How to Go to Vancouver

A friend in Astana is going to Vancouver this summer and I decided to turn my email to her into a post. Here is a map with all things mentioned – it makes my overwhelming list much more palatable.

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Morning run around the seawall

Vancouver is very magical. I moved around a lot growing up and this is the place that I consider home.

For me, a perfect few days would involve:

  • All Top 5 restaurants
  • Cycling across the Lion’s Gate Bridge to Deep Cove and going to Honey’s Doughnuts
  • The Cobalt
  • chai and a ferry ride at Granville Island
  • one of: Sunday Service/Come Draw With Me/Laugh Gallery

And some weird things like doing karaoke at The Aristocrat but that is purely for sentimental value and not necessarily something a visitor should do.

Here’s a longer list.

Things to Do in the Daytime

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View of Stanley Park from the Lion’s Gate Bridge

Walk on the seawall and through Stanley Park.

A stroll through Granville Island. It’s touristy, but I LOVE IT so much. Get a chai latte from the Granville Island Tea Company in the market. It is horrifyingly made with butter but so delicious. And buy a bag of Cream Earl Grey. If you’re hungry, go to the Stock Market, which is also within the market.

While at Granville Island, you can also try on a bunch of hats and buy tiny adorable note pads that you will never actually use. And make sure you take a boat ride.

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If you are feeling ambitious, hike The Chief (you’ll need a car to get there). If you’re feeling more low-key, hike Deep Cove and go to Honey’s Doughnuts afterwards (plain is best. Also, possible to get here by public transit, though it’s a bit long). Watch out for the aggressive seagulls.

Find a Purdy’s and get something with peanut butter in it and your life will be forever changed. Beta 5 chocolates is also fantastic.

Elysian and Beaucoup Bakery are my favourite coffee/pastry places. Nero Waffles is delish.

I did not spend enough time at Queen Elizabeth Park and the Bloedel Floral Conservatory but they are beauts. Van Dusen and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen are also great gardens, worth the visit.

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Beatty Biodiversity Museum at UBC

If you have time, the University of British Columbia campus is gorgeous and I feel so lucky I spent the majority of my young adult life there. Great museums, gardens, and the best beach in town, Wreck Beach (naked beach!).

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En route to UBC (and my desktop background)

If you’re really into cycling, then you can follow these guides for day/afternoon trips around Vancouver (shameless plug).

Things to Do in the Night Time

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Getting ready for The Cobalt

The Cobalt – you can go here on almost any given night and have a good time. Former punk bar now known for drag shows, burlesque, art parties, pinball, karaoke and more.

The China Cloud – the strangest/best comedy you’ve ever seen and music shows.

Hot Art Wet City – super fun venue with art, comedy, and more.

The Biltmore – mainly a music venue. Check out their calendar to see what’s on. Same goes for Fox Cabaret.

The Sunday Service on Sunday nights at The Fox Cabaret. This is also absolutely the best thing to do on a date. But as my ex is in the group and I am a polite Canadian, I regret that I will never reap that particular benefit.

If you are so lucky as to be in town during Graham Clark’s Laugh Gallery, Alicia Tobin’s Come Draw With Me, Rapp Battlez, or Rain City Chronicles (storytelling night) then I would say, definitely go!

Even for folks who aren’t generally into comedy, Vancouver has a really wonderful comedy scene so I would highly recommend checking out a show.

And check out the weekly Scout List.

Places to Eat

Vancouver has amazing restaurants with a huge variety but most places don’t take reservations, so expect to wait in line. There are also no Taco Bells 😦

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You can’t get food here but I ate here all the time (on top of my old workplace, the courthouse, downtown)

Top 5 (places I would have to go to any time I return)

  • Rangoli/Vij’s – these restaurants, both owned by Vikram Vij, sit side by side in South Granville. They’re the Indian food places that even people who don’t like Indian food love. Rangoli is the more casual of the two and you won’t have to wait nearly as long to get a table.
  • Sushiyama – okay, there are better sushi places but I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for this place. Just don’t order sashimi unless you like your tuna Texas Toast sized.
  • Bao Bei – modern Chinese. So good. Get the dessert: chinese donuts with white rabbit dipping sauce.
  • The Sardine Can – I discovered this place shortly before I moved but I would go here all the time if I were in Vancouver again.
  • Nuba – Lebanese. Hearty, cheap, with decor I would drape my house in. And the one place I love where you generally don’t have to wait in line, especially the Main street location. A typical Saturday night for my ex and I involved walking around to three different restaurants, finding it would be a 45+ minute wait, and eventually winding up at Nuba.

Other Places that Are Very Good

  • Legendary Noodle – handmade Chinese noodles.
  • Cafe Medina – I don’t really like brunch but this is a place I will happily go to.
  • Bob Likes Thai – this is my favourite lunch spot. So reasonable! The Main Street location, last I checked, does not have a liquor license.
  • Pad Thai – it’s kind of awful but also kind of amazing and very cheap. Best for takeout/delivery.
  • L’ Abbatoir or Chambar – if you’re feeling fancy!
  • Les Faux Bourgeois or Burdock & Co. – if you’re feeling fancy but don’t want to spend a lot of $$$!
  • Alibi Room – best known for beers and brunches, but great any time.
  • Peaceful Restaurant – amazing Chinese.
  • Ask for Luigi or Campangolo – Italian. Delicious. Luigi also has a good brunch.
  • Exile Bistro – cocktails that make you not feel bad about drinking and also great food and decor.
  • The Acorn – same designers as Exile Bistro. Vegetarian even non-vegetarians will love.
  • Pizza – Vancouver has a lot of great pizza places, including: Nicli Antica, Barbarella, Farina, Don’t Argue!, Nook, and more.
  • Basho Cafe – I didn’t have a chance to make it here before moving but I have heard great things.
  • Phnom Penh – another one I never made it to. Heard their chicken wings are the best.
  • Bandidas – the one place I actually love to go to for brunch, for “The Breakfast.”
  • Guu – it’s an experience. Can be intimidating (unless you go to tranquil Guu Garden) but totally worth it. This is not a place to go to alone and is best for a small-medium group dinner. Many locations around town and heated debates as to which is best.
  • Budgies – it’s not THAT good but I love it.

Other places that are not noteworthy enough for singling out but generally quite good if you happen to spot them and you’re hungry: Mamie Taylor’s, Little Charlie’s Italian, Meat & Bread, Wildebeest, Banana Leaf, Acme Cafe, Fable Kitchen, Red Wagon, La Mezcaleria, Los Cuervos Taqueria, Lolita’s, Savary Island Pie Company (in North Vancouver) the list goes on and on. You can also check out the Scout 25.

Places to Drink

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Obligatory chandelier shot at The Emerald

L’ Abbatoir is also a good place for just drinks. If you’re into beer and handsome men, check out 33 Acres and Brassneck (and the Alibi Room, of course). Reflections is a rooftop bar that feels kind of surreal and totally not Vancouver but is fun.

If you feel like treating yourself, grab a $16 cocktail from the Shangri-La hotel (worth it). One time I saw Reiko from The Real Housewives of Vancouver there and I almost died.

Six Acres is a standby, good for snacks too. The Emerald and The Diamond, also good. And Exile is nice for just a drink.

Places to Stay

AirBnB, no doubt about it. The hotel exception is The Best Western on 205 Kingsway. This is where my suburban/out of town drag queen friends stay when they do shows at The Cobalt.

As for which area to stay in:

Mt. Pleasant – hipstery, best place to stay if you plan on mostly going out/drinking/eating.

West 4th – “yummy mummy” central. But a nice quiet area for walking around the water, with some good restaurants too. A pal of mine has a great place in this neighbourhood on AirBnB.

West End – my favourite neighbourhood to live in, hands down. A bit tricky to get around the rest of Vancouver (unless you’re on bike) but if you only have a couple of days and want to see the nature sites, this may be the best place to stay. Walking distance to the seawall and Stanley Park and en route to Deep Cove/The Chief.

Gastown – super trendy, with great but $$$ restaurants and shops. Has a nice historical feel.

Kitsilano/South Granville/Fairview, Commercial Drive, and Chinatown are all places I would consider staying in, as well.

Scout’s neighbourhood guides may give you a better idea of the lay of the land.

How to Get Around

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Lion’s Gate Bridge

Considering how bike-friendly Vancouver is, it surprises many that there’s no bike sharing system. But Vancouver’s helmet bylaw is a hindrance, for now (for the record – I always recommend wearing a helmet!).

I would actually not recommend that a tourist rent a bike to ride unless they’re a comfortable rider. There are a lot of pedestrians/cyclists/drivers in the city who are jerks and it can be really intimidating and offputting, even as an experienced cyclist.

It may be worth considering getting a Car2Go membership (something like $30 to sign up), especially since Car2Go is valid in a few cities. I think a whole day rental is $60. You can read more about it on the site. To me, it sounds easier than actually renting a car and I used this all the time while I was living in the city. Especially, because parking is awful but Car2Go’s can be parked in permit only areas.

Public transit is decent. From the airport it’s easy peasy, just hop on the Canada Line. Check out Translink’s site and the Trip Planner.

And for the most part, Vancouver is an easily walkable city.

How to Get There

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Pink clouds are a semi-regular occurrence

Don’t go from Astana if you can help it. Literally, halfway across the world from here, you can go over Asia or over Europe and get there in the same amount of time. I chose over Europe because the layover times were a bit shorter. But you’re looking at a long travel day(s) (my 22-hour journey here was a stroke of luck).

Wherever else you are, just book a car or a plane and go! And give it all my love.

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Update: How Healthcare Works When You Leave Canada

A happy update to this post! Thanks to a lovely friend, I found an insurance service that will allow me to buy travel insurance as a non-resident Canadian citizen.

It’s a bit less than the amount I would’ve paid MSP/month and then I would’ve had to pay for travel insurance on top of that – so overall, it looks as though my poorly researched decision turned out to be a good one.

To recap:

If you are a Canadian resident moving from Canada, you have two options (specific to BC but I imagine similar to other provinces):

1) Contact MSP to arrange to continue paying the $69.25/month Medical Services Plan premium for up to 24 months. Acquire travel/medical insurance on top of that, whether paid for by yourself or through your new foreign workplace.

You should definitely keep MSP if you are eligible for any of these three options for MSP assistance:

2) Register yourself as permanently leaving British Columbia. Rely on whatever insurance your new foreign workplace provides or purchase insurance from this insurance service.

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Celebratory balloons

 

 

How Healthcare Works When You Leave Canada

If you are reading this because you are actually interested in the information (and not just an indulgent friend), please see this update!

What this post lacks in interest it makes up for in valuable information for other Canadians who are (thinking about) moving from Canada and wondering about healthcare options.

Please learn from my mistake.

Before I moved, I registered myself as permanently leaving British Columbia. I did this so that I wouldn’t have to pay the $69.25/month Medical Services Plan premium. My salary here is half of what I made back home and MSP felt like a steep price to pay when I also pay a fee in Kazakhstan for health coverage through my workplace.

When you leave British Columbia, if you do not declare yourself as permanently moved:

There are options for people having trouble making MSP payments:

  • You can apply for hardship with MSP as long as the hardship is unforseeable (not valid for me because a planned move is rather forseeable).
  • You can apply for premium assistance, based on your salary from the previous tax year (not an option for me because it wouldn’t take my current low salary into account).

It all seemed fine since I have coverage through my current workplace but then I started looking into travel insurance for the three months I’ll be travelling after I leave my job. There are no travel insurance or healthcare coverage options for non-resident Canadians unless they are a permanent resident of another country, or they have travel insurance coverage through their workplace.

To purchase travel insurance, you must be a permanent resident somewhere. For example, to list Canada as your country of permanent residency, you must be registered with MSP within your province. For British Columbia, if you’ve declared yourself as permanently moved, you can only regain MSP coverage by moving back to BC for six months (you can purchase insurance for the time period before MSP kicks in). I am not a permanent resident of Kazakhstan and I will of course not be covered by my workplace once I leave and so I am not eligible for travel insurance.

Basically, from the time I leave my employment in Kazakhstan, until six months after I move back to British Columbia or gain employment in a different country with a workplace that provides medical coverage, I have no medical coverage options. I’m kicking myself because it was reasonable to assume that I’d be travelling after my contract and possibly not moving back to BC and so I should’ve continued my MSP payments.

My last hope is in talking with World Nomads but it’s not looking promising.

Lesson learned: if you’re moving from Canada (specifically BC), do not register yourself as permanently moving if:

  • You are not a permanent resident of another country.
  • You are not getting healthcare coverage through your workplace.
  • You get healthcare coverage through your workplace but you plan on travelling once your contract is finished.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to continue drinking my tears from this delightful mug I purchased on Saturday.

How to Travel Alone As a Woman

Recently, the sexist behaviour I’ve experienced and witnessed since living in Kazakhstan was bumming me out. But when I broke this experience down into individual instances I realized it shares an uncomfortable similarity to my daily life in Canada.

The striking difference is that sexism is simply more obvious here in Kazakhstan. It’s harder to expose in Canada and other western countries, which in its own way, is more frustrating. Trying to explain or discuss subtle acts of gendered disrespect is often met with the deflating response that you’re overreacting. The video has its flaws but Hollaback’s street harassment PSA illustrates the type of behaviour I’m referencing and how difficult it can be to make others aware of the damage it inflicts.

While this was on the forefront of my thoughts, I began researching for a two-month cycling trip I’ll be embarking on next spring. I will likely be on my own and I realize that as a woman, a trip like this comes with risks and so I’m gathering all the information I can that will be helpful in this respect.  In my research, I came across a publication produced by the Canadian government:Her Own Way – A Woman’s Safe Travel Guide. The following is a list of direct excerpts.

  • Women travel for countless reasons, whether to discover new frontiers, pursue business opportunities, or simply to rest and relax – not unlike men.
  • Among women’s greatest risks are the dangers and disappointments of international cyber-dating.
  • The fact that activities, such as wearing a bikini or having premarital sex, are legal in Canada doesn’t mean they’ll be so in a foreign country.
  • Always ask to see the room before taking it…. Are there holes in the door or walls that could be used by peeping Toms?
  • Remember that camping solo… could be an invitation to danger.
  • carry a photo of your husband (or an imaginary one)
  • Understand that businessmen in certain societies may think it’s okay to flirt with or proposition you. A firm “no” is appropriate.
  • When in doubt, wait for the man to initiate handshaking.
  • Never quit your job, give up your home, or sell all your belongings in the hope of a union that may never happen or that you may later regret.

If anyone from Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development reads this, I am volunteering to edit the content. And I’ll do a great job! As a professional librarian and writer, I frequently write and edit informative content, including government guides. I will also do it for free. Because any opportunity to adjust passively dehumanizing information, especially coming from such a high-level, is well worth my time and effort.

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