Before we left on this trip, we needed to get our passports renewed. In memory of my sweet mom who died March 26th, I had her photo put on my passport. HA!!! Sooooo many times on this trip I’ve started to send her a postcard but hopefully she has a premium seat from which she can watch our adventure. And maybe precious Leo is sitting next to her barking “Why didn’t I get to go to Canada??”
On Wednesday night we finally got our oyster fix thanks to the recommendation in our Frommer’s Guide. We walked just a few blocks to Joe Fortes Oyster Bar & Grill. It was all that we had been waiting for! We had a dozen oysters sourced from this area of the west coast–delicious. H had seared yellowfin tuna for his main dish and I had sablefish cooked in a very light Japanese flavored sauce. Both were excellent. For dessert I had banana cream pie and H had crème brulee—we took most of dessert home. So “Joe’s” is the real thing and it was only $100 more than that imposter of a restaurant: A Kettle of Fish!
The exchange rate here is just about even so we are not gaining or losing on the exchange rate. But we are amazed at how expensive everything is. I would say that at restaurants we are paying about 25% more than what we would pay at home. When we go into the wine shops (Canada has an excellent wine-growing region that we will be visiting later this week) we have to plead with the employees to find us a nice bottle under $20. Thankfully the cost of the Timeshare here was less than $100/night—a real bargain for the area and the quality of the apartment. And we have cooked in several times.
Thursday, July 1, was Canada Day—kind of like Canada’s birthday. We were told that it would be a BIG day of celebration—and we were not disappointed. (Although being awakened repeatedly throughout the night and early morning hours by the revelers and sirens was a disappointment!) We chose to spend the day at Grandville Island—just a quick walk to the ferry boat and a short boat-ride to the opposite shore (we could have swam the distance quicker than the boat ride it was so close). The day there was filled with great activities. First we had to get our Canadian Flags to wave and flag pins to wear. The island has an incredible 50,000 square foot market with a huge number of food, wine, flower, fast-food and craft venders. Before we left we purchased several great local cheeses, lamb sausage, local scallops, steaks, interesting breads, risotto cakes, couscous salad, and luscious local cherries and other produce. We enjoyed watching the street entertainers and especially loved the rescued dogs’ agility trials. H had to restrain me from trying to take home a little rescued apricot poodle. We had a nice lunch at Cat’s Social House: I had a short rib Panini and H had a seared tuna rice bowl—both were excellent. The kids were getting tattoos and face paintings of Canadian icons—I wanted one too but the line was too long. We headed home before the parade and were in bed when the fireworks went off—we’re USA duds.
On Friday we drove to the Museum of Anthropology—what a place!! I blew it because I did not take my video camera! We thought we would not be able to take photos… Here are some internet photos of the exhibits inside (if you take the time to scan through the images and enlarge the ones that interest you, you will be amazed): http://www.google.com/images?rlz=1T4GGIH_enUS253US254&q=museum+of+anthropology+vancouver+photos&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=XSgxTOu_J8KDnQfd4rDlAw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CB8QsAQwAA
Canada’s First Nation’s art and culture are fascinating. The term “First Nations” refers to the native cultures here. I find the artwork to be beautiful. The museum has many old and new examples of totem poles, masks, and wooden serving pieces for clan potlatches—all decorated in colorful, stylized renderings of local animals. There is a 3-story all-glass gallery with totem poles and other large pieces. As we marveled at the huge wooden monoliths, 3 bald eagles soared above the glass ceiling of the gallery. It was a lovely sight.
We heard about the street cart vendor called “Japadog” on Anthony Bordain’s TV program No Reservations. We were amazed to find one of the carts just a couple of blocks from us! So after our morning visit to the Museum we decided it was time for a Japadog. There is a long line to order and a long line for pick-up—it is a very popular street vendor (we saw at least 2 other locations around Vancouver—plus a few imposters). We both had the Terimayo hot dog with teriyaki sauce, Chinese mayo and seaweed. We added some wasabi mayo for some tang. We also got 3 different Japanese snack packages with savory puffs and a weird “mat” with a fish flavor–kind of like a soft cracker, I guess. All were good especially the hot dog.
I forgot to mention that in Portland food trucks (aka Roach Coaches) are the new eating experience. Our culinary tour guide said that many of the graduates of the culinary schools in Portland choose to buy food trucks instead of investing in restaurants. And at least one established chef with a following decided to chuck the restaurant for a less stressful food truck business.
After our gourmet lunch, we walked to Canada Place—the location of the convention center, hotel and the cruise ship docks. The building has a distinctive white sail design. We then got a 360 degree, unobstructed view of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains atop the Vancouver Lookout—a 28 story building. The elevator ride up was a little scary—it’s all glass and on the outside of the building and it puts your heart in your stomach.
We tried to book a naturalist tour of nearby Capilano River Regional Park but the tour was full. However the man who runs the tour company gave us directions to the park and said that the salmon were spawning and we would be able to see them making their journey up-stream. We also had hopes to see the eagles that dine on those salmon. So Saturday morning we were off to the “wilderness.” Alas, we did not see any salmon but we did have a nice walk into the forest. H took some nice photos (posted on this website). The only birds we saw were robins—like we haven’t seen a million of those already. The journey there took us over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, a landmark of Vancouver. Opened in 1938, it is a suspension bridge that spans the first inlet of the Burrard Narrows, Vancouver’s port area.
For lunch we visited a restaurant recommended by the Frommer’s guide, Salt, located on Blood Alley. There is no Blood Alley on any tourist map so we headed for the tourist information office. The guy there had never heard of it so he looked it up on the internet. Let me tell you, you would never walk down that alley unless you were sure there was good food ahead. It was a creepy back-alley with several large garbage dumpsters (and the smell of urine). When we got there the menu had a FAQ section and one of the questions was: “Is there any other entrance?” The answer is “no.” But the inside was nicely decorated (Frommer’s calls it “minimalistic modern”). The official name of this eating establishment is Salt Tasting Room—notice it is not a restaurant. And it was tastes that you got. With each plate you got 3 tastes of either meat or cheese and a condiment. I got the British Columbia plate (all local foods): Ash Camembert cheese with Similkameen honey; Kulen (a dry salami) with piccalilli relish (a sweet/sour relish); and corned beef with Guinness mustard. H got the butcher plate (all meat tastes): Mettwurst (a fresh smoked sausage) with Basque olives (the olives were great); Rosette de Lyon (a French dry salami) with piparras peppers; and smoked pork with cornichons. We chose the wine-pairing and got probably 1.5 oz of 3 different wines to taste with the tastes of food. I emphasize TASTES because each portion was maybe 3 bites with 3 sips of wine. Each food plate was $15 and the 3 tastes of wine were $15. We did enjoy the experience and all the food and wines were great but really, it was just a few bites and sips for $30 each. And, with their unbelievably awful location, they can’t need to cover high rental costs. I told you Vancouver is expensive!
We decided that Sunday was Chinatown day including a Dim Sum lunch. Again we trusted Frommer’s—the recommendation was The Pink Pearl. We had the address and could easily find the street on the map but we were not able to see exactly where on Hastings Street it was. But it’s in Chinatown—we can see where that is on the map so it can’t be too far. HA! Our LONG journey (1.5 miles) down Hastings Street took us through the worst drug slum that you can imagine. I cannot believe that we survived the walk through that area. I think the residents were so drug-addled that they could not believe that 2 old tourists were passing through. And this went on for blocks and blocks. (As we walked back at the end of our adventure [yes, we stupidly began the walk back], a very nice lady with 2 small children in the car stopped at the side of the street and asked us if we were lost. She told us what we already knew—we should not be walking down that street. She directed us to the next block over which was a lovely, flower-lined street with children and their parents taking leisurely walks as if there were not crazed drug addicts the next block over.)
Well, when we finally arrived at the Pink Pearl it was closed for renovation! Well good luck was with us—we had passed a very nice looking French café, Au Petit Chavignol, and we were happy to find a table in the crowded, homey dining room. (I don’t know how a lovely café could do good business in that area of town but it was crowded.) We had duck confit fritters with a poached egg on a bed of arugula. We were very happy with our meal and it was only $5!! I guess their prices reflect the neighborhood.
The panhandlers and drug addicts are really prevalent here. We are accosted by several meth-mouthed (i.e. toothless) beggars every time we go out into the city. I confess that I have lost my initial love for Vancouver. It is a noisy, expensive, bum-populated, ugly high-rise city. Three days would be enough to see the good sites but a week is too much. We loved Portland but we did not stay in the city (and there were panhandlers but not as many it seemed). Maybe if we had stayed downtown we’d have the same image of Portland but I don’t think so. I’m ready to move on to the Canadian Rockies…