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Vantastic

Mark down Vancouver, British Columbia, as a city that you really need to visit.

by Paul Gerald

pproached by any means, Vancouver is a spectacular destination. Departed from any direction, it is a superb launching point. Wandered and explored, it is a world unto itself.

With just one day to spend there, my companion and I chose to play tourist – although we could have just as easily played outdoor adventurer, history buff, culture seeker, or even cannabis head.

PHOTO BY PAUL GERALD
Vancouver is surrounded by big, wild peaks with year-round snow. No city exists in a more beautiful setting.

We rode in on the ferry, clearly one of the greatest public-transportation trips in the world. You stand on the deck with the ocean breeze in your face, gazing at forests and sailboats and mountains and the waterfront homes of the lucky and the rich.

In town, we started in Stanley Park, which is a thousand acres of greenspace and garden and beach and forest and panoramic views, set on a little peninsula sticking out of downtown. We walked among huge trees and tossed the Frisbee in a field with a view of downtown, then we sipped coffee and looked out over the ocean and at the mountains north of town.

The mountains and the ocean – that’s what Vancouver is all about, like transportation and distribution are really what Memphis is all about. “Van,” as the locals sometimes call it, is the biggest port on the west coast of North America, yet while standing in it you can see big, wild peaks with year-round snow. No city is in a more beautiful setting than Vancouver.

An hour and a half up the road is Whistler, one of 16 downhill ski resorts within a five-hour drive of town. Whistler is said to be the number-one ski resort in North America, but for the true powderheads there is this thing called heli-skiing. It’s pretty simple, I guess: A helicopter drops you off at the top of a mountain, nobody around, and you have the whole place to yourself. I can’t comment on this, as I am poor and intelligent.

You want nature? Brochures claim that more bald eagles live in British Columbia than anywhere else in the world, and that the world’s highest concentration (3,700 in 1994) of bald eagles is in the community of Brackendale.

And try this sometime: Find somebody who’s into kayaking or canoeing and just say to them, “British Columbia.” They will probably start drooling. There are three lifetimes worth of islands and inlets along the coast out there, stretching from downtown to Alaska.

Back in the city, Vancouver is cosmopolitan and kicked-back. English-style pubs are packed when the financial district gets off work, then the scene moves toward places like Sunset Beach, where street performers battle for attention with the sun setting over the inlet. The road into Sunset Beach might as well be Sunset Boulevard down in L.A., such are the restaurant patios and well-dressed hardbodies.

The giant trees of British Columbia can be a humbling experience.

Owing to the company I was with, a co-worker from the YMCA, I didn’t explore places like Wreck Beach, which I am told the freaks are in charge of. They form drum circles and sell ganja Rice Krispie treats at Wreck Beach. Vancouver is, in fact, getting a reputation as “Vansterdam.” My source on Wreck Beach says that at the Cannabis Cafe, “You can’t just light one up at the table like you used to, but just about.”

Some tourism highlights:

The world’s thinnest office building, confirmed by Guinness and Ripley’s, is the Sam Kee Building. Back in 1913, governmental goofiness left Sam with six feet of street frontage, so as a “screw you” he built a building six feet wide and two stories tall.

You can tour a genuine Russian submarine, the first on display in North America. It’s interesting as an insight into what had to be a miserable life – months at a time with 75 men, never seeing daylight. The tour, however, is not for the claustrophobic or those with low tolerance for Canadians with goofy Russian accents.

Speaking of phobias, you can test your acrophobia by walking over the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is 450 feet long, 230 feet above a river, and just wide enough for two people to pass each other.

After dinner on our one night in Vancouver, we went to the Italian district in search of tiramisu. Vancouver is nothing if not international. A British accent is as common as a Mississippi drawl in Memphis, the Chinatown is larger and less congested than the one in San Francisco, and this Italian district we went to was the real deal. Over a dozen or so blocks of Commerce Street, there was cafe after cafe filled with old guys arguing in Italian over chess games. There were dishes on the menus that we had never heard of and live soccer feeds coming in on the satellite from the old country.

Our final act was to go to the top of a tower for a 360-degree view of the city by night. I stood there looking at the lights, at the streets and buildings, and the moon over the mountains, and I decided that Vancouver would just have to be revisited. And next time, it’ll be for a lot more than a day.


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