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Published: August 4th 2014
Fire and destruction.
There is something unsettling about flying over a mountain that is on fire. especially when you know that fire is one of about 160 in the greater area. While in Toronto Gemma and I had caught snippets of the weather for all of North America and we saw that British Columbia (BC) was in the grip of a ferocious heatwave. Some areas hitting 43 centigrade.
The BC wilderness is typified by pine forests. Pine trees produce a lot of resin, it's that which you can smell on nice warm days and what gives them such a distinctive smell. It is also what puts Pine trees at a significant disadvantage during droughts and heatwaves. The resin is highly flammable, and in some trees known to take a spark even when wet. Due to the heat and the lack of precipitation the BC region was as dry as a tinderbox and this had caused numerous and widespread wildfires that were inexorable in their destruction of the beautiful countryside. In the north some regions had been evacuated as whole towns were under threat from the imminent danger of destruction. Luckily (for us) the heatwave over Vancouver and Vancouver Island
was easing and the forest fires had not come that far West / South. Around Victoria.
The previous day had been a long drag of travelling and we were shattered when we checked into the hotel so went straight to bed. We were only in Victoria for two nights so had to make the most of our time here.
We headed straight down to the harbour in the morning and ambled around taking in the sights and smells, as is customary in a new city. We then headed up to Chinatown, slinking down the narrow Fan Tan alley (at it's narrowest point just 35 inches wide) we were transported to a completely different place that was a far cry from the rest of Victoria, which proudly claims to be more British than Britain. It was fun exploring the once Opium den and gambling district turned boutique side street and waffle-dispensary.
We headed back down the waterfront, via the harbour and saw the impressive parliament building, not as grand as the Budapest parliament but still a very nice building if architecture is your thing. We then headed up to Beacon Hill park. We had wanted to visit
Fan Tan alley in chinatown
Once a pocket for opium dens and gambling, now home to cafes, an art gallery, a barber shop and other attractions
Buchart Gardens but seeing how far out of Victoria it was we opted for Beacon Hill park. (There is a Beacon Hill park near me... it overlooks a cess-pool of a town though, not the Olympic mountains of Washington.) We wandered in past the lagoon and up toward the rose garden where a lady was sat feeding a peacock. We have peacock in a local country park but they are skittish, this one seemed relatively comfortable around people, while taking photos in true Canadian fashion we got talking. I asked about Bald Eagle that I was yet to see but she stated they were rare in these parts (not what all the information I could find said about them). We left her to her Peacock and went through the rose garden. After that we were in for something very special. Cheryl Redhead
One thing anyone you ask who travels will admit to being addicted to about adventuring around the world is chance encounters with locals who really enhance the experience for you.
Ours came in the form of a retired lady. Gemma and I were walking up toward the ocean lookout when I pointed out a Peacock
Maple bacon waffles with roasted tomatoes salad and orange and tomato cream... can food seduce a man?
stood in a tree.
"want to see some owls?" a voice enquired
"are they wild owls?"
"of course we would" we eagerly replied. So off we went under the direction of a lady smoking the fattest rolled cigarette I've ever seen. She pointed us in the general direction of the worlds largest totem pole while giving us some background about the park and it's flora and fauna. The Owls it transpired were Barred Owls. The nesting pair had spawned three chicks all of which inhabited a localised area with the parents spending time away from the young in the day - probably for some peace and quiet.
"turn right here" Cheryl instructed so we did, leaving the path into a copse of trees. She looked around and said, they're around here somewhere. We were all scanning the branches and there a few feet above us on a low hanging branch one of the chicks was sat watching us curiously. Cheryl told us that the chick would be fine and I could approach and take some photos. The other two chicks went unspotted however this one just sat looking right at me. Occasionally twisting it's
indebted to her for making our trip to Victoria so amazing
head around and looking at me from a slightly different angle. I was in my element. I love all things nature, the more obscure the better and it is not every day you get this close to an Owl unless you're on the set of Harry Potter.
"let's go see the parents" Cheryl announced so out of the copse I came after a couple more snaps and followed on. Over the road and into some woodland we followed a trail until a path the other side of a low fence was noticeable. It had obviously been trodden in by people who knew something the everyday-schmuck didn't know. "In there, I'm not going to come in but just follow it to the end and look up". She wasn't wrong either. There 2 or 3 metres above sat another, definitely older looking Owl, again completely unperturbed by my noise and cumbersome intrusion as I pushed branches and leaves out of my face and brushed a mosquito from my arm that was fat with blood, leaving a lovely smear and lump. Suddenly Gemma pointed out the second Adult a few branches away. (I'm guessing female as the colouration was lighter). She swooped
Barred Owl chick
I was like 3 foot from it and it just didn't care! Incredible
down through the trees gracefully and landed above me. Now both Owls looked down at me from their perches. This was too good.
Cheryl then offered to take us to see if a Cooper's Hawk was at it's regular haunt, to which we again, eagerly agreed. After a light walk through the woodlands and along a suburban street we stopped next to a park and Cheryl pointed upwards. There atop a tree on the spindliest twig available was a Hawk preening it's feathers. That was the cherry on our little owl-cake.
We swapped email addresses here and I gave Cheryl the link to my blog - I hope she reads this, I want her to know that she made our brief visit to Victoria an incredible and unforgettable experience. Just because she enjoys the natural world and sharing it with a few lucky people. We were most certainly lucky. Cheryl pointed us toward where the Blue Heron nest and a pond with some Turtles in and went home to read her book. We wandered back to Beacon Hill park following her instructions unable to believe are utterly good fortune! True to her word we found the little pond
/ miniature lake just past the stone bridge and there was Blue Heron everywhere and on a log out in the lake was Turtles basking in the sun. We followed the path up from the lake by a pond crammed with Lilly pads then we were on a rise overlooking a strait of water and the Olympic Mountains in Washington, US. The white, snow-capped peaks belying the fact that it was extremely warm.
Earlier in the day we had wandered past a harbour tours company and figured that as we always take a boat trip in every city we go to why change the habit of a lifetime so 26 bucks each got us over an hour on a small boat being given some local history by a Skipper-come-historian. Including from the first settlement of Fort Victoria by the Hudson Bay Company to the industrial history of the city's ship building and more recently float-plane building. The harbour doubles up as a runway for the float planes which is pretty cool having planes landing not far from you on the water. The Buskers Festival
We had been told that there was a Buskers festival on at the
waterfront and that morning we had seen stalls popping up. That evening the harbour in front of the parliament building was alive with various acts on different stages we ambled through the crowds watching the buskers perform for what I imagine was marks toward a prize. Some where dancing others performing tricks, some playing instruments and others doing little sports skits. It was good fun and the crowds were enthralled, but I was hungry so we didn't hang around long as I'm a slave to my stomach. After having suitably troughed a load of seafood we went back to the buskers festival and enjoyed the rest of our evening on the seafront then perusing the shops. Guerilla Yoga, Waffles and Pirates!
We headed out early to find another wafflery as I am now quite partial to one... or seven. On a street not far from our chosen Waffle destination were bollards blocking access and like 60 people just doing yoga in the street... really odd. I'd rather spend my Sunday mornings eating waffles than exercising... but that's why I'm a recovering Fat Person. (Prior to Canada I lost just shy of 2 stone or 27 Lbs, read a
later blog to find out how much of it went back on during our gastronomical tour of North America.
My waffle came topped with bananas black forest fruits and a veritable mountain of squirty cream... again, if food could seduce!
Then we headed down to the maritime museum to learn all about British Columbia's rich maritime history from pirates, touring the pacific, whaling through to the war and beyond. One exhibition was regarding a local school project to build links with people affected by the tsunami disaster in Japan a few years back. Some of the stuff was really heartfelt and saddening. It gave pause for thought and to a degree made me a little thankful I live in one of the most land locked sections of England (then I remember I love the coast and would give a limb to live there). There was a table full of origami sheets and instructions and Gemma and I had a go at our first Origami figures, naturally nautical themed. We opted for the aged old rivalry, Gemma made an Squid and I a Whale.
The museum has a boat named Tilikum
which translates to friend from the First
That sword was in the kids toy chest behind
it was ridiculously sharp... kids have the best toys
Nations Chinook language the (relatively) small canoe (carved from a single cedar tree) and refitted to become a Sail Boat sailed from Victoria of the Pacific North West right around the globe to England making stops in Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil along the way. It's journey marred by set back and damage to the boat but it ultimately succeeded in it's goal. It's return voyage was by freighter many years later after being found rotting on a beach in Greenwich. The ghost of justice
Above the BC maritime museum of Victoria is the old courts of justice, up four flights of stairs. We walked up the stairs as the museum ends on the 3rd floor and had a look around the old court room complete with vintage style cutout of what I assume to be the judge. We then rung the bell for the lift but it didn't come so we walked down. The lift is one of those bird cage style lifts, really ornate and beautiful and loud. By the time we had got to the bottom the lift had gone up and back down looking for us with the museum attendant to operate
the lift, we were leaving when she called after us asking if we had rung the bell and apologised for not coming quickly. She then asked if we would like a go in the lift and we did, learning about the lift's history and it's paranormal ties.
The lift had originally been commissioned for the Judge who had a heart problem and was unable to make the 4 flights of stairs daily to preside over his court. Problem was, he died just prior to completion of the lift and never got to ride it. Children have asked, on various occasions prior to being made aware of the lift's history by museum staff, who the old man sat on the bench in the lift is. When staff have looked, no one is there.... oooo spooky.
Another interesting bit of the lift's life is that it is considered by National Geographic to be the 2nd best Elevator ride in the world... the first being the CN tower. Nice to have unwittingly bumped off the top two in less than a week!
Well that was it, our time in Victoria was at an end, all too quickly, but we had a pressing engagement in Vancouver that we really didn't want to miss...
(Again I want to express my gratitude to Cheryl Redhead. I was absolutely enamored with Victoria, it is an absolutely beautiful city, in an equally beautiful part of the world and our experience there was enhanced immeasurably by Cheryl's kind act and knowledge of the local wildlife. If you are reading this, thank you so much!!!)
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