2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver: Seven days and counting…

Today’s Communique:

Wow, where did the time go? In seven days I will be leaving for the 2010 Winter Olympics. This is going to be my first Olympics ever and I’m shooting hockey. Can’t go wrong there. I’m pretty stoked and appreciative that Gary Hershorn and REUTERS thought enough of me to extend the invite.

So mark this as my first Oly post and I will try to keep up with this throughout the Games. Now, since I doubt anyone wants to hear about by winter clothing escapades I’ve decided to post some photos from a trip I took to Vancouver for a Pre-Olympic meeting.  My wife joined me later in the trip to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. She’s also a journalist and I have included a article she wrote for her paper, The Ledger.

If you’re a fan of hockey, snowboarding, figure skating or any of those wintertime sports, you may be heading to Vancouver, B.C., for the Winter Olympics this month.

The city, Canada’s third largest, is expecting thousands of visitors.

If you’d like to be one of them but are scared off by the buzz that most of the hotels and events are sold out, don’t be worried. There are probably tickets left, say city spokespeople. Check on the Olympic Committee Web site, vancouver2010.com, for tickets.If you can score tickets, start thinking about what you’re going to do between Olympics events.

“A lot of people think coming to Vancouver for the Olympics is just about the sporting events,” said Wendy Underwood, spokeswoman for Tourism Vancouver. “Really, there’s just more to look forward to than that.”

The visitors bureau is recommending not taking in more than one sporting event per day, especially when you factor in transportation and getting in and out of the arenas.So in your remaining time, here are 10 must-dos while you’re in the city:

Gastown. Take a couple of hours and stroll along cobblestone streets to shop and eat in the Gastown area of downtown Vancouver. You’ll come across clothing shops, galleries and eateries, such as La Luna Cafe, where they serve a delicious and filling tomato and bocconcini (a soft, mild cheese that’s popular in Canada) sandwich. Be sure to see and snap pictures of the Gastown Steam Clock, the world’s first steam-powered clock. www.gastown.org

Chinatown. This is North America’s second biggest Chinatown after San Francisco’s. There are markets, housewares and restaurants. Make sure to stop in at one of the smaller Chinese restaurants for dim sum.

Stanley Park. Stanley Park is a beautiful 1,000-acre respite close to downtown Vancouver. It features activities for families as well outdoors lovers and couples looking for a romantic night. Other fun activities at Stanley Park include horse-drawn carriage rides and a miniature train ride, though hours of operation wane during the winter. Check out the totem poles and monuments at the park. For some nighttime fun, you can’t beat the views from restaurants like The Teahouse. The sunsets are incredible.

Granville Island Market. If you’re a foodie, or just hungry, you’ll be in heaven when you land on Granville Island. The marketplace, which is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, has every kind of fruit, meat, cheese, bread, pastry, vegetable and sauce you could possibly want. Make sure to pick up some salmon and gooseberries. If you’re not ready to go home and cook just yet, try the food court. Or do like we did: get a loaf of bread, some slices of cheese, fresh fruit, sliced meat and some drinks and make a picnic overlooking the English Bay.

Grouse Mountain. On a clear day, you’ll want to visit Grouse Mountain, about 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver, where you’ll see a pretty hilarious loggers show and some native animals. If you go on the lift ride or zip lines, you’ll want to make sure there’s not a lot of fog for utmost viewing. During the winter, guests can enjoy sleigh rides and ice skating. Admission, roughly in U.S. dollars, $35 for adults, $20 for teens and $11 for children. Some activities cost extra. grousemountain.com.

Whale watching. Most expeditions are all-day events, so plan accordingly. Bring your own lunch. Most often provide a dry suit.

Whistler. Whistler is a popular resort destination, a city north of Vancouver best known for its ski amenities. It is about a two-hour drive from Vancouver, but the trek is worth it. Many of the Olympic events are taking place on Whistler.

Vancouver Aquarium. The Vancouver Aquarium here will delight young and old alike, with animals you don’t get to see in the Southeast, such as Beluga whales (including some babies), Harbour seals and Oregon spotted frogs. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during winter. Admission, estimated in U.S. dollars, is $20 for adults and $12 for children. Aquarium visitors will be impressed by its dedication to conservation.

Robson Street. If you are a shopping diva, you’ll want to save up for a trip to the designer stores that line the three-block Robson Street shopping disctrict. Think Armani, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger and Tiffany. Cha-ching.

Capilano Suspension Bridge. If you’re in the mood for adventure, visit Vancouver’s oldest tourist attraction. The swaying planks take you across 450 feet overlooking the Capilano River. Just don’t look down! Admission is about $25 for adults and $8 for children. Also guided nature tours, gift shop and homemade fudge. www.capbridge.com

You also want to think about packing accordingly. While this is Canada, it’s not as cold as it is most places in the United States right now. But it is in the 30s and 40s, so bring winter jackets and hats and gloves. There’s a good chance you won’t see snow — except for at the snow-related Olympic sports — as snow is scarce in Vancouver. Regardless of whether it snows while you’re there, if you catch a few Olympic events and athletes and are able to experience some of what Vancouver has to offer, you’re guaranteed a cool time.

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