Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Travelogue – a clear day

Friday July 22
As I left Detroit the sky was clear, so I could identify various Michigan cities – Jackson, Marshall, Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo – before the plane headed across Lake Michigan. Across the country there were some areas of cloud cover, though some clear areas as well. I had the screen on the seat-back in front of me set to display the plane's location, so I'm pretty sure I identified the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the Columbia River in central Washington. Mt. Rainier poked up through the clouds with Mt. Hood behind it. I had a good view of Lake Washington as we flew the length of Seattle for the landing.

I took the Link train from the airport. I think this train was in planning stages when I was last in Seattle in 2008. I got off in Chinatown for an inexpensive hotel also close to the train station. The Panama Hotel is considered a historic landmark and is full of antique furniture. The “desk” clerk actually spends a lot of time on the front sidewalk to help carry luggage up the two flights and to warn new guests that the rug was put down in the 1930s, so guests are not allowed to roll their luggage on it.

I guess another way to look at it: For $200 more I could have had a toilet and shower in the room (instead of down the hall), springs that didn't squeak and sag, and a bit of space to turn around. Hotels in Seattle are expensive. But it was for only one night. And about as close as I could get to the train station.

Saturday, July 23
I didn't attempt to try to adjust to local time. I was up at 5:00 to be out of the hotel by 6:50 to walk back down the hill to the train station. The deli I had tagged to supply breakfast was closed for the weekend (a detail I forgot to check) and the hotel didn't serve breakfast until 8:00. So I ate from my jar of peanut butter. The train left at 7:45 with every seat full.

The train from Seattle to Vancouver was pleasant. I was surprised how much of the route is right along the water. One would think such real estate would go for cottages with a view of the water rather than of the water and the train.

At 10:30 I decided the peanut butter wasn't going to be enough and walked nearly the length of the train to the snack bar and bought a burger. That threw off my meal schedule for the day, but allowed me to get from the train (which arrived at noon) to my hotel while not feeling starved.

Because of the number of days of the trip and all the different things I'll be doing I took my big suitcase and packed it full. I think at the airport it came in at 47 pounds. Pushing it along on its four wheels isn't easy because it tends to want to go at an angle to my desired direction. It is a bit heavy for pulling on two wheels. Even so, I pushed it uphill for the 3 blocks to the Seattle hotel and got it on the Link in Seattle and the Skytrain in Vancouver. However, when I get back to Seattle I'll go over a mile from the train station to the car rental. My original thought was a mile on foot, no problem. Given Seattle's hills and this suitcase, I think a cab will be a fine idea.

I'm on the 23rd floor of my Vancouver hotel! That gives me a great view of … other skyscrapers. That includes a new Trump Tower, which will open at the end of summer and is the tallest building in Vancouver. Those who paid millions to buy an apartment in what is now the second tallest (a mere block away) are quite annoyed.

Though it was now afternoon, I wasn't hungry. I walked from the hotel to the Burrard Inlet and around the Convention Center where I'll be spending lots of time starting Tuesday. I also found the bike rental shops and the seawall trail. From there I walked down to Gastown and its famous steam clock. Though I had lunch in the area (at 2:30) it didn't take long to figure out the shops were for tourists. Time to move on.

Nearby was a famous Chinese garden. Right next door is a free Chinese park. I wandered the park and decided not to pay admission to the garden. I guess I won't know whether that was a big mistake.

I walked back towards downtown to Vancouver Lookout a tall building (once tallest, now 6th tallest in the city) with windows offering a full circle of view. I got about 3/4 around when they announced a guide will be explaining some of the sights. See that cluster of tall buildings in the distance? That's not Seattle. That's the suburb of Burnaby, only 6 miles away. Apartment prices are only slightly cheaper than downtown Vancouver.

The guide said Vancouver was holding a fireworks contest. Tonight would be a show put on by the Netherlands (the guide thought it was New Zealand). Wednesday night would be Australia, and next Saturday would be America (with the show created by Disney – want to guess who will win?).

From the hotel I walked towards English Bay where the festivities would be held. I walked along Robson Street and found supper (though it was only so-so). A few blocks farther was Davie Street, which looks to be the local gayborhood. There were rainbow flags in practically every shop window. From there I went on to the bay. Along the way I saw lots of apartment buildings. The older ones were 3-4 stories, newer were 12-25 stories. I saw very few houses and those I saw had historical designations.

I sat on the crest of a hill above the bay – until a test shot showed trees would block my view. So I moved to another hill to get a clear view. Around me were lots of people and there were lots of boats in the bay. The sky still had a glow when the show started, even though sunset had been an hour before. Fireworks were set off from a barge in the bay. Once it was well underway there were almost always streamers shot off in patterns filling the lower part of the sky while the bigger chrysanthemum displays went off above. As each exploded I could hear the same pattern of echoes off the tall apartment buildings. The pattern started to my right, moved away behind me, with a last echo from my back-left.

Traffic was banned for several blocks around the bay When the show was over there were streams of people walking down the streets.

I don't know if I'll be able to see the Australian fireworks display. I won't go to the Disney display because my train leaves at 6:30 the next morning.

Up at 5:00, to bed by midnight. A good day, though 19 hours.

Sunday, July 24
The sky was clear and I could see the mountains across the inlet, so I scrapped my plans to spend the day in museums. Instead I took the free shuttle up to Grouse Mountain. On the way the bus driver talked about the development of the high-rise condos on the waterfront. He said he took his cat to see one. The cat said no – not enough space for the litter box.

I took the aerial tram up to the crest of the mountain. This turned out to be a very good day to go because the visibility was great! I could look over the city and see the silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains in Washington.

From another spot I could see Mt. Baker with a few other mountain peaks nearby, though none of the staff knew the names.

The top of Grouse Mountain is quite a tourist draw. There are the usual restaurants and shops. There are also helicopter rides, ziplines, and parasails. One could also see a few shows, both live (birds and lumberjacks) and on screen (more birds and bears). One could go to the large pen holding two orphaned grizzly bears. One could take guide led hikes (maybe a mile), take a chair lift to the peak, or even go to the top of the wind turbine. I stuck to the stuff included in the aerial tram price.

I did the nature hike. The guide talked about the size of British Columbia (more than twice the size of Texas) and how it is mostly mountains and the western edge is a rain forest. The population of the province is 4 million, with 2.5 million south of where we stood just north of Vancouver. The guide also talked about how the new Canadian Prime Minister campaigned for increased immigration – and won. Perhaps there will be more immigration after November. Canadians think American politics is so strange and fascinating.

I watched the lumberjack show in which Johnnie and Willie demonstrated several lumberjack skills while joking with the audience and emcee. One more character showed up and climbed the 60-foot pole and did a bit of balancing at the top – doing several things that made us think he was about to fall. The whole show was scripted – and they joked about that too (though I'm sure they didn't script who won each little contest, such as throwing an ax at a bulls-eye).

I felt four hours up top was enough, and it seemed everyone else had the same idea. Though the tram could take maybe 50 people at a time and departed every 4 minutes, I stood in line for a half hour.

Not too far from the base of the tram is a famous suspension bridge for walking over a valley (I think). But I was too tired to include that in my day.

Back at the hotel I asked the concierge for restaurant suggestions. Alas, for the one that sounded intriguing she had the location off by several blocks. I'll try that one tomorrow. In my wandering I found a Tesla automobile display room (only one car on display). I also found the local Anglican Cathedral. The signs around it use rainbow colors to emphasize inclusiveness. It uses the slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” I hope they live into that slogan more accurately than the United Methodist denomination, which is also using it.

Monday, July 25
I rented a bicycle by 9:30 this morning. The shop was on the water side of the Convention Center. I rode the seawall route along Coal Harbor (now with lots of fancy condo towers), around Stanley Park, back into the city along English Bay and False Creek to just before the Science Museum at the East end of False Creek. Then I took the seawall route back to Stanley Park to where it was one-way and I could not enter. I took a few trails through the park looking for some of the big old-growth trees still there.

Then I went along Lost Lagoon, to the seawall route along Coal Harbor, and back to the rental shop. Total time about 2:40. I don't know the miles or kilometers.

Vancouver treats its cyclist well. This seawall route was paved and had distinct lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians for almost the entire route. Sometimes these were even separated by greenery. When I got back to Coal Harbor at noon I saw the need for this – both the pedestrian and bicycle lanes were well used.

I had heard Stanley Park is famous for its trees. I hadn't realized that implied much of the park is forest, and old-growth forest at that. Since I listen to Canadian radio when in Detroit (among other listening options) I had heard of the huge windstorm about 10 years ago that blew down thousands of trees. I heard laments that Stanley Park would never be the same. To me the place still looks like a forest. It was hard to see where the downed trees would have been. Then again, I actually saw very little of the park.

The entire distance along False Creek was lined with these high-rise apartments. With a view of the water I'm sure they were pricey. The east end of False Creek was the site of the 1986 World Fair. I attended with my brother and family when his older daughter was a year old. We stayed in North Vancouver and crossed Lion's Gate Bridge every day. We were so busy with the Fair (and traffic) we saw little of Vancouver (I also saw little of Vancouver in 2008 when I bustled through from train station to cruise ship dock with Mom and Dad in tow). False Creek has changed a great deal since that first visit.

I needed a rest before I showered. By the time I was ready to venture out for lunch it was 2:00. I thought of heading to the Space Museum and wasn't so sure of eating museum food. So I got a burger at a restaurant/grocery store near the hotel.

By the time I got back to the hotel and checked with the concierge the museum was just 20 minutes from closing. Next option was Granville Island. I didn't feel up to walking there, so took a cab.

The big thing on Granville Island is the Public Market. It is part Detroit's Eastern Market, with fresh fruits and vegetables and meats for sale, and part artist colony – there's a shop in the Ten Thousand Villages chain nearby. Add in an upscale food court for ready-to-eat meals and live entertainment. I should not have had lunch before I came. Even so probably very little of it fit into my diet, so perhaps just as well. I explored the rest of the island, which was mostly artist shops. One of those was a musical instrument shop with lots of signs saying, “Please ask before you play!” In the window is a sound cradle. It has a place to sit and more than a dozen harp strings to the right on the outside. The person to be comforted sits in the cradle and another plays the strings.

In many previous trips I bought a bell or a pretty or unusual mug. I've now got quite a few of both. There were lots of mugs and a few bells at some of these shops, some quite pretty or cute. It seems spending a year cleaning out Dad's house has taken the charm out of collecting more stuff.

I was tired and done looking a bit after 4:00. I found a shady seat where I could look across False Creek and listen to some of the live entertainment (a guy singing songs from James Taylor and Karen Carpenter) and enjoy the pleasant breeze. I opened my book and read. Around 5:00 I was hungry and found a frozen yogurt vendor. I sat and enjoyed that, then read some more.

Close to 6:00 I took the False Creek Ferry to the downtown side and walked to the Thai restaurant I didn't find yesterday. It was very good, though the waiter didn't ask how spicy I wanted it. I'm sure it was medium, not the mild I usually request.

Tomorrow is the start of the handbell symposium, my reason for being here. I'm not sure when I'll post again.

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