I hereby declare, that I love the city of Vancouver. Ranking 5th on Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Living, just after Munich and before Düsseldorf – the higher than any other Northern American city, there are definitely several reasons to support my love.
After visiting California in 2009, travelling to British Columbia was my first visit to the Americas in 3 years. Not knowing too much about Canada, I wondered how it would differ from the States. During my two month trip I used Vancouver as my home-base and returned six times for one or more nights. I couchsurfed with locals, Canadians from other provinces and internationals who had moved to Vancouver, and therefore heard different perspectives on living in the city.
People come and stay due to the high quality of living, plenty job opportunities, natural resources, leisure activities, and the remarkable friendliness of the Vancouverians.
US-Americans often laugh about their Northern neighbours. Who is not familiar with the Canada-jokes of How I met your Mother or South Park – and, who has not been laughing about them. But, as so often, envy could be the engine behind these jokes. Not only does Canada have a proper health care system, local coffee shop empire Tim Horton’s has even better coffee than they do at Starbucks. It’s the little things that count in the end.
Nonetheless, Canadian lifestyle is very similar to that in the Stated. Your truck’s wheels should be twice as high as standard European car wheels; do not walk grocery shopping ever – you won’t find a supermarket in walking distance anyways; remember to bring your ID if you want to have a fun night out – legal age for alcohol is 19 though.
Vancouver also differs from the average US city. There are bike lanes all over downtown and neighbouring districts, and travellers are encouraged to explore the city by bike. Scenic routes will lead you around Yaletown and Granville Island, through Stanley Park, underneath Lions Gate Bridge and along the coast.
Furthermore, means of public transport are an actual alternative to going everywhere by car. The sky train connects the Southern community Richmond and the international air port with Vancouver and Eastern community Burnaby. Busses are filled with people of all backgrounds, the drivers are friendly and helpful, wheelchair boarding is facilitated, and you can even transport your bike on the hooks below the front shield.
American downtown areas can be very uncomfortable for Europeans who are used to historic city centres, but Vancouver’s downtown tries to be different. Of course there’s the obligatory anonymous glassy skyscrapers, but at least those feature green terraces and rooftops or flower patches on the ground. Downtown is not a no man’s land where you would only go to work. Instead there are plenty of inviting elements like shopping malls, the harbour, adorable small shops, bars and restaurants. The surrounding neighbourhoods like West End, Yaletown and Eastside with their vital streets and corners are within walking distance. Instead of anonymous downtown spreading out it’s deathly fingers, lively neighbourhoods seem to recapture the city center.
The friendly people
„Hello, how are you doing?“ – a phrase which makes me want to explode everytime I hear it coming from a stranger’s mouth; a phrase which demands all of my cultural understanding. This question, just like small talk is an unnatural behaviour to me, even though I know that politeness is the purpose of it.
Unfortunately, Canadians do kind of the same. I try not to think of my associations with it. Indeed I have found Canadians to be probably friendlier than anybody else I have ever met. I wonder how ice-hockey fans can get into fights, as the Canadians I encountered apologized for my mistakes and were highly unlikely to ever get angry. In any situation Canadians will treat you with the utmost respect.
Just ask anyone for the way and a a helpful Canadian will get you some coffee, draw a map or drive there with you. Sort of.
My favourite Love-Bombing story from Canada
I sat at the common room of a hostel in Lake Louise with my netbook on my lap. Opposite me sat a man about 20 years older, with his laptop on as well. After a few minutes we started talking and I told him my travel story. When I mentioned my wish to hike Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park his face lightened up. This was one of his favourite areas and he showed me pictures of his hikes up there. We exchanged emails addresses and he promised to send me some information on the area.
Two weeks later I boarded a plane from Vancouver to Alberta. My new friend picked me up at the airport, took me grocery shopping and gave me a lift to Greyhound station. As a little „present“ he had prepared a box for me and my hiking partner. In it I found maps, a compass, helmets, gaiters, gloves and headlights. He had just thought of everything and even arranged for a friend to pick us up at the hostel and bring us to the start of the trail.
This all happened after talking to him for 15 minutes. Not only did he absolutely make my trip, by helping me planning this hike, he also shaped my image of the Canadian people – helpful, trustworthy and as friendly as can be.
The outdoors at your feet
My favourite characteristic of Vancouver must be the easy accessibility of outdoor activities – and we are not talking artificial recreation area. However cool Central Park and New York might be, the real thing is always cooler. Due to Vancouver’s special position between ocean and mountains it’s just a stone’s throw to versatile action:
Hike & Explore
The destination to be at is North Vancouver. Choose between a hike up Grouse Mountain and the birds of prey show at the peak, a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge or a stroll around the Capilano River Hatchery and its forest paths.
Climb a rock
Squamish is just a 30 minutes drive from Downtown Vancouver and one of the world’s bext spots for rock climbing. Meet up with fellow rock climbers and explore the endless rocks of the Squamish area.
Slope after Slope
Skiing in and around Vancouver does not get boring. You can either choose to visit Grouse Mountain’s winter slopes, or pay a visit to the region’s biggest ski resort Whistler.
I’m on a beach
Canada might be far up North, but that doesn’t mean, that you have to cross sunbathing or a quick dip in the ocean off your itinerary. All along the city’s coastline you will find fantastic beaches. Wreck Beach just East of UBC deserves special mention: clothing is optional and there is no police handing out fines for smoking or drinking. It’s a little hippy resort in the middle of Vancouver.
More, more, more
Other outdoor activities include paddling, surfing and windsurfing. If you are more of an indoor type, make sure to check out the Museum of Anthropology, which is one of a kind in its field!