Walking Paris

 I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower in person.  Something about those big city landmarks speak to me and I’ve been lucky enough to live by three of the best-NYC’s Flatiron Building, Seattle’s Space Needle and Shanghai’s Pearl Tower.  On the way to Lisbon today, we got to live my dream and turned a long layover into an adventure in Paris.

Finally here in Paris!

“Think Amazing Race!” I told Thom as we raced through Charles De Gaulle airport.  We had limited hours to navigate through CDG airport in Paris, go through customs, find the RER train and make it to the city with enough time to explore.  Customs was a breeze as the French don’t chit chat like the engaging Brits who want to know every last detail of your trip.  Our security guy didn’t even say hello, which I was perfectly fine with as the line moved quickly indeed with no pleasantries unlike at Heathrow where chattiness caused 90 minute delays in processing.

Following the signs through the huge airport, we made one wrong turn that required retracing of steps (good for the Fitbit!) and sorting out which platform to aim for after a serious wait in line at the ticket machine.  Not cheap-20 euros each for a round trip to/from city, but riding the train allows for a glimpse into Paris not found gazing from a bus or taxi.  Behaving more like a locale got us into the city (with only one transfer required) in about an hour.  Not bad!

As we got off at the Eiffel stop, we ran up the stairs and looked around the leafy streets but no Tower in sight.  Where in the world is the Eiffel Tower???  Crossing the street to the River Sienne, we looked  up and to our right and THERE IT WAS looming over us and only a block away.  The Eiffel Tower in all its glory was just gorgeous.  Did I mention there wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky?  With no time to go up or even walk all the way around it, we walked into a park next to the Tower where school groups played next to heavily armed guards patrolling to keep us safe.    

After taking many photos, we found the nearest facilities (pay to pee here too just like London so have .50 euros handy) and then we took off walking by the river.  What a glorious day!  The wide paths easily accommodate both bikers, joggers and strollers.  The plentiful bridges and boats on the river add ambience galore.  While there were many cafes along the path, they had just opened for the day and weren’t busy yet.  I can only imagine how beautiful it is at night to walk along the river and see the historic buildings lit up.  Another time perhaps.

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Paris, like Seattle and London, has a huge ferris wheel by the river to entice tourists.  Like no other city I’ve been to before, though, stalls line the river path, selling vintage books, newspapers and magazines.  Oh how I wish we had time to sit in a café, sip espresso, eat pastries and read a good book.  Heaven.

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But time was wasting and Portugal was waiting.  So, 5 miles and 2 hours later, we had walked along the river from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame Cathedral and, as luck would have it, caught the express train to the airport so we made our flight with a little time to spare.  We promised each other that we would come back to Paris and explore the narrow alleys filled with quaint cafes.  Soon.

Walking ALL over Vancouver, BC

Now, I’ve been to Vancouver many times but mostly for business reasons.  BORING!  This past weekend, I got to go for fun with Thom and my best friend Patti and her husband Larry.  Got to hand it to Patti and Larry-they have faithfully visited us everywhere from NYC to China to Seattle.  So now it was time to add Canada to our list!  After enjoying the Amtrak up to Vancouver, we had a blast, though I did walk too fast and too far for my friends.  Sorry Patti!!!  I actually got up early Saturday to walk 3 miles by myself around the waterfront (sunrise!) and burn off some energy so I would walk slower the rest of the day.  I don’t realize how fast I walk because Thom is just as bad until I get around folks who don’t get a chance to walk as much as I do.  Let’s face it, most people drive everywhere they need to go especially if they live in the country.  I’m an urban chick and my idea of a good day is being able to walk 10 miles.  Crazy!!!

Enjoying the free garden in Chinatown
Enjoying the free garden in Chinatown
Gorgeous Vancouver waterfront!
Gorgeous Vancouver waterfront!

Now, I have never dug into the history of Vancouver but now I can say with authority that this is a city built-in a very similar manner as Seattle and San Francisco-natural resources and a wild, wild west attitude.  After seeing great reviews on TripAdvisor, I signed us up for two free walking tours-one each day-for Gastown and Chinatown.  Now, you may say that you get what you pay for so why go on a free tour???  I thought the same but so glad we went because Ali and Leni, our guides, were both enthusiastic and knew their stuff.  They entertained us with stories and a well thought out walking tour designed to make the history of Vancouver come to life.  This is their job (or at least one of them-they are not getting rich working for tips) but they ask that, if you liked the tour, you give them something for their delightful storytelling and expertise.  Check them out if you are in Vancouver:  http://www.tourguys.ca.

Patti and Larry enjoying Leni's stories on the walking tour of Gastown
Patti and Larry enjoying Leni’s stories on the walking tour of Gastown

After our Chinatown tour, we headed straight to the best rated (Yelp!) restaurant in the transitioning Chinatown area.  Now, the Chinese residents are moving out as they can afford to so this Chinatown is not a vibrant area but with it’s seafood and produce markets, it did remind me of our home in Shanghai.  I miss it so much!  Lots of raw fish, baskets of dried seafood and veggies.  So pungent smelling!

New Town Bakery feast in Chinatown
New Town Bakery feast in Chinatown

We went to the New Town Bakery and indulged in egg tarts, potstickers and yummy dishes galore.  We met a lovely lady from Perth, Australia on our tour who was in town on a grant from her city job to tour the world and study best practices in urban planning and invited her along to lunch.  Of course, now Thom is hooking her up with his contacts in NYC to help her out.  So nice to help other world travelers!

The Gastown tour ended thankfully right next to my favorite place to eat in Vancouver-the Water St. Café.  Seriously, every time I go there I eat the salmon risotto and this trip was no exception.  Patti tried it too and literally licked the plate.  So creamy, so delicious!

Water Street Café--salmon risotto so good Patti licked the plate!
Water Street Café–salmon risotto so good Patti licked the plate!

The whole Yaletown and Gastown areas are filled with restaurants and interesting shops as well as being historic.  Of course, Thom found a few vinyl stores and had to shop for his ever-expanding collection.  With a new Nordstrom’s and their local chain, Roots, everywhere, it was hard NOT to spend money.  With a good exchange rate, I wish I had brought more luggage more to carry home Canadian treasures.  Oh well, next time!  Only a few hours drive from Seattle, I’ll be back soon!

The markets in Chinatown reminded me of home in Shanghai
The markets in Chinatown reminded me of home in Shanghai
Thom found LOTS of vinyl stores in Vancouver
Thom found LOTS of vinyl stores in Vancouver

The Cocktail Quest Continues…

Ask a bartender for their appletini recipe and you will quickly find out that everyone has their very own special way to make it.  What the hell???  You’d think a simple cocktail like that would be pretty standard from place to place.  After intensive research (someone has to do it!) I got quite the list of varied ingredients and suggestions on how to make the perfect appletini.  Please let me share.

On our first stop, the Templeton diner that was recommended on Yelp as having “character” certainly did as it was in the rough section of Vancouver next to a TripleXXX peep show establishment.  Most tourists would run the opposite way if they found themselves in this type of neighborhood in a foreign country.  Not us-we embraced it and took photos!  Now, a diner known for burgers and milkshakes might not be the best place to try out appletini’s but, you betcha, we did just that.  Nothing goes better with a plate of poutine than an appletini!

Our lovely waitress shared her unique recipe—vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice.  Crazy tasty!  Paired with plates of poutine and salads/burgers plus milkshakes for the boys, we had quite the feast and laughed ourselves silly over our choice of fine dining experiences the first night in Vancouver.  We know how to have a good time-pick a shabby diner next to a peep show with a jukebox and liquor.

After our walking tour of Gastown the next day, we were starving and conveniently close by my favorite restaurant in Vancouver-the Water Street Café.  Quite the opposite atmosphere from the prior night’s diner, this café had the white table cloth vibe going on and was in a historic gorgeous building.  I had been there multiple times when in town on business and always get the same thing-salmon risotto.  So delicious but how would their appletini’s taste???

Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!
Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!

Another lovely waitress shared her bartender’s ingredients—vodka, apple sour puss liquor, simple syrup and a drop of lime juice.  Now, I’ve never made simple syrup but she suggested a 1/3 raw sugar to 2/3 hot water formula.  Even with the syrup, the appletini’s we were tasting were still not as sweet as the ones in Shanghai.  The quest for the perfect appletini continued later that day at our hotel because having an appletini at lunch just wasn’t enough.

Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown
Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown

The bartender at the Marriott Pinnacle was most accommodating to talk us through his appletini creation that included vodka, pineapple juice and fresh lime topped with a slice of apple.  Now, he very quietly told us that he prefers apple juice to pineapple juice but the Marriott chain forces him to use pineapple-how dare they stifle his cocktail creativity!  He also suggested we could use agave to sweeten it up if we preferred.  When I asked him why the appletinis in Shanghai were so very green instead of the light green we were seeing at his bar, he suggested that perhaps they used a tamarin syrup with agave muddled together to “green it up” a little.  I appreciated his honesty and sharing of tips.

Now, all appletinis are good (just as there is no bad wine or pie) but the quest must now continue in Seattle.  I hear that Canon on Capitol Hill was named the 6th best bar in the world.  Who knew???  I MUST check it out.  Also dying to run to the liquor store in the U.S. to see if they have Sour Puss in stock or if that is just a Canadian odd liquor….l’ll be looking for that black mean ass kitty on the bottle and then I’ll know I have the right stuff!

Finally made it to Granville Island, Vancouver, BC!

As many times as I’ve been to Vancouver, I’ve just never made time to visit Granville Island, one of the top tourist attractions here.  Yesterday, I finally made it!  After researching the water taxi situation, we made our way to Yaletown and caught the water taxi, a cute little boat that holds about 10 people comfortably.  After a quick 10 minute ride across the water, we hopped off ($7.50 each round trip) and immediately immersed ourselves into the market.  WOW-what amazing fruit including a long dark purple grape thing I had never seen before.

Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen
Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen

We meandered around looking at exotic spices, breads, meats, pasta, etc.  If I lived in Vancouver, I would shop here all the time!  While there are a lot of touristy shops, we were able to get away from the main drag and enjoyed looking through the handmade broom store.  Whether you’re riding one (no, not ME, Thom!) or sweeping away the cobwebs, they make a broom for every need and they were just beautiful.

Handmade brooms for every need!
Handmade brooms for every need!

Next stop was the glassblowing shop where we enjoyed seeing the young gent blowing a colorful glass cup that unfortunately slipped off.  To say he uttered a few bad words under his breath is an understatement but he was resolute and announced to those watching, “It happens.”  DAMN that glass is expensive in the shop but when you see how long it takes to make it, you do understand the pricing.

Glassblowing to make lovely treasures
Glassblowing to make lovely treasures

After that, we were tired and needed a drink but the distillery was packed so we decided to find the diner I had seen on Yelp with it’s magnificent milkshakes and burgers.  Unfortunately, we found out that the diner was on Granville STREET not Granville Island so we took the ferry, walked awhile and finally found it in the gritty part of downtown Vancouver–right next to the TripleXXX Peep show.  We only take our friends Patti and Larry to the best places!  Actually, the Templeton diner had good food and we were able to introduce Larry to poutine.  YUM!  Of course, when Larry thought we said another word similar to poutine, we almost spit out our drinks.  Correcting him and cautioning him to NOT use that word again in public, we proceeded to enjoy those fries covered in white cheese and thick rich gravy along with our eclectic mix of salads, hamburgers, coconut chicken strips with chili sauce, and Portobello mushroom sandwich plus, of course, candy appletinis for Patti and I and milkshakes for the boys.  WP_20151002_18_15_39_Pro

Interestingly, they make their appletinis with vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice and they were delicious, served to us in wine glasses because all their martini glasses were broken.  Enjoying the jukebox and good company, we had an excellent first day in Vancouver!  Today we are taking a walking tour of Gastown and tomorrow we will explore Chinatown.  Looking forward to a relaxing foot massage if we can find a place!

Cocktails anyone?

I have succumbed to the cocktail craze!  When thinking of a new hobby, I had to consider the time it will take, the cost and whether I have a true passion for it…considered and DONE!  So, cocktails it is for my new hobby!  I love my red wine but it’s time to diversify.  Mock me for being a sheep by following the latest hot trend but I will be one happy camper when I’m sipping my homemade appletinis while I gaze out at Elliott Bay.

To start, though, you absolutely MUST have a cocktail cart with all the right tools to mix a masterpiece.  We switched our former turntable cart and then, being the thrifty shopper that I am, I hit up the local Goodwill store where all the Amazonians donate their barware that they no longer need.  I was able to find awesome unique martini glasses ($1.99), an ice bucket ($4.99), shaker ($4.99) and little Pig olive picks ($1.99) to outfit my cart.  Add in the necessary cocktail book found at the used bookstore for $9.99 so I know how to mix up a great martini and I’m on my way.

 

Tricked out cocktail cart!
Tricked out cocktail cart!

Next, I hit up the World Market in downtown Seattle, one of my favorite stores.  There I got classic cocktail napkins, a jigger, a strainer, a muddler (mojitos!) and stirring spoon to complete my cocktail bar.  They also had these teeny tiny liquor bottles I couldn’t resist–having a hard day at work?  Hit up the little Kahlua or Chambord for a taste!  I still have the little Irish Whiskey bottle I smuggled out of China that we got at the Irish Ball.  Good times in Shanghai!  But, I needed BIG bottles of liquor for my cocktails so I got to visit the local liquor store in Lower Queen Anne for the first time and find the makings for a good appletini.

WOW-hard liquor costs a lot of $$$!  I needed apple schnapps, melon liquor and vodka according to my cocktail book recipe-total cost $65, more than all my bar cart items combined.  But, after mixing my first cocktail for my visiting friends, Patti and Larry, I realized that a little liquor goes a LONG way!  I kept trying to make the appletini less potent but, in the end, just one drink knocked us on our butts.  We are such lightweights!  I followed my cocktail bar recipe but it sure didn’t taste as sweet as the ones we had in the bars of Shanghai.  God only knows what they put into them but DAMN they were tasty!

We’re off to Vancouver, Canada for a long weekend trip.  Patti and I will have to get a bartender there to share his appletini secrets with us so I can come back and mix one last cocktail before Patti and Larry head home to Indiana.  I think to make the winter months more interesting in dreary, wet Seattle, I might challenge myself to a try a different cocktail every weekend.  Now that’s the kind of challenge I can write about!

2 Days, 20,000 steps and 1 Cougar

Holy. Crap.  Yep, I just noticed I am totally and utterly alone in a forest in Canada with not a soul in sight and this sign comes into view, like someone quickly attached it to a post and ran away… Wildcat spotted in area.  Love the pictures to show you the differences between cougars, bobcats and kitties–duh!  If you are that stupid and need a pictorial of the differences between a cougar and a cat, you deserve to get f&*king chewed on like a kibble.  Just saying….

See Cougar Sign..See Melinda Run...Fast
See Cougar Sign..See Melinda Run…Fast

Looking around and, again, seeing nothing but trees, trees and more underbrush where that damn cougar could be hiding, I channeled my inner Hunger Games heroine and picked up an insubstantial branch to defend myself with and took off as fast as possible.  Deep in the forest by a lake in Burnaby, this was my “peaceful” stroll to get in my 10,000 needed steps to make my new Fitbit animate, aka it rattles on my wrist when I hit my goal.  Happy times staying fit and alive.  Eventually, I ran out of the forest into suburbia and found my way back to the hotel in one piece, feeling fit to live another day and vowing to stick to the urban jungle from now on instead of the actual jungle.  The kicker was that my Fitbit wasn’t working right so it didn’t even record my steps including the long climb back up the hill to home.  DAMN!  My calves are aching and telling me I hit that 10,000 step goal so we’ll just go with that unofficial count and charge it up for tomorrow.

Lost in the forest and never finding the lake, running away from a possible cougar...that was my peaceful walk
Lost in the forest and never finding the lake, running away from a possible cougar…that was my peaceful walk

I got my Fitbit for Mother’s Day and am enjoying challenging myself to get out and get walking even more than usual.  Especially when I’m on the road working, it will get me out of the hotel in the evening and onto the streets.  Last night when I got into Vancouver, BC, I immediately took off on the skytrain from Burnaby where I’m staying to downtown Vancouver.  Only taking 20 minutes, it beat driving in traffic.  After a lengthy wait to get through customs due to Victoria Day traffic, I was done with driving.  I wandered through Gastown and enjoyed people watching.  Lots of buskers playing their songs and people eating outside enjoying the warm weather.  I finally settled in at the Water St. café and enjoyed amazing salmon risotto.  Seriously, I almost licked the plate–crazy American that I am.

Salmon risotto rand BC local wine...how Canadian of me
Salmon risotto and BC local wine…how Canadian of me

Washed down with local wine, I was happy, happy to walk back to the skytrain and join the crowds returning home.  Arriving back at the hotel with the Fitbit working, it synced and told me I had about 100 steps left to goal.  Did I run in place and rack up those last few steps???  Oh yeah-BAM!  2 days and 20,000 steps and feeling good… my Type A personality likes hitting goals and my body likes the workout.  Win-Win!

Life on the Road is a Challenge to Enjoy

In my new jobs, instead of having a grand time taking the bullet train around China with Thom by my side, I’m flying to exciting places like Durham, NC.  Not to malign Durham, I just am having a difficult time embracing new places and finding joy in travelling.  Just coming off a week in San Antonio and leaving on Monday for a trip to Vancouver, BC, I’m reevaluating whether I enjoy this life of business travel on the road.  My peer who doesn’t get to travel said he envied me–seeing new places, racking up frequent flier points, enjoying an expense account eating out, etc.  Except that I don’t.  Well, eat out at least and most often I don’t see anything other than the office instead of sightseeing in the hour a day I’m not working hard.

My typical food budget is maybe grabbing a free bite at the breakfast buffet at the hotel, a Cliff bar/apple that I pick up at a grocery store when I first arrive and work while I send out my trainees to enjoy lunch and I catch up on my work.  Dinner is usually some awful crap from the hotel snack bar because I really don’t enjoy going out to eat by myself.  I know I SHOULD research where I’m working and go out every night to a wonderful new “foodie” experience.  Damn.  I SHOULD seek out the local landmarks and spend at least one hour a day exploring new places.  If Thom was with me, no problem.  Alone, BIG problem-it’s just not fun by myself.

The River Walk is charming and quite long, making for a nice walk up and down while dodging tourists and drunk convention folk.
The River Walk is charming and quite long, making for a nice walk up and down while dodging tourists and drunk convention folk.

I tried this week when I was in San Antonio and, after a really bad day, forced myself to check out the Alamo and River Walk downtown experience.  It was cool and I was glad I forced myself out of the hotel on the one night it didn’t rain.  People were in boats drinking and having a good old time on the canal.

Selfie at the Alamo, which is right downtown San Antonio by the River Walk
Selfie at the Alamo, which is right downtown San Antonio by the River Walk

Me not so much but I sat by the water and ate hot food prepared that day which was a nice change from the cold pizza leftover from lunch that was my dinner the previous night.  I got some exercise walking vs. sitting in bed watching reality shows so felt much healthier, though I didn’t achieve my 10,000 steps that my new Fitbit wants me to achieve daily.

So, new challenges for me on my work trip to Vancouver–eat hot and healthy food daily, get out and walk my 10,000 steps for my Fitbit to be happy, and find at least one landmark or “hot” restaurant and go at least for one hour.  The day will come soon when I stop travelling for work and I’ll probably miss it.  So, for now, it’s time to get off my workaholic butt and grab a few moments of personal time during my work travels.  Oh, and look forward to those times (mainly Manhattan) when Thom can join me and together we’ll take our usual walkabout adventures.  Now, that’s the life!

Beautiful carriages straight out of Cinderella, all lit up at night, are all over downtown San Antonio.
Beautiful carriages straight out of Cinderella, all lit up at night, are all over downtown San Antonio.