Anyone for a hump?

14 08 2012

So last Thursday was our last full day in Victoria, and we went whale watching. Lived here 11 years now, and never been whale watching. Seen a few up the Sunshine Coast and off Point Roberts, but always at a distance.

We got up at a lazy hour and made our way downtown for brunch at Willie’s Bakery. The food was deceptively tasty for what is essentially a quick order fry up and waffle place. The servers were excellent, but unfortunately the cooking was  s-l-o-w. So much so that our “plenty of time” turned into “only just making it” by the time we’d been served and marched off towards Fisherman’s Wharf. There we were adorned with floatation suits and boarded our 12 seater Zodiac. We had a really excellent hour or so’s ride up to Henry Island, off the NW coast of San Juan Island. The water was mill pond smooth, and the ride was quite exhilarating. Once there we got to enjoy J pod, one of the resident Orca pods, chomping on the local salmon run. In Canada , one is supposed to keep 100m away from the sides of a whale, and 400m away from the front or rear of their direction of travel. Of course, being marine mammals, they’re not averse to the occasional “deep dive”, and it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll surface. This made for lots of “oo” and “ahh” moments when they suddenly appeared quite close to the boat.

After almost an hour of being awestruck with the majesty of these carnivorous beasts of the sea, the skipper asked if anyone was in a rush to get back. Being answered in the negative, he offered to take us to see some Humpback whales off the SE of Victoria, and off we went.

Now this hour of travel was not quite as smooth. Hardly what you’d call a swell, but when hit at speed, even a moderate wave felt like it would shake your teeth out. As we neared the destination, we entered a fog bank, and the temperature noticeably dropped. Out of the gloom there suddenly loomed three or four zodiacs from other whale watching companies, then suddenly the giant Humpbacks appeared. Three in all. If the orcas were majestic, these were truly leviathans. “Huge” just doesn’t do it. Unfortunately I only had my point’n’click camera with me, and the Humpbacks didn’t expose themselves quite as much as the Orcas, so you don’t really get the sense of size from these snaps. Go look on Wikipedia though… these gentle giants are amazing.

Not cheap at $95 a head, but we had a great skipper and we certainly got total value for our money with nigh on 4 hours of excitement and education. I’d recommend the company we chose (there are eight altogether in Victoria!) – Orca Spirit Adventures.





It never rains in Southern California…

13 08 2012

…. because it’s all in BC!

So what better way to end a lovely sunny day visiting military museums and lighthouses than getting soaked to the skin? Welcome to Super Natural British Columbia!

After we got back from Fort Rodd Hill, we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria for some fish and chips. We just nicely arrived and the heavens opened. Obviously then, as soon as we got served and bolted for refuge in the car, it all stopped and returned to tranquility!

 





The beasties of Fort Rodd Hill

12 08 2012

We were aware there was a lighthouse to the West of Victoria, and set off in hot (well – lukewarm) pursuit.

We actually ended up spending several hours there in the extensive grounds adjacent.

Forgive the blurriness from extreme cropping of distant shots, but here’s a few pictures of the deer and a daylight raccoon we encountered on our walk.





Of burnt custard and wormwood

12 08 2012

After a hard day’s touristing, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a fine meal in great company. Unfortunately, I was with the family… but we did find some great food. :)

Yes, yes, it was on Fort St. There are in fact several streets in Victoria, but it’s true that we did seem to spend most of our little break there along the tight confines of the one street! Anyway, Cafe Brio was our destination for dinner. We arrived early and they were just opening up. This meant we got our pick of tables and so we chose to sit outside on the patio – a lovely covered area cleverly masked from the street with grapevines and other Italianesque things.

I started with a plate of “sulami” shared with second-born. We had “Brio prosciutto” – smoked/dried pork aged for at least 12 month; “Lamb prosciutto” – aged 4 months and very finely flavoured; “Venison pate” – with hazelnuts and juniper.

Main course for me was a whole pound of local mussels in traditional garlic/white wine sauce. The current full menu can be drooled over here.

For dessert, the rest of the crew opted for a “tasting plate” consisting of chocolate truffle, biscotti, sorbet and crème brûlée (or literally “burnt cream” – actually crème anglaise (fancy custard) with a layer of caremelised sugar on top). For me though, I fancied something a little special and asked if they sold port. Indeed they did, and I was handed a menu of options. I’ve come to favour a particular brand and age of Tawny Port… and alas and alack, it was not on the list. There was however something else that tickled my “off-beat antennae”… absinthe! From the Okanagan no less! I was offered the usual water/sugar options, but opted to have it straight. I was a little non-plussed by the severe green tinge. This is introduced by infused herbs and is part of the reason absinthe gets the name  “la fée verte” (the green fairy). The name absinthe comes from the ingredient wormwood used for millennia as a medicinal preparation. It took on its current fennel/anise form in around 1792 when it was sold in Switzerland as a cure-all tonic.

Here’s a couple of BlackBerry shots, just to make your mouth water.

Totally recommend Cafe Brio if you’re anywhere near Victoria and feeling the need for good food and atmosphere.





Crotch rocket, anyone?

12 08 2012

So Mrs E asked me if I knew what a “crotch rocket” was the other day. Seems Number 2 offspring had taught her this phrase and she wanted to show off how hip’n’happ’nin’ she was. I predictably guessed it was some kind of sex aid, but was quite wrong.

It seems it’s actually one of those small but powerful motorcycles you often see kids riding – just before they die horribly in a ditch, and get commemorated with a truly naff bunch of flowers duct-taped to a lamppost. Typically Japanese, but occasionally Italian.

Yamaha: 2012 YZF-R1

So while we were visiting Craigdarroch Castle (more of this later, I’m sure), I spotted a splash of colour on the street. I didn’t realise it at first, but these scooters were actually for hire, and you could presumably get around the relatively compact “city” of Victoria quite effectively on such a 2-wheeled stallion Shetland pony.

Cycle BC rental scooters add a splash of street colour

They were Honda Jazz scooters from Cycle BC, a snip at $16 per hour rental if you fancy recreating Audrey Hepburn‘s scene from Roman Holiday.





Caligula

12 08 2012

Oh sorry – I mean calligraphy. But since you’re here, you might as well keep reading… :)

So every day of our brief holiday in Victoria we walked up and down Fort St. at least once. Sometimes twice. It was a good way of burning off the scone/cream/jam extravaganza’s from Murchie’s. I did manage to take a couple of shots of these “high teas” (actually consumed as breakfast in my case, but English is nothing if not confusing), but the wide aperture made for extremely short depth of field, and what I call “art”, Mrs E calls “out of focus”. I’ll therefore not bother you with those unless you’re really desperate.

This route took us past an art shop called Island Blue which managed to make the handing over of vast quantities of cash totally painless. Opus is the main BC chain for art supplies, and this was a pleasant variation, stocking different products and being largely cheaper. I tried to resist, I really did. In the end though, I walked out with some new ink. It is labelled as tea-coloured, and that alone was sufficient to tingle my “off-beat antennae”. It’s French, but nothing in this world is perfect.

Later in the week, I could contain my urges no longer, and we did go to Opus as well, where I bought a bamboo “dip-pen” for poster-sized calligraphy, as well as a book. Time to start learning how to do this fancy writing properly. Regular readers will be weary of hearing about my left-handedness, but where calligraphy is concerned, it really is an extra hurdle to overcome. The strokes are all the wrong way (and we all know how THAT can feel!) I did learn about pigment and dye based inks from the book though. Could explain why one of my fountain pens gets clogged up all the time! (Duh…). Also that I need to wash off the the oily covering from my lovely set of left-handed calligraphy nibs.

Home now, second-born wanted to visit Michael’s (yet another craft store) to get some glow-in-the-dark thread for making friendship bracelets (it would seem she likes to keep tabs on the whereabouts of her friend’s hands in the dark!) I tagged along and found some neat little pipettes for loading ink (or it would seem, according to my new book, gouache, watercolour paint, or pretty much anything) into my nib reservoirs. Now I have no excuse except lack of talent.

There was a point to all this. Now what was it? Oh yes! Victoria has these really neat bike racks on Government St. Not sure if they’ve been there a while, or if they’re part of the 150 year celebrations of Victoria. (I know – 150 years?! A mere pup! My mate has a house twice that age in Fossebridge). They spurred me on to try calligraphy again.





Victoria’s other secret

12 08 2012

I admit I did laugh when I saw this little boutique on Fort St.

Not quite the same level of raunchy design one has become used to at VS shops… but eye-catching nevertheless. (Wha’? My eyes are easily caught…)

Incidentally, www.victoriassecret.ca does not take you to the Canadian online store for the underwear shop, but instead to Victoria’s tourist portal. Kudos to whoever spotted that little omission from VS’s marketing department…





All roads lead to Rome!

11 08 2012

Actually, it was originally written as Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam, which those of you who did not attend Grammar School may like to know translates as “A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome“, and was written in Liber Parabolarum, (1175), by Alain de Lille.

This was a bus stop on Fort St., Victoria. I’m not sure where you caught a bus if you didn’t want to go to University of Victoria…





De Stijl

11 08 2012

A few years ago, I was introduced to The White Stripes. I’ve since become quite a fan, but at the time I’d never heard of Jack White or his then wife Meg. (He was born Gillis and took her surname in an appealing off-beat Quieter Elephant kind of way.) I don’t remember now how I came to listen to De Stijl – probably borrowed it from the library. Anyway, I found the LoFi production and unaffected energy to be addictive. I particularly liked the unorthodox angle of  “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)”.

I think it has something of the early Beatles to it.

So anyway, it never occurred to me that De Stijl (Dutch for The Style) had any significance other than being a bit off beat. I know, I know… I can be a bit slow sometimes. Often in fact. So allow me to educate you dear reader, so you leave this page a little wiser, perhaps…

De Stijl was a Dutch artistic movement, and is now used to refer to a body of work from 1917 to 1931 founded in the Netherlands. Theo van Doesburg was its leading light and when he died in 1931, the group did not survive. One of its other worthies was Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, who called himself Piet Mondrian after 1906. His work is instantly recognisable with neat vertical and horizontal lines and efficient use of primary colours.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, 1937–42, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 69 cm, Tate Gallery. London

And once you know all that of course, the cover of The White Stripes’s De Stijl makes a whole lot more sense!

Wikipedia: White Stripes – De Stijl

OK – so by now you’re wondering where all this is going. Back to school actually. All this preamble was just an excuse for a couple of photos I took of Central Middle School on Fort St., Victoria. Enjoy!





Not quite a big Splash

11 08 2012

So unless you’ve been on Mars for the last week or so (OK – Curiosity, you have an excuse!) you’ll be aware it’s been the summer Olympics in the UK.

Curiosity on Mars.

NASA: Curiosity on Mars.

Despite being on holiday, we were not insulated quite enough, and I ended up watching the highlights from the ladies 10m diving competition. Unbelievable athleticism. Those girls (I think they were girls – no bumps front or back to be really sure!) could spin and twirl at amazing rates before hitting the water. And when they did… hardly a ripple. Amazing control.

London 2012: Brittany Broben of Australia competes in the women’s 10m Platform Diving semi-final

Which reminded me of day 1 of our holiday in Victoria. We couldn’t get into the apartment until mid-afternoon, so we ambled down into town to take a look-see and to kill some time. Of course, this was the Sunday before BC day, and the town was heaving with tourists. Funny how you never consider yourself a tourist. We ended up eating at Milestones down by the harbour, and learned that the crowd was there for the Victoria Symphony Splash.

Victoria Symphony Splash: From the air

Unfortunately we’d already missed most of the music by then, but learned there was a fireworks display later that night. After dinner we walked back up the hill to the apartment, and at around 9pm Mrs E and the sproglets took the car down to watch the fireworks. I heard several loud explosions from up the hill and since the others didn’t return for quite some time, felt assured it had been a wonderful show.

Er… no. Bit of a damp squib really. Possibly literally! Second-born described it as “three fireworks and over in less than a minute”. Now I’m sure that is an exaggeration, but coupled with the later than advertised start, I do wonder whether there had been some technical hitch, rather than an impoverished “firework fund”… especially as it was also celebrating Victoria’s 150th birthday!

Vancouver Sun: Workers erect scaffolding in preparation for Sunday’s Symphony Splash concert at the Inner Harbour.








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