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Canada> British Columbia> Vancouver

Pacific Northwest - British Columbia


A Karen Brown Recommendation

Vancouver sparkles. The gateway to western Canada is the pride of the country, and top-rated as a world-class city by numerous travel magazines and newspapers. The city's eye appeal may be its snow-capped mountains and ocean shores. When you add the city's diversified ethnicity, numerous cultural events and outdoor attractions, it's easy to understand why Vancouver attracts so many visitors.

The compact downtown area is surrounded by Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour on the north and English Bay and False Creek on the south. The city is anchored on the West End by thousand-acre Stanley Park (larger than New York City's Central Park), a place where visitors and locals alike walk, bicycle, or skate along its scenic two-lane six-mile seawall.

Overlooking the harbor to the north, the distinctively craggy 5,000-foot. (1525 m.) twin peaks known as the Lions are frequently dusted with snow. Beneath them lie the Coast mountain-range foothill cities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, accessible by Lions Gate Bridge (built by the designer of San Francisco's Golden Gate.) On a clear day, you can see the mountain ranges of the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and even Washington's Mount Baker.

Part of the sparkle is attributable to modern architecturally interesting glass buildings, each boasting a unique water feature, sculpture, or both. Hefty littering fines (for people and their pets) help to make the city clean. In spite of its increasing traffic, there is no smog in Vancouver. Gentle winds, coming off surrounding waters, clear the air.

Bustling Robson Street, and its adjacent streets, is the city's shopping Mecca. Strolling crammed sidewalks you can wander into Tiffany, Gucci, Hermes, and other upscale stores, not unlike those you might find on New York's Fifth Avenue. During evening hours, young adults mingle outside the street's restaurants and bars. There's body-to-body checking, street artists performing mime or drawing illustrations of posed tourists; everyone is taking in the scene.

Vancouver is a cultural gem. As you walk along the street, it's fun to guess the various languages you'll hear. The Asian, Indian, Eastern European, Arabic and other worldwide influences add character to the city, as well as endless choices of ethnic cuisine. The Canadian dollar, which fluctuates just above and below the U.S. dollar, has attracted many Europeans taking advantage of the value of the euro.

A relaxing time can be spent just sitting on one of many memorial seawall benches, spellbound by the view of one of North America's largest west coast ports. Each day cargo and cruise ships ply in and out of the harbor. Float planes lift off and land continually. Yachts arrive and depart one of three marinas. It's a visual delight.

A day can easily be spent in Stanley Park. In addition to the seawall, one of the city's top attractions is the Vancouver Aquarium. Like Sea World, there are shows performed by belugas, otters, sea lions, plus tours behind the scenes to view the feeding and care of fish, insects, and marine animals. The Park offers trams, horse-drawn carriages, hiking trails, lawn bowling, tennis courts, and an executive golf course. The swimming pool, overlooking English Bay, is Olympic-sized.

Fitness fanatics might want to challenge themselves climbing the stair-step-like 1.8 mile Grouse Grind, the tough way of getting to Grouse ski mountain, the venue for some of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Taking the tram is the easy way down and up.

Not far from Grouse is Capilano Suspension Bridge. Built in 1889, the wooden bridge is 450 feet (137 m) across, towering 230 feet (70 m) above the Capilano River. In addition to the bridge, the rain-forest park includes a First Nations Cultural Centre and Treetops Adventure.

If you only have time for one attraction, don't miss Granville Island and its fabulous acre-size Public Market. It is an amazing blend of a farmers' market and Vancouver's hub, yes, even for fine culinary chefs, an epicurean delight. Pyramids of luscious berries are displayed along with crisp, garden-fresh produce, local and exotic cheeses, fresh flower stands, and exotic delicacies. Just-from-the-oven bagels whiffed with aromatic freshly roasted coffee sets the mood as you suddenly realize that you can't resist making a few purchases to nibble on. Wild fiddleheads, pine mushrooms, seaweed, stinging nettles require a kitchen so save your "loonies" ($1 coins) and "toonies" ($2 coins) for the fruit and cheese.

The rest of the island offers tin-sided factories, a children's playground, art school, restaurants, theatres, galleries and shops where you can buy tailor-made eyeglasses, custom-made shoes, blown glass, ceramic and woodwork treasures, to mention a few.

Don't take a cab to Granville; rather, ride the small False Creek ferry boat, it takes only minutes and avoids some massive traffic bottlenecks.

We've given you only a few "appies," a Canadian's way of saying a small taste of a few things to do. It's impossible to cover Vancouver in a few days, especially when you consider the cultural neighborhoods of Chinatown, Richmond's Hong-Kong-style malls, India's Punjabi Market, not to mention the outlying areas that include Whistler, the Sunshine Coast, and the Gulf Islands.

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