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Carless and carefree: Bellingham to Vancouver

The Amtrak Cascades arrives in Bellingham.

The Amtrak Cascades arrives in Bellingham. (Sue Frause)

I prefer road trips that don’t include me as the driver. And now with the gas gods scowling down on us, even folks who would never leave their beloved vehicles at home are opting for alternative ways to roam. Plus, lots can happen when you’re not behind the wheel. You can read. Listen to tunes. Eavesdrop. Take a snooze. Or see familiar sights with fresh eyes. My favorite way to travel to British Columbia is a combination of trains, buses, boats, and planes. This is the second in a series on my carless, carefree getaway to BC. Depending on your time and budget, cut and clip as necessary.

I felt more like I was in Europe than Whatcom County. After spending the night in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district at The Chrysalis Inn & Spa, my friend and I had breakfast and took a cab to the train station. The 9:44 a.m. Amtrak Cascades was pretty much on time, and we boarded with our carry-ons and sat back and left the driving to them for the next two hours.

Don’t forget to bring your passport, although a photo ID and a birth certificate will do for now. But starting in June 2009, U.S. and Canadian travelers entering the U.S. must have a passport, whether arriving by land or sea. And with all the border construction in preparation for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, it’s all the more reason to ditch the car. Otherwise, you could be stuck in a long line at the border.

When you arrive at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station, you’ll disembark and go through Canada Customs & Immigration. Things will improve in March 2009 when the Talgo train set is scheduled to be back on the Amtrak route. It features a business class and for a few dollars more, you’ll be able to get off the train first and be on your way. You can get to downtown Vancouver one of two ways: SkyTrain, located right across from the train station, is $2.50; or by taxi, which will cost you around $8. It’s a good idea to use the ATM machine at the terminal to get some loonies and toonies before you head out. They also have a money changing counter.

As far as where to stay, I have my favorites, and it depends on the season and if I’m traveling with my husband, gal pals or going solo. For hip and urban, it’s the Opus Hotel in Yaletown, similar to Portand’s Pearl District. For girl getaways, the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa has reasonable rates, plus an on-site spa and a comedy club. The Listel Vancouver and Pacific Palisades Hotel are both conveniently located near Stanley Park, my favorite spot to walk or bike (rent the latter at nearby Spokes). And for old-world flair, I like The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (whose lobby bar I consider the “living room” of Vancouver) and the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa. Their Bacchus Lounge is my favorite place to be on a rainy afternoon.

New properties that are set to open in the next two years include the Loden Vancouver in Coal Harbour, Fall 2008; the 61-story Shangri-La Hotel, the tallest building in Vancouver, January 2009; Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver, mid-2009; Hotel Georgia, undergoing a complete restoration, 2009. For good packages and deals, visit Tourism Vancouver’s Web site.

Last leg: Seattle to Bellingham

Next leg: A getaway to Quadra Island

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