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Trip Report Inner Harbour - Victoria Trip Report

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Three nights is about right for an Island fix Mid March – after the beige scenery and dirty snow on the prairies, I am ready for a breath of salty sea air. In February a friend sent me her itinerary for a month long sojourn at her “pad” in Victoria. There were a few days slotted for her family to visit around Easter, a solo bus trip to Tofino but really the calendar was open so we were able to settle on some dates for my visit.

My friend’s suite is in the Oswego Hotel in James Bay. The Oswego is a boutique Hotel where owners have access to their suite for a certain number of months during the year and the remaining days are rented out as hotel rooms. It was an exciting location, as I prefer the James Bay side of the Inner Harbour – spent many previous stays at the Laurel Point so am already familiar with the location.

One of the challenges of this trip was to spend as little as possible on travel as possible. The flights from Calgary were purchased for 49 dollars each way plus tax. I managed to avoid shuttle service from the airport - had carry on luggage only. I found my way to the McTavish transit station about a 25 minute walk from the terminal. Obviously public transit to the airport is not a priority here as it is not an easy option but it saved me 18 dollars for the shuttle service. The total time for walking and the express bus in to the downtown area and subsequent walk to the hotel took 1.25 hours, which, incidentally is 15 minutes shorter than it took my friend the previous day on the regular 18 dollar airport shuttle.

Our first priority was to find a good latte to prime us for a busy itinerary. Habit Café is a favorite, hot drinks served in clear glass mugs with no handle and a design on every latte. It is like drinking a dessert.

Afterwards we walked to nearby Moksana Yoga. The location of the studio delights me; Fan Tan Alley is a tight lane with high brick walls that holds many secrets. During the war, Chinese workers were brought to Vancouver Island to help with the railroad. The warren like rooms remind us of the opium dens and brothels that existed in this Victorian city.

The studio itself has some interesting classes, one a live drummer to accompany the yoga. There is also a class taught by James Bay, which seemed odd and coincidental since the community where we were staying is called…. James Bay. Unfortunately there were repairs taking place so yoga here was not possible on this trip.

Luckily, Vancouver Island is very casual and we did not feel unusual or odd walking around in our yoga wear and we decided to carry on across Johnson Street bridge , the big Blue Bridge that crosses the gorge. Here we wandered in Songhees, where there is some new construction and and stocked up at the bulk food section of Thrifty Market. We bought rare treats such as dragon boat mix (which goes well with the room décor of the Oswego – wasabi green and sesame seed brown), Turkish delight, and butterhorns. Yum. Later we continued shopping and finally late in the day found our way to Prima Strada Pizza where the Race Rocks Island beer is cold, cold and the pizza is the best around. Grabbed some some local Blackberry Port later on the way back to the hotel.

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    The next day we found Russell books, a treasure for anyone who likes to read. Someone said it is worth bringing an empty suitcase to Victoria just for your purchases here. Russell books has something for everyone…the lower level has non fiction and the sciences, and upstairs is fiction and travel. It is a well organized bookstore that resells books that have been returned to the publisher from discount places such as Costco so the cost is a fraction of the list price. We found unusual titles and one out of print book, put these on hold for a return trip. We continued walking up Fort Street. In front of Sally Bun, we lingered, having chosen a café much further up the road. But the brownies are so fudgey, we just couldn’t walk past, so we ordered a latte and made our way to the tables outside in the back. The scenery is not amazing but this tiny garden continues to be a favorite.

    Several blocks up we found the Shine Café. It was busy with hospital and clinic staff. We agreed to meet here after a short time; my friend made her way to the Art Gallery of Greater Vistoria where she hopes to volunteer and I continued to the Royal Jubilee Hospital where I took a tour of a department for possible future employment.

    Because of the full tables at Shine Café, we decided to make our way back to the famous Fairfield Fish and Chips, a tiny café just of Cooke Street. Lunch was halibut fingers and fries and we sat at a table outdoors. In the few hours before the yoga class started, we visited a pharmacy and found some old fashioned rubber hot water bottles in rare riotous colors: ocean blue, turquoise, bright yellow. Of course there was red , but a red hot water bottle is a medical sight. On the way back to the studio we took a short cut, wandered through Ross Bay Cemetary, worth a much longer visit. Emily Carr the author and artist is buried here and people often leave pens and other encouraging props on her grave.

    The yoga flow class at Hemma was packed and humid, a large population of younger yoga practioners. Hemma has an intresting selection of yoga wear and offers 10% off their class price to patrons who bike or walk to the studio. After our marathon day , we retreated to the hotel nearly 10 hours after leaving that morning but managed to stop at Thrifty Market just in time to pick up sandwiches that were being discounted at the time. So ham and cheese on marble bread, rye and sourdough, butternut squash soup and a bottle of New Zealand Red. Not to mention the chocolate covered jujubes and candy corn.

    It is worth mentioning that Victoria was an explosion of color, tulips, daffodils, pansies, camellia, rhododendrons. The cherry trees leading up to the Grand Hotel looked like a bridle path.

    Next day, a return to Habit and the final destination was Russell Books. Of course we detoured in the many eccentric stores that line Government Street, spending quite a lot of time in a jewelery store that specializes in West Coast art and silver items. Around noon found a Noodle Box in Chinatown, right on Fisgard. We asked to split and order of Cambodian Jungle Curry into 2 boxes, a common request that adds another buck to the purchase price. Stella Artois was specially priced at 2 for 10 bucks so we took advantage of the bonus beer. A few hours later and the purchase of a heavy bag of books, we bought Easter Candy for our adult children. Picked up Nandos chicken for our dinner but first a drink at the lovely Laurel Point Inn in the renovated Aura restaurant. All the drinks currently have 2010 Olympic titles so we decided on the Nagano 1998, a concoction of gingerbeer, grapefruit and thyme. We recognized this as the former French Beach Cocktail, still good. We ordered the calamari, which came with several, mauve colored whole squid. My friend had never seen squid presented this way, so our evening became an episode of Fear Factor which we managed nicely with an extra serving tzatziki sauce. Later the Nando’s chicken and chatting late into the night.

    The last day the intention was to take in hot yoga but we got lazy and wandered to Fisherman’s Wharf, had a great latte at Moka House in Shoal Point …Took the path along the ocean, enjoyed the pleasant sights of the darling green water taxis that ferry people across the Inner Harbour, heard the deep vibrations from large vessels announcing their entrance in to the Inner Harbour, the whir of float planes taking off.

    Fisherman’s wharf is a small community of house boats, floating homes, where yellow ribbons are tied around poles , hopeful reminders for the safe return from Afghanistan of one of their residents. His picture posted on a board. Just outside of Barb’s famous for fish and chips, 2 harbour seals gathered a crowd. The male is dark gray and spotted and the female is blonder and they have lovely dark eyes that melt your heart. The male bobbed in the water, like a dog who sits up a begs - opened and closed his nostrils and the female floated on her back, as if they knew which tricks would please the crowd. Another walking adventure, highlighted with a trip to Murchies tearoom, a Victoria tradition - all the pastries and delicate cakes looked divine but we settled on an oatmeal raisin cookie. Luckily I saved mine for the trip home. Once at the airport, I lined up for a bowl of chili at Tim Horton’s, but the soccer team ahead of me wiped them out of everything aside from a few sandwiches. I was very glad for my huge crunchy cookie.

    Other options on our itinerary that we will :

    1. Munro’s Books, on Government Street to see if we could get Deborah Willis, who works there, to sign her book Vanishing.

    2. Ghost Walk …free…from the Tourist Info Booth …Saturday at 7.

    3. Visit to the Round House Info Centre in Songhees to check out plans for the Market community that will replace the Railyards. Supposed to be a smaller version of Granville Island in Vancouver.

    4. Government House – to view the spring flowers.

    Next trip to YYJ….Oct 2010.

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    BTW, Sally Bun always conjures up Sally Lunn for me from Bath. Though certainly not the same ambiance, both are very pleasant places. We enjoyed Russell's, too and loved wandering around Fort Street.

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    thanks annetti, I had forgotten about Sally Lunn in Bath. Sounded familiar but couldn't place it, but now....of course ! We took our daughters there for pastries, years ago when they were quite young. We were primarily visiting relatives in London but took the opportunity to explore a few days in Bath. I remember Sally Lunn as quite proper, whereas Sally Bun is very casual but a real charm little place.

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    Thanks for the nice trip report! I'm going to Vancouver in August for work and will have to make note of your reviews! I'm curious - what airline did you fly? I'm looking at adding a trip to the Banff area after my conference, but when I looked at, the cheapest I found to Calgary was $200 on Air Canada for a one way trip. Of course, I imagine that's a pretty high demand time.

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    This trip I flew Air Canada but usually Westjet has a similar sale. Keep checking the airline sites as you should be able to do a return fare for 180 - 200 ( tax in ). There are frequent super sales, sometimes only for a day at a time, so you just have to catch it right. Maybe you could get on their email list. You have lots of time to get that organized I would think.

    I you decide not to fly to Calgary, you could take a bus from downtown Vancouver to the ferry, walk on then transfer to downtown Victoria for a reasonable price. I think it is $35. Or take the ferry (different ferry) to Nanaimo, then bus to Tofino. So many options from Vancouver.

    Depends on your interests: hiking, West Coast art, whale watching, kayaking, biking on trails. Do you want a peaceful setting in the rainforest, the lovely harbour in Victoria, or the spectacular scenery of Banff?

    Banff and Kananaskis are lovely any time of year. Actually, in a few weeks, we are driving to Kananaskis for a girls weekend with all the nieces and daughters in our family.

    Let us know what you decide to do.

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    I want it all! That's the problem. :) My thought was to tour around Vancouver working around my conference, then either visit Victoria in one long day trip, or spend 2-3 days on the Island. Then get over to the Banff area, either flying or driving. However, my plans are contingent upon hotel prices (I did some preliminary searching in Victoria last night, and didn't find much under $200/night) and my brother deciding whether or not he wants to come with me. I would LOVE to see Banff, but don't relish the thought of hiking by myself for safety reasons, so if he doesn't join me I'd be looking more at group day tours in that area. And in that case I would definitely fly to Calgary rather than drive 11 hours alone! Getting on the email list is a great idea.

    Anyway. I'll quit hijacking your trip report - I'm sure I'll be posting questions of my own once my brother decides if he's coming!

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    Jen.... I am very interested in your trip! I'm glad that you chimed in. It's nice to keep a thread going.

    Sometimes I choose $$ accomodation on the Island, sometimes stay with friends but something I plan to try is staying in the residence at UVIC. Because you are travelling in the summer you have this option as well. $55/night. The campus is not downtown but bus service is good. That way you could grab some yogurt, fruit etc, save some $$ as I believe each room has a small fridge. I have been told that the hostel in VIctoria is not great so I have avoided it so far.

    There are lots of hikes that you could do in the town of Banff or take some hikes that are NOT off the beaten path. Many have actual trails so you will not be solo. The hike to the the Tea House at Lake Louise is quite populated and you would not want to miss seeing Lake Louise. Or there are buses going to Sunshine Meadows at Sunshine Ski Resort. Lots of wild flowers, and very peaceful.

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    Thanks SO much for the ideas! You're right - I definitely don't want to miss Lake Louise. It's great to know which are the most popular trails. Sunshine isn't something I'd run across before. And I'll check out the dorm as well. I/we're not on a hostel budget, but not on $200 a night either! Especially if it ends up just being me. My brother is supposed to let me know by the end of the week if he can work things out with his job, so hopefully we'll be able to start planning in earnest soon!

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