Monday, February 15, 2016

An International Holiday Adventure!

Jeff and I spent this last weekend on our annual pilgrimage to Vancouver, B.C.  Just about every year for the last 15(!), we've gone up to run the First Half Half Marathon.  It's a great race:  small, scenic (along the Stanley Park seawall), well organized; mostly, however, it's an excuse to go to Vancouver.

I love Canada, and have ever since I first read Anne of Green Gables in elementary school.  The summer before I went to college my parents took our family on a vacation to the Maritimes.  In my 20's I lived in upstate New York for a summer and visited Montreal and Quebec City.  Since living in Seattle, I've had many trips to B.C. including an amazing trip through the Canadian Rockies and a little race called Ironman Canada.  There is one consistent theme to all of these places:  everything is better in Canada.  That's a catchphrase that Jeff and I have been trading back and forth ever since that first trip to Montreal in 1997.  Seriously, it's like all of the best parts of the United States (natural beauty, diverse population, good infrastructure, progressive government) without the bad parts (crime, racism, Donald Trump).

This weekend was the first time we used our Nexus cards to cross the border.  We got them this time last year (our interview was en route to Vancouver for last year's race).  In the interview, Jeff was asked why we'd bother getting the cards if we only crossed the border once a year.  We keep laughing about that.  The process of getting the cards couldn't have taken more than 2 hours and $50 each.  This weekend alone we saved at least 2 hours sitting at the border, and we've been able to use the clearance for TSA pre-check at the airport, which has saved us at least another couple of hours at the airport in the two times we flew this year.  So, one year in and we've already more than broken even.

We stopped for lunch in Richmond on Saturday, the town just south of Vancouver.  We found a noodle house (rainy day calls for soup) and we were not only the only white people, I think we were the only ones not speaking Chinese.  It felt like being in a foreign county, and then I realized that we were in a foreign county - a foreign county where the national languages are English and French...  A bowl of ramen and an order of beef tendon and gai lan hit the spot.

Everything in Vancouver was dressed up in red to celebrate both the Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day.  Even our race shirts and medals had red hearts on them to commemorate the holiday run.  We didn't have time to do much sightseeing, but did take advantage of the exchange rate to stock up on lots of tea (a tea shop was a haven after sloshing around town).

The run itself was very wet.  One might think that this is often the case for a run that happens mid-February in the Pacific Northwest, but it's extremely rare.  For some reason we almost always get dry and lovely weather.  Not this year.  It wasn't extreme and for most of us on the course it was just another rainy long run.  The beginning of the course is a 1-mile loop that takes us around B.C. place which gives the crowd a chance to thin out before hitting the running trail that takes us to and around Stanley Park.  This year I heard music blasting - not unusual for a run.  What was, however, unusual was the fact that it was blaring out of a police car.  I've seen lots of cops on race course and heard lots of music on race courses.  Never have I heard music coming from the cop car.

Post race we checked out the New Year's parade in Chinatown.  Unfortunately, due to the rain, it was hard to see much through the bumbershoots and we quickly became tired of walking around in the rain on tired legs dodging the umbrellas.  We did get a kick out of some of those marching in the parade.  I'm guessing that only in Canada would there be a group of highland bagpipers, kilts and all, marching in a Chinese New Year parade.  On our way back to our car we spotted a market selling take-out dim sum and lunch was managed:  selections of salads (including ones with pig's ear and octupus) and dumplings were a most excellent post-race lunch.
Lions wearing Showercaps

So long, Canada!  I hope to see you again soon!