Best of British Columbia – Vancouver

 

raccoons, stanley park, vancouver
Raccoons out for a stroll in Stanley Park.

Alright, it’s time to wrap up my look at British Columbia. I can’t thank Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com enough for all her help. She had info that some schmoe like me who’s in town for a few days couldn’t find on his own. Be sure to visit her blog. If you’re late to the party, check out our posts about Whistler/Squamish and the Victoria area!

Justin’s Quick Hits

Yes, Vancouver is really as cool as everyone says it is: a big but friendly city that’s progressive but not snooty. There’s a blend of old-school and new architecture. You’ll find awesome parks like Stanley Park, and you might catch some trials riders hopping around the beach areas. My favorite thing to do was just to walk. We’d pick a direction and go. You’ll find plenty of things to do, like the Granville Island Public Market and Chinatown.

Vancouver is pretty at night - view from the Lonsdale Quay Hotel

We stayed at the Lonsdale Quay Hotel, which became my favorite hotel in Vancouver. The staff was friendly, it has great views and it’s perched atop a very awesome marke. It’s also close to a ferry stop, which offers a nice ride to the downtown area (a novelty for a desert guy and his ex-sailor wife). Vancouver has a very international population, so you’ll find any sort of cuisine. I’d be thrilled to have such a glut of awesome Asian food in my hometown. And watch for the fresh fruit. I got a hold of some life-changing blueberries.

I know Teresa will yell at me about this, but I’m not a big fan of Tim Horton’s – neither the donuts nor the coffee.

I'm hunting for wild blackberries - this is seconds before I fell into the bush and got ventilated by thorns.

If you’re a futbol fan, see if you can squeeze a Vancouver Whitecaps match into your schedule. It begins its first season in Major League Soccer this summer. Yes, I know it’s not exactly the Champions League --

Teresa Tells It All

What?! You don’t like Tim Horton’s?? Oh no!! Well, the good news is Vancouver has really good coffee with Artigiano’s and Delaney’s topping my list. Both are local coffee chains that take pride in their coffee. The owners of Artigiano’s actually spent time in Italy to learn how to do it right before opening their first location on the corner of Pender and Thurlow in downtown Vancouver.

A trials rider hops on the logs in Vancouver.

But enough about coffee … let’s talk about riding! Mt Fromme is found in North Vancouver and one of the more popular places to ride, along with Mt Seymour where you’ll find the trail Severed Dick. Severed Dick is one of the original North Shore trails and is a good intermediate trail with minimal stunts. A word of caution, even the easy trails here may be much steeper and technical than what you’re used to. Trail maps are found at all of the local bike shops, I really like Obsession Bikes. They have a really helpful staff and will point you in the right direction if you need trail recommendations.

The sky gets dark over Vancouver.

There is a great bed and breakfast at the base of Mt Fromme that caters to mountain bikers that I highly recommend. Lynn Valley Bed and Breakfast has a secure area to store your bikes and an area to wash them as well. A great place to stay that’s close to the trails.

Well, this concludes the “Best of British Columbia” series. Come back soon!

Best of British Columbia – Vancouver Island & Victoria

The Transmission Forbidden trail. Awesome forest, eh? Photo courtesy of MtnBikingGirl.com.

Here’s the second post in the Best of British Columbia series. Extra-special thanks to Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com for the super Vancouver Island advice! Missed the first post? Well, then, go back and read it.

Justin’s Quick Hits

I only got a quick day excursion to Vancouver Island, but I can definitely say it has the best brewery I found during my visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular, and the ferry ride from Vancouver is a novelty for desert folks like me. Victoria is a really walkable city that actually reminds me of a shrunken-down Brisbane, Australia – well, with a much cooler climate. But it has that same healthy, friendly, scenic elements. A bit touristy, but it’s too pleasant a city to hold that against it. The bus ride from the ferry dock to the city is also really pleasant. I was able to get out for a quick boat tour with a crazy marine biologist, which was tons of fun. I spotted some seals and even plucked some fresh seaweed out of the ocean and chomped on it. Good times!

But you’re hear for mountain biking, right? Over to you, Teresa!

Teresa Tells It All

Lots of riding over here! To drive Vancouver Island from Victoria, at the south end, to Port Hardy, at the north end, takes approximately 7 hours and almost every community has their own set of trails. If you do plan on coming over this way, you’ll definitely need a car and a few days to really get a taste of it.

Cabin Fever (photo from Teresa at MtnBikingGirl.com)

To get over here you’ll need to take a ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can be found on the BC Ferries website. I recommend buying a CirclePac which allows you to include the Sunshine Coast route at a discounted rate.

Here are my top picks for riding on Vancouver Island:

Victoria – The main place to ride is an area called Hartland (aka The Dump). There are trails here to suit every level of rider and the trails are marked like ski trails with green – easiest, blue – intermediate, black – hardest. You can find trail maps at the local bike shops but if you want to take a peek of what’s available, I found this one online.

Sooke – Located 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, Sooke is a real gem. I recently rode the Harbourview Trails there for the first time last month and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! When you head up the fireroad there’s a series of fun, flowy XC trails but if you continue on up the road to a trail named "FM Radio" you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Sooke Harbour from the top of Mount Quimper. I should forewarn you, this is a 45 minute trek from the road and you’ll come across a couple of sections that are "hike-a-bike". It may seem like a long trek up, but the downhill is worth it! Recommended for advanced XC riders.

Cumberland – Part of the Comox Valley and day 1 of the 2011 BC Bike Race, this is where I live and is approximately 3 hours north of Victoria. We are spoiled with our network of trails here. Not all Cumberland trails are marked so you’ll need to buy a map from one of the local bike shops or if your budget allows, hire a guide. There are also some great trails on Forbidden Plateau. You can ride up the fire road to get to the trails here but most of the locals shuttle (it’s a long, dusty ride on a well travelled road). For more information and to view trail maps, go to cvmtb.com.

Campbell River – Campbell River is approximately 45 minutes north of the Comox Valley and will be day 2 of the 2011 BC Bike Race. The best riding here is in the Snowden Forest which boasts over 100 km’s of trails. Most of these trails are for the intermediate to advanced rider, but there are some easier trails as well. I recommend talking to one of the local bike shops (Swicked Cycle is on the way) for trail recommendations and a trail map. With such a large network of trails, it’s easy to get lost.

If you want to continue along the BC Bike Race route, the next stop is Powell River…

Powell River – To get here you need to take a ferry from Comox (this is where the CirclePac I mentioned above comes in handy), which takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Powell River is one of the newer mountain bike destinations, and I have only ridden here once before and the trail network has really expanded. The trails used for the BC Bike Race are on the Bike Powell River site and for futher information I would recommend contacting someone at Bike Powell River directly.

Sunshine Coast – There isn’t much information online about the Sunshine Coast trails, however one trail that I know they’ve really put a lot of work into is the Suncoaster, which is a 33 km trail that was designed to take people from ferry to ferry on trails and back roads. It’s also one of the trails that the BC Bike Race follows. Other trails worth checking out here are the Ruby Lake Trails. And as always, I highly recommend talking to the local bike shops to get the real scoop and find out trail conditions, etc.

The ferry out of Langdale will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

Winter Olympics Sports – My 5 Favorites

Winter Olympics
Jim Craig – a wall of coolness and my first sports hero.

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver are almost here, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love the Winter Olympics just slightly more than the summer.

That’s because my first sports memory was of the 1980 games in Lake Placid, and Team USA’s "Miracle on Ice" against the Soviet Union. Jim Craig was my hero – yes, I eventually became a goalie, but in the Arizona roller hockey rinks rather than Chicago’s ice rinks. Tony Esposito eventually replaced Craig as my hero, but Craig came first.

Anyway, to celebrate the coming spectacle in Vancouver, here are my five favorite events (I’m equally happy watching men or women in all – also I want to know YOUR 5 favorites!):

Hockey – After that intro, I’m sure you had no doubt it would be my top pick. I understand hockey better than I understand any other sport. I see goals before they happen, and am rarely surprised when a puck goes in. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a goalie make an awesome save, or an old-school defender delivering an open-ice hip check. Sure, I love all the scoring and the "odd tussle" (as Don Cherry might say). But give me a tense, low-scoring game with a pair of brilliant goalies dueling it out.

 

Winter Olympics
English: American Athlete Tracy Mattes with the Olympic Torch at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Mattes is a former USA star athlete who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. She is currently Director of Global Programs for the World Olympians Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bobsled – I shouldn’t even have to explain why this Winter Olympics sport is cool. Really, skeleton and luge are also awesome. But the bobsled! Bullet-shaped, heavy, fast – there’s nothing like hearing it hurtle down a twisting, banked course. I can see why the Jamaicans wanted to do this so badly (and kind of bad, too). These cats are always on the ragged edge of control. More than any other sport, too, this is the one that I want to try. When I visited Park City, you could take a ride for $200. That’s a bit stiff, but I may cave in one day. It’s just too awesome.

Curling – I know, from two of the fastest sports to one of the slowest. But curling is way more awesome than you realize unless you’re Canadian. Watch the movie Men with Brooms and you will begin to understand the appeal. Bonus points – the Swedish women’s team picked the song "Hearts on Fire" by their countrymen and friendly local power metal band Hammerfall as their theme song in the last winter games. So what did Hammerfall and its likeable lineup do? They shot a cheesy-but-hysterical video with the team, of course! If only all bands were so self-deprecating. For the record, some of the team members were pretty hot. I’m just sayin’, guys --

Giant Slalom – This event rocks. Those skiers are freakishly awesome. If you don’t already know that, try skiing on their courses. They do runs at high speed that scare me at a granny’s pace. They are brave, skilled and super-strong. And it’s just flat-out fun to watch them rip down the course. I have to admit, crashes can be fun, too – but only if they don’t get hurt. There’s also incredible drama and tension with each run. It’s totally unpredictable.

Biathlon – Cross-country skiing + shooting = awesome. If you’ve never strapped on a set of cross-country skis, you may wonder why it’s a big deal. Well, it’s freakin’ hard. And it’s even pretty fun! The downhill sections will make you whoop for joy, but you don’t have the consequences of blazing down a black-diamond run on downhill skies and losing control. And this is a cardiovascular workout. It must be really rough to have your heart hammering and thighs burning while trying to shoot a target. Bring your gun up, take a deep breath to steady your nerves, put your finger on the trigger -- that all gets harder with your heart rate soaring. You’ll soon have a new appreciation for this Winter Olympics sport.

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Lonsdale Quay Hotel: Three Things to Know

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A few years ago, I visited Seattle and uncovered a love of the Pacific Northwest that I didn’t know I had. And many people, including my longtime friend Big Frank, insisted that I’d like Vancouver even better.

With that in mind — and despite the fact that the Canucks NHL team had been my

Clouds build behind Sarah.
Clouds build behind Sarah.

Blackhawks’ playoff nemesis in the 80s — Sarah and I booked a trip that would give us a little taste of attractions in Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria and a side of Squamish.

I’ll get to all those at some point, but today’s focus is on the Flight Centre Lonsdale Quay area. This is a bit of a haul from the airport and will probably be a $50 cab ride. You could take buses, but that’s up to you.

Our view from the Lonsdale Quay Hotel.
Our view from the Lonsdale Quay Hotel.

I’m a very big fan of the Lonsdale Quay Hotel. Since it’s across a bay from Vancouver proper, it’s very reasonably priced. Three other things work in its advantage:

1. The SeaBus connects directly from the Lonsdale Quay Hotel to downtown Vancouver, with easy access to all the fun that area.

It’s also a nexus for bus transport.

2. The first few floors are an awesome marketplace.

All the food you need, plus an extremely friendly coffee shop called Bean Around the World.

A trio of Stanley Park racoons.
A trio of Stanley Park racoons.

3. The Lonsdale Quay Hotel staff is friendly and eager to help.

And determined to be even better – for example, I filled out the customer comment card when we checked out. A few weeks later, the hotel’s GM sent a letter my way mentioning specific comments I had (an idea to stock rooms with more pillows, praise for a particular front desk staff person). I’ve never had that happen before!

Wandering Justin picks wild blackberries
Wandering Justin picks wild blackberries

Now, about that SeaBus – be sure to hop on. You’ll get off near the cruise ship terminals. For there, a sturdy walker can accomplish a lot: Chinatown, the under-construction Olympic Village, the southern portion of Stanley Park, probably a bit of Granville Island.

Get out there and walk, and then hop the SeaBus back to Lonsdale Quay when you’re ready to relax. Also, the bus service is excellent throughout Vancouver. In any case, just picking a direction and walking is a solid strategy. You’ll have a great chance of finding something fun.

A totem pole in Stanley Park
A totem pole in Stanley Park

The Final Australia 2007 Post

Friday, Aug. 31

Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an F-111 fly a few hundred feet over your head with its afterburners lit. This was part of a crazy celebration called Riverfire. If you ever visit Australia, do yourself a favor: Be in Brisbane for Riverfire. The video is lengthy, but it gives you a great idea of the fireworks display, and the jets that open and close it. Awesome!

We woke up early and took a stroll around the downtown area. This is a very outdoorsy city, lots of people running and cycling. After some breakfast, we picked a direction and walked. We also noticed that everybody was getting all aflutter about Riverfire. People were already lining the riverbanks to grab primo spots for the evening’s festivities. Sarah and I aren’t much for parades and shindigs, so we largely ignored it. We were pretty happy to be proven wrong later, but more on that toward the end.

Our first stop was the excellent Queensland Museum, which is really strong on science and nature. There was just too much cool stuff to see. We spent a few hours easily cruising around in there before heading out for general walking about. There’s a very neighborly feel to Brisbane, with a lot of non-chain store types of places. This particular section of Brizzy is like a big college town, even though Queensland University is down the river. Speaking of QU, we thought it would be fun to check out the campus.

We hopped on the CityCat, a huge, fast-moving catamaran, to scope out the river banks and get us a lift to the university. QU is actually a bit dumpy and not surrounded by as much funky cool stuff as, say the University of Washington in Seattle (talk about the epitome of a perfectly awesome university). We were pretty amazed by the sports facilities and the very athletic-oriented vibe, though. We returned to our area via the CityCat and headed to the area near our hotel. We strolled around the Queen Street Mall, which is a termite mound of activity at any hour.

We also stopped at The Brewhouse, which certainly doesn’t swing in the same weight class as Sydney’s Redoak. At that point, it was about time for us to look up Sarah’s former roommate, who happened to be living in Brizzy with her new dude Michael, who is in the Ozzy army. We were soon on their 23rd floor flat, which was right across from out hotel. This provided a great viewing point for Riverfire, plus it gave us a great chance to hang out with a bunch of Ozzies in their natural habitat. They were a very fun bunch, very lively and welcoming. The occasion, aside from Riverfire,was Michael’s birthday. Those cats sure enjoyed their karaoke! Well, we had a full last day. Time to pack! Boo, as Sarah would say.

Saturday, Sept. 1

Man, I can’t make any of this travel sound cool anymore. It’s depressing packing and heading for the airport. Especially when the lines are long and slow.

But still, what a great vacation. You don’t really need to know more than that, do you?

Sunday, Sept. 2

Back home, in Arizona. Tired, time sense jacked up. But this feeling is worth it, and more. Quit saying you want to go to Australia someday. Just go do it.

Well, that wraps it up! Thanks for reading … I hope you enjoyed reading as much I as I did writing. So what’s next here at Wandering Justin’s blog? Well, plans for New Zealand 2009 are well in the works – Sarah and I are filling up notebooks and plotting our course on a dry-erase board. We’ll share what we learn as we book hotels and activities, and pick up the necessary gear.

In the meantime, I’ll do a little time travel with some far shorter accounts of our adventures in Vancouver, Belize and Costa Rica. I might even go REALLY far back in time to my famous aerobatic journey in a WWII-era AT-6 Texan. So stick around – there’s more fun to come!