Winnipeg Free Press: Harbour No Illusions

Winnipeg Free Press: Harbour No Illusions

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By Ron Pradinuk

While on my way to check out Whistler I spent a couple of great days in Vancouver — which has become one of my favourite cities in the world.

In size, the city of Vancouver (excluding Greater Vancouver) is not particularly large. At only 115 square kilometres, it pales in comparison to Toronto or Calgary, which both span more than 600 square km — or even Winnipeg, which covers 460 square km.

But there are more than 600,000 people who have been squeezed into the homes and high-rises in that small space — making it the fourth most densely populated city in North America, behind only New York City, San Francisco and Mexico City.

Vancouver has become a major cruise port, a major Canadian motion picture centre, a world-renowned oceanside tourist destination and home to a modern convention centre that draws thousands to the city daily.

I have been to Vancouver a number of times and have seen many of the sights. That population density is evident while shopping on Robson Street — with upwards of 20,000 tourists and workers walking along on a daily basis during the peak summer months.

As such, this is obviously one of the world’s biggest urban centres with loads of things to do, both in the heart of the city and nearby. But I was still unsure what I was going to do. While I had some rough ideas of where I might go, as is frequently the case on many of my trips, I like to move with the mood.

Since my flight arrived early in the morning I was lucky to check into my room at the Westin Bayshore shortly after arrival. As I got to my room on one of the upper floors of the hotel and opened the curtains, my plans for my next two days immediately crystallized.

I was overlooking a beautiful moving postcard with boats and waterside restaurants peering up at me from the waters of Burrard Inlet below. From there, I was not looking at big city life, but rather at a few dozen sailboats and other vessels bobbing gently in the water and, more importantly, people. Not crowds of people scurrying to get to the next place, but rather couples strolling, joggers doing their paces and cyclists with helmets setting their own pace as they head to or from nearby Stanley Park.

This was the direction I was going to take, exploring Vancouver on and from the waters that make up so much of its natural beauty.

I was tempted to take one of the bicycles supplied free of charge to guests of the Westin Bayshore. Instead I decided to follow my own advice and chose to get around via the on-and-off buses that stop to pick up passengers in the driveway of the hotel.

There are two routes these buses take in Vancouver. The one I took goes most of the way through and around Stanley Park — taking in only some of the downtown streets. Established in 1886, the park was named after Lord Stanley, the governor general of the day, whose name also adorns the hockey trophy hopeful Winnipeg Jets fans would like to see the team hoist at the end of this season. It is a park filled with dozens of activity options. The driver-guide provided an excellent overview of the park’s history and development — as well as its points of reference — during the journey, discussing the beaches and gardens, seawall, aquarium and gigantic totem poles, as we moved past each. I was determined to return to all of them.

After the circle had been completed, I decided to stay on the bus and ride it to a place where I could grab lunch. What the Salisbury House is to Winnipeg, White Spot restaurants are to Vancouver, offering a good hamburger at a fair price that you can eat while surrounded by the real, everyday people who live and work in Vancouver.

One location, situated near the corner of West Georgia and Denman Street, seems to have been there forever. But as I get closer I realize it hasn’t just changed, it is gone. Progress has turned it into a 53-storey residential tower and head office of the Telus Group in Vancouver. It has an architecturally stunning entrance, which apparently took several million of the $750-million investment to build.

Instead of a White Spot, there is now a trendy new restaurant called the Glowbal. While I am not sure how they got the name, what I am sure of is that I am really glad I chose to stay and have my lunch there. Even though the burgers I saw being delivered to other tables looked appetizing, I was in BC and seafood was on my mind. I jumped at the sable fish special and left feeling I had made a culinary discovery.

It was a gorgeously warm fall afternoon in Vancouver and when I had captured the dramatic views from my Bayshore hotel room earlier, I had seen a number of tour boats taking people on excursions. I quickly added one such excursion to my itinerary and made the short five-minute walk to the boarding dock of the paddleboat Constitution. The Constitution is marketed as Vancouver’s only authentic paddle wheeler and sitting on the top deck with a beverage while taking photographs as the guide explained the highlights of our sailing around Burrard Inlet made for an exceptional and peaceful afternoon.

There are a number of excellent restaurants situated on, or near, the banks of downtown Vancouver. I had a busy day, so I decided to dine in the hotel — a good decision as it turned out.

The Westin Bayshore had only recently opened their new signature restaurant, the H2 Rotisserie & Bar. It is a ground-floor restaurant right off the seawall with a suburb patio and good view of the scenic wonders beyond. H2 specializes in locally grown and raised meats and fish without added antiobiotics or hormones, as well as locally brewed beers.

After having the Vancouver Aquarium recommended to me on the cruise and on-and-off bus, it became my first destination on the morning of my second day. It was only a 20 minute walk along the seawall to get there and an education unto itself.

Whether walking or on bicycles, this route is clearly on the morning agenda for hundreds of Vancouverites of all ages. As I walked, I passed the starting point of the horse-drawn carriage tours that go through Stanley Park at a slower pace. Many people seemed to enjoy them.

At the Aquarium, guests are welcomed by a magnificent carving done by renowned Haida artist Bill Reid and featuring Orca, chief of the undersea world. Inside, the sections are divided into galleries, featuring species ranging from British Columbia to the Tropics and beyond, with outdoor shows that consistently draw large numbers of local families and visiting tourists alike.

While it is possible to get to Vancouver’s famed Granville Island by car or bus, it is a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience to take one of the False Creek Ferries.

I boarded near the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, a sight worth seeing on its own merit. It is a facility so large that, according to one of our guides, it can acommodate up to a thousand participants at any given time.

From chocolates to cheeses, the Granville Island market offers just about anything you would want to find for gifts or immediate consumption, including a number of restaurant options from basic to upscale.

For my final meal of the trip, I visit a place that has been on my mind for two days now and I can no longer resist. The concierge at the Westin Bayshore informs me the location of one of the first of the original White Spot Restaurants in the city of Vancouver is only a short walking distance away. The restaurant is nearly full, not just with locals who cherish this institution, but with visiting sports teams and tourists who have all come here for the tremendous food. Fresh cut fries and a hamburger with White Spot’s famous Triple O Sauce — polished off with one of their equally famous milkshakes — made for a walk back to the hotel that was a little slower than usual.

After a meal of that calibre, sleep comes easily. I awake ready for my journey to Whistler, as my love affair with British Columbia carries me northwest.

Read Ron’s blog at www.thattravelguy.ca. Listen to Ron’s latest podcasts via his website, or on demand on iTunes.

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