Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 2, Day 13, Victoria, Vancouver Island

Published: February 24th 2018
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7/23 We were up early, packed and down the stairs for our 8:30am BC Ferry Connector Bus pickup at the Georgian Court Hotel to take us to the terminal for the BC Ferry to Victoria. We were the first pickup on the bus so we had to ride around town to other hotels before arriving at the ferry dock which was fine with us. It gave me time to write my journal, Dave to rest and to see more of Vancouver before leaving. Even after all the passenger pickups we still had a 45 minute ride to the ferry terminal. It is not close to downtown Vancouver!

We were perched at the front of the bus as the driver drove onto the ferry for the 11am departure from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to arrive in Swartz Bay near Victoria on Vancouver Island. We left our bags on the bus and enjoyed the crossing touring the boat, grabbing a quick bite on the ferry and taking photographs leaving Vancouver under cloudy skies, but lucky for us we had a sunny (but chilly and windy) crossing. Just before we docked in Swartz Bay we listened for the announcement at 12:25pm to board our bus, important since our bus was first in line to get off the boat. We were sitting in the front of the double decker bus that gave us an interesting birds eye view of the opening of the ferry’s landing area that we had driven onto. After the 45 minute drive from Swartz Bay into Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbor we were deposited at the downtown bus station with our bags. Flowers bloom year round here and Victoria, named the “Garden City”, lives up to its reputation. We dragged our bags the four blocks from the bus station along the waterfront promenade passing street musicians, lush hanging baskets of flowers, horse-drawn carriages, and the Empress Hotel and the beautiful Parliament building overlooking the bay, to the lovely Victorian Gatsby B&B, also near but not overlooking the bay, where we checked in for Dave's nap before getting on with the day.

The sun was shining brightly but despite the warm weather predictions by the B&B staff I dressed warmer than was necessary for high tea at the Empress Hotel (mostly for the early evening trip to Buchart Gardens that promised to be quite cool). We picked up our prearranged tickets for the Buchart Garden tour at the van in front of the Empress Hotel, then entered the magnificent 1908 Fairmont Empress Hotel for our elegant High Tea. A little tip: we found out you enter the Tea Room from the right side of the hotel, not from the lobby. The Tea Room was full so I am glad we booked in advance! The hotel, now owned by the Fairmont was recently renovated and reopened the tea room this June. Once we were seated in the tea room we each were given our own teapot and warmer and choice of teas. Dave chose a green tea while I chose an orange-pineapple tea. Our unbelievable tea tray arrived next. As an introduction to the overwhelming tea tray we made our selections starting with the bottom tray that had two warm Raisin Scones with clotted cream and strawberry-ginger jam on the queen's fine china. We got serious in this foray into elegant dining with the top tray’s Smoked Salmon on Blini with Avocado Cream Cheese, then Hand Peeled Local Shrimp with Ginger Lemon Mascarpone in a Seaweed Cone (divine), English Cucumber on Rye with Dill Cream Cheese was next, and finally Coronation Chicken on Brioche (originally served for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, still a fave at Buckingham Palace). After that “healthy” portion we moved to the top tier to enjoy a Rooibos Provence on a soft Hazelnut Delice (my fave), followed by Lemon Poppy Shortbread, Chocolate Passion Fruit Cremeux Tarts, Okanagan Apple and Crown Royal Spice Cake with Blackberry Butter frosting, and Berry Pistachio Daisy White Chocolate cup with fresh berries. (I took photographs of the menu to remember this amazing experience!) Yes it was expensive ($75 per person!) but it will forever be one of the highlights of my dining experiences. Thank you Dave!!

After our absolutely divine High Tea at the Empress Hotel, we hopped the CVS Tour Bus in front of the Empress and travelled 45 minutes through Sannich to the incredible Buchart Gardens. Originally a cement plant that closed in 1909, Jennie Butchart, wife of the former cement plant owner decided to turn the limestone quarry into a sunken garden. Having initially been inspired by a Japanese tea garden and then Italian gardens Jennie set about to transform the acreage into what is now a world renowned garden. The gardens (and their maintenance) has been kept in the family for generations adding lighting, statuary, a concert pavilion and a 12 passenger boat that tours the local coastlines. I looked at the boats and dock (below the Japanese Gardens) and would have loved to take the time for that tour especially because the area reminded me so much of Maine. There are several places to eat from a lovely restaurant (yes it serves High Tea!) to a cafe. With entertainment and so many gardens to walk through to unwind and enjoy you could easily spend the entire day. The Ross Fountain is quite spectacular pulsating different sprays that change by the minute. The Italian Garden is next to the former Buchart family residence and the Star Pond is nearby. The gardens change with the seasons inviting you to enjoy the numerous plants and trees as they change colors throughout the seasons. That evening we listened to a concert on the lawn above the Rose Garden where we were well entertained by the talented Pierre Schryer (Master Fiddler), his wife Julie Schryer, Dermot Byrne (accordion), and Adam Dobres (guitarist) who played outstanding foot stomping and melodic Celtic music. If anyone knows how to purchase their music please let me know!

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