Well Empressed with Victoria

Saturday 20 August 2022 – The plan for the day was pretty straightforward – catch a coach to take us to a ferry to take us across the Straits of Georgia to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, dead south of Vancouver city itself.

A coach duly appeared and we climbed on board, to find that we were the first passengers to be picked up and that there would be several more stops to collect more before we got to the ferry.  The driver made the ride very entertaining, and not by the usual means of commentary about landmarks or other tourist matters of interest.  Jane immediately picked up from a few spoken words that he was a Brit, and it soon became clearer, even without him saying very much more; it was the way he drove.  Drivers in North America, and particularly bus and coach drivers, have a very relaxed way of getting around, waiting patiently at lights or for decently long gaps in the traffic before carrying on.  Our driver, Paul, who turned out to be originally from Guildford, drove like a Brit: edging forward at lights before they changed; edging out at junctions and going for small gaps in the traffic; and generally taking no prisoners as he swung the bus around.

As well as that, since we were sitting just behind him, we could hear the muttered commentary he was making about other road users as he went along.  It didn’t help that his efficiency – for he was undoubtedly an experienced and competent driver – got him to the cruise terminal for his penultimate pickup some ten minutes early, so he sardonically explained that he was driving round the blocks to pass the time, and wasn’t actually lost.  This is Paul, at his final pickup, where he was impatiently awaiting the final people to turn up and board his bus.

When he was using the microphone to talk to the passengers, Paul was (largely) exemplary and free from editorialising. But in other places, when pedestrians were slow to cross the road, or when other drivers dithered or drove erratically, his subvocalised comments were very pithy.  The ferry terminal was chaos because several sailings had been cancelled due to lack of staff, and his comments about that, and the argument he had with officialdom, contributed greatly to the entertainment value of the ride.  The queue of cars, and indeed of hopeful passengers waiting to board, was not insignificant.

Paul’s view was that not everyone would be allowed on board our ferry, and that we should give ourselves a pat on the back for being on the bus, which had a guaranteed place.

The ferry we rode was a big one, capable of carrying over 2,000 passengers.  For most of it, we simply sat in a lounge, though the coffee that Jane went to buy was very welcome and the chat we had with a chap called Bob, originally from Manchester some 40 years ago, was diverting. Also somewhat disconcerting was a sign at each urinal in the gents.

Sources tell me that these signs were up in the ladies, too.

After an hour or so of crossing open sea, we neared land and popped out to take a couple of photos.

Paul found out that there was a big bicycling event, the Tour de Victoria, on, for which local roads in downtown Victoria would be closed, so, in his characteristic way he set our expectations low about how much fun the journey would be.  However, in the end, the roads he needed to use to get to his drop off points were eerily quiet, so he reached the grandly-named Capital City Bus Station with ease.  This actually turned out to be no more than a place where three buses could pull up behind each other, but no matter.  From our point of view it was Our Stop and so we collected our luggage and wheeled it round to the front of our hotel, an enormous slab of masonry called the Fairmont Empress.

Outside, it had lawns of great lushness – a distinct contrast from the dried up turf we’d seen elsewhere – and inside a sizeable reception atrium.

Our room is nice enough; not huge, but with rather a decent view over the harbour.

Our original plan had been to take it easy for the rest of the day, as we have a couple of days here getting up to various things.  But the weather was so lovely that we couldn’t resist going out for a quick walk around and to check up on where we had to check in for those activities.  We passed a harbourside restaurant called Milestones, which could fit us in in about 10 minutes, so we used that time to wander about and take a couple of photos of an undeniably photogenic location.

At lunch, one of the gins on offer was Empress Gin.  The name is not a co-incidence; apparently the Empress Hotel collaborated in its elaboration, and provide the pea blossoms that enable it to turn colour from its naked state

when you add tonic.

(Empress Hotel in the background – see what we did there?)

After lunch we wandered round some more.  There was Something Going On whilst we were lunching which involved some really quite ghastly screeching and caterwauling that was accompanied by a band.  Someone clearly fancied themselves as Clare Torry, but “The Great Gig In The Sky” it was not.  Fortunately this unfocussed keening was eventually replaced by something a bit more ear-friendly, so we wandered over to gawk. The source turned out to be a part of  Victoria’s first ever BIPOC music festival. BIPOC means Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and the festival is an event by BC Black History Awareness Society.

We also visited the Netherlands Centennial Carillon, cunningly arriving there just as it struck 5.

There are 11 carillons in Canada.  I don’t know why.

I think we’re rather going to like Victoria – certainly around the harbour area, it’s very attractive, and there are any number of interesting statues around,

even in the very edges of steps and lawns.

Cars are not the only mode of transport

and there are some lovely displays of flowers and topiary by the Empress.

There was a nice sunset

and when darkness fell, we took a further wander to see if what we had been told earlier, that the Legislature Building was nicely illuminated at night, was true.

Since we were out (and, to be frank, since the noise from the festival was going to stop us from getting any sleep) we extended our walk along Government Street, which was extremely lively.

Even as late as 9.30pm, many shops were open

and, it being Saturday night, there was a great buzz about the place. Thankfully by the time we had finished our meanderings the loud festival music had stopped!

We shall discover more over the next couple of days.  We  have a couple of formal tourist activities planned, but it looks like there’s much scope for wandering around and stumbling across good things. So please check in to see what we got up to and what we found.


3 thoughts on “Well Empressed with Victoria

  1. Katharine Burridge

    Beautiful place, beautiful photos, dodgy loos!
    Celebrities have homes on the island. Harry & Meaghan stayed at David Foster’s mansion there before they headed for LA. Foster’s quite the famous & prolific musician/songwriter.

  2. Chris Walker

    We had the same driver for our trip across to Vancouver Island. He was indeed entertaining, did not suffer fools gladly and had a healthy disrespect for authority. Great fun.

    We were very impressed also by Victoria, less so by the hotel.


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