CANADA: Victoria BC

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, Canada and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada's Pacific coast. Victoria is about 100 kilometres from BC's largest city of Vancouver on the mainland and the same from the city of Seattle, Washington. Because this city is on an island the two most common ways to get there is either by plane or ferry. The best way to get to Victoria is to walk on or drive your car on to the ferry. If you coming from Vancouver and don’t want to drive, the public transportation is great. Whether you use local buses or the skytrain to get to the ferry, all of them are modern and clean and you don’t have to walk far.  Travelling on the ferry is like taking a mini cruise. The ships are very clean and have conveniences such as restaurants, gift shops and kid’s playroom. You will see the Gulf Islands up close, bathed in their rugged coastal beauty. Buses from the ferry to downtown Victoria are usually double decker which makes scenery-watching easier.

The official web sites and locals writing about Victoria are very excited about how much there is to do. The truth is that it really depends on what you like but you can have fun doing anything if you come with a good companion. Almost everything is overpriced and overrated there. I do have to admit that the downtown is picturesque with featuring waterfront paths, charming shops, restaurants and heritage buildings. Despite Victoria’s reputation as a tourist destination, there still is the same problem with loitering and panhandling in the downtown core. Victoria's Inner Harbour is in the heart of downtown. You can see (and buy) the arts and crafts displays along the lower causeway. Musicians and magicians are everywhere entertaining the crowds. Across the street you will find the historic Parliament Buildings outlined in white lights, which light up the surrounding area at night. Nearby is the Royal British Columbia Museum, showing the history of Victoria and its First Nations people. The Maritime Museum of British Columbia is in the Bastion Square.

Victoria's Chinatown was founded in 1858 during the Gold Rush. It is the oldest surviving Chinatown in Canada and was the largest urban centre of Chinese population in Canada through the first decade of the twentieth century. The Chinese were some of the earliest immigrants to settle permanently in Victoria. Today, this area is pretty much confined to one block. If you've been to Vancouver or San Francisco, or any city with a really large Chinatown, don't come to Victoria with the same expectations. While Victoria's Chinatown is the oldest one in Canada, it's possibly the smallest as well. The alleyways in Chinatown earlier served as escape routes in case of police raids. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels are now become novelty stores and souvenir shops. Fan Tan Alley is a very narrow gap between 2 buildings, (the narrowest street in North America - measures all of 0.9 metres wide) and if you weren't looking for it, you would walk right past it without realizing it was there. Once you walk through the narrow path between the 2 brick buildings, it opens up into a narrow courtyard with a little shops. This alleyway is the place where the motorcycle chase scene was shot for the crappy movie "Bird on a Wire" starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn. The scene makes the Fan Tan Alley appear far longer and busier than it is in reality. Not much to see here.

I want to mention one bar which is totally different from others in downtown Victoria. The bar is called Big Bad John’s.  From the outside it doesn’t make you very interested to walk in because you can’t see anything inside and you don’t even know is it a bar. The sign in the window says “Sorry we are open”. That got my attention and we had to see what was behind the small door. Inside it was like a half dark dungeon with country music playing,  peanuts shells on the floor all around the tables and women’s bras hanging from the ceiling. A guy (big bad John himself) came over to us in hillbilly overalls to take our order, and then the fun started. I don’t want to say what, and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I didn’t even post a picture because  you have to see this place in person  as a reward for being “brave” to go in.

A long time ago I  decided to visit only non-tourist places, to mix with locals, to staying in B&B or swap mine with someone else’s house or apartment instead of a hotel room. I’m not a fan of sterile hotel rooms, but sometimes you have to make exceptions. We stayed in hotel called The Inn at Laurel Point which is removed from the main part of downtown but it provides easy access to the the Inner Harbor and downtown. Conde Nast Traveller rated this hotel one of the top 25 hotels in Canada in 2007. The view from our room did encompass a large part of the Inner Harbor. We had close ups of the Coho Ferry sailing from the United States into the port, float planes taking off and landing and all types of small water craft sailing by the point. Some rooms in hotel, although facing the harbor, might have obstructed views. We have great time there but not because of what Victoria have to offer - it was mostly because we enjoyed being  together. There is nothing wrong with Victoria  - it just wasn’t for us (maybe because we came from a much more vibrant Vancouver).

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