Last Wednesday, I met a stranger from the internet.
Except, this person wasn’t quite a stranger. Who would be after 550 days of talking and virtual dates since we’d matched on Tinder in September 2020? The journey to bring us together is its own post, but the result is what really matters. After 18 months of separation and wondering, Soleil and I were finally able to meet and break that virtual distance. We spent six wonderful days together in Vancouver, British Columbia – a middle ground between our two home countries – and found the friendship, humor, and love we’d developed online worked in-person, too. Plus, we had more than a few adventures. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On Wednesday, I spent a good chunk of time on flights. I hadn’t gone anywhere in a little over two years, so I was a bit nervous about traveling and new changes, but it wasn’t that different. I settled in with the playlist Soleil and I have been creating together and a few podcast episodes. The flight from Reno to Seattle was gorgeous. I enjoyed a poke bowl from Hachi-ko and read a bit (the new Kindle is way easier to pack!) before my flight to Vancouver. Once I passed through customs in Canada, I exited the terminal and immediately found Soleil waiting. He’d made a sign: After 550 Days Being Apart We Finally Get To Be Together.
Sometimes you see videos on the internet of people running up and jumping, but our first hug was more subdued than that. It was full of that awkward-nervous-excitement when this is a moment you’ve been looking forward to and you still can’t believe it’s happening. The first kiss was short and sweet, and followed by a second. We found someone inside to take our first picture together, and fell into the same sort of easy banter we’d had online. The funny thing about long distance is how much you can talk about touch, but how much those little physical expressions can say when you’ve never spoken in that dialect before. For example: holding hands, hugging, an arm around the shoulder or waist, resting their head on yours, a kiss on the forehead or cheek, etc.
From the airport, I rode my first real-ish train to the hostel we were staying at. Reno is more a city of drivers and occasional walking. Public transport in Vancouver was a whole new experience, and one I grew to appreciate. We walked from the train station to the hostel and I was able to take in the hustle of the streets, an absurdly long line for chicken, lots of bars, and unfamiliar humidity. Our room in the hostel was up three flights of stairs, but felt like an old-timey hotel room with a decent bed, desk, mini fridge, and plenty of shelves and mirrors. The view reminded me of how absurdly tall many of the buildings in Vancouver are. Thanks to horror, I had some…reservations about hostels but my stay has removed many of those. The bathrooms and showers were nice, the communal work space and kitchen were cool, and the free breakfast was a good touch too. Plus the location was fantastic and, for a private room, it didn’t feel that different.
We had dinner at Nuba (and our first in-person date), and I tried Lebanese for the first-ish time. We ordered Le Feast, a vegetarian platter to share, and it was so delicious and filling. I particularly loved the tabbouleh, Najib’s special, and baba ghanouj. Soleil and I also tried ordering each other’s drinks. He chose the gimlet for me, which was pretty tasty even though gin isn’t my first pick, and I chose the French Blanche beer for him (which he conceded was decent for a type of beer he doesn’t prefer).
After dinner, we attempted to answer some of the 36 Questions again (an activity we’d done back in 2020). Some of our answers were the same or more developed, and I think a few had changed based on our recent experiences. Plus, with the trust we’ve built, we felt more comfortable giving more detail or asking deeper questions to learn more about each other. Although we didn’t finish this activity, maybe we’ll pick it up on the next visit.
After free breakfast bagels and tea on Thursday, we set off for Stanley Park adventures via bus. By the end of the trip, I was fairly comfortable with Vancouver’s public transit system; it’s rather efficient and seems like a great way to get around a fairly large and busy city. Thursday was rainy—exciting for this desert-dweller—and we tromped through the park on our way to the Vancouver Aquarium. It’s a gorgeous park and I know I only saw a small bit of it so I’m hoping to go back someday. The aquarium was full of interesting and beautiful things. The rainforest exhibit even had an anaconda! The jellyfish were my favorites, and Soleil was amazed by the bright ibises. Walking past the various tanks, observing all the wild and wonderful creatures, and enjoying this aspect of nature was a great date.
We went to Stanley Park Brewing for happy hour. I drank a Spiced Apple cocktail, which was refreshing, before expanding my palate and trying some beer. We ordered some juicy yet crisp fried pickles, a delightful blend of sweet and spicy agedashi tofu, and shared a Parkhouse 2.0. It wasn’t quite the spiciest chicken sandwich I’ve had, but the blend of flavors and fresh ingredients were delicious and the fries were perfect. A musician played a lot of John Mayer covers while we ate and chatted. After Stanley Park, we ducked into The Three Brits Public House. Since it was St. Patrick’s, the place was more than a little boisterous, but we managed to have an intimate conversation over our drinks. I ordered Stray Bullets, which was a bit heavy on the tequila and required slow sipping. The view of English Bay from the pub, however, was lovely; this is definitely a great location.
After a busy Thursday, we kept the night quiet and stayed in with our leftover Lebanese before watching The Five Year Engagement since it’s one of my favorites and it’s never been available for our virtual dates. Between two people who love movies, you can’t go wrong with cinema. Plus we got to do actual commentary instead of having to mute our audio.
On Friday, we had breakfast at Nero Belgian Waffle Bar. I finally tried a lavender London fog—as refined and delicious as I’d imagined. We shared our waffles so we could have one savory and one sweet. The berry and mascarpone waffle was covered in fresh berries and the touch of honey was light and sweet on the tongue. The smashed avocado felt playful in how it brought ingredients usually present on toast to the waffle with finesse: I’m sold on greens, egg, and feta with crispy waffles now. The menu has a whole host of other options so I may have to return to sample other possibilities.
We walked through Queen Elizabeth Park. The weather was on our side so I was able to take in all the incoming buds, daffodils, and cool trees. Bruce Voyce’s Love in the Rain sculpture was an amazing thing to stumble onto, because I wasn’t aware Vancouver has its own love locks tradition. Seeing all the different styles of locks and ‘types’ of love was a great part of the walk. The views of Vancouver from the park were cool, and I love how it felt like a mini-adventure on some larger trek.
Eventually, we found our way to the Vancouver Curling Club where we both tried this ever-elusive Olympic sport. Our instructor, Carole, was amazing. She had the perfect mix of patience, knowledge, humor, and guidance. Our group only numbered three so we got a good amount of attention and tries at how to get in position, lunge, release, sweep, etc. Although I started off an abysmal curling player, I ended the lesson an adequate one and managed to score a few points compared to my fellow trainees. So I’d definitely recommend doing some kind of sports-related lesson if you’re traveling because it’s a unique experience.
Soleil surprised me for the weekend with a stay in an Airbnb. Located in the Fairview-Mount Pleasant region, it was a good example of the ‘diamond in the rough’ mentality. From the outside, the apartment looked like a serial killer’s hideout or the setting of a J-horror film. On the inside, however, it was all Ikea catalogue and clean Pinterest chic. So that was a nice surprise, too. We found a nearby supermarket and grabbed groceries to make dinner. I also found some of my favorite New Zealand chocolate and indulged in a bar. Soleil and I worked together and made a Hello Fresh-esque rice bowl full of veggies and yumminess. We’ve cooked together before—at a distance—so it was nice to actually be together in a kitchen and at a dining table, eating something homemade. After, we watched Turning Red on the couch under some fairy lights.
Saturday was another busy day. Soleil made me breakfast in the morning, which was sweet of him and tasty. We started the day with a trip to Pulp Fiction, because I have to go to at least one bookstore anywhere I go. It’s really cool and has a good selection of classics, science fiction/fantasy, and new work too. I didn’t find what I was hoping for but had a lot of fun digging through their organization and seeing what a Canadian bookstore could hold. Plus, it was great to see some of my favorite authors on a foreign shelf. Electric Bicycle Brewing was the next stop and we arrived right at opening; good thing, too, because they’d be super busy within the hour. The colorful, geometric, and eclectic design of the bar entices patrons and taste buds too. Soleil ordered a flight (which I stole sips from) and I tried a gose (which was a surprising citrus delight). I’d definitely go back here for the vibes and flavors.
We went to Craft Beer Market for lunch. They have over 120 beers on tap! It’s a huge place the likes of which I’ve only kind of seen in casinos. I had the Ahi Poke Bowl and Soleil ordered the Brewmaster’s Chicken Sandwich. I finally got to try my first Canadian Caesar, which is basically a small Bloody Mary, but they made it so well and I loved the pickle. The beers varied in flavor but with so many to choose from there has to be at least one to enjoy. Plus, I’ve never really eaten at the bar of a place before and it was a positive experience.
Next, I met a few of Soleil’s Vancouver friends at CelticFest. Although I’ve been to a few festivals locally, this was a different experience and I can’t say for sure whether it was entirely positive or not. By this time, the weather was a bit colder with a harsher wind and waiting in a slow line for the beer tent did put a bit of a damp on my mood. Since I don’t drink much (although this blog would have you think otherwise) I often don’t see the point. The music, however, was great and I loved the performance and the crowd was vibrant beyond the drinking. Eventually, we left CelticFest for Speakeasy where pitchers of beer, absurd jokes, and stories were shared among Soleil’s friends.
One of the coolest parts of the weekend was realizing the composition of the group: two screenwriters, a musician-poet, a photographer, an editor, and an author. Like, it was everything out of my wildest artistic college dreams where I thought I’d make all these artsy friends. Plus, I rarely—if ever—get to hang with so diverse a group of international people: an American, an Australian, a Canadian, a Brit, and two Irish people. In Vancouver, generally, the whole city was full of people from more than one language, region, or country.
After Speakeasy, Soleil and I went to Lucha Libre for a late dinner. We perhaps enjoyed the chips and dip, enmoladas, and burrito too much because we were so full on the way back to the Airbnb. I ordered a Michelada, and it was the perfect blend of spicy and tomato tang. A live band performed while old black-and-white movies played on TVs overhead amongst the neon glow, and it was better than I’d imagined I’d find that far north. We had a bit of a walk home and I went to bed early because I was falling asleep on the couch—too full of good food, delicious drinks, and tired from all the steps.
We went to Granville Island on our last full day together. Once we crossed the bridge and saw all the boats and shops, I knew it was going to be a busy few hours of taking everything in. How they pick, choose, and fit all those businesses into such a space I’m not sure, but it’s easy to be distracted for an entire day. First, we grabbed food from the market; Soleil had a hot dog from Kaisereck Delicatessen and I enjoyed fish and chips from Celine’s. My fish was actually made from salmon, which I don’t usually see, and I loved how crispy and fresh the flavor was.
After eating, we wandered through the public market. I was amazed by the produce, the deli counters, sweetshops, florists, and slabs of meat. We bought a few macarons from Bon Macaron Patisserie; they had so many flavor options and the sweets were fluffy and light on the tongue—gone too soon! It seemed practical to grab ingredients for dinner from such an amazing market so we bought vegetables from one of the vendors. I’m hopeful I can perhaps discover something similar and hidden at home to replicate this experience.
In the other shops, I discovered so many artisans and craftspeople selling their wares: galleries, a blacksmith, toy stores, jewelry, fabrics, and more. Someone even sold handmade brooms! I bought a reusable bag from The Market Kitchen Store, which was the perfect mix of eclectic and practical. I could have spent at least an hour in Upstart & Crow, one of the most procured yet unique bookstores I’ve seen, where the books are organized by themes or experiences rather than simple categories.
Eventually, exhausted from our busy days and adventures, we went back to the Airbnb, made dinner, and crashed on the couch. We watched Back to the Outback, which was hilarious to watch with an actual Australian, and relaxed for our last evening together. It was bittersweet in some ways, but we made the most of it. Plus, since we’re a bit alike in our anxious habits, we both wanted to pack and prepare for Monday ahead of time so we’d be able to relax.
Monday mornings are always terrible, but this one felt especially brutal. Not only would I be flying—which I dislike—but I’d be leaving Soleil, returning to work and real life, and waiting months for our next visit. We had a quiet breakfast, gathered our things, and left the Airbnb that had been our private little getaway. The bus and train ride felt somber as I tried not to preemptively cry. A random man wished us a happy trip—as if we were going to the same place with our bags. Time moved too fast and too slow as I tried to rush through my pre-flight COVID test and tittered with anxiety instead of enjoying our last moments together. All too soon, I was really being rushed through check-in and into customs. The hug didn’t last long enough. The goodbye kiss was bittersweet. I cried. (A lot). After six wonderful days together—after 550 apart—we said our goodbyes and began a new waiting game.
I could have split this blog into a dozen different posts: My First Trip to Vancouver/Canada, What I Ate/Did, Meeting Soleil for the First Time, etc. But I found that everything wrapped together in this serendipitous way. It was one of those rare moments in life where almost everything seems to go right for once. Maybe everything tasted better because I was in love with Vancouver or because I was finally spending time with Soleil, or a bit of both. Maybe I was open to all these new experiences and adventures because he makes me want to leave my little world or because I’m tired of staying still. Whatever way it happened, it was an experience I won’t regret.
Maybe meeting a stranger on the internet works for the best sometimes.