Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Western Canada Diaries - 20. Victoria

[ Continued from Part 19 - Vancouver's Highlights  ]

This post will be the last in the Western Canada series, as Victoria was the last city we visited before heading back to Calgary, and then flying home to Toronto.

To drive from Vancouver to Victoria, you have to take the ferry. That means driving from Vancouver down to Tsawwassen, which is where the ferry terminal is.

The cost is both based on the type of vehicle, as well as the number of people on board the vehicle (hint: it's not cheap!). If you are lucky when you arrive, you can board the next ferry if there's room, otherwise you will have to park your car in a queue, shut it off and spend some time in the ferry terminal. We were lucky on the way to Victoria, but on the way back we had to wait an hour.

There's hundreds of cars inside the huge behemoth ferry, and once inside you get set for a roughly 90 minute ride.

The ferries are really huge, multi storied, and have excellent washrooms, restaurants, and seating arrangements on board. If the weather permits, you can even go outside and take in the lovely scenery as the ferry traverses past numerous islands.

Some of the richest people in the country own homes in these islands. The weather is moderately warm throughout the air, and most of these parts may not even get snow in the winter. It's really a different type of Canada.

A gong and an announcement lets you know when you should be returning to your car, since once the ferry docks, every one has to exit in queue, and you don't want to be holding everyone up!

We had started out quite early, so by noon, we had crossed the strait and the ferry had now docked at Swartz Bay. Our next destination was Victoria, but on the way we would visit the world famous Butchart Gardens.

The Butchart Gardens is actually a group of several floral display gardens. It's located in Brentwood Bay, which is a short drive north from Victoria.

The gardens receive close to a million visitors each year. They have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. We met people who told us they visit the gardens every year - as there is always something new.

In 1964, the ever-changing Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the gardens.

The whole place was huge, and had numerous ponds and reflecting pools to relax and take a break.

It was a hot sunny day, but the garden provided respite from the heat. We were also quite unprepared for exactly how big the whole area was!

The layout was easy and straightforward, and wherever there were stairs, there was also an alternate accessible route, which was great for those with strollers, like us.

They even had a children's carousal (which surprisingly is the only carousal on Vancouver Island).

Even though tickets were slightly on the expensive side (something $30 odd), it's well worth it.

By the time we had finished sightseeing the Butchart Gardens, it was late afternoon (5 pm) and we hadn't eaten lunch yet. So we drove to our hotel in Victoria, had some lunch and rest, and then ventured out in the evening for the inner harbour.

Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia. It's also, as we soon realized, one of the most picturesque and British of Canadian cities. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843.

Lots of people were out, taking in the glorious sunset and admiring the buildings lit up in bright colours.

The famous Empress hotel (which is where the royals usually stay) is a good place to go for British High Tea if you are inclined. The cost is about $60 per person.

The city has retained a large number of its historic buildings, in particular its two most famous landmarks, the Legislative buildings (finished in 1897) and the Empress hotel (opened in 1908). The city's Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco's.

This reminded me of Kolkata's Victoria Memorial.

The Royal British Columbia museum is nearby, and is something many tourists visit when they are in Victoria.

It wasn't chilly at all. Slightly breezy, given that we were in the harbour, but fantastic weather overall.

Victoria is very popular with boaters with its beautiful and rugged shorelines and beaches. Victoria is also popular with retirees, who come to enjoy the temperate and usually snow-free climate of the area as well as the usually relaxed pace of the city.

The next day we visited Mile 0 in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is also famous for its statue of Terry Fox. It's a myth that this is where he started running from (due to Mile 0, which is actually for the Trans-Canada highway).

Then it was time to head back to Calgary. This time we would choose a SANE route (unlike the crazy highway 99), and return to Calgary via Kelowna.

It was actually a long first day. We drove from Victoria to Swartz Bay, took the ferry to Tsawwassen, and then drove by Vancouver all the way to Kelowna, where we stayed for the night.

The next day we drove from Kelowna to Calgary. We started from Kelowna in the morning, drove to Revelstoke, where we rejoined the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Then it was simply going back the way we had come. Around two hours away from Calgary, we crossed the border from British Columbia back into Alberta.

We made a quick stop at Lake Louise (after all, how could we not) and then in Banff, before heading back, late at night, into Calgary. The only thing open that late was a halal pizza store, which was fine by us!

And that was the end of our great Western Canada road trip. We would fly back in two days to Toronto.

Over all, we spent slightly over three weeks, had lots of fun and adventures, and made highly cherished memories. I fell in love with the great Canadian Rockies. I would gladly redo this journey again.


nadia said...

The landscaping at Butchart Gardens is impressive!

mezba said...

It is. And it's completely natural, and what blows you away are the huge number of different flowers on show.