Have you ever been to Victoria? It is a quiet sweet city on a beautiful island. My friend and I like to visit at least once a year. Recently we headed out on a Friday morning, painfully early as the boat loads at 6:45 am, and sunk into our seats for the journey on the Victoria Clipper. The briney smell of the water was thick in the air as we loaded. The trip to Victoria, B.C. Canada from Seattle is about a three-hour ferry boat ride each way, and that ride allows for plenty of time to gaze out at the sparkling water and do some writing on the small tray table.
We managed to pick a sunny day, and the Olympic Mountains were easy to see, tall and topped with snow. Once we entered the bay, we glided toward the dock, went through customs, and emerged onto the lantern-lined streets.
Since it was about 10:30 am we had enough time to wander toward our first destination. We passed the flower-filled Marina, the ivy-covered Empress Hotel and Munro’s Books before walking the few blocks to Chinatown.
Having had our breakfast so early with only a small snack on board, we were famished and ready for our afternoon tea, at 11:30. But the walk was only about ten minutes, so we had enough time to visit The Milkman’s Daughter.
This place is the bigger sister store to Smoking Lily and both stores are a must-see when in Victoria. They have little things like pencil cases and notebooks, and bigger things like furniture and gorgeous homemade clothes that mix a hint of retro with a hint of modernism. There are always charming earrings and t-shirts. I bought a lovely dress there that looked like it was made from a pattern in the 1930’s.
Then it was tea-time. For afternoon tea, my current favorite place is called the White Heather Tea Room and it is a decent walk or bus ride to Oak Bay area. The restaurant is tucked into a non-descript building, but once inside, the food and tea selection are wonderful. The interior is homey and charming and the people who work there are very friendly. It is neat to see all the locals coming in for tea. Closer in to the marina, afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel is more about the experience of taking tea in a place with history and grandeur. The tea is good, and gluten-free is available, but it is expensive. There is also afternoon tea at Butchart Gardens, Abkhazi Gardens, at James Bay Tea Room behind Parliament buildings, and at Point Ellice house. Obviously many reasons to return.
This time we tried a vegetarian restaurant called the Venus Sophia Tea Room. The gal working there was exceptionally welcoming and the place was cheerful. The food was delicious too. I felt the presentation and black tea selection was lacking a little bit of polish though. While Venus Sophia didn’t fully meet my expectations for an afternoon tea, I would go there again gladly for a tea latte and scrumptious quiche.
There are many candy shops in Victoria within walking distance of the Empress. We went to two of them. The British Sweet Shop on Yates street has a good collection of British candies, tea and food. We got some delicious fudge from Scotland. Then we went over to Oh Sugar, where treats from the rest of the world are displayed. Somehow I ended up with some awesome treacle toffees, also from Scotland. I’m hoping to visit more candy shops on the next trip up because British and Canadian candies have fun and unusual flavors like blackcurrant, rose, violet, whiskey, coltsfoot and burdock as well as chocolate and butterscotch.
Munro’s Books was our next stop. As soon as you enter through the big doors, you inhale the promising smell of new books. This bookstore is big, well-lit, and has a welcoming atmosphere filled with ample Fiction and Nonfiction sections, as well as magazines (be sure to pick up a few British imports), and a big children’s section.
I’ve seen some of the same employees on more than one trip, and they are very helpful. There is a neat local Canadian writer section too.
There are so many more things to do here than you can manage in one day, like visit Butchart Gardens, Russell Books, various castles and manors, and Oak Bay.
Please just don’t miss ordering a Pimm’s Cup cocktail. From Chow.com, “Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based potation made in England from dry gin, liqueur, fruit juices, and spices. Served with lemon soda or ginger ale, it becomes a Pimm’s Cup.” I recommend getting one at Ferris’ Oyster Bar and Grill. We always feel so welcome here at this bar; upstairs or at the restaurant downstairs, the service and food are excellent.
Even if you don’t get everywhere, do try to spend a little time sitting on a bench by the Empress Hotel and gaze out at the lovely marina. Then gather your thoughts, pull out your new book, and settle in for the ride home.