A Two Day Layover in Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver was by far one of our favorite stops along our journey. Our itinerary gifted us a two day layover in Vancouver and we are so thankful. We were welcomed with gorgeous weather. The locals we talked to said it was the first weekend of the year that they had consistent sunshine and clear skies. I came way over prepared for cold/rainy weather and quickly transitioned to summer clothing. I even got sunburned during our biking escapade (more on that later)!!

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Upon departing the train at Pacific Central station, we took the Skytrain Expo towards Waterfront. There are kiosks at the Skytrain center and they accept credit cards. The fare was $2.75 per person for 1.5 hours and works on the bus system as well. The Skytrain was very clean and route maps were clear and simple to understand.

Chinatown

The first destination on our itinerary took us to the outskirts of historic Chinatown to a restaurant called The Pink Pearl. They are voted the best dim sum in Vancouver, and we have a weakness for dim sum and jasmine tea, so we had to stop for lunch. We took the bus to the restaurant; the bus driver asked if we were visiting and was very helpful in giving us tips on which bus lines to take and how the fare system worked. For reference, although the cards from the Skytrain also work on the buses, you can’t add fare to them on the buses themselves, so stop by a nearby Tim Horton’s and grab an iced coffee and get change in coins so you are prepared for the buses.

I’ll be honest, the restaurant was not located in the most pristine part of town; there were some questionable items on the sidewalk and some curious company, but generally speaking we didn’t feel at risk or overtly uncomfortable.

Maybe it was the time of day, but we were the only ones in the dining room when we entered. Granted, it was a Wednesday and in between peak traffic meal times, but the service was spectacular. There is a large banquet hall attached to the large dining room and there were several patrons there who appeared to be partaking in karaoke and enjoying libations.

Dim Sum was ordered off the menu and made to order. We came prepared with a printed menu with circled items that we knew we wanted to try, and left with full bellies and content smiles.

We asked the host for walking directions to historic Chinatown. He warned us it would be a far walk but it was about 10 blocks down Hastings. He was correct – it was a solid 20 minute walk to Main and Pender, but we arrived and knew we were there with the decorated streetlights and storefronts.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano offers a free shuttle from Canada Place that picks up in front of the “Fly Over Canada” kiosk every 10-15 minutes. A 10% discount is available at Capliano’s ticket counter with AAA card.

This is so much more than just a bridge. There are nature walks, coffee shops, live music, food/drinks, and educational plaques throughout the park. Let’s start with the bridge. This is a massive feat of engineering. If you’re afraid of heights, go fast and don’t look down. The view is incredible and humbling. The bridge is wobbly – don’t let that surprise you!

We took the Cliffwalk path – this is even more spectacular than the bridge! This is a must do in the park – the views are amazing and it’s such a thrill to literally walk on the edge of a cliff.

We also walked the Treetops Adventure, which I find best described as the most epic adult treehouse in the world. I’m really not even a Star Wars fan, but the best analogy is to imagine Ewok Village for humans.

 

Biking around Vancouver

I know I keep saying everything is a must do, but renting bicycles and spending at least a few hours on them really is a must do in Vancouver. We rented two bikes from Simon’s Bike Shop ($30 for 24 hours includes bike lock, map, helmet and backpack). Vancouver is very bike friendly and the bike lanes are very well marked and respected. We rode through downtown and Canada Place to the bike bath that runs along the sea walls in Stanley Park. The path is relatively flat, incredibly scenic, and has things to do along the way. We grabbed lunch at The Teahouse in Stanley Park – get the fried cauliflower!

We rode a little bit further to Go Fish for fish and chips that all the locals say is worth the wait in the line. With full bellies, we rode over to Granville Island to visit the brewery for a taster flight.

We found a hidden gem in Stanley Park – a chip and putt golf course, which is basically a hybrid of mini-golf and an executive golf course. It was packed, but we got 9 holes in and enjoyed the company. From Granville, we boarded The Aquabus with our bikes to the casino for a quick stop and then returned our bikes for the day.

 

 

Eats & Drinks

Most of our culinary outings in the evenings were done in Gastown, home of the steam powered street clock. We enjoyed the atmosphere in Gastown and found many unique and exciting venues. We stopped at a couple of locations near the business district as well. I’ll share them through the pictures and captions below.

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Prohibition – speakeasy in the basement of Rosewood Hotel Georgia

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An Adventure across Canada, VIA Rail

My husband has always wanted to travel by train across Canada. We were thrilled to learn of the rail adventure through the country on VIA Rail Canada. The adventure we booked was a 4-night, 3 day journey across the varying terrain of Canada. We opted for the Sleeper Plus that would grant us a private room with a toilet and sink and two bunk beds. During the day, the bunk beds were converted into two reclined seats. We had access to the Skyline Car, Dining Car, Panorama Car, Activity Car, and Prestige Park Car throughout the trek. We shared a community shower with the other rooms in our Sleeper Car.

Neither of us had really ever travelled by train outside of the metropolitan commuter rails in North America, so we didn’t have any expectations and were eager to explore the train. We arrived at Union Station in Toronto around 8pm in preparation for a 10pm departure; however, our train, The Canadian, was delayed upon arrival so we did not depart Toronto until 1am. We were able to relax in the business lounge and had complimentary refreshments to keep us occupied until departure time.

Train Schedule/Route

The Canadian commenced in Toronto and made brief stops in Capreol, Hornepayne, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and concluded in Vancouver. There were other conditional stops to pick up / drop off passengers along the way. The onboard staff changed in Winnipeg and additional cars, including the Panorama Car, were added in Edmonton.

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Route map of The Canadian train from Toronto to Vancouver

Inside the Train

In an effort not to sound too obvious, the train is narrow. The Sleeper Cars contain 6 private rooms with a community shower at the end of the car. Don’t quote me on the count, but I believe we started with 2 engines and 22 cars, then picked up an engine and three additional cars in Edmonton.

Each car has an attendant that reviews safety information and tends to rooms (linen changes and daytime room conversions). When we first entered our room, each with a carry on and handheld items, we were a bit surprised by the size. When the two bunk beds were down, the ladder was in the center of the room and made it nearly impossible to navigate. We stored our luggage in the storage area above the sink which cleared some clutter. We quickly learned after the first night to put up the top bunk and ladder and share the bottom bunk as it made the room feel infinitely larger.

To navigate between cars, you walk down the narrow hallways and then through the doors exiting one car and entering another. The narrow corridors made it entertaining when approaching others headed in the opposite direction; we shared many laughs with our fellow guests as we learned to let go of our personal spaces. The Economy sleeper cars had a bench that folded down into a bed and a private toilet. The cabins were made private through a curtain that the passengers could slide. I almost toppled through the curtains right into the private cabins during a bumpy stretch while walking through the hallway to the next car! Thank goodness I didn’t, and if I did I could only pray the passengers were sitting or sleeping and not using the toilet!! [For those wondering, there are community toilets in the Activity Cars, should passengers opt to do their business behind the privacy of a closed door.]

Things to Do

The sleeping areas are small because there are really just too many beautiful things to see throughout the train to spend all your time in the room. The Activity Car / Skyline is where we spent most of our time taking in views of the ever-changing terrain or socializing with fellow passengers. Coffee, tea, water, juice, and snacks are available 24/7 in the Activity Car.

There was a singer/songwriter aboard that put on several performances each day as entertainment for the passengers. After 2pm each day the Prestige Park Car is open to all and the views from the last car are stunning. I will also add that the Prestige area is the only area that is renovated. There are a nice bar and comfortable sitting areas in the Park Car.

We made wonderful friends with a couple from Montreal and taught them how to play Euchre, which provided us with endless hours of entertainment.

There is so much wildlife to see while watching the scenery. The train moves too quickly to get any meaningful pictures of them, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say we saw the following animals during our trek:

  • elk
  • fox
  • coyote
  • moose (the engineer announced this over the PA system)
  • ducks
  • deer
  • bear (beginning in Jasper)
  • prairie dogs
  • horse
  • cow
  • bison
  • Canadian geese
  • red wing blackbirds
  • woodpeckers
  • and our neighbors claimed to have seen a long horn sheep

We arrived to Vancouver about three hours behind schedule (we learned this is not uncommon, as our train has to yield to freight traffic on the tracks, which can sometime cause long delays). Some passengers missed their planned flights and had to extend their stay or pay to change the airfare.

The Food

This wouldn’t be a legitimate post from me if I didn’t discuss the cuisine. The Dining Car, oh the Dining Car! We ate like kings. There are three seatings for meals each day; I recommend the first or second as the third often got delayed and sometimes people didn’t start lunch until 3 or 4 and then dinner at 9pm. The Dining Car is filled with white tablecloths and proper china and drink ware. It’s amazing that all of the meals and service is on a train! For each meal, you forget you’re on a train as it could pass as a 5-star restaurant with a stunning view – and the best part: everyone gets a window seat!

The menus are fixed with a vegetarian option and three meat selections. Each meal starts with a soup and/or salad, bread, and finishes with a luxurious dessert and coffee/tea. I can’t say enough good things about the meals, other than when we departed the train, we were both distressed to leave such amazing chefs, waitstaff, and wonderful dining experiences. We had rich conversation with other passengers over dinner and it was fascinating to hear everyone’s journeys and history.

Bonus Tip

You can pack and bring your own libations. No limit – so long as you consume them in your room. We brought a cooler and (too much) Canadian beer and got ice from the Activity Car to keep them cool for refreshments. You’re welcome for that tip 🙂

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Extras

We met an incredible and fascinating man, Ross Johnson, who celebrated his 75th trip on The Canadian (see his story here). We were so honored to share this momentous event with him. Please check out his YouTube channel for more videos of VIARail – he knows EVERYTHING about trains! And he can tell you what day of the week your birthday was on in seconds.

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Toronto in Twelve Hours

Toronto was the starting point of our travels and we only had twelve hours to explore the city’s highlights before boarding a train at Union Station. We wanted to explore the city, experience the cuisine, grab a few drinks, and of course check out the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mill Street Brew Pub

Our first stop took us to the Distillery District for some poutine and local brews. The day was sunny with a bit of wind, but we sat ourselves on the patio and enjoyed the view of the old distillery. We tried the stout and the pale ale. We ordered the brisket poutine and were not disappointed with the meaty twist to the local favorite.

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Mill Street Brew Pub

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Poutine

Hockey Hall of Fame

I married a hockey player, so we had to stop in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Definitely worth it; we tested our skills against a computer goalie (turns out I’m pretty terrible), and I took a stab as an announcer, which I found to be hysterical and challenging. The videos of these activities are provided at no cost and are a great souvenir. We also enjoyed looking at the vintage jerseys and equipment; we found a wood Northland Pro, the same as his grandfather played with in his prime.

Trattoria Taverniti

We hiked through Chinatown to Little Italy for another snack (let me tell you we earned the snack after all the hiking through the city!). We ordered the the house chianti and gnocchi. The waitress brought fresh bread with olive oil for dipping. The olive oil was spicy and ripe and set the stage beautifully for our Italian meal. The menu shared the story of the owner and his mother who cooked authentic Italian cuisine from her heritage. The handmade gnocchi had a wonderful texture and the sauce was rich and creamy. It didn’t last long and was just the satiation our hungry bellies wanted.

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Fresh bread with olive oil

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Handmade gnocchi in rosé sauce

The Walton

As we were walking down the street, we passed a chalkboard sidewalk sign that read “Come see the most adorable patio in the world.” This intrigued us, so we walked into a bar playing smooth jazz and asked the bartender which way to the adorable patio. I’ll have to admit, it was adorable with light globes and old fashioned stringed bulbs and colorful floral china. We took a rest in the shade of the massive tree and enjoyed the company and refreshments.

We ordered a Barnstormer pale ale, americano coffee with milk, and a chocolate chip cookie.

Pizzeria Libretto

Because we hadn’t eaten enough already… we stopped in for a slice of pizza from “the best pizza in Toronto” only to learn that they don’t sell pizza by the slice. So we ordered a small pepperoni pizza and stuffed our faces. The pepperoni was thick and the pizza came with a spicy oil dipping sauce.

Track & Field

Definitely our favorite bar of the day. The entrance is down a flight of stairs from the main sidewalk. The bartenders are friendly and interesting and there is shuffleboard, bocce ball, and other games to keep guests entertained. We learned a new game, maybe called Skorkople? – each player had a quadrant of the board and you had to get your piece through the pegs to the middle for 20 points, or knock off your opponents’ pieces into the ditch. The first player to 100 wins.

 

After our adventure, we were glad to learn that Uber was in Toronto and we shared an Uberpool with an entertaining driver and two other passengers.