Before Friday I would not have believed that a mall could actually be a therapeutic experience, that it could make me feel serene, happy and like I’d taken a mini vacation all for the cost of a cup of coffee and a churro (the churro isn’t necessary, but I don’t think you’d be as happy without it). I was especially surprised by my lack of desire to shop. I simply wanted to enjoy my environment and take in what felt like a visit to a foreign land. A very clean, friendly land full of gorgeous buildings that just happened to have stores in them, but also full of benches, fountains, art, excellent people watching opportunities and other visual delights.
I can’t guarantee that such a place exists everywhere, although in the Forum and Venetian shops Vegas has less serene but still enjoyable versions. However, if you live in the Vancouver area think nice thoughts about the builders of McArthur Glen, the first North American location of a successful European outlet group that have just opened on the Sea Island (the airport) in Richmond.
The site of this mini European vacation is along the road to Iona Beach, just by the first airport sky train station and employee parking lot. This part of the airport property has long been a magical spot for me. Whether we are at Iona beach, with glorious unspoiled ocean and mountains in one direction and aircraft taxiing and taking off in the other (both surreal and wonderful) or are parking outside the access gates where many locals love to come, open up their sun roofs, tilt back their seats and enjoy the just about to land planes soaring overhead.
The mall has ample free parking, a rarity in the airport area and stepping inside is like arriving in the nicest of European villages. The sky above you is real, as opposed to the impressively painted version in Vegas, trees and plants abound and, depending on which of the three “avenues” you are on you can visit a slice of France, Italy or what is either Germany or Switzerland (still trying to figure that out). There are two lovely central courtyards, one with a fountain that changes colours, heights and patterns (a mini Bellagio), the other featuring what looks like a typical Parisian café which houses that most Vancouver of institutions, a coffee bar.
Pick up your fresh churros before heading across the border (connecting walk way minus passports or immigration) from Italy to France, get the coffee or tea beverage of your choice and settle in on the patio and watch the world go by (literally as many of the shoppers are on their way to or from the airport). Occasionally a plane will pass overhead enhancing that vacation feeling. We enjoyed two hours of “sightseeing” and people watching, talked to some lovely people and left feeling relaxed, calm, happy and as if we’d somehow been away without buying a thing (other than our coffee and churros). Given the many benches and sitting areas liberally spread throughout the architecturally delightful landscape, you don’t have to buy a thing to enjoy a trip to mini Europe by the sea (island).
I walked in tense, stressed and tired. I left with a smile on my face and the joy of knowing that a mini vacation/guaranteed happy place, as well as the ultimate “let’s go for a coffee” spot was just a short drive away. See you soon McArthur Glen, I have a friend who’s being yearning for a churro (and she wouldn’t mind the serenity either).