V2V: Catch a Ferry with a Catchy Name

I’ll never forget the face of a little girl who overheard me, in a school after an author visit, telling the librarian that I was in a rush because I had to catch a ferry. The girl looked at me with huge eyes, then whispered, “Are you really going to catch a fairy?”

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If you want to catch a ferry, there’s a relatively new one on BC’s west coast.

The V2V (downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria, or visa versa) is a twin hulled catamaran ‘fast ferry’, traveling at around 30 knots per hour as opposed to the appr. 15 knots per hour traveled by the Spirit of British Columbia. The other main difference is the fact that the V2V Empress is passengers – only, no vehicles.

We boarded in Victoria where a red carpet led into the luxury vessel, docked right across from the Parliament building. The smiling crew welcomed passengers and led us to our reserved seats much like airline crew does.

IMG_1792The large, reclining chairs are comfortable. Each has its own power and USB outlets and, of course, wifi is free on board.

There is also a small bar serving coffees, soft drinks, alcohol and light meals.

Despite the speed, the vessel stopped on a dime, or so it seemed, when orca’s were spotted. Passengers had a close-up view of a mother and baby orca as they drifted by us.

The ferry makes the trip along the southern Gulf Islands, through Active Pass and across the Strait of Georgia to downtown Vancouver in 3 hours. We disembarked close to Canada Place and found ourselves walking downtown Vancouver.

If you have to conduct business or if you are visiting on a cruise ship, the V2V offers a wonderful alternative way to travel between BC’s beautiful coastal cities.

Check it out here: https://www.v2vvacations.com

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Vancouver with Children

IMG_5750.jpgHappiness is getting to spend time in Vancouver BC with a 7 year old grandson. For a long time now, I had promised Nico a trip to the big city to explore and have fun. I cut up tourist brochures and glued images and words on 5 blank pages. These would act as his guide to activities and attractions. He was in charge of deciding which page we would do first. These five pages plus a city map became his most treasured possessions for our five days in Vancouver.

IMG_5835On the first day, Nico decided, we would explore Granville Island. We left our car parked in the quiet street where we stayed, bought a Compass card for public transportation in a nearby drug store, and boarded our first bus. It took us within a block of Granville Island. This small island, attached by bridges, used to be an industrial island. It still houses a cement factory and other businesses but is also home to an Art College, a hotel, and many businesses. We toured the Kids Market first. The building is painted bright yellow and houses lots of toy shops. There are fancy clothing stores for kids, a magic shop, a bookstore and more. An arcade on the top floor lures kids in to spend more money. Ultimately there is not much more to do but to shop and spend money. We rode the glass elevator and discovered the huge water playground behind the building. Now this is fun! And, best of all, it is free. Nico spent hours running in water spouts and screaming in delight as water poured from different places. IMG_5756

We also visited the Market, a huge covered market hall where you can buy foods of all kinds, including moon grapes. We had our morning coffee (and milk) with a Nutella croissant outside overlooking False Creek while buskers played music, aqua busses and pirate ships floated by and pigeons tried to steal our crumbs.

IMG_5763Instead of taking a bus to Vanier Park where the Space Centre and Planetarium are located, we opted for a water taxi. It took us under Granville Street Bridge and through a whirr of boats, large and small, to the park. We strolled to the Space Center and dished out the admission price. We watched a show in the Planetarium on the domed ceiling, about the MilkyWay and other galaxies. Nico loved every second of it and remembered much of the information about black holes and newly discovered planets. He also climbed inside an “astronaut’s suit” and touched a moon rock ad a meteorite.IMG_5795

The telescope was supposed to open at 8 PM and we passed some time after the closing of the Centre and the opening of the telescope by hanging around in the park. But when we arrived at 8 PM we were told that it might happen at 9 PM. At 9 PM they said maybe by 10 PM it would be dark enough but Jupiter would not make an appearance and it was getting cloudy… By 9:30 a disappointed little boy agreed that we would try to come back in winter when it would be dark around 6 PM….

IMG_5847Science World was high on our list and we reached it by taking an Aqua Bus from Granville Island, an ideal way to travel – cheap, fun and no parking! We cruised all of False Creek until we reached the famous landmark: the shiny multifaceted globe that is Science World. And it lived up to all expectations. We spent the entire day playing with light flashes and optical illusions. There was so much to try and explore, and Nico never slowed down or got tired of any of it. From sabertooth tiger and T-Rex skeletons to balls bouncing on air, Science World was a big hit.

IMG_5912We had originally planned to explore Stanley Park when we visited the Aquarium, since it is located in the park. But parking proved so difficult that we had to forego the totem poles, sea wall and playgrounds. The seawall is a great place for hiking or biking, but in our case of limited time, we opted for just the Aquarium. And it, too, was better than expected. We touched stingrays, admired real sea horses, watched sea otters and, the highlight of the day, saw a penguin poop.

One of the most memorable things we did was have a bento box in a tiny neighbourhood sushi place: Moon Sushi. For under 10 dollars we had a great dinner, including tempura and teriyaki. Nico was thrilled when the waitress recognized him on our second visit.

IMG_5974.jpgWhile the entrance fees to places like the Aquarium and Science World are very high, we also found some wonderful free entertainment in the city. The Pacific Museum of Earth on the UBC campus offered fun, hands-on exhibits including a meteor and a dinosaur skeleton. Nico’s favourite was a huge omni-globe where he could turn the moon into earth, into Mars, and much more. While at UBC, you can see an entire blue whale skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, beautiful totem poles at the central mall and find a nice water playground at the Westbrook Mall.

One attraction that I would not have known about without my Vancouver friends, is the Kitsilano Showboat. This permanent stage on the beach offers free entertainment all summer long. Music, fireworks, concerts… Be sure to check the schedule if you are visiting the Kitsilano area of Vancouver.

And, of course, no visit to Vancouver is complete without a stop at KidsBooks. Their two locations offer to most fabulous selection of (Canadian) children’s books for all ages as well as anything book related. The best place to find a gift for your favourite child!

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• Vancouver public transit pass: https://www.compasscard.ca

• To plan your public transit in the lower mainland (the entire region around Vancouver): https://www.translink.ca

• Vancouver Aquarium: http://www.vanaqua.org

• Planetarium/Space Centre: http://www.spacecentre.ca

• Granville Island: http://granvilleisland.com

• Museum of Earth: http://pme.ubc.ca/exhibits/

• Beaty Biodiversity Museum: http://beatymuseum.ubc.ca

• Kitsilano Showboat: http://www.kitsilanoshowboat.com

• Moon Sushi: http://moonsushivancouver.com

Where to Stay in Vancouver, BC

Vancouver B.C. is a gorgeous city, in as far as cities can be gorgeous. Usually I stay with friends but this time we needed a different place to stay. I spent many nights googling for just the right spot. Didn’t want to spend a fortune but wanted a clean place in a good location that offered:
a) a kingsize bed
b) free parking and
c) free wifi.

I find that often the cheaper hotels (Motel 6 up to Best Western) offer free wifi but the high end hotels charge more for wireless in your room. I refuse to pay extra for wireless…

Free parking turned out to be non existing in Vancouver – costs ranged from 15.- to 25.- per night extra to park your car in their garage.
Kingsize beds are hard to find in this kingsize city – at least in any hotels that are under 200.- per night. If you do not worry about a budget, The Granville Island Hotel is an awesome place to stay, overlooking False Creek and right on artsy Granville Island: http://www.granvilleislandhotel.com

But I do worry about my budget. So, after perusing Orbitz, Travelocity, Travelzoo, Booking.com and sites like this, I started from google maps – focused in on downtown and told it to “search nearby”. I found a B&B that had the answers.
Check out: http://www.granvillebb.com/ 
Granville B&B is a gorgeously renovated mansion right along Granville (and 35th ave). The house was sufficiently sound proof not to hear the traffic too much, although we had a room in the back. Not sure how noisy the front rooms are.
Beautiful, high end furnishings and decorations. No costs were spared when building this home: deep tub, his and hers sinks, beautiful bedding, white fluffy towels. Everything spotless.
And while there was lots of privacy (you receive a code to get in when you arrive) the lack of personal contact was a bit.. well.. impersonal. It’s more like a hotel than a B&B.
Breakfast was nice but meagre: juice, good coffee, choices of cereals and fruit. One slice of french toast. OK but not the abundance that one might expect at $125.- per night.
But with parking included this was one of the best deals, in a comfortable, clean environment, that I could find in Vancouver.

Smart Travel Tip: coming from mild Salt Spring Island, we did not have a windshield scraper in the car but found a frosty car outside . Using a credit card type card (I used my library card) works wonders to get ice from the windshield!