The first time I visited Victoria, British Columbia, more years ago than I’d like to admit, the ferry ride across the Juan de Fuca Strait from Post Angeles gave me one of my most memorable travel experiences ever.
There I was, a young man of 23 traveling with a friend in my TR 4-A with the top down at the end of June, headed to British Columbia’s capital city on Vancouver Island some 25 miles away.
To my rear, I could see the still snow-capped Olympic Mountains. At 9:45 in the early summer evening this far north, the sun was setting in a blaze of color to the west. To the east, a rainbow cut through the sky, and I took a breath of cool Pacific Northwest air and relished the cruise across the choppy waters of the strait.
My first look at Victoria left a second lasting impression. As the boat neared its dock, the stately Parliament building dominated the harbor, its outline lit by strings of golden lights that gave it and its massive dome a magical glow.
That same evening, I remember touring the elegant Empress Hotel, but left town the next morning for the world famous Butchart Gardens, some 14 miles north of the city, thinking it was a bit stiff and staid in its affection and nostalgia for the trappings of the old world.
I was very curious to revisit the town last August when Holland America’s ms. Oosterdam pulled into port, a harbor where two other cruise ships were already docked. As I waited patiently to board the bus that would take us into town, I had no idea how things had radically changed.
Deboarding our transport on a street adjacent to the majestic Empress Hotel, the city’s Inner Harbour was thronged with people enjoying the outdoors on a perfect summer evening. Street entertainers and musicians added to the hustle and bustle, and I popped inside the old Edwardian-style hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1908 as a terminus for its steamship line for a quick look around.
Through the years, many notables from the world of film, business and government stayed at the hotel. Edward, the Prince of Wales, came in 1919, and danced away the night in the Crystal Ballroom. Twenty years later, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth took lunch in the regal establishment as guests of the provincial government.
The Bengal Lounge still looked as splendid and romantic as I remembered it, and I was pleased to see that the hotel, true to its British origins, still served traditional afternoon tea down to the scones with clotted cream and finger sandwiches.
But with the evening’s warm temperatures and spirited crowd traipsing around outside, I ventured into the night and headed off for a stroll. Drawn by the electric glow from the Parliament Building, I ambled along the waterfront, then past the statue of Queen Victoria on the expansive lawn, up to the very portico of the Neo-Baroque legislative building.
From this lofty vantage point, I headed into town and turned onto Government Street where the taverns and bars, jammed heel to toe with party people, mostly in their 20s, tried to converse above the din of live bands and the exuberance of the night.
Many of the pubs brew their own ales, and their musical offerings range from jazz and blues to rock, Celtic and more. Being an oenophile by inclination, I stopped in the Ledge Lounge for a glass of Pinot Noir, then made my way back to the bus pick up point for my ride back to the cruise ship.
Sadly, with only a few hours to explore this fun and exciting city, I’d missed several sites on my must-see list such as Canada’s oldest Chinatown, a second look at Butchart Gardens with its Saturday night fireworks and Craigdarroch Castle, an 1890s mansion built by coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir, where the best views of Victoria are available for those willing to climb the 87 steps to the Tower.
After two memorable visits to Victoria, I’m certainly looking forward to a third. I just hope the time in between is a lot shorter than the one between visits one and two.
For more information on Victoria, phone 800-663-3883 or visit website tourismvictoria.com.
For more information on the Holland America Line, phone 877-932-4259 or www.hollandamerica.com.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.