October 8, 2014
Many of us travel to the west coast of America on work or to catch up with family and friends. Take a week off and head to the Canadian city of Vancouver, by the Pacific. Consistently voted as one of the most beautiful and liveable cities in the world, Vancouver is just 2 hours by road from Seattle and offers a plethora of diverse experiences.
It is impossible not to fall in love with a city where you get a glimpse of the snow-capped Grouse mountain at every crossroad on the arterial Robson street. If this is not enough, you have the massive Stanley Park, bright and beautiful, right at the edge of downtown. You can walk, bike or skate along the 9 km seawall, which borders the park, listening to the ebb and flow of the tide or watch the seaplanes take off near the convention centre or even play golf in one of the mini courses hidden away in its massive green folds. I was just delighted to be able to walk – on the pebbles that fringed the ocean, under green, cool bowers and by hedges bursting with colourful blooms. The totem poles that stand in the park are a study in wood craft and history – do spend some time reading their stories. Get in a round of beach volleyball or Frisbee.
Experience the wobble and wiggle of the Capilano suspension bridge, a twenty minute bus ride away from downtown. Strung across a deep chasm with the fast flowing Capilano River trimmed by mighty Douglas fir trees, this now swaying now jiggling bridge connects the area between the land where time worn totem poles stand and the serene temperate rainforests of the West Coast. This could be a fun experience for the young at heart – Just imagine if you were Tom Thumb and you fell into a bowl of jelly! It can be a dare – I actually saw a lady call up her family and exult about how she made it across after so many years. It can be also be a cathartic experience; where the mind is completely occupied in steadying the body. As the bridge sways and bounces to the rhythm of the many people tramping across it, there is little else you can think about. The temperate rainforest experience beyond the bridge is a great lesson in geography – well laid out with canopy walks and informative plaques. Geography could have been my favourite subject had I been here before.
The summit of Grouse Mountain is a short drive and gondola ride away from the Capilano Bridge. The highlight of this visit has to be the tryst with the resident orphaned Grizzlies of Grouse – Grinder and Coola. Gorgeous and massive, they give you an idea of the raw power of bears as they mooch about their terrain looking for the hidden snack.
A couple of hours north from Vancouver and along the Pacific takes you through some spectacular scenery to the Whistler village at the foot of the beautiful Whistler mountain. Take a ride up a gondola to the peak of Whistler and from there, another gondola to the peak of Blackcomb nearby. There is something about the combination of snow, firs, gondolas and hot chocolate that does it for me and for most travelers I imagine… looking through the glass bottom of the gondola at the dark green tops of dense conglomerations of fir, the snow making a circular pit around each base, searching for bear tracks in the snow below, scrunching through the snow to the restaurant for that cup of hot chocolate and finally sipping the steaming liquid while looking through the panoramic windows … pure magic.
A few minutes on an Aquabus is all it takes to reach the quaint Granville Island. The first sight that meets your eyes would probably be banners announcing some kind of festival. Explorations of huge barn like structures beyond will reveal quirky art galleries, quaint shops filled with all kinds and manner of stationery, textile shops filled with reams of colourful world textiles (there is an upmarket Indian textile store), ribbons, soap shops that literally beckon you with its intoxicatingly sweet smells and a huge food market. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, opening a trap door and disappearing into twisting alleys of pleasant surprises. The square in the centre offers some lovely live music too.
Vancouver the city is a chockfull of treasures as well. Standing on the pavement of Gastown hissing steam is the famous Steam clock which is actually driven by a mini steam engine and an electric motor. It marks its presence by whistling and tooting every quarter hour and on the hour. Scour for interesting object d’art in this souvenir shop ridden part of town. Walk the length of Robson street, stopping to taste delicious crepes and maple syrup, check out restaurants with interesting names like rebellious Tomato.
From Vancouver, a short flight takes you to Calgary in neighbouring Alberta where Nature reigns supreme in the myriad waterfalls that plunge headlong into wind worn gorges, unreal, blue glacial lakes and beautiful little towns set against the snow capped Rockies. Take a drive down the Icefields Parkway, walk on a glacier and check out the beautiful town of Banff and maybe spot a grizzly – they are said to be abundant here and in summer they often come down near the road in search of a snack.
That is about a week’s worth of wondrous Nature in and around Vancouver. Fact is that Vancouver is also close to the charming English style island of Victoria, Vancouver island with Tofino and its storm catchers, Knight Inlet with its wild grizzly watching opportunities and a short flight away from Anchorage in Alaska. Well, that has to be another standalone vacation or two!
Sujatha Arvind is a travel enthusiast and the Product Head at Footprint Leisure Pvt Ltd
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