Friday, July 29, 2016

Victoria B.C. Afternoon: Exploring on a Budget


During my recent afternoon in picturesque Victoria, B.C., I didn't plan on being on such a tight budget. While fishing around in my purse for my wallet on the Clipper trip up from Seattle, I wasn't there. (It was in my camera bag back at home.)

Fortunately we already had prepaid reservations for Tea at the Empress Hotel, so going hungry wasn't a problem for this day trip from Seattle. Beyond that, though, I can say that not much money is needed to explore and thoroughly enjoy this charming and historic city.
After we finished the wonderful tea (read about it here), my niece and I had about 3 hours before boarding our ferry back to Seattle.  For starters, we explored a bit of the beautiful Fairmount Empress right behind the Tea Lobby.

With its polished stone floors and colorful, vintage stained-glass skylight dome, the Palm Court is a visual treat. Back in the early 1900s, the original Empress Victorian-style tea was served in this space.

Skylight Dome
According to tour guide Mandy Kray, the tea service was moved out of the Palm Court to avoid the particular acoustics of the room that amplified whispered gossip a little too clearly. Today the Palm Court is an elegant space for private events.

Vancouver Island is home to rich Northwest Coast/First Nations aboriginal art and culture, and striking totem poles are scattered around Victoria. As we walked through the Empress lobby past elegant shops and the adjoining Victoria Conference Centre to the street beyond, we passed some fine examples of this art. 

Outside on the street behind the conference centre, we walked several blocks up Douglas Street and over to Market Square, and then on to Victoria's historic Chinatown, one of the oldest in North America. You know you're approaching by the banners and Chinese lanterns hanging over the street.

I always love Chinatowns outside China.  Suddenly you feel transported to a fascinating cross-cultural hybrid of East meets West, but often in time capsule form because they're usually historic districts.

About halfway down the block after passing the Chinatown gate, we noticed a very narrow passageway to our left. Entering Fan Tan Alley was like I imagined it would be to enter Daigon Alley of Harry Potter fame. (Maybe the photo below was purposely blurred to evoke the sense of passing into another reality. Or not:)

While the alley widens a bit after the first stretch, it's lined with an eclectic collection of shops, no doubt catering to tourists.  Historically a reality-altering industry did occur here: it was a popular place for opium dens and factories until 1908, when opium became illegal in Canada.

Then we wandered back toward the Inner Harbour, stopping in a few shops that drew in my niece and enjoying the charming old buildings.  We weren't hungry, but noticed a lot of appealing cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops.

"This would be a great city to come back and eat in," observed my niece Willa.

A Storm Trooper in a lower window keeping watch over the street below.

After meandering around the shops and old Victorian buildings, we cut over to Wharf Street along the water and made our way back toward the Empress, enjoying the waterfront views along with many others.

Parliament Building in the background.
While we only had about 90 minutes before our ferry boarding, we decided to check out the Royal BC Museum, which has a world-renowned collection of First Nations of art and culture.

Well....on a budget, it was a bit much (over $40 for my niece and I), and we really didn't have enough time to do it justice. But I enjoyed the displays  of impressively huge old First Nations carvings in the lobby while my niece browsed the gift shop and got a cute sweatshirt (because she didn't forget her wallet).

Royal BC Museum
As we made our way back toward the ferry in the James Bay Village area, we lost the throngs of people after passing the Parliament buildings. We thought about hitting the Saturday farmer's market, but got there too late.

Instead we found a perfect place to recharge, Nourish Kitchen & Cafe in a cozy converted Victorian villa. They specialize in wholesome and nourishing food, so my niece spotted me the $4.50 Canadian for a glass of their housemade water kefir, a flavorful fermented drink full of probiotics. 

My kind of place.
With about 25 minutes left, we walked down along the waterfront in Laurel Point Park just as the sky started threatening rain.

Too soon we were boarded back on the Clipper (about 4 pm) for the return trip to Seattle on this now cloudy and rainy summer afternoon. I'm not complaining, though, because I love a good summer rain.

So long Victoria!
We were blessed with a smooth ride home, except for some big bounces over the wake of departing cruise ships bound for Alaska.  

Next time I'd take my bicycle and stay a night or two like I've done in years past, but with the tea and exploring, this was a fun day. Highly recommend! But don't forget your wallet. :)

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
The Victoria Clipper leaves Pier 69 in Seattle 7 days a week, weather permitting, year-round. The trip is under 3 hours each way, with good food service on the trip up and back. If you're lucky, you might see a whale in the Salish Sea, but we didn't. Here's a map of Victoria where we wandered.


JoJo said...

I'm glad that Triple Spiral is still in business on Fan Tan Alley. One of my fave places. You know you can also go inside Parliament and walk around for free, and they allow pictures. The stained glass is gorgeous. Victoria is my fave place ever.

jill said...

Hey JoJo! Ha, that's great you know that shop. We didn't go inside but seemed fitting for the locale. Next time will have to go into the Parliament Building, too little time. But thanks for the tip!

Suezy P said...


I do not know how I missed this post - but I am so glad I took a gander through your past blogs this morning. A quick trip to Victoria on the clipper - a great little trip indeed. You hit all my fav spots - Chinatown, the museum, the Empress.

Next time you are there...with wallet in hand, and you are hungry, if you have not tried Rebar Modern Food before, I highly recommend it: I have their cookbook - my all time fav recipes are: Smokey Green Split Pea Soup, Summer Harvest Chowder, Enchiladas con Calabacitas with mesa red sauce and two cheeses, and OMG - Audrey's Deluxe Mac & Cheese!

You nailed Chinatown! Beam me up Scotty....transport me to Victoria Harbour!!!