Hello Canada (World)

We first discovered Tojo’s three years ago, recommended by someone who knew how much we liked Japanese food. “He invented the California roll,” was how our friend tried to pique our interest. That didn’t exactly push my wife Hiromi’s buttons, she being Japanese and a bit of a purist when it comes to such things. But we tried it and came away believers. We returned to Tojo’s the following year and got to know Tojo. This time around, I called ahead and asked if Tojo would be willing to allow us to spend the day with him as he selected his fish. Suffice it to say, it was the perfect way to get out of our heads and into the head of a true sushi master. (Tojo was such an interesting chef I wrote a separate article about our day with him.)

I’ve never had a problem choosing a place to stay in Vancouver, simply because experience has taught me you can’t make a bad choice, no matter where you stay! I’ve stayed at the Fairmonts in mid-town, by the cruise ships, and at the airport; at the Four Seasons and the Pan Pacific; at the boutique hotels like the Listel, the Opus, and the Wedgewood. In fact, I make a point to stay at a different hotel every time I visit the city. This time around I chose the Metropolitan, which is slightly larger than a boutique hotel, with 180 rooms, but not quite on the scale of the nearby Hotel Vancouver or Four Seasons.  The Met is a block away from the Art Gallery on Robson, which is always my first stop because it’s a 4-story museum that can satisfy your soul in less than two hours (previous exhibits brought me Rodin and the Haida First Nation art; the current exhibit was a show from Monet to Dali and the innovative avant-garde Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping). Halle Berry recently stayed in one of the luxury suites at the Metropolitan, as has Jessica Alba, Mel Gibson and Tina Turner. The staff is so accommodating that if you’re going to stay for any length of time in their $3500-a-day two-story suite, they’ll refurnish it to your liking: changing couches, bed posts, kitchen appliances, even adding extra big screen TVs and a television in the bathroom.  But if Mel or Jessica or Halle want to go swimming, they’ll have to use the same indoor pool the rest of us use on the third floor.

Besides eating at Tojo’s, we ate at Zin, part of the Pan Pacific Hotel on Robson for lunch, and at Cin Cin’s for dinner. Since we put our taste buds in Tojo’s hands, I suggested to Hiromi that we do the same at some of the better restaurants we’d be eating at. So we asked if there was a tasting menu, and then let them bring us the best of what the chef had to offer. This took the onus off our trying to decide between salmon and halibut, between ribs and steak, and between red or white wine.  The tasting menu would give us a little of everything, including wines that would go best with each dish.  At Cin Cin we wound up drinking five glasses of wine, tasting five dishes (tuna crudo, ravioli of artichoke and goat cheese, fillet of halibut, grilled lamb sirloin, and vanilla crème brulee), for the reasonable price of $89 for the food and $65 for the wine pairings.  By the third glass I had forgotten about my celebrity book and by the fourth about all the other frustrations back home.  It was only our second day and first city in Canada and already our reason for going was working.

On our third day we took a taxi to the train station and boarded the three hour train to Whistler, site of the 2010 winter Olympics. Why drive when you can be served breakfast and drinks, listen to a guide tell you tales of the areas you pass through, and enjoy the scenery along the way?  There is definitely something to be said about train travel and we were not alone in our thinking: the train was crowded with tourists from all over the world on package deals. Most of them went off to stay at some of the larger hotels like the Chateau Whistler and the Four Seasons, which are like miniature cities filled with high end shops, quality art, and four-star restaurants.  But we went for something smaller, the Summit Lodge, mainly because of the independent Taman Sari Indonesian spa located on the ground floor. This was the only spa of its kind in British Columbia and I knew Hiromi would appreciate a little Javanese pampering. I had read about this spa, which offered papaya enzyme body polishes, coconut cream hair and scalp treatments, volcano body wraps, deep tissue massages, and aromatherapy foot and hand treatments.

One could see why the Summit was a good choice for skiers and partygoers because the rooms came equipped with kitchens and it allowed for pets. Not being a skier myself, I prefer going on vacation during the warmer months, to take advantage of nature wearing shorts and a tee-shirt rather than thermal underwear and wool gloves.

“You should go ziptrekking,” the girl at the front desk suggested. “Have you ever tried it?”

“Haven’t a clue what you’re talking about,” I said.

“It’s like flying through the forest, over rivers,” she said.

“And you pay for this privilege?”

“It’s very popular,” she said. “It really focuses your attention.”

Being in need of focusing—or refocusing–I didn’t need to hear more. We walked into the village to the Carleton Lodge where the Ziptrek Ecotours was located and signed up for a three hour hundred dollar tour. “Do you have any idea what you’re getting us into?” Hiromi asked.

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