Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vancouver Livin'

Aug 3, 2009

Travel: Excursion to Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British ColumbiaBy Frank Clayton, Jr.

I was looking for an inexpensive way to get out of the country and not be bothered with the hassle of a language barrier or under-developed city infrastructures so, I started asking colleagues for suggestions.

Most suggested taking a European excursion. They obviously missed the part about it being extremely important that the trip be inexpensive. I eventually started doing research of my own. I found the next best thing to an England or Britain vacation––British Columbia.

If you are looking for a quaint get away from the day-to-day, and you don’t want to spend tons of cash, consider Vancouver, British Columbia as the spot for a quick vacation. Vancouver has complex ferry systems, grand parks and year round attractions and activities for the motivated sightseer.

With proper notice, you can get a round-trip Amtrak ticket for less than $200 and an airline ticket costs less than $400. Hotels are available for as low as $50 per night, or, for the truly adventurous traveler, hostels are as low as $20 night.

The food prices may look slightly higher than in the states. However remember the exchange rate between the American dollar and the Canadian dollar saves you a little when making purchases.

Using a debit card may give you more bang-for-your-buck than exchanging cash. Your bank most likely charge you a minimal service charge for foreign transactions on debit card purchases but will most likely give you a better exchange rate than any hotel or bank in BC.

Other than that, exchanging money is fairly simple. Most banks, airports or hotels have places to make a switch.

A fun fact to know is that the Canadian dollar comes in coin form so be sure to not mistake it for a quarter. I learned this the hard way when I occasionally passed out loose change to the transients near my hotel.

If you are new to travel, the city is conveniently set up to accommodate even the most eager gumshoe backpacker transition from location to location. The buses, Skytrain, and ferry systems are united and allow you to transfer from system to system all on the same fare — about $2.50 for most areas. It’s a fitting way to move around the city with ease.

Don’t worry if the backpack experience or hostels aren’t your style. Vancouver has a plethora of hotels ranging in style and amenities, from the five-star Pan Pacific Hotel to the economically feasible Patricia Budget Inn.

“The City by the Sea” provides several British-style double-decker tour buses and San Francisco-style trolley cars to explore in a touristy way.

Vancouver AquariumA few sites you may want to stop by while in Vancouver include the Vancouver Aquarium, Stanley Park, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Vancouver Convention Center, Canada Place Center, Waterfront Park, or Bloedel Conservatory. If you prefer a trek off the beaten tourist path, grab a map and just go for it.

Café Medina offers waffles with a donut taste to them with thick slices of bacon that would make the most anti-swine connoisseur think twice.

The chic and well-run Republic nightclub holds a reggae night on Sundays that lights up the city and brings all the cultures of the city together in true reggae fashion.

Other less publicized gems of the city include Chill Winston or The Shark Club Sports Bar (ask for Smitty). Another fun club is the Red Room. Burnaby Park is also a nice outdoor destination.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese GardenWith highly European influenced architecture and coble stone streets in the city’s Gaston district and its new Japanese influenced waterfront condo in its Yaletown District, Vancouver provides a touch of the old with a flood of the new and modern.

The collage of residents a can be accurately described as mostly Europeans and Asians with only 2% of the cities population being African American or of African descent. Don’t let that deter you: The culture of the city is inclusive and accepting of all races.

Vancouver — known as the city where the sea, forest, and mountains meet — is a scenic densely populated metropolis that draws many comparisons to fellow West Coast tourist hotspot San Francisco. Stanley Park is the first cousin of Golden Gate Park.

Where Vancouver and San Francisco vary is in Vancouver’s commitment to keep its city’s landscape full of lush foliage and park areas.

For such an industrialized and densely populated city, Vancouver has an extremely green ambience. Aquabus driver, Steven Smith says, “The city has made a real commitment to keeping the city in tuned with the environment.”

Like San Francisco, Vancouver has a bay touching the Pacific Ocean, an authentic Chinatown District, tourists driven downtown and huge homeless and transient presence in select areas.

For all their similarities, Vancouver provides enough shifts in atmosphere and culture to realize that you are not in America anymore. Nonetheless, minus the hills of San Francisco, the 49ers and the Vancouver Canucks, the two cities are twin empires and popular west coast tourist mainstays.

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