Friday, 22 June 2012

Hiking the Squamish Chief

by Keith and Heather Nicol
         Although the weather for our June 2012 visit to the Vancouver – Victoria area had not been the sunshine and warm temperatures that we had hoped for we did get a stellar day for our final full day. So we decided to head to the Squamish Chief for a hike. 
Nearing the top with Howe Sound in the distance
         For those that know this area north of Vancouver enroute to Whistler, it is an area of bold cliffs and impressive views that is a favourite of rock climbers from around the world. But we took the hiking trail up the back of the mountain to the first peak and it was our first time to this summit. 
Lunch on the summit with Squamish in the background
      One nice aspect of this hike is that it takes just about an hour to climb the 3 km trail to the first peak but it is a real work out just the same. The trail climbs steeply from the start and there are lots of sets of wooden and rock stairs all the way up. We enjoyed the fabulous views of Howe Sound and the community of Squamish with Mt. Garibaldi behind it. 
Some of the steeper sections have chains and ladders

Visiting Vancouver - Part 3

by Keith and Heather Nicol

Looking down on the "Cliffwalk"
     After our short trip to Victoria we had a few more days scheduled to see the Vancouver area.  We had been to the Capilano Suspension Bridge before but since our last visit they have added a new “Cliffwalk” which we were interested in seeing. This new element really adds to the already impressive facility which includes a suspension bridge and elevated forest walkways which allow you get a “squirrel’s eye” view of surrounding forest.  The “Cliffwalk” gives you more of a mountain goat’s view since it has been created along some very steep cliffs. Another nice bonus which we took advantage of is that there is a free bus that leaves from Canada Place in downtown Vancouver that brings you directly to the Suspension Bridge. This is very handy for anyone that is visiting Vancouver without a car. See   for more information.
Looking toward the suspension bridge
         We then took a city bus to Grouse Mountain, which is best known for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding. Come summer, Grouse has a wildlife focus and a real attraction are 2 orphaned grizzly bears that put on quite a show for us. They wondered around their enclosure and although it was quite foggy they were visible all the time. Try to catch the warden’s talk which provides a good commentary to how the bears got to Grouse Mountain and how they live. They also a raptor’s show with eagles and owls but this was scaled back due to the foggy, misty conditions. Like Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain also offers a free bus shuttle which we took back to Vancouver.  For more information contact:
The grizzly bears on Grouse Mountain are a real attraction
        Another new museum that we had heard about and wanted to check out was the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia. Their centre piece is a large blue whale skeleton that came all the way from a beach in PEI. The museum houses loads of examples of the earth’s biodiversity that can be used for research and many examples are displayed for the general public. Although there is a focus on B.C. plants, animals, fish and birds, there are examples from around the world. We also took advantage of a guided talk which really brought out fascinating sections of the museum.  We will always remember our guide’s explanation of how to distinguish between hunter and the hunted in the animal world-“Eyes to the side-better to hide, eyes to the front-better to hunt”.  For more details see:   
The Blue Whale skeleton is the centre-piece of the Beaty Museum

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

More places to check out in Victoria, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol

      It turns out that Victoria has an impressive number of things to do and we were only able to see a few places on our most recent visit. Our first stop was to the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre which is in Sydney. The centre is located on the waterfront and features information on the Salish Sea which is the large body of water just off shore. From salmon to many variety of sea stars and anenomies, here is your chance to see what resides below the nearby ocean surface. We were fascinated by the octopus which put on quite a show moving quickly around its enclosure. There is a touch tank- 1 finger only- that children will appreciate. See for more information.
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre allows you to see what is beneath the ocean surface
        We also headed to Rodd Hill National Historic Site and adjacent Fisgard Lighthouse. This is a scenic section of coastline which is just outside of Victoria and we could see the rugged mountains of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington to the south of us. There are short trails around the historic site to various batteries and gun emplacements that were designed to protect Victoria from attacks from the sea. Also nearby is Fisgard Lighthouse which is significant since it was the first lighthouse built on Canada’s rugged West Coast. There are various interpretative displays in the lighthouse and it is well worth a visit. For more information see:
Fisgard Lighthouse has lots of history
        Our final stop was to the Butterfly Gardens which we took in while enroute to the ferry. The butterfly gardens have 3,000 butterflies flitting about as well as tropical birds like flamingos. The butterflies are easy to photograph so be sure to bring your camera and there are lots of photogenic flowers as well. Dress lightly since the enclosure is heated and humidified to simulate the tropics. This is the type of place that will appeal to all ages since it is a visual treat. See  for more information. For more information on what to see and do in Victoria see:
Bring your camera to the Butterfly Gardens

Monday, 18 June 2012

Gardens and Gin in Victoria, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
       Victoria, B.C. is just a short ferry ride from the Vancouver area and so we decided to spend 4 days there as part of our West Coast vacation. Fortunately we had better weather in Victoria than we had experienced in Vancouver so that enabled us to get out and see some of the sites. There is lots to do in Victoria so the following suggestions are just a sampling of what to do in B.C.’s scenic capitol. Our first visit was to Victoria Gin (who knew they made gin in Victoria?) where we had a tour and got to sample the gin and other spirits that are produced on the premises. Check this web site for more information:
You can sample gin and other spirits at Victoria Gin
    Nearby is de Vine Wines so if you are into sampling alcoholic beverages you might want to check them out as well. The winery is set on top of a small hill with a great view of the surrounding rural country side and they have a variety of wines made both from their own grapes and also from grapes from the interior of B.C. We sampled mostly white wines and like Victoria Gin your samples are free if you purchase a bottle. You can check them out on line at:
de Vine Wines has scenic setting and nice tasting room
       After imbibing on wine and gin we headed off to what must be Victoria’s best known tourist attraction-Butchart Gardens. These gardens are not to be missed and offer a spectacular setting for enjoying a sunny early summer afternoon. While we were there the rhododendrons were out (the tulips and daffodils had passed) and there were many other flowers on display. Allow at least a couple of hours to enjoy the gardens and be sure to bring your camera. For more information see:
 A visit to Butchart Gardens is easy to recommend 

The rhododendrons were in full bloom

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Exploring Vancouver - Part 2

by Keith and Heather Nicol

       Queen Elizabeth Park is a jewel in the Vancouver Park system and has gardens, a conservatory, an elaborate fountain display, loads of tennis courts and a nice par 3 golf course. It is perched on a small hill and so it gives great views of Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains. We decided to check out the par 3 golf course and were taken with its nice layout.  The holes are generally short-most are less than 100 yards and there are no sand traps or water hazards to deal with so it is user friendly for beginning golfers. For more information see:
Queen Elizabeth Park has a scenic par 3 golf course
      The next day it was rainy and windy in the morning so we opted to check out the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia. This museum is best known for its collection of native artifacts including impressive totems, cedar boxes and other carvings. We did a guided tour which is recommended to get the most out of your visit. For more information on this popular museum see:
The MOA has fine carvings from various native groups
       In the afternoon we visited Science World which is has been a Vancouver landmark since the Expo ’86. It has a scenic setting at the end of False Creek and we were there mainly to see the De Vince exhibit which runs September 3rd, 2012. The De Vince exhibit was very good and highlighted what a genius Leonardo De Vince was. Using numerous wooden models, many of his ideas come to life and the breadth of his inventions is impressive. Science World also has a very popular children’s area with many “hands on puzzles”, displays and activities. In fact we saw dozens of families who were visiting just for this section of Science World. For more information check out-
Science World has a picturesque setting at the end of False Creek

Exploring Vancouver - Part 1

by Keith and Heather Nicol
      We recently had the chance to spend several days in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. and although the weather didn’t cooperate on many days we still found many activities to enjoy.  A popular “don’t miss” destination is the Granville Island Market ( which has loads of goodies to eat and unique crafts to check out. It also has an amazing waterfront location on False Creek that provides a perfect place to “hang out” and catch the street performers or watch the steady stream of sailboats, kayaks and passenger ferries that constantly pass by. We happened to be there on a sunny Saturday and it was packed with locals and visitors alike. 
Granville Island Market is popular with locals and visitors alike
       We like to get a feel of a city when we visit and Vancouver has many hop on and hop off bus companies that offer an ideal way to explore and learn about the downtown area. We joined the Big Pink Bus Tour on a cool overcast day and hopped on at Beach Street. From there the bus makes 23 stops around to either pick people up or drop them off. It is a great way to see one part of Vancouver like Gastown and then explore Stanley Park or China Town later in the tour. The buses run every 20-25 minutes so you don’t have to wait very long at the bus stops. Our guide gave an excellent running commentary on Vancouver and its history. For more information see:
The Big Pink Bus in Gastown
       That evening we dropped into the Vancouver Art Gallery to see its Matisse exhibit which runs until the end of September, 2012. The Art Gallery has 4 floors so there is always lots to see and we even got to hear CBC’s Bob McDonald (host of the radio show -Quirks and Quarks) giving a talk on astronomy. Here is a great tip for anyone visiting-on Tuesday evenings you can see the Art Gallery for a donation which is a big savings over the regular adult price of $20.00 plus tax. The downside is that the gallery can be quite crowded on these evenings. See for an update on what is on display and what is upcoming at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is centrally located in downtown Vancouver

Friday, 1 June 2012

Biking and Canoeing in Ann Arbor, Michigan

by Keith and Heather Nicol

      We just returned from a fine trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan where we biked through parkland, visited the Farmer's Market, and did a canoe trip down the Huron River. Our hosts, Peter and Val, had scoped out some outdoor activities that kept us busy on our most recent foray to this quintessential university town. Our visit included biking through Gallup Park with its scenic backdrop of Geddes Pond. On this outing we were caught in a thunder and lightening storm (we hadn't checked the radar map closely enough before we left) but fortunately we found a covered pavilion that we could duck into before we got too wet.
Biking past Geddes Pond in Ann Arbor
        Once the storm ended we continued on our way cycling to an impressive peony displayed in 27 beds at the Nichols Arboretum  There were many varieties of peonies in bloom. From there we biked through the University of Michigan campus to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. This market is open year around but obviously is busier in the spring and summer. The Ann Arbor Farmer's Market is a producers-only market, which means that all of the items for sale are grown, baked or crafted by the people who sell them.
The peony garden is well worth a visit
        Another bonus of Ann Arbor is the Huron River which flows through the town and the City of Ann Arbor runs a great canoe/kayak service so that you can see the city from the water. We paddled from Barton Dam to Gallup Park which took about 2.5 hours and it is a great way to spend a spring or summer afternoon. We were bowled over by the number of people doing this trip and it is ideal for novices and families. For more information contact the City of Ann Arbor.
Padding the Huron River is a great way to spend an afternoon