Wild City

Trip Start Sep 23, 2009
Trip End Oct 09, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vancouver is a wonderful city to discover by bike. Its streets are lined with trees, its hills are gentle, and it boasts the beautiful Stanley Park, fully accessible on two wheels.  Cycle paths follow the ocean, passing wave-lashed coast and lovely beaches.  Alternatively, inland there is shady, peaceful woodland, and the lovely Beaver Lake. 

Fortified by a breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup, Jim and I set off to explore.   From Coal Harbour, we found stunning views across to the city.  Dozens of boats were moored at the boat club; Vancouver has a strong maritime culture.  I took in the blue sea and the sunshine, stopping every few minutes as cycling a few metres on revealed a new photo opportunity.

The sculpture park gave me my introduction to First Nations carvings, with powerful traditional totem poles and modern interpretations.  They kept a watchful eye on the skyscrapers of the city beyond the water.  The totems tell a story of a family; who their ancestors are, what they own, which spirits protect and guide them, what their stories are.  In the past, the totems stood outside the great houses, until the wood decayed and fell, and the spirits and earth claimed them back.  Now many are preserved, not monuments to a dead culture but way markers towards the future, a reminder of people and identity, and what this beautiful land once was.

The glorious weather and a lingering sense of unease about cetaceans in captivity kept me out of the aquarium, with its belugas and orcas.  But I lingered near Bill Reid's mighty sculpture, 'Killer Whale'.  We feasted on hot dogs, and left the bikes to stroll to stroll through the park, past ancient cedars and the decaying remains of a zoo with its cages and bear pit slowly being subsumed by the woodland.

The tallest trees in the park were the cedars.  They towered above the others, with straight trunks and knobbly branches which appeared to have been glued on as afterthoughts.  These were the trees favoured for carving as totems, their bizarre shapes perhaps providing inspiration. The occasional fallen tree also provided the prefect playground for kids of all ages.

Squirrels were abundant in Stanley Park, vying with the crows for possession of the bounty of fallen chestnuts.  They bounced around, feasting and burying some nuts in little caches in the hope of retrieving them in lean times.  The rodents seemed to delight in dancing through the dappled sunshine and pausing in just the wrong place for me to take a photo. We cycled on to Beaver Lake, a tranquil spot in the centre of the park.  True to its name, there are beavers there, though the only signs we saw were well-gnawed trees.  Dragonflies and wood ducks also made the lake their home. 

We rode past the vast span of Lion's Gate Bridge, watching a sea lion playing in its shadow.  The park took on a wild character here, as we followed a narrow path which would its way along the bottom of rocky cliff faces.  The waves were large, occasionally drenching rollerbladers who rounded a point at the wrong time. After Prospect Point were three beaches, with invitingly golden sands.  A small cluster of people watched a model in a scanty bikini pose for glamour shots in the blue but frigid water.  Jim was rather worried that she would get too cold, but the promise of wine succeeded in luring him on to English Bay, where we enjoyed a glass of red before returning the bikes.

In the evening, we crossed Lion's Gate Bridge to North Vancouver, where we took the cable car up Grouse Mountain.  A ski resort in the winter, in summer it offers fine dining and awesome views.  Multiple rides in the chair lift let us watch the sun set, and the lights of the city come flickering on.  The night was fairly clear, and we could see across to Nanaimo and Victoria, which showed as blurs of light on Vancouver Island.  Farther still were the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, and snow-encrusted Mount Baker.  The light faded and the air began to cool.  We retreated inside and rounded off the evening with a delicious meal at the Observatory, at a window table which let us watch the buzzing city and the glittering sky.
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