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Vancouver Island - A Crazy Excursion

Just like Béla promised me on our Tour of Vancouver, the next day we went to the harbor to book a sea plane that was going to take us to Vancouver Island. 120 dollars for both of us, and it was worth the expense! Fantastic view of the whole bay, large parts of the 500 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide island, and of the most English city I’ve seen so far. Victoria, which is the capital of the province of British Columbia and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada's Pacific Coast actually bordering on Washington State in the USA: . The city has a population of about 350,000. Victoria is called "a bit of Old England», which it deserves. Most of the buildings are British in style, the narrow streets wind their way through the city and for some people the well cared for gardens are the number one tourist attraction in Victoria. Victoria boasts lots and lots of historic buildings and it is said also some of the most fascinating museums in Canada. The city benefits from one of Canada's mildest climates, which allows its residents to pursue outdoor pleasures all year round, especially gardening it seems if you have a look around in the residential areas. As usual, museums were mostly dropped, because this city is a real museum in itself. Among old Victorian styled buildings we observed brightly colored bohemian shops, intimate coffee houses and different kinds of restaurants with creative menus. We decided to hire off roaders and try to explore the city, the suburban garden-areas and the southern part of Vancouver by pedal-power. Of course there are other options, everything from hop on – hop off buses, walking tours with a local guide or even a rickshaw sightseeing for those who are too lazy to pedal around on their own. Victoria has more cycle routes than any other city in North America, and the routes are really scenic. The fun part is that you can have a nice pub crawl on the way, exploring the small pubs, checking out the different kinds of brew, and of course the locally produced red and white wines. And these wines are really classy!Our privately created route started at the Inner Harbor where we had a quick look at the Legislative Buildings, where British Columbia’s government is seated. The Royal BC Museum is a nice building – and one thing everybody has got to see: The Thunderbird Park with a display of 16 impressive totem poles! Teatime (the first among many) was spent at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, polite staff, British style china, generous servings and of course the absolutely necessary biscuits and scones to go with it Cycling through the cobblestoned narrow streets, we made stops on the way to sample some locally produced cheese sandwiches and some ice cream, also produced on the island. Avoiding the Butchart Gardens would be a terrible sin, so Béla just decided that we had to find it. I reluctantly agreed, since I think gardens are a waste of time, besides they’re usually all the same wherever they are created. We pedaled for about a an hour, just checking out the area around Victoria even more, had a couple of pints and a Canadian Dry Ginger Ale before we entered Butchart. Like one million other tourists this year we entered the garden and we both said: Wow. It is beautiful, it is shiny. And it is more than 100 years old! Flowers, trees, including the odd palm tree, bush – everything is on display. It is a botanical wonderland – and they have been really good at creating it with the right combinations of greens and different other colors to make it “eye - watering”. Butchart Gardens offer fireworks in the evening, sometimes performances like small concerts, and the Dining Room Restaurant serves the best tea ever, complete with different kinds of quiches and truffles. Yes, you need to work out afterwards. After a couple of hours in the garden, it was time to check out the shopping possibilities and getting some place to buckle up for the night. We headed straight back to the center of Victoria. We found the greatest shopping area in the old –town on a street named Johnson Street. I fell in love with Ditch Records. Here, you can get vinyl records with all kinds of obscure bands. I got to listen to a lot of Svenniemusic, and went crazy over all the stuff they had to offer. Then there is Canada’s probably largest book store at Munro’s Books and finally Rogers’ Chocolates. Roger creates his own ice cream flavors, and an array of different kinds of chocolates. Gotta be careful here! The challenge in Victoria is deciding where to eat and what to eat. There is a variety of special restaurants in this city, so we had a problem making up our minds. Shit, I could really go for some Chinese food, Béla uttered with his kind of “hungry – abounding voice”, I replied: “I couldn’t actually agree less to that proposition, Béla”. “Hell we had Chinese food yesterday, and we’re in Canada, remember, we’re not in China”. Béla laughed his kind of patronizing laugh, and said: “Canada is almost Chinese”. I made a deal with him. I was going to walk up to a couple of strangers and ask them their advice. Whatever they recommended, we’d go for. So, I stopped the next passersby, asking them politely what they would recommend. This is what I just love about travelling. These two guys were Tibetans living in exile in Victoria. Just unbelievable. And of course they recommended their own Tibetan restaurant four blocks away. We had no choice; this was the deal for the evening. And the Bodhisattva restaurant is really neat. Just a simple restaurant, designed according to Tibetan architecture with small booths for each visiting party to sit. Large pillows are used as chairs and small tables where you get your food. What amazed us the most is that this restaurant doesn’t have a menu at all. We were first and foremost asked if we would like to have a meditation session of ten minutes before the meal. As I am used to meditating before having any kind of alcohol, and Béla actually always meditates prior to any meal, we went along to the meditation room. We did our business, felt freshened up, and then we both agreed that we could now enjoy as many red wines as we felt like. So we went out of the restaurant to get a couple of bottles. This restaurant is a Bring Your Own kind of restaurant, meaning that they don’t sell any kind of alcoholic beverages, you bring whatever you’ d like to drink. It’s a widespread concept in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We obtained our wine, went back in, and on our table ten different kinds of small, deliciously mad dishes were awaiting our appetites. Great, let’s get the show on the road – we said it simultaneously, sat down and started eating. And we started drinking. And we kept on drinking even more red wine. We totally forgot about place and time, and had so much fun. The owners joined us after a while, and we spent hours discussing the situation in Tibet, Buddhism, food, wine, Canada and Norway. Just a great experience and lots of laughs. Our only problem was that we had totally forgotten about getting a place to spend the night. “Wanna check out the situation for the homeless for one night? Béla suggested. “Why not”, I responded. “You gotta live to learn”. So we left our Tibetan wonder, our newly discovered Tibetan restaurant owners, and went out to find shelter for the night. We stumbled on to our bicycles, and roamed around for half an hour or so. There it was, right in front of us, Beacon Hill Park. It is a large park area with lots of gardens, playgrounds and trees that would do good for sheltering us for the night. We found some trees, lied down and fell asleep. It’s as easy as that. Nobody bothered us until early morning when we were awoken by some crazy peacocks running around making noise. We got up, went straight to something they call a petting zoo. Here you can actually pet the animals, and lots of kids come here to do that. And Svennie of course. Since we were enjoying our excursion so much, we decided to stay longer. There are so many things to see and do on this island, you wouldn’t believe it. We rode our bikes back downtown, did some necessary shopping, t-shirts, toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear, socks, pair of shorts, towels, a backpack and a bar of soap. After breakfast at some fast-food store where Fat Mollie served us. We started pedaling again. There were actually three more things we really wanted to experience on Vancouver Island before we turned our faces back to Vancouver. And once decided, we just had to do it. Come to think of it, Béla and I wanted to experience as much as possible during the days we had decided to stay on the island. It didn’t much matter what and how, just as long as we felt that we lived, that we were part of something. And that is actually what travelling is all about. So the three additional things that we both wanted to do. First of all we were eager to get to see the Orcas, large whales appearing from to time right off the coast of the area around Victoria. These killer whales are actually divided into two groups. One has its habitat in the northern waters off the island, and the other one around the southern part. These two groups are like to different families, and they never intermingle. They have their own territories, and if a stranger tries to cross the line – well there is a reason they’re called killer whales. We found tickets for an organized boat trip, but then Béla decided otherwise. “Let’s save the money and organize something on our own”, he suggested. So that was decided then. Bella made a deal with one of the cabin cruise owners at the harbor. This guy was offered 100 dollars for taking us out to the area were the killer whales were most likely to be spotted. We went off, and yes, we got to see them, twenty something including babies. Such a great animal. They came up really close to us, swam around the boat, kind of showing off for about half an hour before they disappeared. We also caught sight of lots of other animals such as grey whales, minke whales, seals, dolphins, sea lions, and a hundreds of birds. Great experience! We got back to the harbor, renewed our lease on the bikes for three more days, and set off to the next exciting attraction on Vancouver Island. The Galloping Goose Trail comes highly recommended by people who know what they are talking about, so we hit the road and went for Sooke and the rugged coast to the west of this small and idyllic town. The Galloping Goose Trail is an old railway line past farmland, a quiet cove and hidden lake, rocky outcrops, a fir forest, marshland, flowery hills, a relaxing atmosphere and on this day – sunshine all day. The town of Sooke is basically a starting point for trips farther west up the island. We bought our own lunch at the supermarket, peanut butter- Jell-O sandwiches and beer, and then we went on to check out The Sooke Potholes. This is a very popular location for a dip during the summer. The Sooke River plunges through a series of deep pits creating perfect cool pools to take a plunge on a hot day. Really nice, we stayed around the potholes for a couple of hours, just cooling off in the lukewarm water, talking to other explorers who had also found their way to the potholes. Bella really wanted to check out kayaking and surfing, so we kept on going through forests, hills and badly paved roads to get to Vancouver Island’s Surfer’s Paradise. The windsurfing and kiting possibilities here are amazing. The waves that hit the beaches are the same size as those in Hawaii, and they’re damned strong. Rentals were easy, and so we had to catch some waves. Just crazy. I am not very experienced, but managed quite well for a while. But as I slipped a couple of times I realized that I’d better take it easy. Bella dragged me out again. That should never have happened. I slipped, fell off the sailboard, crashed heavily into some rocks and got badly bruised all over. I looked like a Turkish meatball. So the windsurfing experience was over for me for today. Bella said he owed me one, so I kept that in mind.Since no bones were broken, only some loss of blood, I got to decide the next move. And the next move was to get to a hotel, to get a nice meal, get a shower and a good night’s sleep. And that’s what we did. I managed to sleep for 14 long hours, and was ready for new and exciting action the next day. Bella was really humble after the not so good surfing experience, so I got to choose today’s activities as well. There were two remaining things I wanted to do. One would be kayaking and the other wine tasting. After breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes and donuts – in addition to three quarts of American coffee, we went kayak – hunting. Got one for each and went for it. We spent the whole afternoon kayaking in the ocean, then at 2 o’clock; we dragged the kayaks out of the water and took them to s small lake in the area, where we just continued our adventure. We got up early the last day. Finally, we were going to check out the Canadian Wines.The Cowichan Valley is a mellow stretch of farmland and forest between Shawnigan Lake and Chemainus. A steam train runs through the valley, and you might enjoy the ride. With its ideal growing conditions, the wine industry has firmly taken root in the Cowichan Valley. We had more than 20 vineyards to choose from, and wine-tasting experiences that are so off track to the normal Californian Napa Valley treat, that one has to be amazed at what they have accomplished in this valley. No wonder this area is often referred to “Canada’s Tuscany” or “la Provence du Nord.” Our Cowichan Valley wine tour was actually an opportunity to sample something truly special. We started off at Mill Bay. Then we headed north s north to Cowichan Bay and Cobble Hill. That’s where the Cherry Point Vineyards is situated. Cherry Point offers guided tours three times a day that provide an in-depth look at grape growing and wine making at a winery. Next stop was Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and the nearby Blue Grouse Vineyards. After that, and after sampling one good wine after the other, we kept on rocking our way up to Echo Valley Vineyards, Godfrey Brownell Vineyards and Zanatta Winery. That’s where our trip ended. We had had a lot of good wine to drink, we were happy and laughing. Time for a nap. We fell asleep on the beach close to Duncan. That was the end of our fantastic excursion. Next day we headed back to Vancouver.

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