Vancouver/Victoria August 2001
We had always wanted to go to Vancouver. Or at least cannot remember a time when we did not want to go. I cannot say why, all that good advertising over the years paid off, though I cannot imagine what advertising and where I might have seen it. I knew it as North America's most beautiful city, with spectacular mountains and incredible trees. Maybe the notions were implanted by NPR, as I used to listen to "As It Happens" regularly. But it seemed the perfect destination. We do not have the same travel desires we had when younger; the historic cities seem less interesting than they once did, especially when you see how little you recall 25 years later. Versailles is a blank, though I remember the tour we did not have the money to take and the parts we were not permitted to see. Blenheim Palace is the people standing around Churchill's grave. The art museum in Naples has no paintings in it I can recall, but the woman who opened her umbrella in my face is as clear as yesterday. The olive groves in Italy, the baked desert of Spain, the gulls at Lake Geneva, Adrian Thorpe and his son Adam who picked us up in their Morris Mini and brought us home, the grubby teenage waiter in the café in Bordeaux, the fellow at the Rome Youth Hostel. Scenery and people are what remain for us, the art and architecture mostly faded over the years. My only previous trip to Canada took place when I was 12; my clearest memory is coming out of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and everyone yelling at me for having taken so long. I remember not a thing from the museum, though I carefully read every description. So for this trip to Canada, while lovely city was nice, we wanted beautiful scenery and a place with a reputation for "interesting" people.
I had purchased the tickets from Hotwire, which sells what I now read are called "opaque" tickets; which require acceptance prior to knowing more than the dates of departures and the number of layovers. We chose 1 layover, got a good price, and took it. The cost was over $40 less per ticket, giving us round trips to Seattle for $197. (Vancouver was about $250 more; I later learned that Canada has a $55 per person tax on tickets to or from the US.) After accepting, we found we were to go to and from Seattle via St. Louis on TWA, hardly the most direct route. But with only a one hour layover in St. Louis, as opposed to the two hour one in Denver on the $243 flight, it worked out about the same. A few weeks after confirming the reservations we were told the plans had changed, and we would have a nearly 3 hour layover in St. Louis on the way back. Non-refundable, non-changeable, non-anything but keepable.
On Friday, August 3rd, we left for Canada on a very early departure. Our friend Gary very kindly drove us to the airport at that silly hour. Nice flight, reasonable layover, very pleasant second hop, with plenty of leg room and lots of beverages, and we arrived in Seattle about 2:00 local time. Managed to see the Space Needle as we came in, and a lovely view of the water. The airport is a bustling monstrosity, with people wandering all over looking perplexed and baffled, and far more foreigners than we see and hear in Kansas City. We had arranged a rental car at a near-the-airport-not-a-major-brand place, and called from where we were told to call from and were ferried to the office. We got a gold Nissan Altima, a vowel-laden automobile lacking the crunch, spark, snap, sparkle or zip of a consonant car like a Volkswagen Passat. Though the vowel cars are popular, especially among the Japanese, they mean soft, squishy, and spongey to me. Heading north on I-5, we stopped for a sandwich at a no-name sub place near the University, where we were promised a "fun" sandwich. Slightly stale bread and flavorless guts left us less than enthusiastic. Back on the Interstate we ran into an unexplainable traffic jam. It took us over 2 hours to travel about 40 miles, and then, for no apparent reason, the traffic freed and off we scooted. Early Friday afternoon, heading north, 4 lanes, and no one going anywhere. Stop and go, go and stop, or just plain stop and stop. We had those two hours to admire the dreary modern strip mall, which has been very successful along I-5. A favorable combination of good soil and abundant rain have nurtured them to great size.
Once we broke free, coincidentally, the scenery became prettier. We drove uneventfully northward, getting gas prior to crossing the border as I knew Canadian taxes would be stiff, and whipped through customs nicely. The young man who asked us the purpose of our visit and whether we had any alcohol, tobacco and firearms, which reminded me of a great line from Michael Maciolek:
Called up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms regional office and asked, "What wine goes best with an M-16?" The guy who answered did his best to be helpful: "That depends. What are you smoking?"
He also told us there were fireworks on Sunday and Wednesday night in Vancouver, which we would be able to see one of but not the other, and felt a bit of a thrill as we anticipated our post-Vancouver visit to Victoria.
We crossed into Canada with a bit of a tingle (it has been 22 years since we've been out of the country) and continued north through very plain, flat country. A bit disappointing....we had somehow expected lush scenery immediately. But all we got of the Northwest was a gray drizzle. We managed to get into the city (described in our guide book as the only major city without a freeway system, and they ain't foolin'...getting anywhere means driving on streets of shops, traffic lights--which blink when green in a pattern I have not yet figured out -- it appears to be X seconds until turning orange, but how many? And it does not seem to help. People ran red lights there with all the gusto of Kansas City residents) drove around a bit and looked at the downtown. As we came in, we noticed overhead (noticed! how could we have missed them?) the electric wires of a streetcar system. But no streetcars. And no public busses either, which seemed odd, as we had read about the wonderful bus system that makes cars unnecessary. We parked on a busy street near the water, got out, and walked around. And learned that a significant percentage of Vancouver's population supports itself through begging. No street was free of them down there. We were asked for money by drunks, by scraggly teenagers, by sad-looking people holding kittens, and by those too tired or too superior to ask but who had just placed a cap or cup in front of them. There were the usual musicians with a guitar-case, but most just sat behind their receptacle and waited; some alone, some in groups. Those not stationary were pushing shopping carts, for Vancouver has a deposit policy on bottles and cans that makes garbage-picking a full-time job for many. Everywhere we looked, someone with a huge trash bag or a cart was rummaging through a dumpster. But they were neat, not tossing the items out but gently pushing them aside.
The other instantly recognizable thing was that the Volkswagen dealers have done very well in Vancouver. There were representatives of every model of VW since the early Sixties. Innumerable Beetles and a VW Bus on every street, but also Fastbacks, Squarebacks, Things, Quantums, (or should that plural be Quanta?), Jettas, Passats and quite a few of the more recent bus/van models, vehicles of which only several thousand were sold, apparently most in Western Canada. Why do I mention this? Well, as a VW owner, I certainly notice them. But as we have contemplated places to live in Kansas City, we have seen that areas that have architecture and ambience we like have VWs parked on the street, areas we hate do not. Seeing a Volkswagen in Independence is an event; there are some old Beetles (driven by a teenager waiting to move into the city, I am sure), but very very few current models. They are invisible in Johnson County, home of SUVs, minivans, and Volvos. Blue Springs and Lee's Summit prefer the truck, the bigger the better. But Brookside, Hyde Park, Wornall, are chock full of them, so much so that we always laugh when we see them. There is a certain discomfort in finding myself a member of such a stereotypical behavior pattern, though the reason we don't live in the aforementioned areas is that the houses do not offer as much for their very expensive prices; one is paying for the privilege of living in those areas, and that privilege is not worth as much to me as it is to others. So, the next thought is "Is the Volkswagen an overpriced symbol as well?"
The parking meter was good of an hour, and we used it up before heading out to the youth hostel where we were staying. There are two hostels in Vancouver, one right down town and one out beyond the hippie section, located on a beach on the western edge of town. We had chosen the hippie one, Jericho Beach, which is out through the Kitsilano area, the hippie portion of the hippie town, and had made reservations for four nights. When checking in, we were handed linen and told we were in bunks L3 and L4. Co-ed? Had not anticipated that. Had not anticipated either that we would have to pay to park...though this was sold to us as among the cheapest parking in Vancouver, only $3.00 for 24 hours. The description in the guidebook says "limited free parking". Boy does that phrase communicate nothing!
We descended the stairs to our dorm, and entered an enclave that had the sweet, tangy aroma of a well-used, but not well-washed, locker room. Vancouver is a damp place, underground is a damp place. Underground in Vancouver, in a room full of "active" people, is a very damp place. We made our beds, and, a bit worn and weary, toured the far end of the city, including the university, and then retreated to a vegetarian buffet restaurant called Woodland Natural Foods we had passed on our way in, where all food is sold by weight. You load up a plate, they weigh it, and charge you. As the prices were those funny Canadian cents per gram, we were a little surprised when the final tally came. Nearly $24.00! But the food was good and the water was purified, and we ate with pleasure and headed back to the hostel, where we decided to view the beach. The camera remained locked in the car, and I regretted that location, for as we approached we enjoyed the picturesque site of sailboats harbored with all the masts, different heights, slightly different directions, rigging blowing in the breeze, against the darkening sky. When we arrived, we saw this had been an illusion, the boats were locked in a compound, many looking as if they had been abandoned by their owners long long ago. Interesting; the romantic view had been our interpretation; the reality was rather ugly.
After a moderately good night's sleep, (we had a robust snorer near us, but he quit after a whilethough I have unfairly been accused of robust snoring, I did not bother myself at all), we enrolled in a walking tour of central Vancouver, originating at the downtown hostel. The destination was Chinatown, the second largest in North America (though I do not know whether San Francisco or New York is larger) and Gastown, their seedy area restored to artsy shoppingness. Another dank day greeted us, and as the tour did not commence until 10:00 AM, we went out in search of umbrellas. We had prepared for a cool climate, but it was actually cold here, about 55, or whatever that is in Celsius...which reminds me of another great line from Red Green:
"Make that about 2 inches, or, if you're working in centimeters, enough centimeters to make 2 inches."The strong wind and steady rain reminded Cindy yet again that whenever we travel north, regardless of the season, we need to bring winter coats. We knew there would be a place to get umbrellas cheaply, but we did not find one that was open, and went to a chain drugstore. And met another beggar, looking severely in need of an alcohol transfusion. There were an astonishing number of these guys out that morning, early, it would seem for those who live as they do, but the early dumpster diver gets the bottle, I guess. Vancouver has an abundance of residents at the extremes: besides the drunks, there were an astonishing number of in-shape people out that morning, jogging, cycling, or walking briskly, though it was chilly and raining. Kansas City has a well-deserved reputation as one of the derriere capitals of the country. Hefty tubs waddling through the mall with cookie crumbs wedged in the horizontal grooves of their shirtfronts are everywhere. But here we saw very few folks who would even qualify as overweight; trim and lithe seemed to be a requirement of citizenship.
We went to the downtown hostel and could find no place to park. Every spot had a short time limit or required a permit. We took what was offered and ran to the hostel, where the tour was just getting started. I asked the guide about ticketing, and she assured me the police were conscientious and prompt. She also suggested I park in the hostel's lot, so I dashed out and moved the car, which proved to be a great choice, as we were gone for many many hours.
On the walk (where we learned that public transport workers had been on strike for some time, and though our guide was sympathetic, she could not really describe what the issues were) we viewed the rebirthing waterfront, where sawmills and warehouses have been disappearing or being converted to art space. Our umbrellas got a workout as the rain came off and on, and at a steady 60 or so, it was a day to inspire brisk walking. We saw the site of the Expo 86 in Vancouver, a piece of land recently purchased by a Hong Kong resident and being converted to living space. There are innumerable regulations about green space to housing, proportion of low-income dwellings (though this line was never explained), recreation facilities, and many other rules that probably inhibit the construction of housing. The guide thought these all wonderful. We wondered why the building is being done for foreigners. And we learned something else. Socialism is a dreadful architect. Vancouver had a reputation, in my mind if nowhere else, as one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Its beauty is all natural, for the buildings are either old, English looking, and substantial, or new and ugly, ugly, and ugly. Earlier this year we enjoyed The Decalogue, a 10 part film series that took place in a housing complex in Warsaw, and these buildings, whether residential or commercial, all looked as if they did not quite make the cut in the Warsaw architectural firm. Tall, yet squat instead of stately, rounded, yet looking chopped instead of curvaceous, they were ugly concrete cylinders that blighted our view in every direction. The previous evening, enchanted with the exciting, non-corporate downtown, we had not noticed them. But from the riverfront the views were more spacious, and they were uniform. There appeared to be little from the great days of Kansas City Architecture, the first half of the 20th Century. Everything old looked as if it were designed in London under Queen Victoria, everything new (and there was nothing in between) designed in Moscow in the 50s.
I asked what the major employers in Vancouver were, and the guide did not understand my question. She told me about the various government offices there, and I repeated "No, private industry. Which are the largest employers in Vancouver?" She had no idea; in fact, I'm not sure she understood my question, though I rephrased it yet again, and then gave up. This seemed weird. How do people earn a living in her city? Does everybody work for the government? She has lived in Vancouver for 30 years, having arrived from some unnamed Eastern European country via Argentina. She spoke several languages, but as everyone in our group spoke English (shaming mono-lingual me, as we had French, German, and Romanian speakers in our group, as well as people from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.; in fact, of 16 there was only one other American) she stayed in her peculiarly clipped, vaguely accented English.
One of our anticipated destinations was the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, a formal Chinese garden built by traditional gardeners with traditional methods, tools, plants, and rocks, all imported from China. There is a small, free version adjacent to the enclosed one, and we went through it, our guide implying that we would not see too much more if we paid the admission next door. It was lovely, but somehow the Chinese do things on a level too finicky for me. I like the sweep of an English garden, not the raked formality of concentric circles in sand. So we saved the cost and decided to enjoy other gardens.
Chinatown was the bustling, bizarre place it always is. Chinese merchants sell some strange stuff. There were a number of things which we could not identify as animal or mineral. Others were plants or the fruits of plants, but unseen by us anywhere else. Others still were clearly animal, small plastic tubs full of swimming fish that were thrashing and splashing. Everyone was smoking (though cigarettes are nearly $4.00 American a pack) while handling food, staring with that disgusted patience only Chinese shopkeepers can demonstrate. We saw the world's narrowest building, learned that people have been trying to circumvent taxes for a long time (there was a tax instituted on building stories 8 feet tall, so the second floor on many buildings is just a little less). The streets were teeming. People lurched along the sidewalk, carrying huge parcels or haggled and bargained, or looked intently at things we could not identify, and certainly would not eat. In the middle of this mass of dead sea things and cages of chickens and tubs of fish awaiting execution was the Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant, but we continued with the tour and never made it back.
Gastown, like Kansas City's Westport, was a hard-drinking part of town that some clever entrepreneurs realized would be much more profitable as a trendy destination. So the drunks were pushed out and the apartments converted to lofts, which is apparently a magic word in the housing industry. People will live in anything that can be called a loft...isn't hay stored in a loft? However, we had to walk on Hastings Street for a block. This is home for the remaining homeless or near-homeless, those who have chosen to reject society's strictures and ask those of us who haven't to help them pay for it. They did not accost, but plenty of them asked. Every guide encourages its readers to avoid Hastings Street, and it really does look as if the homeless population of North America has decided to relocate there.
The Gastown shops were all nice, though the art did not qualify for a capital A and the trinkets looked like only slightly higher quality landfill than that purveyed by Wal-Mart. Crowds of gawking tourists, especially Chinese and Japanese, ferried about like schoolchildren, keep both the streets and the sidewalks dangerously crowded. Huge buses with dark windows navigated the narrow streets, keeping us conscientiously in our place. The throng was unbelievable, mobs of cameras and foreign languages and stores to cater to them. And their thirst. There is a Starbucks on nearly every corner in Vancouver. Some corners have more than one. That is no exaggeration, on opposite corners of the same intersection there are shops of the same franchise. And there are innumerable independent coffee shops as well. Clearly defined tourists walked around carrying a coffee cup with a brown sleeve; those with tattoos and piercings lounged artistically on the street, chain-smoking and savoring Starbucks coffee. If only they could know how uncool Starbucks is here, the franchise for the SUV-driving yuppies. But they didn't, so they sipped and smoked convinced of their hipness.
One of Gastown's attractions is a steam-powered clock. Much of the heat in this area is delivered by underground pipes. These pipes need some sort of periodic release, but steam spewing out of holes in the ground was not desirable, so in the 70s, a clock-builder suggested, and then designed, this clock. As we were waiting for it to chime 2:00, a very nice 50ish English couple commented on my Informix t-shirt. Their son, recently moved to the US, is a former Informix, now Ascential employee. With only 4000 of them on the planet, the odds of meeting the parents of one on the streets of Vancouver seemed pretty remote . They were cheerful and pleasant, and I promised to send their son an e-mail when I got back. (Which I did, and he told me he had just visited them the previous weekend and they had told him of our tete-a-tete.)
We continued walking, getting to the new harborside buildings where the Alaskan cruise ships dock. The ships were impressive. I had not thought much about it, but my vision of cruise ships was Titanic like steel cylinders with smokestacks. These were nothing of the sort; they were shiny layers of glass on a very small white base, looking like steroid enhanced speed boats. Doubt I'll ever get on one, but seeing them was educational, in the "My isn't that interesting, though I don't know why" sense. By this time, after a light breakfast, we were getting mighty hungry. The Buddhist restaurant was far away, and we needed food soon. There was a tourist office right there, and we spoke to a charming German girl who looked at us as if we had asked where human sacrifice was performed. She opened her tourist book, found a few places too far to walk to, and finally found one just a few blocks away. We headed that way, and, after dodging a particularly belligerent street guy, found they were closed. Went back to a bakery/café we had passed, they too were closed. Saturday afternoon is not their busy season. By this time, hypoglycemia was attacking pretty robustly, and food moved from important to urgent. However, we did not want one of those foreign places without customers but with a semi-English speaking waiter who hovers, eager for payment so he can go home.
We had seen a busy Indian restaurant, the Sitar, back in Gastown, and decided to head there. They were indeed open, busy, and we got enough to eat. We ordered the multi-course vegetarian feast for two. It was not spectacular food; in fact we had pickled mangos (I think) that were the worst thing I've ever consumed (not so bad that I didn't try two bites before giving up), but a bitter, salty concoction that tasted like the salt used to melt snow after it has been used. We had a dreadful meal in Italy many years, ago. It was the worst meal we've ever had, (now that was an experience!) Several others stand out, but that was an entire meal. The rest of the food was fine. Not wonderful (I can get much tastier food at the Bombay Café in Overland Park), but we were ready to eat!
After refreshment and blood sugar replenishment, we began our exploration of the shops we had scooted past on our tour. One of our objectives was to acquire a silver "wedding-ring" to go with the silver watch Cindy wears. We thought we'd be able to find some hippie alternative cool Santa Fe like silversmith who creates pieces of individuality and flair, but without too much ornamentation. She prefers co-ordinated jewelry (often spelled jewellery up there, which WordPerfect likes no more than I), in both color and style. But though we traipsed through many shops, we saw little of interest, nothing more than the usual tourist frou-frou, carved walrus and other "First Nations" art, endless ugly, silly, and expensive t-shirts, ridiculous souvenirs, interesting only because the words Canada or Vancouver were on them, and an assortment of stuff valuable only to the inveterate shopper who cannot return home without something for everybody, no matter how difficult they are to buy for. Landfill, all of it.
Neither of us are marathon shoppers, much preferring the 40 yard sprint, and after an hour or so of this we had squandered all the energy our lunch had provided. It was tea-time, and we were ready for tea. Very ready. Vancouver, being an especially English portion of the Empire, would offer us innumerable places to get a pot of steaming tea, and the pot of hot water that should accompany it. We entered a Starbucks competitor (no corporate stooges we!) where we were greeted by a sullen, pierced young man who preferred to be left alone. No pots, no loose tea, lots of coffee choices, but little in the way of plain, black, caffeinated beverage. So a cup of Stash tea for me and coffee for Cindy began the restoration. But refills of neither were included here, so after Cindy had her cup replenished she was asked for another $1.50. I got some more warmish water in an attempt a coax a bit more flavor from my tea bag. We watched a plump, nattily dressed and coiffed woman exuding real-estate professional chat amiably with the young man, but we got little in the way of care or service, though I guess if refills are not included no additional service could be offered. Maybe that's why Starbucks was so busy. We never found out, but we had no inclination to return there.
We had been referred to Robson Street as the commercial center of Vancouver, where we would be certain to find some artistic shaper of silver with just what we wanted. Robson Street was a fairly long walk from where we were, and we eagerly headed out. The Kansas City hallucinators, who imagine a bustling downtown around an arena or stadium, should see this. People in Kansas City do not much like walking. But in Vancouver, the sidewalks were crammed for blocks and blocks. Restaurants were packed, and eager people strolled carrying packages and bags. Nothing to attract people but a place to walk in comfort and safety, (and with sidewalks that wide and crowds that dense, the beggars would have had no chance), be seen, hang with friends, shop in hundreds of small, idiosyncratic shops, and enjoy themselves. More people than I ever see at any mall, all outdoors on a Saturday evening, living in a real urban environment and enjoying doing so. We did not find our jeweler, but we enjoyed the walk, the crowds, and the weather, which finally cleared up, giving us a splendid evening.
One of things we had viewed on our walk was Granville Island, a former sawmill/warehouse area that has been converted to artists' studios and restaurants. We had been told access was via ferry, which was $2.00 each way for a 100 yard trip. We were determined not to pay $8.00 to get to it, and our map did not show a direct path to it, but we looked and found the way in via car. Most everything was closed, but we were able to stroll and see what was available. Several skilled jewelers had studios there, so we decided to return another time when they were open. We enjoyed the stroll, the art visible through the windows, and the general feel of a place that has been restored by people rather than designed by committee and bureaucrats.
Sunday morning we experienced the joys of communal sleeping. A young lady got up very early, apparently to depart. So she had to pack, and unpack, pack again, and where's that ticket?, and then wouldn't this be better over here, and oh, don't forget that, and oops, the toothbrush, and on and on, zipping and unzipping her bag repeatedly. Not 5 times, not even 10, but probably 20 or 25 times did the lengthy zipper on her bag go all the way open, zzzzzup, and then all the way closed, zzzzzzzap. Why she didn't open it once, put everything in, rearrange, and then close it, I have no idea. But she didn't. We tried to sleep through it, as we had walked many miles the previous day, but could not do so. And so an early morning was dictated. After a quiet breakfast, as no one else was up that early, we headed up into the mountains. Our first objective was Cypress Park, home of some huge trees. We drove up a windy road, walked up a trail of no special beauty, and were feeling a bit disappointed. This had been our destination for the day, and though it was a beautiful spot with beautiful views, we wanted what we could not get better elsewhere (the curse of the well-traveled person: this was great, and if we had never walked up the ski basin in Santa Fe or camped in Estes Park, it would have looked breathtaking, but we had, and it didn't.) So we abandoned this and decided to drive up to Whistler, a year-round tourist trap nestled up in the mountains. The single lane road was packed with cars and RVs going in both directions, making it appear as if we on I-70, rather than an obscure Canadian road. The drive got better and better, as the weather got worse and worse. Clouds transformed into drizzle, which transformed into cold, driving downpour, complete with huge white clouds, fog, sheets of rain, and the look as if a blizzard was rolling in. To our left as we drove north was a breathtaking bay, with cloud-swirled mountains on the far side, only sometimes visible. The passenger got to enjoy this much more than the driver, who had to negotiate a curvy, slick road in a Japanese car. We stopped once to hike down a path to a waterfall, and were well paid for the walk. As in the Grand Canyon earlier this year, every time I snapped the camera I knew I was not going to capture the width. The view is 180 degrees in two directions; the camera captures a small portion of that, and then flattens all the three-dimensionality out of it. Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter managed to convey depth, but the monotony of much landscape photography has always disappointed me, mine included. I think it may be that the painter takes a bit of liberty with the sizes of his subjects, much like the statues that Michelangelo did that looked silly when on the ground but appeared just right when placed up high on their plinths; but the photographer is pretty much stuck with what he gets. His choice is a choice of composition, and when I was standing in a cold drizzle, trying to keep the camera dry, I realized my choices were dictated by time and weather as much as by the scene.
Whistler is indeed in a gorgeous spot. Carved into a little valley with the mountains jumping from the very edge of the city, we enjoyed the disparate crowd. There were the inevitable Chinese, mobs of J. Crew Americans with their J. Crewette children, frazzled parents with sullen teenagers on their best protest march, determined to express their disappointment and disgust with everything around them, and the residents, looking like the usual burned out ski bum crowd that parties and skies and forces themselves to go to work occasionally so they can pay for more dope and another day's lift ticket. The city itself is a little car-free enclave, surrounded by huge parking lots, where trendy shops filled with very pricey clothing sit adjacent to mountain bike rental places. It was raining pretty hard while we were there, and we explored the dietary options, as it was again time to eat. We had a tasty sandwich at a place staffed by dykey young lasses who dished up an appropriately weird menu. There were four very small tables inside, and a few more outside, and we managed to secure one of the indoor ones and eat in relative warmth and comfort, though the line felt as if it would tip onto us at any moment, and the conversations surrounding us were all far more audible than ours.
The drive back from Whistler was breathtaking. The weather cleared somewhat, the mountains were visible through swirling clouds and mist, and there were places to stop and enjoy. One of the best was at a small pond on the west side of the road. A lovely, boggy pond with a bridge that didn't cross but transcended it. We traversed this hazy arc and entered a true rainforest, lush with growth, so damp we could feel mold growing on our words, soft and squishy beneath our feet, with massive trees, which, though incredibly tall, seemed to be crouching directly above us. We headed up a seldom-used trail, into the opening paragraph of The Fall of the House of Usher. The road was within sight, but we were in the 19th Century, where the noises of a mechanized world were far in the future and the only sounds came from man, beast, or the weather. We did not encounter that beast, but felt as if we could at any moment. We did not go as far as we could have; the sense of foreboding was poised over us like the piano hoisted up in a cartoon. Beautiful, but clearly under the dominion of creatures other than man.A
s we got closer to Vancouver, we stopped at a few more shops filled with items of no interest, and then made a fateful stop at a tea shop advertising high tea. We were quite ready for the afternoon repast, and we managed to get in right before closing. High tea was a bit pricey, but we did receive a real pot of tea (still brewed with bags, but strong enough and hot enough) and scones. Real scones, full of currants, (OK, they were heated in the microwave), with butter, clotted cream--which is NOT! whipped cream, and chunky, lumpy, full-of-strawberries strawberry jam, which all combine to make the tastiest treat known to man. I'll take one of these over any French pastry...there are so many flavors bolted together into an astonishing blessing of taste. The entertainment was not only culinary here. The owner had a hummingbird feeder outside his front window which drew a pretty good crowd, and a big feeder out the rear where a Stellar's Jay (the first I've ever seen) held the territory without opposition. And we had a bit of human entertainment as well. Cindy went to the restroom while I ordered, and a bulky foursome was just settling their bill. One of the men, a brawny gent with a teardrop the size of one of the trees we had seen tucked under his t-shirt, rattled off a string of cliches and lame wisecracks as if they were original, sending the other three into fits of laughter. One woman (his wife, I suppose, though vocal cord castration would be the only way I could be married to such an oaf) giggled and shrieked uncontrollably. He then meandered over to the owner to share is opinion of the place: "Pretty good food here. And that's just what I mean; pretty good." I was impressed by both his acumen and his pithy expression of it. Fortunately, these buffoons left before Cindy returned, and we had the place to ourselves while we sipped and snacked. And the amazing thing, judging by their t-shirts, is that they were CANADIANS! Certainly no country other than the USA could produce boors like this, but no, they can come from our Northern neighbor as well! The owner, a tad reticent after the critique, was a bit cold, but as we expressed our appreciation, (and ordered two more wonderful scones), opened up and shared some history. He told us about the 4 remaining old-growth trees on Vancouver Island, zealously protected by fierce tree-lovers, for whom trees may only die a natural death, about growing up there, and watching the ships in the bay, about the variety of birds that stop over, and about the tea-tours through Victoria, which include stops at some 30 tea-shops (between the caffeine and the need to stop every few moments to urinate, this tour did not much appeal to us). There are not 30 tea shops in any state in the US...little Victoria has over 30!
We came back to Vancouver ready for the Sunday night fireworks we had been told of. There was time to drive through Stanley Park, a breathtaking piece of land wisely set aside years ago, full of wonder and glory and majesty. We parked, and paid again for the privilege of doing so, at a promontory where a flower display welcomes visitors to Stanley Park. This was quite amusing; while Cindy went off in search of facilities I sat and watched tourist after tourist come and pose, the Japanese and Chinese clicking away, full of smiles and unlimited film, a few American teenagers doing their best to look annoyed, and a wedding party that arrived jutting from sun-roofed limos and drinking champagne, hopped out, took a bunch of photos and drove off, without paying for parking! A path beckoned, and we took short stroll that instantly became remote, though it was connected to one of the main tourist stops. We were coming back here, and paying for a full day of parking.
A late dinner at the hostel and a stroll over to Jericho Beach, which our tour guide had assured us would be a great spot for fireworks viewing. The event was some sort of competition, with four countries (Canada, South Africa, Spain and China) battling to provide the most extraordinary display. We went out on a pier, and from there to a floating dock that was the most northerly point we could secure. As it got darker and darker, we got more and more anticipatory, but no fireworks appeared. On and on we waited, with hordes of children (almost all Chinese) running all over the dock, wondering when the action would begin. There was a fun couple sitting next to us, two early twenties not-quite-a-couple doing the superior griping and condescending so beloved by those at that age. At about 9:45, there was a small, low burst that was very unimpressive, then 15 minutes more of nothing. Another small burst, and we began to wonder if this was some kind of special competition that did not follow the American Fireworks Conventions (version 3.a). Another long wait, and then about 10:20, the show commenced (remember, the hostel has an 11:00 lights out policy). It was wonderful...mysterious, varied, and beautifully sequential, with a preponderance of orange, blue and green, very un-American fireworks colors. They were remarkable; violently intense and different from any colors we had experienced. We had been warned not to attempt to view from somewhere close (as we returned to the hostel, we drove past the launching barge and beach where crowds were gathering at 5:00), but from our distance, there was a long delay between sight and (faint) sound, so much so that we might have been willing to take the delays. Though had we been on the beach, there would have been another of those annoying musical accompaniments. We went to a soccer game here in Kansas City on July 4th (along with 19,000 other Kansas Citians) and saw a wonderful fireworks pageant, but had an absolutely ridiculous soundtrack, 30 second snippets of music that had no connection to each other: Springsteen to Tchaikovsky to Sousa to whatever, disjointed, loud, confusing, and irritating in that no matter how brief a song was, it was cropped to fit minute attention spans. I love the sounds of fireworks, the sizzle, the anticipation of the crash, and the unexpected, surprising booms are an integral portion of the experience. But listening to fireworks is apparently no longer allowed. There was some radio simulcast in Vancouver, and a few boomboxes were tuned to it, but we still got the sounds, however faint and delayed they were.
The show was over at about 10:50, and we had a delightfully brief stroll back to the hostel; though lights were supposed to be out at 11:00, they were not. I had no trouble going to sleep, and slept peacefully until morning. Monday was another big hike. Back to Stanley Park. This is the place where active Vancouverians come to work out. We parked at the first possible place and set out to walk all the way around it. There is a path that parallels the water, which was crowded with cyclists, joggers, and walkers. This was our path too for a while, but it was not particularly beautiful. One of the bizarre things we noticed in Vancouver was the lack "natural" life. It is a gloriously green city, with flowers and bushes all over, gihugic trees, but there are few weeds (even on un-maintained trails), virtually no insects, and though we were on a clear and lovely bay, almost no water birds or trace of crustaceans, fish, or molluscs. We saw plenty of crabbers and fisherman, but the absence of the sort of stuff that grows all over here was remarkable. At work I go outside every day and enjoy my lunch next to a pond. It is a phony pond, created by the office park and landscaped to look almost real, if you don't look at the cement that separates if from the other pond and the 8 foot drainage pipe that empties into it. It is teeming with life. I see hundreds of frogs, at least 3 different kinds of turtles, blue herons, green herons, woodpeckers, hawks, meadowlarks, ducks, geese, loons, and fish galore. There are dragonflies skirting the water, innumerable buzzing and swarming things to diminish my reading pleasure, lilies in the water and plants growing from between every rock. Vancouver did not have this. It did not even have the mounds of scurrying creatures under rocks. It was weird. Somehow the food chain is quite different there, as insects make up the bottom of every food chain I've ever seen.
Stanley Park was much more pleasant once we left the cement path. We headed up a steep hill to the official tourist stop we had visited the previous day, again choked with huge busses spewing exhaust, drivers lounging on bumpers smoking, talking, and enjoying the blackened air, and mobs of both little black-haired Chinese and portly white-haired America tourists. Many of them had no inclination to walk, but emerged from their redwood sized busses to use the restroom and have a smoke. We waited at the "Welcome To Stanley Park" again, and again photos galore were snapped. Cindy used the restroom and while she was in there I was asked to take several photos. I obliged them all. We then headed away from the crowds and back to the seclusion of the trails. Paths is a little too smooth, trails a little too rugged, but they were amazing, with the cool quiet of the trees and the wind, and nothing more. The green hung heavily over us, and we walked quietly, seeing very few people as we covered many miles through the dark recesses of the park. One stupendous tree followed another, as we walked through the center of the park, then came back towards the beach before crossing again and exiting near the lagoon that is a water reclamation project. We had walked many miles and seen an abundance of breathtaking trees, but again, almost no insects, few, if any birds other than some ducks in the lagoon, and no mammals of any kind.
Monday was Canada Day, the Canadian equivalent of August Bank Holiday in England, where a holiday is invented to give everyone one more day off. So, much of the world was closed, and the number of people about was amazing. We had been told that Naam was the vegetarian restaurant of choice. It was back towards the hostel in the Kitsilano district. There was a line to get in, and after a lengthy wait, we were seated in a nifty table in (not next to) the window. Though it was 12:45, lunch did not begin until 1:00, as it was a holiday. So we ordered a breakfast, and eventually got it, though by that time lunch would have been available. We saw the waiter thrice, once to order, once to get food (though I think it actually was delivered by someone else), and once to deliver a check. I had ordered a pot of tea and never saw it, consumed all my water and never got it replenished, and had not particularly enjoyed the food. Cindy's was pleasant, though hardly remarkable. We got the tea removed from the bill, I left a $1.00 tip (which I have never done before) and headed out to salvage the afternoon.
Our destination that afternoon was VanDusen Garden. We arrived just as the 2:00 tour was departing, and joined a group of quiet-looking people who knew more about plants than I know about baseball.
Guide: "This is the common Japanese hardy whispery lilyberry. A curious thing about this plant is that it only seeds when the temperature stays below 62 for the days of March 11th through 16th."
Cute, wrinkled English lady: "Oh, the diacanthus astromontallicus. We have a relative of that in our garden, the rosacanthus montasacullicus , which has four ridges per leaf instead of three. And it seeds in April."
These are people who love plants. Love them in a way few people love people. And know that which they love.
A wonderful garden; no other words suffice. For there was something to wonder at regardless of where we looked. There was a little of everything, and it was wide open, broad, and lovely in every direction. The garden had once been a golf course, and its expansiveness was part of what made it exquisite. Like Powell Gardens here, it was not a bunch of individual gardens crammed next to each other like shops in the mall, but had distinct areas with gradual evolutions from one to the next. The weather was great, the plants were beautiful, their hedge maze was a hoot (we got stuck several times before finding our way out), and the balance between color and green, tall and short, wild and manicured, seemed perfect. We had a splendid walk and left there as it closed, delightfully refreshed.
Monday night was spent walking through the Kitsilano area, enjoying the weird shops and silliness of the true-believers who still think it's 1971. We had dinner in Sophie's Cosmic Café, another holdover from the old days. But the meal was great. Several vegetarian choices were on the menu, including a home-made bean burger, which was wonderful. Attentive service, good suggestions, and great food. A nice conclusion to our stay. We had wanted to see big trees and eat natural/unnatural food, and we had been successful in Vancouver. On to Victoria!
Monday night we had the pleasure of sleeping with a group of Chinese boys who used no sheets, snored exuberantly, and stayed up very late. So we managed to sleep in a bit on Tuesday, and got up to enjoy a cheerful breakfast and lengthy pot of tea. We had hoped to catch an early ferry over to Vancouver Island, but did not get there quite when we wanted. However, we had seen the line on Sunday when we drove to Whistler, and this was about 1/10 the length. We got on the next ferry and parked ourselves on the bow to fully experience the whole thing. The horn blared, we startled, and were on the way. And instantly were in a bitter November wind. The sun was shining, but we could not stay there, it was just too cold and too strong.
History intervened at this point. I began this in late August 2001, adding a bit every few days as time permitted, and then September 11th hit. I will try to go back, but certainly the jollity of our trip and the interest of any audience must seem far removed. However, I am reading Anthony Trollope's autobiography, and he describes coming to the US during ther darkest days of the Civil War, and how astonished he was that life went on in a relatively normal manner for those not in combat. He was impressed by our resilience and fortitude, and now, two months after that dreadful day, it looks as if the same thing may be occurring now.
The ferry trip was, other than bitterly cold, uneventful. Beautiful sky, and that wonderful excitement of approaching a destination for a long time. Today's travelers cannot really know that, as planes compress the whole experience into a whirlwind of get ready-get set-arrive. But we saw the island for a long time, and watched it gradually grow, until the details grew from blur to visible to clear to "We've landed". We have three English Channel crossings and many miles of train rides to remember the feeling of arrival, but the weirdest was probably actually on a plane. On our second European trip, like all good hippie Americans, we flew Icelandic Air to Luxembourg. That trip was memorable in two ways. The plane left New York at night (an especially fun departure -- the lights were truly magnificent) and droned on for several hours. I dozed, then awoke to a dark cabin and a strange noise. Dazed, I looked out the window, but could see nothing but cloud. Suddenly, there was a loud thunk and plane touched down. My first thought was "We've hit water." My heart pounded in my ears and then stopped. Actually, we had landed in Iceland, and once I recognized that, it started beating again. But approaching Luxembourg City was very disconcerting, because we flew very low on top of a river. We could see in the houses for what seemed like miles. Traffic, people hanging laundry, folks getting on and off busses as we went by. Most peculiar. Back to the ferry. I was in no hurry to return to the car...the idea of sitting in an enclosed room with SUVs and RVs belching exhaust while we waited endlessly to disembark did not appeal to me, but we headed back promptly (I thought they might push the car into the water if we weren't there in time) and wham! they unloaded that thing in a hurry.
We had planned to head north from our landing at Nanaimo and explore a bit of the island. Then we looked a little more carefully at the map. The destinations we had thought about were hundreds of kilometers away, and would take many hours of mountain driving to visit. We decided to just travel up the coast a bit, see what there was to see and then turn around and go into Vancouver. The 22¢ per mile was not a major factor, but I did not want to pay an extra fifty bucks to see very little and spend more hours in the car. So up the coast we went, through strip malls and car dealerships. "We got plenty of those in Independence" we say, and anticipate curtailing even further. So, the map shows XXX State Park several miles up, and we decide we'll see the park, walk on the beach and head back.
It is pleasant, but not anything like what we'd seen between Vancouver and Whistler. Some trees, a parking lot, and a beach. We headed towards the main attraction, and saw sand. Lots of sand, and somewhere, far in the distance, water. It must be very shallow there, as I assume it was low tide and at least a half mile to the shoreline. But those Canadian kids were happy to have the chance to swim, though the temperature was about 65, and were skedaddling towards the water with glee (which probably was only a few inches deep -- and we could see across the bay without any trouble; maybe they just were walking home to the other side). Another interruption which was brought to mind: Once, in Manchester, Massachusetts, I and my sisters were, in a fit of foul spite, dropped off at Wingersheek Beach for an entire day. I was about 11, they 9 and 7. This was the most miserable beach on the planet. The water was no more than 24 inches deep for at least a mile, and there were horseflies the size of bats. We could hardly play in this wading pool, and the flies gnawed our pink, tender flesh without ceasing. Sitting in this pond, attempting to hide from the flies, without waves, rocks, toys, or fun, we served a portion of our sentence before walking home. How we were ever found, I have no idea. Bu as I am alive today, I guess we were. Anyway, I did not see any flies on this beach, but that was compensated for by the acres of damp sand one would have to traverse before finding actual water.
On this beach though was a happy party of "Fill-in-the-blank-for today's-pc-word-for-old-folks". This poor group, latched and strapped into wheelchairs, was sitting in the shade of the only tree on the beach. They were buttoned up against the chill and wind; two old guys wore New York Yankees jackets and caps. Playing cards and glaring despondently were the primary activities. I was glad yet again that I am not a servant of the elderly; this did not look like a fun expedition.
This was far enough north. There was not much to see, so we turned around and zipped back into Victoria, listening to a little radio and enjoying the scenery. Victoria is not an especially impressive city to drive in to. Like most metropolises these days, the outskirts are full of big gray or beige boxes, clogging up everything and feeling like a blanket of conformity. The city center itself, which we drove directly in to, is a bustling neighborhood full of young people, Chinese tourists, panhandlers, elderly Americans, and bedraggled teenagers holding puppies and looking as pleadingly as they can while begging. Like towns overrun by young people and tourists, there were funky little shops galore selling oddball items, one of which we bought for Evan. We learned another Canada lesson: a $14.95 item costs well over $17.00 with tax. It was a hugely muscular magnetic arm to be stuck under an open car window. We laughed pretty hard at this...and it was even made in Canada. Typical Canadian humor.
The harbor was huge and astonishingly clean. Ferries, sailboats, tourist ships and whale watchers were scattered across a long and winding curve surrounded by the Parliament building, a wonderful old hotel, and a walkway with entertainers, musicians, magicians, and artists selling and performing. It was early Tuesday afternoon, yet the people were everywhere. It was hard to walk along the harbor as the crowds were so thick. No wedding ring yet, so we hoped for success, but though many craftspeople offered their work, none looked worth much interest. No, the star of this harbor was the entertainment. We saw bits of several comedian/singers, including this exchange:
"Anyone here from Quebec?"
Small smattering of cheers.
"Welcome to Canada!"
We laughed as we watched the aluminum man, a silver cloaked fellow who stood like a statue with a briefcase in front of him awaiting tips. He had the choice spot, just at the corner of the harbor, and he used it well. Immobile until someone dropped a coin, he would then do a little dance of appreciation. He also enjoyed leaping into the faces of those walking by who assumed he was a real statue. Lots of startled and jolted tourists. But best of all was a little gal whose dad thought she should overcome her fear. She did not want to do so, and got more terrified the closer they got. He gave up and pulled her away before she had an attack. People were afraid to get too close, as if he were the Grim Reaper needing placation, so they would approach warily and toss the coin from a distance. One such contributor, an elderly Chinese lady, turned and scurried away, with Aluminum Man right behind her. He turned with her, so that he remained behind when she looked at his now empty post. Puzzled she looked around, and leapt when she saw him directly behind her.
We went to our Bed and Breakfast, planning to enjoy a little higher level of accommodations on this portion of the trip. We had chosen the Craigmyle B&B, far enough from downtown to be a little cheaper, but still within walking distance (a little more than a mile). The room was small and ugly, but it did have a private bath. We dropped out stuff and made ourselves a well enjoyed pot of tea in an incredibly flimsy aluminum pot. There was a refrigerator where we could store a few items. So we could save a bit on food costs here as well. We walked back downtown and continued enjoying the open air entertainment. We ate dinner at Green Cuisine, which we had seen as we strolled, a vegetarian cafeteria where the food was again tasty and the water was again filtered. Were these places saying something about the stuff coming from the tap?
Wednesday we left the car untouched. We walked downtown, bought tickets for an afternoon whale excursion, and toured Parliament, which was a typically derivative and somewhat bombastic huge Victorian governmental edifice. Two charming young men added to the show by playing the architect, Francis Rattenbury, and a tightfisted Scottish mason who was disgusted by the cost overruns and arrogance of those who thought themselves his betters. We then walked across town to Beacon Hill Park. It had been a very dry summer, and things were quite brown. Leafless trees, dead expanses of grass, much reduced flowers and hedges, and then we came to the Juan de Fuca Strait, and looked across spectacular water over to Washington and mountains that were covered in snow. People were friendly and kind, and we scrambled along the coastal rocks at low tide, hoping to see something alive. But like Vancouver, nothing. No fish, no birds other than aggressive and talented ravens, and no mammals. We absorbed the salt air and savored the sun, then headed out in search of tea. On our walk from downtown, we had passed through a little artsy area called James Bay, with a tea shop, and to this (James Bay Tearoom and Restaurant) we headed back for lunch and afternoon tea. We were turned away though; they were having a new dishwasher installed and had no clean dishes. We asked for a comparable alternative (after all, we had heard there were 30 tea shops on the tea tour), but the hostess had none to offer. Disappointed, weary, and eager for a cup of tea, we turned away, but...miracle, her human dishwasher came out and told her she was washing by hand, and tea could be served. Hooray! And it was unfortunate, for though the hostess/waitress was pleasant, the tea was merely OK, and the egg salad sandwiches served with it quite bland while the scones not as good as those at Barnes and Noble (and those hardly qualify as wonderful).
We still had several hours to fill before departure, and Victoria is a delightfully small city. Back downtown, and into the Crystal Garden, an former swimming pool turned hothouse garden that we truly enjoyed. Another Rattenbury edifice. It is an enclosed tropical garden, much like the bird house at the zoo in Kansas City. The plants were bizarre and attractive, the displays well done, the wildlife (if it can be called that) was ever-present and wonderfully exotic. It is a small attraction, but we actually had to leave before we were quite ready to be sure to make our 4:30 reservation.
But we struggled terribly locating the departure point. It was in the back of the Harborside Hotel (a fact we did not know from our paid-for ticket -- all we had was a street address), and there were no signs anywhere to point us in the direction. Streets had no names, buildings had no numbers, and we wandered too far before we turned around. There was a dock and we went and asked some people in a crab shack where it might be, and though they were eager to help, (and it turned out to be about 100 yards away), they had no idea. But we were too far, so we had to have passed it, so turned around and backtracked to where we knew it was not. If we had arrived by water it would have been easy to see, but with no boats, no sign, no anything, we were lost and getting worried. We asked a guy on a motorcycle. Friendly, but had no idea. After finally pinpointing its location by process of elimination, we joyfully checked in at the office, where we found we were the first ones there for our trip. We still had time, we went upstairs to the hotel and though their coffee shop was closed we went to the bar and ordered iced tea. Nasty stuff it was too; we sipped a bit, then asked and learned the default serving of Canadian iced tea is exceedingly sweetened. The bartender understood right away; we were not the first Americans who gagged over this syrup. So she brewed some hot tea, chilled it, and served truly freshly brewed (not fresh-brewed!) iced tea. But by this time we had to go, so we gulped, tipped generously, and took off for downstairs.
Seacoast Expeditions may have been hard to locate, but the trip was a blast. The previous group was delayed coming back, so after a few abortive getting dressed getting undressed, we suited up in our moonwalk uniforms, plodded out to the boat and got ready to see some big fishies. It was an absolutely clear day with perfectly still water, so we slapped across the strait at 40 mph. I had maneuvered as we entered the boat so we would be in the front, which meant that as we skipped like a stone across the surface, the front of the boat did the most skipping. Up-SLAP-up-SLAP-up-SLAP! Part of what sold us on this company was the naturalist on board, and the sheer delight he and the pilot demonstrated at seeing the amazing wildlife enhanced the trip. We saw some unusual birds and the nose of a seal, and then went out and joined the other whale watching boats. Hovering around San Juan Island, we waited for the whales who come to scoop salmon who are driven against this island by the strong currents. And come they did. We saw them from quite a distance and were excited, but then they and we got closer, and we saw them and heard them. The noise is more comprehensive than what you hear on film; there was an robust and wet exhalation with lots of gusto behind it, and then the inhalation that followed was deep and sweet, air appreciated by a creature who consciously takes every breath. A quiet splash as they submerge, and the excitement of wondering where they will come up next. There is a network of radio-equipped spotters who are in contact with the watcher boats, so though the process seems pretty un-technological, there is a lot of science and communication going on to get us these views. There were about 6 watchers who all positioned themselves where they thought would be best. While watching and waiting for one group to come along, we were joined by folks in a little canoe who were about 200 feet away. The pod of three whales surfaced near it, and the male of this group went down, came up and breached about 30 feet from the boat. Our naturalist speculated that he had thought this was a log and was angry to see it was people, wand was signaling them to go elsewhere. But though violent towards seals and salmon, orcas will never deliberately hurt people, so they were left with the thrill of seeing this majestic creature at a distance where they could have read his tattoos. We had the pleasure of distant thrills as well. Mt. Rainier was clearly and majestically visible, which is very rare from that distance.
After this extraordinary four hours, we decided to enjoy one official tourist meal, and went to Villa Rosa Restaurant, which we had walked past on every trip to and from downtown. One meal at least would be the linen and wine version, and this was the place. The waiter, who could have been me if we had not had children, was friendly, informative, and attentive. The food was very good, and we had wanted to order a local wine to accompany it, but could not find one he thought we would like. White, somewhat sweet, and thin, I think is how they were, and we wanted red somewhat hearty and full-bodied. Whatever we ended up with was great, and the meal ended a perfect day.
Thursday was allocated to a day in Sidney, a charming coastal town with an abundance of used book stores and antique stops. We drove up casually, staying close to the shore and exploring residential areas probably unseen by tourists (and circumnavigating the famous, and expensive, Butchart Gardens). Sidney is a very little town. Very little. We saw what it had to offer quickly. There was a pier crowded with seagulls and fisherman, some seafood restaurants, some bookstores with not a lot to offer, quite a few antique stores where we looked for rings, and little else. After two hours we were done; there was no way to stretch the experience any longer, so we decided to head back. And as we drove past the entrance, or what was labeled the entrance, to Butchart Gardens, we spontaneously decided to visit. Turned down a semi-residential street and drove for a long time before arriving there; this was not the road the tourists from Vancouver come down! But we pulled in and were instantly amazed. This has a parking lot with attendants like Arrowhead Stadium, with almost as many cars. Interestingly, the 12 month pass was less than twice the daily admission price. Easy to see who pays the bills there. And we paid the outrageous admission.
Butchart is a spectacular place, but we found it disappointing after VanDusen in Vancouver. First, the crowds were such that you had no choice but to shuffle along in a pack, dutifully slowing down when necessary, but a herd is not the best way to enjoy plants, unless you want to eat them. Much like being stuck in traffic, your speed is determined by others as much as by you, and the times you slow down may not offer the best view. Second, we do not love plants to the degree necessary, so while VanDusen offered mystery and solitude, Butchart offered lines of plants and designated paths, and crowds, and little more than a look, admire, move on. A garden is place to think and ponder, to wonder about creation and its ridiculous and gratuitous bounty, to see God as a font of beauty and grace. This takes time, where you can reflect, come upon things unexpectedly, and actually see them as a piece of nature. A garden is phony, but it works best when it approximates nature, choosing and selecting carefully and subtly, not looking like the shelves at K-Mart. When we were in Paris oh-so-many-years-ago, we went to the Impressionist Museum, which was then housed in a separate building from the Louvre. It was one incredibly famous painting after another, and it became hard to view each one individually, as the experience sort of overwhelmed you into blase-ness. Too much to take in, all of it great, made each jewel somehow less remarkable. Throw in a huge crowd and that was Butchart. And it was not as big as we had imagined. However, there was a 5 piece Ragtime band entertaining, and they were wonderful. The leader, a remarkable musician who played a trumpet, an ocarina, a banjo, and I don't know how many other instruments, was a talented singer and clever arranger who enjoyed his work and let it show. The corny, vaudeville jokes came streaming endlessly, and he charmed me with this remark about a small child "Aren't they lovely when they're somebody else's?" Boy, do I agree with that. He gathered up several and led them on a parade as they played kazoos, and twisted their path between each other until six or seven little guys were standing next to each other looking baffled and hesitantly puffing their instruments. But, were they cute. And boy were we grateful we were not lugging little kids on this journey.
We had inquired about parking for the ferries on Wednesday night and found out we could park there after 6:00 PM Thursday. So we did, getting a place to make sure we were on the early Friday ferry. If we had just appeared we probably would not have been able to get on. So we left the car downtown and carried one night's necessities home.
There were several odd things about breakfast at the Craigmyle. I have never been solicited to tip the servers at a B&B, but we were here. And usually breakfast is a slow and lavish affair, with entreaties to eat more. Here, there was your appetizer, your plate, your juice, your tea. I had asked for more tea every morning, and received it, but felt guilty doing so. On Friday I requested more toast, and was given one piece. We had announced ourselves as vegetarians, so we got the vegetarian special, which was the same thing everyone else got without the bacon. The accommodations were certainly a step up from the hostel, just not a huge step. But it was economical, well located, and we did sleep hard every night after the workouts we got.
The ferry ride to Port Angeles was lovely and without incident. We carefully used our last few Canadian dollars and cents on snacks and beverages, and felt the growing excitement. Arrival? Travel? Or just coming home? Another efficient exit, and we arrived in the United States. The customs inspector inquired where we lived, and when I replied Independence, Missouri he said "I'm sorry". I wasn't asked about alcohol (we did have a six pack of Canadian beer we were bringing back for Evan), firearms, drugs or anything. I guess we just don't fit the smuggler profile; must have been the car! We took the long way around, starting with a trip to Olympic National Park to see some American big trees. This was not as wonderful; though the hike in was strenuous, and the trees were big, the dense pine forests offer a richer, more stimulating experience. More senses are assaulted there: the air hangs heavily, the smells permeate, the sounds are muffled. But it was lovely, and we walked in a mile up and down next to a beautiful lake, came out, asked some questions of the pleasant but uninformed forest rangers, and headed towards Seattle. One of our first stops was at an Albertson's to get some water. And pow! we were back in America. Fat people were everywhere, hugely fat, 400 and 500 hundred pound tubs lumbering through the aisles. A store with much wider aisles than the Safeways we had shopped at in Vancouver. We had seen very few overweight people in Canada, and had thought Kansas City a fat city, but they were all over. Good to be home?
The drive was pleasant as we circled through Tacoma, and across, I suppose, the replacement Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a place I mentally spent many first periods in Mr. Horak's physics class at Nutley High School. He had a wonderful new technology, the equivalent to an 8-track tape in video, a little endless loop, and though we may have used it for other purposes, all I remember about that class (other than my successful attempts to get him off topic daily as we argued about hunting) was repeated viewings of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We stopped in Port Orchard, which had tempting signs on the highway but little more than Friday cruisers on the streets. But did buy some Christmas presents for co-workers at one of those 21st Century head shops full of aromatherapy and new age music run by aging ex-hippies who look as if they did too many drugs and visited a few too many tattoo parlors.
We decided Federal Way would be our stopping point, near the airport and near Mt. Rainier. We wanted nothing more than clean and cheap on our last night. We stopped at the Comfort Inn, and I spoke with Dan at the front desk, who told me the rate was $79.00, a rate I was comfortable with, but before I could agree he asked if I were a member of AAA. I am, he quoted a $69.00 rate which suited me even better, and we stayed. Now, there were no non-smoking rooms available, so we had to settle for Room 201. But when we got in, there was no lingering smoke odor, and we were lucky enough to have a great view of a gloriously illuminated (and visible) Mt. Rainier in the sunset as well.
After checking in we saw children bouncing everywhere. This was worrisome, as we once had to take Holiday Inn up on their guarantee of a good night's rest when we had the misfortune to attempt sleep in Columbia during state football championships. Hordes of teens spent the night running and screaming in the halls, banging on doors and making us proud of the educational system. But we were in, and it was only one night. After unpacking, we walked over to the drugstore to get a bottle of wine, but upon returning, could not locate our corkscrew. I went to the desk and Jonathon produced one immediately. We had a pleasant evening, and watched Up At The Villa, a surprisingly torpid film, considering the cast (mostly, Sean Penn was in it proving yet again that he cannot act in any way), plot, and source. Breakfast was very crowded, but both selection and supply were excellent.
The car return was one of those moments that make you feel like a winner. We had 800 free miles with the car, and by the time we arrived at the rental office we'd used 798 of them. Shuttle to the airport, and then chaos.
We were scheduled to depart Seattle at noon. Another airline was supposed to depart from the same gate sometime later, and the TWA crew there was attacked and insulted for something they had nothing to do with. People kept coming up asking where the other flight was, and they kept cheerfully answering "We have the gate until noon; after that I do not know." There were people sitting and standing everywhere; it had the feeling of a some trains we took in Europe, with people getting irritated and eager to depart, and everyone jockeying for the good positions. We boarded, left sort of on time (airport, not airline) and flew uneventfully back to St. Louis a bit early. When we looked at the monitor for our flight information, I noticed there were two flights to Kansas City prior to ours. I wondered if we could leave earlier, and asked a fellow guarding some employee-only area there. He referred me to a desk about 100 yards away, but thought it likely if seats were available. At the desk I dealt with a pleasant lady who assured me we could. She did not investigate whether we had exchangeable tickets (which I am sure we did not). She saw there were seats and got us on them. As this plane left in about 40 minutes, I expressed some concern for my luggage. She asked me to describe the bags, and I did. She then assured me they would probably be on our flight, but if not, certainly the next flight, which was still an hour before our scheduled arrival. But she did offer advice in the unlikely event they were not there. We trusted her, ran to our gate, boarded, took off on time, and before we knew it, were on the ground in KC.
Well, our bags arrived on our flight. Somehow they were selected, intercepted, re-routed to the new plane, and loaded, all in less than 40 minutes. We were amazed and pleased, to say the least. Could it have been better? Well, if they had known we were vegetarians, but other than that...
So, here we were back in Kansas City two hours before we were expected. We had called Evan's cell phone from St. Louis (he was going to pick us up), but got no answer and left a message. Upon arrival we called again. Again no answer. Ooh....what a shame to make such good time, be home so early, and then blow it at the airport. So we bought a newspaper (using our last Canadian quarters; hey, I'm a subscriber) and sat down to await rescue. The Kansas City airport is not quite the hub of activity other airports are, especially late on a Saturday night. Few flights arrive or depart, the shops are all closed, there is nothing to give one a feeling of cheer. We waited. And waited. About 20 minutes before our scheduled arrival, Eanna appeared. We were not looking for her, she was not looking for us and we were both pretty surprised. Evan was camping for the weekend, and had forgotten the plans overlapped. He got her and his friend Andy to come get us, and they did. We took them out to our Chinese restaurant, and the trip was complete.
If you've gotten this far, I can only say "Wow, that's some endurance." I wrote this for myself, but thought I could share it with anyone who might be interested. Feel free to offer feedback; I'm always open to improvements.