Do you ever secretly wonder if a place you are about to visit will live up to all the wonderful things you have been told about it? Perhaps wonder if the weather will slow you down or keep you indoors when you want to wander, explore or perhaps challenge yourself? Or perhaps worry that the hotels you’ve booked over the internet will turn out to be bedbug ridden dives instead of delightful gems worthy of a rave review on Trip Advisor? I don’t think that I’m a glass half empty sort of a person, but flying over the Pacific Ocean, on our way to Vancouver, some of these thoughts flitted across my mind.
And when you have had some reservations, how good is it when everything turns out to be so much better than you imagined! Turning on fabulous weather, known as bluebird days, for us, Vancouver turned out to be one of the loveliest, most accessible and fun cities I have visited: a place where the forest meets the sea surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I felt guilty for ever imagining that it could be any different.
We arrived early morning and made our way from the airport to our hotel, The Sutton on Burrard St, by taxi. Here we met our friends, Helen and Phil, who had arrived a day earlier. The hotel very obligingly checked us in at 9.00am (book in is usually 3.00pm) and after a shower, we were ready to explore our surroundings.We were all catching an Alaskan cruise the following day and after the cruise, planned to spend a few days in Vancouver before heading off on our separate adventures. All up, we spent five days, four nights in Vancouver.
Vancouver is a very easy city to walk around and to me at least, didn’t seem crowded at all and if you don’t feel like walking, the bus, rail and ferry system is excellent and very affordable. I was stunned to see so many cyclists safely navigating the city traffic, something we don’t see as much here in Australia. Initially, while Helen and Phil went cycling around the sea wall, Kenn and I walked to Canada Place on the harbour where we would be boarding our cruise ship.
We then made our way along the sea wall to Stanley Park. Words cannot do this park justice. Because I was feeling a little jet lagged, we only explored the city side of Lost Lagoon, leaving the park for a more thorough exploration when we returned from the cruise. The combination of sun, sea, trees and flowers was intoxicating, much more effective than a double shot latte for lifting one’s spirits after the long flight from Australia.
Exiting the park at English Bay, we munched on the best hot dogs for lunch, while watching the tankers round the point.
We were amazed by the number of locals who were out sunbaking, (though they need to visit Byron to experience a ‘real’ beach), rollerblading and cycling along the promenade. They seemed to exude a real zest for life and the outdoors, which was infectious. I felt healthier just looking at them.
Then it was back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before dinner in Gastown, a short walk from our hotel. Phil led the way to pre-dinner drinks at the Black Frog, a very atmospheric watering hole, specialising in local beers and wines while Helen discovered the culinary delights of the Flying Pig for a memorable first Canadian dinner. From our upstairs window, we had a great view of the famous steam-driven clock and the fairy-lighted streets.
What a difference a good night’s sleep makes! Next morning we were up early, ready to explore a little in search of that special coffee and a light breakfast. They take their coffee seriously here and we were spoilt for choice. In the end, we chose a cafe that specialised in Italian coffee and had a cute outdoor dining spot.Then a quick peak at the shops before we made our way to Canada Place ready for our Alaskan adventure.
A week passed all too quickly on the cruise and we found ourselves disembarking on a cloudy Friday morning. We caught a taxi to our next hotel, The Sylvia on English Bay. I had chosen this hotel for its position on the Bay, the price and its proximity to Stanley Park. It was really very comfortable, considering that it was rated as a 3 star hotel. We had only a partial view of the sea but our room was large and comfortable and the views from the restaurant and hotel bar more than compensated.
Luggage stashed, we made our way to Granville Island, a gourmet’s paradise. We took a baby ferry ( these ferries look like they should be in someone’s bathtub) and were there in no time. There was so much produce on display in the food halls that it was difficult to make a choice. Eventually purchasing some artisan bread, cheese and salumi as well as home made soup and new season berries, we found ourselves a comfortable seat on the wharf and indulged in lunch while buskers entertained us. There were lots of handmade arts and crafts as well for those looking for something a little different to take home.
We spent the afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park. If you love animals and the sea, this is a must see. Every gallery was fascinating but I especially loved watching the children discover the clown fish in the tropical gallery and learning to touch the starfish in their purpose-built environment.
I laughed along with everyone else at the antics of the beautiful Beluga whales, gleefully splashing unsuspecting members of the audience. And what’s not to love about super frisky sea otters?
Another plus for The Sylvia was that it is close to the restaurant precinct along Denman St. When in a new city I prefer to dine out, enjoying the people, savouring the scents and the lights of the city at night. We eventually chose a Turkish restaurant for dinner. I should have asked how big were the portions as they were enormous and Kenn and I could have shared. For those who like to eat in, I noticed that many of the restaurants did take-away which would be cheaper as you wouldn’t have to pay the tip.
Another fine day greeted us. After a very hearty breakfast in the lovely dining room at the Sylvia, we headed off to Denman St to hire some bikes. A ride along the sea wall that borders Stanley Park beckoned us. This is a very easy, flat ride along a designated bike path. Kenn and I were soon zooming on our way. There was only one problem. When I found myself nearly falling off my bike because a delightful bunch of Japanese girls were giggling their way around, ahead of me, I knew I wasn’t the slowest bike rider on earth anymore. Indeed, I had to master overtaking or topple off!
Then it was time to really explore Stanley Park. We had lunch at the Tea House Restaurant, not realising that it was an upmarket establishment. They very kindly let us in despite being dressed in exercise clothes. We then walked deeper into the Park. We found our way to Beaver Lake which was covered in waterlilies about to burst into bloom.
It’s always interesting, the people you meet on your expeditions. As we were leaving Beaver Lake, I stopped to look at some berries which looked very appealing but which I thought might be poisonous. A young man stopped and told me that they were Salmon Berries and edible! Lucky me! But its a small world. It turns out that he is an iron man, training to compete on the Sunshine Coast in July.
The rose garden, as one might expect, was full of beautiful roses, some of which were scented.
Day Five: The Grouse Grind
Today was the day when my fitness would be tested. Kenn and I had agreed to join Helen and Phil on a jaunt to Grouse Mountain. They wanted to walk up the mountain and catch the gondola down, a walk known as the ‘Grouse Grind’ and advertised as being ‘Nature’s Stairmaster’. We used public transport, a seabus and a bus, to get to the beginning of the walk at the base of the mountain. This was indeed a tough climb, 853 metres (2,800) up to the top of the mountain. But while the trail is not long, (it’s only 2.9 kilometres long) you feel as if you are climbing a steep staircase as the average gradient is about 30 degrees. But it is beautiful walking up through the forest.
It took time and a lot of pit stops … a lot of pit stops. They have a competition in Vancouver to see who can post the fastest time for the grind, I think that I was in a competition with a few others, to see who could post the slowest time. But a couple of hours later, I was thankfully relaxing in a delightful cafe on the summit, sipping a hot chocolate and perusing a menu full of healthy and hearty food options. After all, I needed to refuel!
But there’s more to do than the grind on Grouse Mountain. There’s lots of wildlife to see: Grizzly bears and birds of prey as well as a lumberjack show. For those who ride the gondola up, there are lots of hiking trails to explore as well. They didn’t really appeal to me for some reason.
And then it was time to go down via the gondola and enjoy the amazing view over Vancouver and the ocean.
Making our way home, picking up some Epsom salts on the way,( a long soak in the bath was definitely in order), we discovered some beautiful old streets in the West End with some delightful architecture. I would have liked to explore these more but you can never fit everything in.
As it was, the weather had been so ‘bluebird’, I hadn’t made it to an art gallery or a museum or a theatre, something I like to do when in a foreign city. But in a way, I think that the beautiful natural environment of Vancouver is what makes this city so special and I’m glad she shared it with us.