DR. SUN YAT-SEN’S CLASSICAL CHINESE GARDEN

Water Lilly

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden is a small, but beautiful and authentic garden that is incredibly rich in tradition and history.

Make sure you take the guided tour.  Knowing all the intricate details that went behind the building of this garden will make you appreciate it so much more, and makes the admission fee (10$ for adults) worth it.

BUT…  Be warned that not all guided tours are created equal.  I’ve been to the classical garden twice, and as much as my first experience was fantastic, the following one was utterly atrocious (both times the guide was a volunteer).  While my first experience was 90 minutes of sheer fun and interesting facts and stories about the making of the garden, my second time around was nothing but stumbling embarassment (maybe it was her first presentation ever?).  So much so, that I convinced my parents — who were visiting me at that time — to bail out and wait for the next one.  The following tour was definitely better, but although our guide (a trained staff member this time) was dynamic, it was obvious he kept only to the script and added nothing more to the tour.  I was stunned to learn this second time around that the tours are apparently supposed to last 45 minutes only.

Intricate Carvings
Intricate carvings

 
See-Through Drawing
Double-sided see-through Silk drawings

I’m not sure if my amazing first guide still volunteers there, but I can tell you I stumbled upon her on a Sunday morning (11AM presentation) last Spring. The guide can definitely make or break ANY attraction…

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Directions:

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Kelowna winery tour

Quails' Gate Wine Grapes
Sample some wine grapes at Quails’ Gate (in season only, I assume)

The last weekend of September was a great time to be in Kelowna!  Initially, we had planned to do some hiking or some other activities also, but we quickly gave in to the temptation of discovering and tasting as many wines from the local wineries as we could.

Our first stop was the most visually stunning, by far:

Mission Hill
The moment you drive into the premises of the Mission Hill estate, a sense of “wow” grabs you.  The architecture is spectacular!  A real tour de force…

Mission Hill Bells
Splendid architecture and design await Mission Hill visitors

Mission Hill Loggia
The loggia — or “outdoor room” — providing some peace and quiet

Mission Hill Winery View
View on the outdoor dining terrace and Okanagan Lake

Among the different kinds of tours available to guests, We decided to try the “Discovery” tour, at 18$ per adult.  It included a 10 minute video detailing the origins of the Mission Hill Winery Estate and a short bio of the proprietor, Anthony von Mandl, and the estate’s chief winemaker, John Simes; a visit of the vineyards and their underground, Bordeaux-style barrel cellar; 4 wine tastings with cheese.  We enjoyed our tour very much.  Not being big wine connoisseurs ourselves, we’re however able to taste wine like seasoned pros — sort of — after learning the proper way. :)

Mission Hill Cellar
Cool underground cellar

Mission Hill Bottles
A few of the many award-winning bottles of wine from the winery

Having each a sweet tooth, we ended up buying a bottle of their Vidal Reserve ice wine (part of the wine tasting portion of the tour).  We just fell in love with the rich mango taste and caramel flavor of the wine.

Quails’ Gate
Nobody can compete with the grandeur of Mission Hill, but nevertheless, there are still other wineries worth visiting around — right next door actually.  Just a few blocks from our first stop is Quails’ Gate.  We went for the general 5$ tour there and found that it was more interesting overall.  From a brief history of the origins of the winery, we went through all the steps of wine making in great detail, the tour lasting around an hour.  I won’t spoil the show for you, but our guide Isaac had quite a few funny tidbits to tell us about the art of making wine.

Quails' Gate Entrance

Quails' Gate Backyard #2
The view from Quails’ Gate’s backyard porch

The ambiance of this tour was more casual.  People were allowed to sample some grapes and we had a little bit more time to take pictures in between stations also.  And the view on Lake Okanagan was terrific, the winery being closer to its shores. We didn’t try their restaurant, but apparently, they have excellent — but expensive — food there.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Our other stops were somewhat quick, as we had too many wineries to try and we had to cut some corners here and there during our short weekend stay.  On this list was, to my surprise, Canada’s most visited winery and largest certified organic vineyard: Summerhill Pyramid Winery.  I’m surprised because with Mission Hill’s massive presence, one would think this would be the easy winner; but I guess size doesn’t matter after all. :p  For the short time we were there, it was obvious that this estate was built with “spirituality” in mind (click above link to find out more about the pyramid, etc.).

Summerhill Garden
Colorful garden at Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Little Straw Vineyards
A short stay there.  Just long enough to try their “Tapestry” white wine which our B&B hosts had recommended to us.  We liked it and bought it. :)

Little Straw Winery View
Breathtaking view from Little Straw Vineyards

Accommodations
We like the B&B format and so we decided to try the Alexandria House Bed & Breakfast, close to our main attractions.  We found our “Lilac Room” to be picture perfect; some treats were waiting for us, as we checked in.  Having a private entrance to our room was a nice bonus.  Unfortunately, we missed the mention about the hot tub when we booked our room and didn’t bring our bathing suits along.  When we came back from our dinner, a couple of glasses of home-made red wine were waiting for us.  Breakfast was delicious and filling.  When we mentioned our love for ice wines, we got treated to a couple more samples of home-made dessert wines (port and ice wine if I remember correctly).  It was a very enjoyable stay and our hosts, Paul and Suzanne, made us feel very welcome.

Dining
Dining in the Kelowna region was very good.  Our bills hovered around 70$ each time (with an appy or dessert, but no wine — we had our share already during the day), but if the food is great, I say it’s worth it. ;)

On Saturday night, we went on the East side of the Okanagan to the Wild Apple Grill, at the Manteo Resort, for some excellent pork chops and jumbo prawns.  Service was excellent too.  The only drawback was that we booked our table for 8PM, wishing for a window seat — and we got it.  But, the population being much more sparse around Okanagan Lake in general, night-time becomes synonymous with “total darkness” here.  We could have sat next to a black wall and it would have made no difference. :s  Remember to book your table for before sunset, if you wish to enjoy any kind of view. ;)

On Sunday night, following our gracious B&B hosts’ suggestion, we went for the Gasthaus on the Lake (I hope the “official” link works for you; it wasn’t for me, as of this writing) in Peachland, about 15 minutes South of Westbank, where our B&B and most of the wineries on our tour were.  We were very surprised by just how beautiful the area was, Peachland not being part of our plans initially.  The promenade caressing the shores of the lake reminded me very much of White Rock, closer to home.  As for the food, we found the Gasthaus Pan (a mix of different varieties of pork meats) and the salmon fillet were great and the portions generous.

Peachland Sunset Panoramic
A surprisingly beautiful finish to our weekend, in Peachland

Two days is too short of a stay to enjoy this area fully.  3-4 days would have been just right, I think.  Come and visit that beautiful region, especially since the wine festival has just begun.

Cheers!

P.S.: Oh, and no, we didn’t spot Ogopogo… Maybe next time. ;)

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16TH ANNUAL CONCERTS IN THE COVE

Every Friday night, from mid-July to mid-August, people can enjoy live music for free in the great setting that is Deep Cove’s Panorama Park.  This concert series is simply called “Annual Concerts in the Cove” (click here for details on this and more), and it features a different style of music every week.  I went to see a very entertaining performance by Jake & Elwood’s Blues Brothers Revue a couple of weeks ago:

Blues Brothers #1
Jake & Elwood on fire on stage

Robot Steps
Robot steps

Kickin' it
Kickin’ it

Panorama Park
Panorama Park

"Do the Chicken!"
“Do the chicken!” — look at the smiles on those kids’ faces! :)  Great fun for all

Blues Brothers #2
These guys did an excellent job covering the Blues Brothers :)

There are three more concerts to come:

– VOC Soul Gospel Choir (Gospel, August 1st)
– Mariachi del Sol (Mexican, August 8th)
– Gary Comeau & the Voodoo All-Stars (Cajun, August 15th)

If these musical styles fit your interests, go check them out — it’s free! :)

Deep Cove Marina
The Deep Cove Marina

2008 PACIFIC RIM KITE FESTIVAL

I never thought flying a kite could be this much fun! If you’re lucky enough to read this on the day I posted it, do yourself a favor and go to Vanier Park in Kitsilano to check out some very cool kite flying action at the Pacific Rim Kite Festival, including performances by multiple kite world record holder Ray Bethell and the quad line kite team iQuad:

Ray Bethell, Multiple Kite World Record Holder
Ray Bethell, multiple kite world record holder, manning 3 kites at once

Ray Bethell Show
Part of Ray Bethell’s performance

Ray Bethell Show #2
Part of Ray Bethell’s performance

Ray Bethell Show #3
Part of Ray Bethell’s performance

iQuad
The iQuad team, with special guest Lam Hoac (3rd from left)

iQuad Small Circle Formation
Part of iQuad’s performance

iQuad Show #2
Part of iQuad’s performance

iQuad Show #3
Part of iQuad’s performance

Colorful dancing dummies
Colorful dancing dummies

Vanier Park
Vanier Park

I felt like buying myself one of those acrobatic kites after watching this event. :)

STEVESTON

Steveston lies at the Southern tip of Richmond, roughly 40 minutes from downtown Vancouver, by car.  Watch kites flying at Garry Point Park, walk along the scenic dyke, or just plain relax while you savour some delicious home-made ice cream in the heart of the village.

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms at Garry Point Park

Parachute #1
Sports kite/parachute (?) at Garry Point Park

Colorful Houses #2
Looking East along the West Dyke trail

Steveston Landscape
Looking West along the West Dyke trail

Flock Of Geese
Flock of geese

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle on the West Dyke trail

Turtle Party
Turtles having a party on the West Dyke trail

Fishermen's Dock
Fresh seafood for sale at the Fisherman’s Wharf in the heart of Steveston Village

Seagull
Seagull enjoying the view at the Fisherman’s Wharf

Light hiking at Lighthouse Park

35 minutes from downtown (by bus — take the 250 bus) is this little gem of a park which offers amazing views on the Greater Vancouver and Howe Sound regions.  It contains all the ingredients of a hike, minus the pulse-pounding cardio bit.  Its pièce de résistance is of course, the lighthouse from which the park got its name.

Lighthouse, West Beach Viewpoint
Lighthouse, West Beach viewpoint

Great Heron, Wings Down
Great Heron

Arbutus
Arbutus

Leaky Boat
Leaky boat ;)

Dog Drooling over view
This Pyrenean Mountain dog is positively drooling over the view! :p

Labrador Retrievers?
Labrador Retrievers (?) and their proud owner :)

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A WEEKEND IN VANCOUVER – DAY 2

***** This article takes much longer to write down than I expected (I like to blog about my city, but I’m pretty busy, and a perfectionist too)… I’m putting out this “BETA” version in the meantime, for someone. ;) Forgive the “bugs” and I hope the pictures are enough to get you excited about visiting Vancouver anyway! *****

I have created separate posts for each attraction as I feel they should be able to stand on their own also. This article will nevertheless remain, as some people may of course need ideas for a fun weekend in Vancouver.


9:16AM – SEABUS RIDE TO NORTH VANCOUVER

[Check the SeaBus schedule to make sure that the times have not changed since the writing of this article]

Wherever you are, head for the Waterfront SkyTrain station 10 minutes prior to the SeaBus’ scheduled departure. The SeaBus runs every 30 minutes around that time and you don’t want to miss it… You’ll need to purchase your fare first and you can do so from one of the automated teller machines located in every SkyTrain station. Buying an all-day pass is recommended as we’ll use the bus at some other point during the day and the fact that you don’t have to worry about transit fare for the rest of the day is nice too.

OK, back to business… Our first stop is an appetizer of sorts: the 12 minute SeaBus ride across Burrard Inlet is a fun and inexpensive way to get great views of Canada Place and Stanley Park on the way to “North Van” (as people call it here). And once you exit the SeaBus terminal, you can enjoy postcard-like views of the city and its skyline from a variety of vantage points:

Vancouver Cityscape
After exiting the SeaBus terminal, turn right and this is the view that you’re going to get

Q Sunset Silouhettes
Same location, different time, different viewpoint

Vancouver, from Burrard Pier
About a 5 minute walk from the terminal — still to the right (East) — is this interesting viewpoint: Burrard Pier.

I haven’t explored North Van that much myself, but there doesn’t seem to be many options in the immediate surroundings, from a tourist’s point of view, except enjoying the view. Once you see the SeaBus closing in on the North Van side again, this will be your cue to get ready to head back to the terminal for your return trip downtown.

10:15AM – GASTOWN

Gastown
Gastown is a tourist hot spot

Our short SeaBus round-trip over, exit the terminal by following the “Buses” signs. These will lead you to Waterfront Station’s main entrance — on Cordova St. — where we’ll officially start today’s tour. Our first stop will be the cradle of Vancouver — Gastown. For a brief history of Gastown, click here. As we head to our left immediately after exiting Waterfront Station, Gastown quickly comes into view.

Gastown is where Vancouver all started, back in 1867 (for more details on Gastown’s history, click here). Its core area is pretty much all contained within four blocks of Water St., between Richards St. and Carrall St. Trendy boutiques and galleries, restaurants, and souvenir shops line up the cobblestoned pavement of this historic landmark. Gastown is also the setting for a few noteworthy events such as the Jazz Festival (free shows) and the “Tour de Gastown” bike race.

Festival Banner in Gastown
Gastown is the setting for some free shows during Vancouver’s International Jazz Festival

Gastown’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the Steam Clock. This may very well be the most photographed item in all of Vancouver. Every 15 minutes it belches out steam from its musical pipes, delighting the hords of tourists that surround it.

Leaving the commotion behind, we head one block further East, to Carrall Street, to spend a moment watching Gassy Jack’s statue overlooking the oddly shaped Europe Hotel, which is now an affordable housing complex.

Gastown B & W

Our short visit of Gastown over, we stay on Carrall Street, going South three blocks, just past Pender St., to your left, for the next stop in our tour: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden.

11:00AM – DR. SUN YAT-SEN’S CLASSICAL CHINESE GARDEN

Water Lilly

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden is a small, but beautiful and authentic garden that is incredibly rich in tradition and history.

Make sure you take the guided tour. Knowing all the intricate details that went behind the building of this garden will make you appreciate it so much more, and makes the admission fee (10$ for adults) worth it.

BUT… Be warned that not all guided tours are created equal. I’ve been to the classical garden twice, and as much as my first experience was fantastic, the following one was utterly atrocious (both times the guide was a volunteer). While my first experience was 90 minutes of sheer fun and interesting facts and stories about the making of the garden, my second time around was nothing but stumbling embarassment (maybe it was her first presentation ever?). So much so, that I convinced my parents — who were visiting me at that time — to bail out and wait for the next one. The following tour was definitely better, but although our guide (a trained staff member this time) was dynamic, it was obvious he kept only to the script and added nothing more to the tour. I was stunned to learn this second time around that the tours are apparently supposed to last 45 minutes only.

Intricate Carvings
Intricate carvings

See-Through Drawing
Double-sided see-through Silk drawings

I’m not sure if my amazing first guide still volunteers there, but I can tell you I stumbled upon her on a Sunday morning (11AM presentation) last Spring. The guide can definitely make or break ANY attraction…

P.S.: You can visit the free Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park right next door also. It’s actually bigger than the classical garden, but less refined — still a nice walk in the park:

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

12:00PM – LUNCH AT “WILD GINGER” (TINSELTOWN)

Continue South for half a block and turn right on Keefer Pl. until you reach the Tinseltown building. There is a food court there and also a few more elaborate restaurants. Among those, I like Wild Ginger. It’s good, very affordable Chinese cuisine.

Once you’re done eating, walk South on Abbott St. until you reach Expo Blvd. and wait for the Westbound C21 Beach “community” bus — an odd mini school-bus type of bus — at bus stop #60777. About 3 minutes later, drop off at the corner of Pacific Blvd. and Cambie St. (bus stop #59914) and walk a few blocks toward the Yaletown Marina. Here is the map for your convenience.

On the map:

* A = Tinseltown
* B = C21 Beach stop # 60777
* C = C21 Beach stop # 59914
* D = Yaletown Marina

You can always walk too…  It’s 15-20 minutes walking distance from Tinseltown to the Yaletown Marina.

13:30PM – AQUABUS RIDE TO GRANVILLE ISLAND

Yaletown Marina
No, this is not the AquaBus, unfortunately… It’s just nestled beside the AquaBus’ waiting area at the Yaletown Marina.

The AquaBus runs a mini-cruise which, at 6$ per adult and 4$ per children/senior, is an inexpensive way to enjoy the wonderful sights surrounding False Creek. Note that the official web site mentions that this mini-cruise starts at Granville Island — our destination — every 15 minutes. I didn’t know about that when I did mine and I didn’t feel like I’d been “robbed” of a few bucks for the shorter cruise at all. The Yaletown marina is, in my opinion, the most interesting AquaBus “station” and I saw the same things that the longer cruise would have offered me anyway: Science World, BC Place and the Edgewater Casino, Yaletown (the condos and the marina), Granville Island, the mountains in the distance, etc.

Science World

Science World

Downtown/Yaletown Condos
Modern, expensive condos line up the seawall on the North side of False Creek

In case you’re a little confused about how this modified mini-cruise works, let me tell you how mine went: at Yaletown marina’s waiting area for the AquaBus, I simply asked the first AquaBus skipper I saw if it was possible to stay for more than one stop in order to enjoy the sights from False Creek a little longer. He said yes, but that I would have to wait maybe 10 minutes for the one doing the longer tour. No problem. Two AquaBuses later, the “touring” one arrived and my cruise consisted of three stops: first, Science World, then I came back to the Yaletown marina, and we finally headed for Granville Island. About 15 minutes of nice sightseeing.

15:00PM – GRANVILLE ISLAND

Taiko Drummers
Taiko drummers

[More to come on this topic, soon, I hope]

Shoot me! Shoot me!
The playground area offers lots of fun for kids

Mini-Venice
I call this area of Granville Island “Mini-Venice”… Cool — but surely expensive — place!

18:00PM – ENJOYING DINNER OVER SUNSET AT ENGLISH BAY

Solar Clock at Sunset

Sunsets at English Bay are spectacular!!! The best way to experience the sunset, in my opinion, is over a romantic dinner — or with the kids :p — in one of the few waterfront restaurants near the corner of Denman St. and Beach Av. If you’re on a budget, picnicking alongside the sandy beach works too. :) And if that doesn’t inspire you, Denman St. has tons of dining opportunities for you to choose from — take your pick. ;)

Silhouettes

Inukshuk at Sunset

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