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Warm, at last!

| It's so nice to be home again and not have to layer-up on clothes.

Wednesday was our day in Victoria, where we took a shore excursion to the butterfly garden and Butchart Gardens. Both were amazing in their own way. The butterfly garden had so many different kinds of butterflies flitting around! And they were not shy about landing on their visitors. Many of them were tropical species, so the building — a greenhouse of sorts — was very humid and comfortably warm.

Butchart Gardens was simply amazing. Acres and acres of flowers, all perfect. Not a withered blossom to be seen. The tulips were truly impressive, being about the size of a grapefruit and in unimaginable colors. What you can't do with an abandoned rock quarry if you put your mind and money to it! Much of it is replanted for each season — Réal had been there before in July, and he said it looked entirely different than it did for our visit. One of the visiting locals that we talked to went on and on about how gussied up it is at Christmas time and about the wondrous fireworks they do in the summer. It's easy to see why the gardens are on the not-to-be-missed list for Victoria.

That said, we came close to missing it! Once again, we were the last ones to get on the bus! Earlier in the morning we attended a briefing by Cruise Director Michael who promised to explain it all so we would have a "smooth transition ship to shore." Ha! Having heard no announcement about the shore excursions we went down to the Atrium and sat by the front office so we would be sure to hear the announcement. At one point there was a vague announcement about "transitory passengers," but nobody told us that that meant people on shore excursions, and there was no mention of where to go to get off. Periodically we would go to the counter and ask the people there, always to be told to "Sit down and wait, there will be an announcement." Finally we got tired of waiting and went to search out how to get off the ship, which we did. We found the tour director on the dock, who seemed surprised when we said there had been no announcement, inasmuch as the dock was full of people who had gotten off the ship. You guessed it, when we finally found our bus, we were the last ones on and got dirty looks from everyone already on board since they had been sitting there waiting for us.

What kind of cruise director announces that "transitory passengers" can get off the ship but doesn't even tell them where to get off? (It turned out to be deck A where the tenders load people, even though we were at a proper pier and didn't have to use tenders to get ashore!)

We were to arrive in Vancouver on Thursday morning and realized that the piece of paper they had shoved in front of me in San Diego to sign meant that we were agreeing to get off the ship at 7am. No! Much too early! So on our way back to our stateroom on Wednesday evening we stopped at the front office to make sure it was OK to just get off when we wanted to. Oh, no, you signed up for expedited disembarkment, and everyone else will have to wait until you get off! After some discussion we were offered the opportunity to change our disembarkment reservation and were given an "any time" pass. Good grief!

Thursday morning we had a leisurely breakfast then wended our way to the gangway to disembark. As we entered Canada Place, we happened to espy a National car rental counter, and since I had reserved a car with National, went over to pick up the keys. Ha! No, no, no, no! Our National rental car was at the Sandman Hotel, which on the web had been described as "at Canada Place" — it turned out to be, however, a "10-minute drive" away, but it was about 45 minutes before Manuel came back with a car for us. (The car turned out to be a brand-new, never-rented Nissan Sentra.)

After locating our hotel and checking in, we drove somewhat aimlessly about the city and had lunch at the Stanley Pub in the eponymously named park. It was a delicious lunch, and our server was a gracious young Australian woman who spends summers in Vancouver and goes back to Australia in the winter where she is starting her own import company to sell handcrafts from Bolivia, etc. Oh, yes, she has plans to start her own charitable foundation.

Friday we bought day passes on the public transit system and took the ferry across to North Vancouver for lunch at the market there (my house should be so sparkly clean!). When we came back we hopped on the SkyTrain and simply rode the entire loop through the suburbs. Around every station were high-rise apartment buildings. Vancouver provides an excellent public transportation system of buses, ferries, and trains, and the housing patterns reflect this. They do make it very expensive to park a car, so most people get around by public transit.

Friday night we met my friend Brett and his roommate and had an excellent Greek dinner. My friend David was supposed to join us, but he called a half-hour after we were to meet saying he had just gotten off work and would be unable to join us. Alas!

When we got back to the hotel we used the ATM-like machine in the lobby to check in for our flight — it scanned our passports and printed out our boarding passes so the only thing we had to do when we got through all the security rigamarole was check the excess bags and go have breakfast.

It was about that moment when I realized that my camera was not with me. Since it might have been in the checked bag (which I wouldn't have done consciously, but...) I shugged it off until we got home and I could check the bag. It wasn't there. A call back to the hotel was so far in vain, although they were going to check with the housekeeper this morning. Argh!!! Thus, there are no pictures of our cruise.

We were all astounded at how technologically advanced Canada is over the US. We used our credit card throughout — including at the solar-powered parking meters — and found that even the smallest establishments used portable credit card terminals which were brought to your table where your card was swiped in full view and handed back, then the machine was handed to you to push the OK button and add any tip (the machine would accept either a dollar amount or a percentage), and then printed out your receipt.

Equally astonishing was our experience with our cell phones. Shortly after we boarded the ship in San Diego Réal and I each received messages on our phones from AT&T alerting us to the fact that voice calls would now be 79¢ per minute. After the ship sailed, we got another message saying our service was now being provided by Cellphone at Sea and the rate would be 99¢ a minute. It obviously used the GPS locator in our phones to detect when we walked from dry land onto the ship and tracked us throughout the voyage. When we stepped ashore in Victoria and again in Vancouver, it instantly switched our coverage. But here's where it got weird: my coverage was switched to Telus, but Réal's coverage was switched to Rogers Cellular. But we both have AT&T phones.

Back in San Diego we took a cab back to fetch the car and decided to have lunch at Anthony's Fish Grotto right across the street. We all three splurged on lobster and <something> platters. It was good!

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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