May 26, 2017

We have just had the annual May long weekend to commemorate Victoria Day here in British Colombia so we took the opportunity to take a four day weekend trip to Vancouver Island and the picturesque city of Victoria.

Victoria is really a beautiful small city with loads of character.  Originally settled by the British, it has a really old world feel about it and as it is set on a harbour it is a little like Sydney.  There are loads of old cobblestone streets and beautiful old pubs.  Victoria is the capital of the province of British Colombia so it is where the provincial government buildings are.  We did a wonderful tour of the Legislative building and learnt a little about the Canadian government which is very similar to ours in Australia.
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How to Get There

There are a number of ways to get out to Vancouver Island but our mode of transport was car which with three kids always makes life easier.  From our home in Vancouver we needed to get to the ferry terminal in Tssawassen which is a 45 minute drive south.  We then boarded one of the BC Ferries that takes you direct to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.  The trip is a 90 minute beautiful ferry ride that is for both cars and foot passengers – it really is a pretty and scenic trip through the gorgeous gulf islands.  As we knew the long weekend would be busy we had pre-booked our ferry trip but on a regular day you can just rock up and get on board the next ferry out – make sure you do check the timetables though as I have head some nightmare stories about long delays!  Once we arrived in Swatz Bay we were straight off the ferry and on the highway to Victoria.  The drive is an easy 35 minute trip and you are in the centre of downtown Victoria.

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What to do

The city of Victoria is relatively small so it is very easy to do so much on foot!  We arrived around lunch time on Friday so we headed straight to Chinatown and the famous Fan Tan Alley.  Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in Canada.  The area is full of history and great little shops.

On day two we headed off on foot once again through the centre of downtown via Trounce Alley and Bastion Square and along the harbour foreshore, passing the Fairmont Empress Hotel for a quick visit and on to the Parliament Building.  After our short 40 minute tour of this beautiful building we continued our walk around the foreshore to Fishermans wharf where we enjoyed some lunch and watch the seals entertain the crowds. 

After spending time at Fishermans wharf we then caught the local ferry back around to the main part of the harbour before wandering back to our hotel.

On day 3 we borrowed the bikes that the hotel provided and had a lovely morning out cycling on the Galloping Goose Trail.  This trail goes for 55km but we just took a short ride which was the perfect morning activity before heading back for lunch.   In the afternoon we jumped in the car and took a visit to Craigdarrock Castle – an amazing home that was built in the 1880’s by one of the wealthiest men in Victoria.

For our final stop we took a drive to Fisgard Lighthouse which is the oldest lighthouse on the west coast of Canada.  This lighthouse still guides ships daily through the Straight of Georgia between the US and Canada – one of the busiest waterways in this part of the world.

On our final morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then watched some of the annual Victoria Day Parade that was taking part in Douglas Street.  After checking out of our hotel at 11am we then jumped back in the car and took a drive along the coast from the Victoria Harbour all the way to Cordova Bay.  The views back to the Olympic Mountains in the state of Washington were just stunning.  For our final stop we headed in to the seaside town of Sidney for a quick visit and to grab some lunch before heading to back to catch our ferry home.

Such a beautiful weekend with plenty to do but also plenty of relaxing!  The weather over the weekend was the best we have had during our 4 and a half months here in Canada so this made the ferry trip home just stunning as well!

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 Where to Stay

We stayed at the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza Hotel.   We had a family suite that was the perfect size for us as it had 2 double beds plus a pull out sofa.  One of the beds was in a separate room and the other beds all in the main living area that also had a kitchen.  Having stayed in some tiny rooms with our family of 5 this felt spacious and comfortable.  The rooms were clean and well looked after and the staff were so helpful.  The hotel was located in Johnson Street in downtown.  The location was great and convenient for everything we wanted to do.  

Where to Eat

We had some great meals while visiting Victoria including a delicious Tapas meal on Trounce Alley at Botega.  We also ate lunch with the girls at Fan Tan Cafe in Pandora Street in the heart of Chinatown – yum! Another great dinner was at The Bard and Banker on Government St.  Our lunch at  Fisherman’s wharf was at The Fish Store.  There was also a great cafe at the start of the Galloping Goose Trail that was perfect for a refuel stop!  

After dinner each evening we took a walk along the harbour.  There were loads of street performers that took their jobs seriously and drew big crowds!  It was great fun and not only enteraining but also the best place to watch the sunset!  Magic.

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So as you can see we had a fabulous 4 days on Vancouver Island.  If you are planning a trip to Canada definitely add it on to your itinerary!

 

May 24, 2017

Our next adventure while living here in Canada was to the Sundance Dude Ranch in the interior of British Columbia – about a 4 hour drive north east of Vancouver near a town call Ashcroft. this part of Canada is known as being the dessert so not too much rain out here!

I had never heard of a Dude Ranch until we moved here but let me tell you they are loads of fun – absolutely perfect for families!  We headed to Sundance with 4 other families from Sienna’s school as well as my mum who arrived from Australia two days prior.

Sundance is a family owned ranch that has been handed down through the generations.  They have 120 horses on the property so each day they host two 2 and a half hour rides over the wonderful countryside in and around their property.  They carefully match you with a horse that suits your ability (in our case novice) and then your group of 7-10 riders each out with the wrangles for a magical few hours in the fresh air.

We were at Sundance for the 4 day easter break and as you will see in the photos the weather was sunny but still crisp as we needed to wear our jackets out while riding.    All meals are included in your stay which means there is nothing to do but sit back and relax and enjoy!  As we had 6 of us sharing for this trip we asked for two rooms that were adjoining and we also requested one of the larger rooms.  If you do head to Sundance ask for the Rodeo King room and the attached Tack room – perfect size for a family.

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May 10, 2017

Week Two of spring break saw us take a trip to the lovely seaside village of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.  This part of Mexico is sort of like what Fiji is to Australia – lots of resorts along the beach that serve all the food you can eat for one inclusive price as well as lots of poolside and evening entertainment – FUN!  It think we were the only Australian’s at the entire resort which made us a real novelty!  

We stayed at the Rui Jalisco – the rooms were clean and neat and big enough for our family of 5.  The food was plentiful but dare I say as is the case in most of these mass produced hotels very ordinary – there were 5 restaurants to choose from so we did not have lack of choice but you did have to  visit various restaurants to find the “good” things.  Alcohol was also part of this package so you had access to the bar 24/7 – I suspect they make the alcohol different in Mexico as it was incredibly watered down and I think we only saw one intoxicated person the entire stay!

The entertainment team was fantastic and had everyone involved in various games from square aerobics to zumba to bingo to beach soccer and volley ball.  The Mexican Pool Party that they held one afternoon in the main pool was so much fun – bubbles and floaties! What more could you ask for (see the photo below)  Every evening there was a different themed show and every night was “excellente”.  The kids really had a ball and were involved in lots of different things.   

Apart from plenty of relaxing, swimming, reading and of course eating, we did leave the hotel on two occasions to do some activities.  Our first outing involved a trip to a small local village to see how they live, meet the locals and play with a piñata before heading to a rodeo with traditional mexican games, horse riding, bull riding, dinner and dancing with the mariachi band.

Our 2nd outing was to celebrate Sofia’s 11th Birthday at the local water park where we swam with the dolphins – an amazing experience that the girls will remember for ever.

 We really did love our time in Mexico – the girls have voted it better than Fiji or Bali (I am still stuck on Bali as one of my favourite places in the world).  A big dose of Vitamin D was definitely needed after a Canadian winter and this place did the trick!

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April 4, 2017

We have just had the girls first Spring Break holiday and while the Canadian version of spring is a little different to ours in Australia it provided us with the opportunity to learn to ski as well as take a really fun trip to Mexico.  

Today the skiing part!  The girls have never been on skis and Emilio and I had attempted the odd weekend of skiing 30 plus years ago so we were all total beginners.  

We have such amazing access to ski resorts from our home in Vancouver and after a bit of research we decided that our mountain would be Cypress Mountain.  It is a 35-40 minute drive from our house and we can even see the mountain out our windows from home!  

We booked for 4 days of morning lessons – unfortunately the Vancouver weather decided that it would return to rain during that week.  It didn’t make for the best conditions to learn in however it did mean the ski slopes were a little quieter!  

As to be expected the girls just got straight out there and after 4 days the instructor had them on the blue runs.  Emilio was doing well and could manage to get down the green runs while I was still on the beginners slope!  

We have been back again this past weekend and I am gradually getting better but just a bit too fearful of getting up too much speed and losing control!  Persistence will get me there however and I will get myself down a green run this year!!!  The weather was beautiful and sunny this past weekend so it was a lot busier but still fairly quite compared to some resorts!

With the ski resorts having had the best season in 10 years we hope to be able to get out there at least once more before the end of season!  Here are a few snaps from day one and this weekend just past.

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