It’s seldom I find myself falling in love with a place. Let alone a city. It’s not that I don’t appreciate pastures new, or enjoy the bright lights of the big smoke, but to be honest, I wouldn’t say there are many cities I would claim to love. However, I’m truly smitten by Vancouver. Why?
I write at 38,000ft, on my way back to grey London, having spent four glorious spring days in the largest city of British Columbia. I’d been looking forward to my trip for a while. Everyone I spoke with prior to my trip, who’d visited, had the same reaction. Their eyes lit up, before they reminisced of days spent strolling amongst the metropolis, in the mountains, by the water, or on the beach. And it’s that exact diversity that captured my imagination.
You look one way and the North Shore Mountains tower above you, the other, and the vast Pacific ocean merges with the horizon. There is quirkiness too: sea planes swoop overhead as you admire the totem poles in Stanley Park, conscious of the smell of the sea wafting through the park. You can ski the local hills – Grouse and Cypress mountains – in the morning, and, if you’re brave, swim in the ocean in the afternoon. And the skiing, given its proximity to the city, is pretty good too. Both venues hosted events during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, (Cypress was home to the infamous Ski Cross, which shot to fame during the Games) and thanks to continued investment, the resorts remain ever popular with skiers from the city.
Olympic Games are always a test for the host city. The eyes of the world suddenly converge on it for two-weeks, and then the show moves on. Years of meticulous planning and preparation (at vast expense) all under the spotlight. But what the Games do allow for is rejuvenation and regeneration – just look at how East London has changed.
Vancouver used the money to spruce up Gastown, previously a somewhat rundown area of downtown. Now, three years on, the district is an arty, cosmopolitan hive of activity. In the daytime, small independent shops, and the ‘Big Ben’ steam clock, attract hordes of tourists, whilst, once the sun sets, the bar’s attract a multicultural set from all over the city. As my fabulous guide Lois Tomlinson – from ToursByLocals – put it: “Gastown needed a facelift, and the Games allowed that to happen. They re-cobbled many of the streets, tidied up the area, and the result put Gastown back on the map – not only for visitors to the city, but also for Vancouver residents.”
So, I hear you ask, what is Vancouver’s downside? I’m normally quick to point out flaws in places, and there is just one: the weather. With a maritime, and mountainous climate combined, the weather is highly unpredictable, changes quickly, and it rains a lot. One day, I woke to blue skies, hours later the grey clouds rolled in, it rained all afternoon, but, by dusk, the spring sun was glowing on the mountains. It’s no wonder people never leave home without an umbrella, or their vitamin D supplements.
But anyway, who cares about rain? I’d found a city where weekday evenings can be spent strolling by the sea, and weekends on skis. If you ask me, that’s a pretty admirable lifestyle. Sign me up…