Friday, August 29, 2014

Victoria, B.C. - Day 3


It was a good thing we called it an early night, because we decided to visit Craigdarroch Castle the next day, which would mean 5 miles of walking just to get there and back.  On the way, we happened to be near the Empress Hotel and stopped to ask about their tours.  As it happened, there was one starting within half an hour, so while it seemed a little odd to pay to tour a hotel, we decided to give it a try.  We had discussed having the legendary tea at the Empress, but at $60 a person for a beverage I don't even particularly like, we'd been hemming and hawing, and decided to wait until we saw the place. 

The hotel is lovely, 
 and has some beautiful furniture,
and the tour guides are in costume and aside from it being a tad warm with the humidity, we really enjoyed ourselves.  We opted to skip the tea as I'd already made reservations for tea at Butchart gardens later in the week, and instead wandered off in the direction of the castle, finding a lovely antique bookstore on the way,
where we were saved by the humidity and the idea of carrying books all the way to the castle and back from my spending too much time and money here.

The castle is on a pretty decent incline, so we stopped to rest outside for a bit and catch our breath,
 and to check out the neighbor's lawn. 
One of the things I really appreciated about Victoria is that since it was dry, lawns were brown.  Victoria gets only slightly more rain than we do, but Idahoans are maniacs about green lawns in a desert state in spite of water shortages, but Victoria is very laid back about this.  If it's dry, things will be dry.  Far more sensible approach in my opinion.

Craigdarroch Castle is an interesting place.  Built in the "conspicuous wealth" era of the industrial age, it was built to proclaim to the world that Robert Dunsmuir was the richest man in Victoria,
in spite of the fact that he died before it was completed and never lived there.  The woodwork is amazing,

 as were the antiques.
 The knitter in me particularly enjoyed this:
which is a hands-free reading chair complete with light (candle). 

The castle is a popular tourist spot, and initially our visit was plagued with one of those uncontrolled children that makes one long to have birth control doled out like candy as soon as puberty strikes, who was accompanied by a mother that didn't seem at all bothered by her little demon screaming and jumping on roped-off furniture.  To avoid the pair, we stopped to talk to a volunteer, which turned out to be a wonderful chance as the tour map with the itty-bitty 6-point print was pretty useless, and the signs were fairly repetitive.  One of the challenges the restoration process faced was that there was only one photograph (or perhaps two) ever found of the inside of the house when the family lived there, so the efforts to restore it were really interesting.  And, like so many large houses too expensive for future owners to maintain, it had been altered for institutional use--first as a hospital after World War 1, then as a college--you can still see the names of the bright sparks who carved their initials into the lovely woodwork--then turned into school administration offices when everything was painted that ghastly institutional green.  Our new friend clearly loved the castle and his volunteer work, and we had a great time with him. 

Waiting also gave us time to play on an actual Steinway piano,
left over from the era when the castle housed a music academy, and then to hear a young girl sit down and play something lovely.  Believe me, she was worth the wait.

 After all the stairs, we sat down on a bench for a bit to enjoy the view

and sympathize with a man and his son who were roundly chastised by the wife/mother for them being lazy--until we saw that they had a car parked right outside the entrance and were only tired from walking IN the castle--not to it.   
We could kind of see her point after that.

After hiking back down into town and making it an even LONGER walk because I had seen an advertisement for a Polish restaurant that I wanted to try (Boise not generally being overrun with nonchain restaurants and rather limited ethnically), only to discover it wasn't open on Mondays.  Luckily, we found the India Bistro, which was so wonderful that we recommended it to other tourists later in our visit. 

The day had been really warm--uncomfortably so in buildings--so when we found ourselves passing the heavily advertised Miniature World which proclaimed itself air-conditioned, we decided it was worth a try. 

The interesting thing about Miniature World is that it is so heavily advertised that we expected it to be as tacky as Ripley's Believe it or Not or any of those sad little attractions that never live up to expectations.  Luckily,
most of it was really quite fabulous.  There were a few sets that weren't as well done, and like most of the things in Victoria, we found it spectacularly lacking in information on how it was started, who built most of the miniatures, how they were built, or anything else, but there is a little information here that shows the man who started it all.  He built a fully functioning miniature lumber mill, though unfortunately the fire martial won't let it be operated even behind the glass.  But one can see a video of it actually working.

 Andy is posing here with a Dickens Village,
though I forget which one. 

By this point it was dark and late and things were closing up, so it was time to walk the mile back to the hotel.  Did I mention it wasn't too difficult to fall asleep each night?

Victoria, B.C. - Day 2

Day 2 we spent mostly walking.  We wandered out to find breakfast, then came back to the hotel so I could do physical therapy,
and enjoy a little time on our balcony.  Surprisingly, it was pretty warm for Victoria being close to 80, and buildings were amazingly warm with the humidity. 

We spent the day wandering in downtown Victoria,
 including the very small Chinatown,
 which had an Indian festival going on.  Small, but diverse, Chinatown.
 We found a terrible restaurant with a great view of the bay for lunch,
 found a new friend,
took a Harbor Taxi tour, which is the only thing we did the whole week that I wouldn't recommend as the rather pricey "tour" also includes shuttling back and forth between hotel taxi stops and was not a very interesting tour in general. 

We called it an early night as I was pretty tired, so while I rested, Andy took some lovely photos of the sunset,
and went out to find a grocery store so we could have peanut butter on toast and fruit for breakfast the rest of the week.  We did pretty well at finding healthy food in Victoria, but eating out 3 times a day is just too much for us even under the best circumstances.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Victoria, BC - Day 1

If one is going to vacation in August, find a place with better weather than what one has to live with.  Leaving 90-100 degree heat leaves a pretty wide open field, but we picked Victoria, British Columbia, because it's two short flights away (still the sitting problem) and a very, very pedestrian friendly town.

This was our first vacation of staying in the same place the entire time, so we picked a family-owned motel right on the ocean and got to wake up to this everyday--
--usually at some ungodly hour thanks to the seagulls screeching at each other, but it was still nice.  We arrived around 1:00, stopped in our room to drop off luggage and take a picture,
and went out to explore.  We were right by Ogden point where the cruise ships coming from Alaska dock for a night in order to skirt American laws and taxes, which is why you see boats in the background. Ogden Point was also hosting Petapalooza,so we stopped for a look and watched an agility demonstration
which was impressive, but hard to photograph.  The dogs did pole weaving, had to tip the seesaw and had to stay on it until it touched, run through tunnels, and the experienced dogs stopped on the little platform for applause--and a toy.  Lots of fun for everyone involved.

From there, we wandered until we found Fisherman's Wharf, which is famous for its floating houses:
According to the signs, the difference between house boats and floating houses is that house boats have motors.  These really looked like little houses that just happened to be built on the water, and were very cute.  Some of the residents were out chatting to tourists, which I thought was quite nice of them.  One would think it might get a bit wearisome to live in a tourist attraction, but they were quite nice.  We get a fair number of people walking past our house as well, but I'd have to get a WHOLE lot more serious about gardening before anyone stopped to take a picture.

From there, we wandered until we came across the Royal BC Museum,
which had a traveling Viking exhibit which was interesting, and their permanent exhibit of Victoria's history was striking in how elaborate it was and how thoroughly lacking in explanations.  REALLY.  They built part of a ship, had complete parts of hotels and shops, full size machines....and explained about 1/3 of it I would guess.  Maybe if one is Canadian one would automatically be better at history, but there were a lot of things we would have liked more information on throughout our week there.  And they weren't doing the tourism scam thing like selling $40 tour or history books anywhere.  The information just wasn't there.  Still, we spent about 4 hours in the museum, so it was really interesting anyway.

Of course, by this point it was late and we were starving, and Government Street was busy and crowded with the cruise passengers, so it took us a while to find a restaurant, and we were really lucky it did as we found one of the best restaurants I have ever been to--Il Terrazzo.  Fantastic place.  When we first asked, the host said it would be a 45-minute wait, but we must have looked especially forlorn and bedraggled, because he told us to give him a few minutes and he would squeeze us in.  Did I mention that I love Canadians?


You know you've reached a whole new level of gardening when you receive a wholesale catalog.....