Initially I wasn’t too fussed about spending time in Vancouver, my appetite instead skewed towards the forests and mountains, inlets and meadows of super natural British Columbia. This feeling was elevated as a week travelling in such environments was drawing to a close, a trip that I could have quite happily continued. But as the final greyhound drew into the quite uninspiring Vancouver terminus, I resigned myself to a couple of days in a big city.
Happily, Vancouver has a magical gift that justifies its frequent position in all those different lists of the best cities in the world to live. It is often vying for the title alongside places like Melbourne, Sydney, Copenhagen, and even a little country town called Canberra. Indeed, I sensed a bit of a Melbourne vibe, a touch of Sydney waterfront, the smell of Danish-like bacon, and, err, a backdrop of rugged, open ranges.
Thus, in the space of a laundry washing and drying cycle, I had managed to readjust to the idea of being in a city, and embracing everything that entailed. Things like pedestrian crossings, in which the Canadian version appears to involve the traffic light receiving a flurry of tweets. @RobsonandGranville #crossnowhumans #tensecondsleft. The emergence of coffee shops, many of them dire, many of them Starbucks, on every street corner, though luckily the outside temperate was conducive to far more favourable iced coffee options. And something I embraced more wholeheartedly was the plethora of good quality, low cost, always welcoming Asian eateries, all too conscious that such choices will practically disappear in Europe.
Probably a good reason I ended up loving Vancouver so – apart from the chicken karaage and spicy udon ramen – was the sumptuous weather. Crucially there was no smoke accompanying an ambient temperature somewhere around the mid twenties. What this means is a happy, healthy, blissed out and mostly beautiful populace, invariably strolling, cycling, rollerblading, or volleyballing their way into the light evenings beside the waterside paths and parks of False Creek.
Such spirit is infectious, and the next day I joined the many hiring a bike near Yaletown dock. The freedom and joy of two wheels again, made all the easier by Vancouver’s generous allotment of cycling paths and priority lanes. Here, it became clear the city rivals Canberra, and it was quite possible to cycle something heading towards forty kilometres without jostling with vehicles.
The first task was to head up False Creek and into Stanley Park. This is essentially where everyone on a bike goes and you can see why. A rounded peninsula of spruce, cedars, firs and totem poles, occasional ponds and meadows, cafes and beaches, all encased within a sea wall. It is the sea wall that provides a thoroughfare for the bikes, so that there are eternal city, mountain, harbour and ocean views with every pedal. The parade of bikes is incessant, sometimes requiring adept manoeuvring, but it is simple to stop and go for a stroll in an empty forest.
The park easily filled a morning, meaning that I handily reached Granville Island around lunchtime. This spot is cluttered with wooden shacks selling handmade jewellery and boating slacks and things like paperweights and incense sticks. But mostly there is food, centred around the Public Market and coming in a variety of forms. Fresh and healthy, processed and gluttonous, and everything in between.
Given I veered towards the gluttonous I was happy to pedal all the way to Point Grey and the University of British Columbia. Passing several beaches – Kitsilano, Jericho, and Spanish Banks – the views back to the city and its mountainous backdrop progressively opened up. Climbing up a long, steady hill – the kind that seems like an impressive feat only when you come back down – the university campus strikes you as a quite magnificent place to study. The challenge though would be to concentrate on a lecture, rather than stare out of the window all of the time.
I came here to visit the Museum of Anthropology and while this contains numerous worldly artefacts, the predominant focus is on that of the First Nations. A huge hall houses an array of impressive totems, canoes, boxes, archways, tools, and utensils. Displays tell of the meaning, the stories, the legends, and the inevitable intrusion of the white man. Outside, a Haida village is recreated in the Vancouver sun, and the cafe next door sells Nanaimo bars. Two cakes in one day but I am, I think, working it off.
Back downhill, I paused numerous times beside the beaches to take in the view, as the westerly sun incrementally illuminates the city skyline and the mountains stretching north. The beaches are no Broulee or even Bondi, but it is warm and the city folk are a-flocking. I reflect on what has been a truly magnificent day, one which continues with still another ten kilometres back to the bike shop. Ten kilometres to join the healthy and happy populace, continuing to elevate their endorphin levels. A fabulous day, inevitably topped off with Asian food for dinner.
I had such a good time with a bike I almost considered doing it again the next day – my last in Vancouver. In the end I took the public transport option, crossing by ferry to North Vancouver and trundling by bus through the leafy suburbs climbing up to the base of Grouse Mountain. From here a far more expensive gondola transports you up to a world of mountain meadows and pines, fancy restaurants, ziplines and kitsch lumberjack shows. There are few longer trails on which to escape, but the views are there to be had. I can see the United States of America, most prominently in the form of Mount Baker, and my proximity to a previous travel adventure hits home. Meanwhile to the north and west, the mountains roll on, a reminder of the sparseness of this land, while the city of Vancouver shimmers many hundreds of metres below behind my back.
This is bear country, and it so happened that I came face to face with a grizzly up here. Mercifully, two of them who were orphaned and are now cared for in captivity. No doubt softened by a life being pampered, they are nonetheless fearsome and overwhelmingly gargantuan. Despite being orphaned and this being the best option for them (the other likely being death as cubs), I cannot help but feel that I should be seeing such an incredible beast out in the wild, ruling its pristine domain. But, looking at the force and scale of such a creature, I am mostly glad I am not.
After Grouse Mountain, I should have headed back, rested, and readied myself for a staggered transatlantic voyage. But I was starting to not want to leave this city. My final trundle on a bus therefore took me to Lynn Canyon, where a suspension bridge offers a little bit of wow amongst the beautiful forests and riverside pools, increasingly populated by youngsters and families seeking a cool down towards the end of the day.
While others settled in this utopia for the evening, I had to drag myself away and – annoyingly – transport myself and belongings from the place I was staying to an airport hotel. There was, however, a good prompt to do so. One Direction were performing in BC Place, literally across the road from my hotel. This explains why they had no vacancy for my last night there and also why I seem to find myself having to increasingly negotiate a pathway through gawky teenage legs.
As adolescent screams echoed through the warm evening sky, I lamentably turned my back on Vancouver. But after gliding twenty minutes by train and dragging a suitcase along the concrete sidewalk of a grimy highway, Vancouver said goodbye to me from an upper floor of a Travelodge. A sky as fiery as the flame in my heart and the chilli in my laksa. A final, luminous ocean of evidence that the lists are not wrong, and this truly is one of the best cities in the world.