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.

Historic Wormsloe

I want to share a brief post about the longest stretch of oak trees in the world at Wormsloe [Wormslow] Plantation in Savannah, GA. It’s gorgeous. It’s worth the $10 admission to drive down the row of oaks alone.

We happened to arrive just before several bus loads of school kids on a field trip. There is a museum at the end of the oak trees that tells the history of the plantation and its early beginnings during the founding of Georgia. There’s a short video that I recommend watching that gives an overview of the plantation; however, if you find yourself sandwiched between rotating field trip tours, just pick up a brochure and read about the history at a self-guided pace.

I do recommend the walking tour to see the landmarks like the original homestead foundation (made of oyster shells!) and the gravesite. It’s a gorgeous walk and neat to see some of the reenactments.

If you’re local or visiting and looking for a great spot for a photoshoot (engagement pictures, family pictures, etc.) – the oak tree entrance is absolutely worth it.

Made with Love by Mrs. Wilkes

I was born and raised in the south, so I can appreciate a good spread of home-cooked grub. Everyone we talked to said that Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room was a must, so we heeded the advice and picked up some coffees before we headed that way. We knew to expect a long line; Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is only open for lunch and it’s always packed. They stop serving at 2pm and will turn people away from the line when they start getting near quittin’ time.

Part of the experience is waiting in the long line and meeting your neighbors and soon-to-be family style dining table mates. We were lucky and hit the line just before a tour bus let off their eager patrons. We stood in front of a couple who always stops by Mrs. Wilkes when they visit Savannah; the woman tried to convince me the food was terrible so we would leave the line and they could get ahead in the wait! [I didn’t fall for it].

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Our total wait was probably around 45 minutes and totally worth it. By the time we got inside the dining room, we had become best friends with our line mates and felt comfortable enough to help each other heap giant spoonful piles of food on to our plates.

Let’s talk about the food. HOLY OPTIONS! My goal when I sat down at the table was to try some of everything. That’s not an easy challenge. I literally cannot even name everything that was on the table. From what I gathered from my seasoned table mates, the side dishes rotate, so you don’t always end up with the same meal. The meal cost per person was $22 and included all food, sweet tea, dessert, and tax. The payment is cash only, so come prepared.

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This is the face I make when I’m surrounded by delicious smells.

We all seated and each grabbed a dish, piled it on our plates, and passed it along to the next person. I was fortunate to be seated by a bottleneck, so most of the dishes ended up resting around me – easy access for seconds!

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My husband’s 1st plate

So despite my goals, it is literally impossible to try some of everything in one serving. The first plate only holds about 12 items – which gets you around half of the total spread, so a second plate is 100% required and necessary.

If I wrote about everything I ate, I would have to ditch the blog and start a novel, so let me just pick a few of my favorites.

Fried Chicken

This is what the dining room is known for, and it’s delicious. If you don’t like the cut that’s on the table, you can ask the kind servers for more white or dark meat, or a drumstick or thigh; whatever suits your fancy.

Cucumbers

They weren’t quite pickled, but they were tossed in a vinegar dressing and herbs and they were delicious. I feel like I was eating a crunchy cuke fresh out of momma’s garden. Very refreshing and helps to break the heaviness of all the other delicious items on your plate.

Squash

I wish I knew the real name of this dish so I could Google a recipe (if any of you readers out there have any idea, please share!!). This was made from yellow squash, this much I could discern. It was a mushy dish, served warm. It was creamy yet fibrous from the squash; I loved the flavor, it was savory yet a little sweet, too.

Cream of Corn

The corn was my husband’s favorite; I’m not sure how he made room in his stomach, but he had three helpings of the corn. It was just the right consistency and had a well-balanced pairing of sweet and salty. The corn kernels were cooked so they still crunched when you bit into them.

Collard Greens

It’s not southern without a solid side of collards. The bitterness of the greens was tamed by the savory seasoning and hint of pepper and spice.

The Olde Pink House Vault

Hands down the most romantic dinner I have ever had was at The Olde Pink House. Apparently we tried to make reservations a few weeks before we arrived in Savannah but it was too far in advance to reserve our table.

My husband called a day in advance in hopes to get a table for two. He tried the website first on OpenTable, but the first available seating was 9pm. He talked to the hostess who confirmed they were unable to reserve a table prior to 9. He explained that we were on our honeymoon and hoping to get in around 7:30 to accommodate the rest of our plans. We were placed on a brief hold and upon her return, she said she was able to get us the table in a private room where they store the wine. How can you say no to that?

The private room, as it turns out, was originally a vault used to store gold bricks by the bank that purchased the house I believe in the late 1800’s. The room is now home to the wine and lit only by candlelight. Guests are encouraged to explore the house so we had a few visitors and admirers who asked how we were so lucky to get the table. We told them all you had to do was tell them you just got married! 

In true Savannah tradition, the house is apparently haunted by the ghost of the original owner and his wife (the governor,  I think). These ghosts have been captured on camera and can be found on YouTube. If you look closely at some of our pictures, you can see green orbs, which our waiter insisted was the ghost of the governor.

But enough about ghost stories, let’s talk about food.

The menu was full of decadent dishes, including a robust wine selection (to which we had a front row seat).

We first chose our wine: Educated Guess, a full bodied cabernet. I selected the pecan crusted chicken and the husband chose seafood fettuccine. We also decided to split the BLT salad.

BLT Salad

This salad was featured on a TV show, but the show name escapes me. The salad featured fried green tomatoes, thick cut bacon, atop a bed of greens and a creamy mayo dressing sauce. I don’t usually like bacon (I know, I know), but this bacon was delicious. Our server brought us steak knives for our salad because the bacon is so thick it requires cutlery reinforcement. The dressing was a little heavy for my taste, but it held true to a BLT sandwich.

Pecan Crusted Chicken with Sweet Potato and Collards

You’re allowed to substitute any sides in your entree, but I did not and I recommend you don’t on this dish as they pair very well together. The chicken is bone-in and is perfectly crusted with an earthy flavor that is complimented by the salty and savory collards. The sweet potato was baked, skinned, and glazed with a pecan / brown sugar syrup. The flavors are rich and I was only able to finish half but it was worth the midnight snack as leftovers!

Seafood Shrimp and Scallop Fettuccine 

The scallops are huge! The shrimp was just a smidge overdone, but the scallops were cooked to perfection and the pasta was perfectly al dente with a creamy Alfredo sauce he won the clean plate club award for this one!

We were too stuffed for desseet, but our server insisted we have a little treat on the house to help us celebrate. Homemade chocolate ganache with whipped cream and fresh berries. It was the perfect amount and a decadent and thoughtful dessert.

We explored the house after dinner to get the full experience of each room; we even discovered a romantic vintage bulb lit balcony.

Huey’s Brunch

Along River Street is a beautiful row of restaurants. We grabbed brunch at Huey’s after watching several cargo ships stroll by along the river. There was no wait when we arrived around 10:30, and we were seated in a corner table by the window overlooking the river. 

Coffee was a must. We also checked in on Yelp and received a complimentary order of beignets, which were covered in powdered sugar with a side glaze and arrived still warm, soft and melted with each bite. 

The husband ordered a bloody mary which arrived with a full vegetable garden on top. I’m not a drinker, but he said it was wonderful and enjoyed soaking the veggies in the drink to save as a treat for the end.

We asked our server for recommendations and most popular dishes. We decided upon a breakfast plate and a lunch plate: crab cake benedict and red beans & rice. Both were delicious.

Crab Cake Benedict

I’m usually not crazy about eggs benedict because hollandaise sauce and I don’t agree, but the crab cakes sounded amazing and were topped with a fried green tomato (one of my favorites). I didn’t even notice the English muffin as it was overshadowed by the massive crab cake and tomato. The most popular style of grits was apparently the parmesean grits and I have to agree they were very tasty and something you can’t order everywhere.

Red Beans & Rice with Sausage

I can’t believe this either, but somehow my husband has never had red beans and rice before. Thankfully, we remedied this at Huey’s with a flavorful blend of New Orleans style red beans and andoullie sausage. The Cajun spices blended well with the generous bites of sausage and fresh bread. 

A Grand Treylor Park Welcome

Our first stop in Savannah was at a restaurant we heard great things about called Treylor Park. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon shortly after the marathon finished so there was a wait. We put our name on the list and walked out to the back patio bar to wait; the atmosphere was comfortable and cozy, so we decided to eat at the bar. 

The hubby scoped out the menu beforehand and had his eyes on the chicken pancake tacos and PB&J wings. I suggested the fried banana peppers because I’ve really been loving banana peppers recently. We thought that addition might be too much food and decided not to get them until our bar neighbors’ order of fried banana peppers arrived… they looked amazing and we had to order some too.

Fried Banana Pepper Rings

Why is this not on every appetizer menu? If you like fried pickles,  forget everything you know because this is a game changer. They were battered in a seasoned,  salty rich batter and fried to a perfect golden brown.  You could still see and taste the peppers,  which added an extra kick to each bite. They come with a ranch dipping sauce but really don’t need it! Highly recommended. 


PB&J Chicken Wings

In our minds,  we anticipated a grilled chicken wing scooped in thick,  creamy peanut butter and dunked in Smucker’s grape jelly.  What we ate was closer to a Thai peanut glaze with a side of orange/peachy marmalade. For the full effect,  the chicken must be dipped in the sauce for every bite. It was good,  but it wasn’t unforgettable. 


Chicken & Pancake Tacos

So creative! These chicken strips came toasted and wrapped warmly in a pepper-infused pancake and topped with a strawberry relish with onions. It sounds strange but the flavors blend so perfectly. This was our favorite.