Sunday, 8 September 2013

Cruising (again)

This morning we woke with a buzz of excitement in the air.  It was time to re-pack the suitcase after the weekend in Vancouver.  I deliberately planned not to over pack, as I was sure I was going to buy stuff whilst on the trip.  I could have sworn I left the one side of the suitcase empty.  However, it took some effort to close the suitcase this morning.  This is not a good start. 
 We had our most pleasant (yet) border crossing into the USA, seems even the border officials feel the vibe of the holiday in the air.  (Maybe it is still the luck of the ladybird).  It was quite busy, but highly organised the way they get you to sign paperwork to give them all your money in the bank account while on the ship.  You link your room card to your bank account and every time you order a drink or set foot on land they immediately reduce your bank balance!  It took us all together less than 2 hours to be on the ship and into our cabins!  With approximately 820 000 people departing from Vancouver on 236 sailings this year alone, one expect the machine to be well oiled!
Marelise, Jakes, Erica & Hennie
As per usual our planning went haywire, and we ended up with cabins on opporsite sides of the ship.  Well, not sides per se.  One at the front and one at the back.  (Would have loved to impress you with my knowledge of port and starboard, but both our cabins was on the "right" side).  The Norwegian Sun being 258.5 meters long, you almost lose faith when you stand at our side of the passage and know you have to go all that way to the back!   The passage is so long and straight, it creates an optical illusion that you are looking into mirrors reflecting the same passage over and over.  At one stage the crew regaled us with "stupid questions" from passengers, and one question was: "do the elevators go back and forth as well".  Now I understand the question.:-)

Hennie reminisced about the scenes from (the long forgotton tv series) The Love Boat, where the quay was always full of people cheering and throwing streamers as the ship leaves the habour.  We had none of that.  Taking into consideration that during the summer season at least two ships leave the dock a day, somedays as many as 5 apparently.  So our departure was actually a total non-event.  But on the ship the party started with an American barbeque (read grilling of hamburger patties on an open fire), on the deck.  And so the overeating started…
Then we went to our cabin to open each and every cabinet door and marvel at how they maximise the packing space in the rooms!  Pity they could not find the place to have a slightly bigger shower.  By the looks of some people I have seen wandering on the deck, a few wil have a problem fitting and getting clean.  Then we visited by sister's cabin and oohed and aahed about their nice balcony...

We explored the ship, got lost, found a restaurant, got lost, had a beer, got lost, found the cocktail lounce, got lost... You get the picture.  We also tried our hand at Bingo (all time cruisers favourite) and the family made our day by winning $100!  I was so excited, you could have sworn that I have won the money!

Once having left the shores of Vancouver, we entered the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.  The whole next day was just a sea day and we sailed past evergreen islands and glassy fjords.  Because the waters are sheltered from the open ocean by the numerous islands, there is no waves and it is very smooth sailing.  


Saturday, 7 September 2013


The feeling that the long awaited holiday has finally arrived became real as we stepped off the plane at Vancouver airport.  Even the damage inflicted to my new, expensive hard shell suitcase by one of the airlines could not dampen our spirits.  I went into my normal, super-saver, to-the-point-of-screwing-myself mode by declaring confidently that we should be able to get to our downtown hotel by means of public transport.   We arrived at our hotel almost 2 hours later (taxi ride 30 minutes), dead tired, having to slog our suitcases over an uneven pavement, 22 street blocks (which felt like 5 km), through the Saturday shopping crown, in unseasonable heat with the sun beating down on our tired and jet-lagged bodies.  And with blisters on both my feet!  We should have taken a taxi…
The receptionist at the hotel remarked on a ladybird sitting on my shirt, telling me it will bring me luck.  Whether it was actually the ladybird or just the idea of looking at everything that happened in a positive view, lucked just rolled in.  Unbelievable our room was available for immediate occupation at 14h00 in the afternoon.  Someone already donated their sky-train tickets from the airport to down town to us for free.  And the weather was absolutely marvellous (bearing in mind it has been raining non-stop until the Thursday before our arrival).

The beaches were packed with Vancouverites desperate for sun (even though the outside temperature was a (cold for a South African) 24C with a bit of chill in the wind). 
We took a stroll through Stanley Park.  This park, at the edge of the city, comprise about 400ha, most of which is natural rainforest.  Another unique feature of Vancouver is the seawall that lines the waterfront.  The total seawall is 22km, of which 9km surrounds Stanley Park.  A very neat future is the path on the seawall being divided in 2 sections.  The half closest to the water is reserved for walkers, whilst the inside line is for cyclist and in-line skates.  They have also implemented a one-way system (can only cycle in one direction), so walkers are save from people on wheels, and those on wheels are (fairly) safe from each other.  The whole city is criss-crossed with bicycle lanes. We immediately fell in love with the city.  No wonder the city is consistently ranked in the Top 5 of best cities to live in by various indexes.

Rock Balancing (or stone stacking) at English Bay

Bike path on sea wall

One of the highlights of the trip was crossing False Creek to Granville island to visit the Farmer’s market.  I regretted having breakfast the morning!  There were cherries, the size of apples, lots of other fresh fruits and all sorts of exotic charcuterie items.   We also visited the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first ever Chinese garden built outside of China.  It is an oasis of tranquillity, and was recently named by National Geographic as one of the “Top Ten City Gardens”.  Have to admit I was not that impressed. I think it helps if you actually take one of the tours, where they explain why it is a classical garden.  The worst part is when we realised, after we paid $14 to see one half of the garden, that you can see the other half of the garden for free! (We are probably totally uncultivated, as all the reviews I read raved about the garden, explaining the S14 entrance charge is a “steal”).
Across from our hotel, in Morton Park, we found the Laughing Men art exhibition, called "A-maze-ing Laughter".  It comprise 14 super-sized bronze statues of men in various poses laughing histerically.  It really makes everybody who looks at it smile. 
Laughing men

A short walk through a scary, informal hippy flea-market took us to Gas Town, a National Historic Site of Canada.  Gas Town is a mixture of hip contemporary fashion boutiques, restaurants, and visitor orientated souvenir shops.  We had a lovely pasta lunch at the Spaghetti Factory, our first exposure to the excessive portion sizes of North America.

Gas clock
Gastown's most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is the steam-powered clock.  Built to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver's distributed steam-heating system; the clock was built as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.  A unique feature is that the clock whistles, instead of using bells, to produce the Westminster chime and to signal time. 
With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, it has a majestic Olympic torch/cauldron.  Built to look like an ice sculpture, it is truly beautiful.  Unfortunately it is only lit on special occasions.

Finally I received an SMS from my sister.  They have arrived at the hotel.  We were stuck on the hop-on hop-off bus on the other side of town, thus it took a while to get back to the hotel.  I was so happy to see her again!  We had a lovely dinner in a restaurant, overlooking the beach and waiting for the sun to set (which happened only long after we have finished our meal!).