Tuesday October 26th, 2010 20:27 Vancouver

Stepping off the bus, I walked through the streets of Vancouver on the way to my hostel. As I checked in, I was offered the chance to get a private room just for that night. It was an extra $30 but I found myself to have more of surplus of spending money this late in the trip, so I decided to splurge. After checking into my room, I tried to see if I could find some of the other hostelgoers to see if they were interested in getting a drink. I couldn’t find anyone and decided to head out alone. I’m not sure what all of Canada’s contributions to the culinary arts are, but there if theres one thing I love, it’s a good poutine. Grabbing a poutine to go, I walked up and down Davie street (the street my hostel was closest to) looking for a bar to hang out in for a couple drinks before calling it a night. I walked up and down the street for blocks upon blocks. Looking in the windows of bar after bar after bar, I had a stark realization. Davie street was the center, err.. centre of gay Vancouver. Without a cellphone data plan, I did what any tech savvy tourist would do, I headed to the first coffee shop I could find to leech their free wifi on my phone and find a place to go. After doing my research, It looked like all the hip bars were a few kilometers east of me and I wasn’t quite in the mood for another long walk. Defeated, I walked back to my hostel and got to bed early.

Up early the next morning, I entered the kitchen and to my amazement, there were a TON of people in there. I put a plate together and sat down at the only empty seat I could find at a table of three girls. Politely introducing myself, I inquired where they were from. Toronto! That’s close to home. I mentioned that I was from Detroit and they were like instantly disinterested. I finished my meal, grabbed a quick shower and checked out of my private room and into my dorm room. The dorm room in Vancouver was a thousand times better than the dorm room in Philly! Before I saw it, I wasn’t looking forward to staying there even for just one night. The dorm room featured only four people per room, nice big lockers and comfortable beds. After locking my stuff up, I headed downstairs and rented a bike. Rolling onto the street, I headed off to my first destination, the seawall path up to Stanley Park.

Even though the morning started out a grey and cloudy, I instantly realized that Vancouver is the most beautiful city that I’ve seen with my own eyes. The few pictures included in this post really don’t do the place justice. The streets (especially the seawall area) were filled with different works of art. There were so many runners, rollerbladers and cyclists all about. Riding on the bike path going counter-clockwise surrounded by water with sights like Grouse Mountain and the Lions Gate Bridge left me mesmerized. I rode down the opposite side of the seawall and made my way to Canada Place where some giant cruise ships were docked. I stopped to snap a few pictures by the Olympic Cauldron before heading back towards my hostel. My stomach rumbled and I knew that while I was in the great nation of Canada, I had to indulge in some more poutine. I ‘d tried a place the previous night that was alright. According to the fine people of the internet, the place to go in the neighborhood was La Belle Patate. The fine people of the internet did me no wrong there.

After a well deserved break at my hostel, I hopped back on my rented wheels and headed to Granville Island. It was a neat ride over there especially since part of the island tucked underneath the Granville street bridge. The highlight of this spot is the public market. The Granville Island Public Market was essentially a nicer, cleaner version of Pike Place with about 70% less tourist crap trash for sale. That isn’t counting the numerous souvenir shops located right outside, but I think you get the point. Catching the tail end of a street performer show, I watched as the performer contorted himself through a squash racket, while standing on board balancing on a cylinder on a platform. Granville Island is also famous for a microbrewery. Eager to try another microbrew, I stopped into small restaurant with a “Granville Island Brewing on tap” sign for fish (it was salmon!) and chips with a nice craft pale ale. With the evening just beginning and a time restriction on my bike (sundown), I knew I had to make the most of the hour or so I had left. Slowly riding south east along the seawall and back, I parked myself on a bench on the beach by my hostel and watched the sunset.

I headed back to the hostel for another break. This time around, I took a quick shower as I uploaded some pictures to my Flickr account. I also got to meet my three roommates. One of the dudes was from Montreal and I remember being blown away by the fact that he was speaking in english and I could barely understand what in the hell he was saying. My second roommate wasn’t memorable enough to mention. However, the third roommate, Til was very cool. Til was 18 years old and had recently graduated from high school in his home country of Germany. Instead of being college-bound, Til decided that wasn’t for him yet and instead was sitting in Vancouver awaiting to hear from a few farms to start a WWOOF program. Til had no plans for the night, so I insisted that he tag along with me on my adventure to one of Vancouver’s hip bars. Little did either of us know, but we were in for one hell of an adventure.

Hastily reading Google map directions to my bar of choice, we jumped on a bus headed east. After a handful of stops, the bus driver made an awkward stop in the middle of nowhere to let a passenger out and said “I’m going to let you out here, it’s just not safe up there”. At this point I snickered. Safe? We’re in Canada! What are they going to do threaten us with apologies? Eventually, we made it to the Main street stop when I had this striking realization. Main street was east of where we were headed. I immediately tugged on the string and Til and I exited the bus. I walked to the nearest street corner to find my bearings, but it was in vain for we were lost. In order to appear untouristy, I snuck my pocket bike map out to find out where the hell we were only to notice that street with bike lanes and chevrons were the only streets labeled on the map. Shit! I pulled my phone out of my pocket, regrettable enabled my data plan ($10 a meg in Canada!) pulled a map up with our GPS location and started heading north. We walked through old Chinatown and it was absolutely dead at this time of night. With the exception of the neon glow, It was like walking through a ghost town. Eventually we made it up to Hastings street. Hastings street! That sounds familiar! I think the bar is on that street! So Til and I headed down Hastings street, after a block we noticed a few homeless people and some private security guards outside a building. I thought nothing of it and proceeded to march down the street. The further we headed the more and more populated the street became with the homeless and junkies. I pulled my hood up over my head, told Til “pull you hood up, don’t look at anyone, don’t talk to anyone, just keep walking” and we did. It was like walking through the set of a zombie film. Eventually we made our way near Canada Place. I remembered a microbrewery near there so we headed in for a taste flight. Nine 6 ounce sample of microbrew for $15 Canadian? Yes please! Til and I drank and laughed about the strange encounter we had just experienced.

A little after midnight, we started headed back towards the hostel but there was a problem. I was hungry and still a little thirsty! Upon seeing a sign that read “Slice and a Pint – $8″ I knew I had to have it! Goldies was my hunger savior. Sitting down at the bar, we were greeted by Mike the owner who takes our orders and then asks me where I’m from. “The Motor City is in the house alright! Detroit Rock City!” he responded. Soon after taking my order a couple of Afro-Latino dudes showed up and sat next to us. Mike greeted them with big hugs then poured them a round on the house then turned and said “This guys from Detroit!” “Detroit?! I know some cats from Detroit and those muthafuckas got some character!” said the dude in the bowler hat. We chatted about my travels, my recent trip through zombieland and some other random topics. “You are a well traveled man and a well traveled man has perspective, since he sees the good and the bad sides of where he visits” said bowler hat guy. I’m sure he was out of his mind at the time, but it was still awesome. Before I knew it,  more pizza and drinks kept coming and they were all on the house! The owner and his friends were off so we said out goodbyes and the time had come to cash out… $8 was my tab. I stared up at the TV and noticed that “SportsCentre” was playing on TSN and chuckled. As I was paying, the other bartender (an Arab-Canadian) mentions to me that his entire family lives in Southfield. Small world.

I don’t remember much of the walk back with the exception of the following events:

* Til personally apologizing for the holocaust

* Telling some english chick that the only good thing to come from Manchester was Morrissey

* Til waking up our other 2 roommates by turning on the lights and yelling “HEY GUYS!”

However, I don’t remember who took this photo of Til and I.

I slept in the next morning till just about check-out time. Showered, checked my bags at the front desk, swang by La Belle Patate for brunch (one cant deny the tastiness of poutine!) and headed to do what every red-blooded American should do on a Sunday: watch football. I was surprised to find a sports bar on Davie street so close to my hostel. I was not surprised to see the many sirens, mirror balls and rainbow flags inside. Oh Canada, you sure know how to queer up a sports bar. Hours and a few black labels later, I reclaimed my luggage and headed towards the bus stop. Curiously eyeing a pizza place called “Megabite”, I figured I could use a snack and also needed to get rid of the last of my Canadian money. The woman in line seemed to not know what the hell she wanted, but it didn’t really bother me at all. It came my turn and I ordered a couple slices of (canadian) bacon pizza and a Cplus (Canadian Sunkist) then headed out the door. Outside the woman from the line stopped me and in a stereotypically Canadian fashion, apologized for taking so long with her order.  Part of me wanted to say “I’m American and I don’t give a shit!” but instead I just smiled and told her it was not a big deal. Oh and if you are in Vancouver and want pizza, skip Megabite. It was pretty awful.

The bus ride back was fairly quick with the exception of the border stop. The border agent was particularly rude and wanted to know “what I was doing out west” since I was from Michigan. I then had to run my luggage through an airline security style baggage scanner before re-entering the bus. Later, I was dropped off in downtown Seattle and took city bus back to Evan’s house. Evan dropped me off at the airport the next morning and I managed to entertain myself for 5 hours by watching Bruce Willis’s great performance in “Live Free or Die Hard” and a whole lot of SportCenter via JetBlue’s free in-flight TV. I was not looking forward to the time zone change. My flight departed at 12:30PM PST and we landed in Boston at 8:45PM EST.

Oh and on a side note, the reason Hastings street sounded so familiar was based on not one but two people telling me to avoid that area like the plague.

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Tuesday October 5th, 2010 15:25 Seattle

As I stepped out of the train station, I found myself in front of Qwest Field before a Seattle Sounders Game. Waves of absurdly bright blue/green jerseys passed and vuvuzelas were heard here and there as the masses moved into the stadium. Not to knock the LA Galaxy, but these fans were nuts. The highlight of it all was a group of about 50 people all amassed walking down the street together as a big mobile block. The front row was carrying a banner that was probably 15 feet wide and all of them were singing and chanting.

Evan, Laura and their roommate Lizzy swang by the stadium to pick me up. Part of me wanted to buy some tickets from a scalper, but I was a guest and really didn’t feel like imposing my fair-weather fandom. More importantly, we were all starving! After politely asking the group to never address me as my online alias, but my given name, Evan drove us to Jai Thai for dinner. Our plan was to head to Brouwer’s, a bar with lots of tasty microbrews on tap. This would have been the case except there was a bit of an issue; Lizzy had a date there that evening and didn’t want her two roommates and their strange friend (thats me!) showing up and spoiling it for her. What goes around comes around in the world of cockblocking karma. Therefore, we instead went to Kate’s Pub, for some drinks and a few rounds of darts. Surprisingly, I managed to win a round of darts. I then realized it was getting close to midnight. It must have been birthday magic.

The next morning, we headed to Gas Works Park. Besides a spectacular view of downtown, the site of the park is an old gas refinery that has been shut down and essentially left for visitors to wander through in style that feels like a mix of  historical preservation and street art. Evan and I wandered the park and took a few pictures.

After Gas Works, we stopped by Paseo and picked up a couple Cuban Roast sandwiches to go and then headed to Kerry Park. Kerry Park is another great spot in the city to catch a glimpse of downtown and Mt. Rainier. With the weather on my side as usual, we sat on a park bench eating delicious sandwiches and staring off in the distance to see the city and Mt. Rainier behind it. I love the pacific northwest. Once again I was hit with the realization of absurdly flat the midwest is. I spent a minute daydreaming of hiking up the mountain until coming to the conclusion of how unprepared I currently was. I grabbed my camera, did my best to capture the mountain until calling it quits.

After finding some parking downtown, we walked over to Pike Place Market. Pike Place was cool to walk through and see. Most of the grocery-related vendors appeared to have good produce, meats and such. However, 80% of the vendors in there sold nothing but crap. Touristy bullshit like snowglobes every kind of ugly shirt that said Seattle or had an umbrella on it. My absolute favorite was what we found while exploring the shops downstairs. It was a basket of for sale goods that included: an open/half-empty box of q-tips and several bottles of partially used lotion. Nothing says commerce like some used lotion! We walked by the first Starbucks which was surrounded with people who gave so much of a shit about Starbucks, they wanted to go buy a cup of coffee from the first one. I instead went the stereotypical Russian route, and picked up a dessert pirozhok from a bakery called Piroshky Piroshky.

Exiting downtown, Evan took me on a mini-tour of the University of Washington on the way to the neighborhood grocery store. At the store, we picked up some much needed supplies; birthday hats and beer. We hung out at the house and had a few drinks before getting a ride to the bus stop from Lizzy as she was on her way to work. Taking the bus down to Ballard, we made our way to King’s Hardware. Happy hour pitcher specials and skeeball? This birthday was shaping up to be one of the better ones I’ve had in the last few years! We spent a while there chatting, skeeballing and terrifying the waitress (OK, that was mostly me). Hungry, we migrated down the street to La Carta de Oaxaca where way too much food was ordered. Bellies full, The Old Pequliar was the next stop on my little tour of the Ballard area. It was a nice little dive with fairly inexpensive PBR on tap. The only thing peculiar there were the patrons. Evan gave me the choice of taking the bus or walking home. “About a mile, but it’s uphill” is what Evan responded after asking how far the walk was. The walk it was! Our second to last stop was to the Safeway so each us could pick up a roadie and we walked and talked and walked and talked. After quickly popping into a gas station to pee and pick up some powerade(we had to power up!). We made it back to the house. Laura asked us what we had been up to that night. Shocked at the walk she said “You know thats like a 5 mile walk!” I googled it, It was only 3.8 but semi-impressive nonetheless. Exhausted, I retired for the night.

In the morning, Evan an I headed out to Blue Star for breakfast, bummed around online most of the day and then I was dropped off at the bus pickup zone. A few hours into the ride, we reached the US/Canada border. Being my first time taking a bus across the border, this was new to me. However, being harassed and searched countless times when I was a kid, I had some experience dealing with border agents. I had very little difficulty during the interview, but my two favorite lines were “You’re on vacation for a month?” and “What you mean you were in Canada last month… oh out east!” I re-boarded the bus and an hour later we had arrived. Hello Vancouver!

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Friday October 1st, 2010 21:05 Portland

Navigating my way through the airport, I made my way to the attached MAX light rail station. I bought a pass from their machine and headed over to board. As I looked down at my pass, I noticed there was no magnetic strip. Walking onto the train there was no one to show your ticket to. I thought, maybe they’re waiting for you when you get off. Yeah! That makes sense. Several stops later, I got off and looked around. Not a single TriMet employee. It appeared that I had just bought a ride on the honor system.

Crossing over the highway and walking a few blocks past one-two-three homeless dudes (one of which was navigating about while sitting in a wheelchair “rowing” himself along with a cane in each hand). “Interesting…” I thought as I turned the corner and made it down a few blocks to the only hotel I’d be staying at during this trip. All my friends have been incredible in providing me a place to stay for the night. But I was kind of excited at the idea of a nice quiet room with my own queen sized bed, towels I didn’t have to clean and of course not having to clean up after. The Thriftlodge wasn’t spectacular, but who’d expect a place called Thriftlodge to be?

My stomach rumbled and I wanted a meal but I didn’t give myself one. Instead, I made a dinner out of dessert. Stopping by a place that has earned a reputation for delicious treats and that place is Voodoo Donuts. A bacon maple bar, grape-ape and cup of coffee later, I was full. I won’t lie, I did feel disgusting after consuming all that sugar but hell, it was worth it.

When telling my friend Brian about my plans for this trip. He suggested since I didn’t know too many people in Portland, that I get together with his friend Jason while I was there. Jason was an Detroit ex-pat living in Portland with his girlfriend Annie. The two of them came and picked me up from my lovely hotel and we headed over to a couple bars for the evening. The first of which called the Lucky Labrador where we had a couple pints and talked about our friends in Detroit, the west coast vs. the midwest and things to do in the area. We then moved onto the Green Dragon, a brewpub with 49 taps. There was a trio at the bar playing Drinking Jenga, yelling and making a lot of noise. The people lover inside me couldn’t resist to yell back. A few minutes later one of the girls playing came over to me and said “yeah, were playing this game and since you were yelling back, I figured you could help me out.” She showed me the piece and written on it was “Give a stranger a titty twister.” I smiled and straighted the t-shirt I was wearing out. “I’ll be gentle!” she said. She wasn’t.

Being a Monday, Jason and Annie had to work the next morning so I had them drop me off at a bar that Carrie, another Detroiter (and Chex Mix queen) visiting Portland was at. Stepping into the doorway, the bouncer politely asked me for the $12 cover. I politely responded “fuck that” and walked back in the direction of my hotel.  I then stopped into the lovely establishment across from my hotel for a nightcap before heading to bed. Out 0f paranoia and a conversation had earlier that night, I scoured the room for bed bugs. Finding none, I eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, based on numerous recommendations, I had breakfast at Doug Fir then headed next door to the Jupiter Hotel to rent a bike. The bike was a heavy 3-speed cruiser, not my first choice, but it would do. I headed across the Burnside bridge and was greeted by the “Made in Oregon” sign. On the other side of the bridge was a long line of people. My first thought was they were obviously in line for something, perhaps concert tickets? Until I caught a whiff. This wasn’t a line for anything! It was like mecca for hobos. I started coming to some conclusions and started generating marketing material for the city’s tourism department. “Portland a city of hobos and hipsters”, I could see that on a billboard. I strolled through the quiet, city realizing that its kinda of small. I started hitting some hills and well, it wasn’t easy but I got to my destination, Washington Park.

Washington Park was gorgeous. I locked my bike up to a street post and wandered into the first entrance. After walking about half a mile, I accidentally stumbled across a Holocaust Memorial. I spent a few minutes there and kept moving onto the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden was gorgeous. There were rows and rows of differently kinds of rosebushes on a number of levels (going downhill) and a little amphitheater. I took a bunch of photos, including one of this awesome squirrel. I then made my way up to the Japanese Garden. The Japanese Garden was pretty spectacular. It is said to be the only authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan. Awe-struck, I wandered the gardens with my camera in hand.

The previous night, Jason and Annie suggested that I check out the view from Council Crest Park. I suggested I would bike there and they kind of snickered at me. I figured it would be a little uphill, but I’m a champion! Google Maps informed me that it was 4 miles away. 4 miles? Thats nothing! Was I in for a treat. An hour, four painful miles and one sweat drenched shirt later, I managed to push that heavy ass bike up to the top. Nor did I regret it one bit! The view was incredible and I could clearly see Mount Hood. I snapped some photos, but they really didn’t capture what you could see from up there. The ride back was hilarious, I didn’t have to pedal even once. I was just coasting and braking until I got to downtown.

Being a fan of Rogue. I made it a point to pop into their brewpub, the Rogue Public House for an appetizer and a pint before dinner. I ordered my favorite beer which is their Hazelnut Brown Nectar and a bacon appetizer. The appetizer was just four strips of tasty, tasty bacon.  The beer however, Unbelievable! I had never had Hazelnut Brown Nectar on tap and it was so good it could make a grown man cry! I headed back to the block my hotel was on, dropped off my bike and then took a quick shower before heading to dinner. I wanted to treat myself to a gourmet meal for my (then) upcoming birthday and was told the place to do so was Le Pigeon. Le Pigeon is  a tiny place. It has a few tables which are reservation only and a bar of 10 seats for those without reservations. The best part of sitting at the bar is that behind the bar is their tiny kitchen, letting you watch as the chefs prepare everything! My meal consisted of a raddichio salad, fried cod with a puff pastry and piece of honey bacon apricot bread topped with maple ice cream. Easily the best $42 I’ve spent in a long time!

They day had really worn me out, I walked back to my hotel and took a nap for an hour. When I awoke, Jason and Annie came and picked me up and took me to Horse Brass Pub for a pint. In a discussion the previous night, I was talking about how excited I was to get some poutine in Vancouver. It turns out there is a street car food vendor in Portland that sold also had poutine! We made our way to a “pod” which was an empty parking lot until a bunch of street food trailers and picnic tables moved in permanently. There was a pizza place, a Mexican place, a creperie and last but not least, Potato Champion. We ordered a couple poutines and ate them as we listened to the creperie blast Ratatat throughout the pod. The poutine wasn’t that great but I was hungry and it hit the spot.

I awoke the next morning, packed my bags and walked down the street to Bunk Sandwiches for breakfast. Nothing like walking into a sandwich shop for breakfast at 10am to hear hip-hop blasting and seeing “Free Lil’Wayne! He’s only guilty of being great!” written on the chalkboard under the menu. Afterwards, I checked out of my hotel and then took a bus downtown, stopping into Backspace, which was a PC repair place/cybercafe to spend the next hour sipping coffee and working on my blog. With another hour or so to kill before I had to catch my train, I headed over to Ground Kontrol and blew a few bucks on some pinball machines. Eventually, I made my way over to Union Station to catch my train. The Amtrak Cascades train was way nicer than the shitty Amtrak Wolverine that I had grown accustomed to. After a pleasant ride, I had arrived in Seattle.

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