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Dark Table

Dark Table

Last weekend we went to Dark Table for dinner. We had heard of Dark Table but this was our first time to try it out.

The Dark Table experience is like no other in Vancouver. Upon arrival, we were shown to the outdoor lounge (it’s cold in winter so dress warmly) and given menus. After making our selections we were introduced to our server, Dustin, who took us inside. There is absolutely no light in the dining room so we were led to our table single file, hands on shoulders. The servers are all blind or sight impaired so when you pass through the doors of Dark Table you are entering a world of darkness similar to theirs. With Dustin as our guide and helper we felt totally safe. This is huge for me as I hate walking in darkness. I remember the first time Susannah and I went camping and we walked down the camp road late at night to get to the bathrooms and I was completely freaked out by the surrounding blackness.

We were guided past several tables and then turned to the left to reach ours. Once seated, Dustin explained how the dinner service would work and then left us. It felt a bit weird sitting opposite each other in complete darkness. We could hear other people but had no idea how near or far away they were. Susannah and I slowly explored our surroundings with our hands to see how big the table was and what was on it.  Dustin returned and served the wine that we had ordered. I was quite worried about knocking my stemmed wine glass over but the tables are quite spacious with nothing superfluous on them so it was pretty easy to find a safe spot for my glass that I could locate again.

We had ordered the three-course (no-meat) dining experience. Our “surprise” starter arrived and placed in front of us. I soon learned how hard it is to pick up a mouthful of food from a bowl when you can’t see. I think my first three forkfuls came up empty. I’m a big “Hell’s Kitchen” fan and I love the “taste it, make it” sections where contestants have to identify elements of a dish then recreate it. I have a bit of a super-nose so I thought I’d be better at identifying what I was eating but it turned out to be more difficult than I expected. I could easily pick things like tomato, cucumber, eggplant, but then there was a grain that I struggled to identify. I thought it was couscous or quinoa but it turned out to be bulgar wheat.

Susannah and I ordered different main courses – I ordered the vegetarian surprise and Susannah ordered the prawn risotto. We were able to sample each other’s dishes by carefully pushing our plates toward the center of the table. Susannah’s risotto was nice and the prawns were perfectly cooked but my “surprise” dish was disappointing. It wasn’t so much a case of not being able to identify elements of the dish, but more that it didn’t really have much flavor. Still, it was fun to try to identify the components of each dish.

The dessert was lovely and we both got a good handle on what it was.

Overall I’d say the food was a bit underwhelming.  It’s true that some of the appeal of dining-out comes from the food’s presentation. By removing the ability to tease the palate visually, the experience relies on texture and flavour. The depth of flavour was missing from the menu at Dark Table so the food was a bit bland.

The experience though was something else. I’m not sure if “enjoyed” is the right word, perhaps “appreciated” is better. It was definitely worth going to challenge ourselves and to gain more of an understanding of others.  I would recommend it if you’ve never been before.

If you’ve been to Dark Table, let us know your experience in the comments below.

 

 

 

Enchant – Vancouver’s Christmas Light Maze

Enchant – Vancouver’s Christmas Light Maze

Enchant, the world’s largest Christmas light maze, has opened in Vancouver. We attended the Premier Media event to see the lighting of the 60+ foot Christmas tree and to experience all that Enchant had to offer.

So how was it?

I’ll start by saying the light displays are awesome. The Media Premiere came after a huge storm the night before that saw the venue suffer some opening setbacks, and it poured with rain while we were there, but even so, we loved the light displays.

60ft Christmas tree in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
The 60 foot Christmas tree central to the maze
light tunnel in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
An amazing light tunnel
Reindeer lights in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
Beautiful light displays and reindeer

As perfect as we wanted the evening to be (especially for photos and video), remember that this year, November in Vancouver is proving to be extremely wet so you should definitely dress for the weather. Umbrellas are ok but the organisers are expecting thousands of people so the venue is likely to be crowded.  I’d recommend dressing for the weather; rain boots, raincoats, hoods, toques, and gloves. The terrain of the maze is wood-chip which is generally great for soaking up water, but having experienced it after a storm and during a deluge, I would say that while the site is accessible, it’s not easily so. If you are bringing a stroller, go for an all-terrain one or leave the stroller at home and use a carrier. For those with wheelchairs or scooters, the terrain would be quite challenging if wet. Not impossible, but very challenging.

Kids will love it. The printed card that you get when you enter is like a scavenger hunt. Find all 9 of Santa’s reindeer within the maze, get your card stamped at each one and, once completed, exit knowing you have helped save Christmas. There’s a whole story to the saving of Christmas and a storybook you can buy as well.

Reindeer lights in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze

Santa is onsite too which is fun.

Kids meeting santa in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
Remember, you are helping Santa save Christmas
Santa in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
Selfie with Santa

There is food available for purchase with 12 food trucks on site. We love Disco Cheetah so that’s where we beelined, but there were other good eats as well – tacos, hot dogs, pub fare, mini donuts, glow-in-the-dark cotton candy etc. There’s also a covered area with some seating and a bar that serves a variety of winter warming beverages – the mulled wine was great on a cold, wet evening. There are not a lot of sheltered areas though so if it’s wet and crowded this could be a problem. There’s live entertainment in the tent area – on our night Topline Vocal Collective performed and they were outstanding.

The Marketplace is a large covered tent area worth checking out. Over 40 local vendors are featured so it could be a great place to do a little Christmas shopping. Support local!

Marketplace in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
The Marketplace

Enchant Vancouver is located in the Olympic Village at W1st Ave & Crowe St, just East of Cambie. There is a parking area right next to the entrance of Enchant, but that’s for staff. Go about a block further East and there’s a larger lot with free parking. There are parking people at the entrance to direct you, but the lot has no lights and no signage at the entrance so I think many people simply didn’t know it was there.

Enchant Vancouver is on now until December 31st. Ticket prices are as follows:

Adult tickets 16+ $19.95
Child 6-15 years $14.95
Seniors 65+ $14.95
Family Pass $59.95 (2 adults & up to 3 children)

The big question – is it worth it? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I think that the lights are really good, the concept is great and perhaps next year with a few kinks ironed out, this could become one of Vancouver’s regular go-to events. As I’m all about photography it was definitely on my must-see list and with that in mind, my only real complaint was the weather, but hey, we live in RainCity, right?

Hanging lights in the Enchant Vancouver Christmas Maze
A walk through light display

If you are going, or if you have been, let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

 

 

Fright Nights at Playland

Fright Nights at Playland

It’s Halloween time again. That means it’s also time for the spooktacular Fright Nights at Playland! With 15 rides, 7 haunted houses, live shows and an ensemble of roving actors, it’s a full evening of freakish entertainment.

This year we were lucky enough to be provided with Rapid Passes to Fright Nights (thanks CTV YVR!). Rapid Passes gave us expedited access to each of the haunted houses and 5 of the most popular rides at Playland (The Beast, Hellevator, Atmosfear, Music Express, and the Wooden Roller Coaster). It was very crowded so it was awesome to be able to by-pass the long line ups. With almost no wait time we were able to get on all 5 rides, plus The Corkscrew, Hell’s Gate, and Crazy Beach Party, as well as see all the haunted houses.

The rides were awesome and by the end of the evening I was pretty hoarse from shrieking – in fun and fear.  The Beast is touted as Canada’s most extreme pendulum ride, and it really was quite extreme. We sat in the outward facing seats and held on for dear life! I think I was actually shaking from the adrenaline rush when we got off the ride. The Wooden Roller Coaster was bone-rattling fun and I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. Built in 1958 this famous ride can only be described as an oldie but a goodie.  After the ride, check out the photos taken on the second drop – the range of facial expressions is good for laugh. My other favourite was Atmosfear which is a giant 360 degree swing 218 feet up in the sky. Oddly enough, being so high wasn’t scary and the views of the city were incredible, making this ride very enjoyable.

The Haunted Houses were fun. Keeper’s Doll Factory and the Haunted Mansion were my favourites but Fear was pretty good too. With the variety of houses there’s pretty much something for everyone on the spectrum of fear.

Here’s a POV video of our fun-filled Fright Night!

If you love all things Halloween and are up for a bit of an adrenaline rush, this could be for you. Fright Nights runs until October 31 so there’s still time to go and face your fears.

The Fair at the PNE and Wham Bam

The Fair at the PNE and Wham Bam

It’s that time of year again – The Fair at the PNE is on! This summer The Fair runs from August 20 to September 5. As always, there’s a ton of things to see and do. On opening day we headed up the road (the PNE is literally a 15-minute walk from our apartment) to check things out.

One of the things I really enjoy at The Fair is the Marketplace. There’s always some really cool stuff to look at and if I had oodles of money I would come out fully loaded with new stuff. This year we were impressed by a few things but were very restrained and only purchased one item – the the Miracle Grill Mat. This little mat looks to be an awesome addition to our barbecue kit. It’s designed to help grill those little things which often fall through the grate or items which would usually be grilled on a hot plate. For non-meat-eaters like us, this is going to greatly increase the amount we can use our barbecue. The barbecue booth was extremely hard to walk by because the grilling vegetables smelled so good!

Grill guys

Another item of interest was this air sofa. You’ve probably seen them advertised before but it was great to be able to test it out. Susannah gave it a big thumbs up so we’ll probably look at getting a couple of these for car camping someday.

air sofa

This booth sold 3-D jigsaw puzzles or models and some of them looked quite intricate. The tower in the front looks very “Game of Thrones”.

3D Puzzles

And then, of course, there was the store with a box full of Pokémon.

Pokémon

As always with The Fair at the PNE, there was food and lots of it. It’s always interesting to see what crazy food combos will make an appearance. Some of it looked interesting, others were just plain weird. I opted for poutine from Unroutine Poutine – I just can’t get past poutine – it’s soooo good!

For the carnivores there were 4 or 5 barbecue vendors side by side, competing for the best barbecue.

Lots of meat at PNE

There is just so much to see and do. It was so hot that day we chose to arrive in the later afternoon, but you really could spend the whole day there. There’s shows, demonstrations, animals,are and dinosaurs! The dinosaurs are actually pretty cool because they animate randomly which can be fun for kids and adults alike.

Dinosaurs

The Fair has free nightly concerts which are included with gate admission, but on Saturday we were in for something even better. Kiss Radio sponsored Wham Bam, which was an all-afternoon pop event. The show was headlined by Hedley, who were awesome. We had a great time!

Jacob Hoggard on piano as part of Hedley

Hedley on guitar

After the concert, we left happy (and full!) and headed back down the street towards home. We were probably at the PNE for about 4 hours but I know that there was a lot we didn’t see so I might have to go again!

What do you enjoy about the PNE? Let us know in the comments.

Perseid Meteors and Olympus Live Composite

Perseid Meteors and Olympus Live Composite

The Perseid Meteor Shower happens every year from mid-July as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. This year the meteor shower was visible between August 7-12 with peak viewing on the night of August 11. We decided to head up Burnaby Mountain to check it out. So did half of Vancouver and it was really crowded when we arrived at about 12:30am. Luckily many people were already packing up to leave and within 45 mins it had emptied out considerably.

It was bit cloudy for perfect meteor viewing so instead of trying to capture meteors I decided to try out the live composite function on my Olympus O-MD E-M5II and capture star trails. Live Composite is very very cool. Essentially in this mode the camera takes a series of photos and stacks them in camera to create one image. With each successive shot, only new light is added to the original image which prevents overexposure in the brightest part of the picture. You can see the image developing on the LCD screen as it happens which means you can stop the process when the image reaches a point that you are happy with it.

The image below took about 15 minutes to make and is a stack of about 80 or so images.

Stacked images to create star trails
Stacked images to create star trails – Olympus O-MD E-M5II

The orange glow on the left and right are clouds. The totems were lit by the headlights of cars as they circled around to leave the mountain. Ordinarily, any kind of random uncontrolled light is not desirable in this kind of image but in this case, I was happy with the side light painting the totems as it gave them colour and texture and gave the image depth. This was my second attempt at this shot. My first effort is below and is an example of what can go wrong.

Shot ruined by flashlight
Shot ruined by flashlight

Remember I said each shot added new light to the image? When the man in red stood in my shot and waved his flashlight around his light was added to the photo. It was dark and he was just trying to find his way back to his car, but it was a little frustrating as the shot was already over 10 minutes into creation. A really cool feature of the Olympus Live Composite mode is that I could see this as soon as it happened, abandon the shot and start over. For my second try, I recomposed a little higher to avoid people wandering through and kept my fingers on the cable release just in case. The result was a shot I am pretty happy with.

The following night we went to Porteau Cove to try again. While we did see a few meteors I decided to have another go with Live Composite. This time, I did not compose with a foreground element in the image, opting instead for the horizon line. Porteau Cove is extremely dark and has really good star visibility which resulted in a much denser set of trails. This shot is about 150 images stacked together and took about 25 minutes to create. Look closely and you can see a couple of meteors as they streak in a different direction to the star trails.

Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove
Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove

Due to the extreme darkness, it was impossible to use autofocus so I manually set the focus to infinity. I shot all of these images on the Olympus O-MD E-M5II with the Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens. This lens has focus markers which make it easier to set to a certain focus distance.  If you have a lens without distance markers or without a hard stop at infinity you could find infinity focus during the daytime and add a piece of tape or use a permanent marker to mark the exact spot on the barrel of your lens.

Stacking photos for star trails can be done manually in Photoshop or by using software such as StarStax, but what I absolutely love about the Olympus Live Composite mode is, well, it’s live. It saves time, does a great job and also creates an ORF, an Olympus raw file, which means you can edit for colour, contrast etc afterwards. This feature is nothing short of awesome and is just one of many reasons I love my micro four thirds camera.

To use Live Composite mode for star trails you will need a stable tripod. I’d also recommend a cable release so you don’t nudge the camera when starting or stopping the shot. You’ll need a wide angle lens with a wide aperture of at least 2.8. The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8 is awesome but I would also like to try out the 12mm f2 or a fisheye. I set my exposure for each shot to 10 seconds which kept the stars sharp, but this will vary depending on how dark it is and what you are trying to achieve. Try a few single exposures first to get your settings. Then, get creative and watch your image as it appears!

 

Happy Pride!

Happy Pride!

The last time I went to the Vancouver Pride parade was at least 7 or 8 years ago. I remember that it was a super hot day, just like this year. I remember Jack Layton camping it up in the NDP float – that was cool because he had been a longtime LGBTQ supporter.

I loved celebrating Pride but what I did not enjoy was that there were many other political entities, financial institutions and corporate groups in that Parade that didn’t have much of a history with the LGBTQ community. I remember thinking that the gay vote and the gay dollar must have become important to attract so many of them.

Fast forward to this year.

With both Susannah and I having the day off (this is rare on a long weekend) we decided to head down to English Bay to check out this year’s Parade. Wow! It had grown. Not only in the number of spectators but the number of participants as well. And diverse! It was extremely cool to see such a huge variety of people involved in support groups and organisations to gather and unite members of the community. There were LGBTQ sports groups, school support groups, cultural groups, even a church group (I’m not religious but way to go, Anglicans!).

Yes there were political parties and banks, but they had ‘out’ people marching with them and their message of acceptance and support just seemed so much more genuine. Justin Trudeau marching with his family received huge cheers from the crowd and by being there sent an enormous statement to the world.

#BetterTogether rang true.

I’ll admit I had tears in my eyes at times as I found some of the groups marching to be evidence of real social change in the last 10 years. It was also extremely moving to see the #WeAreOrlando tag and to see photos of the Orlando victims attached to pride flags carried throughout the Parade.

Kudos to the organisers and Grand Marshalls Morgane Oger, Danny Ramadan and Alex Sangha for bringing the Vancouver Pride Parade back to it’s roots of celebration and support.

Here are some of my personal highlights. A full photo gallery can be found here.

Dykes on Bikes! A great way to start the Parade.

Dykes on Bikes is aways a fav to start the Parade

Musqueam Indian Band were the the first of many First Nations groups marching.

Musqueam First Nations leading the marchers

Even for the participants it can be an emotional experience. There was tremendous support for Two Spirited people at Pride.

PFLAG is one of my favourite organisations as they help kids and parents.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue services were there with water guns.

As were some very friendly members of the Vancouver Police Department.

LGBTQ Seniors Have More Fun!

There were some um, great displays….

…fabulous costumes

and some interesting groups.

Click here to view the full gallery of Pride Photos.

For me, LGBTQ rights and equality is about being seen without fear. It’s about being yourself. Pride is a positive day where we celebrate and support one another. It brings people together and helps people find other people that are just like them. To know that you are not alone is extremely important and can be a lifesaver. On Sunday I was very proud to live in Canada and to feel supported by so many people in Vancouver.

Have you ever been to a Pride Parade? How was your experience?

Newsies – presented by Broadway across Canada

Newsies – presented by Broadway across Canada

On Tuesday we were lucky enough to go to the opening night of Newsies at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The Disney produced Newsies centres around the fictional character of Jack Kelly, the charismatic leader of a group of New York newsboys (newsies) fighting for a better life. The storyline is inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Newsies is a dynamic show with non-stop dancing and action. The show earned eight Tony Award nominations in 2012, including Best Musical, winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score.

Generally speaking I’d say Broadway isn’t typically my thing but both Susannah and I loved it! It was just over 2 hours in length (plus intermission) and was an easy watch. The cast was tightly knit and the newsies really had the audience on their side, fighting “for what’s right”. Joey Barreiroas was wonderful as Jack Kelly and the dancing in the group numbers  was awesome.

I was also really impressed by the stage design and set which consisted of 3 large multi level metal towers which could be transformed quickly into different sets. In it’s stark simplicity it was effective and functional, allowing the action to flow while each scene was being transformed.

IMG_4459
iphone shot of set design taken during intermission

Newsies is playing in Vancouver until July 10 at QE Theatre as part of Broadway across Canada’s 2016-2017 season.

Totally recommended family viewing. Well worth a watch.

Loving clouds

Loving clouds

Susannah and I both love clouds.

Anyone who knows us well should know this. You know that saying “stop and smell the roses”? Well we would say “look up and watch the clouds”. From contemplating life to just checking out the weather patterns, cloud watching is a great activity.

From our patio we often see nice movement as the ocean breeze pushes the clouds towards us. Last night was looking good so we set up a GoPro and did a timelapse.

Take a look. Then go outside and look up 😉

Firestone Walker craft beer launch in Vancouver

Firestone Walker craft beer launch in Vancouver

Last night we were invited to a VIP tasting of Firestone Walker Beer at Craft Beer Market in the Salt building in Olympic Village. If you are unfamiliar with Vancouver or with Olympic Village, this area began to be developed as the Vancouver Athlete’s Village the 2010 Olympic Games. Since then the area has exploded and is a condo city with restaurants, bars and great places to hang out. The historic Salt building was built in the 1930’s and was originally used as a refinery of salt shipped from San Diego. Now the building is owned by the City of Vancouver and since 2013 has been the home of Craft Beer Market and it’s array of 100+ tap beers.

Craft 2

Where exactly is the Craft Beer Market located? It’s at the corner of Salt St and Walter Hardwick Ave. There is a pair of giant sparrows pretty much pointing towards it so follow their beaks and you’ll know you’re in the right place.

big bird 2

Big Bird

Now on to the beer! We were treated to 4 of Firestone Walker’s beer on tap to celebrate their arrival in Canada. Our fav was the Union Jack West Coast IPA which is a lovely hoppity hopped brew, double dry hopped and with a nice citrus tang. Perfect for the West Coast palette.

Firestone Walker beer

Check out the Firestone Walker Beers if you get a chance. We enjoyed them and the whole Craft Market Experience. Many thanks to Horizon Beers for the invite!