Saturday, January 29, 2011

Victoria, BC - Beyond the Marathon

When choosing where to do my first marathon, I did a little research on which marathons were good for beginners and which marathons were close to Seattle. I decided that I would either need to complete the Portland Marathon in Oregon or the Victoria Marathon in British Columbia. Portland would have been a logistically easier and cheaper trip. But I thought Canada would make for a more memorable trip (as if I needed anything to make my first marathon more special!) Over three years in Washington, and I still hadn't made it to the border. So I thought it was about time to visit Canada, eh, and I had heard nothing but wonderful things about Victoria. (By the way, we heard lots of Canadians actually say "eh" while we were there. It was all we could do to not crack up when we heard it the first time in a real situation.)

This trip required some logistical planning. First, I needed to worry about crossing the border. I have a passport. However, I never updated it after I got married and changed my name, so it was a little out-of-date. Instead of spending a lot of money to get that updated right now, I decided just to get an enhanced Washington driver's license. For a small $15 fee I updated my current driver's license to an enhanced version that allows me to cross the Canadian border. In addition to the driver's license, I also had to plan our travel. Victoria (the capital city of British Columbia) is on Vancouver Island. The easiest way for Washingtonians to get there is through the ferry system. I eventually decided on driving two hours to Port Angeles, parking the car there for the weekend, and then walking on to a clipper ferry. Victoria is known as a walkable city so there was no need for a car. And walking onto a clipper in Port Angeles was the cheapest option of all the ferry choices out there. I was really lucky to find a hotel room, because I waited to make reservations only a few weeks before the big race. That's really not a smart thing to do when a city has thousands of runners converging in one day. But I found a great little hotel that had lots of personality. It was obviously an old inn - it didn't have air conditioning and the heater was a radiator. But the price was right and the location was great. I would definitely stay at the James Bay Inn again.
So on Saturday, October 9, we headed to O' Canada! Our first ferry ride was awesome. I was nervous about the race and crossing the border. But the excitement in the air was palpable - the ferry was filled with runners and their families heading over for the race. We made it through customs and wheeled our suitcases through the rain in Victoria to find our hotel. After dropping off our bags we headed back out to explore the town. We probably walked a little too much that day, considering I was going to run a marathon the next day, but we really did get to see the city. Government Street is the main drag through Victoria, and while it has a touristy vibe to it, it is also lovingly maintained and beautiful to walk along. The Parliament buildings were beyond gorgeous and rivals architecture I've seen in Europe. (By the way, people in the Pacific Northwest are told that if they want to experience Europe, but don't want to spend the money that Victoria is a great alternative. It has a very European/British feel to it.) My big disappointment from the weekend was not being able to tour the Parliament buildings. It was the one thing that I had really cared about doing. But the buildings were closed for the weekend and then closed Monday for Canadian Thanksgiving. I was so sad to miss going inside! We walked to Chinatown so we could see the second oldest Chinatown (after San Francisco) in North America. Also, we wanted to see Fan Tan Alley, which is the narrowest street in Canada. We stopped at the Bard and Banker, a Scottish pub for a snack and a beer. It was a really fun bar/restaurant and we ended up back there for dinner the next night. That night we carbo-loaded with running friends at their timeshare and then went to bed early.
Our ferry!

Riding the ferry
View of Victoria from the water
Fan Tan Alley
On Government Street in Victoria
The next morning was the marathon (which you can read about in a previous post!) While I was running, Robb walked around the city and visited the Victoria Bug Zoo, which he really loved! After the marathon we went back to the hotel, showered, and rested for an hour or so. And even though every muscle in my body was begging me to go to sleep, I knew that it was important to make the most of our long weekend and experience more of Victoria. We made sure to stop to take plenty of pictures of Parliament and also the famed Empress Hotel. We walked to Big Bad John's, a total dive bar that is pretty famous in the area. We went early in the evening so that we could experience the bar without the crowds. I don't really care about bars, but I could tell this one had good atmosphere and Robb loved it! We had dinner that night at the Bard and Banker. While the atmosphere of the Bard and Ballard was great, we decided the food was a bit overpriced. But that's what you get with a tourist joint I suppose!
Back of Parliament
Empress Hotel
Parliament at Night
 On Monday we started out with a visit to John's Place, famed for their breakfast and cream-cheese syrup. Wow! Cream-cheese syrup was awesome and since then Robb found a recipe online and modified it to make it here at home. Our next stop was the Royal British Columbia Museum. It was probably one of the best museums I have ever been to. We're really into history museums, and this one had a little bit of 
everything, from natural history to the history of Victoria, BC. We loved the First People's exhibit and totem poles (the Canadians call Native Americans - First Peoples). That afternoon we wanted to eat a late lunch at Red Fish, Blue Fish - but they were closed early for Canadian Thanksgiving. So in trying to decide where to get a quick meal before catching our ferry that evening, we decided on McDonald's. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but growing up my family made it a point to try McDonald's in every country that we visited. It seems silly and we definitely spent more time at truly local restaurants, but we would sometimes just stop to get french fries and a coke so that we could say that we did. We even drove miles out of the way once to visit Lichtenstein (a very tiny country in Europe) so we could have McDonald's there. I thought it was important that Robb start joining in this tradition. Robb swears that Canadian McDonald's french fries tasted different. But, trust me, they didn't! On our ferry ride home that night Robb bought a beer using the last of our Canadian coins. I'm really glad that I chose Canada for my marathon debut. It really was a perfect race and, beyond that, a memorable weekend in a new country!

Canadian McDonalds!

Candian beer on the ferry!

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