Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tea at the Empress, Victoria


The second day of my road trip around the Olympic Peninsula was by far the most successful.
It was also the day I didn't drive, aside from the brief trip from my hotel to the ferry dock and back. Was there a correlation? Most definitely. But we'll get to that a bit later.

 

I'd made a reservation on the MV Coho ferry out of Port Angeles for the morning of January 3rd. Taking the ferry to Victoria was cheaper here than in Seattle, and also a convenient way to break up my trip. We set sail as the sun was rising. Getting out on the water was a great way to get a sense of just how majestic the Olympic Mountains really are.

After making it through customs in Victoria (the agent peering at me as if I'd faked my passport), I stopped by the information booth in the harbor to figure out how I was getting to the city's famous botanical gardens. At least, I'd been told they were famous - my mother had recommended I check them out. She had visited years ago, during the summer, and had enjoyed conditions similar to the first picture below. When I was visiting... well, not so much. It was my third trip to Canada and I was beginning to think pictures of the Great White North sans snow were a cruel hoax.

 

A short bus ride later, I was at the Butchart Gardens. Admission is less expensive in the winter (though perhaps not as low as it should be). Night is the time to visit, as the holiday displays are all lit up, but given the ferry schedule, I had to content myself with the tiny bit of sunshine that peeked out while I was walking through the Japanese Garden.



The aforementioned holiday displays are of the twelve days of Christmas. Some are whimsical, like the three French hens. Others - like the pipers piping - were a bit on the creepy side.



Back in town, I had a bit of time to kill before my reserved tea time. I walked around the harbor area, ending up in the conference center which is attached to the Fairmont Empress. The area has neat architecture and lots of nods to the First Nations tribes that are native to the area. The Empress itself is an unapologetic monument to colonialism, a grand Edwardian hotel plopped at the end of a train line. The British royals have waltzed and dined here several times over the years. If, like me, you can't afford to stay, afternoon tea is the thing to do.



This was my first afternoon tea experience in a grand hotel, and so far, it's been hard to top. The room was lovely, the service impeccable, the sandwiches - divine. I loved drinking out of Royal Doulton teacups - a china pattern made specifically for the hotel and for purchase only in its gift shop.



I go into more detail over on my tea blog. (It's rarely updated, but given my name, it's a pun I can't pass up.)

After receiving my bag of leftovers and a complementary box of the house blend, I took a leisurely stroll back to the ferry. The sun disappeared as we neared the U.S. coastline, leaving me with fond memories of my day and grit on my boots from the snowy tundra that is Canada.

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