“That’s a classic photograph there, eh?” A bald man drinking scotch at 3 in the afternoon with tattoos on his arms, and a thick Canadian accent says to me. I’m snapping photos of a stair case that leads directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca—it’s waters splashing the stairs to say hello. Thick concrete walls, painted a faded turquoise with streaking rust stains line the stair case. I wonder why this stair case exist…it’s peculiar to me. It’s a sunny, warm, October day, and the water is incredibly inviting.
I ask him what this concrete platform we are standing on is, and he says, “Not sure.” I look behind and see a concrete wall extending about a half a mile along the water, I know it’s a dike, but I’m confused at what purpose the two sets of stairs that lowered me from the dike right into the water serve. He then says, “I do know that there were once entry points to tunnels that run below the city of Victoria. It’s probably where all the drugs came out of that were smuggled into U.S. during the 1900’s. Port Angeles was a hot spot for receiving all this illegal contraband and Chinese labor from Canada, you know, eh? You’re from Port Angeles right?”
“Yeah-yeah, we’re from Port Angeles,” I respond with, “We just took the ferry over for the weekend—and our ferry home is leaving in an hour. We’ve never been to Victoria, and have never heard about ships transporting illegal substances and humans into U.S. borders, that’s crazy.”
“Oh yeah, used to happen all the time, I think its calmed down now…but wonderful city, eh? I’ve been here my whole life, and I’m never leaving.” He says while sipping his drink with a sly smirk on this face. “What have you two done since you’ve been here?” Looking at Gianna and myself.
I turn to Gianna and ask, “What have we done…?” I get lost looking back on the whirlwind of the last 24 hours—from a 90-minute ferry ride across the Strait and into Canada, to biking through neighborhoods, to strolling around the city, to turning down alley ways, into coffee shops, restaurants, small shops, and night clubs—we’ve certainly done our best to get a feel for the city. Granted, a complete tourist’s snapshot of the city. It’s all been a blur of newness.
I realize I’m completely reminiscing in my head, and come back to the real world just in time to hear Gianna say that we unloaded the Black Ball Ferry, passed through customs and pedaled right to the British Parliament building to marvel at the 19th century architecture, rose gardens, sculptures, and murals that oddly exist just across the water from little ol’ Port Angeles.
We even biked by at night to see Queen Victoria looming in front of the lit up Romanesque Canadian structure, and that it was quite the site! We were so intrigued with this building (because there is absolutely nothing like this at home on the Olympic Peninsula), that we pedaled two miles in-land to check out the Craigdorrach Castle. A castle built in the late 1800’s by the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir during the reign of Queen Victoria. It hosts arches, columns, tall bands, stained glass, and cylindrical towers with conical caps. I tell him how we were disappointed it was closed, because the inside must be just as spectacular as the outside.
I realize as his eyes are glossing over because we’ve only told him things he already knows about his city…we both pause recounting the events of the past 24 hours. He smiles, “Like I said, wonderful city, eh. There’s no-where like here, I’m never leaving. You get coffee yet? It’s way better than Seattle’s coffee everyone talks about…”
“We sure did get coffee, and a pastry. I don’t think I’m quite serious enough about my coffee to say its better than across the water, but it sure was good.”
“You check out Beacon Hill Park?”
“Yep! We went there last night. The view of the Olympic Mountains was all time.” I smiled, remembering the bike ride from the night prior, as we slowly pedaled the bike path along the bluffs, and descended down onto the beach. The city fell away from us as a wide expanse of water shimmering with light, and our home—the Olympic Mountains—loomed in front of us.
“I’ve never been up in those mountains, I’d like to one day, but its hard for me to go anywhere.” He says as he takes another sip of his drink. He breaths out and asks, “What do you do for work in Port Angeles?”
Gianna responds with, “I’m an artist, a painter, and I actually saw a gallery here with work that I really like. It was so simple, and refreshing. I enjoyed it.”
He chimes in with, “Good for you, I’m sure you brighten everyone’s life with your paintings. I’m a butcher, you could say it’s an art form, only just a little bit darker than yours,” He says with a chuckle. I check my phone and see that it’s now 3:15, meaning the ferry departs in 45 minutes. We thank our new friend for the lively conversation, and helping us rave about our trip. We finally caught his name: Crane. While carrying my bike up the stairs, and onto the street I think to myself—Crane the Canadian—what a guy.
We start riding toward Victoria’s inner harbor, and pass a restaurant looking out over the water. It smells wonderful, the salt air blends with French fries letting me know that I must be hungry. We keep biking to catch our ferry, as I do my best to take in the last of Victoria B.C. It’s a city with so much history, it just feels old.
Almost a polar opposite from Port Angeles, but similar in that both places are built on the water and around the water. With a million people, it makes sense why there are so many bikers, local shops, art galleries, parks, and green spaces everywhere. It has a mellow vibe, like a million people don’t actually live here. But, it still features castles, tall buildings, and very modern condos. A group of bikers approach me, the one in lead has a big smile on her face, and says a happy, “Good afternoon!” as she flies by. The people we’ve met have been extremely friendly, open, and talkative to two American tourists. The city is easy to bike around, and there’s clearly so much to do: restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, shops, culture, dancing, bars, movies, history, art, and museums.
I spot a small boat with that signature yellow and black pattern of a taxi. I look out and see about five of them bouncing people throughout the harbor. This city is full of energy, but unlike Seattle, I see no one distracted by their iPhone, I see no one rushing. I wonder if this could also just be the fact that it’s a Sunday. We pass a dock that extends out into the harbor, offering fish, drinks, and cute little floating houses.
We board the Black Ball Ferry, and say our goodbye to Victoria’s majestic Inner Harbor. Sometimes you just have to leave Washington to go to another country…but dang, a $100 ferry ticket for two people with their bikes to travel internationally, that’s pretty good to come by