Journey’s Pause: Tips on Traveling and Writing (Day 12)

Sunrise at University Heights, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

As we head south, I will be taking a pause to schmooze with family near Seattle for the next few days. Saturday we took a nice little lazy ferry through the San Juan Island channels over to Anacortes, at the northern Washington border. We passed the site of the pig war, mentioned the previous day, into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, with its currents that turn into the Pacific Graveyard, from a blog earlier in the week. This is a day to reminisce about greatest hits of the trip, and maybe share thoughts about traveling itself.

People sometimes ask why we are so lucky to find the amazing things we find and see the things we do. People also often say, Gee, I wish I could write. I thought I would offer a few tips.

Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, WA. Photo by kajmeister

Ain’t It Grand?

There are plenty of travel hacks that I’ve learned, such as wearing layers regardless of your destination or the season, traveling in shoulder season (April-May or September-October), or eating lunch, not dinner, at highly-touted restaurants because it’s the same foodat a discount. But if I think about what makes our trips really successful, I would highlight three core parts of our philosophy.

Plan Well, Then Be Flexible

An enjoyable trip is a balance between scheduled stops and spontaneity. Overplanning, which to my mind means shoving more than two planned activities into a travel day, leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. You keep checking your watch and worrying about whether the traffic or the crowds that will “prevent” you from seeing the Next Thing. Give yourself plenty of time to breathe in the place you are seeing.

On the other hand, if you go into a famous location and hope to just soak up whatever is interesting by wandering around, then you may end up only seeing what is advertised. And, usually what is advertised is the overpriced, schlocky, “touristy,” least-localized experience you can get. Do some advanced research, and pick a planned tour that you like–Food Tour, Hiking Tour, Bus Tour, Shopping Tour–whatever floats your boat. A starter goal really helps. That will anchor you; then allow time to return to something interesting that you spot on your tour.

Maintain Healthy Practices

It’ll seem obvious that you can’t enjoy your trip if you get sick. But it goes beyond the logic of just not overtaxing yourself. For example, if you assume you have to fit in some kind of “exercise,” then you’ll have a nice brisk walk through the redwoods, climb up some Roman hills, or kayak across a lake. Assume you have to bring some of the right clothing and make time to do it. You’ll get rewarded both by the health benefit and the outdoor scenery and gain experiences you can’t get with a sitting bus ride.

Meanwhile, we have found an amazing group of places to eat on our trips, and I have been thinking about what makes my search process so successful. Most often, places that have been touted in advance don’t pay off. Often, they’re not available (overbooked because of their reputation) or can’t live up to pre-expectations. Instead, I’ve had good luck finding places through google or yelp, and the common thread seems to be looking for “vegetarian-friendly” places. I’m not a vegetarian, but it seems that if a place serves vegetables, then the chefs have a predisposition towards freshness and quality of cooking. Then, even the burgers and fries taste better. As do the beets, seaweed, and kale.

Newport lighthouse, redux. Photo by kajmeister.

Embrace It–All of It

Planes will be late, sometimes hours late. Shows will be sold out. Restaurants serve strange food, construction closes down the street with the Thing you wanted to see, and people do weird things. You get lost. More than once. All of this will become part of your trip. One of the funniest stories I enjoy telling is The Worst Meal I Ever Had, which was a restaurant we chose in Brussels because we were late, lost, exhausted, and starving. Stuff happens on trips, and part of the flexibility is in going with the flow and learning to laugh about it later. When you get lost, you discover that little out of the way coffee shop or boutique with the ring that looks like your grandmother’s. The trip is about the journey, even the bad or unexpected parts.

On the ferry to Anacortes. Photo by kajmeister.

Attach Seat to Chair

Weird experiences do make for good stories. At least one reader this past week said a favorite post was on a day where I didn’t do much. I had to work a little hard to tell stories out of it, which apparently succeeded. It’s been both harder and easier than I expected to turn in something every day, and I learned a few more things from it, too.

Redwood State Park, Oregon. Photo by kajmeister.

Write every day

If you don’t write often, it’s hard to get started. The more you think about what you “need” to get started, the harder it is. It’s fine to prefer a certain process–special pen, more or less lighting, more comfortable chair–but don’t use not having the perfect setup as an excuse. Just write. It always takes a while for the sludge to clear, and the longer you go between writing, the more sludge. I have surprised myself at how quickly I’ve been getting started, and I know it’s because it hasn’t been long since the last session.

Discipline is a choice

I am a disciplined person, but even I was surprised at how lazy I had beome. I have other writing projects which, surprise, surprise, have made slow progress. Obviously, I’m just too busy, right? It can’t be that I’m fiddling around in the morning and not starting for an hour or two. In that sense, the trip has been a revelation to me. Mind you, this daily posting was a goal I set myself. I appreciate you as readers, but no one asked me to do this. Yet, I have really risen to the task–literally–getting up by 6:30 each day so I can finish before we start the day’s touring. It wasn’t a hardship. I wanted to see if I could do it, and hey presto! it turned out I could. The less time we had in the morning, the more organized I’d get the night before. It’s possible. You have to create the conditions to make it happen, and that isn’t waiting for the sun to be at the perfect angle.

No, Thank You

Write for an audience; write for someone

The other magic element X that has made this set of writing successful has been you readers. I’m not setting any records here for Likes or eyeballs, but I know there’s a handful who have been loyal and appreciative. I’ve gotten a sufficient number of thank yous for these posts, and my response is thank you for hanging there with me on the journey.

Someone was likening this to writing in a journal, but that’s only partially correct. In attempting to meet my audience’s needs, I do edit, organize, and curate the posts. They are long. There are a lot of pictures. However, I try to maintain consistency in my existing style, assuming out there that You do expect Something Good. Journal writing is non-judgmental, but I think it’s important to have some judges. In that sense, all of your feedback is incredibly valuable. You make it worthwhile.

Twelve posts in and I’ve written roughly 14,000 words. If I tried to do that at home, it would seem an impossible task. Just a little each day and every day.

Nanaimo is coming…er no that was the chocolate custard bars…NaNoWriMo is coming (National November Writing Month). Good thing I’m all warmed up.

Clotted cream from High Team at the Empress. Photo by kajmeister.

I’ll be back in a few days as we traverse through southern Oregon. Meanwhile, I charge you to go find some acceptable scones and clotted cream…

…and attach seat to chair and begin writing.

Victoria Wander (Day 11)

After so much eating over the past few days, I cleverly planned to start this day with a long, leisurely bike ride, curated by The Pedaler Cyclery. Detouring through the back neighborhoods and beaches of eastern Victoria showed me a new side of this beautiful city, and my excellent guide, Charlie, filled me in on a plethora of fascinating history.

Willows Beach, Victoria BC. Photo by kajmeister.

Keep Yer Potatoes Outta My Pig

Y’all know that I love a good story, so I’m going to steal most of Charlie’s, but I have to say if you are ever in Victoria–and don’t you think you must go after everything I’ve said?–please do take a tour with these folks. I was immediately seduced and, for the first time in several days, it was not by bacon. I fell in love with the electric bike. I like a long ride, but my knees have not been cooperative in recent months. Yet all you do with these little contraptions is up the power a little and whup-up-up, bob’s your uncle, you’re up the hill and still pedaling. We meandered hither and yon through beautiful neighborhoods and park, first stop over to Finlayson Point where Charlie started spinning tales.

Guide Charlie at the swanky Oak Bay Marina. Photo by kajmeister.

Did you know that the U.S. and Canada nearly had shots fired over–a pig? It was June 1859, which Americans who paid attention in school will note was right before the outbreak of our Civil War. Despite the belligerence of a previous President ( Polk: 54.40 or Fight!), the U.S./Canada boundary had been set at the 49th parallel of latitude, which was cleanly below Vancouver Island and what is now also the city of Vancouver. But there was a problem.

Sailors out of Puget Sound needed a clean channel through the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and Georgia to move north. The people on the boats also needed to know where territorial waters ended, since those lines can differ from land ones. The U.S. favored a boundary closer to Canadian land while the Canadians, or rather still the British, wanted to extend the line further into the waters. And what about the islands?

Disputed territories in 1859. Canadians favored the blue, Americans the red. Compromised on the green. Photo from wikipedia.

The story goes that there was an Irish-Canadian and an American pioneer both living on San Juan Island, in disputed territory. The Irishman let his pigs wander where they might and one kept eating the potatoes farmed by the other fellow, until one day, American Lyman Cutler shot the pig. After all, it was, “Eating my potatoes!” Charles Griffin’s response: “Then you should keep your potatoes out of my pig!”

Both British and Americans brandished weapons and mustered troops on the island. This was after the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, when Americans were still shooting everything that moved and military enthusiasm hadn’t yet been dampened by brothers killing each other. George Pickett commanded the Americans, four years before he would lead the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The British redoubt was fortified by Henry Robert, who later created Robert’s Rules of Order. The two sides eventually created an uneasy truce, with a hundred soldiers stationed on each side of a fence a wee bit less dangerous than the Berlin Wall. After a dozen years passed in lazy joint occupation, Kaiser Wilhelm I was asked to mediate, and he sided with the Americans, ceding San Juan Island to the U.S. rather than the pigs.

Trafalgar Park, facing Olympic National Park, where we visited last week. Photo by kajmeister.

Bone House

Our bike ride pressed on, and we passed through two separate cemeteries on the way to the next coastline. The first, Ross Cemetery, was named for the first independent woman landowner in British Columbia, Isabella Mainville Ross. She was a Metis woman, daughter to a French-speaking fur trader and his Ojibwe wife. She in turn married another fur trader working for the Hudson Bay Company (which, as I mentioned yesterday, owned everything nearby at the time). During her husband’s absence and after his death, Isabella was well-known for her strength as a businesswoman and bargainer. Once when she was trading furs, some people came in and drew knives on her children. She chased them out of the shop and kept on about her business. There are many strong-willed women whose names thread throughout the plaques next to the men’s.

As we continued on past gravestones of Isabella and Sir James Douglas, Charlie was telling me that the deer in Victoria had become pretty brazen. I myself had seen one the night before walking up the driveway where we were staying, and it could hardly be bothered to move out of the way. Passing the headstones, sure enough, here came a four-point buck, nonchalantly sauntering by. Apparently, they think they’re elk here, and certainly in the cemetery, at peace with the spirits. Perhaps that’s as it should be.

Meanwhile, we came upon a more remote patch of green, sparser, overlooking the water. This was the Chinese cemetery, which has its own history. When the earliest Chinese immigrants came to build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800s, they were kept as segregated as possible, including in death. They were buried in a separate part of Ross Cemetery initially, some in graves simply marked “Chinaman No. 1” and in a portion nearly at sea level. During raging storms, some of these graves were simply swept out to sea.

In 1903, these graves were dug up and moved to a new location purchased by the Chinese Benevolent Association. This cemetery was bleak and, at the time, overlooked a deserted beach (which now sports million-dollar views by the surrounding Oak Bay and Victorian Golf Club). Guangdou Chinese burial practices for these folks also required they be exhumed after seven years and stored in a “bone house.” Ultimately, the remains would be shipped to the ancestral home of the deceased in keeping with tradition and also to send them where they would be more honored. That practice halted during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 and the bone house remains of 900 people were reburied in the 1960s. They still have the view.

Home of the British Columbia Lieutenant Governor. Photo by kajmeister.

Impressive Buildings, Ignominious End

We cycled right through the drive way of the home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The quiet, well-manicured gardens are publically-maintained and, therefore, freely open to the public. We also enjoyed the views from Craigdarroch Castle, built by a Dunsmuir from Scotland, to entice his wife Joan across the planet to this end of the north. Finally, we landed behind the Victorian legislative buildings, designed by Francis Rattenbury who also designed the Empress Hotel.

Rattenbury was a 25-year old immigrant from Leeds when he submitted his drawings under the name “A.B.C. Architect” and won the competition to design the British Columbian Parliament in 1891. While the project surpassed the budget by nearly double, the grand Romanesque style fit the idea of the times. My guide Charlie said that because the architecht wanted the multiple domes atop to be as green as possible, he had the workers pee on the domes and when that wasn’t enough, he got them to gather buckets of horse urine from the local stables to speed the process. Somehow it seems a fitting way to inaugurate the houses of Parliament.

Also, because the project went over schedule, the electrical work wasn’t finished at the time of opening. To compensate, the electrician also strung lights around the outside of the building, which creates that magical nightscape view (see yesterday’s post) so famous on Victoria postcards.

Francis Rattenbury received dozens of commissions and had a well-respected architectural career. Unfortunately, his busy lifestyle and wandering eye caused him to leave his first wife and children, apparently abruptly shutting off their electricity and services while they were still living there. He took up with a twice-married younger woman, but that relationship soured, too, and she took up with their chauffeur. In the end, Rattenbury was found with his head bashed in, the chauffeur and Anna both went to prison, and Anna took her own life even after being acquitted.

The good part of the story is that Rattenbury’s son John also became an architect. He was not in favor of the ostentatious style favored by dad, so he actually went off to study under Frank Lloyd Wright and eventually joined the group of Taliesin Architects in Scottsdale, Arizona.

But Don’t Raise Your Pinky

In a fitting end to the story and our trip, we went off to have High Tea at the Empress Hotel, that other local building designed by our infamous architect. This iconic structure was built on a bog, filled in by the owners to extend waterfront property. As a result, the hotel a century later is sinking, which is why you can see today that the front windows sit below sea level.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed tea in traditional grand style. High tea is so named because it requires sitting at a table, rather than on a couch or settee, which usually means it includes meat in a sandwich or hot foods, rather than just scones. Also, by the way, these were proper scones, a cross between shortbread and a southern biscuit, layered and flaky. Whatever we get in the U.S.–those dry, triangular wedges–are not scones. Those are skonz in the same way that Hot Pockets are pies. Just as Southerners deploy the white gravy, the English break out the clotted cream. We might have licked the spoon and the bowl, but no evidence remains.

Ready for High Tea? Five-fingered grip, please. Photo by kajmeister.

A friend suggested I remember to raise my pinky, which I did. Then, I looked it up, and oops! Raising a pinky when drinking tea is not protocol but rather a sign of snobbishness. Originally, cultured people ate their scones and biscuits (cookies, my American friends) with three fingers, while working people used five fingers. But everyone drank tea with a firm, five-fingered grip. Use your whole hand.

Especially to wave goodbye to Victoria. Time to head back down south.

What’s Not in Victoria? (Day 10)

So you’re taking the ferry across Puget Sound to Canada? Going to see Vancouver?
No? Oh, over to Victoria. Butchart Gardens, then…
Wait–not the Gardens? Just Victoria?…well, gee… what’s in Victoria?

To begin with, chef’s choice trio in Tapas Garden, Trounce Alley, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Vancouver. It’s a lovely city, and I’ve been there twice, cycling around Stanley Park, walking through Gastown, and so on. Butchart Gardens, I’ve seen three times, with and without children, with and without lesbians, just two years ago, in fact. You should come up here just to see them, if you like gardens and I do.

But Victoria, BC has its own vibe worth delving in deep, and we decided on this trip to grant it our full and complete attention. It reminds me of Seattle and San Francisco–very walkable, very picturesque, full of eclectic vibrancy that ranges from the swankiest of hotels to the kitschiest tourisma, pubs, coffee houses, little theaters, modern office buildings, with everything from pierogi bars playing heavy metal to high tea served under a dress code. The culture is spread thickly, but genteelly, on the most delicate of multi-grain, Himalayan sea salted toast.

I’ll prove it to you.

Continue reading “What’s Not in Victoria? (Day 10)”

Driving Back (Day 9)

Tofino Sunrise. Photo by kajmeister.

Tofino was the apex of the trip, the land’s end for Vancouver Island and the land’s end for us. It was as far as we were going, north and west. Next, we boomerang back through Victoria, Washington, Oregon and the boring part of California.

Toddler-sized Wetsuits

Since most of the day would be in the car, we started with a hearty walk along Chesterman Beach. There were surfers, which was impressive enough, but I was gobsmacked by the daddy with his two-year-old, rolling around in the surf. It’s 47-freakin’ degrees outside, or 8 degrees as the metric people would say. The water is decidedly frigid. I checked.

It’s 8 degrees (47F) outside. Time to frolic in the Northern Pacific!. Photo by kajmeister.

I didn’t know you could acquire toddler-sized wetsuits, but clearly you can and, apparently in Tofino, you must.

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Yes-Whales! Yes-Tofino! (Day 8)

Tofino on Vancouver Island. Photo by kajmeister.

I have been whale watching before. I have been to Tofino before. I have been on a boat in very choppy waters before. But everything old can be made new.

We changed our overnight stay from Ucluelet to Tofino specifically because the whale watching season ends in Ucluelet October 1, but continues in Tofino until the end of the month. This is the hazard of traveling in shoulder season; services are shut down. We passed a lot of CLOSED until May 2020 signs. On the other hand, no crowds, and it’s easy to imagine this cute little town crammed with cars circling for the handful of available parking spots.

Thar She Blows

Of course, when you book whale-watching, you never know if you will see whales. The migration season to Mexico starts in September or so, and whale sightings are most plentiful in the summer, when they travel up to Canada to spend the summer feeding. That might mean no whales. Tours like these always post multiple warnings that whales are NOT GUARANTEED. Jamie’s Whaling Station, the tour we picked, was unique in specifying that they would give you a ticket for another boat another day if you didn’t see a whale. But we weren’t going to be here another day.

Then, I thought, maybe climate change was making the water warmer and causing the whales to stay up north a bit more. Could Exxon and our doomed love of carbon-spewing SUVs have created the perfect opportunity for me to see whales? Sorry, future generations, but I want to see whales.

Continue reading “Yes-Whales! Yes-Tofino! (Day 8)”