Canada is my long-term love.
I’ve been coming here since 1998 when I visited as a wide-eyed 16-year-old. My first travel journal consisted of three pages of teenage scrawl about how BIG the cars in Toronto were followed by three pages about how BIG the ice-creams were, followed by far too many exclamation marks!!!!
In 2000 I went back to Canada to visit my friend Jo, who was there on a working holiday, and I arrived safely in rainy Vancouver after surviving my first solo flight.
As I sat on the concrete balcony of Jo’s West End apartment and ate cheap noodles while staring at the grey mist that hung over the city, all I could think about was escaping to sunny San Francisco.
A day later that fog lifted and boom, I was in love. I was infatuated with the friendly people, the snow-capped mountains, the log-strewn beaches and every other cliché that people trot out about Vancouver.
I needed my regular Canada fix so I decided to go back for a month between my journalism degree and postgrad in 2003. I was going with Jo for three months and the plan was to find work for the summer.
Instead we decided to see how long we could last just having fun and not earning any money. It turned out that our savings would last a month. It was four-weeks of living in a fragrant hostel on Granville Street, drunk on my love for the city and quite possibly on cheap wine as well.
I remember standing in flip-flops in the snow on top of Grouse Mountain, in no way doubting my intelligent choice of footwear, surveying the city below and wishing I could live there.
Our month was one long love affair with Vancouver; a blur of yam sushi at Granville Market, a haircut by a nudist on Wreck Beach and one spectacularly wet whale-watching expedition on Vancouver Island.
I was mercilessly teased by my family because I only ever went on holiday to Canada and I seemed to have no desire to see the rest of the world.
I proved them all horribly right by going back to Toronto in 2006 to visit Jo, who was then living on the east coast.
This time I could look beyond the huge cars and gigantic ice creams and spent time trawling the vintage shops of Queen Street West and soaking up the atmosphere of the excellently-named Bovine Sex Club.
When I took five months off to go travelling in 2008 it was a given that Canada would be on my round-the-world ticket.
I was based for six weeks out in West Vancouver, staying with my friend Laura’s lovely relatives.
Laura and I were determined to have a cultural experience, so we went to the Bill Reid Gallery of native art, strolled the Seawalk, did the Eastside Cultural Crawl, went over to Main for letter-writing club and checked out the poetry slams on Commercial Drive.
Geraint came out to visit and we rented a suite in Kitsilano. There followed two weeks of pumpkin doughnuts and heaps of Chinese food from Granville Market, burgers and fries at a diner in Kitsilano, French toast the size of pillows at Sophie’s Cosmic Café and double-baked almond croissants from 49th Parallel coffee shop.
By 2009 I had managed to turn my Canada obsession into an actual job as a freelance travel journalist.
Over the next few years I visited on assignments ranging from polar-bear spotting with the Inuit in the North (Nunavut, Nunavik, Hudson Bay and Baffin Island) to city-slicking in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. It had been three years of having a taste of poutine, Arctic char and beaver tails, but I wanted more.
In 2011 the final straw came when I passed through Vancouver on two trips; a beautiful Rocky Mountaineer train ride to Banff and a flight connection up to the fascinating Yukon and the amazing city of Whitehorse.
Each time I landed in the city something gripped my insides and whispered in my ear… Move to Vancouver. Move to Vancouver. Move to Vancouver.
In 2012 I started listening to the voices in my head and applied for a working holiday visa and now, in May 2012, here I am.
Vancouver and I are together at last.