Victoria

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I was gone for a week to the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Victoria, B.C., Canada. Which was a lot of fun, a bit intense, a bit of a mixed bag in terms of learning stuff. But I’m glad I went, it was my first time. This national conference is held biennially (counting Canada as the 51st state, of course!), and the past two times when it was in Philadelphia and the Twin Cities, I couldn’t make it.

There were quite a few people at the conference from the Bay Area, so we hung out a lot together. “Why can’t we hang out more like this when we’re home in the Bay Area?” asked one of my friends, rhetorically. We’re all too busy, to spread out . . . and no one wants to organize it. C’est la vie.

The beauty of the conference being held in Victoria was that I got to stay with my cousin Florence and her family. Valerie, her younger daughter is quite a character. Ramona Quimby come to life, but she is probably spunkier, has more creative ideas and is always asking questions. She’s also very fond of gelato and sushi. Vanessa, her older sister, is more reserved, but very active and involved at school. They’re both taking ballet, amongst other things.

The highlights of Victoria? Nanaimo bars and the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Nanaimo bars are sort of like a Boston cream pie in bar form: top crust of chocolate, with a vanilla pudding based center, and a brownie with coconut type layer. They’re found in most cafes and bakeries; I think it’s a Vancouver Island thing.

The Royal BC Museum is always worth a visit for 2 permanent exhibits: the First Peoples Gallery, a stupendous collection of artifacts of the Haida and their brethren, whose strong sense of identity are reflected in their art. One of the neatest things they made was the bent wood box, where the four walls of the box were formed from bending a single plank of wood. Outside the museum, towards the rear, was Thunderbird Park, with many First Peoples totem poles.

Then there’s Modern History Gallery, a recreation of turn of the century town and industries you can walk through. (what Disney’s Main St would aspire to be, were it a purely educational endeavor.) There’s a train station, complete with the whistling of the chain. A Chinese grocery store with salt fish. A salmon cannery.

Back in 1997, Joe and I made our first visit to Victoria in the summer. Vanessa had time to hang out with us and be our tour guide. “I don’t want to go to Butchart Gardens, because I’ve been there too many times and I’m tired of it,” (fortunately we had been there already) “But I like the Royal BC Museum so much, I’ll go with you guys if you want, even though I just went there two days ago!”

But to top it all off, the Royal BC had a special exhibit of ancient Egypt, with artifacts brought over the British Museum. I’m a big fan of ancient Egypt. I actually saw this exhibit when it was at the Legion of Honor Museum in SF two years ago, but it was a rushed and crowded visit. I was glad to check out it more leisurely.

The Tuesday of the conference week I was supposed to be at a local coordinators meeting that was posted to start at 8:30 AM. But alas, at 9 AM, I still couldn’t find the meeting (its location, nor any fellow attendees), so I went to the Royal BC Museum instead. The closing night reception for the conference was also held at the Museum, but when you’re there to eat and mingle, you don’t really have time to check out the exhibits properly. Plus there’s that funny feeling of eating in a museum, it’s like eating in a library, a deliciously naughty feeling of rule-breaking sanctioned.

One other thing I wanted to mention is the Trackside Art Gallery in Esquimalt, which we got see on a walking tour as part of the conference. Different businesses and professional artist mentors sponsored youth artists through the auspices of RockSolid to create art on billboards that were displayed along railroad tracks. Professional graffiti, so to speak. It was really impressive. Check it out as an edgy counterpoint to the English high-tea and double-decker bus of your Victoria experience.

Outdoorsy stuff: I did rent a bike and go biking along the Seaside Touring Route with a couple of friends. It was overcast and halfway through it started to rain pretty hard. I was clad in a jean jacket and a corduroy skirt (I hadn’t planned on going biking that day.) But what the hey, if I had worn jeans, it would have been more of a hassle in the rain. But it was enormous fun, I think more so because it had rained!

Florence and Valerie took me to Gyro Park, where there’s a beach and a couple of really cool play structures: a slippery dragon you can climb from head to tail, and a purple octopus. The thing about the beaches in Victoria is that there’s so much more driftwood, drift logs are more like it. I guess it’s the natural run-off from all the forests of Vancouver Island. (What’s up with the fact that the city named Vancouver is not on the island named Vancouver? These geographers make things so confusing.)

It’s quite unlike the beaches in California, where it’s mostly sand, and you pretty much plop a beach blanket anywhere. On a Victoria beach, you’d have to clear off quite a bit of wood to find a spot big enough to lie on. On the other hand, you can build much more than sandcastles with all this wood. We found a half-finished log-cabin assembled of driftlogs that would have been a dandy shelter on windy/rainy days. Pretty cool.

Rabbits: Florence and Valerie also took me to the student housing area of University of Victoria to show me the cute rabbits roaming the grounds. I think they were formerly domestic and release or escaped, and just multiplied. I saw more rabbits here in 20 minutes than I saw squirrels on campus at Cal. And they’re also very tame. Some of them are grayish black; some of them are white with black splotches (like dairy cattle). We had a fun time feeding them dandelions, which they came up to nibble out of our hands. My cousins sometime come and bring apples or carrots for them. Valerie wants some cuddly pets (she currently has fish), so I guess this is a good compromise, playing with them without having to maintain/upkeep them on a daily basis.

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