I’m halfway through the Olympics today, and I’m already nursing a Winter Games hangover. Mind you, I haven’t been to a ticketed event yet, and I won’t be. But I’ve seen and heard more than I ever have in the city, mostly for free. And even with a pounding head this Monday morning — even typing hurts, to tell the truth — I’m craving more.
I’ve been into the city twice; once the day before the Olympics official opening ceremony with my three sons, and then again this Sunday, with my sweetheart.
Both were all-day excursions. Both were an experience to remember. But it’s been a learn-as-you-go process. And what I’ve learned, I feel I should share.
I initially wanted to write this after the first visit. But torrential rain, a lack of open venues, and a self-inflicted transportation SNAFU all put a damper on that.
But today? I’ve seen the light. That glorious February sun was mostly just peeping out between the high rises on Hamilton Street, but I’ve seen it.
I’ve seen the cauldron, too. But I’ll get there in a few minutes.
My Olympic story begins about two weeks ago, when the torch came through town.
I was ignited. I knew I would be, as I’ve seen the torch before.
But it really got to me. In that teary-eyed, weepy, patriotic way I’m sure millions of Canadians felt the past few months.
Then a colleague, Jeff Nagel, wrote a story about free things to see and do during the Olympics. My 10-year-old son said it was impossible — too expensive, he chirped from the back of the car one day.
Taking that as a challenge, I set into motion. I planned to take the kids out of school, drive in, see a few sights, and head home. I gave myself a budget of $100, for gas, transportation, food and incidentals. We gathered information from websites, friends, maps and stories from fellow Black Press reporters.
I learned a lot on that trip, and again on Sunday. And with the final days of the Olympic Games upon us, there’s precious time left to drink up the spirit, and no time to waste learning my mistakes. Here’s my top ten bits of advice. Thank me later.
1) Don’t take the Skytrain from anywhere except Scott Road Station in Surrey. On the first visit we ended up driving up and down the highway, crossing the Port Mann and turning back, in search of a parking lot that was anywhere near a Skytrain station. (Upon sharing this frustration with yet another, better-traveled, Black Press writer, she only replied “ha!”)
Apparently, she tells me, the point is to take public transit right from home — a concept that may make a trainload of sense from an office in Vancouver, but loses steam when you live downtown Chilliwack.
On the second trip, I sat in the passenger seat while said companion drove straight into the city and handily cruised right into the CBC building parking lot. We paid $20 to park until midnight. Skytrain passes would have cost us $18. You do the math. The car also came in handy at the end of the night. But, again, more on that in a minute.
2) Stay away from The Bay. Sorry, but a three-hour line up to shop for what I could buy at my local grocer or Zellers over the past two years? No. Does Quatchi look any more intriguing today than he did last spring? I thought not. My advice? Stick to the street vendors and smaller stores that carry swag. We skipped souvenirs on the first visit, with a promise I would go in the following weekend and spoil them. For $60, a little creativity, and the help of smaller stores, I found a car pillow, a stuffed animal and pure Canadian maple syrup — all bearing the resemblance of Quatchi. (Okay, I admit he is kinda cute.) The syrup is at Urban Fare, and the others were bought at a touristy-shop in Granville Island.
3) Visit Granville Island. Please. This is by far my favourite Vancouver nook, and always will be. But it was alive on Sunday night. We watched most of the US/Canada hockey game that night, hopping from bar windows to outdoor televisions to more bar windows.
But we settled at the Afghan Horseman on Anderson to watch the final, disappointing period. No crowds. Big tv. Big drinks. Enough said.
4) Did I mention Granville Island? Here’s what we were treated to. A stunning performance by Circus West, the smell of food emanating from the francophone pavilion, and a rocking performance on a massive scale by the absolutely fantastic Les Cowboys Frigants.
And it was all entrée gratuite.
Best line of the night? Karl Tremblay, speaking English briefly after the show: “Vancouver, that was a French kiss!”
5) Find a way to enjoy the Olympics in a way you enjoy. On Sunday, we took up two seats at the CBC studio, to take part in a taping of Rex Murphy’s Cross Canada Checkup. On the show was Steve Armitage, Olympic gold-medal wrestler Daniel Igali, and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, the 18-year-old Quebecois downhill ski phenom. It nourished my brain while entertaining, and an accidental peek into Murphy’s dressing room (he was rehearsing his intro) gave me a sneaky glimpse into the inner workings of the CBC operation. Kinda cool for a young journalist. The lesson? Find your groove, mix it with the Olympics, and you could strike gold, too.
6) Double check all information. Ask anyone who works for transit, including the Aquabus drivers. Ask any one of the police officers navigating the crosswalks throughout the city grid. (Side note: Heed their whistles. I failed to once, and even though looks don’t kill, a high-pitched whistle in your face isn’t too fun either.) We ended up in the wrong area for the fireworks. You want to be in plain view of David Lam Park for best viewing, about 10:45 p.m. each day of the Games. If you’re in the Live City Yaletown site, you’re good. Anywhere else, you’re missing out.
6) See the cauldron. Ignore the negative hype. We just about forgot, heading home after the fireworks. Tired and aching from too much food and plenty of walking, we only stayed for a minute. But it’s beautiful, and worth the drive into the city alone.
7) There are ways to avoid the ‘circus’ of the city, and there are ways to dive right in.
While the newscasters are focusing on the hustle and bustle, often one block up or down or left or right in any direction is practically empty. All the streets aren’t jam-packed with a party. Just many of them.
8) Roasted chestnuts? One word: Disgusting.
9) Avoid line-ups to enjoy your day. Biggest line-ups are for the zip line across Robson Square (estimated 6 hrs), Royal Canadian Mint (est. 3 hrs.) HBC (est. 3 hrs.) and any pub showing a Canadian hockey game. We chose walking and ducking into pubs here and there instead of plopping down in one spot. The street atmosphere, especially near Granville and in Yaletown, were just too exciting to leave behind, even in exchange for a cozy bar stool.
10) Free. Free. Free. Yes, it exists. Of course you have to eat. Of course you’re going to be paying for gas or transit from A to B. But there is so much going on, each and everyone of us would be remiss for skipping the Olympic experience just because of crowds, cost or accessibility. I spent $80 the first day, with three kids in tow, and for a more entertaining, adult time on Sunday, the price tag was about $200, including the souvenirs.
Free shows still to come:
Tue Feb 23rd – Wintersleep – 9:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Tue Feb 23rd – Even Keel – 6:00 @ Plaza Of Nations (Edgewater)
Tue Feb 23rd – Anique granger – 6:00 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Tue Feb 23rd – Les 3 Accords – 7:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Wed Feb 24th – Aaron Tyler Grant (of the Broken Condom Babies) 9:45 @ Plaza of Nations
Wed Feb 24th – Bridges And Breakdowns – 9:00 @ Plaza Of Nations (Edgewater)
Wed Feb 24th – Andrea Lindsay – 6:00 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Wed Feb 24th – Mighty Popo – 6:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Wed Feb 24th – André-Philippe Gagnon – 7:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Wed Feb 24th – Wintersleep – 10:30 @ Atlantic Canada House *19+
Wed Feb 24th – Tambura Rasa – 6:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Wed Feb 24th – Damian “Jr.Gong” Marley – 9:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Thur Feb 25th – Geneviève Toupin – 6:00 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Thur Feb 25th – Daniel Roa – 6:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Thur Feb 25th – Adriane Moffat – 7:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Thur Feb 25th – Paul Filek – 5:00 @ The Cellar *19+
Thur Feb 25th – Illscarlett – 6:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Thur Feb 25th – Head Pins – 7:30 @ Holland Park
Thur Feb 25th – Street Heart – 9:00 @ Holland Park
Thur Feb 25th – Wintersleep – 9:30 @ Ozone
Thur Feb 25th – Inward Eye – 11:30 @ Livecity Downtown
Fri Feb 26th – Dr Strangelove – 3:30 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Robert Charlebois – 7:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Fri Feb 26th – Paul Filek – 5:00 @ The Cellar *19+
Fri Feb 26th – Tokyo Police Club – 9:45 @ Ozone
Fri Feb 26th – Bridges And Breakdowns – 5:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Inward Eye – 6:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Jaydee Bixby – 6:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Two Hours Traffic – 7:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Illscarlett – 8:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – The Higgins – 9:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Marianas Trench – 9:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – Doc Walker – 10:00 @ Holland Park
Fri Feb 26th – TBC – 8:00 @ Livecity Yaletown**
Fri Feb 26th – Girl Talk – 9:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Sat Feb 27th – Samiane – 6:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Sat Feb 27th – Alfa Rococo – 7:30 @ la Place de la Francophonie
Sat Feb 27th – Paul Filek – 1:00 @ Doolins Pub *19+
Sat Feb 27th – Matt Mays – 10:30 @ Atlantic Canada House *19+
Sat Feb 27th – The Stills – 10:15 @ Ozone
Sat Feb 27th – Illscarlett – 10:00 @ Ontario Pavillion *19+
Sat Feb 27th – Matt Mays – 6:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Sat Feb 27th – Blue Rodeo – 9:30 @ Livecity Yaletown
Sat Feb 27th – Hey Rosetta! – 6:00 @ Holland Park
Sat Feb 27th – You Say Party!We Say Die! – 7:00 @ Holland Park
Sat Feb 27th – Tokyo Police Club – 9:00 @ Holland Park
Sat Feb 27th – Wide Mouth Mason – 9:30 @ Holland Park
Sat Feb 27th – Wintersleep – 10:00 @ Holland Park
Sun Feb 28th – Five Alarm Funk – 9:30 @ Ozone
Sun Feb 28th – Il Voce – 4:00 @ Robson Square