We were “stuck” in Seattle and were going to make the best of it. The planes were full in Southeast Alaska, at least full enough so that the two of us could not get on the same flight, something about a folk festival in Juneau and lobbyists going to the capital to fight over a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. Since planes to Sitka either go to or from Juneau we were “stuck” in Seattle.
Seattle is a pretty good place to be “stuck.” We enjoyed some of what the city had to offer but realized that we were just a couple of hours by fast ferry from a very different city, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
We had not been to Victoria for more than 30 years but remembered fondly the Royal BC Museum and having high tea at the Empress Hotel. We remembered Victoria as being an odd combination of proper old England and rugged American West. With double decker buses, high tea, totem poles and a float plane base it represents both.
As day trippers we didn’t get beyond the inner harbor area, but there is plenty there to keep a day tripper happy. The BC Museum was as good as we remembered it. It even has an old style movie theater showing Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush.” The section on Native Languages of the coast was fascinating and there was a display of totem poles that shows a greater variety than we have in South East Alaska. Following the museum there was a walk through Thunderbird Park with its totems, a stroll on the grounds of the BC legislature, a walk along the waterfront, always an attraction for me with different boats and ships, and finally high tea at the Empress.
Empress high tea is an experience. The waitress brings a wooden box with different teas. You can look at the leaves and choose the tea you want. She packs the loose tea into a filter that goes into the teapot. Depending on the tea you choose it should steep three, four or five minutes. There is a set of three “Egg timers” braced together that are set for three, four or five minutes. You turn over the timer and let the tea steep for the proper time for the tea you have chosen. If your partner has chosen a different tea, all the timers are running at once. Next you have a choice of sugars, white granulated, brown granulated, brown crystal (for a touch of caramel flavor) or maple sugar (trés Canadian). There are several cups in a pot so I tried both brown crystal and maple. The waitress recommended the maple, she said it added just the right touch. I agreed. I forwent the milk. I’m not that English.
Along with the tea and sugar were three levels of food. We started with the scones, moved to the second course, finger sandwiches, and the topper, sweets including a little lemon meringue tarts.
The space in the Empress Hotel has been remodeled since the last time we took tea at there, before Brian was born. Some of the reviews in TripAdvisor complained that the remodeled space lacked the proper ambiance. I thought it was just fine, especially the view through the big windows watching the ferry Coho dock in the inner harbor. The Coho was built in 1959 for the American Black Ball Line and was the prototype for both the Sydney class BC ferries and the Malaspina class Alaska ferries. It turned out to be a durable design. The Coho has provided reliable service between Port Angeles Washington and Victoria for 58 years and counting.