Groupon, a while back, had a deal for what amounted to a half-price round-trip ticket to Victoria on the Clipper. I'd wanted to take the Clipper, since it seemed the very definition of convenience: I could walk to the pier where it leaves from, and it drops you off right in the harbor in downtown Victoria. Indeed it was convenient; however, the trip itself was boring. I'd really been hoping for more, but 30 knots is just not that fast, subjectively on the water, and the weather was cloudy so there wasn't tons to look at. The ship itself was nice, but nothing really noteworthy. The coffee was good, and cheap, so that was a plus, and customs and immigration on both sides was the best I've been through. The trip was relatively fast, convenient, not crazy expensive, and it seems safe, so while I likely won't be deliberately seeing out another trip, I certainly wouldn't object to taking it again. Next time, though, I think I'll try Kenmore Air. It's faster and supposed to be picturesque, though significantly more expensive.
Victoria was nice! The weather on Saturday rebelled against the forecast of solid cloud cover and was actually sunny and fairly warm. I'd waited too long to get a cheap decent room, so I splurged on the hotel rather than settle for something mediocre. Checked in, walked around a bit to re-familiarize myself with the area, and tried to do some shopping. Several stores I'd planned on revisiting, however, have closed up in the intervening months; shops in Victoria seem to have lifespans more commonly associated with fruit flies than retail establishments. However, both the British candy shops were still there, so I bought many, many imported items. Best were Hula Hoops
(vaguely in the potato-chip sphere of snacks, but ring-shaped), Irn Bru, a Double Decker candy bar
, and Orange Kit-Kats. I was cruelly tricked by the "flying saucers" they had; they seemed to be these saucer-shaped wafer things from my childhood, but instead of the sprinkle-like hard candy I expected inside, there was a disgusting powder. Ugh.
Did more shopping and walking around, and went to go pick up the car I'd reserved. My main destination was the Merridale Cidery
, where I previously had been with cow
. I did another round of tastings, but decided to not walk away with any of their typical cider products. Instead, I went for their distilled stuff. I bought several bottles of their "Winter Apple Cider", which is what I describe as "apple pie in a glass". It was very, very good, although not quite the nigh-orgasmic experience that I recalled from last time. I also bought a few bottles of their "Pomme Oh!", which is an apple cider augmented with cider brandy. Not nearly as sweet as a usual dessert wine, but quite lovely; I suspect it would be best with some medium cheddar.
Sat at their patio a while, snacking, and enjoying the view. From there, it was down to the other cidery on Vancouver Island, Sea Cider
. I'd read about them in some magazine or other, and have had the clipping on my fridge for nearly 2 years. They are a rather different operation than Merridale. While Merridale appears to be a more down-to-earth place, with actual operational equipment, and a clearly added-on dining area which is deliberately a little rough, Sea Cider looks like a converted farm house, with an expansive, well-tailored dining room, with 6 long communal tables taking up the majority of the public space. They have a decent selection of edibles to pair with their ciders, but since I was driving I couldn't really do a meal and drink, so I had to be content with some bread and local sausage, and small samples of less than half of their cider selection. The cider was good, but not really great, and I think that this points out another difference between them and Merridale: the latter is also a distillery, while Sea Cider isn't, so most of Merridale's ciders are the usual, classic styles, and their experimentation seems to be among their distilled products, but Sea Cider has many, many more esoteric styles of cider. Unfortunately, most did not live up to their billing; the English style was good, but nothing special, and the "rum-style" cider was overpowered by the additional flavors. I decided not to try to make another trip up the next day to try the rest of the menu, and only brought home two of their sweeter ciders.
Rested for quite a while to make sure it was OK to drive, and then headed back downtown to return the car. I wanted dinner, but when I went to the possible places I'd picked out, none seemed that appetizing; either it was too crowded/noisy, or the menu didn't have anything that looked good, or it was crazy expensive. So in the end I happened upon one of cow
's recommendations, Siam Thai. Had a very, very good stir fry, and the super hot Thai boys a few tables over didn't hurt the experience any, either. Next up was Canoe: one of my favorite brewpubs in Victoria. They were sold out of their BBQ sliders, which was a big letdown, but the edamame was quite good, and (to continue the theme from earlier in the day) I had some Rock Creek Cider, which was better than I expected. The scenery at Canoe was nicer than usual, but the place was louder and more obnoxious than usual also, so I quickly headed out. From there, I made a stop at one of the small bits of LGBT nightlife in Victoria: The Ledge. This was actually a very interesting find. It's a hotel bar that's also a gay bar. Hello, Canada! It was nice! A medium-size space, tucked away at the back of the second floor mezzanine, with a bar, tables and chairs, TVs, a pool table, fair alcohol selection at (relative to the rest of the city) very reasonable prices, and some absolutely adorable bartenders (a cute, impossibly thin man, and a super-cute friendly little baby dyke woman). It was a wonderful little out-of-the-way place for people to gather, and there was certainly a good cross section present. My favorite were the group of people in essentially full leathers, who it turned out were in town and dressed up for a wedding! Squee!!!
Even though it was only 10:30pm, I was dead, so I walked back to the hotel for an early bedtime. Got up very early the next morning, as planned, and headed out for a long stroll around the harbor areas. Found a great little coffee shop by the docks for a quick bite to eat, and kept going along the edge of the island. The rain had really started up in earnest by this point, though, and my Seattle Sombrero could barely keep up. I walked out to the jetty they have which serves as a breakwater for the naval base there, and juts out a fair bit into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's a popular place for the locals to walk and jog and fish, and there were several people doing each of those even that early and in that weather. Walked back to the hotel, about 2 hours after I'd left (it was a nice, long walk!) and was thoroughly drenched. Peeled off my clothes, put on my bathing suit and hotel robe, and put my clothing in the dryer while I took a soak in the hottub. *bliss* I need to get one of those installed in my apartment as soon as possible.
Gathered my belongings, headed back up to the room to shower and change, checked out, and left my bags behind while I checked out another spot that cow
had mentioned to me: Three Mile Pub. The place was trivially easy to get to, a half-hour bus ride from downtown stops just down the road from the pub. (As an aside, the bus was a gorgeous double-decker bus that ran every fifteen minutes from downtown on a Sunday; why can't *we* have nice things?) The brunch buffet was.... decent. For C$16, it was good. Some things were missable, but the Eggs Benedict were actually quite tasty, and there was certainly enough variety to keep me sated. The beers may have helped in that regard as well. :) That said, while I certainly wouldn't hesitate to go back again, I won't be rushing there either. It was nice, but the place just had an underwhelming, everyday appearance about it; certainly nothing out of the ordinary, as I imagined "The Oldest Pub in BC" would merit. Glad I went, though.
When back in downtown, it was another long walk all throughout the streets, in a vain attempt to work off the feast. Stopped in a variety of shops, trying to support several neat comics/toys/gaming/geekery shops which have sprung up in a little cluster on the northwest part of the business district. Bought a copy of V for Vendetta, and a big black plush Angry Bird, which now graces my cubicle at work. (Even before purchasing it, I was wondering how long it would be before some coworker lobbed it at another. The correct answer of "less than 30 seconds" surprised even me.) Kept walking around, doing a careful east-west walk while slowly making my way south, back towards the hotel, exploring the little hidden corners and the striking architecture. Unfortunately, I once again missed the Tilley Endurables shop before they closed. I shall have to make a point of visiting the one in Vancouver when next I visit there.
Grabbed a sandwich to pack for dinner on the boat, and then headed off for a small to-go order at Tim Hortons. While I had carefully been keeping track of my Canadian money, down to just over a dollar at this point, Tim Hortons stymied me by not taking my VISA credit card, so I had to pay for my 6 donuts with a US $20, leaving me with nearly that much in a variety of CAD coins. *sigh* Well, it's not like I won't be back again soon, I suppose.
The trip back on the Clipper was just as uneventful as the trip in, and it puts me back in the US just blocks from home. Success!