After a one-week break from almost any sightseeing at all, we once again took off to explore the great, wide world which we intend to understand a lot better when we eventually get back home to Europe. But following our arrival in the US, and a very long flight from New Zealand, which we all made without any problems, we apparently needed some time off, just wedging on a couch doing nothing else but watching TV. Well, at least this is how we spent the days in Danielas house, while they were in school and at work.
But after a few days we started exploring the area where Daniela lives. The city of Olympia. Actually it is the capital of the state of Washington. So government buildings and the governors residence can be found near the city center. Along with the local parliament. It is all located on “Capitol Hill” and it is a smaller copy of the “real” Capitol Hill in the country capital, Washington D.C. albeit with no White House and president. Needless to say, we went for a guided tour through the buildings.
This was an interesting hour where the guide told us about local commitment, democracy and history. And we got an insight into how local politic works in the US. Every state has its own rules and regulations on a number of areas. Also areas where you would think it would make a lot more sense to have some alignment and country-wide laws. But in the US people are very “locally oriented” so any influence that can be won from the federal government is welcomed. Well, we know this from my native Denmark as well, with our history in the EU! The next months will be exciting, however, as we might actually - unintentionally - break some laws when we, as tourists, drive through several states. One thing may be legal and accepted in one state, but 10 kilometers further down the road - in the neighboring state - it actually might be strictly forbidden. Well, well. We will see!
The nature in the state of Washington is very, very beautiful. It is no wonder that it is called “The Evergreen State”! You find A LOT of conifers here. They are everywhere! And then there are the deciduous trees. Right now they are still standing with the last, colorful leaves on their branches, as a sharp contrast to the dark conifers. It is a magnificent sight! I have been to the northern states of the US on previous occasions, and I am always amazed by the beauty of the fall here in North America.
When in this area, we couldn’t help but drive a few hours north and cross the border for a short view of the southwestern corner of Canada. We wanted to see the beautiful city of Vancouver and the surrounding area. We crossed the border with a bit of excitement. None of us have ever been to Canada, and even though this will really just be a sneak preview of what we might see on later trips, we all felt a bit devout as we crossed the border. We turned down the music from the iPod and just sat there in the car quietly, waiting for our turn to talk to the border patrol guards. It was the same questions that we had just answered a few days ago when we came through US immigrations in San Francisco on our way up here, and we will be answering the very same questions again when we go back to the US in a few days. We got quickly through nonetheless.
At first you do not really feel that you are in another country. And then again, yes, you actually do! In Canada, for instance, they use the metric system. Like in centimeters, meters and kilometers, instead of the US standards of inches, feet and miles. Also the temperature is measured in celsius instead of fahrenheit. But apart from this you have to stay for a little while in Canada to really see and feel the difference. Because there IS a difference! The Canadians appear more “international” to me. They can talk about many of the places and countries we have been to, and many of them have been to Europe, or at least had one or more overseas experiences. In the US this is different. The majority of the US population have never been abroad, and many do not own a passport. In fact, many people have never been outside their home state.
Canada is a part of the Commonwealth and all Canadian coins carry on them a portrait of Her Majesty The Queen of England. The official tasks of the Queen are normally carried out by an appointed governor. And although Canada has been almost completely independent since 1982, there are still symbolic ties to Great Britain. Canada is among the richest and most developed countries in the world, with a modern and well functioning democratic process. The southern neighbour, the US, has a very different form of democracy, not always working very effectively. But is is a democracy nonetheless. We will most likely get back to this in some future blogs. Of course Canada and the US are heavily dependent on and very important trade partners to each other. And needless to say, the US has had a profound influence on Canadian economy and culture.
Many people have told us about Vancouver and how beautiful the city is. The inner city is located on a sort of peninsula, surrounding the whole area with quite a bit of waterfront. This gives the city a certain “marine quality”. Beautiful tall buildings in glass and steel are located near the water, with their massive balconies facing towards the harbour. Marinas with huge boats as far as the eye can see. Tall bridges, towering high above the buildings closest to the water, cut their way through the city, making it possible for people to make a quick shortcut from the city center to the suburbs on the surrounding hillsides. Many areas have appealing shopping streets, art galleries and cafés. We are particularly fond of “Gastown”, which until recently was quite a hard area, with a high crime rate. But now it has transformed into a trendy and very attractive area. It is an old area, with many buildings dating back to the late 19th century. A lot of these have been beautifully restored and are now housing restaurants, cafés and small shops, alongside attorneys, media consultants and marketing gurus.
We also found Granville Island to be of particular interest. A very exciting area with art galleries and workshops, academies and a large public market. Also a “Kids Market” containing toy-shops and an engaging “adventure land”. Anton spent several hours here, and was not exactly thrilled when, eventually, it got so late that we had to leave and go back to our hotel.
The market on Granville Island offers fruit & vegetables, meat, fish, bread and cakes of all sorts for bringing home. And then there are a great number of small restaurants offering sandwiches, hot meals, cakes etc for immediate consumption. We each had a nice bowl of hot soup at “The Stock Market” - the best, local soup kitchen. Of course they also had soup for taking home, if that was what you wanted.
We took one of the “Aquabuses” from “our side” of the water, to Granville Island, and back. It did not cost much and as they depart very frequent we appreciated them as quite efficient means of transportation. As they cross the water, huffing and puffing, they do not look like much, and they ARE in fact quite small. But they carry 20-25 persons at a time nonetheless. During our fares they were almost empty, perhaps due to the frequent departures.
Vancouver has a reputation for rain. We felt that as well! Quite a lot of heavy rain showers came and went during our stay, but we also had some beautiful sunshine. On the day with the most rain, we decided that we might as well just do some indoor activities. So we went to the Vancouver Aquarium. A large museum containing roughly around 50.000 species of fish and sea-life animals. After Australia and New Zealand, where these types of attractions are VERY expensive, the 2x25 dollars that we paid for the adults (Anton was free of charge!) seemed symbolic. The aquarium is run as a non-profit organization with scientific research as the main purpose. So any paying visitor is doing a good deed.
We spent many hours here! Everywhere they had fun and engaging activities for visitors of all ages. We had close encounters with penguins, dolphins, beluga whales, seals, otters and many, many other exciting animals. Anton was particularly fond of the clown fishes in the coral reef basins. Of course! This was little Nemo! His friend from the cartoon “Finding Nemo”.
The only, somewhat sad thing about Vancouver is that it has so many homeless people living in the streets. By now, we have seen quite a bit during our journey and the visible poverty here seemed to be much more “ever-present” than anywhere else we have been, apart from Thailand. Whether it was just a coincidence or not, I cannot tell, but we both noticed this.
After some very good days in Vancouver we have now departed and have relocated to the beautiful village of Whistler. This is the “Aspen of Canada”. “Alpine chic” in all the right ways, with plenty of snowboarders, skiers and the ever-present “after ski” bars, with attractive girls serving plenty of alcohol while loud techno music is roaring from massive loudspeakers. The season has not yet kicked in for real. They still need about a meter of snow, but as I write these lines the snow is actually coming down, gently and quietly just outside our hotel window. So I believe that within the next few days everything will be running “full throttle” right up until easter. We will just stay for a few days to explore the beautiful nature. Coniferous forests, hilly terrain and roaring rivers! Topped with new, soft and clean snow! It doesn’t get better than that! A bit strange to think that just two weeks ago we sat in the blooming New Zealand spring. But this is one of the fantastic advantages of traveling in our day and age!
In the coming days we will go back to the coast to visit Vancouver Island. It is supposed to be very beautiful and we particularly look forward to see Victoria, the state capital of British Columbia. It is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest region.