So the old passports were languishing in our fireproof box. I'm fairly certain I could have written "Use me" in the proverbial dust that collected on them. This last year has been a crazy one and we've been spending all of our time, energy, and money doing incredibly boring things like fixing our septic, visiting Sacramento, dealing with family crises, and doing a soft renovation on our home. (It still isn't done.) That's not to say that we spent all of our free time ferrying the sad Idaho/Nevada airspace. We've managed to do many local adventures, which has been super cool. Even still, the signs heading north on Interstate 5 that read "Vancouver B.C. 72 miles" called to us like some insensitive travel siren as we shuttled flats of eggs and toilet paper from Costco to our home.
Somewhere around the end of the year Scott realized that he had accumulated more vacation time than he could use and since it would all vanish into the annals of corporate "use it or lose it" policy, we dusted off the old passports and decided to do what we could with some adventures on short notice.
The natural option considering the sad passports and short-notice was a quickie day trip to Canada. Vancouver, British Colombia was well within driving distance and the Christmas market season was in full swing. In other words, plenty of reasons to make a little day trek to our northern neighbor.
So, what do you need to know about this little excursion? Well, here you go.
It is hard to remember that you are in a foreign country when you share the same language, customs, and continent. Our "drive across the border" mindset was still set in the Mexico zone of "Buy Mexican car insurance" and your US Dollars are all good. Canada is a little switcher-roo of those two things. Most US car insurance does cover you in Canada (double check, obvi) and your greenbacks are no good. So, you know... adjustments.
The best mindset I can say to get in is to imagine you were driving from your US house to Great Britain. How would that work in terms of money, cell coverage, passports, currency exchange, etc. etc? Take that and just apply it to "Canada, eh there bud?" and you're good to go.
Check your car insurance's international coverage, cell carrier charges/coverage, tell your bank/credit card companies you'll be traveling internationally (even if it is just for the day), and either find a way to exchange money before you cross the border or just use a reputable Canadian bank's ATM. For us the convenience of being able to just get what we needed once we had entered Canada was worth the $5 service fee.
Once you get these things all sorted out (it honestly just takes a few phone calls) you're ready to go. And you need passports. Don't forget those. In fact, you don't want to be like the college goobers from California who were at the US Border with driver's licenses trying to re-enter the United States. #travelershaming
(We were there because we wanted stamps. #priorities)
The drive time from Seattle to Vancouver is 2.5 hours. We had a jump on that time as we are already an hour north. There are several ports of entry- you can take the one that I-5 puts you through or the 539. We chose 539 as the estimated wait time to cross the border was significantly shorter (thanks, Google Maps). Border crossing was super easy. Not as easy as the movies make it out to be, of course. (I'm looking at YOU Super Troopers 2) Passports were checked (not stamped, boo) and we were off.
After a quick stop to visit some friends in Langley we all made our way to Vancouver. As we were visiting in the middle of December the big Vancouver Christmas Market was our main objective in the city. This market is a delightfully Germanic festival of over priced soaps, baby booties, and bratwurst. We liked it because it seemed festive and we assumed the food would be amazing.
Since Christmas has pretty much become a swear word in the United States, we don't have these kinds of festivities. (Simmer down, that wasn't meant to be political. Just a statement of fact. Which might actually be political. I digress.) Anyway, this sort of thing was bound to be a welcome change of pace and we were super excited to see (eat) it all. The market is situated right in downtown (but not the gross part) of Vancouver with a beautiful view of the local waterfront.
Once you pay the cash-only entry fee you are welcomed into a fairy land of mulled wine, cured meats, polite Canadians, and tasteful Christmas decorations. The crisp air felt festive and all the kids just sat stunned taking in all the sights and sounds. Obviously we had little interest in locally sourced essential oils and every interest in beer, macarons, perogis, tempura fried-spiral cut zucchini, tempura fried-spiral cut potato, more beer and watching the sea planes land.
Which we promptly indulged ourselves of all these things and more. (Most of the vendors inside the market do take plastic. Whew!) The only downside was that bathrooms weren't super accessible, which was a bummer as the kids in our group were anywhere from 4 months to 8 years... so there was lots of exiting and re-entering the market. Come on, Canada. You can do better than that!
After the market we said our goodbyes to our friends and began our quest to find the Queen Mother of all Canadian dishes, poutine. We asked the maitre'd at a local hotel for her suggestions for said food and got some solid recommendations. This was after we asked her if they served poutine at the hotel's restaurant and she gave us the most polite, Canadian "We don't serve that here" face. Once she saw the kids we're pretty sure she caught our drift and ran a quick search for popular "poutineries" and gave us the list. We were off again. The perogi high wore off and we made our way through downtown Vancouver to find poutine. Which we did. And it was delicious. Also, giant portions. So, size down at your local poutinerie. Yes, we ended up eating leftover poutine for breakfast.
On the whole it was a fantastic little day trip. The drive back was uneventful. Took the I-5 port of entry back home. Immigration was awesome and managed to score a stamp in the old passports to mark the adventure. So far this has been the least stressful international experience we have ever had. We came. We saw. We ate. We slept in our own beds.
Good night, Canada. You were neato.