Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Mahalo Moment: Corgi Sighting

On my bike commute to work this morning, I saw a woman walking her adorable (plump) Corgi near Capitol Park. So cute!!! As I've mentioned in previous posts, Corgis are my favorite breed of canine. They remind me of Muffin in dog form (round, low to the ground, sweet face) and were the first specific breed I was able to recognize and identify thanks to the neighbors of St. Margaret's Camp in Duxbury who raised Corgis and often invited us campers over to watch them train for the competition ring.


Vancouver Trip (Day 5 - End of Trip!)

Wednesday 9/5: YVR > SFO > SMF
We caught a taxi to the airport just after 8am in order to allow plenty of time to get through security and US pre-clearance customs before our 11:25am flight. Surprisingly, we were done with all of that by 8:45am! So we had lots of time to spend in the Air Canada lounge near our gate, which provided some light breakfast options and strong coffee. We both read and checked email while relaxing in the lounge and then headed for our flight.

The plane wasn't full, so we had an empty seat in between us in United Economy, which was quite nice. No problems with our layover in SFO or the flight to Sac, and we didn't even hit too much traffic on the way home from the airport, so we were re-united with the kitties by about 5pm. We unpacked, started a load of laundry, and both fit in some workout time (I had done Zumba in the morning in the hotel room to kick off the day) before winding up the evening and getting ready to return to work tomorrow.

Getting reacquainted with Vancouver was fun, and now that we have the option of a quick Air Canada direct flight, we'll likely make a return trip sooner rather than later!


Vancouver Trip (Day 4)

Tuesday 9/4: Granville Market Tour + Oysters
I did a shorter run this morning along the waterfront near the Convention Center and then a longer yoga practice in the room. Mr. E and I enjoyed a light breakfast in the Club Lounge and then headed to the south waterfront to catch a False Creek Ferry across to Granville Island for our 10:30am Market tour, again with Vancouver Foodie Tours.

Our guide this time was Michael, who led our small group of nine (two from Sydney, two from Melbourne, one from Christchurch, two from Atlanta) on a 2-hour tour, starting with a sit-down tasting at Edible Canada. The dish was steamed sturgeon with roasted veggies, chick peas and a summer squash puree. Yum! We were able to choose wine or juice, so both Mr. E and I tried the Pinot Grigio to accompany the fish. The next stop was at JJ Bean for French-pressed single-origin Ethiopian coffee, which neither of us found very tasty (too sour and acidic). Good thing we'd already had coffee to-go from the Club Lounge!

A Bread Affair was our next stop, where we all got paper bags full of two types of bread and also got a surprise bit of a sweet bread sample from the staff as we admired the baked goods.

Michael advised us to save some bread fot the next tasting at Oyama, where most of the group enjoyed an array of charcuterie but I instead got some lovely olives and a gourmet cheese spread.

Benton Brothers Cheese provided our next samples of two cheeses, including a sharp white cheddar that paired well with the honey crisp apples from No. 1 Orchard, our next stop. We then headed out to the north patio to enjoy the sun and scenery while munching on the apples.

Once we went back inside, we sampled a light peony tea lemonade and finished up with light and fluffy honey-glazed donuts from Lee's. We ended our tour back at the Edible Canada Market, where we concluded with tastes of truffle sea salt, maple syrup, and dark chocolate toffee brittle. Mr. E bought some of the salt for gifts, and we then bid farewell to our group and guide to continue some additional tastings on our own at Liberty Distillery and Granville Island Brewery. We passed by colorful murals on the industrial silos.

Mr. E tried the whisky flight, and I ordered the gin flight at Liberty. We departed with a new t-shirt for Mr. E and a small bottle of Old Tom gin for me. At the brewery, we shared the "map" tasting of all 10 beers, including the three rotating taps, along with a margherita flat bread to help absorb some of the adult beverages.

We left the island on the Ferries and paid a slight up-charge to travel to Yaletown in the hopes of procuring bargain oysters during "Low Tide" at Rodney's, a recommendation from our foodie guide Michael. Unfortunately, due to availability, there were no oysters on special, so we decided instead to try Joe Fortes again. Since we were too early for Happy Hour, we finished up our souvenir shopping on nearby Robson Street, and had no trouble getting into Joe Fortes on a Tuesday late afternoon. We shared a dozen oysters while sitting at the bar with a glass of house white (me) and a local beer (Mr. E).

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at nearby Pokerrito in the hopes of trying out a poke burrito. Unfortunately, we ended up with a bowl instead, which was still very tasty but not quite what we wanted, and most of it got left behind in the hotel mini-fridge. A bit later, we headed back to the Club Lounge for a final time and lingered in the quiet and peaceful upstairs area where we watched the sunset and read.

I went back to the room around 9pm to pack, and Mr. E joined me after finishing up his wine. Bedtime around 10:15pm for both of us this evening.


Vancouver Trip (Day 3)

Monday 9/3: Victoria Day Trip
I got up early to fit in Zumba + yoga before we grabbed breakfast in the Club Lounge and took coffee to-go for our 8:30am pick-up by Pacific Coach, across the street at the Century Plaza Hotel (though the coach was actually right in front of the Sheraton after all due to other tour groups being picked up at the Century this morning!). We were dropped off at the Central Railway Station to meet up with the rest of the group and join our guide for the day, Phil. The drive from the station to the BC Ferries Terminal near Richmond took just under 40 minutes, so we had about half an hour to browse the shops & food stands at the Terminal prior to boarding the ferry on the coach. We disembarked on Level 2 and headed up to the two passenger Levels 5 and 6. Mr. E stationed himself at the stern lookout initially to take photos, while I set off on a recon mission to explore our boat, The Spirit of British Columbia, one of the largest in the fleet and recently upgraded to include a more expansive gift shop and a coffee cafe.

We both spent most of the voyage outside, despite the sunny and windy conditions, in order to appreciate the view and the crossing.

We converged on the coffee cafe for some lunch just in time to snack before our return to the bus at 12:25pm for unloading of the ferry at Swartz's Bay on Vancouver Island. A very efficient & punctual operation, for sure!

The first stop on Vancouver Island was the Butchart Gardens, which began as a private family's "hobby" and remains family-run today. We had two hours to spend here exploring the various types of garden arrangements (Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, etc.) and admire the colorful and diverse flowers and trees.

Mr. E and I noticed early on that the grounds are also host to a number of animal sculptures, including several fountains scattered throughout the property, so part of our adventure was a scavenger hunt to spot and photographs the critters amidst the flowers and plants!

From the Gardens, we drove about 30 minutes to Victoria and had a brief bus tour of the downtown area of the Capitol before disembarking for about 1.5 hours of exploring on our own. It was very bright and sunny -- should have worn a hat and applied sunscreen!!! We strolled over to the Chinatown section, which includes Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in the province.

We made a quick stop at Starbucks for a late afternoon snack since our lunch options on the ferry had been so limited. The remainder of our wanderings took us back to the harbor, where we admired the Parliament building, some more public art (and animals), and the Empress Hotel, where we met up with our group at 5:30pm to drive back to the ferry terminal for our return crossing.

Thanks to Mr. E's new purchase of a red Columbia windbreaker, I was able to stay outside for much of the time, and we were thrilled by several orca (?) sightings during the first part of the crossing as  well as by the glowing sunset over the water.

Eventually, I needed to head inside to get warm and out of the wind, so Mr. E and I reconnected a bit later towards the end of the journey, when he shared his yummy fresh-cut fries with me. Then we headed back to the bus again to disembark and return to downtown Vancouver for hotel drop-offs.

We were next to last on the drop-off list and got back to the Sheraton around 9:45pm. I stayed in the room to unwind while Mr. E went to Bar One for some food & drinks and used the two "Make a Green Choice" vouchers we'd received to help fund his meal.


Vancouver Trip (Day 2)

Sunday 9/2: Stanley Park Run + Downtown Food Tour
Mr. E and I headed out around 8:15am for a morning run around the lovely and iconic Stanley Park (8+ miles total). We finished up in time to get breakfast at the Club Lounge by 10:30am and then lingered over second (and third) coffee. We then returned to our room for some reading time before walking the short distance to Kirin Restaurant to meet up with our Vancouver Foodie Tours-led "Best of Downtown" tour.

Our guide, Nadia, comes from a very impressive pedigree of working with several Michelin-starred chefs, and she now works as a private chef in addition to leading these tours to share her knowledge, passion, and love of both food and Vancouver with her visitors. We kicked off with dim sum at Kirin on Alberni Street, the first fine-dining Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. My tasting here was rather limited due to my food restrictions, but Mr. E proclaimed this the best dim sum he's ever tried! And I did at least enjoy the local craft brew that accompanied the food.

The next stop was at Urban Fare, just across the street and down the block from Kirin. This venue reminded us a bit of Mariano's in Chicago, although with a smaller overall selection of prepared foods. Here we enjoyed some cheese and chocolate paired with both white and red Bordertown wines. The chocolate caramels in particular were outstanding!

Our middle stop was at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar on Burrard Street, in the Sutton Place Hotel (coincidentally, the place where we'd stayed during our last visit many years ago). This was my favorite tasting spot thanks to the wonderful special preparations I received to accommodate my pescatarian and allium allergy food restrictions. My trio of shrimp and seared halibut and fish carpaccio was absolutely stunning, and the lemony seasonal cocktail beautifully highlighted the fresh seafood.

After these three mostly savory stops, we switched over completely to sweet at Thierry, where we sampled the tangy fresh raspberry macarons. Mr. E also procured some madeleines here for later. The tour finished up at the Bella Gelateria down by the waterfront with a trio of flavors -- my favorite was the dark chocolate sorbetto. Yum! And dairy free!

The three hours of the tour flew by, especially since we also stopped several times to learn more about Vancouver and admire some of the iconic or historic buildings. Mr. E took advantage of the lovely sunny weather to snap lots of photos, too. We both love the mix of building materials used in the skyscrapers and also how the many glass towers reflect the surrounding cityscape.

Mr. E and I tried to take advantage of Happy Hour oysters at Joe Fortes as recommended by Nadia, but the line was out the door on this Monday holiday afternoon, so we gave up and returned to the hotel instead to put up our feet for a bit. Eventually, we decided to return to Urban Fare for some dinner, where I also picked up a bag of plain popcorn to snack on over the next few days (weird cultural oddity? -- very difficult to find unflavored chips or popcorn in most shops!). We wound down the evening in the room with yoga (me) and wine (both).


Vancouver Trip (Day 1)

Saturday 9/1: SMF > YVR + Catfe
We had a late morning 11:35am flight, so I was able to fit in my usual Saturday long swim before we left for our extended Labor Day holiday long weekend trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. The direct flight on Air Canada is just under 2 hours, so we landed in the early afternoon and had a very smooth passage through customs before finding our way to the Skylink Train to travel from the airport to our hotel in downtown. We exited at the Vancouver City Centre station and walked about 7 blocks to the Sheraton Wall Centre on Burrard Street. The hotel has two towers that face a lovely courtyard area with a fountain and flowers and is across the street from two churches, another hotel, and a hospital.

Thanks to Mr. E's status with SPG (especially after the merger with Marriott), we had an upgraded corner room on the 26th floor of the north tower with amazing views out over the city, towards the ocean and the mountains. We also had access to the Club Lounge on the 25th floor of the south tower, which had an equally amazing view plus a lovely outdoor terrace.

After unpacking, we stopped at the Starbucks on the lobby level of the south tower for lunch and then headed off towards Chinatown for our 5pm appointment at the Catfe, located in the International Village shopping center. The Catfe hosts adoptable cats from several of the nearby SPCA organizations, and people can visit with the "moggies" for 50 minutes at a time. We were a bit early for our reservation, so we did some souvenir shopping and then checked in at the Catfe, where I bought some additional cat-themed items and we each purchased a cold beverage to enjoy during our visiting time with the kitties. The location is beautiful, with large windows overlooking the street and providing great places for the cats (and their human visitors) to hang out.

As we walked to and from the Catfe, we admired again much of the architecture around Vancouver, including the nearby Chinatown Gate, the juxtaposition of some First Nations ornamentation on top of a modern building, and some cool public art.

Once we got back to the hotel, we enjoyed the "heavy appetizers" in the Club Lounge for dinner after picking up a bottle of Inniskillin Cabernet at Wall Centre Fine Wine, where we received a 10% discount as hotel guests. We finished up the evening at Bar One in the lobby, where Mr. E lingered a bit while I went up to the room for some wine, daily yoga practice, and reading.