Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Victoria - Royally British, charmingly English.

Victoria's quaint laid back atmosphere, old english charm and beauty, and its quieter pace of life, felt almost welcome and refreshing, after being on the road for nearly 8 days with a all-in-one kind of an itinerary!
Victoria is just a short ferry ride away be it either from Seattle on the US side or from its counter part city Vancouver on the Canadian side. And they have very convenient and comfortable double-decker buses waiting at the terminal to take visitors into the main harbor area of this picturesque town! BC Transit Bus # 70 will get you all the way there, besides what is included in the bus ride is a bird's eye view (if you are sitting on the top deck) of the beautiful country side, along marine drive! What more can you ask for? It keeps your anticipation building and makes the hour long trip seamless.

It would be wise to get a bed & breakfast or even a hotel stay downtown near or close to the harbor, there is plenty to see and do here, and most, if not all of it is walkable! ( I love walk-friendly places like Vancouver and Victoria...I am all for public transportation and good 'ol bus no. 11 ).
It never hurts to ask if you could check in early. 9 times out of 10, you can! We were lucky again, to get a beautiful room on the 4th floor, overlooking the harbor area in the distance, and since we were prepared to spend most of our time outdoors, we weren't concerned about the view out the window anyway - that just happened to be a bonus!
At first glance, downtown Victoria impresses you with its classic british-day built imposing Parliament building, the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel, which hosts the Queen herself on her royal visits...and the busy yet pretty harbor marina area. We were presented with a plate full of choices, the question was - how much can you eat? And I haven't even begun talking about the food places!

The Royal British Columbia museum is a great place to start your discovery of this charming British town. The museum, as part of its permanent gallery collection showcases a unique insight into the First People's culture where you are privileged to enter the house of an Indian Chief. There are many guided tours and one such is of the modern history gallery, which takes you through a replica of Captain George Vancouver's ship and onto the story of the Gold Rush in British Columbia. Amongst its other impressive permanent exhibits is the gallery of Natural History where a fossilized woolly mammoth stands testimony to the ending of the ice age. There is always something that appeals to adults, families and children here. Don't miss Thunderbird park behind the Museum.

If museums are not your cuppa tea, then maybe a cup-of-tea is!!! Yes, you can enjoy the royal experience of High Tea at the Empress Hotel. This traditional and important ritual of afternoon tea originally began in the 1700's to ward off hunger before the main dinner meal. Today, you can treat yourself to authentic English scones, pastries and sandwiches, and of-course to an array of great english teas while seated at the Empress Hotel's plush Victorian lobby. It doesn't get more English than that!
But probably the most impressive structure overlooking the inner harbor in downtown Victoria is BC's parliament building(s). An interesting piece of trivia is that these buildings (massive in their grandeur and appeal) were constructed in 1893 by a young and creative architect by the name of Francis Rattenbury who was only 25 years at the time! And he and his crew built these timeless buildings with as much local materials, expertise and resources. Unbelievable !

The Parliament building grounds apart from being lush green and inviting, are also the starting point for regular visitor tours (free). Don't be surprised to find a casual Victorian couple walking the grounds from time to time. Its a total package of drama, trivia and information that is a must for all visitors.
There is a reason why all the important buildings and structures are centered around the inner harbor area in downtown. Its because the inner harbor is the heart and life of downtown. Its floral signature welcome message invites people to take in all that it has to offer. This is definitely the most "happening" part of town. Out here sea-planes land and take off, every few minutes, and all the boats docked at the marina against a setting sun make for a picture perfect evening stroll. Sun down transforms the sea walk and all of the harbor area as more than 3000 light bulbs light up the parliament buildings casting an almost enchanting glow on the city. We were lucky to be here when the moon was high up in the sky, the waters - calm, and the evening perfect. Take your time to stroll along the harbor, you cannot miss the number of street performers and musicians to add romance to your evening stroll.

Victoria's downtown is certainly dominated by big and long standing structures, but its in the little shops and restaurants that you can see experience so much of a quaint british influence and charm.
TIP:The surprising part was that the ferry ride from Vancouver(Tsawwassen Ferry terminal) to Victoria (Swartz Bay) aboard the BC Ferries cost both of us a total of $20 and took only an hour and a half in terms of time ! And from Victoria to Seattle...nearly 8 times the price and more than twice the time! Go figure!

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