Vancouver really has it all-in-one. City + sea + mountains. If there is a city where locals have an all-rounded lifestyle, Vancouver has to be it. They can work in the city, and then play by the sea or up in the mountains. Whistler ski mountains, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, is merely a 90-minute drive from the city (this will come in a separate post).

Vancouver Public Library

Several people we spoke to brought up their observation that Vancouver is a little bit like Chicago. It's not difficult to see why-- we think that the similarities are primarily architectural-based. Chicago is serious for its architecture as evidence by the intricate exteriors of old buildings that are preserved until today. We see that in Vancouver as well. Tall corporate buildings with glass window panes line the backdrop of the classic buildings.

Vancouver Art Gallery

Robson Square, home to government buildings and courthouses

Financial district, a blend of classic and modern architecture

Vancouver Public library built to resemble the Roman Colloseum

Downtown Vancouver is a peninsula with approximately 100,000 people living there. Housing trends are that old low-rise buildings are constantly being torn down to make way for high-rise buildings. Interestingly, Vancouver does not quite fit into the stereotype of what people generally think about Canada. When people talk about Canada, two things come to mind: French influence and extreme winters. However, Vancouver belongs to neither category which makes it a very unique city from the rest of the country. Winter in this city is very mild with an average of 41F (here in Chicago, we get ecstatic when the temperature "warms" up to 41F in January). In fact, there are very few snowfalls in Vancouver and sometimes winter would go by without a snowfall. French is also not a language commonly spoken in Vancouver compared to the rest of Canada. Due to the city's unique heavy integration of immigration, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Farsi are spoken more than French.

With the sea surrounding downtown Vancouver, one will always be able to marvel the views of the North Shore mountains. In Spring, snow-capped mountains remain as a beautiful sight to admire while serving as a reminder that snow is a rarity in the city. Right at the edge of downtown that meets the water, seaplanes take off and land often to take people for a bird's eye view of the city and mountains.

Canada Place by the harbor

Given such a seemingly perfect city, it comes with a price tag, literally. Waterfront condos are increasingly built and wanted for those who can afford the luxury. We were told that one of the new construction condos built just across from the Olympic Cauldron initially went for $22 million, and only very recently had a going price of $28.8 million. For the "poorer" folks, they will have to settle on other condos that are a couple million dollars. Life is tough. On my flight back to Chicago, I got to know a very friendly Vancouver who was enroute to Chicago for business. He lamented that his friend in Chicago keeps telling him to move there because of the cheaper present real estate.

Food truck culture has also made its way to Vancouver like it did in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. One that stands out as Vancouver's street food icon is Japadog which serves up umami-packed Japanese-style hotdog.

Where did this vibrant city all begin?  Its heritage is still evidenced by the cobble-stone streets and red brick buildings in Gastown, but being old is not what this part of town is only trying to prove. Gastown today is a hip place to hang out with a myriad of lounges, bars, art galleries, and antique stores. Restaurants that are recognized by the city as being very good are also popping up in Gastown.

In contrast to the heritage in Gastown, on the other edge of downtown is Yaletown which celebrates the future of Vancouver from the past. In this relatively new residential area where young urban professionals are gradually moving into,  former railway loading docks and warehouses are converted into restaurants, lounges, boutiques, and galleries. It celebrates the urban coolness and hotness with the streets now being reputed as having a busy nightlife. Its location by False Creek makes it even a more desirable place to live for the young well-to-do professionals who can afford the condos that provide views of the water.

Lest you think national parks cannot be found in cities, Vancouver has one right in downtown. The heavily and naturally forested area that spans about 1000 acres, Stanley Park, is right at the doorstep for city dwellers who wish for some outdoor time either biking, running, or rollerblading which can be done along the 9km stretch of seawall. For those who wish for more cross-country biking and running, just get off the seawall which surrounds the edge of Stanley Park and go on one of the many inland trails in the forested area. After all, Stanley Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. On the day we biked along the Stanley Park seawall, the sky looked threatening before it started pouring down on us. We could only ride on as there was no form of shelter available along the entire path. We biked the entire circular route which brought us views of the city skyline, harbour, and the Lions Gate Bridge. At least the rain made it even more unforgettable to say the least.

At Stanley Park overlooking the downtown skyline

Along the Stanley Park seawall overlooking the Lions Gate Bridge

A city really can have everything, can't it? City + sea + mountain.

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