought he could! In his case the mission was to bring a railway to Kootenay BC and the only way was through the canyon. He pretty much risked life and limb to do it and in the event the train only ran that way for a couple of decades. His legacy is still there, the tunnels draw plenty of tourists for a gander (us among them obviously) , but somehow I don’t think that would be any consolation. Sure he’s immortalised, but I reckon he’d rather be relevant.

After another sleep and many more miles of driving in a confused manner we finally made it to salmon. We arrived at the Salute to the Sockeye festival at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, entirely exhausted but eager to see the fish at the end of their rather more draining journey. As we got near the smell hit us: the salmon who’d already made it, spawned and said goodbye. At the time I thought the whole thing was incredibly sad. They swim all this way, overcome enormous obstacles, finally make it and then die, leaving their little orphan babies to face the same thing in 4 years time. Actually it’s kind of awesome. You’re born without parents. You learn all there is to know about being a salmon from instinct and just live your life without any of the responsibilities of dependents (aging parents or parasitic children) then when you feel it’s time to grow up and enter the mature stage of life you get to head off on this ridiculous adventure with all the other salmon from your generation, leave behind a load of eggs and never worry what becomes of them. Might be the best life cycle ever. Stupid lucky salmon!

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet potato mash

400g tin of lentils

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 courgettes cut into chunks

butternut squash cut into chunks

2 fairly big sweet potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

3 carrots cut into chunks,

2 tsp oregano

a chunk of ginger, the size of 2 thumbnails I reckon, grated or chopped

25g butter


Boil the sweet potato in a saucepan until tender. Drain and mash with the butter and season to your heart’s content.Meanwhile fry the garlic, onion and ginger in a  little oil until the onions are tender. Then add the carrots, water, tomatoes and oregano. Throw in some salt and pepper and a spoon of cumin if you feel like it. Simmer for ten minutes then add the lentils, juice and all, cover and simmer for another ten minutes until the carrots are tender. Ladle into an oven proof dish then spoon over the sweet potato mash until covered. Finally grate some cheddar over the top then pop into an oven preheated to 190 celsius/170 in a fan oven for 20 minutes

that was our variation because of some ingredient constraints but do feel free to try the real deal


living like a local

6 Oct

You know I really should be asleep. It’s been a busy few days with several late nights and to be honest I feel like giving my body some kind of prize for coping so well under all the pressure. But I’m not ready for bed just yet so I thought I’d take the time to visit my poor neglected blog and stock it up with lovely new stories.

Vancouver continues to delight but life is finally slowing down into something resembling normal service: lectures are happening (I actually have work….and a job) and things like shopping at Wal Mart no longer seem like such exciting novelties (yes visiting Wal Mart was a bit of a thrill initially, I mean it’s kind of a celebrity,it’s got a whole South Park episode about it for God’s sake, though it is a bit typecast- always playing the villain so it is). This is for the best seeing as being a nerdy tourist can only remain acceptable for so long, eventually you just have to accept that things like pep rallies and large McFlurries and peanut butter on everything are normal in Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I love touristy activities and myself and Freda have already been compiling a bucketlist of all the stereotypical things we have to do while living here , after all, what is the point of travelling halfwayish across the world (maybe a thirdway but halfway really sounds more dramatic, it’s very far anyways) if you aren’t going  to sample some of the national culture? But because we are actually living here there’s the temptation to go a step further by actually adopting some of the Canadian lifestyle, as we see it, which means embracing outdoorsiness, cultivating a practical and weather appropriate dress sense, clean living, drinking in moderation, taking college very seriously.

It’s a strange situation to be caught in, on the one hand you like the idea of belonging to a place, of ‘fitting right in’, on one of our earliest trips downtown Freda and I were asked directions by a fellow tourist and we just about jumped up and down with excitement at the thought of being mistaken for locals. On the other you want to keep the sense of newness, I mean I don’t want to suddenly take being here for granted, an awful lot of people who are from Vancouver haven’t been to so many places of note because they’re local, and I know myself that when you live down the road from something and can visit any time it never seems like a priority. So we’ve been trying to do the things that guide books tell us all residents of Vancouver must do once, ie the things a lot of locals can’t be bothered with.

One of the first that we managed to tackle was the Grouse Grind. Grouse is a mountain about an hour from UBC and the Grind is a trail you can take to the top instead of hopping on a gondola…We were under the impression that it was a bit of a stroll, the word ‘hike’ was not being thrown around and idyllic views were expected. As it turns out ‘grind’ is right on the money. It was not a walk but a climb up thousands and thousands of roughly carved steps, sometimes giving way to rocks or particularly prominent roots. By the quarter mark we were sweat drenched.  Since we had chosen to come on a Saturday (probably one of the last dry ones Vancouver will see in 2010) there were about a million people sharing the staircase with us, looking down the mountain it was like a motorway of bodies following, with still more powering on ahead. There are some crazy amazing people who can actually run the whole thing (I think the record is twenty seven minutes) but we found maintaining a steady trudge to be challenge enough, when we were at the final quarter of the climb this little mountain goat of a kid (pun intended) just bounced past us. We made it to the top in an hour and ten minutes which I reckon is an all right time for exercise rookies, there’s chat about trying to improve our time but I’m not sure I agree with it. The top of the mountain did reward us though, the views are utterly mint and there are bears! In an enclosure of course, which was a little bit sad, I’d rather have caught them in the open lumbering around, but they seemed happy enough, I think they knew they were celebrity bears. And they were immense! I mean the logical part of my brain knew bears were a bit on the large side but I was still bowled over by their bulk when I saw the real deal, and they weren’t even fully grown!

Apparently there’s also a lumberjack show to be seen on Grouse but we arrived too late to see it, and since that is definitely something one would stereotypically associate with Canada I may have to rethink my reluctance to reGrind, though there is a more scenic route up the mountain which I may opt for next time, that way I can bring the auld ones.

Another place I want to revisit, though definitely NOT with the parents is Lynn Canyon. This time 24 hours ago I didn’t know it existed. We were at a party for a friend’s birthday and myself and Freda were trying to scout out cliff jumping locations for the weekend. After a little bit of asking a rather lovely New Zealander (so far they’re all lovely really) called Emily turned us onto the existence of Lynn Canyon National Park in North Van. We learned that it was a handy enough jaunt up there by bus and sea bus and that it even boasted a FREE suspension bridge (just as good as the one at Capilano apparently but without the $30 asking price). This was plenty of convincing for us. We delayed departure today until the sun showed itself and things fell into place from there. The park is incredible, everything is so untouched and enormous. The first attraction we tackled was the suspension bridge and the views were so spectacular; the trees seemed to carry on down the sides of the valley forever. And yes I did jump up and down on it a bit to get it bouncing around…I’m sorry I am one of those annoying people that fellow suspension bridge passengers despise.

It was only a couple of minutes walk to the Thirty Foot pool where the more intense jumping was to take place, you follow a path through dense trees and then suddenly they just fall away to the left and the creek and the pool opens out in front of you, all sparkly blue and clear and gushing along over smooth rocks without the slightest regard for your existence. At first we weren’t at all sure if we had the right place- from where we stood the water barely looked deep enough for paddling never mind plunging into from a few metres above. But seeing as it was a lovely spot anyway we found a nice big rock to stretch out on and before long  a group of Canadians started jumping into a pool a bit further upstream- it turned out that the shallow part of the creek was on a shelf of rock and where that fell away you have the 30 foot pool. We watched the natives climbing the rocks, taking note of the different spots where they jumped from (trying to adapt to local norms once again) and after a little bit of deliberation and hesitation about the temperature decided we’d better join in.

There are several points to jump from around the pool but we decided to start from one of the lower ones, even from there my body, having witnessed those crazy Canadians doing all kinds of mad flips and things from assorted heights, was pumping with adrenaline. The water was electrifyingly cold. When I emerged from below the surface I could barely speak, still gasping from the shock while my body tried to figure out whether the sun had died. After recovering from that we took a few more jumps, venturing a bit higher but the dizziest drop we didn’t brave. It might have had something to do with the fact that there were only 2 of us so it was easier to chicken out (if my mother is reading this I know she’s thanking her lucky stars we chose to go the same day as the Longboat race, hence our lack of cojumpers), but before the year is out we shall return with a  bigger group, hurrah for peer pressure!

Continuing in a musical vein

1 Oct

There honestly are other posts coming about life in Vancouver and the best of what we’ve done so far but right now my mind is full of last night’s concert. So yet another rant about being blown away by a band, this time Arcade Fire, is all I can manage right now.

The night started off with a bit of a panic as attempted to find our way from UBC to the venue, Pacific Colisseum, by 9PM. We thought we’d left ourselves plentyof time but that was before we learned that we’d been given seriously dodgy directions. About 20 million bus changes ensued, we collected more and more people on the journey who were attempting to go to the show but nobody seemed to know where we going. Luckily one of Vancouver’s heroic bus drivers put us in the right direction.

I didn’t know what to expect of the venue- as it turns out it’s a hockey stadium, and it turned out to be pretty perfect, a huge space like that was just daring the band to fill it up with beautiful sounds and raucous noise and they were doing just that when we finally got through the doors, getting into their stride with Neighbourhood #2 (Laika). Not wanting to miss it we found a temporary place to watch before finding our high up seats.We later learned we’d missed the opener, a track from Neon Bible apparently, the band went on to play No Cars Go and Haiti before launching in to the new material with Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains. Watching them make music was a breathtaking experience, on stage the ladies and gentlemen of the Arcade Fire looked positively in their element, there was much ecstatic leaping and dancing and there was the distinct impression, that to them this was play rather than work, they were having fun with each other, bouncing off one another, this was where they wanted to be and what they were meant to be doing. Their enthusiasm was infectious, from the moment we’d walked into the stadium and caught those early strains of Laika my whole body filled up with this excited, elated feeling. This did not subside for a moment throughout the concert and lasted long after we’d left.

I think Arcade Fire have done something that seemed impossible with the Suburbs; they’ve made an album that I actually love as much as the previous 2 and the EP. I was just as excited to hear Suburban War, Rococo and the Modern Man as I was for Keep the Car Running. Having said that I did find some of the songs they played odd choices, I mean I love the Month of May but as Freda pointed out City with No Children in it is much more of a stand out track and definitely has the hallmarks of a future showstopper.  And even though it was inevitable I was a little sad at the lack of  Old Flame or Crown of Love, but I suppose when a band has as many epic songs as they do one can’t really moan about not hearing all of your favourites. I guess it’s my own fault for getting into them too late to see them in Dublin years ago when all these songs were still fresh.

The latter part of the set was firmly staked in heart swelling Funeral territory. Rebellion (Lies) provided one of the unmistakable highlights of the night, 3 out of 4 of us had never seen the band live before and while already in pretty high spirits, having just sung our lungs off to Power Out, this song sent us well and truly over the edge into mental as any small ration of reserve left in us evaporated and we danced and jumped up and down with abandon, shouting out the lyrics (in perfect tune I’m sure), deliriously happy. It was somewhere around now, though the whole thing now is a bit of an excited blur, that one of the band members, I think it was William Butler but honestly I don’t really know one from another…I am a bad fan, leapt off the stage, ran all around the barrier and leaped into the pit area. Only a few fans towards the back actually saw this, everybody else was blinded by the crush of people around them, but those that did well..they just sort of waved at him. Which was polite I guess I mean the show can’t really go on if one of the musicians has been mobbed by rabid fans. But he looked so up for going mad with people. It made me think what would have happened at home had he done the same. Well the guy would definitely have been danced with and some folks would have gone in for a high five or a handshake, physical contact anyway. I hate to say it but I do think crowds at home give a bit more back, I mean I did notice a more reserved brand of crowd antics than I was used to at The National, but that’s the National, they’re more of a stare and sway band anyway, this was Arcade Fire, they’re all on stage dancing like people possessed AND playing instruments , and you get to watch, there’s just no excuse not to go mental!

After an emotional Neighbourhood # 1 (Tunnels) we waited for the band to return for their encore. I’ve never been so afraid that the words ‘this is our last song’ were meant to be taken seriously. At this stage everyone in our section had well and truly woken up and were (aptly) humming the opening bars to Wake Up, positive the night couldn’t end until we’d heard it. After what seemed like forever they returned, subdued but only for a moment until they broke into Keep the Car Running and once again the crowd erupted, or the folks around us anyways (maybe it was just the people in the pit who were holding it in, cool points may have been a factor down there, I don’t know). Having worked us back up to exhilarated  the only thing that remained was to get Wake Up out, the lights shut off at the close of Keep the Car Running and as they came back it started. I’m not even going to try to explain how awesome it was to hear it live. All I know is that pretty much every individual in that stadium was singing along, ridiculous grins on our faces and when it ended we felt like we’d seen and been part of something really special. I left thinking I’d be quite willing to trade in college, accommodation, the year in Vancouver in order to follow them around on their tour Grateful Dead style. And I don’t think you can get feedback much more positive than that.

The National sing Anthems and a first trip to Gas Town

17 Sep

For some reason I always had it in my head when thinking about the move to Vancouver that I would go to many concerts. This didn’t make an awful lot of objective sense since I don’t go to at all many at home where my financial situation is far more stable. But with this in mind I started doing little bits of Last FM research to see who was going to be in Vancouver when I was and very early on I discovered that The National and The Walkmen would be arriving shortly after me and playing something called the Malkin Bowl. Unfortunately I lacked any means of buying tickets online and when one of the dates sold out months ago I assumed the second night, announced shortly afterwards, was a lost cause too. Luckily a few days before said show, my favourite New Zealander of all time told me that there were still tickets and that was it really, there was no way we weren’t going.

At this stage we already knew that the Malkin Bowl was an outdoor theatre in Stanley Park (we had seen it on that first visit) and Vancouver played a blinder by providing us with a really lovely evening: warm and still with the odd cloud framed in the sunset. The Walkmen were about halfway through their set when we arrived and instead of going straight in we sat outside on the grass, among a crowd of decidedly hipsterish picnicers, and from that comfortable vantage point could hear them perfectly. Strolling in to catch their last song we found the Malkin Bowl to be smaller than expected and the crowd incredibly relaxed. Several people had spread blankets out at the back and were watching from the ground. We could easily have edged our way closer to the front but everybody in the crowd had so much respect for personal space we didn’t feel right about doing so, besides the venue is actually small enough that from where we stood, at the very back of the standing folks, we were about 5m from Matt and Co, near enough to see every change of facial expression.

The band kicked off the show with Runaway and from the moment they began to play they had the entire crowd mesmerised. It wasn’t a concert to go mad dancing- everybody was too busy staring at the stage and the amazing things happening there. There was a ridiculous amount of talent present, as well as the band there was the amazing Padma Newsome (has her own band called the Clogs apparently, must check them out) on violin and keyboard, and a brass section. It never occurred to me how much goes into every National song until I saw  one being created. Every song was beautifully rendered, the sounds they made far outstripping the recorded version, the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous night, in fact it might have been the night itself that cinched it, the backdrop of stars just made every song seem that bit more elegant and special.

The band breezed through the best of their back catalogue: Fake Empires, Mistaken for Strangers, Karen, Squalor Victoria, an intoxicating Mr. November. The only time my friend and I took our eyes off the stage was to look at each other and say ‘EPIC!’ The crowd went just as mad for new favourites off  High Violet, Terrible Love, England and Vanderlyle Crybaby had already been receiving special attention on my ipod, there’d been stirrings of hmm yes I like this song, but in Stanley Park it turned into love and they got full National anthem status.

The only minus to an otherwise plus packed evening was the show’s early finish. Nobody was ready to leave when the band finished their encore but I’ve since learned Malkin Bowl has an early curfew and it wasn’t long after ten when we were making our way back to the bus stop, going blow by blow through our favourite bits and getting overcome by a fresh wave of awe over the brilliance of them every few minutes.

On the bus we started considering our options for post party merriment. The simplest thing was to hop off on Granville, where all the most wonderful nightlife is said to be and take our chances on wherever was making the most noise. At some point we got talking to some Canadians who had been at the concert and asked them where we could go that would provide good tunes for a bitta dancing. They put us off the clubs on Granville, telling us Thursday was not the best night to try them out and advised us to come along to the Cambie, a pub in Gas Town, instead. Gas Town is an older, less shiny part of the city which we were rather eager to see anyway. While not the  sweaty dancefest we’d envisioned when we decided to go out the Cambie is definitely going to become a haunt. It’s a proper old fashioned pub: dimly lit, loud with chat, scruffy furniture and playing the most delightfully cheesy music. Thursday nights are for students, which means $12 pitchers of extremely drinkable honey ale and an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. We sat with our new Canadian friends but soon got talking to other patrons who were all noticeably up for the craic, though they did look at us like we were serial killers when we got up and started dancing despite the obvious lack of a dancefloor. It was the pub’s own fault for playing The Beatles Ob La Di, you never hear that out at home, we couldn’t NOT dance. We calmed down afterwards by playing an arcade game called Shoot the Elk. That’s right, there is a real live Canadian game where the object is to shoot as many deer as possible while sparing the cows (there were turkeys as well but I’m not sure if shooting them was a plus or a minus on the score front). I was woeful at it. But must thank those lovely Canadians for providing such worthy entertainment after that amazing concert, and for buying us rather alot of food. They sell hummus in pubs here you know.

Early Days (it still feels like holidays)

7 Sep

Feeling a little bit sheepish coming into this entry as it’s been almost a month since anything remotely banterish got a mention on here but I do have some excuse for the last week’s absence at least- I finally arrived in Vancouver and minutes to spare have been few and far between (it didn’t help that my brain was well and truly melted with jet lag). But the next hour looks as though it’ll be pretty empty of distraction, so while it’s all still fresh in my head I guess a run down of the craic so far is in order.

I’ve got to say the first week here has been of pretty high quality in terms of antics and laughing and general merriment so I hope I can do it justice. Vancouver is an obscenely beautiful city. I honestly don’t know how people here manage to go to work every day and do the things that make the whole place run so smoothly because I can’t stop looking around me and staring at everything: the trees; the buildings; the sky- everything is so brilliant, even the light here seems to be of a different quality, almost clearer, than at home (though I may be just seeing things with particularly enthusiastic eyes). My apartment on campus is a 5 minute walk from Wreck Beach and mountains on the skyline give a bit of an epic backdrop to outdoor goings-on. An outdoor going-on I’m particularly focused on at the moment is the National concert in Malkin Bowl this Thursday, which a friend and I just today bought tickets to. The setting looks gorgeous- an outdoor theatre in Stanley Park- so fingers crossed for a warm evening and a clear sky. We’ve already spent a day in the Park, located by the shore in town, and it was teeming with shiny happy Vancouver folks running and cycling and soaking up the sun and gorgeousness.

(haven’t really got the hang of putting photos into posts as you can see, but you get the idea- the park is lovely)

Plenty of animals were milling about too, the squirrels here are so brazen! It’s only been a week and I’ve already seen about seven of them run up to people without the least bit of hesitation, yesterday we actually saw one sitting on a bin eating what appeared to be a paper bag, apparently this diet is working for him as he was by far the largest squirrel I’ve ever seen, I’m only devastated that I didn’t have my camera with me.

We’ve also been down to Granville Island for touristy adventures, the main attraction (for us anyway) was definitely the Public market, where we picked up fresh fruit and hummus and general deli amazingness before heading down to the docks for a makeshift picnic followed by an attempted pub crawl back to UBC. Inevitably we only ended up going to one bar, the Granville Island Brewery, before going in the wrong direction and eventually getting picked up by a bus back to college. Luckily there was some beer from the aforementioned pub at my house (they make their own, it’s definitely drinkable, Brockton IPA variety for the win) which led to a very pleasant session and our first night time trip to Wreck beach. Student socialising here, as far as any of us can gather, doesn’t centre around clubs the way it does in Ireland so in the absence of a major house party (or indeed a Frat party because those exist in this mad country) the beach is sort of the place to go when in search of night time fun (I imagine this is only the case when it isn’t raining, which is soon to be never!). We weren’t disappointed, some resourceful Canadians had lit a bonfire and three guys with serious musical talent were providing dark, antireligious but nevertheless rather brilliant tunes while other folks jumped around and made smores.

Smores at night time isn’t one I’d encountered before. It’s rather a wholesome image compared to beach parties at home (we never had fires, shame on all those people who had been scouts!) and while I wouldn’t say those particular Canadians were having a family friendly evening it’s been glaringly obvious since we’ve arrived that drinking just doesn’t figure in nights out here as much as it does in Ireland, or even the continent. I’m quite looking forward to a couple of months of moderation though it does take some getting used to. The last few nights we’ve been having little get togethers in apartments and this has been brilliant for getting to know people but I miss dancing like a mental and I’m looking forward to going Downtown at the weekends and going to the odd club. The college club, the unfortunately titled ‘Pit’ has been visited twice. Both nights proved a good laugh, we’ve met a lot of really fun people through the international orientation and a good group can make any location fun. The dancefloor is right in the middle of the venue which makes it lovely and easy to view all the entertaining shapes being thrown. There’s a really good atmosphere among all of the international students that I’ve encountered and a lot of effort was put into helping us meet each other which meant that I felt absolutely comfortable dancing in the usual loon manner with people I’d only met about 24 hours before. Loved the music too- a nice bag of tunes some old enough that I remember dancing to them at underage discos, but pleasant associations like that are what make songs like that so fun to hear. Shorty got Low was a serious highlight. But that said I don’t reckon I’ll venture back there for a while, the window to hang out at Wreck Beach is pretty narrow, there are Frat parties to experience, and going to the Pit too often would definitely spoil the hilariousness of the place, I feel it’s gonna be a Coppersesque destination-not one to go to more than once a week, but once there a place of very energetic fun.

This week has definitely been a brilliant start to the year here, with classes starting Wednesday I’m really excited to see things get even more fun as more people show up all over campus and we get fully into the swing of college. Looking forward to seeing some Canadians in their absolute element and sussing out where the best bant in Van is to be had.