Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Go West, Young Man! Even Further West!

This is Lara:

She was one of my 17 closest friends in Rio de Janeiro over Carnaval last year. Meaning we were in the same 18-person dorm at our Rio hostel. Then I ran into her again in Argentina. And then she went back home to Western Australia, while I proceeded to do all the silly things you read this blog for!

This is Victoria, BC:

Victoria is actually the capital of British Columbia, not Vancouver, and this is the Parliament Building.

The Empress Hotel is the other uber well-known landmark in Victoria.

Lara + Victoria = an excuse for me to travel a little more! Somewhere on the train ride to Denver, a plan was hatched: upon reaching Seattle, I'd keep heading further West and make it across the bay to Victoria and we'd hang out on Vancouver Island for a day. After all, I still had some Canadian cash on hand! More importantly, the following conversation had become all too common of a refrain while I'd been traveling:
- And where are you from?
- Seattle, in the US
- Oh, I visited there - it's beautiful! How do you like Victoria? We thought it was really lovely!
- Well, actually, I still haven't been to Victoria or Vancouver Island... <frowny face>
And catching up with Lara, and her funny Australian accent would be cool too, so after spending Friday in Seattle, I was off again, to nearby Canada bright and early on Saturday morning.

A three hour ferry ride and 45 minute wait for immigration later, and I was back in Canada! Victoria itself is rather peaceful, and pretty, and quiet. It certainly has a pronounced quaint Victorian feel to it (duh!), especially in the summer - with the immaculate houses, lots of flowers, and the imposing Parliament building

Like I said, lots of pretty, brightly-colored flowers! Right in front of Parliament...

The rest of Vancouver Island, the largest island on the Pacific side of North America (and the 43rd largest island in the world - thanks, wikipedia!) is a pretty big adventure destination - from hiking to surfing to bungy jumping, you've got it all available, but I was only here for a day, so there weren't any big outdoorsy adventures on the schedule (other than camping overnight). We did our loop around Victoria, then went for a brief hike, more of a stroll rather, in a park, which hugged the jagged shoreline of a medium-sized lake in the suburbs of Victoria. I can't remember the name of the park or of the lake, but I do remember getting completely disoriented during the hike because the lake is a very, very irregular non-geometric shape... Anyway, I digress, following this non-geometric shape of a lake, we headed off to the Butchart Gardens, arguably the best known attraction of Vancouver Island. The gardens are an enormous, sprawling collection of flower beds, begun by Mrs. Butchart early in the 20th century. When you enter, you get a flower guide, which among other trivia, tells you when the flowers are likely to be in bloom - flowers being what they are, just about everything is in bloom in July/August, so you too should be coming to visit right about now:

There's pretty purple flowers

And really nice white ones... If I could get Lynn to help write this post, she could probably identify each of these flowers, but I can't remember the names...

The Ross Fountain in the back of the Gardens is animated into some exotic shapes and contortions. I was just at the Cirque du Soleil studios in Montreal two weeks ago - this seemed like the sort of thing they would've thought up!

Apparently, girls aren't welcome at the Gardens! I disapprove!

Well, I could let you go on believing that Mrs. Butchart was just mean and didn't want any other women in her garden... but instead, that sign was accompanied by a 'No Boys' sign on the other side of the street - it's just their polite, Canadian, politically correct way of saying 'No Entry,' to anyone... please! The Canadians are very polite - they really are renowned for it all over the world. Consequently you get all the idiot Americans parading around Europe with Canadian patches on their backpacks, thinking that'll make them appear slightly less obnoxious.

It was starting to get a little dark by this time, which was very good news, indeed - it was a Saturday, and as we discovered, The Butchart Gardens puts on a big fireworks display every Saturday in the summer. And this isn't just a shoot all sorts of sparklies into the sky, like we do for Fourth of July (or the Chinese do for Chinese New Year... they do a lot more actually!) - this is more of an old-school show: there's both the normal fireworks lighting up the skies, and lots of animated, firework-ed displays performing little song and dance tricks down on the ground. Not sure how well this shot captures it all, but it gives you an idea:

All in all, the 30 minute show was spectacular, and certainly offered the most creativity and variety of any fireworks show I'd ever seen. They design a new one every season, and have won a number of awards for their efforts

Visited the Ross Fountain again while waiting for the crowds to clear out after the fireworks - the fountain is spectacularly lit up at night

Yup, on the way out, I posed for a picture with a fountain in the shape of a wild pig...

By this time it was getting towards midnight, so we booked it back to our campground and crashed for the night - see the picture of Lara and I at the start of this post in front of our tent, if you are curious about our accommodations, which were surprisingly comfortable, by the way! (thanks for letting me borrow the tent, Lott!) In the morning, we caught a car ferry back to the States via Anacortes, which took long enough to frustrate and annoy me, but we did make it back to Seattle just in time to go get my furniture out of storage and get me moved in to my new place on Capitol Hill. All in all, a success then! If the ferry had taken another 45 minutes, my storage would've closed, and this success would have turned into a spectacular failure, so I like to think I was justified for wishing that the American Customs would move a little faster, but they are world-renowned for being slow and [often excessively] thorough these days. Especially when dealing with an Aussie... sigh...

My new humble abode in Capitol Hill!

I suppose it's not really new actually, but it's certainly new to me. It isn't exactly mine either, as I've got five house-mates, but I have slept in the same place for the past two weeks, in my very own bed, with my very own sheets, and that sure has been nice.

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