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On a big clock in the courtyard of the Vancouver Art Gallery, locals are busy counting the days -- as well as the minutes and seconds -- until the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games in Vancouver. This summer and fall, if you want to scope it out, you can look over the sites and make your plans for attendance, by land, sea and air. By foot and car is always possible, but in gorgeous Vancouver you can also take a mini ferry ride to Science World to see where the Athlete's Village is being constructed. You could book a floatplane tour to observe this and other sites, too, some as far away as Whistler, where the skiing competitions will be held.

Highlights

Use the Vancouver Smartvisit Card to get free admission or discounts on more than 50 attractions in Vancouver, Victoria and Beyond. If you visit as few as two attractions a day you start to save, along with a free guidebook and help in planning your itinerary. The 2-Day card goes for $109 plus tax, and there are also cards for 3 and 5 days. Among the attractions where you will have free admission are the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Aquarium.

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is one of the world's best of its kind, with plenty of Northwest Coast First Nations art in a beautiful building overlooking the sea, and a backdrop of impressive mountain peaks. ("First Nations" is the Canadian term for what the U.S. calls "Native Americans"). Inside, you can check out the totem poles and canoes, as well as the world's largest collection of works by the Haida artist Bill Reid, including his amazing "Raven and the First Men" cedar sculpture. On the grounds is the Haida Village, consisting of two First Nations houses and ten totem poles. The main building was designed by Arthur Erickson, its design based on traditional Northwest Coast post and beam structures. MOA at UBC, 6393 Northwest Marine Drive, Vancouver, tel. 604/822-5087; www.moa.ubc.ca.

Events

The Vancouver International Film Festival starts every year in late September and runs up to mid October, with 300 films from 50 countries, making this one of the largest film festivals in North America. Tel. 604/685-0260 or www.viff.org. From November 1 to 4 there's the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, a self explanatory title. Website is www.vaff.org.

Whale-Watching Commute

If you plan on visiting Victoria, you can get there by regular ferry or on a boat from the Prince of Whales, BC's largest whale-watching and eco-adventure company, which runs a daily trip (through September 16, 2007) departing Vancouver at 8:15am and returning from Victoria departing at 3:30pm. Rates from $119. Website www.princeofwhales.com.

Dining Out

Il Nido is a sweet bit of Italy in a courtyard just off busy Robson Street, in business since 1988. I had an old-fashioned vol au vent (creamed veggies in a pastry crust), excellent fusili with mushrooms and Italian sausage at $17 and passion fruit sorbet at $8. Owner Franco Felice told me Europeans especially love his old world ambiance, with no glitter or chrome to distract from the food itself. He says his is an organic kitchen. Il Nido, 780 Thurlow Street (at Robson), Vancouver, tel. 604/685-6436, website www.cafeilnido.net.

Diva at the Met Hotel is a lovely spot, but don't expect opera music while dining. What I heard was straight popular stuff. The excellent cuisine is best described as light and contemporary. For dessert, I recommend the stilton and rhubarb cheesecake at $9.50. Diva, 645 Howe Street, Vancouver, tel. 604/602-7788, website www.divamet.com.

O'Doul's in the Listel Hotel tries to use local materials whenever possible. You'll see such items as Dungeness Crab ($18), Vancouver Island Mussels ($11), Wild Pacific Salmon ($26) and Yukon Gold Potatoes, for instance, and they are famous for their char-grilled prime cuts of beef ($42 to $45). They mark on their menu as "ocean wise" the seafood recommended by the Vancouver Aquarium as being ocean-friendly, i.e., not endangered. Just another indication that the Listel Hotel is in the forefront of the green movement to help keep the earth safe from our bad habits.

Lodging

Listel Hotel: You can't get more cultural than this. The hotel is packed with original art, in partnership with the Museum of Anthropology, the Buschien Mowatt Gallery and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. So you have artworks in some of the 129 rooms and throughout the public areas, and jazz every night in O'Doul's Restaurant and Bar. Two floors ("Gallery" floors) are curated by the Buschien Mowatt Gallery with works by contemporary artists. Another, called the Museum Floor, features contemporary furniture crafted from hemlock and cedar, and art curated by the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. All the works are for sale, incidentally. You'll be on Robson Street, the city's most lively, with shopping and dining possibilities at every step. They have published a charming book of Vancouver stories, written by local authors, which you can find alongside your Gideon Bible in the bed table drawer. No wonder their slogan is "Vancouver's most art-full hotel." They have many packages, featuring romance, jazz, books, and more. Standard double rooms go for $260, add $20 for Museum floors, another $40 for Gallery floors. Listel Hotel, 1300 Robson Street, tel. 800/663-5491 or 604/690-1852, website www.thelistelhotel.com.

The gorgeous Metropolitan Hotel was once a Mandarin Oriental, but is now part of the elite Metropolitan group, a Canadian chain. Nicely sited in the center of everything, the Met takes special pride in its Diva at the Met restaurant, a popular meeting place for movers and shakers, and they feature several gourmet-stay plans. The rooms are exquisite, having just finished being redesigned. The Met is a member of the luxury Preferred Hotel group, too. Among facilities are an indoor pool, fitness center, squash courts, Jaguar car drop-off service in downtown area and more. Metropolitan Hotel, 645 Howe Street, Vancouver, tel. 604/687-1122, website www.metropolitan.com.

Currency Exchange

At time of writing, the Canadian and American dollars were nearly at par, with one US dollar equaling CAD $1.05 and one Canadian dollar being equal to US 95 cents. When I visited Canada, nobody bothered with exchanging, simply using the two currencies as equals, though I suppose I could have demanded my five cents' worth for every US dollar spent. Using a credit card simplifies matters, of course, as they do the work for you, and for amounts over a few dollars, you should insist on an exchange.

Contacts

You can reach Tourism Vancouver at tel. 604/682-2222 or at www.tourismvancouver.com.

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