The next day, we were driving to Jasper in the same weather, only to get to the village where it was snowing like Christmas Eve. Our plan of camping was quickly thrown out the car window and we were lucky to find a room in an airbnb in the village. When we woke up the next morning, there was still snow on the ground and we still could not see the mountains as we made our way to Five Lakes trail, but at least it wasn't snowing or raining anymore. During our walk along the trail, as the wind shifted the clouds, we could see the silhouette of the enormous mountains surrounding us, but still no luck seeing the summit or getting a clear view.
It turns out that we worried all for nothing as the very next day, as we were driving through the Icefield Parkways on our way to Banff, the sun finally came out and we enjoyed two days of clear blue sky and enough mountain views to last me a few years.
First, I think I need to explain what the Odyssey Program is. It is a government-sponsored program offered to Canadian citizens to promote our national languages: French and English. It works similarly to an exchange program since people from French speaking provinces go live in English speaking provinces and vice-versa. So I, being a francophone from Quebec City, had the chance to go live in Comox, British Columbia. But contrary to regular exchange programs, where you go study in a different country or province, the Odyssey Program is also a job. For a whole school year, you become a language assistant and work 25 hours/week to promote your language (French or English) in a school with children from different grades depending on the school you work at. It is a difficult, but fun and rewarding job, where you also get to learn and travel. But before you embark on this journey, here are a few things you should expect.
1. the interview process takes several months
You applied months ago and still haven’t gotten an answer? No worries! The whole process takes time. You can apply as early as September for the next school year, but the truth is, applications are open until January and the interviews aren’t until March, so no one hears back before February. After the interviews, it will take a few weeks to find out if you were selected and which province you will be working in, but you won’t know in which school or city before May! Don’t get discouraged though, good things come to those who wait.
2. you could live in a big city or a small town
While you do get to list your three favorite provinces to work and live in, the school you will work in is the province coordinator’s and school directors’ decision! So yes, you could work in Toronto or Vancouver, but you could also work in a small town you have never heard of before. While it can be scary to leave for a year in a town that doesn’t figure on your map of Canada, this country doesn’t know ugly. No matter where you end up, it will be full of beautiful scenery. It’s Canada after all! And you might just discover a place you love that you would have never known existed otherwise. I know I had never heard of Comox before, but as soon as I got there, I fell in love with the little town and discovered how lucky I was to have been placed there.
3. There will be obstacles and challenges
Just like in every work abroad program, life on the Odyssey Program is full of ups and downs. Getting used to a new home and new city, finding friends and making a new routine in all these changes can be hard and scary at first and no, not every day at school will be fun and easy, but you have to give yourself time to get used to a new life and learn to enjoy all the good times. Once you are settled, you will never want to leave!
4. you will meet friends for life
In every work abroad program, you will meet wonderful people and make new friends, but the best part about Odyssey is the length of the program. Working or traveling with people for a whole year makes your friendship stronger and connections deeper. After sharing laughs, cries, hard times at work, Harry Potter addictions, nachos, a few bottles of wines and a regular amount of craziness, you just can’t help but stay friends, even after the end of your program. While you do have to leave these wonderful people behind at the end of the year, it is always possible to stay in touch and you will still have learned and grown from the friendship that you shared. I never expect to make lots of friends whenever I move to a different place, but maybe I am lucky and go wherever all the right people are or the right people have a way of finding me, but I have met the most wonderful friends in my work abroad programs.
5. you will get to travel and explore your region
The work schedule during the Odyssey Program makes it easy to travel during the year. Since you work at a school, you only work on week days and only 25 hours every week, meaning you end your day early and can leave for a new destination on Friday afternoons. You have all of your weekends free to travel around your host province or even further. Some schools also have two weeks of spring break. I spent my year traveling all around Vancouver Island and also went to Seattle and Vancouver as well as California for my two-week spring break. I was literally somewhere new every two weekends.
6. you will love the kids you work with
Even though the kids can make your job extra hard sometimes, you literally get paid to organize activities and play with children. So yes, sometimes they don’t listen or don’t follow the rules, sometimes your activities don’t work like you thought, but there will be those moments where they tell you how much fun they had playing with you and how much they liked the activities you created and there will be at least a thousand hugs and it totally makes up for it.
7. you will miss it everyday once it's over
A few weeks after going home, you will start missing your program. You will miss your coworkers and the children. You will miss the town that you considered home, but isn’t really anymore because you don’t live there any longer. You will miss all the little things that made your program so much fun.
I learned so much about teaching, French in other provinces and mostly about myself during my time on the Odyssey Program. Although I will not be doing it again as I want to try new things and explore new regions of the world, I loved my time in Comox and wouldn’t change it for the world. If you are thinking about applying, just go for it! You never know, you might end up loving it so much you never want to leave!
If you have questions about the program or about my personal experience with Odyssey, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below or to send me an email. And for all of you applying, I wish you the best of luck in your odyssey!
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Vancouver is a city that I got to visit multiple times in the last year. Unfortunately, all of these trips were on weekends and lasted less than 3 days. How do you visit such a big city in just three days do you ask? The answer is, you probably won’t see everything, but get a walking map right now and start highlighting what you really want to see. And if you are not sure what you should see, here is a short list of what not to miss in Vancouver.
Canada Place is a huge white building and dock where the cruise ships anchor while in the city. It is also a conference center. If you are not attending any of the conferences, it might seem pointless to visit, but you will also find Fly Over Canada, a 4D movie where you get to see all of Canada’s best sights, as well as the Vancouver Olympics medals and podium. And if all of that doesn’t interest you in any way, it is also one of the best spots to take pictures of the mountains and the bay on a clear day.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Located in Chinatown, the garden is an escape from the traffic and noise of the city. Part of it is open to the general public, but you can also pay a small fee for a guided tour of the whole garden and learn about the tradition of Chinese gardens and their meaning. If you get the chance, go during the Chinese New Year and see it all decorated with lanterns.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a 140m bridge that rests 70m above the Capilano River. The park is located approximately 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, but free shuttles depart from Canada Place every 15 minutes. Although entrance to the park is pretty expensive (43 CAD) it includes the suspension bridge, hiking trails in the rainforest, the treetops adventure where you can walk on bridges from tree to tree, history and nature tours and, if you visit during the holidays, the park will be decked out in Christmas lights. For more information, visit the official website here.
Stanley Park is a huge metropolitan park (about the same size as the downtown area of Vancouver). It is surrounded by water and has a great view of the city, the bay and the mountains. Its main attraction is the seawall, a 10-kilometer pathway that surrounds the park and attracts thousands of tourists and locals each day. The seawall is so popular that it was extended to 22 kilometers and now continues to Kitsilano Beach, way outside of Stanley Park. The park also features hiking trails, beaches, lakes, the Vancouver Aquarium and many view points.
Gastown was the original settlement that evolved to becoming Vancouver. It is the oldest part of the town and is now a National Historic Site of Canada. Today, Gastown is a neighborhood full of trendy boutiques, cute restaurants, technology companies, art galleries, etc. all in the original buildings to preserve the architecture. It is also the location of the Gastown Steam Clock, a popular landmark of the neighborhood. It uses the city’s heating network to power the clock’s mechanism and whistles.
whistler and road 99
If you have time for a little road trip while in Vancouver, I recommend going to Whistler. Even if you aren’t really into skiing, you will love the city of Whistler and its free-spirited community. While driving to Whistler, make sure to stop at every viewpoint to take in all of the beautiful scenery of this area.
The city of Vancouver was one of my favorites of the last year. I loved how it offered all the activities and services of a big city while still being close to nature and having hiking trails, mountains and free water easily accessible. I am not usually attracted to cities and often feel overwhelmed in them, but I would love to live in Vancouver.
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Everyone has heard about Banff and Jasper, and for good reasons, both parks are absolutely magnificent! But the Canadian Rockies also have other areas that are just as beautiful. And since there are still four months to explore Canada’s National Parks for free, I thought I should give you a little peek at the Rockies. I haven’t gotten the chance to explore all of them, but my last trip through North America allowed me to experience most parks both in British Colombia and Alberta.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
Mount Robson was the first park that we experienced when we arrived in the Rockies. Although it is not a National Park like the others, there are no entrance fees and it is just as well organized and maintained. Better than that, it is the highest peak in all of the Canadian Rockies! Even if I never got to see the whole mountain because of the rain and clouds, it was still an impressive sight.
We had a whole day to spend at the park and I really enjoyed the hike that we did to Kinney Lake, even with the heavy rain. It was our first time seeing an electric blue lake and the sight literally gave me chills (it could also have been the cold, but the lake definitely had something to do with it). Of course, this was not the only hike available. The most popular hike at Mount Robson is the one to Berg Lake, which is a 23-kilometer hike that has to be done over the course of several days.
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is right next to Mount Robson Park, but in Alberta instead of British Colombia. It was established in 1907 and is the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies with almost 11,000 square kilometers. There are so many things to do and see in Jasper that we didn’t get to experience all that it has to offer, especially since the snow still covered most of the hiking trails when we were there in June. It even snowed while we were there!
My favorite parts were the Five Lakes trail (it is a short 1 hour trail where you can see five different colored lakes and sit on the iconic Parks Canada red chairs), the Miette Hot Springs (the view of the mountains from the Hot Springs is beautiful and the hot water was amazing after hiking in the cold and snow all day) and the Icefields Parkways (you can actually walk on a glacier and learn all about them at the Icefields Center). We also got to see some pretty cool neighbors while we were there, like bears, mountain goats, eagles and deer.
If you plan on staying in Jasper, check out stayinjasper.com for affordable home accommodation. This website saved our lives (alright, more our budget!) when we decided camping in the snow was not our idea of fun and that the hotels in Jasper are all on the (very) expensive side.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is right next to Banff, but on the British Colombia side. It is home to beautiful Emerald Lake and if canoeing in the Rockies is on your Bucket List, I suggest to do it there as it will cost you at least 50$ less than in Banff and it won’t be as crowded. It’s also a 20-30 minute drive to Yoho from Lake Louise, in Banff, so if you are looking for affordable accommodation in Lake Louise, you might want to consider driving a little further to Yoho, which is a less popular park with beautiful campgrounds and cabins. We also enjoyed stopping at Natural Bridge on our way to Emerald Lake. It’s impressive what nature can do!
Banff National Park
Banff National Park, established in 1885, was Canada’s first National Park. It is also the most popular, and for a very good reason: it’s glacier water, bright blue lakes. Most of you probably know Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, but there are also Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Waterfowl Lake and so many more! And they are all a different shade of turquoise that is so impressive and beautiful and awe-inspiring. I mean, the hiking was fun too… but the lakes!!
Be prepared for everything in Banff to cost you twice what it would normally cost anywhere else in Canada, so you might want to bring your own food and skip the restaurants and little grocery stores.
Waterton National Park
Waterton National Park was the last of the Canadian Rockies National Parks that we visited. It is also the one with the cheapest activities and, since we were getting tired of hiking, we decided to explore it on horseback. Waterton looks like a weird mix of mountains and prairies at first, but it has some of the most beautiful wildflowers that the horses loved to munch on.
We also had some visitors at our campground while we were in Waterton! It is written everywhere in the parks not to leave food unattended and we understood how much it was important that night when we found two deer on our campground just looking around in the fire pit and under the table for forgotten food.
The only park we didn't visit during our stay in the Canadian Rockies was Kootenay National Park. If it is like the others, it is probably a beautiful park that I am sorry I missed out on, but there are so many fun things to do in the Rockies you would need several lifetimes to experience it all! Who here as visited one or multiple of those parks before? Please comment your favorites. I really want to know! And for those of you preparing their first trip: be careful, stay far away from the animals so they stay wild and alive, but most of all, have fun and enjoy it as much as you can! Also don’t hesitate to send your questions my way if you have some. It will be my pleasure to answer them if I can.
I had the chance to live on beautiful Vancouver Island for 9 months while working as a Language Assistant in Comox. This job gave me the opportunity to travel, on the weekends, all around the island and discover some of the hidden, less known, beauties of this region. From white sand beaches to old growth forests, without forgetting the snow capped mountains and the turquoise waterfalls, this island has a lot to offer to nature lovers. And for those who prefer the city to the outdoors, Victoria is a beautiful city with its British heritage and architecture, museums, street artists and unique shops. I put together for you a short list of the most beautiful spots on Vancouver Island.
Mystic Beach is part of the Juan de Fuca trail on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It is located approximately two hours North West of Victoria. This beach is only accessible via a 2 km trail from China Beach, but it is a quite easy trail, although it can get muddy. And believe me, the walk is totally worth it. Once you get to the beach, you will be welcomed by a beautiful sandy beach, turquoise water and, if the weather is clear, a view of the mountains of the Olympic National Park in Washington State. Once you start wandering on the beach, you will discover a waterfall coming down from the cliff and into the ocean as well as a rope swing over the water. I could have stayed for hours just looking at the view and having fun on the swing! Now, it has to be one of my favorite places on Vancouver Island.
Long Beach is located between Tofino and Ucluelet, on the West Coast of the island. It is one of the best surfing spots in Canada and one of the largest and longest beaches I have ever seen. It’s called Long Beach for a reason! It is a 16 kilometers long sandy beach with rugged islands that you can climb on at low tides. You can walk for hours in any direction while staying on the sand or you can rent a wetsuit and jump in. Just watch out for the waves and currents!
Cathedral Grove, part of Macmillan Provincial Park, is located on Highway 4, 16 kilometers East of Port Alberni. It is a pretty small park, but it is filled with gigantic 800-year-old trees. As soon as you enter the park, you feel like you have been shrunk to the size of a tiny bug. You would need 5 people holding hands to go all the way around some of these trees, which makes the park one of the most impressive parts of Vancouver Island. For more information and pictures, check out my article on Port Alberni right here.
Butchart Gardens is a private garden in the suburb of Victoria owned by the Butchart family. It was originally a limestone quarry until Jenny Butchart gradually transformed it into a garden starting in 1904. It is now a designated National Historic site of Canada. The garden has 6 different areas filled with flowers and decorations of different origins. The Mediterranean climate in Victoria allows for a wide variety of flowers and trees so there really is some of everything. There is a Japanese garden, rose garden, Italian garden, Mediterranean garden, fountains, light displays for Christmas Time and an array of activities year-round. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours, as there is so much to see and do.
I haven’t really explored the Malahat region, but I make it a mission to stop at all the viewpoints every time I come back from Victoria. The Malahat is… I don’t think you can call it a city or a village, but it’s an area on Highway 1, about an hour North of Victoria that is pretty elevated so you have an amazing view of the Saanich Inlet and the islands surrounding it. There are two different viewpoints from the highway that give you breathtaking views over the mountains and the islands and I make sure to stop at both of them, even though they offer similar views, because I just can’t get enough!
I don’t know if Downtown Victoria is absolutely gorgeous or if it just reminds me of Old Quebec which makes me like it more, but I just love that part of the city. The buildings look like they have so much history and there are castles and the parliament building is huge, plus, it is right on the water! And, there is a beautiful view of the mountains from the city. Honestly, I think the pictures kind of speak for themselves. For more pictures, check out my article on Victoria right here.
Meares Island is located right next to Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The island is home to a campground and hostel; you can also rent paddleboards, kayaks and canoes or hike the Lone Cone, a mountain in the center of the island. My favorite part of the island is the beach where you can have a campfire and watch the sunset on the Pacific Ocean.
Know any places you think should have made this list? Write them in the comments below so I know what to check out on my next trip to the island, but for now it’s off to the mainland for me! I’m so excited about my next adventure! Follow me on Instagram @myjourneytoadventure as I make my way across North America.
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Vancouver has so much to see and do that a handful of days cannot possibly be enough, especially in this weather… Whoever said it never snows in Vancouver is a liar! But even with just a few days and bad weather, we were able to explore most of the Downtown Vancouver area and drive through Burnaby, Langley and Aldergrove. We even accidentally ended up in America! So here is what we got to see.
Driving through Langley, Burnaby and Aldergrove
I know you are dying to know how we accidentally ended up in the United States so here is the full story! I was officially in Vancouver for training purposes and our training ended at noon on Friday the 3rd of February. So, after training, we had lunch at the Warehouse and joined one of my friends from Vancouver who was going to the Bates Motel and Once Upon a Time sets as both are filmed in Vancouver. We started by driving all the way to Aldergrove, where the set of Bates Motel is. As I said earlier, it was snowing, pretty heavily. The roads were slippery and visibility was almost none existent. We looked for it for hours and never found it. After a while, we gave up and decided to just head to Richmond for the set of Once Upon a Time. We put the address in the GPS and started driving. After a few minutes, we saw a Duty Free shop and realized we are going into the USA customs, but by the time we figured it out, we couldn’t turn around and the “Return to Canada” gate was closed so we had to go through customs. Neither of us had passports and my friend’s driver’s license is getting renewed so her only photo ID was her Costco card. They pulled us over and we had to go inside to explain the whole story, trying not to laugh. They finally gave us a letter that said, “lost without identification” and we could return to Canada with an escort. (The custom officers in the US were super nice and understanding so kudos to you guys! Keep up the good work in this hard time) We ended up not even going to Richmond as it was getting late and we were all just tired of driving. So that was the story of how we drove for hours and ended up going absolutely nowhere and how my friend entered the United States with a Costco card. It was a fun day all the same!
Walking Through Downtown Vancouver
The next day, we went to Downtown Vancouver. We started in Canada Place and saw the Vancouver 2010 Olympics podium, torches and medals. They looked beautiful on TV, but they are so much better in real life! I wish I could have taken one in my hands to feel how heavy they are.
After Canada Place, we walked to Gastown to explore the tourist shops and take some pictures. Gastown is so pretty and different from the high buildings, metal and glass. I took some more pictures of the steam clock (still trying to figure out how it works) before we made our way to Chinatown.
The Chinatown gate on West Pender is just as beautiful as I remembered and, the Chinese Garden, even more beautiful! Last time I was there, it was too early and I could only access the park while the official garden was closed. This time, we saw the whole thing. It costs 12$ for adults and 9$ for students, but it is worth the cost. We did the guided tour and got some tea and Chinese candies and snacks. There were lanterns everywhere for the Lunar New Year and we learned so much about Chinese customs and traditions. We wrote wishes on the wishing tree and took so many pictures.
After visiting the garden, we went to Yaletown for lunch and hot chocolate. Did you know there was a Hot Chocolate Festival in Vancouver? It takes place from January 19th to February 14th. There are 29 participating restaurants and coffee shops and over 60 different recipes. We went to Bella Gelatoria and decided on the Hot Chocolato. It is regular hot chocolate with a scoop of gelato in it and it is exquisite. The mix of flavors, the hot and the cold are just so good I can’t even explain it. We left the restaurant completely full with our stomachs bursting. We then walked to Pacific Center for some shopping and called it a day at about 5 PM as we were both freezing in our wet boots.
The weather made it very difficult to find motivation to walk through the city, but we still had an amazing day
The next day, we had to take the ferry at 12:30 as it was snowing again and I was starting to get sick and didn’t want to get home too late. It was also snowing in Nanaimo, but luckily the highway was plowed and it wasn’t too slippery. My friend got stuck in Comox with me as my car was stuck in the snow and I couldn’t drive her to the ferry, but we all made it home safe.
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Who has heard of the Alberni Valley before? Anyone? I know I hadn’t. But with the biggest trees on Vancouver Island, some impressive waterfalls and stunning scenery, it has quickly become one of my favorite places on this island. So here are 5 things you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area or even if you are just passing through on your way to Tofino.
1. Cathedral Grove
This should be on your top 5 destinations on Vancouver Island, along with Tofino and Butchard Gardens. Cathedral Grove is part of MacMillan Provincial Park and it is home to the largest and oldest (up to 800 years old) trees on the island. Personally, I had never seen bigger trees ever; it took four of us to go all the way around one tree.
The park is located on Highway 4 and is divided in two parts, one on each side of the highway. Both sides are beautiful, but the biggest tree is on the left side if you are coming from Parksville (right side if you are coming from Port Alberni). It doesn’t take too long to hike the whole park, maybe about an hour and a half if you take your time and go on all the trails, maybe a little more if you like to stop and take pictures like I do.
This fall, part of Cameron Lake, which is right next to the park, flooded part of the trails so you might want to visit in the summer or early fall when the weather is less wet and prone to downpours.
Tip: you might want to bring some rain boots as the trails can get muddy.
Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall is right before the town of Port Alberni coming from Parksville and it is quite hidden. You have to know it is there to find it, but Google Maps knows everything! Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it at first, just keep following the trail, I promise it is there and beautiful. Now, you must be asking, “what is Hole in the Wall exactly?” Well, it is just that, a hole in a wall of rocks where water found a way to fall through. There is also a river where people make inuksuks (little statues made of rocks put on top of each other) and a forest covered with bright green moss. The entire thing seems to have come out of a fairytale and it is the perfect place for a picnic.
Little Qualicum Falls
This one is a little bit out of the Alberni Valley, but close enough (it is located about 15 minutes before Cathedral Groves coming from Parksville) and worth mentioning. The park consists of a beautiful waterfall surrounded by well-maintained trails and bridges. The water is crystal clear and very deep even though you can still see the bottom. Just like Cathedral Grove, it doesn’t take very long to go all-around, maybe an hour, but the view is worth the stop.
This one is in the middle of Port Alberni and, I don’t know if we were just lucky or if it is always this pretty and entertaining, but I could have stayed for hours. At first sight, it is just a quai where people dock their boats, but you can see all kinds of wildlife on the river and in the woods on the other side. While we were there, a playful seal came to say hi and jumped in the water for us. We also saw some salmon and we weren’t lucky enough to see a bear, but they are sighted quite often in this area. The harbor also offers a nice view of the mountains surrounding the valley.
We missed salmon season by a few days when we went to Stamp Falls, but if you time it right, you could be there to see the salmon jump and go up the river. If, like us, you can’t be there on time, the view is still beautiful and there are hours of fun hikes to do. Be sure to make it to the top of the hill to see the bottom of the falls and the view on the forest. I would have loved to see it at sunset, but couldn’t, so you might see me there later this year on a clear day. It is the advantage of staying at one place for a while; you have the privilege to go back if you missed something or if the weather wasn’t on your side.
If you have the chance to visit British Columbia one day, I hope you will add the Alberni Valley to your trip as it took my breath away on multiple occasions. And if you live there, I hope you still enjoy it and take advantage of living in such a beautiful place (I need to find synonyms of beautiful, I must have used it about 10 times in this article. Oh well, it is what it is!)
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Spoiler alert! I didn’t see everything in one day, that’s impossible. What happened is, my friend offered me to go to Disney on Ice with her on a Saturday night. I work all week so Saturday was perfect, but since she had to work, I couldn’t arrive in Vancouver until 5 PM. So I drove to Nanaimo, took the ferry and made it to her workplace at about 5:30 PM. That night, all we did was go to Disney on Ice (which was amazing by the way) so I didn’t start visiting Vancouver until the next morning at 6 AM when my friend dropped my off at her workplace before going back to work. She works in the middle of town so I was lucky! I had from 6 AM until 11 AM: when I had to take the bus to go back to the ferry terminal.
Tip 1: get a walking map of the city. Most of the attractions are only a few blocks from each other so you don’t need a car and you will save time and money by walking from place to place. Plus, all the important attractions are highlighted on the map.
My friend had told me the name of places I should visit and so had my dad. That included Canada Place, Gastown and the steam clock, the Chinese garden and Stanley Park.
At 6 AM, I left my friend’s workplace in West End and made my way to the Vancouver Convention Center and Canada Place by walking along the harbour. The seawall as a ton of boards that explain how Vancouver came to be and the major events in the history of British Columbia and I loved learning some facts about my new home for the year. I was too early to go on Fly Over Canada, but still walked around Canada Place and looked at all the different cities written on the ground.
Tip 2: If you plan on visiting Vancouver early in the morning or during the weekend, look up the opening times of the attractions you plan to visit as they might open later than usual on weekends and it will help you plan your itinerary so you don’t miss any fun activities.
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We started our visit in Craigdarroch Castle. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but the inside had my eyes open wide as saucers as soon as we crossed the front door. No expense was spared in the construction of this castle; just the fireplace located right in front of the door probably cost more than my car. I had no idea what the castle had been built for or when it was built, to me it was just a pretty building that I had seen while looking at pamphlets on the ferry to Port Angeles, but as we made our way around and up the castle, we learned about its history through dozens of boards. It turns out the castle was built by the Dunsmuir family, immigrants who invested in the right things at the right time and became one of the richest families in Canada at the time. The castle was later used as a hospital during the World War and as a university later on. You can visit the Craigdarroch Castle website to learn more about the Dunsmuir family and the history of the castle.
After hours visiting the castle, we made our way to downtown Victoria to see the parliament and tourist shops. We were lucky and got to go on a horse drawn tour of the Downtown area. These tours were organized to celebrate Christmas and were totally free. It rained all afternoon, but it didn’t stop us from going to see the Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a very pretty and original neighborhood made of about a dozen houses that float on the bay. The houses are multicoloured and decorated in all sorts of styles. Since it’s wintertime and the weather was awful, no one was there, but the little booths, shops and restaurants make me dream of a hot summer day, eating ice cream while walking around the floating houses and keeping an eye on the water in the hopes of seeing a whale or a friendly duck or two.
After dinner, we drove our frozen solid butts to Walmart to buy some more warm clothes. The rain had found a way into our coats and boots and the 0 °C weather had almost frozen our will to see any Christmas decorations at night. We decided to go for a movie and walk to town after the film, when the streets would be mostly empty and we could feel our fingers again. We saw Disney’s latest animated film, Moana! I could talk about it for days, but that’s not what you are here for. Just go see the movie!
We kept our promise to ourselves and took a walk downtown at night and it was totally worth it. First, the rain had stopped so it was actually comfortable outside. Second, the decorations are absolutely beautiful! Being from Quebec City and having visited Disney World at Christmas time, I am kind of used to Christmas decorations being all kinds of amazing, but the lights on the parliament were just incredible. To make it simple, there were lights everywhere! I couldn’t have hoped for a better end to my day… except, maybe some Christmas music to put us even more in the Christmas spirit, but we took care of that! My singing voice may not be the best, but there was no one there to complain. Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Thy leaves are so unchanging!
We didn’t have a lot planned on day 2 because we wanted to take our time driving back to Comox to stop at the lookout points, but we had kept the best for the sunny day! We left early and arrived at Butchart Gardens at 9. We literally opened the park.
I had heard that it was beautiful, but I had not expected it to be so big. We spent more than four hours in the park, walking around, taking hundreds of pictures, and going on the Ferris wheel, of course. Unfortunately, the pictures don’t do it justice, but the cloudless blue sky with the bright green trees and the multicoloured Christmas decorations were simply gorgeous. My favourite part was the Japanese garden with its waterfalls and red bridges. I can’t wait to see it in the spring when all the flowers are in bloom!
When we finally got back to the entrance of the park it was almost two in the afternoon and time to leave Victoria, but our visit wasn’t over. We stopped at every lookout point on the way back and it was one of my favourite thing about this trip. We got to take our time and look at the amazing view while enjoying the rare rays of sunshine at this time of year.
We will have to go back to Victoria at one point before the school year is over, but for now, it’s time for Christmas break and a little vacation back home in Quebec City. I can’t wait to see where 2017 will take me!
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Comox Valley may be my home for the year, but I had never been there before so a little exploring was required. From Cumberland to Courtenay and Comox, the Comox Valley is a vast area that offers beaches, nature parks, waterfalls, mountains and outdoor activities. Needless to say, there is something for everyone and numerous days of fun to be had.
For the weekend of October 9 and 10, I invited two of my friends who are on the same program as I am, but in different cities, to come and visit the valley with me. They both arrived on Friday night so we were ready for fun activities on Saturday morning.
No one says October without pumpkins! We started our day at a pumpkin patch a few minutes away from my apartment. It seems to be a local attraction since most of the city was there. Luckily, we got there early and were able to enjoy the different activities before it got too crowded. There was a corn maze, decorated pumpkins, pumpkin and cinnamon desserts, a huge pumpkin patch where we could choose between a dozen different kinds of pumpkins (I didn’t even know there was more than one) and Halloween decorations. Since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I had the best time looking at the pumpkins and going through the maze. The best part is, the sun came out just for us!
Our next stop was Goose Spit. It is a long arm of land that separates the strait of Georgia from the Comox harbor. It is also a long beach on one side and a bay on the other. The bay would be quite ordinary if it wasn’t for the Comox glacier behind it. The view is extraordinary! Our goal was to go on a paddleboard ride as neither of us had tried it before, but apparently it is too cold for that in October so we just took a little walk on the beach and some pictures. We also went to the marina to look at the seals and the boats.
After a light lunch at my place, we went for a walk at Seal Bay Nature Park, which is a few minutes from where I live. The park has many trails, but my favorite is the one that leads to the beach. It is not a sandy beach or a large beach, but the view that you get of the mountains of the mainland on the other side of the strait of Georgia is absolutely gorgeous. The trees on Vancouver Island are as tall as the skyscrapers in NYC and the ones in Comox may not be the biggest ones on the island, but they are still huge. There were leaves bigger than my head.
Before going back to my apartment, we made one last stop. 40 knots is a winery close to Seal Bay. I am not a wine connoisseur and I had never been at a winery, but I loved the experience. They made us taste all the different kinds of wine and explained the differences and when they were made. It was delicious and we were just a little bit tipsy when we left.
On the second day, I brought the girls to Cumberland, a small village about 15 minutes from Comox, inland. It is popular with snowboarders and skiers in the winter as it is close to the mountains and with mountain bikers in the summer. There is nothing much to do there, but I lived in the village for a few days when I first moved to the valley since it is home to the cheapest, but still great hostel of the area and I wanted to show them how different it was from Quebec City.
After a little walk on Dunsmuir avenue, we decided to visit Mount Washington. It is one of the two ski resorts on the island and it is absolutely enormous when compared to the ones we have in Quebec. I had visited it with my parents in September and had the chance to go all the way up to see the view, but the scenery was way different this time around as it had snowed! Do I need to remind you that the weekend before, I was on the beach in a bathing suit? I love it! The road to Mount Washington is quite long, but so worth it. You get a nice view of the glacier and the mountains all around and if you go on a clear day, apparently you can see the Pacific ocean from the top, but I couldn’t confirm nor deny it. I hope I get the chance to go skiing at least once or even to hike up the mountain before I leave the island.
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