Something New Every Time – Vancouver, Seattle, Canada, USA

View from Stanley Park

View from Stanley Park

We’ve gone to Vancouver at least 7 or 8 times since 1990. Yet each trip opens up another part of the city we haven’t seen, didn’t know existed. What a town! Maybe you can say this of most cities, maybe not. Some of it may have to do with where you are and who you are.

I read a quote on Vancouver that goes something like this: If I had known how beautiful this city is, I’d have made sure I was born there! Really! If this person reacted so intensely, would I?

Over the years we’ve stayed at three places, but we invariably return to the Sylvia Hotel – it’s old, it’s
reasonable (very important for us) and it’s in an enviable area, almost next door to Stanley Park, to a variety of ethnic restaurants (cheap and not so cheap, key word here is "variety"), and it is within walking distance to most everything the city has to offer, provided you are in decent form and can handle foot transportation.

The Sylvia attracts Europeans, a few Americans and budget-minded folks, like us. It’s also a magnet for the woman travelling solo – young and not so young. Every time we stay there, we see ladies in their senior years, alone or with friends, comfortably ensconced in the Sylvia’s warmth, friendliness and
service-oriented atmosphere. The best part though, is its bar, not terribly cheap, but certainly interesting. You’ll be exposed to the locals, particularly during the "off" season – mid October to mid April. Even in the summer, you’ll see the regulars, part of a group or alone, enjoying a drink, a snack, even a meal.

If you’re lucky enough to be sitting at the bar when the sun sets, well, you will witness a spectacular view – the sun making its way down, reflecting its glory on English Bay, many walkers, runners and bicyclists stopping in their tracks to view this spectacle. Your mind relaxes (the drink helps), your heart skips a beat or two and your entire physique will undergo a rejuvenation bringing a smile to your face. And it’s contagious!

Here are a few scenarios we’ve been privileged to see while in the bar. At 4:00 sharp, an elderly gentleman comes in, sits down at whatever table is available. As quickly as possible, the waiter brings a glass of wine and a glass of ale. The man savors both, one at a time and then leaves. Same thing the next day and the next.

Construction was going on all around the hotel. Once we saw a construction worker (there were others, but this one was unusual). He was having a beer and reading. I wondered: what is he reading. He looks out of place, yet most comfortable. Can you guess or even want to? I was so curious, I stood up, walked up to him and asked. He closed the book so I could see the title – From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. Philosophy, of course, why didn’t I think of that!

Another time a group of four men were chatting, discussing some film being shot in the city. Every so often, one of the men would get up, leave for a brief moment and return. After doing this several times, I asked him why he went outside every 10 or 15 minutes. He then whistled and in bounded this Black Lab, licking his owner and wagging his tail. The man had left a bowl of water for his dog (it was hot, the front door of the bar was open), and was checking in on him!

This year we saw a young man pedaling his bicycle using his arms only, like the pump cars propelled
by hand on the railroad tracks so many years ago. This, of course, was seen from the bar! If you’re wondering whether we left the bar at all, we surely did, most of the time, actually.

Last year we saw SurfScoters at English Bay, but we were earlier this year. They hadn’t yet arrived for the winter. To each season, a delight.

We went to the Vancouver Art Museum for some culture, but we weren’t interested in seeing their exhibit, so instead, we scouted several hotels to compare lobbies, gift shops, general decor and paintings. We found nothing special about the Four Seasons. It’s very modern and cold, Asian in decor and prints rather than paintings. The Fairmont was a step up: Louis Vutton lobby, lovely Monet-like paintings, reasonable and high priced gift shops. The Pam Pacific got two thumbs up: spacious lobby on the second floor, surrounded by totem poles. No paintings, none needed. It’s on the ocean with stunning views.

One restaurant in the Pam Pacific has a $49.00 per person dinner special on Saturday evenings – with opera included! How about that? The Visitor Centre is right near this gorgeous hotel; the  centre itself is huge and the staff most accommodating. Worth going into even if you already know most of Vancouver and surrounding areas.

On Sunday evenings, the choir at Christ Church sings Gregorian Chants – for a nominal fee. Wait. It may be free! And this is downtown, close to Chapters, a large Canadian bookstore. Check it out if only to see what our Canadian neighbors are reading.

The day we arrived was election day. Canada’s government had called for new elections several months past and now its citizens were voting. I couldn’t help but compare the lengthy process Americans go through, the money involved when electing their presidents. Canadians are very much "into" the American campaigning, and happy they don’t have to deal with it.

For our final day of our 3-day stay, we self toured Yaletown – a warehouse district gone "revival" and very trendy with lots of restaurants, chic little shops. Read more here. It rained that Thursday, heavily, but it wasn’t a deterrent: people were shopping, business chatting, traffic as usual. We were happy to be back at our place of rest, in our favorite drinking establishment for a final farewell to the city that will host the Winter Olympics 2010, along with Whistler.

We left and drove almost to Seattle; we were sidetracked to several suburbs – Ballard, Lake Union area – looking at what’s going on in this economic downturn – more of an upturn. A few cranes, condominiums being built, restaurants full of people. Don’t they know the stock market has fallen!

Bicycle capital of the Northwest

Bicycle capital of the Northwest

On to Redmond where we had reservations. Why Redmond, you ask. Home of Microsoft, of course, and bicycle capital of the northwest, which we found out upon entering. We were also curious to see a  few more suburbs of Seattle: Kirkland, Bellevue. We found things hopping: lots more construction cranes here, especially in Bellevue. Offices, stores and condominiums were sprouting from every open space – a new Congregational church (with a bell tower) was being built right next to a high rise. Intense traffic  – even on Sunday morning! Few "For Sale" signs in this part of the country!

We walked Redmond, saw some rather comical advertisements: organic mattresses – fresh daily, doggie wash express with 1 dog being washed and another drying off. On our way to dinner, we passed the Jerzy Wine Bar serving European food and wines. It’s a quaint little house, decorated simply with style and warmth. We came in at Happy Hour. We had our fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil and a good glass of wine. Off to a British pub and eatery in a small mall. Food was delicious and reasonable. Many of the customers were local and British, regulars of the pub, friendly with the bartender who knew what their preference both in food and drink. And that’s where we ate both nights.

As many times as we’ve been to Vancouver and Seattle, the next visit will bring more discoveries. Henry Miller‘s, "One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things", is on the mark, whether you travel abroad or close to home.

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