Sunday, June 12, 2016

Oh, Canada! (cont.)

White Rock pier
On our first morning in White Rock, we decided to stop by Tim Hortons for breakfast. (We'd had dinner at White Spot the night before. My in-laws wanted to take us to some ubiquitous Canadian places to start with!) After filling up on coffee and pastries, we were off for adventure!

We started with a visit to the White Rock promenade, pier and beach. We dropped the boys off at the long pier for some fishing, then my mother-in-law and I walked the promenade. It's a gorgeous stroll, and we had particularly fine weather to enjoy it - lovely sun, wind, with temps in the low 70s. We saw the large White Rock on the beach that is the city's namesake, took in the sweeping ocean views and just felt lucky to be alive. Tide was out, so we made our way out to the shore, where we found tons of scuttling crabs; really big, beautiful shells; and hosts of sea birds. It was an amazing morning!

We relaxed for the rest of that first full day, getting a delicious meal at Charlie Don't Surf. (I had the crab cakes, while hubs had a fish taco.) We met some friends of our in-laws, sat on the shady, breezy back patio, ate strawberries grown by my father-in-law, and strolled Crescent Beach licking our ice cream cones! It was a lovely way to start our trip!

Looking for shells at low tide . . .

The next morning, we arose early to catch the ferry to Vancouver Island. We'd made reservations, so we lined up first thing to take the car on board. While we waited, we visited the shopping and dining area to grab some sweet cherries for munching. (There are lots of shopping and dining options here.) Once aboard the ferry, we got seats and breakfasts, later taking our coffees out to the decks, where you can see lovely coastal views. Clay and I walked all around the ship, feeling like we were on top of the world on the upper decks, marveling at the clean breeze at the front of the vessel, and pointing out houses both tiny and palatial on the wooded coasts we passed. I loved, loved, loved the ferry ride. It takes about 1.5 hours, but there's so much to see from the decks that the time flies by. And if you're hungry, there are a couple of food options on board.

Gorgeous views from the ferry to Vancouver Island

When we arrived on Vancouver Island, we drove our car off the ferry and made the 30-minute drive to Victoria, the lovely little city from which we'd take our whale watching tour. I'd pre-booked five seats with Eagle Wing Tours, which takes guests out on both covered and uncovered boats for 3.5-hour whale watching tours off the coast. We'd leave from Fisherman's Wharf, a quaint and colorful dock featuring restaurants, shopping, and quirky houseboats. Since we were early for our tour, we had fish and chips for lunch at Barb's Place (soooo gooooood), located on the wharf, and then explored a bit. They had some cute souvenir shops, and resident seals paddled up to the dock in hopes of a snack. Also, as it was World Oceans Day, they'd set up touch pools on the docks where you could get up close and personal with starfish, sea cucumbers, and other creatures. Fun!

Fish and chips at Barb's!
After a little browsing and munching, it was time for our tour! We got an orientation from our guide, and then we were off in a small, open boat that seats about 11 passengers. What a thrill! We got out on the open water and started going really fast!! Eagle Wing Tours provided extra sunscreen, as well as hats, jackets, and pants, so you could bundle up in case you got cold out on the water. The wind, views, and speed were terrific!! Clay got to sit right up front with the captain. Before long, we were spotting the area's resident pod of killer whales. Beautiful! Some of them got REALLY CLOSE to the boat! We took tons of pics, then sped off to spy on some local peregrine falcons. After that, we checked out a transient pod of killer whales. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the whales and the wildlife in the areas we visited. Impressive.

We got up close and personal with the whales!

I really cannot recommend this experience enough. It's expensive, but Eagle Wing Tours took such great care of us, and got us so close to these beautiful animals, that it was worth every penny we paid. Just an unbelievable day on the water. The boat ride itself is wonderful.

Afterward, we grabbed some gelato at Fisherman's Wharf and played a bit in the nearby playground. Then, it was back to the ferry, where we grabbed some dinner. When we docked, my in-laws dropped us off at the apartment we'd rented in Vancouver for the remainder of our stay, where we tumbled, gratefully, into bed. Our apartment, a nice little two-bedroom, one bath unit, was located incredibly centrally in downtown Vancouver. We were in the West End, about two blocks off Robson Street. This location made the city very convenient for walking, dining options were close, and we had a grocery store within half a block. Plus, the coin laundry in the basement let us pack light. We had a full kitchen and a little balcony, too!

The next morning, Clay and I awoke hungry and tracked down breakfast at Cafe Crepe, where he ordered a strawberry crepe. I got the West Coast crepe, a concoction of salmon, cheese, and spinach. HEAVEN. We got a ham and cheese crepe to go for hubs, which he scarfed down when we returned to the apartment.

View of Vancouver from Stanley Park sea wall

As the morning was absolutely glorious, we headed for Stanley Park! At the entrance, we bore east and walked the sea wall, taking in views of the city, staring down the barrel of the Nine O'Clock Gun, marveling at the totem poles and poking around the lighthouse at Brockton Point. I can't say enough about how gorgeous the park is. First, it's massive. There are tons of trails. There are some really lovely points of interest, too - statues, tea houses, etc. You can rent bikes at the park entrance, and bike on dedicated trails. It's just lovely. Somewhere around this time, I made a bad mama decision. I took us off the path, and Clay fell. That put a damper on our fun for the morning, and we decided to head back to the apartment for a rest. (Sad face.)

The totem poles are GORGEOUS!
When the afternoon rolled around, we met up with my sweet in-laws for lunch at Steamworks Brew Pub. I had mussels and fries, while hubs and little man had pizzas. They brew their own beer here as well. We were seated in the lower part of the restaurant, near the big brewing tanks. We even saw one of the pressure valves pop off during our meal and watched one of the employees hurry to set everything to rights again. A great stop! Then, it was off to the Gastown Steam Clock. One of only a few in the world, the clock was refurbished during the past couple of years. When you stand next to it, it's hot from the steam! We learned about how it worked, then pointed our footsteps toward the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, in Chinatown.

A word - we were walking from one tourist spot to another, but we traversed (on foot) through a couple of rough blocks here. If you're planing on visiting the steam clock and then the garden, you might want to catch a cab. It's not far at all (maybe a little more than half a mile?), but it can get dicey (with a child and grandparents) between these two attractions.

Gastown steam clock
We arrived at the garden, where we did a self-tour, learning all about the meaning of the pathways,
plantings, and arrangement. Though the footprint of the garden is small, there are tons of little rooms (indoor and outdoor) to explore! I loved the silk embroidery screen on display (so delicate and detailed, it looked almost as though it glowed when the sun hit it), as well as the Hall of One Hundred Rivers. We spotted turtles out by the koi pond, and Clay found a courage amulet he just had to have in the gift shop.

As we walked back from the garden, we stopped for frozen yogurt at On Yogurt, which serves frozen yogurt using an "ice fried" technique. The yogurt is liquid, and they freeze it on an extremely cold surface as they mix in your chosen toppings. Then, the ice cream is served in a cup in four neat rolls. I tried the mango, while Clay had the strawberry. Really unique. According to the proprietors, this is a common technique in Thailand.
Inside the Chinese garden

That night, hubs and I walked the half block to our neighborhood grocery and picked up all kinds of yummies for dinner - roast chicken, Greek salad, roasted veggies, rolls, and dessert. We also grabbed some breakfast items - pastries, fruit (cherries and strawberries), milk, coffee. We ate together in the apartment kitchen that night, and my in-laws stayed the night in the second bedroom. This ensured we were ready to rock and roll the next morning!

More to come . . .

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