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Tourism Vancouver provided my airfare to Vancouver since I was one of TBEX’s speakers. They booked me on a 7:30 a.m. Continental nonstop flight from . Since I have status on Continental’s partner airline, United, I was able to get a (or exit row) for nothing. But they don’t make them available for free until 24 hours in advance (they are available to anyone for an extra charge – prices start at $89). To ensure I was comfortable on the , I set my alarm the day before so I could check in exactly 24 hours in advance. I did and made a rookie mistake. My first choice was an exit-row aisle, but only windows and middle seats were available, so I grabbed the bulkhead aisle since it didn’t have anyone in the middle seat (the flight was wide open). I thought I was going to be chillin’–until bad weather moved in the night before and caused a lot of cancellations, so the flight ended up being full. To make matters worse, a man took the middle seat with his . Yikes! I’m glad I didn’t pay for that seat, as I would’ve been livid. The extra space turned out to be the opposite–the kid was all over me. Lesson learned: Don’t choose the bulkhead, because they usually assign those seats to families (there were two more screaming kids across the aisle). Remember: Kids can’t sit in exit rows.

Observations from the Flight
-The view of once you exit the tunnel in New Jersey is spectacular. -When I checked in an upgrade to first class was available for $819.
-You can’t print boarding passes in advance since it’s an international flight.
-I ran into a bunch of at Newark airport. Most of them were going to the conference, but I also randomly saw two other friends (not traveling together) on the plane. How crazy is that? FYI: In the photo is @MikeBarish @LostGirlsWorld @Jparkernycpr.
– doesn’t have Internet on its planes (yet), but they do have 600 channels of . You can watch it for free (and they give everyone earbuds, unlike most airlines who charge $2 for them) up until the moment the plane takes off. Then you have to slide your credit card. For flights less than two hours it’s $5.99, and for flights more than two hours long it’s $8.99.

Vancouver (YVR) Airport
has to be one of the most in North America. The only problem I have with it is they almost always have a long immigration line. We waited 25 minutes, which doesn’t seem to be bad, but they can do better. Tip: To avoid the long line, apply for the . The problem I have with Canada is that their border agents are the least friendly on the planet. And the agent I got this time didn’t do anything to change my opinion.

YVR’s Information Desk
Right outside customs was a cool dude wearing a Canucks jersey and manning the . He told us all our options to get to downtown, and the best turned out to be the train.

Go Canucks Go
We quickly learned how crazed and excited the city of Vancouver was excited about having their team in the Stanley Cup Finals. Not only were airport officials and half the train passengers wearing jerseys, but “Go Canucks Go” banners were hanging from the , and there were signs and on , buses, , and else they could stick it. Practically every store sells , and even Tim Hortons has a “.

Train to City
To get into the city took the city’s that was built for the 2010 Olympic Games. From the airport it costs $8.75CAD (US$8.99), but returning it’s only $3.75. There are in the stations, and they are easy to use. The takes 25 minutes to go to the very last stop (), and they depart every four to seven minutes. FYI: My buddy Spud took a taxi–it cost him $32CAD from the airport and $29CAD to return and took about 20 minutes with no traffic, but according to the cabbie, at rush hour it can take twice that long. FYI: The train operates basically on the honor system, because they don’t always check to see if you have a ticket. They didn’t on the way into the city, but the police did get on and check on the way back. A woman didn’t have a ticket, and she got pulled off the train and then fined (I think). For see or call the Vancouver public transit authority TransLink at 604-953-3333.

Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver
I must’ve come out of the wrong door when I got off at Waterfront, because returning to the airport took me half the time. My hotel () is just a short four-block walk to/from the station. But for some crazy reason it took me a lot longer, and I learned the hard way that there are four different all within a few of each other in downtown Vancouver. That’s right; I to three out of the four to check in. What a fool I am–I know–but that’s why I’m telling you, so you don’t make the same stupid mistake. Lesson learned: Read the hotel’s whole name, not just the brand name, before waiting in line at check-in. For more information on Fairmont Hotels see .

Fairmont Pacific Rim
A huge perk of being a speaker at TBEX is being put up in a swanky hotel. I (and a few other speakers) were assigned to the 5-star 377-room , which is the city’s best hotel (according to my local friends). The Fairmont Pacific Rim was built for the 2010 Olympics and is in a perfect location in the historic port and financial district. It’s particularly perfect for those doing business at the convention center, because it’s directly across the street and they even have an to get to/from in case it’s raining or freezing.

Fairmont Pacific Rim Check-In
Check-in took just a couple of minutes, and a cute, friendly, beautiful wearing a checked me in.

Fairmont Hotel Tip
The best tip I learned about Fairmont Hotels this trip is that if you sign up to their Fairmont’s President’s Club (Here’s the link), which takes all of two minutes and costs nothing, you will receive free Internet during your stay, a late check-out, and a whole lot more. Here are some of the other perks:

  • Complimentary local calls and no service charge on toll-free calls
  • Complimentary health-club access (excludes spas)
  • Complimentary shoeshine (city-center hotels)
  • Daily room delivery of local or national newspaper
  • Complimentary use of TaylorMade golf clubs at select hotels
  • Fairmont Fit (in-room delivery of Adidas shoes and apparel, yoga mats, stretch bands, and use of MP3 player)
  • Private reception desk, offering express check-in and check-out

Now who’s your favorite travel writer?

My Room at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
I was in , and I was kind of shocked when I opened the door for the first time because it basically put me in the of the room at the foot of the bed. It was cool but different, as that’s not the typical hotel room entrance.

The next three slides are my observations that include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-The rooms are beautifully decorated with naturally inspired materials, comfortable furnishings, and state-of-the-art technology.
-I especially loved the white marble bathroom and and above .
-The bed and pillows are super comfortable, and I slept like a champ all three nights.
-I had a of the ocean, mountains, float planes, and the . Every morning I would watch the come into . Very cool.
-Electric curtains, huge , nightlight in bathroom.
-Each night I had a different : my favorite was the made with dried cherries from Okanagan and a splash of cherry liquor.
-I worked off some of the calories in the hotel’s state-of-the-art (Techno Gym machines) on the fifth floor.
-I didn’t visit their outdoor pool with cabanas and fire pits, or their Willow Stream Vancouver spa, but I heard they were great too.
-Each night the maids leave a .

The Bad at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-Initially I had trouble signing on to the . Instead of sending someone up to figure out what was wrong, they transferred me to their outside Internet provider helpline. After hearing the recording in English, French, and Chinese, and being put on hold for a while, I hung up. I figured it out myself–I was trying to register in Safari, and when I tried it in internet Explorer (IE) it worked and was fast. Note: None of my other friends had Internet problems.
-The door rattles when someone else in a nearby room opens their door. It wasn’t just my room, either, as I could hear the neighbor’s door do the same. Solution: Wedge a or your underwear in the door when you shut it–that does the trick.
-The windows are a tad thin. I could hear the planes take off (which is not annoying) and a street party during the day, but didn’t hear a peep at night.
-I loved the fact that I could open and close the , but the different switch pads around the room weren’t uniform, so I had to get up to close or open the blinds (only one side of the bed had the curtain option, but both sides had light functions). I also didn’t like the fact that they have on them–when I sleep I need a room to be pitch black.
-At night when I would return to my room, the TV would be on with soft music. Every time I turned it off it had a slight high-pitched hum.

The Ugly at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-The only thing that was a problem was when in-room dining knocked on my door and then called my room even though I had the . I was napping, but I couldn’t really get mad at them because they were delivering a sweet present (a to wear to their party). However, what they should’ve done is slid a note under the door alerting me to call the front desk.

Fairmont Gold Lounge
What’s really sweet is that I was given access to the so I could experience it. It’s located on the 20th floor and is for rooms on the 20th and 21st. It’s basically a hotel within a hotel. They a complimentary continental breakfast (7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekends) and complimentary cocktail canapés each night (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The lounge is beautifully decorated with indoor and outdoor seating with and incredible views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park, and Coal Harbour. I didn’t have the , but the breakfast was top notch–I loved from their to chicken sausage, , and bread (including ). The only thing that was just OK was the . See .

ORU Restaurant
The Fairmont Pacific Rim also has three different dining options: ORU, an authentic Pan-Asian bistro; Giovane, an Italian-inspired deli and café; and the , which has seven a week. I went to ORU for lunch with the folks from Vail Resorts, and although the food was good (I had ), the service was slow. , 1038 Canada Place, Vancouver, BC, Canada; Tel.: +1 604-695-5445.

As I mentioned, I was in town for , which is the world’s largest annual , writers, influencers, and content creators. It was started three years ago by Kim Mance as an informal get together, and it’s turned into the go-to travel blogger convention. I spoke at last year’s New York and Copenhagen conferences and was happy to be back this year. My panel was on “” – With an ever-changing new media landscape and focus on influencer-personalities, it can be hard to verify who’s legit.

FYI: Next year’s TBEX will be in , on June 15-17, 2012 (better register early, since the last two have sold out months in advance). There’s also going to be a TBEX meetup at TMS in Oklahoma City in September, and the European TBEX will be in Prague in November.

Speakers’ Dinner
Basically, here’s how the weekend went. The first night the (7 from the Fairmont Pacific Rim) the speakers’ dinner, and they made it a Canucks theme at the last minute since it was coinciding with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Vancouver Canucks were in it. They haven’t ever won the cup in their 40-year history, and a Canadian team hasn’t won the cup since 1993. That’s why they sent jerseys to everyone’s rooms, and they had , , rally towels, pucks, and scarves flowing abundantly just like the alcohol. As if that wasn’t enough, they four of their –one from each nearby Fairmont hotel–making and teaching (for those that wanted) us how to create their different treats like , , and beans, cheese with honey… it was so good! The party went from 6 to 8 p.m.

Vancouver Street Party
The speakers’ dinner ended at the same time as the game, so the streets were literally filled with (the Canucks won 1-0). There were watching it on the big screen just four blocks away, so by the time got out there was a river of people. 99.9 percent of them were , screaming, honking horns, and taking … From afar I saw a dorky 15-year-old yelling and pushing down newspaper boxes, but he was followed by a who picked up after him. FYI: Everyone was chanting “We want the cup!,” and most were wearing Canucks jerseys or T-shirts. Side note: That night and the following days, I smelled a lot of marijuana–people were smoking it freely out in the open. I don’t think it’s legal, but the cops must turn their heads?

TBEX Kick-Off Party at the ArtShow
After partaking in the street party, I headed to the , which was hosting the TBEX ’11 Kick-Off Party (sponsored by , , and ). The place was filled with almost all 600 attendees and had three rooms of food and open bar. It was great to catch up with and meet new ones I only knew from Twitter.

Good Morning, Beautiful British Columbia
When I woke up wide awake at 5 a.m. (I was on East Coast time), I pressed the “open blinds” button and voilà–I was treated to gorgeous views of British Columbia. It got light quick, and then the started to roll in. Between 7 and 8 a.m. the started taking off.

Vancouver Convention Centre
TBEX was held at the (that’s the correct spelling in Canada). are East and West buildings, and we were in West, which has a . It’s supposedly one of the most in the world, but they could make it even more so by eliminating the paper towels in the bathrooms and replacing them with those high-powered hand dryers. What I , the , is that in the of the they have a lovely gigantic that hangs proudly from the ceiling.

TBEX Seminars
I won’t write about all the , but had some really good ones. I enjoyed Evelyn Hannon’s () inspiring opening speech, ‘s (from ), and ‘s () “State of the Travel Blogging Union address,” just to name a few. What was also interesting is the Lottery Panel, where they drew from a pool of topics and a barrel of names of experts in the field that were submitted by attendees. The moderator for whatever topic was , and he jokingly said to make it even more difficult (like it wasn’t hard enough to moderate already), “I will blindfold myself.” He did, and it was hilarious–he finally took it off about 15 minutes in when he realized he couldn’t see people in the audience asking questions.

Steamworks Brewing Co.
Saturday night was filled with parties. The first one I attended was the () speakers’ dinner five at (, 375 Water St.). It’s located in the section of Vancouver, and their on the bottom floor was a lot of . The restaurant taste tests from their and a variety of food. Their was just OK, their –like or pineapple and brie–were off the hook. FYI: Steamworks gets its name from the famous Gastown steam line that runs through the premises.

Men of TBEX
Afterwards I reluctantly over to the for Diamond PR’s “” calendar photo shoot party. That’s right–how bizarre is that? When I asked why there wasn’t a “Women of TBEX” instead, they said they wanted something funny, and there’s nothing funny about girls in bikinis. Amen to that. Travel blogger made the party when he busted out his skimpy blue banana hammock with a mustache drawn on the front. They a bunch of food including , which according to my buddy is the trending dish in Vancouver along with the food trucks.

Feastro Food Truck
Speaking of food trucks, the following a large portion of TBEX attendees hit (), which was parked a couple blocks from the convention center. Usually on Sundays there aren’t any trucks, so we got lucky–or was it the truck owner who was lucky–he made a killing. Check out this line to get their , steak, chicken, and pulled-pork tacos. also got a side order of ($5.50CAD) or frites ($3.50CAD). Here’s a link to and note that they do take credit cards. FYI: I had the –slow smoked, sweet rub, Henry Reed organic greens, guacamole, refried beans, hand-cut salsa ($7CAD). Yum!

Vij’s Restaurant
I didn’t go to TBEX’s closing party because it was on a boat cruise and I didn’t want to be stuck for three hours. It turned out to be only two hours and supposedly was a great time. I would’ve felt like I missed out, but I got to experience one of Vancouver’s best restaurants with a couple friends I haven’t seen in a years and my buddy . We dined with and , both well-respected travel and food writers.

Vij’s Restaurant is in a residential neighborhood and doesn’t look like it’s anything special from the , it has been called the best Indian restaurant in the WORLD by the New York Times, and there’s always a long wait to get in unless you go real late or early. FYI: What’s cool is Vij doesn’t let anyone jump the line, not even stars, and many have gone–including Martha Stewart.

opened in 1994, and for locals to still be willing to sit around their bar waiting for a table for 90 minutes or more says a lot. Vij’s does not serve typical Indian cuisine. They avoid using a tandoor oven, but they keep their spices and cooking techniques Indian—from all regions of India—while using meats, seafood, and produce that are locally available.

were starving when we arrived at 6:22 p.m., but they wouldn’t let us order apps from their menu until we were seated in the restaurant instead of the bar area. What’s nice, though, is they continuously came around with trays of that us up pretty quickly. The dishes are –appetizers are around $13 CAD and mains around $28CAD. They do bring you as much and rice as you like free of charge. We ordered (naturally raised) sautéed in tamarind ($13.50 CAD), , and bell pepper fritters with spiced strained yogurt and baked jackfruit ($13 CAD). For our mains we split black pepper-marinated with cilantro, mint, and creamy curry ($28), braised in yogurt, fenugreek, and cumin curry ($27 CAD), and and thigh with roasted garlic and cashews and tangy tomato curry ($28 CAD). FYI: To get there from my hotel was a 10-minute $12 CAD taxi ride. , open 7 days a week for dinner only (from 5:30 p.m.), 1480 W. 11th Ave., Vancouver, BC; Tel.: +1 604-736-6664.

Good to Know: If you don’t want to wait, Vij has a more casual (less expensive) restaurant right next door called (1488 W. 11th Ave., Vancouver, BC; Tel.: +1 604-736-5711).

More #TBEX Pics & Stories From Other Attendees

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Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

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