Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vancouver: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Good: The setting, the glory of western Canada, with tremendous mountains looming over the city, and cool weather even in the height of summer.

Bad: The traffic. Vancouver is like Seattle, with cramped narrow streets serving as major arteries and too much traffic being stuffed down them. Nor has Google Maps informed itself of a major street closure that's wreaked havoc in the Point Grey district.

Ugly: The drivers. Unlike in Seattle, they're bad-tempered, and unpredictably incompetent. The bicyclists, too: arrogant and entitled over pedestrians who dare to avoid obstacles by crossing bike lanes.

Good: Factory museums outside of town, the salmon cannery at the mouth of the Fraser River and the copper mine in the mountains above Howe Sound. Both full of clearly-presented detail on what was done there and what it was like to work at it (including racial and other labor issues), in displays and from tour guides with the knack to be compelling. Both turned on vintage machinery so you could hear how noisy it was (having warned you to cover your ears).

Not so good: The fabled Museum of Anthropology at UBC. If you really, really, really like traditional native art from various cultures, you'll like this. If your interest is only in passing, there's too much of it, and not enough about the cultures it came from. Go to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix to see this sort of thing done properly.

Good: The Sea to Sky Gondola, up in Howe Sound near the mine museum (and right by a stunning waterfall) is the one to take. Great views not only from the gondola but from up top, decent cafeteria, no insects, no kitsch, and a wooden-plank suspension bridge. Someone decided to hold their wedding on the viewing platform at the far end of this, and we got to watch the couple try to make their incongruously bridally-dressed way back across the suspension bridge against the clutching wind.

Bad: The more famous Grouse Mountain gondola. The ride itself is OK, but the crowds are much worse, there's no good viewing spots on top, the animal shows all shut down by mid-afternoon, and the mountaintop is full of, absolutely loaded with, gnats. And not Gnat King Cole either. Ycch.

Eh: The SeaBus ferry across Burrard Inlet was an inexpensive and brief substitute for a harbor tour, and the north side has got a delightful covered market and street shopping to explore, but the seating on the ferry is all indoors, the south end is an obscure industrial district, and I didn't realize the ferry was part of the Metro transit system until I showed up to buy a ticket, or I would have taken the SkyTrain to which it connects (none of my maps showed that) to get there.

Good: The food. Ranged from good to awesome. One small Thai restaurant really beat the band, but the most memorable meal was of Salmon n' Bannock's "First Nations Inspired Cuisine." Unlike the fabled and now long-gone Muckamuck of decades past, this doesn't try to reproduce their recipes but gives modern presentations of foods that the original peoples of western and central Canada might have been expected to eat. Lots of salmon, bison, elk, wild boar, wild rice, plus bannock, which is a thick chewy cracker vaguely resembling what I've had from Natives in Arizona and eastern Oregon as fry bread. The waitress patiently explained everything and recommended a slate of appetizers to me so I could try a lot of different things. The cured salmon was intensely fresh, the duck sausage extremely ducky, and the boar meatballs sufficiently boaring.

Bad: I was looking forward to having my final meal at a tempting Chinese place near the airport, but to have time I needed to show up at 5 when they opened for dinner. Only they didn't. At 5:10 I had to give up.

Good: Vancouver is still a city of used bookstores. Lots of used bookstores, and I got to at least 8 of them.

Ugly: But the most-praised online is a pestilent rathole of a kind I haven't seen in 25 years, and the others like it are long gone. The stock is not bad, but it's crowded and mazelike and with so many books piled up in the way on the floor that the fire marshal, assuming they have them in Canada (which, judging from this, I guess they don't) would have a heart attack. Also, it smells in here. It smells as if a muskrat had urinated on the carpet and then died there. The best used store - large, clean, well-sorted - is literally around the corner, so whut the hey?

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