We Go Where Sister Wants to Go | A Day Trip in the Cowichan Valley

Cowichan Valley Kinsol Trestle Bridge View

Oh, man, guys. I don’t know how I let these things happen. It’s been nearly four months since my lil’ sis and I visited Vancouver Island. I’m just now getting around to posting. Sure, I’ve had other things going on, I’ve been working a schedule approximating something like full time (sometimes more, sometimes less depending upon the week), but mostly I feel like I’ve just been trying to sneak in as much biking, as many microbrewery visits, and Spanish classes as our schedules allow.

I promise, though, the fact that I let so much time pass before writing about this does not mean you shouldn’t make a point to visit this region of BC. (Alas, so much BC, so little time!)

Before visiting, Sister did some research, found some things she thought looked interesting, and told me she was leaning toward visiting Cowichan Valley. I’ll admit, I was caught unawares. I’ve heard of oodles of things to visit in BC, and this wasn’t really one of them. I even asked some Vancouverite coworkers who responded with, “Where?”

But when a visitor actually researches what she wants to do, I do not get in the way.

We hopped the Tsawwassen ferry to Victoria* and rented a car to explore the valley for the day. Sadly, just a day, but we made the most of it.

Early on we stopped a bit, so Midwest Gal #2 could meet the Douglas firs and moss of British Columbia.

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vancouver island tree

We continued north, making our way to the Kinsol Trestle. (From the parking area, hit the trail, turn left, and walk an easy mile to the bridge. It’s an impressive piece of construction and has been rehabilitated. There’s no doubt it’s safe enough for you to walk or bike across these days, but imagine loaded trains crossing these old wooden trestles years ago. Eek! The bridge really does make for a nice walk, a nice view, and a nice excuse to get out of the car.

The weather was chilly, so the sunny patches on the trestle were much appreciated.

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kinsol trestle cowichan valley view

kinsol trestle cowichan valley

kinsol trestle

Post trestle, the hour became nearly justifiable for visiting wineries. The Cowichan Valley is home to quite a few–far too many, I assure you, for just one day. You’ll have to do a bit of research and choose those that suit your wants the most. Or, you can just go to one and ask them about the others.

The gentlemen at Enrico Winery were chatty and had some good recommendations for things to do nearby and in Victoria. They also took a good bit of time to explain some basics about BC varietals to us. The owner (too much time has passed, I forgot her name) at Cherry Point Estate Wines is full of fun stories and lovely to chat with as well. Also, be sure to stock up on Lágrimas Negras and a bottle of the Solera dessert wine (a gift that the Mister thoroughly enjoyed). Finally, we visited Averill Creek, which has a wonderful view and terrace. Really, we should have picnicked there, but we were ill-prepared. Still, a lovely visit. Still several other wineries that could be visited on a second trip.

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cowichan valley

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Lavender!!

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cowichan valley averill creek

I know, I know, I said this about the Okanagan Valley as well, but Cowichan Valley really is a great place to visit wineries for people who aren’t well-versed in the lingo of wine. Asking questions was more than tolerated, it was gladly welcomed. Everyone with whom we interacted was very low-key and wasn’t concerned with whether we knew a lot about wine or if we’d end up buying a lot of it from them. It was nice. It was relaxing. It was worth  it. I’d visit again gladly.

Although winery visits took up the bulk of our Cowichan Valley time, we did manage to sneak in a lunch and flânerie time in Cowichan Bay (I recommend visiting the cheese shop and bakery for some foodie splurges) and a bit of time in Duncan (stop by the Garage–check out some used books and some delicious treats!).

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cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

the garage duncan

There’s not much in my guide books (why, yes, we actually do have a Frommer’s Canada) about the Cowichan Valley. I hadn’t heard about it, and it’s not typically on the top of bucket lists. But there was a good tourist time to be had nonetheless. This little day trip reminded me that nearly every place, if you look just a little, has a lot to offer.

Thanks for joining me, Sister. Thanks for joining me, reader. Next time we go to the Cowichan Valley, let’s all buy sweaters.

Duncan, Cowichan Valley*Seems like we really ought to have a direct line from downtown to this ferry without hopping SkyTrain to bus. On the way back, we were stuck at the ferry terminal without a bus for nearly 2 hours. Well done, transit planners, well done.

 

When You Need a Moment | Bowen Island, British Columbia

Snug Cove Bowen Island

I get antsy. It doesn’t take long either. It’s weird: I long to live in a place for longer than a couple years and really make it my home, but I also get extremely antsy. It had been approximately one month since our Okanagan getaway, and I’d had a brief escape to Steveston to run a half marathon (Thanks, Verena!), but I was still antsy. This blasted bougeotte, it really needs a fix. And when I’m saving my [already pretty generous and long-advanced-asked] vacation time for things in August and September, I need to find close escapes. Cheap escapes aren’t bad either.

Bowen Island fits the bill.

From Vancouver, you just get on the bus. Then hop the ferry. (Note: your ticket is round trip; there’s nowhere to buy a ticket on Bowen Island anyway). That means you’re spending only about 17 dollars to get here. That, folks, for those of us who don’t own vehicles, is cheap. And worth it.

Bowen Island

horseshoe bay snug cove ferry ride

We even attempted a boat selfie. We’ll work on our selfie focus in the future.

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The tourist’s Bowen Island is known for easy short hikes, kayaking, and paddle boarding. You’ll find all other requirements for the perfect day trip, including a couple nice restaurants with patios, ice cream, an adorable harbo[u]r with a couple quality restaurants. I, friends, recommend Shika Provisions, the healthy, rice bowl restaurant that practically greets you as you step off the ferry.

bowen island bc shika snug cove

From Snug Cove, it’s an easy walk to Killarney Lake, which comes complete with an easy loop trail for hiking (I say hiking, but this is more like strolling, to be honest).

bowen island killarney lake

The hike was full of giant BC slugs. These guys/gals are impressive in size and variety, but I did read that they are invasive and may be having negative effects on native slug and snail species. Still, I had fun finding them.

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Nerd, I am.

Our hike was certainly needed, but now that I’ve visited Bowen Island, I’m certain that kayaking would be a great way to see the island. I intend to return at least once before I no longer call BC my home. Maybe twice. Maybe thrice. All depends on that bougeotte.

bowen island view from garden

Celebrating 7 Years | Our Trip to the Okanagan Valley

This is how the conversation always goes. Someone finds out we’re married. They then lead with, “Oh, that’s nice. How long have you been married?” I now say, “About seven years.” Then I wait for the next question, which always comes with a strange bit of horrified face contortion and pity. “How old are you?/How old were you when you got married?”

There are two main factors contributing to this. The fact that I apparently look 18 (despite Canada’s 19-year-old drinking age, I am IDed nearly ever time I seek out a bottle of Cru Beaujoulais) and the fact that I “got married young.” Yep, I got married at the age of 22. It’s young. When I look at 22-year-olds, even I think, wow, that’s young to get married. Frankly, though, I’m tired of hearing about how incredibly young I was when I got married.

My life hasn’t gone much like I thought it would. I didn’t expect to be married at 22. I didn’t think I ‘d move to Tennessee. I didn’t think I’d ever really learn another language. I never once thought I’d live in a park in Argentina and spend nights camping with venomous snakes and days chasing after Chaqueño woodpeckers. I didn’t think I’d spend my days off pedaling on my bike to watch for seals. But I’m sure glad I have. And more importantly (and oh-so-sappily–deal with it reader, I only get one anniversary post per year), I’m glad I did it all with this fella.

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This year, we chose to celebrate our marital trip around the sun with a visit to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The valley is known for being a summer tourist destination, its orchard fruits, and its wines. Seeing as we were a bit early for the orchard fruit season and we were on an anniversary trip, we decided to visit a few wineries and take in a few good meals.

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Our winery visits over two days included Mission Hill (the obligatory Okanagan stop), Quail’s Gate, Poplar Grove Winery, and See Ya Later Ranch.

We started out at Mission Hill, a winery which leaves an impression, even if the impressee has visited Napa Valley and Mendoza in the last year. The views are beautiful and buildings ornate. It feels a bit overdone compared to the rest of the region, but thankfully casual dress and wine newbie questions are still welcomed. If you want to feel like you’re in Napa, go here. It really is worth the 12 dollar fee to join a quick tour and taste a few of the wines.

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Like good tourists, we took a lot of photos at our first stop.  After that, we pretty much let the camera rest in the rental car. Of the other wineries we visited, we really enjoyed Poplar Grove, for the view, for the wine, and for its eco-consciousness. See Ya Later Ranch, although highly recommended to us, had great views and probably some nice, pretension-free food (we went before the restaurant opened for the season), didn’t thrill us quite as much.

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Naturally, we made a point to eat well on our minication. Our first stop in Kelowna was at The Salted Brick. The Salted Brick is one of those places that offer charcuterie boards, cheeses, simple sandwiches on baguettes, soups, and salads. It seems like you can’t be a restaurant these days without having a charcut and cheese board offering. Trendy as it is, I am grateful for it. I love having these options.

Our other notable food-stop was our annual expensive-taste anniversary meal. We ate at Waterfront Wines Restaurant in Kelowna and although spending a pretty penny, greatly enjoyed our meal. The place has all that you’d expect from a fancy restaurant. The thing is, I did feel as though it was trying hard to be fancy, but seemed to fall just short in terms of atmosphere. Fortunately, we care more about the food. With the food, I found zero faults. Everything we ordered was well-cooked and spot on. Wild mushroom risotto, seared scallops. All delicious.

Unfortunately, our tiny table for two was next to a group of three academics still reeling from a just-finished dissertation defense. Instead of having a romantic anniversary conversation, we passed the meal holding in our snickers during their size-you-up competition thinly veiled as getting-to-know-each-other-outside-of-work chit chat.

All in all, we had a great time. If you’d thought you’d exhausted your North American wine regions, consider the Okanagan. The Okanagan Valley is such a low-key wine experience and definitely worth the drive from Vancouver. The drive itself is beautiful anyway. Ideally, I’d suggest making a three-day weekend in the Okanagan Valley, rather than cramming it into two days like we did.

Here’s to another year! Wish I could tell you I had some idea where we’d be celebrating year 8, but guess that’s half the fun 🙂

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Recommendations:

2 Days of Beachcombing and Eating in Tofino

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, I have a lot of “favorite” places. I can’t help it. Even still, I mean it when I say I’ve got another place to add to my favorites list. (Just for the record, while I am a list-maker and usually have written lists when I say these things, I do not actually have a “favorite places list” anywhere).

Tofino really is that beautiful. It really is that tranquil. And it even a quick two days there did feel restorative.

From Vancouver, we hopped a bus to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, hopped on for a very cushy ferry ride to Nanaimo, and picked up our rental car. Sure, even after this, you’ve got to drive 3.5 hours to reach Tofino. But the drive ain’t too shabby. There are beautiful lakes and old growth forests with big (I mean, really big) trees at which you can stop and marvel (or picnic) if you feel the drive getting to you.

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And then, all our traveling paid off. I ask you, how could Tofino not be in my list of favorite places? It’s got miles kilometers of beaches, both sandy and rocky, along the coast.

tofino beach

And then on the other side, there are more beautiful views with mountains, complete with snow caps (just not in this photo, ha).

tofino bay

On either side of the road just outside of town, you’ll find yourself in veritable rain forests with easy, well-maintained trails.

tofino hiking boardwalks

Then there’s the town. It’s not a big town, but it has everything your little tourist heart is going to need and much more than you’d expect from an average town of 1,900.

Tofino town

Our recommendations are basically the same favorites as everyone else who goes to Tofino for the weekend. We ate well–very well, frankly. We sampled kelp stout craft beer, filled up on fish tacos, ate amazing seafood chowders, and fought each other for bites of sticky toffee pudding.

All this can be done without worrying about traffic, without long waits, without worrying about having enough time. It’s glorious.

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When we weren’t eating our sipping, we were walking the beaches.

Many people visit Tofino for the surfing. We opted out. In our minds, we equated surfing with our first (and only) surfing attempt to date. That attempt could generally be classified as a failure. The waves were big, there were rocks and coral all over just, and the paddling was super hard. The mister likes to say that he paddled for about ten minutes only to look back and see that he hadn’t gone anywhere. This, to us, was surfing. Turns out that surfing in Tofino looks much more doable. And now, we kind of regret not trying/planning enough time to try. Ah, well, that’s our reason to return, right?

Still, if you don’t surf, the beaches are delightful. I turned into an easily excitable (think squealing with glee) beachcomber. I love looking for driftwood, spotting interesting shells or anemone, and admiring the sand patterns left behind during low tide.

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tofino beach

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tofino beach

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tofino beach trails

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tofino beach hiking

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tofino beach

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tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

Until we meet again, Tofino, until we meet again…

*****

Places we loved (everyone loves these places…):

Where we stayed:

Spring in Stanley Park

I know you want to believe that we only have rainy days in Vancouver. If you need to, I’ll let you believe so. But I have found our first winter here to be not only tolerable, but downright delightful. Sure, it rains sometimes. And I’ve been told that this was/has been an easy Vancouver winter. But I’d rather slip into my rain boats and toss the umbrella into my bag than wear leggings under my work pants, lace up my knee-high snow and slush boots, wrap a scarf, locate my mittens, pack my work shoes into my bag, force my hair into my stocking hat toque (this is Canada, after all), and sport a heavy coat just to be “sufficiently warm.”

During the last week, we have had some beautiful days. The sunshine peaks through the cherry blossoms and tall trees of the park to illuminate the trails, making for great springtime strolls.

vancouver cherry blossoms

vancouver cherry blossoms

stanley park trees

stanley park roots trees

trees stanley park

It’s crazy to see cherry blossoms, the imposing firs and cedars, and the beach all in one walk. I make my way to Stanley Park at least once every week, but it still hasn’t lost its charm. I really love the Western Red cedars, but as someone who grew up nearly smack dab in the middle of the continent, I geek out the most at the beach. Sure, I like the sun, but really, I’m after the sound of the waves, the barnacles, the driftwood, and the water birds.

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vancouver stanley park

driftwood beach

seaweed

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It’s quite a park, isn’t it, folks? Especially on those sunny days.

Seal-Spotting | Our First Vancouver Visitor and Skipping Town for the Day

lighthouse park, north vanouver british columbia sunset

We had our first visitor here in Vancouver. Considering we only had one visit (but two visitors–yea for my parents!) during our stay in Montreal, we feel that having already taken our tally up to one visit after a mere couple months in Vancouver is pretty good.

Leah was here for four super quick days. The time seemed to go so quickly. Unfortunately, Jordan and I both had some submission deadlines to deal with during her stay and I had to work two of the days she was here. Jordan and Leah spent one day visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (a funny choice for people who have a fear of heights) and the 49th Parallel Cafe. I’m now forgetting, but am pretty sure they also made a trip to UBC’s campus, so the proud brother could show his sister were he runs his algorithms and codes. 🙂

Even despite having to work, I managed to get in my fair share of coffees, second breakfasts, craft beer exchanges, and chats with Leah. That said, I pretty much failed to document all of it. Towing the D-SLR around is not always my idea of convenient fun and my camera phone is quite laughable. Leah, on the other hand, has a fair share of nice photos from her time here.

We got to show her our favorite haunts in Gastown,* slurp down huge bowls of shoyu and garlic ramen on Denman,** eat one of the best brunches ever (let us ignore the fact that it’s really only my fourth official brunch ever),*** and shop the vendors at Granville Island’s Public Market.

Fortunately, I did have one day free during her stay. The three of us rented a car and drove north, stopping in Squamish, Whistler, and Lighthouse Park. We had no specific plans, but simply wanted to see what we could. None of us ski, so that wasn’t really a draw, but none of us are immune to the beauty of the islands along the way and snow-capped peaks. And certainly, none of us were immune to the childlike joy that sweeps over a crowd of people when they start to notice the seals just out in front of them.

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Senior Pic:

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Following photo courtesy of Leah:

in village

British Columbia

Oh, these two together. It really is like old college times. But better. Because we drink better coffee and eat better food now.

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Meant so much to us that you came, Leah! Can’t wait until we can meet up again.

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*Alibi Room and Six Acres are our favorite haunts at present.

**Went to Kintaro Ramen.

***After a way-too-long discussion about where to get second breakfast on Friday, we decided upon Cafe Medina, a place known for its Mediterranean-inspired brunches. It’s hyped, for sure, and you’ll most certainly have to wait in line with us if you come to visit, but it’s actually that good. And I say this as someone who doesn’t even support the brunch phenomenon.