Category: 2010


I don’t pay for internet at my apartment as most of the time there is free wireless floating around. But last weekend, when I write my posts for the week, I couldn’t seem to connect (it happens sometimes and hey, I get what I pay for) which is why I am sort of flaking this week. Obvious the 7 Links thing was a no-brainer, though it was interesting to go back and do some start research on my site, which I never do. And since my last picture post was oh-so popular (for me), why not do another one of some of my favorite pictures from Santa Monica last year? Last November, we had a major heat spell in LA, even for us for that time of year. And it was hotter at the beach then in the valley, which is super rare for us, no matter what time of year. I got down to the beach the following day for a work event and these pictures were taken from the hotel the event was being held at. These have not been enhanced in anyway and I “blame” the weather for these striking shots.

Catalina Island in the distance

Normal day, facing The 'Bu

Sunset, facing The 'Bu

Moral: Late last year, I was so ahead in posting, writing like a month ahead, but all 2011, I have nearly managed to break even. This past weekend reminded me that I really need to work ahead when I have the chance. But just a heads up, I don’t post when I travel and I’ll be traveling a lot in August, so it will be a light month for me. No pre-posting for me anytime soon.

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Used: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Virgin Airlines in its many forms. I have flown with three of their services. The first was with VirginAtlantic back in 2002, during my first trip to London. A friend of mine suggested them and told me they were awesome, so when it came to book my flight and they were on par with being as cheap as any airline, I picked them. Yeah, kind of a disappointment. The seats were super tiny and on my flight from LAX to LHR, none of the entertainment consoles worked. Granted it was the overnight flight and you were supposed to sleep anyway, but a total dissapointment! Luckily, they worked on the way back. Good things: I liked the little bag of goodies you got when you got to your seat. I loved the pen that came in the bag and used it for years. I just liked the way it wrote. Also, I did like the funkyness of it all, but would have gladly changed to blah to get the entertainment working. That was the biggest disappointment. Otherwise, don’t really remember much else about them. Haven’t flown with them since.

Funny enough, I totally forgot about flying on Pacific Blue until this week when I was reading about the change in name to Virgin Australia (from Virgin Blue, see below) to include Virgin’s services in the pacific, outside of Australia. This service started within New Zealand in 2007, when I was living in Auckland, and to promote the new services, the fares were dirt cheap, so I bought some for my family when they came and we had to fly from AKL to CHC. 4 one-way tickets for US$114! But you pay for what you get. They only flew back and forth from AKL, WLG and CHC on various routes a few times a day. It seemed they only had a two or three planes that flew back and forth, granted distances aren’t very far and you can get from AKL to CHC and back in less then 4 hours. But if one flight was delayed, the whole schedule for the day was thrown off. I booked the last flight of the day from AKL to CHC, just in case of any delay and by the time we left AKL, we were about 4 hours delayed and finally left AKL about an hour after we were supposed to land in CHC. It sucked, but it was supposed to be a rest day anyway. So we ended up “resting” in the airport instead of the hotel. Oh well. I was just looking at the PacBlue website and it appears that they do not fly within NZ anymore, just from NZ over to Australia. So I guess those routes didn’t last long the way they were booking them. Oy.

When I was in Australia, they have a low cost airline called VirginBlue. I flew with them from Brisbane up to Cairns. The airline was pleasent enough. At the time I flew with them (October 2008) they allowed one checked bag, so I sent my bag through and there was no problem. You had to pay for all entertainment (though ads screened non-stop on your personal screen for all those that didn’t pay, thankgod, no sound) and the worst part for me was no free drinks, not even water! I almost shat my pants when I heard that. The only water they had was bottled and you had to buy it. I was so mad. I depend on water when I fly and I stupidly forgot my bottle (hell, you can even bring FULL bottles through security when you fly domestically in Australia) but still. We might charge you for every little thing on American airlines, but I would hate to see the day when they won’t even give you water for free with no warning. That is the day, I’ll start to fight.

While I was away, Virgin America started up. One of there big routes that I have taken many times since being home in the LAX-SFO route. They are usually on par with Soutwest when it comes to everyday price, so for the most part, why fly SWA when you can fly Virgin? They are located in Terminal 3 at LAX and Terminal 2 at SFO (having moved recently from the International Terminal). My only recc for the LAX terminal is not to take the last flight of the day, as that is when ALL their flights leave, including some jumbo jets to Australia on VAustralia. The security line is forever (compared to other parts of the day) and it sucks. I have never really had a bad experience on VA. Some flights have been delayed for mechanical and weather issues, but I have always been kept up to date on delays. Since they know that everyone carrys on their luggage now, sometimes you’ll get a message on the overcome, asking people to check their luggage at the gate for free and I almost always do that. Unfortunatly, you have already come through security at that point, but still, it’s one less thing to carry about the terminal. And last time I did that, they let everyone with no luggage, no matter what row you were in to board early and get a jump on watching the tv that they provide on individual screens for everyone for free! That is the best part of Virgin is the entertainment and I always have a hard time choosing what to watch or listen to when I fly them. Their planes are clean and attendents are very nice. I always look forward to flying with them.

Moral: Virgin as an airline brand seems to be hit or miss. All the low cost carriers in Australia have different issues, so VirginBlue having issues is of no surprise. I just got a crap flight on VirginAtlantic. I don’t hold it against them, just everytime I have gone back, they haven’t been the cheapest, so I’ll pass. But I highly reccomend VirginAmerica for all those in the US, if they happen to be going your way.

Canada – Victoria, BC

Used: 2010

While I am all for spending a lot of time in one place, to experience it, instead of always moving on to somewhere new, the trip I took in Australia from Melbourne to Adelaide had some girls that were from Victoria on it and they couldn’t shut up about their island. So I when I was in Vancouver and I knew I wanted to come back into the US via the ferry, it had me take a side trip over to Vancouver Island. And while I know there is loads to do on the island, I didn’t have all the time in the world, so I ended up just being there for the day. And for the town, that was just the right amount of time. There really isn’t a lot of to do there. It was a very British city with all the gardens and really reminded me of Christchurch in New Zealand because of it.

Victoria Harbourfront

More Victoria Harbour

They have a cute little harbour front and some beautiful British buildings and a pretty good selection of tourist shopping for a smaller city, but the downtown area can be walked in an afternoon. I walked out to the end of Highway 1 (Mile 0 as they call it) and it was an excellent walk. I came across this super cute burger stand in the middle of this whole residential area, which was great as I was starving for dinner.

End of the line!

I stayed at the Ocean Island backpackers and the place was classic hostel, reminded me of me time in Australia. They have dorm rooms, but I stayed in one of their double rooms and the room was so freakin’ tiny! I mean, at least they warn you, so I was prepared, but anything more then one night, it would have sucked. The bed wasn’t very comfortable, the walls were paper thin and it was pretty warm out, so I had my window open and even though I was in a quieter room facing the ally, it was still pretty loud. But then, I am a really really light sleeper. Super friendly staff and all the usual hostel fixins’.

Moral: While in hindsight, I wish I stayed in Vancouver an extra day and just backtracked my route, I have no regrets on the route I took, as I got to spend some time on the water and see a new place! I rarely regret going somewhere new, no matter how blah it is.

Art in Victoria

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: 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!

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!