Once we got our bags, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our new home, the Cambie House, which is in a residential area of Vancouver.We settled into our room at Cambie (that was, to our surprise, actually a house, rather than the dormitory/apartment style building we had been expecting). Our room is quite nice though, a bit less formal than it seems in the pictures, but inviting and certainly fine for us. We met our roommates: Erin, Tenille, Omar and Nigel. Erin and Tenille are from elsewhere in Canada and are going to school here, Nigel is from New Zealand and Omar is from Iraq, both are here working for a bit.
After settling in, we went grocery shopping and discovered that while Vancouver seems very similar to an American city, there are enough small differences to throw you off (especially when you are sleep deprived). For example, brands we have in America (like Raisin Bran or Yoplait) have different designs and logos here. Butter comes in blocks wrapped in foil and looks like a package of cream cheese (of course I took a picture). And many things are labeled in French. There is also a large Japanese population in the area so we see lots of Japanese restaurants, stores, ingredients, and language characters everywhere. We hope this means good sushi is forthcoming! Another highlight of the walk to the grocery store was seeing an odd little house in the row of regular houses. It has a very strange looking roof of black and brownish yellow that looks rippled. It is squat and has a cute little chimney. All in all it definitely looks like a hobbit house. I tried to take a picture, but it was getting dark. I'll include it but also try to take a better picture later, since it is so funny!
Tuesday was our first day of Vancouver exploration. Thankfully we were able to sleep-in somewhat and left the house feeling awake and ready to go. We took the sky train (the local subway) into downtown Vancouver and immediately did the opposite of cultural immersion – we went to Starbucks. After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, we found the Canada Center for the Olympics (a new glass building and gigantic white tent both on a new pier out over the water). Next to that we saw our workplace-to-be: the International Broadcasting Center (IBC). We couldn’t go in, but we could see piles of boxes and equipment stacked up in all the rooms – clearly we are going to have some unpacking to do next week. Then we found the Vancouver Information Center that was very helpful. Besides maps and cultural information, we also learned that some Olympic Event tickets are still available for purchase (even by Americans like us since we are in Canada already). We are going to try to get tickets for an event soon, once we arrange our work schedule. Next we walked around Robson Street and found a great Japanese Ramen Bar. Travis said it was very authentic, and just like being in Japan. It was my first experience with something other than packaged Maruchan Ramen and I thought it was very good. After lunch, we walked down to the coast and had a lovely stroll around the edge of Stanley Park. Even with the constant mist and low clouds, it was a beautiful walk. The forest here is so unlike what we are used to and the trees are absolutely huge! Our walk led us to an area with totem poles and then to the Vancouver Aquarium. One interesting thing about the aquarium is that some of the outer walls have tiles of mesh and plants growing out of them. A sign said that the plants collect the runoff from the rainwater in order to ease the burden of all the street drains. Excess runoff is also collected elsewhere and used to flush the aquarium toilets – what a cool way to be green, especially since it seems to never stop raining here! The aquarium was awesome! We saw fantastic jellyfish, the biggest freshwater fish in the world (the arapaima), and a giant sea turtle. We also saw a cute otter sleeping on its back, some beluga whales, and pacific northwest dolphins (which are black and white). A highlight for me was the Planet Earth Shallow Seas movie in 4D. Travis thought it was a bit cheesy, but I loved it. It was a 20 minute movie about creatures in the ocean, we got the 3D effect by wearing 3D glasses, and the 4D effect from the theater. During the movie, our seats rumbled and shook, we got sprayed with mist and air, bubbles came out of giant blowers in the walls, and our legs got hit with a little plastic whippy thing. For example, when the camera went underwater into a school of fish, bubbles would blow out of the wall; and when a whale blew out its blowhole, we’d get sprayed with mist. It was so much fun! We also saw a short dolphin show that was great. It’s amazing how fast they can swim (35 km/hour) and how high they can jump! Plus they are so smart and playful! After the aquarium we took a bus back into the downtown area and wandered some more. We hit a crepe place (I got a nutella and strawberry crepe that was yummy!) and then a hot dog stand for Travis. All in all, we probably walked about 5 miles and our feet were tired at the end of the day! We're hoping to go skiing/snowboarding this week, but the mountains have been closed because of the rain and and warm temperatures (in the mid-40s). So fingers crossed the conditions get better!
Today we had a leisurely morning, mostly because we couldn’t come to a decision about what we should spend the day doing. After making and discarding a variety of plans, we finally decided to go to Granville Island. It was definitely a good choice, and we spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around their public market (lots of fresh fruit, veggies, fish, meats, homemade breads and treats, and a variety of other stalls). Travis' favorite thing was seeing stand after stand of fresh fish. We are definitely going to go back and do some shopping for meals. After the market, we walked through some of the town, which was dominated by galleries and craft stores. My favorite shop was StoneAge Art Company, which featured statues and figurines of all sizes carved from stones in Zimbabwe. They were beautiful and amazing (and very pricey)! The owner of the shop was born and raised in Zimbabwe and travels there often to visit friends/family and pick sculptures for his business. After wandering some more (highlights included a small house on a raised platform high in the air with a crane (see pictures) and houses built out on the water with their boats anchored outside their doors. We were very jealous!) Then we headed back to the market and had a fantastic lunch from some of the vendors (homemade smoked salmon chowder and a prawn salad roll for Travis; chicken pot pie and a raspberry tart for me, yummy!) After lunch, we wandered down to the pier and found a stand next to the water that sells fish and chips, we'll definitely have to come back for that too. After that, we came home, gathered our stuff and went to a nearby rock gym. It was crowded but very fun. Hopefully we will be able to go back a couple times before we leave and keep our climbing muscles in shape for Thailand.
That's the news so far, we are hoping to visit the Museum of Anthropology tomorrow and take a hike along the Pacific coast. Then explore Chinatown (markets and an authentic Chinese garden) the next day. All in all, we're keeping busy and having a great time!