It was my first destination of the west coast. I had heard all about the different, laidback atmosphere. And best of all, Vancouver would be made up of my favourite things: a city with beaches and surrounding stunning scenery (mountains in this case).
I’ve always had a thing for cities with dramatic backdrops. Rio de Janeiro fascinates me, as does Cape Town. Vancouver was no exception, so as soon as I set foot in the city and fixed my eyes on the skyline and mountains, my insides shook with excitement, expanding out physically as a little squeak and a wriggle of my toes.
As far as you could see, there were layers of blue-tinted silhouettes of smoothly curved mountains. The beaches were adorned with logs (a great option if you didn’t want a sandy bottom) and the city’s streets were spacious, with excellent use of fairy lights. I will never stop mentioning my love for well-placed fairy lights.
We stayed in Olympic Village (from when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics) – we had easy access to downtown etc with public transport, TransLink. It surprised me how easy it was to use: I’ve had a real mix with public transport in Canada, from Montreal being great and efficient to not understanding how people from Toronto get anywhere.
We visited Kitsilano Beach with my friend Monika, who’s just finished at university in Vancouver and was luckily still about to show us around.
This was the point I really appreciated being back in warm surroundings with a beach: I was typical beach-goer, feeling the sand around my feet, noticing how freely it moved.
Alan and I explored the houses of Point Gray (uh, they’re beautiful) and Monika joined us to Granville Island, dinner and drinks in Gastown (which I was a real fan of).
Renting bikes and riding along the Sea Wall and Stanley Park was where the Vancouver love really set in. The biking will come in a separate post, but it’s where I noticed the laidback atmosphere through the easy transition between city and nature. People didn’t seem to get any angrier as you came into more bustling areas. As a Londoner, that’s a bit of a shock to the system.
With the good obviously comes some bad, and it was startling to me how quickly I noticed the number of homeless people in Vancouver. The moment we stepped out of Waterfront station for the first time, the pavement (aka sidewalk) was lined with homeless men, some with big, would-be-fluffy dogs. There were so many, that the homeless appear to have become creative with their signs in order to stand out. One, named Todd, goes around picking up litter, hoping his good deed will earn him enough to scrape by. In some odd way I admired his initiative, but mainly felt confused and stunned that you have to stand out in homelessness in the same, ironic way that you have to try and stand out in a job. It’s a very uncomfortable idea to chew on.
There’s no easy way to move on from the homeless topic of Vancouver (which I’d quickly come to realise isn’t just a Vancouver problem, it’s a whole west coast problem), but I want to end on a positive note. Otherwise, Vancouver is the fittest city I’ve seen: people are running all the time, and when considering the spacious streets, it’s no wonder they take advantage of this. Everywhere we went there was someone accompanied with a yoga mat. My main forms of exercise are running and yoga, so witnessing how active Vancouver is in this way satisfied me.
In general, the city seems to be pretty accommodating for the happiness of its inhabitants. There are pianos dotted around the city to play at leisure, table tennis, and random spinny chairs. I love the fact that there’s no real practical point to the latter, they’re just there. The idea that someone might pass them and enjoy them for a minute (like I did), making their day that little bit better, makes me smile. More often than not, cities are focused on the economy, or so submersed in the practical that fun doesn’t reach too high in priorities. It’s a shame, because cities can be such positive, creative forces.