Olympics Day 3: 12 Hours In Vancouver (Mardi Gras — Olympics Style)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

There’s really no excuse for me to only spend 12 hours in a city like this, or any city for that matter, but alas, I’m trying to keep a schedule. Vancouver: bustling, urban, chic, innovative, I had to see it all. Could I? I mean, I had Opening Ceremony parties to attend to. Whether I like it or not, I had to, I was going to head up Whistler Creekside in the morning and set up camp next to the Dave Murray downhill course to see if any of the Olympians would smile at me as they passed (or so I thought . . .).

What does a first time Vancouverist (that’s Vancouver and tourist — did you catch that?) do in such a diverse, and Olympicly vibrant city such as Vancouver? Granville Market.

This island in False Creek holds one of the best markets I’ve been to in North America. I arrived there early and the workers were just getting things set up for the day. That didn’t stop the activity, however, and bakers were churning out goods. The blindingly colorful vegetables were stacked, sweets were on display, cleaver-wielding butchers tended to their lamb hocks, and the smell of JJ Bean cappuccinos hung densely in the air. It was love at first sight. At first the resemblance to Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market was evident, but the more time I spent in there I found it to be less raw, more polished in delivery.

I walked out the back door with that cappuccino in hand, to be staring face to face with the Swiss House. This isn’t normally the Swiss House, it most likely has something to do with the ferry docks close by, but throughout the Olympics, many countries have come to Vancouver and overthrown a willing business to make that place their home base. The Olympics were back in my world, with not even an hour away from the hoopla, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it again. I didn’t have a choice.

I headed across Granville Bridge into downtown Vancouver, and the pulse of everything Olympic related. I surrendered, letting the spirit fill me back up as I headed to Robson Street. It was blocked off to allow only pedestrians, which filled it up quite fast. The streets were just alive; different organizations had activities going on, art displays, trivia contests, and music. Then I made it to Robson Square, where the official Olympic countdown clock was located. Underneath was a skating rink you could look down onto. There were people zip-lining overhead — more craziness, that is all there is to it.

My vehicle out of there was a neighborhood called Gas Town. More known for the legal drug houses that Vancouver started not long ago, you may be surprised to know about the revitalization going on in this part of town. There were still some, let’s say, less than engaging folk around, but the old brick buildings, cobblestone streets, and souvenir shops were all worth crossing the street a few times as a safety precaution. Besides, at the end of the road, there is a spooky statue of the man Gas Town is named after, Gassy Jack. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure if I’d like to be known as Gassy Jon.

From Gas Town it was off to the nearby Chinatown, the largest in all of North America. I was particularly interested in this since learning this along with my visit to China last year. It was most definitely one of the more authentic Chinatown’s I’ve stepped foot in, right down to the lanterns on the street poles, and the fantastic dim sum in my belly. I took a spin through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, a calming respite from the city life, done with immaculate Chinese landscaping.

Time for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Games. This was more or less the reason for my venture down to Vancouver, I figured I wanted to see the city at it’s best, and this may be the best reason to show off your best. All except that I couldn’t get near B.C. Place, the stadium holding the ceremony. The security level must have been on high alert, like the color purple alert or something, because nearly everything was blocked off within a three block radius of the stadium. That was a buzz kill to my finding some atmosphere.

I headed down to a nearby park in the neighborhood of Yaletown where there was a designated area to celebrate throughout the Olympics. I went to the front door and followed the line to the end of the block, then around the other side of the block, one more block, then it double-backed on itself and took a right hand turn almost another two blocks . . . are you kidding me?

My lightbulb lit up. I remembered the big screens at Robson Square, so myself, and 5,000 other people headed there to catch the ceremony broadcast. It was awesome. They had three jumboTrons that I counted, and a projection of the broadcast on the side of the Sears building across the street! People were getting crazy anytime anything about Canada came on. Despite the typical Vancouver rainy drizzle, it couldn’t have been any better. The one thing that did tork me, was that Wayne Gretzky took the torch right past my locked up bike while I was stuck in a crowd of dripping Canuks. Can you believe that?

Afterward, Olympic Mardi Gras broke out (picture Mardi Gras without the beads and areola sightings). A monster fireworks show, huge flame cannons spewed, laser designs and spot lights lit the sky, and people dressed in different Olympic sports kept flying by overhead on that zip line.

I couldn’t believe it all. Well, I guess I could, after all, it’s the friggin’ Olympics! It was time for a latte and a drive back to Whistler so I could wake up early enough to be on the hill before the Men’s Downhill began. It was just my luck that with all the rain/snow mix, and huge snow dumps above the freezing line on the mountain, the course wasn’t ready and got rescheduled. I just found out the event I actually had tickets to, Ladies Super Combined, is now rescheduled, too.

So it looks like I’m going to have to juggle some things around, see if I can figure out some more of this Olympics stuff I’ve been hearing about, and get to all those other things on my “Vancouver To Do” list the next time I have twelve hours to kill.

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