Linger Longer

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Reflections by Kirk 10-11-13

13 October 2013 | Victoria BC
Reflections by Kirk

It has been a few weeks since posting anything; and expect that since we will be land based in Victoria BC until next spring, further postings will be sporadic. We feel fortunate to have secured Inner Harbor moorage for the winter directly in front of the world famous Empress Hotel smack dab in the middle of downtown Victoria. It is quite different being in the middle of tourist central after having spent so much time in remote and isolated areas of the BC coast and Vancouver Island. The lights, sounds and smells constantly remind us that we are now in a metropolitan area with several hundred thousand people. The travel brochures state that over three and a half million people come to visit the Inner Harbor, where we are now staying, every year. It’s pretty cool to think that so many people from all around the world visit the same space that we currently, although temporarily, call home.

When we step off the boat, the locked gate leading to the waterfront promenade is maybe fifty yards away. On a nice fall day, the promenade will have many people walking about watching and listening to the buskers (street performers of music, juggling, comedy, etc.), surveying the work of many different artists or enjoying the offerings of sidewalk food venders. We are told that it is like a zoo in the summer and will quiet down substantially in the winter. Just up some steps and across the street is the grand old lady, the Empress Hotel, where afternoon tea is a hundred year-old tradition, reservations only. Half a block to the right across another street is the British Columbia Royal Museum, which includes indoor and outdoor displays of one of the most outstanding collections of totem poles in the world. In front of the museum is a huge bell tower. Some combination of the eighty-two bells chimes every hour between ten in the morning and five in the afternoon. After chiming the hour, it will chime a beautiful melody for another few minutes. During a few scheduled times throughout the year, the bells will chime out a thirty to forty-five minute concert. I really love those bells.

From the museum turn right again and cross one more street to enter the grounds of the parliament buildings. Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia with the parliament buildings serving as the home of the provincial government. The main building, over one hundred years old, is quite attractive, very large, made of stone blocks, and has at least ten different domes. At night thirty-five hundred white lights outline the structure making a bold statement. Behind us lies the rest of the Inner Harbor where we watch the tiny harbor taxis scurrying about while ferries and seaplanes do their coming and going. All of this is just what we see from the boat.

Victoria is a relatively small “big” town. It is friendly, very clean and may be the most polite town I have ever been in. Parliament, the Empress Hotel, maritime industry and just serving the needs of the population provide adequate employment centers, but Victoria is also a big tourist destination, which brings lots of money to the City. During the months of nice weather, cruise ships make regular stops. Large ferries from Seattle and Vancouver disgorge hordes of people every day. The floatplanes hold only a few persons each but they come and go all day long. A small international airport just outside of town also serves the City. It seems that Victoria takes the value of tourism very seriously and makes extraordinary efforts to keep the City clean, beautiful and inviting. In the summer, hundreds of flower laden hanging baskets adorn city streets. There are many large planting areas scattered around the Inner Harbor and they are all in the process of being changed from summer to winter plantings as I sit here and type away. Early every morning crews come to empty garbage cans and thoroughly clean the Inner Harbor area.

Everything we really need and much more is within a reasonable walking distance of the Inner Harbor, which is really nice as we no longer have a car and I am unlikely to ride a bicycle through city streets. Grocery stores, pharmacies, laundry, post office, bank, and library are all within five blocks. The downtown area is inviting and friendly. There are scattered shops that cater to tourists with tee shirts and trinkets, but it serves the needs of the local population as well. We have heard of cities that have lost all of their character to the cruise ships, but that has not happened here. The downtown area remains vibrant. It is alive at night as well as during the day. There are several downtown high rise residential complexes and the proximity of residential neighborhoods insures that the downtown area has an active nighttime presence, not like a downtown that gets empty at night when all of the workers go home to suburbia. Victoria claims to have the second highest ratio of eateries to population in all of North America, surpassed only by San Francisco. The number of coffee houses rivals Seattle in number and diversity. Many restaurants proudly claim to feature foods produced locally on Vancouver Island. There is an abundance of very good locally made wines and beers. Downtown has an assortment of funky little shops, art galleries, theaters, music venues, movie houses, and museums. Bankers, lawyers and parliamentarians, dressed in suits walk side by side with shaggy haired young folks carrying skateboards. There is a decidedly international flavor to the City. Ethnic eateries are in abundance. Chinatown, covering several square blocks, has produce stands with things I have never heard of, smells of barbecued pork and ginseng, colorful wares and herbal medicine shops. On the sidewalks you catch snatches of conversations in a multitude of languages. And above all is the Victorian English influence.

This may be the most polite and friendly town I have ever visited. Locals will freely divulge secrets of the best places for fresh produce, the best sources for fish and meats, their favorite music venues, the best fish and chips, what bus to take. They do tend to brag a bit about how the climate is so mild and dry for the Northwest. Shopkeepers will readily strike up a conversation having nothing to do with their wares. Drivers nearly always stop well short of a crosswalk that you intend to cross and will not budge until you are out of danger of being hit. Even the “street people” looking for handouts are a step above what we routinely encountered in Seattle. They are not at all aggressive and will frequently try to earn their handouts by playing a musical instrument or having a small selection items to offer in exchange.

Our Inner Harbor location is particularly good because in addition to the downtown proximity, we have the James Bay neighborhood just as close. This is primarily a residential area with its own set of stores and pubs. Most of the homes have a Victorian flair and are nicely maintained with immaculate gardens. James Bay is surrounded by salt water on three sides and is home to the outstanding Beacon Hill Park on the fourth side. This is an excellent place for a stroll. There are paved trails and sidewalks all along the waterfront areas. The residential streets all have sidewalks and the homes are really nice to look at as you pass by. The Park is a real jewel. Part of it is a beautifully landscaped and maintained area with paved trails, ponds, benches, stone bridges and a band shell for summer concerts. This area abounds with birds, waterfowl, Great Blue Herons and black squirrels. Peacocks strut around and roost in the trees. There is a large petting zoo and playfields. The other area is in more of a wild state with lots of footpaths.

Victoria claims to be the warmest place in Canada and substantially drier than Seattle. However, all is not a perfect idyllic scenario. There are many bright lights around our “home.” We sometimes get the smell of aviation fuel from the nearby seaplane bases. There is the occasional wake from harbor traffic that will rock our home around a bit. The ferries sound loud blasts from their horns. We sometimes, but not often hear sirens. There is some traffic noise, but it is muted as we are floating well below street level. Living on a boat through a Northwest winter has its challenges of keeping warm enough and controlling moisture inside the boat.

Even though we have been here for only about two weeks, I’m already in love with this place and am sure that we will cherish the time we spend here. It is giving us an opportunity to live in a foreign country that is not really all that foreign. Although it still sometimes feels as though we are on a vacation, the true change in lifestyle is starting to settle on me. One of the effects of giving up a fixed home, of living a nomadic life, is that my appreciation for friends and family has grown much stronger. So whether it is in Victoria or wherever we may travel to, please make a point of stopping by to visit if it is convenient.

Life really is good.
Vessel Name: S/V Linger Longer
Vessel Make/Model: Sceptre 41/43
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
Crew: Kirk & Kristin Doyle
Our adventure started Sunday, June 16, 2013 with many friends "cutting our dock lines" at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle, Washington. When we left we knew we were pressed for time to reach southeast Alaska for the most favorable cruising months. After contemplating this dilemma for a short [...]
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