Butchart Gardens, then North to Whistler

In which Victoria’s brisk breeze drives us inland to one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada.

British Columbia! Oh, how lovely thou art. From the legendary Butchart Gardens to the ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia, to a quick zip through Vancouver (wow!) and a 90-minute drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway to our destination of Whistler, BC. Goodness, what a treat for the eyes.

We spent the morning enjoying breakfast at the Huntingdon Hotel, a cozy place just spitting distance from the harbor, with lovely views of gardens from the room window and a delightfully sunny breakfast area.

Feeling refreshed and adventurous again, we drove around downtown and West Victoria for a bit, enjoying the offerings of home and business architecture and the local Tim Horton’s (nonexistent in the Washington, DC area). This place is cute. And I mean cute. If it had been about 10 degrees warmer (Fahrenheit, that is) and slightly less windy, a jaunt around the downtown walkway would have been in order.

Instead, we found a haven at Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre outlay of landscaping that is both relaxing and awe-inspiring.

Revel in blooms and tall trees

The gardens were once a limestone quarry, owned by enterprising cement manufacturer Robert Butchart. Once the quarry had fulfilled its usefulness, his wife Jennie came up with the idea to turn it into a humungous garden. It took awhile, but between the time she started (1904) and now, the gardens took over and turned into an awesome display.

We finished up our tour with an overpriced gelato (but really, the ambience is worth it) and set out for another ferry ride. This one was considerably less chilly than before, and we passed a pleasant 90 minutes staring at the horizon.

The GPS got a little confused, sending us on a brief detour through an Indian reservation (I would tell you which one, but I couldn’t hope to reproduce the blend of symbols, and letters, and numbers spelling the name).

Once back on track, we stopped in Vancouver for some groceries. What a cool city! I felt like we were on set for a Doctor Who episode. Between the hazy cloud cover, rolling streets surrounded by tall buildings, and the mountains in the distance, the whole vibe was futuristic. I need to see that again.

Awesome and awful both together

Getting out of the city meant driving on a big scary bridge. The Lions Gate is a suspension bridge that connects Vancouver with the North Shore and all points north (like Whistler). It’s named for the Lions, two mountain peaks looming ahead of us as we drive over the bridge.

I don’t know much else about it except that it is high. Super, crazy high. With lots of water underneath.

And we made it.

Then on to 99: the Sea-to-Sky Highway. What a view!

Drive into the sky

The beautiful route got us through the mountains and into Whistler in about 90 minutes, for an arrival time of about 9:30 pm. The sun was just setting as we dropped our bags and took a look around. The view from our condo window:

It’s like a full-size Christmas Village.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a good week.

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Go [North]West, Young [Wo]Man!

In which I fly cross-country, rent a car, and road trip through northern Washington, Victoria, and Vancouver. Dragging my parents along this time.

If you happened to read my travelogue from last year, you may have caught the flavor of my passion for road travel. April 2011 saw me finally realizing a long-cherished dream to drive the Atlantic coast all the way to Key West, Florida. It went so well, I thought I’d do it again.

But why British Columbia? Well, no particular reason. It is a quite lovely place, though.

Just your typical gorgeous view, wandering around gorgeous Whistler, BC.

As I write this, I’m actually still here. Imagine that – writing a travelogue whilst one is still traveling. It’s crazy, but I like it.

It Begins

Today is Wednesday, and we left Saturday morning. Dulles to Seatac and 5 hours later, we were picking up our rental car (a Chevy Impala – decent, but I wasn’t impressed) and cruising into the great outdoors. Only then did we realize all we had for music was Dad’s iPod, which was… well, it was better than nothing.

But seriously, Dad had some fun music loaded up for our trip. And so much more compact than the 20 CDs I brought with me last time! We entertained ourselves to the tune of They Might Be Giants while driving through some truly marvelous scenery.

I was driving by this time, so I don’t have pictures, but lavender fields abound.  We were gunning for a 4pm ferry ride from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, so we had to admire the fields from afar. They did look (and smell) enticing.

Water with mountains. A novel concept for this East Coast girl.

We made the ferry with time to spare (the GPS gave us an incredibly pokey arrival estimate, which made us a sweat a bit… but in the end, unnecessarily). I wandered over to the Port Angeles tour center just across the way, and met a charming couple. They moved to Washington from Chicago 38 years ago, and delighted themselves with directing bushy-tailed travelers such as ourselves.

Along with information for other hotspots in Victoria and Vancouver, they gave me a wall calendar featuring photos from Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Having needed a calendar since January 1, and recently despairing of ever finding one, I was thrilled.

It’s the small things, people.

So, it’s June 9 and at home in northern Virginia, the temps are edging up to and over 80 degrees with regularity. Here in Washington, however… not so much. Add to that the brisk “breeze” coming off the water in Port Angeles, and you’re looking at a group of shivering land-lubbers. I took a quick walk around the ferry to get some photos and when I came around to the port side, it was like an impression of a mime walking into the wind. Only I wasn’t pretending.

Needless to say, the entirety of the voyage was spent indoors.

We reached the harbor in Victoria without a hitch, located our hotel for the night, and briefly entertained the idea of going out again to explore when the fatigue and delirium took over. And just like that, it was Sunday.

I’ll stop here so I can get some shut-eye, but there are a few more stories (and loads of pictures!) to share.

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Ocracoke and Beyond

Okay, where was I?

Standing guard at the Back Porch restaurant

We docked at Ocracoke Island and everyone took off down the road. Only one road, only one way to go. If you couldn’t figure it out yourself, just follow the Element in front of you.

On a side note, I really enjoyed the Elantra I rented. It handles so well and got great mileage! This could be my next car.

The north end of Ocracoke was undisturbed and desolate for several miles. Then all at once, like a reassuring hint, the posted speed limit began to dip until it reached 25 and suddenly I and my ferry companions were amongst civilization.

There it is!

I drove the whole community in about two minutes, reaching the south end of the island at roughly 6:34 pm. I found a sign posted at the ferry office announcing that boats leave every 2 hours, and the next one would go at 8:30. So you see I was forced to poke around a bit.

Feeling the need for something fresh in my on-the-road diet, I toodled around looking for a promising place to eat. I popped into the tiny community grocery, but the pre-washed salad offerings were brownish and dry. If they hadn’t been five bucks I would have settled for it, but they were so I didn’t.

Good eats

Instead I splurged on The Back Porch, which according to their brochure is the best restaurant in Ocracoke. I got a table for one and tried the Chana Masala, which is basically spinach, chickpeas and rice in a buttery sauce. YUM. I ate it all.

It stormed all through dinner and through the open windows I saw that people on bikes and driving golf carts carried on without much noticing. Starting to feel the laid-back, island style of living.

Around 7:45 I figured I’d better get a ticket for the ferry, since I didn’t have a reservation and I would hate to miss it. As it turns out, I shared the boat with exactly two other people, so it was really okay.

Both Google Maps and my GPS estimated the ferry ride at a little over an hour. Both of them lied.

We put out at 8:30 and arrived in Cedar Island no sooner than 10:45 pm, and I still had over an hour of driving ahead of me. Thankfully, I was able to doze a bit during the ride, although I have to tell you it is a strange sensation to be sleeping in a car while adrift at sea. The temperature took a nose dive after sunset and thunder rumbled dully as lightning flickered behind dense clouds. If there was ever a time to feel sorry for yourself, this was it.

Driving through deserted highways in the middle of the night is not my favorite, but Dickens kept me company and the two other vehicles I had shared the ferry with were going my way, so I focused on keeping up with them. There was a strange sense of loss when each of them eventually split off to their own destinations. I was bound for Havelock, NC, a small town about 30 minutes away from the popular attractions with lower prices to match.

I powered through nature preserves and neighborhoods without incident, and arrived at the Days Inn shortly before midnight. Got to sleep around 1 am.

Not a gorgeous place by any means, but quiet and safe enough for a place to crash and shower. I don’t understand how most hotels seem to have such a smell about them. A cross between stale smoke and I don’t know what… that odd uninhabited aroma. Anyway, it had the best bed; nice and firm with an assortment of pillows so you can pick the one you like best.

I slept until 9 (a miracle for me), antsy to get out and do it all again.

Day 2 stats:

Miles covered: 250ish (on the road) + 2 ferry rides
Disappointments: 3
Delights: um, about a hundred
Chapters: 10

Next stop… Charleston!

Delights and Disappointments

In which I discover that driving “within sound” of the ocean is pretty much negated by the rush of air you create when you go above, say, 5 miles an hour.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. What a world the Lord has made. I mean, look:

Mirlo Beach, NC

Multiple bridges, two ferry rides, and a few hundred miles later, I am still so enjoying this tour of the Atlantic coast. A little disappointed that the water is so infrequently visible – even where there are no buildings, sand dunes and trees block much of the view. But then the sudden glimpses of blue that come upon you are all the more exciting.

Plus there are some pretty fantastic bridges.

Day 2 got me into North Carolina pretty quickly, and before I had much time to think about it I was in Kitty Hawk. The weather was perfect; the traffic, nonexistent. It was a blast.

Signs for Roanoke Island lured me away from my main route to pursue some history and education. The notion of this ‘lost colony’ is intriguing, and the bridge from the outer banks to the island was magnificent.

This just doesn’t do justice

The lost colony exhibit was a bit of a drag, unfortunately. Maybe I’m just spoiled living near Washington DC, where we know how to present these things. What I found was an ‘earthen fort’ – basically a man-made sand dune circling a flag. It looked like a toy.

The effect was not enhanced by a sign directing visitors not to climb on the earthen walls because they are ‘fragile’.

Somewhat less than desirable for a fort.

I hunted around for an hour and gave up to google it later. Here’s the gist:

Fort Raleigh logoOn these small wooded grounds lie many stories of families and their struggles that have continued through time, resulting in the creation of a nation and its people. Here, the first infant cries of English colonization in the New World (1584-1590) burst upon the world.
These efforts, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, ended with the disappearance of 116 men, women and children, including two that were born in the New World. The fate of this “lost colony” remains one of the world’s great mysteries.
(National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov)

The long drive through Hatteras was peaceful and mindless. There’s only one road on the island, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Civilization is slight and well spaced, but I did get to witness a bunch of people kite surfing off the edge of the island opposite the ocean. I’ve never seen that before.

Welcome to Mirlo Beach?

The clouds rolled over the sun as I continued south and the empty beaches of the Hatteras nature preserve seemed forlorn. I stopped at one of the rare inhabited portions of the island to stretch and look at the water.

Quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing how it can be so warm outside and so frigid in the water!

 

I was a little nervous about the ferry, having never done it before. Can you imagine, all these years alive on the earth and never driving onto a ferry boat? Well, that is all behind us.

 

My feet got so swollen from driving!

The ferryman was very friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. That was heartening, and I drove confidently onto the boat behind a Honda Element. There’s something comical about that car.

Five minutes into our voyage the raindrops fell.   The weather flipped back and forth and mixed all the rest of the way, between sun, showers and both. You can kind of see from the picture what a weirdly mixed up sky it was.

But then this happened.

It went from end to end, all across the sky.