Victoria, BC – A place to remember and revisit

Victoria, British Columbia, what a beautiful city. I’m uncertain I have the words to describe how I feel about this awesomely peaceful yet vibrant city. I guess I’ll start with why I went there in the first place. Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia, Canada and Located on Vancouver Island, which is just a short but very scenic ferry’s ride from Vancouver, where I grew up.

So long story short, I met my wife during our stint at university in the USA, living in the foreign students dorm. I took her home (to Vancouver), we got married and had our honeymoon in Victoria. Now 20++ years later we’re back, with kids! It was awesome that my brothers could come along to reminisce about our childhood trips to Victoria, unfortunately not all the attractions were around this time and our trip was limited to a weekend. I put up a couple of posts about the places we did get to visit if you’re interested, Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Gardens. So why Victoria? My wife loves Victorian (the era) culture and history so naturally Victoria, BC was the place to take her as the Victorian ambiance is still very much preserved. They still have horse and buggy rides downtown in front of the Parliament buildings which the kids really, really wanted to ride until they got closer and noticed the smell, hahaha.

So after a pleasant highway drive we get to the city, traffic is light and sparse and parking was readily available. We took our usual tourist walk to see the harbour, the parliament buildings of British Columbia, the famous Empress Hotel, wax museum and Undersea Gardens and some shops in the area. So much has changed, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, after all it’s been 20+ years since we’ve been back but it was surprising nonetheless two instances stood out most. Now when it comes to making up stuff to tell the kids, I’m pretty good. So as I was telling my kids about the Provinces of Canada and the provincial shields from what I could remember from high school, my youngest says, “Dad, you said 10 provinces and 2 territories that’s 12 shields plus the big one for Canada, then what’s this one for?” She was pointing to a 14th shield, one I’ve never seen before or even heard of and I guess my loss of words and the “lost” look on my face gave me away because my eldest daughter says, “now we know how much attention daddy paid in class”. So I had to Google and the thirteenth shield is for the territory of Nanavut created by Canada in 1999, phew, way after my high school days. We all had a big laugh at that. The other big shocker was when I went to pay for some souvenirs and the total was like twenty dollars and 41 cents. So I paid in exact change and the teenage looking cashier picks up the penny and asks me, “what’s this?” I looked at him, he looked at me and I said “a penny”, he looked at me weirdly as I was probably looking at him weirdly so I took the penny to make sure it wasn’t some Asian coin that I didn’t filter out of my travel wallet properly, but no, it was a Canadian penny, so I gave it back and said “ya, one cent Canadian.” He says, “OH! Where did you get it from?” I said, “my pocket.” Again we exchanged ‘looks’. He asks again, in an accusatory voice “where’d you get it from?” I told him again, “my pocket but I can’t tell you exactly which shop I got it from!” I’m getting mad now and he pushes the penny back to me and says, “we don’t use those anymore, haven’t for a long time, we just round up or down to the closest nickel.” “Well, that’s news to me,” I said and pocketed the penny. My kids looked at me and I looked at them and shrugged. When I asked my brothers about it outside, they all burst out laughing and confirmed that pennies aren’t used anymore.

The Empress Hotel I remember was totally covered in ivy, as you can see (in the image above), it’s not anymore. I think it had more character when it was covered with ivy. Gone is the Wax Museum and Undersea Garden but we did manage to find some whale watching tour boats both large and small, some brick churches, totem poles and some First Nation landmarks (I love First Nation Arts and Culture). All this just walking around downtown Victoria with a limited amount of time. I think I would love to retire and live in Victoria, if I could ever afford to retire, lol. It’s not crowded, people are friendly, it’s spacious, not polluted, I can go on but I hope you get the picture. The only thing that wasn’t so great are the prices, they seemed on the high side but maybe that’s because we were in the tourist areas.

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Ray

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1001 Places to remember – Introducing Butchart Gardens to the next generation

If you’re a fan of flowers and visiting Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) then you definitely must go visit Butchart Gardens, especially in the summer when all the gardens are in full bloom. If you’re a flower fanatic, it would be worth a trip to Victoria from Vancouver! I remember visiting Butchart Gardens in the summers, as a child (too young to appreciate nature but I remember the rose garden was impressive) and walking until my legs felt like they were going to fall off. So, my brothers and I decided we should subject our children to the wonders of walking vast distances. OOPS, I mean showing our children the wonder and beauty of plants and flowers. The only ‘problem’ was that I took my family back home during early spring (still kind of cold, sunny but chilly) there weren’t that many gardens in full bloom but there were enough in bloom or about to bloom to keep things interesting. Plus it was nice not having crowds of people all over the place and made it easy to keep track of everyone (for those goofy family photos). It was especially nice to let the younger kiddos wander on their own and still being able to keep an eye on them.

A lot of the buildings still look the same as when I used to visit, decades ago, and all the “iconic” statues that I remember were still there. The park is actually bigger than what I remember, I thought it would seem smaller since I’ve grown and my strides are much longer, but no, we still walked until my legs felt like falling off. Then again, it could be old age or the weight of my backpack full of camera gear. I’m pretty sure there are more garden display and fountain areas than before because due to time constraints, we didn’t even get to walk through them all and we had absolutely no recollection of some areas within the park. We even found an indoor carousel that wasn’t there when I was a kid, not fair, lol. There are benches and rock ledges spread sparsely around this dog friendly park but I didn’t notice that many so if you need a break and see a rest area, take it.

Although there weren’t as many flowers to marvel at, we still had a blast reminiscing and recreating past photos. During one of our ‘messing around, reminiscing’ sessions at one of the statues, we were told by some fellow park goers (yearly members) that Butchart Garden’s is even more beautiful and fun in the winter, when there’s snow! Anyways, we had to cut the messing around to a minimum as we still had a lot to see in the park and other sites in Victoria, like the Craigdarroch Castle (which I wrote about in this post). We only had the long weekend to spend in Victoria as everyone else had to be back to work.

If you get hungry there’s a tea house and restaurant, sadly I’ve never been inside either one, maybe next time. Maybe next time I’ll get better images of the gardens because I won’t be too busy messing around and taking pictures of us messing around (it was a consensus that I’m not allowed to post those photos, lol). There is also a huge gift shop where they sell all the usual gift shop type stuff but what was amazing was the huge variety of seeds you can buy to plant in your own garden. I’m not sure if they sell seeds for all the plants and flowers you can find in the park, but it looked possible, from the sheer number of different seed packets I saw.

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All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

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Ray

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1001 Places to remember – Craigdarroch Castle, just WOW!

The Craigdarroch Castle is not really a Castle, it’s a mansion that was originally a family home. Through the years it’s been turned into a military hospital, a College, a school board office, a music conservatory and is currently a Museum. The original stained glass, abundantly found in all over castle are documented as original and authentic by the Institute of Stained Glass in Canada. What makes them so special are the complexity of the cuts, the finely soldered lead joints and the use of cut crystals as opposed to the readily available, pressed glass types of stained glass. This mansion/castle is so well preserved, intricately detailed and having led such a storied life is listed both as a National Historic Site of Canada as well as a World Heritage Site.
 
While the exterior is made of mostly large and bumpy stone bricks, the interior is mainly finished wood, very intricately carved wood. The four floors are furnished with Victorian mock ups of what it would have been like. If you’re into this kind of historic site it’s definitely worth a visit and budget at least a couple hours especially if you’re an admirer of woodwork and details. There’s really lots to see as well as info plaques to read. The museum attendants were all very cheery and polite and more than willing to answer any questions or provide more details of whichever part of the castle you’re in.

 

Just in case you’re wondering, even having been a military hospital, the ambiance wasn’t creepy at all, anywhere. We even asked if there was any haunting shenanigans but the answer was no. Too bad, I think, it would make this amazing ‘Castle’ more amazing! Also, I would suggest to use the toilets before you enter the castle because I didn’t notice any ‘public use’ facilities in the castle. So when you buy your tickets from the ticket counter (in the building next to the castle), use the toilets in there. 😃

 

Located just minutes away from Downtown Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), the Craigdarroch Castle resides in an area full of beautiful and unique homes, in a very peaceful and pleasant looking neighborhood and was a joy to drive through, much like the rest of Victoria, BC.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

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Ray

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Pingyao Ancient City – A place to remember for sure!

The ancient city of Pingyao is a well conserved, centuries old city surrounded by an equally old wall. This ancient city is within the city of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China. Pingyao Ancient City is so well preserved that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

 

 

Although Pingyao doesn’t have an airport (the closest one is Taiyuan Airport), it does have 2 train stations. One is the regular train and the other is the high speed train. Taiyuan is the capital of the Shanxi province so once you reach there, you can catch either trains to Pingyao, a bus or catch a taxi. It’s about a 45 min. taxi drive. If travelling by train, here are a few things to keep in mind other than they were under renovations so I couldn’t get a decent shot 😃:

1) When you board the train, a train conductor exchanges your ticket with a plastic card and before your stop he/she will take your card.
2) If possible research how many stops away your stop is and keep count because I didn’t see any English signage at all, anywhere.
3) I highly suggest booking your tickets in the cars with a bunk beds or private cabin, because the regular cabins with the seats, well those seats look really uncomfortable and the people who buy standing tickets are standing around you. The cars with bunks have 6 bunks (3 on each side) per section with a small fold out table and two fold down seats in the aisle above which is the luggage rack. I booked a top bunk and a bottom bunk just in case one of us needed to sleep or if it got too crowded, which it didn’t.
4) If possible get the hotel to pick you up, the fee they charge isn’t much more than what you’d pay taking the street taxis or motorized trishaws and probably less of a hassle too.

Although the train stations are relatively close to the Ancient City, I don’t suggest you walk because the pavement isn’t all that smooth (from the high speed train station) and it seems that every 10 steps you take, there’s a curb. It was so frustrating for us, with our wheeled luggage, that we stopped and contemplated flagging a taxi, no sooner had we decide to, a motorized trishaw came sputtering up the street, in oncoming traffic, with an elderly driver waving an arm at us!

 

 

When he came up, we showed him the picture of our hotel he nodded, we agreed on a price and off we went. In the wrong direction! We kept trying to tell him he was going the wrong way and he just kept nodding, pointing and smiling. A few blocks later we turned into an alley but before any negative thoughts could pop into my head, I recognized the hotel, it just wasn’t the one I booked our stay in. So the driver goes inside and comes out with a lady who spoke a bit of English and she welcomed us. Even though I told her this isn’t the hotel I booked, she said it was ok she has room and we can check in now…sigh, gotta admire their persistence, tho! Anyways, without being too stern I managed to get her to tell the driver to drop us at the main entrance of the Ancient City and we were on our way.

The reason why we needed to be dropped at the main entrance is that motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the ancient city walls. Within the walls they use electric cars (glorified golf carts) and scooters. When you get closer to the city center, however, even those are banned. So it’s either bicycle or walking. As soon as we stepped off the trishaw, it felt so surreal. The architecture was historic, there was street food a plenty, craftsmen and women making/selling their goods along side more modern retail shops. Modern dressed people, older styled fashion, inclusive of children who’s pants had not bottoms. Yup you guessed it, when they need to go they just did it right then and there. Nobody reacts to it so I’m guessing that’s normal.

 

 

Other than being famous for it’s extremely well preserved structures, Pingyao is famed for being the financial hub of China back in 16th century and reputed to have had the very first bank in China which is now a museum. This museum is one of at least 16 historic venues you can enter and check out when you buy the “Town Pass” ticket. You’ll know if it’s an attraction needing the ticket because there’s a turn style gate you need to scan the ticket on (sometimes there’s someone there to scan the ticket for you). Keep in mind there are a handful of temples that are free to enter as well and a museum or two that’s not included with the “Town Pass” ticket. Budget two days just to see everything listed on the Town Pass.

As you move further away from the city center, I would advise you not to walk into any open doorways as it may be the entrance to someone’s home. Yup found that out the “hard way”, lol. It’s actually pretty cool, you enter the doorway which leads to a courtyard type area functioning as the common area with all the other room’s doors facing the courtyard.

 

 

If you’re not a big fan historical stuff and centuries old architecture then maybe you can find joy in the street food. There’s food all over the place! Some establishments have a steamer right on the sidewalk! You can either eat it right there or sit down inside the shop or maybe the seating area in the alleys. Checking out what was inside the steamers was kinda fun too. Sometimes it’s dumpling type things other times it was some type of bun (with or without filling). The best, in my opinion, was the “Pingyao Beef” which only came out after dusk. They set up fold up tables/shelf things in front of a shop that’s closed for the day or in front of a wall/empty space and proceed to sell chunks of cooked meat, “Famous Pingyao Beef” and other stuff. So you go up and tell the vendor how much (either in weight or $) you want and he/she cuts off pieces to weigh and puts the piece(s) in a bag. I had 3 or 4 servings just walking down one street, it was so good! My daughter, on the other hand, preferred these satay stick looking things that were some kind of meat, she went back for thirds then went for some gourmet popsicles!

 

 

If you’re short on time, the one thing that, in my opinion you shouldn’t miss, is walking the wall. Keep in mind that they close around 6pm and you can get some really nice sunset shots off the wall don’t be like me though I got rushed off the wall just after finishing setting up my gear. The “security” guys are on bikes so if you don’t pack up and go (or walk too slow) they’ll come back and rush you, lol. Keep in mind that you can’t get off the wall anytime you like, there’s only so many places to get on/off the wall and some are closed. The ancient city of Pingyao is definitely a must visit if you’re in the area and have a few days to spare. Better yet, time your trip to coincide with one of the arts related festivals!

 

 

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also the occasional photography related review and contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

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Ray

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Photographer’s travel hack. Have you heard of Nitecore?

I’m so excited! I got this Nitecore charger for Father’s Day! Man, I wish I had this on my Japan trip. You can read about the ordeal in my Tokyo Post. I’ve been wishing for a USB camera battery charger for years! This is the model I just got, the Nitecore UCN1.

 

 

Basically, this little device can charge your camera battery via USB. I always carry a portable battery and one that is capable of charging everything I use, including my “mini laptop.” For reference, my portable battery is a 10,000 mah battery with 3A output made by Red Monster (model: power up mini), it’s roughly the same size as the Nitecore UCN1. There’s bigger/better battery packs out there but that’s the one I currently use. Anyways, back to the Nitecore UCN1.

While the packaging/advertisement indicates that it can charge two batteries, it doesn’t mention that it CANNOT charge two of the SAME battery. My wife and kids thought it could so they ordered me 2 units so I can charge 4 batteries at the same time. Oh well. Regardless, it’s still awesome! Being so much smaller than the OEM Canon charger, this Nitecore charger is easier to pack (no wires to mess with too)! Also to make packing lighter on trips, I pack a USB charging hub which is capable of charging 6 USB devices (at 2.1 A) so the four of us can charge our devices (including my batteries now) at the same time without the need to carry multiple chargers, multiple travel adapters etc.

 

 

The Nitcore UCN1 is very light and made of plastic but not the cheap feeling kind. It also doesn’t feel like it is 10 ft drop proof either. The USB cable is permanently attached via thick rubber and is enclosed within the unit when not in use. The display is bright and the data is easily readable. I really love this device and for the sake of preparedness, I’m looking for USB pocket solar panels, lol. Having said that, there are a couple of “issues” or “pet peeves” I have with my units.

1) The display is so confusing to read. It toggles itself between a temperature and mAh meter, then voltage and different mAh meter. One of the mAh meters is how much the battery has charged and the other is for how much is being outputted by the UCN1? This is just my guess as there’s no definitive documentation on the displayed items on the unit or manual. I find it confusing and would rather just look at a power level bar, which brings me to my next point.
2) On both my units, the power level indicators show either one blinking bar or full even though there are bars in between. Even if I put in a full battery, the UCN1 will flash one bar, show the mAh numbers then stop charging and show a full battery meter. After watching several youtube reviews, I’ve noticed that the reviewers UCN1’s battery meter shows varying bars, not like mine (only one flashing or full). So I emailed Nitecore to ask if mine were defective. Basically, they never answered the question saying only that their battery meter is more accurate than my camera’s meter and shows multiple bars. Doesn’t make sense to me, because it doesn’t matter if my camera shows flat battery, 2 bars, 3 bars or full, both my UCN1’s battery meter shows 1 flashing bar, charges then shows full bars and the word ‘end’ when charging is complete.

 

 

According to Nitecore, the UCN1 is capable of: Automatic Current Adjustment, Battery Status Monitoring, Reverse Polarity and Anti-Short Circuit Protection, Battery Recovery.

Here’s the sheer awesomeness of a USB camera battery charger. In a pinch you can charge your battery using your laptop, hotel room’s flat screen tv (a lot have usb ports) I haven’t tried but it should work, car’s phone charger, someone else’s portable battery, those charging stations at airports, convenience stores, the computers in library, PC game room, biz centres etc.

I’m so happy I got these chargers (even if I think the battery level meter isn’t working properly), it relieves a certain sense of stress when it comes to power management, especially since my batteries are getting old. The peace of mind is well worth the price and it’s more cost effective than buying multiple OEM Canon batteries. I think if you travel and shoot a lot, one of the Nitecore chargers is a must (hopefully they make one for your camera’s battery). Oh, I’m not endorsed by Nitecore nor affiliated with them. If I was I probably would have units that read the battery levels accurately, haha.

More info on Nitecore’s website and the UCN1 Manual

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

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*** This post was originally posted on Ray’s Steemit Blog.