Thursday, June 08, 2006

Going Coastal

Around this time last week, I just arrived back from Vancouver, and it's taken me a week to get back to reality. I spent 8 days on the west coast in British Columbia and Washington State from May 23rd to 31st and being in such a beautiful part of the continent was a nice change from the urban(sometimes drab) contours of Toronto and Mississauga. Don't get me wrong, Mississauga's a nice place to live, and Toronto is world-class, but Vancouver's my new favourite city. However, no trip to Vancouver is complete without venturing outside of the city to experience British Columbia's green and mountainous landscape in all it's glory.

English Bay in Vancouver: photo by Mike LigonArriving in to Vancouver on May 23rd, my brother picked me up and we made our way to his apartment the hippie-yuppie section of Vancouver's Kitsilano area. The first day was mostly spent immersing myself into the Kitsilano lifestyle. My brother's apartment is in a great location, in one direction down the street from Vanier Park(which overlooks the beautiful English Bay) and in the opposite direction a 5 minute walk away from one 4th Avenue which is one of Kitsilano's main strips. Although not visually similar, Kitsilano's vibe is similar to the Beaches area in Toronto, with all it's little shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafes. The venerable Zulu Records is located on 4th avenue. It's quite a clean and well-stocked store, carrying vinyl, CD's, DVD's, and magazines. Too bad the prices are freakin' expensive. My brother and I spent a good couple of hours strolling through Vanier Park, and one thing I realized was how fit everyone was, what with people running, walking, and biking along the path. And this was early evening on a Tuesday night. I can only imagine how busy they place is on the weekend. According to my brother, Vancouver is a healthy city not just because it'd mild climate motivates people to get outdoors, but it's also boasts a variety of healthy eating options and walking(at least from Kitsilano, over the Burrard St bridge into downtown Vancouver) is a big thing.

Whistler: photo by Mike LigonThe next day, my brother and I made good with our plans, and went to Whistler for some skiing and snowboarding. In May no less! The scenery along the highway on our way to Whistler was breath-taking. I noticed alot of construction along the way and my brother told me that it's all about widening the roads on the way up to Whistler in preparation for the Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010. Because we hadn't had a chance to get our morning coffee yet, we stopped in the little town of Squamish. We ended up buying coffee at Starbucks. Initially, I'd found that quite novel, a Starbucks in Squamish of all places. I'd only realized during the rest of my trip on the west coast that Starbucks is fucking everywhere. And I mean everywhere. On the other hand, there was sorely a lack of Tim Horton's in Vancouver. Being my first time at Whistler was an awesome experience: the gondola ride of all gondola rides, the mild temperatures at the base of the mountain gradually turned into a winter wonderland higher up the mountain. I'm an alright skier at best so I was glad that there were a choice of ski runs available to accommodate my skill level. In other words, I wasn't forced to crawl down and or tackle any Black Diamond runs to get back down the mountain. Excellent day and Whistler demolishes any other experience I've had skiing in Ontario.

Sunset over English Bay(Vancouver)The next day was strictly a tourist-y day, walking up from Kitsilano over the Burrard St. bridge into downtown Vancouver, checking out the main strips like Burrard St, Robson St and Granville. Alot of the music venues seem to be on Granville, and I got to see where the Orpheum Theatre, Commodore Ballrom, The Vogue Theare and Plaza Club among others were located. Yes, Starbucks is everywhere, and Tim Horton's is nowhere. Downtown Vancouver's is amidst alot development with condos going up along the Bay and the city having quite a modern feel. It is a little disappointing that I don't feel any sense of Vancouver's history the same way I do in Toronto. What I can applaud Vancouver for is their commitment to bicyclists and the system of bike lanes on roadways they've implemented. The Burrard St. Bridge bike lane/pedestrian sidewalk system is a perfect example of how pedestrians and bicyclists can co-exist on a single sidewalk in perfect harmony. My brother and I ended up catching The Sam Roberts Band instore at the downtown HMV and after a little more walking along the downtown street we headed back over the bridge into Kitsilano. While walking over the bridge, we watched the glowing sun in the distance sink down behind the mountains as it reflected on the water in the bay. Beautiful.

The Gorge in Washington State, USA: photo by Mike LigonFriday morning, having packed and prepared out gear the night before, my brother and I began our drive towards the Sasquatch Festival at The Gorge in Washington State which was at least 4.5 hours away from Vancouver. At the border the customs official confiscated the hotdogs in our cool due to a US ban on Canadian beef; at least we didn't bring steaks. We drove past Seattle and along the way I tuned into KEXP for some good music. We stop outside Seattle in Issiquah for lunch at Jack In The Box then continued our way onto The Gorge with more nice scenery along the way, until we finally reach our destination where the weather's overcast. It seemed like many people had already made it there, and the camp grounds were already bustling with tents going up or already up. We were directed to a spot in the grounds to set up camp and it was about 4 pm. We took a few minutes to just absorb the atmosphere and the scenery. My brother and I see this Rasta guy with an electric guitar and an mini amp strapped around his waist, walking around the camp grounds and busking. His name was Harry Perry and his music had a spacey, Hendrix-y vibe. We set up camp then made our way to the ampitheatre which seemed about about a mile or two away.

Nine Inch Nails @ Sasquatch: photo by Mike LigonWe arrived in time to catch Trail of the Dead who were already into their set. At this point, I was really listening to the music as much as I was absorbing the beautiful landscape(the gorge, rocky terrian, and river) that lay before me. Fortunately, the overcast skies gave way to a dusky sun in time for TV On The Radio's set. I enjoyed their soulful take on indie rock. Next up were HIM; they seemed to have alot of fans but I wasn't really into them. Their singer also looked awfully like Johnny Deppe. As the sun set even more, Bauhaus took full advantage of the oncoming darkness with their decent light effects. Musically, I expected some gloom(given I only know their song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and their cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust") but surprisingly they had a danceable post-punk sound that I found enjoyable. Preceding NIN's set, Sasquatch lighting effects crew projected some neat laser imagery onto the now darkened Gorge landscape. Arguably, the best show of the whole weekend was Nine Inch Nails, if only because the audience energy was high and the stage light effects were spectacular. Everything a big rock show should have. I even liked the music. "Hurt" was spine-tinglying. My brother and I headed back to camp grounds, along the way stopping in at the Sasquatch General store to pick up some cold cuts to make some sandwiches(we had bread in our cooler back at camp). Getting to our camp site was an adventure in itself as it took us a good half hour to find our camp site in the dark(the only lighting being the lights at some campsites and the lights along the dirt paths leading to the portable washrooms). As we were walking around, a lot of people were still running high on adrenalin from the night's show, while just as many people it seemed were walking aimlessly looking for their own camp sites. We eventually found camp, made the sandwiches and ate before hitting the sack - it started to rain, but it was pretty cozy in my tent, my brother in his own tent.

Neko Case @ Sasquatch: photo by Mike LigonSaturday morning, we woke up to a beautiful morning. We stayed in our tents relaxing before actually getting up, eating some bananas and peanut butter sandwiches, orange juice, and water, then preparing our napsacks for the day-long concert festival lineup. About a quarter to noon or so we started the walk towards The Gorge. During the walk towards The Gorge we could already hear Seattle hip hop locals Blue Scholars performing their set on the mainstage, and then while lining up to get inside The Gorge, Bedouin Soundclash who were on a smaller stage already at least 2 or 3 songs into their set, then launched into their hit "When The Night Feels Our Song". We finally got into the place, headed down to the floor for the first time and caught Rogue Wave's set. My brother headed up to the lawn to chill and I headed over to the smaller stage to see Architecure in Helsinki. Making my way back to the lawn are where my brother was we then caught Sufjan Stevens', then Iron and Wine's sets. My brother and I then headed back to the floors for Neko Case's set. From what I remember she sang "Favourite" and "If I knew". The sky gradually darkened and as Neko launched into "Star Witness", hail started to fall, first small but then grew larger and stronger in intensity, before forcing Neko off the stage. But for a good minute or so, she sung through the hail with nary a mention of the hail falling around her. Fucking amazing. Eventually, she had to cut her performance short and even after the rain and hail stopped she couldn't come back to perform because of schedule changes. But those of us there will always have that hailstorm! I came out soaked because of the rain and hail, but in retrospect it was all worth it.

The Flaming Lips @ Sasquatch: photo by Mike LigonIt was funny how ANY clothing at the merch tables were suddenly hot commodities since people were now soaking wet and cold. Fortunately I had a dry zippered sweat top in my knapsack which I slipped into after taking off my wet t-shirt although the Sasquatch t-shirt I bought earlier got wet through my knapsack. Also, the organizers made an exception to the no-entry rule and allowed people back to their camp-sites/cars for a change of clothing and get warm. Unfortunately, walking back to the camp grounds, changing, then walking back to The Gorge, we missed seeing The Tragically Hip's entire set although at least we heard it. With the rest of the schedule delayed, it felt like somewhat of a long night. The Shins apparently only were on for half an hour but at least they played all their 'hits'. Although, I appreciate Ben Harper's talent and some of his music is good, I found his set unbearably long. He played a short acoustic set also which was pretty great, during which I caught a shooting star streak in a flash across the night sky. Lovely. It's just too bad that The Flaming Lips had to go on so late(approx a quarter to 1 am) because at that point some people were too tired and cold to stick around. In particular, I saw people at the perimeter of the floor area leaving in droves. Too bad for them. The Lips put on their spectacular show complete with dancing aliens and Santa Claus', streamers, giant rubber balls and video screens. If the crowd seemed somewhat less energetic than I hoped, I couldn't blame given the hail storm we'd weathered earlier in the day.

Beck @ Sasquatch: photo by Mike LigonOn Sunday morning one of our camp neighbours allowed us to use their propane barbecue so that we could heat up some water and cook some eggs. How nice of them. We chatted with the couple a bit, who were playing a CD in their car and it turned out to be a bootleg of a recent Massive Attack show. I briefly chatted with them about the Massive Attack. My brother and I ended up sitting with them during the concert inside The Gorge. It's nice to meet people at shows. Getting into The Gorge, I headed down to the floors for Pretty Girls Make Graves set and later made it back to the floors for The Decemberists' set and Death Cab For Cutie's set. The concert-goer me was somewhat compelled to spend at least some of my time in front of the stage. The rest of the time I was content to sit on the lawn with my brother, where we watched sets by Arctic Monkeys(it rained a tad during part of the set), Matisyahu(a rainbow formed in the sky), and Queens Of The Stone Age. We also watched from the lawn, Beck's set, headliner of the day and closing out the 3-day festival in fine fashion playing all the fan-favourites. Beck performing "The Golden Age" made me one happy camper.

monorail in Seattle: photo by Mike LigonMonday morning we made an early rise to pack up for the drive back to Vancouver and were on our way by 8:30. Got some coffee(again at Starbucks) in Ellensburg, Washington. Stopped in Issiquah(just outside of Seattle) before noon for some lunch. While in Issiquah we stopped at a CD store and I came away with a great selection of CD's(11 in total) from their dollar bin, including CD's from Elvis Costello, Doves, The Sleepy Jackson, I Am Spoonbender. God Bless America. We got to Seattle, and decided to drive for a little more than an hour through the streets of downtown - we saw the Space Needle, the monorail, and I also saw where the Triple Door and Showbox music venues were located. Seattle has a great harbourfront area. There's a great sense of history in Seattle, with many buildings named for example, Seattle Tea Company, or Seattle something or other. The homeless situation seems far more rampant in Seatlle than anything I ever saw in downtown Toronto. What I only realize afterwards, when leafing through a few Seattle weeklies(The Stranger & Seattle Weekly) and all of the concert info is how amazing a music town Seattle is - not only is it home to KEXP, but it hosts a multitude of music venues and it has a tonne of good shows rolling through town - as good, if not better than Vancouver - Toronto's good, but one has to admit, than Toronto has gotten overlooked by bands on more than one occasion. Qui? Back in Vancouver, we relax, pick up some Thai food in Kitsilano, and relax some more. Sleep beckons.

The next day and half I spent souvenir shopping, going to Stanley Park, catching The Da Vinci Code, and just some good ol' brotherly bonding. And of course, the night before I leave, packing up for the trip back home to Ontario. Sniff, sniff. Vancouver, I will miss you.

My brother drove me to the airport on Wednesday morning and hung out with me until it was close to my plane's departure and we parted ways at the security check-in. He'd already decided before I got to Vancouver, that he was moving back to Ontario, so me and the rest of our family, plus his friends are all looking forward to that. The plane trip is smooth for the most part except for a little bit of unnerving turbulence. Still, when we land in Toronto, it's during a thunder/lightning storm which results in our plane not being able to get to our gate because airport personnel aren't allowed on the tarmac during bad weather. Our plane ends up sitting on the tarmac for about an hour before it's allowed to approach our gate. But maybe I should just be thankful that we landed when we did - later on, I heard on the news that there were tornado warnings. Shiver.


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