Category Archives: vacation

Empire State Human

Imagine for a minute that you are a film maker. You have five seconds of stock footage in order to set the scene. If the action takes place in Paris, you are likely to choose a shot of the Eiffel Tower, if London, then probably the Houses of Parliament. If New York, then what? Until 2011, you would probably have chosen the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but before that, and probably even today, you might well choose the Empire State Building.

As we only had one day in the city, this was very much on our itinerary. After lunch and the Staten Island Ferry ( see An Englishman in New York), we hopped in a cab and headed north to the tower. I will admit that for me, this was the highlight of the day, it’s such an iconic building and probably the first thing anyone would ask about. It did take some time to find the right entrance as it’s still a working building and one can’t simply have tourists wandering aimlessly around the ground floor looking for an elevator to the 84th floor. I’m sure the door staff are heartily sick of being asked the same question every twenty seconds of every day, but I suppose if you apply for that job, you pretty much know what you are letting yourself in for.

The lobby is beautifully maintained and all the staff are impeccably dressed in uniforms which I’m sure are very similar to the original style, which I thought was a very nice touch. We were directed up a short flight of stairs to the airport style security station that is sadly now such a common feature of important public places. We arrived in the early afternoon as a quick web search had suggested this as good time to avoid the crowds, and our decision paid off. The area was pretty quiet, and it was nice to learn that we wouldn’t need to pay an extra $40 to avoid any potential lines. There is a long and confusing walk to the elevators, as the direction is rather poorly signposted, but I realised that this was due to the fact that most times of day there is a long wait involved.

To this end, the walls are covered with pictures, screens and signs telling the history of the tower’s construction in a very coherent and entertaining manner, much like the lines at Disneyland offer distractions to help keep kids and parents alike amused as they wait for their four minute ride. Of course, there is a very heavy emphasis on King Kong, with lots of original movie posters on display, and an equally heavy presence in the gift shop.  The first elevator took us most of the way to the top, where we spent several minutes looking out of the windows at the view. Reflections from the glass made taking pictures problematic, but it gave us a good idea of what to expect. A short wait in line took us to the next elevator bank, which looked like they had been maintained in their original condition. Of course, these were much smaller than many modern elevator cabins, so it made for a cozy trip. I will say, however, that the uniformed staff who operated the elevators did a fantastic job keeping  the line moving and making sure no one had to wait very long.

Finally, the top! The lobby at the top of the building looks new, with lots of signs pointing towards famous landmarks and tall windows providing an unobstructed view. Of course, we made our way straight outside, as there’s no point in coming all that way just to stare out of a window. As you would expect, the balcony was more than a little crowded, but not unbearably so, so we had no trouble finding a spot at the parapet from which to view the city. It really is a most impressive sight, to see such a huge city laid out like an architect’s model. We took our time making our way around, taking plenty of pictures. One of the sights I had most wanted to see was the Flatiron Building. I don’t know why this particular building fascinates me so much, but it does. We had talked about walking over to see it, but the time involved would have made it impractical, so instead I settled for a view from above.



Maybe it’s the shape, maybe it’s because it is a great use of space, but I just love it. I took plenty of other pictures, but I won’t add them here, but suffice it to say that the Chrysler Building looks even more impressive when seen from above. Central Park is another obvious tourist site, but seeing as it’s a day in itself, I had to be content with this view




Not great, but better than nothing, and it does give an idea of what a vast space it is in such a crowded city. We overheard one of the guides giving his group an explanation of the history of the various bridges and buildings, and I wish we could have heard more, but it was not to be. I did, however, have one stereotype reinforced, as it turned out that he had been an amateur boxer, crossing daily into New Jersey to train alongside several boxers who went on to find fame in the ring. I won’t use the term “Guido”, but this guy very much fitted the stereotypical image that his  mannerisms and speech suggested. After this great view of the city, we exited via the gift shop. I picked up tee shirts for myself and  the kids and made sure to buy a postcard to send to my Dad. My sweetheart, who grew up in the city bought herself two shirts! I was quite surprised, but seeing as we were in full tourist mode, it made sense, I mean, when will we be back in the building?

I should point out that the ESB is still a working structure, and for many people, entering the building is no more special than going into a standard neo-brutalist office block, so I have great sympathy for those who have to dodge hordes of gawping tourists just to get to their cubicle. I also learned that my sweetheart’s Mother once worked in the building, originally on the 34th floor and then on the 16th when she was an accountant, which gave the trip a more personal touch.






























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Love Comes Quickly

As the song from which this blog post takes it’s title “Just when you least expect it, just what you least expect”. There’s no need for me to rehash the last couple of months, just suffice it to say that the last thing I expected at my age was to find myself truly in love. For the full(ish) story, see “Ring My Bell”. Anyway, things progressed much faster than either of us had imagined and we very soon found ourselves texting at every opportunity. Indeed, my sweetheart very quickly made a point of coming to visit me most days, usually on my second break, so we could at least spend some time together, even if only for ten minutes.

I have been staying at her place on a regular basis, usually heading over there after work and returning home the next morning in order to get ready for work. I know it would be easier if I got ready for work at hers, but I might otherwise be tempted to drive straight to work rather than walk from my house as I’m such a lazy git.

To put things into perspective, she went to Portland for the first week in February to meet up with some old friends from law school. No big deal, as this had been on the calendar long before we met, and although we texted, I made sure to give her enough space for her to spend time with her friends and not have me texting her every five minutes. Of course, no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Powell’s bookstore. Had I been with her, there is no doubt that I would have spent every spare minute and penny in the store. Having said that, she texted me to let me know she was there and asked if she could pick a book out for me. I immediately suggested anything by Kenneth  Feder or Jeb Card, and very shortly after, she offered me two options. I went for Feder’s  “Frauds, Myths and Mysteries”. Along with Card and Sara Head, he’s one of the co hosts of  the  “Archaeological Fantasies”podcast, a show I’ve followed from the very start and just love. Of course, I started reading the book pretty much as soon as it was put into my hands, and I loved every page of it. In fact, I couldn’t read it without hearing Ken’s voice in my head.

This alone was enough to make me extremely happy, so imagine how I felt when later that day she announced that she was at Voodoo Doughnuts, and would I like her to bring some home? Do I have to tell you my response? I went to see her on the Monday and as well as the book and doughnuts she’d also bought me a beer glass at Powell’s as well as a coaster. The glass makes sense, as she’s a wine drinker, and having your own glass kind of means you have standing, and the coaster because she’s big on protecting her tabletops. Not because she thinks anyone would deliberately damage her furniture, but mainly because it’s a sign of civilisation.

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not the sort of person who equates how much someone spends on gifts and how much they love you, far from it in fact. I mention it because she went out of her way to find gifts for me on a weekend away with friends she hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Not just that. She also put thought into the gifts and asked me for my input rather than picking up some random gewgaw in the hope that I would like it.

Lest this become a litany of gifts, I want to make it clear that we have grown very close in just two months. I can state with all sincerity that I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, and I include my ex wife of 20 years and my ex girlfriend of five in that statement. My sweetheart and I see each other pretty much every day, we text constantly and can’t bear to be apart. We don’t even have to be doing anything. Simply sitting on the sofa holding each other is enough to make us happy. I know that may make us sound like a pair of soppy teenagers, but it’s true. I never expected to find true love at my age, or indeed at any age, if I’m being honest.

It’s a truly weird feeling, to be so totally in love with someone that they are constantly on your mind. This must be what neurotypicals feel a lot of the time. I’m just now beginning to realise what I’ve been missing all these years, and I want  it to last.

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Story To Be Told


A lot has happened since I last posted, some six weeks ago. Seriously, a lot, so this is the first a series of what will in all probability be several posts in quick succession. So, to start at the beginning, my dad arrived for a four week visit in late August, the first time he has been here in two years, and the first time since I moved into my new place. Not having any vacation time, I took a few days unpaid and made arrangements for him while I would be at work.

I picked him up at the airport, and all was as usual, him giving me a detailed account of his flight, all the arrangements he’d made, all that you would expect as he burned off nervous energy. naturally, he was quite tired when we got back to the house, so he turned in early.

This is the thing about my dad: he’s been retired about 15 years, so he doesn’t have any work related news, he doesn’t get out much apart from a Friday trip to the pub with his friends and his usual shopping trip. This means that he falls back on the stories I’ve heard for the last 40 years. Do you have a film that you’ve watched so many times you could act in it? Can you recite whole chunks of the dialogue verbatim? Do you know exactly what is going to  happen next? Well, for me that would be Blazing Saddles, Monty Python’s Life Of Brian and just about every story my dad has ever told.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they’re all boring, not by any means, but I can get to the punchline before he’s finished the first sentence. I have to realise that some day I won’t get to hear these stories any more. Ever. And that’s quite a disheartening thought, so much as I might want to cut him short, I just let him go on and tell the story anyway, as he doesn’t see but half a dozen people during the week and he hasn’t seen me for two years.

One advantage of this trip was that we had plenty of opportunity to go out drinking. I’d asked my boss for as many middle shifts as possible, so I could at least spend part of the morning and most of the evening with Dad and have a social life. Naturally, this meant going to the taphouse, which also meant he got to meet my expat friends and a couple of the locals, none of whom had heard any of his stories, and there’s nothing to reinvigorate a performer like a fresh audience. It was really heartening to see him in full flow, regaling people with tales from his prison service among other things, and he hit it off very well with everyone, which I think helped perk him up. I had heard from the friend who booked his flight that he was getting frail and should probably use a cane, so I feared the worst, but need not have. He had the schmooze gene that I lack, so I envy him, I really do.

One of the highlights of his visit was his chance to reconnect with one of the taphouse owners. They met when I first took him there during it’s inaugural year, and the two of them hit it off immediately. I realise that seeing two elderly people flirting may have a high “Ick factor” for some people, but it’s all harmless, and she’s always asking after him, so when they finally did meet, they spent the whole evening locked in conversation.

One thing I did learn from him is that my Mum had wanted a third child, but that he didn’t. I suppose it goes a long way to explaining why she was always so sweet on my daughter, but I suppose women always want a daughter or grand daughter, so I probably shouldn’t read too much into it.

I also got to hear in great detail, and several times over about his Friday lunchtime pub sessions – who picks him up, who drives him home, how many pints he has, who drinks real ale, who supports which football team. In fact, I could join them for the first time and be up to speed in about 10 seconds. Mind you, at least it means he gets out for some socialising at least once a week. He is most definitely not the kind of person to go to a Senior Centre and, as he puts it, sit around with a bunch of old farts.

One thing that really annoys me though, is the fact that he will bring up things from 40 years ago as if they only happened last week. We all have events from our youth that we’d rather forget, but he seems to take great pleasure in bringing up anything that crossed my mind for about two minutes when I was barely a teenager. Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t really complain.

Stories apart, he can still manage to make life awkward for me, but that’s for another day.

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Island Walking

Not being able to go with my sweetie to the Bay Area to celebrate her birthday due to getting a job, didn’t let me off the birthday present hook. Far from it. Picture this: Wile E. Coyote, wearing rocket powered roller skates manages to stop just inches from the edge of a cliff. He looks down and sees a pebble falling into oblivion. He heaves a sigh of relief, only to realise that he is on a projecting spur of rock, which then cracks at the base, dropping him into the abyss.That’s how I felt, although unlike the perpetually unfortunate Mr. Coyote, I managed to gain some traction and scramble my way to safety.

I began a desperate search to find a suitable way to celebrate: an expensive meal was NOT an option. Yikes. I settled on a weekend away and began my search. I won’t bore you with the details, but most places were either unsuitable or required a three night minimum. With much searching I managed to find a cabin in the woods with a hot tub and within three hours of home. I contacted the owner and waited. And waited. And waited. With only two days left before the weekend, I was most certainly in squeaky bum time. Thankfully, the owner contacted me and I was able to pay and let out a sigh of relief.

We set off on Friday as soon after work as possible, and managed to avoid most of the commute traffic. I hadn’t told my sweetie what the trip would entail, although the penny finally dropped as we approached the ferry terminal. Yes, you heard right. I live on an island, and my solution was to spend a weekend on a completely different island. After a late dinner, we turned in tired but glad to be in such a quiet spot.

Next day we went exploring. We spent some time, but not enough for me, in a sanctuary, several acres of woodland dotted with stone circles, a Dolmen and any number of small, impromptu shrines. There were no other visitors, and no sounds apart from the birds, and the wind in the trees, and I could have stayed there for hours. In fact, it would have been perfect for an alumni retreat, so reminiscent was it of both Grad School orientation and our intensive weekends.

There’s no point in going to an island known for wineries without sampling the local product, so we retired to a wine tasting room and I sampled the five wines on offer, leaving with two bottles each of a very nice Malbec and an equally delightful red blend. Now, as you all know, I’m not a wine drinker, but I’m always willing to extend my palate, and no doubt having some decent wine in the house will win me some bonus points.

Of course, we made a trip to a distillery, although not the one I had intended. No fear, I was able to track down the Bourbon, Vodka and Gin at the local store, and bought a bottle of incredible raspberry cordial and one of Rye  after the tasting session at the distillery.

The whole point of the weekend was to just get away for two nights with no agenda, no plans, no hurry. In fact, my instincts were proven right. Driving along the highway I spotted roads called Kramer and Newman, confirming that we were on an island about nothing. Over all, it was well worth the expense and worry about actually getting a confirmation. In fact, I’m sure we will go back to the same cottage some time in the not too distant future.

As you all know, I’m not exactly  the most romantic person in the world, or even my own Zip code, but I have to admit that it was just wonderful for the two of us to get away from our usual surroundings, even for such a short time.
















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The Old Man’s Back Again.

Back home, that is. You see, three days ago I put my Dad back on the plane to England after his five week stay. He comes over every year for a month or so in order to see the Grand kids, celebrate their birthdays and celebrate the fourth of July. When my Mum was alive, they would come for six to eight weeks, but since she passed, he has found that five weeks is about as much as he can handle. I can’t say I blame him, because for a man his age and so set in his routine, being away from home for so long is a little on the disruptive side.

As usual, I was waiting for him at the top of the escalator at the airport and we were soon on the way home, him regaling me with the story of his trip over, talking to a South African IT specialist and a Swiss cruise line employee. I had to endure this story about 12 times by the time he departed, but that is about the norm nowadays. Of course, brought me up to date on events back in the old country, such as who had died, who had moved, what had happened to individuals etc. Not vitally important news, but still, it was nice to hear the small stuff.

He is very conscious that his presence causes some domestic disruption: My previous house had three bedrooms, my last marital home had four, so a spare room for him ( and back in the day, my mother) was never an issue. Last year he had the kid’s room when they weren’t here, and mine when they were. That was a lot of shuffling around, so this year I made an executive decision and gave him my room for the duration of his stay. he wasn’t too happy about this, as he doesn’t like to “Put me out”, but I explained to him that I sleep on the Futon when the kids are here, so this was really no different. Heck, that’s why I spent quite a lot of money on a really comfortable Futon.

I must admit, however, that by the time he left, I was ready to sleep upstairs again. There would have been a time when not having slept in my own bed for over a month would be  a source of pride, but at my age, it just means waking up in the living room. Ah well.

He’s easy to please, and just as eager to help. He insisted on us eating out a lot, to avoid the need for me to cook, but I have to admit it got a bit much by the end, especially as I gained ten pounds during his stay. The daily drinking didn’t help, either, but seeing as we’re English, what do you expect?

One thing that stood out was his relationship with the kids. Last year, my daughter was often a bit distant, but this year she was all over him, being very affectionate and joking with him. It’s great to see them so close, especially as I know how much my Mum would have doted on her. One of my greatest regrets is that my Mum didn’t live to see what an incredible young woman my daughter has become.

My son seems to have developed a double act with Dad. The techno kid and the technophobe get on like a house on fire. Dad is full of daft jokes and comments, to which my son replies “Oh, just go away”, in a laughing affectionate way that shows how much he has matured, and how much he loves his Grandpa.

We didn’t really do much travelling, apart from a couple of long trips into the boonies to watch my daughter’s All Star softball team in the district finals. They lost two out of three, but at least Dad was at last able to see her play. Of course, he was very shaky on the rules, but soon picked it up and got into the swing of it. We took a couple of day trips, but by and large he was happy just to spend time at home with the kids.

Of course, as the trip drew to a close his conversation became more maudlin. He is nearly 30 years further down the conveyor belt than I am, so he spends quite a lot of time thinking about what will happen when he dies (See “My Death” for my take on this subject). He’s in good health, despite his diabetes, so he could easily live another 10 years, but how long he will be fit enough to fly over here remains to be seen.

I may well have said this before, but since I the kids arrived, I’ve developed a deeper understanding and respect for my Dad. I now understand just how much he put himself last when it came to providing for his family. My Mum too, of course, and now as adults on the downslope we get on much better than we used to. I was sad to see him go, of course, but in a way I’m glad to get my house back and to return to something approaching normality. as indeed is my poor liver. I can soon grow a new one, can’t I? I hope so.

As for my digestive system, it’s a diet of lettuce leaves and grated carrot for the next three months. Every meal. Dad’s next visit is only a year away, so I’d better start getting into shape now.

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I Knew The Bride ( When She Used To Rock And Roll)

There are many wonderful things about  being divorced, most of which are the subjects of prior posts, but having a social life has to be one of the top three, even ranking above not being treated like a mildly retarded houseboy.

This came to the fore when my best friend announced his impending nuptials.  I was fortunate that his bachelor weekend took place on one of my kid free weekends, although my sweetie was not exactly enamoured of eagerness to attend. This of course, was only the prelude to a beach wedding in Mexico. My first reaction to the location was one of mildly stunned disbelief because as a graduate of the same sustainability focused business school as the Bride and Groom I couldn’t help but comment on the huge carbon footprint generated by each attendee. Despite the fact that the resort espoused environmentally friendly values, each of us would have to plant a veritable forest  as a carbon offset. Much better for them to get married in a location convenient to the greatest number of guests and put some of the money saved into funding the free bar at the reception.   Indeed, for the amount I spent on airfare and accommodation I could have been as drunk as a touring Australian rugby team for a month and still have had enough cash left over to pay for a liver transplant.

Of the ten hour trip, including the three hour layover at LAX I will say naught, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. We arrived at 11 p.m. local time and turned in as quickly as possible as the rain beat against the windows. It rained for the next 48 hours without a break longer than five minutes as we seemed to have timed our arrival to coincide with a tropical storm. Not to worry, as we were on the upper floor of the building.  Little did we suspect that this was, in fact, the shallow end. We awoke on the second morning to find a substantial pool of water on the tiles and resorted to using beach towels to dry the floor. The mat at the end of the bed was a thick bathroom mat and when I hung it over the edge of the shower, water poured out of it like it was a bucket. Not a good sign, but seeing as the design of the room relied on natural ventilation, there was no way of stopping the deluge, so we just dealt with it and turned on the fan in the vain hope of inducing some evaporation.

This wasn’t the room’s only shortcoming. Apparently Mexican plumbing is unable to cope with paper, hence the lidded container in the bathroom about which I shall say no more, except to point out that my disquiet at this is that someone had to empty it every day, a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Not to go all Sex Pistols on you, but some of the living conditions I  saw on the trip really brought home to me how easy most of us have it. Squalor isn’t the word, and it made me wonder just how people manage to keep their sanity whilst living under such conditions. Take Valladolid for example. The center of the city is full of wonderful colonial era buildings, one of which housed the hotel at which we ate lunch, but in order to get there, we had to pass through what I can only describe as being an area just above the level of a Favella, yet there we were in our air conditioned bus heading for one of the best meals we will ever have.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch the foul weather abated in time for the wedding, almost as if someone had made a human sacrifice to the sun. I did find it rather strange to see the Groom standing in front of the Gazebo on the beach wearing a very tasteful tie and what I can only assume was his acquittal suit, yet barefoot. the Bride looked as stunning as only a  bride can, of course and the service was mercifully short.  it seemed a heck of a long way to travel for such a short ceremony, but I guess there’s no need to drag it out any longer than necessary.

Of course the evening ended with much eating and drinking. Especially the drinking. We left early as it was clear that the party would consist of nothing but dancing, and to coin a phrase, “Charlie don’t surf”.

Side trips to the truly stunning and awe inspiring runs at  Chichen Itza and Tulum as well as a stop at an incredible Cenote were highlights of the trip, as was my being able to upgrade to first class on the thankfully direct flight home. I had a horror show of a final day and was afraid I’d miss my flight, so the copious amounts of Vodka available made the trip home a darn sight more relaxing than it would have been had I been in Coach.

There were many lowlights, of which I won’t speak here, but will keep them for a later post, as they brought up a lot of emotions that I’d rather not expand upon right now.

It was funny to be present at a wedding for two people who obviously love each other deeply and are perfect for each other from the perspective of someone who found himself in a domestic arrangement devoid of almost all intimacy, respect or understanding. I found my self both jealous ( not in a bad way) and happy for my friends as they are both truly wonderful people who will no doubt enjoy a long, happy,fulfilling and supportive marriage. I couldn’t help but think “So that’s what it looks like”.

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Filed under friends, Mexico, vacation, Weddings

Une Ile.

As I’ve said recently (see Darkness On The Edge Of Gastown), I’ve never gone too long without a vacation of some sort, and much as I enjoy Vancouver, my most recent sojourn was of a different nature entirely. Some time ago my sweetie asked rather hesitantly if I’d be interested in a vacation on Kauai with her and a couple of her friends from the Bay Area. Of course, I agreed, wrote the cheque for my obligations and waited for the day to come. My sweetie is a light packer and so we both set off each carrying only a small backpack and rolling carry on bag for a week in the tropics, which is much less than I’m used to stuffing into the car for a weekend in Whistler, but considering the climate and the extortion involved in checking a bag it was worth it.

The flight was uneventful and I won’t bore you with the details, but I miss the old days when my ex and I were Gold Club members and traveled regularly to Vegas in First Class. Alas our favourite airline decided to alienate their most loyal passengers and try to establish a national presence instead of remaining the best carrier on the west coast. I also resent being nickeled and dimed at every point on the trip, but such is life.

We were met at the airport by my sweetie’s friends and despite our tiredness we engaged in the obligatory shopping trip to stock the kitchen of our rented condo. Culture shock: Hawaii is bloody expensive. I mean really, bloody expensive and so I fought hard to bite my tongue and not start every sentence with “How much?!” However, a short walk from the condo to the beach – less than 100 yards – a quick dip in the ocean and a good night’s sleep restored me to the happy, smiling, witty life and soul of the party you all know so well.

One thing I appreciate about vacations now is the lack of an agenda or timetable and the ability to change either, even if there is nothing on them, and the lack of urgency in getting anything done or getting out of the house by a certain time. I most certainly appreciated the opportunity to simply sit on the beach, book in hand and listen to the surf, and that would have been enough for me, but you can’t come all that way and not do something. This is  why I found myself introduced to snorkeling. My sweetie travels all over the south Pacific and spends most of that time in the water so I could hardly refuse. In fact, the decision was taken before we left:

Her: “Do you want to go snorkeling when we are in Hawaii?”

Me: Internal dialogue – ” I’m a poor swimmer, haven’t snorkeled before and hate putting my head underwater.”

External dialogue – ” Of course”.

Four days in the water made me into a convert, although I’m sure that the octopus, Moray eels, scores of tropical fish and the turtle we saw had a hell of a lot to do with it.  I”m not the most adventurous person in the world, so it may surprise you to learn that I also had my first taste of boogie boarding. Yes, you read that correctly. I only tried it on two occasions and managed to catch a couple of good waves. That, coupled with the fact that I didn’t end up a quadriplegic  smells like Napalm in the morning in my book.

One thing I couldn’t get over was the rain. On our first night we went out to dinner and whilst sat on the (thankfully covered)  verandah experienced some truly torrential downpours that ended as suddenly as they began, each being followed by absolute calm and a return in temperature to the mid 70s.

The trip also marked our first anniversary, and so it also included the ritual exchange of gifts – a pendant for my sweetie, and Aloha shirts for me. On seeing the price of the pendant she’d chosen I then understood why she’d offered to pay for the second shirt, although little did I know that she’d secretly bought me a third shirt I’d taken a fancy to but not bought a couple of days previously. Overall, it was a wonderful week away, a chance to bond with her closest friends and an opportunity to develop what for these parts is a healthy tan. Oh, and the kicker? when I finally unpacked, I found in the bottom of my case about a teaspoonful of sand from our favourite snorkeling beach that despite my best efforts had managed to cling to my clothes and smuggle itself through security. I guess that it’s only fair that having gone to visit the island, the island should come and visit me.


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Darkness On The Edge Of Gastown

I consider myself lucky in that I’ve never gone too long without some kind of vacation, be it for a week or a long weekend. However, with kids, even a vacation doesn’t automatically mean much downtime. The kids still have to be organised, fed and entertained or at least taken to the ski school early in the morning, getting away for the evening is impossible and one always has  to figure in their ability to remain engaged in anything that the adults want to do.

Lest you think this is a major gripefest, I can honestly say I’ve had some great vacations whether they were in Whistler, the Bay Area or Disneyland, but still, there is much to be said for a trip sans offspring. My sweetie and I have had a couple of opportunities this summer – Portland for a school friends’ birthday, San Francisco so I could meet her friends and so she could meet some of mine, and while these were great, we had limited opportunities to spend time alone.

This changed recently when I decided to take her to Vancouver for her birthday. This was no surprise, but I decided that the schedule for the trip would be up to her.  Her main agenda items were a trip to the Museum of Anthropology and dinner on her birthday at her favourite Lebanese restaurant.  Of  course, things didn’t go as planned. Not long after arrival I explained that I saw the trip as being her present and there would be no big reveal later, should she be expecting some special gift at some point.  Picture Roald Amundsen looking out across the Antarctic wastes and you will get some idea of how this was received.  I guess there was some confusion over the phrase “For your birthday”. However not all was lost as my failure to pack socks and shorts as a result of my severe mental confusion resulting from my recent moving meant I needed to go on a mission of mercy      (  See “The Boxer”).  I found a charming if somewhat pricey First Nations art and jewelry store in Yaletown and all was saved. Phew! I will admit that I was sweating profusely during this dash although most of it can be accounted for by the 85 degree heat and 95 percent humidity. Oh, the joy of returning to a fully air conditioned room.

I hadn’t been in Vancouver since before my son was born, and boy, have things changed! Robson Street, which had been a rather charming collection of boutique stores and restaurants seemed to have gone decidedly downhill and  become hobo central in the intervening 12 years, which I found rather a shame, as seediness is not something I at least, associate with Canada. Whilst on the topic of our northern cousins, I have to ask one question: Are you really going out dressed like that? Maybe I missed an email about the fancy dress party taking place that weekend, but oh boy! What the hell did they think they looked like? I can’t honestly believe that some of the people I saw dressed the way they did without some extenuating circumstances.  Or maybe it was the result of them all having one  Molson too many.

That aside, the Museum of Anthropology was a true revelation. So much indigenous culture has been co-opted that it truly puts thing in perspective  to see objects displayed in a way that explains their true socio-cultural significance and treats them as art in their own right and not as a design on a tee shirt in a souvenir store window.

Of course, the birthday dinner was a big deal. We had some trouble finding the restaurant as it is in a basement in  Gastown  and the only signage is above the doorway and seen from the street is at approximately waist height. However, we found it on the second pass and found parking nearby, so we at least were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner in my sweeties’ favourite restaurant.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Vancouver is how it seems to want to be somewhere else. Let me explain: We took a trip to Granville Island as neither of us had ever been there, and what we found was a destination designed purely for tourists that felt like a cross between Fisherman’s Wharf and Pike Place Market but with the unique feel of neither. To be honest it felt a bit like Disneyland. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it felt less than genuine, and in fact it could have been anywhere. I found this to be a real shame as Vancouver has a lot of history and a culture all its’ own, so why does it feel the need to manufacture something like this? I hope it is not just for the sake of revenue, but then again….

The one thing that stands out about this trip is that it was just for our benefit. We had no agenda, no schedule to keep, no need to do anything other than what struck our fancy at any particular moment, so I guess it was a true vacation.

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Filed under personal relationships, travel, vacation