Archive for September, 2010


Used: 2010

To mix up my traveling a little bit, I decided to make a giant loop and go over to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island before returning to Washington State directly from the island and fly home instead of backtracking through Vancouver via Peace Arch. Going on harbo(u)r cruises are a huge touristy thing to do in both Seattle and Vancouver and while I love a good boat ride, I decided to combine it with actually going somewhere instead of just the cruise and back. After 2 days in Vancouver, I’m up super early to get to the ferry on time. I have made a reservation because I wanted to get on a certain boat to maximize my time in Victoria and everything was wickedly easy. I actually got lost on the way to the terminal but like a girl, I stopped at a gas station and asked for directions. The attendant couldn’t have been more helpful and it was a good thing I asked because even though I was going in the correct direction, there were no signs to the highway. Something I wouldn’t have experienced if I had any gadgets with me!

I took BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and the ride was great! So beautiful, especially nice because it was so early in the morning.

City to Island

Early Morning

Summer Mountains

The following day, the ferry left a little later but I still got up early for fear of traffic and after a quick breakfast at my favorurite Canadian coffee chain, Blenz I drove up to Sidney to get the ferry back to the US. Another reason I wanted to go this way, besides mixing it up is because my flight was leaving that day and after my experience at the border all those years ago, I didn’t want to worry about anything and my reasoning is that they only have to process so many people on a boat, they’ll be prepared for this. Leaving the country was a little interesting. I got questioned a lot, a lot more then the BC plated cars in front of me. They asked me the same questions over and over again and since I had nothing to hide it was fine, but I hate being made to feel like a criminal. I think it was because I was a single girl traveling alone, knowing no one in Canada, reentering the country via Vancouver Island after only being there a day and driving the Titanic. I don’t know. They even checked my bag and trunk briefly. Since the Sidney to Anacortes in Washington is owned by the Washington State DOT they only accepted USD’s on the boat, which I thought was kind of funny. I mean, it’s a valid question because the boat is going between two countries, but there were huge signs EVERYWHERE telling us all that USD’s only! I was the first in my lane in the car, which was awesome. The ferry ride was again great. We saw dolphins and the ferry was so empty! A great way and excuse to get on the water without paying tourist prices.

Islands

Warm ferry ride

US Volcanos

Once back in the US, they process you again and they put me in a short line and I got through quickly. The agent this time was very nice and said Los Angeles the “real” way, which is a nice treat in Wash State. I was waved through quickly. And then dropping the car off and back to the airport where check-in was a breeze. Since I flew Southwest I checked in everything and just got on the plane with my purse, my favorite way to travel!! It felt a little weird and naked, but I quickly got over it and didn’t miss a thing. Middle seat between two good people from SEA to SAC and then window from SAC to LAX. I don’t mind Southwest. My opinion is Southwest is like riding the bus and Virgin is like taking the train. They’ll both get you there, just in different degrees of comfort.

Moral: To me, transportation when I travel is very important. I will spend a little more on something if it’s different or mixes up the trip a little bit to make it a little more exciting then normal. I hate backtracking on the same road twice if I can help it.

Canada – Vancouver

Used: 2010

My new quote, Vancouver=Love! I had the best time in my new favorite North American city! After finding a good garage not too far from my hotel and questioning when they will be open Monday so I could get my car out, I check into my hotel, Grandville Grand and the place was great! European style like the place I stayed in Seattle but more amenities. I was again on the top floor (3rd only this time) at the end of the hallway in the back facing the ally, so the view wasn’t as good. But I am sure it was more quiet then the rooms facing the street. Single bed, sink, safe, mini fridge(!), alarm clock, tv (with massive amounts of cable!), soaps and towels. This place also had a huge kitchen, dining area, laundry and pay computers. And it was so nice! Everything was super clean all the time. The bathroom situation was the same, down the hall, toilet room and then a room with toilet, sink and shower. The only downside is the pressure was horrible. And I wish there was a chair in the room so I didn’t have to sit on the floor or bed, but the room was tiny and jammed a lot of stuff in. For location and amenities, the price was great.

I was in Vancouver for like 4 hours 20 years ago and all we did was go to Stanley Park, so I don’t remember too much. The first thing you notice when you drive in is the amount of brand new high rise apartments. It was kind of a shock on the sky line! Since I didn’t know the lay out of the city at all, the first thing I did on my first day (after stopping by Tim Horton’s and getting a donut and coffee) was go up to the Vancouver Lookout and had a great time! Sign me up for any observation tower in any town. I found a coupon in a flier at the information centre and $12 later I was spending close to an hour reading all the plaques and situating myself in the city. The best part of the ticket for me was that you can make as many return visits through the day! After a long day of walking, I returned at sunset and got totally different views. I loved it!

The Park 'N' Gas

Vancity!

I then walked around Gas Town and over to False Creek. Then not really knowing what to do next, I took a loooooong walk over to Granville Island. Not really an island but a great place to go shopping for local arts and food. I wish I hadn’t had lunch already and it was too early for dinner, so I just got a snack, but save your meals for this place! It’s nuts, but in a good way. After a long wonder (and tired feet) I took the Aqua Bus back to Vancouver and went back to the Convention Centre area to watch the sea planes take off and land and see the now extinguished Olympic Cauldron. The backdrop of this was straight out of NBC Olympic coverage (minus snow capped mountains) and it was just perfect to sit there and read. At this point I went back up to the Vancouver Lookout for a sunset view before heading back to my hotel.

View of North Vancouver at sunset

Vancouver City at Sunset

Hanging out, Olympic-style

Sea Planes in Vancouver

North Vancouver

Grandville Island and Vancouver

The following day, I did Stanley Park. A popular thing to do is hire a bike and bike around the edge of it as you can do it in half a day. Since I put a whole day aside for the park and didn’t have proper riding shoes, I walked the whole thing, stopping every km to do some reading and just enjoy the scenery. It was 8 km and a beautiful way to spend the day. There is lots to see in the park including Canada’s biggest aquarium and totem poles. I was so tired by the end of the day but really glad I did it.

Halfway around Stanley Park

I just loved the city. While Sydney has my most favorite harbour in the world, Vancouver does a pretty good job too incorporating the city and sea and park really well. The weather was perfect for summer and doesn’t seem to get super cold in the winter as it’s right on the water. It’s quite American (the money annoyed the hell out of me as did the taxes!) but it seemed more French then I remembered. I know it gets way more French the father east you go, but I don’t know if it was all the French tourists I over heard talking that made the city seem way more French then I remembered.

On the subject of money, gone are the days of cheap Canada. I exchanged some money at a counter and for US$100, they give me back C$100! How disappointing! Plus, all the money was green. What a waste! Also, a couple of things I am used to when I travel overseas, the first being all prices are all inclusive. I thought it was a lame US thing that they don’t tack on tax until the check out. I am used to that here. In Canada, they do that too! And tax was so expensive! Everything went up about $1 once I got to the check out. The other thing is the coin size. Australia has the most messed up system (their smallest coin is worth the most) but I am so used to 5cent, 10cent, 20cent, 50cent, 1dollar, 2dollar coins. The money in Canada is in the same denomination and size as ours! This threw me off so much because i just wasn’t used to it. Plus, everything is so expensive. To give you a good idea, their Redbox movie rentals cost C$1.80, while ours are US$1.00 (and with the exchange rate of pretty much C$1=US$1, don’t forget). Thought I just got my credit card statement back and I got a pretty good exchange rate on that, way better then cash. I miss cheap Canada!

Moral: While I am super glad I went, I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon. It’s not cheap to fly from LAX to YVR and with the exchange rate the way it is, it’s not a cheap trip anymore! On second thought, I am kind of getting over SF as my go-to getaway place. Maybe I should add it to my list? Or just save my money for something big.

Maple!

Used: 2008

Between Cairns and Brisbane there are three things that backpackers hit. The Great Barrier Reef (usually from Cairns), Fraser Island (slightly north of Brisbane) and The Whitsunday Islands. The town closest to them is called Airlie Beach and the backpackers trade has set up shop in droves in this tiny little town. There are high end hotels and guesthouses and hostels and not much in between. There are some more places to stay down the road in Cannonvale and most people at that point come with a car. But with no transport options other then The Big Red Dog, I was staying smack in the middle of Airlie. Like Cairns, the day to day life isn’t super expensive and there are deals around every corner. While up to this point, every backpackers adverted that they sell the cheapest way to experience The Whitsundays, I had a feeling I would get a better deal in town for what I wanted.

There are so many options and information on all sorts of boats, this was the most overwhelming thing I had dealt with during my trip so far. I didn’t want the cheapest. The cheapest boats mean sailing and you actually have to work and they just end up floating parties and orgies and that is so not me at all. I wanted something in the middle. I booked a couple of days at Airlie Beach Waterfront Backpackers not knowing my plans and while I was checking in I mentioned to the girl that I hadn’t booked my boat yet and could she give me some tips. This ended up being one of the best choices I made.

The front desk girl immediately started looking up with was available over the next few days and helped me decide on what I would like. There was a super hot deal on a really expensive boat that was like dirt cheap because it was leaving like the next day or something but it was still more then I wanted to spend. I finally figured out which boat would be best for me and unfortunately the next available sailing wasn’t for a week. Considering I didn’t have anything else to do, I booked it as well as extended my nights at the hostel. In booking the boat directly with the hostel, I got $25 off one night (barely a dent in my double room, but whatever) as well as free luggage storage and a deep discount if I booked my Fraser Island trip with them. That is what sold it for me. During my week, I hung out and poured over the brochures for Fraser Island and figured out which tour or if I wanted to do a self drive. Half way through the week I decided that I wanted to do a full on tour (which in itself was super smart on my end) and went back to the front desk and booked and paid for it all. Because I did everything through the hostel I got discounts on everything I wanted and nothing left over on stuff I didn’t, which is the problem I had with all the packages sold through the travel shops. There was hardly any flexibility on what was included and I didn’t want to pay for anything I didn’t want. In booking everything myself and getting deals along the way, I probably paid a little more, but I used
everything and nothing went to waste.

In waiting until the last minute I totally chose the right boat for me. I went out on this boat called PowerPlay and it was fantastic. Had everything I wanted and nothing extra. And just by the luck of the draw my boat had NO GERMANS or DUTCH!!!! I didn’t even realize it at the time how lucky this was as they are EVERYWHERE in Australia, especially during the summer months. There were two groups of English girls, an English guy, some Australians (who of course I liked the most) and a French girl and that was it!!! There was the captain, the hostess who was an Australian up from Melbourne and the dive guy was Canadian, so we clicked on our North American-ness. Overall I picked a good one.

Cons: They really pushed extras like going on as many dives as possible and once we were underwater, were encouraged to be as entertaining as possible for the camera, to encourage us to buy the pictures. That is so one of my least favorite things EVER on tours. We were encouraged to do flips which I was not comfortable at all doing and I said no numerous times before the dive guy let up.

Pros: Not a party boat at all. Both days we were so tired, everyone crashed at like 10pm, especially the second day. The first night I hardly got any sleep, I was so hot, so the second night I slept on the deck and it was fantastic. I love sleeping outside. Spent the perfect amount of time and timing at all the beaches and dives. I did a two day/two night boat and it was perfect as I started to feel a little seasick when we were driving in and out from the reef.

When I was done with the dive trip, I was taking the midnight bus out of town but before that I found the girl who booked the boat for me and told her about my trip, the good, the bad and how all in all it was a good trip for me. Man, I love the locals! I always had the best time chatting with them.

Sorry for the lack of photos. I was always really nervous in taking my camera out on the boat for fear that I would drop it, so all my photos are in the head!

Moral: I am glad I didn’t book my boat before I arrived as I feel I got a deal on what I wanted, but if you don’t have like months to kill, it’s better to prebook. The Whitsundays is a tad over-hyped but I still had a really good time.

Heading out to The Whitsundays

How to BBQ on a boat

Beautiful and Blue!

Used: 2010

What is so special about the route from Seattle to Vancouver? Besides some of the worst travel memories for me, not really much. For some reason, I guess I like torturing myself because for some reason I really wanted to recapture the hellish trip the family and I took nearly 20 years ago. My parents decided to take a day trip from Seattle to Vancouver and we ended up in the worst line ever both ways at border and each trip took about 4-5 hours. Googlemap it. This is a route that should take 3 hours. Tops.

So I take the Link Light Rail back to the airport to pick up my rental car. In doing research before hand, all rental car companies seemed to be outrageous! Over $500 for less then (but technically) a 5 day rental? What the hell?? After getting that punch in the face, I check to see what kind of discount programs I belong to will get me. I am a member of AAA (yay maps!) and AAMiles. I search around the AAMiles website and find that I can hire a car from Avis for about $230 for the same time period. I swear this is a typo because the price change is so much. But I book it, thinking I can cancel it, if something is wrong. But I try to log into the Avis website to check my reservation and there is it! Hmm..Everything looks okay, whatever! I go to the Avis counter and check in. All the people in front of me the agent tried to upgrade, etc, etc but when I get up there, she is like (to paraphrase), DAMN! You got a good deal. I realize she doesn’t try to upgrade me and I question it and she said because of the price I paid, I can’t upgrade but I can’t downgrade either. I get a little scared at this point. What are they going to give me? I go directly to the car from the counter in the terminal and I see this BOAT sticking out of the parking space. I know immediately this is mine. I throw my stuff in the backseat and play with everything and get the seat set up (I had to ask someone how to fix it), take a walk around the car and everything seems fine before I leave.

The Boat

I get on the road, making a pit stop to meet up with a friend in Bellingham for lunch. The town is super cute and we had lunch at this great pizza cafe before I get back on the road for a trip across the border. They now have signs that tell you how long the wait time is and with Peace Arch (the main road) being a 15 minute wait and the alt route being 10, I suck it up and take Peace Arch. Ahh memories! The border is a snap. The agent slightly questions all my stamps and stickers, but I am allowed in with no issue.

Peace Arch, Canada/US

My phone immediately changes to the Rogers network and I am now out of reach for a few days.

Don't call me, I'll call you (at 79cents a minute!)

I spin around the radio dial, laugh and sequel at the accent and am just super excited to be in another country! And then the traffic. They are doing some bridge an tunnel construction south of the city and traffic comes to a standstill. And we sit. And sit. And sit. And sit. I turn off my motor a few times. We are not moving. Flashbacks from waiting at the border 20 years ago are coming back. I am enjoying the music on CBC Radio 2 a lot. No commercials! It’s beautiful outside so I roll down all my windows and really, like when I was unemployed and lounging in front of the Sydney Opera house, I think, it could be a lot worse. If anything, the situation was just really annoying. I finally move forward a little and see that there are 3 lanes coming out of the city and only 1 going in. To the American me, this is just unacceptable. Yes, it’s rush hour and more people are going out then coming in, but we were just SITTING there. This would never happen in America. But then I remember that I am not in America anymore.

I nervously drive into the city as it seems the lines on the road have gotten narrow (and it doesn’t help that I am driving the Titanic). I find a covered garage to park the car for the weekend and check into my hotel. Day 1 down!

Moral: There are other ways to get to Vancouver. In doing other research, people also highly recommended taking the train, which would have been nice. But I am a car person and I like having the freedom (plus I wanted to stop in Bellingham) as well as the space to stretch out. I wanted (and went) to Victoria and wanted a car for that. But if I was going just from Seattle to Vancouver and back, I would definitely look into the train. Apparently if you take the bus, they make you get out at the border, get processed and then get back on, while the train goes straight through.

Bonjour y'all!

Australia – Townsville

Used: 2008

Just a quick stop off to kill time before I got back on the bus to go down to Airlie Beach and go out to the Whitsundays. There isn’t much to do in Townsville either but it’s the unofficial capital of North Queensland and has a lot of government buildings and therefore the biggest amount of Aboriginal people I had seen in one place thus far. They have a great beach front area call “The Strand” which has a fantastic park, swimming area and public water park type thing. I spent a lot of time just hanging out here. I also happened to be in town during a full moon drum circle event which was really fun.

I stayed at Civic Gust House which was okay. My room came with A/C, a tv and a fridge so just hanging out and doing nothing was fine with me in these conditions.

Moral: Not the worst place to have a stop off but as a general tourist, skip it.

Drum Circle during the Full Moon in Townsville

Free water playground in Townsville on The Strand

Used: 2008

I am going to state at the top that Magnetic Island (or “Maggie” as the locals call it) was probably the biggest disappointment in all of Australia for me. Right off the bat, the boat pulls in to the island and there are loads of half build expensive looking condos. I think, this place looks expensive, why is it known as such a “backpackers destination”? There are two buses to greet the boat each headed to each end of the island and I figure out which bus I am supposed to be on. We wind in and out of various bays and the driver kindly yells out the hostels at each stop. I am on the Base hostel route and most of the kids gets off there and I keep going until we get to Travellers Hideaway. The place is pretty much deserted but I find the guy who works there and check in. The room is clean, comfortable and cold! The air conditioning in the humid weather is working fully! The place is a little jail-like as the walls are painted cinder blocks, but at least it keeps the place cool. I wonder around Picnic Bay in about 5 minutes before I realize that that is it. There is nothing much there. Some now-closed stores and like two resurants. The only proper supermarket on the island is back in town where the boat drops you off. So I walk into town and pick up some food for the week, but suck up the $2 and take the bus back as it’s hot and I have a load of food. Prices were also a bit more expensive then on the mainland (but still not as nuts as Cape Trib).

There really isn’t much to do on Maggie but hang out. Apparently it’s really cheap to get SCUBA certified there, because the water is kind of crap, but I wasn’t going to spend money on crap SCUBA. The Base Hostels have something called a Full Moon Party every month, but I never heard good things about it and I am not a party person either. The Koala Bungalow hostel looked kind of awesome, but expensive for me. I went on a walk around the old Magnetic Island Fort area as I was told you could see a lot of koala’s in the wild. I think I saw like 2 and they were far off the path, so pretty disappointing. My guide book was grossly out of date. The town that I was staying in apparently used to be the main port of the island and used to be more hopping, but since the ship dock moved from Picnic to Nelly Bay, Picnic has pretty much died. What does that say for the island?

My favorite activity I did was go on the half day tour of the island. The guide was very informative and it included a tea break at the nicest hotel on the island which was a nice treat from the shitholes I was used to. The guide was also a bus driver on the island and it was nice to have some form of familiarity on my time there. I got to be familiar with all the other bus drivers too and it was nice to say hi to people almost every day.

Moral: I guess I didn’t do my research properly because Maggie was probably my least favorite stop on the tour. It was just a big disappointment all around. After my visit I actually went back to the most recent Rough Guides guidebook to read up on it and if I had the current edition, I probably would have taken a pass. Oh well, you live and learn.

Some awesome signage from around the island, koala's giving the finger

Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island

An island highlight! The place is overrun with Rock Wallaby's

Seattle

Used: 2010

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get myself writing about my current traveling as well as the past. If I keep putting off what I am currently doing, I’ll never get it done! So for my summer vacation this year, I decided to keep it local and traveled up to San Francisco (I haven’t been since December!), Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria. I have been to all these places before (except Victoria) but I went to Seattle and Vancouver as a kid and have been wanting to go back for years, but the reason I haven’t is that the price for plane tickets has never been justified for me. What the hell, it costs like $200-250 to fly from LAX to NYC, but closer to $300 to fly from LAX to SEA? That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, I know what that is, but it still annoys me, which is why I have been putting on this trip for so long. But this is the first summer I am back in the US and working again and since I didn’t really know my vacation schedule or how the company I work for reacts to traveling, I decided to keep it local and do something I have been wanting to do for a long time. And in regards to the plane tickets, since I just bought a bunch of one-ways, I don’t think I saved any money, but the timing was fine and the price was in my range. Oddly, my best deal was the SEA-LAX leg at $118 on Southwest (with a stop in Sacramento) and the worst was SFO to SEA at like $128 on Virgin. What the hell?

Anyway, since I don’t really have anything big coming up at the moment, I decided to bit the bullet and just go this summer. After 4 days in SF with my sister, mother and various friends, it was finally time to hit something new! During our marathon driving vacations as a kid , we went to Seattle with a day trip to Vancouver and ever since then I have been wanting to go back. I remember the city being just the right size, right on the water and beautiful! I get off the plane and the first thing that greets me is the HEAT. What the hell? Another reason I chose Seattle was to ESCAPE the heat. Of course, I had just come from SF, the always coolest city in the lower 48, so my comparison was a bit off. I took the lovely Link Light Rail straight from the airport right into town, and the last stop is like 3 blocks from my hotel. Choice!

I stayed at the Moore Hotel, right at the edge of Downtown and Belltown. 2 blocks from Pike Place Market! The room I reserved was European style and upon check-in, the guy asked if I wanted a room with AC and a toilet on a lower floor or a top room with just a bed and sink. He did slyly tell me that this was the hottest day they had had all year so far and that it was supposed to cool down and before I could even choose, he suggested the top room. And what a great choice! I had a view of the Sound and part of the Public Market sign. I left my window open every day but closed it within a crack at night because the hotel was on a busy street and it did get loud. The room was HUGE! Came with a HUGE closet, sink, desk, two chairs, queen bed, tv and drawers. And look what met me when I walked in!

Look what was on my bed!

I am so used to hostel style places and this place provided bar soap, cheap towels and plastic cups, it was beyond what I expected! Plus there was a public computer in the lobby so I could quickly check and clean out my mail every day. Not expected at all. And the best part was location. It was easy walking distance to EVERYWHERE. 3 minutes to Pike Place Market, 20 minutes to both the Space Needle and Pioneer Square and a nice 45 minute walk up to Volunteer Park and the “Black Hole Sun” doughnut. Plus, when I was there, the weather did cool down considerably.

I was only in town 2 days and I covered a lot of the city area. The first thing I did when I woke up on the first day was do the Underground Tour as this is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid. It was fantastic! Very funny and informative about the history of Seattle. My guide was also a history teacher for a while and her enthusiasm for the subject was a great bonus. After the tour, I walked back to Pike Place Market via the harbor front, which I have to say at this time, isn’t the most attractive. Some of the piers are done up in pure tourist fashion which I am kind of meh on. Great for kids though! I walked around the market and loved getting lost amongst all the levels of it. I watched some fish being thrown before grabbing some lunch in the area. In the late afternoon I walked over to the Space Needle and went to the top. I am sucker for observation decks and almost always have to go to the top of the highest building or famous structure in town. I did the Space Needle 20 years before, but this time I thought I would mix it up a bit and go at dusk and it was definitely different! I don’t know if I would recommend sunset for a first timer, but no matter what time of day, the view is great.

Mount Rainier in the distance at sunset

The Sound and Cascade range at sunset

Looking up the Space Needle

The next day, on the recommendation of the front desk when I checked into my hotel, I took a long walk up to the Capital Hill area and over to Volunteer Park. Volunteer Park is home to a pretty cool water tower you can walk up and have views of the park and Space Needle (FREE!) as well as “the doughnut” as everyone calls it. You might know it better as the thing Soundgarden were referring to in the song “Black Hole Sun”. After seeing it, guess what song I had in my head for the rest of the day? I took a leisurely walk back into town, stopping for lunch on Broadway which is filled with normal shops and restaurants.

Black Hole Sun, won't you come...

To read my Yelp reviews on places I ate, see my Yelp page here. One place I didn’t eat at was Starbucks. Since Seattle is known for coffee and I can have Starbucks anywhere else in the world, why would I have it here? I drank all the local coffee I could. And it was delish!

Moral: And that was my time in Seattle!! Perfect weather, enough to do around town for 2 days with no car. Anymore time and I would recommend renting a car for day trips to nature places outside the city. Project for next time!