Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Well, I didn't do so well on blogging "live", but I will catch up and I'm determined to get good at please bear with me!

Day 1
Vancouver was beautiful! I was excited to go there because it's been on my travel radar for a long time and I love anywhere that has mountains and water. Driving into Canada was fairly uneventful. Customs didn't give us much trouble, I guess we looked innocent enough! I'd say that hardest thing was trying to figure out where the km/hr was in relation to the mph on the spedometer. It felt like we were driving slower, but I'm sure that wasn't the case. Overall, the driving in Canada was great because people swerved in and out of lanes to avoid cars turning left, like it was no one's business, so I followed suit. It made getting down the street, especially in downtown Vancouver, much easier.

I wasn't sure what the layout of Vancouver was really like. I knew that it was on the coast with Vancouver Island to the west. What I didn't really know, was how large and spread out it was. It seemed like there was always a bridge to cross and the different areas of the city were vital to knowing your location and where you needed to head. I drove the whole time we were there, so I figured out the layout pretty quick...and NOW it makes sense!

The first day we headed straight to Capilano. This is a rainforest area in North Vancouver that prides itself on having the highest suspension bridge in the world. It was high. And very "swingy". We walked across the bridge, avoiding other frightened tourists, and headed into the rainforest area. They had a tree top walkway, which was neat. The only downfall was that there weren't many picture opportunities. The trees were so dense, that there wasn't much to see. We walked through the whole park and back across the suspension bridge to the "skywalk", which was neat. It was a clear-bottom walkway built off the side of a cliff. Capilano is not the place for someone with a fear of heights! The thing that was amusing was the description of how the constant precipitation eroded the stones of the cliffside, the same cliffside that the skywalk was attached too...I'm glad we were able to experience it before the erosion really kicked in! We spent maybe 2 hours at Capilano, and for the price, it was a fun activity. I would suggest anyone who is looking for some adventure to check it out, but it definitely is NOT a full day activity.

From there we headed to Granville Island. We had to back-track across the Lions Gate Bridge and the Granville Bridge, argue about directions, and realize that we had to make multiple left turns an go under the bridge in order to make it to our destination. Yikes... Granville Island reminded me of Navy Pier. It was a small area designated for people to walk around into little shops, walk along the waters edge, and stop to eat at the array of restaurants available. We had originally decided to go here because of the Granville Island Brewery. No surprise there I'm sure...(If you've read about my Portland trips...) The Granville Island Brewery was a cute little place, it looked fairly new and very simplistic. What we weren't expecting was that everyone was on a 12 ounce limit. Evidently, they didn't have an actual liquor license to "serve/sell" beer, so they could only sell each person 12 ounces. Bummer. Oh well, it was a good sampler and a decently long walk (exercise is good), and then we were back in our car. We decided to head towards the hotel which was technically in Yaletown. Coincidentally enough, the Yaletown Brewery was close by, so we stopped for some lunch and more beer. The one thing to know about Canada (well, Vancouver anyways) is that although the Canadian dollar is worth about the same as the USD, everything is expensive. Our lunch was fun and we were able to watch some guy climb into a beer fermentation tank in order to clean it...and then watch him climb back out. It was like the fermentor gave birth! We couldn't believe that he actually was able to get in and out of that hole, but he made it and received a standing ovation from us upon his exit. The food and beer were good too! After a hearty lunch (I had beef stroganoff...with pickles?!) we headed to the hotel, which was about 6 blocks away.

That evening, Jen and I set out on a mini-adventure to find a brewery/bar where we could meet some people and have some fun. We ended up going across the street to a place called the "Back Forty". This place had a country feel to it and served BBQ. We saddled up to the bar and were handed very large mugs from the bartender. The best part about theses mugs, besides the fact that they were huge, was that they had a mustache on them, so it appeared as though you had facial hair when you were drinking. Awesome! We also had the fortune of learning about the city from a friendly bartender named Kenton. He was a very good looking guy, who knew how to pour a beer and had the quintessential Canadian accent. We sat there for a couple of hours with our new friend and promised to come back in a couple of nights when he would be working again. It had been a long, successful first day in Vancouver and we needed to brace ourselves for a couple more!

Day 2

It was rainy and nasty outside when we woke up. The hotel had a great continental breakfast to get us started though. We figured that since the weather was so crappy, we would look for something to do inside. Not an easy task in a place like Vancouver where people like to be outdoors. We decided that we would start at the Vancouver Aquarium and play it by ear from there. It was amazing because as we drove toward the aquarium, there were tons of people out, walking around like the rain was nothing new and nothing that was going to stop them from enjoying their day. The kind of people I like!

We got to the aquarium, which was so much fun...except for all of the young school children that were running around. I like kids...obviously because I'm a teacher, but there is a reason that I teach high school!!  Regardless, we went to a 4D movie called Pole to Pole, that discussed the effects of global warming and the different species of animals and sea creatures that lived made up the food chain. Maybe I'm behind the times, but I've never been to a 4D movie before. It was in an IMAX type of theater, and there were lots of sensory effects such as air blowing, bubbles, and sprays of water that made you feel like you were in the video with the animals. It was pretty cool, but the one thing I didn't like was the sudden poke in the back as a shark swam towards and ate a seal. Not cool...  After the movie, we headed out to see the fish and sea mammals. I really wanted to see the sloth in the rain forest exhibit, but we couldn't find him. Sloths truly amaze me and the only time I've seen one is when Jen and I did a bike tour in Costa Rica, and our tour guide managed to spot on amongst the trees in the rain forest.

We then headed outside to see all of the swimming mammals, which are AMAZING! I love seals and otters and they weren't shy about posing for the camera. This aquarium also had Beluga Whales, which are so beautiful and put on a fun show in the rain. I haven't been to the aquarium for years, so this was a  treat.

After the aquarium, we drove out to see the campus of the University of British Columbia. It is said to have the most beautiful campus in the country and it definitely met our expectations. The campus runs along the shore and is adding many impressive buildings. There wasn't much activity, but it was definitely a place to be considered for those looking for a great school in a beautiful setting. It was still raining, so we didn't get out and walk around, but the school was in an eclectic part of town that would have been a great place to go to college. From there, we headed back to Downtown Vancouver to check out another brewery, where we had lunch and a couple of beers. We ended up near the cruise ship port, which was neat. After a solid lunch of halibut and chips, we headed back to the hotel to regroup.

That evening, we took a walk to find Poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian style of food consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. This was something that Jen has been looking forward to...and was very interesting. I'm not a huge fan of cheese curds, but this would make a great late night snack after a night out on the town.

Later that evening, Jen and I decided to talk a walk and do a little bar hopping in a different area of town. Our first stop was Cambie's. Cambie's is actually a hostel and it was a running joke for us because we "got Cambie's number!". (for anyone who has seen A Night at the Roxbury). It was definitelya cool scene, lots of travelers from all over the world with cheap food and beer. We hung out there for a couple of beers and then moved on to Six Acres. Six Acres was a small venue with an eclectic menu and a wide variety of beer. We had some garlic-parmesean popcorn and sweet-and-spicy wings, along with some fantastic drinks. The server and bartender we super friendly and were willing to answer any and all questions we had.

It was starting to get late and we had a decent walk back to the hotel, but we decided to make a quick stop by the Alibi Room. This restaurant/bar was larger than it appeared from the outside, with a great basement bar. The bar had over 30 beers on tap, so of course it was sampler time! We drank for a bit and as they were closing up, we headed back to the hotel. One great thing about Vancouver, is that it's a safe city. One of the servers at Yaletown Brewery had told us that they were renovating different areas of the city, but that we should feel safe everywhere. We followed his advice and made it back safe and sound. The only disturbance we encountered the entire night was a homeless man spitting at and screaming at some guy that walked past him. We weren't really sure what it was all about, but he wasn't bothering us!

Another successful day!

Day 3

For our last day in Vancouver, we decided to have a little adventure and head to Grouse Mountain. This area is used for hiking in the summer, with a tram that takes you to the top of the mountain for beautiful views, and a wolf rescue area. We also encountered a hike called the Grouse Grind. Many of the locals take this trail for daily exercise. For those of us who are not as in shape as we liked to definitely was a grind! Poor Jen had to wait for me on many occassions, but we made it to the top. The Grouse Grind consists of over 2700 stairs that wind their way straight up the mountain. We were basically on a stair stepper for close to 2 hours. I would say that we earned our lunch that day! Our moms took the tram up and took some photos of us as we reached the top, sweaty and out of breath. Regardless of the time it took, we made it!  We hung out on top for a while and then rode the tram down, getting more panoramic views of Vancouver.

After leaving Grouse Mountain, we headed to Stanley Park. This area is a focal point in Vancouver, as it covers many square miles of park area, with hiking/biking paths, the aquarium, and beautiful overlook/picture stops. We stopped at a restaurant in the park and had lunch, walked around and took pictures, and then drove to the rose garden. The flowers were not all in bloom yet, but it was a peaceful place to walk around and enjoy the sunshine. It had been rainy long enough, so it was great to enjoy some nice weather!

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to shower and clean up after our hiking expedition. For dinner that evening, we went back to "Back Forty" for some BBQ and more beer! Our new favorite bartender, Kenton, was working, and we had to hang out with him again before we left the city. He sent a round of shots to the table, which was very nice...and even the mom's enjoyed them. After dinner, our mom's headed back to the hotel and Jen and I sat at the bar for a couple of beers. It was a nice relaxing evening and we had a long drive the next day. Around 10pm, we headed back for a good nights sleep.

Vancouver was amazing, some place everyone should visit when they get the chance. There are many beautiful things to see and there is much to do. Wonderful few days...and more to come!

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