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Vancouver Charms
  Vancouver Travel Tale

vancouver_QE_view.jpg by Lorry Patton ...

With the Pacific Ocean lapping at its feet, a sunset to rival the Florida Keys, and BC's Coast Mountains to lean on, even I, who have seen some remarkable sights in my lifetime, use words like spectacular, picturesque and most beautiful to describe Vancouver's setting.

Natural beauty notwithstanding, the young city (established in 1886) is aging beautifully. Newly placed brick foot paths ring developing waterfronts; glass and steel skyscrapers tower among historical districts and everywhere you walk, either wild or ornamental parks separate residential communities, business squares and blocks upon blocks of high-rise apartments.

Historical districts in the heart of the city include Gastown and Chinatown. Chinatown's streets are decked with colorful fruit and vegetable stands and submersed in mouth-watering aroma drifting from noodle kitchens and crispy barbecue displays hanging in the butcher shop windows. During summer months the beautiful and tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden features soothing Asian music. What contrast to the summer's noisy night markets that sell dried seafood and stuffed teddy bears right there in the barricaded streets.

Gastown, named after gabby saloon owner Gassy Jack, aka John Deighton, is as funky as its name implies. The brick and stone-faced 19th century buildings have been transformed into upscale office space, trendy gourmet restaurants and gift shops selling Canadiana memorabilia and First Nations artifacts. A unique toot-tooting steam clock (on the corner of Water and Cambie), ornate lamp posts, cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes give the district a old-fashioned movie-set atmosphere.

Vancouver's downtown is a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. During morning and evening commutes, the city is one big traffic jam with everyone trying to get out across four bridges and one viaduct. Stay away from town during commuting hours. Despite this grid, however, it's possible to drive around Stanley Park daytimes. Enjoy the grounds while moving slow. For the rest of the city, park your vehicle outside of town and explore it on foot.

Pedestrian havens include Robson Street, Robson Square and Denman Street.

Robson Street has a sophisticated feel. Cuisine with distinct European flavor is served in ethnic-style restaurants and a string of small boutiques sells expensive European clothing.

Robson Square is a multi-block complex that connects Vancouver's elaborate law courts to Vancouver's old courthouse, now the Vancouver Art Gallery. Entire galleries are devoted to the paintings of BC's beloved Emily Carr at Vancouver's art gallery. On a sunny day (and yes, sunny days do exist in Vancouver), the courtyard is filled with office workers, shoppers, backpackers and tourists. Summer noon times, brown baggers munch on fruit and sandwiches to the tunes of dixieland, blues or jazz performed by a local band, much to the surprise and delight of passing shoppers and tourists.

Denman Street, frequented by locals is mostly a street of casual cafes and services that cater to the thousands of residents that call the West End home. Its proximity to Stanley Park draws many backpackers and its not unusual for pedestrians to come in all ages and forms of dress. Older residential homes in the surrounding districts are stucco and clapboard and the high-rise apartment blocks that give Vancouver such a picturesque skyline are constructed in decorative concrete.

Further north toward the water, the famous sails that appear in almost every picture of Vancouver's waterfront drape the massive complex that includes the trade center, the cruise ship dock and the Imax Theater. The nearby Marine Building at Hastings and Burrard was once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth. Because of its ornate stone and marble face and trimmings, it is a place to savor and explore within and without.

Glorious sights outside the downtown core include Queen Elizabeth Park and Van Dusen Park. One is covered in one type of blossom or another from early spring to late fall and one sparkles with thousands of twinkling lights in Christmas season.

Two other attractions not to miss are Stanley Park and Granville Island.

Stanley Park, the largest city park in Canada, is a haven for geese, ducks, squirrels and occasionally a deer is spotted. City dwellers who want to keep one foot in the wilderness can stroll over the thousand plus acres on crisscrossed paths and trails. A seawall allows a brisk two-hour jaunt and sections like the Lost Lagoon make you pause and ponder. A loud old English sea cannon goes bang every evening at nine o'clock.

Granville Island Market, one of the busiest spots in Vancouver, was once a mud flat on False Creek. Then it became home to a lot of noisy industry. Today, it's a explosion of vegetables, fruit and other edibles displayed in warehouse settings.

Special events include a display of Vancouver's vintage neon signs in the Vancouver Museum. City Lights: Neon in Vancouver showing until April 16, 2000. Forty years ago, Vancouver's commercial streets had one of the largest displays of neon in the world. Guided tours of the exhibit is take place Sundays at 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM.




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