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The Elegant Empress

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Welcome, Dear Friends!

I am thankful you are here on this wintry day and I hope that your week went well.  Isn’t it hard to believe that February is here! What a hectic month January was.  I am relieved to finally be able to make time to cocoon a little with some of my most favourite magazines.

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Isn’t “Victoria” absolutely stunning? It is an all-time favourite  of mine published by Hoffman Media.  I have every issue since it was first published in the eighties and am thrilled to my toes that a humble little story of mine will be featured in the Chimes section of their March/April issue!!! Can you believe that?!!!  It is beyond a dream come true for me!!! Thank you, “Victoria!” I can’t wait…

I just read Tea Time Magazine , another favourite and also published by Hoffman Media.  Tea Time will be hosting “An Occasion for Tea” at The Empress in Victoria, B.C. next weekend!  Don’t you wish you could join in the fun!

While the kettle is on, would you like to join me in a little armchair travel?  For those of you who follow my blog, you might recall I mentioned in an earlier post (Majestic Hatley Park) that my husband and I had travelled across the country from Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast to beautiful Vancouver Island, British Columbia on the west coast a couple of years ago where  I attended a work conference at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel. For years, I had been reading about Afternoon Tea at The Empress and was excited to finally have the opportunity to experience it for myself!

Located in downtown Victoria, “The Empress”, as she is affectionately called, overlooks picturesque Victoria Inner Harbour.  The Empress is the best known landmark in the capital city and has hosted kings and queens, dignitaries and famous persons.  The likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Katherine Hepburn, Shirley Temple, Barbara Streisand, to name a few, have all stayed at ‘The Elegant Empress’.

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Just steps outside the hotel lobby you’ll find whale watching, gardens, castles and sight-seeing tours, shops, boutiques and restaurants, the Royal  BC Museum, provincial legislative buildings and National Geographic IMAX Theatre.  Within a short walk, you’ll discover Chinatown and Antique Row. The BC Ferries terminal is a 45-minute drive from downtown and a 35-minute ferry ride will take you to glorious Salt Spring Island. Go there on a Saturday for the artisan markets.

IMG_3189On the afternoon of our arrival in Victoria, there were crowds of people milling about under huge white tents on the hotel’s front lawn.  We were zealously informed by our cab driver that it was rumoured that composer/star-maker David Foster was hosting a benefit dinner at $10,000 a place. Pittance!  Lol

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PHOTO:  Looking  from the harbour side toward The Empress, there are vendor tables, ferry tours, foods for every taste, buskers, recreational activities – it’s all here, mere steps from the hotel in downtown Victoria.

After a 14-hour plane-haul from the opposite side of the country to finally arrive at our destination, I felt terribly dishevelled.  As we walked into the hotel lobby with our luggage in tow, we were met by a sea of women in the most glamourous ball gowns and eye-catching jewels that I had ever seen! Dolls in diamonds, curls and heels.  Suffering from lack of sleep,  jet lag and feeling a little dizzy from dehydration, for one fleeting moment I thought that they could have been mermaids straight from the harbour outside!  A mirage of sheer glamour. In the following hours and days during our stay, we heard the names of many stars who were reportedly staying at the hotel.  A few of my colleagues who were also attending the conference at the hotel, caught glimpses of famous stars here and there (I could tell a story or two).  But the biggest star in my mind was ‘The Elegant Empress’ herself! She Em-pressed me most. 🙂

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Photo:  Victoria Inner Harbour is just steps across the street from The Empress.

DID YOU KNOW?  The ceremony of Afternoon Tea at The Empress is over a century-old tradition and her Tea lobby is world famous.  Reportedly, in summer at the height of the tourist season, The Empress serves Afternoon Tea to more guests than most hotels in London, England! Can you imagine! That is Em-pressive, don’t you think! 🙂

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DID YOU KNOW?  The Empress had been owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway long before it was sold to Fairmont.  Back in ‘the day’, CPR was building hotels for customers who travelled its railway and ships. Through the years, during and following two world wars, there were business booms and slumps.  In the mid-1960’s, The Empress was being considered for demolition. After much public outcry, the decision was made not to tear down the deteriorating old hotel but to give it a cosmetic facelift. Later in 1989, it was “done right” and the iconic building was restored in a major way to its original splendour. Thankfully, for The Empress = Victoria as surely as Big Ben = London, the Eiffel Tower = Paris, or the Statue of Liberty = New York City. The big refurbishment was dubbed “Operation Teacup!”  Let’s go into the Tea Lobby and see how ‘they’ did, shall we?

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Royalty and ordinary folk alike have enjoyed the time-honoured tradition of Afternoon Tea in the famous Tea Lobby. Art and architecture.  Deep and comfy chairs and luxe upholstery fabrics.  Fancy-carved tables and vintage tea carts. Antique tapestries and patterned wool rugs. Breathtaking views, exquisite tea and silver tea sets.  Live piano music. Good company and lively conversation… All combine to create a memorable tea experience one soon won’t forget.

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IMG_2689On the tea menu are signature Empress scones, pastries, sweets and savouries expertly and freshly prepared in-house each day.  I wish I had gotten a photo of the carts and delectable desserts piled high on hundreds of multi-tiered trays but I was sheepish about snapping pictures of the food… Lol

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“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the ceremony known as afternoon tea”
― Henry James

IMG_2688PHOTO:  Waiting for tea to be served in a silver service and regal blue-and-red-and-gold William Edwards fine china…  William Edwards has been commissioned to create patterns for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and The Royal Household.  If it’s good enough for the Royals, then it’s good enough for moi!  Click here for an extensive Afternoon Tea Menu

DID YOU KNOW? The Empress has her own delicious blend of tea, touted as one of the world’s finest and I surely believe it! What an absolutely gorgeous, tasty, subtle cuppa!  After having umpteen delicious cups, I had to ask one of our servers what that blend was!  I was thrilled to learn that it was specially created for Afternoon Tea at The Empress and that it could be purchased at the hotel’s gift shop, where following Tea, I went straight away!  In the hotel’s signature Tea Shoppe, I loaded up on the pretty canisters of tea along with some teaware stamped with ‘The Empress’ to tuck into my suitcase for the trip home and so I could ‘relive’ the experience whenever I wanted .

Here are the blend ingredients as written on the tea canister:  Top seasonal quality tea from Kenya, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China.  Here’s what it looks like in the cup. YUM!  No cream or sugar needed…

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The bottom of the canister reads:  “Since its opening on January 20, 1908, The Empress has respected one of Victoria’s greatest traditions by serving Afternoon Tea in the magnificent lobby of the hotel. Sitting under a portrait of Queen Mary in front of the Tea Lobby’s two fireplaces, one can view Victoria’s Inner Harbour where the “Thermopylae”, fastest of all the Tea Clipper Ships, once anchored.”

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I am down to my last canister (apart from one that I am saving for a dear friend). Sigh. I am excited to know, though, that it can be ordered from the hotel shop or at http://www.fairmontstore.com.IMG_2493

PHOTO:  During  ‘Operation Teacup’, the Tiffany-style stained glass ceiling of the Palm Court was uncovered behind wood.  The beauty of the roof was thankfully restored and guests now can enjoy its sparkling light on the marble foyer at weddings and special functions.

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PHOTO:  Victoria’s Parliament buildings look beautiful at night from Fisherman’s Wharf. Their silhouette outlined in white lights creates a magical effect as the evening ‘blue hour’ approaches…

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PHOTO:  Captain James Cook (1728-1779) stands forever bronzed in confidence along Government Street as he looks upon The Empress with his back to Victoria Inner Harbour.

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The inscription at the base of the statue reads:

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the Western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as Master of the Resolution and Midshipman George Vancouver.”

The Empress is synonymous with Victoria.  Many say “she” is the city’s heartbeat and speculate that The Empress is what brings people to the Island.  One thing is for certain, residents have an emotional attachment to The Empress.  For many, she holds special memories of their most celebrated occasions in life. Vancouver Island with its resplendent beauty and relaxed pace, yet vibrant energy, is an ideal place to escape. We loved it!

The photos below were taken of some of the “Bling” displayed in the windows of the gift shops at The Empress.

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The well-kept grounds of The Elegant Empress are captured below:

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To complement its special tea blend, The Empress serves its own blend of wildflower honey harvested from the Chef’s own apiaries on the grounds.

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Jewel-tone irises abound in well-maintained flower beds. These photos can’t do them justice.

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Azaelas and rhododendrum trees abound.

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The Empress’ resident marmot likes to hang about on the grounds and entertain visitors!

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EMPRESS TEA TRIVIA:
– Cream actually masks the flavor of tea, so milk is used instead.
– Amber Sugar crystals are also used, as they help to enhance the flavour of the tea, since it is an unprocessed form of sugar.
– All teas are loose, as the loose teas are the most flavorful.

It was fun ‘digging out’ these old photos and reminiscing…I hope you enjoyed your visit! Before you go, I’ll pour you up another tea in one of my prized cups – this one was given to me by my cousin Eva. It was shipped all the way from Virgina Beach in the United States to Newfoundland, Canada!  It is a souvenir cup of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Thank you, Eva!

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My friend Eric gifted me the glorious white china teapot with creamer and sugar bowl and half a dozen matching teacups!  I just adore it.  It sits on my kitchen counter and I use it every chance I get! My friend Maria created these beautiful and delicious snowflake cookies, perfect for snowy days! Thank you all! 🙂

Wishing you a beautiful new week ahead,

Linda

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I am happy to be joining the party at Inspirational Monday, Make it Pretty Monday, Tea Time at Rose Chintz CottageTea Time Tuesday and Friends Sharing Tea, Teacup TuesdayThe ScoopInspire Me Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, What We Accomplished Wednesday, WoW Us WednesdayWholehearted Wednesday, What’s It Wednesday, Blissful Whites Wednesday, Cottage Style Party, Time Travel Thursday, Thursday Favourite ThingsHome and Garden Thursday, Share Your Cup ThursdayThe Homemaking PartySimple and Sweet Fridays, Fridays UnfoldedShow and Tell FridayFeathered Nest Friday, Anything Blue Friday,  The Charm of HomeFabulously Creative Friday, Frugal FridayShabbylicious Friday, Be Inspired, Tickled PinkWhat To Do WeekendsPink Saturday, Bouquet of TalentShow Off Saturday, One More Time SundaySeasonal Sundays and Oh The Places I’ve Been.

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