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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Riding the Trails in Bend, Oregon

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Known for its cycling environment, the Sunriver resort in Oregon is only a short distance from Bend. We drove out there early in the morning and obtained a map and directions from a woman at the tourist information office. She advised a circular  trail past the golf course, around the airport, with a detour to the marina (pictured above), and then a ride along the Deschutes River, and back through an area of houses and condos. This was a pretty ride of  about eight miles on a lovely clear morning, We had lunch at the Sunriver Brewing Company, where the food wasn’t very exciting. After lunch we decided to ride some more of the trails, but as we started out, we found the paths clogged with people riding carelessly in big groups. Putting the bikes back in the car, we headed back to Bend, glad that we had done the most interesting trail early in the morning.

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We were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in The Old Mill District of Bend, a spectacular  use of the old sawmill property that formerly existed in this area. This is now a shopping center and a riverfront park with upscale dining spots, stores, and hotels. That afternoon we parked on the same level as the stores, pulled out our bikes and rode on the paved paths on both sides of the river. Crossing a bridge, we met a man who had grown up in Bend and worked for the sawmill. A chatty fellow, he gave us a lot of information on the history of the area and the changes made there. Cruising this pleasant area on our bikes, we added about four more miles to our mileage total for the day. The excellent hotel and this location made for a memorable stay. I would recommend this particular Hilton Hotel to anyone.

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Roaming the Napa Valley

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A couple of weeks ago, we spent four days in the Napa Valley to celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary. Although Calistoga is not the most centrally located town, we chose to stay there at the Stevenson Manor Best Western because this hotel is a bargain for this pricey area. It is not luxurious, but it is certainly attractive, clean, and comfortable with constant work going on to upgrade it. The breakfast is a bit above average for an accommodation of this level, and we were pleased to find the other guests to be a friendly bunch.

We did four bicycle rides during this stay which we were fortunate occurred within a break in the rainy weather that we have had this year. These rides were ones that we have done before and that I have written about on this site. Our longest ride was from Yountville to downtown Napa, and I just want to mention this ride because we found the bike path that runs from just south of Trancas Street diagonally across Napa to be one that we would recommend against using. It crosses several busy streets without four-way stops, and it runs through neighborhoods that are not particularly appealing. It does, however, end in downtown Napa, where we cycled to the new CIA restaurant at Copia, a pleasant place with memorable food. Coming back we used a bike boulevard that started at the end of this path and followed that across a good part of Napa through some interesting old neighborhoods along quiet attractive streets. When this bike boulevard ended, we just sort of used our instincts to return to  the wonderful Vine Trail that runs back to Yountville. Most streets in Napa are bicycle friendly.

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Patio at Ottimo

As always in the Napa Valley, we ate very well. In Yountville, there is a new restaurant called Ottimo across from Bottega, where the salads are served in jars and the panini are small and extraordinary. It is wonderful to sit out under the olive trees after a bicycle ride and enjoy the beauty of this area; I find it easy to pretend that I am in Italy. We ate two lunches at this spot.

Another restaurant that we truly enjoyed was the St. Helena Bistro, a small place on St. Helena’s main street that has an eclectic menu. We especially enjoyed the crispy calamari and the salmon tacos. And on our last night, we ate at Veraison,  a fairly new place on the main street  in Calistoga. We were seated in the window where we could watch the passing scene and savor our moules frites.

All in all, I would say that if you do not have the wherewithal for a trip to Europe, a trip to the Napa Valley is a good substitute. Despite lots of traffic, it is a pretty, relaxing place to roam and to linger over excellent food.

A Junket to the Southern Part of California

With our final destination being Coronado Island, we set off with our bicycles packed in the back of our Toyota Matrix. Our first stop was the quaint little town of Solvang with its Danish roots. Although a few of the stores are looking a little tired, there has been some recent construction which has brought new life to this area. We stayed in the very contemporary Hotel Corque, where we had an attractive room for a reasonable price, perhaps because this hotel has some connection to the local Indian casino.

The second morning of our trip we did a ramble around Solvang on our bikes with a quick trip on Alamo Pintado Road toward Los Olivos. This is a pretty area with attractive houses and beautiful countryside. The grounds of Mission Santa Ynez show the combination of coastal elements and desert-like growth to great advantage. Although we only rode about six miles, they were a scenic six miles.

The grounds of Santa Ynez Mission

The grounds of Santa Ynez Mission

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Leaving Solvang, we hit Hwy. 101  about ten o’clock, finally arriving on Coronado Island late in the afternoon after driving through some of the worst traffic that we have ever experienced. We complain about the traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it is nothing compared to that in the Southland.

When we arrived at our hotel for the next three days, 1906 Lodge, we were warmly greeted by one of the four innkeepers and shown around. Our room was thoughtfully equipped and well decorated as was the entire inn. The underground garage was a safe place for our bicycles and the free access to the garage made it easy to take our bikes out whenever we wanted, unlike some of the large hotels where we have had to go through the car valets to get to our bikes. Innkeeper Susan and the other friendly guests made the 1906 Lodge an agreeable place to stay.

Another advantage to the Lodge is its location, very close to Orange Avenue, the main street of the town where most of the restaurants and stores are located. One thing that impressed me about Coronado is that the center of town still caters to peoples’ everyday needs with banks, a drugstore, a bookstore, markets, etc. So many town centers these days have lost the practical stores and replaced them with art galleries, real estate agencies, and worst of all, cheap trinket shops.

For our first dinner in Coronado, through good luck, we picked Chez Loma from among the several restaurants listed on my mobile Open Table app., something that has been very useful when we are on the road. The delicious French food on the menu was served by a pleasant, helpful young woman in this tastefully decorated restaurant. The soft meringue desserts were great and reminiscent of desserts actually served in France.

Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

On our first full day in Coronado, we set out on our ride from our hotel toward the iconic Hotel del Coronado, affectionately referred to as “the Del” by local residents. This hotel, celebrating its 125th anniversary, is the centerpiece of the island and while it is one of the grand old American hotels, the ambiance is warm and friendly with none of the arrogant attitude among hotel employees which is sometimes found in other hotels of this caliber. We ate dinner in the formal dining room on the last night of our stay on the island, and while it was expensive the food was good if not quite as outstanding as that at the Chez Loma and our amiable waiter was a fount of information about the history of the hotel.

Views from the Silver Strand Path

Views from the Silver Strand Path

Coronado Bridge

Coronado Bridge

Next we followed the Silver Strand path which runs between the Pacific Ocean and Glorietta Bay. Though it was a bit windy on this path, it is a good path and the weather was glorious. After a few miles we turned around to follow the path around the island. We spent the whole morning riding around the island with a stop for coffee near the Coronado Ferry Landing. The houses on Coronado are especially interesting to look at–no tract house here.

The island is small enough that one can crisscross it easily. In the afternoon after a satisfying lunch at a small creperie, we parked our bikes just off of the main street to go to the bank and the drugstore. There are good bike racks all over town. By the time we returned to the hotel in the late afternoon, we had ridden just short of twenty wonderful miles. To see a video of this ride, please click here.

The next day, we ventured by car to Mission Bay, where we took the bikes for a spin of about ten miles on the paths there. This was an interesting ride, but the paths reminded us of our own Iron Horse Trail, crowded with strollers and people who “take their half down the middle” as my late father used to say of drivers with road-hogging tendencies. We did come across a pair of pleasant women who invited us to ride with them because they knew the routes that we were trying to ferret out. But we declined their generous offer because almost everyone rides faster than we do.

One ride that we did not attempt from Coronado is one that was recommended on the day that we were leaving. One can take bikes on the ferry from Coronado to San Diego and then ride along the shore in San Diego. We had tried to find out about this ride but until we spoke with someone who had actually done it, we didn’t know what we would find. Next time this ride will be at the top of the list.

Regretfully leaving Coronado, we headed north to San Luis Obispo where we stayed at the comfortable if somewhat over-decorated Apple Farm Inn. This is a pleasant place to stay and I would stay there again, but it would be more attractive if the embellishments were cut by about one-third. The restaurant offered good American fare served by amiable young people. We drove up to California Polytechnic University to have a look at it because it seems to be an institution that our grandson might be interested in. And finally we visited Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, where we imbibed the serenity of the mission garden before completing the hectic drive back home.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

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