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Published: August 14th 2015
One part of planning a perfect trip that often doesn’t get enough attention is the arrival. It’s likely that most travelers are so anxious to start their vacation that they probably pick the quickest way to a destination. The fun will be had once you get there, not on the journey. Arrival by air is often a necessity in the fast paced world of exotic destinations and short stays. Perhaps some choose transportation based on cost. Lots of people going? Can they all fit in the minivan?
Some destinations lend themselves to a certain type of arrival. While rarely mentioned, I think the popularity of Venice, Italy is due in part to the necessity of taking a boat up the Grand Canal at arrival. Gliding past opulent Palazzo on both sides of the canal you naturally slip into the bygone era that is Venice. Taking a quick hop on a small propeller plane from mainland Malaysia to jungle covered Kuching on the island of Borneo takes you low over the vast expanse of intertwined green divided only by the chocolate brown rivers that flow through it. You realize what an achievement it was to cut the small town
along the river from the vast jungle. Transiting the Urubamba Valley by antique train from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu seems like the perfect beginning to adventure. Narrowly missing overhanging trees and passing narrow rock clearances gives you the sense that you are discovering the Incan ruins for yourself.
In the four years since we left home, we have arrived in countries by many types of transportation. Planes to Bangkok, Bali, Yangon and Paris. Trains to Budapest, Penang and Jakarta. Automobiles took us to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Merida. Buses took us to Melaka and Chiang Rai. While some arrivals were very memorable and set the scene for a perfect stay, others have faded away, no doubt forgotten in some daze of a generic airport walkway leading to another rotating mass of luggage on an unmemorable baggage carousel. We have rarely put much effort in to picking the best way to arrive and perhaps we should have.
Of the 22 countries we have visited on this trip, only once before had we arrived in a country by boat. We crossed the Mekong River from Northern Thailand to the Laotian border city of Huay Xai on
a small skiff powered by an outboard motor. Loading our overstuffed bags on the rickety ferry while precariously trying to keep our balance and find a seat was frighteningly memorable. Watching the abundance of activity on the opposite bank as we approached set the stage for adventure. The view of smoky fires coming from small wooden houses and the view of village boys wading in the water trying to be the first to sell their services to carry our bags up the steep hill to the immigration shack made for the perfect arrival to this exotic country.
We have been travelling less exotically in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and western Canada recently. We decided to continue our travels after our recent stay in Washington State by visiting the Canadian city of Victoria, British Columbia.
Victoria is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island is huge with an area of 460 by 80 kilometers. It provided plenty of area to explore for our month long stay. The southern end of the island is very developed and we would find plenty of city life, while the northern end of the island
is filled with vast forests of Douglas Fir and Red Cedar trees, hundreds of tiny inlets, islands and harbors and a vast network of trails to hike.
There are two ways to arrive in Victoria, float plane or boat. If you are bringing a car, as we were, you really only have one option, car ferry. What sounds like a mundane, functionary trip actually is the perfect form of transportation to this beautiful city.
The MV Coho is 350 feet long and built to hold 110 vehicles and carry 1000 passengers. It is owned by Black Ball Ferry Line and is the only route they still run. The 25 mile, 90 minute cruise across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria is the perfect distance. Long enough to leave your car, head to the main deck, grab a steaming cup of coffee and make your way to the forecastle to enjoy the journey across the strait. There is just enough movement of the ship to remind you that you are on the ocean. On a foggy day, Victoria slowly makes its appearance in the distance.
Fairy Lake Bonsai
A small Fir tree precariously hanging on at Fairy Lake near Port Renfrew
shadows of the large inland mountains of Vancouver Island appear first, followed by the rolling hills that surround Victoria itself. You begin to see buildings, on the hills themselves, then along the coastline. The larger apartment houses begin to appear and if cruise ships are visiting, you may see them tied up at the terminal outside the harbor.
Perhaps seaplanes will be landing ahead of you in the inner harbor. We are told it is common to see whales, orcas or dolphins from the ship although we have no luck this day. The view of the city becomes more focused as we near and we make out the entrance to both the Inner Harbor and Esquimalt Harbor which is used by the Royal Canadian Navy as a homeport.
You pass the cruise ship terminal and Ogden Point Light as you enter the harbor. You can see people clearly now. The harbor opens wide as you make the 90 degree turn to starboard. Beautiful modern apartments line the harbor and miniature water taxis shuttle tourists throughout the harbor. You pass Fisherman’s Wharf filled with its brightly colored houseboats. Straight ahead you get your first vision
of the well preserved downtown built in earlier times to cater to the gold rush trade destined further north to the Fraser River and Yukon gold fields.
As the ship slows for mooring, the ivy covered brick façade of the classic Empress Hotel is dead ahead. Built in 1908 as a luxury hotel for well-heeled passengers arriving at the nearby Steamship terminal, the 477 room hotel is topped by a chateau style roof. The best British traditions are still marked by the afternoon tea service which is held daily.
It is time to head back to our car, but not before we take a quick look to starboard to the ornately imposing Legislature building which serves as the governmental headquarters of British Columbia. As we leave the ferry a few minutes later the excitement of arriving at our new home is at a peak, as it should be upon arrival to any new destination.
It is said that Victoria is the most English of Canadian cities and we found this to be true as we toured the many gardens of the city. Formal gardens are everywhere. Flower baskets hang from light
posts throughout the downtown area. The most impressive gardens we saw were at Government House which houses Queen Elizabeth’s representative to the British Columbia government. Beacon Hill Park features gardens, lakes and grand ocean views. The gardens were at peak form and color seemed to explode from every corner.
We enjoyed visiting the downtown area. Narrow alleys with mysteriously descriptive names provide secret passageways between the many squares located along the waterfront. Narrow Fan Tan Alley transports visitors from Chinatown and into Market Square. Gas lamp lit Trounce alley, where mariners and miners once rendezvoused with midnight ladies takes nighttime visitors towards music filled and brightly lit Bastion Square.
When we needed a change from Victoria’s crowded streets, it was an easy escape to any of the neighboring small towns. Visiting Sooke, Sidney, or nearby Oak Bay quickly gave you a quiet small town atmosphere filled with friendly people and well-kept houses. Farther north Port Renfrew and Nanaimo provided bases for excursions to lighthouses, trails, inlets, islands and vast forests of massive old growth trees.
Victoria proved to be a beautiful area filled with friendly people who displayed an obvious pride
towards their town and island. The perfect place to spend an interesting month filled with history and nature. Leaving by ferry back to Port Angeles to continue on our journey to new adventures we looked back as Vancouver Island disappeared into the distance as magically as it had arrived a month before.
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