Continued from last post…
Thursday, August 22. Victoria, BC.
9:00am PT: We depart for the “world famous” (according to Greg, the tour guide) Butchart Gardens. I, for one, have never heard of it. What’s the requirement for being world famous anyway?
The place is about an hour’s worth of beautiful flowers. Unfortunately, we are there for two hours. Barb fills the time by taking photos of each bloom individually. Meanwhile I think about Canadian money. I did a post recently about how the U.S. loses money on pennies and nickels, so I was interested to notice that Canada has done away with pennies entirely. However, they have no paper money below $5, and I can’t get used to buying something for, say, $1.60, handing the guy a five, and getting all coins as change: a $2 coin (called a “toonie”), a $1 coin (a “loonie”), a quarter (“queenie”), a dime (“dummie”) and a nickel (“nicker”).* My pocket is jingling terribly, but whenever I decide to get rid of some of the coins by using them to pay for something, I feel like it’s taking me too long to sort through them all and I get embarrassed. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way; there are some fountains at Butchart Gardens into which people have dumped pocketfuls of coins. Their wishes probably came true, assuming they wished that they could get rid of all the damned coins.
The paper money is weird here, too. You can see through some of it. The $20 bill is two strips of paper on either side of a transparent plasticlike substance. I’m sure this is an anti-counterfeiting measure, but it makes the money seem fake. On the other hand, if you want to look at someone without being obvious about it, you can pretend to be closely examining your cash.
12:30pm PT: We have lunch “at leisure” at a place called Swans, which Greg has recommended as having “the best nachos I’ve ever tasted.” He’s a good tour guide, bad gourmet. We wash down the dried out, overcooked nachos with bottles of Kokanee, a local beer Greg has recommended. It tastes kind of like the ice beers that were a fad in the states last century.
After lunch, we walk around Victoria. Judging from the souvenir shops, I’d say that Canadians have an odd relationship with their national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which are, apparently, no longer mounted. They fired most of their horses in a cost-cutting move, and also because it was difficult to catch up to speeders on the highways. I mean, these guys are essentially Canada’s equivalent of the FBI, and the stores are selling stuffed animals in Mountie dress uniforms. It’s almost as if Canadians think of the RCMP with a degree of ironic bemusement, like the English think of the Royal family and we think of Congress.
By the way, the RCMP has attacked this perception head-on by limiting the ways in which they can be depicted. They’ve even hired an outside firm to oversee the use of their image: Disney Canada. Really.
Another popular product in the stores here is jewelry designed with something called ammolite, which is made from fossils called ammonites, which I had thought was a quaint religious sect, like the Amish. The fossils are of long-extinct sea creatures, and they are apparently mined solely in Alberta, and every shop has them. They’re pretty and all, but who wants to wear a prehistoric clam on her finger?
7:30 pm PT: Dinner “at leisure.” We eat at a restaurant called Nautical Nellie’s, and I have their “world famous” steak and mushroom pie, even though I, personally, have never heard of it.
On the way back to the hotel, we pass a busker (street musician) playing bagpipes. There’s a sign by his feet that says “All proceeds go toward my wedding in 9 days.” If that’s true, it’s not going to be much of a wedding, because he doesn’t have many tips. No one wants to give him money and encourage the bagpiper to keep playing.
One thing that’s tough to get used to here is that cars will stop if anyone is even nearing a crosswalk. And then the drivers kind of get angry if you pause too long because you’re from New York and you don’t really believe they’re not just waiting for you to start to cross so they can mow you down. Plus, how do I know the driver is from Victoria? What if it’s a rental car with some foreigner who doesn’t know he has to stop? Somebody from New York, perhaps.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve jaywalked many times since arriving because I refuse to stand on a street corner waiting for the light to change if there are no cars coming, even if there are two dozen polite Canadians and cowardly tourists doing so. I guess I’m not the only one, because there was an article in the local paper in which a driver asked the “driving expert” (really!) if she has to stop for jaywalkers. It concerns me that she thought there was an alternative.
To be continued Tuesday, September 10…
*Kidding about the quarter, dime and nickel. Sadly, not kidding about the loonie and toonie.