Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ferry Crossings

The only ferry trip I took as a kid went from the Berkeley Marina to Angel Island. I must have gone at least 10 times growing up.

Aside from a sad memory of a favorite sweatshirt disappearing into the ferry's wake, what was most memorable about that ferry ride was the destination.

What I remember: the hike to the top of Angel Island, which always seemed like a long way to go before getting lunch (how far could it have been? Five miles at most?). The excitement of going alone with friends in high school, bringing nothing but a ball and a picnic lunch. Packing my lunch for the last class trip of 6th grade. I wished we had some cookies in the house, or something to make that lunch seem more special than the one I usually had. My mom suggested I take a thermos of orange juice, and add sliced strawberries. It was a good suggestion.

For some reason, beyond that slowly disappearing blue sweatshirt and watching out for seagulls overhead, I remember little of the actual ferry ride.

I found myself thinking about ferry trips, unsurprisingly, after my trip to Victoria. At the end of our week we took the ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, BC. The ferry crosses the Strait of Georgia, winding its way through the Gulf Islands.

A few minutes into our trip Pavel and I sat inside, watching the outline of passing islands (Piers and then Portland Islands to our right, Salt Spring to our left). The colors were all softened by the cold drizzle that had driven us inside. Soft browns, blues, and grays. And then red and gold. And black and silver.

Because suddenly, walking up and down out our window were two Mariachi bands.

It was the juxtaposition, at first, that was so attractive. The bright colors against the muted drizzle. We couldn't hear them talk (sadly, they weren't performing) from our side of the glass. But we could see them. They were smiling, and laughing, and pointing. They broke into smaller groups, 3 or 4 of them leaning over the edge of the ferry. A couple of them walking without conversation, just looking across the water. 

Then one walked by, alone, taking pictures.

Soon most of them came inside. One stayed out, in his raincoat, just watching.

I overheard a woman, later, talking to a group of the guys dressed in black and silver. She was asking where they were from. He explained that his was band, Los Arrieros, came from Laredo; Cocula, the red and gold band, came from Jalisco. They had played in Victoria the day before, and were headed to Vancouver for the Mariachi Festival. "It's beautiful here. So different from back home." And he looked back out the window.

Another ferry crossing, more than 30 years ago. I had just arrived in Denmark, where I would spend the next year as an exchange student. We'd flown into Copenhagen, and those of us who wouldn't be living near to Copenhagen, had climbed into two buses. We drove until nearly 1 in the morning (I got off at the last stop), chasing the summer sunset as we drove north. There's a bridge crossing Storebælt now, connecting the islands of Sjælland and Fyn. But that was still nearly 20 years away the evening I crossed.

View Chasing the Sunset in a larger map

Our bus stopped for supper in the port town of Korsør. We all climbed off the bus and sat down at an outdoor cafe. The meal had been ordered ahead for us; many of the kids were not pleased. We started with pickled herring, tasting of sea and onions. Then some veal cutlets, with lemon and capers. Beers too, surprising our group (we ranged in age from 15 to 18). After a short walk along the beach, we got on the ferry.

We were sailing west, towards a sun that didn't seem as if it would ever set. Storebælt is perhaps 20 miles across. I remember standing at the railing, looking ahead to the next island. A girl I hadn't met yet stood next to me. She stood there, silently, for a long time, looking to her right and left. Finally she sighed. "Have you ever seen so much water?"

I later learned she was from Nebraska.

And also that as wonderful as it is to see things for the first time, watching others see things for the first time is just about as wonderful.

 I remembered her the first time I drove across North Dakota, and marveled at the endless fields.

And I'll remember the Mariachi bands on my next ferry crossing, whether it's in British Columbia, or crossing the Willamette on the tiny Canby Ferry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ice Cream on the Road

Last week in I came across two ice creams worth knowing about if you find yourself in Victoria. Some people apparently think ice cream is only for sunny weather (one of the ice creams wasn't available the first time I tried, due to the cold weather). But I've never understood that. I enjoy ice cream year round.

Fol Epi, an organic bakery (whose chewy loaf I'm still enjoying for toast 5 days later), has a lot to offer: bread, sandwiches (I had the smoked albacore--nice big chunks, a light spread of mayo, lettuce), pizzas, various shortbread cookies (the candied orange peel was a favorite), macarons, strudel (rhubarb when I was there--what a treat), and eclairs.

If that wasn't enough, they also have vanilla soft serve ice cream. That might not sound exciting. But the ice cream was delicious, and they have a nice selection of toppings. Including caramel sauce and nuts. I went with the fruit sauce, which happened to be, you guessed it, rhubarb.

Those chunks of rhubarb were perfectly cooked, not at all mushy. And the juices were just sweet enough.
But what I especially liked was the cone. I had to hold it very carefully, lest it shatter. No showing it who was boss. It was a happy surprise. So often cones have an odd taste to me. I notice the smell when I walk into ice cream stores, and I've never figured out if it's the vanilla that's used, or the smell of a mix. But the cones at Fol Epi are just fragile wafers, exactly as they should be.

My other discovery was Cold Comfort. What a great name. I came across them the way I usually find ice cream in a new town. By googling 'ice cream' first thing upon my arrival. Their website helpfully lists stores that sell their ice cream sandwiches. As I was mainly on foot last week, I figured out that Niagara Grocery in James Bay was the place to get my ice cream.

Niagara Grocery is about halfway between the Empress Hotel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or, about halfway between gazing at the Olympic Mountains and my cup of tea and book back at the hotel. In other words, perfectly located. And it turned out to be a shop I wish was around the corner from my house. A place where you can pick up a quart of milk, some local produce, maybe a nice piece of cheese. And an ice cream sandwich from Cold Comfort.

Or a pint of ice cream. I looked over the choices, which that day included salted caramel and others I've forgotten. (for an idea of what you may find, check the list of flavors on their blog--I'm pretty broken up about missing salmiak) I went, unsurprisingly, with the fennel, star anise, and pear, on a snickerdoodle-like cookie. I was pleased. The flavors all balanced nicely. A perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Always hating missing out on one last ice cream (and feeling sorry for Pavel who missed out on the first sandwich), we made one last stop on our way to the ferry.

The woman who helped me at Niagara had said that Cold Comfort has a staff of two. Or maybe three. But you get the idea--small. So small that you can't buy scoops. They only sell sandwiches and pints, out of a small chest freezer in Lone Tree Bakery. The bakery, incidentally, had some nice looking treats, too. But I only had eyes for ice cream.

Pavel did enjoy a Nanaimo bar, and was a little surprised later to learn that Nanaimo bars (which he has liked for some time) are a Canadian treat--from a town not far from Victoria. Clearly he spends less time perusing maps and dessert books than I do.

In the end, I had the lemon ice cream and hazelnut dacquoise sandwhich. I could have done without the caramelized white chocolate drizzle on the outside of the bar, it didn't seem necessary, or to add anything. But using dacquoise for the sandwich was perfect, and the lemon ice cream was bright and tart. Pavel had the balsamic blackberry and juniper (he was probably sorry he'd skipped a martini the night before) sorbet. I barely got a taste. So you can come to your own conclusions about how good he thought it was.

I'm looking forward to the coming ice cream months--the ones when the rest of the world seems ready to join me in eating ice cream, and, therefore, the ice cream eating opportunities multiply!

Friday, May 17, 2013

In Victoria

I'm in Victoria. Pavel had a conference to attend at the Empress, so I tagged along for an escape.

An escape from what, you may ask. Wouldn't it be nicer if you asked escape to what? To that I'd say an escape to some time with Pavel, to a bit of luxury, to some walks along the harbor, and maybe to find Cadbury Shortcake Snacks (last seen by me in Victoria, about 15 years ago).

But you asked escape from what. It's a good question. I don't really have much to escape from, life is that good. But if pressed, I'd say an escape from the day to day.

Because isn't that why going somewhere--whether near or far--is so wonderful? I always feel a new lease on life coming with sudden acute observation. It makes me feel completely present, everything new and important. Heck, even the seagulls are fascinating.

So here I am, in Victoria. Pavel's been busy most of the day, so I have set myself a nice routine. After breakfast with him I take a short walk to a cafe where I have some coffee and write in my journal. Then I take another walk before meeting Pavel for lunch.

Coffee so far:
Habit, Caffe Artigiano, and Caffe Fantastico (here with a rhubarb Danish from Fol Epi Bakery).

Where we've lunched so far:
Chorizo and Co.

Choux Choux Charcuterie (they use local heritage pigs for their sausages and the mortadella they put in my sandwich).

Red Fish Blue Fish (all local wild caught fish) Here we had pretty good fish and chips, but I came back a few days later for one of the rhubarb creamsicles they sell.

The weather here has been perfect. Well, perfect for a Portlander used to some overcast skies. And perfect for someone who would prefer cooler weather for walking. And perfect if you like to see skies full of clouds in various shades of grey, and the light made when the sun breaks through, here and there. And perfect, at the end of the day, when the sun makes the Strait of Juan de Fuca sparkle, and the clouds break just enough to let you see the snow capped tips of the Olympics, just across the strait (you might have to zoom in, and squint).

And there's so much to see. Signs that clarify:


Invitations (at least that's how I read a coffee sign):

Or just to offer some perspective on your day (and night):

There are wrapped things, like potted plants in the hallway of the convention center:

And ships at the Point Hope Shipyard:

The air smells like linden blossoms, the rugosa roses that are hedges along the Selkirk Water of the Gorge, and cold salt.

The neighborhoods and gardens are wonderful. There are so many carefully pruned hedges and trees. To make room for the passersby (or undersby?):

And others that look like some sort of huge, slightly goofy, pet:

The clematis are taking over:

And, some sort of moth-like creatures are as well:

Late in the afternoon, this one fellow is taking a nap (he must have read the sign) with his dog watching over him:

And those Cadbury Shortcake Snacks? Even at the English Sweet Shop, where I found them last time, they'd never heard of them. Oh well. I'm making do. I found some delicious ice cream sandwiches from Cold Comfort. Actually, it's not at all a cold comfort. Just a comfort.

And when all else fails, the lounge at the Empress always has boiling water, tea, and silver pots at hand. And the city does it's best to remind me it's teatime.

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