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I’m always quick to tell myself, and anyone who asks, that I don’t have a fear of heights. But then, every time I step out onto a skyscraper observation deck or mountain overlook, or, especially that one time in a hot air balloon over the Nevada desert, I remember, too late, that I do have an extremely robust fear of falling from a great height.
With that in mind, it took me a few minutes to adjust to the lurching and swaying motion of the Capilano Suspension Bridge beneath my feet. The bridge was reacting to the movement of others who were ahead of me or crossing back from the other side and as I stepped out onto the narrow slice of boardwalk, suspended by cables over a 230-foot chasm carved by the Capilano river, I was a bit unnerved.
The bridge, first constructed in 1889, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s just minutes from downtown Vancouver but located in a 27-acre forested setting of massive Douglas Fir trees. I was there in December, in the early evening. The weak, wintry, daylight was fading and the colorful holiday “Canyon Lights” were strung across the deep gorge and on all the tall trees on either side of the canyon. It was a beautiful setting but, to be honest, I was only focused on getting to the other side.
Suddenly someone called out and I looked up just in time to see a large bald eagle fly directly beneath the bridge, directly beneath my feet, on its flightpath straight down the canyon.
I see eagles all the time, they’re not uncommon in my part of the country, but that’s always with my feet on the ground, looking up as the bird soars over me. This time I was was the one looking down, the one with the eagle-eye view. It was an exhilarating feeling. The bird’s white tail feathers stood out against its broad, darker, wings. In that instant I forgot my fear. I let out the breath I’d been holding. I loosened my grip on the cables and turned to follow the eagle until it disappeared around a bend.
By taking my eyes off the destination, the other side of the canyon at the end of the bridge, I was able to see the remarkable natural beauty that surrounded me; the rough stone walls of the gorge, the dense forest surrounding it, the tumbled rocks at the edge of the river and the way the lights glowed in the misty rain. I was in a beautiful place but I’d almost missed it.
With that, I took my hands off the cables and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the canyon to the other side. Before the light faded, I followed the tree walk, suspended, again, on a path strung along the trunks of a stand of giant fir trees. By the time I crossed the bridge to make my way back, the sky was dark and I could no longer see the canyon below.
Riding back to the city, watching the taillights of the evening traffic through the rain-splashed windows of the taxi, I decided at that moment that the eagle I’d seen shooting like an arrow through the canyon would be my guide for the coming year; a reminder that sometimes the easiest way to suspend fear is to simply let go, take a deep breath and move on.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at email@example.com
December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.
As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure.
Sleeping in Seattle
Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport.
I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.
Riding the Rails
I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.
Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead. We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m.
I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)
The Vancouver Christmas Market
I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market.
School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)
My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.
I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine. There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a friend about to depart on a month-long solo trip to Paris. She’s excited and a bit nervous about striking out on her own, but exhilarated by the freedom to finally do what she wants.
The number of women choosing to travel alone is climbing. What used to be the spunky college student backpacking through Europe is now more likely to be the mature woman exploring the world on her own terms. Women who have worked hard and have some disposable income or savings, or have raised a family and are celebrating their own graduation into an empty nest or, like my friend, weathered tough times, are breaking through stereotypes and fear and are heading out to see a few things.
Travel is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves and sometimes traveling alone can deepen the experience and bring the added satisfaction of independence. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
Be aware: It’s easy to get lost in the pleasure of being in a new place but the basic safety rules still apply. Pay attention to where you are and who’s around you.
Pack light. Nothing is more distracting—or attracts the wrong kind of attention—than dragging around too much luggage. If you’re struggling to maneuver a large suitcase over cobblestones or across busy intersections, you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. Plus, being held hostage by all the extras you don’t really need takes all the fun out of travel. (Tip: Pack everything you think you have to have, then try to eliminate half. Repeat the process. You’ll be surprised by how little you actually need.)
Prearrange transport to your hotel. The trip from the airport to the hotel is frequently the biggest hassle of traveling. If convenient public transport is not a practical option, when you book a hotel, ask if the property offers a shuttle to and from the airport or train station. If not, ask what private service they recommend. If you plan to take a taxi, stop by the airport or station Visitor Information kiosk to ask for taxi recommendations and what the expected fare should be.
Blend in: Wearing a big camera around your neck or standing on the street puzzling over a city map can draw unwanted attention. So can the flashy designer purse hanging on your arm. Use a cross-body purse with pockets and a zipper. My favorite—actually a men’s messenger bag—cost three times as much as I'd usually pay but has been around the world with me. When the strap began to fray, the company repaired it for me. I’m not a big fan of backpacks but they’re sometimes necessary for day-trip necessities. Again, as with luggage, don’t over pack. A big load on your back slows you down and makes you vulnerable to thieves. When you need to study your map, step into an office building or hotel lobby where you can get your bearings without having to worry about attracting attention.
Plan ahead and get some rest: For many of us, just getting ready to get away is the hardest part of the trip. There are deadlines to meet, household details to take care of and family obligations. I can't count the number of times I've taken off on a journey without having slept at all for the last 24 or even 36 hours. That's no way to travel. For one thing, we're not at our best. Foggy from lack of sleep, it's easy to miss a flight or train connection. And, fatigue makes us vulnerable to illness and human predators. Do yourself a favor. Start packing and taking care of things early and don't get caught up in last minute emergencies.
Dress the part: The cliché that you can pick the American tourist out of the crowd is unfortunately all too often true. Europeans are casual but never sloppy; their clothes fit well and are age appropriate. Last year, at breakfast in the elegant dining room of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, a man walked into the room. He was wearing khaki shorts and a souvenir t-shirt from an American national park. On each belt loop of his shorts he’d fastened a carabiner to hold his water bottle, city map and sunglasses. The man was in one of the most beautiful—and well-dressed—cities in the world, outfitted like he was setting off to explore the Amazon. A few minutes later he was joined by his wife who was dressed the same way. Their clothing was expensive and practical, but completely out of place.
Don’t bring the bling: Why advertise? Leave the extra jewelry at home. I’ve been on group trips where we were all asked to help find a missing gold bangle and traveling on my own I’ve seen tourists in a panic because an expensive, sometimes sentimental, earring or necklace was lost. Think about leaving the big camera at home and bringing along a smaller high quality point-and-shoot.
Choose a hotel that caters to women travelers. One of my favorites is the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, BC. Their Orchid Floor is dedicated to women travelers, especially professional travelers, and the rooms are thoughtfully designed. Going beyond the hair dryer and bathrobe, room extras include a flat iron, curling iron, yoga mat and padded hangers. There are also extra “necessities” in the closet, including pantyhose.(Bare legs are an American thing. In Europe and other countries, well-dressed means covered legs.)
Go to the source: One of the first things I do when traveling is contact the local tourism office. They are one of the best resource for “insider” tips and information.
Use a travel agent. The internet has simplified travel while simultaneously making it more complex. A travel agent can help you with every aspect of travel from booking to insurance. And, if a problem arises, you have someone to call.
Resources: Check out these sites for more information about women traveling solo:
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in the Northwest whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo of the Hotel Welcome 'Bali' Room, by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
For many of us, there are few elemental pleasures that can equal a long hot solitary soak, especially when it is in a tub filled with bubbles or scented oil. Time and troubles seem to vanish with the steam.
I think this is especially true for bath-loving travelers.
There have been times that the first thing I’ve done after checking into a hotel and discovering the room came with a tub, was fill it with hot water and let the stress of travel melt away before I set out to explore. And then later, after the day was done, I’d slip back in for one more soak before turning in for the night.
Looking back at the places I’ve been, most stand out for the scenery, the history and the culture of the destinations. But a few trips, in addition to everything else, are also memorable because of the bathtub. The white marble bathroom and expansive downtown view from the tub at the Shangri La in Vancouver, British Columbia comes to mind. Or the big tub in my private cottage at Blackberry Farm, in the rolling countryside of Walland, Tennesse. Or the deep soaking tub, complete with champagne and chocolate, at the Hotel Le Littre in Paris.
So many trips, so many tubs, but my favorite might be the big bathtub in the exotic garret “Bali” room at the Welcome Hotel in Brussels.
Each of the 17 rooms at Hotel Welcome is decorated in the theme of an exotic location around the world, accessorized with furniture, textiles and objects d’art brought back from the travels of the owners.
The walls of the Bali room are painted a deep red and gold. Rich fabrics and authentic architectural elements and decorative objects accessorize the space. Elaborately carved wood doors open to reveal a large jetted tub, surrounded by a pebbled floor and faceing a set of French doors and a narrow balcony that overlooks the city.
I’d spent a week in Belgium before flying on to Estonia and then Lithuania and I had returned for one more night in Brussels before catching my return flight in the morning. The hotel, part of which is in what was originally a 19th Century home, is located in the beautiful and historic Saint Catherine district, adjacent to the Fish Market. Surrounded by wonderful shops and restaurants, the hotel is only a few minute’s walk from the bustling Grand Place, and yet it feels like a private hideaway.
After strolling through the historic heart of Brussels, stopping for one more Belgian beer and one more plate of delicious food, I made my way back to my room, packed my suitcase and prepared for the next morning’s flight back to the United States.
Finally, just as the sun went down, I filled the tub with hot water. Turning out the lights, I opened the French doors and stretched out in the big bathtub. From the privacy of the dark room, I could see the city come to life. Lights came on in apartments and hotels. Footsteps rang out on the cobblestones of the street below. Voices and laughter floated up to where I was. Church bells and music serenaded me.
I thought about all I’d seen and done in the last weeks. Relaxed, well fed, my mind still replaying images from the trip, surrounded by the trappings of Bali but cocooned in Brussels, a city I love, I was filled with a deep contentment. The moment sealed my happiness.
Travel is about new experiences and new frontiers. But there are times when the ancient pleasure of the bath is enough.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
FISHING — An couple of Brits fishing with a guide on British Columbia's Fraser River near Chilliwack landed a 12-foot, 4-inch sturgeon last week.
With a girth of 53 inches and weighing an estimated 1,100 pounds, guide Dean Werk of Great Fishing Adventures estimates the sturgeon to be over 100 years old.
Michael Snell, 65, and his wife Margaret of Salisbury, England, will go home with the distinction of catching one of the biggest fish ever caught in North America, Werk said in a story reported by the Vancouver Sun.
“I’ve been a professional fishing guide on the Fraser River for 25 years and I’ve never seen a sturgeon this big,” said Werk.
It took an hour and a half to land the fish.
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.
But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.
I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.
The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.
But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.
The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.
Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.
WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Five bears have been destroyed in Revelstoke, British Columbia, in the past week after wandering into town in search of food, according to the Conservation Office.
Might there be a problem there?
"All those bears have gone through the food conditioning and habituation process," Justyn Bell, a conservation officer based out of Golden told the Revelstoke Times Review. "All those bears were in the same neighbourhood around Oscar Street."
That total is the same as the number of bears destroyed in all of 2010, according to Revelstoke Bear Aware statistics.
Bear sightings are also spiking this month as animals wander down from the hills in search of food. There have been 123 bear sightings in all Revelstoke neighbourhoods this year and 44 of those have been since the beginning of this month.
Read on for more of the Times Review story.
PREDATORS — The British Columbia government has declared open season on wolves in the Cariboo region to benefit cattle ranchers, a move that critics contend is unjustifiable and based on politics, not science.
Under new wildlife regulations, there is no closed season and no bag limit on hunting wolves in 10 management units in the Cariboo region, according to the Montreal Gazette.
An annual hunting bag limit of three wolves is typical in B.C.
The changes also allow for unlimited trapping of wolves on private land with leghold traps in nine management units from April 1 to Oct. 14.
HIKING — Sorry I've been a bit out of touch this week. My wife, Meredith, and I had to focus on what we were doing: Above Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia.
If you've been waffling on whether to go backpacking into the high country this weekend, get over it. Go!
The nights are cool, the days are perfect, huckleberries are ripe and the crowds and bugs are gone!
First they starved them, then they shot them. One hundred sled dogs in Whistler, British Columbia, owned by Outdoor Adventures. All because their bookings were down since the 2010 Olympics. You have no idea how angry I am. You have no idea how angry Hub is. He wrote every person we know in B.C., which are plenty, telling them we would no longer patronize their galleries nor any other B.C. business unless the killer, his company and the SPCA were thrown in jail and the key thrown away/Dogwalk Musings. More here. (AP photo, of dogs resting after tour run of Outdoor Adventures)
You Be The Judge: What should be done to the individuals responsible for killing the sled dogs?