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Victoria 24 August 2015

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the Main Event: Rochelle’s 70th

After a video call from Chad, we went to breakfast and then the Royal British Columbia Museum, where we saw the Humpback Whale IMAX.

The museum is spectacular ... but more about that on its very own page...

The whole motivation for this trip got hatched back in early February, when Rochelle said, 'I want to do something different for my 70th birthday.' How different? I asked. 'How about High Tea at the Empress?'

 We'd been in Victoria as a family in 1986, when we traveled in Mobile One to the Vancouver World's Fair. Victoria on that trip was a bit of a trial; our three younger travelers were having some 'issues' that didn't work themselves out until Orcas Island; our B&B was unpleasant. High Tea just wasn't sadly, on the menu. I remembered it vividly from my first trip here, in (I think) 1959, when I rode the Kalakala across the Strait and saw the Queen in Nanaimo

<p>Detail of a Bella Coola House Entrance Pole, Village of Tulio, on the South Bentinck Arm, abandoned in 1900</p>

Detail of a Bella Coola House Entrance Pole, Village of Tulio, on the South Bentinck Arm, abandoned in 1900

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<p>Dressed for High Tea</p>

Dressed for High Tea

Selfies aren't us, but here's one anyway. Back from the museum, we took our time getting ready, and proceeded to the Tea Room, where we were informed that 'tea was taken care of.' Hunh? By whom? 'Damiana.' and then, confidentially, 'and the gratuity as well... Is it some kind of event?'

It is a measure of the dignity of the place that no one even thought about singing that horrid old birthday song.

We were ushered to our place in the window, best in the house, and Sam, our superb waiter, gently guided us through the experience.

We chose our tea, and then out came the triple decker -- savory on the bottom, scone (to die for) and strawberry jam in the middle, sweets on top. 'Eat from the bottom up,' advised Sam. 'But first, do you want a picture?'

Of course we did.

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I couldn't bring myself to 'be a tourist' and take a picture of the room, but it's a fine, high ceilinged avatar of what we colonials think of when we think of how the Royals live. Big columns, pictures of gentlemen in gold braid and ladies with tiaras. Most of our fellow tea-takers were dressed for the occassion, a gentleman and his two gorgeous daughters, a mum and her mid-teens son who appeared to be a bit out of his element but game. Outside, the business of James Bay kept on going. 

Turned out Damiana had arranged for Royal Tea, which adds a cheese plate and a glass of British Columbian port to the triple decker. We were glad that we had breakfasted lightly.

Damiana, thank you. We had a glorious time, even more heightened by your thoughtfulness.

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<p>‘Whale People’ Spindle...

‘Whale People’ Spindle Whorl by Susan Point of the Musqueam Band of Coast Salish (1999) Four whales encircle a human face, harkening back to the Salish foundation story of the Whale People that explains the seasons and phases of the moon.

From our room on the Empress's 6th floor, we had been watching the little water taxis scuttling around the inner harbor, and after tea and in need of a walk, we wandered out through the Victoria Convention Center, where we saw the large emblem at left.

On the quay, we arranged for a tour to the Gorge, changed back to our civvies, and went back to embark.

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Isn't that a lovely word, embark? The taxis are sprightly little diesel vessels that chug around the complex and busy harbour. (Remember, we're in Canada.) They even do ballet on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Our captain isn't a Ballet Captain -- it apparently takes years to become one -- but he had conscientiously schooled himself on the lore of the Inner harbor and the sea arm leading through Victoria's finer neighborhoods to the Gorge. 

The inner harbor is partly industrial, being sheltered -- a shipyard, a steel yard, a construction materials facility -- and the bascule bridge at its mouth is being replaced. On the abutment, a Heron lurked, trying its best to be invisible.

The harbor itself isn't British Columbia, it's 'federal waters' and permits for docks are no longer granted for environmental reasons, and so properties that have docks are fiercely protective of theirs. The result is that the waterfront, that might be junky, is very tucked in. (Canada, y'know?) Parks scattered along the way, with folks out enjoying the evening. A tiny bit of chill, but comfortable in the lowering sun. 

Under a trestle that used to be used by the railroad but that's been converted to a long trail, part of a system that will soon stretch right across the country. There are only 3.5 million Canadians, and almost all of them live within 100 miles of the US border.

Our captain told us that Victoria, with its warm, clement climate, is a favored retirement destination for Canadians -- only 600mm of rain a year as compared with Vancouver's 1,600, and it seldom freezes in Victoria.

Returning to James Bay, the setting sun's light bathed the Empress. (Our room is in the little yellow rectangle.)

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A very light dinner of salad and beer, and home to a sweet birthday email from Sienna. All three children accounted for. A practically perfect birthday.


We returned to Victoria in September, 2019. Click here to jump to those pages.

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