About Vancouver & Coffee Shops, and a Failed Departure

August 19th - August 24th, 2012

Vancouver became a necessary stop in order to take care of some pressing tasks, and it was also a welcome opportunity to visit a city I'd been curious about while spending time with my cousin Emilio. Well, I got the chance of experiencing Vancouver for almost a week, and now have a good appreciation for it. It's definitely on the list of cities to visit again in the future. It's got an interesting mix of culture, history, tourism, coffee shops, and restaurants.

Sunday, August 19th: Hanging in Vancouver #1 - Drinking and Exploring

Another full day day after a long day and night. First order of business is to get some food in our bellies, for which Emilio's friend Jeff joined. We had delicious food, coffee, and drinks at Cafe Barney, on Main Street, to start the day. I had a shot of tequila to accompany the beers the other two got, and as an attempt to even myself out from last night's drinking session. Below are a couple before and after pictures.

Before...

After - note coffee and tequila; destruction

Next up, we went to another bar for a Bloddy Mary, which in Canadia they call a Caesar. After being satiated by drinks, yet again, we took to the streets on bicycles to give me a tour of the city. The pack roamed through the center of the city, around the Science Museum, through the Olympic Village, and closed the outing with a stop in Granville Island for dinner snacks. Conclusion - Vancouver has a lot to offer.

The night was spent helping Emilio clean and pack up his old homestead in anticipation for his move to his new loft in Gastown, and closed out the day with dinner at a Japanese soup joint. Delish.

Monday, August 20th: Hanging in Vancouver #2 - Tasks and a Move

It's a weekday, and time to run errands and catch up on neglected tasks (email, etc). First task is to replace broken iPhone at Pacific Centre, where they give me a brand new one. Check. This was followed by many hours spent at a fantastic coffee shop, Kafka Cafe, with a lunch break for Thai food in between.

The rest of the day was spent helping Emilio move into his new loft, with a dinner intermission featuring Mongolian BBQ. We finished moving and cleaning around midnight, and went back to the loft to crash for the night.

Tuesday, August 21st: Hanging in Vancouver #3 - Coffee Shops

Today is all about getting things done. The urgency of leaving Vancouver as soon as possible is harping at my back. Not because I don't like the place, which I very much do, but because I'm racing the weather up in Alaska; the season change is well underway up north, and the more I wait, the colder and more difficult it will be. Because of this, I must cross out as many things off my tasks list as possible and hit the road.

The task list includes updating my travel-log (it's been neglected for a while...), play catch-up with blog posts (I swear I'll catch up someday, and will get into the habit of updating regularly [this is my way of holding myself to it?]), getting stencils of the blog made for the bike, and close out the consulting work for the vineyard. It's funny how one creates tasks, even though one is supposed to be completely free of responsibilities and swayed by the direction of the wind. But, I tell myself that planning and tasks are required to successfully structure and complete the trip; it must be my education and training talking. That being said, it makes me happy to have tasks. Rant over.

All about coffee in Vancouver...

Multiple coffee shops were visited to accomplish the tasks. Let's rate and rank them for fun (and perhaps rate them on Yelp, as well):

  • Nelson the Seagull - This place was visited first thing in the morning because of it's proximity to my cousin's new home, and the decision upheld due to the amount and quality of social media reviews. However, it should have been a skit in the TV show Portlandia.

    The coffee was OK at best, the service curt and too cool for customers, and the food menu a joke by someone who's trying to be satirical about being minimalist and rebellious-hipster to a fault. I had full intentions of having breakfast here, but their inability to make eggs other than poached made me pass on it, and just get an OK Americano. The place had a cool art gallery/alternative/hipster feel to it, but the execution of the business side of things made me want to slit my wrists. Oh, and their website is Flash.* Score: 2/10 *(on Yelp)

  • Café Medina - Still being hungry for breakfast, I researched potential places to eat and work, and decided on Medina. It was recommended by a few locals I approached regarding the breakfast/coffee topic, and the interwebs corroborated it. Now, this place, even though it fit the Vancouver/Gastown schema, was run like a business. Service was on top of things, their menu was filled with a variety of delicious sounding options (a description of the item is good...), and people were having a good time in there.

    I waited outside for a space to clear at the counter, where I struck up conversations with a variety of interesting characters, including Miriam the lawyer from Seattle visiting for the weekend, and Laura Barron, who had circumnavigated the earth a few years back (blog link). The food ended up being delicious, as was the coffee, and the place had a great vibe. I was able to get work done there, but it's not a coffee-shop; it's more of a restaurant with great coffee. Nonetheless, they let me camp out at the counter for a while as I scribbled away on my notebook. Score: 9/10 (on Yelp)

  • Revolver - Having finished working on the notebook (yes, the kind one writes in with a pen), it was time to pull out the computer and get some internetting work done. Out came the phone, reviews were perused, and I decided to head over to Revolver coffee shop. Wow... what a popular place. It is a tourist attraction, where people from all over come to get a taste of Gastown culture. It's so popular and touristy, that the place is jam-packed with a mixture of locals wanting to be, and be seen as, cool, and tourists coming to experience the circus.

    The business is well executed, they have a very strong brand, and a good product. The service was not great, but passable. That's to be expected when you have a line out the door at all times. I'd met my caffeine quota for the day, so tea was ordered, which met expectations. I was able to snipe a booth for myself, got the wifi password, put my headphones on, and worked online while taking people-watching brakes.

    People watching at Revolver is as good as it gets. Yupsters abound (I learned that word recently: mixture of yuppie and hipster), all looking as cools as they can in their hyper expensive gear that's mean to look inexpensive. Tourists come here and take pictures of the business and local clientele, and get a drink as well.

    Now, as much as it pains me (or does it?), I fit in quite well as a yupster local that day; from the bottom up, I was wearing moderately worn caramel-color leather loafers, torn and patched designer jeans (they came with some tears, and now I refuse to replace them for the duration of the current trip, and the patches are homemade by mom [gracias, mama!]), a fitted bright baby-blue t-shirt, and a manicured 2 week's worth of scruff on my face. I was accessorized by a Macbook air, latest iPhone (at the time), Moleskine notebook, metal-leather bracelet on my right wrist, and working while listening to music, tuning out the world around me. I saw how a couple tourists took pictures of me, and a couple of them even sat down in the booth with me as they commented on the place, took pictures, and tried to engage in conversation with a "local."

    This place was so cool, that it did not believe in providing power to customers. But they can't be blamed for this, and it's even a good business decision, given their popularity and need to turn around clients. So... I used up my power, got things done, enjoyed the scenery, and moved on. Score: 7/10 (on Yelp)

  • Kafka's Coffee and Tea - It was time to go to a coffee shop where I could get things done, have good coffee, and a confortable atmosphere. Back to a place I know is good, and now I can compare it to other places. Kafka is not in a touristy area of Vancouver, or necessarily hipster/yupster region. It's located on Main Street, close to Broadway, away from downtown proper. It's in a popular intersection, and retains a cool Vancouver vibe.

    This was the place I was looking for. Unpretentious, great coffee, good selection of snacks (including gluten free!), good service, roomy, confortable, well lit, not overly jammed with people, some power available, stable wifi, and friendly and fun looking people as a distraction. The place has huge windows, which are open when the weather is nice, parking is accessible on street, and it's easy to get to. Also, it's around an area with grocery stores, and small restaurants.

    Kafka's would become my go-to place for coffee and GSD (getting shit done) in Vancouver. Score: 9/10 (on Yelp)

Ok... that's more than I intended to write about the subject... But there you have it; my praise and diatribe on a sampling of Vancouver's coffee shop scene. Another thing of note for the day is that I decided to do a DIY (do it yourself) project for the stencils/decals for the bike, after getting a couple professional quotes in the 100's of $s. I ended up in an art supply store, and after explaining my needs, they call up a guy, Lee, who has a vinyl cutter at home. He offers to do the project for $20, with a next-day pickup... Umm... yes. We discuss the needs, size, design, etc, in person, and then finalize the details over email that night.

I met Emilio and Jeff at Iki Japanese restaurant for a delicious sushi dinner (yam fries with sushi on top!), and then we headed over to his loft. There, we did some late night construction work, including drywall mudding and sanding. Bed was found sometime after.

Wednesday, August 22nd: Hanging in Vancouver #4 - Bags and Coffee

We were up by 8:00am, and continued with the construction work from last night to work up an appetite for breakfast. Once that was completed, we headed over to ACME Café for food and coffee, and it was great. Next up I showered, and went out for the day.

First task involved picking up the vinyl labels from Lee, at the art supply store. They were exactly what I was looking for, and looked great once applied to the bike. Kafka's Coffee Shop was the next stop, where I camped out to work on things digital for most of the day.

Vinyl decal success

The latter portion of the day was spent looking for a replacement waterproof bag to replace the leaking one where my electronics reside, perched on top of the bike while on the road. I was introduced to the Canadian version of REI, MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop), which was fun to go to. However, they did not have what I was looking for, and neither did the other 4 outdoor/bike stores I went to in the area. But I did get the good tip to try a kayaking store in Granville Island. However, I got there after closing, and ended the day empty handed.

While at Granville, I did some grocery shopping in the market in order to make dinner for my cousin, his girlfriend, and myself that night. Afterward, I headed over to meet up with them, and found them working on the loft-construction/improvement project, and not ready to start dinner.

With some free time in my hands, I decided to try yet another coffee shop in the city; this time Coffee Bar (on Yelp), in Gastown, and only a couple blocks from my cousin's building. Another blog post was pumped out, some other online work completed, and an overall positive coffee shop experience had. Afterward, dinner was cooked, some more construction performed, and decided to sleep on the exposed 11th floor balcony on my sleeping bag and pad.

Thursday, August 23rd: Hanging in Vancouver #5 - Almost Ready

Pressure is on; time to close out things in Vancouver and get ready to leave tomorrow en route to Alaska. First task of the day is to get the replacement waterproof bag. I'm at the Ecomarine Store in Granville Island by 9:30am, and they have what I'm looking for - SealLine Messenger Bag. I swapped all my gear into the new piece of equipment just as the rain started to pick up outside... Good timing.

It was around 10:30am before I was able to get to breakfast, and today I chose to find a greasy diner for the standard american breakfast: eggs, hash-browns, bacon, (no) toast, and coffee. I found exactly what I was looking for at Deacon's Corner. There, while sitting by myself, I was joined by part of the crew of a TV show that was being filmed in the area. Apparently, that area of the city is where film studios are housed, and I learned that Vancouver is a hot spot for film creation in Canada.

Breakfast and film lesson completed, I headed to Coffee Bar once again, and spent most of the day there crossing out tasks like they were going out of style. While there, I got a text from my uncle, Peter, who was on vacation with his wife, and was wondering how I was doing in Canada. He had no idea I was in Vancouver, and it turns out that they were only a 10 minute walk from the coffee shop. Small, funny world we live in. They both joined me at my "office", where they were treated to coffee and snacks, and we had a great time chatting.

The Black Beast hanging out in Gastown

Hungrily, I went back to the loft to meet up with Emilio and his girlfriend, where we did yet some more construction (these guys were working non-stop!), cleaned up, and headed out for my last night in town. We went out to dinner and drinks, and then saw a great live performance at a local bar while playing Jenga. In fact, we WON Jenga as a group. It was amazing.

Winning at Jenga - No more moves

Great day, great night, and into my sleeping bag early to get a head start out of Vancouver in the morning.

Friday, August 24th: Leaving Vancouver - Failed

Wake up by 7:00am. Everything is ready to go. Many tasks completed this week One last real shower. Load up the bike. Say thanks and goodbye. Hit the street. GO!

But... the bike does not feel as it did yesterday, or has felt in the past. It feels sloshy. No longer than a block after leaving, people on the street start telling me that my rear tire is low. It gets worse fast. More good samaritans speak out. The bike makes it to a gas station, where I fill it up to pressure, and cross my fingers hoping that it's just a fluke leak. Not a chance; it's loosing a PSI tick per minute. I put enough air to make it to a repair shop, ask about the closest place, and head in that direction.

I end back up in Granville Island, where there is a motorcycle shop I'd seen a few times, and it's where people at the gas station send me. However, they don't deal with adventure bikes like mine, and they don't do innertube fixes. No go. I ask about a BMW dealership, and they send me to Vancouver BMW Ducati.

The tire holds enough air to make it to the BMW dealership, but the news is not good. I had the good fortune to have Dave as a mechanic, who had done the Alaska trip multiple times on adventure bikes, was a wealth of knowledge, and was overly blunt. There was not a chance of the tires making the trip to the tip of the continent. I knew they were getting down to the wire, so this was a good delay to have. We decided to change both the front and rear tires and tubes, in favor of Heidenau K60 Scout tires (90/90-21TL for the front, 150/70-B17 for the rear), and thick Heidenau tubes (3.00 to 90/90-21 THICK MX for the front, 100/100 to 140/80-17 THICK for the rear).

New tires and ready to go!

Luggage hanging out while bike is in the Dr.

The bike was ready around noon, I got lots of information and tips about my trip as well as great service, and hit the road once again en-route to Alaska via Whistler, BC.

It was not meant to be... I noticed some vibration while on the highway, but attributed it to getting used to the new tires. Things got worse in the mountains, and by the time I stopped at a stoplight in Squamish an hour+ later, another person from a car pulled up and told me that my rear was shaking. Time to investigate this. After asking around, I ended up in the KTM dealership around 5:00pm. They were at the end of their day, but the owner himself helped me look into the issue. Turns out the tire had a hop of couple inches because the bead was not set properly. We tried over-inflating it, lubing it, hitting it. Nothing. Time to head back to Vancouver. I called the dealership, explained the situation, and after apologizing, they offered to stay open late in order to get me back on the road.

Back at the dealership, no hard feelings were had. This is an adventure and things happen. The guys were great, the tire was fixed, and I was ready to go around 7:00pm. However, at this point I was starving, worn out, and did not think it wise to keep pushing the departure. Another night in Vancouver was needed.

David, mechanic extraordinaire, suggested I eat at Memphis Blues BBQ. We rode out of the dealership together, him in his beast, and me in mine, and he showed me where the place was. Dinner did not disappoint; a huge portion of delicious, fatty, pulled pork, fries, corn bread, coleslaw. Success.

David's BMW R1200GSA

Yay, food!

Food in my stomach, I now needed shelter for the night. My cousin was not responding, so I tried a couple hostels, which were all full. The decision was made to camp somewhere in, or around, the city. I headed toward Gastown for a last attempt of finding cuz (mind you, it's 9:00pm on a Friday), and a message from him was waiting on my inbox. Success. He was out, but would be back, and I would have a roof for the night.

I waited for him to come home at Coffee Bar, where I celebrated a full day over some snacks. Whew... Adventure!

Emilio came home, I set up my bed, and prepared to leave Vancouver yet again tomorrow en route to the top of the continent.

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