Notable Items Packed:
There is something both palpably exciting and deeply relaxing about New Years. The excitement rooted in the upcoming night of revelry in the midst of friends, family and realistically, a room of strangers when the ball finally drops, and the relaxing aspect coming from that lull as one year winds down, and the other not yet kicked off. And during this unique window of swirling and counter, although not counteracting, states, there is the perfect opportunity to seize the energy and make a dash for the last and first time of the year.
The destination for this year? Vancouver, BC.
Our Poros packed and stowed, the trip starts with a drive up the West Coast. You'd be safe betting December in the Pacific Northwest to be dark and rainy, but it is all sunny skies on this occasion, affording clear views to the snow crested mountains, most dramatically Mt. Baker, and sparkling waters off the Washington coast.
Border crossings are a crap shoot, and under the most optimistic view, this one provides ample time for conversation amongst travelmates to finalize plans for the trip. Passports scanned, and assurances that contraband not present, we cross into Canada, the brilliantly blue skies and welcome December sunshine continuing.
With a dramatic backdrop of towering powder coated mountains, the skyline of Vancouver quickly comes into view. And while in so many other cities the interstate quickly spits you into the center of downtown, Vancouver welcomes you gradually, as you pass through stately neighborhoods and quieter arterial streets before formally making your way into the modern city core, the skyline transitioning from a point on the horizon to towering structures surrounding you on all sides.
The term "melting pot" is commonly tossed on the US. To follow suit and use a kitchen analogy on Vancouver, we'd pick "turbo blender". The mixing of dozens of cultures - from indigenous North Americans, to European settlers, and later Asian and South American immigrants - is immediately recognized from the names of the streets and natural features, to the smells, sights, and of course, genetic makeup of the people populating this modern, growing metropolis.
The Granville Island Public Market is the ultimate place to get an initial sampling of Vancouver. Nestled on a small island between downtown Vancouver and the neighborhoods to the south, the market houses hundreds of stalls, shops, restaurants and bars. Many are worthy of a stop, be it the butcher with local cuts, the overflowing pastry shop or the food stalls piled high with fresh entrees from every corner of the world. We opted for a plate of steaming dumplings to compensate for the crisp outdoor temperatures. Delicious food aside, the experience of simply wandering about with the impressive skyline just across the calm waters from the island is a delight.
From here, it's a quick trip across the bridge to the Westin Vancouver Bayshore. The perfectly placed hotel sits on the waterfront, with views of the again impressive skyline from a different angle, and backs up to the expansive urban oasis that is Stanley Park. Slick rooms with modern features, and all the expected treatments from Westin can be found after a quick check-in.
Despite being in the urban core of Vancouver, plenty of opportunities can be found right from the doorstep to experience Vancouver's famous mix of urban and natural beauty. From the hotel, turning left to the Southeast and a stunning waterfront walkway greets us with another opportunity to take in the sunshine, mountain views and contrasting architectural styles illuminated by the late afternoon sun. Turning to the right, and Stanley Park greets you with its verdant paths and calming beaches.
The sun sets and the cities plethora of restaurants and bars begin to light up. After popping a bottle of champaign back at the Westin to kickoff the night, tonight's agenda continues to the lively and delicious, though curiously named, Guu with Garlic in Vancouver's West End neighborhood. Greeted with cheers from fellow diners, the warm interior heavy in sturdy timbers and soft light provided a welcoming ambiance. After learning about the Japanese tradition of consuming Soba noodle soup in preparation for the new year, partaking is the only option.
Bellies full and energy levels high, The Blind Sparrow provides the perfect spot for a carefully crafted cocktail. The upstart bar with a modern, yet cozy interior provides a respectable selection of twelve rotating beers to compliment the cocktail menu (we recommend the barrel-aged boulevardier), while the aviary themed wall stencils and open keg room keep the interior interesting. When the big moment of the night rolls around, balls are dropped, confetti flies, kisses are stolen, and an impressive firework display begins on the harbor.
The next morning, a mystical fog covers the city. Locals and tourists alike sip strong coffee, be it for taste, or more likely in this case, its medicinal values. As the sun burns through the fog, we stroll along the harbor front next to the pacific waters to the Cactus Club Cafe at Coal Harbor. The striking building composed of steel and glass is perched above the water, providing postcard worthy views of the city and adjacent mountains and waterways. It's the perfect spot to catch your breath after a morning of, well, not much, and enjoy a leisurely brunch. Tuna sushi cones and yam fries consumed, it's back to the Westin.
Poros packed and safely secured in the car, we point the car south, and head down the sunny west coast towards Washington. Refreshed, energized and with Vancouver barely out of view, it's time to start planning the next adventure.