A Celebration of Light

One of the things I’ll never get used to here in the Pacific Northwest is that there is nearly 8 hours less sunlight per day in the winter than there is in the summer. In Florida, the difference is only 4 hours. But that means that people here really appreciate the daylight when they have it. It can’t be taken for granted. There is a definite morale change from summer to winter, and with it comes a lifestyle change. People seem to hibernate here in the wintertime.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Vancouver, Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a three day celebration of light each summer. The funny thing is, this celebration takes place at night. That’s because it is a fireworks competition.

Each year, three countries are chosen to put on a fireworks display over English Bay on three separate evenings. These displays are set to music, and they’re judged. They’re always spectacular. The event comes with food trucks, too, and usually draws about 400,000 people per night.

This year, India, Canada, and Croatia competed. Canada, the home team so to speak, won. Croatia won the people’s choice award. (Click on the country names to see full Youtube videos of the events. They’re incredible.)

I was lucky enough to experience Canada’s effort, and I must say that it was, without a doubt, the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw at least 5 types of fireworks that I’d never seen bfore. They were wonderfully creative, surprising, and delightful.

If you’re ever in the Vancouver area in late July, early August, don’t miss the Celebration of Light. But please don’t bring your dog. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d probably take my dogs and leave town during this event. War veterans might want to give it a pass, too.

But everyone else… wow. Just wow. Three cheers for light!

Celebration of Light 2019

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Vancouver for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

I just love Vancouver, Canada! I’ve visited once a year since I moved over to this side of the continent, and I suspect that will be a long-standing tradition for me. It’s a ridiculously short drive from Seattle, and it feels familiar and exotic at the same time.

It’s such a vibrant big city, full of art and quirkiness, and you hear so many different languages on the street that you genuinely feel that you’re at a cultural crossroads. Each neighborhood has a different style and personality, which makes it a great deal of fun to explore. And the food… My God, the food…

I’ve been a visitor in this fair city enough times to have discovered several dining favorites. What follows are my picks for all three meals of the day.

Breakfast:

Le Petit Belge. I stumbled upon this little restaurant because it was a short walk from my hotel. It got quite a few bonus points for also serving delicious food in a delightful setting. This place makes very light, flavorful Belgian waffles, and offers a variety of toppings. I tend toward the sweet toppings, such as strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate, mixed fruit, or ice cream. But they also offer savory toppings such as prosciutto, asparagus, salmon, avocado, cheese, and bacon. In addition, they serve other breakfast fare such as eggs, omelets and breakfast bowls. And you get to eat these delectable things while sitting in their cute little dining room and watching the city’s denizens walk by. A great Vancouver experience.

Lunch

For lunch, I suggest two possibilities.

If you’re looking for a casual and filling meal, and are not averse to fried seafood, then you absolutely have to check out Go Fish. It’s a little outdoor establishment on the banks of False Creek. Their menu is simple. Eat your crispy cod, salmon or halibut, fresh off the dock, with the delicious fries, or try their Tacones, all while gazing at Granville Island, just across the way. The only down sides are that they are closed on Mondays, and since the seating is outdoors, you’ll want good weather for this dining experience.

If you’d prefer something healthier, I highly recommend the Granville Island Public Market, which is open 7 days a week. You’ll be overwhelmed by the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, and your mouth will water when you contemplate the abundance of desserts. You can also pick up fresh baked bread, cheeses, and meats, and create your own picnic, right on the spot. Or if you’re feeling lazy and want someone else to do the food prep for you, there’s an international food court with some wonderful options. After you’ve eaten, you can shop for unique gifts amongst the stalls that are overflowing with handcrafted art.

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Dinner

I discovered this restaurant on my most recent visit. Since Vancouver is known for its seafood and Asian cuisine, and since I had enjoyed Go Fish for lunch, I asked my hotel concierge for his recommendation for a Chinese restaurant. Without hesitation, he recommended Peaceful Restaurant on Seymour Street. (They have several locations. That just happened to be the nearest one.)

Oh. My. God. This turned out to be the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. It made me want to move to Vancouver, just so I could eat there once a week. Specializing in very flavorful Northern Chinese cuisine, this place has gotten several awards.

I was anxious to try one of their noodle dishes. You have a choice of “hand-pulled” noodles which are thick and round, or the “knife-bladed” which are, of course, flat. I had the stir fried beef and veggies with hand-pulled noodles, and my goal in life is to fill my above ground swimming pool with the stuff, and just dive in every night at around 5pm. Dear husband had the Peaceful House Stir fried noodles with spicy seafood and pork. The menu is extensive at this place, and the Dim Sum gets raves as well, but we didn’t try it this time around.

At the end of the meal, dear husband practically had to peel my fingers off the door frame and carry me away, kicking and screaming in protest.

Incidentally, they have franchising information on their website. If someone in Seattle takes them up on this opportunity, I will kiss that person on the lips, on camera, at the top of the space needle.

I have no idea why I left Vancouver. Please remind me.

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Cruising Down Chuckanut Drive

It astounds me that more people don’t take advantage of America’s scenic byways. Perhaps people are in too much of a hurry to take such detours anymore. I think they’re well worth it. I’ve never been on one that didn’t fill me with awe. Chuckanut Drive, also known as Washington State Route 11, is one such byway.

Stretching from Bellingham to Burlington, Washington, it’s a 21-mile coastal route that treats you to winding cliffside views of the deeply forested Chuckanut Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Samish Bay. It’s Washington State’s answer to Big Sur.

There are plenty of overlooks to stop at, and you’ll pass by Larrabee State Park, with its campground, lakes, and miles of hiking trails which can take you through the forest or down to the beach. I’m told the sunsets over the San Juan Islands are particularly stunning.

There are several places to stop and eat including the Rhododendron Café, which is known for a changing menu that includes fresh local produce, and is also an art gallery, and the Oyster Bar or the Chuckanut Manor with their stunning views and outstanding seafood.

Also, check out the Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden, just two miles south of Bellingham. It includes artistic work of many types by Pacific Northwest artists, and a lovely garden with a variety of sculptures.

Chuckanut Drive is a nice scenic route to take between Seattle and Vancouver, but it’s also worth a few days all its own. I highly recommend this route, no matter how many stops you are willing to make. You’ll feel your blood pressure drop just by experiencing the pure beauty and romance of your surroundings.

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Vancouver Food

One of the best things about Vancouver, Canada, is the food. It’s a city by the sea, and it’s very much an international town. That bodes well for seafood, as well as Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, First Nations, Italian, Greek… you name it, they have it in Vancouver.

I’m told the best things to eat during a visit are salmon and sushi. And I’ve read that the sushi is much more affordably priced than anything you can find in an American metropolis. I wouldn’t know, not being a sushi person myself. But the salmon? Yes please. And keep it coming!

Vancouver is surrounded by farm country as well, so if you have a chance to eat fresh, seasonal produce and dairy products, do so. You’ll notice the difference. Make yourself a picnic lunch and eat it in Stanley Park, while taking in the view. There could be no better dining experience than that!

Whenever I travel, I try to avoid chain restaurants. I like to support the local economy. I also know that starting a Mom and Pop restaurant is a risky proposition at best, so it feels good to lend them a hand whenever possible. Some of the most delightful meals I’ve ever eaten have been possible because of this practice. It’s not as much of a risk as it used to be, because we all have access to on-line reviews.

So, do your homework, and get out there and dive into the culinary richness of Vancouver. You’ll be glad you did.

Vancouver Food

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Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

True confessions: I have a problem with heights. I know that’s weird for someone who has worked on drawbridges for 17 years, but there you have it. Altitude freaks me out.

So, when I found myself 230 feet above the Capilano River on a 450-foot-long suspension bridge that dances and sways like Fred Astaire on steroids, I was questioning my sanity. Talk about walking on the wild side. I think I made it across (twice) because I was with my boyfriend. I figured that at least I wouldn’t have to die alone.

“Is this what an earthquake feels like?” I asked him.

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

But I have to say that the view was spectacular. What is it about Canada that makes nature seem so enormous and grand? I mean, seriously, just cross the border and watch how Mother Nature seems to stand up and reach for the sky. It’s amazing.

After surviving the suspension bridge, the Treetops Adventure seemed like a piece of cake. The seven suspension bridges involved are “only” 110 feet above the ground, and are much shorter and a lot less prone to doing the Cha-cha. That suited me. And they allow you to walk at treetop level, amongst the gigantic 250-year-old Douglas Firs. The construction of the walkways was really impressive. They use collars around the trees that allow for their growth, and no nails or screws penetrate the trees at all. I love that.

Just getting to admire these enormous trees from a completely new perspective was a delight. And the air was so fresh and clean, even though it’s just north of the booming metropolis that is Vancouver. I just seem to breathe better in Canada. (When it’s not on fire.)

After this curious mix of adrenaline and bliss, we decided not to try the Cliffwalk. That was just too much height for one day, as far as I was concerned. And part of the narrow walkway has a glass floor. No thanks. I’ll pass. We were content to take pictures from above.

So I’ll leave you with these photos and this piece of advice: If you ever find yourself near Vancouver and only have time to do one thing, this would be the thing I’d recommend.

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Exploring Vancouver: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

One of my favorite things to do in Vancouver, Canada is visit the Vancouver Art Gallery. I have blogged about this gallery from past visits, but this time, just driving past it was a surreal experience. The whole façade had been altered for one of its exhibits, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, a retrospective of the work of Takashi Murakami.

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In this country, Murakami is perhaps best known for doing an album cover for Kanye West.

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But believe me when I say, there’s much more to him than just that! Here are some more pictures from our visit to this wonderful exhibit.

Sadly, by the time you read this, this exhibit will have gone from Vancouver, but if it makes it to your city, I highly recommend it. It was playful, delightful, strange and creepy by turns.

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Exploring Vancouver: Sun Yat-Sen Yet Again

I had the opportunity to visit Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada again recently. I love that it’s only a couple hours drive from Seattle, and it has a completely different vibe. It’s vibrantly international, and full of things to see and do.

This visit is going to be the source of several blog posts, but today I’ll focus on the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. I’ve blogged about this magical place before, giving a lot of detail about its design and history. Check that post out!

This garden is one of my favorite places in the city. But this visit had a different feel. Colors looked brighter. Everything was wondrous. Ah, love…

Here are some pictures.

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The Vancouver Women’s Library

Can I just say that I love Vancouver, Canada? It’s quirky. It’s diverse. The food is good, the people are friendly, and there is much to do and see. One of my favorite things about this city is that people aren’t afraid to be controversial and/or cutting edge.

What better place to start a women’s library? This library is run by women, for women, and it’s about women. All the books therein are written by women. It also hosts lots of interesting community events, such as an open mic night where you can display your talents, writing workshops, holistic hormonal health workshops, and a summer film series. If I lived up there, I’d be hanging out in this library all the time.

But even in Vancouver, this library sparks controversy. At their grand opening, protesters claimed that the library founders were feminists so radical that they were excluding Transgenders and sex workers. (For what it’s worth, I don’t get that sense from their catalog at all.) These protesters were aggressive and tried to block access to the library. That seems kind of self-defeating to me. In a world that’s as misogynistic as ours, any pro-women effort, whether it’s flawed or not, needs to be celebrated.

What I love most about this library is that it’s not “just” about feminism. It even goes beyond women in history. It also has a wide variety of women-authored fiction, poetry, and different points of view. It’s a safe place for women to have a voice in a world that so often seems to discount what we say. I’ve yet to visit this place, but it makes me very happy to know that it exists in the world.

Next time I go to Vancouver, I plan to stop by and donate a copy of my book. It’s not radical. It’s not controversial. But it was written by a woman who holds a non-traditional job, and the photographer was a woman, and the editor/designer/catalyst was a woman. And that, too, makes me proud.

library

From Hell’s Gate to Hope

During my most recent trip to Canada, a friend and I decided to camp in the wilds of British Columbia. Sadly, the further out you get from Vancouver in the summer time, the more apt those wilds are to be on fire. So we really only went halfway to the back of beyond.

Still, that was good enough for me. It’s a beautiful province. I was thrilled just taking a break from big cities. We camped in Pemberton, Lillooet, and Boston Bar. We saw stars. We stuck our feet in the cold green of the Frasier River. We communed with chipmunks. We met some really nice people. We stopped at some funky cafes. I bought fridge magnets and fudge.

The nicest part was that, other than campsite reservations, we really didn’t have any firm schedule or expectations of any kind. If something sparked our interest, we would stop. As each destination was only about 2 hours away from the last, we weren’t in any hurry.

That’s how we found ourselves, on day three, riding the Hell’s Gate Airtram, not far from Boston Bar. This is a gondola that crosses the Frasier River at its narrowest point. I have a fraught relationship with gondolas, because I have a fear of heights. But they always afford such amazing views, so how can you resist?

And this place has some amazing history. When I imagine Frasier and his expedition actually portaging their canoes up these sheer cliffs, it makes me dizzy. And that’s how Hell’s Gate got its name.

So, I’ve been to Hell’s Gate. Now I should be able to do anything, right? Heck yeah!

And then just down the road from there is the delightfully artsy town of Hope on the edge of the Cascade Mountains, population 6,181. I could totally live there, even though it gets more rain than any other place in Canada. (It was sunny during my visit.)

In less than an hour, I went from Hell’s Gate to Hope. What a positive experience that was! I’m just glad I wasn’t driving in the opposite direction. That would be bad.

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Culture Shock Light

Having travelled to 22 countries, I have come to expect a certain amount of culture shock. In fact, I kind of look forward to it. It’s half the fun. I enjoy having my perspectives challenged, and it’s exciting to see how I’ll react to being thrust out of my comfort zone.

As strange as this may sound, I tend to struggle most with this when visiting our neighbor to to the north: Canada. I spent a great deal of time pondering this as I drove up to Vancouver from Seattle recently.

Of all the countries in the world, I tend to assume that Canada is the most like the US.  And we do have a lot in common. But there are some extraordinary differences as well, and because we are so similar, those differences are all the more jarring to me.

Even the sights are “same same, but different.” They have Starbucks and IKEA and Safeway and all those familiar brands you come to expect. But interspersed with those things are these other places that I’m never sure about. What do they sell? I dunno.

And then there are those unexpected turns of phrase that suddenly make you feel like you’re speaking two different languages.

“That’s me done.”

“Huh?”

“That’s. Me. Done. With lunch. I can’t eat any more.”

“Oh.”

Many of the traffic signs are identical to ours, except when they aren’t. And what’s with the flashing green lights at some intersections, but not others? I actually had to Google that so as not to get myself killed. Apparently it means something different, depending upon which province you are in. That would never fly in the US.

The people in Canada seem to have held on to a certain courtesy, dignity, tolerance, cooperation and decorum that Americans have shed as if it were dead skin. We must seem like the crazy relatives that you only subject yourself to at weddings and major holidays. The rest of the time, you just shake your head and sigh.

(And before you mention this in the comments, I realize that in order to even write this post I have to make some sweeping generalizations. I get that no two people are alike. But I think this is an interesting path of inquiry, however unscientific it may be.)

The biggest difference between our two countries, I think, is one of awareness. I’d be willing to bet that most Americans can go years, decades, without giving Canada a thought. I wonder how many of us can even find Canada on a map. (I bet I could get an answer via Google, but I’d be too ashamed, I suspect, of the results.)

On the other hand, Canadians are painfully aware of us. They read our media. They watch PBS. The ravings of our current president impact them quite a bit. Most Canadians think about us every single day. So there’s that.

The impression that I get is that Americans assume they are envied by everybody, including Canadians. But in fact, from talking to the people I’ve met, most Canadians are befuddled by our pride in our military might, our rampant patriotism, our greed, and our distrust of our own government.

Canadians have a great deal more social support, and don’t seem to question the importance of it. They would be shocked if they had to pay a doctor. They are confident in their single payer system, and really don’t understand why we struggle with this concept.

I absolutely love visiting Canada, but I think I need to stop being surprised when I’m reminded I’m not home. I need to let Canada be Canada, and stop trying to force it into my little American box. Because let’s face it: At this time in our history, why on earth would they want to be there in the first place?

Canada_and_USA_Flag

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