Whistling in Vancouver

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 08, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Waking up in Vancouver for the first time I realised that it was already midday. I got myself sorted and headed out on foot to explore the vicinity of the hotel. Canada Place and the Vancouver/Coal Harbour waterfront were close by and afforded good views of the departing and arriving floatplanes. I checked out some of the surrounding CBD area and was impressed that, unlike Perth this part of town was not only offices and was alive during all hours. I enjoyed a trip on the relatively new Canada Line train down town the Olympic Village, on the southern side of central Vancouver and across False Creek.

I came to investigate what remains of the Bombardier demonstration tram/light rail line that ran for free during the Olympics along False Creek. Before this incarnation the line was used to run old streetcars. Sadly no sign of either incarnation was present and the rails told a story of no use since the Olympics. The Olympic Village itself was impressive, although I couldn't explore the interior as it was fenced off while being converted to usable apartments and offices post-games. At least some of the park areas and creekfront walkway associated with the project were open, offering great facilities and art. The did a good job with this project and people seemed to be using the spaces heavily. Every hundred of metres people were on benches, lying on grass, walking around, playing etc. It was great to see. I look forward to seeing how this “sustainable” community develops when people actually move into the apartments and offices here.

Science World is situated at the end of False Creek (think a significantly elongated Claisebrook Cove) and was my destination. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare before the day's last session at their iconic OMNIMAX (IMAX Dome) cinema, a screening of Ulitmate Wave Tahiti. Although the film was billed heavily as a surfing pic featuring Kelly Slater, I found it to be more a look at the seas, life, the processes of and cultures associated with the Pacific Ocean, accompanied by stunning visuals of surfing and underwater life. Science World's OMNIMAX is of a good size, about the same as La Geode in Paris, which makes it bigger than Perth's old OMNI (now Horizon the Planetarium). It's been a while betwteen real IMAX Dome drinks for me and this film helped me to reminisce about Perth's OMNI heyday when I saw The Living Sea.

The movie was over by 5pm and that meant the end of work for my friend Neil. Science World is pretty much across the road from Pacific Central Station and Neil's office is close by the station so we agreed to meet there. The last time that I saw Neil was back in Perth around the time that he got married to another work colleague of ours. Unfortunately his wife Emmily was down in Mexico with friends so I could only catch up with Neil. We headed into the central area on the Skytrain and ended up having dinner at an Italian joint in the west end. I'm still not getting used to eating dinner when the sun is still well up.

From dinner we walked to the southern edge of central Vancouver, on False Creek to take the ferry the very short distance across to Granville Island. Here we took in 90 minutes of team improvisation theatre by the theatre sports league, which wasn't too shaby. As you'd expect, some scenes were pretty funny and some just didn't work, so with this mix I think we got good value for our $19 tickets. Post-show drinks were had at a bar on the island, allowing me to try some of the local brews, before we ferried it back to the mainland for the walk back to the hotel. I farewelled Neil as he rode the SkyTrain back to his place.

This morning was the earliest start for me so far, and by the sound of things, the earliest for Neil for a long time also. I met up with Neil just outside the ritzy Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel at 7:30am ready for our shuttle bus pick up at 7:45am. A representative from Rocky Mountaineer met us in the lobby and took us to the waiting coach for transfer to North Vancouver “station”. The bus drove us through the city's Stanley Park and across the water to the northern side of Vancouver harbour where the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb or Whistler Mountaineer train was waiting. We were in the first of 3 Classic Service cars, with 2 Gold Service cars ahead of us plus a generator car and 2 locos.

The train got underway pretty quickly, trundling its way through the expensive suburbs in north western Vancouver, along a windy alignment by the coast. I'm not sure if it was the track or the desire to provide a calm and scenic journey but we did not gather much pace for the during of our trip. A cold breakfast was served to us in Classic Service, along with unlimited soft drinks. Commentary was made throughout the 3.5 hour trip by our car attendant, pointing out items of particular scenic interested and answering questions about the history of the area, the line and the train. Initially the scenery was coastal but as we headed up the coast and further into the sound we delved into valleys that became “canyons”, topping it off with plateau lakes and mountain views closer to Whistler. A great feature of the train was the open air observation car, which allowed me to get views of both sides of the train (although our seats were on the good side anyway) and enjoy more of the atmosphere of travelling by train.

From the station that is actually part of a hotel on the outskirts of Whistler we were provided with transfer buses to the “Gondola Transit Exchange”, a bus turnaround facility at the southern end of Whistler Village, adjacent to most of the lifts up Whistler Mountain. Neil and I had time to walk through the village to find some cheapish food, which we then had to eat as we walked back to the southern end of the village to register and fill out the waivers for our booked 12:50pm Ziptrek ziplining tour. As Neil had worked coordinating security services for the Olympics he had stayed at Whistler for 3 months and was able to point out various things and explain what happened during the event and what had changed or was being removed to normalise the resort.

Soon we were harnessed up and riding the “short bus” up Whistler Mountain, past the infamous Olympic luge track towards the start of the zipline course. On the way up we spotted a black bear wandering around near the luge track. Over the next 2.5 hours we were walking through the forest and zipping across the Fitzsimmons Creek valley on the side of Whistler Mountain. Ziptrek decided that it would be valuable to put an “ecotour” spin on things so a bit of time was spent between lines taking about the environment, sustainability and what measures both Ziptrek and the Whistler Village had put in place, which actually seemed quite genuine. But we were there for the zipline action, which consisted of 5 lines, including one which was 2200 feet (around 700m) long. The lines were fast and fun and when I zipped the last line upside down the technique was a case of riding a bike – it's easy once you've done it once. I think Neil was a bit nervous to begin with but came to embrace the fun and views that ziplining brings.

Since Neil is stingy he opted to take the Greyhound bus back to Vancouver and this left at 4:30pm. To fill the 30 minutes before departure Neil showed me one of the defacto Aussie pubs in the village for a drink. With so many Australians working at the resort this pub showed AFL and NRL games instead of North American sports. I had half an hour to kill until the transfer van for my floatplane flight back to Vancouver was due to pick me up so I further explored the village, taking a few photos and watching the mountain bikers come down the mountain. Whistler is a mixed destination at the moment as there are mountain bike tracks down Whistler Mountain but ski runs still open at the top of Blackcomb Mountain so there were boarders and bikers as well as hikers and other tourists milling around the Village. This variety also extended to the lifts – some were gondolas with boards, others were chairlifts with every 2nd car converted to carry bikes instead of people. I'm definitely interested in coming back to try out the bike trails one day.

The Whistler Air van arrived a bit early and filled up with myself and many older tourists, most of which had taken the train up in the morning. The atmosphere at the pontoon on Green Lake was relaxed – we just had to write our names on the manifest and had a chance to wonder before we were boarded. All seats were taken and since I was travelling alone and I was not the heaviest or lightest of the group (who were allocated specific seats) I boarded last, receiving the last seat in the middle, with no leg room. My knees ended up pushed in beside the chair in front, in line with the chest of the person sitting there.

A brief mention of the safety features of the aircraft was made before we were underway, taxiing downwind while we listened to the pilot's commentary and the ATC chatter on the provided headsets. Take off was smooth and we were soon at our cruising altitude of 4500 feet, just below the clouds. It was a scenic 35 minute flight, past many mountains, lakes (some frozen) and then down over the sound and finally over Vancouver Harbour. During the flight we passed a few ferries and even flew over the return train from Whistler.

Landing into Vancouver was dramatic. First we had to fly downwind and then turn 180 degrees to land parallel with a large Holland America Line cruise ship that was departing from the Canada Place terminal.  As you may expect, landing on the water was a bit rough and we decelerated quickly simply due to the drag of the water.  Disembarking from the plane was a bittersweet experience - the end of a fun and scenic flight but regaining feeling in my legs.

It was a short walk back into town to my hotel, where I regrouped and put all the new photos and video onto the laptop for adding here on Travelpod.  This is probably a good time to mention that I have neglected to put any videos on here because Travelpod feels it necessary to down-convert uploaded videos to poor quality interlaced 4:3 affairs, which means poor quality stretched video.

Neil met me in my hotel's lobby earlier than expected - 2 buses were operating the 4:30pm departure from Whistler so 1 had been designated to run express to downtown, saving him half an hour.  This gave us more time to dine in central Vancouver, on this occaission at one of the "The Keg" steak restaurants.  It was sort of a refined version of an American suburban restaurant with decent food and somehow they got away with only hiring hot women in hot dresses to staff the front desk.

After dinner the SkyTrain took Neil and I out to Commercial/Broadway Station from where we made the 10 minute walk east along Broadway to his apartment.  This appears to be a rather asian part of town and indeed the apartment building in which he lives lacks a level designated as 4.  On the way he showed me the area around the station which seemed to cater to a mix of down and outers and arty/student types so everything was cheap and there were a lot of medical centres.  I picked up a 6 pack of Tuborg at the local bottleshop on the way to get me in the mood for my upcomming Scandinavian escapades.

At Neil's place we sat around discussing the world whilst drinking both the recently acquired and some of Neil's regular stock of beers.  Some of his friends from work were meant to be coming over but with the late sunset and the early start in the morning he decided that he didn't want to stay up too late and we wrapped things up when the Tuborg ran out at around 11:30pm.

Once I was back at my hotel downtown I had to prepare myself for the next morning's check out and set the alarm for a 10am start.  Check out is by 11am and I have the upcoming afternoon as my last hours in Vancouver before starting my journey to Oslo.
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