WARNING: PHOTO HEAVY POST AHEAD.
When we vacationed in Seattle in 2009 Alan had wanted to also take a side trip to Victoria but because each trip was (relatively) short, we were unable to fit a quick jaunt in. With several extra days at our disposal this time around, we knew that in addition to Vancouver we also wanted to visit Victoria and Tofino. Prior to our departure we had some snafus with Travelocity and booking a room so we ended up at a hotel that I'm sure would have been nice but wasn't our first choice. A couple of days before we left for our trip I was still feeling some apprehension about it so I checked Expedia to find the Fairmont Empress had dropped its prices significantly and would cost the same amount the other hotel had cost. I canceled with them (very easy process) and booked immediately at the Empress. Naturally I was thrilled, especially since the first night in Victoria was also my birthday.
There are several different ways to get to Victoria from Vancouver, but unlike in Seattle none of them are very easy. Unfortunately - unlike in Seattle - the ferry terminal is about an hour outside of both Vancouver and Victoria so unless you're hopping a floatplane to Victoria, you're in for an extra two hours on your commute. We had wanted to take the plane and had planned for it but then a couple of days before leaving we learned they have a 20 pound limit on luggage - each of our bags (because of the extra bulky clothes we had to pack for what was supposedly going to be cold & wet weather) neared the 30 pound mark so we had to nix that idea. In the end we took a cab to the bus station, took a Pacific Coach bus to the ferry terminal, road the ferry into Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and then took the bus another hour into Victoria. It was quite the trek, to be sure, but thankfully I absolutely adore ferry travel. You know what else I adore? Buffet on my birthday - thankyouverymuch BC Ferries!
The Gulf Islands were absolutely beautiful and the weather couldn't have been better. I wouldn't mind someday coming back and spending a week relaxing in one of the waterfront houses and cabins that dot the shoreline.
Upon landing in Victoria we were excited to see that the bus depot is right next door to our hotel so we were able to forego yet another leg of the commute and just hobble on over. After several hours en route (and more as the day was to go on) I was happy to have a destination within eyesight. And what a destination it was! Located at the top of the Inner Harbor, the Empress dominates the skyline. Built of brick and covered in ivy it's everything a posh hotel should look like from the outside.
Our room was somewhat small and based on the price we paid, certainly not one of the better rooms in the hotel but it was absolutely lovely in its prim and proper way. And oh the bed was fantastic. Definitely the softest mattress & sheets we had for the entire trip. we didn't have a great view of the harbor because we were located just over where the copper roof is in the picture above, but we could smell the harbor and hear the seagulls at all hours of the day and it was just a really delightful place to stay for a couple of days. And let's not forget the indoor pool, jacuzzi and steam room! We made use of them TWICE that first day (before & after dinner) and again the second day. Unfortunately on the second day there was an 8(ish) year old who joined us in the jacuzzi and was having a little bit too good of a time with the warm bubbles if you get my drift. (I had to get out immediately.)
Immediately after checking in we made our way back to the bus depot to catch a Gray Line bus out to Butchart Gardens, the #1 tourist destination in Victoria. I'm not really a garden person, but I do love flowers and everyone says you HAVE to go to Butchart when in Victoria. Given that the forecast called for rain the next day we figured we'd make a long day of it and head out for an afternoon trip while it was still warm and light out. Unfortunately this required yet another hour in a bus (and back) but the flowers were certainly lovely and the spot is nothing if not scenic. Sadly as an allergy sufferer it was less pleasurable than it could have been were I not sneezing and trying to scratch out my eyeballs every 30 seconds or so. Also unfortunately because I'm still dealing with internal body temperature issues because of my Grave's Disease while everyone else found it to be a supremely lovely day with the absolute best weather Mother Nature can offer, I was constantly hot and sweaty and those two things make for a really beastly attitude. Add to that a bunch of children running around and screaming as if the garden was their local playground (and their parents encouraging said behavior) and I was ready to go after an hour. Still, I'd be hard pressed not to admit it is a really lovely location.
Back in Victoria we walked along the harbor a bit in the evening checking out what there was to see and do. As we strolled along the waterfront, past the shops and restaurants, it very much felt like we were back in Cobh, Ireland. Not a bad comparison at all. For dinner we ended up gorging ourselves on seafood and beer before wandering back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.