fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

cruising Alaska, part five: Victoria, then home

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At the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C.

Cruising, for most people, invokes images of passengers in deck chairs with umbrellas drinks in hand.

That’s not the case with me. At least not yet.

For me, when in port there’s sightseeing to be done and the bustle that arises from acting every bit the busy tourist.

But one unique aspect about a cruise vacation is that — though already having “wound down” away from everyday life — one can take time to wind down between ports.

That’s what we did the day after leaving Skagway. We were at sea, steaming toward Victoria, B.C. Without conscious thought, we made it somewhat of a quiet day. Almost winning a passenger trivia game in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and time spent in a hot tub with a view astern to the ocean; a quiet pause in the closing days of a superb vacation.

Sunshine greeted us the next morning in Victoria, where what is regularly referred to as “High Tea”* awaited at The Empress Hotel. More accurately, The Empress refers to it as “Afternoon Tea.” To be polite, I’d practiced the proper pinkie curl.

Gwendolyn’s little finger would be curled under and away from the heat of the cup which might otherwise inflict a burn on her delicate skin. The little finger would never be arched upward. Arching would be deemed a sign of extreme arrogance. Should you know of moments extreme enough to demand an arched pinkie, contact us immediately.
— from The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

There was a remarkable consistency to the extraordinary knowledge imparted by tour guides and bus drivers we met during this trip, and our driver in Victoria was no exception. He filled our nearly hour-long drive to, in and around the city with history, trivia and pop culture references. Soon enough we disembarked in front of the impressive Empress Hotel.

Above the commoners' side entrance to the Empress Hotel.

The 103-year-old hotel near Victoria’s waterfront can’t be missed, and there’s a story that for many years it did not have sign out front because of local sentiment that anyone who didn’t know it was The Empress shouldn’t be staying there. It is an imposing structure that’s hosted kings and queens and a fair share of celebrities.

Wondering if we weren’t worthy of a public arrival, we entered through a side door to find the Tea Lobby. With everyone seated on sofas upholstered with richly patterned chintz or in wing back chairs, our hostess set about placing tiered stands stacked with traditional tea sandwiches, pastries and cakes. Our starter was a bowl of big, tasty blueberries, certainly not an everyday occurrence for me, but something I could get accustomed to. Our cups were filled with The Empress’ tea (a blend of teas from Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China), and though I’m not a big tea drinker, it was tasty (and fun—how often does one get to say “I’ll take two lumps” without ending up with a headache?).

I don’t pretend to be a gourmand but found great pleasure in the tea sandwiches and cakes served at The Empress. Even the cucumber and watercress sandwiches were good. My personal favorite was the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Our gastronomic climb up the stand found a second tier filled with some of the best-ever fresh scones and preserves, and ended with the top tier’s assortment of light pastries. It was all good, but I was left wondering how such dainty sandwiches and pastries could be so filling.

We’d have another day at sea before arriving home, and there’d be whales, porpoises, and a special dessert courtesy our maître’d. But Victoria was the last big “hurrah” for me on this fantastic trip.

A last sunset at sea…


*It’s interesting to note that what’s often referred to as “High Tea” (in the U.S. at least) may in fact be “Low Tea” or “Afternoon Tea”, and I’ll bet that most of my six readers didn’t know that there were two types of “Tea.” Gleaning the Internet will tell one that High Tea ttraditionally was a working-class meal served on a high table at the end of the workday and comprised of heavy dishes (such as steak and kidney pie, pickled salmon, crumpets, onion cakes, etc.). Afternoon Tea or High Tea was more of an elite social gathering with assorted snacks and tea. But in the end, who’d really want to go to “Low Tea?”

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