Vancouver, BC

OK, here's my Vancouver Report....

...dee deeet deeet dee dee deeet deeet...

The place is fantastic! The area is very beautiful. Green (as expected), surrounded by water and mountains that are completely covered with trees all the way up to the snow line and beyond. On the way to our hotel from the airport we passed through an area with really nice houses. I THINK it's part of Granville Island, but I could be wrong. I just love driving through areas where none of the houses look alike. Such a welcome change from the Bay Area, where most neighborhoods are filled with either ranch-style tract homes or giant but boring McMansions. Anyway, closer to the hotel the houses gave way to a shopping area, with the typical Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, etc type of shops sharing space with Canadian stores.

We stayed at the Opus Hotel in Yaletown. The hotel was great. It's one of those sleek and stylish boutique hotels (think of a W Hotel on a smaller scale). The service was excellent, the rooms nice and spacious, the toiletries were L'Occitane, and the valets and doormen were CUTE CUTE CUTE! Nightly turn-down service includes bottled water and Callebaut chocolates! They have a French brasserie at the ground floor which is supposed to be good, but we didn't eat there. They also have a lobby bar that's hopping on Friday and Saturday nights with lots of pretty people, all dressed in black. Heheheheh... The hotel has valet parking for guests, with unlimited in-out privileges, for $25 Canadian per day. Yaletown looks to be a hip little enclave a short distance away from the real downtown. It has old brick buildings that have been converted from industrial use to retail and restaurant use. Wine shops, art shops, furniture shops, and bars and restaurants galore. Even the Mini dealership is in one of the old buildings. Also in the area are little hole-in-the wall tapas bars and pubs that are very nice.

THE FOOD!!! Holy shit, did we have good food! LOL. At Yaletown, we ate at this restaurant called Hamilton Street Grill. Had New York steak (VERY tender and juicy) covered with peppercorn bourbon sauce... YUM. And the dessert, gingerbread pudding served with caramel sauce and a pumpkin gelato... OUT OF THIS WORLD YUM!!! Waiters very friendly, efficient, and made excellent wine recommendations.

The hotel is within walking distance to the waterfront, which is lined with high-rise condos that have restaurants ground level. It's a very nice walk. We took an "aquabus" to cross False Creek to go to Granville Island. They have a nice public market, which is kind of like Pike Place Market on a smaller scale. The street perfofrmers outside the market are quite good. The market is surrounded by restaurants and art shops and a microbrewery that gives tours. From Granville Island, we took an aquabus back to the other side of False Creek and took a loooooong walk on the waterfront paved trail that ringed Stanley Park. It's a great walk, with beaches and pockets of grass long the way where people run their dogs, great views of the water and the Vancouver skyline, Lion's Gate Bridge, etc. I think we walked about 5 or 6 km, practically all around Stanley Park. Towards the end we cut across the park and passed by some kind of aquatic center where they have dolphin shows, but we didn't watch. We also passed by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, which didn't look as posh as one might imagine a "royal yacht club" to be. LOL. Afterwards my feet hurt so we took a cab back to the hotel. Took a nighttime (it's dark, as in dark, by 5 PM) walk around the downtown shopping and restaurant area. Actually I don't know if it's downtown downtown. Lots of clubs and bars, and A LOT of young people out for a night on the town. Lots of bums, too, which wasn't the case in the area immediately surrounding our hotel. Saw a bum getting arrested by police for some reason.

Went up to Grouse Mountain the next day. On the way there we stopped at this retail-oriented street to buy some British Columbia wine from a wine store my bf had read about. He got a bunch of icewines and pinots, and I got some Chilean cabernet franc that I had been looking for forever. Went to an outdoorsy store, kind of like REI, and bought hiking boots. Got a kick out of the salesman saying "eh" every 4 or 5 words. LOL. Also went to a cool furniture store, kind of like West Elm meets Scandinavian Designs. The mountain was cool. The views were fantastic. The gondola ride was expensive, I think. $27 Canadian per adult. There was only 60cm of snow at the top, but people were still going up with their snowboards. Oh, well. There are three eating options at the top: cafeteria style, casual sit-down, or fine dining. We first went to the casual place, but the bf decided to go to the fine dining one instead. Good choice. They had a good brunch menu... a bit overpriced, but the food was excellent. Salmon and goat cheese frittata. YUM. Had some champagne, soaked in the view of the Vancouver skyline, and took a few pictures around the chalet afterwards. Waitstaff was also very good.

After coming down from the peak, we drove the short distance to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. That was fun. I was trying to walk with an exaggerated side-to-side gait to shake the bridge, but the "park ranger" kept saying, "Don't shake the bridge" over the loudspeakers. LOL. Nice view of the rapids from the middle of the bridge. Bf even saw some whitewater rafters. At the other end of the bridge you could go about a quarter to a third of the way up the forest canopy and walk on air bridges from tree to tree. Not sure what trees they are. It was cool. Lots of nooks and crannies with good views and "Kodak picture spots". I bought an overpriced sweatshirt at the gift shop.

Afterwards, instead of going back to the city we decided to go the other direction, towards Whistler. Very nice drive on a winding road, with excellent views of mountains and forests. Missed a fork on the highway and ended up at the BC ferry docks (to lord knows where... maybe Victoria?). Nice lady at the dock entrance let us cut throgh the parking lot and back on the highway. Stopped at an empty spot of beach on the way back to pee and take a couple of pictures of the mountains. By then it was full on twilight, so we drove back to the hotel. We were gonna go to a dessert wine tasting session at the wine store, but we lost track of time and missed it.

Tried to get tickets to see Bright Nights in Stanley Park, but the tickets were sold out. Boohoo. Went to the Chinatown area instead. I was interested to see the Sun Yat Sen gardens, but when I found out you had to pay to get in, I changed my mind. We walked around Chinatown, and saw the building that's only 6 feet wide. It's so narrow you think it's just part of another building. Ate at some hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant where nobody spoke English and we were the only non-Chinese people inside. Food was ok. Not good, not bad. Service (if you could even call it that) was bad. But it was filling, and it was cheap. Went to Science World, but didn't go in, since we have something like it here in San Jose (The Tech Museum). Took the light rail (dunno what they call it over there) to Gastown. Nice area... old streets, quirky shops, a very old and very loud steam clock on a street corner. Bf bought some Cuban cigars.

On our last night there (which also happened to be the bf's birthday), we opened a bottle of a BC riesling icewine in the hotel room and finished it in 15 minutes. It wasn't as acidic as German eiswein, but it was still very good. Then, I took the bf to CinCin. Nice restaurant... good mediterranean decor with subdued lighting... a bit noisy but being from CA we're used to that. Shared a VERY delicious calamari appetizer, cooked very gently in lord-knows-what way then seared over a wood-burning spit. Mmmm Mmmm! Had a spit-roasted ribeye. Very good. Bf had a bison steak, which was also very good. Had a delicious BC pinot noir with the, something recommended by our waiter. I forget the name. Service was excellent. Declined dessert, because we HAD to go back to the Hamilton Street Grill to have some of that gingerbread pudding again!

Woke up early the next day to pack, check out, and drive to the airport. Rental car return (and pickup, of course) is thankfully just across the street from the terminal entrance. Airline checkin beeotch lied to us and said we would have plenty of dining choices inside the secure area. NOT! Had to eat yucky airport cafeteria food for breakfast. Interesting... for US-bound flights, you clear US customs and immigration in Vancouver. Kinda trippy knowing you're in a Canadian airport and seeing "Welome to the United States" at the immigration line. Baggage inspectors didn't see (or maybe they saw but didn't have a problem with) the Cuban cigars.

All in all, it was a great trip. I'd like to go back again. There are still things I want to see.

Vancouver skyline: nice, especially at night. Architechture is a little bit monotonuous, especially close to the water. All the highrises seem to have the same general look to them, which made for a somewhat boring view during the day. Very pretty at night, though.

Service: very good and friendly. A lot friendlier than typical American service.

Food: AWESOME! Prices at nice restaurants are about the same as what you would pay in California.

Exchange rate: not so good. We changed just a little bit of money at the hotel (CAD 1.1 = USD 1), another little bit at a currency exchange booth on Granville Island (CAD 1.2 = USD 1), and charged everything else.

Shopping: kind of confusing, because some stores included the tax in the price, some didn't, and some didn't BUT didn't charge you for it, either. I dunno. They have 7% GST and 7% PST. GST is refundable for non-alcohol purchases $50 (pre-tax) or more, but your total receipts must be more than $200. Same typical routine... go to the booth at the airport and have your receipts stamped by customs. Then you send in your receipts with a form and wait for your money back.

Gas: same as US. About 80 cents Canadian per liter at a full-service station.

PS: At the nice grocery (like Whole Foods) near our hotel, I had mangosteen and guava!!! Yippee!!! Why, oh, why can't I get those here in California???