Last Wednesday morning we had a very early start in the day. We had to take a taxi at 5am to the airport to catch our flight to Vancouver. We mentioned to the Front Desk agent that we had booked a minivan the evening before but upon checking he couldn't find any record of that. We found out later that the lady Philipp spoke to for the reservation had misunderstood him and booked a car for 5PM instead of 5AM!
We all stressed out a little of course because our schedule was tight and it's not like you can find a lot of those taxi's driving around in the early morning! The friendly bellboy took control of the situation, made some phone calls and at 5:05 we were on our way. We found utter chaos after arriving at the airport. Air Canada is unorganized and the staff unfriendly. We had to walk back and forth and even had to open our luggage in front of everyone because one of the suitcases was too heavy, by less than a pound, and we needed to exchange the load. The security control was quite tight, but I guess that's North-America.
I watched two movies, 'Larry Crowne' (with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, fun movie!) and 'Contraband', and the flight was over. From Vancouver we took a free shuttle-bus to the hotel and got the first impressions of a rainy Richmond, the area where we would be staying.
We left our luggage in the hotel since it was early morning and our rooms were not yet ready and took the sky train Downtown. We took a walk passing by Canada Place, English Bay, a part of Stanley Park and the City Center.
A little jet lagged we had an early night in that evening to ensure we would be rejuvenated for the days to come.
Completely rested because our biological clock was still on Toronto time, we woke up at 6am with the sun shining in our faces. It promised to be a beautiful day!
We decided for a day ticket for the public transport which enabled us to use all means of it: bus, train and seabus. We took the sky train Downtown and the seabus to North Vancouver, a 10 minute crossing over Vancouver Harbour.
From there we took the bus up the mountain to Capilano, where the famous suspension bridge can be found. We bought our tickets and entered the park where one can easily spend a half day. The suspension bridge is 137m long, about as long as two Boeing 747 airplanes wingtip-to-wingtip, and hangs 70m above the creek. It is supported by two thick steel cables and they say you can easily parade 96 elephants over it!
Since it just 'hangs' there, you can imagine it swings a little when you have people passing from both sides. After crossing the bridge you can follow the treetop track, which we did as well. The forrest is filled with red cedars and maple trees with a scent in the air so strong that it is sometimes overpowering. I didn't know what fresh air and nature smelled like until this vacation. I didn't know what the color green looked like until this vacation. The color of the trees, the leaves, the flowers, the water, of everything here is so incredibly vibrant; it's actually impossible to describe or capture it, you must see it for yourself!
After we followed the treetop track we went back over the bridge and went for the Cliff-walk, the bomb for people who are afraid of heights. Although many will skip this part of the park, Philipp and Miriam conquered their fear and walked over the approx 40 cm narrow bridge to the other side. Proud moment!
After Capilano we took another bus further up to Grouse Mountain to sneak a peek. From there we could have taken a cabin lift up the mountain to have a better view of the area but we were not dressed for the temperatures up there and thought it wasn't worth the $50. So down again with the bus to the station and from there with the seabus across the Harbour back downtown.
We passed by the steam clock in Gastown where we met Patrick, a friendly homeless guy who wanted a little chat with us and expressed his love for the country once he heard we traveled from Holland. He told us the story of his dad who fought in the Canadian army during the 2nd world war and was stationed in Holland. Many of his friends died and during one of his last years he went for a visit to Arnhem to pay his respects to those who he had lost. Patrick told us it meant a big deal to his father to see the graves were well taken care off and it gave him peace of mind. Very touching..
The Gastown area however is one you want to avoid as it is unfortunately filled with homeless people and dealers and is therefore not safe to be. It was sad to see all those people piled and lined up on the pavement.
We went further to visit the neighborhood where Philipp stayed during his studies in 2004 and walked around in a quiet and peaceful street with big, cosy houses and trees and gardens. It was nice for him to see what had changed and what not and he was filled with enthusiasm to be back at the place he so much enjoyed to be.
For Friday we had planned to explore more of Stanley Park, so after our breakfast at Subway we took once again the sky train and got out at Yaletown where we walked along False Creek towards Stanley Park. For those who haven't heard about Stanley Park, it is a 1000 acres urban park bordering Downtown Vancouver. Much of it remains forested with over half a million trees, some of which reach 75m height and are up to hundreds of years old and there are an estimated 200 km of trails throughout the park for walking, running, cycling and inline skating.
We were serenaded by squirrels upon entering Beaver Lake in the park and spent again half an hour observing the little fellas eating out of our hands and chasing each other. Although not spotting any beavers, we did see the work they deliver with some nicely crafted tree-trunks laying on the side of the lake.
Stanley Park has a lot to offer and I believe one can discover something new every time one goes there. After we had a look at the Totem Poles and walked back into the direction of English Bay, I heard a bird sound like I had not heard before. It sounded over and over again and when we looked up in the sky we saw two gorgeous wild bald eagles flying over the trees! It was a spectacular sight!! Too bad that I packed my camera in my backpack just a minute before that, but the image is printed in my memory. Truly amazing!
While passing the Pitch & Put golf course we were joined by yet another wildlife creature, one that looks cute but can be vicious. Mr. Racoon decided to stroll along and hit on Miriam after she fed him a cookie. She took a run for it :)
So that's another Tick we can all make on our list of "Things I wanna see/do".
A bite to eat in the city center and off we went, back to English Bay to watch the sunset. And we were not the only ones, the beach was packed with people of all ages, sitting on tree trunks that lay in the sand and enjoying the ambience and the weather. It was worth the wait!
I have uploaded pictures of all these events on my Facebook page. On this site it goes only one-by-one unfortunately and I don't have the time or the energy (and patience!) to do that.
Yesterday morning we picked up another rental car, this time a Ford Fusion, and drove to the ferry at Tsawwassen to cross the part of the Pacific Ocean from Vancouver to Schwarz Bay at Vancouver Island, also crossing the US border. From Schwarz Bay it was another 30 minutes to the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour located downtown. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, consists of mainly low rise buildings and a large Harbour. The parliament building looks like the Natural History Museum at the Museums Quarter in Vienna. The resemblance is quite astonishing actually.
In the afternoon Miriam was terrorized by yet another headache and had to lay down. We had a quiet evening in the room where we could have enjoyed the sunset from our balcony.. Could have, would have, should have.. But we didn't..
Sunday morning 6AM the alarm rang. We were all very excited because it was the day our whale-watching trip was scheduled! The weather forecast told us it would rain mostly, which it also did, but it didn't bother us in any way. From Victoria we drove to Tofino, a 5hrs drive over mountains and through provincial parks. Before going to Jamie's Whale-watching Station we stopped to check our accommodation in Ucluelet for that night. We were greeted by Krissy, the host of the hostel & huts. We got a beautiful wooden cottage in the middle of the forrest at the end of the lane. It had a small porch with a barbecue, 2 bedrooms and a small kitchen/living room with a fireplace. The weather could not be more fitting for such a setting!
At 2PM we checked in at Jamie's Whale-watching Station and we were told to dress up warm enough. So with long-sleeve shirts, double fleece jackets and a raincoat we came out to the back of the porch where we were handed a cruiser-suit, another raincoat, hats and gloves from them. Looking like astronauts going to visit the moon, we took a seat in the Zodiac Cruiser. Alfred, our guide and captain, gave us some basic instructions and information about what to expect and what kind of whales we could possibly see.
Because of the rain and wind there were quite some waves and we could expect a bumpy ride out on the open sea.
It was an astounding and exciting 2,5hrs trip during which we where lucky enough to see bald eagles, seals, sea lions, a harber purpoise (dolphin specie) and a big grey whale from not even a 30m distance! It's truly overwhelming to see such animals in their natural habitat; whát an experience! Definitely a big highlight on this trip.
We arrived back at our cottage at around 6PM and prepared a nice barbecue steak for dinner with marshmallows as desert while sitting next to the fireplace and listening to the rain..
Our program for Monday; moving further towards Qualicam Beach to the B&B we booked, with some stops in between at perhaps a provincial park or Long Beach.
You'll get a rain check for more impressions on Toronto and Vancouver that I promised in my last blog..