When I was about six years old, my dad came home from a long business trip bearing gifts. I don't recall what many of them were now, apart from a cuddly brown bear given to my sister.
I remember my dad opening up his suitcase like a treasure chest, and us rocking forward on our heels to peer at what was inside. We marvelled at the plush brown bear, who would soon become known as "Cubbins", nestled in between work shoes and folded shirts.
"He's all the way from Canada," my dad told us. "Do you know where that is?"
We didn't, but based on my dad's tales of wilderness and mountains, it became a mystical and almost fabled place in my mind. Somewhere wild, exciting and impossily far away.
Last night, and twenty years later, I stood in front of Hudson House - a souvenir shop in Gastown, and the birthplace of Cubbins. It was a strange sense of coming full circle, and I wanted to talk to my child-self and say, "Look! Look how far you've come."
So while my first introduction to what is now my favourite part of Vancouver happened over two decades ago, my relationship with Gastown, Vancouver's oldest and most atmospheric neighbourhood, has come a long way since. I'm here almost every day of the week, and not just because I love the almost-gothic feel of the moody buildings, the cobbled streets and gems of cafes and bars hiding in shady corners. My fitness studio is here, and I purposefully leave the house early before every class so that I have little pockets of 20 minutes or so with which to explore.
There aren't many places in Vancouver that remind me of home, but Gastown does. Vancouver is shiny, new, remarkably sterile (in places), but Gastown has a gritty soul and a lovable dirt that reminds me of Edinburgh.
I get off the bus at Seymour and West Cordova, just outside the old Waterfront station. Looking at that building makes me feel like I'm in a different time; when trains peopleboarded enormous steam dresses wearing elegant hats and red lipstick, hauling battered leather cases. Behind the station is the harbour, and at night you can see the lights of the tankers and the North Shore beyond twinkling like landlocked stars.
I round the corner at Steamworks Brewery, which is also warm and glowing with heat, and onto Water Street. The trees are strung with little lights all year-round, and the old lanterns light the pavement in quivering orbs. I plug in my earphones as I reach the Steam Clock, which is permanently surrounded by a halo of photo-taking tourists. After a few minutes of walking, the sushi restaurants and souvenir shops and native art collections give way to serious-looking coffee places, ultra-cool boutiques and the kind of bars where cocktails are served in jam jars and the menu is on a wooden clipboard.
I take a right past the Flying Pig restaurant and up Abbott Street, for the sole reason that there's a little office there that I like to peer into. I have no idea what it's for - an architect's firm maybe? - but it's got a timeless feel, with book-lined walls and huge windows that look so pretty when edged with frost. The few people sitting inside are always pouring over some kind of ledgers, and it reminds me of the kind of office Mr Scrooge had in a Christmas Carol.
Sometimes I'll carry on up Abbott, but most of the time I turn back onto Water Street until I reach the crossroads. The building that looks like New York's Flat Iron faces me head on with its rebellious flat angles, and this is where I pause. There's a bench; I sometimes sit. It might be busy and chaotic, or it be quiet, with barely anyone but me on the streets. For me, this is one of my favourite places in the whole of the city.
I can't really explain why I love Gastown quite so much as I do. But I can feel something beating there, something warm and old and real that's rare. It's not just the hipster bars and industrial-chic showrooms, but something more raw and beautiful. I guess it's a kind of soul.
Some Gastown highlights...