Date of stay: April 2012 to April 2013
Where you stayed: Downtown
Tour or pre planned: Working holiday
Vancouver is a spectacular city! I now know why Vancouverites can be proud of their city and deservingly be rated in the top five most liveable cities in the world.
I arrived to a still, warm drizzly Vancouver day in April to start my one year adventure in Canada.
After clearing customs at YVR (Vancouver airport) the driverless SkyTrain took me into Olympic Village which is an up and coming area of the city after playing host to the 2010 winter Olympic athletes. Robin, who had a place on airbnb.com, offered to meet me. As we drove east to Commercial Drive she pointed out many sights and explained Vancouver’s boom over the past three decades.
My first meal would be one I would have often. Robin took me to Memphis Blues – home of the best ribs, pulled pork and brisket I have ever had. We sat outside on the patio and behind the low fog I could see lights faintly on the North Shore hills. This was Grouse Mountain where locals can ski in winter and hike in summer (the Grouse Grind), all 20 minutes from the city and accessible on the city transit system. The next morning I woke to blue skies and the beauty of the city was apparent with the impressive coastal mountain range providing a scenic surrounding to the city.
That day another mate arrived and we moved to another airbnb place in the affluent area of Yaletown, which not more than a decade ago was a crumbling mess of old rail yards. We were in an apartment right on the inlet – it was great and stepped out to the seawall. The seawall is considered the most popular recreation spot for locals. Walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists can enjoy the 22km of path that includes eight kilometres around Stanley Park, itself with many kilometres of tracks inside.
The tulips that come out in spring add colour to the city as you explore the different zones within the confined downtown area. The diversity of Vancouver is noticeable and walking five blocks can feel like you are in another city. Downtown is quickly becoming more packed with high rises going up in favour of urban sprawl. However, the city planners still ensure enough space is left open so Vancouverites do not feel they are trapped in a concrete and glass jungle.
Vancouver is very multicultural; finding a local in the office I worked was not the easiest. I worked less than five minutes from the Granville Island Public Market, a must for any visitor to Vancouver. The food hall is amazing. One dish I became fond of was the bacon poutine – French fries, pulled duck, bacon, gravy and cheese! A few hours can easily be spent on the island; there are numerous studios where you can watch artist’s at work, street performers as well as the Granville Island brewery tours and tasting.
Summer in the city is welcomed after a drizzly winter. I was lucky to get extended periods of sunny warm days that would have us searching for patios (decks) at bars around the city. The range of bars is vast and the different areas of the city complement each other. Many micro-breweries also exist. It’s easy to relax in the sun, sample some new beers and soak up the atmosphere and views around.
As the days got longer I would head over the bridge to the North Shore after work to hit the mountain bike tracks in Fromme and Seymour mountains. This area is the home of mountain biking and there are trails to suit all abilities and offers technical and flow tracks. The Whistler bike park, an hour and a half out of the city, is a must for anyone who is keen on riding and is home to Crankworkx each August, where you will see some of the best riders in action. If you do go for three days or more make sure you get the Edgecard, it will save you some money.
Winter rolled around very quickly with all the travel in Canada and the US that I was doing. You can pop down to Seattle easily in a few hours; check out boltbus.com for cheap bus tickets. If you are transiting through Vancouver and after flights across USA take a look at flights from Bellingham, you may find yourself a deal.
I kitted myself out with new ski gear for the colder months and made the most of it. I never did ski Grouse Mountain in the city, but did night skiing at Cypress on two occasions. Only 30 minutes from the city, Cypress is perfect for an after work ski and a worthy mountain in the day after a good dumping of snow. Whistler-Blackcomb however is something else – huge! They’re slogan states that Whistler is ‘somewhere between heaven and earth’, I can see why; off-piste, parks, pipe and après-ski. Many Vancouverites not even into skiing will still visit Whistler for a weekend away. There are dozens of bars and restaurants and you can be guaranteed a great time on and off the mountain. Another mountain just as close to Vancouver is Mt Baker in Washington, a great mountain for all abilities. The mountain holds the world record for most snowfall in a season, so check the roads are open before you head there. A day pass, food and drinks are cheaper than the glitzy Whistler and there is no après-ski. But check both out, you will not be disappointed!
If you are after a big night out in Vancouver there is something for everyone on Granville Street, from Irish Pubs to clubs requiring you get your name on the guest list – take a walk during the day to suss out where you want to head in the night. Living in the city for a year allows you to venture to a range of places and many great bars and restaurants can be found in Kitsilano, Yaletown, Main Street and Gastown.
For suggestions on places offering daily deals on drinks check out vancitydrinkspecials.ca. One place that features often is The Metropole in Gastown and is definitely worth a look if you are after a big night that will not break the bank. It is handy to take cash when you do head out as some places do not allow cards to be used when the bar is busy.
Even if you are not into the outdoors there is plenty to keep a city goer entertained and the city is renowned for their abundance of comedy sessions and film. The city is also very passionate about the Vancouver Canucks ice-hockey team, a great game to be entertained by as a one off or the entire season.
There is a lot to see and do in Vancouver. I have only scrapped the surface. Whether you have a night or a year you will be able to find something for you.
Things to do:
· Explore the city on bike or foot, start on the seawall and see where you end up
· Visit the microbreweries
· Skiing and mountain biking on the North Shore, Whistler-Blackcomb and Mt Baker
· The Grouse grind
· Stanley Park (free open air movies in summer)
· Granville Island
· The numerous bars and restaurants in central city, Gastown, Yaletown and Kitsilano
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5