October Project — Where You Are
Paramount stage, unoccupied

Labor Day weekend in Victoria, British Columbia

Finally getting around to setting down the travelogue of our weekend in Victoria, nearly two weeks later. Thank God I’ve my PDA (read: Nerd Tracking Device) to assist with reconstructing the days. Otherwise it would be only a tale of a brewpub, some beautiful formal gardens, and an afternoon tea the likes of which I’d never experienced.

And in fact that’s exactly what it was, with some city wanderings and some metric-system road signs and various other small details that made it an experience I never expected and I’m so happy I didn’t miss.

Full tale below the cut. Note that I’ve included distance and speed conversions to make things easier on my non-metric readership, because we all know the metric system’s just stupid, with its easy conversions and decimal base.

It all began a few weeks before Labor Day weekend. My mom was going to be in Seattle in late August for a semi-annual gift show, but this year she decided she wanted some vacation time after that. Instead of her usual week in town, she’d be here two weeks, and she wanted to take Katharine and me on a trip. So were there any waterfront cabins available for rent anywhere?

This was just before the weekend I spent on Lopez Island, so initially I suggested perhaps the cabin I’d be using that weekend. I didn’t yet know the cabin’s name was absolutely truthful in every respect, however, and anyway it was booked for the weekends Mom would be in town. Similarly for other San Juan Islands cabins I could find and also the several cabins on lakefronts around the Puget Sound: All booked into mid-September, only chance we’d have would be a cancellation and we didn’t want to bank on that.

So Mom suggested a weekend in Victoria. We’d never been there; in fact, I’ve only been to Canada once, and that was a drive to Vancouver to visit the Vancouver Aquarium (Google map). We decided we’d take the Anacortes-to-Sidney, B.C, vehicle ferry and spend a couple of nights in Victoria, preferably along the Inner Harbour for the full touristy picturesque experience. And that’s just what we did.

Flickr photo sharing: Inner Harbour, Victoria, BC
Inner Harbour, Victoria, BC
From Don Nunn’s photo stream
First came the hotel reservations. We stayed at the Victoria Regent Hotel (Google map), a charming upscale/exclusive establishment located on Wharf Street approximately half a mile (800 m) from the better-known and often-photographed Fairmont Empress Hotel (Google map), where we had tea the first afternoon we were in town. But I’m a bit ahead of myself.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Mom had some difficulty deciding on a hotel and then when she’d picked the Victoria Regent, she had trouble contacting them via their web site and then by telephone to make a room reservation. So she did the next best thing: She delegated it to me. Called me up, told me she’d had trouble with email and got a weird non-answer ring/busy-signal thing when she called their 800 number (500 American), so would I please call and see if I could arrange an Executive Suite for the three of us for arrival Sat 09/03 and departure Mon 09/05?

Flickr photo sharing: Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, BC
Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, BC
From Don Nunn’s photo stream
So I dialed the 800 number and got through no trouble on the first try, and spoke to an absolutely charming woman whose name I didn’t catch but it didn’t matter because she addressed me as “Mr. Nunn” and spoke as if we’d been the best of friends since the beginning of time. She told me they had Suite 603 available for that weekend, which offered a charming view of the Inner Harbour along with the Johnson Street Bridge, a cool double drawbridge just north of the hotel. They also had another suite in the 400 range, but she’d recommend 603 because the 400-series suite was directly above a nightclub and there was some slight noise disturbance possible. She said it so diplomatically that I almost went for it, because she was so delightfully honest and delightful and lovely about it, but I chose 603 after all.

That done, I called Mom to gloat over my instant communication with the hotel, at which point she directed me to make the vehicle reservation for the ferry crossings. This I approached with some trepidation because I’ve never made a reservation for a ferry; all the routes I’ve traveled have been first-come, first-served. So I fired up the ferry schedule page and went through the online reservation process and it was absolutely painless, and I felt like a grand fool for being so wonky about it.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

We now had lodging and transport. We’d take my Escape, of course, the better to be above the riff-raff in regular vehicles and to appear like the gas-guzzling nihilistic unconcerned Americans we very probably are as we visited our northern neighbor. Also we’d be able to pile all our baggage into the rear of the SUV with absolutely no worries about adequate passenger space, even though we were just the three of us.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Sat 09/03 finally arrived. The ferry departed Anacortes at 08:15 and they recommended a 90-minute advance arrival for all traffic, even vehicles with reservations. I realized this was because the Anacortes terminal has just one two-lane road in and out, no way to filter out the reserved vehicles as traffic approaches the tollbooths, but damn. No way in hell were we going to get there much before 07:00, it was the principle of the thing. We also ignore airlines’ recommendations to arrive two hours in advance for domestic flights and have yet to miss a connection, so there.

So we arrived in line at the Anacortes terminal at about 07:20, less than an hour to spare, and we waited in line until 07:46, when we finally cleared the tollbooth and got to our final waiting line in the holding area. And then we waited, because our ferry was late departing due to delays with the interisland ferry that was loading when we arrived.

No big deal, of course. Gave us a chance to rush across the holding area to the restroom and to get coffee and muffins for our morning nibbling. In due time we were rested and refreshed and back in the truck, and shortly thereafter onto the ferry we went for the two-hour crossing.

I zoned a lot. I had a book but didn’t touch it; took some photographs (which I’ll load to my Flickr account at some point) instead, did some laps around the upper deck, drank a Diet Pepsi because we were on the M/V Elwha (Native American/Chinook: elk) and it actually had food service and the 20-ounce white chocolate mocha I’d sipped during the ferry loading hadn’t quite done it for me, fluid-overload-wise.

We got back in the truck for the unloading and customs inspection in Sidney, B.C., and while we were waiting to debark the ferry I remarked how interesting it was that this ferry carried a load of depth charges.

“What? Where?” Mom and Katharine said, nearly simultaneously.

“Those racks above the car ramps, those barrel-shaped things,” I said, indicating the fast-deploy racks for the life rafts which are stored in, well, barrel-shaped containers.

They both craned their necks and started in on the “Really?!” bit when they caught the smirk and then started hitting me because, goddammit, why did they fall for my crazy pronouncements like that? I mean, really, depth charges? ::smack:: On a state-run civilian passenger ferry? ::smack smack smack::

Ah, the levity.

We were off the ferry in about two minutes flat but then we waited in line at Canadian customs for about 40 more minutes, watching kites flying on the beach south of the ferry terminal and observing the occasional private jet and even more occasional 737 fly into Victoria International Airport, the approach for which is directly above the ferry terminal. Very dull. Eventually we sailed through customs and started our trek south toward Victoria at 80 km/h (73 feet/second).

I must say that 80 km/h (8,351 miles/week) sounds fast, but we were being passed by persons on charming Canadian bicycles, which are exactly like American bikes save for the maple leaves. Also the politeness.

Anyway, our trek southward was uneventful. We didn’t get pulled over for speeding mainly because the cops would have had to SLOW DOWN to catch us, which is odd because I was driving and I’m, well, something of a leadfoot. We all are, but I’m particularly bad at doing it and getting caught. My mother can zip along through Oregon at 95 mph (134,018,478,000 cm/year), no trouble; I get tagged in OR at 67 mph (33 yards/sec) in a 65 zone, for crying out loud. $160 (¥17,698) that cost me, dammit.

But I digress. We arrived at the hotel a couple minutes (120 seconds Canadian) before noon, just ahead of check-out time. I went to the front desk and found out they would be happy to let us check into our room immediately, even though check-in time is 15:00 (3:00 PM American), only the housekeeping folk were still working their magic and the room wouldn’t be ready until 13:30 (Sat 09/04 1:30 AM Maldives). We were welcome to leave our vehicle in the secured parking area and return later that afternoon to check in.

So off we went toward CANOE Brewpub, Marina and Restaurant (Google map), a short walk of 0.4 km (15,748 inches) north along Wharf Street and a left on Swift. CANOE has this absolutely amazing patio and they had good beer and the weather was beautiful. And they had a brunch menu with eggs Benedict, so what else could we possibly have needed?

We also had a fantastic server name of Dougal (I’m guessing at the spelling), who was the perfect balance of attentive and not at all intrusive, and our 3.25 hours (195 minutes sterling) on that patio seemed just to fly by. Somewhere in the middle of that block I called the Fairmont Empress and made a reservation for tea at 17:15 (8:45 PM Noo Yawk), and the prospect of sipping tea with our pinkies held haughtily away from our teacups whilst still a bit... well, drunk, seemed absolutely delightful.

So off we went back to the hotel to check in and change clothes, the better to look presentable while we were haughty. And then I realized I’d forgotten the two dress shirts (German, zwei Hemden) I’d meant to toss on hangers into the back of the Escape, so Mom and Katharine dressed and rushed out the door to a nearby men’s store to buy me a shirt, because That’s What Family Does. And then we stumbled down Wharf Street to the Empress, where we arrived a few minutes late and were utterly embarrassed to be so gauche (French for left) until our server, Raymond, an absolutely charming gentleman who wouldn’t have called attention even to the worst social gaffe, made us right at home immediately.

Flickr photo sharing: High Tea at Fairmont Empress
High Tea at Fairmont Empress
From Don Nunn’s photo stream
The Fairmont Empress is a beautiful hotel and of course I forgot to take my digital camera. I only had my camera phone and Raymond was kind enough to offer to take a photograph and to deal with the silliness of the phone’s photo mode, and we don’t even look drunk!

The tea was delicious and we found out it isn’t haughty at all. Or I did, anyway; Katharine and Mom had both experienced High Tea before, so I was the philistine. The sandwiches and sweets were amazing as well. We left an hour or so later the better for an experience straight out of old times but somehow absolutely here and now and just right for this city.

We walked back to the hotel by way of Government Street, wandering into some of the shops and enjoying the general friendly atmosphere. Victoria’s definitely a pedestrian city; we only used the truck when we wanted to leave Victoria proper for activities further afield. The weather cooperated beautifully and we got back to the hotel relaxed but ready to fall into coma from the afternoon’s foodstuffs.

So we had dinner several hours later at Il Terrazzo, an Italian restaurant just a block or so from the hotel. Walked there too, and initially we weren’t in drinking moods but then we all had at least a liter (202 teaspoons) of wine to go with our absolutely fabulous entrées, none of which I remember save for the chicken that was part of mine.

And then we stumbled back to the hotel and fumbled into the room and tumbled into our beds.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Sunday dawned a bit overcast and cool, which was just fine because Katharine and I had to be up by 08:00 (4:00 PM BST) for our in-room massages, which were two-hour affairs with a lot of massage oil and a lot of relaxing music and a bit of snoozing on the tables. Afterward I felt, well, like a stack of jelly with eyebrows. Our plan for the rest of the day was to visit The Butchart Gardens, and we needed to be fully relaxed for that, apparently. All I know is after the massage was over, it took an act of God to raise me from the table and an act of Congress to move me into the shower, but it made the rest of the day just so soothing.

And the Gardens were just... stunning. I’m a bit indifferent when it comes to gardens in general but I was absolutely agog over these. They’re traditional formal gardens so the plants and trees and flowers aren’t identified by signs the way they might be in an arboretum or nursery; only the rose garden had nameplates to identify the hundreds of varieties there. The rest of the garden was presented very simply in spectacular colors and amazing landscapes and utterly astounding layouts. I shot, oh, close to 400 photos there, enough that I had to buy a new memory card at the Gardens’ photo shop, and I’ll set them up in a Flickr photo set eventually. For now, however, trust me when I say that if you spend enough time in Victoria and you don’t visit The Butchart Gardens, you’re cheating yourself out of a relaxing and beautiful several hours.

We returned from the Gardens to our hotel where we relaxed for a time before it was time to go drinkin’ again. This time we chose Spinnakers, another brewpub noted for its beers and atmosphere, with a decent menu to boot.

I was... disappointed. It started when we arrived at 19:20 (4:20 AM Swaziland) and were immediately quizzed to find out if we had a reservation.

“A reservation?” I asked, surprise written plainly on my face. I’d never heard of making a reservation at a brewpub before, even on a Saturday. And they didn’t look that busy anyway.

“You’re in luck!” Hostess Woman said, too cheerfully. “We’ve just had a cancelation and would be happy to accommodate you!” And off she went, a stack of menus in hand, presumably for us to follow.

Which we did, and were seated immediately, and our server whose name I did not catch immediately flitted over to us with the beer list and he stroked my shoulder several times and complimented me on my choice of the Organic Nut Brown Ale, and touched my shoulder again and only spoke to me even though the two women with me both placed drink orders. Same for the dinner orders later; he wanted to know how my steak was but didn’t seem to give a shit about how the ladies’ caesar salads were. And the food was good, the nachos were just obscenely delicious, but overall the place left me unimpressed.

It didn’t help that when we were leaving, after the two beers (946 mL) I’d had over a 3-hour period (0.000342238658 years), I backed into a tree and dinged up my SUV’s rear bumper a bit. Goddammit.

Back to the hotel and to bed after a long day of nothing remotely strenuous but you know how the travel gets you, and those massages can sure be tiring, eh what?

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Monday morning brought continental breakfast at the hotel, followed by a trip to the Victoria Bug Zoo™, again a short walk (“brief jaunt” Canadian) from our hotel, where we saw a lot of Fun Insect Friends and some Really Evile Spiders and other assorted nasties. And we went back to CANOE for lunch before the return trip on the ferry, but the patio wasn’t fully open because they were shorthanded on servers, so we sat inside and had brunch again, and beer, and Katharine drove us back to the ferry terminal while I snoozed. It was great.

We had two customs checks on our way out. One at the Sidney ferry terminal before we boarded the ferry, and a second at Anacortes after we’d debarked. We didn’t get home until nearly 22:00 (Tue 09/06 1:00 PM Philippines) and since it was a school night, off to bed we went.

It was a fantastic trip. I wanna go back, but I think I’ll take a passenger-only ferry this time and walk directly to CANOE and ask for Dougal and sit on the patio even if it’s midwinter in driving rain because, well, the patio and the beer and the service rocked utterly.