Pacific Northwest Islands

Wild dolphins playing beside us

This summer we travelled from home without flying. A rare event for us particularly given our home town of Vancouver is far from everywhere. Fortunately it is also in a beautiful part of the world that we often overlook. We made new discoveries in our own backyard as we ventured to the Discovery Islands and stayed on one called Sonora. It is accessible by helicopter or boat. We took a ferry to Vancouver Island, spent a night in Parksville, drove 150/+km north and took a 75-minute water taxi past Quadra, Maurelle and Stuart Islands before reaching our destination.  On the way we had the fortune of seeing Orca whales. We watched one breach and I was thrilled to have experienced it, but wished I had been able to capture a photo of it to share the moment.

Hiking on Sonora Island

Sonora describes itself as an eco-adventure travel destination in a luxury wilderness resort. It is beautiful. It had impeccable service and first-rate food. While there we hiked, ate like kings, swam, relaxed and boated out to see incredible animals in the wild including dolphins, black bears, seals, and hundreds of eagles in a feeding frenzy plucking fish out of the ocean in the narrow passages between the islands when the tides changed. The region is picturesque and the stay was remarkable. I didn’t even know this place existed until recently and I hope to squeeze in a return visit sometime in the not too distant future.

A black bear on the shores of the Bute Inlet

From Sonora we returned to Parksville on Vancouver Island for another night. We stayed here again to split up our travel time before heading to Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Parksville is quaint. It is essentially a retirement village where life is slow and easy. It is blessed with a beautiful bay and board walk and the Beach Club we stayed at had idyllic views looking over the water while offering us a pool and a self-catered apartment where we could tend to simple needs, such as laundry. It is a family friendly place to go to relax.

Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet

We returned to Tofino after a long absence. I really like it here and despite not being into surfing I take great satisfaction in watching the waves lap against the shore while being surrounded by lush green rainforest. We stayed at the iconic Wickanninish and while it is a great spot we probably would have benefited from a more self-contained place somewhere nearby instead. Primarily because it wasn’t as child friendly as we had hoped, particularly in the restaurant. We spent three-nights here and our highlights included hiking the big-tree trail on Meres island. Some of the trees here are estimated to be 1000 to 1500 years old! We also meandered through the rainforest near the Wick and did the lighthouse loop of the Wild Pacific Trail. Our best meals were an unexpectedly awesome lunch at a new place called Wolf in Fog, a laid-back dinner of fish and chips at the marina in Ucluelet, and on our anniversary we had Dungeness crab served to us on Chesterman Beach.

Admiring the view in Parksville

Upon leaving we returned to Parksville for yet another night before ferrying back to the mainland and our home in Vancouver.

A few weeks later we crossed the border to the USA for a short visit to Lummi Island (part of the San Juan Islands). Here we were joined by my parents and we stayed at The Willows Inn where Leanne and I indulged in an 18-course farm-to-table meal while the grandparents played with their grandson. The restaurant is the main draw here and for good reason. The chef is renowned and has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world. Our meal was unique, delicious and fun.

Duffy Lake Road

This summer I also managed to do a motorcycle ride that has been on my bucket list. It is on the Duffy Lake Road north of Whistler and it is a rider’s paradise. It is one of the most beautiful roads I have ridden on. In my efforts to visit far-away places I often forget all the amazing places around where we live.

We have now been parents for over a year. Travelling is different, but very enjoyable. It has been a lot of fun having our son on our latest adventures.


Father and Son

In the summer of 2013 we had an amazing life-altering experience, we became parents. Our son was born at home in Vancouver in his to-be bedroom exactly on his estimated delivery date and after only 5-hours of labour. I was in the bed lying next to Leanne while our two wonderful midwives (accompanied by our lovely doula) assisted in a smooth, and incredible delivery. I was fortunate to hold my son on my chest shortly after his mother did. I was also able to feel part of the process by being the one to cut his umbilical cord. Leanne was a birthing goddess and delivered quietly and quickly. It is a night I will never forget.

Mother and Son

More than eighty-percent of the earth’s population will go through their own experience of becoming a parent at some point in their lives and it is pretty incredible to think of how we all share this ridiculously crazy life event. Having been childfree through my twenties and most of my thirties I used to resent the comment from parents, “only a parent can understand.” However, I observed their lives of changing diapers and sleepless nights that later transitioned into catering to the needs of their kids by chauffeuring them around and sitting through their activities. From the outside looking in it appeared burdensome and not at all appealing. Now that I’m a parent, I can honestly say they were right and now I get it.

There is no love more intense than that of a parent towards their child. The sheer joy and pleasure my son brings me through his smiles, laughter and simple discovery of the world while figuring out how to do simple tasks is astounding. Every parental struggle and every menial task is paid off in spades with the profound fulfillment I get from being a dad.

I loved what I was able to see and do while exploring the world as an unencumbered traveller through my early adult life. I also couldn’t be happier that I am now a parent. I look forward to continuing to explore this beautiful planet as a family.

Summer and Fall 2012

This isn’t my photo of Vancouver, but it does show off our new home if you know where to look.

It has been six-months since posting the last update. The only travel we have done has been regional with visits to Whistler, Victoria, Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas. Our biggest life change since the last update has been the purchase of what will be our new home. It is in a neighborhood we love and it overlooks the water at the same location where we have stopped on many walks over our years together to relax and enjoy the view. While we love the location we weren’t fond of the apartment itself, so we gutted it and have been in the long (often frustrating) process of renovating it. As our first major renovation, it has been quite a learning experience but the end is finally in sight and we should be living there before the end of the year.

Leanne’s photo of Michael Paddle Boarding on False Creek

Vancouver had a long, sunny summer and it was great to be around to enjoy it. We had some great entertainment come through town and enjoyed seeing artists including The Black Keys, Jack White, Florence & the Machine, Beirut, Franz Ferdinand, Metric, Fiona Apple, Metallica, Janes Addiction, Keane, Garbage, The Shins, and Jerry Seinfeld. We most recently went for a day of TED talks at TEDx Vancouver. Many thanks to Heather for getting us into this invitation only event. We also tried paddle boarding for the first time on False Creek and I spent a long day sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River with my brother. We eat out often with friends and have discovered some new favorites in Vancouver that I highly recommend including: Wildebeest, Fable, La Pentola della Quercia, Minami, Fat Dragon BBQ, Grub, La Parisienne and The Union. We also indulged at the good but pricey Hawksworth and Le Crocodile. I feel very fortunate to live in a city that has so many great restaurants.

The best car I’ve ever driven. The Ferrari 458 Italia.

In Whistler we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and visited with old friends. We dined at Alta Bistro and indulged in massages and enjoyed the pool at the Four Seasons where we stayed. In Seattle we stayed downtown and our highlights included seeing Regina Spektor at the Paramount, eating at Tavolata in BellTown and wandering around Pike Place. In Victoria I had an excellent dinner with a good friend at Ulla and brilliant drinks at the Venetto Tapas Lounge. Las Vegas was the biggest rush for me though. I’ve been there numerous times and always get something new out of it. Hanging-out with a well connected acquaintance who also happens to be a really great guy always makes for an exceptional visit. Spending time with cool locals and having VIP access to hot spots like Marquee at Aria, Hyde at Bellagio, 1-Oak, and others on their busy nights leads to a lot of sleep depravation and a lot of fun. The best part of the trip though was going to a closed road track and pushing some of the world’s best supercars to their limits. I drove a Porsche Carrera, Aston Martin Vantage S, Audi R8 V10, and a new Ferrari 458 Italia (a $300K rocket of a car). The track features a number of bends, s-curves, a straightaway and a hairpin. When doing laps around it you are able to push the cars hard and you have a professional driver in the passenger seat guiding you how to drive the cars better and faster. 21 laps later, I left on a massive adrenaline high.

We have a big and exciting trip tentatively planned at the end of winter, but we still need a few things to come-together to make it happen. One way or another we will be venturing off somewhere new in 2013.

Winter 2011-2012

99th Grey Cup

It has been a stay at home Winter this year although I did get to visit part of Canada I had never been to. I went to Saskatchewan for the first time to see its only two cities of any size. It reminds me of how much of my home country I haven’t seen and how I hope to change that. It actually felt strange to fly domestic.

Drew at the Aquarium

The most significant event has been the birth of our newest nephew, Ben. Other milestone birthdays included our niece Teagan turning one, our nephew Drew passing 18-months, and our niece Laura turning two.

We kept ourselves entertained. In the world of sports I was there when the BC Lions won the 99th Grey Cup at BC Place. I saw some great NHL games with the Canucks beating Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg and Toronto. I also had half-a-dozen epic ski days in Whistler and Blackcomb. One of those days was with old friends who I used to ski with at Mount Baker back when we were teenagers.

Our niece Laura paying us a visit

We saw a number of concerts. The most impressive was an emotional rendition of Vivaldi’s the Four Seasons at the Chan Centre. It was led by visiting Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. The orchestra performed standing-up and rocked-it-out on the stage. Parts of the performance left us breathless. When it concluded the entire audience jumped to its feet with a standing ovation. It was such a response that the symphony was compelled to play two encores of the key movements in the piece. Of all the times I’ve seen the VSO, this was a first. It was exceptional. Other shows we saw included Charlie Winston, City and Colour, Mother Mother, and the Kooks. Most of the shows were at one of my favorite live venues, the Commodore Ballroom.

Vancouver is known for being a foodie city and we take advantage of it often. I love our nights out with great company, incredible drinks and exceptional food. Some of our favorites recently have been at Pied-a-Terre, Maenam, L’Abattoire, Cioppinos, Boneta, ORU, Blue Water, and the Diamond. I also enjoyed returning to the annual beer pairing event the Feast of Five Firkins at the Whip.

We have been watching some of the best movies ever made and after years of working on it, I completed my resolution to see all of the IMDb top 250 movies. Now I just need to keep up with its changes.

We are currently preparing for our next trip and are excited to be heading back to Europe in the very near future.

End of Summer 2011

Leanne and Michael in the Grand Canyon

We had some nice events locally this summer including an outdoor concert with Ben Harper at Malkin Bowl, Sarah McClachlan performing with the Vancouver Symphony at the Orpheum, and we met and chatted with famous travel photographer Art Wolfe following an inspiring presentation he gave in Vancouver. We watched the fireworks, had the usual drinks and food around town with friends, hiked the north shore mountains, had picnics at the beach, and bicycled all over.

Laura walking with her Uncle Michael

We spent time with our nieces visiting parks and the aquarium. It has been fun to see them and our nephew grow. My grandmother celebrated her 85th birthday, and my dad and I had an overdue motorcycle ride on the sea-to-sky highway.

Teagan McWilliams at the Aquarium

We also managed to sneak in a short get away to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago. There was a concert there Leanne wanted to see and I wanted to buy an Android Tablet that wasn’t out in Canada yet. So we used some of our air-miles and flew down for a few nights. It made for a busy weekend.

Helicopter view of the Vegas Strip

On the Friday night before we left Vancouver we went for dinner with a group of nine people to il Giardino. Later that night we went to see Sia perform at the Commodore Ballroom. Early the next day we drove from Vancouver to Bellingham and flew to Vegas where we checked into a beautiful room at the trendy, new Cosmopolitan hotel. That afternoon I picked up my Tablet, and in the evening we watched Adele perform in the Chelsea room. We stood near the front of the stage as she bellowed out her songs.

Our Patio

During our time in Vegas we saw the Lion King, Blue Man Group, and had a phenomenal multi-course dinner with incredible views at the Mix restaurant on the top floor of the Hotel at Mandalay Bay. Our biggest highlight though was our sunset helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon. We flew over lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and landed in the Canyon for champagne and food. We flew into the setting sun on the way back and flew down the Vegas Strip as it came alive with all of its lights in the early evening.

At home we enjoyed the fantastic weather at the start of September and ended most evenings lying on our new patio furniture and taking in the city. Our big purchase though is a second parking spot that became available in our building. This should make life a bit easier for visitors. :)

We are now looking forward to autumn.

2011 Stanley Cup Run

The Vancouver Canucks were one win short of getting their first every Stanley Cup. I attended every home game in Vancouver since their last one of the season. It was an incredible run full of great moments I will long cherish. I will never forget defeating the Blackhawks (last year’s Stanley Cup winner) in overtime of  game 7 at home.  Crushing the San Jose Sharks 7-3 in game 2 of round 3 and of course winning the Western Conference Championship with a tying goal in the final seconds of the game followed by an overtime win. When Vancouver won its third game against Boston I, and the city, celebrated more than I ever have for any sporting event. Sadly game 7 ended in tragedy. I watched the Bruins hoisting the cup from ice level and when I finally walked away I could see the Vancouver riots on the TVs in the plaza. I escaped through the Canucks store onto Pacific to get home away from the crowds. That night we watched in horror from our balcony as riot police marched down our street, set off stun grenades and launched tear gas at neighboring rooftops while groups of thugs vandalized cars and windows.

The city was anew the next morning and recovered incredibly with everyone pitching in to clean up.  My vacation had started, well planned for the end of the playoff run.  I had a professional shave first thing of the morning getting rid of my shaggy beard that I had grown for two months since the playoffs had started. It was a great run and while the battered Canucks came up a game short I was thrilled with what they accomplished and will never forget it.

I have posted videos here and here to remember the good times.

Fall 2010

Mumford and Sons at the Vogue

I am writing this while we are midflight on our way to Dallas where we will connect to Miami. We are travelling for five weeks as we head south all the way to Antarctica before returning north and coming home. We are excited to be travelling again.

I’ve had a number of memorable experiences this fall and thought I’d journal a few of them here for future reference. One of my favorite moments was on Oct. 15th when I rolled triple ones after a four way roll-off in the greatest “gooch” game of all time. Only friends from work will understand this one. I was so excited about that morning that I’ve joked about writing a book about the event, so it seems fitting to immortalize it here.

Another highlight was being in the same room with US President, Barrack Obama, for a speech he was giving. This opportunity was entirely by chance. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I attended without any political interest, purely for the opportunity to see such an iconic figure and charismatic speaker in person. The whole experience was surreal. While waiting outside in the security screening lineup I, and the other people attending, were harassed by demonstrators. It ran the gamut from calling us communists to seeking our support for legalizing drugs. Inside was also awkward for me. While the attendees exuberantly sang the national anthem and pledged allegiance to the flag, I stayed silent and realized that my lack of participation hadn’t gone unnoticed by the secret service. I’m sure they had me marked while the president was in the room. Some of those around me were invited to get close enough to shake his hand while I was never permitted to be closer than a shoes-throw away.

The Fraggle and The Hobo Clown heading to a Halloween party

On that same trip, the hotel I was staying in checked another person into my room while I was out for dinner. Rather than switching rooms, the new tenant packed my luggage and dropped it at the front desk and wouldn’t let anyone into the room until the morning. I was without my passport, keys, computer, etc. as they were still in the safe. It was an unbelievable and frustrating situation. Imagine my surprise when I returned to find my key didn’t work for the room and when I went to the front desk they told me, that’s right we are giving you a different room, here are some of your belongings. For reference, it was the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. The director of operations has since apologized profusely, but not until after numerous complaints over the situation occurring and how it was handled.

The last couple of months have included many great live events including one of my all-time favorites in what turned out to be a surprisingly fantastic venue: Mumford and Sons at The Vogue. Leanne and I stood about twelve rows back on the center aisle watching the crowd and band dancing and singing their hearts out. I also saw the epic performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall album at Madison Square Garden in New York, and Leanne and I went to the symphony of the Lord of the Rings which was performed by 200 artists. I had some great hockey highlights as well. I went to a Washington Capitals home game and saw Ovechkin and Semin win in overtime over the Philadelphia Flyers, and I’ve been to numerous Canucks games including the season opener.

My joy for great food was also satisfied many times. A couple memorable highlights include dining at Bar Masa in NYC and having mouth watering dishes such as Peking duck with foie gras in moo-shu ski. Leanne and I also had an amazing meal visiting Kim and Tim at his house and where we had an impressive multi-course dinner prepared for us by his phenomenal, personal French chef.

For travel I did revisit NYC and Washington DC travelling between the two by train from Penn Station in Manhattan to Union Station. Other than trips to Portland, that was it for being on the road.

We hope to post some updates over the next few weeks during our adventure.

The Wall in NYC, Hockey in DC, VSO in Vancouver

Summer 2010

Chuckwagon Races at the Calgary Stampede

Glacier skiing with Chris

Our summer did not include a lot of travel. We mostly stayed around Vancouver for a change. We did make a trip to Calgary to experience the Stampede for the first time. To my surprise I learned that the “sunniest city in Canada” actually gets more rain than Vancouver in the summer. Afternoon thunderstorms are a common occurence and we experienced a dramatic one. Leanne and I were about 5km apart both having visited old work friends. She was going to walk to where I was, but I insisted on driving over to pick her up. Shortly after she got in the car torrential rain started to pour followed by damaging hail almost 3cm in diameter. We just made it to the hotel parkade minutes after it started. We heard stories of vehicles covered in dents. The afternoon of the previous day we had gone on a long bike ride all around the city. We were fortunate the hail did not happen then. Stampede did not leave a favorable impression on us. Four horses died during the two days we were there, and the booths at the fair grounds actually move on to the PNE in Vancouver later in the summer. It does have its moments though and the exhibitions would be fun for children.  We also enjoyed our time there meeting up with family and we took the opportunity to revisit Banff and the scenic Canadian Rockies as well.

Leanne and Drew

The summer had a lot of great moments the best of which involved the expansion of our families. Our first nephew, Drew, was born to proud parents Sarah and Kevin. As well, my brother and his wife had a wonderful wedding and we are happy to welcome Candice to our extended family. We also had a large family gathering to celebrate the diamond anniversary of Leanne’s grandparents.

I spent a boys weekend in Whistler for Chris’ stag. I went glacier skiing and zip-lining. That weekend will forever be remembered for the story of the person who didn’t make it back to the condo seven of us were sharing. Chris and I hunted for him in the middle of the night eventually finding him lost and sick beside the river. Good times.

at the Lincoln Memorial

We also met up with old friends at Harrison. It is always great to see them and a shame we don’t get together more often. Our lives are very different and we have become a surprisingly diverse group, which often leads to enjoyable, but charged-up conversations. Leanne and I were the only couple without children. While the others camped together we were the snobs who took off at night to have a romantic stay at a nearby resort, loving our time in its hot spring pools. While a bit embarrassed by our choice, we were happy to avoid packing up tents in the rain.

Boating around Vancouver

Mostly, we enjoyed some amazing weather in Vancouver. We love it here in the summer and had missed it the previous two years due to travel. The days are long with up to 16 hours of sun light. We did numerous bike rides and visits to the beaches. We also got out on the water. We had plenty of nights out with friends taking advantage of the best food and cocktails the city has to offer.  I enjoyed getting on the motorcycle for a few rides. Amongst other things we went to a great play, Glengarry Glen Ross, and a classic rock concert, Aerosmith.

I did a work trip to Washington D.C. and while walking past the park in front of the White House three helicopters flew in together before one separated and flew directly above me before landing on the White House lawn as the US President, Obama, returned home. At the time I thought this was likely be the closest I would get to the so-called “most powerful person in the world”, but little did I know that I would actually end up seeing him give a speech in person from less than 50 feet away a month later. More on that in another post.

We have travel plans again, and are looking forward to our next trip.

The wedding of Givoli and McWilliams

Spring 2010

Celebrating Leanne's birthday in Hawaii

dinner at Tao, Las Vegas

Our blog is no longer needed to update our family now that we are home (though some would argue they knew more about what we were doing from our prolific travel updates then they do today). It is still a nice way to preserve our memories of this time in our lives. 

We have been home in Vancouver from our little big trip for 7 months now.  Exactly one year after our nervous arrival into Colombia we decided to celebrate with a little get away to Las Vegas.  While I have been there a number of times over the years, this was only Leanne’s and my second visit to sin city together. We saw Jerry Seinfeld (comedic genius) perform stand-up comedy at Ceasar’s Palace, watched another magnificent Cirque-de-Soleil performance, made some money at the sports books, and enjoyed the broad selection of exceptional dining around the strip. We also rented Leanne’s favorite vehicle, a mini-cooper-s, for a drive in the desert. 

Turtle on a LOST beach

For Leanne’s birthday we flew to Hawaii and stayed on both Maui and Oahu. We had many highlights during our visit. Driving an open-top jeep through and above the clouds to the top of the volcano crater in Maui. Venturing out to a remote beach in Oahu where much of the show LOST was filmed to discover dozens of enormous sea turtles basking on the sand. And my favorite moment was when we walked the ocean trail at sunset in Kapalua. It was a romantic evening and we had the boardwalk over the lush vegetation, the path over volcanic rocks, and the beaches all to ourselves. We arrived at Merriman’s and had drinks at the ocean’s edge before going in for a great meal and some fantastic live music. 

VIP Tour at Universal Studios, Los Angeles

A few weeks ago we spent five days around Los Angeles and had fun being typical tourists. We spent a full day at Universal Studios on a VIP tour where we wandered through tv and movie sets and had front of the line access to all the rides and shows. It was a great way to visit. We stayed near Beverly Hills and drove out to Malibu, and Santa Barbara. I had a ticket for game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Finals between LA and Phoenix, but it didn’t materialize as LA finished the series in 6 games. That afternoon we decided to go to Disneyland. We arrived at 5PM on a Monday night and stayed until it closed at midnight. For two adults this is the way to do it. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for any ride and had a blast being big kids and remembering our trips here when we were young. 

Leanne driving her favorite vehicle

In Vancouver we have been making a deliberate effort to take advantage of living downtown in the entertainment district. We have been to a number of amazing concerts. Some enjoyable nights at the Commodore Ballroom and some bigger shows including David Gray, and Sting’s opening night tour with the Philharmonic Orchestra.  Last weekend we went to the season finale for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It takes us no more than five minutes to go from our apartment to our seats in the Orpheum.  We have been enjoying the Vancouver seawall and I’ve been out on my motorcycle a few times. Life is going well. Here’s hoping Vancouver has good weather this summer.

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics

Leanne and Michael at the Women's bobsleigh event in Whistler

1st Gold Medal

2010 Gold Medal

Of all my time in Vancouver nothing has, or likely ever will, rival the incredible days the Olympics brought to this city. The energy and the joyousness of the worldly crowd was incredible. I don’t think anyone realized it would gain such a phenomenal Canadian following. The final medal event of the Olympics, Mens Ice Hockey, was watched by 80% of all Canadians! Over 26 million people across the country were watching when Canada won in overtime. When the winning goal was scored the entire country could be heard cheering. Downtown Vancouver erupted in celebration as everyone poured onto the streets.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Gold Winning Speed Skating

Our Olympic experience was tremendously fulfilling. We were there in person for the countdown to the opening ceremonies and I have never been so excited at a live event. The feeling in the arena was electric and it actually gave me goosebumps. The first athletic event I saw in person was the Men’s Moguls, and what an event it was. Canadian’s held top positions for most of the afternoon, and in the second last run a Canadian did a gold medal winning performance, producing the first Gold Medal ever won on home soil in three Olympics. The crowd went nuts and I could barely speak the following day from cheering so much.

Women's team winning Gold

We witnessed many of the world’s top athletes perform and inspire as they progressed through the tournament including our Canadian men’s hockey team, curling team, and women’s bobsleigh team. We reveled in the crowds, the fun international pavilions (German House, Heineken House, Irish House), the free concerts and street performances, and the evening firework shows, soaking up the amazing atmosphere.

incredible national pride

We were there when the women won the gold medal in hockey, when the men won the gold in the team speed skating and shared in their joy as they took the podium. We even held a 2010 Olympic Gold medal.

Women's Bobsleigh

The Olympics turned out to be a life highlight for me. Travel writers have said attending these is like witnessing a world wonder, and I now have to agree. I would now love to see them again sometime in my life (London, Sochi, Rio), but I don’t think any of them will compare to celebrating them in your home country, in your own town.

I have read some great international commentary on the Olympics. Fortunately, with the exception of a few tabloids from the upcoming two host nations, many were very positive, including the following one from the LA Times.

The Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics