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Trip Report Victoria: The Most Beautiful City in Canada?

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After a nice jog through Volunteer Park the morning of June 21st and saying my goodbyes to the Emerald City, The Victoria Clipper from Seattle-Victoria was well worth the $95 that afternoon, with the views on either side of the ferry of snow capped peaks (Olympic Mountains to the West, Cascade Mountains or Mount Baker to the east), evergreen forest and to the east small brown cliffs bordered the Puget Sound as we proceeded northward. Just lovely. An odd yellowy-green mist had settled on the surface, giving the illusion that the water changed colour as the Clipper approached the waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Pulling into the harbour, I was quickly charmed by the tiny green oval cylinder boats with mini-Canadian or British Columbian flags proudly displayed on top that were the Victoria Harbour Ferries. Canadian Customs is crossed through pretty efficiently in Victoria (don’t have to wait for other passengers like on train or bus), so I was checking into the Strathcona Hotel before 6:45pm (left Seattle as 3:15pm). Although the reviews of the Strathcona on Trip Advisor were not stellar, the main sticking point for visitors I think was the noise from the adjacent Sticky Wicket Pub and beach vollyeball games going on outside. Other than that, I found things perfectly comfortable, and I solved the Sticky problem on that noisiest first night (Saturday night) by going out for a pint of beer myself until 12:30am (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em) and slept soundly on my good ear after (I’m deaf in one ear, which does have its blessings). Hey, for $79/night plus continental breakfast so centrally-located (5 minute walk to Harbourfront) I was hardly expecting the Shangri-La, so I was pretty happy.

The first night I explored my surroundings, downtown Victoria and the Harbourfront. The stately Empress Hotel, Queen Victoria statue and BC Parliament Buildings make a continually lovely backdrop as one soaks in the goings-on by the marina here as the cute-as-a-button Victoria Harbour Ferries boats continually come and go in the water. Talented buskers play (one guitarist/accordionist duo here were just terrific) in front of the marina; sitting on a bench soaking in the ambience for several minutes, nothing could be more delightful. Although I had enjoyed my first stay tremendously in Seattle, the contrast of Victoria was striking with locals seeming more clean-cut and the layout much more clean, aesthetic and organized. Noodle Box (Douglas St., near Broughton St.) for supper that night was a tasty quick place to get out-of-ordinary noodle delights

The next morning June 22nd I strolled over to Beacon Hill Park, enjoying the duck- , geese- and turtle-filled ponds, the world’s largest totem pole built by Mungo Martin and shared with a hang glider and numerous dog-owners the incredible views of the Juan de Fuca Strait, the Olympic Mountains in the distance and beach below where Beacon Hill Park met Dallas Road. The words came to my head again sitting on a bench here, words that been entering my head again and again it seemed in the Pacific Northwest, “life does not get better than this…”

My best friend’s Dad and his wife live in Victoria and told me they’d like to take me to Butchart’s Gardens, where even they had not been in a number of years. In their car, and up the Saanich Peninsula we go (#75 bus or tour buses are other options up here). Butchart’s Gardens may be worth $26.50 per adult, but unlike many tourist locales, this one is worth every penny. This garden is unlike any other I’ve seen before, a garden full of surprises and secrets that will defy even the most jaded “gardens-are-boring” human being’s imagination, with sections hidden from view by bushes or evergreens and then bang you’re in a hollow filled with lines of blue and purple delphinium like you’ve never seen before, roses with petals that you never knew roses could have, sometimes fountains, sometimes a waterfall, sometimes a sunken garden, in one instance a spectacular giant redwood tree, lo-and-behold here’s a peek-a-boo view through a hole in a hedge of Brentwood Bay amidst the serenity of a Japanese Garden with boats docked in its peaceful marina. All THIS and much more with a beauty that not even a million words or photos could capture in its majesty, such is the exquisite use of space, the magnificent intricacy of each little flower and the tremendous show of colour that lurks around each corner, all in a magnificent setting of ever-present and ever-gorgeous hilly terrain of evergreens that is Vancouver Island. No, my friends, for all the work, creativity and love put into it, $26.50 is a STEAL to visit Butchart’s Gardens… Again, I said to myself “life does not get better than this…”

My best friend’s Dad Joey drives me next to Coles Bay and we dine by Brentwood Bay. The first is a peaceful cove of shelly beach, evergreen forest and only one other human soul with us. As I discover however when I take my shoes off to dip into the water of Coles Bay, there are swarms of miniature crab souls that I must step gingerly in order to avoid crushing them (or them pinching me!). As I sit on a rock, I see around me… squirt seemingly from a seaweed, squirt… can the crabs do that?… squirt a veritable geyser two to three feet tall comes out of a hole in the sand on a few feet away from the rock I’m sitting on. Joey explains that I was also surrounded by many clam souls as well, and they were putting on a show the likes of which I’d never seen before. Despite this close proximity to an incredible being, shortly after at Brentwood Bay, I enjoy the delicious clam chowder with a great view of water and fir/spruce/pine mountainous Malahat on the opposite shore of my dining locale. Twice more Coles Bay, Brentwood Bay I think “life does not get better than this…”

Victoria? The Most Beautiful City In Canada? Indeed, at this point, and based on what I’ve seen so far, those very words are entering my mind…

**Final Day and Final Thoughts on Victoria to come…**

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