Yet another travelogue: Vancouver, BC, Day 1

Jennifer and I are on Spring Break, and we’ve decided to blow town for Vancouver, BC. We actually have a history of heading north for Spring Break, rather than south like so many of our friends and colleagues. What can I say: Having grown up in Texas and lived almost three years in the Middle East, we’ve decided we much prefer cooler weather.

Another reason we decided to head to Vancouver (which I’ve come to think of as our beloved Portland’s Canadian cousin) is the train trip I took to Seattle last month, when I fell completely in love with Amtrak. I enjoyed that trip so much that not only did I gush about it here on the blog, but I also decided to take trains as often as possible when we go on long-distance trips, and with Spring Break right around the corner and Vancouver right up the coast, this seemed like an ideal time to introduce Jennifer to Amtrak.

Since I’ve already blogged about my love of the train, though, I’ll skip our eight-hour trip (I’ll probably roll it into a post about our return journey) and get straight to our first full day in Vancouver, which is what follows.

Two things to note:

  1. Our AirBnB apartment has wifi but it’s public and therefore so slow as to be useless. So we’re relying on free wifi elsewhere. Fortunately, we’re near the gorgeous and iconic Vancouver Public Library, as well as loads of cafes with free wifi. But we’re on vacation, and while I’m writing about the trip every day, I’m not that concerned about staying connected, so I’ll update the blog when I get to it. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, assume we’re relaxing and exploring the city. (Don’t worry — I’m still thinking of you, gang!)
  2. Also, because of the infrequent wifi access, I’m going to wait and upload photos to a final recap post later. That’s okay. My travel posts don’t usually include photos until the end anyway.

That said, here’s what we got up to yesterday.

23 March 2014

On the way to Tim Horton’s for donuts and coffee this morning, I found a huge crowd of doctors, paramedics, and police officers milling around outside the Vancouver Public Library. Across the street, an EMS ambulance; parked along Robson, a pair of police cruisers. I might have assumed it was an emergency, but the collection of white-coated doctors made me think it might be some kind of convention. Then I saw a pair of doctors and an EMT petting a dog while another group of paramedics milled around sipping coffee with a few cops, and I shrugged the whole scene off.

On the way back from Tim Horton’s, I walked straight through a film crew and I realized the gang of emergency personnel might actually be extras on a shoot, and sure enough, later in the afternoon Jennifer and I stopped by the library together and they were filming there. We even got shooed out of the shot twice.

[UPDATE: I’ve since done a little investigating, and we’ve learned that the film is called Proof, a tv-movie/pilot for a possible series starring Jennifer Beals. All due credit to my wife, by the way: even under the shadow of a ballcap and in the bustle of the filming and bystanders, Jennifer (my wife) correctly identified the actress as Jennifer (Beals) and I’ve only just confirmed that she was right!]

The scene we watched involved a jogger [Beals] running along the sidewalk outside the library; she stops to check her phone, pulls her earbuds out, and gives a kind of frustrated or worried shake of her arms, then she turns toward the library and sprints up the steps. We watched them film this scene at least three times, marveling at how we could never quite tell who among us were just bystanders watching the film crew and who were actually extras, until the direction shouted “Action!” and a handful of pedestrians (dressed better than the rest of us, we realized) sprang into choreographed “casual walking.”

Directors really do shout “Action,” by the way. We never heard “Quiet on the set!” but we were outdoors, so maybe there’s no point in quiet on the set. But the director did shout “Roll camera!” then “Action!” and finally “Cut!” All the clichés were there. (Once, after positioning himself, he also grabbed his director of photography and said, “Hold it! We have a couple of bogeys about to enter frame,” referring to clueless pedestrians or cars coming into the shot.)

In between these two movie-set encounters, my wife and I had a fantastically full day. We started by heading out to the waterfront to check out the transit situation at the Waterfront Station (there was supposed to be a tourist info desk there, but it was closed as part of the station’s renovations) and then up to the Olympic Cauldron (which, alas, was closed off to pedestrians for construction). Afterward, we circled back through downtown and east to historic Gastown, the site of Vancouver’s original settlement (which sprung up, appropriately enough, around a bar opened on the site by a man lovingly known as “Gassy Jack”). Gastown has become a kind of hipsterville, which sounds obnoxious but it’s actually a lovely stroll through some beautiful sidestreets with loads of history and character. We also stopped in at a Fluevog shoe store — it’s a fashion thing, and you can read all about it on my wife’s style blog soon.

From Gastown, we headed south and then east again into Vancouver’s Chinatown, which isn’t as crowded or as colorful as San Francisco’s but is wonderfully authentic, full of dim sum and trinket-markets and the sounds of Chinese music drifting out of shop doors. We strolled through the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Park, which is adjacent to the classical Chinese Garden of the same name. The garden is no doubt gorgeous and is famed for its authenticity (apparently, even the pebbles were imported from China), but the park was perfectly beautiful and serene — I lost count of how many times Jennifer breathed an awed “Wow” — and the price was certainly right: it’s free. Afterward, we grabbed a hearty lunch of steamed pork buns (for Jennifer) and steamed veggie buns (for me) and then headed to the Jimi Hendrix Shrine, allegedly housed on the site of the restaurant where Hendrix’s grandmother worked and where Hendrix played as a kid — and later played guitar before he hit it big. The shrine itself is fairly unimpressive, just a row of guitars painted along the building wall and a tent erected in back with photos and murals of Hendrix — but it was certainly cool to hang out in the spot while “Purple Haze” played in my head.

On our way back toward downtown, we stopped at the Irish Heather pub in Gastown for a warming dram of single-malt (Scotch, not Irish — we’re loyalists when it comes to our whisky), and then we headed to the library, where I had a terrific time watching Jennifer marvel at this phenomenal work of architectural art. I’d visited the library on Jennifer’s behalf when I was in Vancouver for a conference back in ’05, and while I’d visited libraries in other cities before, this one always feels like the library that inspired my habit of seeking out libraries to share with Jennifer, and then our habit together of visiting libraries on vacation. (It remains my favorite library in North America, and possibly the world — for me, the only library that could compete is the Openbare Bibliotheek in Amsterdam. My wife, who actually is a librarian, agrees.)

We finished the day with a movie (The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is delightful — I highly recommend it) and then grabbed the makings of dinner from a local market; because we’re staying in an airbnb apartment, we decided to “cook at home” this evening. A dip in the apartment building’s hot tub and then a quick look at tomorrow’s itinerary, and we were ready for bed.

Jennifer has a routine of asking me my favorite thing of the day (later, on the train home, she’ll probably ask me my “five favorite things” about the whole trip), but today, it’s hard to pick one. The Chinese park — and Chinatown in general — was very impressive; the Hendrix shrine was cheesy but cool; watching a film crew in action was good fun, as was seeing Jennifer gleefully explore the amazing Vancouver library. But I suppose my favorite thing of the day was probably the fact that we walked everywhere, the whole day, and survived. All told, we probably didn’t walk more than a few miles today, but we’re so spoiled with our beloved Portland’s good transit that we rarely have to walk much at home, and it’s been a long while since we got in a good hike, so it’s been nice to stretch our legs and remember how it feels to be sore and exhausted but also in touch with the ground and our surroundings. It feels somehow . . . fulfilling. I can’t find a better word.

In fact, that’s probably a good word for this whole first day: fulfilling.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

5 thoughts on “Yet another travelogue: Vancouver, BC, Day 1

  1. I appreciate your telling of your adventures as we don’t get to travel like we wish we could so I get to travel via your posts.  Thanks for sharing so much detail.   Julie Snoek

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