When my youngest son left Ottawa for Victoria in British Columbia late last summer, I promised to visit. This past weekend I had the pleasure of fulfilling that promise.
British Columbia is the most western province of Canada with Victoria, located off the mainland at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the capital city. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, BC is not just beautiful but absolutely stunning. As I have only previously been to BC (never left the Vancouver airport) en route to Hawaii, this was an exciting adventure.
This next set of pictures provides a perspective on the geography of the area.
The weather forecast was not great, not a whole lot warmer in this area of British Columbia than Ottawa. Although there is much less snow here, just a few patches visible, (especially in the higher altitudes) left over from last weekend’s storm. You can probably tell how cool it was from all the layers I’m wearing in all the pictures. That was my greatest challenge, packing for the probability of rain, wind, and chilly temperatures.
The discounts available when flying with Flair airlines are awesome. That’s if you can travel light. A small carry-on, dressed in layers of clothing (especially rain gear and warm sweaters that take up so much room in a bag), pockets loaded with snacks, and I’m ready to fly.
Flair only flies to Vancouver (sometimes direct to Victoria, more on that later) on certain days of the week, so you cannot be too picky on your flight dates. Thursday to Tuesday worked for me.
Another stipulation for the reduced rate is that you must check-in online and print or download your boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport. This saves time for the traveler (you head straight to security and your gate) as well as reduces the impact on airport staff.
You could choose to take more luggage, select your seat, and have airport staff check you in but you would be required to pay extra for those options.
Although Flair flies direct from Ottawa to Victoria during the summer months, this time of year it only does so to Vancouver. This meant I had to take a ferry between mainland Vancouver and Victoria on Vancouver Island. That was an adventure in itself. The views were spectacular though, especially with my personal tour guide at my side.
We also took advantage of the efficient bus and train systems. A tap of a credit card will get you on the bus in Victoria, and either the train or more buses in Vancouver. From my son’s apartment, we hopped on a bus to the ferry terminal, then another bus on the Vancouver side to the train station to head downtown or to the airport. Although it sounds complicated, it wasn’t, even for those (me included) used to driving a car everywhere.
The transit system is so inexpensive, efficient, and accessible here that my son doesn’t need to own a car, saving on gas, insurance, parking, and upkeep, not to mention the price of the vehicle itself. When a car is needed, Uber and Lyft as well as Turo are available too.
Walking Tours of Victoria
Victoria is small enough (population 400K) that walking tours are an efficient way to take in the charm and scenery.
While my son worked on Friday and Monday, my (clothing) layers and I walked down to the waterfront, only a few blocks away from his apartment building. Beautiful British Columbia (the slogan on the car license plates) does not even begin to describe the views between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
I walked my way through James Bay (the neighborhood my son lives in), Fishermen’s Wharf, and the Breakwater District as well as the opposite direction following the waterfront on Dallas Street, all the way to Victoria’s Mile 0.
Although much of Fisherman’s Wharf was closed for the season, I was able to wander around admiring the floating houses and shops. Boat tours are open for tours of the waterfront.
I love the quaint, you-guessed-it, Victorian architecture in this neighbourhood. Even the most modern buildings blend well into the theme.
You can tell the lumber industry is huge here, with logs washed up everywhere. The massive fir, hemlock, and red cedar trees are also a clue. I guess the longer growing season and lots of rain helps.
The neighbourhoods of Victoria also include cute boutiques, gift shops, cafes, and dining options like Floyd’s Diner, which I nicknamed Pink Floyd’s for obvious reasons…
We also discovered Victoria’s best spot for my favourite cusisine at Indian Aroma, located at 612 Fisgard Street in the downtown area.
Driving Tours of Victoria
My son had already visited lots of the tourist spots in Vancouver and Victoria so made a great tour guide. He also has a much better sense of direction than I do. When you are on an island (surrounded by water) under cloudy skies (no visible sun to provide a clue) orientation is even more difficult. I’m sticking to that excuse.
With his work week completed, we rented a car through Turo and headed on several driving tours of the island. Friday evening we headed down the coast to the Saanich area and up to the summit of Mount Douglas for a spectacular, 360-degree view of Victoria and the surrounding area…
This next picture is of a five-foot-tall stone compass at the summit of the mountain depicting the distances and directions to various landmarks. The darker, bronze-coloured areas represent water, while the lighter areas represent the land. The left, bottom edge of the lowest X near the center touches the point of land we were standing on. The landmarks are listed around the perimeter with their distances away in kilometers. For example, the city of Vancouver was 85 kilometers away towards eight o’clock, and Seattle was 120 kilometers away towards one o’clock. Very cool!
We had hoped to watch the sunset from that vantage point but it was much too cloudy. Instead, we drove back down the mountain, parked the car, and walked around downtown Victoria…
We had also hoped to visit Burchard Gardens (Victoria) and Stanley Park (Vancouver) but both are in off-season mode, so will have to wait for a summertime visit.
Saturday we drove northwest for a few hours to explore Sombrio and Mystic beaches. Both involved trekking (light hiking) through forests and hillsides to the beaches below.
The trail to Sombrio beach was an easy walk, a surfers’ dream, with a spectacular “hidden waterfall” tucked into the lush greenery edging a rocky shoreline (nicknamed green rock beach by me) at the bottom of the trail.
The trek to Mystic beach was a more arduous hike, the limit for my arthritis-weakened hip, but also incredibly gorgeous for nature lovers. The trail started off inconspicuous (level and fairly smooth) progressing to steeper, rougher terrain with several footbridges and a terrifying (for this chicken) suspension bridge. The sign at the parking lot indicated a 2 km hike (no big deal) but 4 km (return) of scrambling over gnarled tree roots as well as up and down tons of stone or wooden stairs was more challenging than it sounded. Well worth it though! Let’s just say I was happy to see the parking lot.
Early Sunday morning we hopped on a bus to the ferry between Victoria and Vancouver, then another bus in Vancouver to the train station. An inexpensive day pass purchased there allowed us to get on and off the train at points of interest throughout the city.
Stops included sushi for lunch on Cambrie Street and happy hour followed by dinner at Granville Island…
The setting sun escorted us back to the ferry for the return trip to Victoria. This was the only sunset I saw on this trip, thanks to the cloudy skies.
As usual, when I travel anywhere, I always take note of the surrounding landscape. Spring has sprung here in Victoria with beautiful signs everywhere I looked..
At this moment I am sitting in the Vancouver airport, waiting (impatiently) for my return flight to Ottawa, and recapping my long weekend adventure.
I lucked out with the weather; other than a few sprinkles, the forecasted rain held off. The temperature was a bit chilly, especially with the constant wind, but overall quite nice for touring.
I loved my visit to Victoria and Vancouver, hope to repeat it again soon!