Canada and Alaska: Vancouver Island

We spent two and a half beautiful, sunny days on Vancouver Island, right before our Alaskan cruise.

If your geography is a bit shaky, Vancouver Island sits along the south-west corner of Canada, it is part of the province of British Columbia and the capital of that province is Victoria, which is situated on the island. The island is a 40 to 90 minute ferry ride (depending on where you go from and how fast you go) from the mainland and it is a really big island, over 500 km long. Big enough for some people to feel that it could get along quite well without the rest of Canada, thank you very much.

Vancouver Island also has its own microclimate – or many microclimates, depending on how you look at it, the weather can vary from bay to bay. It does not get anywhere near the amount of snow as the rest of Canada and so is a haven for retirees. Being an island, it keeps the prices a bit lower for real estate than Vancouver city, but it is becoming more popular.

Anyhow, we left Whistler, drove down the coast then caught the ferry across to Nanaimo, a town north of Victoria. Then we drove to Chamainus, a small logging town that now attracts tourists by being super cute and having lots of murals all over town. I saw a hummingbird while we were there. It was so tiny that I thought it was a beetle until I saw the beak. No photo though!

Last stop was Victoria and our waterfront hotel. Victoria is a city built on fur and gold and so it has some similarities, architecturally and culturally, to Melbourne. Our guide the following afternoon told us that the Chinatowns in Victoria, San Francisco and Melbourne were the most significant centres for Chinese culture outside China, and their existence allowed for free discussion that led to the uprising that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and communism in China.

Victoria’s Chinatown also has one of the narrowest streets in North America. Fan Tan Alley. The area is now popular with artists and designers.

Victoria has a wealth of beautiful buildings and I won’t bore you with too much history, but the most notable (and noticeable) are the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Building. They were both designed by a fellow with quite an interesting history. He was a very young architect who scandalized Victorian society by running off to England with his mistress. The mistress then fell in love with an employee (a butler or something), they messily bludgeoned the architect to death to grab his fortune. They were both caught and, upon learning her lover was to be hung, the mistress threw herself off a bridge. However the lover’s sentence was commuted, then he was drafted for WW1, survived with medals of honour and was eventually freed.

Despite his dubious past, the fellow obviously knew what he was about, architecturally-speaking, and these days the parliament buildings are outlined in lights at night, giving an appearance similar to a birdcage. Although there are no bulbs within reach of the ground because people would steal them.

While we couldn’t see the birdcage from our hotel room, we had a great view of the harbour. Victoria has the cutest water taxis I’ve ever seen and I spotted a seal in the water. Others had just seen an otter – you can imagine my disappointment at missing out!

Terrible photo but that underwater slug is actually a seal.

Next: Burchart Gardens!

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New York: The Museum of Natural History

The MoNH is an icon. Alongside the Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square, it’s something you know about long before coming to New York. We spent a day there and it was a good amount of time. There were four ‘extras’ you could pay for so we bought the deluxe ticket for $38 each. A tip if you’re going with a group – go to the same cashier together when you arrive as they allot you a time for each special exhibit and we had to go back to get Sean’s session times aligned with ours. The staff were very happy to help though and it only took a couple of minutes.

There’s a big gap in the ‘wow’ factor between the new exhibits and the old. A lot of the old stuff is basically huge dioramas that look quite faded, but still have a certain charm for all that. The first hall we walked through was African animals, with taxidermied versions of many animals we’d seen roaming the Serengeti earlier in the year. Sean had just been to the zoo too so he’d seen the animals live as well.

The new and special exhibits are fantastic though. First off we saw the frogs. They were definitely a highlight of the day, partly because the names and signs were kind of amusing…

How unflattering. And it wasn’t even that dumpy. Or at least, no more dumpy than any other frog.

Zombie frog is coming to EAT YOUR BRAINS!

But most because there were poison dart frogs!!! This is very worthy of multiple exclamation marks because poison dart frogs are possibly the most brightly coloured animals in the world, outside the bird and insect kingdoms.

How could something so deadly be so adorable?

 

So many! The yellow ones are the most deadly, poisonous even to touch – although in captivity they do not eat the same food and do not develop toxins.

I’ll take 10 thanks.

I could’ve spent all day looking at the frogs but it was time to move on. Next we went to the planetarium, where we watched a movie about the expansion of the universe and dark matter. I learned about red and blue light but I still don’t get how, no matter where you are in the universe, everything appears to be moving away from you. The movie was voiced by Neil Degrasse-Tyson.

After the planetarium was the live butterfly room. They had some species I hadn’t seen before but it was much smaller than Cairns or Melbourne Zoo, unsurprisingly, as it is not a permanent exhibition. No photos of butterflies because I seem to be unable to take decent photos of the stupid things.

Last of the special exhibitions was whales. It was a large hall with movies playing, skeletons and a lot of Maori history and things from NZ. They showed whales being dissected and a lot of awful stuff about how rubbish in the ocean is killing them. It was pretty depressing but necessary for people to know. Not as depressing as the news, in the frog exhibit, that there is currently a ‘death wave’ of fungal infection that is killing 96% of frogs as it passes through South America and is expected to continue across the world.

 

Apart from the temporary exhibits I quite enjoyed seeing a few dinosaur  skeletons and a giant turtle shell and bones. I had no idea they grew so big!

He looks so happy!

You can’t evolve to the point of having things like this on your head and then be surprised when your species dies out. I wonder how many got caught on trees and just couldn’t disentangle? And you can forget getting through doorways.

If I lived in NYC I’d think about becoming a member here. So much interesting stuff, and the crowds weren’t prohibitive either. I learned quite a lot and definitely left without seeing everything. I haven’t even posted pictures of the minerals section, which was also excellent. So if you’re in the city be sure to check it out!