Downtown Vancouver can look like any other North American city, but a floatplane tour is a chance to experience a very different side of this Canadian gem.
We take off from the water towards a hill of bright yellow sulfur awaiting export, then bank away from Vancouver before flying along the coast. Within minutes we are soaring past Grouse Mountain, where I hiked and mountain biked on a previous summer visit and where skiers and boarders play in winter, then past even higher peaks still topped with snow. As we return, the city is laid out beneath me, looking almost insignificant against the scale of the rugged West.
The beautiful setting illustrates the reason for Vancouver’s high property prices. With the Pacific on one side and mountains on the other, land is at a premium – in contrast to the vast expanses of the rest of Canada. One solution to the cramped setting is to build upwards, as I can see in those shiny skyscrapers and the ranks of apartment blocks lining the shore where we come in to kiss the water again.
Back on the ground, Vancouver has a North American anonymity that allows it to pass for anywhere from New York to Chicago on film. Downtown malls sit beside redbrick office blocks from the 1930s, while the grid of wide streets and avenues is filled with cars, pick-ups and buses built to Detroit-size scale. Only the details must frustrate the location scouts: Tim Horton coffee shops, Maple Leaf flags and billboards with hockey stars. And those beautiful snow-capped peaks filling the view at the end of the street.
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