A Vancouver Experience

photo credit: flickr/bkang83

The following article was submitted by Charles Duncombe, Director of UK holiday company Holidaysplease. Having heard so much about Vancouver he was determined to try and experience as much of it as possible…

I hate missing out on things. Whether it’s a party, a wedding…anything. You could probably trick me into doing the washing up just by saying that lots of other people have great fun doing it.

I was therefore determined not to miss out on anything that Vancouver had to offer.

I planned my trip with military precision. I chose to stay at the Fairmont Waterfront so I was near attractions in the North of the city such as Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium, Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I even planned the direction of our driving to be against the flow of rush hour traffic!

At the start of our first day, our first stop was the famous Stanley Park. Before you venture into the park I recommend a visit to the Vancouver aquarium at the Park’s entrance. The aquarium is one of the largest in Canada comprising a vast complex on two levels. I remember thinking I could spend days there if I had brought my fishing rod!

We spent a good couple of hours being transported from Piranhas of South America to Beluga whales of the Arctic. What impressed me the most was the diversity of the creatures they had. It’s not like some aquariums where it looks like they just scooped the nearest things out of the sea! I could tell that great thought and planning had gone into the exhibits.

When we emerged from the aquarium we picked up a trolley bus to take us around Stanley Park. We followed the route of the seawall which encloses the park and which has a history all of its own. From what I could gather its history mainly consisted of how long it took to build and how over budget it finished!

photo credit: flickr/Natty K

The park itself is slightly larger than New York City’s Central Park and it took about 30 minutes to travel through. We followed a beautiful woodland trail and with many trees up to 250 feet tall it was an awe inspiring experience.

As we continued on the trolley bus we passed the Vancouver ice hockey stadium, the science museum and passed through Chinatown. All the time the driver was giving a great commentary which turned the new, into the familiar, very quickly.

As soon as we got off the bus we were confronted with crime and violence. Yes, we had arrived at the Vancouver Police Museum.

I walked up the steps and stepped back in time as I saw displays showing how policing has changed throughout the ages. I saw a huge cabinet of “Tommy” machine guns which I assumed had been confiscated from criminal gangs. I then saw pictures of the people who used them ….. the police officers!

After I had seen a simulated crime scene and solved a murder I ended up in the old city morgue. It was pretty gruesome seeing body parts in jars along with the stories on how their owners met their ultimate demise. I would certainly recommend having lunch before the visit rather than after!

As Gastown was just around the corner we hopped on the bus and visited the famous Vancouver steam clock. With boiling hot steam billowing out of the top I can see why the steam powered watch never took off.

photo credit: flickr/The Silent Man_

We carried on walking and in just a few puffs of a steam clock we arrived at the Vancouver Lookout. This is a tower that is over 100 metres tall, offering spectacular views of the city and surrounding harbour area. I am not great with heights and things weren’t helped when I saw that to get to the top you have to take a glass elevator that hangs from the side of the building. I have to say though that the knee trembling ride was certainly worth it as the view from the top was fantastic. On the one side you have the sea and harbour and then on the other side you look over the city with guides to show various points of interest. When I was up there I did think it would be the perfect vantage point to plan my next trip to Vancouver as you can literally see how close all the different attractions are to each other.

After feeling like the master of all I surveyed, I managed to pluck up the courage to get back in the glass elevator for the descent back down. The journey down is in some ways more exciting than the journey up as you finish below street level. This means when you are approaching street level you are still travelling at a pretty good speed. It feels like you are about to tunnel into the centre of the earth!

We then returned to the hotel and had a good sleep to prepare for our travels on day two.

Day two started with a sharp 9am start. Again we headed North out of the city in the direction of Stanley Park. This time though we carried on and visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge. If I thought my head for heights was being tested at the Vancouver Lookout this was a whole new ball game. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is around 450 feet long hanging 230 feet above a raging river. And if that isn’t scary enough the wooden planks you walk across are only a few feet wide. And if that isn’t scary enough it was raining when we visited and the planks were nice and slippery!

photo credit: flickr/babasaurus

So there I was standing on the edge of the bridge ready to take my first step. I can’t believe I even sized up the rest of the people on the bridge to see whether they looked far too heavy for the bridge to be able to take!

When I finally plucked up the courage to step on to the bridge the first thing I noticed was that it moved. What???! As if it wasn’t scary enough anyway. The bridge sways from side to side not just from your steps but also from the steps of other people on the bridge. The adrenaline and the buzz was incredible.

I edged myself across, holding on to the guard rails. I held them like I used to hold the barriers at my ice rink as a child. Occasionally I managed to look down and only really drew comfort from the fact that there were other people on the bridge who looked more scared than I did.

As I approached the end of the bridge I had gained in confidence so much that I was no longer in my semi-hunched fetal position and was only holding on with one hand rather than two.

When you finish your crossing you enter a woodland area which has a number of fantastic nature walks to choose from. Some along the ground, some up in the trees. After the size of the bridge I had crossed, the walkways in the treetops were a walk in the park, literally.

We learned some great facts about the area, the most comforting was the time that a massive tree had fallen on to the bridge in high winds. We were shown pictures of the bridge perfectly intact supporting this incredible tree. Very comforting if you are afraid of the bridge, not very comforting if you are afraid of falling trees!

We left the suspension bridge with a new found confidence, got in the car and drove towards our next destination, Grouse mountain.

photo credit: flickr/James Wheeler

Grouse mountain stands 4,000 feet tall and is accessible from some mighty cable cars. With my new found height invincibility I bounded into the cable car and was chomping at the bit for the attendant to close the doors and hit the start button.

Soon thereafter the car lurched into life and we flew up the mountain with alpine trees whizzing underneath us. We emerged into the complex at the top and could see skiers above and below us.

I didn’t have my skis with me and so I decided to participate in my other favourite part of skiing, the apres ski. We sat in the bar at the top of the mountain watching those more adventurous types flying past.

After that, we went to the “in house” cinema which showed a film on the history of Grouse Mountain and in particular its most famous inhabitants, two Grizzly bears. These bears had been rescued, hand reared from young and were now residing in their own luxury den. There is a hidden camera in their den which allows you to observe them. As we visited during winter hibernation I have to admit they were not at their most entertaining!

We took the cable car down and just above the car park we saw an enclosure comprising a long high fence extending into the woods. We approached and within this enclosure we saw three wolves. There was also a volunteer sitting outside the enclosure in the now pouring rain. That is commitment for you. We asked the history of the wolves and were told that they were wolves used in the film industry but were no longer needed and so were rescued. Looking at how wet the volunteer had become I don’t think it was just the wolves that needed rescuing.

We were given some interesting facts about the wolves, gave a sympathetic smile to the soaked volunteer before leaving for our next stop, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

The museum is located on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) which is on the other side of the city from Grouse Mountain. The ironic thing we found was that driving in the bustling city was the easy part. It was when we arrived on the quiet campus roads that our satellite navigation system started to lose its way a little bit. I would therefore suggest that you look at more detailed maps online before you visit the campus.

photo credit: flickr/bmann

When you arrive at the Beaty biodiversity museum it is very difficult to miss the first exhibit, a full size skeleton of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. The sheer scale of the exhibit is incredible as it stretches the entire length of the entrance hall. It is hard to describe how large it is but I remembered thinking that the creature would probably have no trouble swallowing my car whole.

We checked in at reception and then made our way down to the main exhibits which are in a floor just below ground level.

Beneath ground are many corridors running across a chamber. You walk down these corridors and on each side you find fascinating animal specimens. The collection is vast as it includes 17,500 birds, 18,000 mammals, 1600 amphibians/reptiles and 800,000 fish. Many are hidden in drawers and so the corridors are not so massive as to take hours to journey down. In fact you can probably see most of them within 20 minutes.

I have to warn you that if you are a little bit squeamish and don’t like the idea of stuffed animals or fish preserved in alcohol then you might want to skip the first few corridors and head to the fossil collection. In this section are 20,000 specimens, including shells and 500 million year old blue-green algal fossils.

If you are accompanied by someone who does not like stuffed animals, then in a cruel way it can be quite entertaining to watch them walk down the corridors peering at the exhibits through their fingers!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs7jqlRL9Yc

After I had absorbed enough information and after my partner had scared herself silly we decided to call it a day and head back to base. Luckily I had left a trail of mental breadcrumbs which allowed me to leave the campus more easily than we arrived!

Summary:

When I arrived in Vancouver I was desperate to see as much as possible and paranoid about missing anything. After 2 days of action packed exploration, my tired body was in no doubt that it was mission accomplished.

I still have that nagging feeling though that there are a few more things for me to enjoy in this fantastic city. Whether this is true, or whether I am just using it as an excuse to return to this fabulous place, only time will tell…..

Charles Duncombe is a director of UK holiday company Holidays Please which advises on Vancouver Holidays for UK travellers.

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