Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Downtown Style

Guest blogger Kate Ferguson takes a stroll through her adopted hometown of Victoria BC, Canada.

There is no denying it…Victoria BC is a summer tourist town. With easy access to the southern tip of Vancouver Island, day-trippers and weekenders from nearby Washington and the Lower Mainland come in droves for the “Ye Olde English” charm, or I guess I should say, how North Americans envision England. The streets are filled with hanging flower baskets, horse drawn carriages- complete with drivers in spats and top hat, and even the occasional red phone box. Even the local rock station has the “Tea Time” picks. There is no getting away from it…..or is there? There is another Victoria that doesn’t get as much publicity; it is slightly off kilter and a little too odd for the tourists. This is my Victoria.

Having exhausted the four block radius of guidebook-approved sights to see in hours, most visitors are at a loss of how to fill their time. By all means, see some of the sights: the Royal BC Museum is fantastic and totally worth the time it takes to walk through the huge, three floor building. To me, this is the only entry in the guidebooks that you really can’t afford to miss. 

When you are finished with the museum, it is probably best to avoid the touristy stores on lower Government Street, unless you want to buy horrifically stereotypical Canadian souvenirs and like being accosted by people begging for spare change. Instead head up to Lower Johnson Street and Market Square, this is where the other Victoria starts. Multi-coloured buildings line the streets, with locally owned shops specializing in surprisingly un-hippyish hemp clothes, hand made soaps, and interesting gift shops. My favourite store on LoJo is Baggins Shoes, home to all things Chuck Taylor. The knowledgeable staff can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about Converse sneakers and more. 

The next block over is Pandora Ave. Once the street signs turn red, that’s Chinatown. This is another guidebook sight that is worth a look. Once the largest Chinatown in North America, it has now been reduced to a few streets filled with grocery stores and restaurants selling the most interesting looking fruits and vegetables I have ever seen. If after all this walking, you are feeling a little thirsty, stop into The Bubble Tea Place on Fisgard Street, they offer a plethora of flavours. I recommend Chinatown Cherry Blossom or the Summer Soother. Or if you are looking for something more to eat, try the Solstice CafĂ© on Pandora.

Next time from Kate: The Neighbourhoods of Victoria. The further you get from the centre of downtown, the more you get the feel for the real Vic.

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