Thursday, August 16, 2007

Houses, Gardens, and, OH, my aching feet!

The last leg of my journey was the portion that I most anticipated; in addition to exploring a lovely city that I have been hearing wonderful things about from friends & family for 2 decades, I was going to be able to spend 2 ½ days fulfilling only my own needs, preferences, & interests. Any parent, particularly any mother, knows what a luxury this is; the nature of the job is to find balance & compromise between the various personalities that make up our families, & more often than not, a woman will subjugate her own wishes in the pursuit of peace & harmony.

The 1-½ hour ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria was actually quite nice once the rain stopped. I divided my time between the top deck taking pictures (we had been told on departure that Orcas had been spotted that day in the strait, but I had no luck) & sitting inside with my knitting, being careful to avoid the multitudes of people reading the new Harry Potter book. I had been briefly tempted to buy it, but was put off by the $45.00 price tag; so I kept myself to myself, as to not let envy to color my mood.

Once hitting solid ground again, I headed straight for North Victoria to Hatley Castle on the grounds of Royal Rows University. Well, maybe not straight; this is where I took my second wrong turn of the trip, zigging when I should have zagged & ending up taking a tour of a couple charming little towns five miles away from my goal (I think my night at the BC version of the Psycho Motel took a bit of a toll my normally impeccable sense of direction.) My decision to visit here first was a delightful little piece of serendipity; I had been online just before I left home & chanced upon a site devoted to garden tours of Victoria. The gardens were featured & there was a brief mention about available tours of the Castle. Well, that’s all it took- what else does a house museum docent do on vacation but tours other houses?

I have to say up front, this was my favorite stop of my entire trip. Even under grey skies, magnificence of the manor & grounds took my breath away; photographs just don’t do it justice. I had just missed the current long tour & had to wait about an hour until the next short one, so I went downstairs to visit the museum (which was quite interesting) & gift shop, & then wandered out to the gardens. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I walked inside the gate, the beauty in front of me brought tears to my eyes. I stood there, awed by the magic & whispering to myself: “It’s like a daydream”; I have never been so affected by a place before. One of the gardeners, a man about my age, was working in a flowerbed near me, & he smiled as he watched my reaction; he told me that the favorite part of his job was seeing the wonder on the faces of visitors & I told him he was a blessed man to be able to spend his days in Eden. The next 45 minutes melted away as I explored the Italian garden next to Manor, taking photos of the flowers, statues, bumblebees & hummingbirds, & was startled back to reality when my cell phone alarm went off, reminding me of the tour I had paid to take. After being guided around the front of the Manor & instructed on the history of the property & the family, the group was taken through the rooms on the first floor; the second floor is in use by the administration of the University & the third floor is only seen on the long tour. It is a lovely facility, with beautiful woodwork & stained glass windows; evidently, a few of the rooms were used in the filming of the second X-Men movie (Sam recognized them, but I didn’t pay enough attention during the film) Afterwards, I went back outside to visit the Rose & Japanese gardens- lovely despite being partial stripped by the previous two weeks of rain- then wandered through the meandering paths back to the Italian Garden. I only dragged myself away because of the rude noises my stomach was making, but I’ve already promised myself to go back someday.

I drove into Victoria to find my lodgings for the next two nights. I was fortunate to have discovered Craigmyle Guest House, a very reasonably priced bed & breakfast inn located right next to Craigdarroch Castle (my #2 must see on this trip) The inn is comfortably shabby, in the fashion of an small English guest home, & while the owner is a rather…uh…crusty ex-pat from Liverpool, the man can do a mean fry-up breakfast! My room was small, which was fine with me, with an ensuite bathroom & comfy bed; the only drawback was it was on the third floor- & naturally there is no elevator. Hauling my large rolling suitcase, backpack, purse, knitting bag, & pillow (yes, I travel with my own pillow- no matter how hard the bed, I can be assured I won’t end up with a stiff neck!) up two flights of narrow stairs- with Mr. Personality encouraging, but not assisting me- was no mean feat; I found myself in need of a short nap.

After an hour’s rest, I followed the steps out of the back patio up to Craigdarroch Castle. This is by far the most glorious historic house I’ve ever been privileged to see; it is four stories of full Victorian splendor, with the family’s belongings nearly fully intact (very unusual in my limited experience) Again, photographs don’t do it justice; I was stopped cold by the “Oh My!” entrance & spent some time chatting with the gentleman docent stationed there. I already knew of the connection between Craigdarroch & Hatley Castles (father Robert & younger son, James) but I was surprised to learn that there was a connection to a grand house in my part of the world, Dunsmuir Mansion in Oakland; it was built by the nere-do-well older son, Alexander, for his then mistress, & hosts one of our favorite Highland Games, which we had attended just the week before. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring the castle, positively drooling over the incredible stained glass panels in almost every room, & spending money in their nicely stocked gift shop.

That evening, I drove down to the Inner Harbor area for a little sightseeing; British Colombia in situated far enough north to remain light well past 9:00 pm. I was too late to go inside any of the buildings, such as the Empress Hotel, the Parliament Building, or the B.C. Museum, but took some nice photos & added them to my “Must See” list for next time. I poked around some of the shops, went to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, & I got a little giggle while I was waiting for my meal. Naturally, I was wiling away the time working on my shawl,

occasionally glancing around at my surroundings, when I noticed the print on the wall right next to my table:

How nice to have some silent knitting companionship.
I returned to my lodgings for the night, fixing myself a cuppa & settling into the lounge to do a little reading to the sounds of some classical music. An older German couple joined me for a while, sharing some of their wine & adventures of the day, before we all retired for the evening; with all the walking & wonder of the day, I slept soundly (the glass of wine & four ibuprofens helped a bit) & awake ready for the next adventure.

Final chapter: Butchart Gardens


Becca said...

It sounds like you are having a lovely trip! I got your package today! You must have really scoured my blog to find all of my favorite things! Thank you just doesn't seem like enough, but I am most appreciative. The Nutella really made me smile! And the books, I love to read! Again, many thanks!

Daisy said...

Ohh Megsy, I know what you mean about the first view making you want to cry.They were 2 very, very, wonderful buildings and the stories they must have to tell!
Better than the "Motel from Hell"!!

chichimama said...

What an amazing sounding trip!

And I can't wait to see the finished shawl, I'm debating one for my next project...