On the road to Vancouver 2018

We’d been visiting Seattle for few days and stayed just twenty five minutes outside the city center in Lynnwood at the Best Western Alderwood. Not only was it cheaper but we wanted to have a shorter drive to the US Canada border and not deal with the Seattle city traffic. We loaded up the rental early in the morning and headed to Vancouver. From Lynwood, it was about an hour and a half drive to the border and another thirty minutes or so to cross. We chose the Peace Arch crossing which is the third busiest but offers a more direct route to Vancouver. Peak times are 3- 4 pm. Crossing times on other routes may be quicker but they take you thirty to forty miles east of Vancouver and that’s not where we wanted to be. This link can help you choose the crossing that’s right for you.

Peace Arch Monument.

The wait at the border didn’t seem that long, pretty straight forward with the usual questions, “where are you going, where are you staying, how long?” Now we’re on our way, no hassles and it’s about fifty minutes to Vancouver center. Our hotel is again outside the city to the north which is a great jumping off point for all the outdoor activities in the Capilano and Grouse mountain area.

Before checking in to our hotel, we spent all day exploring the city. First stop was Gastown, a trendy neighborhood with lots of boutiques, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and art galleries. It’s home to the famous steam clock that shoots out steam sounds of the Westminster chime on the hour and quarter hour.

Cruise terminal.
Vancouver port and Railway lines.

Visit to Chinatown.

We took a stroll through the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese gardens. Established in 1986, this place offers a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city. As we wound down our day, we drove to Stanley Park which has amazing views of the city skyline.

Stanley Park sits on the edge of town and is almost entirely surrounded by water. It’s a free park so you can stroll, hike or bike around. You can drive through as well but if you’re going to spend a significant amount of time, there are fees for parking. In the high season (Apr – Sept) it’s $13.40 and $7.20 in the winter (Oct – Mar) There are miles of hiking and biking trails including the five and a half mile sea wall which overlooks English Bay. On the opposite side of the park, the Burrard Inlet offers views of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, West Vancouver, Grouse mountain and the surrounding area.

Map of Stanley Park.
West Vancouver in the shadow of Grouse mountain.
Canada goose.
Girl in a wet suit sculpture.
The Lion’s Gate bridge crosses over to North Vancouver where we’ll spend the night.
Leaving Stanley Park via the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

After a long and exciting first day, we checked into our hotel. Depending on the type of vacation we’re taking, we like to book hotels that have some kind of kitchenette where we can prepare some meals. It’s a great cost savings which allows us to pay for more attractions and other things. Once settled, we took a short walk to the Capilano Market which was a few blocks from our hotel. We stocked up on some foodstuffs, snacks and enough water to fill our insulated water bottles from Camelbak (“affiliate link”) The following day was going to be a busy one with all the activities we had planned. A good night’s sleep was very welcome.

Park entrance.

Day 2 and we’re out the door after a quick in room breakfast. First stop was the Capilano suspension bridge park, about a five minute drive from our hotel. If you’re staying downtown, you can ride the free shuttle bus from Canada Place with your ticket purchase but it’s first come first serve. The cost seems expensive CAD $54.95 adult and $49.95 for seniors (65+) but there’s a lot to do there. The park is much more than the bridge. We did the cliff walk, tree top trail, boardwalk, hiked some of the shorter trails, and checked out raptor education center. We were lucky enough to spot some bald eagles soaring through the tree tops. After our visit, we grabbed a quick bite and finished up with some very refreshing locally made ice cream. We were pleasantly surprised at how many dining options there were at the park.

Trudy is not a fan of suspension bridges, but how do get to the other side? The bridge is roughly four hundred and sixty feet long (140m) and two hundred and thirty feet (70m) above the river. As you can see by the video below, she made it and has a certificate to prove it. Bring on the next challenge.

Tree top trail.
The boardwalk.

After leaving Capilano, we headed to Grouse mountain which was just a few miles away. If you’re doing both attractions, it’s cheaper to buy a combo ticket which includes the sky tram ride up the mountain. This is a major skiing area but in summer there are lots of other attractions here as well. You can ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain and explore further. There’s also zip lining, lumber jack shows, theater and restaurants. There was still some snow on the mountain but it was nice and sunny and a light jacket was all that was needed. We checked out the grizzly bear habitat and did some short hikes. After lunch, Trudy booked a helicopter tour which was quite the surprise. I’d never done one before so this was a welcomed idea and a great way to finish up our day on the mountain.

On day 3, the plan was to take a day trip to Vancouver island. After a day in the wilds of North Vancouver, and a good night’s sleep, we loaded up the car and drove the fifty minutes to Tsawwassen. The ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Vancouver island takes about 90 minutes. If you’re spending more than a few days on the island, it’s better to take your car but you have to get there early, the line can be pretty long as there are commuters who take the trip every day plus all the commercial vehicles. We parked our car nearby at a secured lot and took the free five minute shuttle ride to the terminal. They offered pickup service as well as long as you were back by 9:00 pm. The walk up cost per person for the ferry is about CAD $17.00 and for car and driver CAD $75.00 The crossing is very scenic and picturesque as you sail between the Gulf islands. At the right time of year, you may see pods of killer whales.

Once we arrived in Swartz Bay and exited the terminal, we took a short walk to catch the #81 bus to the world famous Butchart Gardens. The ride is a little less than an hour and the fare was CAD $ 2.50 Taxis can take you there in half the time but cost up to $ 45.00. The cost to enter the gardens was $30.00 and to fully appreciate this fifty five acre wonder, you really need to set aside about three to four hours.

Taking the local bus to Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens is a truly amazing place and we spent several hours there. There are themed gardens which include the Sunken garden in what was once a quarry, Japanese, Italian and rose gardens. I’m told that there are about seventy gardeners who are responsible for the daily upkeep and new plantings as the floral displays change according to the season.

This area of the Sunken garden used to be a quarry.
Entrance to the Japanese Garden.
The Dining room Restaurant is available for an elegant lunch. They also serve afternoon tea.

After spending several hours in the gardens, we boarded a local bus for our trip to Victoria. There’s a bus stop three minutes walk away where you take the # 75 bus for the fifty minute trip to downtown. It was Mothers’ Day weekend so we had a booking for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. We had just enough time to walk around the beautiful waterfront area checking out the assortment of ferries, water taxis and whale watching boats. Tea at the Fairmont is a very formal affair so we cleaned ourselves up the best we could and made our way over to the hotel. Dating back to 1908, this is one of the oldest hotels in British Columbia and has a national historic site designation. Although the experience was quite expensive, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just one of those once in a lifetime things we don’t mind indulging in.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel.

After a very satisfying tea experience, we walked the grounds of the Parliament Buildings and relaxed on the great lawn. As it turns out, May is a great time to visit Vancouver, the weather was sunny and not a drop of rain the entire time. It may also have been a little warmer than usual.

Parliament Building, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Ministry of Social Development Building.
Sign marking the 150th anniversary of Canada

Vancouver island is one of those places that we would love to explore more. We barely scratched the surface of the things to do there. Next time, we’re staying on the island instead of the mainland. I wished we had more time but we wanted to make the 7:00 pm ferry. We saw enough that we know we want to return. The evening was a bit cool as we sailed back to Tsawwassen but the sun setting behind the islands was breathtaking.

On the ferry back to the mainland.


Birthday trip to Niagara Falls, Canada 2016.

For my wife Trudy’s birthday, we decided to visit Niagara Falls. We wanted to stay on the Canadian side as there were more choices of accommodations and besides we got one more addition to our countries visited list. We flew from Austin Bergstrom to Buffalo via Charlotte, North Carolina. Getting to Niagara is pretty easy. There are shuttle buses available, $65.00 to the Canadian side or $50.00 to the USA side. Taxis are another option, the fare is about the same. We rented a car and it took about forty five minutes to get there. As you get closer to the Falls, you could see the spray of water rising like a cloud in the distance. Border crossing was a breeze, just have your travel documents ready. The get the latest updates and requirements on border crossings, you can visit http://www.cbp.gov

Border crossing.

There are quite a few hotels along the rim of the Falls especially on the Canadian side. Our hotel of choice was the Marriott. We’ve stayed with them several times and have always had great service. We asked for and got upgraded to a very nice room on the twenty fourth floor which offered us magnificent views of both the Canadian and American Falls. A welcome gift basket for the birthday was also a very nice touch.

Marriott Hotel.
View from our upgraded 24th floor room.

We’re only here for a few days and want to make the most of it. We made reservations for birthday dinner at the Skylon Tower which has a rotating restaurant. Food was excellent, lots of selections on the buffet, but it’s all about the view here. As night fell, we were treated to a fireworks display.

View from the Skylon Tower, Rainbow Bridge, American Falls and Horseshoe Falls.
As night falls on the Tower, great ambience and oh so romantic.

On our second day, we booked a “Journey behind the Falls” tour. We rode the funicular down from the hotel to meet our guide. We descended about a hundred feet by elevator through the rock table where you go through a series of tunnels. There are a couple of lookout portals where you see the water and really hear and feel the power. Afterwards, we made our way out to the observation area, (rain gear on) for the incredible up close view.

The funicular costs about $3.00 one way.
You can purchase tickets for a myriad of things at the welcome center.
Lookout portal behind and under the falls.
Out on the observation deck.

Check out the VIDEO below.

We had a full day of activities planned so we strapped on the backpack from Matein (“affiliate link”) which has USB connectivity and paired it with our new charger from PowerBank (“affiliate link”), (great for charging your devices when you’re out all day.) We walked cross the Rainbow Bridge to the USA to check out the American Falls. After a quick immigration and passport check, we continued on. The Canadian side is much nicer than the American side, more lodging, amenities and fun things to do. The American falls however affords you the opportunity to get really close as we discovered later towards the end of our trip.

International boundary line.
Rainbow Bridge, Canada to the left, USA to the right.
Observation deck from below.
Observation deck.

Niagara is more than just the Falls. The area of town closest to the Falls has quite a few attractions, gift shops, casino, restaurants and bars and all within walking distance from our hotel. There’s also an amusement park which is great for families with kids. The old Niagara city on the American side has seen better days when there were lots of hotels and casinos but is now a mere shell of it’s former self.

You can zip line along the Falls but it was a little expensive, ($50.00 for about a one minute ride.)

There are plenty of attractions for families with kids.

Niagara at night.

Skylon Tower.
The Falls are illuminated at night.
Downtown Niagara.

The days are going by so fast, we’ve had a blast. Looking at the water every day, the sound and the power were just hypnotic. I’ve dreamed of coming to this place for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. So glad I was able to share it with Trudy. Today is check out day from our hotel so having experienced a taste of the American side, we decided to explore it a bit more. We drove across the border this time and headed to Niagara Falls State Park which is the oldest state park in the US.

Sunrise over the Falls.
American Falls up close.

The condition of Niagara Falls state park was a far cry from what we saw on the Canadian side. It looked a bit run down but there seemed to be some renovations going on which was encouraging for the future. Canada on the other hand was very clean, lots of flowers and well kept gardens.

Relax and enjoy the splendor of Queen Victoria Park with its beautifully manicured flower gardens. Established in 1885, this park is the centerpiece the Niagara recreational area.

American Falls with Horseshoe Falls (Canada) in the background.
Pathways to viewing platforms.

There are boat tours that take you up close to the Falls. The “Maid of the Mist” operates from the American side and costs US$ 22.25 for adults, kids six to twelve years $13.00, elevator ride included. The Canadian Hornblower boats are CAD$ 30.50, kids five to twelve, $20.50, this includes the funicular ride down to the dock.

Canadian Hornblower, red rain coats, US Maid of the Mist in blue.
American Falls with observation deck in the background.
View from Niagara state park.

Niagara Falls was always seen as the quintessential honeymoon destination but it’s much more than that. There’s a lot more to do than you realize and the city of Toronto is not too far away which makes for a nice side trip, time permitting. Now this is just our opinion, but if you do take a trip here, I suggest going to the American side first and finishing up on the Canadian side which is so much nicer and has lots more to do.