Vancouver, British Columbia
Then and Now
love affair with Vancouver began at age ten. Even though it was a mere
three-hour car drive from my hometown of Seattle, it seemed a distant
land of exotic teas, English toffee and towering totem poles. With spectacular
views of snow-capped mountains and pristine bodies of water at seemingly
every turn, it was a fascinating blend of beauty and multi-cultural
sophistication that even a young adolescent could recognize. At eighteen
- when the drinking age in Washington was twenty-one - the pilgrimages
continued, with my pretending to be a big shot by frequenting the pubs
and drinking rooms in Gastown, followed by sobering early morning meals
of tantalizing Cantonese food in Chinatown. Twelve years later, it was
the destination of choice for my honeymoon, where each day featured
a trek into Stanley Park for picnics, hikes or just lazying around on
one of the many driftwood-strewn beaches.
As the years marched on, I would return to Vancouver
often, and the city never failed to engage me. Yes, Vancouver has changed;
Robson street, once coined 'Robsonstrasse' - where little European bakeries
and delis lined the street - has evolved into the city's hippest boutique
street, and now coffee is the preferred beverage, with more than 75
Starbucks in a city proper of 611,869, but it will always be my special
place just on the other side of the border. The world has discovered
it too; Vancouver was voted the "Best City in the Americas"
for 2004, 2005 and 2006 by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. It all
makes perfect sense to me, for this is a city that really does - and
always will - live up to its accolades.
Quite simply, Stanley Park is the greatest urban park in North
America. Located in the heart of the city, it is a breathtaking evergreen
peninsula that jets out into the bay. Established in 1889 as the city's
first park, it consists of 1000 acres of woodlands, hiking and biking
trails, lakes, a lagoon, beaches and an array of wildlife. Other attractions
include the Vancouver Aquarium, public gardens, children's farmyard,
tennis courts, golf course, a heated ocean-side swimming pool, refreshment
stands and four restaurants. I once walked the paved 5.5-mile perimeter
in two-hours, but found doing it by bicycle was even more fun.
Gastown is brimming with tourists, and some locals will suggest you
shouldn't even bother with it, but this is the historic center of Vancouver
and a visit is essential. : Named after "Gassy Jack," who
opened a saloon in 1867 for forestry workers on the shore of Burrard
Inlet, Gastown still retains much of its old flavor. Established in
1971 as a historic district, it is today a mix of renovated brick and
stone buildings, vintage street lamps, tourist shops, galleries, restaurants
Vancouver's Chinatown is the second largest in North
America, but most importantly it is here to serve the city's largest
ethnic group - 30% of Vancouver households speak Cantonese or Mandarin
as a first language - and not its tourists. Located on the edge of downtown,
it has been the center of Chinese culture in Vancouver for more than
a century, and part of its very charm is its sense of authenticity and
lack of souvenir shops and tourist kitsch.
Lined with boutiques, fashionable restaurants and hip coffee bars, Robson
Street is Vancouver's most famous shopping street. Nestled between the
downtown business center and Stanley Park, it is also the city's most
walked street and ideal for watching people from all over the globe.
This is the street where there are two Starbucks kitty-corner from one
Redeveloped in the late 1970s, Granville Island is known for its public
markets, craft stores and commitment to the arts. The city offers lower
rent to designers and artisans and does not accept large "chain"
Formerly a no nonsense warehouse area on the edge of downtown, Yaletown
has been given a complete makeover, and now houses restaurants (many
with outdoor patios), coffee bars, hip boutiques and apartments. A must-eat
is Brix Restaurant, one of the first destinations restaurants in Yaletown.
The establishment features modern Canadian cuisine with local ingredients,
plus wine bar, offering over 50 vintages by the glass. Its refurbishing
is a mix of both eclectic and chic, and for me the symbol of district's
Three Ethnic Neighborhoods
While much smaller than Chinatown, these three enclaves
south of Grandville Bridge make an excellent mini excursion out of the
Along West Broadway, the Kitsilano neighborhood shares
the dual identity of being both a hip, counter-culture district - Greenpeace
was founded here back when it was Canada's answer to Haight-Ashbury
- and the site of its informal 'Greektown'. Among its numerous shops
you'll find plenty of places to get your fill of Greek delicacies.
A short drive down 1st Ave leads to Commercial Drive, site of Little
Italy. Home to regional Italian restaurants, robust cafes, delis, shops
and even a ravioli factory, it makes a fun street to stroll on.
Several miles to the south, along Main Street and 49th Avenue, rests
a two-block stretch of businesses that make up Little India. It's a
good place to shop for Indian music, searching the Punjabi Market for
the best deal on masala sauce, or having an Indian buffet lunch.
Just Outside of Town
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Considered Vancouver's oldest tourist attraction, the
450 feet-long Capilano Suspension Bridge is located in a lush twenty-seven
acre West Coast Rainforest Park, 230 feet above the Capilano River.
Originally made of hemp rope and cedar planks, today's bridge is constructed
of reinforced steel, safely secured in 13 tons of concrete on either
side of the canyon. A walk across this swaying footbridge is more thrilling
than a trip to an amusement park, and certainly more beautiful. A new
addition to the park is Treetops Adventure, which features seven separate
suspension bridges, unobtrusively connected among the evergreens. Seeing
the park from 100 feet above the ground gives participants quite literally
a tree-like perspective.
For further information about travel to Vancouver, contact