USA and Canada Days 5-9

Day 5

We had to be up early to hop on the ferry which would take us to Vancouver Island. It was a short taxi ride away from the hotel and then we were some of the first on-board so we got to pick some seats with a good view. The clipper didn’t have a large viewing deck so we relaxed with some snacks and watched the scenery float by. The view was nice but nothing to rival some of the epic scenery we’ve seen on previous trips. On the up-side, the old guy behind us did leave with the number of the woman he sat down next to.

We checked into our hotel and failed to notice that we’d been upgraded to a suite. We’d got cooking facilities and a bedroom and it was nice to have some space. We decided to head out pretty quickly to go grab some food so we walked around the very pretty waterfront area and went to a tapas place. It wasn’t a great sign when they had pizza and pasta on the menu but we hoped that the good reviews we’d seen would make it worth it. We were mostly wrong and it would seem that people in Victoria are clueless about tapas! It was certainly edible, some of it even tasty.. but I wouldn’t go much further than that.

We did a little shopping for chocolates and walking around the downtown area before crashing at the hotel. My lack of sleep had finally hit in full force. After a nap that lasted far too long we headed out to Fisherman’s Wharf to get some freshly caught fish and chips. The cod on offer was some of the best I’ve ever tasted and well worth the trip. We took a long but uneventful stroll out to Chinatown afterwards before crashing for the night.

My main issue with the day was the potatoes at the tapas place. They had “Papas bravas”, more usually called Patatas bravas or “brave potatoes” which is one of the most common tapas dishes around. They had it with a choice of spicy tomato sauce or just a plain garlic aioli though. One of those things is patatas bravas, and one of them is not. It’s like offering a turkey sandwich with the option of turkey or prawn. I did the only thing I could and ordered patatas aioli and confused the hell out of the poor woman.

Day 6

Another early start today ahead of a kayaking trip to discovery island, which lies a little way off the coast of Victoria to the East. We got picked up by a fun woman in an electric car and then taken out by Reuben and Jeanette with the kayaks. We were joined by an older couple and a dad with his 2 teenage kids. These kayaks were the height of luxury compared to the ones we had in Thailand. Rudders, waterproof space for bags and we were fully waterproof in the adjustable seats. Honestly though, it was a bit more of a faff and I kinda prefer the more simple approach. I guess we had a very calm day for this one but with more wind it would be nicer to be waterproof.

We spent several hours paddling about 12km around the island and some of the neighbouring one too. We saw a bald eagle, kingfishers, vultures and a variety of more common birds. We did a short hike to an abandoned lighthouse on the island too where we saw signs of a resident wolf. The weather was fantastic and we had a great time. Reuben was a great guide and he gave me some suggestions on how to spend our time in Vancouver too.

We headed out to beacon hill park in the late afternoon to check out some totem polls and stroll along the ocean front. The park felt a little too much like those at home to get terribly excited about trees and ducks, but it was nice all the same.

We went to a highly recommended Italian restaurant for dinner and found it decent but not amazing. I ended up just wishing I had cooked most of it myself. Today’s issue came with pronunciation. I hoped Canada would be different to the states. Parmesan is probably my most hated word in the states. “Parmajarn” is not a thing. I prayed that the waitress wouldn’t do it to me but she did. Someone needs to come and educate these places. Whilst they’re at it they can sort out the aluminum, yam, cilantro and eggplant but seriously just start with parmajarn.

Day 7

We’d booked onto a whale watching tour with the top rated company on trip advisor. We really wanted to go see a whale in the wild. We got down to the docks for not long after 8am and then had a drink in a local coffee shop whilst everyone arrived. We then got suited up in some massive jackets and waterproof trousers despite the expectation of a very hot day. Travelling on a small, triple-engine speedboat made us very glad for the layers though. We had around 15 of us on the boat and plenty of space and comfy seats.

After around 45 minutes of serious speed and heading west we slowed up and saw our first whale in the distance. Our fab guide told us that there were a bunch all around in various directions and that we’d be seeing quite a few and that prediction came true. We spent several hours checking out multiple whale pods and sailing alongside anything from 1 to 4 whales. The boats can’t get too close to the whales but sometimes we’d get ahead of the whales, turn the engine off and they’d head right past us (or under us) out of curiosity. Seeing all of these whales in their natural environment was one of the highlights of all the trips I’ve ever done. We learned a lot about them during the morning and we were spoiled for whales to look at.

We saw some sea-lions on the way back but didn’t manage to find the local humpbacks. After the whales we grabbed a huge plate of nachos in a decent mexican place near the hotel before getting our bags and heading to the bus terminal and hopping on the coach to Vancouver. Most of the journey was on a car ferry which wound its way through many islands and gave us some pretty decent views. We arrived late, grabbed some disappointing sushi (using brown rice!) in a well rated place near to the hotel and called it a night.

We really liked Victoria. Just one or two streets away from the sea and it was incredibly peaceful. There was grass and trees everywhere, lovely people and the air was super fresh. You could just enjoy being at somewhere like Fisherman’s Wharf with little, multi-coloured floating buildings and then watch the sea-planes take off and land. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of Vancouver island but I could see us coming back sometime.

Day 8

The hotel in Vancouver was the first place with a breakfast. They needn’t have bothered. Nobody should ever do that to an egg and call it an omelette. Nice big room though and the first of the trip which had a shower taller than me.

Today we took a free shuttle (an old school Vancouver Trolley) to the north shore and went to Capilano suspension bridge. This was a rather expensive but cool area above a deep gorge which had a cliff walk, suspension bridge and some tree-top walkways in the forest. It was a little busy but we got the impression that we were actually there at a good time of day. The suspension bridge wasn’t at all scary for me which was a surprise. That didn’t stop lots of other people being fairly terrified on it. A fun place to spend the morning but a little more touristy than we usually like.

Late morning we jumped on a bus from Capilano up to the base of Grouse Mountain. We took a gondola up the mountain and then got to ride a chair-lift even further up before finally going up inside a huge wind turbine which had a viewing platform to look out across the surrounding mountains and down over Vancouver. This was all really quite nice. They had a couple of bears there which we got to see and a few other activities that we watched before heading back down. It was really hot again but not quite so punishing up on the mountain.

The return shuttle dropped us off quite far from our hotel so we slowly walked back and did some sightseeing in Gas Town along the way. This is the “historic” old town of Vancouver but nothing here is old to us, just not quite as new. Quite pretty, but it mostly just felt like a collection of shops and bars. We booked into a Thai place for dinner that was a decent taxi ride from our hotel. It had great reviews and pretty much lived up to them. A very good yellow curry and we mostly went for the mango sticky rice. It didn’t live up to Thailand but it was nice, so I wasn’t too sad. It does make me appreciate the food back home though. Vancouver is known for being a foodie place here and it has a lot of Asian cuisine, but you really have to hunt to get anything as good as we’d expect in any decent restaurant in Bath. Maybe I eat at too many nice places thesedays.

We took a really nice walk back to our hotel via Granville Island and a water taxi and some nice Sunset views of Downtown.

Day 9

Another day, another gondola. On the advice of our kayak guide Reuben, we decided to go along the Sea to Sky highway up to Squamish and ride the new gondola up the mountain. We didn’t want to book a car for the day so we did a guided tour instead. For once the in-hotel tv channel showing tours came in handy! We got a few scenic stops at Horseshoe bay and then Shannon falls (3rd tallest waterfall in British Columbia) before getting to the gondola. This one was really steep and it had amazing views of the Howe Sound below, probably the first fjord that we’ve seen. Another suspension bridge at the top, though much smaller and then a panoramic trail and it was time for a quick burger before heading back down. The scenery here was fab and the mountain air was wonderful. This place reminded us quite a bit of Yosemite in terms of the vegetation and air.

We stopped off at the shut down Britannia copper mine on the way back to Vancouver. We wouldn’t really have gone there if it wasn’t part of the guided tour but we loved it. We got to go inside the mine shafts and learn about the conditions and equipment. The historic photos just had an incredibly British quality to them too.

We had a pretty light dinner of some very, very tasty baguettes from a small place not too far from the hotel (and some cake) before having a pretty lazy evening. One more day in Vancouver ahead and the weather is probably about the turn slightly sour on us.

I’ve often thought that Vancouver might be one of the best cities to live in and I wondered if I might like it more than others from previous trips. It’s pretty good, but it’s no Kyoto! It has pretty decent food, lots of trees, amazing mountain views and great air. Everywhere you look there is someone doing exercise. The only problem with all this is that it’s also full of homeless people. I knew that they get sent here from other cities because it’s the only major city in Canada where they won’t die during the winter, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how many of them we’d see whilst walking around the city. It just feels like more could be done to help them and it’s kind of surprising that in such a successful city that they aren’t doing something to solve the situation. This is still one of my favourite cities though and I expect to end up back here sometime, maybe on the way back to Vancouver Island.