Travel Notes: Vancouver, Seattle, Tampa

Vancouver wasn’t quite what I expected, but was impressive nonetheless. Perhaps from reading too many William Gibson novels, I expected more of a high-tech city full of gleaming office towers backdropped by the green mountains you always see in shots of the city (link is an example I found in Google images). In fact, most of the towers are residential, dozens or hundreds of 15 and 20 story buildings that look built in the ’70s, with balconies for every unit and windows in hotels that actually open (we were on the 18th floor of the Pacific Palisades Hotel, looking southwest). I read somewhere that the downtown area of Vancouver has one of the highest residential population densities in the world…

Nevertheless, it is a picturesque city; standing on the pier by the convention center (which is undergoing a huge expansion in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics), looking out on the bay as the seaplanes take off and land, with green island of Stanley Park to the left and an enormous cruise ship lumbering its departure ahead and North Vancouver beyond and the green mountains embracing it all, the view is surely the most beautiful I’ve ever seen from any city’s downtown.

We drove the rental car to Horseshoe Bay, where ferries leave for spots on Vancouver Island, and had lunch, with the biggest juiciest Fanny Bay oysters I’ve ever seen, as the clouds hung low over the steep hillsides.

Icon alert: the symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympics is a humanesque figure that looks like a cross between the Michelin Man and a Pacific Northwest totem pole. It’s in the upper left corner of the linked page. It’s everywhere in the souvenir shops: jade statues, wooden frig magnets, letter opener handles.

I can confirm Vancouver’s status as a site for frequent film and TV shooting; we saw location film crews twice, once in Stanley Park near the totem poles, another in Capilano River Regional Park (after we’d passed on the C$35 admission to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a tourist attraction that from what we could tell had no purpose other than being a tourist attraction).

Not much new to say about Seattle — I’ve been there three or four times previously — except that driving south into downtown during rush hour was just as bad as I would have thought driving out of downtown would have been. The Marriott Courtyard at Lake Union (which isn’t precisely a lake, but an inlet of the bay, in turn a corner of Puget Sound, in turn a pocket of the Pacific Ocean) is a pleasant enough hotel, close to the SF Museum, with a nice McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant a short walk away. (I ordered Fanny Bay oysters again, and they were good, but not nearly as large.)

I described the Hall of Fame ceremony in a previous post. After the Hall of Fame event the SF Museum itself was open to attendees, and while the main museum exhibits seemed identical to those on display last year (the stack of Neal Stephenson hand-written manuscripts; the Lost in Space Jupiter 2 diorama; the original Star Trek set model), there was this year a special costume exhibit upstairs on the third level. It featured a scattering of costumes from various genre films that was at least half filled with costumes from various Star Trek movies and TV series episodes. (Amanda’s dress from “Journey to Babel”! and so on.) (There was also a Blade Runner spinner suspended overhead.) What struck me about the costumes — as with the props from Star Trek and other productions — was how crude they appear in close-up. They are not finely tailored; the tricorder looks like a high school mockup. The point is that film productions imply as much as they show; it’s so much bigger on the big screen than in reality. The magic of cinema.

… After the weekend I flew to Tampa for a work-related conference, this year’s Systems & Software Technology Conference, which prior to this year had been held for two decades in Salt Lake City, but which for 2007 had moved to Tampa, Florida. I had never been to Tampa, or anywhere on Florida’s Gulf coast. The Tampa Convention Center, where the conference was held, was impressive, vast enough to host two other events besides ours. But Tampa, embedded deep in Tampa Bay, struck me as rather dull, an older city gussied up with a few glassy high-rises downtown. One afternoon when there was nothing pertinent for me to attend at the conference I took my rental car for a tour of the area, driving across the bay to St. Petersburg (whose downtown seems much more charming than Tampa’s) and across the spectacular Sunshine Skyway Bridge before looping back northward to Tampa. I’ve heard there are amazing beaches along the coast south of the bay, but I didn’t have time to check them out.

And I’ll spare you the all-too-typical agonies of my delayed and rerouted plane flights.

More soon: I just saw a preview showing of SF film Sunshine last night, and will write up my reactions to the film, and the experience of visiting the Fox lot, soon.

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