Victoria via the Black Ball Ferry

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:51

Victoria is well known as a beautiful city with a distinctly English flavor, including red, double-decker buses and lovely gardens everywhere. Since (unlike Vancouver itself) it is located on Vancouver Island, some type of water transportation from the mainland is generally required for groups to get there. Ferries, the high-speed Victoria Clipper and Victoria/San Juan Cruises all can take groups to Victoria.

All Alaska cruises departing from Seattle also make a stop in Victoria in order to satisfy U.S. regulations for foreign-flagged passenger vessels. However, in my opinion, one of the best ways to reach Victoria is from Port Angeles, on the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, aboard the classic, 341-foot-long MV Coho of the Black Ball Ferry Line. 

Built in 1959, the well-maintained Coho offers passengers (and their vehicles) a leisurely 90-minute crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with views of the Olympic and Vancouver Island Ranges en route. Aboard are a cafeteria, gift shop, comfortable lounges, and plenty of deck space for strolling or sightseeing. During the summer season, the Coho operates four round-trips daily, so groups not wishing to take their coach along and stay in Victoria can easily make a day trip departing Port Angeles at 8:20 a.m., and return there following dinner in Victoria, by 9:00 p.m. 

Unlike some other alternatives, the Coho docks right in Victoria’s Inner Harbour is within easy walking distance of the B.C. Parliament Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum, the famed Empress Hotel, and downtown shopping. Other advantages of departing from Port Angeles include combining the Victoria trip with visits to spectacular Olympic National Park, the extensive lavender farms surrounding the nearby town of Sequim, as well as historic Port Townsend.

Departing Port Angeles with Olympic Mountains in background

Passing the U.S. Coast Guard Station

Arriving in Victoria's Inner Harbor

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:48

Just about everybody who visits Victoria, British Columbia, to see the sights is sure to head for the magnificent, world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Having toured the gardens many times in the past, however, I decided to seek out a different Victoria attraction to explore on my most recent trip there in September. 

Just a short distance east of the downtown area is the sandstone-faced Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890 for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time. This imposing Victorian landmark sits atop a hill overlooking the city and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with floors of splendid woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate furnishings and 17 fireplaces. In fact, it took five railcars to ship the Castle’s 2,128 individual oak panels from Chicago. Unfortunately, Dunsmuir died just months before construction was completed, so his wife Joan, three daughters and two orphaned grandchildren were the only family members to live in the mansion and original 28-acre estate.   

Upon Joan’s passing in 1908, the Castle, its contents and surrounding property were divided among nine heirs. Over the years the hospital was converted into a hospital for veterans in WWI, Victoria College, the Victoria School of Music and the Society for the Preservation and Maintenance of Craigdarroch Castle.

Since the Conservatory departed in 1979, the mansion has been operated solely as a historic house museum, and the monumental task of tracking down artifacts for the restoration of the house began in earnest. Today most of the rooms have been painstakingly furnished with period antiques, some of them original. The result is a most impressive attraction sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in historic mansions of the Victorian era or the privileged lives of those who amassed immense fortunes from the industrial transformation of North America.

Oak-paneled main staircase

Downstairs parlor

English billiard table

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

Whistler in photographs

by Brian Jewell 9. August 2010 23:52

Back at my Kentucky office, where the humid air seems to boil underneath the 95-degree southern sun, looking through photos is a great way to remember the wonderful, cool freshness of the British Columbia mountains. It's also a great reminder of the many meals, attractions and activities that haven't appeared yet in this blog.  Here are some of my favorite images from the four-day trip.

A wonderful citrus salad at The Brewhouse, which also serves incredible beef ribs.


A First Nations canoe at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which celebrates the history and art of the local native groups.


Traveling from Blackcomb to Whistler on the Peak 2 Peak gondola.


Friends huddle inside the ice room at Bearfoot Bistro, an over-the-top dinner spot in the Whistler village.


This grilled cheese and apple sandwhich is the most popular dish at Christine's, a full-service restaurant at the top of Blackcomb Mountain.


Hiking Whistler Mountain

by Brian Jewell 7. August 2010 23:10

Though it was 75 degrees in Whistler today, on top of the mountain I found myself surrounded by snow.

The town of Whistler sits in a valley between two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. Both are ideal ski destinations in the winter; in the summer, they afford great opporutnities for sightseeing, hiking and gorgeous views of the British Columbia wilderness.

This afternoon I rode a chairlift up to the summit of Blackcomb Mountain, and then took the Peak 2 Peak gondola over to Whistler Mountain. There are plenty of scenic views to be seen during either ride, and visitors often spot black bears and other wildlife during their ascents. Hiking on the backside of the mountain, however, I found pristine environments, crystal glacial lakes and snowpacks that towered above my head.

A number of ski runs and access roads on Whistler Mountain are converted to hiking paths in the summer. From the gondola station, I took a lift to the very top of the mountain, then went for an hour-long hike back down along a path known as Pika's Traverse, which wraps around the backside of the mountain not visibible from the village below. The trail is wide and relatively easy to walk, gently descending in elevation back to the main mountain station. On this isolated side of the mountain, the air is quiet and the views are expansive — all I could hear was the trickle of water running off of the melting snowcaps, accompanied by an occasional windy howl.

At the top of the mountain, sevral large glaciers are still covered with snow in August, and looking across the mountain range, I saw that some of the other peaks are completely snow-capped as well. As I walked along Pika's Traverse, I would pass by large pockets of snow in the mountainside, and occassionally walk through passages in large snowbanks that were carved by snow-clearing equipment during the winter.

So although it's the middle of summer, there is still lot of snow at the top of Whistler Mountain... and yet hiking through it in short sleeves and jeans, I didn't feel cold at all. It's an amazing phenomenon, and it made for some amazing views on the backside of the mountain.

Hairfarmers and seafood paella

by Brian Jewell 5. August 2010 21:45

The Hairfarmers can play more than 3,500 songs... and know the vast majority of them by heart.

This two-man duo is the best known musical act in Whistler, B.C., a ski resort town about an hour and a half north of Vancouver. With a couple of microphones, some conga drums, a tambourine and a guitar, these guys take requests for hours at a time, and have a sense of humor that keeps audiences in rapt attention.

Whistler is all about outdoor activity. In the winter, it's a mecca for skiers and snowboarders, who come to traverse the two large, powdery mountains on either side of the resort village. Summertime brings hiking, mountain biking, river rafting and the panoramic views afforded by the many chairlifts and gondolas in the area.

In either season, you'll find the Hairfarmers performing somewhere in town most any night of the week. These guys don't put out the professional musician vibe, but they're remarkably busy, playing some 320 shows a year.

Every Thursday night during the summer, those shows take place in the courtyard of The Four Seasons hotel, one of the many upscale properties in the area. From a floating stage in the middle of the coutyard's pond, these two croon and joke throughout the evening, as visitors dine al fresco on a special barbecue dinner prepared by the restaurant staff.  But it isn't just any barbecue -- this smorgasboard, cooked in plain view of the dinner tables, includes seafood pallea, beef short ribs, smoked rice, lamb shanks, grilled salmon and other fine foods.

Tonight, my first in Whistler, was ideal. I made two trips through the barbecue line, piling my plate high with meats, salads and sides, and enjoyed the clean, fresh mountain air and the mild temperatures. It's around 75 degrees in the middle of August, with crystal clear skies. And between covers of Neil Young, Bob Dylon, the Jackson Five and others, the Hairfarmers threw me a bone and played one of my favorie U2 songs.

I think I'm going to like this town.



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