Just a thought… Life is like a teacup – to be filled to the brim and enjoyed with friends. [Author Unknown]
Well, here we are at Thursday. I know this week’s journals have been a bit on the heavy side with the emotions that accompanied Lauren’s bench installation and then yesterday’s letter from Barbara about her friend’s medically assisted death. I was astounded to see that every email, Facebook post and Tweet was in support of MAID.
Many expected they’d face argument in their support and prefaced their responses with “this is just my opinion, but….” However, that wasn’t necessary. One person tweeted that it wasn’t for them – and that’s fine too! I am aware that many hold objections to the option – as is their right – but as I said, I’m just grateful that we’re becoming more open to the idea and the practice.
I wanted to lighten things up today. So, here we go. Shall we go for tea?
There have been a few very special days in our lives when I have been invited to take part in high tea. (What makes it high, is the stack of three plates). Few are more highly rated – at least, on this side of the pond – than that at the Fairmont Empress in downtown Victoria.
When our guest from Toronto, Matthew Stevenson, a friend of Rob’s from hockey days, insisted that we go – his treat – who were we to say no? Previous teas had included taking a tween-aged Lauren to one at the Royal York to celebrate the onset of her “womanhood” if you will; another was with my cousin and aunt around Mother’s Day this year at a sweet little tea room in the picturesque Oak Bay area of Victoria. But the Empress? We’d not had the pleasure.
I tried to get an online reservation through Open Table and it was a no go. The place was fully booked on a Tuesday afternoon! We later learned that there were a few large groups, including one from a tour that was in Victoria (possibly from a cruise ship) and another…well, you’ll see them shortly.
We waited patiently while hostess Raj tried to squeeze our trio in. Returning 15 minutes later, she’d managed to find us a spot and we were not disappointed.
The setting for this beautiful ritual was spectacular. Recently given a facelift, this grand old hotel lobby is the perfect setting for a tradition that has been carried on for nearly a century.
Our lovely server Andrew couldn’t have been more gracious, despite the fact that one guest in our party had on a sweater/sweatshirt (he’d travelled light to take part in a Vancouver to Whistler bicycle marathon) and we all wore jeans. As you can see, some guests get really dolled up for the occasion; I found out later when they obliged me with a photograph that this is an annual gathering for them. How lovely!
After being escorted to our table, we were presented with a wooden chest holding small enclosed samples of different tea leaves. Rob chose green, I chose a fruity organic (Matthew only drank hot water) and we combined our flavours with each poured cup. Tea was kept warm on ceramic stands heated by (appropriately) a tea light and as a pianist played nearby, we tucked into our treats.
Beautiful fluffy raisin scones with clotted cream and preserves were served on the lowest level; I didn’t get a picture before we devoured those! Then it was on to sandwiches, local shrimp and beautiful BC smoked salmon. And then, to top it off (quite literally), we enjoyed different tiny desserts.
The best part of the experience, besides the perfectly steeped and warmed tea, the array of guests and travellers around us and the outstanding views of Victoria Harbour, was the conversation we had with Matthew.
A hockey buddy of Rob’s, Matthew is also a former funeral director. We were able to ask questions that we’d always had and learned a bit about a calling that is so difficult that it often takes a big toll on the lives of those who answer. Marriage troubles, burn out and substance abuse often come with the demands of long and unpredictable hours, immense stress and the pain of being around people who are their absolute lowest. And, no, he never once watched one of our favourite tv shows, Six Feet Under. He said it would be like us watching WKRP – although we did! But I totally get where he was coming from.
So, after a leisurely time during which we were never rushed to move on or make way for another party, we found ourselves at the moment when the bill arrived.
Here’s a riddle: how is the way tea is prepared the same as the price for High Tea at the Empress? They’re both steep! Raj was sure to mention no fewer than three times that the price for tea (including goodies of course) was $77. PER PERSON. Still, it was something Matthew really wanted us to experience, as he’d been here with his aunt as a teen.
Of course, the place had changed, but the attention to detail, the service and, in many cases, the furniture had not. It was a completely memorable and enjoyable afternoon. No wonder it’s “part of the tour” when people visit Victoria on cruise ships. Sometimes combined with a visit to the world-famous Butchart Gardens, it’s a day fit for a queen! And even the likes of us.
Have a great day and thanks for sitting down for a cuppa with us. Back with you here tomorrow.