Vancouver: The Weird and the Wonderful

After our first full day in Vancouver, what next? Turned out, the weekend was full of weird and wonderful.

In addition to seeing a bit of the city, one of the things we did while in Vancouver was attend a Fan Expo, similar to the Science Fiction Comic Con (convention). Fans of SciFi, Fantasy, comics, super heros and their worlds and Japanese animation flock to these conventions. Many of them dress up as favourite characters. There are guests from popular televisions shows and artists of graphic novels and comics there to talk to fans. People can pay for autographs and photos with their favourites and sit in the audience and listen to the actors talk about their craft and the show.

There is usually a huge hall full of vendors where you can buy all manner of related items. It’s a great place to get swag, tshirts, memorabilia and related items to your favourite genres and programs. We bought a one day pass though the convention goes on all weekend. The Vancouver Convention Centre is enormous, covering two buildings on the waterfront. It was a rainy day so we decided to take a taxi to the centre. We still ended up trekking about between the two buildings because we weren’t sure where to go.

Vancouver Convention Centre from Stanley Park

The convention was in the main building that looks like a ship with full sails on it. It’s also where cruise ships dock. As you walk down the length of it, in the ground are inlaid plaques with various Canadian cities from the West to the East and then to the North as you walk along. We finally got in and got our entry bracelets and tried to figure out where everything was. My husband has a ticket to get a photo with one of his favourites and we wanted to sit in on two panel discussions and still have time to peruse the vendors. One section of vendors was Steampunk oriented which is something I really like.

The convention was hugely crowded so it took patience to work your way along the vendor stalls and through the hallways to find the various rooms. We have a similar convention here called Hal-con which, while crowded, seems a little more manageable.

We spent a great afternoon looking at all the items, listening to the panels  talk about the other actors and behind the scenes and people watching for all the great costumes. Lots of people go to such a great deal of trouble to represent characters in painstaking detail.

The second allocation of weird and wonderful was the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia. One of the prime focuses of the museum is the indigenous art of the people of British Columbia which is absolutely gorgeous. It’s very distinctive and it’s different from the art of the First Nations people from the east coast of Canada where I’m from which is also lovely, don’t get me wrong.

The museum has totem poles and pieces of them, as well as other artifacts such as bent wood boxes, feast “bowls” and intriguing sculpture. It’s also got collections from a great many other cultures around the world, primarily Asiatic and from the South Seas and Oceana but also from Europe and Africa. There are treasures, and maps and papers.You could spend all day there and never see it all. It is very intriguing and you’ll learn a lot. I don’t think you could see it all in one go because there is just too much to take in. We spent a couple of hours wandering about and spent a few dollars in the gift shop, too.

We had gone there with friends who live locally and after the museum closed, we found a Chinese restaurant for a nice meal to top off the day and the weekend. This is pretty much the end of our visit to Vancouver as well. The next day, we used the coin laundry in the morning before we had to check out and transferred to a Ramada by the airport, thinking it would be easier to get to the airport the next day if we were already nearby. In retrospect, we probably should have just spent an extra night at the Rosedale and enjoyed that last full day in the city. Turns out even a taxi to the airport from downtown wasn’t all that expensive.

We checked into the Ramada which was a couple of blocks from a large shopping mall, the Richmond Centre. We plodded over there under cloudy, rather wet skies and had some lunch in the food court along with a bit of a wander through the mall. Both of  us are on pins now, excited to leave for Hawaii but we still have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. We did end up getting a shuttle to the airport a lot earlier than we needed to after checking out of the Ramada just so we didn’t have to sit around the hotel lobby. At least in an airport, your baggage is checked and you can walk around and look at the shops. Pretty soon it’s time to board….
MOA - Haida items

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Onward to Vancouver

A few days on Vancouver was a great way to start our visit to Canada’s beautiful west coast. Family and friends always make a visit enjoyable. We chose the bus/ferry/bus route across the Juan de Fuca straight to Vancouver on the mainland and paid a little extra so that the bus would take us straight to the hotel after the end destination of the main bus terminal. Worth every penny and cheaper than a taxi, especially trying to navigate and haul luggage around in the dark.

Our hotel is the Rosedale on Robson and is a suite hotel. We found out that they upgraded us to a higher floor and a room with a separate bedroom. The windows in these are floor to ceiling and the decor is light and airy. We had good city views from the18th floor! The staff were excellent and the room had everything we needed though there was one thing missing that seemed odd for a hotel like that. No in-room safe! Seemed odd.

North Vancouver from Stanley Park

We unpacked because we’ll be here for a few days. Our friend Annmarie came over later with wine and we had a great catch-up.

The sun was out on our first full day in the city, one of Canada’s largest. It seems even larger because of all the communities and cities that surround it such as Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam etc. I’ve been to Vancouver before but my husband hasn’t so we thought an orientation would be a good idea. The hotel is close to the circular central library where the hop on hop off trolleys stop so we jumped on one there and took the day to do the route.

We wound our way through the historic centre and decided to get off at the gorgeous Stanley Park, a 1000 square acre park on the tip of the peninsula of downtown Vancouver. The area has been settled with indigineous peoples and others for centuries and was turned into a park when the city was incorporated in the late 1880s. It’s a naturaly park, no landscaping or manipulating. The forests have evolved naturally. There is now a seawall built around the perimeter which is  a great place to walk and run and there are other very interesting things to explore as well such as the Vancouver Aquarium.

Totem poles in Stanley Park

We stopped at a spot where there are about 8 totem poles some dating as far back as the end of the 19th century. Each totem tells a story, a family, an event, a heritage. The style of art of the First Nations people  on this coast is really distinct and I really like it. We had a good look at the poles and did some shopping at the gift store there which had quite a lot of locally made gifts. I started my Christmas shopping!

We walked all around a point at the end of the area, saw a little lighthouse with great views over to North Vancouver, and back around where the trolley stops. We got on the next one which found it’s way through the rest of the park and around English Bay. We got off again at Granville Island which isn’t an Island but a spot of land under the Granville bridge over the False Creek area. There are craft and artist studios here, a huge famer’s market, restaurants and cafes, a theatre. We were quite hungry, though, so we looked for a restaurant first thing.

After a meal in The Keg, we went over to the market and were suitably impressed. More than fruit, veg and seafood, there are local crafts, anything you can think of. Lots of things and even the food was top quality and there were quite a lot of unusual items there. We popped into one ceramics/pottery shop which was also the studio for the studio for the artists. I have to say, even though one of the bus drivers or the prerecorded spiel said that Granville Island is designed to be pedestrian friendly, it isn’t. Cars everywhere and the roads are narrow and not logically laid out. It’s a really good place to visit but be warned, watch your step!

Aquabus across False Creek at Granville Island

Granville Island also has a number of small, brightly painted boats as a ferry service for a small fee to areas across the water on the main area of Vancouver. They almost look like toys!

By this time, we are ready and done for the day so we trudge back up to the trolley stop and get back to the hotel. We had a rest and then headed out to meet up with Annmarie, her partner Brian, her son Tristan and his girlfriend for cocktails and a meal and a very nice meal it was, too!

A good introduction to Vancouver if ever there was one and the best weather we’re going to see. Weather-wise, it will be downhill from here.  Tomorrow will be spent in the Vancouver Convention Centre, the large complex on the waterfront with ‘sails’ as a roof. But more on that another time.

Vancouver Convention Centre from Stanley Park

West Coast and Hawaii Itinerary building

Vancouver skyline (April 2000) from North Vancouver

As previously blogged, we have Hawaii booked and I am glad to say we now have the hotel in Vancouver booked as well. It’s a suite hotel called Rosedale on Robson and is not far from Chinatown and the Vancouver central library, a short walk from the old historic Gastown which is the original part of the city. I’m glad to have that sorted out. Now we get to figure out what we’ll do and where we’ll go.

Vancouver has lots of attractions and as we always do, we’ll make a list and end up doing some of it and finding things that aren’t on it at all. For transportation around Vancouver, they have a smart card called Compass. A lot of the larger cities have that these days and they’re really convenient. It can be used on the busses, seabus and the skytrain. You can pre-load it with day, month passes and with cash. Tap in, maybe tap out (don’t need to do that on busses). Simple. We’ve used the Oyster card many times in London. Love it.

We like to take a hop on hop off bus or trolley tour in a new city. You get the lay of the land and you get a decent historical background as well. We’ll probably do that. They aren’t usually particularly cheap and a lot of people think they’re a tourist rip off but we enjoy them. I’ve been to Vancouver before but not seen all the sights and I don’t expect to “do” all of them but the views from the busses will give me a perspective on a lot of areas I’ve only touched on, Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate bridge with the view over to the city in particular. The view from the seabus to North Vancouver is great, too! It’ll be interesting to compare my  14 and 17 year old photos with the new ones. I really like the city. It’s modern, it’s on the sea coast yet you can walk and turn a corner and see a majestic mountain!

Me at Lynn Canyon, circa April 2000

Museums, art galleries, Haida art, maybe the view from the Lookout tower. I’d like to go up in the mountains, maybe to Squamish or Whistler. Perhaps we can do that with my cousins. I remember that we drove part way up a mountain the very first time I visited in 2000. I then tried to stand on the edge of a snowbank and sunk into it up to my hip! Unfortunately, I was wearing light coloured trousers and had dirty, muddy stains all the rest of the day! The snow in early May was softer than I realized. Oops! Also that day we went to the suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon and had lunch in a pretty town called Deep Cove on the inlet. It really is a picturesque area.

Hawaii:

We have most of four days on Oahu. My husband has a long time internet friend that we will be meeting up with. He and his family live outside of Honolulu. I’d like to take in a museum or two or a gallery and have seen a few, including the Iolani Palace and Shangri-La. The Bishop Museum also looks interesting but we don’t want to spend all our time in museums. There’s an International market and a night market. We will definitely be taking in Pearl Harbour and the historic sights there and really want to drive around the island. I yearn to see the surfers on the North Shore. I’ve been fascinated watching the surfers on television since  I was young.

Maybe we’ll get a chance to attend a hula. There are a few around the city that the big hotels put on. Rest assured that I will definitely enjoy having a feast of pineapple in the place where it’s grown! We aren’t really beach types, but I’m going to dip my toes in the Pacific and walk the beach. We may also look into whale watching or try a submarine tour. It’ll be a busy few days!

West Coast, here we come

 

Teatime in Vancouver

We booked our package to Hawaii last weekend! That’s one more thing ticked off the list. The next thing to be done is organizing ourselves for the Victoria and Vancouver legs of the trip. We’ll stay with my aunt and uncle for a few days in Victoria on arrival in the west and then we’re looking at maybe an overnight trip up to Parksville, and possibly another night with another good friend that lives in Victoria. I don’t like to overstay my welcome in any one place and it’s really nice to reconnect with good friends.

From there, we’re over to Vancouver. I’ve been trying to narrow down where we’ll stay. It’s going to be a hotel for the first few nights and then a couple of nights with a cousin who has graciously invited us. As they’re retired, we don’t have to stick to weekends so I think we’ll go there for the Monday and Tuesday before we head to Hawaii for five nights. When we get back, we’ve got an airport hotel booked for a night before flying home and since we arrive in Vancouver very early and leave for Halifax via Toronto on an overnight flight, we’ll have the best part of two days more in Vancouver. I think the hotel is close to a skytrain station to facilitate that.

There seems to be a lot of suite hotels and condo type hotels for rent in Vancouver which is very convenient. I’m leaning towards something like that, more than just a mini-bar fridge and coffee maker. I very much doubt we’ll actually cook but we might get breakfast things in if the rate we pay doesn’t have it included and it’s great for keeping fresh milk and pop, and a chilled bottle of wine, perhaps. I think though we could save money and get a hotel similar to a Comfort Inn or Travelodge, I’d like to get something a bit nicer. They are fine, usually clean and fit for purpose but the rooms are pretty basic looking and nondescript.

I’m actually kind of surprised at the hotel prices. I expected Vancouver to be quite expensive but there seems to be a decent number of hotels in a reasonable price range in the city centre. With taxes included, you can get a fairly nice place for under $200 CAD per night. Considering when we went to New York, a 40% sale at the Holiday Inn Express near Times Square was still over $250 and even hotels a bit away from TS were that and far more, I count myself lucky. Vancouver real estate prices are sky high, I expected the hotels to follow suit. (or should I say suite? *snort*)

I’ve been to the west coast twice before though my husband has not been there. I first went in spring 2000 and the next time I flew out on Halloween, 2003. Here’s a gallery of the photos from those trips, bearing in mind they are low res scans from film photos.

First, Vancouver

Next, Victoria

Travel 2017: B.C. and Hawaii

Vancouver skyline

Vancouver Skyline from the North Vancouver ferry

We didn’t do a lot of traveling last year though we did fit in a couple of road trips. I did go to the UK at the end of March to bring my husband back to Canada for good but there were no other travel opportunities involved aside from driving to Ipswich to spend some time with his family.  We made a quick trip to the Canadian/US border to validate his permanent residency visa and did a road trip around Nova Scotia’s south shore in September which was a lot of fun.

The first trip to book is to go on our delayed honeymoon in November to coincide with his milestone birthday or just before it, actually, since his birthday is late in the month and the later it gets, the more there’s a possibility of weather-related travel delays. The plan will be to fly to Canada’s west coast, visiting Vancouver, Victoria and maybe Parksville and Tofino. We will be able to see some family and friends and do some sight seeing there. We also plan to fly to Hawaii for 4 or 5 days for the “just us” part of the trip.

The first bookings for the trip have been made. I browse through the Aeroplan site frequently, checking out availability and dates and last week I found the best combination. Fail: there was no availability for flying on Aeroplan points in coach class anywhere near the dates. Win: No problem if we want to fly business class on points. Win: I had more than enough points for business class. Win: Every flight we needed has business class seats in exchange for my hard earned points. Booked! Now we can look at specifics for the rest of the trip.

English Bay, Vancouver

English Bay, Vancouver from UBC

An aside: Aeroplan is strange. Some times I’ll search for flights and there will not be anything, and other times there will be and I’m checking the same dates or close enough. What I really find irritating, though, is that you might not get business class for part of the trip but they’ll still charge you the full whack for all those points. I say no. It’s wasting my Aeroplan points if I don’t get to fly business class all the way.  Now, a free flight isn’t free exactly, because they still charge you for taxes and any fees but Aeroplan has changed things. Now you can use points for the taxes as well. Fail: It uses almost as many points for the taxes as it does for the ticket! I don’t think that’s fair but it’s a step in the right direction. Luckily, taxes for two business class tickets to Vancouver only ended up costing under $200 per ticket. Still a win in my book considering the price of those tickets paying cash is over $4300 return.

Market Square, victoria

Market Square, Victoria

Decisions, decisions…

Planning a major trip is all about decisions and then you worry if you’ve made the right ones. Do we rent a car at all and if so, when? What dates will we fly to Hawaii? Earlier in the trip or later? Maybe we should do that at the very end, fly back to Canada  and then home the day after a night in an airport hotel. If we fly back to Victoria, we could actually leave the big suitcases with my aunt and uncle and just go to Hawaii with our carry on rolling bags which would be more convenient.

In the end, I think we’re going to fly to Hawaii from Vancouver even though it will mean taking all our luggage. It looks like we’ll go at the end of the holiday, then stay overnight at an airport hotel on return, and fly home the next night on an overnight flight to Toronto where we’ll change to fly home. Next will be to get the Hawaii flights booked and once that’s done, the rest can fall into place, including picking hotels. In Victoria, though, we’ll stay with family.

Steam clock

Vancouver’s famous steam clock, in Gastown

As always, it’s frustrating trying to decide where to stay. You read many reviews,  you try to read between the lines of the ones that aren’t as good. If a hotel has quite a few negative reviews, it’s off the list. Most places will have some people complaining and then you decide if their complaints are valid and if so, are they deal breakers for you? For instance, I really don’t mind if a hotel room is small but some people do. I want a comfortable bed, free wifi (!), breakfast included if at all possible, and an en suite bathroom. Those are top priorities. A kettle or coffee maker is nice to have and a mini bar  or fridge is a bonus because we can then use the fridge for our own drinks and milk for coffee/tea.

Budget of course matters. I don’t stay at hostels but we can’t spring for anything expensive. For Vancouver, I think it will likely be something along the lines of a Best Western, Comfort Inn or that sort of thing. I’ve no idea what to choose for Hawaii and might actually go to a travel agent for some suggestions. They often can get good deals.

victoria inner harbour

Victoria Inner Harbour

Once the hotels are sorted, we can make lists of things we want to do and see. That’s always fun! It looks like five nights in Oahu with, we hope, 3 full days and a good part of a fourth. We will probably stay 6 nights each  in Victoria and Vancouver, visiting friends and family and seeing the areas. I’ve been to both cities before, but my  husband hasn’t and he’s really looking forward to it.

Planning a vacation adds to the fun, I always found. I make lots of lists but in the end, other than a few things we *must* do/see, the rest if flexible. Stay tuned for more organizational notes and please, if you have any hidden gems for Oahu, or Vancouver, please let me know!