Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Butchart Gardens - Brentwood Bay, British Columbia

The Butchart Gardens is a group of floral display gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, Canada, located near Victoria on Vancouver Island. The gardens receive close to a million visitors each year. The gardens have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to their international renown.

Robert Pim Butchart (1856–1943) began manufacturing Portland cement in 1888 near his birthplace of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. He and his wife Jennie Butchart (1866–1950) came to the west coast of Canada because of rich limestone deposits necessary for cement production.

In 1904, they established their home near his quarry on Tod Inlet at the base of the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island.

As Mr. Butchart exhausted limestone deposits, his enterprising wife Jennie, made plans to create something of beauty in the gigantic exhausted pit. From farmland nearby, she had tonnes of top soil brought in by horse and cart and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, the quarry blossomed into the spectacular Sunken Garden.

They named their home "Benvenuto" ("welcome" in Italian), and began to receive visitors to their gardens. In 1926, they replaced their tennis courts with an Italian garden and in 1929 they replaced their kitchen vegetable garden with a large rose garden to the design of Butler Sturtevant of Seattle. Samuel Maclure, who was consultant to the Butchart Gardens, reflected the aesthetic of the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1939, the Butcharts gave the Gardens to their grandson Ian Ross (1918–1997) on his 21st birthday. Ross was involved in the operation and promotion of the gardens until his death 58 years later.

In 1953, miles of underground wiring was laid to provide night illumination, to mark the 50th anniversary of The Gardens. In 1964, the ever-changing Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir to celebrate the 60th anniversary. In 1994, the Canadian Heraldic Authority granted a coat of arms to the Butchart Gardens. In 2004, two 30-foot (9.1 m) totem poles were installed to mark the 100th anniversary, and The Gardens were designated as a national historic site.

Ownership of The Gardens remains within the Butchart family; the owner and managing director since 2001 is the Butcharts' great-granddaughter Robin-Lee Clarke.

In 1982 the Butchart Gardens was used as the inspiration for the gardens at the Canadian pavilion opened at Epcot Centre in Orlando Florida.

In December, 2009 the Children's Pavilion and the Rose Carousel were opened. The menagerie includes thirty animals ranging from bears, to horses, to ostriches, to zebras and mirrors the world from which The Gardens draws its visitors. The designs were hand picked by the owner, in consultation with an artist from North Carolina. The carvings were done by some of the few remaining carvers of carousel art. Each animal is carved from basswood and took many months to complete. There are also two chariots able to accommodate disabled persons.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Napa Wine Train - Napa Valley, California

The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a relaxing three-hour, thirty-six mile round-trip journey from the historic town of Napa, California, through one of the world's most well known wine valleys to the quaint village of St. Helena, and back.

Guests aboard the Wine Train enjoy a freshly prepared lunch or dinner inside a fully restored 1915-1917 Pullman Dining Car or 1952 Vista Dome car as they pass the vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley. They also have the option of pre-purchasing a winery tour.

The Napa Valley Wine Train's tracks were originally built in the 1860s to bring guests to the hot spring resort town of Calistoga. While the track to Calistoga no longer exists, much of the rest of the route of the Napa Valley Wine Train is unchanged. The tracks run through the heart of the world famous wine region. During the three hour journey, guests can see five towns; Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena; and numerous wineries through the large picture windows on board.

The Napa Valley Wine Train begins its journey at the McKinstry Street Station in Napa. The Train then travels north to St. Helena, where the locomotive disconnects from the north facing side of the Train and reconnects to the south facing side of the Train in preparation for the return journey. Currently, the Napa Valley Wine Train stops at different locations depending on the day of the week. Guests are only allowed to disembark at these locations if they have pre-purchased one of the Winery Tours.

The day we went on the Napa Wine Train trip from Napa to St. Helena and back was special for two reasons .... it was my wife's Birthday and it was also by chance the 25 year anniversary of the Napa Wine Train. So there were speeches, passengers dressed up in period costume, a 93 year old ex-engineer who came along and a gift of commemorative wine glasses for all passengers. The atmosphere was therefore very good to start with and after a few glasses of wine onboard was even better!

Luke, 93 years young, was an ex-engineer on the train so he showed up to celebrate the 25 year anniversary. He reminded me of TV series character Casey Jones. There was also a group of 3 ladies dressed in Victorian style dress and speaking to them I found out that they used to do fashion shows on the train. These characters really added to the nostalgic atmosphere on the train.