Thursday, 24 January 2013

Birthday Weekend: Seattle Edition

Hi folks! It was my good old birthday last weekend! Another year wiser, and another well travelled.

Friday: Vancouver, Border, Queen Anne

On Friday morning I met up with Cousin Carolyn at UBC after my class for a pre-birthday-weekend croissant + latte. A good start. Carolyn is Queen of the Forestry Department, and we always have the best intentions to catch up, but the truth is the Arts building is just about as far away from the Forestry building as you can get. So naturally we don't run into each other unless we have made scrupulous plans.

Speaking of scrupulous plans, after I parted company with Carolyn I ran about like a mad thing getting ready for our All American Road Trip, including an all important trip to our local travel agent for some weekend travel insurance. I know it's just across the border but we must NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT. I speak from Hexperience.

Anyway, I skytrained out to Richmond with my backpack and my passport, stopped briefly to procure a taro milk tea with pearls from Aberdeen Mall (one of those amazing little pockets of pure Asia which Vancouver has tucked away), and finally made it to Matthew's work just as he was heading out the door. I gave the bubble tea into Matthew's grateful hands (it has become a tradition whenever I meet him at work to bring one of these weird purple drinks), and we hopped in the car at 5pm sharp.

And then all the fog descended.

Matthew drove us gingerly to the border and we waited and made the end-of-week-catch-up small talk for AN HOUR, and finally got through. Luckily, since Matthew went rally driving in November, we didn't need to exit the vehicle please sir because his three-month pass was still good. The fog continued thick. It was 7pm by this time.

(I realise that if I don't gloss over some of the less exciting parts of this amazing journey then this blog post will never end.)

So we got to Queen Anne, a suburb a smidge to the North of Seattle's CBD, and checked in to our totally gorgeous hotel. Matthew has a reasonable fear of driving the steep hills in downtown Seattle, so when I was searching for accomm, he requested a no-hill-zone. Queen Anne is perfect! Our hotel, The Maxwell, was very modern and full of original art, mostly circus-themed. We checked in and headed for the "Rock" bar downstairs, which had totally gross cocktails. Matthew's drink, if that's what you could call it, was in an actual lava lamp, and had orange jelly floating in it. Also it was about three quarters of a litre.

Saturday: EMP, Monorail, Downtown

In the morning we woke up and discovered that the Space Needle was amidst clouds. Matthew had very romantically planned to take me to lunch in the revolving restaurant at the top, which would make it the third such moving restaurant we've been to. BUT ALAS! The fog was so dense we couldn't merit the huge tourist pricetag to sit in the middle of no sort of view whatever for two hours, so we proceeded to plan b. Thank you for the thought, Matthew!

We walked down to Queen Anne Avenue North and had breakfast as Peso's, a local institution. Holy! It kept us going. The decor inside and out was vibrant.

Epic American Mexican breakfast, with a cup of tea.

After breakfast Matthew and I explored our suburb. Here are some local places of note, including this puntasticly named restaurant:

Oh, Easy Street Records. Everything about this store screamed 20th century. We wandered up to see if we could find a bargain and my goodness, there was one copy of every cd ever recorded. It oozed neighbourhood charm and indie rock spirit.

We then walked to the arts/gardens precinct,where the Space needle lives, and actually spotted it at full height (for a moment, and then the cloud came down again). This area is amazing: it has museums, parks, arenas, the monorail, and basically is a tourist sightseeing hotspot.

We spotted the Experience Music Project museum but to get to it we had to wade through 90% melted 'winter wonderland' man-made snow. Grrrreaeat.

Aside: this awesome building had nothing inside that we could tell, but omg look at those American eagle gargoyles!! And Matthew, looking his dapper winter self.

Close-up of the EMP outside.

EMP inside.

The EMP had lots of exhibits, but the ones that we saw were the obligatory Nirvana exhibit, full of guitars, ripped t-shirts belonging to Kurt, Dave and Krist, and charmingly evocative hand-written posters for Nirvana as a support act to other Seattle-area bands in the last 80s and early 90s.

We also went to the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, which contained rather fancier clothing than the Nirvana offerings, and bits of iconically smashed guitars.

Finally, we headed downstairs to the Sci-Fi exhibit. This was a very eclectic, very wide-ranging collection of books old and new, tv old and new, film old and new, and the odd video-game.
Enlarge this and read the caption...

Gun from Men in Black film

Me making a sci-fi film.

Apparently this is a dalek? Am I right?

Head from Terminator.

Gill Man.

Face sucking thing from Alien film.

Alien hisbadself.

Matthew and me in front of some sort of special effects screen.

A special effects switchboard from the olden days.

After the EMP we caught the Historic Monorail into town. It's like a skytrain, only older and with more windows.

Matthew and me taking tourist selfies on the monorail, Space Needle in the background.
 We got to downtown and did a spot of shopping. Matthew scored two pairs of trousers, including some green corduroys!!! *hold me back* Also he saw this very only-in-America poster in a bank window.

I was not so successful with my shopping. Despite loving this jumper at first sight, it didn't fit well enough for anyone to read the key text when I'm wearing it. This is the definition of a 'sadface moment'.

After all that museuming and shopping we were superpooped, so we wandered down the hill to Pike Place Market and veered off into a little laneway. We actually recognised this laneway from when we were in Seattle in September 2012. Immediately in front of us was a sweet wine bar called Marche (I can't figure out how to get the accent happening over the 'e' in blogger, but you can just imagine it being more French-sounding than 'marsh-as-in-bog', okay?).
This photo doesn't do justice to the extreme steepness of the hill. It's like 20 degrees.
 It had been hours since the Mexican feast, so we ordered... you guessed it, cheese + wine. Ambiance was tres romantique, but room temperature was a little on the chilly side. So we huddled.

We then moved on to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) restaurant on 1st Ave. Now, this place received actual rave reviews in the tourist literature, so forgive us for wanting to check it out. ...For a start, it was more brightly lit than the museum exhibits, and in fact, even than Macy's department store.

Me in the cold hard light of dinner with a wineglass as big as my face.
I want to remember our Seattle weekend as one perfect romantic getaway, but I have to warn you if you are tempted by the reviews to try this restaurant... go elsewhere. Food was bad, service was fussy, lighting was exhausting and unflattering, everything wrong. And of course it was expensive.

We returned to Queen Anne via cab through the misty night, and stopped a few blocks short of our hotel at the MarQueen lounge for a nightcap. Matthew saw his doppelganger. It was a perfect end to an adventurous day.

 Sunday: Woodland Park Zoo!!!

We had kept at the back of our minds the possibility of buzzing up the Space Needle for a revolving luncheon on Sunday, but the weather again thwarted us.

Fine! We won't go up you then!
We had an excellent sleep in, because our hotel had midday checkout! luxury! and packed at a leisurely Sunday pace.

We decided to check out Woodland Zoo which was a bit of a drive away, but in the right direction for going on home. Happily, as soon as we left Seattle proper, the cloud lifted right away and it was nothing but sharp blue skies for the rest of the day! We stopped in Fremont, a gorgeous suburb which calls itself the 'centre of the known universe' on it's own website, and grabbed an espresso and a croissant (guess who's developing a croissant habit? probably need to nip that in the bud, or else give up cheese.) Have we mentioned how Seattle prides itself on hole-in-the-wall espresso-only (ie. not drippycoffee) cafes? It's A Thing, trust.

Then we got lost in the car, in a suburb called Ballard.

Then we arrived at the Zoo! (Hello to all you readers who have skipped all the boring bits above and come straight to the interesting part of the weekend!) I'm not sure why the flamingos are up front, because that's not the order I selected them in, but it's actually kind of fitting because they were hands down the most fascinating members of the zoo community! Matthew and I could not stop staring and laughing. Did you know that their feathers are pink in colour because they eat pink shrimp all day? That's a fact.

Penguin nap capsules.

This one was extremely curious, and would have actually nibbled our fingers if it could have reached them.

More glorious, camp, vain flamingos. New favourite animal.

And their necks! Nothing like a swans neck, and there was actually a swan in the flamingo enclosure that we could compare them with!

We loved the bug room because it was about 4 degrees outside and the bug room was delightfully warm. However, tarantulas. Enough said.

This elephant was receiving a pedicure. As you can see she is standing still of her own accord with no restraints. The keeper holding the bucket explained that receiving a pedicure and some sweet vegetable treats (contents of bucket) was the elephant equivalent of a day at the spa, very desirable.

The lions were far away, but very dignified.

This is a Japanese Red Crane. Surprisingly large (taller than me by a long shot).

Lady orangutan

Not sure who this guy is, but he had a very engaging stare.

...aaand a pepsi machine in the zoo.

Male orangutan threading and unthreading some scrow-together piping with his fingers, toes and mouth. He was fascinated, we were fascinated.

Oh, this is the one wallaby, forever alone in his huge enclosure, shivering in the chilly winter mid-afternoon sun.

A historical carousel in the zoo grounds, circa 1920s I think.

Matthew outside the carousel on a thing.

Original wooden hand-carved and hand-painted horse of objectionable taste.

...and finally, the free-roaming peacock who watched us eat our lunch, strutting and posing all the while.

The Woodland Park Zoo is a must if you are planning a weekend in Seattle. It was very nearly empty of people, there were stretches of parkland where we felt like were were alone with the animals. It was incredibly spacious and had an amazing collection.  We didn't photograph all by a long shot, but there was also a hippo, two giraffes, a couple more elephants, one of whom was actually dancing, a snow leopard, and the most amazing animal I have ever seen, called a Serow from Japan which is like a cross between an ape and a goat.

We headed home when the sun was still pretty high, but as soon as we got to the hills all the fog came down again and stuck with us all the way back to our front door in South Granville. The border lineup was not long, the classic rock in our car was classic, and we had the enormous presence of mind to stop at the local grocer so that we had actual vegetables to eat for dinner when we finally got home. Adulthood, eh?

Next time on the blog:
Actual birthday at the Kings
Anything else exciting that happens between now and then.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Book Club and Future Adventures

Thursday night, where did you spring from? This week is still a race to the finish line as Matthew and I gear up for an adventure. More on that later.

Sunday was book club at our house. I discovered that only one other Lady had read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, there were six lovely attendees: Chelsea (brought homemade brownies, she is a saint), Anne, Katie, Mina (brought apple caramel pie, also a saint), Kendall and Martina. We ate ourselves silly and talked about life, the universe, and everything (except Catch-22, natch). I lie, we did talk about it for a minute or two.

I feel like it was a success. food was eaten, laughs were had, and we have set The Picture of Dorian Gray as our next month's read, which is jolly convenient, because I will be teaching it to my first year students around that time. Two birds, one stone.

After book club I had the house to myself as Matthew was busy with home improvements at Martina's house (after gaming with Stu all arvo, they finally got to cabinet assembly at around 5, and finished up around 7:30...). I resolved recently that I am old enough and mature enough to read books in the bathtub. Haven't dropped anything in the soup yet. So I took a light read in there for an hour before Matthew got home. I'm not saying it was comfy, because the tub is less than two feet deep. But I want to be the kind of person who reads in the bath. Know what I mean?

Since then things have been quiet. Yesterday Matthew won tickets to the NHL through his work draw (remember that lockout situation I was talking about? Now resolved! Hockey is on!!). This is our first trip to major league, so we are pretty stoked! It's not for a week or two though. Be prepared for photos and recap here soon!

So Matthew and I are off to Seattle for a couple of days, and we are excited to be continuing our tradition of exploring revolving restaurants! Last time we were in Seattle was for a Hanson concert, over a year ago in the summertime. Somehow I imagine this trip may be different... Full report to follow.

Have a good week, all xoxo

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Rare and Beautiful Sunlight

Hello all! It has been a while since we've reported on Life In Vancouver, but to be honest it has been a little more-work-less-play since the New Year.

Last Sunday Matthew and I went to Cafe Deux Soleil on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver for our friend Sheila's gig. We ate veggie burgers, hung out with some uni friends, and also carefully minded our 9:30pm curfew ('school night').

Matthew's boss had a Christmas baby so Matthew has been filling in for him. That has meant long days for Matthew, and sometimes challenging ones at that. Also, since it is the depths of winter, it's dark when he leaves home in the morning and dark when he arrives home at night. How do I know and why am I observing this only now when it has been 'the depths' for some time now? Well as you know I have been haunting the English grad computer lab, but also my classes start at 9am. The famous 'B-Line' Broadway express bus to uni is so gosh-darn busy that it's impossible to squeeze on anytime between 8 and 10am (I think Vancouver city is brainstorming a light rail upgrade but that won't happen in the time I attend UBC), so I have been leaving with Matthew at 7, and staggering into uni at about 7:40. Yikes! But because not another soul is there, I get the kitchen all to myself. The building heating is fiercely warm and I have been powering through my fiction reading and also powering through the Earl Grey tea. It's quite bearable so far.

Also, after literally months of exhaustively training myself to go to the gym first thing when I get up, I have been forced (see above reasons) to attend in the evenings. THIS IS REALLY HARD, YOU GUYS! It has only been one week, but it feels like forever. To be fair, Vancouver's winter is much milder than this time last year, so instead of layering on a billion clothes just to walk the 6 blocks to gym, I have been bare-shinning it there and back. That is kind of a miracle, because anyone who has ever met me has heard me whinge bitterly about the cold. Also Matthew gave me some beautiful purple and grey sneakers for Christmas, so it has been a pleasure to run them in.

I may have exaggerated a little when I said winter is mild. Yesterday and today were those rare and stunning blue-sky days where the city is so stunning you can't even remember the rain. But of course blue skies in Vancouver winter are code for 'get your woolies on'. Today was about 2 and a half degrees, but Matthew and I were marching around in it so it didn't feel so cold. As soon as the sun went down, however... mind your hat or your ears might snap off!
PSA: Hat
Today Matthew and I decided to clear some room on our one bookshelf. Matthew being such a Warhammer aficionado, and myself a literature student, we've found our precious space filled to bursting recently. (Also the second hand bookstore down the street has been closing down forever and the markdowns have been fabulous.)

We filled two backpacks with about 40 books, and headed for Pulp Fiction and also Tanglewood bookshops on Broadway, and also Kestrel bookshop on 4th. The last shop had an amazing cat named Ruby, chilling out on her own personal throne.
Ruby the Bookshop Cat

Boy did we clean up! Sure, we came home with slightly less than half the books we set out with, but also we were $53 richer!! It went straight in our so-cute-Matthew-repaired-it piggy bank (smashed last October, if you recall). NB: moratorium on book buying for Mr and Mrs B, starting today. If it's not on the internet or in a library, we're not reading it.

We sallied past the Ferrari shop on Burrard and straight into our new fave place, the cheese shop on 2nd Ave. We never need to buy cheese again.

We walked home on the sunny side of the street because the shade was biting. The rooftops of houses were white with frost all day and the nature strips are all frozen, so even when you walk on the grass it feels like concrete. I did a lot of experimental walking-on-the-nature strip in our travels today, much to Matthew's amusement.
Frozen ground. Also, awesome made-in-Canada cowboy boots.

We stopped on the Granville St bridge to commemorate what is surely a rare winter's day in Vancouver, and then walked home.
Looking North-West across Granville St Bridge

Looking North-East along False Creek

But our day didn't end there! We then went to Gramma's house near Burnaby, and Matthew made great headway on her Christmas jigsaw puzzle (I think she was cool with us helping) while we had afternoon tea in the last of the sunlight.

Tomorrow is book club, and I'm pleased to report that I did actually finish Catch-22. Matthew will be computer-gaming with one of the husbands because our apartment will be a no-men zone for that time. Happy winter weekend, all!