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  1. Declan Kenny November 2, 2017 @ 4:37 am

    I reckon if went to live in America, the first thing I’d do is emigrate to Canada ;-)
    Happy Samhain to you all

O, Canada

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All I really needed from Seattle was a comfortable bed.  I got that (super-comfy King-size, tons of pillows) and more.  As we arrived late and had to leave early, we weren’t there long enough to enjoy most of Castle Whiteside’s comforts and amenities, but I did test out our room’s full-stretch, mini-swimming-pool tub and plush, luxurious towels.  A hot soak after a hellishly long day in Sacramento sandwiched between two nights in a Superliner roomette . . . simply divine.

We had taken a taxi to, but next morning used a rideshare service to get from our digs to the Victoria Clipper Ferry Terminal.  Our first Airbnb; our first Lyft ride.  Old dogs can learn new tricks.

After checking in at the ferry, we took a hike up the hill to Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market,

where we easily found the breakfast spot I’d picked out online.

Short wait for fab, fresh-baked, calzone/empanada type piroshky (as opposed to the super thin, ravioli-style piroshky grandma used to make).  I highly recommend.

Most people’s least favorite thing about Seattle is a top fave with me:  the weather.  It was cool.  It was overcast.  It was wonderful.

To be fair, I would have been in a good mood had the day been miserably hot.  We were about to visit a city that has been on my Best Places on the Planet list since 1972.  That September, struck by a fierce bout of wanderlust, I cut a week of classes, snagged a ride-share to Medford (Oregon), then hitch-hiked to Seattle.  I initially intended to keep heading north to Vancouver, but on a whim, I went down to the ferry terminal instead, and booked passage to Victoria.  It was my first-ever solo holiday, and I had the time of my life.  I took home just a single souvenir – a British Columbia flag-patch for my metal-frame backpack.

I only managed that one trip during the last millennium, but have been back several times in this one, thanks to my kids.  Both chose to do part of their higher education at Victoria colleges, my daughter at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and my son at UVic.  While Bryn is long gone from BC, Neil has yet to return to the States.

It was going to be a bumpy ride, the crew of the Victoria Clipper warned us, adding that free anti-nausea meds were available at the snack bar.  I assume those with delicate inner ears and sensitive stomachs took advantage.  I took this incidental rainbow as a good omen

and fully enjoyed the choppy waves and the salt-water spray against the windows as we sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and headed for Vancouver Island.

We had booked a rental car in Victoria and accommodations at the Embassy Inn.  One of many well-appointed hotels serving the picturesque Inner Harbour, the Embassy is one block from the water and across the street from the impressive Parliament Buildings.   Our room was grand, it had a sweet kitchenette, and this was the view through the sliding doors that led onto the wee balcony.

We didn’t pause on arrival, but dropped our bags and zipped out to Saanich (a district municipality in the Greater Victoria area) to grab a quick bite with Neil when he got off work.  I sneaked in for a quick look-see at his current place of employ,

artfully evading my Service Desk Supervisor son, who was working a register.  It’s not a job he means to stick with, of course, but it pays the bills.  And as supermarkets go, it’s quite nice; clean, well-stocked, and especially well-stocked with items particular to Asian cuisines.  They carry seven varieties of bok choy, for example.  (I had thought there were only two.)

We dined across the street on noodles and milk teas, then dropped Neil off so he could prep for his weekly Monday night stream.  Click HERE for the Part-Time Gamers website and access to their streams, podcasts, reviews, and more.

We stopped at a Thrifty Market on the way back to the hotel (was that a betrayal?) to stock up on fruit and milk and such.  On the way out, I snapped this pic in the parking lot.  Still-blue skies at 9:00pm.  On the cusp of the summer solstice in Victoria, it doesn’t get dark till after 10:00pm.

Next day, Neil was free, but he slept in late.  Mid-afternoon late.  No worries.  In Vic, a local tour guide/event coordinator is not a service we require.  We kinda-sorta know our way around (plus we had laundry to do).

And we did have a plan.   We had been waiting till Victoria to see Wonder Woman so we could see it with Neil.  He was a tad disappointed the film had moved from the best to the next-best cinema in town.  Apparently, the lounge chairs in his preferred venue have even more precise settings.  I’ll take his word for it, but I had no complaints.  Every seat was an adjustable recliner, and all the rows were widely spaced, so no one need stand or even shift to let other patrons pass.  Here Roy kindly models the deluxe bum-holder.

Apparently, the comfy chair is already a thing in the States, in select cinemas, at least.  Can’t wait till this trend hits Sonoma.

Victoria’s most renowned, world famous tourist attraction is The Butchart Gardens.  We didn’t go there.

Well, I mean, we didn’t go there this time.  We have been.

Well, that is, we have been in February.  On a rainy day.

Yes, right, clearly, Butchart would have been a much different experience and far more gorgeous in June with everything in bloom.  I suppose we should have gone.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.  This was the fifth week of our X-Country marathon, and Victoria was on the itinerary expressly to catch up with Neil and relax.  We debated the merits of an excursion to Butchart, and decided against it.  Wednesday was brilliant, nonetheless.  Starting with breakfast.

My mum believed the best thing parents can do for their kids is expose them to as much of the world as possible.  When it came to our annual family holiday, every year was a new destination, a new adventure.  I am generally of like mind, but I have come to appreciate that returning to a well-liked spot also has its perks.

On my request (though I’m sure Neil would have taken us there in any case), dinner the night before had been a reprise of a highlight from our last visit to Victoria – the Late-Night Special at the fabulous gourmet/fusion burger lounge Bin 4.

After 9:00pm, all burgers are ½-price (with the purchase of a $3.00 beverage).  Click HERE for a peek at the burger options – and do not miss this place (and late-night deal!) if you are ever in Victoria or Vancouver.

We had our first meal next day in familiar surroundings, as well. The James Bay Tea Room and Restaurant is a block and a half from the Embassy Inn.  Last time we were in Vic, we had breakfast here before catching the ferry back to the States.  Guess we’re regulars, now.

After a traditional British fry with scones and tea (so very Victoria), we walked up Superior Street to the corner of Beacon Hill Park.

Over the years, we had driven past the park dozens and dozens of times – but had never gone in.  This beautiful, overcast, and occasionally sprinkly day was the day.  In we went, not expecting much more than we had seen from the road; a bit of hill and some nice rocks to climb on.

Right-o, lovely.  All done?  Seemed there was a bit more to the place if we followed the path down . . .

. . . and suddenly, we were here!

The areas surrounding the pond boasted magnificent trees, like this ancient Garry oak,

a small knoll covered in a native-plant garden,

bike paths, walking paths, and patches of pure wild.  We circumnavigated the whole pond, taking in the serene views

 

and listening to a charming avian chorus of song birds, water fowl, and . . . and a raucous squawking that seemed to be emanating from a sizeable grove of very tall trees.  (This is just a wee section of them.)

When we reached the grove, the mystery was revealed.  Great Blue Herons!  LOTS of them, a giant colony nesting above in the native Douglas firs!  We sat quite a while, gazing up, watching parents gracefully launch from the branches and fly off toward the bay, then return with food in their craws for their young.  The chicks were silent when alone, but as soon as a parental food-unit hove into sight, they made an incredible racket.

As usual, my poor photographic skills prevented me from capturing the phenomenal coolness of the experience, but here is a glimpse of a Great Blue on the wing;

here a heron is perched on the edge of a nest (dead center, about two-thirds of the way to the top of the photo (you’re definitely going to want to click-to-enlarge));

and in this one, in that open space below and to the right of center, having just crossed the boundary between tree and sky, a heron is soaring.

As we neared the end of our pond circuit, we paused on the (Medieval-style, built in 1889) stone bridge to admire the ducks,

and spotted these beauties sitting on a log.

Had we studied a map before taking this day-trip, we would not have been so surprised at the park’s size.  I doubt we saw more than half of it.  Treading narrow paths through grassy fields, I was enamored of the electric hue of what I believe were Weeping Blue Spruces (but don’t quote me on that).

In another corner of the park, people were picnicking on the soft, green banks of a meandering creek.  In yet another, families were taking their younglings to the petting zoo.

There was a marvelous rose garden,

a lush cricket field,

and irresistible wooded paths that called to my heart.

On hearing how we had spent the day, Neil’s first question was, “Guess you saw the peacocks, then?”  Yes, indeed, by the creek-picnic-rose garden, we saw quite a few,

most of them in full display.

We did not see the totem poles, we did not stroll along the waterfront (the park goes all the way to the island’s edge), we did not try the Beacon Hill Drive-In . . . but we absolutely will do all of the above and sample other Beacon Hill delights next time we are in Vic.

On our own for dinner, we topped off our evening by returning to another highlight-of-the-last-trip restaurant – Pagliacci’s.

This Victoria landmark is always packed and never takes dinner reservations – but no worries.  The lines are super-friendly and move lightning fast.  At Pagliacci’s you dine elbow-to-elbow with the folks sitting next to you; the entire restaurant could almost pass for one huge, family table.

Once I maneuvered into my seat, I was pretty much trapped there for the duration, but that was fine, too.  The wait-staff was brilliant, the food amazing, the décor darling, and the live music was great.  Somehow, they squeezed a three-person band into the place!  (You can just about make them out behind the window.)

Thursday – another absolutely gorgeous day (brisk and rainy) – we took a short stroll past the Parliament Buildings

to another old fave, the Royal British Columbia Museum (that tower behind Roy and the building  to its right).

Actually, it is the Royal BC Museum and Archives, the first founded in 1886, the latter in 1894.  On my maiden visit to this remarkable institution in ‘72, I believe entry was on the Thunderbird Park side of the building, through the massive wooden doors that now serve as the group entrance into the Clifford Carl Hall and Sequoia Café.  Back then, the hall was filled with a stunning waterfall/reflecting-pool bordered by two gi-normous and exquisite totem poles.  I was awed.

Today’s revamped RBCM has a main entrance that accommodates millions of visitors a year and an IMAX theatre, but what makes the museum a Canadian national treasure are its natural, environmental, and social history collections, exhibitions, and presentations.  I have never gone to Victoria and not visited RBCM.  I doubt I ever will.

One of the museum’s specials at the moment was “Back to the Future.”  In the lobby, this theme was realized by an exceedingly rare car (the Esso 67-X) in a glass “garage.”  Of more interest to us was this take on the subject.

The exhibit not only took visitors back in time, it returned us to the present with a wealth of knowledge about the ways climate change is and will be affecting North America’s northwest.

We snapped these on the third floor – the harbour and Parliament from an uncommon angle

– on our way to my most-beloved part of the museum:  the First Peoples Gallery.  The entire floor is well worth seeing, but two sections are not to be missed.  The interactive Our Living Languages exhibition, celebrating the resilience and diversity of First Nations languages in BC in the face of invasion, colonization, oppression, and change is simply enthralling.  And Totem Hall, with its monumental carvings from Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitxsan, Haida, and Nuu-chah-nulth cultures and crest poles and house posts from the Gwa’yasdams, ‘Qélc, Tallheo, Xwamdasbe’ (Nahwitti), Gitanyow, hlragilda ‘llnagaay, t’anuu ‘llnagaay, and Numnuquamis communities humble the heart and stir the soul.

That evening, Neil introduced us to a new restaurant, the Olive Grove.  Due to the weather, the patio was not open-as-advertised.  Neither was the restaurant open when we arrived, but they opened early, just for us.

“Mediterranean cuisine” often means Italian food, but as these travel posts clearly indicate, my go-to Mediterranean is Greek.  With its offerings of house-made Greek sausage, to-die-for baked pastas, and (my choice) slow-roasted lamb kleftiko, Olive Grove easily joined the ranks of Bin 4 and Pagliacci’s as a dining experience deserving an encore.

We had dined early because Neil had plans for the evening – and we were invited.  Props to my son and his friends for including a couple of old geezers in on their Game Night.  We played board and card games for hours.  Big fun, and especially Secret Hitler, a 5-10 person game of deduction where the object is to find and stop you-know-who.  Apparently, the makers (Goat, Wolf, and Cabbage) came out with an alternate version this past June – The Trump Pack.  Currently unavailable . . . I imagine it sold out.   Also, this was among the FAQs:

I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANYTHING FUNNY OR COOL ABOUT FASCISM. WHO CAN I COMPLAIN TO?

President Donald J. Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States

If you live in the US, you can also text your address to 520-200-2223 to get contact information for your elected representatives.

It was our last night in Vic, so we capped it off with a romantic stroll along the harbour.

We were leaving on the morrow, but not till quite late.  Though he is too kind to ever say so, Roy thought I had milked the mom thing by booking our return trip to Seattle on the last ferry of the day.  Neil was back at work, we were weary from our travels . . . time to head for home.

He wasn’t wrong.  Then again, I hadn’t delayed our return for purely maternal reasons.  I love British Columbia.  I love Vancouver, I love Victoria, and I don’t much love the United States these days.  Perhaps it was pointless and silly to take the 7:00pm instead of the 11:30am Clipper.  It made for a long, rather aimless day . . . but a perfect day for seeing sights that have never been top of our lists.

For starters, we toured the Emily Carr House, a National and Provincial Historic Site dedicated to the art, writings, and life of this cherished Canadian icon.

Small museum-esque places like this get minimal traffic and are stewarded by fan-docents.  This means visitors get plenty of personal attention, which makes them a teensy tough on shy people like me.  Ms. Carr’s nature-based works struck a chord, though,

and the house was an intriguing piece of Victoria history, carefully and lovingly maintained.  My fave bit was the hallway.

We considered driving up-island to Swartz Bay or North Cowichan, but just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for a long drive.  I had seen posters at RBCM promoting a First Peoples event this weekend, so we strolled back down to town, and sure enough –

music, dance, and song performances were happening in front of the museum all day long, and indigenous food trucks were parked around the corner.

We hung there a bit, then walked along Wharf Street to Swan’s Hotel (fond memories of post-show partying with Bryn and her friends), up through Chinatown, then did a long meander back to the hotel – with one more stop.  We had passed this building a gazillion times in the car,

but on foot and up close, I realized it wasn’t a church.  It was a cathedral.  Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican), the episcopal seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of British Columbia.  It was simply stunning inside, but it felt inappropriate to snap casual pics in front of the very hospitable and super informative steward who was graciously giving me the whole history of the place.  This image from the Victoria Symphony website will give you a taste.

I did pull a mushy-mom number when it dawned on me that I was leaving without having taken a single pic of my son.  It annoyed the hell out of him, but he allowed us to swing by at the top of his lunch break, so I could snag this.

Late afternoon.  Tea time.

In Victoria, there are two enormously popular places for afternoon tea:  the Empress and Murchie’s.

The Five-Star Fairmount Empress Hotel serves an outrageously upscale afternoon tea with signature blends, herbs from their rooftop garden, heirloom cucumbers dusted in fennel pollen, and other epicurean extravagances for $75 American per person.  We did it once, with Bryn, fifteen years ago.  It was marvelous, but high tea with a dress code is not my cup of tea.  Once was enough for this lifetime.

We went with Neil to also-famous, totally-affordable Murchie’s, the People’s place for tea.  Nine locations in Vancouver and Victoria, great leaf, delicious sweets and savories, plus they do a bang-up business selling gifts and accessories.

We skipped both of the above in favor of another spot Bryn had once taken us to:  the White Heather Tea Room.  The White Heather strikes the perfect balance between elegant and casual, sophisticated and homey, delicate and hearty.

Founded by a Scottish émigré and off the beaten tourist-path in residential Oakwood, this quaint establishment serves delicious teas and delectable finger foods, soups, salads, and quiches, home-baked sweets, and even gluten-free options.  Hands down, no contest, for luncheon or afternoon tea, it is the best.

On the way back to town we stopped at yet another tourist attraction I’d never bothered to check out – Craigdarroch Castle.

The Dunsmuir family made its fortune in business, primarily coal.  Their taste for the lavish manifested in this Richardson Romanesque style “castle,” oddly (to my mind) plopped down in the Rockland neighborhood.  We did not pay to go in . . . but we did have a bit of fun walking around the place,

and over the grounds.  (Yes, another magnificent Garry oak.)

We turned in the car, got a ride to the ferry, then took a stroll (another marathon walking-day), this time along the upper harbour.

At long last, my dalliances came to an end.  The ferry was ready to board; we had to get our asses to customs.

The waters were smooth on the way back to Seattle.  The freighters were huge.

And the setting sun called to mind that BC flag-patch I’d sewed to my pack so many years ago.

 

 

 

 

Risa Aratyr @ October 30, 2017

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