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A Crossroads of Cultures: Victoria, BC

A Crossroads of Cultures: Victoria, BC

Posted by on Jan 13, 2018 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 18 comments

In mid-October, we wrapped up our Vancouver Island adventure with a few days in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. It’s kind of like traveling to England without having to cross the Atlantic. Afternoon tea, flower-filled gardens, and horse-drawn carriages trotting along streets lined with grand Victorian architecture are reminders of Victoria’s British colonial past.

But there are other facets of Victoria that we find even more intriguing—the totems in the downtown area, for example, honoring the First Nations that were the original inhabitants here.

First Nations Totems against a backdrop of Victorian buildings in downtown Victoria

We visited Victoria about 15 years ago (pre-RVing), and our most vivid memories were of the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum. We’ve been wanting to return, and that’s where we headed first.

There’s a lot more to the museum than just the First Nations exhibits, but this was the most intriguing part for us. The museum focuses not only on the past, but also the present and future of the First Nations peoples.

The Royal BC Museum

First Nations canoe filled with cedar bark containers

First Nations totems and a longhouse

The “talking masks” relate tribal legends as each mask is illuminated

Victoria is an exceptionally walkable city. Some of the most famous attractions—The Royal British Columbia Museum, the Parliament Buildings, and the Fairmont Empress Hotel—are within a couple of blocks of the Inner Harbour.

It’s also an enjoyable walk along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you get tired, you can catch one of the cute little water taxis back across the harbour. Or ride one just for fun.

A view of the Inner Harbour from the water

An orca topiary decorates the Inner Harbour walkway

A multi-talented street musician on the waterfront

Cute water taxis buzz around the harbour like little bumblebees

Colorful Fisherman’s Wharf, about a mile from the Inner Harbour

Catching a water taxi at Fisherman’s Wharf

Enjoying fish tacos at Red Fish Blue Fish at the Inner Harbour; there’s usually an enormous line

On another day, we joined a free hour-long tour of the ornate BC Parliament Building. Our tour guide was engaging and informative, and even taught us how to greet the Queen, which I’m sure will come in handy someday.

The grand BC Parliament Building—the blue domes are copper that has oxidized

Our tour guide explains the symbolism of British Columbia’s coat of arms

A traditional cedar canoe graces the rotunda in the Parliament Building. It was carved by the Honourable Steven L. Point, the former Lieutenant Governor as well as a former Skowkale First Nation chief, provincial court judge and treaty negotiator. (The canoe is named Shxwtitostel which means “a safe place to cross the river” in Halq’eméylem.)

“Shxwtitostel is a gift to all peoples in British Columbia as a symbol of my belief that we need to create a better understanding amongst all people that we are in the same canoe,” said the Lieutenant Governor. “No matter where you are from, we all need to paddle together.”

Traditional First Nations canoe carved by a former Lieutenant Governor

The rotunda of the Parliament Building; each quadrant represents the four industries of the time: fishing, agriculture, forestry, and mining

Learning how to behave properly when meeting the Queen

Stained glass windows in the Parliament House—science and art are given equal weight

It’s worth taking a stroll downtown at night, when the Parliament Building sparkles with thousands of lights. The buildings were first lighted for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and were meant to represent jewels in the night sky.

The Parliament House twinkles at night

A scene out of Victorian England—horse and carriage passing by the Fairmont Empress Hotel

We got hooked on the tradition of afternoon tea during our weeks on Vancouver Island. It’s such a civilized thing to do, taking a break in the afternoon. We considered high tea at the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel, but changed our minds when we discovered the cost would be $75 per person. Instead, we made our way to Chinatown, where we had organic tea and a slice of flourless chocolate cake at the charming little Venus Sophia Tea Room for about $15, total.

In the tea room of the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Afternoon tea at the cozy Venus Sophia Tea room

Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and the second largest. The colorful buildings and bustling streets speak to the resiliency of the culture and traditions brought to Canada by Chinese immigrants in search of gold (and later, to work on the railroads) more than 150 years ago.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown

The Chinese Public School, built in 1908 to educate Chinese students who were prohibited from attending public school in Victoria. The school still teaches Chinese language, history, and culture.

Fan Tan Alley, a narrow alley once home to opium and gambling dens. Gates at each end of the alley were locked to prevent surprise police raids.

Colorful buildings in Old Town Victoria

Victoria is famous for its gardens, and of course, Butchart Gardens tops the list. We went to several gardens, but we passed on Butchart. We were there 15 years ago, and while it’s worth a one-time visit, our taste runs more to less formal, less flower-basket filled gardens.

This time we explored the lovely gardens of Beacon Hill Park (conveniently downtown and free), the Government House Gardens (residence of the Lieutenant Governor and free), and the gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. All different, and all definitely worth seeing.

Lovely trails in Beacon Hill Park, downtown Victoria

An orca sundial at Government House gardens

Beautiful winding pathways through perennial borders at Government House gardens

Gardens at Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

There are all kinds of demonstration gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

Students working in the gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

During our stay in Victoria, we also made a couple of day trips to explore nearby areas. On a crisp, early fall day we set out to see Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.

Fall colors on the path to Fisgard Lighthouse

The wonderfully photogenic Fisgard Lighthouse

It couldn’t have been a better day for visiting the lighthouse

Inside the lighthouse, the black and white floor pattern was painted by a light keeper to simulate marble tiles

A military searchlight camouflaged as a boathouse on the coast at Fort Rodd

Our other out-of-town excursion was a biking adventure. The bike trails in and around Victoria are wonderful repurposed rails-to-trails. There are many miles of trails—we rode about 20 miles on the Galloping Goose Trail near Sooke, some of the prettiest and least urban of the trails.

Biking the Galloping Goose Trail to the Sooke Potholes

Our few days in Victoria was the perfect ending to our five week Vancouver Island tour. Would we return to the island? Absolutely. This was one of our top RVing experiences in our four-and-a-half years of full-timing.

About the campground:

There aren’t a lot of options close to Victoria. We stayed at Fort Victoria RV Park, conveniently located just a few miles from downtown Victoria. It’s nothing fancy (although it should be for the price!) but it’s clean, quiet, and offers full-hookups and free internet. Ask for a site away from the highway—it’s much quieter.

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Looking Back At 2017 (And A Map!)

Looking Back At 2017 (And A Map!)

Posted by on Jan 4, 2018 in Gallery, Maps | 38 comments

Well, it’s that time of year when I make resolutions about doing things like getting our blog up to date. And then I promptly get distracted by doing something like creating a map of our 2017 adventures and browsing through photos from last year.

Despite our rather rough beginning to 2017, it turned out to be a wonderful year, filled with new experiences and revisiting some favorites. We checked a bunch of stuff off of our bucket list: the Oregon and Washington coasts, Vancouver Island, and Big Bend National Park were some of the big ones. The only problem is that those places were all so awesome that they went right back onto our list. It’s a good problem to have.

You can enlarge the map (click on the “plus” symbol), click on any of the icons, and access information about where we stayed. Clicking on “more details” will take you to related blog posts. Most of the locations have an associated blog post; I’ll add the others as I get them done. (Time to turn my attention back to catching up on the blog!)

 

 

Here’s how 2017 turned out:

January to mid-May: Ashland, Oregon (our hometown, a lengthy stay for Eric’s unexpected surgery and recovery)

Mid-May to July: Traveling up the Oregon and Washington coasts, including Olympic National Park

July and August: Lopez Island, Washington (our seventh year as interpretive hosts at Spencer Spit State Park)

September to mid-October: Vancouver Island, BC

Mid-October to mid-November: Ashland, Oregon

Mid-November through December: traveling down the California coast, through southern Arizona and New Mexico to West Texas.

We spent New Year’s in Big Bend National Park—more specifically, at the Starlight Café in Terlingua, Texas.

Totally funky, and totally awesome. The sign you can’t see says “No dogs on porch.” Haha.

It’s a tiny town on the far side of nowhere. The Starlight Theatre is the place to be.

A few statistics, for those of you who like numbers:

Total mileage for the year: 4670 (towing)

Number of places stayed: 43

Travel distances: Between 8 and 270 miles; with most travel days under 150 miles. Our average travel distance was 108 miles.

We stayed most places 3-5 nights, with the occasional one-night stand or weeklong stay thrown in here and there. And of course, we stayed for two months on Lopez Island for our hosting gig, and a total of 5.5 months in Ashland in 2017(!!!).

Favorite place: That’s the question everyone asks us. We still can’t answer. :-)

We hope 2018 brings you joy and peace in equal measure, along with the opportunity to realize your dreams. Thank you for continuing to join us in our journey—it makes our travels infinitely richer to have you with us! We love hearing from you.

Next Up: Victoria, BC and Vancouver Island Wrap-Up

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Whimsical Salt Spring Island, BC

Whimsical Salt Spring Island, BC

Posted by on Dec 29, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 30 comments

Just off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island lie the Gulf Islands, an archipelago of more than 200 craggy and wild isles. Many are little more than rocky prominences; a few are large enough to be quite civilized, in the unique Pacific Northwest style of artistic hippie chic, mossy forest trails, exquisite coastline, and a thriving local food scene.

The second week in October, we boarded the tiny ferry in Crofton to spend a few days on Salt Spring Island, the largest isle in the clutch of Gulf Islands. This was the smallest ferry we’ve taken our trailer on. Note: Do not trust the ferry workers to know how much room you need to maneuver your rig. Because you might, hypothetically speaking, rip the end cap off of your slide cover roller.

The little ferry to Salt Spring Island from the Crofton ferry landing

Other than that hypothetical end cap getting ripped off and having to borrow a rickety ladder to extend our slide (and retract it), we thoroughly enjoyed our stay on Salt Spring Island.

Colorful Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring Island

We spent our days trekking the beautiful shoreline at Ruckle Provincial Park and the rugged trails on Mt. Erskine, one of the most fun trails we’ve hiked. It offers not only spectacular views, but also a treasure hunt of fairy doors hidden in moss-covered rocks along the way.

Historic farm at Ruckle Provincial Park

Hiking at Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

Hiking the shoreline trails at Ruckle Provincial Park

On the rugged trails at Mt. Erskine Provincial Park

Fairy doors are hidden along the trail on Mt. Erskine

A treasure hunt for fairy doors

A raven door! (Well, maybe it’s a crow door)

We found a half-dozen doors along the trail, and there are more we didn’t find

At the top of Mt. Erskine

Whimsy is most definitely a defining characteristic of Salt Spring Island.

Strolling the streets of downtown Ganges

Café Talia is a cozy place for coffee

A colorful garden shop on the island

The delightful Vesuvius Café, with wonderful coffee, soups, and baked goodies

In the village of Fulford Harbour

A seaside home in Vesuvius Village

I’m looking over my shoulder from West Texas right now, wistfully longing for the farmers’ markets of the Pacific Northwest. The Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island is especially fine.

The colorful Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island

Heyday Farm, offering an abundance of organic veggies

Eco-friendly packaging for organic tomatoes at the market

Fall harvest time at the Saturday Market

Small Earth Farm; one of many small local farm stands

An excellent taco stand at the market. Apparently we have a thing for tacos.

Yummy pork tacos with local greens, pickled red onions, and chipotle aoili

Those pear almond tarts were wickedly good. I wish I had one now.

Salt Spring goat cheese, offering all kinds of flavors (lemon was our favorite)

A shopping bag’s Philosophy of Life

That way to Salt Spring Winery

At lovely Salt Spring Vineyard and tasting room

Blackberry wine in the garden (and a brownie, because of course wine + chocolate is best)

Beer tasting at Salt Spring Island Ales; the Earl Grey IPA was excellent

About the campground:

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Mowhinna Creek Campground. Our site was large and private, with full hookups and internet. Best of all, it’s just a few miles from Ganges, the central happening place on the island (including the Saturday Market).

Fall colors at Mowhinna Creek Campground

Our site at the campground was spacious, private, and beautiful. And they loaned us a ladder.

Next Up: Exploring Victoria, BC: And Vancouver Island Wrap-Up

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Wishing You The Blessings Of The Season

Wishing You The Blessings Of The Season

Posted by on Dec 24, 2017 in Gallery | 46 comments

Although our blog is still lingering on Vancouver Island, we’re pausing for a moment in the present to wish you a joyous holiday season.

The past few weeks we’ve traveled from the Pacific Northwest, down the coast of California, to our current location of West Texas. One of the fun things about traveling at this time of year is seeing the different holiday celebrations and decorations along the way. In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together a little holiday postcard for you. We hope you enjoy it!

The elves are busily at work in Port Townsend, Washington

Holiday lights in our hometown of Ashland, Oregon

John Steinbeck and other former residents on the waterfront in Monterey, California

A chihuahua princess holiday ornament in Carmel, California

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and Santa’s House in San Luis Obispo, California

The Hearst Castle decked out for Christmas in San Simeon, California

Madonna and child, Hearst Castle collection of art

Holiday table setting in the Hearst Castle dining room

A modern icon of Joseph and Mary at the Ojai Art Center in Ojai, California

Christmas decorations at Liberty Station in San Diego, California

Holiday decorations in historic downtown Yuma, Arizona

A bright Northern Cardinal greets us in Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

A tumbleweed snowman, Arizona style, at Tohono Chul Botanical Garden in Tucson

Holiday decorations at the Amerind Museum in Dragoon, Arizona

Christmas at Faraway Ranch in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Holiday dining at the Faraway Ranch (too bad the food was plastic)

Walking the labyrinth on Solstice Eve at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico

An antelope pictograph (let’s pretend it’s a reindeer!) at Hueco Tanks State Park, El Paso, Texas

Solstice sunset at Hueco Tanks State Park, near El Paso, Texas

Happy Holidays in Marfa, Texas

El Paisano Hotel decorated for Christmas in Marfa, Texas

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Treasures Of South Vancouver Island

Treasures Of South Vancouver Island

Posted by on Dec 19, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

There’s only one highway that traverses Vancouver Island from south to north. Which means that as we returned south from our northern and western explorations of the island in early October, we had the opportunity to visit places that we missed the first time around.

Southern Vancouver Island boasts of a Mediterranean climate, which seems like wishful thinking. And then we saw the vineyards, lavender fields, and fig trees—not too far from old-growth forests and mossy trails. I’d call it fusion Mediterranean-Canadian. Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous.

We set up camp in two different areas for our explorations: Qualicum Beach and Crofton, only 58 miles apart. In between is a cornucopia of fascinating things to explore: colorful towns, farms, wineries, hiking, beaches, farm-to-table restaurants and creative food purveyors. And goats on a market roof, a tourist trap that I absolutely had to see. We could have easily spent a month in this area and not run out of things to do.

 

On our way from our previous stop in Port Alberni to Qualicum Beach, we made a quick stop in Cathedral Grove. This protected grove is estimated to be around 800 years old. If you’ve seen the redwoods in California, you’ve seen bigger trees. But any old-growth forest saved is a good thing. There’s precious little old-growth remaining on Vancouver Island and it was a hard-won fight to save these trees.

Feeling kind of small among the giant Douglas Firs in Cathedral Grove

It’s pretty awe-inspiring looking up in Cathedral Grove

This was once the heartland of the Douglas Fir Empire, providing economic sustenance for communities in the area. As the logging industry took a nose dive, local towns were in danger of withering on the vine. But from all appearances, each has discovered a way to not only hold on, but to thrive.

Near Qualicum Beach, the miles of scenic waterfront and beaches are a huge attraction. Apparently the sand warms the incoming tide, making the water swimmable in summer. The beach at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is more than a mile long, and at low tide, a half-mile wide. It’s a meditative walk of beach and ocean and sky…and more beach and ocean and sky…with a few sand dollars thrown in for excitement.

A peaceful scene on the Qualicum Beach waterfront

The pathway to Rathtrevor Beach

It’s a long way to the water when it’s low tide at Rathtrevor Beach

Just a few miles inland is lovely Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Hiking trails wind through moss-laden forests, along a crystal clear aquamarine river to a series of falls cascading through a rocky gorge.

Little Qualicum Falls

More waterfalls on the Little Qualicum River

The Little Qualicum River, beautifully clear and aquamarine

On the bridge overlooking the Little Qualicum River

In a previous post, I wrote about how the town of Duncan commissioned a spectacular array of totems from First Nation’s artists to encourage tourism. Nearby Chemainus, once merely a sawmill town on a downhill slide, has done something similar by transforming itself into a festival of street art. More than forty enormous murals adorn buildings in the downtown area, each depicting an aspect of the town’s history. We’ve seen quite a few towns with murals in our travels, but these really are exceptional.

I’m betting a chainsaw was used in the carving of the town sign

It’s still a logging town on a much smaller scale….but now with cool murals

What it looked like in the early logging days

“Memories of a Chinese Boy” mural

A tribute to Canadian artist Emily Carr

Native Heritage mural honoring the indigenous peoples of the area

Mural of a Salish woman in a cedar bark robe watching the arrival of a European sailing ship

The founder of the Japanese-Canadian Boy Scouts lived in Chemainus; all Japanese were later interned during the war

The telephone arrives in Chemainus, 1908

Hong Hing Store: originally a laundry/grocery/second hand goods store that expanded into a bootlegging and gambling house. It was a very popular place, as you can imagine.

He thought about joining up

In the 1850s, farmers discovered the pastoral Cowichan Valley. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone in Canada isn’t trying to squeeze into this little patch of sun and warmth. There’s a flourishing local foods movement, with organic farms, wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, and even an organic tea farm.

Westholme Tea Farm in North Cowichan was high on my list of places to visit. Although we thought it would be a quick stop, two hours later, Eric had to drag me away. The lush gardens, the lovely tea shop, and the welcoming staff charmed us. We tasted various teas, and then chose pots of tea and homemade almond orange cake to enjoy in the garden.

They have an appealing philosophy: “We believe in creating imperfect moments of joy, beauty and splendour.

In the gardens at Westholme Tea Farm; the fig tree gives credence to the Mediterranean claim.

Inside the cozy tea room at Westholme Tea Farm

So many choices!

Everything is simply and beautifully displayed

Tea time in Westholme garden; pots of green/rose petal/vanilla and Earl Grey/lavender

Out of at least a dozen appealing wineries in the Cowichan Valley, we settled on Unsworth Vineyards. The wines were very good, and lunch was superb: Clams in white wine with shaved fennel, ahi with tomato peach chutney, and a salad with pears and candied walnuts. While we ate, we watched their chickens patrolling for bugs in the vineyard. It’s a beautiful place—even the chickens have a charming tiny house.

Unsworth Restaurant, in a restored early 1900s farmhouse

Even the chickens have an artistic, colorful home

Natural pest control

Wine tasting at Unsworth Vineyards

Clams in white wine with chickpeas and shaved fennel

Ahi with tomato peach chutney

We walked off our lunch and wine tasting at the nearby Kinsol Trestle, one of the largest freestanding wooden railway trestles in the world. Designed by engineers and built by local farmers and loggers, the trestle was in use from 1920 until the late 1970s, when it was abandoned and fell into ruin. In 2011, the restored trestle was reopened for hikers and bikers. It’s hard to imagine the herculean effort it took to build this structure, not once, but twice.

On the Kinsol Trestle

It’s quite a feat of engineering at 144 feet tall and noteworthy for its seven-degree curve

One of the most beautiful towns we visited (in a whole array of beautiful towns) was Cowichan Bay. It couldn’t be more picturesque. And it couldn’t have been a more picture-perfect day. We stopped for afternoon coffee at True Grain Bread, a unique bakery that uses only organic BC grown heritage and ancient grains, with everything baked in stone hearth ovens.

Picturesque Cowichan Bay on a perfect day

On the dock at Cowichan Bay

Colorful and elaborate floating homes on Cowichan Bay

I liked the sign

True Grain Bread, a unique organic bakery in Cowichan Bay

I know, I know. It’s a cookie. But it’s an exceptional chocolate chip cookie made with heritage BC grains and baked in a stone hearth oven.

Last but not least, we went to visit the goats at Coombs Old Country Market. It’s kind of a tourist trap, but it’s a very nice tourist trap, and there’s an interesting back story. The market was built by a Norwegian family in the early 1970’s with a traditional sod roof. As the story goes, a few glasses of wine inspired the idea to put a few goats on the roof to mow the grass. The goats became celebrities, business picked up, and 30 years later, the goats are a permanent seasonal fixture.

Goats on the roof at Coombs Country Market

Eating the roof is encouraged (the grass, not the actual roof)

Inside Coombs Country Market—it’s all about the goats. But they also have a nice array of gourmet foods and wines.

About the RV Parks:

Cedar Grove RV Park, Qualicum Beach

Cedar Grove RV Park in Qualicum Beach was just what we needed after a week with no electricity or water in Ucluelet and Port Alberni. It’s a rather modest park with hard-packed dirt sites, but it has full hook-ups, free internet, and a nice small laundry. We were very happy with our site backing up to the Little Qualicum River. This place is booked solid in the summer, but in the fall, we had no problem getting a site.

Osborne Bay RV Resort, Crofton, BC

We loved our site (and view!) at Osborne Bay Resort in Crofton. Full hookups, useless internet, and there’s a lovely walking trail along the bay. This was also our launch site for a several day trip to nearby Salt Spring Island (the ferry landing is right next door).

Next Up: Whimsical Salt Spring Island

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