12.08.2014 - 19.08.2014 25 °C
The internet tried to tell me that the only way from Vancouver to Victoria was by way of a fancy, expensive tour bus. The internet was wrong. I caught a train, two public buses and a ferry and I was in Downtown Victoria, albeit without my luggage.
The first story the ferry company tried to tell me was that I needn't worry, my bag was on the fancy tour bus. Nope, that wasn't right. Eventually they confessed that while I was on the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, my bag had gone on a frolic of its own, and went by ferry to somewhere called Duke Point. 24 hours and another trip out to the ferry terminal and I finally had my bag.
I liked Vancouver, but when I saw Victoria, I was blown away. Yes, it is touristy, but that is because it sits on a very pretty harbour and had great old buildings. Right in the apex of the city it has the British Columbia Parliament (who thought Vancouver was the capital? I did.) and the grand old Fairmont Empress Hotel. I really did mean to go hang out in the verandah bar there, maybe drink a G&T or fancy cocktail, but somehow it never happened. Too late, I also found out there is a public restaurant in the basement of the Parliament, which would have been fun.
When I saw all that Victoria had to offer, I almost regretted not staying right amongst it, but I was happy where I was - I booked a room through Airbnb in a suburb called Fernwood, which had a tiny village centre with a handful of shops, a nice cafe, the Fernwood Inn (where I found myself more than once of an evening soaking up one of their hoppiest brews) and a playhouse.
Every day and evening I'd walk a different way between home and town, and find that there were shops and cafes just randomly dotted throughout the area. One of the best cafes I found through this process is the Parsonage Cafe, roaster of Fernwood coffee and an absolute hive of industry - I sat there one morning eating my breakfast, thinking it was a bit warm, wondering how the three in the tiny kitchen, who were awlays on the move, were coping - pretty sure I wouldn't have. Just down the street, I found its counterpart: Yokas. This is a roastery and honey and chocolate dispensary run by a retired couple from Vancouver - they seemed surprised I wanted not just a cup of coffee but to sit down and drink it. While I was there, the only custom was to buy beans, chocolate and honey and to discuss a big housing development I think they were all opposing. But my fave coffee place in Victoira would have to be Discovery, just because the environment was so ramshackle, a lot like the living room of someone a bit eccentric.
Apart from the harbour area, the part I was most impressed with was Oldtown - the original core of Victoria, with great old buildings, the oldest (and tiniest) Chinatown, interesting murals and shops - I'd say I wandered through this part every day. Market Square was at the centre of it all, and has been renovated. Other old buildings in the area are being done up, not torn down, to be apartments.
I went out to University of Victoria one day (I could not use their internet, so went to the public library the rest of the time). Again, I was surprised at the lack of grandeur in their buildings - all pretty functional - but the campus itself was well laid out and had a fabulous central green space, with a fountain, seats, totem pole and the like. I had planned to stay in the area to watch a movie at the local shopping precinct, thinking it would be a lively place to hang out - it was so dull, that the most exciting place was Tim Hortons. So, still haven't seen a movie since I left (apart from on the plane).
On my first night in town, I went into the bottle shop of the Strathcona Hotel to get some beers in: the person who served me must have spent at least 20 minutes helping me select my half dozen (I ended up taking her advice and buying a local style called Indian Session Ale - hoppy but lowish alcohol). Since you don't tip people who sell you stuff, or those who make it, just those who bring it to you, I decided I owed it to the Strathcona to come back for dinner - their Sticky Wicket was a great place to dine, lots of energy, plenty of good beers on tap and nice food (I dipped my toes for the first time into eating fish tacos). Only a couple of other meals were truly memorable - the burger at Pink Bicycle and, on my last night in town, the great Italian food I had at Fiamo Italian Kitchen. There is a fish and chip shop in a container on the wharf which has a bit of a rep, but when I went past, the queue was so long I couldn't even see the shop. So, I wandered around - there was a dragon boat festival happening, and quite a few musicians busking - including one girl who was much smaller than her instrument, but still seemed to do a good job.
Finally, since they don't really fit in anywhere else (and indeed, one of them wouldn't even fit the frame on my camera), my last pictures are somewhat opposed to each other - a convent and an armoury.