City hopping in ‘Merica

I love being Canadian because they basically treat us as Americans when we fly into their horribly unorganized airports. I don’t need to fill out some I-94 form or ESTA waiver and I can stay up to 3 months without any hassle. I still get fingerprinted everytime, and  from time to time, asked for proof of departure, but I can always just say Im driving to Canada after and then I dont need to show any flight booking. And I learned never to have an e-ticket or electronic boarding pass, since you’re not allowed to use your phone in any customs hall, even if its to show your flight out of the US.

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

After some 10 weeks straight of horse back riding in the Icelandic highlands, summer finally met me in Minneapolis. Its a direct 6 hour flight from Iceland, over Greenland and northern Canada, that plops you right int he middle of a thousand lakes. There are lakes everywhere, which makes it a very green and bike friendly state, but like Iceland, the summers are short and most things are dead, frozen and/or snow covered for more than half the year. I’d been twice in the winter to visit my best friend Clio, and this was the first time I had seen the city in bloom, and it made a much better impression on my summer-seeking soul. Of course we rode bikes, and swam in lakes, and then we satisfied my culture side with some visits to the strange-looking Wesiman Art museum, the Walker Art Center Sculpture garden, and the fancy schmancy Nordic inspired  restaurant Bachelor Farm.

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

I had $900 in American Airlines vouchers to try to use up, so I hopped over to Seattle for a short visit. I can count the number of hours I was there on my fingers and toes, but it was still worth the visit to see my photographer friend Mike Reiter settled into his new home and peek into his working life at corporate giant Amazon. Apparently everyone takes their dog and bikes to work, so Seattle is also a hipster-lifestyle friendly place, but Oakland-native Mike Reiter is anything but hipster. But the Chocolate factory and whiskey distillery that he lives between makes up for it, since he gets to wake up every morning to the sweet smell of chocolatey whiskey. He was proud to show me Pike Place market in downtown Seattle, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated the highlights: men throwing fish and a long line up outside the first ever Starbucks.

boating on the Delta

boating on the Delta

My next destination was San Francisco and the east Bay, back to the hills I used to live in 5 years ago. It was crazy to come into this highway congested bay and see two road-kill deer on the side of the road, but just behind the hills are huge forests and parks with lots of open space for wildlife. There’s a severe draught going on, but in the valleys behind the bay theres a series of canals called the Delta where boaters take their little yachts for joy rides. My friend had a little speed boat we took out to soak up some sun, and water, and I finally got that sun-kissed bronze glow on my skin that my body’s been missing in Iceland.

Sleepless in Seattle

I’ve been to Seattle countless times, but never to visit Seattle, only to go to SeaTac airport or drive through the I-5 to Oregon. I’ve driven to the suburbs of Seattle for cheap shopping or eating at a restaurant Canada doesn’t have, but now I’ve finally been to Seattle just for Seattle’s sake.

I went there to pick up 3 guys from Iceland who were arriving from Hawaii after a trip around the world. They were met by Conrad, an American-Icelandic tango dancer I met three years ago in San Francisco. I didn’t know him very well, and had only ever danced with him, but I figured the Icelandic connection made us all some sort of family. Conrad lives in Seattle now, and he let all 4 of us stay at his girlfriends place for 2 days after picking the guys up at 6 am from a redeye flight.  The guys also knew an Icelandic couple that lived in Seattle who we stayed with a third night, so after 3 days in Seattle, we managed to do all the sight-seeing things I should have done a long time ago.

We went up the Space Needle, and visited the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum below. The guys shopped at Pike Place market, and we walked up and down Pine street window shopping. We bought some cheap American fashion and an unlocked iphone, as most Icelanders do when visiting the states, and indulged in delicious mexican food and cheap sushi that you would never get your hungry hands on in Reykjavik.

Our first night together was filled with gourmet food and port and a wine tasting session, followed by tango dancing and micro-brewed beers. We had all been traveling for the last 2 months and spent the previous night in transit, but still stayed up as late as we could and then sent Conrad off to Reno on a 7 am flight.

During our stay with Bjossi and Gudrun, the Icelandic couple, we squeezed 3 of us onto a sofa bed. We were almost asleep when an intolerable, screeching siren started sounding and could not figure out what was happening. First, half-dazed, we realized we weren’t dreaming, and that putting the pillow over our ears wasn’t helping. Then we checked all our phones and the electronics in the apartment to figure out what could possibly be making so much noise. After taking out the battery from the fire alarm didn’t work, we realized it was the fire alarm ringing throughout the entire apartment building. We grudgingly went outside and stood around with a hundred others, in their pajamas, wrapped in blankets and holding their pets. After a fire truck and a few firemen finally let us back in, we crawled back into bed without ever knowing if and where there was a fire, and were too tired to really care.

On our last day in Seattle, we drove back to SeaTac airport and picked up my father, who was flying in for my little sisters wedding. We drove my moms convertible, full of Icelanders, back to Vancouver, through the daunting evergreen forests that made us feel very farm from home.

How to Enjoy Seattle in a Day

Seattle is a big, beautiful, port city with a great arts scene, lots of live sports, and of course, excellent coffee. I’ve often driven through Seattle, on my way to Seatac or just driving down the I5, but rarely stop to enjoy the city sights. I had one sunny day in town after my cruise from Alaska disembarked one early Saturday morning and these are my recommendations for seeing the best of Seattle in a day.

pulling out from Pier 66 on an Alaskan bound cruiseship

1. Walk around town by foot. Its not a big city center, and there are tons of shops and cafes along the way to stop and enjoy. Just get a map from any tourist information center or hotel, and wander around the downtown area and Fremont neighbourhood, or if you dont want to think about it, book a walking tour with seattlebyfoot.com who offers their signature coffee crawl tour.

2. Stop by Pike Place Market near the waterfront and watch big cruise ships come into Pier 66 if its summer, or to get out of the streets that are probably getting rained on if its winter. The market is full of delicious treasures, a lot of fresh seafood, and claims to be the oldest, continually running farmers market in the USA.

3. Go up the Seattle Space Needle for an amazing view of the city, or to enjoy a glass of wine with a dramatic sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Its almost $20 to go up but its cheaper if you include an entrance to the Pacific Science Center located below. Use your judgement when checking out the shows/ exhibits going on at the Science Center to decide if its worth it. Bodies was a great one.

the Space Needle

I know thats not much, but I’m just suggesting a days worth of activities that would probably satisfy for the Seattle Experience. If you have more time, by all means take a day just to each of the above!

Links: www.seattlebyfoot.com

www.spaceneedle.com

Crossing the Peace Arch Border

2 friendly and tame racoons beg for food from passerby's at Stanley Park

2 friendly and tame raccoons beg for food from passerby's at Stanley Park

I was in Vancouver for the weekend, compromising between American & Canadian Thanksgiving, my grandmothers’ 80th birthday, and Rememberance Day as reasons to take one trip for all of the reasons above. I dragged along my roommate Maya, and Misha, my brother from another (russian) mother. It was a short 3 day visit, but the time there felt like forever and far away, but now that I’m home, it literally passed in the blink of an eye – as does all travel it seems. I also happened to be sick for all (and only) the 3 days I was there, which was unfortunate for me and everyone around me (people are way to paranoid about H1N1). I was in the airport and a hospital at one point, and everyone that hears you sniffle or cough looks very suspicously over their shoulder at you, and finds the nearest antibacterial pump machine to lather their hands (has anyone else noticed they are absolutely everywhere now?). My response? I point at my nose and say, “dont worry, its just allergies,” since I’ve definitely heard the horror storries of being caught up at a border or airport in quarantine when someone accuses you of having swine flu symptoms.

Fortunately – and suprisingly – it didn’t rain the entire time we were up north, but grey skies and cold rain sent us on our way back to Seattle-Tacoma airport. We flew in and out of SeaTac, which is only 150 miles south of Vancouver, because flights are about one third the cost than flying from the Bay to BC, and I have to admit how much I love taking that I-5 drive and stopping into any of the Washington State rest areas that are fully equipped with free hot drinks and tasty treats for anyone interested. However, to my dismay, I got held up at the border for an hour when they threated to revoke my American Study Visa because I showed them my Canadian passport (which allows free travel between the American/Canadian border) instead of my Icelandic one (which holds the actual student visa). After they asked if I had an Islamic passport (ummm, hello, Islam is not a country, a religion cannot issue passports… are you really qualified to be a border patrol officer?!?), I (laughed) and said, no, I had an Icelandic one. Without asking to see it, they brought me inside, where a pms-ing woman on an authority trip (more of a power struggle, since I did nothing wrong) tried unconvincgly to make me feel guilty or apologetic of ‘misleading’ border officials of my identity and purpose in the states. After threatening to confiscate my visa and doing nothing at her desk but comparing my stamps of entry in each passport for an hour, she told me they never wanted to see my Icelandic passport after my student permit was up, and that I cannot use whichever passport I feel like or is more advantegous anymore.

Too bad I got in trouble for not showing the Icelandic passport in the first place, and, having two valid passports is completely legal so I will continue to exploit my rights as a dual citizen. Argh.