Monday, July 30: Leaving Whidbey

Well, that’s a negative headline. How about “Going to Seattle?” Because that’s what we did. But Whidbey Island was very nice, the Inn was very nice (especially sitting on the deck looking at the water). We were not anxious to leave. And who knows what Seattle will bring?

Washington State Ferry, July 2018

Like our previous two transfers, this trip involved a ferry. Unlike them, there is no reservation – it was a short ferry ride (20 minutes), and close to the hotel (20 minutes), but we had no idea how long the line would be. The ferries run every 30 minutes, and the two of them have a maximum capacity of 270 cars per hour. I checked the wait time on Sunday afternoon, and it was over two hours, but that was clearly the weekend traffic heading home. I started checking this morning, and the report and traffic cams (very hitech) showed no line. As it turned out, we got on the first ferry after we arrived and only waited about 30 minutes.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel, July 2018

The ride down to Seattle was uneventful. We checked in at the Fairmont Olympic (room not ready, of course), went for lunch, then unpacked. Sally had arranged for the best available view, which included a glimpse of Elliot Bay in the distance.

View from a room, July 2018

After unpacking, we had to decide how to spend the remainder of the afternoon. We made the obvious choice, which was Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market, July 2018

Pike Place is a combination of a touristy T-shirt/souvenir/food & drink area, and a working market specializing in fish, produce and meat. It was extremely crowded, even on a Monday. One of the highlights is the original Starbucks, which we walked past. There were two lines outside: a formal one to get inside and get your favorite drink, and an informal one to get your picture taken in front of the store. We did neither.

Waiting at Starbucks #1, July 2018

We wanted to stop for a drink, but none of the places I checked out around the Market had A/C, and they were pretty warm inside. And they all had that “worn” feel that some people prize. So we headed back towards the hotel and stopped in a wine bar.

Waiting at the Crocodile, July 2018

Later I went out for dinner, and tried a place that the concierge recommended that had light fare and live music. Unfortunately, there was a line to gain admission and I didn’t feel like waiting. So I found a Bar & Grill and had a pleasant enough meal.

Market Bar & Grill, July 2018

Saturday, July 28: Langley, Whidbey Island

To start, let’s straighten out the name: Joseph Whidbey was an Englishman and Master of the HMS Discovery who explored this area with Captain George Vancouver and Lt. Peter Puget. He returned to England, and retired from seafaring. But left his name here. Langley is a small town on the southeastern coast of the island.

Escaping the fog, July 2018

We took the ferry back from SJI, which arrived about 35 minutes late to pick us up. No explanation was offered, of course. But then we ran into a dense fog a few miles off of Anacortes, our destination, which slowed the ferry to a crawl. That cleared things up, so to speak. From the ferry terminal we drove over an hour (plus a lunch stop) to Langley. So we wound up arriving later than we planned, but we’re on vacation, so who cares?

The Inn at Langley, July 2018

Out hotel here is a 26 room boutique on the water. The driftwood from yesterday sits on the tiny beach directly below our 2nd floor balcony, which looks across Possession Sound to Camino Island, and the city of Everett on the mainland 10 or 15 miles away. The room is quite nice: simple rather than ornate, large enough without being huge. What is overdone, however, is the “special dinner” in the hotel restaurant. $160 pp, plus wine, tax and tip. Judging by the not-very-impressive continental breakfast this morning, it’s overpriced.

Early morning in Langley, July 2018

I was up early this morning, so I took a daybreak walk around a town that wasn’t really up yet. By the time I came back at 7:30, none of the restaurants in town were open yet.

Langley scenes, July 2018

After breakfast Sally and I went for a shop tour of 1st Street, which is where the Inn is. The shops were nice enough, and she bought something nice. We had lunch, then retired back to read.

To cap off the afternoon, we did something I don’t think we’ve ever done while traveling – we went to see a movie. I rather enjoyed Incredibles 2.

Thursday, July 26: A couple of walks

English Camp and Block House, July, 2018

This morning I went for a hike. Nothing on SJI is particularly hilly, but the highest point on the island – Young Hill at 650′ – is conveniently located in a National Historical Park, namely the English Camp area. This was the northern counterpart to the American Camp which I described yesterday, and which is located at the south shore. Where the American Camp is sparse and sandy, the English Camp is wooded and hilly. The UK also invested more money in the camp during the dispute, as they were one of the richest countries in the world at the time, with a thriving settlement in Victoria on Vancouver Island only a few miles away. The Americans, on the other hand, were consumed by the Civil War and never really invested much in their base.

Sitting in an English garden, in the sun, July 2018

The English Commander insisted on a formal garden for the enjoyment of the officers’ wife’s. Of course.

View from Young Hill, July 2018

The climb up to the summit of Young Hill was actually 650′, since I started from sea level. It was a good climb, rewarded with views of SJI, the neighboring islands, and the Olympic Peninsula.

The lower building is our hotel, the upper is a private residence, July 2018

After returning to Roche Harbor, Sally and I had lunch and then walked around the property some more. The marina is beautiful and there were a fair number of yachts for sale in the $1-5m range.

Scenes from the marina, July 2018

Plus all the usual services: a post office, seafood for sale, RIBs waiting to ferry you to your yacht, etc.

Wednesday, July 25: San Juan Island

Today was our first full day in SJI and we set out to explore.

First a bit about this place, which we unexpectedly found ourselves staying at. Roche Harbor Resort is located at the site of a 19th and 20th century lime company called (wait for it …) Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Company. In 1956 the 4,000 acre property was bought, the lime operation was shuttered, and it was converted into a resort. Many of the old building have been repurposed into facilities for the resort, which now has hotel accommodations, condos and private lots with private houses. And a 400 slip marina.

Market, July 2018

Since there’s a grocery store on premises, we bought some supplies and ate breakfast in the room, which is quite nice and has a covered porch with an excellent view of the marina.

Views of Roche Harbor Marina (not from our room), July 2018

After a late breakfast and some relaxation, we took off for an island tour. Our first stop was Friday Harbor, the only real town on the island and where our aborted hotel stay was to take place (1). Our immediate reaction on arrival was that we were in Martha’s Vineyard: the ferry dock, the restaurants facing the harbor, the same stores selling the same stuff, the real estate agents. I don’t mean this in a negative way; it’s a pleasant little place with a downtown of perhaps 8 blocks altogether. The whole island is not very crowded, which is surprising considering it’s the last week in July and the weather is beautiful here. It’s also not empty, but we had no problem getting a table outside with a harbor view without any wait at all.

Friday Harbor, July 2018

There are only a few sightseeing opportunities on SJI and we set out to see two of them. The history of the island is that the San Juan Islands were the subject of a 12 year saber-rattling between the US and UK over ownership, as the issue was unclear from the terms of the Treaty of Oregon of 1846. In 1859, the British and the US both established army camps on the SJI to protect their interests while the diplomats worked on a solution. These were at opposite ends of the island and called the American Camp and English Camp (clever, I know). We went to see the American Camp. It’s a mostly desolate strip of land along the south shore, with two structures still standing and miles of beaches to walk.

In deference to Sally’s ankle (not to mention the fact that there really wasn’t much to see), we walked in to see the two buildings at the parade grounds, then walked out. We never got as far as the beach, it would have been too much.

Historically interesting, but visually not exciting. Oh yeah, the dispute was settled in 1872 by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who was selected to be an impartial judge and decided in favor of Americans. I don’t know why he was given this job, nor why he decided what he did. But everything here would probably cost less if we were paying with Canadian dollars 😉 .

Lime Kiln State Park and lighthouse, July 2018

The last scheduled stop was Lime Kiln Point State Park, the site of a very picturesque lighthouse and also renowned for Orca sightings. The location is indeed pretty, and Orcas are indeed sighted in the channel adjacent to the park. However, your chances of seeing one if you watch for an hour is less than 1%, so we didn’t stay very long.

While we were driving, Sally had mentioned that there was a goat farm that we could think about visiting. So we pulled over and did a bit of googling, but couldn’t find anything. Then, just before we got back to the resort, we passed an alpaca farm. So we stopped and looked around the alpaca products shops – sweaters, scarves, jackets, stuffed animals, etc. perhaps we should have been looking for this 😉 .

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(1) For those keeping track, we were in-and-out of hotels four times yesterday: out of the Rosewood Georgia in Vancouver, in and out of the Friday Harbor Inn (complete with me lugging all our stuff up and down a narrow flight of stairs) and in to the Roche Harbor. Neither of the latter two seem to believe in bellmen.

Monday, July 23 – Gastown, finally

(Note: this should have been posted yesterday, but I got distracted.)

Today we screwed up our courage and went back to Gastown, which you’ll recall we were unable to find on Friday. It seems we were a couple of blocks off and were in the middle of the skid row, which gives a distinctly different experience than we were expecting. This time we decided to take no chances: we took a taxi to the Steam Clock at the heart of Gastown. Seven minutes later we were there.

Gassy Jack and the Steam Clock, July 2018

Gastown allegedly got its name from a character named Gassy Jack, so called because he liked to talk a lot, hence “gassy”. He was an Englishman who owned a bar or two in the area for a few years, but also lived in many other places in BC and California during his 44 year life. He worked as a merchant seaman, and failed as a miner. Anyway, there’s a statue, so the story must be true.

Looking for a place to eat, July 2018

The core of Gastown is a few blocks along Water Street filled with bars, restaurants, clothing and decorating stores, gift shops, galleries, etc. The area was once the core of Granville, which grew and was renamed Vancouver in 1887 as the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built. The surrounding blocks are a bit more residential, and also quite trendy.

The overwhelming majority of the people we saw in Gastown were either shop workers or tourists, many of them from the giant cruise ships which inhabit Vancouver all season. As with our day yesterday, the crowds were just short of “too much”. We had no trouble walking on the sidewalk, nor getting a table for lunch.

Since we’re way past the souvenir stage, our shopping is generally very casual and we rarely actually buy anything. But it was pleasant today, and we enjoyed the area.

Art, but not “Art”, July 2018

After walking home, we rested for a while then went across the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery. They had a number of exhibits on their four floors of gallery space, much of which was terrible. I’d say the worst piece was a video of the (female) artist and a man taking turns washing each other. I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t get it, because I’m highly confident there’s nothing there to “get”. But there were also paintings by one of BC’s most famous artists, and another set by an artist from Ontario. These were mixed at best, with some interesting pieces, but a lot of stuff I wouldn’t hang in my house.

Tuesday, July 24 – A long and stressful day with a good ending

I realize I never posted about our last day in Vancouver, which included finally finding Gastown. But that will have to wait as today was … quite a day.

The plan for the day was to leave our hotel in Vancouver at 9:30, drive about an hour to the US border, wait on a line, then go to the airport in Bellingham to rent a car. From there, drive about an hour to the 2:00 pm ferry to San Juan Island. And check into our harborside hotel in Friday Harbor. We should have had plenty of time (he said, giving away the punch line).

Ferry to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, July 2018

So we did leave the hotel at 9:30. We had a reserved a car and driver through the hotel, and it turned out to be Matt, our guide from Saturday. About 30 minutes into the drive, we hit standstill traffic on the highway. At first I thought we had reached the line for the border already, but after a while Matt told us that this was some traffic problem. We crept along for quite a while, but after about 30 minutes of next-to-no progress, we started investigating alternate routes. Matt and I discussed some options (1) and we exited the highway and took a loop around the jam.

Once we were back in motion, we checked the helpful website that the Canadian Border Patrol maintains showing wait times at the crossing. They said no wait at first, then later changed it to 20 minutes.

We wound up waiting about 45 minutes.

We finally got to Bellingham International Airport about 11:50 am, and we had been told we needed to be on line to board our reserved ferry by 1:00-1:15. And it was about an hour away. I rushed into the terminal to the car rental desk, hoping there was no line. The only customer was saying thank you as he left, and the clerk got me set expeditiously.

Throwing our bags in the car with help from Matt, we said a hurried goodby, set our destination in Waze, and took off.

We pulled up to the ferry toll booth at 1:00 pm exactly.

After boarding and departing precisely at 2:00, we took a few deep breaths and started to relax and enjoy the smooth one hour ride out to San Juan Island and our hotel, the Friday Harbor Inn. Little did we know that the day had more surprises in store.

Shortly after checking in the Inn a few hundred yards from the ferry dock, we knew we had another problem. Rather than a narrative, here is a summary of why you should never stay there:

1. There was loud construction going on outside our room from 9-5 each day, unless they work late.

Partial Harbor View, Partial Construction View, July 2018

2. The bathroom had a water closet for the toilet. The rest of the room – sink, large tub, etc. – was open to the bedroom across the tub. . Yet there was a a door into the bathroom through another wall.

Notice the door coming into the open bathroom from the left!, July 2018

3. There was a room safe in the closet, about 7’ off the floor; Sally couldn’t reach it and I couldn’t see what was in it.

4. The room was advertised as a “Partial water view”; it included a “partial parking lot view” and a “partial construction site view”.

5. We had a 2nd floor room. Getting there involved climbing narrow stairs, and there was no help carrying our bags up there (the room was $419 per night).

6. The room was very small: no storage space to put our stuff away, and barely enough room to open our bags on the floor.

7. Room looked like a motel but at resort prices.

8. They offered a “special dinner” at this mediocre motel for $160 pp plus drinks, tax and tip.

9. In-room A/C was a free-standing unit standing in the corner. You could get a headache from the noise. If you didn’t already have one from the construction.

Like everything, there are positives to the Friday Harbor Inn:

1. It’s right in Friday Harbor, the main town on the island.

2. The desk clerk was nice and helpful – he found us a room at the Roche Harbor Resort. Which is where we are now, and which is great. We got the last room in this very large resort, and it’s a great room, overlooking the marina. Thanks, Morgan.

Roche Harbor Resort: Full Marina View, no construction, July 2018

So that’s all for now. I’m tired.

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(1) I obviously have no idea how to get anywhere in BC, but Waze and Google Maps are ever present.

Monday, July 23 – Downtown Architecture

Vancouver’s business district, known as “Downtown”, has changed dramatically in recent years, with construction of striking new office buildings and public spaces surrounding and dwarfing the older buildings. Here is a selection of images.

Provincial Court House, July 2018

Courthouse gardens looking at Vancouver Art Gallery, July 2018

Reflections, July 2018

Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, July 2018

Rosewood Hotel Georgia lobby, July 2018

Nighttime Alley, July 2018

Rosewood Hotel Georgia, July 2018

Sunday, July 22 – Outside the city

Today was our day to visit some very touristy attractions in the suburbs.

Vancouver is on the water, of course, and the shield formed by Vancouver Island provides for excellent boating and water sports. But if you go in the other direction, you find forests and mountains. In fact, you find a rain forest, which is what the British Columbia coastal area is. As for mountains, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort is only 75 miles from Vancouver. And it’s huge: over 5,000′ of elevation, 450″ of snow each year.

But we didn’t venture quite that far.

About 30 minutes from Downtown is Grouse Mountain, a much more modest 1,600′ elevation and maybe 20 trails. They have a gondola which operates in the off-season and have a number of activities on the mountain. Nearby is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a pedestrian bridge which runs a couple of hundred feet above a river gorge.

We hit Capilano first. It’s really a private park, with the main bridge leading to an area covered with fir forests and having a number of wooden walks which you access by crossing the 450′ suspension bridge. There’s also a “canopy walk”, a series of smaller bridges about 100′ above the forest floor.

Capilano Suspension Bridge, July 2018

This being a beautiful Sunday, and so close to Vancouver, Capilano was already crowded when we arrived around 10:30 (it got much worse later in the day). After a short wait, we started across the suspension bridge. Sally had been concerned about the bridge. As a suspension bridge, it is quite wobbly as you cross it, and both ends get a bit steep as you walk down onto the bridge and then up. So she tried it, and then turned back.

Treetops Adventure, July 2018

I continued, and spent about 30 minutes going on the Treetops Adventure, as they call the walk high up. I walked around a bit at ground level before making my way back across the bridge. As you can see from the pictures, it was anything but a quiet commune with nature. The crowds were just short of too much, and as I said, the lines were longer when we left than when we arrived.

Grouse Mountain Skyride, July 2018

From there we took a public bus to Grouse Mountain and rode the gondola up. Again, the crowds were not quite at the level of a problem yet. We got on the first gondola after we got to the line, although it was pretty full. At the top we walked around for a while then I had lunch in the summit lodge. Sally bought a muffin, and we sat on the deck and enjoyed the weather and views.

50 mile view towards Vancouver Island, July 2018

It’s hard to see in the pictures because of the haze, but Vancouver Island is visible in the distance. According to the signboard, visibility was 50 miles today.

Joe Forte’s, July 2018

After an unfortunate incident back at the hotel with our room not being made up yet, we had a pleasant dinner at Joe Forte’s, a seafood and chop house a few blocks away. Joe Forte was not a famous politician, nor the name of the founder of the restaurant. Rather, he was a city lifeguard renowned for teaching hundreds of children to swim in the early 20th century. Why someone decided naming a restaurant after him made sense, I don’t know. The place is large, noisy and has a piano player who loves pop from the sixties and apparently gets paid by the note. It also has a garlic-laced menu. A fillet mignon pre-seasoned with garlic? Really?

Saturday, July 21, Vancouver

After our experiences being unable to find either Chinatown or Gastown on Friday, we decided to hire a car and guide and let someone else do the thinking. I tried contacting a couple of guides listed on Tours By Locals, but we couldn’t make a time work on such short notice. Daphne, a really excellent concierge at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, secured a guide with no problem at all. I expected to pay through the nose due to the hotel markup, but I think the price was competitive with TBL.

Matt, our guide, was a very nice fellow who was able to show us a good time, and also show us his picture on billboards and store windows around town – he also works as a model, runs competitively, and does other things to make ends meet along with guiding. We got the four hour city tour from the back seat of a long-wheelbase MB S500. Instead of walking for hours, we probably walked for 30 minutes (a real advantage given Sally’s ankle) and listened to Matt describe what we were looking at.

Stanley Park: Sally @ Totem Polls, Bassman @ Lion’s Gate Bridge, July 2018

Here’s what you see in Vancouver: Stanley Park, Yaletown, Chinatown, Gastown, Granville Island, the West End, West Vancouver and Downtown. We saw them all. I took a few pictures, but honestly, it’s hard to find interesting pictures when all you do is stop at the photo-op stops for a couple of minutes and otherwise ride in a car.

Thai Festival, July 2018

This weekend there’s been a Thai Festival in the park across the street from our hotel. So we walked over to see what we could see. In addition to the obvious things – some people in traditional dress, Thai food, etc., there was a stage with Thai dance, singing, and a classic rock band singing songs with a Thai accent.

We didn’t want to chance the food at the Thai festival, we we wandered around and found a pub that gave us some salads around 4:00 for “lunch”. Which pretty much killed Sally’s appetite for dinner. So later I went out and walked down Granville Street, which turns into a very funky neighborhood. Lots of dive bars, cheap restaurants, people hanging on the street, marijuana dispensaries (1), nightclubs that patted down patrons before entry, some less fortunate people who obviously needed care. This was way more visually interesting than the four blocks of trendy restaurants in Yaletown.

Granville Street, July 2018

I found a decent enough bar, and got a salad with some grilled chicken, and had a local draft. Suited me fine.

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(1) Marijuana will become legal across Canada on October 17, 2018. Right now medicinal marijuana is widely available at least in BC