I admit to being an Anglophile. I adore things English: The Queen. Ascot. Flowers, always flowers. Wimbledon. Westminster. Dark beer. Pubs. Yorkshire pudding. Roast beef. Harrods. Steak and kidney pie. Terrible weather. Stiff upper lips.
But loving England and visiting her are two different things, luv. Unfortunately for those of us who love her, Mother England had the check to locate herself a long, long way from the United States. And she can be expensive.
But worry not, fellow Anglophiles, you can get to England without selling the family silver. Well, you can at least get to the most English city in the world outside London.
Nestled behind a tweed curtain on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, just a few miles from the United States, is Victoria (named after the good queen, of course), the capital of British Columbia. Although she was wild as a youngster when she was established by the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1843, and rowdy a score of years later when fortune-seekers stopped in town on their way to pan for gold in the Fraser River, she is a genteel city, today, a city as English as plum pudding.
Just cast an eye on the shops of Yates and Government streets: Lees English Toffee Shop ("established 1892"); Old Morris Tobacconist, Ltd. ("smokers' requisites since 1892"); Rogers Chocolates ("note the flavour . . . it's different"); the English Sweet Shop; Truffles; Murchie's Old-Fashioned Tea and Coffee; Sydney Reynolds Fine Bone China; the Edinburgh Shop -- and so it goes in Victoria.
Or visit Bastion Square downtown and see the renovated criminal courthouses, a supply center for miners, a maritime museum and row upon row of mid-19th century architecture.
Or drive to the suburbs, to Oak Bay. If this isn't England, neither is Windsor. Women in tweeds with Welsh corgies at their heels; men in blazers and old-school ties; houses of Tudor architecture, and the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, so English in look and style you would swear you were in the Cotswolds.
Or continue on to Butchart Gardens, with its 30 acres of some of the most exquiste landscaping this side of Buckingham Palace. The English love of flowers is evident everywhere in this city, from the yards of the tidy cottages to downtown, where hanging baskets of flowers adorn the street lamps.
Even the attractions are English: Chaucer Lane and Plymouth Tavern stand beside replicas of William Shakespeare's birthplace and his wife Ann Hathaway's thatched cottage (you'll think you're in Stratford); the Royal London Wax Museum features famous English characters; the posh, tudor-style Government House's gardens and hall are open to tourists, and any visitor who signs the guest book in the hall will receive an invitation to join the leiutenant governor and his wife for a tea party each July (do wear a hat, darling), and Craigdarroch Castle looks like it was torn from the rugged countryside of northern England.
And, yes, you can lunch on that most English of English food, fish and chips, at the London Fish & Chips, where you will sit in high wooden booths flanked by pictures of the queen and Sir Winston and enjoy, even if your meal isn't properly wrapped in the Daily Telegraph.
But perhaps the most English of all things English in this most English of all Canadian cities takes place shortly before sundown. If you happen to be strolling down Humboldt or Government streets, or looking at the Parliament buildings, you will hear the unmistakable strains of a bagpipe. Atop the Empress Hotel is a lone bagpiper, playing as the Canadian flag is lowered for the night. It is appropriate that this ceremony take place at the Empress, for more than anything else, she represents the English spirit of Victoria.
Surrounded by formal gardens, still offering high tea every afternoon, the Empress is the dowager queen of Victoria, the grande dame that Sir Alexander Gibb called "the pet hotel of the British Empire." She overlooks is too modest a word. She dominates the downtown area. Even Parliament, which shares the Inner Harbor with the Empress, is dwarfed by her presence.
Taking more than four years and $1.6 million to build, the Empress first opened her doors in 1908. Within two years the first new wing was added, and various cupolas, peaked gables and steeply pitched slate roofs have been placed on her in the decades following, forming a 416-room, five-story edifice that defies architectural typeing. Perhaps you could call her an elegant combination of French chateau and English manor house.
She manages to maintain her English bearing, even with busloads of tour groups and convention-goers shouting through her halls. After all, a hotel that has housed such figures as Edward, prince of Wales, the Pierpoint Morgans, Rudyard Kipling and the king and queen of Siam just maintain her dignity.
But such dignity costs money, and the Canadian Pacific Co., owners of the Empress, faced a financial crisis in the 1960s: The Empress was losing money, lots of it. Rumors of demolition were in the air. In June of 1965 CP acted. The decision was made to spend $4 million to give the old lady a major facelift. It was greeted in Victoria as the greatest news since Kitchener relieved Khartoum.
Called "Operation Teacup," the renovation raised the old lady's hemline a bit and freshened her makeup by providing modern service facilities, while retaining her traditional aura of a cultivated corner of England. Much like her French sister, Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac, the Empress has withstood the beauty treatment very nicely, thank you very much.
The architects were sensible to retain the right things -- the massive carved beams in the dining room, the open fireplaces in the lobby, the plasterwork of the ceiling in the Library Bar -- while adding modern conviences like showers, redecorating with .22,000 feet of new carpeting and refinishing the lovely furniture that was first placed in the hotel more than 70 years ago. They combine to make the Empress one of the world's truly great hotels.
And what better place for this hotel than Victoria, that tweedy, daffodilish, fly-fishing, teapot place in western Canada? There will always be in England, as long as Victoria and the Empress reign in British Columbia.