Great Layover: Vancouver International Airport

US arrivals hall
Courtesy of YVR

Ugh. Layovers. We’ve all had to while away the hours at airports, but regular travelers know that every so often, a layover can be more respite than penance. Such is the case with Vancouver International Airport, a modern marvel with art and architecture to die for.

In addition to high-tech design that includes soaring ceilings, lots of skylights, and sculpture from the region’s indigenous tribes, there’s a leafy, indoor aquarium/park area ideal for destressing, and loads of boutiques and food outlets that are a notch above the standard airport fare.

What makes YVR (the airport code) equally distinctive, however, is the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel. Sure, other hotels have airports, but have you ever stayed in them? What you usually get is a musty, generic, not terribly hygenic, overpriced room, and a complete lack of serenity or style. The Fairmont, by contrast, is an oasis not only for guests, but travelers just passing through on layover. Read on for the best ways to spend your layover at YVR (for once, you can hope it’s a long one).

vancouver airport parkCourtesy of YVR

Some people like to get their layover exercise by strolling the airport shops, and YVR doesn’t disappoint. Be sure to pick up some pure maple syrup, maple cream cookies (delish) and smoked salmon in Duty Free or at one of the specialty shops. But if you’re looking for a serious work-out, consider dropping $15 to use the Fairmont’s health club, pool, and jacuzzi.

Afterward, soothe sore or travel-fatigued muscles at the luxe Absolute Spa. In addition to massage, there are the usual pampering facials, body treatments, and mani-pedi’s. Or perhaps you’d prefer to unwind over a drink (Canadian whiskey, anyone?). Hit up the swanky Jetside Bar or GlobeYVR restaurant, which has floor-to-ceiling, sound-proof views of the runway. Jets literally take off from just yards away. And yes, there is great airport food: think creative, seasonal PNW fare, with some ingredients (notably, honey, herbs, and greens) sourced from the Fairmont’s own hives and gardens (most of the chain urban farms on their rooftops; this being an airport, a separate farm is located nearby).

exterior fairmont vancouver airportCourtesy of Fairmont Vancouver Hotel
Should your layover require an overnight, business meeting, or other function, the Fairmont YVR is definitely the place to be. It’s also convenient to downtown, because the clean, speedy Canada Line public transit system connects to the airport. Be sure to take advantage of the transit by visiting the outstanding public market on Granville Island (which will require a short cab ride or walk from the rail system, FYI), or hopping off in buzzing Yaletown, home to Vancouver’s trendiest shopping and dining. Outdoorsy types will want to connect to a bus that will take them to sprawling Stanley Park, with its miles of hiking trails.

The 300+ rooms at the Fairmont YVR all overlook the runways, either for arrivals or departures (again, soundproof glass makes for stunning, yet quiet, visuals). Some rooms are equipped with telescopes; one floor is reserved for hypoallergenic bedding and skin products. Other rooms are pet-friendly. The natural light is plentiful, the bedding plush, the bathrooms cushy (suites come with hand-hewn jade from a British Columbian quarry). With accommodations like this, layovers are…fun.

room at fairmont vancouver airport
Courtesy of Fairmont Vancouver Airport

Vancouver itself is a progressive, outdoorsy city that takes full advantage of its stunning location nestled in the Coast & Mountains region. But even if you never make it past the airport, it’s sure to leave you with a positive impression that leaves you longing to return.

Layover Report: Where To Eat At Miami, Lima, And Bogota International Airports

cuban foodI just returned from three weeks in Bolivia and Paraguay. In that time, I had 12 flights, five of which were required to get me from my home in Colorado to La Paz. Now why, you may ask, in this age of expedited air travel, does it take so many connections to travel 4,512 miles (or nine hours by air)? Budget, baby.

I’m also horrifically flight phobic, so for me to fly various Third World carriers from Miami to Bogota to Lima to La Paz (and then La Paz to Lima to Asuncion, and Asuncion back to Lima en route to Miami, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth to Denver), is probably the best example I can provide of just how much I love to travel. I really, really, really love it. I also really love having Xanax on hand when I fly.

One of the reasons I didn’t mind my layovers too much is that I happen to adore most South American airports, especially Jorge Chavez International in Lima (so many cools shops, free snackies, great Peruvian food!). And since one of the things I most like to do in South America is eat, I used my downtime to see if there was anything worth writing about, foodwise. Indeed there was, and so I present to you my findings. Feel free to send me some Xanax in return (kidding! I’ll take empanadas instead).

Miami International Airport
It’s hardly a secret that the Concourse D location of Miami’s beloved La Carreta chain rocks, especially in a sea of Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. Best of all, it opens at 5 a.m., so when I was rushing to make my 5:30 a.m. flight to Bogota, I was able to grab a jamon y queso sandwich en route. If time isn’t an issue, sit down and feast upon Cuban-style roast pork, stuffed green plantains or fufu con masitas, or a medianoche sandwich.
empanadasJorge Chavez International Airport, Lima
It’s all about Manacaru, the token Peruvian eatery in this gorgeous, progressive airport (they even recycle and post about water conservation). Every time I layover in Lima, I make a beeline for this full-service restaurant in International Departures, and order some empanadas and suspiro limon. Also known as suspiro a la limena; this achingly sweet, meringue-and-condensed milk pudding is the official dessert of Lima.

It’s no Gastón Acurio restaurant, but it’s pretty damned good for airport food; even the ceviche is sparkling fresh in my experience. It’s also great for when you’re dashing between flights, as they’re centrally located between gates, and have an entire case of grab-and-go.

They are open pretty much around the clock, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and coffee.

El Dorado International Airport, Bogota
Never having been to Colombia, despite repeated attempts to plan trips, I was desperate for a taste of the national cuisine when I landed in Bogota. Thank god for the (wait for it) Juan Valdez Cafe. I happily resolved my caffeine jones, and ordered up some arepitas, mini-versions of arepas. These corn-and-cheese cakes are Colombia’s most iconic street food, and I was thrilled to be able to try them despite being unable to leave the airport. Gracias, Juan.

[Photo credits: Cuban sandwich, Flickr user star5112; empanadas, Flickr user jules:stonesoup]

LAX Theme Building restaurant gets top honors

LAX Theme Building restaurant


Encounter Restaurant
, housed in Los Angeles iconic Theme Building was named a top spot on the list of best airport restaurants by Frommers.com recently.

Frommers.com placed the airport restaurant on its list of top ten favorite list calling it, “… a 1960s Star Trek set gone Technicolor, serving ‘art-food’ (American classics in oddball visual arrangements) that’s simultaneously hip and kid-friendly.” when asked by USAToday.

But Frommer’s is just the latest in a string of high rankings for Encounter.
Esquire.com placed Encounter on its list of Ten Best Airport Restaurants in the World. Esquire, whose list includes One Flew South at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport and Piquillo at JFK added “With its Star Trek-meets-Austin Powers decor (not to mention menu) and a lighting design by former Disney Imagineers, this recently refurbished restaurant has to be seen to be believed.”

Food and Wine has also given Encounter the nod, including it on its “Ultimate Airport Dining Survival Guide: Best Airport Restaurants noting “It’s home to this space-age restaurant, known for 360-degree views, stylings stolen from The Jetsons and California-style dishes like organic salads and mushroom ravioli with grilled asparagus”

The 50-year-old landmark LAX Theme Building, recently finished a three-year, $12.3-million renovation, which included a unique seismic retrofit involving the installation of a rooftop Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) containing 600 tons of steel (equivalent to the weight of two Boeing 747s), which was the first time in the U.S. that a TMD was installed at the top of a building.

The restaurant was created and is operated by a joint-venture partnership between Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services, Inc. and Connie Bass, a Los Angeles entrepreneur and operator of the Ultimate Symphony Event Planners, a full-service event planning and gourmet catering service, and Cookies By Connie #1. As Director of Outside Sales and Marketing for the Encounter Restaurant she is responsible for local marketing efforts, community outreach and media relations. As a side dish, the Los Angeles native positions the restaurant as an entity for airport travelers, as well as for the diverse communities surrounding the airport.

Encounter’s hours are: Lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 7 days a week. Dinner: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The observation deck is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is located at 209 World Way at LAX. For more information and reservations, call 310-215-5151.

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Eateries near an airport

We’ve covered the best places to eat inside certain airports, and have given a big nod to the In-N-Out Burger just a mile from LAX Airport in Los Angeles, but here are other dining options in case you have a layover and want to find food that’s worth a bit of effort to get to.

In this Washington Post article, Joe Brancatelli gives a rundown of major airports in the U.S. and where he heads to eat if he has some time. In-N-Out Burger is one of his suggestions.

Here are the first 10 of his other suggestions, along with their distance from the airport. If you’re flying out of one of these cities, I’d also consider these as ideas for where to eat before you head off on an airplane. There’s nothing like a good meal to help face the uncertainties of air travel. Eating close to the airport helps food digest instead of attempting a mad dash across a city to catch a plane.

  • AtlantaThe Brake Pad. This is a converted gas station that serves up “pub grub.” It’s four miles from the airport.
  • Chicago— Here are two suggestions for Chicago-style pizza that are not at O’Hare airport. The Rosemont branch of Giordano’s is four miles from the airport and the Park Ridge branch of Lou Malnati’s is seven miles. If you’re heading to or away from Midway, try Giordano’s on South Cicero. It borders the airport. About five miles away is Lou Malnati’s on West Ogden.
  • Charlotte–Eight miles from the Charlotte/Douglas Airport is Villa Antonio on Southern Blvd. where you can find a pork sandwich, Italian style.
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth–Brancatelli suggests taking at 10 mile drive for the Mexican food at Via Real in Las Colinas.
  • Denver–I concur with Brancatelli about this airport. There is not much close by. He did find Blue Bay Asian Café and recommends the Thai food and the dumplings.
  • Detroit–To find good food here, you don’t need to go any further than the Westin hotel that’s connected to the McNamara terminal at the airport. Dema’s serves decent food any time of day.
  • Honolulou–If you can call ahead, try Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar. It’s only a mile from the airport’s runways. I’d say you can walk, but it might be further than it sounds.
  • HoustonChez Nous is in a converted Pennecostal church and dishes out French food worth the seven mile drive from Bush Intercontinental Airport.
  • Los Angeles–Along with the In-n-Out Burger, Brancatelli suggests Mariposas at the Hacienda Hotel for Mexican dishes and breakfast. It’s only two miles from LAX.
  • Minneapolis/St. PaulCafé Levain, about eight miles from the airport only serves dinner.

For Brancatelli’s suggestions for New York/Newark, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and San Francisco, click here. [The photo is from Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar.]