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06 October 2010 @ 05:42 am
Notes from the Road: 21st - 23rd September  
In part to complete the historical record; in part because Mom is curious how I'll write these up.

21st September, Vancouver (Stanley Park and Granville Island)
Quote of the day: "Two medium mochachillos? What size would you like?"

We knew we had free breakfast every day, but we kept forgetting that when we went on a small grocery-shopping trip (at the West Vancouver Safeway) early in our trip. This meant we bought a carton of juice and weren't getting to it, so I proposed that we ask the store if we could return it — both to save money and, ideally, not waste the juice. Mom wasn't sure they would take it back, but I pointed out there was no harm in trying. They did, and I then turned around and spent the over-$5 CAD (we hadn't realized how poor the exchange rate was!) on more maple toffees, which are fantastic.

Coffee was from Blenz (see above quote). Our goal was Stanley Park, but we first stopped off so that Mom could get pictures of the art installation "A-maze-ing Laughter" by Yue Minjun. (I haven't uploaded photos or even signed up for a hosting service yet, and I can't find an official online site, but this is a 360-degree panoramic viewer.) It's pretty cool; I still find it a little creepy, though.

We finally got into Stanley Park itself about 1:30 or so. It was yet another fantastically beautiful day, no warmer than about 17 C and (I think) clear. (We had meant to rent bikes for the park, but by this point we were starting to worry a bit about expenses, and at least part of the seawall was closed for construction/repairs, so in the end we elected for car-and-walking instead. It turned out cool enough that I probably would have gotten an earache from biking, so it's just as well.) We started at the totem poles, where Mom got plenty of pictures, and we then made the obligatory Gift Shop T-Shirt Purchase. (I always buy t-shirts in large, preferring a bit of looseness to a close fit … but I didn't really check that they were all about the same size, at any point during the entire trip, so I may end up with quite a few nightshirts.)

After that we moved on to Prospect Point, took pictures from the overlook, checked out that gift shop, and then set out along one of the walking trails. Very soon after diverging from the road, the trail plunged down steeply. A sign at the side warned us to watch for wheelchair traffic, which made me a little o.O at the prospect of trying to control a wheeled vehicle on that incline. Because of Mom's knee, I tried to keep to an easy pace, and we stopped frequently for pictures of cool nature or remnants of the 2006 storm that flattened much of the park. A woman in what appeared to be a full nun's habit (grey, not black) was strolling the trail at the same time, and we passed one another a couple of times. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I did overhear her saying something like "Chicago is easier" to another random person, I think.

We eventually made our way around to see Siwash Rock, Vancouver's only sea stack. A sign nearby related a version one of the legends of the rock, Skalsh transformed by Q'uas as a reward for unselfishness; I was struck by the way in which being turned into a rock is considered a reward by some cultures (in at least some cases), while the only legends I could think of from my own culture treat similar transformations as a punishment, an ironic "reward", or another dire fate.

Once we reached a little metallic bridge out onto a sort of stone watchtower and realized that we couldn't get down to the seawall from our trail, as it passed a few stories yet further below us, we turned around to head back to the car. The inclines were tough going on the way back (though we went slowly enough that I was fine). We then drove down to Second Beach, which we'd previously driven past (and I still find it disorienting to see a separate public swimming pool at a public ocean beach). On the way, we stopped off to take pictures of a giant hollow tree. We spent only a few minutes at Second Beach itself. The nun had walked all the way along the trail (rather than turning back as we had) and beaten us there.

We got there kind of late and had to leave early, but the park is quite nice, and I'd love a chance to explore it further by more extensive hiking or by biking.

Back at the hotel, we had a couple of hours to kill before meeting shaddyr for dinner. Mom dared me to call the front desk to ask if it would be possible to get chairs for our balcony, but I don't love using the phone if I don't know exactly how the conversation will go, so I went down to the front desk instead. (I know, I'm odd; it's a thing. I find it easiest to communicate in person, with clarifications and gestures possible, usually followed by email, and phone well behind that, in part because I don't process information well by ear alone.) So anyway, I went down and explained what we were looking for, and the desk clerk was surprised we didn't already have chairs. She agreed to call someone for us.

About ten minutes later, a housekeeper showed up … with dining chairs. We had a bit of (friendly) back-and-forth about whether we should keep the chairs and just make sure to bring them inside when done, or have her go back for actual outdoor chairs, or what … but we had noticed that the only other balcony we could see into, two floors lower and off to one side, did have outdoor chairs. Because of the shape of the building, that floor for the outer rooms and our floor for the inner rooms were the highest balconies until the 12th floor or so, so we didn't have a "roof" over ours.

The housekeeper went off and did find suitable outdoor chairs, which was cool. In the interim, though, we decided to go over to Granville Island, because Mom was insistent that I should experience it. (Remember, I had somehow thought Granville Avenue, with its ritzy clothing and jewelry — or jewellery, in Canadian — stores was the same thing and had only figured out the difference quite recently.) Once the chairs arrived, then, we headed out … only to run into the same problem she had in her previous one-day stopover in Vancouver, namely that they shut down by five or six. We did get to browse a place with nifty world globes, admire hiking hammocks through a shop window, and find a bear for Mom to buy. (She's a stuffed-bear collector of sorts.) I also detoured us through the Public Market, I think, which was mostly a huge food market but which had artist stands throughout; Mom hadn't seen any of that before.

With nothing much left to do at Granville, we headed back once more to the hotel. I think Mom took advantage of the chairs briefly, but it was too cool out there for me. (Mom lent me her jacket, since I hadn't brought one and she didn't need hers.) We headed out early for our dinner meeting, electing to walk since we were close and the weather was still quite nice. Mom noticed a cute park on the way and noted it for later picture-taking.

The walk only took us about fifteen minutes, so we got to Shakin' Not Stirred ([sic] — that's the actual name, but I'm pretty sure it makes no sense spelled and punctuated that way; the website may only work in Canada) — cute place, more casual than the website implies, showing hockey on overhead screens, and not busy at all this particular evening. The hostess gave us a window seat, so we hung out sipping our sodas and checking out the apparently-condos across the street until shaddyr arrived. I don't remember what they ordered, except that Mom wanted the crab cakes but was nervous about the quail eggs they came topped with. I got the portabella sandwich, and the hostess/waitress pointed out I was the only one not getting an appetizer … which was actually deliberate on my part, as I didn't want anything more, so I assured her that was fine. (The sandwich and fries were a well-sized meal for me — a little much for one sitting, but not so much I needed to take home leftovers.) We all had a lot of fun, chatting about politics and fandom and the likely backstory of the McKays for quite a while; many thanks to shaddyr!

Yet another Criminal Minds afterwards, and bed.

22nd September, Vancouver (Granville Island) and Lynn Canyon and Lonsdale
Breakfast, and coffee for Mom at Tim Horton's (we think). We went back down to Granville yet again, to do it "properly", though I still didn't care much … but I got coffee at the JJ Bean there, and it was pretty much exactly what I had been looking for. Damn if I remember what it was named, but it was the mocha version of their blender drink. (So I can get Perfect Coffee in the metropolitan Vancouver area, or at Dunn Bros. in portions of the very center of the US, and that's about it. Curse you, coffee fates!)

We explored more of Granville Island at that point, ending up in the hammock store. They quickly persuaded Mom to try out one of the "chair hammocks", and she loved it; I demurred with the excuse I would likely spill my drink. The two store reps spent a long while chatting with us, and the second guy (a bit more polished at the casual sales thing) persuaded me to go ahead and try, promising I wouldn't spill. I figured, hey, I made the gesture, so I tried it out, and it was pretty nice. I did eventually end up spilling a small amount on myself, though, at a completely random point (because that's just how I roll), so I teased them for having promised me I wouldn't. In the end we both ended up buying a chair hammock — Mom thought it would be good for Dad, I thought the same one would be good for her to sleep in given her sinuses, and I figured that I didn't have a good mounting joist but I do have a tree that the rope option would work with. We had them shipped, so that we didn't have to pay local tax and then airline checking fees (or whatever hassle would be required). A bit of an indulgence, but again, with a practical side (which I like best in my souvenirs).

We then finished up Granville Island, including checking out a funky little shop that seemed to be associated to the art school in some way, and then headed out. We drove up to Lynn Canyon Park, hoping for more nice scenery, and we weren't disappointed. The park has a suspension bridge (much smaller than Capilano) at the start, great towering trees, well-kept trails, and a lovely river. As it happened, we arrived on the first of three days of SGU filming, which would have been really cool if I had anything more than disdain for SGU and its showrunners, but it was still interesting. We were a day too early for the "simulated explosion" and "simulated gunshots", though. (We did get pictures of the sign warning of pedestrian delays of up to three minutes "on various trails".)

We followed a fairly short trail (20 minutes by the sign) from the suspension bridge to the Twin Falls bridge. I see that the website promises that's a quiet, low-traffic destination, to which I can only laugh hysterically; when we were there, several other parties passed through, all of us agog at the three teens who kept leaping from the bridge into the surely-icy-cold river despite the numerous signs promising likely death. (I'm not really kidding about that.) That was not a small drop.

The trail itself was very cool, the scenery beautiful (lots of sunlight through evergreens and a gorgeous river chasm), but there was a lot of climbing down and then back up via constructed staircases, which was a little winding for me and really hard on Mom, so we knew we wouldn't be able to take on a more challenging trail. (As with Stanley Park, I was in my Merrell flats and a skirt, which is just too terribly casual for my usual hiking but worked fine here. And as I look at the pictures, those two skirt-and-sweater combinations are really unflattering shape-wise, so we'll just be punting those pictures ….)

We didn't encounter any filming, but just after the last of the real climbing, we found what I presume to be the production trailers for the location shoot. I may have seen a couple of staff-type folks, but I was uncomfortable lurking, so I grabbed a quick shot of the trailers themselves and moved along. I also got a few shots of a woodpecker, though he was wary of me and kept scooting around the tree so I wasn't able to get a particularly stable shot.

From there we drove around Upper Lonsdale a bit, getting a feel for the area, and then headed over to Mt. Seymour Road. I noticed that the fuel was getting a bit low (from my having filled the tank just before crossing into Canada; I love the Prius), so we planned to stop for fuel along the way. I did see one station, but I spotted it too late to get to it without the sort of driving maneuver that would give Americans a bad name, so we just kept going; I then saw what I thought was another station and made an almost-as-quick turn only to find it was closed. That was at a little shopping plaza at the corner of the mountain road, so we headed on up … and within the first kilometer, I was getting the "low fuel" tone. Since climbing a mountain is one of the best ways to run a Prius out of fuel faster than expected, I turned around and headed back to the one fuel station I knew of. I didn't put in all that much, since the prices are quite a bit higher in Canada, but it was certainly plenty. We headed back up again, and the climb was a long one. I found that the drop on the right (for the eastbound sections of the switchbacks) was really unnerving. We stopped off at the first overlook for pictures and to check out the hiking access point briefly; unlike the similar overlook at Cypress, though, this overlook did not have multiple signs explaining to us that the smoggy view was due to pollution. We drove from there all the way up, the car in "eco mode" the whole time and handling just fine, losing almost ten degrees Fahrenheit from the foot of the mountain to the shadier areas at the top. More pictures at the top, and then we headed back down, the car less happy because it had tons of energy and nowhere to store it. (I was trying not to ride the brakes, but the engine brake was really unhappy at various points. Or at least noisy enough to make me nervous.)

We drove all the way down from there to Deep Cove, which was quite a drop in total. From there we followed the main near-the-water road (Dollarton Hwy, apparently), and we thought about doubling back to a water-side park (Cates Park, Google Maps tells me) as we passed it but decided against it in the end.

I'm a proponent of the "deal with it" school of driving — if you end up in the wrong lane, follow it and correct later rather than backing up on the highway or other Darwin-Award-worthy acts — so when I ended up in the lane to switch over to Low Level Rd, I just went with it. This took us past what seemed to be a train offloading depot of some kind, with a vast building that may well have comprised dozens of silos. (I'm not sure that's the case, though, because silos make me think food, and I wouldn't think food storage that close to a flooding level would be wise. It's right on the water of Vancouver Harbour … though, then again, if ships offload there and the contents then transfer to trains … okay, I get it now.) The building played tricks with our eyes as we drove towards it, which was really disorienting.

We followed that back up to where the road rejoined Marine Drive (-ish), at which point we were nearly t-boned by a car that just flew through the driver's red signal from our left after our light had turned green. No one honked at her, at all; I was too stunned, and maybe that sort of thing just isn't done in Canada, I dunno. We shook it off, continued onto Marine Drive, and promptly landed in a nasty traffic jam. We didn't really have an option, so we stayed with it all the way across the Lion's Gate bridge. Mom tried to get a few shots of the sunset from the bridge, when we were finally actually moving, so they didn't really come out; I diverted into Stanley Park at the foot of the bridge, but by the time we got to a good vantage point the sunset was pretty much over. (The sunsets in general throughout our week ended early, so to speak, because of thorough low-west cloud cover.)

We stopped to get more veggie lasagna at The Dish for me, and mom had leftovers from SNS. We started trying to get all our stuff ready for an early morning departure, but my stomach was a little unhappy (between coffee and ibuprofen and red-sauce pasta), so I wanted ice cream; thanks to the power of Google, we found that Yaletown Gelato was nearby, so we walked over in hopes it would still be open. It was, and I got the espresso flavor (I think), which was okay; mom got a chocolate that was thick like a brownie and better. We also got some passable nighttime shots of the fountains in that park, thanks to a handy rock-cum-tripod.

23rd September, Vancouver to Seattle to home
I was up late packing; I never heard the wake-up call, but Mom must have, because she took the first shower. We were headed to breakfast by about 7, but we didn't seem to be on the road until almost 8, which wasn't as early as I'd hoped (since I wanted to leave time in case customs took a while). That may in part be because I stopped for coffee at the JJ Bean by the hotel (which I'd previously skipped on a prior day, since their menu didn't list their blender drink.) I also had trouble getting onto the bridge I needed for the alternate (non-99) route shaddyr had suggested. We did eventually get onto the road, though, and getting across Vancouver was still pokey, but at least we didn't have to deal with a tunnel that was down to one outbound lane for rush hour and experiencing construction delays to boot, so the alternate route was vastly preferable. Customs was a little slow only because the agent seemed engaged in a spirited conversation with the driver of the car ahead of us; he spent a few minutes after that asking us questions and then we were done. I was relieved, since we'd lost enough time that I'd been worried; we were fine now, I thought.

I need not to think these things.

The stretch between Seattle and Vancouver seemed pretty dreary to me, in both directions; this time was made even more entertaining by rain that increased the further south we got. We stopped to refuel enough that I wouldn't have to pay a fueling penalty, and after that Mom dozed off for a bit while the Garmin failed to account for the possibility that I might have taken the carpool lane. I worked out the route fairly easily despite that, and we were back at the Alamo in good time. We emptied the car, noted the fuel and odometer levels, and headed inside.

And that's where it all went to hell.

Now, Alamo's national service, I have no particular opinion on. I like that I was able to reserve a Prius specifically with them and have a fair idea what I would be paying. I cannot stress enough, however, that the Downtown Seattle location is terrible. When I picked up the car, the agent had the reservation all set and then somehow saw it vanish entirely from the system; he wasn't able to figure it out, and he had to swap with the other agent. (She suggested the swap, because her customers spoke fine English but better German, and the agent I'd started with also spoke German.) She got the system to cope somehow, eventually; because of something that had come up with the other customers, after she'd gotten the system to print my paperwork, I asked if it would cost extra to return the car to the airport; she said it would, so I thanked her for the information and didn't pursue it. My name turned out to be misspelled on the paperwork, and I have to wonder if that's why my reservation disappeared, since I filed it with the correct spelling online with prepayment.

The same guy was alone this time. He took my paperwork, he entered my information, and he informed me that since I was supposed to return the car to the airport, it was a one-way rental and my total was $1,935. I think we can all agree: oh hell no.

One person was already waiting behind us, and another arrived as I was explaining that I couldn't possibly be returning it to the wrong location and had no intention of paying $1900 for a rental that should be about $450. He poked and prodded and was confused and completely failed to cope as the line behind us grew and I checked the time more and more anxiously. I tried to make it clear that we were in danger of missing flights, but he just kept gaping at his system and not understanding why it didn't work. The concept of calling for help, or of entering some kind of override for the interim, didn't seem to occur to him.

I thought.

After about half an hour, he presented me with a paper that showed he'd manually overridden the overcharge. So it had taken that long already ... why? He pointed to the various figures on the paper, proving I would now be charged the right amount.

"Um," I responded. "You do realize you're charging me a net of about two dollars for the entire week, right?"

I then had to show him, by longhand subtraction that was faster than his hand calculator and computer, that his method would in fact refund most of my prepayment and leave me with a net charge of $1.57, when I had prepaid about $360 and should have owed about another $87 for the additional coverage I'd agreed to. I told my mother that she might have to head on to the airport alone, since I was still under the impression at that point that I needed to sign something, but she refused, not knowing how to get there. I wanted to push her to go, but I wanted more to get the damn car situation resolved, so I didn't push her that hard. Finally, finally the guy accepted the numbers I had given him, after checking them several times with his calculator, and said he'd send a receipt to me by email.

There was nothing to sign in the end, so we headed out as fast as we could — walking the three or four blocks to the train, riding the escalators down to the ticket level, buying tickets, and then looking in vain for an escalator down to the train. We found two elevators, one heading up and one heading somewhere we couldn't determine, as well as one up escalator. (The signs to get to that point had been perfectly clear, but no more.) After dithering a bit, I led us down the stairs, kathunking our bags down each step. Thanks, Seattle!

We clarified with a local that the train would show up in the same place the buses were, waited five or ten minutes for the train, and boarded at about noon. This meant arriving at the airport at about 12:30, when Mom's flight was about 1pm, so I was very nervous, but there was nothing we could do at that point.

The train was a bit pokey, probably in part because of the rain, and while I was fatalistic at this point, Mom was getting more and more edgy, because she always has very bad luck with planes. We finally got to the airport, walked as quickly as we could towards the terminals, finally found the right one for her, and tried to scan her pass so that she could check her bag … only to be told it was too close to take-off and she couldn't.

An agent came over to help her as I went over to check my bag at Southwest; when I got back, Mom was upset, telling me they couldn't get her on the flight or on any flight that would get her to Gulfport the same day. I checked with the agent about other destinations; New Orleans would have worked except the connection was full, and they can't reissue tickets for a standby, and Mobile was useless. She would have to stay in Houston overnight. We did get her reticketed to get to Houston and then leave there the next morning, made our way through the strangely long security line, and headed to my gate … where my plane, unlike hers, was late.

I'd helped her fit the maple cookies she'd bought as a gift into her bag, but she wanted to stuff her overshirt in there, so she foisted a box of cookies on me. Boarding was super-slow for my flight, and Mom hovered because she was worried about my connection, but I pointed out that airlines usually hold connecting flights whenever possible and I didn't really care if I got stuck in Chicago overnight (figuring if it was the airline's fault, they could damn well put me up for the night, and unlike her I didn't have work the next day). I did finally board, made the connection late enough that the ten or so people from my plane were the last to board and all got crappy seats, and got home before midnight.

Two days later I found that I'd never gotten an email receipt from the Alamo guy, but my card had been credited so that my net charge was … $1.57.

Seriously, Downtown Seattle Alamo is terrible. Avoid them.

Random observations left out of prior days
- When we were at that huge mall in Burnaby, we checked out a shop called Lush. Every one of the shop attendants came across as really perkily stoned. It's hard to describe, and my vocabulary in this area is lacking, but they were very friendly and very upbeat and yet somehow simultaneously super-mellow. I blame the scented soaps.

- The people were, in general, very nice. I know that's a Canadian stereotype, but I live in New England, and the difference was definitely noticeable. I specifically noticed that many desk agents and other store representatives seemed genuinely happy and interested; the niceness never came across as artificial. As with Lush, there was an earnestness there that I'm just not used to.

- Three things I'm not used to seeing available just anywhere, but were rampant in the Vancouver area:
-- Fish & chips — I see it at restaurants occasionally around here, but not really at concession stands.
-- Tea, as a serious thing rather than an afterthought where coffee is sold. There were little teapots at the concession on the ferry to Vancouver Island!
-- Soft serve ice cream. Where I grew up, it was everywhere; it's available in New England, but not nearly so commonly.

Overall:
I loved Vancouver. Despite a few snags, the trip was very good. I can strongly recommend Cascadia Hotel and Suites, JJ Bean for coffee, and The Dish on Davie St. (I found Davie St useful in general.) I would love to go back and explore more of the parks, especially hiking, as well as just the overall area, and I'd recommend Vancouver as a destination to anyone … even during times of a poor exchange rate!

Originally posted at Dreamwidth | Comment | comment count unavailable comments
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E.T. Davidoffvettecat on October 6th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
Glad you were able to get the overcharge settled, you got home safely, and you had a good time!
michelel72: Spring-Yellowmichelel72 on October 6th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
Astridastridv on October 6th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
Oh, I love Vancouver! It's one of my favorite cities in the world... it's just got everything: you got the amenities of the big city but all you have to do is take the bus to the city border and you're up in the mountains. And there's the ocean. And skiing in the winter. And the people are so friendly.

If it weren't for the permagrey winter months, I'd have been seriously tempted to move there years ago.

bookmarking your post for later reading; I'm technically at work right now. ;)
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Smilemichelel72 on October 6th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
I was really amazed at how close real nature was to downtown, and how many buses linked them. Wonderful city. If I had a more portable job, I'd give it serious consideration indeed. (My only worry is that it's even further north than I am now; I'd happily trade snow for rain, though.)
Pretzelscarlet_gryphon on October 6th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Sorry about all the random crap you had to go through with your car. I hope your impression of Seattle in general was okay, though. As a local (well, within the Seattle metro area, anyways), I always cringe a bit inside when stories like this pop up. I promise not all of Seattle is like this.
michelel72: Cat-Winry-Nestingmichelel72 on October 6th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, I quite like Seattle itself! (Except the lack of a down escalator to the rail link, heh.) Sorry if I conveyed otherwise. We didn't spend much time there this trip — a late-arrival overnight outbound, an early(-ish) departure, and the whirlwind return. But I've visited before, when my brother was in college there, and I found it quite nice!
Sophiasophia_sol on October 7th, 2010 07:32 am (UTC)
I am glad you had a great trip, despite the problems you had (like, gosh, that car rental experience sounds very frustrating)!

Also, CHAIR HAMMOCKS. They are the best thing ever. I have looked at them admiringly for at least a decade by this point, and though I have no use for one I will always admire them.
michelel72: DW-Donna-Spookymichelel72 on October 11th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)
In the end (so far, knock wood, and all that), the billing seems to have been straightened out through the national customer service line, with the extra coverage I agreed to waived, so it may be better now, and my mother isn't bitter about the flight at this point, so I guess it worked out?

But yes, the chair hammock rocks! Mom got hers in large part for my father, who hates it ... while she finds that she gets better sleep in it than in her bed. I just find mine cool. Yay!
lyrstzhalyrstzha on October 10th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
Gladto hear it was overall a good trip, aside from the transportation woes.

Canadians really are so adorable in their earnestness, aren't they? I think it's my favorite thing about Canada.
michelel72: SGA-Zelenka-Smilemichelel72 on October 11th, 2010 05:06 am (UTC)
Thanks!

And yes, it was really quite nice. (If just that little bit alarming. Hee.)