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Travel

August – October, 2021

Three more months have come and past, and the only notable thing to report was a week-long trip to Vancouver. This was the second trip of this year and most certainly the crown jewel in this year’s streak of revenge spending. Without further ado, let’s just dive right into it.

The first thing one notices about Vancouver is the natural beauty that quite literally surrounds the city. To the west and south is the pacific ocean, and to the north and east lies the majestic rocky mountains. Even when you’re in the middle of the city minding your own business, the geography of the place constantly dangles nature’s appeal in the corner of your eye.

To the north end of the city lies the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain, both of which are great choices for lazy people who don’t want to venture too far from civilization to experience nature. Capilano not only boasts its eponymous bridge, but also treetop walks, forest-floor boardwalks, and even a cliffside trail, all of which were worthwhile attractions in their own right. The name of the park makes it sound like a one-trick pony, but it turned out to be a great time all-around.

Grouse mountain lies a bit further north, but well within the reach of public transit. A ski mountain in the winter, the summit of the mountain is easily accessible by cable car. At 1231m above sea level, the city of 2.4 million people no longer looks so large. There is also an owl show and a grizzly bear sanctuary on top of the mountain. The latter was a real treat — the two resident bears were very active on the day of our visit, playing, splashing and wrestling the entire time. They were like giant furry babies — adorable yet terrifying in their strength.

The time spent within the city was also a lot of fun. Stanley park is another great spot to enjoy the natural gifts of the region with its spectacular seawall walk. It is also the home to the excellent Vancouver Aquarium, where we absolutely fell in love with the otters. There’s also a collection of native totem poles on the eastern tip of the park, striking examples of the artistic aesthetic that is a foundation in the local culture here.

For more on the subject, the Museum of Anthropology to the west end of the city is a true treasure trove of native art both old and modern. The museum is just jam packed with artefacts! It’s nice to see the craft is alive and well to the current day, because there is something enduringly appealing in the bold designs.

Also a spot of interest is Granville Island, an industrial wasteland turned tourist trap. There are loads of interesting shops and food options here, including a very nice fresh food market for the locals and visitors alike. The view of tightly packed boats on the surrounding wharf is also a point of interest in its own right.

There are many interesting streets in Vancouver dotted with shops and restaurants, so the city is a pleasure to walk though. Particularly relevant to our interests is the sheer saturation of Japanese restaurants here. It would seem that Japanese food is the perfect intersection of western and eastern tastes, because you can’t walk a few feet without bumping into a ramen or sushi restaurant downtown.

We ate a lot here. If there was a food budget, it was driven off the cliff almost immediately. Part of it is because of the rising food prices everywhere these days, but mostly it’s because of the wealth of options. I really enjoyed the baked sablefish at Miku, and the wife was a big fan of noodles mixed with raw egg at Kokro Tokyo Mazesoba. The vegan burgers at Meet would hold their own against any gourmet meat burger, and the bento boxes at Fujiya foods were insane value.

Not all is sunshine & roses in Vancouver, however — the city has a very large homeless population. The frontier of gentrification is the gastown and chinatown districts, where trendy bars and boutiques are springing up. This is where you’ll find entire blocks of homeless people lining the streets in what appears to be a very established community. While homelessness is undoubtedly a complex issue, it’s hard to not be taken aback by the stark contrast of the scenes.

Based on some cursory googling I’ve done since, it appears that many of the homeless in Vancouver come from other parts of Canada. This makes perfect sense, since the climate in Vancouver is much milder than the rest of the country, so there’s little concern about freezing in the winters. Maybe this is not really a knock against the city — hell, if I ended up homeless, I’d be hopping on the first train out west too.

Anyways, that’s about it for Vancouver. After returning home, I made two Thanksgiving turkey feasts (one for my dad and the other for my in-laws), so now I’m pretty confident in my turkey-roasting and carving skills. As it turned out I actually prefer cooking for a crowd over mingling with it, so I’m actually looking forward to a repeat performance at Christmas.

As for my usual covid-related side-rant…well, there isn’t much to talk about these days. The concept of the vaccine passport has really taken off in the past few months, and vaccine mandates are taking effect in both public and private sector jobs. I think the authorities here have done a decent job at hassling people into getting vaccinated to a point where the only ones left are the true die-hard anti-vaxers, who are giving up a lot of life’s pleasures (and possibly their jobs) for their beliefs. Say what you will about the validity of those beliefs, but you’ve gotta give them at least some credit for their conviction.

These days I’m more curious about the covid situation in other countries. Of course I still keep my eyes on Japan, where there have been recent moves to open up to business and student travellers. I’m not very optimistic about a quick re-opening to foreign tourists, though — there doesn’t appear to be much public appetite for that beyond those with direct business with the tourism industry. Hopefully if nothing bad happens over the winter months, there will be better news for next 2022.

Of more concern to me is the situation in China, where there are some long overdue family matters to take care of. China is still taking a zero-tolerance approach to covid even after a significant rollout of its vaccination campaign. To the people there, covid truly is a foreigner’s disease (even right down to the origins, if you believe in the propaganda). Add on the ongoing tensions with much of the west-aligned world and I get the feeling that letting in foreigners is not high on the priority list of the government there. The fact that the 2022 Winter Olympics will not have any foreign spectators also does not bode well for a speedy re-opening.

Anyways, these have been some of the thoughts over the last three months. As the temperature gets lower, so does the likelihood of any adventures happening. Until next time!

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