After rendezvousing in late July with a dear friend in Washington state, we boarded the ferry in Port Angeles for three days in Victoria, British Columbia. We were buoyed by the splendid Canadian summer weather and reveled in our all-day flower tour at the celebrated Butchart Gardens as well as a top-flight whale watching cruise. Added highlights included watching lively street performances at a buskers festival, a parade of classic Ford cars and a comprehensive look at the art and many languages of Canada's First Nations at the Royal BC Museum (675 Belleville St., Victoria;  447-7977). The tab: $255 (U.S.) a night, excluding taxes and fees, at the upscale Hotel Grand Pacific; $450 for meals and drinks; $259 for tours and $36 for the ferry.
My travel companion appreciates the finer things in life, so she booked us into the elegant Hotel Grand Pacific (463 Belleville St., Victoria;  386-0450) with its superb Inner Harbour balcony-view rooms and afternoon tea. The float planes, ferries, water taxis (and occasional canoe) provided a nonstop show from our fifth-floor perch. The walkable waterfront and downtown are just steps away.
It's difficult to choose a favorite: Milestones (812 Wharf St., Victoria;  381-2244), where we sampled the mango tempura shrimp, a generous seafood pasta and a lovely Sauvignon Blanc, or the Steamship Grill & Bar (470 Belleville St., Victoria;  433-6736), where we started with delicious quinoa Dungeness crab cakes then tried the crisp golden beet carpaccio salad with a Pinot Grigio. Another good bet: the grilled cheese sandwich with brie, white cheddar and goat cheese on sourdough drizzled with sherry maple syrup at the Bard & Banker downtown (1022 Government St., Victoria;  953-9993).
Like other first-time visitors to Butchart Gardens (800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay, Canada;  652-4422), I was stopped short by that initial look at the lovely layered flower beds planted in an old quarry. It's tough to reconcile the barren limestone shown in the old photos with the luscious blooms here now. Exquisitely tended beds of flowers, plants, trees and shrubs border the many meandering paths. (A handy illustrated guide offers detailed information; for the curious, the Plant ID counter staff will explain the concept of "cloud pruning.") I was mesmerized by the lush green (and daytime watering!) all around. The next day I had my first view of orcas in the wild. Our speedy Prince of Whales whale-watching craft (812 Wharf St., Victoria;  383-4884) nosed out four species: a dozen humpbacks blowing and diving in the deep blue water, three orcas swimming and "spy hopping" near the San Juan Islands, a finback and a minke.
We hadn't known about locally famed painter, author and nature lover Emily Carr but reading her "Klee Wyck" series of vignettes about turn-of-the-century British Columbia and viewing her sketches of native villages complemented our understanding of the exquisitely carved totems on display at the Royal BC Museum. "It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw," Carr wrote. Yes indeed.