Vancouver: Another World (Close to Home)

Views of downtown Vancouver from the Lookout located high above downtown. The Lookout provides 360 degree views of the city.

I’m going to start with a gripe: I didn’t get a Canadian stamp in my Passport when I went through Customs.

It’s becoming a thing of the past for US tourists coming into Canada to get them. But this isn’t absolute — some people do, some don’t. I wish I had been in the Yes column.

You can tell by the significance of this gripe that my life is going well…


I snapped this photo of Mount Baker from the window of my United flight as we began our descent. It’s a snow-covered volcano 10,781 feet tall and clearly visible above the cloud cover. Mount Baker is located in Washington State but can be seen from Vancouver.

And I have something  to admit: it had never occurred to me that Vancouver was so close.

It felt as though I had stepped into a different world… and yet the flight was only two hours and fifteen minutes long.

Their accents, though mild, reminded me I wasn’t in the United States. The “ou” in out or about takes on a long’ish sound — “oot” and “aboot” and sometimes vowels are swallowed: Toronto becomes “Tronno” for example. There’s a distinctive vocal lift at the end of some of their sentences. It doesn’t sound like a question, though… it simply sounds as if their word inflection goes up.

But I loved — loved loved loved — Vancouver. It’s a bustling hustling kind of city with gorgeous architecture. The weather was incredible, mostly in the 70s. The temperatures would drop into the mid to low 60s in the early morning and late at night.

Because it’s located on water, there are always nice breezes and it was sunny nearly every day. It rained, briefly, one afternoon. I kept thinking: this is like San Francisco except sunny and warm. SF is chilly and almost always foggy during summer.

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Boats of all sizes, including yachts, cram the harbor.
I liked the reflective surfaces of the downtown architecture and how the sky (and other buildings) are mirrored on their surfaces.
This is my pal Jeff from Houston. We met in Dallas in the 1980s and have been close friends for 30 years. He’s a CPA and Chief Financial Officer for Planned Parenthood Southeast region. This was our second vacation together.

We’re avid museum-goers and spent many wonderful hours looking at indigenous art and crafts at the Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia and saw the fantastic Picasso exhibit at the Vancouver Art Museum.


The Museum of Vancouver had a strange — and wonderful — exhibit that gathered together local collectors and their obsessions. Common collections included things like pocket watches, classic/antique toasters or action figures.

But some of the obsessions were unexpected: a woman who collects glass eyes (yeah) and one who collects early versions of prostheses and artificial limbs. A woman collects the costumes and paraphernalia of a drag queen ensemble from the 1980s. A young guy focused on the very first video games (think PacMan and Tetris) and antique* pinball machines. Their collections were beautifully displayed and lots of fun to see.

* I suppose any pinball machine is antique these days. Sigh.

Boats — moored or moving — near the Burrard Bridge.

Vancouver is spread across multiple peninsulas along the Pacific Ocean plus several islands. The capital of British Columbia is Victoria, located on Vancouver Island.

The Butchart Gardens

I love the following story: in 1904, a husband and wife bought land that held limestone deposits. Their timing couldn’t have been better — they supplied cement for the massive building boom along the West Coast from San Francisco up to Portland and Seattle and Western Canada. They became very rich.

But of course the limestone deposits became depleted, and the wife — Jennie — hated the unsightly pits the excavation and limestone quarrying had left behind. So she had topsoil brought in via horse and cart and began to build a garden. It became her life’s passion and soon she hired gardeners to help her execute her vision.

Her gardens became so well known that they were receiving 50,000 visitors/year by the late 1920s.

Butchart Gardens grew to cover 50 acres and is some of the most lush and gorgeous landscaped gardens I’ve ever seen. They employ 40 full-time gardeners and more than a million people visit every year. The great granddaughter is the owner and manager now.

The Sunken Gardens, the earliest part of the extensive project. Hard to believe this was once a jagged spent quarry.
Some of the manicured lawns that spread across this enchanting place. The gardeners put out more than 900,000 new flower plantings every Spring.
A pond and fountain amid lush flowers
Views from Granville Bridge, which we walked across one morning to browse the art galleries and antique shops in the older part of town.

Vancouver’s Building Explosion

Everywhere we looked construction cranes dotted the landscape. The city is in the midst of one of the largest construction booms in recent memory. We saw high-rise apartments being advertised with a sign slapped across it “Sold Out” but the construction hadn’t begun yet. There was simply a massive hole with construction crews and earth-moving equipment.

I snapped this photo while we were hiking the city. This one was further along — the foundations had been poured. To get a sense of the scale, notice the men working down below, and the truck on the street in the upper right.
The view from the terrace of the two bedroom apartment we rented. The moon was gorgeous and full but despite numerous attempts my camera wouldn’t capture it. The thin black arm of a construction crane is in the distance.

The strength of the US dollar made this trip very affordable. I withdrew $300 Canadian from an ATM when I first arrived and only $258 USD was deducted from my account. Prices in Vancouver reminded me of San Francisco’s high prices — so it was a blessing the exchange rate worked in our favor.

I can’t wait to return to this magical city. And now I know… it’s just a quick hop north.

6 thoughts on “Vancouver: Another World (Close to Home)

  1. So good to see a new post, Bart! I love the clean air and the light in these photos. And I love hearing all your delight and your surprise that it is really so close. 😉


  2. Now you’re in my neck-ish of the woods. I live in southwest Washington and to cross to Victoria from Port Angeles by ferry is but a beautiful four hour drive north along bucolic backroads. Delighted you saw Butchart Gardens. Did you take the ferry from Vancouver? Canada is a delight. You caught their speech mannerisms well. Remember to ask for the washroom (rather than the bathroom) and you could pass as a Canadian. Thanks for traveling. It’s like a mini-vacation to read your blog.


    1. Hi Deirdre,

      We hired a bus tour — my first one. It picked us up at our apartment then drove us around V, then onto the ferry for 90 minutes (and lunch.) Then on to Butchart Gardens, then to Victoria’s downtown to see the Empress Hotel and walk around for about two hours, then back home again (fourteen hours later — a loooong day.)

      There were 50 people on the bus. Jeff and I (mid-50s) were the youngest people by far. It was a kick, and so much easier than trying to cover that much ground in a rental car.

      I’m glad to know where you are! And I’m so pleased you’re following along on my travels.



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