Drive from Calgary to Vancouver:
By the time we boarded the Greyhound bus that took us from Calgary to Vancouver, we were almost trembling with anticipation as we had heard so much about the scenic beauty of the area from friends who had visited the Parks earlier. And indeed, the drive did not disappoint. Both Llew and I were traveling by Greyhound after years. We had both forgotten how convenient, courteous and pleasant the service can be. The bus made frequent stops to allow us to use restrooms, stretch our legs, buy snacks (we ate loads of ice-cream on this journey) or eat picnic meals.
As for the scenery, it was simply spectacular! I was delighted that we passed through Yoho and Glacier National Parks, stopping at the towns of Golden and Revelstoke. As we went through Roger’s Pass, we saw the historic monument by the wayside. Needless to say, the mountains were our constant companions, following us in and out of the many tunnels, as we passed by bubbling rivers and playful cascades. We followed the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway throughout and once I even spied one of those elegant silver VIA trains snaking its way on the mountain in the distance. The air was so perfectly pure at those heights that we did not notice the hairpin bends that are sometimes prone to cause travel-sickness.
It was a bit disturbing, at one point, to see a forest fire blazing on a mountain top far away sending thick whorls of black smoke spiraling into the air. A few minutes later, we saw the fire-fighting helicopters with the water bombs attached to them that open up just above the fire to douze it. We napped frequently on the bus and once we reached Kamloops, we were instructed to turn our wrist watches one hour behind for the change in time zone. When we entered the province of British Columbia, the landscape changed completely but remained extraordinarily beautiful as we passed by the lakeshore towns of Salmon Arm, Sorrento and Sicamous on huge Lake Sushwap. We enjoyed that drive tremendously and it will always remain in our memory as one of the most scenic we’ve ever taken.
Arrival in Vancouver:
When we did arrive in Vancouver, after darkness had fallen over the city, we found our friend Margaret Deefholts waiting to receive us at the Greyhound Terminal. She drove us to her home in Surrey, about 45 minutes away, and had a hot Indian dinner waiting for us. After a whole week of enjoying varied ethnic meals, we were delighted to tuck into Fish Curry and Alu Mattar and Pea Pullao with Indian mithai for dessert! Margaret proved to be a most warm and generous hostess. Our bed was comfortable each night, she provided gargantuan breakfasts which included my favorite cereals (Kellog’s Mueslix and Jordan’s Muesli from England), chauffeured us to the railway station and back for our trips into the city, bought us take-out meals from local Chinese-Indian restaurants and provided valuable sight-seeing advice. We could not have asked for a better guide as Margaret is a well-published travel-writer and her tips were invaluable.
It was at Margaret’s suggestion that we purchased tickets online for the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus that took visitors through the heart of Central Vancouver allowing them to explore the major sights at their leisure. We had used such a service in Dublin, Ireland, a few years ago, and what with the humorous commentary given in a rich Irish brogue by the accompanying guide, we had thoroughly enjoyed that tour.
We took the Sky Train from Scott Road Station in Surrey and enjoyed the experience of using local transportation the way most city dwellers did. Once we got off at Vancouver Central Station, we marveled at the architecture and the interior design of the building that housed local and long-distance trains as well as offered harbor ferry rides for those wishing to cross over into Northern Vancouver. As we made our way to Water Street to pick up our tickets, it started to drizzle slightly, a condition, we were told, that was quite common in Vancouver in the mornings. Fortunately, it did clear up and by the time we reached the famous Steam Clock to watch it toll the hour to the accompaniment of billing clouds of smoke, the sun had begun to peep out shyly. Then we were back at the main train station to board a ferry that took us to Lonsdale Quay on the opposite shore where a perfectly spruce and entirely enticing farmer’s market awaited us. We were amazed at the quality of the produce and the attractive manner in which fruits, vegetables, chocolates, baked items and other goodies were displayed. They were all quite irresistible but we had eaten an enormous breakfast and felt no hunger pangs at that point.
Back in the main city again, we walked to the near-by Canada Place building to see the interesting sail-like architecture of the space that is used mainly as a launching pad for cruises to Alaska. Then hopping on to our bus one more, we rode it all the way to Granville Island which we reached across a very interesting bridge constructed in Art Deco Style. By this time, the sun was well and truly out and we had beautiful views of Vancouver Harbor as it lay in the midst of its scenic splendor. For the mountains in the distance, the sea views, the skyscrapers and the little yatchs in the marina on Granville combined to create picture post-card views of the city.
Granville Island was once the center of Vancouver’s thriving industrial base. But when it fell to disuse and the warehouses rotted for years, it was truly an eyesore. Deciding to refurbish the area by converting the warehouses and factories into ample spaces for craft stores, public food markets, restaurants and boutiques, Granville Island today enjoys a second lease on life as the center of tourist activity in Vancouver and we saw hundreds of visitors enjoying the food courts and browsing through the one-of-a-kind stores. Llew and I chose to enjoy a tasty but very late and light Japanese sushi lunch in the food court in the public market before we hopped on to the bus again to take us past English Beach Bay and Stanley Park (both of which we would explore the next day) towards Chinatown, one of North America’s largest.
Chinatown and Gastown:
Most of the Chinese who are settled in Vancouver today came to the country over a century ago as cheap labor to build the Trans-Canada railroad. While they are spread all over the more fashionable suburbs of the city today, their original settlement of Chinatown still retains a great deal of ethnic flavor. Arriving there about 5 pm, however, we found it surprisingly quiet and lacking the bustle that is traditionally associated with Chinatown in New York. However, we did follow the hints in our guide book and strolled along East Pender Street stopping only to see the Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Classical Garden, a wonderfully green cultural oasis in the midst of the busy city. We took many pictures around the pagodas, bridges, stepping stones, etc. that characterize such gardens before we decided to walk the short distance to trendy Gastown.
We arrived at the famous bronze sculpture portraying “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a British sailor who boasted that he could set up a drinking saloon in the area. Before long, his boastfulness proved to be justified for the bar did sprout up. “Gas”town owes its name to the Braggart Deighton. A delightfully old-fashioned neighborhood of cobbled streets, quaint squares, an old inn, even a charming “Gaoler’s Mews”, we walked through it at leisure noting the history behind every unique building.
Then we were back on the Sky Train again heading towards Margaret’s place where we regaled her with our varied adventures that day over take-out Indian-Chinese dinner from The Green Lettuce, an eatery that is run by Winston Wang, nephew of the famous Nelson Wang of Bombay’s China Garden Restaurant. Margaret is known by name in this place and we received VIP treatment though we had only stopped to pick up a take-out dinner!
Strolling Around Stanley Park:
The next day, we continued our exploration of Vancouver heading on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus (whose ticket is valid for two days) to Stanley Park, the vast green expanse at the east end of the city. The Totem Poles there are the biggest draw and we posed for pictures by these interesting native Indian art forms that signify one’s family ties in the same way that British crests, heralds and coats of arms do. Beautifully carved and painted by local native Canadian Indians, the poles are found all over British Columbia, a province that is extremely proud of its native Indian heritage. The free shuttle bus in Stanley Park took us through most of the sights in that sprawling space, but much as we wished to stay on to explore every nook and cranny, we had to hurry off to Granville Island once more to meet our Ontario-based friends, Valentine and Jacinta Gomes, who happened to be visiting family members in Vancouver at the same time that we were.
Lunch on Granville Island:
While on Granville Island the previous day, we had spied the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and since we know from experience that such training schools offer meals that are incredible value for money, we had inquired about the possibility of a lunch reservation. As it turned out, we were able to reserve a table for noon the next day and our friends met us there for a long, leisurely and completely satisfying meal that was huge in both portion size and taste. Over Seafood Quiche, New York sirloin strip steak and Black Forest Gateau, we chattered incessantly. Then, full to bursting, we strolled around the island and returned to the city for more exploration. A few minutes after our friends bid us goodbye to keep another appointment, it began to rain again and the bus proved the perfect refuge for it allowed us to see the city while staying dry. Unique in every way, in its layout and its location, being surrounded as it is by inlets and creeks that are connected by imposing bridges, punctuated by lush gardens and boasting a large variety of interesting neighborhoods, Vancouver is indeed a very beautiful city and has much to offer both visitor and settler alike. It had met all our expectations fully and since we had two leisurely days in which to explore it, we felt as if we had seen it in its best attire.