Friday, September 4, 2009

Inside Vancouver

I just wrote about the Fair at the PNE-–and its many, many attractions—but I felt like the famous West Coast Logging Show deserved a post all on its own. I mean, if there is one show that epitomizes the B.C. heritage of the Fair, this is the one.

Darren Dean carving a chair out of a log at the West Coast Logging Show

Darren Dean carving a chair out of a log at the West Coast Logging Show

Created in Squamish, B.C., in 1982, the West Coast Lumberjack Show is an action-packed display of logging sports—including axe throwing, pole climbing, and log rolling—that hark back to British Columbia’s early logging history. It wows kids and adults alike, and, though it has toured the world since its inception, it always seems most at home right here in Vancouver. (Two of the current show’s stars are from Maple Ridge!)

Log rolling at the West Coast Logging Show

Log rolling at the West Coast Logging Show

Keep an eye out for the dramatic pole climbing; you won’t believe how fast these guys can move!

Pole climbing at the West Coast Logging Show

Pole climbing at the West Coast Logging Show

The difficult springboard chop at the West Coast Logging Show

The difficult springboard chop at the West Coast Logging Show

The forty minute show is free with admission to the Fair, runs three times daily, and is simply not to be missed! (And if you’re old enough to remember it from childhood: Yeah, it’s still that good.)

Toronto-based travel writer and National Post columnist Amy Rosen does a nice turn around our fair city in her recent “My Vancouver” article in Air Canada’s En Route magazine.

The bit about bumping into “Man in Motion” Rick Hansen–naked, and in a spa no less–is particularly worth a click. Check it out!

You know summer is ending when Labour Day is closing in (sob!), which also means the end to one of Vancouver’s best-loved summer traditions: the Fair at the PNE.

Fair at the PNE

Fair at the PNE

I really can’t think of a better way to spend the long weekend—and summer’s last official days—than at the Fair; and, believe me, there is so much to do there that a long weekend is barely enough time to get a taste of it all!

If you’ve ever been to the Fair at the PNE, you know how amazing it is. It’s no mystery why travelers come from all over B.C. and the Pacific Northwest (and even farther away) to spend their vacation here: there is, very literally, something for everyone. All ages will love the rides, the agriculture exhibits and farm animals, the games, the food—everything from scones to tacos to the best fish and chips imaginable—and the live shows.

This year’s headliners include the enormously popular Superdogs and West Coast Logging Show—shows perfect for the whole family—as well as Summer Night Concerts, Celtic Legends Irish dancers, the adult-oriented DJ-party After Dark, and special, musical performances by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Superdogs live at the Fair at the PNE

Superdogs live at the Fair at the PNE

Chase, co-owner and host of Superdogs, told me that this summer’s shows at the Fair have doubled in size since last year, with the crowd-pleaser selling out shows to audiences of 300,000! That’s not surprising, given how much people love these dogs!

Something else I love: The old-fashioned traditions that the Fair keeps alive, like spun-on-the-spot cotton candy and freshly made little donuts and, of course, sno-cones. (I believe I’ve spoken of my adoration for sno-cones before.)

Spinning cotton candy at the Fair at the PNE

Spinning cotton candy at the Fair at the PNE

And the rides! The Fair has over 50 rides, including Playland’s world-famous wooden roller coaster, the 100-foot free-fall Drop Zone (not for the faint of heart—or those who’ve had too much cotton candy), and one I loved as a kid, the Pirate.

One of Playland's most popular mid-way ride, the Pirate

One of Playland's most popular mid-way ride, the Pirate

The Fair at the PNE runs through September 7, 2009.

Have childhood memories—or other cherished memories—of the Fair at the PNE? Please share!

A new company from Vancouver Whale Watch, Fastboat Adventures, is offering up high-octane sightseeing for those who want a little thrill with their tour of the sights. With two tours by 12-seater zodiacs, Fastboat Adventures will whiz guests by water around the city sights, or up Indian Arm for a different perspective on the city and the wilderness that surrounds it. I recently had the opportunity to take the Indian Arm adventure, and it was definitely my kind of tour!


Donning bright red life saver suites, we met our captain and naturalist and boarded the boat, and we were off. We cruised down Coal Harbour, passed the float planes and newly expanded convention centre, chased after a cruise ship departing Canada Place, and headed to the wilderness.

Fast Boat Adventures

Notable highlights were spotting seals (including a mom and cub we got really close to), discovering thousands of jellyfish by the powerhouse at Buntzen Lake (apparently they love the mix of fresh water and saline), getting within arm’s length of a waterfall, and coming back to the city under a beautiful sunset.


Fast Boat Adventures

It was a great way to get an appreciation of Metro Vancouver by water, and I’m sure the city tour is just as exhilarating. Who doesn’t like to go fast?

Fast Boat Adventures

With a new Amtrak Cascades line running – bringing the Portland (and Seattle) to Vancouver route up to twice a day – it’s never been easier or prettier to get between the urban centres of the Pacific Northwest. A usual car-addict, I wanted to try out the trip on a weekend jaunt to Seattle to see what all the fuss is about.

Immediately, the appeal is obvious. Despite an early morning (the train departs at 6:40 am), as soon as you’re settled on-board you’re able to relax. The seats are comfortable, wide and cushy (the only big difference between coach and business class is a wider armrest), the service is friendly, and the views – the views are definitely better than your typical highway fare.

Water views on Amtrak

Water views on Amtrak

Cruising through Vancouver’s suburbs, we traveled along the Westminster Quay, before heading south along the beaches, docks and beautiful homes of White Rock.

Passing the border, we stopped for a mere 12 minutes in Blaine, WA, for the border patrol to get on board and check our papers. As someone who’s been stuck in weekend border traffic of up to four hours, this was infinitely preferable!

Rounding the bend on the rails

Rounding the bend on the rails

Bringing breakfast back from the on-board Bistro (the usual coffees and pastries, plus oatmeal, berry cobbler, quiche and sandwiches), my seatmate and I settled down to watch the world go by. While the drive down can be ostensibly quicker (the train takes 4 hours), the experience really isn’t comparable.

Driving down the highway, you pass by fields, truck stops, gas stations, and lots and lots of other cars. Taking the train down, you’re alongside the water for 99% of the trip, so you pass by beaches, and docks, and marinas, and seaside groupings of houses. It really is beautiful.

Beachside Travel

Beachside Travel

For those who like a little more activity than watching the world go by, movies are played in the cars, plus there are power outlets for personal DVD players and laptops, and there are tables adjacent to the Bistro where you can play cards or swap tales. As one family traveling the trip put it “there’s more space to spread out, more things to do, and more interesting scenery to watch.”

Relaxing on Amtrak - Newspapers and powerports

Relaxing on Amtrak - Newspapers and powerports

Taking the evening train to return to Vancouver, the sunset views are equally staggering. Customs are cleared at the station in Vancouver, which is infinitely preferable to waiting in a long border line up at the end of a weekend.

Sunset Views on the way to Vancouver

Sunset Views on the way to Vancouver

All in all, I think a fellow passenger summed it up best – “I could drive, but I’d rather start my vacation early.” Learn more about Amtrak Cascades online.

If you’re heading down to Seattle for the weekend, the trip is a no brainer. Staying overnight? The Fairmont Olympic is the place to be, and where I stayed on my weekend jaunt. Coming up to Vancouver by train? Check out all these Vancouver hotels to make the most of your car-free getaway.


Voted Vancouver’s Best Arts Festival five years in a row by Georgia Straight readers, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival is famous for offering the year’s most diverse and eclectic (and funny!) sources of live entertainment.

Fringe performances run the gamut of artistic innovation with pieces from local, national and international artists at all levels, from seasoned veterans to emerging talent. And with tickets only $10 – $12, it’s easy to take a chance and see something you wouldn’t normally try. (That’s the best part!)

As B.C.’s largest theatre festival, this year’s event has over 400 performances by more than 65 different groups at some of Vancouver’s best theatres, including Granville Island Stage, Performance Works, and the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.

Performances include The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, directed by Vancouver’s Jeremy Waller and starring locals Alicia Novak and Darren Baquist as Ophelia and Hamlet, last year’s 2008 Fringe favourite The Seven Lives of Louis Riel, by local playwright Ryan Gladstone, and the latest offering from Sticky Fingers Productions, Lavignia: a Modern Fairy Tale of Gigantic Proportions, about a giant girl who wants to dance.

The Vancouver International Fringe Festival runs from September 9 – 20, 2009; Pick of the Fringe runs September 24 – 27, 2009.

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