2 May 2017
My real birthday began at two in the morning Vancouver time when I woke starving and sure it must be far later in the day. My Garmin chose this moment to inform me the battery was running low. Not the best of timing but I always had the feeling it would choose the worst possible moment. Commando was still sleeping soundly so I tried, with limited success, to ignore my grumbling stomach and go back to sleep. The morning began again at five with a Happy Birthday and a present from Commando. The time difference leant a strange dreamlike feeling to everything. In a daze we wandered down West Broadway to Starbucks where we beat the morning rush and had breakfast.
Our mission for the day was to find somehwere to get the battery in my Garmin replaced and scout out Queen Elizabeth Park where the marathon would be starting on Sunday. As it happened there was a place called Global Time Centre not far from the park, at least it didn’t look that far on the map. We spent quite some time looking at Google Maps working out a route. The sun was shining on the snow tipped mountains and the skyscrapers of Downtown Vancouver as we walked away from West Broadway. Everywhere we looked we saw trees filled with blossom. There are worse things to do on your birthday even if the walk did seem to be mostly up hill.
In theory finding our way should have been fairly easy. Like most of North America, Vancouver is laid out in a grid. Most of the main intersections have traffic lights and a handy little walking man or red hand sign to tell you when to cross. Of course the cars were all driving on the opposite side of the road to the UK. For our poor jet lagged brains this proved a touch confusing but, in a little over a mile and a half, we spotted the edge of the park. Now all we had to do was find a way in.
We’d hoped for one of those You Are Here type signs to give us a clue where to go but there was none. After a bit of aimless wandering though, we found a path winding upwards. Where it would lead us was a mystery but we followed it anyway. The blossom we’d seen in the streets was echoed in the park, pink cherry blossom and magnolia.
Queen Elizabeth Park was once an ancient forest where salmon spawned, elk, grey wolves and bears lived. It covers one hundred and thirty acres and sits on Little Mountain, around five hundred feet above sea level, hence all the climbing. When the settlers came in the 1870’s they killed the elk, wolves and bears, cut down the ancient trees and paved over the salmon creeks. They quarried the land for the rock used to build Vancouver’s first roads.
Looking at the park today, the lush grass, the little pools where Canada geese lounged, it was hard to believe this had once been a quarry. It was the British Columbia Tulip Association who first had the idea of thurning the old quarry into a garden, back in the 1930’s. Within ten years it had been taken over by the Vancouver Park Board and, in 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, mother of our present queen, visited Vancouver, King George dedicated it as a park.
We followed the trail up the, once overgrown, hillside transformed by the park staff into Canada’s first civic arboretum. At the top we found the quarry gardens, designed by Bill Livingstone, the park board deputy superintendent, and unveiled in the 1960’s. Mounds of grape hyacinths mixed with tulips, daffodils, little pools and lush grass, were overshadowed by the rock face. Steps led up towards a pretty Japanese style bridge framing a waterfall. We climbed and, at the top, I stopped to marvel at the view of the gardens from above.
The bridge was tempting but we decided to go forwards instead and found a sparkling dome, a little like a miniature Eden Project. The combination of icy looking dome, the waterfall and the bright gardens put me in mind of Colleridge’s poem Kubla Khan. The dome was not a pleasure dome of course, it was Canada’s first geodesic conservatory, a gift to the city from Prebtice Bloedel. The Bloedel Floral Conservatory opened in December 1969 and encloses five hundred exotic plants and more than a hundred free flying tropical birds. It might have been nice to go inside and look around but it seemed a shame to leave the sunshine and there was so much more to see we marked it down as something to come back to another day, if we had time.
In front of the dome a low wall looked out over the hillside we’d climbed. The city of Vancouver and the distant mountains were framed by tulips, rhododendrons and trees. An American couple asked if we would take their photo overlooking all this beauty. In return they took ours standing in the same spot.
Thinking we might be able to find some sign of the marathon start point, we wandered around the dome, then went back to the bridge and crossed it. We discovered a shady Japanese garden with the dome twinkling behind it but no sign of the race start line. For a time we walked around, randomly taking this path and that with no real idea where we were going or what we were looking at.
One path took us across a wide expanse of grass where black squirrels were frolicking. They weren’t keen to have their photograph taken but I did capture one as he scurried up a tree. Another grassy area turned out to be a frisbee golf course. We’d almost reached the far side before we noticed the signs telling us to beware of flying frisbees. Luckily for us no one was playing at the time. The time difference and the broken sleep had made us foggy headed. The park felt more dream than reality.
It was half past ten when we found ourselves back on the edge of the park, nowhere near where we’d started out. It had been almost three hours since we left our hotel and, to us, it seemed more like early evening than late morning. We dithered for a little while, trying to decide whether to plunge back into the park and keep searching or try to work out which way to go to find the clock and watch shop whose name had, by this time escaped me. Eventually Commando made the decision to give up on our marathon search,
“They probably haven’t set anything up for the marathon yet,” he said. “With so many acres of park and nothing but a slightly vague race map to go on, we could spend all day wandering and never find the right spot.”
“At least we know how to get to the park now,” I said. “On Sunday there will almost certainly be signs and lots of other runners to follow.”
Now there was the small matter of working out where we actually were. Across the road there was some kind of sporting stadium but we couldn’t tell what kind. I thought we should head towards it but Commando thought we should go the opposite way. We grumped at each other for a while, not really getting anywhere. Eventually I gave in and, slightly sulkily, followed him in what I was sure was the wrong direction. Of course he was right and, after what seemed like an eternity of passing schools and streets of little houses lined with trees and blossom and even an interesting graveyard I’d have loved to explore, we came to a long, shop lined road. I still wasn’t convinced this was where the clock shop was but at least we might be able to find somewhere to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat.
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