11th April to 17th April 2012
Our trip from London to Vancouver was effortless, only about 9 hours, so not so bad. The flight over Vancouver on the way in was absolutely spectacular, the snow on the mountains was white as white, almost blinding. It was truly a magical entrance. The first thing we noticed when on the bus was the beautiful cherry blossoms. The festival runs from April 5th to 28th. The Festival was founded in 2005 by Linda Poole, its director, to commemorate the 37,000 cherry trees gifted from Japan to the City of Vancouver. The first Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 2006, with support from the Vancouver Board of Trade, as a 'Spirit of Vancouver' initiative. In 2007 it was formally recognized as a charitable nonprofit society.
We had a problem with booking accommodation in Vancouver prior to our flight because of the long weekend and finally managed to secure a motel called the Accent Inn, which is approximately 1/2 hour sky train trip from Vancouver city itself and fairly close to the airport in Richmond. It was not in the best area but we had no choice after one of the on-line agencies double booked the condo we paid a deposit on, right in the heart of Vancouver down Robson Street. We were the ones who missed out. It took Mike hours to find accommodation on-line. Thank goodness for the sky train otherwise the bus or a taxi ride would have been tedious. The Inn was pretty good and had a small kitchen facility so we were set for the week. We discovered a top restaurant called the The Chop Steak House & Bar just down the road on St Edwards Drive. I think it would have been one of the best meals we had, Mike's steak was absolutely perfect and my fish was incredibly delish. We also popped into the IHop restaurant which is attached to the Inn, very basic food but handy and nice coffee. The service was always good too and not too bad for just a quick bite, we had 10 policemen and women sitting next to us on one ocassion. It is basically a pancake chain of restaurants first established in 1958. Their award winning logo is "come hungry, leave happy". Some of the food is a bit "plastic" however there were some healthier options if you looked hard enough.
We took a look in the Chinese shopping mall on the way back to the Inn one day, the light show was a nice distraction. We shopped for food in the Chinese supermarket, a different experience looking at all the fresh fish, dried shrimps, packets and packets of noodles.
Taking the Sky Train into Vancouver every day was easy, we walked 1/2 hour to the station through the Chinese residential area most days and took a taxi some days as well. We had not planned to stay in Vancouver for the whole time, we had arranged with a Scottish friend to stay with her in Gibsons, she was single at the time we arranged our stay, since then she had gone back to her husband and they had decided to move to Ontario. All good plans have a habit of changing and one thing we did not do was panice, what is the point, travel is all about the unexpected and if we had it in our minds that things never change then we would be in for a rough time.
We spent every day in Vancouver walking a great deal taking in the sights of the many sea planes which buzz around all day and going to the cafe's and walking Robson Street. Vancouver is a very picturesque city on the mainland of British Columbia Canada and because it is a sea port it was incredibly pretty. It is also the most densely populated Canadian city which was evident as we walked around looking at the many high rise apartment blocks. Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities with 5 2% for whom English is not their first language.
The original settlement, named Gastown, which we walked through a couple of times, grew around the Hastings Mill logging sawmill and a nearby tavern. Enlarging to become the townsite of Granville, with the announcement that the railhead would reach the site it was renamed "Vancouver". While forestry remains its largest industry, Vancouver is well known as an urban centre surrounded by nature, making tourism its second-largest industry. Major film production studios in Vancouver and Burnaby have turned Metro Vancouver into the third-largest film production centre in North America after Los Angeles and New York City, earning it the film industry nickname, Hollywood North. The old gas clock is a neat attraction, Mike was interested in the workings of it.
Vancouver has ranked highly as the most "liveable city" for more than a decade. It has hosted many international conferences and events, including the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Expo 86, and the World Police and Fire Games in 1989 and 2009. The 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics were held in Vancouver and nearby Whistler, a resort community. The view over the harbour to the mountains was always incredibly lovely.
Archaeological records indicate the presence of Aboriginal people in the Vancouver area from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. The city is located in the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tseil-Waututh (Burrard) peoples of the Coast Salish group. They had villages in various parts of present day Vancouver, such as Stanley Park, False Creek, Kitsilano, Point Grey and near the mouth of the Fraser River.
We walked over to Stanley Park and took the horse and carriage ride around the park, boy it was cold ! we had to rug up with the rugs which were supplied, I sat on mine though as I had dressed for the ocassion. The horses were the old draught horses, it was another interesting way to get to know the territory and just a little bit different to the bus tours we took in the past. We all had a bit of a giggle when one of the horses did its business into its bum sack, the smell was just a tad undesirable. The totem poles were an interesting stop off and there is an aquariam in the middle of the park which is very popular with adults and children alike. The park suffered a huge storm in 2006, you could still see the damage as we plodded around. It leveled 41 hectares of forest, causing extensive damage to the seawall and creating a crisis situation that required an organization-wide response. Park staff seized the opportunity to use the blow-down areas to set the stage for a stronger, more resilient forest for future generations. The seawall and forest trails were upgraded, providing better public access. Legacies were established that would enhance visitors' experience and knowledge of the park for generations to come.
We took the incredibly fast elevator up to the revolving restaurant and had the most delicious meal while revolving for an hour at a time. Incredible views !! We previously walked through Chinatown to scope out the Jimi Hendrix shrine, little did we know it was the poorest part of Vancouver and we were just a little bit worried about the derros and street people who were gathered in the square, however, there was a police presence and other tourists walking through the area so we just kept on walking to our destination. On the way to the shrine and back to the city we witnessed many of the homeless people lining up for their daily meal. One of the men, who was a very big man probably a native American Indian, was shouting to hurry the f*#k up and that he was hungry. We also saw several of the homeless selling their junk in the square and also some were sitting on their seats in the doorways of the shops and businesses off their face and brain dead from drugs etc. One bloke smashed his hand into a passing car, yelling abuse at him.
If you're a Hendrix fan the shrine on Union Street is well worth the trip. Though it's a run down little house with a cloth mock-up of the actual Hendrix shrine in Seattle it's an interesting piece of rock n' roll history. The shrine is actually the kitchen of Jimi's grandmother's fried chicken restaurant - Nora Rose Moore Hendrix. In a tiny shed-like structure just off of Main Street rests one of the weirdest, yet most authentic shrines dedicated to any rock star. From 1950 to 1976, the site was Vie's Chicken and Steak House. Legend has it that Jimi could be heard practicing guitar at Vie's after hours. The current owner spent two years creating a ramshackle shrine paying homage to Jimi's early days where he went to primary school. There's a wall of family photos from his childhood, including a shot of a 16-year-old Hendrix with his first guitar, a collection of faux Hendrix rock star gear, several TVs playing Hendrix concerts, and of course, a place to purchase Jimi t-shirts, books, and CDs.
Although we could not get inside because it was closed (opens only in the summer from June 1st) apparently you will find the typical Hendrix images and also some family photos and very cool authentic-looking photocopies of his own notes - everything from set lists to personal notes. Outside was a bit interesting with the shrines and photos of his eight girlfriends, his band mate, relatives and even his pets. The Creekside building is now used as a student residence. People also leave flowers.
We hopped on board the bus one day, for the usual tour only to find the audio system did not work, the owner/driver spent probably about 15 minutes trying to sort it out....we jumped off again, it was far too tedious to be sitting there waiting for him to get it fixed. We walked over to the Marine Building and along Robson Street and discovered another bit of history in the Abbott House. The Marine Building is a skyscraper located at 355 Burrard Street near the Financial District, designed by McCarter Nairne and Partners. It is renowned for its Art Deco details. According to the architects, the building was intended to evoke "some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold. The building cost $2.3 million to build – $1.1 million over budget—but due to the Great Depression it was sold to the Guinness family of Ireland for only $900,000. The 2004 property assessment is $22 million. It definitely stands out from the crowd ! The massive brass-doored elevators and the walls are inlaid with 12 varieties of local hardwoods. All over the walls and polished brass doors are depictions of sea snails, skate, crabs, turtles, carp, scallops, seaweed and sea horses, as well as the transportation means of the era. The floor presents the zodiac signs. The exterior is studded with flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green and touched with gold. The building has often been used in filmmaking and television production. It was the setting for the final scene in the movie, Timecop. Recently, it has gained notice as the Daily Planet headquarters in the popular television show Smallville. It was also used in the movie Blade: Trinity. It stood in for the Baxter Building in New York City in 2005's Fantastic Four and its sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. My grandson Chris and I went and saw that movie a few years ago.
Nestled in a sea of highrise hotels and apartments, the Abbott House down Jervis Street is a great example of old blending in with the new. It is one of the only early 20th-century buildings left in downtown Vancouver. There is a sign posted on the fence of Abbott house that tells you about its history. It was built in 1900 by one of Vancouver's wealthy families. By the end of the century, Abbott House was showing its age and underwent a major renovation and paint job. The present-day look is a magnificent sight, it looks like it is now private apartments, it would have been great to be able to look inside.
We visited the local River Rock Casino on our way back to the Inn on one of the evenings. Unfortunately I left my black Carnaby Street hat on the seat, went back the next day to try and retreive it out of lost and found to no avail. I loved that hat !
Our stay in Vancouver was very nice, Mike had been there before but this was the first time for me. The only downside of Vancouver is probably the never ending beggers who can at times be in your face, however, they mostly stick to the Chinatown area. It was a great place to have a lengthy stop over, we did not venture any further than the city and surrounding area. We could have gone over to the islands but there was so much to see in Vancouver that we saved the outer areas for maybe a homeswap or another trip, who knows what the future will hold.
Our trip back to New Zealand was good, very long at 13 hours, movies take up most of my time and a bit of sleep here and there. It was nice to get home and back to our apartment which had been left nice and clean. There was some damage to one of the blinds in the bedroom which needs fixing. We now have a renewed sense of where we live, we do live in one of the nicest places in the world apart from the beach still being polluted by the Rena disaster. We took a walk down it with bare feet - big mistake, our feet were covered in spots of oil which we washed off immediately. I think too, staying away for so long has "scratched my itch" for awhile, I had such restless bones before we left, I needed to explore the world just a little bit more than I had in the past. I feel a lot more settled - for how long, who knows....Mike and I are off to Nelson with Chris in July for a week to visit Michael and Angie and maybe over to the Sunshine Coast at the end of July to visit Craig, Kelli and Kaylah. Travelling never stops in this household.......Summary of Homeswapping: The best thing about homeswapping is that you can stay away longer without the enormous cost of accommodation. The car swapping is also incredibly handy, we found not having a car in Vancouver stopped us from exploring a lot more although there is a lot to see in Vancouver itself. We stuck to a loose plan for our trip, obviously dictated by the houses we stayed in and each day was an adventure as we explored far and wide. We were open to going with the flow, there is always change as we experienced, we turned the negative changes into positives throughout the journey. The worst thing is a couple of the homes were not clean, we left our apartment clean so expected the same overseas, that is not always so. You just deal with it. We saw so much on our trip, I am so pleased I took so many photos and kept up my blog, the details get lost as time marches on. At times I thought I was taking too many photos, not so, it is fabulous looking over them now that we are home and no doubt we will revisit them many times. We were incredibly lucky with the weather in the UK, last year was abismal with a Siberian winter sometimes trapping residents in their homes for up to six weeks. If we do it again we will press for a spring or autumn swap, not summer for winter, however, we had no choice this time plus it was our choice to take up the generous offer of staying in Hungerford for two months, we could have said no. A better option would be, if possible, to have two homes, one for homeswapping and one for living in which you could rent out while away, but not everyone has that luxury, although quite a bumber of people do. Some people go for a holiday in their own country while homeswappers stay in their home, there are many ways to work it. The cost of petrol is double in the UK, the cost of food at pubs and restaurants is high, the cost of alcohol at the pubs etc. is high. Groceries are ok, not so expensive. We enjoyed the different food and the whole experience, we would do it again.