The British in British Columbia: A Visit to Victoria
I haven’t written much about the places I’ve travelled to in the last six months, mainly due to time constraints and other more blog-worthy happenings, but I think my latest adventure deserves a post all to itself. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia after all, which is why my boyfriend and I hopped on the ferry for a spontaneous getaway last week. I’d heard many great things about the city and the vast majority proved themselves to be true. It’s official – I heart Victoria.
The journey from Vancouver to Victoria took approximately 4.5 hours, and included a bus to Downtown, a SkyTrain to Richmond, another bus to Tsawassen Ferry Terminal, a ferry to Scwartz Bay and a final bus to downtown Victoria. We were all checked in to our hotel room on Quebec Street by 1pm, and by 1:03pm we were sampling the delights of Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour. We took in lunch at The Irish Times, the city’s most famous Irish Bar, and spent the afternoon wandering around the little town, stopping only to eat fudge, drink cocktails and take a free tour of the Legislative Buildings. Canada’s political system is based on that of the UK, so being a Brit I found the building and the information interesting and at times amusing, particularly the part with the portrait of the Queen and Prince Phillip.
I was determined to find the perfect place for dinner, and it’s pretty safe to say I succeeded with Pagliacci’s. The cosy (read: elbow to elbow) Italian was tucked away in a side street and featured live music and a 30 minute line up, telling us straight away that we’d made a good choice. The food was delicious, the music was relaxing and the atmosphere was incredibly welcoming. Dinner was followed by a stroll along the Inner Harbour to the world renowned Fairmont Empress Hotel where we enjoyed a cocktail in the Indian themed Bengal Lounge. We passed the impressively lit Legislative Buildings on our way back to the hotel, which looked like a cross between a Christmas tree and the Taj Mahal. A very bright cross at that.
Day two started off a little cloudy, but we pushed on and took a walk along the seawall to Fisherman’s Wharf. Although much smaller than its famous San Francisco counterpart, the Wharf was filled with quirky and unique houseboats in addition to the traditional fish and chips stand. We continued our walk into town and stopped at a pub called The Bent Mast for lunch, where I tasted what must officially be the world’s best fries. They were beyond delicious. Really.
By this time the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining, so I treated myself to an ice cream as we meandered through Beacon Hill Park, stopping at the western most point of the Trans-Canadian Highway on the way. Our walk took us back to the Inner Harbour and straight to the waterfront terrace of Victoria’s Milestones bar, which just happened to have $4.99 bellinis on special. Yes please. And another. We finished our day with a dash to Victoria’s highest rated fish and chip stand, which although technically produced fish and fries, was 95% of the way there and as close to British chips as I ever expect to get in Canada. And with that, we jumped aboard a bus, a ferry, a bus, a SkyTrain and another bus and were tucked up in bed by 11pm. Well I was. James was watching movies. But that’s another blog post, and indeed another blog.
The one thing I was sceptical about before my visit was Victoria’s claim to ‘Britishness’. I’d lost count of the number of people who told me I’d feel ‘right at home there’, which I wasn’t particularly enamoured by. Firstly because I didn’t believe it, but also because I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to be feeling, having travelled half way across the world to not be right at home. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected a collection of polished Ye Olde English Tea Rooms to rival Disneyland, but it was nothing like that at all. For me, the British charm lay in the cobbled streets that were just like Bath or Winchester, and in the beaches that could have easily been in Cornwall or Devon. Parts of Victoria were just like an old British seaside town, not in an elegant or traditional way, but in a quirky, British way. I’ve used the word ‘quirky’ twice in this post now, so it must be true.
My favourite thing about Victoria is easy to pinpoint: its size. As a self-confessed avid planner, I like to research my trips thoroughly to make sure I get to see everything I’d like to and I don’t miss out on any hidden gems. Victoria was a geek’s dream in that it was small enough for me to see just about everything I read in the guide book, even by accident. I loved walking down the street and spotting a shop, bar or landmark I’d read about, and it made me feel like I really got to know the area in just two days. For that reason I’m not sure I’d want to live there, but for a weekend getaway in the sunshine Victoria is definitely the place to be.