My wife and I are both signed up for LivingSocial, one of the numerous local-coupon-of-the-day companies that have sprung up recently. In general I don't find their daily deals very enticing (except when they offer discounts to wine.com) but they also occasionally send out travel deals. Several months ago they had a pretty good offer for two or three nights in Whistler, BC. After a brief discussion my wife and I decided to go for a three-night stay.
Friday, 2011 September 02 - Getting There
After a liesurely morning we left the house around 10:15, give or take. The first part of the drive was trivial - get on I-5 north and don't stop until we see Canada. And other than a short excursion off the highway to Stanwood, WA to go through a Jack-in-the-Box drive through, that's exactly what we did.
Neither of us was really sure what to expect at the border crossing in Blaine. Krista had never been to Canada and I hadn't crossed the border in over a decade. The delay wasn't too bad, maybe 15 minutes. We had our passports ready and, other than a little humor when Krista was momentarily confused by the question "where are you from", we were soon back on our way.
Being from the US, and especially growing up in the Midwest, I pretty much expect all cities to have a ring of highways around them (and probabl one or two highways through them). It turns out Vancouver is not like that. At all. You take a highway to the south side of Vancouver and then have to get on surface streets to go through the city before picking the highway up again on the north side.
This did not make for happy navigating for us. We missed a turn because we did what our GPS told us to do rather than what it actually wanted us to do (I really hate the GPS we keep in Krista's car - I find it worse than useless in that it often seems to give is just plain wrong directions). The area we ended up in was congested and so it was slow going. Even worse was that when we got to where we needed to be to get back on the highway, again according to the GPS, the ramp was closed due to construction. So we had to improvise yet again. We both breathed a sigh of relief when we finally were back on the highway.
Our joy was short-lived. We then had to take a very screwy route that almost put us onto a ferry to who-knows-where. It worked out, in that we eventually ended up on BC99 and from there had an uneventful drive the rest of the way to Whistler, but it was extremely nerve-wracking.
I have to call out the scenery on BC99. It was gorgeous. I took a ton of pictures with my cell phone.
Arriving in Whistler, First Impressions
By about 4:15 we were almost to Whistler. Traffic was surprisingly heavy and only got worse when we pulled into our hotel, The Whistler Cascade Lodge. We actually had to take two passes to find a spot to park in the driveway. Luckily checking in went quickly and smoothly and we were able to stash the car in the garage and head up to our room.
From the outside the lodge is gorgeous. Our room, on the other hand, was a little shabby (for lack of a better word). It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong. It just looked like it's seen some heavy use but not had the best of maintenance in its life. Definitely serviceable, however, and the fact that it was actually a one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette was awesome.
We both needed a break, especially Krista after the stress of driving. We just chilled for a couple hours, then decided to head out and explore the village a little bit. There was a Royal Bank of Canada across the street from the lodge so I pulled out some cash from an ATM and then we just wandered around. The village is beautiful and there are a ton of little shops and restaurants.
There was also a jazz festival going on so we got to listen to some jazz as we wandered. Some of it was a little too experimental for my taste but I quite enjoyed others. I don't know exactly who was playing but based on the schedule it was likely either the Stanley Jordan Trio or the Kevin Eubanks Quartet.
Krista insisted supper was my choice. This meant, as usual, that I dithered for a while before settling on The Brewhouse. Mostly because it was there and it had the word "brew" in its name. Our overall impression? "It tries to make up in quantity what it lacks in flavor." It wasn't bad, but the food was pretty much mediocre. Krista's crab fettucini was okay but nothing stellar. My fries were acceptable and the fish in my fish and chips was actually decent but the breading was very bland. The beer, however, was excellent - I had the seasonal, a bock of some sort, and was quite impressed.
After two beers and a little relaxation we felt sufficiently energized to head back to the lodge. We walked back via a different route, stopping on the way to buy tickets for the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. In the process we got asked to listen to a pitch for a timeshare - not the first time this would happen over the course of the trip.
After we got back to the lodge we watched "Get Him to the Greek". I had never seen it and, while it was extremely stupid, it was also absolutely hilarious.
We also looked for supper options for Saturday night. Originally we were leaning towards Hy's Steakhouse, which had the advantage of being right across the street. It was booked solid from 5:30 until 8:30 so we ended up going with Ric's Grill instead.
After that we headed to bed. The bed had a massively heavy cover on it - too heavy, in fact. Both of us were uncomfortable.
Saturday, 2011 September 03 - Gondola
As usual I woke up long before Krista so I headed out to the living room to read and play on my laptop. Being a compulsive rater I headed to Netflix to rate "Get Him to the Greek" only to discover that the entire site was blocked. I assume they did this to prevent streaming but I was slightly annoyed that they blocked the entire site.
Once Krista was up and ready to go we headed out. I stopped at the RBC again and we wandered through the village to the chairlifts at the base of Whistler. The area was crowded with mountain bikers, jogging our memories that the timeshare woman from last night had told us it was easier to go up Blackcomb. So we walked a short distance to the chairlifts at the base of that mountain. It was a very pleasant walk through a shaded trail. There was a cool wooden bridge over a picturesque little stream.
There was some trepidation as we prepared to board the chairlift - neither of us had ever ridden one before and neither of us are noted for our natural grace or coordination. It proved to be easy, however, and the trip up was surprisingly pleasant. It was silent other than the sound of the cable moving through rollers at each support and we were high enough up to have a nice vantage point. We didn't see any bears, unfortunately, but we did some wildflowers. We had to transfer once to another chairlift so we took some pictures from the intermediate level, which was maybe two thirds of the way up the mountain. The second chairlift stopped momentarily but was soon moving again and arrived at the top.
We looked around briefly, took more pictures, but soon boarded the gondola. It was absolutely awesome - despite paying about $50 each for tickets we didn't feel cheated at all. We had an entire car to ourselves on the way across to Whistler. It was extremely peaceful and beautiful and we pretty much just took pictures and enjoyed the experience.
Arriving at the top of Whistler we wandered around a little bit, went through the visitor's center (and got a hat for Krista's friend Brandy's daughter), looked around some more, and then decided to head back. We ended up sharing the gondola car with several older couples on the return trip but it was still extremely peaceful. By the time we got back to Blackcomb we were both starting to feel a little sunburned, a little hungry, and a little thirsty. We decided to take the chairlift back down the mountain to the village. The trip down was uneventful - by this point we were old hands at the chairlift.
There was a place called Merlin's at the bottom of the chairlift so we sat down there and ordered some nachos. They were good, and huge. I had a couple beers - something called "Keith's Red" - and was very unimpressed by the lack of flavor.
Sated, we decided to brave a little more sun to play some putt-putt golf. After I took an early lead Krista managed to pull even and then take the lead (thanks to me self-destructing on a couple holes, like usual). She won by five strokes overall. I'm not surprised.
We had both had way too much sun by this point (Krista in particular, since for a ginger I seem to be fairly tolerant of the sun) so we headed back to the hotel, keeping to the shade as much as we could. We went through a little book shop in the village and I stopped at the RBC (again) in preparation for going out that night.
We chilled out for a few hours. We spent some time trying to get reservations at Celadon, a Korean restaurant that Krista really wanted to try, for Sunday night. Eventually we gave up on that with the strong suspicion that it's no longer in business.
When the time came we got cleaned up and headed to supper at Ric's. Despite being our second choice, it was phenomenal. The food was awesome, the service was really good, and the atmosphere was great. I had a New York strip steak smothered in mushrooms and a peppercorn sauce. Krista had a tenderloin covered with crab and shrimp. Both were delicious. I also got a deal on an end-of-bin bottle of bordeaux that was good (I only drank half then and took the rest back to the lodge). We also got some peanut butter cheesecake to go.
After staggering back to the lodge we just read and relaxed the rest of the night.
Sunday, 2011 September 04 - Olympic Facilities
It took us a while to get moving on Sunday but eventually we headed out to the Whistler Olympic Park. We took yet another chairlift up to the top of the ski jump ramps and heard an interesting talk from the guide. Back at the bottom we started walking towards the biathlon area but were beaten back by a combination of heat, sun, and bugs. Luckily you could also drive there so that's what we did. Krista decided not to participate but I got to shoot an actual biathlon gun. I was a little disappointed in my performance - I only got two of the five large targets and one of the five small, shooting from the prone position. The guide there was really nice (and a Kiwi, so a pleasant accent to listen to) and we talked for a while before heading out.
The olympic park was interesting but it was also disappointing to see it largely unused. Apparently the biathlon area is used for training but the ski jumps stand empty - there's already a training facility in Calgary (I think that's what they said) and there's no need for another facility. After the activity at the Park City, Utah facility it was particularly sad.
Our intent on the drive back was to try Roland's Creekside Pub for lunch. Unfortunately there seemed to be some sort of event going on on the side road we needed to take. Rather than trying to force our way through the mass of cars, cyclists, and people we turned back and headed to the lodge. We wandered around the village a little again and then ended up eating at BG's Urban Grill. This was another mediocre meal at Whistler - the only part of my burger that had any flavor was the bacon I had to pay extra for. Krista's chicken sandwich was similarly bland.
At this point we were hot and tired and looking for some relaxation so we headed back to the lodge, stopping on the way at the IGA so Krista could stock up on Coke. We played some cards, read, and in general had a wonderful evening. I finished off the half-bottle of Bordeaux left over from the night before and Krista had the cheesecake we had brought home.
Monday, 2011 September 05 - Getting Home
We got a reasonably early start Monday morning and BC99 was every bit as gorgeous as we remembered. About halfway to Vancouver we stopped at the Britannia Mine Museum. This mine was once the largest copper mine in the British Empire. It's now an extremely cool museum. I had a great time here and Krista enjoyed it as well.
Leaving there we made it through Vancouver with less drama than the trip up (although we still had to work around a detour). The border crossing was entirely uneventful and soon we were well back into the States. We stopped in Burlington, WA for a late lunch at Olive Garden and then a brief stop at some outlet shops. That didn't take long and soon enough we were back home.
- Highway BC99 is absolutely gorgeous. Take your time on it and enjoy the stunning views.
- There's a fair amount to do in and around Whistler, even during the summer. I think Krista and I both felt like the trip was well worth our time. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola and the Britannia Mine Museum were the highlights, in my opinion.
- Food was the big gotcha on this trip. We discussed it late in the trip and came to the following conclusions:
- The one 'nice' restaurant we went to, Ric's, was worth every penny we paid - but it was quite pricy, and it was far from the most expensive restaurant in Whistler.
- The mid-range restaurants were in general disappointments (with the possible exception of the nachos we had at Merlin's). The food was mediocre, the service mediocre, and in general not worth the still-considerable amount of money charged.
- We never went to any of the fast-food places in the village, but if we had to do it over again we'd probably favor those over the mid-range restaurants. Cheaper and likely better food, and we'd probably save enough money to go out to another nice restaurant.