Touring an international city: in 12 hours
YOU have 12 hours only in Vancouver. You'd love more, it's a beautiful city, but how to get the most out of your 12 hours?
Hop on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. You hop off at the appealing spots, walk, browse, eat, drink, discover and then hop back on again to the next destination.
That's all good. But we hopped on and didn't hop off.
Explanation: it was very early in the morning. Vancouver hadn't woken up.
As the bus trundled out of the Welcome Centre with us, the only passengers, we admired, listened to the informative commentary and drove through the Robson shopping district, which the narrator told us was one of the best in the world with department stores and luxury brand shops. But it had yet to open, so on we went to Coal Harbour. We could have got off there and done a harbour cruise but it was still early, not much action going on.
On to Stanley Park. Now there's a place of green expanse and great beauty and interesting history. The fragrant rose gardens, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Totem Poles - it all looked magical.
"We'll come back to this stop," we said and stayed on the bus to go past Prospect and Ferguson points, then past Second Beach, English Bay Beach, past South Hornsby to Granville Island. "We really should get off here, it's famous, it has markets," we said, and then stayed on the bus. It was comfortable and easy to sit and listen to the narration.
Finally, Chinatown, one of the world's biggest, our narrator told us. We got off. But Chinatown is best at night when the neon lights and steamed buns beckon, so we had a casual look, sat in the Chinese Garden for a minute and hopped on the next bus, only to hop off at the next stop when we saw the effervescence of Gastown with its flowered baskets and charming walkways.
Hundreds of people thronged the streets. Cafes, bars and restaurants were packed. A siren call to us. We headed straight to The Old Spaghetti Factory, famous for its turn-of-the-century decor. A big feed of pasta and a margarita later and it was back on the bus to end up where we'd started, back at the Welcome Centre.
"Now, we can go again and do the hopping on and off bit," we said as we trundled off once again. Well, what a different Vancouver to the sleepy early morning version. Every stop teemed with people and activity. At Sunset Beach the crowds were so large, the traffic so clogged, the bus took ages to get through. The beach was packed and it looked as if every hot dog vendor in the world had converged on the place to sell his fare.
"If we get off now, we'll never get back on, the next bus will take ages to get to us in this traffic," we said, and stayed on the bus.
Well, it was one heck of a long day on the bus. We explored very little on foot but after two lengthy round trips around Vancouver we felt we knew the city well. We had little time left after we arrived back at the Welcome Centre for the second time. Our plane waited and it was time to leave Vancouver.
But now that we know it so well we will go back, stay a week, explore the aquarium, spend a day with the roses in Stanley Park, eat noodles in Chinatown at night, cruise Coal Harbour, shop with frenzy in Robson St, trawl the markets at Granville Island. It's all waiting for our return.