It will likely come as no surprise to regulars that Mrs E and I were married on the 29th of February. I’d like to claim it was deliberate and planned – especially as it was in 1992, making the date (in the UK at least, where it happened) 29.2.92. However, honesty forces me to admit that it was just the first free Saturday that the registry office had, though I admit the date did amuse me at the time.
I came to expect that I would be “let off” 3 out of 4 years from having to remember the anniversary, though I totally expected to have to amp up the effort every fourth year. No such luck. The fourth year bit is certainly true, but the other three don’t go by unmarked, by any means. There is however a little wriggle-room in the date. Sometimes the 28th of February, sometimes the 1st of March. Sometimes the nearest weekend. That at least gives me a couple of options to save face, if I forget.
This year, it was “nearest weekend”, and we opted for our old favourite The Chateau Hotel in Whistler. We’d first been about a decade ago, when we won a couple of nights in a Scout raffle draw, and fell in love with the place. It’s 4.5 stars, and they really do treat you very well. This year, I managed to find a pretty sweet deal for half price, and the stage was set.
Enter – El Niño, or “The Pineapple Express” as it’s know here in the Lower Mainland. Basically this has dumped an unholy amount of water on the Lower Mainland (100mm in just 36 hours – that’s 4″ if you live in Liberia, Burma or the US – incidentally, did you know the US sanctioned “going metric” in 1866? Just never got around to it, I guess!), while simultaneously raising the temperature several degrees. The North Shore mountains were all closed late last week due to avalanche danger, and the Friday night drive up the beautiful Sea to Sky highway to Whistler was a blur of dark shadows, nasty puddles suddenly pulling on the steering wheel and lashing rain on the windscreen. Frankly, it was a relief to make it to the hotel in one piece and be able to sit down and relax.
And relax we did. With a little help from the Widow Cliquot, whose acquaintance I firmly encourage if you have a celebration or are just looking for an excuse for a pleasant (if not inexpensive) tipple.
Saturday was a complete wash-out, and even our little foray into the lower village resulted in soggy socks. I took no shame in stuffing mine into the outlet vent of the air conditioning unit, and cranking it up to 30 degrees. They emerged a few minutes later lovely, dry and warm… if a little crispy. We undertook a little exercise in the gym, which had huge picture windows overlooking the hot tubs outside. These were like a scene from a Victorian bordello… with bikinis. I can’t remember the last time I have seen such a density of near-naked female flesh. Well, not since college anyway. There were a few blokes present, to be sure. They seemed to fulfill a dual role of (i) the excuse for the boarding/skiing gels to strip off in the first place and (ii) paying for the non-stop alcohol being consumed from plastic glasses. No matter to me – it was more entertaining than the bewildering North American sports showing on the array of TVs in the gym. After more than a decade here, I’ve almost got the hang of Ice Hockey (here just called “hockey” to confuse anyone expecting that to include a ball and a field of grass), but rounders (er – I mean “baseball”) and basketball leave me in a complete daze. I mean, what’s wrong with a proper sport… like F1?! 🙂
After showering and making ourselves look vaguely presentable (something Mrs E is always much better at than I), we were delighted to see the rains had finally given up, and there was even a hint of blue sky. As night fell, we trotted off into town again, with only a vague lingering dampness in the general toe area. We’d heard great things of a restaurant called “Ric’s Grill”, and finally tracked it down in the Crystal Lodge.
If you are in Whistler, I’d like to recommend Ric’s Grill. Unfortunately, I can’t. It was possibly the most appalling restaurant experience I’ve ever had in Canada. (Though I haven’t eaten in McDonald’s on a general point of principle). It was a little busy when we turned up, sans reservation. We were greeted very warmly, and politely told there was likely a 30 minute wait. No biggie, and we were totally fine with that. The very pleasant (Australian – as most service staff tend to be in Canada’s ski resorts) greeter then offered us an immediate seat in the lounge/bar, if we’d prefer not to wait. Done! We were in.
Our server was equally pleasant and took drinks orders which arrived reasonably promptly (the bar was all of 2m away!) and on her return, took our meal order. Starters arrived a few minutes later and a convivial evening looked set to ensue. Fast forward ALMOST AN HOUR and we were literally standing up to leave in disgust when our main courses arrived. The server had walked past us several times while studiously avoiding eye contact, apology or assurances. I think we were asked once if we wanted more drinks early on in the proceedings, and that was it.
Having heard, as I mentioned, good things about Ric and his grill, I was now expecting a steak that was not merely awesome, but was strutting its stuff on the red carpet and surrounded by paparazzi. Well – to be fair, it wasn’t bad. It was quite tasty really. But it was just like any number of steaks I’ve eaten at Cactus Club, Earls or Milestones. All chains, all expected to be “pretty good” for a vaguely (but not too) posh-ish night out.
Prior to writing this blog entry, I even went as far as tracking down their website and formally complaining. Now, this might not sound like a big thing, until you remember that I was born English. The English “complain” about bad food and service not by yelling, or even quietly complaining to the server (it is rarely their fault in fact). Not even by tipping badly (again – you impact the one person least likely to be able to do anything about it). No, we Brits simply never go there again. But now I’m trying to be more Canadian. I have a blue passport and everything. So I wrote at length and in detail… about why I’m not going there again.
The waitress gamely offered us a dessert menu, but I felt my life was too short for any potential delay, and so we left to deal with some unfinished business with a French widow we’d left in the fridge.
This morning brought the much-anticipated sunshine, post El Niño, and we drove the 10 minutes or so down to Callaghan Valley where we went snowshoeing. It was a perfect day for it. The status board claimed -2 degrees, and it was lovely and bright sunshine. The snow conditions weren’t too bad, despite all the previous rain, though occasionally I sank unexpectedly when the crust gave way to my not inconsiderable weight.
We did a black route to warm up, and it took us to the Alexander Falls which were looking a little turbid as they ejected all the previous day’s rain over the 43m cliff. Realising I’d forgotten to fill the water bottle I’d so proudly remembered to bring from home, we then opted to head for the Lodge, which is at the other parking location in the Callaghan Valley complex. It’s about a 40 minute trek… and we were rewarded by cups of tea and a place to fill our water bottle for the return trip. (No – we never did drink any of it, before you ask.)
The Lodge was peopled by young families (the rental place does these neat little covered sledges you can pull your kids around the Nordic routes in), and bean-poles trying to pass themselves off as people. It really was quite remarkable to see that the vast majority of Nordic skiers were female and as wiry as anything. I wonder what it is that skews the demographics so much. The other thing of note was how many of the aforementioned ladies felt it necessary to perform stretches and various yoga poses whilst the rest of us were trying to concentrate on our Earl Grey! Perhaps they were just trying to get their value from the stretchy clothes they all seemed to wear. You could tell the snowshoers (and there weren’t many today, at all) – we weren’t wearing Lycra. Well – Mrs E was, now I think about it… perhaps it’s just me!