How does one sum up one lone day in a city you never visited before? A tough task.
I touched down in Vancouver at 10.30am on Monday morning. It is my first visit to the west coast of Canada and to this city that’s gearing up for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Driving into downtown from the airport, it felt very much like Seattle – a Pacific Northwest metropolis with a stunning natural setting that takes your breath away. Mountains meet the ocean meets the rainforest greenery and old-growth forests hiding hundreds of years of unspoken wisdom.
After checking into my downtown hotel, I went out to explore. I had a 5.30pm appointment so my encounter with Vancouver was to be short and hopefully sweet. I strolled Robson Street, the main shopping thoroughfare lined with big-name stores and funky independent boutiques. It was a pleasant walk but shopping isn’t what a city makes. At least for me. Food, more so. My lunch was delicious, at a small waterfront restaurant, Raincity Grill on Denman Street, that serves organic locally sourced food from within the 100-mile radius. My salmon was succulent and perfect fuel for the walk along scenic English Bay toward the Granville Island ferry.
After what was probably the shortest ferry ride of my life (about five minutes long and $3 cheap) on the tiny Aquabus boat, I took a wander through the delightful Granville Island Public Market. The food looked so appealing that I almost regretted having had that filling lunch. What followed was a ramble along the back streets of this artist enclave chockablock with galleries and crafts shops. I loved the echoes of the area’s industrial past – once home to sawmills, warehouses and factories – and the bridge running above, giving it an urban edge. Below, a few market scenes.
At 3pm, I had the ambitious idea of zipping over to Stanley Park in a cab in order to rent a bike and see this evergreen oasis on wheels. By the time I arrived to the park’s edge, I realized I am about to enter a 1000-acre swath of dense forest and hop on a sea wall path that takes at least an hour to circumnavigate. I had to be back at my hotel within the hour so, regrettably, I had to stand up Stanley.
Or so I thought. But the evening had a lovely twist in store. After dinner, I joined a small group – two Saudis, two New Yorkers (including yours truly) and our Canadian guide Pieter (firstname.lastname@example.org) – for an evening exploration of Vancouver sights. While I prefer to stumble into things unexpectedly, explore independently and get lost in cities new to me, this particular tour was a pleasant surprise. We saw the usual roster of sights: the First Nations totem poles in Stanley Park (I did make it after all, although on four wheels not two), the hip gentrified waterfront community of Yaletown, the narrowest office building in Chinatown and the panoramic views from Vancouver Lookout, a viewing deck more than 40 floors above ground with a 360-degree view of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Islands.
But what impressed me more were Pieter’s stories, the tidbits of information only locals know, the “secret” spots like Third Beach in Stanley Park at sunset and historic Gastown, the birthplace of Vancouver with cobblestone streets and Victorian houses once frequented by sailors and now transformed into a restaurant-bar row near the edge of Vancouver’s rough alleyways. We ended the night at a Gastown sidewalk over a glass of red wine, watching the gallery of local faces – quarreling couples, quirky characters and homeless artists paraded past us, some stopped for a chat… No better way to end my single day in Vancouver than with a little local flavor.