"This is really nice," cooed my dearest, gazing out the window at a bustling harbour behind which snow-capped peaks soared into the sky. We had just checked into the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver. I stuck out my chest and tried to sound modest, "Well, it is a special anniversary and you deserve this."
"But it's so unlike you to remember, and to plan something so ... grand;" her voice trailed off as she continued her inspection of our room, which was about double the size of most hotel rooms and featured gleaming, modern furniture including a king-size bed with luxurious linens. A chaise lounge sat before a picture window that stretched along an entire wall offering spectacular views.
Okay, it was a fluke that I remembered our anniversary. My real interest - I hoped she wouldn't guess - was the Pan Pacific Hotel, a Vancouver iconic landmark, topped by five distinctive, enormous "sails" and sitting on a pier that can dock five gigantic cruise ships at once - I couldn't even imagine the crowds that would bring. But best of all, the Pan Pacific draws famous people like no other hotel in the country. For one weekend I wanted to live like they do, and perhaps even meet one.
"Come dear, I've got a surprise," I said. I had earlier cajoled the duty manager into letting us see the hotel's guest book. Now we poured over it and wondered at the signatures of
Prince Charles and Princess Diana, heads of state including
Pierre Trudeau, Bill Clinton, and
Boris Yeltsin, movie stars such as
Elizabeth Taylor and
Sean Connery and sports heroes like
Wayne Gretzky and
Jack Nicholson sketched a self-portrait alongside his autograph. A Japanese prime minister signed in elegant Japanese script. I hoped she was as delighted as I was.
"The celebrities occasionally behave in a quirky fashion," explained the duty manager. "When
Robin Williams accidentally wandered into the staff cafeteria one morning, he performed a fifteen minute improv comedy sketch, much to the astonishment and amusement of the munching maids and bellhops."
When the manager offered to show us the suites where the famous stay, my dearest whispered, "Wonderful, maybe I'll get some decorating ideas." I tried not to look impressed as we strolled around the Pacific Suite, where Princess Diana had lodged. Okay, at 1,650 square feet, it was bigger than our first house. Okay, it offered more than 180-degree views over Stanley Park and the harbour. Sure, the grand piano was a nice touch, and the elegant dining-room table sat six. I just hoped that my dearest wouldn't get any decorating ideas; it looked expensive. Luckily, she was too busy gushing at the suite and the fact that Princess Di had eaten, slept and breathed here.
We freshened up and set out to explore the hotel's environs and were soon on the cobbled streets of historic Gastown, Vancouver's original downtown. The place was vibrant and bustling, quite a contrast to our quiet, rural home. We snapped photos of the famous steam clock, and wandered with throngs past classy boutiques, fine restaurants and trendy bars, from which spilled the malty odour of hand-crafted ales and the laughter and chatter of cheerful customers. Soon we were wedged into the Black Frog, sipping cool ales with frothy tops.
That evening, we prettied up and headed to the Pan Pacific's renowned Italian Opera Night buffet dinner, which was set in a corner of the fifth-floor lobby, part of an enormous 12-storey-high atrium that shimmered with glass and light. We looked down to the ground floor and admired a bold First Nation's mosaic there. Three graceful totem poles rose elegantly toward us, carved with killer whales, bears and thunderbirds.
The maitre d' led us to a window table with views of the darkening harbour and ferries and boats flitting on the water like fireflies. We filled our plates with antipasto of salamis, cheeses, crab and smoked eel. Then the opera began. My wife oohed and aahed whenever the soprano, a young Asian woman, hit stirring high notes. Not an opera fan, I focused on the food. As the tenor, a solid, serious man with a trim beard, sang some deep incomprehensible words, I slipped away to the pasta bar where I contemplated the ample selections. With the help of four industrious chefs, my plate soon overflowed with rigatoni pasta smothered with a spicy red sauce and topped with generous servings of scallops, shrimp and chorizo sausage. I don't remember much of the entertainment, but my dearest loved it. I visited the dessert table three times. Each time I took a different route, trying to spot a celebrity.
Back in our room, we cuddled like newlyweds on the chaise lounge looking out upon winking lights and the span of the Lion's Gate bridge hanging like a lit string of pearls. Farther back, dark masses of mountains reared up like mythical monsters. We clinked our glasses and planned the next day's activities. Perhaps explore Stanley Park, visit totem poles and stroll the Sea Wall. Or perhaps enjoy the graceful quiet of the Chinese Gardens, or rise to the Vancouver Lookout and get a bird's-eye perspective of the entire city.
We sipped wine, mellow in our thoughts, my dearest no doubt reminiscing about our visit to Princess Diana's suite and I overjoyed just to be staying here like a celebrity.
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver Sun.