Enjoying 36 Hours in Vancouver, British Columbia

“Vancouver is a big city with west-coast attitude, but you never feel overwhelmed,” is what the woman from Alberta said to me. We shared a seat on the Airporter Bus (the most economical way from Vancouver International Airport to downtown).

A four-day conference brought me to Vancouver, B.C. and most of my time was spent in a hotel ballroom. Thirty-six hours belonged to me and this is how I made the most of the journey.

The Vancouver Tourist Info Centre (200 Burrard Street) is the spot to begin any visit to the city. Maps, brochures, accommodation information and coupons are available, along with well-informed volunteers to help make the most of your visit. They can also help explain the Goods and Services Tax (GST) refund non-Canadian residents are entitled to.

With a strong Japanese population, sushi restaurants ranging from quick and cheap to chichi and upscale are everywhere. Three I enjoyed were Tokyo Joe’s Japanese Restaurant, Mr. Sushi and Tsunami Sushi. Tokyo Joe’s (955 Helmcken Street) and Mr. Sushi (775 Davie Street) were quick, cheap and tasty little spots. The selections at each are a bit overwhelming and include the basics such as maki sushi, nigiri sushi and sashimi. Luckily, both feature specials (or boxes) offering tastes off the menu. These start at $9.95 CAD.

My favorite was Tsunami Sushi (1025 Robson Street) because I had to catch my meal. Sushi, sashimi and edamame plated on color-coded dishes floated by on wooden boats and I grabbed what tempted me. A price sheet guided me so I didn’t grab all the $5.95 dishes. The cost per plate varied between $1.95 CAD and $5.95 CAD. I complemented my meal with hot sake and a basket of vegetable tempura. Yummy! Total bill was about $30 CAD. Sitting at the counter around the floating boats is a good place to chat up the locals, too.

Breakfast one morning was a tasty salmon roll at the Granville Public Market on Granville Island. The Island is accessible by walking from Vancouver’s downtown, but that looked boring so I took the False Creek Aquabus (water taxi), which was $2.50 CAD, much cheaper the cost of a taxi. While waiting at the Hornby Street dock (one of many docks along the waterfront), a seal occasionally popped its head above the water as it swam through False Creek towards English Bay.

Granville Public Market offers just about everything, from fresh produce to homemade jellies and local artwork to colorful flowers. Not everything sold at the Market can be brought back into the U.S., but some items can. I found some locally made spice rub for poultry and tea. Open daily between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., it’s a great place for browsing and grabbing a bite for breakfast or lunch. Very close to the Market is Net Loft, an eclectic mix of artsy shops, galleries and other pretty, delicate things.

Sunset Beach Park is nice for walking along the waterfront. During my October visit, it was a comfortable 53-degree-Fahrenheit-day and this Floridian was bundled up in polar fleece and long slacks. Residents wore light jackets and many sported shorts. Beware: the path is shared with bikers and rollerbladers. Walking on the wrong side of the path will earn you an evil eye.

Vancouver is an excellent and easy walking city. As a solo woman traveler, I only walked alone during the day and relied on common sense to guide me away from sketchy looking areas. From Sunset Beach Park, Vancouver’s southwest end, I walked at least 25 blocks to Chinatown in the northeast end. Although I felt safe, I would not recommend walking to Chinatown alone at night. Walking within Chinatown at night appeared as though it would be safe.

Unlike New York City’s Chinatown where men whisper “Fendi,” “Coach” and “Gucci” in the ear’s of tourists (attempting to sell knock-off purses), Vancouver’s Chinatown is an authentic community keeping in touch with the mother country. With limited time, I walked through the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. A lily pad layered koi pond welcomes visitors and is draped by a lazy weeping willow. The garden’s walls create a sense of Chinese serenity but I laughed at the irony of classical Chinese-style buildings framed by the construction of 21st century high rises being built beyond Chinatown.

I stopped at the Chinese Cultural Center and learned about walking tours offered through Chinatown. Unfortunately, none were available to fit my schedule.

Wandering down Pender, Main and Keefer Streets, I took everything in. I sipped tea (and purchased more) at Ten Lee Hong Enterprises (500 Main Street) and browsed the spice shops and food markets. Dried lizard on a stick was being sold, along with dried scallops, seahorses and other dried critters. I’m not familiar with these delicacies and opted not to become familiar with their taste on this trip.

It was lunchtime, actually dinnertime with the time change, and I was desperate for food. Strangely, there aren’t many Chinese Restaurants in Chinatown. I ended up at New Mitzie’s Restaurant (179 East Pender Street) serving Western and Chinese cuisine. Although I could have ordered French fries with sweet and sour chicken, egg drop soup and lemon chicken was my lunch. The meal was okay and but wished I had found a more authentic dining spot. With drink, the meal was about $12 CAD.

Next was Gastown, just north of Vancouver’s Chinatown. This part of town felt a bit gothic, yet trendy and chic with a touch of the wild west. There’s a statue of Gastown’s Founding Father, John Deighton (“Gassy Jack”) on Powell Street. He earned the nickname for his “gassy” monologues as a saloonkeeper.

There was time to visit a couple of shops. One was Industrial Artifacts (49 Powell Street) selling furniture and accents crafted by recycled items. Street lights have been converted to candy dishes and lamps while industrial pieces like oversized gears from machine shops have been crafted to become coffee tables.

The other stop was at Hill’s Native Art (165 Water Street), full of eye-catching masterpieces. Dozens of wood-carved, colorful masks cover the shop’s entrance. Artists featured in the shop are from Canada’s Northwest Coast First Nations who incorporate their heritage and 21st century influence into their work. Wood carvings, paintings and jewelry are some of the pieces on display and for sale.

If you want to enjoy more art, visit Gastown’s Inuit Gallery (206 Cambie Street). Somehow I missed this gallery. I’m told it has a nice collection of stone and bone sculptures, wood carvings, drawing and tapestries. It’s opposite the World’s First Steam Clock, which is probably why I missed the gallery.

A busload of tourists surrounded what looked like an oversized grandfather clock and began taking photos. Not wanting to miss out on a Kodak moment, I joined in the picture taking frenzy. After the other tourists cleared, I noticed steam drifting from the clock and quickly read its history. It was built and designed by the owner of the Gastown Steam Clock Company, a horologist named Raymond Saunders in 1977. Every quarter of an hour, the clock whistles.

Gastown also has the typical tourist shops to purchase Canadian-made products such as maple syrup and maple cookies, pre-packaged salmon and fuzzy sweatshirts. But the coolest place I found to purchase Canadian food items is called Salmon Village (779 Thurlow Street) close to my hotel (the Sheraton Wall Centre, not in Gastown). Some of the products, like “Indian candy,” (tender, twice smoked salmon marinated in maple syrup) and smoked salmon are made at the company’s smokehouse in North Vancouver. All sorts of tempting treats like salmon jerky, salmon pate and gooey maple syrup are available for purchase. They can also help you ship items back to the U.S.

The most economical Canadian food items I found were at the local IGA (grocery store). Canadian maple syrup, pre-packaged salmon and salmon jerky were significantly cheaper than in the souvenir shops.

Away from Vancouver’s downtown on the campus of the University of British Columbia is the Museum of Anthropology (6393 Northwest Marine Drive). The featured collection is from the Northwest Coast First Peoples and includes totem poles, feast dishes, canoes, masks and jewelry, to name a few. A 45-minute guided tour is offered throughout the day and is included in the $9 CAD admission.

There was so much I found interesting but one of the most fascinating was learning how the Native Peoples made four-sided boxes out of a single plank of cedar. They steamed a plank to make it pliable and formed a box. I was also impressed with the 4.5 ton wood carving by Haida artist Bill Reid called, “The Raven and the First Men.” In 1980, the yellow cedar piece depicting a raven opening a clam shell and releasing Earth’s first men, was dedicated. Members of the Haida Nation (referring to the indigenous people of Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands) brought sand to place around the sculpture, which is still part of the display.

Short on time (and it was pouring down rain), I grabbed a taxi vs. trying to figure out the public bus system to get to the museum. It was well worth the trip (about $44 CAD round-trip from downtown).

Having briefly tasted Vancouver, it’s a region of North America I would like to return to on my own time. There is much more for me to discover and more sushi restaurants to sample.

– JA Huber

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