I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Vancouver. A city nestled between the ocean and the mountains, with a relatively mild weather and a relaxed lifestyle. In short, the perfect place to live. What I hadn’t thought about, was that Vancouver attracts all the homeless who have no chance to survive the cold temperatures of the other Canadian cities during the winter. You see them in the streets, on the benches, in the gardens, They are part of the town, like in Milan, Paris or New York. Once a little place on the Pacific Ocean where sailors and merchants used to live, Vancouver is now a modern, cosmopolitan, lively city with skyscrapers, parks and very expensive flats in high-rise buildings, or nice cottages especially in the suburbs.
A chinese VANCOUVER
Another thing I didn’t know was that Vancouver is half Chinese. As we drive through the residential suburbs, we notice that many cottages are empty. They seem abandoned. And so we learn that they have actually been sold by the owners to the Chinese, who tear them down to build condos. Flats are less expensive than houses and the housing market in Vancouver doesn’t favour middle class families. Chinese started to arrive in Vancouver after Hong Kong went back to China, frightened by the ghost of communism. They bought houses, built condos, opened every kind of activities and became quickly part of the city. Today Vancouver is almost bilingual, many signs are written in both Chinese and English. Like in most big cities, Vancouver has its own Chinatown, which is known for other reasons though. In its decaying streets gather drug sellers, drug users and homeless persons. We are told to stay away from Chinatown, and I will. I’m shocked by the first impact with this side of the city. Vancouver is not perfect after all.
1. CANADA PLACE
When we get to Canada Place, however, I start to feel better. This is the first of the ten things that made me fall in love with Vancouver, making me forget its dark side. Even though the scenery is different, Canada Place reminds me of Circluar Quay in Sydney: little shops, restaurants, people walking on the pier that looks very much like a white ship. I start chatting with an American couple who’s worried about Trump, as the clear light of the North caresses the buildings and lights up the sea. Then I head towards the place where I’m going to have one of the best experiences of the whole journey. Fly Over Canada takes me on a virtual, but oh-so-realistic flight over Canada, from the maple woods of Quebec to the Yukon parks and the white lands shining under the Northern Lights. I feel the urgent desire of exploring the whole country, in every season.
2. COAL HARBOUR
Between Canada Place and Stanley Park is Coal Harbour, a beautiful area with luxury apartments facing the ocean, well-kept gardens, the inevitable cycle path and benches for the lazy ones. Canadians are very sporty, and I feel compelled at least to walk for hours if I want to be part of the city. After all, in these beautiful summer days it’s easy to feel full of energy in Vancouver. The golden light, the seaplanes taking off and landing before me, the maple trees, the beauty of Coal Harbour invite us to spend all day outdoors.
3. STANLEY PARK
A forest within the city: this is how I would define Stanley Park, although I’d better say “a forest on an island”. Originally, the area occupied by this large park was an island, which belonged to the natives. There was a squamish village where now stands the Lumberman’s Arch; the natives used cedar wood to build canoes and fished herrings in the waters of Coal Harbour. Later, this area was used as a military reservation, which prevented from building houses. The park was opened in 1888 and called Stanley in honour of the Governor of Canada. People can walk, skate or cycle around the park, some parts of which are covered with giant trees and ponds whereas others have been turned into beautiful gardens. At Brockton Point stand the natives’ totems, which remind us of the origins of this green island.
4. HARO STREET
I’ve bumped into Haro Street while looking for Whole Foods Market. And I loved it. Haro street runs parallel to Robson street, and it made me think of one of those places we see in picture books for children. Detached houses with sloping roofs, coloured facades and little gardens, maple trees and flowers; I couldn’t stop peeping through the gates. Some seemed closed, empty, maybe for the same reason as those in the suburbs. Haro Street has a particular atmosphere, a charm that makes me feel like I never want to leave.
5. WATER STREET – GASTOWN
The oldest part of Vancouver was called Gastown after Jack Gassy Deighton, the sailor who came here and opened the first saloon in 1867. Destroyed by a fire, Gastown was completely rebuilt and is now a lively, picturesque area packed with little shops, art galleries and cafes. On the corner of Cambie Street and Water Street stands the stream clock, which was built in 1977 and is powered by a steam engine. At Hill’s, 159 Water Street, one can find fine craftwork made by Canadian natives. The place is definitely worth a visit.
5. GRANVILLE ISLAND
Connected to Downtown Vancouver by a bridge, Granville Island looks very much like a little village by the sea. It’s the perfect place for a Saturday morning walk, some lazy hours spent alone or with a friend. There are lovely shops selling craftwork and cloths, small coffee shops and art galleries. But the main attraction is the market, packed with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, baked goods, local products but also candles, soap and jewels. The cheerful atmosphere of this little world makes me smile. This is the charm of Granville, the small island in the big city.
6. cOFFEE SHOPS, RESTAURANTS AND GELATO
I expected Vancouver to be full of restaurants and coffee shops, and I’ve not been disappointed. Under the skyscrapers of Burrard Street are many nice cafés and restaurants, among which Joey Burrard, where I’ve had a delicious veggie burger. Nearby, Joe Fortes is an elegant seafood restaurant, whereas Cactus Club Café is a good place for fiends with different eating habits. i’ve tried their vegetarian bowl and it was good and comforting. On Burrard Street are many Japanese, ramen and Korean restaurants. Finally, in Vancouver I’ve had a delicious, and expensive, Italian gelato. Next to Canada Place I’ve bumped into Bella Gelateria., a small ice cream shop with many people waiting in line, which made me think it was worth a visit. I wasn’t wrong. Their dark chocolate is similar to the one you can find in one of the best gelaterie in Milano.
7. VANCOUVER FROM ABOVE
Instead of paying the ticket to the Vancouver Lookout, you can walk along Robson Street and stop for an aperitivo at Cloud 9. Being at the 42nd floor of a skyscraper, this revolving restaurant can boost an amazing view over the city, the bay and the mountains. At sunset, with the right light, it’s even more magical.
9. VANCOUVER AT SUNSET
In sunny days, Vancouver is bathed in a particular light. It makes the water surface and the glass buildings shimmer, highlighting every detail. It lifts your mood, makes you feel relaxed. I cannot exactly describe it; to me, it’s the light of the North.
10. LUXURY APARTMENTS IN VANCOUVER
Who wouldn’t wish to live in a flat facing the ocean, with a large balcony and a pool under the window? At Coal Harbour, all apartments are beautiful and expensive. I haven’t seen many families with children around here; they usually live in the suburbs. These luxury flats are for the wealthy who can afford to rent or buy a house by the ocean. And so Vancouver has charmed me, but I know it’s because I’ve been there in the summer. A friend of mine who came to British Columbia in December had a totally different impression. One thing I’ve learnt from traveling, is that no country is perfect. And this is why the world is such an interesting place.