written and photographed by Tricia Louvar
Thirteen walking minutes south of the Pacific Central Station in Downtown Vancouver, we needed to find the 7-Eleven convenience store. Inside the store lived the Keycafe, where we would pick up the key for our place to stay. I had the password and code to this secret-yet-public key box. We felt like spies on a mission.
My daughter and I entered the bright store of chips and slushies and spotted the display. On the key pad, I entered the info, and like a bird from a Black Forest cuckoo clock, a tiny door produced a key from the solar-panel looking gadget. My nine-year-old daughter grabbed the rental loft’s key and grabbed me with the other. “This.Is.So.Coool,” she said. Adventure commenced.
I had read about Vancouver (British Columbia) and selected Yaletown, an up-and-coming neighborhood that borders False Creek as well as Robson and Homer Streets, as our weekender base camp. It occupies an urban boundary where warehouses have been reinvented into modern boutiques, bistros, restaurants, shops, bars and coffee shops. Original exposed brick walls and strung Edison bulbs unite.
We dropped our backpacks at our base camp and headed out to wander and walk. The meandering took a toll on our kids all under 12, so we found an open table at Yaletown Brewing Company. Well-dressed, after-work twenty-somethings huddled around long lacquer-finished tables. We started with the beer pretzels, with house mustard and stout cheddar dip. As an eclectic family of vegans to carnivores, we all ordered something to our liking—mac and cheese with panko, superfood salad, Italian meats pizza and butter chicken.
After dinner, we made our way down the street and happened upon Nice Vice, the zero percent dairy creamery, with a minimalist twist. Original flavors flourished: black sesame, matcha avocado, blueberry ginger, chili chocolate, lavender earl grey and forty other concoctions on rotation. Unlike self-serve fro-yo shops with a trough of candied toppings, Nice Vice offered the homemade salt bar to sprinkle on the top of ice cream served with little wooden paddle spoons. I sprinkled Canadian maple salt, cherry smoke salt and lime fresco salt. Nice Vice offered a brilliant balanced sweet-salty combo experience.
The next morning, we trekked to Stanley Park, where we rented the kids mountain bikes and helmets from Spokes on Georgia Street. My husband and I made good on our marathon training plan and completed our long run around the park’s paved and dirt trails, while the kids biked alongside us. After a sweaty day along the treed coastline of Vancouver Harbor and English Bay, we showered and put on our best outfits and walked to upscale Minami for sushi, tempera and noodles in the heart of Yaletown’s restaurant row. We ordered too many long plates of sushi and sashimi, however, left no spicy tuna roll behind.
The next morning, we arranged to become detectives with Vancouver Mysteries. An email described a cryptic location and code phrase we needed to launch the spy game mission. We elected our son as spy leader and strategist. He had to approach the human subject at the location and use a non-sequitur to launch the game as it’s all happening in public. He practiced and practiced the line. We got visual on the subject. He nervously approached and landed his line. The subject, a woman in horn-rimmed eyeglasses handed him a satchel. “You have two hours to complete this mission,” she said. “You have to save the City of Vancouver. Go now. Tell no one of your mission.”
We opened up the bag, and read our instructions. The mystery game took us all over the city to decode clues, signs and messages. My husband and I reverted to our childish selves, too. We squabbled. We laughed. We did not save Vancouver in time, but the woman awarded us amateur spy agent status. (Next time, we will try to break the code faster to save the fine city of Vancouver.)
The last day of our weekend, we walked for coffee and Belgian waffles at Medina Café. Its sign read: Life is too short for bad coffee. The line started at the front door and wrapped all the way down Richards Street and around to Georgia Street. We split waffles, smash boards and lattes. Its impressive list of sauces included raspberry caramel, white chocolate lavender, dark chocolate, fig marmalade, salted caramel and rosewater.
After brunch, we meandered the boutiques, bookstores and shops to close out our time in Yaletown. We happened upon Squish, a Canadian-made vegan friendly candy store, where you try any candy before buying it. Free samples in a candy store? We bought mango chews, watermelon ribbons and root beer bottles for the road.
We ate, we saw, we walked, we spied. We saved Vancouver (well, almost).