Big crowds animate the Canada Pavilion... Some other venues, not so much
I took the day off work today and headed into Vancouver for my weekly appearance on the Bill Good Show. After we wrapped up I stayed downtown for the better part of the day to soak up the Olympic atmosphere and visit a number of free venues. Prior to noon, things were definitely busier than normal in the city's core, but it was all quite manageable. My first stop was the Olympic cauldron. I decided I didn’t want to fight the crowds (and the ugly chain link fence) so I tried to find another good unobstructed vantage point. Luckily, I remembered a little pocket park right next to an office tower I used to work in near Bute and Pender. If you stand on top of the flower boxes, you can actually see the Olympic flame without the chain link fence. Imagine that!
I then made my way to both the LiveCity Yaletown and LiveCity Downtown locations in order to see for myself how bad things really were in relation to security line-ups. Although lines were reasonably short, I must say that watching young kids and seniors getting frisked and forced through magnetic airport scanners to visit the Manitoba pavilion is a real turn off. See a video to see what I mean.
Unlike all the other free venues in town, the City has chosen to install a massive chain link fence (some have compared it to a medium security prison) around each of their two public celebration sites. After visiting them for myself, I am convinced this is a big mistake. As many of our readers have already commented on this blog, this type of heightened security may make some people sleep better at night, but it doesn't make for a good use of public space.
The Host City Vancouver House was an absolute dead zone today with no one waiting to get in. After visiting this thoroughly uninspiring pavilion, I can understand why the staff often outnumber the guests. I tried to keep an open mind, but there was not enough to keep me (and my party) occupied for more than about 5 minutes. If you're like most other folks, you'll want to give this pavilion a miss. The only city-sponsored venue that seems to be attracting the crowds is West House. I think it is definitely worth a quick visit.
The most bizarre moment for me had to be while I was waiting in line at the LiveCity Yaletown security checkpoint. The woman ahead of me was carrying a bottle of no-name brand water. When the security guard saw the bottle, he said to her “is this your water?” "Yes," she said.
At that point, I assumed he was going to open the bottle up and empty out the contents. Well...not quite. He just asked her to tear off the label and proceed inside. That’s right, there could very well have been a flammable liquid in there, but that didn’t seem to bother the guard. He clearly was more concerned about something else.
When I got to the checkpoint I asked him why he was forcing people to take the labels off their water bottles. He responded to me by saying “I don’t know. We’ve been told by the City that nobody can enter in here with an improperly branded water bottle.” Huh? It seems that the City is more concerned about the water bottle branding, rather than its contents. This all seems a bit silly to me.
Next stop on the journey was Canada’s Northern House. I’ve written about this before, but I want to repeat what a great job they’ve done with this venue. Its professional looking and the staff are super friendly. I’ve been there twice now, and I have really enjoyed it. There were no line-ups before noon, but there were lots of people inside.
Just around the corner is the Royal Canadian Mint. I popped by there just to see if the line-ups had subsided since the weekend. I’m sorry to report that they haven’t. There remain two queues outside the main door. The first one is for those who want to touch the Olympic medals. The second one is if you simply want to enter the pavilion. Officials told me the medal touching line-up was about 2-3 hours long at around 11 am. On the other hand, entry into the main pavilion was quite smooth with only a 5-10 minute wait. Clearly this remains one of the top three most popular pavilions.
I then walked along Granville Street toward Robson Square which in my humble opinion has become the “heart” of activity for the Games. Well over 1000 people were lined up for a ride on the Zipline or to enter the BC pavilion (which includes free entry to the Vancouver Art Gallery) before noon. You should be prepared for long lines if you are planning to head here over the next week or so.
After reading all the comments on the Casa Italia, I was expecting a very poor pavilion. However, I was pleasantly surprised. They had really friendly staff and I just happened to arrive when they were serving up some nice Italian red wine and parmigiano cheese. They most certainly were selling high-end clothing, but the pavilion was much better than I expected. It is probably worth budgeting about 30 minutes out of your day to see.
The final stop was the Concord Pacific property which was buzzing with activity. The sun was shining brightly and tens of thousands of people streamed out of Canada Hockey House, making their way to the seawall to get some fresh air. Despite the flood of people, none of the pavilions were overly busy during mid-afternoon. The one exception might be Ontario House where the 4D theatre remains extremely popular. A little tip...the Edgewater Casino was selling beer at $2 a glass and super hotdogs for a buck. Can't beat that price anywhere in town!
I had a great time today, and by the looks of it so did hundreds of thousands of other people enjoying everything the Games have to offer. We still have 11 days left to enjoy all this Olympic fun!
PS If any of the popular pavilions are reading our blog...and we know you are...one of our readers kindly suggests you give out tickets with a time stamp on them during your busy times. People could come early and be told to come back at a certain point later in the day. This way people could leave, go shopping or visit other sites, then come back at the appropriate time without having to stand in long lines. Just a thought.