Monday, October 12, 2009

Sleepless in Vancouver

I came to Vancouver for a concert at the Orpheum Theater and for practical purposes I chose the Moda Hotel because it is right across the street. Walking in, I was impressed by the friendliness and efficiency of the front desk. The lobby is nothing much to look at and getting on the tiny elevator I noticed the carpet was dirty and the metal on the walls had not been wiped down. Based upon my initial impression, the room was a pleasant surprise. I love the decor, minimalistic, red wall, black and white art, nice big picture window, flat screen TV, wireless internet. However, there was so much noise from the street and the late night carousing outside I couldn't fall asleep at all. I should have gotten a clue from the sleep mask and earplugs on the bed when I first walked in. In addition, the walls seem to be thin as paper because I could hear the man in the next room clearing his throat all night long.

The area around the hotel is not very upscale. In general things seem a little run down. I was surprised at the amount of litter on the street and the number of homeless camped out on the steps of public buildings and on every street corner.

The historic Orpheum theater was restored in 1977 and was beautiful on the inside. The concert, "Music of the Night", starring Eric Kunze and directed by Bramwell Tovey was fabulous both nights and I heard everyone raving about how much they enjoyed as we were walking out. The music featured was a compilation of songs from Broadway shows such as West Side Story, Phantom, Miss Saigon, Superstar, Evita, and Les Miserables. Bramwell Tovey, the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony is really funny and made a lot of side jokes and background information about the music. He actually played the organ with a mask on (a la Phantom) then walked up behind the head violinist and startled her with it. He was replacing Erich Kunzel, who was originally supposed to be the guest conductor and tragically passed away last month. Maestro Tovey joked that Erich was the only conductor he knew that insisted upon a case of beer in his dressing room. Tovey said, there must be budget cuts, because he did not get the same courtesy. They did a tribute to Erich Kunzel at the end of the concert.

Saturday was a perfect day to take a ferry to Granville Island. First, I just started walking wherever my nose led me. I found my way quite by accident to Gastown. I took lots of pics of the quaint and restored architecture. Had breakfast/lunch at Jules, a French bistro, which took me right back to our trip to France in May. The mussels were to die for. They were locally grown and fresh harvested today. Very plump, moist and garlicky. The manager chatted with me and he told me they had been filming the sequel to Twilight across the street the day before.

We also discussed the homeless situation. I must say that has been one of the most disconcerting things to me on this trip. There are people sleeping on the sidewalks on almost every street corner and every nook and cranny. There seems to be a cottage industry of collecting bottles in shopping carts. From my room at night I could hear the clink clink clink of bottles being transferred from one cart to another. There was a man standing outside my hotel window shouting "F___! F___!" literally all night long. According to local news, there are 1200 homeless people sleeping outdoors. The city is frantically trying to deal with the situation before the 2010 Winter Olympics. My question is, why not, for the Olympics? Why have they not done it before for the sake of the city and its inhabitants?

After lunch, I found the Granville Island ferry, a tiny little boat that runs every 15 minutes from different stops. I took the one that stops near the Science Center. It was $6 one way or $10 two ways. Found out later than I was to exit at the Aquarium stop and that would have been cheaper. I gave my extra tickets to a student on board.

Granville Island was very charming and definitely worth the trip. I didn't even explore the whole island due to time restrictions, but my first stop was the Granville Island Market. Took a ton of photos. Food is so colorful and beautiful! The rest of the island is filled with shops and restaurants. There is a beautiful playground for kids and a pond. The autumn colors were at their peak. Ran across an Indian wedding and got a great shot of the bride and her bridesmaids.

Day three: Another beautiful crisp fall day. I walked from my hotel down Robson street to the water, rented a bike from Spokes Bike Rental ($18 for two hours) and rode around Stanley Park. There were many people there, walking, jogging, roller blading, bike riding. There was a group of people stopped in a clearing, so I stopped and we watched eight racoons cavorting around. I made clicking sounds like I do with my cats and they came right over to me (a little too close for comfort, actually) standing on their hinds legs and begging. They were extremely tame so they must be accustomed to people feeding them - not a good idea.

Had lunch at Tsunami Sushi on Robson. I was amused at the concept. You can sit at a circular bar and the sushi floats by you on boats in a river. You remove what you want as it floats by. There was a family next to me whose little kids were enthusiastic about being there. I complimented them on their sophistication. I have a hard time getting my five year old grandson to eat macaroni!

Decided to eat dinner in and walked a few doors down from the Moda hotel to Nesters Market where they have a good selection of freshly prepared foods. I'm making it an early night as I have a flight in the morning. I was very impressed with Vancouver in general and everyone who lives here seems to love it. It will be interesting to see how the city handles the Olympics in February of 2010 and fun for me to recognize all the places I visited during this weekend.
Read more about Eric Kunze at his fansite:

Monday, October 05, 2009

New YouTube of Horst and Gernot Bike Twins

This is a wonderful YouTube of my awesome biking cousins from Austria in their latest exploit: bike/hiking from the lowest point in the continental US to the highest (Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California). If you look real carefully and don't blink you will see me in the support vehicle for a split second. Make sure your sound is on, the music is awesome. Video was done by part of the support team, Joerg Krasser:

For more, see my blog for them at,

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A tale of two trips: Bike Twins and Eric Kunze in one trip out west

Part One: Lone Pine, California

My Austrian cousins Horst and Gernot Turnowsky were doing a monumental bike/hike of Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California on September 24th. Since I do a blog for them I was very eager to see them do one of these rides firsthand. Their visit to the States provided the perfect opportunity. Cooincidentally, Eric Kunze, a Broadway actor whose blog I also maintain, was going to be performing in the same part of the US the same weekend. Serendipity!

First came the bike ride/climb. After flying into Las Vegas and picking up my rental car, I left the airport at 5pm. I had a 5-1/2 hour drive ahead of me through the pitch dark desert. I have really never had the experience of driving that long by myself without seeing any signs of life; very few other cars, no houses, no place to eat or go to the bathroom. Occasionally a jack rabbit would dart out in front of my car, which caused me to jump sky high. Having books on tape and CDs to listen to were a Godsend. I arrived in Lone Pine and checked into the Dow Villa Motel at 11:30pm. It is a historic hotel which has housed many stars during the heyday of Hollywood westerns. John Wayne has reputed slept here many times and there are many pictures of him and other stars of that era all over the hotel. Due to it's proximity to the mountains it was fully booked every night with climbers.

The next morning a meeting was held by Horst, Gernot and the support team to assign duties for the ride that night. It was then that I realized I would be going along in one of the support vehicles for the next 12 overnight hours to share driving responsibilities and help them with food and drink. The team consisted of their sponsor, Wolfgang, and his assistant Daniella, the videographer Jurg and his wife Silvia, their photographer Richard, fellow climber Hermann, businessman Jay and myself. We would have two vehicles, one holding the photographers and Jay, the other vehicle held Wolfgang, Daniella and myself. Silvia and Hermann would meet on them on the mountain the next day.

During the day I took the opportunity to visit a historical site nearby, Manzanar, a War Relocation Center, used to house 110,000 Japanese during WWII. The subject was of interest to me because when my parents and I emigrated to the US we lived at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey and my parents worked a year for Mr. Seabrook to pay for their passage to the States. The same owner brought in many Japanese from these camps to work at his farms and factories as well. I remember many Japanese children in the nursery school I attended at the time.

We left the hotel in a caravan at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 25th. It was a 2-1/2 hour drive from Lone Pine to Badwater, the starting point of the ride. By the time we got there it was pitch dark. Horst and Gernot got their bikes out and began assembly and preparations for their journey. Jurg recorded the entire proceedings with a fur-covered boom microphone and his video camera, while Richard took digital photos. The twins were nervous, full of energy, like race horses straining at the gate.

Before we knew it we were off, Horst and Gernot leading the way in the darkness, followed closely by our vehicle, driven by Wolfgang who followed within a few feet in order to provide light to guide the twins along the dark and curvy road. The second vehicle, driven by Jay, darted around us as Jurg scouted positions with which to chronicle the ride on his video. Occasionally, he would hang out the window and nearly scrape the ground. One time we were shocked to see the light of his camera on top of a nearby cliff where he was attempting to get yet another perspective of the long ride. I was amazed that Horst and Gernot pedaled steadily for almost 10 hours straight, whether the road was on an incline or decline. They pedaled through the night stopping only to relieve themselves or for the occasional snack. Daniella and I, in the support vehicle watched their every movement waiting for a signal that they needed something to eat or drink. We'd pull up alongside and hand it out to them, without them missing a beat in their rhythm. I think we were more tired in the support vehicles than they were doing the actual work. I was in awe of their physical prowess.

The altitude changed from 440 feet below sea level to over 4,000 feet above sea level by the way we got back to the motel for their breakfast break. Sometimes the road would dip down 1000 feet and then back up again. They dropped me off at the motel so I could sleep, after having been on the road in the support car for 12 hours. But Horst and Gernot continued on, back on their bikes for another 1-1/2 steep hours to the Mt. Whitney portal, before beginning the hike portion of the trip to the summit. There they shed their bikes, changed into their hiking gear and forged on for another 6 hours of climbing, reaching the summit 19 hours after starting in Badwater. They spent some time on the summit and began their descent just as dusk began to settle upon them. They arrived at the Whitney Portal in darkness to be greated by the rest of their support team. Next year their goals are to bike/climb nonstop the highest peak in South America, Aconcagua, and the highest on the North American continent, McKinley in Alaska.
Here is the blog for the Bike Twins:
For a slideshow of the complete bike ride from start to finish:

Part Two: Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Part two of my trip was driving to Arizona from Lone Pine to catch a performance of "Window Pains", a Broadway review of songs and dialogue put together by Eric and his musical partner Gina. After arriving back at the Dow Villa Motel at 7am I tried to catch a few hours sleep before checking out at noon. I don't think I was very successful, as impressions of the incredible night and thoughts about Horst and Gernot forging onward up the mountain floated in and out of my mind. At noon I headed out for another 5-1/2 hour drive through the desert. At least it was during the daylight hours. Driving was easier because of that, as well as the scenery of the desert along the way. I stopped often to take a photo of the colorful rock formations.

My hotel was the London Bridge Resort in Havasu, Arizona, so named because it is next to the actual London Bridge, originally built in 1831. The bridge was sold to a land developer in Arizona, dismantled, shipped and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City in 1971. As you walk into the lobby of the resort, an enormous gold gilded carriage straight out of a fairy tale greets you. Constructed from paper mache, it is an exact replica of the Queen of England’s carriage. I went out for dinner and straight to bed, finally getting my first good night's sleep in a few days.

I arrived at Grace Arts Theater early the next evening to take photos and participate in the pre-show festivities. Grace Ann was one of Eric and Gina's first mentors in San Diego, California, when they were in eighth grade. She still mentors young people today in Lake Havasu when she runs the theater and a school for young actors. The gala was to benefit both these ventures and it was fitting Eric and Gina were there to kick off the season. I had my usual front row seat for the performance and enjoy being within "spitting distance" of the stage. The show was very interesting, something I had not seen before; two couples, one older, one younger presenting little vignettes with song and dialogue, woven together in two parallel story lines presenting love and loss. The show was very well received and I could hear people remarking "that was great" on the way out.

I had a nice time afterward visiting with Eric, Grace and Gina and got back to the hotel about midnight. I had to leave the hotel at 3am to drive back to the Las Vegas airport, so I had already packed earlier in the day and tried to get a few winks, but to no avail. The music was rolling in my head. So this would be my second sleepless night in three days. The 2-1/2 hour drive back was not so bad, thanks to my trusty GPS, my CD's and Pringles potato chips.

Looking back at the last five days, from Wednesday to Sunday I missed two nights sleep and spent 22-1/2 hours in the car. Was it worth it? What do you think? My friends would call that "pulling a Margaret". So be it! On to the next adventure!