It’s time for the next adventure. A new country, a new continent even. This is the first time I have been to North America. Over the next few weeks I will be visiting a corner of Canada and a small part of the US. I am starting in Vancouver.
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It’s a pretty long trip from Adelaide, Australia to Vancouver, Canada, but I think I might have found the best way to get between the two cities. We flew with Air New Zealand, with only one stop in Auckland along the way. Everything was perfectly okay, and with a stop that was only an hour or so, we were in Vancouver only 19 hours after leaving home.
These were the first long haul flights I’ve done in ages that weren’t in business class (thank you frequent flyer points!) so I expected a long and torturous second flight. Yes, it was long, 13 hours, but it was not as torturous as I expected. The food was actually edible, and the seat not too uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep a lot, which is not surprising, but other than the whole “being in economy on a long haul flight” which is never fun, it was perfectly bearable.
One thing that was a bit annoying that we hadn’t thought about was that we were transporting almost a whole computer broken down into it’s parts and bubble wrapped in our carry on. We are visiting our daughter Bailey who lives in Vancouver and this was her computer from home. The annoying part was that each time we went through airport security we had to pull everything out of the suitcase, seperate it all into four or five trays to put it through the scanners (along with all our usual carry on gear!) then repack it all again. We informed Bailey on arrival we are never transporting a computer for her again!
To get from Vancouver airport into the city centre it’s an easy train ride. It cost $9.25CAD for the trip and took about half an hour. It was a short walk from there to the hostel we are staying in, HI Vancouver Central. There seems to be two popular hostels right in downtown Vancouver and this is one of them (the other is literally across the street!).
The location could not be any more central and it is right in the middle of the party district. Perfect for the 20-something backpacker, but how was this going to go for us? We had a private room with ensuite which was a decent size. The building was once a hotel, so there are a lot of private or small rooms here, almost all of them with an ensuite. The whole place is a little on the older side, but it was clean and had good facilities.
We had arrived in Vancouver at 2:30pm, so once we had cleared immigration (which was automated and had no lineup), made our way into the city, showered and tidied up, it was pretty much time to meet up with Bailey after work. Since it was way too many hours since I had slept properly, we grabbed a quick dinner before heading back to our hostel for an early night.
And what could be better for our first meal in Canada than Poutine! We went to Smokes Poutinerie a local chain that has stores all over the country, including one close to our hostel. Poutine might not look the best, but it’s tasty enough. It’s a lot like what we called “loaded fries” back in Australia. It’s not something I would regularly put on my menu (fairly sure there’s more calories in one serve than I eat in a whole day at home!) but it was good for a quick meal.
After a good sleep we were raring to go in the morning, which was lucky since we had a big day planned. If you have read about any of my other travels you will know I love free walking tours, so the first thing on my list was not one but three different ones here, all booked with Tour Guys, the first company to run these free walking tours here. Our first tour was on Granville Street & Gastown, two of the most central areas in Vancouver.
This tour gave us a good historical perspective of the city. I was surprised to find that the city of Vancouver has only been around since 1886. There had been some smaller settlements in the area beforehand, but it was only then that it all came together as a proper city. It’s not often I come across a place younger than my own city!
There are so many parallels between the history of Canada (or at least Vancouver because I don’t know much about the east coast) and Australia. Not only were the timelines similar, but both countries were settled by the British and we both have horrible histories when it comes to the indigenous populations.
The area of Gastown today is one of cobbled streets and trendy eateries but in the past it was the working class area. It’s renowned for it’s steam clock, which, while seeming old, is only a relatively modern addition to add to the historic atmosphere. In fact many of the adornments are relatively new. As our guide said, the buildings are old, but everything else has been added in the last fifty years to make the area more appealing to visitors and locals alike.
Our tour ended in Gastown, and we used the opportunity to eat at a popular restaurant called Nuba. They do Lebanese food, and it was some of the tastiest I have eaten outside of the Middle East (although their pita bread was not great!). The serves are big, so keep this in mind when you are choosing between a small, medium or large plate. I had a small plate and it was plenty. Simon and Bailey had a medium plate each and couldn’t finish it.
Our afternoon walking tour was through the Downtown & Waterfront areas. This tour looked at a lot of the architecture and buildings in the centre, from some magnificent hotels to the first Anglican Church, the stunning Marine Building (my favourite!) and then some of the recent buildings such as the Convention Centre built for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
We learnt about some of the artworks throughout the city too, including this Dali statue “Space Venus” that is on loan. Only a few weeks ago the large golden egg that sat on her torso was stolen. No one seems to know what has happened to it and as time passes it seems less likely it will be returned. The egg is worthless in itself, and without it, this multi-million dollar piece of art is ruined.
Another of my favourites was this piece below by the indigenous artist Susan Point called “Human Spirit”. We saw a few of her pieces during the tour, including the beautiful stained glass windows in the church. This piece though is in the underpass between the new convention buildings construction of the Olympics. It represents a traditional Salish greeting with arms outstretched.
We ended the tour on the waterfront right near another piece of artwork called “The Drop”. Also created for the Olympics, this was intended to represent not only the watery location of Vancouver, but the numerous rainy days here each year. When deciding on the colour, a strange element was used – the piles of sulphur at one of the industrial sites on the other side of the water (you can just see them to the left of The Drop in the photo below). The blue of the drop is the perfect complementary colour of the yellow sulphur!
Next up we decided to hire bikes and ride the seawall loop around Stanley Park. It’s about 10km to go all the way around, and if you don’t stop it will take about an hour. But if you stop to check out things like the Totem Poles, the amazing views and perhaps a seal or two, then it will more likely take you around two hours.
We had almost completed the whole lap when my cycling inexperience (or maybe it was jet lag, who can tell) caused an accident. I’m not actually sure exactly how the sequence of events began, but they ended up with me colliding with a wall and ending up on the ground. It didn’t feel like anything other than a typical tumble, until I was told my face was bleeding quite badly. I had in fact scratched my cheek bad enough for it to be dripping with blood for a minute or two! Another family stopped and offered help. The mother had a full first aid kit with her, including bandaids and some disinfectant gel! If by some strange chance this person reads this, thank you so much!
The scratches are only superficial, but walking around with big scratches on my face was not part of my holiday plans. I must have landed on my knee too, because it was also grazed and very badly bruised. Lets just say this was a bike ride to remember. And in case you are wondering, yes, I got back on and completed the ride!
There is so much more to do in Stanley Park and we hope to get back there again later in our trip to check out some of the other attractions, in particular the Aquarium.
We had intended to go out for dinner, but instead we went back to Bailey’s place and ordered in from Yamato Sushi. Vancouver has dozens, if not hundreds, of sushi places, and almost all of them are decent. This was one I had seen recommended and I was happy with what we got.
On our second day in Vancouver we started the morning with our third free walking tour, this time to Granville Island.
Even though it’s not actually an island since it is connected to the mainland, this is Canada’s second most popular tourist attraction (after Niagara Falls). Originally an industrial area, it’s now been turned into a hub for artists and the community, There are lots of pieces of artwork throughout, but possibly the most well known, and popular, attraction are the markets.
Development of the island is ongoing as there is talk of extending the hours into the evenings and installing a lift to make access easier. Right now to get here from Downtown visitors need to walk all the way along the bridge that passes over the island and them double back underneath it. A lift from the bridge directly down to the island would make it much more simple to visit.
The Granville Island Markets were full of every food item possible. We squeezed through the crowd to see some of the local produce and specialty foods. The markets are full of colour and sound, and I can see why they are so popular.
After the tour was over we made our way back into the markets to get us some of the local delicacy – Candied Salmon. There were two varieties, one was maple and the other brown sugar. We got the maple version, and while it might sound a bit gross, it’s actually delicious!
We had lunch at the nearby Bridges restaurant which our guide had recommended for the best fish and chips in town. We tried them, and also got a salmon pizza to share between three of us, finally remembering that the meals here are huge. Bailey loves fish and chips at home in Australia, and declared this the best she had eaten in Canada, so we were happy with our guide’s recommendation.
In the afternoon we caught a local bus to the Museum of Anthropology. It’s a little bit away from the city centre, but it was simple to get there. The museum is all about the indigenous First Nations people of the area and has some great displays on their totem poles and other items. Some of the traditional masks in the museum were absolutely amazing – I have no idea how these were able to be worn because some were up to two metres long!
During our visit there were also exhibits on ceramics and puppet theatres from different cultures. I presume these are temporary exhibits that change over time but I didn’t see anything to confirm this.
We decided to have a quiet evening after a couple of big days and knowing we have a relatively early morning tomorrow too. Instead of going out to dinner we went to a local supermarket called Urban Fare which has a great selection of prepackaged meals like salads and sushi. The also have a cafe area for sandwiches and other light melas too. Well worth considering if you are sticking to a budget but want some healthy, fresh food in Vancouver.
In the morning we are off to Vancouver Island for the next leg of our trip.
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