Friday, August 2, 2013

Vagabond in Vancouver

Last week was a whirlwind trip to Vancouver with the family.  We wanted to do a special trip with just the close family - Mom, Dad, Laura, John and I.  Finding a time in people's schedules was a bit difficult, but we were able to find 6 days together to enjoy the highlights of Vancouver.  The flight was a bit long (about 4-5 hours of travel time), and as soon as we landed we went out for dinner and enjoyed some Canadian brews.

Our first full day out, we decided to visit Queen Victoria's gardens and Granville Island.  The gardens were beautiful, and it certainly helped that it was 70 and sunny the entire week that we were in Vancouver.  There was a lot to see in the gardens, and the best part was that it was free!

In the afternoon, we visited Granville Island.  The island was once an industrial park, but within the last 20 years had been turned into a tourist area.  There were all kinds of shops lining the street, and a great open market with speciality food for sale.  We even made time to tour and sample beers of the Granville Island Brewery.

A cute tugboat sitting in the bay surrounding Granville Island
Delicious food options in the Granville Market
The next day, we enjoyed the area in and around Stanley Park.  Stanley Park is the Vancouver version of Central Park.  It's located on a peninsula and has a beautiful sea wall with a bike path along the outer edge.  We rented bikes for the morning and enjoyed the 6 mile relaxed ride around the sea all.  The entire ride was so scenic!

Getting started on the bike path
A scenic stop on the bike path

In the center of Stanley Park is the Vancouver Aquarium.  They had a ton of great exhibits to look at, including an enclosed rainforest, colorful saltwater fish, anenome, octopus, sea lions/seals, beluga whales, porpoises and a featured jellyfish exhibit.  We spent most of the afternoon enjoying the entire aquarium.

Our next adventure was the entire reason for our trip - to enjoy high tea at The Empress in Victoria.  We started off early with a leisurely ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver to Victoria.  A short bus ride took us to the heart of Victoria where we enjoyed looking at the small shops until it was time for our tea reservation.

The Empress was an absolutely gorgeous hotel built in 1908 as the highlight of Victoria.  It became even more popular when the King and Queen of England visited in 1947, making a historic visit to the Empress herself for high tea on a custom-made china pattern.  Everyone was very fancy while we had tea - complete with soft piano music, fancy couches to sit on, tea sandwiches as well as crumpets and sweets.  It was very decadent, and exceptionally special for Mom.  It had been a dream of hers to visit The Empress for tea, and that dream came true that afternoon.  I'm not much of a tea drinker, but the visit was so special and I could tell that Mom was having such a wonderful time, so the ordinary tea became special for me too.

We had tea on china with the royal pattern used by the King and Queen


All smiles in the Empress garden after enjoying tea

Before we left Victoria for the day, we enjoyed one last tourist attraction: Craigdarroch Castle.  The castle was a giant four-story house built by a Victoria coal millionaire.  The house had a sad start with family deaths and a tumultuous history until it was made into a museum.  It was still beautiful inside, with a gorgeous wooden staircase and wooden panelling on the walls, stained glass, and lots of other fancy decorations.  It was a lavish castle in its day and remains as such to this day.

Grand staircase at the main entryway
A view of the stairs from the main entryway, looking straight up the stairwell
There was a mix-up on the bus schedule (sadly, my fault), so we arrived at the ferry station later than planned, but we had no trouble catching the ferry back to the mainland to head back to our hotel.  It was a long day, but full of so many memories.

The next day was more of a hiking/adventurous day.  We visited the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge and adjacent ecology center for the morning, and the afternoon was on Grouse mountain to enjoy the sights there.  Lynn Canyon was a peaceful nature area with a suspension bridge - in my opinion, it was a bit scary, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  We also looked at the exhibits presented in the ecology center that was close by.

Grouse Mountain was a nearby attraction that we were told we couldn't miss.  During the winter it was a ski resort, and during the summer they had lots of outdoor activities as well.  We took a scenic ride on a gondola to reach the mid-point of Grouse Mountain.  Later, we took a ski-lift all the way up to the top to enjoy more of the view.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the heights - it was a bit intimidating.  But it was certainly worth the view from the top.


Headed to the top of the mountain via ski-lift

View as we went back down

At the midway spot of the mountain, there was a show on falconry, a lumberjack show, as well as a presentation done by the grizzly bear exhibit.  There are two grizzly bears present in an exhibit - each orphaned at birth.  They were really fun to see up close, and it was great to see that they were doing well in their new habitat.


Our last day as a group (Laura and John flew out one day earlier than us) was spent in Chinatown.  We started at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.  It was very beautiful and peaceful - felt like we were transported to China!  I especially loved the intricate wooden carvings on the overhangs.  They were so meticulous and artistic.  The symbolism of the garden was easier to appreciate through the explanations of the tour guide.  And of course, we ended our garden tour with some Chinese tea.


Mom standing next to a tree that was over 100 years old
Beautiful detailed phoenix design on a garment displayed in one of the side rooms

After the garden we took our time shopping in Vancouver's Chinatown.  It was pretty much exactly the same as New York's Chinatown and San Francisco's Chinatown, etc, etc.  But it was still a fun shopping experience.  And Laura found a restaurant down there that had fresh oysters - one of the items she wanted to enjoy on the trip.  I shared a plate with her, it felt pretty special to be able to enjoy such fresh seafood.

Later that evening, before we had to drop off John and Laura at the airport, we stopped at the International Summer Night Market.  It was a strange mix of Korea/Japan/China shopping.  They had all sorts of items for sale, from clothing to electronics, as well as a food court area.  I found a booth selling Okonomiyaki and bubble tea - I was in heaven.  It was a great end to our Asian-themed day.

Our last day in Vancouver (Mom, Dad and I) was more nautical-themed.  We went to the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the Vancouver City Museum which were very close to each other downtown.  Just outside the maritime museum was a dog beach, and I enjoyed a nice break with Mom watching the dogs have a blast chasing sticks through the water and wrestling with each other.  It was a very relaxed afternoon - perfect for our last day.


Overlooking the dog beach

Overall, our trip to Canada was quite long, but we had a blast enjoying the sites and spending time together.  Lots of memories were made, especially having tea at The Empress.

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