I’m writing this as we’re travelling to Paris by train. My ears are popping each time we pass through a tunnel.
I can’t believe more than a week has passed since we left New Zealand. And now two countries are ticked off our list.
This post is about our stay in Vancouver. To get there it took two flights. Our first flight was from Christchurch to Auckland. That flight was delayed slightly, much to my dismay. I just wanted to make sure we reached Auckland in time to get our flight to Vancouver.
The flight to Vancouver was as long as 13 hours cooped up in a small space sounds. Trying to sleep was difficult. This time we have sleeping tablets, they helped, but they leave a metallic taste in your mouth, and it was my breathing in that woke me, that taste is worse if you breathe with your mouth open.
We are often really surprised how easy it is to get through immigration and customs in countries outside of New Zealand and Australia. We cleared immigration with just a few questions about what brought us to Canada and we were on our way to collect our bags. The card we’d completed while flying was simply handed to an airport employee who did nothing but take the card from us.
When we walked outside to find the rental cars we were surprised by how muggy it was. But it sounds like it’s not always that way.
The car rental was doing Mr Fussy’s head in. It’s fair to say he was a bit worked up about having to drive on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car. It took about 2 hours to reach Gerry’s place. We had been expecting 90 minutes but there were a lot of hold ups with traffic. We didn’t really notice much while travelling as we were concentrating so hard.
What we did notice though was how tolerant drivers were. There were no honking horns, no silly lane changes, people would let others in when they indicated. Certainly New Zealand drivers could learn a thing or two from the Canadians.
Gerry and her brother Mark were very welcoming when we finally arrived. Mark cooked on the BBQ, and Gerry had made apple pie for dessert. We had a lovey dinner. We were discussing the following morning about where we were headed for my run. Mark and Gerry were giving me some warning that there was a possibility that I might come across a bear or a beaver and to avoid both (no kidding!), though it was unlikely at the time we’d be heading to the running/walking track that bears would still be wandering about. I think I was more worried about the beaver. I kept look out for both and was always relieved when I could see another runner or walker ahead, but less pleased when I could hear movement behind me. Needless to say I was suitable relieved when the run was over. I can tell you it was a hard run. It was already hot outside and my body clock was a bit messed up (no kidding!) that running in such heat at that time of the day was proving to be more of a struggle than I was accustomed to.
The housing is so very different to New Zealand. Think modern, new, Coronation Street. Gerry said they are called Duplexes. The idea of living right under the nose of your neighbours is really disconcerting to me. I know it’s not at all unusual if you’ve grown up in those surroundings, but NZ is lush and spacious and for the most part, everyone has their own private piece of land with a single dwelling on it. I’m not sure I would easily adapt.
Gerry’s best friend Pam joined us for a tour of Chilliwack (pronounced Chill a wack). Gerry took us to a number of sights. It was a lovely relaxed day taking in the Chilliwack valley, the local “tourist holiday spot”, Cultus Lake, a very nice lunch at the restaurant at the golf course, a stop at a local pottery store, Blue Heron Sanctuary, Bee farm and cheese factory. The cheese factory also sold a local farmers small goods. We finished up the day having dinner out at a lovely Italian restaurant, and a lesson on how to calculate the amount of a tip. Tipping is a bit scary for us since we don’t do it in NZ and we know that it’s more or less mandatory in Canada and the US with the exception of receiving bad service.
What struck me was how many of the locals sold from their farms, and just how close those farms were to the build up areas. I’m sure we travelled only 15 or so minutes and we were out in the whoop whoops, a term that Gerry hadn’t heard before.
The following day (after very little sleep during the night) we headed for Walmart. It was on my list of places to visit. I just wanted to experience a Wamart. I was blown away by how big the berries were, and the cost. I scouted out some Press ‘n seal (happy dance) and found Nestles Caramel candy (used in several recipes that have interested me). I also picked up some Orange Kit Kat (which I last had when in the UK) and a suitcase, it was becoming apparent after the prior days shopping we would definitely be needing another suitcase. While there I checked out the kitchenware section. KitchenAids are sold at Walmart and for a third of the cost of what they’re sold for in NZ. I was blown away that a KitchenAid mixer was just sort of a run of the mill item in the appliance section. Given the $1,000 price tag in NZ you can probably understand why CAN$300 seemed an absolute steal. Surely it doesn’t take that much to swap the plug out for one compatible with NZ voltage. I also went to a Dollar store as well, another one of those stores I’ve often heard Americans refer to as a place to grab some really good deals on things that are useful for cake decorating. Other than picking up a few things for Mum’s card making I’m not sure I found anything else that was useful. Gerry then took us to a local card making store and I picked up several more things that Mum will hopefully be able to make use of. And right next door was the British Store. I picked up a couple of cookie cutters and buttermints. Buttermints were a sweet that I really liked when we were in the UK last and I’ve mentioned them often in the two years since.
Later that afternoon we packed up and got ready to get in the big black beast to travel back to downtown Vancouver. First stop was a visit with Hilary. While we were travelling back towards the city the heavens opened up and it pelted down. This only heightened Mr Fussy’s apprehension about driving in Canada. It really was proving to be very difficult to see. We had a flying visit with Hilary and got to meet Mr E (her little boy) and Jason’s (Mr E’s dad) mum. Mum taking care of the final preparations of dinner while we chatted with Hilary.
Finally we were on our way to deliver the big beast back to the car rental place. Mr Fussy was so relieved (although he left his sunglasses in the car resulting in some very frustrating calls to the rental company and being put through to someone that could help, landing him back at an automated phone service).
Our hotel was the first time we were on our own having to work out what you do and don’t tip for. We didn’t tip the person looking after valet parking who moved the car while we checked in, but we tipped (large because we had no smaller notes or coin) the bell boy. We didn’t know whether you were supposed to tip the Concierge, but didn’t.
The following morning we headed to Gastown to swap our Hop on Hop off voucher for tickets and took the tour as far as the Aquarium where we took a ferry across to Granville Island. There’s a public market that runs daily at the island. As soon as I stepped inside my jaw dropped. What an amazing experience. I’m sure if I lived in Vancouver I would go to the market frequently. Again the abundance of fresh fruit, meat and cheeses, not to mention the chocolates. Okay it could be very dangerous.
We continued on with the bus tour which made its way to Stanley Park. From here we got another bus that toured Stanley Park. What a terrific place. We got to see first hand the damage that was done to the trees from the winds they had a couple of years ago. Mother nature can be so cruel. We picked up the normal Hop on Hop off bus and then continued you on with the tour. The driver made mention of one of the best Italian restaurants on Robson Street which you wouldn’t even know was there unless you looked up. When we got off the bus outside the hotel we grabbed our puffer jackets (it had cooled considerably and rained off and on) and wandered back to see what time the restaurant opened. We were definitely going back for dinner.
We continued on down Robson Street and found the Wholefoods we’d passed earlier. Wholefoods is another store I’ve heard mention repeatedly so I wanted to go and see what it was about. It’s a pricier grocery store and has an abundance of organic products. While there we grabbed some fresh fruit salads and a Nanaimo Bar. That sucker is very sweet, and coming from me that’s saying something.
We had our dinner at the Italian restaurant and funnily enough neither of us had an Italian dish. Our dinner was still wonderful. So here’s a few things we found different when dining out. Bread is either at the table waiting or is delivered very soon after you’re seated. You can request more bread. The bread is not something you pay for, unlike in NZ, if you want bread you order it from the Starters section of the menu and it always comes with a charge. The daily specials are “Favourites” (of course without the “u”), and the mains are listed as Entrees. We looked at the menu and were somewhat confused when we saw Entrees. The price indicated they were mains but it was a really unusual for us to see Mains under the subject of Entrée.
After dinner we strolled around the streets on the look out for Cartems Donuterie, a donut store David Lebovitz had mentioned in his recent blog post about Vancouver. Given the time of the evening, some flavours were no longer available. I’d have liked to try the Maple (of course), but I ended up with the Cinnamon Brulee. I was surprised how light the donut was given it had been fried. I’m no expert when it comes to donuts, since I don’t eat them ordinarily, but this was nice, but nothing out of this world that would have me discussing it for the next 2 years while I made plans to return for another visit (we’ll try Gerry).
On Sunday we wandered around to see if we could work out the location of the store that sold Columbia Sportswear. Having worked out where we were, and the opening times (many places not opening until 11am) we were on the look out for a place to grab breakfast. After dismissing a couple of places we found one that was quite full and had the Trip Advisor sticker on the door. I took that to be an endorsement and so we went in, checked out the menu and found several things that appealed.
Mr Fussy ordered the pancakes with fruit and I the French toast with fruit. What I was served was white toast bread that had been soaked in poorly mixed egg since the egg white had cooked separately on the toast. It looked nasty but I decided that I shouldn’t let that be the only deciding point as to whether it would taste good. I really should have gone with my gut (pun intended). I took one bite and wished I hadn’t. I didn’t eat a spoonful more not even the pieces of fruit. While the staff looked at my pushed away plate several times, not one of them came to ask how we were enjoying our meal or if anything was wrong. This was a bit disconcerting since I commented to the waitress who delivered our breakfast that it looked nothing like French toast, not French toast I’ve had before or made at home.
We re-joined our Hop on Hop off bus tour which wound its way to China Town. We got off to have a wander around the garden that had been built in the middle of the city. The idea was that we would then continue to walk onto Gastown and have lunch. I misread the map and we ended up walking a few streets away from where we should have turned off. We knew we were in the wrong place because the number of vagrants we encountered increased significantly. We were really surprised just how many homeless people were around. We had seen homeless people when we were in Paris but the police usually moved them on. We never saw anything of the sort in Vancouver.
Once we got ourselves to the correct place we found The Old Spaghetti Factory, a place I had spied on the map and wanted to eat at. Boy oh boy, that place really puts it all on. They have an “all inclusive” menu which included a salad or minestrone soup. I was tucking into my soup (first time I’ve had minestrone soup) when I saw the size of the meals. At this stage we’d also had some of the freshly baked bread that had been delivered to the table. Our meals arrived and I must confess to scoffing all of mine despite being full. It tasted so nice I didn’t want to leave a mouthful behind. Then the waiter arrived to ask about dessert. I had seen the warmed spice cake served with caramel sauce on the menu and was tossing up whether I could eat it. But the waiter said the meal included a scoop of ice-cream. I asked if he could give us some time before coming back to see what we’d like.
I made use of the facilities and returned to hear Mr Fussy’s account of an incident that took place in my absence. A vagrant had been following a couple up the street and yelling at them. The couple picked up pace, but so did the vagrant, then a chase ensured. While I don’t want anyone to think Vancouver should be known for having homeless people scaring tourists or locals, it was really unsettling for us, and that’s without being given chase.
With a little bit of time we felt we could brave dessert. Mr Fussy had the “all inclusive” ice cream which was like a Neapolitan ice cream, but instead of strawberry it had pistachio. He was really enjoying that (Mr Fussy who does not like nuts – and I made sure he understood pistachio was a nut) and also taking bites from my pudding which not only was a spice cake, but had apple in it as well.
Having been thoroughly satisfied with lunch we wandered up the street to the local train station. We were wanting to do the underground walk across to the Grouse Mountain side. We couldn’t work out how to make our way there so returned to the street to find that it was again raining. Raining hard. We took shelter under a restaurant umbrella while we waited for the next bus to arrive. There was enough time for a spot of shopping (Victoria Secret for me) before grabbing our luggage and catching the train out to the airport. That has got to be the cheapest trip to any airport we’ve ever taken.
Next stop, some 9 hours later, was London.