News from August 2009

Barbeque

Occurred August 16, 2009 (Permalink)

I had a barbeque in the back yard to get my friends together for what seems like increasingly infrequent gatherings. Must get my social life back together since I've been gone for so much of the summer!

Vancouver Twice in One Day

Occurred August 22, 2009 (Permalink)

The third and final summer trip is the usual Jason and Darrick roadtrip fare, but this year with a twist! We decided to meet in Seattle, rent a car, and drive from Seattle to Vancouver, BC; Whistler; Victoria; Port Angeles; and back to Seattle. I took Amtrak up to Seattle, which turned out to be a rather pleasant affair--while it's a three hour trip, that's no slower than driving, and you can zone out for the three hours on the train. The train stops a few times, just long enough to exchange passengers, and it takes off again. I think it stopped in Vancouver, WA; Olympia; Centralia; and Tacoma before it was my stop. Unfortunately, I had to get off at Tukwila so that I could take a cab to the airport. Beware that Tukwila station; it's a bunch of plywood boards and nothing else. No ticket booth, no cabs. Jason's Google instructions then sent me to the Alamo car maintenance facility instead of to the rental counter. It was sort of amusing--the service shop is a long parking lot with tons of rental cars queued up for service. Eventually I got a lift to the actual airport and we headed out.

First stop was Fry's in Renton, WA. The store seems to be new, and the trim is in the same style as Las Vegas, NV and Sunnyvale, CA, though the pictures on the walls are Boeing themed. A pity that they've done away with the days of elaborately themed stores. After that, we cruised up 5 to Bellingham for dinner with Woodley, his wife, and a friend of hers. We pulled out kind of late, crossed the Canadian border just before midnight ("You are from Portland? Why did you rent a car instead of driving your own?") and pulled into our hotel around 12:30am. "We're the late arrivers!" we said when we walked in. "Yep, you're the last to come in tonight!" grunted the tall man behind the counter.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden

Occurred August 23, 2009 (Permalink)
Pavilion and Garden/Park Separator
Pavilion and Garden/Park Separator

The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese garden in Vancouver is modelled after a traditional Suzhou garden. The installation consists of two parts--a public park that anyone can walk into, and a for-pay garden with guided tours. There's a marked contrast between the two sections--the structures and rocks in the park portion are made with traditional Pacific Northwest materials, whereas the garden proper was built out of materials imported from China. The park section had the usual assortment of ponds, carp, bridges, large stones and bamboo plants, though it was mostly devoid of descriptions.

Once inside the garden, however, the story improves considerably. The guide pointed out that the pillars used to construct the buildings are made from trees that grow at very high altitudes in China and are very difficult to grow and harvest. They have four of these posts holding up the roofs of two buildings; the rest are lacquered woods from other parts of China. She also pointed out the tile patterns in the courtyard had particular significance--not only did the flower patterns match the louvres that had been built into the walls, but the curved narrow white pieces were actually made from broken dishes. In the pavilion they also had several examples of the extremely pourous swiss-cheese rocks that are carefuly pulled out of some lake near Suzhou, China. Supposedly one looks like George Washington, though that sentiment doesn't go quite as far in Canada.

Pagoda Near the Pond
Pagoda Near the Pond

Moving along, there's also a large pond in the middle of the garden. I saw a couple of large carp swimming through the pond; eventually a turtle came out of the water to get some sun. Inside the study building they had a desk and two chairs, both lacquered in that shiny red color that one often finds all over Chinese gardens. There were a few places throughout the garden that had some spectacular carved wooden louvres; as you might expect, they had an amazing amount of detail and fit together without any obvious fasteners. It's funny to listen to the tour guide telling tales of how wealthy Chinese scholars would have these gardens for summertime study in peace--the gardens are wonderfully natural, but the hard sitting surfaces do not seem like they're built for long term comfort. In any case, the pagodas and the placement of everything in the garden seem to have been very carefully considered.

On our way out of Chinatown, we encountered some obviously fake railroad tracks (img_5443) and a Budget whose sign was written entirely in Chinese. We were still pretty tired from travelling, so we decided to wander around Vancouver to see what sorts of amusements we could find. We breezed through Gastown, photographed some snarky signs (img_5448) and then strolled along the waterfront near the cruise ship terminal before we returned to our hotel and passed out. On the way back we discovered that there was a little district centered around Robson and Thurlow streets that could be fun... but that's a story for later. The concierge directed us to a nearby restaurant district where we had some really yummy Thai food for dinner.

Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park Flowers

Occurred August 24, 2009 (Permalink)
Coral Exhibit
Coral Exhibit

The next day, we headed into Stanley Park to see the aquarium. They appear to have an active aviary in addition to the usual fish. Normally there are also shows with their Beluga whales, but one had just given birth so the tourists were only allowed to watch the babies swimming around in the pool. Inside the aquarium were some really cool exhibits--there were colorful coral hanging out in a tank with were simply spectacular, and there were some very blueish tanks with jellyfish bobbling around inside of them. Somewhere in the middle of the aquarium there was a plastic display case with a bunch of coral, many starfish, and a camera; there was a screen with a wheel that you could use to roll through the past few weeks worth of images, thus enabling the impatient to watch a very slow animal slowly creep across a big piece of plastic and other starfish. That was cool.

Black Leaf Plant
Black Leaf Plant

Adjacent to the aquarium are a bunch of flower gardens. One section of the garden seems to be dedicated to having just roses, but the rest of the grounds appeared to have flowers of all different varieties and colors. Despite it being late August the flowers were still very much in bloom--whether that was due to to the temperate climate or just aggressive management at the Parks bureau is not known to me. I also encountered the first of an oddball that I was to see all over British Columbia--a strange plant with large black leaves! I don't know what it is, but I'm curious to find out what it is. The grounds at the flower gardens are spectacularly maintained--the grass is thoroughly cut, the flowers seemed to be at the peak of their bloom, and despite the flowing lines of the planter beds the whole place exuded careful construction and maintenance. The only way to do this segment justice is to tell you to look through the album. Having seen this I now understand the impetus behind the City Beautiful movements that spread through North America about 80 years ago, arguing that the creation of well-maintained public parks would instill a sense of communal pride and duty. I don't know if that really works in practice, but it's wonderful to have a colorful park that one can visit for a quick indulgence of the senses.

We had lunch at the Stanley Park Pavilion. Our waitress had a very low cut top and we walked to a nearby swingset to have some fun after lunch.

Prospect Point and Totem Poles

Occurred August 24, 2009 (Permalink)
The Lion's Gate
The Lion's Gate

Jason and I got back in the car and kept driving around Stanley Park. The next place we came to is Prospect Point, which is at the northwestern tip of Vancouver proper, jutting out into the Strait of Georgia. We wandered around the southern end of the Lions Gate Bridge and sampled some almost-ripe blackberries. It was a very nice day and you could see across the water to West Vancouver. We saw a seaplane taking off out over the bridge and watched the port traffic for a while.

Totem Poles
Totem Poles

Next on our list of things to see in Stanley Park was the totem pole collection. Cedar is quite plentiful in the Pacific Northwest, which is why the local Native American tribes ("First Peoples" in Canadian parlance) took to carving giant cedar tree trunks, painting them, and pushing them into the ground. It's a little tricky to get to the totem poles, because the loop road goes counter-clockwise around the park, and it's not entirely obvious where to park if you're a lazy-brained vacationer. We parked near the cricket course, which was to our advantage because it was near the sea wall. But that's a story for later. Stanley Park has nine totem poles within short range of each other. Most of them have plaques identifying each stage of the totem pole and telling us tourists exactly what the pole is supposed to signify. Some times the pole tells the story of some glorious animal who fought the vicious beasts and made an appropriate contribution to the local mythology. Others simply tell family histories.

Earlier I mentioned that we parked near the sea wall. The sea wall is supposed to be five miles long; along the top it has a combination bicycle and pedestrian path that goes around the circumference of the park. While walking around this path, we encountered an old lighthouse at Brockton Point painted in a brilliant white with a big red stripe. From there you could see quite a long scene across the water--a giant sulphur pile across the bay, the districts of West and North Vancouver, and planes taking off from the seaplane terminal. We kept going clockwise along the seawall, eventually rotating to a point where we could see all the skyscrapers in downtown Vancouver. Returning to the Brockton cricket court, I took a few weird pictures and then we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant on Robson street. Jason found a Pocky stick store so we went in and bought a ton of pocky.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge

Occurred August 25, 2009 (Permalink)
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge

On our way out of Vancouver we made a slight detour to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The current bridge is a 450 foot long steel cable bridge with wooden planking that crosses the Capilano River; it's sufficiently well anchored to have sustained a direct hit by a 46-ton Douglas fir tree without serious damage. Crossing the bridge is a somewhat shaky endeavour, owing to the length of the cables and the number of kids running and stomping their way across it. The eastern end has a guard booth; the guard watches for snotty kids doing their best to destabilize the platform and yells at them to stop. I stopped halfway across the bridge and attempted to take a few 360-degree panoramas; they're sloppy.

The western side of the bridge has quite a few interesting features. There's a long boardwalk that snakes around some ponds and underneath the suspension bridge, allowing us to snap a few good shots of the enormous distance between the bridge deck and the river some 230 feet below. We also happened to stumble upon a couple professional bird handlers, who were showing off a couple of birds that were perched on their arms. The larger bird tried to escape but wound up upside-down instead. Also, there are a series of overhead rope bridges that run between a bunch of the trees so that you can vertigo yourself up. The eastern side of the bridge has quite a large number of totem poles.

Whistler

Occurred August 25, 2009 (Permalink)
BMX Biking at Whistler
BMX Biking at Whistler

British Columbia Highway 99 took us north and then northeast out of Vancouver towards the ski resort town of Whistler. Soon the town will be overrun with the Olympics (February 2010), but ignoring the road construction everywhere, it still hasn't gotten too insane. There was a considerable amount of new road signs and new interchanges along BC-99 as we drove further and further into the mountains. I remember the last time that I went here that I took BC Rail that went alongside the highway, and quite a lot has changed since 1998.

I was surprised when we got to Whistler. It's still a giant resort town with a huge shopping center spanning most of the major hotels, but now there are more hotels and more ski lifts! We stayed at the new Pan Pacific Hotel (last time I stayed in the old one), which gave us an excellent view of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains in the background and a BMX bike course that had been built under the chair lifts. Jason and I wandered around town a bit, though admittedly there's not much to do in a resort town but relax, do nothing, and drain your problems into the hotel swimming pool. Better than what some kids do. The town had this hilarious Cows Creamery place that was full of cow-themed ripoffs of pop culture references--Hannah Moontana, Super Moorio, etc. Campy but funny at the same time. We two gents had some steak dinner and spent the evening unwinding in the hotel and watching the sun set. Quite a good way to unwind.

Tantalus Lookout
Tantalus Lookout

The next day we decided to go for a little excursion. I wasn't really in the mountain climbing mood, having just climbed Mt. Whitney the month before, so we headed out to Green Lake, just north of Whistler to take some panoramas. After that it was time to head back south to Vancouver to catch the ferry across the strait to Victoria, so we bade Whistler good-bye and departed. Along the way there were some absolutely beautiful turnouts, like the Tantalus Lookout to the left. There was a rather strange thing in the parking lot--a shorn tree pole surrounded by enough metal caging to keep it upright. I guess it could be some sort of sundial, though it was unfinished and there were no signs. Thus bored, we resumed our journey south to the ferry terminal.

Ferry to Victoria, BC

Occurred August 26, 2009 (Permalink)
BC Ferry
BC Ferry

It is a long way from Whistler to the ferry terminal. Distance-wise it's not that far, but speed limits are low in British Columbia. Despite that, we routinely drove 25 over the limit and were still passed by the BC police. Traffic through town is sort of bad (no worse than Portland, actually), so we got to the ferry terminal about a quarter after 3pm. Good call on our part; by that time the ferry was already 46% full. The ferry is an auto ferry, and a nice big comfortable one at that. We went up on deck and spent most of the ferry ride either taking pictures of the water journey in progress, or asleep because we were both tired. The trip was pleasant and uneventful, and we landed in Victoria shortly before dinner.

Unfortunately, our hotel in Victoria was ... bizarre. There's a liquor store out front, so we didn't immediately recognize it as a Red Lion. The fellow behind the desk warned us not to take the left elevator, so we did. It led to the Chinese restaurant in the basement if you pressed "B". If you hit "2", it took you to a platform that was a few steps above where you ended up if you pressed "1"."4" took us to "3", at which point we returned to the lobby and took the non-weird elevator, dumped our things, and went out to dinner. When we came back, we discovered that the Red Lion parking lot was full, so we had to cross the bicycle freeway and negotiate a truck loading dock, only to discover that most of the back lot was full of hoochies going ... to the club behind our hotel. Yep, that's right, it was a combination Red Lion, liquor store, Chinese restaurant and club all rolled into one goofy building. Uck.

Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens

Occurred August 27, 2009 (Permalink)
Sunken Garden
Sunken Garden

Wednesday, Jason and I drove out of Victoria to the Butchart Gardens. About eighty years ago, the Butchart family owned a rock quarry in Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island. As the company dug rock out of the ground for Portland cement production, Mrs. Butchart started building gardens on the unused parts of the property. The first garden to be built was the Japanese garden, but when the quarry was exhausted in 1909, she began transforming the big hole in the ground into something pretty. The result is the Sunken Garden. According to the official garden history, the Italian and Rose sub-gardens were constructed after the sunken garden. The Butchart Gardens are a very colorful place to visit.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers

The Sunken Garden is a Victorian style garden, which means that they update the spread of flowers and plants throughout the year to match the current season. It being summer, there were a lot of very colorful flowers--reds, yellows, pinks, whites, blues, and oranges. The first thing that I noticed when I walked up to this section of the garden is how the sunkenness of the garden makes it very easy to see the wide spread of colors just by walking up to the ledge that overlooks the garden. I imagine that watering this part is pretty easy because all the water likely flows into the pit. In the center of the sunken garden is a big piece of granite sticking up out of the ground. Originally, this was merely a chunk of rock that wasn't good enough to be ground into concrete; now it is an elevated viewpoint of the whole sunken garden. Instead of walking down the steep staircase, I circumnavigated the sunken garden via the wheelchair route to see the fountain at the back end of the garden. Like the rose gardens in Stanley Park, the plants here were immaculately trimmed. At the back of the sunken gard is the Ross fountain.

Off to the side of the sunken garden is some sort of circular structure with sod on the roof. I think this is supposed to be one of the new eco-friendly roofs; according to the sign, the building will soon house a merry-go-round and other sort of child-friendly amusements. My interest in this part of the garden was that there were work crews busy transplating seedlings into neat little rows. It looked as though they use that space for raising plants before transferring them to their ultimate destination elsewhere in the garden, though I'm now wondering what do they do with the plants in the sunken garden that are no longer flowering? Do they dump them, or just move them to the visitor-inaccessible parts areas? For all I know they do nothing at all.

Rose, Japanese, and Italian Gardens at Butchart Gardens

Occurred August 27, 2009 (Permalink)
Circle Star, Italian Garden
Circle Star, Italian Garden

The Rose Garden was built in 1929 atop the Butchart's old kitchen vegetable garden. There's a big oval of lawn in the middle, and various covered walkways that are built out of curved wood pieces. One thing, however, that I didn't like so much about this garden is that they were not as good at placing identifying tags to tell you what kind of rose you're looking at, which made it less interesting to me. (By contrast, the flower beds in the Rose Test Garden in Portland are always tagged with the variety that is planted there.) The Japanese Garden is built in the style of a traditional garden, with streams coursing from the upper part of the gardens downhill towards Tod Inlet, rock paths across the streams, small plants, and a lot of stone objects and careful water features. The paths undulate around and around the garden, but the low-hanging tree canopy and the lack of any geological features makes it easy to lose oneself in the garden. In contrast to the flowing lines of the Japanese style garden, the adjacent Italian Garden is remarkable in its sturdy geometry and symmetry--at the front there is a 12-point circular star pool in the middle of a circle, and beyond that, rectangular planters that form a symmetry across the Butcharts' house patio.

Sooke, BC

Occurred August 27, 2009 (Permalink)
Sooke and its Bay
Sooke and its Bay

By about 3pm we were seriously flowered out, but there was a few hours to kill before dinner, so we decided to drive around Vancouver Island a bit. We took highway 14 westward out of Victoria towards the small town of Sooke, figuring that would be a good way to catch a glimpse of Olympic National Park in Washington state, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and we were not disappointed. There were wild blackberries growing alongside the road, so we stopped for pictures and a mid afternoon berry snack. Later, we drove towards some sort of park across the bay in East Sooke, sniffed around a housing development, took some more photos, and drove back to Victoria to sight-see there.

Victoria, BC

Occurred August 27, 2009 (Permalink)
Parliament, Victoria
Parliament, Victoria

For a provincial capital, Victoria doesn't seem to be a terribly touristy city. We drove downtown and wandered around the city a little bit, but the parliament building was closed for the day. The Empress Hotel was open, so we walked around in it, looking at all the old pictures of the hotel that they had on display in the basement. It's a finely finished Fairmont hotel, with an ongoing tea service, a formal wood-panelled dining room, and an arboretum. The strangest part of this grand hotel was walking over to the real registration desk, which is in a new annex and nowhere near as grand looking. But the old part of the hotel was pleasing to look at. After the hotel, we surveyed operations at the ferry terminal in preparation for our return to the United States the next day, drove through the old neighborhoods looking at the bungalow houses there, stopped at the sea wall on the south end of Victoria for some sunset photos, then went back to the restaurant district for some sushi before turning in. And by "turning in" I mean watching The Office before passing out.

Driving Back to Seattle

Occurred August 28, 2009 (Permalink)

We stayed up half the night watching DVDs.. Good thing our ferry didn't depart until 3pm, because we checked out of the sketchy hotel and drove around the island some more, getting as far as Malahat Bay before we had to turn back. Apparently the Cowichan area is a big farming community, and starting in the 1890s a considerable amount of heckling of the British Columbian government was used to build the Malahat Road. We stopped at Malahat Bay for a few minutes, took some pictures, and went back to Victoria to meet the ferry to get back in the U.S.

Bascule, Victoria Harbor
Bascule, Victoria Harbor

The M.V. Coho was our ship, proudly displaying that it was fifty years old. The engines might have been too, since the ship pushed its way across the strait at 17 knots (90m to go 25 miles). Like many ports between the US and Canada, we went through customs on the Canadian side (that didn't stop there being another passport check in Port Angeles, WA), which gave us enough time to watch TV before boarding the ship. As we waved good-bye to Canada, Jason and I stood on deck towards the stern, taking pictures of the Victoria waterfront while the ship slowly plodded its way out of the harbor into open water.

Once back in Washington, we took US-101 east/southward towards Olympia. We decided to skip the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds and go the long way around. That may have been a horrible idea, because it took us several hours to make the slow journey all the way around Puget Sound. If I'd looked more carefully I'd have noticed that WA-16 runs through Bremerton and is a much shorter route. Oops. We made it, exhausted, to Seattle about 8:30pm and drove like maniacs through the city's awful grid system. Streets would flow this way and that, curve and fork crazily, and driving the one mile from the freeway exit to the hotel just annoyed the heck out of both of us. Fortunately there was a Cheesecake Factory to shut us up after that drive. I had also booked our last night in a fancy new hotel with the most comfortable beds that we had for the whole trip. The hotel room had a fancy red and black theme going on, too.

Pike Place Market

Occurred August 29, 2009 (Permalink)
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market

Since our hotel was mere blocks from Pike Place Market, we got up a little early and wandered down to the market. We saw the fish toss, wandered through the byzantine Pike Place market building, and watched people around downtown Seattle until it was time for me to catch Amtrak back to Portland and for Jason to fly back to San Diego. When I got back to Portland I took some nice panoramas of Union Station.

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