Oh, how we love the Pacific Northwest!
We seem to find a way to get out here at least once a year. My daughter loves it more than any of us, though, and she’s actually been out twice, in the past two weeks. Yes, once for her 18th birthday, to visit a dear friend from our Gulf Coast days who has relocated to the Seattle area, and then this past weekend, for a girls only trip to Victoria.
We went for the tea, you see.
Well, not just the tea, of course. We also went for the views and the cool, misty weather (though it was, oddly, warmer than Atlanta this past weekend, and sunny!) and just the beauty of the place. But we did indeed enjoy an afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel, which came with both beauty and views as well.
However, the first thing we did, after getting situated in the little apartment that we rented for the weekend, was to head to Chinatown. Victoria has a nice one. It’s small, especially when compared to San Francisco’s, which is one of our favorites, but it’s also clean and quiet and definitely charming! The gates that mark the entrance into Chinatown are impressively large, but equally impressive for the opposite reason is Fan Tan Alley, an alley so narrow that you can touch both sides as you pass through. In this narrow alley are quirky little shops; we found a terrific record store as well as a shop with an impressive selection of Doc Martens’, as well as the shops you’d expect to see, filled with the ubiquitous Maneki Neko and chopsticks and satin slippers. Outside of the alley, you’ll find more of these requisite Chinese markets, their produce displayed in boxes and baskets outside the store, whose products themselves are an education for people like me and my kids. We also found a terrific little teashop with my daughter’s favorite type of bubble tea, along with the best chai latte I’ve ever had, and then concluded our day, before heading back to our apartment and to bed, with a delicious meal at a Chinese restaurant.
The next day, however, we had big plans: reservations at the Empress Hotel for Afternoon Tea. This is a thing, you know, here in Victoria- apparently, the Empress serves tea to over 400 people a day during the summer months. Of course, I was up rather ridiculously early due to the time change from East Coast to West Coast, so I’d already been up for a good long while before we made our way to the Victoria harbor where the Empress is located. I was up, out walking around in this quiet and safe little city, by 7 am, and lucky for me, our apartment was pretty much next door to an organic bakery called Wildfire that made me an Americano to go with the absolutely wonderful savory Danish I purchased.
By 9:30, the girls were up and ready to go, which gave us time to drift through Chinatown once again, while also allowing us to stroll at a leisurely pace over to the Empress in time for our 11 am reservation for Afternoon Tea. I’m not entirely sure why they still call it afternoon tea when you’re having it before noon, but whatever it is called, it was lovely. The Empress Hotel, in case you don’t know, is an Edwardian gem of a historic hotel situated right on Victoria’s sparkling harbor. My husband and I actually stayed here for the weekend once, 19 years ago, and also had Afternoon Tea. I remember watching the float planes landing in the harbor over 19 years ago, and was able to do the same thing again last weekend from our table by the window. While enjoying the view, we drank 3 pots of tea and ate a variety of scones with clotted cream and jam and finger sandwiches and then desserts. The desserts, actually, did not get touched. One can get surprisingly full on scones and cucumber sandwiches! Or maybe it was the 3 pots of tea between 3 people.
In any case, we were glad to be back out walking after enjoying such a rich meal, if you can really call it that, our scones and finger sandwiches. I absolutely had to see Emily Carr’s house, which was, alas, closed for the season. So rather, I saw the outside of her house and her gardens, but really, that was okay. I will of course have to go back with more time to see where this extraordinary woman lived and worked and then, I truly have to find a way to see some of her original works. She reminds me, in many ways, of Georgia O’Keeffe, and to my mind, that is a high compliment. She was a complete original, in every possible way, in her life, in her work, and simply in who she was.
Emily Carr’s house is located in a beautiful residential area of Victoria, not far from the harbor, so it was the perfect starting point for our next adventure: walking to the end of the harbor and to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a brilliant, sparkling blue day to be out and about in this lovely city, and we took full advantage of it, along with apparently much of the rest of the city’s inhabitants! Dogwalkers were out in force, as were sunbathers along the beach’s rocks and sand and driftwood logs. We did our own bit of sunbathing, northern-style, of course, meaning, it’s not actually warm, just warmer and sunnier than usual- no bathing suits involved here. My daughter, 18 years old now, did some treasure hunting, reminding me of our days on Whidbey Island when she was 6 and we would spend all morning on the beaches doing just that. It’s probably those early days that have inspired her passion for this part of the continent, now that I think about it. They did seem pretty magical.
And magical is what our weekend in Victoria felt like this time too. No, I have no delusions that Victoria is a perfect place; I was up and out early enough to have seen the surprising numbers of homeless people rolling up their beds from their spot on the sidewalk, and I took note of the used needle receptacles located around the city. And I could see how such a small city located on an island could begin, very quickly, to feel claustrophobic. But when I travel, it’s not perfection that I am seeking. I want to get the feel of a place, to know it and observe it and push myself out of my usual comfort zones. That is where we grow and where we learn about ourselves.
But, as for the feel of Victoria? Victoria felt like visiting someone’s home. Someone who welcomed you in and had the guest room ready and had a pot of tea and homemade cookies waiting for you.
Make that homemade scones.