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Vancouver is a very interesting and cosmopolitan city although during our first visit in late June, we never once saw the sun and the highest temp we saw was probably about 57 (F). All the locals were nearly suicidal over the lousy weather. The city reminds me of many other places but more so of San Francisco than any other city. It's got the hills and mountains (although we hardly even saw any of the mountains due to the low clouds and rain) and just like San Francisco, there are no highways going directly through the city which means you've got to take traffic choked surface streets. Like S.F., Vancouver has a large Chinatown although it's not nearly as nice as the one in the City by the Bay. Vancouver also reminds me of Hong Kong with its many high-rise buildings. Stanley Park (named after Lord Stanley of hockey fame--you know, the Stanley Cup!!!) was just beautiful as it winds around the water. The park features huge old trees including what appeared to be a giant redwood or two and big ferns. It's a must see while in Vancouver.
There are many quaint neighborhoods in Vancouver like Gastown which reminded me just a bit of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Granville Island features one section that is loaded with restaurants and is not unlike the "Flats" section of Cleveland used to be before it went belly up (although it just seems unnatural to use Cleveland and Vancouver in the same sentence--sorry Cleveland!) Hey, I spent 20 years in the Murder City of Detroit so the joke's on me in the long run!!! The False Creek shoreline features many happenin' restaurants. Vancouver is also a main starting point for all those famous Alaska cruises you've heard about. Our stay this trip was at the Westin on Robson Street in the heart of the city. It was a wonderful hotel with outstanding staff.
On our two trips to Vancouver, we chose to fly into SeaTac International Airport in Seattle, rent a car and drive up to Vancouver. It's the last time we'll do that again! We'll fly right into Vancouver's airport next time. The problem? The horrible wait at the border crossing from Washington State into British Columbia and the even more horrendous wait at the border crossing from Canada back into the U.S.
Going up, we waited for an hour the first time before entering Canada. And even then, we got hassled by Canadian customs. We had flown in from Detroit and were going up to Vancouver for three days then heading back to Seattle and Portland to spend two days in each of those cities. When the Canadian Customs guy asked how long we were going to be in Vancouver and I told him only three days, he, in a harsh tone said: "You mean to tell me you flew all the way out here to spend just three days in Vancouver?" When I explained that this trip also included several days backtracking in Seattle and Portland, he backed off.
On our second trip crossing from the U.S. into Canada at the border, we waited in line for an hour and a half. Coming back on this second trip we sat in line for more than two and a half hours waiting to cross back into Washington State from B.C. And then, to add insult to injury, just after crossing back into the U.S. the highway signs along I-5 warned that all southbound lanes were closed 20 miles up ahead due to a serious accident. We waived the white flag, exited and had a leisurely lunch hoping the crash would be cleared by the time we got there. And it had been cleared.
And one more traffic nightmare before I get off my soapbox. On our second trip as we approached the city of Vancouver, the main tunnel (you have to go under or over water to get into the city) was totally plugged by an accident. After sitting in non-moving traffic for thirty minutes, we managed to get off and head back away from the city. We got off on the next exit, stopped and asked for directions, and we were given an alternate way into the city. However there was a crash on the small road leading to the escape route into Vancouver. Again we were stymied. Bottom line a trip that probably should have taken two hours, three at most, from Seattle to Vancouver wound up taking----are you ready for this----more than seven hours. Never again folks. Fly into Vancouver and save yourself some serious artery bursting problems.
On a happier note the weather was absolutely beautiful and sunny on our second trip and we stayed at another great hotel, the Westin Bayshore. It's right on the water with great views. Web site here. There was one really funny thing at this lovely hotel. You might hate it but being critter lovers, we got a big kick out of it. There was a family of five skunks living in a hole very near the pool -- one big mama and four pups, or whatever little skunks are called. The hotel staff seemed very tolerant but said if any guests complain, the wildlife would have to be relocated. They were the cutest little guys and not at all odoriferous.
For more information on Vancouver tourism, head here.
VANCOUVER RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS
KETTLE OF FISH was our personal favorite for seafood in Vancouver. They featured great halibut, salmon, Dungeness crab and some sensational steamed Manila clams. Their web site is here. If you'd like to read an expanded, personal review of this establishment you'll find it here.
FLOATA SEAFOOD RESTAURANT is located in Vancouver's Chinatown and is famous for it's dim sum. For the uninitiated, dim sum is like a buffet on wheels. Carts of various tidbits are brought around and even though your server doesn't speak any English, you just point at what looks good and it's transferred to your table. While we lived in San Francisco we'd do like the local Chinese and take a San Francisco Chronicle to one of our favorite dim sum places and nosh and sip green tea for a couple or three hours. This is said to be the largest Chinese restaurant in all of Canada and we think it's certainly worth a visit. Their web site is here. Our personal review is here.
HY'S ENCORE is part of a Canadian steakhouse chain and it is a great place for carnivores! We thoroughly enjoyed our meal here. We went with a Chateaubriand and it was sensational. Hy's web site is here. Our expanded personal review is right here.
This ski resort town consistently rates as one of the best ski resorts in the world. And talk about a long season - they ski from October through August during normal years.
Whistler is located about 100 miles north of Vancouver and the drive is a little intense because the roads that wind around mountainsides are a little small compared to super highways.
We just dropped by the Hard Rock Cafe for a burger and some fries and then visited some of the ski resorts. Oops - I wonder if the Hard Rock is still there? It's not shown on their web site now.
From Vancouver it's a fairly long drive to the ferry that whisks you off to this beautiful little Victorian town which is engulfed by water.
If you watch soap operas you've probably seen scenes from this beautiful town. Several of the soaps have finagled trips to Victoria over the years because it's such a lovely area.
Our time was brief here---as it usually is during our travels but we just drove around and took in the sights for a couple of hours.
One restaurant recommendation -- Chandler's Seafood Restaurant. Our personal review of Chandler's is found here.
Victoria's official tourism site is located here.