I spent an afternoon viewing a few activities downtown Vancouver had to offer for the Christmas season. I opted to take the Skytrain in to the city centre from where I was staying in Richmond. If you choose you take the train starting at the airport please note that there is an extra $5 fee for leaving it. Some hotel shuttles may drop you off at the River Rock Casino and you could save some money on your ticket if they do.
The Skytrain was easy to take down and despite the fact that it was one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year the train was relatively empty. The train travels both in a El and subway type service depending on the line and area. By that I mean above and below ground. Fares are charged by zones and concessions (reduced fares are available for certain travellers). The ticket machines are all automated to take debit, credit and cash. My understanding is that next year at some point they are going to move to a card system similar to Oyster cards like London but right now users must purchase tickets and may be asked to present them on the platforms as there isn’t a working ticket validation system other by an actual employee. I liked how with the trains being automated you could sit right up front against a massive window reminiscent of a double decker bus in London. On the elevated tracks it provided a lovely view of the sprawling city. The trains were clean and the system is easy to follow. The Vancouver Translink website HERE has station maps, schedules, fares and other details for Skytrain travel. Maps are also found in train cars and upcoming stops are announced. The lines are far fewer in number than other large cities. This system operates on three lines that are colour coded on a map found HERE. I found it very easy, safe and hassle free to travel by train in the city. I would not hesitate to take the train again.
The stop for me to disembark was the Vancouver City Centre stop on the Canada Line, but other lines service the area from different starting points. It brought me straight to the heart of Vancouver without the headache of parking and one way streets that city centres tend to have. I ventured up to street level and across W Georgia Street in to Pacific Centre Mall. I had heard that the mall hosted a Festival of Trees in conjunction with the Four Seasons Hotel. The street level of the mall had displays of Christmas trees decorated by various businesses, groups and sports teams. There were about a dozen trees in the mall and the rest were in the hotel lobby. The trees were decorated with themes chosen by the group decorating them. some were unimaginative and had paper business card type ornaments adorning the shrubbery. Other trees used their imagination and creative sides to decorate and promote their business at the same time. My favourite example of the latter was a circuit board company, Surtek, that made the ornaments with components they would regularly use in their trade. I also loved the Trail appliance tree. They embellished the greenery with cooking utensils and topped the tree off with a chef’s hat in lieu of a star or angel. The best tree in my opinion was also the hardest tree to look at. One of the exhibits in the Four Seasons Hotel was created by a family who had lost their young daughter. They had solicited the public to add their dreams to the conifer’s branches. Decorated with pictures of the little girl gone too soon and wrapped boxes with her name on them made me tear up. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her family to write her name one more time on presents she would never open. The Festival of Tress is a fundraiser to help raise money for the BC Children’s Hospital. If you would like to help other families spend more time with their gravely ill children please see their website HERE.
My next stop was to head over to the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver and their Gingerbread Lane. The hotel was packed with people salivating and marvelling at the creations displayed. There were far more gingerbread houses than I expected to see. The tasty, but not for eating, displays were done by both professionals and local school groups. There were winners in each category for their handiwork with the delicious medium. The amount of work that went in to creating the masterpieces was staggering. The winner of the professional entrants, The Christmas Palace, had unbelievably intricate icing work. There were fabulously imaginative entries as well, a gingerbread tree house and massive working steam clock were amongst my favourites. I spent a great deal of time taking in every tiny detail of the pieces of art. A thought that crossed my mind was who gets to eat all this after the display is over? I would sign up for that part as my gingerbread decorating skills pale in comparison to my eating gingerbread skills. A perfect way to end the viewing was with a cup of hot chocolate from the Starbucks in the Hyatt lobby adjacent to Gingerbread lane. It satisfied my sweet tooth and kept me from taking a bite out of an award winning house.
On the way back to the train I passed a crew dismantling the remnants of the mornings Santa Claus parade under the glow of the city’s menorah. Another fabulous day exploring one of my favourite cities.