55 Hours in Victoria (BC)

Contour of Vancouver Island with Regional Dist...

Vancouver Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A geographical oddity was created when the Oregon Treaty of 1849 ceded Vancouver Island to the British. Victoria, capital of British Columbia, along with approximately one-quarter of Vancouver Island, lies below the 49th parallel. Yet, for all its proximity to American cities—closer to Bellingham and the American San Juan Islands than to Vancouver—it has a distinct feel that has been described as British.

Over twenty years ago, my wife and I (with our young children in tow) visited Victoria for the first time. The details of that visit are fuzzy, though I do recall how British it felt. Even if the city is named after Queen Victoria and the stately Empress dominates the Inner Harbour with its Edwardian appearance, the impression of English-ness was not based on any firsthand experience of Britain, because I’ve never been there. So, what does a British city look like? And who’s to say Victoria doesn’t look more British than, say, London or Liverpool? Yet, there is the culture of afternoon teas, famously promoted by the Empress Hotel, and civic obsession with gardens, both of these being culturally, well, British—eh? We have come here one more time, also many years ago. Our infrequent visits were not because we didn’t like Victoria—far from it—but because we learned that the city had always been dumping untreated, raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which Victoria shares with the U.S. Olympic peninsula, and had no plans to do anything about it. So many Washingtonians decided to boycott Victoria until things were cleared up, so to speak. I was one of them.

In 2006, the BC government ordered the city to develop a sewage treatment plan. Victoria complied and has committed to installing a secondary treatment facility, scheduled to begin construction in a few years. With this kind of news, it was time to go back for a visit. Our local AAA was running a special that included transportation on the marine vessel Victoria Clipper and lodging at one of three accommodations, including The Empress. There is no need for a car, for the Clipper drops passengers off at the Inner Harbour, only blocks from any of the hotels, and most of the attractions would be within walking distance.

We would have 55 hours to enjoy the city before taking the Clipper back to Seattle.
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Lunch at Noodle Cart (Victoria, BC)

Reviewers on tripadvisor and urbanspoon rave about Noodle Cart on Blanshard. WHERE magazine, the freebie that all tourists find at their hotel/motel/inn lobbies and at information centers, named it the best new restaurant of 2012. Armed with these endorsements, we decided to have lunch there after walking back to city center from Craigdarroch Castle. Paintings on the walls throughout the restaurant evoke images of Thai daily life and provided lots of color and atmosphere. The menu was extensive. What to try? On the specials board were two dishes: Stir-fried Egg Noodle with Homemade Chilli and Homemade Crispy and BBQ Pork. Hmm, why not?

The better of the two dishes, the egg noodles were tossed with sliced jalapeño chiles, sliced green and red bell peppers, onions, green onions, basil and a sweet-savory dark sauce. Now, I’m as much a garlic lover as the next person, but it was excessive in this dish, overpowering other flavors. In some cases, too much garlic is too much of a good thing, and that was the case here. This would have been an excellent entrée otherwise.

Egg Noodles with Homemade Chilli Sauce

Egg Noodles with Homemade Chilli Sauce

Many of the reviewers in the aforementioned websites were effusive about the crispy pork in all its incarnations. Not so with us. Essentially, the batter around the pork was a paste of rice, including whole grains, that seemed too crunchy. Despite its description, the word crispy is inaccurate since it implies a certain lightness and crisp texture that easily yields to the bite, not the dense, toasted-rice crunchiness that called attention to itself over the pork. Alongside the BBQ pork, which itself had little flavor and much fat, a reddish sauce was poured over both, mostly sweet and lacking in dimension. We would definitely not order this dish again.

Homemade Crispy and BBQ Pork with Rice

Homemade Crispy and BBQ Pork with Rice

Adding to the disappointing experience was glacial service, including one waitress forgetting to bring a requested item. Perhaps the standard menu items succeed where the specials don’t. There were quite a few customers who seemed to be enjoying what they were eating.

Noodle Cart
1018 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC V8W2H6