A trip full of (mostly) pleasant surprises

Picture it, the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, an hour before tea. My daughter and I are sitting on the front lawn admiring the pretty flowers. Then she coughs and throws up all over me.

Thankfully, my new coat took most of the action.

I knew what we looked like, the awful Americans with the coughing 3-year-old. But my daughter only appeared to be a walking germ-factory. Really, she just had asthma. Two minutes later she was feeling all better and begging to go in a pedicab.

Luckily, Canadians were surprisingly tolerant of my family’s eccentricities. That’s part of the reason Victoria made such a great impression on my kids. (That, and the fact that we listen to Ocean 98.5 all the time in the car at home.)

When I was planning our trip to Victoria on the Clipper, I intended to skip the high tea experience.

“It’s really expensive,” I told my kids. “Plus you need super nice manners and have to dress up.”

My son really surprised me.

“I can have nice manners,” he said, “and I’ll wear my button-down shirt and new shoes.”

Since he was already planning his outfit, I knew he was serious. He didn’t disappoint, either. Both of my kids gave 100 percent of their best behavior at tea time. That meant that for the rest of the weekend, they were operating on limited funds. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try.

When we were driving to Butchart Gardens, my son hung on every word the bus driver said. The story of Jennie Butchart and her flowers fascinated him. My son even used his own money to give the gentleman a tip.

He also started ordering tea at restaurants. He noticed that there were “washrooms” instead of “restrooms” and that Canadian fire hydrants were red instead of yellow. A big highlight for him was spotting a Manitoba license plate.

My daughter’s favorite things were simpler. She bought “a beautiful dress from Canada” at Hudson’s Bay. The breakfast server at Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites let her feed the aquarium fish. She loved seeing the ducks at Beacon Hill Park.

Someday I’d like to go back to Victoria when my kids are teenagers. It’s going to be an entirely different experience. Maybe they’ll appreciate the Royal BC Museum more. Maybe they’ll want to discover who artist Emily Carr was. Maybe they will care about totem poles.

But on this trip, my son let me hold his hand. My daughter rode on Daddy’s shoulders. We stopped to look at black squirrels. We spotted a seal swimming in the Inner Harbour.

My favorite part of this trip was that Victoria was the most gentle introduction to international travel that a family could ask for. Now I’ve got my eye on Vancouver …

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.blog.com.

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