Travel Styles

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My modus operandi when traveling for all of my adult life has been to pack as much as possible into a day. I study guidebooks and websites and make lists of the “must sees” and map out a course of action. I’m not rigid, or anything, but I’m always imagining what is just around the bend that I can observe. The most famous of these pack-as-much-as-you-can-into-a-single-day excursions was on the occasion of my mother’s 60th birthday when we went to New York City a few years ago, and we wanted to get as much of the city explored during our few days there.

On our last afternoon in New York, it was pouring with rain but we had just enough time to go into the MoMA before it closed. We both desperately needed to go back to the hotel and put our feet up because we’d started early and covered a lot of ground. But the MoMA? How could we not go? So we did, and we saw a lot of gorgeous and thought-provoking art, and I remember being there probably better than I remember any other art museum I’ve ever been in because I was in agony. If I’d been allowed, I would have curled up in a fetal position in the room with all the Joseph Cornell boxes and stared at them until closing time. By the time we left the city, Mom’s feet were bruised and raw and she hobbled through the airport like she was 90. She had to call in sick for two days because she couldn’t move. She was happy and had 8 million photos to document everything we saw and did, but I felt like a very bad daughter for putting my greedy need to see sites ahead of Mom’s well-being (and my own body’s protestations).

While Z and I were in Vancouver last Saturday, a large family was behind us, kind of pushing us along the sidewalk as we walked from our Sky Train station down to the spot where we could pick up the ferry for Granville Island. A couple of the people in the group broke free and moved quickly ahead of us, darting in and out of pedestrians, and one of the younger members of the family behind us said, “Why does Mom have us on a forced march?” A sibling, perhaps, said, “We’re running out of time in the city and she has things to do.”

It struck me how in just a few short years—and whether it is being married to Z or the icy hands of middle age, I cannot say—my traveling style has altered. Before, if there were 14 sites to see, I would, by golly, see them all in a single day even if I were miserable by the end of it. Z is not that kind of traveller. If I had to choose a single word to describe him, in this regard, I would say Z is content. He doesn’t want to get up early, he has no delusions about how his life will be better if he gets to see x, y, and z, and mostly he just wants to have fun. When the sight-seeing ceases to be fun, he’s ready to head back to the hotel, and he never has regrets about what he might have missed.

Oh, to be Z.

My body may be begging me for a rest and I may be snappish because of excessive tourism, but mentally, it goes against my grain not to do as much of everything as I possibly can. When I was younger and read “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” by Stephen Grellet, I failed to pick up on how the poem was about being kind and helpful to those whose path crosses yours and instead I thought it was some sort of travel manifesto. I may never be here again, so I better do it all. But Z is laid back. He’s not ticking anything off a list. He’s having a good time, hoping for a nice snack, and just generally more content.  He has the Zen quality of Pooh Bear traveling, while I, instead, have a combined personality of Rabbit, Owl, and Eeyore. When I start making a huge “to see” list, he reels me in and reminds me that he likes to do one or two things only. So I push him to do more and he pushes me to do less, and we end up somewhere in the middle. I don’t put up much of an argument when he declares he’s ready to head back to the hotel anymore because I’m beginning to understand the merits of leisurely.

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So our two nights in British Columbia were not jam-packed. We stayed in New Westminter at Inn at the Quay, and had a room overlooking the Fraser. It’s a working river, so it wasn’t idyllic, but it was peaceful and we enjoyed the view until later in the evenings when the fog swallowed it whole.

Other things the fog swallowed: the mountains. What I remember from my only other trip to Vancouver several years ago was the shock of such beautiful mountains being so close to a city. The views were gorgeous. On this visit, we could have been in Kansas City if there was a lot of waterfront there. Still, lovely though.

In some ways, I’d remembered B.C. and Canada in general as more perfect than it actually is. For instance, I’d told Z how amazed he would be by how much cleaner it was than Seattle, which ended up being completely untrue. I’ve never nearly stepped in so much dog crap in my life. (The upside: loads of dogs for me to oogle, one of my favorite past times.) There was litter. Some areas were sketchier than I remembered. None of it was bad, certainly none of it was worse than what we see every day in Seattle, but it wasn’t the utopia I’d remembered, which was a good realization for someone like me to have; I always think somewhere else is better than wherever I am.

In New Westminster, we explored their revitalized waterfront, sampled some of the wares at the Rivermarket, which was right next to our hotel. At the market, on the first or “hungry” floor, you could devour a variety of local foods, and on the second or “curious” floor you could take classes, including learning a few tricks at the drop-in circus school. (We ate food but did not learn the trapeze, fyi).

We were right across the street from the Sky Train—fully automated and mostly elevated—into Vancouver. It reminded me more of the Chicago El and less of Seattle’s light rail. It was clean and quick and I enjoyed peering into the apartments and condos of people as we whizzed by to see how they decorated.

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On my last trip, I’d never made it to Granville Island, though several people had suggested it, so we decided this should be our destination.  I’d read about it, so knew what to expect, but poor Z was picturing a leisurely ferry ride to a wooded island like Bainbridge, instead of the half a minute Aquabus ride to what felt like the other side of False Creek. He was happy when we disembarked, however, and made our way to the public market. It was reminiscent of Pike Market (particularly in the way I got crabby after about ten minutes because there were entirely too many people there), but had more food stalls. Z was particularly pleased with the Cornish Pasty he had, and I, because I eat like a picky four year old, had spaghetti and meatballs. Delicious, but not very adventurous. (This will never turn into a Foodie blog—sorry to disappoint you.) We walked around the island for a while, investigating the artisans’ wares in Railspur Alley, and tried to investigate the little bookstore and stationery store, both of which looked delightful but were way too crowded for it to be enjoyable. Then we hopped on the Aquabus and made our way back downtown.  On the walk, we visited the museum store (and loo) at the art museum, where it was nearly closing time. The building looks lovely, even if we didn’t make it in to see the collection. We continued our walk, peering into the Fairmount Hotel, where I hoped to see the resident yellow Lab, whom I met last time I was in town, and then on to the waterfront to try to find a view through the fog.

Eventually we arrived in Gastown. It was a particular favorite of mine, before I moved to Seattle and was introduced to Pioneer Square. The two places remind me a lot of each other: both have roots to the oldest part of the towns’ histories, both fell on hard times and became “skid row”, both were on the verge of being demolished when some forward thinking person realized the value, both for history’s and tourism’s sake, and the areas were saved and revitalized. Our biggest Gastown disappointment is that we’d stuffed ourselves so full on Granville Island we weren’t ready to eat dinner yet. It niggled at me a little that we were headed back to the hotel when everyone else was just headed out for the evening, but if I’m completely honest, I was looking forward to the quiet, un-crowded hotel and foggy view.

On Sunday, before heading home, we had lunch at the Dubliner Pub, which is housed in what used to be part of the penitentiary. It was cozier than you might imagine and the brunch there was delicious. We may have stopped at the Hard Rock casino for a flutter before directing the car towards the border, and we may have cleared $33 of the bizarrely plastic-y and see-through-y Canadian dollars, which we have tucked away for our next trip north.

Are there other things on our list to see in Vancouver like the observatory or Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden (or the neighboring free park) or the scenery  we’ve been promised on the drive to Whistler? Um, yeah. But for our inaugural trip, we were content. And it didn’t hurt that we made it home just in time to see the Seahawks make it into the Super Bowl.

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4 responses »

  1. Very nice! I enjoyed how quickly my reactions shifted from “Canadians litter?!! In British Columbia?!! So much for my view of the world” to mentally making little Wallace and Gromit hand motions (“Cheese, Gromit!”) at the mention of a Cornish pasty. Even the “working river” sounds somehow charming.

    I appreciate the idea of a foggy view. On my one (to date) trip to San Francisco, I never did see the Golden Gate Bridge, thanks to the fog. Fortunately, if I had a list, “Go to San Francisco” would be on it, but “See the Golden Gate Bridge” would not.

  2. I love your description of contented, Pooh-bear travel. I’m a list-maker, pack-it-in kind of traveler, but I may just give it a try!

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