Our Vancouver Trip
Our flight to Vancouver was scheduled to depart Atlanta at 8 am on March 3, 2006; the reasoning was that it would allow us to have a large part of the day remaining to see Vancouver when we arrived since they are three hours behind us. However, our flight was delayed and we were fortunate enough to be re-routed on another (United) flight (that one left at 7:00!!) that would have a stopover in SFO rather than Chicago. During our flight, we were treated to the film “The Family Stone”. I had carefully avoided it in the theaters, so I was none too pleased that it was my only choice for in-flight entertainment. Ironically, it turned out to be a pretty good movie…who knew? We brought snacks along with us since we’d left too early to stop anywhere and we were only offered beverages and pretzels during the flight…no real food unless you were in first class.
We arrived in SFO in five hours and had a one-hour layover until we caught our flight to Vancouver. Our transfer gate happened to be in the same terminal only a few gates down. We took that opportunity to buy lunch at the Subway sandwich shop in the short time that we had…it’s amazing how the mind clears when hunger is satisfied. Our flight finally touched down in Vancouver two hours later. We had to get cleared through customs and proceeded to the baggage claim area. I stopped by the ATM to get some Canadian cash and my $300.00CAN withdrawal converted to $264.00US…not a fantastic exchange rate…but oh well.
Right outside the door to the ground transportation area we were able to get round trip tickets on the Airporter bus (departs from the International arrivals level curb every 20 minutes from 8 am to 7 pm every day) that would take us to our hotel. We paid $18.00CAN pp and were issued tickets that resembled cash register receipts. I guess our hotel was too far because we were let off at the Marriott to transfer to a smaller shuttle bus (we waited roughly 10 minutes) that took us to the entrance of the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina Hotel (http://www.westinbayshore.com/home.asp).
We were quickly checked in and after nicely refusing assistance with our bags, we were on our way to check out our room. Now, we booked our room via Priceline….we were not expecting anything grand and suspected that our room would be sub-par given that we only paid $60.00US per night. Luckily, for the most part, we were wrong. The room was a standard consisting of two double “Heavenly” beds, night table, three lamps, armoire with television set, a desk and two cushioned chairs, phone, in-room safe, hairdryer, ironing board and iron, umbrella, two comfy bathrobes, toiletries, lots of thick thirsty towels, coffee maker with complimentary coffee, minibar and a full length mirror.
The negative was that we were positioned right next to the convention center wing, so that was our window view. However, beyond it (on the right) you could see people jogging alongside the seawall outside of Coal Harbour and Stanley Park. We pretty much kept the curtains closed the entire time anyway and we planned to spend the majority of our time outside the room…so no problems.
We took a moment to unpack and decided to walk around the area to get familiar with it. We decided to have an early dinner at the Fish House in Stanley Park http://www.fishhousestanleypark.com. It took a little over thirty minutes to get there mostly because they were doing some road work on the street where it’s located. Road work was definitely one of the things that you couldn’t help but notice in Vancouver. It seemed that there were spending a lot of time and money to get things up to par, which can only be perceived as an admirable undertaking.
During the walk, we found out that we were near a Safeway grocery store with a pharmacy, a 7-11, and an internet café (they charged 2.00 per hour as opposed to Westin’s 14.98 per day fee for wi-fi access! Guess which one we chose?) and numerous restaurants! There were literally seven restaurants on each block if not more. The bus system was excellent as we found out that we could get pretty much anywhere we needed to go and you could buy your Daily pass for less than 9.00 ( or a book of 10 coupons for 18.00; use the same coupon as your transfer; do not throw it away) at your local 7-11 or PharmaSave among others.
Along the way, we were struck by the politeness and kindnesses of Vancouverites, there were quite a few people milling about going about their daily activities even though it was well passed dark by now. I couldn’t help but contrast it to our neighborhoods back home when most people would be tucked safely behind their doors at that time of night, but not so there.
Back to the restaurant, we finally made our way there and were greeted by a nice young lady who seated us. A few seconds later we were brought glasses of water by our server, John, a rather nice and attractive fellow who gave us some more time to make our minds up. The prices were on the steep side (entrees began at $25.00) but never fear; I purchased a coupon book from Vancouver Attractions (www.citypassports.com for $22.00US) that had a BOGO coupon for the Fish House. I ordered Prawns that came with a side of asparagus, mashed potatoes and a slice of red pepper, my daughter, Carisa ordered Grilled Salmon and she had the same sides. The food was very good and most of all very satisfying. We made our way back to the hotel eager to rest, watch a bit of television and get ready for our first full day of sightseeing in Vancouver!
We woke up after a very restful night’s sleep in our glorious Heavenly beds! Our mission today was to visit Granville Island. We depended heavily on the assistance of the concierge to guide us on how to navigate the transit system. We were told to take the #19 Stanley Park bus (we caught it one block up from the hotel) to downtown and take a # 50 False Creek on Robson Street that would take us directly to Granville Island and it did.
It decided to rain that day and for the most part, it rained the entire time that we were there; we were forewarned so we were prepared. However, it snowed a few days too. I was under the impression that we would have to take a ferry to Granville Island, but it is literally under a bridge way, that you reached simply by crossing the street from where the bus let you off.
My impression of Granville Island was slightly disappointing. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect, however, I’m sure my opinions would be more favorable if the weather was more agreeable. The area was full of shops, bakeries, restaurants, theaters, marine shops and of course the Granville Market. The market reminded me of most large farmer’s markets that sold seafood, specialty foods and housed various restaurants. We did enjoy looking out on False Creek to watch the yachts and sailboats. We even decided to take a trek on the Aquabus Ferry, a small dingy that took us on a 25-minute ride around False Creek. We got a chance to see quite a few kayakers and people jogging or walking along the sea wall…..we were also able to get out and take really good pics of the skyline. As usual, we had a BOGO coupon that allowed us to pay $9.00 for both of us.
However, I think the highlight of the entire Island was watching a cello soloist playing a hauntingly melodic song. When we first approached, we thought it was a recording coming out of one of the shops, but no….it was a very handsome Asian man sitting outside in the drizzling rain playing his cello…..his case was open and we made sure to leave him a big tip for such a wonderfully, unexpected surprise.
We ended up leaving earlier than we’d planned because the Island really is very small and not much held our attention. On the way out, we decided to pay a visit to the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), a teaching school for aspiring Chefs, for a very early lunch at 11 am.
This school/restaurant was profiled on Rachael Ray’s $40.00/day show on the Food Network. On that day, their featured special was a Saturday brunch for $25.00 pp plus a 15% service charge. The Vancouver attractions book had a BOGO coupon for PICA too!! The buffet was incredible! Not only did we get to pig out on what the buffet table held, we also were served two meat entrees of our choice and three side dishes….we won’t even discuss their dessert table!
Ok, I took the time to list everything that was on their buffet table: Cured salmon, apple and cured herring salad, escargot bourgeon, asparagus, prawns, seared tuna, eggs benedict, mussels, Israeli couscous, peach, and papaya relish. Our meat entrees were Pork loin medallions w/peach chutney sauce, prawns, grilled salmon and our sides were yams, rice cakes w/ red peppers and asparagus. The dessert table consisted of chocolate mousse, strawberry shortcake cupcakes, cheesecake, and truffles. Our beverages consisted of water, orange juice, iced tea, and coffee. Our final total for both of us was $34.53 total including coupon and tips are not permissible.
Unlike our previous trips, we gave ourselves *permission* to spend some time resting. While we are definitely there to see as much as we can, we really wanted to take some time for us. We decided to go back to the hotel and watch television, get lots of z-z-z-z-z-zs. We ordered Chinese in at 7:30 pm from Hon’s. We got Mongolian Beef ($9.25) and Cashew Chicken ($9.25) with a large order of rice with two beverages for a total of 23.00. It was delicious and the servings were ridiculously generous.
Our goal today was to go buy Vancouver souvenirs. We had heard a few things about the Vancouver Flea Market in several guidebooks. The entrance fee was 75 cents and that they were open during the weekends from 9-5 pm. What was my impression of it? I can not express strongly enough: DO NOT GO HERE!!!! It was absolutely awful, it made Goodwill look like a high fashion house. A flea would be insulted to think that its name would be attached to such a hideous shack! It was a series of tables full of junk that rivaled the contents of a garbage dump. Do not waste your time here….consider yourself forewarned.
After that disappointment, not to mention the effort it took to get there via the Skybus, we decided to turn lemons into lemonade by visiting the Punjabi market. Since Carisa has an affinity for all things Indian, we thought it would be a chance to find some authentic home accents that she could use for her place. We were a little surprised to see that the “market” is actually a three block radius (b/t 47-49th Streets) of Indian-owned stores that range from supermarkets, restaurants, jewelry, variety and predominately clothing stores.
We decided to have lunch at the All India Sweets & Restaurant where we were treated to wonderful, individual servings of Tandoori Chicken (10.95) and Curry Chicken w/rice (9.95). Carisa decided to finish off with a serving of coconut ice cream with mango sherbet (3.95). We left Punjabi Market to go shopping on Robson Street (the Rodeo Drive of Vancouver). The shops were variety in style, quality, and price. We were able to find all of the souvenirs that we’d hoped to find at the Flea market and the prices were very reasonable. Afterward, we headed back toward the hotel but stopped at the aforementioned Internet café to check our emails. We made a pit stop at the Subway restaurant across the street for food to take back for dinner. We made it back just in time for the Oscars pre-show. Yippee!
My Vancouver Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10047405@N05/albums/72157613801976756
We woke up bright and early at 8 am to prepare for our day at Lynn Canyon Park, etc. We caught the #19 Stanley Park to North Vancouver Seabus Terminal and from there we caught the sea bus to Lonsdale Quay (pronounced KEY) (http://www.lonsdalequay.com/)…it’s a straight shot. Keep in mind that if you use a bus coupon, you will need to upgrade your fare to travel to zones 3 and beyond. The coupon only covers zones 1 & 2. You will need to purchase an upgrade using the machine located in the terminal right before you board the sea bus. It only cost $1.00 extra, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Once we got to the Lonsdale terminal, you can simply walk out to the buses. We caught the #229 Lynn Canyon to the park…it was about a 35-minute ride there and it stops right in front of the park’s entrance. Why did we choose to go to Lynn Canyon Park? Because it houses the only free suspension bridge in Vancouver. The other bridge is the Capilano Suspension bridge that costs over $20.00 to cross…..but why should I do that when there is a perfectly good bridge that costs nothing to cross? It may not be as long or as high, but it’s equally scary to me! lol
Right beyond the entrance is a great Nature store that is a very educational resource for children. There are several interactive games that kids can play to learn more about the rainforest and quizzes about how to identify various animals in the wild. I highly recommend it if you have small children, but I must admit that I learned a few things myself. As we approached the bridge, I could hear the splashing waves of the waterfalls…there was at least three that I could see from the base of the bridge.
We were too scared to go all the way across the bridge; we only went half way. A woman walking her dog stopped and offered to take a picture of the two of us standing on the bridge. Overall, the park was full of native plants seemingly untouched by man, nature or beast. We were fortunate to see the cascading waterfalls on either side of the bridge with its masses of ferns and river rocks framing the edges of the falls.
We spent a good hour and a half there enjoying our surroundings; it was hauntingly quiet and peaceful there, it was good to go there and clear our heads and commune with nature. On the way back to the Seabus terminal, we decided to take a look around because they had so many shops there to visit at the Lonsdale Quay market. While we were there we met a nice young couple who asked us to take their picture. As luck would have it, the guy was from Lithonia, GA, and his girlfriend was from Vancouver. He had come up to visit and we really had a nice conversation with the two of them before heading back to the city proper.
Once we got back to the North Vancouver sea bus terminal, we realized that we were very close to Gastown, a beautiful and historic section of Vancouver that was established the same year that Canada became a nation. We got to see the status of the infamous sea Captain, Gassy Jack, so named because of his tall tales of his adventures on the high seas. We also got the opportunity to see the Steam Clock that lets out a boisterously loud whistle every quarter hour.
Walking down a little further we ended up in Chinatown where we visited the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen gardens (http://www.vancouverchinesegarden.com/). It is a classical Chinese garden, reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty, which offers serenity to all who visit. The gardens featured a pagoda overlooking a large koi pond and various evergreens.
Hunger started to get the best of us, so we decided to go find somewhere to eat a very late lunch. We happened upon a mall called the International Village and decided to get a couple of taco salads ($5.29) at the Taco Time restaurant. For some reason, we didn’t want dim sum or any other Chinese meal….maybe it was because we had Chinese a couple of nights before. We took the bus back to the hotel to watch Oprah’s post oscar show and to get some much-needed rest. We had walked several miles that day and deserved a break.
Rain was the order of the day, but we stayed focused on the task at hand which was to visit the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and Queen Elizabeth Park where the Bloedel Conservatory was located. We caught a bus that took us directly to the Gardens (http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/Parks/parks/vandusen/website/) where we paid a $5.50 admission fee to enter. This impressive tract of several acres was formerly owned by the Canadian railway and was going to be converted into a subdivision until neighbors opposed the idea. Instead, it was saved and transformed into the fantastic creation that it is today.
While we were visiting at not the best time of the year to visit a botanical garden, we were still able to get so many great shots of ponds, trees, shrubs, and flowers of every variety. In fact, some of the pics had a very ethereal quality about them due to the overcast inclement weather.
We decided to walk to our next destination which was the Queen Elizabeth Park. Along the way, we happened upon a branch of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RMCP) and stopped to observe the tribute statue to fallen RMCPs that was situated at the entrance. The QE Park boasts an observatory that offered glorious 360-degree views of the city in addition to a wonderful rainforest (replete with waterfalls!) atmosphere that was home to several friendly cockatiels.
We decided to have lunch at a nice restaurant called the White Spot……..our coupon book came in handy once again as we enjoyed a burger, chicken sandwich, and fries before we headed back to more warm and dry surroundings.
We woke up to yet another day of rain and cool temps which averaged 40 degrees each day. But on this day we were treated to another special weather-related goody….SNOW!! It didn’t really stick on the asphalt, but it certainly made things a little chillier than expected.
Undaunted, we headed out to pay a visit to the University of British Columbia (UBC) where we planned to visit the Museum of Anthropology: http://www.moa.ubc.ca/ which housed a myriad of beautiful artwork done by native Canadians referred to as First Nations peoples. The many totem poles face masks and handicrafts created with loving care were impressive.
The museum fee was $9 pp (used another BOGO coupon here!) and you had the option of taking a guided tour. We decided to spend half of our time exploring on our own and we nixed the gift shop.
I would like to interject that when you catch the 4 UBC bus from downtown, you will need to transfer to either bus # 44 UBC or 84 UBC because they will drop you off at the bus corral right at the University. From there, you will see the free school shuttle bus stop that you can take to get you to the MOA which is on the opposite side of the campus. When you leave MOA, take the same shuttle back (catch it on the opposite side from where you are dropped off) to go visit the UBC’s botanical gardens.
We did the free self-guided tour of the botanical gardens. Like the Van Dusen botanical gardens, very few plants were blooming, yet there existed an elegance that was hard to describe. We were the only visitors at the time since it was so wet and dreary, but that didn’t bother us. We could imagine that we were in our own little paradise with no threat of interlopers disturbing our oasis. It was really fun being exposed to plants and trees that I’d never heard of or had no possibility of growing in my own zone.
After getting a shuttle ride back to the bus corral, we took at #44 UBC to the corner of Burrard and Davie streets. We decided to have lunch at a Greek restaurant called Stephos’ that had come highly recommended and we learned why! Carisa ordered a dish called Beef Souvlakia which essentially was beef kabobs with fresh veggies and a side of rice ($8.95) and I ordered Mousaka, a casserole dish that was similar to Shepherd’s pie with a Greek salad on the side ($8.95). We decided to doggy bag half of our food and save it for dinner…it was that much and we ordered Baklava ($3.95) to go. The serving sizes were outrageously generous and the prices were ridiculously low. I HIGHLY recommend this small, unassuming restaurant where the service is impeccable.
This was our last full day in Vancouver and our overall impression is that we may have had a different impression had we decided to visit during warmer times. Initially, we had planned to take a day trip to Whistler to go sleigh riding….which can only be done during this time of year….but, alas….we changed our minds after we booked the trip. So, my impression of the city is somewhat tainted because I usually abhor wet, cold weather, being a southern girl at heart.
Nevertheless, I am so glad that we visited because we really were impressed by the friendliness of Vancouverites. As it turns out, they have quite a good sense of humor too. We were on the bus and saw a delivery truck that could use a good washing and instead of someone writing Wash me! or www.washme.com, someone wrote, “Boy, I wish my wife was this dirty!”. Well, it was funny at the time….lol!
Anyways, we got up late and headed out to find something to eat and we decided to stop somewhere that served breakfast 24/7, I ordered a full breakfast and since it was after 12, Cari ordered a burger and fries. We sauntered over back to the internet café to check emails again, did a little last minute shopping and went back to the room for a long night’s rest before taking an early flight the next day.