Vancouver is like a combination of Rio de Janeiro and Montreal. (I think Rio is the most beautiful city in the world, and Montreal is the best city in the world.) Vancouver reminds me of both these places, but with some other less great aspects thrown in.
The city of Rio is shaped like a bowl that rests against the mountains and tilts downwards to meet the ocean. Vancouver is also nestled between mountains and ocean.
However, it’s often raining, which puts a damper on my appreciation of its beauty. For example, last week it was sunny on Monday (which is when I took the photo above) and then I didn’t see the sun for FOUR DAYS, until it finally came out again on Saturday. This was depressing. And when I say “raining,” I don’t mean it rained a bit and then it cleared up for a bit. I mean it actually rained (or at least drizzled), non-stop, for four days straight. This is a routine occurrence.
So yes, Vancouver is beautiful, but you probably won’t get to see much of that beauty because it will be grey and foggy the whole time you’re here.
Moving on to the Montreal comparison: Lots of places in Vancouver look like they could be in Montreal. For instance, Montreal has a downtown street with a Hudson’s Bay on it; so does Vancouver.
(Calgary has one too, but Calgary’s streets are much wider and its stores are giant, like how I imagine Texas. Toronto has a downtown street with a Hudson’s Bay too, but it’s next to City Hall and a shopping mall and the streets are always packed. Toronto’s is a mix of glittering storefronts, suit-wearing office people, tourists, homeless people, skyscrapers, traffic… like Manhattan. What I’m saying is, Toronto and Calgary have distinctly different vibes; Montreal and Vancouver’s are similar.)
Also like Montreal, Vancouver has bike lanes, ski hills, outdoorsy people, cool cafes, lots of greenery, and a relatively compact size.
Unlike Montreal, though, Vancouver is expensive. Grocery store prices are the same as in Toronto. Rent is the same, or maybe even a bit higher than in Toronto. Gas is much more expensive (C$1.49/liter! It’s C$1.22 in Toronto).
Which leads me to a question. How do people afford to live in Vancouver while leading such chill outdoorsy lifestyles?
Toronto is expensive, but most people in Toronto seem to be hard-working and ambitious. Montrealers are chill and outdoorsy, but the cost of living in Montreal is much lower.
Anyway, I had always understood that you have to work hard to be able to live in Toronto, whereas in Montreal, where rent is half the price, you can afford to be a hippie/artist/part-time whatever. (Lower rents in Montreal are a consequence of the slower economy, which is a consequence of the French-language preservation laws.)
But Vancouver has cast doubt upon this worldview. It’s just as expensive as Toronto, and even more hippie-dippy than Montreal. How?
I asked someone I met at a coworking meetup, and he said he used to wonder the same thing. Then he realized most people come to Vancouver, do the outdoorsy thing for a few years, run out of money, and go back where they came from. Also, a lot of people were born with a trust fund and are working at useless jobs for fun. So apparently Vancouver is not a hippie-dippy paradise for the long term, unless you’re secretly rich.
More impressions of Vancouver
The smell of pine trees. Mmmmm. It makes you want to inhale deeply. This is so refreshing after my time in Bangkok, where 20 minutes outside left me feeling clogged with dust.
So many ducks! Why are there so many ducks?
Taking the sky train. I didn’t realize how much it sucks to go underground on the subway until I started spending all my transit time above-ground on the sky train, and it’s sooo much nicer.
Gentrification, in fits and starts. Vancouver has some sketchy areas.
I’ve been going to a coworking meetup on West Hastings Street, which is not quite the notorious eastside, but close enough. (The meetup itself is at the lovely Lost + Found Cafe, which I recommend.)
To get there, I walk from the skytrain station past a safe injection site that looks like a refugee camp. Ashen-faced men stand in doorways. I keep hearing sirens. Police officers wear bulletproof vests. Every time I’ve walked down this street, I’ve passed a different person yelling angrily into space (this morning I heard a woman screaming “I hate you! I hate you!” at no one in particular).
Meanwhile, on the same block there’s a fancy furniture store, offices with rows of white Macs, a hair salon, and gleaming cafes. That’s what I mean by gentrification in fits and starts: the pockets of extreme wealth and poverty are all over the place, and right next to each other.
We have high housing prices, drug addiction, and homelessness in Toronto too, but we don’t seem to have the same massive accumulations of people. In our sketchy areas, like Moss Park, you might see a guy with a full face tattoo, but rarely more than one at a time. Here I’m more conscious of being surrounded—and outnumbered—by potentially unpredictable people.
I was talking to a guy from Argentina, who said “But how can the government allow this?” All I could say was “It’s terrible and shocking, but it persists because no one can agree what to do about it.” (And we would rather have safe injection sites and harm-reduction policies than anti-drug laws that enrich gangsters and send harmless people to jail.) (Or clean-streets policies that hide the problem by locking people in shelters/asylums against their will.)
Dim sum in Chinatown. Yum!
A film being shot. I didn’t take many photos of the rest of the city—the actual “city” city—because I usually only photograph things that look different or stand out to me. Someone mentioned, “Yeah, it’s hard to photograph Vancouver because it comes out looking like ‘generic North American city,’ because that’s how Hollywood has been using it for the past 40 years.”
Polite, considerate drivers. Drivers seem to let each other in and give each other plenty of space. Not like in Toronto, where people get impatient and try to edge around you if they think you’re moving too slowly.
An amazing sunset at English Bay Beach.
And another one near Stanley Park.