Saturday, 7 September 2013


The feeling that the long awaited holiday has finally arrived became real as we stepped off the plane at Vancouver airport.  Even the damage inflicted to my new, expensive hard shell suitcase by one of the airlines could not dampen our spirits.  I went into my normal, super-saver, to-the-point-of-screwing-myself mode by declaring confidently that we should be able to get to our downtown hotel by means of public transport.   We arrived at our hotel almost 2 hours later (taxi ride 30 minutes), dead tired, having to slog our suitcases over an uneven pavement, 22 street blocks (which felt like 5 km), through the Saturday shopping crown, in unseasonable heat with the sun beating down on our tired and jet-lagged bodies.  And with blisters on both my feet!  We should have taken a taxi…
The receptionist at the hotel remarked on a ladybird sitting on my shirt, telling me it will bring me luck.  Whether it was actually the ladybird or just the idea of looking at everything that happened in a positive view, lucked just rolled in.  Unbelievable our room was available for immediate occupation at 14h00 in the afternoon.  Someone already donated their sky-train tickets from the airport to down town to us for free.  And the weather was absolutely marvellous (bearing in mind it has been raining non-stop until the Thursday before our arrival).

The beaches were packed with Vancouverites desperate for sun (even though the outside temperature was a (cold for a South African) 24C with a bit of chill in the wind). 
We took a stroll through Stanley Park.  This park, at the edge of the city, comprise about 400ha, most of which is natural rainforest.  Another unique feature of Vancouver is the seawall that lines the waterfront.  The total seawall is 22km, of which 9km surrounds Stanley Park.  A very neat future is the path on the seawall being divided in 2 sections.  The half closest to the water is reserved for walkers, whilst the inside line is for cyclist and in-line skates.  They have also implemented a one-way system (can only cycle in one direction), so walkers are save from people on wheels, and those on wheels are (fairly) safe from each other.  The whole city is criss-crossed with bicycle lanes. We immediately fell in love with the city.  No wonder the city is consistently ranked in the Top 5 of best cities to live in by various indexes.

Rock Balancing (or stone stacking) at English Bay

Bike path on sea wall

One of the highlights of the trip was crossing False Creek to Granville island to visit the Farmer’s market.  I regretted having breakfast the morning!  There were cherries, the size of apples, lots of other fresh fruits and all sorts of exotic charcuterie items.   We also visited the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first ever Chinese garden built outside of China.  It is an oasis of tranquillity, and was recently named by National Geographic as one of the “Top Ten City Gardens”.  Have to admit I was not that impressed. I think it helps if you actually take one of the tours, where they explain why it is a classical garden.  The worst part is when we realised, after we paid $14 to see one half of the garden, that you can see the other half of the garden for free! (We are probably totally uncultivated, as all the reviews I read raved about the garden, explaining the S14 entrance charge is a “steal”).
Across from our hotel, in Morton Park, we found the Laughing Men art exhibition, called "A-maze-ing Laughter".  It comprise 14 super-sized bronze statues of men in various poses laughing histerically.  It really makes everybody who looks at it smile. 
Laughing men

A short walk through a scary, informal hippy flea-market took us to Gas Town, a National Historic Site of Canada.  Gas Town is a mixture of hip contemporary fashion boutiques, restaurants, and visitor orientated souvenir shops.  We had a lovely pasta lunch at the Spaghetti Factory, our first exposure to the excessive portion sizes of North America.

Gas clock
Gastown's most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is the steam-powered clock.  Built to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver's distributed steam-heating system; the clock was built as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.  A unique feature is that the clock whistles, instead of using bells, to produce the Westminster chime and to signal time. 
With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, it has a majestic Olympic torch/cauldron.  Built to look like an ice sculpture, it is truly beautiful.  Unfortunately it is only lit on special occasions.

Finally I received an SMS from my sister.  They have arrived at the hotel.  We were stuck on the hop-on hop-off bus on the other side of town, thus it took a while to get back to the hotel.  I was so happy to see her again!  We had a lovely dinner in a restaurant, overlooking the beach and waiting for the sun to set (which happened only long after we have finished our meal!).

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