City of Vancouver––Love at First Sight (July 8-19, 23-27, 2016)
27 February, 2017: Arguably the most beautiful city in Canada, Vancouver is a must-see for visitors to Canada and Canadian residents alike. The city has a lot of offer, including some of the mildest weather in the country. It is true that it rains a lot and is often so foggy that you cannot make out the majestic mountains in the backdrop. But honestly, if you don’t like the weather in Vancouver, just wait 5 minutes…. Read on.
I visited Vancouver for the first time in July 2016 and was very excited to discover it––this land of the blessed trifecta: mountains, sea, and forest all in one glorious glance. I went with an blank slate, in terms of expectations. I like to do that when I travel to a place I’ve never been to before. It’s my way of ensuring that no matter what happens, I am not disappointed. Well, in Vancouver’s case, it was an especially good attitude to have, as Vancouver does a terrific job all by itself filling in the canvas with unique and colorful experiences that are as brilliant and unforgettable as the city itself. Here are 5 impressions I came away with from my visit:
1. Vancouver gives meaning to the provincial (license-plate-inscribed) slogan, “Beautiful British Columbia.” It is a gorgeous destination, with the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance to hold you in awe, an old-growth temperate rainforest to humble you as you wander through Stanley Park, and wonderfully accessible white-sand beaches, both downtown and in adjacent districts, that sustain a local culture of daily beach volleyball, barbecues, and sunset gazing. Of course, as in any other city around the world, there are ugly areas as well––in Vancouver’s case, East Hastings street in Chinatown is the exception that proves the rule. But that just keeps things real, in my opinion, and I’m down with that.
2. Vancouver has a housing situation characterized not so much as a crisis but as a nightmare. With rich overseas-dwelling foreigners buying up properties and realtors getting rich off house flipping, purchasing property is more or less unattainable for the average middle-income family or professional couple. A condo will start you at around $1 million…the less-than-ideal ones in perpetual shadow that face back-alley walls and trash cans, that is…and although renting costs much less, it is still relatively pricey, not to mention hard to find. Even as a tourist, the cheapest accommodation I could find was a shitty hotel room––as smelly as it was impossibly tiny––that set me back $85 a night, on East Hastings street. So, unless you’re wealthy or are well connected with resident friends or family, there is a good chance that living in Vancouver will be out of your reach. This is bad news for employers seeking to recruit talent or to retain the young and qualified workforce graduating from local universities such as the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. Not to mention for local Vancouverites working downtown, who are forced to live much further away and spend hours commuting into the city each day.
3. Vancouver nights get pretty chilly, even in the summertime. A little story: When we told our friends we were going to Vancouver for the first time, almost everyone we spoke to warned us about the weather. It would seem that Vancouver has a bad reputation for cloudy, rainy weather, and for thick fog that often obscures that gorgeous mountain view. We were actually pretty lucky during our trip, as it rained just a handful of times (speaking of which, the saying is true––if you don’t like the weather in Vancouver, just wait 5 minutes). The weather, during our trip, was mostly dry, sunny, and beautiful, with blue skies and crystal clear views of the gorgeous mountain-capped skyline. But what everyone FORGOT to tell us was that it actually gets pretty chilly in the evenings in Vancouver, pretty much as soon as the sun sets. So pack wisely––a windbreaker over a warm sweater would set you up perfectly, as the open sea generates pretty strong breezes. But if you forget to bring along a jacket when you head out in the daytime, don’t worry; just pop into a bar: apparently, it’s a Vancouver thing to be offered a blanket in the evening, along with your drink.
4. Vancouver seafood––in particular, sushi and fish & chips––is hands-down the BEST seafood in Canada (not counting lobster and clam chowder from the Maritimes, of course…but more on that later). Perhaps, it’s the proximity to the Pacific Ocean; or perhaps, it’s the culinary legacy of its large and historic resident East Asian community (from Hong Kong, to be specific); but seafood in Vancouver is so fresh and scrumptious that we literally couldn’t get enough of it. We had to have our daily dose of fish and chips before each day ended––Go Fish was our favorite spot; it’s always got a long line going, but is totally worth the wait. We also absolutely LOVED eating at Akira Sushi––if the sumptuous and highly creative menu doesn’t have you at hello, your taste buds will seal the deal for you.
5. Traffic in Vancouver (both getting into the city, and circulating downtown) is pretty bad. I recommend circulating by bus (TransLink) or on foot––it’s very doable as the city is fairly small. In fact, treat yourself to a walk (or bike ride for that matter) along the entire circumference of the city, as it’s been thoughtfully outfitted with a duo bike lane/sidewalk to connect you to the ocean view at very instant. The Vancouver seawall is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path, comprising 28 km of uninterrupted Seaside Greenway that passes through the Stanley Park forest. That being said, you will need to rent a car to actually get close to those mountains you see in the distance. The town of Whistler, BC, was highly recommended by many, although we were too busy enjoying Vancouver to make it out there.
And there you have it. My top 5 impressions of the gorgeous city of Vancouver. For specific things to do and places to eat in Vancouver, read my recommendations here. I hope to visit Vancouver again very soon!