Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Gem of a Bicycle ride from Vancouver, BC to Bellingham, WA

In the Pacific NW, when the clouds part and the sun shines just right, it is time to plan a long distance bike ride.  Throw in the excitement of crossing an international border via bicycle and you've got yourself a 'slow down and smell the roses' type of a bike adventure. 

The goal is to find bike paths that keep us away from the big highways and major roadways and make the way over to B'Ham with minimal interaction with traffic.  Google maps is a good way to confirm bits and pieces of route information by being able to zoom in.  I read many internet posts and blogs to look for ways to avoid traffic but didn't seem to find the route we ended up riding.  Hence this blog post aims to share this 'gem of a ride' description as well as map for others to enjoy. 

Our route started in downtown Vancouver following the BC Parkway all the through Burnaby and New West. The route markers for BC Parkway could use an update.  Half the challenge was route finding despite having a printout of the map with us.  But bear with the map, stick to the path under the skytrain and you should be find yourself in New West just past the Edmonds train station.  Then cross the Queensborough bridge onto Annacis Island and to hook up with the Alex Fraser Bridge into Delta. 
At the south end of the Alex Fraser Bridge, if you blink you will miss the sign marking the direction towards 'Nordel Way' instead of 'River Road.'  You have to go under the bridge over to the other side to link up with the Delta/South Surrey trail towards 72nd Ave.  Continue to follow signs to Watershed parkway until you find yourself at Colebrook drive parallel to Hwy 99.  Take Colebrook to King George Hwy.  This 5 minute segment on King George is pretty much the only time you are right next to traffic.  Right after crossing the Serpentine river, turn to Crescent Road and hop onto the Semiahmoo Trail.  This gets you all the way down to 20th Ave in White Rock/South Surrey.  A few zigzags later brings you down to Stayte Road which links up with a pedestrian/bicycle bridge to Beach Road.  Follow Beach Road until you end up just behind the Duty Free shop at the Peace Arch border crossing. 

If you have a Nexus pass, feel free to ride up to the Nexus lane to get through.  Otherwise, follow the pedestrian cross walk instead of waiting in the car traffic to go inside the customs building for immigration. 

Once past the border crossing, follow Peace Portal drive to Portal way and link up to Vista Drive.  Vista Drive will get you to downtown Ferndale where you can cross the Nooksack River via a bridge.  Main street in Ferndale will link to Pacific Hwy which runs roughly parallel to I-5 and can get you to Bellingham downtown. 

It is a great ride which takes the better part of the day by the time you find the route.  Total travel distance is about 100+ kM depending on how far into downtown Bellingham you are going.  On long summer days, hit the road by 10 AM so you have lots of time to get to your destination.  There is a 9 PM train back to Vancouver.  But it is far more fun to kick up and relax at a B&B or hotel for one night or two and ride home. 

Another great resource for bicycle route finding in the metro vancouver area is the UBC bicycle route planner.  This is an interactive tool that clearly displays the grades of elevation change etc.  All useful information for the novice/intermediate rider. 

Logistics wise, we both ride 80's road bikes.  We have Specialized Armadillo tires installed so we rarely get flats.  The trails we rode were gravelly but okay for road bikes.  Alternatively, a hybrid would work as well.  Since most of the ride is a little away from commercial areas, it would be a good idea to bring along a pump and new tubes, just in case.

Enjoy the ride and feel free to share your story.  Hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Auyuittuq National Park

Home away from home...
Auyuittuq National Park is located on Baffin island.  The only access to the park is via a boat.  There are outfitters that take you up there and back.  But I don't like the idea of going to an even more remote location on a boat with a stranger.  It would be nice to meet a group of tourists to go with but it has been a low season for tourists and it is starting to get colder outside.  I will drop by at the hotel in town to see if I can line up a group of people that are interested in going - otherwise, I will have to resort to a hike up the mountain behind the camp (as can be see in the picture above).  The views on a clear day are magnificent.  You can see up the fjord a fair distance.   The second option is to hike 5 - 6 km behind the hills to the glacier.  Rumor has it there are a couple of polar bears roaming the area.  Might be smart to do both hikes with more people.  
Josh, a surveyor has most recently arrived FOP (fresh off the plane).  Might be able to talk him into going with me.  The rest of the guys have already been up once and are not interested in doing the hike again :(.

--
Nadia
Pangnirtung, NU 

P.S. Sorry about the graphic nature of some of the photos below.  They are mean to highlight the Inuit way of living.
The Ritz @ Pangnirtung

Arctic rainbow - Ever seen a frozen rainbow?

This boat is out fishing every day.

The carcass of the Beluga that was hunted a couple of days before I arrived.

The eyes are considered a delicacy.

Another Beluga carcass.

Very low tide - tidal range is approximate 6-7 m (around 21 ft)

Hudson's Bay Company Blubber station

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pangnirtung, Nunavut

Pangnirtung Marina at Low tide

















It has been 10 years since my last visit to the Canadian arctic.  Last time, I had the opportunity to travel to Inuvik, NWT and all these years later, I find myself Pangnirtung, NU.  This place is so far away from it all that it is actually closer to Greenland than mainland Canada.

It is beautifully serene out here.  There is one more hamlet that is further north of here on Baffin island.  I am told that last week hunters had brought by a beluga whale that had been hunted by local hunters.  It is a shame that I wasn't here.

This morning was was very grey and cloudy but I don't think these pictures quite captured the colors and light that filtered through the foggy cloud. 

There is no bank here in a town of 1000 -1500 people, but there is a KFC/Pizza Hut express at the local grocery store.  It is very popular with the young kids.  There really aren't many other places to hang out at.

Just thought I'd share some pictures of my first day here.  Will try to post more in the coming days.  Internet is very slow :(.

-Nadia
Fresh snow on top of the mountain.

More snow

Local fish factory

View beyond the breakwater

In case you forget the name of the town

Very low tide...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia

(Pictured above is a view looking North from Kitsilano Beach showing the heated, salt-water Kits pool with the back drop of English Bay and mountains)

Vancouver, B.C. We headed back to the U.S. on December 10th, 2009 after having been away for nearly 8.5 months. Our round the globe tour took us through Nepal, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand (again), Mongolia, China, Tibet, Japan, Australia, Fiji, Los Angeles and back to N.Y. We got so caught up in our travelling that we hardly found the time to upload daily or weekly posts to our blog. Still there were times when Vadim sat down to write but after losing a lot of work either to P.C. malfunctions or power outages, maintaining a consistent travel log became our biggest challenge. Then again we had hoped that upon our return home, we would find the time to organize over 5,000 photos and update our blog retroactively, but life has a way of catching up and blogging always ended up on the back burner. Between trying to tie up loose ends, completing some projects around the house, applying for jobs, and catching up with friends and family that we hadn't seen in months, time flew right by. And finally, Vadim lost all his travel notes after he updated the Apple OS on his Ipod Touch.

Almost 9 months have passed since our return to the U.S. After taking care of our obligations in Albany it was time to head out to Vancouver, where we had hoped to make our new home. Searching through Craigslist, we were able to find a sublet in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood and bought one way plane tickets to Vancouver from Newark Airport. After celebrating some significant birthdays with our friends in NYC, we stuffed about one bag each with some suits for interviews and everyday clothes, and shipped our bicycles via FedEx ground. The plan is to move the contents of our Brooklyn apartment that has been in storage since March 2009 once we find work and settle into a neighborhood that we like the best. In the meanwhile, we continue to sublet in a new neighborhood every month for the experience. We hope this homework will expedite our decision of where is most fun and convenient place to live.

Vancouver is a city of many contrasts. Nearly everywhere you look, you see a cityscape that is worth photographing and yet some portions of the city suffer from a growing homeless population. The sun shines beautifully in the summer like it is a permanent fixture here, yet the Pacific Northwest is better known for its long, wet and dreary winters. A homicide in the shadow of the City Hall goes unreported like it never happened, yet the seagull whose wing got stuck on a spike and had to be rescued by a Fireman makes the 5 o'clock news.

Both young and old enjoy the picturesque outdoors and devote much of their free time to outdoor activities. Some people don't own a TV, as has been the case at both apartments we have sublet so far. While the streets are filled with plenty of fancy new cars on a warm night, the city dwellers also love their classic cars and retain them with pride. A walk down any block keeps your senses engaged. The architecture is neat and eclectic-- hardly two buildings on the same block look the same, yet the city has modern feel overall.

Is August the best month of the year to move here? As Vadim would say (PG-13 version), "Does a rabbit have fur?" The temperature is mild and people are relaxed riding up and down the streets on their bicycles. While a major relocation like this can feel awkward at first, this city easily appeals to our senses. It is bike and pedestrian friendly and the metro area can easily be navigated without a car. The city just committed $25M to constructing bike lanes:

Our bikes from Albany turned up via Fedex on Monday. It cost us about $130 to transport them via FedEx ground. (NOTE: You need to have an account with FedEx.com to be able to fill out your own FedEx Ground shipping labels and prepay for shipping before bringing it to a FedEx location for drop off). We hope that the money we will save by peddling will more than cover the cost of transporting our bikes. Since these were used bikes, we were allowed to import them into Canada without any customs duty :)

To date we have walked around several neighborhoods in Vancouver's downtown. Walking the streets we have heard different languages spoken and seen a good mix of nationalities living and working side by side. Restaurants representing nearly all regions of the world offer a variety of tasty treats at all price levels. The downtown core is a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. The furthest west end of downtown lies Stanley Park - a lovely park slightly larger than Central Park in NYC. The core of the downtown is a mix of office buildings, hotels and residential high rises. This creates some vibrant and lively spaces. Southwest of downtown is English Bay Beach and the Gay scene of West End, where many shops and restaurants display the rainbow colored flag of pride and multiculturalism. The vibe is similar to New York City's West Village. There are tree lined residential streets and high rise buildings that boast magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Coastal Mountains of the Frasier Valley on the other side. To the Northwest is the neighborhood of Coal Harbor where newer construction overlooks the marina. This area offers some great restaurants choices too.

Further North East, you pass through the Financial District of Downtown Vancouver as you make your way across to Gastown - a neighborhood named after the gas lamps of the yesteryear (not after the flatulent patrons of today). Just to the Southeast of Gastown is Vancouver's Chinatown - one of the oldest Chinatowns in North America. A walk here almost takes us back to our trip through China. There are authentic restaurants and tea houses and stores selling anything Chinese that your heart may desire. Except here it's a little easier to shop because everyone speaks English :) From Chinatown, a further walk south west brings you to Yaletown--- another residential area with new glass skyscrapers coupled with older industrial buildings converted to lofts. The restaurants are set up along cobbled streets that remind me of Tribeca or the Meatpacking district. Nearly everywhere you go in this city, there are reminders of the Big Apple.

Our mornings are spent at the home/office following up on career opportunities. By late afternoons the view from of our apartment window (shown below) tugs at us to head outside and go explore the city.


On average, we end up walking 5-10 Km, between 3-5 hours. We have been able to cram a lot of sightseeing and neighborhood exploring in two weeks .

We have a sublet for the month of September in the trendy neighborhood of Kits Beach. This is a hip, yuppie-jock neighborhood stretching west across the bridge from downtown. Our apartment is one block from Kits Beach which also boasts one of world's largest outdoor, heated, salt water pools This is a public facility accessible via a monthly flex pass ($46 per month per adult) or around $5 per visit. For a better picture of the pool, see below:

We are excited to be here and look forward to making British Columbia our new home.

-Nadia

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our Daily Expenses....

Phuket, Thailand.  I'm sure some of you have been wondering how affordable a trip like this really is. That would be a question on my mind if I was following this blog instead of writing it. I decided it might be a good time to itemize some of the expenses of this trip. We have now been to a whole host of different locations. We have almost been to Everest Base camp, to Delhi and Goa in India, been to big cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Singapore and spent our fair share of days on the islands of Thailand. We are enjoying a relatively high standard of living. We've had no experiences with bed bugs and mostly stayed in places with clean, attached bathrooms. These are luxuries that most low budget bag packers can't always afford. I think we fit into the category somewhere between bag packers and "flashpackers," where we have a little bit of extra savings that allow us a decently clean room every night.

ACCOMMODATIONS.  Big Cities (Delhi, Bangkok, Kuala Lampur (KL) and Singapore) - a mix of hostels and low budget hotels.  Expect to pay about $30 - $35 USD per night for a basic but clean room and attached bathroom including shower with A/C. You may find yourself in not so desirable (or desirable) neighborhoods like a hotel in Singapore in the red light district.  ABOVE. Photo of our comfortable room at Thaltara B&B, Jaipur, India

Some more photos of places we stayed at can be found below:

Ajanta Hotel, New Delhi
HI Sukhumvit, Bangkok
D'Oriental Inn, Chinatown, Kuala, Lumpur
Fragrance Hotel Sapphire, Red Light District, Singapore

During our Nepal trek, standard accommodations were anywhere from $1 - $9 USD. These are very basic digs with no attached bathrooms and sometimes no running water, electricity or heat. Showers cost an extra $1 to $4 depending on the altitude. The higher up you go the higher the cost is for accommodation as well as for showers and meals.

In Goa, India we had beautiful but basic huts with a ceiling fan ranging in price from $10 in Vagator to $7 a night on Agonda Beach.

In Thailand, typical island accommodations for a basic beach-front bungalow with a fan runs about ~$20 a night. Still an awesome value for beach front and seaviews.

FOOD.  Our food costs vary considerably. Some of the best food we have sampled has been from food carts on the streets of Bangkok for under $3 a plate of mind bending Pad Thai. But we don't always eat from street vendors. In India, the hygiene level is too iffy to eat street grub, but Thailand is a different story. Our costliest 4 star meal was an opulent evening at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi for about $85 for the two.  (Umm, try to swing that in NYC!).  Most days we have breakfast and lunch for under $10 each meal for two -- this includes eggs, toast and usually a fresh fruit salad plus coffee. Dinner might be anywhere between $10 and $20 if you add fresh seafood.  Most days we have a good breafast and a late lunch/ early dinner. So living under $40 - $50 a day is not too hard at all.  In fact, we feel like we spend too much.  ABOVE. Photo of fresh coconut and rambutan fruit for breakfast in Thailand.

TRANSPORTATION.  Our next biggest cost is transportation. Flights from NYC to New Delhi cost ~$875 R/T per person including taxes, add another $250 R/T per person flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi. A train ride to Jaipur from Delhi cost about $12 per person, one-way and flight from Udaipur back to New Delhi was just under $75 per person, one-way. Flight from Delhi to Goa was about $90 per person, one-way. The onward flight from Goa to Bangalore was about $60 per person, one-way and another $185 per person, one-way to fly to Bangkok. From Bangkok, we took a train to Chumphon on the way to the Thai islands which cost about $30 a person, one-way. Our flight from Krabi, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was about $50 per person, one-way. The next flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore which cost only about $20 per person, one-way.  Lastly, we flew from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand for about $50 per person, one-way. The local flights within Southeast Asia have all been one way seats and are usually cheaper than taking the train or bus and save a lot of time of hard traveling. Thanks to the discount airline: Air Asia.  ABOVE. Photo of Nepal's Agni Air from Lukla.

-nadia (edited by vadim :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

All that fun in Bangkok

Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaFinally, after all these weeks spent on small Thai Islands, I have the time and access to an internet cafe to upload this video clip that I have been dying to share. After a macho session of Muay Thai boxing, this is just great material. I couldn't resist.

It all began one afternoon when we took the lazy way out and signed us up for the very touristy Wanfah Dinner Cruise in Bangkok that shows beautiful lit up temples and palaces along the Chao Phraya River while serving up a traditional Thai meal, music and dancing on an old fashioned rice boat. The end of the dance presentation invites guests to join in for a quick lesson in Thai dancing.

Should I call this a Kodak moment or does it suffice to say, "For everything else, there is MasterCard?" Enjoy...

-nadia

video

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Amazing Muay Thai... in Bangkok


Bangkok, Thailand.  I've always been a boxing fan, so when a chance came up to score ringside seats for Thai kickboxing (Muay Thai) at Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Bangkok, I jumped at the opportunity. We did one better by taking a training class at Sor.Vorapin Muay Thai Gym, one of several schools around the city to get us in the mood and pumped up for the match.

The art of Muay Thai fighting is as old the country itself and is deeply ingrained in the history of Thailand. "What sets Muay Thai apart from other martial arts lies in its profound connection with spirituality and reverence, which are expressed through ritual ceremonies before and after each fight... each boxer wears 'Mong Kon' (a sacred headband) and 'Pra Jiad' (sacred armband). The headband is believed to bestow luck to the wearer since it has been blessed by a monk or the boxer's teacher."

The matches were exciting to watch. Each match goes 5 rounds. There was a surprise knockout in the first bout. Live sport betting, like on a commodities exchange; including hand signaling, creates an absolute frenzy among the spectators and fans in the arena. A truly unique experience for a glimpse into Thai culture and tradition.

-Vadim



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Darjeeling Limited... now I get it.


New Delhi, India. When I first watched the film The Royal Tenenbaums, I thought director Wes Anderson (and co-screenplay writer Owen Wilson) did a brilliant job of capturing the quirky and bizarre characters that really do inhabit New York City. This time Anderson went even further, by taking those similarly strange characters and sending them on a spiritual journey to India in the Darjeeling Limited. I always enjoyed this off-beat comedy, but when I watched it again, crashed out in our hotel room in New Delhi (in between bathroom runs), I gained new appreciation for the writers and picked up on many little nuances I would have otherwise missed, like: sweet lime, Jack running barefoot to catch the train, the funky auto rickshaws, 3-persons crammed on a 150cc Honda motorbike, savory snacks, and not to mention the vast array of pharmaceuticals that are readily available without a prescription (which I myself have been been procuring from the local chemist). The charm is in the details, when you're like: "oh yeah, now I understand what that was all about." It reaffirmed everything that I enjoy about traveling.

Even so, the movie missed a few things that I got to experience first hand. When we went out to Hotel Imperial the other night; arguably the swankiest hotel in Delhi-- all I had to wear was grungy backpacker apparel (hardly the attire required for an evening at the Imperial's exclusive Spice Route Restaurant). To remedy the situation, I put together an outfit in record time. I purchased a crisp, blue linen shirt for 300 INR ($6.30 USD) in Main Bazaar, and had a pair of white linen pants tailor-made for me in Paharganj (down the road from our hotel) in about 4 hours for 850 INR ($17.85 USD). For less than $25... you can't get that kind of service in North America.

It's our 4th week in India and Delhi has become our transient home. Locals know us by now as we walk down familiar streets and flag down rickshaw wallahs-- the most efficient form of urban transport in the city. Delhi has some very tasty food, but my stomach is having a hard time adjusting. There's lots of interesting shops to keep us busy though. We've spent some down time doing our fair share of browsing for regional hand-made crafts, paintings by local artists and even picked up a Kashmiri carpet which looks like it sells for at least twice as much in NYC. The other day we went to a local movie theater and watched the new, smash-hit Bollywood crime-comedy called '99'- in Hindi. It's like a Guy Ritchie flick, but filmed mostly in New Delhi. Seeing all the places we've been to in the movie was kind of neat and made us feel like Delhi was our current home.

-Vadim

Monday, May 25, 2009

Food in New Delhi

New Delhi, India. We have been enjoying some really yummy food on this trip. As it turns out, our hotel puts out some really nice North Indian food and we are addicted to their garlic naans. Only the Tandoor (clay oven) doesn't start working until 7 pm. So we have to wait a little longer before ordering.

Some of the food high/low lights include:

The Spice Route, Central Delhi - South India and Thai Fusion - located @ the Imperial Hotel, which is one of the more expensive old school hotels in Delhi. People like Jinnah have stayed here. Supposedly this is where he came up with the idea of creating Pakistan. What an auspicious day that must have been. Anyways, going back to the food - the service was immaculate but that was just glossing over the mediocrity of the food. We had specifically asked for mild seasoning and that is not what we got. The food was good and edible but definitely not worth the price tag which was came out to a whopping $40 a person. In a city where you can get a delicious meal for 40 INR, or $.50 cents, that's a lot of money.  But you get to dress up and play ritzy for a night.

Parikrama - the Rotating Restaurant in New Delhi - Food was excellent. Prices were good and the views just lovely. We really enjoyed good Tandoori food here. Dessert wasn't so great. I recommend it for their Indian food because their Chinese food tasted great but it was definietly made by someone who has never had Chinese food. We ordered Tempura, which I thought was Japanese but was found on their Chinese menu and tasted like a Pakora.

Sagar Ratna - South Indian Restaurant - Probably one of our favorite restaurants in New Delhi. It is always filled with locals which is a good sign. The prices are totally affordabel and we tried Dosas, Vadas and other South Indian food that even I have never had before. It was yummy and we have been back once so far.

Cafe Coffee Day - Local answer to Starbucks - Great iced coffees and regular coffees, espressos and cappuccinos. They also have good sandwiches and lots of locations all over. So this works out as a great option when you don't want to think too much about how clean the place is etc before ordering.

And yes, I admit, we have been to KFC once. It tastes okay. Definitely not as great as I remember it tasting when I was little and my parents would drive us hours to go eat at a KFC in Saudi Arab. It is spicy so they definitely add some pepper to the batter and the best part is that the chicken is skinless so has way lesser calories and fat. Loved their 25 INR Choc Amore which is a yummy browny with a liquid middle.

While I am on confessions, we have also been to McDonalds more than once. The first time we had to try the Indian Burger which is a vegetable patty and tastes Indian so they add a few spices. The next time we had a McChicken and the Chicken Maharaja Mac. McChicken tasted the same but ofcourse there can only be one Chicken Maharaja Mac that they sell only in India :)

Speaking of all this food, I think we better head back to our hotel before the restaurant closes and all the garlic naans are gone.
-nk

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New link to our FindMeSpot Adventure Map

Contemplating a Journey Around the World

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging
New Delhi, India
I picked up a new Vodafone SIM card in India. I purchased it in Delhi at a local mobile phone shop. It costs 300 INR (or $6USD) and then you buy recharge cards in denominations like 10 to 100 INR. Like Kathmandu, it's also cheap and convenient in India. International incoming calls are free for us (I think). We can also send/receive SMS text messages. Give us a ring if you have some time, we'd love to hear from friends and family.

(dial from U.S.): 011-91-965-424-6732

-Vadim