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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 85 to 87: Victoria, Vancouver Island

A t-shirt spotted at the Smithers Farmer's Market a week or so earlier had proposed that "Irony is the opposite of Wrinkly." That may well be the case in Smithers, but in the well-pressed city of Victoria and environs, the two would seem to go happily hand in hand.

While walking the streets of Sidney, Australia a couple of years ago I remember wondering whether anybody over 30 actually lived in this young and youth-worshipping city. Just fresh off the Tsawassen to Swartz Bay ferry, heading south down Highway 17 towards Victoria, a brief stopover in Sidney, BC had me wondering whether anybody under 30 lived here. This seaside town on the outskirts of Victoria was obviously a retirement haven par excellence, and a busy one at that. Everywhere you looked people were jogging, cycling, power-walking, boating...No idle retirement, this!

And nor did it stop here. Just a stone's throw away in Victoria that very same demographic, those very same activities, were alive and well and very much in evidence - giving the city an air of purposeful leisureliness. It is the kind of city you can imagine enjoying being old in. It is a city loudly and proudly celebrating life after work. It is a city that seems utterly content with itself and, for the large part, with good reason. Everywhere you look you see shimmering sea and folks with tans sailing off into the sunset of life. The city, like its people, is gentle and balmy and floral and fit - a strange blend of colloquial charm and British pomp, a place where UK accents would seem to outnumber Canadian ones and where everybody has a dog.

We found our way to the Fort Victoria RV Park which sits perched on a hill about 6 kms out of BC's capital city and, after marveling at the military-like precision of the RV sites and the ultra-modern heated floors in the shower block, set off to explore the downtown core. It struck us as ironic that in this most genteel of cities, we encountered our first major police presence of the trip. Victoria was awash with flashing lights, sirens and those men and women in blue after a city bus containing a 'suspicious package' led to the legislative buildings and surrounding area being cordoned off, and the whole city being temporarily put on 'high alert.' It was a pretty exciting introduction to Victoria, even if it did prove to be a false alarm.

Over the next couple of days we moved with the communal flow: biking over to Fisherman's Wharf where we cooed with equal enthusiasm over cute little water taxis and cute little seals whilst eating great fish and chips from 'Barb's Place'; power-walking our way along a frighteningly high and narrow pier - the better to see passing cruise ships; traipsing from scenic harbour to elegant Empress Hotel to Emily Carr's house to the fantastic cliff walk off Oak Bay to the spot marking Mile '0' of the TCH (phew, we made it!) and back again; and, when we could walk no more, taking a thrilling if nauseating 'virtual' train-ride through the Rocky Mountains at the museum's IMAX theatre.

Thank goodness Marianne flew in from Montreal to have a holiday with us. It was such a relief to sit down and play some cards! But then, having let her let us catch our breath for a couple of hours, we were on the move again - keeping pace with the Vancouver Island vibe as we headed north out of the city en route for surfer's paradise, Tofino.