Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Travel Ninja

I had the distinct pleasure of hosting my mom for a week and a half during her "summer vacation." (I think she just wanted me to stop whining about the fact that no one comes to visit.) Even though I was fully aware that she had no expectations beyond relaxing at the condo, going shopping, and getting a pedicure (all of which we did), I still felt as though I needed to be the trip planner and tour guide extraordinaire. With that lofty title came more responsibility than I was expecting. I have become a very complacent traveler, content to let Jon take the lead. I'm a good-natured follower, so it works out, but that leaves me feeling ill at ease when I'm the one in charge. However, I viewed my mom's visit as an opportunity to go outside my comfort zone. I would take the lead and plan a trip to Victoria, British Columbia. I had heard from several people that Victoria is a beautiful place to visit...even if it is a "blue-haired trip" where you look at flowers all day long. Jon went there when he was younger, so Victoria was not high on his list of places to go. So, I figured that would be a great place to take my mom. Jon wouldn't be missing anything, and my mom and I could have a relaxing trip spent looking at flowers. In addition, the trip sounded feasible for me to organize--based on the incredible marketing the Victoria Clipper employs in their commercials during the morning news. Despite my (misguided) efforts to teach researching skills to my students, I'm not very good at it, nor do I particularly enjoy it. Therefore it works out quite nicely that Jon is the most thorough researcher I've ever met...even if his chief source is often Wikipedia. So, when it came time for me to research the Victoria trip, I turned to Facebook. I received some excellent suggestions of things to do and places to see. It's always better to get personal recommendations anyway because then you get a more accurate picture rather than relying on travel propaganda. My inquiries and the exuberant responses even prompted my father-in-law and his wife to join us as they had never traveled to Victoria either. Still a bit dazed from a late-night flight and not one, but three recital performances, my mom gamely re-packed her suitcase and off we were to Seattle (in Monday morning rush hour traffic, mind you) for the boat to take us to Canada. After a brief ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we arrived in what is surely the most British town in the Northwest. We walked to our hotel from the dock, checked in, had lunch, and then began planning our trip in earnest.
Armed with the suggestions I'd received and pamphlets from the hotel lobby, we began mapping out our 3-day, 2-night trip. Our hotel was within walking distance of nearly everything we wanted to see, and the weather was fantastic--albeit a bit chilly for my Midwestern mother--so we were all set. I was quite proud of myself for being able to read the map and help direct us where to go (although in all honesty, it was not that difficult).

We started out at the highly-regarded Royal B.C. Museum. It definitely lived up to its reputation. We were able to cover the entire natural history museum before closing time; I think the highlight--for Mom and I, at least--was the bird display. I'm still giggling over it.

After a stroll through the tourist gauntlet known as the Inner Harbour (notice this British spelling), we stopped at the Visitor Information Center for advice and then it was time for dinner. Even though we were seated in the "American section" of the restaurant (located in the very, very back--perhaps I shouldn't have worn jeans with holes in the knees), we had a nice meal. As if Jon were there, I ordered a locally-brewed beer and fish. That's right, the girl who doesn't eat seafood ordered fish of her own volition. (For the record, it was quite tasty.) We turned in pretty early that night with plans for flower-watching the next day.

The underlying theme of the trip was "WWJD?" or "What Would Jon Do?" (please pardon the unintentional blasphemy). We had already successfully read the map and gone to a pub, so it made sense that our next course of action involved public transportation. Too cheap and too stubborn to use one of the over-priced tour busses to visit Victoria's world-renowned Butchart Gardens, we decided to take the city bus. The slight hassle of procuring exact change in Canadian currency was worth the delightful trip. Everyone on the bus was so polite, each telling the driver "thank you" as s/he exited, and Mom, being the conversation-magnet she is, engaged in some friendly chats with several of our fellow passengers.

Butchart Gardens was recommended by everyone for a reason: it was breathtaking. Slightly overwhelming for someone who watered a half-dead poinsettia for six months, but beautiful nonetheless. We spent several hours strolling around, admiring and trying to identify the various plants. I went a little overboard with the pictures, but with so much color--and so much potential for people-watching--it was difficult not to.

After returning to town, we wandered around for a bit before serendipitously finding refuge from the rain in the picturesque Parliament Building. We arrived just in time for a free tour, so not only did we get to see the beautiful architecture, but we also got to hear the story behind it, such as how the aisle width in the Legislative Chamber was determined (it's exactly two sword lengths apart to avoid messy altercations).

The Paliament Building is lit up each night like the (Kansas City) Plaza at Christmastime, so we needed to stall for a bit after dinner. We successfully found a Nanaimo Bar (delicious chocolate, coconut, cream cheese concoction), but we still had over an hour to wait. We returned to the Inner Harbour and caught the majority of a very entertaining juggling act, complete with fire, a chainsaw, and a unicycle. Street performing is its own industry there, I think. We got so wrapped up in the show that we didn't even notice when the lights came on, but when we did notice, it was certainly worth the wait.

We really only had one thing on the agenda for our final day and that was the Craigdarroch Castle. In true castle fashion, it was located on top of a hill, so the walk there was a bit exhausting, but seeing the four-story mansion was worth it. The woodwork was incredible and I couldn't get over the stained glass windows. Plus, there was a turret at the front, which automatically earns it cool points.

The walk back down was exponentially easier, so we took our time. The remaining hours of our Victorian adventure were pretty leisurely, which gave me plenty of time to reflcet on my brief stint as a pseudo-vacation organizer. I think Jon would have been proud of me and my "travel ninja" skills. I made plans (in a hopefully non-pushy way), booked travel, solicited suggestions, did research, drove into Seattle, read a map, asked the hotel desk for dinner recommendations, ordered local beer, ate fish and chips, found (and demolished) a Nanaimo Bar, took public transportation...all while hanging out with my mom and in-laws. In fact, I'm pretty proud of myself...although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to being a tag-along traveler again soon.

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