Our daughter hadn’t planned on coming to see us off but just as we were getting ready to leave she turned up. I suppose it was only natural but it didn’t make it any easier, we said our goodbyes for the second time and set off on the drive to Vancouver. We’d originally planned a route which took us through the middle of the city, I was a bit wary of that so although we didn’t have a sat-nav Mrs C did a good job of map reading while I drove a route which took us over several bridges and out into the industrial “sticks” of Vancouver. We handed back the RV, negotiated a rebate for the fact that the roof had sprung a leak and caught a taxi to our hotel. We’d struggled to find a reasonably priced “pension” but Laura had recommended the YWCA. It was perfect. Clean, functional and within easy walking distance of the city centre and the main public transport hubs. After freshening up a bit we headed out to see some of the sights. Granville Island was to be the first stop. Originally a First Nations fishing settlement it later became industrialised before becoming run down and virtually derelict in the mid 20th century. With the help of the BC government and the city fathers a group of young entrepreneurs helped turn it into the leisure and shopping destination it is today. The first thing you see when approaching the island (travelling by the ubiquitous water taxi) from Yaletown (more later) is the giant concrete silos which have an ongoing mural project taking place on them, impressive and typical of the “hippy vibe” of this part of the city.
The main building on the island is taken up with a fantastic and, dare I say, diverse food market. Everything you can think of is available, some great Italian deli stalls, Chinese, Thai and central European foodstuffs, colourful fruit and veg and lots of decent things to eat. I settled on a bagel with stuffed with mixed cooked meats, pickles and coleslaw, from a stall staffed entirely by East Asians who may have been Chinese, like I said, diverse. We had a walk round and found somewhere to eat our sandwiches overlooking the busy waterway. There was a childrens charity event happening on the water with lots of people in Pirate fancy dress travelling up and down the river in yachts, pleasure cruisers and skiffs. the sun was out, drinks were being consumed, water blasters were being employed to great effect and everyone looked to be having a splendid time. By now I was ready for a beer so we went for a pint in one of the several bar/restaurants before having a wander around some of the shops. A lot of them are quite touristy with the odd unusual gem, including a working blacksmith making furniture, garden statues and the like. I was glad that I’d purchased my piece of native art in Squamish. Pieces by the same artist, who is obviously quite prolific, were going for double the money that I had paid. One of the several perils of a certain level of touristy gentrification I suppose.
The Granville Island Brewing Company was founded on the island in 1984, it was with a little disappointment that I discovered that the original company was now moved to Kelowna (I missed that) and the island incarnation is now owned by Molson, Canada’s largest brewer. This didn’t put me off too much though and we spent an excellent hour in the bar/restaurant, where we shared a table with four other couples, one Canadian, one American and two British. As is the way the American couple were a pleasure to speak to and the Canadian couple both young and both very good looking were very helpful with their recommendations of things to see and do while in Western Canada. I ordered a “float” and Mrs C consumed a couple of ciders while I saw off my four small beers. The “Still” itself has a small brewery taps feel but the shop, which is the start and finish point for the tours, has a more corporate feel about it. That didn’t stop us buying a couple of glasses as mementoes of our visit. The afternoon was wearing on now and with a final wander round and a stop for a large G&T at the islands own gin distillery we carefully negotiated the floating pontoon to board our next water taxi. We travelled back to Yaletown but then, as it was still reasonably early, we decided to walk along the promenade towards Sunset Beach. Maybe it was the gin but we hadn’t really thought it through as it wasn’t actually anywhere near sundown. We turned back after about 15 minutes and made our way back to Yaletown. This small area of Vancouver is full of restaurants and bars where the “smart” mainly young set spend their Saturday nights, consequently by 6.30 pm, it is very lively. Most of the bars, pubs and eateries were pretty full but we got a table in Earls and were well looked after by another very pretty and very talkative young Canadian woman. Again it’s worth mentioning the quality of the customer service. Wherever we went it was top notch, Canadians in general are a friendly and talkative bunch. After we’d eaten we set off for Sunset beach again, I should mention that to see Vancouver properly you need to be fond of walking, it isn’t a huge city but it’s mostly fairly flat and there is always something to see. Sunset beach didn’t let us down, this was the first time that I’d watched the sun set into the Pacific ocean I can remember thinking that I hoped it wouldn’t be the last. It was wonderful to see and I would guess that, at times, it can be truly spectacular. All walked out after a very long day we caught the water taxi back to Yaletown, via Granville Island (we resisted the temptation to reacquaint ourselves with the brewery) for the short walk to our hotel and a well earned sleep.
We’d already made plans for the Sunday that would include lots of walking so, after a quick breakfast, we made a start. First port of call, which I had been really looking forward to, was a visit to The Museum of Anthropology (part of the University of British Columbia). The museum is situated on the University campus in a very leafy and obviously wealthy suburb of West Vancouver. If you have any interest in the Canadian First Nation culture and associated art then this is a must visit. Although the museum is somewhat atypical of an education establishment in that it considers itself to be extremely “worthy” and a bit high brow the building is architecturally stunning and the collections are magnificent. One clear display of its “liberal” pretentions is an exhibit in the entrance hall which is a Perspex case containing a “Pussy Hat” and some blurb about both the “Womens March” and the MeToo movements. Lefty virtue signalling of the highest order. It would take a very long time to describe the whole place and we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it properly, suffice to say the museum is a thing of wonder, both inside and out. If you ever get out that way then this has to be one of the top ten places to visit, if you like this sort of thing, I would recommend allowing a full day for it though.
With a little bit of regret that we hadn’t really had enough time to see as much as we would have liked but also conscious that time was moving on we decided to splash out on a taxi to our next destination, Stanley Park. Taxis are reasonably priced, clean and well regulated. The drivers, at least in the ones we took, are “Asians” but I took the “when in Rome” view and sat back and enjoyed the ride. Stanley Park is a large green space covering 405 hectares at the promontory of Vancouvers West End district. It is almost completely surrounded by the Pacific with Vancouver main harbour to the east, Burrard Inlet to the North and English Bay to the South. If Yaletown is the Saturday night destination of choice then this park is the Sunday alternative. There are beaches and inlets, lots of sports pitches, including cricket, a circular sea wall walk taking in a lighthouse and a totem pole park and a small lake. We decided the best way to see everything properly was on foot but there are horse drawn tours and I believe there is also bicycle hire available to please the sedate and the adventurous visitor alike. We did about one third of the circuit, taking in the totem poles, before cutting through the park for another tour highlight, the Vancouver Aquarium. I’m not averse to watching sea creatures, especially fish, swimming about in tanks but I do wonder at the legitimacy of keeping larger creatures in captivity. Having said that, the one dolphin they have is short of a couple of flippers and would struggle in the wild, the otters, seals and sea lions all seemed to be having a reasonable time, as did the penguins. I wouldn’t call this a “must see” but if you’re in Vancouver and you like fish then it is one of the best and largest aquaria I have visited. We did have a bit of an encounter when we first entered, a raccoon appeared from the undergrowth and crossed the walkway directly in front of us, favouring the humans in the vicinity with no more than a very disdainful glance. Another little experience for the memory bank.
We left the Aquarium and took the trail through the park and around Beaver Lake, crossing under Route 99 which traverses the park North to South. The lake itself is a quite small wetland with an abundance of wildlife and fauna, although the beaver have long since moved on. As with lots of things in Canada great efforts are being made to maintain it in a fashion as close to its original state as possible, given that it is part of a bustling and growing city. We emerged back onto the main coastal trail and made our way around the top of the park, via Prospect Point, Siwash Rock and Third Beach to English Bay. This is a lovely walk, long enough but with the Pacific Ocean, full of craft of all sizes, on your right at all times and a variety of wildlife it never gets tiresome. By now we were hungry and felt we’d earned a good meal and a drink, we struck lucky again, another chain called the Cactus Club Cafe is right on the beach and after a short wait we were able to secure an outside table. Excellent pints of Pale Ale and cider were quaffed to accompany a more than acceptable rare steak frites with salad. By now it was approaching twilight, we’d walked around 10 kms and the beer was doing its job. Fortunately the water taxi station was just a few yards away. A short wait, again chatting to other passengers, this time an Irish guy and his Canadian girlfriend, before another pleasant crossing of Vancouver harbour and the short walk to the hotel from Yaletown.
We woke on Monday morning to the sobering knowledge that this was to be the last day of our trip. We had the whole morning free so we decided to treat ourselves to brunch in Gastown, the reputedly “sleazy” quarter of Vancouver, which also happens to be where the Skytower and the whistling steam powered clock are situated. The reputation of Gastown doesn’t really do it justice, yes it’s where the dopers and junkies hang out but it is becoming increasingly gentrified, with restaurants and bars opening up on just about every street corner and is, as we soon found out, very popular with those rudest of fellow tourists, the coach touring Chinese. By the time we’d managed to fight our way through the throngs to get a decent picture of the steam powered whistling clock it was a bit late for brunch. We hadn’t really thought about going up the Skytower but I’m glad we did. The views are stunning, especially when the weather is fine, affording a 360 panoramic view from a height of 553 feet above ground level it seemed a fitting finale to our holiday. We lunched in a waterside pub and walked back to our hotel past the Cenotaph situated in Victory Square Park. A reminder, if one were needed, of the shared history and sacrifice of British and Canadian forces in two World Wars. Even given that Canada is now in the grip of “Truedauism” it should never be forgotten how much history and compatibility of culture we have. We collected our luggage and sat, both of us in quiet reflection, on the hotel verandah for 30 minutes and people watched for half an hour before the taxi collected us to take us to Vancouver Airport for our flight back to Glasgow. The best holiday ever? Who knows, there may be others to come, but the best up to now? Undoubtedly.
© Colin Cross 2018