Today gives me just a few hours in Vancouver. All those months ago, my schedule demanded that I choose between spending more time in Seattle or more time in Vancouver. I couldn't have both, as the next train on my itinerary only departs three times a week, and the legendary tardiness of the Coast Starlight into Seattle could not guarantee a connection. So I chose to spend more time in Seattle, thinking quite reasonably that I would have more reason to go back to Vancouver soon. With the sun shining, the air fresh and the city streets humming with people, I quell the desire to have more time to kill here. After all, this trip is about the journey, and it's fun not getting bogged down in the day to day tourist activities.
Pacific Central Station is just a few blocks from Chinatown, so that's where I make a bee-line for. As in Seattle, I'm on the look out for some cheap food. I just have to get by damned Québec ATM card to work in a bank machine. This takes three attempts and a phone call in broken French to my bank. Turns out they don't like me taking out too much money when I'm away from home (probably a good thing) so I go back and have another go and all works fine. By this time I'm starving, and without much thinking I dive into the first restaurant I find. It also seems to double up as a Chinese bakery, with fresh steamed buns on the menu. I play it safe (and inexpensive) with a plate of vermicelli, snow cabbage and pork. It comes with a coffee, and the bill is just C$5.62. I'm a happy boy.
I cut back onto Hastings Street, and walk towards downtown. Like all Canadian cities, Vancouver has it's compliment of tall, shiny and instantly forgetable skyscrapers. Canadian cities are popular locations for television commercials, because they can be easily filmed without including any recognisable landmarks.
I stride along the streets, stopping to buy postcards and to peer in shop windows. I take some photographs across the Burrard Inlet towards the mountains. It is the surrounding landscape that makes Vancouver. The city has the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Seattle is similar, but some distance away from the open sea. Vancouver's location is pretty impressive, and also drop dead gorgeous. If you ever hear the one about the Vancouverite who goes skiing in the morning and swimming in the sea in the afternoon, bear in mind it's probably not a joke.
I turn back towards the station with plenty of time on my hands, thinking to drop by the Vancouver Art Gallery. I'm glad I spared the time, because upstairs there's an excellent travelling exhibit on pre-fabricated domestic architecture. The exhibition offered an excellent combination of photographs, videos, drawings and models, and discussed some of the more exciting ways in which prefabrication is developing the most important (and often most underdeveloped) type of architecture - that of the humble house.
I skip down to the ground floor and float through the excellent selection of paintings by the Group of Seven, a school unknown to me before I arrived in Canada. Some of the work may not be that great, but it's cultural importance to the development of modern art in Canada makes it an important chapter in this country's young artistic history.
I seek directions to the Skytrain (using my bumbling English accent to great advantage... are Canadians more susceptible to it than Americans?) and ride one stop from the Stadium station to Main Street station. I have just enough time to e-mail and blog from a near-by hostel, before I return to the Pacific Central Station. The next stage of my journey is about to begin.