My first trip to the USA was way back in 1996 when I got to take in the usual triangle between San Francisco in the north, San Diego in the south (including a pop across the boarder into Tijuana, Mexico) and Las Vegas in the east.
This of course had the obligatory few days stopover in Hawaii.
But importantly, we (Dim and I) had a car and got to drive all of this and saw a lot on the way. This included the drive out to Las Vegas along the famous route 66 and through the Mojave Desert.
Of course, we went to Los Angeles, in fact, we spent 3 weeks here. Mostly just bumming around and doing the odd tourist thing every second or third day. This included all of the usual tourist haunts, Universal Studios, Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Hollywood Blvd and Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame etc.. etc..etc.
As we were leaving we did the scenic drive along Highway 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), which hugs the California coastline all the way. At almost 500 miles, we took our time and took a few days to do it, but if more time was available we would have taken even longer and stopped at a lot more places.
A few days in San Francisco (doing the usual tourist things). Lombard St, the zoo, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39 to see the seals, the Golden Gate Bridge and of course a ride on a tram.
A few days in Vegas just checking out the sights. And almost 3 weeks in LA, just living like locals and intermittently playing tourist.
On another trip in 2009, Jill and I managed another trip to Las Vegas where we went silly and spent 10 days there. Most people spend 1-3 days there and get drunk and party the whole time. We did not. We played tourist and actually took our time and saw the place (through non-bloodshot eyes).
We saw it during the daytime, we saw it at night, we went to shows. We saw Cher live from the 3rd row, watched the Penn and Teller magic show and even got to see AC/DC perform live at the MGM Grand.
We went to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam by helicopter, even landing on the floor of the canyon for afternoon tea, before flying back over the strip at sunset.
In 2019 there was a trip to Miami that was part of my (and Jeremy’s) 50th birthday celebrations. This saw us hitting South Beach in the middle of Spring Break and following on with a Caribbean Cruise. This destroyed our budgets, but hey, you only turn 50 once.
But most of these were largely undocumented and the above is just a summary supplemented by tourist pics. The rest however, is in the website age and will be decently documented with original photos.
On our second foray into Vancouver, we stayed closer to Vancouver’s downtown. This gave us a shorter walk from the cruise terminal and we could have easy access to the city’s main attractions. Not to mention being able to get around on foot and have plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars at our doorstep.
Stanley Park is a 405-hectare (1,001-acre) public park near downtown. It was to be done on our first trip in but the sheer size of it was overwhelming, so we put it off.
We hooked up with Brad and Nora and walked the bayside until we got near the park and then hired some e-bikes to get around the mammoth area that is Stanley Park. According to the blurb there are 27 separate attractions within the park. Some of these we saw while others we entirely missed due to the sheer size of the place.
Some of these include:
Lumbermens’ Arch, three different boardwalks, Georgia Viaduct Lamp, Cob House, Vancouver Parks Board Office, Rose Cottage, Wishing Well, Salmon Display Pool, the old Polar Bear Compound, a couple of lighthouses (Prospect Point and Brockton Point).
Stanley Park Pavilion, the Nine O’Clock Gun, Susan Point Welcome Gateways, Nature house, Malkin Bowl, SS Empress of Japan Figurehead, Jubilee Fountain, Entrance bridge.
We visited Beaver lake that was was, ironically, totally beaver free for more than 60 years until 2008. Now, up to five beavers have been seen at once, working to plug up the flow of water.
Siwash Rock while not really a destination still makes for a great photo.
It is just off the seawall a bit north of Third Beach. You can’t actually get to the rock as it’s surrounded by water.
But without a doubt, the number one thing to do in Stanley Park is to visit the Vancouver Aquarium. It has 65,000 animals and 30 exhibits and galleries to explore. The aquarium has the usual suspects: sea lions, otters penguins, turtles, stingrays, fish, sea urchins, etc.
But it also has an Amazon gallery that has exotic birds, snakes, monkeys, and my favourites, the sloths.
I did not realise it at the time but it seems as though Jill was obsessed with the Jellyfish. She took no photo of any animal other than Jellyfish. I guess she just tuned into her own personal lava lamp.
The number two is to visit the first nations totem poles. These are a collection of totem poles representing a number of indigenous nations. All but 3 of the totem poles, along with 3 Welcome Gateways, are located in a meadow at Brockton Point. There is one totem pole, Children of the World at Stanley Park Junction where the Miniature Train operates. And there are 2 other totem poles that are on the Miniature Train route that can only be seen by taking the train ride during the day.
Once again we caught up with Paul and Francesca, who once again offered to take us out in the boat to enjoy Vancouver from the water. This time it was a long ride out to see Granite Falls. The ride out was a bit rough and hairy but the world calmed down considerably for the ride home. We boated past the hydro-electric power plants, amazing mountains and huge trees.
The weather did the right thing by us on the way home and the skies cleared to reveal even more stunning shots of the city from the waterside.
Weed is legal in Canada, like most places, it can be freely bought (on virtually every block) and importantly it can be smoked anywhere, and I mean anywhere. This means that it is impossible to walk for more than a few minutes without walking through a waft of second-hand weed smoke. I swear that in the first week that we came to Canada, I had inhaled more passive weed in a week than I had in the preceding 54 years.
Gastown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Vancouver and was the original centre of town. Water Street is Gastown’s most famous street, but the neighborhood covers a broad area and holds beautiful old houses, clothing boutiques, shops, art galleries, souvenir shops and plenty of places to grab a bite.
The big show in town is however the Gastown Steam clock.
Underneath Vancouver there are a series of steam pipes connected to a generating plant. The system provides heat to most of the downtown core.
Despite seeming like a remnant of the Victorian era the Steam Clock was actually only built in 1977.
On the hour there will be hordes of people gathered around waiting for the clock to do its thing.
Vancouver architecture is so much more interesting than anything that we see back home. Sure the CBD is full of high-rises, but here they are not all boring square boxes. There is some panache to them, curves and cantilevers break up the monotony of the usual cityscape.
Our early forays into Canadian beer were terrible. The offerings on the plane and in Montreal airport were atrocious attempts at producing a beverage. On our early arrival in Vancouver the first two there were almost as bad. But from here things turned a corner and improved dramatically.
The Granville Island Brewing Company does some nice drops, but the IPA options remain too hoppy and a struggle to drink. For the most part the Canadian beers are mild and unobtrusive. They are not offensive but wouldn’t really have you hunting to search them out either.
this was a strange thing to try and quantify, I guess much like Australia, Canada has become so multi-cultural that virtually everything is available. There are certainly some adverse influences from their nearest neighbour (burgers, hot dogs and fried chicken) but beyond that almost everything else is here too.
The seafood gumbos are pretty good and worth exploring and the wide variety of Asian on offer is astounding. Canadian breakfasts were the trick. The mixture of pancakes with bacon, eggs and maple syrup does take some getting used to but it is OK.
Poutine is a dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It emerged in Quebec, in the late 1950s and has become a staple.
I had the breakfast version that replaced the gravy with a hollandaise sauce. Based on this example, I am not a fan.
On a personal note, my last haircut was back in Greece and things are getting pretty wild and woolly on my end. Jill has managed to do her own hair in the bathroom but I am getting more and more furry with every passing day. Lets hope I can find a reasonably priced barber somewhere to tame the locks.
Canada has been amazing and we would definitely come back again. The scenery of both here and Alaska were incredible and will be pretty tough to beat. But as long as you don’t plan to physically hike the mountains, it is a destination that can wait as it is not that physically demanding. There are other options to get to the top of the big hills and mountains. Gondolas and roads allow you to get to the top of many places and given that there are stunning views virtually everywhere, you really wont miss too much if you don’t hike.