A September 2004 trip
to Vancouver by billmoy
Quote: Vancouver seems to me like a Canadian version of Seattle, with a bit of San Francisco and Hong Kong thrown into the mix. These are all cities that I like, so that makes Vancouver a tasty concoction. Looking ahead, Vancouver will host the Winter Olympic Games in 2010.
Stanley Park is a beautiful and diverse patch of nature attached to central Vancouver. Be sure to go enjoy part or all of it. There is a free trolley that loops the perimeter of the park during the summer months, making for a very informal and pleasant sightseeing tour. Pose for pictures with the totem poles!
Every large city seems to have a themed community art project nowadays, like Chicago’s "Cows on Parade" a few years ago. Vancouver’s version in 2004 is a series of 65 individually painted orca sculptures. Most are located on downtown street corners, but some are in building lobbies and some are as far flung as north Vancouver and the airport.
Vancouver has its share of architectural icons and oddities. Zoning restrictions in Chinatown led to the construction of the Sam Kee Building, claiming the title as the narrowest office building in the world (it is six feet wide). The employees on the ground floor look like they are scurrying within an ant farm. Expo 86 spawned innovative structures like Canada Place (formerly the Canada Pavilion) and the geodesic golf ball that is Science World (formerly the Expo Preview Centre). BC Place Stadium features an air-supported roof reminiscent of the top of a cream pie. Vancouver is the home of many works by noted local architect, Arthur Erickson. His designs include the Robson Square developments and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC (the University of British Columbia), his alma mater. The latter, built in 1971, claims the most renowned collection of totem poles anywhere. Another internationally heralded architect, Moshe Safdie, designed the Vancouver Public Library, which opened in 1995 and bears a vague resemblance to the Coliseum in Rome.
On a personal note, I would like to give my sincere thanks to IgoUgo for selecting me into its Hall of Fame. It is quite an honor for someone who just wanted to ramble about his little trips around the world. My girlfriend and I attended the Vancouver awards dinner in September 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the IgoUgo staff along with a boisterous gathering of some of our finest and most prolific members. Thanks for reading!
Central Vancouver has many cheap joints where backpackers can fill up for a loonie or a toonie (the nicknames for the one and two dollar coins in Canada). I cannot vouch for the quality of the food, but a cheap slice of pizza sounds pretty good if you have to eat on the run. Budget shoppers may enjoy a romp through Gastown, the "old town" of Vancouver. Many shops sell inexpensive t-shirts and souvenirs here. For livelier (and pricier) shopping along with upscale dining, head down colorful and congested Robson Street.
A TransLink Daypass costs C. It covers the network of local buses, the SkyTrain, and the SeaBus. The all-day transit pass is not good for the small Granville Island ferries along False Creek. You can purchase the pass at many locations around town, including the 7-Eleven.
There are several ways to get to Seattle, but the train is not one of them. You can buy an Amtrak ticket between Vancouver and Seattle, but this is for a bus and it is labeled something like Canadian Trailways on the outside (other bus companies like Greyhound also operate this route). At the border crossing, everyone must exit the bus, claim their bags, go through a customs checkpoint similar to those in airports, and re-board the bus.
Hotel | "Residence Inn by Marriott"
The front desk staff was helpful with my check-in and check-out processes, and I received a handy free map of Vancouver too. The tour desk is not staffed all the time, but there are little pocket-sized maps and cards of local restaurants and museums. You will need to use your key card to operate the elevators, a safety concept at many hotels nowadays.
The rooms are like large studio apartments, so each spacious living area contains the bed, a sofa with fold-out queen bed, work desk and coffee table, and a kitchenette. The latter is loaded with a microwave (the first bag of popcorn is free); small, empty refrigerator (not a fully-stocked mini-bar); sink; dishwasher; stove; coffeemaker; toaster; and utensils. The queen bed is next to a totally vacant area that could have easily accommodated a second queen bed, and it is shocking to see such unused space in your typical hotel room (it is a great spot for using the in-room iron and ironing board). As with many moderate properties, the bedboard is merely cosmetically applied to the wall and is not attached to the bedframe. The TV seemed to have a zillion stations on it, and the standard bathroom with hairdryer was fine. The large bank of windows supplied a nice view facing west, and two of them could be slid open for natural ventilation. Some rooms have a balcony.
One of the benefits of a Residence Inn is the complimentary breakfast buffet, served on the second level. The dining lounge was jammed with package tourists (many tour buses stop here), so you were elbow-to-elbow while gathering your selection of pastries, fruit, bagels, cereal, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and beverages. Most Residence Inns have a waffle iron where you can make your own waffle, but the crowds are so rampant here that they have pre-made waffles that you can toast. The lounge fills up, so grab a table when you can. Staff members are very efficient in clearing off the tables. On most weeknights there is also a free cocktail hour. The second level also contains an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, workout room, coin-operated laundry machines, and an outdoor patio for gatherings or summer barbeques.
The property has parking on the premises. Hornby Street may seem a bit lonely, but, if you need a taxi, there is always one or two driving around, day or night. The standard room rates here are not cheap, but if you get a good deal or have a family who can fill up the room, the Residence Inn is a worthwhile place to stay.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 6, 2004
Residence Inn by Marriott Vancouver Downtown
1234 HORNBY STREET
Vancouver, British Columbia V6Z1W2
Hotel | "Kingston Hotel"
Built in 1910, this "heritage building" has three floors of rooms and prides itself as being a European style property, which will immediately get the attention of backpackers. Most of the basic guest rooms share bathroom facilities, which is fine if you do not mind the slight inconvenience. The rates for the few rooms with en-suite baths are marked up quite a bit more. My major issue was with the quality of the water flowing through the faucets of the wash basin in my room. I confess that I am not a water connoisseur, but it seems that the quality of tap water in Vancouver is not as good as in Chicago. I was disturbed that the water supply in my room possessed a murky yellowish tint and a metallic taste. I gingerly rinsed my mouth after brushing my teeth, wondering if this poor water would affect my health (it did not). I usually do not drink tap water on the road anyway, but here I definitely did not dare drink the stuff!
One minor plus is the complimentary continental breakfast of toast, jam, and beverage served in the first-floor lounge. It is light, but it is free. Other amenities include a sauna, coin-operated laundry room, and the option to rent a TV set.
The Kingston also advertises itself as a bed and breakfast, but it is more appropriately classified as a budget hotel. Hopefully the water quality will be finer if you stay here, or better yet, just buy a bottle of water on your own. If you can get over this negative, your stay here can be pleasant. The basic property is centrally located and is otherwise well-kept.
The establishment seems to be amenable to discounts and weekly rates if you ask, so if you are a student, senior, or are staying during off-peak times, speak up. It is only a couple of blocks from BC Place Stadium and General Motors Place, so if there is a BC Lions football game or major concert taking place, then good luck at securing a room here.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 6, 2004
Kingston Hotel Bed & Breakfast
757 Richards Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Floata occupies the fourth floor of a large shopping mall in Vancouver’s Chinatown. This is the second of its two locations (the original is located in the suburb of Richmond and seats nearly 400 diners). Once you walk into the mall, you may be temporarily bewildered by the shops and stalls selling Chinese goods while searching for the elevators.
It is well past rush hour for dim sum, but we were seated at a lonely table by the back window, fortunately shaded from its outdoor refuse bins and soft drink racks. I was hoping for a conveyor belt of goodies, a la some sushi restaurants, or at least the steamy caravan of metal carts with trays of flavorful Cantonese morsels. Alas, our waiter pushed a straggling cart to our table with about eight selections, and we chose five of them. This was a good move, for we would see no more carts after this one. Our choices were quite delicious (either this or I was very hungry!). The cheng fun (or steam rice roll), three tubular white rice noodles with a delicate mushroom filling and drenched with soy sauce, were the best ones I have ever tasted. The sui mai, steamed pork dumplings with won ton wrappings, are a childhood favorite of mine and are excellent here. The order of sticky rice comes wrapped in three bundles, with a bit of chicken tucked inside for good measure. The shrimp dumplings were tasty according to my companion, and the mystery dish consisted of chicken with black Chinese mushrooms and white globs of some delicacy I could not identify. We later ordered coconut jelly cubes and mango pudding for dessert, both very good but not exceptional.
As we were seemingly the last dim sum customers, we were not rushed out of the cavernous restaurant. We observed the employees positioning a few room dividers and otherwise setting up tables for the dinner crowds that were to come later. A few stragglers near our table were ordering dishes off the regular menu. Lavish dinner selections include lobster, crab, and Peking duck.
The tab was not cheap, but similar to what I would pay in other dim sum restaurants around the world. I would love to come again when the restaurant is bursting with chatty locals, curious tourists, and more dim sum choices. The huge facility probably does a favorable impersonation of a Hong Kong dim sum palace at peak hours. Floata is open from 7:30am to 10pm (go before 11am for the best selection!), and there is parking within the building.
Floata Seafood Restaurant
400-180 Keefer St
Vancouver, British Columbia V6A 1X3
+1 604 602 0368
Amazingly, the schtick has been going on here for well over 30 years. Yes, all the waiters at Brothers sport brown outfits that make them look like Franciscan monks! These brotherly "monks" do not take a vow of silence, but they basically stay out of your way and are there when you need them. The interiors of the restaurant have a vaguely monastic look about them, with dark wood, stone, and brick surfaces. Funky murals add to the theme of the monastery look. The stained glass and chandeliers add to the bizarre nature of the overall amalgam.
The restaurant is saved from being a self-caricature by serving a reasonably competent selection of food that will appeal to families and tourists. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, and fairly standard, easy-to-digest entrees. I probably had one of the least typical entrees, the veal cordon bleu. It was good and filling, and, although it is not one of the most memorable dinners I have ever consumed, everything is moderately priced. There are also lunch and dinner specials that are friendly to your wallet.
The experience of dining here is not that far removed from a visit to a sports bar, except the uniform here is monkish robes rather than referee jerseys or tight tank tops and short orange shorts. I remember watching a hockey game (hey – this is Canada!) on one of the televisions during my dinner, and the woman at the table next to me said to her date that she hoped the Canadian team would beat the American team (sorry, the Canadian team lost that night). The sound of the TV was drowned out by piped-in torch songs that tossed the supper-club era into the eclectic equation. I did not witness any group singing or light shows here, but I had the suspicious feeling that anything could happen here.
I would not necessarily run to Brothers, but if you are in the area and can suspend reality for an hour or two, you will have some fun and a decent meal here. Then spend your extra money on some souvenirs in one of Gastown’s many stores.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 8, 2004
1 Water Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
This peninsula was named after Lord Stanley, the Governor General of Canada (1888-1893), who also lent his name to hockey’s illustrious Stanley Cup trophy. These 1,000 acres form the first public park in the city. You can ride the no.19 bus from Georgia Street into the park, but, for full effect, we strolled along the shoreline from Canada Place towards the veritable forest of trees within the grounds.
People can walk or rent a bicycle to complete the 5.5-mile circuit around the seawall promenade. For those with limited time, hop on the free trolley that circulates every 15 minutes during the summertime and makes 14 stops along the way. The driver points out the highlights during this 45-minute circle. You must see the gathering of colorful totem poles near Brockton Point; it is regarded as the most visited tourist spot in all of British Columbia. The expressions on these authentic totem poles crafted by the Kwagiulth people are beautiful and priceless. Stop by the nearby Brockton Visitor Centre (designed by Lubor Trubka Associate Architects) for locally crafted gifts and light snacks.
If you enter the park from the Coal Harbour shore, you will see the Vancouver Rowing Club, which hosts elite rowing squads. The sporting theme can be found all over the park, with cricket pitches, jogging and hiking trails, plus tennis, golf, and swimming. The statue of Canadian track star Harry Jerome sprints along the seawall promenade as does the "Girl in Wet Suit," a sculpture of a female figure lounging atop a rock that is akin to Copenhagen’s "Little Mermaid".
If one continues along the northern edge, you will climb up to Prospect Point. From the lookout plaza there is a great view of the majestic Lions Gate Bridge, reminiscent of the Chain Bridge of Budapest. You can relax or buy trinkets at the nearby cafe (there are other restaurants and snack shacks sprinkled throughout the park). The elevation will also allow you to appreciate the tall trees, including sequoias. Natural curiosities include the Hollow Tree, a bizarre, twisting tree-within-a-tree that you can walk through, and the 50-foot tall Siwash Rock.
Hiking trails lead to notable spots like the Vancouver Aquarium (the largest one in Canada), Beaver Lake, and Lost Lagoon with its fountain in the center. Kids can ride the Miniature Railway, pet animals in the Children’s Farmyard or stare at Canada geese near the Rose Garden. Watch for the clearly marked lanes for cyclists, in-line skaters, and walkers throughout the park (visitors on wheels are supposed to move in a counterclockwise direction). Enjoy the natural beauty of Vancouver at Stanley Park!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 6, 2004
843 Avison Way
Vancouver, British Columbia V5K 1A1
Expo86 brought Vancouver to a worldwide audience and was the catalyst of several notable buildings, one of which is now known as Canada Place (it originally was called the Canada Pavilion during the Expo in 1986). The mixed-use complex is the home to the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, the posh Pan Pacific Hotel, terminals for cruise ships and buses, and an IMAX theater.
It is a beautiful entity that is capped by a sectional roof of white, Teflon-coated fabric. These tent-like structures appear like shimmering sails. This nautical reference is quite appropriate when you see the plethora of boats large and small scurrying about in Vancouver Harbour. Sometimes large cruise ships are anchored adjacent to the complex, offering an interesting contrast of ocean liner and building mimicking an ocean liner. The roof fabrics are well anchored and quite safe, so indeed they do not sail away. Walk along the perimeter promenade for picturesque views of the city and follow along while reading informative plaques about the history of the city.
The SeaBus terminal is east of Canada Place, offering fast and convenient access to Lonsdale Quay on the shore of North Vancouver. Unfortunately the terminal is quite utilitarian in appearance, as it merges with the transportation network of the SkyTrain Waterfront Station and other various tunnels and passages. Walking to or from the SeaBus terminal, try to catch glimpses of Canada Place.
A terrific way to experience the flowing waterline is to walk between Canada Place and Stanley Park. It is definitely not a dull straight-line walk, as you meander around the piers and urban landscapes. You will be enthralled by the casual stream of small seaplanes and helicopters buzzing above and around you. Look to the North Shore and you will also be mesmerized by the stretch of lush mountains that appear almost tropical in the summertime.
To the west of Canada Place, Harbour Green is an attractive urban park with pavement waterworks fountains that kids can frolic in, at least during the warmer months. It is conceptually similar to the popular Fountain of Rings in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Fortunately, the design of newer high-rises along the shore are becoming more and more handsome, even though they still display a uniform style that does not come close to challenging the undisputed aesthetic anchor of the local skyline, Canada Place.
999 Canada Place.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6C 3C1
Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest one in Canada and perhaps that is why it is fortunate enough to have the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Completed in 1986, it is regarded as the first authentic classical Chinese garden created outside of China. The design of this wonderful slice of controlled nature is derivative of the world-famous gardens in Suzhou, China. Many of the elements, along with over 50 artisans, were imported from Suzhou. The artisans respected old traditions so much that no nails or power tools were used to create the garden.
The garden is named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, revered as the "Father of Modern China." He spearheaded the 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty (he even visited Vancouver three times to rally for support and contributions) and became the first president of the Republic of China in 1912.
The garden is insulated from the outside world by high, whitewashed walls. The design of the garden involves a symbolic yin and yang, "harmony of contrasts," amongst the structures, impossibly organic-looking limestone rocks, plants, and water. Walk inside and experience the scenic and serene settings created by the rich textures of the tiled roofs and the tactile streams of stone paving. The climates of Vancouver and Suzhou are similar, so the same types of plants in the Suzhou gardens were used here. One can see how Chinese scholars in the good ol’ days of the Ming Dynasty may have desired to cocoon within the full embrace of an enriching oasis such as this. One notable concession to modern times may be noticed if you look westward, as the tops of today’s skyscrapers encroach over the peaceful realm of the garden.
If you are pressed for time or are on a budget, you can enjoy the adjacent Sun Yat-Sen Park for free. Although this space actually preceded the garden, its natural, public-park style appears as an extension of the more formal and classical garden. Designed by architects Joe Wai and Donald Vaughan, the park offers its fair share of lovely vistas and charming elements. The gift shop offers a range of tasteful gifts with a Chinese bent. Just east of the park complex is the Chinese Cultural Centre, which includes a museum, archives, and library. This is the starting point for many walking tours of Chinatown.
The garden is open daily from May to October, and it is closed Mondays the rest of the year. There are guided tours along with occasional art and music programs.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
578 Carrall St.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 5K2
(604) 662 3207
Attraction | "Robson Square"
Arthur Erickson, one of the most noted Canadian architects of his generation, played a major part behind the design of this development. The square incorporates the Provincial Government Offices (1978) and the Law Courts (1979), brooding buildings, designed by Erickson, of concrete and glass. A series of water cascades add a bit of much-needed spirit to this portion of the outdoor plaza. The Robson Square campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) contributes some local life to the sometime deadening atmosphere. Students can be found here skateboarding, studying, and otherwise cavorting even in some of the darker underpasses of the multi-tiered spaces. During the winter there is an outdoor skating rink, and I can imagine a livelier atmosphere here in January than during my visit in September.
This is an urban landscape of concrete to be sure, no matter how the plantings and the waterfalls may psychologically soften the effect. Some of the monumental stair runs are marred by code-mandated ramps for the physically handicapped. These ramps are necessary for wheelchairs, but its awkward zigzag layout, reminiscent of the narrow switchback roads atop steep Machu Picchu, must be dismaying for unfortunate wheelchair users. These slashing paths also forcibly create irregularly shaped semi-stairs that can cause otherwise fit persons to stumble. Stairs seem to take up half of the site, and unintentionally create a monumentally oppressive environment not unlike those from the mind of Escher.
The most visible part of the square is the Vancouver Art Gallery, a neoclassical complex that was formerly the city courthouse designed by architect Francis Rattenbury in 1911. Its interiors were deftly redesigned by Erickson in 1983 as exhibition spaces for art. Various colorful modern sculptures are sprinkled throughout the levels of the park. There are even a few peculiar ship models perched atop the roof at each corner of the main building. The galleries contain the most thorough collection of works by Victoria artist Emily Carr, one of most notable Canadian artists, although virtually anonymous elsewhere. Carr is sort of a Canadian version of Georgia O’Keeffe.
The north part of the square has perhaps its most crowd-pleasing aesthetic public feature. The sculptural fountain with colorful glazed tiles is surrounded by bright red-rose gardens and marks the front (or is it the back?) monumental entrance to the Vancouver Art Gallery. The fountain would not be out of place in Barcelona, and its dancing streams of water may even overshadow the fact that there is a horrendous and ungainly department store eyesore to the east. Frankly, it was a relief to encounter this fountain after the cool, gray atmosphere of the rest of Robson Square.
Downtown and West End
Vancouver, British Columbia
Attraction | "Lonsdale Quay Market and Shops"
Lonsdale Quay Market and Shops has the feel of a generic suburban shopping center, but its waterside location rescues it from this ignominious fate. The striking white exterior, with its bright red trim and X-bracing, glimmers in the occasional Vancouver sun. The giant revolving Q signals commerce the way a hamburger stand sign might. The big and bold Q tops a red self-serve "observation tower" that is basically a big stairway. Climb up to one of the landings for a cool catbird view of Vancouver and its friendly relationship with its waterways. Otherwise the skyline of Vancouver is equally impressive and expansive along the wooden boardwalk, albeit a bit less elevated. The stepped central plaza with a modern fountain is a gathering place for people-watching. The occasional musician will perform in the plaza area, for better or for worse.
The first level features food and drink outlets in various formats, some with an emphasis on international variety. There is a market area selling fresh seafood and produce, and scrumptious baked goods. There is also a food court, casual cafes, and restaurants too. I had a snack at Cheshire Cheese Inn on the second level, designed to look like a traditional English pub and restaurant. I bought a flaky Cornish pasty, filled with bits of meat and potatoes, and it was fine and typical. Watch out for some nice views from its patio.
The second floor features another way to spend your money: shopping. There are about 90 stores and galleries, and perhaps the goods are a tad more expensive here than in central Vancouver. I took a roll of film in for one-hour processing, and I am sure it would have cost less just about anywhere else in downtown. Kids Alley includes a playland for hyperactive youngsters as well as shops. The building also supports a boutique hotel on the upper levels, named (what else?) the Lonsdale Quay Hotel.
Lonsdale Quay Market and Shops is open every day. The shops have extended hours on Friday evenings, and the restaurants generally close even later. Sure it is a shopping mall, but it is a shopping mall with a view!
Lonsdale Quay Market & Shops
123 Carrie Cates Court
Vancouver, British Columbia V7M 3K7