Monday, May 27, 2013

Victoria to Butchart Gardens, Part 2

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia
Lyle rattles off facts like the crazy Canadian fact machine he is.

“There's a new hockey arena on Blanshard.”

“The Bay Street Armoury was built in 1913 and currently houses two regular units, cadets, and a marching band.”

“The original jail is now a high school.” (I remind myself that the territorial prison in Yuma, Arizona, later became a high school as well.)

“The observatory off Saanich Road is the largest in the British empire and is affiliated with the Hubble Space Telescope.”

Lyle's voice swells with as much pride as his Canadian citizenship will allow. And I say this without any hint of mockery, because he is wonderful. If not Kids in the Hall, then maybe Corner Gas or some other underappreciated television show.

“Victoria is the only part of Canada considered sub-tropical. It averages one snowfall per year.” He explains that the Olympic Mountain Range to the south picks off all the potential snow. A passenger adds that one of those mountains–Hurricane Ridge–received nearly 700 inches of snow last year.

Lyle acknowledges this and then tells us more about the sub-tropics of Canada. “There is no rain in Victoria between late-April and late-August,” he says. “That's good for tourism, but tough on locals.”

Then, without transition: “Vancouver Island has the largest cougar population in the world. Every now and then, one will wander into town.”

I cannot speak to the veracity of his claims, but he sure is entertaining. Crazy Canadian fact machine.

A cell phone rings. Lyle pauses, but says nothing. A few moments later, it rings again.

“I might have to confiscate that annoying cell phone,” he says in his gentle, measured tone. It is a threat delivered in the Canadian style, as an apology.

Upon arriving at Butchart Gardens, Lyle informs us that he will be handing us tickets as we disembark the coach. “Now,” he says, “these tickets are crucial.”

He pauses to ensure that all are paying attention, then delivers the reveal: “You'll need them to get through the turnstiles.”

Indeed. Because this is how tickets work. And turnstiles, for that matter.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Victoria to Butchart Gardens, Part 1

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia
A man in dark slacks and vest, with medium-length wavy grey-brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses, stands next to the coach. He introduces himself as Lyle, our driver. In his early-sixties and slight of build, Lyle speaks with a lilting cadence that makes everything sound like a question. He could be a character out of a Kids in the Hall sketch, played by Mark McKinney.

Lyle is so stereotypically Canadian that it's difficult to keep from smiling whenever... well, whenever he does anything. His anecdotes are torpedoed by odd tangents, and punctuated by nervous laughter and sighs of “ANY-way” that connect non sequiturs.

After apologizing for being 5 minutes late and then admitting that he is 15 minutes early instead of his usual 20, Lyle takes our tickets and welcomes us aboard. Sandra and I sit on the right side toward the back, and soon the coach fills with people much older than we are.

The gentleman across the aisle notices me taking notes by hand and taps my shoulder. “It's so unusual to see someone doing that,” he says, pointing at my spiral-bound book. “Everyone uses a computer nowadays.” He points at the book again. “I like it.”

“So do I.”

Lyle fires up the engine and starts us on our 21-kilometer (when in Canada...) jaunt to Butchart Gardens. He has lived here his whole life and tells us about the city, the gardens, and Vancouver Island.

We learn about Victoria's architecture and the Empress Hotel, famous for its high tea. Government Street is the oldest street west of the Canadian Rockies. There are more than 700 restaurants in town. Blanshard Street is named after Richard Blanshard, the first governor of British Columbia, and is home to Andrew Carnegie Public Library.

Gold was discovered here in 1858, shortly after British Columbia became an official colony of Britain. Migration from California during the Gold Rush increased a settlement of 600 to more than 20,000.

The city of Victoria now has a population around 80,000, with a greater metropolitan area around 350,000. This constitutes roughly half of the people that live on Vancouver Island, which at nearly 300 miles long is the largest island on the West Coast of North or South America. The island is named after Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy.

Lyle could go on, and does, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Port Angeles to Victoria

Entering the port at Victoria, British Columbia
At the ferry terminal, one woman operates the ticket booth, which explains last night's attempt to get information by phone. “There is a boat leaving just now,” she had said before putting me on hold and rushing off to ensure that it did so without incident.

We buy tickets, fill out forms, show our passports, and board the ferry.

Back in the 1980s, when Americans didn't need documentation to enter Canada, I was visiting family in Michigan one summer. One day we drove across the Detroit River to spend an afternoon in Windsor for some forgotten reason. The gentleman at the checkpoint asked us our purpose, and I blurted from the back seat–I was a teenager and knew everything–“tourism.” This fellow's eyes lit up and he asked again. My father and stepmother made it clear that my involvement in the conversation had come to an end, and after they discussed the issue further with our wide-eyed checkpoint friend, he let us pass into the Great White North. Later, I realized that he must have thought I said “terrorism,” which would indeed provoke a wide-eyed response. Something rather like terror, I should think.

We sit at a table inside. There are chairs outside also, but it is cool and windy. An upper deck offers views of the mountains behind us, although they are obscured by clouds this morning. Also, this is where the smokers congregate to form their own clouds.

After snapping a few photos, I return inside to the galley and buy some Boyd's Coffee and Ivar's Famous Chowder. When we visited Seattle in 2000, Sandra enjoyed the clam chowder on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. She still talks about it.

Ivar is Ivar Haglund, a folk singer from back in the day who opened a fish and chips bar in 1938 as a companion to Seattle's first aquarium, which he built. Ivar's Acres of Clams opened in 1946, and two more locations have opened since. Ivar's chowder is famous, as is his saying, “keep clam,” which calls to mind Spinal Tap's “Clam Caravan.”

Haglund, for his part, kept impressive company as a folk singer. He hosted Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie when they traveled to Seattle in the 1940s. And Haglund's “Old Settler's Song” served as the theme for his restaurant, the song's first stanza concluding:

No longer the slave of ambition
I laugh at the world and its shams
As I think of my happy condition
Surrounded by acres of clams.

We can agree that not everyone would think to rhyme “shams” with “clams.”

Meanwhile, the jaunt across the Strait of Juan de Fuca–that 95-mile-long strip of water that separates the Unites States and Canada–takes about 90 minutes. Plenty of time for us to enjoy Ivar's chowder and contemplate this Juan de Fuca fellow.

So named because he served under Phillip II, King of Spain, Juan is Ioánnis Fokás, a 16th-century navigator who claimed to have explored what was then known as the Strait of Anián. The veracity of his claims likely will never be known, but the English captain Charles William Barkley renamed the body of water in Fokás' honor in 1787.

To further confuse matters, it is called Juan de Fuca Strait in Canada. Whatever the appellation, we cross it and arrive in Victoria, where we pass through customs and walk up to street level in search of the coach (Canadian for bus) that will take us to Butchart Gardens.

Between customs and the street, retired folks in bright red tops greet visitors with a smile and a map of Victoria. The man who gives us our map asks where we're from.

“San Diego,” I say.

“Oh,” he replies. “That used to be a rough town but it's nicer now.”

He gives a knowing nod. I respond in kind (when in Canada...) but have no clue what he means. Sandra suspects he is thinking of downtown. I suspect he is thinking of Bangkok.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Forks to Port Angeles

Looking back at Port Angeles, Washington, from the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Half the motel decides to leave Forks at 6 a.m. A smiling gentleman in his mid-sixties mentions this to me as we pack our respective cars. Everyone has somewhere to go.

Sandra and I are headed to Port Angeles. The drive takes us along Lake Crescent, which looks beautiful and serene but which is also the site of at least two nasty car wrecks. Russell and Blanch Warren lost their lives to the lake in 1929, while a 1960 accident had a happier ending, with all four occupants surviving a plunge into the icy waters.

The road winds along the south shore, through the massive (i.e., larger than Rhode Island) Olympic National Park. Sunrise reflects off the lake's surface, illuminating cabins on the other side.

We finish yesterday's Tillamook cheese. Nothing says “good morning” like chunks of garlic chili pepper cheddar.

The drive takes 75 minutes. Once at Port Angeles, we find the ferry landing and park. Leaving the car alone in a lot for 10 hours as we sail off to some other country fills me with an unexpected anxiety. Who will feed it? What if it has to go to the bathroom?

But these are silly concerns. It can always pee on the asphalt.