Canada’s fair, green city under the mountains

Costa Rica

Vancouver, recently voted best city destination in The Americas, is clean and green, stylish and cosmopolitan. My must-see list includes a magical market, a young beluga whale, and the flash of the neon light. Picture by Gareth Huw Davies, from Shangri La Hotel, October 2009.

Easy going

You can tell if a city cares by the quality of the public transport from the airport. The swish new Canada Line rail link to downtown Vancouver opened in 2009. It takes 25 minutes. I sampled the alight-where-you-like trolley trip for my first morning overview – the driver gives a cheery commentary. From Canada Place down on the waterfront, we meandered through Yaletown and Chinatown, the third largest in North America. On past the smart shops in Robson Street, the Art Gallery and the public library shaped like the Roman Colosseum and along the cobbled streets of spriced up Gastown, full of new independent shops and restaurants. Do get off in Stanley Park, a surviving chunk of ancient forest, with around half a million trees, up to 250 ft tall.

Rising market

Granville Island Public Market is perfect proof that any city’s industrial wasteland can be restored to colourful bustle. I took the tour. My guide Ian McLagen, from Edible British Columbia, led me past stalls piled high with this province’s lesser known vegetable glories – golden beets, rainbow chard, heirloom tomatoes, and enigmatic black garlic. Every so often he would stop to cut me a taste - it’s part of the ticket – of smoked elk sausage, red wine prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella. “And that,” he beamed, after I sniffed culinary gold dust – “is fennel pollen.”
The star drinking spot is Granville Island Tea Company. Owners Deborah and Mark seduced me with an immaculate cup of Khongea Golden Bud, brewed for the perfect three minutes, and imparted their deep knowledge of this universal drink.

Low emission city

Vancouver, host city for the 2010 Winter Olympics, setting a tough green standard for Russia to match.
They planned to make the games carbon neutral, offsetting all the CO2 generated, on the ground and by visitors’ flights, with spending on green energy and other schemes. New buildings were part of the eco-drive. I stayed in the city’s tallest building, the Shangri-La, where they’ve done away with the front desk - they check you in in your room. It opened in 2009, with a high energy and environmental design rating. Light sensors in my “smart room” automatically shut the blinds when the sun was too strong, cutting air conditioning requirements. I was smitten by the small HD television embedded in my bathroom mirror. The city’s other reassuring green touches include the ubiquitous, and so quiet, hybrid Prius, local taxi drivers’ vehicle of choice.

Life acquatic

Once we were happy to gaze in awe at the mesmerising colour and pattern in an aquarium’s fish. But these days the best aquaria add much more. Vancouver’s exhibits rescued dolphin and a beluga whale, born in 2009. There''s a serious display on the Arctic’s melting ice. And it takes eco action into the nation’s restaurants, in its Ocean Wise programme. Restaurants pledge to only serve fish from sustainable sources. Coast is one of the best of the Vancouver restaurants in the scheme – big and lively under a huge ceiling. They tell me on the menu who caught my halibut, and on which boat. Another good Vancouver idea during my visit was the candle-lit dinner scheme. Restaurants such as the Old Spaghetti Factory – good no frills Italian menu - mixed romance with energy-saving by dimming the lights and lighting candles.

Go for a spin

For non-skiers, Eye of the Wind is one of the most thrilling things you can do on a mountain. This 215 feet high wind turbine opened in Grouse Mountain Resort in Olympic year, 2010, and provided 25% of its energy. There is a public viewing point behind the massive blades, which slice the air every few seconds. Could this change wind power’s image – they promise “no gears, minimal noise and hypnotic rotation.” Grouse Mountain is under an hour by public transport from Downtown. The Skyride cable car whisks you to the top. If you dare, try ziplining, for “heart pounding thrills.” Other attractions are the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, lumberjack shows, and scenic trails.

Neon paean

Paul Simon’s line “Eyes stabbed out by the flash of a neon light” is one of the most memorable in popular music. In recent years this colourful, pulsing form of illumination has been dimming everywhere, not least in Vancouver, once the site of the world’s largest neon company. Pilots landing there called it the most brightly lit place in N. America. Now there are signs of a neon revival. Take a walk in East and West Hastings Streets, where refurbished signs still split the night, most famously on the Ovaltine café, where X-Files’ Agent Mulder went for coffee. Other brightly lit examples are Save On Meats, Only Seafood Restaurant and Dayton''s Boots. There’s a lighting revival in Granville Street, where the Orpheum Theatre, home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, boasts eye-catching neon.

Much of the popular vampire movie New Moon, starring Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, was shot in and around the city in the spring of 2009.
On Location Tours Vancouver offer a six-hour tour which takes in many locations from The Twilight Saga: New Moon, where actors Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner played their roles as Edward Cullen, Bella Swan and Jacob Black.

The writer flew from London with BA. The package includes a stay at the Shangri-La.

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