Thursday, September 10, 2009

Seattle 2009

On the final morning of our trip, we had some time to explore downtown Seattle. We were fortunate enough to secure a late checkout (1pm) from our hotel, which enabled us to spend the morning at Pike Place Market while leaving our bags in the hotel room and our car in the valet.

After spending a couple hours checking out the market, we checked out of the hotel and I drove Darrick to the Tukwila Amtrak "station" which, as it turns out, is nothing more than a temporary wooden platform. It almost looks like one of those stations where you'd expect a train to just kind of slow down and make passengers jump instead of actually stopping to let them on/off. It is, however, the closest train station to SeaTac airport, which is why we chose it. We arrived early and used that time to watch some more TV on my laptop. When it was time for Darrick to head up to the platform to ensure the train actually stopped as it was passing through, I drove to the airport, returned the car, and started waiting for my flight to San Diego. And thus the trip concluded.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vancouver 2009: M.V. Coho

Unfortunately, our last day in Victoria was largely wasted with waiting around for things. While we were downtown the previous night, we stopped by the Black Ball Ferry office to make a reservation for the 3:00 ferry to Port Angeles, WA on Friday. The woman at the counter informed me that my timing was superb -- there were only two slots left on that sailing. The gentleman behind me reserved the last slot on that particular boat. We were then instructed to be at the ferry terminal no later than 1:00pm for customs.

In the morning, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the fine Canadian dining establishment named Denny's for lunch. This was a poor decision, as lunch at Denny's can only be described as terrible. From there, we walked over to the Toyota and Honda dealers next door to see what new cars cost in Canada. We found the costs to be roughly similar to the U.S., despite Canada's weaker dollar. actually tells me that the Matrix has a lower base price in Canada than the US by about $500, but this could easily be due to the fact that they are manufactured in Cambridge, Ontario. The thing that was striking, though, was the insanely liberal estimation used to determine gas mileage on these vehicles. The listed MPG rating on a Toyota Matrix, for example, is 36 city/46 highway in Canada. The identical car in the US has an EPA rating of 21/29. Assuming the current model year Matrix is anything remotely similar to the 2004 version I own, I can vouch for the 21/29 numbers being much closer to reality. Even the 29/35 that was advertised when I bought my car was a pipe dream which has never materialized.

Anyhow, back on topic. After walking around the dealer lots for a few minutes without being pounced by slimy salespeople, we hopped in the car and drove across the street to get gas. We got just enough to last us for the small road trip we had planned to kill our time before needing to be at the ferry terminal -- the plan was to drive north and see how far we got before we needed to turn around and head back to the ferry. We planned this out well; We had less than two gallons of gas left in the tank by the time we arrived at the Coho at 1:00pm for customs.

Customs was an interesting process and utter waste of time. We basically sat there for an hour watching some episodes of The Office on my laptop while waiting for the Customs agent to get to us. They asked the cursory questions, told me that they didn't actually care about the thing that I was told I would have to declare when I purchased said item, and made me go stand in line for 20 minutes while they scanned our passports. Finally, it was time to drive onto the boat.

The M.V. Coho is a small, old boat. Currently in its 50th year of service, it has been taking autos back and forth across the strait of Juan de Fuca since 1959. As you will be able to tell from the pictures, the boat also hasn't been given a facelift or new furniture since then -- a much different and less comfortable experience than BC Ferries. The foodservice counter on the boat accepted both US and Canadian dollars, so I spent my last few Loonies on "lunch" at 3:00 as we were setting sail.

Upon our arrival in Port Angeles at 4:30pm, we headed directly for the Safeway to top off the gas tank at reasonable prices and began the drive to Seattle. I almost ran a few red lights, turned down a few one-way streets in the wrong direction, and just generally almost killed us several times while trying to navigate the terrible street system that is Downtown Seattle, but we eventually got to the hotel and put the car in valet. There was a Cheesecake Factory a few blocks from the hotel, so we had a (very late) dinner there and then retired to the room for the evening, where we were treated to brand-new ultra-comfortable pillowtop mattresses. A treat for the last night, and WAY better than the Red Lion in Victoria.

Vancouver 2009: Victoria, BC

After getting back from our journey out to Sooke, we headed toward downtown Victoria for some proper touristy sight-seeing. We of course checked out the Empress Hotel, which was quite formal and British. We also walked around a bit downtown, trying to avoid the direction of the very low-setting and incredibly bright sun. You'll notice a lot of the pictures either are overly washed out or have tons of glare -- this is due to the sub-optimal lighting conditions present at the time. For dinner, we went to a real sushi place -- the first one I've ever been to that serves albacore instead of bluefin or yellowfin when you order tuna. Since albacore is my favorite kind of tuna, I was quite thrilled with this. Their salmon was equally amazing -- so fresh, it didn't even taste fishy... which is quite a feat for salmon.

Vancouver 2009: Sooke, BC

After departing the Butchart Gardens, we attempted to take a drive out to the South/West Coast of Vancouver Island. The goal was to get off the peninsula and try to see out toward Olympic National Park in Washington. We were successful in getting to Sooke, which is a town that roughly fits that description. The road we were following was more or less right on the water's edge, but after traveling for several miles without being able to find much of a break in the trees, we finally opted to turn off into a bed and breakfast which was conveniently perched atop a hill tall enough to see out over the trees and toward the water. Darrick hopped out and took a few pictures here, and then we decided to turn around and head back. It was at about this time that my phone started making all sorts of weird noises -- text messages, voicemails, etc... so we stopped at the one good turnout just down the road where we could actually see the water. Here, we found blackberries and rose hips growing in abundance along the roadside as well as a nice view toward Washington.

As I was investigating why my iPhone was making so many strange noises, I noticed that our coastal location with line of sight to the US tricked my phone into thinking it was, in fact, in the US. This is likely why all the text messages and voice mails suddenly came through after almost a whole week of silence from the thing. Darrick caught me taking advantage like the horrible technology-addict that I am and snapped a picture.

Vancouver 2009: The Butchart Gardens, Italian Garden

The final stop on the loop of the Butchart Gardens is the Italian Garden. It was mainly contained inside a tiny little courtyard up against a building, where they predictably had a Gelato stand for those who felt so inclined. After finishing the loop around the gardens, we stopped in at the cafe for lunch (it was 1:30pm by this point, and we had skipped breakfast) and then spent some time in the gift shop. If my suitcase hadn't already been pushing its weight and capacity limits, this place could have been quite expensive for me. Luckily for my bank account, I had a good excuse to not spend too much money.

The Italian Garden Gallery

Vancouver 2009: The Butchart Gardens, Japanese Garden

In the natural progression of the self-paced tour through the Butchart Gardens, the next stop after the Rose Garden is the Japanese Garden.

Vancouver 2009: The Butchart Gardens, Rose Garden

Once finished with the Sunken Garden, we went over toward the Rose Gardens. Unfortunately, there were about a thousand people in this very small space, so it was difficult to get good pictures without tons of people getting in the way and such. I tried, though.

It's not a rose, but it's still pretty.

Vancouver 2009: The Butchart Gardens, Sunken Garden

On Thursday morning, we headed straight from the hotel out to the Butchart Gardens. The first portion of the Butchart Gardens that we walked through was the Sunken Garden, which was literally planted in an old quarry. Needless to say, it now looks nothing like a quarry.

An overview of the Sunken Garden
A small portion of the Sunken Garden

A Sunflower just outside the Sunken Garden.

Click here to see the entire Sunken Garden gallery. There are quite a few photos in this one.

Vancouver 2009: Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay Ferry

On Wednesday morning, we had room service breakfast delivered to our hotel room. Darrick got pancakes and hot chocolate while I got scrambled eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and pineapple juice. After breakfast, I showered and re-packed (but forgot to use the free robe!) in preparation for check-out. Luckily, the cooler had dried sufficently enough overnight that it was no longer wet. (Sidebar: my collapsible cooler apparently has a leak that results in water getting everywhere once the ice melts.)

After checking out of the hotel, we drove around Whistler a bit, hoping to find a place where we could do a little bit of hiking. Instead we encountered a trailhead with a parking lot that was closed... so we didn't hike. Instead, we drove North for a bit to see what else was out there, then turned around and headed back through Whistler toward Vancouver to catch a ferry to Victoria.

Our destination was the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, because BC Ferries runs ferries every hour on the hour from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. Unfortunately, Tsawwassen is almost all the way back down at the US border, which means we had to drive through downtown Vancouver to get there. A combination of construction and a traffic jam meant that though we were merging onto the Lions Gate Bridge at 2:05pm, we didn't get out of downtown Vancouver until about 3:05pm. In that hour, we covered maybe three miles at most.

By 3:30 or so we had arrived at the ferry terminal in time for the 4:00pm ferry. BC Ferries runs a nice operation: nice, clean boats with ample seating, shopping, and entertainment on board for the 90 minute ferry trip. Since I had been driving all day, my preferred method of entertainment involved taking a nap for the majority of the trip. Darrick took a few pictures, though.

Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay Ferry Gallery

Upon our arrival in Swartz Bay, we proceeded directly to our hotel in Victoria to check in, as it was now approaching 6:00 PM and we wanted to drop off our stuff and find somewhere to go eat dinner. For the first time all trip, we had a bit of bad luck with our hotel booking: This place had a single entrance for the entire hotel. The elevator we tried first took us to a half-floor that was connected to the lobby by a half flight of stairs for seemingly no reason. The elevator that actually went to the guest rooms was barely large enough for two people *without* luggage. When we got to the room, we discovered that although this place had free internet, it was not wireless. A cable was not provided with the room -- we had to check one out from the front desk. After the resort in Whistler, this was quite a let-down. The other fine establishments sharing a building with our hotel included a liquor store, chinese restaurant, and a night club.

After doing a bit of research, we selected a Japanese Benihana-esque steakhouse for dinner. It was delicious but took forever -- we didn't get back to the hotel until about 9:30pm. (We also made a pit-stop at Wal-Mart on the way back -- more on that in a bit.) Due to the aforementioned nightclub that is physically attached to the hotel, parking was a disaster. There was simply none to be found anywhere. Along with about 10 other cars, I drove circles around the block and the parking lot for a good 10 minutes or so before being hit with some sort of magic bit of luck and catching someone who happened to be leaving.

So... Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart in Victoria is The. Most. Ghetto. Wal-Mart. Ever. I'm not even kidding. First of all, the store is shaped like a T. You enter at the bottom of the T, and it's this little weird narrow store where the line of registers is perpendicular to the exit doors. Walk through that, and then suddenly it opens up into a larger box store. There were random pallets of crap everywhere. The clothing and luggage sections were physically connected to the electronics section. I was checking out the luggage area because I was going to potentially buy a small suitcase to split my stuff up for the return trip, assuming I could find one cheap enough that would justify its likely one-time use. Shelves that even had prices posted on them at all did not have merchandise that corresponded with the price on the shelf -- what I was hoping to be a $17 disposable small roller bag rang up at the register for $45, so I told them I didn't want it. Darrick bought seasons 2 through 4 of The Office on DVD, since I only had the first three discs of my Season 3 box set ripped to my hard drive due to space limitations. He wanted to watch the 4th disk.

Vancouver 2009: Whistler

After leaving the Capilano Suspension Bridge, we met up with the Trans-Canada highway for the 60-mile (about 90 minutes because of massive construction and low speed limits) drive to Whistler. Our hotel in Whistler was literally steps from the ski lifts at the base of the mountain, and we had a great view out our balcony of the mountain. I took advantage of the hotel's laundry facilities, gym, and vending machines, and then we went for a stroll around the pedestrian village and stopped at the Olympic gift shop. It was starting to get cold outside, so we ducked into a nice steakhouse for dinner. After dinner we headed back to the room, changed into some warmer clothes, and went for an evening stroll in search of dessert. :)

Did I mention that our hotel room had a fully functional kitchenette with dishwasher, stove, oven, microwave, and full size refrigerator/freezer, dining table with 4 chairs, TV and DVD player, fireplace, side chair, a closet with an ironing board and bathrobes, a queen size sofa bed, and a queen size Nelson bed all in 411 square feet, which is less than half the size of my apartment? Oh, and this was the view from our patio:

Whistler Photo Gallery

Vancouver 2009: Capilano Suspension Bridge

On Tuesday morning, we checked out of our hotel in downtown Vancouver and headed toward Whistler for the evening. On our way, we made a few-hour stop in North Vancouver to get gas (at 1.189 per liter, which translates to roughly $4.50 CAD per US Gallon, which corresponds to roughly $4.18 USD) and have brunch at a fine Canadian establishment named Denny's. From there we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which was just up the road.

As we were entering the parking lot, some guy leaving flagged us down, waving a parking pass at us. Apparently, the parking passes are good for the whole day and most visitors there are so offended by the price of admission that they give away their parking passes when they're leaving. Score! Saved us $5. Unfortunately when we left there was nobody entering the lot we could give ours to.

Basically, the park consists of a suspension bridge that was built across the canyon carved by the Capilano River. For those afraid of heights, it's a bit scary -- but this bridge survived when a GIANT tree fell on it in a storm, so it's definitely stable enough. On the far side, there's a little nature walk area and a "Treetops Adventure" which basically consists of more little mini suspension bridges that span from treetop to treetop.

Vancouver 2009: Miscellaneous Vancouver

This gallery contains photos that we took in Vancouver, but don't neatly fit into any of the other galleries. They include such awesomeness as the Pocky Store on Robson.

Vancouver 2009: Brockton Point

After checking out the totems, we wandered over toward Brockton Point along the seawall path. We took some pictures of the lighthouse and some sea planes, and then worked our way back around the loop to the totems and our car.

Vancouver 2009: Stanley Park Totems

By 3:30, we finally made it over to the totems near Brockton point. We parked in the Brockton Cricket Pavilion parking lot and walked over to the totems, then walked out to Brockton point and back around to Halleujah point before sitting down in the large grassy area outside the Cricket Pavilion to people-watch for a few minutes.

Vancouver 2009: Prospect Point

We returned to our car which was parked near the Aquarium after checking out the Rose Garden and having a snack and drinks. We decided to drive the perimeter of Stanley Park and then find a place to park that was closer to the other things we wanted to see. We stopped at a few places along the way, including Prospect Point which overlooks the Lions Gate Bridge and the waterfront. The Lions Gate Bridge is the main highway (BC-99) that connects downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver and (indirectly) to the Trans-Canada Highway. From Prospect Point, we were able to walk downhill to the foot of the bridge and then even continue on downhill from there toward the waterfront.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vancouver 2009: Stanley Park Rose Garden

After visiting the aquarium, we walked through Stanley Park toward the main entrance and on to the Rose Garden. We took a whole bunch of pictures and wandered back to our car. We stopped for drinks and snacks on the way, and then found a playground in the woods with a swing set.

Vancouver 2009: Vancouver Aquarium

On Monday morning, we drove to Stanley Park. We started off with a trip through the Vancouver Aquarium. Their big attraction there is the Beluga Whales, but they weren't doing any whale shows because one of them had just given birth.

Vancouver 2009: Gastown and Waterfront

After Chinatown, we headed to McDonalds (yeah, yeah... shut up) for liquid refreshments and then headed toward Gastown and the waterfront. We were enjoying a nice breeze at the cruise ship terminal and convention centre while watching the tugboats clear some barges out of the way for a large cruise ship to leave... and then some beggar started harassing us, so we left and headed toward the seawall. Later that evening, we walked back to the hotel to drop our stuff, then headed (on foot) to Yaletown for dinner, where we found a great Thai place.

Gastown and Waterfront Gallery

Vancouver 2009: Chinatown

For the first album of the 2009 road trip to Vancouver, I present to you the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Park and Garden and other areas around Vancouver's Chinatown. Upon arriving in Vancouver (very, very late) Saturday night, we went straight to bed. After breakfast on Sunday morning, we took a cab to Chinatown.

The cabbie dropped us off about 10 blocks past the entrance to the garden... probably to make an extra buck off of some American tourists. This is the last time we took a cab in Vancouver... it took us a half an hour of looking at bad maps to figure out where the hell we were and where we were supposed to be going. The first pictures are from the park outside of the garden, which is a free city park. On the other side of the moat is the actual garden that requires paid entrance. We took some pictures in the park first and then headed into the garden in time for the noon tour.

After Chinatown, we headed toward the adjacent Gastown neighborhood. This is somewhat like San Diego's gaslamp quarter in the sense that there's tons of trendy shopping and other crap there... and it's near the waterfront, but separated by heavy and light rail tracks.