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Vancouver Vacation

I initially planned to do separate posts about each activity that we did on vacation, but realized that would be the internet equivalent of cornering you and making you look at my family vacation slideshow. So I’m slapping all of this together in one post, mostly for myself (and because my mom would like to see all of this). I love to see other people’s travel photos, but also recognize that if I’m looking at those photos at work, it makes me want to punch them in the face, because I’m working and they’re not. So check out my vacation if you wish, or not. Warning…there are going to be a TON of posts BlogHer coming up soon, also several book posts, since I managed to catch up on my reading over the trip!

1. The lodgings: Bee and Thistle Guest House

I picked this place because of its high rating on TripAdvisor, and because I thought it would be fun to stay at a B&B. The Bee & Thistle is fabulous, I would never stay anywhere else in Vancouver. The Bee & Thistle first opened in 2010 for lodging during the Olympics, and its owners cut no corners transforming this Victorian home into a comfortable, well appointed guest house. Lynn and Michael, the innkeepers, are friendly and accommodating but not intrusive. They are happy to help with whatever you need, but also give you your privacy. The rooms are incredibly well stocked with fresh cookies each evening, snacks, toiletries, even a little web notebook to use during your stay.  DID YOU HEAR THAT? FRESH COOKIES IN YOUR ROOM EVERY DAY. The rooms are unique, and reasonably priced. We stayed in “Molly’s Room” which is the next to smallest room, but still had plenty of space and simply was lovely.

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The Bee & Thistle is a short drive from downtown, but there is ample parking if you rent a car. It is also within easy walking distance to the Commercial Drive district, and there is plenty of public transit (we rented a car to get the most “bang for our buck” time-wise, since our trip was so short).

Lynn is an amazing, talented chef, who prepared generous and delicious breakfasts for us each day of our stay.

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2.The Sights: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

So peaceful. So pretty.

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3. The Activities: Cycle City Bike Tour

I’m not a “bike person.” Part of this is because Pittsburgh is not bike friendly. It’s working on getting better, but the streets are still narrow and the drivers still aggressive. There are entirely too many instances of bicyclists being fatally injured on the streets of Pittsburgh. I’ll ride a bike from time to time on a car-free trail, but that’s it. Vancouver, by contrast, is extremely bike friendly. Most streets have dedicated bike trails, and many of those are even set off from the roadway with physical barriers. Bike commuting is commonplace, and Vancouver employers are increasingly offering showers and bike storage. If I lived in Vancouver, I could learn to love biking.

The Cycle City Bike tour was 4.5 hours long, and took us ALL over the city, including fantastic stretches along the sea wall and on the trails of Stanley Park. Not being a cyclist, my butt still hurts from the ride several days later, but I can say that I made it through the ride itself a-ok. This was a fantastic way to see the city, even if (like me) you’re not perfectly in shape.

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4. The Eats: Havana

In the Commercial Drive district of the city (and only a short walk from the Bee & Thistle), Havana is a perfect spot to share a pitcher of sangria and a bite on a breezy summer evening.

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5. The Activities: Grouse Mountain and Zip Line

WHEEEEEEEE!!!!

And for lunch– Pulled Pork poutine at the Grouse Mountain cafe (Even though poutine is a Motreal original, it is equally popular in Vancouver, and I just couldn’t say “no” to this treat).

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6. More Activities: Capilano Suspension Bridge and Cliffwalk

Beautiful view, but might not be the best activity if you (like me) get terribly motion sick. I call it “the bridge of dizzy’

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The interesting curved trees growing from the mountain wall.

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7. The Eats: Rodney’s Oyster House

My first oyster eating experience! I had ever eaten an oyster because I thought they would taste like slimy raw eggs. The waiter assured me this was not true. I took the plunge, and I tried them. Rodney’s specializes in oysters and all kinds of fresh seafood. We tried 2 different kinds of oysters from the Pacific Northwest and one from the East. I was happy to find that they do NOT taste like raw eggs, but rather taste like the ocean. It is a strange taste, but I could get used to it.

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8. The Eats: Japadog

For years, Vancouver had very strict limitations on food carts, allowing them only to sell a limited number of wares. In the mid-2000s, the carts started pushing the envelope, getting creative with their hotdogs so they still technically complied with the rules, but were also creative. The laws have since changed, and the Vancouver food truck movement is blossoming. There are even food truck food tours, which I’d love to take next time I am in town.

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9. Cuppa Joe: Turk’s Coffee

Our innkeepers and food tour guide both agreed that Turk’s makes the best coffee in Vancouver, and being right around the corner from our B&B, we had to check it out.  My latte was indeed tasty, but I was even more impressed with the casual ambiance.

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The final verdict: This was a phenomenal vacation. It was just a long weekend, but it felt like much more. Vancouver is extremely accessible and tourist friendly. The people are kind, and the city clean. Admittedly, the prices are kind of high, and the sales tax in Vancouver is exorbitant, so a long weekend here will make your credit card cry (but that’s why we’re there for a few days, instead of for weeks, right?)

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Oh Canada!

Mr. Beez and I have been having a simply lovely time on our Vancouver holiday! We have done SO much in 3 short days that it’s unbelievable. All yinz are going to have to suffer through a bunch of Vancouver pics for a while.

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Vancouver ahoy!

The airport is attractive and clean. All in all, Vancouver is a lot like Pittsburgh in terms of the city’s “feel”, except they’re doing a smidge better with certain environmental and livability issues (but I’d venture a guess that their homelessness challenges are more significant than those in Pittsburgh).

We started our first day in Vancouver with a visit to Granville Island Public Market. It is similar to Reading Terminal Market in Philly, or Pike Place Market in Seattle, except I think in Vancouver the local-to-tourist ratio is much higher.

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I had to be careful not to chow down too eagerly, because we had a Gastown Food Tour (led by Vancouver Food Tours) scheduled for the evening. We have had a really fun weekend, but Mr. Beez and I agree this was the most fun event of the weekend. Gastown is Vancouver’s historic but funky district, filled with innovative and trendy bars and restaurants. Food and fun are serious business in Gastown.

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Gastown’s famous steam clock.

The tour leader was incredibly knowledgeable about the fun trivia of the neighborhood, and was also an articulate foodie. The tour encompassed four restaurants, each with a different take on drinks and small bites. Our tour leader was both just plain fun to hang out with, and was also good about leading conversation about the food and drink.

The first stop was at Rogue Kitchen and Wetbar. They served 3 different microbrews, and small plates of chili and lobster mac & cheese. The food and drink were solid, and this would be a great place for happy hour or a meal if you work nearby. It didn’t have the kind of quirky individual personality I usually look for, so while I wouldn’t steer you away from it, it would not be my first pick for a bite in this very eclectic neighborhood.

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The second stop was the Pourhouse, which is a pre-Prohibition style bar and restaurant. We were served the Jefferson County cocktail, which was citrusy, with a little kick to it. Just my taste! They also served us Scotch Eggs and Devils on Horseback, both of which were prepared to perfection. The Pourhouse was my favorite stop on the tour, and I’ll be sure to take a visit back here the next time I’m in town.

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The third stop was the most innovative and interesting, and was Mr. Beez’ favorite on the tour. Judas Goat specializes in Spanish wines and tapas, but considering the MINISCULE and completely open cooking area they have, their tasty dishes are extra-impressive. We tasted 2 kinds of sherry at Judas Goat. While sherry isn’t my first choice of drinks, it was neat to step a little out of my comfort zone. Mr. Beez ended up really liking the sherry, so this was a great stop for him.
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Our final stop was Salt which, like Judas Goat, is tucked away in a little alley, which makes it feel secret and exclusive. We tasted 3 wines at Salt, paired with cheeses and cured meats. SO YUM.
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There are many food tour companies in Vancouver, and this tour was on the pricier end of the spectrum. However, I thought the tour was well worth the money. The quantity of food and drink is perfect, the small bites aren’t really that “small” and are spaced well, so that you finish the tour feeling full, like you just had a big dinner. The variety of drinks is a welcome mix, and is enough alcohol to make you a little more chatty, but certainly not too much. The tour guide did a great job of facilitating introductions and conversation, so that we all felt like comfortable friends by the evening’s end. Mr. Beez and I both say: Two Thumbs Up!!

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VACATION!

We’re not going to the beach this time, but this picture just screams VACATION!

I can’t believe it’s finally VACATION time!  It’s tricky to plan vacation when you’re a lawyer, because you’re responsible for projects and deadlines and you can’t just hand things off to other people.  You have to carefully carve out time, get things done ahead of time, and hope to heck things don’t blow up in your absence (thank goodness for a diligent secretary!)  I think things are going to be OK, and even though it’s inevitable that the first few days back in the office will be kookoobananas, I’m hoping that things will go smoothly in my week of absence.

Mr. Beez and I leave for Vancouver tomorrow morning! Our flight ridiculously leaves at 5:43 am, with a 2 hour layover in Chicago…but I just got a text message that our flight is delayed an hour so now I’m a nervous wreck that it will be delayed MORE and ruin our vacation :/
Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.

Do you have any idea how EASY it is to pack luggage when you don’t have to pack up for a kid? Hoo boy, it took me like 8.35 seconds and I had everything packed away. Easy peasy.  The ease of walking through an airport tomorrow without a screaming beastie is going to blow my mind.

Now I’ve got to go download a couple more books on my kindle for the trip, and get a couple hours of shuteye, before waking up at 3am. Yikes

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Curry on Murray

I try to keep it positive on this blog, and most of the time I’m very lucky to have fantastic dining experiences.  Every once in a while, though, things go south.  By being less than 100% positive, I’m not seeking to shame a restaurant. I’d like to see places get their ducks in a row,  fix the problems, and succeed.

Curry on Murray just opened up July 12.  It’s on Murray Avenue, in one of those unfortunate storefronts that seems to be a revolving door for small restaurants.  Sababa Mediterranean Grill was there for a while, before that was a bakery/coffee shop that I think was called Rolladin’s (or something like that), and I can’t even remember the other several eateries that came and went before that.  For only being open 2 weeks, Curry on Murray managed to get several favorable reviews on Yelp.   Always up for a new eatery, I suggested that we get take out.

I ordered the Panang Curry, Mr. Beez went for Pad Mee Mow and wonton soup,  my mom ordered Pineapple Curry, and Baby Beez had dumplings.  We all agreed that the food was good.  It wasn’t exceptional, but it did not fall short either.  It was perfectly adequate to feed that thai take out craving.  

They know what they’re doing with the food, but it’s the operational side of the restaurant that is holding them back.  First, their pricing needs to be fixed.  The entrees are priced fairly consistently with other Thai places, around $11-13 per entree.  While the portion sizes of Pad Mee Mow and Pineapple Curry were consistent with other Thai places, my Panang Curry serving size was noticeably and inexplicably smaller (even in a smaller takeout container).  Either the portion size of that needs to be upped, or the price needs to be dropped.  The appetizers and soups are also priced inappropriately.  Mr. Beez asked for wonton soup.  It was priced at $5.95.  I expected that it would be a very large soup portion, maybe to feed 2 or 3. Nope. It was a single serving of wonton soup. For $5.95.  That price needs to be sliced in half.  Also, Baby Beez’s dumplings were around $6, and we’re not talking a huge plate of dumplings.  These were 5 very small dumplings.  A couple bucks should be shaved off that price as well.

The second issue was the wait time.  They told me to pick up the order in 25 minutes.  I got there around 20 minutes after placing the order. Then I had to wait another half hour, because the order was not done.  45+ minutes waiting for take out is unacceptable.  This is not a situation where the staff is overwhelmed, the dining room was only about 1/3 full, and there was only 1 other take out order at the time.  This is a timing and logistics problem that needs to be addressed.  The hostess/waitress on duty at the time was apologetic, but she did not seem like she had much experience at all working in a restaurant.  She kept wandering around, as though she did not know what to do.  She needs some training.

The other issue I noticed is that there is a lot of operations “stuff” on tables in the dining room.  One table appeared to be the owner’s makeshift office, covered in a laptop and papers.  Another table was being used as a napkin folding station.  Another table was the storage space for artwork waiting to be hung up.  This clutter conveys to me that they don’t have their act together, and are not yet guest focused.

I hate to see a family restaurant fail, and these revolving-door storefronts seem to bring with them gloom and doom.  I don’t point out these shortfalls to be punitive, or to encourage other guests to stay away.  I point them out with the hope that the restaurant gets their act together, fixes the problem, and thrives.
Curry On Murray on Urbanspoon

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Sucks to be You (also good luck)

Starting in 2008, the last Tuesday and Wednesday in July have been consistently pleasant days for me. Why? Because I’m NOT taking the bar exam.  There are few emotions as truly satisfying as knowing I am DONE with that nonsense.  Even if someday I had to take another bar exam, it wouldn’t match the stress and the terribleness of taking that first bar.

So to all my friends testing away, all the best to you! May you remember the Rule in Shelley’s case, or better yet, not get asked about it! May your computer be reliable! May you not be seated next to someone noisy, or worse yet, smelly!  Good luck and godspeed! And I’ll buy you a beer on Thursday!