When I was in high school I developed a rather curious obsession with the song, Go West by the Pet Shop Boys. The CD, housed in a bright orange Lego-inspired case, took up residence in my Disc man for the better part of a semester. The ironic thing was that I had never ventured west, to the vast and picturesque land of British Columbia; the holy grail of Canadiana according to many Ontarians.
All this changed two weeks ago when, with my maple leaf inspired rolly suitcase in tow, I boarded a plane headed west; to the coast I had heard, read, and sung so much about. I exited that big metal bird just as the sun was beginning to set and immediately took a gigantic gulp of sweet, fresh, CLEAN B.C. air. After enjoying a very brief glimpse of the mountains before Mr. Sun finally tucked himself in for the night, I collapsed onto my hotel bed ridiculously early (thanks to the three hour time difference) and fell into a travel induced slumber. Perhaps I was just TOO excited to have finally gone west.
Rising early the next morning, I was hoofing it to downtown Vancouver well before 9:00am in pursuit of the famed Olympic cauldron – one of my “must-sees” for this trip. After an outdoor breakfast next to Canada Place and the rather skilled dodging of come-and-go rain showers, I literally stumbled upon the well-known structure as I rounded a corner in search of a Starbucks. While not as grand as I had pictured in my mind, seeing it in real life brought back cherished memories of watching the Olympic flame shine during the non-stop CBC coverage of the 2010 winter games.
Following this personally inspiring site, I happily wandered along the seawall and explored the outskirts of downtown Vancouver; finally penetrating the inner core at the Gastown district. A quaint tourist paradise, its claim to fame is its Victorian Steam Clock in addition to an eclectic mix of artisan and souvenir shops. After some light window shopping (not really my thing) I stumbled upon a whimsical art studio where I met Jerry, a wood carver of First Nations decent. While he chiseled away at his latest masterpiece, a small totem depicting a bear, a whale, and an eagle (representing land, sea, and air), we chatted about his last visit to Ontario and recommended sites to see during my stay. It was such a wonderful encounter that I felt tremendous guilt for not purchasing one of his works (it really is a shame that carry-on restrictions are so biased against totem poles). After some further exploration of local shops and the never-ending navigation through oblivious hoards of tourists, I came to the realization that I was in desperate need of some quiet time, so I headed to the one place where I knew solace would be waiting – the public library.
The design of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library is considered an eyesore to some but a work of art to others – I guess it all depends on personal preference. I chose to be in awe of the grandeur of the building; all glass with study areas that overlooked the downtown core. Libraries and book stores have always been a sanctuary for me and remain as the two places I always seek out when I travel; not only are they safe but you also have access to clean washrooms – a definite win-win!
I concluded my first day in Vancouver (or the city I now lovingly refer to as “the place I’d have to sell my organs to afford to live in”) sitting on my hotel balcony, eating a deli sandwich while taking in the panoramic view of sea and sky. Before my head finally hit the pillow I remember thinking how incredibly quiet the city was- a wonderful surprise in such a large metropolis. What garnished most of my attention, in contrast, was all the little details that appeared endless throughout the city. Bear prints artfully stamped into the sidewalk cement; street corner tables and chairs for any passerby to enjoy; community gardens as far as the eye could see; and my most favourite, water fountains geared towards adult, child, and four-legged friend (ANY city that caters to the furry family member will ALWAYS have a spot in my “you’re awesome!” book). It was VERY clear that Vancouverites hold tremendous respect for their neighbourhoods and its surroundings, and as a visitor from far away I, too, took that respect to heart – with both appreciation and admiration.
Unfortunately, my second and third days developed into quite lackluster ones. These were designated conference days – my main reason for making the trip. Over the years I have developed a love/hate relationship with the conference environment. Yes, they may generate so many ideas that you can barely keep your head on straight, but they are also a nightmare for introverted folk such as myself. So, I think it goes without saying, that I did my best to muster enough energy to get through each session even though I spent most of them staring longingly at the blue sky and mountain peaks outside the nearest window.
When I was finally released from the business card exchanging networking hell, I all but ran to Stanley Park, located a piddly five blocks away from where I was staying. Before bombarding my way through tourists and exercise enthusiasts, I was stopped by the overwhelming smell of dead fish and loud squawking. Not sure what to make of the situation, I just stood there trying to comprehend what was going on. Upon hearing the sound of something hitting the ground near me, I instinctively looked up, and watched what must have been thirty or forty Blue Herons employ their voices in what could only be explained as the bird version of a large domestic dispute. My first thought was, “how cool”, as I had never before seen a heron nest or been around so many of them at one time. Then the serenity of the moment was quickly replaced with the consideration of, “I wonder if the people in that condo knew how loud they were when they moved in?” – a valid contemplation considering”cheap” real estate in downtown Vancouver starts around the 1.2 million mark – screeching herons not included.
Leaving the great blues to work out their familial squabbles, I continued my stroll to the seawall where I joined scores of walkers, bike riders, and overly dedicated joggers on the 10 km trail system that hugs Stanley Park. Living in a city with an alarming degree of air pollution I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it was to breathe sea air. I kept expecting to cough up black gunk as Lord knows what toxins and other crap I have spent a lifetime inhaling. I would have been perfectly okay with devoting the rest of my trip to walking and sitting along that sea wall. Stanley Park was the one place everyone had told me to visit and I now understand why. For me, it blew Central Park in New York City out of the water – there simply was no comparison.