Vancouver to Tokyo to Chitose

ANA flight NH115

Having just finished my Hong Kong photos, I am already onto my next trip. My wife and I had been planning something big in celebration of her finishing grad school. So here we are back in Asia. This time, we have decided to do something different. We are learning Japanese in Sapporo, Japan. That’s where we could get beer, ramen, and desserts.

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Walking West Hong Kong Island – Sai Wan

After a quick fix of caffeine and WiFi (plus a chance to rest our feet) at my uncle’s place in Sheung Wan, we were back out on the street. It was Sunday, so my uncle took us down to a weekly market that closes some streets in the area.  There were some performances on a stage and a lot of ladies lining up for some freebies at one tent.

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Toronto 2013 – College Street at Night

For my last night in Toronto, I stayed at Planet Traveler hostel. It’s on College Street near Augusta Avenue and just at the edge of the Kensington Market.  I do recommend staying here.  The shared accommodation is cheap, clean and comfortable.  It has the 3 C’s of hostelling that are hard to come by.  It has free WiFi and free breakfast.  Hard to go wrong with free breakfast.  I just needed the one night, so I only got to know my roommates for a short while.

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Toronto 2013 – Kensington Market

After my visit to the AGO, I had to make my way to the hostel that I booked for my last night in Toronto. I wanted to spend an extra night in Toronto to just see a little bit more.  The hostel was all the way on College and Augusta.  I had to make my way from Dundas and Beverley to get there.

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Toronto 2013 – Ai Weiwei at the AGO

When I told one of my high school friends that I was going to Toronto, he highly recommended dropping by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Thankfully, the exhibit had been on for a while and the David Bowie exhibit just started the weekend I was there.  So basically, I wasn’t fighting to buy a ticket.  The David Bowie exhibit had already sold out for the day.

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Toronto 2013 – Around the Royal York

At the end of September, I had the chance to be in Toronto for a work-related meeting.  The weather in Vancouver had already an added crispness while Toronto was still hovering in the low 20’s and high teens for temperature.

It had been at least 4 years since I last visited Toronto itself.  I had flown through Pearson International Airport a few times, but I hadn’t ventured out to the city in a long time.  2013 also marks the 10 year anniversary of my year of life in Toronto.  So it was good to be back at the end of a warm Toronto September.

Royal York clock and lobby

I was lucky enough to be put up in the Fairmont Royal York right downtown along Front Street.  It was the first time I stayed at the grand old dame of all Toronto hotels.  It’s also the first time I’ve ever actually stayed overnight in one of the old Canadian Pacific hotels.

Being an older hotel, the rooms were not all that large. However, no complaint being in a nice hotel like the Royal York.  Meetings also took place here.  So it was quick and convenient to run down, grab a quick breakfast, and then run back up to the conference floor for the meeting. The subterranean shopping arcade had a nice deli that offered decent coffee and hot breakfast bagels.

Inside Union Station

The only issue with the hotel was all the construction happening outside.  Union Station, Toronto’s major rail and subway hub, is under reconstruction.  So most of Front Street just outside the Royal York had been ripped up in order to expand the station.  A friend had come down to pick me up for dinner and got caught with nowhere to turn for about 15 minutes because of the construction.

Excavation and construction at Front Street and University Avenue

The construction also affected me at night.  In order to minimize impact on car traffic, construction was carried out in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, I came prepared and brought ear plugs with me on this trip.  I really needed them as they processed concrete and gravel 5 stories below outside my hotel window.

Union Station construction at midnight

Apart from all the ruckus at night, I was still able to enjoy the immediate vicinity.  I went for drinks at the Jack Astor’s across from the hotel with my old boss in Toronto.  It was a good hour to share a drink and catch up.  We happened to be there as a Blue Jays game finished. So there were baseball fans everywhere on the street and in the bar.

The hotel room view

Toronto has also been busy pumping up more skyscrapers.  Toronto probably has the most planned and/or under construction skyscrapers in North America at the moment. The iconic L Tower could easily be seen a few blocks down from the Royal York.  It’ll be quite the architectural gem from the looks of it.  Skyscraper fans will love to descend upon Toronto in the next few years as more of these buildings are finished.

L Tower under construction

Another big change that I noticed about Toronto was the presence of a bike share program. I had seen the Hubway back in Boston in March 2011.  This is the first bike share that I’ve actually seen in Canada (Montreal had the first major bike share in Canada).  The bikes and payment machines for the Toronto Bixi bike share looked similar to the Boston Hubway system.  The bike share covered most of downtown Toronto and some locations slightly further outside the downtown perimeter.

Toronto’s Bixi Bike Share

Staying down on Front Street was a good place to start my short Toronto weekend work trip.  Lots of stuff around if needed and the accommodation was fancy.  Maybe fancier than it needed to be, but it was still greatly appreciated. And yes, did I mention it was a beautiful end of September?

moment in the sunlight along Wellington St

Edmonton North LRT – Under Construction

NLRT_to_Nait_Map_PG_rdax_474x700_90Here’s the last of my Edmonton LRT posts from July 2013.  (It’s amazing how far behind I am on posting things, but things are too busy to do photos and blog everyday).  This post covers the construction of the new Edmonton North LRT.  It’s currently the North LRT, but it will eventually be called the Metro Line once everything is finished.

The North LRT currently under construction runs from the existing Churchill Station downtown right by Edmonton City Hall.  Then it runs north and west towards Grant MacEwan University.  The train then swings straight north up 105 Street past the Prince of Wales Armouries to the diagonal running Kingsway Avenue.  The line runs northwest along Kingsway Avenue and passes by Royal Alexandra Hospital and Kingsway Garden Mall.  The line then makes another swing north down 106 Street to it’s terminus at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).

Because the line is still under construction, the only way to see what was going on was to walk the line.  So I started around Grant MacEwan and made my way up to NAIT.  That took me a whole afternoon including some breaks at McDonald’s and the shopping mall to rest my feet and get some water.  Here are the photos.  I’m not going to add any narrative this time around.  However, there will be captions.

Grant MacEwan Station looking south towards downtown

A beautiful, but lonely brick building near the new Grant MacEwan Station. It’s in a rougher part of town from the looks of it.

The Lingnan Restaurant – made famous by the reality show The Quon Dynasty

The LRT 105 Street Canopy

Prince of Wales Armouries and new LRT tracks in the foreground

The view downtown near the Prince of Wales Armouries

Kingsway/Royal Alex Station under construction

Road Closed for LRT track construction along 106 Street near Kingsway Avenue

Avonair Curling Club – home to Kevin Martin and his 2010 Olympic Champion Team

NAIT LRT Terminus Station

ominous clouds over Edmonton City Center Airport right beside NAIT

The Metro Line is scheduled for operation in the Spring of 2014.  I’m not planning another trip to Edmonton in the next few years, but I look forward to eventually riding the new Metro Line when it’s ready  After the Metro Line opens, Edmontonians may have to wait until 2020 for their next LRT line.  Maybe I should wait until then, but it seems a long ways off…

Vancouver Island – Fanny Bay to Qualicum Beach

Earlier in the spring when we had gorgeous summer-like weather, I had the good fortune of a Vancouver Island getaway.  My wife had school-related stuff to do on the Island, so I got to tag along for a week.  I had never spend that much time on Vancouver Island, but it was a real treat.

It started off with an up-island tour starting in Courtenay.  I’ll talk more about Courtenay later.  My photos actually start with a trip through the small, but scenic towns of Fanny Bay and Qualicum Beach.  These towns are along the Old Island Highway that runs along the east coast of the Island with occasional vistas of the Strait of Georgia.

I didn’t think about it beforehand, but I know the Fanny Bay name because of the famous Fanny Bay Oysters.  I must have seen it on a menu somewhere.  Fanny Bay is definitely not big by any stretch of the imagination.  I think it has two and a half things going for it.

The first is the ferry to Denman Island.  In fact, the Fanny Bay Oysters company has a tiny store right by the ferry terminal and behind the gas station.  So the ferry dock brings some activity into town.

The second is that Fanny Bay seems to be the destination of a large herd of sea lions.  You can hear them up from the highway.  When we were down on the dock taking a closer look,  a cyclist on his way to Vancouver via Victoria stopped by because he had heard the sea lions from faraway.  These sea lions just never stopped with their barking or whatever you call it.  It was quite a sound.

Then the half I mentioned is the Fanny Bay Inn. It was recommended to us by the Fanny Bay Oyster Company Store, but it felt more like a pub than a restaurant.  Sure.  They had oysters, but it wasn’t really much to write home about. However, we felt obliged to have actual Fanny Bay oysters in Fanny Bay.  I later found out from a colleague in Courtenay that the Fanny Bay Inn is known as a popular biker destination. I see…

We made our way south to Qualicum Beach from Fanny Bay.  The stretch of highway along the beach was really busy.  There were parked cars on both sides of the highway.  It was a sunny and hot Saturday, so families had driven there from all over the region.  The beach was beautiful and bustling.  Kids were playing on the water.  The beach stretched on either side of where we stood. The curve of the beach made it seem like it was cradling in its arms.

We even drove up to the actual Qualicum Beach town centre uphill from the beach.  There was almost nobody there except for the Qualicum Foods supermarket there.  It felt like the town of Seahaven from the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey.  It was very small town and felt almost Disney-like in quality.

Fanny Bay and Qualicum Beach were just two of the places I visited during my week on Vancouver Island.  More to come.

See you later, Waldorf

See you later, and hopefully not farewell for now, Waldorf.  The Waldorf as-we-know-it closes operations today.  The whole issue has been talked about enough in the media.  So I’m not going to talk about that here.  I only visited The Waldorf for the first time last Friday on the news that it would be closing soon. So I snapped a few photos as I visited the building on the building on the corner of Hastings Street and McLean Drive.

I must admit that I’ve never really been in the famed Tiki Lounge or been to their popular weekend brunches.  I had wanted to go to the Food Cart Fest last summer, but didn’t make it out.  Even with my best intentions, they just remained that – intentions.

So operations close today, but we can only hope that The Waldorf will continue again under some other operator.  Whoever that will be.

The Oregon Coast

All of my family had been to the Oregon Coast.  Some of them have been there a few times.  So I was starting to feel seriously left out.  So this past August, I had my eyes set on a mini weekend road trip to northern portion of the Oregon Coast.

We drove down I-5 from the Canada-US border all the way to Olympia, Washington.  Just past Olympia, we made our way onto the lesser travelled Highway 101 which runs north from Olympia and circles the entire Olympic Peninsula. However, we wanted the part of Highway 101 that ran south parallel to Washington’s Pacific Coast.  We drove initially west in the direction of Aberdeen until we hit the correct part of Highway 101 and then made our way south.

Once we hit the Columbia River a couple of hours later, we could see the very long and very tall Astoria-Megler Bridge. The bridge opened in 1966 and connected the two shorelines of the Columbia River.  It’s a floating bridge starting from the Washington side on the north end.  Then the bridge rises to become a steel-girder truss bridge that towers over the waters next to Astoria, Oregon. Just taking the giant off ramp that circles down to ground level is impressive enough.

We didn’t spend too much time in Astoria.  I was thinking of stopping for eats and a seat at a local brew pub, but my wife wasn’t all that hungry.  So we only ended up visiting the Astoria Column high atop the hill overlooking the town. You can see in all directions from atop the wooden column.  It’s intricately decorated with local history.  The Lewis & Clark journey is a big part of that history.

In anticipation for this trip, I also wanted to learn more about Lewis & Clark.  Being Canadian, I didn’t know much about Lewis & Clark.  I had heard of their names from time to time.  Driving through the Pacific Northwest, I would also see references to the famous historical duo on highway signs or building names.  So I thought I’d do some research.

The 2 DVD set has 6 hours of film re-enacting Lewis & Clark’s journey from Kansas City, Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River.  It may be long, but if you love history, this is a great documentary to watch.  It also helped to give some background to what I was about to see in Oregon.

After watching the video, I really wanted to see a part of the Lewis & Clark history.  So I added the replica of Fort Clatsop to our itinerary.  Fort Clatsop is the tiny fort that the Corps of Discovery built in Oregon to weather out the long, cold, and rainy Oregon winter.

The tiny fort is found in Lewis & Clark National Park just a few miles south of Astoria.  I was astounded by the small size of the fort.  I’m used to seeing the old Hudson’s Bay Company forts that dot Western Canada.  Those were large compounds meant for permanent stationing of fur traders across the continent.  This fort was a temporary one that was meant to house 2-3 dozen men, 1 woman, the famous Sacagawea, and her baby for a winter.

There was also a tiny exhibit area in the small park services building near the replica fort.  If you didn’t know much about Lewis & Clark, you could also learn about them here.  It is quite an amazing story.  Without their journey, Oregon Country might have remained part of New Caledonia which eventually became present day British Columbia in Canada.

From Fort Clatsop, we got back onto Highway 101’s Oregon Coast portion and went south to Seaside, Oregon.  Now Seaside has a few sites to offer like their historic boardwalk and such, but we didn’t have a chance to partake in those.  Traffic going into and through Seaside was bumper-to-bumper for miles and miles.  The whole road was backed up.  We didn’t dare drive off the road in case we got lost.  If we had a GPS or even cellular data service, we may have decided to take a parallel road, but we were unsure if such a road existed.

We checked into our cheapy hotel in Seaside and then made our way out for dinner.  I also wanted to see Cannon Beach at sunset, so we decided to have dinner a few miles south in Cannon Beach.  Cannon Beach felt like it was in the middle of a cloud.  The main street lined with stores and restaurants was all foggy.  It was very cool and eery.  The wind would make it even colder.  It was hard to tell that it was actually the middle of summer.

After a forgettable meal on the main stretch, we drove a little further south so I could get to this place.

I really wanted to see Haystack Rock and the actual beach of Cannon Beach.  We didn’t have to worry about tourists lining the beach with all the wind and cold.  The clouds streaked at warp speed overhead and the sand blew into our face from time to time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any in-focus photos, but I managed to brighten up this one of Haystack Rock and was happy with the warm, aged look.  Trust me.  It was no where close to feeling warm that evening on Cannon Beach.

With the sun setting fast and my camera tripod about to fly into the ocean, we made our way back to the car and went back to Seaside to retire for the evening.