Malcolm Jolley travels in the COVID era…

Last week I got on an airplane for the first time since 2019 and flew with my eldest son to and back from Vancouver. My son is going into his last year of high school and UBC is one of the universities he’s interested in attending next year. We were talking about UBC at dinner in early July when I realized that he’d never been to Vancouver, and I hadn’t been since the mid 1990’s, even though it’s home to several of my family members. Around that time the airlines we’re beginning to resume their regular routes, so I checked the cost of a flight from YYZ to YVR. Air Canada must have been eager to get COVID-shy passengers back in the air because I found two tickets for a Wednesday to Sunday long trip for less than $500, round trip, taxes and all in. Here are my notes on the COVID era trip.

The Flight
Flying now means all masks, all the time. We put our masks on to get into the car that took us to Pearson, kept them on in the airport, and didn’t take them off until we stepped out of the terminal in Vancouver. If you thought economy class air travel couldn’t get worse than it was before this March, I can assure you this virus has opened up all kinds of possibilities for further misery. There is, of course, no way to social distance in the back two thirds of a 787 fuselage, so in order to keep cramming the passengers in, the airlines have stopped serving meals, kept a mandatory mask policy and discourage any walking around. An exception can be made for trips to the bathroom, but you’re not supposed to line up, and you’ll get looks for going. Also, the cheap ticket strategy worked: both our flights were full. Despite it all, people still want to travel.

The Food
This may beggar belief, but we had fantastic weather in Vancouver last week. We barely saw a cloud, let alone a drop of rain. This was good because we spent a lot of time outdoors, as one does in the middle of an airbourne transmitted viral pandemic. Unlike in Toronto, where my local restaurants now have patio seating on what used to be a traffic lane of Yonge Street, on busy Vancouver streets much of the extra patio seating is on the sidewalk, closer to the restaurant. The barricades there turn the street into a pedestrian way. That seems more sensible to me, and keeps the restaurant patrons apart from the walkers. When we weren’t touring the UBC campus, my son and I were visiting with my uncle, my aunt, and/or my cousin. This wasn’t meant as a gourmet tour, so we stuck to local, casual restaurants. One night we met my cousin for tacos in the park near her condo. They were excellent, from Sal y Limon in Mount Pleasant, and they cam with a big gulp sized margarita that made the picnic. Another evening we had sushi, not far away at Sushi Yama with a friend and his son who were also visiting from Toronto to check out UBC. We were blown away by the crab rolls with real crab and the shrimp tempura with (I think) fresh spot prawns. We re-ordered both and felt a pang of envy for Vancouverites who enjoy such good, basic and fresh seafood. Vancouver is a food town, and we ate very well even at the bottom of the spectrum.

The Wine
The Vancouver-based wine writer, Deanna Van Mulligan (a.k.a. The Wine Diva) has explained to me the intricacies of the BC liquor retail situation. I have forgot all the details, except there are both public, BC Liquor Stores and private ones. There was BC Liquor Store near our hotel, as well as a private one, and another, fancier private one, in a Whole Foods around the corner. I was curious about how this might all play out, since it might be a model for Ontario if our liquor retail situation continues to liberalize. The BC store I visited offered a pretty typical supermarket style selection of wines. There were some fancier bottles, mostly from bigger labels. Prices were a little higher than in Ontario, and the sticker price did not include the taxes, which made for an unpleasant surprise at the cash. The liquor store near my hotel was similar, though it did have a few mid-sized family run winery wines on offer, and the prices were more in line with the LCBO. I didn’t shop at the one in Whole Foods, part of a chain called Liberty, but it was closer to a good Vintage shop, with relatively exotic things like raw wines and the like. I think that’s where I’d end up if I went back again. Of the three the BC Liquor Store was by far the busiest. The mix of public and private seems to work. Maybe it’s time to let Ontario agents open up a few bottle shops?