Riding the Rails to Los Angeles (Part 1)

Always craving an escape from Vancouver, I recently decided at the very last minute to book a seat on the Coast Starlight and head to Los Angeles for some sunshine and to visit my friend Ben. According to Amtrak, the Coast Starlight route from Seattle to Los Angeles is “widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes”. I’ll admit, I’m still a bit skeptical of this claim and think the marketing team might have been having a laugh during that particular brainstorming session.

Deciding the night before to embark on such an epic journey such as this is the wisest of choices, as I barely slept before heading to Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at 4:45am the next morning. From here, I caught the 5:30am bus connection to Seattle and barely made my train departing Seattle’s gorgeously restored King Street Station a few hours later.

 

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Discovering a Wish Tree

Sometimes, your evening walks have a way of surprising you. Sometimes, residents of your neighbourhood contribute magical and heartwarming pieces of themselves to the public space. Sometimes, you can’t help but smile (and maybe tear up a little) at the humanity that is found when you least expect it.

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As I spent time reading through the wishes of my urban neighbours, I was struck with the similarity between the messages. No one was wishing for material possessions, rather, they were all wishing for love. Romantic love, friendly love, love for their families. The one thing that ties us all together, that makes us all human, that inspires us all to live life more fully and freely than we could ever imagine.

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West End Farmers Market

I’ve always loved spending time at local markets, particularly farmers markets full of fresh and local produce. The markets are always a great opportunity to observe locals in a foreign city, and when visiting a market in my own city it is nice to interact with other members of the community. They help to shape and develop a sense of community in larger cities, in addition to driving debate, neighbourly connections, and fostering a ‘shop local’ mentality that benefit the economy. Living in a big city can feel somewhat isolated and anonymous and farmers markets are one place where barriers fall away and strangers chat under the informal gathering space of a 10×10 tent.

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36 (ish) Hours in LA

The last time I was in Los Angeles, I was a young preteen and my biggest goal for the trip was mouse-spotting at Disneyland and window shopping on Rodeo Drive. At the time, I was under the (false) impression that Beverly Hills was the be all and end all of LA culture. My adolescent impressions of the city came from my favourite movies, such as the ditzy yet goodhearted Clueless. Thankfully, my idea of what Los Angeles is all about has changed a great deal since then.

Patrick and I headed down to the sunny state of California in May, which is a truly great time to visit. A good friend of ours had recently relocated from Vancouver to Marina Del Rey and we were keen to be able to spend some time with him and soak up the sun. The weather proved to be perfect for exploring on foot and on bicycle, as we didn’t wish to spend our entire weekend in an air conditioned car (and have to deal with infamous LA traffic).

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Springtime in the West End

Ever since I moved to Vancouver in 2010, I have been happy to call the West End home. This community is vibrant and lively, with a diverse mix of people from all different backgrounds. Not only is the West End home to the Davie Village, which has been the heart of the city’s LGBT community for many years, but also the buzzing retail hot spot of Robson Street, and the majestic green space in Stanley Park. This neighbourhood has something for anyone and it is here where I make my home. The area comes to life in the spring and it is always fun to go for long walks and admire the flowers, heritage homes, and renewed greenery. Here are some of my favourite iPhone photos I’ve taken over the last few weeks.

Enjoy!

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Meandering through Greenwich

On my recent trip to New York, my mum and I opted to forgo the hustle and bustle of Midtown for the relative peace and quiet of Greenwich Village. Having been to NYC before, I knew from experience that staying in the tourist ‘hot-zone’ didn’t really connect you to the best of the city. I was excited to show my mum all of the Midtown classic spots, but felt that spending our nights in Greenwich would be much more relaxing. Upon arriving at our hotel, the quaint and historic Washington Square Hotel, I knew that we had made the right choice. The Christmas tree in Washington Square Park was lit up and the streets were adorned with twinkling white lights. Students and young couples milled along the streets that Friday evening, revelling in the crisp holiday air. The next morning, after a sound sleep on the most luxurious mattress, we woke up early and spent the morning wandering the quiet streets of the Village. Although it was Saturday morning, the streets at nine o’clock were practically empty and I was stunned by the silence in such a large city. More than that, the empty sidewalks and streets allowed me to take my time while photographing the beautiful buildings, entryways and windows – under a brilliant blue sky no less!

Click through for some more photos of my favourite NYC neighbourhood.

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Colours + textures of Kew Gardens

Last year, I spent five months living just north of London from January until May. Last year also seemed to be a particularly cold winter for the southeast of England, and my wussy Pacific Northwest manner could not cope. On one of the coldest days in March, I took the train down to Richmond to meet my aunt for an afternoon at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

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First impressions of Hanoi

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Since arriving in Hanoi, I have been completely overwhelmed in the best way possible. Hanoi is impossibly energetic and there is so much going on that it can be difficult to know where to look. Every time I turn my head I see and observe something new. I have only been here for two days and already I feel like a new person.

My first meal was made by a woman sitting on a sidewalk. I watched as she deep fried handmade spring rolls and egg, snipped up cold rice noodles, and placed fresh chillis in fragrant nuoc cham. We sat on tiny, child sized plastic stools in a small alley and I marvelled at how such a delicious meal could be made in plastic buckets and a homemade deep fryer. As I ate and embraced the variety of flavours in my meal, I saw a Vietnamese police officer pull up on his motorbike and chase away a woman selling fruit from baskets hanging off her arms. This was truly a memorable introduction to the city and gave me a real sense of place.

Although dealing with jet lag and a hand injury is frustrating, I am greatly enjoying my time and looking forward to the rest of the trip. I know there will be challenges but this country is beautiful, alive and incredibly inspiring. Already I have met some amazing new friends and colleagues and it is only the beginning!

More updates to come, including a story about my ride on the back of a Vespa through the busy streets of Hoan Kiem district… Another “wow, I’m in Vietnam” moment.

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Heading off to Vietnam

Monday evening, I’ll be heading to the airport with my backpack and an open mind for a flight from Vancouver to Hanoi, via Taipei. This is my first time travelling to Asia and there are numerous emotions that come along with this. While the prospect of visiting a new place is incredibly exciting, there are times when my stomach twists itself into knots at the thought of the potentially challenging situations that await me. Vietnam will be unlike any place I have ever visited and I just hope that my travelling “skills” are up to the task. Dealing with extreme heat, humidity and a whole new type of cuisine will be sure to test my strength. That said, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take part in this experience. I will be travelling as part of a team that aims to facilitate sustainable tourism development and economic empowerment in the ethnic minority villages of northern Vietnam. Being selected as part of the team was a major milestone for me and helped me connect with who I am, what is important to me, and how I can make a difference in the world.

We have drafted an intensive itinerary that seeks to cover a lot of ground over a two week period. My personal contribution to the project so far has been to draft training materials for the creation of an environmental youth group in the Sapa region. The aim is to bring together passionate young people from the villages of Taphin and Lao Chai so that they may be advocates for environmental protection in their community. This has been incredibly rewarding for me, as I seek to develop relationships with leaders of various community organizations in the area so that they may lend their expertise to the project. Environmental protection is extremely important to me and this has been an excellent opportunity to use skills and knowledge gained from my time volunteering with both Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the David Suzuki Foundation. Knowing that the work I have done could help promote positive change in a vulnerable community gives me hope and inspires me to keep working hard.

If you are interested in hearing more about my experiences while working and travelling in Vietnam, please watch both this space and the CBT Vietnam blog for updates. Additional updates can be found on the CBT Vietnam Twitter and Facebook pages.

(Feature “go there” image found on Pinterest. Unfortunately I have not been able to source the original photographer/owner. If this image is yours and you would like it removed, please let me know!)