Once again we took Island Girl boating. This time crossing from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to the city of Vancouver. It is always so interesting to see how they pack all these vehicles in so tight on these giant ships.
The ferry operations in these parts are elaborate affairs with huge terminals and many ships and routes.
This is the largest city that we’ve visited in Canada, with a population of over 600,000. Vancouver also has one of the largest ports on North America’s West Coast. But what makes it a really special city is its spectacular setting on the coast bordered by tall mountain peaks and its temperate climate.
Our campsite was in Burnaby, an eastern suburb. There were tall, square hedges between campsites, which I find very British. It had many amenities (which we didn’t use except for the laundry room) and was adjacent to a regional park with a couple of nice trails.
The campground had only marginal WiFi. This has been a constant struggle for us since we had to turn off our Verizon data plan due to their ridiculously high costs for coverage in Canada. Fortunately, there are Tim Hortons everywhere and they have great free wifi. We love Tim.
We immediately gravitated towards Chinatown and things Chinese. Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest historic Chinatown in Canada and the third largest in North America after San Francisco and New York.
After a fabulous lunch in a BBQ restaurant (including delectable BBQ duck), we walked through the public markets; full of interesting looking fruits and vegetables, unusual smells, colorful candies, and shops full of all kinds of stuff.
Right around the corner from Chinatown, we stumbled upon a shrine to Jimi Hendrix. This we had to see. It’s a one room little brick building with posters, album covers, guitars, photographs and other paraphernalia. A very colorful gentleman who was having lunch in a little garden outside came in and told us a few stories.
This little house is what remains of Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, a soul food restaurant where Jimi’s grandmother, Nora Hendrix, worked as a cook for many years. Apparently Jimi spent summers and even lived for a short time in Vancouver, and he and other musicians ate at Vie’s after concerts, when the restaurant was closed to the general public. Very groovy.
We had a list of places we wanted to visit and Stanley Park was at the top, since we are big fans of urban parks. It’s located on a peninsula west of downtown and is massive; 1,000 acres that is actually a permanent preserve of wilderness.
So we began with a driving tour to familiarize ourselves with the myriad features of the park, stopping to look at the Brockton Point Lighthouse, walk amongst the totem pole display, begun in the 1920s, and also stopping to take in some views of the city.
We also made sure to check out Girl in a Wetsuit, a stone statue on a large boulder that looks as if she’s floating in the water during high tide. But it was low tide.
Next, we just had to sample some of the Vancouver farmers markets (there are lots). We found a small market near Chinatown, by the main train station, Pacific Central. And bought some wonderful items including gourmet meat pies, jellies, fresh lemonade concentrate and some super tasty strawberries.
And once again on the farmers market circuit, we discovered the Trout Lake Farmers Market, one of the original Vancouver farmers markets. It was neither a small nor a large market, but the variety and quality were awesome.
Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, artisan cheese, lots and lots of fresh produce including many berries, beautiful mushrooms, fresh breads, pastries and cookies, honey, fresh fish, and lots more. Plus a few food trucks. A great find.
Then back to Stanley Park with our bicycles to ride “the seawall”, a trail that goes around the perimeter of the park on the water. The Stanley Park portion of the trail is short and easy, and it connects to further trails that parallel the waterfront on the West side of the city.
With a few short exceptions, there are separate trails for pedestrians and cyclists/skaters. It’s a great way to get more close and personal with the park and the city. Along the way are beaches, great views of the waterfront and the trendy West End neighborhood.
The next day we drove out to the Whistler Blackcomb ski area. Hector skied there years ago and since that time had planned to take me on the famous Sea to Sky Highway. The highway went through some spectacular scenery with mountains towering over beautiful bays. We stopped at an old ferry dock in a provincial park for some closer views of the water.
But Hector’s previous visit took place prior to the Olympics and the Sea to Sky Highway that he drove on, which he describes as an “intimate” road, has since been replaced by a bigger, more elevated highway. So the views were a little more distant and he was a bit disappointed.
But we made it to the town of Whistler, very reminiscent of the large ski towns of Colorado, but even bigger, with tons of trendy shops and restaurants. The mountains are massive – Hector compares the ski area to Vail. And the town was hosting a weeklong Yoga event, Wanderlust.
Our walk around the town was brief, since it was a little too hot for Angel, but we stopped for a nice picnic lunch while we watched some Acro Yoga and Antigravity Yoga – pretty interesting. But it was a really long drive, about five hours roundtrip.
So we kept our next drive short, returning to Chinatown for a tour of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens. I’d been drawn to this place, and it did not disappoint. The tour of the gardens was a fascinating cultural experience.
They were the first classical Chinese gardens constructed outside of China and the result of a cooperative effort between the People’s Republic of China and Vancouver’s Chinese and non-Chinese communities.
The gardens are modeled after gardens of China’s traditional elite members, scholars, in the city of Suzhou during the Ming Dynasty. They combine elements of the arts, gardens, philosophy and architecture.
It took 53 craftsmen from China in collaboration with a local architect and a landscape architect 13 months to complete the gardens, which opened in 1986. The architecture of the buildings is Ming dynasty classical design (no nails, screws or glue). Naturally formed, pitted and convoluted rocks from Lake Tai, hand-fired roof tiles, carved woodwork, lattice windows and pebbles were shipped from China.
Two structures, representing a scholar’s formal reception hall and study contain many artifacts from the period. My favorite was a framed example of a double-sided Suzhou silk embroidery with colorful butterflies, symbols of love and warmth and peonies, symbols of wealth and success. Stunning!
I highly recommend this guided tour, a great value for the reasonable entry fee of 14.00 CAD.
On our last evening we drove over to Granville Island across from downtown. This is an island that has a huge public market that’s open every day. Apparently quite popular with foodies. But we missed the market, and instead caught a beautiful sunset.
As beautiful a city as Vancouver is, it also has a dark side. As we drove from the east to and from the city, we passed through a neighborhood with an astonishing number of homeless lined up on the sidewalks with their plastic bags and other containers of their belongings. We also saw a large “tent city” in that same area bordered by a few police cars.
Seeing such a large number of displaced people was disturbing and depressing. I hope that this city, with so much to offer, will not forget these people in need of help.
We planned to spend the next six weeks in national parks, so our last day in Vancouver, we went shopping to stock up on groceries and wine with plans to go back to the city in the afternoon.
As we drove into the shopping center’s parking garage, I heard a loud slam, as if the car had hit something. I asked “What was that?” and Hector, looking a bit pale, said, “That was the sound of two bicycles being knocked off the roof rack”. Oh, Oh.
As I looked back I saw our two bicycles laying on the ground by the entrance to the garage. For many years, we’ve had roof racks and never had an accident, but now we had.
The roof rack was another story; it was bent and looking rough. So, while Hector headed to the wine store, I went to the friendly neighborhood Tim Hortons at the same shopping center to search for a bike repair shop and a place that sold roof racks. On a Sunday afternoon on the day before a holiday, British Columbia Day.
After several unsuccessful calls (everyone was slammed), we found a place, Bicycle Sports Pacific, that would take a look at our bikes. And Hector found a Rack Attack, the same place we’d purchased many of our roof racks in the past. It’s a good thing we are both good problem solvers.
The bike repair shop repaired a brake lever and a shifter on our bikes. We were lucky. And the guy at the repair shop wouldn’t take Hector’s money – another Canadian kind moment.
So we missed our last visit to the city, but everything got fixed in time for us to drive towards our next destination. And leave this beautiful and complicated city behind.