Day 33 – Vancouver

The no-show of the AIBC tour guide filled me with little confidence, but I really wanted to visit parts of Vancouver with a narrative, from an architect perspective.

AIBC do a number of tours but I particularly wanted to visit Chinatown and Downtown. Chinatown was really interesting. Plenty of buildings from late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Some revived, some in despair. I saw the world’s thinnest building at under 5ft, the Sam Kee Building. Vancouver’s oldest buildings seem to be of neo-classical, particularly the banks. One Chinese building which caught my attention was one which had a door going to nowhere on the second storey, I presume to dodge tax.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of pre-Communist Party Chinese influence here. I’m sure I heard that some of the dynasty overthrow was planned here. There are buildings here which serve to represent the Republic of China (Taiwan), not so much the PRC. I had the correct the tour guide on that one… ouch!

Day 29 – Victoria

Victoria is BC’s capital, and is located on Vancouver Island, which, confusingly, has nowt to do with Vancouver. I got there like a true poor backpacker- skytrain, bus to Tsawwassen port, ferry to Vancouver Island, bus from Swartz Bay and on to Victoria and rock up in a hostel.

The plan was to arrive in Victoria for 1pm. I turned up at 3, as the buses have stupid timetables. The ferry was great. I was starboard on deck, eating a beautiful cinnamon bun from Marketplace IGA,  in the glorious weather as we approached Vancouver Island. Very pleasant location with inconspicuous wooden houses nestled in trees as they lead steeply to rocky beaches. Plenty of leisure boats. What a life people must have here… shame about the dickhead on that jet ski boat thing fucking about racing the ferry.

The bus to Victoria was packed. I arrived at the hostel – laid back, very colourful. I had a private room, the room just slightly bigger than the bed, and no window. Vented apparently…

I headed straight out to the waterfront to check out the beautiful architecture there. The Parliament buildings in their baroque style, green coppered roofs, and the Empress Hotel designed by the same young Francis Rattenbury fella, who lied about his portfolio which landed him the job of building some of the most impressive buildings in Canada.

The gardens of Parliament are immaculate, with Queen Victoria watching over those who pass by. I went on the tour there, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Amusing seeing a portrait of old Liz and Philip, wielding their power over this province from thousands of miles away. Fascinating building.

I carried on to the BC Museum. To be honest it wasn’t anything special – I saw copies of the very bones of dinosaurs that I saw for real in New York just a few weeks ago. The Royal Family photograph exhibition they had there was interesting though. Still, a museum is a museum so I just had to go!

At night, the parliament is illuminated using rows of bulbs which line the outside and main features of this building. Looks ace!

My room… christ! It was like a sauna. The vent was shit, the fan was a bit bigger than a side plate. I slept bollock naked, no sheets, hugging an ice cold bottle of water, getting about two hours sleep max. However the room was clean and tidy, but the heat… maaaan.

As I woke up early, I had a Tim Horton’s breakfast, and headed down to the Architectural Institute of BC (AIBC) meeting point for a tour around James Bay, a really old neighbourhood. No tour guide turned up, so ended up chatting to a few old ladies, one of which visited Birmingham many years ago.

Victoria is beautiful, full of architecture that would be deemed ‘old’ for North America. Tidy, unspoilt. I took a quick look ‘round James Bay myself, full of well looked after wooden Victorian homes. Quaint.

The weather over the two days here was impeccable. As I walked to the bus stop to leave this pretty city, I watched the dragon boat races happening in the harbour, watched by thousands of people on what seems a well celebrated summer sunday in Victoria.

Day 27 – UBC, Vancouver

Today I took the bus down to the University of British Columbia and met up with Cassie again to have a look around the campus. What I like about the buses in Vancouver is that most of them are electrified, sort of like trams with tyres!

I was introduced to an Asian delicacy that is quite the hit here, especially with the large Chinese population here. It’s called Bubble Tea – cold, milky tea with a bunch of gelatin balls floating about in it. Bizarre. Not disgusting, but I wouldn’t do it again.

The campus, on map, is probably as big as downtown Vancouver. It’s huge! It has its own bus and road system, blocks of flats, museums, even a skeleton of a whale. Mental.

It was an interesting place to visit and can see its appeal. I particularly enjoyed the Anthropology Museum, looking at the First Nations art, craft, totem poles. I just love the geometry, the colours and exaggeration of human and animal features.

We finished the tour with a few drinks at a sailing club on Jericho Beach, as the sun set on Vancouver its high rises lit up. Love this city!

Day 23 – Vancouver

For some time I’ve been intrigued by Expo 86, when Vancouver hosted the World’s Fair. I decided to take a walk down to False Creek where it all happened.

For me it was of the very few downpoints of my trip. It was as if it was all but forgotten about. In fact, there seems to be three things left in the world that are from Expo 86 – the dome, which is now a science museum, the Pavilion, which is now a casino, and the monorail, which is now at Alton Towers (about an hour away from me).

It was so disappointing. Today was so warm and sunny, blue sky – much like the old photos I’ve seen of Expo 86. I was standing in the place where thousands of people had a great time 25 years ago. Now most of it is flattened.

Anyway, I walked to Gastown, passing the BC and Canucks stadiums, skirting East Hastings (as mentioned in a previous post, we drove through DTES at night which was scary. Though that said, I kind of regret not walking through in the day time). Went to a Chinese shop looking for cheap luggage, came out buying cheesy shit I don’t need. Went to a 7/11 for a Big Gulp and watched a lad hitting on a girl who I don’t think was really a girl…

Gastown’s an old neighbourhood that is now reinvented into this hip place. Named after ‘Gassy’ Jack, an English captain come Saloon landlord known for talking all the time about his tales, hence ‘gassing’ (which is quite an old English term for talking a lot). I admired his statue for a while, then checked out the steam clock, which sounded these cute, slightly flat chimes every quarter of an hour. The architecture is lovely in this part – brick streets, a flat iron building bringing two streets together, ornate detail, avenue feel with all the trees. Plenty of bars.

I then walked toward the waterfront. The skytrain station there is a beautiful, grandiose building with towering classical columns. Across the Harbour Centre with its 70s 360º observation tower.

I had a great look around the Canada Place, which is where the cruise liners dock. It has ten sails, which is a landmark of the west coast. Apparently one for each province? The paths have all the provinces, territories and main towns engraved in the lovely DIN typeface. Loads of info to read about Canada and Vancouver’s history, present and future.

The next day I visited again as they had a small exhibition on the 1812 war. A bit of a poor effort to be honest, let’s hope Ottawa made more of an effort on remembering this very important piece of history!

Day 21 – Vancouver

I decided today was one of those days to reflect on things. I set off to Stanley Park, which is about half an hour’s walk from where I was renting. On the way I spotted a bloke downtown with a Royal Mail bag, 5,000 miles away from where it should be. No wonder our post gets lost!

With the intentions of discovering most of the island, I hadn’t been sleeping too well, so I was mega tired. In the end I found a little beach overlooking the Burrard Inlet, and sat next to some big old log. To the left in the distance was the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver, and over the water, some of West Canada’s natural resources all lined up for export – bright yellow Albertan sulphur, potash, a mountain of logs.

I tried writing about myself, which I hate but it’s a good outlet to try and understand yourself sometimes. It didn’t really solve anything as such; didn’t provide answers but it let me think straight which rarely happens in this busy life of mine!

Stanley Park always managed to keep me on the east side of it – every path I walked always led me back to where I started.

Day 19 – Vancouver

Recently, Mitch and me walked into one of the Roots shops in Vancouver and started speaking to an ex-pat who works there. Cassie recognised our accents and offered to take us to Granville Island. So last night we went there, had a few tasty Ales (Granville Island Brewing and Red Truck!) and had a walk around there at night. Granville Island is a reclaimed peninsula, originally housed industry but what is now a cool shopping area, with a famous market and plenty of art space. It looks very dockyard-esque, with the fisherman lamps and corrugated steel buildings.

We committed to go and have a look around Granville market and the rest of the island in the day time, and we did just that the next day. The market was brill – full of native foods, real cheese (not that plasticy shit stuff), nice teas, bacon doughnuts… yes, bacon doughnuts. I bought one – it was covered in maple icing with four small rashers of bacon. I got half way through and had to tap out. In a weird way it wasn’t too bad; two food stuffs that should never be united into one delicacy actually worked. But it was the smell of bacon fat with doughnut that ruined it for me.

The day after was Mitchell’s last day on our adventure. We went to Denny’s to watch Mitch drink a coke float,  and took the monorail to YVR to see him off. It was a bit of sad moment as it bought our journey together to an end. And what a great one it has been so far!

Day 17 – Vancouver

Today was Gay Pride, or Pride as it is called here. Hosted on Davie St., the West End and queer capital. The zebra crossings had been painted rainbow colours and pride flags draped everywhere. Now, Pride’s not really for me, so we decided to go to English Bay to sunbathe. English Bay is at the bottom of Davie St. so you could hear everything going on. It sounded like fun to be fair!

It was a scorcher – easily 30ºC. Not a cloud. We sunbathed from about 10-1pm, had a little bathe in the sea, which discoloured my shorts and called it a day in the afternoon. By then, the parade had just finished and various straight, gay, lesbian, disfigured, disabled, transvestites; people just having fun, were making a slow walk back to wherever they started out from.

Nipple tassels and leather aside, it appeared to be a good parade, and in all fairness, good on ‘em.

I think I may regret staying in that sun for so long…

Day 16 – Vancouver

A week ago, we heard a bunch of loud bangs above our heads and questioned whether it was thunder. We couldn’t see anything for the high-rise buildings surrounding ours, so I did a search on Twitter. Turns out it was a fireworks show, hosted by Viet Nam. Doing a bit of research, we found out that the Celebration of Light runs every summer and different countries enter to host fireworks shows. So we decided today that we’d head down to English Bay. The beach was jam-packed, with a great party atmosphere.

It was the Italian’s to light the sky this week, so we watched, as they lit their fireworks from the tanker anchored in the bay. The spectacular lasted for half-hour. They obviously spent a lot of money on their display.

Day 15 – Yoho National Park and back to Vancouver

We planned to set off early, as the journey takes about ten hours. That didn’t quite go to plan but never mind.

As we headed home on the Trans-Canada Highway we took an early exit on to Yoho National Park. This road was interesting because it had a ridiculous incline up a cliff face, which we had to corner well or reverse back to get around the bends. Then we saw a beautiful waterfall crashing down a large creek. We seemed quite far away from it, but the sound and sight of it was magnificent. From there, we drove and realised only at the end of the road that it was actually a dead end.

We made it back to the highway and stopped off at a couple more places, including a gorgeous little gem called Emerald Lake. We also had a look at the Kicking Horse river, a long, powerful, river which travels some distance.

On our long trip back, we established that we’d stop off again in Kamloops, have a break, maybe another cotton candy ice cream… Hours went by, and at this point I’m seriously in desperate need for a piss, and having hunger shakes. We’re driving past road signs with names of towns we recognise: Merritt, Kelowna. Anyway, couldn’t find this place. I was desperate and we decided the next sign we see with the park picnic table symbol, we’re stopping off.

Lac Le Jeune was our stop off. We approached a campsite there in the hope of seeing toilets. Mitch, with his instinct of driving on the left side of the road, went round the traffic hut the wrong way. No problem, no one around. We drove along this road and it became apparent that we were entering red neck country. There’s a load of reserved pitches, most occupied, and we pulled into one without a pickup and caravan on it. We had a bunch of locals looking at us, thinking we’re weirdos, as we’re thinking the same about them. I ran to the loo, and could barely stand up!

Mitch and me swap over, now I’m behind the wheel, and we’re leaving the campsite. As I approach that hut, there’s now a police officer and the campsite manager, telling me to pull over. “Oooh shit” we’re thinking. I did exactly the same as Mitch and drove on the left, being the wrong side of the road in Canada, in front of a police officer. Anyway, I was told off for the campsite manager for speeding around his campsite. I apologised profusely and we took off.

We saw another sign, for Logan Lake, and decided to stop there. We refuelled, washed our hands as there were no sinks at the campsite, and headed to the park to eat. This little town seemed all new, planned and pleasant. We ate our sweaty, overloaded cheese sandwiches, washed the grease off our hands and carried on back to Vancouver in hope of dropping the car off before the 10pm deadline.

On our way, we passed the visitor centre we planned to stop at. There is no way we would have lasted that long without pissing ourselves.

Vancouver took absolutely ages to get in to due to the roadworks. We eventually got to downtown, and drove through a really shitty, rundown area. I was genuinely surprised at what was in front of me. Groups of homeless, mentally-ill or drug-ridden folk in a couple of groups of a dozen, easy. All out on the main streets. We later learned this was the infamous East Hastings, or Downtown East Side.

After off loading our bounty of groceries from Safeway in Alberta (took advantage of the 5% tax there), we got the car back at 10.30pm.

Day 14 – Banff & Canmore, Alberta

The previous night I read the local newspaper, which talked of families of bears walking around Canmore. Our driving around yielded no bears, so we thought, “bingo”.

We drove to Banff again, and had a little look around. We then carried onto Canmore. On our way down the Trans-Canada Highway 1 the heavens opened and I’d never seen rain like it. Stair rods is an understatement.

This is a bigger town than Banff but less touristy. Still has cowboys which is cool. After spending some time there, we drove around the national park a bit more. We took a look at the map and spotted a lake called Minnewanka. Being young men with a mature sense of humour we found this very amusing and decided that we’d drive there. After taking pics of the sign, we proceeded to admire how beautiful Lake Minnewanka is. A storm was on the horizon, which exaggerated the colours around the lake. Deep pine green, the turquoise of the water, pale sand and the craggy rocks. Little leisure boats, tied up, fought these inland waves that were fearsome for a lake.

From there we stepped off at a couple of other places, which was so easy to do with how much there is to see here. I believe the place was called Two Jack Lake, typical new world name.

At night, driving down the 1A, two coyote crossed our path, casually walking across the road in a pair, glancing over at us.