The Bellingham-Victoria ferry is a dinky little thing, with a VERY noisy lower deck which must have been separated from the engine block by a single layer of reverberating metal and a somewhat cramped upper deck under a yellow canvas awning, with serried ranks of narrow tables firmly bolted in place leaving spaces between same for passengers who averaged considerably less in girth than some of the ones trying to squash into the available area. We got talking to a couple of people, a mother and daughter from Missouri who were also out for the day and a couple from Anacortes who were very knowledgeable about things like the San Juan islands and orcas - whom we were hoping to encounter but they took themselves off somewhere and were having fun unobserved. We passed a tiny islandlet which had a story attached - apparently somebody had bought it in order to build his dream house on it, but when the surveyors arrived they discovered an eagle's nest on the island. You may not, by law, build within 100 feet of an eagle's nest. The island was 98 feet across. Shit out of luck. (I kind of cheered for the eagle, myself...) What was supposedly a 3 hour trip, though, took more like 3 and a half hours - and we got deposited at the wharf at 12:25, with an injnction to dammit make sure our tails were back there at 4:10 PM. Which left us not that much time. But the day was perfect, the sun was out, and Victoria was overflowing with flowers - hanging baskets on every pole, pots otuside buildings, "Victoria" spelled out in flowers on the inner harbour embankment, floods of them in beds under gorgeous trees, flowers flowers flowers... So we stepped out into the city.
We were starving so lunch was the first order of business - and we found this place which was very like an English pub, and I practically wept with it - I love England, and its pubs, and this was more or less the first time I had found an acceptable approximation of one on the North American continent. We had our lunch - she had wild salmon, and said it was very very wonderful, and she kept on saying afterwards that the rolls it was served with were fabulous, and she's probably going to remember the place by its rolls) - and then we wandered back to where we had observed a rank of horse-and-carriage type things - Mum isn't really given to whimsy, but somehow Victoria worked its magic and I managed to wheedle her into a carriage, and this horse called Luke pulled out into the traffic. Man, that was a laid-back animal - he had one speed, slow clippety-cloppety walk, with the occasional burst of what I would have to call a faster walk rather than a trot when he was crossing intersections. Afterwards, though, I went and patted him on his massive neck and he turned a head the size of a medium-sized dog marginally and fixed me with a sad, liquid eye. He's only nine, according to his driver, but there is no spirit in him - sad-eyed and resigned, he understands this is his life, and he *walks* through it. SLowly. So that the customers don't get scared.
But the carriage ride was nice. We went around on what was called a "short and sweet" ride, probably a more expensive than usual indulgence but worth every Canadian penny for the relaxed and smiling expression on mom's face. This one goes into the credit side of my ledger for whatever recokoning comes when we're judged. She was happy. And I loved it that she was happy. She allowes herself very few moments of happiness - but this was one, pure, shining. She was just there and happy to be there. Yaw, suh, I loves mah mommy.
We went for a walk up one the main shopping drags, after, and we didn't have that much time - but we both bought sweet offerings for our respective husbands (Turkish Delight for my Dad, who's always been patial to that and doesn't often find it, and dark chocolate with orange peel for my own darling) and then we had to skedaddle back to the Empress hotel where we had High Tea reservations for 3 PM.
In we went, seated in leather armchairs, with a guy playing the baby grand in the salon (I remember "Moon River", and more of that ilk). They brought out blueberries with whipped cream, in cut-glass cups. They followed it with silver teapots full of fragnant tea, and a three-tier plate pagoda which was artistically festooned with finger food - sandwiches (smoked salmon, chicken curry, egg salad, and yes, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off), small pastries, and scones with strawberry jam and a pot of whipped cream. Just before we left we were presented with gift tins containing several EMpress tes teabags, with a crest on them. We had just finsished watching, the night before, an episode of "Keeping up Appearances" (if you don't know it, it's a Brit series about a woman who insists that her surname (spelled Bucket) is pronounced BOuquet) which revolved around Hyacinth "Bouquet" having discovered a breakfast cereal which had the crest of the Dutch Royal family on it, and bought it solely because of that fact, despite its having the consistency of builder's cement - so I joked that I would take the tea tin with the crest back to my notoriously iconophobic husband and insist on flourishing it every time he wanted tea - that he would be drinking "tea with a crest"... Oh, we had fun.
I hate my feet, for the record. There doesn't seem to be a pair of shoes made that doesn't produce a blister - some of them in highly creative places. The sandals I was wearing for this occasion were nice and comfortable enough - but my little toe rested on the seam on the sole, and GUESS where this day's blister turned up. You feel so damned ridiculous mincing along delicately going ow-ow-ow all the way and favouring... your little toe. Sigh. But we managed to make it back to the wharf in time, even with me hopping all the way, and we even miraculously managed to leave nearly 20 minutes before schedule which meant that all the passengers had been similarly and remarkably efficient.
"There's our hotel," Momma said complacently, gazing across the Inner Harvour to the impresive ivy-festooned edifice of the Empress.
We caught a glimpse of whales on the way back, too far away to photograph or anything, but there they were blowing up spume and slicing the surface of the silk-smooth ocean with massive dorsal fins. I would have liked a closer encounter, but even as it was we squandered most of our 20 minutes' head start chasing after the whales, and then we chugged on across the Sound in the increasingly mellow light of a rapidly sinking sun, with the harbour lights of Bellingham twinkling at us in what was almost twilight as we sounded our horn and made our way to our berth.
We found the car, and drove home. Tired. COntent.
She liked Victoria. She *liked* it. If she hadn't I would have shrugged my shoulders and basically said, well, I couldn't be held responsible for how a particular city struck another sentient being. But she LIKED it, and for that I take full credit, thank you. You see, I invented Victoria - just as it is, full of its flowers and its wide sidewalks and its gorgeous hanging baskets and its bear statues on every corner - I invented Victoria, to give my mother joy.