Vancouver…and what it’s really like!

The international perception of Canada lies somewhere between Arctic, lumberjack country and oh yeah, the Olympics come to mind too. No wonder tourists often seem surprised by Vancouver. It’s greener, bigger, warmer, well just completely different to what they had expected. I once was one of those clueless tourists myself but I have learned a lot over the past months…

Bears are everywhere

Yes, there are bears in British Columbia. If you live on the North Shore you might even spot one in your backyard. A more “intimate” bear sighting is generally rare but you should always be mindful of wildlife when entering bear country, especially when hiking with a dog. Stay “bear safe” by either attaching a bear bell to your dog or by keeping the dog on leash. My favourite bear rule: Don’t use floral perfumes when hiking or camping.

There is also coyotes and eagles and we do have sharks, cougars and wolves in our province. Pretty wild, eh?

It’s all lumberjacks and big trucks

This obviously depends on the part of Canada you are visiting and whether your are spending time in the countryside. Alberta yes and yes. British Columbia not really. People wear plaid and full beards but they’re more likely to work in shared office spaces and ride a fixie bike. Canadians are definitely an outdoorsy bunch and savvy on making a fire, cutting wood or attaching snow chains. Why that is? Schools offer “outdoor education” classes where kids learn such useful skills. I learned how to cheat in badminton and jump into a sandbox instead.

It’s f* cold

Canada is a big country. With big temperature differences. In March we had an early start to spring in British Columbia with temperatures between 12 and 15°C. Up on the East coast people were meanwhile complaining about freezing cold days in the minus 20s. Vancouver rarely gets snow in the city and this year even the local mountains stayed clear of snow for most of the time.

Ganges Salt Spring Gulf Islands

People love Tim Hortons

It is true, Tim Hortons is well loved for a quick and cheap caffeine fix. And for their donuts and Timbits. I tried it twice out of convenience (at the airport and at BCIT) and both times left my coffee unfinished, I just couldn’t do it. Thankfully, Starbucks is not your only alternative! Vancouverites can be proud of their coffee culture where baristas focus more on different brewing techniques and roast quality than double cream and syrups. Try Revolver, Elysian, 49th Parallel or Platform 7 coffee. On that note, a Lucky’s or Cartem’s donut beats Timmy’s anytime…

People are easy going

People are pretty laid-back in Vancouver. Most of the time, about most things. Don’t worry about forgetting spare change for the bus, smoking weed or chatting about religion or politics with strangers. There is another side though! People jumping the line, the housing market, irrational driving behaviour, constant telemarketing and Christy Clark make Vancouverites lose their calm.

Everyone owns a Kayak

…or a SUP, boat, yacht or boogie board. If you live on the coast one of those for sure. And yes, there is great surfing in Canada. Tofino is one of the most popular cold water surfing destinations worldwide. It is beautiful!

Tofino Long Beach Summer Canada

Summer is a joke

I had low expectations for my first summer. Just to find out that it rules! In Vancouver people wear Flip Flops 4 out of 12 months. Surfshorts and short running shorts even 12 out of 12. Canadians are hardcore when it comes to temperatures. Best thing about summer: City beaches like Wreck, Third and Locarno, BBQs on the beach, bike riding the seawall and amazing people watching at Kits – Vancouver is awesome in summer (Downtown not so much).

Eh?

Well, this is actually true.

VANCOUVER 178 Kathrin Kilburn

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My 5 Favourite Festivities in Vancouver

To get to know a city, it’s people and quirks, taking part in local celebrations is key. Vancouver has a couple of amazing, hilarious and beautiful festivities that give the city a special flavour.These are my five favourite celebrations and festivities throughout the year:

Halloween

Not all Germans carry the Carneval gene. In Munich, Oktoberfest is way more important than Karneval (ask someone from Cologne or Mainz though!). Dressing up was never one of my obsessions. But being creative is – and that’s why the contagious Halloween-fever in North America finally got to me this year. While I was half-heartedly dressed as a budget-saving “London Eye”-riddle last year (obviously no one knew what or who I was), this year I will actually make an effort to get some proper accessoires and fake blood on me. And what’s not to love about this holiday: Adorable kids dressed as Oreo Cookies and Mini-Zombies on the sidewalk, carving pumpkins with friends, eating candy, watching Beetlejuice and taking walks through the neighbourhood looking at peoples tricked out gardens transformed into graveyards and skeleton-parties. Fun.

Halloween House Shaugnessy Garden Fall

Polar Bear Swim

The Vancouverite way of starting the new year is with blue lips and clacking teeth. The Polar Bear Swim is an infamous annual hangover cure that separates the Vancouverites into three groups: The bystanders holding towels, hot chocolate and rum; the brave swimmers, partly costumed; and the whimps, those that can’t face the cold waters of English Bay. Too bad I am not in town for this years swim. Next year I will take the plunge. Maybe.

Polar Bear Vancouver Sun
Credit: Ward Perrin, PNG

Canada Day

I had no idea what an array of maple leaf accessories there were out there. On Canada Day Canadians go all out. Everyone is in their red and white gear and out on the beach, BBQ’n it up and celebrating Canada’s birthday. This year was particulary nice as the 1st of July was one of those über-hot 36°C summer days. I highly recommend going down to Wreck Beach to celebrate with the locals.Never have I seen our beloved Nudie Beach (We call it FKK in Germany, meaning ‘free body culture’) so packed. Needless to say the Canada Day costumes down there were legendary. I’ve never seen more relaxed beach cops either, playing frisbee with some Wreck regulars and ignoring the obvious cocktail pitchers (and yes, we are in North America after all. We have beach cops.). There is also a funky parade and fireworks. Which leads me to another favourite in my calendar…

IMG_7250

The Celebration of Light

I thought my New Years experience in Sydney, Australia in 2007 was hard to top. But I had seen nothing yet. The Celebration of Lights is something else, especially because it is in the middle of summer. It’s three days long and three nations compete to show who can create the best firework show. The whole city is watching, even on TV. The professionally orchestrated pyro-show is accompanied by music which you can tune in on the radio. Bring a camping chair to any high ground or make friends with someone living in a high rise with a waterfront view and you are set for the jaw-dropping celebration.

Terry Fox Run

I had never heard of Terry Fox until I moved to Vancouver. Shocking, I know. His ‘Marathon of Hope’ (1980) across the country to raise money for cancer research made him a national hero and running legend. He could not finish his run due to cancer in his lungs and when he died in 1981 at the age of only 22 the whole nation was grief-struck.

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.” – Terry Fox

His legacy kept running strong. Terry has become synonymous for the fight of cancer and every year thousands of people gather in his memory to participate in running events across the country to keep his goals alive: Support Cancer research and never give up on your dreams. Read more about the Terry Fox Foundation here. Who’s joining me 2015?

Terry Fox Run Vancouver 2014
Picture: Flickr.com / RunSociety

10 Signs of Becoming a Vancouverite

The place you live changes you. For the better and the worse. Leaving my German “Pünktlichkeit” (punctuality) behind and cutting back on the infamous “Direktheit” (brutal honesty) has come naturally. Some things though, like addressing your employer or instructor with their first name or shouting a heartfelt “Thank you” to the Bus driver still take some courage. But I start feeling the change and despite being a “Working Traveller” on paper, I feel closer to becoming a Vancouverite already.


1. The 24/7 Yoga Outfit

To the coffee shop, to the bank, meeting a friend for lunch, at the grocery store, to the park, in class, on public transport, at the beach, in restaurants, in the pub. They are everywhere. Yoga pants are the uniform of Vancouver’s women. Casual, comfy and flattering, it fits almost any activity of the day – hard not to see the benefits of that. For me as a European this is a new definition of effortless style and it didn’t take me very long to embrace it.

Note from the author: A velour track suit or the very popular parachute style (Berlin) are definitely not accepted in public in Vancouver. If you are unsure about the rule set, consult your nearest Lululemon sales assistant.

2. No Umbrella

Big news – it rains a lot in Vancouver. But you will hardly find a local carrying an umbrella with them. You invest in good (looking) rainboots and a stylish rain jacket, but umbrellas are tourist wear. Toughen up!

Dylan King Red Umbrella                                  Source: Dylan King Photography

3. The Bacon

Maple Bacon Donuts? Eww. My first reaction was disgust. Meanwhile, about a year later, I like to eat my Sunday waffles topped with raspberries, maple syrup and some bacon. Yes, I am a convert.

4. “It’s local!”

Having people over for dinner? You better check where your beets are from. Knowing each and every origin of your dinner supplies is crucial for hosting a dinner party. Even better: Get a Community Garden lot and serve the best introduction possible “They’re homegrown”. Jackpot.

5. Own a Growler

The Growler has become a collector’s item and at the same time is a way to express your enviro-friendly self. The further your branded beer container has travelled, the more nods from bearded men you will get at the brewery.

Note from the author: I am not talking about animals here. A Growler is a 1,9l refillable jug for craft beer.

Growler at Brassneck Brewery

6. No  Smoking

Having lived in Vienna for six years I got pretty used to yellow stained walls and constant cigarette smoke around. Vancouver is the complete opposite. Vancouverites don’t smoke. Well, let’s say they don’t smoke tobacco.

7. Be Active

Run, Hike, Paddle – Vancouverites love the outdoors. And there is no excuse. Heavy rain? Pack an extra set of clothes. Snow? Throw some snowshoes on. Heat? Well. Okay. Let’s go to the beach then…

8. Kale, Quinoa and Kraft Dinner

Kale is the arugula of the 21st century. Just salad does not fulfill any yoga-triathlete-crossfit-practicer. Kale is the Vancouverite’s superfood of choice. Only quinoa might be a competition. Or Kraft Dinner. Not celery though (Have you seen this awesome Portlandia episode starring Steve Buscemi?).

9. Hike in MEC

Owning a piece of MEC is crucial to survive the daily city grind. And if you are out on trails, MEC is everywhere. Just like Germans are easy to spot in their trafficlight-coloured Jack Wolfskin gear, you will be able to identify the Vancouverite. Only their Return policy is more loved than their gear.

10. Fear the Wildlife

You’ve stopped requesting a bear sighting in the city. While tourists get very excited about spotting a bear on top of Grouse Grind or seeing a coyote warning sign at Charleson Park, you get excited if there is no wild animal crossing your path. Bears and cougars don’t really phase you much, you care more about that racoon in your garage or the skunk in your neighbour’s garden.

Bear Warning Whistler