Vancouver: You Make Me Brave

Messages on the boarded up windows of The Hudson Bay

We left during second period, knowing the game was finished, that the Cup was lost. In hindsight, that might be considered strategic.

Our mistake was staying downtown. I had taken Dylan, Lorna and Mark to one of my favorite restaurants on Robson, savoring two aloe vera and vodka’s, sharing Tuna Tataki. I felt pride that they were enjoying the food in a city I haven’t seen in over a year.

Since I’ve returned, the Vancouver that met me has been a dose of pleasant. I walk down the tree-lined streets, inhaling musky droplets after a sprinkle of rain. It always reminds me of a load of laundry coming out of the dryer. Clean, fresh, new. I’ve revisited memories, places that made me ridiculously happy.

That night, it changed.

Respect for the Vancouver Police

I could recount moments after our dinner when we looked towards the skyline, as smoke billowed upwards. That was Georgia, at least two cars burning to blackened, twisted metal.

I could recount our walk towards Granville, where Dylan and Mark were staying. We had little knowledge of what was unfolding. Our banter and gait was a pause. That moment when an intake of breath happens and you wait, unsure what will come.

I could recount the crowds as we approached closer, the screaming, a high-pitched scraping sound as someone toppled a newspaper stand or howled in unbridled angst. Against what?

Lorna, ever the documentarian and calm presence, snapped photos of the riot vans parked. We observed them suiting up. My attention was elsewhere when I heard Lorna gasp.

“Oh my God, look at the cars!”

Glass sprayed everywhere, as though dispersed by a hose. Two vehicles were flipped on their backs. I pictured two helpless beetles, taunted by naughty kids, who snickered as the insects struggled to right themselves. The actions of the rioters are eerily similar. Mockery and coldness are key personality traits to commit unthinkable acts.

Sticky notes full of gratitude

I stared towards Granville, at the clumps of people running towards us. The cheery, yellow vests that police wore contrasted to their impenetrable faces. They barked at bystanders breeching the perimeters. An acrid smell stung my nostrils. My first tear gas. It makes your eyes water, much like real tears.

I had walked that street thousands of times, people-watched, giggled with friends over a joke, or peeked through store windows at items I’d never buy. I even held hands with my ex-boyfriend on that street, many years ago.

While some of my international friends wanted to document this important moment, I was limp, could not bring myself to take pictures of the destruction. It’s just not how I envision my city.

What seeped into me was fright. Watching the madness, I had never felt so scared to be in my own hometown before. I imagined large objects flying at me, or crowds surging and crushing us.

We aren’t the first city in the world to riot. Other serious occurrences explode in a split second in London or Greece.

The community spirit I know

When you know a place inside and out, to witness a viciously dark side, one that was inconceivable, it leaves you awash in surrealism. An electric, aggressive energy surrounded me, when I’m use to the laid-back attitude of Vancouver.  It was difficult to witness. I have to accept it happened. No matter how much it jarred me to find it changed for one night.

When I realized my fear, it suddenly rendered the rest of the world less scary or intangible.

And that’s a good thing.

5 Places I Like to Eat in Vancouver

I am old.  An imperfectly carved, ancient relic.  It dawned on me I’ve lived in Vancouver just over 10 years, much longer on this earth.  Which is why you should listen to me on where to eat. Respect your elders.

1.  The Reef – Carribbean

I sometimes get my island fix at Riddim and Spice on Commercial Drive.  See, I just love hole-in-the-walls.  Those places have the most run down decor, chairs shakily held together with duct tape, and the best food.  Yet, truly, my heart is with The Reef.  They have four locations: Commercial, Main, Chilliwack and Victoria, BC.  The original location was on Main Street, a happening neighborhood for families and hipsters.  Why do I love it?  They house at least 40 different rums.  That constitutes a rum bath.  And the food is fresh, spicy or even milder, with the right notes of crispy, tender and tasty.  I typically go for a vegetable roti or ackee and saltfish.  To accompany a meal, usually a rum concoction suggested by the server sustains my rum cravings.  4172 Main Street.  +1-604-874-5375. Take the #3 bus on Main and get off at Main and 28th. http://thereefrestaurant.com.  Prices: $6 to $18 CDN.

2.  Yamato – Sushi

I strive to shatter rash appearances, and Yamato would easily be categorized as shifty, due for a shut down by Vancouver health inspectors.  Wrong!  Apparently, Yamato’s cramped size and interior mimics eateries in Japan. The prices cause you to read them twice.  22 pieces for $5.95.  Uh huh.  They offer inventive rolls and rock bottom prices.  Right on the edge of downtown, it’s the perfect spot to pad your stomach before hitting the night’s entertainment on Granville.  Watch the video below.  616 Davie Street.  +1-604 682-5494.  Take #6 bus and get off at Davie and Granville.  Dine here review: dinehere.ca/vancouver/yamato-sushi.  Prices: $5 to $12 CDN.

3.  Joe Fortes – West Coast

I am not a raw oyster fan.  They are slippery, overly soft pieces of flesh from the sea I can’t swallow.  I know, I suck.  To make up for my suckery, I do devour every other seafood.  You can’t come to Vancouver and dismiss the seafood, unless it makes you heave.  Joe Fortes is not overly cheap, but they do have decent lunch specials.  A good value, which can be split between two people is the seafood tower on ice.  For $58 you get a variety of fish with potatoes and fresh vegetables.  The other benefit of checking out Joe’s is their location, close to famous Robson Street, where all the stars and anyone who is anyone shops.  I can confirm, there is a massive selection of oysters here (yuck).  Look for the vintage taxi parked out front with the Joe name on it!  777 Thurlow Street. +1-604-669-1940 or toll free at 1-877-669-5637.  Best way to get there is to walk from Burrard Station and turn left off Thurlow and Dunsmuir. www.joefortes.ca.  Prices: $9 to $60 CDN (depends on what you order).

4.  Guu With Garlic – Japanese Izakaya

Vancouver is a mecca of Japanese food.  Unbelievable.  I discovered Guu with a Chinese doctor of traditional medicine.  She had to dispel my assumptions on Japanese cuisine.  I’m grateful to her.  What is izakaya exactly? In short, a Japanese drinking establishment that offers casual dining.  Guu also has several locations like The Reef, but I still have fond memories of the second one on Robson and Bute.  Guu’s interior has tatami mats with short tables or stretched out tables composed from meaty pieces of wood.  They are similar to picnic tables, which force people to socialize and share food.  A high percentage of izakaya is appetizer size, hot, and not catalogued as sushi.  The garlic part of the name signifies how yummy and healthy it is for us.  Many of Guu’s dishes have sprinkles of garlic chips. Imagine sauteed garlic turned brown in the pan, tossed over tuna or beef tataki.  Another fave is the spicy calamari or Gin Dara – miso marinated cod with miso mayonnaise.  My ultimate favorite drink: aloe vera juice and vodka.  I’m groaning.  Spent.  Leave me now.  1698 Robson Street.  +1-604-685-8678. Take #5 Robson bus and exit on Bute and Robson.  www.guu-izakaya.com/robson.  Prices: $2 to $8 CDN per dish. Main Guu website with locations is special.  Each location has something different about it. www.guu-izakaya.com/storeinfo/info.

5.  The Congee and Noodle House – Chinese

I am picky about Chinese.  Probably because it’s part of my heritage, but it can’t be too greasy.  That turns me off quickly.  And for good measure, please use fresh ingredients.  Following that basic philosophy makes the flavors sing.  That’s what we want with ginger, garlic and fragrant green onion.  A Chinese opera.  The Congee House has been a staple of Vancouver forever.  They serve scrumptious, straight up Chinese food at prices you can swallow.  Oh, and congee.  A childhood friend.  Congee is basically rice soup.  Sounds gross, but the advantage is you can add absolutely anything to it.  Gai lan, beef, pork or seafood.  I generally go for the seafood congees and order a side of Chinese donut.  Deep-fried bread sticks that you dip into the congee.  Heaven and earth.  Of course, I always order spicy tofu, too.  The best in the city!  141 East Broadway.  +1-604- 879-8221.  There are several ways to access. #3 Main bus from downtown.  Canada Line from downtown to Broadway Station, then hop the #99 or #9 to Main and Broadway. www.urbanspoon.com.  Prices: $8 to $15 CDN.

By |May 31st, 2011 |Categories: Vancouver |30 Comments

Goodbye Vancouver, Hello World!

Today is my last in Vancouver.  I spent ten years here, remember vividly the first day my boyfriend and I pulled up in a Budget van, dusty from prairie dirt, the windshield littered with bugs who met their demise.

Aerial of Vancouver

Our friend, Alanna had secured a sprawling 2 bedroom apartment in Kitsilano close to UBC.  The second my feet landed on the offensive, shag carpet, I detested it.  Nothing was modern.  We had walked into a seventies dayglo nightmare.  For a price tag of $1,300, it was less than impressive.

With lack of a bed, we had to camp out on the floor of our bedroom.  I clung to my boyfriend as the night crawled, crying and begging him to take me home.  But we stayed.

As that memory dissipates, I question the concept of home.  What is it?  Where is it?  Will I find it?

Over ten years I changed jobs, left the boyfriend, sowed my wild oats, and forged life long friendships.  I will miss that unique scent of Vancouver whenever I exit a plane – a mingling of rainforest and sea tickling my nose.  I will miss the summer days and nights, how the blue sky stretches into infinity, the endless sunsets dipping into English Bay.  I will miss the bustle of Granville on a Saturday night, even those pent up Surrey boys seeking trouble and long legs.

It was a rocky, euphoric ride, Vancouver.  I thank you for giving me space and time to grow up — just be.

Here I stand, at the cusp of a round the world trip, one potentially rife with challenges.  But I will also find bliss, delight and wonderment.  Whatever occurs, travel will change me forever.  It will force me to slow down, take the long way, avoid the shortcuts.

Imagine who we were as children.  Any time that backpack is strapped to me, I revert to ten years old.  Children have this capacity to absorb and not judge.  I take in events, leaving those adult filters behind.  A person says a nasty comment, I walk away.  And when something fantastic happens, I squeal with joy and engage, like a curious, precocious girl does.

So I brim with excitement, partially some relief.  My psyche can finally breathe after spending the past month and a half relieving myself of stuff and psychological burdens.

Tonight, I say goodbye.  Gather all my precious friends, encircle them, and thank them for teaching me and being my mates.  Any excuse for a party.

The big wide plains of Calgary

Where am I next?  June 5th (tomorrow) I fly to Calgary with cat in tow, grateful to spend time with my brother and mother.  I’m discovering the cross-Canada leg is turning into a series of personal pilgrimages.

After brother and mother, it could be ex-boyfriend in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan.  Even though most of you voted “no” to that.  I have to do it, sorry.  I’ve contacted old friends, and hope to meet up with new friends along the way.  “New”, meaning my travel buddies who’ve followed along these past 6  months.

Expect more How To articles, and yes, I’ll finally finish the Unplugging series.  I promised Simon and Erin of Never Ending Voyage that I would.  Most importantly, watch for more personal impressions and travel stories.  I could bare all, you’re forewarned.

Until Calgary, adieu and bon voyage!

Photos: leojmelsrub and Danny Nicholson

By |June 4th, 2010 |Categories: Vancouver |35 Comments

Why Victoria is Worth Visiting

I spent the May long weekend in Victoria, BC.  The city is significant for one reason, one of my closest friends moved there over a year ago.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to her as Jabba.  The move proved difficult for her, Vancouver held a sacred place in her heart and to leave it was devastating.  The power of a place and its memories can stay with you.

Crowned the capital of British Columbia in 1871, Victoria is Western Canada’s oldest city.  In recent years, British Columbians flocked there for the mild weather, affordable retirement housing, and government jobs.

Tourists also come in droves, attracted to the historic downtown, with a tour typically ending at the Inner Harbour to catch stunning vistas of the famous Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings.

Until last year, I wedged a sleepy reputation of Victoria in my mind, but Jabba showed me a different side.  Beyond the retirement jokes and staid government image, Victoria is littered with intimate boutique shops, accessible local restaurants, and fabulous outdoor parks minutes away from one’s residence, instead of miles.  Ocean views are free.

Even though Jabba questions her decision, Victoria is the cooler, laid back cousin to Vancouver’s craziness.

Summer Festivals

A myth about Victoria is the dearth of kicking summer festivals.  A few of my picks for summer 2010.

JazzFest International (June 25-July 4)
Location: Royal Theatre, Centennial Square, Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Open Space Gallery, Victoria Event Centre, and numerous other downtown venues
“Ten hot days and nights of the coolest music in town.” Enjoy over 90 high calibre individual jazz performances taking place in numerous indoor and outdoor venues/stages with over 400 musicians. A series of free admission performances in Centennial Square will also take place during the daytime with ticketed and cover charge performances scheduled in various theatres, clubs and restaurant venues in the evenings. Free workshops by visiting musicians as well.  Contact for more Information: (250) 388-4423 or visit www.jazzvictoria.ca.

Festival Mexicano (July 9-11)
Location: Victoria Event Centre and Centennial Square
Celebrate Mexican/Latin American culture – features an open air main stage with local performers sharing traditional music and dance, kiosks showcasing Mexican/Latin American food and beverages, arts and crafts.  Contact for more Information: (250) 216-3664 or visit www.1415broad.ca.

Free B Film Festival in the Park (Aug 6, 7, 14, 21, 27, 28)
Location: Cameron Bandshell, Beacon Hill Park
Go beyond the summer blockbusters and enjoy a movie under the stars with another great line-up of B-movies from the “Family-Friendly” to the “Funky and Fun”.  Contact information: (250) 389-0444 or www.victoriafilmfestival.com.

Eats

Pluto’s, 1150 Cook Street, (250) 385-4747
This restaurant stole my imagination because it’s a gas station converted into an eatery.  I gobbled a ginormous salmon omelet. Review of Pluto’s.

The Black Olive, 739 Pandora Avenue, (250) 364-6060
Jabba raved about this spot.  Delicious pastas, succulent rack of lamb, BC and West Coast wines make this restaurant a culinary jewel in Victoria.  www.theblackolive.ca.

Bean Around The World, 533 Fisgard Street, (250) 386-7115
Nestled in charming Chinatown, Jabba and I sparred at cribbage while sipping lattes.  This North Shore based company adheres to ethical business practices, something I’m proud to support.

Shops

Salt Spring Island Soapworks, 575 Johnson Street, (250) 386-7627
Us solo women travelers need pampering once in a while.  I had a chance to try the Body Gelato.  Even typing those 2 words is deelish!  Made of pure sea salts, infused with natural moisturizers and oils, I exfoilated myself to baby soft skin.  Actually, forget babies – pre birth skin.  With hair care, body lotions, and foot care – fortifying your toiletries is easy and decadent.
www.saltspringsoaptworks.com.

Smoking Lily, 569a Johnson Street, (250) 382-5459
No, this store isn’t practical, but I love it just the same.  A Victoria store that expanded across Canada, all the clothes are locally made and unique.  What appears impractical may not be.  Pick up a cute t-shirt or a skirt that can roll up nicely in your compression sack.  smokinglily.com.

Russell Books, 734 Fort Street, (250) 361-4447
When I published my get rid of books post many commenters fell into the die-hard book club.  You love the feel of pages between your fingers and are willing to absorb extra weight in your pack.  You can indulge those desires at Russell’s.  They opened a second store at 702 View Street, which adds up to over 13,000 square feet of books.  I was vastly impressed with the selection of classics, literature, and non-fiction.  So, enjoy book lovers!  www.russellbooks.com.

To research city parks visit www.webvictoria.com.

Without further ado, a gallery of memories from my weekend.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157624152310310″]

By |May 27th, 2010 |Categories: Victoria |15 Comments

What I’m Going to Miss About Vancouver

The parks.

Queen Elizabeth in particular, since it’s near my abode.  I moved here last July, completely bereft to be away from English Bay, but found this gem.  Affectionately referred to as “Little Mountain”, this park wormed its way into my heart.

Tell me fellow travelers, what do you miss about your hometown?  Or maybe you haven’t left yet or thought about it, the truth is we will always miss something.

[flagallery gid=1 name=”Gallery” skin=stylishgrey]

By |February 12th, 2010 |Categories: British Columbia, Vancouver |9 Comments
Tags: