Friday, May 4, 2018

West Coast Wild | Tofino, BC

Dramatic, wave-whipped beaches and brooding, mist-licked forests make the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve a must-see for anyone interested in experiencing British Columbia’s raw West Coast wilderness. The scenic drive through the center of Vancouver Island is only a taste of what’s to come. En route from Nanaimo make sure to stop at the sprawling food and crafts menagerie, Coombs Old Country Market, with a grassy roof where a herd of goats spends the summer months.

Mystical Cathedral Grove (above photo) between Parksville and Port Alberni is the spiritual home of tree huggers and where forest trails wind through a dense, breathtaking canopy of vegetation, offering glimpses of some of BC’s oldest trees, including centuries-old Douglas firs more than 3m in diameter.

Vancouver Island’s favourite outdoorsy retreat is Tofino and it’s not surprising that surf fans, families and city-escaping Vancouverites keep coming: packed with activities and blessed with stunning regional beaches, the funky community sits on Clayoquot Sound, where forested mounds rise from roiling, ever-dramatic waves.

We’re cosying in at The Shoreline cabins, located in a pocket of tranquility just off the highway. This hidden gem is perfect for waking up to glass-calm waterfront views. Time to chill out and peace out.

Coffee, then the world.

A glimpse of the view from the deck of our cabin at The Shoreline.

Today we’re hiking up to the Cox Bay Beach lookout. It’s a muddy, steep, jungle-y, somewhat dodgy climb but once at the top the panoramic view rewards us.

Couples that shralp together stay together. The heavy, constant rollers of the Pacific Ocean against wide expanses of beach have made this one of the world’s hot spots for surfing. Whether beginner or experienced you’ll find outfitters to help you catch the wave, year-round.

Tim’s a bit rusty but he gets up eventually, for at least half a second.

We’ve worked up a good appetite so after a hot bath we head straight to The Wolf in the Fog restaurant for a culinary experience worthy of our surfing safari. Just look at this beautiful potato-crusted oyster with celeriac and truffle mayo—reason alone to come to Tofino! We also recommend Sobo (meaning Sophisticated Bohemian), a brilliant place to dive into fresh-catch seafood for dinner and there’s a hearty lunch menu as well as take-out soups and tempting baked goods. Other favourites include Shelter, the Rhino Café (for the donuts and breakfast bagel) and The Common Loaf Bake Shop. While Tim is finishing his coffee Sandi nips into Merge, a lovely shop full of curated and handmade goods, and emerges with a fine pair of hoop earrings.

The legendary TacoFino truck serves up fresh fish tacos and a host of other satiating specialties. Serendipitously, a few steps away is Chocolate Tofino with heaping house-made ice cream (try the lavender honey) and delicious chocolates to-go including salted caramel, wild blackberry buttercream, passionfruit, lavender, masala chai and tiramisu rooibos truffles. We might never leave Tofino.
 Masala Chai Truffl

Visible through the mist and accessible via kayak or tour boat from the Tofino waterfront, Meares Island is home to the Big Tree Trail, a 400m boardwalk through an old-growth forest that includes a stunning 1500-year-old red cedar.

Be careful not to step on any banana slugs crossing your path. These forest dwellers can grow to a length of 8 inches (20cm).

Chesterman Beach.

Meet the animal that’s making everyone say, “What's all over the beach?” Brilliant blue Velella Velella’s aka “by-the-wind-sailors” are colonial hydrozoans (related to jellyfish) that float on the surface of the ocean, catching plankton food with their tentacles. The sail on top of their body allows them to be blown about by the wind. When the wind and currents are just so, millions of them get carried here and get stranded on the beaches and die. They are not dangerous to humans.

The sleepier town of Ucluelet (nicknamed ‘Ukee’ by locals) has more than a few charms of its own and is a good reminder of what Tofino was like before tourism arrived. Forty-one kilometers south of Tofino it’s well worth a stop for a day or two. Star hikes include the 2.8km (1.7m) round-trip Willowbrae Trail which leads down steep steps to both Florencia Beach (above photo) or Half Moon Bay (the most romantic cove on the Long Beach stretch) and the Wild Pacific Trail that winds around wave-slapped cliffs past a lighthouse and along the craggy shoreline fringing the town. Don’t leave town without trying the cinnamon buns (or anything) at Zoe’s Café. 

Sandi finds a natural resting spot to take in the view on the Wild Pacific Trail.

The kid-luring touch tanks at the Ucluelet Aquarium are filled with local marine critters, most on a catch-and-release program.

The relaxed vibe here calls for a good read and a fascinating local one is “White Slaves of Maquinna”, John R. Jewitt's narrative of his three-year capture and confinement at Nootka in 1803.

It’s time for us to head back to Nanaimo and catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland but we vow to return to this enchanting place that has captured our hearts.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas

Our God who breathes stars, He breathed Bethlehem's Star, then took on lungs and breathed in stable air.
Our God who formed and delivered the heavens, He waited patient like an embryo in a womb and delivered Himself to free all humanity.
Our God who cradles whole galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain, He folds Himself into our skin and He curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough—and we are saved from ourselves.  - ANN VOSKAMP

Wishing you a joyous Christmas and God's blessings in the new year. May His love bring you peace at Christmas and always. Love and hugs, Sandi and Tim xox

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Anchors Aweigh in Greece

We're going sailing in Greece for ten days but first England to visit some of Tim's family and friends, starting with his sister, Tessa, in Lincolnshire and a walk through her farmland. Sugar beet, wheat, barley, and rapeseed are just some of the crops grown on her land.

Tessa has kindly invited us to a polo match. The festivities begin with a gourmet lunch and champagne, of course.

The Polo Club presents Tessa with the perfect gift—an honorary vintage Club teapot.

Great mallet action, smashing neck shots, pukka chukkas... frightfully jolly good fun I do declaaare.

It's love at first sight for Sandi when she meets Tessa's adorable dachshund, Beetle.

We drive to Cornwall for a few days. The serene panoramic view from the hilltop overlooking Daymer Bay with its huge, sandy beach gives good reason for pause.

Polzeath is a small village situated on the North coast of Cornwall, home to a fantastic beach and one of the world's most renowned surfing destinations. Fifty years ago Tim's mother bought a house here for family vacations. The house has since passed onto some of the younger family members. Mrs. Lovell Sr. would be very pleased to know Polzeath still remains the family's favourite gathering place. 

Sunset over Polzeath.

Today we're in Rock waiting for Tim's nephew, Andrew, his wife Sarah, and their daughter Miya, who are taking us for a spin on their boat before dropping us off across the estuary in Padstow.

Beetle's a natural sea dog.

If anywhere symbolizes Cornwall's changing character, it's Padstow. This once-sleepy fishing port has been transformed into one of the county's most cosmopolitan corners thanks to celebrity chef Rick Stein, whose property portfolio encompasses several restaurants, shops and hotels, as well as a seafood school and fish-and-chip bar. No wonder locals affectionately call it, "Padstein".

En route to Bath we pop in for a visit with Tim's friend, Chris, and his son, Oliver. Thank you for the fine spot of tea and your good company guys!

We've been to Bath before (here) and loved it so much we came back for more. Serendipitously, Tim has another friend who lives here which is an even better excuse to return yet again.

No trip to Bath would be complete without a stop at Sally Lunn's for one of her mouth-watering, historic buns.

We're making our way back to London to catch our flight to Greece but not before stopping in Brighton for the night. Brighton is without a doubt Britain's most colourful and outrageous city. With its bohemian, hedonistic vibe, it's where England's seaside experience goes from cold to “cool".

Victorian spendour, the famous Brighton bandstand, first opened in 1884.

The grand century-old pier is the place to experience Brighton's tackier side. There are plenty of stomach-churning fairground rides and dingy amusement arcades to keep you entertained, and candy floss to chomp on while you're doing so.

The city's must-see attraction is the Royal Pavilion, the glittering party pad and palace of Prince George, later Prince Regent and then King George IV.

It's one of the most opulent buildings in England, certainly the finest example of early 19th century chinoiserie anywhere in Europe and an apt symbol of Brighton's reputation for decadence. An unimpressed Queen Victoria called the Royal Pavilion ‘a strange, odd Chinese place', but for visitors it's an unmissable chunk of Sussex history.

London ✈ ✈ ✈ Argostoli

And just like that, here we are in town of Argostoli on the island of Kefalonia in Greece, about to set sail on the Yantina, a 56ft Oyster yacht, and our home for the next ten days. She comes complete with her own Captain, our friend Ian (who also happens to be her owner), who invited us along on this leg of his 6-month sailing adventure.

The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia's convoluted coastline conceals all sorts of captivating coves and beach-lined bays. Sadly, the devastating earthquake of 1953 razed much of its historic Venetian architecture. 

The prettiest of the low-key resorts on the Gulf of Corinth, Galaxidi is graced with narrow cobblestone streets, handsome stone mansions and two small harbours. A forested headland, opposite the waterfront, is fringed by a 1.5km walking path and pebbled coves popular with swimmers. Galaxidi's most prosperous period was between 1830 and 1910 when it was a major maritime power, playing an important role in the Greek War of Independence against Ottoman rule. When the maritime industry failed to keep pace with modern shipbuilding trends, the town became a centre for building caïques (small fishing boats). We're here for the night and stocking up on supplies.

The view from our cabin.

The largest city in the Peloponnese, Patra is named after King Patreas who ruled Achaïa around 1100 BC. Little is evident of this busy port's 3000 years of history, during which it was an important trade centre under the Mycenaeans and the Romans. The Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge is an engineering feat that links the city with western continental Greece. At 2,880m (1.8 miles) it is the world's longest fully-suspended bridge.

West of the small town of Galaxidi skirting the Gulf of Corinth, and only 9km after the bridge crossing (Rio-Antirrio) from Patras that joins the Peloponnese with Stereo Ellada, is the delightful, bustling town of Nafpaktos. It speads out from a handsome circular-walled harbour dotted with plane trees, trendy cafés and a good swimming beach. Above it looms a Venetian castle.

We anchor in Nafpaktos for the night and Ian zips us to shore in the RIB through the old ramparts for dinner.

The crew: (left to right) Margo, Ian, Sandi, Tim and David. Kate stayed onboard, devoted grandmother that she is, in effort to finish knitting a sweater for her soon-to-be-born grandchild.

Of all the archaeological sites in Greece, Ancient Delphi (from delphis, meaning womb) is the one with the most potent spirit of place. Built on the slopes of Mt Parnassos, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and extending into a valley of olive trees, this World Heritage site's allure lies both in its stunning setting and its inspiring ruins. The ancient Greeks regarded Delphi as the centre of the world.

Its cliffside location is spectacular and, despite its overt commercialism and the constant passage of tour buses through the modern village, it still has a special feel. It's 40° celsius in the shade and Sandi's wilting fast.

A well-deserved lunch with a view that's hard to beat.

Mount Parnassos, with an altitude of 2,260 metres, ranks among the highest mountains in Greece. Its spectacular geomorphology and rich biodiversity place it among the most important mountain environments in Greece. Here also, is the largest downhill ski resort in Greece. Tim's excited but with the blistering heat, he'll have to wait until December in Whistler to ski.

The Corinth Canal is an engineering marvel. A project that spanned many centuries, it was conceived by a ruler of Ancient Corinth, begun by Roman emperor Nero and completed in the 19th century by the French. Cut through solid rock, the canal is more than 6km long and 23m wide, its vertical sides rising 90m above the water. The canal did much to elevate Piraeus' status as a major Mediterranean port and is particularly impressive when a ship is passing through. The concept of cutting a canal through the Corinth Isthmus to link the Ionian and Aegean Seas was first proposed by Periander, the tyrant of Ancient Corinth at the end of the 7th century BC. The magnitude of the task defeated him, so he opted instead to build a diolkos (paved slipway), across which sailors dragged small ships on rollers, a method used until the 13th century.

In the intervening years many leaders, including Alexander the Great and Caligula, toyed with the canal idea, but it was Nero who struck the first blow himself, using a golden pickaxe in AD 67 before leaving it to 6000 Jewish slaves to do the hard work. The project was soon halted by invasions by the Gauls. Ironically, it was a French engineering company that finally completed the canal in 1893.

Tim spots Moby Dick... er, no...

... just a group of friendly dolphins coming to say “Yasass” (hello).

We're on our way to see the ancient Theatre of Epidauros. Built of limestone, yet one of the best-preserved classical Greek structures in existence, now used for performances of ancient Greek drama during the annual Hellenic Festival, the 4th century BC theatre is the undisputed highlight of Epidauros.

It's renowned for its amazing acoustics, a coin dropped in the theatre's centre (where teeny-tiny Sandi is standing in the above photo) can be heard from the highest seat. The theatre seats up to 14,000 people. Its entrance is flanked by restored Corinthian pilasters and the foundations of the ancient stage are beyond the circle.

The Museum houses statuary (mostly copies) that once adorned the Temple of Asclepius, stone inscriptions, and fragments of intricately carved reliefs.

The inscribed marble in the photo above dates to 150-200 AD. On it Marcus Julius Apellas of Asia Minor, who suffered from indigestion, expresses his gratitude to Asklepios and recounts the healing process he underwent in the healing sanctuary at Epidauros. At the instigation of Asklepios, Apellas travelled to Epidauros, where his course of treatment included diet, exercise, and the use of natural therapeutic substances. The diet was based on bread and cheese accompanied with celery mixed with lettuce. He also had to drink lemon juice with water as well as milk mixed with honey. Apellas' bath was combined with clay therapy. Exercises included running, walking and study in the sanctuary's library—but study led to headaches. Apellas' treatment also included wetting himself with wine to smooth the skin, a mustard and salt rub which causes hyperaemia, along with taking dill with olive oil for headaches. It doesn't seem that different from a modern-day spa.

Today's lunch provided by chefs extraordinaire, the dynamic duo of David and Margo. Bring it on!

Greek salad and tuna-stuffed peppers. Yum!

Mermaid hair, don't care.

Sunset in Aegina.

The Argolis peninsula, which separates the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs, is steeped in legend and history. The town of Argos, from which the region takes its name, is thought to be the longest continually inhabited town in Greece. Argolis was the seat of power of the Mycenaean empire that ruled Greece from 1600 to 1100 BC. Today, it's where we're going snorkelling.

Efharisto Greece! Our sailing trip has come to an end and we're flying back to London tomorrow. We've never been to Rye so we're going to roadtrip there for a few days before heading home to Canada. Huge thanks to Captain Ian for his generosity in inviting us aboard the Yantina and as well to the other members of the crew. Good job team! We had a blast and hope to see you all again soon.

 Athens ✈ ✈ ✈ London

We're staying at the George in Rye, an old coaching inn that has managed to reinvent itself as a contemporary boutique hotel while staying true to its roots. Downstairs, an old-fashioned wood-panelled lounge is warmed by roaring log fires, while the guestrooms in the main building, created by the set designer from Pride and Prejudice, are chic and understated. Freddie the French bulldog greets us at the door.

First things first—afternoon tea in the lounge.

Often described as England's quaintest town, Rye is a little nugget of the past, a medieval settlement with cobbled lanes, mysterious passageways and crooked half-timbered Tudor buildings that looks like time has stood still. Tales of resident smugglers, ghosts, writers, and artists abound.

Few inns can claim to be as atmospheric as the Mermaid Inn, an ancient hostelry, dating from 1420. Each of the 31 rooms is different, but all are thick with dark beams and lit by leaded windows, and some are graced by secret passageways that now act as fire escapes.

It also has one of Rye's best restaurants.

Sandi discovers Katherine Morton Ceramics in a gallery and can't resist taking home this charming mermaid bowl.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Rye is a hotchpotch of medieval and later styles. Its turret clock is the oldest in England (1561), still working with its original pendulum which swings above over your head as you enter. We climb the tower for pretty views of the town and surroundings.

Our last stop before we head back to Canada is a relaxing afternoon in the sun, yes, sun!, at The Hurlingham Club in London. Cheerio and toodle pip!