November 8, 2011

Travel Tuesday: A Very Victoria Adventure

A few weeks ago, Deacon was lucky enough to make his first jaunt ever to our great neighbor to the north - Canada! We were on vacation in Seattle visiting a friend and decided to spend a few days exploring. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, was only a few hours away by "clipper," a fast-moving boat, so we decided that it sounded like quite the jaunt.

The Clipper was surprisingly full, despite the 8 AM Saturday departure, and the ride remarkably smooth. I wish I'd taken pictures, but I took a Dramamine and fell asleep. I can vouch that the duty free deals were good and that the ship itself was clean and spacious. A quick passport check later, and we were on our way!

Image via Tourism Victoria, courtesy Deddeda Stemler
It was a quick and easy walk to our hotel, the historic and grand Fairmont Empress. It's hard to stress how beautiful this hotel is from the exterior. Opened in 1908, the hotel has served as the city's premier luxury destination since its opening, and today still draws loyal guests for its daily high tea service. Sadly, we didn't have time to sample, but the dishes I spied while walking by the tea lounge made it seem well worth the $50 price tag. Still, we had a town to explore. Wanting to maximize our day, we sadly skipped a few destinations I would have loved to explore  - the Royal BC Museum, Craigdarroch Castle, a grand manor house from the early 1900s and the famed Butchart Gardens.
Image via Tourism Victoria, courtesy Deddeda Stemler. Craigdarroch Castle.

We opted for a walking tour of town, attempting to maximize our time spent in and around the city. The first stop? Lunch! We couldn't resist Red Fish Blue Fish, housed on the waterfront in tiny shipping container, dishing out some of the city's freshest sustainably-caught fish in an eco-friendly setting. Never mind the rain, we hunkered under a tiny awning and enjoyed some of the best fish and chips we've ever had - sorry to say, we stayed away from the many varieties of Poutine offered. Yum!
Fish & Chips - amazing.

Then it was off to explore a few neighborhoods, including Government Street – the city's main strip, filled with pretty buildings. Being the shoppers that we are, we didn't want to miss  LoJo – Lower Johnson Street, which had a number of adorably colorful heritage buildings as well as great funky boutiques, perfect for the many college students we saw wandering around. We're told that this area features nearly 40 businesses that are are locally owned, many by first time proprietors. Then it was up the street to Chinatown, the oldest in Canada. We found a few adorable home decor and furnishings stores as well as the famed Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada.
Image via Tourism Victoria, courtesy Deddeda Stemler. Fan Tan Alley.

I'm really glad we didn't take a sea plane.

While walking around, I saw a sign for the "Robbins" parking lot. I might have found relatives in Canada!

LoJo Shopping- very fun! Image via Tourism Victoria, courtesy Deddeda Stemler

The buildings were all so colorful, and everyone was very friendly - despite the freezing rain!

One of our favorite stops? The  Silk Road Tea Company, a tea house and spa specializing in hand-crafted and organic merchandise. We sadly weren't able to try a spa treatment (we'd definitely do this on our next trip!!), but we spent a long while browsing the great selection of bath salts and scrubs, as well as sampling a variety of teas. We loved that all of the sales staff was incredibly knowledgeable about the properties of each tea,  explaining their different uses, suggesting varieties we might like to sample, and even showing us how to fill our own tins (the entire store is DIY) of loose tea. We have since fallen in love with a red Chai, an enticing mix of spices and black tea, as well as a mint variety that we've learned how to make mint "tea" hot chocolate with. If you're in the area, the shop has a tea bar, open daily, where you can enjoy a pot of your own favorite blend, as well as a complimentary tea class from 2-3 PM each Saturday, where you can learn about new varieties as well as things like how to make Tea Cocktails. How fun!
The Red Bush Chai was great-  sadly, I lack photos of the shop itself!

That afternoon, we headed back to check in and enjoy the spa. The hotel's rooms themselves were on the smaller side and could do with a renovation, but they were clean and comfortably equipped with flat-screens and WiFi (which, sadly, did come at an extra charge). A highlight of the hotel was their Willow Stream Spa, voted one of Canada's top resort spas by Condé Nast. I've seen quite a lot of spas in my day, and this one was quite lovely - an entire basement level of the hotel, with a steam, sauna, mineral bath, indoor pool and hot tub, it was the perfect place to while away a rainy and cold afternoon. The treatments? Top notch. I actually fell asleep during my hot stone massage, something I've never done before. If you're looking for a Vegas-esque massive spa experience, this isn't it - it's intimate and more old-fashioned, matching the vibe of the hotel.
We missed tea, but if these in-room treats are nay indication, it would be pretty darn awesome.

The hotel elevator bank - even this is pretty.

That evening, we spent time at Vista 18, a lovely rooftop restaurant and bar atop the Chateau Victoria hotel. Known as one of the city's premier special occasion restaurants, we enjoyed fabulous views of the entire city as well as great small plates and cocktails.
 A few night snaps.

A night shot.

Sadly, it was an early morning flight back to Seattle, but we loved the beautiful sights from the tiny plane - a few of our favorite snaps below. We'll definitely be back for a visit and would suggest anyone with a few days to spare near the area do the same. 

Tourism Victoria sponsored our airfare and hotel accommodations, but our opinions about the trip are solely our own.

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