Vancouver – Variety, Vistas and Vibrancy

Peter Morrell spends a highly enjoyable 24 hours in one of Canada’s most desirable cities

Water Street Gastown

Water Street Gastown

Steam Clock Water Street

Steam Clock Water Street

Vancouver Port

Vancouver Port

Vancouver Harbour

Vancouver Harbour

Granville Island Market

Granville Island Market

Kebab Cart

Street Food Van

Street Cart 4

Street Food Van

Food Cart Vancouver

Street Food Cart

Japadog Cart

Japadog Cart

Flame - Winter Olympics 2010

Flame - Winter Olympics 2010

Float Plane Terminal

Float Plane Terminal

Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Art Gallery

Street Art Vancouver

Street Art Vancouver

Vancouver Fountain

Ornamental Fountain

Sinclair Centre - Downtown Vancouver

Sinclair Centre - Period Building Downtown

Canadian Pacific Memorial Statue

Canadian Pacific Employee Memorial Statue

I had been in Vancouver for less than half an hour when the magic of the city hit me. Down one street I had a glimpse of the sea, straight ahead the harbour with the tented roof of the port building and in yet another direction a backdrop of snow clad mountains. There I was, in the middle of a modern city connected on all sides to different aspects of one of Canada’s greatest assets, its natural beauty.

Time was short and I wanted to get a feel for the place so I hopped on a vintage London double decker operated by Big Bus. The one or two day hop-on hop-off bus pass gives you access to the entire route which has 21 stops and uninterrupted takes about 90 minutes.

The tour starts in Gastown, spiritual birthplace of Vancouver and now a trendy area with cobbled streets, boutiques, bars and restaurants. Named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a talkative Yorkshire seaman, the area has a Victorian atmosphere and Water Street the main thoroughfare, is home to a unique steam powered clock.

From there we drove past the port where a massive ocean going liner was waiting to set sail – a reminder that Vancouver is a popular starting point for cruises. The journey continued, showcasing some of the natural amenities of the city, such as the stunning beaches. Sunset beach, just a short walk from downtown, is dotted with huge logs that had been washed up on the shore and are now perfect backrests for sunbathers.

The bus stops for a while the top of the Vancouver peninsula in Stanley Park, established in 1888 and named after Governor General Lord Stanley of Preston. If I had an hour or two to spare I would have loved to join the hikers, joggers and cyclists setting off on a tour of the seawall that loops around the park joining up to seaside pathways Time also robbed me of the opportunity to see the group of eight carved First Nations totem poles displayed or to take one of the tours in colourful carriages drawn by shire horses

Back through downtown we crossed the bridge to Granville Island that’s rather like London’s Covent and Borough Markets rolled into one. Plump local produce and sea-fresh fish, silver and shining, sit alongside craft stalls and artisans practise their trade while buskers entertain the crowds. The island is young, energetic and hip, and particularly busy at the weekend.

On the final leg the bus passes through Chinatown, Canada’s biggest, and reflective of the fact that Vancouver’s large oriental population gives it a unique culinary and cultural vibrancy. Arriving back at Gastown and with lunch on the plane a distant memory I suddenly felt hunger pangs but didn’t want to waste a moment stopping to eat. The perfect solution presented itself in the recent but well-established part of the city’s rich culinary culture, the street food cart.

Up until summer 2010, food cart vendors in Vancouver were only allowed to sell popcorn, chestnuts and hot dogs. When that restriction was lifted the population of carts on Vancouver streets rocketed. But some welcome conditions came with this liberation. All vendors had to apply for a licence and both their food preparation premises and the cart had to meet strict hygiene standards. The food was tasted by a panel of experts resulting in the best street food in the world.

Southern style pulled-pork sandwiches, gourmet grilled cheese and oyster ‘po-boy’ rolls are just three examples of the mouth-watering meals available on the move. Faced with so many options choosing what to eat wasn’t easy but I eventually made my selection from Japadog, a cart company rapidly turning into an institution. The Terimayo, their signature dish is a classic hot dog with a distinctly oriental twist, being topped with Teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed. It was utterly delicious and I wasn’t the only one who thought so judging by the queues. You can now locate your nearest food cart at the touch of a button with the free Vancouver Street Food App for iPhone, iPad and iTouch

Walking back to the harbour, hot dog in hand, I went off in search of the flame of the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the float plane terminal. The flame is impressively large and the plane terminal surprisingly busy. From here you can take a fly/dine trip, where the plane will take you to a restaurant and you return to the city by car at the end of the evening.

As my body was still on London time, it was telling me it was time to take a break before dinner. So it was back to my hotel, the very grand Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, beautifully appointed with gold standard service to match.

Much refreshed after a shower and change of clothes I hit the busy streets on a balmy May Saturday evening. The restaurant I was heading for, The Raincity Grill, is at the end of the bustling Denman Street, a real life foodie’s fantasy, being lined with a huge selection of multi-priced, multi-ethnic, multi-style eateries.

To mark the diverse collection of restaurants in the city the Dine Out Vancouver Festival (January 18 – February 3, 2013) runs every year. It’s Canada’s largest celebration of eating out, attracting tens of thousands of local and visiting food enthusiasts. Diners can select from more than 230 restaurants each offering unique three-course prix-fix meals, many complemented by the wines of British Columbia and Kronenbourg 1664.

The Raincity Grill, one of the Dine Out participants, is something of a landmark. Opened in 1992 it specialises in sourcing all its ingredients from within 100 miles of the city. Heritage vegetables, rare breed meat, the freshest fish and farmhouse cheeses are brought together with skill and matched with some superb British Columbian wines. After a very a memorable meal, chatting with Terry Hayashi, the General Manager there was no doubting his passion for seasonal, fresh locally sourced products.

It was midnight and back on the street the place was still buzzing. Although I had been on the go for more than 24 hours Vancouver was still giving me energy.

Next morning I headed off to one of the literally hundreds of coffee shops in the city. A large cappuccino and a very sticky hot cinnamon bun set me up for the day. My remaining time was draining away like sand in an hour glass and there was still so much to do.

A short walk from the hotel is the Vancouver Art Gallery that, as well as a permanent exhibition featuring amongst others Emily Carr, one of British Columbia’s most respected artists, it hosts world class travelling collections. The Matisse paintings amassed by the Cone sisters of Baltimore were on display when I was there and were absolutely unmissable. But culture is not just confined to galleries and museums, there are plenty of ornamental fountains, sculptures and art in the street that are ingenious and fun.

A long flight north to The Yukon beckoned, so a walk down Robson Street, the main shopping area, saw me resist any retail therapy but the Japadog cart at the end of the street, well that’s another story.

My stay in Vancouver was all too brief but the combination of the cosmopolitan downtown, culture, natural beauty, culinary scene and outdoor activities convinced me that its reputation as one of the world’s most desirable cities is well deserved.

Useful Links

Information on Vancouver www.tourismvancouver.com
Information on British Columbia www.BritishColumbia.travel
Information on Canada www.canada.travel
Share