Another perfect day with beaming blue skies, great temperatures and no humidity greeted me yesterday. After a lovely strengthening breakfast and some business issues, Clare and I set off by car to explore British Columbia’s capital Victoria.
We started by parking our car pretty close to “Mile Zero”, right next to Beacon Hill Park. This expansive city park is right next to the waterfront and at its southern end you have a perfect view across the Juan de Fuca Sound to Washington State’s Olympic Mountain range.
Beacon Hill Park has beautiful landscaping, hundreds of flower beds, a petting zoo with screaming peacocks, serene shady ponds hosting various families of ducks, an assortment of totem poles and a great variety of shade trees, many of which I have never seen in Toronto. The whole waterfront around Beacon Hill Park reminded me very much of California and seeing the odd palm tree just reinforced that image. I had to remind myself that we are still in Canada here.
Our next step was to explore the waterfront to the east along Beach Drive. We moved past lovely well-kept houses and various inlets and bays and about 3 km east of downtown we arrived in the Oak Bay area. When we saw the Tudor-style gables of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel we decided this needed further exploration. We stopped the car, went through the lobby and outside the back door and saw one of the most beautiful patios and backyards on the ocean. The hotel, just like so many other places in Victoria, has gorgeous landscaping and a multitude of brilliantly coloured flower beds, right next to the Pacific Ocean.
Coming up next we checked out the Oak Bay Marina and then turned inland towards the quaint Oak Bay shopping area, bedecked in hanging flower pots, and featuring many outdoor patios. We knew an exploration of the Empress Hotel and the Provincial Parliament Buildings was on our menu, so we started heading downtown on Yates Street. We turned right at the waterfront and to find a parking spot in this bustling neighbourhood, we ended parking on Johnson Street, right in front of a retail store that had large mechanical doll dressed up as an old lady with a big hat in front of it. The doll was able to open and close its eyelids and move its head from side to side, much to the fascination of the local tourists.
We filled up the meter and made our way along the waterfront along Victoria’s serene Inner Harbour Area. Past various buskers, mimes and outdoor performance artists we slowly made our way towards the Empress Hotel, a gorgeous chateau-style grand hotel dating back to 1908. Just southwest of it are the intricately styled Parliament Buildings, built between 1893 and 1898. With expansive lawns and flower beds out front and introduced by a statue of Queen Victoria, they offer an impressive visual delight.
Having strengthened ourselves with a tasty turkey sandwich and a delicious ice cream, we slowly walked back past the Empress on Government Street and checked out the various retail stores. This area is just hustling and bustling with people, and we saw several street musicians and bands. Many of the retail stores are located in historical buildings that have been painted in bright colours. Just as our meter was expiring we briefly checked out Market Square, an outdoor market area with many eclectic little shops.
Back in the car we crossed the bridge at the north end of the Inner Harbour and checked out the west side of the harbour which features a beautiful boardwalk, flanked by upscale condominium buildings, most of them retirement homes, surrounded by luscious landscaping and fragrant flower beds. Sea planes were landing and taking off, and the tiny local harbour ferry boats were zipping around on the water.
After gazing at the Empress Hotel and the downtown area from the west side of the Harbour, we decided we were going to explore Victoria’s next-door neighbour: Esquimalt, a much more basic area that is home to a large naval base. Esquimalt is definitely not as scenic and dressed up as Victoria, but it still appeared to be a pretty tidy place. We continued to head west on suburban roads and ended up having a beautiful nature experience at the waterfront of Albert Head Lagoon. We drove in through curvy roads in a shady forest, parked our car, and walked on the beach, besides hundreds of stranded wooden logs, to a shady corner at the west end of the lagoon where Clare and I had a beautiful chat about life, human relationships, changes in lifestyles and mentalities in the new China and other esoteric topics.
Around 5 pm we decided to head even further west and we decided to find another hidden lagoon, called Witty’s Lagoon which is part of a regional park system. We found the entrance and parked our car since only a footpath takes you down to the lagoon. Sheltered from the heat by a lovely overhead forest canopy, we walked down a steep slope past the Sitting Lady Waterfall. Along the way we saw hundreds of wild blackberry bushes that were just getting ripe, and we sampled some of nature’s bounty. After about 20 minutes of walking beside a marsh on the left hand side, we finally ended up on a beach at the Southern tip of Vancouver Island that offered a perfect view of the majestic Olympic Mountains range.
18 minutes of uphill hiking later and we were back at the car, ready to drive downtown where we were picking up Haishan, Clare’s husband, for dinner. The perfect meeting place was the Empress Hotel, of course. We picked him up and drove back over the Inner Harbour Bridge and reached our dinner destination: the Spinnaker Brew Pub at the Western End of Victoria’s Harbour. On the outdoor patio we had a gorgeous view of the Victoria Harbour, looking down at the condo buildings, ships and sea planes that were still going back and forth. It was a little chilly outside at that time, but the restaurant supplied us with blankets to protect us against the evening cold.
Having strengthened ourselves after a long day of sightseeing we arrived back at the house at about 9 pm and given the fact that I had pretty much been awake since 4 am due to jetlag, I thanked my gracious hosts for their hospitality and made my way to bed.
It’s now just about 2:15 am, that means I get another 3.5 hours of sleep before I have to get up, pack my bags, eat a brief breakfast and then get dropped off by Haishan on his way to work at the Victoria Bus Terminal. From there I’ll have to say goodbye to pretty Victoria and make my way back to the mainland by ferry and bus, to check out my next destination: Vancouver. I am already excited…