Friday, August 06, 2010

Midweek Vacation to Vancouver

This week I did something really, really fun. It did not involve commuting, or sitting in front of my computer, or anything work related like you would expect from a normal Tuesday-Thursday stretch. Instead, I went to Vancouver, Canada. Way more fun!

So, why the workweek weekend, you might be asking? Ask Ryan, my delightful new beau who works weekends. Not only is he smart, funny, patient, and generally awesome, he's also smoking hot. Observe:

He'd never been to Vancouver (or so he'd thought) and I'd only ever been for underage drinking, so it seemed like a fun thing to do now that my project at work has (finally!) ended.

Day 1: Tuesday

We set out Tuesday morning - in the Matrix of course, my car loves road trips - and made excellent time. We zoomed through the border (though not without wearily eyeing the 2-hour wait to cross back into the USA) and easily navigated to Delta, the 4-star hotel I got a killer deal on by bidding on priceline. I love staying in fancy hotels and I love a good bargain, plus the location was fantastic - in West downtown nestled between Gastown, Chinatown, and the end of Granville street - so it was a win-win-win.

We valeted the car, dumped our bags, and immediately set out on foot for dim sum in Chinatown. Even though we couldn't find a place that served from carts we were more than satisfied with what we got, thanks to the super friendly security guard who recommended Jade Dynasty to us. (Canadians are so nice!)
Chinatowns across North America looks pretty much the same, but this was something I'd never seen. They look like something straight out of Jurassic Park, right?

Also, Vancouver seems to be really into discount meats. This is one of several we saw, and not just in Chinatown either.

Then we checked out the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which was a really sweet, serene space in the middle of downtown. It featured turtles and the biggest Coy fish I've ever seen. You can't see it here, but it's surrounded by high rises:

Our short walk back to the hotel included passing a block of empty storefronts whose sidewalk was filled with the city's transients. We were both interested in why they would gather there - some sort of agreement that the authorities would not hassle them if they stayed together in one place? - but a subsequent walk past that same block the next day revealed that it was home to a recycling center that paid them for their collected bottles and cans. It was interesting to contrast Vancouver's consistent rating among the best cities in the world to live in with the seemingly high level of homelessness.

But, we were on vacation so we didn't dwell too long on the plight of the world's less fortunate and instead quickly checked into our room, changed into more breathable clothing (we were so lucky with the weather), and hopped a bus to Stanley park to rent bikes and tool around. Here's Ryan with his sweet ride (he's used to being on two wheels and owns a sick motorcycle).

I insisted on a one-speed cruiser - the woman told me it had pedal brakes like that was a bad thing, hello childhood! I got it with a basket and I was delighted that it was bright yellow. Once we started riding I tried a few motions shots with mixed success. Here's the funniest of them:

I stopped to take this one. How cute are we?

Stanley park is huge - 1,000 acres! - but really user-friendly. We toured the 8 kilometer Sea Wall, which had separate walk and wheel lanes. The nicest part was that the wheel lane is one-way: not dodging traffic removes a lot of potential stress and allowed us to really take in our surroundings, which were gorgeous. Here's a shot toward the beginning of the trail:

Here's another taken toward the end. There were tons of people on the beach and even a few in the water.
The weather was perfect and I was just so happy and grateful to be exactly where I was. My favorite 10 seconds of the entire trip was a downhill stretch where I got going a little bit fast and just relaxed into the breeze. I couldn't help but laugh at my good fortune to lead such a fun life.

Here are our bikes under the Lion's Gate bridge. I love this photo.

After we turned our bikes back in we decided to walk down Robson street, the main downtown/shopping corridor. We couldn't believe the quantity of sushi restaurants, but indulged in a Slurpee and kept walking with a resolution to eat sushi for lunch the next day. We took a left at Granville, paused to listen to a great violinist busker, and then walked past the hotel to the edge of Gastown. By that time we'd been walking for about an hour and were hungry again, so we had a light dinner at an immense restaurant called Steamworks (800 seats!) with a view of the 2010 Olympic stadium. (Zoomed in here.)

By this time we could have easily called it a night, but after relaxing in our room for a few hours we decided to head out again. I wanted to try a tapas restaurant that had been recommended to me called Bin 941. I am a tapas junkie after having lived in Spain but also sort of a snob about them since often a so-called 'tapas' restaurant is nothing of the kind. So imagine my disappointment when we found the spot and it was filled with $17 entree-style, non-Spanish items! We hightailed it out of there and started walking back toward the hotel via Granville, the nightlife center of the city.

On the way we passed a very promising, authentic-looking tapas restaurant but by that time we were pretty beat down from a long day and opted for late-night room service. (I love room service. The food is rarely good and always overpriced but I just love getting a meal delivered on a tray with mini condiments and being able to charge it to the room. Added bonus that what we ordered was actually quite tasty!)

Day 2: Wednesday

We woke up bright and early on Wednesday and started with breakfast at Scoozi's, a Greek-style dinner by the hotel. After that we hopped a bus to Granville Island - which is not an island at all - to go to the public market. I was expecting more fair-style vendors, and we didn't spend much time among the produce, meat, and seafood stalls, though if I had a kitchen in Vancouver to cook in I would have gone buck wild.

After briefly considering and the discarding the idea to take a ferry across False Creek we hopped back on the bus to get us a little closer to our next destination and then walked the remaining 2 miles through a non-touristy part of town, which is always a refreshing change of pace. We were headed to Science World since it turns out we both love kid-oriented entertainment. As we got closer Ryan stopped dead in his tracks and said, "Wait a minute... is this where they had the '86 Expo??" Turns out he'd been to Vancouver before after all. Here it is for those of you who might have gone as well.

We didn't end up paying the $20+ for the science center -it was under construction, filled with day-camp groups (the kids are not what we love about children's entertainment) and woefully lacking a planetarium. Right next door was a Sky train station which connected directly to the station outside our hotel, so we got some more public transportation under our belts.

By this time we were ready for that sushi lunch and figured we'd explore Gastown and eat there. Here's a shot of the Harbor Center (sort of like the Space Needle, revolving restaurant and all) from Gastown:

Considering the dozens of sushi joints we'd seen, this seemed like it would be a breeze... not so, my friends. We walked through the entire neighborhood and soon found ourselves all the way back in Chinatown, hungry, hot, and edging on grumpy. But we quickly formed a Plan: buy Ryan some swim trunks for the Stanley park pool at a discount Chinatown shop, take a bus back to the hotel, eat a snack at the taco stand next to the hotel I was dying to try, put on our swimsuits, take the bus back to Stanley park, and eat at one of the many sushi places we had passed the day before. Which is exactly what we did. Here is the pinche taco place; it definitely hit the spot.

Once back on Robson by the park we ended up at Momo sushi which was on the list of places I'd read about. It was exactly what we were looking for. There was a table right outside and it was on a side street so the traffic and pedestrians from Robson didn't bother us. It was also cheap and, most importantly, freaking DELICIOUS. Four small tacos cost us $12; two giant sushi lunches (I couldn't even finish mine, a rarity for me) was $23. The lesson here is that there ARE bargains to be had, even in the most expensive of cities.

After we ate we walked back into the park where we hit up the aquarium, overflowing with families on a Wednesday (we kept commenting on how grateful we were that we hadn't come on a weekend) but wholly enjoyable. We watched an incredible 4-D Planet Earth show which was the best I'd ever seen (it had me and the entire theater shrieking) and then stuck around for a Beluga whale show. Usually the thought of aquatic mammal shows makes me a little sad, but it was pretty interesting to watch and was short enough that I didn't feel like they were being made too much a spectacle of. Plus it was three generations of whales - grandma, daughter, granddaughter - which tickled me for some reason. My camera didn't take great shots of them, but here's a fun one:
Then it was time for the pool at Second Beach. We had biked past it the day before and I was sad we didn't have our suits with us to hop in then and there (instead we went swinging - a happy alternative). The aquarium and the pool are not close - it's a huge park - so we got in a cab. Had I been any less vacation-euphoric I would have been angry by our cab driver's obvious dawdling and detours to jack up the price, but not walking the distance and having something to laugh about (he was one of those people who drives a cab through the park every day but knew nothing about it, you know the type) made the $15 ride worth it.

Ahhh, the pool. It was beautiful. Right on the water, not too crowded, perfectly heated, with a twisty slide that we tried out despite funny looks from the kids in line (kids who cut us and we let them). It was so pleasant just floating around together with no one getting in our way, especially since the day had been so hot and the aquarium so crowded. Ryan says this was his favorite part of the trip and it was a close second for me behind bike riding.

Having learned that cabs in Vancouver are pricey, we walked out of the park and bused back to the hotel where we relaxed and got ready for dinner. We decided to hit up the second tapas restaurant we'd found on Granville and I was blown away by it! It's called Cafe Barcelona and was probably the most authentic tapas I've eaten outside of Spain. It was expensive because it's Vancouver but it was definitely within the right price range for small plates, plus they hit everything right on the money. The biggest tapas test for me is always tortilla espaƱola, which they executed perfectly: more potato than egg, served at room temperature without any frills. The waitress left something to be desired but hey, they wouldn't have been attentive in Spain either.

The last time I was in Vancouver was for my 20th birthday, of which I have very vague memories. But when we walked past the Two Parrots bar on Granville, memories flooded back of getting a little tipsy and making Canadian friends in that bar. Having revisited Ryan's past trip, we decided to revisit mine and got drinks in this fabulous dive before calling it a night.

Day 3: Thursday

We crossed so much off the list in days 1 and 2 we decided to check out a different part of town before confronting our scary-long border crossing wait. We drove across the Lion's Gate bridge into North Vancouver where we found an excellent diner called Moodyville's. They served free-range eggs with the most intensely orange yolks I had ever seen and both of our breakfasts were delicious.

Then we walked down to the water where we found another public market, this time with some fair-esque vendors. I bought two beautiful bracelets and some maple syrup cream cookies (they are dangerously good). Here's a view of downtown Vancouver from North Vancouver (zoomed in):
Clearly we were both avoiding the border so on our way back we stopped to do a little more wandering in another hip part of town we'd noticed on our drive in. Eventually we couldn't put it off any longer and geared up for the border, newspaper at hand to entertain ourselves. As we got closer we kept waiting for traffic to slow and then stop in the same place where we'd seen it on Tuesday, and waiting... and waiting... holding our breath and trying not to get too excited that the back-up didn't seem so bad. The heavens were smiling upon us and it took a piddling 30 minutes until we were back in the USA. The Matrix is good luck! (Refer to both the Mt. Rainier and Lavender festival posts for its history of saving me tons of travel time.)

My steering wheel had been vibrating a little too intensely for comfort and I knew I needed two new tires anyway, and since we had all the time in the world to kill, we decided to find a Les Schwab in Bellingham and eat lunch downtown while they hooked me up. Turns out that you can't only get 2 new tires on a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but they ended up charging me $100 less than I was expecting, plus they balanced it which fixed the vibrations and it drove so much nicer with four new tires, so it was fully worth it. I also got to relive an experience I often think about from my days of visiting friends at Western: the potato burrito. Freaking yum.

Now, gentle readers, you might expect that after 3 continuous days together, filled with what could have been high-stress situations that might accompany travel + car troubles, we would possibly be a little sick of each other, and definitely ready to get home. But we proved to be such compatible travel companions that we weren't grumpy but rather still happy to be together, plus avoiding rush hour through Seattle seemed like a good idea, so there was really only one logical choice for our next move: outlet shopping.

That's right. We went on vacation. I dealt with the stress of needing 4 new tires. And then we went shopping together. Serious, two-hour-long, multi-store shopping. And you know what? We were just as happy together at the end of those 2 hours. (Insert contented sigh here.)

All good things must come to an end, though, and after stopping off for a view of Seattle I didn't know existed, our vacation was officially over. Here's the view from West Seattle:

I have a feeling this was the first of many vacations together...


Robyn said...

i loooove the post and am so glad you two had a great time. What a great mid week vaycay!!

Erica said...

I love your life too, Archer! :)

jennielohr said...

a new beau - how exciting - looks like life is good - just as it should be!!

Amy said...

bahahahahaha you're just as gross and sappy as me and sergio :) haha i'm glad you are so happy and that you had a good time frolicking in canada :) you guys did so much in so little time, i'm jealous! un beso enorme!

ElizaBeth said...

Erica - Thanks! It's not like your life is too shabby either, Ms. I spend most of my time in Paris. Amy - AM NOT!