Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Visiting Vancouver - 2: first impressions, a steak at Mortons

10.20 am Vancouver time, Tuesday 23 June.

Friday we took a taxi from the airport into the city to find our hotel, the Pan Pacific on the waterfront.

On first impressions, the thing that struck me about Vancouver was how New Zealand it felt, sort of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington rolled into one. This was partly due to the light, partly architecture and lay-out, partly the physical surrounds themselves.

Prior to arrival I had not realised just how young Vancouver was. The first European settlement dates from 1862, and the city itself did not really start to grow until the transcontinental railway was completed in the 1880s. This railway was the price for British Columbia's entry to the new Canadian confederation in 1871.

As an aside, I had not properly realised just how different Canada's history is to that of Australia or New Zealand. Far more complicated. I don't think that you can understand Canada without understanding that history.

The second thing that struck me was the small number of Chinese. Vancouver was an early settlement point for Chinese, and has been a major entry point in recent years. Yet I saw very few, far fewer than you would see in the Sydney city area. As we shall see, this visual impression proved to be quite misleading.

I was also struck by the number of tall apartment blocks, as well the building activity.

Unlike Sydney where the new tall apartments in combination with the office towers crowd out the sun to create cold concrete canyons, Vancouver blocks are somewhat lower and and are mixed with smaller medium density developments. I was to learn that this was due to conscious planning policy. All this creates a visually spectacular sky-line without creating a desert at street level.

I took some photos to try to draw this out, so expect a later post! I think that Vancouver is a civilised city in the way Melbourne is but not Sydney.

The ever-present building activity is directly linked to next year's winter Olympics. The city is refurbishing itself in advance.

Having decanted ourselves at the hotel, we went for a walk to look for a convenience store as well as somewhere to have dinner.

Convenience stores or small supermarkets, along with what Australians call bottle shops, are very important. Prices at the big hotels are so high that purchase of a few supplies not only adds to the enjoyment of life, but also saves a fair bit of money.

We have followed this approach from Paris to Florence, Rome to Shanghai. Here I give Vancouver a fail. We finally found them, but there were not very many in the immediate area.

On dinner, D. and I were quite unsure as to what we wanted after the plane trip. We finally settled on Mortons, a steak house not far from the hotel.

Now this was a new experience. We had just wandered in off the street. We had no idea that this was the local branch of a very successful US chain.

The prices took a little getting used to; a glass of Konunga Hill cost $C12.50, perhaps $15 Australian.

For the benefit of international readers, Konunga Hill is a mass Australian wine. It provides good value at a moderate price - $A11-$14 a bottle, depending on where you buy it. So $C12.50 struck us as high.

Like all chains, Mortons has a mass produced air, but is high quality mass produced. And so it should be at the prices!

There was not a table, so we went to the bar first. There was a long cocktail menu; the US places weight on a cocktail before dinner in a very different way. D. had a cocktail, I a Canadian beer. No beer on tap though, and that was to my mind a weakness.

To the table, and our helpful waiter brought around a trolley with meat, fish and vegetables set out on it to explain the menu. Grain fed and aged beef, cut in large sizes. I am a grass fed beef person, and also find that I can no longer eat huge slabs of meat in the way I would have done in the past. So we both chose the smallest cuts we could find.

The food was good, but really nothing out of the ordinary. The service, on the other hand, was superb and worth a visit just for that.

On the wine, we chose a British Columbia pinot noir. The Canadian wine industry is quite new, something that surprised us, given the French influence. After trying now at least a dozen different bottles, when in Rome drink what the Romans' make, I can also say that it's pretty good.

It was still light when we emerged to go back to the hotel and bed. Because Vancouver is a long way north, it has long daylight hours in summer.

Exhausted, we collapsed into bed!

A full list of posts in the visiting Vancouver series can be found here.

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