Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

There are days in Vancouver when the low overcast and misty rain make me want to get on a plane. Not necessarily because I want to leave town. It's a great town. But just to climb above the gloom and see the sun that I know is above me. On those days, it is fortunate that I can walk to the beach, look to the west and receive a blinding flash of unfiltered sunlight just before it is swallowed by the sea. The glowing end of one day gives me hope for the next.

2008 was a year like that. The Bush Gang spread such a pall of lies, criminality and fear that honest people were deceived and depressed. War over oil and oil over environment. The parting gift from these sanctimonious fat cats was a recession that that will hurt them the least of all. They have surely taken care of themselves and will temporarily retire into their fortified playgrounds. Still - the election of Barack Obama is like a blinding flash of light. He is clearly one of us, a good man. His new team seem to be people of rational thought, ethics and science. His inaugural promises the beginning of something larger even than the American Presidency. The turning of the year gives me hope for tomorrow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Let it melt!

Picture originally uploaded by Bree

EEK! Is it NEVER going to stop snowing! I must have become a real Vancouverite. Just like everyone else here, I am used to rain at this time of year. In fact, I embrace the simplicity and lifestyle of rain. Rain does not require the putting on and taking off of layers of clothing, the balancing act and tug of war with boots, the hunt for the missing mitten. I can drive and park in rain. Everything is conveniently close and quickly reached in the West End - in rain.

Only a mere ten days ago, I was rhapsodic - isn't the snow pretty/quick, let's take a picture. Then, it snowed and I shovelled and it snowed and B. shovelled and it snowed and M. shovelled. This is not right. Is THIS global warming? People moved here to escape this sort of thing. People born and raised here have a crazy, end of the world look in their eyes. Or maybe that's just the shivers as they lean on their shovels in their all year gear - a jean jacket and flip flops.

The weatherman says beware of severe flooding when it warms up. Nobody cares. Floods we know and love. Let it melt. Let it melt. Let it melt.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fresh snow for the holidays.

Fresh snow for the holidays is a rare Vancouver treat! We have been decorating and baking. Our Christmas scones have green cherries and peppermint oil in them. Yummmm. The sweet smells from the kitchen combine with the evergreen odours of wreath, garland and tree.

Inside, everything is cosy by the fire. The old house creaks in the frosty weather. I am sure she feels her age on winter nights but her spirit is ready for another hundred years.

Even though we close the B & B for Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Eve and Day, we receive lots of holiday guests, who need a little getaway to shop or ski or just to get away. Sometimes, it's an especially good time to rekindle a romance and look forward to the new year together. Sometimes, it's solo downtime, to write, to think or just to rest. We understand. We set the stage, spread a big home-cooked breakfast but otherwise leave them to their privacy and own thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hi Santa !

Sunday was such a cool, clear day - enough to put a rose in children's cheeks. 300,000 folks, including me and my honey, cheered as Santa came to town. He ho-ho-hoed, the bands played and the floats floated in a sea of sparkles.

Hi Santa !

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Techies love bed and breakfast too!

Do you love your iPhone? Are you lost without your GPS? Technology may aggravate but sometimes it does truly impress. Nelson House B & B is pleased to announce that we are among the first bed and breakfasts in the world available through iPhone.
The screenshot above is a sample of a typical listing on a free application called "Inntouch." It can be found here.
You just download it to the iPhone or iPod touch. Then you can launch it and use the integrated GPS search function to find a B & B nearby your current location. Gotta admit, that's cool.
The Inntouch app includes a link to the B & B's website, email, a map locator and best of all, with one touch, that big green Call Button connects directly to the B & B that you are viewing. Did I mention that this app is FREE!
The app was developed by the tech-friendly folks at and Apple.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vancouver dreamin'

Vancouver used to always be followed by "B.C." You know - British Columbia. It was because of the other Vancouver, in the state of Washington. I have noticed that the BC suffix has now been dropped. B.C. now designates a whole other subject, like British California or Bring Cash. The city has achieved standalone status.

Vancouver has grown up. She is young(c.1880s) by world standards but the world has begun to take notice. For a longtime, she was a provincial place, a rather rough town that grew into Terminal City. Terminal in the sense of the end of the road(as viewed from back East), as in a major rail, freight and port facility. Vancouver's reputation has suffered the envy of some other cities that have more history but less geography. For too long, Vancouver was all about setting - a city that leaned against a wall of mountains as she splashed her feet in the vast, mild Pacific. A surreal green rainforest with mist dripping from every limb. A westcoast experience derided as the Wet Coast. It was only with Expo'86, that the world was compelled to note the chutzpah of a gawky teenage city bold enough to invite everyone to come and see.

And they have come and seen. And many have bought a piece of paradise, a room with a view. Beauty, beauty everywhere. For some, that beauty has been reason enough to lay back and roll another one. For others, it has been a magnet that uprooted and drew them from half a world away. The world's languages fill the streets. Smart young people in sandals design the computer games that the world will play next year. They social network avidly, climb a mountain competitively and are as apt to take the bike to work as the BMW. Their world is plugged in, 24 hours and global.

Vancouver is now as fresh and dewy as this year’s Hollywood starlet. The city has great bones - the Coast Mountains soar over a glassy new skyline. The makeup is minimal and immaculate - the Pacific Ocean washes miles of chilled but sandy beach. Most attractive - for Vancouver’s turn in the spotlight (and to the delight of visitors) – this city is a friendly tease. She has become open-minded, hip, cosmopolitan and maybe a teensy bit pretentious.

Vancouver offers both sexy and becalming lifestyles. Canadians elsewhere trade down from high-powered careers and trade up to more expensive housing, just to be here, to go play outdoors, and yes, to smell the roses. Non-Canadians have ceased comparing the city to the mountains of Zurich, the bayside zaniness of San Francisco, the Pacific ports of Hong Kong and Sydney. Vancouver is unique. She is no longer just a pretty young thing. No where else do you hear people talking endlessly about "quality of life". Ultimately, this city knows that her inner beauty will define her and that remains a work in progress, a work of maturation. In 2010, she knows that the world will see an Olympic Vancouver with panhandlers outside the ice arena, homeless outside the many fine restaurants, the poor and deranged, the rich and deluded, side by side in "lotusland". Still, the city beckons - come and see!
Youtube videos courtesy of paulngstewart

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bombay Alive!

Mumbai, India is under attack. Indians and foreigners dead, injured and held hostage. Co-ordinated hate aimed against the whole international community. Rabid wolves set loose in the "city of dreams".

Thousands of miles away, here in Vancouver, I long ago named one of our guest rooms Bombay. I did that to honour a great connection that I feel to India. When I first visited that country, memories of the "Raj" where more alive than today. Still, even now, Indians are as likely to use the Anglicized name of Bombay over Mumbai and prefer Victoria Terminus ("V.T.") over Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Photo of Bombay University courtesy of Durga 22

Like so many visitors to Bombay, I stayed largely within the old Victorian sector of the city, anchored at one end by the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Hotel(I stayed at the "Sally Ann") and studded with the architectural jewels of Bombay University, the Prince of Wales Museum, the High Court and V.T. itself. The mouldering neo-gothic splendour of those British monuments, surrounded by palms and lush tropical greenery, flooded by monsoon downpours and roost to pigeons and rats the size of rabbits, still form a backdrop for modern Mumbai's sensual, brash, and free-wheeling spirit. Its magnetic attractions may soon make it the most populous city on earth.

Amidst the crowding, the multicultural clamour and colour, India remains the most human of societies. People remain interested in one another. In so many ways, I found a lot of love in India. There is certainly a great deal of common decency. Bombay is often called the New York and Hollywood of India. Imagine a city that can play that role for a sixth of humanity. For me, Bombay answers the important Why? of travel. It is a place where human needs and aspirations meet.

Photo of Bombay's Marine Drive courtesy of Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

So Bombay will survive this. Mumbaikars have always been survivors. This great and difficult city, will continue to express the human condition in all it's shades of good and evil. For those of us born to an easier place, we can ask ourselves - what have we done for the common good?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One egg at a time.

I remember my first B & B guests. They came to me courtesy of a local bookstore named Wanderlust. Don't you love the name? They were from Calgary and I put them in our old "Fiesta" room. Please understand that the year was 1990 and I had just lived the last five years of my life out of Dallas, Texas. The room was done up in a sunny Southwestern decor, complete with howling coyote artwork. The Calgarians loved it and the Texas talk, you know - the awl bidness, new skyscrapers and the legends of the West, formed a mutual vocabulary. At breakfast, I served them a sandwich that I had always loved making for myself - a thick baked ham slice with both Canadian Cheddar and Dutch Edam, slathered in both honey mustard-mayo dressing and tart French honey-dijon. To make it breakfasty, I served it open on a toasted kaiser with a poached egg on top. Apple slices for garnish. Nothing gourmet but all my own invention. They loved it. And I exhaled. This was a recipe for success!

I was my own man. The very reason that justified my walking away from the percs and privileges of a Foreign Service career was right there in the satisfaction of those first guests. Corporatism, whether it be for profit or governmental policy, takes the "best and the brightest" recruits and drains them of the very attributes for which they were allegedly hired. Initiative is slowly drained away. Brave and independent thought is actively discouraged. Be it ever so humble, give me the work that is done with two hands, where a boss or a committee has no say over which direction to go. Farmers, artists, craftspersons, maybe even architects and entrepreneurs are the kind who will save this planet. Innkeepers may make it a kinder place.

Like so many self-employed persons, I have become a one man band, simultaneously a planner, builder, decorator, cook, washerman, cleaner, marketer, webmaster and accountant. In the early days, there was no one to ask the how-to questions to. No internet back then! I sketched out my future on a day to day basis and felt no regrets about losing the "security" of a regular wage or a guaranteed pension. The creative right side of my brain grew abs of steel. The left side applied discipline and focus. One egg at a time.

Just for fun, check here whether you are using more of your left brain or right brain.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby Bed and Breakfast

Over eighteen years, I've been an innkeeper. My standard joke with the guests is that if I had been planning ahead, that I might have a teenager around to help out at the B & B. Guest response is usually along the lines that THAT might be more trouble than not. Well, Nelson House B & B is my baby. Anyone who has ever been self-employed knows what I'm talking about. First you dream about the little one, then you decide to go for it, then it's too late - you have cut the salaried umbilical cord and the damned thing is moving all on its own! Very quickly, you learn if you have any parenting skills - very quickly, before the money runs out. And then you stagger off, changing your life forever as baby learns to walk and talk.

I never looked back. I only looked ahead. I imagined that I wanted a B & B because I enjoyed old houses. In fact, I had always been over-housed. At first, I was an "only child" in a four bedroom brick house that my grandfather bought in Almonte, Ontario when he retired from farming. Then, I inherited my parent's house when they passed away. Then I saved and bought my own first house in Ottawa - yep, a four bedroom brick house for me and my dog. Then, in a Foreign Service career, the tax-payers of Canada, perpetually housed me in truly grand style in several foreign countries so that I could better represent them. In dip-speak, the housing was "representational".

I imagined that I could run a B & B because of 15 years experience as a public servant. After all, I did deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of different situations. But my friends asked me rather practically: "Who will cook breakfast?" They had not seen me whip up a souffle in decades. I figured I could learn. One egg at a time.

Really, I imagined a bed and breakfast that captured the spirit of my first international travels - a year off from university spent backpacking in Europe and Asia. I remember my first B & B was a discount "Europe on $5 a Day" discovery in Sussex Gardens, London. The rooms were shared. The bathroom was down the hall. The toast was cold. The lady of the house scooped the greasy plate from under my nose as she sang "and you'll be on your way now luv". Well no, that's not the spirit part. The spirit was in the fellow-travellers that I met. The smiles, the rapid trading of useful information, the who, what, when, where and ultimately WHY of travel. Maybe it's hard to believe that cold-water youth hostels could engender the romance of the open road but those hostels led me to the exotic flea-bag hotels of Istanbul, Kabul and Kathmandu.

I believe that the sharing of food with strangers makes them friends. The sharing of travel tips leads to laughter. The sharing of bonhomie reinforces our humanity. That's the spirit that I hoped for in my baby B & B.


Sometimes the best way to start something is to plunge right in. Personally, I despise blogs that simply act as an advertising medium for one's own business. Listening to me blow my own horn would be a boring one note bleat. Now, if I were to mix in a dash of candid opinion, a little daily diary dish, some fair commentary as a Vancouverite, a Canadian and a gay guy, then we might have something more tuneful. Let's see.