04 September 2006

Wrapping It Up in Vancouver

Here I am, at the Stanley Park Totem Poles.

The rest last night certainly helped. And I finished up my weekend in grand style.

Running low on Canadian dollars, I first headed back to Robson Street, in hopes of finding a currency exchange and a breakfast. No luck on breakfast (I ended up at a nearby McDonald's), but I did run into a very cheap currency exchange near Burrard Street, where $100 US bought me a whopping $109.25. That gave me enough money for today, as well as the taxi fare and airport fee tomorrow as I return home. Getting the Stanley Park bus was a bit tricky though, due to blocked streets all over downtown and a long wait.

Most of the day was spent at Stanley Park, primarily at the Vancouver Aquarium. It was a smallish facility, but was still full of great exhibits, including the beluga whale, one of Canada's symbols. It was definitely worth the $18.50 admission, which, unlike at other places, was inclusive of GST (federal sales tax) - at most other places, the 7% GST is extra. After hanging out with the otters and the dolphins (the dolphins were local celebrities, by the way), and exploring the Amazon exhibits, I moved on to the shuttle bus service, which circled the park and allowed me to get great vistas in all directions.

After another long wait for the bus back to downtown, I moved on to Granville Island, a formerly industrial district re-developed into a shopping area in the early 1980s by the federal government. It had great shops, including grocery markets, toy stores, specialty stores, restaurants, and lots more. On a good day, I could spend a whole day here; but with limited budget, I spent just two hours (plus $3 for a strawberry sorbet), and moved on.

A bus ride through the seedy East Hastings Street, complete with its homeless, drug addicts, and residential hotels, brought me to Commercial Drive. The lively sections began a few blocks to the south, where true to its reputation as a lesbian enclave, I could find lots of vegan restaurants, community services, boutiques, and more. Not much in the way of nightlife though; after all, this was a women's (not men's) community. It didn't prevent straight couples and even Jamaican homophobes from strolling the streets - and in the case of the Jamaicans, throwing insults at me from their restaurants. Even the Canadian tolerant atmosphere can't stop the notorious Jamaican homophobia.

Just as I was trying to turn back north into the lesbian section for a dinner, I spotted SkyTrain. Not quite hungry, I decided to head back to Burnaby and dine at the Metrotown. Arriving at the Metropolis mall at 5:20, I managed to do a bit of window-shopping in hopes of finding an extra item of clothing (or preferably, hosiery) to take home. No luck, and by 6, everything was closing up. TGI Friday remained open until 8:30 though, so I went there for dinner - even though my feet were hurting again. Fortunately, wearing only my walking shoes and no socks, I had plenty of wiggling room in my shoes, so my feet had held up very well - until the lack of cushioning got to me.

So it's all over. Three days of my first date with what may be my future home. Vancouver is not perfect - the rain will get to me eventually, plus I got to see the uglier sections today - but it definitely is a great place to visit, and most likely, to live in. As I saw the hordes of American-registered vehicles at Stanley Park today (some from as far as Texas), I vowed to return soon, with my own car, as part of my lengthy Canadian road trip that will also include the Canadian Rockies, Calgary, and maybe Edmonton (not to mention US sights on the way and back, such as Portland, Seattle, Glacier National Park, and Grand Tetons).

I can now only hope for a smooth flight back to Los Angeles tomorrow, and a good workday.

Two of the four beluga whales at Vancouver Aquarium.
Belugas live in the Arctic.

False Inlet, as seen from Granville Island. The rainbow-colored Aquabus carries passengers to downtown Vancouver.