Revealing Victoria’s Secrets

Queen Victoria of England dubbed the westernmost region of Canada British Columbia in 1858 — in tribute, her name remains on B. C. ‘s capital city and our destination, Victoria.

Just before our arrival we were treated to a breathtaking show. The captain announced that orcas were sighted… CONTINUE READING >>

Queen
Victoria of England dubbed the westernmost region of Canada
British Columbia in 1858 — in tribute, her name remains on
B. C. ‘s capital city and our destination, Victoria.

The chilled salt sea air was in our
faces as we steamed north aboard the good ship Coho, crossing The
Strait of Juan de Fuco toward the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

Just
before our arrival we were treated to a breathtaking show.
The captain announced that orcas were sighted off the starboard
bow as he slowed the vessel to a crawl. We bounded to the
forward deck,
grinning maniacally. Sure enough, two black and white “killer
whales” were passing within a few

hundred feet of the ship.
The glorious glimpses of fluke and fin were a wonderful welcome.

Slipping
into the harbor is a picturesque passage in and of itself.
The port is dominated by two grand old buildings, The Parliament
Building and The Empress Hotel. It’s not only the structures
of these venerable landmarks that are so impressive but the grounds as
well. Meticulously manicured and managed — botanical gardens just
a few steps from the ferry dock.

The
hotel is magnificent. Built between 1904 and 1908, the four
hundred and seventy-seven rooms and four restaurants are all
beautifully restored to their Edwardian era grandeur. High
Tea for over
eight hundred people is served every afternoon in the Tea Lobby
and reservations are required well in advance. Unfortunately, due
to

our “the plan is no plan” philosophy, we would not
be partaking in their highfalutin tea time.

Even
more impressive is the Parliament Building with its five hundred
foot andesite facade, white marble and prominent domes. Back
in 1893, the provincial legislature determined a
new parliament building was needed and announced a competition for
the design.

A 25-year-old — with no formal

training — anonymously submitted
drawings for the project under the moniker of the “A B.C. Architect.”
Nevermind that it sounded like one of those names that serial killers
make up for the media, he won the job. The result was so popular
that he went on to design many of Victoria’s most famous buildings
including The Empress Hotel, The Crystal Garden, the Steamship Terminal
(now the Royal London Wax Museum), the Court House (now the Vancouver
Art Gallery) and The Merchant’s Bank. Not bad.

By the way, A B. C. Architect was Francis Rattenbury and he is well
known to law students who study the “love triangle” murder
case that ended his life in 1935. Moral: Think twice before getting
in over your head architecturally.

Hanging
out near the water, we stumbled upon a floating village. At
Fisherman’s Wharf the shops, markets, restaurants, houses
and boats all float in the bustling harbor.

On one end, the fishing boats fetch their catch. The

docks on the other side have become little lanes between homes
built on barges, giving the term “houseboat” a new
meaning. Several
little markets sell the haul from the fishermen just a few
steps from their boats. Now that’s
fresh fish!

Turns
out that harbor seals like fresh fish too and two of them
had staked out a spot in front of one of the markets. It’s
quite the symbiotic relationship. The seals draw a crowd and
the market provides — for a fee
— scraps for people to feed them, which draws a crowd who need
scraps to feed the seals which draws more people… everybody’s
happy!

Watching
those adorable little faces chow down their lunches made us
hungry too — so it was off to Chinatown to find some grub.

Victoria’s Chinatown
is Canada’s oldest and second only to San Francisco in North
America.

The gold rush brought prospectors from China to find their
fortunes. In order to keep traditions alive for their children,
a “Forbidden City” was built within the interior
of the buildings. This created a unique architecture featuring
hidden courtyards and incredible little alleyways.

However,
our search was for food, not gold, and the choices in
Chinatown are
plentiful.

We
were attracted to Don Mee by the overwhelming groovyness of
their sign and entryway. It looks very much like an old theater.
Through the doors and up the stairs, we felt like we were
in one of those cheesy old Charlie Chan movies. We mean that
in the best way imaginable — we LOVED it!

They were serving Dim Sum. Truth is, we didn’t know Dim Sum
from Chop Suey and felt
like Dim Bulbs — but we are fast learners, especially when it comes
to new ways to stuff our faces.

Dim
Sum means “touch the heart” referring to the loving
touch in the small portions of succulent dishes. Its tradition
stems from Yum Cha, or “drinking tea,” the ritual
of family quality time in the south of China. Kind of like
Mother’s Day Brunch with a twist.

Don Mee does Dim Sum right — bamboo steamer baskets containing
artistic appy-sized delectables served from carts rolling
through their large dining room. Fragrant jasmine tea is
served by the boatload. We learned quickly
that if we removed the lid from the teapot, refills came instantly. There
is no menu, each cart contains different dishes and we pointed and
grunted at what we wanted as the carts rolled

by. The table had
a little checklist that the cart keepers marked each time we ordered.

Immediately
we were offered to consume things that were completely unrecognizable.
Of course, we’ll try just about anything and, luckily, everything
was delicious.

Steamed dumplings stuffed with any manner of stuff were prevalent
as are steamed buns, also stuffed
— the array is impressive. The rice cooked and served inside a
lotus leave was unbelievable! Who knew rice could be the star attraction
of a meal?

On
the odder side of the bill of fare stood the chicken feet.

Googling at the table like maniacs, looking for any excuse
to get away with NOT eating the feet, we found that you haven’t
really had dim sum if you haven’t sampled them, so… off
the cart and into the pie hole.

There’s not really much on a chicken’s dogs to gnaw on, just
skin and bones. Chicken skin is — well, chicken skin
— the sauce was yummy but we won’t be petitioning the Colonel to
sell them by the bucket.

Not that we
need any help with food preoccupation, but we found it odd that
we were thinking about food so much. Maybe it was all the secondhand
pot smoke. As we wandered about Victoria we noticed the propensity
of the locals to smoke what they call “B.C. Bud” —
right out in the open. On the sidewalk, in the park, we even spied
a guy at a stoplight rolling one up as he waited for the light
to change.

Curious, we asked our friendly bartender (we get most of our information
from bartenders and taxi drivers) about the rampant pot consumption
later that evening. He said “we grow the best stuff in the
world so everybody smokes it. Well, not everybody, but almost.”
He went on to explain that the laws have changed back and forth
from legal to illegal to decriminalized that finally the local
authorities decided to ignore them. Well, mostly. Even the explanation
has exemptions.

We tipped him a loonie and a toonie and headed for the ferry.
LOVE it — a loonie is a one dollar coin with a loon on it and
a toonie is the two dollar coin with a polar bear, eh?

In actuality, they don’t say “eh” much out here
on the west coast — they’re too mellow for that. Reckon why?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com



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3 thoughts on “Revealing Victoria’s Secrets”

  1. >Wow, great post. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I live just a ferry ride away from Victoria and I learned a few things from you!

    THANK YOU for mentioning that we don't all say "eh" all the time. We don't!

  2. >It was great to meet you both! We're really looking forward to seeing the west coast! Thanks for putting together many great posts about our little nation – It's awesome to see an American's experience Canada. Keep rockin that gypsynest! Andrew&Alessia

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