Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Spending a long weekend in Vancouver, in that restorative space between ocean and mountain, will replenish your Omega-3′s, Vitamin D and faith in humanity. This wholesome, super friendly west coast Canadian city is a mecca for healthy living. Schools of salmon practically leap out of the blue Pacific onto plates of fresh, organic produce. Warm rays of sunshine glance off sporty Ray-Bans as happy joggers loop around the Stanley Park seawall. And when they’re not jogging, sailing or skiing, the exceedingly affable Vancouverites are doing everything they can to make visitors feel welcome.
Here’s an experiment: stand on a street corner in Vancouver and unfold your map. Look up from the map to identify the intersection. Look back down at the map. In the amount of time that takes or less, I predict someone will have stopped to ask if you need directions. Canadians really are that nice.
Oot and Aboot
In nice weather, a brisk walk or bike ride along the 8.8 kilometer Stanley Park seawall is a must. Rent some wheels at Spokes on the corner of Denman St. and W. Georgia St. and coast straight into the park. Perched on the wide, comfy seats of our cruisers we followed scenic, quiet bike trails around the park, down to English Bay and then over to Granville Island. It’s a great way to see the city and work up an appetite for, what else, more salmon.
Cue the perfect marriage of smoked salmon and cream cheese on a freshly baked rosemary and sea salt bagel from the Granville Island Public Market. This farmer’s market is a smorgasbord of fresh produce and baked goods with some artsy craft stores thrown in for good measure. A short walk from the market, don’t miss Artisan Sake Maker, a tiny shop where small batches of jumani sake are made on site and tastings start at just two dollars.
For a different view of the city, board one of the rainbow colored, tugboat shaped Aqua Busses for a quick tour through False Creek. The ride from Granville Island to the Plaza of Nations is inexpensive and only takes about ten minutes. The cheerful young skipper will point out the interesting buildings, public art installations and olympic village vestiges along the way and give you the gossip on who owns the most expensive penthouses in town.
For a bird’s eye view you don’t need a penthouse to experience, climb aboard one of the seaplanes in Vancouver Harbor. It’s a great way to celebrate that special occasion, like the fact that you have escaped work for a few days. The 20 and 30 minute panorama tours are under $100 per person and they run year round.
Finally, to take in Vancouver’s stunning setting from a distance, head to Grouse Mountain, the closest ski resort to town. Take the gondola up or, if you want an extra challenge, hike to the top via the Grouse Grind, a right of passage that awaits me on my next visit.
Nosh and Slurp
Traveling from Singapore, I found it ironic that my favorite meal of the trip was served in the stylish, lively Chinese fusion restaurant Bao Bei in Vancouver’s Chinatown. From our bar stools we stealthily observed what everyone around us was eating and proceeded to order sharing plates of pork buns, spinach, bok choi, pot stickers and veggie dumplings. Half a glass of wine later, piping hot little bundles of perfection began to emerge from the kitchen. Not too oily, not too spicy, not too filling. Great food with atmosphere and service to match.
Bao Bei doesn’t take bookings so put your name on the list and wander down the street past the not particularly interesting Chinatown night market to The Keefer for a pre-dinner cocktail. This hippie-chic little bar combines classic cocktails with tinctures and herbal remedies to delicious and interesting effect. The homemade paper menus and outdoor fireplace are a charming touch.
The next night we went for something completely different – a deli-style restaurant with a great concept. Once you find Salt Tasting Room down a tiny ally in Gastown, grab a seat at one of the long oak tables and peruse the huge chalk board displaying a staggering range of artisanal cheeses, cured meats and condiments. Your server will help you devise a tasting plate and suggest wine and beer pairings. I want them to open one of these in my neighborhood immediately.
For a post-dinner drink in Gastown check out cozy gastropub the Pourhouse. What they don’t have: Redbull or Jägermeister. What they do have: great martinis (the litmus test of any good bar), beer and wine. Perfection.
For a more local feel, head west of center to an up and coming area of town called Kitsilano. Bars, restaurants, book stores and antique shops are popping up like wild Canadian mushrooms in this slightly gritty neighborhood with a hippie heart of gold. We dined in the perfectly lovely Maenam which serves Thai food with a modern twist but I was actually more intrigued by Refuel next door which looked very cool and is receiving rave reviews. You should definitely venture out to this part of town but I suggest you take a taxi. As we discovered, Kitsilano is a long and not very scenic walk from Gastown, especially when it’s raining.
For a leisurely shop and stroll, head for Robson Street. All the usual suspects are there plus Canadian specialties like Purdies Chocolates, Rocky Mountain Chocolates and Roots Athletics. For more unique finds, Gastown offers a selection of independent and vintage clothing and accessory boutiques. The little black dress and Chanel-style chain necklace I bought there have gotten a lot of wear.
Go (North) West Young Man
Experience healthy, happy Vancouver therapy for yourself. You may be annoyed at first by all the smiling strangers and shocked that everyone from shop owners to Aquabus drivers will take the time to engage you in cordial conversation. Walking through Chinatown with my camera in hand even prompted one passerby to advise that I not miss a great shot of Grouse Mountain around the next corner. You’ll get used to it.
To experience the full effects of Vitamin V, load up on salmon and sunshine and keep an open mind when friendly Vancouverites offer tips on where to dine, drink and shop. Go ahead, get out that street map…