Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Whistler, Canada – September 2013

Chesterman Beach

Chesterman Beach

Photo’s are at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pjwr1tmots89srh/EzPqT-cmP0

…. and so onwards we arrived on a typical grey cloudy “summer’s” day in Vancouver. Apparently we had arrived on the only rainy day all summer – which we might have believed (with the best will in the world) if it were not for the fact that a friend who has recently moved there confirmed that it rains – a lot – and when it starts raining it never really stops. Obviously then,  this city is not a likely relocation destination for the Gardner’s 😉

Whilst we regretted leaving the Rockies we were all (in local parlance) “stoked” to be moving on to an entirely new city-based British Columbia experience. Unfortunately, our (group) enthusiasm didn’t seem to last long which was a big surprise for me as I had been raving about Vancouver forever (well – for 24 years to be precise – as I was 23 the last time I was there!!). Clearly, something was amiss and it wasn’t just the cloud and rain …..

I route marched our team (once it had stopped drizzling) over the local walkable areas of the city – the harbor – Canada Place, Granville, Robson, Hornby and Howe trying to extol the virtues of the modern architecture, clean lines,  and “livability” of the small downtown city on the water filled with parks and surrounded by mountains. Finally, we made our way over to the famous Granville Island Market via the cute(ish) little multi-colored ferry feeling assured that we would all, at least, enjoy the fabulous  colorful farmers market and the fish and chip shack that our friend had recommended for lunch. Whilst the view from the fish shack across the harbor to the city was probably one of a glittering metropolis of luxury high rise apartments in the sun (this is not by any means a cheap city to live in) , Dave observed that it looked more “eastern block” in the rain. I vigorously defended it but to no avail – I was out entirely alone on a wobbly limb with the troops dissenting across the ranks – and even I had to admit, sadly, that if it is grey and gloomy for most of the year and (in reality) the apartments and office blocks DID take on a grey and concrete-y appearance in that dull light, then, I supposed, there was a slight essence of eastern block about it… from a distance 😦

So, thank goodness for the market – everyone loved that – it had the added benefit of being a respite from the rain – AND – perhaps most importantly in the circumstances – it provided a kaleidoscopic assortment of fabulous bakery items which kept Dave and I happy for hours and lots of fab fruit and veg displays for the more virtuous  amongst us (Geoff and Ali)  🙂

Finally, it did stop raining (again) and I rallied the troops for a quick visit to Gastown (cleverly I had booked a beautiful boutique hotel within 2 blocks of this famous tourist destination area – so it wouldn’t be far to run if the heavens really opened up) 😉  My recollection (albeit aging and now rapidly crumbling ) of Gastown was of a larger area – it is still attractive with it’s 1850’s architecture, steam clock and lots of bars and restaurants (and shops selling “stuff” no-one really needs) – but it did seem to have shrunk somewhat. In addition, we started to notice a number of hobos and drunks careering about the pathways. Not to be deterred (as things were looking up weather wise for the early evening) we decided to head to China Town 2 blocks away.  Who couldn’t love a colorful Chinatown with all of its vibrancy and cultural diversity?? With hindsight, I almost wish we hadn’t gone. By now I was rapidly losing all credibility as proponent of the beauties of Vancouver!

Not being one to greatly exaggerate… 😉  I have to say that our trip through and around Chinatown (and particularly along East Hastings should anyone wish to avoid it) was filled with the most soul-destroying human misery, degradation and depravation any of us have ever seen outside of a Hollywood drugs movie. We were, quite literally, tip-toeing over, through, and around hundreds (the boys estimated probably 200 by 5.30pm) drunks lying in gutters and accumulating on street corners; drug addicts – people so sickly, drawn, covered in open sores and starved looking that it was a surprise they weren’t keeling over in the streets; poor souls so high they had no idea we were even there – tip toeing to get the hell out before any of them noticed we were dripping in $1000’s of dollars of camera between us. Most of them were so far out of reality that barely even once were we given a second look. In all of the cities and weird and wonderful places in the world we have been between us none of us have ever actually seen heroin addicts shooting up in the streets or crack addicts huddled in groups smoking in broad daylight. It was the most pitiful sight of rejected humanity we have ever seen 😦 Not much else to say really – slightly heartbroken and considerably baffled that this was the Vancouver I had loved for 24 years – I had to ask myself what the hell happened?

We arrived back in silence at the luxurious St Regis hotel (2/3 blocks away from abject poverty) to a smiling concierge interested to know  if we had enjoyed our day. Dave uttered that it had certainly been interesting and, when we mentioned we had taken a trip up Hastings his face fell and he muttered they didn’t usually advise their guests to go there (all of a 5 minute walk, by the way), that it was a terrible embarrassment for the city, getting worse every day and that the police and authorities simply didn’t bother to deal with the problems there. Well, I sure hope someone in power notices soon before the whole of Gastown and the rest of Chinatown are totally consumed  …. including a large number of lovely hotels .. some really excellent restaurants and Geoff’s new favorite martini bar  😦

One final word – we were asked a number of times by complete and utter strangers – locals – (which is odd in itself) our impressions of the city – all obviously mortified by the burgeoning drugs problems. We were told 2 stories – first that the authorities had closed a mental institution and put their patients out on the streets to fend for themselves (great idea) and – secondly – that there were a lot (we certainly saw a LOT) of shelters for the homeless (not a bad thing as everyone has the right to somewhere safe to sleep) but that in addition they received a vast array of benefits which they were happily spending on crack. Whatever the reason – it’s a nightmare.

By this stage we were pretty much ready to move on out of the city and over to the tranquility of the Pacific Islands 😉

Still, we had another full day to experience the joys of soggy Vancouver (including the food – which was excellent!) so we headed off in the rain to famous Stanley Park (this is still lovely thank God). Dragging soggy ” team Gardner/Oatley” around the seawall (normally fabulous views of the city and Canada Place, no doubt) I pointed us in the direction of the famous totem poles. I had remembered them from my youthful visit as much larger, more numerous and distinctly more impressive. Geoff was less than thrilled (after a long and very damp walk in the torrential rain – in his leaking raincoat) that they weren’t even authentic native tribal poles but replicas made in the 1980’s!   I had forgotten that morsel of information – I wasn’t popular 😉 From bad to worse of course, we decided to call a cab from a concession next to the totem poles – 5 phone calls and 1 hour later dripping from head to foot we managed to hail a cab on its way around the park (the company we called never did turn up). By way of final nail in the weather coffin, our very chatty cabbie was rather nonplussed by the weather cheerfully informing us that it probably wouldn’t stop raining (now that it had started –  this being the end of August, of course) until next May. So back we went to the only refuge in the city we really liked – Granville Island Market for some more cake to cheer us all up 😉 !! Luckily we had arranged to meet our recently implanted friend for dinner at a reallyyyy excellent restaurant which helped a little to ease the pain of our misgivings about the city and its god awful weather 😉

Vancouver Island couldn’t come a moment too soon!!

First stop – Victoria, the diminutive capital of British Columbia – sigh of relief – everyone loved it – sunshine – flowers everywhere – kind of kitschy English feel – colorful Chinatown – more colorful harbor – excellent fish and chip shacks at Fisherman’s Wharf – eccentric painted and decorated boat homes at the Wharf – and a classic boat show for the boys in the very picturesque inner harbor – sun glistening on the water –  brightly colored flags  fluttering in the breeze – and the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel (distinctly nicer looking than the Lake Louise version) in pride of place on the harbor side 🙂 So – back on target – I wasn’t fired as tour guide yet!! 😉

And so on to Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park  on the Pacific Coast. Up and over the mountains through “small town” Vancouver Island with numerous stops – variously famous for waterfalls, giant sequioa groves and totem poles – and plenty of other towns uninhabitable by anyone requiring more than a hermit’s existence out of life 😉

Needless to say the Pacific Coast is everything it should be – crashing waves; rainforest covered mountains, so damp the moss here was growing on moss which grew on the moss.. etc .. etc .. 😉 ; the smell of seaweed; windswept wild beaches liberally decorated with driftwood; sea-mist; rock pools filled with orange, red and green starfish; and huge rocks (re-living his youth Dave clambered over all of them like an excited 7 year old  – but then again it is that kind of place 🙂 ! )

In between long beach walks, absorbing the peace and quiet, and paddling in the Pacific we also managed to squeeze in a morning’s sea-kayaking in the Clayoquot Sound gliding across “fields” of giant sea kelp, exploring the tiny islands and sampling sea asparagus (probably never again 😉 ). Our final trip in the waters around the beautiful fishing town of  Tofino was, however, less than idyllic.

Never having been whale-watching before, Ali was excited to see the Pacific grey whales in their natural environment so we all tagged along for the ride. Dressed from head to foot in a bright red all in one cover-up (fit for -50 on a windy ski slope) we pottered slowly into the Sound (rapidly frying and shedding all the layers we had been encouraged to wear – before any of us actually passed out 😉 ) The guide had mentioned in his welcome introductory speech that we may have trouble finding any whales (??!) as they hadn’t seen many in the previous week and he then proceeded to dangle his fishing rod into the calm waters and  motor off slowly across the bay leaving us with a slightly sinking (as well as a very over-heated) feeling 😉 The upshot of a very expensive and subsequently very cold and wet morning was the sighting of  a slither of grey on the horizon, one whale head breaching the water at some considerable distance (how I managed to catch it on film I will never know as I certainly didn’t spot it with my naked eye ;-)…. some aimless bobbing for an hour whilst he finished fishing for his dinner, a soaking wet trip in a sudden squall to see some equally damp sea otters clinging onto giant kelp for dear life ….. another damp speedy zip into the Pacific to see a sea lion … and more otters ….. and finally a less than fascinating flit past a lighthouse …. By this stage we were all a little perplexed so Geoff shouted across to him in the howling wind that it would be nice to watch some whales on this “whale watching trip” at which stage we were returned forthwith fuming mad and soaking wet to the base. With the previous knowledge that nature is at its own whim and that refunds are never issued regardless of wildlife sightings – or not – we then spent an hour sharing our thoughts with the manager on the quality of their “whale” watching trip. By some miracle (and, we did, of course, have the benefit of being in possession of “Dave the negotiator” ) she finally caved and issued full refunds. None of us are entirely sure at what stage (or as a result of whose particular relentless argument) this sudden change of heart transpired, but it was, according to our host at the lovely B&B we were lodging at – absolutely unheard of!

And so – we left the Island with some reluctance and made our way back across the mountains to the final ferry trip of the vacation and up the Sea to Sky Highway for our final day in Whistler. Apparently North America’s top skiing resort – this town was (to us at least) a little like a Disney resort – with all the authenticity that that implies – not really the kind of old town wild west Colorado resorts we prefer – but it was worth the trip to see it (probably discount it for any skiing vacations) and for Ali and I to zipline and scream our last morning away over Fitzsimmons Creek – which was fun 🙂 Dave wouldn’t be persuaded to attach himself to a wire and jump off a platform over the trees … and Geoff had a cold – what a couple of girls 😉 !! 😉

Fab holiday had by all 🙂

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