04 Feb Welcome to Canada, eh? – Vancouver & Victoria
For years, we have heard so many wonderful things about Vancouver and Victoria. From Canadians we met traveling, to tourists who merely whisked through the cities during a cruise ship holiday, everyone loved these places. So our expectations were high, especially after spending 33 long hours by bus from Northern California. But we are happy to say that Canada’s most famous west coast cities lived up to their reputation and then some.
Vancouver – Canada
We had a warm welcome to Vancouver by our amazing friend Dinean, who we had only met for a couple hours in Thailand three years ago. Dinean’s place in North Vancouver was a great home base, in a leafy residential area leading up to wooded, mountainous national parks, and with a view of glittering downtown Vancouver, just a 12-minute Seabus ride across the Burrard Inlet. The sudden autumn rain and chill didn’t stop us from rambling for hours in historic Gastown, on commercial Robson St., along gay-friendly Davie St., at Kitsilano and English Bay Beaches, and around Lonsdale Quay and Granville Island’s extraordinary food markets. We joined the diverse, relaxed crowds that filled cafes, pubs and international restaurants all over town. Giant Maple leaves fluttered to the ground while others turned brilliant reds and yellows on their trees. A tiny tugboat sized ferry took us across the False Creek waterway and as the sun appeared, sailboats and schooners came out of the harbour to join us. Clock towers topped old brick buildings right next to pretty modern skyscrapers, then suddenly we’d round the corner and catch a sensational view of the Pacific Ocean or the Coast Mountains. On a Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tour, we toured a part of the gorgeous thousand-acre urban park, past the Rose Garden and native-made totem poles, through cedar woodlands and along Vancouver’s Harbour. Dinean and her fiance, John, took us on a walk through mossy Lynn Canyon Park, across a suspension bridge over waterfalls and into the temperate rainforest where we discovered the unusual banana slug. Then our friend Darren, who Brad worked with personal training in Tokyo, took us to play a few holes at the Mayfair Lakes Golf Course and to work out at his own Shane Personal Training studio. We found ourselves right at home in Vancouver.
Vancouver Island – Canada
However, everyone had told us that if we went to Vancouver, then we must go see Vancouver Island. So we made our way Southwest across the Georgia Straight on a huge ferry until we came to British Columbia’s capital and second largest city, Victoria. Though many treat Victoria as an quick excursion from Vancouver, it really is a whole other attraction in itself, living up to its name in Victorian style and European feel. We were fortunate to have found two very different and wonderful places to stay, the Turtle Refuge Hostel where we met lots of young, interesting travelers, and Ryan’s B&B where we relaxed in elegant Victorian luxury. From these two places, we could walk to nearly all the attractions in the city. Most days, we had a walk along the waterfront, stopping to drink microbrew beers in one of the atmospheric pubs while watching the Johnson St. drawbridge raise for passing ships. At Victoria’s charming inner harbour, we walked past the grand Parliament House almost every day, reminded by the native Indian-carved totem poles on the front lawn that we were in a place of varied and interesting history. Next door, the Royal British Columbia Museum was an awesome place to learn more about this history as we spent a rainy afternoon exploring B.C.’s aboriginal peoples and natural wonders. We were also just in time so see the autumn leaves brilliantly colored, and loved traipsing through piles of them in Beacon Hill Park, where squirrels and peacocks unshyly loitered around us. But the real animal attraction in Victoria, literally, is whale watching. We went with 5 Star Whale Watching on a Seacat tour into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, an area which our knowledgeable boat captain called the ‘Galapagos of the North’. We didn’t get to see the resident killer whales that usually inhabit this area, but we were visited up close by a humpback whale, then had about seven Dall’s porpoises, a black and white variety only found in the north, playfully riding the bow of our boat. A bit further out, at Race Rocks, a bald eagle posed for us and hundreds of seals and sea lions barked and played on the rocks. It was all quite magical!
After 10 days, we reluctantly left British Columbia, already thinking of when we might be able to return again. Vancouver and Victoria really awed us with their charm, natural beauty, and all around good vibes. The Canadians there were fast friends of ours, their land was awe-inspiring and their cities are clearly something that they take great pride in. During our holiday in B.C., we celebrated Brad’s 29th birthday, made several great friends, and left with awesome memories.
Vancouver, Canada Travel Tips:
- Public transportation in and around Vancouver is very easy and efficient, including buses, trams, sky train, seabus, train and private coach services. Use www.translink.ca to find timetables, route maps, trip planner and more info.
- Even without a car, you can still easily travel from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria using Pacific Coach Lines’ bus-ferry-bus service. Check www.pacificcoach.com for schedules, fare information and reservations. It’s worth the extra $10 to get this hassle free package than to do it all separately.
- Consider planning your trip around the summer or winter season. Autumn has beautiful foliage but you’ll miss out on many seasonal activities and events.
- Don’t be alarmed if you smell smoke on the street that’s clearly not tobacco. The laws in British Columbia are quite liberal regarding marijuana use.
Rebecca Rasmus – Written in 2004 – Canada, Vancouver