Vancouver – the Good, Bad and Ugly

A two week stay in Vancouver, by choice?

Well you may ask, as Vancouver I doubt is on anybody’s list of must-do visits before death. Fortunately it was springtime so the weather was bearable, and there were good personal reasons for being there so a degree of pleasantness abounded.

Having visited other parts of Canada before, I was prepared for the friendliness of the people, the stunning scenery and the chill in the air. But being in Vancouver was a first and after two weeks walking almost every square meter of the city, a few impressions have stayed with me.

The Good of Vancouver

First up, what a stunning setting – the waterways of English Bay and False Creek, the backdrop of snow tipped mountains to the north and the wonderful Stanley and Queen Elizabeth Parks.

Next, Granville Island, Yaletown and Gastown are all older areas which have been given new leases on life and have their own characters and attractions, the latter comprising mostly eating and drinking. Again, more of the latter as the Greater Vancouver area is home to about forty boutique breweries.

The Craft beer barn in Vancouver, adjacent to the Olympic Village.

The Craft beer barn in Vancouver, adjacent to the Olympic Village.

If you enjoy proper beer, as I do, then there is a veritable smorgasbord of places in which to imbibe. A particular favorite was Craft, which although not a brewery in its own right, provides one hundred different beers on tap, most of them from local brewers. A top destination is Craft.

The Bad of Vancouver

After allowing for exchange rate variations, Vancouver is expensive for foodstuffs (whether bought at a supermarket or consumed in a restaurant) and despite a local wine industry in British Columbia, wine prices are very high.

As one who is used to either free or very low admission charges to museums and galleries, these too are pricey.

While still on prices, two items really got up my nose, big time.

Firstly, prices displayed anywhere (shop, restaurant, bar) do not include nor show the relevant taxes. This means an extra 10% GST and 1% provincial tax when you come to complete the purchase. This is really annoying – full price inclusive of tax should be displayed at the point of sale.

Secondly, the ubiquitous 15% service charge in restaurants, bars and taxis. How I hate this one.

The bottom line of these extra charges means a hefty uplift on the bill which is one thing, but the concealment adds greatly to the pain.

Vancouver is a modern city with mostly tall glass edifices dotting the skyline, exhibiting a soulless front. The old areas of the city are full of character but very small – a byproduct of Vancouver’s rush to develop at all costs in the 1960s. It is to be hoped that current rundown areas of town (and there still are some) will be preserved.

The Ugly of Vancouver

Vancouver is obviously a wealthy city, certainly judging by the high number of exotic and expensive cars cruising the roads.

However there is also a heck of a lot of people doing it tough, many sleeping rough right in the center of the city, many adjacent to posh establishments. Related to this is a high number of beggars, which I suppose the locals get used to and ignore, but harder to do for a surprised visitor.

The open availability of marijuana surprised me greatly. The official Federal law is the drug is to be dispensed for medical purposes only and shopfronts selling the weed are not permitted.

However, the Vancouver progressives (if they can be called that) have taken a very soft approach with the result that there are over eighty retail outlets selling marijuana (more shops than Starbucks!). These drugstores (in the true sense of the word) sell without controls and regulation, attracting all manner of dope heads and undesirables.

For me, a return trip to Vancouver would require a mighty huge incentive, one I do not envisage occurring in my remaining lifetime. And I am very comfortable with that.

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