British Columbia is full of subtle cultural differences: slight accents, drivers amazingly courteous to pedestrians and the shiny and colorful Canadian money! Oh yes, they also sell, not-available-in-the-US, Kinder Eggs. More about that illegal purchase at the end of this story.
Normally, when my husband and I head 25 minutes north to Canada, we are planning to visit Vancouver. But after I saw a list of “Top Ten Things To Do In Richmond, BC,” I knew it was time to explore.
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Richmond has an authentic feel, rather than a “let’s build a tourist attraction” feel. Here are “Allan and Silvana’s Top Five Things We Did in Richmond, British Columbia.”
1) Steveston Village
Steveston Village is a historic fishing village that gives a sense of the past combined with the present. Steveston is home to Canada’s largest active fishing fleet, which means you can buy fresh fish right on the dock. Since we didn’t have a cooler, we decided to pass on storing fresh salmon in the trunk of our car for three days.
We took a delightful stroll along the authentic boardwalk to Brittania Shipyards. The boardwalk leads past authentic homes and dormitories used by people working in the canneries and fish yards. Not only are the stilt houses cute, they tell a dramatic story of class segregation. (If I had kids with me, this would have been a perfect time to get a discussion started about why a high ranking customs officer lived in a home with bedrooms, living room and kitchen, while Chinese cannery workers lived in a crowded bunkhouse holding 100 people.) In the Japanese bunkhouse, you can still see faded Japanese newspapers used as wall coverings.
With the carefully maintained historic structures set against the background of the Fraser River, you can understand why this is a National Historic Site. There’s no need for directions for these three attractions. Everything is so close together you’ll stumble along one after another.
2) Gulf of Georgia Cannery
Built in 1894, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery once produced 2.5 million cans of salmon a year. When we visit museums, my husband reads every description, touches every interactive display button and watches every educational movie. Sometimes twice. I like walking through at a brisk pace for an overview of the exhibits. Guess what? This museum is so well laid out and filled with informative displays that we actually went through the museum as a couple!
You begin by punching the Cannery Time Clock and learn about the gritty and tough life of a cannery worker. Mothers worked all day with babies on their backs. When a baby needed changing, mom completed the task next to the clanking assembly line. No one worried about safety or…or shall we say, fecal matter getting in the canned salmon. Hey! The high processing heat kills any bacteria. You’ll never complain about the stress of your job after seeing the tough life of cannery workers.
3) The Dyke
We dragged our bikes out of the car and headed off to bike The Dyke. (Yes, that’s the correct spelling in Canada, along with “colour” and “humour”.) There are almost 80 km (50 miles) of connecting bike trails in the Richmond area. Best of all, trails are VERY flat. That’s my kind of trail! We randomly rode from one designated bike trail to another, never worrying about traffic. The trails pass by marshland, beach habitats and some pretty fancy McMansions. No bike? Don’t worry. The guys at Village Bikes will set you up. They repaired Allan’s flat tire so fast our ride was barely interrupted.
Steveston offers a Farmer’s and Artesian Market on bi-weekly Sunday summer afternoons. That way you can buy fattening treats and work the calories off on your bike ride.
4) Summer Night Market
“You have to go to the Summer Night Market,” people told us. So off we went, not really knowing what was in store. A friend told us to park behind Home Depot. That’s where it got interesting. Home Depot is located in an industrial area, far from anything that could be considered tourist friendly. We saw a few people heading to a fenced area, so we followed. Turning a corner, we saw 20 or so people casually waiting by a chained off fence in a deserted area overtaken with blackberry bushes. At 6:30, the chain dropped and the 50 of us started walking down an outside corridor between more stark buildings. No lights, no music, no indication of any major event taking place. A half mile later we turned the corner and saw…lots of booths selling cell phone covers, Samurai swords and five pairs of socks for $10. (Colorful Canadian dollars of course!)
The Asian-style Summer Night Market is part swap meet, part street fair and part food festival. During the first half hour we meandered around, wondering where the crowds were. Soon, thousands arrived, creating the festival atmosphere. The main stage filled with karaoke contestants, thye play zone was filled with kids and the 60 food vendors served their specialties: Dragon Beard Candy, dried squid, lychee ice cream, and Allan’s favorite, Hurricane Fried Spiral Potatoes on a Skewer.
5) Thrangu Monastery
We’re known for finding quirky attractions when we travel, and our next stop was quirky with spiritual undertones. The Thrangu Monastery is the first traditionally designed Tibetan Monastery in the Pacific Northwest. The building is big and ornate, just like you’d see on TV. We dutifully followed the sign on the front door, telling us to remove our shoes.
With my usual boldness, I parted the red velvet curtains and saw I shouldn’t have been so bold. We had walked into a Buddhist service. People sat cross legged on cushions in front of low, (very low) tables. A monk chanted, using a microphone, while other people followed along. We would have followed along but felt too awkward with everyone looking our way. After 10 minutes, a monk, evidently feeling sorry for us, gestured for us to sit on the cushions and handed us a book everyone seemed to be reading out loud. My poor 6’2” husband tr
ied to sit cross legged in order to get his knees under the very low tables. I avoided eye contact because I knew that would result in inappropriate giggling.
Allan finally got settled and I looked at the last page of the book given to us by the monk. 167 pages. Did I mention the monk was chanting from page 26? By the time we got to page 54, Allan’s legs were cramping. He tried gracefully to adjust them but I could see he was in pain. Just as my legs began cramping, the music began. We used the distraction of the loud gongs, cymbals and tambourines to stretch our legs as much as possible. The chanting resumed and eventually we reached page 167 and the service ended. Allan got up and immediately began limping because both legs were asleep.
I asked a monk if we could take the tour. He evidently hadn’t read the Monastery’s descriptive brochure because he said, “There’s not much to show you. Look around this room and you’ll see everything.” So we checked out the 1,000 gold plated Buddha’s and other impressive architecture while Allan worked to get the circulation going in his legs.
Where to Stay in Richmond
Our visit to Richmond was enhanced by staying at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites, Riverport. Directions in hand, I told my husband which way to drive, but he kept saying, “There’s nothing on this road but blueberry farms!.” True. For miles we saw residential homes and one blueberry farm after another, until the hotel appeared! Not only was it new and modern, it was located in an entertainment complex perfect for families. It’s an easy walk to a huge theater complex, bowling alley and ice arena. The Old Spaghetti Factory is ideal for a family meal.
All the rooms at this Holiday Inn Express have a mini fridge and microwave, something we love. After sleeping on an uber-comfortable bed, the hotel also provided a great breakfast buffet, far beyond the usual packaged muffin and lukewarm coffee at many hotels.
This Holiday Inn Express has one and two bedroom suites ideal for families who need room to spread out. Parents can watch TV in one room while kids have their own TV or free WIFI.
About those Kinder Eggs
Remember the Kinder Eggs I mentioned earlier? These are chocolate eggs with an amazing mechanically-inclined toy inside. My daughter has a collection of over 150 tiny figurines…and they are all illegal! Yes, while European and Canadian children buy Kinder Eggs at any store, they are illegal in the US because of the small parts inside the egg that snap together to make moving carousels, arrow-shooting bears and windmills.
We purchased two dozen Kinder Eggs at Costco in Canada and needed to keep them cool in our hotel refrigerator.