Yet another travelogue: Vancouver, BC, Day 4

26 March 2014

We intended to make our last full day in Vancouver a rather lazy day, with a couple of leisurely strolls through relatively nearby neighborhoods and a bit of casual souvenir shopping. And that’s pretty much how it started, with a morning walk through Yaletown, which feels very much like Portland’s Pearl District, where I teach at PNCA. In fact, Yaletown has almost exactly the same history as the Pearl: a former industrial warehouse district upcycled to a trendy (and fairly spendy) commercial and arts district. But the restaurants and boutiques in Yaletown are at least 50% more expensive (slash-pretentious) than Portland’s Pearl — at one home décor shop, we found a lovely little silk-shaded chandelier that was on sale for $4,000! — so we didn’t end up buying anything in Yaletown.

We did stop at Goorin Bros. Hat Shop, which was excellent and actually one of the few shops in the right price range — the hats were all on the expensive side, but they’re excellently made and worth the price. I nearly bought a cowboy hat (people who know me, don’t scoff — my Papa always wore a fine, low-crown “gambler” style cowboy hat, a style that actually looks okay on me, and I figure it would make for a good camping hat), but the fit was a half-size too small and the crown a half-inch too tall. I had fun trying on all the other hats, but I have a limited range, really: I can’t pull off newsboys, fisherman’s hats, flat caps, military “scout” caps, berets, or, I discovered today, bowlers. All the rest of the hats that might look decent on me, I already own in a variety of colors and patterns and fabrics. So, no dice on the hats, which was a shame, but the shopping experience was still fun — Jennifer had a ball trying on cloches and pillboxes and slouch hats, and the sound system was playing old Motown and Stax soul the whole time, including a run of Sam and Dave.

With shopping a bust in Yaletown, we moved on to Granville Island. We’ve been walking practically everywhere in Vancouver because it’s an exceptionally walkable city, and looking at the map, we figured we’d simply walk along Granville over False Creek to the island. It looks easy enough on paper. But the map is deceptive: actually, the Granville Bridge extends up and over the entire island, depositing cars and pedestrians on the south side, so we got gorgeous views of the city and False Creek and even Granville Island itself as we passed above it, but we also had a l-o-n-g hike that basically doubled our travel time. (Pro-tip: take the ferry. At ten bucks a ticket, they’re rather spendy for such a short hop across a narrow channel of water, which is why we stupidly skipped them and walked it, but the ticket is good for the whole day and the convenience is worth it. Our feet are pretty pissed off at us right now.)

When you consider what Granville Island is — arts and crafts shops and public markets — you’d be forgiven for assuming it would be just some flea market-cum-tourist trap full of overpriced craft souvenirs and wannabe artists with a weekend gig selling their hobbies. But it’s not that way at all. For one thing, you’re not even allowed to set up shop on the island unless you’re a working artist or craftsperson, and by working, I mean that most of the storefronts we saw were at the front end of — or even inside of — the artists’ functioning workshops or studios. We saw several artists painting and had a lovely chat with a woodworker carving beautiful wooden birds, and in a quirky kiddie décor shop, the saleswoman entertained us by telling us details about every artist of every piece in the store. So when you walk into a place, you know these people aren’t mere hobbyists; these are working artists. For another thing, the work is good, no matter how silly it can sometimes get (we saw plenty of silliness, including a fun little postcard shop of locally printed sketches and engravings and a huge kids market with toys and games and puppets galore). For another thing, you actually get to talk with the people making the work, and that makes a big difference. In fact, one of the most interesting places on the island, which we hadn’t even known to look for, was the Emily Carr University, an art and design college on the island where students also have gallery space. (We stopped at the library, of course, where I was pleased to find the writing center right up front, tutors on duty right there in the main lobby.) In short, Granville Island is the real deal.

Best of all, the “crafts” on the island include wineries, craft breweries, and even a local British Columbia sake maker. That latter was our midday respite, with a three-round tasting flight of sake made right there on the island by a Japanese sake maker, using rice he grows in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley — allegedly the northernmost rice paddies in the world. I’ve had sake in Japanese restaurants before, both warm and cold, but I’m not at all versed in sake tasting, so getting a flight at the sake-maker’s own place was a treat. We even bought a bottle to bring home (it will make for great summer sipping!).

We had lunch inside the huge Granville Island Public Market, a covered market space with as many fruit stands and corner cafés as craft shops. We were tempted by the huge pot pies at a pie shop, but the lines were long and our stomachs small, so we went for burgers — Jennifer loved her teriyaki burger; my Cajun veggie burger was good, but it’s hard to sell me on veggie burgers anymore after yesterday’s fabulous meal at Naam.

We wound up our island trip with a bit more shopping and a three-round craft beer tasting in the Granville Island Taproom (the Island Lager was my favorite; Jennifer preferred the Honey Lager), and then we braced ourselves for the l-o-n-g walk back over the bridge. Bracing ourselves didn’t help: it was fairly torturous despite the beautiful views, and by the time we made it into downtown, we opted to just head back to the apartment, where we ate take-away pizza from a corner dive in the ground floor of our building ($5.50 for two slices and a soda, and the pizza was actually really good). Then we played a few more hands of gin, planned our early morning trip to the train station, and it was off to bed for (literally) a handful of hours of sleep before our train leaves in the morning.

Tomorrow: final thoughts, photos, and some comments on the delightful train ride aboard Amtrak!

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