Friday, August 15, 2014

Canada (Vancouver)

This was one of those tag along trips for me. Sumit was in Vancouver for a conference and I decided to join him for a few days after his conference ended. We had 4 days in all and they were more than enough for us to fall in love with the Canadian people and Canada itself. 

When did we go?

We were in Vancouver from 14th -19th August and the weather was amazing. Very very pleasant, absolutely perfect. We didn't have to pick the dates, we had to stick with the conference days, and it turned out to be pretty decent choice of dates, weather wise.
However, in case you are planning to visit Whistler as well, you may prefer going sometime earlier in the summer as they have some gondolas operational only from May-July. 

Where did we stay?

We wanted to stay in the downtown area and found an excellent B&B option through airbnb. Beautiful apartment with an excellent view. The owner was a professional travel blogger and gave us some great tips on what to and what not to do in the city. We stayed close to the intersection of Seymour Street and Davie Street. We were within walking distance of major downtown streets and close to public transport as well. So, all in all, worked out well for us :)

How did we get around?

Public transport is perfect to get around the city. Even to get to Granville Island or the Grouse Mountain, public transport works out perfect. But we rented a car to get to Whistler and since we had an extra day, we drove to Harrison Lake and Bridal Veil falls too.

What did we do?

I landed on Thursday evening, right after Sumit got done with his last session at the conference. We had full four days until we flew out on Tuesday morning. On the whole, we spent time in Vancouver downtown, Grouse Mountain, Capillano Bridge and a day in Whistler.

DAY 1: Stanley Park, Robson Street, Gastown

Our tandem bike
We had an early start to the day and were planning to spend half a day biking around the Stanley park and the Vancouver waterfront. Our host recommended Reckless Bike Store, walking distance from our place. They had a tandem bike, which is a must for us, since I do not know how to ride a bike (yes, embarrassing, I know, but let us get past this now, okay!). So we got our bike route maps, which were super helpful when we got lost (like we always do on a bike), and we were biking! Our approximate bike route.

Totem poles
Stanley Park has so much to see that you can spend an entire day here, but we weren't really interested in museums or aquariums. Hence, we biked along the seawall and stopped at Totempoles for some photo ops, also at the light house, and some very very scenic views. It was a whole lot of fun just biking around the park, with so much activity going on around you. We stopped at the Teahouse for a quick bite.
Once we exited the park, we headed to the waterfront area, near Canada Place and then in search for a dedicated biking route, ended up somewhere close to the Rogers Arena. Then Google maps and biking maps helped us get back to the biking store. After we were done, it was time for some rest! Oh btw, we did try some veggie hot dogs at those mobile stalls that are in abundance in Vancouver and they were quite bad.
The steam clock - Gastown
After a short nap, we headed to the Robson street for the evening. What a lively place to be. Reminded me of 3rd street promenade in LA. Our Indian palette was craving for some spicy food and we ended up going to Salaam Bombay. Average. I expected Vancouver to have some better desi food options. Later, we headed to the waterfront for a stroll near the convention center and then to the Gastown for night. Another lively neighborhood to hang out. Must must hang around this area. Super lively and fun. Stopped by the steam clock to see what the fuss is all about and then headed back home. 

DAY 2: Grouse Mountain, Capilano Bridge, Granville Island

Grouse Mountain
Early start as usual. I wonder why on vacations I promptly get up at 7 or 8, while on regular weekdays, I am usually asleep till 9 30! Anyhow, we took the subway to the Convention Center. From here we took the SeaBus(ferry ride) to the Lonsdale Quay. From here we took the bus to the Grouse Mountain. We reached by 10 am. 
Once here, you would need to buy your passes for the skyride to take you at the first level. Here you have a nice restaurant; a couple of bears in a confined area, which you can spot if you are lucky; a lumberjack show, which I highly recommend and is super funny. There is also a show with the birds and stuff. But it was so foggy, that we could barely see the lumberjack show from 10 feet away. So, we were very disappointed. It was just a bad day. The weather in Vancouver was pretty bright and sunny, but the Grouse Mountain was covered in fog. I am sure it makes for a very scenic place to walk around, but fog makes it look all white.
Then we took our passes for a chairlift to the next level. The ride was fun, even though it was more foggy here than at the previous level, mostly because of height. People were ziplining here, but we decided to give it a miss. It was so foggy, I am not sure if it would have been fun. There is a windmill here and you can take a ride to the top of the windmill for a 360 degree view. But, we skipped it due to the fog. Tip: You can buy passes for all three rides all together at the base ticket counter too.
Capilano Bridge
Around 2 pm, we took the bus to Capilano Bridge, which is on your way back to Vancouver from the Grouse Mountain. We were there in about 30 minutes or so. Got our tickets and the map. I love places which have maps to offer. It gives me a chance to come up with another mini plan. But first, we got some excellent falafals from the snack shops there. This is a very fun place to be. Walking on that bridge is freaking scary, especially when you get to the middle and the damn bridge is swinging. The tree top walks on the other side are fun too. There were some birds on display and my favorite was the owl. Such a beauty. Loved observing the bird so up,
close and personal. After spending some fun hours here, we got back on the bus to the downtown. Here we changed our bus to take us to the Granville Island. It is small little tourist attraction in itself.
Public market - Granville Island
We walked around the small little island and ended up at the Public Market. Here we literally pounced on the coconut water and some yummy chocolate desserts. Then, we couldn't stop ourselves from buying mangoes which looked so fresh. After we were done with our groceries (rolling eyes), we walked around for a little while. I hear the Granville Pub has some excellent beers to offer. From here, we took an aquabus back to the Davie Street, closest to our apartment. Small, round, multicolored ferries they are, that go from the Granville Island to different parts of the downtown. Super cute!
And then, Sumit had some sushi craving. Yes, veggies sushi. So we quickly googled for some sushi options close by and voila, we found one close to our apartment. Kaide sushi bar. Excellent sushi. Best veggie sushi I have had till now. Plus, I will never forget the chef who was talking to me holding a butcher's knife in his hand. An image that will always be ingrained in my head. 

DAY 3: Bridal Veil Falls, Harrison Lake

Bridal Veil Falls
Harrison Lake
We had initially planned to go to Victoria Island this day, but figured it may be too hectic and given that Vancouver is such a fun place to be, we thought we will return some other time just for Victoria Island. Anyhoo, we had the car rented for this day. So after we picked up our car from the airport, we drove east towards the falls. Spotted a Gurudwara in middle of vast green fields. Felt like I was back in Punjab. Well driving was a lot of fun. We took a diversion because of a traffic accident and figured we were driving parallel to the US-Canada border at a distance of few meters. (yes, meters, not yards. I am an Indian and I was in Canada). Bad day to not have kept your passports with you! But luckily we were back on the freeway and at the Falls in a couple of hours.
A short hike to the beautiful falls. Very green, dense and lush forests. After some photos, we stopped at a burger place for lunch and then headed to the Harrison Lake. Huge, beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains on all sides. We had read about Harrison hot springs, where you could take a dip in the natural hot springs, but on reaching, figured they were still 45 minutes to an hour away from the lake. We didn't want to drive anymore, so decided to skip it. Just relaxed in the sun for an hour before driving back to Vancouver. We took a different route this time. We drove via BC-7 which was very pretty compared to BC-1.

On our drive back, we thought about exploring the Punjabi market that everyone talks about so much. It is just a bunch of streets which have quite a bit of Indian shops. The fun part is, all the shops have their names displayed in English and Punjabi. It was a good place to drive by and made for some good photo ops. We had dinner at some Indian place nearby and then decided to go visit the Richmond Night market, which had been highly recommended by our host. It was like one of those make shift bazaars we have in India. But definitely a good place for any foodie. We got in the queue for the famous Rotato and finally got ours after some wait. It lived up to its reputation. It was only when I got back to the US, I was told we have something similar at Santa Cruz Boardwalk too! But well, it was fun. Lemonade was good too and this is where I bought my Superman socks! After our long day, we got home and crashed, for it was supposed to be an even longer day tomorrow. But before we snored away to glory, it was time to have some mango milkshake. The mangoes from Granville island turned out to be very sweet and the shake was the best thing to end such a long day. 

DAY 4: Whistler

Blackcomb mountain
We left really early, around 7 on this day. Drove straight to Whistler. Some great views on our drive. Absolutely beautiful landscapes. Once we got to the village, we got our passes for the chairlifts and for the peak to peak gondola. We took the chairlift up to the black comb mountain. had lunch at the restaurant here. The chairlift further up to the seventh heaven was closed. Then took the peak to peak gondola to the Whistler mountain. The views are just so beautiful. You get such amazing views of the valley, it is out of the world.

Whistler mountain

Once we reached Whistler mountain, we took the chairlift up to another peak. Amazing views and a bit chilly. Once we got down, we hiked around a bit at Whistler mountain. Took some photos and some best views I have ever seen from a mountain top. Then, we finally took the ride from the Whistler mountain down to the Olympic village. This reminded me of the Squaw valley at Tahoe. The village is huge and has plenty of options to eat, drink and relax. We ate at the Tandoori Grill. Good food. There are so many activities to do here, it is totally worth spending a few days. What I found interesting and amusing was that every instruction here was written in four languages, two of them were English and Punjabi! How awesome is that :)
Brandy Wine falls
We went up the Blackcomb Mountain, then took peak-to-peak gondola to Whistler and got down from Whistler. This was recommended by our host and worked out well for us. Firtsly, because the views were good and secondly, the village at the base of Whistler was good place to relax, eat and spend some time at. And you would want to do that towards the end of your visit I think.
On our drive back we stopped at many places. Some were great Vista points. I especially remember Shannon Falls and Brandy Wine Falls. We missed Porteau Cove. Stopped at the HorseShoe bay for a quick cup of coffee. Then drove back home to pack up and take the early morning flight next day. 

What more could we have done?

Victoria Island: It takes a lot of effort to get here. You need to spend around 3 hours on the ferry each way. Then public transport on the island itself isn't that great, so getting around is tough. We realized it wasn't worth a day trip and probably it is a better idea to spend a few days here, rather than just a day. Plus, you can get to Victoria island directly from Seattle.
Rockies: They make for a week long trip from Vancouver I think, or at least 3-4 days with all the driving involved.