22 July 2015
Apologies for the radio silence. This is partly due to the long, long, LONG flight from Taiwan to Vancouver, BC, which was an overnight flight landing in the evening. Yes, we had a 39 hour day, so I just stayed awake in order to sleep well when we landed. And of course promptly woke up early. It took us a few days to get used to the new time zone.
But we also were in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where we've been before. So there isn't the thrill and excitement of discovering a new location and exploring a new culture. We mostly walked around our usual neighborhood, visited places we've been before, and found a few new spots.
Our neighborhood is old and historic, with wonderful mosaics embedded in the sidewalks. Each mosaic features some aspect of the local history or culture - one mosaic has goldfish (or koi) and Chinese writing, and the placard nearby describes the Chinese immigrants and their part in building the city of Vancouver, contributions to the country as a whole, all that. Another mosaic features the Raven, who figures prominently in the creation stories of the First Nations in the region. The Yellow Dog was a famous restaurant or pub; the chinook salmon (the Granville Street mosaic) is an important and delicious natural resource; and "The Heart of the Community" ties it all together. We probably didn't see all of the street mosaics, but I took a photo of each one we walked past.
We stay at a budget hotel that is vaguely between Chinatown and Gastown - Gastown being the old part of the city, where the first gas street lights were installed. The lovely old light fixtures still stand, and during the summer hold gorgeous baskets of flowers.
We met a few people who have the wonderful job of watering the flowers. They have a wheeled water tank and a hose, possibly a pump - they just roll around town, reaching up and watering the baskets of flowers overhead. It's been a dry summer, so they've been busy. I think it sounds like a nice job, just walking around watering flowers, enjoying being outdoors, chatting up tourists, locals, and street people. I'm sure it isn't as romantic as it sounds, but I think it would be a rather relaxing summer job.
There were other interesting mosaics on the sidewalk - this one is in front of the police and firehouse museum. The fruits and vegs and seafood were little brass designs inlaid in the floor tiles at a mall we visited. (Malls across Asia seem to be very different from North American malls. But stores and markets everywhere are different, and are great ways to learn something about the culture. We always enjoy checking out supermarkets and outdoor markets when we travel around, and our time in Canada was no exception.)
Vancouver also seems to have decorative metal plates around the trees that line the streets, and the occasional interesting manhole cover. I think these are tadpoles turning into frogs. Or something along that line.
In with the First Nations art galleries, and the coffee shops, and the tourist shops, we found a chocolate shop. They roast their own beans and grind them, making a variety of chocolates. I tried their sampler of dark chocolate, which had three squares of single-source chocolate - very dark, very intense, and each one slightly different. One was from Madagascar beans, one from Dominica, and my favorite, from Peru. It was just a tiny bit smoother and without the acidic background taste that lingered after the other two chocolates. (Who knew that one could focus and discern the slight differences between chocolate's place of origin?) It was a lovely little treat, and oh the shop smelled so incredibly delicious!
After our time in Taiwan, in fact our year spent predominantly in SE Asia, it was strange to wander through Chinatown. Much looked familiar, such as the foo dogs, the huge gates, the dragons and cranes as decorative elements. At the same time, much was just Canadian, or even generic North American. No one was butchering meat on the sidewalk, the way we saw in Vietnam. We didn't see the ubiquitous birds in a cage, which seem to be a lucky symbol throughout much of Asia. There wasn't a temple on every block, we only passed one. And saw only one monk, in his maroon or burgundy robes. People were taller than in SE Asia. And, best of all, bathrooms had paper and the floors were dry! (This was an issue in several countries, so I was thrilled to have tissue in the bathrooms and not need to carry it in my purse!)
Anyway, we had four fun days in Vancouver, where the weather was at its summertime best, all sunny and warm, with cool mornings as the sun burns off the clouds that roll in from the ocean or down from the mountains that surround the city. And late sunsets, because this far north the sun doesn't begin to think about setting until 8 PM or so. Sunset is roughly 9 PM, with the light lingering until 10.
Then we took the train down to Bellingham, WA. This is a lovely train ride, travelling along the coastline for most of the trip. We didn't see eagles this time, but plenty of herons flying by, and the occasional fish (salmon?) jumping in the water. Plus a few hardy souls swimming in the water that probably is cold cold cold!
It's an interesting process, crossing the Canadian-USA border by train; we completed our forms and were stamped out of Canada and into the US while at the Vancouver train station. We filed onto the train, checking our rolling luggage, which also received a Customs clearance. But at the actual border, Customs agents board the train and check each and every passenger, looking at passports, chatting to ensure the people sound or look "American," and, well, we don't know what happens if someone doesn't seem to pass the test. Everyone was heading to one of the towns from the border to Seattle, and seemed to have appropriate documentation. No idea what they're looking for, or what the agents do when they find it. We were just happy to continue on our merry way, and arrive in Bellingham.
We've borrowed my brother's car, our father's former car, so we have transportation. We're staying in a newly-renovated but historic Bellingham motel, in a quite comfortable room, complete with mini fridge and microwave. Both Richard and I have our yearly medical check up exams, lab work, and renewing our prescriptions - this is our concession to travel as retired people, there are the medical issues that need medications and the yearly exam that goes along with getting a doctor to write those scrips. Thus far everything is fine, we're as healthy as 60-something year old people can be, and we're doing what we can to stay that way.
However, on the not-as-healthy side of things, our Bellingham tradition is The Bagelry. Their website says they've been here for 27 years, but it really is more like 30, I know they were here before I moved to the Caribbean. http://www.bagelrybellingham.com/
Anyway, this is where we have breakfast. Daily. Sometimes a snack, or lunch. Or pick up a little something for dinner. Because the bagels are that good.
My personal favorite is the bialy - lighter than a bagel fewer calories, somewhere between a bagel and a confused English muffin, a bialy has a dent in the center lightly tossed with slivered onions and poppy seeds. A bialy, warm and fresh and lightly buttered, is perfect with a single egg, scrambled. A bialy is chewy like a bagel but has nooks and crannies like that English muffin. With much more flavor and personality.
And never ever ever should be eaten with cream cheese. Sorry, but that's just a fact of life.
Anyway, the hat was jumping up and down with excitement, it was so happy to be back in Bellingham and at the Bagelry. Bellingham, which bills itself as the "city of subdued excitement," is just quirky. The town is all of maybe 50,000 people, not including the university students; but there are concerts and theatre and art films and art galleries. Summer festivals. Agriculture in the county, with wonderful berries, vegs, and fruit. Flowers hanging from gazebos and streetlights. Little historic enclaves with lovely architecture from the 1800-somethings when the town was founded. (Bellingham is actually four towns that merged into one, so that streets intersect at odd angles and disappear behind hills, only to reappear further down the road.)
We'll hang out in Bellingham for a week or two while we take care of the medical, as well as shop for all those little items that we prefer but can't find when we're travelling to off-the-beaten-path places.
After that? Well, there isn't much of a plan. Seattle. Yakima. Paperwork, downsizing, trading out clothes.
And deciding where next. Because there's still a whole lot of world out there.