Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Vantastic Vancouver

[note: as I write this, seven bald eagles are soaring on the thermals directly above me and in the tree in front of me, four red-headed woodpeckers are doing what woodpeckers do best!]

In the previous episode, we were just leaving Whistler in the middle of what turned out to be a dumping of 70cm of snow over three days. As some of you will know, when it’s snowing up there… its absolutely pouring with rain down here (cats and groundhogs to be precise)! We headed toward Vancouver on the Sea to Sky highway which all the guide books had forewarned us was the most spectacular of road trips: 100km of majestic views and awe inspiring vistas… set cameras and camcorders to stun! What we actually saw was a fog-bound highway which had temporarily turned into a river. Undaunted and with pac-a-mac’s at the ready, we stopped-off at one of the many tourist attractions dotted along the highway: we were met by a big yellow barrier and a sign informing us that this natural wonder was closed until May… hrmmph! We stopped off at another (Brackendale) notable for being home to large numbers of bald eagles… they’d all migrated a month earlier leaving us with just a duck to look at. In the rain.

Back in the red rocket, we eventually reached Squamish with a stop that was open: Stawamus Chief (a most impressive monolith) and Shannon Falls; as if to celebrate, the rain also paused briefly to allow us to enjoy the stop that little bit more. It is easy to become complacent about the vastness of nature around here, but the waterfalls were very impressive; the torrents of water flowing over and crashing into the massive rocks was almost mesmerizing, churning the water until it looked like a freshly popped bottle of champagne. After I’d realized I’d been staring at the water for quite some time, I wandered back to the trail where I found Katy pretending to be a tree.

On with the journey. On with the rain. We approached Vancouver increasingly desperate for fuel and with only a vague idea of where we were going (TomTom mysteriously having deleted all its files). We followed a sign for fuel which unfortunately took us miles away from the highway… but fortunately (and completely coincidentally) it was the right road. Having purchased petrol and a map we continued on our way and promptly got lost again as we got caught up in our first rush-hour for two months (Its ok, we’re talking to each other again now). Back on track we headed over the bridge taking us into Vancouver but not before driving through Stanley Park: a welcome – if brief – return to greenery. After some fairly pain-free navigation, we made it to our next temporary home: Jericho Beach HI Hostel. Right by the coast and surrounded by fields; it was a big but uninspiring white block.

In its previous life, the hostel was apparently used for military housing (haven’t had chance to google it yet). As such it was an efficient rather than cosy stay! Big rooms housing up to 18 people (but only five in ours, including us); huge bathrooms and a massive kitchen (but bizarrely, no oven). The facilities were fine but this was the first ‘city’ hostel (rather than snowy-mountain hostel); consequently some of the other residents were both older and weirder. We kept mainly to ourselves.

The hostel was on the outskirts of Kitsilano, which itself was on the outskirts of Vancouver city. Kitsilano appears to be quite a trendy district, housing all manner of independent businesses: boutiques, bakeries, bars… anything beginning with b really. It is also home to Sophies Cosmic CafĂ©, where we treated ourselves to breakfast. If I were being typically cynical I would say it was like a junk shop which sells food; but in the spirit of the place I can report it was a quirky place full of memorabilia which served a very respectable bacon and eggs and a wicked turkey sandwich whilst surrounded by Miss Piggy, Peewee Herman and the Queen (gawd bless ‘er). The place was packed with people and we were lucky to get the last table for two.

Refueled, we walked into Vancouver City; a not inconsiderable walk which included Granville bridge where we looked over Granville Island. Into the city and to be honest, we were a bit disappointed; we wandered around many of the streets but didn’t find anything of significant interest. The place seemed to be going through a post-olympic hangover; it must’ve been a hell of a party! All things related to the Olympics were either in the process of being removed or had already been removed. We came to the conclusion that it’s a place that can only really be enjoyed if you have a bit of spare cash (we don’t!). We found JappaDog but unfortunately not until after we’d already had lunch. Maybe next time. We wandered the rest of the city and ended up at Canada Place, walked along the harbour, watched sea-planes flying this way and that and took photos of geese. From there we strolled along Gas Town – the old part of town – full of expensive shops and bars… we strolled on! From there we headed toward Chinatown which was only a few streets away, but what a couple of streets… I am still amazed that we didn’t get mugged! Just a couple of streets down from Gas Town appeared to be a holding-pen for all of vancouver’s homeless / drug addicts / down-and-outs… and for a few minutes, us! With anything remotely valuable hidden, we kept our heads down and carried on walking… it was like being back in London! We eventually made it to Chinatown unscathed but didn’t bother staying long. Altogether a bit of a disappointment.

A bright new sunny day and things are looking up! We decided to head to Cypress Mountain (home of snowboarding for the Olympics) for its first day re-opening since the end of the games and after a massive dump of snow... result! Best boarding conditions so far and the lift pass was half that of Whislter. I confess that this hasn’t been the epic snowboarding trip we’d dreamed of (for several reasons) but that was a great day. I like to think that having shared the same slope as Shaun White we now also share some of his star qualities :o) To finish off a great day we stopped off at Granville Island: a small collection of quirky shops dominated by a large indoor market. Vancouver is definitely a place to return to if/when we have money again!

PS - To our list of 'firsts' we can now add a hummingbird and... a bear!!

1 comment:

  1. ooooh a cardboard mountie! that's good! ;) xx