Friday, February 17, 2012

The Local Tourist - Christmas Lights at Stanley Park

On Christmas Eve, after spending a few hours at the German Christmas Market, I wanted to go see some Christmas light displays. The original plan was to go to Vandusen Gardens on Oak Street, which always puts on a huge display, but the place was packed and parking non-existant, so we decided to go check out Stanley Park instead.

 I'll know better for next year, but they have a miniature train you can ride that takes you through the woods which have over 2 million lights twinkling in them. It was booked solid for 3 hours in advance when we got there, and we didn't want to wait in the cold that long, so skipped the ride and just enjoyed the displays in the main plaza. Next year, I would book tickets online, so I don't miss the main attraction.

The whole show is a fund raiser for the Vancouver Firemans Burn Fund, a worthy cause if ever, so I was generous in my entrance fee donation. The plaza was ablaze in lights and filled with every Christmas/Winter image you could think of. It was if they had cleaned out every garage in town and confiscated all their outdoor winter decorations. Strangly, they were all clumped by catagory. A field of snowmen, next to a field of plastic Santa Clauses, next to a field of reindeer..... you get the idea.

Here is a couple of blurry cell phone pictures

It was a nice cheerful way to spend Christmas Eve, but a bit on the hokey side, nice for kids.

The Local Tourist - The Vancouver German Christmas Market

Although I was born in Canada, I grew up in Germany as an Air Force brat. They were magical years in so many ways, but sometimes it seems like it was all a dream. One of my favorite memories was the German Christmas markets. Masses of twinkling fairy lights, amazing aromas of cooking food, lots of tasty treats and a slew of hand crafted ornaments. All this washed down with copious amounts of mulled red wine known as Gluehwein and frosty beer. Those markets seemed to capture the essence of Christmas in a way that our malls with their muzac never could.

Well, now Vancouver has its own German Christmas Market and on December 24th, I went downtown to check it out. I was not disappointed! For a few hours, I was transported back to my childhood.

Excitedly, I dragged David from one booth to another as memories came flooding back. First stop was to the bratwurst stand for sausage on a bun as only the Germans can make them, yummy! Then we sampled the large bread pretzels ( damn, I forgot how good those were), I went back for more but they were sold out :(  We purchased some Gluehwein to wash it down,... now that's a seriously tasty drink! Everywhere we turned we were accosted by the fantastic smells of baking apples, molten cheese, gingerbread cookies and so on.

Once we had had our fill of food and drink, we turned our attention to the arts and crafts. The Germans have a long tradition of making beautiful intricate handmade ornaments. The prices were out of this world, but I bought a couple anyway as they had special meanings for me. I called my Dad when I got home to tell him about the market and when I mentioned the prices he said they had always been extravagent even back in the sixties and seventies. I really wish I had hung on too the ones I had, but they got lost in my many moves over the years.

These German Pyramids were a typical sight and the incredible detail and workmanship made them  a highly sought after item. They dont come cheap!, These can run in the hundreds of dollars but are something that can be handed down for ages. The heat from the candles creates air currents which cause the blades to spin. That in turn,spins the different levels around, each one carrying a carved vignette of life.

At the end of the evening, there was a beautiful old-fashioned carosol which we took a ride on, David on a gorgeous pink pony.... priceless. Mysteriously, I  lost my camera before I got that picture downloaded..hmmmm.

It was a wonderful experience to dust off old memories, I can't wait for next years, I'll be lining up early for the pretzels, and plan to take a taxi home so I can have a second glass of Gluehwein.

Heres a short video to show you what it looked like ( I lost my camera)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Local Tourist - Winter Solstice Lantern Festival

I have lived in Vancouver BC for twenty years now and have worked almost every weekend of those twenty years. This resulted in me missing every: parade, festival, farmers market, ethnic day celebration, cultural event, health and lifestyle expos,.... you name it, I missed it! So this year it is my mandate to try and experience as many of these as I could. For different reasons, I didn't have my camera for the first few things I attended, so will post a few pictures that I found online to illustrate what I was seeing. I will try and do a better job of chronicling the rest of my adventures as I go along. So sit back, be an armchair traveller and join me as I check out my city and what it has to offer.

First up was the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival. It is held simultaneously in five different Vancouver neighborhoods on December 21st. I must admit, I have attended this festival before in two of the other locations. Once on Granville Island and the other in Yaletown. This time I went to experience it at the Dr Sun Yat-Sen gardens in Chinatown.

 The Secret Lantern Society hosts a number of city-wide lantern parades and events through-out the year and all of them are worth checking out if you have never been to one before. There is something magical about the glow and flicker of candle-light on a dark night, when all things wondrous might happen. The look on a small child's face as they gaze with awe at the fantastical creations is a joy to behold. The infectious music from the various carnival bands are a delight for the senses. The incredible creativity of everyone is inspiring. These are the perfect events to come and really feel like you are part of a community for you don`t just come to look , you are the parade, you are the show. This is your time to shine and entertain, whether by your fanciful dress, your creative lantern or your skills as a juggler, stilt walker, drummer etc.
                                                Photo: the Secret Lantern Society
The Dr Sun Yat-Sen gardens are wondrous on their own, but filled with glowing lanterns,  their light dancing in the reflecting pools, is a whole other experience in itself. A band played beautiful music in the central gazebo as people milled around on the many paths throughout the gardens. It was a sweet, gentle evening, perfect for lovers taking a stroll.

                                              A beautiful altar with prayers on white ribbons

                                                               Sun and Moon lanterns
                         A fuzzy picture from my cell phone of an ingenious stork lantern

Each of the locations has something unique to offer on this night that celebrates the return of the sun. The one at SE  False Creek had a wonderful fire show on a small hill. A representation of the sun cresting the top of the hill was lit on fire and dancers spinning fire poi`s whirled around in a frenzy of joyous celebration. At the Roundhouse in Yaletown, there were many activities going on, one of which is a magical labyrinth made of candles flickering in paper bags which created a place to take a sacred walk through the allegorical womb to be reborn with the sun.

The Lantern Festivals are a sweet, gentle way to celebrate the return of the sun when the world is at it`s darkest hour. I plan to go again next winter and will check out the celebrations on Commercial Drive this time. All- in- all , a very pleasant evening, suitable for the whole family. Two thumbs up :)