Since we just finished the Summer Olympics in Beijing, our thoughts turn to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. We would like to attend, since we have been to the summer games. Vancouver is a great city, with lots to do, great food, excellent shopping, and friendly Canadians everywhere. It is a busy, vibrant, and active city, catering to the young, the young at heart, and the tourists.
We have been to Vancouver several times now. Each time, we seem to find more and more to bring us back. Of course, we go in the summer, when the weather is just outstanding. It will be cold, and snowy for the Winter Olympics. Of course, many of the venues will be north of Vancouver, like Whistler, and parts north.
For those of you overseas, you know the story. When Hong Kong reverted back to China, huge numbers of people and money flowed out, mostly to Vancouver. A huge building boom followed. It is quite a cosmopolitan city, as if it was not already. It has a great old Chinatown, and a new Chinatown in the making. Most of my Chinese friends tell me that Vancouver has the best Chinese food in the world. And I humbly agree.
Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia. Named after British explorer, George Vancouver, it has a population of 620,000, and 2.2 million in the metro area. Plus it is always ranked as one of the three most livable cities in the world. It contains only 44 square miles, but has one of the largest urban parks in 1000 acre Stanley Park. Average rainfall is 48 inches, so its weather is similar to Seattle.
We found out that Vancouver has strict rent control in place. Each year, there is a lottery for apartments, many of which have great views of the water and city skyline. Most places rent for under $1000 US per month. It is tempting to think about spending a portion of the year here. Since it is considered a city of neighborhoods, I am sure we could find something to keep us happy.
This is a very walkable city, although slightly hilly in some places. Each of the neighborhoods has a strong identity. The best way to see it all first is to take the Trolley Tour around the city, allowing us to jump on and off as much as we want from 9am to 7pm. It covers each of the major neighborhoods, Stanley Park, Granville Island, Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, Olympic venues, and the coastal and river areas of the city. The drivers are very informative, and very patient, compared to our tour buses here.
We always stay on Robson Street, the main street, and is a vibrant, young and noisy street. We never rent a car, as we take a cab or limo from the airport each time. The Listel Hotel is an art lover’s dream, with a great location, within walking distance to lots of shopping and restaurants. Much like Montreal, it is hard to find a bad place to eat. We found a coffee shop (Zin) just down the street, that can work for any meal of the day, plus it has a bar. It is Canada’s 2nd most expensive city, but that does not seem to stop the young people from eating, shopping and drinking their way home each night form work. Weekends are a madhouse on the sidewalks. And there are some homeless on the streets that may pose a problem for the Olympics.
Our favorite place to dine is CinCin, also on Robson. CinCin excels in Italian inspired wood-fired cuisine, award-winning wines, and true hospitality. From the open wood-fired kitchen, an ingredient-driven menu sets the tone with distinctive dishes embracing the sensibilities of the Mediterranean, while outstanding desserts demonstrate the Michelin star-studded pedigree of acclaimed Chef Patissier Thierry Busset.
Vancouver also has their own version of the Fringe Festival, much like Edinburgh, Scotland. It is not nearly as varied or as large. But it is the best one in North America, or should we say, the New World? Music of all types flourishes here as well. Pearl Jam could just as easily been born here as in Seattle. Most of the big name entertainers make a stop here as well.
The Fish House, located in Stanley Park, is a good place to get your fill of Canadian seafood and vegetables. The chef, Karen Barnaby, is an author, and has won numerous awards. Even if you decide not to eat here, the view is great and the drinks are intoxicating. Or is it the other way around?
Hon’s Downtown at 1339 Robson, is the place for lunch or snacks. They must have a hundred wait staff, cooks, and busboys. Every noodle dish has been fantastic, and cheap. My friend, Ray Lee, who is Chinese, said it is the best noodles he has ever had. I second that. In Chinatown, Harbor Pacific, and Ridge Garden always have a complete menu, lots of fresh fish, and a few chalk board surprises.
Our favorite Korean is almost across the street as well. It is called Dae Bak Bon Ga, which is a mouthful in Korean. But you will enjoy the mouthful of great kalbi and chicken, grilled right at your table. An assortment of condiments and pickled vegetables complement your meat dishes, along with a few cold beers to cool off the heat you just consumed. Spice Alley is another place nearby, a little more casual, great tasting food, but VERY noisy and crowded.
In the Pacific Palisades Hotel, we like their coffee shop called Zin. It is hard to go wrong with their big breakfasts or their hearty lunches. It is always crowded, so don’t shy away. The food is worth the wait. Though dining is available outside, Vancouver just has too many smokers, both walking by and dining here.
Another good place to graze, and shop is the Granville Island Public Market. Here, not only do we find fresh fruit and veggies, but the best of other Vancouver food and drink. It is a pleasant place to stroll, have a latte, and buy a few souvenirs for the folks back home. Some of the bakeries are very French, and very good. Again, I dare you to leave there without eating something. Ice cream is another BC treat, as the countryside has many dairies and farms nearby.
Grouse Mountain is only 15 minutes away and the Grouse Mountain Skyride as you embark on a one-mile journey to the mountaintop. Grouse Mountain comes alive in the summertime. Discover the World Famous Lumberjack Show, The Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, Birds in Motion Demonstrations and an array of mountain top nature trails. Grouse Mountain also offers a winter wonderland of adventure including 25 ski and snowboard runs, 10km of snowshoe trails, sleighrides, an 8,000 sq. ft. outdoor skating rink and much more! The dining options available at Grouse Mountain are as endless and as stunning as the views.
Other attractions are not far away. Victoria Island and Butchart Gardens are just a short boat or ferry ride away. The Canadian Rockies and Whistler Mountain are a couple hours away. We have enjoyed our drives outside of the city, especially to the Okanagan Valley and its growing wine country. It will be very interesting to see how Vancouver will compare to other Olympics, especially the one just completed in Beijing. One common element is that both areas have many Chinese residents.
Canada has always been a great place to vacation. It is close enough to drive, or cheap enough to fly. Our dollar, while not as strong as a few years ago, is still a good value. The food is outstanding and fresh. The people are friendly. Sounds pretty good to me!