Folks who study things Canadian sometimes talk of the Old Canada and the New Canada, by which they don't mean just history, but attitudes. If that's the case, you can safely say Vancouver represents the New Canada, just as Montreal and Quebec City may stand for the Old Canada. In the past two decades, Vancouver has changed more than any other Canadian city, with an influx of new residents from Asia, and new business capital, too.
This beautiful city, blessed by nature with a gorgeous setting, is now a hustle and bustle type of town, reminding many seasoned travelers of Hong Kong with air conditioning. And while it's a jumping-off spot quite convenient to Whistler and other winter sports resorts, there's plenty to do right here, surrounded by skyscrapers and neon signs, with elements of old English habits, new Asian attitudes and an all-Canadian sense of well being that make for a very attractive getaway spot.
Topping the list of fun activities is an event at Science World, in the Telus World of Science (tel. 604/443-7443; www.scienceworld.ca). There's a "Robot Invasion" on January 27 and 28, when robots designed by students at the University of British Columbia Engineering School compete against each other in what should be a spectacular show. These complicated, and often goofy, contraptions will vie with their counterparts from 11am to 3pm on the center's first floor. General admission is C$10 (about US$8.50).
Already in progress, but continuing through February 4, is the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (www.pushfestival.ca), now in its fifth year. The 2007 festival features over 100 performances of some 18 major works, as well as seven satellite shows by 23 companies at 16 different venues. Attendance last year was over 14,000. A C$72 pass (about US$61) gets you into all the shows.
On Vancouver's Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com), right in the heart of town, the second annual Winterruption Festival takes place from February 21 to 25. It features over 20 musical acts on free stages around the island, plus theater performances, free movie screenings, daily guided walking tours of art studios, culinary shows and much more.
The Chinese New Year is a big deal in Vancouver, as it is in nearby Richmond, too. You can join the celebration on February 18 (New Year's Day) from 10am-4pm at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (www.vancouverchinesegarden.com), which will honor the Year of the Boar with traditional Chinese music, fortune telling, tai chi demonstrations, and more. On the same day, there's a parade along Pender and Keefer streets, with dragons, firecrackers and costumes. If you were born in the year of the pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, etc.), it's de rigueur to wear red to ensure good luck for the rest of the year.
Checking out Vancouver's Chinatown (the third largest in North America, they say), can be fun, too. In addition to dozens of restaurants and food shops, the place is replete with souvenir stores and other oddities. You may want to try A Wok Around Chinatown (www.awokaround.com) an insider's tour of the area.
Granville Island, a refuge from the teeming city down under the Granville Street Bridge, has a lot to show off (see Events, above) day or night. If it's raining (or not), check out the venerable Umbrella Shop (open since 1935), which should every kind you ever (or never) wanted. Locals consider going here an escape from intense urban life.
Richmond's New Year
Richmond, a separate city, but right next door to Vancouver (south of the airport, in fact), has its own Chinese New Year celebrations, with one of the biggest Chinese populations outside of China itself (said to be 60 per cent of Richmond's inhabitants). Here are just a few of the many events you can enjoy, many of which start off long before the official date, February 18th (the Chinese tradition is to begin 15 days of celebrations on New Year's Day):
January 20-29: Chinese New Year Flower Fair, with traditional candy and souvenirs as well as orchids, narcissus and more at the Aberdeen Center (tel. 604/273-1234).
January 22-29: New Year Flower Bazaar at the International Buddhist Temple (tel. 604/274-2822). At the fair are traditional snacks and foods, flower arrangements, Chinese calligraphy displays, and more. Open from 10am to 5pm until January 27, then until midnight on January 28. Free admission.
January 28: New Year Celebration at Richmond Centre (tel. 604/303-7204), with live entertainment including the Lion Dance, information and interactive booths.
January 29: Chinese New Year Celebration with stage shows including the lion dance, of course, some kung fu demonstrations, and gifts from the God of Fortune at Parker Place Shopping Centre (tel. 604/273-0276). Over at the Aberdeen Centre on the same day will be dances by the Grand Dragon and Lion, these dances combining art, history, kung fu and some 40 performers.
February 4 and 5: Chinese New Year Tea will be offered from noon to 5 at the London Heritage Farm (tel. 604/271-5220).
February 9-18: Various New Year celebrations will be observed at the Aberdeen Centre, and from the 15th to 20th at the International Buddhist Temple (www.buddhisttemple.ca).
March 10-16: The Wuhan Chinese Acrobatic Troupe will perform at the River Rock Show Theatre (tel. 604/280-4444), more or less ending the New Year festivities.
Year round, you can check out the city's Night Market, or look in on the River Rock Casino Resort (tel. 877/473-2818 or 604/274-1895; www.greatcanadiancasinos.com/riverrock), where there are a thousand slot machines.
To show their impartiality, the folks at the London Heritage Farm offer all sorts of tea, not just Chinese. On February 11 and 12, they have a Chocolate Valentine Tea from noon to 5pm, and in March, they have a St. David's Day Tea on the 4th and 5th, with Welsh cakes from noon to 5pm, and for St. Patrick's, there a special tea on the 18th and 19th, again from noon to five, with Irish music and shamrocks.
Chutzpah and/or Peace & Quiet
Vancouver celebrates its Jewish heritage from February 17 through March 3, with the Chutzpah! Festival (www.chutzpahfestival.com), highlighting the artistic talent of Jewish Canadians. Included are presentations of dance, comedy, theater and music, with professional local and non-local Jewish artists and collaborators. The Rosedale on Robson Hotel is offering a special "Friends of Chutzpah!" rate.
If meditation is your desire, you can take free meditation classes every Saturday morning at Vancouver's International Buddhist Temple, from 9 to 11am. A small fee gets you a vegetarian lunch afterwards. The exquisite temple features traditional Chinese sculpture, painting, carpentry and embroidery, and there's a garden, too.
One of Vancouver's newest lodging places is the Moda Hotel, 900 Seymour Street (tel. 604/683-4251; www.modahotel.ca), close to the Granville Street entertainment district in a 1908 heritage building. Ultra modern inside, it has 57 rooms and high speed Internet access, among other amenities. Rooms from C$129 (about US$110).
The Opus Hotel, 322 Davie Street (tel. 866/642-6787; www.opushotel.com), not far from the inner harbor, is one of Vancouver's trendiest lodgings. With 96 luxury rooms and a neat bar and bistro, it's definitely an in place to be. Rooms from C$179 (about US$152), with free upgrades when available.
The city's biggest restaurant promotion takes place in winter, this year from January 19 through February 4, with 156 establishments joining the fun. Each offers three-course prix fixe menus at C$15, $25 or $35, exclusive of taxes, tips and alcohol (that's about US$13, $22 and $30, respectively). You can book at about one-third of the places at www.tourismvsancouver.com. The BC Wine Institute is also eager to have you sample BC wines during the event. There are 20 restaurants offering the $15 dinner, 92 restaurants selling the $25 meal and 44 serving up a $35 dinner.
In addition to the meals, there are Dine Out Vancouver hotel packages which offer dinner for two in the hotel dining room and other goodies, such as welcome gifts, breakfast, bottle of wine and parking. Packages range from C$129 (about US$ 110) per night per room. Some of the hotels include the Comfort Inn Downtown, Georgian Court, Delta Suites, Fairmont Waterfront, Pacific Palisades, Plaza 500, the Wedgewood and the Westin Grand. Again, check out www.tourismvancouver.com.
One of Vancouver's best known restaurants, Brix (www.brixvancouver.com), is featuring a winter garden in its courtyard again this year. You will be comfy, as there's a glass ceiling and built-in outdoor heating, with ivy and other greenery spilling out of window boxes. A typical dish is Alberta AAA New York Strip Loin at C$24 (about US$21).
If you are really a gourmet, you may want to try the three-hour tour offered by Edible British Columbia (www.edible-britishcolumbia.com), which includes time at the Granville Island Public Market, where many of the city's best chefs buy their produce.
At the end of winter, from March 26 through April 1, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (www.playhousewinefest.com) takes place, driven by the boast that it is "one of the biggest, best and oldest wine events in the world." It includes wine tastings, gourmet lunches and dinners, the works.
Everything Vancouver can be read about at www.tourismvancouver.com, or you can phone 604/683-2000. The main visitor's center is downtown at 200 Burrard Street.
Further information on Richmond can be had at www.tourismrichmond.com or at phone 877/246-0777 (not valid from every locale).
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