….but we are all fabulous.

Vancouver – part 2 – the Vancouver bits

Where to start? As I wrote in some of my postcards, it has great scenery, great wildlife, great art, great food, great people and a great atmosphere. It is no wonder that Vancouver frequently appears in the lists of top 10 cities to live in in the world.

Here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

Stanley Park

This is a 1001-acre public park in Vancouver which, as a peninsula, is largely surrounded by sea. There is a 9km seawall around the outside of the park along which run two adjacent paths – one for walkers, runners and slow rollerbladers, the other for cyclists and more accomplished rollerbladers.

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 Seawall, Vancouver        Inukshuk, Stanley Park   Siwash Rock, Stanley Park

 The day after we arrived, we decided to walk off our jet lag by walking along the beach path from near where we were staying along the seawall up to Stanley Park. We ended up walking around 12 miles: all round the peninsula and then back through downtown to our apartment. It was absolutely fantastic – scenic all the way, with basking seals, art and First Nations landmarks in the shape of the Inukshuk and Siwash Rock (see here for an explanation of the legend behind it:, ships large and small, and mountains in the distance.


Seal on rock, Vancouver

It was also my first introduction to the exercise culture that pervades Vancouver…

Exercise in Vancouver

Everywhere there were people running, walking, blading, cycling. In downtown Vancouver there are gyms on every street with signs encouraging balance, wellbeing and healthy living. It felt very different to the UK, where the message seems to be a cost benefit issues: you’ve eaten too much chocolate/too many Big Macs/drunk too much, so go and exercise it off as punishment/to enable you to do it all again/to cut the cost to the NHS (a popular message here seems to be it takes 35 minutes of running to burn off a Mars Bar, or whatever). In Vancouver it felt much more along the lines of ‘exercise is a fun and enjoyable thing to do, oh and it’s healthy too!’ I realise that we were only there for a short while, and that beautiful scenery and good weather motivates very effectively, but when the weather is not so good, these people turn to snowshoeing/boarding and skiing or hiking, rather than hibernating and accepting the piling on of winter pounds.

Suffice it to say that in addition to all our walking (the initial 12 miler set the tone for the holiday although we didn’t again manage quite such a distance) I also went for a run along the seawall – keen to be out and active. Whereas at home, that would be it for the day and I would avoid running on days when I had a lot of other things on, lest it wore me out, on this occasion, I then carried on with an action-packed sightseeing day.


Me after my seawall run

It is also worth a shout out at this point to a series of free charity walks/runs that took place while we were there in the name of Terry Fox, a teenager who decided to run across Canada in 1980 to raise money for cancer research after he had his leg amputated due to bone cancer.


Terry Fox in Toronto during his Marathon of Hope cross-country run (July 1980). Wikipedia.

After 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles), Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981 at the age 22. The Terry Fox Foundation ( still raises money in his name.

First Nation and BC art

In addition to the Totem Poles in Stanley Park and elsewhere and the various sculptures dotted around, we visited two amazing collections of art.

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 Totem Poles in Stanley Park  Girl in a wetsuit by Elek Imredy

The first was the Museum of Anthropology, a treasure trove of First Nations’ and other cultures’ artefacts. Of particular note was the gallery dedicated to BC artist Bill Reid, the Haida totem poles and ceremonial bowls, the bentwood boxes and the museum itself a beautiful building on the University of British Columbia campus.

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 Artefacts in MOA     The Raven and The First Men, Bill Reid, 1980

The second experience was at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where we were introduced to the work of Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, in particular we loved Lawren Harris. One of the exhibitions showed the evolution of Canadian art, in particular showing how early artists had tried to copy the classical English style, but this was not well suited to the landscapes of Canada, resulting in an evolution of a different style. I found this work to be rich, evocative and powerful and we spent a good couple of hours absorbing everything we saw.

 Big Raven Emily Carr  Lawren Harris
 Big Raven by Emily Carr, 1931  Mount Thule, Bylot Island by Lawren Harris, 1930

The gallery also had some fascinating installations. Not to my personal taste, but nonetheless impressive in scale and quality.


Granville Island

There is something very pleasurable about even a short ferry bus ride. We were fortunate to be near the ferry bus stop for Granville Island – a fascinating mix of food markets, takeaway stalls, tourist-tat shops, craft shops, indigenous boutiques and a micro-brewery – and took advantage of this proximity on several occasions. A first visit is overwhelming and noisy and hard to make sense of, but second and third visits enabled us to sort the wheat from the tourist chaff and to explore some of the side alleys.

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 Food stall and market at Granville Island

Views from a wind turbine

We decided to take a trip up Grouse Mountain. For the very fit and energetic, there is the Grouse Grind, whereby you hike/run up the mountain on a trail so steep (you ascend 850m over 2.9km) that it is one way only – you are not allowed to descend this path. We took the rather easier route of a cable car. Easier but not especially pleasant due to the policy of cramming 100 people in at a time, resulting in a vastly reduced ability to see the scenery unfolding beneath you. However, it is worth putting up with this for the opportunity to see bears up close and in our case to take our first chairlift followed by the opportunity to ascend to a viewing chamber at the top of a wind turbine. This was fantastic – my legs were still a bit wobbly from the near-paralysing fear I had felt on the chair lift, but the views were spectacular – right across to the Cascade Mountains and volcanic Mount Baker in the US. We also experienced the turbine itself moving so as to reposition the blades to take advantage of a change in wind direction.

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 Bears,   chairlift   and wind turbine,   Grouse Mountain


As well as the resident orphaned bears which we saw on Grouse Mountain, we had lots of encounters with creatures in the wild which were enchanting. We saw several seals basking on rocks, six or seven otters tumbling together in the sea and surfacing with fish on rocks, barking to each other and clambering on boats in search of food. We saw herons and cormorants and Canada geese and a chipmunk and black squirrels. Returning to animals in captivity, at the aquarium we had the pleasure of watching Walter the gorgeous sea otter. Walter was rescued from the shoreline of Tofino, British Columbia blinded and with an injured flipper having been shot. He was unable to groom himself – certain death for sea otters, but he is now being rehabilitated at the wonderful research centre. They were also working with 2 beluga whales, investigating the emissions from their blowholes and whether there could provide important information less intrusively that via blood tests. Wonderful indeed.


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 Walter      Heron  Otters  Otter  Black squirrel

I could continue to wax lyrical – we also enjoyed the food, the friendliness of Vancouverites, the sunsets and canopy walking in the UBC Botanical Gardens. There was not enough time to do everything we wanted. Given half a chance, we will definitely be back!

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  Canopy walking  UBC Botanical Gardens          Sunset over the Lost Lagoon   Sunset over English Bay




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