Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vancouver is Hot

Rick & Denise
Vancouver City Scenes
Lord Stanley celebrates the Pens winning his cup.
Scenes around Stanley Park
Museum of Anthropology
Looking at the ships and city from the Lions Gate Bridge.

We are now at the Capilano RV Park in North Vancouver, BC. It is a nice urban park and is very convenient to the Lions Gate Bridge which takes you into Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver. There is a bicycle path by the park that will take you to the bridge and into the city. Like most urban parks it is expensive (we won't really know how much until we get the Visa bill) and there is traffic noise but the sites are fine. Crossing into a foreign country with the motorhome for the first time was quite an experience. We had been told by someone(?) that we should use the truck lane and that looked like the thing to do since there was a 25 minute wait in the car line and only one truck. When we got to the booth and shutdown the engine the first question was; “Are you bringing this motorhome into Canada to sell?” When we told him it was our home he told us we were in the wrong line, that this one was for commercial traffic only and then he asked us the license number and for our passports. After a minute or so at the computer he told us to proceed. Sometimes it pays to be stupid as we zipped right passed the long line waiting to be checked.

We went downtown the first day to meet up with my brother Rick and his wife Denise who flew in a few days early for their Alaskan cruise so we could spend some time together. It was great seeing them for the first time since we were in Wash, PA in the fall. We strolled the streets around their hotel in the Gastown area. It is one of those neat little neighbourhoods with a mix of little shops and restaurants. We had a great meal at the Water St. Cafe, a sidewalk cafe where we watched the hustle and bustle of the city as we caught up on the last few months. As we have said many times it sure is neat being able to spend time with family and friends on the road. One of the attractions in Gastown is the steam powered clock that whistles and toots every 15 minutes. It is a real crowd-pleaser as every quarter hour a group of people gathers to watch and then moves on. The on the hour the toots are the best as it whistles out the hour of the day with the number of blasts.

We spent an entire afternoon taking a five hour stroll through Stanley Park while catching up and reminiscing with Rick and Denise. This wonderful park is named for Lord Stanley who in Pittsburgh is most famous for his cup that is now in the hands of the Penguins. This has to be one of the best city parks in the world with fabulous views of the harbour, city and mountains in a natural setting of lawns, gardens and tall forest. There are miles of walking and biking trails and we walked along the Seawall Walk and then returned to the car through the woods. The park offers something for everyone with beaches, rowing club, marina, picnicking, cricket fields, carriage rides, a water park and much much more. Even with the thousands of people who were in the park on this hot sunny day it did not feel crowded. There is a wonderful display of native totem poles celebrating the First Nations culture of the British Columbian and Alaskan coastal natives who are the only people who carved these symbols as a coat of arms. Each animal, such as the eagle, whale, wolf and frog represents the different kingdoms of their world. We had dinner on Granville Island, a hip little enclave of shops, restaurants, artists' studios and a huge public market.

On day three with Rick and Denise we checked out several art galleries along Granville Street and visited Chinatown. The Chinatown area was pretty seedy with many homeless people on the streets and in the surrounding neighbourhoods, but we did check out a couple of markets that had us thinking we would never eat Chinese Canadian food again. We walked through the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, a small enclosed oasis in the middle of the city. The garden honors Vancouver's Chinese immigrants and is named for the founder of China's first republic. We topped of the day with a meal at Tojo's, a Japanese restaurant we learned about in the book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and we had a sushi meal that was to die for.

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia has an excellent exhibit of First Nations cultural artifacts. There are several ancient totem poles that were used as interior and exterior supports for homes, memorials for leaders, and mortuary poles for the dead. While we had seen poles in Stanley Park it was interesting having a docent explain the significance of the different poles and symbols. The museum also had canoes, some of which where older artifacts and one that was built more recently by artisans using the native techniques and tools to help maintain the culture. The display included bent wood boxes that where used for everything from food storage, to cooking, and also as coffins. These boxes with four sides made from one piece of wood that was notched, then steamed, then bent, was made so watertight that this culture never invented pottery because they could cook stews by placing hot rocks in the box to cook the food. Other artifacts were the large wooden bowls that were used for potlatches, large gatherings where a family would invite many people so that the family's history and ownership of property could be confirmed in the culture that had no written language. On the grounds outside the museum are two full size lodges – one a mortuary lodge and the other a family home. Even though these early people were hunters and gatherers there was such an abundance of food they were not nomads and were able to build and live in these more permanent structures. Unfortunately, much of this culture has been lost as the government banned many of their practices in an attempt to Europeanize them. From the late 1800's until the 1950's potlatches had to be held secretly and in the schools children were punished for using their native language. The museum had a display of the work of Haida artist Bill Reid which included jewelry and carvings such as his large sculpture of the Raven and the First Man that depicts the First Nations creation story. Another temporary exhibit, Tatau: Samoan Tattooing and Global Culture, had photos of full body tattoos. Even though I have a tattoo, just looking at some of the body parts they tattooed was painful. This is a rite of passage in this culture and it takes a really brave person to go through this very painful process. The museum building itself is quite unique in design with huge post and beam concrete supports, like those used in native homes and the incorporation of old WW II artillery bunkers.

On Wednesday we had lunch with Rick and Denise and saw them to their ship with the plan to watch them sail out to sea under the Lions Gate Bridge. They had been told the ship would sail at 4:00 and we were in position but we could see the ship sitting at the dock. After two hours of standing on the bridge on the hottest day in Vancouver's history we gave up. We did get to see a couple other ships pass directly under us and it was really neat. It is a good thing we didn't wait any longer as we found out later their ship did not set sail until 5:45 AM the next morning. There was a mechanical problem but all was well. We had a grand time enjoying the city with Rick and Denise. This is the most time we have spent together since we had Thanksgiving at their place on Lake Norman in 2007. Even the times we have had extended stays in Wash, PA they have been working and we did not get to see much of them. Once again being able to have extended visits with family and friends while we are on the road is one of the best things about this fulltiming lifestyle.

Vancouver is a wonderful cosmopolitan city with great restaurants, interesting shops and galleries and people from around the world. Unlike Pittsburgh, it is a place were a lot of people live in the downtown neighbourhoods and people are on the streets day and night. This may be the most bicycle friendly town we have ever been in with many bike paths and special lanes on the downtown streets. On one bridge we crossed they have even turned a car lane into a bike lane. You see many people taking advantage of this for recreation and commuting. On our last day here we took the opportunity to use the bicycle paths and rode 22 miles. We rode from the RV park, across the Lions Gate Bridge, through Stanley Park and into several city neighbourhoods. We only had to ride in traffic on a couple back streets for about a half mile during the entire ride. We went through the area where new housing is being built for the athletes participating in the 2010 Olympics. It was great seeing the city from a different perspective. Overall, there are great views of the snow capped mountains and constant activity of ships, boats and seaplanes in the harbour. Weather wise, we did not have a true Vancouver experience because the temps have been at all time highs reaching into the 90's. Many places, including the buses, do not have air conditioning and people are really suffering from the heat. (I guess in our quest to find the 70's, things are balancing out from the cooler temps we had along the Oregon coast.) Another fascinating thing was traffic control on the Lions Gate Bridge which we crossed several time. The bridge has only three lanes and they change the flow of the middle lane from inbound to outbound on the fly as traffic builds at one end or the other so you don't often sit and wait for extended periods. In Pittsburgh it takes closing the HOV lane for two hours to change traffic direction and there have still been accidents. Our time in Vancouver, BC has come to an end and we have certainly enjoyed this very cosmopolitan city.

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