Above: a sweet treat upon arrival in Victoria. Every afternoon in the Gold Lounge at The Fairmont Empress they serve tea and scones plus other sweet treats like this cute mini chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting.
The vast majority of our 26th wedding anniversary trip was really quite wonderful, romantic, loving, and intimate with some sightseeing moments thrown in for good measure. Blue Eyes and I love a nice big king bed with crisp white sheets and ceiling fan twirling away overhead, so we could have really been anywhere, but Victoria was lovely when we stepped outside.
We love the Amtrak Cascades train ride back and forth between Portland and Seattle. We have enjoyed that train ride numerous times over the years. My boys (all three of them) have taken the train up for Seahawks games. It’s a fun time. The train takes a little longer, but is infinitely more enjoyable than the drive up I-5. The absolute worst, is that drive in the rain, in the dark. A normal three-hour drive has taken up to five hours depending on weather and traffic, blech.
Once off the train in Seattle, we cabbed down to the wharf, and found a nice restaurant close to the Victoria Clipper pier. We had a wonderful lunch looking out to the Puget Sound at Six Seven Restaurant at the Edgewater Hotel. Blue Eyes ordered the onion ring cheeseburger, but I think my salad trounced his burger in terms of healthiness and taste, so their mom’s chicken salad with yogurt dressing gets the recognition here.
Below: Blue Eye’s blood orange and thyme lemonade was pretty delicious as well. They had some lovely drinks for the non-alcohol crowd.
We remembered to take our motion sickness medicine an hour before getting on the ferry. The last time we were on the ferry to Victoria, we were both really nauseous for the first half of the voyage. This time was much better, but the medicine did make us a little drowsy and we dozed off for about 30 minutes. Blue Eyes had booked us at the Fairmont Empress hotel right at the Victoria Harbor. The Empress opened in 1908 and is one of the oldest hotels and probably the most famous hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. As you head into the inner harbor at Victoria, the Empress sits straight ahead. It’s beautiful.
Our room was on the Gold Level, which meant we had our own check-in desk outside their Gold Lounge. Our room afforded us access to the Gold Lounge and free food and drink pretty much all day. After a quick check in, they whisked our bags away to our room, and we took a few minutes to catch our breath, grab a snack and a drink and relax in front of the large windows in the lounge. The hotel does not have air conditioning and even though the temperatures were no where near the 100+ degrees of back home, it was a bit warm and humid at times. The open windows afforded a nice little breeze and the company of a friendly seagull (above). The Gold Lounge ended up being quite handy for breakfast, and snacks before and after sightseeing adventures. When we arrived at our room, there were more fun sweet treats, compliments of the hotel.
Above: a chocolate tea cup filled with treats, and Below: a decadent chocolate mousse dessert with a chocolate Happy 26th Anniversary card.
Plus, I received a gorgeous flower arrangement orchestrated by Blue Eyes with a beautiful card and the following sentiment, “every minute I have with you I am eternally grateful and each day spent with you is a gift. Each year is precious. May I be fortunate enough to have another 26 years. Happy Anniversary! All my love, forever.” The pink hydrangea blooms were larger than my spread out hand. HUGE! The last time we were in Victoria, we visited the Butchart Gardens, so this time we skipped it. But, the gardens are definitely worth seeing if you are ever in Victoria. Here are a couple photos I took at the garden in 2009. I only had my macro lens, so no overview shots.
We knew we were going to want to partake in Afternoon Tea at least twice while in Victoria. Choosing where we would enjoy said Afternoon Tea was a challenge. There are so many great choices for tea, it is like a little London. Because the weather was so gorgeous, on Thursday, we chose to have tea at the Abkhazi Gardens and Tea House.
Although the home is not luxurious (and is now a tea room, offices, and gift shop), and the gardens are not expansive, the story of the original owners is quite sweet and historically interesting.
The Abkhazi Garden turned out to be a wonderful place to enjoy Afternoon Tea. We had a 2:00pm reservation and when we arrived there were only two other guests in the room. We had not eaten lunch, so, this afternoon tea would be our lunch replacement. By the time we left, the tea room was packed. I guess people like to take afternoon tea a little later, but frankly it is difficult to schedule a meal around as you are either too full for all that food after lunch, or, you don’t want to ruin your dinner. I have heard a lot of people (Americans) refer to afternoon tea as high tea. It got me thinking about the difference between afternoon and high tea. I thought I knew the difference, but I did some research anyway. It is my understanding that afternoon tea was established in England as a snack in the afternoon, something between lunch and dinner, mainly enjoyed by the upper classes, those with more leisure time. Afternoon tea included small sandwiches, scones, and pastries served on fine china, with hot loose leaf tea served in fine china teapots and cups. On the other hand, high tea was more like dinner, served on less fancy fare and at meal time. They were referred to as low tea (afternoon) and high tea (dinner meal) based on the height of the table used. Afternoon tea was generally served on a low table while relaxing in comfortable upholstered sofas, while high tea was served at dinner table height.
The first afternoon tea we enjoyed as a family was in a gorgeous setting at The Biltmore Santa Barbara Four Seasons while sitting on lovely overstuffed floral upholstered sofas in front of the large fireplace overlooking the Pacific Ocean with our delicious tea sandwiches, scones, and elaborate pastries served at coffee table height. We were with our boys and they were ages 11, and 9. What an absolute treat. I wish I had a photo because they have completely renovated the space (probably more than once) and it no longer looks the way it did back then. The only downside was that the large pots of tea (of which each of us had our own, including whatever loose tea flavor we individually chose) were highly caffeinated. Combining the caffeine and sugary sweets together sent our boys into overdrive, but it was a very fun and luxurious experience for all of us. We repeated the pleasure in many cities throughout the world over the years including Edinburgh Scotland at the Balmoral Hotel, London, England at the famous Ritz Hotel tea room, and many more. Recently, Blue Eyes and I shared afternoon tea with our newest niece, Leila (and her parents too) high atop the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. To say we love afternoon tea, is an understatement.
The sandwich course was lovely with traditional cucumber sandwiches, egg salad on brown bread, smoked salmon profiterole, bell pepper quiche, and mini ham & cheese croissant.
Our favorite course is always the fresh baked scones with clotted cream and fresh strawberry jam, above. There was also a lovely cheddar and chive scone, not pictured.
Although the dessert course does not look so spectacular, they were all lovely bite-sized treats including a mini fruit tartlet, cinnamon and raisin turnover, a shortbread flower shaped sandwich cookie with raspberry jam and powdered sugar, plus something we have never seen before at afternoon tea, a philosopher’s tea infused creme brûlée. Quite the gastronomic treat.
We also took time to walk around the entire garden area and came upon some wonderful floral treasures.
The old oak trees on the property were spectacular in height and shape.
Above: the dangling light pink fuchsias may have been my favorite. Below: a gorgeous water lily peaks out from underneath the large lily pads.
For Friday’s excursion, we chose a guided bus tour around the southeast tip of Victoria Island. First stop, Craigdarroch Castle, just a hop, skip and a jump from downtown Victoria and our hotel. Craigdarroch is a 25,000 square foot Victorian-era Mansion commissioned by Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Mr. Dunsmuir died before the castle was complete, but his wife and children lived there from 1890 to 1908. It was later a military hospital, a college, school board offices, a conservatory of music, and a museum since 1979. It has also been used in the films Little Women, Spooky House, and Cats & Dogs.
Above: exterior of the mansion from the front. Below: the house has THE most amazing stained glass windows throughout it’s 39 rooms.
Next stop, below, was Mount Tolmie park viewpoint. Gorgeous. The top photo is one I took on the beautifully sunny day we were there. The bottom picture is one I grabbed off the internet (source: forum.skyscraperpage.com (The VERY BEST of FlickR) taken on a much more stormy day with a much better camera by a much better photographer with much better editing software. I have a photo from that same direction (the viewpoint affords you a 360º panoramic view of Victoria Island, but with the direction of the sun, I could not get a decent photo facing towards town)
Last stop was lunch at Oak Bay Marina with a view of Willows Beach across the bay. I liked this picture because of the beautiful sail boats and then the itty bitty baby boat there in the front. That little wooden boat is quite small, but beautifully built.
Later Friday evening we did the “must do” touristy thing while in Victoria (according to my parents and every travel site on the internet) and headed out for a Ghostly Walking Tour of downtown. The meeting point was right outside our hotel and across the street at the visitor’s center. We set out just after dark. To be honest, it was more historically interesting than scary and our tour guide was a bit over the top theatrical (which she promised us she would not be). The tour was okay, but the nice walk around town with a cool breeze and lots of fun happenings was the better part of the deal. Honestly, the best scary walking tour we have ever been on was the Jekyl and Hyde walk on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland on a cold November afternoon. Now that was creepy and much much more interesting and it actually felt real. I recommend it highly if you are ever in Edinburgh.
Our Saturday began with another lovely tea, this time at our hotel, The Empress. This afternoon tea service in their historically elegant tea room, is famous. It is a destination tea experience and the price reflects it.
Below: the first course was luscious big, sweet, juicy blueberries with whipped cream.
Blue Eyes and I chose the Kea Lani Pineapple Orange herbal tea and it was so delicious and reminded us of Hawaii.
Below: the sandwich course included Moroccan chicken salad on marbled rye, egg salad sandwich on croissant, smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheel on whole wheat, minted cucumber sandwich, and parslied butter and ham on cranberry nut bread
Next course, the delicious fresh baked raisin scones with Devon cream, and imported from England, Wilkin & Sons strawberry jam
We also opted for the cheese and port course, below, which included Salt Spring Island mild cheddar, chèvre, ashed camembert, and a wonderful bleu plus candied walnuts, honey from the Empress chef’s garden, and a delicious nutty brown bread.
We had absolutely no room for the dessert course, so we brought these dainty and tasty treats back to our room for later: Duo of Jivara & Ivoire Chocolate Délice, Tropical Lamington, Raspberry Mascarpone Mousseline in dainty chocolate tea cups, Valrhona Pistachio Crémeux Tart, and Rose Petal Shortbreads. We ended up eating them while watching the movie ‘Woman in Gold’ in our room. Good movie, great snacks.
Saturday night Blue Eyes had booked us a belated anniversary dinner at a highly recommended Italian restaurant. We strolled from our hotel to the restaurant and on our way, we watched a little of the activity near the Victoria inner harbor. There was something big going on at the Parliament building across the way there, but we didn’t spend much time trying to figure out what. There were lots of things happening in Victoria the weekend we were there. We left Sunday morning, but Sunday night their Victoria Symphony Splash event was scheduled in the inner harbor, described thusly on the symphony website: “from a floating stage in the Inner Harbour, Maestra Tania Miller, the orchestra and special guests will perform, ending with a grand finale performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – with fireworks of course!”
I would imagine they have it every year. It sounds like a fun event if you can stomach the tens of thousands of people they were expecting to attend. When we left for the ferry Sunday morning, thousands of chairs were already set up all around the harbor. Not my cup of tea, but fun for those that don’t mind crowds, and I would imagine harbor view rooms at The Empress were going for quite the pretty penny, as they say.
We strolled to dinner, and once I was past my trauma episode, we enjoyed Insalata Mista, Salame Pizza, and Tonno (Ahi Tuna) at the romantic Il Terrazzo Ristorante, Victoria.
Sunday was all about the ferry ride back through the San Juan de Fuca Straits on the Victoria Clipper and the train ride back to home. Despite the trauma bits, I am a very lucky girl and I had a lovely and extremely romantic, and sexy time with Blue Eyes on our 26th wedding anniversary trip to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and I managed to make the good post even longer than the bad one… that’s progress.