Sunday, November 24, 2013

Travelling the west coast

My involvement with Organized Real Estate requires me to travel some. Over the past month I attended meetings in Vancouver and in San Francisco. My wife went with me to SF and we took an extra week to visit Seattle and then up to Victoria to visit with our middle child who is doing graduate work at UVic.

The conference in Vancouver was at a hotel near Coal Harbour and so I got to take several early morning and evening walks on the water front - especially down to Stanley Park. This is a very nice, very expensive part of the city. The photo below is from my hotel window.
See what I mean? Not a hard burden to stay in this area.

If you have never been to San Francisco, and get the chance to do so, I highly suggest you go. What an interesting city. There are about 860,000 people squished into 49 square miles, so that's about 90,000 more people than NB has and we have them spread over 50,000 square miles. It is a very busy place.

One of the cabbies told us there were 3200 restaurants in SF so you don't need to go hungry - as long as you have some room on your charge card. I found the west coast more expensive to eat out than it is on our side of the country.

One night we ate at an Italian restaurant called The North Beach Restaurant. It was awesome. There were 6 in our party and we were seated in the basement with 2 or 3 other larger groups. The basement is done up to look like a funky wine cellar, low ceilings, exposed brick walls, wood beams and so on. My writers eye was working overtime trying to imprint this place in my mind. The place was packed so I didn't feel right about taking pictures.

The table next to us had a boisterous group of about a dozen who were well into their cups and having a whale of a time. Normally I frown on acting crazy in a restaurant - especially in one where the waiters wear tuxedos, but it just seemed to fit into the atmosphere at this place. We were told the restaurant had been open since 1978 and was considered one of the best in the city. I was sold - my Tuscan Chicken was very good.

All of us commented on how safe the city felt. Maybe we were too naive to notice, but we walked around, sometimes in groups, but sometimes in singles and at no time did we feel nervous about being on the street. This is a very artsy town with all kinds of street performers, small shops with art of various types and prices, and lots of really cool places to check out.

We stayed close to Chinatown which is a must see for anyone. It is large, covering several city blocks in each direction. One thing that struck me as odd was that almost every restaurant had people on the sidewalk with menus, handing them out and trying to convince you to come into to their particular restaurant. Some were quite aggressive.

Two things that I feel are "must dos" in SF is the 2 bridges harbour tour and the visit to Alcatraz. Neither is very expensive and both are worth every penny. The 2 bridges harbour tour takes about 90 minutes and takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and the under the Bay Bridge before returning to the dock. This is a narrated tour and gives you an excellent perspective of the downtown you can't get walking the streets. I'm a sucker for anything involving a boat anyway.

We flew to Seattle and stayed there only overnight, about 14 hours, but we walked to Pikes Place Market - saw the original Starbucks - and walked by the Space Needle (below). That is quite a building and the Science Center next door is worth seeing too.

The next morning we jumped onto the ferry to Victoria. It speeds its way up through the islands, through Puget Sound  and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. It took about 2 1/2 hours. Lots to see all around and we really enjoyed it.

Victoria is a wonderful city with a totally different feel than Vancouver. It is much smaller but it is still different. It is still very British and as a friend of mine once said, you can smell the 'old money'. We stayed downtown which is full of smart little pubs and restaurants and very walkable. Victoria is, of course, the capital of BC and each night the light up the legislature (below). This was first done to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria around 1898.

After a couple of days, we rented a car and, accompanied by our son, went to Nanaimo. Just north - west of Nanaimo is a Provincial Park which contains a spot called Cathedral Grove. I have spoken of the Celtic term "thin place" before and this was definitely a thin place. For those of you who have not heard of the term it was a spot, in Celtic lore, where the line dividing this world from the spiritual world is very thin and could be easily crossed.

Cathedral Grove is a stand of old growth Douglas fir and Cedar. When I say old I mean hundreds of years old. These are trees of huge portions. One of the biggest was over 3 meters across, 72 meters tall, and estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. I took lots of pictures here as this was a magical place. Moss hung from the trees and you expected to see a faerie, or a hobbit peek around a tree at you, or maybe one to speak to you like Treebeard in Lord of the Rings. It was just incredible.

However, in spite of all the amazing things they have on the west coast, we have many things here too and you need to go away for awhile to appreciate this when you get home. I still love the ruggedness of the Atlantic coast, it feels like you need to be more hardy of a person to live here. There are thin places in Gros Morne National Park to rival Cathedral Grove, and maybe we don't have 3200 restaurants in any city but there are great places to eat. It's nice to travel and its equally nice to get back home.