We all have that one friend. The one who is constantly jetting off, having adventures, and just living the life. For me, that person is Nadya, one of my closest friends since middle school. In the years I’ve known her, Nadya has taken school trips to Europe, taught English in France and traveled all over the continent, and practically lived in Ireland, given how frequently she visits.
We’ve traveled together to California, shared meals in Washington and gone adventuring in Florida, but despite all our talk of flying out of our respective cities and going on random adventures together, we still haven’t shared beignets in New Orleans or visited ancient castles in Scotland together.
No, we haven’t done those things (yet), but we did finally take a trip out of the country together! With my brand new passport in hand, we hopped a ferry from Seattle, WA, up the coast to Canada: Victoria, British Columbia, to be exact.
Victoria is known for its abundance of outdoor activity, Native American influences, and its rich history as a former British colony. The city, settled in 1843, is one of the oldest cities in my favorite region, the Pacific Northwest, and was named after Queen Victoria. Victoria has something for everyone, from a thriving harbor life, to an abundance of historical buildings and monuments, and more. But all I knew as we boarded the ferry was that Victoria was distinctly European in style, and that when we landed, we would make our way to a historic castle. A freaking castle. Yes, even without much prior knowledge of Victoria, I was excited to get out there and explore!
The ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria took just under three hours, and put us into port around 11 AM. After clearing Canadian customs, Nadya and I made our way to our hotel for the weekend, the Embassy Inn. It was a short walk, up from the waterfront and past horse-led carriage tours, to our final location across the street from none other than the historic British Columbia Parliament Buildings. Things were off to a good start, and after grabbing a map from the front desk and dropping off our bags, we were off!
First up was a stroll through Victoria’s famed Fairmont Empress Hotel. Construction on the hotel began in 1904, and the lavish building attracted celebrity clientele from all over the world. While reading about the hotel’s glory days, all I can imagine are the beautifully-dressed Victorian people sweeping through the lobby and dancing the night away in some grand ballroom. Rose from Titanic comes to mind, with her beautiful dresses and lavish jewels…what was I saying?
Ah yes, celebrity clientele. The hotel retains its elegance to this day, over 100 years after construction began. Walking through the guest areas, it’s not hard to see why the hotel remains a must-see for anyone visiting Victoria. Spring gardens, sweeping staircases, elegant crystal chandeliers, lush, rich carpeting, ivy-kissed walls, warm, sculpted beams…I wouldn’t mind staying here myself in the future, and sitting down for the hotel’s famed High Tea.
After leaving the Fairmont Empress, we took a walk through downtown Victoria and up Fort Street to historic Craigdarroch Castle. We loved the adorable downtown area, which felt like a cleaner, safer version of downtown Seattle, and Fort Street turned out to be an attraction in itself. Its one of the oldest commercial streets in Victoria, and hosts some of the city’s hottest dining and shopping destinations. We loved it for its beautiful historic homes, gorgeous tree-lined roads, and cute little boutiques, but not so much for the way its incline made our thighs burn.
By the time we made it up to Craigdarroch, we had to stop and take a breather…which gave us plenty of time to admire the castle exterior! It’s a beautiful old building, built in the late 1880s for Robert Dunsmuir, coal baron and the richest man in Western Canada. Our self-guided tour of Craigdarroch’s four floors took us through the years at the castle, with beautifully-restored rooms and artifacts to breath life into old stories.
We loved going from room to room, gawking at the elaborate woodwork, fanciful decor, and how tiny the women’s waists used to be. There were plaques in each room of the castle, which we found gave more than enough information on the history and purpose of the every last inch. I especially loved reading about the years spent as a university, with photos of mischievous boys and well-dressed girls.
Our feet were aching by the time we exited the massive castle, so Nadya and I lingered outside, taking photos of each together and resting our feet on the lawn.
Then we were off again! With the Butchart Gardens in mind as a day trip for the following day, we were free to roam and discover, making up our route as we strolled along. Nadya wanted to visit a beautiful old church, the Christ Church Cathedral, and with my European travels just around the bend, I was more than happy to visit another historic church.
With its beautiful columns, perfect arches and colorful stained glass, I was happy to take it all in, wander around a bit, and then rest my feet while contemplating the construction of such a pretty place.
What next? We still had several hours before sunset, and with that in mind, we pulled out our map and looked for our next destination. I wanted to see “the World’s Tallest Totem Pole,” which also happened to be near a viewpoint in Beacon Hill Park. Yep, just hang a left and walk straight down Vancouver Street. We managed to get a little bit lost toward the end, wandering around the park for a while, but we got to see elderly men lawn bowling, and accelerated our heart rates on free outdoor fitness installations. So there’s that.
We actually found the totem pole by accident, wandering out of the park and toward an irresistible water view (which turned out to be the Strait of Juan de Fuca). Tired, hungry, and sore, we had just decided to quit searching, find our way home, and get some dinner, and this little rock with a plaque on it happened to land in our path, announcing the World’s Tallest Totem Pole.
Apparently, the question of which city actually can claim the world’s tallest totem pole is a bit of a hot issue, which you can read about here. This one measures in at 127 feet, 7 inches, and was carved from one massive piece of wood, where other “tallest” totem poles are disqualified because they are in fact several totem poles mounted on top of each other. Whether or not this is actually the world’s tallest, it was a fun stop along our trip, and a bit of a challenge to capture with our cameras.
Of course, we had to explore those beautiful water views. After exclaiming that these craggy beaches reminded her of Ireland, Nadya and I walked down to the shore and spent some time just watching the waves roll in.
By the time we made it back to our hotel on Menzies Street (yes, really), the sun was already retreating into the bay, and we were hungry and a little bit grumpy. After a quick rest in the hotel room, we squeezed our aching feet back into their
prisons shoes and headed downtown to celebrate our first night in Canada.
Downtown was filled with both tourists and locals, all out for a drink or a meal, and after checking a few places out, we decided on dinner at the Irish Times Pub. The decor combined the eclectic feel of a TGI Fridays, with random artifacts and art strewn across the walls, and the well-worn, homey feel of a small-town Irish pub. The restaurant serves up traditional Irish food, like shepherd’s pie, along with its own spin on classic favorites and a drink menu with emphasis on beer, scotch and whiskey.
Nadya and I both went for the shepherd’s pie, which was fantastic, and I ordered a cider flight to top off the day. And, since it wouldn’t be a real celebration without dessert, we ordered the Guinness brownie and the torched whiskey creme brulee. Delicious.
We weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we stopped at the gorgeous Parliament Building, all lit up for the night, and took some photos before heading home.
It was a beautiful sight, and just standing there in its glow, I felt for a moment that I’d been transported far away to Europe. I would have loved to take a tour of the building interior, but it was closed the following day. We missed our chance. Ah well, there’s one more thing to do when I return!
Yes, I will definitely be returning. In our short trip, we stumbled across so many beautiful sights, both natural and man made, and didn’t meet a single rude person. Not one! At times, it felt a bit like we were gallivanting around Disney World…are there really places like this in the “real world?” But more on that later…day two is still to come, as are posts dedicated to Craigdarroch Castle and the Butchart Gardens!
Thank you for reading!