To Vancouver, with vim and vigour

Jogging on the sea wall. - Kalpana Sunder

One with nature: The Capilano suspension bridge. - KALPANA SUNDER

Treetops through temperate rainforests at Capilano. - KALPANA SUNDER

A city that worships fitness, and escapes to the great outdoors at every opportunity.



It's a city where outdoorsy fun is revered… Where every other person has a kayak or a boat and whose idea of fun is a gruelling trek to Grouse Mountain. It's a city that loves to eat healthy... organic food, artisanal cheeses, local wines and Ocean Wise sustainable seafood. This is a fitness-conscious city… from the joggers and bikers to the iconic Lulu lemon Athletica with its yoga apparel (which leaves me a hundred dollars poorer) and the tandem cycles with fathers and sons. The tang of salt in the air merges with the scent of fir trees and the soundtrack of buzzing seaplanes and foghorns of ships. In Vancouver, Canada, nature is always at hand.

I feel like I am on a giant trampoline... The first Capilano Suspension Bridge dated back to 1889; many bridges later, it is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at 450 ft. A Scottish civil engineer purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of the Capilano river, and built a cabin and bridge on the edge of the canyon wall. This became a popular getaway for him and his adventurous friends. We step cautiously on the cedar planks set on steel cables, bobbing and swaying on our way to the opposite side. A voice on the loudspeaker chastises tourists for shaking the bridge on purpose! On the other side are ancient Douglas firs, hemlock and cedar trees.

There's Treetops adventure with ropes and boardwalks linking eight gargantuan Douglas fir trees, 100 ft above the forest floor. What I enjoy are the story centres everywhere with photo murals, and informative flip books. On the forest floor are rotting ‘nurse logs' and bug boxes detailing what creepy crawlies are found there. The Douglas firs have needle-like leaves and a cone with a three-ended bract above each scale. Tom Ryan, our friend and guide, tells us a Native American story. Long ago, there was a forest fire and the mice escaped into the sanctuary of the Douglas fir trees. Looking closely at the cones, the bract really looks like the tail and the tiny legs of mice hiding inside the scales! The Red cedar tree here is called the ‘Tree of Life' by the First Nations (the poetic Canadian descriptor for the first settlers). Ryan equates this tree to the ‘supermarket' of the First Nations — the source of their clothing, food, medicine, tools and shelter!

The ‘Cliff walk' is a new attraction where we walk on a series of walkways, bridges and stairs with stainless steel mesh on the sides and glass-bottomed platforms on the cliff edges, which makes us feel we are cantilevered in mid-air! All along the trail are informative signs about the importance of water and natural vegetation. The east bank is the Heritage section, where there are First Nations totem poles and a trading post gift shop. Each vibrant totem pole has a unique story carved on it. Representing different families and tribes and telling a real or mythical story, they are pieces of history. Rhododendrons and azaleas bloom, and people sit on benches feasting on the home-made fudge sold here.

There are no freeways inside this city; you can use the Sea Bus ferries, sky trains and the extensive bike trails. After all, this was the city where Greenpeace was formed, and it has a great passion for ecological conservation. We spend some time in Stanley Park, a 1,000 acre urban oasis enclosed by a 10-km sea wall, filled with cyclists, rollerblade riders, and joggers. There's a statue of Stanley (after whom the Stanley Cup for ice hockey was named) decorated with a blue jersey and a trophy in hand. The city is in the throes of the Stanley Cup matches and everyone is decked in the blue Vancouver Cannucks jerseys!

Grouse Mountain is reached by a gondola carrying funkily dressed youth with ski boards, mothers with children in prams, and tourists. The latest attraction on Grouse Mountain is the Eye of the Needle — a large wind turbine with an observation tower that's 20-storey tall encased in glass, which is the best place to get a bird's eye view of the city. We see five great mountain ranges surrounding the city, the forests, the glistening ocean as well as the gargantuan blades each weighing a whopping 5,530 kg. The other interesting stop on Grouse Mountain is the refuge for endangered animals, which is home to two orphaned grizzlies called Coola and Grinder — they were recovered from a highway and a logging road, and they give us great photo-ops by peering over their shelter.

Vancouver is not just about communing with nature. You can blow your wallet shopping on Robson Street, which rises on a gentle hill and is packed with boutiques, cafes, designer stores and hip people with pets in tow. We enjoy pub-hopping in neighbourhoods such as the historic Gastown: an area where the city began, once a down-in-the-dumps seedy area now home to hip bars, restaurants and galleries. Swish Yale town is where we see Pretty Young Things with a latte in one hand and walking a pet with the other. There is Granville Island, an erstwhile warehouse area, converted into a buzzing scene with restaurants, crafts, buskers, open-air cafes and a huge food market with pyramids of luscious fruits, vegetables and the delicious local fudge. And by the end of my stay, I am not surprised that this city has come out tops in all quality-of-life surveys and voted the most liveable city year after year.

Published on August 18, 2011

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