Roadtrip Westcoast & Craigslist Rideshare

After I spent a day in Miami, I flew to SFO to start a week long road trip from the Bay to Vancouver, B.C. I wanted to visit friends and family from here and there, since that´s what people like to do during the holidays. Me and Steve used his Subaru as a Craigslist carpooling tool and rideshared parts of our drive there and back. We decided to skip the boring, direct I5 and take all of Northern California along the much longer but prettier highway 101, and also thought it would be a good opportunity to stop along the way in Mendocino county for some wine tasting. We had Phil and Kai, both good-hearted travelers not really from any one place in the states, who drove the whole day with us to Oregon, and thankfully knew how to drive a stickshift so that some of us could taste as much as we wanted without spitting.

maxell Digital Camera

all my favourite people from Portland

We visited two California Organic Certified wineries, Yorkville Cellars and Barra of Mendocino, and while I still can’t admit that I can taste the difference in organic versus non-organic, you still somehow feel better supporting a more sustainable, less environmentally-damaging winery just because some California certification schema says that they are. Weird, but true. We also stopped at a famous microbrewery in Boonville, California. Anderson Valley Brewing company makes almost 20 different varieties of beer at their tastehouse, and their Winter Solstice Seasonal ale, my personal favourite, is super scrumptious. Although, it hardly compared to the limited edition, seasonal, 11%alc. Abyss, by Deschutes brewery in Oregon; Ryan described it as God walking down your throat in velvet slippers.

Sienna Ridge Estate Winery

We dropped Kai off in Eureka, and then Phil drove the rest of the way through a grove of Giant Redwoods, weaving along Grants Pass after we entered Oregon. He needed to be dropped off in Ashland, and the person who he was staying with offered us to stay the night there too since it was getting late. Phil got the couch at his friends place, and we got Cadbury Cottage, a beautiful 2-storey, cozy house to spend the night. It’s rented out for hundreds of dollars per night during the very famous Shakespeare festival that happens in Ashland every summer, but I guess in December when noone uses it they can afford to let random craigslist rideshare friends stay a complimentary night 🙂

winter time in wine country

maxell Digital Camera

We made it to Vancouver to visit my mom and sisters, and gorged for the next few days on Mom´s home cooking and specialty Christmas treats. On the drive back down, we had two craigslist people again, this time from Seattle to Oregon, but they were much younger, a guy and a girl, and had no luggage at all. Sounds suspicious, but I almost felt like we were more dangerous than them. We spent that night in Eugene, Oregon, with a friend of mine, Jesse, who works at June. Its a restaurant/bar and we stopped to have some more delicious micro-brew, local beer and stouty christmas ales. We spent most of the night talking about couchsurfing since he and his girlfriend are going to Venezuela and Colombia soon and want to start using the site; of course I gave it the highest recommendation, helped him get his profile completed, and gave him 2 suggested hosts in Colombia to make sure he doesn’t change his mind.

Jackson Wellsprings near Ashland, Oregon

For the last leg of the drive, we didn’t find any craigslist rideshares, so we took our time stopping in Jackson Wellsprings, a hotspring spa that did good for our stiff backs and sore buts from all that driving. We also stopped at Sienna Ridge Estate, a winery right in the middle of Oregon visible from the I5, in an old, restored farmhouse. Our wine pourer was this lovely old man whose name I can´t remember, but it started with G and he’s only one of two people who work there since somedays, noone even comes to taste business is so slow. If you go there, ask him how his sister is, since he was on his way north to visit her at the Vancouver General Hospital the very next day.

I’ll call him Mr. Sienna Ridge

Even though we had no rideshares, we did pick up a crazy hitchiker, who had the most obnoxious, raspy New Yorker voice, and didn’t once stop talking (with excessive cursing) in the 20 miles we drove him. Anymore than that and I think I would have started to regret picking him up but instead it just makes yet another great story to tell from our roadtrip.

Beautiful British Columbia

Every time I’m away from BC for a long time and come back, I’m so amazed by the natural beauty here. There are so many massive, dense forests, with tree tops that are invisible from the ground because they tower so high into the sky, and the hundreds of giant mountain tops surrounding Vancouver and the lower mainland that fade off into a blue mirage off in the distance. Everything is so lush and green in the summer, which is kind of special since most of the year everything is rainy and dull grey… but then there are always the evergreen trees, and of course the moutains too but they start to  turn white as they become snow peaked.

you’d think the 1/2 way mark is inspiring, but it’s actually quite devastating because you think you’ve been walking forever already

A friend I met in Antarctia was in town, a self-proclaimed pengiunologist, and we decided the touristy thing to do was hike the Grouse Grind, a famous 3km, 3000m elevation gain trail – also known as mother nature’s stairmaster. The record time is something like 28 minutes, but most do it in 1.5 hrs, and Tom had a bet to do it in under 50 mins. The stake was just a beer at the top and he didn’t quite make it with a 57 min. finish, but we hiked it with Tom’s friend’s little nephew, an 11 year old who finished in 41 minutes, so Tom lost more than just one beer, perhaps also a little ego bust. I was happy with 1hr 19 minutes, and the view from the top was totally glorious and worth all the sweating and temporary regret.

the Grouse Grind Sky ride that took us back down the mountain, with a view of Capilano behind

I spent the weekend nights in Vancouver and went out to Library Square, a popular night club frequented mostly by university students, and saw so many old friends from UBC, as well as  randomly ran into a group of people I went to highschool with in Chilliwack.  Saturday night was even more spectacular, as I got last minute tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show ‘Kooza’ which always delivers as an intense, impressive, sensory overload of acrobatics and clowning. I went with a business friend of mine who sent me an email a few months back asking “Bentley or Aston Martin?” and sure enough, he picked me up in his DB9 that he ended up buying on my recommendation.

i got to drive :)

i got to drive 🙂

Whenever I’m back in Vancouver, I commit to only eating Sushi or Tim Horton’s since I can never get anything quite like Vancouver sushi or timmy’ ho’s  when abroad, and after the show we appropriately decided to get some sushi. However, we had to play the role of James Bond and went to the fancy schmancy Fairmont Hotel for our sushi instead, and paid four times more per roll than we should, although it made us feel VIP enough to compensate for the crappy (but cheap) seats we got last-minute to Kazoo.

Life as part of the Working Class

It has been strange being in one place for almost a month now, just living and working like a settled local. I have managed to get two full-time jobs since returning to Vancouver, but still feel a little distanced from truly ‘localizing’ myself; the latest and longest memories of Vancouver have always been of my life at UBC, being on Campus all school year and enjoying the city as a starving student. Now, when I go to Campus, I feel strangely foreign, and even though noone else knows I am no longer a UBC student, there is this pang of ‘outsiderness’ that I feel walking around campus without a class to go to or a study group to attend. Even more bizarre is not living on or near campus, so when Im there, I feel like I have nowhere to belong, since my home refuge is gone, as well as a full time class schedule. I have also been coping with the reality that this is the first semester in 18 years that I am not going to school this spring; I have no classes to register, text books to buy, or homework to do. Very, very strange, but comforting. My master’s thesis is almost done too, so I’ve really got very little to do in terms of academic life as of now.

Being downtown is a bit more familiar, same scene, same people, same activities. I would still say I fit the starving student profile since Im tecnically still in grad school until I defend my thesis and officially graduate, but now I’ve joined the ranks of the working class to having that secure, 9 – 5, Monday to Friday Job, in addition to serving at a bar 4 or 5 nights a week. Working two full time jobs is exhausting, and all I have time to do is work and sleep. It’s great since I have no time to spend the money I am finally making, but paying off my upcoming trip and the debt I’ve incurred from both studying in the states and my obsessive cumpolsive traveling habit is a slow process. I have yet to see if I’m actually back to square 1, which would just be an account balance of $0, since my hourly paychecks lag a few days and are paid bi-weekly, but now I’m about to go off on a 3 week trip where Im sure I’ll quickly jump into the negative account balance again. However, not to worry, for after I return back to BC the Olympics are coming to Vancouver, and so are alot of people, all their money, and alot of work – all reasons why I (and my travel habit) may personally benefit from the games.

Vancouver: Rainy City

sunny vancouver

The Olympic Rings floating on a barge in the Vancouver Harbor. Visible from Stanley Park on a rare sunny day.

Dec 21 has just passed, the shortest day of the year, and now we can slowly start to look forward to longer days. Ironically though, the weather will still get colder, as Vancouver gets most of its frost and snow in January and February. Even though it doesn’t get very cold (temperatures hover around 5 degrees Celsius), it is typically very damp and dreary in Vancouver from Nov until about April, and this is the worst time for bad weather since its so dark all the time. But, now we can begin to look forward to longer days, and atleast the grey clouds won’t seem as dark anymore.

It never really feels like Christmas without the icy cold chill or snow Iceland usually gets around this time. But the lights covering all the houses makes it a bit more festive. Maybe it just doesn’t feel like the holidays since all I’ve done since getting back to Vancouver is work in an office or write my thesis. I also came here from California, where the sunny days and palm trees never make you think its winter or Christmas time.

This year my family decided to do something peculiar. We are not exchanging any gifts, both because our materialist, consumer driven society has begun to make me, my sisters and my mom very anxious in an economically tight time, and also because there are much better things we can do with our spare time and saved money other than add to the clothes hanging in our closets that we never wear. We are going to spend Christmas day donating half our possessions (mostly clothes and accessories we’ve accumulated over the year, in addition to some household things), and I think it will be a much more gratifying experience than opening gifts that result in more stuff to pack into our rooms.

Vancouver seems extra rainy and non-christmasy because everyone is just thinking about the Vancouver Olympics as the games near closer and closer. February will be a crazy time here as thousands upon thousands of athletes, fans, and tourists flock this little city to try and get a glimpse of just a handful of events that actually comprise the Olympics. Tickets range from $60 to $1,100 – a hefty fee for watching the opening ceremony, but apparently a price which people are still willing to pay. Which made me think – perhaps thats why people are thinking less about Christmas and spending less on gifts, because the Olympics are occupying our minds and draining our accounts.

Eitherway, Vancouver is still the same old, familiar place in all its rainy greyness, but it makes you appreciate the sunny days so much more. Today the weather had bright blue skies, not a breeze in the air, and me and a friend actually managed to have lunch outside on a patio, basked by the sun and wishing we had our sunglasses. It felt like I had just momentarily been transported to a warm, sunny vacation destination (even though I was cloaked in winter clothing which was actually the cause of my warmness); I guess its true that without rain, sunny days wouldn’t be so special, so let it rain – as long as the sun shows up once in a while.

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.

There’s No Place Like Home

You know how they say you can never truly appreciate something until you lose it? Well, its kind of like that with home when your away from home. Its probably just a psychological thing, but the further away I am from home, in geographical distance, the more homesick I feel just because of the physical separation. Then, depending on where I am, sometimes I get more or less homesick depending on how close to home the place resembles. For example, in Copenhagen, you don´t really miss Iceland that much since things are still familiar, or when you’re in any North American city, it still runs and functions the same way as most other major North American cities. But, if you’re in the middle of Burma, out of touch with phone lines, internet, and the regular commodities like clean running water or flushing toilets, home seems soooo much further away! The more difference a culture has to what you’re used to makes homesickness worse, and makes you appreciate home that much more when you return.

downtown Vancouver, the ocean and the mountains; where else can you have all that in one place?

It´s been so nice to come home to Vancouver after living out of a bag for 3 months with no sense of home or locality anywhere! Stuck in transit between Montreal, New York, Mexico and roadtrips in between has made the comforts of home priceless to me. The familiarity of people and places instantly gives me a sense of belonging, and knowing where to eat, where to go out, and how to navigate the streets and public transport just makes the city feel like the back of my hand again. Meeting up with good friends seems like absolutely no time has passed apart, and these are the same friends I’ve been dying to see for so long, and now they’re only a phone call away! What luxury 🙂 As for my family, home cooked food is another amazing luxury, and I can not seem to get my fill of mom and grandma’s cooking. Its nice not to carry my life on my back, not worry about getting lost or missing a flight, and especially nice to sleep in my own bed.

But now I have this strange identity dilemma where I don´t know if Im rightfully homesick for British Columbia or Iceland, (or both) but now Ive found that as soon as I satisfy a homesick feeling for Vancouver, I start to miss Iceland!  I want Icelandic hot dogs, nightlife that lasts all night, long days and stinky, hot showers. It’s certainly confusing and annoying… but I guess having two places to go home to isn´t all that bad 😛