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A break from school typically brings with it dreams of sandy beaches, pre-summer tans and ultimately flying south. While many ASU students chose to escape the desert heat via a more tropical location for spring break, I decided to flee north for a cooler, rainier climate. So began a weeklong adventure exploring the great north with my family, discovering what the cities of Vancouver and Whistler had to offer.

Upon arrival to the U.S.-Canadian border, I began to realize I was in store for an unpredictable week in the weather department — gloomy gray skies loomed overhead and chilly weather kept my teeth chattering, my scarf and gloves on. No complaints arose, however: my parents, my brother and I are so used to the glaring sun of the Southwest, we welcomed the frosty relief.

Backed up on the outskirts of the city, in urban British Colombia’s notorious rush hour traffic, Vancouver’s skyline looked liked something out of a sci-fi novel. The faint light of dusk illuminated silvery skies above dozens of vast, glass structures. I found myself a bit apprehensive upon entering the ominous metropolis. Soon traveling slower onto city streets, however, I found relief. The city that seemed so dauntingly futuristic from afar cast a humble neighborhood feeling on its inner streets — local markets and restaurants, young professionals and hockey fans dominating its late-afternoon domain.

Our quarters for the next several days set us up for the true urban experience. The modern and chic dwelling of the waterfront Aquarius condo complex held with it everything your average luxury-seeker could want. While the residence seemed more ideal for a well-to-do bachelor or couple, it would serve its purpose for our family of four during our short stay.

The next several days posed an array of activities like dining and sight-seeing in Vancouver and Victoria, followed by a short stay in Whistler, where we would ski the same slopes as the 2010 Winter Olympics champions.

Where we went:

Granville Island Public Market, Vancouver — Just a quick ferry ride from our temporary home near the Marinaside Seawall, Granville Island Public Market is home to vendors from all over British Colombia — and the world. Local seafood vendors sat close to exotic fruit sellers and artists. My favorite stand was a local choclateire whose treats were as decadent looking as they tasted. We tried wasabi and green-tea infused chocolates, flavors as unique as the rest of the products we found at the market.

Chinatown, Vancouver — One of the largest Chinatowns in North America, Vancouver’s didn’t disappoint. We spent much of our time in tea shops, tasting and smelling all the different flavors. Chinatown certainly paid testament to the city’s diversity and culture.

Vancouver Aquarium — The famous aquarium located in Vancouver’s Stanley Park proved to be an educational and influential experience. Beluga Whale shows and dolphin exhibits were only a couple of the things we enjoyed during our stay. What really struck me about the aquarium was its commitment to conservation and the messages it sent to its visitors about how everyone can do their part to help these species thrive.

Stanley Park — Vancouver’s own version of Central Park boasted a six-mile bike trail that we enjoyed around much of the bay. We were able to see bits of Vancouver from a different light and experience the foggy day with locals as they ran and biked as well. I enjoyed seeing Lion’s Gate Bridge from a different view and the whole experience reminded me of biking down the coast in San Francisco.

Victoria, B.C. — An hour-long ferry ride from Vancouver’s outskirts, this capitol of British Columbia gave us a different vibe than the bustling streets of its neighboring city. We were welcomed into local shops and teahouses, enjoying the warm relief from the dampness outside. The highlight of Victoria was the Royal British Columbia Museum, worth every penny as we discovered the trials and tribulations of this Canadian province through interactive exhibits.

Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort — Hitting the Dave Murray Downhill, made famous after the 2010 Winter Olympics, was one of the highs of the snowboarding part of our trip to British Colombia. We were blessed with warm weather and fresh powder, which don’t always go hand in hand. The runs were a bit challenging, but left my family and I sore, flushed and accomplished afterward.

Where we dined:

Cactus Club Café — Home to Iron Chef winner and Executive Chef Rob Feenie, we knew we had to try Cactus Club Café out. Everything from the drinks to entrée menu sounded divine. I enjoyed the signature butternut squash ravioli and prawn dish that was based with a creamy wine sauce, and cleansed my pallet with the Cohiba, an in-house vodka drink made with muddled blackberries.

Re-Bar Modern Food — This vegetarian restaurant in Victoria, B.C. attracts travelers from all over the region with its delicious smoothies and famous almond burgers. I enjoyed a delicious tempeh and beet sandwich with a cup of lentil soup on the side.

Brioche Urban Bakery and Catering — By far the favorite dining place of the trip, Brioche sits quietly on Vancouver’s busy streets but brings a delicious Italian flavor to the community. On the menu was every type of pasta imaginable, savory soups, yummy paninis and quiche of the day. When I saw that the quiche of the day was vegetarian, I had to try it. I was pleasantly surprised at the rich flavor and I left completely satisfied.

La Rua — One of Whistler’s fine-dining experiences, La Rua posed a decadent, and expensive, menu of seafood, buffalo, duck and other rich cuisine. I kept it simple with a tasty cucumber-based salad and a creamy crab bisque, leaving the meat-lovers of my family to enjoy the chef’s signature creations.

My impression of Canada from my short stay in Vancouver was a positive one. Despite the dreary weather, which was quite opposite of anything we ever see in Phoenix, the people seemed very happy. Most residents own dogs, and the city is extremely pedestrian-friendly. That being said, I cannot wait to return to Canada or to Vancouver, and anticipate doing so in the future.


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