I had an international adventure last weekend, and it needs to be blogged about. Yes, I went to the great white north, Canada. The land of hockey and maple syrup, and funny accents, and overly friendly people. And it was all true. It’s not a real country, nobody could act like that and take themselves seriously. They’re adorable.
I ventured to the beautiful Province of British Columbia to visit my dear friend Zack Soltes who was working in Vancouver for a few weeks. He had been set up in a plush condo in North Van and had invited me to come share in some weekend fun while he was there. He even had a sweet ride (a 93 Jaguar that we’ll get to in a bit) so with those pieces in place and a potential Sharks game in Canada on the docket I purchased tickets and we were all set to go.
Our friend Erika also wanted to come join, so she picked me up bright and early on the Friday following Thanksgiving to head to SFO. An early flight was necessary to ensure a full three day trip, and so despite my turkey hangover we arrived on time for our 8:30am flight. I’d like to right now say a big thank you to the United Airline steward who hooked up the free Irish Coffee as an extended Thanksgiving present. Made my whole day. Thanks Dude.
We arrived, hopped on the Canada line (the subway) and headed from the airport downtown, transferring at the Waterfront station to the SeaBus, which is the water taxi that takes you across Burrard Inlet and into North Vancouver, where Zack’s baller pad was.
The entire trip in was a long series of Canadian jokes and observations as both of us were venturing north of the border for the first time. Below is a small list of various revelations/observations made in our first hour across the border:
- Canadian Geese in their natural habitat.
- Degrees in Celcius/Kilometres instead of miles
- One dollar and Two dollar coins
- Random “U” in words such as Neighbourhood and Favourite
- Everything being printed in French as well as English
- Canadian Maple Leaf incorporated into the McDonalds logo
(Again these are some of the many reasons I am still not sure Canada is real…)
Zack met us and we were able to get some lunch and drop off our bags. Erika and I decided to do some sight seeing on our own and so we did the first thing Erika and I would be known to do: We went to the liquor store. Oh yeah, not even to buy anything, I just need to see what kind of crazy beer they sell I’ve never heard of. There was some great names (Thirsty Beaver, Kokanee) and even some Smirnoff Ice in cans (gross) and we spent 30 minutes giggling, staring and not purchasing a single item. (This is where I also interject that Canadian booze was pricey! Does not fit the stereotype…)
After satiating our curiosity we got back on the SeaBus and headed downtown to the historic GasTown district, which really should just be re-named “tourist trap”. Isn’t it always that way? Either way we tried to do as much looking as we could handle, but as the freezing rain came down, apple cider and Irish Coffees seemed like a much better situation.
I was determined to get to a hockey game in the great white north, and the only Canucks game all weekend just happened to be against my beloved Sharks, so despite the gratuitous ticket prices, I purchased the three of us tickets along the red line Friday night.
Here is where you the loyal reader of this blog (hi Kit!) says to yourself, “Kyle, somehow I don’t believe that the Sharks just happened to be playing the weekend you were planning on going…” You’re damn right I planned this. Come on, the beginning of every single season I think of every possible destination I may be going in the next 6 months with an NHL team and calculate out if I can make a Sharks game. To say this was convenient would be accurate, to say this was a plain coincidence would be absolute naiveté. I knew damn well what I was doing.
Let’s get this out of the way, the Sharks got murdered 6-1. Annihilated. And you know what? Totally awesome. I can’t recommend going to a hockey game in Canada enough. They are so pumped, the atmosphere is terrific and the knowledge of the game by even the casual fan is better than in 95% of the US markets. I was in sports heaven. Nearly every time I stood in line somebody struck up a conversation with me about the Sharks chances, the fall of the Blackhawks, the new All-Star game format, whatever you could think of, these friendly folk just wanted to talk puck. Zack and Erika had a great time too and we all left pretty pumped.
Zack then dragged us to a bar he had been scouting out but been too afraid to enter, called the Union Pub. Not exactly in the best part of town, the Union is surrounded by “day-at-a-time hotels” and is the kind of place frequented by those who subsist on government paychecks, if you catch my drift. If there was a record playing when we walked in it would have come to a screeching halt. We were the youngest people in the bar by seemingly 30 years.
Not one to be freaked out (and hey the beer was cheap!) we posted up in the back corner in the former smokers lounge, which after the passage of non-smoking laws, still smelled like 40 years of cigarettes and bum piss. We were warmly greeted by several local characters who were more than eager to share stories of their homeland with us. Depending on the amount of teeth located in the mouth of the storyteller, we understood more of less 75%. Our two favorite locals were named Ray and Gary. They had known each other for years and when Gary was out of ear shot dancing to the country band playing, Ray told us how Gary had fallen out of a three story window years back and was “never quite the same after that.” He also then told us that Gary waters the plastic plants at their hotel every day. Ah yes, the Union Pub. Suffice to say Zack, Erika and I are the kind of people who love these kind of places. We had a blast.
Saturday was set to be outdoors day, and the weather cooperated for the most part. By this I mean it didn’t rain on us. The weather was consistently in the 30s, just warm enough to rain instead of snow, and just freezing enough to necessitate scarves, gloves, and hats. So at least on Saturday it didn’t rain.
Zack had the use of the owner of his company’s Jaguar, a 1993 relic that felt like we were in another age in time. Somehow Zack with his beard and grin fit this car like a glove. The best part of the car from me was the ridiculous horn noise the car made upon being locked and unlocked. It sounded like a clown car. I giggled every single time Zack pressed the button because it was so ridiculous. Serious. Every. Single. Time.
Zack brought us to Lynn Canyon just outside of North Vancouver, which has a suspension bridge of about 50 yards that swings about 30 yards from a rushing river. There are several waterfalls in view from the bridge and the mist of the afternoon made for some fantastic pictures.
This was also a place where my “trip often, fall rarely” credo really came into practice. The melting snow from earlier in the week combined with the rain from Friday made for several patches of ice on the trails around the park. Although there were several instances where it looked for sure like I was going to eat it, I managed to leave the park in one piece.
We then cruised back across the Inlet to Stanley Park, which is a real gem in Vancouver and one of the prettiest parks in any city in the world. Located on a point that juts into the Burrard Inlet, the park has several kilometers of trails that make you forget about civilization and immerse yourself in the coastal rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. As the sun began to set…at 3:30…uggh, we realized that we needed to rest a little as we had been up and walking for two days straight.
The Canadian version of Sunday Night Football is called Hockey Night in Canada. Each Saturday the CBC plays a game or two by one of the six Canadian teams on National TV. Saturday just happened to feature the Sharks playing their second game in two nights, as they took on the Oilers in Edmonton. And so everywhere we went Saturday night had the Sharks playing on huge TVs…and I didn’t even have to ask them to put it on…I nearly wept with joy. It was glorious. After walking so much earlier in the day we decided to stop by a local watering hole for some Kokanee, but called it a night relatively early.
Sunday Zack had suggested that we check out a art fair called the “Eastside Culture Crawl”. Essentially 50 different studios and artists opened up their studios and galleries to the public for free with art for sale. Spread over an entire neighborhood, we would look for the distinctive yellow balloons that marked the entrance to a participating location. We spent a solid 2 hours cruising around town and checking out the best of the Vancouver art scene.
Sunday also happened to be Grey Cup Sunday, which for those not familiar is the Super Bowl of the Canadian Football League. I have an Irish cousin currently living in Vancouver, and so I dragged the other kids to an Irish bar downtown to meet my cousin for some pints of Guinness and some football action. It was great to see my cousin Grace and watch the Montreal Allouettes win the title in the cold of Edmonton. (They beat the Saskatchewan Rough Riders…as Kate Roberts said, “that just sounds made up”.)
By the end of the game, with an early flight on Monday we decided we’d gotten enough of Vancouver and retired back to the condo. This is also the part where I must point out Zack in true Soltes form picked one obnoxious pop song to play on loop for his own enjoyment/our torture. Previous selections in this category have included Kesha, Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and AC/DC. This trip: Katy Perry’s Fireworks…I used to hate that song, now all I can see is Zack’s smiling face and cracking voice singing, pretty hard to hate that.
So at the end of it all, I finally got to Canada. Everyone was so nice to us, the city was gorgeous, it was a different culture but at the same time so familiar. It was great, even if I’m still not sure Canada was real…
Happy Holidays Everyone!