The Lucky Bastards of Saskatoon



If you’ve never spent time in sub-zero climates it’s hard to understand the kind of genuinely bone-chilling temperatures that Saskatoon experiences in wintertime. It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to Google how long it takes to lose a finger to frostbite if you venture out without gloves. And if you’re the kind of genius that not only forgot their gloves but also thought walking around in leggings and boots would be just fine, you quickly discover that no, it’s not.  This is a dry, biting, vicious cold which first numbs your limbs, then makes them burn and ache. And when you finally stagger back indoors you learn that the warmth makes you fear you’ve wet yourself; so oddly liquid is the feeling of your legs rapidly thawing. The strangest thing is that despite the brutal chill, the sun is like a searchlight; Saskatoon is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, its blazing blue skies a confusing counterpoint to its flat and frozen prairie land.

 

But say you made it through the minus 20 degrees glacial blast, you deserve a drink, right? Be glad you’re not visiting in the latter part of the 1800s, as Saskatoon was settled by a Toronto-based Temperance Society who’d been awarded sections of prairie land to set up a ‘dry’ community to escape the boozy badlands of the big city. Whereas Mayor Ford carries on those traditions of bad behaviour, Saskatoon is trying something new with the launch of its first micro-distillery, Lucky Bastards - and they run a fun distillery tour which ends with sampling their wares in the tasting room. 

Co-owner Michael Goldney has his tour guide routine down pat and can pitch to suit newbies or dedicated booze-aficionados alike. As LB distill from 100% Canadian prairie grain and use local organic fruit in their liqueurs, heck, you can even call this sightseeing. Currently aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels their first whiskey, a pure rye, won’t be ready to be released until March 2015, but in the meanwhile, you can sample their other spirits. Once you’ve admired the shining German copper still and toured the distillery floor, settle down at the handsome bar and try the Gambit Gin, made in the New Western Dry-style and perfect for those drinkers who hate that perfumed juniper smell of traditional dry gins. This modern style still has juniper (it’s not gin if it hasn’t) but other botanicals will round out the flavour profile; Gambit is distilled with coriander, angelica root, lemon peel, anise seed, cloves, chamomile and Saskatoon berries - probably the only gin in the world which uses them. 

Warm up with the spicy honey-pepper Horilka, a Ukrainian spirit. Why Ukrainian? Well, in 1872, Canada’s Dominion Lands Act encouraged pioneers to come to the prairies to settle and farm the land (it was a pre-emptive strike against the fear that America would invade the vast empty lands). The people of the Ukraine were targeted, and at the time as they were ruled over by Austro-Hungary, Poland and Russia, denied education and conscripted to fight for the Austrian army, leaving everything familiar to set off to a new life in Canada probably seemed like a better bet. There’s still a huge Canadian-Ukrainian community in Saskatoon and so, yes, Horilka. 

Sip and sample your way through the fruit liqueurs, a million miles away from the sugary sticky mass-made brands and taste local Seabuckthorn - a popular First Nations ingredient - and, of course, Saskatoon berries. Before heading out, bag clinking with products, bathed in a warm glow. Oh, and why Lucky Bastard? Cute story; they won the lottery and decided what they’d always wanted was a micro-distillery of their own. Cheers to that.
 

You can stop in Canada with the Discoverer RTW

We also have some great hotel and tour deals here

 

 

 

West Hollywood – the US at its least Trumpy

 

 

In Los Angeles, David Whitley discovers a small independent city with an unusual back story and a penchant for partying under the rainbow flag.

On Santa Monica Boulevard, a sign says: “Car wash to the stars”. It is underneath a billboard advertising, for reasons that remain largely unexplained, “gay beer”.

It’s a snapshot that seems to sum up West Hollywood rather neatly. It should be a nothingy kind of place – somewhere you drive through between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. But it’s precisely that blank canvas quality that has ended up giving it such a strong personality.

Until 1984, West Hollywood simply didn’t exist. It was just an unincorporated patch of land within Los Angeles County. That didn’t mean it was empty – quite to the contrary, an awful lot of apartment blocks ended up being built there – but it did mean that it was largely ignored by police.

This, it turned out, was mighty handy for entertainment venues. Being able to go for all hours and allow all manner of bacchanalian behaviour without fearing police raids on a regular basis was good for business.

 

 

And, strangely, a lot of that business cropped up. Particularly on Sunset Boulevard, which became something of a mini Las Vegas Strip, with several hotels, bars and nightclubs springing up along it. Some of the names instantly strike a chord – Chateau Marmont, Whiskey-A-Go-Go, the Viper Room – while others have evolved into something 21st century but still enjoyably rowdy. It’s a place where mock saloons, sports bars and boisterous piñata-filled taquerias happily co-exist, and the weekends are all set for monstrous hangovers.

Santa Monica Boulevard, running parallel, is a little more eclectic. But it is also flamboyantly gay. It goes beyond mere pride into utterly revelling in gayness. Bars such as Blazing Saddles and Hamburger Mary’s are sloshing in rainbow flags and pumping out what may as well be a playlist of 101 Entirely Predictable Gay Anthems at wake-the-neighbours volumes.

This theme continues in the shops. A yoghurt shop boasts a rainbow-striped ‘Selfie Wall’, while Block Party WeHo brags about being ‘The Gayest Store On Earth’. Inside, there’s plenty of leather gear and feather boas. But there’s also #RESIST T-Shirts and toilet roll with pictures of Donald Trump on the sheets.

And this is where West Hollywood’s appeal comes in. It is the archetypal liberal America, and largely the complete opposite of everything Donald Trump and the cavalcade of hardline conservatives behind him stand for. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received almost ten times as many votes as Trump in West Hollywood. It’s a place that has signs in the window welcoming all religions, genders, sexualities and races, and is proud to make a show of this.

But this isn’t just a recent approach to life in this progressive enclave – the City of West Hollywood wouldn’t exist without it. In 1984, when Los Angeles County was threatening to remove rent controls and the AIDS epidemic meant a significant chunk of the gay population needed social care, the residents of the area voted the city into existence.

When a city is born through a desire to ensure affordable housing and look after the ill, that tends to strike through in the personality.

 

 


by David Whitley

  

 


You can get the California included as a stopover on a Globehopper round the world

YVR Forever - Vancouver Airport Highlights

 

I never pay much attention to airports, partly because I only travel with cabin luggage. If lucky with the length of the passport control queue, I leave the aircraft and zip through the terminal as quickly as possible.

Even I, however, have noticed the interior of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). There’s something about its blue-green decor, dotted with timber carvings, that relaxes the incoming passenger on the long march to Customs. And I’m not the only passenger who likes the place. In 2017, YVR was named the Best Airport in North America for the eighth consecutive year in the Skytrax World Airport Awards. These awards are voted on by millions of passengers worldwide, conveying credibility. 

So what’s so good about this airport, and why does it make an attractive alternative entry point to North America? Here are some highlights.

1. City Train

YVR is connected to Downtown Vancouver by trains on the Canada Line, which depart from an elevated station just outside the terminals. Trains operate from 5am to 1am every day, taking about 30 minutes to reach Waterfront Station on a C$9.10 fare.

2. Local Food

Beyond the usual chains, there are eateries with a local flavour within the airport. One of the most recent openings is an outlet of the popular Lift Bar & Grill, adding to its original premises overlooking Vancouver Harbour. Wrapped around the airport’s aquarium, the restaurant is decorated in a coastal waters theme and serves Oceanwise certified seafood. 

3. De-stress Dogs

In late 2017, the airport introduced Ambassador Dogs to its terminals in an effort to lower travel tension. These calming canines are trained to interact with humans, reducing pre-flight nerves by allowing passengers to pat a friendly dog before a flight.

 

 

4. Lounge Access

Even if you’re not flying in First or Business, you can gain access to the facilities of YVR’s Plaza Premium Lounge. There are four of these lounges scattered through the domestic and international terminals, providing free food and drink, and free wifi. Entry is $C52.50 for a two-hour stay, book via yvr.ca

5. Traditional Art

One of the things that makes YVR distinctive is its plentiful artwork crafted by local First Nations people, drawing on themes of land, sea and sky. In the Customs Hall, look for the Musqueam Welcome Figures, inspired by traditional house posts.

6. Airport Views

The Public Observation Area in the Domestic Terminal is a good place to meet up with local friends or family, as it’s located before security. Through its big windows you can watch flights taking off, and there’s complimentary telescope use for close-up views. There’s also an interactive model of Sea Island, upon which the airport is located. 

7. Aviation Recreation

A local secret next to YVR is Larry Berg Flight Path Park. On the east side of Sea Island, it’s lined up with the end of the south runway, which means it’s a spectacular place to go plane spotting while picnicking. The park also includes a centrepiece globe and signage about the airport’s history. If you can’t get enough of aviation, this place is for you.

 

 

For more about Vancouver International Airport’s highlights and services, visit yvr.ca.

Tim Richards visited Vancouver courtesy of Destination Canada (destinationcanada.com) and Tourism Vancouver (tourismvancouver.com).

You can get Vancouver included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world

 

Published by Stuart Lodge

 

The Dry Past - Vancouver under Prohibition

 

 

 

“You might have seen a blind pig here,” says Lenard, leader of the Forbidden Tour which probes Vancouver’s less respectable past.

We’re standing at the top of Market Alley, an unsavoury back street strung with electrical cables. What he’s talking about isn’t an animal, but a nickname for the illegal drinking dens which flourished here a century ago.

The Prohibition era in 1920s USA is well known, but Vancouver got there first – the Canadian city banned alcoholic drinks between 1917 and 1921.

The result was the speakeasy and gangster activity you might expect, all of which make a great tale as our group walks the streets between the Downtown and Gastown.

Lenard, dressed in gangster gear of black suit, black tie and black hat, starts us out in an earlier alcoholic age when the Klondike Gold Rush brought thirsty prospectors through town.

We pause opposite the attractive Victorian Hotel, a restored relic of an era awash with saloons serving whisky, gin and rum. The average North American drank three times as much then as now, says our guide, and we wonder how they got anything done.

The tour focuses as much on period highlights as it does on Prohibition, as Lenard points out grand architectural landmarks such as the Permanent Building (once a bank), the Dominion Building (once the tallest commercial building in the British Empire), and the World Building (with then-scandalous nude sculptures on its facade).

At a stop by the Cenotaph, we learn that 1898 Vancouver had 60 saloons serving a population of 20,000; but the anti-alcohol Temperance movement was on the rise. The women of the movement protested by praying and singing hymns outside these bars, hoping to shame men into returning to their families. 

When British Columbia went dry in October 1917, the Mob moved in with their blind pigs and bathtub gin.

There were ways to obtain alcohol legally during this period, says Lenard. You could take your chances with dangerously adulterated industrial alcohol; ask your doctor to prescribe it as medicine; or see if your church would sell you a bottle of communion wine on the sly.

Even with these options, there was plenty of corruption. We pause by the gate to Chinatown to hear about Walter Findlay. Though an anti-alcohol campaigner and appointed Prohibition Commissioner, he led a double life as a major bootlegger with a warehouse packed with illicit whisky.

In Chinatown we learn of other vices, including the smoking of opium in local dens. One parking lot is pointed out as the former site of an opium factory, damaged in the terrible anti-Asian riots of 1907.

In Gastown, we turn to the aftermath of the Prohibition era. Though the ban was overturned in 1921, the provincial government maintained strict controls on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Outside the former Rainier Hotel, Lenard tells us about the “beer parlours” invented by the government, which allowed no music, no standing, no games and no women. The aim being, of course, to make drinking as boring as possible.

 

 

Luckily, 21st century Vancouver is more relaxed about the devil’s brew, and there are plenty of pleasant places to drink in the heart of Gastown. That’s where Lenard ends the tour, after reciting an amusing poem outside the former Grand Hotel.

It’s been fun. Now it’s time for a nightcap.

The Forbidden Tour runs nightly. Fee C$28, book via forbiddenvancouver.ca.

Tim Richards visited Vancouver courtesy of Destination Canada (destinationcanada.com) and Tourism Vancouver (tourismvancouver.com).

You can get Vancouver included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world

 

Published by Stuart Lodge