25.08.2015 - 29.08.2015
Well here we are, the first of our blog entries! I write it whilst being tossed around on one of the rockiest boat crossings I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, whilst we journey out of Vancouver (but more on that later).
Back to the beginning of the journey. After teary good byes to family and dog (if you've ever met Belle you'll know easily that sad face can break hearts!) we were on our way. Mark was picked up by security on the way through Heathrow and asked to stand like a tree in one of those jazzy new scanning machines, but nothing hidden away in that big beard so we were good to go. The flight from Heathrow to Vancouver was 9 hours taking in Iceland, Greenland and the far north of Canada, and wow did we see some beautiful scenery. The views over Greenland were truly like nothing we've ever seen before. Enormous snow capped mountains divided by great frozen rivers which would suddenly turn into flowing water. You couldn't help but reflect and marvel on what a beautiful creation our world is. Then as we approached Vancouver we found ourselves flying low over great mountain ranges, so close that if someone was stood on top you'd be able to see them (of course there were no people on them as the mountains are so ridiculously big!). Then out of nowhere the mountains stop and you're flying into Vancouver - just beautiful!
Canadian customs was interesting. They weren't all that keen on the length of our stay and so we found ourselves in the bizarre situation of trying to sell Canada and all the reasons you'd want to have a 2 month holiday there to a Canadian immigration official. Similarly unimpressed looks were also given when we answered the question "what do you do in the uk". Apparently charity workers aren't what they want more of in Canada. But after a few shaky voiced answers and pleading looks we got there in the end.
Our first 4 days have been spent in Vancouver and what an amazing city it is. Think open clean city interspersed with LOTS of trees, surrounded by beautiful open waters, then throw in a few beaches for good measure and set that to the backdrop of enormous mountain ranges. Truly breathtaking.
Our first day was spent wandering, or perhaps more accurately I should say getting lost around Stanley park. Stanley Park really is massive, taking up a huge part of downtown Vancouver and boasting the worlds longest uninterrupted sea walk. (10 miles). It's full of trees (of course), forest lakes, parks, beaches, totem poles and we even saw raccoons. It doesn't take long to forget you're even in a city. Our feet were pretty sore when we finally found our way and were well in need of something to eat and this is when we found the next thing to love about Vancouver - it is FULL of Japanese restaurants. We stuffed ourselves full of fresh super tasty sushi for the grand total of £12. Now find me somewhere in the uk that can offer that!
Day 2 was spent wandering around an area called Granville close to where we were staying. Granville is famous for its food market, which is located on an island that used to be one of the industrial docking areas of the city. In the 1980s two men decided that rather than letting it be an ugly abandoned part of the city they would persuade local breweries and food suppliers to set up there whilst still retaining the industrial look. 30 years later it's a a really cool, vibrant part of town with lots of great restaurants, bars and arts shops. Making the most of this we had some awesome salmon and chips and also visited the Granville brewery where you could order a tasting platter of all 7 of their locally brewed beers and ales and they were pretty darn tasty! Which brings me onto the next thing we loved about Vancouver- they really know how to brew good beer. British Columbia has quite a few really good breweries and so when you walk into a bar here you don't just get standard mass produced rubbish, you get a wide selection of locally sourced beers and ales, which really do taste great (and that's coming from someone who doesn't usually like beer).
For our last full day in Vancouver we headed into downtown. What really struck us was the absence of chain shops and cafés compared to cities in the uk. The chains existed but there was also a big selection of unique, quirky shops and coffee shops...such a lot of coffee shops. Our visit to downtown also exposed us to a not so bright side of Vancouver though. There are high levels of homelessness in the city and most of the homeless people we saw showed signs of extreme drug use. We walked down streets that were full to the brim with people who were not only completely high but who looked seriously unwell, on top of being homeless. We both work with these groups back home, but what we saw in Vancouver was on a scale we hadn't seen first hand before and was a stark reminder that in the brightest cities you can also find the unhappiest people.
On Saturday we said a sad farewell to Vancouver, and it's fair to say we've loved it more than any city either of us have ever visited. It's a beautiful, open, laid back city with far fewer signs of commercialism than most major cities. And this is reflected in the people who are relaxed, friendly and seem to spend a lot more time doing the good things in life like having a decent coffee, going out for food or going for a bike ride.
Which leads me back to the beginning and our boat journey out of Vancouver and over to Vancouver Island for the next leg of our trip. You'll be pleased to know that we made it. It was pretty rocky though! As we embarked the boat we were nearly blown off the gang way as one of the crew members manically laughed and warned us "don't blow over there, will ya!". The captain then cheerfully advised us over the tannoy to "grab a seat, hold on tight and don't get up unless you have to because this ship will roll!". In true Canadian style this was of course followed by a chirpy "make yourselves comfy!". On our boat journey we also met a Canadian couple in their 60's who were on their way home after a cycling trip in the Rockies. As if this wasn't impressive enough we then found out that the previous summer he had cycled the whole width of Canada on his own, pitching up in any open area, including cemeteries, along the way! (Usual and Xav, I fear this is the direction you're heading!). This love of an adventure is, I think, fairly standard over here. Something to learn from perhaps.
So We leave you in BCs capital, Victoria. From there we'll be heading north up the island for our first work placement in a remote salmon fishing resort for 2 weeks. Before we go though, a note on what we've learnt about Canadians so far.
1) they are INCREDIBLY friendly and helpful. I have already lost count of how many times people have gone out of their way to help us without us even having to ask. You only need to start looking puzzled before a stranger offers help. The public transport staff are cheerful and helpful (oh what a welcome novelty!), and I think we've already been waved across the road by drivers more times in one week than has ever happened in the uk. One man even apologised for frightening us by driving too soon!
2) They love trees...really love trees. You'd think that when the vast majority of their country is covered in dense forest, they'd be satisfied. Nope, definitely not. Not only are there also trees across the city but there are trees on the top of their blocks of flats. 20 stories up and they are big fully grown trees, I kid you not! That is some dedication to trees.