Stories along the Way: Vancouver Island BC and a little bit of Port Townsend

Port Townsend and Vancouver Island

May 3-5, 2019

Kathy, a nurse, and her husband Karl, a physical therapist, along with Scout, an aging Jack Terrier and Riley, a lovable rescue dog, recently moved from their long time home in West Seattle to Port Townsend, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. West Seattle, was long considered a sleepy town outside thriving downtown Seattle. Amazon and Microsoft and other companies outstripped Seattle of it’s livable spaces  and suddenly discovered West Seattle—transforming it from all that made it special, to a high-rise bedroom community, knocking down the small, tidy homes. They moved to Port Townsend WA

The drive took us down narrow dirt roads until we passed forest lands and a few houses, stopping at a gate with Karl, Scout and Riley eager waiting to welcome us. It is an unusual house, designed to take full advantage of the water view . It is long with high ceilings so that all rooms open to the water. Large glass doors open everywhere letting in the sea and tree air.

Not all friends are enjoying retirement as we are, and we make it clear that we don’t need to be entertained while they go to work. We have everything we need and welcome their company. Down by the water sit two red Adirondack chairs. The air is different here—salt water air.  It is easy to sit and just watch. Karl has a phone app that identifies each boat and ship, except submarines,  that pass by and the Straits are quite busy. I see a big difference in Riley and Scout, too. At their former home, they were always on guard, as people and dogs walked by frequently, not to forget the mailman who deserved a special “welcome.” They are almost tranquil here, just like people, content to watch nature before them. Like us living on a lake, Kathy and Karl find themselves staying home more now, why leave this nirvana?? 

Lots of laughter, talk, eating , napping and a Saturday morning trip to the Farmer’s market for Kathy and me. After a wonderful morning, buying fresh eggs, bread, greens, and a few other items, we arrive home at 11am as promised with Jim sitting in the driver’s seat waiting—we all laugh.A few more hugs and goodbyes and we’re off to the ferry to Vancouver Island from Port Angeles. Only an hour away from Port Townsend, it’s a lifetime away in “community style.” 

The weather holds and it is a beautiful sunny Saturday when we come ashore in Victoria after a 90 minute ferry ride. I picked out a campground north of town, but changed my mind, wanting some city time in a city I love, and found the James Bay Inn. Located in a residential area, it has continuously operated as a hotel since 1911, except from 1942 – 1945  when the hotel was purchased by Mother Cecilia’s religious order and operated as St. Mary’s Priory. It was during this period that the hotel welcomed its most famous guest. Canadian artist and author Emily Carr a patient at the Priory, dying there March 2, 1945.

Indeed seeking out Emily Carr’s work is one of my wishes for the Victoria trip. I am a long time admirer of her and for her commitment to nature in her paintings and respect for indigenous people. Not realizing she stayed at the hotel, I’m delighted to see many of her prints hanging as well as her portrait. She lived her young life across the street and the “Emily Carr House” is worth a visit but we can only walk the grounds this trip as it is open Tuesday – Saturday. I hung a poster of  her tall cedar tree over my home desk in Anchorage.  In tough times it reminds me that my roots are deep.

The hotel is beautifully restored, maintained and very clean. We pick the cheapest room “The Petite Room’ with a single double bed, but with a nice tub and shower as well as windows that open. It’s perfect. At night, we leave the window open and it’s mostly silent with an occasional car driving by or the gentle clip-clop of a horse drawn carriage touring the city. It’s a 15 minute walk to downtown and reasonable walks to other sites.  Of course Jim likes it because he can lean out the window to check on the Sprinter in the parking lot. The Sprinter attracts attention as we gather clothes to take into the hotel. There are renovations going on and Jim was sitting in the Sprinter with the side door opened and a workman asked him if he was the European fine cabinet maker they were expecting.

ART GALLERY OF GREATER VICTORIA

When it first opened in 1951, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria exhibited art in a historic mansion dating to 1889. The historic building is still used by the art gallery, and is adjacent to the institution’s seven modern galleries. With almost 17,000 works of art, the Art Gallery has the largest public collection in BC and is a vibrant and active part of Victoria’s artist community.

On Sunday we walked to the Art Museum,  passing beautiful small and big homes, many flower gardens carefully maintained and parks. Walking is hard for both of us and Jim took the time to sit under the trees outside. I toured the Emily Carr section and some of the “Group of Seven” the well-known Canadian artists that incorporated nature into their paintings. I was delighted to see a painting by AY Jackson titled—“The Alaska Highway 1943.” Unexpectedly there was a beautiful woodblock exhibit from the Japanese Edo period and also by Phillips.

It also has the only Shinto temple in North America.

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After a good turn around the gift shop (I love museum gift shops) I request a 10 minute rest before heading off for tea at the garden created by the Georgian Prince and Princess Abkhazi,

THE ABKHAZI GARDEN

The Abkhazi Garden is an exquisite heritage home and garden located in Victoria, British Columbia, a city known for its wonderful gardens.  Prince and Princess Abkhazi began creating their garden in 1946.   The garden is very discreet from the street, with only hints of what exists beyond the hornbeam hedge.  What the visitor does find is a garden that embraces a natural landscape that is unique to Victoria.  The garden is blessed with dramatic glaciated rocky slopes, magnificent native Garry oaks and gorgeous vistas.

The last time I dragged Jim to afternoon tea was about a year ago at the historic “The Saskatchewan Hotel”.

We are exhausted from the walk and I’m so happy to sit down and have a nice cup of tea as well as the three course food selection offered for Afternoon Tea. Surprisingly Jim admits the tea also rejuvenates him, too ,though he “won’t admit it in public.”  The food is delicious and just the right mix. We are rejuvenated, but not enough to walk home.

 

 

he restaurant hostess graciously calls a taxi for us. She tells us it is “yellow.” We walk outside the gate and wait. A yellow car across the way drives into the driveway that ends at the front gate. A jolly woman jumps out of the Suzuki and asks us if we are waiting for a taxi. She then says she isn’t a taxi inspite of  her aged yellow car and is a volunteer here and is collecting some things. 

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” She asks. We assure here we have called a cab that arrives shortly afterwards and is clean, well-running with a polite, competent driver. 

Note: Jim and I had to take so many “yellow” taxis when we were in Seattle for his cancer treatment, and we still bear the scars.

On Monday we check out of the hotel, singing our praises to the desk clerk, and we leave the Sprinter to walk downtown. I have only two stops to make. Murchie’s Tea, offering beverages and food celebrating 175 years of service to Victoria and  the Munro bookstore, equally wonderful and historic next door.  We enjoy food and tea and I wander a bit in the shop, buying a few things and congratulating the salesperson  already offering a 15% discount  on Prince Charles tea for the new royal birth even though he is only a few hours old.  The shop is crowded though it is a Monday and populated by both the young with their computers typing away and the old, waiting for tea to be poured.  I could sit here all day drinking tea and watching.

Jim chooses to sit outside as I go into the bookstore. Once again the store, the books ,and the staff are friendly, helpful and  sympathize with their friends working at the tea shop as it is very busy. There are four large seasonal paintings high on the wall, with the very tall ceilings. I bought 2 seasons of those cards at the gift shop. 

Can there be any  better neighbors than an elegant tea shop celebrating 175 years and a well established book store in an equally old building?

Time to head back to the hotel, I didn’t have the strength to go into the lobby of  The Empress Hotel.  Teens with musical instruments pass by near the  Parliament Building. As we walked we saw they were gathered together with hundreds of other teens playing music together.

We store my packages in the Sprinter and leave Victoria. I want to stay longer. But it’s time to  continue our island exploration. Jim hasn’t visited Tofino on the West Coast of the island. A bit like Alaska, there is only one road in and out of the town. It’s a beautiful drive but some tricky areas.

First we drive along the coastal road to Yellowpoint Lodge. Karl and Kathy have vacationed there for many years and wanted us to join them sometime. However, you can only stay there if recommended by a current guest and have to be ready to go when there is an opening. Impossible for us in Alaska. But I was curious about it and we enjoyed touring the Lodge and can see why it is beloved by many.  We also visit the Crow and Gate pub, a popular dining spot for Yellowpoint guests and others.

The last time I was in Tofino was 25 years ago and enjoyed a lovely stay at the Cable Cove Inn, a wonderful tiny inn that delivered breakfast with fresh juice and pastry at the requested time, outside your door. It was a sleepy little town.

Hmmm, the BC park campground is full, strange for week nights at this time of year. Finally, we settle on a private campground, expensive and quite full. What’s going on?  Breakfast in Tofino today!!  Driving into town, crowded with cars and people and SURFBOARDS. Surfing dudes and dudas fill up every space DURING THE WEEK IN EARLY MAY! The remaining smidgens of space are filled with bewildered older tourists walking around.  What happened in the past 25 years? We give up on breakfast and quickly leave town, driving through the Pacific Rim Wildlife Reserve and stop at the Wild Pacific Trail.

A group of well-traveled Italians in Toyotas stop at the Trail. Their cars say “African Adventures” and post the countries they have traveled to. Quite interesting. My biggest question though is how one woman manages to keep her white linen tunic so clean and fresh looking?

Ucluelet beckons with a special sign and we travel to the other end of the road. The town is not yet like Tofino and moves at a slower pace and is not crowded.

 

We find a lovely spot for lunch that is. very granoly and healthy.

I even find an event I would like to go to.

I stop in a small jewelry shop run by a couple from Poland, their accents too strong. “Yes, says the woman,” Tofino gets busier every year. The jewelry they sell includes a special piece designed by their son–the first 3d wave necklace. It’s called the “West Coast Wave”.

We passed through a village proclaiming itself the best fishing village ever, Fort Alberni and took this special photo as we waited for traffic.

Up the winding road we drive behind a double truck laden with commercial fishing nets. We both move over to let an ambulance go by. Hopefully they aren’t in a hurry, as the dangerous road near Kennedy Lake is being reconstructed. Jim loves construction sites

We clear construction and travel on, pulling over to a scenic stream flowing around the rocks. There is a fence with many things, mostly locks but not sure why. We go down the stairs, Jim a little freer than me. Neither of us can “scamper over the rocks” anymore but we still enjoy the view.

The last stop for the night before we take the ferry in Nanaimo over to the “lower mainland” is the provincial park in nearby Parkside, and it is a gem. Jim is even more delighted to find an ice cream store near the entrance. We walked, ate, went to the beach. The beautiful path around the water was well used by runners and walkers. The water tap was a place for two couple to gather like the office “water cooler” said Jim. They hadn’t known each other but were chatting like old friends. The sunset was beautiful and it was a peaceful night.

And Finally on to the ferry and the Sea to Sky Hway.

Stories along the Way: Vancouver Island BC and a little bit of Port Townsend

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