Today, while the kids were at school, and after I had another one of my chemotherapy-induced random barfs at home, I took the SkyTrain into downtown Vancouver to check out the Winter Olympics vibe. And what a vibe it was.
I walked from Science World (currently the Russian Pavilion) past the various provincial pavilions, up the downtown escarpment, along Georgia Street, to Robson Square, then down to Canada Place and the Olympic Cauldron on Coal Harbour. On the way I ate at the world famous Japadog hot dog cart for the first time (yes, even for a native Vancouverite!), and before I came home I had a coffee at the very civilized Cascades Lounge in the Pan Pacific Hotel.
I've lived my whole 40 years in Vancouver, and I have never seen it like it is this week. Even during Expo 86 (check this throwback I spotted), the crowds and events were largely confined to the Expo site on False Creek, while the Olympics—aside from being more intensely focused by being two weeks instead of five months long—permeate the downtown core, as well as extending elsewhere in Greater Vancouver and up to Whistler. But we are a more global, better-known city than we were 24 years ago too.
There are seas of people young and old downtown, night and day. Many are dressed in Canadian red, but others are sporting colours and languages from many other nations. Way out from downtown, at Metrotown near my house, the mall is full of Russians. There are flat-screen TVs all over the place showing live and repeat Olympic competitions.
I returned home, exhausted, to walk the dog, meet the kids on their way home from school, and then soak my feet. I didn't go inside any pavilions or Olympic attractions, and I hardly spoke to anyone. A number of my friends had been in the downtown area, but were busy at press conferences and other official events, and I was happy to go it alone, to get a sense of how downtown is transformed.
It is an odd thing, for a sporting event to energize my still-young, laid-back hometown. I expect something similar will happen when the next Winter Olympics come to Sochi, Russia in 2014. While almost the same age as Vancouver, Sochi is smaller and certainly less familiar to the rest of the world. It also has many palm trees—perhaps a first for a Winter Games host city? It may be unusually warm here for February, but it's not that warm.