Victoria Stories and Tips

Chinatown in Victoria

brightly coloured shops downtown Victoria Photo, Victoria, British Columbia

Weather has much improved. It’s clear, sunny and cold. They’re all complaining about the temperature but it’s colder than usual for here. It’s still warmer than yesterday though. Today’s route takes us on a scenic drive around the Oak Bay area into downtown Victoria where we’re hoping the Street market is still on. Turns out it wasn’t but we had a nice wander anyway. Oak Bay is one of the very exclusive areas of Victoria with some estates assessed in the million dollar range and higher. There are marinas dotting the coastline around the peninsula and there are golf courses as well. Mind you, we also passed farms which are only barely 10 minutes from downtown. Victoria seems to have all bases covered.

There’s a very large natural park called Beacon Hill which is extremely popular. In addition to walking trails, ponds and open fields, there are also recreation areas, a putting green, a wading pool and the tallest totem pole looking out over Juan de Fuca bay towards the mountains in the U.S. We also passed a signpost marking Mile 0 (Trans Canada highway I think) although there’s also a similar thing in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland. So there, I’ve been at both ends of the Trans Canada Highway! That’s pretty neat when you think of it! I wonder if there’s a marker for the middle of it somewhere in Ontario or Manitoba?

There are no sky scrapers in Victoria which enforces tight height restriction bylaws. A few apartment and condo buildings might hit 15-20 floors but that’s it and there aren’t many of them. Victoria is situated around a harbour on the Saanitch peninsula on Vancouver Island. One side of the harbour is lined with newish condominium developments stretching along to Esquimalt and the navy base. They command an impressive sweeping view of the Inner Harbour. Along the harbourfront are century old buildings housing shops and offices and some restaurants. The grand old Empress Hotel rises up elegantly. Afternoon tea amid Victoria swank will set you back a fair piece of your day’s budget but it’s fun if you wish to spoil yourself.

The domed British Columbia provincial legislature building dominates the next stretch, next to the Royal BC museum. This museum is filled with social and natural history artifacts and IMAX screen. All that will keep you busy for a day. Don’t miss Thunderbird Park behind the museum where there are some very old totem poles. There’s also a wax museum next to the legislature, right next to the dock where the ferry from Seattle comes and goes.

Back to our travels: We decided to find a quick snack to start us off. We found Market Square, which is a complex of shops and restaurants in heritage buildings surrounding a pretty outdoor courtyard. This being a chilly though sunny November Sunday morning, downtown Victoria wasn’t very busy at all even though most of the shops were open. It was nice not having to deal with crowds.

We decided on a slice of pizza and found a small takeout place with very good pizzas though it didn’t look like much as far as the décor goes. They had a few high tables and stools so we sat in, perusing the wall papered with flyers and ads for everything from services (learn to fix your own bicycle!) to upcoming performances of every genre, many for the Halloween weekend just passed.

Out the other side and out of Market Square on Pandora Street we approached Chinatown, the second oldest Chinatown in North America. It’s size is now greatly reduced to just a few blocks but it was once a large community and included notorious gambling houses and opium dens located mainly in the FanTan Alley area. FanTan Alley is still there, bookended by Pandora and Fisgard Streets. It is the narrowest street in Canada and only widens ever so slightly after entering to reveal a handful of small but funky shops. There is a second hand record store stocking lots of old vinyl and collectables including posters. There’s another music store with instruments and there were several stores containing imported goods. One had some really lovely items but one that had a lot of small rooms, nooks and crannies was filled with a lot of tacky stuff, smiling buddhas everywhere though there was a small alcove with a reproduction of a gambling den. Very much catering to tourists. The first store, Whirled Arts, I think it was, was far more interesting. There was a restaurant in the alley as well as one at the Fisgard end of it.

Fisgard street has a large elaborate Chinese archway at one end and is lined with restaurants, businesses and markets with some fruits and vegetables you probably won’t recognize. Even the telephone booth was fashioned with a pagoda top on it. For your money, though, there are some very good and authentic Asian restaurants in this area.

We headed back down Government Street to Johnston street which has it’s old buildings all very brightly painted with contrasting trims in equally bright shades. One shop selling bath soaps and things had a machine outside that was creating bubbles which floated merrily into the chilly breeze. We had a look in one shop that was full of joke items including a pencil sharpener shaped like a nose. Some rather unusual items good for a laugh. We could have browsed in there for a lot longer!

Down along the waterfront for a photo of the bright blue Johnston Street bridge, a cantilevered bridge spanning an arm of the harbour. It opens from one side, not up the middle and is a pretty bridge for it’s sky blue colour. We drove across it and drove through Esquimalt. This is land that used to belong to some of the local First Nation tribes (possibly still does). The west coast navy has a base here, as I mentioned. There are some very nice parts and some rougher areas as well. There is an English Inn consisting of 4 or 5 Tudor style buildings and a replica of Anne Hathaway’s cottage (the original being just outside Stratford Upon Avon in England).

We headed back home for about three for Sunday dinner. Chloe made us all very lovely thank you cards for her birthday presents so that will have a prized place in my photo album or the trip.

After a nice leisurely and very tasty meal, we relaxed and watch CSI. Tomorrow I’m taking a bus downtown to meet an internet pal, Angela, who’s taking the ferry up from Seattle in the morning.

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