Come to Vancouver! Damp, grey Vancouver

Columnist Stephen Quinn. (The Globe and Mail)

Last week, the New York Times offered a guide for visitors who have just 36 hours to spend in Vancouver. It included such highlights as a trip up the Harbour Centre and brunch at the Stanley Park Teahouse – you know, where the locals always hang out. (Although, to be fair, it also included dim sum at Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre and drinks at the Keefer Bar in Chinatown.) For your long weekend, I would like to offer a true insider’s 36-hour Vancouver experience.

Arrival: Vancouver is blessed with a rapid transit line that stretches from its world-class international airport to its often-imitated, super-dense residential downtown core. What the locals know is that most of this transit line runs underground. So if you want to experience a truly breathtaking introduction to the city, get off the train at the Marine Drive station and hop aboard the No. 100 bus eastbound. You’ll be whisked away from the stench of South Vancouver Transfer Station in no time. Then, transfer to the No. 22 MacDonald at the convenient, rain-sheltered bus loop under the Knight Street Bridge. Board the No. 22 MacDonald and head north into the city. When you crest the hill at 37th you’ll find the city spread out before you like a damp, grey buffet where the choices are dizzying. Now you’re riding like a local! You’ll also get a hint about what powers the city’s economy as your bus is penned in on all sides by a wall of container trucks driven by people who apparently get paid by the minute.

Accommodation: 15 to 90 minutes later, you’ll arrive at Kingsway, where, after a 25-minute scenic stroll through the bustling commercial district, you’ll find one of the most quaint and charming motels in the city. Not only is the 2400 Motel on the list of the city’s endangered heritage sites, it’s also where Ahmed Ressam, the man known as the Millennium Bomber, spent months mixing explosives to blow up at least part of Los Angeles International Airport. Imagine the street cred back home! And the rates are reasonable!

Dinner: If you’re in the mood for some down-home deep-fried goodness then you’re in luck – there’s a Church’s Chicken right next door. Need a little something to wash that down? The Eldorado Liquor Store, which specializes in wine, beer, cider and coolers is right across the street! Take it all back to the room, bunk down and enjoy the cable TV.

Nightcap: No cab needed! Just head for the benches of Norquay Park and swap stories and swigs with some of the local characters. You’ll be glad you did!

Breakfast: Vancouver is not an early-rising city so there’s no need to set an alarm. You’ll find the best breakfast spots serve what’s known as an “all day breakfast.” This is widely available, but try to choose a place displaying a valid business licence.

Day Two Activity: Time to head downtown. Walk back down to Knight Street and hop aboard the trusty No. 22 again. Fifteen to 90 minutes later, you’ll find yourself winding your way through what’s left of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. Here you’ll want to get off at Main and Gore.

I’m serious. Get off the bus.

Walk north on Main to Hastings, then go left.

Now, ask yourself, “What happened? Where did all these people come from? What’s wrong with them?”

Don’t worry. They won’t hurt you.

You’re making your way to Cartem’s Donuterie where the featured doughnut is the delicious chocolate pastry cream finished with chocolate ganache and raspberry caviar pearls! Yum! As you continue west, you may find yourself spontaneously playing a little game the locals call “ratting.” It’s like birding, except with rats. Points are based not on the rarity or elusiveness of the species but rather on the estimated mass of each rat sighted. “Look, there goes a two-pounder.” Once you start looking you won’t be able to stop. They’re like cigarette butts – you’ll see them everywhere.

Double points, by the way, for a rat gnawing on a cigarette butt.

Stroll down Robson Street – famous for its Vancouver flavour – where you can experience at such stores as the Gap, Banana Republic and Foot Locker.

Then head back down to Hastings and Carrall for dinner at PiDGiN.

“What’s all the kerfuffle?” you may ask. “Why is that person screaming at me through a bullhorn?” And: “Why is that lady spitting on me?”

Well, in less than 36 hours you have managed to pierce the thin veneer of this city. Inside, it’s all gnocchi, fois gras, pickles and sake. And outside, across the street, well, it’s not.

Less than 36 hours, and already you’ve got the place figured out.

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