It happened again the other day. There I was, telling someone about some neat spots in Canada, and this person ‘fessed up that she had never been there.
“How long have you been in Spokane?” I asked.
“Thirteen years,” she said.
I suspect there are more than a few of those people out there, and they are missing what a lot of people seek on a vacation or weekend away - some peace and quiet, a nice place to stay, decent food and some feeling that everything is a bit different.
It’s all right there. Three short hours away in Nelson, British Columbia.
It’s not a winter ski capital or a summer beach-bum town, and it will never rival Vancouver as a center for the arts.
But in and around Nelson you can ski, swim (maybe not at the same time) and enjoy music and theater in an atmosphere that offers peace and quiet, a nice place to stay, decent food and a feeling that is definitely different.
And there are a lot of differences.
First, there’s the language. In Nelson, they speak Canadian, but most area residents get along in American quite well, thank you. In fact, you might hear, “May I help you?” and “It’s nice to meet you” a little more often up there.
And there’s that funny money. Yes, that paper currency that’s so colorful (make that colo-U-rful) and has the picture of Princess Di’s mother-in-law on some of it. And you know you’re in a friendly place when their dollar coins are called ‘looneys.’ Besides, $100 U.S. can buy you about $130 Canadian.
Then there are the shops downtown selling stuff from all over the world - even the United States. A colleague and his wife were in Nelson recently and he found a pair of boots for her at Lyon’s Shoe Store. He assured me they were something you might expect to find in New York but there they were, being sold by a real character in Nelson. Things will be pricier up north but with a 30 percent advantage maybe they’re more in line with U.S. prices.
Folks in Nelson must like to read, too. There are at least eight bookstores ranging from used stuff at Packrat Annie’s to Joy (a Christian bookstore). If you’re looking for local crafts and gifts, try White Buffalo Gifts.
While there is ample shopping, one never feels like you’re in Bell Square in Seattle or even over-developed Banff, Alberta. You can do your thing at your own pace.
If you like music and the arts, the Capitol Theatre has live theatre and musical performances. The arts scene is embellished by two colleges. The music program at Selkirk College has performances several times a year (at the Capitol) and the newly revived Kootenay School of the Arts is a potter’s wheel of education where the talents of aspiring painters, potters, sculptors and writers take shape.
For recreation, there are two ski areas close by: Whitewater (604-354-4944), six miles south of Nelson and Morning Mountain (604-352-9969) west about 4 miles. For cross-country, try the Nelson Nordic Center between Nelson and Salmo.
And to warm up from skiing, try Ainsworth Hot Springs (604-229-4212), about a 40-minute drive north of Nelson.
Peace and quiet and a nice place to stay often are synonymous. The Heritage Inn downtown is a very interesting hotel and a great place to stay most of the time. But on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer, the crowd from the lounge can be a bit noisy, so for those nights one of the many B&Bs; in the area might be better.
They have remodeled the Heritage Inn over the last few years and it now has that comfy, wood-paneled history feel to it. We tried the pub on a cold wet October afternoon and found it most amiable for whiling away the hours.
The rooms have dark-wood furniture and cheery wallpaper to go along with the marble-and-tile bathrooms.
The elevator also has been restored. That’s restored, not replaced. It has two speeds, slow and slower, but it does get you there, which isn’t very far.
In and around Nelson are several B&B;’s including a beautiful country inn called Willow Point Lodge (604-825-9411) (four miles north) and a restored Victorian home, the Inn the Garden (604-352-3226) which is very close to downtown. You can get a complete area listing from the Kootenay Country Tourist Association (604-352-6033).
Dining in Nelson runs the gastronomical gamut. An intriguing place for lunch is Stanley Baker’s, located on a corner in the old Hudson Bay building. The college crowd seems to hang out there (at least, when we were there, dreadlocks and pierced parts seemed more the norm). The food was great and very reasonably priced.
A few blocks north is the Main Street Diner. Despite the name, this is no greasy spoon. In fact, it serves Greek food and fish and chips. Aside from a little shop in Victoria, British Columbia, these fish and chips were the best we’ve ever eaten.
It did raise my eyebrows to see on the menu that a pitcher of beer was more than $13. Too steep for me, but that’s under $10 U.S. and it is Canadian beer.
You can find eclectic dining at places such as the Mediterranean, the Riviera, All Seasons Cafe and Max and Irma’s Kitchen. Ethnic dining is available at Butterdell’s for Chinese and the aforementioned Main Street Diner. For a trip upscale take a short drive up the West Arm to Fiddler’s Green where you can try dining from “around the world,” said owner Eza McDonald. Menu items range from the popular lamb Capistrano to veal schnitzel Oscar to salmon Wellington.
Whatever your tastes or disposition, Nelson appeals to just about everyone. So next time you want to experience something foreign, just head north.
, DataTimes MEMO: For more information, call the Nelson District Chamber of Commerce (604-352-3433) or the Kootenay Country Tourist Association at (800-661-6603.)