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A day in Victoria

Started: 2022-09-05 20:18:06

Submitted: 2022-09-05 22:20:23

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Visiting the Royal British Columbia Museum and Craigdarroch Castle

Our first order of business on the morning of our first full day in Victoria was to eat breakfast. The hotel had a small coffee shop embedded in the lobby, which served some breakfast foods but lacked a deeply-inspiring menu. The cafe I visited the last time I was in Victoria had closed, apparently as a casualty of the pandemic, so we had to find somewhere else to eat. I eventually settled on The Blue Fox, a cafe a couple of blocks east of downtown, which claimed to be the first place in Victoria serving all-day breakfast. We arrived to find a line out the door, and by the time we considered and rejected other options the line grew shorter so we formally enqueued ourselves and presently entered the small cafe to sit and eat breakfast.

Maple latte
Maple latte

I ordered a maple latte, which seemed appropriate because we were in Canada. The rest of the food was just as good.

Like basically every other place I ate at during my visit to Victoria, The Blue Fox had a handheld point-of-sale credit card reader that asked me for a percentage tip (apparently it was customary to tip 20% north of the border as well) and calculated the total dollar amount. All I had to do was tap my contactless card on the obvious spot, printed with the contactless logo, to complete the transaction. The whole thing was almost completely seamless (even better than the chip-and-PIN card I used three years ago) and I couldn't help but wish we'd get more of these terminals south of the border.

While we were in Victoria, the exchange rate put the Canadian dollar at about 78 US cents, which seems fairly close to its five-year average. This was enough that I let myself ignore prices as if I were using Monopoly money, even though the prices (once converted into my home currency) were only 20% less than face value. (I did, finally, get the chance to spend the Canadian dollars that I had been carrying around in my wallet for the last three years with the expectation that I'd be back to Canada eventually.)

We walked to the Royal British Columbia Museum but found, to my distress, that the First Nations and BC history galleries were closed for renovation, but the museum had compensated by reducing the admission price to CA$5. I saw the First Nations galleries three years ago, but Kiesa had not, so I had wanted to give her a chance to see it while I revisited the exhibits. (I guess we'll have to return in another twenty years.)

We entered the museum anyway and saw a special exhibit showing the work of a photographer who pivoted away from portrait photography at the beginning of the pandemic and came up with the idea of taking short video clips of his subjects while they stood as still as possible, as if they were acting out being in a photograph. The effect was as if they were frozen in time, waiting for something to happen, but they didn't know what — a feeling I remember well from March 2020 (and still feel, nearly two-and-a-half years later). The room was set up with a large video display on the far wall, with some seats to view it, where the subjects were displayed, along with their remarks from their interview, providing some context for what they doing and thinking and feeling at that precise moment in the early stages of the pandemic. The comments reflected the subjects' sense of uncertainty about the future, their anxiety at being frozen in place and being unable to work and have to take care of kids in school, or feeling lucky that they didn't have any of those specific problems even as they still worried about the future.

The sides of the room showed smaller versions of the stationary videos, scaled down and tiled four or five high and spread out across the length of the room. As the main image advanced step by step, I recognized the images from the side walls. I stood, transfixed, watching the art project for what felt like a long time, long enough for the clock to advance from March 2020 to June 2020, when the focus shifted to Black Lives Matter protests. (I couldn't tell where most of the pictures were taken: many of the early pictures were taken in single-family-house residential neighborhoods, but the Black Lives Matter protests were clearly taken in an urban center that I didn't recognize.) This was the first time I'd seen the pandemic addressed directly in a museum, and it was just long enough that I could see the beginning of the pandemic in the context of what would come next, but not so long ago that I could still remember everything.

The next gallery held a temporary exhibit about Japanese internment in Canada during the Second World War; Canada did just as badly with basic human rights of civilians living within its borders in wartime as the US did. The last open gallery was natural history, which talked about the changing climate in British Columbia over the last ice ages and into the uncertain future of anthropogenic climate change. There were some dioramas including a coastal scene with a large local elephant seal hauled out on a beach. The end of the gallery showed the progression of silt in the Fraiser River Delta, where the land where the city of Vancouver now sits was carried down river and deposited on the delta over millennia after the last ice age.

We left the museum and walked to Craigdarroch Castle, another tourist site that I visited three years ago that I thought Kiesa would appreciate. The house was a mansion built at the end of the nineteenth century by a coal baron. He died before he had a chance to live in the house, and the house remained in his family until his widow died and none of the surviving children wanted the house. (One of the sons moved to California and built the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, which I now need to go see.) Much of the house is restored to its Victorian grandeur, but some of the rooms are maintained to show the other uses the building was applied to.

View of Victoria skyline from Craigdarroch Castle
View of Victoria skyline from Craigdarroch Castle

It was a warm day in Victoria (though still much more pleasant than the mid-nineties I had experienced in Seattle the day before), and inside the mansion it was stifling. Having visited the whole house a couple of years ago, I spent more time looking at the architectural flourishes and wondering about the process of repurposing a mansion like this to be used as a military hospital, then a college, then a school board; and finally attempting to restore it to its original glory.

On our way back I saw a Land Rover Defender parked on the street, with the license plate "DFNDR". This is the model of Land Rover that I built in Lego last year, and every time I see a real Defender I want to twist the spare tire mounted to the trunk in order to open the tail gate, a feature of my Lego model that is not actually represented in the real vehicle.

Land Rover Defender
Land Rover Defender

We stopped for a snack at a little coffee shop on our way back (I got an iced coffee) and we dropped by Munro's Books, a sizable bookstore in downtown Victoria. I tried to resist buying too many books on the theory that I was flying back home, but Kiesa decided that, because she was driving, she had unlimited space for books and could buy as many books as she could carry.

In the evening we watched The Money Pit, a terrifying 1980s comedy depicting a young Tom Hanks as part of a couple who buys a distressed house and then has to figure out how to renovate it. As a home owner I found it at least as scary as it was funny.