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A Few Days in Canada

I found it, I found it and it was THIS big!!
Some flags flying in the harbour in Victoria, British Columbia. The flag on the left is the British Columbia provincial flag.

Straight after our wedding, we flew back to New Zealand from London, but we made sure we slotted in a stop-over on the way back in Vancouver.

It was an inauspicious arrival to Canada. A shortage of immigration officers meant long queues, and then a taxi driver attempted to rip us off by trying to take us to the wrong place and then attempting to charge us for it! Our first destination was the Sea Plane terminal in Vancouver City in order to catch a flight over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. The taxi driver had the cheek to follow us in to the Sea Plane terminal and threatening to call the police, despite us having paid the Airport to City fare as published at the airport.

After that, though, Canada was a fantastic place. The staff at the Sea Plane terminal helped to settle down the issue with the taxi driver and then helped us to relax a bit after our ordeal with a cup of tea. The flight over to Vancouver Island was quite an experience. After wondering where the luggage would go (it goes in the floats/pontoons of the sea plane!), and a rumbling take off from Vancouver Harbour, it was a slow and steady flight over shipping lanes and numerous islands into Victoria Harbour which lasted about 30-35 minutes. Having never previously travelled by sea plane, it was quite an experience! Given the number of suits which shared the plane with us, it's also clearly a busy commuter route. There is also a ferry which plies a similar route to Vancouver Island, but this takes at least 3 times as long, and would have been such a novel travelling method, so we were pleased with our choice of transport.

Over in Victoria, we went straight from the sea plane terminal to our hotel. After our fraught experience with the taxi driver in Vancouver, we decided to walk the kilometre or so to the accommodation. And the accommodation... Wow, it was fantastic! The staff were wonderful, the room was incredible (though we did opt for the most expensive option, given that our few days in Victoria were essentially serving as a pseudo-honeymoon as well as a stop-over) with a four-poster bed and a coffee machine as well as all the expected mod cons, the location close to Victoria City Centre was also excellent, they served a three course breakfast - made by a chef on the spot each morning - and had a lovely little library/bar room where guests could mingle and enjoy a glass of wine or a local craft beer. We enjoyed a quiet night, picking up dinner at a craft brew pub in the City Centre before bed.

The next day, we felt like stretching our legs and so we hired bikes and decided to cycle out to the Butchart Botanical Gardens, about 25-30km away. Fortunately, Victoria has a decent number of well formed cycle trails which meant that we didn't have to cycle along the roads too much, also it was a relatively flat route. So, we started out of town on the Galloping Goose trail before turning onto the Lochside Regional Trail. This route follows old, long abandoned rail lines which made it pretty easy cycling. Part way to the gardens, we stopped off briefly at a Mini Golf place we'd seen advertised on a road running parallel with the track. It meant a bit of backtracking, but the mini golf was a reasonable interruption to the cycling. The route continued on over a lake and through some wooded areas before some long stretches through some widely disbursed suburbs - big houses, huge gardens. After about 20km, the trail had passed into a more grassland/farmland area, and unfortunately at this point we had to leave the cycle trail and hit the roads. This meant first crossing a highway, and then cycling up a pretty steep and well used road. This was certainly the least pleasant part of the journey, but eventually we made it to the top of the hill. It was here that we noticed a billboard advertising "The Raptors at Church and State" - basically a bird of prey display at a vineyard. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to get off the bikes and watch the birds of prey do their thing over a glass of wine. After the display, we also took the opportunity to handle a Barn Owl and a Harris Hawk. Leaving there, we finally made it the last couple of kilometres to Butchart Gardens. The gardens were fairly pricey and commercialised, but pleasant enough to walk around. They were certainly well attended with hundreds of tourists milling around checking out the plants and flowers. We whiled away a good couple of hours at the gardens before deciding it was time to head back towards Victoria, this time taking the less scenic route partially following another old rail route down Interurban Road, but mostly following some relatively busy secondary roads all the way back into Victoria, until we could get back onto the Galloping Goose trail for the last couple of kilometres.

The next dawned a bit chilly, and we decided to spend the morning doing a bit of a self-guided walking tour, combining a couple of 5km walks on a handy Victoria walking tours map pamphlet we'd obtained from the Tourist Information Centre. The walk went through the Southern areas of Victoria - passing through the large open spaces of Beacon Hill Park before reaching the coast of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. We followed the coast line for a while before cutting back towards the City Centre through the suburb of James Bay. In the afternoon, we took to the water for a couple of hours kayaking. First, we paddled through the Upper Harbour, under the impressive Selkirk Trestle bridge up into the Gorge Waters. The still waters made the kayaking relatively easy and the scenery proved to be interesting as the aging industrialisation of the Upper Harbour eventually gave way to residential areas; houses with their own jetties and the potential to commute into work.

Just as we were getting to know the place, it was time to leave. So, first thing the next morning it was back down to the harbour to catch the sea plane back to Vancouver. We had the morning and afternoon in Vancouver, and having not satisfied ourselves with the cycling out to Butchart Gardens, we hired another bike - this time a tandem (which took a bit of getting used to) to cycle round the famous Stanley Park. It has to be said, Stanley Park is an incredible place - a 1,000 acre park located within a short walking distance of Vancouver City Centre. A great place to spot wildlife - squirrels, raccoons and birds of various kinds, but the park also has plenty of facilities - playgrounds, cafes, a large restaurant and even an 18 hole pitch and putt course! It even has a couple of beaches that were worth stopping at and taking a breath. After a few hours there, it was time to head back to the airport. It's easy to say you've barely scratched the surface of a place, but in this case it couldn't be a more valid statement. Yep, we'll have to head back to Canada at some point.

So, some photos.

Anyone fancy a Retail Level turnover budget?
Top Left: The room we stayed in at Abigail's Hotel. A wonderful little hotel with great service. Well worth staying there if you find yourself in Victoria, British Columbia.

Top Right: The Selkirk Trestle bridge over the upper reaches of the harbour in Victoria. This was pretty much at the start of the Galloping Goose trail which we cycled. We also went underneath this bridge at some point when we went out kayaking.

Right: A bit further along on the cycle. By this stage, we were on the Lochside Regional Trail. This bridge went over Blenkinsop Lake. Andy mirrors the pose of a statue located on the bridge. The statue was identified as "Farmer Roy" and apparently installed by the local council back in 2001 and dedicated to the early settlers of the Blenkinsop Valley. No reason for specifically choosing Farmer Roy was given.

Bottom Left: Some type of Hawk at The Raptors at Church and State. I think it was a Ferruginous Hawk.

Bottom Right: A Barn Owl at the same location. 
No. I haven't done that sodding outlet level retail budget yet.
Anyone fancy a Retail Level turnover budget?
I found it, I found it and it was THIS big!! Top Left: A Falcon at The Raptors. I think it was some kind of hybrid of a Peregrine Falcon and some other type of Falcon - a Saker Falcon or Gyrfalcon maybe. 

Top Right: The same Barn Owl from earlier coming in to land on Andy's arm.

Left: A picture from inside Butchart Gardens. We could have chosen one of many similar pictures, but this one happens to not have any other tourists in it - which always makes for a better photo.

Bottom Left: We spotted this little creature in a flower bed at Butchart Gardens. Given the rarity of snakes in both the UK and New Zealand, it was a little surprising to see a snake, so we took a quick snap. A bit of research later, and it seems that this is likely to be a Puget Sound Garter Snake. It apparently has a toxic bite! Though in humans the toxin is only likely to cause a slight itching or burning sensation.

Bottom Right: This was taken in Beacon Hill Park. There's something a little bit incongruous about the Peacock opting to use the zebra crossing in order to make his way across. An option which the erstwhile chicken may like to consider in future road crossing endeavours.
No. I haven't done that sodding outlet level retail budget yet.
Taking some affirmative action.
Top Left: Out kayaking on the Upper Harbour in Victoria. Jen is on the right hand side, mid-paddle with the guide on the left.

Top Right: A view from the kayak over the Upper Harbour area. The Selkirk Trestle is in the background on the far left hand side.

Right: A terrapin we saw sunning itself on a log in on a lake in a park in Victoria.

Bottom Left: One of the sea planes, just taking off from Victoria Harbour.

Bottom Right: A dolphin, orca or whale shaped topiary outside the impressively large and ivy covered Empress Hotel on the harbour front in Victoria.
No. I haven't done that sodding outlet level retail budget yet.
A little less conversation... Left: A view of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings on the harbour front in Victoria. Victoria is a small city of 80,000 people but is the seat of the legislative assembly of British Columbia. Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia - a size of about 600,000 with about 2,000,000 in the greater metropolitan area, but Victoria is still the seat of the Provincial government.

Bottom Left: Jen standing in front of the sea plane terminal in central Vancouver after having arrived back on the Canadian mainland.

Bottom Right: A sea otter that we saw sitting on some rocks just offshore of Stanley Park, not far from the Lions Gate Bridge.
Oi! What you looking at?? Finish it off in style
Right: A raccoon that we saw in Stanley Park. Looks like a cute little fulla, but I bet he'd rummage through your dustbins given half a chance.

Bottom Left: A black squirrel in Stanley Park. Supposedly a melanistic version of the familiar grey squirrel.

Bottom Right: A Bald Eagle. To be honest, it looked like a seagull from the distance we saw it from, but once we used the zoom lens at the maximum, it was clear that it was an eagle, and then zooming in further on the computer, it's clearly a bald eagle. It seems to be eyeing up the swallow on the left hand side.
No. I haven't done that sodding outlet level retail budget yet.