01.11.2011 - 24.11.2011 6 °C
The pace in Vancouver is much slower than Toronto, and it’s got that laid back feel to it whilst still being a city. On arriving at the airport we saw the great display of local totem poles. We catch Skytrain to downtown Waterfront station (for $7.50 each), for a short three block walk to our hotel, which was to become one of our favourite hotels on the North American leg of our trip. We score a twin queen bed room at the Ramada Downtown for CAD $78/night (plus tax) which includes a good breakfast. It was super quite and in an ideal location - almost in central Vancouver, and we like it so much we stay three weeks, broken only by a short trip to the Rocky Mountains.
One of the most noticeable things that stayed with me about Vancouver is the amount of begging. “Can I have a dollar; Can I have a cigarette; Can I buy a cigarette off you”: and so on. One woman abused me after I refused to part with a quarter (25c). Strangely, another woman stopped for her share of a potential handout when she overheard Miss Milk Carton, asking if she could have some money too.
Another cracked it when I refused to sell her a cigarette (I felt like asking if I looked like a corner store). I’m guessing because it’s one of the warmer places in Canada, it’s much easier to be homeless in a place that’s not minus 40 degrees in winter. That our hotel was next to a homeless shelter didn’t help, but the questions seemed incessant regardless of our location in the city. This issue will likely be a future blog topic (The ethics of feeding the locals?), once it’s got a more international flavour to it.
After a few months it’s actually tiring playing tourist every single day (yes, we can hear the collective sighs of indignation and see the rolled eyes at that statement from here!), so we had some wonderful do-nothing days in Vancouver. Weps found the unusually-shaped Vancouver Library (also a star in plenty of films including Battlestar Galactica), just a few blocks from us which was a great retreat with free internet.
A short downtown walk one day we run across our second film set. Looking more like the scene of an about-to-occur political interview on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, we notice a ‘Michigan News Van’, and stop to discuss the unusual aspect of that. “Robert Redford!” says Weps excitedly, and points to a white haired gentleman standing under the lights. I whip out my pocket camera and snaparoo! Get a great shot of the man himself, moments before we’re accosted by film staff advising we can’t take photos. We smugly move to the side of the set, and watch Rob don a baseball cap and walk anonymously with minder to a small vehicle, past dozens of people who are blissfully unaware of the star just metres from them. The name of the film is “The Company We Keep”. Apparently Vancouver is known as Canadian Hollywood, with the location often used for filming.
Behind the Art Gallery is the site of Occupy Vancouver – another collection of random tents, students and some homeless people.
Our stay in ‘Couver takes us to the Capilano Suspension bridge (free bus from the city). It’s 136 metres long and 70 metres above the Capilano River for beautiful views of red cedar forest. There’s also a great cliff walk taking you right along the edge of the river cliffs (including glass floor panels), and a great kids’ treehouse (and for big kids too), reminding me of Swiss Family Robinson.
We get tickets for an ice hockey game at Rogers Arena. The local Vancouver Canucks get walloped by Chicago Blackhawks. No fisty cuffs on the ice, but almost with the yobbos next to us drinking beer in the non-beer section (what were we thinking booking seats here?), who don’t notice they’ve spilled half theirs on me. Bugger. Now I gotta do washing.
Bizarrely, the game just stops when ads are shown on tv during televising of the game. There’s very polite stickers on the handrailings around our seats, asking everyone to sit back so those in the stalls above can see when the tiny puck disappears at a rate of knots into the corners. On leaving the arena, volunteers hand out brochures containing photos of those involved in the Stanley Cup riot from June 2011, when Vancouver lost to Boston and 140 people were injured and 101 arrested in the rioting that followed.
We take a day out of relaxing and catch the bus to beautiful Stanely Park – it’s 10% larger than New York’s Central Park and is a mix of man-made attractions (kiddy train, totem poles, seawall) and forested growth of Douglas Fur, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock and Spruce trees. I spot a wild holly shrub. We walk around Beaver Lake which joins up to the Pacific Ocean, and is one of two streams in central Vancouver where salmon actually return to spawn each year. A number of finch-like birds land on our hands, obviously used to being fed. We’re also very fortunate to watch the quirky behaviour of four wild river otters before they cautiously and quickly cross our path to disappear into the creek. There’s a large beaver dam in the middle of the lake, and some obvious beaver chews on trees around the lake.
Winding our way to the seawall, past the nine-o-clock cannon (an 1816 cannon which fires, at nine o’clock each evening), and back towards our hotel there are wonderful views of the Vancouver skyline. We stop to watch several sea planes take off and land (should that be water?). We pass Dead man’s Island (originally a local native tree-burial site and then a quarantine station for those with smallpox), now the location of a Naval reserve base. Past the lovely timber 1886 Vancouver Rowing Club building, million dollar yachts and motor boats, the 2010 Winter Olympics flame site and eventually back ‘home’.
Whilst in ‘Couver we also visit the Dr Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden which is an unusual attraction for a Canadian City, where we try some green tea and Chinese calligraphy. Continuing on the asian theme, we sample unusual but tasty Japadogs for lunch, which are hotdogs with various Japanese toppings including seaweed, grated daikon, bonito flakes and plenty of other Japanese food items we have no idea about.
A visit to Davey Street with it’s pink painted bus stops and rubbish bins, and a large and thriving community garden on the way, and great retro theatres in Vancouver’s theatre district on our return.
A quick trip to the top of Vacouver’s Harbour Centre Tower for great 360 degree views of the city at sunset, with views over Coal Harbour, Lion’s Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and snow capped volcanic Mt Barker.
We're off to the Rockies!