My Mom and Me at Niagara Falls Circa 1950
Some time before my brother was born in April 1951, my Mom, Dad and I went for a couple of days to Niagara Falls, which is just a few hours from Cleveland. This was before the Interstate Highway System made such trips routine. At the time, my Dad had a 1949 Mercury Coupé which had precious little room behind the front seat. I must have sat on my mother’s lap in those pre-seatbelt days.
I remember taking a ride on the Maid of the Mist of that era and getting splashed by the falls as we approached them. As I recall, the above picture was shot at a park opposite the falls on the Canadian side.
Yes, this was my first foreign jaunt, at the tender age of five or six. During all my years in Cleveland, the only trips we ever took were to:
- Niagara Falls
- Detroit to visit one of my mother’s distant relatives (and that included a visit to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village)
- Schoenbrunn, Ohio—the first pioneer settlement in the state
- A flight one summer, at the age of fourteen, to West Palm Beach, Florida where we stayed in nearby Lake Worth
As my horizons broadened from my extensive reading, not only of books but of maps and atlases, I felt increasingly claustrophobic living all year round in my home town. So when it came time to choose a college, my preference was for out of town, even though I did apply to Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) if all my preferences rejected me. My preferred choices: Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Harvard kept losing my transcript. Yale accepted me without a scholarship; and Dartmouth and Bowdoin both offered full scholarships.
The Sunken Garden at Victoria, BC’s Butchart Gardens
I have over twenty thousand photographs stored in the cloud at Yahoo Flickr. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write about, I just scan through some of my older pictures. This time I decided to look back ten years. My vacation that year was to Seattle and British Columbia. The pictures of me at that time showed me to be much heavier, probably close to 230-240 pounds. Now, thanks to diabetes, I am closing in on 200 pounds.
The pictures of Martine show her to be much happier. Ever since 2013, when she started complaining of back pain, she has been less willing to travel. The last good trip we took together had been in 2011, when we spent three weeks in Argentina and Uruguay. There was a period of several years recently when she has been depressed and made several attempts to live elsewhere on her own. Lately, she has been less depressed and even laughed on occasion. Still, she has let her passport expire and shows no interest in traveling abroad any more.
Probably Canada has been her favorite foreign destination, to Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, and particularly New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
My favorite destination in the trip we took ten years ago was Butchart Gardens just north of Victoria. Both Martine and I love botanical gardens, and Butchart is a world-class place for people like us. My favorite part is the Sunken Garden, which used to be a quarry. It took nine years to convert the five acres of disused quarry into a faerie-like collection of beautiful flowers, trees, and shrubs. And, because we are much farther north, the nature of the plants is so different from what we have in Southern California’s Mediterranean climate.
Aboard the MV Lady Rose in 2004
I have always liked Canada. While we were losing our minds and preparing for a second Civil War, Canada remained itself—calm, reasonable, sane. One of the highlights of my 20014 trip to British Columbia was an all-day cruise from Port Alberni to Bamfield and back. The Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound extends for many miles of isolated houses and logging camps, many of which were supplied by the packet freighter MV Lady Rose. I understand the ship is no longer being used for that purpose. On the plus side, she is at Tofino awaiting restoration at Jamie’s Whaling Station.
There is something about small ships that intrigues me. In Argentina, I took the Modesta Victoria on Lago Nahuel Huapi to Los Arrayanes National Park. The Modesta Victoria was built around the same time as the MV Lady Rose, though in the Netherlands rather than Glasgow. The Modesta victoria has recently celebrated 75 years of navigation on Lago Nahuel Huapi, which sits in the foothills of the Andes in Argentinian Patagonia.
The Modesta Victoria at Anchor
My day cruises aboard both ships were among the highlights of both vacations. The Alberni Inlet was lovely, abounding in bears and other wildlife. And the Modesta Victoria’s cruise to Los Arrayanes was spectacular. It is said (though probably this is a myth) that the orange trunks of the Arrayanes trees were the inspiration for the forest in Walt Disney’s Bambi.
Totem Pole at Cowichan Center, Duncan B.C.
The first vacation I took with a digital camera was to Seattle, Victoria and Tofino (both on Vancouver Island), and the city of Vancouver. One of the highlights of that trip was a visit to Duncan on Victoria Island, roughly midway between Victoria and Nanaimo. The city bills itself as “The City of Totems,” mostly because of the large number of totem poles created by the Cowichan First Nation. At he time (2004), there was a very active visitor center with a restaurant containing Cowichan delicacies and even a program of native dancing.
On that particular vacation, I was traveling alone. Five years later, I repeated my itinerary from 2004. One of the biggest disappointments was the Cowichan visitor center in Duncan. Over a period of five years, neglect had set in. Many of the buildings, including the restaurant, were closed. It seems as if the center were re-positioning itself as a conference site for hire. I guess the economics of using the center as a tourist destination in 2009 were a bit prohibitive. I can only hope they make a comeback: On my first visit, I really liked the place.
Another Cowichan Totem Pole at Duncan
The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas was an expert on the early art of the tribes of the Northwest. His book Primitive Art (1927) attempts to explain how the totem poles functioned in the cultures of the various tribes. It’s a difficult read, but like many difficult reads, eminent worthwhile.
A Cruise on the MV Lady Rose in 2004
I am thinking back to a daylong cruise I took in 2004 between Port Alberni on Vancouver Island and Bamfield and back again. The little packet freighter we were on, the MV Lady Rose, is no longer in service, built was a fun ride. The Alberni inlet is a wild place, with dense forests, a few logging camps, lots of wildlife, and very few roads, if any. We saw bears along the edge of the inlet.
Vancouver Island in British Columbia is one of my favorite travel destinations, from Victoria to Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Ucluelet, and especially Tofino. There is one place in Tofino I always wanted to stay. During the month of January, powerful lightning storms assault the Pacific Coast of the island; and the Wickaninnish Inn just south of Tofino is an ideal place to watch all the action. It costs a bundle of money, but it would be worth it.
Failing that, the Tofino area is rich in things to do and places to see, including temperate rainforest hikes, whale cruises, and boat rides to watch bears feeding along the numerous islets surrounding the town.
In the past, I stayed at the Whalers on the Point Guesthouse, a better than average youth hostel within easy walking distance of restaurants and the Tofino Bus stop. (I do not like to rent cars when I am traveling alone.)
This Used To Be a Quarry
Everyone knows that gardens always look their best under bright sunlight. There is, however, one garden that looks great even on a rainy day. I am referring to Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, British Columbia. There is something about the plants there that shine in all weathers. When in Los Angeles, I love to hang out at Descanso Gardens, Huntington Gardens, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the South Coast Botanical Gardens—but none of them hold a candle to Butchart Gardens.
The only garden in North America that I could conceive of as competing with Butchart is in Nova Scotia at Annapolis Royal: The Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. Perhaps it has something to do with both gardens being more in the temperate climatic zone. In Los Angeles, at certain times of the year, even the most beautiful plants can look a little dusty and bedraggled.
Sign at the Garden Entrance
I have visited both gardens twice, and I love both of them. But then, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there are other great botanical gardens of whose existence I am not aware. As much as I have traveled, I have seen only little bits here and there. Martine and I went to Annapolis Royal to see the citadel, not even knowing of the garden’s existence. The citadel is nice, but the gardens are spectacular.
View of Quebec Skyline from La Citadelle
One of my favorite cities in North America is French-speaking Québec. Martine and I have visited it twice, once staying in the city itself and once at Lévis, a short ferry ride across the St. Lawrence. It is a wonderfully walkable place, with spectacular views, fascinating little museums such as the old Ursulines’ Convent, and delicious French Canadian food. It is surrounded by 17th century ramparts which can be walked in several hours.
Many of the buildings along the St. Lawrence waterfront are built to resemble 17th century buildings, though they were built much later. There is even a funicular to take one from the waterfront up to the level of the city.
My Favorite Restaurant in Canada
To enjoy Québec to the fullest, it helps to be able to speak some French. Like the Parisians, the Québecoises appreciate it when visitors try to meet them at least halfway. Even when they speak perfect English, some of the residents will pretend not to, especially if they have reason to think that tourists are being ugly Americans.
One of my favorite restaurants in Canada is Aux Anciens Canadiens in the Old Town. Check out the menu, which comes in French and English. And enjoy your caribou and Canadian maple syrup tartine with cream. If you don’t mind having dinner late in the afternoon, lunch prices prevail until 5 pm.
In the weeks to come, I will name some of my other favorite cities around the world.