Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vancouver in the looking glass

Instead of spewing the same bullsh*t that's always played by every local network about an Olympic city I'll give a P.O.V. from a non-loyal Canadian who has lived in Vancouver for a few years.

Perfectly situated near the Pacific ocean and across the Mountains, Vancouver boasts a panoramic view of the water, beaches, mountains and relatively mild weather. The grass is literally greener with six to eight months of rain season.

Enough with the NBC/ tour guide talk?

Here's what locals know and visitors don't. It's a cheaters paradise. The most laid back, rose-coloured-glasses population in Canada, it also boasts an extremely profitable drug trade industry. The sheer amount of millionaires, wealthy retirees and more trusting attitude lends itself to attract more swindlers, confidence tricksters and hacks. As you walk down the street to work you'll never smell stronger pot wafting through a random window in your life. Escorts are often joked about in Vancouver but truthfully it's not a joke, it's a serious industry and if you have the cash you can pick 'em.

Coal Harbour, a gorgeous row of glass walled condos at the waterfront facing the mountains... it's normally 50% empty. Not during the Olympics mind you, it will be filled with the rich and wealthy paying an arm and a leg to rent the units from the clever Hong Kong citizens who netted almost 80% of the properties in the late 90s. You'll see a rather surprising amount of beautiful women in the area with nothing to do during the day... all because most of them work at night. Brandi's (the infamous strip club where Affleck was caught) women can usually be seen working out in many facilities in Kitsilano, relaxing in yoga, or the Coal Harbour Fitness World. Property is mainly owned by many business men/women who only come during the sunny summer months, the empty units and lack of stores or restaurants give the renters a good night's sleep. A friend staying in a CH condo could usually see porn being shot in adjacent units facing them and a number of the condos cram five or more foreign students to afford the rent.

Yaletown, a Soho wannabe trendy restaurant area, has a more young professional/cougar crowd mix. Hot Yoga, boutiques, trendy clubs, restaurants and the posh Opus hotel that's often overflowing with pretentious private parties all give the area an upbeat boost. In the spring/summer, bike races, a few street parties, and beautiful pink and white cherry blossom trees fill the area while the locals enjoy their coffee and brunch along the patios. Grow-ops and mini-moguls also flood the neighbourhood so cash is a plenty.

English Bay, the gay district (perhaps more so around Davie) has the most eclectic and interesting vibe, with a more diverse variety of restaurants, clubs, sex shops, and of course... the beach. If you walk along the Seawall (all the way around is quite a distance I assure you) you can walk along the water, uninterrupted from Coal Harbour, English Bay, Yaletown, around Science World, Mount Pleasant, to Kitsilano. Opt to rent a bike in the summer... it's less tiring.

Chinatown/Gastown is a pretty small pathetic area if you want good Chinese food. All the Chinese have either moved to Burnaby and Richmond, or moved back to Hong Kong and are renting out their condo for an exorbitant price. Chinatown, at the edge of a fun and dirty Gastown, bars, restaurants and quite a few tourist shops that will rip you off with ugly Canadian sweaters and keychains.

Tucked away from visitors during the Olympics, Vancouver is normally filled with the highest homeless population in Canada, and locals turn a blind eye to rampant drug dealing, whoring, and violence. The edge of Gastown, and heart of Chinatown looks like a scene from Children of Men during the early wee hours and can probably scare the living sh*t out of a small towner. It can't be helped since the rest of the cities in Canada are freeze your balls cold in the winter months, influencing a migration of the less fortunate to warmer pastures... ie. Vancouver.

Kitsilano, a beautiful beach residential neighbourhood where homes cost at least one million is filled with horny, randy UBC students and the prim and proper young families with upper crust jobs or rich parents, or have just been living there... forever. A strip of restaurants, snowboarding equipment stores, beach clothing, bookshops, and other boutique stores line the area along west 4th and west Broadway street. You will often see super fit yuppie mothers sporting Lululemon outfits (the Vancouver uniform) with their $2000 strollers and coffee in hand. Some of the best Thai, Indian, Fusian, and French food can be found along this strip. In the summer Bard on the Beach is pretty good as well, and tickets are evenly priced with first come first serve seating.

Granville Island, surrounded by boats that are probably the cost of a house (Yaletown and Coal Harbour have a great deal as well... almost as impressive as West Van), the area is pretty much a gentrified tourist trap, but worth the visit. Galleries, beer tasting, merchants, seafood, restaurants, and bakeries fill the area along with a few street entertainers. You'll see a great deal of people canoeing, kayaking and taking the seabus to cross back to Yaletown from the docks.

Commercial Drive. Careful not to speed in the area, I nearly saw a driver hit a woman high as a kite crossing a red light. Termed as "Little Italy" it has a variety of students, writers and artists (bohemians if you will) who aren't stupid enough to pay the high rental prices of the downtown core. Your place could very likely get robbed, but just don't be a fool and leave a laptop in in plain view near a window. Some weekends they host a "Car-free" commerical drive where you can walk along the streets and enjoy shops at your leisure.

There are a few other areas but YAWN, that's only if you are staying in Vancouver longer than a week. A few friends visited a few of us in Van during the years and were all bored as hell after a week so I don't suggest staying much longer than that. If you love coffee, EVERY NEIGHBOURHOOD has a good coffee shop, you won't be disappointed, next to Seattle this city probably has the biggest population of coffee addicts (other than drugs of course). If you're not coming to Vancouver to camp, hike, bike, swim, surf, ski, or snowboard and are looking for high culture & arts, go visit New York or San Fran, this city has none.

Factoids to remember
Don't leave cash in your car, it'll be broken into in no time flat.
Don't buy your clothing in Van, it's cheaper at a Seattle outlet mall. Tulalip link here
Bring an umbrella.