Vancouver is kind of 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 is frequently 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 any of that beauty because it will probably be grey and foggy the entire time you’re here.
But enough of Rio. Let’s move 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 their 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 huge mall and the streets are always packed. It’s too much of a mix of glittering storefronts, people in suits, 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 pretty 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 insanely 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.
In case you’re wondering where I’m coming from with this, it’s well known Vancouverites and Montrealers are slackers compared to Torontonians. My dad likes to say “You phone someone in Toronto at 6 pm on a weeknight, and they’re guaranteed to be at their desk. They’ll probably be in the office until 8 pm. You phone someone at 6 pm in Vancouver, and it’s straight to voicemail. When you finally get hold of them, they act like you’re the crazy one for expecting them to still be there past dinner time.”
Another girl was telling me about her new job at a downtown Vancouver tech company. They have a flexible schedule: you only have to be in the office from 10 am to 3 pm, and you can choose your hours outside of that to make up 8 hours/day total. She says most people roll in at 10 am, leave at 5 pm, and take a 1.5-hour lunch, meaning they work a grand total of 5.5 hours a day (which sounds like a sweet deal to me, but she was appalled :P).
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 brought this explanation into question. It’s just as expensive as Toronto, and even more hippy-dippy than Montreal. How?
I posed this question to someone I met at a coworking meetup, and he said he used to wonder the same thing. Then he figured out that most people come to Vancouver, do the outdoorsy thing for a few years, run out of money and go back where they came from. And there are a lot of people who grew up wealthy and have a trust fund and are working at useless jobs for fun. So apparently Vancouver is not your hippy-dippy paradise for the long term, unless you’re secretly rich and therefore not a real hippy.
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 dirty and 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. We were here on a family vacation in 2011, the year after the Olympics, and my dad wanted us to see what downtown eastside looked like. We walked down one of the side streets, looked around the corner, and saw a homeless man lumbering towards us with an intent look in his eye. We hastily turned around and walked the other way. (My dad went back with just my brother.)
This time, I’ve been going to a coworking meetup on West Hastings Street, which is not quite the notorious eastside, but close enough to it. (The meetup itself is at the lovely Lost + Found Cafe, which I highly 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 walk around in bulletproof vests. Every time I’ve walked down this street, I’ve passed a woman marching down the street yelling angrily into space (this morning I heard someone screaming “I hate you! I hate you!” at no one in particular).
Meanwhile, there’s a fancy furniture store, offices with rows of white Macs, a hair salon, and some gleaming cafes on the same block. 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 mass accumulations of people. In our sketchy areas, like Parliament Street, you might see a guy with a full face tattoo, but you’re practically never walking past more than one guy 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 reduce-harm policies than anti-drug laws that do nothing but enrich gangsters and send harmless people to jail.)
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.