Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Evening escapes

Ten years ago, when J and I were living in Melbourne, I got my hands on a CD by a Scottish band that happened to be on tour in town. I immediately fell in love with the album, but sadly missed out on the chance to see that band live. As the years went by, that album - along with subsequent ones - have been on high rotation in our home and for road trips. This band is Franz Ferdinand, and they make music that is the perfect blend of pop, new-wave and rock, and guaranteed to get me dancing.

A couple of months ago, J heard that Franz Ferdinand would be doing a gig in Seattle, so on a whim, he booked tickets and I booked a babysitter. To be honest, I was a little blasé about the date circled on our calendar. I thought it'd be a nice enough night out, and knew the music would be great, but I had little expectations. I hadn't listened to Franz Ferdinand for a while, and wasn't particularly hyped.


Ever since that night in April, I've been meaning to write a post here about the awesomeness of seeing Franz Ferdinand, but every time I start thinking about it, I simply don't have the words. My mind? Was blown.

Everything about the night's performance was so tight, so perfect, so spot-on, that I knew halfway into the first song that I was experiencing the best live gig I'd ever been to... and not to brag, but I've seen some pretty amazing live performances over the years. I have nothing but superlatives for Franz Ferdinand. When I need to go to a happy place now, all I have to do is close my eyes, recall one of their songs, and I'm back in that darkened venue. Catchy guitar riffs, beats that groove down to your tippy toes and bounce into your heart, and a captivated crowd (at one point during a split-second pause in one of the songs, a guy yelled out "I LOVE YOU, MAN!", and without missing a beat, Alex Kapranos pointed back to him "And I love YOU!" with perfect showmanship and utter sincerity... maybe you had to be there).

And that's all I can write here about the joy of Franz Ferdinand live, because no words of mine will do justice. If you get the chance to see them perform? Just do it.

We finished the show with a couple of drinks in a dive bar across the road from the venue. It turns out that bars with floors that are covered in peanut shells don't exist solely in American movies and TV shows. We were given a fresh bowl of peanuts and I was more than a little perplexed with where to dispose of the shells, until J pointed out the floor. Um, ok then. It felt wrong, and I realised I might be a little too old for those places now. Anyhow, I chalked it up to one more 'uniquely' American experience to add to my notched belt.

As if that night out wasn't enough to keep me happy, we celebrated our wedding anniversary one week later. May Day also happened to be the warmest day in Seattle so far this year, so it was with happiness that we waved goodbye to the girls and their babysitter, I tottered into the car - dresses and heels are not my thing except for the rarest occasions - and we made our way to a waterside restaurant on the southern end of Lake Union. I had sterling company (of course), views of a busy waterway that everybody appeared to making the most of, and I devoured salmon, salmon, and more salmon.

If I haven't mentioned it before, I love salmon and will eat it in any and all of the ways it can be eaten.  Sushi, poké, smoked, grilled... I'll eat it all. So, if you love salmon as much as I do, and find yourself in Seattle one day, with a need for water views and city skylines, then I suggest Ivar's Salmon House. I'm already trying to think of an excuse for us all to have brunch there this summer. My parents will be visiting, so I think that's a good enough reason, right?

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Over the Easter weekend - I wish I could say holiday or break, but America doesn't do that [insert eye roll] - we took a little road trip to Vancouver. Finally. It's something we've wanted to do since moving to Seattle, but had to wait until our updated US visas were sorted... and then we were in the throes of winter. I've already been to Vancouver a number of times, but it was always winter so I was hoping to see some spring glory there for a change.

As it happens, spring in Vancouver involves a lot of rain. Weather-wise, nothing different to Seattle. Grey skies, rain, and a total of about ten-minutes diluted sunshine over the two days we were in town. Oh well! Lucky for that city, it's such a stunning beauty that we didn't really mind.

The trip itself was straightforward, without too long a wait at the US/Canada border crossing. We giggled at the sign to remind American visitors of the change to metric on the roadsigns, but our giggles turned to face-palming when our phones buzzed with a welcome message, notifying us of changes to the data roaming charges. Faaaark. We'd packed our passports but we'd completely overlooked the fact that - being in a different country, of course our usual phone plan rates wouldn't apply. Something about driving into foreign territory, as opposed to flying, made it feel, well, not so foreign. And having been here in the Pacific Northwest for almost a year, nothing stuck out as that different. So, having been stung (badly!) by data roaming charges on our first trip back to Australia, we decided we'd just have to switch that option off on our phones, and limit our online time to the free wi-fi in our hotel.

We had no road maps on us - taking Siri and Google Maps for granted when we left home - but fortunately I'd looked at the route online before we set off, and the road we were on at the US/Canada border crossing took us directly to the city. Handy, right? As for finding our hotel, we had to wing it but we had two things going in our favour. Firstly, even though it was more than ten years since we were last there, we'd been a few times and spent significant chunks of time in downtown Vancouver - where our hotel was - because J's sister lived there for seven years. How much could it have changed? Secondly, I have an excellent sense of direction. I was confident we'd find the hotel - a distinct building we'd walked past many times on prior visits - without drama, and we did.

We chose the Fairmont Hotel because the old building alone is a-freaking-mazing. We used to walk past it and admire everything about it. When I called to potentially book a room, and learned we could use J's Microsoft very generous employee discount, the deal was sealed. When I showed pictures to the girls, there were gasps because they thought it looked like a palace. Win.

Anyhow, Vancouver was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it to be. Smaller than Seattle, shinier, cleaner, with a mountainous backdrop (pending those rain clouds) that is BAM-in-your-face. The mix of old and new architecture is very similar to Sydney's, and despite the cold climate, it feels more like home to me than any other foreign city has. We knew exactly which spots we wanted to take the girls to, and Vancouver Aquarium was one of them. Located in Stanley Park (the equivalent of Central Park in NYC but much more untamed and on the edge of wilderness), J and I first went in 2000, and we were so impressed that we vowed then and there that we'd return with our future, hypothetical kids one day. Lucky for us, the girls were equally enamoured, and it felt sweet to fulfil that particular little dream of ours.

We spent the two days on foot only, revisiting old hangouts. We got pretty soaked at one point, but the fancy hotel digs and indoor pool compensated for that. The Easter Bunny paid a visit to our hotel room and that cemented how awesome Vancouver is to the girls. Our beds were possibly the plushest, most comfortable ever, and when it was time to leave and head back to Seattle, the girls were very much in a state of end-of-holiday blues. A week later, they're both hatching plans to return and I have to admit, it'd be great to see even more of Canada. Hopefully we will some day. With the metric system, the British Royal Family gracing their magazine covers, and Queen Elizabeth on their money, it's like J said - being in Canada is a little like being in America, but the familiar Commonwealth elements soften the American edges.

I did pack the good camera, but with all the rain we were walking in, it never left our hotel room. I'm still happy with the photos I was able to get, though:

Mementos from visits to Vancouver over the years. Douglas Coupland is one of my favourite writers (to the point where I've gone to several book signings and met him), so I snapped this book up after my first trip to Vancouver.

The older building with the green roof was our hotel.

Gargoyle from our room.

This 'Digital Orca' creation was by none other than Douglas Coupland.
Do you know how much I geeked out when I discovered that?

This city - swoon! But may I see you again with blue skies some day...