I’ve been to Vancouver once before, but this time was different. I was between living in two countries the last time I ventured to this West Coast Canadian City. You see, I found myself moving from England to New Zealand in 2011 and decided to take a longer way to get there, from London to Toronto to Alberta to British Columbia to Hawaii to Australia and then ending up in New Zealand for a year. So, I didn’t spend much time focusing much on any particular leg of the trip, so much as all of it collectively.
As you can tell, travelling is one of my biggest passions. It all started with my grandmother. Her wanderlust began by leading her to move from the UK to Canada in her early 20’s. But she never stopped exploring for the rest of her life. Even when my grandfather was on his death bed, she had to rush back to be with him before he passed, because she was busy on safari in Africa. The best part about her curiosity for the world was that she decided to take each one of her family members with her on at least one of her annual adventures. Travel was her passion and I definitely inherited every strain of that bug. Every time she saw a plane flying overhead, she would look up, wave at them and say “goodbye you lucky people!” Now, I can’t help but do the same, in her honour.
Life can get overwhelming and you can easily lose sight of the things that matter most – unless you can actively find ways to remind yourself of them. So, when I could feel that all too familiar pang in my gut, telling me that it was time to get the eff on a plane somewhere for some good ol’ fashioned exploring, I listened. In came Morgan Freeman’s voice, replacing the annoying one in my head (the one that can’t actually be what my voice sounds like because, ew) whispering “Go West, Catherine… Go West”. So West I went. I mean, if the make-believe Morgan Freeman in your head tells you to do something, you do it, right?
Solo-travel is such a great way to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and to learn new things about yourself along the way. Upon arrival in Vancouver, I hopped onto the Sky Train and made my way to the Waterfront. It’s so easy to get around! A quick cab ride (or a 20 minute walk along the water) and I arrived at the Westin Bayshore. Located downtown and right on the water in Coal Harbour, the hotel boasts views of the distant mountains, the coastline and Stanley Park.
I knew that a visit to the West Coast was sure to include lots of healthy options. And for someone who is a certified health professional, this is so important for me! The Westin Bayshore has something called a RunWESTIN® program, where you can book a complimentary running concierge who takes you out on a guided 3- or 5-mile run. Area running maps, towels and water bottles are also provided.
Not into running, but still want to get a workout in? Don’t worry because there are lots of options! They have guided 60 minute outdoor yoga practices that run in the summer months, a wonderful fitness studio with a selection of New Balance apparel available as part of an on-side gear lending program (including shorts, shirts, socks and shoes), or guaranteed 8-hour bike rentals to explore the city or the trails in Stanley Park. With so many choices, it’s easy to stay healthy while on the go.
Okay, so maybe I lost some of you there. So if you’re like “Hey Catherine – what the heck! I don’t give a hoot about that while I’m trying to get my vacation on” and you’re just not into the whole fitness aspect while travelling, but still wanna get your butt on a bike anyways (and maybe have a drink or two or ten along the way). Well, the Westin Bayshore has developed a program offering 5 themed bike tours ranging from a Craft Beer Tour to a Vancouver Beach Tour, complete with directions, maps and bike rental information. Drinking on a bicycle, yep.
When I got to my room, the first thing that struck me was the view. I whipped open my balcony doors and took a long deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh mountain air. On one side, I could see the harbour in the distance, along the waterfront. On the other, views of the edge of Stanley Park, known for being a green oasis in the middle of the urban landscape of Vancouver. A 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest, it’s full of trails for walking, biking or running, local wildlife, historical landmarks, beautiful beaches and even great places to grab a bite to eat!
After a quick tour of the hotel and a meeting with the Concierge, I learned that there was so much exciting stuff to do and about just how accessible it was to get wherever I wanted to venture. Taking some of the stress out of planning or getting around to the places where you want to go, allows so much more time to explore and just enjoy your trip. I opted for the hop on hop off bus tour with the Vancouver Trolley Company, which stops right in front of the hotel. That way, I could get a tour of the city but get on or off wherever I felt it.
Note: I picked the rainiest day of life to do this tour, so I stayed on a lot more than I got off. But trust me, it was still a ton of fun to learn all about Vancouver and discover new parts of the city. My favourite parts of the tour were the stops in Stanley Park, Yaletown, Chinatown and Gastown.
I opted to hop off of the trolley at Granville Island. I remember how special my first visit there was, so all of the memories came flooding back at me all at once. And instantly, I knew my way around and where I wanted to go. Touted as Vancouver’s Town Square, Granville Island is where locals and visitors come together to be inspired. An island in the middle of a city, it’s buzzing with shops, studios, galleries, cafes, live musicians, theatres, restaurants and even a unique public market filled with fresh food and treasures.
Now, food is a pretty big deal for me. I literally think about my next meal while eating my current one. So, it’s no surprise that I was thinking about all of the seafood I was going to eat before I even got to Vancouver. As I mentioned before, it’s so easy to find healthy options, so I grabbed a fellow Nutritionist girlfriend of mine and we headed to Yaletown for some fresh sushi. Shizen Ya was our top choice because everything is organic, they use brown rice, are MSG-free and vegetarian-friendly. I highly recommend that you pay them a visit and order the Tuna Tataki Sashimi – it will change your life.
Now listen, once you’ve eaten well, you’ve done some solid exploring and have also found exciting ways to get in some fitness on your trip – it’s time to unwind. And I mean really unwind. What better way to to relax than to book yourself in for an afternoon at the spa? Oh but not just any spa – an Ayurvedic Spa. With this 5000 year old ancient Indian healing technique blended into Western healing philosophies, the Vida Spa has perfected a unique experience that nurtures the mind and the body.
A true escape from the every day stresses of life, the Vida Spa at the Westin Bayshore boasts 11 treatment rooms, 2 couples suites, an infrared sauna, pedicure and manicure bars and a private relaxation room with a double sided fireplace. I decided to go for the Ayurvedic Massage, where I was first provided a form to fill out to determine my Dosha (which I already knew, because hi – I studied Ayurvedic Medicine and I love it). After 90 minutes of one of the best massages of my life, and completely covered head to toe in healing essential oils, I went on to have an express facial to rejuvenate my skin after travelling in a tube in the sky with recycled air for several hours (AKA the not-so-fresh airplane I took to get to Vancouver).
With that wonderful end to my stay at the Westin Bayshore, I said farewell and headed off to Victoria for a couple of days. I can’t wait until I’m back in Vancouver again! A little birdy told me that there are a lot of renovations going into the hotel and that big things are in order. So, who’s coming with me next time? Yoga, sushi and craft beer on a bike, anyone?
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Catherine Sugrue, CNP
Photos by Catherine Sugrue
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