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British Columbia: Exploring Downtown Vancouver in 6 Hours

Pacific Northwest Travelogue Part 2

Michael Taylor has 6 hours to explore downtown Vancouver. He sets off from his hotel at 12.30 pm, strolling down the city's main drag to the waterfront. Then he wanders through some of its most noteworthy neighborhoods.

Vancouver 1 1988

The waterfront in downtown Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

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As I step out of my hotel, I am greeted by an impossibly azure sky. The weatherman has cooperated, providing me with near perfect weather for sightseeing and photo taking.

And, yes, the sky in these pictures is genuine! I did not have to photo-shop it. I don't even know HOW to photo-shop pictures.  

Wild Goose Chase

Vancouver 1 1994

A church on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver.. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Vancouver, British Columbia, has a decidedly West Coast vibe. It's laid back. It's casual. And cars invariably stop to let pedestrians cross the street first before proceeding.

I start by walking from my hotel, which is located at Drake and Howe Streets, to Burrard Street in search of a Citibank branch, which the hotel concierge tells me is a 20 minutes walk from the hotel.

Walking along the tree-lined boulevard, I pass numerous modern high rises but only a handful of of heritage structures: 2 churches, a branch of the YMCA, a hospital, and the magnificent Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, which is undergoing renovation.

Built in the 1920s and 30s, it was modeled after a French chateau.

I walk up and down the street 3 times, but no Citibank branch. I finally discover a Citibank corporate office (thanks to the help of another hotel concierge), but it doesn't offer retail banking services.

So much for the usefulness of hotel concierges. This isn't the first time their advice has led me on a wild goose chase.

The Waterfront

Vancouver 1 1974

The waterfront of downtown Vancouver. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Vancouver's waterfront is seething with activity.

There is a convention centre, 2 ocean-going vessels are in port, passengers are heading to and from a train station, seaplanes are taking off and landing in the harbour, and sun-worshipers are catching a few rays in the many open spaces the dot the landscape.

Across the harbour I see a verdant, mountainous landscape, with a few patches of snow on a few of the mountains. There are highrises along the shore, what appear to be suburban residential neighborhoods, and lots and lots of evergreen trees.

Heritage District

Vancouver 1 1954

 The Gastown district in downtown Vancouver. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Just as I am coming to the conclusion that Vancouver – with the exception of a handful of churches and civic buildings – has no history, I stumble upon the Heritage District.

Several stately buildings, which appear to date back to the 1920s and 30s, house upscale designer boutiques, a department store or two, and lots of food and beverage outlets.

Gastown

Vancouver 1 1957

Gastown district in downtown Vancouver. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

My map leads me East to Gastown, which appears to be Vancouver's oldest neighborhood.

The streets are lined with wood or brick buildings dating back to the Victorian era. There are numerous sidewalk cafes, coffee houses, art galleries, and boutiques selling all manner of goods.

The streets are paved with brick, lined with trees, and lit at night with heritage street lamps.

“This is more like it,” I think.

I stop for lunch at a restaurant serving Carolina style barbeque. (

I move on to a neighboring coffee house, where I enjoy a cup of coffee and a decadent lemon and coconut dessert.

Skid Row

Vancouver 1 1965

A side street between Gastown and Chinatown. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

My image of Canada as a squeaky clean country without social problems is blown as I make my way to Chinatown.

The map doesn't mention 'Skid Row', but what else could you call this part of town? The down and out denizens of the 'hood – many of them on crutches or in wheelchairs – appear to be homeless. Or maybe they live in shelters.

Some of them appear to be on drugs ... or maybe they have mental problems. In whichever case, they don't appear to have jobs. But I pass through the district unnoticed and unharrassed.

Despite their threatening appearance, they seem to be harmless.

Chinatown

Vancouver 1 1967

The Millennium Arch at the entrance to Chinatown. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

A grand arch welcomes me to Chinatown, which my tour guide pretentiously describes as 'one of the largest Chinatowns in North America'.

But there is little to distinguish Chinatown from Skid Row except for the red Chinese style streetlights, a couple greasy chopsticks serving inexpensive Chinese fare, and a rundown bookshop selling Chinese books.

I make my way back to my hotel to freshen up. That's when I discover that 2 of downtown Vancouver's 'must see' neighborhoods straddle my hotel: Davie Village to the West and Yaletown to the East. I set out once again.

Davie Village

Vancouver 1 2000

This produce market on Davie Street sells amazing fruit and vegetables. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Stretching along Davie Street from Burrard Street to Denman Street is Davie Village, reputedly one of Vancouver's gay friendliest neighborhoods, though there is little there to suggest that except for the rainbow stripes on the banners which are suspended from streetlights.

What IS obvious as I walk down the street is that you will NOT go hungry in this part of town! The parade of mostly one storey buildings house all manner of eateries serving practically any kind of food you can imagine.

I spot a yummy looking Mexican restaurant and make a mental note to return for dinner.

Yaletown

Vancouver 1 2001

. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

My guide book leads me to believe that Yaletown is full of former warehouses made of brick that have been converted into galleries, restaurants, and boutiques.

What I find, however, is an upscale residential neighborhood bordering on a magnificent waterfront park, where several group of people are in process of setting up volleyball nets on the wide stretches of lawn.

There are also scores of joggers, bicyclists, sun worshipers, and people reading the newspaper on park benches.

Stamps Landing

Vancouver 1 2002
Stamps Landing is a lovely park adjoining Yaletown Vancouver. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Click here to continue reading about my Pacific Northwest Adventure

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