Posts in the “Victoria Island” category...
As we were by now more attuned to the time zone, the time had come for a more adventurous expedition. The car was summoned from the cavern beneath and we more or less retraced our path through the suburbs, past the airport but this time onward to Tsawassen for the BC Ferries service across to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. This has got to be one of the bargains of the century. Although you may book (and would be advised to do so at peak periods), the 90 minute Ro-Ro crossing is essentially turn up and go for CAD35 for a car and three passengers, on the CoastSaver promotion which was running at the time. The scenery is initially pretty banal, but the intensity is turned up as the tub swerves through the Gulf Islands. Stay on deck and you may (though we didn’t) catch glimpses of dolphins and whales.
Look overhead and you’ll see a continuous trail of the almost ubiquitous seaplanes, plying between Vancouver and the Island in a fraction of the time and reportedly offering a quite fantastic experience. This had been very high on the list of possibles-to-do, but I worried that MCC, who’s not a great flyer when not horizontal, might not enjoy it and that might prejudice a later part of the trip. So, car and ferry it was, with two Insular targets. Secondly, the provincial capital, Victoria, but first the World-famous Butchart Gardens.
To be honest, the only reason that I’d ever even heard of Butchart was thanks to a school friend having completed an internship there some time ago. She had waxed lyrical about them, so I felt the need to check them out. Now, I am no horticulturalist, but they really were quite stunning. Even more impressive was the fact that there was not a sign of anything being done to actually manage them. They were in a state of perfection which looked as though no hand-of-man was needed. There were no roped-areas, no areas ‘under construction’. It was if some sort of magic created this wonder, and then only when visitors had long gone. The gardens themselves were largely the work of Jennie, the wife of the industrialist Robert Butchart, who initially redeveloped a disused quarry in the shared grounds of what was his factory and their home.
Certainly a very pleasant place to spend a few hours, with a selection of cafes and restaurants as well as the obligatory tea towels and nick-nacks at the onsite Tatarama. There are also opportunities to enjoy concerts and fireworks in the gardens at certain times of the year.
We were by now being blessed with some unusually bright weather, and it was but a short drive to the British Columbian provincial capital, Victoria. We arrived mid-afternoon, parked the car and set off for a walking tour along Government Street to the harbour. Backed by the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings, this is the hub of maritime and seaplane activity. There is a harbour wall promenade and a multitude of cafes and bars from which to people-watch.
The shops of this part of the city cater largely to the tourist market; in the gentrified and restored streets leading between Government Street and Wharf Street there are bars and restaurants aplenty and it certainly looked to be a pleasant place to enjoy a relaxed evening on the pop.
Having not reserved passage on BC Ferries back to Tsawassen however, we felt the need to limit our time in Victoria and head back to Swartz Bay. Nevertheless, we did so only after driving through the picturesque Southern streets, packed with Colonial villas, to the south shore for some quite spectacular views across to the Olympic Mountains of Washington State in the US. A worthwhile detour before the drive back North to the ferry.
A word of warning at this point though; if you are in any way peckish then do grab a bite before you head for the boat. The terminal and general onboard catering is rotten and should be avoided at all costs.
On the return journey in particular though, you may be tempted to take advantage of the Seawest Lounge on board. At a cost of CAD10, you can access this lounge for (marginally less rotten) complimentary Starbucks, nibbles, newspapers and a rather more relaxed atmosphere than the main decks. If, as a tourist, your priority is to enjoy the Gulf Island scenery however, then the lounge does, frankly, seem a bit pointless and you are more likely to spend your time on the open decks above.
Back to Vancouver quite late, so dinner was skipped and, instead, to bed and the prospect of a wander around the city in the morning.
Which of course dawned wet. Very wet. Breakfast with BA again in the main restaurant and then out into the rain-glazed streets for an exploration of Gastown, which is (allegedly) named after a local blackguard and innkeeper – ‘Gassy’ Jack. It’s a pleasant few thoroughfares of restored and renovated harbourside buildings, housing a varied selection of bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Centred around a unique steam-powered clock, Gastown is a nice enough place to spend a morning and, by the looks of it, a fun place to frequent of an evening. A kind of Sydney’s Rocks, but in a downpour.
Heading South brings you into Vancouver’s CBD and the usual selection of high-end malls, stores and cultural attractions. Here you will find everything from Sears to Ermenigildo Zegna, the historic Fairmont Vancouver to the City Art Gallery. Walking back towards the hotel, you’ll pass Villeroy and Boch for the domestic goddess, and Alfred Dunhill for the man about town. You’ll also find peculiarly local products for sale (batteries not included):
One of Vancouver’s principal, and most natural, attractions is Stanley Park. This vast expanse of public space occupies the North Western corner of the city and plays host to cafes and restaurants, an aquarium, running tracks, lakes, beaches and forest walks. It also anchors the Southern end of the mighty Kingsgate Bridge, which links Vancouver with its North Shore. So, a pleasant afternoon stroll turned into a seven mile hike through the trees and around the banks of Burrard Inlet, watching cruise liners pass just feet away while all ages played, exercised or just enjoyed their afternoon in one of the World’s most liveable cities. And, always, with the company of the ubiquitous seaplanes.
No surprise then that, after our impromptu trekking adventure, our final night in Vancouver was an early one.