There’s A Bear In This Photo If You Look Hard Enough

Vancouver

Sea to Sky. Vancouver to Whistler. Anja and I have been here before, back in the days before children arrived on the scene, but we were so pleased to back. Vancouver is a lovely city, that seems to contain everything you might want, in a setting that’s pretty hard to beat.

On the Pacific west coast of Canada, you can take a swim in the morning and be on the slopes of Whistler in the afternoon. We didn’t feel the need to test out this common refrain of Vancouver tourist brochures, but hopefully it gives you a sense of the possibilities.

We’d managed to land a stay in a new Airbnb location in West Vancouver, in a ridiculously expensive looking location, with views back across the harbour to Stanley Park. Ok, we were staying in the basement, but our house for the week was enough to have me frantically searching property sites to assess the feasibility of extending our stay permanently.

Our Airbnb host had a brummie accent, which took me slightly by surprise. We were a long way from Birmingham, in every sense. It was nice to have a chat about home, but after five hours on the train from Seattle, it was time to stretch our legs in Stanley Park.

Sprawling across 1,000 acres, we didn’t quite have time to see all of Stanley Park, but we managed to burn off some steam and made the first novelty wildlife sighting of our stay in Canada. It wasn’t the bear that we were looking for, yet, but a wild raccoon was a nice start and it gave the kids (and me) a reasonable fright when it scurried across the path ahead of us.

Raccoon in Stanley Park, Vancouver

We spent the next few days pottering around Vancouver, but mostly we kept coming back to Stanley Park. It was warm enough on our second day to brave the open air lido, but otherwise we were content walking in the woods and keeping our eyes peeled for bears.

RTW family in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Once the kids had concluded that we weren’t going to spot any bears in downtown Vancouver, it was time to hit Granville Island, with the promise of some shopping (for Kiera), a Children’s museum (for Lexi), and a micro-brewery (mainly me).

Rather than taking the direct and boring option of driving to Granville Island, we decided to make the most of Vancouver’s public transport. A ferry across Vancouver Harbour, followed by a few stops on the metro, and then a 10 minute water taxi ride. We arrived later than if we’d taken the car, but now free to explore without any arguments over car parking spaces.

RTW family in Vancouver

Perhaps inevitably we spend the majority of the day at the Children’s museum, which was really a collection of toy shops, video games and an indoor soft-play. But the real attraction of Granville Island is the incredible collection of food stalls in the covered market, which kept us well stocked up on calories while we took turns waiting for Lexi to emerge from the ball pool.

Bear Spotting

On our last visit to Canada, Anja and I spent two weeks failing to spot any bears. This time we were determined to at least get a glimpse of a real life, wild bear. So we packed the car for a short drive up the Pacific Coast highway to Squamish, which was to be our base for the next few days.

Shannon Falls was worth a pit stop and allowed the kids to practice their Bear Grylls survival skills by pretending to hunt salmon in the ice cold river.

Kids playing at Shannon Falls, Canada

There wasn’t much to distract us in Squamish, but it was half the price of staying in Whistler, which was our real destination. On our very first drive into Whistler, when we weren’t expecting to see anything apart from other cars, Anja suddenly screamed in my ear “BEAR!”.

All along the road into Whistler are signs saying not to park along the road to spot wildlife, so I took the only sensible course of action and performed an emergency stop and turned the car around to find our bear. After searching for a safe verge to park, we scrambled out of the car, at this point hoping the bear hadn’t decided to come down the valley to meet us personally.

My photos don’t do any justice to the five minutes of excitement that followed. An enormous brown bear was lolloping across the valley, no more than 200 metres from where we were now standing, paying us no attention whatsoever as it calmly ambled around looking for food.

Bear in the woods

A few more cars joined us on the side of the road, which is exactly what must drive the locals crazy. So as the bear started to disappear from view, we carried on to Whistler, now content that we didn’t need to spend the next few days frantically searching the undergrowth for signs of bear poo.

Perhaps the adrenaline had impaired our judgement, because we then decided to hire some mountain bikes to explore the miles of mountain wilderness that surrounds Whistler. The last time that we all went for a bike ride was at least a year previously, along the much less mountainous and much better tarmacked Bristol to Bath cycle path.

After freewheeling downhill for almost half an hour, the thought occurred that at some stage we’d probably need to retrace our bike tracks in an uphill direction. Several hours later still, we staggered back into Whistler, looking like members of some long lost mountain tribe.

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We spent a couple of days exploring Whistler and its surrounding maze of cycle paths. The kids loved taking fun of us on the bikes and spending money on the raft of adventurous amusements on offer. I enjoyed the views and the ready availability of coffee shops and pubs. Anja was just pleased we’d finally managed to spot a bear.

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RTW family in Whistler

Family travel blog in Whistler

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Next Time

It’s been quite a while since my last update, and we are now safely tucked up at home in the UK, digging ourselves out of snow drifts following some unusually cold weather. However, in the distorted time that represents how long it is taking me to complete the blog of our trip, we are now heading into some distinctively warmer weather with a visit to Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by our final stop in Sri Lanka.

Seattle to Vancouver by Train

A train has to be one of my favourite modes of travel. Perhaps not battling for breathing space on the tube, but relaxing in comfort on a long distance train is hard to beat in my book.

 Travelling across an international border by train takes things to a higher level. It’s quite a few years since I went inter-railing across Europe, when there were still border crossings to navigate, but I still vividly recall the mixture of excitement and apprehension at reaching a far-flung border patrol in Eastern Europe at the dead of night.

And so I booked us onto Train 510, leaving Seattle King Street Station for Vancouver, at 7.45am on a bright Tuesday morning in July.

Four tickets cost us $126, which I thought seemed pretty reasonable, especially as it meant we didn’t need to spend another few hours waiting in airports.

There was, however, a pretty strange system to board the train. Rather than being allocated seats in advance, so that you can simply walk onto the train at 7.45am, we had to arrive at the station an hour before departure to check-in our luggage and receive a seat allocation. This was straight-forward enough to do, but it meant waking the kids slightly before their natural rising time, which is always a risk before a long journey.

Our wait in Seattle station was livened up by a very talkative Kiwi, who was making his way home to Vancouver Island. We chatted about New Zealand, which we hadn’t long departed, and inevitably drifted onto the subject of Rugby, which you are almost bound to do whenever meeting a true Kiwi. I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious of somebody lucky enough to have a New Zealand passport and a Canadian visa.

We boarded the Amtrak service and left Seattle on time, camera at the ready to capture the passing scenery as we journeyed north to the Canadian border. In between taking the kids on journeys to the buffet car, I spent most of the journey trying to master taking photos while moving at high-speed.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver train

I just about managed to get a picture of a golden eagle, perched on the shore, but you might need to look quite hard to see it.

Golden eagle on the beach

Otherwise the journey was one long masterpiece, and it was only a shame that we couldn’t have spent longer exploring this stretch of coastline.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver trainSeattle to Vancouver train

Border control was at Vancouver station, which caused a slight delay getting off the train, but it still felt incredible to be walking onto Canadian soil at just after lunchtime, having spent the morning in America.

Summer in Seattle

I’m not sure why you’d want your dinner to be chucked through the air, but a large crowd was baying for more fish flinging. We’d arrived at Pike’s Place Market and stumbled upon the fish counter. Huge specimens of fresh fish were in the process of being hurled, from the front of stage fish monger, to some brave men working behind the counter, who were being required to receive the weighty and very slippery-looking catch.

Pike Place Fish Market

Pike’s Place is the home of Starbucks, but we didn’t feel the need to pay homage to a chain of coffee shops, so instead we stayed and watched the fish throwing. We had to battle to get out of the crowd once our time was up, and the rest of Pike’s Place was seething with people browsing stalls of fruit, vegetables, flowers and assorted homemade objects.

Pike Place Market

Fresh cherries in Seattle

The view from the back of the market was worth the trip alone, with distant snow topped mountains framing a glorious view of Puget Sound.

We’d stopped for breakfast in the welcoming sounding Crumpet Shop. The crumpets were homemade and extremely tasty, but there was an almost overwhelming array of potential toppings to navigate. The kids played it safe with raspberry jam. I couldn’t decide and was feeling adventurous, so I opted for a savoury option of green tomatoes, with a helping of maple butter for pudding. This was more food than I needed for breakfast, but I felt like throwing caution to the wind.

The Crumpet Shop, Seattle

Fully sustained for the day ahead, we spent the morning exploring the stalls of Pike Place and then headed out to Space Needle. We got way laid for several hours in the Children’s Museum, which was stacked full of opportunities for the kids to explore and pretend play.

Space Needle, Seattle

The Chihuly glass exhibition was incredible to look at, but the edge was taken off it by worrying about whether the kids were about to touch / break one of the very expensive looking sculptures.

Chihuly Glass Exhibition, Seattle

With the crumpets walked off, we headed for the best pizza in town at Serious Pie. One of the major benefits of having children is that we don’t usually need to reserve a table for dinner. Eating bang on 5pm every day tends to ensure that we beat dinner rush hour.

Serious Pie was seemingly so popular, however, that a queue was forming as they were opening up. We were seated at a shared table, which caused an initial flurry of confused looks. Any apprehension that we might need to speak with strangers over dinner was soon overcome. Surely one of the best things about coming to America is how friendly everybody seems, and we were soon swapping holiday stories and life plans with a totally unknown family from California that just happened to be sharing our dinner table.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner on our second day in Seattle and sat next to the same family again. I don’t think they were stalking us, but the pizza was very good and our second night felt like a family reunion.

Our brief stay in Seattle coincided with some beautiful summer weather, and on the basis of our experience, Seattle looked like a great place to live. The downtown area was vibrant, with buildings that were old enough to provide some character. The football and baseball stadiums were walkable from downtown, which is surely how it should be.

Steep streets of Seattle

Back To Reality

Around four months into our new life of not working, we’ve made the decision to come back to reality after six months of travelling. This is shorter than the full year we’d originally planned.

Before embarking on a year away, the kids were worried about missing school, missing their friends, and not having enough toys to play with. So far, they have loved most of the places we have visited, and have coped well with the constant changes of scenery and lack of routine.

But having never travelled for such a long period of time, choosing to go away for a year was always a slightly arbitrary aim. Six months now feels right.

This does mean, however, that our original itinerary goes out the window. After Australia, the plan was to spend a couple of months exploring the USA and Canada, followed by some time in Central America and back home via South East Asia.

We already had flights booked from Sydney to Los Angeles, via Hawaii, so we still intend to spend some time on the West Coast, but we’ll then skip back and finish our trip in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was near the top of my wish list for this journey and I can’t wait to take the kids to see some real life elephants and enjoy curry for breakfast.

Aloha

Crossing the Pacific from Australia to the USA, it would have seemed a shame not to drop into Hawaii for a spot of beach time.

I’d booked our flight to Hawaii before we left the UK, because you need an exit flight confirmed in order to enter Australia. I don’t understand this rule, since if you were determined to hide in the outback then I’m pretty sure you could simply cancel your flight or not turn up at the airport.

It was a ten-hour flight from Sydney to Honolulu, although we managed to arrive before we took off, courtesy of crossing the international date line.

After landing in Honolulu, we were quickly submerged in tropical trees as we headed to the quieter east coast of O’ahu. It quickly became apparent that we were driving around the remnants of a giant volcano, now carpeted with a green baize of foliage.

Despite the rising temperatures and a local time of 10am, we were all ready for instant sleep by the time we arrived in our new home, in the small village of Ka’a’awa.

I had big plans to visit Pearl Harbour one day, but we spent most of the week luxuriating on the beach and enjoying the novelty of genuinely warm sea water. The kids couldn’t quite believe the sea could reach the same temperature as their bath. Even Anja managed to dip her toes into the water, having avoided any contact with the sea since our first couple of weeks in New Zealand.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

The east coast of O’ahu seemed relatively undeveloped, with none of the high-rise hotels of Honolulu and few visible tourists. Most of our days on the beach were spent with locals, enjoying a long weekend camping by the shore. Entire extended families appeared to have decamped for the weekend, setting up miniature villages on all available patches of grass.

Once the long weekend had passed, we had our pick of the best spots on any of the local beaches.

Family travel blog

Sunset beach on the north-east coast was our personal favourite. Travel brochure quality golden sand, some nice gentle waves for the kids to ride, and a small reef within ten metres of the shore for some leisurely snorkeling.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

I did eventually manage to drag the kids off the beach for just long enough to pay a brief visit to Pearl Harbour, but only on our last day as were heading back to Honolulu airport and they didn’t have much choice but to join me.

I was pleased that we at least paid our respects, and the kids were in stitches because I tried to enter the active naval base through a military check-point. My UK driving licence was not sufficient to gain entry to the military base, so we had to settle for the tourist car park, which had less stringent entry criteria.

RTW family travel blog

A site of such historic importance no doubt warranted a more extensive visit than we managed, but with a plane to catch we only managed a whistle-stop tour.

Finally, I need to make a special mention for Uncle Bobo’s. When we first arrived in Ka’a’awa the food options appeared limited to a 7-11 store attached to the local petrol station. Whilst I am sure that 7-11 offers an excellent range of food in case of emergencies, the thought of a weeks’ worth of spam sushi wasn’t that appealing. Fortunately, in stepped a small barbeque joint called Uncle Bobos’. I got the sense that the restaurant had almost got too popular for its heavily over-worked owners, but we couldn’t get enough.

Next Time

Heading for the US of A and then Canada, that is assuming we’re allowed in and haven’t been caught in one of Mr Trump’s latest security initiatives. We’re visiting Seattle and then catching a train to Vancouver.

I am also currently in the midst of revising our travel plans. We have decided to head home after six months rather than our original plan of travelling for a year. Logically we should head east across the USA or Canada to complete a neat circle of the globe. However, we’ve decided instead to spend some time in Asia, so I’m scrambling to find the cheapest and least painful way of getting from Vancouver to London, via Asia.

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