Solid travel finds in Victoria and Vancouver: Star Travel guy in British Columbia
By Adrian Brijbassi
Toronto Star Travel
MASSET, B.C. — The discoveries and unexpected surprises are always one of the best parts of travelling. Here are a few of the things I came across over the past couple of days that weren’t on the itinerary or were never expected to be highlights but it turns out they deserve mention.
Willie’s Bakery and Café, Victoria — A real gem known locally for its brunch and all-day breakfast offerings. The plates that arrived at our table of eight didn’t last long Sunday morning, and neither did the smooth-tasting coffee. Eggs benedict with a great hollandaise sauce were the most popular. The dish costs just $12 and you can choose between one of five options, such as a Classic with ham or a Blackstone with maple dijon-glazed bacon. I went with the Pacific with smoked salmon and spinach. All the hearty bennys at Willie’s come with pan-roasted potatoes and thick slices of brioche. The day before I had a Banana Pecan French Toast for $10 that was also delicious and satisfying. Willie’s is away from Victoria’s bustling waterfront and Government Street shops. It’s in a brick building just to the south of the Johnson Street Bridge and has a charming patio loaded with flowers. If it was in Toronto, it would fit in perfectly at the Distillery District.
Joe’s Seafood Bar, Victoria — Another new place, this one’s located on the ever-popular Inner Harbour, right below Wharfside Restaurant. Joe’s looks like it will capitalize on overflow business from Redfish, Bluefish, the busy fish-and-chip shop that has hour-long lineups. I stood in line for more than 30 minutes in 35C-degree heat before a friend told me to meet him at Joe’s instead. That was a good call. The halibut tacos cost $10.50 for two (or $6.50 for one), were good sized and had a nice kick that didn’t take away from the flavour of the fish. Joe’s also sells pitchers of local beer for $15. Although you order your drinks from a waitress, you get your food at a concession stand at the side of the restaurant. An odd quirk, but it seems to work.
Delta Airporter Hotel, Vancouver — Comfortable beds, nice décor and a waterside restaurant that’s very relaxing, in part because no one in Vancouver knows it’s there. It looked like the only people in it were guests from the hotel. The rates vary, but it’s cheaper than staying downtown, which is now made more accessible by the Canada Line train (one way to Yaletown costs $2.50 and you can get there in 22 minutes from the airport). The Delta is most convenient if you’re flying early in the morning. I had to be at the South Terminal for a flight north to Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, and it took just three minutes with the hotel shuttle service.
Air North – Having heard little of Air North, I thought it would be one of those small airlines with tight planes that give you a rough ride. Instead, it was a comfortable 60-seat, 737 jet that departed on time and landed with hardly a bump. Passengers on the Yukon-based airline are treated to one snack, one candy selection and a beverage. That’s the same amount of beverages and one less snack and gumball than you receive on a flight from Vancouver to Toronto on Air Canada. Air North, which is 33 years old, has 240 employees, 180 of whom live in the Yukon; several are from the First Nations. In fact, the Vuntut Gwitchin Nation owns 49 per cent of the airline. Since 2001 it’s increased its services, and airfares to and from the Yukon have dropped by about 25 per cent, making our country’s beautiful northern territories more accessible. Air North, which also has one of the better in-flight magazines you’ll read, is a success story in an industry that’s struggled to find them in recent years.
It took two hours to fly from Vancouver to Masset, a tiny village that’s on an island in the pristine Haida Gwaii chain. From here, I’ll connect to a helicopter that flies into the Queen Charlotte Lodge, home to some mighty good fishing, I hear.