The rest of Canada and the USA has a lot to live up to!
18.02.2014 - 24.02.2014 1 °C
Hi there everyone
I've managed to pull myself away from Vancouver and am sitting in the Green Tortoise Hostel in Seattle. The two cities are only a three hour bus ride apart and are very similar. So before I move onto my next city and memories from the two become all mushed up, I'll jot down all the mischief and mayhem I got up to in Vancouver.
Quick history of Vancouver
Vancouver is the biggest city in British Columbia, on the west/Pacific coast of Canada. Confusingly, the capital, Victoria, is on Vancouver Island, a few hours ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia. Vancouver was inhabited by several first nations tribes such as the Squamish for tens of thousands of years, subsisting off the plentiful environment. The first Europeans to arrive were Spanish, who decided to occupy territories to the south in California while the English, led by Capitain Vancouver (previously first mate to Captain Cook) set up a small colony in present day Vancouver. The opening of the trans-Canadian railroad, a successful attempt at impeding annexation by the USA, led to the development of the beautiful port and timber and fishing industries. Vancouver has over the years had its ups and downs, with legacies of grand and ornate buildings from the 1850s gold rushes, 1920s boom times, one of the largest intact Chinatowns in North America, southern and eastern European communities in Strathcona. Now it is experiencing huge population increases with tourism, high-tech industries and exports its mainstay, whilst managing to remain one of the most livable cities in the world (affordability is growing issue though). I stayed in the West End, just by downtown which is Vancouver's gay district (what a coincidence!), which adjoins Stanley Park (roughly 10% larger than Central Park). Formally a naval base, Stanley Park has been dedicated to the people of Vancouver. There are a lot of totem poles from the Squamish there, as the island once was a sacred site for the nation's dead (they used to put the bodies in the trees). Some other fun areas are Gastown, named after a publican Gassy Jack, which has been revitalised/gentrified with some cool bars and clubs, and the waterfront which played a big role during the World Expo '86 and the Winter Olympics. Granville Island is a former industrial area just next to the west end that has been reclaimed for artists and fantastic markets. Vancouver has the world's only platinum LEEDS neighbourhood, formally the Olympic Village.
Good times, great classic hits
I love staying in hostels, as it's the best way of meeting people, and usually the better ones will run tours and pub crawls. Shout out to Alisha, Zach and Tom who were staying at the Hostel International downtown with me, and to Andrew who came on a few tours visiting from Edmonton.
Tuesday, when I arrived, was typically cold and miserable for the most part, so I didn't accomplish too much. We did stumble around and find some nice bars down in Gastown in the afternoon when it cleared up, which I returned to too many times during the week. The hostel organised a tour of Granville Island on the Wednesday with our local volunteer and die-hard Vancouverite Maeve, which began with a cute ferry ride across False Creek. Isn't this ferry cute? It can only hold 12 people at a time, and the driver is happy to let it chug along without steering while he collects the tickets.
Granville Island is home to reused industrial buildings holding theatres, food and artists markets, galleries and workshops, boat yards, a brewery, a distillery and a restaurant known as Sandbar (Friday night is cougar night for all the toy boys out there). One thing we Australians freak out over on Granville Island is the size of the seagulls. But they are ridiculously huge! And menacing too. If you walk out of the markets with anything even resembling food, you will be swarmed as one poor Asian tourist discovered. On Friday night a group of us went to a theatre sports club and saw some hilarious improv. Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles have both performed there and apparently the Whose Line is it Anyway? cast made an appearance on Saturday dagnammit.
After Granville Island, a group of us had a few bevies in Gastown at the Pourhouse (meh) and the Alibi Room (fantastic!). I ordered a sour beer which the hostess told me tasted like vinegar. She wasn't far off. Zach and I hit up Davie Street for the first time afterwards, where things got messy. I kept poor Zach out till close at 1am the night before he was due to go bungy jumping at Whistler, and just as we were about to walk home, we got invited to a house party out in East Vancouver. The building manager took us and roughly 15 other people to an empty apartment where wine was cracked open to celebrate an engagement by one of the guys at the party. With Zach passing out and people talking about getting blow to keep the party going (as well as some really uncomfortable moments where someone tried to follow me into the bathroom then try to pull me into a bedroom when I came out) we decided it was finally time to leave. Cut to the next morning/afternoon and I wake up in a random apartment somewhere on the opposite side of the West End. Thankfully, it was near the community gym I had visited that day so I casually (read: shamefully) made my way back to the hostel. Poor Zach made it to Whistler in time to throw himself off a bridge. WITH the rope tied to his waist.
I took a bike tour around Stanley Park on Thursday and was blessed with sunshine and only a light breeze. Still effing cold though, and I spent a good portion of the ride wondering why the hell I thought fingerless gloves were a good purchase. But when we rode out around the harbour, I fell in love with the scenery, the three imposing figures of Mts Seymour, Grouse and Cypress (host of the 2010 Winter Olympics) framing the gorgeous harbour and the skylines of downtown, North and West Vancouver. It was enough to cure the raging hangover I was experiencing from the previous night. I recommend anyone who is visiting Vancouver to jump on a bike and ride Stanley Park, it is absolutely inspiring and stunning.
Vancouver's multiculturalism creates a great food experience with a diverse offering. Although, when on a budget, you gotta find cheap. Capital on Davie does $4.95 meals that are actually delicious, so of course I basically took up residency. The hostel had kitchen facilities as well so yes Mum I did make my own meals on occasion. Bacon eggs and salad for brekkie and salad and chicken for dinner. I'm determined to avoid Thai restaurants and thus disappointment as everyone knows that Australia has the best Thai food. On a walking tour of Chinatown with a free walking tour company called Tourguys (highly recommended, the tour guides are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and generous) I had the most delicious steamed pork buns.
One of the best things about walking tours over say bus tours is the intimate experience with the city. Vancouver has a really interesting history and some fantastic architecture. Gastown is built in a Roman Revival style and has a great fusion of North American and European styles. Some other notable buildings are the Shangri La (the building exceeds the forty storey height limit after negotiating to restore the little church on the site, and therefore transferring the air space above the church onto their building. Cheeky!), the Convention Centre, the Marine Building (one of the world's best Deco buildings), the Vancouver Hotel, floating homes on Granville Island and a whole heap of others (see my Facebook for photos). The HSBC lobby is designated public space, like a park, even though it is inside. This great artwork called the pendulum hangs in the lobby, with other local artists able to exhibit their work there. Vancouver's mayor is very progressive (he DJs on weekends) and has brought about huge change to Vancouver, including bike lanes, attempting to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. Apparently they have some way to go, and a new oil pipeline from BC to Alberta is causing a lot of anger in the environmental community, with an increase from 6 to 36 oil ships in Vancouver harbour likely to occur (although this is outside the Mayor's control).
My last story for those that have made it this far is full of horrendous debauchery, although thankfully I can say that I didn't participate in any of it (as I know you're all not surprised about). Following the theatre sports, our little group met up at Alibi Room for some standard bevies. Drink after drink arrived (at one point I forgot I had already ordered one so had two sitting in front of me. Oopsies) which finally led everyone home. Except myself and another individual who for the purposes of avoiding shame and embarrassment we shall refer to as Danger Mouse. I decided that Danger Mouse, a straight boy in a monogamous relationship, and I should kick on while everyone else piked.
So we hit up Davie Street, Numbers to be precise, and for some stupid reason decided more drinking was a good idea. I generously off-handed one to the coat check guy who was very grateful but slightly confused. We then proceeded upstairs where I chatted to some of the bar staff I'd met a few nights before, leaving poor Danger Mouse to his own volition. After an awkward hello/goodbye to one of the African American guys I'd met on Wednesday night, Danger Mouse decided that there and then was the perfect time to engage in some, experimentation. No more than a minute after re-engaging with the bar staff for a chat, Danger Mouse is macking on with (I think his name was) Troy. Being the honorable guy that I am, I let him indulge until he seemingly came to his senses and managed to escape Troy's arms. He decided that we should leave to avoid embarrassment, but kick on to another bar; however while outside deciding where to go we started chatting to some local guys, one of them having divulged that he had First Nations heritage which I found interesting. That cold night air hit Danger Mouse's already weakened inhibitions who loudly proclaimed "I don't like First Nations people", leading to me holding both of them back to avoid fistycuffs.
Before I knew it, Danger Mouse was jumping into a cab with two new guys and calling me over. Against my better judgement, thinking I had some responsibility for Danger Mouse's wellbeing, I followed. Thankfully, the guys in the cab, Skip and Howard, were two very friendly gentlemen and informed me that we were going to a house party, at Howard's apartment. Howard lives in a split level penthouse apartment with a roof terrace, with a BBQ, hot tub, garden, outdoor wok station and two sinks. Who needs two sinks on their roof terrace!? That's what Skip asked me anyway. Eventually a group consisting of five straight guys and one woman (referring to herself as the token vagina) arrived. Howard promptly announced that it was a no pants party and so everyone shucked their trousers and jeans (while Danger Mouse ripped mine off me, I managed to get them back on pretty quickly. I don't do no pants parties).
Then the blow came out. Apparently it is about a quarter the price compared to Australia and it was being very freely taken off the kitchen tables. I don't do drugs so I stayed sober while Danger Mouse became the life of the party. By the end of the night I learned that Howard had groomed most of these straight guys into being his little play things coaxing them with coke. As I got more and more uncomfortable, I realised that Danger Mouse had disappeared, as had Skip. It wasn't until Howard loudly proclaimed "your so-called straight friend is fucking my boyfriend" that I realised it was probably time to leave. I waited to make sure Danger Mouse was ok, which he was although the coke was helping propel him into a pretty extreme existential crisis, and so I left roughly around 7.00am. I text Danger Mouse that day to make sure he had gotten home safely, to find out he stayed all day! Apparently Howard was ok with Skip and Danger Mouse's indiscretions. I then informed Danger Mouse that I could not keep his secret and proceeded to tell all our friends in the hostel *sorry!*
So ended my ridiculous adventure, and this installment of my travel blog. While there were some crazy moments, I really fell for the city. It is diverse, it is progressive, it is irreverent yet it is inviting. It is beautiful both naturally and in its buildings. There was snow the last few days I was there and it just added to the magic of the place. I could definitely see myself living there in the future, and I didn't even get out to Whistler or Vancouver Island which are apparently stunning too. If you find yourself anywhere around the north-west of the US make sure you take the time to get to Vancouver. But be careful when you agree to get into a random cab...
My next entry will be about Seattle which I am really enjoying. Especially with the help of the very kind and generous Sean who I met in Vancouver. Thanks Sean! Ciao for now.