I finally made it into Canada. Getting past the checkpoint was no problem (just showed my CA driver’s license and passport, the latter used instead of a birth certificate), and soon I was among our peaceful neighbors in the north. Having had at least half-a-dozen friends tell me “you must see Vancouver, it is absolutely gorgeous!”, I was eager to see what all the fuss over that city was about…
At first, I was perplexed. Approaching the city through the suburbs, all I saw were cookie-cutter condos with little (if any) more character than those in California. Traffic was pretty bad. Then I saw it: Vancouver’s skyline, with its modern, glassy skyscrapers, some cylindrical among the more conventiionally square. These were tall buildings, maybe 80+ stories high, and yet, amazingly, they were absolutely dwarfed by Mother Nature’s granite mountains in the backdrop. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, yet could not help but think, “this is the way things should be like in a big city.”
Below are some notes from my trip. I did not get to spend nearly as much time as I would have liked to in the city. Ah well, need to save stuff for a future trip. : )
- The first thing one notices when entering Canada is that the speed limit signs are all in kilometers per hour. Pretty cool to have a speed limit of 100. I found it easier to just multiply the speed limits by 0.6 to get the approximate speed in miles per hour and then look down at my speedometer to compare the speed (as opposed to straining my eyes to read the little yellow print for kilometers per hour on the speedometer face).
- Traffic around Vancouver is bad. It may be better than San Francisco Bay Area traffic, however—it was kind of hard to tell, since traffic on the opposing lane was at a complete standstill, with people even getting out of their cars, due to an accident involving a big semi blocking all lanes.
- Drivers in Vancouver (especially around Squamish) drive fast. I would go well over the speed limit and other drivers would still tailgate or blaze past. I’m not sure if this is due to all the teenagers and tweenies (who typically drive fast and poorly) who came to the area to rock climb or mountain bike.
- Is reason used more here (as opposed to angry words, superstition and “articles of faith”) than in the U.S.? I’d like to hope so, but it would be premature to conclude so based on just a few days here! Giving me some hope though are bumper stickers on buses that read:
Tailgating will do you no good. Give yourself plenty of space to give yourself time to react. Keep your distance.
Vandalism costs money to clean up, money that could be used for books and more services, etc. If you see vandalism occur, please call…
- Gasoline is more expensive in Canada than in the U.S. For example, I paid $CAN1.10/liter for 89-octane fuel, which equates to $US3.62/gallon at the current exchange rate of $US1 = $CAN1.15.
- Even though Canada is officially on the metric system, walk into a Safeway and you will see produce is sold by the pound!! ($ / kg was also listed on signs, but in much smaller letters…) Reminded me of England where it also seemed like imperial measurements were still present in a lot of places…
- Trying to navigate Highway 99 through downtown Vancouver reminded me of trying to follow US-101 in downtown San Francisco. Be on the lookout for the highway signs since one needs to make a lot of turns.
- North of Vancouver around the Squamish area, there are lots of campsites along Highway 99. However, most of them fill fast. The one by the Squamish welcome sign was already full with all the rock climbers who had converged on the area for the weekend. (I was able to camp here my second night, however, when it rained.)
- Vancouver Island is pretty far from mainland. For example, to get from Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver to Discovery Bay in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, one must take the ferry to get across the 25 miles or so of water in the Georgia Strait. This ride takes 1 hour 40 minutes and costs $CAN11 per person, plus $CAN2.50 per bike and ~$CAN35 per car.
- Parking in Horseshoe Bay is a mess, with the long-term parking lots completely full despite charging $CAN10. Also, one can only park in the free parking spaces (along residential streets, for example) for 3 hours. I bypassed all of this by parking 2 miles away, and riding my bike over. I took my bike on the ferry and did a little bit of riding on Vancouver Island, though not nearly as much as I would have liked.
- The parts of Nanaimo I rode through were pretty unremarkable. I hear that Victoria on Vancouver Island is gorgeous, but is farther away. I never got close to there.
- The night after biking at Nanaimo, I splurged on a root beer flat at A&W. Yes, they have A&W here! A&W, may I point out, was founded in Lodi, California, where I went to elementary school. The A&Ws in Canada are similarly nostalgic, with wonderful 60s music playing overhead. I loved what the tray liner read so much that I will reprint it here:
It was grad, 1972. I wore a powder blue tuxedo with a ruffled dress shirt. Sure, it’s funny now. But at the time it was hot. At least my date, Sarah, thought so. After grad, everyone met at A&W. There must have been fifty cars there, with 50 guys in powder blue suits. Then the manager did something pretty nice. He put music on the loud speakers and everyone got out of their cars and danced under the stars. I don’t know where Sarah is all these years later. But I’ll bet she remembers that night too. -Carl DiVitzio
- The last thing I did in Vancouver was stop by Granville Island. Granville Island is only accessible along one road under the Granville Bridge, and hence driving there is kind of a mess. Parking is also troublesome, though I was lucky in that when I got to Granville Island a car pulled out of a parking lot, thus freeing it up for myself.
- There was a wooden boat festival at Granville Island when I arrived. The island is also full of boutique shops.
- Due to a last-minute tip by Heidi, I stopped the Granville Island Public Market which was simply amazing. It’s kind of hard to describe; imagine a farmer’s market that is indoors, but is much more upscale. There was a ton of fresh organic fruit, pastries, and meats everywhere. At many (all) of the stalls one is not allowed to pick fruit (just like in France). Instead, you tell the person manning that fruit stands how much of what fruit you’d like. To me this is MUCH better than a typical farmer’s market in the U.S., where everyone is pinching the fruit with their grubby little hands. Sure, one is supposed to wash the fruit before consuming it anyhow, but it does seem more hygienic and “civilized”…
- Among other food, I picked up a demi-loaf of walnut bread. Yum.
- The last two days I was in Vancouver it was very gray and overcast with frequent showers. Was this a preview of winter, or is this typical even for some days in August? At least the temperatures are supposed to be “moderate” year-round.
- Upon leaving Vancouver I listened to a Vancouver-based talk radio station. Apparently, Canadian work hours are similar to Americans’, with 40+ hour weeks typical (mandatory) and only 2 weeks of vacation given for beginning employees. The discussion on the radio was about how Europeans get so much more vacation time while managing to be just as productive. E.g., 5-6 weeks of vacation time are typical for even a beginning employee. Also, in France there is a cap of 35 hours / week one can work! (This was supposedly to help reduce the 10% unemployment rate there…) Well, at least Canada has universal health care like the Europeans…