Solotrip: Vancouver, British Columbia
My solotrips are to help me stay focused, clear my mind, find some true alone time and decompress. I’m grateful for having these little adventures because they help me hit the reset button a bit. This time, the timing was impeccable. The day before I left, my first real employee told me he would be focusing his efforts on his own endeavor. I thought I was going to need to clear my head to find focus on how to be a better “boss” but instead, this trip was about finding clarity in reflection. I had a lot to process from my first time with this kid and ultimately, it was a blessing he decided to divert his attention.
For my second solotrip, I wanted to go somewhere urban. Having gone to the beach I wanted to see how it felt to go where there’s more action. In the PNW there aren’t many city options. I had gone to Portland a few times already but I’d only driven through Vancouver once on my way to Whistler in January 2013. So, Vancouver it was. Since I had a little car trouble on my first trip, I wanted to see how it was taking alternative transportation. I’d heard good things about the train but I was also curious about the Bolt Bus so I figured I’d try both. Train up, bus down.
The train did not disappoint. The last time I took Amtrak was a disaster and I’d almost sworn it off for good. I’m glad I gave it a second chance. T o start, the King Street Train Station in Pioneer Square is gorgeous. The detailing in the architecture was not what I expected. When the time came, we just casually hopped on board and were whisked away along the coast. I thoroughly enjoyed the 3.5 hour trip. It was nice to be able to get up, walk around, find a seat with a killer view and just relax. I must have counted 20 eagles on the way up and I was glued to watching the scenery pass by. Crossing the border was a breeze. We pulled right into the station and went through customs as we entered the building. For $45, this was worth every penny.
I’ve opted not to seek out a ton of suggestions for each destination. I want to just go and see what I find. This can be an interesting challenge when determining where to stay. With almost no idea of where the “cool” neighborhoods were, I hopped on AirBNB the day before leaving to see what my options were. I was immediately drawn to the ~$30 per night options. I found one that boasted being a few minutes walk to “The Drive”, a buzzing neighborhood. It was a studio apartment just a couple miles from the train/bus station so I decided to walk there upon arriving to give my legs a good stretch. The apartment was freakin’ adorable. Plus, it came with a bike and a beer!
First stop: somewhere delicious to grab some food. One of the best parts of traveling is getting to eat new and delicious foods. This also puts weird pressure on picking the right spot. Not knowing what was around and how far it all was I hopped on Yelp! for recommendations. This led to way too much time being spent on the internet. Eventually I found a spot, got directions, put on my helmet and headed out on bike. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually ridden a bike in a city before but without evening thinking about it, I set out on my first urban biking adventure in a town I know nothing about!
One of the pleasures of traveling without a car is not feeling tethered to anything. Well, the bike may have gotten me to lunch a bit quicker than my feet could have carried me but overall it just stressed me out. As soon as I arrived on The Drive I wanted to be able to explore freely and see where I landed but having that bike meant I had to get it home safely. I devoured my meal and coffee at Jamjar as I chatted with a friendly table mate then quickly got the little bike home.
A little tired from traveling, I didn’t want to just walk back to where I came from so I went online to see what else I could do. I spent over an hour looking at options, struggling to make a decision. I almost landed on a museum or exhibit as my choice but it had taken me so long to decide what to do, they were soon closing. Frustrated, I decided to just lay in bed for a bit, rest up and try again at night time. This was going to be a good time to catch up on some shows. Oh wait, I’m in Canada and Hulu doesn’t work in Canada. Fortunately, Netflix works. I watched a very interesting documentary about George Takei. I like that dude.
By nightfall I was prepared to venture out again. I wasn’t necessarily hungry but that seemed like the next step to take. I found a local cafe that was hosting a pretty cool sounding band that was going on at 10. I was going to have a few hours to kill but I was also going to go the most popular Japanese restaurant on this side of town, Kishimoto. Surely there would be a wait that would help me kill the time. I walked over to The Drive, noticing details around that seemed to be speaking to me directly.
There was a crowd outside of the sushi bar so I made my way to the list to add my name. I learned on this trip that if you ever want to try a ridiculously popular spot, go as a single. There’s almost always a solo spot waiting just for you. I must have shaved off an hour wait or so because they called me straight in. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. I wanted a little more time to get hungrier! Anyways, they sat me down and I ordered the most decorated plate of sushi I’ve ever had.
I had time to kill after my meal so I wandered up the strip and stumbled upon the Libra Room. As a libra myself, I knew this was my spot. A lively jazz band was playing and there was just one seat left at the bar. I enjoyed my vinho verde as I chatted with a couple of rural Canada. Eventually I made my way to Cafe deux Soleil to catch a new band called Parlour Panther. They’re a queer friendly, multilingual folk band. I was very impressed and would happily catch their show in Seattle sometime.
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I made my way home exhausted around midnight and crashed.
I had the whole next day as my bus didn’t leave until 6pm. I packed my bag and set out to spend a day lugging my belonging all over town. I figured I’d grab the SkyTrain from The Drive and just drop myself off downtown. I’ve got to say, the public transportation in Vancouver is lovely. I really do miss having alternative options in Seattle. The stops I used were actually just really, really nice.
I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and found a couple pieces that spoke to me: a cat and an iridescent lady, of course.
From there I wandered down to the convention center. In architecture school I had learned all about the intelligent design of Vancouver. It’s a unique city in the way it was planned. There are lots of huge buildings but they’re set back so you don’t feel cramped. They also make use of rooftops by creating useful spaces. The convention center is famous for it’s 1+ acres of meadow. Thinking it was open to the public I tried to make my way there only to learn that not even high level staff have access. So, I wandered by foot trying to get a glimpse of the rooftop and trying to gain access to some other one. I walked around with my eyes on the tops of the buildings. I casually walked into one that had a rooftop calling my name. I headed for the elevator expecting to just find what I needed. The friendly concierge asked if he could help. I told him I was headed to the rooftop. I learned quite quickly that I was attempting to get to the rooftop of the Shangri La, the tallest building in the city. The top floors are for private residents. Oops. Failed attempt after failed attempt I wove my way through downtown.
I really enjoyed my time lazily making my way through the city. I had no place to be for so long and didn’t really have any idea of what to see. At one point I found a park bench that allowed me to set my bag down. I pulled out my journal and starting writing.
The leaves were at the start of their peak so I had to snatch some cliché shots and some leafy selfies.
By the end of the day I was exhausted. I must have covered at least 6 miles. I got to the bus station early cause I just couldn’t hang any more.
At the station and on the bus ride down I dove back into my journal and kept processing. The biggest thing I had noticed about my adventure in the city was my need to “stay entertained”. I went with the same intention to just be, to just observe but cities make me feel like I need to make the right choices. I need to eat at the best restaurants, go the the best museum, explore the right part of town. The wilderness doesn’t have this same challenge. When I’m in nature, once I’m there all I have to do is be. When you show up in the forest you’ve done what you set to do.
I was grateful for the comparison of city venturing versus outdoor venturing but I think I’ll stick with nature for the next few trips. I didn’t come back feeling refreshed or reset but I had a damn good time.