Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cath and the city: my love affair with Vancouver

This is Part 1; it got too long for a single post. Part 2 soon! Not necessarily next, but soon.

Mr E Man and I met up with friends for brunch on Sunday, and were amused to find that together we'd been living two thirds of a popular Vancouver stereotype; we'd been golfing on Saturday, and they'd been skiing. If only someone else had gone sailing, we'd have had the whole set of things you can allegedly do on the same day.

This is one hell of a city, which I think has probably come through in some of my previous posts. But I think it's about time I told the tale of how I ended up living here.

Vancouver as seen from a float plane
I bought the tour as Mr E Man's birthday present, September 2004 or possibly 2005

It wasn't supposed to happen; my original plan was to get off the train from Toronto when it arrived at 7 am and go straight to Seattle. Seattle, in my mind as a 20 year old student in 1997, was all Nirvana and coffee and coolness. In contrast, I knew precisely 2 things about Vancouver: it's where the train terminates, and where they film the X Files1.

But all that changed when I met a Vancouverite who was sitting near me as the train pulled out of the station in Toronto. As two of the ten or so non-smokers in the smoking carriage (the only ticket I could get at short notice), we ended up sitting together when the passengers very democratically decided to move around in order to seat the smokers and non-smokers at opposite ends of the carriage. I think her name was Selena, or maybe Serena; we stayed in touch for a couple of months, but then our emails slowed to a trickle and stopped, as emails to temporary travel buddies tend to do. I wish I'd stayed in touch, because I'd love to thank her for what happened next.

Upon discovering my plans, she insisted that I change them. As we rolled through the Canadian Shield, the Prairies and the Rockies, she extolled the virtues of her native city and eventually got me to promise to stay for at least one night. She was moving to a new apartment the next day so she couldn't put me up, but when we arrived in Vancouver after 3 days of cards, chess, beautiful scenery and surprisingly cheap beer, her Mum was waiting to pick us both up and to drive me to my all-time second favourite youth hostel2 on Jericho Beach.

On my first night I joined an international group of travellers for a BBQ on the beach. Watching the sun set over the Pacific to my left, with mountains in front of me and the city lights to my right, I looked at the happy people walking, cycling, swimming and hanging out with friends all around me, and said to myself, "I'm going to come back and live here and be one of these people".

Sunset paddle at Jericho Beach, summer 2002

Three days later I decided I really should get myself down to Seattle. It was OK, not great, despite the unexpected sunshine.

When I got back to the UK, I had one year left to go in my undergrad degree. My original intention was to do my PhD in Vancouver, but my adviser talked me out of it. Knowing what I do now, it was absolutely the right decision - three and a half years instead of five or six, no classes, all research all the time from day one onwards. "You can always go to Canada for your postdoc" she said.

So, I did. Getting dumped by the wanker for whom I'd been prepared to stay in the UK turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. (Not that you could have persuaded me of that at the time). I was looking for suitable labs in Vancouver within about two months of D-Day3 and arrived in February 2002.

My academic reasons for choosing the lab I did are given elsewhere, but I'd be lying if I said the location wasn't the most important factor. Luckily for me I loved the lab and my research went really well, so my PhD supervisor's warnings about choosing labs for the wrong reasons were unnecessary, although not unappreciated. (I mollified him somewhat by pointing out the lab's excellent publication record).

After spending the first few weeks surviving, adapting and otherwise settling in, I eventually rode my shiny new bike (I still have it, but it's not so shiny) back to Jericho Beach. I sat on the sand, looked at the mountains, and congratulated myself on getting myself back here. It only took four and a half years, and I knew that the next two years (the duration of my work permit) were going to be great.

That was over six years ago, and I was right! Part 2 will describe how living in Vancouver is very different to visiting, but how despite the city's shortcomings, I can't possibly imagine living in any other city.
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1. I've just started watching the X Files again from the beginning and it is so damn cool to recognise the locations now. Plus, that was one excellent show when it first started, and for at least the first five or six years IIRC. And Mulder had his shirt off in roughly every second episode of the first season, which is a bonus. I know at least one reader who will agree ;) I can't wait for the new movie, even though Mr E Man ignored my pleas to try to find a way to work on it. I just wanted to go to the wrap party. If I'm really really lucky I might get to see Ben Stiller again instead. Boooooo. Although Owen Wilson did look at my boobs last time, which was cool. Yes, I've had too much caffeine today. Why do you ask?

2. My favourite is in Florence. It's a converted villa on a hill outside the city, has its own vineyard and smells of fruit.

3. Dumping Day.

17 comments:

  1. Did I mention it's raining? The weekend was lovely, but of course it didn't last.

    Just think, you can come back to visit any time you like, without all the work-associated crap.

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  2. I *heart* Mulder too, especially with no shirt, or even just a tight blue tshirt, really. :)

    Vancouver sounds lovely.

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  3. Aw that was lovely. I haven't been to Vancouver since I was a child, but now I want to go back!

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  4. Vancouver sounds awesome! I have not been North of Seattle yet, but always wanted to. And you sure are doing a good job advertising :)

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  5. Yay! Everyone should come and visit! We can have some beers, a music night, and a Mulderthon.

    (Mr E Man to me, a couple of weeks ago while I was watching the pilot episode, in the fake patronising voice he uses when he's trying to get a rise out of me for comic effect: "Did you want to be Agent Scully when you were 16?"

    Me: "Hell yeah! Everyone did! She kicks ass! I wanted to be Clarice Starling too!")

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  6. I didn't want to be Scully, I wanted to be Mulder (i.e. the dude in the basement with the cool files and belief in all things extraterrestrial). Scully irritated me a lot. I enjoyed watching the first season again knowing the places (particularly the final episode shot on the North shore with a full vista over downtown and Canada place).
    I loved brunch. I loved Jericho beach (especially for the fireworks). I loved Canada place with the cruise ships. I loved walking in Stanley Park. I loved the Sequoia Grill in Stanley Park for dinner around sunset. I love BC wines and it breaks my heart to not get them here. I miss Granville Island a lot, and feel sad everytime I go into the crappy British supermarkets and see everything wrapped in plastic and no friendly people to talk to at each stall(Armado's the butcher, Duso's for Italian Deli stuff and the cool folks at The Grainery with their fondness for British People,and the Empire Cookies at Stuarts the bakery). I miss Blenz hot chocolate big style.

    I don't miss the rain one damn bit though. You can have that!
    We did the float plane tour last November of the sky line - it was great but not as nice a day. R sat up front with the pilot and didn't stop smiling for 3 hours.

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  7. Wonderful story.

    And Mulder without a shirt, mmmmmm. I had the biggest crush on Mulder when I was in grad school. Note that I say Mulder, not Duchovny.

    I'd love to join you for a Mulderthon someday. And what is this story with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson? You will have to explain yourself!

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  8. Propter, hope you're not too homesick. Remember - curry and Galaxy chocolate! I forgot to even mention Stanley Park - maybe in part 2.

    Bean-Mom, isn't it strange how some actors are only really attractive as one character? (Although maybe not so much any more). e.g. the one and only time I ever found Hugh Grant attractive was in the first Bridget Jones movie.

    The Owen Wilson story deserves its own post some day.

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  9. Great story! I'll make it to Vancouver someday. But if the weather there is like Seattle's, I'm not sure I could live there. I grew up where "rain" usually meant 30-40 minutes of a massive thunderstorm, followed by sunshine and clear skies for the rest of the day. I just can't get used to the type of rain that's like having the sky spit on you all day.

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  10. Come on up! The summers are usually pretty dry. And, given that even the Pentagon admit that the wars being fought over oil today will be fought over water in future years, I don't mind the rain too much. I just hope your army is nice to us when they invade ;)

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  11. oh... that brought back memories :) Nicely written!

    I absolutely loved Vancouver when I lived there during some of my graduate time. Imagine having special streets where you can ride your bike. Organic food easy to find. Real weather and snow! People who actually walk and like to move around. And of course, the mountains and the water....

    hmm... it's not like the South exactly ;) Although, a thing about the rain. I'd take Vancouver rain over the down pour and flooded Mississippi we have had since a month back. Here, if it rains you can't go out - almost not even drive considering it is POURING in amounts I have never seen...

    If I didn't think about things like family and friends I'd look for another post doc in Vancouver but alas, I think it will be to head towards the European roots soon enough.

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  12. Thanks Chall! When did you live here?

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  13. I moved there just in time to spend the millenium new years at a nice restaurant at Kit's (can't spell but Kitselano beach?). And then I left in August the same year... lovely time!! Have really good memories of skiing Friday evenings after a good week of studies at UBC :)

    I've been back since, even if it was for a couple of days of vacation but I am longing to revisit again. (Although I must admit I have to stop myself from looking too much at work openings since I think it is time to move back to Europe... but if I wanted to stay in North America, Vancouver would be my first choice).

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  14. Ah, before my time then! I lived in Kits for my first couple of years and loved it, it was like being on holiday all the time. House prices forced me Eastwards though.

    Good luck with the job search!

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  15. Thanks! I am keeping my fingers crossed and my head busy....

    I think it might have been a little cheaper back then? Some of my grad.friends shared apartments along the beaches down to down town. Along 4th and downwards if I remember correctly.

    I, being lazy and wanting to be close to the lab (read; sleep in in the mornings), stayed at campus out on the end of UBC :) Liked the bike rides to my friends, althought the ride back up the hills were not as fun...

    Hope you survived the snow good! In the south it is now 80F and blue sky and sun. Summer's on its way..

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  16. It's a very nice story and I am glad you love Vancouver...

    I've been living here for 3 years and I don't like it here! The landscape is wonderful, but people are very superficial and cold compared to the East, or to Europe and the Us where I've also lived.

    I am not trying to discourage people to try it though...we are all different in this world, nd that's the beauty of it!

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