I just got back from my first trip to Canada, spent primarily in Vancouver and with stops in Whistler and Victoria. The people lived up to their reputation for slightly insane politeness to a degree that was truly astounding; that, combined with the (for the Canadians) unseasonably warm weather made it a lovely trip.
We started off the trip by flying from Atlanta to Seattle. Starving, we grabbed lunch at a Seattle Jack-in-the-Box that happened to be in Seattle’s equivalent of Memorial Avenue. There was a drug rehab place nearby and a woman cheerfully waved at someone she called Candyman. Candyman was 6’5” and looked like he’d seen better days. In addition, the restaurant itself managed to have the strangest menu I’ve ever seen: teriyaki bowls were side-by-side with hamburgers, with funnel cakes for dessert. However, we did manage to get food (after a 4 1/2 hour flight, we didn’t care what it was) and wend our way into Vancouver. At an otherwise unimpressive dinner, I got to drink my first legal beer (Vancouver has a drinking age of 19) and hit up the Lush, so I was happy.
The second day saw my family discovering Tim Horton’s, which is roughly equivalent to Dunkin’ Doughnuts and appears to be Canadian-only. We ate breakfast there for the rest of our time in Vancouver. After breakfast, we made our way to Stanley Park with some (fabulous) sandwiches from a local bodega. In the park, we managed to become well-acquainted with a Canadian squirrel that resembled a bear more than was strictly comfortable and a blackbird that landed on my dad’s knee in an attempt to make us quit eating sandwiches near him. We also got to meet the park’s feral, diurnal raccoon population, which (like most raccoons) knew no fear and attempted to steal a small child’s lunch. We hit the park’s aquarium, and though their belugas looked much healthier than Atlanta’s (presumably because they were taken from the wild and not sketchy, sketchy Mexican circuses), the place was fairly unimpressive. Atlanta’s aquarium has spoiled us.
Our third day in Vancouver had us exploring Chinatown, including an awesomely strange Chinese import dollar store where I got the most delightfully irritating cell phone charm ever (it was $2 and has a loud-ass bell in it). After we were done exploring the somewhat shady neighborhood outside of Chinatown, we took a water taxi to the public market at Granville Island. There was a French-Canadian man there singing “Aux Champs Elysées,” which confirms my firm belief that I will never, ever escape that song. While there, I managed to pan wireless on my iPod for long enough that I read a Facebook message informing me that someone I went to elementary school with in Tulsa is going to be attending Oxford with me in the fall, which was both cool and very, very strange. After we headed back on the water taxi and walked the length of Vancouver to get back to our hotel (whoops), we headed out to dinner at what turned out to be a Korean frat bar. I got a drink called the Golden Balls. It contained a hefty amount of shame and my yearly allotment of lychee.
The next day, we traveled early in the morning to a suspension bridge which cheerfully informed us that most of the deaths that had happened on the bridge could have been prevented. Because Elena and I have a healthy fear of death that seems to be lacking in our parents, we spent much of our time in the canteen. After we left Vancouver and made the two-hour drive on the Sea and Sky highway up through Squamish to Whistler, the site of the skiing events for the winter Olympics. The drive was lovely, and in Squamish I had a fantastic grilled cheese with avocados and a tomato bisque. We eventually made it to Whistler, which–because Canada is a land whose native wildlife can all kill you–had a number to call if we spotted bears roaming the lodge area. Because the Whistler hotel was the first time we’d had internet access on the trip, Elena and I spent the rest of the day on computers and I had a conference call, which was very exciting because I am a nerd. Before dinner, we all grabbed ice cream at a place called Cows, which demonstrated why you should never name ice cream flavors with novelty names–none of us knew what any of the flavors were, and we all wound up trading our ice cream around.
The next day, we tempted death by scaling the mountain in a 25-minute gondola ride. We kicked death in the ‘nads by proceeding to the peak-to-peak gondola, the longest unsupported gondola in the world. It lasts 15 minutes and goes between two mountain peaks. It is terrifying. Once at the other mountain peak, my parents hiked around while Elena and I stayed inside and I drank beer with a mountain biker on it. It was exactly as good as you would expect beer targeted towards mountain bikers to be. We had lunch at the lodge–I had falafel, which (in what became a theme for the food at Whistler) was as good as one could expect Canadian ski lodge falafel to be. After Elena and I flatly refused to ride an open-air chair lift down the side of a mountain, we rode the death-gondola back across to the other side and down the mountain. Having had enough of the mountains, we headed to the sea-level safety of Vancouver and had dinner at Pickwick’s Fish and Chips, where I had cod. It was the bomb.
The next day we got up entirely too early, grabbed breakfast at Blenz (a coffee shop which, rather defensively, tells people to buy Canadian), and took a two-hour ferry to Victoria. The ferry, being essentially a moving building, was equipped with wi-fi and perfectly nice, aside from the group of Spanish schoolkids singing “Alejandro” and yelling something of which I could only recognize “Lady Gaga.” Once we landed in Victoria, we grabbed sandwiches at a touristy, touristy sandwich shop which was nonetheless tasty. I grabbed a cream soda which, much to my alarm, turned out to be purple. I would have remained confused about why the Canadians had settled on this as a cream soda color, but was informed via Twitter that this is just a brand idiosyncrasy of Crush, which we don’t have in Atlanta (it being a Pepsi product that’s primarily sold in Canada, anyway). We finished lunch and went on a walk around the city, and stopped into the Royal British Columbia museum on a whim. As I am a natural history museum dork, I thoroughly enjoyed the large specimen collection on display. It was mostly unposed and of the “things in jars of preservatives” school of exhibit, but was fun nonetheless. The anthropology floor included a really nice exhibit on the history of the province, along with some preserved period clothing, and–to my nerdy, nerdy joy–a copy of the pilot episode of The X-Files, which was filmed for the first several seasons in Vancouver.
That night, we met up with a friend of my dad’s and his wife, who live in Victoria. they showed us around town and took us to dinner at Spinniker’s, a great gastropub, where I got a Thai noodle bowl. As part of the tour of the city, they took us to their marina, where a pod of clever seals has started hanging around to eat fish scraps. We bought frozen fish chunks and tossed them to seals, including one who would splash us if we were not quick enough. As they were two feet away and (if you think about it) totally capable of killing us, it was pretty awesome. After the seals, we went on a tour of the University of Victoria (where my dad’s friend works), and he was in the middle of giving us a perfectly normal show-around when we noticed that the entire campus is overrun with gigantic bunnies. These are not wild rabbits. These are fat, fearless, currently feral former pet bunnies. We stopped to take pictures, because really: bunnies.
The last day of the Canadian leg of the trip was almost all travel–another ferry ride back, then two hours to the border, then two hours at the border. We then drove into Seattle just in time to hit rush hour. After all the driving, we took a streetcar over to The Pink Door in Pike’s Market, and managed to get a table without a reservation. Though we were crammed in a too-small table in the bar area, the food was fantastic. I got mushroom fettucini with black truffle oil, and it was (I think) the best meal of the trip. There was a band, Professor Gall, playing right next to our table, and it was overall a fabulous end to the trip.