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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Vancouver | Squaredancing by candlelightSquare-dancing by candleight at Britannia Community Centre

I loathe winter on most accounts, but there’s something about the Winter Solstice that unleashes the romantic in me. Perhaps I’ve eaten one too many $1.50 slices of Numero Uno pizza, but the mere sound of the phrase gets me a little verklempt.

Last night, the Secret Lantern Society held their annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival in five Vancouver neighbourhoods. I thought heading out to Commercial Drive would be my best bet for a cozy, community feel. Unfortunately, I missed out on the $10 house concert series, but I made it to the Brittania Community Centre to spectate on a ho-down squaredancing session in the gym. When you’re not actually participating in the dancing activities, squaredancing by amateurs can be a little taxing to watch, so I fled to the Seniors’ Centre for a performance by the Bluegrass Assembly. This was way more my style — a group of men playing down-home romantic porch music. I was inside, crammed in a steamy room with a bunch of strangers, but I felt like I was sitting on a back porch with my pops and sister Emmy-Lou, clad in manure-stained overalls, strand of wheat dangling from my ratty-toothed smile.

Dayum, it felt good.

Yee. Haw.

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A-ho, ho, ho. It’s the holiday season, my friends, and though I consider myself a hate-riddled Grinch for most of the period, I do have a heart… Like the Grinch I come to my senses, but mainly out of pure self-indulgence. It’s usually a time for reflection, sometimes painful, sometimes glorious, but always an opportunity to take stock of what is most important to me.

I realized more than anything else that wandering (*sic*) around and exploring is a major part of my life, and though I’ve always treated home as a base for travel, perhaps it’s one of the places that needs exploring the most.

Vancouver | Night scene from Burrard Bridge

So in addition to summarizing and uploading all of my old journals, I will try to make an effort to expound the glories of my new home here in the Great White North… because it’s a pretty cool place to be. I just have to let others realize that, too.

Have a good holiday, kids.

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I’m sure you’ve been waking up each morning, ready to update your RSS feeds, hoping for the possibility that olde Wandering Shoes has submitted some sort of life-changing update. I’m sorry I’ve had to disappoint.

Thing is, I’ve just moved back to Vancouver. Moves take up a bunch of time, even down to purchasing the little necessary but sometimes unforgettable things, like a cheese grater. It’s sadly chewing into my update time, but it looks like I’ve gotten most of my staples (sans cheese grater), so expect updates a-plenty.

My wandering shoes are still seeking new places to see, and I’m hoping to schedule a trip in the new year, most likely in places where I can scam free accommodation. I implore friends to take note, especially those in Berlin, Istanbul, Nagoya, or Taipei. I will be knocking on one of your doors soon.

In the meantime, let’s get this dang site up to date! Here’s a preliminary effort to get things going in the right direction — presenting old travel photos! Thanks to my pal Lori, here are some scanned shots of ye backpacking trips of olde. You may notice that some sets are very, very sparse; additions will be made in due time, you lucky dogs.

Photo goodness:
Australia
Cambodia
China
Florida
India
Montreal
New York City
Paris
Thailand
Tofino
Toronto

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The hygienic and paranoid need not apply. But for those who want to wake up in central Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui and build a little character, the Mirador Mansions is a dream come true.

Wanderingshoes | Mirador
(Photo courtesy of Christopher Buchanan)

Here in Tsim Sha Tsui, the western world and China merge. Wrinkled men en route to breakfast congee float beneath bamboo scaffolding, dodging garbage collectors and their pushcarts. On Granville Road, mobile users elbow their way through markets fit for the HK scenester. It’s the centre of it all for the first-time tourist.

I arrive on Nathan Road, my third time in Hong Kong, my third time staying in the vicinity. My throbbing eyes squint deliriously at the street signs. I realize I am the walking definition of “victim” and quickly make a new friend, a panicking wheeler-dealer who can get me a good deal, no problem.

“In the Mansions? Sure,” I say.

He seems shocked by my eagerness, but takes me in.

Though only a few steps away from the bustling city sidewalk, it is no longer the Hong Kong from tourist pamphlets. It’s a Hong Kong built of cumin and coriander, naked mannequins, cloth samples, shouting Indian men, and barefoot laborers squatting on the floor shoveling rice into their open gobs. In relatively quieter halls, the click-clack of mahjong tiles ring alongside Cantonese squeals.

My friend catches me in my reverie.

“Follow,” he says.

I am scared, but have no other ideas. I follow.

He whisks me in and out of an elevator into a dark, musty hallway, then right, left, ducking underneath exposed pipes and flickering fluorescents straight out of gangster movie. Right. Right. Left. Then finally another right, to a sleeping Chinese woman, mouth agape and drooling on a desk, who then slurps up her stream of saliva to demand $40 for a glamorous night in a windowless room with bubbling walls, a bloodied mattress, and a welcome wagon of cockroaches to greet me at the bathtub. She punctuates her spiel with a trembling glob of phlegm.

So when my friend turns his head, I do the first thing that comes to mind: Run. I have no idea about where I’m going–I just want to leave before my body parts become rat food. I don’t know where I am, and I should have taken notes. Right, left, left, then right? The elevators have disappeared. I’m lost.

After a few more turns, I find a staircase tucked into a corner, where my heart sends me catapulting me down the steps, two by two, five flights down to a large door marked “exit”. I am feverish. My doorway to the outside world! Here! In reach!

…or not. I yank. I yank again.

I turn around. My friend is back, walking me into a corner, asking me why I left so quickly.

I am speechless. I close my eyes.

“Don’t worry. I’ll find you cheaper place.”

***

I sink into a bedbug-ridden bed in a $12 doorless dorm room. I take refuge in the click-clack of a hallway mahjong game. Sirens blare outside, and the pillow reeks of mothballs.

I inhale deeply, hoping the fumes will take me to a special place far, far… very far away from here.

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Never have I been in a place where abusing transit workers seems to be de rigeur. I don’t mean to say that this place is full of disrespectful people — not at all. It’s just that in the 4 days I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed three occasions where people have attempted to cheat the system and when caught, screamed at the driver or staff on security like it was their problem.

The sad thing is, these are probably just a bunch of privileged kids who have nothing better to do than sass back.

On behalf of everyone who rides SF transit (even though it’s trying at times), here’s my big hearty “thank you” to the drivers who are just doin’ their job! [pumping fist]

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San Francisco | Golden Gate Bridge

If you’re in a physical shape anything close to mine and find yourself biking around in San Francisco, get yourself a decent bike and a set of thighs that actually work.

Biking across the Golden Gate bridge is a rite of passage for any tourist coming to the city, so no matter what your aversion is to pedaling up a hill, you just give in and do it. At least that’s what I told myself before I had to attack the first hill up to Presidio Park, and experienced the worst burning in my thighs that I’d ever experienced since my grade four 1-kilometre run. In fact, I think that was the very last time I was actually challenged physically, so my inactivity accounts for a lot of this mess. But if the numbers of people pushing their bike up moderate hills are any indication, I’m not the only one who needs to stop wolfing down those onion rings and poutine.

The professional, local bikers of city, all clad in their streamlined gear and spandex clothing, seem a little bit irate about the tourist biking collective. They zip by, sometimes a little perturbed by the whole picture-taking kafuffle on the bridge, and I totally see where they’re coming from. Us tourists can be an annoying lot. Especially when our pedaling only takes us 1 mile an hour uphill.

It’s a battle, and with me on the team, I’m afraid we lost the war.

But in retrospect, yeah, I suppose it was all worth it.

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San Francisco | Back to my room

Creaky bunkbeds, manky carpets, drunk gap-year students, and slimy shower stalls… All these probably make even the heartiest of travellers wince when it comes to accommodation, but for $23 a night, you suck it in and deal.

Hostels get a bad rap, though, and I’m here to make a case for them. In only a week of travel,
I’ve made friends from all over the States, have had invites to stay in Boston, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, and will be hosting someone from Chicago and seeing a couple from Ottawa in my own city in the next year. To boldly invite yourself out to dinner with someone you’ve talked to for only five minutes is normal. It’s about the only place where it’s not frowned upon to go up to a person and say, “hey, what’s your phone number?” or “here’s my email” and have it not be shrouded with society-laden sliminess.

Here in San Francisco, there are four major hostels, all of which serve free breakfasts and cater to a vastly distinct travelling needs:

Green Tortoise Hostel
Located in the North Beach area near Chinatown, Little Italy, the infamous City Lights Books, and even Larry Flynt’s own seedy late-night haunt, if you catch my drift. It may be out of the way if you like to have transit on your doorstep, but the offer of free dinners and social gatherings may sway your decision. Beer pong and late-night music is a staple here, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll make a friend or two.

Hostelling International Downtown
This is the most well-situated of the bunch, smack dab in the downtown shopping district and right around the corner from a transportation hub, Union Square, and the inexpensive apparel offerings of H&M. It is on the fringe of a very unsavoury area, but if you stick to the shopping district, you’re fine.

Hostelling International City Center
Though recent renovations have made this the darling of the bunch in terms of interior decor, this place is definitely the worst located of them all. Go here if you’re considering a hobby in crack.

Hostelling International Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason
Laidback nature lovers, this is your choice. It’s a bit out of the way in terms of transit connections, but if your main intent is to check out the Wharf, relax in the parks and on the beach, you’ll dig this place.

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