Victoria's S&S vibes

Trip Start May 29, 2012
Trip End Jul 14, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Monday, June 25, 2012

Through an extraordinary confluence, K. and I were able to spend last weekend with Laura, one of our lovely housemates, and her friend Alyssa, in Victoria, British Columbia. This is the capital of Canada's westernmost province, and we had heard about its charm from several people, so when Laura said she was taking a weekend trip and offered to bring us along, we couldn't refuse.

Central to the Vancouver/Victoria axis is the ferry, maybe the flagship route of the well-run BC Ferries enterprise. It involves quite a hike, with ferry terminals about an hour's drive from either city (for perfectly logical reasons). The trip itself passes through a mix of open ocean and gorgeous inlets lined by thick forests, broken up only by the stunning and remote homes that occasionally pop up. The route often has killer whale sightings, and sure enough, there they were on both the outgoing and return trips. These were my first whale sightings in the wild, and although they were fairly far away, it was sublime. The rest of the scenery matched the mysterious yet cozy vibe. This is a hallmark of B.C. to me - its natural scenes form these little cozy pockets, whether in someone's yard, a little cove with houses on it seen from the ferry, or the waterfront of Victoria itself. There's not much for imposing, massively expansive natural views or such (besides, you know, the ocean). 

Victoria's downtown (such as it is) is likewise compact and stately. The parliament building, museum, port, and massive Empress hotel are all within blocks of each other, flanked by a small cluster of shopping streets that is very friendly to moseying and focuses mostly on Irish wool and outdoor gear (along with tourist junk). The bucolic shopping streets betray the stereotype of Victoria as a "S&S" city: students and seniors. The paucity of work or industry, it's said, makes the place attractive and usable only by these two groups.

Only slightly up the hill is the impressive Craigdarroch castle, built in the late 1800s by coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir. The house is very beautiful and worth the price of admission, but the Dunsmuir family story told in detail inside is a real stunner - all told, a rags-to-riches-to-rags tale in only three flameout generations (this summary only hints at the lurid details). Being nouveau riche never was for the faint of heart. 

One thing that really became clear in Victoria is the stunning wildlife in B.C. in general. Cherished neighbors include the crow, which could really be the emblem of B.C. - Montreal was said to be the city of squirrels, and if that's true (which it was), then Vancouver is definitely the city of crows. Others include both orange and purple starfish, over a foot in diameter and sometimes just hanging out on rocks below the surface in the harbor. I found these amazing, but kids in B.C. see so many of these that they get annoyed with them. 

There were also quite a few seals hanging out in the harbor, although they were exceedingly overfed by anyone who ventured onto the pier. Their deep, liquid brown eyes don't look like anything on land, startlingly rich and deep. But they're chasing the food, and it doesn't help them to have a bunch of kids, each with a Ziploc bag of frozen fish, tossing chunk after chunk to them. Those people could kill the seals and not even know, ever. A mottled grey, their hide looks like driftwood, drained of all color by endless searching. 

Speaking of which, another feature that makes the B.C. shoreline stand out is its prodigious amount of driftwood. And I'm not talking about splinters here. Almost all beaches are covered with pieces ranging from chunks to branches and all the way up to massive tree trunks, mostly shorn of bark and branches, some even with roots attached. Sometimes they're arranged, like benches, for people to sit or walk on in rocky sections. They are so big and immovable that they're almost like rocks, like they've been there on the beach forever. The other possibility is that they were placed there by crews who had removed them from somewhere as part of a public works project. But it's impossible to imagine these pieces just drifting in water and washing up on shore, like the soggy trails of kelp that people sometimes put in their water bottles up here because it's an antioxidant. 

All of this was made substantially more fun due to our rather unbelievable accommodations at Laura's uncle's house: a giant beachfront house in a little bay just outside of town, impeccably manicured with stunning views, as you can see in the photos attached. He invented something having to do with digital readouts for gas meters, and so has been afforded a lifestyle of rare luxury and travel. Hence the view. 

So there you have it for Victoria: it all comes down to company, but a beautiful setting like this sure doesn't hurt.
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