We are back! 🙂 Wait… did anyone actually know that Mike and I went to Vancouver this weekend for his belated birthday trip? Well, we did. And we had a great time.
First things first. We took Friday off so that we could have a couple days in Vancouver but still have some time to recover from the trip before going back to work. We showed up at the King Street Amtrak station in downtown Seattle bright and early at 6:45am to catch our 7:40am train to Vancouver. As a side note… the Amtrak Cascade line that runs from Portland to Vancouver only runs twice a day: 7:40am and 5:45pm. Those are awkward times. It means that you either have to get up really early or get to your destination really late. Oh well. We managed! We got to the train station thinking we might be on the late side, but as it turned out the area was full of construction and getting on a train is WAY easier than getting on a plane. For starters you don’t have to take your shoes off. You also don’t have to go through security. You just get your seat reservation (an informal process in which the attendant pulls off mailing-label looking stickers off of sheet and sticks them to your ticket. Then someone asks to see your passport (only because we were going out of the country), and then you hop on the train. Done!
At exactly 7:40am the train rolled out of King Street Station bound for Everett and eventually Vancouver. I wasn’t sure how the whole customs thing was going to work (I mean, we were entering Canada on a train that probably wasn’t going to stop at the border, right? As it turned out, I was only half right. Keep reading.). The Amtrak ticket said that our trip time would be “4 hours and 0 minutes”. As right-on as they’d been about the departure time I was inclined to believe that they’d be pretty accurate on the travel time too. We chugged northwards through Edmonds, Everett, and Bellingham. And then up into Canada. Really? No customs? And then the conductor passed out customs forms to every car and said we’d need to fill those out to get off the train and into Canada. Ah. I knew it couldn’t be as simple as just chugging across the border, even though Amtrak had already looked at our passports. The conductor also said that we all had to remain on the train in Vancouver until we were allowed to de-train (a new word for me) and enter the Canadian customs office. He further said that if anyone volunteered to sing the Canadian national anthem into the train intercom system, their car could deboard first. I hesitated. Not because I’m overly shy but because I don’t know the Canadian national anthem and something told me it could hurt me in the Canadian customs office if they got wind of the fact that I’d messed up singing their national anthem to try to get into the country before anyone else. As it turned out people from two other cars volunteered to sing so their cars were going to be allowed to de-train first. Then two women from our car rushed forward and proceeded to sing Jingle Bells into the microphone. It seemed like a weak follow-on to the Canadian national anthem, but the conductor apparently gave them full kudos, because our car got to de-train third. 🙂 Going through customs was quick, and then Mike and I found ourselves in the Amtrak train station in Vancouver with no cab and no map (Apparently you pay like crazy for cell data in Canada because it’s all “roaming charges”, so our cell phones were off limits. I had counted on relying on my cell phone to guide us through the completely unknown city of Vancouver, but I bravely bought a little Vancouver Atlas at the train station while Mike exchanged some American dollars for Canadian currency. We were both hungry since it was now around noon so we found an adorable little cafe called “Apple Cafe” and I got a salad at their mini salad bar and Mike got a panini.
Afterwards we hailed a cab and headed for the hotel. It was technically too early for check-in but they let us check in anyway and we left our bags there and then headed out into the great unknown of Vancouver armed only with our cameras and my little travel Atlas. We started out by wandering along Robson street which, according to all my coworkers was a mecca for shopping, dining, and nightlife. We went into a bunch of stores and looked around but didn’t actually buy anything. Did I mention that the sales tax in Vancouver is 12%??? Ours is pretty bad at 9.5%, but 12% is still significantly worse. So we just enjoyed looking. We found several stores of note, including a Lululemon store, a Guess store, and a coin store. In the course of our wandering we discovered the Vancouver Art Museum, so we bought passes and went in. As it turned out, they were having a special month-long display of Mattise’s work. We really enjoyed looking at all of his work and also saw some pieces by really famous artists like Van Gogh. We wandered through, taking our time, enjoying the art, and commenting on the different types of art forms we saw. When we emerged from the Art Gallery it was getting late and we were getting hungry. Time for dinner! It was officially Mike’s “late” birthday dinner, so we headed to a steakhouse that was right around the corner from the hotel. It was seriously one of the best restaurant experiences we’ve ever had! The wait staff was attentive without being overbearing, the food was delicious, and there was a live jazz pianist/singer who played easy-going songs from the 70’s that Mike and I hadn’t heard in ages.
The only downside was that the cocktails were only so-so.
They looked nice, but I don’t think the bartender knew as much about mixing drinks as the one at Paddy Coyne’s. Even so, they were refreshing after wandering around in the sun all day even if they weren’t quite up to our picky standards. 🙂
We lingered at the hotel for a long time. For about three hours actually.
Mike got a big steak, and I got a baked potato and steamed broccoli. That might not sound like a lot of food, but I was completely veggied out and wasn’t even able to finish all of my veggies. That never happens. We ate slowly and just enjoyed the live music, talked, and relaxed from our early morning, train ride, and wandering around the city. We didn’t think about cell phones or work or anything even remotely stressful.
That was our first day… more to come on our second and third days later! 🙂