© 2012; 2004 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Joan Pike. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Victoria's Charms Are No Secret – A Solo Travel Report

By Joan Pike

As that old smoothie, the Victoria Clipper, slid into the Inner Harbor, I had my first delightful view of Canada's "Little England." Victoria greets you with a vista of green, red, and gold because the residents conspire to keep theirs a garden city. Beneath most Victorian exteriors there beats the heart of an English gardener.

I spent two days in Victoria, British Columbia's capital city, which, if you didn't already know, is located on Vancouver Island, a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland city of Vancouver. I came via Seattle, a two-and-a-half hour trip on the Clipper (tickets start at US$62 one-way). The weather was perfect for meandering. At no time did I feel the slightest apprehension about being alone; I made myself part of Victoria life during my short stay.

A Meandering Sort of City

I started out with a leisurely stroll around the Inner Harbor. Then I had a wander through the Provincial Parliament buildings, just to the east of the harbor, and that put me in the mood for a stately ride in a horse-drawn carriage along blossom-lined streets around Beacon Hill Park.

To get a clearer idea of the city's layout, I boarded an authentic double-decker tour bus (C$18) in front of the old Empress Hotel, Victoria's most famous landmark. The hotel faces the harbor overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a stunning view of Washington's Olympic Mountains.Victoria's footman chats with tourists along the Inner Harbor

The tour passed through historic Chinatown, Antique Row, and on to residential districts such as Uplands and Oak Bay for glimpses of seaside homes and gardens.

After that I got down to serious browsing in one-of-a-kind shops offering everything from Havana cigars to handmade chocolates. In quaint premises where fixtures haven't been changed for decades, I found the whole gamut of quality wares – china, linen, crystal, and woolens. At the other end of the spectrum, for the really avid bargain hunter, there are the "second time around" stores.

In Chinatown, having entered through the ornately carved "Gate of Harmonious Interest," I followed Fisgard Street to Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in North America.

Like many a lady of Victorian times, the namesake city started out not quite so ladylike. During the 1800s, gambling and the opium trade were legal operations. In a well-stocked curio shop half-way down the alley, is a small exhibit, almost hidden in a corner, but even so slight a reminder conjures up furtive images of gambling and opium dens.

High Tea More British than Britain

By then I'd had about as much riding, walking, and sightseeing as I could stand for one day. I was ready for that most British of all customs – afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is popular in Victoria, whether it's high tea at the Empress Hotel (seasonal berries, scones with cream and jam, pastries, finger sandwiches C$25.95 to C$45.95) or a quick "cuppa" in one of the dozens of tea rooms throughout the city.

For serious dining, there are oodles of restaurants and cafés, some imposing, some modest. I did some relaxed chomping at Barb's Place, "Victoria's only floating fish and chip ship." I can vouch for the oysters and french fries, but I wouldn't cross an ocean for the chowder. It's good, but not extraordinary. No problem dining alone here; I just sat with others at one of the outdoor picnic tables. Watching the swooping of seagulls on the pier is entertaining enough if there is no one to talk to.

Craigdarroch Castle

Touring Craigdarroch Castle (C$10) filled part of a day. Robert Dunsmuir, a local coal magnate built the 1890s mansion for his wife. Among its 39 rooms is a dance hall that could hold a three-bedroom house, a billiard room, library, and double drawing room. This relic of early Victorian society evokes affluence with a dark side. Hundreds of workers died in the dangerous Dunsmuir mines. Eventually the castle, with its oriental carpets, silk brocades, fine china, silver, and furniture all fell to a series of shady deals and debtor losses.

Leaving those doleful thoughts behind, I went my way and happened across another British export – a cricket match. A friendly "good afternoon" signaled my acceptance as a spectator. Such a civilized game, I thought as I headed for a deck chair. Some Victorians, I'm told, complain that the game is too slow, preferring instead the tear-around ways of hockey, but the leisurely pace, and the genteel demeanor of cricket fans suited me just fine.

Uh Oh – Victoria Has a Secret

For all of its charm and variety, Victoria isn't paradise. Victorians told me that their trees sometimes get full of caterpillars, and I heard that a number of them get a sort of cabin fever and return to the mainland.

As for me, all too soon I was waiting on the dock to board the Clipper for the return trip to Seattle. I didn't get to the Royal British Columbia Museum, the Maritime Museum, nor Victoria's version of the Royal London Wax Museum. I didn't get to Carr House, birthplace of Emily Carr, one of Canada's foremost artists. I did not even get to the most famous of Victorian gardens, Butchart Gardens – not this time, but hopefully there will be a next time.

>>JP

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