Vancouver: Walking “The Drive”

Eavesdropping is such an insightful experience in a foreign city.

Overheard at a bar on Commercial Drive in Vancouver: “I want to relate everything to a material reality.”

I wish I could convey how earnestly the long-haired yuppie said that.

The view from our apartment in Yaletown

“The Drive” is one of the city’s oldest and best-known business districts. Formerly “Little Italy”, it’s the place to go for Southern Europe cuisine and coffee.

Being outside the main tourist areas, it has a counter-culture vibe and diverse community.

Rather tellingly, its main festivals include:  Illuminares, the Dyke March, Italian Day, the Vancouver Poetry Festival, the Parade of Lost Souls, East Side Pride, and Car-Free Day.

From where we’re staying in Yaletown, it’s a few stops eastwards on the SkyTrain.

Blossoms on Commercial Drive hinting at spring, despite the cold temperatures

I guess it’s like a combination of Auckland’s Karangahape Road and Wellington’s Cuba Street. But longer. And more Italian.

The first few blocks were fairly sparse and the air carried a waft of boiled eggs.

It got more interesting and pleasant-smelling after East 7th Avenue.

On your right: Italian restaurant, thrift shop, espresso bar, Turkish restaurant, Mexican restaurant. On your left: hippie emporium, gelato parlour, delicatessen, craft beer bar, a man carving pieces of wood.

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A colourful cafe on Commercial Drive

To take a break from the rain, I ducked into a second-hand store. A young woman was trying on a wedding dress.

“That is a thing of beauty, uh huh, that is,” the store owner said, as she circled the woman with her iPhone.

Another shopper asked: “Are you getting married?”

From under the veil the woman shook her head: “Nope. Maybe one day.”

At the end of Commercial Drive

I continued beyond Commercial Drive, towards the waterfront, where shops and eateries were replaced with concrete apartments and car parks.

On my phone I searched for things to do in this part of town and Google autocompleted: “Drugs.”


I headed back to Commercial Drive for my drug of choice: caffeine.

The biggest sandwich ever, from Cafe Calabria

I’d read about Cafe Calabria, the city’s “oldest Italian coffee-house”, which plays Italian opera and boasts a ceiling replica of Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel.

Sitting next to an indoor water fountain I tucked into a sandwich far too large for one person but also too tasty to not finish, and allowed myself to feel at home; the sign of a good cafe.

I ordered another coffee, and continued with the eavesdropping.

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