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Trip Report: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, September 2016

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Sep 17th, 2016, 07:01 PM
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Trip Report: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, September 2016

Day 1, Saturday: Flew from Boston to Vancouver on United, via Denver. I got to Vancouver around 9:15 p.m., went through customs, which is automated and very quick. I took a taxi to my hotel for a set fare of $35 and was at the Marriott Pinnacle downtown by about 10:30.

Day 2, Sunday: There's a full restaurant at the Marriott but I walked outside and around the corner to Starbucks for breakfast. I looked to my left and realized, there are mountains here! It was beautiful.

After breakfast, I took a city bus outside the hotel that let me off at the entrance to Stanley Park. Inside the park, I took a horse-drawn trolley ride. It was $30 for a little over an hour and the guide/driver was interesting but it's just as easy to walk around the park on your own.

From Stanley Park, I wanted to go to Granville Island, where there are shops and a public market with all kinds of food stalls. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that Canada celebrates Labour Day (with a "u"). There was a big Taiwan Festival going on all weekend, which meant the bus I needed to take was rerouted and I couldn't find it. I ended up taking a taxi for $10 or $15.

I was really hungry when I got to Granville Island, so I ate at a restaurant called Edible Canada. This was Sunday and they still had their limited brunch menu. I had fish and chips. The fish was good but the fries were a little hard. I should have waited and grazed my way through the market! Later, I got a hunk of smoked salmon and multigrain rolls to take back to the hotel for dinner. The salmon was delicious.

After dinner, I walked a couple blocks down to the waterfront, saw the cauldron from the Winter Olympics that were in Vancouver in 2010. There's a promenade with restaurants and a souvenir shop, and lots of places to sit and watch the seaplanes take off and land. The view of the mountains and water is gorgeous.

Day 3, Monday: I went to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. I had to take two buses, but the drivers were very helpful, and then walk across campus to the museum. Again, because of the holiday bus service was limited, as was the campus shuttle. I think the trip would be easier on a regular weekday. The giant totem poles and other native art were really interesting. A little out of the way and not a must-see if you have limited time, but worth it if you're up for an adventure. And you get to see a little bit of residential Vancouver along the way.

I ate lunch at the museum (salmon salad sandwich). There's really nothing else around. It's on the edge of the UBC campus. Normally, there's a shuttle you can take from the bus stop to the museum but like I said, it wasn't running very often.

There weren't really any restaurants right around the hotel so I ended up eating at the Marriott restaurant, which was pretty good. I had halibut tacos and roasted cauliflower with hoisin sauce.

Day 4, Tuesday: I'm a transportation buff so I wanted to take the subway. I had to walk several blocks to the nearest stop. I decided to take a train to city hall, just to get a taste of what the subway was like. (Very clean.) City Hall itself is around the corner and up a hill. It was fun to see the ceremonial 40-pound golden mace, and the ultra-modern Olympic torches. Not a must-see but since I was in the neighborhood. There's also a statue of Capt. George Vancouver in front of the building.

After City Hall, I took the subway to the City Centre station, walked around downtown, past the art museum. I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Guu. (There are several of them in Vancouver and they specialize in Izakaya, which are small plates.) I had chicken teryaki with rice in a bowl. It was really good. Worth seeking out if you're in the neighborhood.

After lunch, I took the subway to Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighborhood. It has cobblestone streets and lots of restaurants and shops and souvenir places. I walked around for awhile and bought a hand-carved letter-opener.

From there, I walked back to the waterfront. Since it was my last night in Vancouver, I wanted to have dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the water. I don't remember the name but it's one of the bigger restaurants. I had a grilled salmon sandwich. It was fine. You're really paying for the view, which is spectacular.

Day 5, Wednesday: When I started my trip, I knew I wanted to fly into Vancouver, then take the train to Seattle, then the train to Portland, and fly back from Oregon. What I didn't realize is that there are only 2 trains a day from Vancouver to Seattle, either early morning or early evening. They run buses in the middle of the day.

So, I set my alarm for 4 a.m. to be out of the hotel by 5 and at the train station by 5:30 for my 6:30 a.m. train to Seattle. Amtrak advises that you be at the station an hour early because of the need to go through Canadian customs. I read a blog post about one person arriving at 6:15 and not being allowed on the train!

Anyway, I took a taxi to the station, got an awesome photo of the Pacific Central sign atop the train station building all lit up. Customs was very quick and I think I was in my seat by 6 a.m. I was in business class, which has single seats against the window on the right side.

We left at 6:30 and got to the U.S. border at 7:50. We were told that once we reach the border, we couldn't get out of our seats until U.S. Customs came through and checked our passports. It was very quick. Two people came on our train car, collected customs declaration forms, glanced at our passports and that was it. We were on our way by 8:05 or 8:10.

(Btw, Amtrak wi-fi doesn't work in Canada so you can't long in until you're back in the U.S.)

The trip was about 4 1/2 hours. I was afraid I'd be too tired to enjoy the scenery but it was wonderful. I took lots of pictures, shot video. A terrific ride.

I got to Seattle around 11 a.m. and took a taxi to the Grand Hyatt on Pine Street. This was my favorite hotel of the three. Right in downtown, a couple blocks up from Pike Place market, across from the monorail and subway, and Nordstrom and Barnes & Noble, and restaurants and a mall. The hotel itself was very modern and clean. It was also the cheapest of the three!

I took the monorail, from the 1962 World's Fair, to Seattle Center. The Space Needle is there, and the EMP Museum, and the Chihuly Glass Museum. There's also huge food court.

First I went to the EMP Museum. It's kind of a hodgepodge of pop culture and music and not a must-see unless you're really into whatever special exhibit they have. This time, it was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I'm not a Trekkie so I wasn't as mesmerized as a fan would be. There's also a section devoted to Seattle's own Jimi Hendrix, which was interesting. And there was a section devoted to Nirvana, which didn't interest me at all.

But I loved the Chihuly Glass Museum. Definitely a must-see. The glass sculptures are so colorful and intricate and amazing. I really loved it.

I usually go up in tall observation decks but I skipped the Space Needle.

Wednesday afternoon was the only time in my trip when it rained during the day! I had fantastic weather, in the 70s in Vancouver and Seattle and the 80s in Portland.

I ate at the Nordstrom Cafe Wednesday night. I had a spaghetti and shrimp dish that was really good.

Day 6, Thursday: Pike Place Market. No one told me it would be such a steep downhill walk! (Not to mention back uphill.) I think a weekday is the best time for the market. It gets really crowded on weekends. It was fun to walk around, watch the guys throw the fish. They even let me have my picture taken holding a salmon! I bought some souvenirs, including sculptures made with ash from Mount St. Helens, and then hung out with a friend for the rest of the day. We had lunch at one of the big market restaurants, Lowell's. I had grilled salmon, of course, and it was great. I recommend it.

Day 7, Friday: I took the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Bainbridge Island. This was a highlight of my trip. The ferry ride is 35 minutes. You pay on the way and it's free coming back. (Ticket was under $5.) Depending on how fast you walk, the small downtown is 5-15 minutes from the ferry terminal. It's filled with shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors. It's not the usual touristy T-shirts. (Although I'm sure you can find some.) They have interesting posters and artwork. There's a store with travel gear, a store that sells rugs. Really interesting. I spent all day there. I had breakfast at the Streamliner Diner (Eggs Benedict with spinach and tomato), watermelon sorbet at Mora Ice Cream and mushroom barley soup with thick multigrain bread at the Blackbird Bakery.) The Eagle Harbor Book Co. has new and used books. (Go downstairs to the used book part and you can charge your phone while you browse.) I stopped at the art museum (free admission) on the way back to the ferry. To top it off, on the ferry ride back we had amazing views of Mount Rainier.

Day 8, Saturday: I started the day going to the Wing Luke Museum in Chinatown. It's about a 10-minute walk from the subway. The first part is a 45-minute guided tour. They take you to a little general store that served the Chinese immigrant community and a hotel where many of the laborers lived. You get a real sense of the history, what people's lives were like. Then you walk through the museum that tells the story of Asian immigration to Seattle. Highly recommended.

After that, I went back to the subway and got off at Pioneer Square. It's a little sketchy, lots of homeless people. I didn't feel in danger because there were lots of people around. No one even approached me. But it was a little uncomfortable.

My destination was the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site, run by the National Park Service, which tells the story of Seattle's role in the 1890s gold rush. (Later I learned it was closer to walk there from Chinatown.) The presentation was very interesting and I learned a lot but I was a little disappointed that a lot of the artifacts were reproductions. Not really a must-see.

Then I took the subway to see the Seattle Public Library, an ultra-modern 11-story building. Not a must-see unless you're really into libraries, but I am! I also charged my phone there for awhile.

From there I walked back to Pike Place, thinking I'd have dinner. I didn't realize that the market shuts down around 6 p.m. Also, the market is really crowded on Saturday. There was a long line outside the original Starbucks so I skipped it.

A few restaurants stay open later. I ate at the Athenian, which was one of the places where they filmed Sleepless in Seattle, so that was kind of fun. (There's a photo on the wall of Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner.) I had the halibut, which was just ok. White fish is hard to prepare well and this was basically a big Greek diner. I should have had a burger. On the way back to the hotel (uphill) I stopped at Cupcake Royale for a chocolate cupcake to take away the fishy taste.

Day 9, Sunday: I got back on the monorail to Seattle Center to get the Emerald City Trolley's Ballard Locks and Fremont tour. Well worth it. The tour started at 11 and I think we got back around 1:45. There's a 30 minute stop at the Ballard Locks, which allow boats to go from Lakes Washington and Union to Puget Sound. There's also a fish ladder where you can see the salmon but it was a little far from our trolley and I was afraid I wouldn't get back in time, although some people in our group did it. There's also a snack bar where you can get something. I had a cup of smoked salmon chowder.

We went through several Seattle neighborhoods, including Fremont, where we stopped to take pictures of a giant troll sculpture under a bridge, and at an overlook for great views of the Seattle skyline. We went through the green and gorgeous University of Washington campus. We went by many beautiful Craftsmen houses, which really made me want one! A really nice tour.

Then I went back to downtown and got the light rail streetcar out to Lake Union to the Museum of History and Industry. This and the Chihuly are my favorite Seattle museums. It does a terrific job telling the history of Seattle from the native inhabitants through the first Europeans and shows how the city has remade itself over the years, from a center of fur trading to Boeing to Microsoft and Amazon. Really fascinating and a beautiful lakefront location.

I'd read about Tom Douglas, one of Seattle's celebrity chefs, and wanted to eat at one of his restaurants. I didn't want anything heavy or elaborate, so I tried his pizza place, Serious Pie. The pizza was thin-crust, wood-fired and heavenly. I had the margarita, with the perfect combination of sauce, buffalo mozzarella slices and olive oil.

Day 10, Monday: Thankfully, I didn't have to get up quite as early for the train to Portland. I took the 9:30 Coast Starlight, which goes from Seattle to Los Angeles. It's a double-decker train and I sat in the upper deck. There's also a scenic car with seats that face big picture windows. The Coast Starlight is part of an Amtrak program that has retired park rangers onboard to explain what you're seeing. We went along the Columbia River, saw Mount St Helens. Another great train trip!

I got to Portland around 2. I stayed at the Westin, which is a great location: 10 minutes from Powell's Bookstore, 15 minutes from Voodoo Doughnuts, up the street from a pod of food trucks.

My first room was super noisy because there was some kind of construction work going on. I called the front desk and they moved me to the other side of the hotel, which was fine.

My first stop in Portland was Voodoo Doughnuts. It's about a 15-minute walk from the hotel, near Chinatown. There was a long line but it moved pretty quickly. I would say I was inside in around 15 minutes. I got a voodoo doll doughnut, with jelly inside, and a cake doughnut with maple glaze. The doughnuts were fine. The shop is decorated in a funny way and the doughnuts are unusual-looking. It's the experience more than the food.

After Voodoo, it was a short walk to Powell's Bookstore, which takes up a full block. I spent a couple of hours there and could have stayed longer. I was pretty much in heaven.

On the way back I stopped at the food truck pod and got a chicken shwarma in a pita to eat at the hotel. It was really good and very filling. (I still had one of my doughnuts, too.) Food truck hours vary. Some are open for lunch, some stay open until 4 or later.

Day 11, Tuesday: I walked to Pioneer Square (nicer than Seattle's) and then to the Oregon Historical Society Museum. Very interesting, tells the state's story, the history of the Oregon Trail. Unfortunately, it kind of peters out around the 1950s. I don't think they had enough money to bring it up to the present day but it's well worth a visit. It's across from the Portland Art Museum.

From there, I walked by City Hall and over to the Portland Building, with the giant Portlandia statue on top, then back to Pioneer Square for an hourlong trolley tour. If I had more time, I would have gotten off at some of the more interesting areas, like the 23rd Street shopping district.

That evening, I went to Portland Center Stage (around the corner from Powell's) to see their opening production of the season, the musical Little Shop of Horrors. It was wonderful, very funny.

I ate at Deschutes Brewery, up the street from the theater. (One final grilled salmon and I think this was the best of the trip! The owner's niece and her husband have a fishing boat in Alaska and they supply the salmon.)

Day 12, Wednesday: I called the Blue Star Shuttle to arrange for a ride to the airport. It was $14. There are a couple of hotels they stop at routinely but not the Westin, so you have to call or email them ahead of time. The driver was very prompt. I went back via Chicago.

And that was my first trip to the Pacific Northwest. What a fun and beautiful part of North America!
EstherIris is offline  
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Sep 18th, 2016, 07:01 AM
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I doubt that the Barnes & Noble and Nordstrom in Seattle are much different from those in east coast cities.
Powell's is in a class by itself IMO. Powell's will ship your purchases home or to a gift recipient so you aren't carrying something heavy home with you.
The Deschutes brewery started out in Bend (Deschutes county).
This year, Deschutes opened a new brewery in Virginia after a long search for the right water and transport.
When you come back (you will), please come see more of Oregon.
You can get from Portland (Amtrak or PDX) to Bend on the Central Oregon Breeze bus service.
The TriMet light rail (red line) goes out to PDX ($2.50 or all day for $5).
In the Fremont area of Seattle, is the worldwide HDQ of geocaching (Groundspeak Inc.).
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Sep 18th, 2016, 12:04 PM
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Thanks for reading! I agree about Barnes & Noble. I just mentioned it because it was a nice place to browse around after dinner that wasn't far from my hotel.

Powell's is amazing. I'd be there every week if I lived in Portland! I got an offer for free shipping on my receipt so I'll be ordering more books.

Appreciate the additional information. I would love to go back to the area. There's so much to do. I'm a big theatre fan, so someday I'd love to go to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
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Sep 18th, 2016, 12:26 PM
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For theatre fans, Bend has a great theatre. For upcoming performances sign on to TowerTheatre.org
Right now they have "A Chorus Line". On November 1 my DW and I are going to see "The Capitol Steps". We have not seen them since 2004 in Erie PA.
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Sep 29th, 2016, 06:14 AM
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I really enjoyed reading your detailed report. I have never been to any of these cities but want to. Hadn't thought of doing all three in one but I love the idea of flying out and then traveling by train. Sounds like a great time
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Sep 29th, 2016, 08:01 AM
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Excellent reporting!! Thanks so much for taking the time with all the details. I have lived in Seattle for 25+ years and learned a few new things reading your post! Thank you!
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May 24th, 2017, 06:49 PM
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I didn't realize a few more people read my trip report. Thanks! I'm still thinking about the Pacific Northwest and what a great time I had. I'd love to go back and explore more of the area. And I highly recommend taking the train between cities. If I'd had more time I would have taken the train down to San Francisco.
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