Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Travel: Vancouver Christmas Market

   December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.

 

    As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure. 

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle

    Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport. 

  

    I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.

 

Riding the Rails

    I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.      

 

   Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead.     We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m. 

 

   I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)

 

The Vancouver Christmas Market

    I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market. 

  

    School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)

 

 

The takeaway

   My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.

 

    I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine.  There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time. 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

AAA: Idaho gas prices up from a year ago, but down from last month

While gas prices in Idaho are considerably higher than they were a year ago, AAA Idaho says they're down from the level of a month ago, and nationwide, 4 percent more Americans are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. The auto owners group reports that today's average gas price in Idaho is $3.46 per gallon, 52 cents higher than a year ago, but 15 cents less than a month ago. The national average gas price is $3.34, down 12 cents from last month's average of $3.46.

AAA is also advising motorists to check road conditions before they head out for the holiday, either by dialing 511 or going to www.511.idaho.gov.

AAA: Idaho’s high gas prices ‘difficult to comprehend’

Idaho’s average gas price is now $2.99 per gallon, up four cents in the past three weeks and 31 cents above the national average of $2.68, according to AAA of Idaho. But the AAA is forecasting a 10 percent increase in auto travel over the Labor Day holiday weekend in Idaho and the region, compared to last year, despite the pricier gas. “We do not expect Idaho’s higher gas prices will have any sizable impact on travel intentions, though the final tally may have more to say on that topic,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho.

The group’s daily fuel gauge report showed that Idaho’s average gas price ties for the fifth-most expensive gas in the country, behind only Alaska, $3.51 per gallon; Hawaii, $3.47; California, $3.08; and Washington, $3.06. Idaho tied with Oregon, but Oregon doesn’t have self-serve gas, requiring motorists to let an attendant pump their gas for them.

AAA said Idaho’s average price has been more than 20 cents higher than the national average gas price for the past five months. “Market factors can influence prices from region to region and even locally, but it’s difficult to comprehend what’s driving this year’s high pump prices in Idaho,” Carlson said. Click here to read AAA’s full statement.