A Travellerspoint blog

The Legendary Pacific Northwest: Vancouver

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Vancouver is a fairly large city, not much smaller than Seattle, but since we only had one full day we limited ourselves to the small peninsula on the north side of the city that most people call Downtown Vancouver. The peninsula actually contains three separate areas: Downtown, the West End, and Stanley Park. Vancouver's better known attractions are heavily concentrated around Downtown. No doubt there are interesting neighborhoods in the rest of the city but we chose to go on foot only during our stay which limited us to the local area.

Driving into Vancouver was a remarkable experience because of the amazing skyline of tall glass office buildings and condos that reflect green light from the cloudy sky and the water that surrounds the peninsula. Driving over the Cambie Bridge into Downtown felt like we were entering the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz. Our Airbnb was in a high-rise condo and our host met us on the street to guide us to the parking garage. She got in the passenger seat and Mei Ling went to the back with the kids. As we turned the first corner the host made a horrified gasp. I looked around but couldn't see anything amiss outside and asked her what was wrong. "There was someone in the crosswalk!" she said. It was true, although I had barely registered it. A woman had just stepped off the curb on the opposite side of the street from where I was turning, and she was probably thirty feet away from the minivan. It never would have occurred to me in a million years to have stopped at the crosswalk until she passed. "Drivers here would stop at a crosswalk even if someone was still on the other side of the street?" I asked. "Of course!" She seemed shocked that I would even question it. Fortunately we didn't have to drive much further to the garage so there wasn't time for me to commit any more antisocial infractions. Inside I was laughing though. If she ever found her way to New York City or even worse China she was going to get the shock of her life. If she expected turning cars to stop for her in a crosswalk there, she was going to have to be prepared for a ride on someone's hood.

The Airbnb was a spacious and clean two bedroom on an upper floor with nice views of the surrounding forest of glass high-rises. The kids quickly launched on an exploration of the new territory.

The main thing we did during our stay in Vancouver was walk around the different areas of the Downtown peninsula. We were fortunate that while it was almost always overcast in never rained while we were there. Vancouver has a very clean and pretty downtown, in no small part due to the upbeat design of the high rises. The peninsula is surrounded by water of course which means there are promenades on every side to enjoy the views over Burrard Inlet and Vancouver Harbor. Downtown is subdivided into lots of miniature neighborhoods. Yaletown on the south side is a hipster neighborhood with converted warehouse lofts, boutiques, and seafood bistros. To the north by the harbor is Gastown, a historic neighborhood with cobblestone streets, vintage street lamps, and a famous steam-powered clock on a street corner. Unlike San Diego's Gaslamp District, Gastown doesn't get its name from the street lamps (which are electric) but from a 19th century saloon owner who was nicknamed Gassy for his renowned loquaciousness.

Next to Gastown is Vancouver's small Chinatown which is most notable for the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The compact and tranquil garden was reminiscent of the Lan Su garden in Portland. In my opinion these beautiful and culturally rich gardens add a great deal to the cities they inhabit.

On the opposite side of the peninsula the Granville Bridge connects Downtown to Granville Island, an artificial island that was created by dredging in the early 20th century. It's more like a polyp than an actual island, being connected to the mainland by a wide isthmus. Granville Island contains a lot of mid-market shops and restaurants that are popular with tourists and locals as well as the Granville Public Market, a farmers market and food hall where we were able to self cater an excellent brunch.

The middle part of the peninsula is occupied by the West End. This neighborhood is largely residential but is traversed by the intersecting commercial thoroughfares of Robson Street and Denman Street, which are lined with boutiques and Asian restaurants. We ate at a Korean restaurant our first night that made us feel like we were in Seoul. The West End is also the center of gay culture in Vancouver and has a concentration of bars and nightclubs.

The jewel of the downtown peninsula is Stanley Park, an enormous and wild green space that occupies the entire northern half of the peninsula. The park contains gardens, beaches, and recreation areas but most of it is a natural wilderness. We felt like we were seeing Vancouver exactly as it had been before humans had ever come across it. We came across a beautiful barred owl as well as a flock of inquisitive ducks at Beaver Lake in the middle of the park. It's probably the closest to nature I've ever felt inside a major city.

We walked out of the wilderness onto the paved promenade that encircles the park. At the farthest point of the peninsula the majestic Lion's Gate suspension bridge connects Downtown to North Vancouver. We saw a few people gathered on the promenade by the bridge and realized they were watching a group of otters that had congregated on a small sandbar by the seawall. It was the first time we had ever seen otters outside of a zoo. They had no fear of their human observers and spent quite some time playing around near the seawall, at one point even climbing onto a staircase that rose from the water to the promenade.

I was really glad we had made time to explore Stanley Park because its probably the most unique feature of Vancouver. It's a very pleasant, livable city in a great location on the Pacific coast but I didn't get the same sense of a true international destination the way I did in Toronto and Montréal. We may stop by again some time in the future as a stopover on the way to Asia and that time we'll stay longer to explore the rest of the city and Vancouver Island.

Our stop in Vancouver was pretty much the end of the road trip. All that was left was the drive back to Seattle, a quick dinner, and then an early flight back to Miami. This was our first real road trip in the USA as a family and it awakened a desire to explore all the diverse regions and major cities of our fascinating country. Since then we've done trips of similar length in the Deep South, the northern Midwest, New England, Texas, and southern California and we hope to do many more. I have to say the star of this particular trip was Portland and it remains one of my favorite cities in the United States.

Posted by zzlangerhans 14:09 Archived in Canada

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