China Here we Come

Early flights are not my favourite! Too tired to stay awake, but too worried about missing the 4 a.m. alarm, we both had a very restless sleep. After a quick breakfast and a few farewell e-mails we were off. Barb and Carol were already in our pseudo-limo van when it picked us up at the front door. Nothing like door-to-door airport service!

We arrived at the airport about 6:45 and proceeded to the Air Canada area to print our baggage tags. Unfortunately the kiosks wouldn’t print them so a surprisingly pleasant Air Canada agent directed us to Customer Service. Even those agents were quite chatty and wished us well on our travels.

We got through security pretty quickly even though one of the x-ray scanning machines malfunctioned for a few minutes. This time we didn’t even have to take off our shoes, or take liquids out of our carry-on bags. Even better, none of us got pulled aside for the special ‘random’ inspections that Robert often experiences when we travel as a family.

We stopped for coffee at Tim’s (made famous by Brad and Robert a few years back) just inside the security check figuring it would be just as comfortable there as sitting in the seats at the gate. Finally we headed to the gate arriving about 10 minutes before boarding began. The rest of our college travel group was there, many of them playing canasta. Because they had all retired already, it had been a while since we’d seen some of them. Before long we had been introduced to their spouses and travel companions who soon became fast friends.

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Air Canada has changed their method of boarding since the last time we flew with them. Instead of business class and economy they now board by “zone” … 1 for first class, 2 for business class, and 3, 4 and maybe 5 for the rest of us back in economy. When they called our zone (3) everyone rushed (as usual) to the line. Because people came at the line from two directions it ended up in a split line … no-one really knew which was the correct line so most of the people from our group scurried over and “merged” with the other line. Brad, Barb, Carol, and I stayed in the same place, which turned out to be a good thing!

As we waited, one of the Air Canada agents came over and asked if there were any zone 3 people still in line. I said that we were and he told the four of us to follow him. He took our boarding passes, fumbled a bit with them (talking to the computer as he did) and handed us new boarding passes. Turns out we were now travelling first class … the plane was overbooked and we were the lucky ones who got bumped up. What a wonderful way to travel!

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Our brief experience travelling the way the 1%ers changed our view of airplane travel. We were called by name, served a multi-course breakfast on real china, and even given real cutlery. Then came the hot towels. Our wonderfully spacious seats reclined into beds made comfortable by the blankets and pillows. Oh how nice it would be to travel this way all the time!

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We had no problem making our connection in Vancouver. Unfortunately we were back to the world of economy flight and ‘suffered’ the 11 hour flight to Beijing with the rest of our travel mates. We crossed the International Date Line about midway through the flight and most of us did our time adjustment forward 12 hours (of home time) to China time. If it’s 7 p.m. in China, it’s 7 a.m. the same day at home.

We arrived in China on schedule about 2:30 p.m. local time. We encountered our first squatting toilet in the airport … we were all so tired that Kathy was the only one daring enough to try it (we did get used to them as the trip progressed!) Fortunately there was a western-style toilet that the rest of us patiently waited in line for.

Getting through Immigration was smooth for all of us. We took a mini-train to the baggage claim area and arrived just as my suitcase swung around the carousel. Both of our bags (and everyone else’s) arrived safely!

For the first of many times we were herded onto Bus 1. We wove through traffic clogged streets to our first hotel, the Beijing Lijingwan International Hotel. We were assigned a very comfortable room on the 8th floor with a nice view of row upon row of ‘flights’ of apartments where the 23 million people of Beijing make their homes.

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It seemed like each of the six million cars owned by ‘Beijingites’ were all on the road that Sunday afternoon! To us it looked like they drove wherever they wanted … buses, cars, tuk-tuks, bicycles, and pedestrians all seeming to get where they wanted in a very odd chaotic way. There was a lot of ‘speaking with horns’ although the honks appeared to be saying “I’m here” instead of “you’re in my way” like they would at home. Helene, our tour guide, said pedestrians beware … unlike what we are used to, walkers are lowest in the pecking order on these streets!

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We took the time to take much needed showers before we headed off to the Welcome Dinner. A a short bus ride later, about three-quarters of our two busloads of travel companions piled out and took a short walk to our restaurant. We were served the first of many Dim Sum style meals … rice, a few meat dishes and a few veggie dishes. We can’t forget that we sampled our first taste of pejeho (Chinese beer) that was to become the drink of choice for Table 1!

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Traffic has subsided a bit for our drive back through the now neon-lit city to our hotel … I guess most people were home getting ready for another work week.

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This isn’t our hotel, but everything along the way was lit up like this!

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After a long two days of travelling with very little sleep, we all headed to bed early
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Heading Home

In order to avoid the early morning traffic and road closures because of a half marathon scheduled for Sunday morning in and around the area we were staying, we decided to leave Vancouver a day earlier than planned. The Saturday morning traffic going out of the city was much better than the rush hour traffic when we arrived, so our drive back to the Peace Arch at the White Rock, BC border crossing was much faster. It only took about 20 minutes to get through customs. Again we had no problems when the officer realized we were ‘just driving through’ on our way home.

As we headed toward Seattle we had a beautiful view of Mount Baker. Once again we HOV’d our way through the busy highways of Seattle with no delay at all. Before long we found ourselves in the Snoqualmie Forest which encompasses Mt. Rainier National Park. The clear day made it a good one for seeing mountains off in the distance.

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After an overnight stop in Ellensburg, WA we continued on into Idaho. Everywhere we stopped people were talking about the record temperatures. Everything was so dry, they were worried about fires. We passed through the beautiful country near Coeur d’Alene and into Montana.

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It wasn’t too long before we were passing the Smokejumper training school just outside of Missoula. The last time we were through here we toured the facility where the fire fighters who parachute in to fight raging forest fires are trained. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We had planned on driving a bit further, but since it was getting to be the later part of the afternoon we decided to stop for the night in Missoula.

Vancouver’s Gems and Rings

We started the next day with one of our favourites … Stanley Park. Even though the locals thought it was a terribly hot day with the temperature rising well above average, to us with our recent time in Vegas at 48 degrees, it was gorgeous. We drove the first part of the loop to just past the Aquarium and then parked. We walked about halfway around before cutting through the middle to get back to the car. It was getting into the early afternoon and we had to get ready for a wedding.

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We got back just as Marcia and Michael were heading off to Cecil Green House at UBC where the wedding was held. They had some last minute set-up and decorating to do before the guests arrived. We showered and dressed and were on our way about 4.

The venue was beautiful. We gathered in the shade on the large back verandah until the ceremony was to begin. Then we all made our way down to an area on the back lawn. Through the trees we could see the ocean. What a place to start your life together.

As Jenn and Nick wanted, the ceremony was both light-hearted and serious. The officiant must have been a stand-up comedian in another life, but knew when humour was appropriate, and when it wasn’t. It was certainly a ceremony they’ll talk about for a long time.

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After the formal pictures, we all reassembled back on the verandah for drinks. Jenn and Nick are both craft beer lovers, so along with the traditional wines, there were lots of quality beers to sample.

Between the courses of the very tasty dinner we heard speeches from parents, friends and family, again some heart-warming and others quite funny. It was a bit warm for people to dance, so after the first dance, most people headed outside to the cooler air of the back gardens. Just as we were about to leave a food truck rolled up, ready to serve gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches! After the great meal, I’m not sure how anyone had the room, but there were all kinds of people lined up for them.

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As we made our way back to our home-away-from-home we passed a movie shoot. We’re not sure what it was for but we know that the crew for both Star Trek 3 and the X-Files Revival were in town. Who knows what aliens might have lurked behind those barricades!

Hollywood – Canadian Style

Ever since starting our vacation we’ve been trying to set aside time to see Pixar’s new movie Inside Out, and we finally made it happen. It’s one of those movies that you wonder if it is for kids, or if it’s really for the parents! It’s certainly a heart tugger for Moms, especially if you have grown up kids! I won’t say anything more than it made me cry (more than a few times) during and even during the credits when “Dedicated to our children. Don’t grow up. Ever.” appeared on the screen. While we were in the movie our car apparently passed a parking lot safety check that came complete with an ‘Enjoy your stay in BC!’ greeting.

From there we headed to the small fishing community of Steveston located in the southwest corner of Richmond. We’re reluctant fans of the show Once Upon a Time which is filmed there.

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Brad was much better at identifying the buildings used in the show, but I needed a map of Storybrooke, the fictional town in the show as it related to the real street. Some of the buildings still had markings in the windows or on their signs, but others had reverted back to normal. Our waitress at lunch said she thought filming was set to start again in late July or early August.

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After lunch we wandered over to the Heritage Fishing Village at the base of the main street. We went into the cannery museum and through its little store. We finished our short visit with a walk along the boardwalk, full of people just like us who were enjoying the beautiful day beside the seaside.

Later on we left Jeffrey at our home away from home … he had an on-line exam to do, and we had a dinner invitation to the home of my long-lost school friend Lesley and her partner Jackie. We sat outside amongst the lush greenery in their beautiful backyard garden. We spent hours catching up before, during, and after a delicious supper. We figure that it had been at least 25 years since we’d last seen each other. Hopefully it won’t be nearly as long until the next visit.

Out and About in Vancouver

It has been a while since we’ve spent any time in Vancouver. The last time we were here we had the trailer and found it difficult to make our way around, so chose to just pass through. This time we had a list of places that we wanted to visit.

We started with a ferry trip to Bowen Island. The tutor for the Ecole Chocolat course I took back in 2006 has a shop there, and the last time we visited she was away. There weren’t too many walk-on passengers on the ferry, but we ended up chatting with a retired prof from Carleton (Architecture and Industrial Design, which like Jeffrey’s program are ones that are in the School of Engineering but aren’t engineering) who had done his graduate work at Waterloo, and spend a number of years in China doing research. It gave us lots of things in common to talk about as we made our way from Horseshoe Bay to the Island. He and a number of retired profs from Simon Fraser were going over to hike. They invited us to join them, but we had chocolate on our minds!

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After a 30 minute sail we arrived. A long line of cars was waiting to board the ferry back to the mainland as we walked up the steep incline to Artisan Square where Joanne has her shop, Cocoa West Chocolatier. We remembered that there was a shortcut up a back trail to the square and decided to take that. As we got about halfway up we noticed a deer munching on some tender shoots in someone’s back garden. Then as we rounded the municipal building we came eye-to-eye with another deer. After a bit of a stare-down and some loud shuffling our our feet on the gravel path, it slowly moved off the path and let us pass.

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We each picked out a few items and sampled them on the little patio outside the shop (more about the chocolate in another post Chocolate Tasting – Vancouver – Cocoa West Chocolatier). A ginger cat decided that we looked like we might share what we had, so made herself at home on our table. Brad overheard someone say “Oh, it looks like the cat has found some new victims!” We didn’t share our chocolate, but she stayed with us until we went back in to buy a box of treats to take with us.

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We clamoured back down the hill and arrived at the dock just as the next ferry was pulling in. It started to spit rain a little bit as we boarded, but not enough to keep us off the upper deck as we sailed out.

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Back on the mainland we decided to drive along Marine Drive to see if we could find a local place to get a good lunch. We stopped in the Dundarave area and wandered up and back the short downtown until we found the Dundarave BakeHouse. We had a wonderful lunch … sandwiches with tender meat piled high on freshly baked multigrain bread. Turns out the bakery is one of the favourites of the actors (like Cobie Smulders) who find themselves in Vancouver for movie shoots. The servings were so big, we each ended up taking half of our meal home for supper.

From there we continued along the water until we got to the Lions Gate Bridge where we joined the backup of cars waiting to cross into downtown Vancouver. It wasn’t too long until we were driving along the beach strip toward UBC. We stopped a couple of times, first to wander down to the water, and later at our favourite spot to watch small tugboats towing logs into booms to ship down river.

From there we headed to our home away from home for the next few days and waited for the arrival of Brad’s sister and her husband.

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Crossing the Border

After yesterday’s crazy drive up the scenic bypass we headed back to the super slab and headed north into Washington. The drive up past Olympia and into Seattle was uneventful. The traffic was pretty bad in Seattle but because there were three of us we were able to use the HOV lanes to bypass all the stop-and-go traffic. What an amazing way to zip through the city quickly.

We had intended on staying in the States one more night, but decided since we’d made such good time that we’d drive right through to Vancouver. We gassed up just before we headed to the Peace Arch crossing at Blaine. The wait wasn’t too long and was fun to watch people hopping out of their cars to take pictures of the arch, the beautiful Peace Arch park, and the small stone border markings.

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Source: NW Pacific Real Estate

We had a new young custom’s officer who carefully watched our eyes as we answered his questions before sending us on our way. Not sure where we were going to stay for the night, we headed to New Westminster. We got caught up in the evening rush hour so pulled off to see if we could get a room in one of the hotels in North Vancouver that we’ve used before. We got the last room … good thing we called, because otherwise we’d probably have been driving around for a while looking for a place.

We picked up a pizza at the little shop around the corner and settled in for a quiet evening.