January – Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and much more

January – Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and much more

After three years of isolation, we are finally traveling again. But, I am definitely out of practice. Packing is a laborious event, when before it was automatic. Thoughts of airport check-ins, security lines, passport control, and crowded terminals fill me with dread.

In the last 4 months, I have been to Dallas, Texas for a funeral and reunion with cousins in November. And in early December I spent a week in Hawaii with a friend to celebrate her retirement.

Together with my husband and another couple, we explored and hiked the redwood parks just north of here in late October.

The redwood burls look like creatures from “Lord of the Rings”, otherworldly.

And finally, the two of us took a trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island in B.C., Canada to visit the ‘storm hotels’.

All of the above is why you have not heard from me lately.

Following are some details of our trip to Canada. It’s a tale of trains, planes, and automobiles; plus the ferry and a bus. They say life is about the journey, this vacation was certainly to a large extent about the adventure of travel.

Throughout the last few years of drought in California we (my husband and myself) have watched the storms hit the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada with envy. The low-pressure systems would sit just off their coast bringing a generous amount of rain. At the same time, a high-pressure system just off our northern California coast kept the rain away from us. The town of Tofino (at the end of the road in western Vancouver Island) has an average of 128 inches of rain annually! It’s a popular place for nature lovers and is crowded in the summer with surfers, kayakers, beachgoers, campers, fishers, and whale watchers. In the winter the visitors come for storm watching.

We planned this trip six months ago. We couldn’t have known that, ironically, the storms would hit our little coastal town with 30-foot waves and a deluge of rain while it was mostly rain-free in Canada. Sure, the sky was grey while we visited but very little precipitation fell to spoil our beach walks and hikes. At the same time, Fort Bragg had flooding and power outages.

Below is a picture of the sky as we drove into Oakland to catch our train.

Leaving the Bay Area the clouds looked like a second city floating above the buildings of San Francisco below


Amtrack Coastal Starlight

Both my husband and I love trains, so we started our little holiday with a 23-hour train ride from Oakland to Seattle on the Amtrak Coastal Starlight. The train originates in Los Angeles, traveling up the coast before it reaches its final destination in Seattle. We had a private room with a small bathroom, the seats converted into 2 generous bunks for sleeping. By day we had a comfortable chair, couch, and large picture window for watching the world flow by.


The beginning of the trip was in darkness, we boarded the train at 9:30 pm and the room was set up for sleep. Leaving Oakland the train traveled through the delta. Regarding the water below with weariness, the tracks seemed to be barely above the water. We heard that this same train, scheduled to leave the following day, had been canceled due to anticipated flooding.

The sound of the clicking and clacking of wheels and the gentle rocking of the train lulled us to sleep that night. We woke in the morning to a snowy landscape in Southern Oregon.

While we breakfasted on cheese omelets, our room was converted back into a sitting room. We arrived in Seattle on schedule that evening. Since our next train (to Vancouver B.C.) left early the next morning we booked a hotel near the train station. I was impressed by the Embassy Suites hotel, only a block away, where we visited the bar in the restaurant for a snack of fried artichoke hearts and a glass of wine before retiring for the night.

Early the next morning we boarded another train to Vancouver in B.C. Canada. It was an easy crossing of the border, two passport checks were the only red tape. From Vancouver, we took a taxi to the ferry terminal for the trip to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

We spent one very pleasant afternoon and evening in Victoria at the Victoria Regent Waterfront Hotel, which is centrally located in downtown Victoria.

City view from our hotel room in Victoria

On our ‘to-do’ list was a visit to the Irish Times pub where we had spent a pleasant blustery evening several years ago when we last visited Victoria.

Irish Times Pub in Victoria

Shepherd’s pie and a pint were a must.

Shepherd’s Pie at Irish Times

The next morning we picked up our rental car for the 4-hour drive to Tofino. So far we hadn’t seen any rain although our daughter, who was house and dog sitting back home, reported a power outage due to strong winds associated with the storms hitting the coast of California.

In Tofino, we stayed at the Pacific Sands Hotel where we had a small studio apartment overlooking the beach.

Beach off the Pacific Sands Hotel in Tofino

We did find a few places to watch the waves crashing on the shore. The sky was grey and gloomy but it didn’t stop us from long beach walks.

Tofino Beach

We had one memorable hike through the rainforest on an elevated walkway. About a mile in length, the wooden walkway took us up high on a ridge and then down into a ravine with a stream where salmon spawned. The richness of the moss, ferns, and trees in the forest felt ancient and primordial.

Although Tofino is a small town of just over 2,000 permanent residents, several accomplished chefs have settled there and opened restaurants. A few of them were closed because it was just after the busy holidays but we had no difficulties finding wonderful places to eat.

Although the restaurant Roar is in a hotel that looks to be something straight out of the ’60s, the food was excellent. We sat near the kitchen where we could watch them cooking over an actual roaring fire. It reminded me of the TV show Bear, which I recommend.

We had breakfast one morning at the Savory Island Pie Company. The menu did not limit itself to pies and we had excellent croissants and scones to take away for another morning.

After four amazingly cozy days in Tofino, we drove back to Victoria for 3 more days at the Victoria Regent. This time we had a small apartment with a full kitchen. We were surprised to learn that the hotel had originally been condos and there were some full-time residents. Our room overlooked the harbor, and we could watch seaplanes land and take off from the balcony.

Victoria Harbor

Then it was time to take the ferry back to Vancouver, a bus (no I didn’t forget it) to the airport, and a plane back to Oakland.

After hearing horror stories of travel experiences over the holidays, we felt lucky that everything went smoothly. We arrived home to mostly clear skies as the storms had moved north to Vancouver Island.