When it comes to travelling, I always cram in as much sightseeing as possible. Usually I wake before the sun rises and stay out late into the night hours as I never want to miss an opportunity for a great travel experience. Typically I come up with a game plan of sightseeing based on location and importance. In Vancouver this meant hitting up the Olympic Venues, discovering Stanley Park and the coveted Seawall, taking in the sensory overload of Granville Island, and Gastown and Chinatown fell somewhere towards the bottom of my list. Why? Gastown: Touristy, overpriced souvenir shops, and chain restaurants. Chinatown: Crime, homelessness, and prostitution. I obviously saved the best for last. But what visit to Vancouver would be complete without at least a quick stop in these neighboring communities?
Although recommendations from online sources suggest that the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Gardens are beautiful year round, I couldn’t help feeling as though this barren oasis was a bit overrated. The structures were beautifully crafted and the landscaping artfully done, but the lack of any blossoms or flowers made the gardens feel devoid of life. The only saving grace was the excellently brewed complimentary green tea which fueled me through my tour.
Leaving the Chinese Gardens I had to walk through some sketchy parts of Chinatown to reach Gastown. I’ll admit that walking alone I felt a bit afraid as I wandered through streets lined with leering homeless men. In my short walk I witnessed not one, but three men being arrested, and a drunken brawl break out in an alleyway. I held my head high and kept my purse close to my side as I quickly made my way through this scuzzy part of town.
Gastown wasn’t much better. Although lacking any definite signs of crime or homelessness, the streets were overflowing with tourists and the street fare consisted of your typical overpriced chain eateries. Souvenir shops lined the cobbled pathways – all boasting their “official” Olympic gear. Eventually I made it to the Vancouver Tower, where a short ride later I was sitting 430 feet above the city taking in the panorama view of the skyline. The visibility reached as far as Mt. Baker located in my hometown of Bellingham just over an hour away. The rest of the mountains surrounding the city revealed a definite lack of snow, and that combined with the nearly 60 degree weather made it seem impossible that thousands were gathered here for the Winter Olympics. This was more like the Spring Olympics.
Vancouver was conquered in my mind. Sure there were things left undone and places I still wanted to visited, but travel only affords you so much time. I will never get to see everything that I hope when travelling, and this is something I have learned to accept. Maybe I will remember this small detail next time as I set my alarm for 5 am to discover some tourist oddity in the middle of nowhere. Sleep is essential.