Driving in BC

With lots of people making the trip out to visit – I thought it only prudent to offer a few observations about the rules of the road here in BC.

The community where we live is just off Highway 97, between Vernon and Kelowna. In the six month we have lived here, there have been over a dozen accidents and 5 people killed. I have named this particular stretch of highway “the speedway”. Not very reassuring given that I have to drive it everyday. I do feel there should be some kind of notification for drivers – to let them know what to expect.  An overhead highway sign such as this:

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But the message would need to be slightly more subtle.

More like:

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No one seems to adhere or even acknowledge speed limits. Speed signs are posted, but I suspect they are unreadable from vehicles that are going Mach 20.  The BC government recently increased the speed limit on the Connector and Coquihalla  Highways to 120 km per hour. The rationale was that the increase would match the limit to the speed that drivers were actually travelling.  Obviously transportation officials haven’t heard “speed kills”.  Now drivers on those highways feel they have been given license to exceed this posted limit by 10, 15 or 20 km.  It has become the Canadian Autobahn.

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The other noticeable oddity in BC is that only 1/2 of the vehicles on the road come equipped with turn signals – or so it seems because not many drivers use them.  I have seen cars thread through 3 lanes of traffic and back again without signalling.  Those individuals who do choose to signal when merging or changing lanes seem to be afflicted with some sort of driver dyslexia – their method is the complete opposite of the process of everyone else in the driving world.  Here,  when a driver decides to change lanes – they just pull over or merge into the new lane. Once in the desired lane – they shoulder check to make sure they haven’t cut off or clipped anyone in the shift, and then they might put on their signal light – just to say they did.  Very bizarre.

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Interesting, when you mention speeding or unsafe driving practices to the locals (my husband included) – it’s not BC drivers…. it’s those “damn Albertans!”  I don’t know if it is Provincial rivalry, or misplaced jealousy but BC people blame Alberta for everything:

Dangerous Drivers:  It’s those damn Albertans driving their big trucks and SUVs.

Crowded Lakes:  It’s those damn Albertans coming to the Okanagan to enjoy summer on the water.

High Gas Prices:  It’s those damn Albertans and their oil.

Beef Prices are on the rise:  It’s those damn Albertans and their massive cattle ranches, trying to meet consumer demands for organic meat.

Strong Housing Market:  It’s those damn Albertans coming in and buying up vacation properties at market price.

BC Teachers On Strike:  It’s those damn Albertans setting the example by paying their teachers a decent wage, and restricting class sizes.

I mean really – you  damn Albertans!  How dare you come into BC with your hard-earned tax dollars, and fully support the tourism industry while you are here!

Sustaining the region’s producers by purchasing fruit and wine to take home.

Buying groceries from local establishments during your vacation.

Staying in Okanagan hotels and eating meals in restaurants while you are here.

Filling up the enormous gas tanks in your trucks and boats while you are in BC , despite the fact that gas is cheaper in your own province.

And then to top it off, you have the nerve to speed and never signal on BC highways.

I can’t believe it ……… and I don’t.

I see the BC license plates blowing by me on HWY 97 in the morning on my way to work , and I see for sale signs being taken down from houses that have been on the market since last summer when we first visited, being purchased by someone from Alberta.  I say good on you.

And if you Albertans ever get tired of being the scape-goat, you could move to BC.  Drive around in your diesel Subaru that you only fill up once every three weeks, eat your 100 mile diet and when you get stressed – stop by a neighborhood walk in clinic to get your medicinal Marijuana prescription.

 

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We are officially BC residents!

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It’s been a busy few weeks, but we are finally settled in our new house. So nice to have a HOME again. We really didn’t have much to unpack – our dreaded suitcases, Rubbermaid containers with photo albums and some clothes. But in saying that – we are quickly realizing all the pertinent things we don’t have. My Aunt called on the weekend, and we invited them to come visit – with the disclaimer that they needed to give us some notice, as we currently own only 4 towels. We will get there!

I have been debating whether or not to post pics of the house – I would rather family & friends come see us. The next couple Wordless Wednesday posts will have pictures of the house and the area. Just enough to entice you to want to visit!

FUN

When we moved off the farm, we did a serious purge of our belongings and saved only necessities and personal items such as clothes, photo albums and pictures. All of our kept articles were packed into Rubbermaid containers and stored in a utility trailer parked at the home of friends who live outside Winnipeg.
Last week, John announced that he thought we should rent a U-Haul moving truck and drive our meagre belongings (including towing his fishing boat) out to our storage locker in Vernon BC. He said “it will be – fun”.
In case you don’t know us well, in a few many of our situations, fun can often be described as
F – freaking
U – unbearable
N – nightmares

It actually wasn’t too horrible. The truck was relatively new and fairly comfortable. The only nuisance was that it was very loud in the cab. The elevated noise decibel level prevented any and all conversation. Which really wasn’t the worst thing – let’s be honest. John and I just travelled across Canada together, so we are running out of topics to chat about. As such, I got in some serious book time! When it got too dark to read, I figured I’d catch a bit of shut-eye (I have never had any difficulty falling asleep in a vehicle.) The rattling in the cab provided background white noise. All was fine until I was jolted awake with John yelling “Are you asleep?”
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Just having fun.

We made it to BC in one piece. All our possessions are in storage, ready to be moved into the house next spring. Construction is coming along nicely – we were happy to see that it was all framed in before winter comes.
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Radium Hot Springs

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We left Kelowna yesterday with the trailer, headed to Radium Hot Springs for a couple of days. Radium Hot Springs is in the southwest corner of Kootenay National Park. The big attraction is the hot springs themselves, where the water comes up from the ground at 44C in the plunge pool, and cools to 39C in the hot pool, and then 29C in the swimming pool.
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Radium has a permanent population of 800. This triples in the summer months, when tourists come for all the scenic outdoors have to offer. We had a delicious supper at an Austrian restaurant – Helna’s Stube. The waitress was chatty, and asked us where we were visiting from. When we said Manitoba – she said “I’ve heard about Manitoba – when your dog runs away, you can still see it two days later.” Ha Ha – a comedian.

We had our first actual WILDLIFE sightings here. An early morning drive along the highway provided us with viewings of 5 black bears, 1 moose and a herd of big horn sheep. Very exciting, but also concerning that wild animals are in such close proximity to the traffic. In the past decade, it is estimated that more than 500 wild animals have been hit and killed on Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park.
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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Wine (or not)

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In 2003 there were 87 grape wineries licensed in BC – now there are 214. This represented a doubling of grape acres from 5,000 to 10,000. British Columbia’s wine is booming business. It brings approximately 800,000 tourists to the Okanagan every year, and creates over 31,000 full-time jobs.
Last week John and I visited some vineyards with my Aunt & Uncle. Most of the vineyards have a winery on site. The wineries have tasting rooms – where for a fee ($5) – you can sample four of their wines.
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Since I don’t drink – I didn’t participate in the tastings, but I did tour around the grounds and learn some facts about wine making.
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Grapes are usually harvested from September to November – except those used to make ice wine – in which case the grapes are left to freeze. Harvest can be done by hand or by mechanical harvester depending on the vineyard. The decision of when to harvest is made by the winemaker – based on ripeness, berry flavor, sugar level, and tannin development.
After harvest, the grapes are prepared for the primary ferment – different processes for red and white wines. Grapes are pressed using a crusher which removes any stems. To start, yeast is added to the grapes – to convert sugars in the grapes into alcohol. Red wine is sometimes transferred into oak barrels for secondary fermentation. All other wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks. This period can range from weeks to months, and then the wine is strained and bottled. The time from harvest to drinking can vary – top wines will age for over 20 years. Only about 10% of red wines and 5% of white wines will taste better after 5 years compared to drinking it after the first year. There is also no difference in taste between bottles sealed with a cork and those with a screwcap.

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Red Wine vs. White Wine
Interestingly – the difference between red and white wine is caused by the skin of the grapes. With a red wine, the grape skins are left on, and allowed to sit in the juice as it ferments. This also adds tannins to the wine. Tannins are naturally occurring substances in grapes and other plants (such as tea). Tannins are what give some red wines that dry, bitter taste. High tannin wines are very strong. Low tannin wines are smoother. Tannins get more bitter as they get cold – this is why you should serve red wine at room temperature not chilled.
White wines have little or no contact with grape skins during fermenting, and end up with fewer tannins. Acidity is what gives white wines their crisp, tart flavor.
Rose wines (blush) are made by allowing the red grapes skins to ferment with the juice for a very short period of time. Rose wines also have relatively low tannins.
Cool fact: you can make a white wine from red grapes by completely removing all of the skins prior to fermenting. All grapes are white inside.

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There are several hundred varieties of grapes grown worldwide, and in many of the newer wine-producing countries (North American, South America, Australia, South Africa) wines are classified by the type of grapes used. In Old World countries such as France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy – wines are named after the region the grapes are grown in. It is important to remember that grapes are a product of the soil and climate that they are grown in. The same variety of grapes can produce two very different tasting wines. Quite confusing. Some of the more popular Canadian varieties:

Red
Cabernet Sauvignon: Full-bodied with herbal notes
Merlot: Fruity and spicy – less tannic than Cabernet Sauvingnon
Pinot Noir: Fresh fruity aromas, low tannins
Zinfandels: Zest, medium to full body. Dry

White
Chardonnay: Fruity, buttery flavor but dry
Pinot Grigio: Dry and crisp
Riesling: Very sweet with intense fruit flavours
Sauvignon Blanc: Dry and acidic. Tropical fruit flavours and herbal notes.

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All of the wineries we toured were beautiful, but the grounds of Mission Hill were amazing. Based in West Kelowna, the estate was founded in 1966 for an original cost of $500,000. The winery is now owned by the von Mandl family (also founder of Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co.) who have spent an estimated 35 million dollars on the facility. Mission Hill owns 900 acres of vineyards and it’s winery has been named “Canadian Winery of the Year” in 2001 and 2007. The centerpiece of the estate is an 85 foot high bell tower with four bells. The largest bell weighs nearly 800 kilograms.

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Wine Tour Tip: On the first day, we visited 5 different vineyards, and the consensus was that this was too many. By the last winery – all the wines were tasting the same. The second tour day, we visited just two wineries – and the group thought this was better.

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Ogopogo

Ogopogo is Canada’s most famous water monster. Legend has this fearsome water monster living in the depths of Lake Okanagan. There have been thousands of reported sightings of Ogopogo over the years. The most common description is that of a 40 to 50 foot long sea serpent with many humps and a horse-like head. It is believed that Ogopogo is an omnivore – eating both lake animals and plants. Physical evidence so far has been limited to unclear photos, such as this one from the internet.
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Down on Kelowna’s waterfront is a fiberglass statue commemorating Ogopogo – unfortunately this has been my only sighting of the elusive creature. BUT I am keeping my camera at the ready.

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Big White Ski Resort

For all you skiers – this daytrip was for you.
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Big White is a ski resort 55 kms southeast of Kelowna. It is the second largest resort in BC (after Whistler).
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There are 16 lifts on the mountain – the summit is 7,600 ft with a vertical drop of 2,500 ft.
Big White has repeatedly been rated “Best Powder” by Ski Canada magazine. It receives 750 cm of annual snowfall. There was still snow around when we visited. The temperature was 22c when we left Kelowna, and it dropped to 10c by the time we reached Big White.
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The resort also operates a high speed gondola.
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There are an abundance of accomodations within the resort village. Ski in / ski out properties are available.
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