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But First, A Word From Our Layover

Monday 27 June 2016

Did I mention that we had a really long layover in Vancouver? Yes? Ok, here’s how that went down.

As I had mentioned, we switched our outbound flights from PDX-DFW-LHR (in First, dammit!) to PDX-YVR-LHR (in Biz). This was a big change, first because we went from BA First (which is generally regarded as Super Nice) to BA Biz (which beats a kick in the head, but is nowhere near as nice). We also changed from a 747-400 to an A380-800, either of which would be a first for both of us (I know, really?) For BA, even in Biz on either you at least get a lie-flat seat that really does go fully flat, but the last two feet or so is a big footrest that goes flat and makes up the support under your calves. Also, the seats flip in orientation across the row, so you always are facing someone else through a partition that has to be down for takeoff, landing, and any service, and you usually will have to step over someone else’s legs to get to the aisle if you don’t have an aisle seat, or someone else will be stepping over your legs if you are in the aisle. Naturally, all these have won BA endless accolades for their Biz seating (not.)

The second reason is that, until this trip, Martha was of the opinion that Vancouver wanted us dead.

We had been to Vancouver many times before that, most more or less successfully. Our first trip to Vancouver was, I think, in 1992, the first year we went to Ashland and the year we bought our first house. Alaska Airlines was having a sale on flights to Vancouver that Thanksgiving, so off we went. The dollar was strong, conference organizers and the film industry had not really found Vancouver yet, so even great hotels were very cheap. We ate well, bought stuff at great exchange rates (including the Burberry trench coat that I took on this trip, and a Harris tweed that I didn’t), and generally had a good time. We went back many times, including for the non-apocalyptic 1999 New Year’s Eve, when the hotel gave us a list of all of the backup procedures they had in place and what to do in case of various emergencies (fire, power outage, water outage; no zombies). We went back a couple of more times, always over Thanksgiving, but then slowly fell away from it as the US dollar fell in power against the Canadian dollar.

And then I heard about the fireworks.

Folks, those crazy Canucks are serious about their fireworks. In the middle of summer for the past 26 years, when sane people are headed for the beach or the aircon, something like 300,000 Canadians and visitors come to English Bay on three separate nights for some of the best fireworks you will see anywhere. Three international high-end fireworks teams (this year’s USA team is Disney) light up the water (you thought I would write “light up the skies”, right? Lame) off Vancouver with amazing works of pyrotechnic and musical prowess.

I am, of course, a fireworks junkie. Blame my parents; they have been dragging me (once; then I dragged them) to any and every fireworks display I could find. The Bicentennial under the Gateway Arch; fife and drums and fireworks in Colonial Williamsburg; and of course, many Fourths of July on grass of the Capitol, long before PBS borged that event.

So we went to Vancouver.

It was not our most successful trip. The fireworks were amazing; no letdown there. We made a couple of mistakes; we booked a dinner table during the fireworks for one of the evenings (bad mistake; view partially blocked by a really ugly fence), and we had tickets for Bard on the Beach on another night, which did provide a good but very distant view of the fireworks that night. The performers at the Bard production of Twelfth Night were excellent; they had to deal with an airshow behind them (scheduled for the same time) and a big rock concert nearby; they managed to ad-lib a bit to deflect the disturbances. It was also hot (duh) and humid (duh), which was a shock compared to Vancouver in Thanksgiving, when the atmospheric humidity is usually present as rain. It’s not hot and humid like St. Louis or D.C., but we have lost our tolerance from too many years in the Mediterranean-like West Coast, so it was hot and humid to us.

But we tried again the next year. This time was worse; I had a cold on the flight up, got worse while we were there, and we decide to bail half-way through. Bad idea; two flights in a row burst an eardrum so I couldn’t fly again for a couple of months. We got to one of the fireworks events (USA! USA!), and, being veterans, knew just where to go, so we had a fabulous view and food. But it convinced Martha that Vancouver Wanted Us Dead, so that about wrapped it up for Vancouver.

And then, we were faced with the prospect of a layover in DFW, with only one flight in and one out, and the prospect of coach for nine hours if we missed it. Vancouver, with many flights in, two out, and a long layover to let luggage catch up with us, wasn’t looking so malicious. Nice Vancouver! Sit! Stay! Roll over!

So I rebooked the flights, and we were off to London via Vancouver, in Biz not First, but that was ok.

A nine-hour layover in Vancouver screams for a day-trip into the city. It’s 40 minutes or so on the excellent Canada Line train, easy to get to from the airport and with many stations downtown. Since this was just a layover and not a longer stay, we decided not to push the envelope and to stay with restaurants and activities that would allow time to get around, be pleasant but not too challenging, and generally let us enjoy the city between flights.

Before you set off from the airport, drop off your carry-on bags at the very excellent CDS Baggage service in the airport. We stored two or three bags and the aforementioned trench coat with them for about USD $10.

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For lunch, we chose Homer Street Cafe and Bar in the Yaletown neighborhood of Vancouver. They have excellent roasted chicken, very flavorful and moist, and, as important or more, chicken skin chips, rendered and flattened and allowed to fry in their own fat. Mmm…

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For dinner, we knew we had to be back at the airport by about 7PM, so we planned a very civilized afternoon tea at Urban Tea Merchant. While it’s technically a French-oriented tea shop, they do excellent British-like afternoon tea, with many proper small sandwiches, buttery soft scones, and an assortment of marvelous pastries. If you’re so inclined, they also serve Pacific Northwest and Japanese-inspired dishes, including a very nice miso black cod (butter of the sea!) and of course a HUGE assortment of teas, mostly IWG. Important safety tip: “afternoon tea” is the fancy ladies-with-gloves tea, and “high tea” is the more substantial workingman’s tea. We knew this from the many prior trips to Vancouver.

So that would give us a few hours to wander around, see the city, and generally relax.

Nah!

Remember that I plan obsessively and continuously (really–I dream trip plans). So while Martha was tucked all snug in her bed (I had made the Homer Street and Urban Tea reservation in March), I was scouring the Vancouver event pages for something to occupy that long three hours between lunch and the rather late tea.

And because I also still get emailed notices from Arts Club, Vancouver’s main live theatre production company, on May 18th, 4 days before we left, I got a notice containing this video:

Billy Elliot, which had just closed in London’s West End on April 6th after 4,600 performances (no, really), had just opened in Vancouver (not the same company, but still). And despite sold-out audiences, there were two seats third row center for the matinée of the Sunday of our layover.

Fate. Kismet. Whatever you call it, we had our afternoon.

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I will spare you the further details of the train to town (quick and painless), our lunch (excellent, especially the roast chicken and chicken skin), getting around Vancouver (cabs plentiful, but keep the app Curb handy on your iPhone), or tea (mobbed by Asian birthday parties just leaving, but still excellent).

But if Billy Elliot is performed anywhere near you, or if you can get to somewhere it is being performed, go. I have rarely seen such an excellent combination of social commentary and musical artistry. Definitely a must-see.

Back to the airport, and off to London…

…next time.

 

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