Sunday, October 15, 2006

I Saw a Seal! And Other Cool Things in Vancouver

It took about 14 hours to reach Vancouver from Tallahassee; like my past two Boston trips, weird flights: Tallahassee to Atlanta to St. Louis to Salt Lake City to Vancouver. The customs line was about an hour - which is pretty standard and good. I was nervous they'd see my Afghanistan stamp and pull me aside for questioning, but luckily, that didn't happen.

I actually saw the Canadian customs people do something I've never seen the American customs people do, be nice. A family with two very tired children was pulled out of the long line and allowed to go to the front, because the line monitor noticed they were tired. I've only seen U.S. customs people send visitors to the back of the line. Anyway...

Canadians are nice, in general. Everyone has been friendly, except on the sidewalks, people don't really want to make eye contact, except those who are lost. I'll get to them in a minute. On the bus ride to the hotel, I spotted a sign which read something like, "Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone, Welcome to Vancouver." Um, ok. Are they posting this for the benefit of the Americans? So we don't go in and invade our northern neighbor in search of weapons of mass destruction?

Sorry I don't have any visuals, for some reason, my camera isn't "talking" to my Kodak software - so, images will have to be loaded when I'm back next week.

Friday night, I was extremely tired. I had been up since 3:30 a.m. Tally time and arrived at the hotel around 6 p.m. Vancouver time (three hour difference). Tempted for room service, I cleaned up a bit and wandered the streets for sushi. Since there's a huge Japanese population, there are TONS of great, cheap sushi places. I forgot to bring a map (to find my way back to the hotel), but I found a great little sushi place around the corner, so I didn't get lost.

Saturday, being on EST, I rose with the sun - beautiful pinkish-orange. Wandered down to catch a water taxi to Granville Island, but along the way, a man asked me to help him find some place. I assume he was Indian, had a turban and long, white beard tied up appropriately. He wore a security guard coat - he was late for his job.

Each time I'm stopped on the streets of some strange city and asked for directions, guess I should see it as a complement. Must mean I look like a local.

Well, after a couple of phone calls, I gave the security guard man an extra map I had and sent him on his way. Funny, because I'm so navigationally challenged.

At the dock, tall sail boats bobbed in the water. Black mussels lined the wood legs and out in the water, a black, shiny head poked up and swam for a bit. It was a SEAL!!! How cool! Yup, I feel like a tourist. I mean, in Florida, we have water, but we don't have seals.

For $2.50 CAD (which is about equal to $2.40 USD), it took about 7 minutes to reach Granville Island. It's known for a great market - seafood, baked goods, fresh fruits and veggies and just about anything else. Breakfast was a salmon roll. Mmmmm. In addition to sushi, I LOVE salmon - which I guess the salmon roll could be considered "cooked" sushi - it was salmon prepared with dill and lemon in a light, flaky pastry. Also picked up a couple of apples and some cooking spices. It was tempting to grab a couple of packs of no-refrigeration-needed-salmon, but wasn't sure how U.S. Agriculture would like it.

I wandered around the island, walking through a neighborhood and headed back to the mainland. I walked down to Sunset Beach Park which is on English Bay, opens up to the Pacific Ocean. Forgot to mention it was a beautiful day, little overcast and the temperature about 55 F. People were out running, biking and rollerblading. It was funny to see people wearing sweatshirt and shorts - not just those running, but people just ambling around. See, in Florida, we'd be bundled up with hats, scarves and gloves at 55 degrees.

Headed to Chinatown next, for lunch. Unlike NYC's Chinatown, where people whisper sweet nothings like, "Louis," "Kate" and "Gucci," in your ears, they aren't pushing ANYTHING here. It definitely has more of a community feel. After passing through the Vancouver Chinatown Millennium Gate on West Pender Street, the Chinese Cultural Center is about a block ahead on the right. Behind that is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Wish I could upload photos, because in the relatively small area, there is so much happening. A beautiful coi-filled pond with lily pads, a weeping willow with yellowish leaves dripping over it. Rocks and bamboo fill in other parts of the garden, along with a little pagoda. Very soothing. Some people were taking advantage of the serenity while others, like me, whisked through.

The shops in Chinatown ranged from the ticky-tacky stuff to high-end teas and spices. Picked up some more green tea for my collection (the fresh stuff that Kathy brought back to me from Japan is just about gone) along with some plastic pouches - which are great for stuffing the brochures I collect on my journeys. The food markets sold all sort of dried seafood and other oddities, like dried lizard on a stick, dried sea cucumber (not on a stick), dried scallops, dried seahorses, well, you get the idea.

Found a place for lunch - it wasn't that great. I was so hungry at this point, I plopped down at the first spot - an American-Chinese cafe - think of it as a step above Mel's Diner (the TV show) and a Chinese Flow. It was reasonably-priced food.

Headed back to the hotel through the area called Gastown. Some guy nicknamed "Gassy" founded the area and remnants of the wild west still exist. Which reminds me to mention the buildings in Vancouver, everything seems so new. Not much character. While wandering around, I found what are probably the last two houses in the downtown area - everything around these wood houses were torn down and slick, glass buildings were being built.

Gastown was pretty cool, kinda on the verge of Goth, but not really. Browsed through a sustainable furniture shop (made by recycling all sorts of odd things) and a beautiful gallery with Inuit art, carved wooden masks, totem poles and paintings. Very tempting to buy something, but remembering that I have so much art I've collected over the years that hasn't been framed, I refrained. The highlight of Gastown is the steam-powered clock. At least, there was a bus-load of Japanese tourists taking photos around it, so it must be one of the highlights of the area.

Headed back to the hotel and saw a NYC & Company flag and yellow New York taxi cabs lined down a street. A cop had the street blocked off. Turns out that the sequel to the "Fantastic Four," (I think that's the name, I'm really not sure because I don't know of these "Fantastic Four" everyone speaks of) is being filmed in Vancouver. Just stunts were being filmed and got to watch a row of cars being crunched and flipped over. Pretty cool. But again, strange to see a NYC setting in Canada.

More sushi for dinner and good night! Not sure what I'll be doing today. The conference begins tonight so I have the afternoon. I'm considering taking the bus to the Museum of Anthropology - but with all my travels, I've never taken a public bus!

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