Article by Ceri Wheeldon
I lived and worked in Ottawa in the 80s , and frequently went to Vancouver for business. I hadn’t returned until very recently, one in September and the other over the Christmas/New Year period.
It has changed a lot. Far more skyscrapers. It has become a vibrant booming city set between sea and mountains. Wherever you are in Vancouver you seem to have a view.
Driving across the Lions Gate Bridge is quite spectacular. A great place to start on a visit to Vancouver is trip up to Cypress Mountain – where you can look down and across the city to get your bearings.
One of my favourite places to visit in Vancouver itself is Granville Island – where you can wander around the indoor market where there is lots of local produce, or potter around all the arts and crafts shops.
The coffee shop culture is really strong in Vancouver – lots of independent ones as well as the usual chains. Each with its own atmosphere. Surprisingly though, there were very few on the waterfront itself, most were mixed in with the retail areas. Granville Island was one of the exceptions I came across.
Check out the exhibitions – one of my visits coincided with a Guo Lei exhibition – I love fashion , and she is the only Chinese designer to have been invited to show her clothes at Paris Haute Couture week – so I was very privileged to be able to see her clothes up close.
When it comes to shopping there is a huge Nordstrom downtown, and a large Hudson Bay store. Prices seemed cheaper than in the UK , but the price on the labels is net of sales tax, so factor in paying an additional 12% at the checkout. I was there during sales time when clothes were being double discounted. I think the Karl Lagerfield dress I bought was a bargain – I had to work out the price based on 60% off the previous price which had been discounted by 50% from the original, add on the 12% sales tax and then factor in the exchange rate! I think it ended up costing £22 from the original price of $120. A bargain – if I got my sums right ?
On the whole I found food and drink more expensive than in the UK. Pasta with a glass of wine for two cost about $80, with a glass of wine averaging $15 plus service and taxes. The food portion is I believe taxed at 5% and any alcohol 15%.
Tune in to the local news on TV – they have segments talking about events going on the city that week.
If you have a head for heights talk a walk across the Capilano Suspension bridge. I walked the bridge years ago, but on the day I had scheduled to do this on my recent trip there was heavy rain and high winds so I gave it a miss!
There is a strong focus on the outdoor life in Vancouver, biking, hiking etc. Most of the guide books grade the walks, but I would suggest googling reviews before setting off. I didn’t!! Don’t take guidebooks classifications at face value – might be easy on a warm dry sunny day but can be far more difficult to navigate on a wet day when all slippery underfoot. One of the walks I did – Deep Cove was classified as easy to moderate – but on the day I went it was wet and extremely slippery underfoot as you walked across rocks and navigated exposed tree roots. I am used to walking, and regularly go for 5 to 7 mile walks on weekends when at home, but I gave up half way through the route and made my way back – with some help to get across the more precarious bits. When I googled the walk when I got back to base many people had question the ‘easy’ classification and had experienced difficulties.
Rice Lake and Lighthouse Park, however, were lovely walks, and the views well worth the effort, although I did get a little nervous when seeing the ‘Beware of the Bears’ signs at Rice Lake I could only conclude that as there were so many people also walking it had to be fairly safe, although I did walk a little more quickly than usual!!
Personally I love walking the sea wall at Stanley Park. Hard to believe while you are walking right by the sea that you are in a city. Spaced along the path are park benches with inscriptions dedicated to deceased loved ones by their families – some are quite moving. When walking the sea wall in West Vancouver I was lucky enough to come across three otters playing in the water. That was quite special to see.
If you have time take a drive out to Whistler – home of the Olympics – interesting but not as pretty or as much character as European ski resorts . The scenery en route is very pretty though.
Take the ferry across to Vancouver Island (I hr 45 minutes) – which is in fact about a quarter of the the size of UK – though far less populated. Victoria is the provincial capital – it has more character than Vancouver. The Empress hotel just along from Parliament House is very elegant and a good place to stop for coffee.
Drive north on the island to Tofino – rugged and wild. I was unlucky with the weather – it poured down for the two days that I was there – but the scenery was still breathtaking.
Vancouver is used for a lot of film locations. By coincidence when I was there I happened to be watching the Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime ( starring Rufus Sewell as a Nazi – quite a departure from his role as Lord M in Victoria !). The series is based on the scenario of the Germans having won the second world war – and filming took place in Vancouver for its New York and some Seattle scenes. A building on Georgia Street was used for the Nazi HQ – it seems they had to ‘hide’ the Swastikas until the last minute while filming, and cast members wore capes to cover their Nazi uniforms in order to not scare the locals! Capilano Dam was the location for another scene, and the beach along from the university, which I had just walked along the day before watching that particular episode, used for another.
The downside of Vancouver….the weather. I visited in September where I was incredibly lucky for the most part (apart from the days in Tofino) , but when I went in December it rained constantly – for 3 nearly weeks!!
Vancouver is in a beautiful location but be prepared for the weather!