I only got to spend one full day in Vancouver but I didn’t need more time to realize how much I love this city. It welcomes you with its natural beauty as soon as you land and it just keeps getting better and better. One any given day, your views include Grouse mountain, Mount Seymour, Lions Gate bridge, the downtown skyline and of course the harbor.
I was hoping to experience as much of it as I could in my limited time but unfortunately for me, it was raining on both days. I made the most of it by enjoying gems close to downtown. My first night, I met up with my lovely friend Rachel, also in town for TEDActive, for dinner at Cactus Club café Coal Harbor in Jack Poole Plaza. The restaurant offers panoramic views of the North Shore mountains and Stanley Park. I had been craving a burger and thin cut fries for months and it totally satisfied my craving!
Afterwards, we went for a walk along the waterfront to observe Janet Echelman’s beautiful piece, “Skies painted with unnumbered sparks” at night. It was absolutely beautiful. This interactive piece allows everyone to play with it and add designs with a downloadable app for smartphones. It really makes you feel like you are playing with the sky.
I came back to Vancouver a week later but this time I was with Doug and Asghar. We rented a beautiful penthouse in Chinatown through Airbnb and woke up to amazing views of the city. Our day started with great coffee from Musette Café, a hidden café tucked in an alleyway. Twisted fork was highly recommended for brunch but our late start resulted in an hour long wait for a table so we passed. We ended up grabbing lunch in a little bistro across from the Vancouver art gallery. With coffee and a full stomach we were ready to start our day!
Despite the rain, we signed up for a two hour walking tour. We went with Tour Guys Vancouver because of their fantastic reviews. Ali, our guide, started the tour with a brief history of Vancouver and its current state of affairs. Two things became apparent pretty quickly, it is eco-friendly and it cares about public space. There were bike lanes all over downtown. Public space is valued so much so that it is present in many private corporate buildings. Public art is all over the city. Heritage sites are respected. We learned the Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest church in town, was able to get a renovation by receiving a donation from a nearby developer in exchange for airspace. This city has figured out a way to get developers to invest in heritage sites! Needless to say, we were stunned and were taking lots of mental notes to bring back to our not so forward thinking city leaders. The mayor of Vancouver needs to have a chat with the mayor of Jacksonville.
After exploring downtown, we headed to Gastown. Birthplace of Vancouver, Gastown is a national historic site and the heart of Vancouver. It was initially a settlement that came about because of a saloon started by “Gassy” Jack Deighton, hence the name. The cobblestone streets are lined with boutiques, bars and some of the best restaurants in town. I didn’t have time to shop but I really enjoyed window shopping. One of Vancouver’s famous designers has his flagship store in the neighborhood. Check out Fluevog if you get the chance. I want to go back just to explore the little boutiques and vintage shops.
We also visited what used to be an iconic part of the Vancouver skyline, the Woodward building. The building has been demolished and the space is being put to great use. Developers and the city came to an agreement to include both market housing and public housing. The oldest part of the building serves as a non-profit office and a public atrium. The W neon sign was removed from the top and an energy-saving version is now outside on the ground. The space even has public art. Artist Stan Douglas completed an image depicting the 1971 Gastown riots. I loved how they transformed the building's identity from a skyscraper to a community space.
We were really impressed by how much we learned from a two hour tour and really enjoyed Ali's company. Asghar and Doug even went on a public tour with him the next day.
We decided to explore the waterfront next and took the SeaBus from Waterfront station. Our quick 15 minute ferry ride brought us to North Vancouver and Lonsdale Quay Market. We quickly explored the market and decided it was too touristy for us and headed back to downtown. Cold and wet, I decided to take a break with a hot chocolate from the world’s first international Starbucks located inside Waterfront station.
Our day of exploration ended just in time for dinner and per Ali's recommendation, we selected L’Abattoir. It is located in the center of Gastown between historic Goaler’s Mews and Blood Alley in Vancouver’s first jail. I would recommend calling in advance because it is always packed. We had to eat at the bar, not a big deal but comfortable seating upstairs would have been better. It is on the pricier side but is worth every penny. The three of us loved our meals and really felt the mixtures of flavors were unlike anything we ever had before.
I flew back to Cambodia the next day and wasn't able to explore the rest of Vancouver’s neighborhoods with the guys but I hope to go back and experience it all over again in the Spring.