Touring the Pacific Northwest: part III

The day we left Vancouver we experienced torrential rainfall. Although we hadn’t had the best weather during our stay, it hadn’t been too bad until now. Just as we’d finished packing up the car and set off, the heavens opened and the streets were flooded with up to a foot of water in some places.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived at the American border, the rain cleared up and the sun came out like some sort of cliché moment from an overly-patriotic Hollywood blockbuster. We waited about 40 mins to get our passports checked, before undergoing further inspection. It turned out tomatoes and uncooked Indian rice were the culprit. The friendly border control officer took possession of the contraband and waved us on our way.

An hour or two later we arrived in Seattle, the global capital of Starbucks (the coffee chain was founded there in 1971). They are literally on every corner, sometimes two on the same corner. We stayed in the leafy Capitol Hill neighbourhood, which boasts a bustling street full of cafés, restaurants, organic supermarkets and funky shops. We had coffee at Joe Bar (810 E Roy St), which has a kind of artsy/academic crowd, and Roy St Coffee (700 Broadway E), which turned out to be a secret unbranded Starbucks! You just can’t escape them in this town.

Elliott Bay Book Company: you can lose yourself here for hours

We had cheap and tasty pho at Pho Than Brothers (537 Broadway E) and yummy warm-at-home meals from Eat Local (503 Broadway E). Well worth a visit is the Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave), a beautifully-designed and well-stocked local bookshop. It’s worth poking around for the bargains as they have a great selection and you’ll never know what you find (a graphic novel about the settlement of Iceland, anyone?). Down the road is Standard Goods (701 E Pike St), which stocks a good selection of iron-on patches (I’m collecting them), funny greetings cards and trendy clothes.

Iconic Pike Place Market: home to fishmongers and cool bites

We took a walk down Broadway E via Pike St, which takes you straight through downtown to Pike Place Market (85 Pike St). The historic market is an must-see for any visitor to Seattle. You can pick up fresh fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables as well as homewares such as pottery and vintage magazines and prints. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole with its interweaving floors and narrow corridors. Although it’s busy, it’s full of original character and charm. The surrounding streets are filled with cafés and eateries, including the original Starbucks if you’re into that sort of thing. We ate at Rub With Love Shack (2014 Western Ave), where I had an juicy and well-seasoned Philly cheesesteak.

The next day we paid a visit to Ballard, an area north of downtown which was only incorporated into Seattle in 1907. The original town of Ballard was built on the fishing industry by mostly Scandinavian immigrants, a heritage that is still visible to this day. We spent the morning at the Nordic Heritage Museum (3014 NW 67th St; adults $8, students $7) and learnt all about the area’s Nordic-influenced history. The museum will soon move into a brand-new and very Scandi-looking purpose-built home in Old Ballard. I was lucky enough to run into an Icelander who was promoting Icelandic design at the museum, so I got to practise my favourite language for the first time for a while. To complete our Nordic day out, we had lunch at Scandinavian Specialties (6719 15th Ave NW), which as well as serving up hot and cold Scandi lunch favourites has a large selection of imported Scandi groceries, books and souvenirs.

The beautiful high street in Old Ballard

We didn’t have a great deal of time to spend in Old Ballard after our long day, so we decided to come back the next morning for breakfast. It just so happened that there was a farmer’s market happening that day (Sunday), with some great producers selling fresh food grown or produced in and around Seattle—we chose some yummy ice lollies from Seattle Pops (permanent shop at 1401 N 45th St). I had a great leek omelette for breakfast at Bastille (5307 Ballard Ave NW), and P had a fresh falafel pitta piled high with Middle Eastern pickles.

We spent three days in Seattle in all before making our way down to Portland. The drive is only a couple of hours, so it’s feasible to do a day trip if you’re staying in one city and want to visit the other. Read about our recommendations for Portland in the next post!

To be continued…

Touring the Pacific Northwest: part II

The drive from Banff to Kamloops was almost exhaustingly breathtaking. The winding road slowly descends through the Rockies, with each turn offering a new verdant vista that just doesn’t fit into a photograph. The beauty was magnified by a mysterious haze hovering over the trees, which we thought could have been smoke from recent wildfires.

The smokey haze over the Rockies near Kamloops

Kamloops is a fairly typical North American railway town with a few historical buildings but seems mostly to be geared towards travellers heading west towards Vancouver. It has a nice waterfront park for morning/evening strolls, a couple of decent cafés and restaurants and a small farmer’s market on Saturdays. We stayed at the Plaza Heritage Hotel (450 Victoria St, breakfast included). We had good toasted sandwiches at PDK Café (438 Victoria St), and a nice (massive) Chinese meal at Oriental Gardens (545 Victoria St), which does Japanese too.

Next up was Vancouver, where we spent just over a week. We decided to split our  time between two different Airbnbs in different neighbourhoods, the first in Mount Pleasant, which has great cafés and shops, and the second in Kensington-Cedar Cottage, more on the residential side of things. Our friends Riley and Steve, whose wedding we attended in August, were coming out to visit us and as it was Steve’s first time in Vancouver we had a bunch of things to tick off our list.

We spent one morning at the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge park (3735 Capilano Ave; adults $42.95, students $33.95) in North Vancouver, where you can walk over a gorge across a wobbly rope bridge or up in the trees. It was certainly fun but probably a little overpriced and slightly crammed with tourists. After the bridge, we had lunch at Lonsdale Quay Market (123 Carrie Cates Court). I had some amazing freshly fried chicken and P had a great falafel wrap.

Lovely Gastown, named for its gas lamps

We spent one morning at the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge park (3735 Capilano Ave; adults $42.95, students $33.95) in North Vancouver, where you can walk over a gorge across a wobbly rope bridge or up in the trees. It was certainly fun but probably a little overpriced and slightly crammed with tourists. After the bridge, we had lunch at Lonsdale Quay Market (123 Carrie Cates Court). I had some amazing freshly fried chicken and P had a great falafel wrap.

Up in the trees in Capilano

That afternoon, we headed over to Vancouver Aquarium (845 Avison Way; adults $39, students $30), which is nestled in the picturesque Stanley Park. The aquarium building is new and well-maintained, and the highlights for us were the sea otters and the seals. They are building a new Arctic exhibit which looks to be promising, so perhaps we’ll have to make a return visit.

The maze-like Granville Island Public Market

A must-see stop when in Vancouver is Granville Island Public Market (1669 Johnston St), which is centred around a few walkable streets nestled beneath the Granville Bridge (Vancouver was originally named “Granville” by British settlers). There’s great fresh fruit and vegetables, pastries and meats as well as hot food and craft stalls. You can easily spend a few hours wandering around the alleys there and end up with a significantly slimmer wallet.

On our last full day in Vancouver, we headed for Main St in the Mount Pleasant area to check out some shops we hadn’t had the chance to see when we were staying in the area. We stopped at Antisocial Skateboard Shop (2337 Main St), I bought a nice flannel shirt the very reasonably-priced F as in Frank Vintage (2425 Main St), we picked up some cute home bits at Much & Little (2541 Main St) and browsed the pop-up Sitka Surfboard (2549 Main St). We also had a quick and cheap bite to eat at Lucy’s Eastside Diner (2708 Main St).

Getting around the city was a doddle with the Skytrain, we recommend getting a Compass card (works like an Oyster card; deposit $6) that you can just top up and use as you go. If you have anything left over you can get it refunded along with your deposit before you leave town at the Translink customer service centre.

We managed to pack a lot into our eight days in British Columbia’s biggest city, and we would visit again in a heartbeat. We did so much more than I can detail here—for example we drove up to Whistler ski resort for the day, and spent an evening wandering around Stanley Park— I feel like we didn’t even see 10% of what the city has to offer. It’s also incredibly chilled out, the west coast vibe is present everywhere you go.

Vancouver was our last stop in Canada before heading over the border to the States. We won’t see Canada again until we head back to Toronto for our flight home in November. It felt weird to leave the country we’d learnt to love over the last two months, but onwards and upwards…

To be continued…

Touring the Pacific Northwest: part I

It’s been a little while since my last proper post, in fact we were in a different region in, a different country altogether. Right now, we’re in Eureka, California and tomorrow we’re heading down to San Francisco. But how did we get here all the way from Winnipeg?

Celebrating Canada 150 in Regina with a big sign

Our drive across the central prairie provinces of Canada took us to a handful of cities, our first stop after Winnipeg was Regina, Saskatchewan. It was a perfectly serviceable if not particularly exciting city. After that, we overnighted in Medicine Hat, a small town on the western edge of Alberta. We had Papa John’s pizza served by a former employee of P&O Ferries (I can’t remember where he lived in the UK, but he was curious about our trip). The next morning, we set off for Calgary, the largest city in Alberta.

Calgary was a pleasant surprise in a number of ways. A few of our Canadian friends had told us that Alberta was like the “Texas of Canada”, all cowboys pick-up trucks and smoke-filled saloons. This was not our experience of Calgary at all. We found a metropolitan, bohemian metropolis with a few achingly trendy neighbourhoods and a surprisingly (given Calgary’s status as Canada’s oil capital) pedestrian-friendly streetscape. We spent most of our time around 4th St and 17th Ave, home to dozens of great restaurants, and a charming bookshop called Shelf Life Books (1302 4th St SW).

The Danish-Canadian Club in Calgary really nailed the whole Danish pub aesthetic

We made an obligatory Scandi stop at the hyggelig Danish-Canadian Club (727 11th Ave SW) for lunch, where I got my gravad laks fix. It was an unexpected slice of Scandinavian comfort in the middle of a Canadian metropolis, and very much welcome at that point in the trip.

After a couple of days wining and dining in the city, it was time to drive up into the Canadian Rockies to our next stop: the resort town of Banff. The town’s setting is quite spectacular—Banff is loomed over by three or four major peaks—and the mountain air is crisp and clean.

Although the town itself is a bit touristy and gimmicky, it nonetheless has its charm. The Banff Springs Hotel (405 Spray Ave) is a grand edifice constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century, best observed from the aptly-named Banff Surprise Corner, which is on the other side of the riverbank.

Banff Springs Hotel in all its Andersonian glory

Having lived in Iceland, I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Banff Upper Hot Springs (Mountain Ave; adults $7.30, swimsuit rental $1.90), if only for a comparison to the genuine article. The spring itself was essentially a smaller version of any of the public swimming pools found in Iceland, although the rules around hygiene were more lax than I’m accustomed to. The changing room was quite dirty by Icelandic standards, and there were a lot of tourists on their phones(!) in the water, which kind of killed the tranquil atmosphere. The view from the pool over the town and surrounding valley was pretty amazing though.

The real reason we had come to Banff was to experience the Canadian Rockies. We decided to take a trip up towards Jasper National Park, which is a couple of hour’s spectacular drive north of Banff. The 93 highway turns into the Icefields Parkway, a truly stunning route that takes you past pristine lakes, snow-dusted mountain tops and eventually the Athabasca Glacier—the true highlight. A short walking path takes you right up to the edge of the glacier, which although receding, is still huge. Keep on driving 80km or so and you will end up at Athabasca Falls, a small group of waterfalls well worth a visit too.

Athabasca Glacier seen from a distance

One thing that struck us whilst travelling through this mostly unspoilt landscape was the sheer number of tourists. We arrived at the end of the season, in early October, yet there were still thousands of tourists in the town of Banff and dozen of coaches shuttling tour groups around. We were of course part of the problem, but we couldn’t help but think that the volume of tourists detracted somewhat from the experience.

From the drive back to Banff from the Icefields Parkway

That evening, we returned to Banff and had some excellent Greek food at the Balkan Restaurant (120 Banff Ave), before rolling into bed for a some well-earned rest for our drive to Kamloops, British Columbia the next morning.

To be continued…