Wednesday, October 22, 2008

British Columbia or Bust

Our final destination on our jaunt through Canada was Vancouver, BC. Just driving into the city, I knew that I was going to love it -- a sophisticated urban center set on the edge of nature. The glass-window architecture of the high-rise apartment buildings on the water gives it such an iconic, modern look.

We took the Aquabus to the Granville Island Public Market, where we had a nutritous breakfast of fresh porridge finished with apricots and skim milk. The city of Vancouver is not only asthetically beautiful -- its residents are health-conscious and fit as well (it's so inspiring). At any given hour of the day, regardless of any precipitation falling from the sky (it rained both days we were in town), residents are out hiking, running, rollerblading and just enjoying the outdoors.

Vancouver will be hosting the 2010 Olympics -- and the countdown has begun!

In our two days there, I ate some of the most incredible seafood I'd ever had, sipped delicious Canadian wines (and beers), perused local art and spent plenty of time outside in Stanley Park, emulating the Vancouverites. They certainly have the mind, body, soul thing in check.

Prairies and Mountains

Alberta is stunningly beautiful. With a varied landscape ranging from the flat prairie flatlands surrounding the small city of Calgary to the majestic mountains poised over the valleys in Banff, this province is filled with some of the most beautiful natural wonders that I've ever seen.

Calgary is such a walkable city that we were able to see most of its highlights in one afternoon. We went to the top of the Calgary Tower (see?? another step towards conquering that fear of heights) to get a better sense of the layout of the land. On our way up, we asked our host when it starts to snow in Calgary. When we reached the top, we noticed some white flakes falling through the air. Question answered.

From there, we visited Stephen Avenue, home to the trendy boutiques and hottest restaurants in the city, and then drove by Calgary's famous Stampede grounds. After hearing numerous stories about the event, I will definitely have to come back for the Stampede. We saw the Olympic Park. Apparently, the events are open to the public now. I considered giving the ice luge a try, but thought against it at the last minute. Had to save some stamina for the rest of the journey.

I couldn't help but sneak a picture of this sign hanging in our Western-themed (is it still "themed" if you're in the West?) restaurant the first night:

Our time in Calgary was short but sweet. Banff was calling our name, and I'm not one to turn down a visit to a scenic destination from which I'd heard stories of world-class skiing, fondue, and hot springs (!!).

The drive to Banff was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Every ten minutes, I'd find myself lifting my jaw up off the ground. Words won't even do it justice.

In Banff, we dropped our belongings off at the Fairmont Banff Springs, one of the most luxurious hotels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. The castle-like structure is perfectly set at the base of the snow-capped Canadian Rocky Mountains, with unbelievable views from every room.

I then participated in one of the most terrifying moments of my adult life. Yes, I may be exaggerating just a tad, but I do have a serious fear of heights...and I took a gondola up to the top of the mountains (arriving at a height of 7,486 feet)! Once we reached the top, I managed to take a few pictures of the incredible views and I couldn't have been happier about my decision to venture to the top. You could see everything from up there.

Day 4 of the trip took us on a road trip to Lake Louise, where the color of the lake is literally the color of the Caribbean. This gorgeous blue-green lake sits at the base of the surrounding regal mountains. It was snowing quite heavily when we bought our lunch, but the color of the water pulled us from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's dining room out to a bench set in front of the lake.

Oh Canada.

Six cities in three provinces in six days.

This was truly a whirlwind (and wonderful!) business trip across Canada. We started in Toronto, where we wandered the city and went to the top of the CN Tower (yes you read that correctly...I braved several hights on this trip!). Our efforts to find poutine fell short...but that just means that I have to go back, right?

The following morning, we rented a car and drove to Niagara Falls and it was even more spectacular than I'd expected. The wind was quite strong and we were soaked head to toe by the time we strolled back to the car. From there, we drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we stopped at Iniskillin, the vineyard supplying wines for the 2010 Olympics.

Alberta and British Columbia stories to follow...