Victoria Discovered

City lights and ocean walks, craft beer, fine dining and endless dog parks, winter clothing as a fashion statement – Victoria discovered. Ray and I became snowbirds of the Canadian variety this past winter. We decided to start trying on Vancouver Island, more as a second home, then some time in the future our only home.

“You’ll miss the sunshine and the wide open skies” was the Manitoba refrain, and we did for sure. Rain replaced snow. Deep forest green and ocean blue replaced white. We did get snow a couple of times. Most notably, it snowed on Christmas Eve all the way through into Christmas morning, and then once again in February.  It was very exciting. Snowmen popped up everywhere and people were out shoveling the light dusting of snow at the crack of dawn.

Of course rain was more common than snow but not the kind of rain I imagined. I wore my rain jacket at most half a dozen times. Most days when the forecast called for rain it was actually just a light refreshing mist. The flowers I planted on the deck in January never needed watering, nor did they ever need to be covered or pulled inside. I would describe the weather as perfect hiking weather almost every day. It rarely dropped below zero at night and hovered around 4 or 5 degrees as a daytime temperature. Winter clothing is a fashion statement rather than a life preserver.

So what did we do all winter in Victoria?

Arriving a week before Christmas, our first order of business was to fill this empty void we’d just bought with something to sit and sleep on. Used Victoria is the buy and sell website for this city. We learned the city by driving around into different neighborhoods buying furniture from strangers. It was a hoot! Thanks to our son Rob, who lives just two blocks away and had to come home from work almost every day and clean out his truck, we were able to haul our days findings home. We scored an entire king size bedroom suite for $350. We bought a sofa that was too large for our space. After Christmas we put it back on Used Victoria and made $100. The futon we bought hurt our guests, so now it’s in Rob’s music room and we carried a new one down the street from the Thrift store. You don’t know how many things you need to set up a house, dishes and pots, knives and forks, towels and sheets – the shopping seemed endless. By Christmas the place was starting to feel homey.

The view from our condo after the snow

Our Condo

Our condo is located in Esquimalt, a separate town located adjacent to downtown Victoria and a pedestrians dream.  Winter in Canada can be an isolating season as the cold and snow drifts drive people indoors, but here the temperatures rarely dropped below zero. The sidewalks are always clear of snow and it’s just easier for everyone to walk than to drive. Our condo has a walk score of 80 and a transit score of 100. This means that 80% of everything we need to do is within walking distance, a normal persons walking distance.

Our first off-leash ocean dog park, Saxe Point is three blocks away. The next, larger and even more scenic dog park, MacCauley Point is  3 blocks past Saxe. Tucker and I got used to walking up the long pier here to look for harbour seals. They would follow the boats in, hoping for some fish scraps. If we were feeling motivated we could walk the Songhee Walkway. If we got tired, the water taxi could bring us most of the way home, dogs welcome.

Our location has a walk score of 80 and a transit score of 100. Groceries, restaurants, bakery, coffee shops, hairdressers, banking, medical clinics, library, antique shop, bike shop, motorcycle shop, gas station, laundromat, liquors stores, REC CENTRE (pool)  are all within 3 blocks of home. People walking everywhere all the time. Esquimalt is a walkers dream.

City Life

City Lights of Victoria

Coming from the wilderness hamlet of Pinawa, we really enjoy the city life Victoria has to offer. It is less than an hour’s scenic walk from our place to get to the downtown core, and a 10 minute $2.50 bus ride to get home. We spent way too much time in great restaurants, tasting craft beers, dancing to live music and browsing the many shops – especially the furniture ones. It was so much fun to dive into China town, find the best wonton soup and shop along the narrow and famous Fan Tan Alley.

New Years in China Town

Once a week Tucker and I would do the long walk. We could walk two ocean-side dog parks and the Songhee walkway. Tucker would usually get tuckered here, and we’d have to climb down to the ocean and rest on the driftwood for a while, have a snack and some water. We walked all the way through downtown, along the Inner Harbour and past Fisherman’s Wharf. Eventually we would finally arrive at Ogden’s Point, and the Breakwater. Ray would meet us there in the car where Tucker would settle in for a long and well-deserved nap, while Ray and I enjoyed a long and slightly boozy lunch at the Breakwater Cafe overlooking the ocean. Just writing about it makes me miss it.

We bought a membership at the Rec Centre and visited it almost every day. We learned to dance (about time) and went to Yoga and Aquafit classes. After my long walks I’d go for a hot tub soak and a steam to relax. These are the kinds of amenities city people take for granted, but are missing in Pinawa.

 

Hiking

So many dog parks!

I’ve hiked on Vancouver island my entire adult life, and yet I’ve only just scratched the surface. I joined a Facebook group called Hike Vancouver Island and posted a request for good dog hikes in the area. I’ll never get through all the suggestions, but I’m certainly going to give it a try. I do believe hiking with a dog will be more pleasant in the winter than the summer. Many trails and beaches are off-leash only in the winter months. The trails are pretty busy on a damp January afternoon, so I can just imagine the hoards of visitors in the summer.

My favourite trail close to home was Thetis Lake. It’s a 10 minute drive from home and a 7 km loop around the lake. There’s enough up and down to make you feel like you’re getting some exercise, and some great scenic spots to stop for lunch. Any trails in the Sooke area are just simply fantastic. Tucker and went off to Matheson Lake one afternoon. We found ourselves all by ourselves in the middle of the rain forest.  Just after Christmas we drove up to Ladysmith and hiked the Holland Creek and Heart lake trails. Heart Lake was frozen. We hiked down in a long suspended sunset, hoping to get back before dark. This is Canada and the days are still very short in December.

Cycling

Cycling off to a winery

The answer to traffic congestion in this city is the bicycle, no doubt about it.  There are cycle lanes on almost every major street and separate paved cycle paths everywhere. You can cycle the Lochside trail from Victoria all the way to Sidney and the ferry terminal. The Galloping Goose Trail will take you all the way to Sooke and the E&N Trail follows the train tracks. All these trails are well used.

Cycling on the streets takes a bit of time to get used to for a flat lander. Rarely is a road flat.  You’re either gliding effortlessly down the road, or panting and sweating up a hill. This got a bit easier every time we went out for a ride. We planned to cycle to Sidney and Sooke but never got around to it. Next winter.

First Impressions

It’s harder than you might think to pull up roots and move across the country. I feel incredibly lucky to have a home in two such diverse paradises: Pinawa and Victoria. I’m looking forward to a longer stay in Victoria next winter, but even more so to a summer with my friends, gardens and trails here. I have a sign in my front yard that reads “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” New friends are great, but the old ones are priceless. I think we’ll keep this snowbird thing going for a while.

 

 

 

Rented! Victoria Condo for Rent
Delhi, India

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