The 24-hour tourist

It’s spring break in BC’s Lower Mainland and that pretty much guarantees a gloomy weather forecast. (Old joke: how do you know what the weather’s doing in Vancouver? Easy: if you can’t see the mountains it means it’s raining and if you can see the mountains, it means it’s going to rain.)

You can’t let the wet stuff dampen your holiday spirit. Just grab the Gore-Tex and a sturdy brolly (the cheerful, wind-resistant offerings from Vancouver’s Cheeky Umbrellas are well worth the bucks) and make like a local with some of these recommended rainy-day pastimes:

Vancouver loves a Cheeky Umbrella

Vancouver loves a Cheeky Umbrella

  • Visit Hong Kong without a passport on a trip to Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre, where the city’s sizeable Asian population comes to shop, eat and be entertained. 
  • Cloudy skies only heighten the moody atmosphere of the Museum of Anthropology, a celebrated repository of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art at the University of British Columbia
  • Look up when it’s coming down: head for the snow on the nearby North Shore mountains. Look for specially priced ski-and-snowshoe packages here.
  • Steamy and tropical, the domed Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park blooms with birds, butterflies and lush floral vistas. (It’s the best place for foolproof photos, too.) 
  • Indulge your inner culture-vulture at Tickets Tonight with last-minute, half-price tickets to Vancouver’s primo arts events and wait out the monsoon in a matinée.
  • Rain or shine, the Whistler Mountaineer train between North Vancouver and Whistler is the best way to take in the coastal scenery along the Sea-to-Sky corridor. (The season runs May to October.)
  • Drop your umbrella and your shoulders and say spaaaaaaah. My favourite sanctuary is still (and will likely ever be) the Absolute Spa chain, now with a new location at Park Royal in West Vancouver. 
  • When you’ve exhausted the indoor pleasures of Granville Island Public Market, pop your top and walk the False Creek seawall west to Kitsilano Beach or east to Science World.
  • Like hockey but can’t afford tickets to a game? Head downtown to Vancity Theatre for the Hockey Nights in Film series during spring break.

Where do you like to pass a rainy day in the Lower Mainland? Please share your suggestions!



Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Surrounded on three sides by ocean and spattered like a Jackson Pollock painting with crystalline lakes and historic rivers, Canada’s magnificent landscape is perhaps best viewed from its myriad waterways. Sure, you could take in the iconic wilderness scenery on a luxury cruise through British Columbia’s Inside Passage. But if you’re pressed for time or money, there are plenty of other ways to experience Canada at “see”-level. 

Highly recommended day-trips:

  • For the prettiest views of the historic harbour in Halifax, NS, make the 12-minute ferry crossing between Nova Scotia’s capital and the city of Dartmouth. 
  • For centuries, visitors have found respite from the urban bustle of Toronto, ON in the lushly wooded Toronto Islands, just a short hop across Lake Ontario from Canada’s largest metropolis. Year-round ferry service departs from the docks at the foot of Bay Street. The return trip offers great photo opps of the city skyline.
  • At the historic junction of Manitoba’s mighty Red and Assiniboine Rivers is Winnipeg’s premier tourist attraction, The Forks. From May to September, the River Spirit water bus plies the scenic and tranquil riverfront. Or rent a canoe or paddleboat and explore at your own pace.

Have I missed any? Let me know!

So I got this note from Pam Mandel, a Seattle travel writer, via Twitter last night:

nerdseyeview @julieoc richmond is the kinda town you want a local to drag you around. it’s not easy to know what to do/where to go, but it could be fun.

And she’s right of course. It’s easy to forget that Richmond, BC —land of mini-malls and big-box stores—is an island, with an island’s watery charms. I grew up there, so I say this with some authority. Descending into Vancouver International Airport, you stare down on Richmond’s hard, grey, flat expanse of roadways and rooftops and retail. But look to the edge of the frame, to the soft-ripened spot where the dyke holds back the mighty Fraser River: now that’s a place you ought to get to know—especially in springtime.

Bike the dyke

Bike the dyke

Richmond is below sea level and the 80-km dyke that rings the island is one of the city’s best features—and not merely as a safety measure. It’s at once a backyard fitness track for locals, a rich habitat for migratory birds, and a quiet refuge for the world-weary (except, I guess, for two weeks in 2010, when the new riverside Olympic speed-skating oval will be a little busy). 

Walk (or bike) it in the spring, when warmer weather wakes up the critters that call the marshland home. Start at Steveston village, where the annual farmers’ and artisans’ market gets underway in the parking lot of the historic Gulf of Georgia cannery every Sunday starting in late May until September. Grab a cone of fish and chips from Dave’s or Pajo’s, and then settle down at nearby Garry Point Park to catch the serendipitous photo-op of the day: Japanese box-kites slashing through the sky, or colourful fishing boats sauntering home for supper, or wizened old ladies practicing Tai Chi on the beach.

Stay long enough and you might even catch an epic sunset—a not-quickly-forgotten magenta stain in the sky over the distant Gulf Islands.  And if you’ve worked up an appetite, remember: there’s a glut of award-winning Chinese restaurants just a few miles down the road…

It’s January in Vancouver and the only thing emptier than your wallet is your social calendar?      

Damp spirits? Dine out!

Damp spirits? Dine out!

Quick fix: Dine Out Vancouver, Tourism Vancouver’s annual winter gift to the locals for being nice to out-of-towners the rest of the year.

This is a sweet deal, my friends: between Jan. 14 and Feb. 1, you can treat yourself to a three-course dinner at more than 180 of the city’s best restaurants for just $18, $28 or $38 per person. Scope out the menus at the web site today and don’t wait to claim your table: the most popular eateries book up quickly and early reservations are pretty much mandatory.

If you want the full tourist-in-your-own-town experience–and let’s not ever underestimate the therapeutic properties of sleeping under 400-thread-count sheets in a bed that’s actually been made–then take advantage of the hotel packages also on offer: as little as $150 gets you a night in the Big Smoke with dinner for two.

This year I’m tempted by the menus at the one-syllable eateries: Zin, YEW, Cru and Brix. But Provence‘s lemon curd and lavender tart also has my attention…