Vacationing in Victoria: Whale Watching, Work, and the Life of Riley

by Lou on August 20, 2005

Victoria is still lots of fun, and the Empress is a hotel that grows on you. At first staid and appearing to be stuffy and very proper, it continues to reveal itself as quirky, scads of fun, a full of good restaurants.

A Whale of a Good Time
Wednesday we went whale watching off the San Juan Islands. Three large pods of whales spend half the year in these waters, and they’ve all been identified and “named” by scientists who track their movement and study their behavior. Calm seas, sunny skies, warm weather, and lots of whales made for a terrific day. One group of three Orcas swam so close to our boat that I could see them beneath the water as they passed by on the port side. Then they broke about 60 feet from our stern, and although I had a terrific view of this whale close-up, I wasn’t able to get my camera in shooting position in time, so the only photos of this are those etched in my mind.

Work Follows Wherever I Go
I’m trying not to get too much sleep on this vacation, and am getting up early to respond to email and to review articles that will be in Poker Pro Magazine’s Issue No. 3. I’m Guest Executive Editor for that issue, and regardless of where I go, the work follows me and I get it done early in the morning or late at night. Like they say, sleep is overrated.

Sidney and Butchart Gardens
Thursday we rented a car and cruised through some of Victoria’s neighborhoods to get a broader view of the city than we had by just walking around downtown and the harbor. We drove up to Sidney-By-the-Sea, a little town up on a peninsula about 40 minutes north of here. It’s full of retirees, new condos, a lively little downtown, and close to a dozen bookshops within a four-block area.

Sidney is not far from Butchart Gardens so we went there too. Deirdre and I first visited the gardens when our cruise ship stopped in Victoria in June, so this was a return visit to an amazing 50-acre garden that’s been in place for 100 years and is a must-see site if you visit Victoria. We ended the day at the Fan-Tan Café, a small, narrow, tasty, hip spot with nice local art on the wall in Victoria’s small but very old and very cozy Chinatown.

The Hidden Joys of a $15 Parking Ticket
On Friday morning we discovered that the $15 parking ticket we got for leaving our car at a meter Thursday night and not getting to it until 9:30 AM was five dollars less than the cost of parking at the Empress for the night!

We were driving around when we discovered a set of gates and a large mansion housed behind it. We didn’t know what it was but stopped and asked some fifth graders who were selling lemonade and cookies about the place. They told us it was called “Government House,” and we came to find out that it is the home of the “Lieutenant Governor,” who is the Queen’s representative in British Columbia. While you can’t tour the home, you can wander the grounds and gardens, which we did.

The Life of Riley
In the back we ran into the LG’s driver, who had a restored 1949 Riley that really got our attention. He told us he bought it for $70 forty years ago, when it was really a pile of junk, and he showed us the pictures to prove it. The car originally had a frame that was partially wooden, and that was rotted out when he bought it. (If you’re really into old cars you’ll know that Riley’s were not the only wooden car; the Morgan had a frame that was all wood too.) Over the years he’s rebuilt it and has more than $70,000 invested in it. The car has a mixture of parts he acquired through Hemming’s Motor News, parts he had fabricated, and modern equipment, like the Chrysler engine that pushes the car up to speeds of 130 mph without coming close to red-lining. He also had an old Alfa-Romeo in the garage that he just had painted and looked like it was next to be brought back to elegance under his care.

Just How Smart Are These Cars?
Speaking of cars, there are more “Smart Cars” in British Columbia than I’ve seen anywhere. Those are the very little, diesel cars you might have seen, that are two-seaters and as long as the average car is wide, and can be parked two to a parking space if you park them head-in instead of parallel. They look a bit like the A-Class Mercedes that I saw running around Vienna a few years ago. I’ve never seen these cars in the USA, but they are no larger than many golf-carts and yet can top out at 80 mph. It’s not the machine you want to take up I-15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, but for cruising around town they are very cool little machines.

Pictures Coming, I Promise
Next week, when I’m back home, I’ll post a few of the pictures from this trip to the blog.

{ 1 comment }

Slim Fyfe August 30, 2008 at 2:14 am

Hi Lou… I posted earlier asking about your thoughts on Vancouver. It was real nice to hear your thoughts about your Victoria experiences. I grew up north from there about an hour’s drive. It really is a beautiful city… I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your reference to The Empress being like Hogwart’s was very funny.

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