As Jeremy talked about in his last post, we recently went car-free. But it wasn’t entirely new for me – I had spent the last three-plus years as a bus commuter. While living in Seattle, I rode the bus to work in downtown and Pioneer Square on a daily basis: the infamous 358, drug deals, violence and all; the slow crawl on the 2 from Madrona; the Amazonian-packed 70 from Eastlake. It was an easy decision to ride the bus. I had a cheap transit pass through my grad program, and parking downtown was prohibitively expensive.
But now that our place in Vancouver is just a 15-minute bike ride from my work, taking the bus makes a lot less sense. The ride takes the same amount of time, if not longer, than biking. Like all urban public transit, it tends to be crowded and…fragrant. And it’s $5 round trip each day. Even with a monthly pass, that adds up.
Now I’ve become an (almost) full-time bicycle commuter – at least 4 out of 5 days most weeks, rain or shine. I invested a little money kitting out my road bike with fenders, panniers and lights, so I don’t have to wrangle with a backpack. Vancouver is a more bike-friendly city than Seattle (fewer hills!) and my route to work takes me on specific traffic-calmed streets and a designated bike path, so I don’t feel unsafe.
I’ve made it a point to follow the Cycle Chic school of thinking and wear my work clothes when I bike. It’s such a short trip that it doesn’t make sense to put on a Lycra bodysuit just to change 15 minutes later, nor is the route strenuous enough that I sweat through my clothes. Coming home there is a bit of a hill, but I don’t really mind if I get a little sweaty if I’m heading home for the evening anyway. It helped to invest in a stylish helmet from Sahn to complete the “English lady going riding in the countryside” look.
The rain hasn’t really been a problem, either. I throw on rubber boots, rain pants, a raincoat and wrap a scarf around my head under my helmet like a balaclava. I honestly get less damp than if I were walking from the bus carrying an umbrella.
Finally, there’s the mental and physical benefits. Even though it only adds up to 30 minutes a day of biking, I arrive at work and at home feeling refreshed and alert, as opposed to sluggish and drained like I did while riding the bus. The loop around False Creek is stunning at all times of day and in any weather. In the morning, I ride toward the shimmering towers of downtown Vancouver reflected in the water with the snow-tipped Coast Mountains beyond. Coming home, the lights of other cyclists twinkle like fireflies in the dusk. Even in the drizzle, it feels like an adventure to steer and splash through the puddles.
As a new bike commuter, I’ve found these blogs helpful along the way. If you know of any others, shoot me a link.
I experienced a bit of a shock when I sat down and wrote out how much I spent each month on a car. Gas prices in Seattle weren’t cheap. Neither were the monthly insurance payments, or the maintenance costs.
Still, we didn’t have much of a choice. Public transportation throughout King County is hit-and-miss, something that always baffled us about such a progressive region. Bike travel is mostly relegated to riding on street along with fast-moving traffic. The hills make certain areas essentially inaccessible for all but the wannabe Lance Armstrongs of the world and their ultra light, titanium bikes.
One of the reasons we wanted to move to Vancouver was to make a return to a well-connected, walkable lifestyle. Here we have access to all the convenience of Main Street, a diverse mixture of residential, commercial and retail units. Public transportation runs on all the major arteries extending from our home, making for convenient access to downtown Vancouver, UBC and Kitsilano. Bike lanes are clearly identified, and the thoroughfares dedicated to cycling are traffic-calmed.
Was it hard to say goodbye to a car I’ve owned since 2005? Not really.
On the off chance we need a car, Vancouver has three different car shares at our disposal. So far, we use two: Car2Go and Zip Car. The former is secured through a credit card and you pay for as long you use the car, which comes out to $0.38 per minute + tax. An hour is a maximum of $13.99.
Best of all, there are cars stashed everywhere in Vancouver. For quick trips around town (such as meeting up with friends in Kits), Car2Go is cheaper than a taxi, and faster than waiting for the bus. I can find and reserve a car through the iPhone app, meaning there’s one usually a few blocks away at any given point.
There are health benefits as well. Since moving to Canada, Lisa has become a full-time bike commuter. Her trip to work is 3.5 kilometres door-to-door, replete with views of the Vancouver skyline. She’s gone from being an ambivalent cyclist to someone who devours bike lifestyle blogs.
Admittedly, I became hooked on biking when I visited Copenhagen last summer. Allow me to swoon for a bit when I say that it’s THE MOST PERFECT CITY IMAGINABLE [fans self]. Copenhagen, with its separated bike lanes and ample mass transit options, is pretty much porn for New Urbanists.
Cutting the cord on a car-dependent lifestyle can be difficult. Depending on where you live, people might think you’re eccentric. We’ve been raised to appreciate the freedom associated with automobiles.
But gas prices are rising. More cars are on the roads than ever before. There’s ample research out there suggesting we limit use of automobiles, especially if we value things such as mental health and clean skies.
Now is it a perfect system? No. Public transit in the Lower Mainland is overstressed. And on a sunny day like today I would have loved to get in a car and rip up the Sea to Sky Highway.
Yet so far, for me, going car-free is more than doable. In fact, it’s liberating.
When it comes to sandwiches, simple is best. I’m guilty, when making sandwiches at home, of always adding one condiment or topping too many. There’s that famous fashion quote about how you should always take off one item before you leave the house; I believe the same principle applies to sandwich construction.
So it’s usually better to let the professionals handle it, especially at a place like Meat & Bread in Vancouver’s Gastown.
It’s a short menu, which is all you need if you do something this well. There’s always the porchetta (herb-stuffed pork roast), hand chopped behind glass for your drooling pleasure as you wait in line. There’s a meatball sandwich, a grilled cheese, a daily special, a soup and a salad. And that’s pretty much it, besides a few drinks and a bacon maple ice cream sandwich for dessert.
It is a challenge not to order this porchetta every time.
But the special, tweeted out daily, is always a good bet. Last week it was beef goulash. Topped with braised cabbage, pea shoots and garlic aioli, it threatened to ooze out all over the wooden serving board.
One of my favorite blog posts is from almost three(!) years ago, when we visited the Seattle treasure that is the Polish Home supper club on Capitol Hill. Hipsters and Polish grannies mingle in the basement of a community center, swigging Żywiecs and pounding pierogies on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. Somehow we only ate there once, even though I always told myself I’d make it back.
So imagine my joy when, while walking through our new neighborhood in Vancouver, we passed this sign:
I did a little searching and learned that the first Friday of every month, the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral hosts a community supper of traditional Ukrainian dishes like varenyky (also known as pyrohy or perogies), holubtsi (cabbage rolls), borsch (beet soup) and kovbasa (smoked sausage). Very similar to the Polish Home, only without booze (thanks, BC liquor laws). Fortunately for us, the next dinner was just a couple days away.
I’d read that the line can stretch around the block, but maybe the warm late summer weather kept people from craving such a hearty meal; the room was busy, but not slammed. We received our paper placemats from the host, reserved seats at one of the community tables and then waited in line while marking up our chits with our orders.
Full menu is here. I opted for the mini dinner with a bowl of borsch, while Jeremy had the Regular Dinner. Warning: order the Super Dinner at your peril. Ten pyrohy and three cabbage rolls will leave you waddling.
After paying (cash only), we lined up to receive our meals, served out one by one by church volunteers. Hard not to start salivating as they brought out a refill of butter-slicked pyrohy just in time to fill our plates.
Make no mistake – this is a carbo load of a dinner. I mean, pyrohy is dough filled with mashed potatoes. Still, the smoky sausage and the briny sauerkraut were nice complements to the starchy items, and the borsch was really well-balanced. And when the server asks if you want sour cream and onions, you should absolutely say yes.
I do not recommend inhaling your food as quickly as we did – by the time we had cleaned our plates, we were ready to hibernate for a Ukrainian winter. But I was already thinking ahead to visiting on future first Fridays, when the dark Pacific Northwest drizzle sets in and a warm, rib-sticking meal is the only thing standing between you and a wicked case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
So yeah, we moved to Vancouver last weekend. We’ve had a longtime crush on the other Rain City, and when we had the opportunity to move up here for Jeremy to enroll in a master’s program at UBC, we jumped at it. Never fear; this blog will have just as many photos of food and the dog.
As many times as we’ve been up to to Canada for visits in the last few years, we’re still learning about all the small adjustments that come with living in a different country. For example, our first night we grabbed dinner at the new pub Tap & Barrel in the Olympic Village (Seattleites: the restaurant/bar is, in decor and ethos, the virtual cousin of South Lake Union’s Brave Horse Tavern.) We ordered a burger and Jeremy asked for it medium-rare.
“Ohhhh,” our waitress said. “You’re from the States, aren’t you.”
Turns out, medium-rare hamburgers are illegal in Canada. Whoops. Guess we’ll be firing up the grill at home if we want to eat burgers in the manner we’re accustomed. Too bad we don’t have an amazing deck on which to grill. Oh wait…
Yeah, that’s our view, or as I like to call it, “winning the Craigslist lottery.”
The other discovery I made in our first few days living here came after reading this article in the Globe and Mail: Vancouver Pop-Up Libraries Serve as Community Hangouts. It describes a growing trend around the world where communities create tiny free libraries as a way to connect with their neighbors and provide an alternative option to digital media consumption.
The library featured in the article, the St. George Street Library, turned out to be just a few blocks from our new apartment.
Toro and I walked over, I snagged a couple of books, chatted with a passerby who may possibly have been a streetwalker (or maybe was just a lady who makes creative makeup choices) and felt all warm and fuzzy about supporting my new community.
More than nine months of drizzle and cloud finally yield to summer. We head immediately to the water – in this case, Alki Beach – to absorb every possible ray of sun. The sand teems with Filipino families and Sea-Tac motorcycle gangs, West Seattle teenagers smoking covert joints and volleyball players flexing still-pale skin. It’s the closest thing we have to a California coast boardwalk. First on the agenda is beers on a patio while people watching, the dog lolling at our feet. Next, we battle the line at Spud’s for cod and chips with a side of fried clams. Stuffed but not yet ready to quit, we end the night with ice cream at Bluebird on Capitol Hill, melting and salty, eaten in the car on the drive home. Oh yeah – this is why we live in the Northwest.
As most people who know us know, in a quirky coincidence we share a birthday: April 28. I often say this means we can never forget one another’s special day (though it also means someone always has to be cooking their own breakfast on their birthday morning!)
Since our birthday fell on a Saturday this year, we decided to stash the critter with my parents and head up for a night in one of our favorite cities, Vancouver, BC. We head north every couple of months – aided by our acquisition last year of the fast-track NEXUS passes to avoid the border wait – to hit up beloved sandwich spots (Meat & Bread), score some world class coffee (49th Parallel in Kits) and get yelled at in Japanese while chomping on briny delicacies (Kingyo Izakaya.)
This time, we splurged a bit on a room at OPUS, a trendy boutique hotel in the sleek Yaletown neighborhood. After checking in, we headed out to West Point Grey for dinner.
We did our usual research when looking for a restaurant worth of birthday dinner. We wanted some place a bit nicer than average, though not bank-breaking, while guaranteed to be a memorable meal. Rigorous searching turned up La Quercia, a casual Italian bistro with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, a bit off the beaten path out on West 4th but ranked on top restaurant lists by numerous Vancouver publications. It was also nearly impossible to secure seats there, as when we called several weeks in advance we were fortunate to snag the last two spots at the bar at 9pm.
We opted for the $45, seven-course menu “alla famiglia” (there’s also an 11-course option for $60 that includes a fish course, a risotto course and a cheese course – too much!). Similar to omakase with sushi, we simply sat back and ate at the chef’s whim. We started with vitello tonnato, thinly sliced veal with a savory “tuna mayo.” This was followed by a butter lettuce with anchovy-egg dressing and then a killer bone marrow dish where the marrow was mixed with ground veal, returned to the bone and then broiled and served with pickled vegetables.
The two pasta courses were handmade radicchio and walnut mezzaluna with Gorgonzola and potato gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, followed by the main course of local lamb shoulder, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, resting atop a chunky caponata. Practically stuffed (seriously, who could manage 11 courses??) we finished with a small cake served with whipped cream and rhubarb compote.
We were more than satisfied with our choice for dinner. The service was stellar and we cleaned our plates for every course. You can also order a la carte, though if you go I’d highly encourage the alla famiglia menu – it’s such a great deal for that breadth of food.
How to recover from a meal like that? The next morning, we kept it simple with 49th Parallel espresso at Coffeebar in Gastown with a housemade almond croissant and a bacon-cheddar biscuit. After a spin through the up-and-coming shopping district of Main Street in the neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, we made our way to Chinatown and the infamous Phnom Penh.
Thanks to research of local blogs, we knew to order the deep fried chicken wings and the Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg, with a Mango Moo Shake on the side. Ho.ly.Mo.ses. If you like chicken wings, this is a must-visit. Salty, peppery and garlicky as heck, it’s easy to see why they’ve earned a rabid following. The luc lac was addictive, too: savory marinated beef topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg atop a mound of rice. We waited a solid half an hour for a table at 2pm, and the restaurant never slowed down the entire time we were there.
It’s easy to obsess over the food, but part of the joy we get out of visiting Vancouver is simply driving around looking at the scenery, from the futuristic condo towers and urban soccer fields to the blossoming cherry trees and cobblestone streets. We’re lucky we live just a couple hours away.