Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 2, Day 14, Victoria, Vancouver Island

Published: February 24th 2018
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7/24 Well weren’t we surprised this morning when our grand old Victorian Gatsby B&Bserved our breakfast as a High Tea! This is of course Victoria, British Columbia where High Tea is in stiff competition. We began with a small bowl of blueberries topped with an Earl Grey infused whipped cream and a piece of mint. Then the tea tray arrived with French toast with Canadian maple syrup, spicy sausage, quiche with caramelized onion, cheddar cheese and artichoke, smoked salmon canapes with cream cheese, mashed capers and dill (marbled bread was a bit dry), and finally, light savory scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I would have been very impressed because of the sweet little tea room presentation and good food but it simply could not touch the excellent high tea at the Empress Hotel, which makes me feel better since the Empress tea was so much more expensive, I got what I paid for! The staff here could not have been nicer or more accommodating. Our 2nd floor bedroom in the Bed and Breakfast was well appointed with a lovely bed, side chairs with a small table between where, upon arrival, we shared our complimentary iced tea and cookies the previous afternoon (before we set out to eat in earnest!) The bathroom was private but very tiny. Sadly, downstairs, the B&B had a musty faint odor of cat.

To walk off our breakfast we ambled down the few blocks to Fisgard Street in Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America, to look for the famous Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. I was surprised at how small this Chinatown was. Although there is a traditional “gate”, beautifully decorated, this one known as “The Gates of Harmonious Interest” (built in Suzhou, China) is the official entrance into Chinatown. The town is punctuated with Chinese sculptures and carvings, decorated doors and strings of the classic red Chinese lanterns connect buildings across the roads. The rest of the area seems to be absorbed into the 21st century with modern shops and businesses. The whole area is a maze of alleyways and narrow courtyards so perhaps we did not spend enough time wandering to fully appreciate its scope, but we did find Fan Tan Alley, purposely narrow (its narrowest point is 35” wide) to allow opium dens and gambling establishments to quickly bar their doors from police when they tried to enter the narrow alley. Today the businesses in this alley are mostly geared to tourists. The Chinese seem to know their markets and what sells. There is a small cafe, art shops, and small offices but when we went in the morning they were all closed. Most of the original Chinese who live in the area came from Guangdong province to look for gold and later, to work constructing the railroads. Their ancestors have embraced their strong cultural heritage. Knowing this was our last day in Canada we shopped in the many T-shirt and tourist traps trying to spend our Canadian money before we left for the U.S.

The Royal British Museum is an easy walk from Chinatown and the tourist shops and close to the harbor and Parliament Buildings. I had been here almost 20 years ago enjoying its vast collection of treasures. There is a whole area devoted to First Nations Peoples and their Aboriginal cultures. This body of people speak 34 indigenous languages from their respective cultures in BC. Many of these languages are being forgotten by youth who listen to and speak English. Efforts are being made to maintain the rich oral heritage and unique cultures of these peoples. Exhibits of foods and medicines of intertidal gathering were displayed in cases including Salmon berries, Bunchberry (Cornus Canadensis), Labrador Tea, Clover and Cinquefoil, Seaside Lupine (roasted roots), Soapberry, Red Elderberry, Hemlock (medicine). A large area contained an impressive collection of powerful First Nations totems and ceremonial masks. Nearby rooms had exhibits dedicated to the environment of Canada. The more current history of Canada featured whole rooms including a hotel and movie theater filled with objects representing the late 1800s to the early 1900s. I think the most famous of these offerings in the museum is the great stuffed woolly mammoth. He (or she) is quite massive! There are so many floors to see plus an IMAX movie that it would take a whole day to adequately cover. After touring most of the museum, Dave left to return to the B&B for a nap while I finished touring the remainder of the museum, then headed to the outdoor food trucks behind the museum for a late lunch.

In the afternoon I walked around Victoria to find the bus route and location for our ride on Bus #72 to Sidney Harbor. On my way back I returned to Empress Hotel to photograph the menu for high tea and to have another look at the grand hotel. I shopped for Christmas ornaments nearby, then walked back to our B&B to collect Dave and our bags to drag-bag the 5-6 blocks to the bus stop. The 45 minute public bus ride to Sidney cost only $2.25 per person, Canadian but there was a question regarding our bags and bag size. A kind young woman helped us out telling us it wasn't rush hour so we were probably ok depending on the driver.

We were dropped off a little past our stop in Sidney Harbor (the bus driver was a bit surly when we told him where we needed to be, maybe he didn’t like our bags) so we had a rough 5 block bag drag to the ticket office for the ferry. Exhausted and hot, we then had to wait about half an hour for the US Customs agent to open his doors. It helps if you are prepared with all your paperwork. We were finally processed and urgently crossed the road to use the only public toilets around! We waited about another hour and a half for the Washington State Anacortes - San Juan Ferry to Friday Harbor. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 5:55pm but didn't leave until about 6:45pm because one of the company’s ferry's generators blew, raising havoc with the whole ferry schedule, therefore there were fewer ferries and more people. Luckily there were picnic tables (complete with bees) at the ferry’s cafe and gift shop to sit on while we waited (we tried to spend the last of our Canadian money by eating dishes of not so fabulous ice cream, hence the bees). Once on board we ordered Ivars’s clam chowder in the ship’s cafeteria and split the sandwich Dave had left from the ferry cafe.

We arrived late and very tired in Friday Harbor and couldn’t find a cab in town. After waiting for what seemed a very long time, a nice couple who live on the island offered to share their cab so that we could finally get to our room at the Discovery Inn. Katy, reservationist from the inn, had called to make sure we were in fact coming and after we arrived was more than accommodating and understood our exhaustion. She offered to help carry our bags to the room and said we could store them during the next day assuring us we could have the taxi pick them up and deliver them to the pier at 4pm for our trip to Seattle. Based on the tardiness of the evening cab I was a bit reticent but really had no choice but to trust kind Katy. Our room was clean but cold so I turned up the heat and we fairly passed out in bed after unpacking. Dave's nagging week old cold had gotten worse. He had not slept well the past week (consequently neither did I) so we decided to find a doctor or pharmacy in the morning.


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