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Cinquecento

Here in Vancouver, we woke up to a delightful surprise on Christmas morning: a light dusting of snow. Not enough to create havoc, but enough to call it a white Christmas, something that rarely occurs in Vancouver. (And go ahead and laugh, those of you who live in colder climates. It may not look like much to you, but for us, it was a significant amount.)

I went for a walk to take some photos for the blog and this little Italian car caught my eye. It’s a bit difficult to see the snow because of its colour, but I decided to post the photo anyways, simply because the car is a Fiat 500. And 500 — cinquecento — is a significant number for this post.

Because it’s my 500th blog post.

I had no idea where this blog would take me when I started six years ago, but here I am, still having fun with it. The best part, as much as I enjoy sharing my travel experiences with you all, is how this blog has given me a new lens on my hometown. Wherever I go in Vancouver, whatever I am doing, I now am constantly on the lookout for photos to take or topics to write about that will give someone who has never been to Vancouver a little taste of what life is like here on the Wet Coast of Canada.

That’s because you, my readers, come from all over. WordPress is nice that way in that they tell you these things. This past year alone, I’ve had visitors from 60 different countries.

Going forward, I’m thinking of slowing down somewhat on the frequency and length of my posts. That’s because I have some other projects that need my attention in the coming year, and no big travel plans in my near future.

Then again, who knows? I’ll probably change my mind when (not if) the inspiration hits me.

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Merry Christmas!

Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam

Merry Christmas!

Rockefeller Center, New York City

Rockefeller Center, New York City

Through My Lens: Holiday Wreath

Holiday Wreath

Oh, look! It’s another holiday photo.

I know, I know. You thought I was done for the season ― so did I ― but then I found this photo. I took it two years ago almost to the day when I was exploring Key West, Florida. I liked the incongruity of the various bits of greenery in this shot.

Through My Lens: Holiday Orca

Holiday Orca

Here’s one more holiday photo to finish out the year. This magnificent orca whale is a new display for 2015. Made by hand in Slovakia, it contains 6000 LED bulbs and was put up in Morton Park at English Bay as part of this year’s Lumière Festival.

A rather spectacular addition to the neighbourhood, don’t you think?

Through My Lens: Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink was looking mighty festive tonight. I wasn’t the only one who thought so ― check out the line of people on the left side of the photo. They’re all waiting for their turn on the ice.

Merry Christmas!

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Canyon Lights

Capilano Suspension Bridge 1

The Capilano Suspension Bridge has been a Vancouver attraction since 1889 when George Grant Mackay, the man who owned the land on either side of the Capilano River, built a footbridge out of cedar planks and suspended it over the canyon using hemp rope. The bridge and the park that has developed around it is still privately owned and, to my mind, far too commercialized and far too pricey for what it offers. There are heaps of forest walks and plenty of other bridges to be accessed for free on the North Shore as an alternative to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s on those walks and to those bridges where I take my out-of-town visitors who want a taste of the region’s rainforest.

However, sometimes out-of-town visitors have an agenda of their own and you end up tagging along wherever they want to go. I’m easy. I mean, it’s their vacation, right? And who knows? I might learn something new or see something spectacular.

Capilano Suspension Bridge 2

Such was the case when last week a friend of mine in town for the holidays wanted to see the Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. In its tenth season, these light displays are part of the park’s massive efforts over the past decade to draw in more and more visitors.

And here was the surprise for me: the Canyon Lights are tasteful and magical, and I highly recommend them as a Vancouver tourist attraction if you happen to be visiting during the holiday season.

Here, take a look. (Click on any photo to open up the slide show.)

Capilano comes from Kia’palano, the name of a Squamish chief during the early 1800s. It means “beautiful river.”

Totems and Lights

One last note: if you have a fear of heights, Capilano Suspension Bridge might not be the place for you. But here’s a pro-tip: in the dark, you can’t see how high up you are!

Cliffwalk

Through My Lens: Prague Christmas Angel

Prague Christmas Angel

Of course, the bonus about getting to spend the winter in Paris are mini-breaks on the European continent.

Which I experienced one December weekend five years ago when I easyJetted off to Prague for the weekend.

Which is when I took this photo.

Parisian Cafés

Les Deux Magots

Every year around this time, I get homesick for Paris, but this year, my mind has been on Paris far more than usual.

I’m sure it’s obvious why: the media coverage on that city has been pretty much nonstop since the Paris attacks a month ago. Attention ramped up again this past weekend when 195 nations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, adopted what’s being called the Paris Agreement.

In short: all eyes ― not just mine ― are on Paris right now. And so, bear with me as I write (yet) another post on my second-favourite city in the world.

Le Depart Saint-Michel

Whenever I think back to my winter in Paris, I think of the impressive light displays put up to celebrate the holiday season. The many elaborately decorated Parisian cafés were particularly impressive, with nothing ever done in half measures. (Is that a French thing? Or a “keeping up with the Joneses” thing? I dunno, but I sure enjoyed the results.)

Grand Café Capucines

Parisian cafés are special places. In the mind of most visitors to Paris, there is nothing more French than sitting down in a café and ordering un café or un verre de vin. One quickly learns ― and adapts to the idea ― that your one drink buys you the table for as long as you want it.

Café Interior

Which could be hours. Whether you sit there alone, reading or writing or people-watching, or sit there with your family or friends, it doesn’t matter. You will not be rushed. Time stops.

Wine, Tea and Raspberry Flan

Because they serve beer and wine in addition to all manner of caffeine, Parisian cafés are, technically speaking, café-bars. They also have complete kitchens, which means you can get a three-course meal any time of day. (Cafés are open from morning until late at night, whereas Parisian restaurants generally close for the afternoon.)

Foie de Veau

As an oftentimes solo traveller, what I especially like about Parisian cafés is the lack of stigma to eating alone, which has not been my experience in other European countries.

Wine Glass

The oldest café in Paris is Le Procope in the 6e arrondissement. It opened for business in 1686, shortly after coffee was introduced to the French. My New World brain can’t quite fathom a restaurant that’s been around since a century before the French Revolution.

Le Procope

In time, Parisian cafés became the centre of French discourse and intellectual life, the place where politics and art and philosophy were discussed. Today, there are more than 12,000 cafés in Paris ― one on every corner, it seems, in some arrondissements.

Chocolat Chaud

The Paris attacks of last month were horrific and shocking. What was especially horrific and shocking is that Parisians were attacked while enjoying the very essence of what makes them Parisian: having a drink in a café.

Just as I cannot imagine Christmas in Paris without dazzling light displays, I cannot imagine a Paris where fear and trauma have overtaken the café experience. I hope and pray that the magic I felt five Decembers ago in the City of Light is still there. And my Christmas wish for all Parisians is simply this: that they spend the holiday eating and drinking and laughing and loving.

In other words, that they have a Joyeux Noël.

Les Deux Magots Close-up