We left Seattle the next morning, Monday, in the dark. During the fall and winter season, there is only one ferry a day between Victoria and Seattle, and it leaves Seattle at 8 a.m. The boat was so crowded — every seat was taken. It was sort of like being on a Greyhound bus except on the water. We sat at a table with some guys who were already drinking beer, eating danishes, and playing cards. I drank about five cups of coffee and knit and knit (I'm sorry, I can't remember what the yarn is called, and naturally, although I tried to save it for you, I lost the label somewhere along the way). Andy read every newspaper he could find from cover to cover. Two-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in the harbor in Victoria, and just a few blocks away was our hotel, the Fairmont Empress.
It was our first time in Victoria, but I'd been wanting to go for years, since college, when my roommate Martha, who had traveled all over the world, told me the Empress was her favorite hotel. My mom was in Victoria last year, and she, too, was eager for us to see it. It's quite amazing. It's almost impossible to take a photo of the whole thing at once; this is just part of it. I'll have more tomorrow.
Our room was charming, painted pale green with dark pink fabric accents. Here's Andy on the bed reading the room-service menu. Too bad you can't hear him saying, "Holy ____ , a ham sandwich is nineteen dollars!" and "Holy ____ , pancakes are twenty-four dollars!" And the exchange rate was about one dollar U.S. for one dollar Canadian. Good thing we only go on vacation for about four days every two years. It's all we can afford.
But this was worth it, I think. It is so good to get away, out of the normal routine. It helps you dream. You can sit in the window seat and think about the people who have stayed here over the years, and wonder what their lives were like.
Makes me want to write a historical novel.
Mine would have black-slate rooftops, anachronistic baked goods, an orphan, and lots of calico. And obviously a love interest.
After Andy recovered from the menu prices, we went out to explore downtown Victoria, and see if we could find something cheaper to eat. It was the day after Canadian Thanksgiving, so much of Victoria was closed and empty.
Like, alas, the embroidery and yarn store.
But luckily this little Thai place was open, so we had curry and iced tea (although it was pouring rain outside) and looked at brochures to figure out what to do with the afternoon. We decided to take the city bus to Craigdarroch Castle.
While we waited for the bus, we ate a ginormous caramel apple. Unfortunately, the caramel was so hard I thought it was going to rip my fillings out. But all fillings stayed put, and soon enough the bus came and took us up the hill to the "castle."
In a gorgeous, old-growth residential neighborhood stands Craigdarroch Castle, a huge house built in the 1890s by Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, in his day the richest man in British Columbia.
It's quite incredible, and impeccably preserved. This is the view from the entrance hall, looking up the staircases through all four floors of the house.
It was very dark inside, so I didn't take too many photos. You get the jist, though. The heavy, mahoghany, gilded, crystalized jist.
The stained-glass and marbled jist. Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan had ten children. Robert died a year before this house was completed, and never lived here, though his wife and several children did. In one of the upstairs rooms, there is a display that features the long and complicated history of the family; this PDF tells their story.
My favorite part of the house was the tower, from where you could see the terra-cotta-colored rooftop wet with rain. It truly felt like we were in the heart of autumn, and I kept thinking about the time, eighteen years ago now, when I was in London and walked alone all day from Kensington through neighborhoods so much like this one, across Hampstead Heath and to Highgate Cemetery. I'd had no idea how far it really was (almost eight miles, it turns out), and by the time I got to the cemetery, it was just closing. I couldn't get in after all. It was starting to get dark, and it was drizzling. I turned back around and bought a Nanaimo bar, which was about the only thing I ever ate in London (funny coincidence, as this is a treat that apparently originated on Vancouver Island — and I do wish that they were as widely available here in the U.S., because I love them), and wandered off to try to find a tube station to get back to my little hotel. It was the exact same time of year. The sky looked exactly the same. In Highgate, people were getting home from work, the lights in little paned windows starting to come on. The leaves were red and wet, the sidewalks dark and mossy. I was desperate to get off my feet. No gloves. The sound of tires on wet pavement. Thoughts about the olden days. Wondering what I would do with my life. Smelling onions in the air. A steaming bath and cherry soap in the small tub near the window, the casement open out to the dark evening, when I returned. It was a great day. I've never forgotten it.
Though this one was better, because it was shared.