Vancouver seems to have become the darling of the Pacific Rim. It was the ultimate destination of our cross Canada train ride, and easily fulfilled my wildest expectations. Arriving after a trek across the entire continent was an excellent reminder of how isolated this cosmopolitan city is from eastern Canada, and therefore, how much more remarkable.
We had spent a week in Vancouver fifteen years ago, and remembered it with delight.
The last twenty years have seen a huge influx of Asian population. Thousands of Hong Kong Chinese prepared for the turnover by purchasing million dollar condominiums in Vancouver. This has served to swell the population, and make Vancouver the best Oriental restaurant venue outside of the Orient itself.
Couple that influx of people with the disciplined tall northern Europeans who were the original settlers makes an extremely useful combination of thoroughly attractive ambitious but very polite people. Everyone waits for the “walk” light. They thank the bus driver as they exit, and he thanks them. They are unflaggingly polite (not just “yes”, but “Of course you can,” in answer to a request.) Vancouver is a city on the upswing, with vibrant new businesses and buildings, AND exciting restaurants and hotels.
On a par with Cape Town and San Francisco for a breathtaking natural setting, Vancouver has Grouse Mountain and skiing a few minutes from downtown, the remarkable 1000 acre Stanley Park, and water all around.
We arrived (off the Trans-Canada train) at dawn. By the time we exited the station, the rain had stopped as if on cue, and the sky was light. Our leader, the amazing Mr. Boyd, had thoughtfully arranged breakfast for us at a place called Milestones on The Beach, since hotel rooms would not be ready at 7 A.M.
We alighted at this Clorox clean spot at something like 8 am, and found ourselves overlooking English Bay, a lovely sheltered venue with wide views of the beach and the container ships patiently waiting to get in to the main harbor. For us weary travelers, it was nirvana, rather like mindlessly watching the television news while trying to wake up. At the curved beach directly across the street, very few joggers were yet stirring.
Huge glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice were deposited before us, followed by giant plates of cooked food: scrambled eggs, bacon, twice cooked potatoes topped with sour cream and scallions, huge slabs of toast. The plates were so big and so full that one of our group actually screamed. (No, it wasn’t me, it was my college roommate.) It was a most welcome initiation to the largesse which Vancouver has to offer, even though I could barely make a dent.
Looking out over English Bay reminded me of our last trip to this rewarding city. I remembered it as being very “local”, a neighborhood spot where the venerable Hotel Sylvia still holds its place away from usual tourist attractions.
Later, we were deposited into our elegant rooms at the Waterfront Centre Hotel, which did not exist on my last trip to Vancouver fifteen years ago. It is a smart high rise above the hyperactive main harbor. The rooms were decorated to a very high standard (mine) in gold and rusty red. It was a pleasant contrast to our tiny train rooms. Apparently every room has a spectacular view.
From our fourteenth floor room we watched the harbor activity from dawn ‘til dark: not only ships of all caliber, but sea planes and helicopters galore. Sea plane travel is very popular in this part of the world, apparently. Road traffic, except in city and suburbs, takes a poor third to boat and air traffic as an efficient means of transportation. North of Vancouver there is more water and air than road.
We made a beeline for the Vancouver Art Gallery, as soon as we could tear ourselves away from the view, where there was an eye-opening exhibit of French Impressionist work from museums all over Canada. Most were paintings that I had never seen before, and although they were somewhat lesser examples, they rounded out a lifetime of viewing Monets, Renoirs, Pisarros and Sisleys.
Also on offer was a permanent retrospective of the work of the beloved Emily Carr, the only female to be ranked close to the Big Seven, famous Canadian impressionist painters. Her work has a lot of charm, and she is remembered fondly in Vancouver, through a local Art School that bears her name.
We lunched at the Museum’s Café, despite the Milestone breakfast, on small snacks from the Cafeteria, happily consumed on the outdoor, sunny terrace.
A highlight of the next day was a ride on the Skytrain, (the local light rail system,) which we rode to the end of the line.
It was a sensationally clear, sunny day, and the opportunity to interact with local commuters and shoppers added to our knowledge of the city. The train wanders out to the suburbs, so we discovered new vistas and neighborhoods. Suburban towns like New Westminster, with its Fraser River Waterfront and Antiques Row, are now in my vocabulary. Friendly local residents chatted with us and gave us advice on other things to do.
We hopped off the train early on our return to see the much touted Vancouver Public Library, a Moishe Safdie design, which opened in 1995.
The library is rectangle within an ellipse, of sandstone colored granite quarried in Horsefly, B.C. Architecturally stunning, the library is also a technological marvel, and the epitome of user-friendly. Thousands use it every day, and those we saw were intent, busy, and happy. In a library, mind you, not a mall. It is top of the line, state of the art in every way imaginable. In fact, you can check it out at www.vpl.vancouver.bc.ca .
We tore ourselves away, hopped on another bus to view Asian antiques and art galleries along Granville Street, and then doubled back under the bridge to Granville Island, an artists’ colony and food market, which is also a yacht harbor. This area is very popular for its restaurants and craft shops.
Getting around Vancouver is extremely easy. A transit day pass, ($5.00 for seniors) is good for the Skytrain, all local buses, and local ferries. One could easily spend a week in this city. I have only touched the highlights.