Forty-eight hours in Vancouver

Is it possible to see all the sights in the largest city in British Columbia in just two days? No, but you can certainly have a great time trying.

It isn't possible to see everything in a large cosmopolitan city like Vancouver in a mere two days. I knew that. But I was in town for a business meeting, and that's how much free time I had.

So I bought a map and a couple of guidebooks, laced on my speediest running shoes, and set about seeing just how much was doable in 48 hours.

Actually, this is a fairly common scenario for visitors to the largest city in British Columbia. Some tourists are here for a day or so at the beginning or end of an Alaska cruise. Others may be attending a convention. Tourists already in Seattle often decide to cross the border to sample Vancouver's ambience and activities.

Each visitor's list of "must-sees" will be different, but I decided on an eclectic itinerary that was part arts, part parks and gardens, part seeing the usual tourist sights. (Surely, a visit to Vancouver wouldn't be complete without hopping on the driverless, magnetically propelled SkyTrain.)

Then I mixed in a little relaxation and a large dose of ogling the scenery. After all, British Columbia is justly famous for its panoramic landscape.

One important thing I've learned about touring big cities in a short time: Choose your hotel carefully. You'll save a great deal of time if you're in the middle of things – or, at least, someplace within easy reach of everywhere you want to go.

I chose the Listel Vancouver on fashion-conscious Robson Street. A small hotel with original art (for sale) in many of the rooms, it was a comfortable place for a woman staying alone.

It was also a quick early-morning walk from the waterfront and a pleasant stroll from several theaters and the Vancouver Art Gallery. This museum is well worth visiting to discover the work of Emily Carr, a native of Vancouver Island whose powerful works depict native life in the early 1900s. Of special interest if you have little ones along is the children's gallery.

Count yourself fortunate if you're at the museum when the hungries strike. Its Gallery Cafe is just as popular with Vancouverites as with those visiting the city.

Stanley Park, a Vancouver institution, is a brisk walk (or short bus ride) from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

It's a thousand acres that incorporates at least a little of everyone's conception of what a large park should be – old-growth forest, a formal rose garden, masses of flower beds, plenty of squirrels, a meadow, a lake, a playground for the youngsters, picnic areas, rhododendrons, walking trails, cricket matches, and the world's largest red cedar tree.

Stanley Park is also home to ocean beaches, a totem pole park, a hollow tree big enough for cars to drive through, a miniature train for children ... the list goes on and on.

All that may make the park sound as though it's going to be filled with people or that it's too kitschy for real nature lovers. Not true. At certain times and places, you will certainly encounter friendly crowds. But it's easy to find peopleless pathways. And when you're watching the sun set at Second Beach, you'll be so enthralled that you won't know if anyone else is around or not.

Vancouver friends recommend walking, running, skating, or biking the 6-1/2-mile-long Seawall to really appreciate all the park has to offer. It takes you near practically every attraction, but requires more time than I had, especially since I'm prone to wander off pathways.

Instead, I decided to stop in the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center, which is located in the park. It's consistently rated as one of North America's top aquariums. Especially appealing are the Amazon gallery, which re-creates a tropical environment, and Arctic Canada, where you can listen to the haunting sounds of whales, seals, and walruses.

I walked back to Robson Street for lunch, doing lots of people-watching and window-gazing, since the thoroughfare is known for its fashionistas, trendy boutiques and clothing stores.

Remember Roots, the Canadian clothing company that made such a big splash at the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City earlier this year? It has a popular shop on Robson.

Next stop: the Canadian Craft Museum, which pays homage to high-quality handcrafted items of many types – pottery, baskets, glass, tapestries, furniture, and more.

If you're the sort of traveler who enjoys bringing home one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family, make a special effort to stop by the craft museum's excellent gift shop.

Vancouver's Chinatown dates to the 1850s. To save a few minutes, I hopped into a taxi to take me to the corner of Carrall and Pender streets, in the heart of the area. Then I just meandered about, looking and sniffing. (The aromas are enticing.) It reminded me of a giant bazaar offering almost everything imaginable – and plenty of items that I couldn't begin to identify.

My real destination was the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. In the mid-1980s, more than 50 Chinese artisans came to Vancouver to build the only Ming Dynasty-style garden outside China.

It was constructed authentically – without use of nails, screws, or power tools. It's a peaceful place of understated beauty. If you'd like to understand the symbolism and philosophy behind the design, take a guided tour.

If you're in Vancouver with your special someone, you won't regret spending an evening on the Pacific Starlight Dinner Train. It oozes romance and nostalgia, coupled with haute cuisine.

Although you can get to BC Rail's North Vancouver station by shuttle from downtown hotels, the dinner train isn't touristy – its main riders are local residents. Some are celebrating anniversaries; some will become engaged before the evening ends.

It's as though you're stepping into the past when you climb aboard one of nine vintage rail cars – most built in the 1940s. Art Deco elegance, starched white tablecloths, attentive waiters, and a three-course meal of bragging quality hearken back to the golden heyday of rail travel.

As you dine on baked salmon, beef Wellington, portabello mushroom risotto, and other delicacies, a panorama of scenery passes by: the lavish homes of West Vancouver, fishing and sailing vessels on Horseshoe Bay.

Because the train hugs the cliffs on the edge of the coast, the four-hour journey offers views that will eventually have you grasping for one more descriptive superlative – after you've used up spectacular, fabulous, and wow! I was so impressed with the experience that I decided to take the same trip the next morning – in daylight, so I wouldn't miss a moment of Howe Cove's fiords and tiny islands. It wasn't exactly Norway, but it came close.

There are all-day trips in addition to the four-hour excursions, and, of interest to those spending a week or more in the city, BC Rail has added longer tours aboard the Whistler Northwind, which features all domed cars.

Maybe it was because I'd been rushing around so much, but my two train rides, which forced me to be still and savor the moment, became my favorite memories of Vancouver. They're what I think of when the city comes to mind.

But I still had an afternoon and an evening left in Vancouver and was determined to pack them with sights and sounds of the city.

I dropped by art galleries, shopped, reveled in the flowers at the Vandusen Botanical Garden. I also rode the SkyTrain high above the city and lingered less than I wanted inside the Museum of Anthropology.

I'll see the rest on another trip, I told myself about the museum, Granville Island, and the other attractions I had missed.

That evening, I said a delicious goodbye to the city with a dinner at O'Douls, next to the Listel, where top jazz musicians perform nightly.

No, 48 hours in Vancouver isn't sufficient. It's just enough to whet your appetite for a return performance.

For more information:

• Tourism Vancouver, (604) 683-2000; www.tourismvancouver.com.

• Pacific Starlight Dinner Train, 800-663-8238; www.bcrail.com/starlight.

• Listel Vancouver, 800-663-5491; www.listel-vancouver.com.

• Whistler Northwind, www.whistlernorthwind.com.

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