A Sentimental Aside, Before I Get to the Cool Travel Content
Children of immigrants will find this story familiar:
Your parents flee the country of their birth and the country of all their ancestors, and they move to the Western world. All their relatives who are able do the same, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of relatives. They don’t all move to the same place. Your family ends up in America, and their family ends up everywhere else: Australia, Europe, Canada. They mostly stick to English-speaking places, because they want their children to be fluent, and if that means those children can’t speak their parents’ first language at all, it’s a price worth paying to guarantee them a good future.
I was born in the USA, years after my parents immigrated, and we live near my father’s side of the family. My mom has numerous relatives she hasn’t seen in 20-30 years. Many of them live in Canada, and last week – for the first time in my life – we flew to British Columbia to visit them.
The experience was surreal. After years of only knowing my dad’s family, suddenly I’m surrounded by people with my mom’s features. There’s a great-uncle whose face is a dead ringer for my grandmother’s; cousins with the curly brown hair and the arched noses and the hazel eyes I share with my sisters; a first cousin once removed, who – as my mother exclaimed happily – still speaks Arabic with a Batloun accent.
I was thrilled to see them, surprised by how comfortable I found their company, and wistful all at once. There’s no guarantee I’d have a close relationship with them even if we lived in the same place, but I’ll never have the chance to know. I’ll only get to see these people every few years for the rest of my life, and that’s if I’m lucky.
But let’s not get too melancholy, here; I’m no good at it. Let me talk about what I know best: travel.
This family reunion was also an excuse to explore a little bit of Canada, and I have to say – you Canadians have got it good. British Columbia is beautiful, especially when you compare it to Florida. It’s not flat at all! There are mountains, forests thick as fur coats, clean blue lakes cradled in valleys.
We saw Alberta’s canola fields; we spent time in Banff and checked out the waterfalls, Lake Louise, one of the gondolas. During the scenic route to Vancouver, we stopped over in Kelowna, which – along with somehow being filled with cool Pokemon (I caught an Onix there!) – is a lush place of lake and mountain and vineyards. The only letdown: we didn’t see a single bear. That’s what we get for being a noisy group of gals with limited stamina for hiking and adventuring into the wilderness, I guess. At least I’ll always have the sight of gators peeking out at me from the neighborhood pond as a consolation prize.
The Highlights: My BC Top 3
1. Banff National Park
We only spent two nights in Banff and one full day, but we managed to cram a good amount of sightseeing and activities into that time. We were also fortunate in that the weather all day was clear and sunny.
My cousin recommended we do the Johnston Canyon hike, as it’s easy, relatively short (an hour and a half or less, roundtrip, depending on how slow you walk and how often you stop for selfies). The path is busy, so it’s best to go earlier, and involves a little bit of uphill climbing through forest and traversing catwalks wrapped around cliff edges. Along the way, you get to see both small and large waterfalls, as well as walls of trees towering over you and your fellow hikers. The water is beautifully clear, the falls thundering and foamy white.
After lunch, we made our way to Lake Louise, because it’s one of those sites you have to see. Its water is a vivid turquoise color, thanks to silt from the bedrock beneath the glacier draining into the lake. The sight from the shore is unforgettable: the still water framed by the jutting mountains, the glacier cradled in the dip between the peaks. The crowd on the shore is four or five people deep, but it’s easy to get away from the chaos – canoe rentals are available, and there’s only a small number of them on the lake at any given time.
This is an easy activity, something you can do even if you’ve never set foot in a canoe before. It can make your arms ache a little and I will admit that my sister & I never quite got the hang of steering, but to be in the middle of that lake, paddling toward a glacier, with the breeze and the electric blue water all around – it was a perfect day.
I could have spent an extra week in Kelowna on the strength of the Pokemon hunting opportunities alone. Did I mention the Onix I caught? And the the Rhyhorn, the Tauros, the boatloads of Meowths. Seriously, what was it about that town?
Kelowna is a small city or large town, depending on your perspective. It’s in the middle of nowhere, hugging the shore of Lake Okanagan (which is almost 84 miles long). Its main features are the fruit and veggie farms surrounding it, the high-quality wineries, and Knox Mountain.
You can hike (or drive, as we did) up the mountain to reach two lookouts, from which you get pretty views of city and lake. The wineries are lovely, too, for a different kind of scenery. Even if you don’t drink, the architecture is gorgeous – bright white buildings overlooking the lake, surrounded by sprawling green vineyards and carefully maintained gardens.
There are also a couple of honey farms. I’ll eat raw honey with pretty much everything, so we had to make a detour there.
I’ll be honest: this is not my favorite city, but then again, I rarely enjoy visiting cities while on vacation. I know my recent enamored writings on Tokyo might make you believe otherwise, but that was the exception, not the rule.
Still, Vancouver is a nice place. It’s surrounded by mountains, forest, ocean, and filled with sprawling parks and gardens, so it feels much less claustrophobic than most cities.
A good place to start the day is the lookout tower. I know lookouts are kind of tourist traps, but I liked this one – the top of the tower is a round room with glass along its circumference, and below each window pane is a little placard pointing out one of the sights visible from that spot, and giving some facts or history about it. This is a great way to plan out a route or itinerary for the day, figure out what spots you’re interested in seeing and where they’re located.
We checked out Robson Street, Gastown, Stanley Park, the Granville market, but my favorite area was Deep Cove. It’s a small neighborhood to the north, located beside a bay that’s popular for kayaking, and it has a quirky town with boutique shops and some restaurants. We ate at Honey Doughnuts, which is one of the best breakfast places I’ve ever been to, honestly.
Speaking of food, Vancouver is also known for having fantastic sushi! The food bloggers directed me to Miku Restaurant, which is on the pricey side but delivers on quality. Thank you, food bloggers.
Our rushed little trip barely gave us time to even scratch the surface of all British Columbia has to offer, let alone Canada as a whole. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use family as an excuse to come back sometime soon.