Sitka’s walkable beauty

To enjoy cruising with my friends means to enjoy a lot of great food too. Which also means needing to do a lot of walking to keep up with my culinary intake. So… to help me with my walkies goal, this day’s shore excursion of choice took my cabin mate and me on a hike through a small part of the largest national forest in the United States: Tongass.

Encompassing a big chunk of the Pacific temperate rain forests, this gorgeously green place is home to five species of salmon—and their prey—as well as old growth trees, countless critters and floral varieties galore. And for a day, me—and our eager group of hikers…

Cause and care

Seeing an eagle in flight is a pretty cool thing—hunting, soaring or resting for just a moment on a tree branch, this beautiful raptor creates excitement for spectators with every glimpse. But when these feathered flying machines run into trouble—into cars, wires or other human obstacles—life becomes an instant struggle. Our first stop for the morning? A place that helps rehabilitate such birds of prey: the Alaska Raptor Center.

This wonderful nonprofit facility aids all injured raptors (and non-raptor birds too) with rescue, rehabilitation and rerelease into the wild, and has done so since 1980. Entering the building, our group was brought up to speed on the history of the organization, as well as raptor characteristics. But… how does one treat a bird of prey without compromising its chances of returning home? With a very sophisticated routine. And a pretty cool physical therapy room…

Entering the observation area of the raptors’ PT building meant we had to mind our manners. Not that the birds could see us, thanks to the one way mirror and camouflage netting. Recovering eagles (and other birds, like owls) receive their food—primarily salmon—twice daily, but no actual interaction with humans.

In an effort to reacclimate the birds to their natural environment, openings near the ceiling allow outside air and weather elements to enter the room. Perches and ropes of varying heights serve as PT equipment. The higher a bird can go, the readier it is to go home. But what about those who can no longer make the climb?

Outside the building, just behind the PT room, we observed the raptors’ “retirement” facility. These retirees have rooms and netted areas open to the sky. They also receive quit a bit of human interaction, participating in educational events like field trips—even traveling on airplanes and making guest appearances in the lower 48!

Canopy and culture

Leaving the Raptor Center, we continued our journey on foot, heading for the next leg of our adventure: the Sitka National Historical Park. Honoring both the native Tlingit tribe and the Russian settlers of Sitka, this park features beautiful wide trails, lots of totem poles, historical and wildlife placards—and TONS of salmon.

While I expected to see our fishy friends swimming upstream, I did not expect to see them—so many of them—just chillin. From our trail’s footbridge, it was easy to spot Pink and Chum salmon in the shallow water, resting. Preparing. It was as if they were waiting for a starting gun to fire…

Walking along under this incredible canopy of trees, our guide Dana talked about the salmon, fish-loving bears and eagles, and the forest itself: the trees, plants and flowers, and the importance of the rainforest’s existence that keeps it all in balance.

Exiting the forest, we came to the park’s visitor center. And gift shop! I picked up two pairs of earrings featuring both the eagle and the raven—birds that symbolize a key balance in the representation and harmony of the Tlingit people.

Colony and church

Continuing our on-foot adventure, we followed the Sitka Sea Walk along the marina toward the city’s center. We stopped at a few points of interest along the way, one in particular that claims space on the National Register of Historic Places: St. Peters-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

Completed in 1899, this rustically attractive place of Christian worship features a Star of David at the center of its gorgeous rose window. Truth be told, it wasn’t the religious symbol the Episcopalians requested on the order form. A slight mix-up at the factory.

But… given the craftsmanship and time put into this beautiful stained glass feature—and the distance it had to travel from the East Coast to Sitka (no Panama Canal back then), they decided to keep it. Respectfully, they came to honor the window’s symboled Star as a reminder of their own faith’s very beginnings.

Do you know that Russia’s presence in Sitka lasted over 100 years? Initially drawn to this area for fur trading, Russian settlers planted roots in this coastal Alaskan town, establishing a colony and creating their own home in the New World. We found out a little more as we approached the city’s center…

Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, established 1837 and now a national historic landmark, houses several pieces of very old Russian-American art. Under the beautiful green domes, a fire in 1966 claimed most of the original structure, but not before many of the priceless artifacts were rescued by some very daring souls.

Chips and coffee

Having worked up an appetite—specifically for fish & chips—my friend and I asked our tour guide for a recommendation. Her choice? The Sitka Hotel Restaurant and Lounge.

Not too far from the cathedral, we located its wooden façade and walked in. Clever driftwood art decorated the walls, with Mason jar lights illuminating the seating area. We found our table, placed our order and enjoyed some of the best fish & chips I’ve ever had!

To round out my Sitka mealtime, I topped off my tank with a latte from A Little Something espresso. A colorful place that serves an excellent cup of joe.

Our walkies adventure over, we made our way to the shuttle stop and awaited our ride back to the ship. Reflecting on our day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clear stream, teeming with salmon, waiting for the next—possibility last—leg of their journey, just to complete their circle of life.

Except for a few bear and eagle interrupting their trip, I hope these fishy friends of the Tongass will always have that chance. J 🌲

 

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Golden Skagway

“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” In the history of eye-catching newspaper headlines, this Seattle Post Intelligencer attention getter from July 17, 1897 did its job. Gold fever hit the nation right between the eyes. Suddenly everyone knew about such places as the Klondike River, Canada’s Yukon Territory and one small, soon-to-be-very-busy Alaska town: Skagway.

Located at the base of White Pass Trail—declared one of the “easier” treks to the Yukon gold fields—Skagway became a boomtown for many stampeders and other opportunistic businesses. Preparing to trek through the rough, tough, freezing and unforgiving wilderness wasn’t easy; neither was the trip itself.

Many gold seekers—and their animals—didn’t make it. Some managed to find their way back, whether or not they found gold. By sharp contrast, my recent trip up the pass was a lot easier…

Scenic route

Looking for a relaxing way to enjoy the mountain scenery, our cruise group of travel companions chose the White Pass Summit Excursion. How exciting to ride in an actual vintage train car! We boarded not too far from our ship, and began our own climb up to the pass. Along the way, we were treated to gorgeous views and brought up to speed on the train’s features—and its original purpose…

In that first year of attempts to reach the Klondike, and with soooooo many would-be miners struggling for a safer way over the pass than by foot, railroad companies and their tycoons soon found their way to Skagway.

Making our way through tunnels and along the rugged terrain, our train conductors and staff shared details of the train’s history along with fun facts about the flora and fauna visible just outside our cars.

The thrilling part for me was standing on the platforms between the connecting cars—one amazingly unobstructed view after another! I tried to imagine the views had by the construction workers all those years ago…

Construction madness

Just nine months after the infamous GOLD! newspaper headline hit the streets, the new White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company began construction. And about nine months after that, the main track reached the summit. It would be another year before the tracks made it all the way to the Yukon—about the time the gold rush came to an end.

Crazy working conditions for the thousands who built this engineering marvel, but appreciated by all who dared brave their way to—and from—their would-be treasure. And for the WP&YR, there was plenty of life after the gold rush.

From my perch on the platform, I loved seeing the train itself make its way along the bends and trestles of the track. The spectacular waterfalls—and trees growing from rock—were breathtaking.

But our own trip hit a bit of a snag; technical difficulties with one of the switches caused us to make a stop near the summit. We had to turn back before reaching our destination: White Pass.

The conductors and crew handled it all professionally, even assuring price discounts—and free swag—for all passengers onboard. Heading back down the tracks, I thought briefly of those hopeful miners and critters hiking up the freezing trail who had to turn back too. Only they wouldn’t have been issued a refund…

Boomtown

Ready to stretch my legs after our train ride, I made my way along the boardwalks and sidewalks of Skagway in search of souvenirs. And coffee. And a pastry. In general, such items aren’t terribly difficult to find in your average tourist town, except my family back home requested game meat. Um… okay…

I’d already located my java beverage at the White Pass Coffee Bar, but wanted to check items off my souvenir list first before enjoying my treats. As luck would have it, I found such gamey gifts—and my pastry—at Klondike Doughboy. Hurray! What a fun, clean adorable store—and the fry bread is amazing! They had a good selection of vacuum-sealed cured meat treats too; perfect for my shopping quest.

I doubled back to the coffee bar for my iced latte, then found a park bench to rest and refresh with my delicious fry bread and caffeine goodness. Ahhhhhhh…yum…

As I made my way back to the ship, I happened upon placards, statues and old time photos honoring the many people, businesses and events that put this boomtown on the map. For the very few fortunate enough to find gold, their claims and names would make the record books.

For everyone else, well… some are forever captured in the many sepia photos showcased throughout the town. I think it’s pretty cool of Skagway to remember and honor those who dared to dream; to reach those fields of gold. J💰

 

Up-n-down Juneau

Between the Gastineau Channel and the bases of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau sits Alaska’s capital city: Juneau. Bearing a closer resemblance to a quaint coastal village than to a US government seat, this Southeast Alaskan hub packs a lot into its limited—and somewhat unreachable—locale.

At a recent cruise stop, I was able to experience a few of the literal highs and lows this town has to offer. While my cabin mate headed for Mendenhall Glacier, I opted for afternoon tea—about 1800 feet up…

Waterfront

Looking for a shore excursion that included a tour guide’s expertise (but also allowed for personal wandering time downtown) lead me to Gastineau Guiding’s Town, Tram & Timberline Trek. Our first stop? Saying hello to Tahku, the Humpback whale, who greats all his visitors with a splash roughly every few minutes.

This impressive fountain and statue—a beautiful life-like replica—lives at Overstreet Park, near the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. The statue’s detail is incredible, from the full breach pose down to the whale’s barnacles. Tahku came to town to help celebrate Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood. He’s simply gorgeous!

Upslope

After waving goodbye to Tahku, we headed to our mountainous mode of transportation: the Mount Roberts Tramway. Our sophisticated coach in the sky took us 1800 feet up (giving us spectacular views in the process!) to the next leg of our adventure: the Alpine Loop Trail.

Jocelyn—our fantastic guide—lead us along this meandering 1.5 mile path from the subalpine to the alpine level of Mount Roberts, bringing us up to speed on native plants and trees, the people of Juneau (native and otherwise), and also the “bear” facts, should we encounter any of the large fuzzy critters…

The views from the trail were amazing! The Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock provided natural frames for many a photo, including those I took of the cruise ships docked in the channel waaaaaaaay below our mountain perch. Several trees along the trail also sported carvings—stories being shared with each passerby…

Time for tea! One of my favorite events of any day, our little group of hikers entered the Alpine Tea Room, and enjoyed a few locally made teas, along with jams made from Alaskan berries and plants. My favorite brew was the Alaskan Wild Rose tea. And yes, I made a purchase of this item (plus a few other odds and ends) at their gift shop in the Mount Roberts Nature Center. Don’t judge…

Downtown

After returning to sea level via the tram, I made my way through the very walkable streets of Juneau to a rather famous watering hole: the Red Dog Saloon. Known as the oldest tourist attraction in town, it definitely has that “come inside” appeal. A friend and former Juneau resident suggested I stop in for a drink. Well, I didn’t want to let her down…

 

Meeting up with my cabin mate, we “bellied up to the bar” (…no—really! Not one table available; just two bar stools…), ordered our drinks and nosh, then swung around every so often to enjoy the live music. The sawdust on the floor politely hid the dirt from my hiking shoes. The décor on walls distracted us—in a fun way—from getting too carried away in conversation. One novelty in particular caught my eye: Wyatt Earp’s gun, framed and unclaimed behind the bar. Legendary!

While enjoying the sights and sounds of this happening place from the comfort of my own bar stool, I very much enjoyed my Copper River Queso and Chips as well (made with a ton of white cheddar!), along with a nice white Chardonnay all the way from California. But before you think I wimped out on having a real saloon drink, we ordered the penultimate shot: a Duck Fart…

You heard me! One part Kahlua, one part Bailey’s Irish Cream and one part Whiskey. After seeing this drink promoted just about everywhere in Alaska, I knew I couldn’t head back to the lower 48 without adding this experience to my memory bank. Truth be told, it was delicious! I now have a new favorite shot glass beverage, along with a copy of the recipe on a Red Dog Saloon magnet souvenir…

Our short-but-sweet trip to Juneau complete, we headed back to the ship. By sea or by air—the only two ways in and out of this capital city. Even though arrival and departure methods are a bit limited, a trek to this town is well worth the effort. And a Duck Fart at the Red Dog is worth it too… J 🥃

 

Fetching Ketchikan

For centuries—long before art became objects at auctions or entered studios and performance halls—drawings, carvings, music and dance were the way to share life’s experiences. Pass along history and traditions. Tell stories. Give information. Simply put, to communicate.

Totem poles, carved and painted by Pacific Northwest coastal native tribes, are beautifully enduring works of art that tell stories and share history in a most unique way.

On a recent cruise stop in Ketchikan, Alaska, I learned a few things about these spectacular carvings, along with the migration of settlers from the lower 48, and the impressions left behind by one key US government official—recorded forever at the top of a towering cedar trunk…

Tall carvings

The year: 1868. The place: Portland Canal, in the new Alaska Territory. The visitor: Secretary of State William Henry Seward. His hosts? The Tlingit people, Tongass tribe. Welcoming Mr. Seward and celebrating his arrival with a total of four potlatches, they looked forward to successful trade relations between their tribes and the United States.

The Tlingit even erected a totem pole in his honor. But when Mr. Seward neglected to return the favor—that is host the same number of potlatches honoring the native tribes—his likeness was marked in red. Something akin to indicating cheapness. Oops…

Walking around the Saxman Native Village, I noticed bare trunks that featured an animal or a person only at the top. I soon learned that all totem poles tell a complete story, which doesn’t always involve carving the entire log. And no sanding—carving tools only, with paint as a finishing touch.

Six feet of the trunk is buried in the ground for stability. And when the totem would fall, it was left as is to “return to the Earth.” Nowadays, many totem poles are being restored, anchored by a sturdy base to prevent rotting. True artistry and skill are apparent in each standing pillar of history—each a tall wooden, timeless storybook. I was mesmerized…

Long boardwalks

Leaving the village, our guide dropped us off in town to further explore on our own. The wooden structures—especially along Creek Street—made me think of the “Old West” (substituting tall evergreens for tumbleweeds).

Elevated boardwalks meandered along Ketchikan Creek, allowing for easy access to hillside residences, shops and businesses, as well as providing excellent views and vista points.

Seeing salmon swimming upstream and eagles attempting to disrupt that process, just by leaning against a nearby shop railing, seemed a bit surreal. Wildlife doing its thing alongside tourists doing theirs…

Big business

Happening upon a shop called “Christmas in Alaska,” I couldn’t resist. In addition to finding wonderful souvenirs—and holiday trinkets I suddenly couldn’t do without—I discovered something called Devil’s Club. Native to Alaska, its salve is great for things like calming the itchy bug bite on my hand…

Something else I learned: this store isn’t open during the holidays; it is only open for tourist season. Cruise ships have a huge impact on the economy of this otherwise small Alaskan town.

Heading back to the pier to board my floating hotel, I thought about what it must take for this beautiful coastal community to be showtime ready, May through September. Maybe, one day, there will be a totem pole to tell that story to future passers by. Hopefully without featuring a lot of red paint…J 🎨

Daylight in Oslo

Happy New Year everyone—welcome to 2019! So… how’s your bucket list coming along? My first blog post of last year, Wave meets rock, featured my “official” such list of five destinations I’d never experienced before. As of today, I’m happy to report two of the five are checked off—yippee!

The first—Alcatraz—made my blog post Bridges, bites & bars. The second—the fjords of Norway—well…starts with a sunrise.

Cruising in

Daylight in Oslo this time of year is limited to about six hours a day—tough to imagine during our recent autumn visit that began with a gorgeous sunrise! The Akershus Fortress & Castle served as the perfect backdrop to the sun’s early morning arrival. And our cruise ship cabin balcony provided one awesome vantage point.

The Pacific Princess docked in front of the castle about 7:00 am; just in time for me to greet the sun! In 2017, as luck would have it, I caught the sunrise in Salem, Oregon the morning of the solar eclipse. (A quick shoutout to my very first blog post: My Eclipse Manners.) And now, here in Oslo (14 months later), I realized the perfect addition to my bucket list: watch at least one sunrise every year from this moment on…

Walking around

Via the ship’s excursion desk, we booked a three-hour walking tour of the city. Conveniently, the tour began just a few steps from the dock. (Also convenient, the sunshine and blue sky would be sticking around for the day…)

As a group, we followed the guide toward the heart of downtown Oslo, which—from our starting point—put the harbor to our left and the fortress to our right. And just where the path along the marina met up with the walkways into town, our guide stopped in front of a park statue depicting a rather famous American: FDR.

Wait—a sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt here—in Norway? Facing the beautiful harbor, FDR’s likeness was erected to honor him for his WWll speech “Look to Norway” and for his support of this Scandinavian country during the wartime occupation. The Norwegian citizens were very grateful for the aid provided by the Allied forces, which ultimately helped liberate their nation.

Continuing into town, our guide introduced us to a famous Norwegian—the city’s patron saint: Hallvard. Featured as the official seal of Oslo on building facades and other surfaces throughout the town, St. Hallvard holds a millstone in one hand and three arrows in the other.

Over the last few centuries, the reasons for these symbolic items have varied, along with the saint’s legend, but our guide shared with us the version that includes Hallvard rescuing a young woman (represented at the feet of St. Hallvard) and the saint surviving the three arrows.

Time for a little True/False! Oslo was once called Christiania.

True!

When you’re king, renaming a city after yourself is pretty doable. King Christian IV, after the fire of 1624 destroyed Oslo, ordered not only the relocation of the city to across the bay but the new name as well.

Continuing our journey on foot, we saw city hall, the royal palace, many beautiful parks and one tiger. Okay, so it’s a statue of a tiger, but a rather famous one with the locals, as it represents the town’s nickname “The Tiger City.”

Before our tour’s end, we enjoyed seeing the contemporary and beautiful opera house—even walked its pitched roof for a better look of the harbor. And—to my delight—walked the grounds of my sunrise castle, having yet one more harbor view.

Noshing on

And now, time to double back to a few merchants we spotted during our stroll through town! My family unanimously chose The Café Cathedral as our lunch place, so we made our way there first. Still wanting to enjoy this beautiful day, we opted for outdoor seating and made our menu selections.

While I ordered something sweet—Verdens Beste—Norwegian national cake, my family went for something savory: Reindeer Pizza. I passed on the option of having a bite, but apparently this Scandinavian spin on an Italian favorite was quite the delicious hit.

Sailing away

With the late afternoon sun closing in on the horizon, our ship began making its way toward open water, treating us to the perfect view of my previously mentioned bucket list item: seeing the fjords! The combination of clear sunny weather and an unobstructed view made the entire event picture perfect.

Whichever bucket list items you’ll visit this new year, I wish you all the best discoveries on your adventures—the planned and the unexpected… J 🌄

 

Our Amsterdam moments

Cycles, canals, cheese, art and more! When one hears about a certain famous Dutch city, many things might come to mind. For our curious group—having never visited Amsterdam before—we were excited to explore a bit.

The planned main attraction for our day was the fantastic Van Gogh Museum, but our out-and-about discoveries were wonderful in their own right. Eager to see the famed artist’s work first however, we started there…

Spiraling up

The museum. Four of us, in search of our favorite paintings, headed eagerly toward the open-air stairway, winding our way up to the official first floor of the main building. Once there, we fell into the slow line of museum attendees, moving clockwise around the inner walls of the room.

Stopping long enough in front of each showcased canvas to admire and wonder, we encountered our first unexpected discovery: The Potato Eaters.

This darkly toned portrayal of a poor family sitting down to a meal of potatoes pulled from our group a collective reaction of a little sadness, mixed with a bit of sympathy, followed by our surprise reaction: hunger! Suddenly we were hungry for potatoes, and maybe some wine as well, to wash them all down…

As we made our way around floors 1, 2 and 3, I was impressed at being able to see his masterpieces—like his self portrait (the one featured on the museum’s pamphlet)—up close.

Our other Van Gogh group favorites leaned toward the flower category: Almond Blossoms, Sunflowers and Irises.

After completing our circle of the third floor, it was time to find our own travel sized replicas to take home. We headed to the gift shop on the main floor, and found several portable souvenirs.

The museum held one more fun surprise for us: a cafeteria—one of the best I’ve seen—displaying bags of potato chips, next to (of all things) a wine-by-the-glass dispenser! We gladly selected our treats and found a table. With our potato/wine craving satisfied—what are the odds?!—we made our way outside…

Floating down

The canals. Bordering streets, homes, businesses and parks, Amsterdam’s waterways are as much a traffic medium as its roadways for moving people around the town. Pre booked, we boarded our vessel for a mini canal cruise.

Time for a pop quiz! Over how many kilometers of canals are in Amsterdam?

  • 50
  • 75
  • 100

Answer? Over 100 kilometers of canals—and more than 1500 bridges.

What a fantastic way to see the sights! Navigating the narrow canals, we enjoyed observing the building facades, and other waterside attractions, up close.

Wheeling around

The most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world, Amsterdam’s urban population of 1 million plus means that bicycles are everywhere. Pedestrians beware! While walking around, we kept a vigilant eye on the noted bike paths.

In the mood for a different kind of wheel, we stepped into the Amsterdam Cheese Deli. Samples, sandwiches and several savory flavors of my absolute favorite dairy product were everywhere! Unable to resist, I picked a wedge of Gouda. Good. Stuff… 🧀

Known for lots of activities and consumables that aren’t exactly legal most places elsewhere, Amsterdam has it all. In broad daylight. In shops that stand alongside other more

mainstream businesses. Not our thing, but a curiously entertaining observation for us nonetheless as we strolled up and down the canal bridges and sidewalks.

All in all, we loved our day of Amsterdam moments—every art-filled, oddball, scenic and tasty bit of it. J 🥔🍷

A Victorian getaway

Walkies. Tea. Places to see. Victoria is a very beautiful—and very walkable—city in British Columbia. Located on the southeast tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria shares the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Washington State as a natural border between Canada and the US.

Getting there is half the fun when you travel aboard the Victoria Clipper. And if you book your trip through Clipper Vacations (like we did), your transportation and hotel—even afternoon tea, and other events or tours—can be bundled together.

Going for walks

The Clipper docked at 254 Belleville Street on Victoria’s Inner Harbour a little after 10:30 am. From there, we rolled our suitcases just 800 ft. along the street to 463 Belleville: the Hotel Grand Pacific.

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Conveniently our room was ready at this pre-check-in hour (most likely due to our mid-week arrival), so we were able to unpack our bags and relax a bit before venturing out. Shopping, restaurants, attractions—all just down the street! So, where to first?

Seeing the sights

When was the last time you saw a Woolly mammoth? Okay, to be fair, when was the first time? If you don’t possess a working time machine and have yet to see such a mammal up close, visit the Royal BC Museum. Continuing along to 675 Belleville, the museum was a short but scenic walk from our hotel.

The mammoth—think ginormous stuffed teddy bear—resides in the museum’s Natural History exhibit. Items from our more recent history, like that of Captain George Vancouver, his discovery of this corner of the world and its native people (while he searched for the Northwest Passage), can be seen and explored in the walk-through Human History exhibit. An old west harbour town brought to life. Very cool!

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Our first stop inside, however, was the IMAX Victoria Theatre’s show “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs” (Amazing!), followed by a walk through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. Truly breathtaking images! I enjoy museums, and this happens to be one of my favorites.

Up for a slightly more ambitious walk, we made our way 1.6 miles from our hotel and the Inner Harbour along Government and then Fort Streets to a cozy manor at the top of the hill: Craigdarroch Castle.

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Built during the Victorian era, this National Historic Site was first home to the coal-wealthy Dunsmuir family. It has since served Victoria in many capacities, but today its rooms feature furnishings and amenities that were part of everyday life for the Dunsmuir clan.

If only the walls could talk! Listening to Darren—a castle guide—entertain questions about the colorful history of each family member, I began to visualize their very Victorian day-to-day life inside these beautiful rooms.

Wealth has a way of building castles and legacies. Or in some cases, a worked-out limestone quarry. But combine the empty quarry with a clever green thumb’s idea—financed by her family—and voila! The Butchart Gardens were born.

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In 1904, Jennie Butchart turned her husband’s old quarry and cement plant into the Sunken Garden. She soon added other gardens, all featuring many plants, flowers, and other delights that Jennie and her husband Robert brought home from their many travels abroad. The Butchart family loved to entertain visitors, naming their vast estate “Benvenuto”—“Welcome” in Italian. Today, the Butchart Gardens are a National Historic Site, seen by almost one million people each year.

Nearly 20 miles from downtown Victoria, these lovely gardens were a bit out of our desired walking range, but the desk for CVS Tours, located at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, was rather convenient—just a few minutes on foot for us.

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For the price of admission, CVS Tours provided transportation to the gardens, fun history told to us passengers by our driver, a map of the grounds, and a flower and plant guide. Admission even included a 45-minute stop at the fun-meets-fascinating Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Birds, bees, flowers and trees! And a few other critters too. Between the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens, we enjoyed them all throughout this tour.

If you have room in your suitcase for a little local jewelry, stop by Jade (911 Government Street). Mined in upper British Columbia, this beautiful gemstone is crafted in very wearable ways. My weakness? The earrings. Gorgeous!

Stopping for tea

Walking along Government Street, just a little over half a mile from our hotel, we discovered Canada’s oldest Chinatown. And then we wandered into a fantastic tea experience: the Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. We enjoyed sampling Happy Tea (wonderful stuff!), and talking with the very knowledgeable and friendly tea-expert employees. And of course—making a purchase.

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A little closer to our hotel, we found Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government Street), which just happens to sell lots of other goodies too: breakfast and lunch items, pastries, cakes, souvenirs, tea sets and accessories, and of course, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Established 1894, this shop’s founder—John Murchie—had delivered tea to none other than Queen Victoria herself. He learned firsthand the kind of tea his monarch preferred, as well as invaluable knowledge of the tea trade. When he immigrated to Canada, his put his tea and business smarts to the test, launching a successful company that still thrives today.

We managed to swing by for breakfast, and for an afternoon break or two. And yes, returned yet again for some shopping. There is always a line from the door to the counter, but it moves rather quickly. Finding a table can be tricky (unless placing an order to go), so I suggest stopping by between the breakfast and lunch rushes.

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A trip to Victoria is not complete without afternoon tea at the Empress. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a true icon of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Residing at 721 Government Street, this was another easy walk for us.

The tea room is beautiful, and the service is excellent. These are simple requirements of this famous place, which help remove any nervousness one might have when in the presence of elegant table settings. The Royal China collection used exclusively at The Empress has its own fascinating history, dating back to 1939 as a gift from the visiting King George VI.

Our choices of tea were presented to us as a book of samples. We could actually see the colorful ingredients for each blend! (The Empress gift shop features many of the hotel’s exclusive blends, along with its own line of honey products—from its own bee hives.)

The towers of treats were mini works of tasty art. We added glasses of prosecco to round out our indulgent event. Also, The Empress very kindly and deliciously accommodated our lactose intolerant family members, so no one went without.

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When the Far East meets a former British outpost on an island in the beautiful, bountiful, great Pacific Northwest, the resulting jewel for us is…? Westcoast Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific. Keeping in step with my walking references, this location was just an elevator ride and a lobby crossing away from our room.

Our server, Tim, shared with us his wonderfully vast knowledge of tea—knowledge he credits to his server training, and attendance at several tea courses given by… wait for it… Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. Yes! The very store we happened upon during our walkabout in Chinatown. It is also the very company that provides this hotel’s restaurant with its delicious—and now newly familiar—afternoon tea selection.

Are you aware of the color known as auspicious yellow? If so, then you just might understand why all of their teapots enjoy this happy hue. The tower of treats were Northwest delicious, and the teas (and prosecco!) absolutely hit the spot. And the chef substituted goat cheese for my lactose intolerant family members, which made our party immensely happy.

I always appreciate the pride and effort people put into creating quality products such as organic, authentic and traditional teas, then crafting time-honored and new experiences from these qualities to share in celebration with their patrons. Hats off to these merchants and restaurants of Victoria for exceeding our tea-time expectations.

Dining out

If you’re in the mood for Italian, I suggest a stroll to one of Victoria’s quiet neighborhoods where you’ll find Il Covo Trattoria (106 Superior Street). At just a half mile from our hotel, the distance was perfectly walkable.

We chose an early time slot, but the restaurant quickly filled up. Given this was a midweek evening, we guessed the locals were enjoying their favorite dinner place. Excellent food! The mushroom risotto was the best I’ve ever had. Wonderful and attentive service truly made our meal a great experience.

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Hungry for seafood? The Steamship Grill & Bar—directly across the street from our hotel—has you covered. Delicious cuisine and local wines (and great service too), this was the perfect way for us to end our last full day in town.


The Victoria Clipper took us back to Seattle the next day, carrying us, our overstuffed souvenir tote bags and a wealth of new and wonderful memories.

Along with being very walkable, Victoria is a very friendly city too. Even the crosswalk signs allow ample time for pedestrians, and drivers keep their cars well behind the white line. Their kindness is a reminder to me to always be a good neighbor. After all, we’d love to visit again. And again. J 🇨🇦