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Nelson, B.C.

1 Jan

Year after year, I find myself returning to the City of Nelson.  There is always something happening and people who make it happen. And the feel-good vibe is perhaps what sets this town apart most of all. There is … a specialness in the air, if you will.

Nelson has the reputation for being a hippy town.  Sit in any café or restaurant and eavesdrop on conversations about sustainability or acceptance. In Nelson, you won’t just listen to people who talk the talk. Here, people are willing to pay the extra dollar for locally made food and goods. Posters are hung on every block promoting do-good projects.  It’s also a good place to raise open-minded children or raise children to be open-minded. There are numerous alternatives to the public education system and creative extracurricular activities for all. Yogathon, anyone? Turn to 93.5 FM and have a listen to the Kootenay Co-op Radio station where they allow the residents of Nelson to host their own radio shows. That’s right. They let anyone host a radio show.

As Nelson has such a variety of accommodation to choose from, I am not going to recommend any one place in particular. From hotels to hostels, the I Love Nelson website features a list of accommodations to suit you needs: If you have a day, or even a few hours, you’ll want to stroll Baker Street. This is the hub of Nelson.  I also recommend finding your accommodation on Baker Street. It tends to cost a few extra dollars, but you won’t have to start-up your car to take in most of the attractions. To get to Baker Street from the direction of Castlegar, or Ymir, find or stay on Highway 3A. When you come to a 4-way stop without a light, take a right onto Baker Street. There are also signs directing you to City Centre. If you are approaching from Kaslo, you will be travelling in the opposite direction on Highway 3A. After driving in the town of Nelson for a few minutes, you will eventually hit the 4-way stop. Are you with me? You’ll need to be mentally sharp for this part of the directions. Okay,  instead of turning right… you turn left. I recommend parking as soon as you can. It is trickier to find parking the further down the street you drive. Baker Street is a short street that was made for walking.

If you are starving or just perpetually looking for an excuse to eat, find The Sacred Ride on your left hand side. Now, if you want to find a sweet bicycle, go on inside. Otherwise, walk behind to the alley way. You will see a funky looking all-wood place that travels down the hill with a modest sign that reads, “The Preserved Seed.” Go on down the stairs mid-way to enter the restaurant. The Preserved Seed is run by a religious group known as The Twelve Tribes. As the newsletter on the tables says, all who work there live there. The women wear floor length dresses and the men are in full beard. Almost everything you see has been handmaid by the residents. The people are incredibly friendly and open. The food is some of the best in Nelson and grown locally. They are currently open from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm during the week. The Preserved Seed will be your official welcome to the City of Nelson, where just about anything goes (if you let it.)

Baker Street has shops to please almost every interest. I have been in almost every shop at least once.  I know my use of the word “walk” is a bit redundant, but Nelson was really meant for this long-lost form of transportation. At the end of the block and across the street on your left you will see Packrat Annie’s. Used books are packed into this quaint book store. Warning: do not enter unless you have a full stomach or you may find yourself lacking the strength to leave the used book smell, unable to escape for hours.

Continuing on, about three-quarters of the way down the next block, you will arrive at the Kootenay Bakery Café Cooperative. This is a great place for a snack. A bakery like this can only be found in the Kootenays. Egg, dairy, and yeast free, rye, oat-rice, kamut, and spelt breads are baked on a rotating schedule. While you are there, try the Oso Negro Coffee. Every café and restaurant sells this stuff because it’s roasted in Nelson. Across the street is the modestly named store Craft Connection. The largest and most diverse collection of crafts made by local artists are on display. Nelson is one of the few places in Canada where artists are able to supplement their income and in many cases, support themselves by their chosen crafts.  This a wonderful place to browse any time of year, but especially lovely when you are looking for gifts. I always buy cards at the very back that are prints of paintings by local artists.  Back on the other side of the street, enter the weird and wonderful world of Phat Angel. This store has some truly unique books and gifts for unique tastes. I have never left this store without finding a gift tailored to a friend’s special interest. On this trip, B.C. Guy and I hovered by the section on bathroom humour for a few minutes. We almost bought some Farts in a Can before deciding that this collection was too unrefined for our tastes. If you, too, wish to pretend that you have refined tastes, there are intriguing and cheeky books on anything from cocktails to retro humour.  Make sure you check out the hilarious magnets near the back. Next door to Phat Angel is Wait’s News. Open since 1935, this curiously long store is an institution in Nelson. Some people come here for the news and magazines, but I visit for the nerve-racking array of milkshake flavours forced on me each visit.

If you are lucky enough to have more than a few hours in Nelson, your visit will only get better. There are some choices available to you. B.C. Guy and I brought our skis so that I could finally check out Whitewater. Head back out on the highway as if you were driving to Salmo. After a few minutes, you will see a sign pointing you the way. Not that I’m one of those snooty people jetting off to ski resorts for the weekends, but I’ve seen a few and this one is special. There are no hotels or stores to block your view of the mountains. The resort appears to have carved its way in to the mountain. Without going all ski bum on you, the powder is sick. Did I sound natural using the word ‘sick?’ Or is this one of those things where if you have to ask…

If you spend a day at Whitewater, you would easily cover every run. Do stop at the one and only ski lodge for a bite to eat. The lodge is home to the Fresh Tracks Café. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the owner of the resort is none other than Whitewater Cooks cookbook series author Shelley Adams.  Whitewater Cooks is a national bestselling gourmet cookbook series that has helped me impress the pants off of people who visit. Cook one of her meals and people may actually start to believe you really are a snooty socialite jetting off to St. Moritz for the weekend. Deep down, it’s always been an aspiration of mine.

Whether you are drawn to the water like a man is to Nachos or your kids are driving you over the edge, Lakeside Park is an excellent choice. Take highway 3A and wind your way through town until you see the superbly named Chahko Mika Mall. Park here and stroll along the water front. It is a lovely park setting that is complete with beach area for swimming in the summer. There is a playground towards the end. Events are often held here as well.

So, you have played out your day and are ready for the night experience. As I said before, Nelson is one happening little city. The Royal is probably your best bet to see live music. It has an event of some kind more often than not. The price varies per act and many are as free as you are. The website has a schedule that will let you take a look at each month at a glance. Click on the blue lettering for prices and a better idea of the times: I was kind of blown away the first time I went online to search Nelson events. The amount of websites with event calendars is what you would expect if Nelson were a large city. If you are looking for a schedule that covers the whole city, the I Love Nelson website is particularly helpful: I looked through several calendars until I found an event suited to me: The CN Holiday Train. Oh, yes! B.C. Guy and I drove to Lakeside Park and walked to the end where we waited with a few hundred people in the frigid air. When the decked out Holiday Train stopped, B.C. Guy and I couldn’t help but sway to the cheery Christmas songs being played on the train’s stage and the enthusiastic crowd providing back-up. Okay, I swayed to the music while B.C. Guy humoured me by holding my hand and making the appropriate comments.

Look out! We'll all be mowed over! Too bad the police standing next to the tracks didn't have my sense of humour.

I have been to Nelson in all four seasons. B.C. Girl doesn’t rest for the snowy roads. One of the great things about winter in the Kootenays is that the roads are plowed better than some major cities. I may save the epic drives for the summer, but when you live in B.C., a few hours’ drive could mean a little piece of paradise. As B.C. Guy and I drove away from the little city of Nelson, I tried to take it with me as long as I could. But those stupid majestic Kootenay Mountains drowned out the Kootenay Co-op Radio signal.