Meeting the Family and Touring Victoria

Greetings from Lotus Land! (I still have no idea why people call it that — nowadays you could reefer to it as Grass Land … yes, I spelled “reefer” on purpose.)

Undoubtedly you’ve all heard the trials and tribulations of Ross Rebagliati (sp?), the Canadian Snowboarding gold medalist. The whole thing wasn’t really played up too much around here, other than we thought that it was a really dumb thing to get worked up about. It all came down to punctuation for us:

Rest of the World: They smoke marijuana in Whistler?

British Columbia: They smoke marijuana in Whistler.

(It’s not a question, it’s a fact. You could also have written our response a little more succinctly: “DUH!”)

That’s not to say that jokes weren’t flying about — one had Ross as the new spokesperson for Hostess. (Y’know — “when you got the munchies…”)

Life wound up at Prologic Corp. right on schedule, and I left on Friday without a hitch. And then it was off for the weekend.

Allison and I made plans to spend Valentine’s day in Victoria. But first, we had to get to the island. At roughly 17:15, we departed the office, jumped in Allison’s car, and headed to Horseshoe Bay, which is roughly north-west of Vancouver. Although the ferry port at Tswassen (which is pronounced “swaa-sen” or “te-waa-sen”, depending on who you ask) was closer, there was a two sailing wait (there were *that* many cars waiting to leave — each ferry takes between 150 and 200 cars, and the sailings are at most once an hour), and we wanted to be in Nanaimo before 22:00, if possible.

We arrived at Horseshoe Bay about 18:15 or so (yes, it took that long to get there). We purchased a ticket for the next sailing, which was 19:00. Unlike Tswassen, we wouldn’t have to wait.

This was a good thing. The ferry takes a minimum of an hour and a half to get to the other side. We arrived in Nanaimo around 20:45 (counting the delays, and the loading/unloading time), and we promptly headed for Fast Eddies, a local favourite restaurant (best blackened chicken I’ve had outside of New Orleans!). We wanted to have dinner before descending on Allison’s parents.

When arrived at the Collins family estate, Allison expressed her concern that she might not be able to sneak me inside — all the doors were locked. Why did she want to sneak me inside — several of her relatives were there. I was worried enough about meeting her parents, let alone a portion of her family tree (albeit a small portion — apparently Allison’s family tree is quite extensive).

The introductions went quite well (I wasn’t immediately thrown out of the house, nor was I asked a great deal of embarrasing questions). Of course, I figured a way out of receiving the Evil Eyes — I brought a box of chocolates for Allison’s parents. When in doubt, go for the brownie points!

(I’ve since found out that I’ve passed the “first test”. I’m somewhat apprehensive about the “second test”.)

The conversation was not centred around me (thankfully), but it allowed me to get my foot in once in a while (I know families where you have to shout to be heard). But the family slowly weeded itself down until it was just Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Allison, and myself. Her sister Jane, who bears a striking resemblance to Kirsten Dunst (who appeared in such movies as Interview with the Vampire and Wag the Dog) showed up later, and promptly started downing a litre of cold pre-made cappaccino. Allison’s brother Randy appeared about a half hour afterwards.

The next day we drove down the Island Highway (aka Canada Route 1, aka the Trans Canada Highway) to Victoria. Some parts of that trip were like travelling through a fairy tale — huge trees coated with deep green moss, huge cliffs dripping with lush vegetation — a rainforest without monkeys or macaus.

Victoria was decidedly nicer than Nanaimo — namely, it wasn’t raining. We checked into the James Bay Inn (Victoria has a big thing about James Bay, for some strange reason), which was a block from the house Emily Carr was born in. We then decided to walk around Victoria.

Victoria is a beautiful city — it reminds me very much of more European cities — Helsinki, most notably. I think it’s one of the smallest capitals in Canada — certainly the smallest west of Quebec (and south of the northern Territories). It’s also very relaxed. VERY relaxed. No-one seems in a rush (of course, all the horse-drawn carriages might attribute to that).

We visited the Royal BC Museum (not as extensive as the ROM, but I think the collection of Native artifacts cannot be paralleled — except maybe by the Museum of Anthropology at UBC), which took us a couple of hours. Then we wandered over to a place called “Undersea World” (or some similarly cheesy name). It’s a building set into the harbour, with a few walls around the outside in the water. It’s an aquarium essentially, but the water’s right out of the bay (there are grates that open right into the surrounding water). The admission included a 15 minute scuba show where a diver showed off some of the various fauna of the deep.

The most surprising thing I saw in that show was the conditioning of the fish — not the water conditioning, I mean the mental conditioning! I had always assumed (rather naively, so it seems) that the brain stems of fish were capable of only providing survival instincts — that fish couldn’t really “learn” things. The diver proved me very wrong. He pulled out a triangle (the kind you see in old westerns when Cookie calls the cowboys for dinner) and rang it. All the fish suddenly turned and gravitated towards him. Mondo creepy. Pavlov would be proud.

We proceeded along the roads to see what there was to see, which included Chinatown, and Fan Tan Alley — the narrowest road in Canada. It’s about a metre wide. There are actual addresses (stores, specifically), so it’s a designated (complete with postal code) road. Parts of “Bird on a Wire” (filmed in 1990, starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn) were filmed in Vancouver and Victoria, including Fan Tan Alley.

We had a very filling meal at a local Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (Note: Victoria’s Chinatown is less than a block, and is mostly for tourists). The service was lousy, but the food was great! The meal ended with the traditional fortune cookies. I had to laugh when I read my fortune: “Luck is coming your way.” (This is funny when you remember to read it the way you’re supposed to read fortunes.)

The next morning (this morning), we toured around the city, where I made an effort to take a picture of the beginning of the Trans Canada Highway (yes kiddies, the TCH starts in Victoria — how’s that for trivia? Fool your friends!) We then wound our way to Craigdarroch Castle, built by millionaire coal baron (and all-round nasty guy) Robert Dunsmuir. Rumour has it that he blew up a mine full of workers (seven died) because of complains about the quality of life, the lack of wages, and so forth. There doesn’t seem to be too much sentiment for the guy.

Finally, we headed back to Vancouver, via the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal. We barely missed making the ferry, and had to wait an hour until the next sailing. I will say one thing for the ferries in BC — they’re usually pretty nice, and the trip from Schwartz Bay to Tswassen is a beautiful one! I highly recommend it to anyone making the trip! (Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay is mostly in open water, but gives you a great view of the mountains on a clear day).

Anyhoo, this log is plently long enough for now. I now leave you to your regular activities…

By the way, for those of you who don’t know the “real” way you’re supposed to read a fortune, you add “in bed” at the end. Believe it or not, most fortunes make more sense that way…