A Travellerspoint blog

Canada

Vancouver: Part Three

Squamish, Rainy Vancouver, Granville Island and Final Thoughts

overcast 45 °F

I woke up with a craving for donuts. Since I was in Canada, I was in luck, because Canadian donuts are the best. Tim Horton’s is the Canadian donut and coffee franchise that can be found in every province. They make great donuts and good coffee, and that was what we were after. We stopped there and purchased a dozen donuts and some coffee. Before we had driven 3 blocks, the four of us had eaten 11 donuts. They were awesome, and we pigged out, I’m kind of ashamed to say. It was funny at the time, and we greatly enjoyed them.

We were on our way up to Squamish, a town northwest of Vancouver along the coast. None of us really wanted to walk, as we were all still tired from all of the walking we had done the day before, so we figured a leisurely drive along a gorgeous coastline would be just the thing to suit our tired bodies. The drive up along Hwy 99 is beautiful. Chains of islands rose up from the sea, some of them reaching high into the sky forming rugged snow capped mountains. Huge bluffs of white granite towered above the road along the coast wearing a scarf of green pines, and necklaces of white waterfalls dropped from the high country. Azure blue skies, with puffy white cumulous clouds formed our ceiling, and it was “beautiful British Columbia” at its finest.

Hitting a massive sugar low on the way, we all got really sleepy. No wonder, with all the abuse we put our bodies through already today. We stopped at an informational rest area in Squamish, to stretch, figure out a game plan, and hopefully try to get a little energy going. We talked to the lady giving advice on what to do in the area, and she talked us into hiking up to one of the peaks of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. We hadn’t planned on hiking, we didn’t really know what we were going to do when we got there, so we were unprepared for the hike. I had taken a shower that morning and was wearing jeans, which I detest hiking in. I had hiking clothes back in my bag in Vancouver, but they weren’t much help to me there.

The trail was very steep rising along side of a creek, a rushing stream of crystal clear water that dropped down from the high country to the sea. It was very tiring, and it wasn’t long before I was sweating. So much for the shower I took before we left. I didn’t care, I was getting into the hike, taking long strides, and climbing over logs, boulders and stumps. I walked along the trunk of downed trees, balancing my way across, and climbing up boulders for the challenge of it. I was pretty much in my element. The trail finally leveled off on top of the bluff, and we decided to hike to the top of “first peak” one of three peaks that make up the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
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We took a break at an overlook of the valley to the east of the ridge that we were climbing. The far rock wall rose up from the floor of the valley and you could hear the water of the distant creek rushing far below. White peaks of distant mountains peeked at us from behind the green pines of the far valley wall. We rested, drank our water, and had a snack before continuing on. The trail split, and we took the first left heading up first peak. Near the apex of the hike, the top of the bluff forms an immense dome of white granite. The rock is very grippy, and it’s easy to run up it mountain climber style. The rewards of our hard work were the magnificent views of distant snow covered mountains, 2nd and 3rd peaks, the town of Squamish far below, and the beautiful valleys that wind in between the mountain ranges. It was worth it.
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It was very glad to see where the people of Vancouver play. It was nice to step into the woods again, and be back in my element. I like exploring cities and neighborhoods, but I like exploring a region’s natural areas more. The Squamish area was a nice change of pace for me. The people of Vancouver have an awesome playground: mountains, oceans, lakes, forests, and rivers provide the pallet for any outdoor activity you choose to pursue. The seasons in the region also offer a variety of activity. Here in February, it was possible to take a kayak out in the morning and be on the slopes skiing in the afternoon. Vancouver is indeed a gem in the Canadian crown of great places.

On our last day in Vancouver, the amazing weather that we had been enjoying came to an end. It was overcast and gloomy and light rain showers fell intermittently through the day. Knowing it was our last day, we tried to make the best of it, but along with the gloomy weather, we were very fatigued after spending four days hiking around the city and up the mountain near Squamish. You might say our get up and go, had gone up and went. We were also kind of running out of ideas on what we wanted to do. We had seen so much, and had done so much already, that it was anti-climatic. However, we gave it a good shot.
The first place we visited was Wreck Beach, down by the campus of the University of British Columbia. It turns out it is a nude beach, the first I have ever visited. Nobody was out and about, so to speak, and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the shore. I watched song birds foraging in the thick brush and brambles on the steep slope that runs down to the beach. I also used my binoculars to watch a flock of Barrow’s Golden eyes swim around just offshore. The worst part of the beach was the long set of wooden stairs that lead down to the shore. We had to walk up them to get back to the car, and we were all feeling the pain climbing back up.

We went to the Vancouver Maritime Museum. A kindly old gent I met a few days prior gave me two free tickets, and it made sense to use the tickets before we left. The museum was mildly interesting. I enjoyed touring the RCMP Patrol boat and seeing the quarters that the sailors lived in. I liked the pirate exhibit, and playing around in the kids section. If you are really into anything to do with ships, it’s worth a visit. I found the atmosphere kind of heavy, I was tired, and it had the effect of attending a history class in high school right after lunch. It was hard to stay awake. I don’t fault the museum for this, it was simply the circumstances in which I visited. I was tired, the museum was very warm, it smelled of old documents and though I love history, sometimes it can be hard to keep interested. They had perfect conditions to put me to sleep. The museum personnel must have thought I had problems, as every time they looked at me, my face was twisted in a yawn. I thought about crawling in one of the bunks on the ship; I could’ve slept for hours under the disguise of an automated sailor snoring away the journey.
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After the museum we decided to walk back to Granville island. There were still some international houses that had some hope of being something other than a pub. Besides that, I heard good reviews of Tony’s Oyster Café’s clam chowder. We made the long slow walk in the rain to the island. Due to the rain, the crowds weren’t nearly as busy as the first day we had visited. We learned that the Swiss House was a restaurant/pub, and since we didn’t have any other ideas, we stood under an awning and watched a street musician play a lonely set to a miniscule audience. I enjoyed loitering and people watching. I took some photos and enjoyed the subtle, subdued rainy day and the people passing by.
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The chilly wet air got the better of us and we got up to work the chill out of our bones by eating lunch. We ate at Tony’s Oyster House, and had a good lunch. Some of the members of the women’s Russian Curling Team were there. I ate a respectable bowl of clam chowder, and it gave me the strength to carry on for the rest of the day.
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After lunch, we wandered around again and watched a glass blower work his trade through his workshop windows. This was a fascinating experience, and I was mesmerized as he gathered the glass on a steel rod, rolled it, reheated, blew into it to give it some form, rolled it again, reheated it in the super heated oven, blew air into it again and repeated the whole procedure. He gradually formed the ball of molten glass into a perfectly symmetrical solid object and I was impressed.

We watched a crazy alien parade which was cool. Imagine a collection of funky aliens of a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors dancing to the beat of good drummers. They patrolled their way along the streets near the French House making several circles and collecting people to join them as they went. Kids would jump out and dance with them, and the aliens would give them hugs. I liked it. Good costumes, solid drum rhythms and I loved the weirdness of it all. It kind of made my day. Check it out.

So it was an awesome vacation from my vacation. I’m extremely happy that I came to Vancouver, this gem of a city by the sea. I’m glad I got a taste of the Olympic spirit, and I loved the Canadian national pride that was symbolized everywhere using flags, colors, signs and the people of this great country. I liked exploring Vancouver; it’s easy to get around using mass transit. I liked seeing its parks, neighborhoods, and meeting the people. It was fun to eat in the many restaurants Vancouver boasts. The coffee is brewed fresh in coffee houses on every block, and it’s delicious. It was good to see where Vancouver goes to play, up in the high country of British Columbia near Squamish and Whistler. I haven’t been to a lot of cities compared to other people I know, but Vancouver is my favorite. I can’t wait to come back.
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Posted by Rhombus 12:49 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (0)

Vancouver: Part Two

How I Fell In Love With Vancouver

sunny 50 °F

The third day of the trip was the best day of my vacation, and made me want to move to Vancouver. I spent the day in the company of a native Vancouver resident who could show me the city from an insiders viewpoint. I spent 12 hours exploring the city on foot, by ferry, train and bus. Vancouver’s public transportation system is great, and was free of charge for the weekend. Exploring by foot is a terrific way of seeing the city, and it felt like I walked about 22 miles. I was very tired by the end of it, but happy with the day.

For this entry, I want to try a different style of writing. Instead of a time sequence of what I did, I’m going to simply talk about the highlights of the day and areas of the city of Vancouver that I enjoyed.
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Lonsdale Quay is located in North Vancouver and can be reached easiest by taking the sea taxi from Vancouver. A big part of the quay is the public market full of vendors selling food, drink, and other goods. One of my favorite souvenirs to buy from new cities is uncommon fruit that I don’t have a lot of access to in the Midwest. As Vancouver is a major trading port with the far east, they have a great selection of different food stuffs at the local markets. I took advantage of this by purchasing a papaya, which was my first. I climbed the metal spiral staircase to the top of the “Q”, a high vantage point on the patio of the market. I enjoyed listening to the high school band that was playing Benny Goodman swing tunes. Two young boys stood in front of the band and were directing the band with their hands. It was a Kodak moment if I ever saw one. The views from the top of the Q were fabulous. I had a great view of the city, Vancouver harbor, and the mountains to the north. I spied the four-masted Russian sailing vessel “KRUZENSHTERN” parked at a slip across the way. In front of it was a sleek, sophisticated, brilliant white private yacht that made an interesting contrast to the old vessel. It made me think about how the technology of boats has changed.
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Vancouver’s China Town contains a wonderful set of gardens. I found the Dr. Sun Yat-sen classical gardens a very beautiful and peaceful place to visit. A quiet, serene area; a noticeable change of pace to the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver. I stepped into the gardens and things seem to calm down almost immediately. I had walked into a stone square with soft Chinese sitar music being played over the speakers. In the middle of the square were mosaics of the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. Over the symbols were wooden arches with cards of wishes tied to them. I found my sign (the rooster), and went to the middle to write out my wish. At first I couldn’t think of anything to wish for, but then I reflected on how good life is, and it was easy to find a wish after that. I tied it to the arch over the rooster and walked to the next part of the gardens which contained the garden, pond, and perfectly placed landscaping. I watched the ducks forage around in the pond, completely at ease in their personal pool. I loved the landscaping, the weathered rocks, and well placed trees that gave me the same feeling I get when walking through a quiet forest. A small enclave of peaceful nature in a city dominated by the works of man.

Commercial Drive in east Vancouver is my favorite street in the city. I fully recommend anyone coming to Vancouver to walk this wonderful area and take in the sights and smells of this Bohemian neighborhood. Commercial Drive runs north to south between Venables street on the north end and North Grandview Highway on the south end. It is easily accessed by taking the sky train east from downtown Vancouver and getting off at the Commercial Platform. The drive consists of a wide variety of unique shops, markets, galleries, pubs and ethnic restaurants. I don’t believe I’ve seen a street with such a wide variety of international choices to eat at. I tried Ethiopian food for the first time at the Harambe Restaurant. “Harambe” comes from Swahili meaning “working together in unity” which was a fitting way to describe the meal. Between my friends and I, we decided to order a platter consisting of a variety of choices to choose from all piled onto a flatbread called injera. I learned to eat in the “gursha” style, ripping off strips of injera that had been rolled into an Ace bandage-like bundle. With that strip, you grabbed from the small piles of food that had been placed onto the platter, and ate it without the use of utensils. It was a fun way to eat, and was completely in the spirit of Harambe. It was delicious. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again, and look forward to it.
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After our late lunch, we slowly walked north up the strip, peeking into crowded pubs through the windows to see who was winning the hockey game between the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, hockey is the national sport and expectations are very high for the national team to bring home the gold. Every time Canada scored, you could hear the crowds cheering in the pubs from out in the street. It was in this way that I kept track of the game. I stopped into some of the shops along the way; I bought a bandanna, a chocolate bar, and perused one of the coolest bookstores I’ve seen, full of wood carvings, good books, and uncaring fat cats lying around underfoot. I listened to a group of friends playing music in one of the cafés. The mood was light, and they played good music and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I liked the murals that had been painted on almost all of the buildings. I like when cities take an interest in public art, even if it’s as simple as a design etched into a sidewalk, or a mural. Commercial Drive has a great atmosphere; it’s laid back and funky. It made me feel like I could let my guard down, and relax. If you go, bring a healthy appetite and an open mind.

My favorite way of seeing the downtown area of Vancouver is on foot, and at night. I love seeing the city lights light up all of the high rises and buildings. The temperature was perfect for wandering around at night, and I made a large circle of the downtown area checking out the Olympic spotlights on the harbor, the laughing men statues near English Bay, a fireworks display (the best I had ever seen), and the Olympic crowds gathered in Robson Square to see a lightshow, and stage performances.
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I’m glad I had spent a lot of time skiing over the last couple of months. It allowed me to tromp around town and keep up with my guide who was used to the long walks that make up a day in Vancouver. At Robson Square I saw a performance of Hawaiian Hula dancers that had been brought in to entertain the crowds at the square. After seeing them shimmy and shake their grass skirts to the rhythmic music, I realized two things: that I’m a huge fan of belly dancing and I want to visit Hawaii. It must be fun to have hips.
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The laughing men statues at English Bay were a definite highlight for me. I like public art, especially when it’s done creatively. The statues consisted of 14 figures made of metal about eight to ten feet high. The were sculpted in a variety of funny positions and all of them are laughing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they are laughing their asses off. They make for interesting photos at night, I made a mistake by not bringing my tripod which would make taking crisp pictures of these statues a lot easier. From English Bay, I walked around on the seawall trail, listening to the upbeat string band playing across the harbor at the French house while I watched the 20 Olympic spot lights making patterns in the night sky. The patterns are designed on the Internet by anyone who wants to submit a design. They change every 12 seconds, and some of them are quite spectacular.

I finished my night by watching two light shows. The first was a fireworks show that took place over the Vancouver Pavilion. It was choreographed to music and lasers and was the most impressive fireworks show that I had ever seen. Maybe it was just being in the moment, watching beautiful displays of exploding rockets, reflecting on the awesome day in my new favorite city, but I loved it. Afterwards, I found myself running ten blocks through the downtown streets trying to get back to Robson Square in time for the next show. We had 12 minutes to get there. I’m not sure how my legs held up, but I made it back to the square just in time to see the beginning of the show. Loud music blasted out of speakers, bright fireballs shot up to the music, I could feel the heat from them from over 60 feet away. People dressed as hockey players, skiers, and snow boarders flew by on the zip line to loud cheers from the crowd. Lasers sparkled on the surrounding buildings and in the smoke, and occasional rockets exploded high above. It was good, but I liked the first fireworks show more. The best part was at the end of the show, we sang an impromptu rendition of “Oh, Canada” the national anthem. I didn’t know all of the words, but hummed along with all of the patriotic Canadians. It was a great scene, red Canadian flags waving, the buildings and lights of the city all lit up with colorful lights, and everyone singing as one. It was beautiful.
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I rode home exhausted and happy on the city bus. I thanked the tired bus driver for the ride, grateful that I didn’t have to walk home from downtown. As it was, I had to walk 10 blocks from the main road back to the apartment, but it gave me time to reflect on my amazing day. As I settled in for the night, stretching my aching body, and lying down on my mat, I realized that I could easily live in Vancouver and love it. What a city.

Posted by Rhombus 08:02 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (1)

Vancouver: Part One

The First Two Days of a Six Day Exploration Of This Great City During The Olympics

sunny 53 °F

We arrived at the border a couple of hours after sunset. The crossing was well lit under halogen lights and there wasn’t any queue to wait in. We drove right up to a booth, and it was here we met the Canadian Terminator. “Why do you want to enter Canada? Who are you going to see?” These and many other questions were demanded of us by a half robot, half man intent on grilling us until we admitted our real reason for visiting Vancouver (eating in their selection of tasty restaurants). I half expected to see him sprinting after us up the highway and jumping on the back of our car. He dismissed us with a simple “Goodbye” and we were allowed to enter Canada. We drove northwest to Vancouver, our playground for the next six days.
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We awoke the next morning to a gorgeous day. The sun was warm and bright, a welcome change from the chilly morning fog of Idaho. The world was all blue skies, green grass, happy flowers poking out of the grass almost ready to bloom. Birds were chirping, I swear I heard Vivaldi’s “Spring” serenading me from afar. It was a fantastic day to be outside. Our crew consisted of six like minded, well rounded world travelers. A good chemistry of friends with different ideas on how to explore Vancouver. We parked at a public beach and spent the day on foot exploring Granville Island, the downtown mayhem of Olympic fever, watching an awards ceremony for the women’s half pipe, and being part of the Olympic street party that seemed to pulse throughout downtown Vancouver.
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I enjoyed the awards ceremony. Since this trip was completely spur of the moment, we had no idea if we could get tickets to an event, and didn’t have high hopes for seeing one. It turns out our hosts had been given tickets for an awards ceremony happening that night, so we went to the ticket exchange and bought tickets for the same event. They each cost 50 dollars, which seemed reasonable to us, and were probably the cheapest tickets we were likely to get our hands on, on such short notice. We walked to BC Place, were greeted, inspected, searched, wanded, and eventually allowed to enter. We all had separate seats, and went our separate ways. I had a good seat compared to the rest of my friends, just to the right of center and high up in the arena. When the three women who had won medals in the women’s half pipe snowboarding competition were announced , the crowd went crazy, and it was very easy to get into the Olympic spirit. It was very touching to see the flag raising, to hear the Australian national anthem being played and to see how proud Torah Bright was upon receiving her gold medal. Seeing that made me appreciate and fully understand what the Olympic games are all about.
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We exited the arena and walked through the downtown mass of humanity. There were people swarming everywhere, and everyone was going somewhere. A thousand passing faces of every shape and description, impossible to remember them. Foreign tongues wafted through the milling crowd, French, Chinese, German, English, and others I couldn’t identify. A million good scents from the kitchens of the restaurants which were all packed to capacity, and doing the best business of their lives. I crowd surfed, keeping track of my friends as the crowd pushed them into the distance, and catching up with them on the next surge. Testosterone filled young men, gathering in the middle of the streets chanting, “CANADA! CANADA! CANADA!” Young women running through the streets screaming, laughing giggling, seemingly delirious with pride. The whole place was loud. I had to yell to make myself heard above the din. Street performers were out in force, mostly guitar players, but also fiddlers, mandolin players, drummers, and even an elegantly dressed young woman playing a flute. Canadian red was the color of choice. I found a small pocket sized Canadian flag on the ground and proudly displayed it on the front of my shirt pocket. I saw the torch all lit up by fire, partly obscured by an unnecessary chain link fence. Everyone had their cameras out and were taking pictures of friends and family in front of the universal flame. I enjoyed it all, I’ve never been in such an electric atmosphere of national pride, and Canadians were damn proud to be from Canada.

We rode home on the bus. It was late. Tired families and friends sat heavily on the seats staring at the floor or out the window. Some clung to the overhead hand straps, almost too tired to stand. Children leaned sleepily on their mothers, and babies in strollers slept away the ride in comfort, unconscious to it all. It was a long day of walking for everyone, and we were tired, with sore feet. We walked many miles through the downtown area, and we were happy to lie down and rest our weary bones after such a long, fulfilling day.
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Stanley Park is located on a peninsula of land that lies on the northwest corner of downtown Vancouver. It’s the gateway to the Lions Gate Bridge which crosses over the shipping lanes to North Vancouver. The park is one of Vancouver’s more popular areas, and attracts locals and tourists alike. The seawall trail is a paved bike/walking path that follows the coast around the peninsula, and sees heavy traffic throughout the day. Most of the park is forested with many trails winding their way through the peaceful natural area. There are several beaches located throughout the park, allowing easy access to the ocean. There are several examples of totem poles on display on the east end of the park. It’s a great place to relax and take in another sunny afternoon.
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With all the walking we had done the night before, we decided a leisurely day in Stanley Park would be a good remedy. On the way into the park, we noticed that the Saxon House was making it’s home in the Vancouver Rowing Clubhouse located on Stanley Park Drive. The Saxon House is one of the many International Houses and Pavilions that are dotted around Vancouver. These houses can contain cultural examples of their particular country including food, drink, and other displays. Some of the countries put a lot more effort into their exhibits, while others served regional food and beer. More or less, an expensive pub. We found many of the houses already, but all of them had very long lines just to get in. The Saxon House had a short line forming in front of it, and we joined the end of it, happy to finally be seeing one of houses. We chatted amiably with the group behind us, learning where they were from and what they had seen so far. We compared notes as to the good displays and houses, and what events we hoped to see. Throughout our wanderings, we ended up talking to people. I’m not sure if it was general friendliness, the Olympic spirit, or a combination, but everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

Finally, we got in. We hoped we would see musicians, bakers, cobblers, or some other display from the Saxon region of Germany. Instead, we found another line to stand in, this one allowing us to purchase an authentic Sausage from the Saxon region. Twenty small stand up tables were scattered around the room, and TV’s broadcasted the games on the wall. A bar stood at the end of the food table, and that was it. I bought a sausage with sauerkraut, covered in mustard, and “happily” paid ten dollars for it. I didn’t want to eat it indoors, so I left the house and ate it on a park bench overlooking a marina. The sausage was good, and made a nice snack, though at about a dollar a bite, I wasn’t about to go back for seconds.
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The rest of the afternoon was spent checking out the totem poles, lounging on the beaches in the warm afternoon sunshine, walking along the seawall trail and checking out the impromptu artists gallery set up on the retaining wall and in the grass. I talked with an artist who was in from Australia, selling his wares on little pallets on the grass. He was very talented, and I was impressed. For dinner I had a bowl of chowder and tried raw oysters for the first time. They weren’t bad, pretty much like any other kind of seafood I’d eaten, and I wouldn’t shy away from eating some more of them.
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After dinner, we drove south to the evenings entertainment. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were putting on a musical ride down in Surrey, which was about 40 minutes away from the apartment we were staying at. When we got to the entrance of the arena, we were told that it was sold out. However, if we came back tomorrow we might get in. Disappointed, we hung out, making sad eyes at the gate keeper, when another lady on a loudspeaker announced that there were rush seats available, but only if we ran. We ran, dodging down the ramp and into the arena. We got the last seats in the house, and considered ourselves very lucky.
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The show was amazing. The RCMP trotted their mounts around the sandy floored arena in formation making patterns as they weaved in and out of one another. It was very cool to see well trained horses under the direction of very talented riders. They didn’t make a single mistake that I noticed, and the show was a success. At the end of it, the horses were positioned at the perimeter of the arena so the kids could pet the horses and meet the riders. Pictures were taken, and everyone left happier than when they arrived. I’m beginning to think that’s Canada’s goal.
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It had been another good day, and we ended ours slap happy, and giggling at a late night restaurant. We ate our snack, enjoying the food, and the camaraderie. For some reason, one of my friends becomes hilarious whenever we go out to eat. Waitresses love him, and we laughed at the banter that took place between them. We finished off the night driving 45 minute drive back to Vancouver, and once again were happy to see our beds.

Posted by Rhombus 08:51 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (0)

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