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Twenty-Five Years Young
by John Harris
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

Having been married for twenty-five years my wife Katherine and I decided to take advantage of beautiful October weather and revisit places that have been a significant part of our lives together.

We've always enjoyed traveling via BC Ferries and our first trip as a married couple was to Vancouver Island. So now, with our dog Tiger in tow, it was off to Swartz Bay and the scenic drive through the Saanich peninsula. Eager to share with Tiger the charms of Victoria's Willows Beach, we drove straight to Oak Bay. Local dogs on the shore made him welcome and we enjoyed stunning views of Mount Baker.

A block up the street, we stayed with tradition and shared fish and chips under the oaks while planning our next jaunt.

We'd never seen Craigdarroch Castle, an extravagant project of Victorian coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. The luxurious interior has survived indifferent occupants and two world wars. Now a national historic site Craigdarroch has been restored to its original splendor and is a powerful reminder of the energy and prosperity of the Victorian era. When it was completed in 1890 you could buy a decent home in Victoria for six hundred dollars. The castle's woodwork and paneling alone cost forty-six thousand dollars! Dunsmuir never got to see the exquisite finish; he died in April of 1889.

After the baroque tastes of the Victorians we refreshed our senses at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Despite its humble beginnings as a family home, this gallery houses B.C.'s largest public collection of visual arts - including an excellent collection of Emily Carr's paintings; a reminder that the Vancouver Art Gallery isn't the sole keeper of this eminent artist's paintings.

Next was an exhibit I am sure Emily herself would appreciate. 'Urban Thunderbirds' showcases traditional First Nations art and encompasses discussions about First Nations' ideas and personal life stories in urban settings such as Vancouver, New York, Paris and Rome. Taking another turn, we were soothed by the stunning woodcuts of Kiyoshi Saito. Saito's art was new to me but his prints had the unmistakable stamp of a master. We followed correct tourists-at-home procedure and bought a book of his prints at the gift shop to keep the inspiration alive. After all, this was a trip about memories.

Encounters with artistic and architectural masterpieces are rigorous work and so we happily followed the fragrance of fresh baking and coffee into one of the city's many cafes. Refreshed and rejuvenated, we were up for exploring the charming boutiques in Cook Street Village. Our search yielded some antique earrings; gold mementos for our silver anniversary.

A little lighter in the wallet, we headed north through the magical afternoon light that makes Victoria so special. In the suburb of Hillside we relaxed into the comforts of home with old friend Joan and her dog Mamasita.

Home stays can be the best part of our travels and dinner with Joan and Mamasita was another 'best'. Her little bungalow is the perfect Victoria hideaway, fronting as it does a lush and peaceful backyard.

Bright and early in the morning, we were "back in the saddle", metaphorically speaking, and heading through the Malahat to revisit Coombs. Yes, the market still has goats grazing on the roof and dream catchers floating over the piles of organic produce.

Then it was a winding thirty minutes via the mountainous Port Alberni Highway 4 through majestic Cathedral Grove and into Port Alberni. This town isn't the most romantic stop for a couple revisiting their anniversary. However there's a family connection here-a grave of Katherine's pioneer grandmother lies in the old cemetery and we wanted to see if we could find it. Our search didn't locate the stone but finding El Pescadores, a popular bistro at the edge of town instead, made up for the disappointment.

Twenty-five years together has deepened our interest in family history, so the return drive took us into quiet Nanoose Bay. We arrived at the home of cousin Ted in time for a welcome dinner. The tales flowed with the good wine and we left reluctantly to catch our boat home.

Nothing is more nostalgic than a trip over water and we were a little sad leaving our memories behind. We were comforted with new and vibrant impressions as we sailed for home. Good tidings for our next trip to Vancouver Island-and our inspiration for the next twenty-five years.

PHOTOS - credits as indicated below

1. Craigdarroch Castle - Photo courtesy Tourism Victoria
2. Victoria Street Scene by the Harbour - Photo by Margaret Deefholts
3. Port Alberni - Photo by Sharie Francoeur
4. Cook Street Village
5. B.C. Ferries passes by spectacular coastal scenery - Photo Margaret Deefholts
6. B.C. Ferry passengers on deck - Photo Margaret Deefholts

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