QE Park

 

For our last full day of sightseeing in Vancouver, I scoured the guide book looking for something off the beaten path where we could take our time and explore without the mobs of tourists. I found the perfect spot: Queen Elizabeth Park, public gardens built inside an old stone quarry.

East Van

 

We traveled south down Main Street to explore the East Side, or East Van as it is more commonly known. Lots of unusual boutiques, artisan studios, and eateries. It’s a young part of the city, demographically, and home to many non-English speaking immigrants. We enjoyed the diversity: the people, the cuisine, and especially the murals.

Biking the Wall

 

We were itching to see more of Vancouver’s waterfront via the Seawall, and the best way to do it is by bike. We rented bikes from a shop across the street from our apartment and covered 22 kilometers round trip–a good part of the time in a light sprinkle. Our favorite part was circumnavigating Stanley Park, the 1000-acre public park on Vancouver’s northwest peninsula. Fantastic scenery!

Kitsilano

 

We walked along Vancouver’s marvelous Seawall from Granville Island to the attractive suburb of Kitsilano. The Seawall is a much-used, 30-kilometer, paved pedestrian and bike path along Vancouver’s shoreline from Downtown’s Coal Harbour around Stanley Park and False Creek to the University of British Columbia in Kitsilano. We can’t wait to accomplish more of it by bike while we’re here. Happy to see so many people outdoors enjoying this beautiful weather!

Industrial Art

view from the Granville Island side

This 3-D mural painted on concrete silos at Ocean Concrete on Granville Island is part of a non-profit public art project dedicated to exhibiting art “where people live, work, play, and transit.” They were painted by twin brothers from Brazil and decidedly liven up an otherwise mundane canvas. There are so many tourists snapping photos of the “Giants” that a security guard has to keep the entrance clear for their trucks to be able to enter and exit the grounds. I’d say the art project was a success–quite the attention-grabber!

view across False Creek from downtown Vancouver

Granville Island

 

Had a blast walking around Granville Island, one of Vancouver’s true urban gems. Although not quite an island (a thin strip of land connects it to the south shore of False Creek), the 35 acres is almost completely surrounded by water and offers great views of Downtown to the north and east. It is jam-packed full of artisan studios, theaters, buskers (street performers), a marina, and one of the best public markets we’ve ever seen. This is peak season for local fruit, and the market was bursting with color and fragrance.

Toasty warm

at the Steel Toad Brewery

You’ve got to love a pub that has a soft, cozy blanket folded over each chair on their outdoor patio! These Floridians have found that no matter how brilliant the sunshine in the Pacific Northwest, the moment we step into the shade we’re a wee bit chilly. We love being outdoors and appreciate the thoughtfulness of The Steel Toad Brewery in acknowledging that no matter where you’re from, a toasty blanket is a comfort when sipping on a nice cold beer on a patio in Canada. Excellent lunch here, by the way!

Vancouver, BC

 

We’re in Vancouver! Love this city. We can’t get over how friendly and helpful people are here. The weather is gorgeous–even got a bit of a sunburn on our walk from Granville Island to Kitsilano yesterday.

Sunset in Bellingham

sunset somewhere near Bellingham, Washington

Beautiful sunset as we took the train from Portland, OR, to Vancouver, BC. Note: You’ve got to remember to say BC when you’re talking about going to the Canadian Vancouver from Portland, or everyone thinks you’re taking a little trip across the Columbia River to WA!

It’s no coincidence that the two cities have the same name. The Hudsons Bay Company abandoned their fur trading post at Fort Vancouver in what would become the American state of Washington to build a new post in what would become British Columbia at the same time Britain and the US were negotiating the Canada/US 49th-parallel border in 1846. I guess the HBC could see the writing on the wall. However, it’s interesting to consider that the US and Britain “shared” the Oregon Territory for almost 20 years, with citizens of both countries lucratively, and relatively peacefully, trapping beaver despite tenuous political relations back home.

The eight-hour train ride–which took more like nine–was very pleasant, and we saw some terrific waterfront scenery.

girl on a train

Learning to cha-cha

Bar Barossa

Bar Barossa

The terrorist attacks in Paris made us want to stick pretty close to home. Our apartment is on one of the best restaurant streets in Madrid, similar to a couple of those targeted in the Paris attacks. At night and all throughout the weekend people spill out from the tiny bars and dining establishments and party in the street. From our fifth-floor apartment we look down upon a river of people.

We went out on Friday night, several hours before the Paris attacks. On Saturday, we stayed in. By Sunday we were starting to feel claustrophobic. This apartment is not big and is our least favorite of the entire trip. The grime in the corners, the chill of the marble floors, and the meager cooking equipment in the kitchen made us long for some freshly cooked food in the brilliant Spanish sunshine.

paella and vermut

paella and vermut

Marcus had been reading an article in Saveur magazine on the sweet, red vermouth (vermut, in Spanish) that is so popular in Madrid. The magazine mentioned a little mom-and-pop place in the Mercado de San Fernando not far from our apartment. I started putting on my shoes as he told me about it. ¡Vamanos!

San Fernando is a typical fresh market prevalent in every city in Spain. Madrid has at least one in each barrio. They’re usually not open on Sundays, so I was surprised to hear music blasting out the doors and see the people milling in and out. Inside, in the center of all the closed market stalls, people were dancing to the hip-swaying Latin beat.

Some of the cafés around the periphery of the market were open, serving up tapas and beers, wine and jamón, and other Spanish delicacies. It didn’t take us long to find Bar Barossa. We even recognized Mom and Pop from the magazine photos. We ordered two vermuts and gobbled down the tapa of paella that comes free with every drink order. When we were done, we climbed up to the market’s second floor that overlooks the open, center space. On an ordinary weekday, this space would be full of tables and chairs for shoppers to rest and refresh with a beverage and a snack after a busy day of shopping, but today it was the dance floor.

It was so good to see people out and enjoying themselves. Giving in to our fears and sequestering ourselves indoors can do us more psychological harm than good. Life will go on, but you have to make that first step. One-two-three, cha-cha-cha.

cha cha cha