Sunday, August 22, 2010


In my experience, the best way to get to know a city is on foot. (Foot pic is from Vancouver…)

In Seattle, we stayed in a great hotel, the Mediterranean, in the Queen Anne District. (Thank you for the $114 rate.) I liked the hotel but I really liked that you could walk just about anywhere you wanted. After a delicious Cajun lunch, we walked six blocks to Seattle Center.
Seattle Center is a large, car-free hunk of the city with theatres, green space, the Space Needle, the spacey Jimi Hendrix Experience Museum (a museum designed by Frank Gehry and dedicated to rock music from the Seattle area), an amusement park and a huge public sculpture that features a fountain that spouts or mists or dribbles in tandem with music.

Kids come to the fountain in their bathing suits in the summer and try to outwit the spouting patterns. One tweenager came in new jeans and a clean white shirt with what seemed to be his older brothers. The brothers egged him on to get closer to the fountain, which he did, dodging pulses and jets of water. But the music was dramatic and suddenly a blast came out from all directions and he was instantly soaked from his spiky gelled hair down to his new, white Nikes.

Pike’s Market, down by the water, was maybe a mile and a half away so we broke up the walk at a coffee shop. Seattlers (Seattllites? Seattlette’s?) love their coffee, and they also love book shops. We love them, too, and spent some time in one in Pike’s Market. But the best one was the anarchist bookstore. A punk rocker turned Dante on to Kurt Vonnegut there. The V section of the literature shelves has a card that reads something like “If you want a Vonnegut book ask at the counter.” Apparently Vonnegut was a popular shoplift item at the anarchist bookstore so they keep them behind the register.

Dante and Mark read Cat’s Cradle together on the train. At one point in the lounge car they laughed so hard they were wiping tears and could not finish the chapter.


Ever notice that marketing works best when it’s most familiar? When you see it every day the inane names and tag lines seem perfectly normal. But we are traveling, so some of it seems odd…

Take the Canadian chain store, Indigo, whose motto “Books, Gifts, Life” promises a lot when you stop to think about it. Dante really wanted to purchase some extra life there, which inspired Zora to wonder “Do fries come with that life?”

And there’s the discount clothing store, Winners. Zora bought a pair of running shoes (60% off!) there. Mark tried on 5 suits (half off!), and wondered if his travel experience would be much improved if he wore a suit everywhere. I tried on some most excellent German-made leather shoes with a flower on the side (only 25% off). I almost bought them despite the fact that they were too small for me. They made me feel like a winner.
We all felt like winners at Winners, except for Dante who was born with a natural immunity to marketing campaigns and dislikes purchasing things. But doesn’t he look like a Winner in this photo?

Regardless of the odd marketing, Zora’s zest for Canada is increasing with frightening intensity.

The Slower I Go, The More I Notice

"When you walk quickly on the shore, it looks like nothing is going on in the water. When you stop, you can see there is a lot going on."
- Zora on Saltspring Island

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Long Ascent

Starting around the 1910’s, on the North Shore of Vancouver, horses used to drink water from a trough a quarter of a mile up the hill. You can follow the steps of these horses on the sidewalk on Lonsdale Ave. Some metal horseshoe prints buried in the sidewalk lead to a bronze sculpture and that original trough, now worn and rough with age. This is one of my all time favorite sculptures. “The Long Ascent” by Victoria & Edwin Dam de Nogales, reminds me of a Japanese drawing where the minimum brush strokes evoke the spirit of the horse. In contrast, the head of the horse is extremely detailed, showing every vein. Zora climbed on the horse and took the great photo of her shadow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Mark and I spent have spent many hours walking in our nearly 23 years together. So when my father offered to look after the kids so we could go on a date, it’s no surprise we spent much of our date on foot. We took a bus down close to Kitsilano Beach, walked around the point to Granville Island, and had an amazing dinner at Sand Bar Restaurant: Scallop skewers, spinach salad, wood-baked sable fish and asparagus.

After enjoying the show with our friendly waiter (who had warned us he would be giving us extra service as soon as the fireworks started), we headed down to an Aqua Bus, a small vessel that takes you for a five minute jaunt (at $4 a pop) across False Creek to downtown, but saved us a good 30 minutes of walking. We were meeting the kids at the Seabus, so time was of the essence.

Downtown we walked with a tide of people in the street toward various forms of mass transit - the SkyBus, the "regular) bus and (for us) the SeaBus.

Reunited with our spawn – er kids – we took the bus together on the North Shore. A very high young Vancouverite/skater explained to a confused Spanish woman why Canada is superior to the rest of the world. My English was better than hers, but I still had a hard time following the argument. Something about the low birth rate...


Back on the train again so I have time to blog!!! After speaking to many of you in person and over email, I realize that many more people are reading the blog than I realized. Feel free to let me know you are reading!

When we arrived in Vancouver, we initially got around with public transport, but then ceded to convenience – and realized that many places would be hard for us to reach without a car. More about that later…
My stepmother and her partner graciously let us stay in their house in North Vancouver, an easy walk to my beloved SeaBus.
Feeling a little old here, but I remember back when the SeaBus got started (1979?) and it cost a quarter to make the 15 minute crossing of the Burrard Inlet to downtown. Now it costs $3.75.
Other than the SeaBus, two bridges span the inlet. The Lion’s Gate bridge, modeled after the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, still boasts only three lanes for traffic. In the morning two of the three lanes are given over to funnel masses of commuters into the city. In the afternoon the two lanes allow people returning home that slight advantage.
In Heat (Monbiot’s book), I learned that adding more lanes to a road only temporarily keeps the traffic down. The more lanes are added the more traffic grows. When roads are not widened, the traffic does not grow – and in fact people find other ways around.
The other bridge is the more modern Second Narrows.
Both bridges carry buses, but the Sea Bus us by far the quickest, and most beautiful way to get your skyscraper fix.

People also get around A LOT by bike and many streets all over the city have bike lanes (darn - I can't figure out how to place the photos except at the beginning of the entry! Any help here would be great...)

but if you are too lazy to walk or bike to the store on when you are clubbing, Connie the Condom Lady makes being safe easy. We learned this when Zora and I stopped at a light and admired Connie’s lovely vintage 50s dress. She thanked us and turned away. Almost as an after thought, she turned back around, sweetly smiled at Zora and introduced herself: “I’m Connie the Condom Lady.” Zora replied “oh.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seattle and beyond...

Back on the train. 8 hours seems like nothing after the 30 hour jaunt.
Mark says he has a light feeling not getting into the car and driving. It’s true – I’m really relaxed again. Nothing to do but eat, nap and laugh at Mark narrating Clash of the Titans when the headphones don’t work (“Why didn’t you get me one of those cool fake beards, too? I will kill you!” “Wait wait, do not kill me. I can find you one of these fake beards if you put down that sword!”)

We settle into our seats, this time facing one another with a table between us. We buy salads and soups and orange juice. Zora gets 2 bags of Skittles with some of the $20 her grandfather gave her before we left. She shares some with us, mostly the green ones.

Zora likes this one train better than the last one. It has only one level, but plays movies and the doors between cars slide open automatically when you pass your hand in front of the sensor.

We enjoy a 55 minute layover in Seattle. I now consider a 55 minute layover an extreme sport. We tear through town, speed window shopping, looking for trouble. Found it at …an art opening! Handmade local artisans display their wares (see photo of Zora wearing locally made hat) and as long as you put your name on the mailing list they give you free wine! We try on hats, take a few pics, gulp down our wine, do more speed window shopping, ask a guy hawking tickets to the game at the stadium (next to the train station) how he likes living in Seattle, and run into the train station as they are signaling to the engineer to close the train doors. Now I understand why the conductor gave us the evil eye when I said “Just going for a quick walk!” 50 miinutes earlier.

Two hours later, as we approach the border, Zora starts asking everyone who passes our seats if there are Canadian. If they are, she does a special Canadian dance for them.

Here is the song: “C eh N eh D eh, CA-NA-DA!!!!” (I have the dance on the camera, but haven’t figured out how to upload it to this blog...)

Just when we think we will arrive on time, we are stuck for an hour waiting for a drawbridge to close. I see a bridge I hadn’t seen before, brightly lit. A Sky train goes over it and I realize that since I lived here, commuting in this city has drastically changed thanks to all the new forms of public transportation, the Sky train in particular.

Our train stops downtown near the Cambie Street Bridge where my father used to live. Zora confesses that she used to think it was the “Candy Street Bridge” (I knew that) and once she licked it just to check (I didn’t know that.)

My stepmother, Joan, and her partner, Larry, pick us up. It’s good to be home!!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Day 2


Across the street from a psych facility just outside of Portland a computerized sensor detects a possible problem. The conductor complains over the loud speaker about the new fangled sensors. In the old days, the engineer in the caboose would watch the train for problems. They eliminated the engineer’s job (and the caboose!) when they invented the sensor. The crew looks everything over and finds nothing wrong with the train.

We pull into Portland an hour and a half late.

One more stop and we climb off the train in Vancouver, Washington. Mark’s half brother, Dave, drives us to their Dad's ranch.

It takes until the next day to shake the feeling of constant movement. Train legs.

Bill's stump ranch has no internet and poor cel phone reception.

I embrace the slow vacation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Some notes on Amtrak and the easy-going travelers gone amuck

Our lovely customer service rep, Lynn, (who is paid to walk through the train and make sure everyone is happy with their trip) edumacated us a little on train travel in the US.

Apparently when Americans started traveling by rail, passenger train companies paid to ride on freight tracks. But as train travel grew more popular, the government laid track exclusively for leisure travel and commuting. (Amtrak = America Track)
Every four years Amtrak applies for subsidies from the federal government. Depending on the administration, trains get more or less in subsidies.

Prior to 9/11, train travel had dropped off to next to nothing and the government was considering pulling the rug from Amtrak altogether. Now rail ridership is up.

We pass ride alongside the San Andreas fault line. The conductor has a soft spot for puns. “If you experience an earthquake while riding this train, it is not Amtrak’s fault. It is the San Andreas fault.” Or later close to Monterey: “There are many types of birds in this area. Along the shore here you will see seagulls, but closer to the Monterey Bay you will see bay-gulls (bagels).”

After dark, the lounge car gets interesting. We play Bananagrams and can’t help but listen in on the drunken conversations, especially one in which two young guys hypothesized whether the other is homosexual:
“Just imagine, Dude, one of us could be on this trip and discover we’re gay.”
“Do you find me attractive?”
“Nah. I mean I don’t know. Because I’m not a girl.”
“But you said you could be discovering you’re gay.”
“I’m not gay. I just mean one of us could turn gay like that on this trip.”
“Do you find me attractive?”

Three other inebriated travelers share stories at another table. One of these three is traveling with his teenage daughter who, visibly embarrassed, sits at a separate table, trying to seem as if she were traveling alone. In between discussions about his jobs working for various environmental groups, the father addresses his daughter. Here’s one exchange:
“What’re ya eatin’?”
(Daughter ignores him.)
“Frosted Flakes?”
“That’s ok. Sometimes.” (to his new buddies) “I let her eat that crap sometimes, but mostly she eats real good. Veggies and stuff.” (to his daughter) “Eat yer whole foods, b****! (laughter).

You get the idea.

So after a night of intermittent sleep in the EZ Boy-esque recliners, we wake up (Day 2!) and walk through the lounge car. It now resembles a hen house, the floor evenly littered with sunflower seed shells. Some of the guys sleep face down at their table.

But the sun is up and Mount Shasta’s glaciers gleam above us. We cross a valley, glide alongside a river. We eat scrambled eggs and grits in the dining car while watching fat cows begin their day grazing in lush meadows.

Two of the larger guys wake up still drunk and belligerent and are kicked off the train.

We haven’t hit the border of Oregon yet. But it’s coming.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day one of the Slow Vacation. So far so good.

Taking a train to Canada? Why?

Heard of slow food? You take time to gather the food from fresh, local sources. Nothing from a can. It takes time.

Train travel allows for an appreciation of all the ingredients of the trip: the stretch of land, the train itself, the food, and of course the people.

People who travel by train are a unique bunch. Or is it the gentle rocking of the train that turns the white knuckled freeway driver into an easy-going conversationalist? Everyone one of us started the trip scurrying through the bustle of Union Station but once on the train, a peaceful thought hits you: I’ve got 30 hours to do … nothing and everything. Read a book, play a game, talk, look out the window, sleep. It’s an embarrassment of riches in an area we so rarely enjoy these days: time.

The idea for the trip originally grew from our deep frustration with the BP oil spill and a sense that things are never going to get better unless we all make some serious changes and reduce our oil use. We had let go of the second family car about 4 years ago, bike and walk when we can, wear sweaters in the winter, etc but we thoroughly enjoy traveling. And we both have family and friends far from our mountain town. How to reconcile our desire to have a more positive impact on the environment, and yet travel what the esteemed journalist and global warming expert, George Monbiot, calls “love miles” to visit loved ones? Train travel as it turns out is one of the lowest carbon ways to travel.

But I had forgotten how much fun it is, too.