|The natural wonders of Vancouver... in a skillet. Edible Canada's outstanding duck poutine - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
GETTING THERE - Skip the Car, Catch a Bolt
First off -- BRING YOUR PASSPORT. Yes, you need it. For smartphones, check the pricing on data roaming with your provider; if you're a heavy social media nerd/Instagram-a-holic like me, you don't want to get dinged with a fat bill for foreign data charges. If you plan on doing a bit of shopping, do a quick scan of the US Customs page for what you can/can't bring back -- mostly helpful if you want to bring wine/liquor or edible goods. As for transportation, you can certainly drive -- it's a little over 3 hours to drive from Seattle, traffic/customs lines permitting. But if you're like me and don't want to fuss with parking and getting irrevocably lost in unfamiliar streets, I recommend using the Bolt Bus.
|Bolt Bus - comfy mass transit, so that I can follow Canada's directions to keep exploring - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Vancouver waterfront - home of ALL THE GREEN GLASS - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
I had the I-feel-very-fancy pleasure of staying at the Fairmont Waterfront, which is right next to Vancouver's historic Gastown neighborhood, full of great little restaurants and bars. A beautiful luxury hotel located along the central harbor, it's conveniently next to the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal, and the Vancouver Convention Centre. I had a perfect sunrise morning view of the convention center's "living" green-grassed roof, acting as both efficient insulation and a bird sanctuary, which speaks to the city's initiative, promising that Vancouver will be the greenest city in the world by the year 2020 -- the gauntlet is dropped, Mother Earth! I'm hoping this bold promise only pushes more cities to set similar goals.
|Hotel restaurant and bar, ARC is quite literally the Bee's Knees - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Touring Vancouver through its vibrant and busy waters - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Seasonal note: we had a pleasantly warm day on calm waters -- not very bumpy, and I felt comfortable using my good/DSLR camera, even when we were going at full speed. There was minimal to no spray on our trip, and sitting towards the middle of the boat will keep you more protected and less jostled, if that's a concern. They do provide dry suits on colder days, so just dress comfortably for an active day.
|The towering berries of Granville Island's Public Market - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
You can't wander Vancouver's waterfront without spending time on Granville Island, and most notably, their Public Market. Open daily from 9am-7pm, the market is as popular for locals as it is for visitors. Mountains of fresh produce and seafood available for purchase, there are also vendors with specialty foods, like local cheese and cured meats -- very similar to Seattle's Pike Place Market, and much like our own market, I never tire of wandering these places. While I only had a short time to browse on this trip, I've spent afternoons here in the past, creating my own lunch, like getting a bit of fresh cheese, some bread, and a small container of figs. Find a spot outside, overlooking the harbor, and it's a wonderful al fresco meal.
|Eat Canada -- it's totally OK, they're cool with it. And it's tasty - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Edible Canada offers a surprisingly full experience, organizing excursions like gourmet kayaking, local food tours, and a retail store stocked with gourmet Canadian-made edibles like sea salts, smoked salmon, chocolates -- basically anything that would be an ideal souvenir to charm the pants off anyone who's lucky enough to be on your gift list. They have an event space with a full kitchen, designed for chef demos and special dinners. They're often featured with Tourism Vancouver's annual Dine Out Vancouver Festival, which runs from the beginning of the year (next year's is Jan 16-Feb 1, 2015), where hundreds of Vancouver restaurants offer prix fixe dinners with set prices of $18, $28 or $38. Very similar to our own Dine Around Seattle and Restaurant Week, but Vancouver's got the edge, because they include discounted hotel packages during the festival month, so keep that in mind when January rolls around.
|Capilano Suspension Bridge. Totally safe. Just don't watch Temple of Doom right before - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Being in downtown Vancouver, you wouldn't think there's rainforests, river canyons and a ski resort just a short ride from the city. Along with the theme of leaving your car at home, there are multiple transit options to get you to the serene forest views of North Vancouver, including the Vancouver Trolley Company, which is exactly that -- a bus that's made up to look like a vintage trolley car. They offer a variety of tours, including hop on/hop off routes throughout the city, and tours that take you to two incredible natural sightseeing locations: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, and Grouse Mountain.
|Trolley tour to a natural treasure... and frosty beverages - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Steady-on, Wasabi, and only look down for the cool, see-through glass floor views - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Capilano's suspension bridge and Cliffwalk views are worth every single, nervous step - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Admiring the city from afar, atop Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
I had the opportunity to sample the menu at The Observatory, Grouse Mountain's fine dining restaurant, overlooking a spanning view that lets you watch the city of Vancouver light up as the sun's light fades. If you're not planning a full day of exploring the whole alpine experience, it's worth just booking a dinner reservation at The Observatory, which includes the Grouse Mountain admission fee. They are an Ocean Wise and Green Table-Certified restaurant, as are all the Grouse Mountain restaurants, which feature sustainable dining options that reduce environmental impact. The spring menu was in full swing, so I enjoyed bites like fresh beet salad and delicious wild mushroom ravioli, along with sips of local BC wine -- I'm becoming a new fan of Gamay. I had a little bit of chocolate dessert, but the real treat at the end of the night is taking the Skyride down the mountain, seeing Vancouver fully aglow. A sunset cocktail hour atop Grouse Mountain and dinner at The Observatory would be the best date night ever -- I look forward to sharing this with the Mister when he can join me on my next visit.
|Picture-perfect evening and dinner, atop Grouse Mountain - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
You're not Jack Bauer, you don't have to cram all this amazing stuff in a single day. Let this very long blog post be a cheat-sheet for exploring Vancouver, whether you've got a week or just a weekend. The reason I love Seattle is the same reason Vancouver romances me -- it's a city that embraces its natural and urban sides equally, making efforts to ensure one cultivates the other. The sense of love and pride for the city is apparent. It's rich in culture, natural resources, and culinary talent, and it's always changing, so even if you visited before, you'll find something new to enjoy.
|Vancouver is a delicious, beautiful adventure you'll take again and again - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Stay tuned, Friendos - I've got another post coming up, with the theme of Vancouver Noir. Sure, it's often said that Canadians are the nicest people (and they really are), but they've got a naughty side, full of private clubs during prohibition days, cops n' robbers, and speakeasy-style bars discovered during midnight walks.