Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's still raining, but we're still smiling...

It's Thursday and it's still raining. But, determined to continue venturing out, we went to the Museum of Anthropology. It was beautiful and breathtaking. The totem poles are just so incredible! There were also some great displays of other carved items. We also saw these big boxes that were made to be watertight for storage of food and possessions. The carvers would take a long strip of wood and notch it in three places, creating four panels. Then they would steam the wood to soften it so it bent at the notches and formed the four sides. Then they sealed the fourth edge and another square to the bottom to create a box, incredible! We also saw some old ceramics, carved wooden pipes, masks, knives and arrows. After the museum it was still pouring rain and had gotten very cold, so we took a bus into downtown Vancouver and went to see Avatar again, but this time in 3D. Overall, another good day, but the weather is definitely wearing on us. A lady at the nearby pharmacy said this is an unusual amount of rain, even for here. It is a bit warmer than normal, so we are getting rain instead of snow. Even the locals are tired of it. Cypress Mountain has closed completely because the grounds are getting ruined and need to be used for the Olympics.

On Friday it was still raining so we had a lazy morning then ventured out after lunch. Thankfully it had quit raining and we were able to walk around more of the city. We took the opportunity of dryness to explore Chinatown. Our first stop was the beautiful and simplistic Andy Livingston Park. It was lots of grassy areas with pretty trees and a stream running down through it. The stream flowed into various pools along the way and there was a pathway of cement shapes running through both the grass and over the water that you could walk up. It was beautiful! It's hard to describe but there are pictures in the online album to give you a better idea.  Then we went to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Traditional Chinese Garden that is a replica of a 15th century Ming Dynasty tea garden. It was beautiful as well, and for the complete opposite reasons as the Livingston Park. It was ornate and every detail was done to perfection. The stone floor of the outdoor garden was composed of thousands of different colored stones that were arranged into patterns, the rooms were made without the use of any sort of nail or screw. We drank Chinese tea and learned that the pools in the middle of the courtyard were intentionally cloudy so that they reflected the sky and clouds better. We also saw various artifacts, tiny women’s shoes for women who bound their feet (the ideal size was 7-10 centimeters long!), and intricately sewn children’s clothing. After this garden, we wandered around and finally found a place to get a snack. After leaving the restaurant we both were sure we ate a ton of MSG (and we felt the effects for the rest of the day). Yuck! From Chinatown, we wandered up to Gastown – the oldest area of Vancouver and where the city got its start. The area was founded by Gassy Jack, hence its name, and, of course, I had to get a picture of Travis posing with the statue of Ol' Gassy! We also saw the steam clock, which is just what it sounds like – a big clock powered by steam. From Gastown, we mad our way back to downtown Vancouver and happened to hear some music. So we went down to the Robson ice skating rink where there was a band playing on a stage next to the rink. So we joined the audience on the stairs (they even had bins of seat cushions for people to use and return) and listened to the band and watched the people ice skate. It was wonderful! For dinner we went to Tsunami Sushi and had a great time! We sat at the sushi bar so there was a ring of water with big wooden boats in a train floating around in it. On each boat were different plates of sushi, maki rolls, oysters, chicken wings, gyoza (dumplings), ginger, and wasabi. The plates were color coded to indicate their prices, and you just took whatever you wanted to eat as it went by. Travis and I sampled quite a few different dishes and had a great time watching the sushi float by. We, unknowingly, ate raw scallops and they were actually quite good.

Saturday we woke up to sun! Hooray! So after breakfast we packed a lunch and took the bus to Pacific Spirit Park near the UBC campus. We spent the next two hours hiking on the trails through the park and taking loads of pictures. It was so beautiful! Such huge trees and lush ferns and moss. The trails were leash optional for dogs so there were tons of dogs running around and playing together, so cute! We walked across the park and had lunch looking out of the Pacific Ocean, then took different trails to get back to the other side and catch the bus home. After a little rest, we took the sky train into downtown and decided to inquire about Olympic event tickets again. There weren’t that many left, only hockey, curling, and ceremonies! So we decided to get tickets to the USA vs. Norway men’s hockey game. The only tickets left for this game were “obstructed view” but we went for it anyway. The other options were seeing women’s games, which Travis didn’t want because they don’t hit each other, or seeing a game with two random teams, like Latvia and Switzerland. The tickets turned out to be really good seats (row 5!), so we’re hoping the obstruction isn’t too bad. After another good dinner at “our” ramen house, we went back to the Robson skating rink and listened to a great jazz band play and watched the ice skaters.

Sunday we headed out into the rain, again, and went to Main St. The whole street was lined with outdoor shops. After going in one expensive one, we found the Mountain Equipment Co-Op that was like a huge superstore of outdoor stuff – clothes, tents, shoes, books, etc. You pay $5 to be members for one year and then you can shop there, and the prices are very reasonable. After the co-op, we went climbing for a couple hours and had a good time. The gym was still busy, but much more manageable this time. Then we came home, cooked a nice dinner, and settled in to bed early to get ready for work the next day.

Today was our first day of work! We got up early and headed down to the IBC (International Broadcasting Center, where all the different networks are based). Erin, the manager of the Runners, gave us a brief introduction and then assigned our first tasks. Travis was given the responsibility of “Olympic Venues” so he spent much of the day being driven around Vancouver to learn where all the venues were and information about them. I say he was driven because there is a whole team of people whose job it is to drive the NBC crew around in NBC cars. My job was to unpack and program cell phones. So another runner, Valerie, and I spent 2 hours inputting numbers into the master phones, and the next 5 hours synching those phones with the 100 or so other phones that are distributed to each member of the Today Show crew. It actually wasn’t that bad though because we had two people unpacking phones and Valerie and I programming, so we really spent those hours getting to know each other and chatting about everything imaginable. The whole group of "Runner" staff seems great and we're both excited to be working with everyone! We left work early today, around 5pm (we’re told to enjoy it while it lasts because many days will be 9am to 9pm) and a group of us headed to the Olympic Store to look at all the merchandise. Most of us bought the “hot” Olympic item – red mittens that have the Olympic rings on the top and the Vancouver maple leaf on the bottom. Very cute! Overall a good first day, although, happily, we are being eased into the workload. We'll keep you all posted as the week progresses...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Days in Vancouver...

Well, we made it! Travis and I arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Monday afternoon and passed through customs easily. The highlight of the plane ride for me was playing with a very cute 14 month old girl who was seated with her family in the aisle across from us. We had a great time bouncing and looking out the window - plus it kept my mind off the stress of flying! Another highlight was seeing a woman (about mid-twenties) get off our plane wearing a full Pikachu ( from pokemon) outfit, yellow from the head down and a hood with Pikachu's face and ears on it) and cowboy boots!

Once we got our bags, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our new home, the Cambie House, which is in a residential area of Vancouver.We settled into our room at Cambie (that was, to our surprise, actually a house, rather than the dormitory/apartment style building we had been expecting). Our room is quite nice though, a bit less formal than it seems in the pictures, but inviting and certainly fine for us. We met our roommates: Erin, Tenille, Omar and Nigel. Erin and Tenille are from elsewhere in Canada and are going to school here, Nigel is from New Zealand and Omar is from Iraq, both are here working for a bit.

After settling in, we went grocery shopping and discovered that while Vancouver seems very similar to an American city, there are enough small differences to throw you off (especially when you are sleep deprived). For example, brands we have in America (like Raisin Bran or Yoplait) have different designs and logos here. Butter comes in blocks wrapped in foil and looks like a package of cream cheese (of course I took a picture). And many things are labeled in French. There is also a large Japanese population in the area so we see lots of Japanese restaurants, stores, ingredients, and language characters everywhere. We hope this means good sushi is forthcoming! Another highlight of the walk to the grocery store was seeing an odd little house in the row of regular houses. It has a very strange looking roof of black and brownish yellow that looks rippled. It is squat and has a cute little chimney. All in all it definitely looks like a hobbit house. I tried to take a picture, but it was getting dark. I'll include it but also try to take a better picture later, since it is so funny!

Tuesday was our first day of Vancouver exploration. Thankfully we were able to sleep-in somewhat and left the house feeling awake and ready to go. We took the sky train (the local subway) into downtown Vancouver and immediately did the opposite of cultural immersion – we went to Starbucks. After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, we found the Canada Center for the Olympics (a new glass building and gigantic white tent both on a new pier out over the water). Next to that we saw our workplace-to-be: the International Broadcasting Center (IBC). We couldn’t go in, but we could see piles of boxes and equipment stacked up in all the rooms – clearly we are going to have some unpacking to do next week. Then we found the Vancouver Information Center that was very helpful. Besides maps and cultural information, we also learned that some Olympic Event tickets are still available for purchase (even by Americans like us since we are in Canada already). We are going to try to get tickets for an event soon, once we arrange our work schedule. Next we walked around Robson Street and found a great Japanese Ramen Bar. Travis said it was very authentic, and just like being in Japan. It was my first experience with something other than packaged Maruchan Ramen and I thought it was very good. After lunch, we walked down to the coast and had a lovely stroll around the edge of Stanley Park. Even with the constant mist and low clouds, it was a beautiful walk. The forest here is so unlike what we are used to and the trees are absolutely huge! Our walk led us to an area with totem poles and then to the Vancouver Aquarium. One interesting thing about the aquarium is that some of the outer walls have tiles of mesh and plants growing out of them. A sign said that the plants collect the runoff from the rainwater in order to ease the burden of all the street drains. Excess runoff is also collected elsewhere and used to flush the aquarium toilets – what a cool way to be green, especially since it seems to never stop raining here! The aquarium was awesome! We saw fantastic jellyfish, the biggest freshwater fish in the world (the arapaima), and a giant sea turtle. We also saw a cute otter sleeping on its back, some beluga whales, and pacific northwest dolphins (which are black and white). A highlight for me was the Planet Earth Shallow Seas movie in 4D. Travis thought it was a bit cheesy, but I loved it. It was a 20 minute movie about creatures in the ocean, we got the 3D effect by wearing 3D glasses, and the 4D effect from the theater. During the movie, our seats rumbled and shook, we got sprayed with mist and air, bubbles came out of giant blowers in the walls, and our legs got hit with a little plastic whippy thing. For example, when the camera went underwater into a school of fish, bubbles would blow out of the wall; and when a whale blew out its blowhole, we’d get sprayed with mist. It was so much fun! We also saw a short dolphin show that was great. It’s amazing how fast they can swim (35 km/hour) and how high they can jump! Plus they are so smart and playful! After the aquarium we took a bus back into the downtown area and wandered some more. We hit a crepe place (I got a nutella and strawberry crepe that was yummy!) and then a hot dog stand for Travis. All in all, we probably walked about 5 miles and our feet were tired at the end of the day! We're hoping to go skiing/snowboarding this week, but the mountains have been closed because of the rain and and warm temperatures (in the mid-40s). So fingers crossed the conditions get better!

Today we had a leisurely morning, mostly because we couldn’t come to a decision about what we should spend the day doing. After making and discarding a variety of plans, we finally decided to go to Granville Island. It was definitely a good choice, and we spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around their public market (lots of fresh fruit, veggies, fish, meats, homemade breads and treats, and a variety of other stalls). Travis' favorite thing was seeing stand after stand of fresh fish. We are definitely going to go back and do some shopping for meals. After the market, we walked through some of the town, which was dominated by galleries and craft stores. My favorite shop was StoneAge Art Company, which featured statues and figurines of all sizes carved from stones in Zimbabwe. They were beautiful and amazing (and very pricey)! The owner of the shop was born and raised in Zimbabwe and travels there often to visit friends/family and pick sculptures for his business. After wandering some more (highlights included a small house on a raised platform high in the air with a crane (see pictures) and houses built out on the water with their boats anchored outside their doors. We were very jealous!) Then we headed back to the market and had a fantastic lunch from some of the vendors (homemade smoked salmon chowder and a prawn salad roll for Travis; chicken pot pie and a raspberry tart for me, yummy!) After lunch, we wandered down to the pier and found a stand next to the water that sells fish and chips, we'll definitely have to come back for that too. After that, we came home, gathered our stuff and went to a nearby rock gym. It was crowded but very fun. Hopefully we will be able to go back a couple times before we leave and keep our climbing muscles in shape for Thailand.

That's the news so far, we are hoping to visit the Museum of Anthropology tomorrow and take a hike along the Pacific coast. Then explore Chinatown (markets and an authentic Chinese garden) the next day. All in all, we're keeping busy and having a great time!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holiday Greetings

Hello and Happy Holidays!

This is our inaugural post on a blog that we hope to update fairly frequently. Our intent is to keep all of you, family and friends, informed on our travels and adventures.

Most recently, we spent a wonderful week skiing (Sarah) and snowboarding (Travis) in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with Travis' family (parents, sisters, aunt, uncle, and cousins). All in all, the 11 of us spent Christmas week flying down the slopes, playing lots of games, and eating way too much food!

We are currently at the family house in the Catskill Mountains of New York (an annual Rubury New Year's tradition). This week consists of more fun in the snow (sledding this time), playing lots of games, and eating way too much food! A holiday pattern is definitely developing...

Travis and I are heading to Vancouver on January 11th to begin six weeks of work for NBC's Today Show at the Olympics! Needless to say, we are very excited! After much searching, we found a (hopefully) nice and fairly affordable place to stay in downtown Vancouver. It is a block away from the SkyTrain and will be a perfect home base while we work in and explore the city.

We return from Vancouver on March 3rd and leave for India on March 5th (Yikes!) with Travis' parents, Leslie and Eric, and sister Carrie. Carrie is already planning to immerse herself fully in India culture (complete with primitive bathroom accommodations and food from carts on the street). Meanwhile, Eric and I are voted most likely to soak in the culture while scouring the town for a Starbucks.

It is going to be a fantastic next couple months and we promise to post pictures and stories as often as possible!

All our love and happy holidays to you all,
Sarah and Travis