Monday, March 21, 2011

Vancouver on my Mind

Stepping outside into the fresh crisp clean air I wondered why it took me so long to visit this beautiful city. My first time in Canada and it most definitely will not be my last! It felt like I was coming home - the fact that every second person I met was Australian definitely helped me feel at ease here. Unfortunately again this was only a fly by visit but we fit so much into our days that action packed would be an understatement. As soon as you arrive in Vancouver its easy to sense that the locals have a love of the matter what the climate!

The weather would have made Jack Frost smile with satisfaction - Sleet the first night, snow and sleet the following day. Did this negatively affect our love for this city....never, after all we were hardly expecting warm weather in Canada in February!

Vancouver City with Stanley Park in background

We decided to stay at the Comfort Inn Downtown Vancouver which we thoroughly enjoyed. The location could not have been better and the Irish Bar there certainly helped us recover from our activity packed days! The Irish Bar had live music each night we were there which added to the atmosphere and continental breakfast was thrown in to the hotel rate and the rate very affordable. The room was comfortable....and the most important thing for me....WARM!!

Totem Poles in Stanley Park

The first day we braved the cold (and sleet) and hired bikes to cycle around Stanley Park. What a stunning sizable park to have right in the city (1,000 acres). Even though the fog was in the views were beautiful and I can only imagine how nice it would be on a clear day (another reason to return to Vancouver!). The totem poles in the park were a great little addition and there was definitely something spiritual about them.

Detailed Close Up of Totem Pole
The afternoon was spent at the Capalano Suspension Bridge which was nice in its own way but once it started snowing heavily even a hot chocolate couldn't raise a smile from me (must be the Australian in me - I don't do the cold very well).

City View from Stanley Park

 Of course on the last day we had to visit the Look Out at the Harbour Centre (a building which dominates Vancouver's skyline). Great views and scenery saw our appreciation and love of the city grow - There is nothing like seeing snow capped mountains surrounding a city. Whistler being only a few hours drive away is definitely an added attraction to visitors and without a doubt I shall be gracing it with my presence on my return trip. Hopefully I might pull off some slick snowboarding moves too.......okay, highly unlikely I know! And talking of snowboarding, around 3pm on the first day in the city I spotted to guys walking down one of the main roads in downtown all decked out in their snow gear and snowboards - An amusing site to me but as the locals didn't bat an eyelid  this is obviously a regular occurrence. Turns out, after speaking to a few locals, that many people finish work early to catch a bus to the slopes for an afternoon/evening ski/snowboard. Jealous! The Vancity folk definitely have their priorities right - Work to Live, not Live to Work!

View of Vancouver Harbour and North Vancouver in distance (note the Sea Plane fuel staion)

Our last tourist attraction stop was Gastown - A little neighbourhood just east of downtown. To me it had a pioneer feel to it and the main attraction to see here was a steam powered clock. It would have been great to have known of this place a little earlier as I'm sure the nightlife and bars would have been great fun here but once again....all the more reason to return!

Steam Clock in Gastown

So, how would I rate Vancouver overall - 10 out of 10! I absolutely fell in love with this city and would encourage everyone to add this city to their bucket lists! This city  even has me thinking that a relocation could be on the cards in the near be continued!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Southwest Airlines - The Jury is still out!

With hundreds of flights up my sleeve with various airlines (although I am an Airline Snob and usually fly with airlines I have at least heard of before), I did not have much knowledge of Southwest Airlines. This changed on my trip to the US though as I took my chances and flew from Oakland to Seattle return. And to be quite honest I have mixed reviews or maybe possess a little confusion at the whole idea. Sure, they were a no frills airline and very reasonably priced airfares, but to have such contrasting experiences. This might help explain myself a little better.....

Oakland to Seattle
Besides being a little put off by having to line up and be herded like cattle before even leaving the terminal building, the ground staff were friendly enough. However, being greeted when boarding the plane was a much different story altogether. Happiness was radiating from the crew and I received such a warm welcome - As though my dreams of celebrity had finally come true (even I can strive for such reasonable and reachable life goals....). I felt valued as a Customer, which lets face it, in these days is very few and far between. What surprised me was not only was the flight continuing on from one city, it seemed that it had been weaving its way throughout North America all day and  passengers who were on the plane when we embarked were flying from Las Vegas (I could not contain my jealousy on this detail until I saw the post Las Vegas special of "I spent the last few days non-stop partying so why did I pay for a hotel room" look which was all too apparent on the faces of those disembarking the flight).

At this point still undecided on my thoughts of Southwest, any concerns I possessed were soon put to rest by the Safety Procedure display by the cabin crew. Hard enough as it is to get seasoned travellers to pay attention to this announcement at the best of times, this crew definitely found a unique way of engaging the attention of most, if not all passengers. It was absolutely hilarious - Yep, you heard me right - The whole cabin full of laughter. The use of comedy, together with the props (we had a fake chain smoking Elvis delivering the 'no smoking on board' reel) were so effective that even 'those seasoned travellers' mentioned above were enticed into looking up from their newspaper or books so as not to miss out on any fun (or maybe they were more concerned that by not paying attention would only give the crew ammunition to be singled out.....either way it was effective).  Better yet, this continued throughout the entire flight but two of my favourite lines....."Welcome to Hawaii" (we were landing at this point into a wet and windy Seattle) and the other..."We hope you enjoyed this flight and if you did, please look out the window and smile and wave at the customers travelling on our competition as we taxi in to show that you made the right choice".

Seattle to Oakland
What a contrast to the last enjoyable Southwest Airlines flight. The crew were polite, I'll give them that but would it have been so hard to raise a smile? The crew on my flight to Seattle actually seemed to enjoy their job and if not enjoy then they were making the most of a bad situation. This flight on the other hand, I would give the experience two thumbs down it it weren't for the fact they delivered me safely to Oakland!

So as you can see I'm a little conflicted on Southwest Airlines. Either I was lucky enough to get a great experience on the first flight or just unlucky enough to get a crew who were not taught to smile on their job training course.

The jury is still out on this one folks. Maybe a few of you could enlighten me as to your experience with this airline.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

San Francisco Delight

Oh how time flies when having fun.....cause it definitely ain't fun times when flying! Well that is how I'm feeling after six flights in one week. I am quite happy to keep my feet firmly planted on Terra Firma for a month or two right now! And yes, I do have the sniffles thanks to the recirculated air. But was it worth the doom and gloom - Without a doubt! So, lets begin with a little teaser of the tri-city travels.

San Francisco - I heart you! As amazing as I remember it being in 1996 (I know, its a long time since my last visit but its so hard to fly over the east coast, e.g. New York, to get to the west coast). Such a cosmopolitan city with great vibes and one of a kind views. It even brought out the daring side of me...first night there and I sample sashimi which if you know me at all is one big step for anyone and one GIANT leap for Shelby!
Golden Gate from Crissy Field
But alas, my trip only got better when I woke up around the corner from the Marina, coffee run to the local and then I got to sit back and enjoy the view of Alcatraz to the right and the Golden Gate Bridge to the left - Admittedly I was in heaven with the potential people watching on offer at the Marina! Add in to the equation a bite to eat at Noah's Bagel (all this people watching makes one hungry don't you know), a little sightseeing and a leisurely stroll along Crissy Field and you have one happy Shelby on your hands. Okay, so unfortunately the one night here didn't allow for a spot of shopping which otherwise would have made my stay here perfect, don't be fretting too much on my behalf as I made up for the lack thereof at a later stage of my travels (and having shopped here before let me tell you that the Macy's is great for that little brown bag experience)!

Alcatraz or 'The Rock'
So let me break it down for you...San Francisco is an amazing city with so much going on and cosmopolitan to the hilt. Is fabulous when the sun is shining and an experience when the fog rolls in. One night here will never be enough. Noah's Bagels are quite frankly emotional! The sashimi tasting I could definitely do without in the future but the sushi in this town is unbeatable. The must dos here would be Alcatraz (the penitentiary on a rock in the middle of the Bay), Fisherman's Wharf (clam chowder in sourdough is to die for and the seal watching makes for great free entertainment), Golden Gate Bridge (when in opportunities are a must), the Cable Cars (an experience...just don't hang too far out of the car), the Painted Ladies (the pastel coloured houses...think Full House) and the Crookedest Street in the World (those who suffer from dizzy spells are best advised to steer clear)!
San Francisco from Legion of Honour Museum, Lincoln Park
Was a sad day to bid farewell to one of my favourite cities but at least I know it wont be for long and god forbid those who try to delay my return!

(with a flower in her hair)