Welcome to my corner……of the world! It’s a great pleasure to join The Travel Mechanic team as a monthly guest blogger! I invite you to travel along with me through my blog articles and many pictures. My love for travel started at a very early age through the wonderful opportunity to live, grow up and go to school in England. The experience was life-changing, and it was the catalyst for my long-time passion of exploring the beautiful and interesting places that other people call home.
Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia
We just returned from two weeks in the Pacific Northwest. August is a perfect time to visit that area with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures in the high 60’s to mid 70’s. Since it was 100 degrees when we left home, the change was a real treat. In addition, the strong American dollar makes this an ideal time to visit Canada. I’ve never admitted to myself that I have a bucket list, but if I did, it would include the highlights of this trip!
We flew in and out of Seattle and traveled between the cities by train and boat. We took the Amtrak Cascades between Seattle and Vancouver and it’s a picturesque ride up the coast of Washington state into Canada. Don’t forget that you’re going to another country so you need a passport! After a very comfortable four-hour trip, we cleared customs and settled into the Marriott Pinnacle hotel in the Coal Harbour section of the city. We loved the views of the mountains and the bay from our room, and the waterfront was just two blocks away. We spent hours walking along the expansive sea wall. Cruise ships dock at nearby Canada Place, and each day we saw two or three huge ships in port preparing to embark on Alaska and Inland Passage cruises. We watched the final preparations for departure and waved to the passengers from the dock. This is a great port of call since it is so close to downtown. There are restaurants of all types – seafood, Italian, English, Dutch – and they all have outdoor patios. You can have everything from fish and chips to apple pancakes – and, of course, gelato! Remember that calories don’t count on vacation!
Vancouver is a city which comprises several neighborhoods each with its own features – Gastown, Chinatown, Yaletown, Coal Harbour, Downtown, Granville Island. A highlight of the city is Stanley Park – a beautiful urban park at the edge of downtown. Named for Lord Stanley – yes, the same one of NHL Stanley Cup fame! – it is designated a national historic site of Canada. We hopped off the bus in Chinatown to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – one of the few outside of China. It is a haven of serenity with its ornamental bridges, pagoda, lily pond and weeping willows which are in stark contrast but still in harmony with the glass skyscrapers surrounding it.
The whole city, in fact, seems to be in harmony with itself and its people. There is a sense of well-being and tranquility. Is it the majesty of the mountains, the calming effect of the water or the feeling that the air is crystal? It could be all of them – and it creates an intangible yet palpable ease.
On to Victoria – a step back in time.
We traveled to Vancouver Island on the BC Ferries Connector which is a very efficient combination of bus ride from downtown Vancouver to the ferry terminal, the ferry across the Strait of Georgia and the bus again for a 30 minute ride to Victoria. The entire trip takes about three and a half hours and is all included in one price. The bus actually drives right onto the mammoth ferry. Passengers then go upstairs to comfortable indoor or outdoor seating. It is a very smooth crossing although I was prepared with my Sea Bands and ginger! The scenery is spectacular and that alone is worth the trip. It’s like a mini-cruise.
Victoria, although fairly remote, is the capital of British Columbia. Its inner harbour (spelled with a “U” in Canada!) features the impressive Provincial Legislature building which is illuminated at night and has an almost magic kingdom quality. The inner harbour is also anchored by the city’s grande dame, The Fairmont Empress, one of the most famous hotels in Canada. It presents a luxury English tea daily – both in its delicacies and its price! It’s $75 Canadian dollars, and even with the good exchange, it’s a splurge! We did not “do tea at The Empress” and my intention was to go to one of the several English tearooms for a more modest price. However, as much as I am embarrassed to admit it, we never had time. That means I still have something special to do on the next trip.
We stayed at the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour which has elegant rooms, impeccable service, splendid views and $4 CAD wine at happy hour! You’ll notice that I’ve commented on the beautiful views at each hotel, and I realize this trip was all about the views.
The pride of Vancouver Island is the Butchart Gardens and it’s justifiably one of the most famous gardens in the world. It should be on the “must see” list for anyone who loves flowers. At each turn, you are overwhelmed with the beauty and creativity of the designs. Add to that the excellent growing climate and you have the makings of an unforgettable experience. It’s actually quite compact which means you don’t walk through acres of grass to access each garden and I think that adds to the impact. Enjoy the pictures but I promise you the experience of a lifetime if you visit in person! It’s breathtaking!
We returned to Seattle via the Victoria Clipper, a high-speed passenger ferry which conveniently departed from the inner harbour. It was a comfortable crossing and we even had a whale sighting on the way. The journey was one which opened our eyes to the majesty of North America, exposed us to the impact of the indigenous tribes, the First Nations, of British Columbia, and started the planning for our next adventure! Good travels to you too!