Discover the beauty of Victoria, British Columbia at Butchart Gardens & The Fairmont
Talk about amazing gardens and most people immediately think of England. I confess I did too before discovering Victoria, Canada. This charming island off the coast of Vancouver is a complete departure from Vancouver’s big city vibe.
Waiting to be discovered, the island beckons you to slow down and enjoy a while.
Stroll around the compact downtown. Boats bob on their moorings, and bees buzz around the baskets of flowers just dripping with color that hang on every light pole.
The iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, built in 1904, dominates the harbor front. A National Historic Site of Canada, this chateau style hotel was once part of the Canadian Pacific Hotels. During the summer, sip tea with scones and clotted cream in the Tea Lobby, reservations recommended two weeks in advance.
Not far from downtown is world famous Butchart Gardens.
http://www.butchartgardens.com Designed to be visited more than once, every season is completely different. Open at 9am, closing hours vary seasonally.
Once an abandoned rocks quarry, and cement factory, today the only surviving part that can be seen is a tall chimney from a long abandoned kiln. In the early 1900’s workers moved soil by horse and cart to the bottom of the quarry one load at a time. This was the beginning of the bountiful gardens we see today. Now crisscrossed by trails, and awash with blooms, rooms of color each in a different style, await your perusal.
The tulips and hyacinths herald springs arrival. Enjoy the fragrance of thousands of flowers blooming in unison. Rhododendrons provide a backdrop for the tiny grape hyacinths, and daffodils under a canopy flowering cherries.
Summer brings out the mesmerizing begonias. Saucer size blossoms, in pastel colors, more reminiscent of a camellias with whisper soft petals. Famous for their blue poppies, enjoy peonies, hydrangeas, delphiniums and trellis’ covered with climbing roses. Summer also brings live music to the gardens.
In autumn leaves turn from green to red, and the highlights are the flaming Japanese Maples, chrysanthemums and beautiful dahlias.
When winter holidays approach, the gardens are bedecked with thousands of twinkling lights.
Like rooms in a house, different garden string together to form the whole of Butchart Gardens. Benches invite you to sit, while fountains gurgle and slash, in the background.
If you are going on an Alaska cruise chances are you are leaving from Vancouver, Canada or Seattle Washington. From either of these departure points it is easy to get to Victoria, and definitely worth a visit.
From Seattle, hop aboard the Black Ball Ferry Line www.cohoferry.com/main/
During peak season there are up to four trips a day. From Vancouver to Victoria use the BC Ferries www.bcferries.com. Bring a jacket; even in the summer evenings can get chilly. Public busses makes the trip from downtown Victoria to the gardens as well as local tours.
No matter what your plans, take the time visit to Victoria, Canada and Butchart Gardens.
What comes to mind when you think of Russia? Is it the cold war, soldiers in drab green, and blocky uninspired Soviet era architecture? Not so, in St Petersburg where you will find many beautifully restored palaces and museums that are reminiscent of other great cities in Europe, yet uniquely Russian.
Love exploring Europe’s great museums? Tour the Hermitage Museum, containing over 15 miles of galleries and nearly three million works of art. Considered by many to contain some of the finest European art, not because of the size of the collection, but because of the body of art. Those in the know get a tour with early entry to avoid the crowds, and allow lots of time
Enchanted by France’s architecture? Inspired by Versailles, Peterof Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site. A hydrofoil is the fastest and the most comfortable way to arrive. Alight, after your scenic cruise on the Neva River, and marvel at the gilded statues and fountains stretching toward the palace. Stroll through the ornate flower gardens with fountains gurgling around every corner. Inside Peterof Palace, take in the gilded walls, intricate inlaid wood floors, and sparkling chandeliers.
Visit Catherine’s Summer Palace, enchanting periwinkle blue and peach walls, topped by gilded domes give the palace a fairy tale quality. Inspired by the French, but definitely Russian, these palaces deliver stunning design.
Do you love seeing Europe’s greatest cathedrals? Visit the Church of the Spilled Blood. An eclectic mix of brick, tile, cornices and pilasters and topped by enameled domes with swirled ice cream shapes. Inside a jumble of arches and domes, with gold glittering everywhere. Intricate mosaic scenes covering every surface of the walls were nearly destroyed during the Soviet era when the cathedral was used to store potatoes.
The last emperors of Russia, the Romanovs are buried at the Peter and Paul Fortress. More like a palace, huge crystal chandeliers sparkle above you, and gilt-framed paintings adorn the mint green walls. Elaborate tombs carved of precious stones mark the final resting place of the Russian kings and queens.
Finally, St Isaacs Cathedral, crowned by a 333-foot gilded dome, rises above the city’s skyline. Inside walls are embellished with semiprecious stones, paintings, frescoes and gilding. Ceilings covered in frescos rise to dizzying heights. St Petersburg’s cathedrals are among the worlds finest.
Traveled on Europe’s metros? Alight on a fast moving escalator and whoosh 344 feet below the ground. Marvel at sparkling crystal chandeliers, iconic Italian marble statues, marble covered walls, and a complete absence of litter or graffiti. Reminiscent of a museum, St Petersburg’s metro is a delight. Fast, efficient and beautiful, it is what every metro should be.
Love Venice’s canals? Try sipping champagne on a barge while you glide by historic buildings. Much larger than Venice, and designed to accommodate cars using 342 bridges, canals are still a great transportation option. Snap your photos, or just kick back, cruising the rivers, and canals of St Petersburg is a relaxing way to spend the day.
Whether by ocean cruise liner or on a river cruise ship, enjoy cosmopolitan St Petersburg and immerse yourself in the surprising European beauty and splendor.
Experience some of the top ports for snorkeling in the Caribbean
Experience the magic of the under sea world. Take a glass bottom boat and marvel as the sea life darts past, completely oblivious to the world above them. Fish in multiple brilliant colors, and unusual shape; brain coral; stag horn coral; sponges; sea fans; the shapes and colors are as varied as a landscape. It’s incentive enough to don mask, fins and snorkel for the total immersion experience.
Located Off the coast of Honduras, Roatan’s snorkeling is second to none. Find your way to the West Bay Beach, and rent a chair near the Infinity Resort. Slip in to the glass clear water. Navigate around the coral, and be rewarded for your perseverance with giant schools of blue tangs dancing in the currents. Drift aimlessly, discovering something new at every turn. Plentiful and close in, the fish and coral here delight, this is paradise.
In Bonaire, you need only wade in to discover the colorful reefs. Encircled by a national park to a depth of 200 foot, this island is made for snorkeling. Putt across the bay to Little Klein Bonaire, and be rewarded with mesmerizing reefs, just steps from shore. Pack a picnic, and plan to spend a whole day. Walk the whole island in four hour but be sure to pack plenty of water, as there are no stores. Ideal for drift snorkeling, simply paddle out past the reef and let the current draw you along the islands edge. Relaxing and extensive, the reefs will amaze you.
Volcanic Dominica’s beaches are covered with softball size rocks. While not great for walking or sunbathing, the exceptional for crystal blue water is great for snorkeling. Accessible from shore, don’t miss Champagne Reef. Here tiny bubbles of volcanic sulphur gas dance continuously skyward in the caressing tropical waters. Curious blue damsels dart by, as the waves slowly roll toward shore.
Grand Cayman’s most popular activity is not snorkeling. Instead, for a once in a lifetime experience try swimming with the stingrays. Paying attention to instruction counts here. Hold the squid carefully to avoid the stingrays’ teeth. Feel the suction as the gentle rays slurp squid from your hand. With up to a four-foot wingspan these rays can be enormous. Combine Sting Ray City with a snorkel trip for a perfect afternoon. With visibility of up to 150 foot, Grand Cayman has near perfect conditions.
Graced by several cays Belize is a top snorkel destination. Caye Caulker is close enough to the port of Belize City for an afternoon excursion. The best, Laughing Bird Cay, is a 40-minute cruise from the town of Placenia. Named after the bird once nested here, it has been protected since 1981. Discover a tropical paradise, swaying palms, gentle breezes, and easy beach access. Sorry, you can’t stay, as this National Park has no facilities. Spend your time paddling slowly passed sea life, and think you may have found paradise.
Visiting Amsterdam? Here's why you should book your Ann Frank House tickets exactly 2 months in advance.
Tickets for this iconic attraction are currently only available from the Ann Frank organization.
These tickets go on sale exactly two months in advance, and typically sell out within a day or two. There are only certain number released each day. (currently 50 tickets for each 15 minute time slot)
While you may have heard that you can stand in line and get tickets from mid October 2017 through at least June 1 2018, no tickets will be made available, except online due to some renewal work.
When the work is finished there will be tickets made available daily, however the line for these few tickets usually stretches around the block. There are better ways to spend your vacation time than standing in line, so mark your calendar for exactly two months.
Here is the link to purchase your tickets
For more information about the Ann Frank House click here.
Tickets are currently 9 euro for adults.