10 Things That Are Very Vancouver

10 Things That Are Very Vancouver

I’ve been in Vancouver for around 15 months now, so I feel that I am now suitably qualified to list, judge, poke fun at as well as big up some of the traits that make this city, and it’s residents feel so very ‘Vancouver’.

1.  The Rain

rain

It’s very possible that this rant about the inevitable downside of living in a rainforest made it to the top of this list due to my very damp commute to work this morning.  This and the fact that the typical lifespan of any umbrella I buy is approximately 2.5 days means that I haven’t quite fully embraced the ‘some people feel the rain, others just get wet’ philosophy.  I have been told that I haven’t had it too badly, and to be fair it has been a relatively dry winter so far.  None the less, Vancouver is known for its rainy winters and the resulting attire…

2. Mountain Equipment Coop

Or MEC as it’s known as around here.  There are some BC based high-end retailers that will earn you major kudos for flaunting around Vancouver and most of Canada…maybe even some of the US.  However, try bragging about those threads in Glasgow City Centre and general assumption will be that your pay cheque couldn’t quite cover an American Apparel or Superdry purchase, so you opted for a cheap knock-off from the Barras instead.  MEC is one such tag.  They are an outdoor clothing and equipment store, and couldn’t be better placed in a city like Vancouver.  When the clouds gather and the skies open, every Vancouverite worth their rain boots will be zipping into their $400 MEC rain jacket with pride.

3. Lululemon

Lululemon

The other big brand name that is synonymous with Vancouver living, lululemon.  A self-described yoga-inspired athletic apparel company.  I dare you to take a public transit ride during rush hour and not come across at least forty people carrying their quinoa salad lunches in their little lululemon shopping bags.  Lululemon is the corporate pride of Vancouver, with their first store in Kitsilano they now have over 201 stores in North America, Australia and New Zealand.  The brand has yet to make it to the UK though, which may have something to do with the somewhat lack of nationwide obession with the brand’s key activity…

4.  Yoga

yoga

Outdoor, indoor, extra hot, extra cold, healing, restorative, medatative, traditional, ancient, contemporary, in water, on mountains…any variation of yoga you could ever think of has probably been done here in Vancouver.  And I daren’t mock too much, as only last week I found myself sharing a hot, sweaty room with thirty or so strangers as I took part in my first Bikram (hot) Yoga class.  As someone who has yet to be described as graceful or flexible, I fully expected to pass out in a puddle of my own sweat with my legs contorted in some ungodly position.  However to my complete surprise, my friend and I made it through the full 90 minutes and are even considering going back for more!

5.  Beautiful People

If you are a fan of the 1-10 rating system, or even the slightly more crude school of rating in pints e.g. ‘Nah, she’s definietly more of a four-pinter!’, you might find that you need to recalibrate your scale in Vancouver.  Not only is the city hotties aplenty, but the concept of aging seems entirely lost to some people here.  I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve guessed someone’s age in the mid-twenties only to find out that they are dancing around forty.

6.  Whole Foods

kale

Whole Foods is a North American grocery store chain that spawned in Texas.  Whole Foods differentiates itself from the rest of the market by aiming to sell only ‘natural’, minimally processed foods at seizure inducing prices.  Naturally, the brand found a very comfortable home in health-and-premium-price-tag-obsessed-Vancouver.  The store caters wonderfully to the quinoa (pronounced keen-wa by the way, you don’t want to go making that mistake around these parts!) and kale obessesed healthy high earners.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for clean eating and healthy living…but shop around and I’m sure you’ll find your organic tofu for less than $16/lb!

7.  Food

sushi

Food!  More specifically, eating out.  Even wiith an unlimited budget and the metabolism of a hummingbird, you would have trouble sampling all of the cuisine that Vancouver has to offer.  What’s even better, is that for a city known for it’s high cost of living, you can eat out relatively cheaply…often for less than cooking at home.  You can also eat out by remortgaging your home, so there’s definitely something for everyone!  There is no doubt that Vancouver is a food city, with some of the best chefs and restaraunts in North America.  My personal favourite cuisine, sushi, just so happens to be one of the cheapest eats in the city, with the average roll costing around $5.  There really is so much to choose from, but a few of my personal favourites are:

  • The Eatery. West Broadway – amazing sushi in a very funky, non-traditional setting, even if you don’t think you like sushi, you’ll like this place!
  • Cincin. Robson Street – out of this world italian cuisine, pricey so great for a special ocassion.  Apparently this is the place to go celeb spotting!
  • Dark Table. West 4th Avenue – everyone should definitely try this out at least once.  The concept is that you eat your meal in complete darkness, so dark that it’s like having your eyes closed.  All of the servers are blind or visually impaired, and so are able to help and assist you where needed.
  • Heirloom. South Granville Street – the tastiest, most satisfying meat-free meal that a non-vegetatrian will ever have.  The food here is simply outstanding.

8.   Coffee

odd_coffee_art_2

I’m not for a second suggesting that if you ever visit Vancouver, you should cut one of the locals open…however if you did, there is a good chance that they would bleed coffee.  It’s definitely a life source here.  You can barely walk 10 yards without coming across a Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Blenz, Waves or a little independant coffee place – so a cup of joe is never far away  In fact even in my office I need to bring my own tea bags if I want to make a brew, but coffee is pretty much on tap.  And if you speak ‘Starbucks’, you’ll struggle to find a barista who will even bat an eyelid at your request for an ‘extra hot half fat half mocha latte, two shots with soy milk and extra foam…but not too much…’

9.  Craft Beer

This is a phenomenon that I’ve been all too happy to embrace.  If you happen to visit a bar who specialises in craft beer, be prepared to take an extra half hour or so just to browse the menu.  There are more beer choices in this part of the world than I have ever seen – although it should be noted that I have yet to visit Belgum or Germany!  A craft beer is a beer that comes from a microbrewery, or a brewery that produces a limited amount of beer.  A lot of these beers are seasonal, and so will only appear certain months of the year…making the drinking process even more exciting!  Some of the better known microbreweries are Granville Island, Stanley park, Okanagen and Tofino…but there are many, many more in BC with new ones popping up each year.

10.  Dogs

cute-dog-drinking-beer

Vancouverites love their dogs!  Not only is the city filled with every size and breed of dog you could ever think of, but there is also a booming industry of doggy daycare facilities, dog walkers, dog spas, dog hotels, doggy boutiques and most stores will either happily let you bring your pooch inside, or provide a tie up area along a with a complimentay bowl of water.

So there you have it, the ten things that I consider to be oh-so Vancouver.  Comments welcome for any extra suggestions!

Going solo!

Having recently found myself pining for that adventurous feeling of arriving in a new city, knowing nothing and no one, I realised that it may actually be worth sharing my thoughts on this subject.  It’s the ultimate adventure, but at the same time solo travel can seem pretty scary.  It was something that I had always wanted to do, disappear into the horizon on my way to meet some great adventure (in a very poetic manner of course!).  But when my plane landed in Toronto with no one to meet me at the other side of immigration, shit got real!  What if I don’t meet anyone?  How will have fun at night?  I can’t go to a bar on my own, can I? What if I leave my passport somewhere and there is no one by my side to run through the obligatory what-has-Caroline-forgotten check list?  And the ultimate scary scenario, what if I have to dine alone??

Thankfully my experience was completely positive and I have now found myself planning some more solo trips.  I have a sketched out plan of traveling back to Glasgow in May for a visit, but passing through Banff, Edmonton and Calgary on the way.  I’m also keen to spend a couple of months in South and Central America at the end of 2013 when my visa expires, nip home for Christmas, and then come back into Canada in January 2014 to activate my new visa. All just plans in my head for now, who knows where life will take me in the next few months, but there are definitely some more adventures on the cards!

Of course my solo traveling experience so far has been limited to the relatively safe towns and cities of the USA and Canada, so I can’t offer much advice on the likes of trekking alone through the Amazon, the Nepalese mountains or surviving Mexico City (yet!), nevertheless I will share some nuggets of advice I found to be useful along the way:

  • Hostels:  Use hostels and make the most of them!  They are the perfect environment for meeting new people just like you – regardless of who ‘you’ are.  During my time hosteling I met a girl and her mum who were backpacking together, a 30-something year old local woman who wanted to see what hostel life was like, a guy on release from the army, a 72 year old political activist, a French guy who only started learning English two weeks before, a girl who was a performer for Disney, a 22 year old who was traveling on her own for six months and lots of other fun and interesting people in between.  You get the idea.  Hosteling isn’t just 18-30 year olds looking for a party (that scene is there though, worry not!) or pretentious Rastafarian wannabes looking to compare travel resumes.
  • Tours and Activities:  This ties in with the hostel thing…get out there…participate!  You are traveling alone to push yourself out of your comfort zone, no?  Well that’s not going to happen if you spend every night in your hostel watching Netflix (I’ve seen in done!).  Most hostels will run tours and activities around the local area, Hosteling International Hostels are pretty good for it.  Daytime tours are a good way of meeting people as you immediately have something to talk about.  On the Freedom Trail tour in Boston, I met a group of people who by later that night, I felt like I had known forever!  If you are in a hostel over the weekend, it is very likely that there will be a bar crawl..and there is no social lubricant quite like alcohol!  Just don’t get too carried away, remember that you are in a strange city with people you don’t know, keep your wits about you.
  • Dorm Living:  If you have some extra travel money, it may be tempting to book a private room at your hostels.  I would recommend against it.  I almost did it for my Seattle stay, as I thought that after sharing for so long (only child here!) and traveling across the US I would want some private space.  When I went to book, the price was more than expected so I just went for a smaller dorm.  I’m so glad I did, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have met, Claire, my travel buddy for the next few days!  General dorm etiquette is to introduce yourself when you arrive in a new dorm, or someone new arrives in yours.  You will no doubt get chatting about your travels, it’s a very easy way to meet people.
  • Find a more confident you:  If you are an introvert (and let’s face it, no matter how confident we are able to act, most of us are), then striking up a conversation with a stranger can seem intimidating.  You just need to bite the bullet, and once you have done it once, it becomes much easier.  If you see a group of people chatting over lunch/dinner at the hostel, ask if you can join them.  If you are cooking in the hostel kitchen, rather than squishing past everyone awkwardly, start a conversation about food, cooking, whatever.
  • Social meetup websites:  Since being in Vancouver, I have used the Meetup.com website a couple of times, and I have met some great people.  It is very popular here for reasons detailed in this post.  It’s basically groups of people with similar interests, or who just want to meet new people, who arrange it through the website.  Also, although I haven’t used it, I have heard good things about arranged meetups on the Couchsurfing website – usually this is where you would find yourself a couch to crash on for the  night but they also have a massive international community of travelers just looking to meet new people.
  • Eating alone:  The situation will probably crop up when it’s time for food, but you haven’t met anyone yet to grab something with.  There are a few options to get around this if you’re not so comfortable with ‘table for one, please!’.  Most hostels will have a food prep area where you can cook your own food and just hang out in the hostel.  However if you’re not hanging around for very long this may not be so cost effective, you don’t want to be buying a full bag of pasta just for one or two nights.  Also, when you’re in a new place, part of the adventure is sampling the local cuisine!  When I was on my own, I would usually just make do with casual dining i.e. coffee shops, cafes, street food etc.  This way you can sample some local food, get out of the hostel and just take a book or something to keep you entertained.  Or just people watch, which is always fun when you’re somewhere new.  One girl I met in Seattle was perfectly happy dining in the city’s finest restaurants on her own, which is great, and if you’re happy doing that then you’re onto a winner!  However you will probably find that most of the time you wont have the option, as you’ll be inundated with people to share a meal with!

All in all, traveling solo is a great experience and if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do…but..forget the ‘but’.  You wont regret it!