Continued from last post…
Tuesday, August 20.
8:00am PT: Breakfast in the hotel, covered by Tauck. Miso soup is on the menu. The breakfast menu.
9:20am PT: We take a cab to Granville Island, which is a combination farmer’s market/crafts fair. Barbara is fascinated with the many examples of felting, since our daughter Casey is into that and intends to start selling her work. Barbara is not so much shopping as doing market research, and many of her first scenic photos of Canada are of felt scarves. Meanwhile, I am amazed at one of the delicacies sold in the food section: stuffed bagels. We’ll have lunch here tomorrow with the tour, and I intend to start my market research there.
After covering the island, we walk over a bridge to “gallery row,” where we half-heartedly go in and out of a few places before succumbing to tiredness and a lack of interest. Many of the galleries (and the souvenir shops, for that matter), specialize in First Nation art. “First Nation” is Canada’s equivalent of “Native American,” which would be a silly thing for Canada to call their indigenous population. “First Nation” sounds prouder than “Native American,” doesn’t it? And anyway, I’ve always wondered how “Native Americans” can be correct since Native Americans were native before America was America.
Where was I?
Oh, right, the art. First Nation art is mostly of animals and humans with prominent facial features. It is boldly colored, extremely phallic (you should see the beaks on these birds) and, I suspect, frequently mass-produced. You see people sitting on the streets, apparently whittling, the beginnings of a bear in their hands and wood shavings around them on the ground. But the skeptical New Yorker in me is sure that they show up every morning, sprinkle some wood around themselves, and pretend to be working on the same unfinished piece, so unsuspecting tourists will buy the carvings in their bag, which have been made in some factory somewhere.
We want to return to the hotel, and we confront the issue that comes up when in any city for the first time: can you just step off the curb and hail a cab? Fortunately, we notice one sitting by the curb, so we don’t have to potentially embarrass ourselves by jumping into the street and waving our arms like lunatics.
Back at the hotel, I’m very tired. I’ve walked much more than I usually do in a day. Or a month.
6:00pm PT: We meet up with the tour group for drinks and dinner. We appear to be somewhat younger than most of the other people. Let’s just say I will not feel good about myself if I complain about any activity on the tour being too strenuous. We sit with one woman who appears to be roughly our age. She’s on the tour with her mother.
Greg, the tour director, has a really good Canadian accent, which makes me happy. Everyone at our table introduces themselves: names, where they’re from, what they do for a living. Mostly what they do for a living is be retired. I tell them I write junk mail. This, as always, is met with reactions of incredulity. Barb reveals that she has already posted photos on Facebook, this despite a discussion we’d had about not posting things online that mention we’re away because I saw something on the news about thieves that watch for that kind of stuff. In her defense, Barb says, “But Casey is in the house.” I hope the burglars don’t wake her up.
Barbara, by the way, is having a bit of a language problem. She speaks Canadian fluently (or at least no worse than she speaks American), but she dropped the f-bomb a couple of times during dinner with our tourmates, most of whom I imagine to be church-going retirees from the midwest who don’t watch HBO and do not enjoy hearing such things. I mention it to Barb, but do not offer to wash her mouth out with soap. To her credit, she doesn’t tell me to go do something to myself.
Wednesday, August 21.
9:00am PT: We board the bus for a tour of the local sights. Greg confirms my observation: Vancouver’s population is, in fact, 53% Asian. Upon passing the statue of Gassy Jack, Greg makes a joke about beans. I guess there’s no way you can’t.
12:30pm PT: We are dropped off at Granville Island for lunch “at leisure.” “At leisure” is tourspeak for “you’re paying.” I immediately endeavor to conclude my market research. The stuffed bagel is delicious. The bus then takes us to a ferry. And onto the ferry. The whole damn bus just drives onto the boat, along with a truck full of live pigs, although I’m fairly certain they’re not with the tour. Greg tells us to watch for whales, and, although they do not put in an appearance, watching for them gives us something to do for the 90 minutes it takes to get to Vancouver Island.
My final assessment of Vancouver is “meh.” It’s very overbuilt. In an obvious concession to greed, the place is stacked with apartment towers, all trying to be tall enough to have water views. And although there are mountains in the background, the water views tend to be very industrial-looking, with lots of container ships and the big orange rigs that unload them. Also, Vancouver has a bit of an inferiority complex, always comparing itself to other places. “It’s Hollywood north,” we are told, because of all the film production. “Stanley Park is bigger than Central Park.” “Manhattan is the only place in North America that’s more densely populated.”
Oh, and, “There are more homeless people here than anywhere else in Canada.” They come, according to Greg, for the temperate climate. They probably also enjoy the water views.
5:00pm PT: We get on the bus, the bus drives off the ferry, and we head for Victoria. First impression: it’s gorgeous. It feels like an old-timey port town, and looks a bit European. Very clean, with colorful flowers hanging from every lamp post, which makes Barbara envious because she can’t manage to keep one friggin’ hanging plant alive on our deck. There is even a food cart that sells poutine, which, if you’ve never had it, is the most delicious way ever to clog your arteries. I believe that if I ever have to move from the U.S. to avoid the draft, I want to live here.
At dinner, I have scallops wrapped with pork bellies. I think of the squeals coming from that truck on the ferry. But not for very long.
To be continued…