Wrapping up our summer getaway on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

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Okay, I promise this is my final post about our summer visit on Vancouver Island!

We arrived unscathed at Parksville on the east coast, our next stop after retracing our path across the island on highway 4.  We made it over the 18% grade again, with less stress this time since we knew what to expect.  The usually long wait at the construction area was only 15 minutes – no sweat.

C’mon Betsy, just one more time!

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City of Gardens- Victoria BC

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Following the urgings from several of our friends who had been to Victoria, we decided to go back to Canada when our last opportunity to visit presented itself.  Steve discovered we could go to Victoria via a fast ferry from Seattle. Since Woodland is only 2.5 hours south of Seattle, we drove (leaving Woodland at 4:30am) and then hopped on the Victoria Clipper Ferry.  For two short days, we were back in Canada, visiting the capital city of British Columbia, Victoria.  These were our 9th and 10th US/Canadian border crossings since June, I wonder if they were starting to recognize us?

Stratchcona, Victoria's Entertainment Center

Stratchcona, Victoria’s Entertainment Center

Victoria was named for the British monarch Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837 to 1901 and has been the capital of British Columbia since 1868.  It is the 2nd largest city in BC with a population of about 350,000.  Known as “The Garden City” due to the abundance of gardens and city parks, Victoria also has an impressive selection of historic sites and heritage architecture.  Its downtown is full of heritage buildings that now house shops and restaurants.

Butchart Gardens

There are a wonderful array of attractions in Victoria, so we had to pick and choose what we could enjoy in two days.  Fortunately, there are several hotels close to the harbor and most attractions are within walking distance.  We discovered that taking the fast-ferry from Seattle actually worked out better for us than the service from Vancouver would have.  The reason is that the Vancouver ferry stops at Sidney, which is about 20 miles north of Victoria.  You can take a free shuttle from Sidney, so it’s no big deal, but unless you want to particularly see Sidney it takes time out of your schedule at Victoria.  However, the fast-ferry stops right at the harbor in Victoria and you can walk to just about everything from there.  We wouldn’t suggest the extra cost of taking your car on the ferry from Vancouver unless you really plan to be there long enough to travel outside of Victoria.  Besides, walking is good for you, right?  We did over 5 miles on our second day!

The showpiece, Sunken Garden

Our first stop was the world renowned Butchart Gardens which is also designated a National Historic Site in Canada.  The garden is a century old, created and transformed out of a barren limestone quarry by Robert and Jennie Butchart.  We have been to many man-made gardens and by far this is the most impressive, beautiful and well-planned exhibit.  It has four sections – The Japanese Garden, The Rose Garden, the Italian Garden and the centerpiece Sunken Garden.  It took us about two hours to go around the 55 acres and admire the Butchart’s  passion for gardening then and now.  It continues to be maintained by their descendants. The pictures don’t do justice to this stunningly beautiful and impressive display.

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

As we  walked around town we noticed a vibrant community and a city with a mixture of the old and the new which demonstrates what  our tour driver has said that  “Victoria is a city of the newlyweds (honeymoon destination) and the nearly deads (retirement haven).” We strolled around Victoria’s most famous buildings, the majestic 1908-completed Fairmont Empress Hotel and the 1898-built BC Parliament Buildings.

BC Parliament Building

Fairmont Empress Hotel

Fairmont Empress Hotel

We took a tour of lavish, Edwardian-era luxury at Craigdarroch Castle, the former mansion home of local coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.  Built in the 1890s, its splendid interior features Scotch granite columns, stained glass, oak staircases, and mahogany fireplaces.

Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

Mahogany staircase, we’ve never seen so much wood on the ceiling walls and floors in one place before!

We passed by St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, which was built in 1890. Its 22-m/72-ft facade features sharply tapered bell towers and materials like red brick, stone and slate.

Inside St Andrews Church

Inside St Andrews Church

Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street located in historic Chinatown, once North America’s second-largest.

Inner Harbour

And so we had a great time in Victoria coupled with beautiful fall weather.  Then we hopped back on the ferry for Seattle and drove back to Woodland, WA on the second day.