The Van aka Vancouver

It was my first time visiting Vancouver and I had such a great time.

After what I consider a fairly normal flight of about 6 hours, we touched down in Vancouver. It was a bit cloudy so I couldn't see all of the mountain tops but you arrive in the middle of green. It felt quite relaxing. The only difficult part of my arrival was immigration. Bleh, I won't write more because it's so meaningless. Let's just put it at the fact that some of those people have power trips.

Since Vancouver hosted the winter Olympics last year, public transportation in general and especially from the airport had been greatly improved. The ride into the city was easy and smooth. We had a few hours to kill till my friend got off work so we headed downtown. Unlike like most places in Japan, there were absolutely no coin lockers where we could leave our luggage. It was a big hassle considering a two week vacation only requires so much and I like to pack light, but its so much more fun to wander around hands free.

So with our luggage in tow we wandered the streets of Granville and Robson. After a bit we decided to eat lunch and chose a relatively crowded Japanese restaurant. Ironic I know but Japanese was everywhere. I ordered kitsune udon, a thicker noodle made of wheat with a piece of fried tofu. And my companion ordered a teishoku or set meal, that included rice, miso soup, tempura, and pickled veggies. Our dishes arrived. My udon had a pretty decent tasting broth and the veggies inside were different from what you would have in Japan but were good. The teisoku was really good I thought. The tempura was fried right so the fried part was perfectly crunchy and the inside was hot.

After our meal we still had time and couldn't think of what to do. As we were walking we found a place to rent bicycles. They would hold our luggage as well so we rented bright orange bikes and had a scenic and fun ride around Stanley Park. One thing about Vancouver is that there are trees and plants everywhere. It's as if a metropolitan city was just placed in the middle of mountains and hills. Stanley Park was exciting. We rode around the harbor, past the totem poles and along the sea wall. Although it had been a bit cloudy when we arrived, the afternoon cleared up and it was warm and sunny. There are various environments within the park so if you go inside a bit you'll be amongst tall trees but along the seawall you pass rock cliffs and sandy beaches. Along the way I saw that many bushes full of berries and noticed some had been picked so I figured they weren't poisonous. Turns out they were salmonberries. There were golden and red ones. The red ones were slightly sweeter but both were a tad more bitter than I like berries to be. I ate way too many and couldn't eat anymore.

We got back to the bike shop, grabbed our things and hailed a taxi to our friend's place. He lives near Commercial Drive which is at the eastern part of Van and thus called East Van. We dropped off our luggage and went to take a walk on Commercial Drive aka the Drive. I found this part of Vancouver to loosely resemble the East Village of NYC because its bustling with artistic, intellectual and hip people. Plus there are just so many cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. Okay, that could describe anyplace but I have a tendency to compare places with NYC even though I've only visited many times. Something about going to NYC always excites me so I went I find something that resembles it I tend to want to spend as much time there. After our stroll on the Drive, we returned to our friend's place where he had made a nice dinner of baked salmon and scalloped potatoes with a bechamel sauce. With some vin blanc it was hit the spot. Pretty talented cook for sure.

The next morning we rode with our friend to the ferry port. It was nice to see other areas of Van on the way and kind of fun to ride the ferry with a car. The ferry was huge! It was about an hour and half to get to Vancouver Island. We passed some of the Gulf Islands on the way. It's such a beautiful area. After arriving on Vancouver Island we drove to Victoria. We went to another friend's place, dropped of our stuff then caught a bus downtown. Victoria was more quant but the architecture was prettier. We had lunch at a deli that had a view of the harbor and busy streets. Then our friend met us after he finished work. We rode back to his place. We stayed the weekend there and he showed us around the Victoria area, visiting different parts. The weather was much colder than I hoped for but it was still fun.

On the following Monday we, with our rented car, drove up to Lake Cowachin to visit another friend of ours who is helping his brother fix up a recently purchased house. The drive up was easy and the Lake area was absolutely beautiful. It was so serene and a nice breather after a busier Victoria. There were mostly relaxed by talking over coffee or drinks, watched movies and took a view drives to see other areas of Vancouver Island. On our last full day there we went to Chemainus to visit a local market and then to Cowachin Bay to buy some fresh salmon. If you like fish then BC is one place to visit because the salmon is incredible. We tried candied salmon and ate salmon several times of the course of a week. The second week we didn't eat much because there were so many options to choose from. We left Lake Cowachin and headed back to Victoria. On our last night there we went to eat sushi. Unlike Japan, Hawaii and many other places abroad have popularized the roll. All sorts of maki or roll have been invented and all taste uniquely different. We had a few and got stuffed. Of course we had some salmon sushi. The salmon was pretty much the best salmon I've ever had. Fresh with an amount of oiliness that makes it melt in your mouth. I highly recommend BC Sockeye salmon.

The following morning was Canada day. Wanted to go to a cute Italian coffee shop we found nearby but it was unfortunately closed for the holiday. We had to settle for Starbucks. Went downtown to walk around a bit before returning the rental car. We hadn't had much time to walk around downtown Victoria so it was nice to see people out and about in their red and white attire. The downside was that many stores weren't open yet or wouldn't open. On what started as a gray, cloudy morning turned into a sunny one so it was refreshing to just meander.

We returned the car and hopped on a bus than would take us to and on the ferry. It was a fairly short ride and we boarded the ferry and were off to Tswwassen. Unlike our trip to Vancouver Island, the return trip was beautifully sunny and fairly warm. After the ferry, the bus dropped us of in downtown Vancouver. We went back to our friend's to leave our things so we could meet him in Stanley Park to sit and wait to watch the Canada Day fireworks. We took the bus and then after walking for what seemed like too long. We walked past the big Canada Day parade and finally got to where our friends were. We satt on the a blanket in the grass facing the harbor. We enjoyed a beer and talked till the fireworks began. The fireworks show lasted over half and hour and was surprising a good show. It was a nice contrast to firework displays in Japan during the summer when you're with hundreds of thousands of other people and it's hot and humid.

The remaining days were gloriously sunny and warm so after we settled into a vacation suite we rented 10 minutes away from Commercial Drive we spent them relaxing, eating, visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the Surrealist exhibition, shopping and more lounging. I also got to meet up with a friend of mine that I've known since middle school. She is attending grad school in Toronto but is spending the summer in the Van. I love meeting friends in a different location than you first met them. It creates new stories, inside jokes and fun experiences.

The vacation as a whole went by at the perfect pace- not too fast or too slow. Days were long and the sun wouldn't set till about 10pm. This was long for me given that I'd never really been in Upstate NY during the summer during college and summers spent in Colorado and Japan were only light till about 8pm. Its more northern location allows for more hours of sunlight which is amazing.

Coming home wasn't sad or happy just right. It was the right amount of time and the right place. I'm so glad I finally had a chance to visit Vancouver. In the last year I'm met several people from there so it's nice to explore their hometown. I'd love to visit again sometime later, maybe at later time in the summer when the blackberries are ripening but otherwise summer is the best time to go.

Since coming home I've been trying to get out of vacation mode. I had to write this post in two chunks since it is a) quite lengthy and b) I couldn't manage to sit still long enough. Next, I'll post picture from my trip. I'll be off to Colorado for a family thing at the end of the weekend so I'll make sure to do it before then.