The Pacific Undersea Gardens

Reviews of the Pacific Undersea Gardens are very negative and justified, but I still wanted to experience it for myself and am glad I did, having an experience that made my $10 entry fee worthwhile. The ‘gardens’ are actually an under sea aquarium. You board a ship and descend 15′ below the surface to view fish and other marine life in a relatively natural habitat. At first glance, the whole thing screams Tourist Trap. The windows are scratched, dirty, and covered in algae and the information plaques aren’t that informational. But if you take the time to stop and really look, like I did, you might make a memory that will stick with you.

I attempted to take photographs of a large crab located at the far end of a tank, when it started to move. At first, it seemed to move randomly, but I soon realised that it was coming straight at me! Even though I didn’t have a flash on the camera, it must have been projecting a bit of light. The crab came right up to the window and started to wave its claws at me. It then began to climb the inner frame of the window and continued to tap on the window, making quite a racket. I moved the camera from pane to pane and the crab followed my movements. I was not photographing by this point, so I wonder if it could actually see the camera itself, a flash of silver in the green. Whatever it was, I am now convinced that crabs are a lot more intelligent and aware than we give them credit for. This guy was without question interacting with me.

Once Bob (I had to give him a name!) lost interest with me, it was time for a nine minute show where a diver interacts with some of animals. He showed us a large starfish, a wolf eel, a crab, and an octopus.

There are surely better ways to spend $10 in Victoria, but I’m truly glad I visited the Undersea Gardens. It just goes to show that sometimes the most hyped and slickest attractions aren’t necessarily the most memorable.

I liked the descent into the 'gardens'!

I liked the descent into the ‘gardens’!



a welcome bit of humour

a welcome bit of humour



touch pool

touch pool




Bob on his way to play with me

Bob on his way to play with me







Bye, Bob, nice meeting you!

Bye, Bob, nice meeting you!




pity I couldn't get a really good shot of this pretty purple octopus

pity I couldn’t get a really good shot of this pretty purple octopus


A Final Day in Victoria

Being less than 300km from ‘home’ and not having to start work until 2pm tomorrow meant that I could enjoy a third day in Victoria. I dropped Mrs. H off at her friend’s house and then drove downtown to do a few museums. This post will gloss over some of the details of today as some destinations merit their own posts.

I decided to park in Chinatown since the daily rates are cheaper than downtown and planned my day as a loop. My first stop was just a block away and was a store! It was recommended to me by a reader and is called Chintz and Co.

Chintz & Co.

This store comprises 20,000 square feet (!) and is just about a one stop home decorating stop. It was the first time I have walked into a store selling new furniture and found myself liking almost everything. Had I had $2,000 I would have walked out with a handsome wingback chair covered in dark orange leather (*swoons*).  The furniture style was mostly luxe shabby chic, with lots of rich colours abounding. I could have spent hours there, but focused mostly on the remnants section, which was much larger than I would have expected. I found some fabrics I thought would coordinate with ones I have already picked up, but I wasn’t sure enough to buy.

I ambled down Store street and turned into Bastion Square:

alley off of Bastion Square

Bastion Square’s giant tulips

My next stop was The Soda Shoppe, which I had discovered on my first night in Victoria. It is located on Government Street right in front of the Empress Hotel, kitty corner to the visitor’s centre.

The Soda Shoppe

I would normally balk at paying $4.19 for a small ice cream cone (even if it is of the waffle variety), but they have bear claw, a dark chocolately fudgy caramelly cashewy concoction I haven’t seen in about ten years since an Ottawa shop carrying it closed down. It was as good as I remembered!

From there, I walked the length of the Empress Hotel, crossed the street, and landed at the Royal British Columbia Museum:

Royal BC Museum

After a couple of hours, I headed across the street

street separating the RBC museum from the Legislature

and strolled along the length of the BC Legislature:

war memorial

close up showing the addition of the Korean ‘police action’; a nice touch since many forget that Canada was involved in this war

the BC Legislative Building is quite a handsome structure! It’s almost as impressive as Ottawa’s Parliament buildings!

this is all of the Sequoia I was able to get into one shot 🙂

then crossed the street in front of it to go visit the Undersea Gardens:

The Undersea Gardens

After that, I slowly began to stroll back towards the car with a stop for lunch:

Victoria Harbour

there was a whole row of dedication plaques

a magnific mosaic orca

a map of Vancouver Island

I was just going to get a slice of pizza for lunch, but was lured by the siren’s call of Cafe Mexico. I had an excellent meal there of a chicken burrito with ‘fries’ (more like chewy potato chips with a hint of crunch). The highlight of the mean was the ‘mojitea’:


My drink of choice is the mojito, but I didn’t want to drink alcohol before a long drive home so I decided to try their virgin version even though virgin mojitos seem to be missing a little ‘something.’ Well, Cafe Mexico found what that little something is: sweet tea. The tea doesn’t have the same flavour as the rum, of course, but it’s the perfect non-alcoholic addition to turn the club soda and muddled mint into more than just minty soda. Yum! The burrito was fresh and light and the fries were served with a sauce that had me go ‘WHAT?!’ at first taste, but which grew on me with every bite. I asked the server what it was and she said it was a ‘chipolte aioli’ which I think means a smokey garlickly mayonnaise. It was the perfect complement to the fries. This wasn’t the best Mexican food I’ve had in my life, but definitely fits at the top of the list. It was reasonably priced to boot!

I grabbed an ice coffee for the road and returned to the car to plot a route to the Nanaimo Best Buy. My GPS is getting to be ridiculously outdated, so it didn’t have that store in its data base. It felt incredibly luxurious to boot up the laptop, sign on to my Telus connection, and get the necessary info. My life has definitely changed!

My destination mapped out, I headed out of Victoria at 3PM. I’ll write a separate post about the drive back to Campbell River.

Victoria left me with mixed feelings, some negative, most positive.

The negative feelings are towards the cost of museums and attractions: ridiculously high. There was nothing under $10 and most things were $15 and up. I would have loved to do the Maritime Museum, but with the RBC being $15 and the Undersea Gardens being $11, the additional $12 for the MM would have busted my budget. Having been to so many museums in both the Canada and the US I can say with a measure of authority that everything I saw in Victoria was way over priced. Whether or not I enjoyed myself is not relevant.

That said, Victoria is a beautiful and accessible city. If I have to stay in Canada next winter I will do so in the environs of Victoria, even if it means spending another $400 on ferry costs. I have nowhere had my fill of this city and feel that I barely got a taste of it. I’d like to spend more time exploring Beacon Hill Park and exploring the many hiking trails in the area.

Victoria is one of those Canadian cities that feels exquisitely ‘old world’ in its waterfront area, so much so that the cloppety clop of horse hooves is the most natural sound you could hear in the setting. The traditional architecture is Victorian with its emphasis on grand neo-gothic structures like the Empress Hotel. I didn’t get quite as much of a feel for the outlaying parts of town, but Mrs. H had me drive through many a neighbourhood that had streets lined with Victorian cottages, some simple, some dripping with gingerbread.

I had a lovely weekend and feel it is the perfect cap to my Vancouver Island winter.

Journey to the birthplace of Starbucks

Seattle rises out of the fog like an impressionistic painting, a gleaming beacon of civilization after a hundred miles of lush green mountains.

It was last night, in a fit of genius fueled by exhaustion, that my friend and I decided to go to Seattle today. She had put ‘go to Washington state’ on her list of things to do on this trip and when we realised that Seattle was barely two hours away, we decided to do something a tad more exciting than just going to Blaine for lunch.

We had an easy crossing into the States at Pacific Highway (the crossing we can see from my living room) and an easy enough drive to Seattle in pouring rain, arriving just shy of noon.  I’d had an idea of what we could do this afternoon, but my friend had seen the Seattle Aquarium as we came in and had her heart set on it, so our very loose plans changed.

I was famished (not news, lol!), so the first order of business was to drive around the general vicinity of the aquarium and look for food. We ended up at the Old Spaghetti Factory, where we both had a very satisfactory meal (I highly recommend the chicken penne).

Parking for the aquarium was the next order of the day and it was found quickly. Such a thing is ludicrously high in Seattle. We paid 14USD for 3 hours of parking, in addition to entrance to the aquarium.

While I had found the Vancouver aquarium to be quite disappointing, the Seattle aquarium was anything but! It has a touch pool, sea mammals, and interesting exhibits. My friend’s joy at the experience was palpable and her enthusiasm contagious. She fell in love with an anemone, while an octopus won my heart.

Rain poured down in sheets all afternoon, covering Puget Sound with a heavy grey mist. Neither one of us felt like driving home in damp clothes, so we didn’t explore the area around the aquarium. It was almost four by the time we got out of there and I knew the drive home would be difficult, so, satisfied and happy, we headed north without exploring Seattle further.

Approaching Bellingham, I suggested we stop and have dinner. Border wait times were already at the 20 minute mark and would only increase. I was also exhausted and achy from white knuckled driving seeing as there was enough rain that the car aquaplaned a few times. In the time it took to eat a fantastic meal at Applebee’s, the sky cleared. We drove the rest of the way home in beautiful sunshine and blue sky.

I didn’t realise that we needed to exit to get to the Pacific border crossing, so we wound up at Peace Arch. This was great seeing as the wait approached 40 minutes; my friend was able to see the Peace Arch and we enjoyed watching the sun set over the ocean. I did find the wait very difficult as I drive a standard and it’s a steady climb from the US to Canadian customs. I put on the hand brake a few times, but traffic was too steady to bring much relief. Crossing back into Canada was a non-event (note to my friend: whispering that the customs guy is really cute, even if he is, is distracting 🙂 ).

Pictures are on the Seattle page.

Each day has topped the previous, so we’re eager to see what wonders will mark our last full day together tomorrow.

As a side note, interstate 5, which connects Blaine and Seattle, WA, goes from the WA/BC border all the way down to the California/Mexican border. I have driven it from the Mexican border all the way to San Francisco and now from Blaine to Seattle. I just need to drive it from Seattle to San Francisco at some point! 🙂

(I never thought I would one day drive HOME from Seattle in two hours!)

Totem Poles, Parrots, and Fish

Today’s story can best be told in pictures, so this entry serves as only a guide to today’s extensive photo gallery.

First stop on this rainy Saturday morning was the U(niversity of) B(ritish) C(olumbia) Museum of Anthropology. It has been undergoing major renovations for the past six months and only a few exhibits are open. It was still a fantastic tour of BC First Nations art (in the form of lots and lots and lots of totem poles) as well as an interesting exhibit on tribal tattoos and one about ceramicware.

Next, we were off to the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. Thankfully, the sky was only spitting by this point and even hinted at clearing up. Several people had mentioned that this conservatory was a ‘must see’ and I have to agree!

We ended the day in Steveston, which was a much more happening place than it was the last time I went! We walked around, checking out all the kitschy souvenir shops before collapsing in a coffee shop where my friend had a pot of tea and I savoured two (!) caffe macchiatos until we felt that we could walk to a restaurant for dinner. We had initially planned to get fish & chips at a stand recommended by Croft, but it was too cold to eat outside. So, we decided on a sitdown dinner at the Shady Island, where we had a most satisfactory meal of cod fish & chips and a very nice coleslaw. I also indulged in a beer. I don’t know how those fish & chips compared to other Steveston joints, but I was very happy with them.

I am happy to report that I can now get around Vancouver with a minimum of GPS reliance and wrong turns and that a city that once seemed scary and hostile now feels like home.

Stanley Park

World famous Stanley Park is located at the northern tip of the city of Vancouver. It is the largest city-operated park in Canada and the third largest in all of North America.  It is a 1,000 acre (405 hectare) urban oasis and the only thing I’ve always known I’d want to see if I ever made it to Vancouver. Among its many attractions are the totem poles and the Vancouver Aquarium.

Well, the weather’s been improving and been alternating between sun and fog, so I decided that today was going to be The Day. I was going to brave Vancouver and visit Stanley Park!

First decision to make was how to get there. I really wanted to use the Skytrain, but Stanley Park is huge and its shuttle doesn’t run in the winter. If I wanted to see anything, I’d have to go by car.

The drive wasn’t that bad, actually (thanks, Majel!), and I had a lovely morning in this beautiful park. I’m going to go back on a nicer day so I can get some proper shots of the city. The fog over the ocean was really thick this morning!

The aquarium was okay. I had a nice time and saw some cool things but I’ve been spoiled by some of the best aquariums our continent has to offer, so it takes a lot to wow me now when I visit such a facility. I think that what I will remember most about the Vancouver Aquarium is the beluga whales!

The most memorable moment of the day was when I came across a couple arguing in Mandarin about what they were seeing in the fog:

Lady: Shi Lionsgate Bridge! (It’s the Lionsgate Bridge!)

Man: Bu shi Lionsgate Bridge! (It’s NOT the Lionsgate Bridge!)

Back and forth for a whole minute until I had enough and exclaimed: “SHI Lionsgate!” Then, off their stunned gaze “Wode hanyu pu xin.” (My Chinese sucks) Whodathunk my 15 weeks of Mandarin lessons back in 1997 would come in handy one day? 😀

Please check out the Stanley Park page for pictures. 🙂