Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CindyMom and a Little Bit of History

Our first visitor from the States was Cindy, Heather's mom, who visited us last month (yes, we're finally catching up on our August adventures!). She had visited Victoria (really, mostly Butchart Gardens) once before as part of a family Alaskan cruise many years ago, but we got a chance to show off the city and generally spend time with her, which we always enjoy.

She came in via the Clipper from Seattle, which we've mentioned before but again recommend as a great way to get to Victoria (if you're not coming via Vancouver). The experience of the high-speed catamaran is uncannily similar to that of taking a train, and a very easy three-hour run for around $135 round-trip. Having lived much of her life in Florida, I think she was a bit uneasy when we booked her a hotel room with no air conditioning (not many of the hotels here have it, a revelation to people from down south!), but when evening temperatures dropped to the low 60s (F), the addition of a room fan was all that was needed to make her comfortable.

The weather was just wonderful the entire time Cindy was here, with highs hanging around 80°F (27°C) and lows dipping down into the high fifties. We toured around our local area, but also went around to Cordova Bay, to Sydney By The Sea, visited our friend Diane in Gordon Head and up the Trans-Canada to Langford for a Costco run. Our photo gallery will be is now available for your vicarious reminiscing pleasure!

Still, I think mom's favourite moment of the trip occurred when she noticed that the A&W restaurants up here have retained the (now "retro") look and style of the era when she grew up. We were happy to schedule a lunch there so she could enjoy a "Teen Burger" once again. The US A&W restaurants are all very different now to their Canadian counterparts; the US stores seem to have more of an emphasis on hot dogs to go with the root beer (a strange tangent of the all-American notion of "hots dogs and beer," one supposes), and recently there was one near our Orlando home in Longwood that had adopted a "State Fair" theme with a distinctly North-Midwest style (yummy Cheese Curds, chicken strips, onion rings in retro boxes) that shared space with a Long John Silvers). They're nothing like the A&Ws up here, though each is nice in its own way, and of course there's nothing quite like the one thing they share; delicious, frosty cold, fresh root beer soda.

Another highlight of the trip was our chance to show her the oldest surviving synagogue in all of Canada, which happens to be in downtown Victoria (Temple Emanu-el). It was built in 1863 and has been in use every since, including some recent expansion and several "makeovers" over the years. On a well-known 1878 map of Victoria, the temple is right alongside the various other houses of worship in prominence, especially noteworthy both because of the very few institutions established at that time (Victoria's big building boom hit in the 1880-1920 period) and because Canada's Jewish population is neither as large nor as visible as it is in the US (1% of the general population versus the US' 2%).

The main temple was a real sight to behold and we are indebted to the employees for allowing us "tourists" to wander around even though they aren't really set up for visitors. Both as a historical site and as a Conservative synagogue, Temple Emanu-el is impressive. Cindy is the Judaic scholar in our family, and told us that the upper level of seats was traditionally reserved for the female members, who were segregated from the men during services. That's not still the case, of course, but it reminded me a lot of the southern courtroom in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. We hope, as time goes on, to show you more of the many historical buildings in Victoria, but this one isn't part of the usual "tourist parade" so we're glad to have made it one of our first.

We finished off our visit together by taking mom out to one of the many fancy restaurants in town, Milestones on the Inner Harbour. It was a short walk from our house and allowed Cindy to get a further taste of the centre of Victoria's tourism industry (as well as a little souvenir shopping done) before our fabulous meal. Yeah, it's touristy, but what can we say, we're from Orlando, we love that kind of stuff. :)