Magazine article Sunset

Victoria, Victoria

Magazine article Sunset

Victoria, Victoria

Article excerpt

* The moment the boat docks in Victoria's Inner Harbour, you know you've arrived in a different realm. The grand old Empress hotel rises up in front of you in all her Edwardian splendor. To the right, the imposing granite Parliament Buildings are a massive 19th-century tribute to the Commonwealth. And there, in front of the garden, Queen Victoria sits immortalized in bronze, inviting you and your family to come have your picture taken at her feet.

Since 1843, Victoria has been one of the great civilized outposts of western North America. Now the capital of British Columbia, with 300,000 in its metropolitan area, Victoria wears charm and tradition like a familiar hat. It's a wealthy city that knows how to live well, and as visitors consistently learn, it's a city that knows how to entertain.

In summer Victoria swarms with merry tourists. And you go there, in part, for this very hubbub. Large, flowery hanging baskets dangle from lampposts and the eaves of buildings. Buskers ply their song, mime, puppetry, and magic on nearly every street corner. Shoppers hurry about in search of British woolens, porcelain, shortbread, and antique silver. Carriages clip-clop down streets filled with picture-snapping families. Restaurants buzz. And the Victorians? They just smile with kindly Canadian reserve.

Unless you fly into Victoria, you'll arrive by water. B.C. Ferries' boats cross hourly from Tsawwassen on the mainland south of Vancouver to Swartz Bay, 20 miles north of Victoria. From Port Angeles, Washington, the M.V. Coho comes in four times daily and the Victoria Express three times. The Victoria Clipper zips up Puget Sound and across Juan de Fuca Strait from Seattle's Pier 69. In summer, the Washington State Ferry System crosses twice daily from Anacortes to Sidney, 17 miles north of Victoria.

In short, Victoria is lively and interesting, easy to reach, and reasonably priced (the exchange rate at press time is $1.48 Canadian to $1 U.S.)-the perfect combination for a long weekend. Why not go now?

Prices are in U.S.. dollars. Area code is 250 unless noted.

friday

Breakfast and the breakwater. Take your morning meal at the Ogden Point Cafe (199 Dallas Rd.; 386-8080), a brisk 20-minute walk or $3 cab ride from the Empress. Then traverse the walkway atop the Ogden Point Breakwater-the jetty that marks the entrance to Victoria Harbour.

Art and politics. Walk or take a cab back to the Parliament Buildings (501 Belleville St.; 3873046) for a free 40-minute tour of the complex. Then walk out the front door and across the street to the Royal British Columbia Museum (675 Belleville; 387-2101).

You won't be able to see everything, so focus first on the excellent Northwest Coast Indian collection and longhouse.

Tea and company. Make lunch out of tea at the Empress hotel (12:30-5; $28; 721 Government St.; 384-8111), where fresh fruit, scones, clotted cream, preserves, sandwiches, pastries, and tea are served daily Though $28 may sound pricey, it's worth the splurge for the grand surroundings and people-watching alone. Leave the Empress and cross Government Street to the promenade along the Inner Harbour to watch the city scene.

Window-shopping. Walk north on Government Street, stopping at shops selling everything from tartans to tobacco, all representative of Victoria's British heritage. A right turn on Fort Street leads up famous Antique Row Chinatown and chow. Continue north on Government Street to reach Chinatown, where you can enjoy creatively prepared Vancouver Island fare at Suze Lounge and Restaurant (515 Yates St. …

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