Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Eat, Pray, Love...

...Or in my case Eat, Love that chocolate cake and pray it doesn't stick on my thighs...

The title is a reference to a book by author Elizabeth Gilbert (which a friend has recommended I read). I've yet to read the book but this a link the same friend sent me of a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert:

http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (It won't let me insert a proper link so you will need to copy and past the address into your server).

It's an interesting talk for any creative person to listen to, particularly writers.
She captures the pressure you can put yourself under to produce something of brilliance and the panic that can set in when it just isn't appearing. She also talks about the concept of 'genius', what that moment of brilliance actually is when it arrives and where it comes from.

Having the week off work last week opened a bit of a block I've been having lately and I realised it was probably because I switched off the left hand side of my brain for a while and let the right hand side have more of a look in. I was free to daydream and lose myself in books and music for a while which all help to put my brain on a logical shutdown and wander off into a more creative space.

I've heard lots of authors talk over the years about how they don't buy the excuse of 'I don't have time to write'. Working full time I've used this excuse myself but then I began to realise that there have been days where I have consciously made time to write and it still doesn't happen. I've finally realised it's all about state of mind for me. I find it difficult to write when I'm working full time because I find it difficult to switch off my sensible, logical 'work brain' when I come home at night. I've decided I'm going to attempt to do some serious daydreaming on the train home instead of thinking about what shopping I need to buy for my tea.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Vancouver day 10 - departures

~Make sure you start from day 1 to read in order - see archives on the right~

My flight home is at tea time so I decide to spend my last day on the Drive doing some last minute souvenir shopping. Most of the shops don’t open until 11am so I go in to a cafe which has ‘Enter as strangers, leave as friends’ written on their wall for a hot chocolate. There are some older Italian men and women sitting having coffee together. The young woman who serves me sounds Eastern European and it strikes me again how cosmopolitan Vancouver is. Confirmed again when I go in to a shop where a Mexican woman serves me, and in another one an Australian woman chats to me and asks if I will be sad to go home. I’m always ready to go home but it’s not until I am at home now writing this that I realise how much I actually miss being in Vancouver, in such a different culture and I miss the ‘fear factor’ of travelling around a lot alone, being out of my comfort zone.

I walk up the whole length of the Drive, to the sky train area, knowing that I’m going to be sitting for a very long time on my flight later. I walk past the Tarot guy and he is with someone. I had decided I would get a reading if he was free but he looks like he’ll be some time so I move on. I stop off at one of the pizza places to get a big slice of chicken and pepper pizza. I like that they sell them by the slice here. I call in to a newsagents and buy some ‘Vikki’s crisps’. I walk past a beauty shop which has a coconut hand cream sample sitting on a table outside, with a fan blowing beside it so that the smell of coconut wafts over as you walk by.

I head back to Jane’s apartment early afternoon to make sure I’ve got everything packed away. When I’m in her bathroom brushing my teeth I can hear the Stone Roses blasting from outside the open window. It somehow sums up the vibe of the Drive in a lot of ways. It’s like the fashion and style is a throw back to 90s grunge and, it would appear, 90s indie music.

My taxi arrives promptly and the (Indian) taxi driver engages me in some conversation, asking who I’m flying with, how much my flights cost, that his daughter visits her aunt regularly in England. It’s only 3.30pm and the roads are already getting busy. He tells me it’s just as well I’ve left now as rush hour is about to hit as most people finish work at 4 here on a Friday.

The queue for check in is long and moves very slowly. As I look around I notice there a lot of females travelling alone. An hour and a half later it’s my turn to check in and then it’s time to head to the departure gate. I buy an American Marie Claire and read an article about how being on the Pill can lead you to choosing the wrong ‘mate’ as attraction is really about smell and a subconscious chemistry which the pill can distort. Maybe this is why the divorce rate is so high in modern life. Women come off the pill and suddenly neither they nor their partner smells right any more.

On the flight I’m sat beside a mother and daughter. They pull a blanket over themselves and I see a familiar face staring at me upside down. I ask the mother if it’s Robert Pattinson and she smiles and nods. I show her my MP3 cover. This time on the plane the TV screens are universal, in the middle of the aisles, so we all have to watch the same films. They show 3 back to back and I watch them all so get zero sleep. When at Jane’s we’d watched Trains, Planes and Automobiles when Steve Martin was fresh faced. He appears in one of the in-flight films looking very strange, plastic surgery strange, I am sure...His face has a stretched, plastic look about it now.

There are two men across the aisle from me who are plane nerds, taking photos of the planes on the runway and one of them tells one of the air cabin crew all about this plane, when it was built and other important facts. He’s wearing a Thomas Cook t-shirt, which would be cool and witty if his name was Thomas Cook but somehow I don’t think this is the case.

We touchdown at Manchester airport at 3am Vancouver time, 11am UK time. I head to the toilets beside the baggage carousel and am surprised to see a man coming out one of the cubicles zipping up his jeans. He’s even more surprised to see me and a look of panic fills his eyes as he looks around and sees other women standing at the sink. “Uh, wrong place.” He mumbles on his dash out.

I get my case back and then head through the airport and get a lift up to the walkway which takes me to the train station. The heat hits me as I head through the walkway and it feels strange. This is the first holiday in a long time that I’m arriving home to hot weather. But I’m not home yet...still another 4 hour train journey to get through...

On the train I have my two seater to myself for most of the way. A French girl gets on for a few stops and she tells me she’s travelling around Britain. When she gets off I lie across the two seats and read my magazine and can hear the drone of a woman at a table near me who has a very irritating accent.

It sounds like a fake Edinburgh accent and she is loud with it. She’s also a fake hippie. She hones in on a pleasant older couple sitting at the seat s in front of me. She is telling anyone who will listen that her name is something ridiculous like Armadillo. This isn’t her real name (which is probably Maggie) – this is her ordained Buddhist name. There is nothing Zen about her loud incessant voice.

She takes a picture of the old couple on her mobile phone and tells them she’s going to upload it on her facebook page. She asks them if they know what facebook is; they don’t really, so she explains it in great detail, enthusing so much about it I begin to wonder if she has shares in it. She screams in delight when she tells them that she has titled the photo ‘my new friends on the train’ and one of her facebook friends has left a comment. Probably along the lines of ‘Who gives a bleep, you annoying fake hippy.’

She makes one sensible comment, something that me and Jane talked about back in Vancouver, that we Brits have the ability to laugh at ourselves, that we have a deprecating sense of humour.

Vancouverites seem much more straight forward in their kind of humour. I can’t really imagine them laughing at themselves much. I made a comment to Jane: “They’re cardboard like their houses.”

It’s not meant to be an insult. Just an observation. I tell ya, if I was in a crisis it would be good to be stuck with a Vancouverite. I can imagine they would stay calm and just carry on.

Right on duuude.

Music on my MP3 player for the trip: Dog Days are Over- Florence and the machine, a mix of Hole, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, the New Moon soundtrack, a native Indian Spirits collection (all of that 90s grunge and native Indian stuff being a spookily appropriate Vancouver soundtrack without me even thinking about it), Placebo, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Guns N Roses...and the list goes on.
Scent of Vancouver: Chance by Chanel – Jane’s perfume but I also kept smelling it everywhere!

Vancouver day 9

Today I take a Trolley Bus tour of the city. I want to see Granville Island and decide this is the most hassle free and fun way to incorporate that in to my sightseeing. I get on the ‘Red Loop’ bus at Canada Place and we head further round Stanley Park, to the bits I never had time to walk to. The bus goes right to the top, Prospect Point, and we pass Vancouver’s oldest tree which to me looks like a bit of burnout wood. Our driver tells us that the people of Vancouver campaigned to save it and I’m sure he says the city have spent half a million dollars on it. They must really love nature here!

A woman on the bus keeps her window open and is completely oblivious to the fact that we’re all freezing (men with hoods up, women with scarves tightly wound). She gets off at the same stop as me for Granville Island so I follow her down to the False Creek Ferry stop. The Ferry is round and small and it is a 2 minute crossing to the island. Once on land I have a browse round the outdoor markets and stop in at some interesting craft shops. I find a small shop called Crystal Ark beside the pond and it has some of the largest Amethyst rocks and Rose Quartz spheres I have ever seen. It also has lots of beautiful crystal jewellery.

I go into Sammy J Peppers Grill and Bar for lunch and have really tasty chicken and mushroom tagliatelli with a kick of spice in the creamy sauce. It adds a nice bit of warmth to what is one of the coldest mornings of the trip. It’s hard to believe I left 28 degree heat in Scotland last week!

After lunch I have a wander round some more shops. I see a shop assistant demonstrate a hammock style product which is hanging from the ceiling and she gets a young customer to try it out by sitting on it and swinging back and forth. Outside a man and woman are dressed in strange outfits and are standing motionless on boxes with ‘Puppets’ written on the side. Someone throws some coins in to their tray and they immediately come to life; the woman singing and playing her guitar, the man singing and banging on his drums.

I wander through more of the Island and from my map I see the Blue Loop bus pickup point is just outside the main entrance, beside a small Starbucks. I stand there for a while then begin to wonder if this is the right place. I see two women holding maps like mine so ask them if they’re waiting for the trolley bus. They tell me that the stop is a bit further up the hill and they come and join me once they have picked up some coffee. They’re from Montreal and the mother only speaks a little English. The daughter asks where I’m from and tells me they thought I was Australian. They say Canadians often get the two accents mixed up. I find this strange. I’m sure Australians would find it strange too.

The ‘blue loop’ trolley bus soon arrives and we head back round the other parts of downtown. It takes us through Yaletown which the bus driver describes as a hip and expensive part of town, where a lot of the young business crowd hang out (and where Robert Pattinson and the Twilight gang hung out when filming, that’s my own knowledge, not the bus driver’s). I imagine it to be similar to the Merchant City area of Glasgow. We pass the library which looks like an amazing building, pass some weird Chinese men sculptures, go through China Town, go past an Amsterdam cafe on Hastings which has hash symbols on the sign, and pass through the lovely East Hastings. The bus driver reckons that East Hastings is on the up and will become the new Yaletown. Where the druggies and homeless would camp out, if this were to happen, who knows.

The sun comes out for my last night in Vancouver so me and Jane head out for dinner. As we walk downstairs, we are hit with the stench of Skunk. It’s emitting from her neighbour, Steve’s door. Jane knocks on his door but there is no reply. He’s probably dead with the amount of pot he must be smoking in there.

We head up the Drive to a bar/restaurant called Havana. The outdoor tables are full so our waitress (very androgynous, like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry) says we can wait in the bar. There is a little art exhibition through the back which has paintings of wolves and the like. It’s not long before a table is free and we go outside and enjoy the sunshine. I have some great Chicken Wraps with Salsa and Feta cheese and some amazing hand cooked chips. The chips here are amazing and are so light they don’t even feel unhealthy! Jane gets the waitress to take some photos then we head for a wander down the drive.

I persuade Jane to go into Joe’s cafe for some hot chocolate. The two men who run the cafe speak Portuguese (one from Portugal, the other from Brazil). Jane impresses them by speaking the lingo and I tell her she’s made some new friends now. The cafe looks steeped in history and I’m sure the interesting looking men who frequent it would have some interesting stories to tell. “Hey, there’s Steve!” Jane waves at a man walking past the window. He waves back and comes in to say hello. He looks surprisingly lucid. We exchange brief conversation, though he can’t really understand me and I can’t really understand him. He misinterprets my description of ‘the hippy’ drive as the ‘happy’ drive and he says he would sure rather be Canadian than Scottish. Alright then.

Ah, I will miss Commercial Drive where young men speed down the road on skateboards, wearing multi coloured shorts with their caps round the wrong way and shout “Duuuude.”

Vancouver day 8

I check out of my suite this morning. Diana, the owner, says the weather has been unfortunate. She tells me that last year, or the year before, it rained non stop for 5 months then was a great summer. Maybe they will have a great summer this year!
I head over to Jane’s (where I’ll be staying my last 2 nights) to drop off my bags. Then I head off to the Skytrain – my first trip on the train which rides above the city and has many stops downtown.

On my way along the drive to the Sky train station there is a guy wearing an oversized American football t-shirt walking in front of me. I notice his t-shirt has holes in it and he has tattoos down his arms. He stops to get a light from someone sitting outside at a cafe and tells them “It’s my birthday today.” “Oh, happy birthday, “ drawls the guy at the cafe.
He then stops briefly to look at his reflection in mirror windows at the top of a shop, spiking up his hair some more. He stands looking at himself too long.
He continues walking down the street, starts talking to another random guy beside him. “It’s my birthday today.” “Oh swell,” is the reply. He starts to tell the guy about his son, something about getting to see him, but I guess he doesn’t get much response to this story because the next I hear is him ranting “Loser” Then he storms off.

Outside the Sky train station a man lays out lots of books for a ‘Book Sale’. There are also signatures on the pavement, like a Vancouver hall of stars, but I’m sure this is just the signatures of average joes.

The Sky trains have no drivers and an automated voice announces the stops. I get off at Burrard Street (this sounds strange pronounced in the automated Vancouverite accent). I manage to navigate my way to the Art Gallery which I’m quite proud of seeing as at home I get lost pretty easily.

I am soaked when I arrive so head to a cloakroom point to drop off my raincoat and umbrella. The woman at the desk makes a comment about the rain. She says when she visited Glasgow it was very rainy and she bought a wax raincoat which was great. At the pay desk I’m informed only 2 floors of the gallery are open because of renovation.

I head up to the cafe first and buy some peppermint tea and a slice of cranberry loaf. This loaf which is sold everywhere is great!

After my breakfast I head to the Fiona Tan exhibition first. Her exhibit is about the ‘Play of memory across time and space.’ I sit down to watch a video installation, ‘The Rise and Fall’. The screen focuses on an old woman sleeping and then splits into two, a young woman appearing on the right hand screen. Contrasting images of them dressing and putting on make up play out. There is always a clear full shot of the old woman but only fleeting glances of the young woman- probably because the young woman is a memory?

The image of them both sitting in the garden makes me think that the old woman is more content and more ‘knowing.’ I get the impression the young woman is more apprehensive and looking at the image of the old woman makes me want to tell her not to be, that life isn’t worth getting apprehensive about. The old woman looks almost relieved that she has lived but is having fleeting moments of being wistful about her lost youth. Images of the sea are interspersed with their story – I find these very calming.

My favourite part of the exhibit is when the screens are aligned so that it looks like the old lady is walking out of her garden, and walks in to the right hand screen a young woman.

I move along to watch another video installation which shows a remote field with trees blowing and clouds moving slowly across the sky. A lot of things I’ve seen on this trip remind me of the film My Own Private Idaho and this scene especially makes me think of this film.

I walk upstairs to see some photo exhibits. One features photographs by Robert Frank, a notable photographer and film maker who documented the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of the race and class divide. He also documented Beat Culture and befriended Kerouac and Ginsberg. There are other photographs by Larry Clark, one titled ‘Accidental gunshot wound from Tulsa 71.’ The blurb says he captures raw, violent images. I remember watching a film he co-produced, 'Kids'; raw being a good way to describe this.

After the gallery I venture back outside and head down Robson Street, on the hunt for a place to have some lunch. I decide I fancy a hamburger and a place across the road called the Cactus Club catches my eye. It’s a good choice as I am served the most amazing hamburger ever – the burger is clearly homemade and has really thin tasty mushrooms, cheese and bacon, accompanied with very tasty homemade chips.

After lunch I set off in search of the big bookstore, Chapters. I soon find it with the help of my guidebook which helpfully tells me what street number it is. It’s massive inside. Floor upon floor and row upon row of books. It’s really airy and new looking. I’m here to find ‘City of Glass’ by Douglas Coupland. I decide to check under Fiction and Literature first – I come across his other books which have different covers or are shaped differently (smaller and boxy) from the ones I own back home. I soon realise his non fiction book is not going to be amongst these so I use one of the public computers set up which allows you to check if your book is stocked here. It also helpfully tells you which section of the shop it’s shelved. So I head off to ‘Local’ and soon find City of Glass. I get a copy for Jane and myself.

A perfect little momentum of my trip as it is Coupland’s view of Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing if any of his observations of the city match mine.

I leave Chapters and call in to the Rocky mountain chocolate shop to buy some cookies and chocolate nut/caramel goodies for later back at Jane’s. I then have the task of finding Burrard Skytrain to get home. I only take one wrong turn and one proper look at my map to find it which is pretty amazing for me, my sense of direction is normally so bad.

Back at Jane’s I let her hear my dodgy Nirvana covers on myspace page ‘Bleached’. She reckons this would go down a storm in Vancouver. Maybe I could come back and do a tour.

That night Jane’s neighbour, Cindy the hairdresser and her daughter, Cherish, play their music loud. One song repeats over and over. They’re like a Vancouverite version of my neighbours back home...

Vancouver day 7

A chilled out day today. I try to have a lie in (never a problem back home but my body cant get into proper Vancouver time here). I get up just after 8. I head over to Jane’s after breakfast and we set off to do some shopping up The Drive. The shops along the drive are funky and full of character.

One smells strongly of Incense and reminds me of Osiris in Glasgow, but this one is more ‘wooden’ and hippy. It sells lots of nice scarves, tops, incense and jewellery. Jane points out a Scottish man at the counter. When I hear him talking his accent sounds comical. It’s been a few days since I’ve heard a Scottish accent and it sounds strange and exaggerated to me, amongst the Vancouver drawl.

We go into a funky vintage store called ‘Mintage’ and it’s full of old dresses, jackets and t-shirts. Jane buys a funky little white jumper with pink bobbles on it.

We head into another vintage style shop called Pink Elephant and there is cool rock/retro music playing. It has a real American vibe to it (even although we are in Canada) I can imagine characters from the film Empire Records shopping here. All the shop assistants greet us with a cheery “Hey girls, how ya doin?” There is a pretty little boutique with great clothes in the window (a puffball white skirt with silver studs on it) and very chique clothes inside. The shop is very white and there is French music playing. The girls working in the shop are sunny, blonde and wearing yellow.

We stop for lunch at a French/Tunisian style restaurant. It feels like stepping in to Paris; it is quite small and has very ornate, chique decor, with lantern style lights and European sounding music floating out from the speakers. There are amazing smells floating out from the kitchen. Our waiter has a drawn out Vancouverite accent, he talks in a lazy way like the cartoon voice of Garfield. We decide on Chicken Ratoue; chunks of tender chicken, potato, peppers, onion and beans in a warm spicy sauce, a perfect meal for yet another rainy day!

After lunch we walk further along The Drive. There are lots of murals on the sides of shops and cafes. All very professionally painted and vibrant – it adds so much to the street. We see a Rastafarian man on a bike talking to another guy saying “Yee man.”

We have a tea break at a cafe called Turks. I have Early Grey Tea and a delicious lemon and blueberry cake; Jane has a banana and chocolate loaf – a popular cake in Vancouver which is also yum. It has a great kick of cinnamon. A guy with really furry dreads is sitting at the table beside us. He smells like he needs deodorant, as do a lot of the guys in here. Total hippies. I like the chilled vibe though. The sun comes out so we move to a table outside. Dogs are very popular on the Drive and lots of people pop into cafes to fill up bowls of water for their dogs. Some places leave out bowls for them.

A really hippy guy, tall and skinny with a beanie hat, glasses, wearing cords and beads, who looks a bit like John Lennon, leans against the fence outside the cafe. A hippy girl walks past. He half calls out “Hey, there’s Meegan. Hey Meegan.” She looks like she hasn’t heard him, or is ignoring him at first. Then she walks back over. She is sort of hunched over, is wearing 2 cardigans and a cool dress and boots with little heels. She has a very chilled manner, is kind of strange, possibly on drugs...

We head to a shop called Virgin Marys which has very cool clothes and caps. All of the clothes here look very small but I manage to fit into a Medium sized dress so they can’t be that small. Next we head to Urban Empire where they have great Alice In Wonderland cases.

Before we head back up Parker Street I stop off at a home made chocolate shop called Dutch Girl Chocolates. I buy a Peace shaped chocolate lollipop. The sun is still out so we head back to mine and sit out on my balcony for a bit.

Jane informs me that Vancouverites love British alternative/punk/electro music as it never really reached here. Apparently a lot of musicians move to Montreal because it’s more ‘happening’ there, with more music venues and cheaper rent. Here the nightlife is a lot quieter and it’s apparently called ‘no fun’couver because of this!

Vancouver day 6

It’s raining again. The relentless kind which I’m sure will last all day long.
I take a walk along Commercial Drive and stop to take some photos of interesting murals painted on walls. I stop at the Alice in Wonderland shop -front and take a photo. This turns out pretty cool as you can see me faintly with my hood up reflecting in the window.

I feel like I’ve not eaten enough the past couple of days so stop in at a Starbucks. I guess I go with some familiarity because I’m alone. I feel like I’m selling out in a way by going to a chain coffee shop. It’s crazy the amount of Starbucks there are here. Some are right across the street from one another. The cafe is very busy for a Monday morning. It always strikes me at home when if I’m off during the week how busy places are. I always thought it reflected high unemployment or something, but maybe it’s just a reflection of the change of working patterns. I have an amazing raspberry and lemon loaf, very light and tasty. I realise I’ve never had a cake at a Starbucks back home so I don’t know if we have these in our coffee shops.

A woman who looks in her 50s is sitting at the table next to me along with a woman who looks in her mid 30s and an older man, late 60s/early 70s. She talks about how we only use 1% of our brain. She says she feels like she doesn’t use any of her bran since she became a housewife. She then starts a conversation about skin and she tells the old man he has great skin.

After breakfast I walk further up Commercial Drive to join the 3-row bus queue for BCU (British Columbia University where I am meeting Jane). The queue is called a ‘line up’ and if you get on at the back or in the middle you don’t have to pay as it gets so busy. It’s called an honour system but it would be rare that you would be able to make it to the front of the bus to be able to ‘honour’ this honour system and put any change in the ticket slot.

This bus is much more pleasant than the number 20 and 22 bus. The people look a lot more normal and there are a lot of students. One cool looking guy in a cap and black top and jeans stands in front of my seat. He has a tattoo around his wrist of stars and writing in another language I can’t quite decipher. A young woman comes up beside him and sort of falls into him on purpose and says “Oh excuse me” At first I think this is the most blatant pick up I have ever witnessed on public transport but then she grins and I realise she knows him and they greet each other properly. She says “Hey duuuude” and they both seem very chilled and cool.

I’ve noticed that most people in Vancouver are quite skinny – the females are very slight and the guys are very tall (most of them appear to be over 6 foot). Around the Commercial Drive area a lot of the guys wear Trilby type hats, have jaw length hair and beards. A lot of them wear tight black jeans with checked shirts.

The bus journey out to UBC is just over half an hour. UBC is the last stop and is right at the campus, outside the student union. I meet Jane inside and the SU is massive, with a lot of choice of eateries. We settle on pasta to eat, I go with Torrota Tortellini with veg. It’s very tasty. It’s pretty cool sitting eating lunch in one of Canada’s biggest universities.

After lunch we head to the Museum of Anthropology. To get there we need to walk across the campus which is enormous. It must be terrifying for new students trying to find their way around.

The Museum of Anthropology is housed in a very cool building – it looks like the shape is based on Inuit sculptures. Inside there is amazing Native Indian artwork and ornaments, costumes and masks from all over the world. I can’t believe the amount of stuff they have acquired.

The museum also contains modern art installations.
I walk into a hall and stand inside the middle of a rectangle of mounted images, photos on canvas. There is a hum of a lost native language emanating from speakers in the walls. Standing surrounded by this art and this sound is very surreal. I feel like I have stepped inside an abstract film and become part of the landscape. It feels great, similar to the sensation of becoming absorbed in a great piece of music or inspiring and visually captivating film. Some of the photos are of people who live in the outskirts, speaking this strange dead language. Their pictures vibrate with their chanting and lyrical conversation. Some are photos of forests with place signs. I feel like I could stand here forever, absorbing this sound.

Another art exhibit is of sea landscapes. I put on a pair of headphones and the sound of the sea fills my ears. The exhibit is about reactions to other cultures. It says something on one board about how people feel... “Do you feel like killing them because of the smell of the curry coming from downstairs.” I think killing is a bit of a strong word, but I have to say it does annoy me when I come home to smell the curry from my downstairs neighbours floating up into my bedroom.

Another exhibit has rows of glass jars containing contributor’s idea of ‘home’. Some are disturbing; one contains a small doll sitting on a chair, gagged and blindfolded, a toy dog is stuffed inside one jar, a family photo in another, a teenage mutant ninja turtle in another...

Outside the museum are original houses where native Indians lived, surrounded by a square of totems.

We catch the bus back to The Drive and chill out at Jane’s. Later, on the way back to my suite I see an animal running around beside the parked cars on the street. My first thought is that it’s a fox but I realise it isn’t quite big enough. As it runs out in to the road beneath the streetlights I see that it’s a Racoon. It stops for a second across the road and looks at me then runs away into the shadows.

There's a very creepy rundown house down the road from me. It looks deserted and Jane says you never see anyone going in or coming out. At night I always see a light on at a top side window. I call it the Witches House. Cackle, cackle!

Vancouver day 5

We catch the bus to Stanley Park and do part of the Sea Wall walk. The Totems are massive. Vancouver is full of native Indian art, totem poles and shops sell lots of Native Indian jewellery and trinkets. The Raven is a symbol which appears in a lot of art work (it symbolises creativity). There are also a lot of real live Ravens flying around the city. (On reflection, back home when I see crows flying around, these were possibly just very big crows in the city... But the Raven is still an important local symbol!)

We walk about 4k of the Sea Wall and then realise we won’t have time to make it round the whole way so turn back after Jane samples a plastic hot dog and I have some healthy curly fries. Most things in Vancouver are healthy (they have crisps with no transfat) so this lunch doesn’t reflect the norm.

We head back to the waterfront where we are due to catch the Sea Plane harbour tour. We arrive a bit early so head to the Convention Centre for drinks. I get the most amazing hot chocolate ever –it has a really smooth and creamy consistency. The man serving me says to me, “You’re not Scottish are you?” He tells me his name is McTavish and that his great, great, great grandfather caught a boat to Canada from Glasgow. I tell him I live near Glasgow and he seems pleased by this.

Next stop, the Sea Harbour! The departure lounge is like a mini airport. There are small check in desks for Victoria and the Gulf Islands. We head to the Tour desk and are presented with blue boarding passes. We don’t have to wait long before our flight is called. We walk down a shaky gangway and a group of us load into a tiny plane. From the outside it doesn’t look like it could hold more than 2 people but about 10 of us manage to fit in. As me and Jane are the last to get on the pilot says one of us can ride up front with him in the co pilot seat. I tell Jane to go.

The take off is exhilarating. It feels amazing to zoom along the water; it makes me feel alive and happy. The plane rises up and up, the harbour distorting as we dip to the side slightly. The plane rises up to level with the mountains, the temperature in the cabin cooling as we fly higher. I can see the snow and trees on the mountains really clearly. The town below looks like a plastic model with toy cars circling spaghetti roads. Blue swimming pools stand out against a distinctly grey and fawn landscape. A little remote island catches my eye; it has a lighthouse and looks like it would be a great place to visit. The windows of the plane have what the pilot calls a ‘bubble’ effect. When you stick your head really close to the glass it feels like you are actually sticking your head out the window, they allow you to see really clearly to the sides and below.

On the way back as we approach downtown there are rows and rows of glass buildings, with Stanley Park providing a burst of greenery to one side of the city. The city looks vast and small all in one. The flight lasts 45 minutes but feels like it passed in 5 minutes. As we touchdown on water I wish we could go back up again.
As we walk back through downtown it strikes me again that there is a distinct lack of ‘buzz’ for such a big city. It’s all very understated which I suppose is a reflection of the understated Vancouverite manner.

Back at Jane’s her flatmate tells me a bit about her ESOL teaching. Some of her classes are at a school which has lots of rich Asian kids attending. She says there’s an emerging trend of Saudi Arabians coming over and that Saudi Arabian men don’t tend to obey any class rules. If their phone goes, then they answer it. She says there are more Saudi Arabian women coming over. Maybe to escape the disrespectful men?

Vancouver day 4

Jane is off today, yey, so we can go on an adventure together. We catch the slightly more upmarket number 22 bus downtown. It is raining pretty heavy. Thankfully Jane is the same size shoe as me and has given me her walking trainers as my converse would be a soggy mess in this. When it rains in Vancouver it is relentless. It can rain all day long and all night with no let up! People here don’t seem too bothered by it though, choosing to still sit outdoors sipping their morning coffee and a lot of people walk around with no umbrellas.

Downtown we have a wander down Robson and find the most amazing Rocky Mountaineer Chocolate shop which has chocolate toffee apple animals in the window alongside massive cookies. Yum! I make a mental note to return here...

We walk down to the Waterfront and I take a photo of a whale sculpture ‘Digital Orca’. When you stand back from it, it looks like a 3D digital image. When we wander over to a sign beside it we discover it is by none other than Douglas Coupland.

We go in to the Convention Centre which has a massive globe of the world hanging inside (which looks like the size of the actual world). We discover there is an Eat Vancouver event on and so begins a culinary delight of local food...we get to taste amazing goodies ranging from Cinnamon Cake (yummy), cinnamon honey, breads dipped in various olive oils, Japanese pop, the most tasty pomegranate juice from a shop on Victoria Drive. We get asked for ID when we try to enter the wine tasting section and are very confused by what the guard is actually asking – we try to show him our entrance tickets and then it dawns on us that he is wanting actual ID to prove we are of drinking age. Har!

Next, on to Stanley Park. We pass the Sea Plane harbour along the way and pop in to get leaflets about their trips.

In the Park we head to the Aquarium and I get to see Dolphins. I feel a mixture of joy at being able to see them in the flesh but also concern that one of them looks like it is diving down and swimming round and round the same place like he is not a happy dolphin... There are strange white whales swimming around a pool – their faces look flat and they look like ghosts. I also see a massive turtle and a scary looking alligator, standing hanging over a glass case, looking a bit hungry...

On the walk back through the Parkland we follow the sounds of music into some woodland. We approach a queue of teenagers who inform an enquiring Jane that Massive Attack are playing. We peek through gaps in the fence and stand and listen to a few minutes of the sound check.

Rain, rain, rain all the way home...

Downtown Vancouver is strangely quiet for a Saturday tea time. Jane explains that people don’t seem to go out here so much. I find downtown lacking a bit in ‘buzz’ and atmosphere. The glass buildings reflect back more glass buildings and it’s almost like they are soaking up any noise...

We head out to the ‘Drive’ for dinner. Here, there is noise and life! We pass an enthusiastic busking Banjo player along the way. “Wanna join me?” He calls out in a twangy Vancouverite accent.

We eat at a restaurant called El Salvador. It smells amazing inside and as soon as the door shuts it is as though we are in El Salvador. There is one authentic waiter and foreign sounding music on the player, with fake palm trees above the counter. I have the most amazing grilled chicken with rice and tortilla wraps. It feels like being in a whole other country.

We detour through some backstreets on the way home and I marvel at the massive houses. On the way past someone’s living room window we can see cool art work on their wall. I wonder how many artists live on this street.

We walk past some small houses which look a bit like cardboard houses. There are other great looking houses with porches. We pass a man sitting out on the porch of his small house, drinking a beer, Canada flag flying from his roof, his dog at his feet.
He says: “This is one of the oldest houses, built 1912.” He then says something about the people leaving the house in bags (because a lot of drug addicts around).

His dog comes over and sticks his head up the front of my coat.
“Little too personal, too soon,” he tells his dog.

Vancouver day 3

I wake up feeling a bit more normal, though I still haven’t had a full complete sleep. I have to get up at 6am as I have a 6.50am taxi pick-up for my Rocky Mountaineer trip. My hairdryer runs on half speed here and blows mainly cold air but my hair behaves itself more than usual. The water here is super soft which makes my hair and skin feel super soft. I want to take it back home.

My taxi driver is crazy. He is Pakistani and doesn’t appear to talk much English. He drives like a maniac and we fly over speed bumps. Downtown he careers round a corner, his back tyre smashing loudly against the kerb. He half glances round at me but doesn’t say anything. I give him a 10c tip.

A porter at the Fairmont Hotel opens my door and when he discovers I’m not a guest but merely there for my mountaineer pick up he suggests I go round the corner to some cafe for breakfast.

It’s now only 7am so I don’t really feel like breakfast. My bus pickup is 7.30 so I wander round and take some early morning pictures of downtown glass buildings. I go in and sip on a peppermint tea before heading back to the hotel.

A group gathers around, all for the pickup. An Australian woman comes over to ask if I’m waiting on the pick up and I start talking to her and her boyfriend. They tell me they’ve moved here from Melbourne. They go on about loving my accent and she says she thinks the Glaswegian accent is beautiful. I laugh saying that’s the first time I’ve heard it described like that. She says it’s so distinct and ‘lyrical’. He says he loves it too even although he can’t understand everything I say.

Our bus finally arrives at 8.20. Our train leaves at 8.30 from the North side of town but the tour guide says they will need to wait for us. We cross the famous Lions Gate bridge over to the North.

We arrive at the train and I say my goodbyes as I’m in a different carriage. I get a window seat and the seat beside me is empty so I have even more space on what is already an extremely spacious train. The seats are so comfy and the service is first class. A mile apart from the distinctly cramped flight on the way out.

The rain holds off to allow fantastic views of the scenery as we journey to Whistler. There is a mist and low cloud which makes for very atmospheric views across the lakes. My favourite parts of the journey are when I venture out to the observation car which is outdoors. The train slows down at the most scenic points to allow people to take photographs. As we move past waterfalls and rocks I am so close that if I stretched my arm out full I’d be able to touch them. It makes me feel very connected to nature and makes me appreciate its beauty and the peacefulness of nature. So much purer than the soulless downtown.

We’re served breakfast and drinks all the way and our ‘server’ gives us a running commentary. The train manager walks through the carriages saying “How are you today?” With a serene smile on his face. I think what a cushy job he has!

The train arrives at our destination, Whistler. We’re bussed into the town centre. It’s very much a winter sports place – the 3 Olympic Rings are still visible on one of the snowy mountains, which symbolised the finish line. The village has quaint wooden buildings which make me think of a Christmas village, as if Santa and his little elves could very well live here. There are large groups of mountain bikers catching chair lifts up one of the mountains then speeding down. Die hard sports enthusiasts.

I have lunch outdoors at a local restaurant called La Bocca, though I have to keep my coat on as it’s a bit chilly. The man at the table next to me goes one better and keeps his woolly hat on. The waitress doesn’t understand what I mean when I ask for a still mineral water. She is confused by the ‘still’ part, saying she has never heard of this before. She ends up bringing me tap water.

After lunch I head to a couple of small art galleries. One of them contains the most amazing paintings. Vast scenery with stunning colours, the blood red of a sunset has tinges of black which makes it jump off the canvas. Every time I see good art work it makes me want to paint.

On the bus back to the train we have a bus driver with a very broad Vancouver accent. He says ‘aboot’ a lot and it makes me smile.

On the way back to Vancouver on the train I relax a bit more, not so frantic to capture the scenery on camera, having taken about 100 photos on the journey out. I pay more attention to the commentary. Near the village Squamish is North America’s second largest rock face which is called ‘The Chief’. After climbing the rock face people have to hike off.
As we pass through the West End we are told lots of celebrities buy property here, and some of it is the most expensive property in the whole of Canada. The most expensive house is $37 million. Apparently it was two British men who persuaded people to start moving west and started selling properties here.

One of the nicest parts of the whole journey is when people watch out for the train to wave at us as we roll past. I see a young couple rushing out on the balcony with their baby to wave. Everyone who waves does so with a big smile on their face and something about it makes me want to cry; they look so friendly and happy and it feels like a true connection in a world where people are usually too busy to stop and say hello. (hmm, that is unless you’re travelling on the number 20 bus).

Vancouver day 2

I wake up fairly early the next morning. I can see the sun is trying to come out through the sky lights. The forecast was rain. I really hope the forecast is wrong as my plan today is to visit the Sun Yat Sen authentic Chinese Gardens. I am tired, yet not tired. I can tell my body is confused.

Jane suggested the night before that the quickest way to get into town would be to take the No.20 bus, though warns it goes through the worst part of town, East Hastings. I had already read about East Hastings as being the street to avoid. I decide to go on an adventure and catch the number 20 bus.

The bus driver takes out his earphones when I ask for an all day ticket (misunderstood bit of info Jane had given me) He says “This bus don’t do no all day tickets” so I put in my $2.50 for the standard ticket.
They have a weird system here where your ticket only lasts for an hour and a half. Who realistically only goes somewhere for an hour and a half?

I am met with a sea of bodies at the front of the bus. I shuffle up and grab on to a pole.

At the next stop the bus driver gets up and starts yelling to the front of the bus: “Alright this lady needs a seat (a blind lady getting on the bus) Someone get up and give this lady a seat.” No one moves. He claps his hands. Shouts louder. “Come on now, get up and give this lady a seat.” He goes over and grabs an old lady by the arm and drags her along a row of seats to make room for the lady and her guide dog. He sits back down and starts ranting. “What is wrong with you people on this bus?” He addresses the mass of bodies standing at the front. “Look at you all standing there. There are seats at the back – the back of the bus is empty.”

I look beyond some people and see there are indeed seats further back. I go and sit at a block facing side on. No one else at the front of the bus moves. Ok these people are weird.

A second later a man moves down from the back of the bus and sits beside me.
“Elllo, where you from?” His face is in my face. I immediately want to move.
“Where in Scotland?”
“Near Glasgow.”
He frowns. “I not know thise place.”
“Its only one of the biggest cities in Scotland.” I mutter.
“I is from Iraq,” he grins. “Northern Iraq.”
Images of bombs and kidnapped women does nothing to calm the unease of his slimy smile.
“You live here?”
I say no, explain I am visiting.
“You visit for only couple of days?” He frowns, not understanding what I repeat.
“I no understand.” He shakes his head.
Take a hike then. I want to say.
“I live here 8 years. I own restaurant.”
Go away, go away...
“Me and you go for a meal sometime?” He grins.
“I don’t think my boyfriend would like that.” I say.
“No?” He looks at me hopefully.
“No.” I give him a get lost look and look away, keeping my head firmly pointed in the opposite direction.

He eventually gets the hint and moves back up the bus. I begin to panic and worry he will get off at my stop and try to follow me and I know when I get off I’m not going to have a clue where I’m going and don’t want to look lost... In my panic I get off the bus a bit earlier than I’m supposed to. And I’m sure I get off right at East Hastings, the street I’m supposed to AVOID.

There are a lot of homeless and druggy people huddled together looking strange and hollow. Ok, just like home, I tell myself. DON’T LOOK LOST. I look ahead for red lampposts, knowing this will signal my arrival in China Town, where I want to be.

It doesn’t take long to find them but I have the feeling I am still heading in the wrong direction for the Chinese gardens. I know I can’t pull out a map or I will be a moving target for a mugging. I subtly search faces in the street until I rest upon a normal looking old man. Good choice as he says he is walking that way and takes me right to the entrance of the gardens.

I enter tranquillity and breathe a little sigh of relief...

The outside looks like China, an old bike and red lantern at the door. Stepping inside the gardens is like stepping into another world. I catch the end of a guided tour which is headed by a middle aged Chinese man. He explains that the paving around the gardens represents Yin and Yang (Feminine and Masculine energy) The Yang stones are larger. Most of the gardens also have a water feature related to the Yin energy and connected to balance. The Bonsai trees look much more impressive than the ones down Cardwell Bay garden centre. The Chinese symbols on the walls of the Chinese ‘huts’ look mysterious and meaningful. At the end of the tour we get to sample authentic green tea. It’s a lot more woody and bitter than any I have sampled back home.

I go in to the Gift shop and have a look through cards with Chinese symbols on them. A friendly Chinese shop assistant comes up to me. He asks if I understand the symbols. I say no so am grateful for the written translations pencilled on them. He smiles and says he is from Korea and he doesn’t understand them either. He explains that the Good Fortune symbol is luckier when hung upside down as the Chinese believe this allows good fortune to ‘tumble or flow down.’ I buy this card for a friend.

I reluctantly leave the tranquillity of the gardens and head to Gas Town. A homeless guy approaches me and asks if I have a ‘Toonie.’ “A what?” I frown at him. “2 dollars.” He says. I shake my head and move on. I later relay this to Jane and she explains a 1 dollar is called a ‘Loonie’ because it has a Loonie bird on it and the 2 dollar Toonie must have evolved from that. A little bit of Vancouver inside knowledge!

I find the famous Steam Clock spurting and take a couple of photos. I also take a picture of the famous ‘Gassy Jack’ sculpture. I start to head in the direction of the harbour and then jet lag hits me like a tonne of bricks. I suddenly feel very dehydrated so decide I’d better go in somewhere for lunch, even although I’m not really hungry. I head in to the Steamworks (I’m sure Robert Pattinson ate here, how sad that I know this!). I order a burger and fries but am more interested in my bottle of water. I think I drink about 3 pints and manage half a burger. I feel like taking a nap under the table. My waitress comes over, concerned about my burger. “Is it ok?” she asks. I explain I’m jetlagged and not very hungry and she smiles and tells me not to worry that she always feels worse on the way out and on my way home it won’t be the same.

I head back out in search of the number 20 bus home – my quickest option I decide. I exchange brief dialogue with the bus driver and am relieved to see the bus is a lot quieter this time. I get the side seats to myself.

Then an old guy sitting further down catches my eye.
“Where you from?” He shouts across to me. I tell him. He asks how long I’m staying, if I have relatives here. He tells me he originated from Oz and has some Irish/Scottish descent and something about him being a sailor in Germany.
Then he turns to me and says. “You wanna go for a beer?” He pauses. “I know I’m old enough to be your grandfather...but, you wanna go for a beer?”

I kind of laugh and politely decline. You have got to be kidding!

He whitters on about selling t-shirts – he opens a bag he is holding and I see Native Indian type wolf t-shirts. He talks about sending them to relatives in Australia. “They don’t have Native Indians in Australia. I can do you a deal on them.”
He turns to me. “So you wanna go for a beer? I’ll take you for a beer.”

What part of No did he not understand? I decline again.

“What about a meal? You wanna go for a meal?”

He then rolls up his sleeve to show me his sailor tattoos. “This one means killer.”


Someone gets on and sits down beside him, obscuring his view to me. I
hop off at my stop and decide I’ll try to avoid the number 20 bus next time.

I try to have a nap when I get in. Turn on the weather channel and see the forecast is rain. It was wrong today. Maybe it will be wrong again.

I head to Jane’s for dinner and relay my day’s adventures.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Vancouver, eh? Departure and day 1

This blog starts with a very long posting of a day to day account of my trip to Vancouver in May/June 2010. Each day has been split into a seperate post to make it easier to read.

The Departure

I’ve been psyching myself up for the 9 hour flight for weeks now. There’s something about flying that makes me nervous, but it’s not to do with the idea of the plane crashing, it’s more the fact I don’t like being enclosed in such limited space. The fact I’m travelling alone on such a long journey also makes me nervous but the bursts of excitement and anticipation of going to CANADA begin to outweigh the nerves as I sit in the airport waiting on my flight.

There’s a man sitting beside me dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and a cap. He looks like he’s in is late 30s but there’s something childlike about him. He munches on a double decker chocolate bar and he seems nervous. He strikes up random conversations with the people on his other side. He’s in front of me as we board the plane and he stops to chat to the airline crew, telling them about trains he has been on and ones he plans to ride in Canada. He clearly has some kind of mental disturbance and I hope I’m not sitting beside him on the flight.

I have 2 Vancouverites beside me, one young woman, one slightly older, neither travelling together. The young one directly beside me is friendly enough but has a standoffish manner. Avatar is on the film choices. I spend most of the 9 hour flight trying to watch the whole thing as it keeps getting paused (by lunch, by some lottery collection). My companions choose to have their air conditioning on full blast for the journey so I’m glad of my jumper but wish I had my scarf. I like the fact there is a map on the tv screen with a little plane moving along, showing us where we’re flying over. As we fly over New York I think that this is the next place I’d like to visit.

As we begin the descent to Vancouver the woman talks about how a lot of films are shot near where she stays by UBC, a quiet area outside town. She says the end of her road is often blocked off by film crews. She notices my Robert Pattinson MP3 cover (ahem) and tells me that he apparently likes Vancouver. I wonder if he told her this personally.


The woman walks with me off the plane. The girl hurries away without a goodbye. The woman is really proud of Vancouver International Airport. She tells me it’s the best airport ever and points out the waterfall and water features which are pretty amazing. She says goodbye and points me in the right direction for international arrivals.

The man at passport control asks me what I do back in Scotland.
“I’m a careers adviser.”
“A what?”
“A careers adviser?”
“A what?”
“I help people find jobs.”
“Oh reeight, a careers adviser.”

Clearly my accent is going to be a problem.

I get into a taxi. My taxi driver is Indian and wearing a turban. His conversation is limited. I’m slightly disappointed I didn’t get a Vancouverite asking me all about back home. It’s raining really heavy and it sort of feels like...home.

I arrive at my accommodation, a big house which reminds me of ones from American films like Hocus Pocus and the TV series Charmed. I buzz Diana, who owns the place, and she comes down to meet me. She has a friendly gentle manner and I feel at ease as she helps me up with my case. I am delighted and relieved to discover that my little suite (called the Penthouse as it’s on the top floor) looks even better than it did online. It has real character with rustic wooden furniture, sky windows and an old dresser. It feels very homey. I comment on an art installation hanging on the wall as we walk up the stairs and Diana says it’s part of a project she did with a community group.
(This is the website of the suite in case anyone reading this is planning on going to Vancouver and looking for somewhere to stay. Highly recommend this place. http://parkerstreetsapartment.blogspot.com/)

After unpacking some things I decide to take a walk down Commercial Drive, armed with umbrella and rain coat. A house down the road from me has a Peace sign in the window.

First impressions of The Drive are that it is very eclectic and full of character (and characters). As I walk up the street, past a range of shops and cafes, I can smell a heady mix of Incense and cannabis. I walk past Native Indian types, old men who look like they’ve walked out of a cowboy film, funky young people who look like they’ve stepped out of a 90s grunge film, hip hop and hippy types. It strikes me immediately how attractive some of the men are; they have a fresh look about them which is lacking in the dough faced men back home (sorry men back home!). I see Joe’s Cafe in the distance, the rainbow mural on its exterior adding to the ‘hippy’ vibe of the drive. I saw a picture of Joe’s Cafe online, reading about how Douglas Coupland shot some documentary here. It feels good now standing here, seeing it for real. The shops and cafes along the Drive look very cool and unique. There are interesting Alice in Wonderland trinkets in one window, with a part of the script coming out of an old typewriter.

The rain is really pounding down on the pavements but this does nothing to dull the vibrancy and colour of The Drive.

I call into a local shop to buy some food and camomile tea (how rock and roll). The cashier greets me with “What’s your number?”
I look at him blankly and he repeats the question. I start to mumble something about not understanding and explain I’m a visitor.
“Ah,” light dawns on his face. He still doesn’t explain what he meant but asks me where I’m from.
“Near Glasgow.”
“Ah Glaswegian.”
I tell him not really, as I live in a town nearby and grew up further down the coast. He says they don’t understand these technicalities but he ‘detected a bit of the brogue’.

I head back to my suite, try to have a nap but can’t, try out the weird shower and Jane comes over later from work, armed with maps and explanations about the transport system.