Canada seems to get an unfair rap as being kinda backwards, consisting of a lot of nothing besides mountains and moose. It’s fairly small population is painted out as being obsequiously polite and insipid, delighting in a kooky culture that no one else seems to care about. With the loudmouth behemoth that is the USA as it’s only neighbour, it isn’t surprising that Canadian culture doesn’t penetrate so much into the every day life of our damp little Isle across the Atlantic. However my expectations of Vancouver as a grey, rain soaked town on the distant edge of the continent where nothing much ever happened were decimated immediately when I discovered my couchsurfing host was a vivacious Chinese drag queen. Yeah. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
What quickly became apparent to me is that Vancouver is trendy, edgy, progressive, unbelievably diverse and incredibly inviting. Signs around town informed me that it is often voted one of the most livable cities on the planet. My host lived in the heart of the gay area of downtown (unsurprisingly) where a huge assortment of international restaurants, bars, cafes and shops were all located, and with the superb public transport and modern high rise apartment blocks, I felt like I had stepped into a city from the future. I don’t think any of the places I’ve been to in the USA felt safer, cleaner, more accessible or more varied than Vancouver. I think it took me all of 10 seconds to decide I liked this city. But why were there so many Starbucks?
Unfortunately, I had come down with some kind of stomach bug during my time in LA, which really drained my energy for two of the three days of my stay. Or maybe it was the late night parties in New Orleans finally catching up with me. As a result I didn’t achieve a whole lot whilst here. I explored a couple of districts and had a short and somewhat unsuccessful bike ride, but mostly took the opportunity to get some reading done. I had had the best time hanging out with new friends in NOLA and LA, but I was kind of looking forward to a bit of solitude – reading in cafes, strolling through parks etc.
When I think back to the places I’ve seen throughout the USA, I delight in how varied the country is. I’ve seen beaches, lakes, mountains, forests, cities… but, well the thing with Vancouver is… it has it all. In one place. Walk out of the bustling downtown for 10 minutes? You’re in Stanley Park, which for all appearances may as well be a secluded forest right in the middle of the continent. This is where I “enjoyed” my bike ride.
After around ten minutes into said cycle, it became painfully apparent to me (literally) that I was nowhere near as fit as I had previously believed. Legs aching, chest heaving, knees quivering, body overheating… I hadn’t even made it into the park yet. I stopped frequently, kidding myself that it was for a photo or to rearrange my helmet. After entering the park, I realised I was quite alone, trundling up what seemed to be a continuous slight incline that just wouldn’t let up. Road bikes whistled past me as I huffed and puffed. I eventually climbed up to Prospect Point, which to my credit must have been at least 40m higher than the water level. I appreciated the view of English Bay, lit by twilight… when it occurred to me that crap! the sun was setting. I grabbed one last eyeful of the Lions Gate Bridge and then went in search of the path back to the city.
All I found was this perilously steep decline to the seawall. Unlit. I started down, fingers clenching brakes that screamed all the way. I skidded past as Canada geese spat me, dogs snarled and barked, dirt when flying and branches whipped by. I landed, panting and cursing, at a crossroads where every way was One Way – the way I’d come. Considering my nerves were a little frayed by this point, I decided to walk the bike back. Which took ages. All the beautiful vistas I was looking forward to were soon enveloped by the night, but I did actually have a very serene stroll back to town. It was chill, it was silent, and I felt very content to have survived my excursion thus far.
I actually loved the climate in Vancouver. It’s almost Christmas after all, and I hadn’t been to any cities recently where it felt remotely like it. So the slight chill and persistent drizzle was quite welcome and made me feel much more at home. I spent the next day exploring Gastown, a charming neighbourhood with cobbled streets, cute and trendy stores and great restaurants, as well as Granville Island. Which used to be completely industrial, but following World War II was reinvented as some kind of bohemian arts district. Warehouses turned art galleries, docks turned kitch markets selling so much stuff you don’t really need but want oh so much, and the ubiquitous independent cafes and restaurants. Had an awesome time hanging out here. It was totally worth walking over the bridge, in the rain, whilst 6 lanes of traffic roared by, 2 feet away. Could have taken a ferry, but I’m poor, so. Actually, on that topic, stuff in Canada was so reasonable! My pounds went a long way. Is there anything bad about this place??
My host Keanu and I got along really well. He was smart, chatty, generous and a lot of fun! We went for lunch and to the movies (Gone Girl) and hung out at his place… I had a lot to learn about his hobby/alter ego. It’s something I can honestly say I don’t know a whole lot about! So I had a short but memorable stay in Vancouver – I wish I could see more of Canada, it seems like a country that has a lot to offer! But (unfortunately?) I’m heading back into the US for my next stop; Seattle!