Sloping off to Canada; Margo Campbell Got a Taste of the High Life during a Trip to Vancouver in Beautiful British Columbia

Article excerpt

AS SOON as you arrive in Vancouver, you know you're somewhere special. High-rise buildings nestle between a backdrop of a snow-capped mountain range with the southern edge of the city touching the Pacific Ocean.

As well as smart shops, relaxing bars and fashion-conscious locals with small dogs (no dog-leashes to be seen), there is also a quaint part of Vancouver called Gastown, which is in sharp contrast to the modern shopping area of Seymour Street only a few minutes' walk away.

Worth a look in Gastown is the clock in Water Street which operates by steam. When it strikes the hour, it produces great gusts of steam as well as a merry little jingle.

A walk around Chinatown is full of interesting shops and displays. About 30 per cent of the population of Vancouver are Chinese - many families came to Vancouver to build the railways in years gone by.

Only 10 per cent of Vancouver residents are native born and this cultural mix gives the city a really cosmopolitan feel.

Try some of the smart restaurants along the sea wall. But when eating outside beware of the wind, we watched our $20 note - worth pounds 10! - blow off the table and into the ocean. We then understood why the waitress presented our bill with a shell on top.

A good way to get round the city is by tourist trolley bus. For approximately pounds 10, you can jump on and off at any of the 16 tourist stops on the circular route, so there's no need to stick to rigidly timed coach tours of the city.

If you've got time to spare, take the seabus over to North Vancouver (pounds 1.30) and visit Lonsdale Quay market. The best market area, however, is Granville Island. It has wonderful craft shops and dining areas with large markets filled with interesting foods and, like all of Vancouver, it's incredibly clean.

The market area feels more like a small shopping mall with food stalls running through the middle.

If you would like to see a bit further afield, coach tours take away the worry about getting lost or missing something interesting.

Try a tour to Vancouver Island, known locally for those 'newly wed and nearly dead' - mainly because the house prices are so much cheaper than in Vancouver.

The one-and-a-half hour journey is lovely, and the ferry sails between lots of small islands with no shortage of bald-headed eagles flying above and sea lions swimming alongside.

If you are lucky you might see a whale. They must have been having their tea while I was sailing.

Heading into the island's capital town of Victoria, I couldn't help but admire the town hall, which was very solid and ornate. Victoria was festooned with flowering hanging baskets which gave the town a real summer holiday feel.

In contrast to Vancouver, Victoria has an 'old world' air to it - it felt like stepping back 100 years. Two smashing museums, if you've the time to have a look, are the Maritime Museum and the very modern Royal British Columbia Museum, which has an IMAX cinema.

The RBC Museum has an extensive First Nations exhibition on the native peoples of Canada, showing their way of life, which is undergoing a new awareness with the modern inhabitants of Canada.

Those who like gardens should drive through the Saanich Peninsula to Butchart Gardens. It's full of colour, with imaginative displays and there are 50 acres of floral fantasy to enjoy.

The gardens were created from a disused limestone quarry by the owner's wife and set up in 1904. My only complaint was the usual one with coach tours - there just wasn't enough time to see it all.

Vancouver Island has an advantage over the mainland in that it doesn't get quite so much rain.

If you prefer something more adventurous, head off to Whistler mountain range, the third largest ski resort in the world.

I took a tourist train, the Caribou Prospector, with BC Rail, to travel on what is claimed to be the most scenic train journey in Canada. …