Eight reasons to head to Vancouver before Olympics

You want the Olympic experience but don't want the Olympic hassle? Visit Vancouver before the Winter Games (Feb. 12-28). Here's why:

1. The city is spruced up. First clue is at the airport, which has been filled with murals and displays. In the city, construction season has finished, and Olympic banners have been hung. All for you!

2. The SkyTrain linking the airport to downtown is up and running. It's clean, fast (about 25 minutes) and cheap (about $3). There are even roving attendants at the airport stop to help you get tickets.

3. There is room at the inn. Come Olympics, hotel rooms will be nonexistent and/or prohibitively expensive. A recent check at the majestic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver found a rate of $158 per night for a weekend stay.

4. There's a lot to see. Stanley Park, with its views, totem poles, trees and restaurants. Even the seaplanes landing and cruise boats launching from the Pan Pacific hotel are a draw.

5. You can visit the Olympic venues. Whistler, which will hold 28 events, including ski jumping and cross-country races, is a short, scenic train ride away.

6. Get your souvenirs before they sell out. There's always one popular item each Olympics. Will it be the mascot Quatchi plush key chain? The colorful stocking caps? Or the official Vancouver Olympics coffee caddy? Better not wait.

7. The climate is temperate. The temperatures average in the mid-40s in November.

8. The shopping is great. Robson Street has plenty of options — and plenty of Starbucks seating for when you need a rest. Look to the side streets to find the cozy coffeehouses. _ Chicago Tribune