My flight home didn’t leave until 4pm so I arranged a late checkout and went for a walk around Auckland CBD and did some last minute souvenir shopping. Discovered a New Zealand version of Pandora called Evolve that has the most beautiful charms. I didn’t buy any but I have their website details, ready for next pay day 🙂 It was a pretty cold day, 11 degrees heading for a high of 13, and mostly cloudy but there were a few minutes of sunshine during which I was able to take a photo of the Sky Tower with blue sky in the background. Had a great flight home and am very happy the two boxes of maple cream cookies I picked up at Vancouver airport made it home with no breakages. It’s Saturday morning now and I’m enjoying a cup of Granville Island tea and a maple cream cookie for breakfast. I had a fantastic holiday, it was absolutely perfect, even better than I thought it would be. It had everything: fabulous people (thank you Berkeleys), beautiful scenery, some absolutely awesome experiences (including a number of firsts for me), great food and shopping (sorry credit card), glorious weather ranging from 6 to 36 degrees, and even some relaxation time. And no injuries! Thanks for following my journey. I’ve enjoyed sharing it here, and knowing that you’ve been tracking my travels (I can see the number of readers each day) has helped keep homesickness at bay.
I had the best long flight I’ve ever had when I flew from Vancouver to Auckland last night with Air New Zealand. I’d booked a “preferred seat” for an extra $15 which meant I had more space around me and extra legroom so I could stretch out. I had plenty of sleep, the food and service were excellent, and the flight was 50 minutes shorter than planned. I caught a shuttle bus to my apartment hotel, getting there before sunrise, and they had an apartment ready, phew! I didn’t need to sleep but it was great to be able to relax for a couple of hours before heading out for breakfast and to catch the hop on hop off bus. Was freezing here today with a max of 14 degrees so was good to sit on the warm bus while seeing the sights. I stopped at the museum, looked at the exhibits, and watched a Maori cultural performance which was excellent, then took the bus back to the city and walked down the main street looking at the shops. I leave Auckland for Brisbane tomorrow afternoon and am really excited to be heading home 🙂
I had one last morning in Vancouver before leaving for Auckland so I decided to do the Fly Over Canada “ride” that simulates flying over the country. I thought it would be nice to see some of the places I’d visited in the eight minute movie that the ride centred around. An eight minute movie doesn’t sound very impressive but it was spectacular. You are strapped into a chair that moves a few metres out into the middle of a massive curved screen once the lights go out and when the movie starts you feel like you are really flying just metres above snow covered alps, Niagara Falls, and other beautiful places in Canada. I didn’t want it to end, I loved it so much I was tempted to do it again. I didn’t though, as I wanted to go through Gastown again on my way back to the apartment to get a photo of the steam clock going off and I still had to pack.
According to tourist guides the steam clock is powered by steam and releases a burst along with whistle blasts every 15 minutes. The truth is that the clock mechanism is run by electricity and the steam releasing whistles are powered separately by an underground steam heat system that also serves local buildings. This explains the fact the steam whistles sometimes go off at the wrong time e.g. 10.55am 🙂
The Sam Kee building, the narrowest commercial building in the world at about 4 to 6 feet wide. It includes the brown balcony and the shorter, green painted wall. This was caused by the rest of the land being resumed by local government to widen the street and the owner being determined to build there.
On Monday I took a day trip to Whistler on the Rocky Mountaineer. I’ve always wanted to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer so I was more excited about the journey (about three hours each way) than seeing Whistler, and I wasn’t disappointed, it was wonderful! We were served breakfast shortly after boarding by our lovely host who kept us up to date with information on the places we were passing through. I spent most of my time on the way there in the observation carriage, a 100 year old open carriage where you could sit or stand and have the wind blow through your hair and breathe in the fresh mountain air, and take photos with no windows in the way 🙂 The scenery was absolutely beautiful. We had about three hours in Whistler which was more than enough. I’m sure it’s gorgeous in winter but on a 30 degree day the village is stifling as it’s in a valley and really it’s nothing more than an open air shopping centre with pubs and restaurants. Back on the train we were served afternoon tea that was more like lunch and I spent more time relaxing inside. As our carriage wasn’t full I was able to switch seats to the other side to make the most of the views. It was a great way to spend my last full day in Canada.
Another gorgeous sunny day in Vancouver so I took a shuttle bus up to Grouse Mountain. In winter you can leave downtown Vancouver and be skiing on the mountain in 45 minutes. In summer there are lots of other activities on offer such as ziplining, the chair lift, grizzly bears, and an observation bubble at the top of the wind turbine tower which is pretty cool. (I didn’t go up to the bubble as it requires a ride in the chair lift). The gondola up the mountain gave great views as well. Once there I started with the lumberjack show which was good fun, then watched the birds of prey demo, had some poutine for lunch and watched some really interesting documentaries in the mini theatre including one telling the story of how the two orphaned grizzlies are being cared for on the mountain. I visited the bears but it was a hot day so they were asleep in a shady hollow. Was a good day out though.
This was a big day. I caught a shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension Bridge which is one of the “must do” Vancouver attractions. It would be great to visit in the quiet season and stand in the middle of the bridge for a little while looking at the view and contemplating what an engineering marvel it is. This is impossible to do when the bridge is chock full of people pushing to get across. This also makes the bridge sway a lot making it difficult to stop and take photos, especially when there is an idiot just ahead jumping around trying to make it worse. I was about to yell at him when the bloke in front did it for me. There is also a cliff walk (a narrow walkway going out around the cliff face) and a treetop walk, which are okay. A couple of hours there was enough for me so I took the bus from there to Stanley Park, which is massive at 1000 acres. Feeling energetic I decided to walk the sea wall that goes around the circumference of the park, about 9km. There are some great views of Vancouver from the wall and interesting landmarks along the way. Also lots of places to stop and relax in the shade, luckily, as it was a hot afternoon, and even better, the occasional shop for drinks and ice cream. I finished the walk at about 6pm and then had another 3km to go to my apartment including a detour to the best cupcake shop I’ve ever come across. According to my GCC pedometer I took more than 24,000 steps in total. So by the time I got “home” I was ready to drop, but at least I had cupcakes 🙂
On Thursday night I arrived at the Vancouver apartment I’m staying in for five nights. It’s a self-contained studio apartment on the sixth floor of a highrise, it’s quite new, and is close to BC Stadium in Yaletown. So it’s about a 10 minute walk to downtown, which is great. Friday morning I met my cousin Pete for breakfast. Pete lives 15 minutes from me in Brisbane and we never see each other but was nice to catch up again after our big family get together in Alberta. We had brekky in a very cool cafe (Vancouver is full of them) near Chinatown so I took the opportunity to visit the Sun Yat Sen Classical Gardens which have been created using original construction methods and authentic materials. They are quite lovely. Then I walked through historic Gastown to see the old clock that blows off steam when it chimes every 15 minutes and check out the souvenir shops. I decided to go to the Granville Island markets after that to have lunch and buy some supplies. I walked through downtown to the aquabus terminal where a cute little ferry was waiting. I grabbed a turkey hot dog and ate it while watching three young teenagers tap dance in the busking space, they were fantastic. Then I bought blueberry bagels, cream cheese, brie, salmon pate, and pheasant terrine with pistachios and cranberries to snack on for the next couple of days. It was all delicious. I took the little ferry back to my apartment, put everything in the fridge and went for a walk downtown for a couple of hours just checking out the shops and buskers. It was a great day, I really like Vancouver.
Self portrait of sculptor Douglas Coupland at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Was originally plain black but he has invited the public to stick gum all over it in the hope that eventually his features will be obscured.
The Butchart Gardens are about 40 minutes north of Victoria so I visited them on my way to the terminal to catch the ferry to Vancouver on Thursday. They were gorgeous but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing visit thanks to the numerous coach loads of tourists who insisted on taking photos of themselves and each other in front of every freaking plant and then standing in front of me when I was obviously trying to take photos. Can you guess where they were from? 🙂 I took some pleasure in having a go at one of them when he stomped on a shrub in a garden bed trying to get a closer shot. Cheered me up heaps 🙂 You’ll notice there aren’t many people in my photos, I have had to become very patient, my stubbornness has stood me in good stead, though you can imagine the kinds of things I was muttering to myself. The gardens really are beautiful though and a wonderful testament to Mrs Butchart, who started establishing them more than 100 years ago in a disused limestone quarry. They are still owned by her descendants, which is nice.
The clipper took almost three hours to get from Seattle to Victoria on Vancouver Island and it was a fairly short walk from the terminal to the bed and breakfast I’d booked. It was a lovely house, more than 100 years old, but first I had to get my suitcase up the front stairs. If I’ve learnt one thing on this holiday it’s to check for stairs when I book accommodation. I defeated the stairs, one step at a time, retrieved the envelope on the front door with my keys and instructions, let myself into the house, and realised I had another steep flight of narrow timber stairs ahead of me. But I made it, somehow. The beautiful room I was staying in made the effort worthwhile. I had two nights in Victoria and spent my time there just wandering around. It’s a really pretty harbour side town with a holiday atmosphere, though it’s the capital of British Columbia.
I had to check in to take the clipper to Victoria on Vancouver Island at 2pm so I only had the morning to see a couple of things I’d missed the day before. I decided to visit the Chihuly Gardens instead of going up in the Space Needle as the queues for the needle were horrendous, probably due to the fabulous weather. The gardens and exhibits were made by glass artist Dale Chihuly and they are amazing (see below). I then caught the monorail downtown to revisit the markets in the hope I’d see some fish being tossed, but though there were plenty of tourists milling about with cameras, no one was buying. The bloke working there took pity on us and threw a small fish to one of his colleagues but it was all a bit of a letdown really. I had a quick look at the gum wall (bizarre) then headed back to my hotel where one of the young girls on reception impressed me by carrying my 22kg suitcase down 30 steep steps without stopping.