Something I was only too aware of before before coming to Vancouver was that it rains here a lot. I’ve always had a sort of romantic idea about the rain, usually with images of being inside, next to a fire with blankets, tea and books while the rain batters the roof outside. This is what I like to think my experience will be when I think about a rainy day, but I’ve lived in a country where it rains a lot of the time for most of my life and I can say that in reality, rain is just rain.
In June 2018, I moved to Vancouver, BC with my boyfriend on a two-year working holiday visa. We came here with certain expectations of what our life would be like. We saw adventures in mountains, weekend camping trips, exploring nature, and visiting all of the scenic lakes we saw in pictures before we got here.
We also came here taking for granted that these are all things that would simply happen. After a few weeks of settling in, we realised it’s not that easy. Most of these experiences will be completely new to us. When you\’re new to a city it takes time just to figure out how to get to the closest bus stop, never mind up the nearest mountain.
We started to feel a bit like fish out of water after a few weeks of settling in, and we didn’t know where to even begin. That’s when we decided to begin with a list. You can’t start anywhere if you don’t know what it is that you want to do. On arrival in Vancouver, we had only 18 months of our two year visas left to fill with as many experiences as possible, and this list is how we plan to do it.
I have, for most of my life, lived in a place where the weather at its most extreme is often considered mild tempered for many other parts of the world. Out-of-the-ordinary weather is an event, something to keep us talking for a few weeks. What would normally be just an inconvenience in one country could have Ireland on lock-down, with schools and workplaces shut and all of us glued to our televisions watching an exhausted Joanna Donnelly move into her 12th hour of weather reporting on RTÉ.
Although we do get particularly excited about it in Ireland, the weather is increasingly becoming an important topic in countries all over the world as we try to grapple with the effects of global warming and climate change. This is especially felt in how hot it’s been over the past summer.
Moving to Vancouver in the summer saw us landing into an intense heatwave that seemed incessant for most of June and July. It was the kind of summer heat we had come here to avoid, lured to the city with the promise of a nice 20-22 degrees celsius average high during the summer months.
I don’t do well in heat, I never have. Although at the first sign of a falling leaf my limbs seem to numb themselves with even the threat of cold, I would still much rather live in a cold place than a hot one. Heat makes me irritable, I feel uncomfortable all of the time, and it feels impossible to do anything when I know I have to go out in near 30 degree weather.
I found many days in our first two months here a challenge as I worked my way through my limited wardrobe of shorts and light layers. I generally don’t feel comfortable in myself when I have to wear “summer clothes”, and usually end up in a mismatched ensemble that was decided on simply to get me through the day without completely dehydrating from sweat.
Heat is not my friend, but I didn’t expect it to be outdone by something else entirely: A haze of smoke caused by forest fires.
Living under a cloud of smoke
This hot weather is unusual for Vancouver, and it’s not as though I would have escaped it had I been at home – Ireland also saw record highs over the course of the summer. We have long been told that the world is heating up at a rapid pace, but I think it’s only now that we’re really beginning to feel it.
We were told that August is the worst month for the heat, and it was also the time of year that wildfires really ramp up across the province of British Columbia. No amount of stories or weather alerts could really have prepared us for what was coming. This has been a record year for wildfires in BC, and the daily air quality warnings emphasise the level of air pollution and smokey skies.
The result is a lost skyline, the smell of smoke in the air, and feeling like you’re halfway to a cold with a sore throat and blocked up nose.
Welcome to the apocalypse
Life has become like some sort of post-apocalyptic dream. Put yourself there. You’re walking down a quiet street, the light muted and dull even though the sun is still up. You breathe in, but the air leaves a dry, rough feeling at the back of your throat. If you look into the distance you can see the haze of smoke clouding the view ahead. You’re not sure you should be out at all. With every breath you take, you inhale the chemicals and toxins that are floating in the air around you. You try to take more shallow breaths, as if that will reduce how much of the stuff gets into your lungs, and pick up the pace.
This is, of course, an exaggeration. While we have had some really bad days here over the last few weeks, we’re certainly not getting the worst of it. Thankfully, the fires are not near us, it’s just the direction of wind that pushes the smoke our way, and there are other cities in the world that deal with this level of air quality all the time. Still, our blocked sinuses, dry throats, and stinging eyes are proof enough that this smoke is not good for us.
Already as I write this, the smoke is beginning to lift and the air quality is improving, so our few weeks of dystopian living seem to be coming to an end. In a few weeks time, this will have been just another weather event for us to get excited about.
Here’s what I didn’t realise before visiting this city – there are a lot of bookstores in Seattle. It’s not even an influx of big chain bookstores – although you’ll definitely find these if you go looking – it’s small, local, independently run bookshops, selling old books, new books, and everything in between. We didn’t set out to tour the bookshops around the city, but after our second day we realised just how much there was to see. So we changed course and made sure to find the best stores to visit before we had to leave.
I really love Halloween time. Everything is orange and black, there are silly decorations everywhere, and of course, it’s the time of year when you get to buy a pumpkin, rip out its insides, make a face and stick a candle in it.
Pumpkin carving is something I only really started doing a few years ago when I was in Montréal, and I’ve done it every year since then. Usually, I buy whatever pumpkin is left in the shop close to Halloween, but this year I learned about a pumpkin patch in Co. Meath where you can pick your own. I had no idea there was a pumpkin patch in Ireland, so once I knew it was out there, I had to go and see it.
Earlier this year we took a road trip up to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, with a plan to stop off at the Dark Hedges and cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (this last one we didn’t get to do. Word of warning, the last entry for the bridge is at 5:15pm!). We did it all in the one day, driving up from Dublin in the morning, spending the full day taking in as much of the sights as we could, and driving back to Dublin that evening. I really enjoyed every minute of this trip, and I think it’s worth your while to do it. There’s plenty of options for getting there between driving and taking a tour bus, just make sure you give yourself enough time to fit it all in.
Looking to go on a road trip in Ireland? Driving from Dublin to Dingle will take you across the country through breathtaking views and some charming Irish towns. Part of your challenge is not to get too distracted along the way! Read on to learn about our road trip across Ireland to meet the most famous resident of the Dingle Peninsula: Fungi the Dingle Dolphin. This guide will tell you the route we took, where we stayed, what we did and what more there is to do in this gorgeous part of the country.