|The Lion's Gate Bridge|
The problem with describing Vancouver is that it just sounds too good to be true. Fortunately, it isn't. Vancouver is Canada's San Francisco, a glimmering gateway to the Pacific in a setting so dramaticwith mountains, sea and greenerythat, according to the dean of travel writers, Jan Morris, only Rio or Hong Kong can compare.
Nestled in the lower left-hand corner of Canada, Vancouver is a bit of whatdropped off the Coastal Mountains or was pushed out the Fraser River.Vancouver's natural resourcesincluding good lookshave always been itsfortune. Settled only a hundred and ten years ago by Europeans, the cityfirst gained recognition by producing more beaver pelts and salmon than anyplace else.
Seen from above, Vancouver resembles the side profile of a salmon's head facing the Pacific.Along the upper jaw West Vancouver runs into North Vancouver. The open mouthis English Bay narrowing in the east to the throat of Burrard Inlet. Thejutting lower jaw is the University of British Columbia and GreaterVancouver. In between is the tongue: downtowna veritable west coastManhattan. And on the tip of the tongue lies Stanley Park.
Visitors owe a debt of gratitude to the city fathers. After incorporation in1886, their first act was to preserve a thousand acre peninsula of cedar andfir as Stanley Parkarguably the most beautiful urban park in theworld. Now, in less than ten minutes you can walk from the sidewalksbetween the glitzy boutiques and tasty cafis on Robson and Denman Streets(sort of Rodeo Drive au Canada) to paths between fir and cedars whose redtrunks positively glow in the sun. Some, survivors of wind and saws, stood here before Columbus. Their former neighbors now hold up the Imperial Palace in Beijing.These remnants of the world's greatest conifer forest are now surrounded byan international city of 1.7 million, half of British Columbia's population,where over 60 languages are spoken and an even greater variety of culturesthrive. But the builders of this urban jewel haven't forgotten the outdoors. They've set aside 160 parks for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
All in all, it's one fine base camp for forays into what the tourist board calls"Super Natural" British Columbia. Few cities in the world offer such a variety of outdoor activities within 30 minutes of their epicenters. There's swimming, running, hiking, skating (roller and ice), biking (road and mountain), kayaking (sea and river), fishing, scuba diving, sailing, wind surfing, sculling, horseback riding, golfing, climbing,observing wildlife, skiing, and kite-flying. (Besides the urban specialties: people watching, eating, and shopping.)
There's no better place to start than the six-mile path around Stanley Park.It's ideal for walking, running, skating or biking. Starting from the saltwater pool in the southwest corner you'll pass through cedars and rhododendrons and by the Lost Lagoona favorite haunt for geese and ducks that's beautifully lit at night. On the horizon is the forest of masts of the Vancouver Yacht Club and the headquarters for the Vancouver Rowing Club. Beyond stand several 100-foot-plus totem poles usually surrounded by gaggles of tourists taking pictures of each other. Behind that you'll find green fields for soccer, rugby, and cricket. And across the water to the south is Vancouver's downtown skyline, a packed house of mirrored glass reflecting Canada's fastest growing city. To the east across Burrard Inlet is the industrial harbor where neon mounds of sulfur catch the eye. A little further a wet-suited mermaid sits on a rock, across from the entrance to the aquarium and the zoo. (The aquarium is the largest in Canada with 8,000 species, including Beluga and Killer whales.)
Above, the Lion's Gate Bridge swoops to North Van. The rock cliff on whichthe bridge launches itself is a pigeon rookery, so move quickly as you walk beneath it. Just beyond, as the sea wall curves west, there usually is an old gang offishermen trying to entice the resident rockfish and flounder,or the rare migrating salmon.
Just a bit further is Siwash Rock, a favorite spot for bouldering enthusiasts, and then Third Beach, which offers a view all the way to Vancouver Island and the kind of sunsets that elicit marriage proposals along the Promenade. Children splash in the shallow water, while solitary figures can be spotted further out doing theirdistance workouts. During summer heat waves, the water here can warm tonearly 70 degrees. (On New Years' it's about 42 degrees and the Vancouver AquaticCenter a mile down the path is a more prudent choice. It has an Olympic size pool,with diving platforms of 15, 25, and 35 feet.)
Next, around Ferguson Point and below the exquisite Teahouse Restaurant,English Bay comes into full view. Ships from around the world swing fromtheir moorings like telltales in the wind. A quarter-mile further, past the saltwater pool and Second Beach, you are back to Vancouver's Rivieraa mile of beach fronting hotels and small shops, where cultures mix amidst food vendors, performers, and white and red lifeboats on dollies.
Not enough for you? Look up. Not five miles away to the east, looming over the city is a ridge of 4,000 foot peaks which at night are decorated like Christmas trees with the tracer lights of three ski resorts. The city of Vancouver has better skiingwithin its suburbs than most states have within their borders. There'sGrouse Mountain, Mount Seymour, and Cypress Bowl, the last of which boasts a drop of 1750 vertical feet. The ski season runs every day from November to April, from eight in the morning until eleven at night. Trails which can be skied in winter can be hiked and biked the rest of the year. These three North Shore mountains have rain forests below and spectacular views above. Sightings of bear and deer are likely, and you might even spot a fox or a mountain lion.
It's hard to believe that all this outdoor action can be so close to one of Canada's fastest-growing cities. You may have to go see for yourself that, indeed, these tales of the wonders of Vancouver are true!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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