Vancouver skyline, taken, I think, from Stanley Park
I was thinking and worrying a little while ago that I hadn't invested enough in our trip to North America- that we'd spent too much time driving and shopping (my bad, I desperately wanted some brown boots that didn't cost a fortune like they would back here), and not enough time 'doing stuff'. Which, I suppose, is 'tourist stuff', which we didn't want to do. But I think back on Europe and I did the 'tourist stuff'... but it was a different trip. It was old, beautiful European cities. It was reading a book in a park that the tourists in Prague didn't know about, and watching actual Czech families (so rare in that city) walking their prams, or teenagers skateboarding - calling out (what I assume were) profanities in another language. It was going rafting by myself, and having my Slovenian rafting guide turn the boat lengthways, slide down into it, and put his feet up on the edge, exclaiming in near-perfect English that
"It's like being at the movies!" As the beautiful Soca river wound its way into the Slovenian hills- a perfect panorama.
Let me give a little bit of an explanation, for those of you just joining us. In late October-early December, Nic and I traveled to North America. Nic was born over there, and we have the intention of one day leaving Australia and living... somewhere else. We needed to see some parts of the continent before we could make a decision. So the trip came, and went. We flew into LA but didn't stay, going straight to Seattle, which we explored, and then over to Port Angeles, so we could bathe in the beautiful Olympic mountains. We took the ferry to Victoria, BC, and drove up Vancouver island to Nic's childhood home, before we took another ferry to Vancouver, BC where we stayed only one night, which was enough time for us to fall ridiculously in love with the city. After this, we flew to Boston where, again, we didn't stay, but hired a car to drive through New Hampshire, Vermont, and upper New York State, where we stayed a couple of days at Nic's junior highschool, before crashing with a friend in Montreal, driving up to Mont Tremblant, down to Quebec City, through Maine, and back to Boston where, once again, we didn't stay, but instead took a bus to NYC. Cue epic hunt for boots and many shenanigans, of which I'll write later. We stayed a week, and ate too many bagels. Thanksgiving was had with Nic's brother and sister in law in Madison, WI, and by this point we had decided that we would rather go back to Vancouver, and had subsequently rerouted our flights from WI-CA back to Seattle, so we could hire another car, and go up to Whistler, Vancouver etc. Then we went home. Phew. It was 6 weeks long, and we did a lot of driving, and a lot of walking.
And then I thought about some of the things we did do, and the moments we had, and I felt a bit better. It was a different trip entirely, the North American visit. And I thought maybe I would turn some of the happiest times out here, to remind myself, and Nic, about some of the more awesome times we had.
This one came to me the other day as I was having a bath- trying to soothe my muscles after a boot-camp style fitness class - and reading Maths articles for school. Today was drizzly, too, and kind of chilly, but not cold. What I would consider perfect Vancouver weather.
I remember being apprehensive, in a way, driving in to Vancouver - the first time. We had taken the bus from the ferry terminal, and it drives you through farmland and blueberry fields. There were no mountains, like I'd expected, and there were suburbs not unlike the suburbs back home, but with a more North American flavor. We were dropped off by the bus at the sky train, which ran us, despite the name, underground most of the way to the city. Whenever you re-emerge from a subway system in an unfamiliar city, everything is too overwhelming to get your head around straight away, so it wasn't as though we fell instantly in love with Vancouver.
Upon getting our bearings as best we could, we trudged to the hotel, wheeling suitcases and stopping periodically to use Starbucks' free wifi so we could scrutinize the map on my iphone. Checking in, we went to the room and, as always, I scoped out the scene, letting out a little gasp as I discovered the bathroom and large, 2 person jacuzzi- an unexpected bonus for a fairly cheap room. With a few hours of daylight left, we set out to see a few parts of the city, knowing we only had this one night in Vancouver. Because here's the thing, we had intended Van-City to be a stopover and nothing more. We had little interest in the place, thinking our hearts would lie on Vancouver Island, and delegating the city that so many liken to Melbourne as a way to get back to Seattle for our connecting flight. We decided that while on our wanderings we would get dinner- pizza, and booze - vodka, and return early(ish) to enjoy our spa.
As with so much of our trip, particularly on the first day arriving in a new city, public transport systems were too much for us to be bothered with. And anyway, who pays, when you can walk? So walk we did. From our hotel, to Gastown, where I fell in love with the old feel of the streets, even though they are inundated with kitschy tourist and souvenir shops and Australian ex-pats who I could pick from the word "Hey". Where I caught glimpses of the mountains hovering over the city from between buildings as we walked, and itched to see more.
We walked back, over to Canada place, where my jaw dropped and not because of the 'trademark sails', but because of those mountains. Picture this, if you will- gloriously sunny late autumn day, new city with funky vibe, jagged snow-capped mountains with houses creeping up the side right there. Like, right next to the city! You know what surrounds Melbourne? Suburbs. Ugly brick houses and ports. And if you drive long enough (say, three or four hours), some rounded hills. Maybe they have snow on them. If it's a good winter. But here- autumn, snow, sun, city all divided by water.
Nic at Canada Place, having to squint it was so sunny, & the floating fuel station for the 'float planes'. Check out them mountains.We followed the water all the way into Stanley Park, where I'd read that raccoons frequent. I think Nic told me that I wouldn't see any- not to get my hopes up. That was ok, I'd be happy with squirrels.
But, racoons there were, and I'm happy to say I wasn't the only idiotic tourist to be kneeling down near them, happily taking photos. Hello, I'd never seen a raccoon before. Squirrels, yes, so realistically, I shouldn't have been excited as I was about them (for the whole trip), but raccoons were animals in movies that knocked over bins. But here they were in twos and threes using the path like actual people, and digging in mud and eating things, and giving me hi-5s.
Yeah, his paw is touching my hand. We're like BFFs.
There was some part of the Stanley Park sea-wall that I wanted to get to so we could watch the sunset, but our poor little feet had been walking for about 3 hours already by that point, and the beach (or whatever it was) that I wanted to get to was another hour's walk away, and it was rapidly getting to that time. So, we found a bench, and we sat down and took some artsy photos of the area, content in our sore little feets and knowing, dreading, that we would have to walk all the way back (because I don't think that we were yet up to figuring out the busses in the city).
Views from our little bench.
And so we turned back, and hand in hand avoided the roller-bladers and cyclists and runners who made this path their gym, and as we rounded the corner, the sun dipped below the mountains and the horizon and looked something like this:
This story isn't even about the sunset, but here it all is anyway, a million reasons we fell in love with a city we just meant to pass through.
That being said, on our trudge back to the hotel (and it really was a trudge now- we were tired and sore from the hours of walking), it was incomprehensibly difficult to find a decent pizza joint. A pizzaria? Anywhere? Not buy-by-the-slice-made-of-fat-and-bread pizzas, you know, nice ones, with thin bases and real ham. No. But we did pass a Rocky Mountain Chocolate company, and we did pick up a toffee apple cut into pieces to have for dessert (and it was glorious), and we did also get juice to have with our vodka, and eventually, tired and hungry, we did buy pizza-by-the-slice, and, eaten on our hotel bed with hotel ice in our hotel glasses, it was delicious.
And then we spa'd. The water was too hot. The music, from some terrible music channel on the cable TV, was pumping. We spa'd, and I don't know if we're the only ones this happens to (surely not), but when we got out and lay on the bed, warm and tingly and supremely happy, our hearts thudded out of our chest. I'm not sure if it's normal but we both laughed about it, and drank some more, and hoped that the hot spa hadn't somehow given us heart-attacks. So here we were in this city which I'd snubbed because so many people had told me it was like Melbourne. I don't like Melbourne, and I don't want to live here, so being told this over and over did not exactly give me the right frame of mind, but I can see how it was like Melbourne, and yet nothing like it. And it was everything we had wanted in Victoria, BC, and hadn't found, and everything we'd looked for in Seattle but couldn't see.
And here was a moment- collapsed on the hotel bed, pizza boxes on the floor, ice melting in our warm vodka-apple-juice mix, hearts pounding like we might be about to die, and gloriously, unreservedly happy to be there, in that moment.
And it's those moments I want to hold on to.
Forgive the yellow tinge. Taken post many drinks in the hotel room. I think my expression about sums up this little story and our feelings at this point in the trip.