Two More Days in Vancouver

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January 22nd 2016
Published: February 12th 2016
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Have you ever thought about what you'd do if given an extra two days in your favourite city? We had some half formed plans to visit the city of Victoria, British Columbia's capital, on Vancouver Island. This was another thing that I had wanted to do six years ago and had not got around to. Sadly we had not anticipated how much time and money it would cost us to get there and we ended up cancelling. The upshot of this was that it gave us two more days in Vancouver which we were great as our visit so far had felt very rushed. However we didn't really know what we wanted to do with the time.

Day 4 - China Town, English Bay and Flying Over Canada

Our bodies just would not adjust to the time difference and as a result we woke late again. We left the hotel in pouring rain again and walked down to Coal Harbour. From here we had a great view of some two-tiered cloud formations over North Vancouver and Stanley Park.

We made our way down to Gastown for a second time. We'd obviously not seen enough maple syrup products the previous day as we called in quite a few more gift shops. It turns out that the Maple Syrup Advisory Council* has been quite inventive... you can pretty much get anything at all maple flavoured in Canada. By lunch time we were sick of little tacky figures (made in China) or t-shirts with a variety of moose or bear puns.

For lunch we couldn't "bear" not going to that other Canadian cliché, Tim Horton's. You "moose" believe me when I say that this was an important cultural experience. It was made all the more so by one of Her Majesty's most loyal subjects, who came in to the restaurant shouting in the name of the sovereign about how Tim Horton's is being closed down and replaced with more branches of the ubiquitous Starbucks. For my part, I really enjoyed my steak and cheese panini, maple doughnut and coffee. Icouldnt imagine why anyone would want them closed down.

From Gastown we took a stroll to Chinatown a few blocks away. Our walk took us into a more run-down area and then through the usual Chinese arch flanked by a pair of lions. Our destination was Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese Gardens. The confusing thing is that there are two of Dr Yat-Sen's Chinese Gardens and they are right next to each other. For one of these you have to pay to enter but the other is free to the public. Being money conscious round the world travellers, the paid gardens would have to offer tangibly more than the free ones for us to pay, something they didn't appear to do. The free gardens were pretty and certainly peaceful with their water features and central pagoda. I don't know whether in summer the gardens would offer more colour but in January there was a single shade of green in the plants with just a splash of red from a few berries. Inside we found plenty of bird-life, including a heron perched in a tree. As we looked up we saw, soaring above us, some birds of prey. I'm no ornithologist but I suspect they were eagles. As we were leaving the gardens, a very partially sighted man came to ask if they were eagles or hawks as he had heard them and it was a little unusual for eagles to be above the city.

Whilst we were in the gardens the rain had stopped and the skies were getting brighter by the minute. Not sure what to do with ourselves, we left Chinatown and headed back into central downtown. We stopped on Robson Street for an amazing chocolate shop, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, where they sold chocolate and caramel apples. Basically they stuck a stick through a huge Granny Smith apple, coated it in caramel and then in chocolate and then in a choice of other flavourings. What could be better? Lindsey chose a white chocolate and peanut butter flavoured apple and I chose dark chocolate, fudge and nuts. They were so big we decided we'd share each of them. By now the clouds were breaking and the sun was penetrating well - it promised a good sunset.

We decided we'd eat the first of our amazing apples at English Bay, watching the sun set over the Innukshuk. In general, an Innukshuk is an aboriginal land marker which speaks of welcome and peace. The specific one at English Bay has extra significance as it was used as the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This broadly person-shaped stone sculpture is quite an iconic image and we got to see it backlit with a subtle but evocative multi-coloured sunset. The apple just made the experience all the more memorable.

Once it was dark, we walked back to our hotel. A quick bite to eat turned into two hours and we debated whether to go back out again. I'm extremely glad that we did because our evening was amazing. We went to an experience at the Waterfront called 'Fly Over Canada'. We had a safety briefing and then boarded our "flight", including fastening our seatbelt like on a plane. For the next few minutes we saw scenes from across Canada - from Halifax Nova Scotia; through Toronto, Ontario at New Year; over Niagara Falls; across the wheat fields of Manitoba and Alberta; and into the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver. The scenery was simply breathtaking. As we traveled our seats moved to simulate flying. There were also a variety of smells and even simulation of spray from waterfalls and clouds. As it is close to Chinese New Year we were given a special extra treat. Before the Canada experience started, we flew with a dragon over the spectacular scenery of China. This included its mountains, endless terraced fields, rivers and cities. Having just been in Shanghai it was great to recognise some of the sights. These two flights made me desperate to see much more of both of these amazing countries. It is so sad to barely scratch the surface.

Day 5 - Stanley Park, English Bay, Granville Island and the Airport

Our final day in Downtown Vancouver was set to be a bit strange - we had to pick up a hire car from the airport which would curtail our plans somewhat. As we had some extra time we were keen to go back to Granville Island. For the first time though we woke to bright skies and even some sunshine. For this reason we also decided to revisit some of the places we had already seen.

Stanley Park had to be first. We had gone around the outside last time but now we would cut through the middle and hopefully see more. We discovered that it is very extensive and that it has a lot more to offer than just scenic views, trees and wildlife. We walked past an aquarium and a model train for example. Not far from the aquarium we found a nice spot to sit and enjoy the beauty of the park whilst tucking into our second apple. A little girl walked past, holding her father's hand, and her eyes became almost as large as the apple as she saw what we were eating. My tastebuds were just as amazed by the delicious combination of bitter dark chocolate, sweet caramel and fudge and the tangy Granny Smith. It didn't take us long to devour our "healthy" snack. Don't give me that look... it is mainly fruit!

We moved on, walking towards English Bay. Between the aquarium and English Bay we found the Lost Lagoon. Under the cover of the park's trees we hadn't realised how much the cloud had broken over the mountains. As we emerged at Lost Lagoon we saw for the first time that there was now a mountainscape that gleamed with fresh snow, behind the city. The view with the lake in front was breathtaking but sadly our cameras couldn't do it justice.

We walked beyond English Bay, taking in the gorgeous placid waters lapping against the shore. This time when we caught the ferry we had planned to buy a pass to travel in both directions throughout the day. We had spent so much time in Stanley Park admiring the views that sadly we couldn't do this. Instead we bought a ticket to go to Granville Island and then to the old Olympic park, from where we would catch a train to the airport.

Granville Island is a very different place on a Saturday afternoon compared to a mid-week evening. The market was heaving with people and buzzing with noise. We headed straight to the pot-pie stall to buy lunch. The hall was so busy that there was nowhere to eat it. Instead we had to sit outside in the chilly afternoon sun. Here we had to compete will gulls to keep our food and with a ukulele player to hear each other speak. It was a good atmosphere though and the pie kept us warm. We spent the next hour or so poking into the shops on the island. There are some fantastic stationers and gift shops which we spent a long time in. We also visited a music shop with all kinds of weird and wonderful instruments. My favourite, though, were a couple of photographer's galleries displaying some wonderful shots of the city - alas our luggage couldn't stretch to accommodate any of them.

All too quickly, before we'd finished browsing, we had go to the airport. We caught the next ferry and headed down False Creek. This was a lovely cruise in itself and well worth doing to see the skyline. At the Olympic Village there are the iconic sights of Science World and an ice hockey stadium which, whilst not my architectural cup of tea, are certainly worthy targets for the camera.

We got off the ferry and headed to the nearby train station. Unfortunately, it was only after we scanned our cards that we realised we'd taken the wrong direction and couldn't access the line we needed from there. We had to take the train back to the Waterfront and then change onto the right one. This cost us a lot more time.

We finally got to the airport as the sun was setting. Here, after signing the paperwork and giving credit card details, we were told that the car wasn't suitable for the journey we were undertaking as it is illegal to drive North of Vancouver without snow tyres and the car we had was not equipped with them. I was stunned that a Canadian car rental company wouldn't have vehicles equipped to drive in snow. I was also stunned that this only came up when the whole process was completed. They had one car left which could accommodate our needs but that was going to be a huge amount extra each day. We declined and they 'graciously' cancelled the contract. We had wasted most of our last afternoon in Downtown Vancouver and the return train fare to get us to the airport and all for nothing. In addition we were now late to meet our host, who we had never met before.

We dashed back into town, already an hour late. We had left our luggage in the morning at our hotel when we checked out. We picked this up and decided to call a taxi rather than delay any further. The taxi arrived almost instantly and we hopped in. He then proceeded to take us the long route, through the city centre traffic, to get to our hosts. This added quite a bit of time and also more than doubled the price from what we had been quoted. We were not happy. Thankfully Jill and Frank, our hosts, were really kind and understanding. Soon we were tucking into dinner, chatting away like old friends and feeling much better.

*In case it isn't obvious... I've made this group up, please don't bother Googling them.

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