Stanley Park is Vancouver’s famous urban paradise and I knew weeks in advance that I would need to explore it in detail, preferably on a bike. So this afternoon at about 1:30 pm I set off from the UBC Campus, and navigated my way downtown by bus, taking 3 buses to get to the eastern edge of Stanley Park. This was my first chance to glance at the city of Vancouver. It is a relatively new city and according to some accounts, its origins date back to 1792 , the year when Captain George Vancouver explored this region. Most buildings downtown west of Granville Avenue were built relatively recently as Vancouver has experienced a huge building boom over the last few years. A large part of downtown is covered by modern residential skyscrapers and Vancouver’s building frenzy continues unabated. It’s evident everywhere that this is a very popular place to live.
My rental bicycle was waiting for me at a place called Spokes Bicycle Rentals, a place that had been mentioned to me several weeks ago by the Vancouver’s Visitors Association. I met one of their managers, a young sporty guy named Phil who was extremely helpful in helping me lay out my itinerary for this discovery on two wheels. We started chatting and I found out that Phil is originally from Montreal and moved to Vancouver 3 years ago. He loves the outdoors and has gotten involved in snowboarding, mountainbiking and diving and he mentioned that Vancouver is among the world’s top dive sites.
After laying out my route for me and giving me information on all the important sights along the way, Phil selected a comfortable bicycle for me that would be able to handle leisure riding as well as some mild offroading. Once outfitted I hopped on the bike and started my tour along the seawall of Stanley Park. At 20 times the size of Central Park, Stanley Park is the 3rd largest urban park in North America, and its setting is just stunning. From the east side you have a view into downtown Vancouver towards Canada Place and the cruise boat terminal. Several ocean liners were docked in town.
One of the first major sights along the bike path are the Totem Poles, imposing in their height and number. I circled around Brockton Point towards the north-facing side of the peninsula, and a stunning view towards North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge opened up. As per Phil’s advice, I cycled up to Beaver Lake which is a quiet little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the seawall. It is a large pond surrounded by lush forest, covered in a water lilies. I cycled all the way around the pond and then headed back out to the seawall and quickly came to the Lions Gate Bridge which is surrounded by Prospect Point, the highest point in the park. From there I soon reached the northernmost point of Stanley Park and started cycling westwards again. Just past a single outlying rock called Siwash Rock I arrived at Third Beach that was just completely teeming with people. I bought a drink and relaxed for a while until I resumed my trip and passed a group of inukshuk builders close to Second Beach.
The crowds were intensifying and every conceivable spot on the burnt-out grass was taken up by sun-worshippers. The largest beach, located closest to the city, is English Bay Beach, replete with daytrippers. The crowds were a bit too much for me, so I crossed False Creek over the Burrard Bridge and explored Vanier Park and Kitsilano Beach. The view from the bridge is simply breathtaking. On the other side again there were thousands of people, barbequeing, sunworshiping, and picknicking.
I turned around and headed back on 4th Avenue, crossing back to downtown Vancouver via the Granville Street Bridge and headed straight across towards Canada Place and the seashore west of Burrard Street. Since my stomach was growling after about 3 hours of cycling, I returned the bycicle to Spokes and asked Phil for advice as to where to eat. He suggested an Italian place named Ciao Bella almost right across the street. I took his advice and plunked myself down on a nice patio and thoroughly enjoyed an Italian meal in the evening sunshine.
At 8 pm I was ready to head back to UBC and walked up to Robson Street, one of Vancouver’s main thoroughfares. Thousands of people were coming towards me since they were planning to catch the fireworks. The sidewalks were just totally full with people. I was walking in the opposite direction and ended up doing a quick little photographic tour of downtown, including the Hotel Vancouver. I saw a few more interesting buildings: the Vancouver Block and the Art Gallery of Vancouver.
Quite exhausted from a full day I started walking down Granville Avenue, still surrounded by throngs of people and had to wait 45 minutes for a bus since all buses were going down Davie Street to take people to the fireworks. Finally the bus came and I was listening to a bunch of teenage boys that were planning their under-age drinking escapades at the occasion of the fireworks. After a really long day I finally arrived back on the UBC campus at about 9:30 pm. Now it’s 11 pm and I can’t wait to hit the hay.