Sunday, 27 December 2009

Family and Friends

No fewer than 26 of us sat down for Christmas lunch at 3pm on Christmas Day. Family and friends from the island, and some from further afield in Ottawa and Hudson's Hope. Where's Hudson's Hope? A mere 14 hours' drive away in Northern BC, where the temperature was -20 and the snow was already knee high. By comparison, Gabriola must have seemed almost tropical.

With 26 coming to lunch, food preparation was a collective effort and top marks must go to Robbie and Mary for a fabulous turkey, and to Jackie for the supreme effort of peeling 3lb of chestnuts!

Needless to say, Mrs H was proudly managing 'front of house' from her new kitchen, supported by a team of 'fantastic fifties' serving piping hot dishes to young and old. It's leftovers for a week now!

Mrs H & Mrs H prepare for battle. Is that a bottle of wine I see?
The Head Waiter checks out the place settings. When are the wine glasses being delivered?

.... and Mrs H shows off some of the leftovers!

A kitchen for Christmas

The task was straightforward enough.  Fly to Gabriola at the start of October. Demolish the wall round the old utility room, move a window or two, build a new wall and level the floor. The kitchen cabinets that had been ordered from Rona's Nanaimo store in September would be delivered in early November. The appliances (fridge/freezer, oven, dishwasher) had been ordered from Sears in Nanaimo and would also arrive in early November.  Once the cabinets were in, the countertops could be measured, fabricated and fitted. They would be ready by early December, so the whole project would be finished in plenty of time for Christmas.
"Simples", as Aleksander Orlov, founder of would say.

But this is Canada; Gabriola is an island, and Canada is not (as I have been told several times) quite like England. It's a bit bigger, and things therefore take a bit longer to happen, especially if they're happening on the other side of the country or (heaven forbid) in the USA.

My earlier posts charted the ups and downs of the demolition/construction phase. Kitchen cabinets which were due to leave the Westwood factory at Kelowna, BC on Monday 9th November actually left on Thursday 12th November and arrived on Gabriola the following day. In the dark and on a truck with no interior lights. It was Friday the 13th, so what should I expect? 

The appliances were also due on the 12th, which would have worked fine if (a) the kitchen walls had been finished, (b) the cabinets had been delivered on the 12th as planned and (c) the appliances had actually left the KitchenAid factory in Benton Harbor, somewhere east of Chicago, on time. In the event, none of the above applied so at least the progress (or lack of it) was consistent.

Kitchen cabinets couldn't be fitted until the walls were ready; the walls couldn't be finished until the new windows were in; the windows couldn't go in until it stopped raining - you probably get the picture.

So, the arrival of the cabinets at least signalled a step forward, even if it was followed by 3 steps back. The fridge/freezer and dishwasher arrived a week later than planned; the dishwasher was the wrong model and had to go back - and the oven was nowhere to be seen. "It should arrive on the 3rd December" said Sears. The same day that Mrs H would arrive from England. Hmmm - could be cutting things a bit fine?

Walls were finished and most cabinets fitted by the time the fridge and (first) dishwasher arrived. No ordinary fridge, you understand, but a 4ft wide x 8ft high monster that took four people an hour and a half to unload from the delivery truck and get up the steps into the kitchen. Had it not been for the threat of Mrs H's retribution, the delivery men would have deemed it impossible, left it on the truck and taken it away again.

In their wisdom, Rona advised against ordering the door panels for the appliances until they were actually here -just in case the specifications had changed. They hadn't - and when Rona said they should be ready for mid January, Mrs H suggested they might reconsider - in the nicest possible way, of course. "They will be leaving Kelowna on the 14th December and delivered to the Rona store for collection on the 15th" was the promise. They weren't.

December 3rd came and went, the oven was delivered, the dishwasher changed, and the countertops had been templated. Almost 30 feet of countertop and 20 feet of backsplash mocked up in wafer thin plywood had left Gabriola on the back of an open pick-up truck back to the Countryside Designs factory at Cobble Hill, near Victoria, where it would be magically transformed into midnight grey Corian countertops before being delivered back by mid December for installation. Congratulations Countryside Designs - you actually delivered AHEAD of target!!!

The final piece of the jigsaw was to be black, or grey, floor covering. No problem you  might think - except that no-one stocked anything that wasn't brown. We weren't too fussy what shade of grey, but we didn't want brown. After 3 days of searching, despair was setting in when we happened upon some black laminate flooring in Rona's store in Duncan. Not quite what we were looking for, but go for it!

Meanwhile, the prospect of buying nearly 50 drawer and cabinet handles at exhorbitant prices on Vancouver Island led to a mail order at around a third of the price from Michigan, USA which - by mid December, was in the midst of a series of winter snowstorms that seemingly prevented any packages being dispatched for more than a week. They finally arrived three days before Christmas.

Inexplicably, the appliance door panels were "missed off" the delivery from Kelowna on the 14th - but never fear, there was another delivery before Christmas and, by way of recompense, they would be delivered direct to Gabriola. Wrong again. Sure, they were on the truck that left Kelowna (a day late) on the 22nd - but by 4pm on the 23rd there was no sign of the truck arriving on Gabriola. A call to Rona determined that all three deliveries for Gabriola had been dumped at the Nanaimo warehouse without explanation. I suspect the driver had seen the length of the ferry line-up and determined it was either Gabriola or Christmas at home - but not both. Nevertheless, Rona called in a Gabriola courier service and the panels arrived on our doorstep just before 1pm Christmas Eve.

By 9pm Christmas Eve, there were panels on the fridge/freezer and handles on everything. The dishwasher panel would have been fitted Christmas morning, but for the fact that I didn't have the necessary Torx screwdriver. Bugger!

It was Boxing Day before the dishwasher was finally clad, but we had our kitchen for Christmas. Just as well, as we had 26 coming to Christmas Dinner ! 

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Santa arrives in Victoria - by ferryboat!

Santa looks just a little bit nervous as he navigates past an outgoing seaplane!

All lit up for Christmas

Each year, as Christmas approaches, we try to get away and see another city dressed in all its finery for the holiday season. Coming from Europe, there's no shortage of colourful destinations within reach - London, Paris, Lille, Bruges - all just a few hours away if you can make the effort. 

I suppose it's natural to compare new cities to those we know best. London at Christmas is a mix of colour, glitter and tradition - with many of the best known landmarks floodlit in natural light as a backdrop to the seasonal illuminations.

Some of our favourite Christmas lights are in Paris - where the Champs Elysees is bordered by lines of trees bedecked in brilliant white fairylights - indeed the whole area is illuminated in white, without a trace of colour to detract from the serenity of the city's floodlit landmarks.

Europe also boasts a series of month-long pre-Christmas markets, turning some of the lesser known cities into a mass of colour and activity to incite visitors from around the world. Among those we have visited, Bruges  remains one of our favourites.

This year, we spent a couple of days in BC's capital, Victoria - having carefully selected a hotel offering probably the most impressive views of the city and harbour, we were treated to a wonderful vista with many impressive landmarks reflected in the still waters of the inner harbour.  Our room at the Delta hotel offered a panoramic view of the whole harbour, stretching across to the Legislature building and the Fairmont Empress hotel, and buzzing with activity from boats and floatplanes alike.

As night fell, the city lit up - and from our window the reflections in the water were simply fantastic.

The Legislature building - very impressive in daylight - looked as though it had received the Disney treatment.
Personally, I think it would have looked much more impressive if it had been floodlit - less gaudy, and more in character with the building.

Down in the harbour, the little ferries were decorated for their evening ballet performance

- and one or two enterprising boat owners had joined in the same spirit

The Empress looked as grand as ever - pity someone abandoned that old bus outside!
It was still there the following day when afternoon tea was served.... very tastefully I may add.

Victoria is often likened to London. Take away the tourist buses, and it reveals a character all of its own. Look beyond the brightly lit facades and there are some of the finest historic buildings in Canada. But for me, Victoria's inner harbour is the jewel in the crown. The combination of floatplanes, yachts, ferries (large and small) and inquisitive seals makes it quite unique. Perhaps next year, the BC Legislature will go for a more serene appearance!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Streetview makes it to Gabriola

Oh well, it had to happen.  Google Streetview's visit to Gabriola earlier this year has made it on line.
Must have been a 'flying' visit judging by the dustcloud following the camera!