For Valentine's day weekend I take my significant other to Canada. Well, that's not the plan usually but in the Seattle area we don't have a lot of other choices besides Canada and HippyVille (Portland) if we want to get out of town. Last year we took the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC. This year we took the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver BC. Due to site maintenance the photos have just now gone up - vancouver-bc-2015
By far my favorite way of getting to Vancouver is by train. There's two trips per day, it only takes about 3 hrs from Everett, the view of the Puget Sound is wonderful and it's comfortable. Usually tickets run about $20 each way. I know you can drive it in about the same amount of time but it's just not the same. Culturally Vancouver isn't THAT much different than Seattle although it seems to be a bit more cosmopolitan. The three things that give Vancouver somewhat of a "foreign air" is the Canadian Currency, the Metric System and the number of people with French accents. However, when we drive to Vancouver it doesn't feel that much different than going to Portland or Spokane because you're isolated from the people around you. When you take the train you rub elbows with the locals, use the Skytrain, Seabus, Aquabus and regular buses to get around. It FEELS like you went somewhere. I highly recommend it.
When I stay in Vancouver I like the little quaint hotels and my favorite is the Victorian Hotel on Homer. It's sort of a bed-and-breakfast flavored hotel but you have to book ahead as it's not big and they fill fast. Check booking.com for the best deals (often cheaper than the Victorians own website). They also have ONE family room with three beds which we works well when the whole family is with us. They give you a nice breakfast and the service is good. Something happened when I booked though and I made the reservation for March instead of February and the Victorian was full when we arrived leaving us without a room. The nice lady at the Victorian set us up with a room at the Kingsman Bed and Breakfast. The one rule I've learned when a hotel is full and they reserve you a room somewhere else is that other room won't be as good as the one you wanted. Why? Because they will NEVER book you in a hotel that's a better deal then their own or you wouldn't come back! The other room will either be more expensive or won't be as nice. In the case of the Kingsman it was both more expensive and not as nice. It's called Bed and Breakfast and I suppose if you think a man handing you a bagel in the morning is breakfast than the title is fitting. The beds are in very dark depressing hallways and the there's ONE (count it) bathroom/shower on every floor so get up early if you want to be clean. The ONLY nice thing I can say about the Kingsman is it's across the street from Medina Cafe which has long lines in the morning. From the windows of the Kingsman you can keep an eye on the line so you can get quicker.
Since the Victorian is very near Canada place and were starving on arrival we headed toward the water to find a food truck named - Fat Duck which has among other things a Duck Confit Philly sandwich. We found it but they were out of food and getting ready to pull away. Strike two! We stopped in at Steamworks and had a decent pizza instead.
After lunch we took a quick jaunt through Gastown and headed back to Canada Place to catch the 50 bus to Granville Island where we made a list of things we wanted to pick up before going home.
Dinner was at Bacchus Restaurant. To save money we do Valentine's day dinner either the day before or after but restaurants are starting to catch on and offer only the Valentines day menu for the whole weekend. Getting reservations can be tricky on Valentines day too. My other favorite French restaurants are all out of business so I booked a table at Bacchus. It was nice, the food was decent, the atmosphere was superb but I have to think that it's only worth half as much as they charge. The same meal but of higher quality could be had at a Brasserie in Paris for 1/4 the price.
For Valentines day itself we braved the morning breakfast lines at Medina Cafe across the street and had the Fricassée and Tagine. The former was really good and the latter not bad but after about the third bite of the Tagine all you tasted was chili powder.
With breakfast out of the way we headed back to Canada Place to pick up the free shuttle to Capilano Suspension bridge park. While waiting we walked to the end of the Canada Place, found restrooms, viewed the Olympic Torch and froze in the early morning air. The free shuttle driver attempted to be funny but bordered on irritating. It served it's purpose though and got us to the park and past the lines of people waiting to buy tickets. You can take the Seabus to Londsdale Quay and the 236 bus to Capilano but the shuttle is free and takes you right there.
I highly recommend Capilano! Yes, it's expensive but everything in Vancouver is expensive so get used to it. Even with the exchange rate being amazing it's still expensive. However, I still recommend it because it's a great experience. We spent about 2 hours walking in the treetops, gazing into the forest and just enjoying the quiet.
The free shuttle driver who took us back to Vancouver was much better as he had spent years working with Orca Whales and told us a lot of great information about how they live. He also talked about the aquarium a bit so we got off the shuttle early and after eating African Fusion food on Denman Street went to the aquarium in Stanley Park which turned out nice although we got rushed a bit at the end as they were closing.
Dinner was meant to be provided by the Xiao Long Bao place downtown which was closed. Yelp is now listing it as being closed forever which if true would be sad. Dinner ended up being on Granville street at a Gyro shop. It was a long day and we wanted to just eat and go to bed.
We got up to Medina Cafe again and ordered two different dishes which were good but still not as good as the Fricassée. I like this place and I'd go here on a regular basis if I were a local but I'm not sure it's worth standing in line for. It's definitely not worth being person 100 at the end of the line. Maybe Medina suffers from the Mona Lisa problem - it's popular because it's popular.
We took our travel bags and headed for the 50 bus to Granville Island once again. We ate lunch there at the Keg which was mediocre and then stood in line in the Public Market to pick up Love Pate and other duck mouses. Armed with desserts, bread and pate we took the Aquabus to Olympic Village and then the train home all the while gazing at the Puget Sound eating truffle infused duck pate.
A good weekend even if there were a few bumps.