Sunday 1 September 2013

Victoriously Among Those Present (Eventually) in Victoria, Canada

We're now in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.

It was well worth making the journey to the city at the bottom of Vancouver Island, as it's a picturesque place with good food and a nice balance between small town friendliness and big city attractions.

However, getting here wasn't without its challenges. On Thursday we left the Great Bear Lodge in BC's northern wilderness, travelling by seaplane low over mountains, trees and waterways to the town of Port Hardy.

There we were to board a small plane to Vancouver's South Terminal, with a quick change to an even smaller plane to Victoria.

Flight manoeuvres

When organising this trip I suspected the seaplane might be a spanner in the works, but in fact the flight from Port Hardy was the one with issues. Running some 45 minutes late and having to deal with turbulence, it seemed it would be delayed just enough for us to miss the final flight of the day to Victoria.

Luckily Pacific Coastal delayed the Victoria flight, and when we touched down at Vancouver the airline's staff were ready to whisk us onto the waiting plane.

However, we hadn't yet been through security (not a requirement at Port Hardy) so there was a certain sense of chaos added to the urgency.

Stepping off the first plane, we had to wait a minute for the crew to retrieve our backpacks from the 'valet' hold, where they'd been placed just before boarding due to the lack of cabin luggage space.

Security and insecurity

Then we scooted into the terminal, and zipped down to the gate at the other end to go through security.

This was tricky. Not only did the usual array of metal items need to be divested at speed, but my lace-up boots had to come off as well as they contain enough metal to bother the detector.

Also, as I lifted my arms up at one point the security guy noticed my belt, and asked for that to come off too (I never usually remove it, and it never usually sets the detector off). So off it came too, all while the Victoria plane was waiting outside.

Once all the gear was scanned, I hastily and poorly tied my bootlaces, and shoved the belt inside my backpack rather than take the time to put it on. Then we dashed through the door, headed out to the plane and dropped our packs again on this new craft's valet cart.

To infinity and beyond

We clambered aboard, into what appeared to be more a model airplane with an engine than a real live plane. It was tiny - just 21 seats, one to each side of the minuscule aisle beneath the very low curved roof (I had to scurry bent over to board). What with the shiny white cylindrical interior, I felt as if I was in the first manned rocket to Mars.

Then, 25 minutes later, we landed at Victoria Airport. Upon which we grabbed our bags from the valet cart, found the airport bus and hopped aboard. Shortly, seated within its pitch-dark interior, Vancouver Island nightlife flashing past the windows, we were barrelling toward the city. And laughing, as you might imagine, slightly hysterically.

When we stepped out of the bus in front of the majestic 1908 Fairmont Empress Hotel in the historic heart of Victoria, laces askew and beltless, I recognised at once that were unwittingly part of a PG Wodehouse scene. I imagine the master humorist would've written it like this:

Backpacks in the Offing
(with apologies to PG Wodehouse)

The doorman at the Fairmont Empress Hotel was feeling pleased with himself this evening. Not only had he won a little wager over the visiting Governor General's preference in tie colour with the boy who cleaned the boots, an upstart lad who needed to be taught to respect his elders and betters, but the weather was distinctly like that which mother makes.

Pink sunset, one, balmy breeze, one, and cloudless starry sky, one, he thought, having found it hard to shake the ordered thinking habits of his stint in the army. On top of which, he'd had a delightful chat with the Crown Prince of Japan about which racehorses to back.

The doorman, though of humble origin, found no difficulty in conversing with those he regarded as "The Quality". Having been a doorman for decades at the Empress, he had developed an easy manner with which he could charm the richest and most famous.

Also, his uniform contained enough in the way of coloured braid, extravagant epaulettes and cap peaks to make even a sultan or maharajah feel underdressed and not a little sheepish in his presence.

As the airport bus pulled to the kerb, the doorman drew himself up to his full height and prepared to welcome new guests. More members of the aristocracy, he conjectured, or perhaps a president or high-born native chief. No matter, he was prepared for all comers.

Then a man and a woman stepped out, and the doorman froze. There was something not quite right about this couple.

His keen eye for correct dress perceived that both of them had bootlaces badly tied, and the male half of the sketch was holding the top of his jeans as if they needed support. Moreover, their luggage consisted merely of two backpacks. It was hard to suppress a shudder at the sight of them.

He was about to direct them to a suitable boarding house in a less particular part of town, when the man spoke. "Is this the Empress?" he asked. "We have a reservation."

The doorman was struck dumb. The newcomers seemed to shake like aspens as he reeled back, dazed.

Then, reason returning to its throne, he suddenly perceived the truth. This duo must be an example of the eccentric celebrities he'd read so much about in the hoard of colourful popular magazines he kept secreted in his little booth within the hotel. Appearing "of the people", but tycoons in secret, seeking whom they might reward with riches.

He could play along with this game, and with any luck secure a sizeable tip for his carefully indicated discretion. "Welcome to the Empress," he said, bowing low.

This doorman, stout fellow though he was, would soon have his illusions soundly shattered. But not yet. He flung wide the hotel doors, and the bedraggled couple entered.

Or at least, that's how it felt at the time.*

*[Doorman added for dramatic effect]

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Victoria.

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