Vancouver, british columbia, canada
Vancouver is a provocative city and would probably be surprised to hear it. It was for me a series of moments and from one to the next I was never sure whether I was going to be blown away or supremely frustrated. Each enjoyable moment was hard won, obstacles of cost, distance, wifi deficiency, weather and transport always to be overcome. I found the city centre to have dispersed pockets of vibrancy - Yaletown, Gastown, Robson Street all held an independently evolved sense of charm. Full of flair, Yaletown was once Vancouver's industrial district and is now a sophisticated centre for craft beer and restaurants. A stone's throw from Rogers Arena and BC Place, it is the perfect stop for pre or post game revels.
Gastown is a neighbourhood with style and being the neighbourhood where the city's first saloon was open by Jack "Gassy" Deighton in the 1860s, the district has clearly always been a trendsetter. Calling to mind Melbourne's Fitzroy, it is teeming with cafes, souvenir shops, fashionable boutiques, residential apartments and offices. Kudos to the creator of the Christmas post-it Yoda and on my wander around I was excited to see social impact co-working space, HiVE, on Hastings.
Ah, Robson Street. I have a love-hate relationship with Robson Street. In Downtown Vancouver, Robson Street was my true north, helping me orient myself to a city that oftentimes I just could not wrap my head around. It is akin to the Yellow Brick Road: at the end of it are the rolling green hills of Stanley Park but starting downtown you are very likely to step on someone's toes hunting through The Bay or Old Navy; past that the street transforms into the seductive poppy fields of the Robson shopping precinct - a mid-high end mecca of well-loved brands where you can fall into a consumer daze for hours; then there is the stretch where the wind blows hard and you lose all perspective of distance, it feel as though the road will never end but there in the distance is your goal, that glorious green space poking out behind the apartment high rises that makes you feel like you are nearly there. You are not. The Denman-Robson cross streets towards the end rise out of the haze of exhaustion and are a small buzzy neighbourhood of reward before you reach the park, still several blocks away. At that point you really need to stop at craft brew purveyors The Blind Sparrow to rest your feet. I would have been far less cross with Robson Street had I done that; I also would have had a better experience with Robson Street had I just caught the bus at the end of the shopping precinct rather than being so determined to walk everywhere. In fairness to Robson Street I was already suffering gallery feet having stopped at the intriguing Vancouver Art Gallery that morning and the impressive Bill Reid Gallery the day before.
And therein lies the lesson of Vancouver - figure out the bus system and figure it out fast. Or if you have the cash, Uber away but do not waste time trying to walk everywhere if you don't have the time to waste. I never made it to Stanley Park, it took me too long to get there and by that time I was running late to get somewhere else.
And what a somewhere else that turned out to be! Each year the VanDusen Botanical Gardens put on a wondrous Christmas display with the foliage covered from head to toe in lights, the grassed areas deep in snow and the air ringing out with carol instrumentals and the excited squeals of children discovering the cinnamon donut stand. From there it was a Canucks Ice Hockey Game and my last night in Vancouver was complete.