Friday, December 19, 2014

Visiting Victoria Via Suzuki Sidekick

This Thanksgiving (that's Nov. 27 for those outside of the U.S.) we decided to spend our holiday in Victoria, British Columbia, which is located on Vancouver Island in Canada. We were going to take the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata we had for review, however, the Pacific Northwest was experiencing color than normal temperatures with a possibility for snow. That combination of weather and a Miata on summer tires meant it was probably a good idea to leave the sports car at home and take something better suited to foul weather. Yep—the "Teal Terror" should do.

Day One: Getting to Victoria
We made the five hour drive to the Canadian border, zoomed through customs (behind a right-hand drive JDM two-door Toyota RAV4), and headed to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal on the very southwest side of the Vancouver metro area. Vancouver Island, which has about the same area as the state of Maryland, is only accessible via boat or plane and is about 40 miles from the mainland. There are a number of ferries that go to the island, but we opted for the Tsawwassen location, which is run by BC Ferries, and is one of two ferries that carry cars to the island.

For a standard vehicle and two people, the fare is about $86 CAD or about $74 USD each way. We paid our admission and were told to get into lane 32. I remember thinking, lane 32? How many lanes are there and how big is this ferry? I had hoped the Sidekick, with it's roof rack, would fit in the ferry. I had pictured a vessel that held about 50 cars. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The "boat" we were about to board, the Costal Renaissance, is 525 feet long, holds 1,604 people, and can carry 370 cars plus 32 semis. This thing is massive. What I thought might be a small skiff turned out to be a veritable ocean liner. And yes, the Sidekick fit with probably 10 feet of height to spare.

There are seven decks on the ship, two of which are dedicated to vehicles. Boarding is very cool. We were on the bottom deck. As you board, you drive into what is like a small warehouse. Car after car loads into the vessel with crew members directing you which way to go. You pull up 24-inches behind the vehicle in front of you, set your parking brake, and shut the car off. It was a totally different experience than anything I'd ever done before. The ship makes a constant humming noise, as cars, trucks, and semis carrying loads of steel, automobiles, gravel, and mining equipment find their spot for the one 1 hour, 34 minute trip to the island. It was a cool feeling to have your personal vehicle floating on the sea and headed for a new adventure.

Once underway, there are plenty of ways to pass the time. There are multiple restaurants and coffee shops; a gift shop; computer workstations; regular old seats; or you can make your way up to the observation deck up top (the seventh deck up!), which is where we spent most of our time.

To say the trip is scenic is to say that we were simply taking "a boat" to the island. The straits and islands are simply breathtaking. We had full sun, however, there was a ton of wind. No matter; the observation deck had a covered glass viewing area right at the front of the ship.

After an hour and a half, we arrived in Schwartz Bay and took the 30 minute drive to downtown Victoria. No camping for us on this trip. Rather, we stayed at the very nice Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort right on the water in Victoria. It was beautiful.

Day Two: Exploring Victoria By Foot

We spent all of Friday walking around Victoria. The city is extremely walkable with a European feel. There are all kinds of shops, restaurants and cafes; plenty to see and do. We lucked out and avoided any rain or snow this day. We saw the Parliament building, the Empress Hotel, and the waterfront.

One of the neatest things we found in Victoria were the little alleyways that run from street to street, especially through parts of Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada. These alleyways are not the dark and foreboding alleys one might want to avoid (at least they weren't during the day). Walk through the narrow passages and you'll encounter small businesses, residences, and restaurants within. While I have not been to China, I imagined that in some parts, this is what China must feel like; there were even people using old Chinese bicycles, which were parked outside of stores peddling Asian wares and foods.

Being that this is Subcompact Culture, where small is big, we have to mention that we went in the smallest shop in all of Canada: Smoking Lily. How small is this boutique? Mercedes estimates it to be 40 sq/ft—basically the size of a closet.

As you may know, we're big fans of sampling local beer, wine, and spirits (follow our "drinking feed" @TheCorkAndCap), and we found ourselves at a great little pub called The Churchill, which serves whiskey, beer, wine, and food. They had an impressive selection of whiskeys and more than 50 beers on tap; our kind of place. I settled on a pint of Salt Springs Brewing's Fireside Winter Ale—just the thing for a brisk November eve. Speaking of beer, it's nearly dinner time, so we decided to head over to Canada's oldest brew pub, Spinnakers.

Spinnakers Gastro Brew Pub was established in 1984 and brews up a host of beers and makes some great food. Highly recommended: The pulled pork nachos and Cascadia Dark Ale. Yes,we got a flight of beers, but the CDA was our favorite brew.

After an early dinner of beer and appetizers, we walked back to our hotel room. It was getting very cold and gusty, making for for an extremely brisk walk. Glad we had a couple of beers to keep us warm!

Day Three: The Drive to Nanaimo
The next morning we awoke to snow and ice on the ground, something Victoria apparently does not get too often. It also reaffirmed that we made the right decision and left the Miata at home. Today's trip would take us up to Nanaimo, home of the Nanaimo bar, a super-sweet desert that is available across North America, but originated in this small Canadian island town.

With the streets being somewhat icy, we locked the hubs on the Sidekick and headed north. The first thing we saw? A Mitsubishi Pajero Mini! What is this car? It's about the size of a Suzuki Samurai or Jimny, but it's a Mitsubishi. Unfortunately, the only photo we could get was this semi-pixielated version at the right. But it gives you an idea of the vehicle's size. Oh yeah, and bonus for capturing a Toyota Tercel Wagon.

By the way, it should be noted that Victoria is buzzing with all kinds of cool JDM vehicles. In addition to the Pajero Mini, we also saw scads of Mitsubishi Delicas, a few Toyota Hiaces, a right-hand drive two-door Toyota RAV4, a Subaru Domingo (pictured above), Daihatsu Hijets, Suzuki Carrys, and other neat rides.

Again, we were thankful we left the Miata at home, because we had to go through some snowy mountain passes, and the summer-tire-equipped Miata would have been a bad choice to drive to Nanaimo. The Sidekick did great, and we didn't need to use 4WD. The drive up the Trans Canadian Highway proved to be yet another spectacular venture.

We had an amazing brunch at Gabriel's Café in Nanaimo, and then walked across the street to get a Nanaimo bar. It was extremely rich, super sweet, and quite delectable. Nanaimo actually has a map of all the places in the city to get the confection that bares the city's name. Called the Nanaimo Bar Trail Map, the guide has everything from regular bars to deep fried bars, to Nanaimo Bar Tea Lattes.

We really didn't spend to much time here; it was more of a thing to get a Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo (that's so meta), much like getting German beer in Germany for the first time.

On the way back, we found out that Vancouver has wineries; something we didn't know before leaving. Not all of them are open, but the ones that are have limited hours. We stopped at Averill Creek and purchased a bottle. Then we stopped at Blue Grouse.

When we pulled up to the Blue Grouse parking lot, I spied another Sidekick! And while this might not look like much to the untrained eye, to the Sidekick enthusiast (yes, there are more than one of us), this was a bit of a "unicorn." Actually, it wasn't the truck so much as that roof rack. That is a factory-equipped Sidekick roof rack for the soft top models. I've only heard about them, maybe seen a photo or two of them on the Internet, and here was one right in front of me. It was a factory accessory and, as most factory accessories do, they fit perfectly. How cool?

We walked into the tasting room and I immediately asked whose Sidekick was parked outside. It belonged to a woman working the tasting room. Of course, I nerdjacked the conversation and started talking about her rack ... I mean, the Sidekick's rack ... and she was also into cars. It was cool to get the scoop on the truck and such. It turned out the other woman working the tasting room had a diesel-powered Toyota Hiace. I love Canada!

It was back to Victoria for an awesome dinner at Stage Wine Bar, which was jam-packed with people. We met the owner, who was extremely accommodating, and the bartender was a true mixologist. Highly recommended, just bring plenty of Loonies, as it isn't cheap.

The next day it was back to the U.S after stopping for an amazing brunch with friends in White Rock at Wooden Spoon. If you're ever looking for a place for grub in White Rock, B.C. this is the place to go. Try the Maple Bacon Bourbon Burger; there are few better burgers anywhere.

It was back to the ferry station, another loading, this time on the top deck. On the way back we met a couple of a guys where were driving a U-Haul from Vancouver to somewhere in Ontario. They said they'd be taking a lot of the roads we took on our summer trip to Canada. They said it'd be slow going due to the snow-covered roads. We drove these same roads this summer thinking how bad they'd be in winter. We hope they made it safely! Before we knew it, we were back in Washington State and headed back to Portland.

Victoria and Vancouver Island have a lot to offer, and we can't wait to go back. Hopefully we'll get to explore more of the island and experience more of the "island life." Maybe next time we'll bring our roof top tent and have our first Canadian camping trip. Can't wait!

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