Posted by: ingaaksamit | April 18, 2010

Vancouver, A City of Olympic Proportions

Olympic cauldron on the waterfront of Vancouver

Holding my position as a river of humanity flowed past, eddying around me and tugging at my elbow I let the electrifying energy of the 2010 Olympics wash over me. The accents of dozens of countries rumbled all around as smiling faces reveled in the good nature of the North, who welcomed the world with open arms. The charms of Vancouver were displayed with vivid clarity as the jagged, snow-covered peaks of the Coastal Range pierced the cerulean sky while the forested tapestry of Stanley Park nudged against the sparkling blue waterways of the Burrard Inlet.

As international broadcasters waxed poetic about the beauty of the jewel of the Northwest, exhausting superlative adjectives, I irrationally felt a swelling of pride. Never having lived in Vancouver I can’t lay claim to the city, but it has claimed a part of me, creating a sense of kinship born through multiple visits to the city over the years.

Downtown Vancouver

The rich, colorful images beamed into living rooms around the world are sure to inspire a bevy of vacation planning that will introduce Vancouver to a new crop of visitors. I could imagine all kinds of conversations happening, such as “Why haven’t we ever gone to Vancouver” or “Wow, I had no idea it was so beautiful there.”

What visitors will find in Vancouver will not disappoint. Rated the #1 most livable city in the world by The Economist in 2010, Vancouver is an international, sophisticated city offering cultural amenities, higher education, professional sporting events, world-class museums and abundant natural beauty.

Vancouver can be a destination unto itself, or a waypoint in a journey to other adventures. In winter, some of the best skiing in North America can be had at Whistler, a scant hour and a half away by car. Victoria, on Vancouver Island can be reached by ferry from Vancouver in 1 ½ hours. Oenophiles can find world class wineries in the comely Okanagan, where fruit orchards are still spliced between vineyards, only 4.5 hours by car or 50 minutes by air from Vancouver to Kelowna.

Inukshuk from the top of the Peak Chair at Whistler

Over the years I have developed a special fondness for Vancouver. My journey in appreciating the bounty of the Northwest has evolved over time as I learned more about its history and culture, inextricably bound to that of the First Nation’s peoples, the uniquely Canadian term for the native settlers of the land. The Inukshuk, the ancient stone navigational aides of the Inuit and other Arctic dwellers and iconic emblem of the Olympics, captured the symbolism of my voyage in understanding as well.

Squamish carver creating a totem

The organizers of the Vancouver Olympics went to great lengths to include participation by four First Nations leaders during the planning and execution of the Olympics, as evidenced by their prominent place in the opening and closing ceremonies, and displayed at many venues. The four host nations were the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, all BC nations from the areas surrounding Vancouver.

Downtown Vancouver

Robson Street is ground central for shopping, eating and people watching in downtown Vancouver. The area between Burrard Street and Jervis is generally chock full of people, though nowhere near the crowds that descended upon the area during the Olympics, when the streets were closed to motor vehicles and a zipline was strung across Robson Square. Two landmark buildings anchor the southern end of the most vibrant section of Robson Street, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Odds & Ends, by Emily Carr

Vancouver Art Gallery

For the first time visitor or visitor who has never taken the time to learn about the art of the Northwest, the Vancouver Art Gallery couldn’t be any more convenient, located in a place most likely to be frequented by tourists. On one of my early visits to the Vancouver Art Gallery I was introduced to the works of one of Canada’s most iconic artists, Emily Carr (December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945), saving me from the embarrassment of saying, “Who?” upon hearing her name. The Gallery has an extensive collection of Carr’s post-impressionistic work based on her knowledge of the aboriginal peoples and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest Coast, which captures the spirit of a people whose lives are inextricably intertwined with their natural environment. Admission is $19.50 for adults.

High Tea

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The cosmopolitan Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, built by the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National Railways, is a Vancouver landmark. Like other railway hotels known for their majestic beauty, this hotel is a part of Canada’s national heritage. Completed in 1939, it took 11 years to build due to delays associated with the Great Depression, and cost $12 million. The hotel underwent a massive restoration in the mid-1990s to bring it up to modern standards. Rates run from $230 and up.

Traditionally, a favorite activity is having high tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Afternoon tea is offered daily in the 900 West Lounge, and includes delightful finger sandwiches, pastries, scones, fresh strawberries with Devonshire cream, and of course, tea. For those who are less traditional, champagne may be substituted for the tea. The hotel offers a special experience for the little ones, called Children’s Bubblegum Tea, held in a real castle. Their sandwiches consist of peanut butter and jelly, and they can partake of strawberries, fruit tart and chocolate chip cookies. The cost for the adult version is $49, while the kid’s version is $16.

Fresh produce at Granville Island

Vancouver Restaurants

Vancouver has a vibrant “foodie” scene as a result of an abundance of fresh produce, seafood, meats and a plethora of international chefs. There are so many restaurants jamming every block of Robson Street and the adjacent streets that I won’t pretend to have sampled every one. I have my favorites and I polled my friends who live in Vancouver, so the following is a very subjective but highly reliable list of just a sampling in downtown Vancouver and beyond.

 

Stanley Park

If you feel the need to walk off a meal or breathe in some the bracingly fresh Northwest air, Stanley Park, an urban oasis, has a multitude of activities to choose from. Larger than Central Park in New York City, the park easily absorbs the estimated eight million visitors it receives every year. The 5.5 mile (8.8 km) seawall path within the park is paved and is a popular route for bicyclists, in-line skaters and pedestrians. The entire seawall path extends beyond the park from the Convention Center at Burrard Inlet, through the park, past Granville Island all the way to Kitsilano Park, a distance of 13.7 miles (22 km). It could take an hour to bike just the Stanley Park section (2-3 hours to walk it). There are numerous bike and skate rental shops near the park. Hikers will enjoy an intricate network of forested paths through the park that will make you forget that the bustling city is a stone’s throw away. Along the way you might see totem poles, a lawn bowling competition, ponds and gardens, as well as spectacular views of Burrard Inlet. The totem pole display area at Brockton Point is the most visited tourist attraction in British Columbia, featuring totems carved by Coast Salish artist Susan Point. Located near the northern terminus of Georgia St, the 1,000 acre Stanley Park is easily accessed from downtown.

This will serve as an introduction to the charms of Vancouver. In Part II I will cover some of my favorite destinations beyond downtown.

All photos by Inga Aksamit, except “High Tea” (CC-Sam Choi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23686250@N00/91380361/), and Emily Carr (CC-Public Domain).

BC Ferry near Vancouver

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Responses

  1. Dear Inga
    What a great article about the charms of Vancouver! I can hardly wait for Part II!
    I look forward to trying out some of those restaurants.
    Nicky


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