Vancouver is So Civilized That Even its Buses Apologize

Travelers to the Canadian gem fall for the natural beauty, the plucky businesses, cultural attractions, and culinary whims.


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Vancouver calls with lovely scenery and a plethora of art.

Photo by tdlucas5000-CC

How can you not love a city where you can sunbathe on the beach while gazing at snow-covered peaks, select from a smorgasbord of ethnic eateries, and discover quirky shops with names to match, such as Ace of Suedes, Bean Around the World, and Pho-Ever—a city so civilized that even its buses apologize?

Vancouver’s spectacular natural beauty struts its four seasons. Lush forests, majestic mountains, clean sandy beaches, and a profusion of flowers surround downtown’s see-through skyscrapers and a charming patchwork of neighborhoods.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s crown jewel—a 1,000-acre sanctuary almost completely ringed by water. Admire the iconic totem poles, rent bicycles, and ride the five-mile seawall path; meander its densely forested inner trails; picnic at lakes to mingle with swans, herons, and Canada geese; or immerse yourself in the exhibits at Vancouver’s captivating aquarium.

Next, wander through neighborhoods such as Kitsilano, a hippie-turned-yuppie-urban-hood where the Om from an abundance of yoga studios balances out the buzz from countless coffee shops. Handsome houses on stately tree-lined streets are only a short stroll from the beach.

Visit South Main, or SoMa, which evolved from edgy and working class to hipster and artsy, sporting shops such as the Regional Assembly of Text, which celebrates paper and print with handmade stationery, buttons and ’zines. Lose yourself in A Bakers Dozen Antiques: Ogle it as either a museum or a gift shop in which to find something for that friend who’d love a screaming pink tin robot, vintage bowling pin, or taxidermed rabbit.

Take a ferry to picturesque Granville Island: Actually a peninsula, this former industrial site has become a bustling cultural center, featuring Vancouver’s oldest farmers’ market along with cafes, theaters, and artists’ studios in which you can admire jewelry, ceramics, blown glass, and even handcrafted brooms.

Granville Island is also a showplace of sustainable practices. Already boasting the smallest carbon footprint of any major North American metropolis, Vancouver aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020.

While Vancouver’s restaurants feature some of the freshest Pacific salmon, vegetarian eateries have sprouted up in profusion. The oldest of these, the Naam, retains its funky vibe. Founded in 1968 and open 24 hours, it has nourished generations of hungry University of British Columbia students with middle-of-the-night veggieburgers. Indulge in the unctuously satisfying cashew and avocado enchilada or enjoy a Buddha’s Feast: tofu, veggies, and cashews slathered in the Naam’s famous miso gravy.

By contrast, Heirloom Vegetarian presents modern vegetarian dishes in classy, high-ceilinged surroundings. Start with a kale Caesar salad featuring beet bacon. Then savor your Brassica vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and greens—irresistibly prepared in a sweet miso sauce, topped with spicy seed brittle.

Once you’ve had your fill of healthy food, go find a Japadog. This Vancouver sensation, created by a Japanese couple, takes your basic hot dog and adds Japanese toppings such as seaweed, grated radish, and yakisoba noodles. Japadog street stands are scattered around the city.

If you are an Asian food fan, you needn’t fly to Bangkok or Singapore. North America’s largest Asian night market is a short drive or Sky Train ride away in the city of Richmond. Sample slithery barbecued squid tentacles, fried octopus balls, spicy potato curlicues, or mango cubes festooned with chewy grass jelly. Richmond actually hosts two summer night markets, open weekends from mid-May to mid-October, which average 30,000 visitors a night. If that sounds like crowded chaos, think again. Canada is famous as the “capital of politeness.” Canadians hold doors for strangers and apologize for things that aren’t their fault.

A rainy day—of which there are many—presents the perfect time to explore UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, or MOA, and its awe-inspiring collection of First Nations indigenous art, from imposing wood carvings to contemporary sculpture, as well as scores of drawers you can open to examine Turkish tiles, Musqueam weavings, and aboriginal and folk art from around the world.

Understand, however, that tension exists between this museum as well as many other institutions, and the indigenous peoples on whose traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory they stand. A quote from Musqueam Indian leader Howard E. Grant, hanging outside the MOA, expresses the collective outraged spirit: “The newcomers have only been here for a very short period of time: less than 200 years. That’s only a blink of an eye in comparison to the 9,000 years that we’ve been here.”

Rainier than London, Vancouver’s skies are often drab gray, if not wet; but when the sun finally appears, you can observe—or join—Vancouverites as they emerge from their collective chrysalis, practically rushing outside with bare arms and legs to throw themselves onto bikes, sailboats, kayaks, paddleboards, and beach volleyball courts, while drinking in the sunshine.

 

TRAVEL RESOURCES

The Regional Assembly of Text, www.AssemblyofText.com

The Naam, www.TheNaam.com

Heirloom Vegetarian, www.HeirloomRestaurant.ca

Japadog, www.Japadog.com

Vancouver calls with lovely scenery, a plethora of art, and the famous Japadog.

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