Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vacation, part 4: Vancouver, BC

(See July 21 & 27, August 1 for parts 1-3)

Our last day in Vancouver

At 7:30 a.m. we walked across the street to the Sheraton where we were picked up by a motor coach and driven through downtown, Stanley Park and to the train station located in North Vancouver. As we boarded the train and found our seats in the Glacier Dome car, our anticipation was that this would be a good day, one to sit back, relax... no one had to drive, and we would all enjoy the beautiful scenery. The three smiling and friendly attendants in our car served us orange juice with a little "sparkling", and at 8:30 as the Whistler Mountaineer began its forward motion, we all toasted to the beginning of the day's adventure and our climb into the mountains toward Whistler.

The attendants commented throughout the journey, offering historical facts and figures relevant to the various landmarks as we passed under the Lion's Gate bridge (the suspension bridge fashioned after the Golden Gate in San Francisco), over the Capilano River, into West Vancouver and through the waterfront Ambleside Park, one of Vancouver's original parks.

The tracks tightly paralleled the eastern shoreline of Howe Sound among the closely situated homes and condominiums which hugged the hillside within the smaller communities. As we snaked our way along the waterway, people walking, jogging, having their morning breath of fresh air from the overhanging patio, waved us passing through. The BC ferry quietly pushed its way across the glacially carved inlet of Howe Sound, and as we looked toward the water, the more densely wooded areas permitted only a fleeting glimpse of any home nestled among the towering Douglas fir trees.

The sheer rock cliffs allowed us to edge our way along the inlet, over trestles and highways, through wild and tamed, yet untamed... past hillside walls of twisted Ipomoea, those white morning glory blossoms, tangled, however prevailing, among the mounds of blackberry vines feral and unattended.

There was no room to breath between the side of the train and those sheer black walls as we passed through the darkness of Horseshoe Bay tunnel and began our ascent at the beginning of Howe Sound. Civilization gave way to stands of Doug firs, western red cedar, hemlock, shore maples... and the Buddleia (butterfly bushes) interspersed among the evergreen, made us feel comfortably at home.

As we rounded the bend the haunting sound of the train whistle gave notice. The highway followed above us, and about 11 kilometers north of Horseshoe Bay we passed through Lion's Bay, a small community of about 1400 people, a municipality with its own mayor, but no gas station, and whose name is well known for their mountain search and rescue team.

Halfway to Squamish, we passed Deak's Creek (mile 21), a place not on the map and whose waterfall is present only due to run off from the large amount of snowfall this past year. Mile marker 25, a campground... and Porteau Cove lends itself to scuba diving due to the artificial rubber tire reef and sunken ship which attract marine life. Furry Creek sports 2 golf courses, and the once booming copper mining town of Britannia, population 100, holds the BC Museum of Mining and is now showing signs of life with construction, as they begin preparation for the 2010 Olympics.

As we begin leaving Howe Sound and head toward the mountains, a giant granite monolith, Stawamus Chief Mountain rises stalwartly, perpendicularly 2300 feet (702 m) into the clouds and beyond our view but within our imagination.

We pass through Squamish. It is estimated that the current 15,000 population shall double within the next several years as it will become a bedroom community for Whistler and the 2010 Olympics.

Around mile 52 we begin our 2.2% grade climb (almost 2000 feet) into Cheakamus Canyon, where daises, foxglove, mullein, wild filbert and ferns
paint their welcoming ways along either side of the train track, and a bald eagle soars overhead as if to greet and delight.

As we approach Brandywine Falls and enter the temperate rain forest, I was fortunate to quickly capture this 1000 foot waterfall, and as the train steadily and slowly ground its way up the mountain... much to our surprise, was happening upon these friendly faces in the wilderness.

We arrived at the end of the train ride and were shuttled to Whistler village. It was recommended that if we were not spending the night, we might consider taking a gondola ride, but the several hours we had there afforded a casual stroll along the cobblestone streets, admiring the quaint European influenced architecture, a happy visitor, some light lunch, and a return to the bus which took us back to the train.

The entire day was cloudy with intermittent showers, but as we awaited the boarding of the final passengers, the sun broke through the sky's cover...
a mid-afternoon salute, a smile to bid us safe journey back down the mountain.

We passed Daisy Lake which provides hydroelectric power for Whistler, and I was calmed by the milky jade green of its waters.

As we again approached the Cheakamus Canyon, the panoramic basalt walls and columnar peaks stood firmly as they rose from the river and guided us across the bridges.

We had one last look at the canyon and depth before us.

Four o'clock and it is time for afternoon tea. Jasmine Butterfly for me, thank you. We were served lovely sandwiches: cucumber, cream cheese and watercress; salmon and cream cheese; a little ham; grilled red pepper.

Then the sweets arrived: strawberries dipped in chocolate; a lemon tart; a biscuit, strawberry jam and thick cream. Oh my! Reminiscent of being in England and partaking of the popular and sinful ;) clotted cream tea. Just the thought of it puts pounds on my thighs, but there is no sign of wavering during the ever so palatable experience. If you have never had this and you travel to England, it is a must to try.

As we approached the Lion's Gate bridge, we looked up to see a lady sitting at her window and waving as we passed by, perhaps thanking us for visiting and being a part of her afternoon.

It was a wonderful experience... panoramic views of spectacular scenery, excellent on board service, and a day of total relaxation and enjoyment of one another. We hope you enjoyed the journey with us.

Of interest:

* June 1792 Howe Sound was named after Lord Howe, Admiral of the British Navy
* Whistler tourism site:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Uncle Bruno

I pay great respect to my Uncle Bruno (Bronislovas), my mother’s brother, who passed away on Thursday, 9 AUG 2007. In May of this year he celebrated his 94th birthday! and was vibrant and healthy throughout most of his life, with the exception of this past year. What an achievement that is! We should all be so fortunate.

Bronislovas is a Lithuanian name which has its origin in the olden Slavic words braniti, meaning to defend or guard and slava which signifies glory, thus the glorious defender/protector. It is fitting that yesterday his son wrote, “…he was a good father and husband and led a very long and full life”.

His parents came from Lithuania to coal country in the United States, Juozas in 1909 and Tekle in 1911, and he was born two years following my grandmother’s arrival. One of eight children, immigrant parents who spoke very little English, the struggles were many in order to simply feed the family, especially as his father died when Uncle Bruno was 15. They all worked at what was available, without much schooling, but he was able to work his way through those obstacles and at least finish high school.

As a young man he gave his service to the Civilian Conservation Corp... he called it the CCC camp or Roosevelt's tree army... a work relief program designed to both help young men and renew the nation's land and forests. In 1941 he entered the United States military and served his country honorably in both Korea and India. Upon discharge, he returned home and married Theresa. At age 6, I was a flower girl at their wedding and still remember tossing the rose petals upon the rolled out carpeted aisle of the church. They moved to Washington, DC, and for the next 30 years he was employed by the same major corporation from which he retired.

He wanted his family to visit him, his mother, his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and was successful in convincing at least one of his siblings to move to that area in search of a better future. We were invited to stay during summer vacations from school so he could show us our nation’s capitol and history, all the while broadening our life’s perspective.

Their son was born, Junior we still call him, and we were all so excited with the joy it brought to the family. When they would come home to visit, we were energized by the occasion. A handsome man, he charmed us with his infectious smile and laughter. My grandmother would always cook some favorite Lithuania dish he liked. The fun we had sitting in the kitchen, one uncle playing harmonica, all of us gathered around, singing some Lithuanian song, and then the treat was to hear my uncle sing.

When I first got married, he sang at my wedding. What a gift… that beautiful and compelling tenor voice. I close my eyes and can still hear him sing the “Ave Maria”. No doubt he is the influence for my love of opera.

My memories of him are fond ones: affectionately he always called me "Lanny”, a nickname from whence it came, I have not a clue; he encouraged us all, my brother, sister and cousins, to do the best we could, further our education, to go far beyond and excel at what we chose despite adversity in ones life. He loved and provided for his family, and he was proud of us all.

This tribute, Uncle Bruno, says “I love you”. You gave us much to hold dear.

I hope someone is singing to you now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Vacation, part 3: Vancouver, BC

(See July 21 and 27 for parts 1 and 2)

"I wonder where we can find some good Chinese food?" We had breakfast mid-morning and now for a mid-afternoon lunch. Who better to know than the lady at the desk at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's garden? One of her recommendations was the Jade Dynasty... turn right on Pender street and just 2 short blocks on the left side of the street.

One of our favorite dishes is chicken with Szechuan green beans, spicy, dry, and fresh, crisp and crunchy green beans... hard to beat in my mind. Two other dishes were ordered, one with seafood and the other pork, and there was no disappointment around that table. We laughed at one another as the highly steeped plates of food were served and realized the few remaining stragglers in the restaurant were also smiling. One of the last families to leave, stopped by to say it would make for a nice dinner. We agreed.

Doggy bags in hand, we returned for a relaxing evening, a glass of wine and the anticipation of the next day's adventure as we enjoyed the city views from our window.

Part four is coming up.