Vancouver – City of Glass and Water

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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My husband might persuade you that there is no place worth visiting that is not a tropical paradise or a sun-drenched Mediterranean village.  I think that is because my lean, fit husband lacks personal insulation, and will don a parka when the temperature dips below 68.  So last year when I heard that my husband had a conference to attend in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was quick to declare that I and our as-yet-unborn ninth child were going with him!  Who would know when I would have another opportunity to visit that part of the world?  It certainly was not on a short list of places my husband wanted to visit, and it wasn’t exactly on the way to anywhere I am likely to go.

Vancouver is an amazing city.  The downtown area around the convention center is clean and modern, characterized by tall glass buildings that seemed to enhance the sunlight and reflect the water and sky. The climate in Vancouver is a temperate rainforest.  We visited in early November, yet it was not cold, and the vividly-colored trees still held their leaves.  While my husband attended meetings, my baby girl and I strolled for miles exploring Stanley Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.  The waterfront area had paths dedicated to walking or biking.  Even though the downtown area is densely developed, green spaces abounded.  The spaces between buildings contained beautiful gardens, ponds, and water fountains, many reflecting the Asian influences of the city’s residents.

During breaks between meetings, we loaded up in the rental car and set off to explore the mountains that border the city.  A hike up Mt. Seymour was exhilarating, offering clears views and an encounter with snow.


Mt. Seymour

I came prepared.  Our baby girl wore a snowsuit and was carried in a frame backpack.  We then hustled back down the mountain for a visit to a “must see” tourist destination – the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Husband and baby crossing Capilano Suspension Bridge

The bridge crosses 450 feet above the Capilano River and leads to other beautiful rainforest sites, such as Tree Adventures, a raised walk-way high in the tree canopy.

Tree Adventures

Further upstream we visited a salmon farm and walked more trails through fern-covered Pacific evergreens.  I had never before visited this part of the world, and it was a treat for the senses.  Even now I can recall the sweet, earthy smell of the moss and foliage.

On another day’s break, we visited a Chinese garden right in the middle of town. There one could find a tranquility in the midst of a hustling-bustling city.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

After a few days of stretching our legs about the city, we were eager to try the famous Grouse Grind.  Wow.  The Grouse Grind is a steep climb up Grouse Mountain. In 1.8 miles the hike climbs 2,800 feet.  In some places the grade is 31%!  It was like climbing a steep, irregular staircase.  In fact, the climb is so steep that you are not to descend by the same path; you have to take a gondola back to the start. So I was able to push on, knowing that there was no going back.  I carried the camera, but my husband carried our six-month-old.  I exerted muscles I didn’t know I had.

Grouse Grind

The average time to climb the Grouse Grind is between 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It took me 86 minutes.  Yeah, yeah, I know that stinks, but I live in entirely flat Savannah, Georgia.  The only hills around here are interstate ramps.  Worse, though, when I got to the top there was a chart for “Best Times” in different age and sex categories.  The record holder in my age group did it in about 35 minutes.  As I compared my time, I was discouraged to see that it ranked up there among men in their 80’s. Sigh.

View from Grouse Mountain

There were lots of things to do, besides evaporate sweat, once atop Grouse Mountain.  I love great views, and even saw a distant volcano, Mount Garibaldi.  From downtown Vancouver, I could also see Mount Baker, serving to remind me that beautiful Vancouver lies along the “Pacific Rim of Fire”.  As the sun approached the horizon, we rode the gondola to the base.  We were achy, but exhilarated.  If I had stayed a bit longer, I would liked to have done that hike again.

Descent from Grouse Mountain

Any large, modern city offers wonderful opportunities to sample the world’s cuisines. We ate at an Afghan restaurant, the best Chinese restaurant ever, and a Mongolian barbecue.  Actually, the Mongolian barbecue was so delicious, we ate there three times.  For one price you are given a bowl to fill with a variety of meats and vegetables, topped off with your favorite sauces.  You hand the bowl to a man who stir-fries it over an enormous griddle right in front of you, then hands it back to you, hot and steaming.  Amazing that something so simple could be so delicious.

A trip to Granville Island was a multicultural immersion.  Formerly an industrial site, its warehouses are now fill with arts and crafts studios and an enormous market.  I loved hearing all the accents, enjoying the colors and smells, and the challenges of identifying exotic fruits and vegetables.  Any trip to a foreign city is incomplete without a visit to where the locals shop.

Colorful city market

The highlight of my trip was taking a sea plane to visit Victoria, on Vancouver Island.  Victoria is the provincial capitol of British Columbia, but is only accessible by plane or ferry.  Our tiny plane was filled with government-bureaucrat types, for whom the plane ride was a typical morning commute.  I actually pity the men who were more absorbed in the morning paper than the spectacular views below.  I hope my senses are never dulled to such beauty.

Sea plane transportation to Victoria

Pilot's view of Victoria, BC

Victoria is packed with charm.  It is the location of the famous “Empress Hotel”, an exquisite Edwardian hotel that appears to exemplify British Imperial decorating.

The Empress Hotel

Inside the Empress Hotel

We did not take time to stop for tea!  There was too much I wanted to see!  Victoria was settled by prospectors during the Gold Rush, and still contains many historical buildings and  a vibrant China Town.

Fan Tan Alley, China Town, Victoria, BC

Community of houseboats

When we had covered as much ground as we could by foot, we purchased tour bus tickets for a quick visit to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Totem pole

Bald eagle on top








From the bus, I actually saw a few bald eagles.  Here is one sitting atop a very tall totem pole.

Friendly seals

Gobbling fish








Showing off for the camera

Looking for lunch








Friendly seals populated the waterways where locals fed them daily.

Seaplane view of Vancouver

Finally after a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum for a good dose of Inuit education, we boarded another sea plane for our return to Vancouver.  Wouldn’t that be a great daily commute?


Sea plane view of our hotel

Our last full day was characterized by heavy rain.  We drove through the gardens of the campus of University of British Columbia, then headed north toward Whistler.  We did not have a goal in mind, but let our curiosity lead us.  The route north along the coast is called the Sea to Sky Highway.  It was startling to see how rapidly the population diminishes north of Vancouver.  One could reside in a modern city and so quickly access rugged, awe-inspiring landscapes.

There were many things to do and see along the way.  Most notably we visited the Britannia Mining Museum, which made such an enormous impression on me that I shall save it for another post.

Finally we stopped in an old mill town called Squamish, a peculiar little town where we bought sandwiches and coffee.  We were intrigued by all these signs and billboards we saw for a grand ocean front development.  Squamish was anything but grand.  We followed the signs past lumber mills and heaps of scrap metal, and at last found the location of some visionary’s grand dream.

"Ocean Front Village" development in Squamish

I laugh to recall this sight!  It looked more like a Superfund Clean-up Site than a luxury ocean front resort.  If you are going to dream, dream big, right?

The return drive to Vancouver provided a time of pleasant reflection.  Armed with an infant, rain gear, and great walking shoes, a guide map, and a sense of adventure, we  took in Vancouver and its surroundings, its city life, culture, and climate.  Even business trips can be an opportunity for amazing adventures.

After rain comes rainbows

How much will she remember?  Not a thing, I am sure.  But I hope her curiosity will lead her to an active life of discovery.





Comments (4) Sep 08 2011

Wheelchair/Stroller Friendly Day Trips from Savannah

Posted: under Day trips, Traveling with children.
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Car loaded - ready for adventure!

A dear friend asked for my insight on traveling with children.  Her oldest son requires a wheelchair, and she wanted to know if I could recommend “outdoorsy” trips that her family could enjoy, given the limitations of his wheelchair.  While I have never had a child in a wheelchair, I have pushed a child in a stroller almost daily for twenty years now!  There is a side of me that is always looking for a ramp!

I thought long and hard about outdoorsy day trips, and what would make such a trip a success. I came up with three major requirements.

1.  Destination reachable in less than 3 hours.

An ideal schedule might be to awaken at 7 a.m., be on the road by 8, and arrive at the destination before 11.  That would include time for a bathroom break.  Also the timing would increase the likelihood that babies would be lulled comfortably into a morning nap.

I do not feed my children fast food, so I would rather have a picnic lunch in the car upon arrival.  Not only is that economical, but it is comforting to the children to eat familiar foods.

After the adventure, we aim to be  back on the road by 3 or 4 p.m.  The car is filled with weary, ready-to-nap children,  and we arrive home for supper and a comfortable night in our own beds.

2. The Schlepping Factor

It is important that the effort required for the trip not overwhelm the joy of the experience.    Parking must be safe and readily available.  Few things will dampen your adventurous spirits like having to park in a seedy section of town, or discovering that parking requires a form of payment that you do not have, like quarters-only parking meters.

Wheelchair accessibility is required.  “Paved” does not necessarily mean wheelchair or stroller friendly.  Last spring my husband and I visited France with our 10-week-old daughter.  Our first day we hiked from a seaside town called Menton to the Principality of Monaco.  The five mile “stroll” was on a path that the guide book described as paved and easy.  Since my daughter was travel-weary, we chose to use a stroller.  Big mistake!  The guide book failed to mention the many times we would be required to carry the stroller up and down dozens of stairs.  Working together, we could do it, but it wasn’t pleasant for my baby girl.  Once we arrived at Monte Carlo the path was luxurious and the trip was worthwhile.  But we could not bear the idea of dragging her stroller up and down the path to Menton again, so we took a train.

Path to Monaco

Breath-taking Monte Carlo


How difficult will it be to navigate your family through the trip?  It can frustrating to try to compete with hordes of tourists (such as at the Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day Parade), or  constantly have to lift a child up so that he or she can see.  Everything worth doing requires effort, but not every outing is worth the effort.  There must be balance.

3.  Memory-making Potential

A good close view - Alligator Farm

Are the children able to interact in a way that makes the trip meaningful? A trip to a fine art museum may be comfortably climate-controlled and wheelchair accessible, but may fail to impress young children.  Similarly a trip to a historic site may engage older children but require a level of restraint for younger children that would make it unpleasant or inappropriate.  The goal is to have fun and make memories, right?  The places I recommend are not only child-friendly, but are perfectly suited to accommodate noise and wiggles.

Recommended Day Trips from Savannah, Georgia

1. The Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida

The Alligator Farm

Beautiful, historic Saint Augustine holds the possibility of adventure for people of all ages!  It is one of my favorite destinations to recommend for a romantic, weekend get-away for two.  It also offers many kid-pleasing possibilities.  And what could be more exciting that visiting the Alligator Farm!

The Alligator Farm is a zoological park that features every kind of known crocodilian.  There are familiar American Alligators as well as exotic crocodiles, garials, and caimans.  The park also houses other reptiles, exotic birds, and monkeys.  A nice path leads through a rookery, a large swampy area where wild birds come to nest.  These birds are protected from natural predators, such as raccoons, by the throngs of alligators that lounge about the tree roots.  It really is a sight to behold.

Gators guard the rookery

Educational and entertaining programs are offered at different times of the day, but the event not to be missed is Alligator Feeding Time!  Even if you leave the park to eat or visit somewhere else, it is worth getting your hands stamped so that you can return to see this spectacle.

Mesmerized at feeding time

It appears to me that the Alligator Farm was designed to accommodate the whole family.  The paths are concrete or wooden plank, the enclosures make viewing accessible to small children, and even the bathrooms have changing stations.  I think it is a hit.  What could be more thrilling and memorable than alligators of all shapes and sizes?

The St. Augustine lighthouse is a short distance from the Alligator Farm.  I have walked to it, but I would not recommend it.  The path lacks continuous sidewalks, and it can be a congested area for traffic.     I have climbed the lighthouse several times.  It is expensive and younger are not allowed to climb.  It is worth driving by the lighthouse, because it is really a beautiful sight.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty.  An Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to visit the city without having to get in and out and in and out of the car.  You can get tickets at the newly-renovated Visitor’s Center and ride the guided tour to see Flagler College, the Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Quarter,  the Fountain of Youth, and other points of interests.  My children thoroughly enjoyed the trolley tour, perhaps primarily because they got to see the whole city without having to pound the pavement on a hot summer day.


2.  The Jacksonville Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo

The Jacksonville Zoo is not huge;  its size will not overwhelm you.  Yet given its modest size, it possesses a fabulous and interesting collection of animals.  The enclosures are constructed for clear viewing and there is an observation area, the Giraffe Overlook, where you can even pet the head of a giraffe.

Giraffe Overlook

Up close and personal







An aviary excited  my children.  They were able to pet and feed exotic birds.

Aviary at Jax Zoo

Feeding the birds








My favorite specimen was an anteater.  In all the zoos I have visited, I have never before seen an anteater up close.  My husband, however, was charmed by the kudus, which explains why I have lots of photographs of kudus and none of the anteater.

Kudos to the kudus

When I last visited the zoo, they were constructing a play area with a splash ground.  I have every expectation that a splash ground would be a welcome delight on a hot Florida summer day.

Our younger, smaller family at Jax Zoo

3.  Charleston, South Carolina:  the Children’s Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium

Children's Museum of the Low Country

My last  recommendation for child-delighting day trips is not actually “outdoorsy”.  However I think it is worth naming, because sometimes you feel like you have exhausted the offerings of Savannah and really need to experience something new.  Savannah lacks a children’s museum; Charleston has a wonderful children’s museum called “Children’s Museum of the Low Country”.  It is a short distance from the visitor’s center, but I have always had luck finding street parking nearby, even for my enormous passenger van.  Some of the exhibits rotate, making it worth visiting more than once.  My children of all ages have enjoyed exploring the museum, and I have appreciated the dedicated toddler room with accommodations for nursing mothers.  An additional bonus – the price is reasonable!

Hands-on fun


Savannah also lacks an aquarium (the fish tanks at Skidaway don’t count).  The South Carolina Aquarium is a wonderful resource, and only two hours away!  The exhibits are easy to see, and I have never experienced large crowds or rowdy school children there.  There is a touch-tank that adds a tactile component that many children will appreciate.

Charleston is a beautiful city and the downtown area lends itself to both casual strolls or self-guided, architectural walking tours.   The sidewalks seem to be always in tip-top condition.  While some routes are brick, I have not encountered any of that bone-jarring, wheel breaking ballast rock like they have along Savannah’s river front.   My boys are always delighted to look out at Fort Sumter and to visit the Battery.

Boys at the Battery

Sometimes you go on adventures with your children, introducing them to all sorts of wonders of the world, and you wonder how much they enjoyed it, and how much they will remember.  A couple of years ago we visited the aquarium and had a lunch at a  hole-in-the-wall pizza place called “Pizzeria di Giovanni”.  The pizza was enormous and oh so delicious!  Then a couple years later I announced to my children that we were going to Charleston for the day.  “Get ready!” I told them.  “Put on your walking shoes.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are in full bloom.  We are going to Charleston and take a walking tour of architectural highlights!”  I can not say that my boys were thrilled with the prospect, but then they chimed in, “Sure, we’ll go.  Are you going to buy us a giant pizza?”

The biggest pizza ever?

Of course we bought a giant pizza.  Isn’t that what makes childhood memories become treasures?  Not just remembering them, but reliving them together.

Biggest pizza ever - Part 2

Comments (0) Jul 10 2011