Newbs in Vancouver
It’s approaching six weeks since two pasty-faced, jet-lagged Scots landed in Vancouver, blinking against the strip lights in Richmond airport’s baggage carousel. After a brief struggle to the taxi rank with four big bags of both the luggage and under-eye variety, we were on our way to our Airbnb in West Vancouver, where we spent our first 3 weeks in the city.
Every time I’ve moved to a new country, I’ve found it difficult to know how to answer the slow drip of messages from friends and family members, hungry for feedback on what my Brave New World looks like. I can get trapped in replying perfunctorily, outlining accommodation details or employment progress and neglecting the actually interesting stuff: observations, experiences, one-offs – i.e., the very reasons I moved continent to begin with.
So let me now share some of the main things I’ve noticed since landing in this new, foreign land.
1.Trucks. Are. Life.
For months before we left Edinburgh, Dave used to regularly wax lyrical about his plans for a pick-up. About how we could chuck our skis in the back, throw on some snow tyres and head on up the winding road to Whistler. To be honest, he went on about it so much that by the end I was just as enthusiastic about getting one.
However, I dare say there is a chasm of titanic proportions between our idea of a truck and Canada’s idea of a truck. Because thundering through Vancouver right now is a swarm of monsters masquerading as entirely sensible vehicles, with aggressive sounding names to match their bulk.
The car parking spaces in the supermarket in West Van are about six feet wide, leaving a few marked for use of "Small Cars". And yep, they're still bigger than the standard car parking spaces back in Scotland!
After studying the drivers of these (exquisitely polished, rarely mud-flecked) RAMs, TITANs and GMCs, we’ve started to think that there may be some overcompensation at play. If you know what I mean.
Personally, we've since settled on a 2007 Ford Edge SUV, sourced from a Facebook group (I'm nothing if not resourceful.) You can fold the seats down and comfortably get about 9 sets of skis plus a small hostage in the boot, so Dave's satisfied.
2. Everything. Is. Big.
I know this is a common observation from Brits who land in transatlantic territory, but having walked around for just a week I am very much joining the bandwagon. We’ve already touched on the cars, but it’s the streets, the food, the buildings, the malls, hell I swear even the sky is bigger here.
Vancouver’s unique in that even in its big city buildings have big nature mountains towering over them, a combination which works together to get you feeling really, really small. And it's pretty magnificent.
Case in point: an enormous block of cheese on sale in the local supermarket...
3. People are thee best.
It quickly became apparent that personal connections are paramount in Canada. On our connecting flight from Toronto to Vancouver, we were seated next to a lovely guy called John. Immediately he took an interest in us, our lives and our work. Long story short, a contact he set Dave up with has now landed him a job. How's that for a first impression of Canadians??
When we arrived at our Airbnb, our host Trina couldn't have been more welcoming and helpful either, and has been speaking to her friends about us to see if there's any way she might be able to help us get set up with jobs/an apartment. She's now even invited us over to her place for Christmas Eve!
In cafes, restaurants and bars, servers take an interest in our accents and ask what brought us to Canada. There's just a lovely sense of curiosity and helpfulness from people, which I'd heard about from others but was still a lovely boost to my already positive expectations.
4. Asian culture is huge.
It's estimated that around 20% of the population in greater Vancouver comes from Chinese heritage, while places like Richmond, just south of Vancouver, counts more than half of its inhabitants as Chinese. This means that walking around the city and its suburbs, Chinese restaurants are ten a penny. I'm not a huge fan of Chinese food, but I can imagine the city would be a gastronomical Aladdin's cave for those who relish it!
Saying that, we did go to a Chinese restauant called Dinesty in Downtown Vancouver a few weeks ago, and oh my god I still have dreams about those dumplings. A must visit for anyone looking for gorgeous, authentic Chinese food.
5. They love a bridge.
Road, rail, suspension: you name it, Vancity's got it. Because of the way the city is laid out, with "Downtown" being the epicentre of sky-skimming offices, banks, bars, restaurants and shopping, and everything else kind of satelliting off it, bridges connect the different areas. Travelling from West Van to Downtown you go over the glorious Lions Gate bridge (below), Second Narrows Bridge will take you to East Van and Burrard Street Bridge to reach West End from Downtown. It reminds me of a much more chilled out version of Manhattan.
6. It feels smaller than it looks (which is good)
In fairness, it is massive but it's largely spread out. The skyscrapers and high rise buildings you'll see in a standard Google search are probably taken in Downtown Vancouver (sandwiched between greater Vancouver and North/West Van.) Downtown is where most of the 'city' is concentrated, but Greater Vancouver is a different story. There are huge parks and nature reserves, smaller communities and an overall quieter, more laidback feel to it.
7. Groceries will bankrupt you
I'm talking 2 CAD (£1.16) for a cucumber. And cheese is tragically, tragically expensive. We "treated" ourselves to a tiny block of cheddar the other day which cost us about £6. SOS.
8. As will your mobile phone
For some reason, most mobile phone providers here only offer about half the amount of data you could get back home, for twice as much money. The cheapest deal I could find was $50 CAD (around £33) for 10MB of data per month, whereas back home I paid £15 per month for 15MB. Oh, and don't leave the province as your provider will essentially stop providing. Weirddddd.
8. It's the greenest city I've ever been in
There are massive parks dotted around the city and half an hour from downtown Vancouver are major hikes and trails. The whole city is also overlooked by three mountains (Grouse, Cypress and Seymour) which are a short bus ride from the city.
9. Craft breweries are everywhuuur (and I moved from Edinburgh.)
We're not complaining.