What I like most about Vancouver is its vibe.
The culture is vibrant, sociable and very outdoors. The people are friendly, fashionable and completely multicultural with strong Aboriginal, Asian and European influences. The city and surrounds are spectacular from all angles. We simply loved it.
Living initially in White Rock just outside the city limits, we were lured to the suburb of North Van with its proximity to the mountains and to the downtown hub. Yet only 18 months later, we were packing up and leaving our Vancouver home as the lack of relevant job opportunities became too much to bear and improved employment prospects in the National Capital were too hard to ignore.
We often look back and regret having spent such a relatively short amount of time in what was for us the ideal environment to call home. Vancouver fuses the wild, outdoors side of Canada with the practicality of a vibrant, cosmopolitan English-speaking city. It will always hold a special place in our hearts for how it opened up our eyes to an alternative and much improved way of living life. A way of life far removed from our former 9-5 office routine, the obligatory Saturday trip to the local shopping centre, and the painful regularity of the weekend hangover.
This Vancouver way of life was quite different. It involved far less routine and infinitely more adventure. For a start, I went back to university and became a mature student at the beautifully located University of British Columbia perched on the headland at Point Grey. Designed to encompass student teaching within a typically west coast setting, I immensely enjoyed my 12 months of post-graduate study and unique cultural experience offered by a superior North American university.
In a typical day, the Vancouver vibe offered a morning hike before the start of work on the Grouse Grind, aka “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” – one of the decidedly more interesting and intense local hikes. It meant the working day started at 7am, not 9am, and finished closer to 3. It was about choosing whether to enjoy an amazing variety of fresh sushi for lunch or going for the good ole Canadian “soup and sandwich”. It was about deciding between an early evening sail on the harbour or a floodlit ski or snowboard at Cypress, Grouse or Seymour mountains.
Weekends were about hiking along the many local forest and mountain trails, a 10km run along the ocean road, or a three-hour scenic drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler. Stop for coffee at one of an endless range of delicious and original coffee houses across the city, drop into an organic farmers’ market or health food shop to satisfy the “granola” in you, or simply pay a hard-earned visit to one of the many micro-breweries on offer across the Lower Mainland.
The vibe in Vancouver also importantly infused aboriginal culture into mainstream society – from the famous totem poles at one of North America’s largest urban green spaces, Stanley Park, to the numerous indigenous carvings at the international airport, and to the architecturally stunning Museum of Anthropology just west of Vancouver with its acclaimed collection of Aboriginal art and artefacts. For Vancouverites, the style of dress is equally important to the overall way of life in Van City, from the obligatory Mountain Equipment Co-op rain jacket or pair of hiking pants to the endless array of winter sports shops replete with Burton this and Quiksilver that.
For me, the vibe wasn’t just about what we had experienced. It was the sum total experience of all Vancouverites. It was the end result of mixing a diverse, youthful city with a vast and spectacular picture book of nature at its very finest. Blending the two together was not just an accomplishment but a means to create a vibe so unique and special that, watching the carnival atmosphere in and around the recent Winter Olympics, I realised just how lucky we were.
Russell lives on Sydney's northern beaches in New South Wales, Australia. Bored with the daily grind of his life in the UK, he made the decision to head overseas in the summer of 2003 with his wife, two dogs and the entire contents of their house. Looking to find a different way of living for themselves, they made their home in Vancouver, Ottawa, then Sydney. Russell's blog, at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.blogspot.com, offers insights into, and recollections of, his search for a life less ordinary.