Vancouver Express

The Sainted Grandparents decided to take my children to Vancouver Island for spring break, and so Brian and I decided to have a mini-adventure of our own. Brian couldn’t take the whole week off, and since our van went to the island with the kids, we decided to take a trip to Vancouver, B.C. by train. We’ve lived here for 4 1/2 years — it was high time we visited the last of the three Cascadia cities.

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The Edmonds train station had this cute display of old suitcases

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It’s always been one of my travel dreams to take a romantic getaway via train. Our Cascades Amtrak wasn’t the Orient Express, but it did well enough.

That is, until we got stuck on the tracks just outside the city, waiting for over an hour for a freight train to pass us. We didn’t get to the station until midnight, ugh. Thank heavens we had  a box of Samoas to munch on while waiting.

Also, our bed and breakfast had a magnificent breakfast to make up for it.

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The B&B was close to Stanley Park, so we spent the morning strolling through it, exploring little gardens and flower displays on our way to the Vancouver Aquarium.

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This is a “natural playground.” It made me miss the kids — they would love it!

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I’ve heard for years that the aquarium is one of the best in the world, and I agree. It is an incredibly well kept facility, with tons of remarkable animals to coo over. My favorites were a tank of translucent jellyfish, each the diameter of a nickel.

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Yes of COURSE there was a dolphin show

For lunch, our guidebook recommended a Japanese izakayas restaurant called Guu With Garlic. Izakayas are like Japanese pubs, with lots of interesting dishes.

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My hot pot came in this adorable mini-wok. It was a little tricky to eat.
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We were allowed to choose 4 different mini-dishes as appetizers
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Brian chose eel in a sizzling bowl

After that culinary adventure, we rented bikes and rode the circumference of the Stanley Park seawall. I love riding bicycles and hardly ever find time to do so, so this was a real treat for me.

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The mountains are so close to the city!
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There’s a totem display in the park

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Afterwards, we continued following the bike paths up towards the convention center, where we found a wonderful gelato place. We had the toasted pecan gelato — drizzled with maple syrup! — a flavor that had recently won the “best new flavor” award at the Florence Gelato Festival.

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Checking out the views downtown

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Houseboat love!!

That night we decided to have our “fancy meal” of the trip at a restaurant called Forage. Since it shares a name and cuisine type with our favorite (now defunct) restaurant in SLC, we were hopeful for some delicious interesting food.

Well . . . it was interesting. And good, but not knock-your-socks-off delicious. RIP, Salt Lake Forage. You are a difficult restaurant to replace.

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This is duck confit with juniper jellies, cracklins, and mini beignets. Tasted kinda like a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.
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This is a giant cream puff with ginger cream and vanilla ice cream inside, swimming in a pool of blueberry sauce
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This is Bizarro Dessert. Like, shaved pears and raspberry puffs and white chocolate creme fraiche and I can’t even remember what the log is. That’s a fancy cocoa rice krispy thing behind it.

Day Two was another unexpectedly sunny day, so we hopped onboard the free shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

It totally fulfilled all my childhood fantasies of living in an Ewok Village, or the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse.

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Plus, I got to hug Mountie Bear! Awww, I could cuddle him all day.

The shuttle bus took us back into town, and we popped into another restaurant the guidebook recommended, a Korean place that offered a lunch deal where you could get 15-odd tiny dishes, including things like spicy squid salad and some kind of rice jelly salad. Our guidebook listed “Eating Asian Food” as the #3 thing to do in the “Vancouver’s Top Ten” list, and I heartily agree. So many food adventures to be had!

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That cube Brian is trying to pick up is some rice jelly thing

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That afternoon we took a tour through Roedde House, one of the rare historic homes that allows you to walk into all the rooms (no velvet ropes, no plastic walls blocking off doorways) and better yet, touch all the things. We got to look through a stereoscope, crank the breadmaking machine, and Brian even got me to play around on the 1890s Steinway upright in the sitting room. Since the museum hosts chamber music performances, the piano was marvellously in tune and very fun to play.

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That evening we took an aquabus — the world’s most adorable watercraft — over to Granville Island, which is kind of like the Vancouver equivalent of Pike Place Market.

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Look at the wee bitty boat! I want one!!

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Squeeeeee!
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An excellent display of macron-stacking
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There are a whole lot of artist’s workshops in Granville. This one’s from a silk weaving studio.
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Aren’t these scarves the COOLEST? I found a similar one in the store’s discount bin and love to wear it.
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Vancouver: Proud Home of the World’s Most Whimsical Concrete Plant
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I mean, who wouldn’t want whatever it is that comes out of that truck?
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We bought some fancy blood-orange olive oil here for Randy and Kathryn, stupidly forgetting that they wouldn’t be able to take it on the plane ride home. D’oh!

There was a restaurant there that specialized in Canadian dishes made with locally sourced food. SO MANY CARBS, I mean just look at them all:

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“Would you like some grilled sourdough bread with your clams and fries?” Um, yes? Yes yes yes?
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This is the map printed on the restaurant menu

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Gorgeous views while waiting for the aquabus

Day Three began with trying out a donut from Tim Hortons. It was okay. Filled with Nutella! Eh.

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We took a taxi over to the University of British Columbia to explore the UBC Botanical Gardens. So many things were blooming! It was a wonderful time of year to be there.

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This is one of the most magnificent tulip trees I’ve ever seen

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This is a rare Zen Magnolia, which can only be found on one particular mountain in China. It smelled heavenly.

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I loved taking close-up pictures of the blossoms

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Afterwards we hiked up the road to the Japanese Memorial Garden. It had begun to sprinkle a bit by this time, so we didn’t stay long.

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Just around the corner was the Museum of Anthropology, which has one of the best collections of First Nations art and artifacts in the world.

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The carved totems were beautiful, but my favorite thing was this:

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A bear arm-wrestling a moose! What’s not to love?

Our guidebook recommended exploring the Kitsilano neighborhood (which reminded us of Ballard/Fremont). We had lunch at a quirky retro diner with a lot of crazy stuff all over the walls and gigantic milkshakes.

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There’s a Steelers “Terrible Towel” hidden in the background.
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I tried the oyster burger. It was really disappointing.
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This is ONE milkshake that we asked to split in two.
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I loved this sign that hung in the restaurant

Afterwards we checked out a local record store (It was officially Record Store Day! I bought a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours).

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Nearby was Wanderlust famous travel bookstore/supply store. Brian thought it a tad silly to be in a travel store while visiting another country.

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We unfortunately decided to walk home from Kitsilano, which was a terrible idea because the rain came down hard and drenched us completely. We decided to lounge about in our hotel (we had left the B&B the day before) for a few hours before embarking on our dinner adventure.

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Although on the way we did see the restaurant with the best name ever. The Friends of Cheese!!

And what an adventure it was! For the heck of it, we decided to try our luck at Bao Bei, a “Chinese brasserie” described as delicious and trendy in our guidebook. And it doesn’t take reservations.

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We showed up at 8:30, hoping to be at the tail end of the dinner rush. We were told a table wouldn’t be ready for 90 minutes.

Well, we had just had a late afternoon nap, and didn’t have any kids with us, so . . . why not wait? Pudding!

We decided to explore Chinatown while waiting. This turned out to be less than wonderful.

 

Yes, we tracked down the Jimi Hendrix shrine (after several dead ends). I would have taken a picture, but the shrine was closed for the day.

We saw the Chinatown Gate and the Millennial Gate. . .

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. . . and the “World’s Narrowest Building,” which is a thing. . . .

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. . . and walked through many, many raucous groups of people who smelled like booze and marijuana (some of whom were fighting), and an odd, sketchy city block that had a gathering of fifty-odd homeless people. Is it a city policy for them to gather all on one street for the night?

We eventually found our way to a grocery and pharmacy that was open late, and spent time buying up Canada-only junk food for our kiddos. Yes, even the Kraft Dinner. Same inside — but the box looks so different from ours!

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Here are all the treats in Brian’s suitcase

Finally, finally our table at Bao Bei was ready. We were supposed to order a lot of little dishes. They were yummy, but not wander-through-90-minutes-of-ganja-clouds yummy. We were definitely the oldest people in the restaurant. Haven’t had that experience in a while.

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They had very fun non-alcoholic drinks for us to try. Delicious!

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These are fried banana eclairs. They were interesting, but not as delicious as you’d think.
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They gave us these language cards featuring childhood pictures of the owner’s parents.

I had to be a bit assertive to get a taxi home. Thank heavens Canadians are polite even when a little drunk. (“Oh, I’m sorry, was that your taxi?” “Um. Yes.”)

Day Four: We decided to check out some of the interesting downtown stuff we’d glimpsed while taxiing around before.

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I loved seeing the Vancouver Public Library. I’d read about their Multilingual Collection in grad school (although, come to think of it, the Toronto one is supposedly even bigger).

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The library was designed by the same architecture firm that did SLC’s main library, so the layout was oddly familiar.

I was enchanted to see this complete set of brand-new recording studios, open to anyone with a library card. There was also a bank of computers reserved just for working on creative projects (like Photoshop, web design, etc.).

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After the library we headed down the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which has no permanent collection — it’s three floors of gallery space for temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Our favorite was the main gallery, featuring masterworks by First Nations artist Susan Point.

We then headed back to the gelato place we’d visited on Day One, and took a stroll down the convention center’s “Canadian Trail,”

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There are Canadian town names written on the sidewalk. Including: “Cape Enrage,” “Gimli,” and “Moose Factory.”

visited the skyscraper that was once “the tallest building in the British Empire” .  . .

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The building is decorated with explorers’ ships, zeppelins, and animals like snails, geese, and fish.

. . . and ended up in Yaletown for a big lunch/dinner.

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And yes . . . then we had gelato one more time before leaving town. (It turns out the gelato place had two branches! We couldn’t pass on that!)

Everything was set for meeting our 5:30 train back home. We lucked out and got a double-decker touring train this time. Even more romantic than before, and we didn’t get stuck waiting for a freighter this time!

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I was shocked at how little U.S. Customs seemed to care what we carried in our bags. Didn’t even have to send our bags through an X-Ray.

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Vancouver was beautiful — on the water like Seattle, but with the mountains up-close, like Salt Lake. There’s a citywide ban on billboards and other big advertisements, so the city felt clean and serene. I loved it! Thanks for the fun times, B.C.!

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