I'm Canadian. I grew up outside Edmonton, Alberta where I believe the definition of winter originated. I haven't lived in Canada for almost 13 years and I can't say that I miss that kind of cold but I do miss the crisp air that bites your nose, the opportunity to layer and the ability to wear fur because it actually is the best insulator.
Although I'm not from Vancouver, my maternal family is from Vancouver Island and most of my friends from Alberta migrated to the West Coast after high school and university. So, in a way, I've always felt at home in Van and having been in Asia for the last six years, and the U.S. for the seven years prior to that, I was missing some quality Canadian time with the friendliest people on the planet. My American better half, Alex, had also never experienced the Great White North, so we decided to spend the holidays and the remaining days of 2014 in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Enroute from Vancouver Island to Vancouver via Harbour Air.
Some things never change, some places will always be heartwarming because they're familiar and welcoming, Vancouver is one of those cities. I'm not saying that nothing has evolved since 2002, they've hosted the Olympics, seen massive gentrification in most urban areas, and managed to stay on top of the World's 10 Best Places to Live list according to Forbes. Regardless of all the things that come and grow in this stunning cityscape, it still stands alone in breathtaking scenery, outdoor recreation, amazing food, and kind, community-minded people.
Apologies in advance that this is not exactly a well-rounded city guide, it's merely the places I went with the people I love there. Below, my list of spots I hit up and things I did that I would recommend to anyone who has the chance to visit this incredible place.
This is the coolest neighborhood in the city. It has changed so much over the last decade. What once was a scary, drug-ridden, cobblestone area is now the place where all trend-driven boutiques live and the best new bars and restaurants take space. Check out Roden Gray, Stussy, Milano Coffee, STR/KE MVMNT and the Sons + Daughters HQ.
Vancouver Harbour, Gastown.
2. Deep Cove
We stayed with our close friends, Shawna and Mikey, aka "Shikey," and had the absolute pleasure of spending Christmas morning with her family in Deep Cove. This suburban area is located in North Vancouver, a quick drive over the Lions Gate Bridge will take you there and immediately immerse you in the most awe-inspiring nature. All you have to do is walk around and take it all in.
3. Take the ferry to the Island and fly back
We went to visit some of my family on Vancouver Island and for the first time ever, I took the seaplane on return. The ferry is always nice and chill, but going by air is so much faster and the bird's eye view is magnificent.
North of the Wall aka Whistler.
I love to exercise and I love to see what other active people in other geographical locations are obsessed with. It just so happens, Vancouverites are also enamored with spinning, not so unlike people in Hong Kong, New York, and LA (the other places I have spun). To my delight, Shawna is not only an impeccable host, she's also a spin instructor at Cadence in Kitsilano. Her class was so f***ing fun, mostly because she's super motivating and her playlist was one of the best I've ever ridden to. She also, diplomatically, took us to Ride Cycle Club, the newest spin studio in the city. Ashley kicked our butts and truly brought the SoulCycle vibe to her dark, energy-filled room.
If you've never had a snowy mountain experience, this is the place to have it. Whistler is one of the top destinations in the world to ski, snowboard, mountain bike, hike or do anything that the terrain encourages. We rented a house with a bunch of friends and did what all true Canadians do: drank, barbecued, laughed and relaxed.
Photography: Alex Maeland.