While Canadian food, like poutine, may not be standard international fare, Canadian beer has found its way into refrigerators the world over. Molson dates back to 1786 and now ranks among the world’s largest brewing companies. Its importance to Canuck culture is such that “Molson muscle” has entered the Canadian lexicon as slang for beer belly. But while Molson may be the most quintessentially Canadian brew (check out their I Am Canadian commercials if you’re in doubt), there are plenty of contenders for the title of best beer north of the border.
With the possible exception of maple syrup, Canada isn’t really known for its contributions to world cuisine. The Brits left behind a legacy of bland and boiled food that defined cooking here for generations. In fairness, cosmopolitan cities like Vancouver and Toronto have embraced new flavors brought by immigrant groups, and both cities boast thriving Asian food scenes. Finding a real, down-home Canadian meal, however, can be a challenge.
Bear bells are standard equipment for hikers in this part of Canada. The bells – which look a lot like Christmas ornaments – are hung from backpacks and belts. They give off a tinny jingle meant to scare off any bears in the area . . . unless they like Christmas music.
I always thought people with bear bells were a little paranoid. Then I came to Whistler. The site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Whistler – which is just two hours by car from Vancouver – isn’t exactly a rugged wilderness. In the swanky ski village, you’ve got your choice of five-star hotels, multiple sushi bars and plenty of alpine-chic clubs with techno music and antler chandeliers.
But just outside the village, the mountains close back in. A network of provincial parks links snow-covered peaks with glacial lakes and huge tracts of unsettled wilderness. All of which is great for hikers and also, apparently, for bears. Driving to a trailhead on the outskirts of town, I see my first black bear of the trip. It’s six feet from nose to tail, with a head the size of a toaster oven. As I drive by, it ambles up a highway embankment with the unhurried walk of an animal at the top of the food chain.
Mention “walking tour” and some travelers cringe. I understand. There are only so many narrow, cobbled streets I can wander down before I get bored and start thinking about lunch.
But with an elaborate network of seawalls and pedestrian walkways along its waterfront, Vancouver might convert even the staunchest anti-walker. Part of the appeal is the rawness of the landscape. The city’s “urban” walkways wind through old-growth forest and past beaches strewn with boulders, driftwood and even naked hippies. The other attraction is that, while the walk might feel at times like a backcountry trek, there are restaurants, bars and a few 7-11s along the way. [Read more…]
Vancouver enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s most attractive cities for a reason. The downtown is sandwiched between the Pacific and the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Mountains, with postcard vistas from most city blocks. But the amazing thing is how close the city is to some truly wild and relatively unexplored mountain landscapes. Mt. Seymour Provincial Park is about a thirty-minute car ride from downtown Vancouver. And while weather in the city is mild in May, Mt. Seymour – rising more than 4,000 feet above sea level – is still covered with towering drifts of snow at this time of year, some more than 30 feet deep. In other words, conditions are perfect for indulging your Arctic expedition fantasies . . . no special gear or expertise required. [Read more…]