Victoria: Biking, Beer and British Columbia

I didn’t know what to expect when I boarded the ferry in Port Angeles, Washington for the 90 minute ride through the strait of Juan de Fuca heading for Victoria, British Columbia. My wife and I were planning a day of bike riding through British Columbia’s capital city but we were going at this without much of a plan. Normally, I like to plan things to a meticulous degree but this time the plans were essentially out the door.

I had read a little bit about Victoria online and I wasn’t really sure if there was enough to do there to make a full day trip out of it. My parents had gone here before and said they wouldn’t go back and actually declined our invitation to join us.  At a minimum, we thought maybe the bike ride would be nice as there seemed to be several decent bike paths throughout the city. So we decided to give it a try, booked the ferry fare, grabbed the bikes and went across the strait to see what happens.

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Bike racks on the ferry

As a starting point, Port Angles is not the most scenic way to begin the journey but it felt safe and there were lots of families around getting ready for the ferry.  The trip across took about 90 minutes and wasn’t particularly interesting until the final approach to the inner harbor of Victoria. As you approach the city, there is a lot to see, all at once. There are really cool (tiny) water taxis taking people from one part of the harbor to another, seaplanes are taking off and landing in the middle of the bustling harbor center, kayaks and paddle boards are all over the place, and all of this could be seen before the ferry even docked. Reasons to be encouraged? Yes!

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The Inner Harbour

Once we landed, bagpipes could be heard along the waterfront while totem poles and stately buildings could be seen on all sides. Although the area was busy, it definitely had a relaxed vibe that you don’t get in some of the larger cities and I felt comfortable here straight away. After a quick stop at the Visitor Information Center to get our bearings straight, we headed across the bridge to the Galloping Goose Trail and followed it for a couple of hours before turning back to the city. The trail system here is well maintained and there were many offshoot trails that could be taken in most any direction. Tempting yes, but we only had a short stay and had the city center to explore still.

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The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Next up for us, and it’s this way when I travel anywhere, is to sample a local brewery or two. First up and very near to the bike trail was the Canoe Brewery and Restaurant which had a great patio that overlooked the water and was a perfect spot to have a drink after being out on the trail (I had the Helles). While siting on the patio, seaplanes fly overhead, making this one of the more unique places to sit and have a beer that I’ve been to. After that was a short half mile pedal to Vancouver Island Brewing which is a little off of the main tourist route (but not by much) and was worth the extra time and effort. The brewery sits just outside of Chinatown which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and was also worth the visit.  There was a greater selection of beers here and a flight was only $5, which made trying four different styles the way to go. I recommend the Twisted Stalk Blackberry Helles but all four of the beers we tried were very good.

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Great beer and a great logo!

Short on time, we made a quick detour into Chinatown to have a look at Victoria’s Chinatown and the world famous Fan Tan Alley.  I love strolling through city alleys (at least the safe ones) and this was one of the best ones I’ve seen. It was impossibly narrow and barely fit the bike down the narrow lane.  Even still, biking was definitely the way to get around the city.

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Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown

 

After Chinatown, it was back to the ferry for our late afternoon departure and we were regretting our decision to not spend more time here and we didn’t even visit the number one attraction in bike pathsVictoria, Butchart Gardens.  I am not in a position to say how much time you need to explore this beautiful city but I can tell you that one afternoon was definitely not enough. At least a couple of days next time!

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Turks and Caicos Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is not the place most people think about when they think about traveling to the Caribbean, but not because it isn’t the idyllic tropical island of most people’s dreams.  TCI are located just north of the island of Hispaniola and south of the Bahamas. These islands were really just only recently discovered by travelers and the infrastructure to develop tourism is just now gaining some momentum.  But if you’re looking for crystal clear blue water, and by that I mean the clearest and warmest blue water around, this is the place for you!

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Chalk Sound National Park

My visit to Turks and Caicos was to the most developed island in the group, Providenciales.  It is known locally as ‘Provo’ and is served by an international airport but not by cruise ships.  Not having a deep water port for the ships means less people and to me, this is a very good thing.  Provo has what has been voted as one of the best beaches in the world, Grace Bay Beach.  The beach is largely uninterrupted for around seven miles and has hotel properties and beach villas all along its shores.  I stayed on the eastern side of the island in an area called ‘Leeward’ and was happy being there due to the fact that is was away from the hotels and was much quieter than the main part of Grace Bay. Although Grace Bay is quite beautiful, to me it was a little overrated. Beautiful beaches and clear blue water can be found all over these islands and to me, these other beaches had a lot to offer, with a more natural vibe than Grace Bay. Here is a small sample of some of the other places we visited that might be a little lesser known, but were well worth exploring:

Chalk Sound National Park

If I had to pick what I thought was the most beautiful spot on Provo, I would surely pick Chalk Sound. The water here is the most outrageous turquoise blue I have ever seen anywhere in the world.  There isn’t much of a proper beach, that I could find, so we rented kayaks to explore the bay. Rent them at Las Brisas Restaurant (sounds weird to rent kayaks at a restaurant but it was just fine) and paddle into the blue.  It’s also a great apres kayak place to recharge.

Middle and North Caicos

Provo is a developed island with tourist infrastructure, five star dining, and decent roads.  The islands of North and Middle Caicos are absolutely none of that.  Tourism is virtually nonexistent, finding an actual restaurant was purely accidental (found a good one though in Mudjin Harbour), and the roads weren’t so good and poorly marked.  It was awesome!  Have you ever seen flamingos in their natural state? Ever been to a real live bat cave? Tropical beaches without people, any people?  Take a day trip from Provo and enjoy some time away from the crowds.

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Mudgin Harbor -Middle Caicos

Barrier Reef Snorkeling

From shore, there isn’t a tremendous amount of sea life to see, at least from what I experienced.  This is why a snorkeling trip out to the barrier reef is the more desirable option.  Big Blue Unlimited offers a package deal where you snorkel the reef, walk with the iguanas of Iguana Island, and visit the pristine and deserted beaches around Fort George Cay. The guides are top rate and the snorkeling was pretty good, although not as good as some other places I’ve been (like Hawaii). During the reef trip, we saw barracuda, parrotfish, and even squid.  Iguana Island was worth the stop but for me the highlight was the boat ride out to Fort George Cay.  Sitting on the bow of a fast moving boat over crystal clear blue water was something I could do every day of my life and never tire of it.  The boat seemed to fly over the water and couldn’t have been smoother.  To top it off, the boat stopped at a deserted beach where we ate fresh fruit and brownies while listening to the other guests discuss such wide ranging topics like Argentinian politics, life in the islands, and traveling to Cuba.

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Fort George Cay

Find Your Own Beach

I’d say the most relaxing beach we went to happened to be right by the place we rented. We could start and end our day by walking a couple of hundred yards to the water where we’d find only two or three people on the sand or in the water. We brought my wife’s stand up paddle board down with us and just splashed around, content to be relaxing at a beach we didn’t even know the name of.

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Lone Yellowtail at “our” beach

Know Before You Go

You don’t need more than maybe five or six days.  Any more than that and you may run out of things to do (which may be exactly what you’re looking for).

Be ready to fork out big bucks on food if you don’t stay at an all inclusive. These islands are among the most expensive in the whole of the Caribbean.

The islands felt mostly safe.  There were a couple of areas that felt a little uncomfortable at night even though nothing ever happened to us.  However, in the weeks after leaving the islands, two Americans had been shot in separate robberies. In hindsight, those ‘uncomfortable’ moments now seem a little unsettling.

The tourist bureau touts the Thursday Fish Fry as the big thing to do where locals and tourists mingle together to eat, drink, shop, and listen to island music.  There is really no mingling between the locals and the tourists unless you consider buying something ‘mingling’. The food was the same food you can get anywhere on the island, the music was average at best, and the atmosphere was a little bit like that of a flea market.

So would I go back…maybe!

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License plates with flamingos…check!

 

What this blog site is about!

 

I decided to start a blog primarily to give myself an outlet for the things in life that I am passionate about. Travel is one of the things that get a hold of you and pulls you along on an adventure where you see new places, people, foods, and cultures. It started when I was kid, pulling the maps out of National Geographic magazines and just staring at them trying to figure out where I wanted to go in my lifetime. I still haven’t been everywhere that I saw on those maps yet but I’ve seen some amazing places so far.  While living in New Jersey as a kid, my parents took us camping all up and down the east coast and that helped develop my love of the outdoors (seriously, even living in New Jersey).  As a teenager in Colorado, we continued to travel around and got to know the state quickly.  I think the Great Sand Dunes ended up being my favorite destination in the state and it still is.

After I got married and had kids, the way we traveled (and how often we did) changed but we still managed some camping trips and the occasional escape without the kids. As the kids started getting older, we had more and more opportunities to get out and now that they are all in college and beyond, we are able to travel quite a bit more.

So what type of a traveler am I? I usually like a trip that has a blend of the outdoors and a little bit of the city. For example, on a recent trip to New Orleans, we stayed near the French Quarter during Mardi Gras which was fun but there gets to be a point where you just need to get away from the hectic life of any big city, but especially New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The perfect antidote to that was a day trip to do a little kayaking in the Bayou and visiting a former sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. On the drive back to New Orleans that night, we had to dodge Mardi Gras parades while trying to get back to our hotel (unsuccessfully I might add). After about an hour and a half of trying to get around the parade, we ultimately ended up at NOLA brewery while waiting for the parade to end.  All’s well that ends well!

Speaking of breweries, they are another passion of mine. For one, I like to support local businesses whenever possible and the small micro breweries are almost always locally owned and operated. It can be fun trying local takes on brews, which sometimes use local ingredients to create unique tastes. Additionally and most of the time, I have found the food they serve to be better than many established restaurants would serve. Lastly, the atmosphere at many breweries can be the best part. Recently, I was able to visit Kona Brewing Company on the Big Island of Hawaii and I would say that the beer, food, and tiki torch-palm fringed laid back atmosphere made it the best brewery I have ever visited.

I will say that I am not a natural writer but I hope to make up for it by writing about interesting places with interesting things to do.  The blog topics will be diverse but will stay within a few primary genres: travel, outdoors, beer, and occasionally food. We’ll see what else comes to mind but that’s what I intend to focus on for now. I hope you like it!

Cheers,

Brian