A new destination means another early wake up call. Around 6 AM I got up and set out the door soon after to catch a train from Seattle to Vancouver. Traveling by train with Amtrak is a bit like taking a plane: I had to check in luggage and was assigned a seat, which is why I had to arrive at the station an hour in advance. The train ride takes your right along the Pacific Coastline and after a 4 hour journey I arrived in Vancouver. I found my hotel, only to meet with a very unpleasant surprise.
Boat ride to find Orca
My first day in Vancouver was a good one, but there was a part in the middle that was rather blah. Like I said, the journey went fine and the landscape we traveled through was stunning. Later in the day I met up with my mom’s cousin who drove me around to show me the Vancouver surroundings and then we went to his place to wait for his wife. Once she was there we had a lovely dinner and then they were kind enough dropping me off at my downtown hotel and driving me around town and explaining something about all the different areas of town. So it really wasn’t a bad first day, but it was tainted by one of my most horrible traveling experiences.
Upon my arrival at the hotel in Vancouver, I wanted to pay for my room with my credit card. And then the card was denied. That is something that has never happened in itself, and so after a few times the hotel clerk and myself determined it wasn’t their terminal but my card. I didn’t know what was going on, but thinking it must have been blocked for some reason or other I decided to try and contact my bank. Unfortunately that was a bit of a fiasco and a long story short: I ended up calling my mom who called Interhelp who could tell me what to do. I ended up paying for my room in cash and called my bank in the middle of the night (because they are only opened during Dutch office hours) to have it reactivated. Apparently the card was blocked because I crossed the US/ Canada border and for security reasons they then automatically block your card. I have yet to visit my bank to get a full explanation, but that whole ordeal left a bit of a sour taste on an otherwise lovely vacation.
Waterplane landing in the harbor
Stanley Park seawall walk with harbor and Mount Baker in the background
Large container ships in the harbor with mountain ridge
Totempoles @ Stanley Park
Luckily the money situation was fixed within 5 minutes and after a good night’s sleep, I set out to explore Vancouver. I got some groceries from Safeway, arranged a bus ticket for a trip the next day and set out for the Seawall which allows you to walk around Stanley Park. It was a beautiful day and so I thought a good walk would be a good idea. I forgot to bring sunscreen though so that was rather painful in the end, but the walk itself was awesome. It starts in the harbor, near the Waterfront Skytrain station and then you can just walk all the way to the other side at English Bay. It’s a 9 km walk and I walked it at a leisurely pace. On the way there were views of the mountains that surround Vancouver, the Vancouver skyline, Mount Baker, plenty of lighthouses and the Lions Gate Bridge which leads up north. After a day out in the sweltering sun, my feet were sore and I found a Lush near my hotel. Since my room came with a tub, I decided to try some Lush bathbomb as a treat for my burning skin.
Ride to the top
(and yes I’m still afraid of heights, just in case you were wondering)
Proof! My first time on top of a mountain coincidentally.
Spotted some wildlife too… Can you see him?
In a gondola going Peak to Peak from Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain
Celebration of Light Fireworks in English Bay
After that first full day with activities, day 2 would prove longer and even more tiring. I had bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Whistler Mountain and once I returned to Vancouver it was time to see a massive fireworks display. So again an early morning: I had to arrive at the bus station an hour in advance, which meant I had to catch a bus from downtown to the bus station at 5.30 in the morning. The bus ride to Whistler takes about 2 – 2.5 hours and takes you through some stunning views of mountain lakes and Vancouver. It’s crazy how you get Vancouver and then BOOM, mountains. We had a short stop in Squamish and then continued our journey to the town of Whistler. In 2010, the Olympic Games were held here and the very mountain I stood on top of, was the scene of skiing and various other parts of the tournament.
I bought a ticket to go up the mountain using gondolas and ski lifts and figured out what to do once I was there. There were some hiking trails set out according to the map I received from the lady at the Visitor’s Center which was conveniently located near the bus station. I walked some of the trail at the first stop and then waited for the lift to the peak to be opened. I walked along the path to that lift and was brought to the top. I shot plenty of pictures, did a little bit of hiking (which, with asthma and short Achilles heels is no ill feat let me tell you) and then went back down to take the Peak to Peak gondola to Blackcomb mountain. The gondola is suspended on only 4 different poles to cross the valley between the two mountains and it is listed as having the longest suspension cord. But I did it.
After all that (which took a good 3 hours), I walked around the town for a bit and since it was a Saturday there was plenty to see. Most of the streets are shopping and food outlets, but there was also a busking competition going on. On one of the squares a band played rag time jazz songs and they were really good! After they stopped playing, I walked around and found a supermarket where I bought some snacks for the road and caught a bus back to Vancouver around 4.30 PM. I wanted to be back in town on time so I could see the Celebration of Light fireworks display which happened to be on while I was there. There was a huge turn out and thanks to the nice man in the Peak to Peak gondola I was able to find a good spot to see the fireworks that wasn’t too far from my hotel. My second full day in Vancouver can rightly be dubbed a highlight of the trip.
Strike a pose!
I think these pictures speak for themselves don’t they? Yep, my final day in Vancouver featured a whale watching tour. I knew there were a few that were leaving from Vancouver and when I found out they were to see Orca, I was sold. I already saw whales in Boston 3 years ago, but that was a humpback whale. Orca are far more entertaining let me tell you that. I ended up being lucky to a find a place that still had a spot for me on a tour. Due to the credit card fiasco I wasn’t able to arrange a tour any sooner than Friday and so I knew it would be a long shot. But I found a company that had one spot left and so I set out to Granville Island around 10 AM.
It was easy to find the place, I paid my fee and set out to the Granville Public Market to grab a snack (a delicious wheat free piece of carrot cake) and a cup of tea. The Public Market is a large covered market place where they sell anything food wise. If you’re a foodie you will like this place. They had some affordable fruit on sale and there were loose leaf teas (and one place also sold them per cup on the go, which is what I ended up having), coffee places, bakeries, places that sold spices, you name it: it was there. Since it was still fairly early on a Sunday morning it wasn’t too busy but as I went outside to eat my snack it rapidly became busier.
I was once again early (what else is new) and found someone else who was also on the tour who was by herself. We started chatting and then we heard our boat would leave a little later because some people were late. No big deal, because this company promises to search until they find whales, even if it takes a 7 hour trip. And we were in for a long haul. The whales were found near the San Juan Islands which is in fact in the US, and thus it took nearly 3 hours to get there. The boat spends about an hour in that hour I got to see these whales do anything and everything they are famous for: from somersaults to cartwheels, great big jumps and just popping up every once in a while. A group of 81 whales lives together in the waters reaching from Seattle to Vancouver and we got to see roughly 70 of them (all grouped into groups of 4 – 5 whales) all together having a little get together. Due to regulations the boat has to stay away from the whales, but near the end of our hour with the whales a mother and her baby passed just a few meters by our boat.
All in all that was an amazing experience and I was very lucky to come on this particular trip to see something so extraordinary. We headed back to Vancouver, again the boat ride was no punishment either as you get to see plenty of great views, and again Mount Baker popping up in the background. Near the end of the boat ride, just before we entered the harbor, the captain took us to North Harbor where a group of seal were lounging out on some tree trunks catching a bit of sun. So I got to see two species of animals all in one trip that I had never seen before. Another highlight right there!
After spending 7 hours on a boat and seeing tons of amazingness I was absolutely beat. I went to bed early, which was a good thing because the next day I would already be traveling to my final destination for the trip.