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14 April, 2013

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Matthew, who sadly leaves our tour this morning, has written this account of our wonderful visit to Vancouver Island, BC.

“Until yesterday, our two visits to Granada, with its beautiful Alhambra Palace and gardens, have been my most memorable times on tour (as faithfully reported by Katie in Thursday morning’s blog!). No longer. As the group’s resident Canadian I have always looked forward to opportunities to revisit my country of birth; this, however, has been my first time in British Columbia, having missed last December’s tour, and it has been a real treat.

“With the delightful memory still fresh of a most rewarding concert and a fine post-concert jar of Red Racer IPA at Romer’s Burger Bar in Yaletown (both beer and bar are strongly to be recommended), we were able enjoy about half a free morning to roam downtown Vancouver before continuing our voyage. Some went in search of fashion and were able to pick up some of the latest ‘Roots’ cottonwear. Others took a more leisurely stroll downtown, while still others enjoyed the seafront. After a short hop in heavy traffic down to the ferry port at Tsawassen, we set sail around lunchtime for Swartz bay on Vancouver Island.

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“The journey was simply stunning. After a grey morning in Vancouver clouds of every description surrounded us, but for much of the crossing there was blue sky above our heads. The 90-minute crossing zigzags its way amongst the beautiful Gulf Islands at the foot of the Georgia Strait; both islands and water glistened gloriously in the sun against the cloudy backdrop.

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“Many photographs were taken. Sadly, though, the camera was not pointed and ready during the two or three seconds when, much to my colleagues’ envy I caught an unmistakable view of a humpback whale surging above the surface of the water about 50 metres from the boat.  Ben was luckier in spotting a bald eagle amongst the trees on the shore.

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“Another short drive took us to Victoria, where, amid heavy rain, it was a bit of a comedown to get straight down to work on rehearsing for the evening’s concert. In the event, however, it was a wonderful evening. The Alix Goolden Performance Hall is a former church which now belongs to the Conservatory of Music, and is a wonderfully intimate space, the stage surrounded by audience on three sides at both floor and balcony level – all the audience are close.

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We sang to a packed house and received the very warmest of welcomes. Eleanor and I had an added highlight: upon deciding to pop out for a much-needed leg-stretch before the concert, we were picked up by audience member Brian who sacrificed Will and Andrew’s pre-concert talk to drive us down to the coast for a more attractive walk, before taking us the scenic route back to to the venue: continuing along the Coast we passed ‘Mile 0’ of the 4990-mile-long Trans-Canada Highway before winding our way along the harbour past the magnificent 1898 Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress Hotel (Victoria’s answer to St Pancras) and past the Cathedral on the way back to the concert.

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“Sadly I leave the tour today, as I am back to school this week, but I am sure the remaining three basses (now – fingers crossed! – all fully recovered from colds and other vocal afflictions) will hold the fort admirably. I am not sad, however, to have avoided this morning’s 5.40am start for North Carolina – I’ll be hopping back to Vancouver on the local Seaplane service later and have much of the afternoon to enjoy there before the long flight home.”

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The rest of the group returns to the US today – the first stop is North Carolina, where we look forward to catching up with old friends in Davidson.