THE HAPPY WANDERER: VANCOUVER


Vancouver’s a beautiful, exciting destination

By Ginny Prior
Contra Costa Times 3/27/2008

I’d never heard of Da Vinci’s “Inquest” when I visited Vancouver. Now, I can’t get the Canadian TV program out of my mind. Shot for seven years in some of the city’s most colorful neighborhoods, the award-winning crime show was to Vancouver what “CSI” is to Miami. And the reruns remind me this city deserves more than a “port of call” stop on a cruise to somewhere else.

“The weather is super, eh?” The East Indian cabbie sounded surprisingly Canadian as he made small talk en route from the airport. We were motoring through Vancouver in a Prius, the car of choice for cab drivers in this super progressive seaport city.

Quietly, almost stealthily, we passed through the busy streets of a densely populated downtown, pulling up to the Pan Pacific Hotel and the adjacent cruise ship terminal. I barely recognized this spot as Canada Place from my two trips to the 1986 World’s Fair. That event, as much as anything, had put Vancouver on the map.

A blast of the horn and the gleaming Holland America cruise ship was calling her passengers to board. She’d been docked here patiently as her charges toured the town. I watched them juggle their purses and packages from my hotel suite window, which wrapped halfway around the room and offered views of the city on one side and the harbor on the other. High above the plaza, I was, as my friends called it, “living large.”

It was easy to get caught up in the energy of a city like this. More than 900,000 passengers come through Vancouver each year; many on their way north to Alaska. They find the climate here appealing and the food and shopping exceptional.

I was eager to experience both. Setting out on foot, I headed toward the city’s oldest district, Gastown. With its handsome brick buildings and cobbled streets, Gastown was enjoying a renaissance, of sorts, although still a bit rough around the edges. More than once I passed people who looked like they were right out of Da Vinci’s “Inquest.” But Gastown was hip, too, and funky. My favorite sidewalk attraction was the steam-powered clock that whistled and whirred on the quarter hour.

I built up an appetite walking through Gastown and that was a good thing. My tour group was meeting at Aqua Riva, one of Vancouver’s premier restaurants. Built on the waterfront next to our hotel, Aqua Riva had amazing harbor views and a menu to match. Course after course was exceptional, paired with equally fine British Columbia wines. We topped off the evening with a Canadian kiss — a glass of British Columbia’s celebrated ice wine.

Day two had me following a friend’s advice, with a bike ride through Stanley Park. The hour-long ride offered stunning views of the North Shore mountains and Lions Gate Bridge, as well as a roll through an urban forest and past fragrant rose gardens. The ride was pure pleasure with plenty of places to stop and picnic or rest.

As predictable as a sunset, I had worked up an appetite again and went looking for substance at Vancouver’s popular Granville Island Public Market. The place where chefs shop for fresh produce and seafood, I quickly realized the artisan qualities of their breads, cheeses and other foods. Once a sad and forgotten industrial site, Granville Island is the pulse of the city’s celebrated restaurant scene today. My only complaint was my luggage wouldn’t hold all the specialty foods I was tempted to bring home.

It would take more space than I’ve got here to do this city justice. A guide book would barely scratch the surface. But a list of must-see locations has to include Yaletown (a hipster hangout brimming with boutique shops and possibly the world’s best facial (my skin glowed for weeks after my treatment at a spa called Spaethos); English Bay, where the beaches and sunsets attract locals and tourists alike; and a drive along BC’s famed Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler. It’s considered one of the most photogenic highways in the country and Whistler, of course, is a host of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

That’s Vancouver in a nutshell — one of the most exciting cities in the Pacific Northwest. Pardon me, now, while I retreat to the television room. There’s a Canadian crime show I want to catch.

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