Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

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Let’s make it a good one.

Victorian vista – part two

A quick recap – I went to Seattle to visit my friend, we decided to nip up to Victoria (the one in Canada) on the clipper and spent our first afternoon wandering around Butchart Gardens and eating ice-cream. We then returned to our hotel for a little rest and reconnoitre while contemplating this view…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

We had a great dinner that evening at 10 Acres Bistro, a local bar and bistro where the menu is based on what’s available from the farm, the 10 acres of the name, on the Saanich Peninsula. The portions were huge and delicious and it was just as well we had a 20 minute stagger back to the hotel to help digest it all.

But this was just the beginning.

The morning dawned, cool and blue-skied and it was time to tackle our second culinary milestone: breakfast at Blue Fox Cafe.

Blue Fox Cafe

This had consistent rave reviews wherever we looked and we were not disappointed – it was fresh and scrumptious both in the decor and the dishes. We made our way through a couple of enormous plates (almost), picked at the fattest slab of French toast we’d ever seen (smothered with gorgeous local maple syrup of course) and chatted with a local couple at the next table who had been coming to the Blue Fox for years. (We found ourselves at the effect of many conversations with locals that started with ‘oh I just love your accent’ over the two days.)

This was by far the best meal of the trip (the others were fabulous so this is high praise indeed) and I would absolutely recommend you getting yourself there – apparently it’s crazy busy on the weekend but at 10.30-ish on a Wednesday morning, we only had a ten minute wait.

Absolutely stuffed, we headed back towards the harbour, stopping along the way to a) buy a loaf of the honey, apple and raisin bread to take home (it came with my omelette and we both fell in love with it – disappointingly we were informed that it was only made on Friday’s…sob!) and b) check out some of the local beauty services on offer.

Frilly Lily

Our next stop was the Royal BC Museum (or Royal Museum of British Colombia)…

Museum of BC

…where we spent a couple of hours wandering around the myriad of exhibits on Natural History…

woolly mammoth

…and Human History.

Native fashion

Totem

Human History

To coin a local turn of phrase, this was awesome. The exhibits were really interactive and atmospheric and it seemed that around every corner there was a new way to immerse ourselves/learn something. Since our return, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have a) admitted that they did not visit it and b) recommended the Legislature Building tour but we were both so thrilled with our visit that I haven’t yet felt that we should have spent either less time there or spent it somewhere else.

Next it was time for some general wandering to admire the sights.

Said Legislature Building…

The Empress overlooking the harbour. The most famous hotel in Victoria and advertised purveyor of excellent afternoon teas. We did not stop as we had other foodie pursuits in our sights.

The Empress

There was traditional architecture galore along the harbourside walk to our hotel – this guest house was my favourite.

Victorian architectureAlong the waterfront stands a statue of Captain James Cook – yes the same one that foundered on Endeavour Reef off the NE coast of Australia in 1770. Clearly not put off, Cook continued his explorations and in 1778, was looking for the entry to the North West Passage when he stumbled across Victoria Harbour. (This guy really got around.) It took another 65 years for the Hudson’s Bay Company to build their fort on this site in 1843.

This mini Empire State Building also stands on the waterfront but atop the Tourism Bureau…for the life of me I cannot remember its significance but the photo does confirm that we were blessed with gorgeously sunny almost-t-shirt weather.

A mini Empire State Buiding

We also indulged in a spot of shopping and added shoes, little dude apparel and for Seattle-A, a selection from local chocolatier of note, Rogers.

Chocoholics Heaven at Rogers

With the afternoon advancing, it was time to tackle foodie milestone number three, a spot of fish and chips at Red Fish Blue Fish (a spot of Dr Seuss always adds a little something to a day). At 3pm, the wait was about 25 minutes so Seattle-A held the line…

The lunch line at 3pm

…while yours truly snagged a couple of seats with a view.

Harbour view from lunch stop at Red Fish Blue Fish

Needless to say we made short work of things – falling-apart fish, lightly battered pickles (a Pacific North West specialty), crunchy golden chips – and washed it all down with a craft brewed ginger ale from Sparkmouth.

Post scrummy fish and chips carnage

So with our last supper under our belts, it was time to loosen things a notch, collect our bags from the hotel and head to the clipper terminal for the trip back to Seattle.

Time to go home

We had such a great time together, enjoying both the discovery of somewhere new and blazing a culinary trail together and in pulling together these two trip posts, I was reminded – somewhat appropriately – of this quote from Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish which seemed to sum up our northern adventure…

Dr Seuss Today was fun.And that, my friends, was that!

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Helpful website if you are visiting:  http://www.tourismvictoria.com/

Things to do/restaurant sections were great reference points for us. That it all links through to Tripadvisor also means that you can see what people really thought and it was the Tripadvisor rating that drove us to choose the Royal BC Museum over everything else.

Victorian vista – benvenuto!

When last I posted, I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to visit Seattle-A in – yes you guessed it – Seattle. A couple of busy weeks have elapsed since my return and I have finally sorted the photos and stories enough to warrant a ‘what I did’ post. Suffice to say that in ten days we did many things – weekend excursions, a girls night out, hanging out with the little dudes and considerably more ice cream consumption than I am used to (just as well I got a swim in!)

We also took a trip up to Canada to celebrate a certain person’s significant birthday last month so on a very rainy Tuesday morning (the only rain of my 10 day trip), we boarded the clipper and cruised north to the harbour city of Victoria.

We had decided to add a trip out to The Butchart Gardens to our clipper and hotel package and before we knew it, we were through immigration and on the bus for the 45 minute drive out to Saanich.  Seattle-A was quite excited…

Seattle-A Butchart-bound

Jennie Butchart created her first project, the Sunken Garden, in the exhausted limestone quarry on the family’s property during the early 1900s. Between 1906 and 1929 she then went on to cultivate the Japanese Garden by the sea, the Italian Garden on the old tennis court and the Rose Garden. Today, the Gardens remain a family enterprise and are visited by more than 1 million people each year – with over 22 hectares of public gardens (on a 54 hectare property), I suspect there is probably plenty to keep them busy.

And so we spent a good couple of hours breathing in the fresh clean air and gaping at the extraordinary beauty that greeted us around every corner.

Red white & yellow tulips

An advertised feature of the gardens are the tulips. They were absolutely everywhere and in every conceivable size and colour – this display was right at the beginning as we walked in.

We headed for the Sunken Garden first…I had a little chuckle to myself at the irony of going up to reach them.

Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden was spectacular and the going up was definitely worth this view of it. Following the gently curving paths brought us face to face with all sorts of permutations of colourful foilage, fragrant blooms and calm stretches of water.

Red and white

This was such a pretty display and having never seen these red and white striped flowers before, I had to a) take a photo and b) include them in this post. I do not know what they are…do your worst people.

Pale pink

Even though I had seen these before, they were just so pretty I had to take this photo. (I have also forgotten what these are called…green thumb I am not.)

Curly yellow roses

We thought that these were roses but the curly petals lent a more unorthodox prettiness.

White daffs

Daffodils are my favourite flower and while their bright yellow sunshine-iness is a big part of their usual appeal for me, I was struck by the simple delicacy of these pure white ones.

Water feature

This water feature was at the far end of the Sunken Garden and quite spectacular. In posting this photo on Facebook to announce brag about my travelling exploits, I received four different replies in quick succession from people who had been ‘here’ before (obviously a more famous ‘gardens’ than I had given them credit for). One of these was from Dad who posted the ‘same’ photo taken when visiting a few years ago.

Leaving the Sunken Garden, we headed up to the concert lawn…

April on carousel horse

Here’s Seattle-A demonstrating that inside every grown woman, there remains a little girl wanting a pony

Pink & Purple tulips

More tulips…especially for Lil Chicky.

Me and totem pole

This one is to prove that I was there too: the totem pole shows Eagle with Salmon, Orca, Bear with Salmon…and moi.

'Aussie' trees

We were struck by how much these looked like Australian paperbarks. They are not Australian paperbarks – we asked – but for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were. Yet another horticultural #fail.

Rare Mongolian PoppyWe were keen to see these Himalayan blue poppies as they only flower for about 6 weeks each year (and we had missed the ‘rose’ season…more on that next). There was a whoop of discovery upon finding a smattering of these bright blue blossoms.

Rose(less) garden

This is the archway through the rose-less Rose Garden. Timing is everything – if you like roses.

Next it was down into the Japanese Garden…

Japanese garden

Stepping stones

Weird white flower

There was some strange flora in this garden. This one was definitely one of the weirdest flowers I’ve ever seen (and which still remains a mystery)…

Bubble tree

…and clearly there’s nothing like keeping oneself busy with a spot of topiary, tree-shapery, pruning. Because 54 hectares is not enough…

Red Bridge

Of the many amazing photos I managed to take, I think this one is my favourite – it looks so beautiful that it seems not real (but it definitely was!)

Nature's window to the cove beyond

We came upon this in a back corner of the garden. I know. This looks like nothing special but if you look through this little window of nature…

The cove 'beyond'

…you’ll see the cove beyond it that backs onto the Butchart property.

We wandered out of this oriental lushness towards the main buildings again to be greeted by another expanse of tulips…

Pink tulips

Apricot rose…and a raft of sunset-coloured roses.

The Italian GardenWalking through the gap in the hedge, we found ourselves in the Italian Garden, the most formal and the smallest of the gardens we’d seen.

At this stage we’d been meandering in the fresh air for a couple of hours so we were delighted to be met with an opportunity for refreshment…

Ice creamBenvenuto indeed! The Maple Walnut Gelato was delicious.

And with that, it was time to return to the bus for the snooze ride back to Victoria and to our hotel where the view from our balcony turned out to be this…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

And as we relaxed on the balcony at the end of our first day ‘abroad’, we sighed contentedly and wondered at the hardships we had been forced to face together…and planned 24 hours of foodie forays to keep us entertained for the remainder of our visit.

More(ish – see what I did there?) on this soon…but if you are venturing out BC way, make a note-to-self – The Butchart Gardens is a ‘must-see’.