We arrived early and tired leaving the sun behind in Los Angeles. “We” being Bridget and me. She had decided to join me for 6 days in Vancouver to explore the city and I was incredibly happy to start traveling again in company.
Although Bridget didn’t get through border patrol and customs that easy. She had to go into the back area and I had to follow, the customs officer told me. Yeah, these Canadians don’t just let any American into their country. There were about 15 people sitting there, biding their time, even having the laptops out or watching movies and we got a bit nervous. After letting us wait for a couple of minutes we got checked and “are allowed to exit via the backdoor” whispered the customs officer while leaning in closely. Weird. I don’t like borders.
We definitely needed a breakfast. So we just managed to reach the next Tim Hortons and got our first official Canadian approved fast food breakfast.
So here I was again with just my backpack, a reduced amount of clothes and a couple of things left behind in Los Angeles – for either later or to give away. Packing everything for Vancouver made me also aware of the fact that two important items I had with me on my travels – a very good rescue Swiss knife and the laundry washing bag Scrubb – had somehow “disappeared”. I remember that I still had them in Hawaii but maybe they had been to attractive for someone on Big Island. But that’s life and with me nearly never locking anything this is quite a good statistic.
Well, when I had to decide where to fly to after Los Angeles I thought immediately of Canada and my lovely experiences with Canadians. And as it would still be March I thought that maybe the warmest place in a still pretty cold and snowy country would be Vancouver. Somehow I also wanted to get a taste if I was able to picture myself working in a city abroad like Vancouver. Bridget who wants to say goodbye to LA in a while got attracted by the same – she liked to remind me that it’s not just me why she came to Vancouver.
Our priorities were therefore:
- Exploring the city
- Trying out coffee shops
- Tasting local craft beers and bars
- Going on hikes
1. Exploring the city and more
In the end of winter and the beginning of spring there are a couple of weeks where it seems you’re choices of what to do in Vancouver – and Canada in generell as I learnt later on – are a bit limited especially when you don’t have a car. It rains quite often so indoor activities are high on the list. A couple of trails are either not accessible without a car or are still closed due to the weather, like Grouse Mountain. I would have loved to do that climb. Vancouver Island is another example. It would have been nice to visit but the trails are not open yet and cycling around the towns in this still cold and rainy weather didn’t sound like the buying argument. So it stays on my list for the next time.
What did we do then?
First we were really happy about public transportation again. And not only because of the pure existence. Normal people were on the buses during day and night. And by “normal” I mean people who didn’t freak out or freaked me out and were nice to sit with. Los Angeles was so different and it’s so nice to be in a public transport area again. Says the spoiled European. But do you know that happiness of being independent from cars? Also, there’s no Uber here. We opened the app but it stayed blank. Might explain why there are so many non-weird people on the buses like us.
And with or without public transport we explored the city:
- Walked around downtown, Gastown and Yaletown.
- Explored Granville Island on a rainy day because you’re mostly inside the food market and stores anyway.
- Ate nice dumplings in China Town.
- Took a stroll in Stanley Park.
- Went to hockey – Vancouver Canucks vs. Anaheim Ducks! The atmosphere – and getting to two national anthems at the start – was well worth it. A.nd the two hotdogs I drowned in sour kraut, pickles, mustard and ketchup made the event even tastier.
By the way: Never say “ice hockey” to a Canadian – because what else should it be played on?
On one of the constantly rainy days we found this: An indoor trampoline world. How awesome is that! We jumped around loosely, did epic dunks at the basketball court, climbed on the indoor automatic belaying wall (it took some confidence to just push of the wall without a human being belaying you down there), tried to push each other from the balancing board with gladiator sticks and jumped high butt first into foam pits.
After 2 hours we were done, exhausted and felt muscles we didn’t know that existed.
Our Airbnb’s special: Gandalf (and Radagast), the two house cats. You know it’s a good place when the cats are named like that. I think Gandalf was not happy of me taking a picture. “Give more cuddles, human!”
2. Trying out coffee coffee coffee and breakfast
“Why are they all so grumpy to me?” I asked Bridget again when I turned away from the counter. We just ordered breakfast in a hipster coffee & bakery, the Small Victory Bakery (tasty!). Since we arrived people especially in coffee shops were stern to me and immune to my smiling face. And more than once Bridget had to laugh as the next customer arrived and the cashier was suddenly all chatty. “Maybe it’s the rain?” she tried to comfort me with a pat on my back. Did I lose my mojo?
Bridget brought some recommendations from a friend – breakfast places, breweries and bars -, flagged in her google maps and I used my good coffee spotting sense so we could pick depending on the time of the day a place and enjoyed coffee or more.
A hyped place – The Twisted Fork – where waiting times were between 30-60 minutes on the weekend was our choice for a Monday morning where we expected no waiting time and hopefully good food. And it was delicious. When one of my friends back home in Munich fancied again and again about Eggs Benedict I never really got why. But here, in this bistro in Vancouver, I finally understood. That breakfast was delicious and the only minus point is how fast you get kicked out of places once you’ve finished your food. “Want anything else? No? Okay, I’ll bring your bill.” But that’s not specific for the bistro or Vancouver but all of North America. Different culture, I guess, where my friends and I back home would just love to sit and sip a bit longer on one drink, just chatting and blocking the table. Ahem.
For coffee shops we found a small gem: the Aubade Coffee, situated in an antique store which itself is worth a visit! I have never caught myself actually considering to buy something in a used-goods and antique store. But here it felt like being in a treasure box. Stuffed deer heads, old card boxes, the woolen Canadian sweater, suitcases, LP record players, oil lamps, a waiting bench from an old train station, perfume test vials and pencil sharpeners were very carefully arranged and one room and row opened after each other while you made your way deeper into the store.
The coffee counter in the small corner at the entrance felt like a likewise carefully composed artifact and the taste was incredibly good. The barista had his personal blend of non-dairy milk made with oat, almond, buckwheat, coconut and soy milk. Yes, a blend of all of them to get texture and taste perfect for the specific espresso he served tat week. Every time I go for non-dairy I’m disappointed by the taste and rather stay with black coffee. But this was awesome. “It’s a lot trying and tasting until I’m happy with it.” he told us while I sipped on my first pure espresso in a very long time.
If you come to Vancouver follow the small sign and check it out for a coffee!
Other coffee shops we really liked for coffee and service and slowing down:
- Timbertrain – perfect to work in
- Republica – awesome service
- Revolver – raspberry muffin and espresso tasting tray!
Someone told me that Vancouver and Wellington are sometimes compared to be cities with a similar vibe and weather. And concerning coffee I can say definitely yes.
3. Beers & Bars all around
Vancouver definitely has a problem. How could one possibly try out all these good breweries and bars in such a short time? The coffee shops are already tough to choose but hey, decisions in the evenings are even tougher. A little thing that helps is that concerning breweries a couple of them seem to cluster between Main St. and Broadway and you can do your personal pub crawl.
- 33 Acres Brewing – nice food and beers
- Brassneck Brewery – cool ambience and selection
- Craft Beer Market – huge range of (not self made) beers on tap
- Granville Island Brewing – 10 beers to try on their flight!
- Red Truck Beer Company – solid classics
- and The Liberty Distillery – for an affordable and tasty gin tasting
Sad we couldn’t fit in more. But that’s also because we found another 3 nice pubs/bars that we gave a try and visited each twice – because we “had to” show them Maxim and Alisa. I worked with Maxim for about year back at my old company and I was really happy that he somehow got to Vancouver the same time as me and we could go out on two nights. “Isn’t it weird for you two to suddenly have to speak English with each other?” Alisa asked us quite in the beginning of our evening. But somehow it’s not. I have met a couple of German speaking travelers so far and we mostly stuck to English – even when we were alone which actually makes it a bit weird.
Okay, here are the three picks:
- The Morrisey – because “all the VFX guys go there” and getting a highball for 4 CAN$ is crazy cheap
- Hello Goodbye Bar – a secret basement bar that you can only find if you read the directions on the website first. If you’re just walking around town in the evening you will not end in there because you can’t see it. We went there twice and their Friday night live music was pretty good: A solo guitar player connected chilled versions of popular songs of the last 20 years to long medleys and made a whole bar of hipster and styled people sing and dance. Although it was „just“ him and one guitar. Amazing. Drink: Try the Pornstar Martini! A cocktail that tastes like CujaMara Split (a favorite popsicle of mine) with a glass of champagne set aside.
- Johnnie Fox’s Irish Snug: The Irish pub how you want it to be. Small, packed with happy people, traditional folk bands playing on a couple of days each week and the bartender takes your order with his Irish accent. Proof that not all Irish pubs have to be in green and dark brown colors.
And if you don’t want to have alcohol there’s a nice vegan restaurant in Yaletown – Zend Conscious Lounge – serving kava. I love kava. It’s not only a reminder for my days on Fiji or Hawaii, it’s also an instant calm down and meditation. Yummy.
4. Hiking around town without a car
When we finally found out that Grouse Mountain is closed for the hike we searched for smaller ones close by. Lynn Canyon and Deep Cove are both connected to the bus network and combinable for midday to afternoon hikes. As it was a sunny weekend afternoon we were not the only ones with this grand idea and the trails were rather filled with people passing by wearing all kinds of footwear. I don’t know but I personally would not wear platform wedge heel shoes on a 1 hour walk – one way – through the woods without a proper path. But that’s just me. I already freak out when I just have my running shoes and not my sturdy hiking boots. It’s mostly the Germans who look like they’re prepared for the summit when it’s just a nice stroll through a park.
These small hikes reminded me a lot of New Zealand. The fresh temperature surely added to this image and I got lost for a minute thinking about the Gray Walks and Stewart Island. How precious and beautiful that was.
The road to Whistler is said to be a must as it is beautifully framed with sea and mountains to both sides and there was a hike or two fit for the season. So I decided for a day trip with one of the bus transfers. After having been on beautiful roads and road trips in the last months in New Zealand, Hawaii or California I admit this one was nice but not extraordinary. The cloudy weather didn’t help for sure. And I wonder if my brain became a bit indifferent after seeing so much in this short time. So I arrived in Whistler ready for my first coffee and a good walk.
*** I walk the Blueberry Trail which feels remote but has an easy access from the village. My first time alone in the Canadian woods. The old snow cracks underneath my steps. Partly frozen to ice makes some of the descents slippery. The Alta Lake below is still covered in ice. The wind is the only sound around. But I find a swing – somehow people love to put swings in places where you don’t expect them at first – and I think of that swing in Wellington that brought me lightness on that day on Mt. Victoria about 6 months ago. ***
Whistler was confusing for me. When my family went for skiing we always stayed in smaller Austrian villages and towns. This big tourist Olympic village with more and more shops to buy fancy clothes, pubs and restaurants kind of overwhelmed me. So I was not too sad to say goodbye in the late afternoon and head back to Vancouver for dinner.
Goodbye, Vancouver – and Hello, cross country trip!
It’s sunny on my last day in Vancouver. The morning run got me some soft rain but now I wear only a sweat jacket over my T-shirt. After 2 months in company I’m alone again. I’m anew the solo traveler for the next bite of my journey. I pass the Morrissey and Johnnie Fox’s as I walk over to the thrift shop to look for another warm layer. Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff promise to be very cold – not in Canadian standards but to the clothes I have actually with me. And I feel I need to get bear spray just in case as I’m entering Grizzly country. To buy bear repellent spray you have to be 18, have to bring a valid ID, get a short in shop instruction, have to fill out a registration form and your can is identified and registered by its unique number. And it’s still bear spray and not a gun.
I find my way to the Revolver, a coffee shop I wanted to go the last days but has been closed so far when I passed by. It’s open. Good music is playing and people are relaxed and friendly. And the coffee is pretty good.
I spend some time, enjoying the coffee and thinking about my plans and scribbling. So I have decided to go across Canada by train and bus. All the way from west to east coast. A rental car is one-way to expensive because of the return fare. So it’s slow trains and good old Greyhound.
I have to smile. My route? “Still loading” I guess. Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff are set. And a lot of train time in between.
But hey, sitting on trains gives you the chance to space off and think about the meaning of life and kittens.
Here we go!