Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Victoria, Vancouver Island

Once we got off the Coho ferry and cleared customs, we drove through downtown Victoria to go to the Fort Victoria RV Park,  This was not a difficult drive at all - the park is only 5.6 miles (9 km) from downtown Victoria and the roads are well marked and easy to navigate. The RV park itself turned out to be a little less polished than I had envisioned and our site was somewhat cramped. I had to back the Trek in extra-carefully because there is a little building next to the site with wide roof eaves. Despite these shortcomings, the accommodations were fine and we would stay there again.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Victoria I was fighting a cold and cough that was getting worse by the hour. Darn the bad luck! We got off to a slow start the next day due to me being under the weather. Late morning, we crated the dogs and walked about a mile to the bus stop, stopping at a local drugstore to pick up some medication for my cold and cough.

The $2.50 CA bus ride into Victoria was nice. I generally enjoy riding on buses; someone else is doing the driving so I can just look at the scenery, and buses provide great people-watching opportunity. The BC (British Columbia) Transit buses are very cool - some are double-deckers like this one, they are all wheel-chair accessible, and just about all of them have bike racks on the front.

We walked around Victoria, found a place to make copies of some paperwork for Lynda, and got a good meal at a Caribbean restaurant called The Reef. But by the time we finished our meal, I was feeling very sickly and so we headed back to the RV park.

We were only in Victoria for three full days and we spent the second one at home in the Trek while I slept and took medication. I felt very badly about wasting an entire day but Lynda, as always, was good natured about the situation. Our last full day in Victoria (Wednesday) was very busy - we essentially crammed three days of sightseeing into one. We got an early start, crating the dogs again and purchasing a BC Transit day pass ($7.80 CA each) at the RV Park office. Then we caught the bus into town again. Once in downtown Victoria, we went by the post office to put some documents in the mail and then headed to the Wax Museum area to get on a Gray Lines bus for the city tour. 

Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia and also a port city.  As such, downtown Victoria is what you would probably expect of many North American cities.  However, in addition to industry and commerce, city parks, churches, retail stores, banks, restaurants, art boutiques, and so forth, Victoria boasts a very charming harbor area.  This is where the tourists flock to enjoy attractions and sites such as the Parliament buildings, the Empress Hotel, the Wax Museum, Chinatown, and much more.  Not surprisingly, the flavor of Victoria is more European than an American city. For example, there are pubs rather than bars and it is common to see signage in both English and French.  The British influence is unmistakable and, for me, it was deja vu to see words such as "centre", "litre", "harbour" and "flavour" spelled the way I grew up with in Barbados.

Click here to see some photos of Victoria.

The Gray Lines' city tour costs around $30 and lasts 90 minutes. This tour takes eager tourists around the area to catch glimpses of major attractions such as Chinatown, the Inner Harbour, elite neighborhoods, and so on.  The Gray Lines city tour allows you hop off at any of the stops and then hop on a later bus to resume the tour.  We got off at a marina area to eat lunch and then the next bus almost left us... we had to run after it shouting, "Hey! Stop!"  Luckily some passengers heard us and got the driver to pull over.  He was supposed to have stopped at the marina for 10 minutes but instead just pulled through the area and kept going.  So, be aware that the success of the hop on/hop off approach depends on the driver and whether or not he is following protocol.  I recommend the Gray Lines city tour for seeing Victoria if your time is very limited. Otherwise, you'd be better off to either rent a car or ride BC Transit buses (with a day pass) and take your time exploring the city. 

After returning to the Wax Museum area, we took BC Transit buses out to Butchart Gardens. We had to make one transfer and the trip took around an hour. We arrived at the gardens around 3:30 PM and spent a couple hours there. Visiting Butchart Gardens was well worth the time and effort, and the rather hefty entrance fee of $30 each!  We would have lingered there much longer but were concerned about the dogs being in their crates for so long.  It's impossible to do the gardens justice, but here are some photos that may give you an idea of the beauty of Butchart Gardens. If you ever get the chance, you must go to see the gardens for yourself!

We rode a BC Transit bus from Butchart Gardens directly back to downtown Victoria and then took another bus to the RV park area.  By the time we got home, it was around 7 PM and the dogs had been in their crates for over 10 hours. They were just fine but were very, very, very happy to see us!

So our last full day in Victoria was a lot of fun and we managed to squeeze in quite a bit.  I'd like to come back to Vancouver Island some day... we barely scratched the surface of  Victoria, much less the rest of the Island!

Tomorrow we'll take a ferry over to Tsawwassen Bay on mainland British Columbia.  From there, we'll make our way north to Hazelton to meet up with the RV caravan group to go to the Yukon and Alaska.  Stay tuned!

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