I really had no business taking a 9-day vacation while I’m in the middle of a huge remodel of my new duplex, but I got a request from a homeexchange member for me to give them a virtual “balloon” and stay at their place in Victoria. The “balloons” are a part of the relatively new passport program, where I received a balloon from someone who stayed at my house, and then I get to use that balloon to stay somewhere who will take it, and then they can use that balloon to go wherever they want that will accept it. It’s pretty awesome actually. I was also needing to let my homeexchange subscription expire since I no longer own an exchangeable house, so I was even more anxious to use my last balloon. So that’s the history of the trip that I almost talked myself out of numerous times.
I invited my friend, Sara, to join me, and she was totally on board, assuming her passport would arrive on time and she could also take an entire week off from work. Everything worked out, and we drove out of Moscow at 6 am on Saturday morning.
The drive west went quickly as we had so much to talk about and were pretty excited for an adventure. It was a full day of travel as we stopped off at IKEA in Renton at about noon, so I could return a couple of kitchen cabinets. If you know IKEA, I’m sure you can imagine how long it took to return them on a Saturday afternoon. We were there for a couple of hours, and it was so sad to not be able to shop, but we were anxious to make the ferry in Port Angeles, which only has 3 crossings a day. If we missed it, we’d have to get a room in Port Angeles for the night.
When we arrived at the Port Angeles ferry terminal at around 4 with an hour to spare before the last crossing of the day, it was a little nerve wracking, because 1) the person at the booth asked if we had reservations, which we did not, and 2) my truck was running on empty. Luckily, there was room for us on the ferry even without reservations and there was even enough time to get gas at the Safeway up the street before boarding, since gas is really expensive in Victoria (as is everything, by the way).
The ferry was an hour and a half ride, bringing us into Victoria before dark. We were able to easily find our “home” for the week. We were pretty happy.
Sun, September 23 / Exploring
After our first night sleep in our home away from home, we drank our coffee and chatted about what we’d do for our first day. The goal was to find a used bookstore, where I could buy a book. And explore by bike. And definitely not get in the car all day.
I’d brought my bike, but there hadn’t been room for Sara’s bike in the back of my truck, because my cabinets took up too much room. And Sara’s not a huge bicyclist, so she wasn’t so sure if it was such a great idea to bring her bike, as she didn’t know if it was in good enough shape. But thanks to Tricia, the homeowner, Sara was able to use Tricia’s bike during the exchange. Thank goodness, because we biked every day except for 1.
I went for a run before we started our day and discovered Oak Bay Marina, a place that we would definitely need to go check out later, because it looked pretty great. After I got home and showered, we jumped on our bikes to explore the city.
We found a great bookstore called Russell Books. They have a lot of books and are very nice. They let us bring our bikes inside the store and park them there while we shopped since I’d forgotten to bring the bike lock. After purchasing many books at Russell Books, which I had to lug around in my bike panniers all day, we continued biking around and found ourselves at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Fisherman’s Wharf was a bit of a let down. It was just touristy restaurants and a couple of gift shops. It was a great setting though. And it was neat that people actually lived there. There was a kayak rental place there that made me a little sad that I hadn’t brought my kayaks. I only hadn’t because I’d expected rainy and cold weather. But so far for our first day, the weather was amazingly perfect. It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t cold. It was perfect, and it would continue to be perfect during our entire week.
Inner Harbour…I think. We walked our bikes along a path that brought us back to downtown from Fisherman’s Wharf. We decided to bike back home and stop at whatever caught our eye. It wasn’t long until something caught our eye.
As we were biking by a park, I noticed a man putting something into a pond, which appeared to start swimming as soon as he let go. I originally thought it was an otter but soon came to realize it was a crocodile. Before we even had time to consider the craziness of it, we noticed a remote control in his hand. Apparently he made this “crocodile” out of foam and liked bringing it to parks to see people’s reactions. We found it pretty fun too. We hung out on a bench for a while watching the people and geese react.
We eventually left and biked to Beacon Hill Park then back through various neighborhoods. We ate a very late lunch/early dinner, aka linner, at the Beagle Pub on Cook Street, then biked home. A great first day.
Mon, September 24
We left the house by bike fairly early today to get to Tea and a Tour at the Parliament Building. It was chilly that early in the morning, but it didn’t take long to warm up as there are a few hills in Victoria that we were struggling trying to avoid. We had to consult the map a lot, as we had to be there by 9 and couldn’t risk getting lost. A very nice man came out of his house to help us find our way when he saw us reading the map outside his house. So helpful.
Anyway, the Parliament Building is home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia where elected representatives meet to shape the future of the province by debating and passing the laws that govern British Columbia. I got that from Wikipedia. We skipped the tea part, which was what cost $15 and opted for just the free tour.
It was an interesting tour. We learned about Canadian government, which isn’t that different than the structure of the US government excluding the British royalty part. There’s a tradition of whomever is elected House Speaker runs out of the room the minute they’re elected, because in the past that person could be killed. And the 2 sides of desks are a swords-length away from one another.
We explored Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley..
We continued biking everywhere that looked interesting and visited a few thrift stores, where we shopped for clothes. I bought a lot of clothes this trip, but that had been one of my goals for the trip, as I was tired of all my clothes and was hoping to come home with a new wardrobe. Sara’s not a huge clothes shopper, but she humored me. We biked to the Oak Bay Marina before heading home, where we had a couple of beers overlooking the marina.
We biked home at 6:30 today. Another great day.
Tues, September 25
Having just spent many hours and miles on the bicycles the 2 previous days, we decided that today we’d leave the bicycles at home and explore by foot. We hadn’t really explored our little community of Oak Bay yet, and it seemed like a perfect thing to do today.
Willows Beach is northwest of downtown and a little farther northwest of Oak Bay but walkable from the home we were staying in. After Willows Beach, we explored the shops of Oak Bay. They have a butcher and cobbler. And a couple of bike shops and 1 extremely expensive consignment store. We ate at Penny Farthing Pub, which we hadn’t been impressed with either of the meals we ordered, but we loved the ambiance. We found the library, the Bowker Walking Trail and the Oak Bay Rec Center, among other things.
I’m really glad we stayed in Oak Bay. It was close enough to downtown to bike yet has a really good neighborhood vibe. I’d call it the wealthy suburb of Victoria, but it wasn’t pretentious and is very friendly. Everything was so tidy and well-kept too. It was a little strange at first as I can’t remember ever seeing weeds or litter. I got a lot of landscaping ideas from walking around the neighborhood too.
We were beat from walking around all day and watched our first movie, a disaster film called 2012.
Wed, September 26
I started off my day with a short run even though my feet were killing me from walking around so much the day before. I especially love running on vacation. I found a great beach and a rocky park just east of the house we were staying. I discovered that it’s pretty easy to just get downtown hugging the shoreline, which we hadn’t been doing up to this point. We were biking down busier roads that were quicker trips but not so scenic.
We explored Fernwood today, an area that’s supposed to be hip and artsy, but we’re not so sure about that. We also did more used clothes shopping and found ourselves at Canoe Brewpub right downtown. I think this was my favorite place to eat. It’s an old brick building right on the water. It had good food, good beer, friendly staff, and great ambiance.
Thu, September 27
We actually got in the car today. This was the only day we’d do that, but it was sort of essential. We went to Butchart Gardens, which is about 10 miles north of downtown, and while Google Maps said that we could bike to it via trails for most of it, it would’ve been a long trip and part of the ride looked a little challenging road-wise. I hadn’t planned on going to Butchart with Sara and was originally thinking I’d bike the network of bike trails around Victoria instead, but I changed my mind at the last minute and am so glad I did.
Butchart Gardens consists of 4 main gardens…the Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden. It also consists of many tourists taking photos. We were 2 of them. I was inspired, which was good, since I have a lot of landscaping to do at my new place.
After Butchart, we drove to 6-Mile Pub, the oldest pub in Victoria. I only knew that because I was to have done a hike with a meetup group the day before and that’s where they were going to go for drinks afterward. I didn’t end up hiking with them, because there was to be 20 hikers in the group…not really my thing. It’s funny, because in Moscow, we’re lucky if there are 2 hikers. But in the cities, there are WAY too many. Seems like somewhere in the middle of 2 and 20 would be ideal.
After our late lunch (this was becoming a real habit), we drove to Hatley Castle. Not sure how Hatley Castle got on my list of places to visit in Victoria, because it’s really not a castle.
Hatley Castle is really just the administrative building at Royal Roads University. It’s gorgeous from the outside, but from the inside, it’s not too exciting. The only exciting part was that we had to sneak into it.
The gardens outside Hatley were great though. We saw a couple of other confused tourists walking around trying to figure out how to get in, and we were feeling clever that we’d figured it out. As it turned out, someone told us later that it would be alright for us to go in the first floor but not to go up to the 2nd floor, since it was just offices up there anyway.
I was so tired after today, even though it was our least active day strangely. We watched a chick flick called Best of Me that night, based on a Nicholas Sparks movie. Totally predictable but a great chick flick nonetheless. I think I’d love anything that James Marsden is in.
Fri, September 28
Since I hadn’t explored the bike trails yesterday and opted to do Butchart instead, today was the day for the bike trails. There’s a big network of bike trails in Victoria and the surrounding area, but they seem to all require a little bit of a combination of trail/road riding. We chose to bike Lochside Trail, since we’d seen some of the Galloping Goose trail from our drive to Butchart to 6-mile pub to Hatley. Lochside is a north-south route that looked like it might be more scenic. I would’ve liked to have done all of them, but we just didn’t have time. Glad we did Lochside though, because it was pretty great.
A little more than halfway, we were starving and conveniently happened upon a farm-to-table restaurant right off the path, although at this point, we were actually on a road (see my note earlier about the fact that the bike trails all have a road/trail combo going). We had yet another very expensive meal then continued north.
We stopped off at a yard sale just outside of Sidney, because I like yard sales as much as I like thrift stores, then biked into town.
The town of Sidney was nice. We were going to continue north to Swartz Bay, but it seemed like the path was piddling out and was more of a road than a path at that point, so we hopped on a bus to get back to Victoria instead. Plus we were pretty tired. At least I was. I think Sara could’ve kept going, but we still had lots more to do that evening, so it was probably best we didn’t.
We took a double decker bus back, which was pretty fun. I think all the public buses here are double decker actually. It dropped us off downtown, then we biked to Ogden Point, where I’d learned of a weekly live music and beer thing that takes places on a barge. It sounded perfect. We biked by the cruise ships looking for the barge. They were quite impressive. One of these days, maybe I’ll have to go on a cruise just to see what it’s all about.
There were 2 great bands that we heard that night. We met a lot of people. Canadians are so nice. It was nice having people be so warm and welcoming in a big city, where in the states, people are often more standoffish. I know that’s a big generalization, but it’s what I’ve observed. Of course the beer helped loosen everyone up, but still I’ve gone to those kinds of events in the states where I haven’t had any conversations with strangers.
We stayed until the very end of the event, because the music, people, beer, and weather were so great. Unfortunately, that meant biking home pretty late at night and after drinking quite a bit. It was a challenging ride home. We could’ve put our bikes on a bus, and we could’ve even gotten a ride with some people we met on the barge, but we biked home instead. It was rough, but we did it.
Sat, September 29
Being exhausted from biking so much the previous day, staying up so late, and drinking too much, we were in dire need of a down day. So that’s what we had.
Somehow I mustered up the energy for a 5-mile run, which I’m really glad I did, because I ran by areas I hadn’t seen yet, like Azkabah Garden and more of the lakeshore, but the run really did me in. When I got home, we did some laundry, read, and didn’t leave the house until after noon. We had lunch at a neighborhood deli then went looking for a coffeehouse close by to hang out with our laptops and act like locals.
Unfortunately, while there were 2 to choose from, 1 didn’t have an available table for us and the other didn’t have wifi, so we went home and got in the truck to drive to Oak Bay Marina. We worked on our laptops there while drinking a beer and enjoying the view of the marina then went home to eat our very first dinner at home. We ended the day watching a French movie called The Intouchables.
We were utterly exhausted today.
Sun, September 30
After laundering the sheets and towels and tidying up the house, we set off for home. The week of perfect weather had come to an end and it was raining. What luck! It rained when we arrived, and it rained when we left, but it was perfect the entire time we were in Victoria. That doesn’t happen too often.
We didn’t get out of the house as early as we should have, because when we arrived at the Swartz Bay terminal (we were taking a different route home), we discovered that the 10:00 ferry was full and we’d have to wait for the 11:00 ferry. We chose to take this route home, because the ferry left every hour instead of just 3 per day like the Port Angeles ferry.
The ferry ride was an hour and a half, just like the one we arrived on. It brought us to a port in Canada that was south of Vancouver. From the ferry terminal, we drove southeast to the border crossing, which was a nightmare. It took FOREVER. It was stop and go traffic for hours. We didn’t drive across the border until 3 pm. And we still had 7 hours of driving before getting home to Idaho.
Sadly, it was so late that we were driving by Bellingham that we couldn’t stop and explore. I’d really been looking forward to finally seeing that town, as I keep hearing how great it is. Another time I guess.
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT VICTORIA (in no particular order)
- Easy to bike around
- Beautifully landscaped homes
- Friendly Canadians
- Water everywhere
- Safe and easy to get around
- Not a lot of traffic
- Lots of walking and bike paths
THINGS I DON”T LOVE ABOUT VICTORIA
- It’s sort of expensive
- It’s hard to get to