Saturday 10 July 2010

Vancouver: an eye for an eye

My eye finally clearing up, the doc gave me the green light to skip town and so my extended Canadian sojourn draws to a close. Every cloud has a silver lining and all that; were it not for the eye I’d never have spent so long in Vancouver and grown to love it as much as I do.

It is a beautiful city. There’s water, that helps. There are stunning mountains and forests within minutes of town, and slick public transport makes them easy to reach. There are parks and beaches a short walk away. And like all cities where people spend a lot of time outside, its inhabitants are warm, friendly and active. You get the feeling that there is a balance to living here - that work doesn’t dominate like it does in, say, London. It's not just full of fat people getting drunk the minute they finish work.

False Creek marina with downtown in the background

English Bay, some beaches and Stanley Park from Burrard Bridge

Post work by the seawall in Yaletown

A few days ago I hinted at its culinary charms, reflecting on my inadvertent uncovering of some great food. It was no accident. You could stagger round this city drunk, blindfolded and with a clothes peg on your nose and still come across wonderful, fresh ingredients and seriously accomplished cooking.

Fruit and veg in Granville Market

Places like Salt, a Gastown restaurant that serves locally cured meats and an international range of cheeses. Fennel pollen salami and honey head cheese with piccalilli and fig and walnut bread. Or Twisted Fork Bistro with its Thai style halibut fish cakes and mashed over ripe avocado, an incredible combination. Bin 941, a tapas joint serving prawns wrapped in shredded sweet potato then fried in deliciously crisp and light batter. And home baked focaccia, soft and perfectly salty. Or crab cakes with a burnt orange chipotle sauce and cucumber salsa that made me want to walk up and hug the chef. I could go on. I even made it back to Go Fish to try their halibut and chips which, needless to say, was exceptional.

Halibut and chips at Go Fish - as good as it looks

I get the impression I could stay in this city for a very long time. Live here even. But there are a couple of things that temper my enthusiasm. Every seven eleven has a couple of homeless guys competing to open its doors for you, and I’ve lost count of the number of people I have seen walking along the road talking loudly to themselves with that wild look in their eyes that can only come from long term derangement. (In fact, walking along counting them to myself, I began to worry that someone else doing the same would probably count me too).

But the real problem, the real deal breaker - Vancouver is unbelievably expensive. It’s a killer. Take $400 out of the ATM and within hours you’re turning your pockets inside out wondering where the hell it went. Six bucks for a beer? Bargain. Pint of Guinness? Eight. Five minute cab ride? That’ll be twelve bucks please. 200 yard ferry across False Creek? Three fifty. Coffee? Three.

This place will rinse you out in minutes. But in spite of that, I still find myself sat on the Amtrak to Seattle wondering when, and why, I’ll be back. And for a city I had no intention of visiting when I left London five months ago, it's a nice feeling to have.

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