Saturday, July 31, 2010

A few reasons why I think Vancouver is Cooler than Seattle

Random cafe patio on Davie St.Vancouver, British Columbia

Don't get me wrong, I really like Seattle. And there are things about the town that I can even say I love. But the truth is, Vancouver is way cooler. WAY. It's got a cosmopolitan/European flair with American conveniences, and certain civilities that tend to be lacking in American culture. It's also just incredibly gorgeous, with the beautiful highrise buildings and majestic natural backdrop of mountains and water. It also helps that you don't really need a car here as so much is within walking distance and the public transportation is comparative to New York.

I've learned not to bother coming here with an agenda. Just walking down the block can offer amazing sites and sounds, and if you're willing to walk even further, you can transport across so many different worlds, cultures, artforms and celebrations.

Last time I was here, back in late September, it was just a one-day stop on a cruise. I guess my friend and I really needed a vacation because we hadn't had time to even think about our Vancouver stop, let alone plan it. We got off the ship, grabbed a map, and realized our choices were to turn left, right or forward. We chose left. In a span of about 8 hours, we hit the Gastown District, Chinatown, the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China Parade, the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens (gorgeous), Restaurant Salt, a 1st American Peoples Celebration, Anti-Iraq War protest & rap contest, Downtown, Japadog, and waterfront. I also want to include Stanley Park and the Sea Wall, mainly because we got such an incredible view from the ship, that we couldn't have gotten otherwise from land.

(Holy $&!t, just heard super-loud thunder. Must get back to hotel before rain hits.)

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home, Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening a conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing;
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free the heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life;
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way
to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

— John O’ Donahue

Friday, July 30, 2010

Creature Comforts

It's hard for me to think of Seattle as "home," especially now that I am no longer an official resident. I didn't grow up here and I don't have family other than dear friends I consider close enough to be family and the adorable dog of whose I lost custody in my divorce. But, I do find some home-style comforts, not just with the people I get to see, but some of the food I get to eat.

I'm often asked where my favorite place to eat is, and it's easy to randomly pick one of the more popular, highly-rated, and usually more expensive restaurants. The truth is, something I would truly consider a favorite has to be more accessible, not just price-wise but personality-wise. The kind of place I could go to on a regular basis and know the food and know the folks, that whether I were dressed up or dressed down, I'd be treated well and get the same great food regardless. While I generally live my life open to outcome, I do take a large measure of comfort in consistency, too.

I love breakfast and can enjoy any of its components during any meal. However, there's something quite magical about weekend breakfast for me. Oh, better yet, if I could get an unhurried, sit-down breakfast during the week, too, I'd be in Heaven. There are two places in Seattle that offer the comfort food component for such sacred meals, and rarely do I ever share their identities or their meaningfulness with others. But now that I have moved away and I won't be coming here so often, I will share them now. Think of it as a reward for actually taking the time to actually read my blog.

The first place is Voula's Offshore Cafe, already pretty well-known, not just because of its long-standing existence, but was well-publicized on the Food Network's Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, so I didn't mind writing about it in a previous blog post, nor publicizing my outings there on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, even sending out invitations. The place is crowded already, so I'd rather see it crowded with people I already know. It's a family-owned and -run restaurant, with Voula as the matriarch and her two sons, Sikey and Nikos handling the day to day operations. There's also Brian behind the counter, who seems to be more of an adopted brother. Nikos has probably the most important job in my book, making me crispy hash browns. While we both elevate the importance of their crispiness, his way is to focus on one side's perfection while keeping the other side moist and more potato-y. And he believes the time taken to grill the second side would actually sacrifice the first side's perfection by making it soggy. And for us two-sided fans, it's not like there isn't plenty of hash and brownage to go around. In fact, the plate itself can barely contain how much is served. I usually just eat the crispy parts and if there were 2 sides available, I wouldn't have room for the rest of the breakfast. Actually, I don't usually have room for the entire breakfast anyway. And along with the boys behind the counter, I have to send a special shout out to one particular waitress, ZeZe, who has just been such a sweetheart to me over the years. She really helps me feel like I'm "home."

The other place, I'll have to think about whether to share . . .

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sleepless in Seattle

Super Amazing Kimpton Hotel Suite
Seattle, WA

At first, I had no idea where I was when I woke up at 3:30 this morning. Although, to be fair, it's more like 6:30 to me. This place is almost the size of my apartment. The bedroom portion itself is already sizeable, but there is also an offset livingroom/den/office space, even a kitchen sink. A nice upgrade perk thanks to my new status as an Inner Circle member for Kimpton hotels. I don't know why I feel guilty for having such luxuries all to myself, at least one of my best friends got to hang out for a bit while I checked in and got ready for post-dinner cocktails/dessert. I had better enjoy this while it lasts. I'll have two weeks of having to wake up in unknown surroundings and I don't think any of them will be as spacious as this.

It started to hit me, while I was driving my car yesterday, that this could be the longest couple of weeks of my life. I've never done a road trip for more than a few days, let alone by myself. Why am I doing this again?

All I know is I have to, despite being tested and tempted to do otherwise. Just the other day, I got a good offer on my car. When I posed the question on Facebook about whether to sell my car or keep it, overwhelmingly, everyone suggested I sell. And it was hard for me to leave home because of my air-conditioning issues and worries about my cat baking at home. Yet, I'm here now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The View from Here

Alaska Airlines, Flight 1, DC to Seattle

Staring out my window at the various landscapes of the country from 15,000 feet above, I wonder if it'll look as magical from on the ground. I recall various road trips winding around mountain ranges wondering, if at the next bend, I'll finally feel like we got some headway to our destination. Perhaps it was the anxiety to be at whatever event I was going to, or perhaps it was because I wanted to do anything to just get out of the car. Perhaps it was before learning the phrase, "it's about the journey, not the destination." Ha, I don't think this applied to the 5-hour road trips from San Francisco to Black Rock City in the middle of the night at the end of summer.

Luckily, I can wholeheartedly say, even though I am only a few hours into my journey so far, I'm having a great time. I'm sitting comfortably in a bulk head seat, munching on a Cougar Mountain cookie, option for a free cocktail (thanks to my new MVP Gold status), and free wifi. My work laptop isn't working, so I have to use my personal one, and nothing of any real significance I can do for work from here. Shucks, Facebook it is. And what an amazing invention it has become.

Comment from a dear former colleague back in San Francisco on my status about my draft road trip itinerary so far, discovering that we will actually be in the same general area (Idaho/Montana/Wyoming) at the same time. Yes, I am counting three states as the same general area given that we do live across the country from each other. We are going opposite directions (he and his family going west and I going east), we can intersect at Yellowstone. They will be staying at their cabin at the entrance to Yellowstone, and even better, they have space for me to stay. Talk about serious score! Get to see old friends and their sons whose pictures I've been admiring over the years, get a place to stay, and get to see the Old Faithful Geyser.

Ironically, I was actually considering skipping Yellowstone, but I guess this was just meant to be. Part of the beauty of not having a set itinerary is being open to these gems of opportunities.

Two Weeks


Written on a chalkboard at the very end of the movie One Week. Interesting mantra to inspire me on this road adventure I'm about to undertake, to drive my car from the old Washington (state) to the new Washington (DC). I didn't think I was seeking anything, not even the inevitable adventure part, but I suppose it's actually a new vision quest I have begun.

While, unlike the movie's main character, I have not been diagnosed with a terminal disease (thank God), but we both seek new life somehow. My transition to life on the East Coast almost complete, I get the feeling the real transition is yet to come.