Many people believe Vancouver to be one of the most beautiful North American cities. With the way the mountains rise above the water that surrounds the city, the city is not just beautiful, it's soothing to the soul. Even in mid-June, the humid, misty air keeps it cool in temperate Vancouver.
En route to Alaska, we found Vancouver to be a vibrant city with great natural assets. We stayed at the Ramada Express, which was formerly the Niagara Hotel and built in 1918. The hotel resides in the renovated Gastown district with its lovely shops, galleries, and restaurants; it's a great place for strolling. We were especially intrigued by one shop's carved-wood facade and fascinating menagerie of museum-quality Native Tlingit (pronounced "klin kit") art. The historic clock proudly reminds visitors that the Gastown district near the docks was a bustling part of the city in the Victorian era.
From Gastown, we wandered over to Chinatown. Vancouver's Chinatown is supposed to be the second largest Chinese settlement in North America, so I believe we only saw a slice of it. It wasn't as pleasant as San Francisco's welcoming community and we had no sense of elegant white-linen restaurants. But Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese gardens with its exotic bamboo forests, picturesque waterlily pond, pagoda-roofed hut, and bridges was a tranquil jewel. The Gardens are modeled after a 15th century scholar's garden. The shopkeepers in the adjacent shop graciously introduced us to the Chinese characters for Peace, Love, Happiness, and Wealth, and we sensed the deep commitment in the Chinese culture to living well.
As we do, we walked for a couple of hours before we decided to ride the elevator up into the observation deck above the city. It was worth the money. We could see the whole city and surrounding area from the circle of windows. Captions at our fingertips introduced us to what we saw--the West End, Stanley Park, Georgian Bay, the University of British Columbia, the harbor, and English Bay.
Many recommended restaurants are in Yorktown, a gentrified warehouse neighborhood of bricked and terraced streets. Because raised eight-foot-high docking ports lined one side of each street, one was required to climb steps to reach the patioed elegant restaurants above. A smorgasbord of cuisines and proprietors urged us to join them, but when we spotted the Yorktown Brewing Company on a street-corner directoroy, we chose that less expensive option. The Yorktown Brewing Company satisfied our thirst for some good local brew and hunger for simple pub food before we embarked a cruise ship where we would be served elegant evening meals--my teriyaki-wasabe salmon sandwich served with a caesar salad tasted good after an adventurous day.
The next morning we walked the Sea Wall (a planned urban walkway) through Coal Harbor and Burrey's Inlet along the waterfront until we arrived at Stanley Park. The inlet was lovely with the docked boats and seaplanes landing agaisnt the backdrop of the wooded peninsula, and when we turned around, we saw the magnificent Vancouver skyline to the right and the mountains on the other side of the water to our left. We had a good walk in the park past the lagoon and enjoyed azaleas, rhododendrum, and dogwood, yellow iris and cattails. We ended up on the beach in English Bay before traversing the forest again to walk through the city and back to our hotel.
We're glad we took an extra day before the cruise-tour to see Vancouver.