Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Beauty, Eh?

So I'm back from a lovely three days in British Columbia, most of which was spent in and around Victoria. This was byfar the best vacation Liz and I have taken since we got hitched (this was our three-year anniversary present to ourselves). Once we pulled out at O'DarkThirty on Saturday morning, I didn't think of a single work-related thing until Monday night, and even that was just a funny story I told Liz over dinner.

Tomorrow, it's back to the office, but even so I get to sleep in a little later than normal.

As I said, Saturday we headed out early to catch the 8:15 ferry to Sidney, BC from Anacortes, WA. Our reservation recommended we arrive at least an hour before departure; when we got there, it turned out the whole reservation thing seemed a bit like a sham, since we waited in line anyway. The boat sailed late, and the trip took a good two hours as the ferry plied through the San Juan islands. We did catch a pod of Killer Whales playing off the side of the ferry - although it was a quick glimpse at their fins as they kind of "waved" them out of the water. Still, it was pretty cool to actually see in person.

We arrived at Sidney around lunchtime and drove down to Victoria, probably a half-hour away. Victoria prides itself on being more British than the British, and that is certainly the image that the travel literature sells, but it seemed like it was really what most Americans (and Canadians, I suppose) would have thought the Brits were like - as much British as they dared to be without still being strictly American. In other words, yes, they had quaint little shops, Victorian-era hotels, and smallish one-way streets, but there was a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the way into town and there was a Best Western two blocks away.

Saturday we spent dinking around Victoria. Lunch was a curry buffet at The Empress Hotel, probably the most recognizable site in downtown Victoria. It was very kitsch-Indian; the Mogul Palace in Bellevue has better curry, but the tiger skin on the wall scored some points. After lunch, we walked around the grounds of the capitol building before touring the Royal British Columbia Museum, which has been advertising their "Eternal Egypt" exhibit for a long time - except that it doesn't actually start until July 10th. The wilflife of the northwest exhibits were lame (the stuffed animal specimens were kind of scary, in that zombie-like way), but the third floor is a pseudo-replica of a late 19th-Century British Columbia village, not unlike what COSI did back in Ohio. That part was pretty nifty, and was worth the price of admission alone.

Speaking of price, things in Canada really didn't seem any more expensive than here; in fact, things like beef are significantly cheaper. It was a little disheartening to find that good sirloin was cheaper in the BC boonies than it was in my local Bellevue supermarket - cheaper by half, at least. And we grilled it, and it was good beef.

Anyway, after the museum we wandered around a little and poked into some shops without actually buying anything. We took some funny money out of an ATM just in case (finding an ATM that accepted an American ATM card was a chore), and did dinner at a small pub outside of town one of our guidebooks recommended called Six Mile Pub (guess how far away from downtown it was!) Not bad, but like everything else, the vineer of history was a tad thin - it was basically a glorified bar in a historic building.

Then it was down the Southwestern coast of the island to Sooke, about an hour outside of Victoria, to stay at the Lakeside Hideaway B&B. The entire building was being renovated, so there was construction stuff everywhere, but our room was nice and relatively private. The queen-sized bed (they told us it was a king - ick) was ringed with fake flowers and Christmas lights ("honeymoon suite") and the lady checking us in was sure to point out this amazing feature as it "enhanced the ambiance," in her terms. I smiled politely and nodded. The good news was that we were the only ones there aside from the staff, so we basically had the run of the place.

Sooke was kind of a funny little town; the area reminded me of northwestern Arkansas in the way it juxtaposed rural living with B&Bs catering to tourists, rolling hills and woods with new construction and trash. I don't mean that in an offensive way at all, it was extremely pleasant, and the people were friendly and willing to give directions, suggestions, and advice.

Sunday we drove further west to French Beach Provincial Park, and I have to say Chad was 100% correct when he said that even the Provincial parks in Canada put our parks to shame. It's amazing how well maintained and equipped the park was. We hiked around there for most of the day, and then, feeling sluggish, went back to the B&B and read for the rest of the afternoon. We grilled burgers that night and enjoyed a lack of television, news, and distractions.

Monday we got a late start and made our way back to Victoria, but only for a brief excursion to a huge, cool coal-baron's house called Craigdarroch Castle. It had a very Rose Red-feel to it, but was worth walking through to see the artifacts, the arcitecture, and the wood carvings throughout. Then it was on to Butchart Gardens, the second-biggest tourist draw after Victoria itself. It's basically a damn big flower garden, which is fine if you're into flowers, but if you're allergic to the little fuckers, you're better off spending your time at the winery on the way in (which, we decided later, would have been a much better use of $42 Canadian). There were some very rare Tibetan Blue Poppies, but the only thing I could think of to do with those special flowers was manufacture opium. Maybe I'm a realist.

After the layover at the winery, we got back in the ferry line to return and found the 90-minute suggestion for pre-arrival time was entirely unwarrented; I burned through my book (re-reading Game of Thrones), and was left with nothing to do but pace and be hungry for the rest of the trip. Liz doesn't really care for boats that much, and made it known, but she held up OK.

So that's the story, I'm sticking to it, and I don't think I'm making a hell of a lot of sense anymore, so it's off to dreamy-land.

1 comment:

wclay said...

Mical calls the 6 Mile Pub a glorified Bar in a Historic Building. Had he "read the walls" he would have known it is a Historic Bar since 1855 - perhaps the oldest West of the Wheat Sheaf (in Toronto), or the Dynes in Hamilton on the Beach Strip which was shelled in the war of 1812.

Clay Langhorne - regular