Mini-Adventure: tourism at home

Despite several attempts to blog about various topics that sort of include travel my activity could indicate I fell off the face of the Earth. I finally threw in the towel and admitted that without a destination to talk about I have very little to offer that might have a modicum interest to readers. The last couple of months have been tough. It was just as well I did not make any trips. I would love to say I have finally bounced back. I am maybe at half bounce. Definitely not feeling like Tigger. However, I did make the effort to actually do something interesting on Family Day! On my own.

Eight of Canada’s provinces have a Family Day, or a holiday equivalent, on the third Monday of February. Only Quebec, Newfoundland and the three territories do not. Sort of a way to encourage getting out with the family and enjoying our gloomy winter. Living in Victoria this usually means enjoying the cherry blossoms, pleasant walks on the waterfront, cycling, kayaking, walks in the park, golf (not me) and even hiking. Not this year. We had snow! Lots of it, so much that we broke some records for snowfall in February. It was, and still, also below seasonal temperatures. We Victorians are not made for the cold. I usually leave all my winter clothing in Ontario, so glad I had expected to need it for my still in the plans trip to Churchill. I digress. Family Day.

I decided I could do a mini-adventure if I did not have to pay for anything. That meant taking advantage of free entry to two places. The Robert Bateman Centre, that I had been wanting to visit ever since it opened, and the Royal B.C. Museum’s exhibit: Wildlife Photographer of the Year. All I had to consider was a cup of coffee, which I really did not need, and lunch. Aha, I had some money on a Tim Horton’s card, gift from our landlady(!) for my coffee and rewards on Starbucks for my lunch. That is not cheating when it comes to not spending money as my daughter puts money on the card. (I am so lucky!) Although parking was also free I parked at another daughter’s, handed her the keys for her to load up her laundry, (too bad she does not pay for our hydro) telling her I would return in a couple of hours.

The sun was out, people were smiling, a jaunt in my step, was spring finally in the air? It was that afternoon. There was even a piper somewhere in the distance – I could hear him but did not see anyone. Most likely at the Legislature where visitors were lined up for a free visit. Note: visiting is always free (although that should be confirmed before heading there) My first stop was to the Robert Bateman Centre, housed where Victoria’s very popular Royal London Wax Museum welcomed visitors from 1961 to 2010. The building was built in 1924 as the Canadian Pacific Marine Terminal. Although there was concern the building could not be saved once all the was figures left the building (yes, Elvis was represented) extensive earthquake proofing and upgrades were made before becoming the much gentler on the psyche art centre.

Robert Bateman is a well known Canadian artist whose main focus is of wildlife. His numbered prints run at $750.00 and up – well worth it if one can not afford the original. Sadly, I will only be able to look at my photos and perhaps buy a calendar one of these years. What I found amazing is that photos were not discouraged, just not flash. Wonderful, such works need to be shared. It took a bit of sleuthing to find the entrance, seems the restaurant management on the main floor hopes to entice visitors to have a meal first, or after, visiting the gallery. For those less inclined to a fell, sit down meal, there is also a small Starbucks. More on that after.

Heritage – Bald Eagle (2010)

One of the first paintings at the centre; so apt considering the winter we have been hit with.

Eagles and tree stumps are the sad story of progress. Too many nesting trees lost. Seeing an aerie of eagles flying high above where trees once stood is rather heartbreaking.

By the Tracks – Killdeer (1971)

Although not a painting of railway ties in Victoria this fading effect is evocative of our silenced tracks.

High Kingdom – Snow Leopard (1986)

Like all cats this one looks so innocent in repose! an excellent capture in paint.

Gentoo Penguins and Whale Bones (1979)

Robert Bateman has been to Antarctica an enviable five times! I am a sucker for penguins.

This majestic painting was hidden away in a side room, used for classes I believe, no title – not that it needs one. I took several shots at various angles. This was my first, and my favourite. Such disdain in those eyes.

There were several others but these were my favourites. I felt fortunate that, although there were several visitors, including children, I could take my time to enjoy the artistry before descending the stairs in search of lunch. I discovered that the Starbucks in the building does not have much of a selection. My guess is that to share the space with the restaurant they keep the choices to a minimum, choosing instead to concentrate on coffee sales. They were certainly doing a brisk business. Fortunately I was not yet famished and did know where to find another Starbucks.

Before seeking lunch I still had the RBCM to look forward to. I was not too surprised to see the place teeming with families. However, I was quite taken aback by the sheer number of children tagging along with parents to view the photography exhibit. It was so busy it was nearly impossible to see the works yet alone enjoy them. I was happy to have turned left to see the winning picture from the under ten years old category. Sadly, not photographs are allowed. The young boy, I believe in India, saw some owlets flying towards a drainpipe, asked his father to stop the car, and managed to capture these tiny birds cuddled together in the entrance. It was enchanting. My attempts to view much more were thwarted by the crowds of people who all seemed to be taller than me! (Except the children who were with tall adults) I gave up and exited without visiting the galleries I have seen many times but never tire of. I highly recommend visiting. Perhaps not on a free day.

I came across this construction site across from the legislature – I will not be surprised if the lowest price is not below $1 million. The sign is rather in your face.

I believe this is new government offices. On the far side there is a much needed, new library. Until it was built that area of Victoria did not have a library.

I walked back towards where my daughter lives, stopping first at the Starbucks close to her place to have a relatively quiet lunch in a comfortable chair – a few of the stores still have those. There I met an elderly woman struggling with keeping her drink upright in the basket of her walker. After helping her I ended up chatting about a variety of things, nothing extraordinary just a pleasant time for two strangers to appreciate the afternoon and a quarter hour of unity. It was a pleasant end to a very short adventure and a reminder to enjoy what is in my backyard.

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Coffee in Taiyuan

This is a clip from a post (Dec 2011) from a blog I had in 2011. about my attempts to return to teaching in China after several years. Reading past posts Coffee seems to have played an important role to maintaining my sanity. (I cannot believe I let so many errors escape me.)Most likely a result of being afraid I would lose my internet connection at any moment. No photos, no fancy phone then. I was even using pay phones and a landline at times!

The following was how I finally managed to have a real cup of coffee after a couple of weeks drinking garbage instant.

Written Dec 10/11 (edited Dec 27/18)

UBC (also the name of a university in Vancouver, Canada so I was feeling hopeful – I had also been to UBC in other cities years before) usually has two floors, where food, coffee, tea and fancy juices are served – it is never very busy. The menu was in Chinese and English.  Of course this is where things started to become confusing.  I just wanted a cup of coffee, with milk.  Forget trying to say cream. In Taiyuan when people say they only speak a little English they mean it – hello, coffee, bye-bye – are often all I can get out of anyone.  The fact I use passable Chinese for very simple requests makes everyone assume I must be fluent.  Perhaps all foreigners here (Taiyuan) are.
First they ascertained I did want to be on the second floor.  Then I chose where I would sit.  Next, order yi bei kafei; wo yao niu nai.  One coffee; I want milk.  Except this simple request resulted in about 5 minutes of mass confusion.  Did I want cold coffee with milk?  No, I want hot coffee, and milk.  Did I want hot coffee and hot milk?  No, just a little milk.  Ah, did I want one cup of coffee and one cup of milk?  By this time I had resorted to trying to over-explain, in Chinese, when it dawned on me to be more explicit with actions rather than words.  Remember, all this was in Chinese – except for the few words of English from me when I was at a loss to explain all I wanted was a little cream to put in my coffee to stir and drink.  Then it dawned on me – I asked for a little cup of milk, but this time showed the size I meant.  Presto, the girl ran over to the counter where she kept all her spoons, tissue (they do not use napkins here) and whatnot, pulled out a creamer and presented it to me with a flourish.  Feeling triumphant I was just about to say thank you when she asked if I wanted sugar in my coffee!  An emphatic no.  When the coffee finally arrived, from the first floor, it was delivered on a tray, the cup sitting beside the saucer. Except the server seemed to be waiting for something – perhaps he was unsure to whom this one little cup of coffee should go to?  After all, everyone else had their coffees – I assume they were having coffee.  I beckoned him over, do they not know it is dangerous to get between a foreigner and her coffee?  He did not budge, just looked a little scared and helpless, maybe he did know – ah, the upstairs girl had to put the cup on the saucer and present the spoon to said saucer before taking the whole in hand and making a presentation of my coffee to me.  With another creamer.  Despite the ice cold cream hitting the very hot coffee and coming close to curdling, I used both creamers. It was a decent cup of coffee – or I was just so desperate by then I did not know better.  I am discovering that coffee in the evening is good for the soul – at least in Taiyuan it is. 

Chemainus: the little town that did

What does a small town falling into wrack and ruin do when all of its resource jobs are rapidly disappearing? Pull out the paint and brushes! This little town understood the concept of “build it and they will come.” They did, into the millions, from around the world, since the early 1980s. Which is how I first heard about this out of the way little town.

Named for a local Cowichan First Nations band, “Tsa-mee’-nis” that had been living off the land and sea for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived in 1791. By 1858 settlers were felling trees to clear the land, within four years the first sawmill was up and running and took advantage of the naturally deep port to move logs and board. Although iron ore was mined in the area and fishing was important, the forests provided the majority of jobs. Until everything fell apart with the downturn of the markets. As this was happening I was moving to Vancouver Island. By 1983 the last sawmill in Chemainus had shut down. Five murals had been painted in 1982 as part of a revitalization plan. With the closure of the mill plans were put in place to keep on painting. The theme was the history of the area – trains, logging, the working man, the immigrants, the festivals. Although the mill did re-open in 1985 the locals had discovered a new way to earn money. Tourism.

Street heading to the docks from the main park.

My first trip to Chemainus was probably some time between 1986 – 1989, the murals were so fresh it seemed that wet paint would be left on your hands if you dared to touch a wall. Wood walls, brick walls, rough and smooth walls, were painted with stunning, and not so great, murals. They were impressive, present and approachable. These were our people depicted in giant form. Over the years I would return a few times, my children encouraging me to hurry up and look. They were always interested – and each had a favourite. They also had an uncanny memory for where to find the best ice cream cones.

check out the upstairs windows! This is a candy shop. I wonder if my children could find the ice cream store now.

It has been probably 15+ years since my last visit. My mission was to drive to Nanaimo, north of Chemainus, to purchase some wedding centrepiece items – the store would not send to the either of the Victoria stores. That accomplished, two hours from home to store and back on the road, I felt we needed a little adventure. I chose Chemainus.

I cannot swear to this however I am quite sure this building was a new build in the ’80s

Today was out of season, many shops were still closed, or only open Tuesday to Saturday. This gave my daughter and I the freedom to just wander without jostling elbows, avoiding tour buses and cars. We checked out the Chemainus Theatre, I have heard their shows are high quality. I finally picked up a list and schedule of the plays for this coming year – with a goal to see one. I love trains, so was quite happy to find some murals of various trains. Of course there were others, 44 is the number I read. We did not make a full tour of them, perhaps when it is less chilly.

Mural showing iron ore being mined. I do not see the hardship in this one. Perhaps the artist did not want to upset tourists

One I liked, not of trains, was of float festival winners from 1939. This was a Japanese float, all I could think of was if any of the people who had been part of the float were forced to one of the Japanese interment camps in Canada during the Second World War. I looked it up. Despite being Canadian citizens, even second or third generation, perhaps 200 were displaced out of Chemainus. Many never returned, their homes, businesses, property had been seized.

where else but on the wall of the Post Office

I bought a rather yummy sausage roll, an apple turnover and a coffee (except I think it had a different name) at Utopia Bakery, hidden around a corner. The sausage rolls, including the meat, are house made, beef and pork with a little spice for a bite. Warmed just enough rather than piping hot like many places do. The coffee was bold, probably because we managed to get caught in the only rain during the five hours we were up Island! I ended up not eating the turnover until I was home, it was quite good. Not overly sweet, always a bonus, and flaky, yet sturdy, pastry. (I never appreciate having pastry crumbs flying about)

Many of the homes built over 100 years ago are still in use, or sadly, sitting empty and looking rather forlorn. I was rather intrigued by Castle B&B, so much so I suggested we might want to rent the small ‘castle’. The rent was reasonable, Chemainus perhaps not so much.

There are some problems with living in a tourist town, particularly one that operates seasonally- what to do when the tourists leave. Of course there are still some mills. Outdoor activities are thriving, still mainly during warmer weather. Which is a pretty decent window – usually March to October. However, I could not help but notice the once bright yellow footprints showing the way are fading, the paint is chipping on a few murals, several shops have closed permanently.

We came across this and a similar one in the garden of a house. Look closely to see the white orchid

Once a shop filled with a variety of items to entice tourists. Now it sits unloved, draperies pulled tight.

Spectacular mountain, ocean and forest views

We left home at 7:30AM and were home by 12:30PM. A five hour trip up island and return with a wonderful little break in ‘the little town that did’ where we were refreshed, walked and enjoyed the art. It is suggested visitors stay a little longer. Perhaps I will when the place comes out of hibernation, to be drawn into the full magic of Chemainus just as my children were over twenty years ago.

The Tale of Three Cities: Chapter 3 – Kitchener

Thirteen days in Ontario should have been easy for me; after all I spent nearly six months of winter there one year, as well as four other winters for a month each time. Then there were the two early summers. Surely I could manage less than to weeks. Let me just say that I did try. I even had fun, as noted in earlier posts. It was just so darn difficult this time. A dragged out cold left me wilted, and I am still not fully over it despite being home for six days. However, time, rest, the gym, glimpses of the sun and the west coast air will soon find me back in full swing. I am feeling well enough to finish up the tale of three cities.

I talk about Kingston a lot so writing about Toronto was fun and I was looking forward to visiting the Kitchener-Waterloo area where daughter 3 is studying. It is an interesting area, a lot of cross connections, including Waterloo University and Sir Wilfred Laurier University. My daughter goes to Waterloo. They have a Starbucks on campus – which was a huge issue and seems to be all on its own in what I believe is the Engineering Department. Waterloo has many Starbucks. It appears Kitchener has none. I like to keep track of such things for orienting where I am.

I did not find too much to enamour me with Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps it was just due to it being winter, cold, my being sick, and my daughter being robbed a week earlier. There is a definite factory town feel to the area. Not a lot was happening. The Tannery District, (as far as I could tell this is just one building rather than a true district – it was too cold to explore) as the name implies, was once an early 20th century mill that has been refurbished and now holds a number of businesses, eateries and, from I read, an event venue. The only place open was Balzac’s Coffee Roaster. For which I was grateful.

The day I decided I should just stay at the house, early 1900s, was only broken up when I finally ventured outside long enough to get the kinks out and to find a store. I came across one house, apparently into offices, and one austere Lutheran church worthy of photographing. Unfortunately I did not cross the street to be across from the Sun Life Financial head office property that appears to include a building dating back to 1912. It was not until the next day, when on a bus, that I saw there is a provincial plaque of its history – next time I visit I will check it out. However, further research seems to indicate the building was always in the hands of Sun Life, until 2014. (Now leased back to them)

Not my photo – no snow here!

Lutheran Church on King St.

I loved the brickwork and the tri-corner style is lovely. The area it is in not so much.

It was not until the day before I left for home that I would go on an adventure. This is when I ventured to the university with my daughter, had coffee at Starbucks and hid from the elements,while waiting for her to attend a class, for a couple of hours before we headed to the Mennonite village of St. Jacob’s. I was feeling a bit better and looking forward to something different. The village dates back the 1850s, with Mennonites settling in the the region in the 1840s. The population of St. Jacobs is around 2000 and swells during tourism season with visitors arriving on bus tours, heading to the market and checking out the many, many shops along the Main Street. As often happens in small places that depends on tourism, many stores were closed. However, we did manage to have some fun poking about what was open, discovering some treasures – a pity my phone battery died – enjoying lunch, then coffee, and a sense of a time warp. Interesting bit of history, St. Jacobs is the home office for Home Hardware

A real fire in the fireplace at Stone Crock Restaurant !

Former Anglican Church is now a pretty neat toy store. I had to force myself to not leave with a few fun items.

Talk about a time warp! I could not have caught a better sandwich photo of past, present and cold.

We discovered the maple syrup museum along with a small model train set up. We had hoped to visit the larger model train display across the street – it was closed. We did however walk through the old silo mill where there are a few stores. The only one actually open was the pottery store. Here they sell products made locally, or made in Canada. There is a Wedding store that uses an old freight car as a place to store dresses and a section of the silos as a boutique. It was probably just as well it too was closed. With so much closed for the season, including the huge market, I already know I will be returning in the summer when I visit. I will most likely be with 2-3 of my daughters, maybe even one SIL so it will be attended unattendedgrandma.

We made this discovery on a side street when searching for the old school house. Unable to discover if it was open until after we finally tore ourselves away, I was happy to just take pictures and marvel at the collection. Such fun!

look at what we found at the mini train model display! My daughter graciously took then shared this with me after my phone died. I am looking into taking both trains. The table settings and menus belonged to other trains. Too bad!

Slow Down, You’re Movin’ too Fast

Or: Woe Is Me

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who that reflection is only to admit it is definitely me after attempting to outrun age and common sense. So, after having fun in TO, visiting my daughter, ‘SIL’ (they are the ones getting married) and my grandson in Kingston and finding a dress I slowed down a bit after arriving in Kitchener. Just a little though.

When I arrived my other SIL and 3rd daughter greeted me at the train station and I foolishly agreed a twenty minute walk would be fine. I am happy to say I survived that, the temperature had started to plummet. I seriously wonder why the whole population of anywhere beyond the south west coast of Canada does not head to a warmer climate during winter. I guess Canadians are just too polite to overtake another nation. Besides, what would we have to talk about if our weather woes were taken away?

By the next day it seemed to be warming up enough to venture out. We decided to check out The Museum, an interactive space that encourages visitors to actively experience the space. We were disappointed to discover half of the third floor, and all of the 4th were closed. No idea why for the 3rd floor section, but the 4th floor was being changed over for a new exhibit.

Although a bit dubious we would find much to engage us for a couple of hours we decided we would take a look. Indoor activities during winter can be a challenge so we were happy to discover a large self serve coat check. Divested of coats, hats, mittens and scarves makes it easier to explore.

The space for children under 4 looked inviting to my daughter, when she was encouraged to enter she tried out all of the big buttons that lit up various boards before heading to a low peek-a-boo window for little ones to wave at unsuspecting patrons. Of course my travel companions were by now quite excited. I had stuffed them into my pocket at the last minute when I worried they could get lost if sitting in the coatcheck.

My daughter and SIL had a marvellous time and, although I did try to get into the mood I would have enjoyed myself more if I had been feeling a little healthier. However, just look at the fun we had! The Museum is a great little gem. We did indeed visit for nearly two hours before hunger took over. I was taken to Crabby Joe’s where I ate half a chicken prosciutto sandwich (with only half the crusty bread) and a small Caesar salad. Dinner ended up being the other half. I had half expected to not be able to taste anything due to my cold but it was good. We took the bus home with minor plans for the following day.

A playroom like this would be fabulous.

A real bed of nails!

who hasn’t wanted to try out a bed of nails?

We had a little help from a visitor with small fingers to extract the bears.

Who would have thought my parents Commodore 64 might have become a museum exhibit! Most of the computers were in working order.

Àq1An extremely rare photo of me (I look as old as the dinosaur) with my somewhat worried travel companions.

The next day my SIL stayed home to cook while my daughter and I headed to City Hall Rotunda Gallery art exhibit with a stop for lunch at a place called Slices. I ordered a gyro breakfast that was enough to feed both of us – I convinced my daughter she was hungry. There is a small skating rink outside City Hall where happy looking families were enjoying a somewhat warmer day as they glided, spun and tumbled on the ice.

The title of the exhibit, The Face to Face Project, by Eva McCauley is 38 pieces, mixed media, with two common threads – people (understandable considering the title) and a turquoise hue in all of them. I have no idea if the colour was significant, my daughter read the information to me as I had left my glasses behind. A small number of the paintings were of the artists students while the majority were photographs of single or groupings of people from several decades ago that were then painted over to enhance, reveal, or possibly hide some aspects. It was an interesting view to the past.

I now want one of these coffee bean bins!

As we headed home we discovered a coffee shop in the Tannery, Balzac’s Coffee Roasters. So of course we had to go inside. My daughter was quite pleased to see they also had Turkish Delight – have I missed something – seems this delicacy is making a comeback. I had coffee, my daughter had hot chocolate made from Lindt chocolate – sinful! I ate a piece of the pistachio Turkish Delight, and we just relaxed.

We also saw an interesting wall mural along the way that at first we thought was a structure with a person standing on it. From another point of view it appeared to be 3D with several cut outs of people, it was not until we were across from it we realized it is a flat surface. It was colourful and fun on what was quickly becoming a chilly late afternoon.

Imagine how happy we were to arrive home to home cooked lasagna!

When morning arrived the next day plans to visit Waterloo University, where my daughter is a PhD student, were postponed when the guest speaker for a workshop had a flight cancelled somewhere out of the States. Coupled with more dipping temperatures plus wind it was a perfect day to stay inside and finally listen to everyone who had told me to SLOW DOWN!