The Butchart Gardens, Victoria B.C.

Designated a national historic site, Butchart Gardens is a privately owned and constructed garden/estate located north of Victoria (near the airport), famous not just for it’s beautiful themed gardens, but also for it’s oh so British, High Tea…

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When my friend Gina came to visit me in Disney world in Florida, one of the things we did together was to have high-tea at the Grand Floridian Hotel (its a girl thing). So when I heard that there are a lot of places that do High-tea in Victoria, I decided that, if she was game, we’d do one here as well. We have since decided to try to make it a tradition.

Today, with Gina’s help, I moved from my Airbnb in Shwanigan Lake, to my new one in Victoria. Once we’d checked in we boogied north to try to make our reservation for high tea. As we were driving (we were already behind schedule) we hit some traffic, so I used the car’s blue tooth phone system to call the Garden to tell them we might be late. Suffice it to say I was a bit perturbed when the woman said that even though I had called, they would only hold our reservation for 15 minutes after the arranged time. Not great customer service that… And then we got to the gate:

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Keep in mind this is just the admission to the park and doesn’t include the price of the tea. In US dollars it came out to about $26.64 a person just to enter. Now my friend is a librarian for the also world famous Chicago Botanical Gardens, and most of these places have exchange programs to allow their staff free entrance, or at least a discount… but these guys didn’t accept Gina’s card. And then, there were some staff directing parking… only it was really organized. Once we’d been parked (well away from the entrance) we pass any number of empty spaces much closer — again annoying.

But boogied as fast as we could, and managed to make the 15 minute window. The tea was a set tea (in terms of the edibles) with each of us getting to choose our own tea… I had the one the waiter said was his favorite, and Gina had one with rose petals in it.

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Also, they allowed Gina to make some exchanges for religious reasons… all in all it was a tasty tea. It wasn’t AS good as the one at Disney — we both agreed on that — but then again it was almost 1/2 the price (that one was close to $50/person — so almost double the price).

The Tea is served in what had been the historic home of the Butchart family, with seating scattered in all the various first floor rooms. Gina and I were sat on a shaded balcony overlooking the Italian gardens behind the house… and off to the side of that we saw that you could also get Gilato.

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After we were done with tea, I noticed a major difference between Gina and I, while I was walking around taking pictures of stuff, she was always pausing to quite literally smell the roses… (which it would not have occurred to me to do).

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This estate was built by a Robert Butchart who came to the area specifically because it had rich limestone deposits, which are necessary for his business — cement. The family built their home near one of their quarries.

The first (oldest) garden on the estate is the Japanese one, built by a Japanese gardener who at the request of his own son built a Japanese Garden in Esquimalt Gorge Park near downtown Victoria. Once built it became all the rage with the local elites, and when the Mrs. Butchart saw it, she too commissioned one for their own home.

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The Japanese garden is located between the house and the bay, where I assume the family parked their private boats, so that you need to walk through it to get from one to the other.

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Next, when the Limestone quarry next to which they had built their house was exhausted, Mrs Butchart set about converting it from what must have been a major eyesore into a magical sunken garden. (Note the before picture below and compare it to the after picture above it.)

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One really impressive thing that I didn’t get good pictures of (it would have required a video, was the dancing waters of the Ross Fountain at the back of the garden, but this is why we have Youtube:

At this point, not surprisingly, the gardens had become something of a local attraction. This is when the family decided to convert the tennis courts behind their home into an Italian Garden (as they’d given their home an Italian name). This would be what Gina and I were overlooking while eating our high tea.

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There is also a massive rose garden (from the look of it, and it’s location, I was wondering if it had been the family swimming pool), with a lot of examples (like a hundred or more) of championship named roses, each with a tag.

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As it is now open to the public (at a hefty fee) other family attractions have been added, like a small concert pavilion where the audience sits on the lawn, and a carousel for the kids, as well at least two more places that I spotted (one near the entrance and one near the very back of the estate, near the carousel) where folks can pick up meals that are more kid friendly than a high Tea.

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Also at this point almost every inch of the estate has been turned into a garden, with botanical curiosities like a Monkey Puzzle tree (picture below top right), and ‘gifts’ from foreign nations, like the Dragon fountain which was gifted by the government of China.

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And when the government of Canada designated the garden a national historic monument, they gifted it a totem pole

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Kinsol Trestle, Shwanigan Lake B.C.

Formerly a Trestle that supported a train-line on Vancouver Island, now a tourist attraction and part of the Trans-Canada hiking trail (their answer to the Appalachian Trail)

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Heard about this from an old guy who was training to be a docent at Shwanigan Lake’s local History museum; pretty much EVERY town and village on Vancouver Island seems to have one of these, and none of them have proven worth seeing unless you’re already there and really desperate for something to do.

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Having never actually seen a train trestle before, other than in the movies, I decided I’d see it but was holding on on doing it till my girlfriend Gina came to visit (we’ve known each other since kindergarten); she always complains that traveling with me never involves much walking, and this place actually demands some.

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While it’s pretty, and if you’re in the area it’s worth seeing, I’m not sure it’s worth a special trip for. Trains no longer run across it.

Astera’s Greek Taverna, Nanaimo B.C.

Exceedingly cute and impressively tasty & authentic, Greek restaurant; owner seems to be a recent immigrant from Greece.

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Found this place via Yelp: To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations when I walked in — even though the place IS very cute looking — because most of the Greek places I’ve been to recently were beyond bad. Like seriously unauthentic and just plain bad… I’m not the world’s best cook but I could have done better using a cookbook than some of these places.

At first, I was a bit irritated because the staff, while friendly, didn’t seem like they had their act together (four of them, plus the owner, running around like chickens with their heads cut off… highly inefficient, getting orders wrong, etc). It took them forever to seat me (even with multiple empty tables), and then way too long to get my order… and then my food never came. The owner came by asking how I was and I said, “Hungry.”

After a 1/2 hour wait I got my taramasalata, and it was very good.

Ultimately, Great Greek food!! Happy food dance. Best Greek food I had had in a long time. My grilled octopus was tasty and not rubbery at all, taramasalata that was fresh and tasty, and the spanakopita (well that’s hard to screw up) 

Comox and Courtenay, B.C.

Two adjoining towns about 1/2 way up the Island; Searches for the best restaurants in Vancouver Island put many of them in these two towns, so I had to check them out.

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As I’ve said many times before, I judge cities by how well they eat. Since a search of the best restaurants in Vancouver Island, according to Yelp, put them in these two towns I had to check them out. They WERE very picturesque, but I was underwhelmed by the restaurants. They’re fine, WAY better than the ones currently around me in Shwanigan Lake, but not worth traveling for… not the like the Wolf in the Fog, located in Tofino, for sure — that was worth a 4 hour drive.

Boat Graveyard: Royston, Wrecks, B.C.

Came across this on the AtlasObscura website, it’s a breakwater that was constructed by sinking a bunch of due for the graveyard ships.

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I made a strategic error, I tried to walk across the sand that had been exposed by the low tide, and at a certain point it became like quicksand and it stole my shoes off my feet. I was able to get them back… but then it stole them a second time. And then, as I tried to pull them loose, I fell down. Suffice it to say I was good and muddy with some really FOUL smelling gunk that soaked through EVERYTHING…

That night I had a major score. I have since before the breakwater to make a booking with an Airbnb in the area, figuring it was late, and would like to see the place in full daylight in the morning… and the woman I had made the pending booking with never responded. So I called Airbnb to try to cancel. I told them that it was getting late, and I couldn’t afford to wait much longer for her to respond because I was a good 2 1/2 hours away from my place and the sun was going down and I was tired… basically worried that it wouldn’t be safe to drive (no lights along those roads, and I’m starting to loose my night vision). Basically I said, “If I’m going to have to drive back I need to start now” …. Happily, they not only cancelled the request, but they told me that if I could find a decent hotel for the night they would reimburse me for the cost up to $150. So I stayed at the Holiday Inn on their dime…. Score!

That night, I took the shoes, the socks, the pants, into the shower and tried to wash them clean. I kept wringing out the socks and this black water kept coming out. Even after, and I used shampoo, the stuff still stunk. Took them home the next day and put them through the wash….

Goats on a Roof: Old Country Market, Coombs B.C.

Because there are goats on the roof do I need another reason??

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As a kid, for many summers in a row, my mom used to take us to Door County in Wisconsin (its the peninsula that sticks into the lake) where there’s a Swedish restaurant called Al Johnson’s that also has goats on the roof… so this was nostalgic for me. Only this is a massive market (with a pretty amazing selection of foreign foods), as well as a lot of cool looking stuff.

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Just off to the side of it is a collection of tourist traps if ever there was one — loaded up with with massively overpriced stuff from China 

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Tofino, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Think Pacific Ocean, surfers, sailing, beautiful vistas and amazing restaurants

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Two things made me want to check this place out: firstly, it was one of the few places on Vancouver Island that was supposed to have good restaurants (according to Yelp), and I judge places by how well they eat. Secondly, two friends of mine, a married couple, had been here about ten years ago, and had loved it, and insisted I needed to make sure I saw it before leaving the island. My friend Tom came with me — it was a four hour drive from where I was staying, and both of us agreed that Tofino was amazing! Next time I come this way I’ll rent a place there for an extended stay.

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(Above three pictures taken by Thomas Malone)

Wolf in the Fog: best new Canadian Restaurant, 2014 Tofino, B.C.

I found this restaurant via Yelp, and only after eating (and we were beyond happy) discovered how acclaimed it was. We ate like kings for $32 US/head (no wine).

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I found this very small restaurant on Yelp, but the location for it is completely wrong, as in the opposite side of town; so, I kept having to ask for directions in order to find it.

I HAD tried to call them, but I got an answering machine asking me to leave my name to ask for a reservation and they would call me back — don’t think so. So we walked there (Tofino isn’t a very big town), and arrived around 6pm. At first the hostess didn’t want to seat us. I however gave her my, “I don’t take no for an answer” body language, and she asked if we would be willing to sit upstairs — which is where I would have wanted to be anyway as it has the better view. When we arrive we were almost the only ones up there, and ended up at a corner table with a view of the water… perfect.

Once we had ordered, the place started to really fill up, and when we left at around 6:45 there were a line of people waiting to get in. We overheard one group of hipster types talking about how this was their third day in a row coming here, having something different every time, and they intended to come again the next day.

For dinner, We shared a chopped kale & grains salad, with nuts, seeds, freshly made cheese, & camalina oil dressing $12 CAD ($9.36US); (the image is of the 1/2 serving)
It was VERY tasty and amazingly filling. Fact is, just 1/2 of that would have sufficed as a light meal.

For my main I had cod cheeks (yes, all fish have cheeks, and they are considered to be delicacies), with clams, saffron, tomato and sofrito $16 CAD ($12.49 USD) — there was an undeclared in the menu dollop of what I think was mayonnaise on top of the dish, which I assiduously had to remove (my liver is not currently healthy) — otherwise the dish was very flavorful and I have no idea why they felt that they had to add the fat.

Tom had the grilled cornish hen with yogurt, farro, cauliflower, lemon and olives $32 CAD ($24.98 USD), all I am going to say is he was making little moaning noises as he ate it

For desert, on the suggestion of the folks sitting next to us, (who seemed like maybe they were locals — they said this was the best place town)….  we shared a butterscotch brûlée with caramelized white chocolate and raspberry gelato (I had one spoonful and Tom ate the rest) $9 CAD ($7.02)

Above 2 pictures taken by Thomas Malone