Vancouver – A City of Contrasts

I went to Vancouver on a whim in September 2103. It was never really one of those places I “just had to visit”, but I came away from that trip having visited one of my most favourite places ever… it just wasn’t Vancouver.

Vancouver
Some of Vancouver’s skyline from Stanley Park

Don’t get me wrong, Vancouver is a nice city. I enjoyed my few days there before heading on a 7 day Alaska cruise. It was just a weird city for me.

For years it’s been voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world but it’s also one of the most expensive to live in (confession from one my tour guides). It boasts some beautiful natural scenery , but there was a large homeless population when I visited (I was told this was because a mental hospital had closed and the patients were just turfed out onto the street). Parts of the city looked just like any other city (it kind of reminded me of Brisbane a little), but there were pockets of amazingness (for lack of a better word), like Gastown.

Even after 3 years I still don’t actually know if I liked the city or not.

Vancouver
The front facade of Waterfront Station

I didn’t have a horrible time in Vancouver, in fact it was quite pleasant. Well apart from the day I spent in bed because I had such a horrible cold and missed out on going to see Hamlet at Bard on the Beach (something I still regret not seeing to this day). But other than that, I had a nice time in Vancouver.

And to quote Hamlet “Ay, there’s the rub”.. it was ‘nice’. That’s the kind of thing that you say when you don’t really know what to say or have nothing to say. I think this is why it has taken me so long to actually do anything about my photos of Vancouver.

Vancouver
Vancouver is really quite a pretty city

Other places I’ve visited I had definite feelings about, whether it be Melbourne or London which I love and can’t wait to share photos of; or New York or Paris, which I really didn’t love at all but still I shared my photos – maybe more proving to myself that those places are actually quite amazing.

I think cities that make a huge impact on you, whether good or bad, are the ones that you remember the most. The rest, kind of just get pushed to one side and only get brought out if someone mentions them in conversation.

Amazing Laughter
The A-maze-ing Laughter sculpture in English bay

Hence the reason I am now, after 3 years, talking about Vancouver. My cousins have just been over to Vancouver and have been posting photos on Facebook. It’s kind of been the push I needed to talk about my time there. So here it goes:

Like I said at the start, I visited Vancouver more on a whim than any real desire to actually go there. It was the furthest I could go for the less amount of money. I should say that was the original plan, until friends of mine said they were going to be in the city around the same time as me before they headed off on an Alaskan cruise, which they then invited me on. But that is another post for another day. So I decided if that was the case, I would spend around 4 days in Vancouver before the cruise and a couple of days in Victoria after the cruise (again, another post for another day).

Vancouver
Vancouver from the water

Getting there:

Back in 2013 the only way for me to get to Vancouver was via another city. Now, of course, Air Canada fly directly to Vancouver from Brisbane – maybe that will entice me to give the city another chance. So I had to decide which city I was going through. The most logical choice would have been Sydney but I chose to go via Auckland because I wanted to fly Air New Zealand.

I’ve flown Air NZ loads of times. Living in Brisbane but coming from New Zealand, I go home, a lot. Air NZ is always my first choice when flying across the Tasman, I’m still loyal to the airline I use to work for I guess, plus they are good! I had never flown on them long haul however and really wanted to.

I was disappointed – not in the staff, who were lovely, but in the aircraft. It was one of their older aircraft and it was not the most pleasant flight I’ve been on. The plane from Brisbane to Auckland was also used for the flight to Vancouver and return. One leg, the armrest only went up halfway; another leg it didn’t go up at all. The entertainment was one of those ones where the remote was stuck in the side of the armrest, so fiddly to get in & out to use. It was just an uncomfortable flight.

Vancouver
Skyplane flying over the harbour

Canadian Immigration:

I have never had an experience quite like I had when I went through Immigration in Vancouver, although London last year did come close.

I was asked how long I was staying (fair question); where I was staying (again, fair enough question); how much I was paying for the accommodation (huh?!?!); if I was travelling alone (I started to freak out a little here); where I was staying (again!!); why I said I was travelling alone when I said “we are going on a cruise” (I’m meeting people here dude!). I was asked where I was staying and how much it cost around 3 separate times. I was actually beginning to think I had a stalker on my hands.

After the 3rd time of asking how much the hotel was, I asked if that was a reasonable price. The immigration officer just shrugged and said “I have no idea”.

I know they are trying to catch people out but still.. a little overkill Canada!

Gastown
I would have been happier to meet this fella at Immigration

The Hotel

It’s always hard to book accommodation in a city you have never been to before. You don’t know where anything is; you don’t know the areas to avoid or the most expensive places. It can be kind of hit and miss. I had a few hotels that I was looking at and even booked a couple on booking.com but for one reason or another I can’t even remember now, I decided to book the English Bay Hotel.

I honestly did not know what to expect. The photos of the place weren’t really that appealing but I think it was because of one review comment that made me go with this hotel. The comment basically said it looked like one of those pay per hour hotels, but it was actually a great hotel. So I booked it.

Vancouver
Doesn’t look much from the outside, but the English Bay Hotel was a great based for my time in Vancouver

I loved it! It did look pretty dodgy from the outside but the price was very reasonable; the staff were friendly; there was a laundry (always handy); it was close to restaurants, a small mall with a huge supermarket and the all important transport. It was also super close to English Bay beach, a fantastic spot for sunsets!

Vancouver
English Bay has some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen

But I think the best thing about this place was the room. It was huge!

I had a studio room, which had a huge double bed, compact kitchen, dining table and a good size bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t anything flash – a little dated even but it was actually perfect at the same time. But the best feature of my room at least, was the giant windows that looked out over English Bay – which was really lovely to lie in bed and look at the day I was laid up in bed with the cold.

Vancouver
The view from my hotel room

I can remember walking into the room thinking how large it was for just one person. The curtains were closed so I had no idea what my view was or even which way I was facing. I actually audibly gasped when I opened the curtains and saw my view. It was just stunning to say the least.

Vancouver:

I only had about 4 days in Vancouver, which is probably not really enough but I managed to fill the time in nicely.

  • I went on a city tour and saw some Totem Poles
  • I went up the Vancouver Lookout Tower and saw some amazing views
  • I went to the aquarium and saw a beluga whale
  • I went to Gastown and fell in love
  • I went on a day trip to Whistler and stood on top of a mountain
  • I got caught in the rain but didn’t really mind
  • I saw a raccoon
  • I saw some of the most amazing sunsets ever
  • I couldn’t stop smiling whenever I saw the A-maze-ing Laughter sculpture
  • I forced myself out of my sick bed (seriously guys, I really was sick!) and got the bus to Granville Street to see it lit up at night
  • I think I saw some Supernatural filming (I may have been delirious at this point)

For 4 days I think I packed a lot in. There were only a couple of things I really wanted to do but didn’t, which were go to a Bard on the Beach performance – did I mention I was sick? The other thing was I didn’t go up Grouse Mountain, and really regret it.

Vancouver
Very cute little hop on hop off trolley (yes I did use it)

Gastown

I loved Gastown, like really loved it. I went there not really planning on going there. I was all prepared to go to Granville Island and spend some time there but on the city tour I did, we went through Gastown and I just knew I had to go back. Once we got to Granville Island I decided that I didn’t want to stay there so got a lift from one of the other tour guides back to Gastown (she was awesome, even told me which bus & bus stop I needed to get back to my hotel).

Gastown
I really did fall in love with Gastown

I pretty much loved everything about Gastown. It kind of had a village vibe going on. I loved the streets, the flowers hanging from the lamposts, the architecture and the shop/restaurant signs. It was just a cool place to walk around and spend time in.

Gastown
The big tourist attraction, the Gastown Steam Clock (which, incidentally, is younger than me!)

On my way back to the bus stop, I decided, again on a whim, to go up the Vancouver Lookout Tower, which is not far from Gastown. The really cool thing about the Lookout Tower is that with your ticket, CAD16.25 for an adult, you can return as much as you like throughout the day. Yep, that’s right, you can go as many times as you want on the same ticket and only pay one price.. how good is that! With that in mind, I decided to go up and then return later that evening for sunset and the evening views. It was a real highlight. Some amazing views from up there.

Vancouver
Just one of the stunning views from the top of the Lookout Tower

Whistler

You know how I said right at the beginning (seems so long ago now): “I came away from that trip having visited one of my most favourite places ever… it just wasn’t Vancouver”.. well that place was Whistler.

Whistler
Whistler Village – picture postcard worthy

I went on a day trip from Vancouver in early September, so it would be their autumn meaning that there was not a lot of snow around but it was still a great destination. It’s about an hour & half from Vancouver but a world away from the city.

This day is still one of my favourite travel memories. It was a gorgeous day for a start, the drive up to Whistler was really nice (Tip: if going on a bus trip to Whistler, sit on the left of the vehicle going up or the right going back to Vancouver – the scenery is amazing!!!).

I got talking to a lovely Scottish couple and we hung out for most of the day. We took the gondola to the top of Whistler and then the Peak 2 Peak to Blackcomb for a lunch with a SPECTACULAR view (note: Peak 2 Peak is only open May to October).

Whistler
The very cool Peak 2 Peak Gondola. If you’re lucky, you can get a glass bottom gondola

I come from New Zealand, I am no stranger to mountains but it wasn’t until I went to Whistler that I realised I had never actually been on top of a mountain (the Port Hills in Christchurch do not count as mountains in this context!). I’ve driven over mountains, but you are never really at the top are you, so to actually be on top of a mountain looking down at the world below is something that I will never forget. (I actually had that Carpenters song playing in my head as I wrote that)

The other highlight of the day of many highlights, was Whistler Village itself. It was a quaint yet sprawling township with loads of shops, yes all touristy, with some of the coolest signs I’ve seen. Oh and don’t forget the Olympic Rings!

I really fell in love with Whistler and it’s charms. It’s definitely a place I would love to visit again.

Whistler
Whistler for me was unforgettable 

Overview:

So there you have it. Like my title says, Vancouver is a city of contrasts – for me anyway. There were things I really loved – like the sunsets, I can’t get over those sunsets! But there was nothing that I hated so I just don’t know why I can’t decide if I liked Vancouver or not.

Maybe I just need to go back and check out Vancouver again.

Vancouver
Very cool Totem Poles in Stanley Park
Vancouver
Even before I really knew I loved street art, I was checking out street art
Vancouver
The flame from the Winter Olympics in 2010
Vancouver
Lions Gate Bridge is very similar in style to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Vancouver
The very cool lights of Granville Street (I dragged myself from my sickbed for this photo… so worth it!)
Amazing Laughter
Love, love, love this sculpture near my hotel. You can’t help but smile when you see them
Gastown
This very cool building is called the Dominion Building & was Vancouver’s first steel-framed high rise. I loved this building
Vancouver
English Bay has some of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen

You can check out more of my photos from Vancouver & Whistlers on my Flickr page.


3 thoughts on “Vancouver – A City of Contrasts

    1. The customs in Canada were the weirdest I’ve ever experienced. A girl I met in line waiting got asked equally weird questions by a different officer.. it took so long to get through because they ask so many darn questions haha

      Like

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