It’s been a very long time coming – some of you probably thought it was never going to happen (and to be honest, it did feel that way at times) – but at last, on Tuesday 9th April 2013, we landed at Vancouver International Airport! The ten hour flight passed surprisingly quickly. While Thom has experienced several long haul flights, this was my very first venture outside of Europe so wasn’t sure how I’d cope with such a long journey in a confined space. We flew with Air Transat, a Canadian carrier who offer flights at comparatively cheap rates, and we certainly couldn’t complain about the service. They were constantly up and down the plane with complimentary (non-alcoholic) drinks and even the food wasn’t bad. The only complaint was the moron sat in front of Thom who had his chair reclined the whole way (even during the meal) and also managed to wake me up after trying very hard to get some shut eye.
However, the trip didn’t get off the very best of starts after realising I’d left my watch in a tray at security. It wasn’t until we’d boarded the flight that I realised I no longer had it.I knew instantly what I’d done but unfortunately it was too late. I blame the boot at security for unnecessarily making me split my belongings into three trays. I’ve since contacted Gatwick and thankfully it seems it has been found and handed to lost property.
We landed in Vancouver 11.45 local time – a mere two hours after we left the UK! We decided it was best to try and keep going for as long as we could so we could adjust to Pacific time as quickly as possible; in any case we were too excitable to sleep! Before we could leave the airport we had to collect our work permits from Immigration. We joined a queue for new workers and were surprised to find it moving fairly quickly as we’d read online that people have waited hours to be seen. Sadly, this queue was simply for passport control afterwhich we were then directed to another queue which did take ages. There were only two officers on duty and the queue was huge, but luckily for us we were seen after just over an hour of waiting. The Immigration officer Thom saw was really friendly and chatty, he even spoke to me at the next desk, meanwhile the officer I saw did not utter a single word. We weren’t even asked to produce any evidence of funds or insurance despite this being a requirement for participation in the IEC, and I spent much of the week leading up to our departure in and out of the bank trying to secure a bank statement compliant with the requirements. Regardless, we were relieved to have our work permits in our hand as this was the final hurdle.
We eventually arrived at our hostel at around 3pm after taking the Skytrain from the airport. We are staying at the Samesun Hostel on Granville Street which is in downtown Vancouver, having read many excellent reviews online. The room is pretty small and the furniture basic – the bed has possibly the thinnest mattress I’ve ever seen and there is a severe lack of pillows – but everything is spotlessly clean. The hostel staff are amazingly friendly and helpful, offering great tips and advice, (one thing you quickly notice about Canadians is how friendly they are) as well as hosting many events and activities for guests. We’re currently booked in for two weeks but can cancel for a full refund with 24 hours notice. We have a promising flat viewing lined up for tomorrow evening so watch this space!
As it was raining pretty heavily the day we arrived, it wasn’t long before we decided to take refuge somewhere. Conveniently, we had ended up in Gastown, home to The Steamworks brewpub where we sampled five beers from the taps before popping to the liquor store which was attached to stock up on some beers to enjoy back at the hostel. We also decided just to eat in the bar at the hostel that evening as it wa cheap and we knew it wouldn’t be long before we’d need to give in to sleep. The food was pretty nice, all homemade and cooked to order. I thought that if the food could be this good in a hostel, just how good is it gonna be elsewhere! Having been on the go for 21 hours by the time we got back to our room, we crashed at around 7.30pm and consequently were awake super early the following morning. Thankfully, after a fews days in we’re now pretty well adjusted.
The second day started off looking pretty miserable outside but weather reports suggested that it would dry up for the afternoon, therefore, we decided to get a few admin type things done in the morning and then head out to explore in the afternoon. First on the to do list was to open our bank accounts. Before leaving we had applied for accounts with Scotiabank through their startright programme, which seems to be aimed at newcomers to the country, so everything was pretty straightforward as most of the paperwork had already been filled out. Unlike the UK, people here have to pay for bank accounts and services and even a basic account such as ours costs $12 a month. However, as we are new customers these charges will be waived for the first year. There are also other significant differences to the cost of living here in Canada, particularly the cost of mobile phones and data, and you are also expected to tip more here (between 15-20 per cent). Furthermore, tax isn’t added to item until you reach the till (something I keep forgetting about) so you need to bare this in mind when looking at prices.
After the bank we went a Service Canada office to get a Social Insurance Number (we need this before we are allowed to work). We couldn’t have been any longer than half an hour in there, during which time the sun had decided to come out. We couldn’t believe how quickly the weather had changed, now there was barely a cloud in the sky and actually felt pretty warm. After our first coffee and doughnut break at Tim Hortons (we are now addicted to this place) we headed for the Vancouver Lookout, an observation deck with views right across the city. This helped up get our bearings and the views were just stunning. As the ticket was valid for the entire day we decided that we’d go back up again later that evening so we could watch the sun setting and get some pictures of Vancouver by night.
Our first proper meal out was at Rogue Kitchen & Wet Bar which was close by to the Lookout. The place kind of reminded me of the Living Room in Edinburgh decor wise but with a more informal atmosphere. The food might be considered more expensive compared to other places in Vancouver but not by UK standards, and the quality was just unbeatable for the price. I opted for the Spicy Tiger Prawn Pesto Pizza which was just so tasty and brimming with prawns (Mum, you would love this). Without a word of exaggeration, it is the best pizza I’ve ever had in a restaurant and I’ve never had prawns cooked that well before – Thom even tried one! (Those who know him will know how much he hates seafood). Thom went for the Pulled Pork Sandwich with slaw and fries which again was delicious. The portion was more than adequate and the meat tender and flavoursome. This is definitely somewhere we’ll be revisiting.
After dinner we took a walk along the waterfront where we became captivated watching the float planes take off and landing.Thom and I have already fallen in love with this area, the views are just amazing. Clearly we already look like seasoned locals as people keep stopping and asking us for directions! One guy in who we got chatting to even asked if I wanted to go for a coffee (yes, people actually do that here) and seemed undeterred by the fact that we were a couple! Our first day certainly gave us a taste of what we can look forward to over the next while.