Jul 12, 2005

Wolvenspirit's Summer Excursion Part I of V: The Tale of Two Rainy Cities

Brief Introduction: I plan to write about only the highlights of my trip that I found particularly interesting, or those details that set the stage for said highlights. I could write a novel about this trip if I was so inclined, but I have not the motive for that, I'm afraid, and I am sure it would bore its readers into a slumber (like the prolific narcotic metal band Children of Boredom's sleeper hit song, "Fate of a Yawner." Please refrain from inquiring). And no, I refuse to go into depth about the noodle incident. The noodle incident is not an appropriate topic for discussion.


June 9th was a very hectic day. I had one final exam in the morning and one in the afternoon. Concentrating on tests that day was not an easy feat, with the excitement of adventure looming ahead that very evening. I successfully went through the motions, though, like an obedient little cub. Immediately after the final one, I had to throw a heap of luggage into the back of my vehicle and hightail it from my apartment to the house. There, my father and I gathered what seemed to me at the time like an excessive amount of things together and packed them up rather securely before heading off to the airport, an hour's drive.

Admittedly, I enjoy the atmosphere of airports, particularly in the evening. I am particularly fond of their inherently transient nature; the constant bustle and rapid pace of their terminals, and the quality of their amenities. Gazing at the long strips of glowing runway lights as the jet took off into the air instilled a feeling of elation within me. I watched the black void rush by, the vast array of vanishing lights on the ground my only point of reference. I did not mind the crowds, nor the strict security measures, nor the cramped conditions of the flight. I was much too giddy over the fact that the much anticipated moment of departure from the familiar had finally arrived.

We landed in Seattle around 6:00 in the morning, though of course accounting for the time zone difference, it felt like 3 a.m. for me. I find it very difficult if not impossible to sleep in an upright position, so I was rather weary, but keyed up and prepared for a long day. It took us about an hour to locate the proper Budget rental car counter, while we juggled about all our bulky baggage. After stepping outdoors for the first time, I noticed one striking feature immediately--the continental air. It felt so much different than what I was accustomed to; much crisper, cooler, and drier. I didn't find it any more or less pleasant, but different.

Our SUV rental turned out to be very nice and spacious, chock full of luxurious amenities I never would have dreamed of requesting- an oil change indicator? Backseat heater? Electronic chair position controls? Driving this massive, fancy thing was fun. My father drove out of the airport and through Seattle to our hotel destination, and I can humbly declare that I feel much safer with me driving than him. Something about his tendency to frequently and needlessly change lanes and swerve around while searching for this and that in the backseat made me wish I could snap my fingers and magically replace him in the driver's seat. Fortunately, we survived the trip to our hotel in Lynnwood, a north Seattle subdivision which looked like a typical American town. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could check into our hotel before 3 pm, as we both craved a nap or two in the very near future and the time was only 9 in the morning or so. After breakfast at IHOP, we crawled back to the room to crash for awhile. By the time I woke up around 1 in the afternoon, sufficiently rested, I felt as if the entire day should have already gone by. In fact, because the blackout curtains were completely shut, I was convinced it was actually 1 in the morning until I completely came to. Oh, the power jet lag can have over the mind. It was a very strange day.

Later in the afternoon, we shopped until we almost dropped, purchasing a few articles of warm clothing, camping equipment, and electrical accessories. Mind, there are no stores where I come from by the name of Eddie Bauer, REI, Best Buy, Sports Authority, or even Target, so I made the most of my shopping experience while I was there, as much as I don't much care for the activity. By the time we returned to the hotel again in the evening, we had shopped for hours and were even more exhausted than earlier in the day. Personally, I slept very well that night, even through my father's ever-reliable snoring across the room.

The next day, my father took off for his coin show at the nearby convention centre, and I kept him company for a little while. It wasn't long before I was bored out of my mind and decided to split- fortunately, he let me have the Explorer for the day. I spent most of it exploring some of Seattle's very scenic parks and absorbing the overall flavour of the city. I must say, what I saw of it rather agreed with me. The overcast sky accented with random cloudbursts certainly appealed to me; it was lovely weather for ducks and certain water-loving wolves. The day seemed perfect for leisurely strolls around the city, where I could try my damnedest to look like a native who knew where he was going, when I really didn't. Unfortunately, I couldn't make my skin a few shades paler to -really- fit in. My favourite area was Discovery Park, which contained a few trails weaving through large patches of deep forest and descending a high cliff to a charming little lighthouse. I witnessed a good deal of wildlife, including a woodpecker, a few skunks, and myriad squirrels going about their business. As we have no such wildlife where I live, I was rather fascinated with the fauna that I did witness. I concluded that Seattle's green spaces indeed would make the city a very liveable place for me.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of driving past the university on commencement day--I wasted a good hour getting caught up in heavy traffic due to detours. That time could have been better spent sitting in the hotel room playing Starfox Adventures (yes!). Yeah, I know, I didn't come to the mainland for that, nor getting stuck with a bunch of buffoons honking their horns and screaming like they just won the lottery. At any rate, I feel like I got a very nice taste of suburban Seattle, and I was rather impressed with what I saw.

The day after, though, I got into the actual city. We did the most typical tourist activity conceivable- visiting the Space Needle. The surrounding area was very nice, save for all the cheesy little amusement rides located right next to the tower. The ferris wheel particularly caught my attention. Considering many people ride a ferris wheel partially for the view at the top, why in Rayg's name would anyone locate it right next to a tourist-accessible tower several times its height? Eh, the entire trip was just one elaborate money vacuum, and we knew it. We got our tickets, scaled the ramp to the entrance, stood in line for at least half an hour to get to the elevator, and rode it to the top. I must admit, the views of the city were very rewarding, though I still felt too much like an average generic camera-wielding tourist just going through the motions expected of him. Fortunately, much of the rest of our trip would not be so... commercially indulgent.

Later, we toured the Seattle Aquarium, another very 'touristy' thing to do. Already being from a maritime environment, I found much of the tour only somewhat interesting. Besides, it seemed very children-oriented, and would have been much better suited as a sixth-grade field trip. I managed to enjoy a few features of the aquarium, though. Some of the vibrant, colourful artwork on the walls greatly appealed to my tastes. Watching small sharks swim about their tanks only confirmed my suspicion that were truly as cute as they appeared in photographs. Honestly, I hardly perceive them as threatening or fearsome. They are simply adorable, not to mention sleek-looking. The highlight of the visit, though, were the otters. I adore these precious creatures and their inherent playful personalities. I insisted on watching them for at least twenty minutes, and made my father rather impatient in the process. I didn't care. I'm an otter lover, and definitely advocate their protection. Go away, fur coat lovers and Exxon. OTTER POWER!

An hour later, we enjoyed Chinese cuisine in a quirky little restaurant in Pike's Plaza. It felt like I was sitting in an RV protruding over the edge of a large building. Strange atmosphere, I know, but the uniqueness of it appealed to me, and the view was pleasant. After refueling, we finally set sail for Canada. I was definitely looking forward to crossing the border and being in a new country for the very first time, even if it wasn't a huge cry from the United States. The border patrol guard asked us how many passengers were in the vehicle (the rear windows were nicely tinted so they couldn't see for themselves) and what the purpose of our trip was. We were then waved through, simple as that. Obviously, all the trouble my father went through to gather all the appropriate identification documentation was for naught.

It actually rained heavily the entire way to Vancouver, making for slightly more challenging driving. Of course, even more challenging was adjusting to KPH speed limits. I had never seen a speed limit of '100' before. Also, I found it awfully queer that some traffic lights flash green in Canada. I never quite figured out what that signified. Flashing red means stop, flashing yellow means proceed with caution, but flashing green..? While we initially entered the outskirts of Vancouver, I noticed another regional difference--narrower lanes.

We reached the Rennaissance Hotel at about 11 pm, and it was quite a step up from the Marriott in Lynnwood. I am not accustomed to having someone step up to me on the curb, offering to bring all my junk up to my room on the fourteenth floor and safely park my vehicle for me. Despite the way I was dressed, as I stepped out in the shadows of the tall buildings and brilliant city lights, I felt somewhat like a celebrity. I cannot say I felt entirely comfortable with it, either. Of course, this hotel was located in downtown Vancouver, and was ritzy as hell. It was, without a doubt, the nicest hotel we stayed in. The view from the patio of our room was splendid; I could see Stanley Park and across the inlet to northern Vancouver, then the mountains beyond. A pantry next to the TV was loaded with snacks and cold drinks that no doubt carried ridiculous courtesy fees. The bottle of Evian water, in fact, would have cost $4.50 if I broke the seal on it. There's nothing like having a great big chocolate chip cookie staring at you in the face while you try your damndest to avoid scooping it up for fear of it costing as much as a gourmet meal. Around 2 in the morning, I decided to throw on my bathing suit and investigate the 24 hour indoor pool and spa on the fourth floor ... and I was glad I did. The place sported an expansive exercise room, a large swimming pool, an elevated jacuzzi, and a cozy sauna. The best thing is that I was the only one in there. I spent at least a couple of hours down there, pampering myself as I went from sauna to pool to jacuzzi to pool to sauna. This was the life, yes? I slept like a cub that night.

The day after, we went out to take a tour of the Museum of Anthropology, whose main displays I found interesting for a little while. Some of the exhibits, primarily the totem polls several times taller than myself, were impressive, but before long, I found myself bored out of my wits. For some reason, I was never very fascinated with human cultural artifacts or learning much about human history. I would much rather spend my time outdoors and immerse myself in natural beauty, studying and admiring the behaviour of wildlife. Of course, a museum excursion only lended itself to the overall diversity of this trip. In the late afternoon, we ventured into Stanley Park, easily the most beautiful city park I have ever visited. Everything was so clean, so green, so pleasant. The scenery was magnificent; it was like a large wooded haven in the middle of a bustling metropolis. I rode my bike along the entirety of the famous Seawall, simply taking in the views. The path was divided up by a yellow centre line, one side to be used by walkers and joggers, the other by skaters and cyclists. It was also strictly one-way, so any rider and skater who had the gaul to go against the grain most certainly would have been greeted with a few sour expressions. Oh, I cannot neglect to mention that I encountered a raccoon along the roadside on the way back to town... she was beautiful. Being nocturnal and all (good taste!), I figured she was probably just out for her breakfast, since she had something in her paws. I was only one or two metres away from her, but kneeled down and spoke gently to her. She gazed at me as she nibbled, obviously wary of my presence but seemingly not phased at all. I wish we could have shared this moment longer, but for a noisy RV that came barreling down the parkway in the nearest lane, compelling the animal to go dashing back into the trees. Still, it was absolutely a highlight of my day.

As dusk fell, I still wasn't ready to head back "home." Cycling around Vancouver at twilight, especially on the shoreline bike path, was truly a fabulous experience. Not only was I able to view the magnificent lit-up skyline and marine ambience, I was able to truly immerse myself in the overall culture. A large crowd was gathered around a torch-juggling busker on the beach, and I stopped to watch his antics for a few minutes. He communicated to the audience through a microphone headset, displaying a rather refined Canadian sense of humour. One thing I did notice is that the Canadianfolk I happened to run into (not literally) seemed nicer and more easygoing than the average American. This did not really surprise me, but I still found it very reassuring. I actually did not mind being out and about in crowds of people. They had good taste in being out at twilight on a drizzly evening.

Vancouver had a very pleasant ambience about it, more so than any other city I had been to. All in all, I was very impressed with what I experienced. I had suspected I wouldn't enjoy the city portion of my trip very much, but I was proven wrong. At this point, though, I was looking forward to escaping into a more rural area, and spending a night out in the great outdoors rather than within the confines of a fancy hotel room. The day after, we took off for the ferry docks at Tsawwassen--the launching point for our next big adventure: Vancouver Island.

No comments: