Travel: Visiting Vancouver

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Travel: Dave Deruytter heads far West to Vancouver – a part of Canada with a flavour of the East.

When British captain George Vancouver sailed to the west coast of Canada in the latter half of the 19th century he must have had a very different sight of the coastline than the one tourists have today. Then western Canada consisted of rough land and mountains with brown bears and salmon aplenty. There were towering Douglas firs as far as the eye could see and only a few thousand American Indians inhabiting the place.

Today, Vancouver is a bustling city with many high-rise buildings, nice beaches, lots of greenery and a population of more than 2.5 million in the agglomeration. Of the current inhabitants more than 25% are of Asian origin. There is more than salmon, fish and chips and hamburgers on the menu in the restaurants. This should come as no surprise since Tokyo is closer to Vancouver than Brussels is.

A great feature of Vancouver city is that it is close to many places worth visiting: the mighty Fraser river rapids, the ski resort of Whistler, the Sunshine Coast and of course Vancouver Island with all its attractions, including Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, in the south.

You should definitely go for a biking day-trip. Start in the centre of Vancouver or near Canada Place by the ocean then cycle around Stanley Park all the way to English Beach. From there you take the well-kept and pleasant biking lane all around False Creek. On the way you have great views of the coastal buildings of Vancouver with the hills and mountains in the background and superb pleasure marinas on the front. I recommend you continue biking a bit further to Kitslano Beach for another moment of relaxation. On a rainy day the Museum of Anthropology should be high on your wish list with its magnificent collection of Indian totems in a great architectural setting.

To catch the atmosphere of the early days of Vancouver a stroll and a meal in Gastown is a must. Look out for the steam clock and a statue of Gassy, one of the early pioneers of the city who gave his name to this neighbourhood full of great souvenir shops, including some fine local woodcraft. Just make sure your purchase fits into your luggage. There is no room on the average airplane for a full size Indian totem or a life-size wooden grizzly bear!

For foodies and shoppers there also is the superb Granville Island. Small boats take you back and forth, and it’s not really far away from the Vancouver city centre if you like to walk. In summer there is always something going on at the many beaches of Vancouver, the coastal walkway and in the city centre. And from Vancouver city you can make daytrips to the surrounding towns, even take a boat trip for some whale spotting.

To fully discover the greater Vancouver area, including Vancouver Island, it may be more convenient to rent a car for ten days and leave Vancouver city behind you. That way you have more time to enjoy the Fraser River and the Hells Gate rapids whilst staying at Harisson Hotsprings for a day or two. The ski town of Whistler has great accommodation and things to do in summer such the Peak to Peak gondola and a hike on the Black Comb Mountain. A ferry will take you to the Sunshine Coast where there are many options of boating, hiking and picnicking.

Another ferry or two and you are on Vancouver Island, a kind of a mini Canada. Surface wise it’s a bit larger than Belgium. The island is best known for the Pacific Rim National Park, with its pristine rain forest, the great natural beaches and the towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. Whalewatching, bear watching, island hopping, hiking and biking, surfing and sunbathing. There is surely something to do there for everyone and the restaurants of Tofino succeed in excelling, providing great salmon and other seafood. I ate the best burger ever there because it had salmon as its main ingredient and other seafood for the rest.

When you cross Vancouver Island from coast to coast, from Parksville to Tofino, you pass through and over an important mountain ridge with snowy peaks and you drive through Cathedral Grove with Douglas firs that are centuries old. It will be difficult to get enough of this island, but when the time has come to go back home, please remember that you can also fly home from Victoria International airport at the southern tip of the island. That way you can enjoy its great old harbour, the Empress hotel, the fine wining and dining, whaling and hiking or biking. Alternatively you ferry back to Vancouver to fly back home from there.

Whatever your choice, one thing is for sure: you will be back. I certainly will.