Our trip to Canada was preceded by an analysis of where to combine two key points: a great holiday and the opportunity to further develop English by Jola and Laura. Initially, and for a long time, we were considering Malta, but the beauty of nature together with the summer period, and the holiday season too, made us move towards the western part of the second largest country in the world - and precisely to the province of British Columbia in Canada. This province is supposedly considered the most attractive, offering, in addition to the magnificent city of Vancouver surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean, also beautiful mountains with snow-capped peaks, blue-green lakes, forests together with their wild animals. It is also the first destination to which I have returned - and we perceive the world in such a way that it is worth visiting new places after all. British Columbia is so inspirational however, and offers so many attractions, whether in summer or winter, that even after spending 5 weeks there we would come back to this place again. Without any hesitation. But before we go into details, let's start traditionally with more practical information:
In 2018, in the ranking of the best cities in the world to live in, Vancouver took the 8th place, and every time is in the forefront in this type of comparisons. And of course there (and in surrounding areas) the 2010 Winter Olympics took place.
Vancouver has the largest Chinatown in Canada and one of the largest in North America. This is where the wealthy Chinese are attracted to, which translates into lots of sports and luxury cars visible in the city. However, originally, the Chinese came there in the past to build roads and railways. Currently, they are a very noticeable national minority.
But let’s get things in order, coming back to our departure ....
A trip from Poland to Vancouver is quite a big undertaking when it comes to time. You have to fly to one of several large European airports and then spend a dozen or so hours to finally land in this beautiful city. We initially flew from Cracow and later took off from Zurich with a highly recommended airline - Edelweiss.
As it was our second longest family holiday, just a little shorter than our 7-week stay in Asia, we decided to book accommodation much earlier. How big was our surprise when it turned out that the accommodation in this city is really expensive. For a long time we had a dilemma whether to live on the outskirts and commute daily to the city center (downtown) or opt for an evidently more expensive form of living close to popular tourist attractions, and above all, the ocean. In spite of a very tarnished budget, however, we chose the more expensive form. We probably did it due to our experience from Tokyo in 2013, where we decided on a cheaper alternative but everyday commute to the center hindered us from visiting everyday attractions. Of course, we are not talking about half an hour commute, but rather about 1.5 or 2 hours one way. The choice of downtown Vancouver turned out to be a great because of the location. Our small 2-room apartment was located in the heart of the city amid the surrounding skyscrapers and with a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. This was where we were supposed to spend 5 weeks of our stay.
Our first steps, after a long flight from Europe, were directed to Vancouver’s showcase, which is an area called Canada Place. About 15 minutes away on foot, it's basically a multi-functional area in the city center for all kinds of events. This is where the great cruise ships arrive and this is where you can eat something good or just have a coffee with a view of the North Vancouver’s waters that are visible in the distance. The characteristic 5 sails symbolize both this place and also the whole city - obviously Canada Place appears very often on postcards you can buy in this, giving home to 630 thousand inhabitants, metropolis. It is worth adding that from there you can go to various interesting corners of British Columbia either by sea or small aircraft with characteristic skids for landing on water.
A very interesting place with many attractions and opportunities for spending a good time outdoors.
The whole, slightly frantic for us, first weekend passed very quickly - it could only mean the beginning of a language course for Jola (group + 30) and for Laura (a group for teenagers). The girls attended classes at the Global Village language school, starting at 9am and finishing at 4pm. It is worth noting that Laura's course was organized in a way that she had traditional English lessons until noon and then every day from 1pm she went on a trip to some interesting place in the city or in surrounding areas. A very nice way to combine holidays and learning. We can definitely recommend the school itself; most importantly, students who develop their English there are people from all over the world and believe me that the age difference between them is really big. You can meet there young people, students, and folks over 60 who are fulfilling their language and travel dreams. All that in a very nice and friendly atmosphere. In the school itself, we also met a very nice lady Beata, a Pole who has lived for many years in Canada and has also worked in the office of this school. Best wishes, Mrs. Beata.
Below a crazy class with teacher Ingalisa...
Although typical classes last from Monday to Friday, school life continues throughout all week. At weekends, the school organizes paid trips to interesting places in British Columbia and also a bit further i.e. to nearby Alberta for visiting the Rocky Mountains.
As Laura's course always included a full-day Saturday trip, we decided to join the one to the capital of the British Columbia province - Victoria. The journey was by a traditional school bus straight from North America, which gave us a lot of fun.
After about an hour we arrived at the ferry check-in as Victoria is located on the island with the same name as the city - Vancouver Island. It is a really big island and it would require a separate holiday to get to know it - and it has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to beautiful nature and wild animals.
The capital of British Columbia is reportedly the most European city of Canada, although it is really far away from it.
As the Canadians say, there is the perfect place to retire. And there is nothing wrong with this statement. It is there, in the oldest city of British Columbia, where the environment is mostly green and one feels like in a huge garden full of colourful flowers. In addition, it is very clean, and the surroundings are really neat. We can say that Victoria made a very good impression on us. Although we were delighted with the cosmopolitan Vancouver, if someone is looking for more relaxing atmosphere, the city is really a very good choice.
In just one day of our stay in this, housing 300,000-people, city we had the opportunity to see some really interesting places, including the Royal Museum of British Columbia. The facility itself is arranged in a very modern way and certainly encourages you to stay inside longer. If our kids do not really want to leave a place there must be something to it. In addition to typical exhibits related to the region, there is a very interesting exhibition concerning ancient Egypt. Historical items mix with modernity and computer arrangement. The mots we liked the totems closely referring to the history of the First Nation, i.e. the Indian tribes originally inhabiting these lands.
Victoria is also characterized by great buildings and parks that encourage relaxation and spending time with one’s family.
We said goodbye to Victoria with a bit of dissatisfaction and certainty that much more time should be devoted to this city. On the other hand, we were very pleased that we could see this beautiful and colourful place.
For 5 weeks, however, Vancouver was a city that we could explore in its entirety. We try to follow a simple principle - you have to make the most of every trip and visit everything as if you were not going to come back there again. This is a quite intense form of travelling, which, however, we always try to adapt to our children.
Speaking of children, it is worth noting that Vancouver offers various attractions for them. We mention only a few, but we think that it is probably the most children friendly big city we've visited so far. Below are just some of the places worth going to:
Speaking of attractions for the whole family in Vancouver, Stanley Park should definitely be on the "must see" list. This is an area of over 400 hectares, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean; we can see there, among others, a wonderful aquarium, Lions Bridge, Girl in a Wet Suit (similar to Polish Mermaid in Warsaw) or magnificent Indian totems. It is one of the largest parks of this type in North America. Generally, it is a place where city residents and tourists come to rest and relax. So there we will see a whole lot of people running, skateboarding or playing various team games. Interestingly, Stanley Park can be walked around and the distance is about 9 km. We managed to do it several times, admiring the attractions around us. It is worth noting that various events organized by national minorities or other organizations take place there.
The summer sunsets in this place are particularly charming.
Coming back from Stanley Park, towards Canada Place and the very center of Vancouver, you can walk along a few-kilometer long promenade, admiring the charms of downtown toofgether with the moored boats and yachts.
From then on, every weekend, we tried to visit some interesting places. One such trip was a visit to the mountain town of Squamish, 50 km from Vancouver.
A very interesting area surrounded by such wonderful places as the mountain Garibaldi (you can also get there directly by shuttle bus from Vancouver - Park Bus)
If you are flying to Canada, it is worth remembering this site, because it is a company that offers transportation from the main cities to the surrounding attractions, including those which public transport does not reach.
In case of this particular mountain (as well as the entire British Columbia area) you have to take into account the risk of meeting bears.
However, we arrived at the Squamish by Greyhound Bus, with which you can travel practically around the whole Canada. The operator is generally fine, although we have experienced a significant delay with them. But never mind, it was holidays after all.
In this town, on August 4, there was an annual colourful parade and lumberjack championships. We started this day very early to be present at the public breakfast - pancakes were served to residents and tourists. It was not something great, but a nice experience in slightly colder morning temperatures.
The main point of the day was, however, a wonderful, colourful parade, which provided us with a lot of exciting impressions. This colourful drive is organized by residents, but also by national minorities.
The second attraction was the Loggers Sport Festival (the loggers' championship), taking place during a few days in August.
It is a really interesting event with many competitions for international teams of woodcutters, as well as many sports attractions organized on the side.
We said goodbye to Squamish quite tired as that weekend was extremely hot and various attractions scattered around the area required from us many kilometres of long walks. However, we were very happy with that trip.
Speaking of mountain towns, the number one is definitely Whistler, which is less than 60 km to the north from Squamish (about 120 km by a very scenic Sea to Sky route from Vancouver). It is the undisputed capital of mountain and cycling sports. Importantly, it was there that numerous sports competitions took place during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. The prestige of the location means that even the Canadians themselves say it is a generally
expensive area - especially when it comes to accommodation. So, in short, generally expensive British Columbia is even more expensive there :)
However, it is worth to dent the budget a little because, as almost every small town of this type, it offers a whole lot of attractions, including typical outdoor ones, which we had not experienced in their entirety (we saved a bit there). However, we can certainly recommend them.
When we were visiting Whistler, there took place the biggest event associated with mountain biking - Crankworx, during which you can see amazing mountain descents and all sorts of figures during the jumps. The entire small town was filled with bicycles.
Whistler is also noteworthy of its mountain peaks Whistler (2182 meters above sea level) & Blackcomb (2240 meters above sea level).
In addition to the peaks, these are actually two resorts that have been merged into one - thus becoming the largest resort in North America. As for our visit at the above mentioned summits, we had a bit of bad luck because on that day the weather was very foggy and unfortunately we were not able to see what they offer - great views. Maybe another time.
We took a second photo of ourselves, this time at the very top, with Olympic rings.
Returning from Whistler, we visited two famous waterfalls, that are also obligatory on the Sea to Sky route: Shannon Falls and Alexander Falls.
Let's get back to Vancouver, however, as the number of attractions during the summer is almost unimaginable. You have to choose what you want to see. One of the flagship annual events is the Honda Celebration of Light, which is actually a fireworks competition for international teams. Beautiful shows are watched on the beach together with a view of the water surrounding the city.
In areas such as Stanley Park or other central points of the city, numerous and colorful festivals take place, including the Thai Festival, Summer Art Festival or Anime Revolution. However, the most famous event is the Vancouver Pride Parade, which we are not going to describe in detail, but believe me you can really see some things.
When it comes to various events, it is worth mentioning one thing that accompanied us almost every day when we passed the Vancouver Art Gallery. In the square in front of the building various people were dancing to the rhythm of Hispanic sounds. It was a nice thing as you could see how random passers-by, through the rhythm of music, changed into pretty good dancers. And this is what Vancouver is like - it provides an amazing amount of attractions and opportunities, so that everyone can find something for themselves.
Speaking of Vancouver, of course, you cannot forget about sports. The city is a host to well-known local teams such as BC Lions (Canadian football), Vancouver Canucks (hockey - so beloved by Canadians ) and, the closest to our football or as they call it - soccer, represented by the local team Vancouver Whitecaps. These teams play on a very nice BC Place facility with a capacity of slightly over 50,000 places. Of course, each start of the match begins with the singing of the Canadian anthem.
After visiting Vancouver and trying all the urban attractions, we get back to local trips.
It is certainly worth going to North Vancouver, which is formally a separate town. You can get there very easily from Canada Place, from which depart so-called Sea Buses - ferries regularly travelling between these two places.
You sail into a charming marina and a place called Lonsdale Quay. There you can also enter a very nice hall, where it is possible to buy delicacies or fruit from nearly all around the world. Lonsdale Quay is also a place with a beautiful view of the largest city of British Columbia.
From there, you can also visit other, very attractive, tourist sites such as the famous hanging Capilano Bridge. It is worth noting, however, that during the summer there are really huge crowds of people there.
Due to the fact that Laura was on a school trip there and I had visited this bridge in 2013, we gave up on going there, and instead chose a very similar attraction - Lynn Park, in which ... there is also a suspension bridge that you can go through for free.
This is also a very nice park, where you can walk a lot and experience nature.
Not far from there is Vancouver's most famous mountain - Grouse Mountain. You can get there by a free bus from Canada Place (similarly as to Capilano Bridge). You can reach the top in two ways - by either using a modern railway or walking.
Our team split up - Jola and the children took the train while I decided to walk. I preferred to take advantage of so many climbing possibilities offered by British Columbia and Vancouver’s surroundings. Funny thing is, however, that official information classifies this ascent as quite easy. I would absolutely not call it that way - you can really get tired, mainly because of high steps on the route. Comparing this ascent to my other climbs, described as moderately difficult, it was definitely the most exhausting of them. Peak of Vancouver, as the mountain is called, can be reached, on average, in 1.5 hours - 2 hours of climbing. Apparently, around 100,000 people climb there a year, and the route is about 2.9 km. It is worth to try climbing first and later taking the train down (due to high steepness you cannot do it on foot).
At the very top there is a shelter with restaurants and a shop with mountaineering equipment. Another attraction found there, and definitely the biggest one, are probably 2 bears: Coola and Grinder. Although its best, and especially in Canada, to see them in their natural environment - Laura and Daniel liked them very much.
The last place north of Vancouver (although we are aware of how much we have not seen yet), which we want to describe is Deep Cove. This is a very nice part of the North Vancouver district with the beach and the mountain, or rather a rock for climbing. You can rest there both actively or lazing a bit on the beach.
On the last but one weekend of our stay in Canada we, I and Laura only, again visited Vancouver Island. Our goal was to taste the wild nature from which British Columbia is known. You can get to the huge island (460 km long) in several ways. However, we chose the best one - a flight by a small plane, which in itself is an amazing experience. The journey consisted of a flight on the Vancouver - Nanaimo route, and later we took the public transport to the Campbell River.
And why exactly the Campbell River? This small town is a great starting point to see all the treasures of nature offered by the island of Vancouver. Immediately after the arrival it turned out that this place would be amazing.
However, all Saturday was dedicated to a trip organized by one of the local travel agencies, specializing in allowing tourists to observe whales and bears. While there you can find several such offices:
The cost of such trip is not low, but it is certainly worth it. What we were able to observe during these two days was amazing and frankly exceeded our expectations. First things first...
A day dedicated to watching bears begins early in the morning on one of the nearby marinas. From there you sail away, by a modern boat, on a few-hour cruise, which in itself is an attraction. After just one hour of sailing, one reaches an area filled with all possible sea animals. There are orcs, whales, seals, sea lions and many, many more that we could see in the wild. The route itself leads through numerous islets and places that, surrounded by fog, had the look of a Jurassic park. What made the biggest impression on us was the possibility of getting quite close to all these sea creatures.
After about 3 hours of travel by boat, you reach a place far away from civilization, i.e. the Orford River, which, as you can see, lies outside the island.
That is where First Nation - Homalco is located.
You sail into a small marina, where the native inhabitants of this land greet you. You immediately get the cool atmosphere of the whole place and the feeling of connection between the surrounding wild nature and people.
There is also a small museum of Indian art there, where you can buy interesting souvenirs. Also from there you can leave, by bus, for a 2-hour trip to see bears. It is worth noting that the place is so wild that almost everywhere you can see signs warning against these giant animals - they refer to Grizzlies (although smaller black bears can be also spotted).
It would seem that the warnings are quite trivial, but what is interesting, the whole trip begins with the signing of a statement that we are aware of the risks and all consequences associated with the trip, including death. The journey takes you through the surrounding forests and mountain rivers, where bears often come to find salmon. We traveled by bus finally reaching viewing platforms located by the river.
When the bus arrives near such a platform, only the guides come out of it holding, if necessary, a special gas against bears. They look around the bus and check, in absolute silence, if in the immediate surroundings there are no bears. It is worth knowing that such a gas does not guarantee 100% defense against these animals - they can run at 50 km per hour, which means that the escaping person has no chance.
If there are no dangerous animals in the immediate surroundings, you can very quietly get out of the bus and immediately enter the platform, which is locked with a padlock so that the bear does not enter it. Such a situation really gets the adrenaline going as we are practically on our own then.
Standing on such a platform, we were lucky to see these giants from a safe distance. However, there were not so many of them by the river as it was only the beginning of the season, which meant a modest amount of fish in the river. It seems that the best time to watch bears in the wild (at least in this place) is mid-September.
After the trip we returned to the First Nation settlement to eat a tasty lunch. Coming back, again, we saw many wonderful animals.
Sunday provided us with similar impressions. We saw, among others, sea lions and seals. This time we were sailing in a fast boat - the speed was a little troublesome, giving us even more fun.
As you can see in the last picture, troubles were ahead of us. It turned out that a great area of forests in British Columbia was on fire, and since then, for more than a week, the sky was really foggy. The situation was so complicated that due to limited visibility our return flight was canceled. Alternatively, however, we bought ferry tickets. Finally, after such wonderful experiences, we reached Vancouver to join Jola and Daniel.
The last, whole family, excursion was a ferry trip to Bowen Island. It may not be an exceptionally spectacular place in itself, but the impressions were also very cool. You can see a lot of, obviously, wild nature there, which is so characteristic of British Columbia.
Girls finished their courses, which indicated that our time in Canada was slowly coming to an end. During the last days, Jola went on a day trip to admire the wild animals (remember that children of Daniel's age cannot participate in observing bears). That is why we were not able to go on such trips as a whole team.
My final trip was to visit the Joffre Lakes.
There I also arrived by a bus provided by the, mentioned earlier, Park Bus company. A full day trip but providing amazing experiences. In what way ? After about a 2 hour drive from Vancouver, you do a small climb along which you can see the bluest lakes of British Columbia. The three lakes are located at different heights, to which leads a nice and slightly demanding route. That day, however, it was raining heavily, which however did not cause that these lakes to be less blue. The color could knock you down.
Surrounded by cosmopolitan Vancouver and wonderful nature, our 5 week stay had come to an end. Jola and Laura were very pleased with their improved language skills, and the fact that they made lots of new friends from alsmost all over the world. We have so many invitations now ... Japan, Peru or Mexico are just few of the directions. Maybe one day we will take them up. At the end, we must say - we have not met such cordial and open people as Canadians for a long time. Practically at every step you could see the smiles and cordiality that we will remember.
Well, one more thing. YES - we definitely want to come back there one day. It is very difficult to leave such a place.
Greetings to you and we hope to see you next time.
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