As the host city prepares for the Winter Olympics, Kay O'Sullivan explores its other attractions.
Make your way down to Granville Island for breakfast. It's a 15-minute walk from Downtown, then jump on one of the cute little ferries at the end of Thurlow Street for the five-minute ride across False Creek. The fare is $C3 ($3.15) one way and you get a close-up of one of the world's great harbours against a backdrop of jaw-dropping mountains. Granville Island is a vibrant mix of shops, markets, bars and restaurants. There's a university and a cement works, a legacy of this terrific precinct's origins. The Fringe Festival is held in various theatres on the island during September and all kinds of artisans and craftspeople display their work. Granville Island is home to Canada's best psychic - her words, not mine - and Canada's first cottage brewery, the Granville Island Brewing Company. Not that I'm suggesting an ale for breakfast. Instead, head to the cavernous market. Vancouver fancies itself as a destination for foodies and it's all on show here. Officially, it opens at 9am but you will find plenty of places serving breakfast long before that.
Vancouverites are proud of Stanley Park, and rightly so. It is the second-biggest city park in North America and 10 per cent bigger than New York's Central Park. Drive through Stanley Park to get to the wonderfully named Sea to Sky Highway, which leads to Whistler, the venue for the alpine, sliding and nordic events during the Winter Olympics. There are numerous ways to enjoy the park. You can walk, bike or roller blade, take a trolley or a horse-drawn carriage. I walk the sea wall. It's a Vancouver institution, 8.8 kilometres in length and not too arduous. On a clear day from the west side, you can see right across to Vancouver Island, home to Victoria, British Columbia's capital. Bike hire is available on nearby Denman Street.
Follow the sea wall around to Canadian Place, the cruise ship terminal and convention centre that looks like a northern hemisphere Opera House, or take the road less travelled to the west and poke around English Bay beach. It has a Bondi vibe without the waves. Here on January 1, hardy souls brave the chilly water for the annual Polar Bear Swim.
It's time to hit the shops. Robson Street is the main shopping precinct. It's open until 11pm and always buzzing. You will find every brand name and chain store imaginable, but if you are looking for something Canadian, there's the much-loved Canadian brand Roots for good-quality and well-priced clothing and accessories. But it's Aritzia for me. It's a local name that has a strong following among fashionistas. Cool jeans are not expensive. There are a few Aritzia stores in Vancouver, including the big one at 1110 Robson Street.
If all that consumerism gets too much, duck into the Vancouver Art Gallery for a fix of culture. It's a manageable size when you've got only a day and is the best place to learn about the life and work of Emily Carr, the influential BC artist and writer after whom the university on Granville Island is named.
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby Street. Entry $C19.50 adults, $C7 children.
Wander through Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood, Gastown. It's touristy but pretty. The main drag, Water Street, is a tourist haven. Think chocolate-coated moose droppings and every incarnation of maple syrup. Cordova Street, which runs parallel with Water Street, is used by locals, with less of the chocolate droppings and more of the edgy furniture shops.
Thirsty souls can make their way to the Salt Tasting Room for a pre-dinner drink. It's a small wine bar in the descriptively named Blood Alley in Gastown with a massive selection of cheeses and cured meats that the staff match with wines according to your preference. Serious tourists can, instead, take a quick tour of Vancouver's Olympic sites but, to be frank, there's nothing that will wow the world like Beijing's Birdcage and Watercube. Australia's best hope for a medal is in the freestyle skiing, which, along with the snowboarding, will be at Cypress Mountain, 30 minutes from Vancouver.
For more Winter Olympics information, see www.vancouver2010.com.
For dinner, we're off to one of the emerging neighbourhoods, Main Street. It is past the art deco Pacific Central Station. It is a great place to have dinner if you are watching your budget. Campagnolo is a good example: modern Italian, stylish, plates to share, a well-considered wine list and extremely fair prices.
Campagnolo, 1020 Main Street, $C13 for risotto with porcini and thyme, open for lunch and dinner until late and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Two of the standout events of the Cultural Olympiad are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on West Georgia and Hamilton streets, Vancouver's theatre district. Lou Reed is one of the stars paying tribute to Canada's legendary Neil Young, while the Alberta Ballet will perform a full-length ballet to Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum. This area l is the place to hear music and have a late-night drink, even if you can't cadge tickets to those shows. The Railway Club is much loved by locals who dig music. It's dark, a bit on the dingy side and hard to find. Perfect. The Media Club is another place to hang and get a sense of this wonderful city. And take it as read that all bars stay open late, very late. It's a winner in my books.
The Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir Street; The Media Club, 695 Cambie Street.
Kay O'Sullivan travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.
Air Canada flies non-stop from Sydney (14 hours there and 15½ back) for about $1952 low-season return including tax, while Melbourne passengers pay $100 more and fly Qantas to Sydney to connect.