Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Walking in a winter wonderland...

Our building.
The walkway out of our apartment.

He's not standing behind a hill. He's up to his waist in snow.

The snowed-in gas station.

The amount of snow we've had in the last couple of weeks, coupled with the winds, have meant crazy snowdrifts. This morning I had to climb out of my apartment over the three feet of snow up against the entrance. The sheds and the gym are snowed in completely, and the car parks are no longer usable. Some staff who live outside the park are now "stuck" here for New Year's Eve because it's impossible to drive home. It's more snow than I've ever seen.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A link to our photos.

All our Canadian photos can be seen here:


Some more Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, a couple of the chefs at the hotel cooked us a lovely meal. Here are some differences between the Canadian and British Christmas meals:
1)Canadian Christmas meal is later in the day (dinner time rather than lunch time).
2)No roast potatoes.
3)Bread rolls for no real reason?
4)Pumpkin pie rather than Christmas pudding.
5)No brussel sprouts (=happy Seamus, sad Katy).

Despite these, the dinner was amazing, and the chefs made me non-turkied stuffing, and we had lovely Christmas decorations (see the photo) and mulled wine and the best cheesecake I've ever eaten. And yams! Yams are mashed sweet potatoes (the chef said they also put marshmallows in the mash, but I'm not sure if he was lying). It was good.

On Christmas day, Seamus and I were lazy. We had a very white Christmas (of which I have no photographic evidence but I'm sure you'll trust me), with lots of snow falling all day. We opened our presents in the morning, then watched tv, I phoned my family and...not much else. In the evening, we went over to Al's for another turkey dinner with some Waterton locals. We saw a fox! And were give huge amounts of leftovers (because every Christmas needs turkey sandwiches for the following fortnight).
My favourite Christmas present was Marmite (one jar from my Mum and one from Catherine) although I also enjoyed all the socks (when you live in Canada, extra socks are always welcome) and chocolate/fudge (British chocolate > North American chocolate). I can't believe Christmas is over already. We went back to work on Boxing Day, and it's been incredibly busy in the hotel. All signs of Christmas have disappeared, apart from the fact that our fridge is so well-stocked. And it's nearly 2009...

Christmas skiing.

On Christmas eve, six of us drove to Castle Mountain, a ski resort about 90 minutes drive from Waterton. It was really windy (again) so I was scared the mountain would be really cold, but it was ok. It snowed all day, but it was good to be out (everyone else got cold but I was good, I am made of ICE, it seems). Seamus, Tiff and I had never skiied before so bought a lesson, and Clint, Annik and Scott were all snowboarding (and are all Canadian so have done winter sports before). Skiing is...harder than it looks. Our instructor was a lovely 17-year-old girl, and it was the first lesson she'd ever given....and she'll probably retire after teaching us. Seamus was amazing at skiing but Tiff and I were another matter. Tiff fell over a thousand times because she was unable to slow down or stop...but at least she has guts. I, on the other hand, was scared to go on the lift by myself. But despite the fact that I am clearly not a born skiier, I had so much fun and can't wait to go again. I love skiing!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Canadian Christmas.

Christmas here is a low-key affair. As our friend Peggy said, "Christmas could come and go in Waterton and nobody would know". We have four days off work; the hotel's shut until Boxing day. It's lovely having all this time off...all filled with Christmas joy. Yesterday we went into town and bought Christmas food. Today our plan was to go cross-country skiing but we only skiied for half an hour or so before a)I got a migraine and b)we decided it was too windy. So we came home and watched Dawn of the Dead and ate scones that my workmate baked me (he refers to them as "biscuits"...idiot). Tomorrow we're going to Castle Mountain ski resort with some workmates! It'll be our first time downhill skiing/snowboarding. It's very exciting and I'm hoping it's not going to be too windy. Tomorrow evening, we're having a staff Christmas dinner at the hotel. There's only about 10-12 of us left but it should be fun. On Christmas day, Seamus and I have been invited to our friend Al's for dinner. And then I'm back to work Boxing Day for what looks to be an incredibly busy week or two.

Seamus and I bought each other one present each (I got him the tin whistle set in the top picture, he got me a cd and t-shirt which hasn't arrived yet). Other than that, we have a couple of presents from Vikki and Natasha. So the present-opening shouldn't take too long. But hey, Christmas isn't all about gifts. It's also about eating and drinking a lot. When we went to Walmart yesterday, I insisted on buying a French stick and some nice cheese (goat's cheese with cranberries!), as to me, Christmas is incomplete without cheese that never gets finished and ends up being thrown out. We also bought some red wine, and some mulling spices, so we can mulled wine for our Christmas dinners (it is an almost-unknown delicacy to the Canadians, apparently). We also found some Big Rock (a local brewery) Winter Ale, in a gift set including glasses and cookies. This would make an amazing gift, and the beer tastes so good! So we're all set for Christmas. The picture above also shows the Scottish shortbread we bought to take round to dinner at Al's - it was the only British and Christmassy thing we could find in Walmart.

We borrowed cross-country skis from the hotel for these few days; the last photo shows them in the wardrobe in the spare room. Seamus was saying how proud the Finns would be of us; we have a cupboard for skis and a cupboard for alcohol...I really love our apartment, despite how cold it gets with even the smallest breeze. Now that we have some Christmas cards (thanks Hazel, Claire, Stephen, Seamus' parents and my Nanny....), it looks like we actually live here (more cards and photos for our walls would be nice though....). Some workmates gave us their spare DVD player, so we can watch Region 1 films now (Seamus' laptop only plays European DVDs, of which we only have about ten). We've been in Waterton less than two months but it already feels like home. Waterton's small enough so that you can know everyone very easily; there's a community here that wouldn't have existed if we'd stayed in Vancouver. Despite the wind, the hard work, and the lack of shops, I'm happy we came here (and if nothing else, we're able to save a lot of money, what with there being nothing to do here...).

If I don't write before Christmas, I hope everyone has a good time. I miss you all a lot right now, and I'm sorry your Christmases won't be anywhere near as white as mine xxx

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Snowdrifts and Christmas.

This is the building we live in. They just put up those wood panels because last year so much snow was blown against the ground floor windows that they smashed. Now the snow just blows towards the wood. Since I took this photo, this snowdrift has got bigger, it's about the same height as me now. The road round the corner from us always seems to get a huge drift along one side too. The snowploughs clear the roads, but the sidewalks and grass have a couple of feet of snow. I have to wear my ski pants even to walk to work, because I just sink in all the snow. The temperatures are still in the -20s, but the day was beautiful again. I love it.

Work is really busy at the moment, because of the Christmas rush. It's been a little chaotic too, with burst pipes causing leaks and broken hearters causing....freezing temperatures. Today we have a wedding in the hotel, plus a corporate Christmas party. Seamus worked all day and now has gone back to work the evening too. We work tomorrow, then have four days off. I can't believe Christmas is here, I don't feel Christmassy at all (despite the snow). I think what I need is...mulled wine.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cameron Falls across the seasons.

October 31st.
December 2nd.
December 15th.
Ok, so we've only been here six weeks. But in that time, the weather's gone from shorts-and-tshirts warmth to the coldest-weather-I-have-ever-known (and I've crossed the arctic circle). We have some waterfalls right in the village, and the photos above show how they've changed since we've been here. Despite how cold it is now, they've still not completely frozen. I don't know if they ever will, because of the movement of the water. The lake seems less frozen today, which I guess is because it's been really windy. But we'll see - the temperatures aren't going to let up any time soon, and we're due more snow tonight, and for the next few days. Oh, and the building's heating is broken. No hot water either. My hands are icy cold as I type this, and I'm sitting underneath two duvets. It's making me think of Titanic (obviously, if only one of us can live, it'll be me. Sorry Seamus).

A few more photos.

Seamus on Bear's Hump, looking cool in his sunglasses.
I wanted to look as cool as Seamus so I stole his glasses. However, I could never achieve those levels of cool.
Me looking out over the village.
Check out my purple face and frozen hair. See what I mean about not being as cool as Seamus?

A few photos of us yesterday! All our photos are here http://www.flickr.com/photos/78011591@N00/

The most beautiful day in the world.

Yesterday was our day off, and it was beautiful. -33 but clear blue skies and sunshine. It snowed again on Friday night, so everything is covered in fresh snow. We had a perfect day. We went for breakfast at the Glacier Suites (the "other" hotel open in Waterton), then walked up Bear's Hump. There was lots of snow on the trail - it would have been easier with snowshoes - but it was a good walk. When we were walking, it wasn't too cold - we'd wrapped up well, and there was no wind. But my hair and scarf froze from the moisture in my breath. The views up from the mountain were even better than usual. Where the freezing air meets the slightly-warmer lake, you get this mass of steam rising up from the water. You can see this a bit in the photos, but it's nowhere near as amazing as it actually was. It was so still and quiet, with all this untouched snow over the village...it was so cool. After we walked back, we went for a hot toddy in the Kilmorey, then came home and watched films and drank red wine. I cooked a roast, and we finished the chocolate fudge cake. It was the best day off ever. I've never seen anything as beautiful as all that steam over the lake. I will post some more photos of yesterday later.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Southern Alberta culture.

Southern Alberta is not a particularly mixed area in terms of race and ethnicity. Alberta is the wealthiest province in Canada because it has a lot of oil and farmland. I think Calgary and Edmonton are more ethnically-diverse but down here in the south, it's pretty white. But there are two cultural groups that are really prevalent in Southern Alberta; Mormons and Hutterites.

I didn't really know anything about either of these groups until I got here. Mormons follow a type of Christianity, and quite a few work with us (I think the people who own the Kilmorey Lodge are Mormon too). The most obvious Mormon trait is that they don't drink alcohol (or anything addictive, e.g. coca cola or coffee). I think there's also a rule of the Mormon church that they have to give part of their earnings to the church, and they have to pay a kind of church tax on "luxury" items. They also commonly have big families, no sex before marriage etc...they used to have plural marriages, although I think this isn't part of the church anymore (but some Mormons still do it). There are a few towns right by Waterton that are almost exclusively Mormon, and these are dry communities - you can't buy alcohol anywhere in the town.

The other cultural group is Hutterites, which are kind of like Amish people. They're legally exempt from taking part in wars (Seamus wants to become one because of this). Hutterites live in colonies, and their economy is farming. They're anti-technology, but are having to use technology these days to keep with laws on freezing meat for selling. They're self-sufficient and the kids are home-schooled. They dress in a particular style (women have hankerchiefs on their heads, men wear black coats) and men run the colonies, while women are home-makers. Each colony has a Minister, Secretary and Assistant Minister. The communities seem to be really peaceful and democratic, despite the hierarchy. Another weird thing is that Hutterites believe having their photo taken for driving licenses goes against their religious beliefs (I'm not exactly sure how), and thus have special permission to have licenses without photographs on. There are some colonies near to Waterton, and one does a lot of business with us by selling us berries for our jam and desserts. Apparently we're having a staff trip to a Hutterite colony, which seems a little weird to me.

So, although the majority of people in Waterton are as lapsed in religion as the average British person, there are these groups around too. I think Hutterites are really interesting; my boss is lending me a book about a woman who broke away from her colony. I get the impression the colonies are really happy and almost utopian, but to my British mind, I have to admit the lifestyle seems restrictive, particularly for women. I'll read this book and try and find out some more.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Free cake.

For the last couple of days, Seamus has been doing some extra shifts at one of the hotels that's closing down for winter. The main benefits of doing this was the free desserts he brought me. This cake is a mere FRACTION of all the cakes we now have in our flat. The cake is sitting on a box of chocolate brownies. An industrial-sized, catering box of chocolate brownies. We have a similar sized box of Nanimo bars (these would be lovely if they hadn't ruined them by putting coconut in them). Plus a huge apple pie (no custard so this is a bit weird). I've given some cakes to our neighbours and my workmates. We still have (approximately) a lifetime's supply of desserts here. Seamus is a little concerned he is giving himself diabetes with all the sugar. We never need to buy junk food again. This is this week's bonus.

Monday, 8 December 2008

A walk in the snow.

From top to bottom:
-Seamus on the bridge in the campground.
-The frozen creek and the lake.
-Me drinking wine on the walk. Note the brown bag. Note that I am only pretending to drink.
-Deer by the lake!
-Our place of work, the Kilmorey Lodge.
Today's our day off, and it was a beautiful day again. The chinooks are over, for a couple of days at least, and a foot of snow fell overnight. We walked all the way around town. Seamus wrote his name in the snow, and skidded around on the ice. I took photos. We found that the campground will be a perfect place for cross-country skiing, because there's so much open space with no roads, cars, water, nearby. Lots of little hills too. The hotel will have skis and snowshoes for rent soon, so we can actually ski on our days off, rather than just running around in the snow. It's still not that cold, or not as cold as Finland anyway - I think it was -7 today, and we have good winter clothes, so it's nice to be out. We went to the Kilmorey and bought a bottle of wine, so I think we'll relax and have a drink and watch a film tonight. The Kilmorey has a restaurant and bar, but also does off-sales and takeout food, so we can always get something to eat and drink. I think it's my turn to cook tonight so I'd best get started.
Happy birthday to my mum! And also to Jay-boy. Love you xxx

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The customer service industry in North America.

I'm pretty polite in the UK, but customer service over here is a completely different ball game. I have adapted very quickly to saying "you're welcome" and "have a great day" whenever I'm serving anyone at work, and it just comes out automatically wherever I am now. I keep telling Seamus he's welcome in conversation at home now. And asking everyone how they are, incessantly, every time you see them. It is definitely different to customer service at home.

One thing I hadn't anticipated was how much people would like my accent. I am told five times a day how "cute" my accent is. People over here seem very interested in englishness. Where am I from, how long am I here, would I stay here forever? People also seem to think it's charming when I accidentally say pounds instead of dollars, chips instead of fries, and they spend a lot of time asking me to say words like tournament because apparently I say it in a cute way (who knew?).

Last night we had a group of 30 staying in the hotel for their company Christmas party. They had a seven-course dinner with different cocktails for each course. I am now a master of cocktails. Having to make 26 cocktails in three minutes will do that for a girl. It must have been an expensive bill, with all those rooms, all that food and all that alcohol. And they say we're in a recession!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Winter in Waterton.

The winter is here! We have had about a foot of snow, and a few days of really cold temperatures. They only plough the main street of Waterton, so walking around town can be tricky. I've fallen a few times. Today, another chinook is on its way (see my post of the other day...), so the temperature has risen to about -6, but is coupled with winds that make it feel much colder. And SNOWDRIFTS. Well, we didn't have those in Finland. The winds are so strong they blow all the snow into heaps, so we had to climb through knee-deep snow to get to our apartment after work, and snow is being blown against our window (and we're on the second floor).
But the snow makes everything looks so pretty, and Christmassy. But I am sad because the deer look sad.

Winter is here.

It is currently -20 outside, and there's a foot of snow, and I have to walk to work now without falling over and breaking my leg. I love winter!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Chinook country.

See the weird jagged cloud shape here? That's the sign of a chinook, which is a type of warm wind particular to this area of North America.

From Wikipedia (since I am no longer at uni, I can use Wikipedia in my writing now):

Chinook is a Pacific Northwest Indian word meaning 'snow-eater', as a strong Chinook can make snow one foot deep almost vanish in one day. Chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force (120 km/h or 75 mph). During the winter, driving can be treacherous as the wind blows snow across roadways sometimes causing roads to vanish and snowdrifts to pile up higher than 1 meter. Empty semi trucks driving along Highway 3 and other routes in Southern Alberta have been known to be blown over by the high gusts of wind caused by chinooks. One of the most striking features of the chinook is the chinook arch, which is a band of stationary stratus clouds caused by air rippling over the mountains due to orographic lifting. To those unfamiliar with the chinook, the chinook arch may look like a threatening storm cloud at times. However, they rarely produce rain or snow. It is said that chinook winds can cause a sharp increase in the number of migraine headaches suffered by the locals and are often called "chinook headaches".

When we went hiking the other day, Seamus took a really cool video showing how windy it was (it was about 15 degrees but so windy we nearly got blown over) but I can't make it upload. This is because our wireless connection is affected by...the wind. And cloud, and snow, and sun...today is another chinook day (13 degrees) but it's due to drop to -8 over night and snow! Yay!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bertha Lake.

Monday was Seamus' birthday. We had the day off, so walked to Bertha Lake. It was a windy but warm day, a result of another chinook, and there was lots of snow on the trails up on the mountains. The lake was partly frozen, weird since the temperature in the village has barely been below zero. Anyway, we took lots of pretty photos because the sun on the ice looked cool. We are taking so many photos. They probably all look the same. Sorry. Anyway, as always, all photos are here http://www.flickr.com/photos/78011591@N00/
So, I think Seamus had a good, if quiet, birthday. We got takeaway food from the restaurant, and had a bottle of wine, and he watched football and I read my book. Like most of our nights, really.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A change in the weather.

Even though it's still quite warm here, these photos show the changes we've seen in a couple of weeks. The first two photos are me on top of Bear's Hump, two weeks apart...note coat, hat and snow on mountains in the second photo. The last two photos are of Bertha Falls. We first went two weeks ago, and yesterday the waterfalls were already semi-frozen and covered in snow. I liked finding icicles, it was cool. Yesterday was Seamus' birthday, and we walked to Bertha Lake (also partly frozen). Pictures of this will follow when the internet connection is better.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Canada's national dish

Every country has a speciality food. England has fish and chips, Ireland has stews, Italy has pasta, Finland has pea soup, Canada has...poutine. It sounds nice, doesn't it? All French and sohisticated. It was invented in Quebec, but is eaten all over Canada now, generally as a sort of fast food. And it consists of...chips, cheese and gravy. Wikipedia tells me the word poutine translates (loosely) as "fat person, especially a woman". So maybe not as nice and sophisticated as it first sounds. In fact, poutine is pretty much something people would eat at the end of a night out in Northern England. And it tastes bad. I actually think it would be nicer with British-style chips, which are chunkier than the North American fries we've been eating. The fries here are ALWAYS thin-cut and crispy. At the restaurant of the hotel here, they sell fish and chips every Friday. The Canadian locals LOVE this. However, let me assure you that these fish and chips are nothing like what we eat at home. The fish is small and the chips are stupid, crispy fries. Chef James tells me that if he made the kind of chips we eat in the UK, no Canadians would eat them. Along with my newly-found evidence of poutine being disgusting, I am now convinced Canadians have very bad taste.

So, poutine. It wouldn't be that bad if the chips weren't so thin. But the gravy just makes them all wet and soggy, there's not enough cheese and the gravy is too thick. I was not a fan of poutine.

On the subject of strange Canadian food, Seamus had his heart broken earlier when a can of Campbell's beef soup turned out to be....brown water. He was hoping for soup with meat in and instead it was just thick brown liquid. I think the intention is to use this soup as a base for beef stew or something, in which case it was poorly-advertised. Our Walmart trips are so confusing. We have no idea what we're buying half the time. But the good things we've found so far include the previously-mentioned Oreos and really good bread (even if it does cost $3.47 a loaf). And I had a really good cocktail the other night. By the way, do Caesars even exist in Europe? It's this spicy cocktail with Vodka, Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, tobasco and....asparagus. They're so popular here but look so wrong.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The animals of Waterton.

One thing I love about Waterton (and Canada in general actually) is the ANIMALS. In the first couple of weeks, we saw racoons, eagles and seals. Now in Waterton, we're surrounded by deer. They're on the grass when I walk to work, outside our bedroom window, in the creek. I love it! The other day, when we walked to Boundary Bay, we came across this one on the trail. He looked kind of upset by us.
The sheep are a new thing. I think they only come into the village in the winter. The other day, it was a cold day and we saw about twenty in the field by our house. Then we saw this one (in the top photo) by the waterfalls. He charged at us...but I think it was unintentional. I think we were just in his way.
There are also some cool birds, and if I knew about birds, I could tell you what they are. One has crazy hair. Also, ground squirrels, which are like regular squirrels but smaller. Plus we've seen a few eagles, and mountain goats. And I saw a cat once.
Today, it was -5 and icy when I walked home, and I remembered how much I like cold weather. I want snow.
P.S. You can click on photos to make them bigger by the way.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Our roadtrip adventure.

In case I didn't mention it before, Waterton is 40 minutes from the nearest shop. In the summer, we have shops and restaurants open in the town, but right now we don't have anything. Pincher Creek is a...not-very-exciting town, but it does have a Walmart. But it's not always that easy to get into town. There's a staff vehicle, but we can't drive it with UK licenses, so we have to wait for someone else to be driving in at a time when we're also free to get groceries. Yesterday we got a lift in with another guy, went to Walmart, spent a large amount on groceries (we spend more every time with we go shopping, food is disgustingly expensive round here) and headed back. Ten minutes in, our type burst. In the middle of nowhere. Andrew went round to the boot but couldn't find a spare, so we phoned the hotel, who sent the maintenance guy with a spare. Nearly an hour later, Seamus went round to the boot (to get me my cookies, I needed feeding)...and promptly found a spare. But no jack. Just as this happened, another guy from work drove past us on the way to Pincher Creek, gave us his jack and we changed the tyres (ok, I say "we", I was just sitting in the nice warm car, eating cookies whilst all this was going on). It was an old tyre though, so we drove veeeeerrry slowly home towards Waterton (passing the guy with the spare tyre on the way...). And this was pretty much the most exciting thing that happened yesterday.

On the subject of grocery shopping, anyway...it's so hard to find the food we want here. THERE IS NO GRAVY HERE. Or Marmite. Or frozen vegetarian food. But after three shops, we're at last eating a semi-varied diet. And one great thing about Canada is the Oreos. I like just regular Oreos but they have such a selection here! The last three boxes I bought are:
-Oreos with double cream
-White chocolate covered Oreos
-Mint-flavoured Oreos with fudge filling and dark chocolate coating

In conclusion, it is a very good thing that there's a (free) staff gym beneath our apartment.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The day we walked to the USA.

Because Waterton is right in the South of Alberta, we're really close to the US border. Actually, Waterton Lakes National Park is joined with Glacier National Park in Montana, the first International Peace Park in the world. So, yesterday we walked all the way to Boundary Bay, where the border is. It took four and a half hours, and it was another lovely day (this weather is so weird for this area of Canada, yesterday was sunny and 17 degrees). I was a bit scared of bears, since the night before I'd been talking to Claudia, my boss, about bears, and this hike is more remote than anywhere we've walked before. We met a deer on the trail, and a big-horned sheep charged at us when we got back to the village, but other than that, we only encountered squirrels. It was a cool day! In the picture of Seamus, notice he is wearing just a t-shirt. In the middle of November!

More photos here