Canada has been on my bucket list for a very long time now. I have no real reason for this, other than that I really wanted to go. But as it is fairly easy to explore, we had been leaving it until later, while we focussed on doing some of the countries that were a bit more challenging.

When coming to Canada there are some seriously big ticket items that I think that everyone wants to see, and I am no different. Obviously the northern lights is high on any list but we are here in summer, so that will be a definite no chance. Bears and moose are high (more so the moose for me) as are whales. As an Australian we see the humpbacks all the time, but the Orca would be a treat.

Before we even landed this place had already blown me away. I had the rare (Jill usually takes it) opportunity to have the window seat on the flight over. As we were passing over the province of Nunavut (North-Eastern Canada) the captain said that if we looked out of the window that we could see the annual summer iceberg melting.

I did, and I could. From then on I was transfixed on the incredible changing landscapes and views that were on offer from just outside my tiny airplane window.

We landed in Montreal and had 5 hrs to kill before the next leg of the journey to Vancouver. Montreal airport is probably not the worst airport in the world, but it certainly is not going to be winning any prizes either.

The one thing that it did have that amused me was a special area just outside the toilets…

for the dogs to also go to the toilet.

So we had a few local beers and milled about while we waited for our onward flight to Vancouver.

Vancouver Part One

Well getting here from Germany was no mean feat. We hopped a train from Hamburg to Dusseldorf where we switched to head to Amsterdam and switched again to head to Schiphol (the main airport). We then crashed briefly before getting up to board a flight to Montreal, a 5 hr layover and another flight to Vancouver. A cab ride later and at 2am we were here.

We set up camp in our accommodation in the West End in a place called English Bay. After crashing out (a couple of times) we were finally awake enough to go exploring. This place was fantastic, once again in the heart of the entertainment area with tons to see and do within a very short walk.

The first thing that we did was reach out to my mate Jeremy’s friend (Paul) who lived here and ran the local marina. We had been chatting in the leadup and he mentioned that there were options for whale watching (humpbacks and orcas). And that was quite frankly too good an option to pass up.

So after a little wander around, we met with Paul who offered us a ride in his own boat (in the coming days) and advised that he was able to offer a (50%) mates rates deal on the whale watching trip. All too good to be true from our perspective. After this he also added a drive around on the next night to get some perspective to the Vancouver area.

So the next morning Jill and I were up and doing our meander and we figured that hugging the water was pretty good way to start. Turning right from our hotel we walked to the end until we found ourselves in Waterfront Park near the launching point for harbour cruises. We turned right again and followed the water passing all of the 5 star hotel usual suspects, sculptures, trendy restaurants and bars that you would expect along a big city harbour.

We walked along the seawall taking in the amazing views and admiring the parks that bordered the waterfront. More cafes and restaurants until we found ourselves at Canada Place cruise ship terminal and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Possibly the coolest part of the journey was watching the seaplanes takeoff and land in the middle of the city. Maybe not so cool was the smell of AVGas.

The next morning we got up and decided to walk on the opposite side of the water, so got out of our accommodation and turned left.

Within 20 meters we found ourselves at the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculpture. A series of 142 am patinated cast-bronze figures, each 2.5m tall.

Inukshuk (a human-like figure made of piled stones or boulders). Inuit have been creating these stone markers all over the Arctic landscape.

Inukshuks are meant to serve several functions, including guiding travellers, warning of danger, assisting hunters and marking places of reverence.

So after our day of wandering about we were collected at around 5:30pm by Paul and his partner Francesca who gave us the guided road tour of Vancouver. This started with a drive across the Lions Gate suspension bridge, to the north shore and up the hill to the Cypress Lookout for some amazing views over the entire city.

A bit further up the hill and we found ourselves at the Cypress Mountain ski resort. There is no actual peak by this name but it refers to a trio of skiable mountains (Black Mountain, Mt. Strachan, and Hollyburn Mountain) that all hosted events at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Being summer there was no snow but we got to see the Olympic rings, a downhill luge and yet another Inuksuk. A look at the map reveals some seriously challenging skiing (well beyond my pitiful level) including double black diamond runs.

From here we headed west to the seaside village of Horseshoe Bay which is the departure point for ferries to Vancouver Island. It is also the starting point for the Sea to Sky Highway, which connects Vancouver to the Whistler ski fields (120 km).  It is a really pretty little township (about 1000 people) where we stopped and had all you can eat fish and chips (with unlimited soda refills) for $20. Paul used to work in this area and he recommended it highly. And he was right, the food was amazingly fresh, had only a light batter and was delicious.

Having come back after dinner we did the CBD drive around taking in the key areas of Downtown, Yaletown, Gastown the Waterfront. From here we did the confronting drive along Hasting Street East. This is a major road that, for about 5 blocks, has been taken over by homeless people. It is in essence a shanty town slum full of markets selling or trading the good that had been stolen that day.

The area is the hub of Vancouver’s homeless and itinerant issue. The Eastside neighbourhood is described as being “the site of a complex set of social issues including disproportionately high levels of drug use, homelessness, poverty, crime, mental illness and sex work”. In the five-block drive, we saw almost every one of the “social issues” described in the list above.

The next day we met up with Francesca and headed towards Paul’s work on Granville Island for the promised boat ride. On the way we stopped and picked up cheese, crackers, charcuterie, olives etc. Granville Island is a 37-acre area in the middle of Vancouver, BC and is easily accessible by car, boat, or bus. The island has just about anything you can imagine and includes: the Kids Market (housed in a century-old paint factory and train caboose) a giant indoor Adventure Zone, Canada’s largest free waterpark. Added to this is the Public Market, tons of shops, a couple of breweries and more pubs.

Having checked out the docks area, Paul finished work and the four of us hopped on for our tour of Vancouver from the water. It was magnificent. We spent the better part of three hours just putting along in the boat, taking in the scenery.

Whale watching (attempt one)

Well, we jumped onto the boat that Paul had arranged for us (at the mate’s rates discount) with the hope of seeing some Orcas. I had spoken to the guys from the company (Prince of Whales) who said that 94% of the time they get to see the Orcas. So off we went on our 5-hour adventure to see the Orca. The first hour was uneventful, so much so that a big fuss was made over an eagle sitting on a pole. In a desperate attempt to show us something they took us over to see a bunch of rock sausages sunning themselves.

But then it happened, at about the 2 hr mark a spout was seen and off we went. We found ourselves in the presence of a juvenile Humpback whale who decided that we were fun. So for the next hour or so this whale hung out by the boat, popping in and out (between dives), blowing whale snot all over us poor boat goers. It wasn’t quite the breeding season romping that we see off the Queensland coast, but it was still bloody impressive and worth every penny. Part of the price included a professional photographer who sent out the photos that he had taken, just in case your ones were rubbish. As it happened, our ones were pretty good, I took my GoPro and Jill with her phone.

It was incredibly good, but still no Orcas.

On our second foray into Vancouver, we stayed closer to Vancouver’s downtown. This gave us a shorter walk from the cruise terminal and we could have easy access to the city’s main attractions. Not to mention being able to get around on foot and have plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars at our doorstep. 

Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a 405-hectare (1,001-acre) public park near downtown. It was to be done on our first trip in but the sheer size of it was overwhelming, so we put it off.

We hooked up with Brad and Nora and walked the bayside until we got near the park and then hired some e-bikes to get around the mammoth area that is Stanley Park. According to the blurb there are 27 separate attractions within the park. Some of these we saw while others we entirely missed due to the sheer size of the place.

Some of these include:

Lumbermens’ Arch, three different boardwalks, Georgia Viaduct Lamp, Cob House, Vancouver Parks Board Office, Rose Cottage, Wishing Well, Salmon Display Pool, the old Polar Bear Compound, a couple of lighthouses (Prospect Point and Brockton Point).

Stanley Park Pavilion, the Nine O’Clock Gun, Susan Point Welcome Gateways, Nature house, Malkin Bowl, SS Empress of Japan Figurehead, Jubilee Fountain, Entrance bridge.

We visited Beaver lake that was was, ironically, totally beaver free for more than 60 years until 2008. Now, up to five beavers have been seen at once, working to plug up the flow of water.

Siwash Rock while not really a destination still makes for a great photo.

It is just off the seawall a bit north of Third Beach. You can’t actually get to the rock as it’s surrounded by water.

But without a doubt, the number one thing to do in Stanley Park is to visit the Vancouver Aquarium. It has 65,000 animals and 30 exhibits and galleries to explore. The aquarium has the usual suspects: sea lions, otters penguins, turtles, stingrays, fish, sea urchins, etc.  

But it also has an Amazon gallery that has exotic birds, snakes, monkeys, and my favourites, the sloths.

I did not realise it at the time but it seems as though Jill was obsessed with the Jellyfish. She took no photo of any animal other than Jellyfish. I guess she just tuned into her own personal lava lamp.

The number two is to visit the first nations totem poles. These are a collection of totem poles representing a number of indigenous nations. All but 3 of the totem poles, along with 3 Welcome Gateways, are located in a meadow at Brockton Point. There is one totem pole, Children of the World at Stanley Park Junction where the Miniature Train operates. And there are 2 other totem poles that are on the Miniature Train route that can only be seen by taking the train ride during the day.

Once again we caught up with Paul and Francesca, who once again offered to take us out in the boat to enjoy Vancouver from the water. This time it was a long ride out to see Granite Falls. The ride out was a bit rough and hairy but the world calmed down considerably for the ride home. We boated past the hydro-electric power plants, amazing mountains and huge trees.

The weather did the right thing by us on the way home and the skies cleared to reveal even more stunning shots of the city from the waterside.

Weed is legal in Canada, like most places, it can be freely bought (on virtually every block) and importantly it can be smoked anywhere, and I mean anywhere. This means that it is impossible to walk for more than a few minutes without walking through a waft of second-hand weed smoke. I swear that in the first week that we came to Canada, I had inhaled more passive weed in a week than I had in the preceding 54 years.

Gastown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Vancouver and was the original centre of town. Water Street is Gastown’s most famous street, but the neighborhood covers a broad area and holds beautiful old houses, clothing boutiques, shops, art galleries, souvenir shops and plenty of places to grab a bite.

The big show in town is however the Gastown Steam clock.

Underneath Vancouver there are a series of steam pipes connected to a generating plant. The system provides heat to most of the downtown core.

Despite seeming like a remnant of the Victorian era the Steam Clock was actually only built in 1977.

On the hour there will be hordes of people gathered around waiting for the clock to do its thing.

Vancouver architecture is so much more interesting than anything that we see back home. Sure the CBD is full of high-rises, but here they are not all boring square boxes. There is some panache to them, curves and cantilevers break up the monotony of the usual cityscape.

Canadian Beer

Our early forays into Canadian beer were terrible. The offerings on the plane and in Montreal airport were atrocious attempts at producing a beverage. On our early arrival in Vancouver the first two there were almost as bad. But from here things turned a corner and improved dramatically.

The Granville Island Brewing Company does some nice drops, but the IPA options remain too hoppy and a struggle to drink. For the most part the Canadian beers are mild and unobtrusive. They are not offensive but wouldn’t really have you hunting to search them out either.

Canadian Food

this was a strange thing to try and quantify, I guess much like Australia, Canada has become so multi-cultural that virtually everything is available. There are certainly some adverse influences from their nearest neighbour (burgers, hot dogs and fried chicken) but beyond that almost everything else is here too.

The seafood gumbos are pretty good and worth exploring and the wide variety of Asian on offer is astounding. Canadian breakfasts were the trick. The mixture of pancakes with bacon, eggs and maple syrup does take some getting used to but it is OK.

Poutine is a dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It emerged in Quebec, in the late 1950s and has become a staple.

I had the breakfast version that replaced the gravy with a hollandaise sauce. Based on this example, I am not a fan.

On a personal note, my last haircut was back in Greece and things are getting pretty wild and woolly on my end. Jill has managed to do her own hair in the bathroom but I am getting more and more furry with every passing day. Lets hope I can find a reasonably priced barber somewhere to tame the locks.

Canada has been amazing and we would definitely come back again. The scenery of both here and Alaska were incredible and will be pretty tough to beat. But as long as you don’t plan to physically hike the mountains, it is a destination that can wait as it is not that physically demanding. There are other options to get to the top of the big hills and mountains. Gondolas and roads allow you to get to the top of many places and given that there are stunning views virtually everywhere, you really wont miss too much if you don’t hike.

Travelling the world in a pre and post COVID state