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.


Those photos are just breathtaking Alicia. I have always wanted to venture up that way myself, alas, that will have to happen after Emma is older....

The hotel is just magnificent. I cannot wait until November 1st because it is our annual trip to Eureka Springs to play and see all the fall foliage. I cannot wait!

Kristin Maclean says: October 19, 2008 at 10:08 AM

While it takes a little work, here's the recipe we use to make Naniamo Bars. They ARE delicious aren't they? We've always made double or sometimes triple the recipe and frozen them. Beautiful pictures of Victoria BTW!

Nanaimo Bar - Ingredients:

Nanaimo Bar - Base

2 squares (oz.) semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Nanaimo Bar - Filling

1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding
2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar

Nanaimo Bar - Glaze

4 squares (oz.) semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Nanaimo Bar - Procedure:

Nanaimo Bar - Base

Combine ingredients. Press into 9 inch square cake pan. Chill.

Nanaimo Bar - Filling

Combine butter, milk, and custard powder. Blend in confectioner's sugar. Spread over base. Chill at least 15 minutes.

Nanaimo Bar - Glaze

Partially melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and stir until melted. Spread over custard layer. Chill.
Store in refrigerator, covered, up to 1 month. Makes 24 bars.

Serve chilled. They're rich, so small portions may be appropriate.

Such an interesting blog you have! I'm glad to have found you.

Regards from Barcelona!


Love your recipies ^_^

So glad you finally made it to my town! It's a beautiful and interesting place, but I often forget that. It's good to see Victoria through someone else's eyes. I'm Vancouver Island born and Nanaimo Bars have been at the table every Christmas in my family. If I may be so bold, I think that my Grandma had the VERY BEST recipe and it calls for Bird's Custard Powder in the filling, never Vanilla Pudding. You've inspired me to make some this afternoon - check out my blog tomorrow and I'll post a recipe!

I hope you enjoyed your trip - I am delurking to share the fact that I visited Victoria back in '96 just for the day; we had drinks at the hotel, and walked to and toured the castle as well. I think it was a Sunday, and almost everything was closed, just like the day you are describing! We went by seaplane - it was quite an adventure.

Beautiful conclusion.

It sounds like a lovely trip. Your photos really are so good and your writing so evocative. Bet those caramel apples were tasty! Goodness that was some walk you undertook in London. North London was my old stamping ground and I always love to read random things about it in blogland.

I LOVE Victoria!
I've been a few times, mostly as a kid, but I went a few years back with my sister.We went in spring, and if you are a gardener like I am, it's wonderful. I went to the Abekhazi garden and walked under huge blooming rhododendrons.

I'm happy to hear that you and Andy were able to take some time to get away. I love this post... it was as if I was right there with you touring the castle. My trip to Victoria was a lovely trip. I'm sure it would have been better with a romantic partner. Next time you'll have to venture to the gardens and the butterfly garden. Oh... that's a treat!

What a lovely holiday! That hotel looks so enchanting, too. If you ever find yourself in London again, let me know. I'd be happy to show you around and my best friend, Alice, will take you to all the best yarn shops.

I could go for one of those caramel apples now :-9

Safe travels!

Your photos are amazing! I live across the water from Victoria, in Port Angeles, and go as often as I can. Sometimes just spending the day in the Rose Garden at the Empress reading a book.

But there are so many nooks and crannies to discover in that city that it's always an adventure.

So glad you enjoyed your get away!

Thank God I'm in the Navy, most of my postings end up being to the Canadian East or West coast, and i had the opportunity to live in the gorgeous Victoria city for two months this past summer, and will be there for another 11 weeks this summer!
Come visit while the gorgeous yarn shops are open!

Oh, you were in MY town. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. And I think, that if you had visited the yarn and embroidery store pictured in the afternoon, it would have been open.
I do hope you didn't pay $19 for a ham sandwich - you can find good food for better prices elsewhere.

And I, too, love Nanaimo Bars. I make them regularly and they freeze well. Even my husband loves them, and he doesn't like coconut. I don't know if you can get Bird's Custard Powder in the USA, but vanilla pudding powder would be a reasonable fascimile.


I love old buildings like that. They are fun to walk through and imagine the generations before you who had been there. Looks like you had great fun. Take care,

What fun, Alicia...I took my daughter to Victoria on the Clipper, four years ago, when she was but five years old...Just us girls...Stayed at a wonderful B&B...went to the Butchart Gardens, took a ride on the double decker bus, shopped, ate out, went to a street market, walked all over...Lots of street musicians...We loved it...Take care, Katie

So neat to see you were in Victoria! (I live on a small island just off Nanaimo) Victoria is such a beautiful little city. Too bad the weather wasn't a little nicer for you.

I love your photos from Victoria. They made me laugh and remember my friend's comment about my photos from Cologne, Germany (like 10 years ago): "There certainly are a lot of buildings in Cologne!" I had filled roll after roll of shots of architecture. :) Heehee!

I really enjoyed your photo tour of Victoria. It made me want to book a trip and also helped me to feel as if I had already been there. Beautiful.

Wow Alicia!! This is the perfect fall post, it makes me yearn to visit Victoria, despite the 19 dollar sandwich ;) Your photos of the Empress and Craigdorroch Castle remind me of the movie "The Little Princess.." Very victorian, very beautiful! I have deffinitely enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing!

Ahhh--I haven't had a Nanaimo bar in some 18 years! There weren't any that I could see on PEI this summer (wrong coast), so I just may try out the recipe above.

Yes I love Victoria too. I've been there many times as we live in BC and travel to the island once or twice a year. There is a lovely bakery on Fort St (downtown) called (I think) The Dutch Bakery- oh my gosh! Such yummy beautiful little cakes and treats. WOW. Anyway, the Empress is supposedly haunted, as all of those old hotels are. Anything strange happen while you were there?

How completely fabulous! I have been to Victoria once - when I was 8 years old - and I have NEVER forgotten that beautiful hotel! I simply dream about going there again some day. A friend of mine took his whole family to spend Christmas there a few years ago. Wow. I'm so glad you went and had a wonderful time! I've been able to visit vicariously through your lovely pictures.

It's just so much fun going on trips with you and Andy, Alicia! You're a wonderful tour guide and give such vivid descriptions.

Thank you!!!


I'm so glad you enjoyed Victoria. I was born and raised here and can't imagine living anywhere else. It's great to see our city through someone else's experiences. Hope you get to visit again on a sunny day.

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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