Things To Do

WHAT TO DO | Prince of Whales | Half-Day Whale Watching Adventures by Jenn Chan

Prince of Whales, Salish Sea Dream


If you’ve visited or live in Vancouver chances are good that you have checked out some of the iconic attractions around town: Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island.  Perhaps you’ve gone for a harbour cruise, too.  I’ve done a harbour cruise and it was lovely but slow, sedate even.  If you want to kick up the excitement factor by a thousand percent I suggest a whale watching trip.  When Jenn suggested we try the half day trip with Prince of Whales Whale Watching I immediately said yes!  I don’t have a bucket list of adventures to tick off but if I did whale watching would be a must do.

Check in time is half an hour before departure time.  The office for Prince of Whales is in the Westin Bayshore Hotel right on the waterfront in downtown Vancouver.  After picking up our boarding cards we congregated outside with about ninety other passengers.  Our splendid boat was the Salish Sea Dream, a purpose built 78 foot catamaran.  It cost 3.5 million dollars and entered service just last year.  Top speed is 35 knots, it has four jets rather than propellers, and it is very stable at all speeds.  Boarding was quick and efficient and we left the dock a few minutes early with everyone aboard.  There is enclosed seating on the main deck, semi-enclosed and open seating on the upper deck.  A snack bar and washrooms are located on the main deck.


One of the benefits of starting the trip from the Westin Bayshore is seeing the sparkling Vancouver skyline from the water as we depart. A safety briefing is conducted as we leave port.  Rounding Stanley Park and passing under the Lions Gate Bridge is worth several photos, and like everyone else aboard we could not resist these photo ops.  Once out of the harbour the speed picks up and it becomes apparent why it was suggested we dress warmly.  Blankets are passed out for the comfort of those who prefer to remain in the open air seating.  Baseball style hats are susceptible to being lost overboard because of the wind so you are forewarned to stow them away before regretting your choice of headwear.


Vancouver Skyline
Windy on Prince of Whales


In less time than it takes me to drive to Ikea the Salish Sea Dream has arrived at a large yellow buoy not far from Bowen Island with half a dozen Steller Sea Lions on it seemingly yearning for their photos to be taken.  The captain announced over the loudspeakers that he would position the boat so the buoy would be on the left side.  Even with everybody rushing to the port side the catamaran was rock steady!  It was thrilling to watch the sea lions.  They are huge!  One of them drew a few laughs as it tried and failed to climb aboard the buoy from the water.


Sea Lions on Buoy
Sea Lions



Our course continued westward towards Nanaimo.  The route taken by the boat varies daily depending on best estimates as to where whales might be located.  A humpback whale had been found yesterday and we were in search of its location today.  After a short while some arms raised, fingers pointing to a spot on the water in the distance.  Nobody shouted “Thar she blows!” but the electric feeling of the sighting excited all aboard.  We approached slowly, trying to anticipate where the whale would surface next.  Humpback whales can stay underwater for up to half an hour but normally surface much more frequently.  When they exhale a large plume of spray from the two blowholes can be spotted from a great distance.  Once we sighted the whale again we moved closer for a better look.  Guidelines stipulate being no closer than 100 meters to a humpback whale.  Had we spotted an orca the closest we could have approached would be 200 meters.  I think we rapturously watched this whale for about half an hour, its movements becoming more familiar to us with time: a few breaths, a deep dive that exposed the tail fluke, a few minutes of waiting for the whale to resurface.  Humpback whales don’t really have a hump on their backs, they just arch their backs into a hump-like shape as they start a dive.  The well informed staff aboard the Salish Sea Dream were eager to share information about this whale and also everything we saw and experienced while aboard.  This particular humpback whale is known as Ghost.  Identification is made by the distinctive markings on the tail fluke.  We didn’t get to see Ghost breach or slap the water with its flippers or tail but it was incredible to see this huge creature of the ocean so close to us.


 Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale


Closer to Nanaimo we saw multitudes of Harbour Seals, some of them picturesquely posing by Entrance Island.  The whole area around Gabriola Island is gorgeous from the water.  This trip could be renamed a Seal Watching Expedition as we saw so many Harbour Seals and Stellar Sea Lions.  We even caught sight of a huge eagle resting on some rocks before flying off.  The return crossing of the Strait of Georgia back to Vancouver gave staff an opportunity to show us on a map exactly where we had wildlife sightings.  I would suggest you take the opportunity to chat for a while with the friendly staff.  They have seen and experienced wonderful things and have some great stories to tell.  Kids in particular were very keen to learn all about the whales.  Jenn and I compared our photos from the day and relaxed for a while, rousing ourselves again for the always impressive entrance to Vancouver under the Lions Gate Bridge.  This was a great day on the water.


Seals
Seals
Islands
Lions Gate Bridge
Vancouver Skyline


Prince of Whales Whale Watching season is from late April to the first few days of November.  From early June to the first week of September there are two excursions per day, one at 8:30 a.m. and the other at 2:30 p.m.  The rest of the season there is one trip per day at 12 noon.  A long lens will be great if you are a photographer, binoculars will be handy for those without cameras.  Dress for strong winds, it is rather cool out on the water.  You might want to bring some food and water with you.  On sunny days you will want sunglasses and sunscreen.  The website for Prince of Whales is https://princeofwhales.com/ 

Prince of Whales
Prince of Whales
 

Words: Steve McConnell
Photos: 
Jenn Chan

TRAVEL | THINGS TO DO | Old Docks Tour with Eating London Tours by Jenn Chan

 Old Docks Tour Starting Point

Old Docks Tour Starting Point

 

Leigh Savage would be a great name for a pirate! Or, maybe, a porn star (sorry Leigh!), but it is most certainly also an excellent name for a tour guide! Mention his name while booking and you'll get a discount, mention mine while booking and you will only get a puzzled look. The tour started where all great food tours start: at a large, 19th century industrial engine house. No visit along the docks of Rotherhithe and Wapping, I'm told, would be complete without taking in the Thames Tunnel. The world's first tunnel built successfully under a navigable channel connecting these two beautiful boroughs despite the Thames' best efforts. 

A quick jaunt up the street and you come upon the The Mayflower Pub, the oldest pub on the mighty River Thames. It was from here that the first pilgrims to colonize the Americas left England bound for the new world. Just think about that. Now think about bangers and mash and blood pudding all sat on a bed of fresh vegetables and chased down with a bitter, yet smooth pale ale. Aside from the really good pub food, a cheerful decor, ample historical significance and ambience the pub also boasts a huge patio that hangs out over the ancient river. If you peek between the slats you'll see the water lapping the shore and the sound and the sun and tranquility of the space makes this pub a must-see!
 

 

 The Mayflower

The Mayflower

 Bangers & Mash at The Mayflower

Bangers & Mash at The Mayflower

The Mayflower
The Mayflower

 

After we have descended the Thames Tunnel and examined the impressive, old-fashioned engineering we come up on the other side; Wapping. All along the way our cheerful, knowledgeable guide whips out his folder of history and photos and we take delight in standing on the sidewalk and learning about our surroundings. A tour like this gives you nothing, but time to smell the flowers! The Prospect of Whitby Pub also stakes a claim to the oldest pub on the Thames, but upon reading the fine print is relegated to being on the site of the oldest pub, advantage Mayflower. The Whitby wrestles away the title of my early favourite after a delicious plate of fish and chips is laid in front of me with a nice light lager to compliment it. It was so nice that I went back and got another glass halfway through my meal! The Prospect of Whitby is a place where they used to hang folk. They don't shy away from that fact either as a noose still swings in the wind at the edge of the balcony. Hanging Judge Jeffries was said to have executed some 700 men during his duties under the reign of King James II on this very spot.

 

 Brunel's Thames Tunnel

Brunel's Thames Tunnel

Old Docks Tour
Old Docks Tour
 The Prospect of Whitby

The Prospect of Whitby

 The Prospect of Whitby

The Prospect of Whitby

 Fish & Chips with mushy peas at The Prospect of Whitby

Fish & Chips with mushy peas at The Prospect of Whitby

The Prospect of Whitby

 

Joseph Turner was an eccentric man. A lover of women and secretive to the point of almost losing his own identity. Around the docklands of Wapping he was known as "Puggy" Booth. Puggy due to his slight stature and Booth adopting the name of one of his mistresses to further obfuscate his activities. When he inherited a pair of cottages in Wapping he converted one into Turner's Old Star and the pub still stands today after several renovations. Paul and Bernice Drew now run the freehouse and make their famous steak pies themselves from scratch! These are worth a trip all on their own, but the pub also has sports playing on every screen as well as billiards and darts. You could spend some time there!
 

 

 Turner's Old Star

Turner's Old Star

 Turner's Old Star

Turner's Old Star

 Steak Pie at Turner's Old Star

Steak Pie at Turner's Old Star

 

Captain William Kidd was a notorious pirate. There is some debate whether he came about the monicker justly, but he was executed nearby for piracy. A converted warehouse with plenty of space and extraordinary views of the Thames. An alcove table with 180 degree views of the river and a spacious patio are just a few of the highlights. Oh ya, they also have beer, a lot of it! I would definitely recommend it for a calm night out or the starting point of a rager!
 

 

 Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd

Chocolate Stout
Old Docks Tour
Old Docks Tour

 

Four hours is a long time to spend with strangers, but with the masterful guidance of Mr. Savage we bonded and by the time we came up the Dickens Pub it was almost too early to say goodbye. Luckily, we were greeted with a giant cheese and fruit platter and some ciders, a truly European dessert! Excited chatter turned into a constant murmur and laughter rose up as the room started to fill around us. Leigh gracefully took his leave and we were left to socialize and eat and drink until our heart's content. I can't remember another tour where the group was left together at the end and the fun just simply continued! I would highly recommend it and don't forget to tell them who sent you!

 

Old Docks Tour
 English Cheese and Cider at The Dickens Inn

English Cheese and Cider at The Dickens Inn

 
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan
 

TRAVEL | THINGS TO DO | Sky 100 at ICC by Jenn Chan

Sky100

 

South African Wayde van Niekerk is the current Olympic champion and world record holder at the 400 metre dash with a time of 43.03 seconds. Coming in just under 17 slower, a respectable showing, is the bullet-fast elevator at the Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck. It covers the 393 metres to the top in 60 seconds flat. Take that Vin Diesel!



Once you exit the elevators into the 360 degree, floor-to-ceiling, glass-walled Sky100 the sheer elevation has been known to buckle some knees! On our visit a handful of tourists seemed more than happy to relax in the tables in the café noticeably avoiding approaching the glass for fear of plummeting to their death. Ya, it's high. Hong Kong is known for many things: delicious food, a bustling financial district, Disneyland, but with 7.3 million people living in an area the size of Vancouver, and its paltry 1.8 million people, there's got to be more of everything: cars, buses, planes, trains and factories. The result is smog. It plagues every major city on Earth and my beloved Hong Kong, sadly, is no exception. So what do you do when you run a multi millionaire business whose aim is to provide a view to its patrons when sometimes there just simply is no visibility? You install state-of-the-art virtual reality app and let people 3D their way around the view! I won't attempt to describe the effects, but, happily, on our visit the skies were clear and the views amazing! After a turn on the new virtual reality experience, hovering outside the windows of the Sky100, and a quick stop off at Café 100 by Ritz Carlton, the only establishment on Earth with the Ritz brand outside of their hotels, for some crêpes and a couple beers and we proceed on our photographer's dream walk. 2-3 laps around and 2-3 hours later with our cameras' memory cards full and our inner ears acclimated to Himalayan heights we descended the elevator. We'll be back I thought to myself. Probably every time we come to HK!

 

Sky100
Sky100
Sky100
Sky100
Sky100
Sky100
Sky100 VR
Sky100 AR
 Cafe 100 by Ritz Carlton

Cafe 100 by Ritz Carlton

 Monkey Milk Crepe

Monkey Milk Crepe

Sky100
 
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan
 

TRAVEL | THINGS TO DO | English Heritage Stonehenge by Jenn Chan

Stonehenge

 

Admittedly and, sadly, irrecoverably whilst I'm abroad in Europe I am at the mercy of my Global Positioning System (GPS). Satnav, if you're from these parts, but time, necessity and my own not-giving-a-mother-f'ing whaaaaa dictate that I'm not going to Google, or as Jalen Rose would say 'Goggle' "Satnav" to give that silly acronym any credence.

When you're prone in life whether it be: spiritually, financially or merely spatially your surroundings seem to push down on you from all sides trying to squeeze everything you have inside you outside of you. Satnav says you pop up out of this freeway on-ramp and when you're almost there your excitements mounts.

If Stonehenge is a term you recognise then Stonehenge is probably a place you put on your "to-do" list. That list that wanderlusters put, and rank, mostly mentally, the countries they can, will and must see. I'd put Stonehenge and it's pre-historic significance in my top five. It's a millennium old and it was made in that time where they didn't write everything down. Remains dictate Stonehenge started as a burial ground/ religious site and archeologists have found many remains to back up those facts. No one in this random enclave, in this unremarkable British countryside, has left word of their customs or intentions and it is all at once intriguing and remarkable. A puzzle which is insolvable and therefore there remains an appetite for the facts that is unquenchable.

For the first time in my life I saw a sign that warned "queues likely", but there it was. I thought "we have likely taken a wrong, dumb 'slip road' and now we're down a 20-minute-delay rabbit hole as we drive 10-20 miles in one direction and then flip the next roundabout and head back." Happily, this was not the case. The "likely" delay was, and will be when you visit,  due to rubber-necking nincompoops who routinely drive past the 5,000 year old monument. If you're an office drone, à la Steve Carrell in the beloved American edition of The Office, maybe you slow to 5 MPH everyday, every week, on your commute to work and think about these Neolithic tribes traipsing across the countryside. Or maybe everyone sucks. Maybe when you're running late every freeway will have likely delays. If that's your mindset, I'm sorry... I love you, even as a stranger, and people still care.

 

 inside the Stonehenge

inside the Stonehenge

Stonehenge Museum
Stonehenge Museum
Stonehenge Museum

 

When you're visiting a UNESCO Heritage Site you know there will be, at least, is going to be a vending machine. The commercial infrastructure is just there and, yes, there were several. AND a gigantic gift shop and delightful café/ bar. I partook, unabashedly, in a late afternoon Stonehenge Brewery lager. Twas good and twas adequately large so that when we boarded the shuttle out to the historic site of Stonehenge from the visitor centre I was still sipping it. A few pictures were snapped, Stonehenge lager in hand, of yours truly, astride the ruins. Whether this was once a religious centre, burial ground, community centre or just where the kids raved I did what I do; left no mark on the soil and only took the mark of the experience with me.

The Jenn Chan Photography blog is a viable, vibrant entity because of Jenn's humility and love of photography and not my narration, positions or hawkish entrepreneurism. The next time you're at the beach pick up a stone that looks about the size of your thigh. That's it. Everyone has a different sized thigh don't judge just grab it depending on your girth. I'd say definitely brace yourself. Get a wide stance and lift with your legs and not your back. Now picture that rock as the equivalent of 14,000 thigh sized, gargantuan pieces of stone laying in slabs 50 KM's away. What compelled these people? How many years did they study the stars before they calculated the exact angles where the sun on the longest day of summer and the shortest day of winter collide into its epicentre ? If you were left stranded for 100 years, be it on a beautiful, lush island or a cold tundra, could you ever make a device to send an email? Where would you start?

 Replica Stonehenge Stone

Replica Stonehenge Stone

 Stonehenge Heel Stone

Stonehenge Heel Stone

Stonehenge
IMG_6301-Edit.jpg
 Stonehenge at Sunset

Stonehenge at Sunset

 
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan
 

TRAVEL | THINGS TO DO | London Eye by Jenn Chan

London Eye

 

A man I greatly respect detests Ferris wheels. Anthony Bourdain, of travel and cooking TV show fame, could not be enticed into one for cash. You couldn't get him on one if everywhere else on earth except for the cushy confines of the wheel was on fire. He doesn't like them, finds them tedious and maybe, at the root of it all, claustrophobic. I am not an avid Ferris wheeler. I've ridden my share, boy howdy, but I don't seek them out and Tony's blatant disregard has certainly tainted them for me. Like someone telling you about how their friend died from bad salmon as you're about to dig into a plate full of sashimi. Or someone telling you that baseball is the world's most tedious sport before you leave the house heading to the World Series. You love baseball, you love salmon so you power on and dismiss their trepidation as sour grapes; some baseball player broker their heart or their pet fish died. Some Ferris Wheel must have wronged Mr. Bourdain because I find them delightful!



The London Eye is probably the world's premiere Ferris wheel. It's certainly the most iconic. The comfort of each capsule is what you would expect from a world class tourist destination, but the addition of some champagne and now you've got an event! At no time during our revolution did I feel bored. There's so much to see in a city that's roughly seven times older than my entire country that your eyes can't focus on one thing for too long. No less than 1,000 different things to see from the incredible 360 degree vantage. Palaces and castles and skyscrapers all mingle along the mythical River Thames in a cornucopia of sights. I would highly recommend you going on your first day in London as it's the best spot to decide what else you might like to see while you're visiting. A perfect 10/10!

 

London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
London Eye
 
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan
 

TRAVEL | THINGS TO DO | Tower of London by Jenn Chan

 Inside the Walls of Tower of London

Inside the Walls of Tower of London

 

In the game of thrones, read Medieval English isle, if you control the Tower of London you control the South. William the Conqueror started construction in 1066 and the signature White Tower was added in 1078. William was the son of a bachelor in Robert I, the King of Normandy. Jon Snow, of the hit, no, smash hit, tv show Game of Thrones, was also of unmarried parents. In my pragmatic, narrow, Canadian mind I will now, and forever, equate the Tower of London with Jon Snow. As an aside I had occasion today to visit the Guildford Castle in my newly adopted hometown. Love what you did with the garden Jon Snow! Intuition tells me William probably much preferred his monicker 'the Conqueror' over 'the Bastard' despite my admittedly perfunctory knowledge of the actual, boots-on-the-ground connotations of the label a millennium ago. An even further aside, my home country just turned 150 years old this year; happy birthday Canada!!

 

As we parked we could see the majestic Tower Bridge in the distance and the signature four towers of the Tower of London in the foreground as we unwittingly made the march many a headless man made from the execution grounds on Tower Hill to the gated fortress. Ushered into an ancient house and presented with media passes we bypassed the lines and, as luck would have it, merged seamlessly with a tour group being led by an enthusiastic Yeoman Warder. To be a warder, an educated and chivalrous tour guide and ambassador to the grounds, you must have served at least 22 years in the armed forces and have demonstrated exemplary conduct. They live in the gated castle with their families and undertake these hourly tours for which their enthusiasm and knowledge should be exulted!
 

 

Tower of London
Tower of London
Tower of London
 Traitor Gate

Traitor Gate

 The Armoury

The Armoury

 Chapel

Chapel

Tower of London
 The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels

 

Views across the mysterious and harrowing River Thames, ancients swords, suits of armour, reproductions of royal bedrooms, torture chambers and some delicious food and drink in the café. It sounds like a good day to me! You?

 

 Tower of London at Sunset

Tower of London at Sunset

 
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan