Thursday, June 30, 2016: Whistler, British Columbia
Touring the Winter Olympics Site of 2010.
We awoke well refreshed and ready to hit the road again on our little adventure in Canada’s beautiful British Columbia. We showered, packed, and made our way down to the lobby to pick up the free airport shuttle that got us to the airport so that we could pick up the Budget car that we had rented for the next 24 hours. It was a painless process to get there and get our car organized and within an hour, we were browsing around the Designer Outlets that were very handily located right at the airport so that Llew could pick up a few clothes for the day ahead as he was still in the ones in which he had traveled. Banana Republic made it really easy and since there were special Canada Day sales, he really did get some good stuff for very little money. Now, in the event (God Forbid) that his bag has not arrived by the end of today, he will have some clothes to wear—he will be reimbursed by American Airlines upon submission of receipts.
We then hit the road from Vancouver to Whistler, the little ski resort in the north that catapulted to fame in 2010 when it was chosen as the site for the Winter Olympics. With Llew at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla and with me navigating (yes, using an old fashioned map as we did not have a GPS and did not wish to use pricey data roaming in Canada), we were off. We did not realize that we would have to go through two crowded, busy downtown areas (Vancouver Island and West Vancouver) before we hit the 99 North highway that took us directly to Whistler. Still, I was not complaining. We had no agenda, no deadlines, no urgency to get anywhere and, meanwhile, we had the leisurely chance to admire the beautiful city that is Vancouver with its many islands, bridges, quaint old neighborhoods and snazzy new skyscrapers.
And once we did hit the highway, the Pacific Coast road was simply spectacular and reminded us a lot of the travels we had undertaken, a few years ago, in the Canadian Rockies. In fact, the Whistler mountain range is merely an extension of the Rockies—so the scenery was similar. Except that here instead of just mountains, you also have the splendor of the ocean which the road hugs all the way to the north. The sea is punctuated by glacial islands that broke off many millennia ago from the northern ice-caps that comprise Alaska so that fjords and islands dot the sea. We saw many sea craft in the water including a couple of small cruise ships—so we know what lies in store for us tomorrow as we pull out of Vancouver Island and make our way on the cruise liner to Alaska. It is little wonder that this drive is considered one of the most beautiful in the world and we savored every second of it. We stopped once for Brunch in a very exclusive community--that reminded us of Malibu in California--where we picked up lobster rolls and chicken salad in a local Safeway (supermarket) which we ate while on the road.
I had not found the time to read up on Whistler before leaving home—so everything about the town was news to us. Apart from knowing that it is pretty and situated in the mountains, I knew little. What we found out is that it is essentially an Olympics Athletes Village that has been converted into a residential and touristic community. The Athletes Quarters are now private condos, the ground floors of which are bars, restaurants and souvenirs shops. We parked our car in one of the public parking lots and began our exploration of the two villages—there is an Upper Village and Whistler Village--on foot—which is the only way to go. We saw skiers making their way up the mountains but as there was no snow in sight, I have no idea where they were headed! A stop at the Visitors Center equipped us with a map and using it we negotiated our way around the little maze of cute streets—all of which look pretty much the same!
There is a Sea to Sky Gondola that you could ride to be whisked up to the top of the mountain but having done this in Telluride, Colorado, only last year, we did not feel tempted to do it again. Instead we continued strolling about at random. The place was crowded, it was unusually hot and dry and, before long, we gravitated to an ice-cream parlor called Cows to get sundaes that we ate in the shade of a few trees. A bit more strolling took us to the landmark five Olympic Rings where we posed for the mandatory picture before we went in search of the Library—hoping to find an internet connection which did not work—and to the local Museum. There we watched a short film on Whistler’s development in only a century from a nondescript farming community to the pricey mountain resort it has become with million dollar housing.
We stopped for a really reasonably priced lunch at a place called El Furniture Warehouse where we had burgers with salad and fries and then more ice-cream before we got into our car to drive further north to the little settlement of Pemberton where, away from the tourist rush, the snow-capped mountains of the West spoke directly to us. As soon as we entered the Pemberton Hotel, we found that Llew’s bag had arrived (much to our relief—well done, American Airlines)—but when we attempted to settle our bill, Llew discovered that he had left his credit card behind in the restaurant. Well, back into the car we piled to get to Whistler where his card was held safely for him and retrieved, with much relief, before we headed back to the Pemberton Hotel in what was once a tiny mining town. As both of us were jetlagged and sorely missing sleep, we had a very early night.
We realized that Whistler is like all the other ski resorts we have visited—such as Telluride and Stowe, Vermont: busy in the winter, pretty in the summer, but really not distinctive in any way.