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British Columbia, Canada, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island, Grouse Mountain, Sheraton Vancover, The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant, Vancouver

Day 12: Getting Out in Vancouver


Capilano Suspension Bridge

The first thing I noticed about Vancouver is that despite being a big city, no matter where you are, you can look to the end of a street and catch a glimpse of water, mountains or dense pine forests. In a matter of 30 minutes, you can literally be on a hiking trail, a ski slope a sea plane or a kayak. This is a city filled with active people who don’t take for granted their beautiful surroundings.


1,300 years!!!

So for my last day in Vancouver, I decide to take advantage of some of Vancouver’s outdoor attractions. After a quick cup of coffee, the concierge at the Sheraton helps me plan out my day. Directly across the street from the hotel is the free shuttle to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and I board with a ticket already in hand. We make a couple of stops and then cross the Lions Gate Bridge, arriving at the park 30 minutes later.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. The suspension bridge, which was originally constructed in 1889, is 460 feet long and 230 feet high. As I walk across, I am literally surrounded by forest, and the Vancouver River gently flows 200 feet below my feet.


Treetops Adventure

Once on the other side of the bridge, I follow the Nature’s Edge Boardwalk trail and get to see 1,300 year old Douglas Fir Trees, trout ponds, and dense, lush rainforest.


Capilano Cliffwalk.

I then find the stairwell to the start of the Treetops Adventure, which is a series of smaller suspension bridges connected in the treetops. I spend the next fifteen minutes walking through the rainforest at approximately 100 feet up in the air.

I make my way back across the main suspension bridge to the other side of the park and head over to the Cliff Walk, a glass and steel walkway that is anchored to a granite cliff to my right. Here, I am afforded a full view of the Capilano Suspension Bridge behind me, and a knee-wobbling walk cliffside walk.


Grouse Mountain’s Alpine Experience.


Vancouver, as seen from Grouse Mountain.

From Capilano, I make my way to Grouse Mountain, a popular ski destination in the winter and a summertime hiking spot. I take the local bus from outside Capilano and arrive at the base of Grouse Mountain in under 15 minutes.

At the ticket window is a weather forecast indicating partial views from the top of the mountain, but I’m optimistic and purchase the $50 Peak Experience ticket. This will take me on the Skyride to the top of the mountain and then I can continue on to the mountain peak via the ski lift.

IMG_8962 IMG_8957During the six-minute ride on the Alpine Experience, we cover one mile, and before ascending into clouds, we see partial views of Vancouver, watching as it gets smaller and smaller below. When we finally do step off the gondola at the top, the temperature has dropped a good 20 degrees, and we are literally in the clouds.


Grouse’s Peak Lift.

I follow the walking path away from the cafes and giftshop, and make my way over to the bear habitat. Here, two orphaned grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola, have made themselves at home.  The bears meander through their ‘forest’ working their way down to a small lake, where they both jump in for a swim.

A few steps away is the Peak Lift, which will take me to the very top of Grouse Mountain. I board the lift and ascend through more clouds to the mountaintop. Up here is a zipline adventure course, a wind turbine and more wildlife.  I feel miles away from city life, despite the almost panoramic views of Vancouver just 2,000 feet below.

I make my way back down the ski lift, and follow the walking path back to the gondola. I wait in line with other tourists, employees, and hikers who have completed the almost 2-mile trek up. They pay just $10 to take the lift back down.


The entrance to Granville Island.


Granville Island’s waterfront.

At the base, I get a ticket for the free shuttle back to Canada Place downtown. I have a few minutes to wait, so the lady recommends I grab a coffee at the local cafe. 30 minutes later, I am on my way back downtown, taking in the beauty of the area surrounding Grouse Mountain. We cross back over Lions Gate Bridge, as the sun starts to make its way down in the west. Moments later, we are dropped off at Canada Place, and I begin the brisk walk up Burrard Street to the Sheraton.

With only one night left in Vancouver, and only about one hour of daylight remaining, I jump in a cab to Granville Island. We make it in time to peek into the massive market and a few shops and then head to The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant for our last dinner in Vancouver.

We head upstairs to the main restaurant, and the host leads us to a small booth for two. To my right are views into the open kitchen and to our left are panoramic windows with views of the waterfront, sailboats and the underside of the Granville Bridge. For a Monday night, this restaurant is packed, and I mentally thank the bellman at the Sheraton for making this recommendation. We order Arctic Char and Halibut and toast to our time in Vancouver and our ten day adventure in Alaska.


How big is Alaska?

We are homeward bound tomorrow morning, and in these past twelve days, we have followed elusive Humpback Whales, watched Orca swim in pods through ocean inlets, witnessed glaciers calving into the water, trailed Brown Bears up rivers as they chased spawning salmon, watched sea lions sunbathing, spotted bald eagles in flight and perched on nearby posts, photographed famous mountaintops, explored national parks, sampled local Alaskan brews, and savored more salmon in a week than most consume in a month. AND, we only covered the interior and southcentral parts of the state. To think of how much we did see and then to actually look at the size of the state of Alaska makes me start to think that another trip to the “Last Frontier” is in order sometime in the near future.

Our couple of days exploring in Vancouver have introduced me to what I might have to call one of my new favorite cities. After shaking off our sea legs and the remnants of the cruise ship cold, we have been able to see quite a bit of this unique capital of the Pacific Northwest. So, while I am leaving with such good memories from this trip, I am also (like I have done in the past) thinking about what I will do when I return to this part of the world. And, that is always the sign of a good adventure!





British Columbia, Canada, Kitsilano, Oakwood Canadian Bistro, Stanley Park, Vancouver

Day 11: Hello Land, Hello Vancouver

So you may notice that I have skipped over days nine and ten entirely. Unfortunately, weather conditions in Ketchikan were abysmal and my condition didn’t improve after leaving Juneau either. After docking in Ketchikan and hearing most shore excursions were cancelled due to weather, and watching passengers return to the boat, drenched from sideways rain, I decided a rest day was in order. I was disappointed, but I was now aware that this cold was more than just a 24-hr thing. In an effort to recover and enjoy Vancouver post-cruise, Ketchikan, and the following day at sea were classified as rest days.

We dock in Vancouver around 7am, but it is a couple of hours before we are called to disembark. We have time for a coffee and breakfast, and despite not feeling 100%, the rest has helped, and I feel like I will have the energy to see some of Vancouver today.


The view of Vancouver from the Sheraton Hotel.

We disembark the Zaandam, gather our bags and clear customs, handing over paperwork but never showing our passports for entry into Canada. Once we have our bags, we need a cab to get to the hotel. Fortunately, despite approximately 1,500 people trying to do the same, we don’t have to wait too long for a cab, and in a matter of minutes, we are at the reception desk of the Sheraton checking in. Our room isn’t ready, so we grab an early lunch and make plans for the day.

The rain is due to end, but we’re not sure we’ll be afforded an entirely clear day, so we opt for a hop on/hop off trolley tour to acquaint ourselves with the city. I do a quick search on TripAdvisor and find a restaurant for dinner, make a reservation, and we head out to see some of Vancouver.


Vancouver’s Olympic Torch from 2010.

The clouds are parting and we’re afforded slivers of blue sky here and there, but not much can distract from the beauty of this city and its surrounding landscape. A couple of blocks away from the Sheraton, we switch from the city bus to the park bus, which will take us through Stanley Park. With a few minutes between transfers, we walk down to the waterfront and see the Olympic Torch, from the 2010 Winter Games, which is rarely lit due to the extortionate cost…something in the range of $200,000.


A view of Vancouver’s Waterfront.

Beyond the torch is the waterfront, where you have 180 degree views. To the left is Stanley Park and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, directly in front are sea planes coming and going as well as a floating Chevron gas station, and off to the right is the harbor and the port of Vancouver, where we docked this morning.


Sea Planes in Vancouver Harbor.

We head back and board the trolley bound for Stanley Park, named after Lord Frederick Stanley, who is THE Stanley of the Stanley Cup award in hockey. We begin our tour at the rose garden, and drive past the yacht club, past Lions Gate Bridge and Prospect Point.


Lions Gate Bridge

The park occupies 1,000 acres, and after covering a few miles, I no longer feel like I’m in a capital city. Dense vegetation surrounds us on the left and we’re afforded waterfront views to the right. Occasionally, we pass a teahouse or restaurant, and we come out the other side of the park on English Bay.

Our driver drops us back at Canada Place, where we’re able to hop on the last trolley tour of the city. We exit the downtown area, passing the Lulu Lemon headquarters, and make our way to the Kitsilano neighborhood. Here, Craftsman and Victorian style homes hug the waterfront, and again, I think what a livable city this is. The tour guide bursts my bubble though when he tells us that Kitsilano is one of the most expensive areas to live, with properties averaging $1 million.


Dinner in Kitsilano.

From Kitsilano, we drive by Granville Island and Chinatown, looping back to Gastown, an area of shops and restaurants near downtown, and finally back to our hotel. We have time to catch our breath before catching a cab back to Kitsilano for dinner.

We have a reservation at Oakwood Canadian Bistro, a restaurant I found after googling ‘Top Vancouver Restuarants.’ This place is described as having outstanding Canadian tapas, in a contemporary setting at an affordable price. Literally, every review is excellent, so I immediately  book a reservation on Open Table, and we find ourselves back in Kitsilano at 7:30 making our way to the a booth in the back of the restaurant.

The setting is modern and romantic. The space is dimly lit, and the front half of the space is like a contemporary ski lodge with high tables, while the back feels more like a hunting lodge, with a fire place, two semi-circle booths facing each other, and an antler-decorated mantle and fireplace behind.


Warm Kale Salad

We decide to take the chef’s suggestion and order a number of plates to share. Poutine definitely makes the cut and we also order pulled pork, served on miso pancakes with BBQ sauce, a warm kale salad with brussel sprouts and cauliflower, and the Burger 2.0 garnished with aged cheddar, bacon, alfalfa and garlic dill pickles.


Pulled Pork Pancakes.

The wine list is predominantly local, which is surprising, seeing as I didn’t think of British Columbia as a wine region. We order a Chardonnay by Brettiers Brothers.

Plates begin to arrive. First, the kale salad, which is cooked perfectly, the kale softened and the brussels and cauliflower still crunchy and covered in a citrus dressing.


Poutine to die for!

The pork and pancakes are next. They are delicious – the bbq sauce adding a little bit of sweetness to contrast with the savory pork. But the poutine is mind-blowing. I’ve had poutine in Toronto and Montreal, but I knew we had to try it seeing as we are in a new region. Oakwood’s poutine is served in a hot skillet, with the traditional french fries, cheese curds and gravy as the base, but they top theirs with maple cured brisket. This dish alone is reason to come back for a second meal here! We have the burger left to conquer, and it is just as good as the previous three dishes, despite the fact that we are almost full when it arrives.

The reviews are right, this restaurant deserves all of its 4-star reviews. From the setting, to the service and the food, it is outstanding.

Our waiter calls a cab for us, and we head back to the hotel. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for sunshine, perfect for our last day in Vancouver and finally conducive to some outdoor activities to work off some of the decadent meal we have just polished off!


Belize, Canada, Cuba, England, Japan, Portugal, Tasmania, Travel Wishlist

My 2014 Travel WishList

Ah, the joy of a New Year. Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote my 2013 Travel WishList and I would have never believed you if you’d told me I would walk across Northern Spain and sip wine in Slovenia. There are 350 days left this year… I’m excited to see where I end up and I’m embracing the unknown!

Below is my 2014 Travel Wishlist. Unless I win the next Mega Millions drawing, I probably won’t make it to all of these locales, but I will hit a few – that I’m sure of. And a few surprises will crop up too. Following my reasons for wanting to visit each country is a link to a selection of highlights from AFAR Travel Magazine’s online community… Follow the link to browse what fellow travelers consider to be the must-sees in each of these places:

Japan – I am so completely intrigued by Japan, and despite spending a lot of time in neighboring countries, I have yet to make it here. A few friends have traveled to Japan and told me of the peacefulness of this country… Ok, Tokyo might be a bit like sensory overload, but after a few days in the fish markets, karaoke halls and kimono shops, imagine strolling through the Bamboo Forest of Kyoto, then learning the rituals of a tea ceremony at the ancient chashitsu, or tea rooms, or testing your luck at spotting a real Geisha in Gion.

Tokyo’s Fish Market, Photo: Rod C

If you’re a nature enthusiast like me, you may consider a trek up Mount Fuji, so long as you’re legs aren’t still wobbling from the high speed train journey there. Or, if nature, with less of an adrenaline rush is more your speed, then the shrines and temples west of Tokyo make for a more peaceful day trip.

Mount Fuji, Photo:

It seems like I would need an endless number of days in Japan, as this itinerary only covers the central main island of Honshu. On the Southern most part of this island, you can visit the Hiroshima Peace Park before heading to the island of Kyushu, for hot springs and the history of Nagasaki. Or alternatively, head north to Hokkaido for National Parks and winter ski resorts. Japan has something to entice any type of traveler, and is number one on my 2014 travel wishlist.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Japan:

England/Great Britain – Born, and raised for the first five years of my life, in England, I can say I know the country quite well… parts of it that is. Hence the reason I want to spend some more time here. I feel the need to better acquaint myself with the place I hail from.

Abbey Road
Yorkshire, Photo: Andrew Montgomery

I’ve never been to Liverpool, and I want to walk across Abbey Road and tour The Beatles’ old haunts. I’d then take a train from Liverpool up to the Lake District and spend some time on the walking routes here, maybe even climbing a mountain or two. I’d like to see the Yorkshire Moors Emily Bronte told me about during my Senior English Class and sip tea in an old Victorian B&B .

Pembrokeshire, Photo: Spila Riccardo

I’d then head South to my favorite part of the country… the English Seaside. I’d stop in Devon and Cornwall, places I visited during my childhood Summers, and then head further south to Penzance before taking a boat ride 28 miles out to sea, arriving at the Scilly Isles – the Southernmost point of England. And for good measure, I’d head to Wales and walk the rugged Pembrokeshire coastline and Anglesey’s pebble beaches ending up in a local joint to savor fish and chips.

My AFAR Wanderlist for England/GB:

Lisbon, Photo: Lonely Planet

Portugal – Sample the day’s best catch in the ancient fishing village of Ericeira, sunbathe on a crescent beach surrounded by limestone cliffs in the Algarve, try to decipher between tawny and ruby at 16th-century port houses in Porto, and rumor has it, sample the best sangria in the world… Portugal has been creeping up on my list for the past couple of years, and when I learned there was a Camino that started in Lisbon and meandered north through the quaint villages of this country, it got a secure spot on this years list of places I want to go.

Algarve Photo:

Since Portugal’s entire Western and Southwestern borders meet the ocean, it seems like the perfect Summertime destination for the vitamin D junkie that I am. But if the promise of sand and sun doesn’t have you throwing your bikini in your backpack right away, fear not… Portugal has plenty to offer.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, seems to be packed full of restaurants, wine bars, cafes, museums and shops. A ride on the free tram, (#28) will get you acquainted with the layout of the city and save your legs from some steep climbs.

Tawny port, Photo: Jon Sullivan

North of Lisbon is Sintra, a city that will appeal to the history buff inside of you. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage sight in 1995, this place has Moorish castles and royal palaces to spend a couple days exploring.

And Porto, or Oporto, well, the name says it all…

My AFAR Wanderlist for Portugal:

Photo: Fodor’s

Cuba – Cuba seems like a little secret to me. Growing up in the US, I quickly learned that it’s a country many consider off limits, unless you make the extra effort to fly via Mexico or Canada. However, having a British passport makes me feel I shouldn’t waste any time getting here. When I think of Cuba, a few stereotypical things come to mind… Cuban cigars, Che Guevara, old cars, rice and beans, old men sitting outside an even older bar playing chess, rum, Fidel Castro, the Embargo. So why do I want to go here?

Cuban Mojitos, Photo: JaketheSnake

I have a fascination with culture, specifically with rich cultures that have yet to be totally diffused or diluted by Western influence. Pair this with a rich, if tumultuous, history, and the intrigue is here. This place is practically in my backyard, and I can’t wait to explore the city of Havana, the beaches of the Southern coastline, and acquaint myself with the people of this island country.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Cuba:

Peggy’s Point, Nova Scotia

Canada – From what I have seen and researched, and from what my beloved Canadians who I have met on the road have told me, I have come to the conclusion that I will LOVE the coastlines of Canada. Every person I have ever met from British Columbia has basically convinced me to move there within minutes into a conversation. A mountainous coastline, world-class skiing, hiking, and yoga are all on offer here.

Then, I spend a few minutes researching the rugged coastline provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and they tease me to head east first. This opposite coastline looks idyllic and seems to have a serene beauty about it. I would love to spend time exploring both seaboards but there’s a lot not to be missed in between as well.

Prince Edward Island, Photo:

The Rocky Mountaineer offers a 15-day coast to coast train ride that also allows you to explore Kamloops, the Canadian Rockies, Toronto and Montreal. Train travel stirs up a sense of nostalgia in me, and it would be a nice departure from my normal backpack and hostel routine. But the $5,000 price tag means I may be saving for a while before this dream is fulfilled.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Canada:

Glover’s Atoll, Photo:

Belize- A good friend recently graduated from PA School. She talked of doing a trip before making a commitment to a 9-5. We talked of locations and criteria: somewhere warm, somewhere we could get to quickly, easily and on the cheap, and somewhere that wouldn’t break the budget. She said Belize, and I began to do the research. I scoured AFAR’s highlights, was immediately sold on the locale, and began planning a week -long trip.


I’m not going to lie, it’s the middle of January, and despite being in Atlanta, the lows are dropping below 20. My bones are cold, I need some sunshine and Vitamin D. Belize won’t break the bank… I imagine it to be a good mix of fun and sun, with just enough culture to make it less hedonistic than perhaps it could be. It’s nice to know the ruins are there, but show me to the beach-side hammock and hand me a pina colada please…

My AFAR Wanderlist for Belize:

Wineglass Bay, Photo:

Tasmania – All it took were a few pictures on a friend’s Facebook page to seal the deal here. I want to go to Tasmania and I want to go NOW! This place looks other-worldly. Not only are you surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen (online), it seems like you can do it all here – hiking, fishing, kayaking, river cruising, biking, dining, wining, surfing…

Cradle Mountain Hike

This Australian island 11 hours from Melbourne packs it all in. You can even get a glimpse of the Tasmanian Devil (yes, it does exist) and a wallaby. You can cover the entire country by car in about two days, but with stops, 10 days seems to be a fair amount of time to really see Tassie. 

My AFAR Wanderlist for Tasmania:

All this talk of travel gives me itchy feet. I find myself between Kayak and Skyscanner, scoping out one-way tickets….Maybe I’ll kill two birds with one stone and just find a job overseas…Not a bad idea!