The Olive Branch: April

Spring is swiftly moving towards summer and today (in mid-May) we’ve got temperatures of 36 celsius! Better have a quick look back at April before spring becomes a far-off memory and I forget what the colour green looks like (Israeli summers have a rather yellow/brown tint!).

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This and the first pic are from a little hike we did up Napolean Hill in an area called Rosh Tzipor (Bird Head) in north Tel Aviv. I love these little pockets of wild nature in the middle of the city.

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We celebrated Passover with Tom’s kindergarten by going on a trip to Sharon Beach just up the coast. It was a lot of fun and a little bit wacky as we all dressed up as Moses and his followers and pretended to be fleeing Egypt. Tom made just about the cutest little Moses I’ve ever seen 🙂

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I enjoyed using these vintage bone china dessert plates my parents brought over when they visited. They used to belong to my Nan so they’re very special to me. Just one look at those blue cornflowers and I’m back in my grandparents’ dining room with the net curtains and the electric organ in the corner, drinking tea and eating trifle!

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We shared a recipe for Coconut Cream Malabi, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert which is very trendy in Tel Aviv at the moment. It’s ridiculously easy to make and absolutely delicious! This version is vegan too…

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My little dreamer…

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We went on an epic camping trip in the desert with old friends. There was running through sprinklers, ibex and camel spotting, TWO glorious desert water holes, a bedouin tent, barbecues and toasted marshmallows… but most importantly amazing company. Miss you already, Jess and Jo!

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And finally, I picked up Middlemarch again – a book which I can honestly say has made me a better person, as well as being a jolly good read. Click through to find out how much this book means to me!

What else? A new haircut, a new capsule wardrobe, a karaoke night, a LOT of school holiday (tiring!) and lots of house viewings (but I think we might have found the one…).

How was your April?

Love Em xx

Vancouver Island Travel Guide: Tofino and Ucluelet

Hi! It’s Em here with Part 4 of our Vancouver Island Travel Guide! (You can read Parts 1, 2, and 3 here). Just in case you haven’t been following avidly along with my overgramming of shots from our Canada trip last summer, here’s the rundown: Mr Olive, myself and our two kidlets (age 2 and 4) spent last August on an epic road trip around Vancouver Island and the Rockies (in a Winnebago!). It was an incredible experience for all of us, both the travelling itself and the intense family time it gave us, and I’ve been sharing our adventures here at Olives and Peaches, along with recommendations for the places we visited. Today I want to tell you about Tofino and Ucluelet, two neighbouring towns on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.

The Island’s west coast is different from the east. While the east looks out onto the mostly calm Georgia Strait, the body of water separating the Island from mainland Canada, the rugged west coast is pummeled by the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. In general the west coast is much less populated and the beaches of the Pacific Rim National Park are vast and open to the elements.

Of the two towns, Tofino is the recognized tourist destination. Well-known internationally for its world-class surfing beaches and young nomadic population, it’s where the surfer girls and boys flock to and where you’ll find all the best coffee shops, pizza joints and places to get your board waxed (or maybe surfers wax their own boards? Ok, I’m clearly not a gurfer. Which means girl surfer. And, yes, I did Google that).

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Because Tofino is such a tourist hotspot, we had trouble finding high season accommodation there for our family of four, even 3 months in advance. So we decided to check out Ucluelet instead, a half hour’s drive down the coast. Ucluelet is traditionally considered to be more of a working fishing village than trendy Tofino, but it’s clearly developing a flourishing tourist industry all of its own: everywhere I approached was booked up. On the upside, everybody was also keen to direct me to their brother / neighbour / mother-in-law who also rented out rooms… and who also turned out to be booked up!

The moral? Book your accommodation for either of the two towns a good six months or so in advance, since the most special places get bagged early. And most of the not-so-special places too. Luckily (finally) we ended up finding a delightful and reasonably priced little cabin resort right on the edge of Ucluelet. The self-catering resort is called Little Beach and takes its name from the sheltered sandy cove located across the quiet street. Hooray!

Little Beach is also walking distance from the start of the Wild Pacific Trail, one of Pacific Rim National Park’s must-do hikes. We did the Lighthouse Loop section of the trail, which follows the rocky coastline through stretches of temperate rainforest to the Amphitrite Lighthouse. The trail was easy with dramatic views out over the ocean. Unfortunately, we spotted neither whales nor mermaids. But there’s always next time. The other hike we did was the Rainforest Trail, much of which is along a wooden boardwalk suspended above the ground, deep among giant cedars draped with moss. Both hikes were lovely and definitely doable with kiddos.

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There are several famous beaches along the stretch of coastline between Tofino and Ucluelet. Chesterman Beach is one of them: a wide stretch of sand wonderful for strolling along. We were there on an overcast day and it was fun to look out to sea at the surfers, and watch the waves crash against the several small islands that decorate the coastline. In the winter Chesterman Beach is a favourite spot for storm watching and there are many beautiful accommodation options overlooking the beach (did I mention book early? Yes I did).

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The other must-visit beach is the aptly named Long Beach. Bordered by old-growth forest and over 16km in length, Long Beach is the longest stretch of beach in the Pacific Rim National Park, and its extreme waves (especially in winter) have made it one of the most popular surfing locations in British Columbia. Strewn with driftwood and seaweed, it’s great for walking and beach-combing. When we were there we found small forts built from logs and driftwood up and down the beach, and it was entertaining to watch the surfers and kite-flyers doing their thing. For us, it was the first sunny day after a few days of rain and clouds and neither Sophie nor Tom could resist running into the (freezing) sea, going crazy in the waves and then rolling in the sand until they looked like a couple of little schnitzels.

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After removing the kids’ crumb coating, towelling them off and bundling them up, we set off for Tofino to stroll the streets and find a place to eat dinner. The town is full of young travellers from all over the world and seeing all those kids with their backpacks reminded me of the big New Zealand trip that I did in my twenties (the trip on which Mr Olive and I met!). Speaking of Kiwis, they seemed to like Tofino too, since they almost exclusively made up the service staff at the cute little pizza place where we ate dinner, Tony’s Pizza! The pizza was great, the kids were happy and we were happy that they were happy. Win-win-win!

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Although this is technically a Tofino-Ucluelet post I can’t not mention an extremely successful pitstop we made on the way back across the Island, at utterly glorious Sproat Lake near the town of Port Alberni. It was one of those unplanned stops which really end up being a trip highlight – partly because the weather had suddenly turned amazing and partly because of the awesome natural beauty of the lake and its surroundings. It was such a joy to see the kids running into the crystal clear water to paddle and afterwards picnicing in the sunshine at the lake’s edge.

We loved the magnificent natural scenery of Vancouver Island’s west coast and the laid-back hippie vibe of Tofino and Ucluelet. These two towns were also significant to us as they marked the end of the Vancouver Island portion of our Canada trip, before we picked up our Winnebago and headed off to the Rockies! Look out for our next Canada trip post coming soon!

Vancouver Island Travel Guide: Campbell River

Hi friends, it’s Em back again with the third installment in our Vancouver Island Travel Guide! To recap, last summer Mr Olive and I took our kids and two suitcases and traveled more than 10,000 kilometers across the world to Canada for a month-long road trip around Vancouver Island and the Rocky Mountains. Bonkers decision? Possibly! One of the best decisions we’ve ever made? Definitely! In this post I’m going to share about our visit to Campbell River, a small fishing town on the east coast of the island, which claims to be The Salmon Capital of the World! (You can read about our visits to charming Victoria and beautiful Nanaimo here.)

In Campbell River we stayed at Oyster Bay Resort, a wooden chalet resort whose website boasts an ocean view from the deck of each chalet – which there is. The only problem is that Island Highway 19A cuts right through that view, only a few metres from the porch! Hmmm. Despite the not exactly pastoral location of the resort, it does have some great things to recommend it. The pine chalets themselves are large and quite beautiful in design. They are also well-equipped with full kitchens for self-catering, a very real advantage when travelling with children whose palates are, let’s say, rather conservative (I didn’t get to taste any of that famous Campbell River salmon since no-one else was willing to eat it! Boo!).

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Campbell River has great access to some wonderful pristine coastline. In fact, my main motivation for adding the region to our itinerary was the memory of a couple of superb beaches I had visited with my parents and Canadian family on holidays as a kid. On this trip we had considered staying at the Miracle Beach campground (in order to recreate a memorable camping trip from my childhood – vast star-filled night skies and uninhibited hot dog consumption are what I mainly remember) but we ended up thinking better of it because of the inconvenience of having to carry camping equipment around with us for an entire month just for a couple of nights worth of tent camping.

Still, I wanted to visit Miracle Beach itself, which was a short drive south of our accommodation. It was a gloomy and overcast day, but we rolled up our trousers and had the best time playing in the shallow breakers and the tide pools. We dug in the wet sand and made heart shapes out of rocks until the rain started to fall and we returned to our chalet for Tom’s nap.

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The skies cleared later that afternoon and we set out again for the second beach on our list: Saratoga Beach, also located south of downtown Campbell River. The sky was enormous, the tide was way out and the sand was damp and perfect for drawing and building things (and by ‘things’ I mean mermaids). Saratoga is a beautiful long, wide stretch of beach and the kids had all the space they needed and more for running amok.

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We stayed for two nights at Campbell River before continuing on to our next destinations, Ucluelet and Tofino on the wild Pacific coast of the island. There is no direct road joining Campbell River on the east coast with Ucluelet on the west so it was necessary for us to return south along the east coast to Parksville and then take Highway 4, otherwise known as the Alberni Highway, west across the island.

While Tom napped in the car, we followed a route which took us alongside Macmillan Provincial Park and the small yet internationally significant example of old-growth forest known as Cathedral Grove. This stand of rare and ancient Douglas Fir trees is protected and preserved by the Parks authority and with good reason: these trees are giants. The tallest measures 75m in height and the widest 9m in circumference. Some are more than 800 years old. Cathedral Grove draws hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly from all over the world and, even on the wet and muddy day that Sophie and I were there, we were just two among the many tourists gazing up in awe at the faraway canopy above.

Hope you enjoyed visiting Campbell River with us! Next stops: Ucluelet and Tofino!

Vancouver Island Travel Guide: Nanaimo

You know how when one of your dreams comes true and you actually do something that you’d been dreaming and scheming about for years? And then, even months after you’ve done it you still can’t believe that you really did it and how amazing it was? That’s how I feel about our trip to Canada. Earlier this year our family spent a month travelling in Canada: two weeks on Vancouver Island, B.C., and two weeks Winnebago-ing around the Rockies. You can read my travel guide to charming Victoria, capital of British Columbia, here. But today I’m here to tell you about our escapades travelling up the east coast of Vancouver Island and hopefully impart some useful hints and tips along the way. Let’s go!

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View from the Malahat

Starting in Victoria and driving the Trans-Canada Highway up the east coast of Vancouver Island, you pass through the Cowichan Valley region, known for its lush vineyards and wineries. Sophie and Tom, being only 4 and 2 years old, are not big wine-drinkers, so we decided to skip the wine-tasting and focus on getting to our next destination, Nanaimo!  Nanaimo is about 1.5 hours drive north of Victoria and on the way it’s definitely worth stopping at the Malahat, a sacred mountain lookout point located on Malahat Drive, a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway 27km north of Victoria. The 356m high viewpoint is named after the Malahat First Nation for whom the mountain is a holy place. Legends tell that the mountain is the home of the Thunderbird and other supernatural beings venerated by the Salish People of the Pacific Northwest. The view from the lookout is spectacular and takes in the Salish Inlet and and the Salish Sea below.

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Graycliff Cottage B&B
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Graycliff Cottage Garden

In Nanaimo, we stayed at Graycliff Cottage Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast in Lantzville, a sweet suburb north-west of the town centre, conveniently close to the Woodgrove Shopping Center (for picnicking supplies and White Spot lunches – more about that in a minute!). The B&B is indeed located right on the oceanfront: the header image for this post shows the unobstructed sea view from the B&B’s backyard at dusk. The accommodation was probably the nicest of our entire trip – just the right combination of comfort, privacy, cute decor and cozy homeliness. The catloving owners, Jan and Warren, made us feel very welcome and cooked us yummy pancake breakfasts in the mornings. We chose to go crazy and take both of the Garden Suites so we had plenty of space for the four of us. The garden was lovely and filled with plum and apple trees and flowers (by the way, if anyone can identify the plant pictured above, I’d be mighty grateful – so far it falls into the category of ‘Enigmatic North American Plant that Nobody Recognizes’).

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Westwood Lake

Once we’d dropped off our luggage at the B&B we headed straight to beautiful Westwood Lake, west of downtown Nanimo. I’d remembered bathing there as a kid on visits to my grandparents’ when I’d loved the fresh water and the natural setting, with forest stretching right down to the water. Our return visit didn’t disappoint. It was a baking hot day at the beginning of August and I spent some time kicking myself on the shins about having left my bathing suit back at the B&B. But I guess someone had to stay on the beach with Tom, who was snoozing in his buggy. So I sat and sweated and gazed longingly at Sophie and Mr Olive as they splashed about in the cool water. When Tom woke up (extremely grouchy) we had a picnic and Sophie met a mermaid (well, a girl wearing one of those mermaid tails you can actually wear swimming), with whom she was greatly enamoured and still talks about four months later.

The next morning we found a playground a short walk from our B&B so that kept us amused until lunchtime (clarification: it kept the kids amused and them being amused kept us amused. Mr Olive and I are, unfortunately, past the stage where we can get turned on by slides and see-saws. Even if they are in the shape of airplanes and zebras). We had a lunch date with my grandma and aunt at the famous Canadian chain restaurant White Spot. While I must clarify that, in my normal life, I’m not big on the kind of fast food commonly served at North American chain restaurants (pizza doesn’t count, right?), I developed a bit of an obsession with White Spot while we were in Canada, which Mr Olive teased me about ceaselessly. The food was decent (we enjoyed the Candied Salmon Spinach Salad) but I think that my warm fuzzy feeling about the restaurant may also have been due to eating there with my elderly grandma and my aunt, who I hadn’t seen for years. Also, the fact that Sophie was spotted eating a hamburger there. Not just the bun. The actual burger. (I’m not saying she’s a picky eater, but…).

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View to mainland Canada from Pipers Lagoon Park
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Lovely red-barked Arbutus in Pipers Lagoon Park

Tom fell asleep on the drive back to Graycliff Cottage and I spent his naptime pretending to be a pirate trying to capture a mermaid called Sophie. Then it was off to wild and beautiful Pipers Lagoon, halfway between Lantzville and downtown Nanaimo, for a sunny windy walk along the shore, a short climb up a rocky hill and along a shady path winding between Garry Oaks and stunning Arbutus trees. Of course we kept our eyes peeled for mermaids along the way (you may be sensing a theme here…).

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Colourful lanterns hanging from the ceiling in Coombes Old Country Market

The next morning dawned rainy and we packed our bags and continued on up the coast towards Campbell River (all about Campbell River in our next travel post!). But on the way we stopped off at the famous Coombes Old Country Market. In my opinion, no visit to Vancouver Island is complete without a visit to the market, or just ‘Coombes’, as we like to call it (since the settlement seems to grown up around the market, rather than the other way round).

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Goats on the roof!

There is a whole complex of shops, restaurants, stalls, and covered areas, but the highlight is the market itself with its famous grassy roof on which goats graze. Yup, there are goats on the roof. The roof is covered with sod from which the grass grows, an idea inspired by Norwegian homes that are built directly into the hillside, where the sod roof becomes an extension of the hill itself. This is an environmentally sustainable way of building since the sod and grass provide insulation in winter and evaporation in summer. And you can put some goats up there too. So, like, win-win-win.

The market is a delightful cozy cavernous place filled with all kinds of interesting gourmet and exotic grocery items, a bakery, a coffee shop, a restaurant and a vast array of beautiful gift items, both locally made and imported. There is a particularly good selection of wooden toys, kind of a Waldorf wonderland. We ended up buying a little string of felt dwarves as a gift for Sophie’s Steiner kindergarten.

And let’s not forget the Nanaimo Bars! For those who have never encountered these delectable squares of sin, a Nanaimo Bar is essentially a three-layer cake bar consisting of a bottom Graham Cracker crumb layer, a middle layer of custard-flavoured buttercream and a top layer of chocolate. Basically an endorphin injection in bar form. We bought a bunch of ’em and proceeded to use them to alter the moods of our children over the next few days. Just kidding. But not really.

Nanaimo is my mum’s hometown and, for that reason alone, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I had many wonderful childhood visits there and our return trip this summer brought back lots of memories. I only wish we could have stayed longer! Till next time, Nanaimo…

Next stop: Campbell River!

 

Vancouver Island Travel Guide: Victoria

We love to travel and this summer our family took our dream trip: a whole month in Canada! We spent two weeks touring around Vancouver Island, B.C., staying in hotels, B&Bs and cabins, and then another two weeks travelling in the Rockies in a hired Winnebago. It was truly a trip of a lifetime and I’m thrilled to be able to share all my tips and recommendations with you!

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The Inner Harbour

Victoria, located on the south-east coast of Vancouver Island, is the capital city of British Columbia. It is a beautiful, charming and accessible town which is clearly proud of its historical and cultural links to Britain; red double-decker buses trundle through its streets, which boast British-style pubs and architecture.

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Breakfast at the Huntingdon Manor

We stayed for two nights at the Huntingdon Manor, a historic hotel, brilliantly located downtown on the Inner Harbor. The hotel itself, while not exactly shabby, is a bit old-fashioned and could probably do with a renovation. However, on a month-long trip for a family of four, we were looking for comfort and value rather than luxury and this hotel suited us just fine. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and it was great to be able to walk everywhere downtown. Also, thanks to the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, Sophie now has an unhealthy obsession with croissants.

On our first night in Victoria we met up with my aunt and two cousins for vegan Chinese food at the Lotus Pond on Johnson Street, Victoria’s main shopping street. This unassuming little restaurant is crazy popular so booking ahead for dinner is a must. It serves delicious and authentic Chinese dishes, all prepared using vegetables and meat alternatives, such as bean curd skin, seitan and shitake mushroom stems. We loved the Spicy Salted Oyster Mushrooms. I’m told they also do a great lunch buffet.

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Totem pole in the grounds of the Parliament Building

One of the highlights of our Victoria trip was our visit to the Royal BC Museum. Considered by some to be the best museum in Canada, the Royal BC is definitely one of the most fun, interactive, visually stunning and immersive museum experiences I’ve ever had. Sophie and Tom each found a couple of exhibits that completely captured their imaginations.

For Sophie it was an animated film about First Nation tribes hunting wooly mammoths, and also the wonderful Old Town in the Modern History Gallery, featuring extremely detailed (and slightly spooky) recreations of the Grand Hotel, Port Moody Railway Station and a 1900s kitchen, complete with the smell of cinnamon and a net curtain flapping in the evening breeze. For Tom, it was the fire in the beautiful and atmospheric Jonathan Hunt House in the First People’s Gallery, which functions both as a museum installation and as a real ceremonial house. On a less impressive note, the other thing which Tom found it worth getting out of his buggy for was a taxidermied duck.

After a whole morning spent at the museum, we were hungrrrrry! So we visited the Year-Long Food Truck Festival, conveniently located in the museum’s back courtyard. The eating area features recycled and reused furniture and decor and, for the thirsty, there are local craft beers on tap. It turned out to be a super fun lunch option and each of us could choose what we wanted to eat from the various different trucks. For Sophie that was, unsurprisingly, chicken fingers (since when do chickens have fingers anyway? Ha ha) while for hubby and I it was spinach and potato tacos. Tom was fast asleep in his buggy by this point. Obviously all that taxidermied duck excitement had worn him out.

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Arthur and Tom larking about in Beacon Hill Park

When nap-time was over we headed up to Beacon Hill Park, a large and beautiful park, also walking distance from the harbor. The park has a petting zoo, a miniature golfing green and various other attractions but we got sucked into one of the playgrounds, where myself and my aunt (hubby had somehow wrangled himself a nap – clever man) ran around like headless chickens trying to make sure Tom didn’t overestimate his abilities and launch himself head-first off the climbing frame.

We all convened for dinner where we managed to fit seven of us into a booth at Ferris Grill and Garden Patio. Despite Tom being rather intimidated by our waitress and giving her the side-eye all night we had an awesome time. Ferris specializes in oysters, but most of us ordered a burger of some description. I loved the house Burger and hubby (who is vegetarian) enjoyed the Veggie Nut Burger. Portions were very generous and the Chicago Style Fries were completely addictive. The kids decorated themselves with pasta and tomato sauce and a grand time was had by all.

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Sophie’s favourite shop

We loved Victoria and immediately felt at home there. Although it’s a capital city, it has an extremely fun, quirky, laid-back coastal vibe. One of the things I especially loved were all the flower beds blooming along the waterfront. Flowers, flowers for miles!

Thankyou, Victoria, for a lovely stay – we hope to visit again someday!