In August 2015 we spent two weeks cruising the British Columbia asphalt: a family road trip back to our old haunts around Vancouver, the lower mainland, and Vancouver Island. Along the way we saw some familiar sites, ate some long-missed food, and caught up with many folks who’ve migrated west in recent years. These are some of the highlights.
On Kitsch Motels & Classic Hotels
We arrived in Victoria in the early part of the afternoon, driving out from the light drizzly rain that had been haunting the more Northerly parts of the Island, and immediately I realized why Nanaimo is considered a quiet & sleeply little town. The construction. The traffic. The heartbeat of, Victoria, BC’s capital city: all of it rings more familiar in the context of this urban chaos as with any other Canadian metropolis. We were back in civilization, relatively speaking.
Our plan for Victoria was slim. Hang out. Check out the waterfront and some of the more famous attractions. Eat some good food.
I was driving and Karin navigated us into our hotel for the next three nights. The Hotel Zed (not pictured) turned out to be a beacon of colour in the otherwise neatly mixed grey and green of Victoria. Someone had the semi-genius idea of re-purposing one of those old, dingy and un-ironic 70s-style motels into this, a new, funky-retro hipster-ironic 70s-style motel. Rotary phones with QR-code links to instructions on how to use them. Orange upholstery clashing with the high-def televisions in each room. And a VW Microbus pulling double-duty as a roving billboard and downtown shuttle.
So, we rode the pink and green microbus downtown. Ate some food. Took some photos. Answered the many questions of various American tourists who could figure easily that we were Canadian, but not aware enough to know we were just as tourist as they. (Hey, who knew that I knew so much about CP Hotels?)
After some (yes, more) seafood and some kanoodling around the harbour where the remnants of what seemed to be a dragonboat festival were gently spinning into party mode, we found ourselves sharing a microbus away from the Empress and back to the Hotel Zed with some more American tourists. Our driver spun us on an impromptu tour of downtown and up to watch the sun set from Beacon Hill.
Karin, in her oh-so-smooth way and intending to tip him for this extra little perk, nudged him a small bill pre-luded by a pre-emptive apology and permission. The poor guy’s grin was priceless as she hops out of the cramped bus and asked him if he “was allowed to accept” it.
Then we went swimming.
On Historic Sights & Food-truck Bites
Our first full day in Victoria just happened to coincide with our twelfth anniversary. Last year we went for a dip in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon then spent seven hours on a plane. This year we hobbled through a museum and meandered around an old house.
Karin is a bit of a buff for that, actually. I mean, I enjoy museums and old architecture –and of course, Claire is happy that most museums are flush with touch-screen interactive displays– and I’m game to wander, but (a) I bask in information all day long for work and (b) museums are rarely photo-friendly, so …not always my first choice.
We hit up two very different sites.
The Royal BC Museum is a rich experience, swinging visitors through the history of the land, water, and peoples who have lived in the province. There were lots of buttons for Claire to push.
Craigdarroch Castle is an old house with a crazy history peppered with famous people doing silly things. It is run by a preservation society that has been reclaiming the scattered remnants and repairing the mansion. It was much more photogenic than the museum, though I wouldn’t want to live there.
In the middle somewhere we had more good food, hitting up the food truck festival behind the museum for lunch and later nabbing some (handmade, organic hippie-style) ice cream sandwiches from a little out-of-the-way shop that Karin discovered through her never-ending travel research. It frequently pays off, I fully admit.
On Fancy Flowers & Swimming Pools
Our second full day in Victoria was full indeed. Like everywhere else we went on this little road trip, someone we knew was living nearby. In this case, my uncle and aunt had retired to a beach-side house up the peninsula a little bit, and we figured we’d stop by for a quick coffee and a tour of the new digs.
On our way we stopped at Butchart Gardens.
What is there to say about Butchart Gardens? Not much. I should post about five hundred of the photos I took there and you might get a small taste of the scale and beauty of this mixed manicured landscape, filled to bursting with colours and smells, shapes and light. For every waxing complaint I had about the lack of photographic opportunity on this trip –which is admittedly not very much, except for that museum crack a few paragraphs back– Butchart made up for it ten-fold in subject matter. Even Claire took about a hundred photos before our three hour wander was complete.
We had a small bite in the cafeteria and as the crowds started to grow, we retreated and plotted our route onward to meet the relatives.
Of course “a quick coffee” turned into “multiple beers.” Those beers stumbled chaotically into a couple of margaritas by the pool. And that short visit to peek at the house turned into hanging out until after dark, crashing dinner, and trading old stories while Claire logged about four hours in her own personal swimming pool a few dozen meters from the (too-cold-to-swim-in) beach.
But then who knows when we’ll be back this way, so I guess we were subconsciously making the most of it.
On our way back home we took a mad just-before-closing dash to the grocery store back in Victoria and bought some food to nosh and picnic our way back to the mainland via the ferry the next morning. No more mediocre hamburgers for us.