Saturday, August 19, 2017

Found My Calling

Me, Kerri & Lisa
Imagine perfect 72 degree weather, no humidity and the amazing views of the Vancouver shoreline and harbor surrounding you. Imagine 800 like-minded friends surrounding you, each equally excited about the adventurous week and what it holds....imagine being on board a ship with someone you've looked up to for your entire life (Since 2nd grade)!  Imagine being in a cabin with two of your closest friends- who have shared life with you for over 15 years.  Now, close your eyes and know all of this is going on around you and men are walking up offering you free food, drinks and your feet are in a pool.

"THIS IS REAL. THIS IS REAL. THIS IS REAL." This is what I had to say to myself a zillion times over. This is HAPPENING.

My heart was enlarged (in a good, non-life threatening way) and my mind was exploding with imagination, fascination and the thrill of EVERYTHING. I couldn't look any direction without seeing something I wanted to further investigate, soak in or hear. All of my senses were on high alert and overloaded!

Heading West from Vancouver

I'm not sure how long we stayed on deck, watching our ship turn around in the bay and head west...but it was beautiful. Watching the shoreline, listening to the motors, feeling the waves, smelling the salt air and pine trees that lined the shores...saying to myself over and over....

We quickly settled into our cabin, decorating our room with stickers, pictures and tassels. Lisa arranged for us to have hors d'oeuvres in our room. The room had fresh flowers, balloons (celebrating Lisa's birthday) and tasseled garland blowing in the sea was better than imagined. IT WAS REAL. 
Our cabin  had a beautiful veranda with glass railing so that we had a view at all times....even from bed. We slept with our room door open every night, hearing the ocean, the chugging of the motor the sound of the wind. I wish there was a way to bottle a feeling, an uncork the moment and breath it in...once again. 

If there were a way to that...I think that first day on the deck would have been the day I'd have bottled. The emotion of friends united, adventures on the horizon and beautiful weather. The excitement of what was and what was to would have to be a pretty large bottle to capture all of that! I don't think there's a cork strong enough to contain all of that. 

At one point, during the first day, Kerri said, "I've found my calling. I was born for this." I couldn't agree more, who isn't born for a life of relaxation, adventure and having food brought to you?! This was highly addictive behavior!!  Something I've become addicted to and have no plans of quitting!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Alarmed Americans

I woke up Saturday morning with the sun spilling through gauzy curtains,  seagulls singing their seaside songs and the oddly pleasant baritone bellowing of a barge's horn. I don't know why the moment hit me so profoundly, but the serenity of the moment juxtaposed by the bustling in the harbor was something I don't want to forget. I took this picture from my bed. 

The day before, when we checked in, our room wasn't ready so the hotel gifted us free "appys" (that's what Canadians call Appetizers) and drinks in the lounge. They also upgraded the room to the 17th floor and gave us a room with an impressive view.

The view was worth the inconvenience of waiting for our room the day before. Kerri and I both stood at the window, facing the harbor with our binoculars in hand watching the activities in the water. There were barges, cargo ships, some sort of military boats and cruise ships. The sun glistened across the bay. The weather was phenomenal. We opened our windows and sat on the sofa enjoying the morning....and passing the time waiting for our friend Lisa to join us. Lisa lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. She was a hop and skip by float plane or a few hours by ferry.
She was coming in by plane and meeting us to get our main adventure started.

Kerri and I walked the city looking for coffee and breakfast. The homelessness in Vancouver was painfully evident; according to reports I've read, the main factors contributing to the rising number of homeless in the Glass City is the cost of housing and lack of job opportunities. The third contributing factor to homelessness and crime levels rising is the Opioid epidemic. We saw several people sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks. The homeless population has increased by 30% in two years in the downtown metro area of Vancouver. 

The realization that where we had stood laughing with our friends in front of the Top of Vancouver rotating restaurant (the night before) there was now a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. The contrast was hard to ignore. 

The weather was amazing. We couldn't go 10 feet without commenting on the glorious weather. In the south the humidity weigns on you like a suffocating blanket of misery; the air in Vancouver felt so light, crisp and perfect. I know I said something about it at least 25 times in the first few blocks we covered. We walked West towards Howe Street and found a little restaurant with a sidewalk cafe. 

We walked in and the owner introduced himself from behind the counter, his name was Michael, and he made his way over to Kerri and I to hug us and he kissed me. On the cheek. A stranger.

He left you no choice but to love him instantaneously and without reserve; And so we did.

He was seating us by the kitchen and then noticed the matching cruise shirts we both wearing, "Your peoples are here! Let me seat you with your peoples!"  The cruise shirts were an idea of  Derek, our cruise event planner. The red shirts were called "FIRST DAY SHIRTS".  The idea is to for all 800+ cruise participants to wear matching shirts so that we could spot each other in hotels, airport terminals, taxis and so forth on our trip to the cruise terminal. I met people on the plane in Phoenix, AZ from St. Louis, MO whom  I would have never met nor spoke to if it wasn't for the shirt. Kerri met people from Nashville on her flight and now, we were going to meet fellow Cruisers in this Greek restaurant during breakfast in Vancouver.

Micheal led us to our table and comfy seats. We introduced ourselves to the large table of Amy Grant fans, who were wearing their red FIRST DAY shirts. What a fun ice-breaker the shirts turned out to be! Another couple across from the aisle from us (not wearing t shirts and not part of our cruise) ended up being Amy Grant fans and asking us about our cruise, t shirts and how to sign up for the Facebook page. We were walking, enthusiastic billboards!

We received a text from Lisa, her float plane had landed and she was at our hotel. We each hugged Michael goodbye. He kissed us each goodbye. I reached for my hand sanitizer. I can't help it, I'm not rude; I'm conscientious.

We got to our hotel and couldn't find Lisa.

She texted us again. She was at our room.

We got to our room and still couldn't find Lisa. Kerri said, they're nice here, but surely they wouldn't just let someone into our room? We opened the door to find out. Lisa wasn't there.

We text her back. She was at the wrong hotel.

At the time, this was funny. Now it's HILARIOUS, because, you see, this perfectly introduces Lisa. Things just happen and you love her because of it.

Lisa came to our room and introduced us to her Canadian money and the dollar coins,  Loonies and Toonies, giving us each a coin. Kerri and I were packing up our stuff to go to the Ship Terminal, we were to board at noon. The reunion was fun! The excitement was tangible. And apparently combustible....because all of a sudden, our fire alarm went off.

Kerri looked right at me and narrowed her eyebrows, "WHAT did you DO?!"

Why am I always the guilty one?  I was just standing there. Innocently.

The sound was deafening. Being on the 17th floor all of a sudden wasn't as great of a treat as it was earlier that morning. We scrambled to the hallway, lugging our combined 5 suitcases and 3 backpacks, my pillow (I didn't have time to pack it before the "fire").  We debated in the hallway about taking the stairs or the elevator. We stood there for a moment waiting on the elevator (although I firmly voted NOT to take an elevator in a burning building) when I noticed no one else was running for their lives. There were no flashing exit signs or sprinklers. No fireman in masks or people escaping their rooms. No people jumping from windows. In fact, we were the only ones in a panic.

I started putting my ear on doors as I passed was as I had suspected, our room was the only one with an alarm blaring. Of course it was, because that's how we roll, or how the dice rolled...all I know is I was ready, if necessary,  to Stop. Drop and Roll.

We took the elevator. We went into the lobby. No one was alarmed, in a panic or even noticing us. We told the concierge that our room's alarm was sounding. She looked at a panel of lights on a screen. She politely called someone on her walkie-talkie. She rang up the room, gave a receipt and dismissed us. Clearly, Canadians don't get excited about things like fire alarms sounding on the 17th floor.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

V-Town, BC: The Day I Became an Alien

For over a year I dreamed of Alaska and all of its yet to be experienced (by me) adventures. My mind was full of ideas, my heart full of anticipation.
Alaska lived up to every daydream, travel pamphlet, adventure blog and documentary I poured over in the last 15 months of planning.
I was meeting one of my best friends, Kerri in Vancouver and our friend Lisa was meeting us on Saturday. For over a year we had dreamed of this moment...and here it was.

I landed in Vancouver, Canada on Friday, July 7th. I was not prepared to love Canada the way that I did. One of the first things that jumped out to me is the friendliness of the people and their eagerness to assist. The Canadians are quick to engage you and even alter their direction to assist you (a stranger) in getting to where you're going.  

 There was one other thing that really stood out to me immediately in Vancouver. I feel compelled to share it because it was a big part of our experience and cultural learning process. We were not aware of the Asian population in the city. I felt like I landed in Tokyo or Taiwan.  Turns out, that almost 40% (although I would have gambled it was higher!) of Vancouver's population is Southeast Asian.( I think 90% of them worked at the Vancouver International Airport.) I regret not taking pictures, or making a video inside the airport because it really did feel like I was in an Asian country. Even the announcements over the loud speakers were in Korean or some other Asian language.

I was quite bummed to not get a Passport stamp upon my grand entrance into Canada. The security officer wouldn't let me go back to the Customs Desk once I passed some invisible line he guarded near the baggage claim.

Our first adventure was the Skytrain ride to the waterfront. We had to go across the city and to set the tone and pace for our adventure, we got from Point A to Point B by going under the bay through a big, underground tunnel!

Vancouver is a city of steel, glass and light; in fact, fittingly, one of the cities nicknames is City of Glass.

Kerri and I explored the city. We caught up (we hadn't seen each other in over 3 years) and of course, as with any true friend, your friendship picks up where you left off....there is no warming up or getting to know each other again. You're just happy and content being in the same space again! Some of my best adventures and gut laughs have been with Kerri. My kids love her, my family loves her and she is truly family to me.

One of the things Kerri and I both had in common was that neither of us had ever been "Foreigners" or "Aliens" before. We thoroughly enjoyed our first day as Aliens exploring!

Our first jaunt out of the hotel was to Canada Place.  You have to imagine weather from heaven with views of paradise! I couldn't stop gushing with heartfelt "oooooohs" and "awwwwws".

From the waterfront at Canada Place (which is also the Cruise Terminal) you can look across the water through Burrard Inlet.

Kerri and I were so excited to meet up with other friends in Vancouver at Top of the World. We started off with reservations for two, then 5, and much to our delight by the time is was said and done we had 10 of us at the table! The conversations, laughter and stories from previous weekend trips together was so fun and satisfying I can barely remember the meal itself!

Our reservation was for 6:30...and we didn't leave the restaurant until midnight. MJ (second on the left) and I are from the East Coast and it was 3 AM by our bodies time table! The friendship, scenery, newness and anticipation to begin our adventure made up one of the most perfect nights for me. I can't help but smile when I look back at the above picture.

Kerri took the above picture of the ship terminal at Canada Place during dinner. The peninsula directly behind the building is called Stanley Park and connects to the famous Granville Island.

Going to sleep on the 23rd floor, in a foreign country after such an amazing day I remember thinking, "I'm going to forever remember this day....this is one of my favorite days of my entire life....." Little did I know, I would think that every single night for the next week.....

To be continued.