Our Alaska cruise came to an end back in Vancouver. But, it wasn’t the end of the trip; there was more to come. But first, a couple of days exploring Vancouver itself. I’m not the greatest fan of cities, but if I had to live in one, this is high on the list of the few I’d choose.
As I’ve said many times, the best way for an introduction to somewhere unfamiliar is to take a ‘hop on/hop off’ bus tour. In fact, we were able to book one before we left the ship. Now, as I understood it, we would be able to just walk across the street to join the tour, while our luggage would be taken to our hotel to await our eventual arrival.
Maybe I misunderstood, but it didn’t quite work like that. A minibus took us, and our luggage, to the Georgian Court hotel, where we checked in. No inconvenience at all; we just walked a couple of hundred yards to Georgia Street, where we were able to pick up the bus tour.
On the way, I was munching an apple, picked up from a bowl on the reception desk for residents to help themselves. A lovely gesture, and one of the best apples I’ve tasted for a long time. Can Canadians ever do anything wrong, I wondered?
The Hop on/hop off bus is just one of the ways to get around Vancouver. There’s an excellent public transit system, including trolley-buses, which I thought were really vehicles of yesteryear. The last one I saw was in Newcastle, in the early 1960s, but these looked modern and, I would imagine, fairly efficient.
The bus tour showed us the sights of the city, before taking us to the famous Stanley Park, where we ‘hopped off’ to transfer to a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around the beautiful park.
They showed us the collection of totem poles, and the rose garden. No wonder the Vancouverites are so proud of it, and like to take either their exercise or their relaxation there.
We hopped back on the bus for a short ride to Prospect Point, where there’s a superb view of the Lion Gate Bridge … and a café, where we got on the outside of a knee-buckling cheeseburger for lunch.
We couldn’t stay in Stanley Park as long as we would have liked, for we only had a day-and-a-bit in Vancouver, and wanted to see as much of it as possible. So, we hopped back on to the bus into town, bound for False Creek and the Granville Island market.
I think just about everyone who’s lived in, or visited Sydney has ridden on one of the harbour ferries at some time. Vancouver has ferries, too, again, which just about everyone has sailed on at one time or another, which ply on False Creek, the waterway which almost separates downtown Vancouver from the rest of the city.
On the hop on/hop off bus tour, you have the option of remaining on the bus as it crosses a bridge over the creek, or taking the ferry, and meeting the bus on the other side. No prizes for guessing which one we chose!
When the ‘little blue ferries’ started operation in 1982, with only two boats, False Creek was an area of grim factories. But, the industry declined, and the area was developed into a residential one, set in parkland, where people wanted to live. A real boost came when Vancouver hosted Expo 86, and the area and the ferry service expanded rapidly, to its present day 14 boats.
They are all purpose-built, charmingly tubby little craft, which are reasonably priced, whether you want to sail the length of the creek, or just cross it. We sailed on it twice; the first, as already mentioned, was covered as part of our hop on-hop off bus ticket. We just crossed the creek to the famous markets of Granville Island, but didn’t stay long there, for the bus was waiting for us on the other side.
But, on the following day, we crossed again, for we wanted a longer look around the market. We strolled around, watched some street performers … and I think this is probably the first time we ever visited a market and didn’t buy anything, apart from our lunchtime sandwich.
Our package included a trip up to the Vancouver Viewpoint, a circular observation lounge over 500 feet above the city, giving a 360 degree bird’s eye view. On the way there, we stopped for a while at the Gastown Steam Clock, a well-known local landmark that marks the hour by letting off gouts of steam to the tune of the Westminster Chimes.
I was slightly disappointed with this quirky feature. I expected it to power a steam organ, which played ‘The Blue Danube’ , or something, on the hour. But, only slightly’.
The Vancouver Lookout advertises ‘You’ve never seen Vancouver till you’ve seen it like this’ Well, maybe if you flew in in a helicopter, or something. The lift is glass-sided, to give you a foretaste of what’s to come. You don’t spend long in it, though; it takes only 40 seconds to whisk you up 550 feet.
At the top, there’s a circular lounge, from which you can view almost the entire city, and, closer at hand, there’s a super bird’s eye view of the ships at the Canada Place cruise terminal, where we docked yesterday.