Sheepdogs, Throwing Hammers and Kilts: 2012 Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival

Matt Doherty Weight for Distance Throw

After experiencing the 2011 Victoria Highland Games, my expectations for 2012 were raised, partly because I now have a great camera to take amazing photos. Still, with the warm sunny weather and not a cloud in the sky I was excited to see what the 2012 Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival had to offer.

After walking through the front entrance to Topaz Park, I snapped a few quick photos of the pipe band practicing in one of the lower fields and joined the large crowd waiting to see the sheepdog trials. Being a city girl all my life, I’d never seen a sheep being sheared up close, but the quick and effective way that the woman handled the sheep and sheared all the wool off with no pain at all, seemingly, to the sheep was impressive.

Next, I watched the tug-of-war competition between two different teams and cheered along with the crowd when the team on the right won. From there, I snapped a few photos in quick succession of the different vendors and clans that attended the Highland Games this year. Standing in front of Clans Cameron and MacLaren, I could see some of the vendors such as Freedom Kilts and Labyrinth Leathercraft, the name which invokes for me images of the Greek myth of Minotaur.

Standing with the crowd and being able to see the distance weight toss up close and personal through the amazing zoom of the camera lens was awesome. It was the first time that I’d ever been able to capture live action shots so clearly, making the experience of watching the Heavy Events that much more memorable.

I was even able to catch an Irish step dancing performance as well as a pipe band performance on the main stage over the heads of the crowd. Both performances as well as that of a music performance on the Bard & Banker stage were made that much more special because of the ability to see every aspect of each performance up close and personal through the camera lens.

Lastly, I was able to capture some great shots of the sheepdog herding trials; snapping photos of the dog in motion as he herded the sheep around makeshift fences in a circle.

What are my expectations for next year’s Highland Games & Celtic Festival? Well, it would be fantastic to finally see the caber toss, which I’ve never gotten a chance to see, as well as the braemar stone competition. Who knows, maybe I’ll even have the guts to try some haggis! If you’ve never been to the Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival, I definitely recommend it!


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The Art Form of Drinking Tea: Silk Road Tea’s Tea Workshop for Victoria Taste

Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I was exposed to tea and its health benefits at a very early age. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken a liking to different types of green and black teas as well as fruit teas and I regularly drink several different types at home.

However, tea ceremonies and techniques for drinking tea weren’t a regular part of my upbringing; we’d only ever conducted the traditional wedding Chinese tea ceremony as a family so when I heard that Silk Road was holding a Tea workshop on the techniques of drinking tea; as part of Victoria Taste Festival I decided to sign up.

The tea workshop was run by Daniela Cubelic, the owner of Silk Road Tea and there was about twenty of us sitting around the bar with trays that contained four tea cups in front of each of us. We each also had four smaller tea cups filled with two different types of tea leaves and four larger cups on a tray with each type of tea leaf pre-soaked with water.

We tasted and smelled the tea of two different grades of Japanese Sencha green tea and Chinese Keemun black tea. From looking at the dry tea leaves, we learned that the shine as well as the size and uniform look of the leaves dictates whether the tea is high or low quality. One of the Keemun teas contained a mix of shiny higher-quality leaves as well as what looked like tree bark. According to Daniela, some tea manufacturers would mix higher quality leaves with lower quality in order to raise the quality of their teas and sell it for a premium price.

We also learned that green and black tea leaves are harvested from the same bush and it is the oxidation and drying processes that turn the tea leaves black. If the oxidation or drying process is done incorrectly, it can cause the leaves to become moldy, which can lead to the tea tasting bitter.

 In order to taste the subtle nuances between different types of tea, Daniela taught the group the technique for proper tea tasting.

  • Cup your hand over the tea cup to smell the brewed tea
  • Take a sip of the tea and gently swirl it in your mouth
  • Take four or five deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling while the tea is in your mouth
  • Swallow accordingly

Daniela also gave us some fun facts about tea as well, like how the British came to put milk in their tea. Apparently, the Chinese sold the British the lowest quality tea leaves and when the British started drinking tea, they found that adding milk cut through the bitterness and they became accustomed to the taste. The British started growing tea plants that specifically produced more bitter tea leaves in order to keep that taste.

Not only was the workshop educational, I also learned more about the nuances and techniques behind a beverage of my childhood, one that has also been the cornerstone of Chinese culture for thousands of years.

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Exploring the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail: Discovering China and Botanical Beach

Although I’ve lived in Victoria off and on for the last three years, I’ve never had many chances to explore the rest of the island. Sure, there was a drive up to Jordan River once, a romantic getaway to Nanaimo, but by and large, I hadn’t seen much of Vancouver Island. I haven’t even seen Tofino in 17 years.

So when the suggestion came from good friends of ours to do an excursion to check out the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and China Beach, my partner and I jumped at the chance. Living in Victoria means a definite lack of sandy and warm beaches and I’d heard great things about China Beach, so it was a great idea.  We made the trek out to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park early one weekend and walked down a short trail to get to Botanical Beach.

Although Botanical Beach wasn’t our first choice, it was beautiful, like stepping into another world. Growing up in a big city, I have a tendency to categorize beaches into two different types: rocky and hard or sandy and warm. Botanical Beach turned out to be neither of those, but it was still gorgeous and it also supports many smaller ecosystems.

We could walk on the rocks during low tide and although they were covered with various types of seaweed, you could still see that the rocks had been polished, made smooth by the tides crashing in. The waves had even carved cliffs out of the rock overhangs on the beach, with trees majestically overlooking the beach.

Walking just a few feet away from the entrance to the trail led us to a completely different world. Although the rocks were also smooth as though they were carved and sculpted by the waves, the rocks had a porous quality to them. Instead of the dark rocks we saw when we first left the trail, the rock in this section of the beach was sandstone; layers upon layers of rock grains that were compressed to form slabs.

The sandstone rocks also contained several depressions, some of them quite deep, filled with water that the ongoing tide couldn’t displace. These tidal pools are home to some of the most unique ecosystems I’ve ever seen up close and personal. Filled with mussels and other shells, hermit crabs and plant life, it was one of the most unique things I’ve ever had the opportunity to take a photo of.

China Beach, our second stop, was different from Botanical Beach, almost like night and day. Though the water was cold, China Beach was home to the soft sandy beaches and white driftwood that everyone associates with the perfect beach. It was the kind of beach I’d like to set up a clambake and evening bonfire on with a few good friends.

It was a great trip to see some of Vancouver Island’s best beaches and next time, I’d like to go back to China Beach and if possible, have a nice picnic meal with friends and watch the waves crash against the shoreline.

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A Taste of Spain in Our Own Backyard: Dinner at The Tapa Bar

Although my partner and I have dined at several amazing restaurants in Victoria, more often than not, we would eat at a particular restaurant once; enjoy the experience, but still move on to next one on our list.

One Saturday night, however, we decided to re-visit a restaurant that became a favorite after our first time there over a year ago. Seeing how busy The Tapa Bar in Trounce Alley was on that Saturday night wasn’t surprising, it’s always been busy every time we walked by.

We waited about ten minutes before being seated at the bar inside, enjoying mojitos and a glass of white wine sangria before being seated outside on the patio.

It was warmer than most nights, even with the heat lamps and we decided to order just a few tapas plus a pizza.

The Veggie Cubanette was an open-faced sandwich with avocado, tomato salsa, beans and Portobello mushrooms. If you’ve never had grilled Portobello mushrooms, I highly recommend it. I can still taste that smoky, meaty flavor in my mouth, it’s absolutely amazing.

We also ordered the pollo de ajillo, garlic chicken wings that were served with bread. The amount of salt on the wings was good and the fragrant garlic was great to dip the bread into as a sauce.
Our last course was the pesto pizza, made with cilantro pesto, walnuts and green apples. Though I usually love pesto, I found that cilantro pesto was a little overpowering, the peppery flavor overwhelming everything else. It was also a little unusual to have walnuts on a pizza, but since we already ordered chicken wings, I wanted to try something different from the smoked chicken pizza.

In spite of the pizza, I’d say that overall, our second time at the Tapa Bar was still positive. The food, as always, is delicious and their drinks are creative. I don’t think I’ve had a glass of white wine sangria that I’ve enjoyed so much before.

It’s definitely a spot I’d want to introduce our friends to next time around.

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On Expedition with Great Pacific Adventures: Searching for Whales by the San Juan Islands

On my first whale watching adventure with Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours, we followed the trail of a pod of transient orcas out to Sidney and Dock Island and I came back with some fantastic photos and the great experience of being able to see transient orcas up close and personal.

On my second whale-watching expedition, the search for whales took a different route. Thanks to a great Groupon deal, my partner and I were able to hop onto Great Pacific Adventures’ 45-foot Ocean Cruiser.  Settling into the comfortable bench seating inside the boat with a cup of coffee, we watched as fifteen to twenty foot waves crashed against the windows as Captain Jo-Anne steered the boat out of the Inner Harbour and into open water.

We stopped at Trial Island and once again, I saw several harbor seals relaxing on the rocks. However, unlike my first time to Trial Island with Eagle Wing, there were more seal pups lying on the rocks as well. We stayed by the seals for a little while and as we left Trial Island, my partner and I stood out on the back deck of the boat and admired the view.

We walked back inside as the wind picked up and when we took our seats, the fifteen foot waves started crashing into the windows once again. Captain Jo-Anne and the crew tell us that we’ve received a tip that J pod, one of the three resident orca pods around Vancouver Island and the West Coast were spotted around the San Juan Islands.

As the boat crossed the border and drew closer to the islands, my partner and I sipped our coffee and watched the sun glisten off the waves. We managed to catch up to J pod by one of the islands and as the boat stopped, we walked out onto the back deck and managed to see two fins pop up above the water line. Because US regulations state that all whale watching boats need to stay 200 yards away from the whales, we were only able to see fins rise above the water occasionally as the boat drifted along the currents.

Overall, it was a fun experience with Great Pacific Adventures; but I would’ve liked to see more whales and other wildlife closer to the boat for more photo opportunities.

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A Slice of Strawberry Shortcake and a Walk around the Lagoon: Spending the Day With Strawberry Tea and Hatley Castle

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the Tourism Victoria events calendar looking for events to attend with new friends of mine; when I stumbled upon the Strawberry Tea event being held at the Christ of Our Lord Church.

I’d seen the Christ of Our Lord several times in passing and the original Gothic-style architecture drew me to it even before we walked inside. Originally built in 1876, Christ of Our Lord is the oldest church in Victoria, but you’d never known it with the way it has been beautifully restored. The Cridge Memorial Hall has even been restored to the original design of renowned architect Samuel Maclure.

The four of us walked into the church and were seated at a table with beautiful, intricate china cups, plates and saucers and given enormous slices of one of the most delicious strawberry shortcakes I’d ever eaten. Paired with a great tea that contained a hint of strawberries, it was a great way to spend the early afternoon.

We left the church and decided to pay a visit to Royal Road University and Hatley Castle. It’d been three years since I’d last been to RRU, last time I visited was as an employee, but I was happy to see that it was still as peaceful and tranquil as I remembered.

We spent some time taking photos of the Lagoon and enjoying the castle grounds. Unfortunately, there was a wedding at the castle that day and my partner and I were unable to show our friends the full beauty of Hatley Castle’s gardens. But we plan to return there soon to show them exactly why out of all of the places I’ve ever worked in, RRU will always be my favorite environment. 

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Sailing the Waters of Pedder Bay and Beyond

My partner and I love fishing, but we’ve struggled for awhile to find a good spot to fish as we can’t afford our own boat or the fees for a fishing charter. But, recently, we got lucky because Groupon came to the rescue and we decided to take advantage of a great deal to rent one of the boats from Pedder Bay Resort & Marina in Metchosin.

The boat in question for the Groupon was a beautiful 16” fiberglass Hourston Runabout power boat that could fit up to 4 people with ½ of a canvas top to keep the sun away. With a fishing rod, net, a tub to put the fish in and even a map of the key fishing areas close to the marina, we were off.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, with the sun out, causing the light to glisten off the water. As we pulled out of the marina, we could see other fishing charter boats as well as privately owned boats with some funny names like ‘Tuggy’ and ‘Aussie Rules’. We even saw a raccoon running up and down the beach, presumably digging for clams for his dinner.

It was an eye opener for me because I’d never been out on a power boat before and it was a completely different way for me to experience the island. I took as many photos as I could, soaking in the environment and the beautiful scenery for as long as we were out there. Snow capped mountains could be seen over the points of the Rocky Point Ammo Depot on the right and William Head Correctional Facility on the left.

It was the best way to experience everything Vancouver Island has to offer on the water. As we got farther out along Christopher Point and to the Race Rocks, we saw three seals relaxing on the rocky beach on an island just a little ways from the lighthouse at the Race Rocks. They started calling pretty loudly and we managed to get some video footage of them talking to each other while we were in the area.

The waves were larger in certain spots as we got further out from shore, partly because there were other rental boats and private fishing vessels moving past us in the area. Being that the Hourston was a much smaller boat that I was used to, it also meant I was feeling the effects of seasickness more than I usually would be.

As we sailed around the area, we also made a point to stop in several key areas, such as the Race Rocks, William Head, Whirl Bay and Christopher Point and drop our line over the side of the boat. Although we ultimately didn’t end up catching any salmon, it was relaxing to eat our picnic lunch on the boat and just bask in the sunshine.

On our way back, we managed to capture a few photos of four loons swimming along the waves. It was one of the best experiences I’d ever had being on the water. We arrived back on land, exhausted but relaxed and raring to try it again, next time with more fishing rods, better bait for salmon and maybe even a bigger boat with some friends.

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