April 8, 2014

Victoria BC Canada

If ever there is a place in Canada with mild weather all year round, it would be Victoria the capital of British Columbia.  Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the city is reputedly choke-full of history, and very English with lots of gardens.  So when I had a long weekend (ideally one should allot three full days or more) I grabbed the chance. 

Empress Hotel - fronting Victoria Inner Harbor
But how do I get there without a car?  Easier than I feared. 

From the city of Vancouver, the cheapest and convenient way is by taking the Canada Line train to Richmond.  Get off at Bridgeport station and board bus number 620, Bay 3, which will take you direct to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta.  For schedules, please see www.translink.ca or you can call 604 953 3333.

Remember on weekends and holidays a one zone bus pass  ($2.75) is good for all three zones. After 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and all day Saturday, Sunday and Holidays, discount fares apply and purchasing a one-zone ticket will allow you to travel through all zones.  The Sunday and holiday deal for a monthly pass holder good for another adult and 4 children  has been abolished as of January  1 2014.

The BC Ferry adult one way fare from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, Vancouver Island is $16.00.  Seniors who are BC residents get to ride for free Monday thru Thursday unless it is a holiday.  While enjoying the scenic two-hour ride, you can have a breakfast, lunch or dinner buffet on board most ships.  For details and schedules please see www.bcferries.com  or call 1-888-BC-FERRY. 

In the boat’s gift shop, you can buy a Greater Victoria adult bus day pass ($5.00) or you can pay the one-way fare to Victoria ($2.50, one-hour ride) at the waiting transit bus (No. 70 or 72  – same bus return) outside the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.  Refer to www.bctransit.com and select Victoria as the community.

Victoria is a compact city which means everything can be reached within walking distance.  The Visitor Centre is in the Inner Harbour and is marked by an Art Deco monolith clock tower.  The visitor centre staff did not seem well-informed when it comes to the heritage sites of the city.  However, there are a good number of historical markers around town to give you a glimpse of what happened in the past.

Try to include in your itinerary: the very small and Canada’s oldest Chinatown with its Cantonese Fan Tan Alley; a night walk along the Inner Harbour to see the Parliament decked in lights, and a general walkabout.  There are free guided tours of the main Parliament building during the day, please see www.leg.bc.ca

The Royal BC Museum has a good exhibition on First Nations culture and history.  Quite touching is the retrospective on the devastation of smallpox epidemic (brought in by Europeans) which almost wiped out the First Nations people.  In a display case, near the Discovery Ship at the Modern History gallery, is an 18th century Spanish dagger that may have been the one used to kill Captain James Cook in Hawaii in 1779.  For details, please see www.royalbcmuseum.com, Tel: 1-888-447-7977  (Family rate $37.63 plus HST for 2 Adults and 2 Youth, with children 5 and under free, Adult 19 years +, $14.29)

The Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square is smaller yet just as informative and fun with model ships and a showcase on the history of BC Ferries.  Within the building is a 19th century open-cage elevator (one can ride upon request) which can bring you up to the third floor where BC’s oldest courtroom, since 1889, is still in use. (28 Bastion Square, Tel: 250-385-4222 www.mmbc.bc.ca , Adult 19 years +, $12)

If you love panoramic sunsets, take the local bus – No. 6, 10 or 26 – to the Canadian Navy Forces Base at Esquimalt, a 3o minute ride from downtown.  There are great views of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State across the blue-green Strait of Juan de Fuca.  There are also free tours of the base, call Tel: 250-363-5291   www.cfbesquimalt.ca

Located at the highest point of Victoria proper, the Craigdarroch Castle is a lesson in life that wealth is no guarantee to happiness but it certainly assures great window views.  Really a mansion that looks like a castle with towers, Craigdarroch was built in 1889 by the wealthiest BC man then Robert Dunsmuir.  (1050 Joan Crescent – a street name, 25 min walk from downtown or take Bus No. 11 or 14, Adult admission is $13.95   Tel: 250.592.5323, www.thecastle.ca).

Plenty of Buses ( no. 4, 7, 11 and 14) go to the University of Victoria where you can hop off at its terminal point  and feel like a college kid again with the rest at the Student Union and Bookstore. 

Victoria is a North American city, and all the Englishness are mere facades today – as in an afternoon tea or architectural frontages. 

Meals or Snacks

For an early breakfast,  a good, affordable, clean place is the oddly named Frank’s Honey Bun (605 Yates Street, 250 -383-3231)

Instead of having a very expensive afternoon tea at the century-old Empress Hotel ($49.95 plus tax a person!), create your own through the pastry and petit fours at Murchie’s Tea and Coffee Café, established in 1894. Even the bread for Murchie’s sandwiches is baked in the kitchen basement.  (1110 Government St, Tel: 250-383-3122, www.murchies.com).  Free Wi Fi  Opens at 7:30 am Mon-Sat

Rogers’ Chocolates has been selling at their 913 Government Street storefront since 1891.  Browse in to see their antique cases and you can taste the kind of chocolates popular a century ago by buying their Traditional Bag of hand-wrapped Victoria Creams, $16 (Tel: 250-384-7021)

Still run by the Schaddelee family, The Dutch Bakery has been in the same place for more than 50 years (718 Fort Street, Tel 250 385-1012, www.thedutchbakery.com).  It is probably one of the few bakeries that never bakes bread, instead they sell cakes, cookies and pastries using original family recipes, with breakfast and lunch menus. 

Place To Stay

An affordable accommodation and centrally located is the Hostelling International –Victoria hostel at 516 Yates Street, Toll Free 1.888.883.0099 or 1.250.385.4511.  Please see web site www.hihostels.ca.  Hostelling International has special discounts from time to time and if you are a member.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  All prices and times are subject to change.  Please verify by phone or online.

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