Thursday, May 17, 2012


The rest of the gang flew home shortly after Whistler, but, having never been in Vancouver before, I took a couple extra days to check the place out.

It was supposed to rain the first day that I was there.  This was annoying.  Pretty much everyone had recommended Stanley Park as the thing to see in Vancouver, and there didn't seem to be much point in wandering around a lovely park in the rain.  So, I figured I'd go to "a museum or something" on the first day, and then go to Stanley Park on the second day.  I went through a stack of tourist brochures, but couldn't really find much in the way of museums which interested me.  I just decided to go the nearest one and check out the art or artifacts or whatever the hell they had there.

But before I went, I also had the brilliant idea of having high tea.  (This was working on the assumption that Every Country Except The U.S. Which Used To Be Owned By Britain still does high tea.  This assumption has not yet been proven wrong.)  I found myself this blog over here, where some poor soul had painstakingly tried high tea all over Vancouver and reviewed them.  (Note to self: do this in Los Angeles.  It's a tough job, but ...)  The blog highly recommended a place called Urban Tea Merchant, which was less than two blocks from my hotel, and in the general direction of the museum.  It was fate, I tell you.

So I strolled over to the Urban Tea Merchant, where I sucked down a really awesome "Petite Afternoon Tea" (just enough food, and crazy tasty).  The place wasn't that busy, and nobody rushed me at all, so I took my time, enjoyed the meal, and did some reading.  (I was reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys on my kindle app.  More on the book later.)  And, as I was reading, I noticed the sky clearing.  Yes!  So, I tossed the phone in my bag, paid my bill, and figured, "what the hell, let's go to Stanley Park."  

It was a good walk down to the Park, but the weather was nice, it was largely downhill, and I was on vacation, so, no hurry.  By the time I got down to the park, I had myself a seat on a nice little park bench, and read a bit more right near this cherry tree.

(At least, I think it's a cherry tree.)

I sat there for about an hour, and then realized I should probably check out the rest of the park.  There's a lengthy walk around the edge of it (guidebooks said it takes a couple hours to do the circuit -- although I later heard that was an overestimate), and I wasn't up to walking that much.  I figured I'd start walking and then turn around at some point.  As it happened, they were just starting a trolley tour as I walked past, so I changed plans and took the trolley tour.  ("Where are you from?" "San Diego.")  It took us to various sites in the park, including these.

Totem poles!  I'm not normally crazy into totem poles or anything, but they were kind of the perfect thing to hit after a couple hours of Anansi Boys.  (Isn't it cool when it happens like that? You're just reading about all these animal-spirit-god things and then you hit the totem poles which are dealing with those same spirits.)

By the time I finished with the tour, it was just starting to get dusk-ish, so I headed back to the hotel.  I was well and truly wiped.  But I had a lot of planning to do.  (And a hockey game to watch.)  Now that I'd managed Stanley Park on the first day, I could plan something even more fun for the second (not rainy) day.

I again have to thank the internet for this.  It took a couple hours to put together, and it never would've worked had I not stumbled upon the right solution on TripAdvisor.  See, I wanted to go over to Vancouver Island, and see Butchart Gardens.  And maybe have tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.  But what with it not being high tourist season yet (indeed, the Very First Cruise Ship of the season was in Vancouver that day), they weren't running a full schedule of busses up to Butchart, and then I'd still have to take a tour bus to the ferry and ... the whole thing was turning into some crazy 12-hour day and I'd only get to the Gardens and nothing else.  And the internet said:  take a seaplane.  And rent a car once you get there.

The internet was right.  And, since there was just one of me, taking the seaplane wasn't crazy expensive.  (Although, honestly, this was in the running for one of the most expensive single days I've ever spent on vacation.)  Hell, I even got a cheap internet-only fare.  (And the seaplanes left from a terminal which was surprisingly close to my hotel.)

Quickie seaplane flight over to Victoria; walked over to the rental car place (where they tried to "upgrade" me to a station wagon -- dude, I'm on your island for one day, the only luggage I have is this tiny backpack, and you think I want a station wagon?); and made my way up to Butchart Gardens.  (On the way, I passed the line of people waiting for the bus up to Butchart, and realized I totally made the right call on the car thing.)

Butchart Gardens is a very pretty, very well-manicured set of gardens.  Look, I live near the Huntington, I know what good gardens look like.  Butchart is a lot smaller than the Huntington, but it makes up for it by actually designing each area and making it look all pretty, rather than just having a few hundred different breeds of roses all growing next to each other.  (Not to knock the roses; they're impressive.  This is just a different type of impressive.)  So, at Butchart, you get things like this:

I listen to music when I'm wandering around tourist attractions by myself.  Often, the music (on "shuffle") gives me something totally, laughably inappropriate for the circumstances.  Sometimes, it is crazy dead on.  Like when the music switched to the theme from Jurassic Park as I walked up an incline and this vista was revealed:


I finished with the Gardens, jumped in the car, and headed back.  I'd also read about Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian mansion being restored with original (and/or period) furnishings.  Since I had the freedom of my own damn car, I drove out to the castle and spent an hour or so checking out its nifty Victorianness.  Returned to the city with plenty of time for tea at the Empress.

I was so early, I had an hour to kill between returning the car and my tea reservation.  I had to gas up the car before returning it, and, on the way back from the gas station, I passed a sort of town square where there were folks hawking horse-drawn carriage rides.  Carriage rides!  I dropped the car off, walked back to the horseys, and signed up for a 45-minute carriage tour.  (The lady was pleased to have me -- she and the others had gone out there in the hopes of getting business from the cruise ship -- I was her firstest fare of the season.)  I'm also a pretty easy fare -- she asked if I wanted a tour of the harbor or the houses; I asked her to take me on whichever one she liked better.  She liked the houses, so we were off clippity-cloppity-ing down narrow streets, checking out neighborhoods of tightly packed Victorian homes (and even tighter garages -- it's a good trick fitting a car where a horse used to go).  They were adorable, and my driver had all sorts of cool stories about the history of the place.

Finished just in time for my leisurely tea at the Empress.  Where they addressed me by my last name, offered me reading materials, and would not let my teacup get empty.  I drink a lot of tea (and the "Empress Blend" is quite tasty), but, honestly, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get to the bottom of that cup without my wait-person picking up my teapot and refilling the cup (she mixed in the milk, too).  Service was impeccable; tea was tasty; mini-sandies were good (and plentiful).  (Too stuffed to have dinner that night.)  Finished tea with just enough time to walk back to the seaplane terminal and catch the next commuter flight (me and 10 people in business suits) back to Vancouver.

It was pricey, but I certainly can't be accused of not filling my day.  I managed to do everything I'd wanted and then some.  Great vacation.

No comments: