This is Part 1 of a three part series on our trip to Vancouver in 2015.
Some of my favourite posts to put together are short travel excursions to a new city. Last year, Jac and I headed to New York City for our anniversary weekend. It was the first opportunity to truly use our new Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera and it was a chance to recharge the batteries for the coming year of school ahead.
So with the same rationale, we, along with my brother and his girlfriend, headed to Vancouver for May Long Weekend this year.
It didn’t take long for Jaclyn and I to realize how much we love the city of Vancouver. The city is clean, new, temperate, considerate, and immaculate. Vancouver has an entirely different personality, an entirely different character than New York City or Paris or Rome. There is nothing old about Vancouver. It’s a city willing to embrace the ever-evolving way of human life, both as a cosmopolitan city and as a habitat for millions of people.
The four of us spent four full days in the city and its environs. Here’s the first part of our trip.
We landed at YVR airport around 6:00PM local time after a two-and-a-half hour flight. We stayed on the domestic side of the terminal both on the way there and on the way back, so we didn’t have a great chance to see the size of YVR. Overall though, I was surprised at how small it was.
Regardless of its size, YVR is accessible via the city’s TransLink public transportation system. We paid our fairly expensive daily fare to get to the main city and hopped aboard.
It immediately became clear that Vancouver and its citizens take great care of their city and their services. All the SkyTrain, SeaBus, and bus stops were incredibly clean and in great condition. I’ve ridden on NYC’s subway, Paris’ Métro, and Rome’s Metro, and neither of the three come remotely close to Vancouver’s TransLink upkeep.
After we arrived at the hotel, we stopped at the Rogue Kitchen and Wet Bar on West Broadway for supper and then headed out to walk around town. Crossing the Cambie Street bridge provided a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of the all-glass abodes of wealthy Downtown Vancouverites.
We walked right through downtown to get to the waterfront on the north side of Downtown Vancouver. Canada Place, built in 1986, has some familiar design elements from the Sydney Opera House and looked brilliantly coloured against the night sky.
After we returned to the hotel to catch our breath, I had to try and take some long exposure shots of the streets below. My small hometown has neither the traffic nor the elevation to take such shots, so I had to try it out.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
There are a fair number of tourist attractions in Vancouver and the surrounding area, not the least of which is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It became our first planned event and it didn’t let us down.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park has a free shuttle bus that stops at multiple locations in Downtown Vancouver. We headed to the Canada Place/Pan Pacific Hotel1 stop to hop aboard. There’s a small tourist kiosk at the bus stop where you can purchase tickets ahead of time and skip the line at the Capilano Park. If you’re at the park nice and early, there may be no need to pre-purchase your tickets. If you plan on heading to the Park midday, I recommend pre-purchasing to avoid the line.
There was little to no kidding around when the shuttle bus arrived. Once through the gates, the suspension bridge was a few short meters from the entrance.
In all honesty, I took the suspension bridge for granted. I expected its stability to be far greater. When I first stepped off the stairs and onto the bridge, I almost jumped back to safety. The bridge sways quite easily and caused a few people to scream (sarcastically, I think) for help.
The view from the bridge is pretty spectacular. I wish the bridge was wider to allow people to pass while you stand there to admire the view. Standing stationary in the middle of the bridge holds up the line, eliminating any opportunity of truly enjoying the experience.
Once past the suspension bridge, the rest of the park is dominated by nature and boardwalks. It became evident quickly that Capilano Suspension Bridge Park was created for tourists — the park itself has been maintained and moulded into a tourist destination. As such, there are cameras embedded in the trees and wires in the shrubbery wherever you walk. All the man-made elements forced into the park ruin the natural experience in my opinion.
There are three major parts to the Suspension Bridge Park: the Suspension Bridge, the Cliffwalk, and the Treetops Adventure.
When we began the Treetops Adventure segment, my brother started humming the ewok celebration music and he couldn’t have hit a more perfect (and hilarious) chord.
The Cliffwalk is a pretty unique way of seeing the entire valley below and catching a glimpse of the suspension bridge from afar.
The entire Cliffwalk portion is held up by a bunch of sturdy cables. No matter how strong they are, I find it incredible to think such weight can be held up by simple cables. I’m sure it’s a simple engineering feat, but I was pretty impressed nonetheless.
We walked through the majority of the park in about two to two-and-a-half hours. There are children’s activities scattered throughout the park, so heading to the park with a family would probably result in a lengthier visit.
Regardless, the Capilano Suspension Bridge was well worth our time and it was a great segway into the natural beauty of the city of Vancouver.
If you’ve headed up to North Vancouver to visit Capilano, it’s only a short transit bus ride further up the mountain to find the Grouse Mountain gondolas and the famous Grouse Grind.
My brother and his girlfriend felt adventurous after all our Capilano walking and they took on the Grouse Grind by themselves. They completed the Grind in about an hour-and-a-half, which is impressive for first timers but way off the half-hour record times. Even still, Jac and I were impressed with their dedication.
We paid the
exorbitantly expensive $80 to take the 8 minute gondola ride to the top of the mountain.
Jac and I may have had a better attitude regarding the cost of the gondola ride if it had been a bright sunny day at the top of the mountain. Despite the gorgeous day down below, the 3,400 foot mountain top was densely covered in fog. It was a great chance to shoot some awesome fog photos, but there was no chance of seeing the giant city from high above. This was a bit disappointing.
We sat at the chalet’s coffee shop and wandered around for an hour while our travel partners finished the Grind. It was surprisingly brisk at the top of the mountain — my shorts and tee-shirt were a little inappropriate for the venture.
Luckily some of the fog lifted on the way down the mountain. This gave a quick chance to snap a photo of the gorgeous city from way up.
Once we reached the bottom, Jac and I parted ways from the other two for the rest of the afternoon. We caught the bus back to Canada Place at the north shore of Downtown Vancouver and proceeded to walk down the rest of the boardwalk in Coal Harbour.
Before I was born, my dad was a float plane pilot. He flew planes in and out of reserves in Northern Manitoba. Many of the reserves he flew into at the time were not accessible by road or rail, so his float plane deliveries were the lifeline of the communities. He’s always had an affinity for float planes and I figured I had to snap a few photos of the tourist planes landing in the harbour.
Our boardwalk stroll continued to prove the incredible beauty of the all-glass city. Large, glass apartment buildings loomed over the harbour and shone brilliantly in the blue sky. After seeing the mostly-concrete buildings of New York City last year, the all-glass buildings stood in stark contrast to my personal experience.
I tend toward the glass architecture of Vancouver and I wish the homes in my area were capable of such architecture. The temperate climate of Vancouver allows all-glass buildings to be economically feasible; if snow only falls once or twice every four years and can’t make it through the night, there’s little need for densely insulated homes.
In my area, immense wealth is shown off through building a home with many windows. The more glass and the more windows in your home, the more expensive your winter hydro bill. If you can afford to lose all the heat and take in all the natural sunlight in the winter, you flaunt that affluence.
In Vancouver, this affluence appears to be taken for granted. And because of this simple architectural and climatized trait, I immediately wanted to relocate to Vancouver’s Waterfront harbour.
The rest of the city is quite reminiscent of other, newer cities. Downtown’s streets are lined with electric cables to power the TransLink buses and they largely obscure the upward view of the city.
We stopped at this feminine bake shop on Mainland Street on our long walk back to the hotel. Mainland Street is lined with restaurants, bake shops, coffee shops, bars and other food vendors. The Sweet Bake Shop is highly visible and hit the perfect note with my wife.
Normally, I wouldn’t highlight something like this, but I have a small point to make.
My wife discovered Sweet Bake Shop on Instagram. For a bake shop, Sweet Bake Shop has a ton of Instagram followers. The bake shop has defined how social media can be used as an incredibly powerful advertising medium and how imagery can tickle people toward visiting their storefront.
Realistically, Sweet Bake Shop’s pastries taste decent (Jaclyn bought some macaroons for the two of us to try) but not something I would cross the street to taste. Instead, just walking through the shop was a lesson in how to market their product. I was really impressed with their ability to woo customers through incredible photography and through the vast reach of social media. I’m glad Jaclyn forced me to stop for the incredibly sweet snack and photo opportunity.
Yaletown, Downtown, False Creek, and Olympic Village
Mainland Street is in the Yaletown district of Downtown Vancouver, so after our sweet snack, Jac and I headed further south toward False Creek and Creekside Park. False Creek holds many of the major recreational locations and the two major sporting venues: BC Place and Rogers Arena. Just a short distance from the two venues is Science World.
This was a good chance to get our bearings about us before heading into the real reason for our trip: the U2 Songs of Innocence concert. U2 announced their new tour back in December and I purchased tickets at the closest venue I could. U2 kicked off their tour at the Rogers Arena on May 14.
I’ll admit, I had hoped heading down to the Rogers Arena area would result in a better chance of catching Bono walk across the street. Alas, my hope was all for nothing. It was a great walk, but it wasn’t the starstruck walk I had dreamed about.
After our venture around Creekside Park and Science World, we traipsed through Olympic Village and back up to our West Broadway hotel before heading out for supper. I snapped a pile of photos throughout the day, so I opted to leave the camera behind in the evening.
We went to a small Italian restaurant on Hamilton Street known as Lupo Restaurant & Vinoteca. We walked into the quaint, house-like restaurant without a reservation. Every other guest sat quietly at their tables with sport coats and more formal attire.
We immediately felt out of place.
Once we put our initial embarrassment behind us, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. My brother and his girlfriend each had the special veal T-bone steak. Jaclyn had the canneloni and I had the Taglietelle dish. Each of us washed our meals down with a glass of wine and a pile of good laughs.
It was an amazing meal. Our initial embarrassment quickly wore off into one of the finest meals on our trip. I can’t recommend Lupo Restaurant enough.
Our wine and Italian cuisine topped off our first full day in Vancouver. Jaclyn and I walked a total of 40,000 steps each in our first 24 hours in the city and we were exhausted by the end of the day.
Part 2 of this series will run through Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium and the U2 concert itself, while Part 3 (if there is a Part 3 — I haven’t decided yet) will outline our trips to Granville Island, Lighthouse Park, North Vancouver, and Gastown.
If money was no object, I would return to Vancouver and stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It sits right on the coast and has drop dead gorgeous views of the ships coming in from sea. That, and the fact they have an aggressive conductor directing all incoming traffic at its footsteps, means it is an experience for the rich and famous. I wish I could try it out sometime. ↩