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When FIFA brings the Women’s World Cup games to Canada this summer, they’ll present sports and travel fans with two awesome opportunities: watching American greats such as Alex Morgan and Former FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach kick some butt—errr, we mean, soccer balls –and two, to check out two vibrant, dramatically diverse Canadian cities. To prepare for this exciting series of matches, New TPG Contributor Alyssa Schwartz guides us through the Great White North.
First up: Winnipeg, where our young women will face off against Australia (June 8) and Sweden (June 12) at Investors Group Field.
Getting there & around: Located 4.5 miles from downtown, Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport (YWG) is serviced by all major airlines. Taxi service from the airport into the city costs about $18 CAD/$14.50 USD and takes 20 minutes. Winnipeg Transit has two routes which service the bus terminal at the south end of the airport, 15 Sargent/Mountain and 20 Academy/Watt — both take about 40 minutes to get downtown and cost $2.60 CAD/$2.10 USD. Investors Group Field, or Winnipeg Stadium, is about seven miles from downtown and can be reached via the 160 Downtown/University of Manitoba route, among several others.
Where to stay: Located on the rapid transit line for easy access to Investors Group Field/Winnipeg Stadium, the newly renovated Holiday Inn & Suites Winnipeg Downtown offers spacious, modern digs steps from attractions such as the Human Rights Museum (rooms from $110 CAD or 15,000 IHG points per night). Nearby, take in fabulous city views from the rooftop saltwater pool at the Fairmont Winnipeg (rooms from $139 CAD/$88.30 USD). For more boutiquey, local flair, check out the Inn at the Forks, a luxury hotel and spa (and home to the acclaimed Smith Restaurant) situated in the midst of one of the city’s top attractions (rooms from $179 CAD/$143.75 USD). On the flip side of Inn at the Forks’ understated elegance is Mariaggi’s Theme Suite Hotel, where you can bed down in a Moroccan sheik’s tent adjacent to a palm-treed oasis or unwind in a Hawaiian lanai (rooms from $269 CAD/$216 USD).
What to do and eat: Well, the game, obviously. Tickets are on sale from $23 CAD/$18.50 USD at Ticketmaster, meaning you can redeem Amex Rewards points to pay in full or in part (min. 2,000 points). But it would be a shame to clear customs and not check out what the ‘Peg, as the locals call it, has to offer—so here are some highlights to visit between matches:
Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Canada’s first national museum outside of its capital and the only museum in the world focused on human rights education and awareness, this newly-opened center offers guests a transformative journey, through both its hands-on, interactive exhibits and its architecture. Situated at the junction of two rivers on a spot that’s been used as a meeting place for aboriginal Canadians for thousands of years, the building itself was designed to evoke the progression of human rights from darkness to light, starting with the massive stones at the entryway through its labyrinthine galleries and, finally, escalating into a light-filled Tower of Hope at the end of the tour.
Assiniboine Park Zoo: I hate to break it to you, but in spite of the clichés, you’re not likely to run into a polar bear during your visit to Canada—unless you put a visit to Assiniboine Park Zoo on your itinerary. Home to the recently opened “Journey to Churchill” exhibit, the zoo acts as a gateway to the great north, bringing you up close with polar bears, harbor seals and other Arctic species. You can even watch the northern lights, recreated on the ceiling of the domed Aurora Borealis Theater.
Thermëa Spa: Take the plunge at Winnipeg’s first Nordic-style spa, an outdoor network of hot and cold saunas, pools and waterfalls nestled into a forest along Crescent Drive Golf Course, 20 minutes and a world away from downtown.
Artisanal eats: While the city isn’t yet overrun with modern-day mom and pops, local, handcrafted food is alive and well in Winnipeg. Start your taste tour with a mouthful of meat, at King + Bannatyne, where the bread is cut thick and the meats are slow-roasted in house – from slabs of tender brisket to herbed porchetta. The sole veg option, grilled cheese, rotates weekly. From there, catch a ride with Cornell Creme, an ice-cream bike proffering such flavors as malty ale pail and black sesame seed. For dinner, dive into Canadiana fare—foie gras served with local spiced wild blueberries and butter-poached pickerel cheeks—at Chew.
The U.S. Women’s Team moves on to Vancouver, where they’ll play Nigeria at BC Place Stadium on June 16, and so do we.
Getting there & around: Vancouver International Airport, about seven miles from the city, is an easy 26 minutes away from downtown aboard the Canada Line SkyTrain ($8.75 CAD/$7 USD, including outgoing $5 CAD/$4 USD YVR AddFare). Taxis are subject to flat-rate pricing by destination—the fare to locations in downtown Vancouver is $26 CAD/$21 USD. BC Place Stadium is steps from the Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain station, but it’s also an easy walk from most downtown and Yaletown locations.
Where to stay: There are lots of reasons to check into the Westin Grand Vancouver—that it’s a mere four blocks from BC Place Stadium is but one. This all-suite property is steps away from Vancouver’s best dining and shopping and a 15 minute walk to the water, but you can also enjoy gorgeous Vancouver views from the rooftop garden and pool (suites from $169 CAD/$135.75 USD per night or 10,000 SPG points). Also nearby is the recently renovated Opus Hotel, a stylish boutique hotel that’s been something of an institution in trendy Yaletown since it opened in 2002. Guests have free use of bikes and Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphones for use during their stay—which means no mobile roaming fees (from $249 CAD/$200 USD; Visa Signature cardholders receive perks such as automatic upgrades and $25 food and beverage credit).
If you’re looking to kick up your World Cup trip with a little luxury, you’re in luck—Vancouver punches above its weight in the five-star category, with a Four Seasons, Shangri-La, the beautifully-restored 1920s gem Rosewood Hotel Georgia and the gleaming, waterside Fairmont Pacific Rim all within blocks (and all members of the Amex Fine Hotels collections, with associated perks for Platinum cardholders).
What to do and eat: With its unique mix of cultures—from one of Canada’s most exciting Chinatowns to aboriginal culture – and stunning coastal nature, Vancouver offers fun for everyone. Here are some highlights:
Vancouver Foodie Tours: From the not-the-least-bit hyperbolic World’s Best Food Truck Tour to Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour, a roaming feast which includes stops for dim sum as well as bites and sips at some of the city’s top restaurants, Vancouver Foodie Tours proves that the best way to get to know a city is via your stomach—and insider anecdotes from great local guides.
Stanley Park: Enjoy some of the region’s best nature without leaving the city. With nearly a thousand acres of coastline and rainforest, Stanley Park is home to coyotes, bald eagles, beavers and hundreds of species of birds. Walk or bike along the 5.5-mile seawall and stop by Brockton Point to see authentic First Nations totem poles, British Columbia’s most visited attraction.
Flyover Canada: While you’re here, why not see all of Canada—and in just half an hour? Flyover Canada is a family-friendly flight simulator experience that takes you from coast to coast and back again, covering the rugged Prairies and majestic fjords along Canada’s northeast coast. Hold on tight!
Local fare: From fresh seafood to local wines, Vancouver’s culinary offerings shine. For starters, the sushi here is un-missable–try Minami which takes their raw fish up a notch by making it aburri-style, seared with a blowtorch. Whether you’re staying for a multi-course tasting or just stopping at the bar for killer classic cocktails and fab appetizers such as Korean fried chicken-style cauliflower, there’s no tastier or more stylish room in the city than the acclaimed Hawksworth Restaurant—eponymous chef and owner David Hawksworth is a master of Western Canadian cuisine. For fun, shareable bites, check out meaty Wildebeest in trendy Gastown and Tap and Barrel (three locations), where some of the best varietals from nearby wine country are on tap.
If the U.S. team wins, it’s on to the quarterfinals (matches will be played in Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver), the semis, and then eventually back to Vancouver where the final match is scheduled at BC Place Stadium on July 5.
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With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.