We knew we had arrived in Vancouver when we caught sight of the tall glass towers with rounded corners that dominated the dramatic downtown skyline. Since we only had four days to spend here, our agenda was packed with plans to visit Stanley Park’s Rose Garden, Granville Island, the Museum of Anthropology and a drive to Whistler.
Originally, we had wanted to include a foray into the Canadian Rockies but our schedule only allowed time for a day trip to Whistler via the famous Sea to Sky Highway. While the drive time from the Lion’s Gate Bridge in North Vancouver to the town of Whistler was only two hours, we planned on a whole day to include time for scenic stops and breaks.
The Sea to Sky Highway is a much improved upgrade from the old Highway 99 which had been a harrowing twisty two lane road carved into the steep cliffs along Howe Sound back in the day. The road received a major makeover for the 2010 Winter Olympics and offers a spectacular panorama of Howe Sound at sea level segueing into stunning mountain vistas as we climbed toward Whistler in the Rockies. (You know this a serious mountain road when there are frequent turnoffs cautioning drivers to install tire chains for winter travel.)
After this amazing morning drive, Whistler was anticlimactic. After a so-so lunch, we walked around a bit. We half expected an intimate alpine ski village but found a busy upscale ski area with lots of dining, trendy shops, and galleries. Visitors were mostly interested in eating and taking selfies in front of the Olympic rings in the village square.
The return trip in the afternoon exposed different vistas and was just as rewarding as the morning’s drive. The trip did take the whole day and could have gone longer. The Sea to Sky Highway has been described as one of the top drives in Canada and we can attest to that.
The following day we went to Stanley Park in North Vancouver to see the rose garden. This 80-year-old garden has 3500 rose bushes planted in large beds surrounded by lawn. Most beds consist of many bushes of the same variety creating a dramatic color palette when in bloom. Unlike the rose garden in The Butchart Gardens in Victoria that we had seen the week before, this garden displayed lots of color even though peak bloom was supposed to be two weeks away. One section of the garden had a long arbor with climbers scrambling up and over both sides and beds of seasonal plantings of annuals, perennials, and spring bulbs planted along the side – perfect companion plants for roses.
The garden is maintained by a professional staff and looks it. The bushes are fertilized and well-pruned; the beds are clean, attractive and weed-free. We chatted with a gardener who told us that the garden is organic by design and no pesticides are employed. They even create their own garden soil with a park-wide composting system.
Municipal rose gardens are intended to display the color, fragrance and beauty of the genus rosa to the public and the rose garden at Stanley Park does just that.
Before leaving, we meandered through the park, stopping at the gift shop with an impressive array of locally carved totem poles displayed outside.
On our final day in Vancouver, we headed over to Granville Island, a one-time industrial area now gentrified with a huge indoor public market as the main attraction. It features local produce, seafood, baked goods, interesting arts and crafts, and lots of eating. With over 10 million visitors annually, we had expected numbing congestion with little parking. But on the drizzly Tuesday morning in May we arrived, the crowd size was modest and the parking plentiful. While smaller, Granville Island is somewhat akin to Pike’s Place Market in Seattle but with more open space and a little more subdued.
After lunch we drove to the UBC Museum of Anthropology 20 minutes away. This museum is well known for its collections of art and culture of the Canadian First Nations of the Pacific Northwest. The Great Hall displays an impressive number of totem poles, canoes and other carved sculptures. However, the center piece in the museum is the iconic wooden sculpture titled “The Raven and The First Men” carved out of yellow cedar by Bill Reid. The museum collection is massive, too much to digest in one visit, but an ideal way to spend a rainy afternoon. We left Vancouver the following day returning to Seattle and the long flight home.
As New Englanders, Angelina and I travel to faraway places out of broad curiosity of the world beyond home plus a keen sense of adventure. As in past trips, after months of planning, this one came and went in a blink. The Seattle and British Columbia trip was satisfying and we are glad we went. Now we’re looking toward 2016 and our next adventure.