Run For the Border, Part 3

21 January 2013, About 8:25 AM: Well, breakfast this morning was a bit different. Not that I’d gotten used to having breakfast in a pub, but the hotel does not do a good job of informing its patrons when there is going to be some big to-do in the pub that would effectively cancel breakfast if the hotel didn’t have a basement. Said basement, however, is a nightclub. It looks a little more mod-dungeon-y than the pub, which is your quintessential old-style wooden pub, and the display of alcohol is lit up like a Christmas tree, though I suppose that’s only to be expected.

Of course, in my just-woke-up haze, I forgot my camera. I’m kind of glad the boyfriend decided to sleep in, as I had him bring it down for his breakfast. We’ll see how that went in a bit.

We have to pack up and be out of here in two and a half hours… Arg. It’s not that we have all that much to pack; knowing that this would be just a weekend and that we wouldn’t have a car or anything, we packed as light as possible. My aunt suggested that we get the hotel to hold our baggage for us if we were going to be doing any walking-intensive activities so that we could return to the hotel and grab our stuff. However, we’ve opted for a different route. We’re going to hang out at Starbucks for a bit, have lunch, hang some more, walk to Chinatown (which is a little over a mile from the hotel, so it won’t be that bad), hang out there, grab some dinner, then walk another little bit (probably a half-mile or so—Google Maps gave the distance in kilometers, and distance is one of those things I have a harder time converting) to the train station.

Ah, the boyfriend is back, and with pictures of the nightclub! Just a few, though, and obviously, it’s not the nightclub in its full glory, but I’m still happy. :) Time now to start packing.

12:40 PM: It turns out that they were filming a movie or TV show or music video or SOMETHING of some sort in the pub. When we left the hotel, the setup outside made it clear that something was being professionally filmed. I do kind of wonder what it was…

We’re sitting in a Starbucks about three quarters of a mile from our hotel. We figured it was as good a place to sit as any. Homework was attempted for a little while on my part, but King Lear is boring and difficult.

The boyfriend, however, is far more productive (and better at focusing) than I, and finished his homework fairly quickly. Now, he’s puzzling (ha ha) over a page in my puzzle magazine while checking Facebook. (We also just found that the part of the Starbucks we moved to actually has wifi, which makes us happy.) We’re going to head out in a bit, though—Starbucks probably wouldn’t look kindly on us eating our obviously non-Starbucks bagels and apples in here, though we did order drinks and a small pastry for the boyfriend.

3:25 PM: We killed a little more time wandering to Chinatown. We wound up eating our bagels and apples outside the Border Services Agency building on the way there. It seemed like the security guard there wasn’t quite sure what to make of us. I mean, who in their right mind picnics when it’s a little above freezing? Believe me; I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had to.

Anyway, we were looking for a store we could kill a bit of time in, since we were both absolutely freezing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we found a mall. Like, a legit (if tiny) shopping mall on the outskirts of Chinatown. We couldn’t get inside fast enough.

We spent about 15 or 20 minutes wandering around, since about half the shops were closed and the other half didn’t really seem worth exploring. However, the second level did have some really awesome walls carved with famous landmarks from around the world, and a strip of lights with a night sky background so that the lights were stars. It also had a food court, where we settled down for a little bit to get our bearings. We were considering eating dinner there, but I was dead set on finding the New Town Bakery, as I’d read in reviews that their food was cheap and really, really tasty.

So, we adventured off again. I was pretty sure that we had to keep going the same direction we had been coming from, because I hadn’t seen any ostentatious “New Town Bakery” signs (though, if you’ll refer to part 2, I’m good at missing the obvious), but it seemed to me that if we were at the very west-most end of Chinatown, the bakery we were looking for would be in the heart of it, so we walked east.

It took a few blocks and some rather confusing moments figuring out what the heck the addresses were doing, but in the end, we figured that they were decreasing west-to-east, and I guessed that, since we were in a decreasing 100 block, it was going to turn around soon. With that, we headed toward Chinatown proper, and found the place where it was supposed to be… only to find that it had moved about two storefronts right and we hadn’t even noticed. We popped in for a few minutes, and their food is in fact incredibly well-priced for how much you get. However, I can’t yet speak to the quality, because we’re getting our dinner there, and it looks like we’ll be able to eat rather enough even splitting our grand total of $8.56 CAN between the two of us. (The place takes only cash, or this wouldn’t be an issue, but it is a good way to burn the last of the money we have, rather than changing it back in the States.)

We went back to the food court and will be camping out here for another half hour (which means we will have spent a grand total of two or three hours there… ^^;) or so before we go and pick up dinner, then go to the train station and eat before boarding the train to head back.

4:50 PM, At the station: Considering that we paid a grand total of $5.66 CAN for our dinner and that it was exposed to the cold for a half-hour before we ate it, it was pretty tasty! We both got BBQ pork buns, which were a little lacking in spice and surprisingly sweet. Not anything to write home about, good or bad. (Considering they were each $1.30 CAN, I’m a little surprised they were as good as they were, to be honest.) For dessert, I had a butter cream horn, and the boyfriend had chocolate cake with icing.

Again, I was a little underwhelmed by the food itself—the majority of my chosen pastry was phyllo dough, and it seemed a little stale, though I imagine at least part of that was being pretty much flash-frozen by the weather, but still… (Though, also again, we paid a little less than you would normally pay for a really cheap entrée in the U.S. for one person, so I won’t say I didn’t get what I paid for, or rather, that I got less than what I paid for.) The boyfriend’s verdict on his cake was “not bad”. We both ate all of what we ordered, and, were I hungry and low on money in Vancouver, I know exactly where I’d go, but if I could splurge on food like last night’s shawarma, I’d sooner go for that.

Also, the station has really crappy wifi, so my wifi’s been cutting in and out as I’ve been writing this. Thank goodness I put entries in word documents first!

It’s now a little after 5 and I think they’re going to have us start getting ready soon. Over all, it has been a great trip, but I’ll be glad to be back in my apartment in a few hours.

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Run For the Border, Part 2

20 January 2013: After waking up around 7:20, we decide to try the complimentary breakfast in the pub. As we head down, I get more and more nervous about the “complimentary” having been crossed off our vouchers, and in a moment of financial panic, I check with about three different people to make sure that our complimentary breakfast is indeed complimentary. It is, and the boyfriend and I have breakfast.

We then spend some time puttering around our hotel room, checking the internet and making sure that the makeshift refrigerator we’re using for our cream cheese (the sealed ice bucket) has kept our cream cheese sufficiently cold. It has—chalk that one up to my boyfriend being intelligent while I dither and wring my hands, wondering what we’re going to do.

Around 4:10 PM: We decided to head to Granville Island after lunch. For the uninitiated, it’s a great little place (not entirely an island) in the heart of Vancouver, home to a public market, an arts university, far too many charter boat companies, and a whole bunch of little gift shops and unique stores. We visited the most awesome hammock store I’ve ever been to (The Hangout Place), wandered through the public market for a little while, then made our way to Roger’s chocolates, where we each bought treats for our mothers. While there, we got to sample the vanilla crèmes, which are delicious.

We wandered over towards the east side of the island, passing by and through the set of shops next to Roger’s, managing to find a place that sells “ginger drinks”—I never did manage to find out what kind. We also went to Dragonspace, one of the better fantasy (think fairies and dragons and such…) shops I’ve been to. After that, we meandered through two gift shops, which left me with a serious hankering for those little maple-leaf-shaped cookies with maple filling which are one of my more favorite Canadian delicacies. We went back to the public market for some gelato, which seems to be preferred to ice cream in Vancouver. I won’t complain, though; the blackberry/vanilla combo my boyfriend decided we should get (I’m generally not picky about my flavors, so they all sounded REALLY good) was perfect in both texture and flavor.

We did a little more walking, and “hiked” to the highest natural point on Granville Island—a hill about 30 feet tall–and I took a few pictures of downtown with the sun breaking through one particular area.

By then, we were getting cold and tired, so we tried to find an ATM so that we could get money for our bus fare, since the regular old bus platforms don’t do ticket vending. We did, but, of course, the lowest amount we could get was $20 CAN, so we had to go and break that. On maple leaf cookies. I have no regrets. NONE.

It was only then that I realized that I had no idea if the same bus that took us there would get us back, as I was of the misguided notion that the street our hotel was on went only southbound, as opposed to bi-directional south and north. As it turns out, I was, as I said, wrong, and we made it back safe and sound to just work on homework and hang out until dinner.

Around 6:30 PM: We wound up going to Aladdin’s Café for dinner. Back home, we have an Aladdin’s… something or other. I think it’s Gyrocery, and my boyfriend thinks it doesn’t have anything tacked on to the end. It does not help that there are 2 or 3 Aladdin’s within about 4 blocks of each other, and they all have slightly different names. I could just look it up, but does it really matter right now? No. What matters is that this particular Aladdin’s in Vancouver had really, really, super-mega-awesomely amazing shawarma wraps. How could this possibly be, you ask? By the addition of a few very simple ingredients.

First, every Aladdin’s—no, every place that serves shawarma/gyros/etc.—has its own blend of house sauces. This café had some really good ones, and they asked before adding them if we wanted our food spicy or not. We both said yes, which turned out to be the correct answer; the wraps would’ve been pretty bland otherwise. In addition, while these wraps had the usual meat/tomato/lettuce/cucumber/onions/special sauce combo, they had two more ingredients that made for a deliciously interesting experience: pickles (that’s right—thin, crinkle-cut slices of dill pickle, which I love) and peppers, along with some pickled peppers, but I class those under “peppers”. These added to the tang of the shawarma and left me craving more, which is a difficult task because most shawarma wraps are one meal in and of themselves for me.

We did have a bit of an adventure finding the place, though. I had sort of memorized where it was from looking at Google maps—the 600 block of Robson Street. I even looked at the surrounding area in street view. However, Vancouver, like most places, tends to look rather different in the dark, and so I wound up taking us about 3 blocks too far, and then being unable to locate it when we passed back by. You see, this little gem does not look like your typical Middle Eastern fare restaurant; at least, not like the ones I’m used to in Seattle. In Seattle, they’re usually brick-and-mortar places where you walk in and the place is tapestried and canopied and very, very reminiscent of the Middle East markets you see on tv. This place has an all-glass front with just a few hookahs (all non-operational and purely for decoration) sitting in the windows, and some framed money with Arabic writing on it. Additionally, the writing on the window advertising the name was light gold, which blended in pretty well to the stark-white inside of the restaurant. I will say, though, that in the end, our search was very worth it.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to work on homework again. (A three-day weekend in college usually unfortunately means “yes, you can and totally should pile on homework” to most professors.) However, we did partake in a few more maple cookies, so at least there was that…

Honestly, I’m a little worried about tomorrow. We have to be out of the hotel by 11 AM, and our train does not leave until 5:45 PM, so while we have plans to visit Stanley Park, it will mean lugging around a lot of stuff. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.

Run For the Border, Part 1

19 January 2013, 6:40 AM PST: I jolt awake to the alarm clock’s not-so-dulcet tones. Trying to figure out whether waking my boyfriend or shutting the freakin’ thing off comes first, I somehow manage both, albeit unhappily, operating on roughly 6 hours of sleep after I woke up and my brain would NOT shut back down from about 1:30 to 3 AM. We both stumble upstairs to the main floor of my parents’ house, where that blessed ambrosia that is coffee cake awaits us in the kitchen. We shovel down a piece of it each, grab our bags, and get into the car so that my mom, who so graciously offered to take us to the train station, can actually transport us.

Seattle’s been under an air stagnation advisory for days and the fog’s so thick visibility is reduced to maybe a hundred yards in places, but since she knows these roads well, and nobody is on them at the ungodly hour of 7 AM on a Saturday (a Saturday of a holiday weekend, no less), it takes 25 minutes at most to get to the train station. We say our goodbyes, get our tickets and passports checked, are given a seat assignment, and are on the train in about 5 minutes.

Around 8:30 AM PST: Almost an hour into our journey, I am desperately trying to stay awake enough to digest King Lear, which I must read for my Shakespeare course, as my boyfriend is powering through the Dresden Files short story anthology, Side Jobs. Realizing I am fighting a losing battle, I push my seat back (the seats on this train actually go back and every passenger has actual leg room!) and nap for a bit, sleeping on and off for about an hour.

Around 11:30 AM, PST: The rest of the trip is relatively uneventful (except for a few moments of me holding my breath as we cross rickety wooden trestle bridges that span entirely too much water) until we reach our destination: Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, BC. There, we must submit ourselves to the will of customs. Turns out, the Canadian government website is woefully inaccurate about what one can and cannot bring into Canada, and $3 (US, not that it matters terribly much) worth of tiny apples is unceremoniously tossed into a garbage bin (not even compost!), and we are questioned for a bit while some information is entered about us and/or the incident, and we are then sent on our merry way…

…to try to get change so we can buy bus tickets. It would work, too, if the change machine wasn’t broken, but my boyfriend convinces the money-changers to make change for us without a transaction.

When we get to the Skytrain platform, it turns out this was not at all necessary, as we could have easily bought tickets and received change, but hey, it’s a new experience. We navigate through downtown Vancouver, making our way safely to the hotel, and (hopefully) securing lunch.

About 6:40 PM: We visited the Crepe Café for an exquisite lunch (a ham, egg, and swiss cheese crepe for the boyfriend, and a salami, cheese (it was yummy, but I forget the type), and tomato Panini for me. We also went to the grocery store to replace the apples we lost, as well as to get some cream cheese for our bagels and cough medicine for me. The cough medicine came with a lovely tamper-proof seal… but no dosing cup! (Is this how it works in Canada? I really don’t know…) Thankfully, I have a decent eye for how much 2 teaspoons is, so I managed not to OD on cough medicine.

We then spent a good long while watching TV. We came across an ice skating competition… three performances before it ended, though two of them placed first and second, so it did make up for not seeing a lot of the program. We then proceeded to watch entirely too much of the Food Network. After a healthy (pfffff…) dinner of bagels and cream cheese, as well as an exquisite applesauce and caramel crepe (again, from the Crepe Café), we’re settled in for the night, trying to figure out what tomorrow’s adventures will be.