The Boys are Leaving Town (or Part II)

Monday, January 25, 2010 10:26 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This is easily the most gorgeous place I’ve ever seen in my life. Nothing can beat it.

The Sea To Sky highway contains the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever experienced. It makes you appreciate things in an entirely different way. I cannot believe what I am seeing.  The mountains are impossibly huge – it looks like some serious “Avatar” CG, but then you’re snapped back to reality and that this is all actually REAL. The pine trees roll forever, the water is impossibly so crisp and blue. Nestled at the end of this majesty is downtown Vancouver. I can’t figure out how to capture this in words, but it’s so unbelievably huge and majestic, I just want everyone I’ve ever cared about to magically be transported there, right by the point where we stopped the car and got out in the rain.

Whistler is a ski town with an incredible amount of snow, considering it’s relatively temperate in Vancouver. It took us two hours to get there, ten minutes to walk around (we weren’t skiing) and then went down the mountains and stopped at Tim Horton’s (the Dunkin’ Donuts of Canada) and McDonalds. McDonalds BBQ sauce in Canada is VERY different and still delicious. Also, I somehow got charged $119 for gas in Canada despite spending $31.02 Canadian ($29.11 USD). Called the bank, we’ll see how that pans out in a few days.

We attempted to go Granville Island (a market similar to Pike Place) but it was closed, went back to the sushi place, got my roll, then we went and got cupcakes and headed home. Pretty action packed day.

Friday, January 29, 2010 12:09 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The last two days in Vancouver were relatively low key – the first I spent the morning and Lonsdale Quay, a marketplace about three blocks from Kelly’s. Aside from the standard tourist fare of t-shirts and other assorted trinkets for two floors, the bottom floor is your full-fledged market with just about anything you could ever want. For me, this meant sushi. I tried a BC Roll (BBQ Smoked Salmon) and then just kind of piddled around the market. Also, I tried an overly icy green apple smoothie from another stand in the market and it was ok at best. Then, I found ANOTHER sushi place called “Little Toyko” and found another Negitoro roll. Probably my favorite sushi roll of the moment. I spent the rest of the afternoon home on the internet, and staring out the window.

Seabus

After that, Kelly came home, and I took my first ever Seabus ride. The Seabus is pretty cool. It’s like a high speed….water bus. It’s a ten minute ride on Burrard Inlet where you can see a variety of ships on the shore. Really pleasant ride and makes for nice pictures. Anyways, we headed downtown to go to Earl’s for dinner. It ended up being ho-hum. In the meantime, we did some shopping at the Hudson Bay Company and I picked up my official Team Canada shirt. It’s pretty rad.

Olympic Countdown clock

The next day, I woke up an headed down to Little Tokyo for my last few sushi rolls (or so I thought at the moment). Then I took the Seabus by myself downtown. I spent a good part of my day locating “Sharks and Hammers,” a store which had a really great t-shirt that one of the dudes from Japandroids was wearing on Fallon. Ultimately, I decided I could not spend 35 bucks on a shirt, with my trip funds already dwindling.

Either way, I found my way around with a map and was proud of the fact that I’d successfully navigated a city, considering I’m terrible with maps. I darted back in forth between sushi places and Waves coffee, each of us getting nanaimo bars and a London Fog. Kelly and I ran some errands and ordered a really bad pizza, then got some snack food at the local grocery store for tomorrow as we’re off to Portland.

Saturday, January 30, 2010 6:36 PM PST – Seattle, Washington (Concerning Portland, Oregon)

Portland seems like a cool place to hang out, but no one really seems to live there. It’s got an incredibly small-town feel for being a major city. Kelly and I got up at 3 in the morning to depart for Portland from Vancouver – it’s approximately a five hour drive. We made crossed the border at about five, (relatively hassle free by our border guard who only asked a few questions). The drive felt really long, based on the fact that I only slept about two hours previous to it.

The city is remarkably quiet. We stayed at Hotel de Luxe, a renovated old place converted in to a golden age of Hollywood Boutique hotel. It’s unique in the fact that it’s one of four Provenance hotels – Boutique places with a major focus on customer service. The bed was great, super comfortable – and probably the only reason I’ve slept decently on this trip.

After checking in, we went to Powell’s Bookstore, a massive store that takes up an entire city block. Rooms are color coded by genre of book, and since I had a particular title in mind, I beelined it upstairs to find John Sellars “Perfect From Now On,” which to my understanding is an indie rock memoir. Kelly and I were pretty hungry, so we tracked down Portland’s premier (at least to us) Jewish Deli, Kenny and Zuke’s. The Pastrami was pretty great (albeit a bit dry), and the “South West Hominy” soup was pretty decent as well. A nice meal.

The crowning moment of our day in portland came with Living Room Theaters, a movie theater that specializes in smaller independent movies as well as older classic films. Kelly has been imploring me to watch Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” for some time now. As it so was, the theater was actually showing an HD projection of it! The theater itself had nice, large reclining chairs, and gourmet food that you could eat in the theater. We settle for some chicken skewers, pita and hummus, and Kelly got a cheese plate. Well worth it.

The ODB and I.

Of course, Portland would have not been anything unless I talked about our trip to Voodoo Doughnut. Voodoo Doughnut is a sort of hole-in-the-wall punk rock donut place. They make more traditional fair like “The Marshall Mathers” (Cake donut with mini m&m’s and white frosting) to the ODB (Oreo cookie crumbles, frosting, drizzled with peanut butter.) Some of the best donuts I’ve tasted. So, so good.

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View over 200 photos of the entire trip here, and check back for more entries from the trip!

Rockers East Vancouver…and a bunch of other places

I recently returned from a two week, four city trip out west. I spent time primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis. In order to get there, I took an Amtrak train, since I don’t generally prefer to fly. Also, because it’s awesome.

Here are the first few days of my journals and photos.

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1/21/10 10:58 PM CST – Minneapolis, Minnesota

The sleeper car room is actually pretty cool. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it’s an oversized closet. There’s two seats on the bottom, then a top bunk that pulls down, a table in the middle that folds out so you can set drinks, computers or even play checkers with the checkerboard pattern built in. There’s a nice set of toiletries in a bag – soap, shampoo, etc, and and a box of Kleenex. It’s private and quiet. Happy to be in here.

1/22/10 7:24 AM CST – Rugby, North Dakota (approx.)

So, turns out a sleeper car is not entirely conductive to sleeping. I took a Tylenol PM last night to help aide me in napping, and instead, it just gave me these wild hallucinations you get from staying up too late with night time cough medicine. I just ended up tossing and turning a lot, and compulsively checking my phone and trying to find music on my iPod. I think I tried to turn on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” on several occasions. I don’t remember a lot of it, and that’s probably because I was really tired.

I dared to look out the window in the morning. If there’s one thing about the Dakota’s – at least North – there is absolutely nothing but land. Hardly any trees in site. I’m looking forward to Montana, seeing some mountains and feeling like we’re getting somewhere. The Midwest is like one big vacuum. I always thought it was special that Illinois didn’t have mountains. I always wished it did. It was always kind of a treat to see them. I haven’t seen any substantial western ones since I went to visit my grandfather in New Mexico ten years ago.

It being nearly seven thirty without a sunrise sort of freaks me out. I don’t really ever recall it being this dark out ever so late in the morning. It doesn’t even look like it’s coming up anytime soon.

Eating on the train has been an experience each time. To conserve space, they group you into fours at a table. Last night for dinner, it was me, two Minnesotan women in their fifties (likely) and a slightly larger college freshman girl going to visit her friend at Winona State University. The Minnesotan women were returning from a ski retreat in Michigan, and it seemed that they were generally interested in hearing about my Minnesotan girlfriend. The Winona girl tried out for American Idol in Chicago, making the second cut before she got eliminated. She attends UW Milwaukee.

This morning, I sat with two older men and this completely green-behind-the-ears kid traveling to Minot, ND from Fayettville, NC. He asked a lot of questions about politics, the underwear bomber and other stuff people don’t generally bring up in a conversation. The man next to me – whom I’ll call Jerry, because I don’t really remember his name – was a former band teacher in Manhattan. We talked about jazz and he told me about Gene Shepard and some other radio guy I can’t remember the name of.

Both the Minnesotan women and this man Jerry were very interested in talking about Apple. The man across from me was a machine parts repairer or something. He was from near Milwaukee. Nice enough people.

1/23/10 1:52 AM PT – Sandpoint, Idaho

I’m way past the expiration date on this train as we accidentally took a two hour break due to some wheel trouble. This was doubly aggravating, considering that no one was available on the train to talk to about this particular incident. I think I freaked myself out awake because of it.

Either way, I’m likely in Idaho now, waiting for one last stop before the final one hour and 45 minute trek to Spokane. I don’t anticipate being there anytime before 4 am, which means it’s about six am my time. Ugh.

There is one cool thing about this whole situation though. Being insulated by the mountains in this train car. I can’t necessarily see anything outside, mind you, but I feel like we are the pigs in a very big blanket. That’s kind of cool.

This woman that I met on the train along with this guy Liam who I met in Chicago (he effectively drank all the way from New Jersey to Montana.) Anyways, the woman wanted me to call her MA (for Mary Alice or Mary Ellis?). I don’t know. She had a new white MacBook and the first two Beatles Anthologies. She said being on this train was like it’s own little town. I liked that.

1/25/10 10:26 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

As Friday bled into Saturday and the train trip continued, we made a scheduled stop in Libby, Montana and ended up not leaving for over two hours. Turns out there was some issues with the wheels or the engines on the train that resulted us dropping an engine in Montana. I dozed off for an hour when we had stopped. When I woke up, I was slightly delirious, trying to find a conductor or an attendant for no luck. I was with this older woman named Nancy who was coming back from her mother’s funeral, and some older headstrong guy who claimed to be a former conductor. He was wearing a brace on his arm.

We got to Spokane two hours late. Kelly picked me up and we got to the hotel where we talked for a bit then got ready for bed. I was so amped up from the ride that I didn’t end up falling asleep until 5 AM PT (7 AM CT). Needless to say, after a few interrupted hours of sleep, I was still pretty tired.

With that, we set out on the road for Vancouver. First was a stop at Jack In The Box where I got a decent chicken sandwich and curly fries.

I’m amazed at how “not present” I feel on this trip. It was no different on our way back up to Vancouver. I found myself constantly in awe of the mountains, how big and frankly, perfect they looked. They weren’t like those on the east coast – these had more definition – pine trees, rockier cliffs. In the decent towards Seattle, these mountains bordered the water (which was impossibly blue) and were punctuated by great blue and grey cloudscapes. It’s truly Pacific Northwestern. There’s something so inherently free and open and goddamn clean about the whole thing. I just consistently can’t believe that this is my life at this moment.

Also, we stopped at a Starbucks on the way and i had my first London Fog, which was absolutely terrible. Subsequent ones since then have been much better. Don’t trust a Starbucks in it’s home state, it’s bound to disappoint.

After four hours of driving, Kelly and I decided to stop in Seattle for lunch. (This was a decision we weren’t sure we were going to make, as we had a scheduled White Denim concert at the Media Club that evening. Because of our 8 + hours of driving later, we didn’t end up going, but that didn’t deter us.

I don’t think that there’s a much better place to go for an introduction to Seattle other than Pike Place Market. It’s incredible. Kind of like a flea market on steroids, with fresh food. Also, it’s a complete sensory overload. Fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. The seafood is at every corner. I saw enormous shrimp for sale, so fresh that I just wanted to pick one up right off the ice. I saw the guys throw the fish at the Fish Market. There is so much going on in every corner of the market, it’s like a different world with each space. I’m excited to go back this weekend to discover it even more. With this little bit, Seattle seemed very, very livable. Hopefully next weekend does more to persuade me in that direction. Note:

It’s here I have had the biggest and some of the best sushi I’ve had. HUGE California rolls with REAL CRAB MEAT. Not the imitation stuff. Delicious.

(I should note, when we parked the car, we accidentally parked next to human feces. It’s very clear that it indeed was human feces, mainly because the person used a paper plate or some sort of paper product to wipe. It was pretty gross. It also prompted my mother to send me an email saying she saw some people doing crack by the market when my parents were in town there. Hilarious.

I took some of my best photos by the market – the sky seems tailored to for really vibrant photos. The colors are amazing at sunset.

After a few hours in Seattle, we decided to head back to Canada. This, on the last few trips I’ve made has always been my favorite thing: Crossing the border. This trip, it seemed a bit more labored. We were both kind of concerned crossing the border with an American passport and a Canadian one. Lucky for us, we didn’t have a lot of trouble.

First impressions of Vancouver: It’s probably the least Canadian city of the three major Canadian cities I’ve been to. Perhaps I feel like it’s more of an extenuation of what I saw in Seattle – but with a different flag and kilometer signs. It’s still pretty, but not in the ways I thought when I was entering. It seemed kind of ho-hum, but after the Sea To Sky Highway drive on Monday (more on that later) I got shut up pretty quick.

Sunday, we went downtown. First stop was a place called “Honey’s” that Kelly swears by. They have these gigantic, homemade donuts that were unlike any other donuts I’ve had before. They’re more mini cakes than anything. Delicious. We also had the “Coveman” breakfast, which was your standard eggs/bacon/potatoes with some amazing potato bread. Well worth it.

Going downtown on Sunday was cool enough. I liked the Hudson Bay Department Store with all of the Official Olympic Merch – kind of reminds me of a Canadian Marshall Fields – not Macy’s, natch.

We visited a couple of lackluster record stores, Gastown (nice steam clock), dodged into some decent coffee shops, stopped by the Amsterdam Cafe (The legal weed cafe. You can’t buy it, but you can smoke it there.) Not that it mattered.

At dinnertime, we met up with Kelly’s friend Tess, someone I have been a casual acquaintance with through messaging for a couple of weeks now. We went and got late night sushi at Shima Sushi. It was a great hole in the wall place that Kelly and I visited the next day after. I must put a Negitoro roll (Tuna belly and green onion) on my list of favorite rolls. Hopefully I can track it down when I get back. Probably – definitely – won’t taste the same.

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View over 200 photos of the entire trip here, and check back for more entries from the trip!