Vancouver Vaca

After my worcation in Seattle (which was more work than cation), my boyfriend and I took the Amtrak Cascade to Vancouver for a full-on weekend vaca.  I’ve only had one other experience on Amtrak (you can read about it here) so train travel is relatively new to me.  This was my first time to cross our northern border, but my boyfriend had visited Vancouver before, so it was nice that he was somewhat familiar with the city.

We boarded the train in one of the economy cars and soon regretted it.  Leg room was tighter than we’d expected and our row was situated between windows, so we had to lean forward or back to get a view of the passing scenery.  The deal breaker for us was the group of loud story-telling passengers, each determined to one-up the other with a more clever anecdote (the majority having to do with chugging Red Bulls and running from Canada Boarder Service Agents).  My boyfriend and I quickly moved to a vacant business class car and paid the conductor twelve bucks each for the upgrade.  We settled in to bigger, comfy leather seats and enjoyed the increase in legroom and the quiet and privacy of the car.  To top it off, we had a perfect view of the coastal landscape.

Business class. Photo from http://www.amtrakcascades.com

My main reco for Amtrak is BYOF- bring your own food!  I attempted the breakfast sandwich and found it unfit for consumption.  Served piping hot in a factory-sealed plastic bag, the bagel was simultaneously mushy and chewy and the sausage and egg tasted like they were made from recycled basketball shoes.  I quickly tossed it and traded up for the broccoli cheddar quiche, which was at least edible.  Next time I’m packing gorp.

Photo from seattletransitblog.com

Four hours later we arrived in downtown Vancouver in the pouring rain.  We hopped on a bus outside the train station and headed to The Executive Hotel at Vintage Park.  This is where I first experienced the stereotypical Canadian kindness.  In our rush, my boyfriend and I forgot to get loonies and only had US dollars on hand.  The bus driver told us to get on regardless and not to worry about paying.  He made small talk with us and the local passengers and even gave us a few recommendations on the area in which we were staying!

The Canadian Karma carried over to our check-in experience at The Executive.  The concierge was an absolute sweetheart.  He gave us a tour, more recommendations for the area, and was so nice we agreed to upgrade to a suite- we just couldn’t say no to him!  It was absolutely worth it.  The room was huge, had an amazing view of downtown, and a Jacuzzi!

We spent the afternoon getting settled in, and trolling around the neighborhood under the protection of an umbrella.  Around 5pm we headed out for dinner.  We weren’t trying to catch an early bird special; we were shooting for a table at Vij’s, Vancouver’s hot spot for Indian (my favorite ethnic food).  I’d seen Giada De Laurentiis eat there on the Food Network and was determined to try it (she makes everything look so good).  Vij’s doesn’t take reservations and their doors open at 5:30pm, so we had to go early, whether we were hungry or not!

My patient boyfriend. The face says it all.

My boyfriend wasn’t thrilled about the idea of standing in line in the rain, but once we got in and were seated we knew it was worth it.  Vij’s is relatively small, so we were lucky to make the first seating.  Their staff is both inviting and efficient.  We didn’t feel rushed, but noticed that the tables turned quickly.  As soon as we were seated, we were given hot chi tea and brought a few rounds of hors d’oeuvres.  For a starter we got the Punjabi heart attack, a spoonful of spicy cashews accompanied by a quinoa salad.  For mains, we ordered lamb popsicles, spinach and daal.  The spices were perfectly balanced and layered so that each bite left us craving more.  By the end of our meal we were stuffed.

Lamb Popsicles

After dinner we walked around the neighborhood but soon retreated to the hotel to get a break from the drizzle.  The next morning we got up early and went for a run to Granville Island, a very cute art and entertainment district.  We had breakfast sandwiches from the Granville Market, a foodie destination.  If I had enough room in my suitcase, I would have brought home flavored salts, polished wood cutting boards, truffle oil, and many other goodies!  I restrained myself to just window shopping (it wasn’t easy!).  Full from breakfast, we opted to take a water taxi from the peninsula across the bay instead of running back.  These small boats are constantly running across the bay; it’s faster than jogging and much cheaper than a cab.

My boyfriend has a friend who lives in town, and he was nice enough to take us to Whistler for the afternoon.  We didn’t hit the slopes, but we enjoyed the scenic drive up to the mountain.  The ocean was on our left and beautiful mountains with glacier-fed waterfalls on our right.  Gorgeous.  When we got to Whistler, it was snowing and very cold.  The runs were packed with skiers and snowboarders taking advantage of the fresh powder.  The ski town is your typical set up with rental shops, cafes, pubs, and chalets surrounding a central square.

We had lunch at Earl’s, a more upscale than your typical lunch spot on a mountain.  I had clam chowder with a Caesar salad and a bloody Mary.  It was the perfect comfort food meal for a snowy day.  After our meal we walked through the square for a second, but were not properly dressed for the conditions.  It was time to head back to the city.  On the way back to our hotel, we drove through Stanley Park.  All I could think of was the cartoon movie, Fern Gully, as we drove through the misty, mossy forest.  I would love to spend time in the park (when it’s not raining).

Photo from Michael Kalus on Flickr

We didn’t get ambitious for dinner that night, knowing we had a long travel day ahead of us.  After five days of amazing restaurants, we found ourselves tooling around downtown Vancouver on a Saturday night, reservation-less, and starving!  That’s when we happened upon a tapas place called La Bodega.  We were seated immediately, which should have been a red flag.  We yawned through a boring cheese plate, bland artichoke hearts, dry Spanish meatballs, and a greasy tortilla.  The best part of dinner was the check, but we got what we paid for!

Photo from CRCA on TripAdvisor

After our disappointing tapas experience, we called it a night. I was ready to return to Texas and get back on my taco diet!  The next morning we checked out of The Executive at 5:45am and caught a 6:00am QuickCoach to take us to SEATAC airport.  The bus was comfortable, we got in and out of Customs quickly (although I was sad they didn’t stamp my passport!), and we arrived at the airport thirty minutes early (9:00am) so were able to take an earlier flight home.  Two connections and two time zones later, we finally arrived home at 8:00pm.   The Pacific Northwest was fabulous, and I hope to return when it’s sunny and warm and take advantage of the outdoor activities!  Plus, I wouldn’t mind another visit to Vij’s!

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4 comments
  1. Rob said:

    I couldn’t agree more about BYOF on the train. I once rode an Amtrak train to New York City, and the guy working in the cafe car told me he couldn’t make change for my $20 bill unless I bought more stuff. Seriously.

  2. NEokie said:

    Always go with business class on Amtrak; seats are big & comfy, ample electric outlets, & generally much quieter. The upgrade doesn’t cost that much.

    Train food — ugh! Even the frozen mini pizzas are awful.

  3. Sandford X. Birdsey said:

    Great pics and story — I’ve taken a weekend too in Vancouver but took the bus from Seattle. Anyway, I found your post when researching the business class seats on Amtrak.

  4. kevin m said:

    Great report on your quick trip to Vancouver! It was nice to see your pics along with the dialog. Thanks for taking the time to write it. My wife and I are taking a short trip to Seattle and are considering extending it up to Vancouver.

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