Wedged between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean lies a city, but not just any city. Early 2019, Vancouver has been declared third in the world ranking of best cities to live in. On our way to Vancouver Island, we gladly do a stopover.
A weedwacker with wings. That’s probably the best way to describe this little water plane we’re on. The good ole Beaver, workhorse of the Canadian outback, sputters as the engine starts. We’re taxiing through Vancouver harbour as the seasoned bush-pilot talks us through the safety instructions. It feels a little ill at ease, being on such a tiny plane for the very first time, especially if you’re used to big Boeings. The control tower on top of the harbour building grants us clearance for take-off and the pilot goes full throttle. I’ve seen many water planes taking off and landing, but actually being on one is a totally different experience. Initially I didn’t even notice we’re airbourne, since take-off is so incredibly gradual. Soon the Lionsgate Bridge rises up in front of us, but the pilot knows how to tackle that hurdle well. This is our last night in Vancouver and we’re flying over the city and its surroundings we’ve come to explore over the past few days.
Stanley Park, world’s largest urban park and the only one with primary forest
Situated on our left is Stanley Park, the world’s largest urban park and the only one with primaeval forest. Below me I can see the little beach at English Bay, where I was basking in the sun three days ago, recovering from my intercontinental flight. On a daily basis, many Vancouverians find their way to this oasis of tranquility. Some choose to come here –like I did- to relax on the beach, but most of them come here to run, cycle, skeeler and skate across the many hiking and cycling trails that run through the park. During their work-out they can enjoy the new skyline of downtown Vancouver, the mighty Rocky Mountains that envelope the city in the North and East, or the Pacific Ocean in the West. I don’t think there are many large cities where you literally are that close to nature.
Vancouver is also known as ‘Hollywood North’. Annually over 200 movies and television series are shot here
Meanwhile, we’re flying over Horseshoe Bay up North. The mountains steeply run straight into the water here. The high cliffs are sprinkled with the homes of the rich and famous. And that’s quite a lot. Vancouver is also known as ‘Hollywood North’. Yearly over 200 movies and television series are shot here and the existence of international celebrities is surely adding to Vancouver’s metropolis allure. You bump into them everywhere, sipping something hip and hot in trendy cafés, shopping in Yaletown, or –if you’re lucky- you’ve got Jennifer Lawrence right next to you in a health spa’s hot tub. Keep on dreaming…
As we fly along, tens of dozens of islands form a sharp contrast against the fifty shades of blue water below me. In that watercolour swirl, two giant grey shadows are slowly moving South. The pilot adjusts his course and we are just able to see two giant whales diving into the deep dark blue with a final pound of their tales. In the distance we spot Vancouver Island. For many Canadians, this is a favourite destination for a long Summer Holiday or a peaceful retirement. This rough island with its length of about 400 kilometres is home to several national and provincial parks. Mainly the sheltered East-coast is inhabited. The rest of the island is bear territory, but also puma, moose, lumberjacks and fans of ‘The Great Outdoors’ turf. And it’s not just the land that’s spectacular. The waters of the Johnstone and Georgia Straits are home to various groups of Orcas. These so-called ‘pods’ follow the salmon migratory track and can be observed in their natural habitat up close. The existence of Orcas and their accessibility have turned Vancouver Island into one of the best ‘whale watching’ areas on earth. Apart from that, salmon anglers and sailors alike can thoroughly enjoy what this area has to offer.
For many Canadians, Vancouver Island is a favourite destination for a long summer holiday or a peaceful retirement
Old Vancouver made up of small wooden houses in West End is long gone. The modern skyline now runs from Coal Harbour to the banks of False Creek
The sun passes by the wind shield from left to right and disappears behind us as the Beaver steers towards English Bay. The place where it all began. Or is it? English Bay was named after the encounter between the English captain Vancouver and the Spanish commanders Valdez and Galiano in 1792. The actual encounter, however, took place in Spanish Banks and lasted for only a day. Vancouver, son of a Dutch father called Jan Jasper van Coeverden, swiftly concluded the Spanish stole his thunder with this grand discovery and left the area defeated. The country fell back into English hands after a few years. It wasn’t until 1827 that the Hudson Company set up a trading post and, with that, the first permanent residence arose at the Fraser River.
Contemporary architectural masterpieces with their glass façades are an example for urban planners worldwide
Whereas Europe’s history is defined by royals, regents and republics, the history of Vancouver was shaped by far-flung fur hunters and lumberjacks. Rumour had it that gold was abundant in the Fraser River, which attracted over 25.000 gold diggers to the area. Against all advice, three Englishmen decided to start up a brick factory in the middle of it all. The endeavour failed hopelessly, but somehow they were on the right track, because the factory was right on the spot which is now West End and known to be the most densely populated area of North America. And what about ‘Gassy Jack’, who opened a saloon for lumberjacks and became so popular they’ve built an entire suburb around him: Gastown!
The old Vancouver made up of small wooden houses in West End is long gone. Vancouver’s skyline now runs from Coal Harbour to the banks of False Creek. The renewed architectural masterpieces with their glass façades serve as an example for urban planners worldwide.
Granville Island passes by underneath us as we move along. The Granville Island Market is a favourite thing-to-do-on-the-weekend for many Vancouver inhabitants. The old warehouses are now being used for selling delicacies and art. Life still has a nice slow pace here. We’ve gotten to taste freshly smoked salmon. I didn’t really know the difference, but when you order salmon in Vancouver your standard question in return will be “Would you like Sockeye, Red Eye or Coho? Cold Smoked or Hot Smoked?”. Another stand offered us a taste of an exclusive ‘Icewine Jelly’, a jam made out of icewine. So many delicacies: by the end of the day I had completely worn-out my tastebuds.
The Granville Island Market is a favourite thing-to-do-on-the-weekend for many Vancouver inhabitants. The old warehouses are now being used for selling delicacies and art
Little miniature boats draw furrows like little whirligig beetles on a pond. These are the water taxis connecting Granville Island to Yaletown. Behind the glass highrisers on the docks, you enter a district of renovated warehouses. At one stage, these postmodern houses and stores were the domain of artists and squatters. Then came the architects and the law firms, which settled in the minimalistic high-ceiling storeys. Today, the artist’s residencies are taken over by two-earners and you can now find an abundance of trendy stores, bars and restaurants in this area. It’s definitely not hard at all, finding a nice place to go out, with 35 percent of the population being between 25 and 45 years old.
Because of its geographical position, halfway between Europe and Asia, there are as many Chinese and Japanese people in Vancouver as there are Europeans. Some families go back for generations, which is also why Vancouver has one of the largest Chinatowns outside Asia. Much to choose from, therefore, for lovers of Asian cuisine. Apart from Chinatown, suburbs such as Richmond and Coquitlam are primarily Asian. This even shows in the urban planning: some buildings in Richmond don’t have a fourth floor. Numeration naturally goes from ‘3’ to ‘5’, since the character ‘four’ is symbolic for ‘death’. In addition to this, the colour scheme in elevators and corridors is much more oriented towards the Oriental: gold and jade galore.
After visiting Yaletown Brewing Company, official Micro Brewery of the Year, we end our day in what seems to be a mix between a restaurant and a Sake bar. In Japan, they’re known as Izakayas and very popular. The moment we walk in we’re being given a hearty welcome by the entire staff, which chants: “IRASHAI MASE!! KON BAN WA!!”. Right in front of us, the chef’s preparing various little dishes, not only authentic Japanese cuisine but also Western influenced combinations. These ultimate ‘fusion’ dishes are neutralised with a glass of Sake, rice wine, of which they have an astonishing 30 varieties on the menu. Stunning presentations are passing in review. Mackerel Sashimi seared with a gas flame burner right at the table by the chef himself. Halibut on a bed of zucchini, onions and lotus root, steamed asparagus on a rare pork medaillon ‘gyoza’-style. The combination of the refined flavours with this relaxed and almost boisterous vibe have turned this into one of my best eating experiences in Vancouver!
It lasted for twenty minutes, this journey of discovery over Vancouver. After a tour over Fraser River, we proceed to landing before hitting our final culinary adventure on this trip. Tomorrow we’ll check in again at Air Transat for a comfortable flight back. All good things come to an end. So long, Vancouver…I’ll be back!
Amsterdam-Vancouver from €520
Air Transat runs flights from mid May to mid October, 5 times a week from Amsterdam to Vancouver and 3 times a week from Brussels.
If you like comfort, indulge yourself in the Club Class for €1699, providing you with spacious seats, 2 pieces of check-in luggage, a chef’s meal and priority.