<< markandrupa


may 2009

Victoria is an easy trip for us - hop on the Clipper in downtown Seattle and 2.5 hours later hop off in Victoria - but we've still only managed to make the trip once in the decade we've lived in Seattle. With my parents in town though, we decided it was time for another visit. We scouted the best weather of the week and booked an overnight package, allowing us two full days to explore the southern tip of Vancouver Island.


See a slideshow of our trip on flickr.


  1. Whale watching & Miniature World - may 8

    We left home at 6:30 this morning to check-in and catch the 8am ferry. It was a smooth crossing but a bit of a disappointment weather wise with haze and low clouds blotting out the Olympic Mountains, which on clear days can be quite spectacular. The ship was nearly full with Seattlites getting a head start on Mother's Day weekend so customs and passport control took some time, but before long we were checked into our gorgeous harbour-side hotel (which recently won "Best Hotel in Canada" in Conde Nast Traveler).

    Despite snacking on the ferry we were all a bit hungry so we grabbed hot dogs from a waterfront booth before joining up with our whale-watching expedition. Of the two boating options - open-air Zodiacs or the larger double-decker Ocean Magic vessels - we chose the more comfortable and photography-friendly Ocean Magic. The ship was only two-thirds full and the seas were calm so the ride out was quite comfortable, though a bit chilly on the open upper deck. Immediately outside the harbor entrance we came across a trio of transient orcas that we followed for the next hour. They surfaced every ten minutes or so to fill their lungs and we ended up with some pretty good looks even though the ship kept a minimum 100-yard distance (binoculars or a 400mm lens are ideal at that distance). It was a bit of a guessing game as to where they would pop up next, but the crew seemed to have a pretty good handle on it. We didn't get to see any of the more iconic whale behavior - breaching, spy hopping, fluking - but the naturalists on board were a fountain of knowledge and kept us entertained between sightings.

    As you can only watch whales surface for so long before becoming complacent, we finished the cruise with a ride out to Race Rocks to see the elephant seals, harbor seals, California sea lions and Steller sea lions that use the shallow rocks as a haul-out. A solitary bald eagle also gazed out from one of the taller rocks, perhaps scanning for lunch.

    Victoria has a number of fish and chips joints, but one of the more popular is the Red Fish, Blue Fish takeout "shack" directly on the pier. They serve sustainable Ocean Wise seafood including a tasty Thai-seasoned chowder and some wonderful tempura-battered Halibut that we enjoyed at the wooden harborside bar. A pair of sea otters provided sea-level entertainment while float planes on landing approach paraded overhead.

    After a short walk around the quaint downtown area we spent the balance of the afternoon at Miniature World. Billed as the "Greatest Little Show on Earth" the museum consists of a dozens of scale-model displays organized into themes such as "Fields of Glory", "London Town", "Fantasy Land", "Circus World" and more. The scale varied with each display - figures were sometimes as tall as three-inches and other times as short as half an inch - but everything was always in proportion, so the smaller the figures the "larger" the scene being depicted. Some of my favorite displays were the WWII Battle of Caen with it's impressive bombed-out city scape, the chaotic Civil War Battle of Bull Run, "Olde London Town" with its larger scale and jovial street scenes, Gulliver and the Lilliputians and the dwarf diamond mine from Snow White. The top of the heap though was "Circus World", a fantastical room-sized scene featuring over 20,000 figures and a panorama of circus activity, including elephants in the trainyard, a downtown parade, a big top, a wild-west show and an amusement park complete with animatronic rides and night lighting. The attention to detail at such small scale was incredible and everywhere we looked we found new elements, including siamese twins, street sweepers cleaning up elephant doo, a stilt-walking Uncle Sam, Smokey the Bear and more. I had a wonderful time photographing and video taping the displays with my new camera (Canon 5D Mark II) and we ended up spending over two hours in the museum.

    We finished the day at Irish Times, an active pub/restaurant where we had a light pizza dinner and enjoyed some live folk music.

    Hotel Grand Pacific, Victoria

  2. Butchart Gardens & Afternoon Tea at the Empress - may 9

    We were checked out and on the bus to Butchart Gardens at ten till 9. We choose the charter shuttle rather than the public bus as it was a shorter ride (fewer stops), was narrated by the driver and had a frequent return schedule. Finding a seat was not a problem - the bus was empty when we boarded, an advantage of the early morning departure during shoulder season. Thirty short minutes later we pulled up to the Gardens

    It was a cloudless, sunny morning - perfect conditions for enjoying the outdoor Gardens, which is one of the world's premier floral gardens. The visual overload began just after the ticket booth where the visitor center courtyard was flush with flowering pots and beds of pink tulips and blue forget-me-nots. We stopped for a quick breakfast at the cafe before continuing on into the gardens, following the suggested route on our map.

    It was immediately clear that tulip season was in session - paths were lined with thousands of flowering tulips in every color of the rainbow, usually paired with a shorter flowering plants like English daisys, blue forget-me-nots or pink schizanthus. The Garden claims hundreds of thousands of bulbs and I have no reason to doubt them. The most magnificent view was down into the old limestone quarry with its ivy-draped rock walls, swirling beds of tulips and pink heather, flowering Japanese cherry trees and layers of mounding green shrubs, all backed by an evergreen forest. Dad and I spent half our visit photographing the tulip beds - my favorite were the deep purple variety which really popped against the bright green stalks.

    The Rose Garden wasn't anything to look at this time of year so we skipped ahead to the Sturgeon Fountain (surrounded by colorful pericallis) and the Japanese Garden. The moss-covered garden with trickling waterfalls and fields of clover was designed to be peaceful and calming, but with so many guests meandering about it was difficult to feel the intent. We finished off our visit with the Star Pond and the formal Italian Garden and then caught the 1:30 bus back to town.

    Back in town we grabbed soda floats at the vintage-looking Rogers' Chocolates Soda Shoppe before heading over to the Empress for Afternoon Tea. Stepping inside the Empress was a trip back in time some one hundred years to an era of British elegance and sofistication. We were seated in the classy lobby and immeditately presented with a bowl of strawberrys and Chantilly Cream. The tea arrived shortly thereafter (we all chose the traditional Empress Blend) along with our tea tray - three tiers of bite-sized goodies beginning with tiny "sandwiches" on the bottom, raisin scones and Jersey Cream in the middle and pastries and chocolates on top. Dad prefered the carrot and cream cheese sandwich, while Rupa and I favored the mushroom pate-topped crostini. The real highlight though was the "Marble Chocolate Tulip" - a tulip bulb-shaped chocolate hiding a sweetened cherry floating in a creamy blend of milk and white chocolate. The entire tea lasted nearly two hours.

    We left the Empress content and relaxed for the two-hour cruise back to Seattle. The return ferry was only half filled so we were able to spread out a bit, though Dad and I spent much of the ride out on the back deck watching the sun set behind a yellow sky and the Olympic mountains fade into darkness. Seattle was all lit up by the time we arrived, and after a short interview by Homeland Security we were on our way home.

    Home in Seattle

Souvenir List

  1. Magnet from Butchart Gardens
  2. Fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
  3. Canister of Empress Blend Tea from the Empress