A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC [pt 3]

Previously, I shared how I investigated bits of Vancouver’s westside/downtown as well as a couple of its celebrated gardens and self-described hipster neighborhoods. Next up? Seeing what BC’s Scenic 7 had to offer, exploring Greater Vancouver, and poking my nose into some of the city’s calming spaces.  

Near the end of our week-long Vancouver visit, Mr Vix and I were trying to choose between several of the area’s many relaxing day trips. Bowen Island! Whistler! The Sunshine Coast! The options were plentiful and the hours dwindling.

In the end, we chose an inland drive along the Fraser River, egged on by the tourist bureau’s edict:

Discover the wonders of the ‘Scenic 7’ Highway—rolling foothills, fertile pastures, and powerful winding rivers. This route grounded in history, steeped in culture, and drenched in scenery is truly majestic.”

While I regret to say we were rather underwhelmed by most of 7’s vistas, I tip my professional hat to the writing that put the hook in our mouth. And since the road took us to glacier-fed Harrison Lake, seen at its azure best thanks to seasonal minerals and late afternoon sun, the end certainly justified the means:

Partially fed by glacier runoff that turns its spring/summer water azure, Harrison Lake offers beautiful vistas and an icy embrace

The lake may be the centerpiece of the Harrison Hot Springs township, but the public springs are directly across from it. With more road tripping still ahead another choice had to be made…and the day’s 32C/90F temperature swayed me. After all, though the water seemed frigid with just a few toes in, there were people simply standing around in it—surely I’d acclimate after immersion!

I lasted all of 15 minutes before choosing to admire the scenery from land vs lake.

Luckily for the curious but non-hardy, Somewhat-Scenic Highway 7 leads to more than just stunning Harrison Lake and its adjacent activities and lodgings. Following the route puts one on the doorstep of many local farms and restaurants (and if the timing’s right, in the middle of many a festival).

But pacing is everything. Which is why we somewhat dutifully ticked off spots on the Maple Ridge Port Haney Heritage Walk after lunch at Maple Ridge’s Big Feast Bistro and pre-potential snacking in the next town north. From the walk, I gleaned many things and recall two:

  • the widowed Mary Charlton built and ran the area’s first bank, which opened in 1911 (6 years before British Columbia women could legally vote)
  • early brick-making involved science and art

The Maple Ridge BC heritage tour takes one along the Fraser River and into the workings of a former brick factory

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that Maple Ridge’s history was overshadowed by Chilliwack’s legendary sweet corn and Agassiz’s hazelnut product offerings—but Sparkes and Canadian Hazelnut, you didn’t disappoint.

If bringing 14 field-fresh ears of Chilliwack sweet corn from BC back to Oregon is wrong, who wants to be right?

Part of the reason we needed a relaxing day trip was my earlier push to escape the city’s pavement for North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon Park and Grouse Mountain. Look how friendly the latter appears from afar and on top:

Grouse Mountain seems innocent enough when viewed from Queen Elizabeth Park or the top of the mountain itself…

Too bad the 2,830 stairs of the Grouse Grind welcome ~ 100,000 hikers a year but don’t really do friendly. Instead, they gloatingly reside on a trail I’d label both “very challenging” (official description) and “monotonous” (Fodor’s guidebook description).

…but going up it via the notorious Grouse Grind had me longing for the end

I will say having a photo that makes it look as if I was well ahead of Mr Vix despite the fact that I slowed him down considerably ALMOST makes me glad I didn’t say, “Oh hell no” and turn around a few hundred yards in.

Fortunately for my aging knees—and for those who want or need to commune with nature on flat or gently rolling trails—the city’s seawall path and Stanley Park provide many treasures.

From the shores of the park’s Lost Lagoon…

Stanley Park’s romantically named Lost Lagoon doesn’t disappoint

to small encounters and welcomes…

Manicured lawn, well-kept trails, and more greet seawall strollers and Stanley Park visitors

to spots ideal for orienting (and brief law-breaking)…

Stanley Park’s size means it can offer serenity or community—along with opportunities to quickly rule-break or take in city views

the city itself offers lots of opportunities to get-away-without-going-away. I’d like to think that even mega-sporty outdoor enthusiasts appreciate the many zones where nature waves hi instead of giving one the finger, but if not—their loss!

Vancouver, like most (all?) PNW cities, prides itself on keeping nature close…and our rented condo’s rooftop pool didn’t disappoint on that score

Until next time, Vancouver!

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A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC [pt 2]

Previously, I detailed how my Vancouver trip included a laid-back exploration of the city’s vibrant west side and downtown/west end neighborhoods. In addition to seeking out some of British Columbia’s slightly more rustic treasures, however, Mr Vix and I had two other goals to fulfill: find colorful plants in highly landscaped settings and observe Canadian hipsters in their natural habitats.

Hailing from a region where the descriptors “iconoclastic,” “weird,” “funky,” and “repurposed” are tossed around with both pride and derision, my travel partner and I were curious to see how Vancouverites lived/worked/played in settings known for fewer tourists and more attitude.

We were realistic about the hardships we’d face—including being surrounded by loads of appealing restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and independent shops—but after securing our pith helmets and loosening our belts, we pushed forward.

Once we hit Commercial Drive, it didn’t take long to see that when it came to standing out, the stakes were high:

On Commercial Drive, it’s not cool enough to have a pristine vintage car: you also need Satan as your chauffeur

Luckily, having just watched comedian Simon King perform a set in which he shared his (hilarious, blistering) thoughts on “the Drive,” I was schooled in how to (theoretically) attend a poetry slam and one-up anyone who arrived on a bike decorated in Barbie heads.

Barbie heads with x’d out eyes.

Though it’s dubious I’ll ever be ambitious enough to steer my mid-life crisis in the hipster direction, I appreciated Mr King’s insights. Currently, however, I’m all about the intersection where bourgeois meets hip: food. Locally sourced, organic, family-operated, gluten-free, fair-trade, fusion…if that’s how you want to roll and the end result tastes good, I’m game.

Especially if cherries are involved.

Having gone wild for local cherries during our trip, we plucked more from one of the Drive’s many greengrocers to take home (and two sets of eyes were on the prize vs my rumpled clothes)

[As a fairly high-quantity purchaser of local cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries on this trip, I have to say with some regret but mostly glee that I deem BC cherries superior to Oregon’s. Ours are quite good; theirs are extraordinary. We still reign supreme when it comes to strawberries, though.]

The day we were on the Drive, French-Tunisian won our lunch money. And not just because my (derumpled) Missoni-fabric-by-the-yard outfit coordinated with the setting.

An interesting French-Tunisian menu plus a great view of the Drive’s action made the Carthage Cafe our choice for a late lunch–but the flavors captured most of our attention

As I tottered toward the car with a belly full of chicken tangine, I realized that anytime I’m in an area described as being artsy or edgy, I encounter tableaux that make me want to squeal, “Oh, aren’t you just the CUTEST THING!”

Visual, consumer, and edible treats abound on the Drive

Of course I’m never sure if that’s irony at work or the desired response.

Rather amazingly, Vancouver seems to offer opportunities to reflect on social issues even when one swaps streets for leafier settings. One minute it’s all heirloom roses and fern grottos, the next, compelling biocultural art installations:

At the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, we came across artist Nicole Dextras’ captivating Little Green Dress Projekt (Earth Art 2012)

Somewhat confusingly, though, artist Nicole Dextras’ work made it both easier and harder for me to resist the wide variety of eco-friendly clothing for sale in Mount Pleasant/Main Street (SoMa) boutiques.

The silk saris that had been transformed into skirts and tops entranced my Persnickety Bohemian side, but I eventually managed to ignore them.

Main Street’s Mount Pleasant area, aka SoMa, is filled with shops (including Spirithouse, where silk saris have been refashioned into skirts and tops)

Then I offset the pain of saying no to featherweight multi-culti clothing by saying yes to ethnic food.

Also in resistance mode was Mr Vix, who abandoned yet another of the city’s temples to vinyl so we could continue exploring the zones labeled Riley Park, Little Mountain, Mount Pleasant, and/or SoMa.

While the decor of Bob Likes Thai Food demonstrates the warmer side of Main Street/Mount Pleasant, Red Cat Records & CDs is all about the cool

Sure, the Red Cat record store clerks may have eyeballed my [repurposed, thank you] top and [ancient but out-of-the-landfill] underlayer’d dress and wordlessly conveyed that they thought Mr Vix was taking a break from escorting his sheltered virgin aunt on a genteel sightseeing tour. But dammit, I wasn’t going to let that keep me away from admiring the neighborhood’s older homes and visiting the nearby Queen Elizabeth Park and its stunning gardens!

Besides: Queen Elizabeth Park, a former quarry site, really is a fantastic place. Multiple vistas of the city, great use of color and texture, and many an inviting spot to meander or rest.

What’s not to love?

Especially as I finally got to feel like a neighborhood insider when the flowers saw my blouse and gave me the half-nod that means “you pass, man, you pass….”

Just a short distance from the many charms of Main Street/Mount Pleasant, Queen Elizabeth Park offers visitors admission-free views of beautiful gardens

Next: Part 3 of A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC, featuring more and less rugged examples of British Columbia’s natural beauty 

PSA: Get a probably NSFW taste of the bawdy Simon King during a Comedy Now show several years back or connect with him via his website.

A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC [pt 1]

In mid-July, my agony/ecstasy ratio moved in the right direction thanks to one little phrase: summer vacation. August would find me in Vancouver Canada, and golly gee was I excited!

Preparation began immediately after booking. I mentally doodled hearts and flowers and rainbows around “British Columbia + Me”. I browsed suggested activities and solicited recommendations from friends. I bought sandals that could handle days filled with significant walking.

Secretly, however, I fretted a bit.

As a citizen of the Pacific Northwest, I’d originally longed to go somewhere a bit more exotic, somewhere that shared many qualities with my new best friend, the sensory deprivation tank. What if my chosen destination’s renowned lushness and plethora of coffee shops made it feel too familiar? What if I didn’t have the energy to handle the city’s scale and scope?

I needn’t have worried. Vancouver has a way of making one want to explore, while constantly providing opportunities to relax. Those sneaky Canadians!

Once I arrived I understood why it’d been so brutal to find a rental on relatively short notice—it’s an easy city to navigate, and an easy one with which to fall in love. Whether agenda’d or aimless, I don’t see how a visitor could ever be bored.

Most days, Mr Vix and I left our rather miraculously snagged West End condo without much more than sunblocked skin, water, and a loose idea of what we’d be doing. Though I tend to get a little too attached to my point-and-shoot when I travel, I tried to remember that world-class photographers have documented much of the area’s landscape. Why (literally) follow in their footsteps with inferior results when I could save the camera for capturing fleeting moments or compelling whims?

In the end my ego-salvaging plan ended up being both freeing and a bit of a challenge. But it permitted me to be unapologetically drawn to a dog enjoying a different sort of plenty at the Granville Farmers Market…

Outside the Granville Island Farmers Market, it’s not just the people who enjoy a summertime snack

structures that dazzled with their strong use of color…

Looking up pays off at Lonsdale Quay, the Burrard Street Bridge, and Granville Island’s GI Gelato

tile that underscored my “blue and green should always been seen” philosophy…

The Electra Building’s mid-50s tilework supplies a jolt of excitement to my billowy scarf-as-overdress

and views that invited a shift in perspective.

From a reflected take on the landmark Electra Building to a cutout that offers a peek of construction progress, Vancouver supplies many chances for a change in perspective

I’m afraid I may have strayed from my original intent when encountering public art, though. It’s hard to resist acknowledging artists’ work in a way that feels somewhat tangible, especially when a piece causes me to mirror what’s shown…

A glimpse of Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s A-maze-ing Laughter, a series of 14 8.5 foot tall bronze statues found in the West End’s Morton Park

…or has me marveling at how it sits in a given space.

Like so many other areas in and around Vancouver, Kitsilano’s Vanier Park embeds art into the public landscape; here, a detail of Jun Ren’s Freezing Water #1

As the density of Vancouver’s downtown gave my retinas little chance of rest, I’m not sure I could handle living there full-time. But in small doses, places where unexpected pairings and layering of past, present, and future manage to co-exist are right up my proverbial laneway.

I find those areas are where one discovers things like owls on either side of a socio-economic line…

In Gastown, low- and high-end owls live as neighbors

a rather disturbing mural looming over expensive cars…

A Gastown parking lot hosts a vivid mural that includes this fragment and much, much more

the chance to participate in a scene that’s wholesome by day, but takes on a vaguely Weegee-esque air at night…

Given our walking-filled days/evenings, I decided that checking out VIVA Vancouver’s temporary Pop Rocks installation was a double win: lolling + cultural immersion

and zones where the staid meet the brazen.

Gastown’s laneways (alleys) communicate in ways both formal and spontaneous

With all this served up to me in a compact time period, naturally I wondered what else the visit would yield. The answer turned out to be simple: “Lots of surprises.”

Next: Part 2 of A week of wandering in and around bold, beautiful Vancouver BC, in which I tromp farther afield to investigate multicultural, hipster-strewn streets and sprawling botantical gardens