Hello from Victoria (1) - Reaching the West Coast
By Susanne Pacher
Jetlag is an amazing thing. It's barely after 5 am and I have already been reading for an hour an a half. So I figured I might as well use this bout of sleeplessness and record my first impressions of British Columbia.
My WestJet flight out of Toronto left a 7:15 am yesterday, so that meant I got up at 4:30 am, after 2.5 hours of sleep, to check all my luggage, eat a brief breakfast and get myself out to the airport. Sometimes a little travel savvy goes a long way, I had decided to use my Airmiles to go to BC and upon doing some research I found out that WestJet had a special on that only required me to use 1600 Airmiles instead of the regular 3900 Airmiles, so off I went and booked the trip, saving myself 60% of the Airmiles that I would have otherwise spent. When you travel frequently, you have to look at every available option of savings costs and my travel reward miles came through big for me.
I was able to book a flight from Toronto to Calgary and another from Calgary to Vancouver. WestJet is always an interesting experience because its flight attendants are known for cracking jokes over the PA system. The flight to Calgary was actually really bumpy and for about an hour we went through what felt like a dirt road in the sky full of potholes, hitting the occasional air pocket and dropping a few feet. But the WestJet crew brought us down safely and humorously, something I was very happy about.
In retrospect I actually felt pretty lucky, considering that the very night before my departure an Air France flight had crash-landed in Toronto. Fortunately, all 300+ passengers and crew survived and only 43 people ended up with light injuries, despite the fact that the plane went up in flames. Not surprisingly the newspapers referred to this incident as the Miracle Flight.
Well, my aerial transport went a lot smoother and after about 7 hours of flight and transfers our plane touched down in beautiful Vancouver. The natural setting of Vancouver is indeed impressive: it is set in the Coastal Mountain Range, surrounded by Vancouver Island and the Pacific Ocean. It certainly looked breath-taking from the air, but my exploration of this city had to wait since my first item of the agenda was to get myself to the City of Victoria, on Vancouver Island.
I located the Pacific Coachlines desk at the Vancouver airport and for just over C$70.00 I bought a return ticket for a coach and ferry ride across to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. I only had about a half hour between my arrival at the airport until a comfortable air-conditioned bus whisked us to the Tsawassen Bay Ferry Terminal, following which the bus went onto the BC Ferries boat itself.
The ferry was a very large vessel with 3 different decks for cars, trucks and buses. There are 3 additional passenger decks including an open-air sitting area in the front of the ferry. We slowly started our crossing of the Straits of Georgia and I thoroughly enjoyed the panomara of mountains and water. Due to my lack of sleep my head got a little heavy and I fell asleep on the open-air deck. When I woke up we were just chugging through the narrows between Galiano Island and Mayne Island. The narrow channel is embedded in between these islands which are covered by coniferous forests. The entire approach to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal was one of the most scenic waterways I have ever seen.
Punctually at 2:25 pm people headed back down to the bus, at 2:35 the bridge was lowered onto the ferry and our bus was the first vehicle out of the boat. Another 45 minutes later and we arrived in downtown Victoria at the bus terminal, right next to the Fairmont Empress Hotel, one of Victoria's most famous landmarks. Designed as a chateau-style luxury hotel, it was built in 1908 for $1 million and was extensively restored in the late 1980s to the tune of $45 million. But more extensive exploration of this stunning building would have to wait, since a local friend was picking me up at the bus station.
My co-worker Clare, who works with me in my full-time business in new business development, relocated to Victoria with her husband Haishan in March of this year, and the two of them have been graciously accommodating me since my arrival yesterday. Both Clare and her husband are originally from mainland China and have been calling Canada their home for the last few years.
Haishan came to pick me up and after a beautiful drive through Victoria and some of its suburbs, I arrived at Clare and Haishan's beautiful house in a little hillside community outside Victoria. After a couple of hours of rest due to my utter exhaustion, I got up to a beautiful Chinese dinner complete with 3 different meat dishes and the most delicous chicken with chestnuts dish I had ever eaten.
While we were savouring this gourmet meal, a deer made its appearance in the backyard, and Clare had already informed me earlier that deers show up in the backyard on an almost daily basis and take care of all newly planted landscaping and flowers, much to the chagrin of the residents.
After this delicious dinner we went on a little drive in the neighbourhood and drove down to the lagoon from where we had a perfect lookout to the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington State, across the narrow strait from Vancouver Island. One of the mountains was snow-covered and this majestic mountain range combined with the waters of the Pacific creates one of the most stunning sceneries this lovely planet of ours has to offer. We had a view of a historic light house and the Esquimalt navy base and after a brief drive through the hilly coastal roads (and another close encounter with a deer) we drove back to Clare's beautiful house on the slopes.
After another hour or two of shop talk I was positively exhausted and dropped into bed like a sack of potatoes, only to wake up before 4 am, unable to sleep. Well, this early rise has given me a chance to record my first impressions, and I have avidly been reading my guidebook on Vancouver and Victoria, laying out a draft itinerary for today. The sun is coming up now so I've got another couple of hours of reading ahead of me in preparation of today's discovery.
About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the t-ransitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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The travel story with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Travel Stories (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/hello_victoria_1.htm).