Expectations were high for Vancouver. We’d been told it’s a lot like Wellington but bigger and therefore, better; a city sitting on the water, surrounded by mountains, the people are outdoorsy and the coffee is good. But we have to admit, we weren’t totally blown away.
That’s not to say we hated it! We had a really enjoyable and relaxing week. Once again, we were spoilt with beautiful weather; sunshine everyday, averaging 23 celsius and anywhere is already ten times better when it’s sunny. We also got a lot of “trip admin” done.
So what’s there not to like you’re wondering?
Vancouver has a superficial sparkle. Across the water on Granville Island or Kitsilano Beach, you get a spectacular view of the city, rising out of the blue waters, with the sun reflecting off the hundreds of glassy high rises. Behind the glistening metropolis lies acres and acres of lush green rainforest that once dominated the land. It’s bright and colourful, the streets are clean and the people are cheery and laid back. However, after a few days, the sheen began to thin and the darker underbelly of Vancouver started to peek through.
We noticed the huge gap between rich and poor, which we know exists in many countries and cities around the world but it was hard to ignore in Vancouver. The streets are teeming with homeless people yet Lamborghinis and Mazeratis cruise by without a second glance. In this Huffington Post article from late last year, it highlights one of the main reasons for the growing number of homeless; the cost of housing has sky rocketed. More and more lower to middle class people are being forced onto the streets. It’s the same problem that cities like San Francisco are experiencing, coupled with the closure of a lot of mental health facilities which have left a great deal of patients homeless.
The cost of living is crazy. You have to pay for everything! Just a small example…we caught a ferry and a bus to get to the start of a hiking trail that would take us to the top of a small mountain, giving you a 360 degree view of the city. We were all set to go but only at the start of the trail there’s a small sign saying “no hiking down the mountain. $10 gondola fee down”. So, you can do the hard work and hike up for free but we’d have to pay $20 to get down? No thanks. We ended up on own little hike in North Vancouver instead. Sadly, without the 360 degree view but we’re on a budget!
Ok, getting a bit negative on little old Vancouver here. There were parts we really liked.
The plethora of restaurants leaves you with too much choice of where to dine and the food is really good, especially the sushi.
The cycle and walk ways that wind their way through downtown and along the waterfronts are amazing. People are out running, cycling, skateboarding and rollerblading at most hours of the day. We walked a lot, through all the districts in downtown and out to Stanley Park, which is a huge headland of forest and beach to one corner of the city.
We joined another walking tour and our guide was again, fantastic. Vancouver isn’t an old city by any means but we still got a run down of it’s history, of how it is built on the mining, logging and fishing industries…and now the coffee and yoga businesses. There’s a joke in Vancouver that all the baristas are there to jack people up in the morning and the yogis can chill them out in the evening.
Of course, we couldn’t have visited Vancouver without taking a yoga class, it’s the home of Lululemon. Even better, these ones were free! At Kitsilano beach, throughout the summer months, there’s free yoga every day of the week.
We learnt some interesting rules about building, downtown, in Canada’s most expensive real estate market (look what a cool $63 million will get you). One rule was that if you build a high rise property downtown, you have contribute a piece of public art to the city, next to or on the building. Every square foot equals $1 put towards the art. We saw some really interesting and innovative sculptures.
This one is outside a government building and is called ‘Public Service/Private Step’. The five boxes travel up and down in coordination with the five elevator cars inside the building. Tim noticed that you could go out and grab a quick coffee and know just when to enter the building again, when the lift was on the ground floor. So smart.
Another rule is that technically you can’t build a property downtown that’s above 50 storeys in order to preserve the magnificent view of the mountains and to let as much light into the city as possible. But you look around and think “that can’t be true, there’s skyscrapers all around me”. To sidestep this rule, developers can actually buy space above existing buildings to add to their 50 storeys and build something that’s much taller. This bend of the rules came about because the city council needed to find a way to raise money to restore historic or listed buildings, that the public wanted to preserve, but didn’t want to pay for. By selling off the space above these buildings, they gain the money for the restorations, keeping the public and property developers happy. That’s why you’ll often see a tall skyscraper right next to an old church or hotel.
As mentioned, we also got a lot of trip admin completed. We’ve booked our car hire in America and our accommodation for the U.S. Surf Open at Huntington Beach. We also have flights to the East Coast following this, to visit family in Pennsylvania. It feels good to have a few plans in place.
There’s so much more to Vancouver than we could possibly have seen in the week we were there so maybe maybe our more negative judgements are a little ignorant and naive. Perhaps it was because our high expectations weren’t met. So, lesson learned…don’t set them and you won’t be disappointed.
With no idea of what to expect from our next destination and no idea if immigration would let us in to begin with, we hopped on board a Bolt Bus, headed to Oregon, U.S.A.
See more photos from Vancouver here!