Vancouver, what more can I say?
Looking to explore further afield, when my son got the chance to work in Vancouver, I began to plan my visit straight away. I would recommend booking your flight early. I tried playing a game, by waiting for the price to drop around a magic date. When it did drop, I dithered and then it went back up again. I ended up booking a flight with Air Transat, a Canadian budget airline. If you like a lot to eat, it’s a good idea to bring some extras, but I was fine with the free stuff, which was snacks and drinks, including a glass of wine and seconds were offered, when there was food left over. So all in all, not a bad choice of airline. Except for my case arriving home three days after me. At least it wasn’t on the way out.
Not being a regular long distance flyer, I didn’t have the nerve to arrive at the airport later than recommended, and got up at the ungodly hour of 4 am, for a 10 o’clock flight. Trundling my suitcase through the streets (apologies to those I disturbed), I caught the night bus to Thameslink Station. Not full of late night revellers, the early morning bus was packed with the low paid, heading to work. I had a glimpse into a different way of life and felt a bit sad at how most people, myself included, don’t even give them a second thought, when our lives only run smoothly because of them.
I wanted to try out the tips on how to avoid the aircraft cold, which I had picked up from my researches. There seemed to be two main ones; keeping hydrated and stopping your nose hairs from drying out. The first was easy. I had a biggish water bottle with me and asked for water, in addition to another drink, every time I was offered one. I’ll leave you to decide how to keep your nostril hairs wet, but I did manage both flights without getting a cold, so I’ll be doing that again.
To get around Vancouver, it’s a good idea to get a Compass card from one of the Sky Train stations or various other outlets. If you put money on the card, it’s the cheapest way to travel and is a bit like an Oyster card.
If you have the opportunity, a couple of days in Whistler are a great experience. The bus ride takes a little over two hours and there are superb views en route. We stayed at the superb Summit Lodge. Arriving in Whistler on Canada Day, did mean there were even more people than normal, but we had the bonus of a free performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which was excellent. This photo is students from the Whistler VSO Institute, playing chamber music in one of the squares.
We hired mountain bikes for an afternoon, which gave us the chance to explore further afield than on foot. We stuck to the easy and paved tracks and went through woods and past lakes. There were quite a lot of other cyclists and walkers, but the message of ‘share the trail,’ was well heeded. It would have been useful to have a bell, as I did occasionally need to overtake people walking. If you haven’t ridden for a while, you can stick to the paved tracks. And if you want to do serious mountain biking, Whistler is the place to come.
There are loads of good eating places in Whistler, as well as a supermarket, so you can pick up picnic supplies, or cook for yourself. Our room also had a microwave and hob. We tried out Crepe Montagne and Purebread for breakfast and 21 Steps Kitchen and Elements Tapas Bar which was part of the Summit Lodge Hotel where we were staying for dinner. All provided us with excellent food and the, slightly unnerving until you get used to it, outstanding Canadian service.
If you’re planning to do some high level hiking, you really need to go late July onwards. Only a couple of short trails were open because of the snow, but there were people skiing and snowboarding on Blackcomb mountain. And you could enjoy a barbecue on Whistler Mountain in contrast.
For the Peak to Peak 360 Experience ticket, we were able to spend the day on the mountain, using two gondolas and three chair lifts. The Horstman Glacier was where the most skiing was taking place, so it was definitely worth taking the shuttle bus to the chairlift to the Glacier and back. We also saw our only black bear, while waiting for the return bus. Look carefully and you can spot it below, in the middle of the picture.
Lunch was at the Rendezvous Lodge and we had a Poutine, a Canadian dish of fries, cheese and gravy, which was very tasty. And filling.
On the chairlift back down to the village, we kept our eyes peeled for bears, but they must have been hiding in the woods, and didn’t oblige. We did, however, see a marmot, which was really cute. We also saw loads of wildflowers, a watervole and lots of birds which don’t live in England! Sorry not to be more specific.
On our last day, we did some hiking near Lost Lake, taking some of the trails we didn’t fancy on the bikes. You can cover quite a bit of ground, setting off straight from Whistler Village, choosing terrain to suit your abilities. To get the most from this I would recommend buying a map. We didn’t, as we didn’t have loads of time, so just ambled.
Back in Vancouver, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we decided to take a ‘Hop on Hop off‘ bus tour. The ticket’s valid for 24 hours, so we started at 11 am, so that we could use the ticket again the next day. It was a good way to get a feel for the whole city and we hopped off a few times. In Chinatown we visited Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Garden, entering it by mistake via the public park of the same name. It was a very peaceful place and well worth a visit. After a quick wander, we decided to return later to get a meal in Chinatown and we chose Hons Wun-Tun House, a canteen style restaurant, offering high quality fare, with very large portions; we took home a doggy bag.
With the Hop on Hop off Bus, it’s worth knowing that drivers are changed at stop 1 so, although you can get on whenever you like, there is always a wait of ten minutes or so in Water Street. We also hopped off at Stanley Park and strolled through the Rose Garden, and Prospect Point, also in Stanley Park, for views and ice cream.
The next day the sun shone, so we headed for Spokes, the Bike Hire Company, to hire bikes to ride round the sea wall of Stanley Park. This time I had a real girly bike called Linda, with just seven gears and a comfy saddle. The route is very flat. There is a strict one way system and bikes and pedestrians are separated, so it’s fairly relaxing and very easy for anyone who’s ever ridden a bike before, although probably not in flip flops, which we did see someone trying. There are lots of places to stop on your way round and we took three hours, at a very leisurely pace, including lots of stops.
We spent three hours on the bikes, then decided to walk back to Canada Place along the waterfront. It’s a nice place to spend a little bit of time and there were two large cruise ships in. They seemed pretty large to me but, apparently the largest ones can’t fit under the Lions Gate Bridge. The highlight to me in this area though, was the Marine Building, built in 1929 and attractive on the outside, but stunning inside. You can just wander in and we were invited up to the 2nd floor, from where you can get an excellent view down into the lobby. No photos from me, I’m afraid, as they didn’t do it justice.
Rain again so we walked down to Yaletown Quay and caught the Aquabus to Granville Island. There are several points to get on and off the little ferry, but we just spent most of the day on the ‘Island.’ There is a overwhelming number of food stalls in a couple of buildings, as well as craft shops and art galleries. We were recommended a bagel filled with smoked meat from Siegels, which was delicious. We had a connection to Hilary Morris at Beaver Pond in Railspur Alley, so popped in to say hi and really liked her work. Don’t miss the Granville Brewery Tour, which takes 45 minutes and ends with a sampling of three different beers. It was really interesting and very well led by tour guide Jesse. There are several theatres on the Island and you may be able to catch an afternoon performance. The Aquabuses run late and an evening ferry trip would be quite fun.
With the promise of rain, which didn’t materialise, we spent most of one day at the Vancouver Aquarium, inside Stanley Park. We were able to touch some rays and enjoyed watching a couple of feeding sessions, learning why some animals are not able to be released and that the Aquarium has agreed not to acquire any more large cetaceans. They also have some very pretty frogs and some beautiful jellyfish.
Richmond Night Market is a bit like a lot of pound shops plus food stalls. It’s incredibly popular and there was a very long queue to get in. The most popular food item was the hurricane potato or rotato, so popular that I’m afraid the queue for that defeated me. There were loads of other good food stalls though. If you don’t mind eating early, I would suggest getting there for 6 pm and heading straight for the food. There was also some live music and the first band set a very low bar, by starting their set, suggesting we would enjoy it if we lowered our standards a bit! They also had their phones ready for reading the lyrics they forgot. Apart from that they didn’t sound bad.
A visit to Victoria, Vancouver Island is easily achieved. You can book onto a combined bus and ferry round trip which will take you from the edge of Vancouver to the centre of Victoria, but you do pay for the privilege and, if you aren’t staying near the Vancouver pick up, as we weren’t, it’s easy enough to get to Tsawwassen Ferry using public transport and buy your ferry ticket before you get on. At the other end you can pick up the public bus, which was $2.50 for a single or $5 for a day pass, which we bought as we were going to be getting the bus again in the evening. The downside to using public transport became apparent when we came home on the six pm ferry on the Sunday, probably the most popular one, and we couldn’t get on the bus, so had to wait an hour. The tip there is to be ready to disembark well before you get into port, so you can be further up the bus queue!
As it was just for one night, I decided to be extravagant and we stayed at Abigail’s Hotel, which was wonderful. I have never slept in such a comfortable bed and everything was luxurious. They even have log fires in each bedroom in the winter. Free hors d’oeuvres are offered from 5 pm and they were definitely worth waiting in for. The gourmet breakfast was also delicious. Basically everything was absolutely wonderful and I would love to be able to afford to stay there again.
The Butchart Gardens had been recommended and we caught the bus in plenty of time. We arrived at 6.30 pm and found out that the weekly firework display, which we didn’t want to miss, was not until 10 pm. The last bus back to town was 11.30 pm, so that was okay, but we did wonder whether there would be enough to see for 3 and a half hours. Then we spotted a boat trip which was included in the admission price and just got to the dock in time for the last one. A lot of people either didn’t notice the trip or weren’t interested, so there were only five of us on board. It was a great trip and we went around the back of the gardens and out into ‘federal waters.’ Our captain was very knowledgeable and pointed out different types of jellyfish, an eagle’s nest, kingfisher and gave us loads of other information. It was brilliant. the gardens also lived up to expectations with fantastic floral displays and beautifully designed gardens.
Something which we ummed and ahhed about doing was whale watching. So many people want to try it, but it’s expensive and, of course, you may see very little. However, if we were ever going to do this, here would be the place, so we booked onto a trip with BC Whales and set off at 10 am for the three hour trip. You can do trips from Vancouver, but they are five hours and three seemed long enough. It was amazing. We must have seen over a dozen orcas, though it was hard to say for sure, because we saw about twenty and some were the same ones. We also saw two minky whales, harbour porpoises, harbour seals and sharks! The trip was over 70 miles but very comfortable. I would recommend a woolly hat or buff, because it was an exhilarating ride and very windy.
Vancouver Art Gallery is laid out over four floors and has a different exhibition on each one. This means whenever you come, I’m sure you will find something to your taste. There is likely to be an exhibition of Emily Carr’s work, as she is such an important North American artist, and the gallery has a lot of her paintings. She travelled around the West coast of Canada, camping on remote islands and painting the totem poles and landscapes in situ, documenting a way of life that would not exist for much longer. We were also lucky to see the excellent exhibition, Picasso: the Artist and his Muses.
I knew nothing about Bowen Island before I visited, other than it was recommended by my friend, Sandie. It was quite hard to find out about in advance too, and we picked up some leaflets on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay. It’s a 45 minute bus journey to Horseshoe Bay from Downtown, but the ferry trip itself is only about 20 minutes. You could easily spend a few days here and it has a very relaxed feel. There are several trails of different length and difficulty and you can quickly get away from the harbour, if you so wish. I loved the Island and its history, from smallholding to family holiday cabins with the Union Steamship booze cruises. Its recent past has brought Artisan Square, a mixture of artists studios, cafes and a range of alternative therapies. Now more changes are afield, with plans to fell some of the forest and build housing, which is much needed, and all the infrastructure that goes with it. I’m sure there are mixed feelings amongst islanders about the changes to come, but I guess the 150 Union Steamship cottages weren’t built without trepidation from locals. For myself, the mixture of decay and nature was what I loved best, but I’m not your typical tourist, I guess.
Getting towards the end of our stay, we didn’t want to miss Grouse Mountain. We caught the Seabus from Waterfront, using our Compass card and then hopped straight on to a 236 bus to Grouse Mountain, which took about 25 minutes. When we got there, there was a lot of cloud and, as the main point for us going there was the views, it didn’t seem like the best idea, so we swapped our planned day around and went back down to Lonsdale Quay, not paying any more because we were within our 90 minute journey. We then caught a 228 bus to Lyn Valley, picking up a courtesy 227 bus into Lynn Canyon Park. Lynn Canyon is a forested area, with waterfalls and trails through the woods and alongside the Capilano River. Its main attraction is a suspension bridge, which costs nothing, unlike its competitor nearby, the Capilano Bridge. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for going to Lyn Valley was that it was supposed to be very quiet. It wasn’t. A nice spot, nevertheless.
When we returned to Grouse Mountain, the promised queues weren’t there, and the clouds had lifted to provide us with glorious views as we went up, first in the gondola and then in the chairlift to the very top. We watched the lumberjack show and saw the two rescued grizzly bears that live there. There were various other activities you can do, such ass five mountain ziplines and the Eye of the Wind, which is apparently the only wind turbine in the world which you can go inside to see even better views than the ones from its base, but we just wandered around and enjoyed the stupendous views in every direction.
For our last day, I was determined to swim in the sea, the Pacific Ocean, to be precise and, luckily the weather was just right. Well, good enough for a quick dip, anyway. We caught the bus to Kitsilano Beach, as there is a heated seawater pool there, so I reasoned I’d get my swim somehow. The sea water didn’t look a very inviting colour, but it was warm and there were no jellyfish, so that was good enough for me. We did also get a rotato to eat too. It’s a potato, sliced into a spiral, dipped in batter, then fried. It was nice, but got cold very quickly.
For our last night we ate at the Boathouse Restaurant at English Bay and had a lovely seafood meal, overlooking the beach. We walked back along the sea front, enjoying beautiful sunsets across the water. A lovely end to our trip.