Tag Archives: Travel

Parkbus: Car-free Camping in Ontario

It’s the Canada Day long weekend and the summer camping season is officially underway. Camping without a car in British Columbia can be challenging, particularly if you don’t ride a bicycle. There are some exceptions, of course, but car-free camping almost always requires a great deal of planning, scheduling and preparation compared to the ease of throwing your gear into a car, driving to the campground and navigating to a campsite.

Ontario is making life easier for car-free campers, and I wish that BC would follow suit. Today, I received a beautiful handmade Happy Canada Day card from my mom that included a short article from the Ottawa Citizen about the new Parkbus service between Ottawa and Algonquin Provincial Park.

Parkbus

Parkbus provides bus service from Ottawa and Toronto to outdoor destinations in Ontario, including Algonquin, Killarney, Grundy Lake Provincial Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park and Tobermory.

The program began in 2010 and initially transported campers between Toronto and Algonquin Provincial Park. The service is now a project of Transportation Options, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering sustainable transportation and tourism ideas and innovations by engaging in research, project development, and promotion of choices that are healthy, integrated, convenient, economically beneficial, and environmentally sound. Parkbus is also supported by Ontario Parks, the Tourism Development Fund grant from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The Parkbus website includes detailed information about the service, including schedules, ticketing and frequently asked questions like this one:

Parkbus FAQ

Given our Provincial Government’s resistance to funding public transit in BC, I suspect that an initiative like this is a long way off in our province. We’re fortunate to have some access to camping on public transit, including select campgrounds in Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, on Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands, but none of the transportation services to these destinations are designed with campers in mind. Often, even if you can get close to a campground, you may need to walk a long distance to access your campsite.

Kudos for Ontario for providing the Parkbus service to help campers without cars reach some of the Province’s most beautiful outdoor destinations.

Destination: O’ahu, Hawai’i

If you’re planning a trip to Hawai’i and don’t want to rent a car, O’ahu is the island to visit.

Waikiki Beach Sunset

Waikiki Beach Sunset

O’ahu is home to TheBus, the public transit system of the City and County of Honolulu, and it has routes that run all around the island. While you can’t reach every point of interest on public transit, you can travel long distances if you have plenty of time and patience. If you plan to use transit frequently (at least three trips per day), it’s worthwhile investing in the four-day pass, which costs $25 and and is valid for four consecutive days of unlimited bus rides on all regular and commuter express services. One-way cash fares for adults are $2.50.

TheBus Sign

For our trip, we relied on the O’ahu Revealed guidebook app, which advises that not renting a vehicle for at least part of your stay on O’ahu is a “big mistake.” We disagree, but we we will admit that we found car-free travel on O’ahu more frustrating than we anticipated due to crowded buses, infrequent service on some bus routes, and Honolulu’s merely average walkability.

Normally when we travel without a car, it’s easy to be oblivious to traffic congestion, but throughout O’ahu it was impossible to ignore. The TomTom Congestion Index ranks Honolulu as the third-worst city for traffic congestion in North America, after Los Angeles and Vancouver respectively. We first witnessed heavy traffic in Waikiki, an area of Honolulu that is only two miles long and over a half mile wide. The number of vehicles and pedestrians navigating around Waikiki is often astounding. Beyond Waikiki, we experienced traffic congestion on our day trip to and around the North Shore. The journey north took us along the H-1 Freeway, where we witnessed the Zip Mobile shifting a lane of traffic.

Zip Mobile

Photo credit: Nemo’s great uncle (Flickr)

Once we reached the North Shore, traffic was often bumper-to-bumper on the scenic routes. It’s no wonder that some locals desperately want rail service on O’ahu.

Generally, we found TheBus useful for getting around Honolulu and we travelled on it to reach places like Bishop Museum and the trailhead for the easy Manoa Falls hike. If you plan to travel quite a bit on TheBus, I highly recommend that you look up bus schedules in advance if you will take TheBus to places where service is infrequent. We made the mistake of not doing this when we went to Manoa Falls and we found ourselves waiting nearly an hour at the bus stop after completing our hike.

Manoa Falls Trail

Manoa Falls Trail

Shuttles and bus tours can make car-free travel on O’ahu a little easier. We took V.I.P. Trans Hawaii shuttles between the airport and Waikiki and to travel from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor (we returned from Pearl Harbor by TheBus).

Pearl Harbor

View of the USS Arizona Memorial from the battleship USS Missouri, Pearl Harbor

There is no shortage of bus tour options on O’ahu. To visit the North Shore, we decided to go on the 7-hour Waimea Waterfall and Circle Island Adventure tour by Oahu Nature Tours. There were a handful of shopping stops on the tour, but our guide ensured that we spent most of our time focusing on nature at places like Waimea Falls and the Banzai Pipeline.

Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline

We didn’t ride bicycles on this trip, so I can’t share any meaningful information about the cycling experience or infrastructure on O’ahu. We were surprised, however, to see so few people riding bicycles in Honolulu given the near-perfect weather for this mode of transportation. We were pleased to occasionally spot some very creative carriers for surfboards on bicycles, and we also liked some of the bicycle racks around Honolulu.

Waikiki Bicycle Rack

Waikiki Bicycle Rack

One thing I can’t neglect to highlight about O’ahu is the quality of the¬†farmers’ markets! We went to the Kapi’olani Community College Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, 7:30-11:00 a.m.) and the Honolulu Farmers’ Market on Ward Avenue (Wednesdays, 4:00-7:00 p.m.) and both were excellent.

Jackfruit and Mangoes, Kapi'olani Community College Farmers' Market

Jackfruit and Mangoes, Kapi’olani Community College Farmers’ Market

Plan to buy fruit and arrive hungry so that you can eat a meal at one of the stalls serving prepared food. We particularly liked the vegetarian curry at The Pig and the Lady, which was full of vegetables from farmers’ market vendors. When we visited the farmers’ markets in early April, we left with apple bananas, pineapple, mangoes, loquats, star apples, cherimoya, and papaya. The OnoPops popsicles, which we found at both markets and even in a few Honolulu shops, are delicious and not to be missed. Our favourite flavours were Guava Tamarind, Kona Latte and Lilikoi Cheesecake.

Japan: The Car-free Traveller’s Dream

Car-free travel in Japan is wonderful and easy. I’m certain it’s one of the best places to visit without a car.

Trains

Everything you’ve heard about train travel in Japan is true: it’s fast, punctual, frequent and comfortable. Japan’s trains, including those in the transit systems of the places we visited, were the highlight of our vacation. Our 14-day Japan Rail Passes (about $580 CAD each) were useful for intercity travel and even hopping around Tokyo on the famous Yamanote Line.

Japan Rail Pass

We zipped between Tokyo, Nagano, Nagoya, Kyoto and Hiroshima using the super-fast Shinkansen bullet trains, which easily exceeded our expectations. Zooming from Hiroshima to Tokyo (800 km) in a mere five hours is impressive, and puts to shame Amtrak’s eight hour travel time between Vancouver and Portland (500 km).

Even the train station architecture is amazing in some places. Kyoto Station is a marvel from top to bottom, so much so that we decided to have our anniversary dinner there. We found a quiet corner on an upper level of the station, and we munched on takeout while enjoying a perfect view of the orange and blue lights of nearby Kyoto Tower.

Kyoto Tower

Trains within cities, particularly the legendary ones in Tokyo, were easy to navigate and often very fast and frequent. Taras Grescoe’s chapter on Tokyo in Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile is the perfect introduction to the city’s transit system and helped me to appreciate the astounding flow of people at busy stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya.

Shibuya Station

Walking

We wandered around cities using a combination of transit and walking, which is an ideal way to explore. Walking seems safe thanks to thoughtful pedestrian crossings, separate facilities (such as the many car-free walkways in Tokyo), and quiet side streets where vehicles are rare and attentive.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

Walking in Japan reveals the joys of serendipity. We got lost. A lot. We learned quickly that it can be very frustrating to find a particular address in parts of Japan. We enjoyed ourselves much more when we let go of searching for specific places and needing to know where we were. Wandering, exploring and discovering were consistently more rewarding.

Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

The bonus of combining walking and transit is that you can never be really lost. Eventually you find a transit stop or station and you can usually at least navigate back to your accommodation from there.

Walking is the best way to experience Japan’s large cities since there is so much to see everywhere, indoors and outdoors.¬†Department stores aren’t just for shopping — if you walk through them you will find food (often on the lower levels), restaurants (often on the upper levels), and maybe even bowling alleys or rooftop gardens. In, over and around transit stations are shops, restaurants, and pachinko parlours.

Near Shimbashi Station, Tokyo

Japan also reminded me of something very simple that makes it easy to travel car-free: abundant washrooms. I’ve never understood in Vancouver why our transit stations, particularly our new Canada Line stations and Waterfront Station with all its amenities, don’t have public washrooms. There are washrooms everywhere in Japan, and travellers can reliably count on finding them at transit and train stations. It’s a simple thing, but something Vancouver is strangely reluctant to provide unless you consider the often-broken soaking wet automatic toilets in the ad-laden metal boxes adequate.

Cycling

We only rode bicycles on the Shimanami Kaido cycling route, but we loved observing all the people riding bikes everywhere we travelled in Japan.

Bicycles, Tokyo

The weather was sticky, humid and in the 30s every day, but this didn’t seem to stop anyone from riding their bikes in everyday clothes.

Cycling, Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

In North America, we often hear that when children enter the picture it will be time to get a car or at least drive more, and Japan showed us that families can stick to bicycles for most of their transportation needs. When I saw a mother with one child in a front seat and one in a back seat on her bicycle, I thought, “right on!” because I don’t see this very often in Vancouver. I soon realized she wasn’t doing anything extraordinary. Over the course of our two-week vacation, we saw many parents (mostly mothers) travelling with multiple children on their bicycles and they didn’t need fancy cargo bikes, trailers, bakfiets or other expensive equipment to do this. Bike shops in Japan sell a variety of bicycles that are already equipped for carrying children.

Bike Shop, Kyoto

Japan changed my opinion on sidewalk cycling. Prior to travelling there, I was known for grumbling whenever I would see someone riding their bike on the sidewalk. Now I see that sidewalk cycling can work, even in a busy city like Tokyo, if people pay attention to each other and the cycling is slow.

Cycling, Tokyo

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you may be interested in some of the other things we enjoyed:

Destination: Seattle

Modes of transportation: Bus (BoltBus, Amtrak, Greyhound or Quick Shuttle) or train (Amtrak), walking and public transit
Length of time: Approximately 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours each way depending on the mode of transportation and your luck at the border crossing
Transportation cost: Anywhere from approximately $20-$135 per person round-trip depending on whether you take the bus or train and how far you book in advance

As most Vancouverites know, Seattle is an easy car-free weekend trip. There is no shortage of transportation options between the two cities. In July, Kevin and I travelled there by the relatively new BoltBus express service between Vancouver and Seattle.

BoltBus

We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the journey. The train is the environmentally-friendly choice and is certainly more comfortable, but BoltBus is cheap and (for us, at least) has a better schedule. As you’ll learn if you take BoltBus, prices fluctuate depending on your luck and how early you buy your bus ticket. Our trip cost us $28.00 return per ticket.

BoltBus provides friendly and helpful drivers, seatbelts, a washroom and (slow) WiFi, and will transport unboxed bicycles if there is space in the compartments under the coach. There is no additional charge for travelling with a bicycle if it’s your only piece of baggage under the coach, but be warned that bike reservations aren’t possible and space isn’t guaranteed.

We spent the first day of our weekend holiday walking around the city, which is a great way to see some of Seattle’s charming neighbourhoods. We started downtown with breakfast at Pike Place Market and then walked all the way to Ballard via Queen Anne and Fremont.

Fremont is one of our favourite places to visit in Seattle. We never tire of the neighbourhood’s fun art, which includes a statue of Lenin, a large troll under a bridge, Waiting for the Interurban, and other works.

Waiting for the Interurban | Seattle Rain Edition

Waiting for the Interurban: Seattle Rain Edition
(photo by Xurxo Martinez)

When we stopped in Fremont on our recent visit we were pleased to stumble upon the Westcoast Kickball League 2012 Championship, which was both competitive and highly entertaining to watch.

Westcoast Kickball League 2012 Championship

Westcoast Kickball League 2012 Championship
(photo by Andy Pixel)

The entertainment continued when we reached Ballard, a historic neighbourhood with an abundance of beautiful brick buildings and great food and shopping. In Ballard we ran into a Christmas in July event and found Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses and elves all along Market Street.

Christmas in July, Ballard

Ballard treated us to a relaxing late afternoon and early evening. We enjoyed good tea and a too-long Scrabble game at Miro Tea and topped off our time in the neighbourhood with a delicious vegetarian Vietnamese dinner at Monkey Bridge Restaurant.

We departed Ballard on a city bus, which arrived promptly and got us to our transfer point perfectly on time so that we could immediately hop on another bus travelling to the Capitol Hill neighbourhood. We wrapped up the day at the Elliott Bay Book Company, which is probably our favourite bookstore after Powell’s in Portland.

We spent the Sunday of our Seattle weekend at Pike Place Market and a Mariners baseball game. We watched an exciting game and the tickets were very reasonably priced at about $13 apiece.

I hope it won’t be too long before we return to Seattle.

Cycling in Oregon

If you’re planning a cycling vacation this summer, consider Oregon as a destination. It’s easy to bring your bicycle on Amtrak since some of the Cascades trains provide onboard bike racks (these must be reserved in advance).

Oregon Love

Car-Free Corvallis posted a great and thorough review today of the brand new book Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Oregon by Ellee Thalheimer. The book sounds like a must-have item for anyone planning a cycling trip in Oregon. I haven’t read the book yet but I look forward to submitting a Suggest a Purchase form to Vancouver Public Library.

Cycling Sojourner

Oregon does a good job of making available cycling maps and other resources to help visitors navigate the state by bicycle.

Car-Free Corvallis also provides some detailed cycling routes and advice, including:

If you head to Oregon this summer I recommend that you make Corvallis one of your destinations, and you can use the Car-Free Corvallis guide to biking into Corvallis from the Albany Amtrak station.

Happy cycling in the Beaver State!