A Taste of Luxury in Victoria BC

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Views of the back of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel at dusk

We chose to stay at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for our three days in Victoria because we like this lovely area of Victoria, and I was fascinated by this sumptuous hotel that has been constructed on the site of an old Tudor-styled hotel that previously stood here. This is an elegant hotel with beautifully furnished rooms and wonderful bathrooms with separate tubs and showers plus heated floors. There are three restaurants: a pub, a formal dining room, and a café that we found perfect for a simple breakfast. We ate at the pub two nights, and the third night we ate dinner in our room which was furnished with a very small galley kitchen, re-heating leftovers from our pub dinners. The spa-like swimming pool pictured above is warm and good for easing a cyclist’s aches and pains. In addition, there is a free garage with easy access where we were able to leave our bikes locked in the car. And since we could catch an elevator from the garage to our room, we did not have to bother with valets. So although this hotel is upscale, it is comfortable and not at all stuffy. However, it is not inexpensive to stay here.

One day we rode along the  waterfront to Cadboro Bay Village where we had coffee and then turned up Sinclair Road to visit the University of Victoria. This was a big mistake; I could see that it was steep, but I kept expecting to turn left off of it on the road indicated on my phone. However, that road was at the top of the hill, one that was impossible to ride and almost impossible to walk. When we reached the campus, we found a pretty, leafy university with the bustle of students changing classes. We made our way to Henderson Rd. which turns into Foul Bay Rd. , an interesting street with a good bike lane giving us a nice long coast down to Oak Bay Avenue and Oak Bay Village, a charming old-fashioned area with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and practical shops. It is like some of the shopping areas that I remember from my childhood before strip malls started to mar the landscape. As we have several times before, we ate lunch at the atmospheric Penny Farthing Pub. After lunch we browsed at a bookstore and bought a couple of items at a most attractive food store. Then it  was a short ride up the end of Oak Bay Avenue down Newport back to Beach Drive and the hotel.

Another day, we parked at the shopping center at Cordova Bay and rode the Lochside Trail from there to Sidney, a pretty route traversing interesting neighborhoods and some farmlands, and  at points next to the Saanich Inlet. Sidney is a pleasant small town with lots of eating places and bookstores. It is also the place where one catches the  ferry to Anacortes. This is an easy ride of about 18 miles all together. When we returned to the shopping center, we had a pleasant lunch outside at Bill Mattick’s Restaurant and Lounge, which is located right next to a golf course and surrounded by attractive landscaping.

This area was the highlight of our vacation. Although we have been to Victoria and Vancouver Island many times, a visit there never fails to delight us.  The pace is slower than that in our own SF Bay Area, and the people are warm and friendly. Although it is not the same, a visit here is a bit like a visit to England.

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Bazan Bay Sidney

 

 

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Three Books for Cyclists

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 Patti Kagawa’s book From Sea to Shining Sea is the story of a woman’s ride across Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland, sometimes cycling with friends and/or family but often traveling alone. A professional forester and an athlete, Kagawa is obviously in better shape for this trip than many who opt to try a long cycling tour.

This is a well-planned journey, and Kagawa offers a lot of practical information in her book. Two resources that turn up often in the book are the TIC (Tourist Information Center) and Timmy’s as she calls it (Tim Hortons–a restaurant chain that originated in Canada). She makes many stops at various Timmy’s to refuel on her long journey.

Encountering  varied landscapes, Kagawa travels mostly along Trans-Canada One for a distance of 6,302.62  kilometers.  She comments that Quebec is “far and away the most bike-friendly province in the country.” My husband and I enjoyed some wonderful long rides when we visited Quebec and Montreal a few years ago, especially one along the Lachine Canal that I will always remember.

Kagawa’s book is a good travelogue that can be enjoyed by cyclists and non-cyclists alike. Her warm personality and optimistic outlook infuse the narration of her epic journey.

Taking the Long Way Home: Adventures of a Retired Couple Biking Across America by G. Frank Miller is probably my favorite of the three books, mainly because the people are close to our age, and I really admire their bravery. I have always wanted to do a long distance bike tour, but in Europe, not in this country. However, we have never managed to do it. We had one planned once when we were fairly young, in our forties, to Scandinavia, but several incidents interfered. Anyway the Millers are retired educators who planned their trip carefully and managed to pull it off despite some problems with busy highways, dogs, and headwinds, problems that all cyclists contend with at one time or another.

Miller has a folksy writing manner that puts the reader right there along with him. I loved the incident where his wife Helen speaks to  threatening dogs as if they are children and calms them down, much to Miller’s amazement. And the serious fall that Helen suffers when Miller swerves and she swipes his rear wheel is a good object lesson to all cyclists. Moreover, anyone who has traveled a lot can identify with the one horrible motel that they get stuck in, one by which they measure all future questionable motels.

This trip from San Diego to their home in Florida is an epic journey, sustained by determination and faith, that will absorb the reader as he or she rides along.

The third book, The Valley of Heaven and Hell: In the Shadow of Marie Antoinette, by Susie Kelly is an amusing read, if a little  weighted by the history of Marie Antoinette. Any cyclist will be entranced by Kelly’s hair-raising description of their whirlwind ride through Paris led by her husband Terry who believes in advancing no matter what obstacles are encountered. I shuddered at the picture of their  riding through a forbidden tunnel and through an area where the terrain is nothing but ruts, an area in which both of them tumble off their bikes. But Kelly and her husband are a resilient pair who achieve their goals despite rain, heat, traffic, and disorientation.

 Having ridden in France last September, I know that French drivers come much closer to cyclists on the road than do drivers here in California where most drivers who are not also cyclists regard cyclists as somewhat lacking in mental acuity and therefore to be treated warily and granted more than the legal three foot margin. The exception of course is the American driver who despises cyclists and would like to see them “shuffle off this mortal coil” as soon as possible. In France, as in most of Europe where roads are narrower than in the US, cyclists are part of the landscape, and they are expected to proceed carefully and skillfully.

As some of the people commented on Amazon, I would have preferred a little less about Marie Antoinette and a bit more about cycling, but I did like her tributes to those who suffered through World War I and her description of this north-eastern part of France, which does not enjoy the same touristic enthusiasm as some other parts of France.

Kelly’s self-effacing sense of humor along with her energetic descriptions make this a bright, humorous travelogue that gives information on camping areas, hotels, and restaurants as well as attractive towns (and some not so attractive) and places of historic interest.