If a Canadian greets you with ‘Bonjour’ it is more than just a hello; they are testing whether your preference is to speak English or French. Therefore only respond with ‘Bonjour’ if you want to continue speaking in French, otherwise you might start seeing some annoyed Canadians!
Vancouver’s suburbs are extremely condensed, and all so unique. I was staying in Yaletown; a somewhat stylish and sophisticated area, with lots of delicious eateries. From Davie Street (the gay district with rainbow banners, and pink bus stops and rubbish bins) to Robson Street (shopping), Gastown (quaint, cobbled streets with lanterns) and NOT Hastings Street (I made a hasty retreat); there were so many nooks and crannies to explore. It struck me as an extremely liveable city, probably one of the most liveable cities I have ever been to (and probably the reason it continually wins awards for being one of the most liveable cities in the world).
Transport: Most of inner Vancouver is highly walkable. I didn’t really use the public transport system that often, however what I did experience was great. Buses are in abundance, and there are also two metro lines running within the city, one of which goes out to the airport. A taxi to or from the airport costs about $30, and takes about half an hour. Vancouver Airport is extremely user friendly, with a built in aquarium, and kind old men in green t-shirts ready and willing to answer any questions one may have. It is possible to catch buses from Vancouver Airport directly to various destinations, including Whistler, however it is quite expensive (Pacific Coach= $75/one way, and it pays to book in advance). I got to Whistler by catching a Greyhound bus from within Vancouver that had both free Wi-Fi and power sockets ($60 return).
Stanley Park: Vancouver thrives off a health buzz. Just five minutes from the heart of the city is not just the waterfront, but also an entire Sea Wall – a lengthy track for walkers, runners, bikers and the like, which follows the water right round past the 10km loop that is Stanley Island. I walked right the way around, past beaches, nature, wildlife and plenty of other people exercising. There are a number of tourist attractions on Stanley Island, including the totem poles, aquarium, mini rail-way and Christmas lights.
Granville Island: Just across the water from where I was staying, it was a much longer walk (you had to overshoot the island, and walk back to it). I had been warned to go hungry, and to save myself for Siegel’s Bagels; naturally I had salmon and cream cheese. It was to die for, and I didn’t know it yet, but it would be the best bagel I had the whole time I was away. A great place for souvenir shopping, I left with my pockets empty and my arms loaded. I was too lazy to walk home, so jumped on the water-ferry; $3.50 to cross the canal.
Lynn Canyon: all the tourist hype is on Capilano Canyon Park, when really the spotlight should turn to this little gem. First I bought an all-day Transit pass for $9.75. Using a fellow traveller’s blog from the Downtown Station, I caught the seabus (aka ferry), bus #228 and rode for about 30 minutes more, where I jumped off and walked the final kilometre to the park entrance. It was free entry, and the suspension bridge was incredible. It was about 50m long, and there was only enough space for 2 people to pass by each other, just. Other highlights of the park include the Twin Falls, and then to the 30ft deep pool, which was an eerie crystal blue colour. It was what I would picture a stereo-typical Canadian river to look like; minus the salmon and grizzly bear.
Eat. If you aren’t on Gramville Island, visit Meat & Bread. ‘nuff said.
Getting to Whistler took a little longer than anticipated. We arrived in Squamish (40 minutes later) to be informed that instead of the expected 1 hour drive from Squamish to Whistler, the road was blocked indefinitely, due to an accident blocking the highway. Six hours later we arrived in Whistler, after joining the ‘Whistler Crawl’ about 5km out. Without any exaggeration, it was like arriving in a magical wonderland. There were Christmas lights twinkling in almost every tree, and the snow sparkled under the street lights. Let the fairy-tale begin.
Where to stay
I would recommend anyone and everyone stay at the HI-Whistler. Home to the Olympic Athletes back in 2010, it was modern, clean, spacious and private. There were two bunks in my room, each with an individual shelf, power socket and locker. The bathroom facilities were shared with next door (so another four people) and the shower, toilet and sink were all contained in different rooms. The main disadvantage is that it’s not right in the town centre, however jump on bus #15 or #2 (so long as it isn’t bound for Whistler Creek) and it will take you from outside the hostel, right into town (stops at both the shops and the chairlift).
What to do
- You mean besides ski? I would have to say walk. The whole of Whistler Village is entirely walkable. Everything is close together, people are a plenty, and snow is everywhere. Words can’t describe how magical this place was – it was peaceful and sleepy, yet so alive. It got dark so early, but it was still so colourful.
- Skiing /snowboarding is the obvious reason why one visits Whistler in the winter. With two enormous ski fields, it would be entirely possible to do a new run every time, all day long. The bus drops you right at the bottom of the chairlift, which is right next to the ticket office, and also adjacent to the gear rental and ski-schools. It cost me $125 for a one-day pass, and $65 for skis and boots. Once kitted up, I jumped into the fully-enclosed gondola, and settled in for a 35minute ride up the mountain. There were powder-junkies everywhere – I quickly learnt that turning was much harder than back in NZ – I ate snow a few times! Aside from the powder, the main difference was that in Whistler you are skiing amongst trees – my favourite run was called the ‘Enchanted Forest’. The two ski fields are connected by a gondola called “Peak 2 Peak” which is the highest and longest in the world. A few of the gondolas have a glass bottom, so you can see the trees in the distance below – spectacular, but eerie. A complete run from the top to bottom of the mountain took almost an hour, which is incredible given it takes about 5 minutes in New Zealand.
- The Whistler Public Library is just off the town centre; it is a snuggly place to cuddle up with a book and pass the afternoon away. Next door is the Whistler Museum (admission by donation) which illustrates the Olympic history of the township.
- Garfinkels. The place to go, the place to be seen at. Especially after 11pm.
- Whistler Creek Athletic Club is a great place for a work-out or a spa and sauna on that day off from the slopes ($11.50). There is also a cosy wood-fired pizza place next door.
Where to eat
- El Furniture Warehouse. It doesn’t sell furniture, and it should be number one on everyone’s list. With a queue out the door (yes, we waited approximately 20 minutes in the cold) the place is pumping from about lunchtime. One of the main reasons – every single thing on the menu is $4.95. From nachos, to salads, to burgers to drinks – it has everything. And everything is delicious (and of a normal sized portion).
- Naked Sprout. Delicious treats, smoothies and salads, it’s located right in the village centre. I ended up being a repeat offender, despite my intentions to always eat somewhere new. The place is modern, healthy and has great Wi-Fi, which is always a bonus! I can highly recommend the Date Smoothie (with dates, banana, almond milk and ginger).
- Green Moustache. Not far from the IGA, it is another café specialising in vegan and organic food. I had beetroot soup, and it was one of the best soups I have ever had in my life. Attached is a gift shop, which has lots of handmade arts and crafts.
- Supermarkets – there is a super expensive mini-supermarket right in town, which usually wins out because of its absolute convenience, however there is an IGA on the outskirts of town (a massive chain supermarket).