If you want to catch the northern lights and some of winter but not the deepest part of it, then early April in Iceland can be quite pleasant. The temperature ranges from 0 to 6C so it’s not too cold but not too warm either. Apparently, Iceland never really gets warm, especially in spring when the days can be cloudy and windy. But when the sun peaks through, the landscape is dazzling. The greens, yellows and reds really look amazing, especially in photos.
Now, April also means the occasional fog, sleet or snow storm. If you’re doing the self-driving tour then definitely get a 4x4 and download the road-conditions app. Real time info and road cameras are also helpfully available online.
Road conditions: http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/
If you’re stuck on the road or looking for information about road conditions or the weather on the roads, then you can call 1777. This service is open 8-16 in summer and 6:30-22 in winter. An English answering machine with similar road information is available by dialling the phone number 1778.
Now where exactly are you driving? The common tourist route is the Golden Circle but you can also take the longer circle road around the whole country. The Golden Circle is shorter and definitely a worthwhile experience, despite the glut of tourists.
We did this route through Iceland: Mar 31-Apr 3, 2017
Presumably you have landed in Reykjavík [point F]. The airport is no stranger to tourists and there’s several shops and restaurants. Alcohol in Iceland is quite expensive so buying duty free alcohol may be your first stop. If you’re stocking up on food then there is a Bónus Stykkishólmi supermarket near the airport. The little town is a quick stop where you can get provisions, or visit the Rock and Roll museum. We stuck to food only but there were lots of signs for this museum.
The flight from Ireland arrives in the afternoon and we booked an airbnb in Reykholt (there are two by the way). The one near Fludir is where we booked [point E]. Our goal was to drive to Reykholt and have dinner at Cafe Mika. We didn’t get there on the first night because we opted to cook at the holiday house instead, but when we went a day later, we loved their lobster soup and roasted lobster salad. If you’re in the area, at Fludir (10 min drive) there is the Secret Lagoon, and a good restaurant at the Icelandair hotel.
We were up and out of the house around 9 am in order to back-track an hour to our first stop on the Golden Circle, Thingvellir National Park [point B].
The Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most significant place regarding Icelandic history. The place is huge and there are many parking lots that give tourists and locals access to different areas. The visitor centre is near the viewspot at Hakio, where a footpath leads down into the great fault between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
If you’re travelling with kids and need to know the bathroom stops, this is one. The service fee for the lavatories is 200 isk.
The name Thingvellir in Icelandic means “Parliament Fields” and this location is where one of the oldest parliaments in the world was establish (930 AD). At the Lögberg people gave speeches and pontificated on important issues.
From the Hakio viewpoint, you can see Thingvellir Church, which looks darling from above. And there are all sorts of little paths and trails that can be followed along the continental drift or into deeper areas of the park.
Our next stop was the famous geysers at Haukadalur [point C], which is a geothermal active valley. There are hot springs all over Iceland and you can see the steam rising in various places as you drive the Golden Circle. All the geothermal activity also means that Iceland has a huge number of greenhouses, and as a result, great produce.
Iceland is a pioneer in geothermal energy and geothermal powers 25% of the country’s total electricity, the rest is other renewable energy from hydropower—ya 100% renewable! Iceland also boosts the cleanest, purest water in the world. It was amazing to drink.
But about those geysers. The most active is Strokkur, and this geyser spouts hot water every 5 minutes or so. One blast of water is really high then the next is middling but still impressive, then back to a big one. It was entertaining to watch over and over. The column of boiling water starts as a half bubble before bursting upwards. The height of the spray can be 15-30 metres.
There are 3 geysers grouped together: Strokkur, Geysir and Little Geysir. Little geyser, which looks very tame in comparison to its blasting brothers, is still an impression 80-100C. You can see the water boiling.
The rotten egg smell wasn’t as bad as I imagined. Nor were the tourists. Haukadalur has a huge gift shop with lovely Icelandic sweaters and gifts. The restaurant is done in beautiful wood and stone carvings, and they have quite a delicious spread of food.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but Icelandic food rates very high on the foodie scale, lots of unique flavour pairings, and great seafood options.
Our next stop was Gullfoss waterfall [point D]. This was one of the most beautiful places we stopped. The water comes down the big, wide river Hvítá into beautiful curved steps, like a staircase. The viewpoints are all spectacular and it’s worthwhile going down to the lower point to see if you can catch a rainbow in the mist.
The upper viewpoints offer a different perspective and a nice walk along the footpath. The water is roaring! The mist is cooling. The view is spectacular.
The Hvita river disappears into a ravine making the whole place seem even more magical.
Our last stop of the day was Reykholt [near point E] where we stopped in at Fridheimar farm. This is an amazing food experience where you enjoy lunch or drinks in a greenhouse among the tomato plants. It smells incredible.
The menu options include the famous Friðheimar tomato soup with fresh baked bread. There’s some great crusty bread in this place. And you have to book in advance but if you’re unprepared, like us, then you can do some takeaway soup and bread, or order hot tortillas to go. The little gift shop also offers some of the drink mixes. I stocked up on the green tomato, honey, lime and ginger. Add some sparkling water and gin and this is an amazing cocktail.
You can also buy their Tomato Jam, Cucumber Salsa and Tomato Drink. Everything home made. Everything is delicious.
Aside from the greenhouse visit, you can see a horse show. Icelandic horses are famous for their gaits. The Tölt is the special one. These horses are also super cute!
After our snack of tortillas, we made our way to Café Mika in Reykvolt. The pizzas, salads and everything I had that had lobster were all very good. Eating out in Iceland is not cheap (especially if you’re ordering lobster), but if you get the unique items then it feels like a special occasion anyway.
From the outside deck we could sit in the geothermal hot tub. Not a bad option on a cloudy night.
Or cuddle inside and get almost a 360 view through all the windows.
Our last full day. We had to pack a lot into a short trip, but I understand some people see even more things in fewer days. The Golden Circle is possible to see in a day, but that’s a 6-8 hour day.
So our last stop was the Secret Lagoon at Fludir [point E]. The Blue Lagoon is near the airport and higher on the list of tourist destinations. But the Blue Lagoon is more of a spa whereas the Secret Lagoon is a unique natural hot spring. This is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland (made in 1891). It’s been upgraded since. The change rooms and shower area are clean and quaint. Icelanders shower naked and it’s rude and unhygienic to do otherwise. This hilarious shower etiquette video features the mayor and a shower warden.
The temperature of the swimming area is perfect at 38-40C, but beware of the 80-100C pools just beyond the swim area. There’s a grassy bank that separates you, but still.
This place feels very wild in comparison to the Blue Lagoon, which looks more spa-like. Here you are floating around in nature. There is a geyser just beyond in the field that spouts water and when we were there it also started to rain lightly and snow. Magic.
The Secret Lagoon, like the Blue Lagoon, requires a booking, which was fast and easy to do online. http://secretlagoon.is/
After a float in the Secret Lagoon and a spot of lunch, we were off to Reykjavik.
We could have stopped in Selfoss, Kerið Crater Lake, or Stokkseyri but it was raining heavily so we carried on.
Selfoss on the banks of the Olfusa river has another amazing waterfall to see. Kerid Crater Lake is a red volcanic crater and the deep blue water is supposed to set off the red and green vegetation. Stokkseyri, right along the coast, looks quaint and worth a visit, especially in summer. I was keen to visit Orgelsmidjan, the pipe organ workshop and exhibition. And the travelling companion might have gotten a kick out of the campy Ghost Centre. But alas, rain and time meant we clipped along to Reykyavik.
Our first stop in Reykjavik was at Hallgrimskirkja. This is the largest church in Iceland, and the tower offers visitors a great overhead view of the town. The church is stunning and designed to look like basalt lava flows. The tour to the top was a couple of euro. And it’s not really a tour but an elevator ride and then some lookouts. Anyway, great view of the capital city.
Our next stop was the Harpa Conference centre. Everything in Iceland, all the architecture, seems really modern. Harpa is all glass and looks like inter-connected honeycomb. The inside is as cool, if not cooler, than the outside.
For the last dinner in Iceland it was a toss up between the famous hot dog stand that Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain recommend—Baejarins Beztu Pylsur— or Eldsmidjan Pizza (Iceland’s first, and best pizza restaurant). The closest of the hot dog stands from Harpa is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in the old harbour. And Eldsmidjan pizza had two locations nearby. We opted for sit-down, eat-in pizza and were not disappointed.
The flight back to Ireland was at 6:15 am so we spent the night at the Airport Hotel that is a 2 minute walk from the terminal. This is a great way to get rid of any remaining local currency. We paid part in cash and the rest on the card.
Depending on where you fly to, there are several queues, and one for passport control before you get to your gate so it’s worth it to be early and on time. Iceland had 1.7 million tourists in 2016. That’s a lot of people to move through a small airport. It all ran smoothly and we made it home to Ireland with lots of great memories.
I trace the interest in genealogy in Iceland to the lack of tress. Because of the sparsity of tress, people opt for family tress and find themselves forests among their forebears…” Einar Már Guðmundsson, Angels of the Universe
This flight of fancy was a fun afternoon at Ashtons Gastropub in Dublin. €10 for 3 gin. I tried Blackwoods Vintage which was super paired with lime and tonic. Then Sw4 with lemon. And last Gordons Sloe Gin. I have never had sloe gin and didn’t know it was red. This one was a bit sweet and fruity, which could have been the 3 raspberries in it. Anyway, a fab afternoon with new tastes.
Blackwoods Vintage uses handpicked Shetland botanicals. Shetland is off the north coast of Scotland, towards Norway. The North Sea hits the Atlantic Ocean so there are long winters and short summers. All of this makes for good marketing copy and excellent gin. Taste wise this gin is a smooth citrus with a gentle floral and herbal note. My favourite of the 3, but also the first one I tasted.
Sw4 is a small-batch London Dry Gin from Britain, originally Clapham, South London, postal code SW4. It didn’t seem as smooth as the Blackwoods Vintage but it was definitely pleasant. The lemon slice I added made the lemon and juniper more pronounced. It was definitely piney, which I don’t see as a fault.
Gordon’s Sloe Gin. I had no idea what this was and was pleasantly surprised. It’s a red gin and definitely a tasty winter tipple. A modern-girl’s version of sherry? To make sloe gin, you need sloe berries, sugar and Gordon’s. Gordon’s is your best choice because of the high juniper content. The juniper blends with the fruity flavour of the sloes. You let all the ingredients hang out for 2 months or so and then strain your gin to separate it from the berries. Sloe berries? Yes, those are blackthorn drupes, a small berry that looks a bit like a blueberry and is a relative of the plum. It’s tart like pomegranate. Whoever thought to combine it with gin was a genius.
The complete guide to the burgers of Dingle. It’s a short list. Go to Chewy, a pop-up burger stand beside Dick Mack’s pub and order a double cheeseburger and shoestring fries.
Sure, there may be other places in Dingle that serve a burger, but if you mean business then take your business to Chewy. Run by a man named Aussie, Chewy is a pop-up burger stand beside Dick Mack’s pub that has been around for about 3 weeks. Chewy burgers are made with West Kerry beef and freshly baked Courtney’s brioche buns. Aussie is, hands down, serving the best burger in Dingle.
Dingle is a modest town in County Kerry, Ireland, with several shops and pubs, a whiskey distillery and two Murphy’s Ice Cream parlours. Dingle is a common stop on any tour of the Dingle Peninsula. Follow the stream of tourists up to Dick Mack’s and grab yourself a beer, then slip around the side of the building to Chewy’s.
The double cheeseburger is a massive thing of beauty, and the single is no laughing matter either. The burger and shoestring fries combo is a winner.
You might have a 15-minute wait if there’s a big queue or a larger order before you but don’t falter. This is the burger you want. Stick it out. And when you have that tasty burger and fries in hand then wander across the street to the secret gardens behind the church.
‘Come here to me’ is Dublin slang used to mean “Listen to this” or “I’ve something to tell you”. These phrases tend to imply a secretiveness or revelatory importance to the upcoming piece of information.
I turned 40 on Nov 16 and as my friends know, there is no such thing as celebrating only on the day. Here’s what I was up to in Nov.
November 1st was an absolutely gorgeous day. The perfect way to kick off a birthday month.
We had an awesome family day at Belgrave Square playing in the leaves.
November 3-5 was Web Summit, a huge technology conference that takes place in Dublin every year, except next year it’s in Lisbon. I felt privileged to go. It’s like a Euro version of SxSW.
The first talk I went to was great. It was part of the Marketing tract and Thomas Crampton from Ogilvy talked about deep social. Worthwhile for sure.
Marie Kondo on the magic of tidying up was inspirational. She had a translator and I always love the chance to sit back and absorb another language.
Dan Brown was my last session of the conference and he was fantastic. The talk was about spirituality and technology and where there are gaps, there is religion.
Food Summit was also on the go during Web Summit. Irish food producers had lunch on offer. This is the duck dish I had. Delicious.
IDA Ireland was active at Web Summit too. James spoke on behalf of Slack for one of their evening panels. The canapes at this party were divine.
Fall is absolutely beautiful in Ireland. And you finally see more than shades of green.
I got a bunch of nice birthday cards around my birthday.
The weather continued to hold.
I went to a Publishing Ireland trade day on Nov 13 and met some Irish publishers and heard about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry here.
The event coincided with the Dublin Book Festival.
And the publication of this creative annual, which is full of essays, interviews and creative pieces by various Irish artists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, etc.
Swimming is still a big hit in our house. Don’t misread that. We go to a community centre pool, we don’t have a pool in our house.
My birthday weekend. On Sunday night Julie flew in from Bonn, Germany and we had a party at our house with a mutual friend Ger and her 3 kids. It was super fun and we drank champagne. Thanks James. Then Monday, Nov 16, James flew to Paris (the multiple shootings/bombings happened on the Friday). Julie and I went for coffee after dropping off Finlay at creche. Then we headed to the National Gallery to see a few exhibits before carrying on to the Shelbourne for afternoon tea with Ger. After we did some shopping, visited the Little Museum of Dublin and then headed back into Rathmines to pick up Finaly and home for dinner.
Nov 17, Julie and I dropped off Finlay and made our way through the rain to a rental car then off to Summerhill Spa in Wicklow, near Powerscourt Garden, where we then stopped for lunch. I had a fab massage and Julie a facial. While we were waiting for our treatments, this beautiful rainbow appeared.
After a few recovery days at home, James, Finlay and I were off to Scotland. We landed in Edinburgh and drove to St Andrew’s. We stayed at the Fairmont where James had a conference, and Finlay and I vegged out on tv and toured around the village. St Andrew’s is where Will and Kate met so it was fun to see places like the North Point cafe and the university campus, which is integrated into the town.
The cathedral and St Rule’s Tower ruins were my favourite spot.
And Forgan’s was a great Scottish restaurant. Finlay and I had a date night. Great Scotch broth and an amazing spicy chickpea, butternut squash salad.
The golf course at the Fairmont is spectacular as well.
James “Bond” went off to a party at Stirling Castle.
And I met Alan Santry, who made the scarf worn by Hermione in the last film.
Edinburgh was a beautiful city on a cool, crisp day.
We found a playground for Fin, just below Edinburgh Castle, where JK Rowling did a huge book release that I was involved with many moons ago.
The Christmas markets have started through Europe. And they all seem to have carnival rides.
Finlay was keen to go on Helter Skelter, which is featured in a Peppa Pig episode that he enjoys.
And I took him on his first rollercoaster ride. He loved Helter Skelter, which is an external swirly slide, whereas the rollercoaster was a bit too fast and jarring on one of the corners. Less fun.
In an attempt to get Fin into a nap, James and I walked the length of Edinburgh (practically). This is just passed the government buildings.
The walk back to the car was especially pretty as the sun set.
On our last day in Scotland, we drove up to Dundee, where James’ great grandfather was born. May 2, 1872. Dundee is home to one of the six oldest ships in the world.
The HMS Unicorn launched in 1824 as a 46 gun frigate for the Royal Navy.
Since young boys are uninterested in sightseeing, we stopped at an indoor play area to get out of the rain and into some exercise. Peppa Pig made an appearance.
Not to waste any moment of my birthday month, shortly after returning from Scotland, I snuck in a trip to Bonn, Germany to visit Darren and Julie and experience the German Christmas markets. Darren was off to Paris for the Climate Change talks, but we snuck in a quick visit to the UN. This is one of two UN campuses in Bonn. Both are along the Reine. The building on the left is a UN building.
The grotto along the way.
The Marshall Room. A WWII war recovery plan was settled here.
Bonn wasn’t heavily bombed during WWII so the architecture is really interesting.
Darren, Julie and I celebrated American Thanksgiving in Germany with a French meal.
Then Julie and I hit the Christmas market.
Dublin, St Andrew’s and Bonn all have very distinct building styles. I especially liked the Munster in Bonn.
Bonn is the birth place of Beethovan. His statue is supervising the Glühwein drinking at the Christmas market. I wonder if Ludwig liked mulled wine.
Julie and I took the fast train from Bonn to Mainz to visit the Guttenberg Museum.
I love all the public squares and pedestrain thoroughfares in Germany. Here’s Mainz.
The Dom, right next to the Guttenberg Museum.
Guttenberg printing press.
A page in one of the two Guttenberg bibles on display.
The Mainz Christmas market was our lunch stop. Yum.
Back in Bonn on my last day, Julie and I did a little trek to a lookout.
Then, since it was noon, we stopped for some Kolsch, which is the regional beer to drink in Bonn.
One last zip around the market then off to the bus and back home to Dublin.
As the month drew to a close, Finlay organized our Christmas decorations.
On Friday, Oct 30 I did a tour of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. My guide was Mary Gibbons who regularly runs these tours, and her brother is well-known archaeologist Michael Gibbons. If you’re a fan of archaeology, history, historical geography, folklore or just want an easy way to explore Ireland, then I recommend this tour. My pick-up time was 9:50 am from Stephen’s Green and drop-off was 4:30 pm, all for 35 euro.
On the way to the Hill of Tara, Mary regaled us with stories of Irish politicians, royalty and landowners. It was 8,000 years of history packed into a 45 min bus ride. The wide-sweeping tales from the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age and right up to modern times provided a foundation for better understanding the significance of Tara and Newgrange.
Our first stop was the Hill of Tara, which is basically some mounds of earth in a field, but do not dismiss them.
The access to this area is open, aside from a few small gates, and you can stand on the top of the site just like the ancient royals would have. The High Kings of Ireland, some 142 of them, were crowned here and you can stand at the coronation stone looking out at 23 of Ireland’s 32 counties. It is spectacular, especially on a gorgeous fall day.
The coronation stone called The Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny is where the Kings held their great coronation feasts and were approved by Earth Mother Goddess Maeve. The idea was that the King fathered the land and crops, animals and children. If something was wrong, they’d sacrifice an animal, if that didn’t work then a human, and if all else failed then they sacrificed the king.
Tara is a little over 500 ft in height, and you do get a good view of the land (and whoever might be on the attack). Standing on top is as fascinating as walking in and out of the ditches that circle each mound. The circular ditches predate Christ, in case you were wondering. What is hard to see from the photos is the undulating ground. These ditches were to keep the good spirits in and the bad out. Silly humans crossing back and forth.
You enter the Hill of Tara site and pass by a statue of St Patrick, a church and graveyard. The site is 100 acres, and it’s a beautiful landscape right in the heart of the Boyne Valley in County Meath. This county is lovely all around but Tara especially feels like a special place. It’s one of the largest complexes of Celtic monuments in all of Europe and the first settlers were here 6,000 years ago.
After you pass the church, you enter the field and see the Mound of the Hostages, where the remains of a prince were found (not of the same royals who ruled here, hence the belief that he was a hostage), then there are two royal mounds—the Kings Seat with the coronation stone and King Cormac’s House. Inside the Mound of Hostages are some of the Stone Age artwork that you see replicated in all the souvenir shops.
Back on the bus to Newgrange, we passed by Slane Castle, which is privately owned. The Georgian building is spectacular and our view from the road, I’m sure, pales in comparison to entering the property properly. I could almost hear the Downton Abbey theme song playing. The site is used for concerts as a way to maintain it. Foo Fighters played last month and 90,000 descended on the tiny village with 2 pubs, 2 restaurants and 2 churches.
On to Newgrange and the Stone Age passage tomb. Newgrange is the best known, but Knowth and Dowth, also make up the UNESCO world heritage site.
The passage tombs were constructed during the Stone Age, and the amazing thing about Newgrange is that it was used and then abandoned. It’s more than 5,000 years old, which is 1,000 years older than the pyramids at Giza. And it probably took 100 years to build. (Or maybe 20 years with 300 people, the reports vary.) Since it wasn’t used in the Bronze or Iron Age, it is a relatively pristine example of Stone Age architecture. It’s amazing that the structure is standing.
They have reconstructed the outside of the mound to show how the stone work would have held up one of the walls, but inside you are looking at the handy work of our ancestors from 5,000 years ago. It’s amazing. The layers of huge flat stones that circle upwards and inwards at the perfect angle and then the keystone on top holding the dome together. Wow.
The front of the tomb is covered in quartz that would have come from the Wicklow mountains. The archeologist who was our guide says that when the sun hits the tomb, the quartz glows. And in gaelic the word for quartz “grianchloch” means “stone of the sun”.
There are also 97 kerbstones and the one at the entrance is decorated with spirals. Plus there is one aligned at the back of the mound that is decorated.
Granite egg-shaped stones also dot the outside finishing, and may be from Newry or Mourne. Basically the 3 types of stone came from different sites in Ireland so these people worked hard to choose those particular materials.
Inside the mound a crucifix-shaped tunnel that was built on an incline. You’re 2 meters higher inside at the furthest point than you are at the entrance. The passage is only 19 metres long, which means it tunnels into the mound about a third of the way. The exact angle is how the winter solstice sunrise is able to perfect hit the opening of the roofbox and illuminate the passage all the way to the back.
This phenomenal architectural feat can be experienced only once a year, and there a lottery so 50 mortals are able to experience it each year.
At two minutes before 9 am on the morning of the winter solstice light enters the main chamber for 17 minutes. The alignment is precise and shows knowledge of the solar calendar. Dowth and Knowth are aligned for the setting sun of the winter solstice and equinox (possibly).
Let’s review. The passage tomb was constructed during the Stone Age, making it more than 5,000 years old, which is 1,000 years older than the pyramids. The inside is a perfect 10 C all year round.
The passage tomb was discovered in 1699 by workers who were removing the stone for road building materials. But the major excavation work didn’t begin until 1962. So there were 200 years or so of tomb raiding. You can see graffiti on the walls from 1817. Regardless, what’s left is amazing.
Newgrange attracts 200,000 visitors a year and you cross the River Boyne using a foot bridge and then board shuttle buses at a scheduled time so that you enter the tomb in groups of 24 only.
The tri-spiral Megalithic symbol is a recognized Celtic design, but the Celts weren’t in Ireland for another 2500 years so it’s certainly Stone Age.
Some archaeologists think the drawings are a history of the Boyne Valley, or maybe a map. It’s abstract art so it’s anyone’s guess. There are chevron shapes that look like pine trees or maybe water. There are jester patterns and spirals. Potted marks and holes. Each of the three chambers held huge stone basins. There’s only one left and it looks like it’s worn smooth and soft to touch. But there is NO touching, no photography, no recordings, no no no. It’s should be the U-NO-SCO site. But I understand the wear and tear on the place and the need to conserve it and tread lightly.
There are 40 sites in the Boyne Valley. Each celebrating something. For Newgrange, it’s rebirth in the afterlife and the dawning of a new year. It was a time when the thin veil between the living and the dead lifted. I can only imagine those Stone Age farmers waiting in the dark for that shaft of light to stream through.
They do a re-enactment so you can get a sense of it but I know the light is going to go on. If you’re a Stone Age farmer on a cloudy day, what are your hopes? What does the absence of light mean for the year ahead?
It seemed like Halloween was the perfect time to visit some tombs.
Visiting Vancouver with a toddler or just trying to figure out what to do with your day? Here’s the weekly itinerary my little guy enjoyed from 15 months to 2 years.
8-9:30 Get some coffee! Try the JJ Bean on Granville Island or grab some breakfast snacks or grilled cheese sandwich in the market and watch the pigeons outside or walkaround inside. Usually first thing in the morning is pretty quiet during the winter months. We also like to play at the kids park near the Kids Market on Granville Island or watch the ducks.
9:30-12:30 Granville Island Playgym (or Mini Gym) at the Falsecreek Community Centre is especially great for rainy day toddler activities.
Parent and Tot Gym at Granville Island
Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun 9:30am–12:30pm
False Creek Community Centre (Google map)
1318 Cartwright Street (enter Granville Island and turn right at the Kids Market, continue along the road to the Community Centre).
$1 drop in
Includes play toys, riding toys, balls, bouncy castle
Lunch and Nap on Granville Island and then play at the waterslide in the afternoon or walk along the seawall to either west to Kitsilano Beach Park or east to Charleson Park
Need dinner in Kits? The Boathouse usually has space for kids or the food stand offers beach fare like burgers and hot dogs. Up Arbutus St. is The Nook, which isn’t great for dining with kids but does do take out. The Sunset Grill can usually accommodate little ones. Along 4th Ave is Sushi Bella or Indian Oven. And of course on 1st at Cypress St. is the mecca for kids dining, Rocky Mountain Flatbread. Nut-free. Delicious. Craft beers on tap. Play kitchen for the kids.
Panne from Heaven or the Epicurean have quick take away options. And the little corner store at 1st and Cypress is surprisingly good for produce, meats, sweets and treats.
Westside Family Place is a great option Monday to Thursday mornings or you can venture further afield.
“Play and Learn” Drop-In Hours:
Morning Drop-In: Monday to Thursday: 9:30am to 12pm (Circle Time 11:30am)
Afternoon Drop-In: Wednesday: 1pm to 4:30pm (Circle Time 2:30pm – subject to change)
The 1st visit is free and thereafter the drop-in fee is $2 per family per visit with an annual membership. Pre-paid Drop-In tickets can be purchased in bulk.
There is also Eastside Family Place and South Vancouver Family Place, depending on your location.
If you’re visiting Vancouver, I recommend renting a bike with a toddler seat at one of the shops just outside Stanley Park (at Denman & Georgia). Then you can cycle through the park, stop at the Vancouver Aquarium, and then carry on along the seawall to Second Beach or Third Beach where there are great play structures, in addition to beach access and an outdoor community pool.
If you head to Vancouver Aquarium, then behind is a massive park and play structure. It’s mostly for Ages 5+ up but a toddler would still find some access to the play spaces.
The Vancouver Aquarium is also good for kids 5 and up but little ones can still have fun. It’s a bit of an expensive outing if your toddler doesn’t have a long attention span.
Opening Hours are 10 am to 5 pm
Booking tickets to the Vancouver Aquarium online will save you a bit of money. http://www.vanaqua.org/visit/tickets
$29 adults, $15 kids 4-12, free under 4
During winter hours, the quietest times to visit are on weekdays or prior to 12 p.m. or after 2 p.m. During summer hours, the quietest times to visit are prior to 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
Check the showtimes when you enter and go to see the shows first, then wander around. if you time it right then you can watch the show above ground first and see it from below while wandering through the exhibits.
An alternative outing is a visit to Science World in the morning and then visit the Family Play Gym at Creekside Community Centre in the afternoon. It’s open 1:30 to 5:30 pm on Tuesdays (Check the schedule. Link below.)
$22.50 per adult, $15.25 kids ages 3-12
kids under 3 free
Open 10-5 on weekdays and 10-6 on weekends and holidays
It’s actually fun for 15 months and up. There are lights and buttons to push and the space is very kid friendly.
The middle of the week was never my time to experiment so we basically stuck to Family Place in the morning and afternoon. You have to pay the drop-in fee twice to attend both sessions but it’s worth it on rainy days. Otherwise, I recommend a visit to Family Place in the morning and then the Kitsilano Branch Library in the afternoon, or Kidsbooks. Both are ideal locations if baby is sleeping and you have to get out of the rain.
The volume is turned down during these film screenings, there are change tables and an area to park a stroller. It’s ok if baby cries and for the most part people are very forgiving of talking toddlers.
Thursday is swimming day. We enjoyed Aquaventures swimming lessons but if you’re just looking for some one-off pool time then Hillcrest is the place to go.
We were also super lucky to have some great friends in the neighbourhood so Thursday afternoon was playtime at the Kitsilano Dog Beach, behind the Maritime Museum. If it was windy then playing at the Museum of Vancouver was also a fun time, and more sheltered.
Maritime Museum on Thursday nights 5-8 pm is admission by donation.
You can board the St Roche and view the other exhibits. The ship, of course, is the highlight. Adult admission is otherwise $11 so if you’re only going to wander around the ship quickly with a toddler then Thursday night is a good opportunity to do that at a donation rate. http://vancouvermaritimemuseum.com/visit/hours-rates
And again, Thursday night pizza party at Rocky Mountain Flatbread is a recommended treat.
Best to cool your heels at the end of the week with the Playgym at Granville Island. Maybe ride the False Creek Ferries for a few stops. Beware that the rainbow boats are a different company than the blue boats. My vote is for blue because one of our friends drives the boat.
If it’s summer time then try the Farmer’s Market at Trout Lake. There is a playstructure there, lots of picnic spots and a little sandy beach. Although swimming is hit and miss because of duck and goose poop. Jericho Beach is a better spot for toddler swims, and there’s the Jericho Sailing Centre upstairs in the club where you can get ice cream, salmon burgers, nachos, beer and other goodies. It’s open to the public and a great patio spot.
Park near Jericho at Alma and Cornwall
Playgym. Granville Island. Otherwise relax. If you’re a foodie then the Kitsilano Farmer’s Market at the Kitsilano Community Centre is a good spot to wander. There’s an enclosed playstructure that is fun for all ages and a small water park.
Wobbler to Toddler Parks
Tatlow Park off Macdonald has two play structures and the small one is perfect for wobblers. Also there is a large grassy area and little paths with bridges over the creek so there’s lots to look at too. And there are tennis courts here, which are great for kids learning to ride bikes. Although you can’t ride if there are tennis players.
McBride Park at Waterloo also has a playstructure that is ok for wobbler to toddler.
George Wainborn Park in False Creek, just opposite Granville Island (almost directly across from the cement plant), has a tiny park that is just up from the waterfront walkway. It’s small but perfect for littles who’ve just started walking.
Second Beach and Third Beach have some great playgrounds and also beach or grass areas for picnics.
Richards & Davie Street downtown has a nice little park area with lots of playstructures for kids, and some water features.
Check out the Vancouver Public Library site for the Central Branch storytime. And the Kitsilano Library Branch does “Man in the Moon”, which is a storytime for babies and their dads: Saturdays at 10.15 am
Just Between Friends kids consignment sale: http://vancouverbc.jbfsale.com/homeView.jsp (these folks are really well organized and it’s a great big sale with clothing, toys and small furniture for kids. Totally worth attending. Some things are brand new and still in their original packaging, unopened. Most items are $2-25.
Barefit Pre-Natal and Post-Natal workout groups are a super way to meet other friendly moms who have great advice on things to do. Chat away and get fit. http://barefitandpregnant.com/
Many Paws is a light-hearted, interactive pop-up book about menopause that readers can alter for themselves or to give as a gift to the wonderful women in their lives who might need a good laugh between hot flashes. Below is a guest post from altered book artist and author Susan DeGarmo.
When I was about 47 years old, I put some eggs on the stove to boil. I went downstairs to my office to grade papers and before I knew it, I heard explosions coming from my kitchen! I ran up and saw exploded boiled eggs sitting in a pan with no water. Exploding because I left them in there and totally forgot to take them out.
That year when I had my yearly check-up, I told my doctor I thought I was going crazy! I couldn’t remember the simplest things. I was starting to leak when I laughed, I sweated in bed, had hot flashes in the day, my eyesight was getting worse and my middle was spreading! She patted my hand and told me that I was going through the change. I couldn’t believe what she was saying! At 47 years old I started getting “old”. She handed me a paperback book that she said would help me understand what my body was doing.
That night I relaxed in the tub and picked up the book and began to read. The words were sweet and delicate. “You’re still a woman even though you can’t have babies anymore.”
I couldn’t take it! I tossed it in the trash.
My doctor wouldn’t give me anything to get rid of the symptoms. “It’s perfectly normal”, she said. So, every day became a new adventure with the symptoms of menopause. Thank God my family still loves me!
Since I couldn’t find a book that shared the in-your-face experiences of menopause and getting older with a bit of humor, I decided one day while teaching my altered book class at a local design college, I would make an altered book on the subject and it would be about my experience. Why did I come up with that idea? It was freezing cold outside, my head was beet red, sweat was dripping down my face and my students looked at me like I had a third eye! I just shrugged and pressed on.
I found an old book that had a by-line…the years of change. I took that book and altered it to create “ManyPaws, the Years of Change”. Each week I did a spread in the book. Depending on what challenges I was going through, that is what I wrote about. We had a show-n-tell in the class every week to show off the work we did in our books. I showed mine to the students and there were lots of “yuck”, “my mom’s doing that”, and sometimes laughter. I wasn’t trying to appeal to them, just critiquing the pages.
At the end of the semester, we had an Altered Book Show. The students and myself would have our altered books on display for the faculty, staff , family and friends. Of course, my whole experience with menopause was there for the whole world to see. It wasn’t long before we heard laughter. Not only from the moms and older women of the college, but from their husbands! Oh no. I was totally embarrassed, but come to find out, they liked it! They started telling their stories and wanted a copy for themselves or to give to their girlfriends. So that’s how all of this started.
Susan DeGarmo is a truly creative spirit. Born and raised in Memphis Tennessee, Susan “was always makin’ something’ from nothin’,” according to her grandma. While teaching an altered book class at a local college, she had a hot flash and decided to create Many Paws.
Her book and greeting cards are available for sale on manypawsforwomen.com or Amazon.com
1. iPhone photography has taken away the hands-on, tactile aspect of shooting images. We don’t have film, slides to advance, prints to handle. So maybe we should think about all the other ways that touch screens and digital tools have made us too “hands free”.
2. Build time in your schedule to make. Think about yourself as a maker. DO Things. Especially if it’s just for play.
3. Play and practice is how you refine your skills, and that can lead to paid work (if you’re interested in that sort of thing).
4. Say YES, I don’t know exactly how to do that but I’ll give it a go.
5. The first time you do anything, it will probably suck. Hooray!
Also, I like Rachael’s quiet sense of humour and little jokes in her presentation. I’m proud of my friend. I’m pleased that she overcame the nerve-wracking experience of speaking in front of an audience, and that she did a bang up job at preparing, practicing and presenting.
Ease into your chair. The talk is 30 min then there’s 15 min of Q&A. Rachael hits her stride around the 8 min mark, but don’t skip ahead, just relax, get inspired, and then go make.
Butter: keeps cookies tender because it inhibits the formation of gluten (flour + water from the eggs). The more butter, the more tender the cookie, and the more it spreads as it bakes.
Ideal ratio: 1 part butter to 1 part sugar to .8 part flour
Don’t go for shortening
Melted butter = denser cookies, whereas creamed butter = cakier cookies
Eggs: “By keeping the total mass of egg added to a dough the same but altering the proportion of white to yolk, you can achieve a variety of textures. Two whites and a yolk, for instance, produces the more open structure of the top cookie in the photo above, while three yolks and no whites produces the denser, fudgier texture of the cookie on the bottom.”
Extra egg whites = taller cookies; extra egg yolks = fudgier cookies
Ideal ratio: 1 yolk to 1 white (oh, they way eggs come naturally)
Sugar: Blend only the white sugar with the eggs to give a jump start on caramelization then add brown sugar later with the melted butter.
Chocolate: Hand-chopped chocolate = most intense flavour and interesting texture.
“Here’s what we’re working with so far: White sugar is beaten into whole eggs until it dissolves. Butter is browned and chilled with an ice cube to add back lost moisture and hasten its cooling, before being beaten into the egg mixture, along with brown sugar and. Flour and baking soda are folded in very gently, along with chocolate.”
Salt & Vanilla: Salt is essential to balance the flavour of caramelized sugars, and a good amount of vanilla is a must. Press coarse salt to the cookie tops when they first come out of the oven.
Cooler oven = wide cookies, hotter oven = compact cookies That said, caramelization occurs at 356 degrees so if your recipe calls for the oven to be set at 350 degrees, you’re out of luck. Crank up the heat.
The Christmas spirit has captured me this year so each day I’m going to play with StumbleUpon as a little digital advent calendar. Instead of a paper calendar I’m going to push the StumbleUpon button and see what I get. One a day, leading up to Christmas. I’ll post the reveal here for you to also enjoy.
As I said in my post last year, although the Bank of Canada denies there is any maple scent I think this would be a really interesting enhanced security feature because it would be incredibly hard to counterfeit.