Friday, October 26, 2007

Costco's cool!

Many of you have probably got Costco membership in the UK but Eamonn was a bit of a novice at this stuff (Jan previously having had access to Makro in the UK). So, having established our Costco membership last week, we spent a good few hours in there today, having a good mooch around. We tried to be fairly disciplined, buying housewares/non-perishables that we wont now have to buy at the supermarket for dishwasher tablets (box of 115!), Palmolive Original (the bottle is so large, we don't think we'll ever need to buy washing up liquid again!), 200m (yes 200m) of aluminium foil and a truly absurd length of cling film! We got a very large Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce for about £2.45, this being one of a myriad of brands that we recognise from the UK (Tetley, Twinings, Cadbury, etc).

We got a full size snow shovel to complement the mini one we got for the car the other day. It'll be useful for clearing our drive.

We did, however, succumb to a Christmas Greeter Penguin!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

We have our new "car"!

Our second major job today (this evening) was to pick up our new "car". When we got back to the barn, it was too dark to take any decent photos of it so they will follow tomorrow...but we'll just say that fuel economy was not our first priority.
Picking up the new car necessitated a new challenge for Jan who, remember, has not passed her UK test so long ago. Jan had to drive our hire car alone, from the Okotoks Ford showroom to the De Winton barn, following behind me in the new car. She handled the challenge with ease although she was a bit nervous.

When in Rome...or Alberta!

After yesterday's snow, we thought we'd better go "tool up" to better handle this winter business so we popped into Wal-Mart to buy some essentials for the car. Jan is modelling our mini snow shovel! We also bought a blanket and our own snow brush as the one we used this morning (see below) goes with the hire car we have. We need a few other bits and bobs to complete our car winter survival kit.
Also critical to survival in Canada in Winter (well, actually, year aroud) are regular visits to Tim Horton's (it really is totally ingrained in Canadian culture) where you can gain much needed sustenance in the form of coffee, donuts, muffins, pastries and so on. Here, two drifters, on the point of exhaustion, exhibit what is known as the "THS" or the "Tim Horton's Smile!" after tasting some much needed coffee and donuts!

First Snow - The Aftermath

So, the first snow has fallen!

On the deck this morning, there was a good 3 inches. The car had 4 to 6 inches atop it as it was more exposed. The roads were clear by early morning though, which made it all less scary. Our hands were pretty cold after clearing the snow from the car (with a had been sitting in the boot of the car and we had been wondering what it was for...then we twigged this morning!) and it was nice to then jump into the car to warm our hands before setting off to tick off one of our main jobs of the day, to register for Alberta Health (sort of like the UK's NHS...but for $88/£44 per month between us). Anyways, here's a few pics of how it looked this morning...

The surrounds of the barn...

Downtown Calgary in the distance with snow covered fields in the foreground...
Towards the mountains with green fields now white. As ever, photos of the Rockies don't do them justice...they looked absolutely fabulous this morning.

And finally, just a general shot where you also get a little bit of the red morning skies we have been seeing these past few days.
As of 9.45pm this (Thursday) evening, we have not had further snow but the mountains had again disappeared behind a bank of cloud earlier, so it could well be on the way. It was pretty cold out there as we came in at about 7.45pm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

24th October...11pm...and the snow is falling!

After the most glorious day Jan said below, 84 degrees, bright sunshine and a warming wind, the snow is coming down this evening...the first fall of the Albertan winter.

We went for a meal this evening and the restaurant (one of our faves, The Keg), was really busy...we were joking that everyone was filling up on food before hunkering down for the winter.
When we got back to the barn after the meal, you could see this great mass of white cloud where the mountains should be and we thought "here it comes"...and sure enough, here it is...will it settle? how deep will it be? will another warming Chinook wind tomorrow melt it away?...we'll let you know. Scary and exciting, all rolled into one. Here's a first pic of the deck outside our's only been snowing 40 minutes!


Alberta Licence Plate

We bought a car today, but you will have to wait until tomorrow for photos. We did however get our Alberta Licence Plate. This plate stays with us now for every car we have. It also includes road tax which cost us $80 to December 2008 - less than forty quid for over 12 months!!!

We experienced our first Chinook today which brought the temperature up to 84 degrees. A bit windy but very warm, it was great. However, word is, that snow is not far behind!!!

Big Sky / Odd Sky

The photos probably don't do it justice, but we get a big red sky at night and again in the morning - the shepherds are very confused!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dry Skin

The environment is so dry here Jan's skin is really suffering. Apparently though your skin does adjust over time.

We were told that in winter there is only 4% moisture in the air, so very different to the dampness in the UK. Hope we don't shrivel like prunes!

Going back 20 years

We are going to take our plastic and glass bottles to the recycling plant in the next day or so. We feel that will be another learning experience.

Apparently you still get money back on your bottles here. Which I guess means the more beer we drink the more money we will make;-)

Janet's Night Out

Last night, I was invited on a girls night out. I thought there was going to be around 10 or 12 of us but 16 turned up!!

We were going to go to a pub called the George, but they were showing a boxing match which meant it would have been standing room only. So, we started in a place called the Grand Central Grill in Okotoks.

We then went on to a place called In Cahoots which is a local night club. It was quite sweet really as it is so like going back 20 years. It is really difficult to explain, you really have to see it!!

I probably met around half of the group as it was just too many people to get around in one night. Most of them will be our neighbors when we move so that will be nice. I also picked up a lot of useful snippets from people who have been here a while.

I also met a very nice lady who is selling her house as she has been having one built for her. It turned out that we viewed her house twice when we were over in the summer. That felt a bit weird.

I also met a Canadian lady who has given me line dancing details, so I will be sure to pick that up at some stage.

I think there is talk of a boys night out, so Eamonn will have his turn in the not too distant future.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This is what we came here for...

It's quarter to one in the morning (Saturday) and we've not long returned from the Pengrowth Saddledome where we have enjoyed an evening of fantastic country music. It was a triple bill with the music kicking off at 7.30pm with Taylor Swift. She's 17 and wrote all the songs on her debut album which has resulted in two Number 1 country singles so far. She is absolutely excellent...extremely talented...and the crowd absolutely loved her.

Taylor was followed by Rodney Atkins, who has had a number of big hits in the last year. Again, he was really good. At the end, he played a song from his forthcoming album which revolved around the idea of him giving up cigarettes, booze and women..."the worst 15 minutes of his life!" It was good fun.

The main attraction though, was Brad Paisley. He is catchy tune after another, superb musicianship and very entertaining. The crowd went nutty for him, but then they seem a very warm crowd, having given similar rousing receptions to previous artistes we have seen there.

We left the arena, slightly deafened as we were pretty near the stage, but very happy!


Thursday, October 18, 2007

From the barn...not a bad view...

As mentioned in an earlier post, from the barn we are staying in, we can see downtown Calgary and the mountains. It was a hazy day today but we think you can still make out which is which!


A few more pics of the new house...

While we were on the House Inspection today, Jan took the opportunity to take a few more snaps of the house...
The kitchen...
Which looks onto the informal dining area or "nook" as they call it. There is also a formal dining area but we will use this as an office area.
Both the kitchen and nook are open plan with the living room...
The kitchen leads onto the pantry...
...which leads through to the utility room.
And from the upstairs master and second bedroom, we have this unsightly and unwelcome view of the Crystal Shores lake to contend with!...

Halloween - it's serious business here...

EVERYONE seems to get involved in Halloween here and Okotoks is already looking fairly ghoulish. One house takes it to the limit, as the following pics reveal...


House Survey (but not like we know it)

You know when you buy a house in the UK, you dish out a few hundred quid for a survey and when you move in and find out nothing works, you wonder what you spent your money on. For instance, the guy that did the survey on our St Albans house for our buyer was really nice...but I know that because he spent 80% of the 90 minutes he was in the house chatting to me rather than surveying!

Not so today...we had our survey (the Canadian's call it a House Inspection) on the property we are buying. Merv was the man and what a character he was. We were with him through the entirety of the 2.5 hour survey (never happens in the UK) and step by step, he pointed out everything he was doing. Where there were imperfections, he would point them out and tell us whether they were significant or not (in all cases, not, thankfully). He tried all the taps, filled the bath with water to check for leaks and water pressure, he tested sockets and got us to do likewise by tripping sockets. He'd then make us figure out how to rectify the situation. He walked us through the electrical consumer unit and how to reset it and also down in the basement, where the furnaces and air conditioning are hosted, he would spell out theoretical problems and then get us to figure out what to do to resolve them. He labelled all the key parts of the system to help us remember and did his report there and then for us. Superb value for money at CDN$450 or c£225.

We asked him why he went to all this effort with clients and he says he likes being a House Policeman - he hates seeing people ripped off. Nice guy...ever so slightly nuts but nice!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We have a house!

We had quite a day yesterday (Tuesday). We drove down to Okotoks to meet with our realtor. The plan was to go along and visit one or two new home builders to discuss plots they had available, models they could build and prices. However, when we arrived, our realtor let us know that a house had come on the market that morning that we might be interested in. A viewing was arranged immediately and in we went...and within the shortest of timeframes (this being the umpteenth house we've viewed since July when we were here for 5 weeks) we knew this was "the one". We both loved it. We put in an offer and after a few hours of to-ing and fro-ing, we agreed a purchase price of $737.5k (divide that in half for £s) and a possession date of circa 4 weeks (14th November) - like that would happen in the UK! There are still some hurdles to jump...we need to get financing in place and we have a detailed house inspection tomorrow (you get to go on the house inspection in Canada and the surveyor points out all the faults to you and shows you how to extend the life of your home through simple maintenance activities). But all being well, the deal will stick (there isn't really gazumping here in Canada due to the way the sale process works). Anyways, here's a few shots of the house and we'll publish more later.


From Lakeview Inn to High Cactus Ranch

We've moved from the Lakeview Inn and Suites to the High Cactus Ranch, south of Calgary but north of Okotoks, in a little hamlet called De Winton. Here's a pic...

We're in the appartment in the top half of the green barn in the foreground of the pic. It is enormous...4 bedrooms, full kitchen, living area, bathroom. As we sit here typing this, we are looking out through the window to an entire Calgary cityscape of lights...we're perched up pretty high here. Indeed, when the sun comes up in the morning, we look out another window to fantastic mountain views. The co-owner, Violet, took us on a mini tour of her 6000 square feet home this evening. That's not a typo...that's 6000 square feet, or 6 times the size of the house we just sold in St Albans! Violet's dining area adjacent to her kitchen has dual aspect ceiling to floor windows that allow you to simultaneously see all of Calgary and the mountain ranges...incredible place. The house also has 6 garages attached...enough space for 24 cars apparently as each one is enormous! The place used to be a horse ranch. We're here til 15th post will tell you why.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Supermarket shopping with a difference...

We went to Sobey's today, a food supermarket which operates across Canada. It's very nice (although we might struggle to buy much by way of organic food there - we're still exploring our options on that score). Everthing is very nicely presented. All the shelves are well stocked (which was always a problem with our Sainsburys in St Albans). The prices seemed reasonable. When you get to checkout, you sort of become redundant. No surly staff with attitude. Lots of smiles and the person scanning the foods, passes them to a colleague, who packs them. She, in turn, passes the packed goods to a colleague who loads them onto a trolley and once you've paid, you stroll out to your car with the trolley man following...who then loads your car! We could get used to this. Unfortunately, he doesn't climb into the car to unload things for you when you get home!


Banking with a difference...

We spent a long time in the bank on Friday gone (Community Savings of Okotoks - pic above - it's actually a Credit Union) setting up savings accounts, getting cheque books and debit cards etc. They issue these immediately at the bank. The staff were very friendly and they all remembered us from when we set up our initial account back in July. The account manager we spoke to this time was from Kiev (he was asking us what the British attitude was to the influx of eastern europeans). He (Alex) was really friendly and really helpful, giving us lots of information and websites which were nothing to do with banking. He even gave us details of a cheap place to stay which is where he stayed when he arrived!


Our journey to Calgary & the hotel...

Hello to you all. Check back frequently as we'll update our news here.
The flight to Calgary
We got off to an irritating start at Gatwick. The airport was manically busy. At check-in, we asked if the flight was full, and the check in lady said it wasn’t. We explained that we were emigrating so we might be slightly over our luggage allowance. We were 10kg over and she still charged us for excess baggage even though the flight was half empty! We were really annoyed because if she had have said she was going to charge us anyway, we could have taken some things out, like coats etc and taken them on board – we just packed them so we didn’t have to carry them. Also, there were 23 empty seats in premium economy and she still sat someone next to us. When we were on board we moved seats and the flight staff were really friendly and nice. So things started to improve.
On arrival in Calgary
When we arrived in Calgary we were welcomed by a very friendly passport control officer. We were off the plane, collected our luggage and out of the airport within about 25 mins - like that would happen at Gatwick! When we got to the hotel, we were welcomed by a very friendly hotel receptionist. (Four days on, we have been welcomed to Calgary by different people about 10 times!) The hotel is good. We have a suite with a fully equipped kitchen which has a full size cooker, fridge and dishwasher. They also have a great big gas bbq outside which we are allowed to use. The hotel will also do your grocery shopping for you if you give them a list! Some hotel shots are external shot and then of the living room, kitchen and bedroom areas of the suite.