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September 6, 2012

Pacific Northwest 2012 Day 1: LA to Seattle

Time for another adventure! This time I am heading back up to the Pacific Northwest – Seattle and Vancouver, BC. I have not been in Seattle since 1994, and Vancouver in 1987 so I was excited to re-visit some classic locations and make new memories. Daniel and I were flying out early to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. We got a killer deal from Alaska (RT only 198 after taxes!) which helped make this trip a reality.

We got up at 430 to get ready after a day of packing and relaxing. I have two weeks off from work, which was supposed to be for an Italy trip with my Mom and Aunt, but after that fell through, I decided to keep the time off and do a small trip and spend the rest of the time just enjoying time at home. Our ride was there right on time at 5:30 which got us to the airport just before 6am for our 7am flight. One of the things I love about SNA is that when you have assigned seats there is not need to rush, and if you are not at peak travel days, the TSA check is pretty easy.

Our flight up to Seattle was smooth with no major turbulence. I was a bit disappointed since I had a window seat and all I could see for most of the trip was clouds out the window. We did do a nice flyby of Catalina Island as we took off, but before I could get a decent photo, we banked away towards the North.

We landed in Seattle and despite some mobility issues from Daniel, we made it to the shuttle for the rental cars without any issues. I had rented the car from Hotwire, which gives a great rate, and once again, I got Hertz. It seems like I always get Hertz as the last three times I have used Hotwire I got them. The last two rental experiences have been so-so from Hertz, so I was a little leery of what to expect in Seattle. As I was waiting in line for an agent, another agent approached me and took me to a kiosk where I was directed to talk to an agent via video screen. The whole experience was a bit bizarre to be honest including having to flash my driver’s license to a camera, but everything was sorted and I was on my way. I was sad that I was stuck with another Chevy Cruze, and I think next time I rent, I am going to try and avoid it. When I rent cars, I like to sample different ones and this was the second time driving the Cruze so I was over it.

We had 90 minutes to kill before Jonathan arrived from San Francisco, so Daniel and I went to Denny’s for some breakfast and then over to the grocery store to get water and ice tea for the driving and our stays for the next 6 days. Jonathan sent a message he had landed so we headed over to the Cell Phone lot to wait for him to get off the plane and collect his things. As we were waiting, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the lady next to us in a Camry was having some issues getting her car started. Whenever she would press the start button, her car would make a noise like when you try and start a car when it is already on, but her car was clearly not on but in some sort of limbo accessory mode. I could overhear that she was trying to pick up her elderly father who was waiting outside the terminal, so I offered to help her get her car working. After fiddling with a few things, I was no more successful getting it to start than she was. I then offered to take her to get her dad to bring her back to her car.

So Daniel and I headed to the terminal to pick up the lady’s dad. It turned out he was near Jonathan so Daniel waited with him while I collected the dad and took them back to their car. When we got back I helped out as I could for a bit, but the lady then thanked me for the help but she wanted me to get on with my vacation and assured me she would call her roadside assistance people to get help. Her dad then offered me $5 for the help. I politely refused three times, but in the end took it. I am not sure if I will ever use the good Samaritan money. I think I’ll just keep it in my savings tin until I can donate it or something. I then headed back to the terminal to get Daniel and Jonathan and we were off to Seattle to our hotel.

I was a wee bit nervous going to the hotel since I have never stayed in Seattle I didn’t know if the hotel would be in a good area or if it was crap. Thankfully, our Courtyard Marriott turned out to be great. We arrived and our room was ready to go and on the top floor. I didn’t want to pay for the lake view, but our view of the city and the Space Needle was just fine. We crashed out for a bit before Jonathan asked if we wanted to go out and walk around. We decided to head to Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle to get our tourist yearnings out of our system. Due to our early flights, it was only 3pm by the time we headed out. It was a warm day in Seattle, so we just needed to hydrate.

It took us about 30 US Minutes to get to the market. I’m always amazed at how much I will walk when I am somewhere other than Los Angeles. Then again, LA is not exactly walking friendly, especially where I live. Once we arrived at the market, we split up as Jonathan had some food, and Daniel and I went searching for some Soft Serve. Not finding any, I decided to get a slice of pizza at the DeLaurenti market since it looked so good. I’m glad I did because it was pretty good.

Once reunited, we walked through the market and saw the folks at the City Fish Co. throw some fish around for the tourists and finally ended up at Victor Steinbrueck Park which is right next to the market and also happens to be where I filmed a segment of Dome to Dome Twice back in 1994. I also saw a spot in the market that I filmed so I did my best to recreate the footage from back then. When I get home I will need to compare it. After the photo and video, we continued up the shoreline by taking the stairs down to Alaskan Way and walking down to the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s named because there are sculptures and you can see the Olympic Mountains – not because there is a Mary Lou Retton statue here. We took a breather under some trees in chairs and I phoned my Mom to see how she was doing and then also just to rub it in a bit that I was in Seattle.

Once rested, we headed to the Seattle Center and the Space Needle. We paid the fee and headed up to the top. We were not originally going to spend much time up there, but since it was almost sunset, we stayed over an hour and I took way too many photos just to try and capture the different lighting on the city and the sunset. By the time we got to the bottom it was almost 8 and I was starving! Jonathan led us back towards the hotel through a scary pedestrian undercrossing that was pee-scented, but thankfully deserted. We ended up at a place called Tutta Bella, conveniently above a Whole Foods where I had a calzone which was great.

After dinner, Jonathan made a quick stop at Whole Foods and we headed back to the hotel where we promptly crashed after a long, exhausting day.

September 7, 2012

Pacific Northwest Day 2: Seattle and Portland

After the exhausting day yesterday, we slept in and by the time everyone was ready to go, it was just about 11 am. Jonathan had to work, so he was staying behind at the hotel so Daniel and I headed out east to North Bend WA. I wanted to visit some of the Twin Peaks sights I visited back in 1994 and Daniel wanted to see the Nintendo of America World Headquarters. Our first stop was at Tweede’s Café which was the filming site of the RR Diner in the show. Last time I was here, I just took a photo but didn’t go inside. I had a great French Dip and our server was super nice. I took some discreet photos and then we stopped at the post office so Daniel could drop off his postcards and then we headed back through North Bend down to Snoqualmie. It sure seems more developed than I remember!.

We stopped at the scenic overlook for the waterfalls and discovered they were mid renovation on the path to the bottom and the scenic overlook. I managed to get some photos and a magnet and then we headed to the Nintendo HQ in Redmond. Sadly, the Nintendo HQ did not have a cool merchandise shop and I was surprised to discover that it was almost completely surrounded by the Microsoft Campus. Daniel got his photos and we were back on the road.

We headed back into Seattle and we headed across a bridge where I was expecting a toll booth, but I guess they just mail you the toll so I’m sure at some point Hertz is going to send me a bill. Sorry!

We then did a scenic lap around Green Lake and then headed back to the hotel where we crashed for a few hours. After a rest, we headed off to the Mariners game. I really wanted to go to the game since I’ve always admired SAFECO Field since it was built and they were playing the Oakland A’s. A funny thing happened on the way to the game – we missed the turnoff and decided to go to Portland Oregon for dinner! The conversation was like this: Daniel: We should have gone to Portland for dinner. Josh: Do you want to go to Portland for dinner? Daniel: Yeah! Josh: OK, we are on our way!

It was only 160 miles to the border so with the ‘what the heck’ mentality, we headed down I-5. It took a bit longer than expected due to the low speed limits in Washington and some random slow traffic. But overall, it was like driving to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo from LA.

Once in Portland, we did a scenic lap around downtown before deciding to pick up some world famous Voodoo Donuts for the trip back. The main shop downtown was packed so we decided to hit up the second one a few minutes outside of downtown. We then had a quick bite to eat and for the fun of it, I texted my friend Kris who lives in Portland near Reed College to see if he was around. He didn’t answer so we went by his house and took a photo of his front door and sent it to him. That is what people get when they don’t answer texts! Getting late and a bit tired, we headed back to Seattle.

Halfway home, Kris responded and was disappointed he missed us, but thankfully we will see him in October in LA when he comes down with his family for his wife’s performance. The trip back was much faster thanks to the lateness of the hour and by 130 in the morning we were back in bed at the hotel. Total time of the trip was 7 hours. Not a bad side trip for a day. What was really surprising is that the Chevy Cruze was getting great gas mileage and only when we were on final approach to our exit in Seattle did it ask for some gas. So despite the fact I’m not a fan, much kudos to the Cruze for the excellent gas mileage! Tomorrow we will fill it up and head off to Vancouver BC with a stop at the Boeing plant in Everett, WA to see some big planes up close!

September 8, 2012

Pacific Northwest 2012 Day 3: Seattle to Vancouver

After last night’s crazy road trip we were back in the car with Jonathan as we headed to Vancouver. We left around 11am to give us time to stop if we wanted to and make it to Vancouver before 6pm which is when we needed to get the keys to our Air BNB reserved apartment. Our first priority was getting some gas as the car was pleading for me to stop (it had stopped counting down the miles to empty and changed to the not very helpful “Low Fuel”. One thing I liked about my CR-V and even the Prius v is that it counts all the way to 0 if you want to push it.) Trusting my natural instincts, we found a station quickly after exiting the freeway. I again had to rely on my instincts to take us back to the freeway, and once on the road, it wasn’t that much further to Everett.

I was excited as we approached Pierce Field as I saw a ton of spanking new Boeing jets on the tarmac just waiting for their owners to pick them up and take them home. I’ll take a 747-800 to go please! We made it to the Future of Flight exhibit at Pierce Field in Everett at 1145 and that enabled us to take the 12-noon tour of the factory. Jonathan was again going to work (and at this point, I was starting to feel bad for him, but he was fine with not going on the tour) The tour was 90 minutes and they took us to the monstrous assembly building (which can fit Disneyland California inside – but not the Matterhorn, it would poke out the top.) I really enjoyed seeing 747-800, 777, and 787 all in various stages of assembly. There was even some freshly painted and the ones I saw from the road that were just waiting to be delivered. One really loses your sense of scale with how huge the planes really are. When you stand at the base of one of the huge hangar doors, it really snaps back into focus just how ginormous a jumbo jet is. The gift shop was a tad disappointing as it just had generic Boeing merch and not specific attraction items. We recovered Jonathan and then turned our car back on the road north and set on the highway to Canada.

In what was meant to be a quick stop to grab lunch and go, we stopped in Marysville, WA to eat at a Carl’s JR. It turned into a 40-minute affair as we had bad timing as several large groups all arrived at once and overwhelmed the newbie counter service people. At least the food was good, but now we had to book it to Vancouver to avoid being late. We were actively monitoring the border crossing times and hoping we would not be stuck there for too long. The road from Everett to the border took us through some very nice scenery near Bellingham and was a pleasant drive with minimal fuss. Thankfully, when we arrived at the border, the crossing only took 30 minutes. I did have to run and use the facilities in the adjacent park as we were stopped waiting for our turn. I hope I didn’t look too suspicious running across the grass paths to the bathroom while everyone was waiting in their cars. It turned into a non-event as the car only moved one length while I was away. Daniel was able to jump out of the car as well and get a great Gorn photo at the US-Canada border monument. I can’t wait to post it!

The rest of the trip was uneventful – just more beautiful scenery on the way. I did have to figure out how to convert the Cruze display into metric to make sure I wasn’t going too fast and to help determine how much longer we had until we arrived in Vancouver. We made it to central Vancouver right on time and went to a neighborhood called Yaletown where we had an apartment reserved via AirBNB. This was the first time any of us had used the service so we were a bit scared. Jonathan went and registered us and I could tell we needed to lower our expectations by his reaction. We were paying for location, but got a smaller than expected place where Jonathan had a fold out in a small den that was no bigger than a wall in closet. I mentioned he should sleep on the couch since it seemed much roomier and less stuffy. Once we rested and got settled, Jonathan led Daniel and I on a Seattle-like walk around Vancouver.

We headed down Robson Street to look at the shops and then headed to Coal Harbour where we walked along the scenic sea wall. The weather was perfect as the heat of the day gave way to a nice cool ocean breeze. We then popped over to English Bay Beach to have a quick bite to eat and watch the sunset before heading back to our apartment. We really covered most of the central Vancouver area in the walk so again the drive plus the walk really conked us out. When we got back to the apartment, I stayed up for a bit looking at things to do tomorrow, and Jonathan went out with a friend. Daniel conked out early and I think I’ll head there shortly.

September 9, 2012

Pacific Northwest 2012 Day 4: Whistler

Today we headed up north to Whistler along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. We left Vancouver around 11am and despite leaving the maps at home we managed to navigate the streets of downtown and head across the Lions Gate Bridge and onto the Sea to Sky Highway without much difficulty. The drive was nice although it was gray out and there was a threat of rain. We passed some neat little communities and some spectacular scenery before making an unplanned stop at the Britannia Mine – home of the British Columbia Museum of Mining.

We walked around and took a look at the gift shop and since it was only about $20 each and it was something interested, we decided to go on the tour. We had a few minutes to walk around before heading up the hill to the underground mine train tour. Granted, I was expecting something along the lines of the Calico Mine Train at Knott’s, but after donning a hard hat we were in for a treat as the authentic mine train took us a short distance in the mine where we were treated to some demonstrations of mining equipment as well as some history around the mine site. From there, it was a short walk to the exit of the tunnel and then down into the catalog building and the mill. I was most impressed by the inside of the mill building and if I had the opportunity, I would love to do a paranormal investigation of the place – it was super spooky!

We grabbed some small souvenirs and then headed up the road towards Squamish where we stopped at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park to see some classic Canadian trains. We rode on the Mini Rail around the park which was a neat little scenic railway around the park. Nothing spectacular, but it was a lot of fun. We then toured through the various train cars and locomotives that were on display in the park. The big draw is the British Columbia Steam Engine #2860 in their new roundhouse. This engine is massive and really impressive to see in person. I only wish I would have been able to see this train running down the tracks in person.

After touring a period-decorated settler’s house on the property, it was time to hit the road and head towards Whistler. We decided to stop at the WalMart since we did not know what was up ahead on the road so we could get some water and snacks for the road and for the next two days. We hit the road and it was starting to get dark as we arrived in Whistler. We arrived around 5pm to Whistler village and it was certainly cool out! We decided to look at some of the shops and see if we could find a place to eat dinner. Along the way, we discovered the Olympic rings sculpture in the Olympic Plaza and we took some photos. As we were looking for dinner we decided we wanted something affordable with a lot of food, and after much deliberation we ended up at the Old Spaghetti Factory. I know, I know, not exactly fine dining, but since we were before the dinner rush there was no crowd and the prices were right. Daniel and I actually had a great meal! We took our time and relaxed and as we were eating it decided to start raining. I was not looking forward to driving back to Vancouver in the driving rain, but we decided to stop in few shops to get some Whistler souvenirs before heading back to the car for the drive home.

On the way home, I stopped at the Whistler Olympic Park off of Callaghan Valley Road. At first I thought it would be something spectacular, but we ended up driving 20 minutes off the beaten path to get a photo of the park sign since it was already closed. It was beautiful country out there, but also not someplace I wanted to be stranded if the weather got worse. So we headed back to the main Sea to Sky Highway and headed back to Vancouver. True to form, as we got closer to Vancouver the weather worsened and it made for a fun drive home. Thankfully, I was on high alert so I didn’t have to worry about getting tired or anything like that. We managed to find our apartment in the city with ease and then quickly headed to bed. It was a long day but filled with great scenery!

September 10, 2012

Pacific Northwest Day 5: Vancouver

Today we woke up at a more reasonable time and decided to start our day with some delicious bagels and cinnamon spread that we had scored at the WalMart the previous day. I think it might be addictive it was so good. We did some research on the Imperial Cinnamon Spread and were sad to discover that it is only a Canadian product and is not currently available in the US. We are going to have to enjoy it while we can!

One of the things on our to-do list was to see the famous steam powered clock located in Gas Town. Since it wasn’t that far away, we decided to head down to the site of EXPO 86 – literally down the street from where we were staying. One thing I noticed was the renovations to the BC Place Stadium compared to what it looked like back in 1987. We walked along the shoreline of a little inlet and headed over to take some photos of Science World British Columbia, one of the few iconic buildings left over from EXPO 86. Looking at the map, it seemed like a short walk to the Steam Clock from Science World, so we headed down Columbia Street and discovered that we had walked into the seedy underbelly of Vancouver.

There was another tourist who we saw just after she left the Chinese Cultural Museum. We walked together for a bit down the street and I could tell she was nervous since she was on her own, and I made sure to keep an eye on her as we walked through a few groups of crazy addict looking types. We made a left on Powell St which turned into Water Street and took us to the clock. Our timing was great as we arrived at 1145, just 15 minutes before the steam clock was set to go off. We enjoyed some free wifi courtesy of Starbucks while we waited so we could post some Instagram shots and tweet a few messages. Amazing we managed to survive so long without data! As 1200 approached, the crowd gathered in anticipation of the noon steam clock going off, but then there was a brief tone from the clock and that was it. Apparently there was not enough steam to do the entire 1200 Westminster chime. Overall, it was a disappointment of a tourist site.

We then headed over to Canada Place to see if the Disney Cruise Ship, the Wonder was in port. It was and it was the first time I had ever seen one of the Disney Ships in person. We were in luck, because a Princess cruise ship, the Dawn Princess, was docking at the same time. One of my co-workers was on the Wonder, so I called him and we waved to each other – me on the dock, him on the Wonder. I found out later that had I called earlier, he might have been able to arrange a visitor pass for us – I guess I will just have to go on a cruise to see the inside of the ship!

It was time to walk back to the apartment and figure out what we were going to do the rest of the day. We decided to take a quick rest after the walk, and then head over to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It was a touristy thing I remembered from long ago, but I was eager to see it again. Now experts at driving in Vancouver, we got to the bridge fairly quickly with plenty of time to explore before it closed. We spent a good two hours there walking across the bridge and exploring the Tree and Cliff walks to see the rainforest and the canyon below the Suspension Bridge. It is really a mom and pop feeling place as you can see condos and houses right up against the perimeter of the site. Daniel and I got some great photos and afterwards decided to head up to see how much it cost to take the Grouse Mountain tram to the top. Again, it was reasonable so we decided just to take the tram to the top as it was too late to do any other optional activities.

I really liked the area at the top, and can imagine it must be awesome in the winter as well. We went looking for the resident Grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola, and despite it being 45 degrees outside we were rewarded for our effort by spotting both bears. After some bear and scenery photos, we headed into the warmth of the building and watched the movies in the Theater in the Sky. We spent an hour in the theater and watched a story about the bears, and one about Tyto’s Triumph and another about British Columbia from the sky. All in all it was a good time and we finished it off with a wonderful sunset and some hot chocolate and a snack before we decided to head down the mountain.

We headed down the mountain and back into Vancouver and met back up with Jonathan who had been busy since we had been in Vancouver, so we all decided to head down to Yaletown to see if we could find something to eat. We ended up at a place called B.B.Ques which, while empty due to the lateness (around 9pm), had a great burger. After hanging out and chatting, we decided to call it a night and head back to the condo. It was back to the USA tomorrow and to our flight back home. Thankfully, our flight wasn’t until 4 so we had plenty of time to relax.

September 11, 2012

Pacific Northwest 2012 Day 6: Vancouver to LA

We woke up on the last day of our trip and got our stuff packed. We enjoyed our last bit of wonderful Cinnamon and bagels and tried to finish the rest of our supplies before hitting the road. I knew we were going to have to toss the spread since it was not allowed through the TSA checkpoint. We briefly considered mailing the stuff back home, but in the end level headed non-cinnamon based thought returned. We packed up the car and headed south, anxiously awaiting to see how long the wait would be at the border. After consulting the overhead signs, we made a b-line for one of the adjacent border crossing, a move saving us 30 minutes or so.

From then, it was smooth sailing back to Seattle with a quick stop in Bellingham for gas. I was pretty excited that for our entire 3 days I did not have to get gas in Canada and pay the high prices. Part of the credit goes to the Chevy Cruze, which despite the fact I cannot stand how it looks or rides, it gets great gas mileage.

Jonathan decided to get dropped off back at the Courtyard by Marriott so he could use the wifi and see if he could meet up with some of his friends. Daniel and I headed down towards the airport so we could grab a quick bite to eat before we turned the car back in. How good is the Cruze gas mileage? I did not have to top it off before turning it back in to the rental car agency!! We had about an hour to kill in the airport before our flight, so we relaxed and looked forward to our flight home. The flight itself was pretty smooth, although since we were on the wrong side of the plane and not at a window, I didn’t get any good photos out the windows. From there, it was a short ride back to the apartment and we were finally home from the trip. Time for dinner and time to think about where we will be go next.