Day Two: The Queen, the Empress, the Laird, and London

comments: 74

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.


Great pictures with a beyond great post! I want to go although I feel like I've been due to your photos and narrative. Thank you! I am MORE than a little envious now.

You lucky duck! I have been to Victoria and have made it my life pact to go back! So nice to see the wonderful Castle! That's one of the things when I hear people say thaty are going to Vitoria, I tell them to go the Castle! Also go to the Busch Gardens! And you had my favorite desert!
Thank for the fond memories of Victoria! Makes my heart happy!

Sharing with such a special someone has to make it even better but am loving most that in the photo of the wool shop display your boy has his back to the window ;-)

seashoreknits says: October 19, 2008 at 03:51 PM

I am absolutely loving your travelog. Your perfect photos and your descriptions of your days just instantly transport me to these places your are discovering. Your impressions sound just like something I would say or feel - thank you so much for sharing!

I'm pretty sure you can get the bars already made up at Nordstrom. I know I've had one there before.

Beautiful trip. Thanks for sharing.

And I will read that historical novel. I was in a bookstore today looking for your book. Has it been released yet?

What a beautiful tour you took us on. Thanks for the breathtaking views. Yes, I think you could write a book about it. In fact, I think you've already started it with this post. xxoo

I'll have to double check, but I think that my husband was the project manager for the refurbishing of the upper level rooms at the Empress. After seeing your photos I'm just sick I didn't get the chance to go up there with him on one of his business trips. He raved about the place and said I would adore it but the timing was never quite right for me to go. Now I will have to make a point of getting myself up there, it looks positively magical. Oh, and I used to live in a house whose back garden opened onto Hampstead Heath, and your words brought back the most distinct sense memories of Autumn walks on the heath. Thanks.

CastalianDesigns says: October 19, 2008 at 05:39 PM

Wow! Victoria has just rocketed to the top of my list of places to visit. Thanks!

I like how you tell it all.
And that you seemed to enjoy your break despite the (rainy) weather.
How you would have fun here in France, castles and such... !
can't wait to read the next part :)

Kristin Maclean says: October 19, 2008 at 07:58 PM

In the recipe I posted, I substituted the vanilla pudding for the Birds Custard powder because I was almost positive that it wouldn't be available in the States...yes, it would definitely make a lesser naniamo bar.... Alicia, if you want some of the Bird's, i'd be more than happy to send you some!

Captain Momma says: October 19, 2008 at 08:53 PM

I have to agree with Lisa, the truly Canadian way to make nanaimo bars IS with Bird's Custard POwder. Its the only thing we ever made with the powder and I remember the can we had in our cupboard when I was little.

Glad you enjoyed Victoria, it is so beautiful. Next time you'll have to venture up island to places like Tofino, where you can watch winter storms and surf, Nanaimo and Parksville that has an awesome beach and endless Nanaimo bars, and Comox, rich with Air Force history.


Thank you for sharing your vacation with us!

You should totally write a novel - you'd be brilliant at it!!!

wish I had known you were going to Victoria... I live there! I could have given you some tips as to where all the yarn stores are and some great places to eat! Looks like you ended up having a lovely time :)

I haven't had a chance to stay the Empress, but I did get to enjoy high tea there last winter. It was worth the $$$!

I grew up in Victoria, but it was fun to see it through someone else's eyes ... beautiful pictures!

Such nostalgia for me. We used to travel from our home in S. California to spend our summers there when I was a kid. Such lovely memories of a beautiful place. I nearly teared up when I saw your first photo. I'm so glad you got a chance to go.

Ah, the Empress! Didn't stay, but did have High Tea there. And also ate the best Fish & Chips in my life at a pub in Victoria.

Wonderful photos as ever, I particularly loved the one yesterday of the wake from the ferry to Bainbridge Island.

My beautiful ornament kit has arrived and I wanted to say thank you for a lovely package and the care you take with these kits, am putting aside some time at the weekend to work on it :o)

I really like the vines crawling up the side of the Fairmont Empress in that first photo. And they're changing color!

Crikes, that does really look like something out of Harry Potter!

Erm, having loved your recipes equally as much as some of the quilts here, any chance I can just swap the butter out for soya marg? It does strange things to me I am afraid! :-)

Thanks, Richard

We were in Victoria this past summer. If you have time go back to the yarn store that you photographed. I bought the most beautiful yarn there. They have more buttons from more places than I've ever seen in one place. Your hotel room is wonderful, I won't describe ours, it was awful!!! Enjoy your trip!

These photos are so stunning. I've gotta say though, dark gothic places like that are super fun for this time of year, but I never wanted to live in them. I always liked the servant cottages out back. :)

Has anyone figured out what the name of the yarn is that Alicia bought?

BC is my favourite province, next to Prince Edward Island. I wish I could get out there more often - your pictures make me feel the need to travel :)

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.