I had some errands to do in the big city. Well, one errand really – getting my German passport renewed, which requires going to the German Consulate in Vancouver – but of course, it’s also the perfect opportunity for a Christmas visit with family & friends.
But this is winter. In Canada. Vancouver, from where I live, is on the other side of a mountain range – nothing on the order of the Rockies, but still, mountains; the highest pass is at 1728 m. And while I quite enjoy that drive in the summer in nice clear weather over dry roads (there’s nothing better than a solitary five-hour drive for concocting novelling plots), I utterly refuse to drive it myself between Thanksgiving and Easter. Because, mountains. In other words, snow.
And boy, was I ever justified in that policy this time. I’d booked my Greyhound bus ticket a couple of weeks ago, when there wasn’t a speck of white to be seen around my house. Then, a few days ago, it started snowing. And it snowed, and snowed…
So there I was at the bus depot, first thing in the morning as it was just getting light. Greyhound stations are depressing places. In this one, the women’s washroom has one stall with a broken lock, the next one with a broken toilet tank (it won’t fill properly), and a hand dryer that just sighs at you instead of blowing properly, but does so with great regularity about every ten seconds even when you’re not holding your dripping hands under it. So there you are, sitting on the can – “Whoooooh!” – pause – “Whoooooh!” – pause – “Whoooooh!”…
The bus was over an hour late leaving. The driver had got in late the previous night from driving the Vancouver route, and he needed his eight-hour break to get some sleep before he could get behind the wheel again – that’s the law. A law which I’m in utter agreement with, especially in this case. Buddy, I want you to get a good solid kip, before you’re carting me and fifty others across that mountain!
“I drove this road last night,” the driver said as we were pulling out of town, “and there’s nothing good about it. I’m going to take it slow.” You do that, buddy, you do that! “However,” he continued, “you’ll still see me passing a lot of the other vehicles, and that’s simply because this is the best-equipped vehicle on the road.” Very reassuring, that (even if he just said it to keep us calm and not-freaked-out).
So on we went, through a winter wonderland. Snow, snow and more snow – what you could see; most of the higher-up view was hidden in a thick cloud. Rows of fence posts with their comical little white toques; waterfalls of icicles streaming off rock walls; trees shrouded in drifts of cotton wool. Coming back down the mountain, not-yet-frozen streams still gurgling beside the road, the rocks in their stream bed converted to puffy feather duvets floating amidst the dark water.
I was profoundly grateful for that bus driver, who ferried us so safely and competently across. In the end, we were only an hour and a half late – his “taking it slow” made for no more than an extra fifteen minutes. An everyday hero, I was thinking. It might sound a bit melodramatic, but still. The lives of fifty people were in his hands that morning, on that snowy mountain road. And then, no doubt, he turned right around and drove another fifty back the other way. I sure hope he got a longer break that time.
Life, the Universe, and a Snowy Drive Over the Mountains. Things to be grateful for.
“5 August 1986: I have got the feeling that I fall in love with another place… – it’s Vancouver!” Thus the start of my journal entry from that momentous day, the first I spent in Canada. Yes, I wrote it in English, even though I hadn’t quite figured out the use of the gerund. It was the summer between Grades 12 and 13, and my aunt had brought me on a trip to visit family in Vancouver .
I still remember the feeling of waking up in that little house in East Vancouver with its slide-up windows (very strange for a German used to inward-swinging casements) and hearing people walk by on the street, talking in English – “Mrmlmrmlmrml,” that soft purring that to German ears sounds like the speaker is talking around a wad of chewing gum.
It was the most magical holiday, and I loved every minute of it. Loved it so much, I came back the following year, and the rest, as they say, is history. Actually, that summer of ’86 is history, too. And in honour of said historical occasion, I made a point of going back to Vancouver this August and visiting some of the same places we’d gone to “back then”.
As I only just realised this year, August of ’86 was the ideal time to come to Vancouver for the first time. It was Expo 86, the World’s Fair on Transportation and Communication, and Vancouver had been polished to within an inch of its life. All sorts of new buildings and infrastructure were put up just for the occasion – places that have since become defining landmarks for Vancouver. Science World (built as Expo Centre), Canada Place with its white sails, the SkyTrain, the Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown… all of them opened in ’86.
And then there was Lighthouse Park, Downtown (Skyscrapers! Pretty cool for a girl from a Bavarian mountain village), the Pacific Ocean, Granville Island, a day trip on the ferry to Vancouver Island… plus a couple of road trips into the Interior, one of which led us out here to the Okanagan, where, rather prophetically, I ate my first peach-fresh-from-the-tree (bliss!) and acquired my first Okanagan sunburn/tan.
We spent a whole month in Canada – a month of almost unrelenting sunshine. And when my aunt and I climbed back onto that airplane on September 4th, suitcases laden with Canadian souvenirs (amongst other things I took back a muffin tin and corresponding cookbook, a Lazy Susan, a jar of homemade peach jam, Chinese tea candies, and a hoodie with a Snoopy on the back), I left behind a piece of me. A piece that I had to come back to retrieve the following year – unsuccessfully, I might add; that time I simply got stuck for good.
So this year on August 5th (it just happened to be that very day), I once again took a trip to Vancouver. Canada Place (I thought it was very nice of them to put up “30 Years” celebratory banners just for me), Science World, Chinatown, the SkyTrain, Peace Arch Park (the border crossing to the US – I managed to lock myself out of my car in the parking lot), the Pacific Ocean, Granville Island… And then last weekend I went on another quick jaunt down there for a couple of days, and went on the SkyTrain to Downtown Vancouver, to the Art Gallery and Robson Square. And drove back across the mountains, on my own that time – exactly thirty years after I had first been through there in my uncle’s car – back to my family, my own house and my Canadian life.
Life, the Universe, and O Canada… It’s been a good thirty years.
On my holidays, I went to Storybrooke. Yes, the Once Upon a Time town. No, really!
As I mentioned before, I just spent a couple of weeks with family, and we went to the big city (aka Vancouver). And while we were there, I got a chance to go to Storybrooke. Yes, I know they tell you it’s in Maine, but actually, it’s in BC (the geographic location, British Columbia, not the time period, Before Christ). See?
On the map, it’s actually called Steveston (which, contrary to the opinion of a certain family member, is not named after a small stuffed bear). Steveston is a really cute fishing village on the outskirts of Greater Vancouver, with a nifty harbour and an old cannery just down the street from the relevant places.
So, here I am in front of Mr. Gold’s pawn shop:
And it really is proof that I was there myself – if I had photoshopped myself into the picture, I wouldn’t have chosen such a hideously unflattering shot of me. But because I like you, and need to show you that I was, indeed, there in the flesh, I’m letting you see this photo of me (take note of the Cinderella’s Coach pin on my shirt – I was even dressed appropriately).
This, I think, is Granny’s Diner.
There wasn’t a single werewolf in sight, though, nor indeed any Evil Queens, Princes (Charming or otherwise), Princesses, Pirates, Dwarfs, Fairies, or Bondsbailpersons in yellow VW beetles. And the only teenagers around were, alas, Not Henry. If I’d stuck around a few weeks or months, though, I might have been able to get a glimpse of one or two of them; apparently Season 5 is slated to start filming soon.
Life, the Universe, and a Visit to Storybrooke. That’s what I did on my holidays.