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Saturday 3 September 2016

Seattle & Canada Trip

Summer break is over and my big girls are back at school. I can't believe how quickly the Summer flew by. Part of me feels like we didn't really do much or hardly go anywhere this Summer, but then I remember, hey, we just came back from Canada! Ha!

If you're following Little Hiccups on Instagram then you will have been seeing photos from our recent trip to Seattle and Canada over the past few weeks. I have so much to share with you from our trip as we went to so many amazing places - and as always, I took a gazillion photos! For now I thought I'd share an overview of our trip with a few highlights from each place we visited.

So here's a look at our trip to Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria...

Day 1
We started our trip with a few days in Seattle. We flew in on a Saturday morning, got ourselves settled in our hotel, grabbed a bite for lunch and then made our way to the Columbia Center to take in the views over the city from the top of Seattle's tallest building. As luck would have it, the Blue Angels happened to be performing an air show so not only were we treated to amazing city views, but we also got to watch the fighter jets zooming around which was pretty cool.

As we'd woken up at some ungodly hour for our morning flight we were all pretty tired by early evening. We grabbed dinner from a burger joint and had an early night.

Day 2
Sunday morning we stopped by a nearby park where we'd seen table tennis, giant chess, shuffle board and giant Jenga set up. The girls were keen to stop and play while Kim and I had our morning coffee. These games are set up in parks all over the city center and it's such a fun idea. I wish we had games like these in parks here.

The games in the park were lots of fun, but our main destination for the day was Seattle Aquarium. The girls loves checking out all of the fish, octopuses, sea lions, otters and, Mathilde's favorite, puffins.

After our day spent at the aquarium we took a ride on the nearby Seattle Great Wheel. We went on this large observation wheel during our previous visit to Seattle too, and once again the views were amazing.

Day 3
Monday we hopped on the monorail and made our way to Seattle Center where we visited Chihuly Garden and Glass, cooled down under the International Fountain, and played at Artists at Play, the amazing new playground outside the EMP Museum. While we took in the views of the Space Needle we didn't go up it this time as we already did that during our last visit in 2014.

 Day 4
Tuesday morning we left our hotel nice and early and hopped aboard the 7:40am Amtrak train to Vancouver. Despite the grey sky, the views along the way were quite pretty as the train made its way along the edge of the many bays by the coast and through green farmland. The girls entertained themselves with books, computer games and taking walks through the train. Mathilde was keen to play with her LeapReader dog, but as it doesn't work with headphones it was a little noisy to play around the other passengers, so we spent a little time sitting between the carriages so she could "read".

We arrived in Vancouver, cleared customs and checked into our hotel just in time for lunch. After a tasty meal at a sushi restaurant (that we also visited several times on our previous trip to Vancouver) we headed down to the waterfront to take in the views. As we'd also visited Vancouver back in 2013, we'd already visited most of the touristy places that we had been keen to see. So this time we kept our visit pretty low key and let the girls just play. They loved being outside in parks, but their favorite things was swimming in the hotel pool, so we made sure to spend plenty of time in the water. Oh, and our hotel room? It had a corner balcony with amazing views over the city and bay.

Day 5
Wednesday morning we headed to Gastown to check out Vancouver's historical (and super touristy) area. The girls thought the gas powered clock was kind of fun and they were happy to stop for a rest at a pub, but otherwise this area wasn't really their thing. They were keen to run around and play so we made our way down to the waterfront where we found small beach by the shipyards and a playground. The girls played on the play equipment and splashed in the water for quite some time. Their favorite thing though, was the jellyfish that we found! All of the jellyfish were dead unfortunately, but this meant that they were harmless so we were able to pick them up to check them out up close. Mathilde also made friends with a friendly dog whose owners were further up the little beach.

After lunch by the convention center, we spent much of the afternoon along the water, taking in the views, walking along the floating piers, and letting the girls run around in parks before stopping at a supermarket by our hotel to grab a few chocolate bars and chips that we can't buy back home.  Oh, and in case we forgot we were in Canada, the supermarket did a good job of reminding us at every turn!

Day 6
Thursday morning we were supposed to take an early ferry across to Victoria on Vancouver Island, but while packing Kim realized that he had left his sunglasses in a store that he had visited the day before - or at least he thought so. So we postponed our ferry trip to later in the afternoon and prepared to head out to find Kim's sunglasses. Then of course he found them in his backpack! It was too late to change back to the earlier ferry so we went out for a leisurely breakfast followed by fun at a nearby playground.

The ferry to Vancouver Island leaves from Tsawassen, a 45 minute drive south of Vancouver. We caught a coach that took us all the way to the ferry terminal, drove onto the ferry and then took us all the way to Victoria when we reach Vancouver Island. It was fantastic! Here I was thinking we'd have to drag all of our luggage on and off the ferry, but it all stayed safely locked in the coach while we crossed the water. It was definitely worth the extra cost over taking a taxi.

We arrived in Victoria around 5pm so we dropped our bags off at our hotel and went straight out for a walk down by the waterfront. Victoria is such a pretty city. With its grand Victorian buildings, horse drawn carriage rides, and spectacular gardens it feels much more like the East Coast Canadian cities we've visited than nearby Vancouver. We had our first poutine of the trip for dinner (healthy eating goes out the window when we travel!) then headed back to the hotel so the girls could swim in the pool.

Day 7
On Friday we decided to get a little educational and spent much of the day at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The girls loved the current "Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age" exhibition as well as the regular exhibitions detailing the history and nature of Vancouver Island. We also watched an amazing 3D Imax movie about the ice age.

After the museum we took a horse drawn carriage ride around the picturesque waterfront area, then hopped in a water taxi and headed to Fisherman's Wharf. Victoria's Fisherman's Wharf is much smaller than the one here in San Francisco, but with its colorful houseboats it certainly is cute. Plus they sell real fish and chips there! Real chips - no fries. Apparently there are usually seal lions hanging around but we didn't manage to find any. As the sun began to set we walked back along the shore to our hotel. The sunset was pretty spectacular.

Day 8
Our original plans for Saturday were to visit either Craigdarroch Castle or Butchart Gardens (or maybe even both), but we made a change of plans when our guide on the horse drawn carriage ride told us about Beacon Hill Park. Both Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Gardens look beautiful, but we knew that they would both be busy on a weekend and we liked the idea of a quiet day in the park. So we spent much of our day in Beacon Hill Park instead. But first, we stopped by the waterfront to watch the water taxi ballet. Seriously, how cute is this? The teeny, tiny water taxis perform a "dance" to classical music on weekend mornings. It was such an expected thing that we had no idea about but I'm so glad we got to see it. There were also dragon boat races being held but the girls were keen to get to the park so we didn't stay to see them.

Beacon Hill Park is a lovely place to spend a day. The gardens are beautiful, there's plenty of spacious grassy areas for picnicking, a few fun playgrounds, and a petting zoo filled with farm animals. The petting zoo was our first stop. The girls enjoyed petting and brushing the goats, and were excited to see peacocks strutting around freely, showing off their stunning plumage.

We left the park for lunch and then walked along the edge of the park towards Spiral beach. It took us quite a bit longer to get to the beach than we expected as we came across a fun playground with a zipline. All three girls rode the zipline over and over. It was Mathilde's first time on a zipline and she couldn't get enough of it!

We eventually managed to drag the girls away from the zipline and made it to Spiral Beach. The view from this small pebble beach were pretty stunning, although it was too cold to swim. The girls were happy to just wade in the cool water and collect driftwood. I don't know what it is about Canadian beaches, but the ones we've been to have always had a lot of driftwood, much of which is large logs.

Once again we spent the evening in the hotel pool. Seriously, if it was up to the girls we'd never leave the hotel pool when we travel!

Day 9
Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel and made our way to the nearby ferry terminal where we caught the Victoria Clipper ferry back to Seattle. Unlike the ferry we had taken to Vancouver Island, the Victoria Clipper is just a passenger ferry so it was much smaller. There was no deck to walk around on taking in the views, just a small deck at the very back. We didn't manage to get seats by a window so I made sure to visit the back deck a few times to takes photos, however not long after leaving Victoria we hit a wall of fog so there wasn't much of a view anyway! That was, until we approached Seattle and suddenly the most glorious view unfolded before us. It was so clear that we could see Mt Rainier in all its glory.  

Once we cleared customs Kim took our luggage to the last hotel of our trip and I took the girls to Pike Place Markets for lunch. After lunch I took the girls to Lola's most favorite (and possibly Ava's most hated!) place in Seattle: the Gum Wall in Post Alley! Like last time, Ava was grossed out by all the gum and hung back. Lola and Mathilde thought it was fantastic and chewed up lots of "buddle dum" as Mathilde called it, to add to the wall. The walls of Post Alley were actually cleaned off a while back so they weren't as gum covered as they had been on our previous visit. They were still pretty gross though!

On our previous trip to Seattle we visited the first ever Starbucks in Pike Place. This time we decided to visit a new Starbucks unlike any other we'd seen. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery, or "Fancy Starbucks" as the kids called it, feels more like an artisan coffee shop than part of the world's biggest coffee chain. The menu features exclusive coffee drinks that are not available at other Starbucks stores and the beans are roasted right there on site. Customers can watch the roasting process and this kept the kids entertained for so much longer than I expected. Mathilde was a little upset at first that they didn't sell cake pops like every other Starbucks, but she was as mesmerized by the roasting beans as her big sisters and soon got over it.

On our way back to our hotel we stopped by the park with the table tennis etc before grabbing dinner and hitting the hay. No hotel swimming pool this time.

Day 10
Monday was our last day in Seattle before heading home. When looking into places to visit Kim had stumbled up on the Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park and was keen to visit it. This free National Park museum tells the story of the stampede to the Yukon gold fields in the 1890s. Ava and Lola were able to take part in the Junior Ranger program and earn themselves another badge, so they were pretty happy about that. Mathilde wasn't able to take part but she was given a small book to collect stamps in as we made our way around the museum.

The girls were keen for one more round of table tennis, shuffle board and giant Jenga before we left Seattle, so we made our way back to the park for an hour or so before heading to the airport. This time the girls plucked up the courage to run through the nearby fountain. Got to love the kids getting drenched right before heading to the airport!

We took the train back to the airport, flew back to Oakland and our vacation was officially at an end.

I'll have lots of individual posts about the places we visited coming very soon.

Did you go away anywhere fun during the Summer break? I'd love to hear.

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