Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Train Trip 2008, Day 1: Saturday, 12 April 2008

The day of my departure was Seattle’s sunniest day of the year so far. Mr. Thel drove me to Seattle’s King Street Station (a moody, wintry photo of which had graced the cover of the Amtrak timetable I’d been poring through for the last six months). He sat with me until the train began to board around 7:30 a.m. I found myself getting anxious: not panicky, just suddenly emotional about being apart from my husband for three weeks. We haven’t been apart for that long since we first got together six years ago, after all.

Despite my anxiety, I felt as excited as a little girl on the first day of school as I lined up and shuffled out to the boarding platform. As I exited the station, I looked back to exchange one last cheery wave and blow kisses with Mr. Thel, and set out toward Amtrak’s Cascades train. I had deliberately packed everything into a set of two bags, a suitcase and a backpack which could be combined into one hefty article, so that I would never have to check any baggage and could hop on and off the train without delay. The Cascades is a one-level commuter-type train; I slid my suitcase into a luggage rack at the end of the car and found my assigned window seat on the east side of the train.

We smoothly glided away from the station at 7:40 a.m., exactly on time. As we slid through Seattle and up along the water, I kept wanting to narrate to anyone listening about what we were passing. I was well aware that these would be my last moments of familiarity for three weeks: the Magnolia Bridge, Kiwanis Ravine, the Ballard Locks. Pulling out of the city along the water on that gorgeous morning made me preemptively homesick. Joggers swarmed in Myrtle Edwards Park and Golden Gardens, the Olympic Mountains gleaming brightly across Puget Sound. The hazy gradation of blues westward made me wish I’d postponed the trip a day to enjoy it: the dark, bright water below the hazy blue of the trees on the islands; then the faraway blue of the Olympics and the pale blue of the morning sky. The lovely views of the morning made me speculate a bit smugly to myself that this particular route would be hard to top for beauty.

The train crossed the Canadian border at 10:20, just over two and a half hours from Seattle. The Canadian town of White Rock, barely north of the border, has an adorable waterfront street next to the train tracks, with shops and restaurants and parks, full of people already out picnicking in the sunshine. I spotted a bald eagle just south of town; I’d already seen a blue heron near Everett earlier that morning.

It was about another hour and a half before we arrived in Vancouver, B.C. I got through customs after being asked extensive questions about my itinerary by the female Canadian customs agent. She even wanted to see my reservation for my single night in Toronto later in the week. It was a very short walk from the station across the street to the SkyTrain, which took me into downtown Vancouver for an exchange to a bus to the South Granville neighborhood. A friend’s family keeps an apartment there; they were out of town for the weekend, but they had set me up with a key to stay for Saturday night.

I was truly impressed by the 98 express bus from downtown to their neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s what they’re calling “Bus Rapid Transit” in Seattle, but it was a route with fairly limited stops, and a bus came along at least every 15 minutes throughout the day. It made getting around much less stressful and troublesome. In Vancouver you can also use a credit card to purchase a bus ticket at certain stations, which was very convenient as well.

After finding the apartment and unloading my bags with a sense of accomplishment at having successfully navigated the first of several new-to-me public transportation systems, I went right back downtown to enjoy the afternoon. My friend had given me a pass to the Vancouver Art Gallery, so I went there and spent some time in their exhibit on trees in art. There was one piece, a film loop, displayed alone in a dark room--trees rotating around the viewer with a mix of natural and industrial noise as the soundtrack. I watched it all the way through once or twice. A woman who had just entered turned around and came right back out behind me as I moved on. Unprompted, as we exited she said, “Trees scare me!”

A headache made me head back to the apartment for a nap, after first having some disappointing Chinese food from the restaurant on the corner. There was an extremely inebriated man at the restaurant hassling the waiter. First he was appalled that he was too early to order something for delivery, and tried to convince the waiter that the time was an hour later than it was. Then he got belligerent: “Do you know how to cook?” he demanded. When the waiter affirmed that he could cook, the man persisted, “But do you really know how, or do you just think you do?”

Refreshed and pain-free after a nap at the apartment, I embarked on a walk down to Granville Island and up above the wall along False Creek out to Vanier park. The brisk salt air and the bright setting sun made it a lovely long stroll. Plenty of people were out enjoying the evening along the water on foot and by bicycle, but as I looped back uphill toward the apartment, I was more or less on my own through some quiet neighborhoods. Realizing that sunset was imminent, and not really wanting to end up wandering alone in the dark in unfamiliar areas, I increased my pace, arriving “home” just as the dusk began to deepen, around 8 p.m. I stopped at the corner store just long enough to buy some chocolate milk, went back to the apartment, watched part of a movie on TV, and went to bed.