It was great to arrive into Vancouver as it marked my arrival on the west coast of the Americas and a welcome break from the previous weeks tiring yet enjoyable journey. It’s funny; prior to this trip I hadn’t visited Canada. Now I’ve been three times courtesy of the ziz-zag route with the USA. Having accomplished the ride west and despite been somewhat drained I decided to mark the accomplishment with a couple of beers.

Base camp was an Inn on Granville Street which is the city’s main thoroughfare, and its former namesake prior to been baptised after Captain Vancouver in 1886. I hit a nearby bar and within twenty minutes the thought of a quiet night disappeared. The folks sitting next to me were discussing how to get rid of an extra ticket to the Paul Oakenfold concert, as one of their crew had pulled out. Needless to say within a moment a pitcher of beer was called for, I poured drinks for the table and the ticket was in my back pocket.

I joined Naomi and Keoni who are a couple (and DJ’s themselves) and their long time friend Kelly. The latter being the proud owner of a remarkable and revealing pair of double F sized breasts. Naturally this provoked thoughts and images of Benny Hill type shenanigans. Even more so, when later that night they held a can of Red Bull in place as she danced in front of the DJ booth. I sucked on the straw, in situ, and was disappointed to notice the vodka was missing. As for the gig, it was pretty awesome.

The concert was held in the recently restored Commodore Ballroom. It maintained many of its original features including a large dance floor that had a certain bounce like quality. The show was fantastic even if the warm up DJ (Chuckie) outshone the main act. The aging rocker syndrome must also cross the musical divide, as Mr Oakenfold didn’t play as good a set as I’d seen him eight years previously. Or perhaps it was just an off day. But what a lucky chance opportunity this turned out. That is until I returned to the Inn, where I noticed my motorbike wasn’t where it had been parked.

The f****** from the traffic division removed it as no vehicles are allowed to park on Granville Street post 10.00pm at weekends. Having only arrived a couple of hours earlier that evening I missed the sign. Nonetheless it was extremely annoying as most cities give motorcyclists some leeway particularly if the bike is not blocking pedestrians. Not Vancouver. In the 15 years I’ve owned motorbikes this is the first parking penalty received. The fine was CAD110 plus a CAD20 taxi fare as the impound is always on the periphery of the city and not within easy reach of public transportation. Well, at least my bike wasn’t stolen, as I initially feared. Not a great finish to an otherwise superb first night.

It took me a few days to get back to full spirits as the ride west took a bigger toll than I initially thought and a night clubbing wasn’t the best remedy. But you got to grab these opportunities when they arise. And, its not as if I had to go to work the next day!

So time was spent wandering the city, getting a tour bus ride, visiting Granville Island food market plus its microbrewery and a trip to China town. Apparently Vancouver’s China town is the largest outside China itself. It’s also a testament to the city’s ethnic diversity where over 40% of Greater Vancouver’s 2.4 million citizens have an Oriental background. This is also why Vancouver is otherwise nicknamed Hong’couver. However the city’s China town is an example of where bigger isn’t always better; London’s China town has more energy, I’ve eaten better wonton soup on the Zeedijk (Amsterdam) and the street decorations in Montreal are more plentiful. This disappointment extended into other parts of the city.

I’m told Vancouver grew rapidly over the past 30-40 years and to be honest the signs are evident. I’ve seen more Ferraris and beggars in this city than any other first world country I’ve visited. As for the architecture, with the exception of the new conference centre most buildings including the revolving tower are easily forgotten.

During one early morning walk, I visited the pleasant enough Gastown area, and not far from which I rambled into a street market. However I quickly left as the combination of goods being sold, the appearance of the vendors, the barely hidden public urination and the odd mental illness thrown in for good measure lent appropriateness to the term Flea Market. With all of this I struggled to understand why this city scores within the top ten of various international surveys as best places to live.

While it has a strong economy and the same social infrastructure as the rest of the country, I learned that Vancouvers proximity to the ocean and mountains and mild climate make it a favourite with Canadians and foreigners alike. If you wanted, you can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon as the Burnaby Mountains and Whistler are less than a 90 minute drive. Hence the reason Vancouver was selected to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, in the city it seldom snows, whereon it escapes the ferocious winters suffered by Montreal and to a lesser extent Toronto. I don’t want to paint too negative a picture as overall I enjoyed the visit.

Others positives included a jog through the beautiful Stanley Park and English Beach, meeting some cool people (Kevin & Monica) and also finding a Toni & Guy saloon. Where I received a familiar peppermint head massage and stylish nip and tuck. I did encounter another funny sight involving breasts plus a sports car. On Granville Street one afternoon I, along with other nearby pedestrians, noticed a stunning Ferrari.

One of the bystanders who at first sight appeared reasonably attractive but at closer inspection was clearly mutton dressed as lamb. Nonetheless she put on a good show. Leaning forward and low from the waist, she waved until she caught the driver’s attention, then rose slowly while flashing perfectly sculpted fun bags for all to see. Hilarious. Strangely the middle aged driver was as red as his car and seemed to be more embarrassed by the situation while the chick gave her female friend a high five. I still laugh as I remember the sight and only wished I’d brought my camera.

Vancouver perhaps suffered a tougher critique than normal as I had a fantastic time in both Montreal and Toronto and I did visit those cities at their best time. I can appreciate the appeal of Vancouver’s temperate climate and nearby natural amenities. Also, just last year Europe endured its coldest winter in over sixty years, which is nothing compared to Montreal’s three to four months of snow and minus 20 degrees, I could see a point were the aesthetics of a city could take a lower priority versus hibernating for the winter.

Vancouver is worth visiting for a few days, hit the slopes or sea if that’s your thing but definitely visit Vancouver Island and its capital Victoria. I enjoyed my time there much more and regretted not going sooner.

Al Dempsey

28 October 2010