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Photography:
Laura Hunt

Special Edition of Romance & Money
Romance by the Sea

M.S Halleck
Photography: M.S Halleck
and courtesy of the Fairmont Hotel

 

Welcome to budgeting for romance, a special edition of Romance & Money. I got several questions from the guys who read my column regarding the cost of romantic getaways and how to plan them. So listen up; here’s a great idea for you the next time you want to plan a romantic getaway.

Seagulls in the harbor searched the early morning for food as we boarded the Victoria Clipper for the two hour ride from Seattle to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. As the capital of British Columbia, Victoria is situated at the tip of Vancouver Island and is renowned for beautiful gardens, calm weather through all four seasons, world class museums, quirky art, great restaurants, and British charm. If a trip to London is not in your budget, then this is the place to go.

Pulling into Victoria’s sparkling harbor filled me with excitement. There is no better place for a mini-European getaway than Victoria. With blossom-lined streets, side walk cafés, and cobblestone alleyways; Chinatown, water taxis, and horse drawn carriages, Victoria is a perfect setting for a truly romantic escape. Enchantment fills your heart from the moment you step off the boat.

Walking up to the ivy-covered Fairmont Empress Hotel and its promise of the luxuries of a bygone era, both my husband and I smiled, knowing we’d just entered the gates of our romantic getaway in what felt like a far away land. The historic Empress was built in 1908, and recently has been beautifully restored to its original turn-of-the-century elegance.
From the moment we entered the palm-lined lobby where guests from around the globe gathered, we were embraced by the luxurious furnishings and fine architecture. The Empress has been host to queens and kings, and we were made to feel as such ourselves.

Our room had a view of the harbor from two high-back emerald green chairs next to a plush ruby red couch. The fireplace near the four poster bed beckoned to our weary, romance seeking spirits. We would have been perfectly happy never to have left the comfort of our room, but our ‘Lovers Escape’ package included dinner in the Empress’s award-winning dining room. So by evening we left our nest of luxury.

We strolled across the street and along the harbor, which glistened with the soft white lights from the Parliament building. Jazz musicians played on the corner. Their dulcet tones filled the night air. We watched as the sun set, then arm-in-arm walked back to the hotel and into the famous Bengal Lounge for a glass of wine before dinner. We were swept up in the richness of the room as we sat under the Punka fans and in front of the huge fireplace. On the wall above us hung a tiger skin from a long-ago royal hunt in India. We relaxed into the soft brown leather chairs as our waiter, Wade, delivered our cocktails. Wine didn’t seem like the thing to order in a room where gentlemen had smoked cigars and sipped from snifters of brandy. So brandy it would be for us as well. Thankfully, my husband did not have a cigar. The mahogany lined room with silk murals depicting Utopian scenes of India warmed us as we sipped our brandies. Wade made us feel as if we were visiting dignitaries. He shared the history of each precious artifact in the room and then graciously disappeared until we needed him again. He seemed to have a sixth sense about our needs, and his service was impeccable.

Then came the time when we had to leave our Bengal Lounge for the dinner that awaited us. The warmth of the fire and brandy awakened our romantic sensitivities as we snuggled close together and sauntered down the long Victorian hallway, through the lobby, and into the dining room.

 Once again we found ourselves surrounded by intricately designed wall and ceiling panels; the room was as grand as any I’d ever seen. A vintage wooden harp amidst the elegantly appointed tables served as the heart and focal point of the Empress Dining Room. We were seated right next to it where the resident harpist, Elizabeth Ely, www.elizabethely.com has played for more than thirteen years.

 If her romantic music doesn’t make you want to hold hands under the table, I can’t help you. The soft candlelight, cozy satin-covered chairs, lushly upholstered walls, and rich red and gold tapestries continued to excite our senses.

By the time our waiter, Kevan, and his smiling assistant, Nadia, delivered the fourth course of our several course meal, we were overcome by the delicate taste experience of each morsel that world class chef, Rob Cleland, had prepared. We savored every enchanting moment of the evening, and capped the experience with the perfect glass of wine, chosen by our knowledgeable wine steward, Alexander. At the heart of true romance is the ability to make one another feel special; in a place like the Empress you have a world class staff to help you along.
After dinner we went back to the Bengal Lounge for a night-cap. We then toured the basement archives for a few moments to read of the timeless legacy of romance the Empress holds within its grounds.

Back in our room by ten o’clock, we were greeted by turned down beds, a tray of chocolate covered strawberries, and a special surprise: a satin bag with a bottle of ‘Silk Road’ organic passion bath salts, massage oil, and a wooden massage tool with rollers. A note was attached: "Warning! This love kit may cause romance to blossom. Use at your own risk."

Our room was such a small haven that we couldn’t bear to leave. Our ‘Lover’s Escape’ package was for one night, but we extended to two.

The next day we walked the city streets and enjoyed all the old world charm and entertainment for which Victoria is famous. The hotel concierge gave us a map so we journeyed from Old Town and Market Square through Fan Tan Alley and all of Chinatown. We then settled into Bastion Square for afternoon lattes under the blue sky as we took in the crisp early October breeze. Around us the cobblestone square bustled with lively entertainment and savvy globe trotters enjoying espresso and sweets.

After our rest we continued to take in the city. Down Trounce Alley, amongst the fashion and art shops, we found The Tapa Bar. We decided to stop in for a bite. The walls of raspberry red were adorned with voluptuous paintings of beautiful women from Latin cultures. Candlelight broke the shadows, and soft sultry music wafted through the open room. Our waitress, Shelly, suggested the Tapa Platter for Two. She was right. That’s a meal for lovers to share. And then we indulged in the sensuous chocolate Lava Cake. The Tapa Bar is a sexy little treat in the middle of the city.

Since it was our last night in Victoria, and we’d indulged in the Lava Cake, we decided to walk the harbor path while the sun set. The peeling Madrona trees that haunt the other side of the city’s harbor are a sight to see. Everywhere we looked we saw either the grandeur of a historic city or the beauty of snow capped mountains, waterways, and walking paths. There truly is something for everyone in Victoria. We were sorry to see the day end.

Early the next morning outside our window Victoria’s harbor filled with the live music of the Blue Danube. We rose from our downy bed, wrapped ourselves in the velvety white hotel robes, and rolled our breakfast table to the window. Outside we saw what our room service waiter explained was the last dance of the season. Tiny water taxis lined up in the harbor and prepared for their final performance. Tourists lined up along the harbor wall, scones and hot coffee in hand. Artists displayed their crafts along the promenade. The orchestra’s music filled the city’s crisp morning air, and the sun warmed the pink petunias that had not yet succumbed to the chill of autumn. Surrounded by blue sky and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, and with their Canadian flags proudly flying, the tiny boats executed their synchronized movements.

Who knew water taxis could waltz? Like proud, miniature rainbow-colored soldiers they marched to the beat of the music. A sizable crowd gathered to enjoy the show. The taxis paraded on, circling one another in the water with the grace of the Bolshoi dancers. Nearly eclipsed by the Seattle Coho Ferry and the Victoria Clipper as they pulled into harbor, still the diminutive boats danced.

Sadly, we knew the ferry had come for us. It was our last day in Victoria, our romantic city by the sea. We nearly stood and saluted the little soldiers as they filed off to be put in their sheds for the winter. We knew we’d see them again. We vowed we’d be back for their preview in spring.
Our romantic getaway had been perfect. Victoria and her water taxis could not have given us a more sublime send off, nor a stronger desire to return.

But wait, there’s more! We were able to change our one o’clock ferry to the seven o’clock ferry. So, again we stayed. We took in the Egypt exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, and then the final crescendo; afternoon tea at the Empress. Don’t miss out on this treasured experience. The elegance of traditional afternoon tea has been lost in American culture, but I’d sure like to see it come back.

Even my husband enjoyed the service of tiny sandwiches and delicate pastries, like their famous mouth watering Chocolate Hazelnut Raspberry cake. Yum! This is a full meal, with lots of wonderful tea, so go hungry, relax, and enjoy. The Tea Room has twelve gorgeous chandeliers, hard wood floors, and Victorian furniture that made the antique lover in me swoon. Portraits of King George V and Queen Mary hang among other period pieces. Live piano music entertains patrons as they luxuriate in this tradition. Every seat in the tea room has a full view of the harbor. Make reservations because it is very popular. People stand in long lines to get into the tea room. It’s worth it. Everything in Victoria is worth it.

There still is more: Budgeting for Romance

 




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