From stone quarry to lush garden – The story of The Butchart Gardens

A weekend on Vancouver Island is not complete without a visit to The Butchart Gardens. As stated on their website, The Butchart Gardens is a must-see oasis over 100 years in the making. And what a privilege it was to take in the beauty of this place that stands as a testament to what is possible when one has a grand vision. The story of The Butchart Gardens is also one of the most interesting family business success stories never told…

It all began with one woman’s vision and passion

In 1904, husband and wife, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island in pursuit of riches through the mining of limestone deposits. With a quarry for their backyard, they built a cement plant at Tod Inlet, and Robert soon built a successful cement business. At the time, the West Coast was exploding with development, and cement was in constant demand from San Francisco to Seattle. The first sacks of cement sailed out of Vancouver Island aboard the “Alexander” in 1905.

Jennie Butchart busied herself around the estate by planting flowers and shrubbery in an area between the house and Butchart cove. As time passed, Jennie’s efforts increased, and her husband often supplied workmen from the factory to assist in the ever-growing project of gardening. By 1908 the limestone ran out, leaving a gigantic pit near the house.

The limestone quarry pit in 1912. Source:

In an attempt to hide this hideous excavation, Jennie decided to expand her garden. The concept of a sunken garden formed, and Jennie had massive amounts of topsoil imported by horse cart to form the garden bed. The rubble on the floor of the pit was pushed into tall mounds of rock on which terraced flowers were planted. Mrs. Butchart dangled over the sides of the bare quarry wall in a boson’s chair and carefully tucked ivy into any discernible pocket or crevice in the rock to hide away all the gray.

In 1921, the project was completed. It had become a garden of immense interest to the surrounding community. Tales of Mr. and Mrs. Butchart’s fabulous gardens spread as fast as the gardens themselves. From the beginning, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers were welcomed, as they came to marvel at the horticultural masterpiece. At one point Mrs. Butchart found herself serving 18 000 cups of tea per year – or so the story goes…

1929. The garden taking shape. Source:

The most interesting family business success story never told…

In 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Butchart gifted the gardens to their grandson Ian Ross on his 21st birthday. Ian Ross transformed them into the world-renowned attraction we know today, adding outdoor concerts and night lighting in the summers, and the Magic of Christmas in the winters.

The gardens were then handed down to their great-grandson Christopher in 1997. Christopher began producing a choreographed firework show every year. Unfortunately, Christopher suddenly died in 2000 and the gardens landed in the hands of his sister Robin-Lee Clarke (63), who is the current owner of the gardens.  In 2009 Robin-Lee added the Children’s Pavilion and Menagerie Carousel to the gardens.

The sunken garden today. It’s hard to believe this was an old limestone quarry pit.
Rows and rows of flowers in the sunken garden
Robin-Lee’s Menagerie Carousel
Staircase to a lookout point
In 1964, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Gardens, Ian Ross created and installed the Ross Fountain. The water rises 21 m (70 ft.) in the air.
A rare sight in the gardens. The Himalayan Blue Poppy. It was imported to the gardens and only blooms for two weeks a year. We were lucky enough to see it in bloom…

The Butchart name has remained prominent in Victoria for over 10 decades and the gardens have been handed down from one generation to the next. The next in line to inherit the gardens, is Barnabas Butchart Clarke (34), the only child of Robin-Lee and David Clarke, and great-great-grandson of the founders. He currently lives in Victoria and produces dance shows.

Today, The Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site of Canada. You can still find remnants of the original cement plant and over a million bedding plants in over 900 varieties awaiting you as you wander The Butchart Gardens. It is worth it to take a boat trip in Brentwood Bay around the gardens. Your guide will tell you about the history of the gardens as well as some amazing stories about the Pacific Ocean.

Walking through these gardens got me thinking about life in general. Often, we find ourselves in situations that are less desirable or sometimes even downright frustrating. And we can choose to sit and cry amid the chaos. We could even get angry at the dust and decay underneath our feet. Or we can decide that we want to build a garden instead and create a more desirable future. We possess the power to either fall into dismay along with the chaos around us or to choose to create something beautiful out of it. And through our focus and effort, we might just inspire others, much like the gardens have inspired people for over 100 years…


Butchart Gardens. (2018). Our Story. Available online from:

Birds of a Feather. (n.d.). Butchart Family History – Robert and Jennie. Available online from:

Celebrating Victoria Day in Victoria

On 21 May, British Columbia celebrated Victoria Day. Victoria Day is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25; in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Capital of British Columbia – Victoria. Victoria sits on the craggy southern end of Vancouver Island. So, in other words, Victoria, altough it is the Capital city of the provence of British Columbia, is not on the mainlaind, but rather on an island just off the mainlaind. It is a 90-minute ferry ride through the Strait of Georgia from Tsawwassen harbour in Vancouver to Swartz Bay in Victoria.

However, the ferry ride is the middle part of the journey. Our journey from Vancouver to Victoria started with an hour train ride from Coquitlam to downtown Vancouver. From the train station we had to find a Vancouver Island tourist bus which drove us to Tsawwassen harbour. The bus boards the ferry that takes us over the water to Vancouver Island. It is amazing to see this whole operation in action. You cannot begin to imagine the size and the magnitude of the operation of this ferry. It carries trucks, busses, cars and foot passengers over the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Below is a short video of the ferry entering the harbour. At this stage we were sitting on the bus watching the ferry dock.

This is what it looks like at the lower level of the ferry where all the cars, busses and trucks are parked
There are elevators and stairs that take you to the upper levels of the ferry
Seating on the ferry
Dining on the ferry

Once on the other side, the bus takes you into Victoria. It is still another hour’s drive from Swartz Bay harbour to Victoria city centre. So the total journey is about 6 hours. Is it worth it? Absolutely!!

Victoria is characterised by abundant parkland and has an array of outdoor activities to pursue.

A park with the Fairmont Empress Hotel in the background

The city’s British colonial past shows in its Victorian architecture.

We ended up staying in a hotel in the scenic Inner Harbour. This is right at the heart of the city and this area is bustling with floatplanes and harbour ferries.

Inner harbour
Inner harbour with BC Parliament Buildings in the background

The Inner harbour from a different angle

Another way of getting to Vancouver Island is via float plane. They land in the Inner harbour.

The city’s most famous historic building is of course the BC Parliament Buildings.

BC Parliament Buildings
BC Parliament Buildings
Statutes in front of BC Parliament Buildings with beautiful Spring flowers in bloom
A statue of Queen Victoria
The fountain in front of the BC Parliament Buildings
And of course a Totem Pole

Here you can grab a traditional horse and cart and see a bit of the city this way. It was a bit too expensive for us, but Emma got to pet the horses…

Other famous buildings include the Fairmont Hotel Empress…

The Empress Hotel

…as well as the funky Fisherman’s Wharf, with its resident seals and lemonade stands.

Boats at the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf
Floating houses at Fisherman’s Wharf. These are privately owned homes on the water.
The end of the docks of floating homes…

Everyone recommends Barb’s Fish & Chips at Fisherman’s Wharf. But of course, as you can imagine, this means that the queues are endless at Barb’s. We discovered the most amazing fried salmon at The Floating Fish Store. We went back the next day for more. It was delicious!

Best fish on the docks – The Floating Fish Store
Fried salmon and fries with coleslaw
And if you can manage it after your fish and fries, grab some mini doughnuts…

Another must-try at Fisherman’s Wharf for those with a sweet tooth, is Jackson’s Ice Cream.

Some tips if you are ever able to visit the island:

You can take your car on the ferry, but you need to book well in advance and reserver your spot on BC Ferries. We found taking the bus was less stressful, because it takes the thinking out of it. You just have to get on the bus and the bus driver manages everything else.

If you book your ferry trip on BC Ferries they often have accommodation packages as well, so you could actually book your ferry and your accommodation together and save a lot of money on accommodation. It is more expensive booking seperately. We learned that the hard way.

You don’t really need a car if you are planning to spend your weekend in Victoria. There is lots to see and do and most of it is within walking distance. They also have a hop-on-hop-off tour bus that takes you all over the city, so you can easily get to all the major attractions of the city without needing your own car.

However, if you plan to visit the rest of Vancouver Island, you will probably need a car. So you could either bring your car over on the ferry or rent a car once you are in Victoria. Keep in mind that the ferry also travels to other harbours on Vancouver Island. You could take a ferry to Nanaimo for example – which is located on the east side of Vancouver Island and which is another popular tourist destination.

Eat before you go on the ferry. This allows you to take in the scenery on your way to the island instead of having to stand in the queues at the diner waiting for food. Because we took the 07:00 ferry, we figured we would have breakfast on the ferry. We ended up waiting in line for the whole 90 minutes of the ferry ride and missed out on the trip to the island.

On our way back to Vancouver, we opted to sit outside on the top deck of the ferry. The views from here are breathtaking.

Seating on the top deck of the ferry. Make sure to take sunscreen on a hot day.
The view simply takes your breath away

It was a crazy whirlwind weekend, but it was literally the first time we actually felt like we were living in a coastal city. We had so much fun. The 6-hour transit back home is a bit tiring though, so keep that in mind. There is still so much we want to see and do, so despite the schlep of getting there, we will definitely take another trip to Vancouver Island in the near future.

What’s it like to drive in Canada?

Most people who live in South Africa know that driving on South African roads can be a stressful experience. Even those who don’t own cars, but utilise public transport, know that the road is a stressful place to be. Apart from poor road infrastructure and massive road maintenance issues in both rural and urban areas, driving on South African roads is stressful for two other reasons:

  1. Congestion – especially if you live in Cape Town or Johannesburg which are the two most congested cities in South Africa; and
  2. Lack of adherence to the traffic rules – or what Canadians would call “disrepectful driving“. Without pointing fingers, most of us who have used the roads in South Africa know that rules are often bent – sometimes a little; i.e. rolling over a stop sign instead of coming to a full stop before proceeding – and sometims a lot; i.e. blatantly disregardig a red traffic light and driving into uncoming traffic whilst expecting other road users to make way for you.

For those of you who don’t know, Canada has reciprocal license agreements with certain countries. This means that if you immigrate to Canada, you can visit your nearest provincial driver’s licence office and hand in your original national driver’s licence from your country of origin and they will issue you with a Canadian driver’s licence. Unfortunately, Canada does not have a reciprocal license agreement with South Africa, which means that you are legally allowed to use your driver’s licence from you country of origin for your first 90 days in Canada; after which time you have to take a knowledge and road test again in order to obtain a Canadian driver’s licence.

If you fail to complete the knowledge and road tests, you will no longer be allowed to drive in Canada and will be forced to use public transport to get around or you have to sign up for their learner driver programme, which is a two-year programme that prescribes that you are not allowed to drive by yourself. You always have to have a licenced driver with you when you are behind the wheel and you must complete a specific number of driving lessons and must wait at least two years before you can do the road test; unless you can provide reasons why your application should be expedited.

Fortunately, the public transport system in British Columbia is pretty good. See a previous blog post about this. However, as I mentioned in another blog post about buying a car, access to trains and buses depends on where you live and you might still have need of a car for grocery shopping (it is easier to transport groceries with a car – especially when you are buying in bulk), or for long distance travel and sight-seeing. So it is advisable to try and obtain your British Columbia driver’s licence. I found that because we are from South Africa, we value having our own car and being able to get around without having to depend on public transport. In South Africa, you get used to your independence simply because you are not living in a system where you have to adjust to a public transport schedule. Unreliable and unregulated public transport in South Africa, makes it the mode of transport for those who simply cannot afford a car, but not the first choice for anyone who has the means to buy a car.

Most people in Vancouver and the surrounding areas still own cars and use their cars on weekends and for road trips, but they use public transport to travel to and from work. This is the option we have chosen. My husband uses public transport to commute to and from work and I use the car for errands and emergencies. It was an adjustment but hubby seems to be getting used to public transport now. There are some nice benefits to using public transport for your commute; i.e. he doesn’t have to sit in traffic, and he can use his travel time to work, read or listen to podcasts – which is a much nicer way to start and end your day than navigating your way to and from work in the chaos that is Johannesburg peak traffic. The West Coast Express, is particularly nice for getting work done on your commute. The train is quiet and has space to work and is a fast and efficient way to get to work – with less stops between destinations. But again, you have to stay in an area where you have access to the West Coast Express.

Either way, obtaining a British Columbia driver’s licence was a “must-do” on our to-do list and because we did not want to end up in the British Columbia learner driver programme, it was one of our top priorities on the to-do list. We only had 90 days from the day or our arrival in Canada, before we would have to surrender our South African driver’s licences. It is important to keep in mind that you book your knowledge and road test online and that the system generates a test date for you. Oten your test date will be at least a month (sometimes two months) in the future. So it is important to book your test date as soon as possible and then work towards it.

Taking the tests

The knowledge test is an online test that you complete at your nearest ICBC branch, which is the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, but strangely enough also what we would call the “traffic department” back home in South Africa. You book your test date online. Then you download their road user manual to study British Columbia’s road signs and rules for driving. ICBC’s website also offers free practice tests that you can take before you take your knowledge test. The knowledge test is a multiple choice quiz that tests your knowledge of road signs and the rules of the road. You need to get 40 out of 50 questions right to pass. The tricky part is learning all the signs that you have never encountered in South Africa before.

In British Columbia there is a heavy emphasis on responsible and conscientious driving. You are required to drive cautiously and slow, but also to respect other road users and demonstrate kindness, by letting a driver into the lane ahead of you, waiting for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the road before proceeding etc. There is a whole section in the manual on sharing the road safely with other users. And here everyone abides by the rules. You start with zero points on your driving record when they issue your licence and gain points for being convicted of breaking certain traffic laws. Demerit points stay on your record for two years from the offence date. If you collect enough points, you can lose your driver’s licence. “Enough” points is 4 demerit points in a 12-month period. On the ICBC website there is a list of fines and points for B.C. traffic offences. Looking at this list, you realise that you can very easily get to 4 demerits by driving the way people drive in South Africa. Demerits also mean an increase in your insurance premium and of course you are legally obliged to take out insurance with ICBC when you buy a car. No-one can buy a car without taking out insurance, as uninsured vehicles are not allowed on the road.

The road test is a 35 minute test with an examiner. There is a thorough vehicle check and hand signals test before you start driving. After your car has been checked out and deemed safe, you start your road test. The examiner takes you through a pre-set route to test your driving skills — like turning, changing lanes, and parking. The route includes city streets, commercial areas, and highways. You also go through different kinds of intersections: ones without traffic signs, ones with stop signs, and large intersections with traffic lights. Your examiner also asks you during the test to spot and point out potential hazards and to park your car either uphill or downhill.

Once you get back to ICBC’s testing centre, you will know whether the examiner wants to pass or fail you on your driving test by the fact that he/she will either ask that you stop anywhere (fail) or that you back into a parking (pass – if you succeed in parking). After you’ve finished your test, the examiner goes over your test with you and provides you with feedback on what you did well and where you need to improve. If you did not make more than 3 mistakes, you pass the test.

So what is it like to drive in British Columbia?

The most difficult part of driving in B. C., is learning to drive on the left side of the car and the right side of the road as opposed to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. Left turns at intersections are tricky. When wanting to turn right at a or red traffic light, you are allowed to stop and then proceed with caution (i.e. treat it as a yield sign) even though the traffic light might still be red – unless there is a sign indicating that you have to wait for a green arrow before turning. Another thing that is a big part of driving in Canada, is driving in wet and snowy conditions – something we almost never have to think about in South Africa. These were also the most tricky test questions on the knowledge test – knowing what to expect from melted ice on a bridge or how to handle skidding on slippery roads etc. – which actually happens quiet often when driving in snow.

Something to keep an eye out for, is pedestrians that cross the road without checking for oncoming cars, because they always have right of way and cyclists moving into your blind spot from bicycle lanes on the right-hand side of the road. And of course the speed limit, which is 30 km per hour in areas where there are schools or parks, 50 km per hour in the city and main roads, and 80 km per hour on the highway. The lower speed limits end up being a blessing in disguise as you try to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, because you have more time to think before turning or changing lanes.

Mostly, once you start getting used to the weirdness of it all and relearn where all the blind spots around your car are, the driving experience is quite a pleasant one; simply because everyone follows the rules. Roads are well-maintained and on snowy days, the municipality scrapes all the snow from main roads and sidewalks, ensuring safe driving for everyone.

Canada Sevens at BC Place

Rugby is one of the three most popular sports in South Africa – the other two being soccer and cricket. So, when the only other South Africans you know in Canada, invite you to go and watch the Canada Sevens, you figure you might as well; even if only to do something that reminds you of home and for the opportunity to meet other South Africans. Neither my husband nor I are big rugby fans. We watch the occassional rugby game, but we are not die-hard supporters. Most of our family would actually consider themselves rugby fans. So when we announced that we would be attending the Canada Sevens, our families were both surprised and envious…

The Canada Sevens is an annual rugby tournament that takes place every March. It is held at BC Place. BC Place is a multi-purpose stadium located at the north side of False Creek, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and is currently the home of the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The stadium also served as the main stadium for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Paralympics, which Vancouver hosted.

Construction on the stadium started in April 1981, and the stadium was opened a little over two years later on June 20th, 1983. At the time of its completion in 1983, the stadium was the world’s largest air-supported domed stadium until May 4th, 2010 when it was deflated for the last time in preparation for the erection of its new retractable roof.

BC Place is British Columbia’s largest and most versatile venue; with capacity for 54 500 people. The cable-supported fabric roof is the largest of its kind in the world – designed and engineered specifically for Vancouver’s climate. BC Place is able to hold events in comfort all year round. The annual events hosted at the stadium contribute more than $100 million in economic activity.

According to BC Place’s website, the retractable roof over BC Place is a technological marvel. The retractable centre portion of the roof measures approximately 100m x 85m – effectively covering the area of the entire playing surface. Seated guests remain covered – rain or shine. The roof takes approximately 20 minutes to open or close, and before any major event, weather conditions and other circumstances are taken into consideration, to decide whether the roof will be kept open or closed during an event.

A view of the retractable roof from inside the stadium
BC Place is illuminated from 06:00 am to sunrise, and from sunset to 23:00 pm on most nights. On event nights, the roof and Northern Lights Display are lit until the conclusion of the event.

It was a spectacular sunny day on the day of the Canada Sevens, but the roof was kept closed, because despite the sunshine, it was still relatively cold outside. It was about 8 degrees Celcius outside and given the outrageous nature of some of the costumes that some of the fans chose to wore, this was perhaps a wise choice. Otherwise these fans would probably have enjoyed the day a little less. The stadium is surprisingly warm inside, despite it being an open-air stadium. We took off our jackets and scarfs upon arrival, and did not really feel a chill until much later in the afternoon.

When you arrive at the stadium, you can immediately see why it is a popular venue choice. The place is well layed out and a lot of thought has gone into, not just the roof, but also the concession stands and bathrooms. What was particularly nice for us, visiting with a toddler, is the family bathrooms that allow parents and small children to use the same facilities together. Not only are these family bathrooms well-situated between the other bathrooms, but there are officials who also point them out to you if they see you have a small child with you.

Large screens in the stadium allow you to see everything that is happening on the ground, no matter where you are seated in the stadium. The event organisers put a lot of effort into ensuring that fun is had by all, with music and roaming cameras looking to zoom in on people dancing, and finding colourful ways to express their support for their respective teams. That being said, the fun is never allowed to get out of hand. When buying drinks from the concession stands, you are only allowed a maximum of two drinks per person at any one time; effectively ensuring that no-one can get too drunk and curbing any unruly behaviour that might stem from uncontrolled drinking.

Safety officers also ensure that people have fun without endangering their safety or that of other people. If someone tries to hang over a railing for example, a safety officer will come and have a friendly chat. And these chats are friendly and civil. Something that is rare to observe, since people tend to get out of hand at stadiums in South Africa, and many sport events often end in fighting or violent outbursts of some sort, simply because people have gone overboard and drank too much.

Deciding which team to support during each match, was at times easy and other times proved more tricky. We sat with fellow South Africans and screamed at the top of our lungs when South Africa was playing.  What was amazing though, was the sense of cameraderie that we also shared regarding team Canada. We found we could support our new home with the same amount of gusto and enthusiasm. In most instances, since our arrival here, we have been welcomed with warmth, sincerity and kindness. Canadians are genuinely nice and kind people and if I had to support a team other than South Africa, nothing made me prouder, than being able to support this kind and generous nation.

I think the best game for the day was actually the game between Canada and the US. The stadium was roaring with Canadian fans who bellowed a loud “boo!” in unison every time the US team scored a try and leapt off their seats and burst into song every time the Canadian team scored. Unfortunately, Canada lost. But it only put a damper on things for a few short seconds, before people burst out into song and dance again and continued being merry and very, very silly, but in a really good way.

Despite my general lack of interest in the game of rugby itself, I haven’t had this much fun since we left home. It was awesome being among entusiastic spectators and observing people having fun without taking anything too seriously. Unfortunately, we did not make any new friends. But that is simply the impracticality of trying to strike up a friendly conversation in a stadium full of screaming rugby fans. For us, that was not the aim of the outing. The aim was to simply enjoy the day for what it was – good clean fun and merriment.

It was with a small note of sadness that we walked back to the train station to catch the train home that evening at 18:30, because we realised how we actually felt safe despite the hour of the day and the crowd of people pouring out of the stadium. It was with a heavy heart that we had to admit that we never felt this safe leaving a stadium after an event in South-Africa. Noticing the clean city streets and how people just let each other be – how someone who had had too much to drink could prop himself up against a wall and sleep off the worst of his inebriation without any threat to his safety or his life, made me feel a little sad.

Listening to conversations had by fellow South-Africans in the stands, we realised that we were not alone in what we felt since we arrived in Canada. People miss home every day. They miss their friends and families and they feel sad on happy days like these, because they do not get to share it with those they love. But the fear and the sense of desperation you often feel in South Africa, is the thing that convinces them to stay; even on the days when the burden of their loneliness and their longing for something familiar becomes unbearable.

P. S. For the die-hard rugby fans and team South Africa supporters, you can watch seven of the best tries from the Canada Sevens here.

A world of colour and glass

What a privelege to get a second opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seattle. It was only a two-day trip, but two days were just enough to pick a bucket list activity to do in the city. So I opted for the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

It was a cold and rainy day outside, but that did not stop us from exploring.

Some history on Dale Chihuly – the creator behind the Chihuly Garden and Glass and who it is named for

Dale Chihuly was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington. He was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. Chihuly was enrolled in the first glass program in the United States, at the University of Wisconsin. He received a Fulbright Fellowship and went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today.

You can read more about Dale Chihuly and his work here.

There is a mini-theatre at the Chihuly Garden and Glass where they feature short films about Chihuly’s biggest glass projects. In one of these videos, he talks about his time spent in Venice. He said he spent an entire year all by himself, just studying and observing. He reckons, this year spent by himself was actually more critical to the development of his creative talents than any of the other years he spent studying. I found this resonated quite a lot, considering how alone I feel right now.

There are 10 exhibitions in the Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery.

  1. As you enter the gallery, there is the Glass Forest, which looks more like flamingos on a black lake to me.
  2. The Northwest Room houses some glass bowels and beutiful woven tapestries.
  3. The Sealife Room has one spectacular centre piece that you can pose in front of for a complimentary photo. You receive a card to collect your photo just before you exit the gallery at the end of your tour. You basically use the card to identify your photo and then provide your e-mail address for them to e-mail the photo to you. Very efficient. I received my photo that same afternoon.

    Chihuly Garden and Glass
  4. The Persian Ceiling is exquisite. The entire ceiling is filled with beautiful handmade glass bowls and flowers and as the light comes through the ceiling, it scatters the wall with colour.
  5. The Mille Fiori is a beautiful glass forest filled with glass flowers, glass cylinders and glass balls. It is breathtakingly beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time. The entire room is black and the “forest” is in the centre of the room…
  6. The Ikebana and Float Boat are two wooden rowboats filled to the brim with glass works. The first boat is filled with glass balls of different sizes and colours and the second boat is filled Ikebana elements – which are basically flower-like glass stems arranged in a similar fashion to the Japanese art of Ikebana.
  7. The Chandelier Room is another room that is painted black and filled with giant colourful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It is incredibly striking.
  8. The Macchia Forest are giant colourful glass “flowers” placed on iron stands. These flowers are speckled with colour by rolling molten glass in small shards of coloured glass during the blowing process. To complete the process, a lip wrap of a contrasting colour is added.
  9. The Glass House is my absolute favourite exhibition. It is a giant conservatory with a massive glass flower display suspended from steel beams. The display weighs about 7 tonnes. It is breathtakingly beautiful and the conservatory is a nice place to sit and take in the scenery both overhead and outside. It is a quiet sanctuary where you can just sit and think or be.
  10. The Garden is a garden filled with natural trees and schrubs and interspersed with some of Chihuly’s biggest and most colourful displays. Chihuly is right when he says that when you walk through his gardens, you feel as if the art belongs there and is part of the nature scene. The display of colours both from the flowers and the glass art pieces create this beautiful other world where glass and forest meet and merge.

Once you have walked through the whole gallery and garden, you can finish of your tour with a delectable meal at the Collections Cafe, that houses some of Chihuly’s drawings.

Breyties take on Seattle

Within the first month of his new job at Amazon, my husband was invited to attend training at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. So the Breyties were off to Seattle – hubby to work and meet the rest of his team who are based in Seattle, and Emma and myself to explore the city.

Of course our trip to Seattle involved many new “first times”. Apart from it being our first time in Seattle, it was the very first time we had actually entered a new country by car instead of by airplane. We crossed the Canada/US border at night so it was quite difficult to see most of our surroundings, but it was the first time we got to drive at speeds higher than 80 km per hour – so that was fun! (Canada has very strict speed limits on all public roads).

From past travel experiences, I can tell you that the best way to orientate yourself in a new city, is to take a tour of the city within the first day or two of your arrival. Not only do you get a good overview of the city’s history, but you also get the highlights package of what there is to see and do.

So of course this is what I did. I took Emma on a bus tour of the city and within 3 hours, our tour guide Keith, made me fall in love with Seattle. I need to mention that Seattle has always been on my bucket list – for the most obvious of reasons: Pike Place Market. And of course, the market met and exceeded my expectations. But more about the market later. What I have to mention here, is that there is lots to see and do and we consider ourselves lucky that we are only 3 hours’ drive from this beautiful city, because we simply have to go back.

So what do you need to know about Seattle? I will divide the important stuff into three broad categories: (1) Interesting things to know about the history of the city; (2) Best attractions to visit; (3) What the vibe of the city is like.



Seattle is in the US state of Washington and is considered one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. It is considered part of Silicon Forest – which is the nickname given to rapid growing high-tech cities in Washington and Oregon – i.e. a mini Silicon Valley. The first European to visit the Seattle area was George Vancouver, in May 1792. George Vancouver, is of course who the city of Vancouver is named after.


Seattle was founded in 1851 and logging was their first major industry. It was a thriving city until the The Great Seattle Fire. The Great Seattle Fire destroyed the entire central business district of Seattle, on June 6, 1889. The fire burned for several hours, destroying 25 blocks and causing as much as $20 million in damage ($527 million in today’s dollars). What is interesting about this, is that when they decided to rebuild Seattle, they built the new city on top of the old city and to this day you can take an underground tour of the old Seattle city and view the remains of shops and buildings from the old city.


Something else that you might not know about Seattle, is that it is a very hilly place, but that people literally moved hills to make way for roads and buildings. Following the Great Fire, City Engineer R.H. Thomson took the opportunity to spearhead a wide-ranging effort to tame the terrain around the city and prepare it for a century of growth. Canals were dug, rivers were diverted AND hills, ridges and mountains that separated neighborhoods from the downtown waterfront, were physically moved. From the 1890’s through the 1920’s, more than 50 million cubic yards of earth were scraped away with pick axes, water cannons, steam shovels and conveyor belts. Much of the displaced earth was used to create the flats that now form the waterfront of Seattle.

Seattle Waterfront

Some of the biggest companies in the world, had their beginnings in Seattle. These include UPS (1907), Boeing (1916), Microsoft (1975),  and of course Amazon (1994). UPS and Boeing no longer have their headquarters in Seattle.

I am told that the The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is one of Seattle’s most-loved, premier attractions. It is the largest building in the world by volume and it is the only place in North America where you can witness the assembly of commercial jets. It is a unique opportunity to view 747, 777, and 787 Dreamliners being assembled on the Everett production line before they take to the sky. Each tour is approximately 90 minutes long and includes fascinating facts about Boeing and the planes that bear its name. We weren’t able to visit Boeing on this trip so it is on our bucket list for next time.

UPS left the inhabitants of Seattle a little gift on their departure, the UPS Secret Garden in the city; which Emma and I had a chance to visit. It is wonderfully fragranced from blossoms growing in the garden – even in the middle of winter – and there is a breathtaking waterfall on a rocky cascade.

UPS Secret City Garden
UPS Secret City Garden
Waterfall at the UPS Secret City Garden

Half of the city of Seattle now belongs to Amazon and the other half belongs to Microsoft Co-Founder, Paul Allen. Amazon owns 22 buildings in Seattle. Every building has a unique name and a story that explains the origin of the building’s name.

Both Paul Allen and Bill Gates also started their charities in Seattle. Paul Allen funds the Allen Institute for brain research that does research on Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. They have managed to successfully map the brain of a mouse in 2017 and their aim is to eventually map the human brain and find cures for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. And of course Bill and Melinda Gates own the Gates Foundation which focuses on health care and education, particularly in developing countries.



So what are the main attractions to visit in Seattle? I suppose it depends on how much time you have in the city. A one day trip should definitely include the Space Needle, which will give you panaromic views of the whole city and the harbour, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass, which will simply amaze you with what is possible with glass. Dale Chihuly is an absolute magician with glass. And on Sunday mornings, you can do yoga under the glass at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. These are the main attractions in the city.

Space Needle
Space Needle up close
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Outside displays at the Chihuly Garden and Glass

You could perhaps include a museum or two or the 3-hour City Tour or a combination of these. The easiest museum to visit, would be the Museum of Popular Culture (or MoPOP), since it is at the same location as the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Founded by you guessed it, Paul Allen, this museum has gone through 5 name changes. It started out as the Experience Music Project. Then it was the acronym EMP. Then Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (“EMPSFM” for short-ish). Then EMP Museum and now MoPOP. Some locals actually call it the The Jimi Hendrix Museum, because it was originally dedicated to Jimi Hendrix and the genre of rock music. Today however, it includes pop music and other cultural exhibitions as well.


If you have two or three days, then definitely include Pike Place Market and the harbour. What should you see and eat at Pike Place Market? Do NOT miss the fresh fruit stands. They are AMAZING. They offer fresh pieces of fruit to taste and they make THE BEST full-cream Greek yogurt I have ever tasted. It is simply delicious!! They hand out samples of the yogurt at the fruit stands.

Pike Place Market
Fruit stands at Pike Place Market

You HAVE to visit Pike Place Fish Market for their fish throwing demonstration and to see all the fish. It is truly a sight to behold. Do not forget to try the clam chowder. Coming from South Africa, clam chowder was something we have never eaten before. In South Africa we have bunny chow. In Seattle, they have clam chowder, which is basically a thick, rich and creamy seafood soup that they serve in a round bunt-shaped bun. It is definitely somehting you should try if you are not allergic to seafood!

Every stall in the market is unique and offers hand-made and home-made delicacies. You do not realise how overly processed things are in the US until you hear the Americans rave about the freshly prepared food at the market. This is the only place they can go to get a meal freshly prepared. It is insane and it reminds you of the wonderful blessings we have in South Africa where freshly prepared food is still a commonplace occurrence in our restaurants.

If you are at the market in winter, then definitely get yourself some hot apple cider. And if you can handle spicey food, you should buy a samosa (pronounced as it is written and not how we pronounce it in South Africa – i.e. samoosa) from Saffron Spice. For something cooler, I can recommend the frozen yogurt and gelato from Bottega Italiana.


As already mentioned The Future of Flight Aviation Centre is worth the visit. So depending on how much of a fan you are of aviation, this might be on your must see list or not.



Something that is a bit more rare and would probably not be included in the main sightseeing brochures and books, is the little town of Fremont. Why is Fremont so important? Because they have a troll. In 1990, the Fremont Arts Council launched an art competition whose partial goal was to rehabilitate the area under the bridge in Fremont, which was becoming a dumping ground and haven for drug dealers. The idea was to build a piece of art under the bridge to attract visitors to the bridge and prevent drug traffickers from hanging around under the bridge. It not only worked to deter drug dealers, it also became a pretty good reason to visit Fremont when you visit Seattle.

The Troll is a mixed media colossal statue, located on N. 36th Street at Troll Avenue N., under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge (also known as the Aurora Bridge). It is clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle, as if it had just swiped it from the roadway above. The Troll is 5.5 m high, weighs 6,000 kg and is made of steel rebar, wire, and concrete. He is interactive—visitors are encouraged to clamber on him or try to poke out his one good eye (a hubcap).

The Fremont Troll

And then there are the floating homes… For immigrants to Seattle who are legally not allowed to buy property, a floating home is actually a viable option. You build your house on a barge and then launch into the harbour. There you go, you own a house in Seattle. They even have an association that will inform you of the procedure and the rules regarding ownership of a floating home – The Floating Home Association. And these days tourist can rent a floating home through Airbnb for their stay in Seattle. 

Floating homes in Seattle
Floating homes in Seattle


Lastly Seatlle is a techy city. It is fast-paced, but with a kind of open-mindedness towards the way work is done. Many businesses have opted for open-plan office spaces with large open windows where passersby on the street can actually peer through and have a look at what people are up to. People in Seattle love their dogs. In fact, most people take their dogs to work and you can even drop your dog off at playcare at a dog lounge…

Dog Lounge in Seattle

They are less child-friendly though than Vancouver. Most places either do not cater for children or do not allow children, which is kind of a bummer when you are travelling the city with a toddler.

So in closing on a very long blog post, Seattle is a beautiful and vibrant city with a rich history and lots of interesting places to visit. We are definitely going back for more. So watch this space for more stories and photos about Seattle in the future.

Getting around in Vancouver – A brief look at the public transport system

Moving from a country where public transport leaves a lot to be desired to a place where there is a proper public transport system, seems like an upgrade. And in many respects it is. This post looks at the different public transport options available to you if you live in Vancouver, Canada.

All Vancouver Public Transportation is run by TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation authority. TransLink operates a variety of public transportation options in Vancouver.

Firstly, there are two types of trains:

There is the Canada Line & SkyTrain Rapid Transit – Rapid transit refers to the automated trains that run above and below ground. SkyTrain consists of the Expo Line and the Millennium Line. A third system called the Canada Line provides the travel from the airport to Downtown Vancouver. The Vancouver rapid transit runs from north to south from Vancouver Airport to Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver as well as from east to west/southeast from Waterfront Station to the cities Burnaby and Coquitlam.


And there is the West Coast Express – The West Coast Express is a driver-led train that connects Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver to Mission, with select stops along the way. This is the executive train that aims to get commuters to work fast and efficiently. So it runs on weekdays only and only during peak commute times in the mornings and evenings.


Secondly, there are also two types of buses:

TransLink provides continuous bus services throughout the day. In addition to traditional buses there are also express lines that make fewer stops, and community shuttles that carry fewer passengers to specific areas of the City.

Most buses are electrical and run on electric lines that run throughout the city centre

Seabuses carry passengers to and from Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay. They are actually boats/ferries, despite being called “buses”.

Alternative to traditional public transport

And then of course there is Zipcar. What is Zipcar you might ask? Zipcars live where you need them most. Zipcar is a car-sharing service that allows you to “borrow/lease” a car for a short period of time. For example, say you need to run an errand in the city during your lunch break, you could use a Zipcar to drive to your selected destinations and then you drop the Zipcar off at a recognised parking depot once you are done with the car. Zipcar is basically a car rental service with a twist. You reserve wheels when you want them, by the hour or day (online or in the Zipcar app) and only pay for the time you use them. And unlike a car rental, there’s no waiting in line at the counter, because everything is booked and finalised on the mobile phone app. You collect the car from selected locations and use your zipcard to unlock and lock the car. Below is a breakdown of how it works:

Something you might not expect to see, when using the public transport system in Vancouver, is the bear warning signs…

Yes, there are actual bears roaming around in the city. It depends on where you live, whether you will actually see a bear. If you live close to the mountain or in Coquitlam, you will probably encounter a bear at some point. So here’s holding thumbs…

Bear in the streets of Coquitlam during spring time

Despite all these options, the availability and viability of these travel options depend on where in the city you live. Some areas of Vancouver are more easily accessible by train or bus than other parts. For this reason, public transport is probably a good option for commuting to work and back, but it does not solve all your travel challenges. Travelling from the Superstore with your groceries  for example, is probably best done with a car unless you can take friends along on the train to help  you carry all your bags – a difficult thing to do if you are a newcomer with no friends. Furthermore, for road trips out of the city or across the US border, a car is probably a better mode of transport. Depending on your location and budget, you might have access to a Zipcar, but you also might not. So when all else fails, you buy a car right?! Read the next instalment of this blog to learn what you need to know about buying a car in Vancouver.

Let it snow

Growing up in South Africa means never seeing snow fall, since it is simply too hot. Even during our coldest winters, the temperature never drops too far below 0 degrees Celsius. One of the amazing benefits of moving to the other side of the world and settling so far up north, is the opportunity to see snow fall… What a sight! There are no words to express the sheer thrill and exhilaration one feels at the sight of your first ever snow fall…

We were greeted with grey skies when we arrived here for the first time and it was difficult to adjust to the lack of sunshine – one of the things you actually take for granted when you live in Africa. South Africans love the sun. We spend all our time in the sun, because it is the one thing we have in absolute abundance. In fact, we are so used to seeing the sun shine, that we become depressed if we are faced with more than three days of grey skies and rain…

Just as I was starting to feel depressed at the lack of sunshine, it started snowing and everything was covered in a glittering white blanket.

It is amazing how a little snow can transform the whole world… Suddenly everything looks different. Snow definitely brightens your day. It lights up the world in a uniquely fresh and clean way…

Suddenly a white Christmas is no longer just something you see in movies or read about in books. It is something you get to LIVE. So here is to our first white Xmas. It snowed all day and we stayed indoors and made a traditional South African home-cooked meal…  So we got to have the best of both worlds…

A snowy landscape awaited us when we awoke on Xmas morning
A cozy fireplace


And a delicious roast chicken