Thursday, 24 September 2009

Las Vegas 21st -24th Sept

After Jacki's visit to Vancouver we hadn't had enough so we headed down to Las Vegas to catch-up with her again. It was well timed to because I got a phone call on the Friday before from UBC offering me a job. It meant we didn't have to worry so much about our budget while we holidayed.

We wanted to cram as much Vegas in as we could so Rach finished a night shift on the 21st and basically came home and changed before we headed to the airport.
The flight down was great, we headed down the coast then inland over forests around Portland, over a few remaining Californian fires then over the desert to Vegas. We knew where we were as soon as you step off the plane, they have slot machines in the waiting area.

We got a cab to our hotel, Excalibur, and met Jacki. We had prebooked tickets to Cirque du Solei at TI (used to be treasure Island) so we went for a trek down The Strip to collect the tickets. The Strip was crazy! It was packed with tourists and the two mile walk to TI took us two hours. We did stop for photos a few times along the way, just like everyone else. We had tickets to the medieval show at Excalibur that night so we had to get back quick so we got the monorail back. The Medieval show was good, pretty similar to do show Rach and I went to in LA. Its a medieval 'competition' between the different seating sections. Its really a good show with some American cheese thrown in. Surprisingly Rach had managed to stay awake all this time - 36 hours! We were well overdue a sleep when the show was over so headed back to our room.

On Tuesday we had a lot of Casinos to explore. We started by heading south to the Luxor and grabbing some breakfast/lunch. We then continued south to Mandalay Bay. This is as far south as we went, each of the hotel/casinos has a different theme and it is amazing the lengths some of them go to with the themes. After exploring Mandalay Bay we caught the free train back to Excalibur. We then continued north exploring New York New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, Ballys, The Flamingo and back to Excalibur. I can't really explain how cool these casinos were, hopefully the photos do a good job of it.

The Cirque du Solei show was on tonight so we got dressed up and jumped back on the monorail to TI. The show was amazing! We left a little disappointed that it hadn't gone on for longer - that's got to be a good sign. There were amazing tricks on the trapeze and an old guy was hilarious playing/interfering with the show, although he was obviously part of it. While way up that end of the strip we stuck around to catch the show outside TI, Sirens. We waited around for almost an hour to catch the show... and it was disappointing. Apparently used to be a great battle between pirates... now its like that but with softcore porn included and a script written by testosterone OD-ing teenagers. The volcano outside the Mirage was great. They use water, light and fire to simulate the island in the middle of their water feature blowing up, and the effect works really well.

After the show we continued inside the Mirage and had a look around then onto the Bellagio. Unfortunately by the time we got there the water fountain display had stopped for the night. After finding that out we decided it was time to start heading back to the hotel for bed. On the way we thought we should do a little bit of gambling while we were there. I put a couple of dollars into the machine and managed to spend it all in one spin, my Las Vegas gambling was done in a couple of seconds. The others managed to carry on for a couple of minutes before the money ran out. After all that excitement it was definitely time for bed.

We still had a lot to get done on Wednesday. We still had some time left on our 24 monorail tickets so we decided to make the most of it and head right up the north end to the Sahara and the Stratosphere. These hotel/casinos were obviously a lot older than the ones we'd been exploring at the southern end of the strip. The decor needed a bit of an update. Joined to the Sahara there was a roller coaster. Rach and I were real keen to go on the one at New York New York but while here we thought we'd go on this one too. It was only a short roller coaster but it was cool that it started inside, shot outside, went underground then up again... then the same in reverse. Rach and I then went for a look in the Stratosphere while Jacki went souvenir shopping. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go up the tower but we do have to go on those rides at some point.

We then headed back to the main section of the strip and had a walk through Paris on our way to the Coke store and M&M World. They were both cool, M&M world was four stories of M&M products, it also had a 3D movie. After all this walking and shopping we were exhausted so headed back to the hotel to drop off our bags. We then splashed out and went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. This was a new restaurant, it opened only three weeks earlier. It was fitted with Microsoft Surface's in the waiting areas, I had fun playing around with it... then Rach and Jacki did too on our way out.

We then headed back up the Strip to explore the Venetian and go up the Eiffel tower at Paris. It was great timing as the Bellagio fountains started just as we got to the top. We watched that show and explored the views from up the tower before heading down and seeing the show again from the ground - just like in Oceans 11. After that it was getting late again and Rach and I had flights back to Vancouver the next day so we made our way back to the hotel for bed.

Our last morning in Las Vegas was quiet, just breakfast at the hotel then off to the airport for us.

It was a shame our trip was packed into only a few days but I'm so glad we made the effort to go. We've got a list of things that we need to do next time we're there.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

More Visitors 7th Sept - 12th Sept

With Rach working on Sunday night we made Monday morning a quiet day. Jacki, Katie and I headed up the Vancouver Lookout. The weather forecast was bad the entire time we had visitors so unfortunately there was a bit of cloud around. After about an hour of me playing tourist guide up the lookout we headed for a nice walk around the waterfront to Stanley Park.

Like we were when we first arrived, Jacki wanted to get a photo of a squirrel. In Stanley Park that's usually an easy task... for some reason it wasn't this day. What was weird was that Raccoons were suddenly more common. We managed to get some good photos of them instead and had to abandon finding a squirrel. Rach had got up while we were 'going on a squirrel hunt' so we headed back to regroup.

It was still relatively early in the day so we decided to squeeze a visit to Granville Island in. Its always nice wandering around doing a bit of window shopping. We also grabbed a quick bite while we were there and watched a couple of the buskers. Once we had explored all the Island streets and had enough on the swings we headed home for some dinner. Rach, Jacki and Katie went back up the lookout after dinner to see the city at night since the tickets were still valid.

On Tuesday we we caught the seabus over to the north shore to go up Grouse Mountain. If you remember back to our post on June 28th, Rach and I had already been up here and its great cheap fun. Its really cheap if you do the Grouse Grind but none of us had the energy or desire to do that. We got the cable car up this time which I found rather over priced - but I'm comparing to a free walk up there. There is a good amount of entertainment up the top for free so I guess its not so bad.

Up the top it was a lot busier than last time, not with people it was animals. The bears were roaming around their enclosure giving everyone a good look. There was a family of Black Tailed Deer and we even saw a Grouse up Grouse Mountain. There was also a bit of wild Black Bear activity up there this day. We didn't see them but did find a fresh looking foot print - I honed all my tracking skills to identify it. We watched the lumberjack show again, for Rach and I it was our third time now. Its a little different when you know all the secrets but its still a good show. We got the chair lift up to the very top peak which we didn't do last time we were up here. There were spectacular views of Vancouver from up there, you could see right down into Washington too.

It was a long day and we were all exhausted, too exhausted to cook so we went out for dinner at The Keg. Its a chain restaurant but like most chains here the food is fantastic. We then walked around the corner from home to visit one of Katie's friends and her spoiled dog. Had a quick drink there before heading home a collapsing in bed.

We were finding it exhausting being tourists so took it easy on Wednesday morning - all we had planned for the day was heading to Vancouver Island. I got some good news (and bad timing) that morning; UBC wanted me back for a second interview... this week, when I was meant to be at Vancouver Island. I couldn't really reschedule too much so made a time Friday afternoon so I could have a day on the Island still. It was about 2pm when we headed off for the Ferry. It was a bit of a trek, but also surprising how far we could get for only $18. We first got the Canada Line to Brighouse Staton where we caught a bus to Tsawwassen where we got the Ferry over to Swartz Bay. It was funny that we were able to use a train, bus and ferry all in a couple of hours to get over to the island. Jacki's uncle, Bruce, picked us up from the ferry terminals and took us round to their place in Sidney. They have an amazing place right on the water, we were so spoilt there. Bruce had been out fishing that morning so we had fresh Salmon for dinner that night, just like real Canadians.

Thursday was now my only full day on Vancouver Island so we packed as much touring of Victoria as we could. Bruce gave us the scenic route down to Victoria and did a good job as a tour guide to get us started. Bruce eventually had to head off and do some work so we were on our own. We started with a short walk around the waterfront past the Legislative Buildings and the Empress Hotel. We didn't get far before deciding to catch one of the water taxis for a quick tour around the harbour. The first boat we got on to was great, the driver offered a great commentary. We were told it was a hop-on hop-off type thing so we got off at Fisherman's Wharf. It was a dock full of house boats and one local Seal. The poor old seal looked like it had bad cataracts and would surely be dead if had to fend for itself. It survives now on fish that people feed it at the wharf. It was unusual to have a seal follow you while you walk around. When we jumped back on the water taxi it was more of a taxi on the water, we just travelled straight back to the main dock where we'd started without any commentary at all - it was a little disappointing.

With limited time we decided it'd be best to plan the rest of our Victoria tour so we headed to the information center. We grabbed pamphlets and got some information on buses and headed up Government Street to grab some lunch. We ended up eating at Irish Times Pub - we seem to love the Irish pubs in Canada. While sitting in the pub we had a look through the pamphlets we grabbed and found one of the maps included an Alley Tour and we happened to be sitting at the start of it so we decided to follow it. It took us down some great back alleyways, my favourite had to be the last one, Fan Tan Alley. It was no wider then two people and about four stories high on both sides. There were a few quirky shops down the way and when we came out we were in Chinatown. We headed back down Government Street toward the harbour stopping at a couple of places to try and find a shirt for my job interview tomorrow. I really didn't enjoy my Victoria shopping experience, I felt like I was in a mini 'Queer Eye for Me' episode, and I really didn't like it. We eventually found a polite way to get out of that shop and found a shirt in Tip Top Tailors, they had the right level of helpfulness there.

After that stress we needed ice cream so we all grabbed sundaes and sat around the harbour eating them. We were then ready to continue our tour. We headed up and explored The Empress Hotel and then the Legislative buildings. Unfortunately we were 5 minutes too late to go inside the legislative builds so we wandered around the grounds and stumbled upon horse and carriage tours - between the four of us we couldn't come up with a reason not to. We took a 15 minute tour around Beacon Hill area looking at all the old houses - it was very romantic :-). It was almost 6 when we got back so we found a bus stop and got a ride back to Bruce and Debbie's place in Sidney.

Friday I had to get up early and catch the 8am ferry back so I could be ready from my interview at 3pm. The interview went ok, it was a practical test this time and I got the impression it had gone well - even with a few answers that I was disappointed with. The guy interviewing me basically said at the end of it that I knew what I was doing and he was just concerned about my work permit and me being over qualified - not in those words of course. It was good to hear that after three months of disappointing job hunting.

Meanwhile - on The Island Rach, Jacki and Katie had a quiet day in Sidney. Checking out the museum there and walking along the beach. They then left Jacki behind and headed back to Vancouver. On their ferry ride home they were lucky enough to see Orca's breaching - that was disappointing because I really wanted to and had been looking hard for them on both rides. Rach was also loaded up on frozen Salmon before leaving so we now have a freezer full, we're so stoked about that but need to learn some recipes - we've never cooked Salmon before.

Katie had an early flight home on Saturday morning and Rach was working again. I gave Katie a hand getting to the airport and watched some more planes before heading home and back to reality.

It was so nice seeing familiar faces again and it was fun being tourists again - the budget hadn't allowed us to do that for a while. It was also tough going back to reality.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Many Changes 31 Aug - 6 Sept

We seem to have managed to get ourselves into a bit of a routine so not much tourist-ing going on and not been too much to write about - hence the fact we had nothing to write about last week.

Monday was packing day. It was a brilliant plan to have Monday free to pack so we could move on Tuesday morning. According to our lease we had to be out by noon so preparation was key. Fortunately we got a little more time to move because we couldn't arrange a time to meet the landlord to hand it over, unfortunately someone slipped too much alcohol into my Beer on Sunday night so I wasn't contributing much. Rach put her OCD tendencies to good use and had the place looking better than when we moved in by the time I managed to roll out of bed.

Moving day went well. It took us four trips on the bus with our suitcases to move. The buses were relatively quiet. The new train, the Canada Line, opened a week earlier which made the 98 B-Line bus a ghost train at times - this worked well for us trying to squeeze on with our suitcases. While lugging our suitcases to the bus stop on one of the trips I missed a call on my cellphone - they didn't seem to leave a voicemail so I thought nothing of it. After the fourth trip and finally putting my feet up in the evening I got a txt saying I did have a voicemail after all. It turns out someone wanted me to come in for a job interview - tomorrow. It was now 5:30p.m. so I left a voicemail message for him saying that was fine and I'd call back tomorrow to confirm. That was the best I could do in the circumstances.

I got up early (by unemployed standards) on Tuesday to call back about the job interview. It turns out that they couldn't do the interview that day anymore so we rescheduled for Wednesday. This worked well for me, it gave me more to to decide what I'd wear and to unpack it.

After the successful move and me finally getting an interview after three months of trying we thought we'd earned a night out. Sunday was still haunting me so it was never going to be a big night out. We headed down to Milestones in Yaletown - a nice wander from our new apartment. Emily joined us for our celebrations - I blame her influence for Sunday so I was on high alert. We had a fantastic meal and some nice Mojitos - it was a great evening out. Being the gentleman I am we walked Emily to her apartment before heading back to ours. On the way we saw this:

Its a skunk in case you can't tell. I never thought we'd see one of those in downtown Vancouver. We still find seeing squirrels exciting so we were ecstatic about this sighting.

I hate interviews and this one was no exception. I felt the overall feeling of it was good; conversation flowed, I came across as knowing what I was doing. I was however disappointed with a few um... err... ahh, answers. Generally when I feel good about an interview, as I initially did about this one, I don't get the job. So I wrote that one off as a good practice run.

Friday was a day we'd both been looking forward to for a long time - Jacki arrived today! I like watching the planes land at the airport so I got there about an hour before Jacki was expected and stopped at Templeton station to watch planes for a bit. I timed it well and saw a 747 and a couple of A340s. After escorting Jacki back to the apartment she was surprisingly wide awake so we went for a quick walk. The weather was fantastic and it was expected to pack up for the rest of her stay so I wanted to show her the mountains while they were still visible. We walked around Gastown and along the waterfront to Coal Harbour. A nice quick look at the highlights of downtown - in my opinion.

Rach was free the next two days thanks to an LOA so we bought a pass for the Museum of Vancouver, the Space Centre and the Maritime Museum. It was good value getting the pass for all three and we've get plenty of time to use them - apart from Jacki's short stay of course. We did the Museum of Vancouver (The MOV for locals) on Saturday. It was fun, they had a lot of interactive displays and things for me to act like an idiot with. On Sunday Rach and I explored the Space Centre. Jacki joined us for most of this time but wanted to go next door to the Maritime Museum in the afternoon because otherwise she wouldn't get a chance. The Space Centre has a lot of shows and scheduled displays so we were basically moving between a theatre and the planetarium. It was a great way to spent a rainy Vancouver day and I think we all learned a thing or two. Rach had to work that night so we rushed home to grab something to eat. Jacki and I had a lazy night in front of the box to rest our aching feet.

It was a busy but not very exciting week. With Jacki and Katie here next week there'll be more to write about then.