Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Northwest Vacation 2015 - Starting in Victoria, BC



The first 6 months of this year have been jam-packed with travel, long days and stress for me. I had returned from a month in Europe on business traveling all over and back and forth in Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and Switzerland in mid-June and needed a vacation in a major way. Trips to Europe on business may sound fun, but the weekdays require 12-16 hour days keeping things running on 2 time zones that are 6 hours apart. If I get to bed before midnight, that’s a good day.  I was gone from mid-May to mid-June. I’m now home; I’m exhausted. It’s time to plan a vacation….

Without knowing when I would be able to take time off, and having therefore not planned a vacation, I had to plan something with a mere 2-3 weeks’ notice. I wanted outdoor adventure, animal sightings, incredible views mixed in with a little pampering. I wanted a 2-week vacation for the first time in 2 years. After realizing that an Alaskan vacation just couldn’t be planned at this late date, and after some internet research, I discovered Oregon had quite a bit to offer. I decided to wrap Vancouver Island into it as well. This was going to be a full-on adventure vacation with scenic views, animals and great times. I planned a few hotel stays with a general thought process of how I was going to proceed from Victoria to the Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island, to Oregon, down its coast, in to Crater Lake, up to the desert, over to the Painted Hills, up to wine country of Willamette Valley, over to Mt. Hood and Hood River and back to Portland. Generally, I was planning my trip a day or two at a time with the flexibility to go and do what I wanted when I wanted. This would be my first vacation that didn’t have a set itinerary with all details set in stone before I get on the plane. I packed up my large duffle bag on wheels (instead of my Briggs & Riley), shoved my computer in an oversized briefcase on wheels. This will be fun…

Victoria, Vancouver Island…Once is Enough For Me.
Arrival in Seattle, taxi to the port to catch the boat to Victoria, Vancouver Island and just enough time to grab some yummy brunch with a killer bloody mary – with bacon!! A great way to start vacation!  Brunch had...now onto what I later learned was the "vomit comet"...glad I didn't know that beforehand! I took the 2.5 hour Victoria Clipper large catamaran ferry over. It wasn't bad for those of us who are prone to sea sickness. I was told later that I was just lucky there were glass-water calm seas on the Strait between Seattle and Victoria. Grateful for that.

Two and a half hours later, we arrive. I’m staying just around the corner from the marina, so I grab my bags and walk to the hotel. The hotel is in a nice neighborhood that is part residential and part hotel and is right on the water. The views are fabulous and the neighborhood very quaint.

Now, to plan my 2 days here. Whale watching is my number 1 priority. I had looked at several options for these tours online, and upon arriving at the hotel, I asked an extremely helpful front desk clerk for some recommendations. One of the first questions he asks is whether I’m subject to getting sea sick…hmmm…in my excitement for the water and the prospects of seeing one of my favorite mammals on the planet, I seem to have forgotten about my vertigo and the hellish experience of deep sea fishing in Cancun about 15 years ago during which I tossed my cookies over the side of the boat every 30 minutes for about 4 hours (along with 3 of the 5 other guys on board). Well,... now that you mention it,... yeah,... kinda…depending on how rough the water is….The wonderful clerk suggested one of the groups that had the best boat out there for this…it was heavy, sturdy and had both indoor and outdoor options (given the weather is somewhat unpredictable out here, especially in the open waters).  Let’s go with that one…he calls, they have room for the morning. Excellent. Done. 

The next morning, the weather had turned a bit cloudy and misty with some light rain. I heard that the water was pretty rough as well but that there were several whale sightings…boy was I glad I was in the stable boat!  After arriving at the marina and talking more with the tour guides, I find out that this boat is the only one in the Victoria harbor that can withstand hurricane forces…good to know, but hopefully won't be testing that out today!  With the rough weather, most of the boats were heading out to the south towards the US and the San Juan Islands where it will be crowded with both US and Canadian boats the guide says, so we’re heading west where the larger whales are and the water is a little rougher. We’ve got the boat for it! Awesome!  We take off…I see some of those poor sots who were covered up in rain gear in the open boats which were little more than rubber dinghy’s with a jet engine. I considered that one… thank you again to my great hotel clerk who steered me right!

We’re heading out full steam towards the Pacific Rim side of the island. We stop off at a rock island where a large colony of sea lions were sunning through the clouds, swimming and male posturing. Enough of that…out to sea we go for the main attraction….

 








After about 30-40 minutes, we get bad news…water out there is very rough. Too rough. So rough that one of the sturdier boats (although not sturdier than ours!) is returning and is radioing us that it just isn’t doable safely. What?! No….!!!  Heck, we can withstand a hurricane in this thing, why would we let some measly 7-8 ft waves stop us?!  Of course, as I’m chiming in to keep heading out there, I conveniently forget that it was 7-9ft seas that produced such sea sickness in me while in Cancun several years ago that my fingers and tongue would swell until I tossed my lunch and what continued to remain of it every 30 minutes. So, despite my protestations, and while the captain agreed we COULD withstand the conditions, for the pleasure of the passengers (which included me), we would have to relegate ourselves to the crowds of San Juan Islands and the Orcas. Dang it! Oh well…at least I would see something…hopefully…and I was still on the water, so it can’t be terrible.


So, we get to the Orca area…along with about 10 other boats at any given moment at any given point. The weather is starting to clear a bit and the sun is coming out, so if nothing else, it is a nice boat tour in what has turned out to be a lovely day. We see plenty of fins and curved backs rolling through the water with water spouts in the air. One of the scenes included a mother and her calf. They would roll to the surface together and one after another. One of the pod members swam near and under our boat, but I missed it. Other than it being a nice day out on the water with scenic views, there wasn’t a lot of animal interaction to see on this trip. A little disappointing.

Later that afternoon, I walked around the quaint town of Victoria, had a nice lunch on an outdoor patio facing the marina.  The marina was lovely with a few nice restaurants and shops. Then, I went into the Fisherman’s Wharf area that is a popular and common tourist attraction. In this very small couple of dock blocks, there were cheap restaurants serving fried seafood, Mexican Food and a few huts that were little more than food trucks alongside cheap souvenir shops. The one and only worthwhile experience here was the walk down the few dock aisles looking at the house boat residential community. These boats reminded me of some of the most interesting and quaint villages in Europe, with unique door fronts and d├ęcor. This is worth the walk, but don’t plan to eat here or spend more than an hour (if that) here. There was one shop with some nice French country themed items. Otherwise, get in and get out. 

While Victoria is a very nice, quaint little village town, I had enough after a day and a half, so I made arrangements to pick up my rental car early the next morning and head over to the Pacific Rim earlier than originally planned. That was a great decision….

For more time in Victoria, however, I would definitely stay here again...Coast Victoria Harbourside Marina & Hotel (or hotels.com site here: Coast Victoria Harbourside Marina & Hotel).

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