One of the quickest and most exciting ways to explore a city is by bike, and with a tour guide like Matt Oliver who is extremely knowledgable and passionate about the city of Victoria, it was, in my opinion the best way to see the sights from a local's point of view. I was also very much in need of a work out after all the food I consumed over the weekend (which you can read more about here).
Bike Tours Victoria is owned and operated by experienced chef Matt Oliver. When he isn't working in the kitchen, he's creating unique sight seeing experiences catered to the individual or groups that he hosts on his bike tours. Matt likes to collaborate with local businesses and interesting people in Victoria. He also loves to surprise his guests by taking them to special spots where the Victoria locals hang out, places you wouldn't usually find on your own.
Another Vancouver based journalist & I meet up with Matt at 9:30am on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and set out for our specially curated bike ride around the city. The moment we meet, Matt's passion for his job and the West Coast culture shine through.
Matt has many things planned for us on our three hour tour, and I'm absolutely pumped to start. He tells me in advance that he'll be showing us some of the city's hidden gems where I'll have the chance to chat with local business owners, and that he'll also be taking us to some of the more traditional tourist spots in Victoria. I love that we're not restricted to the usual guidelines of city tours where you're forced to stop off at various uninteresting spots. Each Bike Tours Victoria experience is different; depending on the day, the weather, and the group size, as well as the personal interests of those touring with Matt.
We start out at Thunderbird Park, located next to the Royal British Columbia Museum. The scenic park is home to many treasured totem poles and other sentimental First Nations monuments. Many of the original towering totem poles have been moved to museums and been replaced with replicas to prevent weather damage, however we still take a moment to appreciate the unique and special works of the First Nations communities. It was really great to hear a little history of the First Nations people as I honestly had no idea, and living in Vancouver I see this style of art scattered all over the city.
Next, we cycle to the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, which are incredibly stunning. Although I'd passed by this building many times already travelling back and forth from my hotel, I didn't really take much time to appreciate the beauty of it. Matt dug deep into his wealth of knowledge and shared a lot of the history behind this building, and with his quirky attitude, he turned something I'd usually find quite boring (politics) into something really interesting.
We also visit the home where famous artist Emily Carr grew up, a home that remains in its original state and has now been turned into a museum showcasing some of Emily's work and personal items. Emily's home is located on the San Francisco-esque Governor's Street and is open to the public for tours Tuesday-Saturday from 11am-4pm.
Next stop on our tour, and one I'm super excited about is a ride to the local farmer's market. Here we had the chance to speak with the vendors, one in particular I couldn't quite get enough of. The vendor was Taylor Kennedy, founder of Sirene Chocolate. Kennedy started out working for the National Geographic Society in photography, writing, and photo editing. His work took him to countries with a rich agriculture heritage where he began to make the connection between food and the growing demand for ethnically sourced products. We do a chocolate tasting at Sirene and I just couldn't get enough of the Award Winning 'Milk Dark' chocolate.
After a walk through the stunning gardens of Government House, we cycle our way back to the Downtown core to Chinatown, where Matt has something really special planned for us. We stop off at Silk Road teahouse for a divine tea and chocolate tasting. The mix of Silk Road's tea blends and Sirene chocolate is incredible. Who would have thought, chocolate and tea? Amazing. Since 1992 Silk Road have been creating some of the world's finest, freshest, organic teas, skin, and body products. I leave with a few tins of mint & ginger teas and I plan to visit their new location in Vancouver for a restock very soon!
I love Matt's passion throughout our entire tour, there's not one moment where I'm bored. He creates these fascinating tours where he wants people to actually have fun and let their hair down, that's his main priority, which is pretty rare.
One thing I really admire about Matt and Bike Tours Victoria is his giving back ethics. For every KM you ride with Matt, you're helping to find a cure for multiple sclerosis. To find out more, check out www.mssociety.ca.
Spending the morning cycling around the city with Matt was a beautiful experience and I hope more people will join him for his bike tours of Victoria. All you have to do is read his online reviews after reading this and I guarantee you'll be booking him for your next adventure to Victoria.
Bike Tours Victoria offer three different tours; The Highlight City Tour (which I took), The Discovery Tour, and The Harbour to Farm Tour. As well as these tours, Matt also offers custom and private tours suited to your needs. You can find out more information on Bike Tours Victoria's website here.
Throughout the rest of my weekend I manage to make it to the Art Gallery of Vancouver where I see an Emily Carr exhibition called 'Picturing the Giants - The Changing Landscapes of Emily Carr', and enjoy the works of Japanese photographer Senjiro Hayashi. The museum is stunning; the building itself is a work of art, a magnificent mansion that was originally built in 1889 for a Victorian banker, designed by architect William Ridgeway Wilson. In 1951 the mansion was donated to Art Centre to become the Art Gallery of Vancouver and has undergone many renovations over the years.
On Sunday morning just before my boat ride back to Vancouver with V2V Vacations, I stop off at the Royal Museum of British Columbia to check out the Terry Fox exhibition. Fox is an incredibly inspiring man, who at the age of 18 lost part of his right leg to cancer. Once he recovered, he set out to run across Canada in what he called a "Marathon of Hope". Fox started out in Newfoundland and unfortunately had to cut his run short in Thunder Bay, when his cancer returned. However Terry still achieved his goal of raising cancer awareness, and is still such an inspiration to a lot of people today. This was a wonderfully curated exhibition within the RMBC. I also recommend checking out the IMAX here, where I'm going to be honest and admit that I went to see Beauty and the Beast on Saturday night - it was awesome!