After Samantha booked her flights to join me we decided that we would find ourselves somewhere nice for Christmas. Somewhere where we could cook our own dinner, somewhere where we wouldn't be sharing a room with strangers, somewhere that would feel a bit more like home for Christmas. We started looking on airbnb, and after a little while we found our lovely little flat.
Our place was the bottom floor of a house in Victoria on Vancouver Island. The owners lived upstairs and were the most fantastically friendly people we could ever have hoped for. Upon our arrival in Schwartz Bay we were met by Keith, the husband of the couple, and he drove us back to the flat. This was amazing all by itself. The day of moving on anywhere was always so exhausting, never knowing where you're supposed to be heading and with everything you own on your back is fairly stressful. Just getting in a car and ending up where we were heading was bliss. After we got in and dropped our things off he then took us to the shops so we could get our food in for the week without lugging everything back on the bus. Fantastic couple, I will put a link to our flat at the end of the post, keep them in mind if you're ever heading to Victoria!
The flat itself was just what we had wanted. The place could fit up to 8 people or so in, so we had plenty of room and we were extremely comfortable in our beds. Mmmm, bed. There was a lovely kitchen, albeit it with a slightly overenthusiastic smoke detector. Everytime we opened the oven it would go off, we soon learned that this meant if something was going in or out of it that meant someone had to be standing waving a tea towel frantically at the alarm to prevent it going off. This was not annoying in any way whilst making Christmas dinner.
The bus stopped barely a minute's walk away, so we took ourselves into town most days. I was met with my usual frustration with Canada's buses - exact change only. Grumblemumblegroan.
Our first day in we had a little wander round before heading to the BC museum, currently exhibiting the wildlife photographer of the year. There were some amazing photos, if it comes somewhere near you check it out. The rest of the museum was as interesting as most, though we cut our meander slightly short to watch an imax film - Titans of the Ice Age. Most enjoyable.
Second exciting day in, we visited Butchart Gardens. Again, our hosts were extremely helpful. After hearing that we were planning to go over there, Keith gave us a lift again and was able to get us a slight discount on our entrance! Butchart Gardens was once an old quarry that is now, as the name might suggest, a garden. We went round it twice, first in the daylight and again once the sun had set. The whole place was covered in lights, it was truly beautiful. It seems like it was some kind of tradition for a lot of families there, which was nice to see. There was a 12 days of Christmas theme to the decorations, which took us until the 5 gold rings for us to notice properly.
Christmas Eve we found another gingerbread house exhibit, much more exciting than the first I had been to in Vancouver. There were some wonderful constructions, including an AT-AT and the Griswald's House. My favourite was this Cinderella Steampunk house, I loved how smooth the curves were.
After the houses we decided to partake of a 'gingerbread tea' in the restaurant of the hotel in exhibition was in. I'll be honest, my favourite part was the pot of tea, but the gingerbread biscuits with eggnog cream was pretty tasty too. Tea will always win though.
Back in the flat we attempted to watch Elf, one of the three dvds Samantha had brought over for our Christmas enjoyment. Unfortunately the dvd player was not multi region. Honestly, how long has it been since you had to worry about the region of your dvd? Luckily for us, Netflix came up trumps and had Elf available to watch. Mulled wine in hand, we sat down and watched Elf on a tiny little screen....then proceeded to quote it for the rest of our trip. I managed to watch It's a Wonderful Life before going to sleep, and all was well.
"So, good news, I saw a dog today. Have you seen a dog? You probably have."
Christmas Day! First things first, we both Facetimed home. Over the previous three days we had been making our own 12 Days of Canada video for people back home to enjoy, and had sent it over last thing on Christmas Eve. My delight when the last line was sung back at me as my family answered the facetime call was enormous, to put it lightly. After Samantha called home we finally sat down to some presents, like the ridiculous grown ups that we are.
We both had some things from our families to open which was truly lovely, and had both had chats with Santa about some things to leave in each others' stockings. He's a very accommodating man. Presents opened and fawned over, it was time to start our Christmas dinner prep. I'd been desperately looking for goose fat for our potatoes, but apparently Canada hasn't discovered this gift from the gods, so instead we got some beef fat from the meat counter and had a pretty wondrous mix of beef dropping potatoes and roast chicken. We did pretty amazingly, I've got to say. Maple honey parsnips was our sole nod to Canada, everything else was designed to remind us as much of home as we could. Mum had sent over some proper gravy and stuffing, so we didn't have to use the dishwater rubbish we'd bought at the shops previously. We had numerous crackers and wine and Baileys. It was a happy meal. Our only disappointment was that we had bought what we thought was a chocolate toffee cheesecake, and it looked delicious. After defrosting it and opening the box we discovered it was 4 miniature cheesecakes that were not delicious. Sad times indeed.
It was a strange Christmas Day. I've got used to loud, busy, full of children Christmas Days, with lots of games played in the evening. Here we had a civilised, quiet Christmas Day, with some playdough and charades, nothing like I was used to. But it was fun. It was different. It was significantly quieter than any Christmas I've ever had ever.
Boxing Day we popped back into Victoria for a last wander and explore before we left early on the 27th for our tour, once again given a lift by Keith.
Victoria is a great place, a place to go for a quiet holiday. There is whale watching during the right months, and wildlife tours during the wrong months, both are expensive but not too expensive not to be factored in if you're desperate to see some orcas and know about it ahead of time. If you do go, consider staying at Keith and Sybil's, they're wonderful people.
Also, don't miss miniature world. It's a...er....riot.
Off now for our tour. If only we knew.