Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part VII

We sailed all night and at about 3:45 the next afternoon, the ship stalled enough to pick up a Victoria Harbour Pilot. Interestingly, each time the cruise ship enters "new" waters, it is required to pick up a new pilot who is familiar with the area. The transfer of these pilots is even more fascinating, and many of us passengers gathered on deck to watch it. As I said, the ship idles, and soon, we saw a small boat coming steadily towards us.

As it pulled alongside, a rope ladder emerged from a metal door on the side of our ship. The pilot stepped from the pilot boat and climbed up the rope ladder and disappeared into the ship. The rope ladder was pulled in, the door shut, and soon we were on our way! It was stunning even on the calm sea; all of us chattered about how impressive and dangerous it would be on a choppier, angrier one.

Not too long after that, we were able to see Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, on the horizon. The weather was much warmer and getting a bit more humid. There was no doubt that we had left Alaska. So many passengers were on the dock, enjoying the sun and warmer weather. Before we knew it, we were able to see the dock. Suddenly, we all realized that the ship was doing something strange. Soon, a voice on the loudspeakers confirmed it. The captain was turning us completely around--we were going to back the ship in! The reaction from the passengers was one of incredulity. Look at our berth!

Slowly, slowly, we backed into the berth. A welcoming party was waiting on the dock for us in this "veddy veddy Brritish town."

Eventually, we stepped off, cleared border security, such as it was, and walked off into Victoria. I was greeted by and had my photo taken with a "bobby". We were practically smothered by the 80+ degree heat. We found a shuttle to downtown Victoria to see some sights.

The driver was quite the Canadian booster. "Canada has no slums or ghettoes," he informed us. "Everyplace in Canada is beautiful." I nudged Rick, "Apparently he's never walked off the tourist tracks at Niagara Falls," I said under my breath. "I could show him plenty of slums and ugliness there." But I behaved myself and smiled and thanked him as I got off the bus at the Empress Hotel, one of Victoria's landmark buildings.

It's a shame they don't allow anyone to go inside any of it; the interior is incredibly impressive from what I've heard. There is afternoon tea, but we didn't arrive in time for that. It is, as you can see, enormous. It was first built in 1908, faced demolition at least once, but was saved and then subsequently refurbished and even added onto. It faces the Inner Harbour, as you can tell from the photo.

Another of Victoria's gorgeous landmark buildings is their Parliament. Built in about 1897, it houses their legislative bodies. It has copper accents on its domes and pediments that has developed that gorgeous green patina which make it look even more stately and beautiful.

We wandered around the streets of Victoria enjoying the atmosphere and marveling at the crowds. Suddenly we heard our names! It was our friends from Virginia who had decided to wander around a while before their horse and carriage tour. We quickly made plans to meet up for dinner at a steakhouse we'd all seen on a nearby corner. It would be a change from shipboard dinners, and it would give us a chance to just wear our knockabout clothes.

We had a little time to kill, so we looked for Chinatown. We found it, such as it was, on Fan Tan Alley. It looked very impressive and very exotic, what with the entrance and all.

But let me tell you, all Chinatown consisted of was a half-block of two Asian grocery stores, a couple produce stands, a few restaurants, a cheap import souvenir-type shop or two, and at the dead end, something our shuttle driver would be aghast at: all along the sidewalk at the end of Chinatown were homeless people, lying, sitting, leaning against the building. Some wore, literally, rags, while others held cups or cardboard takeout containers for change or bills. One was complaining loudly in a slurring voice while another nodded sympathetically. As we crossed the street, a man with a pushcart loaded down with plastic bags full of cans and belongings walked past us. I turned to Rick. "Toto? I guess we're not in Canada anymore!" We left Chinatown and started toward the main street to meet our friends for dinner. On the way, we were amused to see a teenage boy wearing a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. We waited outside the steakhouse for a few minutes and saw our friends running to meet us. Their tour had been "another history lesson", much to the Mr.'s laughing dismay, but we knew that some food and drink would put everything right in no time.

After steaks, wine, local beer, genial conversation, and some really hearty laughter, we left the restaurant and made an emergency trip to the chocolatier across the street. The clerk was a bit snarky since it was only 5 minutes until she could close the store, but we cheerfully ignored her and made our selections carefully and unhurriedly. Some things, as you know, simply cannot--and should not--be rushed. We strolled along the street and took some lovely pictures of Victoria at night. They illuminate their landmark buildings, and the scene looked like a child's Lite-Brite toy scene.

**You may have to enlarge this one to appreciate it.**

Back at the ship, we sat said some final goodbyes to our new friends, exchanged emails and hugs, and went to our staterooms. Rick and I closed our door and looked one last time at the chocolates on our plumped-up-by-Artemio pillows on our turned-down beds. We sighed. When we cast lines at 11:30 tonight, we were headed for Seattle. Our cruise was all but over tonight.


  1. Anonymous3:58 PM

    All I can think about now is an American steak dinner--filet mignon, baked potato, and salad.


  2. ...which is exactly what I ordered! Don't tell me you can't get that in Belgium; why on Earth would that be? Are you being punished?


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