What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC

We’re often asked for recommendations about places we’ve traveled and I’ve never written specifically here about one of our favorite cities to visit, Vancouver, BC.  In the spirit of my “What Not to Miss: Austin” post, I present, “What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC”.

Josh and I have been big fans of Vancouver since our first trip there, back in 2014.  We stayed in Vancouver for a couple of days prior to our Alaska cruise. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vancouver twice since that original trip, both times in the last year and we’re still in love with the city.  It (along with Barcelona) is a place we’d absolutely consider if we were to move “abroad”.

How to Get Around

If you arrive by air, you’ll likely land at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).  The airport is beautiful and really easy to navigate and it’s ridiculously easy to get from the airport directly to Downtown Vancouver, using public transportation.  Just make your way to the Vancouver (YVR) – Canada Line SkyTrain station, located above the covered parking garage at the airport, and ride the SkyTrain for around 30 minutes, to the City Centre station, for less than $10 per person.

If you’re renting a car at the airport and you’re planning to stay Downtown, make sure you account for parking with your lodging.  I’m a big advocate of having a car in Vancouver, and you’ll see why as my recommendations go on, but parking in Downtown Vancouver can be a bit of a nightmare.  Make sure you’re prepared with an Airbnb that includes parking or a hotel that has parking facilities.

If you’re not renting a car, you’ll still find it very easy to get around Vancouver, using public transportation.  I recommend downloading the Citymapper app (Android | Apple) to map your routes using busses and the SkyTrain.  It’s super easy to use and is available for a variety of cities around the world.  All you have to do is enter your final destination and Citymapper will tell you all of the options for how to get there, using public transportation, on foot, via car, and with a taxi/ride share service.  If you’re using public transportation, the app has a feature that will allow it to alert you when your stop is coming up. Surprisingly, this feature works on underground transportation, as well, and even worked flawlessly in the London Tube, which is known for being one of the deeper subway systems in the world.

If you’ve got an early flight to catch, you can also use the app to estimate how long any route will take at specific times of the day, so you can estimate what time you will need to leave to arrive somewhere at a specific time.  It’s a really useful app and we’ve used it in multiple cities around the globe.

Where to Stay

I definitely recommend finding a place to stay that’s in Downtown Vancouver.  Vancouver is an incredible walkable city (we’ve easily hit 25,000 steps in one day in Vancouver) and being right in the center of everything puts you that much closer to all the great parts of the city center.  

If you’re comfortable with using the sharing economy, I recommend Airbnb.  We’ve been fortunate enough to stay in the same building (two different apartments) for each of our three Vancouver trips and it’s in a perfect location.  Unfortunately, the first apartment we stayed in has been sold and is no longer listed on Airbnb, but our last two trips were spent in this fabulous 19th floor apartment, overlooking Downtown.  The views at night are incredible and the apartment has everything you need to enjoy a trip to Vancouver (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, laundry in the apartment, a fully stocked kitchen, balcony, fast internet, and the best perk of all – underground parking).

If you’re thinking of using Airbnb for the first time, you can get a $40 travel credit by using my link (www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350).  Full disclosure – if you use my link to book, I’ll get a $20 Airbnb credit when you complete your trip.

We haven’t stayed in a hotel in Vancouver before, but there are a lot of options to choose from in the Downtown area.  If hotels are more your speed, you’re sure to find one that’s suitable.

What to Do in Vancouver

It seems like there’s a never-ending supply of things to do when you’re visiting Vancouver.  I’ve broken down my “to-do” recommendations into “inside Vancouver” and “around Vancouver”. We’ll start with things to do while you’re in the city.  

Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour

The first time we were in Vancouver, we spent a whole day riding the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.  We’ve found that this tour, in any city we’ve done one in, has been one of our best experiences.  These tour companies painstakingly curate their routes and include interesting facts and history about the city, while showing you some of the most popular sites around.  You can hop off the bus at any of the stops, and hop back on when you’re ready to explore somewhere new.

We typically do one full loop of the tour, then get off at places that sparked our interest. That way, even if we find a place we love and lose track of time, we would still have been able to see everything on the tour.  I usually recommend buying whatever version of the ticket will allow you to access all of the routes that are running on your selected day, and if you’re going to be in town for more than a day, I’d get a multi-day pass, if it’s offered.  Then you can just do a couple days of hop-on-hop-off, and see everything you want to see in the city you’re visiting.

Granville Island

Granville Island is a special place.  It combines art, food, and waterfront, right in the middle of the Downtown Vancouver skyscrapers and it’s magical.  Most people immediately think of the Granville Island Public Market when they think of Granville, but this area is so much more than just the Market.  Don’t get me wrong – the Market is phenomenal, but the area is filled with local artists, studios, a boat making shop, a theatre company, and tons of little shops and restaurants that are totally Vancouver.  The Island is a great place to spend an afternoon and when you’re done, grab a snack at the Market and sit outside watching the boats and birds on False Creek, in the shadow of Downtown Vancouver.

Stanley Park

You can’t go to Vancouver without visiting Stanley Park.  It’s one of the largest parks in North America and British Columbia doesn’t mess around when it comes to parks.  At 130 years old and nearly 1,000 acres, Stanley Park is the oldest and largest park in Vancouver. The park lies on a peninsula between Vancouver Harbour and English Bay and features a beautiful seawall that’s great for running, walking, biking, and rollerblading.  While visiting Stanley Park, you can ride the Stanley Park train, visit the largest aquarium in Canada, lay on the beach, visit historical landmarks, eat delectable food, and enjoy the beautiful British Columbia outdoors. It’s really a park like none other, and you’ll want to devote a chunk of time to checking out all it has to offer.  

Stanley Park Seawall

Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery is really a fantastic stop if you’re an art lover.  Their exhibits change often and Josh and I have enjoyed the exhibits all three times we’ve visited.  The gallery is currently housed in a beautiful and historic building (former provincial courthouse), right in the middle of Downtown Vancouver.  Soon, it will be moving into a brand new space (groundbreaking is scheduled for sometime this year – 2018) that’s been in the planning process since 2004.  We can’t wait to get back to Vancouver when the new facility is finished to see how it turned out. It’s definitely worth checking out while it’s still in the current location, as the architecture is gorgeous.

Sunset Beach & English Bay Beach

Adjacent to Stanley Park, you can find Sunset Beach and English Bay Beach.  The two are connected and I’m not certain where one ends and the other begins, but both are fantastic places to spend an afternoon just people watching or enjoying the breathtaking views of English Bay.  Sunset Beach features access to the False Creek ferry system and the Stanley Park seawall. English Bay Beach features beach rentals, the Cactus Club Cafe (this place seemed WAY too cool for us, with a line to get in around 3pm), and a swimming raft with a slide.  If you’re looking for beach activities, either of these would be a great option.

What to Do around Vancouver

Now, we’ll explore things to do around the Vancouver area, but outside the city.  If you have the opportunity and the time to get outside the city limits of Vancouver, you won’t be disappointed.  British Columbia is one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever been and, if we lived there, I would spend most of my time outdoors.  It’s just breathtaking, every direction you go.

GyPSy Guide Tour App

Folks, this is my #1 recommendation when you’re traveling in British Columbia and have access to a car.  If you take no other piece of advice I’ve given here, take this one. GyPSy Guide is an app that you can download on your smartphone.  You download the app for a few dollars (trust me, it’s worth every penny you’ll spend and SO much more) at home, before you leave for your trip to Vancouver.  GyPSy uses GPS (get it? GPS?) signals (no cellular data) to track where you are located and gives you a turn by turn guided tour of the area over your phone speakers, or through the car’s bluetooth connection.  

We have taken both the Whistler (north) route and the Kamloops (east) route out of Vancouver and we would recommend both to anyone who wants to take a day-trip out of the city.  GyPSy also has a tour of Downtown Vancouver that does a great job of teaching you about the city and showing you all of the important landmarks.

GyPSy Guide tours have taken us to places other driving tours would have skipped and we’ve been awed by every turn.  In addition to the British Columbia tours, GyPSy offers tours in Hawaii, on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.  We used the Oahu and Kauai tours when we were there last year and will use the others the next time we have the opportunity.  GyPSy Guide also has tours in other areas of the United States and Canada. Truthfully, we will download the GyPSy Guide tour for any area we’re visiting that has one.  The tours keep you interested and provide some really great information about the places you’re visiting. Again, I can’t recommend these enough. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see things other tourists will miss!

Provincial Parks

If you download the GyPSy Guide Tour to either Whistler or Kamloops, you’ll be given the opportunity to pull off at many of the British Columbia Provincial Parks.  I absolutely recommend stopping to visit these breathtaking spots. British Columbia isn’t ever a place that came to mind when I pictured spectacular waterfalls, but it’s definitely on my list of best waterfalls now, after visiting so many of the Provincial parks.  It seems like every turn in British Columbia affords another fabulous view, and the Provincial parks spread throughout the province do not disappoint.

BC Ferry to Victoria

You’ll often hear from people who have visited Vancouver that you need to make sure you get yourself to Victoria.  This can be easier said than done, but, on our last trip to Vancouver, we made the trek to the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen and sailed to Swartz Bay, just outside of Victoria.  The voyage was beautiful and the experience of riding a passenger/vehicle ferry was really interesting.

Something many people don’t realize about traveling from Vancouver to Victoria on a ferry, is that the ferry terminals are both about 30 miles outside each city, so just hopping on the ferry as a passenger isn’t the most feasible option.  You’ll either need to have a car, or take one of the chartered busses that will take you from Downtown Vancouver to Downtown Victoria. We chose the private vehicle method, and would do it that way again, if given the opportunity. We’ve never done the bus trip, so I can’t comment on how smoothly that works, but we know the private vehicle option works well.  I do recommend, however, that you book your trip ahead of time, to reserve a spot. You’ll have to pay a deposit to make the reservation, but you don’t pay the full fee until you arrive at the ferry terminal for your voyage.

Butchart Gardens

While in Victoria, be sure to stop at Butchart Gardens.  I never thought a garden could be so fascinating, but it’s truly amazing.  The gardens are inside an abandoned quarry and are like no place I’ve ever been.  The care and love that goes into keeping this place so beautiful is very evident as you explore the grounds.  While you’re there, don’t forget to make reservations to experience high tea. It can be pricey, but it’s really worth it.  You won’t leave hungry!

Where to Eat

What would a trip be without some restaurant recommendations?  My recommendations in Vancouver are a little different than my typically recommendations.  Vancouver is an incredible international city. You can find cuisine from all over the world within about a 4 block radius of wherever you stay.  Everything is incredible, and you should try it all – from the dollar pizza, to the food trucks outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, you don’t be disappointed.  That being said, I do have a couple of recommendations if you need some places to get started.

Cartems Donuterie

This was a recommendation from one of Josh’s colleagues and he didn’t steer us wrong.  We stopped here as soon as we got off of our cruise ship, after 5 days at sea, from Maui.  Fresh, gourmet donuts and a great mocha were on my to-do list for the day and we had great success at Cartems.  The donuts you’ll find here aren’t of the “Dunkin’” variety. Come prepared to give your tastebuds a workout and you’ll have the opportunity to try flavors you won’t see anywhere else, like smoked maple walnut, honey Parmesan, and orange guava.  

Cartems Donuterie

 

The Flying Pig

Located in the heart of Gastown, one of the more gentrified, touristy areas of Vancouver, the Flying Pig may look like any other over-hyped restaurant.  What you’ll find, though, is a meticulously curated menu of seasonally-inspired and locally-sourced dishes that will blow you away. Who wouldn’t love some pulled pork poutine or lobster and prawn risotto?  Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any selection from their menu.

Mr. Shawarma Food Truck

If you know me, you know of my love for food trucks.  Mr. Shawarma is a truck I found the first time we visited Vancouver, and I’ve been back every time we’ve been there since.  It’s not fancy and it’s not expensive, but the food tastes amazing and the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll meet.  My favorite order is a falafel pita wrap, but they also sell poutine, platters, and spicy options.

Whatever your plans are when you visit Vancouver, I hope you love the city as much as we do!  Do you have favorites that I missed?

 

Blue Apron Believer: A Review

I'm a Blue Apron Believer!
Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this review and after the initial free week, have paid full-price for each subsequent week of meals.

When a colleague offered me one of his free week links from Blue Apron in July, I was ready to hop on the offer immediately. My husband, Josh, on the other hand, is super skeptical of subscription services and wasn’t thrilled about the idea of getting stuck in a subscription that would be difficult to cancel. We received our first box the week of the 4th of July and we have never looked back.  We LOVE it. We’ve only had one or two meals we didn’t care for, but most nights, I get serious compliments from Josh on dinner. It’s not stuff I would have normally chosen to make, whether it be because of ingredients I’m not used to working with (or have never heard of) or because it’s a cuisine that I’m not a fan of, but I love that it takes me out of my comfort zone and makes me try new ingredients and cuisines that I may not have otherwise attempted. According to our year-end report, I cooked meals from 13 different cuisines in 2016. That’s probably 9 more than I would have otherwise.

Blue Apron Year in Review
I love that I only have to have salt, pepper, and olive oil on-hand to make 3 fantastic meals and you get to choose (with some limitation on the combinations) from 6 different options each week. If you don’t like one of the proteins from one of the “default” three meals, you can switch to another meal instead, as long as you change it enough in advance of the shipment. I love that I’ve got our meals planned out for the next 5 weeks right now and I know exactly what we’ll be having from Blue Apron each week.

Also, no more food waste! We use exactly what they send us and we don’t throw out any rotten fruit or veggies or meat we didn’t get to. I used to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food that went bad in the fridge or that I stuffed in the freezer, thinking I’d use it in a reasonable amount of time, but found it hiding in the back with several years of accumulated freezer burn.

Because it costs more than I would have spent previously (each serving is $9.99), I make cooking those three nights each week a priority and schedule which nights I’m going to cook. If I know that I have meetings each night one week, I’ll skip that week ahead of time so we don’t waste the food. This also means we don’t make excuses to order delivery or go out to eat when I’ve got Blue Apron on the calendar.

As far as how long it takes to cook each meal, plan for a little longer than the recipe cards say, unless you’ve got experience in a professional kitchen. Maybe I’m just too much of a perfectionist, but it takes a decent amount of time to cut and prep the fresh veggies before you even start heating anything up.

Subscribers are occasionally given the opportunity to share free weeks with friends and family and, so far, I’ve had 7 friends cash in their free weeks from my referrals.  I know that a couple of them just tried the free week and decided to pause their subscription until they finish grad school, but others are still subscribers and love it, as well.

Josh and I travel a lot and we were on vacation for 2 and a half weeks in October, then two days after we returned, I left for a work trip to London for a week. We skipped Blue Apron deliveries for the whole month of October and picked right back up when I returned from London in early November. Skipping weeks is incredibly easy, you just have to remember to stay on top of it if you know you need to skip a week.

Blue Apron has changed the way we eat and has given me the opportunity to get out of a cooking rut that included casseroles most nights and very little fresh fruit and vegetables.  I’m cooking with ingredients I’ve never cooked with before and am learning to love things I’ve never tried before.

If you’re on the fence about trying Blue Apron, I encourage you to seek out a friend who might have a free week to offer and give it a shot.  You’ve got nothing to lose and so much great food and experience to gain!  Bon Appetit!

Curry in a Hurry – Lawrence

Today, I stopped by the new location of Curry in a Hurry on the outskirts of Downtown Lawrence.  We’ve been hearing a lot about it through the Journal World and local twitter users and Josh really wanted to try it.  I had the day off of work for a doctor’s appointment and had some errands to run, so I stopped by on my way home.

The setup is like nothing I’ve seen before in a restaurant.  Sammi has a buffet-style setup where all of the curries are pre-packaged in to-go containers and you just select which variety of curry you would like, grab a container of rice and any side items that you’d like (I grabbed naan bread, but there were at least two other items that I didn’t pick up) and take your selections to the register to check out.  I chose the chicken curry and rice for Josh (and unfortunately, he ate it all before I could get a photo) but Sammi was also offering pea and potato curry today.

The store has also been converted into a small storefront convenience store with candies, sodas, cigarettes and other convenience store items.  It’s definitely a unique addition to Downtown Lawrence.

Josh thought that the curry has some great flavors and that it was very good.  We hadn’t tried Sammi’s curry before, when he was working out of the Shell gas station near 19th & Mass but people have raved about his set-up for quite some time.  I know his true fans are delighted to have him back with his curry in a hurry.  I also know that we will be back to visit Sammi and see what kind of variety he will bring to Indian cuisine in Lawrence.  We’re definitely looking forward to it.

Curry in a Hurry is located at 1111 Massachusetts Street in Downtown Lawrence, KS.

Jarritos Nation Contest

Today, I was contacted by someone from Jarritos, a soda manufacturer from Mexico.  They seem to be expanding in the US and asked me if I would sample some of their products and let you all know what I think about them.  I’m excited to receive my package and will let you all know what I think after I’ve had a chance to test them.

In the meantime, check out the Jarritos Nation contest! It’s a website designed to bring all fans of Jarritos together and award prizes for posting photos. Entering is very easy – just head to www.jarritosnation.com and “claim” a location on the map with a photo. Prizes range from packages of Jarritos to digital cameras and even a 12 day cruise to Hawaii!  Good luck!

Valentine’s Day at Pachamama’s in Lawrence, KS

 

I meant to get this review up sooner than today, but it just didn’t happen.  Better late than never, right?

 

Pachamama’s is touted to be one of the very best restaurants in Lawrence, Kansas.  It has been located in two different buildings since it was first opened in 1996.  The first location was a wonderful building on the far west side of town, but because it sat out of the sight of the public (or for some other reason) it was not the most popular restaurant in town.  Since moving to their current location at 800 New Hampshire Street in downtown Lawrence in 2006, their business has flourished.  Whenever Josh and I walk by on our way somewhere else they are always busy.  They also have the Star Bar, which Josh and I have been to a few times before and they make some pretty awesome drinks.  If you’re ever there when it’s cold outside and they’re offering the hot chocolate with the homemade marshmallows, you should definitely order it!  It’s to die for!

 

Unfortunately though, I had never been to Pachamama’s to actually eat.  I’ve heard other people talk about how great it was, but we’ve just never had occasion to actually go there until last Saturday. . . Valentine’s Day. 

 

Josh was completely in charge of determining where we were going to eat and planning the evening, so I didn’t know until Friday night that we would be going to Pachamama’s.  They had designed a set 6 (really 5) course menu for $75 per person with an optional $25 wine pairing.  Josh and I both decided to do the wine pairing and we weren’t disappointed.  I’m slowly becoming acclimated to drinking wine (which I previously thought was pretty disgusting).  The wine pairing on Valentine’s Day was a good way for me to try several different kinds of wine without having to have a whole glass or whole bottle.  Unfortunately, I don’t yet feel comfortable whipping out my camera and doing a photo shoot in the middle of a busy restaurant, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. 

 

The menu was as follows:

 

Three Lovely Bites

Crispy Bacon-Oyster Brochette, Tomato Confit, Hollandaise

Smoked Salmon Tartar Lemon, Chives, Fried Fennel

A Slider A La Plancha, Idiazabal Cheese, "Special Sauce"

Juve & Camps Brut Rose Cava N.V.

Porcini Mushroom "Cappuccino"

Wattle seed dusted parmesan-goat cheese foam

Alto Adige Terlaner, Italy

 

Tasmanian Sweet Crab

Avocado, Mango, Beet Green Vinaigrette

2007 Dr. Loosen Riesling, Germany

 

Ginger-Blood Orange Refresher

 

Choice of:

Pan Roasted Barramundi (Josh ordered this one)

Warm shitake-lentil salad, minted sweet pea crush, tangerine-sherry pan sauce

2007 A to Z Pinot Noir, Oregon

or

Seared Hanger Steak (I ordered this one)

Potatoes Aligot, ruby chard, roasted garlic, salsa verde

Colle Dei Venti Barbera d’Alba, Italy

Tres Leche Caramel Soaked Sponge Cake

Whipped cream, espresso ice cream, Irish cream creme anglaise

Chamber’s Muscadelle, Australia

 

My favorites from the menu were the Crispy Bacon-Oyster Brochette, the Porcini Mushroom "Cappuccino", and the Seared Hanger Steak. 

The brochette had just the right amount of crispiness and the oyster was not overpowering.  Besides, everything is better with bacon, right?

If you know me well, you know that I am NOT a mushroom fan by any stretch of the imagination. My real reason for not liking mushrooms is the texture.  I can’t stand the slimy chunky ick that is a mushroom.  This "cappuccino" was blended so well that if you didn’t know better, you would have no idea that it involved mushrooms.  If all mushrooms were prepared like these were, I would eat them all day!

Now, the steak was other-worldly.  There is no other way to describe it than to use the phrase that I used that night.  This steak was "close your eyes and enjoy it" good.  It was cooked exceptionally and just melted in your mouth.  The potatoes and ruby chard matched the steak perfectly.  It is absolutely something that I would go back to Pachamama’s for and it probably wouldn’t matter how much I had to pay for it.

 

All of the other dishes were great as well, but those were the top three for me.  Josh said that he enjoyed my steak more than his barramundi, but the barrramundi was good as well.  All in all, it was an amazing meal and well worth the wait for me.  It’s been open for over 10 years and I have lived in Lawrence through that entire time, but still hadn’t made it in.  I definitely won’t wait that long to visit again.

 

They’ve even got a great Sunday Suppers event that will be going on through at least the end of March, according to their website.  3-course meals for $25 at Pachamama’s. . . who could ask for more???