A Canadian Colour Palette
This is a ride without any brakes. We are soaring above mountain peaks, skimming over lakes, zig zagging through rainforests and watching fireworks illuminate the sky, all at an incredible speed. And even though our seatbelts are fastened, some of us cannot help grasping the arm rests tight while experiencing VANCOUVER’s new sensory attraction, FlyOver Canada. The eight-minute flight simulation ride leaves us breathless, for more reasons than it being our first introduction to the breathtaking natural wonders of Canada, complete with the sound of rustling wind and the feeling of snowflakes falling on our heads. We have landed in Vancouver almost 10 hours ago after a 10-hour real time flight and we feel like we are still up in the air!
Stanley Park is more down to earth. Literally so. Possessing a lush mantle, woven with 1000 acres of forest and foliage and nudged by the blue waters of the English Bay, the park stretches out in the heart of the city and became accessible to the public in 1888 during the tenure of Lord Frederick Stanley, Governor General of Canada, after whom it is named. On our little sojourn into its wholesome environs, populated by joggers, walkers, picnickers and cyclists, our host Steve Ogden, while negotiating a narrow path, brakes ever so gently, to allow a family of racoons to ‘cross the street’! Later, as we sip cappuccinos in a charming outdoor café and study the totem poles that serve as a hot selfie spot, a horse-drawn carriage trundles past with camera-toting tourists out for a joy ride. The nine totem poles at Brockton Point in the Park — fascinating pieces of First Nations’ artistry — are British Columbia’s most popular attraction and jostling for attention are the park’s recreational facilities such as display gardens, tennis courts, theatrical performances, aboriginal cultural demonstrations and Canada’s largest aquarium.
Lunch at the colonial-flavoured The Teahouse consists of extravagant helpings of fresh produce that keep us crunching and munching on a Tuscan salad, tempura battered ling cod, sautéed wild mushrooms and more, till we are led away — on a full stomach — to a ‘swing and sway’ experience on a historic suspension bridge! The 450-foot-long bridge has evolved into a unique doorway to adventures in nature, history and culture from the time it took shape in 1889 when Scottish civil engineer, George Grant Mackay built the original bridge over the Capilano River simply to access the forest land that he had purchased. The newest addition, Cliffwalk, a series of walkways, bridges and platforms, takes us on an eye-popping, albeit breathless (pun intended) expedition 300 feet above the river through a rainforest thickly populated with majestic Douglas firs, Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock. The marriage between innovation, technology and nature is exhilarating indeed and the gift shop on the premises is replete with high-quality organic fare for all those who have room for more in their strolleys.
Following an aerial view of the canyon — where we even spotted the silvery swish of salmon in the waters below — we await another flight, this time at the Air Float Plane Terminal for a journey into the skies. From the window seat of Harbour Air’s seaplane, we find ourselves being whooshed across the wondrous scapes of mountains, beaches and parkland that make up the spectacular setting of Vancouver and its distinctive neighbourhoods.
On the third day of our stay we decide to eat in — at our temporary home of Four Seasons Hotel — and find ourselves tickling our palates with the gastronomic genius of the chef in residence, Ned Bell, at YEW. The wood-panelled specialty restaurant does itself proud with its seafood platters and ‘towers’, overflowing with delicately flavoured oysters, lobster, scallops and shrimps that exude the pure taste of ocean to table.
On our fourth day in British Columbia I have lost an earring. I discover that I am wearing only one when I turn in for the night at the quaint, rustic-style Four Seasons Resort in WHISTLER which has a tranquil view of Nature’s paintings in progress. The maple trees are aflame with the shades of autumn and the sky is brush stroked with orange and white streaks as it spreads itself across Blackcomb Mountain. Named after the shrill whistling sound made by the resident hoary marmots, Whistler, North America’s favoured destination for skiing and snowboarding is said to resemble a frosted picture postcard during the winter months, but when we visit, it is also resplendent in the hues of the season. In the late afternoon, while some members of the group zip off on rented bicycles on the Valley Trail, the rest of us stroll towards Lost Lake, a dream-like vista, bordered by Fall’s bounty where we take turns to pose against a lush maple showing off a four-colour leaf display.
Whistler is the kind of place where if you have lived here for a year, the shop owners, dog walkers, bartenders, grocery clerks, will hail you by name. And if a grizzly bear strays across a Whistlerite’s path he knows he has to stay quiet. It is the tourists who do the screaming! The residences are neatly camouflaged by dancing foliage and tree-lined avenues and you wonder how a village built on a dump transformed itself into a fairy tale destination that counts among its many offerings wilderness yoga, hot springs, ice caves, alpine barbecues and heli-rafting.
At Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal — en route to Victoria — while we await our turn in an organised traffic queue to load the vehicle onto the boat, we grab some quick bites from the street side Good Karma Cafe specialising in an organic six-bean espresso blend. The walls are lined with posters of The Beatles, Hanuman cut-outs and Hindu religious symbols. “Indian-owned,” smiles the boy behind the counter. Steve receives a message and a picture on his cell phone and asks, “Has anyone lost an earring?”
I realise it has fallen off at the summit of the Sea to Sky Gondola near Whistler. The eight-minute ride from where you get sweeping views of mountain, valley and the Howe Sound Fjord drops you straight into the enveloping embrace of thick woods with century-old trees. The earring was found on one of the trails. There were several groups visiting on the day, from Australia, Mauritius, Hong Kong, New Zealand — ironically, all former British colonies — so I can imagine how many guides tried to identify the owner of the errant silver dangler!
Victoria, the region’s capital city, beckons with its mild climate, green cover and historic architectural flavour. Home to castles, museums, the provincial government and Canada’s oldest China Town, the city was designed by renowned architect Francis Rattenbury in the late 19th century. Around a decade later, the famed Butchart Gardens took shape. Celebrating 100 years of bloom in 2004, the gardens were laid out on a quarry site on the 130-acre estate of the Butchart family, pioneers of cement manufacture in the country. It is easy to lose yourself among the peonies, poppies and delphiniums in this paradisial space. Dotted by streams, fountains and bridges, the vibrant 55 acres that seem to have emerged from an artist’s imagination is so storybook-perfect that it almost appears unreal. The Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden, all enthral and are reminiscent of the fervour that went behind creating them.
The Inner Harbour takes us into another zone altogether. The jolly skipper of the ‘ship’, receptacle of factual information and fictional tales guides us through the melange of waterways to dock at Fisherman’s Wharf which houses the unique float homes moored on the water, Victoria’s only floating ice cream store and a group of perpetually hungry seals who leap and jiggle in the rippling waves as they race to catch the fish that visitors flip into the air. In the restaurants that abound, the freshest of fresh seafood is delivered from ocean to door with no land connect!
Our abode for two nights, the Hotel Grand Pacific in downtown Victoria is beautifully located in the heartland of shopping streets, art galleries, trendy bistros and harbour views. Bastion Square lined by historical structures is where we zip in and out of trial rooms and souvenir stores, grabbing a cappuccino in between. Maple syrup and knitted jackets are the hot buys.
On our last night in British Columbia, we exchange phone numbers, recall crazy conversations and prep Steve for his first-ever journey to India in the near future. Our waitress, unbending and unflappable, frowner of shared plates, thaws in the middle of her automated performance and by the time the apple pies come, has melted enough to share her personal story. 10 Acres Bistro that sources its ingredients from its own farm and orchard in the Saanich Peninsula, is the place to go to in Victoria for those who are picky about organic offerings and garden fresh greens.
I return home with a mosaic of memories – of diverse cultures, heart-stopping scenery, cheery people and food platters created with passion. The first piece of mail that greets me at the door in Mumbai is a long envelope bearing a Canada stamp. Inside is a brief note on which is carefully taped my rectangular silver earring.
Vancouver on a Plate
The centrepiece of Granville Island – accessible by the iconic Aquabus – is the public market. What started out as two sandbars and was home to saw mills and factories in its earlier avatar, is now an island flaunting a bohemian air to the chefs and foodies buzzing around it. Housing farm fresh produce, the food lover’s paradise takes you on an exploratory tour through rows of carts stacked high with plump vegetables and fruits and tender meats that guarantee to satisfy. Grab a snack from one of the many waterfront cafes and booths; shop for handmade artefacts; chat with artists at their studios and watch street performers do their thing. Boat enthusiasts, enroll in a kayak paddling session and inhale the heady, salty aroma of False Creek.
If the surroundings of this quaint, bohemian-style village have not energised you enough or you are so energised that you need to cool off, immerse yourself in the idyllic environs of the Nordic-inspired Scandinave Spa. Let your pores open and mind rest in the sauna and steam rooms, then plunge into a cold (very cold) pool and relax in a hot one under the open skies. Alternate a number of times and then lie in a hammock, towel-wrapped like a baby and gaze at the spruce and cedar trees looking benignly down. This hydrotherapy treatment is said to cleanse the body, stimulate blood circulation and eliminate toxins. Hungry? The spa café has a very healthy menu to choose from!
Victoria’s Tea-time Treats
Afternoon high tea is a time-honoured English tradition and the legendary Fairmont Empress presents it with a royal flourish. Chintz furnishings, delicate chinaware, smoked salmon pinwheels, vanilla shortbread, raisin scones with strawberry jam, the quintessential cucumber sandwiches and a genteel server who could have waltzed out of Downton Abbey. The crowd around may be traipsing in stilettos and strappy numbers, their sound effects drowning the ebony and ivory notes of the piano but if you pretend that you are surrounded by the nobility of yore the elaborate tea ritual takes you back into the pages of Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie.
FAR AND AWAY
Vancouver Wanderings: take a self-guided tour of the city’s finest outdoor art, much of it sponsored by the Vancouver Biennale. Look for The Drop, a large blue raindrop crafted by Inges Idee, Freezing Water by Jun Ren and Digital Orca by Douglas Coupland, among 350 other installations. Drink: the ultimate pumpkin chai or green tea blended with toasted walnuts and dried pineapple at the Gastown branch of DavidsTea, a haven for tea connoisseurs.
Whistler Visit: stop at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre manned by First Nations youth ambassadors who introduce you to their fascinating indigenous history through videos, conversation, theatre, cuisine and an exquisite gift gallery brimming with locally crafted art. Eat: at The Brewhouse, a homely, fish and chips, pizza and burger joint with a model train hooting its way through the interiors. Victoria Walks: join like-minded groups for theme-based tours like ghostly walks, cocktail crawls, ale trails. Savour: handmade ricotta cavatelli and mustard crusted braised duck at the swishy Café Brio and wash down with many refills of a Pinot Blanc.
For more information: www.BritishColumbia.com