Being a tourist in your own backyard, whether it is getting reacquainted with an area or discovering a new one, touring locally has some great advantages. We decided it had been a while since we last played tourist in our backyard, more specifically, downtown Seattle Waterfront and Pike Place Market. What better way to kick off a holiday weekend and enjoy a Friday afternoon.
We parked in the garage for the Bell Harbor Conference Center and hoofed it to our first destination, Pike Place Market. After strolling up upteen flights of stairs, we weaved our way through the crowds to Post Alley looking for substance (lunch.) We settled on Italian at LoPriore Bros. Pasta Bar. I ordered cheese tortellini and my husband had a humongous meatball sandwich. Delizioso! We sat right at the bar where the cooks entertained us while preparing the meals. Our bellies stuffed, it was time to say, "Addio" and explore.
I heard something about new improvements at Pike Place Market, I just didn't know what, so I had an excuse to explore, to find out what was new and what hidden gems the market had to offere. We looked for nooks and crannies to venture into while enjoying what is traditional about Pike Place Market.
When visiting Pike Place Market, a must see, is the famous Pike Place Fish Market and the throwing of the fish. Get your phone ready, video is best and wait for it.
To the left of the Fish Market was a small hallway that looked like a dead end, it's worth scouting because a door leads you to a lush rooftop garden. Operated by volunteers, this rooftop garden grows food for local food banks. But the garden is also a great place to relax, enjoy the waterfront vista and the coming and goings of the Washington State Ferries.
Next we meandered through the main part of the market, enjoying the wares of the artisans, food vendors, and the flower vendors. When we reached the north portion and was back outside we walked to the park, I still had not located what was new or different. When I turned to look back at the market I discovered its newest gem — Marketfront, a beautiful 30,000 sq feet addition. In the middle of the hubbub of a busy farmers market was a place to gather, appreciate the view, and enjoy a beautiful Seattle day. A worthy reminder of why we live here. I had to learn more and discovered there was a lot more to this area than just a beautiful space, there are 40 units of low-income and senior housing, and includes seven working/living spaces for artists. There is also Market Commons, a center with social services. The covered space provides year round space for local artists and vendors to introduce their work to the public. It was worth the trip.
It was time to journey back down the upteen steps and walk along the waterfront, enjoy ice cream by the Seattle Wheel, and people watch. What better way to spend a beautiful Seattle Afternoon and be a local tourist in our own backyard.
I didn't know what to expect when we signed up for the Forbidden Tour of Vancouver. On the Forbidden Tour website, they advertise, Discover Vancouver's Forbidden History. It mentioned opium dens, booze and prohibition, mobsters and corrupt government officials, and more. The tour sounded intriguing. The tour started at 7:00 p.m. and not being familiar with that part of Vancouver we arrived early to find parking and a snack before start time.
We were told to meet in Cathedral Park on the corner of Dunsmuir and Richards Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C. A park called, "Cathedral Park" sounded heavenly, after all it was across the street from a church. Instead, this run down park occupied by pigeons, seagulls, and vagrants was anything but heavenly. Our tour was starting off in a seedy location and in a not-so-pleasant part of Vancouver. It turned out to be the perfect setting and location for a tour about the seedier side of Vancouver and its history.
The Holy Rosary Cathedral, was the starting point of our tour. Built in the late 19th Century it was heralded as the largest building in the area. Today it still stands proud only it is now dwarfed in size compared to the buildings surrounding it. You can read more about its history on their website. And check out the photo of the church on their website with the nice fountain, that is a photo of Cathedral Park but that is not what it looks like today.
Our history lesson started before Vancouver was Vancouver. It was formerly New Caledonia, a district of the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Vancouver Island was under British rule and the queen decided she wanted the mainland too, so out with the old (Hudson Bay) and in with the British Empire. The Queen did not like the name New Caledonia, she wanted something more British, so they combined British with the largest river, the Columbia, and the area become British Columbia. In 1871, British Columbia accepted Canada's invitation to join them and became a province of Canada.
Built during the time of the Gold Rush, The Victoria Hotel was one of the first. You can read some its history on their website, but what they don't tell you was the real reason people came to the Victoria Hotel, it was the Saloon.
Our tour guide showed us a photo of the saloon and took our imaginations on a journey of the what it was like back then, mostly the smells. I will spare you the details and just say the floor was covered in sawdust everyday, sometimes more than once a day.
Today it is a quaint hotel and one of the oldest remaining hotels in the city.
Our next stop, the Permanent Building, originally known as B.C Permanent & Loan Company. Opening in 1907 as a bank, it was also the first building in Vancouver to get electricity. Built of thick walls, a tunnel for bringing in the gold, and in the 1930's was guarded by a machine gun, is now an Event Center and used in movies and television shows. Built in the heart of the city, this prominent building played an important role in the growth of Vancouver.
Charles Marega, the sculptor who did the lions on the Lions Gate Bridge was involved with the work in the interior.
We moved on to the Dominion Building, once known as the tallest building in the British Empire. Built in 1908-1910, in the heart of Vancouver, its Beaux-art style and flair was popular during that time period. Partially financed by Alvo von Alvensleben, the son of a German Count, who amassed a fortune of $25 million, some of the materials purchased were from other companies he owned, including a steel factory, making this one of the first buildings built from steel.
The company that built the Dominion Bulding, the Imperial Trust Company, found it difficult to raise the full $600,000 needed to complete the building. A plea and a bond was issued with the citizens of Vancouver, but soon they had to arrange a merger with the Dominion Trust Company, whom assumed ownership of the building, but they too failed.
What was supposed to be the future of Vancouver and a symbol of hope, proved not to be the case with the collapse of the real estate boom.
Read more about Alvo von Alvensleben, he lost it all and ended up in Seattle.
Soon, we found ourselves in an alleyway, rats scurrying from dumpster to dumpster, the pungent smells of an alley, and as our guide progressed with the story, you could almost feel the history surround you.
The alley was once referred to a 34 Market Alley. This important alley was a hubbub of activity and shops for the Elitists (the rich people). But it was also home to opium dens and Blind Pigs (speakeasy's) during Prohibition, run by mobsters and other nefarious characters. Aghast at what officials saw happening in the opium dens, Canada created its first drug law.
We meandered just over the line in Chinatown where Aman told us about the riot that killed around 200 people. Read more about it in the Drug War and Market Alley article. We then finished our tour in Gastown at Blood Alley and Gassy Jack's statue. Blood Alley got its name from the butcher shops that supposedly resided there but that's just a myth. Today it is filled with swanky restaurants. Read more about Blood Alley on Forbidden Tour's website.
John 'Gassy Jack' Deighton opened a bar. Gassy Jack's name came about because he was a talker and those that talked a lot were called, Gassy. With very little to his name, he talked local sawmill workers into building his bar in exchange for all the whiskey they could drink in one sitting. Twenty-two hours later, a bar was erected. The rest, they say, is history and a neighborhood called, Gastown.
Our seedy tour of Vancouver ended 2 1/2 hrs from when we started. Our guide, Aman, was entertaining, filled our heads with fun and educational facts, and guided us through the shadier history of Vancouver. Today, the city is everything and more than what its original founders dreamed off. Its beginnings gave it a foundation and helped shaped its future. There are still seedy sides to it, but then that is what gives it character.
If you are a history buff, or even if you are not, this tour should be on your list of things to do in Vancouver. Visit Forbidden Tour's website for more information and check out their other tours, I might have to sign up for the Art Deco and Chocolate tour next.
Every year, we look forward to the Anacortes Arts Festival the first weekend of August. Three days packed with entertainment, food, and art.
Anacortes Arts Festival is one of the largest art festivals in Washington state. With around 400 booths of some of the best artists around, three stages of music and entertainment, entertaining street performers, a children's section that will keep the kids busy for hours, and better than your usual fair food, and introducing the Food Truck section on 7th street. Most visitors have only a full day to enjoy the festival, but for locals, we get a full weekend to be entertained.
If you are visiting, here are a some MUST SEE — 1. The Juried Art Show a the Port Transit Shed, located at the north end of the street in the Port Building. 2. The Working Artist section (right before the Juried Art Show), you can watch some of the most creative artists at work. 3. The Street Performers, most have been involved in the festival for years and they are well worth stopping to watch. 4. The Music on the stages. Kick back and listen to Jazz, stomp your feet to some blues, dance to some great rock, pound away with some of the best drummers around.
No matter what you like, the Anacortes Arts Festival has it all.
There is nothing quite like a Sunday drive on a summer day. The Explorer inside of me occasionally needs to go forth and explore. To visit somewhere never visited.
This Sunday drive, we decided to head north, to leave the country, to visit one of our favorite places—Canda. But on a hot summer day we wanted to avoid the crowds in Vancouver so we headed east. We took the scenic drive from Bellingham, through the farmlands of Lynden and Everson to cross the border in the small town of Sumas.
The line to cross the border is right on the main street of Sumas. With a forty-five minute wait time, we had not much else to do but look outside the car window at downtown. Sumas did not have much going for it. Most of the buildings were run down or closed. The only businesses that seemed to be thriving is the Shipping/Mailbox business. There is quite a number of them within a few blocks of each other.
Once we crossed into Canada, being Americans and from Washington, our first priority was to stop at Starbucks. We were in much need of a bathroom break, a cold drink, and a snack.
We headed east on Hwy 1, our destination was the area just north of Harrison Hot Springs, but a sign on the highway caught our fancy and we immediately took the next exit. That's the good thing about Sunday drives, there is never a plan, it can be impulsive and adventuress. The sign was for Cultlass Lake. We looked it up on the map. It is nestled in the hills of the Northern Cascade, right by the U.S. and Canadian Border. Next to the lake is an Ecological Reserve. It sounded peaceful and quiet.
Our first clue it may not be quiet and secluded, was the large Water Park and Amusement Park by the lake just as you approach it. Swarms of people were enjoying the hot weather on the rides. Business was booming at the various ice cream shops. And cars were parked wherever they could find a spot. We traveled on, hoping the further south we went, the quieter it would get.
We finally found a parking lot to pull into. It was quite large and quite full, but luckily we found a spot right away. It was late afternoon and on a Sunday, how busy can it be? As we descended down the hill and caught our first glimpse of the lake and the beach, I was shocked at how crowded it was. And noisy. People were everywhere. Boats were zooming around the lake at full speed. Children were yelling. This was not a quiet spot to stop and contemplate Mother Nature and enjoy nature's peaceful existence. And the smell! Instead of fresh mountain air and nature's divine floral aroma, the air was filled with gas fumes from all of the toys on the lake and lighter fluid from all of the bbqs.
We strolled around a bit, but we weren't exactly dressed for a hot day at the beach. And the noise and smells did not encourage us to kick back and stick around. After a few photos and a quick stroll, we decided to get back into our car and head home. We wanted to beat the traffic before all of those people left the park.
It may not have been a quiet day, but was an adventure. We found some new places to visit and enjoy in the more off season. The country side around Chilliwack and Vedder River was a beautiful place to take a drive. The farmlands interspersed with towns was a nice mix of old and new. Next time we visit, we may explore the Vedder river more and the hillsides. For there will be a next time.
It was the late nineties when we first visited Tofino on Vancouver Island. All I really remember about that trip was the highway from Parksville to Tofino. I remembered being mesmerized by the beauty and the transformation of the landscape as we crossed the island from east to west.
Now, almost twenty years later, we set on the road from Parksville to Tofino again. Flashbacks of memories hit me as we start the journey. We take Highway 4A out of Parksville and no sooner do we leave Parksville do we come to the small town of Coombs. I remembered from years past the goats on the roof. Only this time the roof was without the goats. They are still there, just not out on this day. Oh well, time to toodle on.
It's 33 km to our next stop... Port Alberni.
This time we made a point to at least make a brief stop at Port Alberni. Downtown and Harbor Quay were a bit of a drive off the highway. When we got there, the wind was kicking up a bit through Alberni Inlet, making for a chilly walk along the waterfront. For a Saturday, the downtown area was sort of quiet. We did a quick stroll and then resumed our trip back on the road to Tofino.
The trip years ago was in April and one of the things I remembered most was a river along the highway just before you descend down the mountain range to Tofino. We had stopped suddenly then to see why so many cars were pulled over, it was because the river was roaring over large boulders. It was an amazing site. This time we made a point to watch for this location, we found it, only the river was more somber since the water level was low. Still we pulled over, snapped a few photos, snacked a little, then carried on.
Back on the road to Tofino.
Soon we are winding down the highway with Kennedy Lake on our right side. Spots of the road are narrow, the cliffs lush with vegetation and fairly close to the car. As we reach the junction of the highway where left is Ucluelet and right is Tofino, we stop at the Visitor Center for a bathroom break, a map, and a park pass for the Pacific Rim National Park. We opt for the Beach Walk Pass., after all we are only in the area for an afternoon. The Beach Walk Pass is only good for 4 hours (plenty of time for our excursion) and is only valid for parking lots at Long Beach, Kwisitis, and Wickaninnish.
This must visit area is located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and is a magnificent piece of Mother Nature's artistry. As you turn right on the highway to Tofino, the sides of the road are blanketed with heavy forests of tall trees, These heavily occupied rainforests have withstood time and Mother Nature's stormy abuse. You can't help but be in awe of their strength and their endurance.
We turn left on the road that leads to the entryway to Wickaninnish parking lot. From the parking lot it is a short hike through the brush, which suddenly opens up to a expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. The tide was out and the sandy beach beckoned us to stretch our legs and crashing waves called us to venture closer. With seagulls flying overhead, squawking as they flew, the waves crashing to shore, and the beauty of Mother Nature at her best, we were in heaven. You cannot help but feel at peace in these surroundings. Breathing in deeply, stress vacates the body and soul, leaving you relaxed and quiet.
We strolled closer to the waves, attracted to the surfers trying to catch a wave worth surfing. Camera in hand, I am mesmerized by the beauty of the area, the surfers, and the reflections in the sand. A photographer's paradise.
Finally our stomachs decided it was time for food, so reluctantly we left the beach and headed into Tofino in search of a nourishing meal. The town had grown considerably since we were there last. Surf shops and store fronts line the main street as we entered town. It was a bustling Saturday but we were lucky and found a parking spot. Before we could discover the town we needed nourishment. We stopped at the Rhino Coffee House for lunch and coffee. The food was good, the service was friendly and quick, and with our bellies full we could now walk around town.
Businesses catering to the many visitors now swarming this small community are intermingled with its old history. The town had settle into a comfortable accord between maintaining its history, the fishing and marine industries that created the area, and the growing new industry – tourism.
It was time to head back to Parksville, our time in Tofino coming to a close. But we had one more beach stop we just had to make. It was a beach recommended by a local. Located outside the Pacific Rim National Park it does not require a pass. As we drive out of town and back to the beaches, we first make a pit stop at Chocolate Tofino, after all we deserve a treat. The place was packed with chocolate lovers. We purchased some chocolate and a Gelato, then carried on to Chesterman Beach. Located in a residential area, parking is only available on the street or a parking lot located just as you turn on the street. The parking lot is complete with restrooms and a shower for the surfers to watch off the salt and sand. The friend who recommended this beach was right, it was a great beach to visit. When visiting somewhere, always ask the locals where they would go, they always know the best spots.
Though I disliked the idea of leaving this little slice of heaven, we needed to hit the road for the 2 1/2 hr drive back to Parksville and we had one more stop to make. When you are heading on Highway 4 from Parksville to Tofino, just outside of Coombs, before Port Alberni, is Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. On our way to Tofino, we didn't stop at Cathedral Grove because the parking lots were full. Instead, we stopped on our way back. It was evening, close to dusk, and I was glad we had waited. With less people around, it made for a more quiet and spiritual connection with the forest as we wandered through its paths.
Cathedral Grove's network of trails take visitors on a journey through time and awe-inspiring wonder. Towered by ancient Douglas Fir trees, the oldest around 800 years, we are reminded of the amazing beauty Mother Nature offers and why it is so important to preserve it. If you quiet your mind, you can hear the quiet sounds of this majestic forest as it settles in for the night.
This was our last stop on the Road to Tofino and back again. It made for a long day, but it was worth every minute.
Short Stories of passion, of life, of people.