Best for urban encounters: Vancouver

I was in Vancouver twice last year. Both times, the day I left, it rained; thick, obdurate, rain falling out of a black sky. My hotel room windows looked as if they might dissolve. Gone were the superb vistas – mountains, the ocean, glass city. The deluge made it easier to say goodbye and was a reminder too that Vancouver is a very wet place most of the year.

Not that it matters. Your lungs seem to breathe in vitality, airborne vitamins, deeply restorative for a tired Londoner. Still unpacked, I took a wooden trolley to Stanley Park, bigger than a small English town. We ambled between giant cedars holding aloft eagles' nests. All around me was movement of the people, jogging, walking, bicycling, swimming. Disabled children frolicked in their specially designed water park, a mum on rollers was pushing a space-age pram. The winter Olympics in 2010 – starting 12 February – is coming to a fit place. I felt a pang of guilt so I ate a real cream ice-cream and lay down on a hillock.

Until 1985, I went often to Vancouver to visit my ex-in-laws who had resettled there after being ejected from Uganda. The natural setting was awesome but the city was precious and provincial, self-consciously English in a faintly absurd way. Now it is a confident, cosmopolitan metropolis with both heart and soul. The open, civil people are its greatest attraction.

In 1858, gold prospectors came into the area; "Gassy Jack" opened a drinking saloon and a settlement developed around it called Gastown. Today the area is all bijou and boutique, but ghosts from that disreputable past linger. Interesting drunks and jumpy desperadoes lurk. In corners you see native Canadians with still, etched faces, still apparently grieving for their stolen lands.

I went to Victoria on a seaplane which sweeps you up as if you are a babe in arms high above the twinkling sea, a palate of blues and greens. You land too quickly. The capital's horse-drawn carriages and cloying pleasures were not for me. Bored, I tried to power walk and kayak. A dashing gent, a Cary Grant lookalike, offered me champagne and a moonlight sail on his yacht. I accepted a glass of cranberry juice and went my way. He should be put on tourist posters forthwith. Victoria's Butchart Gardens are incredible. The wife of a millionaire owner of a cement factory planted flowers and vines in grim quarry walls and desolate pits and her garden grew into today's arboreal miracle.

Off to look for killer whales, in an aluminium cruiser. Cold winds blew as we cut through the sea. The whales showed up, and how. One was throwing up a small porpoise; entertainment before execution. Seven others danced for us, too close but spectacular. And all the while huddles of seals barked on a small island, as if noise would protect them.

Vancouver's Granville Island market tempts designer gluttons, looking for the next foodie thrill – tomatilloes, a cross between a gooseberry and a tomato, flowering chives, pecan sweet bread, local cheeses ( including one infused with turmeric) – oh, and Fred Flintstone "dino" bones, smoked for the discerning dog. Hundreds of lobsters, crabs and other creatures snatched from the sea languished in tanks. Later I went up to Grouse Mountain and picnicked with friends.

You meet all sorts here. There was Ruby from Goa, a recent migrant, who misses her old land but has no regrets. She teaches Indian dancing. Paul, who bought me a bowl of noodle soup, is a professional skier who loves to talk about Europe – all that history! – but never wants to live there. That is the problem. London felt dirty and crowded and difficult after Vancouver. But unlike Paul, I would not abandon my city. All that history!

City bonuses

# Ottoman mosques and Byzantine churches will be the setting for Istanbul's European City of Culture celebrations. Highlights include Music of Istanbul Architecture, a concert series staged in buildings like the 19th-century Dolmabahçe Palace overlooking the Bosphorus.

# The pretty medieval city of Ghent isn't on everyone's city break wish-list – but it should be this spring (17-25 April) when 300 florists and landscape gardeners will give the city a floral make-over. Floralies (floralien.be) is held every five years, a festival of flower-fuelled contemporary art, exhibitions and markets.

# Swim in the summer and ski in the winter: Oslo is a year-round destination, distinctly Scandinavian but with a relaxed outdoor culture that is almost southern European. This year the Norwegian capital hosts the Eurovision Song Contest, new flights from Ryanair and has costs close to the Eurozone. visitnorway.com/uk

# Current Boston-set movies like Ben Affleck's The Town and Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness mean that all eyes are on this atmospheric East Coast city in 2010. Explore myriad film locations and Boston's wealth of historic sights on two wheels, with American's biggest bike-share scheme, due for launch this spring. bostonusa.com

# After two years' expansion work, the Prado Museum in Madrid ( museodelprado.es ) has completed its 12 new 19th-century galleries and added 170 new works. See Neoclassical masterpieces and iconic Goyas, the institution's core collection, hung salon-style, just as they were when the museum was founded in 1819.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015