Canada Place, Vancouver

Vancouver, a city said to be the best place to live in the world. To which extend it may be true? I made a decision to find it out on my own.

The first steps in Canada are not the easiest. The very first welcoming gesture is a detailed security check at the immigration office. The official has clearly something on his mind.

A few recent Central American stamps in my passport with a one-day layover in Los Angeles and transfer flight to Miami raise thousands questions and suspicions – where? why? what for? how? on what occasion? And detailed (very detailed!) search of my luggage. A whole hour passes. At the end the stubborn Canadian gives up and with a kind of a forced smile on his face, in a pleasant voice  he says: “Welcome to Canada, sir”. That is so called Canadian hospitality – I thought.

My heart beats with joy and I am glad that finally I’m here. Just a moment to meet my cousin. I have not seen him for more than ten years. I’m also getting to know Juliet, his wife from the Philippines and their small daughter named Kayla.

Vancouver is the largest city of British Columbia province. Different than any other city. A sandy beach with waves, high mountains around and a modern, dynamically developing city. Everything in a distance a lazy American can walk.

Stanley Park

Indian totems in Stanley Park

My Van adventure begins in Stanley Park located the north of city. Scenic bicycle road encircles densely forested interior of the park. First thing I notice walking around counterclockwise is a panorama of the city reflected on the calm surface of the river.

The park hosts a several meter high totems, a relic of the indigenous people. British Columbia is one of the three major Indian settlements in North America. Brockton Point on the edge of the park is a vantage point with a lighthouse. Not far away it is possible to access North Vancouver through the Lionsgate Bridge. The bridge is named after the two lion statues protecting the entrance. In front of me is the northern coast of the park and the view at the ocean bay, distant mountains and dense forests inhabited by hordes of bears!

Time for a bit of night impressions. After dusk we head for the bike trip to see the same places visited during the day. The city panorama reflected in a still body of water perfectly replicates glittering lights of the city. A truly contrasting setting. Peace and quiet in the park versus thousands lights viewed from the tranquil bay. With a quiet metropolis in the background we kindle our portable paraffin lantern and surrounded by greenery play cards sipping Canadian beer. And so the whole evening passes.

Urban space

Skytrain is a kind of metro above the streets of Vancouver. A suggested means of transportation around the center. Natural instinct to know the city from street level makes me choose my longboard as my cruising device along the sidewalks and streets. The quality of the road surface in Canada however gives its way to Californian endless, seamless and smooth pavements. My first topographical observations are as follows: trails are very diverse, starting with gentle hills with steep slopes up to the deadly downhill lanes. Sometimes the adrenalin is boosted by sharp corners and narrow streets. Longboarding gets more dangerous, so the more interesting! The following days I spend getting to know the city. Thanks to the crossword-shaped arrangement of the streets even after hours of getting lost around it is still easily to recover orientation.

Robson Street is the center of entertainment and nightlife. The street is filled with bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants on both sides . Just a ten degrees Celsius more and closing down the street for pedestrians would make it nearly indistinguishable from the La Rambla promenade in Barcelona. Nearby is a business district with its financial institutions, the headquarters of many global corporations and sartly dressed businessmen hanging around.

Yachts at Granville Island

I arrive at Granville Island, a peninsula located at the end of Granville St, a street running across the city. I smell smoked salmon and see the buoyant seafood trade at the local market. Fishermen are unloading their catch after night long fishing. Bay and marina with dozens of boats parked with a majestically rising modern apartments in the background and a bridge connecting two parts of the city form a picture of modern city. Skyscrapers are not just office buildings, as most of them are luxury apartments, an allocation quite unusual for big metropolis.

The tall buildings are located along the main streets while the lower buildings keep adjacent to the picturesque long and narrow streets shaded with trees.

Exiting the Stanley Park I walk along the Robson Street until the very end. Along the way, I pass a giant hall, a spectacular British Columbia Place. The building hosts paramount sport and cultural events. It can be a football pitch hosting 60 thousand fans to turn into a concert hall hosting the world-renowned artists a few days later. I see another magnificent building with a crowd of people in front. Canadians actively participate in hockey events. After all, it is their national sport! NHL league matches take place in a dedicated sports hall, the General Motors Place.

Gastown is a district heavily inspired by European architecture. Low rising buildings, winding cobble stone streets, clipped shrubs, trimmed lawns, clinker facades of buildings and standalone cast  iron benches succeed in creation of this peculiar part of city. Water Street is a main street which hosts steam powered clock. The clock is steaming constantly while the whistle of the kettle serves as a striking hourly bell.

The view from the northern part of Stanley Park

To see the entire panorama of the city it is worth to visit the Lookout. Panoramic, fully glazed top floor of the observation tower serves a view on every part of the city. In colorful daylight I see modern architecture, individual districts and the framework of the whole city. At night, the same panorama transforms into a more romantic and mysterious scene. You can see the outlines of buildings and hundreds of thousands of shimmering lights of this vibrant city.

As time passes, I see how fast the process of feeling more comfortable in Vancouver goes on. I already have a handful of my favorite places. I have already worked out plenty routes so that I can get anywhere on my longboard (here is a difference, as a car driver draws attention to road signs, one-way streets etc. while a longboarder would create in mind a map of road surfaces to cruise smoothly on good quality asphalt and avoid holes, curbs etc ). Moving around Vancouver, from the south to the north and across as well as just the fact of being here makes me more happy every day.

Panorama of Vancouver after dark

Time goes by quickly. Unfortunately and inevitably. How is it possible that I have just a few more days left in Canada?

Vancouver and British Columbia lay at the optimal latitude. The mild climate, accessible mountains and the ocean, possible longboarding, snowboarding, surfing, biking, canoeing and running. Numerous trails for hiking and lively multicultural city. Is an ideal place to pursue an active lifestyle without a need to escape the civilization.

A few interesting facts:

  • Stanley Park is the 3rd largest city park in North America, about 10% larger than Central Park in New York
  • half the Vancouver residents are immigrants
  • for the equivalent value of an apartment in Warsaw, we would buy a modern apartment overlooking the ocean downtown Vancouver

October 2007