Not far from Vancouver is Vancouver Island, home to the quaint town of Victoria and the Butchart Gardens. Victoria is a hugely popular tourist destination, with harborside restaurants, museums, pubs, and the vast British Columbia Parliament Buildings. Overly ambitious as usual, we figured it would be easy-peasy to take a day trip to Victoria during our 4 days in Vancouver, but we came to find that it was a ~4 hour journey by taxi, ferry, and bus. When we asked the guy at the front desk of our hotel if we should do it, he instinctively responded, “Ehhhhh…”
We made a snap decision over a beer (where great decisions are made) to plan the day trip anyway. It required starting at 6am and taking a 40 minute Uber ride to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal for a 1.5 hour ride (arrive 30-45 minutes early!), followed by 40 more minutes by taxi to the Butchart Gardens for stop #1. As funny as it sounds, it didn’t actually feel like the longest morning on earth. The ferry is massive and contains a large cafeteria-style restaurant, gift shop, and decks for watching the glittering water and docks passing by. I had several coffees and took a nap in the corner.
The gardens are a bit far from downtown Victoria, tucked into a quiet residential area alongside farmland. They sit inside an old limestone quarry and have been family-owned since the early 1900s. The old quarry has been transformed into a whimsical series of colorful flowers, greenery, towering trees, and serene ponds. We moved slowly through quiet paths that snaked in between the glowing rows of petals and foliage. It was mostly quiet, and everything smelled fresh and soft. Give yourself around an hour and a half.
We caught another taxi to downtown Victoria and spent the next few hours wandering along the waterside. Fisherman’s Wharf Park is a short walk from the inner harbor and features restaurants and shops on top of a huge floating dock, which moves so subtly that it’s hard to tell if you are imagining it (not recommended if you are currently hungover). We waited in a line that snaked halfway around the dock for fish and chips from Barb’s Fish & Chips, which coated our stomachs in deliciously crisp and greasy joy. I poured so much malt vinegar on top that I emptied the bottle, but instead of throwing it away, I awkwardly put it back on the serving cart like I’d been caught stealing.
Back along the harbor was a bustle of tourist shops and pubs housed inside delicately adorned buildings. By the time we had to catch the bus back to the ferry, our feet were throbbing, and the length of our “day trip” was beginning to show itself. A seat at the very front of the upper level of the bus woke me back up, like a ride in an amusement park as we whizzed back through town. Unfortunately, the ferry taking us home was not serving alcohol (due to covid? Connection is unclear) so we sulked like children over our dry chicken sandwiches which desperately needed a beer to wash them down.
That night we took a dip in our hotel’s outdoor hot tub and chatted with a mom and her 13-year-old before crashing in bed like two crazy girls who just spent 50% of their day inside taxis, on boats, and on top of a bus.
The next day was our last full day in Canada, a surreal feeling after waiting so long through the pandemic to take this trip. It whirled by in a daze of mountains. We grabbed dim sum that morning at New Town Bakery & Restaurant, a bustling hole-in-the-wall full of daytime workers and a scattering of tourists. You barely had time to browse the rows of sweet custard tarts and steamed buns before rattling off your order. The buns were chewy and flavorful, washed down with hot tea and oversized portions of soup.
I booked us tickets for the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park afterward and hopped a free shuttle to take us there. It features a series of suspension bridges built into a forest of sweeping and infinitely tall trees. Adorned with the robes of rain princesses (plastic green ponchos), we wobbled awkwardly across the main bridge as it dipped back and forth precariously beneath our feet. Our green ponchos wafted in the breeze as a misty rain snuck in and soaked our jeans.
Towards the end of the pathway of bridges, we stopped to listen to a ranger give an educational presentation where I learned about the benefits of bears to the local ecosystem. When bears pull salmon out of the water to eat them, they drag them into the forest and leave their remains to decompose. This decomposition of salmon bits provides nitrogen for the soil that the trees grow in, which lets them grow especially tall and strong. Nature is cool, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
I inhaled one more breath full of fresh, quiet air before we got on the bus and headed back into the city. That night we got our last dinner at Street Auntie’s Aperitivo House, an Asian tapas restaurant serving 6-course meals. The restaurant is still awaiting its liquor license (delayed due to COVID) so all that was available was “mocktails”. This is normally an immediate deal-breaker. However, like a real grown-up would do, I adapted. I drank my real cocktails before dinner. Street Auntie’s serves parties of 2 at the bar in perfectly timed courses, with everything from quail eggs, to crispy fish with hot broth poured over, to tiny pots of spicy noodles. It was worth every carefully selected bite, even if it was only paired with a virgin minty tea tonic.
Cool air hugged my face as I walked home on our last night in Canada. Something felt incomplete. I always yearn for more as a period of travel comes to an end, ache to linger. This was something else – a new and conflicting feeling of uncertainty. A “post-covid” world has been something like a space of limbo. It’s difficult to reach forward when there is no longer a marker for normal, for the “end”. I’m learning to live in a world with different air. So those moments of perfect presence while traveling may take more searching than usual. That yearning may not come each time. But it’s there, inside of me, waiting.