One Day in Vancouver, B.C.: Downtown, Stanley Park, and Granville Island

My trip across the Capilano Suspension Bridge was just the start of a fun day in Vancouver. Once in town, my first order of business was to track down lunch.

On the menu this drizzly Sunday afternoon? Poutine, of course.

How poutine hasn’t caught on in America, I will never know. This is the same country that once scarfed down burgers topped with mozzarella sticks at Red Robin and gobbled up whatever the hell is in those bowls at KFC. But French fries drizzled with gravy and covered with cheese curds apparently go too far in offending our gastric sensibilities.

Our loss. I opted for the traditional bowl at La Belle Patae in Vancouver’s West End. The hand-cut fries were crisp and hot, the gravy rich and tangy, and the cheese curds chewy and slightly melted by the time I scraped the bottom of the bowl.

My once-in-a-decade indulgence satisfied, I checked out the Granville Island Public Market, which came highly recommended by my buddy Aaron.

The scent of fresh bread wafted through the air, not far from where butchers sold cuts of meat and fillets of fresh salmon. Produce stands and piles of oranges evoked citrusy scents, which intermingled with the aroma of hydrangeas at a nearby florist. All the while, buskers performed Celtic and folk tunes. In the midst of it all? Small stands and carts sold coffee, soaps, spices, baked goods, and more.

I took the Aquabus ferry back to downtown and walked along the seawall to the foot of Stanley Park, where I’d planned to burn off some of that poutine.

The plan, until this point, had been to rent a bicycle and ride around the park until dusk. But the temperatures hovered in the mid-40s — or so I assume, since I can’t make sense of the Celsius system — and rain fell intermittently. Riding a bike for three hours in those conditions sounded only slightly more appealing than pulling my fingernails off, one by one. Lacking a better plan, I walked to the north shore of downtown Vancouver.

The walk gave a glimpse of the tight-knit relationship between Vancouver and water; the city’s downtown core is surrounded on three sides by water, after all. Seemingly every square inch of coastline is filled by marinas, hotels, shipyards, parks, and markets.

It was about this time that I noticed my day in Vancouver was exceedingly gray. The buildings, the harbor, the water … everything was a different shade of gray. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed that I left my camera’s black-and-white filter on for the better part of my trip. Even the greens and browns of the forest in Stanley Park were muted and dull. Any color, whether a yellow kayak in English Bay or the red-and-blue Chevron station in the middle of Vancouver Harbor, was a high-definition, almost blinding, contrast to its surroundings.

With the light rains, low temperatures, and complete lack of sun, I had my fill of walking for the day. I went back to my car for a drive through Stanley Park.

It’s hard to see Stanley Park in late fall or early winter without imagining what it must be like at the height of summer. A public pool was closed for the season and looking a Kermit shade of green; closed-up restaurants and ice cream stands marked the park’s viewpoints; and muddy trails criss-crossed the park like a plate of spaghetti. I can only imagine how vibrant the park is in July or August, with picturesque views of downtown, flowers in bloom, and sun shining on the whole exciting scene.

Still, I had fun driving around, admiring the views that weren’t obscured by fog, and checking out the public art that dots the park.

That was it for my day in Vancouver. The rain settled in, and my legs were tired from a full day of nearly-non-stop walking. I grabbed dinner at a bistro in the West End, rolled into my car, cranked the heater, and headed home. Thoughts of a return trip would fill my imagination as I waited in line to cross the border.

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