City Girl Gone Wandering
Vancouver was the last leg of my Pacific Northwest trip, and, in some ways, I saved the best for last.
I traveled from Victoria to Vancouver on board one of the BC Ferries. Even if I had hated Vancouver (spoiler alert: I didn’t) the boat ride alone would have been worth the trip. The land and water surrounding Vancouver (particularly between Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver) is utterly magnificent. Everything appears in a glistening tint of silver. The sky reflects in the water with a dazzling sparkle, and mountains rise and fall as epic shadows in the distance. The ferry ride is fairly inexpensive, and it grants you an experience laden with serenity and contentment. Take it! Take it in either direction, just get on the boat!
The bus system in Vancouver is easy to follow, and fairly inexpensive. However, be prepared to encounter long trips if you are going from one end of the city to another. After all, it is an enormous metropolitan area, and buses are a limited form of transit. You may also opt to bike around Vancouver, as this is the preferred form of transportation for many locals. I, for one, remain hesitant about urban biking (it seems to require far too much trust that cars will not hit you) but many people do it successfully. However, be prepared for other bikers to howl at you as soon as you do something wrong. Some Vancouver bikers uttered such aggressive obscenities at passersby that I was convinced I had somehow been transplanted back to the streets of Manhattan. Not very Canadian, but occasionally quite amusing.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park was recently voted the best park in the world on TripAdvisor and it is easy to see why. Spanning over 1,000 acres of beaches, lakes, trees, and man-made attractions, the park is a welcome respite from the bustling downtown neighborhoods that it borders. Surrounded on three sides by water, the seawall is a must-do walk or bike ride for tourists and locals alike.
There are also hiking trails that take you out into the woods and around Beaver Lake. Walking these paths, the city disappears and you are transported into the solitude of country life.
Along with Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s main attractions is Granville Island. Tour Guys offers a free walking tour of the island that I highly recommend taking. My tour guide was a young woman who had recently moved to BC from Edmonton, Alberta. She was enthusiastic, kind, and generous with information and assistance. My tour group consisted of people from all over the world: a handful from the states, some Germans, a few French tourists, and one or two from Latin America. Together, we explored the arts district that has sprung from remnants of the industrial age.
As an artist, it is always nice to see public works revitalization projects that focus on the arts. Granville Island is home to a variety of theatres, galleries, and artisan shops. It is a wonderful creative haven that reminds us that art should be a priority rather than an afterthought.
Along with its art and culture, Vancouver is also known for its abundance of beaches. I explored several of them, and quickly came to discover that Vancouver beaches are quite different than those I am used to. Lined with logs, and boasting views of mountains, skyline, or both, they have a unique way of bridging the natural world with the urban one.
Other than its accessible nature, my favorite part of Vancouver was the people. I have attempted to use the Couchsurfing website to meet other travelers before, but my first success came when I attended the weekly Vancouver CS trivia night meetup at Mr. Brownstone Bar and Grill. I met an assortment of characters from around the world with whom I played a rousing game of who-knows-it. Despite our loss, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously and ended the night by discretely drinking beers on a bench in the street, careful not to get busted by the alcohol-happy police.
The next night was my last in the city, and I met up with one of my new trivia friends to take in some music at the Make Music Festival in Gastown. Gastown is the oldest part of Vancouver, and the only section that reminded me of the East Coast. The streets were flooded with thousands of people enjoying music on a multitude of stages scattered throughout the neighborhood. We heard some blues, some jazz, some spectacular funk, and a bit of rock ‘n roll. After that, we journeyed into East Vancouver to share wine with the rest of our trivia group. When we got off the bus the sun was making its descent behind the mountains of North Vancouver, and the sky was painted a delicate shade of blue.
Vancouver was a wonderful city to visit, and four days were not nearly enough to explore it all. Were I to go back, I would make it a point to visit North Vancouver, and to spend some time on Wreck Beach. However, everything I saw was glorious, and I found the city to be a safe, bustling, diverse metropolis that buzzed with life, culture, and kind human beings. Plus, it’s beautiful, and I’m nothing if not a sucker for beautiful places.