I have given our day allocated to the Butchart Gardens tour a page all to itself, because I think it deserves it! At least the forecast of rain was wrong, and we had brilliant weather all day, non-stop sunshine, and not stifflingly hot.
Those reading yesterday’s Vancouver page will have seen the problems with booking a tour when you don’t know the difference between Fairmont Downtown Vancouver, and Fairmont Empress, Victoria. We had missed out yesterday because we could not have got over to the starting point in time. So we had rebooked for today, a pickup at 7.30 am from the Empire Landmark Hotel, two blocks away from the Robson Suites.
We arrived at 7.20 am in anticipation. By 7.38 I just had this uneasy feeling, and went in to the hotel to enquire if the tour was going to be late. The lady receptionist kindly rang CVS Tours for me, even though we weren’t hotel residents, and then the heartstopping moment. ‘They were outside to pick you up at 6.30 am’ she said. I showed her the email the Robson had printed out for me, which clearly said 7.30 am, I was not happy, so she passed the phone over to me. At first the company said they had confirmed 6.30 am, I was adamant they hadn’t. They offered a refund, or partial refund if I could get over to the Fairmont in time for the Butchart pickup, having missed the Victoria part of the tour.
The nice lady at the desk then offered to see if she could get us on another company’s tour, with an 8.00 am pickup, she rang round, but they were all full.
We weighed up the options. They were
- Go tomorrow, another early get up, and a very long day before the flight to Portland.
- Catch a taxi to the ferry to Victoria, at a cost of at least $90 extra, plus cost of ferry and buses.
- Or, she said we could ‘become locals’ and try out the public transport system. This had sounded complicated, but bless her, shegave us a map, wrote down each step, and told us when and where to get on each bus, train or ferry.
Okay we will go local, we thought, and pick up the tour just before it leaves for the Butchart. In our innocence, we had no idea how long it would take. We thought a one and a half hour ferry crossing would leave time for us to explore Victoria, visit my favourite Canada clothes shop, Laura, which I remembered well from 10 years ago (still have the clothes, they last so well!), and have a spot of lunch.
Well….. I will spell out the process for anyone else wanting to get to the Buchart from Downtown Vancouver on your own to save money, it is doable!
First step she said was to buy a Day Pass for $7.50 each, from the Cherry Market shop on Robson Street, hear the Empire Landmark. These cover all trains and buses in Vancouver. We managed that, although I left my cardigan in the shop and had to go back, but hey, we were stressed! (I can see our children reading this thinking thank God they are not with us!)
Next step, get on a No 5 Bus to the Waterfront Railway Station and validate your pass on the bus. These run every 5 minutes or so.
Cross the road to the station and take the Canada line in the direction of Bridgeport or Vancouver airport.
Get off at Bridgeport and go down the stairs. If you are hungry, or need a loo, the Red Rock Casino has a buffet and washrooms you can use, direct access from the platform.
Go right down two flights of stairs to the bus pick up point on the left and look for the 620 Bus, going to Tsawwassen, where the BC Ferry departs from. Buses seem to leave on the hour to connect to ferries.
It will take about 40 minutes to reach the Ferry, the bus drops you off right at the terminal in time to buy a ticket and walk onto the boat.
Crossing takes around 1.5 hours and costs $16.90 each, a real bargain. It is very smooth, most of it spent cruising down a beautiful channel with lovely wooded scenery with log cabins hidden amongst the trees, and lots of blue heron in the water. There is a good cafe and a restaurant on board, Rog had a late breakfast of porridge with a crunchy blueberry topping and coffee, and I had a ‘cranberry omega slice’ which was a lovely moist cake, and a mug of hot chocolate, I needed comfort food!
It took about 15 minutes to dock and get the airgate in place, but we are soon disembarked and walking outside to the bus. It was now 11.45 am. Again I had not realised how far the Swartz Bay terminal was from Victoria, thinking we could just perhaps walk to the Fairmont Empress pickup point, not realising that Swatrz Bay was the opposite side of this bit of the island!
The transfer bus costs $2.50, again another bargain, for what turned out to be an hour’s ride.
We were now acutely aware that we were in danger of failing to make the pickup destination. We watched on the bus as the minutes ticked by, and progress towards the centre of Victoria was agonisingly slow. We eventually left the bus at 12.52 pm, thinking it was hopeless, but sprinting up to the Fairmont anyway.
There was a CVS bus parked outside, but first we had to get our email exchanged for a voucher. There on the stand was the CVS staff member who had spoken to me yesterday, and someone had relayed to her my comments from this morning. We got a sort of apology for the lack of morning pickup, and an astonished ‘how did you get here?’ so we told her! She did say the company would give us a partial refund, then issued us with Butchart Garden tickets, coach vouchers to the Gardens and on to the ferry, and vouchers to get us back to the Landmark Empire hotel in the evening.
We climbed onto the CVS bus with a sigh of relief, but a real sense of loss that we had not managed to see anything of Victoria. Oh well, at least we were on track now.
We arrived at the Gardens at about 1.50, thinking we would not have that long to enjoy them, as we were being picked up at 4.00 pm.
They were already looking gorgeous from the entrance, but we had had no lunch, and had to grab something quickly. The cafe supplied a ham and cheese ciabatta sandwich, fruit scone with butter and jam, two iced coffees and even two Mars bars, we were getting a bit carried away! Eating these as quickly as possible, I then ran round the gift shop whilst Rog finished off his late lunch. As an ex-nurse, I have never got out of the habit of eating fast, in case you got called back to the ward for an emergency!
The gift shop itself was a delight, beautiful things, but I just stocked up on a collection of their seeds (specially sealed for me, because we would be taking them into USA) and a T shirt for me.
Back out to tour the gardens, we were so frightened we would not have time to get round and miss things that we rushed it, but the flowers and setting were worth all the hassle to get there, the stress melted away ‘You are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth’ and all that….
There was a Sunken Garden
A Japanese Garden
An Italian Garden
and a Mediterranean Garden
We had time to get round, and even time for a big ice cream at the end, Wild Honey and Lavender for me, a first, and Rog had Wild Berry, which tasted of blackberry, both lovely and refreshing, but at $5 a go, needing to be! 🙂
We now experienced how the tour should have gone this morning. Back onto a CVS coach waiting outside, straight down to the ferry, escorted on board by the driver who supplied us with tickets. Time for a cup of tea, and more beautiful passing scenery, then down to Deck 2 to find our coach, which took us back to the Landmark Empire.
We were so impressed with how the receptionist had saved the day for us that we dropped in some chocolate treats into the hotel, and asked the staff to pass them on to her as a thank you.
Dinner tonight was from a local takeaway,