Over the water we go to Vancouver Island - leaving behind the mountains and lakes of the mainland for the mountains and lakes (oh and a bit of the seaside thrown in too) of the island.
Sail on Leaving Vancouver - 8 September 2011
We boarded a Pacific Line Bus late morning on a warm sunny day. An hour or so later the coach passed long queues of traffic waiting to board the ferry at Tsawwassen. We were the first to board and (apart from a few foot passengers) we would be first off the ferry on the other side.
A clean modern ferry with good facilities transported us across the water towards Swartz Bay terminal on the Island. It hardly felt like we were moving as we glided between forested Islands under clear blue skies.
Seals joined us along the way, together with kayakers and sailing boats. Chalets dotted the shoreline and the occasional beachcomber and sunbather stopped to watch the big boat navigate its way through the channels.
We took in the sunshine and views from the top viewing deck. When the 15 minute warning of landing sounded we made our way down the stairs to re-board our bus. The boat was secured, doors opened and we were off again.
The bus made its way down the Saanich Peninsula to Victoria on the southern tip of the Island. An hour after docking the city soon appeared. Within a few minutes of arriving at the greyhound bus station we were in our latest accommodation - Helms Inn.
Victoria is a great little city. There are very few high rise buildings in the downtown area which allows the splendid historical buildings (the Empress Hotel, Government Buildings etc.) to show themselves off.
All of the books say it is very British and there were times when we were reminded of Leamington or Torquay. However, I found the resemblance to anything British quite superficial and it can only be an issue because everywhere else is so dissimilar to back home.
Our suite in the Helms Inn was well provisioned, clean and light. The location could not be better - we were on the corner of Beacon Hill Park, on the same block as the Royal BC Museum and minutes from the bus, Seattle Ferry and car hire locations.
Big Bad John
Searching for refreshment we headed up Douglas Street. A small sign had attracted our attention on the bus drive in and it did so again as we walked by - Big Bad Johns - a hill-billy theme bar forming part of a hotel complex. The picture of a large hill-billy and the promise of an ale meant only one thing - we had to cross the threshold.
Big Bad John was behind the bar - a stout man in his 50s wearing denim bib overalls and a floppy wide brimmed hat. He welcomed us as we surveyed the pumps and the décor. Karen asked for the cheapest lager (in jest) and he pointed us at a pump marked XXX (all the other pumps had national and international branded beers). "$3.75" he said. I quickly ordered and two pints appeared. "$7.50" he said and I paid. This routine was repeated several times as we sat on a bench near the door.
The tables were solid wood with perspex covers under which there were student union cards, business cards, scrawled messages on paper from previous customers and the limited meat based menu. The walls were similarly covered and joined by farming, brewing and motorcar implements. The ceilings had more old tools and numerous bras (some frightening their construction) that had been left by patrons with various messages written on them.
The tables quickly filled up with locals and the occasional tourist. A hen party visited for a while and a few groups of lads and girls supped for a while once ID had been verified.
The music was excellent, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Kenny Rogers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Weird Al Yankovic.
As the evening got busy, Big Bad was joined by his buddy, similarly attired except for the hat which was a cloth pill box shaped hat with a short firm brim to the front. He looked like Matt Cardle the almost forgotten winner of the X-Factor and he did not have the personality of Big Bad.
Big Bad did not say much (just "$7.50" to us!) but he posed for a few pictures and every nwo and again would release rubber horror toys that were suspended above each table. Ours was a bat and the next two tables had spiders. He also pressed a buzzer which made any newcomer jump.
Karen's nutter magnet was switched on full so we were soon joined by a man in his thirties who was pleasant enough but had lived an interesting life. He lived in a caravan with a half wolf half husky crossbreed, had a tough upbringing with hippy parents (his mother was an opera singer) and had just spent several hundred dollars on a guitar, clothes and backpack but was going to sleep rough that night.
A small tubby Italian man suddenly appeared and I exchanged words with him about the Packers Saints game showing on TV above Karen's head. He was part Barney Gumble and part character from Cheers.
We decided to move on and entered a premises proclaiming that it was a Scottish Pub. What an offense against the trade descriptions act! For a start no Scotsman would pay the prices of the beer in the pretentious place and for another I counted si xIirish beers but nothing Scottish. There was even a snug called Kennedys. I think it was called the Bard and Brewer - don't go there, visit Big Bad Johns.
Shake rattle and roll EARTHQUAKE - 9 September 2011
"This is Mike Brewer at CTV news, on the hour, every hour. We interrupt this blog to bring you news from the non-earthquake disaster zone of Vancouver Island where our roving reporter Seymour Butts has the latest details. Seymour."
"Thank you, Mike. I talked to a fat bearded store owner and his kooky neighbour who confirmed that there was a wobble and nothing happened. Asked if anything had fallen off the shelves, fat beardy man said no but it could have done if it had been a bit shakier. Mad woman in trailer park did confirm that some pictures did slightly move out of line and then returned to place. Back to you, Mike."
What you gonna look like with a chimney on you?
Yes there really was an earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island. We didn't feel a thing as we walked around Victoria. In all honesty nothing happened, nothing was broken and no one hurt. It is now dominating the news and they have dusted off old newsreel from earlier quakes, interviewed the loonies in the hills and have instigated new earthquake training drills. Fat kids have been banned from skipping and small people are riding taller companions in case a tsunami hits.
History of the world (part II)
On our walk that day we paid for a ferry to take us into the US (Victoria to Seattle), organised a car for the following three days and then set off for a walk around the harbour and sea wall.
We had lunch overlooking Fishermans wharf, an interesting group of wharfs for real fishing vessels, whale watching charters and amazing houseboats (see Karen's pictures). After a pleasant repose we continued around the headland to glimpse our first view of the US Coast to the south before walking further along the coast parallel to mainland British Columbia. Finally we headed back into the centre via neat and affluent residential streets.
We stopped for coffee before making our way to the Royal British Columbia Museum. This is a great place with exhibits spread out over two levels and an Imax theatre showing natural history based films. It is rated one of the top 10 museums in North America and I could see why.
Level 2 begins with two exhibitions - one covering Emily Carr famous for her writing and painting of native images and the other covering the backroom work of the museum. Karen and I were both taken by Emily Carr's life and the painter whose work was used as a key part of the exhibition.
The main part of level two contains realistic scenes of the forest and shoreline of British Columbia. Stuffed animals and birds, sounds and even temperature are used create a realistic (if static) experience. Live sea creatures can be found in the rockpools and tanks of the maritime section and there are lots of interactive things for kids.
Level 3 contains scenes of human development in the region. There is a large section on native art, culture and housing followed by developments over the years of the modern settlers. Streets bars, railway stations, hotels, ships, gold mines and lumber yards are lovingly recreated and supplemented by models, old clothing, kids' games and household goods.
We left the museum suitably educated and after an evening meal purchased from the local supermarket we went to bed slightly more intelligent.
As I have mentioned before underneath the friendly sociable Canadian exterior lurks many an anguished sole.
The latest sponsored doom and gloom on the goggle box covered head lice and osteoporosis. All over British Columbia there are weak boned people unable to lift their arms to wash the nits away.
Sapping the confidence of Canadians starts young though. Avril Lavigne (who should be designated an enemy of the teenager) advertises expensive solutions for bad skin. The basic premise seems to be that she was such a loser from the age of 14 when they broke out and only the special skin cream has cured her teenage inadequacy. Beauty appears to be skin deep in Avril's world.
Job adverts on the radio run through the bullying and loneliness of teenage years for nerds who can now take their revenge by securing well-paid jobs in IT. Who needs University or careers advisers?
Billboards scream - IS YOUR SPOUSE CHEATING ON YOU? Pages in the local press are devoted to this service. If you are a compulsive shopper or easily influenced (perhaps worrying that your nits problem might be encouraging your spouse to run his/her fingers through cleaner hair) you will hire this firm to check up. Your spouse will find out and will leave you for lack of trust even if the answer to the earlier question is "no, he/she is not cheating". Out of pocket, out of wedlock.
As I write this I understand that statistically the housewives of Canada only wash their bed linen once a month - presumably depression is making them slovenly. This apparently causes a build-up of body oil in clothing. Don't worry though, the washing powder conglomerate have created a new liquid to help. No doubt they will charge double the amount for the purchase of this miracle item that will only be used once a month.
Mustang sally A little note for my brother Alister.
We have seen a lot of US sports cars but the stand outs have been the Ford Mustangs. From New shiny 5 litre soft-tops to unloved 1990's models that have seen better days. Here on the island we have seen a couple of great old cars - check out the picture that Karen will post.
The cat crept in
No cougar sightings but last weekend, one was shot in the resort area we are staying in. Doors locked, eyes peeled and bear spray ready.