Monthly Archives: September 2015

Less than 2 Days in Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, B.C, is the largest city in western Canada with a population over 600,000 and 2.4 million in the metro area. Incorporated in 1886, it replaced and absorbed Gastown which was established years earlier when “Gassy Jack” opened the first saloon in 1867. I first visited in 2010 on a girlfriends trip to Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver, but we didn’t really explore Vancouver except for a long walk through Stanley Park. This time I was determined to see as much as possible in less than 2 days. We wanted to stay downtown within walking distance of the cruise-ship terminal and the city attractions. You don’t really know whether you found the perfect place until you get there, but this Victorian mansion on a shady residential street in the middle of the city hit the mark.  Our B&B, the Barclay House, in the West End neighborhood was close enough to the sights to walk almost everywhere. That said, we noticed that no matter which direction we walked, it seemed to be uphill both ways.

You can orient yourself by the map below. Our B&B was in the West End just south of Stanley Park and west of Coal Harbour. We easily walked (uphill) to Coal Harbour, Downtown, Stanley Park, Gastown, and Chinatown and back (uphill).

Vancouver Neighborhoods

Vancouver Neighborhoods

Sheryl arrived first and explored the area so when Jim and I got there she led us directly over to Coal Harbour Walkway. Coal Harbour was originally an industrial area that has been transformed into an upscale neighborhood with many high-rise condos, a marina, plenty of green space, shops, restaurants, and a lovely walkway along the waterfront stretching from Stanley Park to Gastown.

Coal Harbor Walkway along the Marina

Coal Harbor Walkway

I was surprised to see a little house on stilts in the middle of the walkway. The local artist, Liz Magor, created and gifted the sculpture, LightShed, to the city in 2004. It’s similar to the sheds that lined the harbor years ago where fisherman repaired their boats.

Lightship by Liz Magor

LightShed by Liz Magor erected in 2004 along Coal Harbour Walkway

We watched seaplanes take off and land loaded with tourists seeing the sights from the air.

Coal Harbor

View of seaplane from Coal Harbor Walkway

Keeping our feet firmly on the ground, we ambled as far as the Vancouver Convention Center and Canada Place, reading signs about the history of the area along the way. Outside the Convention Center, the Olympic Cauldron on Jack Poole Plaza is a permanent reminder of the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver. It’s still lit on special occasions today.

Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza

Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza

From there it was back to the Empire Landmark Hotel located within a couple blocks of our B&B for a nightcap while we enjoyed the 360 degrees panorama of Vancouver from Cloud Nine, the revolving restaurant on the 42nd floor. Cloud Nine welcomed us graciously when we explained we just wanted to enjoy a drink and the view.

Downtown Vancouver

High rise buildings in downtown Vancouver

Cloud Nine revolving restaurant atop Landmark Empire Hotel

Cloud Nine revolving restaurant atop Landmark Empire Hotel

Nightcap at Cloud Nine

Nightcap at Cloud Nine

View from Cloud Nine

View from Cloud Nine

Sunset from Cloud Nine

Sunset from Cloud Nine

City View from Cloud Nine

City View from Cloud Nine

This was probably my husband’s number 1 favorite sight in all of Vancouver. (Next time I’ll share my favorite sight.) The full rotation took about 1.25 hours while we enjoyed the view in every direction. What a relaxing way to end a day of travel and sightseeing and orient ourselves to the City of Glass with the mountains in the background.

Based on events of June 2015.

Categories: Canada, cruise, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

North to Alaska 2015

I’ve known since 2012 it was time to go to Alaska. That was the year Jim and I went to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bringing to 49 our total states visited. Prior to that, my state total was 46 and Jim’s was 43. Honestly, Alaska was never really on my short list but when it’s the only state in the U.S. you haven’t visited, it’s time to make a plan.

I sent for the Alaska Official State Vacation Planner at TravelAlaska.com to begin my research. The sample itineraries in the planner were invaluable for narrowing the options. Many friends cited their Alaskan cruise as their best trip ever so I began exploring cruises. Most itineraries depart from Seattle or Vancouver and typically include the inside passage. A cruise seemed like a pretty efficient way to start to see our largest state but frankly, it looked like we’d barely scratch the surface of this vast area. That realization caused me to look at a combination cruise and land tour. The cruise tour would add a land trip by coach and train to Denali National Park with possible views of Mt. Denali, aka McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Recommendations and research led me to Holland America, the largest tour operator in Alaska. I knew I wanted to go in June and I wanted to get the best price for a stateroom with a verandah on the starboard side, hoping to spot wildlife as we cruised north. I didn’t have a preference for a particular ship or whether the land portion was before or after the cruise, but I did prefer a cruise starting or ending in Vancouver. We’ve never cruised Holland America before but Norwegian, my usual cruise operator, couldn’t beat their price so I booked with HAL.

Holland America

Holland America Cruise Line Logo

Our original price was just short of $2500 per person but then a friend, Sheryl, decided to go with us so with three in the cabin the price went down to $2035 each.  Then the closer we got to our departure date, the more emails HAL sent us offering upgrades and the lower the cost was for the upgrade. With three in our cabin, we decided to spring for the suite upgrade for an additional $100 each which gave us considerable extra space both in the cabin and on our verandah plus two sinks and a whirlpool tub in the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The total for the three of us for the 11 Day Double Denali which included the 7 day cruise, coach to Denali, 2 nights lodging in Denali, tour of Denali, domed rail trip to Anchorage, and one night of lodging in Anchorage was $6400 or about $194 per person per day. I tell you this for reference purposes in case you want to go to Alaska. I do believe I got the best deal available at the time.

Here’s our itinerary from HAL’s website:

Day/ Port
1 Vancouver
Sail from Vancouver, glide under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and enter the scenic wonders of the Inside Passage
2 At Sea
Relax and enjoy a full day of scenic Inside Passage cruising and immerse yourself in Holland America Line elegance
3 Ketchikan
Explore this uniquely Alaskan port, famous for its rich native culture, salmon fishing, and scenic Misty Fjords
4 Juneau
Enjoy a full day of exploring Alaska’s capital-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
5 Skagway
Step back to the days of the last great gold rush-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
6 Glacier Bay
Cruise the ice-studded fjords of this national treasure for a full eight hours as a Park Service Ranger narrates
7 At Sea (Gulf of Alaska)
Enjoy a leisurely day of cruising
8 Denali National Park
Disembark and enjoy deluxe motorcoach sightseeing to Denali National Park for a two-night stay at this majestic national treasure (lunch included)
9 Denali National Park
Venture deep into Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (snack included), the best way to see wildlife and hopefully Mt. McKinley too
10 Anchorage
This morning, board the luxurious domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer bound for Anchorage
11 Anchorage
Your Land + Sea Journey concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Map View

Itinerary Map View

The cruise began in Vancouver, B.C, and ended in Anchorage, so after booking the cruise, my next goal was to find and book reasonable “open jaw” airfare. (Open jaw means your roundtrip is from different airports, e.g., the departure is DesMoines to Vancouver and the return is Anchorage to DesMoines. I searched on Kayak but I’ve since learned about ITA Matrix and I’ll try that, too, next time. As long as we were going to be in Vancouver, we wanted to explore the city a bit but the less expensive flights were mostly red-eye or arrived late in the day. I found two one-way tickets actually offered the best times and rates in this instance. Orbitz offered a one way from DesMoines to Vancouver on Air Canada for $291.59 and Delta had a return from Anchorage to DesMoines for $404, bringing the roundtrip total to $695.59. It seemed high but summer flights to Alaska are expensive so I booked it.

Finally, we needed two nights accommodations in Vancouver to allow plenty of time before the cruise in case we had flight delays and to properly see the city. Hotels there are very expensive, as I soon found out. I found a Hampton Inn at $260 a night and booked it but canceled it when I found a darling bed and breakfast, the Barclay House, in a great walkable neighborhood for $230. That rate changed when we added Sheryl to our room, but it was still lower than the hotel would have been if we added a third person.

Barclay House

Barclay House

So, with all the arrangements made, we were ready to set sail to visit our 50th state in June 2015.

Next time I’ll show and tell you all about our departure port, Vancouver, B.C.

Based on events from June 2015

Categories: Anchorage, Canada, cruise, Denali, inside passage, open jaw, Travel, USA, Vancouver | Tags: , | 10 Comments

Dublin Dining

If you’ve been wondering when my blog posts about Ireland will end, this is the final post…for now.  Before closing our Ireland 2015 Tour, I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention restaurants in Dublin and especially my favorite restaurant of the entire trip. I found the Whitefriar Grill online and immediately sent a link to my son and daughter-in-law to check it out. They had us at Ribs ‘N’ Rump. Their website says, “Whitefriar Grill’s Sunday Night Ribs ‘N’ Rump is nirvana for meat lovers everywhere! Stock up on the protein for the week ahead with a 14oz char-grilled rump steak, sticky BBQ baby back ribs, bacon ribs, honey glazed lamb ribs all served on a WFG chopping board, add to this two sides from (tobacco onions, greens, fries, balsamic onion & mushrooms) and you have a meat feast! All for 40 euros for two!” Olympic weightlifters in their spare time, Brian and Abi are definitely paleo meat lovers.  It just so happened we arrived in Dublin on Sunday so Whitefriar Grill went to the top of the list.

Whitefriar Grill

Whitefriar Grill

Whitefriar Grill

Whitefriar Grill

Rump and Ribs Sunday Special at the Whitefriar Grill

Ribs ‘N’ Rump Sunday Special at the Whitefriar Grill

The food was all we hoped for and more, the atmosphere was casual with a hip vibe, the price was reasonable, and the service was outstanding. Located at 16 Aungier St., midway between St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle, it was a bit of a search to find, but well worth the walk. If you visit Dublin and consider yourself a paleo carnivore, this restaurant is a must.

While in Dublin, we also ate at the Bank on College Green. We ended up at the Bank when our planned meal fell through at Gravedigger’s because they don’t serve food on Mondays, so always check the operating days and hours when choosing restaurants for your itinerary. Luckily, Brian had read about the Bank so we felt confident in our second choice. The building is very historic with Victorian architecture and comfortable furnishings and the food was good. Brian and Abi have a habit of ordering several different menu items usually from the starters and then sharing. That’s a tip I’m going to adopt because they get to try lots more dishes at no more cost.

Bank on College Green

Bank on College Green

Rack of Pork and Pork Belly

Rack of Pork and Pork Belly

Steamed Mussels

Steamed Mussels

Cote de Beouf

Cote de Beouf

Our last night in Ireland, Jim and I decided to have quintessential pub grub at Oliver St. John Gogartys in the Temple Bar area.  While the food was good, it was pricey due to the touristy location. Their extensive wine list gets the prize for the best wine quote: “There’s more philosophy in a bottle of wine than all the books in Trinity College.” I’ll drink to that. The restaurant is upstairs but the live trad music downstairs kept us there both before and after dinner.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie with Salad and Chips

Irish Stew

Irish Stew

Our biggest travel challenge has always been choosing restaurants. We minimize the difficulty by adopting a policy of one restaurant meal per day, usually in the evening and we try to plan ahead. I like to research restaurants and read customer reviews before taking a chance. We don’t mind paying premium prices if the food and service are outstanding but deciding on a place when the troops are hangry has led us into more than one culinary disaster. (Someday I’ll get my blog post written about searching for food while hangry on the Champs Élysée.)

On April 1, before we embarked on our Ireland 2015 tour, I tweeted, “People say the food in Ireland is terrible but we plan to prove them wrong.” And we did.

Enjoying Live Trad Music at Temple Bar

Enjoying live trad music at Temple Bar our last night in Ireland

Last look at the Liffey

Last look at the Liffey

Based on events of April 2015.

Categories: Food, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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