Victoria: 10 years later

by Mom

Activity:

The last time I wrote about Victoria our eldest was ten years old and our youngest was just a baby.   If you told me then we’d be giving up our world of playgrounds and noisy restaurants for shopping and intimate dining, I’d say, “I’ll believe when I see it”—but here we are.

Nathan is now twenty years old and goes to the University of Victoria.  Needless to say we always find some lame excuse to go over and visit him:  last time it was to hand deliver a rattan blind for his bedroom window, the time before we brought over some mouse traps.  We’re always careful not to go inside the house he rents with four other boys.  We have an unspoken agreement:  he doesn’t want us to see the mess, and we don’t want to see the mess.

Victoria is by no stretch of the imagination, a shopping destination.  In fact, I feel downright sorry for Nathan; because you can count the number of men’s clothing shops on one hand.  It’s different for our sixteen year old daughter, Jenavieve.  She likes the funky one-of-a-kind boutiques that line lower Johnson, Government and Yates streets.  Even Coleman has discovered joke shops, comic book shops and best of all, his prized Converse running shoe store.

We often pop into Chinatown to nose around.  The entrance way is on Government and Fisgard streets.  Apparently Victoria’s Chinatown is second oldest only to San Francisco’s.  Although my husband has a hunch Vancouver’s may be older.  One thing you can’t argue about is the spectacular gate which introduces Victoria’s Chinatown.  In fact, Chinatown has a number of heritage sites worth seeing.  Last year Jen did a photography project on Chinatown.  Even though it only took her 20 minutes to take all the pictures, her teacher was amazed at the architectural diversity and richness she was able to capture.  I’m not sure her teacher would’ve given Jen the same mark if he’d known how long the project actually took her.

Last time Jen and I wandered into a shop called Chinatown.  We must’ve spent an hour lingering from one small room to another.  Jen was trying to talk me into buying a smiling green Buddha, which I wasn’t in the mood for since we’d just finished clearing out and renovating our home.  She ended up buying a plastic orange bazooka like the ones people were blowing in South Africa for the World Cup.  I wasn’t sure we could find our way back to the entrance of the shop, but as it turned out we didn’t have to, because there was another door which led us straight into the middle of Fan Tan alley.  Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in all of Canada; two people cannot walk side-by-side.  It also has a handful of character shops.  Be sure to check out the one selling vintage clothing and another selling old LP’s and posters.  Unfortunately, Jen couldn’t wait to try out her bazooka, which created quite a sensation between the tight brick walls of Fan Tan Alley.  

I mentioned earlier we no longer eat to fill up; we now have the luxury of trying to enjoy ourselves while we’re at it.  In fact, eating has become a destination for our family.  We all have our favorites.  Coleman likes the Beacon Drive-In because they make the best soft serve ice- cream cones in the world.  He also likes John’s Place and the Local Kitchen for their poutine.  Just recently added to his list is the Pink Bicycle:  you guessed it, for its’ poutine.  A French Fry Fanatic would be a good way of describing Coleman.  At one time he fancied himself as a food critic specializing only in French fries and derivatives thereof.  Luckily he talked himself out of it, realizing he’d eventually get sick of eating French fries, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

If I asked Jen which restaurant she’d like to go to, she’d pick Willies for breakfast/lunch and Ferris for dinner.  Willies because Jen likes eggs and they give you a blanket if you sit outside on the patio; but more importantly she doesn’t have to walk far from our hotel to get there.  Ferris despite the fact hot wax from a lion’s mouth candle holder dripped onto her newly purchased pleather jacket.  The food, in Jen’s opinion must be incredible to offset that mishap.  I have to admit, we’ve been there several times and always left happy.

Nathan, his tastes are a little more refined (or so he thinks).  He took us once to Red Fish Blue Fish for lunch.  It was a spectacular day in June, so we didn’t mind waiting for half-an-hour to get our fish and chips.  I steered away from the oil, and tried a fish taco, which was delicious.  One of his other choices (he has many) would be the Canoe Club, located on the water (on Swift Street).  He talked me into ordering the Australian Burger, complete with beets and an egg, which was a meal in and of itself.  Very yummy.

My long-standing favorite has always been Pagliacci’s, an Italian pasta restaurant on Broad Street.  If you’re thinking of going—beware--six o’clock is the bewitching hour.  If you arrive any later you’ll be waiting for a table.  It’s been like that ever since I can remember (30 years would you believe).   Two things you should know:  the bread they serve with your meal is incredible, and so are the desserts.  Make sure you leave room for both.  As Jen pointed out to me once, you can still have room in the dessert compartment of your stomach, even though your meal compartment is full.  It was at Pagliacci’s I made the fatal mistake of ordering my first piece of cheesecake, and I’ve been addicted ever since.  Coincidentally it was Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake recipe that inspired me to buy my first Bon Appétit (dated July 1984 if you’re interested).

My husband likes to put ketchup or Lea and Perrins sauce on everything he eats so he’s generally happy anywhere.  Having said that I know he does like the Tapa Bar in Trounce Alley, not so much for the food as the martinis.

If you’re children are old enough, you may have the option of leaving them at the hotel and going out for a romantic dinner.  Our two youngest loves to stay in, order room service and watch a movie.  We usually stay at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort, which literally is a five-minute walk from town.  If any major fights break out we can be back within minutes to help settle them, and still have time to finish our meal.

With all this eating going on, you can imagine exercise is a necessary part of our day.  Kelvin and I like to have an early morning jog while the kids are still sleeping.  That’s another extravagance we never had before—unpredictable, early morning wake-ups are a thing of the past.  In fact, our kids don’t even bat an eyelash until 10:00 AM.  A nice place to jog is Dallas Road by Beacon Hill Park and Ogden Point.  You have the water at your side, and if you go early enough you’ll see the sun rise.  Beacon Hill Park, depending on what time of year you go, has beautiful flowers, shrubs, and oak trees, even a petting farm if your kids like animals.

Ogden Point has a long cement walkway which rolls out about a half-mile into the ocean.  It’s plenty wide enough, but does not have guard rails.  I remember the first time we went Kelvin told us “he’d catch up with us later.”  “Later” turned out to be when we got back.  I found out “later” he was nervous about walking along the walkway, because it made him feel sea-sick.  Since then he’s be able to overcome his fear--enough to try fishing off the sides with the kids.  We’ve tried it a few times but never had any luck.  Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anybody catch a fish off that point.  As an aside, if you want to impress somebody with a whole fish, you can buy one at Fisherman’s Wharf (about 1 mile away on the Inner Harbor).  They have fish & chip and burger joints there as well.  You might even see the seals basking in the sun waiting for their next meal.

Inner Harbor is always buzzing.  During the tourist season you’ll see artisans selling paintings, drawings jewelry, and native crafts.  Often festivals like the Dragon boat and Sailboats are held there.  We even saw a street hockey competition a few years ago.  Literally stone’s throws away, are several tourist attractions:  Legislature, Empress Hotel, British Columbia Museum, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum if you feel inspired.

You can also run, bike, or roller blade along the Galloping Goose Trail, which extends all the way from Swartz Bay to up island.  Most kids could probably handle the section from Swartz Bay to downtown, because it’s relatively flat.  It gets more challenging when you go up island.  We tried that bit once, but eventually turned around because our kids were getting tired of the hills.  If you don’t have bikes, no problem, there are a number of bike rental places close to downtown.

If you like to swim, which I do, you’ll be amazed when you see the Commonwealth Pool on Elk Lake Drive.  If has two 50 meter pools (side by side), a shallow tot pool, dive tank, and a wave pool.  All those morning and after school swimming lessons have finally paid off:  I can let my kids enjoy the wave pool, play basketball, do whatever their heart desires while I swim laps.   Other prime spots for swimming are Elk Lake, Sooke Potholes and, if you’re looking for adventure try tubing down the Cowichan River.

If you feel like busting out of Victoria for a day, there are a number of day trips you can make.  Sidney, a small town just outside of Swartz Bay, is one of them.  It has a marine exploration museum, where your kids can touch all kinds of small sea animals.  There’s also a walkway which hugs the coastline and passes in front of the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.  Our kids also like to nose around in the shops.  There’s a toy store which we still cannot pass by without buying something.  My husband likes the used book stores—apparently one sells old maps.  If you like a lot of food, try the Third Street Cafe for breakfast or lunch.  Their plates are heaping with food.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, because quite honestly, we always seem to run out of time after we emerge from the toy store.

Another scenic trip is Matticks Farm.  Coleman would kill us if we didn’t stop there.  He loves to play mini golf and they have two courses to pick from.  Actually the rest is quite pleasant also:  restaurant, wine shop, boutiques, and a quasi organic food store, plus an ice-cream stand that sells the flavor chocolate peanut butter.  As an aside the Galloping Goose Trail leads to Matticks Farm, as well as the farm I grew up on.  I remember every summer cutting back the bush which is now the Galloping Goose Trail to get to the biggest, juiciest blackberries you’ve ever seen in your whole life.  Unfortunately, the trail widened out so much that it ate away all the blackberries.

I guess the point is, when your children get older it opens up a bunch of doors you never even knew existed.  You have a golden opportunity to explore new activities and re-invent yourselves.  What’s different now too is that you can be at the same place, but doing different things.  You don’t need to have your kids at arm’s length in the swimming pool, or even walk beside them as you’re exploring the Inner Harbor.  You can’t convince them anymore that they like something they don’t really like.  They might want to look at the juggler for half-an-hour, while you look at the Empress Hotel.

The goal is for everybody to generally be doing the same thing, but not necessarily breathing down each other’s back.  For instance, shopping with the kids is not exactly my idea of a good time.  I try to arrange it so that our kid’s stake out the shops they like on their own, and meet up with me when they’ve narrowed purchases down to a few.  In the meantime I do my own thing.

I guess the trick is to compromise and try to make everybody happy.  Sometimes, it doesn’t work out; someone gets short-changed, but then you try to make things up in another way or at another time.  Let’s face it it’s impossible to make everybody happy all of the time.  So long things average out over the long haul; you’re on the right track.

Age group:

All ages

Expense rating:

Your going to be opening your wallet for this activity, starting with the ferry ride over to Vancouver Island.

:

Victoria, a couple of times a year, makes a great mini-holiday for our family.  We get to check up on Nathan at UVic, and at the same time have fun exploring the city.

:

You need to coordinate your visit to Victoria with the ferry to Vancouver Island.  And sometimes in the summer, the ferries get fully booked.  

Details:

Victoria is about an 1 1/2 hour Ferry ride from Tswassen to Sidney on Vancouver Island.  Then about a thirty minute drive from Sidney to downtown Victoria.  Check out the ferry schedule at BC Ferries.

Area:

Vancouver Island

Season:

All seasons

Educational highlights:

Did you know that the narrowest street in North America is Fan Tan Alley in Victoria's Chinatown?

Fun for the adult?:

Try walking along the breakwater at Ogden Point.