Exploring Victoria with Cousin Betty


I have had a wonderful visit for the past two days with my cousin Betty here in Esquimalt, just west of Victoria. On a couple of occasions, we headed into that beautiful city for meals and sightseeing.

When I first arrived in Victoria on my bike from just up the island in Central Saanich, I was chagrined to notice the heavy smoke from forest fires to the east, on the mainland. (And I worried a bit about how those particulates might be affecting my lungs as I cycled, although I also saw many other cyclists out, taking advantage of the wonderful local bike infrastructure.) I had been seeing posts from Facebook friends in Oregon and Washington about all the forest-fire smoke there, and had been counting myself lucky that we didn’t have it here on Vancouver Island. But as I rode that roughly 12-kilometer (8-mile) stretch, there it was.

Fortunately, it cleared up substantially by the following day (yesterday) and by today it was almost gone.

On my way in, I stopped briefly in Victoria to get a treat at the Cinnaholic bakery, then headed across the bridge to Esquimalt to meet Betty.

When I arrived at her charming house, I felt sure I was in the right place when I saw the wonderful sign on her gate.

The next day, we went into Victoria to meander about. Once again, I marveled at all the beautiful hanging flower baskets that epitomize the city to me. We also saw a sidewalk artist who was making a beautiful temporary design on the brickwork.

Soon afterward, Betty took me down an alleyway paved with 100+ year-old wooden bricks! I had never seen nor heard of such a thing. They seem to have held up very well, although a sign warned that they do get slippery when wet.

We passed the provincial (British Columbia) parliament building, whose architecture always wows me. I learned that the architect who designed it, Francis Rattenbury, was in his early 20s at the time!

Next we visited the fabled Empress Hotel, another of Rattenbury’s creations (at age 25). We walked throughout, admiring the famous “high tea” room (cost per person $89; we did not partake) as well as the beautiful, recently restored glass ceiling in an adjoining room.

Afterward, she took me to a local Japanese garden with a tragic history of WWII-era racism. It was heartbreaking to read the placards and see the original 1907 photos, knowing that the family’s pride and joy was later destroyed. It was somewhat heartening, though, that the community did later rebuild the garden, and it was lovely to tour it.

Then today, we went to another beautiful local garden with a fascinating story (again involving WWII-era internment, although this time in Europe) and gorgeous landscaping. I especially enjoyed the beautiful oaks and huge rhododendrons.

Finally, we went to pick up some specialty grocery items at a shop, The Market Garden, unlike any I have seen. I felt as if I had been transported to an opulent European market, with floor-to-ceiling displays of colorful and delicious-looking wares, as well as interior design flourishes such as chandeliers.

As a bonus, I even found one of my favorite chocolate bars (the vegan and fair-trade coconut-milk chocolate Camino bars in Canada, known by the brand name Equal Exchange in the US) on clearance—they were just at the expiration date—for 50% off! (If you haven’t tried these bars, make a point to do so. Wow.)

All in all, it has been a wonderful time with wonderful company here in Victoria and Esquimalt. Tomorrow, I will board the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, where new adventures await!

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