Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trip To Bellingham


By Promod Puri

One of the joys of living in Vancouver, BC, is its close adjacency to Bellingham, WA, just a 45- minute to one hour drive, which can be planned just at the spur of moment any time, any day, with the simple proposition "let us go across the border".

And the motion is considered, accepted and acted upon instantly most of the time as we love going to Bellingham, our most favourite day-trip hangout for the past over 30 years.

However, before we proceed a little preparation is needed, like collecting our border entry point document, in our case just the Nexus card, some US dollars, no prohibited items like fruit and vegetables. And finally to check that our car gas indicator almost touching the zero level, if not, the trip can be put off till it "makes sense" to cross the border. After all the U.S. is still the "land of cheap milk and cheap gas".

With a long or short list of items to buy depending on when our last shopping spree was, we are all set to hit highway 99 straight
toward the two-choiced border entry points,Peacearch or the Truck-crossing to the US gateway town of Blaine.

Hassle free border crossing is not 100 percent guaranteed every time we undertake the trip. But over the years as we are quite familiar with most of the questions asked at the border checkpoint and our brief and seasoned responses along with the Nexus card that border crossing has lately become quite fast and friendly with occasional greetings like "have a good time".

Blaine is a small town, and for most Canadians living close to the border it is the place to fill up cheap US gas or pick up few jugs of milk and assorted cheese.

But before we say cheese and put on some smile for those savings one has to watch the city's overly canny speed limit of 25 mph, which can easily net anybody driving over that limit with an agitating fine of US $150. We had that hefty $150 punch once, and will never forget that, nor we can proudly say that we were caught speeding at 29 mph.

Fortunately, one does not have to pass thru Blaine's residential streets to be the victim of speeding fine as the border crossing straightway leads south on Highway 5 towards our targeted destination of Bellingham.

From the border it takes just 20 minutes, a distance of 27 kms, to reach the scenic city of Bellingham which has waterfront in the west and majestic view of Mt. Baker in the east, in the north is Canada and toward south is rest of America.

Numerous parks, lakes, museums and other attractions including refurbished and revived historic downtown contribute to the splendor of Bellingham.

With the population of over 80,000 and despite being the 12th largest city in the Washington state,Bellingham still has the small city flavor. A popular US personal finance magazine has voted it one of the top retirement cities in the country. Not a bad idea for many Canadians who flock to expensive White Rock, the retirement town overlooking the US border.

Well, our addicted trips to Bellingham is already a sort of retirement activity, especially with low tide traffic on weekdays compared to weekend border invasion. And like hundreds of other Canadians who visit Bellingham every day our objective is the same, a day-long leisure time of simple pleasures of life.

Our simple pleasure outing is kicked off at MacDonald for the freshly-brewed Columbian coffee at the senior discounted price of just $1 each all inclusive. And that gives us the needed boost to follow rest of the no-fixed agenda to keep us recreationally busy during rest of the one-day vacation.

Shopping and browsing around in a mall or at different stores occupy most of the time, and there is quite an excitement to grab items which are either really at good price compared to the one on this side of the border or of better quality and different.

And that is certainly one major reason Canadians flock to border towns or cities for both essential and non-essential items including grocery items. After all, who does not like bargains.

No wonder, on any weekday and especially on Saturday, Sunday or holiday, we Canadians outnumber Americans as is evidenced by the number of our vehicles in the parking lots of most shopping areas.

There is always a big lineup at Bellingham Costco on Meridian Road, sometime the wait is almost 20 to 30 minutes, for the comparatively much cheaper American gas than the one available in Canada. And the same is true inside the store for milk which is less than half the price what we pay here.

It is an interesting scene when Costco staff are filling in the milk shelves from one side, and the customers, of course mostly Canadians, grabbing the jugs from the other side simultaneously. And it could be novel idea, refreshing too, that for more efficient and faster delivery if Costco install some milk pumps as well.

Beside the frugal and bargain shopping, where the savings are quite remarkable, Bellingham offers a good selection of luscious restaurants. From Mexican to Italian to regular steakhouse and multi-item buffet all are both pleasing on taste and wallet. Again we cannot escape the bargains here too. Great food and in plenty with very reasonable prices, that is only in America.

Whatever we save on shopping or on gas, the money is well spent to have a relaxing time at a dining place with cheaper beer or wine. And after our hectic and engaging jaunt it is time to return home with our Bellingham bargain loot.

Honesty is the best policy when facing the Canadian border checkpoint officials in responding their "where, when, how-much", etc questions, and then it is mostly hassle-free and friendly go-ahead "thankyou" gesture.

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