vancouver island day eight: nanaimo, qualicum beach, parksville

Our final full day on the island, we did a little of everything. We drove through different areas of Nanaimo, went into more bookstores, went food shopping to make a simple dinner at the house, and drove a little further north to the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Parksville has a beautiful library ("has a beautiful library" drinking game?). In a bakery there, I made a random compliment about the very nice place and the nice town, and the person behind the counter raved about living there. Parksville and Qualicum Beach both have beaches, with waterfront motels and condos. I would have thought these towns were too upscale to have affordable rentals, but I saw several places online.

We've been talking a lot about, if I was a librarian in one of these towns, where Allan might work, and where we could live, and I've been looking at rental sites and job openings. It seems that while we were out here, Vancouver Island has moved from idea to intention.

We drove to the ferry, to see where it was, and how much time we would need the following morning. On the way back, M spotted a bald eagle; we got out to watch and take pics. Such a thrill to see those magnificent birds. Also we didn't wake up at in the middle of the night to do it. (Same people, two years earlier.)

* * * *

Tomorrow we take the ferry, a bus, and the SkyTrain to the Vancouver airport. M&M will head back to Victoria, see Butchart Gardens, stay one more night, then take a different ferry, and go to Olympic National Park. We've all had an amazing time together!

Sometime not that long ago, I wrote about how, when you're young, you don't know -- and can't imagine -- the shape your life will take. This trip is the perfect example.

First, when we lived in NYC, I never would have taken a vacation with another couple. We never had enough time off. Time out of the City was super-valuable, and we wouldn't have spent it with anyone else. Now we actually have enough time off -- paid time off -- that we can do this and still have a family vacation with a dog later in the year. This isn't accidental -- more time and money to travel was a factor in my career change -- but still, I didn't see it coming.

Second, my relationship with my brother has changed radically (although I think gradually, over time). (He's reading this... but he knows it's true.) This is awesome and amazing, and not something I could have predicted. An earlier version of me and him would not have done this, and certainly not done it so well.

Third, when we first moved to Canada, we didn't consider the west coast, as my mother lived in New Jersey. Now my mother lives in Oregon! Talk about not being able to predict your life! Even two years ago, on our first trip to Vancouver and Oregon, we weren't dreaming of moving west.

* * * *

Our photos from this trip are here. I haven't broken them up into smaller sets, as the number of photos seems more manageable than usual.

PS: Insect warning on page two of above Flickr set. Stop at parrots.

PPS: I was concerned that the trip from Nanaimo to the Vancouver airport would be grueling. It was super easy. It sounds like a big deal -- boat, bus, train -- but it's actually quite humane, even with luggage.


vancouver island day seven: chemainus, ladysmith, nanaimo

Poor Allan, the only non-morning person in our little group, being faced with three high-octane coffee drinkers every morning! In Chemainus I let him sleep in a bit as we had breakfast in the hotel.

I've been emailing frequently with both the NDP search committee and the riding association, as the nomination meeting is being set -- and also discussing with Allan and M&M when to tell members and management.

After breakfast we drove around Chemainus for a bit. We saw a lot of beautiful homes with view of both water and mountains; saw a funny gingerbread house with crazy topiary; and saw one small library in a poor location. This was the only disappointing library on the whole trip -- although it was closed (Sunday), so perhaps during the week it's more vibrant? But the location was terrible, a well-kept secret.

A bit further on, we visted the town of Ladysmith, whose claim to fame is that the 49th parallel runs through the town. There's a monument and some history markers, but more importantly, there's a beautiful library, a playground and park right on the water, and several buildings that appear to be rentals. Ladysmith is a definite possibility.

After Ladysmith we reached Nanaimo. I can’t decide if Nanaimo feels like a small city or a giant sprawl. We found the central library, the Harbourfront Branch, but it opened late (Sunday), so we had brunch at a nearby place in the little downtown. The library was beautiful and in a great central location. There was a beautiful quote from Dr. Seuss on a wall near the entrance.

I spoke to staff here. Everyone seems so genuinely happy. In the Greater Victoria Public Library, the staff is all CUPE. In the Vancouver Island Regional system, the front-line staff is CUPE, but the librarians belong to a separate union, which is province-wide, and represents a hugely diverse group of workers, with 550 collective agreements! That is some serious bargaining power.

We immediately saw that there are many rental possibilities in Nanaimo, but I'm not sure if it's a place we'd want to live. Maybe a place to work, and live near?

With some difficulty, we found the AirBnb, a sweet ground-floor apartment in private home. After a rest, we drove into the old city quarter for dinner, an amazing authentic Greek restaurant. Have I mentioned that people are insanely friendly here?


vancouver island day six: mill bay, duncan, chemainus

After breakfast, we packed up and said a reluctant goodbye to this cozy spot -- mostly the deck with the view -- and headed north on the Trans-Canada Highway, towards Nanaimo. Allan and I drove on the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland, so we've been on the easternmost and westernmost points. To a lover of road-trips, that sounds like a challenge...

On the way north, we stopped at a scenic lookout with a totem and some interesting information about it. In the town of Mill Bay, we popped into small library branch tucked away in a shopping plaza. It's about the size of one of our small branches in Mississauga; the Vancouver Island Regional Library considers it a medium branch, meaning six permanent staff. (There are some very tiny branches on the north island.) I was very taken with this lovely library in Mill Bay. I can totally see myself working there.

Further down the road, we found the town of Duncan. It was Saturday, a busy market day. We hunted down a vegetarian restaurant Allan found in the guidebook, which turned out to be housed in a converted garage, along with a bookstore and some other shops. There was a huge lineup to order organic, vegetarian food -- and it was worth it.

Duncan is a totem city: there are 80 totems scattered throughout the little downtown, often in groups of three, with information about the carvers and the totem's meaning. Painted yellow footprints lead you on a self-guided walking tour of them all. This was a nice way to see more of the town.

There was also an outdoor market with all home/handmade local goods -- wine, honey, mushrooms, woodworking, weaving, jewelry, and so on, and a historic train station that's been converted into a regional historical museum.

Slightly outside of the old, walkable part of town, you're back on the Trans-Canada, with all the big-box stores you could need. We stopped in to see the world's biggest hockey stick (currently with a memorial for the hockey team that died in the bus crash). I thought that might have been our first "Canada's World Largest..." site, but we've stopped at the big apple in Colborne several times, on our way to Vermont -- not for the apple, but to pick up a pie to bring to relatives. I believe in September we'll see the Sudbury Nickel. (By the way, I have no real interest in purposely trying to see any of these things. More UNESCO world heritage sites, please.)

The hockey stick, however, is attached to the Cowichan Valley Community Centre, which is beautiful, and includes a library.

I am kind of in love with Duncan. I recently learned that a friend's mother lived there for many years. Upon hearing we were there, my friend practically swooned: "Oh, Duncan! I love Duncan..."

A bit further down the road, we found the town of Chemainus, where we are staying. This road-trip has our full range of accommodations: cutesy B&B, cozy lakeside cottage, AirBnb house, and chain hotel. In Chemainus we headed straight to the Best Western Plus. At the entrance, there was a water bowl for dogs, dog treats, and pick-up bags! Swoon!

Our $140/night rooms turned out to be suites. The rooms were across the hall from each other, each with sitting areas and full kitchens. We found this absolutely hilarious and wonderful.

Although this area is (supposedly) known for restaurants, wineries, and cheesemaking, we didn't find many good choices for dinner. (This is not the first time I've written that in this short travel diary.) We went to a brewpub with lots of local beers and a few local wines. I think everyone in Chemainus was there.

After dinner -- you guessed it -- we drank wine and talked in M&M's suite, mostly figuring out what to do next. I looked up librarian salaries in collective agreements.


vancouver island day five: sooke

Breakfast at the Arbutus Guesthouse was a bit strange, but the lakeside view more than compensated. We went for a walk on a spit with great views of an inlet and snow-capped mountains in the distance. People were out with their dogs, lovely big dogs and some crazy puppies.

We drove around the main street area, and went into some shops. First, an antique store owned by an extremely long-winded man, who asked, "Where are you folks from?" then told his life story. I quickly ducked out, and made for a jewelry store with work only by local artists, and a gallery in the back for local painters and photographers. I was drooling over the jewelry, and managed to escape with only two pairs of earrings. (I had also bought some very inexpensive bead bracelets at a thrift shop in Sidney.)

Between the antiques and the jewelry was a gift shop with all kinds of lovely local work. We bought this: a Canadian flag motif with a dog paw instead of a maple leaf. We chatted with the owner, who -- like everyone else we've spoken to here -- loves life on the island. He said he used to be a world traveler, loved to go everywhere, but since moving to VI, he hasn't been "off island" in seven years.

It was April 20 -- marijuana day -- and the local dispensary had balloons and signs out front.

We had lunch at the 17 Mile Pub, a local landmark. We had stopped in the previous night, but they were very busy and couldn't do a takeout order, and we had wanted to stay in. But while we were waiting, we had a good look at the decor -- all anti-Maple Leaf (the hockey team) stuff, ragging on the team and its fans. An excellent, friendly pub... unless you're a Maple Leafs fan.

After lunch we drove around Langford and Colwood, which can only be described as burgeoning suburbs. Sprawl is on the way. Townhouses and condos are under construction everywhere, and we saw a Walmart and Canadian Tire, the first we've seen on the island. Where is everyone coming from? Mississauga's growth is from thousands of newcomers -- our great strength -- but I don't think immigrants are flocking to Vancouver Island. Who is buying these townhouses?

We also drove around some older areas with old single-family homes. At least half of them had an RV in the driveway.

We tried to scout out a place for dinner, but didn't like any of the choices, so went to a local grocery store and an SDM and got a ton of junk food. And more wine. Another fun evening.

Sooke is beautiful, but feels really remote and rural. It seems too far away from Victoria for a sane commute, plus it will soon be on the edge of sprawl.

Today I learned that I that my nomination meeting is scheduled for May 6. The writ drops May 9.


happy birthday to me

We interrupt this retroactive travel diary to wish me a happy birthday.

I have been alive on this planet for 57 years. I am now, as they say, "pushing 60". Not sure how that happened, but I'm feeling pretty lucky to be here, alive and kicking.

My life is full of love, meaning, and challenge. I'm not struggling financially and am up for new adventures. In my book, this means I have it all.

vancouver island day four: downtown victoria and to sooke

After our last lovely hot breakfast at the Beacon Inn, we hit the road to downtown Victoria. It was much closer than we imagined! It's amazing how quickly you are out in the country or small towns here -- very little sprawl.

Completely by accident, we ended up parking right near the Victoria Central Branch. It is beautiful -- huge, airy, and seems progressive. I spoke to some desk staff, as I did in Saanich. We chatted with a customer in the children's area, a young dad who described himself as a "connoisseur of libraries," who visits all the branches with his son. Dare I say, staff and customers seem happy.

Allan brought a list of used bookstores on this trip, with the intentions of finding them all. Sidney was great for used books; it actively promotes its "booktown". But little did we know what was in store for us in Victoria: Russell Books.

What can I say about Russell Books. Allan says it's the eighth wonder of the world: "Pyramids at Giza, Machu Picchu, Russell Books". It was without a doubt the most astounding used bookstore I have ever seen, and that includes New York City's The Strand.

We walked around a bit, saw the the Parliament buildings (Victoria is the provincial capital of BC), and the famously beautiful harbor area, full of flowers. On a tip from a library worker at the Central Branch, we hunted down the brand-new James Bay branch. It opened recently, built in mixed used condo-retail space. I'm guessing developers built this library in exchange for some kind of easement. It is tiny, both in space and in collection. The official name of the branch is sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəx James Bay, using the Lekwungen name for James Bay. This is a great idea, until you see the tiny space and completely gentrified area.

On a tip from a friend, we had lunch at the amazing Redfish Bluefish. If you go to Victoria, this place is not to be missed. The kitchen is housed in a converted shipping container, with seating and counters on a wharf, right in the downtown harbor area. They serve some of the freshest, most delicious seafood you have ever eaten. Check out the menu, as well as their story and commitment to sustainability. We arrived early and as we were eating, a huge queue was forming.

We didn't spend a lot of time downtown, but it was great to see the Central Branch of the library. Our next stop was Abkhazi Gardens, our concession for not visiting Buchart Gardens. We had "elevenses" tea on the patio, and a stroll through the gardens.

After that, we hit the road for Sooke, to the west of downtown. We also hit quite a bit of traffic, and could see this is a congested commuter path. Once past the traffic, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere -- heavily forested, narrow roads, lakefront cabins. But you can also see the early signs of creeping development.

We had booked two rooms at the Arbutus Cove Guesthouse -- two bedrooms, a kitchen and a large common area, and a deck overlooking the lake. We were absolutely in love with it.

We hopped down to a liquor store for local wines, beers, and snacks, then spent the evening on the deck until it was too cold... then... yes, stayed up late talking and drinking wine. Lovely.


a note about vancouver island

Vancouver Island has several regions, but the first division is between the south island and east coast, as distinct from the north island and west coast.

The south island is home to the Greater Victoria region, Nanaimo (the second largest city on the island), and many smaller towns and population centres. The gulf islands are also off the east coast, in the Strait of Georgia, between the island and mainland British Columbia.

The north island is almost all uninhabited -- there are tiny villages, some aboriginal territory, and much preserved wilderness area. The west coast, with the exception of a few surfing resorts, is made up of Pacific Rim National Park, beaches, and rugged, uninhabitated coastline.

I was disappointed that on this trip we wouldn't see any of the north island or west coast. But we had one week, and the trip had a purpose. We resolved (at least I did!) that if we move out there, after we get settled, our first vacation will be north and west, and hopefully with M&M, too.

vancouver island day three: sidney and saanich peninsula

The B&B had self-serve coffee starting earlier than breakfast, but for guests whose internal clocks are on eastern time, it was a long and painful wait! I watched the clock until I could get that first cup.

We had our first breakfast together -- another amazing breakfast -- and talked about our plans. We decided to skip the most famous attraction in the Victoria area, Butchart Gardens. (Excuse me, that's The Butchart Gardens.) It's very expensive, and Allan and I don't really care about gardens. Even gardens people have told us would knock us out, didn't do anything for me. Especially as it will cost more than $60 for two, and when the main purpose of the trip was to look at potential places to live.

M&M are very accomplished gardeners -- actually Master Gardeners, which I didn't know was a thing -- and they definitely wanted to go, but they would have one day after we left, before they leave for Olympic National Park. So that worked out very nicely.

We drove around Sidney, and mostly saw huge homes with views of the harbor. On the cab ride from the airport, we saw nice neighbourhoods of single-family homes and some townhouses, but we never found an area of Sidney proper where we might live.

We drove into Saanich, which was much closer than I thought. In this area, we saw lots of buildings with "no vacancy" signs -- which means there are rentals. The area was very suburban, but looked much more appealing than where we live now -- more green, less concrete, fewer strip malls.

We visited the other big area attraction (although nowhere near as famous as those gardens), a butterfly garden. It was actually a tropical ecosystem with parrots, iguanas, flamingos, and tortoises. It was beautiful and fun; Allan took a ton of pictures.

After leaving the butterfly garden, we stumbled on a sweet little cafe-bakery where we had lunch: Rustik Bistro. This was the kind of place that immediately endears a town to me forever. It's someone's independent shop, not a chain store. It's spacious inside, with mismatched chairs, reading material, and a funky infographic on the wall. The bakery sells bread and pastries baked right behind the counter. They have an interesting breakfast and lunch menu, and it's not overly expensive.

It's the absence of these kinds of places that make Mississauga depressing. That might sound strange; you don't choose a place to live because of a cafe. But it's not the bakery itself: it's being in a place that supports this kind of shop, and many more like it. On the west coast, I've always found more of this. There are still chains -- you can find Tims and Starbucks -- but those are just options. They don't dominate the landscape.

At Rustik Bistro, I had a beautiful, perfect salad for lunch. You have no idea how happy a perfect salad with lots of stuff in it makes me. We were sharing desserts, and Allan was disappointed that the old-fashioned, plain donuts he had seen behind the counter were gone. Then the host came out with a plate of them, fresh from the fryer, and put them on our table as a treat. Amazing.

Driving around after lunch, we happened on the Nellie McClung branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library -- a lovely, small branch full of natural light. There are rental buildings nearby, what appears to be an abundance of public transit, and it's not very far from downtown Victoria... where perhaps Allan could work. (For non-Canadians reading, Nellie McClung is Canada's Susan B. Anthony. I never believe in signs and omens... until I do.)

So this area was suburban, but it gave me a much better feel than the ugly sprawl of the GTA.

For the last few days, I had been waiting to hear from the Ontario NDP if I had been approved to seek the nomination. Back in our rooms, relaxing, I finally heard that I was cleared: it's a go. Exciting!

Later on we thought we'd spend for time on the main drag in Sidney, but everything was closed. It was only 6:00! OK, things close early here. Instead we walked on that waterfront trail. It reminded us of Port Credit, where we first lived after moving to Canada. We stopped for drinks, which turned into a tapas dinner.

My notes say: "We are having a great time with M&M. My brother has become obsessed with a free half-pound of smoked salmon that someone is supposed to give us for being guests at the hotel."

Then -- wait for it -- we stayed up late talking and drinking wine.