Thursday, July 30, 2015


Yeah, I know, no one missed me.  Well, I'm back anyway.  It's been quite a month so I hope you will be ok with me covering this in a couple posts.  It all started on June 28 when we left on vacation.  What was unusual was that for the first time in years we were taking the car; not our RV.

We have a Toyota RAV4 that we bought basically to drive back and forth to Vegas.  It gets almost 30 mpg where our truck is pretty lucky to get 16.  And, of course, it actually fits in a parking space where the truck really needs two or three!  We were a little concerned about taking the car since the only long trips it has been on have been to Southern California which is only a few hours away.  This would be a weeks long trip up to the Northwest.  As it turned out the car worked out really well.

Our idea was simple.  The family has several birthdays in the July-August timeframe and this year we had 85-65-60-45 quadfecta come up so it was time for a party.  We lived in the Northwest for many years and never really got to spend enough time in the British Columbia cities of Vancouver and Victoria.  We decided that spending some time in Canada then doing the party would be a good thing.  It turned out to be great.

You could make the drive up north in two days but three is really more our style these days.  So we spent three days getting up to Washington.  We had some stuff to drop off before hitting Canada so while we left home on the 28th of June it was actually July 2 before we crossed the border into BC.  July 1 is Canada Day and, of course, July 4 is Independence Day here in the states so we were concerned about crowds; turns out we were right but for the wrong reasons.  Now everyone knows the Women's World Cup Soccer match was played in Vancouver on July 5.  I've got to tell you we sure didn't know that when we scheduled our visit!  (Congratulations to the U.S. women for winning!)  Had we known about the world cup we would have found another time to visit for sure.

Anyway we spent a couple days visiting Vancouver.  You have to visit Stanley Park and we spent a lovely afternoon there; most of the day actually.  Gastown is also a kind of iconic place:  it's near where the city began and has older buildings and trendy shops.  Of course we had to visit it again.  We are uncertain but are thinking that the last time we were in Vancouver would have been 1982.  Hmm, nothing like spending all your vacations in the same place!  And it's really odd but I don't have a single photo of the city!  What on earth is coming over me?

Anyway we escaped the mainland on July 4 and headed off to Vancouver Island and Victoria.  Actually what we were really focused on was Butchart Gardens since my wife had never visited.  To that end we stayed in Sidney, BC which is quite close to the Gardens.  However we certainly had to have High Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria and this was the day of our reservation! 

Well, I have to say it's kind of not that special.  We had a nice table next to a window which was great because it was warm and there wasn't any a/c.  The 'tea' is a multi-level tray:  sandwiches, scones and candies.  Are you full when you leave?  We certainly were.  Was it worth the $63CDN plus tip each; nah.  Even with the exchange rate in our favor it wasn't that special.  We'll not have to return.

On July 5 we woke to find the world to be an odd color.  Turns out that there were wildfires burning on Vancouver Island and the smoke was visiting Victoria.  We visited Craigdarroch Castle which is a Victoria 'landmark'.  Apparently it was built by some early 'robber baron' to show off his wealth in the 1890's.  I don't know what he did but one of the placards refered to questionable 'employment practices'.  Sounded kind of harsh considering it was posted on what he must have considered to be his crowning achievement!  It is quite the place and wonderfully presented by a group of volunteers.  The family was pretty unlucky except in that money thing:  they had 8-10 kids most of whom died fairly young.  One of the survivors had another 8-10; the last of whom died in the 1950's.
You can see the color of the sky behind the castle.  It was really most odd.  I didn't smell smoke but the air quality was really poor.  The web site has some nice photos of the interior of the Castle.  I love the catch phrase they are using:  "Lavish lives and wayward daughters".  That pretty much says it all.

Butchart Gardens is just amazing.  A wealthy family started re-purposing a dis-used quarry and now have ended up with this world famous garden.  It's amazing!  We heard that it is a busy place in summer so got there when they opened; a VERY good choice!  It was relatively uncrowded when we started but by lunch time people were streaming in by the busload.  I didn't count but we must have seen twenty gardeners slaving away; the place is immaculate. 
The house is now used for a restaurant, offices, gift store, etc.  We did have lunch there and it was very nice.  The only sore spot would be the $34 for a half-carafe of their house wine.  Hmmm.  Well, gotta pay those gardeners somehow I guess. 
This seems to be the quarry where it all started.  You can tell we were early because there is only one person in the photo!  You can also see the haze in the air.  Butchart is some way from Victoria and between the distance and the wind direction the air was much cleaner than in Victoria.  Still it's obviously not bright and sunny. 

After our visit to Canada we headed back to the USA via the Black Ball ferry, the 'Coho'.   It is a nice big ship but we were glad to have reservations.  We got home and the customs guy asked why we went to Canada and I answered 'Just a vacation' and he asked 'yes, but why Canada?'.  I swear those people must go to school to come up with weird questions.  Oh well. 

We spent the 7th through the 10th visiting family then on the 11th had the big birthday bash.  No photos but it was lots of fun; too much food and wine as usual.  On the 12th we headed back south getting home on the 14th.  Another quiet drive with just the ocassional idiot being an accident looking for a place to happen. 

Our excitement wasn't over but I need to go do things.  Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one.