Our Okanagan: Wine Tasting in Kelowna

If one is ever in search of a reason to visit the Okanagan I am happy to provide several. There are the beautiful hikes and amazing scenery, the hot and dry weather in the summer, and the coolness of the lake. There is the friendly and almost electrically cool atmosphere and the romantic evenings on the boardwalk in Kelowna.

Sunset on the beach in Penticton. Magic

Sunset on the beach in Penticton. Magic

And then there is the wine.

I have several wineries that are absolute musts whenever I visit the Okanagan and we always try many that aren’t on our list to truly experience the area. Our trip last August was no exception.

The View Winery was our first stop, located in West Kelowna and only a short drive away from the Myra Canyon (a must visit). We discovered The View two years ago and I instantly became obsessed. Each wine is memorable (though my absolute favourite is their Fossil Fuel) and the Bling Sparkling Wine Spritzers were a refreshing surprise. They do not have a single vintage that I don’t love.

After leaving The View we visited too many wineries to name on the drive to Penticton where we were to spend Saturday and Sunday. There are just so many to see and taste and it’s easy to get swept up in the experience. One of the more unique stops of the day was Meadow Vista, a pleasant new discovery for us with its delicious caramelized honey and blissful Bliss (described on their website as a sparkling melomel style honey wine).

Beaumont Winery warred with The View for my favourite of the day, their organic offerings the perfect afternoon refresher and the atmosphere lively and fun (a bridal shower made their way there at the same time as us and the owner performed a few musical numbers with the tour operator complete with costumes and a ukulele). We struck a deal with the owners agreeing to deliver a case of wine to one of their most loyal patrons in Victoria in exchange for a free bottle to go with the several we purchased.

Their trust in us was refreshing and an honour.

Exuding nothing but class on the grounds of Mission Hill Winery

Exuding nothing but class on the grounds of Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill is a must see for those new to the area (though it’s a bit too pricey for our tastes). The grounds are huge and the gates at the front always make me think of Jurassic Park (though I am not sure that’s the image they are going for). The views from Mission Hill are stunning and the tasting room is one of a kind. Interesting art litters the grounds and there is a restaurant overlooking the lake.

The next day we visited a few more wineries, stopping at another one of my musts, 8th Generation to pick up a few bottles of our favourites. They were sold out of both their frizzantes which was disappointing, but their Pinot Noir and Riesling Classic were just as good as we had remembered. They also had a cheese tasting going on in the back room which was a delightful new experience for us and the pairings they chose were fantastic.

I never get tired of the Okanagan wines. They are refreshing and unique, just like the region itself.


Wine? Wine Not!


Next Stop Portland

We went to Portland for the beer.

As far as I am concerned this is as good a reason as any to travel. Sure, there are a lot of other amazing and wonderful reasons to visit Portland: There are the many breathtaking hikes (both breathtaking because of their beauty and because they are damn hard).There is the shopping (no sales tax!), in particular the always worthwhile Saturday Market. There is the obligatory visit to Voodoo Donuts and the coffee shops as far as the eye can see. And there is Powell Books, my own personal heaven and quite possibly the coolest book store in North America.

But for us this visit was all about the beer.

Portland, or “Beervana” as it is sometimes called, with its nearly 60 breweries boasts more breweries than any other city on earth and is huge on the craft beer scene. You’d be hard pressed to find a true craft beer connoisseur that hasn’t tried at least one Portland brew (and if they haven’t I would question their authenticity as a beer lover).

We sadly did not have an opportunity to sample any of the unique touring options such as the Bicycle Brewery Tours or even the Brew and View theatre, but I am still thrilled with the breweries we did visit. During our two day jaunt we sampled 6 different locations which felt like a small (and delicious) victory.

First we randomly stopped at the Rock Bottom Brewery while looking for a place to eat dinner. While both the beer and food were good we had gone in expecting a unique brew pub for our first Portland dining experience rather than a chain restaurant and it wound up being a bit of a disappointment. If you’ve ever been to a brew pub you know that you form ideas in your head about what they should feel like and you truly come to expect a certain atmosphere even if you don’t know it. Rock Bottom Brewery didn’t fit my expectations of “Beervana”.

Next up it was Deschutes. I loved the beer at Deschutes! Heck, I loved the atmosphere at Deschutes with its long wooden tables, its high ceilings, the eclectic art on the walls and the friendly staff. It was a cool spot, very happening on a Friday night and the busyness somehow made it more appealing as we experienced the much coveted realization that you have stumbled upon something popular.

After Deschutes we called it a night as we were planning for an early start the next day. We had a few rough goals in mind for our Saturday in Portland but mostly we just didn’t want to waste a moment of our short adventure.

The next morning we ventured into downtown where we took a brief detour to a homeless shelter and accidentally lined up for free winter coats thinking we had found the famed Saturday Market. Luckily we realized the mistake before offending too many people. With that awkwardness over we each spent far too much time in line for coffee (Kevin) and donuts (me) before meeting up again to enjoy our role as tourists.

Not wanting to start drinking before at least noon we checked out the shopping and I found myself delightfully lost in Powell’s Books. It was everything I had dreamed about and I could happily spend days there browsing the shelves and breathing in the aroma of new and used books.

Alas, we had beer to try so I reluctantly pulled myself from between the shelves and we made our way to the next stop on our list.

We visited Rogue Brewery and it very quickly became my second favourite stop. We had heard about the brewery from a friend and were very happy we did. From the uniqueness of their “Beard Beer” (beer made using yeast from the brew master’s beard) to the joy of sampling both a free taster and our own handpicked flight of beers it was a great experience.

Next it was a jaunt to a McMenamins location which happens to be one of many unique restaurants located throughout Oregan. We wound up sitting upstairs alone with our taster trays and plotting our next stop while a group partied below us. It was very mellow.

After McMenamins we made our way to Old Town Brewing, home of Portland’s best pizza! We had dinner and fell in love with some new beers all the while enjoying the cozy brick walls with the candlelit mood lighting. The restaurant was filled with boisterous mini-crowds and I settled in to an hour of people watching while making my way through my flight.

Our final stop for both the night and the trip was PINTS Brewing which also happened to be my favourite stop. The flights came in a brilliant wooden carry case and snifters which thrilled us both. Their beers were amazing and there wasn’t a single taster I had that I didn’t love. I still carry a list of their best in my wallet in hopes that I will find them at my local liquor store one day. A girl can dream!

Sadly after PINTS it was time to head back to the hotel, our whirlwind weekend over in a flash.

We came to Portland for the beer but we found so much more than that. From the random yet sophisticated live music performances on street corners to the hip atmosphere of the crowds, Portland was everything I ever imagined it to be.

And I can’t wait to go back.

Adventures in Portland

Adventures in Portland

Our Okanagan: Kelowna Adventures

Kelowna Adventures, Summer of 2014

We almost didn’t make it this year, the threat of the fires burning their way through the area and filling the air with black smoke causing us to hesitate. Still the draw of the Okanagan pulled us in as it always does with the promise of hot weather, great wine, and beautiful scenery impossible to deny.

Though I had driven through Kelowna a few times when I lived in Edmonton it wasn’t somewhere I had ever given a second thought. In fact it wasn’t until I met Kevin that I even thought of the Okanagan as a holiday spot at all, so eager was I to always use my vacation days on places I considered exotic and far from home. But Kevin had been going there for years and I was willing to give it a shot.

Now I can’t imagine a summer without a visit to the Okanagan Valley.

Though it is only four hours and a ferry ride away Kelowna feels different. It is the perfect summer destination, magical and inviting, hip and unique.

And full of adventure.

Last year it was hiking through Canyon Falls Park and braving butterflies and steep hills to see the spectacular falls still trickling despite the burning heat.

1This year we decided to try something new and early on Saturday morning we made our way to Myra Canyon to rent bikes. Myra Canyon is part of the Kettle Valley Railway and boasts eighteen trestle bridges and two rock carved tunnels. The actual Myra Canyon is 12km (24km return) though serious bikers have the option of bringing their own bikes and connecting to the rest of the Kettle Valley Railway for a considerably longer excursion and a historic ride.

The canyon is stunning and the trestles are perfect, repaired and restored both from the wear and tear of time and from the fires that have ravaged the Okanagan in the past so riders and walkers can feel safe as they trek on.

The gravel path kicks up dirt as you cycle through and the steep drops seem perilously close at times, a true test for anyone who is afraid of heights, but overall it is a tame experience. The heat is considerably more bearable high in the mountains in the early morning, almost too cool at points as you ride through shady paths and carved tunnels. 2

The views were spectacular and our ride was delayed constantly as I stopped to take picture after picture. I could do an entire album with just pictures from the Myra Canyon, every rock is photogenic, and every twist in the trees is one you will want to remember.

We finished our ride around 12:30pm, just as the heat started to thicken the air, coating and clinging to everything.

It was an unforgettable experience, and one I highly recommend to anyone and everyone. A real Kelowna Adventure.



Boiled Rotten Eggs

This was an essay I wrote while I was attending Grant MacEwan College. 

At first glance Rotorua looked just like every other city on the North Island of New Zealand. The same cracked asphalt, the same tall trees looming in the background. The sky at dusk was still awash with the same pinks and oranges that streak the sky in every other city. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I could really see and feel the difference. The air was heavier in Rotorua with a thickness that clung to everything and made me long to fall asleep.  The accommodations were kept on the outskirts of town and left to cling to the fringes as though banished. The hostel employees didn’t recommend a single restaurant in the town. Rotorua was hiding something.

The town’s big secret is not a very well kept one. Rotorua stinks.

Rotorua seriously stinks, and not in the way the Oilers ‘stink’ at hockey, or the way it ‘stinks’ to miss your bus. Rotorua smells really bad. It is a smell that reaches out to grab hold of you once you approach the centre of town. A foul smell, so thick it chokes you, filling up the inside of your throat until you can’t breathe. The smell of rotten eggs, a by-product of the sulphur filled surroundings.  It soaks into your clothes so that not even a sweater pulled hastily up to your face to block out the smell can protect you. It made me sputter and heave as we walked the streets of town. Kiwis looked at us with a mixture of pity and amusement, they were used to it. But it wasn’t the foul smell that put Rotorua on our map; instead the thermal activity made it a hot spot.

Outside the town and past the assorted hostels is a gold mine of hot springs surrounded by tall trees and ferns. It is the most beautiful place on earth. On a tour, pool after pool of thermal water surrounded us.  In one large pool the size of a small lake the water was an electric blue, so blindingly beautiful it almost hurt the eyes to look at.  Its surface bubbled and boiled, the steam floated into the air like a majestic mist. Another smaller pool was sea foam green with a rippled surface, the red earth stretched along its fringes with leafy ferns reaching out across the edges. I stared at every pool in awe. It is a rush just being there, knowing that from time to time a geyser explodes shooting the scorching water high into the air and burning everything it touches.

The day was cold and stung the skin despite the heat surrounding us. Droplets of sweat gathered on our faces, condensation from the steamy waters surrounded us. The air was so moist and humid we felt like we were in the water. A thermometer was stuck 3 inches into the ground, it read 97.4 ͦ Celsius. I imagined so much barely contained energy beneath our feet. Further along on the tour the pools changed from boiling water to boiling mud. Thick grey bubbles grew bigger than a baseball before bursting in all directions. A popping sound followed every burst. Pop, another bubble. Pop, pop, two more burst.

I was more afraid of the boiling mud than the water, unable to help imagining the way mud clings to your skin upon first contact. Grey splatters cover the ground surrounding the pools of mud showing just how far those bubbles can burst. Every bursting bubble made me jump and I rushed past the last few pools. A serene boat ride across Lake Rotomahana took us to the Te Wairoa Village where my fears were validated.

The village, now known as the Buried Village was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 which spewed boiling mud destroying the pink and white terraces and killing more than a hundred people. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as we walked by a white piece of wood sticking up from the ground. A buried house lay five feet beneath us. Some of the old houses have been excavated, preserved in the mud after more than a hundred years. More ferns surround the area, thriving in the area because of the mud. I reached down to touch the ground near the buried house and felt the mud, now packed and dry but still malleable. I left the buried village and all I got was out alive.

The Grandest of Canyons

February, 2014

For weeks leading up to the trip I was giddy with anticipation. Las Vegas was just an afterthought to me. Sure Vegas would be fun, but the Grand Canyon? That’s where my mind had settled and that’s where it was going to stay. We left early, renting a car and driving the 5-plus hours to the South Rim of the Canyon having heard that the Western Rim, the side closest to Vegas, wasn’t all that impressive. In retrospect we should have set aside at least two days for this excursion. 11 hours of driving  doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploring.

Still, we were going to make the most of it.

As the miles sped by bringing us closer to our destination my excitement exploded. I was practically vibrating in the seat, peppering Kevin with questions every few minutes.

“Are we there yet? Are we close? Are those rocks part of it? How about now?”

I had spent weeks researching the best hike for us hunting for something that would fit within our limited schedule and something that would work with both of our fitness levels (Kevin is fit, I am not). I settled on the Bright Angel Trail and we had agreed to hike down into the canyon to the second tunnel and then make our way back up. I went over my maps and notes as we drove closer and closer.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Finally after what seemed like (and was) hours we made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and it was … well … it was …

Actually it was quite underwhelming.

At first glance the Grand Canyon looks exactly like the posters advertising it. 1980’s photographs washed out from constant exposure to the elements, vast and incredible but still somewhat lacking.

The problem is it is just so large, stretching out impossibly far with thousands of curves and crevices etched out by time and all competing for attention. There is just too much to see and your eyes refuse to focus. To make matters worse the sky stretches over top, blue and cloudless without any of the sun kissed reds and yellows that are so popular in the photos and making the canyon look even more washed out.

We had committed ourselves to an 11 hour day of driving for this? Disappointment settled in my stomach and my smile felt drawn on my face, tight and fake, as we wandered along the rim making our way towards the Bright Angel Trail Head.

Thankfully this impression, this washed out tourism poster of a natural wonder, redeems itself from the right vantage point.

Shortly after begi1379209_10153942221560177_952523815_nnning our hike the colours started to become more vivid as our range of view became smaller. The Grand Canyon from National Geographic Travel Magazine fame was finally appearing.

There was snow and ice coating the ground in some corners, contrasting perfectly with the carved out desert rocks.

My excitement rose which each step we took, descending farther down and thrilling me.

This! This is what we had decided to drive 11 hours for.

The hike itself was fantastic, only moderately difficult with the hardest portion being the trek back up to the top, both because it was uphill and because it brought us closer to leaving the canyon.

The switch back trails and the two tunnels were stunning and immensely rewarding. The trail actually goes much further reaching the bottom of the canyon and is apparently even more spectacular the farther down you go, but we sadly didn’t have the time.

We didn’t pass any of the much warned about mules, but we passed many an awe inspired hiker, all sharing the same quiet appreciation of the marvel surrounding us.

When it finally did come time to leave I felt a twinge of sadness. This was a place I had always wanted to visit and we had literally only scratched the surface.

Luckily, aside from an extremely underwhelming first impression, The Grand Canyon also instills in its visitors a deep down desire to return.

After all, the Grandest of Canyons needs a commitment of time worthy of its secrets and a willingness to explore.

Descending into the Canyon

Descending into the Canyon

Note: For more information on the Bright Angel Trail – http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/brightangeltrail.pdf