Monday, 7 October 2013

Canada - Day Four - Monday 7th October

Met Meisha from Victoria Tourism in the lobby at 6.55am this morning for our “ten” minute walk to the Oswego Hotel to go for a site inspection and breakfast.  The ten minutes were true to form, and we walked for about twenty minutes to the left of the inner harbour and a couple of blocks back to the hotel.  This is a boutique style hotel, with either studios, one or two bedroom apartments, all with full kitchens.  This is ideal if you are on a two or three week tour and need to do a bit of washing.  It is only a five minute walk to the harbour,  and ten minutes to the Empress Hotel, where many of the tours leave from.  The breakfast was made to order – the omelette of the day was roasted tomato, caramelised onions and goats cheese.  Sold!  It was the best omelette I have ever had (and I have had a few).  Many of the guests have breakfast in their rooms, so the restaurant is not huge.  The hotel has around 80 rooms, so not that big either.

From here we walked five minutes to the hotel next door where we said goodbye to George, the British Airways host.  He was having to go home – and very sad he was not being able to go in search for the bears with us!  We were collected here by a CVS CruiseVictoria tour bus that was taking us to Butchart Gardens.  The journey was just over half an hour, and I don’t think the driver drew breath from the start to the finish.  He knew everything about everything.  He told us some of the history of Victoria – much of it involving British people including Captain Cook, Queen Victoria and James Douglas, the first Governor here.  He apparently didn’t last a year as people weren’t very nice to him, and Captain Cook didn’t even set foot on the island as he was on his way to Hawaii.  I think he realised he had rather a large contingency of British people on the bus, so maybe didn’t comment as much as he may have done if we weren’t present.

He also knew the full history of the Butchart family, who were originally from Scotland.  It was the son that started the gardens – but only because his wife told him to.  He started Portland Cement, and dug quarries in the rich limestone ground that was in the area.  This left rather large unsightly holes in the ground.  After his first attempt at filling one as a lake and putting trout in it, his wife then had the idea to make them into gardens.  She started with the “Sunken Garden” and then the “Japanese Garden”.  This was a very popular place to go, and was soon serving 18,000 cups of tea a year to patrons.  Not sure when it went from being a place to go for free and get a cup of tea to a chargeable option, but another three gardens have been added at various points along the way.  There is now an “Italian Garden” a “Mediterranean Garden” and a “Rose Garden”.  The gardens are still in the hands of the same family, albeit a few descendents down.  Each descendent has put their own stamp on the property, and now there is a carousel, fireworks every Saturday night in July and August, and a permanent stage for concerts.  None of these attract any extra charge other than that to get in. We all had to have a go on the carousel – a rather bizarre sight of ten travel agents riding frogs and dogs to the melody of singing in the rain!  We were extremely lucky to have David Clarke give us a guided tour.  Originally from the UK, he actually married into the family.  He did divorce, and ended up working for his ex wife.  He has been here forty six years, so it couldn’t have been so bad.  There was nothing he didn’t know about the history, the plants, or any bit about the gardens.  They are open from morning to night every single day of the year – summer months opening until much later at night than in the winter.  There is always fifty five gardeners working every day, with extras being drafted in during the summer.  I have never seen such beautiful gardens as these – even now in October they are so colourful.  They are replanted four times a year, so that there is always colour whatever time you go.

Then came the icing on the cake so to speak.  We were invited to have High Tea in the Dining Room – this is in the original house Robert Butchart built for his family to live in whilst the gardens were in their infancy.  Lovely white linen tablecloths are on the tables, and the tea is served in white china with proper tea leaf strainers – no PG tips here!  We are then served the most delicious warm ginger scones with jam and cream.  I thought that was it – but then came a three tiered serving tray with pastries, sandwiches and cakes on the top.  Not just any old sandwiches either – turkey and cranberry and sage, carrot and ginger and I can’t remember the others.  There was a mushroom and turkey vol au vent, a Cornish pasty and a cheddar cheese tart, and then – believe it or not – I could not manage any of the cakes!  We had had a scone for starter (weird!) so I decided that was my pudding back to front.  I passed on the lemon tart, chocolate mouse, chocolate layer cake and battenburg.  They gave us a box to put the leftovers in, and Meisha was taking them back for the rest of the staff in her office.  The boxes even had little bags in that fit the box so that they could easily be carried.  Attention to detail!

On our way out there was a seeds shop, where you could buy most of the plants.  There was also a huge tray of little buds of every single flower that was in flower in the garden at this moment in time, with their names on, so if you wanted one of something that you didn’t know the name of, you could have a look and see what it is and then buy it.  Very good marketing!  There was a fantastic gift shop as well – but no time for that as the bus was due to leave and it would have gone with or without us.  We travelled back to Victoria a slightly different way, and the driver only spoke half of the time.  After that lovely High Tea I think a few may have nodded off on the way back. 

When we arrived at the Empress and were dropped off, we then headed over to the Royal BC Museum.  We were left to wander around on our own here to look around the history of the First Nations People.  There was also a large temporary exhibit of the “Race to the Pole” with Scott and Amundsen.  It was really interesting.  There was also a room full of non totem poles, as I now know.  They were all labelled House Poles,  History Poles etc.  Capilano’s descendent was right there then. Not a totem amongst them.

We had a couple of hours free time, so I decided to do a quick walking tour of a few bits of Victoria.  I went in the old part of the city, Chinatown (the oldest in Canada) down by the harbour, and then back to the hotel.  The wind had got up, and it was threatening rain, although the morning that we had walking around the gardens was mostly sunny and warm.  Another quick change and we are out again for a site inspection at The Inn at Laurel Point.  This is a hotel of two halves – literally.  Rooms in the first half are very nice, nothing spectacular but have a lovely friendly feel.  Going back down, and then up to rooms in the second half are as if you are in different hotel.  They are very spacious, contemporary and the bathrooms are huge.  Both rooms have a balcony – the first a small stand on balcony, the second a full size with furniture.  Every room in this hotel, whatever the side, has a harbour view.  They overlook the private gardens and the water, and from where it is maybe even the sunset.  Not sure about that.  A bit further down the side of the harbour from the town, but probably a fifteen minute or so walk to get to the restaurants and bars in the town.  We are at their restaurant, the Aura Waterfront.  The chef is Japanese, and the menu has a slight Japanese feel.  The food is lovely – seafood is prevalent in the menu and everything is so well presented.  A beautiful dinner with Michelle from Victoria Tourism and Kyla-Rae from the hotel.  Might have to go back on that diet when I get home!

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