It is summer in British Columbia and in Vancouver we have been enjoying one of the hottest weeks on record. Perhaps enjoying is not the best choice of word. Temperatures soar and instead of grumbling about rain, there are warnings everywhere about how to "survive the heat". It is really quite amusing as other parts of the world regularly experience weather far hotter and more humid than we are seeing.
Anyway, by sheer coincidence, this happened to be the weekend that our group of friends who have traveled together on several explorations of the regions of Italy (Tuscany, Le Marche, Umbria, Sicily to name a few), decided to have another BC reunion with lots of food and wine (see A Taste of the South Okanagan). Two couples in our group have homes on the island less than 5 minutes drive from each other, and the plan was that the rest of us would stay at one or the other place so we could easily convene for our various outings.
Two of us from downtown Vancouver had planned to leave around 5 to catch the 7:30 ferry from Horseshoe Bay, but our plans changed suddenly when we read that the Critical Mass cyclists would be obstructing the downtown streets just as we were heading over to the North Shore. We decided to err on the side of caution and leave an hour early and possibly have an early supper in Horseshoe Bay.
Over the remaining five days of our jam-packed visit to the Okanagan we were able to get to almost everything on our list of to-dos except one. And it wasn't wine tasting!
With the Spring Wine Festival in full swing, obviously wine tasting and fine food were top priorities. Although, as my regular readers might point out with some justification, when has "Sipping and Supping" not been a top priority in my life?
But as well I was eager to find out about the cultural and dance scene in and around Kelowna - and then, as we planned to be utterly exhausted from our intense labours, what better excuse could we have for relaxing and being pampered at a Spa?
Alas, although our research indicated a number of local spas that looked enticing, pampering was the one activity for which we just could not find time. So no Spas for us. Oh, the tough life of travelblogue writers!
With the Vancouver Marathon closing the streets in our neighbourhood, we needed to make sure we set off on our journey before they barricaded the side streets and prevented us from getting out of the area. Amazingly, since I had had less than three hours sleep, it was actually our planned time of 6:45 am when my little Audi emerged from our underground parking and turned onto Beach Avenue.
As we turned onto Richards I realized that the right side of the road was already barricaded. The left lane was open but the light was red. The problem was that the light responds to pressure pads on the right side of the road so my car could wait in the other lane for hours and the light would not change to green for me.
Well actually getting from Vancouver to Kelowna for normal people is not complicated. If you want to get there fast it is about a 40 minute flight from Vancouver to Kelowna Airport and there are direct flights also from Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. Driving from Vancouver should take around four hours and from Seattle, Spokane or Calgary- about 6 hours.
However, when it comes to driving I am not a "normal person." Firstly while I don't drive especially slowly I can say that the first and only speeding ticket I have ever received was over thirty years ago. And it was not really my fault! I was cruising over the Second Narrows Bridge and got distracted by my kids arguing in the back seat so my foot may have been a little heavier than usual on the accelerator and I did not spy the cops lurking behind the concrete pillar on the Mountain Highway exit.
Secondly, as a downtown gal, I walk rather than drive and in 10 years, I have accumulated the grand total of 50,000 kms on my little Audi. So while several of my neighbours drive back and forth between Vancouver and Kelowna like I drive from Yaletown to Kerrisdale, planning to drive to Kelowna for me became a logistical exercise akin to planning an expedition to the North Pole.
In October 2008, with my group of food and wine-loving travel pals, I spent a few days dining and wining in the Naramata area - A Taste of the South Okanagan. A month ago, on the spur of the moment I decided to book a week's vacation at the Lake Okanagan Resort in Kelowna. Although I realized that the area had changed greatly, memories of a magical week spent at the Resort more than 15 years ago had stayed with me all this time. As it turned out the week I was going to be in Kelowna was when the 16th Annual Okanagan Spring festival was on, so my plans for a sedate, book-filled vacation suddenly got more adventurous.
During my long career in medicine, I would make a point of visiting hospital laboratories, especially in children's hospitals, whenever I visited a country or a city that boasted of a paediatric hospital. And generally I returned to Vancouver with a renewed pride in the quality of care we provided in the laboratories of our own Children's and Women's Hospital here in BC.
Now that my second career centres on theatre, food and travel writing, I likewise take every opportunity I can to see theatre, and wine and dine in great restaurants wherever I travel. Each time I return to Vancouver whether I have experienced superb meals in London, Capetown, the Languedoc or on my recent trip to Chicago, I realize anew how lucky we are to have the fresh food bounty from earth and sea, that we have here in British Columbia.
Prompted by an absolutely outstanding dining experience with the Chef's Table selection at Goldfish Pacifc Kitchen last night, and looking back on the variety of restaurants I have reviewed since I began posting my reviews to Supping in Vancouver, I realized that I need to develop some sort of a rating scale to distinguish an outstanding dining experience from an excellent or a merely really good meal.
Monday May 11The Gourmet San Francisco Food and Sonoma Wine Tour
Part 1. The Food
We docked in San Francisco around 8 am and were scheduled to depart at 10 pm that evening. I had chosen the tour that left at 8:45 and would be back to the ship by 4:45 pm, leaving time for a quick shower and change from jeans into dancing attire. Unlike Santa Barbara where we had to anchor out in the harbor, the Sapphire Princess docked at the pier so for this tour, this ticket indicated that we should meet at the tour bus on the pier. Hmmm... well I guess there will be signs and plenty of helpful cruise staff to direct us to the right bus.
After another 3 hours of late night dancing, getting to sleep after 1 am again, and needing to get up early for the tour, I figured that I would need all the extra sleep time I could get. So I thought it would be a good time to try out the room service breakfast. Unlike in a hotel, there is no extra charge for getting a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin. So I hung out the form requesting my breakfast at 7:30 and to my surprise the breakfast was actually delivered promptly at 7:30 - how do they do that with the huge numbers of people on board?
By 8 I was showered,and dressed, and with fruit, yogurt and a couple of cups of coffee in my tummy, my notebook and camera in my purse, and I was ready to taste and drink the best of San Francisco and Sonoma. We board the bus. This time our group was a little smaller- maybe 30 people including the tour guide, Jim, and John “from the office” who was called in to help with the in-city part of the tour. It is 9 am and we are eager to get going.
The tour guide is pacing outside the bus and checking a list. A frantic-looking lady gets into the bus and calls out “Have you seen Nick?” Nick apparently decided to go and get a coffee and is nowhere to be seen. The minutes tick by. The tour guide is pacing. Nick's wife is hovering. Eventually Nick saunters up to the guide, coffee in hand, blissfully indifferent to the fact that a bus-full of strangers have been kept waiting for him. I think that this is going to be another interesting day.
Dancing at Sea: Formal Night on Board
Sunday May 10
The note about Dining Room Dress Standards for Formal Night in the daily newsletter was quite unequivocal. Evening gowns, cocktail dresses or trouser suits for ladies. Tuxedo, slacks with dinner jackets, or suits with a tie for gentlemen. Hmm... Wonder what you wear if you are not a lady? or a gentleman? And the note went on to say that passengers who wished to have a casual dinner on formal nights can basically eat upstairs at the buffet or casual restaurants. So much for that!
These cruise ship formal dinners have to be the last bastion of elegant dressing - apart from formal state dinners and big fund-raising events. Even for opening nights at the opera - once an occasion to flaunt your furs -people wear anything from strapless gowns to jeans and sandals. Anyway in my present lifestyle in Vancouver, I seldom have the occasion to wear formal wear and it is nice to get into a long dress for a change. Carrie, with me in the photo, is Wendy's friend and associate. She competes and also teaches dance.
The menu was also special. I wish I had asked for a copy. The food seems generally very good but tonight's choices were exceptional. Although on the other hand I actually have only had one dinner to compare it with so far. Hmm... Tonight for an appetizer I had the smoked duck breast, and my entree was a perfectly cooked beef fillet with almond croquettes. The quality is certainly on a par with any of the better restaurants I have eaten in.
We were scheduled to arrive at Santa Barbara at 7 am and depart 4 pm. I had pre-booked a Wine Country Tour leaving at 9 am. The directions on the ticket said to assemble in the Princess Theatre at 8:20 am. I knew that I needed to have some food in me or I would be staggering after the first few sips of wine – yes, I know you are not supposed to swallow but who doesn't? I grew up in South Africa where we had signs all over warning against spitting - "moenie spoeg nie" - thats Afrikanns for "don't spit", so Its kind of ingrained in me.
Checking the PrincessPatter (the glossy daily ship newsletter delivered each evening to one's cabin) I noted that the International Dining room opened for breakfast at 7 am. I set the alarm on my PDA for 6:00 am. Since it was well after midnight, in fact after 1 am before I got to sleep I did the belt and braces thing and also placed a wake up call through the ship's automated system. I joined the lineup outside the dining room just as the doors opened at 7 and was shown to a table where 2 couples, a mother/daughter pair and two other ladies were already seated. I declined the pastries and had a frittata with mushrooms, smoked provolone and Italian sausage, some fresh fruit and coffee. Delicious, but I realized soon that the dining room service is designed for a leisurely breakfast. Not a good choice for an early departure. When I excused myself from the table, the others were still lingering over their coffee and baked goods.
It is six am on a bright California morning. Tomorrow my family will drive me up to the cruise ship terminal at San Pedro where I will embark on the Sapphire Princess for a seven night cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. With shore excursions for winery tasting and a gourmet food and wine tour in San Francisco, this cruise promises to provide most of my favorite activities - fine supping, great sipping and a different travel experience. But here is the number one reason I decided to try it - Ballroom dancing.
As I previously described (see Dresses, Dances, Dreamy) when I planned my redeployment (also known as early retirement ) from medical academia into arts and entertainment the most frequent question I was asked was "what are you going to do with your time?" High on my top ten list of things to do, together with further developing theatre, food and travel writing, came ballroom dancing. Two and a half years later I am totally addicted to dance for fun and fitness and as also indicated in Coming soon at Review From The House, I will soon be adding a Dance section to the web site.