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Weekend in Vancouver

WEEKEND IN VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

 

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“To describe the beauties of this region will, on some future occasion, be a very grateful task to the pen of a skilled panegyrist.” So wrote Capt. George Vancouver when sailing into the inlet area that would one day be named for him. Old Georgie had many beautiful places to compare it to; on this same journey he had already surveyed the coastlines of Cape Town, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, China, Oregon and Washington.  I had to look up “panegyrist” in the dictionary (it means a formal speech, highly studied verse or discriminating eulogy), so obviously I’m not his guy. But I can rave about Vancouver with the best of them.

I imagine the captain’s face gazing upon those same mountains which now frame the Lion’s Gate Bridge, stretching across the inlet to a downtown glimmering with modernist glass buildings. In Vancouver I can have it all; mountains and city, open water and opening night. I can tuck myself into its spectacular landscape AND enjoy amazing wine with seafood at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar. Usually, it’s one or the other, but not in Vancouver! This place is a kaleidoscope, wrapped in a United Nations, tucked into resort setting. Vancouver seems deeply connected to its land and history, while its modern culture is diverse; it has just over 600,000 people and more than half of its population speaks a language other than English.

I’ve been to Vancouver dozens of times; it’s one of my favorite places. For me, every great weekend includes a mid-morning water taxi to Granville Island and a bike/skate/walk loop around the perimeter of Stanley Park (when I’m with the kids we cut up to Beaver Lake and then roll down to the Aquarium for a visit with the beluga whales and the sea otters) and my mom and I always find time for oysters and champagne at Joe Fortes, just off Robson. (If the weather is right, an impromptu jump into the waves at Third Beach has also been known to happen, assuming appropriate underwear has been worn). My parents have a fabulous place on the waterfront in Coal Harbour, but if I didn’t get to stay there, I would book a room at The Loden, a neighboring boutique hotel that feels like a beautiful residence. Coal Harbour is a community of sleek modern residences, pristine open space and a bustling marina, ideally situated between Stanley Park and downtown. From here it’s a short walk to the park, Robson Street, Gastown and more.

It’s easy to get to Granville Public Market by car or taxi, but it’s more fun by sidewalk, rail and water. We like to walk a few blocks to Bella Gelateria and grab fresh Gelato made with organic, local ingredients. With gelato in hand, we make our way to Granville Island by walking four blocks east to Waterfront Station and hopping on a Sky Train. We ride the Sky Train four stops to “Main Street – Science Center.” Upon arrival (if we don’t tuck quickly into the Science Center fora bit of  quick fun and edification), we exit and walk across the street and onto The Aquabus, a cute mini ferry with frequent crossings to Granville Island. Captained by unfailingly friendly and interesting skippers, they hold a maximum of 12 people, although I don’t think I have ever been in a full boat. It’s generally very easy going; owing to the Vancouver mood and the nontoxic biofuel (discarded by local restaurants and reused) that powers the little engines. Step off the Aquabus at Granville Public Market!

When I’m with family we arrive at around noon on Saturday or Sunday. We select food from indoor stalls and picnic on the square near the docks while musicians, clowns and magicians entertain us and the kids chase birds and other kids. My boys love the Kid’s Market shops and arcade as well as The Crystal Arc for sifting through gems and feeding the ducks in the large pond out back. Granville is a great place to see how things are made; many of the studios have large windows and open spaces for viewing metal, glass, wood and textile artisans at work. On a recent trip, I ducked into Railspur Alley to check out Artisan Sake Maker, The “Osake” is good and I’m intrigued by owner Masa Shiroki‘s dream of cultivating organic rice locally. Before departing Granville Island we fill a take home bag with fresh seafood, Italian meats, cheese, berries, bread and flowers.

Ready for a ride around Stanley Park, we pop a few market snacks in a small backpack and wander over to Spokes on West Georgia Street. Spokes has the best bikes and convenient access to the park. Soon we’re peddling along the seawall. At some point we pass the “Nine O’Clock Gun”, responsible for the cannon boom heard every night at exactly nine o’clock. The gun was established as a time signal for the general population and to allow ships to set their chronometers. It’s been sounding ever since – for more than 100 years. Our boys like to “stay up for it” and occasionally we’ll take an evening stroll along the seawall, past the Vancouver Rower’s Club and Deadman’s Island, to “watch it go”.

Evenings are for gathering with friends in one of Vancouver’s intimate neighborhoods. We weave through dimly lit streets toward dinner in Yaletown, Chinatown, Kitsilano and most often, because it’s near Coal Harbour: Gastown. Although it still has a grittiness reminiscent of its early days of “cheap beer parlours, flophouse hotels, and loggers hiring halls”, urban renewal has enveloped Gastown, with restaurants like Boneta leading the way. Oh, Boneta; I am thankful for all things Boneta, especially the Steelhead Trout and cocktails like Gastown Proud and Roman Holiday. We sometimes drop into Pourhouse for a local ale or wander up to Chambar, which we all love for its vibrant bar scene. Or we’ll wander over to Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie in Chinatown, where Shao Bing and a plate of Kick Ass Fried Rice are waiting to be enjoyed in a beautifully designed room. I’ve had a thing for colonial Shanghai decor ever since I lived there in the 90s and this room makes me swoon; it’s perfect. In the mood for Italian, we head over to Kitsilano: Cioppino and La Quercia are classic Vancouver: well respected foodie favorites, yet friendly and casual.

 

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(Photos Top to Bottom: 1. Morning run in Stanley Park 2. The Aquabus 3. Granville Island Public Market 4. Park bench in Stanley Park 5. Mixing cocktails at Boneta 6. In Gastown,  Map + Muse is wearing a blouse by Development, Jeans by J Brand and Clutch by Jooi  7. Inventive local seafood at Boneta 8. The interior of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie.)

 Posted on May 1, 2013. All photos by Map and Muse.