Wednesday, June 12, 2013


A recent weekend getaway invoked me to re-think what constitutes being defined as a “snob”. In the traditional sense of the word, “snob” gives rise to thoughts of someone who is arrogant, rude and disrespectful. I don’t fit that definition; however, it is fair to say that I have an appreciation for the finer things in life, but I also have an extremely grateful, down-to-earth nature. Throughout this trip, I had what I would like to call “Snob Moments” that hit me a little by surprise and prompted me to think that perhaps I am a snob, but only by my definition.

My friend Sheila and I decided that we would take a weekend trip to Victoria for her birthday. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, Canada and is located on Vancouver Island--it is a beautiful city with a gorgeous inner harbour laced with a variety of outstanding buildings built back at the turn of the 20th century. Victoria was named in honour of Queen Victoria and as such, the city has many British-like qualities to it, hence the reason why I feel somewhat at home there. Of the beautiful buidlings in the harbour, the most notable is The Empress Hotel...which, we were going to be staying at, because, quite frankly, there is no other place to stay whilst in Victoria.

A trip to Victoria always starts with a ferry ride if you live on the mainland. I noticed that at both Tsawwassen and Schwartz Bay terminals, there is always a little market with a group of shops--if you like hats and scarves (which I do), then these markets are the BEST place to get hats and scarves of all sorts. I picked up an awesome navy captain’s hat...from the rack versus from an actual captain, wink wink.

Once we arrived on Vancouver Island, we headed straight to Cordova Bay Golf Course as our first point of interest, only to find out that a golf tournament just started, so we did a round at their putting course. We were sure the green had some weird magnetic issue that pulled the ball away from the hole. Snob Moment No. 1 - Putting Course Snob, came not because I was having rough time on the putting course but rather because it wasn’t really a course--just an elaborate putting green. I’ve been to proper putting courses where it’s like a miniature golf course...but this was just not up to par (no pun intended).

Craigdarroch Castle
Our next stop was Craigdarroch Castle--a beautiful little castle in the heart of Victoria that was once the home of the Dunsmuir family. In the past, I have obtained from their gift shop a replica of Lady Dunsmuir’s travel clock and a tiara, amongst other things. I noticed something happened when we drove up to the castle. Usually, I get very excited at the anticipation of seeing and being near old things. Given I had been to Britain two years in a row now and had stepped into some of the most spectacular castles that were not just a century old but rather several centuries old, I just wasn’t impressed by this castle anymore--it did nothing for me at all. Sheila happened to feel the same way, so in Snob Moment No. 2 - Castle Snob, I did not feel alone. We scoffed at the poor stone masonry along with the steep price of admission. Britain offers up their heritage at either no cost or a very minimal cost in order for the enjoyment of everyone, and for generations to come. We snapped a few photos of the outside, popped into the gift shop so I could pick up a cheap tiara-like headband (left mine at home by mistake and needed it for high tea the next day--Snob Moment No. 3 - Tiara Snob, and off we went for a bite to eat at the Sticky Wicket.

The Sticky Wicket is one of Victoria’s best and most lively bars--it boasts 4 stories with an awesome roof-top deck that even has two beach volleyball courts on it. The food is fantastic and so are the brews. I had their quinoa burger and it was amazing! I am VERY picky about my veggie burgers and this one was tops--a little goat cheese and spinach to boot--delish! Since it was chilly out, we passed on the outdoor eating but went up in the world’s slowest elevator to the 4th floor to check out the roof before we headed to our hotel.

My Favourite Hotel - The Empress
This is where the MAJOR excitement set in for me. We were staying at The Empress! The Empress is THE grande dame of hotels in Canada and is owned by Fairmont. They have done a wonderful job of restoring the hotel to its heyday grandure and it exudes first class in every aspect, from the interior, to the guest rooms, and to the courteous and gracious staff--everything is perfect. I scored a wicked deal thanks to my corporate discount and my insatiable ability to flirt with the reservation clerks (who, late at night, are mostly men). We were going to be staying in one of the Fairmont Gold rooms. The Gold rooms are on a floor that have their own check in and concierge. And here is the piece de resistance: it has its very own, what I like to call, “special food room”--a beautifully furnished lounge only for people staying on that floor, with afternoon snacks, evening hors d'oeuvres, and a breakfast buffet--all complimentary! You are treated like absolute royalty (enter Snob Moment No. 4 - Hotel Snob, as I do believe that I was royalty in a past life thanks to a tarot card reader that told me so). They also upgraded our room to a junior suite with a harbour view at no cost--it was wonderful! It was Sheila’s birthday and because they knew that in advance, they had a nice card wishing her happy birthday and a cute little cup and spoon made of chocolate waiting for us in the room.

Delicious Chocolate Birthday Treat for Sheila
We wasted no time in making our way into the special food room for a little dessert, even though we literally just finished a nice heavy meal at the Sticky Wicket what almost seemed like moments ago. We sat in comfy leather chairs just staring out at the harbour whilst delving into our macaroons that were flown in from France - Snob Moment No. 5 - Macaroon Snob. They were absolutely incredible--perfect texture and not too sweet. I may have waved to a few people who were curiously looking up at us, wondering “Who are those people up there?”. It was actually a little reminiscent of my childhood in that I was the one always looking up at the hotel and its guests with awe and curiosity.
Once we had our fill, we headed out, and in good ol’ Victoria fashion, no sooner had we stepped out of the hotel when a barrage of naked bike-riding protestors rode by. I scrambled for my camera but it was too late--I got a blurry pic of one naked butt-cheek and that was it (maybe it was just as well). To us, it wasn’t a big deal, but to the tourists visiting from other countries where they don’t protest naked, it may have come as a shock judging by the look on a few horrified faces. Moving on, we took a stroll down Government, headed up Fort, popped into the mall so I could grab a cheap bathing suit (I accidentally left mine at home and was certain I would need a hot tub later that night), and worked our way to Russell Books--the holy grail of all books stores, in my opinion. They just opened a lower floor of vintage books, and to my pleasure, I found the cutest little 1940’s published Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll--almost exactly what I was looking for. I am very particular about my old books, and although I would have preferred one published in England versus New York (Snob Moment No. 6 - Vintage Book Snob), this one would do. I was privileged to learn quite a bit about Lewis Carroll when I was in Oxford a few years back, and so finding this book was quite nice.

We did stroll past the Dutch Bakery, which is a couple of stores down from the book shop. I’ve been going there since I was 5 years old--the same family owns it too. When in Victoria, it’s tradition with my family to have a croquette with mustard and a dollar roll (savory and sweet) from the bakery--and to further the tradition, I usually call my Dad while eating the croquette just to rub it in his face (it’s a family thing), but I just couldn’t fathom the thought as I could literally stuff nothing further into my mouth at that time or I may have been physically ill on the spot, and no one should be sick outside the Dutch Bakery, ever.

We quenched our thirst at Murchie’s and realized that we were both going to pass out if we sat any longer given we were both deprived of sleep the night before. I don’t mind missing sleep if it is for “good reason”, again, wink wink. But if it’s because the cat keeps walking across my face at 2am, then yeah, I mind. So we agreed that a Harbour Ferry ride would do the trick to pull us out of our apparent food coma. And what perfect timing--the weather was just starting to clear up!

View from the Harbour Ferry
Harbour Ferries are awesome--they are like little water taxis that can take you to a few points of interest for a reasonable cost, either within the harbour, or, if you like, you can do a longer run up the Gorge. We did the shorter run and hopped off at Fisherman’s Wharf. The big attraction (outside of a gorgeous outdoorsy guy who smiled at me as he walked by us with his bike) are the seals--how handy that there is a fresh seafood shop right at the water’s edge.

Sure enough, in a matter of moments, THE largest seal I’ve seen in awhile swam right up to take the dangling fish out of an excited child’s hand. When I was younger, my Dad had a good friend who was the head trainer for the orca whales at the Vancouver Aquarium (this was back in the 70’s), and, thanks to spending half my childhood there behind the scenes as well as volunteering in my adult years, I have developed a huge affinity and comfort level with all sea creatures. It took everything I had not to want to jump in the water with the seal--it was the water that looked a little frightening or else I would have.

Giant Cute Seal at Fisherman's Wharf
On our way back, all we could think about was making sure that we made it in time for the hors d'oeuvres that were waiting for us in the special food room back at the hotel. They were delish! I will acknowledge Snob Moment No. 7 - Cheese Snob, only because I had the most fantastic brie (that was also imported from France) and can truly appreciate the subtleties of the flavours within the cheese--but the reality is, dairy just doesn’t work for me, so the Cheese Snob is something I will have to part with. We had our usual table that overlooked the front of the hotel and harbour and we both realized that we could get very used to this lifestyle very quickly! We had dinner reservations at 8pm at the Wharfside Restaurant so we had a little time to kill at the hotel gift shop. I have been a Friend of the Empress (an awesome loyalty program) for a number of years that gives you various privileges in the hotel as well as at some of the attractions in the city. Snob Moment No. 8 - Tea Snob, arrived when I gave my two cents to the ladies running the shop about the benefits of loose tea versus bagged tea (there’s a joke here based on what I just said that I’ll pass on right now) and also ensuring that the tea is drank from fine bone china--that is a must as it truly does make the tea taste better. I added one item to my Empress House Collection--a beautiful square plate for my scones. There’s a reason why I have to slowly add to this collection--I’m sure you can guess why.

Guest List when The Empress Opened in 1909
We did a wander around the hotel to snap a few photos and to see if we could get a glimpse of Francis Rattenbury (the hotel’s architect who is thought to haunt the basement where the archives are). Unfortunately we didn’t see him--I would have liked to, but then again, I’m weird that way.

Sure enough, it was time for dinner! We had the most delicious and unique martini with the “surpise” rim...sounds a little creepy but it was actually blue kool-aid.

I don’t drink much, so this really did it for me--I don’t need ANYTHING to make me more hyper than I already am naturally...poor Sheila had to suffer through it. We could barely finish our meals, in fact we didn’t (their salmon wellington is fantastic though), and wouldn’t you know it, it was already time for our ghost walk.
Tasty Martini with the "Surprise" Rim

Victoria is known to be the most haunted city in British Columbia thanks to essentially being built on Native Indian burial grounds. There are so many stories of tragedy and horrible circumstance, some of which took place in The Empress for that matter, and in areas all around the inner harbour. Ghost Walks is one of the most popular ghost walk tours, and it was started by John Adams, a famous local historian. He still runs them, and this particular night his son did our walk. Being taken to the various sites on the walk while being told the stories is quite fun and fascinating. Unfortunately I didn’t capture anything on film nor did I have any kind of paranormal experience but it was great nonetheless. And, doing a quick shop for a bathing suit earlier was becoming growingly important given we were both freezing after the hour and a half of being out in the cold. We scooted back to the hotel and got in that hot tub as quickly as humanly possible. There is something I just love about smelling like chlorine before going to bed when I am on vacation--you just know you’re on vacation because how else are you going to bed smelling like that.

The next morning, we had our plan of enjoying our delicious breakfast in the special food room--I’ll be damned if that brie wasn’t there again, so I had the tiniest bit to satisfy my palette, and then after breakfast, there was of potential going to the Royal BC Museum. I’ve been to some fine museums in some of the biggest cities, and I have to say, this one is pretty spectacular. The sunny weather outside was pulling us in a different direction though, so we passed on the museum this time. We snapped a few photos of the Parliament Buildings (which were also designed by Francis Rattenbury incidentally, along with the CPR terminal building that will now house the Robert Bateman Experience).

Fountain in front of Parliament
Enter Snob Moment No. 9 - Wishing-Fountain Snob, whereby I discovered that I have a very defined and self-created process for throwing a coin into a fountain to make a wish. The look on Sheila’s face was priceless as I made the suggestion but then stipulated what needed to be done in advance, reviewed the dates on the dimes we were using to ensure they had some particular meaning to each of us, explained how the coin should be tossed, how the wish should be visualized, which way to toss the coin and what to do when it actually is tossed. I really think I’m mental--and so does she, in fact, so do most of my friends. Crazy or not, it should be noted that I’ve tossed a lot of coins into a lot of fountains, in a lot of places, and made a lot of wishes...and they all have come ha!

We then mused around the old Bastion Square Market, did a little window shopping, and before making our way back to The Empress for high tea, we stopped into Rogers Chocolates. I picked up a few fine confectionaries for my Mom and perhaps a few for myself, and without thinking about what I was saying while I was paying, asked the young clerk if she’s seen anything flying around in the back of the shop as of late. Probably a bit of a mistake given she went white as a ghost (pun intended)--Rogers Chocolates is famous for it being haunted. In fact, the girls were telling me last time I was there all about it--I even captured something on film. Clearly this staff member was new and not too welcoming of that news--oh well.

High Tea Goodness at The Empress
It was time to eat, yet again, and this time it was High Tea at The Empress. There is no better place to have High Tea--it is simply marvelous and given I am very particular about how High Tea is done, this is indeed Snob Moment No. 10 - High Tea Snob. The ambiance of the hotel, the decor, the china, the service, the view, the piano, the silver, the little sandwiches, the scones, the preserves, the clotted cream, the miniature incredibly detailed desserts, and of course the tea...all so perfect. I will admit, it was the first time I could not finish everything--perhaps it was the ridiculous amount of food we had been consuming since the moment we started the trip? Fortunately, you can take what is left as take-away, and so we had a little snack for on the way to the ferry.

We reluctantly went down to the main lobby to retrieve our luggage and overwhelming feeling of sadness swept over us as we said good bye to this lovely place. When the hotel valet brought my car around, I couldn’t help myself and asked him if they took it for a joy ride--even the sheepishly adorable grin on the young man’s face was going to be missed...ok, now I’m just being silly--he was cute though and found me quite amusing.

Cordova Bay Golf Course
We drove away actually waving and shouting good bye to the hotel. But within moments got excited again about the prospect of playing the round of golf we intended on playing on our way in. It was fantastic! Sheila is new to golf and did just amazing! Cordova Bay has some of the most stunning views as well, so I made sure the camera was packed in the golf bag. Once done, we ate our somewhat warmed tea left-overs and headed to the ferry. I didn’t buy another hat at the market, but I found some great scarves and headbands, and a belly-dancing waist scarf with jingling coins all over it (big smile)! I then found out that the special room (this is a different special room from The Empress but a BC Ferries reasonable facsimile if you will, called the Seawest Lounge) was on this ferry, and it was quite frankly, the end to the perfect weekend away. To understand the full benefit of the Seawest Lounge and how it is responsible for my sanity on board the ferries, you will have to read my blog entitled “A Bus Ride and A Special Room”. You will then be able to also deduce why my final snob moment arises and is called Snob Moment No. 11 - Can’t Stand Noise On The Ferry Snob.

And so there you have it--a little piece of Victoria laid out over a weekend of snobbery, along with good friendship, tasty food, and fabulous adventure.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to make a side note regarding Craigdarroch Castle: make no mistake, this is a beautiful, historic building that is most worthy of a visit whilst in Victoria. It is impeccably well taken care of and the items and artifacts that are original to the castle and the Dunsmuir family are extremely well preserved, along with the exquisite woodwork of the interior. I wanted to add those notes to this post to make it clear that while the castles I visited in Britain were outstanding, Craigdarrroch Castle is a place you need to see if you love history and Victoria.