Another morning, another country frontier crossed by boat. Going from country to country, by sailboat, skiff or ferry has become one of my favourite things.
So, Leslie, Chris (from Team Wokich) and I load up the car and set sail on the Washington Ferry from Bellingham, WA (say WA?) to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, (Oh!) Canada. I’m pleased to announce slightly higher health and safety standards than on my Caribbean Sea crossing…
So, it’s farewell to the US, but only for ten days after which I shall revisit your soil once more. I mark the occasion with a very American convenience breakfast.
It is a smooth crossing, and with the dense fog, the stunning San Juan Islands look distinctly surreal, like a kind of Truman Show film set.
It’s my intention to come back here one day and sail my way round the archipelago. Yet another thing for the future travel-musts list.
For now I am content with the girls day out that Leslie, Chris and I have created for ourselves. British Columbia, at least this small corner that I see, is beautiful. I did not expect it to be so literal though. As we walk along the water side, I jolt at the number of English accents that surround me. It is the first time for a long time that I’ve heard them.
It also feels and looks very British here. I know the clue is quite literally in the title, but you could easily be standing at Brighton or Southampton (if slightly warmer…) And by the way BC, that’s a compliment. The port is very pretty…
…full of eager tourists setting off on whale-spotting missions…
…desperately cute water taxis puttering around the port…
…and flanked by grand county and tourist buildings.
We’re not walking aimlessly at this point…we have a very special appointment to keep, a Wokich family tradition if you will. We are going for that most quintessentially British of things, afternoon tea.
Our target? The stunning Fairmont Empress Hotel.
The timing of this is perfect. If you were to ask me what food I missed the most in Latin America. I would more than likely say scones. Yes, the banana bread in Belize was second to none, but Latin Americans don’t really do scones. God I love scones, I’d quite forgotten how much until we sashay into the grand tearoom.
After a very British starter…
…the pièces de résistance arrives.
Incredulously, Team Wokich had never heard of that very Celtic tradition, and integral part of the British version…asking for free refills. This is a new awakening for them, and we more than certainly put a dent in the price tag as a result.
After an elegant sufficiency (renamed by Harry Mellotte as the ‘elephant sufficiency’), waistline damage limitation is next on the menu. We walk round to Beacon Hill Park for a stroll to burn off the baked goods. It’s a stunning meander through the park.
We are greeted at the most southerly tip by stunning views out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We snake our way through the myriad of paths.
And make some new friends along the way.
My personal favourite being this little chap, who made us feel decidedly underdressed.
After our confab, we saunter back through the park to the city.
In the evening, we reward ourselves with a jaunt to a Scottish pub The Bard and Banker (aye) where we indulge in a couple of fine bottles of red and set about putting the world to rights over them.
After a grand night’s sleep at the Ocean Island Backpackers Inn, and Chris’s first ever backpacking hostel experience, we head to John’s Place one of the city’s famous brunch spots. They even serve (Buffie – look away now) a chocolate bacon waffle! Zing!
It’s time to say farewell now as Leslie and Chris head back to Bellingham to the male half of Team Wokich. I’ll miss my partners in road trip crime! After waving them off, I visit the Royal British Columbia Museum on Belleville Street. It is a natural and human history museum, the latter of which is the draw for me as I want to learn more about the First Nations people of Canada.
It is a great introduction to the nation, from Kwakiutl and Haida tribes all the way through to the Asian population. I particularly enjoy the masks that First Nations People used, each with their own story and meaning within the culture.
Before long it’s time for me to take my leave of the island and catch the bus, then ferry across to the mainland where Vancouver awaits my arrival.
Once checked into the HI Vancouver Central hostel (good hostel – woeful wifi), I head out to meet an old pal for a pint.
Remember back in Bolivia, when I mountain biked down the world’s most dangerous road, like a (very slow) badass? Okay, and do you also remember Tim (nickname Timvincible), the daredevil who actually came off road plunging about 10 metres over the drop and sustaining little more than a few cuts and bruises? Well, him and his fabulous missus Naomi have finished their six month walkabout, and have moved from their Melbourne home to Vancouver…just in time for my arrival. How’s that for timing?
We catch up before he has to head to work in the evening with plans to reconvene. After this, my first introduction to Van City is to be gig-shaped. The lovely Australian Alice, from the Lanquin instalment of the Guatemala chapter, also lives out here and she has invited me to join her and her lovely pals to see Daughter play at the Commodore Ballroom tonight.
It’s a cracking gig complete with a cover of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. They’re a band who I knew little about, but I’ll definitely be buying their album on the back of that performance. Alice – you have impeccable taste!
Afterwards, I head next door to The Bottleneck for a good ol’ chinwag with Tim and Naomi to hear all about the post-Bolivian component of their travel story. After a suitable reminisce, we all roll home in the wee small hours.
At brunch o’clock the next day, Tim and I meet at The Templeton old school diner on Granville Street for a hearty brunch. It is quirky, kitch and wonderful.
Here I am introduced to the Canadian tradition that is the Bloody Caesar, a variation on the Mary theme but made with clamato (made up word KLAXON) which is a blend of tomato juice and clam broth. Sounds horrific, tastes really rather brilliant.
We take a stroll afterwards as I am in day one exploration mode. We head through Downtown towards Canada Place, shaped like a series of jutting sails. It’s pier offers brilliant waterfront panoramas. We gawp at the cruise liners lining the dock and the seaplanes jetting in and out of the bay.
We gaze out over North Vancouver.
We saunter through Gastown to the east of Downtown, past the old steam clock built in 1977 by Canadian horologist Raymond Saunders.
Despite its steamy exterior, it apparently is run on electricity. Still, it looks the part. Then, we spot early Gastown resident Gassy Jack teetering on his whisky barrel.
The barrels put us in mind of ale, so we head to a local hostelry called The Steamworks Brew Pub for a couple of swifies. Before we know it, we’ve been gassing in Gastown far too long and it’s dinner time. So, off to The Fish Shack on Granville Street we go. The fish is super fresh, the atmosphere is laid back and friendly, and the restaurant is decked out with wooden pallets to give it the fishing shack feel – even the seats are upholstered to look like life jackets. Mussels feel like the way to go here, and they are cooked in a metal vat right before my eyes.
We have cocktails in mind now, so we nick into UVA Wine Bar, Tim’s new place of work where I sample the I’m A Banana cocktail (c’mon it had to be done.) Purely by accident, we happen upon a cheeseboard to complete the dining experience. The booziness continues once more as we scoop up Naomi after her shift at The Hawksworth and head to new local The Bottleneck for a few libations.
Sunday kicks off with a bundle of nerves for Tim as it is the last day of the English Premier League and today London’s teams will fight it out for the remaining Champion’s League place. A staunch Arsenal fan, he insists that we’re all up for the 8am kick off. My beloved Manchester City has secured second place, and there is nothing else to play for, but Tim needs the moral support so we troop over the road to the Same Sun hostel, the only place open at this ungodly hour, to watch the game. 90 minutes later, Arsenal have secured the spoils, and everyone heads home nap-bound. But sleep evades me, so I walk down to Granville Island Market.
It is a stunning view from the Granville Bridge looking down on the island and the bay below.
As I’m crossing the bridge, a fellow tourist asks me for directions mistaking me for someone who actually knows where she is going…we get chatting and we’re both heading to the market so we wander down together. Kyla has just moved to Vancouver from San Francisco with a three month stint volunteering in Africa in between times. With a new house, a new job and a new puppy on the way, she’s settling into life in the city after an amazing time on the road. Clearly, we have a lot to talk about!
The market is very quaint.
It is the usual mix of speciality food stalls…
…and flanked by pretty little boutiques stock to the brim with jewellery, gifts, books, cards and objet d’art. As you would expect, I am drawn to a jewellery store where we both buy silver necklaces handcrafted to look like aerial map views of cities; Kyla buys her new home Van City, whilst I buy Paris, a city that will always have a special place in my heart as the very first place outside of Scotland I ever lived.
We take a walk through Kyla’s new hood and former 60’s hippy haven Kitsilano, and peruse a few shops including the bookstore Wanderlust, a must for travellers at heart, and Zulu Records.
Then, we say our goodbyes. It has been lovely to randomly meet a new like-minded friend and spend the avo with her. I hope you’re settling into Van City well Kyla – maybe see you back there some day.
I bus back to Downtown before walking up to English Bay beach. But first, I pass tiny Morton Park and its interesting piece of outdoor art called A-maze-ing Laughter by Beijing based artist Yue Minjun. First installed temporarily in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale, the sculpture of 14 three-metre tall shirtless bronze statues, all standing in different poses, but all laughing maniacally, is due to stay in the city.
Upon further investigation, it would appear that the artist in question modelled the statues on his own face, and has created various sculptures and paintings that depict him laughing. Neat little idea, and beautifully executed here.
I amble over to English Bay beach where the sun belts down in the hazy late afternoon. Tim comes to meet me and we sit on the beach chatting in the sunshine.
As the sun starts to drop and, hearing how stunning the sunsets here are supposed to be, we rue the bad planning of us not bringing a bottle of plonk to the beach with us. Alas, I have an Oregon Winter’s Hill Pinot Noir just asking to be drunk before I fly to Montreal tomorrow but it is back Downtown.
As we debate this, a guitar player has turned up behind us on the beach. He is playing original music, very much in a Jamie T stylee. He’s really good, and I quietly love that he isn’t even busking…just playing to himself.
With the sun dropping behind us…
…we bus back to Downtown, pick up the vino tinto and head to a bring-your-own-booze Italian for a pizza before flopping down at the bar at the excellent Keefer Bar for numerous cocktails and chats. Naomi comes to meet us after work, and we fight through tiredness for another couple of swifties at last chance saloon The Pint. Soaked in booze, my long weekend in Vancouver is coming to an end exactly how it started.
A healing brunch is on the cards so I meet up with Alice and we head to The Elbow Room where Naomi joins us (Tim is being a gigantic lightweight and hasn’t been able to get out of bed – disgraceful…)
This cafe is hysterical, bruskly rude in a congenial sort of way. One of the first things the waiter says to Alice and I, pointing at the empty seats on our table, is “where the fuck are these dickheads?” It’s affronting but endearing all at the same time, and the staff turn out to be a right laugh.
What’s more, the eggs benedict with blue cheese, bacon and avocado is exquisite.
But what is even more exquisite is the company. It is absolutely great to have been able to meet up again with good pals from Bolivia and Guatemala again. I had been looking forward to it for a long time.
One of the greatest surprises on my travels has been the amazing friends I’ve made along the way. Not only that, but being able to see some of them again either on the road, or in the future when I get back to London. I feel really quite privileged to have been in such good company.
For now, it’s goodbye to Naomi and Alice, and off to Van City airport to scoot east to Montreal. I intend to spend the 5 hour flight reloading the French tapes in my brain…and filing the Spanish ones.
And the soundtrack was:
The Kinks ‘Victoria’
Jamie T ‘Panic Prevention’
Daughter ‘If You Leave’
Cold War Kids ‘Mine Is Yours’
Hooray For Earth ‘True Loves’
Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Mosquito’
Jurassic 5 ‘Power in Numbers’
Alt-J ‘Am Awesome Wave’
The Maccabees ‘Wall of Arms’