Toronto on the Last Minute trip recap

In the evening of Tuesday, November 4, because my mother didn’t want to distract me from work (I would have called her right away), I learned that my maternal grandmother, widowed three years ago, had passed away. She hadn’t been sick that I knew of (but apparently had been sick for several days) so it came as a shock to me. She was 94 years old or even older, it’s hard to say.

Kindly people would ascribe my lack of reaction to not being able to process it immediately but, simply put, she was an ever diminishing part of my life for several years. It took more conscious processing on my part to remember back to the times we saw her periodically in Toronto over summer or March Break and even longer ago, we spent the whole summers staying at her apartment in North Point, Hong Kong.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days about whether or not to go to Toronto. The visceral reaction to the damned high flight prices was, “Unfortunately, no.” BC observed Remembrance Day (a Tuesday) as a holiday so we were looking at long weekend type of high prices on top of booking at the last minute. Heading out on Friday night or even on Saturday to get most of the weekend was out of the question. I learned of who was going from the cousins generation and everyone in Vancouver who didn’t have kids was going. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the price if it was a normal weekend so it was merely a $150-200 premium. I had been to my grandfather’s funeral three years ago when I was living in Toronto and Grandmother C was by and far a larger presence in my life.

And… I am glad I went! The funeral events were family-only and our numbers were enough to round out a decent party: all seven children, eight of 12 grandchildren and three spouses and a boyfriend. Last year’s two weddings couldn’t bring us all together like so.

The schedule of comings and goings was a sight to behold with people coming to Toronto from Halifax, Vancouver, Hong Kong and Seattle. Except for one married couple, no two others had the same travel schedule, not even cousins Alan and I which was close but different. We are a family, I would observe during my time away, where every single one of us in three generations either doesn’t live where he or she was born or has spent significant time living elsewhere before returning to a hometown.

nov2014-travel-schedule

My company generously granted me three days of bereavement leave and Tuesday was a holiday so my travel schedule was Sunday to Thursday and I felt guilty because I would have taken just one day had it been in town and I was planning on having a bit of fun by way of seeing my BFF and spend time with my cousins. But this family time is important. It’s important for me to be there when my mother sees all her siblings because who knows when (if) it will happen again.

Sunday

My Vancouver aunt and I were on the same outbound flight but sat separately. A Toronto cousin picked us up and his brother who arrived an hour later, saving my sister from four airport runs in five days. We hung out at the cousin’s house and met his infant son and got to know his toddler daughter. In no particular hurry, I was given a ride to Richmond Hill and Lil Sis and I went for Korean (couldn’t resist) at Oh Geul Boh Geul [Yelp]and got the authentic basement dining room experience and we tried an Asian dessert shop, Sweet Note, Lil Sis has driven by countless times.

Monday

On Monday morning, my sister and I made the first of three airport runs to pick up my mother and we went to the grandparent’s condo where we went through the contents of the apartment and figured out what to do with it. Now I know why the bereavement rate included one free checked bag, we all have mementos of Grandmother C.

The visitation and ceremony was in the early afternoon and it was interspersed with customs that the funeral home director guided us through. We dispersed for an hour during which we could spend the loonie in a pouch we were given then we had early dinner at Legend because afterwards, we were back at the condo for the siblings to discuss inheritance matters. It was funny how we are still treated like children and not invited to the round table that wouldn’t support us anyhow. Yet we were right next door, eavesdropping from the living room. And as the discussions drew longer, more English would enter the dialogue!

Tuesday

On Monday, I learned that some filming locations of my all time favorite movie, Sullivan Productions 1985 version of Anne of Green Gables, were just outside Toronto and my younger cousin Meg was eager to visit them. I arranged to get use of my sister’s car for the day following dropping mum off at the airport at 0715 (second airport run) and dropping my sister off at work in Aurora. We started near the grandparents’ condo in Scarborough where Meg was staying with Green Gables (7501 Steeles Avenue East) then onto Unionville where the pilot for Gilmour Girls was filmed (156 Main Street is Luke’s Diner) and finally Stouffville for the Lake of Shining Waters (just behind 3993 Stouffville Road). I will blog in full about that day.

 

 

I had some plan to work on Tuesday but obviously Meg’s proposal was much more interesting. I don’t know if I will ever travel with family in the way I would want to (like my in-laws who travel in a pack) but sightseeing with my cousin for a day was kind of like that because I’m not exactly local to Toronto either.

We had dinner with the family at Vince’s [Yelp] and it was more relaxed that the evening before, the wine was flowing. After each dinner we had to remember who was leaving next who would see who soon or not. “Goodbye. Take care.” “You, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Wednesday

I finally made it downtown on Wednesday and dropped by the office. I showed up at my Toronto counterpart’s desk and greeted her and she thought I looked familiar (from our internal instant messaging profile photos) before realizing that I was out of context! I also visited my old group and guided myself on a tour of renovated office spaces on a floor we just expanded to.

Wednesday and the next day would be caffeine heavy as I took to the King/Yonge Starbucks to get some work done then the Starbucks in Brookfield Place to meet up with the BFF. That meet-up was way too short and we parted promising to try to meet up again the next day.

I had gone through the BlogTO’s “Top 10 places to work or study in Toronto” and Rooster Coffee caught my attention. It was a little distance out from Yonge but worth the trek. The cashier was so pleasant I tipped for once.

 

 

We had dinner at my cousin’s because his two young children did not attend the other events. We really are the bridging generation now that both grandparents are gone; we exist between our parents and (for those of us who have them), our children. The Annex area where they live is so adorable; it’s where I’d want to live, next after living five minutes from work. ;-)

Thursday

I made it downtown on my last day, very appreciative that the GO Train I take has added trains so I don’t have to rush to get the train that gets me in at 8 a.m. I looked for some of the most iconic Toronto street art but lost patience and didn’t know if some of it didn’t exist any longer anyhow.

One of my other goals was to check out the accessories shop in Chinatown Centre but I didn’t see anything better than my last successful raid so I wandered into a clothing shop and bought a cute bikini for $16! The sales lady gave me a further discount without me asking!

I finally got to check out Dark Horse after walking by it so many times. It was a great place to work, but not so intimate or cozy as the day before and my beef is with how I couldn’t find a power outlet there or Rooster.

One more Starbucks trip to meet up with the BFF for an hour and I was walking at a quick clip back to Union to catch an early GO Train back north.

We met up with two aunts left in town for one more dinner at Asian Legend and it’s obvious to me I don’t carry the conversation in the group and the dynamics were different when our numbers dwindle. I’m super impressed my sister’s boyfriend came out all four evenings. That’s dedication… or he’s in it for the free food. :-P He got a full dose of the family. So did I, and it was great.

Marathon bucket list

Last Sunday, I wrapped up another running season but I look forward to the next season although I am not entirely sure what I will be able to do. Here are some of my ideas, my bucket list per se, kicking around my head and categorized.

Big project
– Cascadia Trio of Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons (Portland, Seattle and Vancouver in May, June and October) – I want that Cascadia Heavy Medal sooner rather than later

Easily attainable
– Vancouver Marathon (early May – while it is still under the cool Run * Van branding)
Longest Day Race (Vancouver / mid-June – I heard it has the best food, lol)

Pan-Canadian running part of my quest to get a marathon medal from each of Canada’s 10 provinces – I would visit these cities enroute to or as a side trip to a regular visit to Toronto or Halifax
Saskatchewan Marathon (Saskatoon / end of May)
Manitoba Marathon (Winnipeg / mid-June)
Cape to Cabot (St. John’s / mid-October)

Unique/cool races to do
– Bay of Fundy Not Since Moses (Bay of Fundy / end of July – 2014 run got postponed to 2015!)
Bang & Olufsen Yorkville Run (Toronto / mid-September)
- CN Tower Climb (there are two in a year – May and October)
– Half Corked – interest a little waning, been there too many times (Osoyoos / mid-May – registration is by lottery)
Holly Jolly Fun Run (Toronto / mid-November – run on the Santa Claus parade route and have thousands of people cheer you on)

Long-term goals
New York (early November – it’s by lottery and a full-marathon)
– A Disneyland or Disney World marathon (Princess or Tinkerbell or Goofy Challenge!!)
Winterlude Triathalon: skate-ski-run (Ottawa / end of January)

Pulling it together for the inaugural Vancouver Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis/Cunningham Seawall 10K

It has been five weeks since my “good” performance at Beat the Blerch and I was on a high going into today’s 10K until a week ago because travel had happened and the so had the week after returning from a week away (wherein in six intervening days, I cooked just once and otherwise ate atrociously).

All day on Saturday, it was pouring rain. I wondered what hurricane was passing by south of us, it was so uncharacteristic for Vancouver and disturbing one day out from race day.

The 10K race start was in Stanley Park and at 7:45 a.m. Such an early hour and the location proved a logistical challenge. The Translink “19 Stanley Park” bus had been rerouted and not going anywhere close to the park. My friends were coming from all directions and I barely knew how we’d meet up. I thought there was some issue because it didn’t seem like the start time was released until only a month ago.

On Saturday, I didn’t quite feel like we were doing a race the next day. Despite the relentless rain, we had brunch with friends in Gastown, checked out the new brewery in our neighbourhood for dinner and met up with friends for drinks and dessert in the evening!

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and observed how I have slept through the night for this and the last race and got ready aiming to take the blessed “19 Stanley Park” bus at 6:42 a.m. The evening before, I coordinated with Joanne and Tammy to meet on the bus but NPY and I were late and so were they and on the bus a girl asked me if we were taking the shuttle? Shuttle? Straight into the park? Would love to but I had no info because it was not a live link on the race website. We got off the bus before meeting with Joanne and Tammy and walked in the same direction as the crowd. I called Joanne and established we were all headed to the shuttle stop. NPY growled how we weren’t organized at all and I knew it came from the place where he hadn’t drank enough water and wasn’t getting either coffee or food before the run.

But as luck would have it, we saw each other at the shuttle stop: Joanne, Tammy and Frank. We boarded the shuttle and I was nervous during the ride into the park. It was so desperately slow as the shuttles were in the same traffic as the cars on Georgia Street. Were the cars carrying racers who drove in, clogging up Georgia and the park entrance looking for parking? Was gear check going to close on us and I would have to carry a crossbody Sportsac bag the entire time?

We had ample time to check gear, take photos and join the corrals at our leisure.

VAN_1285

VAN_1871 Above images from competitor.com.

There were tens of corrals and it was an organized wave start. We started together but NPY broke off ahead of us. I could feel I was going a fast clip with Joanne and Tammy already as we weaved between the crowds. But our first kilometer was just about 6:30. Our second kilometer was in 12:40 or so. Around then, we passed NPY and since I did not make that known, he thought we were always behind still behind him. I was secretly worried that I couldn’t keep it up with these spritely girls but let’s see what I have in me. Hypothetically, I had a lot of fuel from the excesses of the day before. We got to 5K still together and I checked my Runtastic to read just under 28 minutes. It was good. If I was good, it was as 56-minute 10K. I was stayed ahead of the girls for most of the 5th kilometer but they pulled ahead of me after that and I concentrated on keeping my pace steady.

That 28-minute 5K gave me room for the back half to positive split and stay under an hour. The girls didn’t know what I’ve been through last week from sleeping really little (Monday and Tuesday, I kept waking up every hour and not sleeping past 5:30 on average; Wednesday, I clocked four hours of sleep but I woke up after two hours; and I finally slept through the night on Thursday), to having one of the most emotionally trying weeks of my life sparked by events when I was away, and the subsequent utterly craptastic diet that I subsisted on all week.

I didn’t have to bargain with myself overly. When I turned up the volume of my music, I could drown out the tightness I felt in my glutes and hamstrings – thanks eight-minute JDRF ride on Friday – and , most of the boredom. I only had to remind myself a couple of times that the Blerch was outside of me, on the shirt I was wearing and not internal with ability to affect me. The Blerch wasn’t harping too much today anyhow for some reason. I also reminded myself that I had to make something good out of declining alcohol during a night out at six pubs in St. John’s George Street when my evening had been fully financed by a new “friend”.

Iggy Azalea/Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” served as a good power song again. The song I had been playing all summer, Pitbull’s “Last Night”, previously had a certain meaning to me but a different interpretation opened up to me today that made some things I hadn’t fully resolved fall into place. The answer is in song… and running absolutely does bring about epiphanies when you least expect it. Earlier this week, I added Lorde’s “Team” to my playlist because it gained some meaning recently but I’m awfully glad that it did not come up during the race – especially not early on, I might have cried – and when the first bars started playing, I willingly pulled out my earphones as I was close to the finish line anyhow.

After Joanne and Tammy passed me, I thought they really pulled ahead, keeping up their 56-minute 10K pace while I slowed down but they were just about 20 to 30 meters ahead of me the entire time. In the last kilometer, they pulled ahead to 40 to 50 meters ahead and finished 30 seconds ahead of me. We had to queue for just a short bit to get our medals and posed for the photographer. We were all pleased to have committed to coming out to the run and eagerly discussed our next race!

Some other notes:

  • I wasn’t overly thrilled with the expo. I had heard Rock ‘n’ Roll expos were really good. I found the Montreal one two years better than the Vancouver one and both were inaugural races to the city. One of the major sponsors, Brooks, didn’t have as big of a presence at yesterday’s expo and I do think that there wasn’t a Vancouver Rock ‘n’ Roll pin created? I didn’t see one.
  • We saw the elderly lady who despite her advanced age does 10Ks, maybe even half marathons. I haven’t raced much in Vancouver recently so it was nice to see she’s still at it!
  • There weren’t as many Hallowe’en costumes as I thought there would be for a race that traditionally had costumes. It seemed to be about the same proportion of costumes as you get at any race these days.
  • The lululemon cheering station around 8KM sign was great. They had fun signs and I did appreciate that the staff – I’m assuming – were giving back and coming out to cheer with their cheeky signs.
  • There was a photographer around the lighthouse and when you turn the corner, you practically run into him. I wonder how many photographs of startled and unprepared runners he will get. Just 10 meters behind him was another photographer and I was better prepared for that one.
  • We did the clockwise route around the Stanley Park Seawall – I suspect it has to do with the number of runners and how you need wider sections in the beginning and narrower ones at the end will suffice with the crowds that spread out. When we rounded the corner and saw Lion’s Gate Bridge and then – after many turns – saw downtown, it was a good sight. It’s mostly a condo skyline but it’s darned pretty.
  • Gear check for picking up after the race was massively disorganized and I think we spent half an hour in line for it. Good thing there were thermal sheets we wrapped tightly around ourselves while we waited.
  • It was with great fanfare the organization announced the headliner for the post-race concert would be Magic! They had that song this summer, “Rude”, that I can’t say I really liked. But when I went to check the concert times, there was no more mention of Magic! and they had been quietly replaced by Allen Stone. (Who?) The main concert started two hours after we finished 10K so we didn’t stick around for it. It works far better for the half-marathoners.
  • We all had with our race bibs a ticket for a free beer in the beer garden and we even lined up the day before at the expo to be “pre-approved” to enter and wore the blue bracelet all the evening before. But beer when you finish a 10K at 9 a.m.? It doesn’t work.

At the expo, amongst the frames demonstrating how you can frame your medal, finish line photo and bib, one caught my eye in part because it had four medals. The large Cascadia medal created by the Heavy Medals organization caught my attention first then figured out that it is yours if you complete in the same calendar year Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons in Portland (May), Seattle (June) and Vancouver (October). This is a lofty goal and I’ve set it for myself next year. (At latest, the year after.)

My results ………
Chip time: 57:41
5K time: 27:49

Vancouver Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K racing music

A quick post with my playlist for the upcoming R’n’R race. It’s basically a 1hr-1min subset of my Beat the Blerch racing music playlist with the exception of one new song to the Nostalgia set. Beat the Blerch took place on the last day of summer and my mood through the summer heading into the race was remarkably good. Autumn comes with a vengeance in Vancouver with gloomy gray skies and rain as far as you can see and it’s too much to hope for a dry race day. Also of note, I have scrapped most of the Can Con music this round – a sign of my current mood. :S

Nostalgia set – these songs are laced with memories including exes

  • Pitbull f Havana Brown and Afrojack “Last night” -  an ex
  • Martin Garrix’s “Animals” -  clubbing at Hakkasan in Vegas this year
  • OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” - our (NPY and my) 2014 song!
  • Lourde’s “Team” – a night out in George St. and pausing for a moment to actually listen to what’s playing

Running(-related) set

  • The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” - why I include this every time: this song was playing when I started my first marathon (back in 2006)
  • Alyssa Reid’s “The Game” - either CTV or one of the sports networks used this song as part of their daily highlight reel music during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver – also Can Con
  • Kanye West’s “Stronger”
  • Three Days Grace’s “Pain”

“Apparently I don’t want to grow up” set

  • Fun. f Janelle Monae “We are young”
  • Avril Lavigne’s “Here’s to never growing up” - also Can con

“Ladies with serious legs” set

  • Taylor Swift – I knew you were trouble - particularly her performance of this track on the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
  • Shakira f Beyonce “Can’t remember to forget you” - memory of watching and gawking at the video during girls’ weekend earlier this year with Vinnie and Mona
  • Jennifer Lopez f Pitbull “On the floor”
  • P!nk’s “Try” - I’m so impressed she keeps topping herself performing her songs at awards shows, like at the 2014 Grammys

“All of the other junk-pop” set

  • B.o.B. f Hayley Williams “Airplanes”
  • Iggy Azalea f Rita Oru “Black widow” – I don’t care for the rap part because it breaks my stride (not literally, I hope) but like the intensity of the rhythm otherwise

What a stranger can teach you

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and that is to talk about people on this blog. You see, on the solo leg of my journey, I had the greatest fortune to meet and chat with two fellows, one in each of St. John’s and St. Pierre. I spent a few hours talking to each of them and come away so inspired and a little frustrated as I take a look at my life. It’s good, but my wings feel clipped. They are older than I am and yet don’t face the restrictions I feel, what gives? The easy answer is that they are men. The real answer is that they have made choices that have not been off limits to me but I have refrained all along.

I have no connection to either one of them any longer so my proof is in writing it down. I’ll try to be as impartial and relevant as possible.

The fellow I met in St. Pierre – let’s call him Keith – used to live in Canada and now works in Silicon Valley. I wanted to trade social media information just so I could follow his adventures in FB like a “friend” and then hit him up for a tour of his workplace because it’s *really cool*.

In talking about how he ended up in St. Pierre so that I, for my part, could have confirmation my plan to visit wasn’t crazy, I learned about his travel style: In a five-day interval he visited five cities, even with almost two of those days spent in St. Pierre! He avidly plans and researches his travel and he would go to Hawaii for a weekend while others need to make it a week-long affair. I’m the same way; case in point, I used to go to Halifax or Toronto from Vancouver for just the weekend.

In the course of our conversation which spanned from sharing our last (and best) St. Pierre meal to the airport to crossing the border back to Canada, I learned about his passion, the true motive to travel: climbing. He didn’t look the part so I was surprised at first. His quest to climb has has taken him all over the world and guides his future travels. I get excited for him to put together his plans and check another summit off his list. Like me, he tries to to visit his company’s offices in other cities and countries. And so he could understand my desire to get marathon medals in every province, how close I was to two that I still don’t have.

I was reminded to embrace my passion and be motivated to make what is important to me a reality, even if no one else would understand it and if no one else is doing it.

I met a fellow at the first pub I went to in St. John’s – let’s call him Allen – and we talked over several hours as we visited five other pubs and clubs. It makes me question my West Coast radar because, like Keith, Allen hails from the west coast (sorta). He is a folk violinist who is currently employed by a cruise line and I’m glad I didn’t know I was in the presence of musical greatness or I would have been completely tongue-tied.

When we watch SYTYCD, I remind NPY of how much blood, sweat, tears and repetition he misses and takes for granted when they skip from funny outtakes during rehearsal to flawless performances. The dancers are artists and slightly crazy. I asked Allen if I would have heard of him before and he showed me his driver’s license and I Googled him and watched some YouTube videos after we parted ways. I juxtapose my experience with endless repetition in dance (ballet) and music (piano and violin – a million years ago), multiply that by a thousand and get a sense of how much work he has to do and it gives me chills that I could bend his ear for a while. I wish we had talked more about how to create.

After we got over the requisite questions about his work, we got into what also lies behind his squeaky clean, wholesome image. It was a bit of a one-way exchange because I am not well versed in religion and from our conversation, I realize I have been narrowly focused for too long while also not really that broadly knowledgeable and only at a superficial level. After enthusiastically giving me a taste of just the tip of the iceberg of his interests, Allen recommended some reading that would rock my world view as it did his.

Allen’s deep passion for music and religion reminds me to make room for diverse interests in my life. I am inspired to not be complacent in my learning for a dull, uninspired and undeserving person I would become.

I thank both Keith and Allen for sharing stories with me and enriching my life. I hope I was also uniquely good company in return.

30 hours in St. Pierre, France

For the best context, read this after my previous post, 30 hours in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

St. Pierre… it’s even harder to explain why I went. No one has ever heard of it and I have to explain what I know: when I was learning Atlantic Canada geography, I learned there were some islands near Newfoundland that don’t belong to Canada but to France. I hadn’t thought about them in years (decades) but when I thought about visiting St. John’s for the first time ever, I couldn’t let go of the idea of finally visiting St. Pierre et Miquelon (okay, just St. Pierre).

The reason didn’t seem like it held a lot of water and on top of that, the scheduling was awful and I had yet to learn what “off-season” meant. I’m never going to have a chance to come back again, so I grabbed it. Honestly, I didn’t have much more to do in St. John’s either.

As I did my research on what to eat and where to go, I had a pretty short list of what to eat (especially when the French custom is to eat four meals and there aren’t that many establishments) and even shorter for places to visit when even some large sites were closed for the season.

My visit schedule was dictate by the Air St.-Pierre schedule whose three-flights per week worked only if I went Friday to Sunday. (Perhaps I could have gone to St. John’s from Vancouver and then St. Pierre on Sunday through Wednesday but I’m so glad I didn’t.) So there I was, flying to St. Pierre on Friday night, arriving at St.-Pierre Airport after a 45-minute flight with 26 other people.

I surreptitiously glanced around at fellow passengers. Not all were tourists but it was hard to distinguish as many of their tourists are Francophone or actually French. Not people I was likely to talk to. It’s a task for me to be normal and friendly and the language in which I am not fluent is an additional barrier.

The airport was tiny with just one baggage claim belt and two customs control booths. I thought it was that laidback a place that a passenger’s dog was allowed to wander around the baggage carousel until I saw he was being guided to sniff every piece of luggage – duh. I was merely asked if I was coming on vacation and when I was departing (“Jusqu’a Samedi… no, Dimanche!”) and I got the most unique stamp in my passport.

Outside, there was a taxi stand but just one taxi and it was unoccupied. I didn’t know what to do and tried not to act bewildered. No one else was fretting about the lack of taxis because they weren’t tourists. When I made a motion to go inside, a tall young man asked simply, “L’Auberge St. Pierre?” So he’s the one the inn arranged… I hoped. He took on two more passengers in his Peugeot Partner (or some vehicle of the same shape). That made me feel just a bit better. He played French rap and we zipped through the deserted streets. Everything was so European from the get-go and I hadn’t braced for it.

I dared not hope too much from the inn – it’s no Nuits St. Pierre that costs 20 Euro more per night – but it turned out to be perfect and the host is a darling man. Breakfast is included and the 2L bottle of water in the room was free of charge. Sweet.

The meal times in St. Pierre are as follows:
– 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
– 12:00 p.m. Dinner (a bigger meal)
– 4:00 p.m. Tea time
– 8:00 p.m. Supper (a lighter meal)

I was on track for dinner and I hadn’t really eaten except at lunch. So I faced the new town in the evening and looked for dinner. There were no more spots at Le Feu de Baise so I ended up at R3volution. The elder gent to my right at the bar counter amused himself staring at the bar – I didn’t understand it. The younger gent on my left amused himself on his phone. I was sooo Canadian with my flurry of writing and using my phone. Wine truly is cheap at 3 Euro per glass for all varieties but I hardly felt in the mood and got a ginger ale for 2 Euro. My main was a cod in green piquante sauce with a side of creamy rice with chives. It didn’t leave enough room for dessert and I was eyeing the lemon tart in a jar.

I wondered if I looked oddly alone. I wondered if it looked like I booked a vacation to the wrong place, like people who end up in Sydney, Nova Scotia instead of Sydney, Australia. Especially when show up off-season.

It sounded like going out to a bar would be a popular activity on the weekend and there were a number of them, all open compared to the restaurants. But upon arriving in town, walking around town, I concluded without any regrets that it wouldn’t be my kind of scene. It had been so epic and fun and friendly in St. John’s nothing could hold a candle – I wasn’t going to bother and instead enjoy the retreat atmosphere.

Meal #1 per the above schedule was breakfast gratuis at the inn. It was a modest Continental spread but I ate more than I would at that hour. The host chat with a couple I saw when I was checking the night before and I tried to listen in a little. Mostly I surfed the net and plotted and planned my day.

I was eager for daylight to see what the town looked like. It was still foggy so some imagination was required again what it’s like in the summer and with more people. Through the mist, it looks smaller town European than I’ve ever been to, maybe what the maritimes looked like in the past. Like in St. John’s, many of the houses are really colourful, so-called saltbox houses. Except for the main streets, all the others looked ad hoc with fluidity between road, parking lanes and sidewalk, like it had all eroded over time.

At the last minute, I booked a van tour of the island. I looked for a goal, something high to climb, but I wasn’t equipped with proper rain-protective footwear. After breakfast at the inn, I head towards Hotel Robert at the waterfront and was a couple of minutes late for the tour. I forgot to specify and the van operator informed me the tour was in French. Okay… I would essayer. It turns out he spoke slowly enough for my level of French to figure out most of what he pointed out – I didn’t try to follow the conversations he had with the three other tourists.

He pointed out the salt houses that lined the shore – ach so, each was brightly painted and so the houses’ colours alluded to that. He pointed out utilities and government buildings, explained that most of the town was employed by them. Then, there is the tourism industry which is seasonal and construction. We drove to westward on Route de la Cléop&aague;tre and got out to take photos of south shore Atlantic waters. It was pretty cool, the real thing. On the way back to the town, I saw the only chain company on the island, a Home Hardware Centre. (There is also a Rona.) The tour guide kept referring to people going to Terre-Neuve and I would swell with pride over NS before I remember to translate and he was talking about Newfoundland, like if needed, hospital patients could be rushed to hospital in St. John’s. He definitely mentioned Halifax as the origin of the provisions the islands receive on a weekly basis. And their cars.

I am endlessly fascinated with L’&Iague;le-aux-Marins which you can see from St. Pierre. It has a ghost town, an abandoned settlement that you can visit by taking the ferry. On the northeast section of the island and therefore hidden from view from St. Pierre, lies the remnants of the Transpacific that was shipwrecked on their shores in 1971. Cool, huh? I also wanted to see the fine sands on the 10-km isthmus connecting the two parts of Miquelon, another ferry ride away. But Miquelon is really tiny, like 600 people and a whole day trip away.

Meal #2 was at the Creperie du Vieux Port. It is in the Hotel Robert which is as close to the water as you can get and looks from the exterior like a diner. It is sparse and plain inside but the crepe menu was what I was after. After weighing my choices, I went with a seafood stew and crepes Suzette. Seafood stew for vegetables and fish and local food. Crepes Suzette because it was a creperie and a proper French creation, I think. Did the server chuckle under her breath when I ordered? Whatever!

The stew was massive and I was so full. It was plainly luxurious with huge chunks of cod and salmon, large shrimp and really tender octopus. I didn’t think I could tuck away crepes but I did.

I walked around after lunch but it was no where enough distance to burn off anything and I could feel my rings tightening on my finger, haha. The van tour wasn’t the hop-on hop-off type so I walked around to photograph the sites near the core. Then, when the shops were supposed to open after lunch break, I tried to go to the gift store… which was suddenly closed. I walked some more and found a poor selection of postcards at Re-Creation, i.e., the photography was so amateur. But no matter, I was still going to get to send it from St. Pierre!

One schedule stop was the Saint-Pierre Cathedral. I stopped in the chapel first and had my conversation. Two in three days is a bit of a record and what a different the two days makes. I prayed for myself this time, to accept God should do what’s right and for the serenity to accept it. I wasn’t pleased to see a big white screen still erected in the main cathedral.

Meal #3 was tea and I embarked on that earlier than 4:00 p.m. so that I could just have more time to recover before dinner, haha. I went to, as planned, Les Delices de Josephine. I didn’t see a lemon tart and asked what was in a Hummingbird cake. Everyone had to ask and it consisted of nuts, coconut, pineapple and a banana bread like cake. They carried Mariage Frères tea and I had a pot of Wedding Imp&eague;rial scented black tea. I spent 90 minutes there surfing the net and writing my postcard, a special message… to my future self.

It started raining heavily when I left the tea room and I forgot to switch my umbrella to my current bag. Drat! So when I got back to my room, I was too happy to get under the covers and surf and chat for a few hours. It’s a whole five hour time difference between St. Pierre and Vancouver.

When I returned to my room after tea, I contacted L’Atelier Gourmand through their web contact form for a same-day reservation but received no response. I went to the restaurant around 9:00 p.m. and was turned away – a quick peek confirmed they have no bar seating. Reluctantly, I went to Le Caf&eague; du Chat Luthier which serves sushi. What kind of sign is that? When I checked in on Foursquare/Swarm, the one tip mentioned the pizza was good and that set my focus. As it turns out, it was a practical decision because I could pack some for my flights the next day. I got the most French combination I could pick since the delicious seafood pizza was not available. The pizza had goat’s cheese, honey, emmental, and green pepper. And since I didn’t eat my full pizza – but surely I wasn’t actually hungry – I ordered a crème brul&eague;.

It was another pretty fitful night of sleep but my sleeping hours and patterns are worrisome and out of whack.

My last morning was devoted to getting pastries, finally, at one, both, or all three of the patisseries recommended. Turns out one of them was closed on Sunday or for the season. And one was a former location of the only one open. It was busy and when I looked left and right at the airport later, other people were carrying a box of their pastries. I selected one of each of several for NPY to try.

I checked out of my hotel and hung out in the breakfast room and in the lounge until it was time for lunch.

I aimed to try highly recommended and such oddly named Cyber Poly Gone Home. It was open the day before but not when I tried. But I remember L’Atelier Gourmand had some lunch hours and, thank goodness, it was open. Or else I was going to have to eat pastries all day long.

The server seated me at a two-top in the corner so I could see the whole restaurant and immediately I could feel a difference. I was bracing for such casual and slow service that I’m not accustomed to but sometimes the wait was really baffling. What do the servers do with all that spare time? At L’Atelier, the server was almost prompt and even tried to talk to me. We exchanged details of where we are from (he’s from Paris) and he seemed surprised that I’m Chinois. Is it difference because he is a male server compared to all of the female servers so far? Is it a difference because it’s probably the best restaurant in St. Pierre and he is trained better?

I was set to settle in to waiting a while for food and writing when I heard a crash to my side – a guy I recognized from my Friday flight tried to open a door that wouldn’t open and I expected him to come in through the main door at any moment. When he did, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask him my burning questions: whatever possessed you to come to St. Pierre? Honestly, the reason why I recognized him from the flight is because he’s Asian. I was bracing to hear he’s from Newfoundland, a prosaic reason for visiting.

So after I was partway through my first appetizer and he just received his, I walked by his table and asked him if he arrived on Friday and if he was leaving this afternoon. Yes to both. So I invited him to join me at my table. I wonder if it looked so odd and if my server was disappointed because we wouldn’t be conversing any longer.

Kai and I traded stories about our past two days on the island and recent travels to St. John’s. He will be staying at the same B&B where I stayed in St. John’s and I gave him the scoop, and to try not to get scammed by the cabbie leaving the airport. It was a brilliant lunch with my delicious and artful appetizers, commendable level of service and stimulating conversation.

I can’t say I wished Kai and I had met on the flight and thus spent yesterday together – no. But I’m really glad we could spend the last few hours from lunch until we were back in Canada trading stories.

30 hours in St. John’s, Newfoundland

For additional context, after reading this, read 30 hours in St. Pierre, France.

I got in to town on an Air Canada Express flight that touched down shortly before 9:00 a.m. and after I checked into my room, a little chilled, set out again. I had a full itinerary and wondered if I would get to all of it… Hah!

There was a point between 10:00 a.m. and noon, between the deserted downtown core (hello?! it was a Thursday morning!) and returning to touristy/civilization where I had time to think. It’s a dangerous and scary thing. I couldn’t stream music to my phone for fear I would drain my battery and be stranded inside a national park as sun went down. I was so very alone for that time interval, too.

These were my first/gut impressions:

  • the city is damn hilly.
  • the city is damn quiet.
  • there are no people around, no people my age, no women, no Asians.
  • those row houses are really colourful – oh, look, more colourful row houses! And more over there! Even the mailboxes depict rainbow-coloured row houses!
  • this feels like the fishing villages I have visited in Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island, with some commerce injection.
  • Irving across the harbour, atop that hill is such a big presence.
  • this place is not at all like Halifax – it was my mistake to expect it.

What the heck am I even doing in St. John’s? I so desperately wanted to have a side trip to my Halifax trip and it turns out to have been justifiable: in just over two months, I’m back in Halifax anyways and spending like 12 days with my mother, seven days with my father; and my sister had brought her boyfriend back to Halifax with her and I felt like a third wheel – let them have a romantic Maritime holiday without me around.

With this visit to St. John’s, I have visited (at the very least, stayed overnight) in every Canadian province. It’s just Winnipeg/Manitoba I can’t claim to have visited. I sort of wish I had visited during the summer, a sunnier, warmer and busier time but I don’t come out this way in the summer high season. I tried to imagine everything I saw bathed in sunshine, filled in with more people, give the city more credit for its attractions. I was disappointed that I may be aligning more with NPY, not just being a city slicker but can’t bring myself to enjoy a different environment temporarily. The city just soooo isn’t my style even if I will tout my Maritime roots when it is convenient. ;D

So, this is what I got up to in the 30 or so hours in St. John’s.

I took a City Wide Taxi cab from the airport and was slightly mortified as the rate racked up – the airport didn’t look so far. And then the cabbie, a first-generation Canadian by his accent, tacked on a $5 surcharge because I wasn’t getting dropped off at a proper hotel – the sign said “residential” and while the apartment was in the commercial section, it was residential. “I can’t lie to you,” he claimed. He thrust a mobile credit card payment device at me and the first row allowed you to select “% or $ amount” while the second row allowed you to let the machine calculate 15%, 18%, 20%, what have you. Selecting a pre-calculated amount was easy with one button aligning below with each selection. I found the top row selection was not responding and he rushed me that the machine would time out. The surcharge racheted up the fare and I hastily selected 15% and felt a sock to my stomach at the amount I was giving him. The next day, I dropped by the visitor center to pick up a brochure for my next leg and asked the agent there. I was indeed gypped and what a sour introduction to the city that is. It’s unforgiveable.

Because I got a bit of a chill already, I sensibly changed from a dress and tights with boots to skinny jeans and boots and a long-sleeve tech top under my trench coat and light scarf. I might being wimpy Vancouver-acclimatized traveller but I’m also slightly unprepared for The Rock – wind-swept and chill to the bone.

First things first, I visited the other B&B I made a reservation with and cancelled well within their cancellation policy. I was so disappointed because I would never receive email confirmation, they charged my credit card anyhow after my first (and second) request to cancel my reservation and even after an agent reassured me she was processing it, I did not receive an email and surely didn’t see my credit card debited back the amount. I was going to demand the cash value if I had to. The girl didn’t seem entirely capable but told me my credit card had been refunded the day before. I will hold them to that.

I had planned on visiting the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist the next day but I could see it not too far off and walked up to it but not before weaving and retracing my steps to get photos of more rainbow coloured row houses. The foyer of the cathedral smelled like a musty old house but the more airy cathedral was better. I had a good little conversation with God and, as always, prayed for my parents. That’s why I visit churches when I travel – such an indulgent activity I don’t take for granted and my parents do not have the time to.

Bannerman Park was on my list of places to visit but I skipped it, didn’t even really set eyes on it, somehow.

My next destination was Quidi Vidi Lake with its trail that is part of the Grand Concourse walkway network, check out the village that supported artisans, and get lunch at Mallard Cottage. I encountered the lake on the south side in middle of its length and wasn’t overly impressed. It was so small and groomed. As I head east toward the village, there was a nice boardwalk stretch that separated you from the encroaching reeds. I didn’t find the village of artisans but saw the fishing village and proceeded to Mallard Cottage which I first heard of from enRoute’s list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants up for the 2014 People’s Choice Award. Further, cousin Alan had heard of it and recommended I go, too.

Mallard Cottage was the first bright spot in my day. It was renovated inside and so cozy. They seated me at a two-top next to the window overlooking their herb garden and with a view of some guys preparing food outdoors. The tables and settings were charmingly mismatched and eclectic. Practical items like rosemary plants, recipe books and pickling jars formed part of the decor and at the center of the room, a virtual dessert buffet sat atop a barrel. There were plenty of staff but I suspect they all have defined and many tasks. I checked my phone and realized why the restaurant was empty and why the city was deserted – it was only 11:30 a.m. despite my sustained flurry of activity. The lunch crowd started to come until the place was abuzz. I hope they do well in St. John’s and bring the scene to 2014. I noticed that every table asked what porchetta was.

The most direct way for me to get to Signal Hill once I saw the lake was to take the southbound Lake-to-Lookout Trail but that conflicted with going to Mallard Cottage west of the lake. My new option was to continue on Cuckold Cove Trail until it met up with Ladies Lookout Trail that brought you to the top of Signal Hill. What makes it a Ladies Lookout? I still don’t know. At one point, I saw a trail description that rated the Ladies Lookout Trail that ascends to the top of Signal Hill as “medium to difficult”. “No Quidi,” I punned. :P

Full of brunch, I set out to summit Signal Hill (“hill” is a misnomer – it is quite dauntingly tall in the constant fog and mist). Knowing I was going to arrive at one of the most easterly points of North America cheered me up for some reason. I’m just like that. Further, I was racing against the tropical storm that Hurricane Gonzalo might bring, haha.

Cuckold Cove Trail was clearly marked near Mallard Cottage when it took some turns but for a stretch I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t fallen off the trail. It was steep but all paved with gravel. When I finally saw the trail marker, I expected to find the Ladies Lookout Trail to branch off but never saw it. Great, I was going to do a loop around the base of Signal Hill instead, huh? I was so utterly alone the remoteness of the region really hit me. I fancied that I might get kidnapped by a transient or opportunistic predator or mauled by a bear. I think those are actually impossibilities… Then Cuckold Cove Trail dumped onto paved Signal Hill Road on which cars drove to ascend Signal Hill and I was relieved.

My first vista was from Gibbet Hill and what a payoff. You can see St. John’s and the harbour in its entirety closer than when you’re atop Signal Hill and set a little farther back.

The top of Signal Hill has Cabot Tower, the noon gun/canon and the spot where the first wireless communication was sent and received by Marconi. You can go into the tower onto the roof. I was fascinated by Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America and just how there is a 20-kilometer course between my position and all the way out there. What a tough and quiet race that would be. I was fascinated by the waves crashing against the few embankments between Signal Hill and Cape Spear. It’s so… maritime, so harsh.

I was relieved to be headed back towards civilization, uplifted because I had finally seen other people. My first stop was at Mile 0 memorial for Terry Fox who began his Marathon of Hope in St. John’s after dipping his artificial leg into the harbour. I was sniffly from the chill I felt and coming to a stop after a lot of walking and sometime while reading the second placard, maybe the part where Terry Fox became a marathon runner after his leg was amputated and I got extra sniffly. It is a nice and very peaceful memorial.

Heading towards the core, I kept weaving between Water Street and Duckworth Street. The latter is more colourful but I was also trying to get to my firm’s St. John’s office on Water Street. I visited and lingered in the dreamy HOME on Water St. kitchen and bathrooms goods shop. I spotted Newfoundland Chocolate Company from a distance because of its mural and they profited from my visit.’’ I continued along Water Street and came across the TransCanada Trail (Highway?) Mile 0 (0th kilometer). The Pharmacy Museum was closed for the season and I considered continuing on the Harbourside Walk to the Beothuk Monument but I was tired of walking alongside the industrial waterfront. Near my place, I visited the liquor store and had fun selecting a small bottle of Newfoundland wine (has partridgeberry) and Screech (rum).

The route I took until that point was over 11 km and I don’t know how much distance was added with my backtracking. In poorly supported boots. Needless to say, with just a few hours of sleep even, I needed a break and retired to my room for a bit. I used The Telegram’s “Top 10 restaurants of 2013″ to guide me to list three restaurants on Duckworth to check out: Basho, The Club and Get Stuffed. Based on name, I wasn’t inclined towards any. Basho was too regular Japanese for what I wanted and The Club didn’t post a menu at the window so I went to Get Stuffed. Since I had been so chilled, I was inclined to get a fish or seafood stew and it was on the menu.

I finished dinner shortly after 8:00 p.m. and what was I to do with myself? George Street didn’t look like it had really woken up except at a few of the bars. An Irish pub seemed most amenable to someone who is solo and I narrowed it down to Bridie Molloy’s, Greensleeves and O’Reilly’s. The first two had a fundraiser night and looked divey, respectively, and O’Reilly’s was piping their live band into the street so you know what you were getting.

At the bar, I was soon chatting with a Toronto transplant trying to blend into with the locals, a musician who was a special act on the cruise ship coming in the next day and a very recent divorcee. I learned the George Street way which is to hop from bar to bar all evening long and the amount of stamina the locals had. Within four or five hours, we spent time at the first pub, O’Reilly’s, then five more: The Martini Bar, Allure, Christian’s, Shamrock City and Sundance…! In St. John’s, on George Street, I was far from being “too old”!

Good thing the bar and entertainment district was just around the corner from where I was staying.

The next day, I made it for my 9:00 a.m. meeting without too much difficult but I was at the wrong location. :S While I waited, passengers from the Princess Legend of the Seas disembarked and made their way from the wharf to Water Street. I was asked by three groups how to find the Tim Hortons – which was due, I realized later, to me holding a Tims coffee – and one couple asked me about the shopping available to them. Um? None? No malls, and it was too early for the independent shops to open.

My last stop in St. John’s was to “work”, i.e., write this, in a coffee shop. Rocket Bakery has been on You Gotta Eat Here, but what hasn’t (she asks cheekily)? I ordered a cod cake to have a hot item and a quinoa salad to pick at during my stay there. They have a lot of room since they serve real food and I’ve enjoyed writing this, reliving it all so shortly after, at a communal table.

I ended up enjoying my short stay very much. I’m not normally cut out for that size of city (a quarter the size of Halifax) but a visit to Mallard Cottage and the vibrancy of George Street on a Thursday night in the fall gives me hope.

Further, for four reasons I know of now, I will return to St. John’s, probably within the next five to ten years: to visit the most easterly point in North America, Cape Spear; to get my Newfoundland race medal perhaps doing the unique Cape to Cabot 20K run; I never left the downtown core but suspect there are gentrified areas with shopping (that the cruise ship passengers would have enjoyed) along Topsail and beyond; and to visit the St. John’s office after Friday’s debacle!

A tale of two adults’ attempt to learn to ride a bicycle

Sy, who is older than I am at 37, and I never learned how to ride a bicycle.

My parents got me a tricycle – it was red – and then a bicycle with training wheels. But they got busy starting the restaurant and I never got beyond the training wheels stage and always just leaned to one side or the other. Throughout adolescence, I amused myself reading books while my younger sister would mess around and, as far as I know, figured out how to ride a bike on her own. Our mum drove us everywhere we needed because we lived far from school and our extracurricular activities so I never had to get anywhere on my own. My last attempt to learn how to ride a bike was well over 15 years ago, perhaps during March Break in Toronto when some cousins attempted to teach me.

Sy and I and our group of friends have known about this shortcoming for several years. It hasn’t been a hindrance or anything as no group cycling outing has ever been proposed. Recently, NPY got a new bike after many years of not having one. It has been a nice and new turn of events where instead of being planted in front of the television all evening, NPY will call or message me and let me know he’s heading out for a ride. Also recently, I listened to the DNTO episode “Where did your bike take you?” [mp3] wherein one of the stories was about a cycling school in Montreal geared to help new immigrants learn how to ride bicycles and how the woman interviewed learned how to ride a bike within three sessions.

Three sessions. I had to get started.

Things haven’t particularly slowed down since summer ended but here was a Saturday when I was in town. I made the proposal that Sy and I learn and everyone else was welcome to attend and help and watch.

On Friday evening, we worked out the logistics which I haven’t given a lot of thought. I thought we’d rent bikes in Yaletown or Coal Harbour, the latter where Sy lives. But where would we learn? Sy wasn’t keen on there being a lot of human traffic potential spectators and we couldn’t really transport rentals to, say, Richmond. After some consultation, Sy borrowed a bike from a friend going out of town and I borrowed one from a friend who lives in Richmond and we would learn in a parking lot, which is more abundant in Richmond than downtown Vancouver. It was settled.

As we approached 3 p.m., our meet-up time, I was wholly discouraged from who knows what. I was tired and took a two-hour nap at noon. Maybe I would just sleep through it and miss the meet-up altogether?

We picked up two friends downtown and head to Richmond. Sy head with the group that went to the parking lot first. Meanwhile, I was, as I declared in the group Whats App chat, “kidnapped by the caffeine addicts and at Starbucks!” We endured the worse queue ever at a Starbucks in a Target and left without coffee. It was horrible.

Half an hour after the other group including Sy got to the parking lot, we arrived at the parking lot of Henry Anderson Elementary School and I set to work right away.

You see, I felt a bit competitive with Sy. Supposedly I have better balance than Sy since I dance and I do core-training activities like barre and ballet. I kind of look more fit than he does. I didn’t want to let Sy know I was feeling competitive and bring out his competitive spirit because he was sure to “beat” me.

The bike I rode was kind of a mountain bike with wheels with thick treads, Columbia brand, and at the lowest setting of the seat, I was on my tip toes. I wondered if I had really erred in what I decided to wear (stretchy but skinny jeans – had I set myself up for failure?) and the sun was unexpectedly brilliant for late afternoon in the fall.

The first thing Dee and NPY tried to get me to do was pedal and balance and steer while Dee held the handle (which I felt was pulling me to one side) and NPY held my seat. I wasn’t catching on. I was bailing easily and quickly. I was given instructions to build up my momentum, to try to steer, to look ahead, to not bail, where to arrange the pedals and start pedaling. I was quickly feeling a little tired holding up the heavy bike when I tipped and had to set it straight again. I was leaning my own body in the opposite direction from where the bike was leaning. They were both encouraging and saying that I “got it” and I didn’t think “getting it” for all of one second was anything to encourage me.

I looked over at Sy and he was coasting, one foot on a pedal, the other one off the ground and he was steering to adjust.

Why wasn’t I getting it?!

I kept tipping over. The bike felt so heavy and overly tall and I didn’t have control.

I rolled over NPY’s foot. I really cracked up at that. Poor guy, didn’t know how to help me, frustrated that I couldn’t go any distance, how incorrect my steering and corrections were. How quick I was to put my foot on the ground.

I looked over and Sy was cycling, slowly, in need of frequent adjusting and compensation with steering. He was traversing the parking lot without his feet ever touching the ground. Then, I got mad. He was riding! He had lied about “not being able to ride a bike”!

I was also mad at myself. Something was not clicking. I didn’t feel in control of my education. I was being too “cerebral” and listening to instructions and asking about processes. I wasn’t learning in the correct order. So, I started where it was logical, where I saw Sy at about half an hour before.

As I had kind of snapped to poor Dee, I knew how to pedal. I’ve clocked stationary biking and paddleboating experience. Sy and I have gone through over 30 years eluding knowledge of balancing in the air while in a seated position. With a few more tips from NPY like not leaning into the handlebars because that makes steering difficult and to be relaxed, I tried to coast down the small incline in the parking lot. I kept putting my foot down but started to concentrate on steering and at the slow rate I was going, it was kind of “dry steering” and almost futile.

But that’s how I got the courage to push off with a little more momentum and steer down the small slope to stay off the ground for one second, then two seconds and three.

Then, once, I had coasted for three seconds and I was tired of having my left leg splayed to the side and I put it on a pedal and kind of naturally pedaled for a couple more seconds. Behind me, NPY was bewildered and choked out, “What the…?” Then I bailed.

But… oh! Soon, I was running back up to the highest point and trying to recapture that. It still took a few tries and I would pedal for five seconds or even almost 10. I bailed a couple of times badly and scratched the end of each of the handles and even Dee’s pretty bell that reads “This bike is my car.” That’s when I put on dopey knee pads and wrist pads and still declined to wear a helmet. I was starting to go somewhere.

Sy and I are so blessed to have supporters and friends come out, give up a Saturday to spend with us in a potentially futile endeavour and to have so much faith in us: NPY, Dee who loaned her bike and hubby JZ, and another couple. But I was freaking out when someone looked over at me and kindly gave words of support or observed me or got excited I was kinda cycling. At this point, everyone except Sy, NPY and I left to get that elusive Starbucks coffee.

That was what I needed. The larger group would be away for 15 or 30 minutes or more if NPY had figured it out and told them what he suspected I needed. After more false starts than real ones, I was cycling again. I wanted to ride in a full circle in the inner parking lot like I had seen Sy doing half an hour earlier. I tried my hand at making gradual turns. I even rolled over a few speed bumps. NPY marvelled that I went over a speed bump – the bane of my existence when rollerblading – and I informed him that I had gone over a few already! He marvelled that I would just start pedaling instead of getting a rolling start. Sometimes I would start to get tense, lean forward and start to lose control but I remembered what NPY said to sit back and be relaxed. I even started to brake, tentatively at first to get an idea of the level of response.

Not that I’m consistent by any means and I fear that when I get another chance to go out, not for another week, I won’t be able to replicate my efforts, but when I crossed the barrier, to the other side, I almost couldn’t remember or fathom not being able to do it! Why did I wobble or be unsure to begin with? It is kind of natural and, cliche as it sounds, easier to do it when you don’t think about it.

Apparently, Sy had major difficulties as well in the beginning, during that half hour while I was waiting in line at Starbucks. We laughed about it and how I thought it was going to be a waste of everyone’s time and how despairing NPY was starting to feel at first.

Everyone was floored we could make such progress in a day and asked what the breakthrough point is. Soon, some of use will be teaching our children to ride and wanted to know. That’s why I tried to document our efforts here. Know how to pedal first on a tricycle or with training wheels, then learn how to coast on two wheels… then it comes together, a little like magic.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.22.52 AM

NPY really needs a new phone, but that’s me! (There is also a video.)

And while we’re on the topic, I already have lofty goals. It’s the distance runner in me that wants to ride far and be able to report that I had gone to some mind-bogglingly far neighbouring town. Actually, if it weren’t for the fundraising amount and some fear of the inordinate discomfort, I wanted to learn to ride a bicycle in order to do the 200-300 kilometer ride to Seattle for the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

There, I said it!

Edit: I forgot to mention how tense I felt at times, even a bit fearful at times. I thought I would scrape myself up and did land on the pads of my palms and my knees. Immediately after, my hands were a little sore and today, my pecs are sore!

Eating really well around Seattle/Washington

Unlike other trips, I refrained from planning my #2DaysInSeattle to the hilt. Who knew what lay ahead or the exact schedule and what we’d feel like after the ordeal that is a half- and full marathon?

Willows Inn

The first meal was already planned. We were to dine at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Lummi rhymes with “gummy”) and we knew this from two weeks before, the earliest we could make reservations. We were going for a Saturday reservation so that we’d only spend Saturday and Sunday but the only reservation my cousin, Alan, could get was a Friday night and suddenly we were going a day early. Dining there was that special and important. And it was three days after Alan’s 40th birthday.

We set out from Vancouver at 5 p.m. on a Friday which is just the most plum time to go with rush hour in addition to the Friday evening border queue. Our reservation was at 7:00 p.m. and I was surprised to learn that four others would be joining us, driving down to Lummi Island for the evening just to eat at Willows Inn. We missed the Bellingham-Lummi Island ferry by just a few minutes (we saw it pulling away) and so Alan’s friends arrived in two waves before 7:00 and at 7:20. We arrived at 7:40 and I wondered what the deal is and why they couldn’t hold up service for us.

 I borrowed a few seconds although we were late to take a picture of the view from our parking spot at Willows Inn – a spectacular sunset.

Contrasting with any other tasting menu I’ve ever had before, the one at Willows in starts at 7:00 and everyone else dining that evening (there is only one seating) is having the tasting menu. Every snack and course comes out at the same time so the kitchen was not delaying our amuse bouches on account of Alan and I not arriving. That there were none served us or saved for us still baffles me, though.

A lovely arrangement was that we had secured the private dining room.

I was offered a glass of the blackberry (or was it blueberry?) shrub which I sipped through dinner. It was refreshingly tart and gave me something other than water to sip on and toast while all the others had gotten the juice or wine pairing.

We missed the first course and started with the beets. What looks like large beets were shaved very thin and sprinkled with nubs of a slightly bitter green herb. The dollop of yogurt was gin-infused.

When this arrived, I was disappointed. One spot prawn that does not qualify as even medium-sized in a bowl that fits in the palm of your hand. Could it be another amuse bouche (freebie)? No, it was listed on the tasting menu and qualified as a course. So I nibbled on the prawn and sipped the broth. It was supremely flavourful and concentrated while still being runny.

A small parade of servers bring in each course so that the six of us receive our food at the same time. For the cod, we were presented with hot to the touch clay cassoulets promising deliciousness. The morsel of cod was immersed in a lovage broth cod with cherry tomatoes of pretty various colours. This was a delicious course and I had to the last drop and including the cod skin.

Alan was dry going on six weeks at that point and ordered the juice pairing. Actually, only one guy ordered the wine pairing and four ordered juice pairing. I refrained because, well, partly because of the price, and I wasn’t sure I would appreciate the pairing. When the sorel one was poured, it was mesmerizing how deep green and beautiful it was.

We were told that the smoked salmon was designed for eating with fingers and it was smoked on site. It was a delicious if odd course where the meat was firm and sweet with the maple glaze and not dry in the center.

Baskets of fresh bread with pan drippings from roasting chicken (?) was served. This was not a course and I highly enjoyed it. Good thing for the excuse of carb loading. :D The bread was very crusty but the inside was chewy and soft. The pan drippings were a little more jelly than I would have expected but so satisfying – possibly more satisfying than meat, haha.

I thought the plating of the romano beans (two of them) was on that pretentious/fine dining side that I didn’t think I would soon see. It was enough beans but just so odd to me. I can’t remember what the herbs were but they were very fresh and grass-like and I remember it being a little salty. Still, it was a nice introduction to romano beans to me when I’m not generally a fan of green beans. Some of my fellow diners didn’t understand this course.

We arrived at the meal of the meal, a small piece of lamb shank with what really was grass in this case. I would have preferred more tender lamb and it was just fascinating and somewhat delicious to nibble on grass.

I hadn’t entirely expected it but dinner was over and we had two dessert courses. Visually, this dessert was beautiful in its own way. Blackberries in a light syrup with chamomile infused ice. Who needs overly sweet dessert? This felt so good for you.

The second dessert kind of blew me away at the time. I had such low and non-existent expectations for dessert. We’d see huckleberry crop up at other places but it was a good start, a little tart berry amongst the smoky malt chips and sweet meringue puffs and cooling woodrub gelato. I wanted more malt chips.

I’m not one for caramels but this is carefully hand-crafted, locally made and fresh so I would make an expection. It was coated in flax so the nuttings attenuated the sweetness.

Our dining mates kept saying how clean and cohesive the meal was, comparing it favourably to shoto by momofuku in Toronto. My dining experiences were definitely augmented with this meal.

Sitka & Spruce

One of the first places Alan mentioned when we started talking about going to Seattle was Sitka & Spruce. I looked it up and was saddened because if we went on Saturday and it’s not a place to carb load and it would not be open on Sunday by the time the race was over. Going down a day earlier, we could squeeze it in for brunch.

The establishment is located in Melrose Market in Capitol Hill which is an adorable warehouse converted to artisanal (to the hilt) shops. We almost didn’t pick out Sitka & Spruce in the back from amongst the shops in the front at the entrance we went in. The kitchen is entirely open and right next to the communal table we decided to sit at.

We started with a dish of olives. It’s not something I would have ordered but I didn’t mind in the least to have another one to chew on between bites of other dishes.

We were hungry when we arrived so a scone that arrived quickly was welcome. It was warm and comforting. I slathered on the whipped butter and even enjoyed the fresh peach jam.

I’m going to call this a cod bagenade because I haven’t found it by searching for it and the menu at Sitka has since changed to have different offerings. A salted or picked cod in creamy salad with homemade “Melba” and sliced pear. We were introduced to more grass (called aggressi?) which was nice to nibble on. We had to order a couple extra slices of toast for this briny spread that somehow reminded me of home (although I don’t eat that there).

My contribution to ordering was the sausage dish served warm on a spicy bed of romaine and more romano beans. This was such a strange brunch but the salad was most comforting to each much like traditional brunch dishes.

Dick’s Drive-In Burgers

We thought we heard that there was a Dick’s around the corner from Sitka but my GPS directed us to the UW area (and all that traffic thanks to the afternoon’s football game). It was okay because having a burger so soon after Sitka if it were around the corner would almost seem insulting.

The UW location looked authentic to the drive-in style that Dick’s started as and it was a busy spot. There was a short queue at each of the multiple cashiers and people were milling outside their cars on the brilliantly sunny day and sitting on a ledge in the parking lot to eat their burgers. I got a single patty burger and a chocolate shake, marveling at the reasonable price for both. It’s no Shake Shack, what our dining companions from the evening before likened it to, but satisfying when we already had a meal shortly before!

Cucina Spinasse

Oh where oh where shall we carb load and have a pasta dinner? Our dining companions from the evening before mentioned Spinasse and we were definitely open to recommendations. I couldn’t get a reservation we just dropped in shortly after they opened at 5:00 p.m. Thus we would also finish dinner early and have ample time to rest.

To start, we were presented with some toast with paté and balsamic drizzle. This was a weekend with places with amuse bouches – fancy!

Alan’s pick was the cavatelli with lobster mushroom sauce. Look at me all eager and I read it as lobster and mushroom sauce. But no, lobster mushroom which Alan informed me is a parasite, transforming other mushrooms. Neat. The pasta was chewy and the lobster mushroom so meaty and satisfying. We ordered appy portions of the pastas which looked so small but were amply filling and we could try more. Alan said he would have ordered full sizes were it not for me and my self-control!

The special of the day was tajarin (thin egg noodles which we saw the young staff making) with uni butter. This was so rich and delicious maybe I wanted a full-size portion…

My pick was the pancetta-wrapped quail. It was okay. Would have preferred less stuffing and more quail. :P

Alan’s other pick was tripe braised with tomato, pancetta and chickpeas and topped with foie gras. Tripe to me is so Asian no matter the Italian spices of this dish. I didn’t understand it. I also remarked that the foie gras seemed out of place – there I go trying to be analytical – and it seemed Alan agreed.

Din Tai Fung – Bellevue Square

After we completed our races, I was torn in so many things I wanted to do. Shower! (Okay, it’s not something that was optional.) Go shopping! Show Alan more of Bellevue aside from the hotel! Eat! Get Alan something alcoholic to drink!

We drove towards Bellevue Square and I pointed out all of the restaurants available and he liked the idea of Din Tai Fung (DTF) unless it happened to be too busy. At 4:00 p.m., they were between rushes and we were seated immediately. I liked how it was finally Asian food that was relatively cheaper and would be served quickly.

Alan ordered lightly pickled cucumbers, nothing something I would have ordered. They were garlicky and something refreshing to nibble on throughout the meal.

We were warned that the pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao) were a 35-minute wait so we ordered the pork and crab soup dumplings and were shown the ideal radio of sauce: added to the shredded ginger was one part soy sauce and three parts Chinese vinegar. That was not bad proportions as it turned out.

It’s tremendously fun to eat with Alan. NPY and I wouldn’t order XLB when it’s just us because there are 10 in an order and we’d be full from just our half of it and NPY would want to try other food, more carby dishes.

We ordered pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I was remarking how I don’t get to order that dish with NPY so Alan encouraged we ordered it. Perhaps I am wary that the dumplings would get redundant but each one we ordered is in different wrappers and cooked differently – steamed in the case of XLB, boiled wontons and pan-fried pot stickers below! I would have preferred a straight chili sauce because this one was disarmingly sweet for my tastes. Alan explained it’s because Taiwanese cuisine tends to include sugar like this.

We couldn’t pass up some beef noodle soup and Alan suggested the pot stickers. So many dumplings and I was quite gleeful. The noodles weren’t great but we were so hungry I thought it was overall pretty good noodle soup. The beef brisket was a bit bland so we applied the tableside chili oil to liven it up. I hadn’t seen pot stickers prepared on a starch layer before and we gobbled all of that down. The sauce with the pot stickers were a little weird.

It was mutual. I accompanied Alan on his first real trip to Seattle and showed him parts of his he has missed in his other quick sojourns there, like going to DTF, the Bellevue and UW area. And his contribution to the trip was definitely these kinds of restaurants I would normally never have tried!

I don’t do normal yoga

… because it’s boring.

Two years ago, I did a spate of aerial yoga classes on an eight-class pass and determined I could get mildly nauseated when inverted and it strengthened my desire to try silks. A year ago, I did 10 “Yoga Barre” classes on a class card with Chopra Yoga which was a kind of hokey class.

A month ago, I started hot yoga on a 10-class pass at Bikram Yoga Vancouver, not far from my place.

At Bikram Yoga, in a studio set at 40 degrees Celcius, we go through a fixed set of 26 poses and I am relieved that some poses aren’t more than stretches. It is not so strenuous yet I haven’t tried to schedule any other physical activity on the same day. The amount that I sweat just amazes me but by the fourth and fifth class, it felt remarkably less hot than it was in classes before.

My first two classes were with Stephanie and her continuous chatter and encouragement carried me through the class. I tried a class with another instructor and was set straight to stick with Stephanie – many another voice talking incessantly for 90 minutes I cannot handle.

I like the challenge of the balance poses and despise the back bends but I know I need to push myself on the latter to not be prematurely old. During the seated series, I scramble like you wouldn’t believe to get the most out of the 20 seconds of shavasana. And I’ve learned to stop and focus on breathing to cool myself down.

Obviously I would not have photos from hot yoga. :)

Most recently, and as a one time thing, I did stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga on my fourth time out on a SUP.

My class was through Vancouver Water Adventures located at Kitsilano Beach, far more convenient than going to Jericho Beach on my other two Vancouver outings. It was possibly our last good summer weekend and the water was really still when we set out at 9 a.m.

The instructor likened the practice on SUP as like being on a wobble board but I much prefer getting some SUP and the wobble coming from waves. We paddled a little bit out and dropped sand anchors – bags filled with sand and sealed by velcro – so we didn’t float away from the group. We removed our ankle tethers and fastened them to our oars and took off our stinky life jackets and lay them on the nose of the boards. Only then, we were unencumbered to practice.

I’m a bit of a wimp about everything. The water is cold and uncomfortable. The sand tracked onto the board was gross and we got intimate with the board both lying back on it in shavasana and face down in child’s pose. I had to get over it and did at times.

We started with the seated poses before getting to standing ones. We did several vinyasa/sun salutations to get used to doing them on the SUP and would throw them in between sets. On one of the first balancing poses, a half warrior, one of the first-timers fell in. She was the only one who would fall in again and she also got motion sickness. I went prepared to get dunked but didn’t look forward to it.

When we did our first downward dog and I saw downtown clearly (Kits is the closest of the beaches to it) and the slightly hazy morning outline of the mountains – familiar sights – but upside down and bobbing on water, it was wild. Shavasana on SUP is my second favourite, after the one in aerial yoga where you’re in a cocoon.

I fought – and I think my core was the better for it – to not fall off the board during the poses. Sometimes, I could do the advanced version of a pose and found it more stable than the beginner version, like full camel pose and wheel pose instead of the bridge pose. But I was hopeless at the prep for headstand, dolphin pose. A headstand on SUP will not be happening.

I would do SUP yoga again and am reminded by this excursion of my affinity to water. Not so much I want to be out there weekly, but more than just once a summer! I like the component of being on the SUP – compared to kayaking which I also enjoy, I feel like a warrior all standing tall and paddling.

The instructor took photos with her camera phone and I provided her with my email address and even followed up two weeks later calling the office to remind her to email them – for promotional purposes. But no photos still. :(