Friday, October 31, 2008

Vancouver British Columbia

The Treasure of North America

Residing on the north side of the worlds longest unguarded border is the best neighbor anyone could ever have - Canada.

Having traveled and worked in much of Canada I have a special fondness for its people, culture, natural beauty, integrity, and its marvelous cities. 

Arguably Vancouver British Columbia is the most beautiful city in North America. It is the premier city in the province anchoring a metro area of 2,000,000.

Quite simply, Vancouver has everything. That is probably why it is now one of the most sought after locations for the motion picture and television industry.

Named after Captain George Vancouver who explored the region in 1792, Vancouver is cloaked by a cape of mountains that drape all the way down to kiss the sea.  The city itself simply rolls up and down over the many hills within its city limits. This results in seemingly everyone getting a mountain view. These are the mountains that hosted Winter dreams at the 2010 Olympics.

Vancouver has water everywhere. With its many bays and inlets you are never far from water. This strategic location results in international commerce, magnificent seafood, and lots of transportation challenges. It also means that everyone also gets a view of its many bays and inlets.

It is dense. Vancouver has some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in North America. In fact, for over thirty years it has stressed the concept of "compact housing". This philosophical approach to land use and city planning has produced a dazzling array of truly walkable neighborhoods. 

Vancouver has no freeways. Let me repeat that one. It has no freeways. Vancouver is living proof that when appropriate urban density is combined with safe, efficient, mass transit, freeways are not needed.

It is green. Vancouver pays a price for its greenery and sees more than its share of gray and rainy days.

Vancouver is diverse. But then, diversity is in Canada's DNA. While the US frequently boasts of being the worlds "Melting Pot". Canada is the nation where all of its residents came (and stayed) because they wanted to.

It plays well with others. It adopted the metric system decades ago and is comfortably bilingual. Canada has never felt the need to go around the world picking fights, but it never backs down from a fight when provoked. All of these qualities provides it's residents the superior ability to participate fully in global markets. This is why so many of Hong Kong's wealthiest citizens chose to relocate to Vancouver.

Vancouver has style. With terrain, cultural diversity, views, density, and access to a stunning array of natural resources, Vancouver's architects have much to work with. This has led to a distinct sense of style and the creation of some of North America's best buildings. This fact becomes evident from the moment you land at Canada's second busiest airport. 

Wonderful architecture abounds seemingly everywhere. From Townley and Matheson's marvelous art deco City Hall, to the timeless multi-block long provincial courts building, government buildings in Vancouver are exceptional. Vancouver sports everything from the knife sharp roof of the Hotel Vancouver, to the park structures in Stanley Park, to the playful Grace condominiums, and sleek office buildings.

So here are the things I love.

I love the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (the UBC). This is, in my opinion, Arthur Erickson's masterpiece. Although small, and clearly academic, this building demonstrates Erickson's gentle, masterful, use of concrete. Or as he put it "the noble stone of the 20th Century". It discloses itself in small, measured, steps leading its visitors from the region's first documented habitation in 500 BC all the way through its complex intertwined history of scientific and mythology.

I used to love Vancouver's annual fireworks competition: the Celebration of Light. My family went to it two years in a row and absolutely loved it. Now, I have been told it is no more. That is a terrible loss. For nearly two decades each summer in July or August, Vancouver invited two different countries to showcase their best fireworks. The countries changed each year, but the quality of the pyrotechnical displays just got better and better. The displays were choreographed with music and conducted over English Bay.  The culmination was a grand finale with special displays from all of the invited participants. 

I love Stanley Park. This is Vancouver's Central Park. The amazing thing about the park is that this urban oasis adjoins one of the highest density neighborhoods in North America. It has an aquarium (in serious need of refurbishment), seawall, totems, playfields, formal gardens, bicycle / running trails, and huge swimming pools. 

I love Granville Island. The former industrial island directly below the Granville Bridge. The island now houses a spectacular farmers market, wonderful shops, and numerous artist's studios. Plan to enjoy it for a picnic lunch. 

I love watching kids cross the capilano suspension bridge and run from treetop to treetop at its touristy "treetops adventure".

I love Queen Elizabeth Park. This is a typical perfect hilltop garden, the kind that Canadians do so well. As a kid I was nearly killed here. My mom and I had been sitting on a park bench enjoying the view then just as we stepped away from the bench, a car parked right behind us, jumped the curb and smashed through the bench and a guardrail before lurching over the cliff and landing well down the hill. I remember my dad literally leaping over the cliff to run down to the car. The driver had turned around in the running car in an attempt to put a seat belt on his kids in the back seat and inadvertently hit the gas instead of the brake. Everybody was pretty well shaken up. But amazingly no one was seriously hurt.

Vancouver takes its food seriously and restaurants continuously jockey for position as best in the city. I am out of the loop on the current best of the best.

My family frequently stays at the Hilton at Metrotown in Burnaby. It is not the newest hotel or the most chic. What it has is location. It is quietly located above a mall with dozens of wonderful asian restaurants and food stalls. It is across the street from the huge Metrotown shopping center. Metrotown is a major stop on Vancouver's wonderful Skytrain, so you can leave the car at the hotel and go pretty much anywhere downtown with ease. There is a skateboard park about a block away that my son found and thought was very cool.

While almost perfect, the city does have a blemish or two. Its formerly wonderful Chinatown has somehow slipped into a condition of despair, feels unsafe, and should be avoided.

Consider beginning or ending a cruise to Alaska here. Or better yet, start before embarking on a tour of the magnificent Canadian Rockies!

Roadboys Travels © 2008/2011

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