Day 5: Saanich to Victoria (and back) - Grampies Go with the Grands - CycleBlaze

August 25, 2014

Day 5: Saanich to Victoria (and back)

This was planned as an exciting yet restful day in the "big" city of Victoria. (Actually the population of Victoria is about 78,000, and the metropolitan area is 344,000.) Victoria city is about the same size as Wurzburg, in Germany.

The day was certainly restful, since we had access to all the supplies and services we could want, but the excitement was pretty non-stop, and finally just a little tiring.

Karyn had reminded us about the Bug Zoo in Victoria, and this quickly became our first objective. Erhard lent us a Kryptonite U-Lock to increase our sense of security, compared to our now standard dollar store "joke" locks. So we parked our rigs in the middle of downtown, where the Bug Zoo is located behind the famous Empress Hotel. We found the thing did not open until 10:30 a.m. so we set off along Government Street heading instinctively for MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op). Government Street is tourist central in Victoria, anchored at one end by the Empress Hotel, Provincial Legislature and Museum, and Inner Harbour and at the other end by (as far as we are concerned), MEC.

Along the length of Government are souvenir shops and coffee shops plus a unique category: Native Craft shops. Since this day we were tourists, we naturally looked in all the tourist shops. I found myself looking at all the iconic "Canadian" junk and asking "Is this really symbolic of the true Canada?". My answer, well.... yes. Probably residents of other countries would more or less have the same answer - Like Germans with beer steins and lederhosen, Mexicans - sombreros, French - Eiffel Tower models, etc.

In one shop we found some sunglasses for Violet, who claimed her old ones were blurry, and also some for Avi - with Canadian flags on the lenses. The kids also got small examples of "dream catchers". Dream catchers are a legitimate North American native item, based on a willow hoop and web, with hanging objects like feathers and beads. Dream catchers filter out bad dreams during the night, and they then disappear with the day, This way, only good thoughts enter the mind. Of course, things like this are prime targets for mass production in China, but I think ours are more or less "authentic".

At MEC, we had to admit that actually we don't need an additional gear, but we did grab a couple of Ritter Sport bars. These cost $2.60 each, cheaper than we have seen hereabouts, but certainly more than the approximately $1.00 we paid in Waldenbuch!

We managed to walk back through Government Street without any further purchases, except for two post cards for Avi and Violet to send home to Mom. This opened the question of stamps, and the lady in the store advised that the nearest post office was just a couple of blocks away, "on Yates".This was interesting to us a frequent tourists in other towns. There is no way any general visitor would have found the outlet, buried in a drugstore and near, but not on Yates.

The bug zoo wisely chose large and therefore exciting insects to display.This included large roaches, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, stick insects, mantises, and the like. These are the "superstars" of the insect world, like tigers and koalas, and they were indeed highly interesting. The staff would give a little talk about each insect, and take it out so that it could walk on visitors brave enough to give it a try.Avi and Violet are the right age for this, and they were not squeamish in most cases.

Of course, unlike the Salish Sea Aquarium, the bug zoo could not display local insects since insects in temperate zones are not so big and showy in general.Still, we felt the visit was fabulously "educational", not the least for the Grampies. One factoid that we came away with was that since roaches work with decomposing material, they need antibactgerial defences. So instead of Purell, you could wash your hands with a bowl of roaches!

Fish and chips is most legitimately a British specialty, but since Victoria prides itself on its British heritage, fish and chips is very big here as well.Clearly, fish and chips is best eaten by the water, and in Victoria that means the Fisherman's Wharf. Barb's Fish and Chips rules here, serving from a small building on the floating docks.The traditional components are the halibut or cod fish, the chips - served with malt vinegar, and the tartar sauce, which you can eat at adjacent picnic tables, if you can find a vacant spot. Barb's still had the picnic tables and the malt vinegar, but somehow over the years they have managed to sanitize the fish, breading, and sauce to the point where they really had no flavour at all.The hoards of tourists did not seem to notice, or maybe they did - and this is what they want. Certainly the Iranian family that sat across from us at the table thought it was fine. Avi and Violet - bypassed the issue by ordering hot dogs!

The other big thing that Barb's has going for it is the seafood store next door. This store will sell a few small fish that one can feed to the harbour seals that lurk beneath the floating docks. In the past, if you were lucky, some affluent person might have sprung for some fish, and you could watch the seal rising out of the water to take a morsel from their hand. Today, this was still the case, but there were so many people that really the seal was doing you a favour choking down just one more darn herring, Still Avi and Violet got to participate - a big thing for kids who were essentially raised in landlocked Montana.

Our next step was to cycle further along the water. At first you are heading East, toward the Oak Bay area. If one continues, the way turns North to Willows Beach and Cadboro Bay. This is a pleasant and scenic route, but our objective was only Clover Point just beyond James Bay, on the "Dallas Road Waterfront Trail". Our reason for choosing this little excursion was the Dodie"s parents, Hilda and Walter, used to live on Dallas Road, and Clover Point was a favourite walking destination. Now that they are gone, the family has placed a bench in their honour at Clover Point. Since they were cremated and we all have been scattering their ashes all around the world, this is the closest there is to a grave site.

We felt very good to watch Avi and Violet playing on the beach in front of the bench, with the view beyond being Hilda and Walter's favourite one.

Then it was time to track down one more bit of nostalgia. The Empress Hotel was opened in 1908 as part of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines system. It is an elegant Edwardian structure, designed by the famous architect Rattenbury. There is no doubt that the Empress is the heart of Victoria (although it perhaps shares this with the Provincial Legislature), treasured by both locals and tourists. Treasured, though, does not necessarily mean regularly patronised - at least by locals. In the "old days" (70's) when we felt particularly blue, or chilly, or flush with cash, we would go to the Empress for its famous afternoon tea. The cost, of about $22 was insane, but once in two years - or maybe if your parents were taking you, ... ok. So we thought, we are now the parents (grandparents), we will take Avi and Violet to the heart of Victoria. Yikes! It is now $60 per adult and $30 for children, and you may need a reservation one to two weeks in advance. Clearly the tourists are outcompeting the locals on this. The $180 cost of taking a family of four is over seven and half hours of labour for the average worker. That's a lot for a few cents worth of tea and cake! Heaven only knows how the tourists have come by enough riches to support this one. If they are also staying at the hotel, the simplest double bed is $500!

This is not to say that poor Avi and Violet got kicked out into the street. The Empress also has a terrace cafe, with a foine view of the Inner Harbour. We felt we could afford the $6 kid's sundaes, and convinced the waitress that kids and seniors were the same thing, appetite-wise. What came was more than enough for all us kids and seniors.

Sitting on the front terrace of the Empress allows one to observe the tourists as they observe goings on just over the sea wall by the harbour. There seemed to be some excitement there, so we nipped down for a look. A magician had just concluded his act, so the excitement had died down. However there are a large number of artisans set up, and Avi and Violet were attracted to a native carver, displaying his work on a ledge. The man was carving a new piece, with intense concentration, and was able to ignore the children bouncing off the all the objects around him. Finally he looked up and calmly showed them what he was working on, and even fielded some of what must have been UQs from us. I could see that in this tourist zoo, this man was the real thing. No doubt many of the other artisans were too. I was happy to think that in this, my native land, I can (mostly) tell what is what.

Back along the Galloping Goose, we returned to Karyn and Erhard's house. We had spent a day in a largish city, paying for no gas or parking, getting there quickly and quietly, and with "door to door" service. We had seen a great naturalist display, found stunning sea views and the past home of some parents, and almost dined in luxury at the heart of the city. Swell!

Photos... coming soon.

Fun activities before setting off for the day
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With uncle Erhard on the rock mountain
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The day's action begins
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Crossing the Selkirk Trestle toward Victoria
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The iconic blue bridge of Victoria will sadly soon be demolished and replaced by an ugly modern structure
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Entering Victoria's old town
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The story of why the place is called Victoria
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Window shopping tourists
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British heritage kitch
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Canadian (hopefully) maple syrupfor tourists. We normally buy it for cheap at Costco
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Dream catchers
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Avi and Violet got some dream catchers
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... and new sunglasses
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Native heritage is a big tourism selling point here
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But this place is authentic. The sign has been there for years.
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The famous Cowichan sweaters
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MEC!
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Introduced to Ritter Sport. Next, we should take them to Waldenbuch for some really freshones!
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Testing out a MEC bike
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Look Sandra and Karyn (who have had ant invasions lately), just what you do not want.
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Superstar stick insects
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Violet gives it a try
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Avi was actually ok with it too (on the second try)
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Excellent presenters allowed people to interact with the insects
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The Golden Orb spider was the subject of experiments to make super strong filaments
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Giant centipede
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Violet works on a drawing depicting what she has seen
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Rapt attention from a little naturalist
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Avi gets a turn
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These kids are pros, just the right age. Adults in the room were not generally volunteering to hold the insects.
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Avi selects model insects to take home. Yeecch.
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Heading toward the Empress and Provincial Legislature area.
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Horse drawn caleches are a sign we are now in prime tourist territory
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Thanks, but we have our own "tour bus"
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Fisherman's Wharf
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At Barb's Fish and Chips - quality was strangely disappointing
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Avi holds a fish to attract a seal.
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Success
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Another view of feeding fish to the seals. So many fish were being bought for them, that they eventually lost interest.
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The seals are fascinating to kids and adults too, especially all those who do not live by the sea. Though wild, the seals have the ntelligent behaviour and general appeal of dogs.
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Beyond Fisherman's Wharf is the beginning of the Trans Canada Highway. Cyclists crossing the country will generally begin here.
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At Mile Zero is a statue of Terry Fox, the best known Canadian hero. His attempt to run to here from the east coast on the one leg that cancer had left him ended in "failure" when he had to stop at Sault St Marie and soon died. However his effort lives on and has continued to raise money for cancer research.
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The world'ls tallest totem pole. Totem poles and Indian craft are big here, but we have to admit ancient Indian culture has been appropriated without much sincere respect for it.We would go so far as to say that this lack also applies to most of the modern day Indian descendants.
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The house where Hilda and Walter lived, by the sea
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The dedication on the bench, near the house, really does capture who they were.
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Avi and Violet on their great-grandparents' bench
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The Empress Tea room. Now out of reach for ordinary visitors, we think.
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The tea goodies, ready to serve
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Inside the famous tea room
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In this shot, Avi does not seem so impressed by what we got by way of Eis on the terrace.
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Violet does seem to be a happy customer
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This native carver was closely studied by Avi and Violet
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The carver graciously shows his progress on his current piece.
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We can go back and buy from him.
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Emily Carr is the most famous painter and author from this area. This statue shows her with her dog and monkey. We brought our own "monkeys", who climbed all over the statue. We also cycled by Emily Carr's former house.
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The Empress - no longer a stop in a transport system but now a topurist destination
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Violet's picture from the Bug Zoo.
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Today's ride: 23 km (14 miles)
Total: 146 km (91 miles)

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