Taking tea in Victoria (warning:contains snobbery)

Trip Start Apr 23, 2014
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Trip End Aug 21, 2014


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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Saturday, July 19, 2014

One of the many, many, many, many, many things I particularly liked about the Rocky Mountaineer was that they make a decent pot of tea. It both looks and tastes like tea, and not dishwater. I wrote the word "many" too much there, and now it's doing that thing where it no longer looks like a word. Anyhow, another place in Canada where I found good tea was Victoria. Being named after a queen of England I was hoping it would have good tea but it was nice to have it confirmed.

To be honest, I wasn't wild about Victoria. It actually outdid Winnipeg when it came to weird homeless people (yes I know it's a social problem and I feel bad but if you're going to give me sarcastic and unnecessary comments when I'm walking down the street then I'm not going to like you), and once you move away from a certain area it's fairly rough. Basically, the harbour and two or three streets immediately off it were the only bits of Victoria I liked. The harbour is where British Columbia has its parliament and, of paramount importance in my eyes, it's where The Fairmont Empress Hotel is. I decided fairly quickly that I was never coming back to Victoria unless I could stay in the Empress. It's one of those grand old hotels that I love because it maintains traditions and has standards. And, unlike the Grand Budapest Hotel, it hasn't slipped into obscurity as time has gone on. Sure there was that time in the fifties where it wasn't doing so well and they added a motel on the side, but they gave it a separate entrance so the rich people and the commoners wouldn't accidentally meet. Also in the sixties they redecorated it in the contemporary style (a frankly horrific prospect) but then in the eighties someone came along and returned it to its former glory but with some modern twists and all was well in the world of grand hotels.

I took a tour. That's the reason I know so much about it. Sadly we couldn't see a room, but we saw plenty of the public spaces including the upstairs dining room, the new entrance (for the hotel, not the riffraff motel one), the ballroom and the Bengal Lounge restaurant and bar. We also got to sit out on the veranda for a bit as we learned how Victoria pretty much bribed Canadian Pacific Rail to build one of their fancy hotels there in an effort to improve the city's image and boost its popularity. Canadian Pacific actually bought the Fairmont name some years ago and most of the old railway hotels are now Fairmonts. I've got quite good at spotting a Canadian Fairmont as most of them are grand old buildings with those distinctive slate roofs (Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and Chateau Laurier in Ottawa are two good examples). I say most because I don't know what's going on with that Winnipeg one but personally I think they renamed the wrong hotel!

There were two things I wanted to do while I was in Victoria: visit the Butchart Gardens and take tea in the Fairmont Empress hotel. I did both. The Butchart Gardens were smaller than I expected but just as spectacular as the photos (Google them; they really look like that). The Fairmont Empress Afternoon Tea was actually larger than I expected and, apart from a slightly rocky start involving a ham sandwich and its presence on my tea tier, it was utterly delicious. Plus the tea (I had the Empress blend) was good, and there was lots of it. Following on from that, and to celebrate completing my Canadian journey/mourn my time in Canada being over, I booked a table for dinner in the Bengal Lounge which serves really nice cocktails and a three course Indian buffet.

Other things I did in Victoria included visiting Craigdarroch Castle (not a castle, just a posh house), taking a tour on a hippo bus/boat thing, taking tea in Murchie's Tea House, and visiting Munro Books which it turns out was started by Alice Munro and her husband. The hippo people told us (thankfully after we had completed the water portion of the tour) that the vehicle we were travelling in was an ex school bus with floatation devices added. It sounded very much like something built by Clarkson, Hammond and May but it thankfully did not sink and I'm still here to blog, behind as I am.
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