Western Canada: Cowboys & Sushi (World)

I don’t know what the hell it’s about really. Because it’s pretty far removed from my reality. I didn’t grow up on the prairie; I didn’t learn to rope a steer or ride bareback or bathe in a river when I was a kid. My uncles and cousins and father didn’t talk to me about the rodeos they participated in or the small towns they traveled to. The closest I ever came to a lariat was when I once interviewed Keifer Sutherland at my house in the Hollywood Hills and he pulled one out of the trunk of his car to show me how he could lasso my feet as I walked in front of him. He did, to my disbelief, and then he gave me the rope so I could corral my wife when she got ornery. It’s hanging on the hat rack ever since.

If you’re going to Calgary to check out the Stampede, then you’ll probably want to try those prairie oysters and buy a hat and see the Glenbow Museum and then Heritage Park, which takes you back in time to when store owners traded guns and groceries for beaver and bear pelts, and candy sold for a penny. What got my attention at the Heritage was Gasoline Alley, a barn which housed Ron Carey’s rare collection of old Red Crown, Standard Oil, Red Hat, Super Gloco, Conoco, and Flying A gas pumps and some fantastic cars, like the 1907 Brush Model B Runabout, the 1909 McIntyre Touring Model 30, the 1914 Grant Model M Roadster, the 1926 Shell tank truck, and the 1930 Austin Model 7 Roadster.  Carey, who is still alive, made his money with some oil drilling bit, and put a lot of his profits into the result of what those bits dug up.

After you spend a few days in Calgary, rent a car and drive the hour and a half to Banff. If you play golf, stop along the way to play a round at Silver Tip, formerly known as “extreme golf” because it’s so damn hard, or drive to Kananaskis where there are two unbelievably scenic courses (Mt. Kidd and Mt. Lorette) to play, with the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop and enough sand traps to make you wonder whether to add a blanket, umbrella and picnic basket to your bag. In Banff, which is part of a national park, you can ski in the winter, hike or golf at the beautiful and challenging golf course (be on the lookout for elk) the rest of the year, and buy plenty of souvenirs in this touristy town. You can stay in the castle-like Banff Fairmont Hotel or cuddle at the more intimate and luxurious Juniper boutique hotel at the base of Mt. Norquay.  Two days in Banff is enough, and then treat yourself to the train ride of your life, through the Rockies and along the spectacular rivers to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer. Pay the extra $700 and take the Gold Leaf service, where you will sit in a double decker car, with windows that extend to the roof, and five-star dining down below. Each car has five people to serve you. The food is scrumptious and plentiful, the beer, wine, liquor and soft drinks are just a request away, and someone will surely point out every eagle and osprey sitting in their nests atop telephone poles or pine trees. You’ll see deer, coyotes, and the occasional elk, moose, or bear along the way. You’ll see glaciers between the mountains, kayakers and river rafters waving as you go by, and even friendly women who might lift their t-shirts to give you a free glimpse at something you wouldn’t expect from a Canadian woman.  But then, Canadians are fun loving, freewheeling people. So why not?

The train takes two days, with an overnight stop in Kamloops (where your luggage will be waiting for you in your hotel room), a town not noteworthy for anything other than it’s the one stop between Banff and Vancouver. To be fair, we did take in a pleasant dinner and show at the Two River Junction, but I wonder what one would do if you had to spend two nights in Kamloops? Perhaps write a country song with that as a title.

Once in cosmopolitan Vancouver, there is plenty to do. There’s Stanley Park, where you can visit the aquarium and see totem poles, rent a bike or take a horse drawn trolly one hour tour.  There’s the surrounding bay where you can go sailing for three hours (which we did, on a sailboat called Simplicity). There’s the wonderful museum at the University of British Columbia, truly worth a half day of your time. Right on Robson Street, in the heart of the shopping district, is the Art Museum, which always has interesting exhibits (Rodin was featured when we were there—the entire first floor showed his work along with a film about his Gates of Hell which was never poured in bronze until years after his death). The city is sectioned off into Chinatown, Gas Town, Yale Town, Heritage District, West End, Robson, Granville Island, and each area has something to offer. I’ve been in Vancouver on a number of occasions, often to interview an American movie star working on a film (Halle Berry was finishing up her Bond movie when I went to see her; Al Pacino was making Insomnia). I make it a point to visit the Tilley store on Granville Street (they make the best non-cowboy sun protective hats out of cotton, nylon and hemp). I’ve stayed at three Fairmont hotels: the Hotel Vancouver, the Waterfront, and the one at the airport (so convenient) and at two of the three most hip boutique hotels, the Listel and the Opus (the third is the Wedgewood). You can’t go wrong at any of them.  The Listel is on Robson and features art in every room and O’Doul’s restaurant where the breakfasts are scrumptious and reasonable and the dinners feature a jazz band. The Opus on Davie Street in Yale Town has become a meeting place for the young and the celebrated.

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