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!

Eating in Amsterdam

I am probably not the best authority to write about the cuisine in Amsterdam but I will give it a shot.  Thom and I have very simple tastes and are very happy eating a picnic on the train and don’t frequent fine dining establishments.  Foodies we are not!  As I think back on the best food I ate on our trip, the cheese with basil and dried tomato stands out as does the hot, buttery sugary poffertjes  and waffles from the markets.  Yum! I do like my dairy and sweets.

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!
Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

That being said, if you have finer taste buds (and most do) there is a wide variety of restaurants for everyone’s taste in all the places we visited.  As always, ask your concierge at the hotel for recommendations on their favorites.  Here are some other observations:

Coffee–Screaming Bean (in several locations) delivers the best cappuccino in Amsterdam and maybe the world.  Thick and creamy foam tops a rich smooth coffee underneath.  Super friendly folks serving in a quaint coffee shop make it a must try when you are here.  Many thanks to my friend, Kurt, for recommending to us.

Screaming Bean cappuccino... so rich and delicious!
Screaming Bean cappuccino… so rich and delicious!

Grocery–There aren’t many groceries and practically no competition in the city but Albert Haijn does have whatever you need for a first-rate picnic for the park or train or hotel room.  Also a good place to buy chocolate for the perfect souvenir to take home.  We got some awesome salads to go one night for a quick, cheap diner (under $10 euros for 2 people).   I also saw some Aldi Food markets but didn’t go in to check them out.  I also found a smaller Mqkt chain that had a cheese to die for–basil and dried tomato–that pared well with salami and pears and raisin bread.  Perfect picnic!

We didn’t eat out many times but did stop at one German restaurant that promised authentic cuisine.  Thom proceeded to have weinerschneitzel and fries.  Initially, he said he didn’t want ketchup or mayo but decided he needed some mayo.  Now, based on the waiter’s prior attitude and the steep stairs he had to climb to get to the kitchen on the floor above, I knew this would not go over well and it didn’t.  “You said you didn’t want any!” the waiter growled at Thom.  “Yes, but I changed my mind.  Okay?”  Grudgingly, ten minutes later Thom finally got his mayo and felt compelled to eat it fearing retribution from the waiter if he did not.  Were we in Paris???

Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!
Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!

I got the brandy-soaked raisin pancake that filled a plate and paired nicely with a Merlot.  Yep-when in the Netherlands, drink with your breakfast-type food.  Every bite was enjoyed.  No butter or syrup was offered and I was afraid to ask the testy waiter.  They are tight with the butter here.  At our great breakfast at the Andaz, when you ask for toast, you get barely warm bread, no butter.  Today, I asked specifically for “crispy” bacon and got the limpest fatty slice of meat you would ever want to see.  Really????  Crispy means fry that sucker!  Same with eggs, unfortunately.  I remember also having this issue in China and having to keep asking for “hard scramble” several times to get barely done eggs.  Oh well-first world, five star hotel issues I guess.

We don’t go for fancy restaurants but we walked by many in Amsterdam including one, MoMo in the area near the museums.  Swanky!  There are many white-table cloth type places as well as many beer halls with outside seating and lounge seats and heaters for the cool nights-even blankets at some places.  You can find all types of ethnic food easily too.  Lots of Argentine steak houses along side the pancake houses.  We even found a place today, Bagels & Beans, that is a chain around town and has great bagels served with the largest pile of cream cheese that you could ever eat.

So, whatever you like to eat, you can probably find it in Amsterdam.  Happy eating!

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!

Fox Not Donkey??…Strange Meat, Shanghai Style

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Shanghai Daily posted this week that fox meat was substituted for donkey meat at Wal-Mart and the customer was so upset that they demanded compensation.  That is SO messed up on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin but let’s start with the fact that Wal-Mart sells donkey meat.  WTF!  The article stated that fox meat costs less than donkey meat though, which was a real problem for the customer because he was being cheated and, oh, it didn’t taste as good-you think?  How about the real problem is that both donkey and fox meat are sold here to the masses at Wal-Mart, which is revolting and gag-worthy and really something I wish I didn’t know.  Damn, I hate that I read and am too informed at times.   But, there it is, and who am I to judge but now I have yet another reason not to ever meat in China or shop at Wal-Mart, not that I ever did.  And you would think it couldn’t get worse than the donkey vs. fox meat debate, when it does because, after all, THIS IS CRAZY & WONDERFUL CHINA!  BTW, here is the link to the story for more details if your stomach can stand it:  http://www.shanghaidaily.com/national/Fox-flesh-found-in-donkey-meat-package-at-WalMart-store/shdaily.shtml

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HEARTS & HOOVES ANYONE?

The ordinary vendors selling meat in their tiny Street shops seems normal to me as I pass it every day on my way to the subway.  But yesterday, I saw vendors selling hot barbequed hearts and cloven hooves in the alleys of the ancient town of Zhujiajiao. YUM!  Doesn’t everything taste good with barbeque sauce?

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DECK THE HALL WITH MEATS & ORGANS, FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!

Then, I saw something strung up between the trees by the charming (albeit polluted) canal in the”Venice of China” water town we were visiting.   Thinking, oh how festive, they have strung Christmas lights, I found upon closer inspection that it was instead a chain of mystery meat sausages and other raw meat festively dangling and attracting flies. DOUBLE YUM AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Movies & Fruit & Pastries, Oh My, Movie Night in Shanghai!

moviesWe don’t have to stray far from our Pudong apartment to find everything you could ever want for a cold winter night…fresh fruit being sold on the corner, bakery treats, wine and the latest DVD’s.

Tonight, we’re still recovering from being up pretty much all last night watching our daughter Hannah graduate college live in Boise, Idaho at 3 a.m. our time.  While I can’t wait to show my son, James, who is visiting over college break, all of Shanghai, tonight the family was just intent on hunkering down to rest and cocoon.

I had heard all about being able to find the latest dvd’s in China.  Being very sensitive to not buying “pirated” stuff prior to coming to China, you soon realize that this is the culture and the only way to get current movies is to buy what is available, which includes being able to buy movies like Gravity that are still in the theaters and not released yet, well except in the store on my block.  I thought the quality might not be good but they are perfect and cost about $2 per movie to buy.  Movie night marathon!

 

Then, it was off to buy movie night food.  The abundance of fruit in Shanghai still amazes me. There are fruit stands on every block all over town.  I have now made friends with the fruit vendor on our corner who sells out of his van.  Last night, wanting to buy an assortment of what he had to offer from blueberries to rainier cherries to oranges and more, I was unable to negotiate a fair price so I walked away empty handed and instead went to the bakery to stock up on treats like red bean buns, coconut milk bread and iced airy cakes.  Stepping out with my bag loaded with carbs, the fruit vendor and I began our negotiations anew and I ended up with a huge bag filled for 50RMB.  I still probably paid A LOT more than the locals do but it seemed fair to me.  That is until I saw him tonight and he immediately smiled and handed me two free bananas.  Okay, now I know for sure he feels guilty for charging me too much but who doesn’t love free bananas! fruit

 

Now, it’s back to cozy up on the couch and watch some shows while munching on fruit and pastries with a little wine to wash it all down.  Heaven!  Tomorrow we’ll be all rested up and off we will go to show James all the wonderful sights of Shanghai.  I think a trip to Tianzifang Alley might be in order as well as Fuxing Park, my favorites to wander through on a Sunday.  We’ve never been to Cool Docks so we might have to go there as well.  So much to see & do in Shanghai!

 

 

Caffeine Culture in Shanghai

I can’t believe we were ever worried about finding great coffee in Shanghai.  Not only is there a Starbucks on every corner in a pinch but also Costa Coffee, Coffee Bean, Gloria Jean’s, etc. plus some serious boutique coffee places all over town that we have been sampling recently-who knew?

Xintiandi coffee 1

Conveniently located by my office in Xintiendi, Original Coffee at 276 Ma dang Road is kicking up some major caffeine with their Victoria Anduro Expresso machine.  They have a seriously friendly staff and a loyalty card-buy 6 get 1 free.  Naturally, I have already earned a free beverage!  The open air coffee bar was packed yesterday at 3 p.m. when I showed an office mate from Australia where it was for an afternoon  pick me up.  Creamy and smooth, the Americano was just the ticket to keep me going the rest of the day.  Now, if they only opened up before 8 a.m.!  Situated between my subway line and the office, I now time my arrival each day so that they are open by the time I walk by.  Yep, I’m not addicted or anything to the bean…

Xintiandi coffee 3

 

 

 

Tucked away in a street full of bars, there is a tiny café known for it’s fresh roasted beans so we had to check out Café de Volcan at 80 Yongkang Road in the former French Concession area.

True to their publicity, the coffee was amazing.  Offered the usual ways plus as pour over and french press, it had a high caffeine content and then some.  Using a fancy machine from Seattle and giving little cookie bites with each cup, the brick walls and wood floors created a cozy feel to enjoy the brew.  It felt so much like Seattle, especially when one patron walked in with her dog–you don’t see that much here in Shanghai.

Dianna, our barista, told me that Shanghai citizens are learning more about the coffee culture and appreciating the good beans they roast, grind and serve.  One South African customer told us that he had enjoyed coffee around the world as he travelled and really appreciated this place.  Me too!

coffee 1

I think we’ve found our new coffee “home away from home” places to absorb the caffeine culture in Shanghai.

Carcasses galore!

>WP_20131031_011 After checking out WalMart and Carrefour this week to get our pantry stocked for our new apartment, I found myself pulling out my phone to capture the display of the most horrendous assortment of mystery meat, heaped and hung for purchase.  OMG-really!  Do people really eat this?  My stomach is churning and burning just thinking about the wall of carcasses that confronted me as I shopped for something to eat that wasn’t staring at me with beady eyes or cloven hooves.

I discovered that both locations, especially WalMart, are for locals and not Lai Wai’s like myself.  No international food, aka Special K, peanut butter, etc. was carried and no dual signing in English/Chinese.  I guessed on some cleaning products based on the pictures and just gave up for the most part finding familiar foods.

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Now you would think that fruit is fruit but there are some crazy varieties in China that I have to investigate.  I also learned that you have to get the produce weighed and tagged in the department or risk the wrath of the cashier upon discovering an unpriced item.  Just as in other situations where you have to line up in China, you learn quickly to shove and push to get a place in line and then hold firm or be shoved to the back quickly by everyone else.  Back in Seattle this week, I was definitely less polite than before due to this indoctrination with crowd behavior.  Oh well!
 

WP_20131031_009But back to the mystery meat topic at hand, there was also a wide variety of seafood swimming in tanks and ready to be killed for dinner.  I’m more comfortable not seeing my dinner alive so this is just not going to work for me.  I just don’t connect with a fish wagging its tail in a tank–those are pets not dinner.  For now, I have no idea what I will be finding to eat but I can guarantee you it won’t be from the wall of carcasses at WalMart!