Day 9 – Vancouver – Lunch at Edible Canada

The entrance to Edible Canada
The entrance to Edible Canada

My wife wanted to return to Granville Island which wasn’t a problem with me. We debarked the Hop On Hop Off bus at the Vancouver Aquatics Center and took a short Aqua Ferry to the “island”. My wife and daughter were indecisive about where to eat lunch. I reminded them about “Edible Canada” and that ended up being our destination.

From reading reviews of Edible Canada, I thought it was a specialty grocery store that also prepared food. After popping the door open, we quickly realized that it was quite the opposite. It was a bustling restaurant filled with diners and servers.

A number of items on their menu appealed to me: Yukon Artic Char Gravlax, Thai Style Fraser Valley Chicken Wings, Farmers Harvest with choice of BC salmon, smoked sturgeon or flank steak, West Coast Banh Mi, etc. Since I was in Canada, I decided to order the national bar food dish – poutine. What made theirs unique was that they included pulled pork and duck fat fries.

The BBBB Burger
The BBBB Burger

My wife ordered the BBBB Burger: chopped brisket, short rib and beef chuck patty, bourbon bacon jam, biota mustard, arugula and tomato. I had a small taste of it and I agree that was a delicious burger. They could have added another “B” to the name because it was served on a brioche bun.

Avocado Toast topped with asparagus, tomatoes and poached eggs
Avocado Toast topped with asparagus, tomatoes and poached eggs
Poutine with duck fat fries, pulled pork and fried eggs. Photo courtesy of Yellow Pages of Canada
Poutine with duck fat fries, pulled pork and fried eggs. Photo courtesy of Yellow Pages of Canada

The choice of avocado toast by my daughter surprised me. She did like the dish, but eventually scraped off the poached eggs because she doesn’t like to eat egg yolks. My poutine was served in a mini iron cast fry pan. I loved the crispiness of the fries. The pulled pork was tender and the brown gravy that topped the dish was delicious. I can see why this is a popular dish in Canada because it really warmed me up inside.

After we finished our lunch, we cruised through the grocery section of the restaurant. While there were several local items that appealed to us, common sense hit home: we had no space left in our luggage nor our carry on bags.

What surprised me is that there seemed to be a lot of locals dining at Edible Canada. I assumed that Granville Island was a tourist trap and that it would be filled with tourists. While there were a lot of tourists milling about, I think most of them were inside the Public Market.

After that we made our way back to where we stored out luggage and took a taxi back towards the airport. We managed to squeeze in some time to meet up with one of my wife’s friends that resides near the airport and enjoyed the conversation. If you book an Alaskan cruise, you definitely have to add additional time to tour Vancouver. It is definitely worth it.

 

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Day 9 – Stanley Park

We got together with my cousins for breakfast this morning. Monday morning was our scheduled day to depart the Disney Wonder. I think everyone was somewhat down that our cruise was quickly coming to an end.

At security, we parted ways with my cousins and checked our bags at the neighboring Pan Pacific Hotel. My wife decided that she wanted to do the “Hop On, Hop Off” bus so that we could get a nice overview of the city. We bought tickets and boarded the bus.

While the bus seats were narrow and the leg room was minimal, at least the narration was good. I ignored the discomfort of the bus and escaped into the narrator’s commentary of the sights and scenes.

We disembarked the bus at Stanley Park. This is a beautiful urban park that is densely populated with trees. According to our Hop On, Hop Off tour guide, these were some of the oldest trees in North America. The park was named after Lord Stanley, a British politician who had been appointed governor general.

z_totem2The city of Vancouver pays tribute to the First Nation people by prominently featuring their totem poles. Since the 1920’s they have been slowly acquiring totem poles so that they can be publicly displayed.

A father and his son cycling at Stanley Park
A father and his son cycling at Stanley Park

There are two lanes along the seawall. The outside lane is dedicated to pedestrian traffic and the inner lane is for cyclists and people on skates. While the day was a bit drizzly, many people were walking and cycling. Perhaps the next time we visit, we’ll rent bicycles and cycle around the perimeter of the park.

Canadian Geese along the seawall
Canadian Geese along the seawall

As we walked, we encountered several gaggles of geese swimming near the seawall. In addition, there were plenty of birds flying around Stanley Park and I’m sure that a lot of bird watchers hang out here with their long camera lenses.

We approached a colorful jungle gym for children. What amused me was the fact that there was a water fountain running and a water cannon. Back in my younger days, I would have fun aiming it at kids hanging out on the jungle gym.  To the side was a shack that was a “drying station”. Kids can enter that to get a head to toe blow dry.

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View to the east
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Lion’s Gate Bridge

We finally made it to the northern tip of Stanley Park, Prospect Point. This was one of the amazing viewpoints of the city. From there, you can see both sides of Vancouver and Lion’s Gate Bridge. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d spend time there just to unwind.

Fortunately for us, the Hop On Hop Off bus stop was located there. We boarded the bus and traveled to our next destination….

Day 8 – Dinner at Palo

z_paloMy cousin invited us to join them for brunch at Palo and we had an amazing time with them. While it was a buffet, Palo used top quality ingredients and prepared everything to perfection. Because of that experience, my wife kept her reservation at Palo for our last meal aboard the Disney Wonder.

I don’t know if this was a coincidence, but the server, Susana from Portugal, we had for brunch at Palo on Tuesday was also our server that evening. For me, that set the tone of what we were about to experience.

The view from our table
The view from our table

We were seated at the center of the rear window. In my opinion, that was the best table in the house because you had a panoramic view of the ocean and the coastline.

Unless you’ve known your customer for awhile, I would imagine that it is somewhat difficult for a server to strike a good rapport with a customer for a one-time meal. It is difficult to describe Susana in detail, but she embodies all of the traits of a great server. First and foremost, she is professional, yet she seemed to know when she could add humor to the conversation.

I wasn’t sure what we were going to order and so I decided on a nice bottle of Chianti Classico. A complimentary plate of cured meats, roasted peppers, cheese and olives was plated in front of our table. Susana then drizzled 8 year old balsamic vinegar and olive oil over the dish. It was a wonderful beginning.

Calamari appetizer
Calamari appetizer

We ordered the calamari appetizer. When it was served, we were unaware that only one tempura shrimp was supposed to be included. Susana asked the chef to add another shrimp so that we could both enjoy one. I found the calamari to be amazingly tender. I later found out that they marinade the calamari in buttermilk to achieve this state.

Pappardelle with a roasted red pepper sauce topped with truffle oil
Pappardelle with a roasted red pepper sauce topped with truffle oil and grilled lobster

The pappardelle pasta was featured on the menu with grilled lobster and that grabbed our attention. Susana said that her customers have been raving about the lamb chops and while I don’t typically give in to the crowd favorite, I did so. My wife ordered what I would typically have ordered veal osso buco. Susana tossed in the pappardelle pasta as well.

Lamb topped with a raspberry balsamic vinegar sauce.
Lamb topped with a raspberry balsamic vinegar sauce.

We decided to split everything and share between us. The osso buco must have been braised for hours because it was extremely tender. Susana poured a generous amount of a raspberry balsamic vinegar sauce and I’d have to agree with her other customers, the lamb chops were flavorful, tender and delicious. The pappardelle was prepared with a red pepper sauce with truffle oil. My wife absolutely loved the pappardelle.

Chocolate and amaretto souffles
Chocolate and amaretto soufflés

As you could imagine, we were pretty full. Nevertheless, Susana said that Palo is known for their chocolate soufflés. She suggested that order both the chocolate and the amaretto soufflés. She poked the tops of the crust with the fork and waved the steam away. “This will remove the calories”, she exclaimed. Susana then poured the warm chocolate sauce into the top and the vanilla sauce into the amaretto soufflé. The chocolate was warm and decadent and the amaretto was tasty and great for the non-chocolate person.

From Tuesday’s brunch buffet, Susana remembered that it was our first Disney Cruise. She had this plate made up and said “Welcome to the Family”.

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Day 8 – Mojito Time aboard the Disney Wonder

Before coming into this vacation, my stress level from work was pretty high. I knew in advance that this trip was going to be relaxing and it would not be filled with a lot of events. That said, I did not create an itinerary for the “at sea” days on the ship.

It was already after 12:00 p.m. and we watched our families battle it out with the trivia contest. Both of them tied for first with 24 correct out of 25. After the time-breaker, one of our groups emerged as a tie with another team and were awarded medals.

I then decided upon an activity that was more of my liking: Motijo and Caipirinha tasting at the Cadillac Lounge. In addition to a mojito tasting, this seminar would also feature detailed instructions on how you can prepare various types of mojitos.

z_teacherOur speaker was definitely very passionate about the mojito. He had extensive knowledge on its origin and acknowledged that people in many countries had created local versions of the popular drink.

Until then, I was not aware that the drink was originally named “El Draque” and it was made from a crude form or rum (aka fire water), sugar (from sugar cane), lime and mint. This drink was created to act as a remedy for scurvy and diarrhea.

The Rum Line-up
The Rum Line-up

The basic mojito is made from rum, lime, mint, sugar and club soda. Depending on the type of rum you use,  there are many variations of this drink. Bacardi has a full line up of fruit-infused rums such as: pineapple, mango and raspberry.

English-speaking countries such as Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad produce darker rum, usually based on molasses. Spanish-speaking countries such as Dominican Republic and Venezuela generally produce lighter and smoother rums.

Our presenter said that it is very important to slap the mint before dropping it into a highball glass with rum. This releases extra flavor from the mint leaves. Instant of pumping the muddler up and down, he strongly recommended doing a single press and twist on the mint leaves. Pumping the muddler up and down will break up the mint leaves and they will end up traveling up through your straw.

Instead of sugar, he used simple syrup. He then added club soda and topped it off with some sliced limes.

Original Mojito, Mango Mojito and a Raspberry Martini
Original Mojito, Mango Mojito and a Raspberry Martini

Additional variations include the “dirty mojito” or one made with dark rum, a spiced mojito or one with a spiced rum such as Captain Morgan.  He even added that the mint julep qualifies because it includes lime, mint leaves and sugar. The Kentucky bourbon replaces the rum.

Caipirinha, Swap the base with Absolut Orange Mandarin
Caipirinha, Swap the base with Absolut Orange Mandarin

He introduced us to a Brazilian drink, the Caipirinha. This is made with Cachaça, sugar and lime. A dark red drink poured into a martini glass proved to be a raspberry mojito made rum, Chambord, sweet and sour and strained raspberry purée. Because it does not contain club soda, some bartenders call this a raspberry martini.

Once we felt comfortable making mojitos, he told us to begin experimenting with other fruits. Before you muddle the mint leaves, you can add fruit like mangos, pineapples or watermelon and muddle them with the mint leaves. This allows you to add your favorite fruits and experiment to see what happens.

This seminar ended up to only cost $20. This was quite a bargain considering the amount of mojitos that were enjoyed.

 

 Day 7 – Dungeness Goodness in Ketchikan AK

When I read about the daily excursions today, only one of them appealed to me – All You Can Eat Crabfest at the George Lodge Inlet. Having a chance to eat fresh local crabmeat was worth the experience.

We started the day off with breakfast with our cousins. They requested in Filipino breakfast, tapsilog. This is a popular Filipino breakfast consisting of marinated chunks of beef, garlic fried rice and a fried egg. In LA, my favorite tapsilog was from the Tapa Boy food truck; unfortunately, they are no longer in business.

Tapsilog is actually an Anglicized word from tapa, sinangag and it log. This garlic fried rice comes in many varieties depending on your preference: tocilog (pork), spamsilog (spam) and sisilog (fried egg) are just a few of them. I’m sure others are simply created by adding “silog” after the word.

Tapsilog Breakfast

The breakfast was a wonderful treat. The tapa had been properly marinated as it was full of flavor. The garlic fried rice was delicious as well. I mixed everything together and thoroughly enjoyed the dish.
My crabfest excursion was two-part; the first was a tour around the island looking at the local wildlife. The second portion was the actual crabfest itself. I wondered if a wildlife excursion was offered in LA, would it feature people watching at Venice Beach?

IMG_0519 - Version 2After the tour bus dropped us off at the front of the George Lodge Inlet, we walked 79 steps from street level down to water level where the restaurant was located. We were pre-warned that we would have to hike back up these same stairs after we consumed our “all you can eat crabfest”.

Our group amounted to about 50 people and we separated into two pleasure boats. After cruising the edge of our island, our pilot slowed down and stopped. We first saw two black bears fighting in the distance. We cruised a bit more and the narrator pointed out that to the port side was a bald eagle’s nest.

2 black bears fighing
2 black bears fighting
Bald eagle picking up the fish
Bald eagle picking up the fish

After one of the crewmembers tossed in a couple of fish into the water, a bald eagle came swooping down to pick up his catch. He missed picking up the fish on his first try and so he had to make his turn and drop towards the water again. This time he was successful and brought his prize back to his nest.

We then cruised to a quiet inlet filled with orange buoys. These were markers were the crab cages were positioned and the pilot parked next to one. One of the young kids volunteered to raise the cage to the surface and lo and behold, it was filled with crabs. The unexpected find was a salmon. The crewman explained that they were only allowed to take anything 6″ and over. Anything else, they had to return to the sea.

The pilot of the boat turned around and we soon returned back to the dock. It was almost 2:00 p.m. and we were all anxious to eat crab. Actually, some had opted out and ordered the chicken or the pasta.

Because they lacked common seating, I was the odd man out. I was fortunate to join a really nice family from Cleveland. I first congratulated them on their big Cavs win. Because of their deep knowledge of baseball, the conversation quickly turned to that. The two kids, Angel and Zack were about 7 and 9 and were a delight. They both said “we don’t like crab, we love crab”. I just knew we were going to have a great time.

They announced that each table would be entered into a crab shell stacking contest. The father quickly pronounced that “we got this hands down” and the race was on. As expected both kids didn’t eat their salads and the Dungeness crabs were served from a huge mixing bowl.

The conversation was minimal as between our built-up hunger and the fact that we were anxious to win only caused us to hurriedly peel our prized meat. Until I had this crab meat, Alaskan king crab legs were my favorite. I felt that the Dungeness is actually sweeter and more moist that its Alaskan cousin.

Midway through our meal, the servers took halftime measurements of our crab shell stack. At 7” high, we were quite proud of our accomplishment, but when we started hearing higher numbers like 10”, I felt there was no way we would have a snowball’s chance in winning the competition.

The mom said the server said “the winning stack must have a crab shell on top”. The dad quickly took the plastic straw out of his drink, shored up the top of our crab stack, mounted the straw vertically and stuffed a crab shell on the top of our stack. The mom got us even more height by taking her empty beer glass, flipping it upside down and using it as a stand for our plate.

Our server said that we would have to be done with our meal in 15 minutes. Of course, that meant having another serving of crabs. She picked out one with a large apron which is the sweetest part of the crab. Soon thereafter the announcement was made that they were going to do their final measurements. We panicked because our straw just fell down and the dad was having trouble remounting it. Fortunately it was fixed just in time and we measured out at 24” high – the winner of the day!

Crab temporarily fell off the straw

img_0530-1I wanted to say, “What did they win Jack Pardo?” This is was a well-known ending to a popular TV game show. We had to stand up, move to the front of the restaurant and face the audience. We were asked to move our hands like crab pinchers and do a jig. We all had a fun time dancing to the music and if we would have known this was our prize, I don’t think we would have worked so hard to win.

Dessert was cheesecake with Alaskan blueberries and a blueberry sauce.

All in all, a fun day! It was too bad the rest of my family didn’t join me. Of course, that is probably what they are saying about paddling in their kayak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6 – Ziplining in Juneau, AK

Today was my daughter’s 13th birthday. She and my wife tried ziplining in Belize and loved it. An attempt on another vacation was cancelled due to fog. My daughter was intent on  ziplining on her birthday.

The first part of our excursion was a drive to Mendenhall Glacier. Only 45 minutes was allowed for sightseeing and so we elected to take the “photo tour”. Along this walk there were several nice vantage points of the glacier.

We stopped by the visitor’s center. A few park rangers were there to give presentations and answer questions. Amazing time lapse photography showed how much the glacier has receded over the past 8 years.

We then traveled to our final destination – Alaska Zipline adventures at the Eaglecrest Ski Area. Two people were waiting for us to arrive and the number in our group, we split into two groups.

Our two guides, Brandon and Sasha were great at explaining everything and placing everyone’s fears at bay. It was obvious that personal safety was foremost in their minds as they kept checking the buckles and harnesses throughout the morning.

This was my first time ziplining and I went ultra conservative for the first two legs. I launched from the platform without an issue and had a death grip on the T bar. for the third leg, I took Brandon’s advice and launched backwards and let go. The feeling was exhilarating!

Brandon checking on the fitting of my daughter’s helmet
Family Shot

My daughter appeared to have a good time. As a parent, that’s the most you can ask for.

Day 5 – Taking the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway in Skagway, AK

I dislike getting up early on my vacation, but we were scheduled to leave the ship at 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning.

After eating some pastries and drinking a cup of coffee, we were soon walking down the gangway. A fully restored 1927 bus was waiting to pick us up.

Our driver was loaded with facts and trivia about Skagway. She slowed down near each point of interest and gave us the history of that building. We learned that Warren G. Harding was the only sitting president to visit Skagway.

The house that Sarah Palin grew up in.
The house that Sarah Palin grew up in.

At the tail end of her trip, she pointed out the house that Sarah Palin lived in when she was growing up. When Tina Fey imitated her, she said that “[she] could see Russia from her house.”

Because the town is small, her tour was understandably brief. She then dropped us off with another driver, Mark, who would drive us to Bennett Lake  where we would board the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

Our new driver and guide was quite the character. Born in New Orleans and raised in the San Fernando Valley, he opted to move to Skagway.

The Skagway campgrounds wanted $350 a month just for him to pitch a tent without utilities. Nevertheless, he moved up there and pitched his tent elsewhere.

Waterfall on the way to Canada

at the border between Alaska and Canada

Mark was on the lookout for wildlife and other interesting things for us to photograph. We pulled over at a couple of different waterfalls and view points. We went though Border Customs in Canada and eventually made it to our destination.

We were one of the last people to arrive and so we boarded the next to last passenger car. Despite the age of the passenger cars, they seemed well maintained and the windows were spotless.

Since there no cars that were completely open, I appreciated that they left the front and rear doors open during our trip.this allowed me to be outside and take some great shots on the passing scenery.

Commentary was provided on the train. We learned about the history of the Gold Rush and the impact of that it had on the people and the horses. Over 3,000 horses died during this time and the area became known as Dead Horse Trail.

We passed by numerous ponds and streams. Even some of the bridges are engineering marvels and one of them became a historical landmark. Our docent also called out each glacier my name.