Thursday, August 03, 2006


A gas in Gastown

[residual travel-blogging: Vancouver BC, June 13, 2006]

View of North Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet.

Vancouver is a delightful city. It has a compact, walkable downtown area, surrounded by sprawling extensions set amid breathtaking fjord-like thingies. (See downtown and area maps.) I'm sure there's a word for oceanic inlets or "sounds" with green hills rising out of them rimmed by snow capped mountains. I just don't know the word.

View from our room in the Sheraton.

Downtown Vancouver is on a peninsula. A large sound marks its northern boundary, while the southern edge is rimmed by a smaller inlet modestly named "False Creek." Cute pontoon boats called "Aquabuses" ferry you across False Creek to Granville Island and the Granville Island Market, an excellent imitation of Seattle's Pike Place Market.

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Vancouver is striking for its profusion of glassy high-rise residential buildings. While I have mixed feelings about these buildings aesthetically, and wonder about the wisdom of so much overhead glass in an earthquake-prone region, I concede that building upward is often to be preferred over sprawling outward for residential development.


Above and below: downtown skyline from False Creek.


Vancouver has a welcoming, easy-going, live-and-let-live vibe. Even its skid row is kinda nice, at least relative to its counterparts in U.S. cities.

We stumbled on this part of town on a pleasant evening stroll though the city. We had just walked through "Gastown," a renovated touristy area filled with tourist restaurants and gift shops with "I {heart} Canada" T-shirts. At the edge of Gastown, we wandered into the sports bar where we joined the locals in rooting for the Edmonton Oilers against the Carolina Hurricanes for a period.

Tourist shop selling Royal Canadian Mounted Police licensed goods.
Everyone needs a Mounties T-shirt.

Leaving the bar in the direction of Chinatown, I curiously noted a young college-student-looking man sitting on a stoop lighting up a glass pipe with a cigarette lighter.
"Do they decriminalize marijuana here in Canada?" I said to B.
"Maybe," she replied, "but I'm pretty sure that was a crack pipe."
Before I could argue the point, my eye was caught by a thin man with a gray beard stumbling out of an alley. At the edge of the alley, a few feet from the sidewalk, a young couple sat on the ground brandishing a long, thin rubber tube of the kind used as a tourniquet by the nurse who takes your blood sample and, of course, intravenous drug users. The inquisitive part of my brain wanted to confirm this by looking for the hypodermic needle, but my socially conscious side thought "it's not polite to stare." Meanwhile, my motor functions caused my feet to walk faster.

We reached the corner, and crossing the street, another guy looked at us and said, "Hey, there's a building on fire back threre behind you!"

Is everybody here on drugs? I wondered. But when we reached the corner and looked back, sure enough there was a building on fire.

The edge of Gastown. But for the buring building,
one of the nicest drug neighborhoods you'll ever see.

My hope to return to the friendly confines of a crowded tourist area was dashed when it turned out that the streets of neighboring Chinatown were totally deserted. We ended up walking through the semi-deserted fairgrounds from the 1986 World's Fair, past the empty sports arena, under a web of highway overpasses, and finally, back to the comfort of Yaletown, the trendy, busy restaurant section built out of an old warehouse district. Pretty mild stuff compared to what you might encounter getting lost in a big American city.

Under construction: the main media venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver has miles of waterfront. Above: the Cruise Ship Terminal, Burrard Inlet.

Crying out for redevelopment: this semi-deserted remnant
of the 1986 World's Fair houses a low-traffic night club and casino.

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Yaletown. Naturally, I gravitated toward this neighborhood.

Yeah, but did you see the world's thinnest building in Chinatown? That's pretty neat.

Vancouver is very cool. Aren't most of the buildings constructed to resist earthquakes? I was under that impression.

Word verification: ciyvwpyv: a ritual of the Native Americans living in British Columbia involving lots of pipes.
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