Discovering Downtown Vancouver

IMG_20170319_093451620_HDR_LUCiDWe recently traveled to Vancouver for a quick weekend away with our friends. After an incredible Saturday exploring Stanley Park and the West End, I was looking forward to our second and final day trekking around downtown and over to Granville Island before catching our late-afternoon train home.

I woke up early Sunday morning and was lounging in bed, preparing for the day and enjoying the free Wifi at our hotel since we didn’t have cell service in Canada.

Imagine my surprise when I opened a new email from Amtrak saying our train home that night had been cancelled! No explanation, no alternative transportation, just a message to call them as soon as possible for more information!

My sharp intake of breath and mild panic abruptly drew Brian from his slumber, and we scrambled to think through our options. Our friend had her phone enabled so Brian borrowed it to call Amtrak and find out how we were supposed to get home.

The woman on the phone was perfectly calm and said we had nothing to worry about. They were securing buses, and we simply needed to arrive at the train station at the same time we were supposed to have met our train where we would be assigned a bus. Not exactly what we had planned, but I felt a flood of relief knowing they had things under control. Of course they would have to have backup plans—there had to be hundreds of people also booked on our train so it only made sense they would have other means for getting all of us to our destination. Likely many people were in our same position and needed to be home Sunday night in order to rest up for work first-thing Monday morning.

Having straightened things out—and taking a little friendly heat from our friends, who we had convinced to take this trip with us via train—we went back to our regularly scheduled day.

The gentleman at our hotel’s front desk recommended a little spot called the Medina Cafe for breakfast so we set off walking from the West End through several residential neighborhoods to downtown.

We arrived at Medina Cafe to a line out the door and down the block—obviously this is a hot spot and we weren’t nearly as early as we had thought! The wait was well over an hour, but thankfully they let us put in our name and encouraged us to do a little sight-seeing while we waited.

I wasn’t really familiar with things to see and do in the immediate area, but Ian had looked up a few things for us to do if the weather was inclement, two of which were within a few blocks of the Medina Cafe.

Our first stop was the Vancouver Public Library, which was an incredible building that looked like a mix of the Roman Colosseum and a conch shell, with the walls circling around the center. It wasn’t open yet, but we were able to walk into the outer atrium where there were a variety of shops and people resting at tables and on benches.

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We walked through the library’s atrium and came out a few blocks from our next stop, Christ Church Cathedral.

During our previous visits to Vancouver, Brian and I really hadn’t spent much time downtown, opting instead for some of the nearby neighborhoods. It was fun being in the bustle of the main shopping district and seeing some of the gorgeous hotels that typically don’t come up on my Priceline searches!

The church was buried under the shadow of one of these beauties, the towering Fairmont hotel, and it was buzzing with activity as people made their way in for the morning service. Nicole and Brian were near the door and beckoned in by a woman who was happy for us to roam around inside until services started. We all headed in to a beautiful sanctuary with one of the most impressive wooden ceilings I have ever seen! With lanterns hanging from the rafters, and beautiful stained glass windows along either side of the building, I truly thought it rivaled many of the churches and cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe.

Our hostess introduced us to one of the church leaders, who took time to share some of the church’s history as well as its restoration, which resulted in the amazing ceilings we were experiencing. They were celebrating Lent so all of the gorgeous purple banners were displayed in the sanctuary as well as the alcoves. We walked around to either side and were taking it all in as the choir began to rehearse. There was an incredible pipe organ at the back of the church in the second floor loft, and the music flooded the building.

We were encouraged to check out some of the old flags that you usually see hanging from the rafters in old churches. Here they were on display in sliding cabinets for preservation purposes. Their antique stitching was incredible and well worth preserving.

Afterward we headed downstairs to learn about the Common Threads quilt exhibit, which was on display in their community room. I know my mom would love seeing the various quilting techniques the people from the church and surrounding community used to create the exhibit.

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We stood outside a few minutes to hear the church bells ring so before returning to the Medina Cafe for our breakfast reservation.

Our timing was perfect and we were able to walk in and wait only a few moments for our table. As we walked to our seats we passed an incredible display of waffles, which appeared to be a favorite menu item and snack to whet your appetite for your actual meal.

Brian and I shared a waffle with dark chocolate, followed by avocado toast. I thought our food and my London Fog were very good, but I was glad we were able to put in our names and come back. I’m not sure it would have been worth standing outside in line for an hour.

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After brunch we walked to Gastown to introduce Ian and Nicole to the Steam Clock. The streets were busy with people shopping and walking their dogs. We popped in a few stores so they could buy gifts, including some maple sugar treats.

Despite having just eaten, we also had to make a stop at what is billed as the top local doughnut shop, Cartems Donuterie. Some of the daily selection was sold out, but Brian and Nicole still found a few things to try, which we packed away for afternoon and/or bus-ride home treats.

We did eat them later, and while good, we didn’t think they compared to Top Pot, Voodoo, or Blue Star doughnuts.

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It was mid-day as we started to make our way toward False Creek to catch a ferry over to Granville Island. We took a slight detour along the way and stumbled upon Andy Livingstone Park. It was actually a fairly large park with water features and paths as well as kids playgrounds and large ball fields.

We headed down by the soccer fields before turning back toward the river and the nearest ferry dock.

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We didn’t have to wait long for a ferry and before we knew it we were exploring Granville Island Public Market. It was really busy so we didn’t wander around too long before heading toward the Granville Island Brewing Company.

Nicole and I checked out a nearby shop full of pet toys and treats while the guys determined it wasn’t worth the wait to get into the brewery. Instead we walked around the island, stopping to take pictures of the grainery bins and ending back at the market to grab a few snacks and listen to some of the live music outside along the water.

The weather was beautiful, and we spent a little time relaxing in the sun, taking in the people as well as the sights and sounds of the market. Eventually we had to peel ourselves away and catch a ferry back toward Science World and the train station.

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We were at the station at 4:30 p.m., an hour before our train/bus was scheduled to depart, which we thought was more than enough time to figure out the new process for getting home. We walked in and over to the train information desks, which had large signs posted about the lines being cancelled. I explained our situation and asked the worker where we caught our bus.

“The last bus left at 4 p.m.,” he said.

We all stood there dumbfounded for a moment. I finally asked if he was serious, and he said he was sorry but there were no more buses. I didn’t know how this could be possible. We did exactly what we had been told by Amtrak customer service that morning.

We rushed over to the train ticketing counters only to hear the same message—as it turned out, they had not been able to secure buses to replace the train like they had originally planned, so at some point people who received the email and called were told they needed to make their own arrangements. Apparently, since we had called prior to their determination, we had been given misinformation.

I was trying not to freak out, but we were at a complete loss for how to get home. The ticketing office refunded our return tickets, but couldn’t offer us any suggestions for other modes of transportation or any sort of timing for when the trains would be restored. Likely several days!!

The train station had Wifi so Brian, Ian and I started looking up alternative means home while Nicole, who had her phone enabled, called Amtrak to find out how in the world we were given this information and what they were going to do to help us.

We tried greyhound buses, but as the station had mentioned, they were done running for the day. We tried car rental companies, but many were closed for the day and the few that were still open had policies against renting cars to people who wanted to travel one-way across the border with less than 24-hours notice.

Outside there was a Bolt bus stop, and we were able to find one that was leaving for Bellingham at 6:30 p.m. It seemed like we should at least try to get back into the States, so we booked four of the six remaining seats on that bus before turning our attention to how to get from Bellingham back to Everett at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday night.

After a few dead ends, we decided we really had no other option but to share an Uber. Expensive, but even my friend in Bellingham, who I was frantically Facebook Messaging for other options, couldn’t see an alternative.

We did in fact make it home late Sunday night via Bolt bus and a friendly Uber driver who loved hearing our escapade and offered a few crazy stories of his own about transporting people to and from the border.

I don’t know if our friends will ever try traveling via train again after this crazy adventure—certainly not unless Amtrak offers to resolve this with us in some way given they gave us the misinformation that caused our incident. I appreciate they can’t control acts of nature, but they certainly can control the information they share.

Now that it’s over, I do love that we had this wild experience together. It’s one more adventure I’m not likely to forget!

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One thought on “Discovering Downtown Vancouver

  1. Seattle Park Lover

    I’d be interested in an update post if you get any satisfaction from Amtrak. Seems like the least they could do is offer you free tickets for another trip or something to cover not only the Uber cost but all the stress and wasted time. It’s an awful feeling when you do everything right but end up stranded anyway, and the transportation company just has an “oh well, not our problem” attitude!

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