Day 45 – Vancouver & Stanley Island

Our second day in Vancouver started nice and slow, probably mostly due to the lack of coffee in the room! You could pay for coffee from a flask in reception, but we refused as it is generally free in the hotel lobby if they don’t provide it in room! I’d read about a trip we could do on the Internet and we reckoned we had probably seen most of the sites in the city centre the day before, so we set off by car to go and see Stanley Park/Island.
It is an easy drive from the hotel and we ended up just driving around the island and occasionally stopping to take pictures. I was of course desperate for coffee by this point and we stopped for some by the totem poles, where we also got fined for not paying for parking! $40 for stopping for five minutes is quite expensive and we’d have been better off paying for parking – you live you learn I suppose! From Stanley Park we drove up Capilano Road to Grouse Mountain, where you can take a cable car (Skyride) up the mountain. We also drove past the Capilano Suspension Bridge on the way. Both these attractions are very popular with tourists, but with a $40 fine already on the day’s budget, we decided that these activities were both too expensive to contemplate. I’d hoped that we’d be able to get a good view from the Grouse Mountain parking area, but there were bloody trees in the way so we made the trip for no reason. Vancouver is VERY densely populated (fourth most densely populated city over 250,000 residents in North America, after NY, San Fran and Mexico City) and it is obvious when you look at it from Stanley Island, with lots of high rise apartment blocks on the skyline. The city is also very diverse and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collection of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Mexican and burger restaurants in one city.
We got back to the hotel and my curiosity about Hanoi Pho opposite our hotel got the better of me – I HAD to have something to eat from there! Brian was a bit dubious but I got a Vietnamese Curry Shrimp Bowl which turned out to be one of the best things I’ve eaten on the trip so far! We then just lounged about the hotel until we felt ready to go out walking again. Of course, having some ‘downtime’ and spending it on the internet meant I found a place called Save on Meats just down the road from the hotel. The diner/butchers has a very interesting history and we (I) decided to walk past it on our way to Gastown to see what it looked like.
This unfortunately involved walking down Hastings Street which turned out to be VERY rough. The day before we turned off Hastings before it got too bad but now we had to walk past hundreds of people just sitting/standing/laying on the sidewalks with all their belongings in shopping carts or spread out with them trying to sell anything and everything they can lay their hands on. People had all sorts of stuff spread out on the floor, old clothes, shoes, random ornaments etc etc, and everyone is desperate to make a few dollars for their next fix. I saw people there that looked close to collapse and extremely skinny and ill looking. And yet more people openly dealing drugs or counting their stash, with the smell of weed hanging heavily in the air. Still nobody harassed us but it was still a slightly scary experience. We saw cop cars but what they can actually do about the situation isn’t clear, as there are just that many people on the streets in the area. I can’t imagine what it gets like later on at night when the sun goes down…
The strangest thing is that the ‘squalor’ ends very abruptly – suddenly you cross the street and find yourself in a nice area with nice pubs and restaurants but how this divide works I’m not sure. Shaken by the experience we had to steady our nerves with a couple of drinks at The Metropole Community Pub before walking around Gastown some more. Eventually we made it back up to Save on Meats where we had burgers that I thoroughly enjoyed, though Brian didn’t like his that much. They were quite spicy and in my opinion, properly seasoned, though Brian prefers less salt in his food! Then it was back to the hotel before it got dark and even more scary!
Things I learned today: Avoid East Hastings Street if you’re in Vancouver!

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