Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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The great Vancouver adventure

Woo the kids with an action-packed week of activities, indoors and out

When my son, Cal, who lives in the Czech Republic, called to say that he was bringing the family to visit me in Vancouver for three weeks, it was like a flag dropping at the Indianapolis 500. Within seconds, my brain began compiling a list of adventures so compelling and action-packed that my two grandsons would fall head-over-heels in love with the city and give their parents no peace until a repeat visit was promised.

They live in a medieval town called Cesky Krumlov near the Austrian border and it had been almost eight years since the last family visit to Vancouver. Through the years, I have gotten over to Europe once a year on business and then hauled my suitcases up and down railway stations in order to squeeze in a short visit to Krumlov, but it was never ever long enough.

I made it there for the birth of both boys, then had to watch them grow up in quantum leaps -- how I envied my friends whose grandkids could come over for Sunday dinner. For Max, the five-year-old, I was his strange babi (grandma in Czech) who, he was convinced, lived in airports and train stations, because that was where he always came to pick me up or drop me off.

My son Cal had gone to Europe planning to pursue an art career and ended up as an expert in restoring ancient buildings, including the 500-year-old house he now lives in. He met his wife Carolyn, a poet and editor who lived in Maine, while she was travelling in Europe. After months of love letters, Carolyn found a job at a Czech university and the rest is history. Max and 10-year-old Aidan lead an almost idyllic life in a cobblestone town that attracts visitors from around the world.

For months before their arrival, I honed my list of "adventures" and was almost apoplectic at the airport waiting for them to walk through the gate. After inexhaustible hugs and kisses, Aidan announced: "Guess what, Babi? I puked on the plane."

To the Lighthouse
The next morning, everyone was up at the crack of dawn and more or less rested up enough to start the visit with a long walk in 75-hectare Lighthouse Park (tel: 604-925-7200; www.west vancouver.net/article.asp?c=766) to give my border collie his daily run. Lighthouse Park extends into Burrard Inlet in the Strait of Georgia and has trails that wind through old growth, unlogged rainforest to rocky outcrops, steep cliffs and the 1912 Point Atkinson Lighthouse, one of the last working lighthouses on the BC coast. This was Max's first encounter with crabs (dead and alive), starfish and other denizens of coastal tide pools.

The next day, we were off to the Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge (tel: 604-985-7474; www.capbridge.com). It's not only one of the city's oldest and most beautiful attractions, it can also scare the knickers off anyone with altitude phobias. Hanging 69 metres above the Capilano River, the bridge sways under the feet of more than 800,000 visitors a year. It stands about chest high to the Statue of Liberty and is longer than two Boeing 747s flung wingtip to wingtip through the canyon.

The park has two relatively new attractions -- Treetops Adventure, an Ewok-like walk along pathways strung between immense firs -- and a small exhibit that explains how the bridge survived after a 300-year-old, 91-metre-high Douglas fir crashed down during the huge 2007 winter storm. In a guided tour, the park ranger explained the complex process of lifting and removing the tree; she was in turn interrogated by a torrent of Aidan's questions about trees, forests, animal life and the bridge. "Bright boy," she said through clenched teeth.

Aquarium Rising
On day three, we hit famous Stanley Park, starting with a drive from Prospect Point to Lost Lagoon. It was my first look at the devastation after the wicked storm and we were all speechless. Max asked how long it would take for the trees to come back and I said, "well, you'll be as old as me when they do." His eyes widened -- that would surely be a very long time.

Our objective was an afternoon in the recently revamped Stanley Park Aquarium (tel: 604-659-3474; www.vanaqua.org). The adults were bowled over by the simplicity and beauty of the exhibits, especially a room filled with immense tanks of Medusa jellyfish that performed a ghostly ballet in pastel shades and milky white.

The boys were thrilled with the wealth of interactive exhibits such as one where they made sea stars race, and another where they stuck their heads in a plastic tube inside a tank and could see the fish eye-to-eye. Outside, we sat through action-packed dolphin and sea otter shows, caressed tide pool creatures and stood nose-to-nose with beluga whales as they glided past immense windows. Aidan exclaimed: "This is so cool."

Over breakfast the next day we went over my list to decide on the day's adventure. When I asked Aidan what we should do in the afternoon, he said: "I'm game for anything, but can we, like, not see any more trees?" Having grown up with history, Aidan is blasé about old things but fascinated by North American technology.

Maximum Gross Out
Finally, the day the boys had been waiting for arrived: the mandatory visit to Science World (tel: 604-443-7440; www.scienceworld.bc.ca). They tried everything. In the Shadow Room, they produced eerie phosphorescent shadows that lingered beside them. In Bodyworks, they skied a racecourse simulation, tried scoring against a virtual hockey goalie, balanced on a teetering snowboard, competed in a wheelchair race and squeezed into a contortion box. One excellent display tested relaxation. Aidan couldn't keep the meter from bouncing all over the place while Max, a veritable Joe Cool, was practically flat lining.

 

Another hit was a robot band that played only when kids provided the power and a water table where Max could create dams. The spookiest exhibit was a face-aging machine that used the same technology police employ for missing kids. Aidan had his picture taken and the computer then showed him what he would look like at 15, 20 and 35 years old.

The big fave though was a special exhibit titled Grossology that delved into the mysteries of "poop, pee, snot and vomit," along with other bodily substances. The boys got to create giant burps on a burp machine and produce intestinal gas at the Toot Toot display. They climbed into various giant body parts. At five and 10, bodily functions are of infinite interest and a prime source of humour.

Cooking for six people was quickly depleting the larder, so I suggested that we spend the afternoon on Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com) to see Cal's former art school (Emily Carr), check out the studios (for Carolyn), the market (for me) and the Kids Only Market for Aidan and Max.

Unlike North American kids, they're not too acquisitive, but row upon row of arcade games proved irresistible, especially since they pay out prize tickets. With his quarters jingling in his pocket, Aidan played everything, acquiring a fistful of tickets that he couldn't wait to redeem. He envisioned maybe a small computer, perhaps an iPod. What he got was a plastic spider ring.

We walked over to the Market for lunch in the food court and the boys were paralyzed with choices: this was certainly not Cesky Krumlov.

Beachy Keen
The next day's adventures started with a trip to Wycliffe Park for a day of sunshine, swimming and exploring (avoiding too many trees). The park wraps around a protected bay which creates water shallow and warm enough to swim in without a wet suit.

We were there at low tide when a barnacle-encrusted walkway was exposed, allowing the boys to walk from the shore and clamber to the top of an immense rock that forms an island.

Since the weather continued to be sunny and glorious, we decided that the next day would be spent checking out other beaches. We stopped at Kitsilano to sample their French fries (beach fries are always best) and the beach's gargantuan pool -- almost two and a half times the size of an Olympic pool.

We then wandered over to Locarno where the boys picked through seaweed to find shells, crabs, sea glass and anything else that caught their eye. Over the course of the week, Max had already started a giant shell and sea glass collection and came home after every expedition to wash his treasures carefully with a toothbrush. We kicked around the soccer ball, the boys built sandcastles (vying for the most creative) and compared French fries (Locarno's were best according to Aidan.)

From there we drove to the UBC campus to take in the Museum of Anthropology (tel: 604-822-3825; www.moa.ubc.ca), which houses Vancouver's stellar collection of First Nations artifacts, totem poles, historical objects and documents. The museum is frequently called one of the best of its kind in North America.

Spaced Out
At one time, Aidan had announced his intention to be a Jedi Knight when he grew up, then it was an astronaut. Either way, we absolutely had to spend a day at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (tel: 604-736-5665; www.hrmacmillanspacecentre.com) with its virtual motion simulator for a trip to Mars. The favourite exhibit here was a computer on which Aidan turned himself into an alien being to see what he would look like if he had grown up on a different planet.

My list of Vancouver adventures was dwindling but we had done a lot, spending afternoons in the West Vancouver pool and the water park in Stanley Park. After an evening watching Pirates of the Caribbean III, we decided to take in Vancouver's Maritime Museum (tel: 604-257-8300; www.vancouvermaritimemuseum.com) so the boys could wander through the St. Roch, a real Canadian icebreaker.

Later on, we dragged the reluctant kids over to the Burnaby Village Museum (tel: 604-293-6500; www.burnabyvillagemuseum.ca). Someone mentioned that the buildings there were around 100 years old -- not too impressive to boys who sleep in a bedroom that was built 500 years ago.

The boys expected to be bored but they were surprised to find that it was rather fun riding on a 1912 Parker carousel and watching a blacksmith hammer out nails. They gobbled delicious cones at the Village ice-cream parlour and Aidan got to sit in a 1920s schoolhouse while the "school marm" drilled him on how he would be expected to behave to avoid the strap.

The day for them to return home came all too soon for Grandma. As suitcases were hauled out to the car, Aidan sat on the front steps awash in tears, saying he didn't want to go home. He cried all the way to the airport.

Thanks to warm weather and sunshine, the Grand Adventure in Vancouver had been a smashing success. All that was left behind were the memories and Max's forgotten shell collection.

 

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