Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 4 to 7

Been a little busy as you can imagine! A good example is yesterday, in Vancouver, we left our Best Western at 7:30 am and returned at 11 pm. I will start with Day 4 and work forward. Please tap on the photos to view them in a new window and larger size.

Friday June 15th, 2012

We enjoyed our helicopter tour of Seattle. We flew with our pilot, Trenton, in a trainer so the helicopter was the size of a Smart Car. Teeny-tiny. We flew just 500 to 1000 feet off the ground. We could see all of the city in a very up-close way. The highlight was flying up and around the Space Needle and over the top. What a unique perspective! After the short flight, we headed to the waterfront to dine at a famous seafood restaurant called Salty's. The restaurant is on Puget Sound facing Seattle with a spectacular view. Our food looked good but was subpar. We later heard that management had changed and quality had taken a dive. So don't go there until they fix it!

Seattle from across Puget Sound

While driving back to the lovely city of Bellevue, home to Microsoft and Bill Gates, we detoured to view the spectacular gardens of the neighborhood around the Hilton Bellevue. The homes are Craftsman style mixed with modern on tiny lots. While stopped in front of one home to take photos, the owner came out to see why we were there. She warmed up considerably when I mentioned where we were staying. After a good conversation, we said our goodbyes and headed to the end of the dead end street.

As we drove out, we saw our new friend standing there with a beautiful bouquet of freshly cut peonies in varying shades of pink. She said the flowers were to brighten our hotel room. What a wonderful, thoughtful thing for her to do! We were so moved. This is typical of everyone we met while in Seattle. It is SUCH a friendly welcoming place. The peonies drove with us to Vancouver and are still gorgeous in another hotel room.

Saturday June 16, 2012

We left our very nice Hilton Bellevue and drove down to the famous Pike Place Market area. Parked in a parking garage (very expensive parking everywhere) and joined our tour guide for a coffee tour that Susan booked ahead of time online. We joined our guide, Ed (about our age) and our small group of 8 for the Seattle By Foot Coffee Crawl tour. Ed gave us an incredibly detailed and interesting history of the Seattle area and coffee.

We visited 6 different coffee shops in different sections of the downtown Seattle area. Each store was special and each coffee sampled was unique. Some places served us 2 different types of coffee and some served us amazing food along with our coffee. Our favorite place was the chocolate store that served us coffee in a cup of fabulous hot chocolate. We greatly enjoyed talking with Ed and appreciated his vast knowledge of almost everything. You could tell he really loved his job and his life. We highly recommend this 2.5 hour tour.

Washington Park Arboretum

After happy coffee time, we drove to one of the top Public Parks in the world. To our delight, we discovered that the Arboretum has FREE admission! We could have strolled through over 200 acres and viewed over 40,000 trees and shrubs but the day was at an end. We saw dogwoods in bloom, rhododenrums and Giant Sequoias and many, many other plants that do not grow in Florida. I found my new favorite place on earth and highly recommend visiting this park.

Consulting a list of restaurants within one mile of the Hilton Bellevue, we chanced upon the Sea Star in downtown Bellevue. You normally need reservations but of course, they had a perfect table for us. We learned that we were sitting in the number #1 rated restaurant out of 185 restaurants in town. This was the famous, Sea Star, owned by John Howie - a very well respected chef in the PNW. He was on Iron Chef and Top Chef Masters. The meal, setting and service was 5*. Copper River Sockeye salmon is in season and we have enjoyed it at every chance. Our fine dining experience at Sea Star far exceeded our expectations. We highly recommend dining here every chance you get.

Sea Star restaurant in downtown Bellevue

Sunday June 17th, Father's Day 2012

Elevators in Hilton Bellevue lobby

Meals were not included with our Hilton booking but we managed to get free certificates for breakfast each morning. The hotel has a terrific breakfast bar with everything you could ever want. I was in heaven with a large bowl of fresh yogurt, homemade granola with cashews and covered in fresh berries - all ripe and locally grown. It was better than a big bowl of ice cream.

Sunday was our day to leisurely drive up to Canada. The scenery was as breath taking as expected with enormous tall evergreens of every type and rock walls lining parts of the highway. Ever since we departed the plane in Seattle, we have noticed how good the air smells. Clean, crisp and refreshing with a pine scent describes it. The air is pure and crystal clear. Temps have been cool and slightly below normal for this time of year but that is why we are here. We crossed the border at Lynden, WA with a wait time of 27 minutes. We later learned that right after we crossed, a fugitive from Canada was caught at the same place. It has been all over the CBC. We just missed the action!

We arrived in Vancouver on Highway 1A and checked into the Best Western Plus Uptown. At first glance, we were not impressed but as we spend time here, we see that the location is convenient. Although the rooms are small, the beds are super comfy and the place is clean so no complaints.

Monday June 18th in Vancouver, Canada

Monday dawned cool, crisp and overcast. After a spartan hotel breakfast, we headed out to spend the day at Grouse Mountain. This is the big ski resort in Vancouver that offers summer activities. We learned that they now make more money during the off season than from ski and snowboarding sports. We spent the entire day on the mountain and found plenty to keep us entertained. Grouse Mountain was not touristy at all. It was more natural and relaxed than expected. The zipline tour that Susan had booked as a surprise was a great deal of fun. We zipped down five different lines and hiked up and down slopes between lines and even took the Screaming Eagle chair lift to another zip line. Each line gained elevation until line 5 was pretty scary looking. We were comfortable in our harnesses by then and enjoyed the tremendous views from 4,300 feet. The altitude was a kicker for us sea level folks but we powered through it. The day included many activities and educational shows and before we knew it, we had to leave the mountain. We were wet and cold but greatly enjoyed our day in the rain forest ecosystem atop Grouse Mountain in the North Shore Mountains of the Pacific Ranges. This day is a must when visiting the Vancouver area.

Grouse Mountain That is snow behind us!
Miku Sushi

We ate dinner at Miku Sushi - a downtown restaurant recommended by a couple we met on our coffee tour. They live in Vancouver and dine at Miku regularly. This was another restaurant where reservations are a must but - as par for our trip - they had the perfect table for us. We were in heaven enjoying the finest sushi in a modern vibrant setting. We savored many courses and reluctantly left at 10 pm.

Public transport is superior in Vancouver. A day pass covers modern clean buses, water buses that are large modern ships and the Sky Train that is above ground fast transportation - similar to the elevated train in Chicago. A bus ride returned us to our hotel before 11pm.


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