I can't believe I returned from my vacation over two weeks ago and, yet, I'm only just posting this little report. I have a bunch of excuses prepared, but I can't be bothered to list them. How about we just skip ahead to the part where I discuss my actual trip? As it would probably take me about a month to write about everything, I'm just going to include some of the highlights. However, for anyone who wants to see ALL of my pictures, you can find them in this album.
I don't think I mentioned this before, but I was basically tagging along with my mom on this trip. She had mentioned some time ago that she'd like to go out to Victoria to see her brother and sister-in-law. When the subject came up again, I decided that it wouldn't be such a bad idea and asked my mom if I could join her. Thankfully, my mom didn't mind the company and, as it turned out, we had a wonderful time. My uncle and aunt were very happy to see us, and we even got to have lunch with a friend we met back in the nineties on a tour of Britain. Anywaaaaay, that's the background. Now, here are some of those promised highlights.
One thing we really wanted to do was go on a whale watch. As Mom had heard great things about Springtide Charters, we decided to go with them. In fact, that's the first thing we did on our first full day in Victoria. We couldn't have picked a better day because we spotted not one but two pods of orca (e.g. killer whales) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I know it's not great, but this is the best picture I was able to get:
We were able to watch the orca for at least 45 minutes. Then we attended an informal lecture on orca from a retired marine biologist, who had pictures of all the orca that had been identified (based on the saddle patch behind the dorsal fin) and even a kind of touch table of sorts.
The picture below was taken near the end of our trip and, yet, we visited The Empress Hotel near the beginning. Actually, we were to visit it two more times: once during a ghost walk and once when we had lunch with my uncle and aunt in the Bengal Lounge. However, on our first visit (this trip), we went on a historical tour of the place. Our guide was a soft-spoken English lady who was dressed in Edwardian clothing, which makes sense considering that the hotel opened in 1908. We learned all kinds of fascinating facts from her and saw parts of the hotel we hadn't seen before. We also learned about the rather tragic architect, Francis M. Rattenbury, who would eventually be murdered by his second wife's lover, the chauffeur. On a ghost walk, we learned that he's been spotted standing in the basement in front of a large portrait of the hotel. Witnesses have claimed that he looks as if he's studying the hotel with great pride and satisfaction.
While we're on the subject of both ghosts and The Empress Hotel, I'll share another story we heard on the ghost walk. During the Depression, dowagers used to shut up their homes and live in the hotel's sixth floor attic rooms in the winter months to save money. One sweet old lady was so attached to the place that she remained in her room after she died. As a result, the hotel was never able to use the room as so many guests kept asking to be moved. Therefore, when the sixth floor was renovated and expensive new suites were added, the haunted room seemed like the perfect place for a new private elevator. After the elevator was built, guests on the sixth floor would hear a knock on their doors in the middle of the night and find a little old woman standing in the hallway. She would tell them that she couldn't find her room and ask if they could help her. Naturally, guests would call down to reception to report that a little old woman was lost. The employee at the desk would ask if they were on the sixth floor and then tell them not to worry about the little old woman.
Instead of having tea at The Empress, we went to my uncle and aunt's favourite place, the White Heather. It may not be as grand as The Empress, but the price is better and the food is delicious. You also couldn't find nicer people there. My aunt and uncle have become very good friends with the owners and a young woman that works there. In fact, it was their young friend who took this picture of all of us:
From left to right: Aunty A, yours truly, Mom, Uncle S
One of my favourite days of our trip was when we visited Antique Row and just came across one delightful store after another. Naturally, I got carried away and bought way too much. However, at least half of what I bought was used books, so it could have been worse. Well, in a way, it was worse because I found Chronicles of Crime, a mystery bookstore to rival Sleuth of Baker Street because they had two of August Derleth's Solar Pons books (the first and the sixth) for an excellent price! Look, before you ask, Solar Pons books aren't always easy to find. Of course, after typing that, I did a search on Amazon and found a bunch of used copies available. However, I seem to remember them being pretty expensive at Sleuth. It's either that or I was too young to appreciate them when I first came across them. I can't remember. Well...long story slightly shorter, I bought the Solar Pons books and had the store owner's assurance that she would happily track down books for me in the future, which probably isn't a good thing. *g*
Sorry. I got so carried away with Sherlockian joy that I didn't touch on the first of the photos from this special day. They're pictures of the exterior and interior of a wonderful Scottish pub called the Bard & Banker:
If you think the pub looks like a bank, you'd be correct. The building was a bank (originally the Bank of British Columbia) from 1885 until 1988. However, that's not the most interesting part. No, even more interesting was one of its former employees, Robert Service. The Canucks on my flist will know him as a writer, famous for such poems as "The Cremation of Sam McGee". Believe it or not, he also cropped up in yet another story that we heard on the ghost walk, which, ironically, was that very night.
In the late fifties, a woman who lived in a building across the street saw the figure of a man standing at one of the bank's top floor windows. She could only see a silhouette, but she felt as if he were staring right at her and it terrified her. Worse still, he remained at the window for the rest of the night and in the days that followed. Not surprisingly, the woman barely slept and was forced to consult the police in the end. However, when the police searched the top floor, they couldn't find anyone there. Then, the figure at the window no longer appeared, and the woman was never plagued by him again. So...what does this have to do with ghosts? Well, Robert Service used to sleep upstairs in the bank vault, and that figure appeared very shortly after his death. Robert Service also suffered a psychological trauma that would haunt him for the rest of his days. Right beside the bank was the funeral parlour. One night, Service heard noises coming from the funeral parlour. Thinking that someone was trying to break into the bank, he entered the funeral parlour to investigate. That was when he saw all of the pale, distorted corpses. A ship had sank in Victoria Harbour, and the bodies had been transported to the funeral parlour. Apparently, the memory of all those bodies often kept Service awake at night and may have even influenced him artistically. In any case, our guide thought that Service's spirit might very well have returned to a place where he was haunted himself.
I know I already geeked out over Solar Pons, but I was completely shameless when it came to the Darth Vader busker we saw on Government Street later that same day. I snapped at least five or six pictures as he played, though I did leave some money in his violin case afterwards. Did I mention that it was freakin' Darth Vader? How cool is that?
On what we called our "down day," we explored some places closer to our hotel and did a lot of sitting and reading. It was a day when we needed to recharge our batteries and relax. In any case, on our travels that day, we ended up passing the Royal British Columbia Museum and Thunderbird Park. All I needed to see was that one totem pole and I was off. Below, are some of my better pictures:
Twice, we walked along the other side of the Inner Harbour to Laurel Point. Both times, we found a nice bench and sat down to read. Well, I read a bit of fic off my iPod Touch and Mom ignored her Kindle in favour of everything that was going on in the water. As I spent more time watching the water than reading, I can understand that. We saw everything from the Coast Guard to seaplanes landing and taking off.
Mom pointing to one of her many maps as I snap a picture of her in Laurel Point Park.
Mom looking pissed because I snapped another picture of her in Laurel Point Park.
An absolutely beautiful condo in Laurel Point that I could happily live in for the huge water feature alone!
I can't write about my trip without mentioning the Coho (a passenger and vehicle ferry making round trips from Port Angeles to Victoria) because Mom and I became a bit obsessed with it. We found ourselves looking for it whenever we passed the Inner Harbour. We even sat and watched it unloading vehicles and passengers when it reached Victoria:
Something else we saw a lot of was seals (specifically harbour seals), which was fantastic! The first ones we saw were at the Marina. The mutual friend I mentioned earlier had been kind enough to pick us up at our hotel, take us for a scenic drive, and then treat us to lunch at the Marina Restaurant, which, as you might suspect, looks out over the Oak Bay Marina. Anyway, after our delicious meal, we walked around Oak Bay Marina a bit and were shown the seals. Here's my best shot of the lot of them:
Our friend thinks the seals are so friendly because they might have once been a part of an aquarium that was shut down. Of course, feeding the seals fish also helps. *g*
This is kind of embarrassing, but we decided to visit Undersea Gardens after our friend had returned us to our hotel. We had been told it wasn't worth seeing, but our curiosity got the better of us. Naturally, the naysayers were right. It's pretty lame and a bit depressing. However, we did get some rather nice pictures in the aquarium. Here are some of mine:
You might be wondering about the next photo. The kilted bear stands outside the Royal Scot, a hotel that was across the street from our own hotel, the Best Western Plus Inner Harbour. In fact, the bear was one of the first sights we saw on this trip as my uncle and aunt took us out for lunch at the Royal Scot shortly after we arrived. And as we passed the bear every day on our travels, I had to take a picture of him. Then, Mom had to take a picture of me with the bear because she makes demands like that:
On our last full day, we took a tour of Victoria Harour in a Victoria Harbour Ferry, a tiny little green boat that's a bit like a taxi cab on water. It seemed like an ideal way to reach Fisherman's Wharf and see some more sights. One of the sights we saw were the floating homes of Westbay Marine Village:
When we reached Fisherman's Wharf, we saw even more floating homes. Here are some of them:
Our main objective at Fisherman's Wharf was to have lunch at Barb's Fish & Chips, Victoria's only floating seafood restaurant and one of the best fish & chips eateries in North America. Despite some initial reservations, my uncle and aunt met us there for lunch. They soon discovered just how popular fish was at Fisherman's Wharf when they met the harbour seal, a seal that seemed capable of wolfing down an endless supply of fish. Of course, I took pictures. Lots of pictures.
Well, those were essentially the highlights of my trip to Victoria. I'm sure there are other things I could and should have covered, but I think I wrote about most of my happiest memories. I hope at least some of you enjoyed my trip down memory lane. Thanks for reading and staying awake. ;-)