A Tale of Two Canadian Cities

We take you through the best of Calgary and Vancouver

City Break

November 22, 2018

/ By / Calgary and Vancouver, Canada

India Outbound

November-December 2018

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(Clockwise) Calgary saddledome; Calgary tower; Calgary tower glass

Calgary saddledome

Grizzly bears and gourmet walks. Fabulous parks and friendly folks. We take you through the best of Calgary and Vancouver

Calgary, Alberta laid out a white carpet for me with snow on the first day of October. I got a white hat, a welcoming shower of snowflakes from the city. Calgary does that to you.

After flying nearly 16 hours from Mumbai to Toronto on Air Canada, I had expected to arrive in no shape to take on another four-hour flight to Calgary. Though I flew economy, it was a surprisingly comfortable flight, followed by a warm welcome by the White Hat Volunteers—a group of friendly people who meet and greet you at the airport.

I checked in at the Marriott Calgary Downtown, then walked across the road to the Calgary Tower, built in 1968 and located 191 metres above the downtown core. Standing on the glass floor of the Observation Deck, I took in the spectacular 360° view of the city streets and the majestic Rocky Mountains.

The wild ones

Calgary offers deep, transformative experiences. One that will stay etched in your memory is breakfast with the pandas at Calgary Zoo. Reach there at 7:30 am and you will find the four new inmates waddling around in a quiet enclosure. Nearby, a buffet breakfast is laid out and you can enjoy your morning cuppa among these gentle animals.

I was almost within handshaking distance with a bear—near enough to hear the pounding of my heart. These are big fellows here in Canada. Black bears, grizzly bears, and of course, polar bears. On the two hour drive to Banff, at the foot of the Rockies, you may see a grizzly limbering up as you drive by. No, you get no bear hugs.

(left-right): Gastown illustration; Calgary Zoo

(L-R): Gastown illustration; Calgary Zoo

Tasting the city

A walking tour of Inglewood, one of the oldest and most resilient neighbourhoods in Calgary; conducted by Alberta Food Tours, is a revelation. They take you to Bea’s, an organic store that carries all-natural, locally sourced produce. The Silk Route Spice Store serenades your senses with herbalicious aromas from distant lands. A member of the local Cree community introduces you to the Moonstone Creation Native Gallery that supports the indigenous heritage and crafts. Then there’s Knifewear, with its jaw-dropping range of knives used for haute cuisine. The tour rounds off with a delectable gourmet lunch at one of Calgary’s best, Rouge. Housed in an old historic, formerly residential property, the restaurant, rated as one of the top 60 in Canada, is owned and run by chefs Olivier Reynaud and Paul Rogalski, one of whom has in-laws named Ghosh in Kolkata. No, we did not exchange recipes for Bengali mustard fish! Inglewood is reflective of all that is strong in the Calgary culture. Residents who have lived there for many years, businesses that have reinvented themselves with the passage of time. There were lessons to be learnt and I did. Slowly, but surely, Canada was embracing me. My next stop – British Columbia.

Over to Vancouver

Vancouver, the city with a 47 pc population of Asian descent is regularly voted one of the top three livable cities in the world. The 196 languages including Punjabi, are spoken here, illustrate its truly international nature. I stayed at the Westin Grand in downtown Vancouver.

I was smitten as soon as I stepped into Gastown. In 1867, a boisterous sailor from Hull, England, nicknamed “Gassy Jack” opened a saloon for forestry workers on the shore of Burrard Inlet. It became so popular that a community built up around the place and called itself Gastown. Today it houses quaint curiosities such as the Steam Clock that blows steam every quarter of an hour, a deli named Peckinpah that offers crafted beer and an array of sandwiches, Sitar, an Indian restaurant, L’Abbatoir a butchery and grill, Army & Navy Stores and several blocks of walkable neighbourhood that is often traversed as part of food tours.

Granville Island is a favourite hangout for locals and visitors alike. It is the ultimate one-stop spot for everything from souvenirs, fresh produce, artisan chocolate and coffee, to drinking and dining. The food ranges from phad thai to fish and chips, from bagels to grilled salmon and a host of delicacies in the Public Market. Small boutiques and curio shops will enthrall you for hours. You need a day to savour the unique and enigmatic character.

(Clockwise from top left to right) Capilano suspension bridge; Granville Island is a favourite hangout for locals and visitors alike; Totem at Stanley park; Ziplining in the snow at Grouse Mountain, Vancouver; Charcut roast house, Calgary

(Clockwise from top left to right) Capilano suspension bridge; Granville Island is a favourite hangout for locals and visitors alike; Totem at Stanley park; Charcut roast house, Calgary; Ziplining in the snow at Grouse Mountain, Vancouver

The city’s star attraction: Stanley Park

A drive or a bicycle ride through Stanley Park really opens you up to the First Nations heritage, one that is deeply felt and honoured by the young nation of Canada, founded in 1867. The totem poles, which were erected by the independent nations’ folk stand in silent testimony to the wisdom of the ancestors, where the existence of humans was in complete harmony with that of the birds, animals, and trees. The lush green park with trees that are hundreds of years old, is one and half times larger than New York’s Central Park. Along the bay, you can see cruise ships coming into the harbour while on another side, you see the Lion’s Gate Bridge, a smaller version of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, leading to the West. Vancouver community was pioneered by the Guinness family (yes, of the beer and ale fame). Stanley Park features 1,000 acres of temperate rainforest, 27 kilometres of quiet forest trails, a 10 kilometre perimeter seawall, two swimmable beaches, the Vancouver Aquarium, and three restaurants, rose and rhododendron gardens, a miniature railway, a pitch-and putt golf course, and an open-air summer theatre, among other gems.

I went on a whale-watching trip leaving the Coal Harbor waterfront of Vancouver at noon and returned after five hours with my biggest story to tell, frozen in time with the pictures I captured on my camera. A whale of a time! The Prince of Whales Company runs a daily whale watching voyage into the Pacific Ocean, in a 94-seater yacht that covers about 109 nautical miles.

Black + Blue is a steakhouse in downtown Vancouver that deserves special mention for its Wagyu tenderloin, baked potatoes and braised Brussel sprouts. Their amazing wine cellar where I could pick out my favourite Sangiovese, an import from Chianti. Visit Max’s Deli for the pastrami sandwiches and cinnamon donuts. Vancouver also houses the world’s third largest Chinatown, while the refurbished Yaletown is a trendy place dotted with microbreweries and clubs.

The land that hugs you

My experience of Vancouver was enriched by my chauffeur, Don Jones, who drove me around the city, regaling me with the history and insights, which illuminated my perspective, manifold.

There is something about Canadians that makes you like them. There is something about the Canadian experience that makes it hard to say goodbye. During my stay in Canada I was transformed, unobtrusively, irrevocably; a sensually uplifting journey had just begun. I was embracing Canada, right back. I knew that I had to come back again. A good travel experience makes you happy. But this was extraordinary.

While in Canada, smell the freshly roasted coffee. Drink it. It opens your mind to a whole new world. Regarde, c’est vraiment magnifique! (See, it’s really beautiful!)

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