About a year ago, I was browsing Facebook, and saw a post from one of my friends - they were going to visit Vancouver, Canada, then 'do' the Rocky Mountaineer train trip, and a cruise of Alaska. Now, bear in mind that these friends now live in Barbados, and we live in New Zealand. And it's not the easiest of trips. For either of us to visit each other involves at least three flights, including two within the USA - and, since the US have brought in archaic immigration checks, even for passengers in transit, we have made a vow to avoid US airports at all costs. So, with Air New Zealands direct flights to Vancouver twice a week, a liasion in Canada seemed like a very good idea. We asked them if we could gate-crash part of their holiday.
We decided to fly into Vancouver near the start off May, spend a couple of days in Vancouver, then fly to Calgary to do some touring of the Rocky Mountains in a camper van before joining our friends for the start of the 'Rocky Mountaineer' luxury train tour, travelling from Calgary to Vancouver. We would then leave them to join their Alaskan cruise before a whistle-stop tour of Victoria, then flying back to Auckland.
We were looking forward to seeing the scenery, but most of all to meeting up with our friends (who we hadn't seen for 5 years). It was therefore a terrible shock when - two months before our trip - our friend Bill had a serious stroke, meaning that they had to cancel. So close to the travel date (and having paid for everything in advance), we couldn't cancel without losing a large percentage of our trip cost, so we decided to continue with the holiday.
We can honestly say that May 11th is the longest day we've ever spent. It lasted 42 hours - and we fitted an awful lot in….
As I am a freelance analyst, who doesn't get paid for days off, I as up at 6:45, in time to catch the 7:30 ferry into Auckland CBD. Then a morning of working, and the ferry home to pack (yes - I did leave it to the last minute…). We sorted the cat out, left the house in a reasonable state for visits from potential people wanting to rent the house (see 'Buying land (section) and planning a house' for an update on what we're currently up to), jumped in the car and headed for Auckland Airport and the off-airport car park run by www.aeroparks.co.nz. It's $6 NZD for stays of over 7 days - cheaper than taxi! There was a bit of a queue at the check-in desk (but nothing compared with Heathrow), then a very easy trip through security and into the departure lounge for a wine.
Now, I'm afraid a flight of 13 hours in Economy class is never going to be 'enjoyable', but the flight (scheduled for 8:00 pm) boarded and left on time - always a bonus. The stewards were attentive, and apart from a couple of bumpy bits the flight went smoothly, and landed half an hour ahead of schedule, at 2:00 pm and still on 11th May! This travelling back in time is possible, because somewhere between Fiji and Rarotonga we had crossed the international date line.
Canadian immigration was just as friendly and laid-back as New Zealand immigration - a pleasure! (could US immigration please take note). The easiest way to our hotel was via the 'Canada Line' Skytrain - 30 minutes maximum from the airport to Vancouver centre. And the 'Waterfront' stop was just metres from our hotel. Who needs taxis?
Our friends had chosen to travel in style, so we decided to join them (well, it's a one-off trip). We were staying at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel (www.fairmont.com/waterfront), right by the cruise liner terminal. A step up from our normal holiday park and backpacker venues! The room is comfortable, and comes with complimentary tea and coffess. And a tip for anyone who is going to stay at a Fairmont Hotel - join the Fairmont Presidents Club. You'll get free Internet access and newspapers at the very minimum, and with additional stays there are more perks on top.
Here's the first two lines about Vancouver that are printed in the very good 'Moon' travelbook we bought on Amazon:
'If you view this gleaming mountain-and-sea dominated city for the first time on a beautiful sunny day, you're bound to fall for it in a big way. See it on a dull, dreary day when the clouds are low and Vancouver's backyard mountains are hidden, and you may come away with a slightly less enthusiastic picture - you'll have experienced the 'permagrey', as residents are quick to call it with a laugh.'
You don't need to guess too hard to work out which one we flew into; 'permagrey'. And as we'd left a wintery Auckland in similar weather, we were less than impressed. Add to this the fact that even though it was late spring in Vancouver, the temperature was a good few degrees cooler, and we wondered what we had come to.
In fact, Vancouver reminded us very much of Auckland. The buildings on the waterfront, and the bars around the hotel are very much like those round Auckland Viaduct. Both Auckland and Vancouver tied for fourth place in the list of best cities in the world to live in too. http://www.citymayors.com/features/quality_survey.html We put on our waterproof anoraks and headed for the closest bar/restaurant. This was 'Streamworks', serving a range of beer that reminded us of the UK (including Strongbow cider), and with a menu of burgers, pizzas and other similar bar food. The prices looked reasonable, but we'd forgotten two things. Taxes and tips. Tip number 1 - Don't forget - there is a 12% tax added onto everything (the prices shown on menus and articles will not include this), and a tip of around 15% is expected in bars & restaurants. So add 30% onto your bill before you start. We had a burger & caesar salad, butter chicken, 2 ciders & 2 lagers. The bill with tax and tip came to $75 CAD (or $100 NZD). With another 18 days to go, we'l have to be a bit watchful of what we spend on meals or we'll be going back with a huge credit card bill!
Then back to our hotel for an early night. Would we sleep?