Northeast by Northwest: How Travel Changes Me

5 min read

On travel

British Columbia in summer

On Eats and Feats: where to eat and what to do

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AVAILABLE ON PODCAST

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Eve Kendall: And, I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started.

Roger Thornhill: Ah.

Eve Kendall: You know what I mean?

Roger Thornhill: Ah, let me think. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. So, read the TreeHouseLetter.

Lines from Alfred Hitchcook 1959 film, North by Northwest, with fourth line ad lib

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I am back from my travels and am thinking about how I’ve changed. That is, how travel and this particular trip changed me.

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ON EATS

Vancouver and Whistler appealed to me because of the coastal mountains, temperate summers, and the food. Plus, with cousins nearby, my family had the inside track on things to do and places to eat, heavy emphasis on EAT. This is my Vietnamese foodie side talking, or writing, as it may be.

We arrived late from Newark and sat down at my cousin’s house to beef bourguignon and homemade bread, before we put our luggage away.

What a welcome!

The next day I ate fresh duck eggs on poutine at OEB in Vancouver. Have you had duck eggs? They are creamier and richer, with more yolk. Anyway, Richmond–located just south–has a population that is 74 percent Asian with every variety of food.

During the trip, we ate Vietnamese pho and spring rolls, Indian curry and palek paneer, Chinese dim sum. With the only white folks in the restaurant at our table, I had to point to foods on the trolley.

Yes! to the taro-pork flaky puff. Yes! to the scallop Shumai dumplings.

Do you have the long noodles with shrimp? I used my hands to define the shape.

The waitress took the covers off the steaming pots and began to fill the table.

You like squid?

Sure!

Tea, Jasmine or Chrysanthemum?

A pot of each, please.

How have I changed? My clothes are tight.

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ON FEATS

My cousin loves to eat and that means she loves to walk and sight-see to earn the calories.

Deception Pass bridge and North Beach with a bit of rain meant getting drenched from above and sideways. In the Pacific Northwest gray and rainy is the norm. You can drive to the pass and visit the San Juan Islands in Washington state, south of the U.S. and Canada border. For Granville Island in Vancouver take the ferry with a stop by Lee’s for a maple-frosted donut, or two. OK three, but I share.

Canada is for maple anything, so why not?

Vancouver Island and Victoria with High Tea at the Empress Hotel followed by a walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, then seafood chowder. Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown boasts that it is the narrowest commercial alley in North America! But not so for the waistline. The purple bun tasted like taro and we could smell the sweet warmth of fresh breads at the Filipino Friends and Family Bake shop.

OK, back to feats. This much sight-seeing means walking around. A LOT. At least five maybe ten miles a day, because we parked the van and hoofed it on foot.

At Suspension Bridge Park I crossed high above the Capilano River into an old-growth forest of western red cedar and Douglas fir. Head in the clouds. Nothing hard, but challenging if you’re afraid of heights. Definitely do the Treetop boardwalk and the Cliffwalk.

In Whistler we soared into the wilderness on some of the longest and fastest and highest ziplines. Like a bird, I flew into the sky above the trees, then shot down along the mountain which seemed barely an arm’s length away.

White-water rafting on the Squamish River in Class III rapids left me drenched and a bit sore in the core from paddling and shifting. The different rapids had names like Steamroller and Devil’s Elbow. I paid attention to the guide hoping to avoid falling in the water:

FORWARD PADDLE!

HOLD ON!

GET DOWN!

It was thrilling and from our raft of seven people, three went into the water, on purpose.

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How have I changed?

Aside from putting on weight, I see my home differently, more clearly, as someone who has gone away and returned.

There’s this whole other place out West, far far from here, the entire width of the continent away.

The coastal waters and white-capped mountains of British Columbia are pristine, remote, and wild, like a Jack London story. The fast-moving creeks and rivers, and the glacial waterways remind me of Alaska–not much farther north along the Inside Passage–and of the fjords in Norway. With wildlife everywhere: eagles, sea lions, and bears.

I love the variety of food and the people look like me! The Asians and Hapas, or half-Asian, who as second or third or later generations have grown tall and western, in manner and dress. They love food as I do! I stood in a line of Asians at the Hello Kitty Cafe. Yes there is such a place! I waited for my hot kitty waffle and watched as the young girl filled it with a swirl of vanilla-strawberry soft serve.

Vancouver is a gateway to the Pacific and Asia in the way that Miami is the gateway to Central America and South America. There’s a melting pot of cultures and people, an openness to others and other ways of doing, being, living.

In my New England town with its WASP-y culture I forget that part of myself and my mother’s rich cultural heritage with its bustling market, noodle shop, and Buddhist temple, the smell of joss sticks at the altar.

Back in the TreeHouse when I recall the dark mountains and blue water along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler, the hills and flat leaves of home seem muted and soft and dense. Alpenglow–or mountain glow–here hits the top of the poplar at sunset, the trunk speckled in leaf shadow.

For my cousins it is just past 4:00 in the afternoon. I can see them walking into Semiahmoo Harbor on a strip of land and stopping to sit near the rusty water tower in the middle of the bay. The sea lions are stretched out on the floating docks.

Tomorrow, three hours after the sun seeps into my bedroom, the sun will rise across my cousin’s harbor, its peach glow lighting her family room through wall-to-wall windows as she sips her coffee.

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The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

St. Augustine

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My cousin and I in Chinatown and on the Capilano Cliffwalk, my son in the cafe and Whistler

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FOOTNOTES

*For travelers interested in British Columbia’s Vancouver and Whistler, bookmark this page. B.C. is Canada’s westernmost province with a population just over 5 million. It is known for its coastal mountains and waterways and is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

Here are links to places mentioned in this letter and others. Lucky you!

The EATS are in and near Vancouver and many of the FEATS are near Whistler, the former urban and the latter wild.

EATS

  • OEB Breakfast Co in Vancouver on Marineside – I ordered Duck Egg Soul in a bowl. If you haven’t had them, duck eggs are on the main here and richer, creamier with higher yolk to white ratio.
  • Tea at the Empress, a Fairmont Hotel in Victoria – High Tea with the classic scones and finger sandwiches and petit fours – try the Lady Londonderry for a dreamy black tea with lemon and floral notes. The fare is pricey but can’t beat the venue if you want to enjoy the setting with others.
  • Continental Seafood Restaurant for the real deal on Dim Sum in Richmond, B.C. EVERYTHING is good. Crazy good so come hungry. They have mega screens everywhere in this huge room and the oddest thing, for us anyway, was the old hockey games playing. I don’t think I saw a person watching the games, so involved in eating they were.
  • Hello Kitty Cafe in Vancouver. YUM — if you’re into cute, sweet and tasty, this is the place. Be ready to wait.
  • Granville Island – get there by Aquabus or other water taxi from Vancouver. It’s fast and easy to get to with lots of shops and eateries. Lee’s Donuts has a line but I timed it well and got right to the front.
  • Fairmont Empress Hotel and Fan Tan Alley in Victoria — get there by ferry and it takes a while. You’ll need to reserve the ferry and plan this as a day trip.
  • Village Books and Paper Dreams in Historic Fairhaven Village near Bellingham. We stopped here on the way back from Deception Pass and the San Juan Islands.

FEATS

  • Capiliano Suspension Bridge Park – I love trees and this made me feel a bit like the vampires in the book and film Twilight when they zip around with their superhuman strength in the Pacific Northwest because sunlight exposes. Here they can hunt and feed in relative obscurity.
  • Decepton Pass Park and San Juan Islands – This is in Washington state in the U.S. You can drive to the islands and we hiked across the pass on the bridge, then down to North Beach and West Beach on Whidbey Island. The bridge was built in 1982 and connects Whidbey Island to Pass Island and to Fidalgo Island. It was rainy and windy on the bridge but the hike was under canopy and we were shielded from much of the rain until we reached the beach. A bit farther on we hiked on West Beach trail to see the ancient 850 year-old Douglas fir.
  • U.S. and Canada Border crossing near Blaine Washington passes by the Peace Arch so make sure you have your passports; it can be fast if you plan your time to avoid peak hours. No fresh produce or weapons! The FEATS were day trips for the most part. Driving to Whistler from Vancouver took a couple hours and we stopped at the copper mine–noted below–and any overlooks. We had good weather and when rainy put on our jackets.
  • Superfly Zipline by Cougar Mountain, Whistler – The seats are comfortable and the breaking system is more sophisticated than other outfitters when I had slapped into trees or had to pull myself in hand-over-hand with gloves. This is not hard in the physical sense, though it’s a challenge for those afraid of heights.
  • Canadian Outback Rafting – we did the Wet and Wild Elaho Exhilirator which follows the Elaho and Squamish Rivers.
  • Fairmont Golf Course in Whistler if you want to see bears. Locals said it was one of the best chances to see them and it did not disappoint. I don’t golf but my family saw a momma and her two cubs on the tenth hole. This is a hard course and you must play 18 holes. The boys ran out of golf balls around then!
  • Britannia Copper Mine tour was great. We didn’t plan to but stopped on the way to Whistler to see what was once the largest copper mine in the world. Tour is 45 min and plan for an hour to see museum. They take you into the mine on a set of cars and demonstrate the drilling and lighting. Then you get to visit the copper mill built onto the mountain side, 20 stories high. The show at the end if awesome to see how the mine used to operate.
  • White Rock Pier and White Rock, B.C. Once home to one of the largest dungeness crab fisheries and currently the longest pier in Canada. There are many ice cream joints but we went to Maya’s with her soft-serve creations. Try anything. We had the Honey Bee and my cousin’s husband loves Tiger Tiger, orange ice cream with black licorice.
  • International Buddhist Temple in Richmond, B.C. This was worth a visit especially because my mother and her Vietnamese family are Buddhist, as is my cousin. This is a magnificent temple modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Jun 12, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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