Made it to Vancouver and back in one piece. The border crossing was HELL, as bad as I've ever seen it in the last 10 years. Cars were backed up solid for more than a mile, inching forward or not moving at all, causing at least an hour delay at the "truck crossing" and undoubtedly much longer at the main border crossing. As Ray said, "I think this answers the question, 'Why don't we do this more often?'" Both times the boys ended up leaving the car and going to nearby convenience stores for "provisions" so we food and beverage to help pass the time.
We'd had the idea that we'd arrive in Vancouver in the early afternoon, but ended up getting after 3:00. Then, because of the Valentine's Day rush, I'd had to make our dinner reservations for unusually early, so we had less than an hour to recuperate from the drive before we had to be at the restaurant. Thankfully, I think the dinner at Tojo's lived up to its build-up. Ray stuck to the non-fish fare, and Chris, Christine and I all had the chef's arrangement, which meant several courses were just delivered to our table and we didn't have to think about it. The appetizer was the weakest, and had me worried that we'd made the wrong decision. It wasn't bad, but I knew from experience there were several other options from the standard menu that would have been better. Happily, it was all up hill from there, and hit on several of my favorites: "suntan tuna" (tuna rolled in nori, then tempura fried to sear the outer edges while the insides remained cold and red), Tojo's baked oysters (shell-licking good), Canadian sable fish (served hot, with a sweet-salty miso sauce and a side of buttery mushrooms and vegetables), and the sushi platter included Tojo's special Golden Roll (a thin egg-crepe around crab and scallop in creamy sauce). Oh bliss. I do love Tojo's.
We spent much of the evening just wandering around the city, seeing sights and chatting. I took everyone down to Stamps Landing, which has now expanded and remodeled a bit since my day. Ray noticed that all of the restaurants seemed to have people in outdoor seating or in areas completely closed off from the main bar or restaurant, and we figured out that those were the smoking areas. A little Googling after the fact explains the phenomenon
: the City of Vancouver had a year 2000 deadline for indoor public areas to be 100% smoke-free, with the exception of pubs, bars, nightclubs and other adult-only venues, which could restrict their smoking areas to 30% of their space. There's been some back-tracking on the total indoor smoking ban that was originally in place province-wide, but the bars and restaurants we visited were keeping their smokers separate, and business seemed to be hopping nonetheless.
After raising a pint of Shaftsbury Cream Ale in memory of Nigel at Stamp's Landing, we took a taxi down to the far end of Robson Street and then walked our way back up to Granville. We stopped off midway down Robson at a place called Maxim's and had a couple of cocktails, and took a detour into a Virgin Megastore to browse the finest collections of geek goods. Sadly, the US dollar isn't what it used to be, and the prices weren't very favorable, so no purchases were made. Robson was packed with youths of Korean heritage, waiting on the sidewalk to get into clubs and restaurants. There were far more Korean-focused businesses than when I lived in the city, to my surprise. Granville was more of the same, kids standing in the drizzling rain waiting to be allowed into this club or that club. Eventually the rain forced us older folks into a cab and we returned to Broadway, where we had a late dinner and more cocktails at the Cactus Club Cafe (which we'd tried to visit earlier in the evening but had been too packed).
The room we got in our hotel was spacious and comfortable. It would have had a nice view if we hadn't had clouds and rain to contend with. Unfortunately, the hotel was packed with college sports teams for the weekend, and when we got up to shower and start our day we found there was no hot water to be had. Christine got a discount on her room, but the woman at the front desk wasn't going to budge when I also complained. Ah well, a cold shower it was. There was just enough time to stroll through Granville Island before our brunch reservation. We brunched at the Shaughnessy Restaurant
at the VanDusen Botanical Garden
, but rain again kept us from enjoying time outside. Instead, we decided to head over to the Vancouver Aquarium, which has undergone significant renovations since I lived in Vancouver and is quite a nice collection. The one complaint I have about the aquarium (aside from the teeming masses of whining children) was that so many of the exhibits had just the name of the creatures and no other educational or informative information.
After what felt like a very long day I was finally able to connect with Kate's dad who brought her to meet us at a little coffee shop I used to frequent and still really enjoy. Bean Brothers opened the same month that I moved to the neighborhood, and it's been nice to see it grow up from a standard coffee shop, to a dual purpose cafe complete with wood fired pizzas and a deli counter area in the back for soups, sandwiches, desserts, and even beer. Kerrisdale used to be the province of jewel-encrusted, blue-haired widows walking their snooty little pug-faced dogs. It's become much younger and hipper since I left BC, and there were many more cool restaurants and shops interspersed with yuppified specialty stores and fast food options. The 7-11 across from my old apartment used to share space with a carpet and paint store, but now houses a full-on Hobby Shop, complete with a Warhammer 40K sign hanging in the window.
Sadly, the border crossing back into the US was a long and tedious as entry into Canada had been. I'd probably choose to take the train in the future, and hopefully avoid that mess. Still, overall, I was happy to be back in the city. I'd live in Vancouver again in an instant, no question. Very glad R&C let me show them around a bit.