Visiting Vancouver

April 7, 2019

This past weekend, we went to Vancouver for a few days so that J could participate in Lindy Bout. I went along to see the sights and visit with college friends who live nearby. I would try to say something cute about the weather, but I think my humor would be too dry for this climate. Suffice to say, it rained some of the time, but I didn’t let it dampen my spirits. For the full photo set, use this link.

We arrived Thursday night after a delayed flight, and took the SkyTrain and bus to our Airbnb close to Granville Island. J went to dance, and I went to bed.

Friday

Our Airbnb host was excellent and gave us an orientation and suggestions for places to check out. I started the day with a blueberry-jasmine croissant from Beaucoup Bakery, which he recommended, and which was just a couple blocks away. The croissant was delicious, and I got crumbs everywhere while waiting for the bus to downtown. The bus ride was less than 15 minutes and put me right in the middle of downtown.

My first event of the day was a walking tour with Erik from Tour Guys. He was knowledgeable and interesting, covering a wide range of Vancouver history. We visited the Hotel Vancouver, Christ Church Cathedral, the Marine Building, and Canada Place / Vancouver Convention Center, admiring some public art, parks, and plazas along the way. The Marine Building was the stand-out by far, with its incredibly detailed Art Deco ornament both inside and out. Be sure to visit the lobby and check out the elevator doors and interiors (wood inlay, brass), ceramic tile work, terrazzo flooring, and decorative stucco. The entire building is marine-themed, with Viking ships, ships of famous explorers, signs of the Zodiac (for navigation), etc. The architect was McCarnter Nairne, a local firm. At Canada Place, we went to the downstairs lobbies and viewed some art pieces by local artists and some displays about local history.

After the tour, I continued my circumnavigation of downtown by heading east to Gastown, where I checked out the Steam Clock (which, according to Wikipedia, is no longer actually steam-powered), had a fish burrito at Tacofino, and some hot chocolate at East Van Roasters. I later tried their chocolate bars (I picked up a few for later), and would highly recommend checking them out - they roast, temper, and make their bars all in house. At this point, it started to rain, and continued raining through the rest of the day. Armed with my umbrella, I visited the Sun Yat-Sen Park (and skipped the garden), walked around BC Place, and finished at the Vancouver Public Library. I was interested in BC Place for its retractable roof, which I studied as part of my work on the Frost Amphitheater at Stanford. Unfortunately there were no public tours of the inside of the stadium available while I was there, so I just tried to get the best view I could from the outside. The library was quite impressive as well, with an outdoor roof terrace, a stadium seating area on the top floors, computer labs full of people, art displays, musical instruments on loan, and all kinds of interesting nooks and places to sit. By the end of the afternoon, my socks were soaked through thanks to my decidedly non-waterproof shoes, and I was ready to head home.

My final adventure for the day was dinner at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe followed by a trip through the galleries, which are open late on the first Friday night of the month. My local friend came with me and we enjoyed the interactive art installations by Mowry Baden, including a set of mop buckets cast in bronze, a weird pile of hand trucks that you can push around, a spinning thing that you use by lying on it on your stomach, a “DIY Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room” (my name for it) of a darkened room with annoying flashing lights that shoots ping pong balls past you, and more. Fun times were had by all.

Saturday

We started the day right by sleeping in and getting fancy Belgian waffles at Patisserie Lebeau. I had the orange and the apple cinnamon waffles, with a side of whipped cream and custard; J had the plain Belgian waffle with a side of poached pears in caramel sauce. Both were extremely sweet and indulgent - one side of poached pears would have been plenty for two plain waffles. But everything was delicious so I can’t complain. The shop is set incongruously amid a sea of high-end car dealerships / repair shops, so don’t be confused if you are looking for it!

We then took a quick walk around Granville Island and the public market before meeting our friend for the main event of the day, which was a trip to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The drive was short - everything is so close together! - and the weather was remarkably cooperative. It rained briefly while we were there, but not enough to stop us. The park is fairly “Disneyfied” with little shops and food kiosks everywhere, but I guess that helps pays for the attractions, which are a series of canopy and cliff walks built high in the trees and cantilevered from the cliffside. And, of course, there is the suspension bridge that started it all, which is really a fun piece of infrastructure, spanning across a canyon with a rushing river at the bottom. The bridge bounces and sways quite a bit as you walk across, so it’s certainly not for anyone who’s afraid of heights or can’t handle unstable surfaces. Once across, the rest of the park on that side is very easy to access, though, so it would be a good trip for folks with somewhat limited mobility, assuming they can get across the bridge. The canopy walk reminded me of the zipline adventure we did in the redwoods in California - these are the same, or similar, trees - but without the ziplining; there are a series of platforms built onto the trees, and you walk on suspension walkways between them. The little platforms also reminded me strongly of Endor from Star Wars… definitely a plus for me!

We stopped to eat our picnic lunch at one of the sets of picnic tables; J and I brought sandwiches from Beaucoup Bakery, which were surprisingly good. I had a roasted yam and tomato sandwich on a croissant, J had smoked salmon on brioche. The yam was smoky and spicy and actually made a great sandwich.

Back on the entrance side of the canyon, the cliff walk was our group’s favorite part of the park, so don’t skip that. (An aside - I heard from several people that the free Lynn Canyon Park is equally good, but I can’t attest to it myself. Let me know if you go there!) All in all, Capilano is a bit pricey, but if you’re really into engineering works and enjoy being up high, this is a worthwhile trip.

After getting damp and cold at Capilano, we headed back to our Airbnb to warm up before going to dinner at the Sandbar on Granville Island. We had a view of the harbor and everyone enjoyed their fish. Then my friends and I went to see an improv show at the TheaterSports League, and there was much rejoicing. It’s an inexpensive and fun show, and they serve alcohol, if you’re into that. We had our own little table in the front. My friends advised that the regular, daily improv show, which is a series of different improv sketches (like Whose Line Is It Anyway) is generally better than their single-theme shows.

Sunday

I slept in again - what is a vacation if not a chance to sleep? - and then grabbed breakfast at Their There, a breakfast/lunch spot down 4th from the Airbnb. I didn’t really enjoy my granola and yogurt, since the yogurt was aggressively sour and the granola & fruit topping did not compensate nearly enough. But I also got an apple danish for J, which I wasn’t able to get to him before I had to leave, and ended up eating it myself; the danish was excellent, very flaky and delicious. The shop is extremely hip(ster) and had the music pumping for a Sunday morning.

After breakfast I took the bus downtown again and met my friend for the 10:30am service at Christ Church Cathedral. As an Anglican church, the services are very “high church,” but I enjoyed the bit of pomp and circumstance, and the lovely choir and organ music. After church we headed over to Yaletown and walked around until we met the others for lunch at The Distillery. I had basic fried eggs on toast and breakfast potatoes, which were good but not anything special.

We then said goodbye to our friends, and I spent the afternoon walking around Kitsilano until it was time to catch the bus to the airport. I walked down to the beach, around the point past the Maritime Museum and Museum of Vancouver, and back along 4th. I stopped to get a hot chocolate at Koko Monk Chocolates, which was a small, slightly off-putting shop (the windows have giant signs indicating that they are VEGAN and RAW) but had pretty darn delicious hot chocolate. I got the “authentic” (unflavored) one, which was still very flavorful, with orange flavors and spices added, whipped cream, and a very thick chocolate sauce on top. I’d be curious to try their other flavors next time, since they have a long list of unusual flavors to try.

I then packed up and took the train to the airport. Public transit has been exceptional here, the buses are fast, frequent and clean, the trains quiet and easy to navigate. A+, Vancouver. I got to the airport in no time, then got through security reasonably quickly with my Global Entry card. And then, I waited. Unfortunately, the American security area has pretty disappointing food choices, so I had a mediocre banh mi while waiting for my flight. My flight back was delayed an hour, just like our flight there. Oh well.

Conclusions

And that, my friends, was Vancouver! A few general thoughts: I found the city to be very clean, well-kept, and friendly - at least, the parts that I visited. It was also easy to navigate and compact enough to walk easily. I did notice a more distinct lack of accessibility than I would have expected, specifically in newer buildings where I would have expected more; doors didn’t have clearance at the sides, lots of stairs everywhere, etc. But then again, the specific regulations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) don’t apply in Canada, so maybe their disability groups have different priorities or requirements? I did see gender-neutral restrooms or single-accommodation restrooms nearly everywhere, which was nice to see. The weather was also very cooperative, waiting until later in the afternoon or evening to rain, and I even got some legitimately sunny weather on Sunday afternoon. The cherry trees were blooming, it wasn’t too cold, and what more could one ask for!

I know I missed a lot of must-sees: the Museum of Anthropology / UBC campus, hiking / mountains, taking the ferries, etc. So I shall just have to plan to visit again. What else did I miss? Let me know!