Vancouver: gateway to the beauty of Canada

by jon

It's green, clean, and has to be seen! Even if you dislike cities, you'll love Vancouver

Vancouver, according to the City Fathers, has ambitions to become the greenest city on Earth. This is a Good Thing for a city to aim for and will undoubtedly enhance its already enviable status as `Most Liveable City` on the planet, a position it has held, according to The Economist, since 2008.

Throw in the massive ethnic diversity that gives the place a dizzying range of styles, foods and entertainments, add a sensible and cheap transport infrastructure that includes a good, modern airport, take into account around 500,000 people who seem determined to be your best friend, and you have, well, one of the most desirable cities on Earth.

And this is before we consider that Vancouver is located on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere. Oh, and the roads are rarely crowded (and fuel is cheap!). This is one of the few places where it’s possible play golf in the morning and ski in the afternoon before you go sailing.

Exactly what are you waiting for?

Gastown, named for ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton who opened the first bar in the area, is the oldest part of the city. Notorious back in the latter part on the nineteenth century as a rough area, where loggers, fishermen and trappers converged in the otherwise dry town, Gastown is now a mix of restaurants, trendy boutiques and galleries. As with much of the city, great efforts have been made to preserve the original buildings. Many of the more popular nightclubs are here, and some of the bars still retain the traditional rowdiness, so be cautious after dark!

Gastown is also home to the unique steam powered clock.

Granville Island was the industrial centre of Vancouver for most of its existence, but following many years of slow decline was revived as a `people friendly` place to include a mix of shops, parks and pleasant riverside. Today, it is a lively and colourful mix of, well, just about everything, really. If, for instance, you need a hand-made broomstick, Broomco. (http://www.broomcompany.com/) on Bridge Street can probably get you sorted. Tart (http://tartboutique.com/) on Johnston Street isn’t a bakery although I’m not saying there is no food for sale. It’s, umm, more the sort for smearing, shall we say, or licking perhaps. There is most certainly no children’s menu...

For food of the sort you actually put into your mouth, there is the tremendous Food Court and market, located on the waterfront near the road bridge. My pirozhki (a Ukrainian fried bun that comes with a variety of fillings) with deruny (grated potato pancake), and spicy Russian sausage cost about CAD$11 from Babushka’s Kitchen, a take-away located, if memory serves, next to the sushi stall and across from the place selling elk burgers. My East European food was served by a Chinese gentleman. It’s that sort of a place.

Vancouver isn’t just about the centre. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (http://www.moa.ubc.ca/about/) is certainly worth a visit, with excellent displays of First Nations' history as well as an eclectic mix from other parts of the world. Don’t miss the outdoor re-creation of First Nations' building and totem poles.

Commercial Drive, or just ‘Commercial’ in the vernacular, is a mish-mash of immigrant
communities (ignoring the fact that pretty much the whole population of Canada has immigrated in the last 150 years or so). At least 100 restaurants offer cuisine from dozens of sources – fancy an Ethiopian anybody? – along the wide, two miles of road. Coffee (and cake!) shops open early, restaurants close late, and virtually none of the shops are chains. If this isn’t the prettiest part of Vancouver, it is certainly one of the most colourful. Rather than leave walls blank, for instance, artists have been invited to create colourful murals in unexpected places. Commercial is one few place where you may see an Asian punk walking hand-in-hand with an African hippie, and is where I was entertained by the sight of Vietnamese kids wearing Argentina shirts, cheering on the Spanish soccer team in a German coffee shop.

At seven in the morning.

I have an innate dislike of modern cities, but will certainly be going back to Vancouver.

Getting there: Specialist airline Canadian Affair (www.canadianaffair.com) have routes from a number of British cities, and often have some quite spectacular bargains. The round trip can cost as little as £300, flying from Gatwick   - check the website for latest offers.

Staying in Vancouver: The Sylvia Hotel is a designated heritage building with a great location near Stanley Park. Excellent service and a choice of rooms (some with outstanding views over English Bay). Basic rooms are around CAD$120. The Sylvia has a nice range of one and two bedroom suites (called bedsittingrooms in Canada) with or without kitchens. Top price will be about CAD$400 in high season.

If you intend a long stay in Canada, Viva Tower on Howe Street is well worth a look. By letting their suites for a minimum of 30 days, the proprietors avoid the 15% hotel tax, and can offer great accommodation at very reasonable rates, starting from about CAD$110 per night. You get access to the gym and spa complex as well as the business centre as well as a nicely appointed suite, the biggest of which has six bedrooms!

The excellent-if-basic Barclay Hotel includes a free daily newspaper in their rate - nice touch - and a standard double starts at CAD$49. Located on Robson Street, the Barclay is well placed for an on-foot exploration of Vancouver. No elevators, though, and it seems to have rather a lot of stairs!

Eating is not likely to be a problem, not in Vancouver. Shut your eyes, spin around a couple of times and when you open your eyes again you will find yourself looking at a good place to eat.

A couple of examples:

Harambe Ethiopian Restaurant (http://www.haramberestaurant.com/try.htm) on Commercial Drive. The dish to try is a great wagon wheel of injera, a fermented flat bread, on which are piled spicy heaps of veggi and meat preparations called wat. This is eaten without cutlery, and the adventurous may wish to try the tradition of gursha in which couples take turns feed each other with mouthfuls of wat wrapped in injera. Wash it all down with a flask or two of tej,  a honey wine tempered with bitter gesho leaves. From about CAD$15 per head.

As you may expect given its costal location, Vancouver offers outstanding seafood. A prime source is Monk McQueens (http://www.monkmcqueens.com/index.php) at the end of the Cambie Bridge. Cracking views over the water towards the mountains. Choose the Monks Oyster Bar for breakfast, lunch or snacks, or the more exclusive McQueens Upstairs for something more formal. As well as the sea food, there are plenty of good choices for non-pisciphiles. Monks (they don’t seem to serve apostrophes) Oysters Rockefeller are CAD$12, Seafood Corn Chowder $8, set menu for two in McQueens is CAD$49.95, plus tax & tips.

Finally, the means of getting around Vancouver are as well organised as the rest of the city.
To quote the BC PASSPORT website (http://www.bcpassport.com/default.aspx) “you can take float planes, helicopters, a gondola, large BC Ferries to go island hopping, a SeaBus to get back and forth between Vancouver and the North Shore or tiny ferries to explore False Creek.
You can explore by canoe, kayak, power boat or sailboat. You can take buses, shuttle buses, taxis, trolleys, horse drawn conveyance or the SkyTrain to get from place to place.”

Try everything is my advice.

Everything!