Articles by Mindy S. Halleck

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Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont EmpressWhen my husband and I learned that our friends Cristel and Steve had never been to Afternoon Tea, we knew what we had to do; we booked Afternoon Tea at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress during the Festival of Trees. We, (mostly my husband) also lacked Christmas spirit – Bah Hum Bug! – But I knew we could find some there.

So, last week we boarded the Victoria Clipper at 8:00 am on a frigid Seattle morning. We had coffee and bagels onboard, played cards and laughed all the way to Victoria. Once we arrived we took a walk around the Parliament Building which, in addition to its customary white lights, has festive red and green Christmas lights for the holidays. Though it was cold, it was a beautiful day. No rain and a glimpse or two of blue sky. White horse carriages with Christmas wreaths on the sides clip-clopped along the streets and the Victorian Street lamps were adorned with bells and holly. Read the rest of this entry »

James Bay Tea Room Victoria BC

James Bay Tea Room in Victoria, BC

In the spirit of this holiday season’s “Small Business Saturday” sponsored by American Express, if traveling to Victoria, BC, keep in mind there are numerous tea houses owned and operated by small business owners.

Though afternoon tea at Victoria’s Empress Hotel is one of my favorite things, I always make certain to support the smaller local tea houses of Victoria, BC as well. Sometimes in doing so, I find surprises like the James Bay Tea Room. Read the rest of this entry »

Pink Room at the Willow Stream Spa

Pink Room at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Empress

When we arrived in Victoria on Sunday, October 9th the sun-splashed city was buzzing with activity. As we circled the crimson-leaf-covered Fairmont Empress Hotel trying to park and check in, we were besieged by runners, walkers, wheelchair marathoners, and throngs of children, all converging on the busy downtown harbor for the annual Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

White peaked tents, and stages with radio and tv stations were set up in front of the parliament Building as thousands of runners made their way to the finish line. Over the loud speakers I heard the runner’s names and cities announced and was surprised to hear there were so many marathon participants from our own neighborhood Bothell, then Seattle, Kirkland, Redmond, Auburn, Everett and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria BC Ghost TourDid you know Victoria, BC is considered one of the most haunted cities in North America? Well, whether you believe in ghosts or not, taking a Ghost Tour around Victoria BC is a blast! There are several to choose from, but the Victoria Clipper has a Haunted Victoria Package deal that makes it effortless to visit the ghostly city.

I’m not too sure about ghosts, but I love history and these tours are walking history lessons – histories that apparently won’t stay in the past. Read the rest of this entry »

Seattle Walking Tour App As one of the contributing writers to the Victoria Clipper Blog, I’m so passionate about my two favorite northwest cities, Victoria and Seattle, that I’ve written an iTunes App to help you when you visit the Emerald City.  In my experience there’s no better way to explore a metropolis than on foot and with a local guide, because, let’s face it; getting lost can ruin a short trip. Now of course if you have all the time in the world getting lost can be the source of great discovery or you could end up in Australia’s Outback with scary kangaroos. Nobody wants that. Trust me! Been there. Not fun. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the things I love most about living in Seattle is being in such close proximity to two great harbors; Victoria Harbor and Seattle’s world class waterfront.

Spring in Victoria Harbor is alive with music, the clickity-clack of horse drawn carriages, blooming flower baskets hanging from the historic street lights, lush green lawns, and artistic street vendors lining the harbor steps.

Currently the celebration of artist Emily Carr – known as Canada’s greatest woman artist – is taking place at the Royal British Museum, and then of course you can visit her house on Government Street.

But before you go, check out the still living artist along the waterfront.

Take a moment to stop and talk with them. You’ll find unique gift items, local lore and vendors with fascinating lives. For example, Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) First Nations’ artist Mike Hill who established his jewelry-making skills while traveling in Venezuela. Mike now incorporates a contemporary approach to wire work, using rare fossils and semiprecious stones. Look for his cart along the harbor stairs and check out his site West Coast Wire for distinctive jewelry items.

You can find handmade traditional gloves and hats. I know its spring/summer, but these are great holiday gift ideas you won’t find anywhere else.

When you’re done walking the harbor head up the street to the Irish Times for lamb stew or down to the waterfront and any of the restaurants with views; watch the water taxis and float planes come and go. Like Seattle, when its sunny and blue in Victoria there’s no lovelier place to be.

And then there’s my home port Seattle Washington. Seattle has one of the most exceptional, awe-inspiring harbors in the world. Did you know Seattle is a top tourist destination? I didn’t either until recently when I was asked to write a travel app for iTunes.

The app is a walking guide with audio, available on iTunes, titled SEATTLE WATERFRONT TOUR . In it I explore the quintessential Seattle experiences that are a magnet for over a million tourists that flood into the cruise harbor each year. Seattle’s long stretch of harbor with shops, restaurants, vendors and even a skeleton or two has something for everybody.

Tour of Seattle

In the audio tour I also guide visitors up the famous harbor stairs to the Pike Place Market for coffee, warm donuts, flying fish and whatever strikes the fancy. So whether you have 30-60-90 minutes or a full day to luxuriate along Seattle’s man-made seaport or take a long walk along the natural beauty of Puget Sound’s waters, this guide covers it all.

Wear good walking shoes for this Seattle visit. The Seattle Waterfront Tour guide starts near the Victoria Clipper terminal and ends up back at the same place. So for a day trip from Victoria to Seattle it’s a great guide even if I do say so myself.

If you have a hip-hoppin’, jazz lovin’, violin playin’, songster or young musician in your family, spring is the time to take them to Victoria to experience a festival of their peers.

Victoria BC has the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival where young performers skillfully compete for the grand prize; the $5000.00 Roberto and Mary Wood Scholarship award available each year to an individual performer. It’s like American Idol but with a classical bent.

Now in its 84th year, the GVPAFA festival expects over 5000 talented recitalists on stages throughout the city over a seven week period from March 25 to May 14, 2011.

Go up for one day or several and pick and choose which programs to attend.

There are 20 venues – 14 sections:  brass, choral, classical guitar, composition, ethnic dance, fiddle, piano, school bands, school dance, speech and dramatic arts, strings and string orchestras, studio dance, vocal and woodwinds. Wheh! What a line up.

Victoria Music Festival Dance

Each section runs its adjudicated sessions throughout the day, one or more days in a row.  Visitors with a special interest in ethnic dance for instance, could sit in on the adjudicated performances on May 2, 3, or 4 and experience Ukrainian, Balkan or Indonesian dance.  Check the website schedule. Get their map of performance locations and walk the historic city streets.

All performers (age 15 +) are judged by professional musicians and dancers.

The adjudicators select performers to go on to the Honors concerts, (just like American Idol) of which there are 11, running once each from April 1 through May 14.

The big crescendo (which I plan on attending), the Roberto and Mary Wood Scholarship Concert will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2011, at 1:30 pm at the University of Victoria. A panel of three jurists will decide on the winner (just like Idol).

84 years ago, the founders, Roberto and May Wood threw their passion and support into teaching children about music. Roberto helped to revive the Victoria Festival after its dormancy during WWII.  Of Roberto Wood, his friend, Dr. H. D. Beach wrote, “He considered music to be the highest of all the arts, giving expression not only to ideas but to man’s emotions, his yearnings and his aspirations for universal meaning.”

I believe that’s true. Why else would programs like American Idol and all its spin offs have done so well; they speak to our collective longing and desire.

So if your young ones have musical aspirations, or simply enjoy a good recital this can be a special treat and real motivator. And don’t forget that if you’re traveling with children, the Fairmont Empress and other surrounding hotels offer mid winter to early spring savings.  So when you make your reservations, ask what savings are available.

Price for a seasons pass is $20. Individual show ‘at the door’ prices vary.

For a calendar of events visit Contact the GVPAFA: Web – –   Location: 210 – 932 Balmoral Road – Telephone: 250-386-9223

I pried the telephones out of my 15 year old grandson, Davis, and my 18 year old granddaughter, Dominique’s hands and told them, “We’re taking the Clipper to Victoria for tea.” You’d think I just announced the Internet had crashed.

I ushered them down the Victoria Clipper dock at pre-dawn. “Why?” They whined. “We’re going to have High Tea where the Queen had tea.” We sleepily ambled toward the vessel.

“Who cares?” Dominique snorted.

“We have a queen?” Davis looked bewildered.

“Get on the boat.”

I was excited to take them to the Empress Hotel for the world famous Afternoon Tea. But, by the time we boarded the 8:00 a.m. Clipper, I doubted whether or not my quintessentially American teenagers could appreciate the ceremony. But, by then we were near the San Juan Islands – no turning back – no tossing them overboard.

On the boat Davis purchased a deck of cards. We played Fish, ate, laughed and enjoyed the view for the 2 hour voyage. It was a rare opportunity for interactive, gadget-free time with them.

When we arrived in Victoria’s stunning inner Harbor we disembarked and headed out to explore one of my favorite cities. The air was crisp and the horse drawn carriages clip-clopped along the festive avenues. I showed them the Parliament building, China Town, and St. Anne’s Academy while we waited for our reservation.

“When do we eat?” Davis asked. “Soon.” Why can’t I have burger before this ‘tea’ thing?”  “No burgers.”


By the time we finished the fascinating Empress Tour given by Mandy Kray of Walk Abouts Historical Tours, we were ready for tea and tiny sandwiches.

High Tea at the Fairmont Empress

Our gracious Tea Hostess, Kristin overwhelmed the kids with her desire to make afternoon tea a grand experience. In direct response to her professionalism they donned their finest behavior.

Kristin skillfully explained what would transpire during the traditional service and brought us our selection from the tea menu, the Empress Blend. Dominique graciously poured Davis a cup without calling him stupid or making ‘that’ face. He courteously accepted, lifting the sugar prongs, offering her a sugar cube. Nobody’s eyes rolled, nobody snickered or made sarcastic remarks. Who were these people?

Kristin served our exquisite three-tiered plate of sandwiches and decadent desserts.

Davis quickly snatched a sandwich off each plate. “Davis,” Dominique whispered, “Start on the bottom plate like Kristin said, then work your way up.”

“I couldn’t,” he said, squirrel cheeks swollen with food. “It all looks too good.”

Dominique smiled. Kristin poured more tea. They politely thanked her. Yes! I kept thinking. These are the grandchildren of whom I dreamed.

Tea at the Fairmont Empress Victoria BC

One little girl sat at the mahogany table next to ours in her high back chair next to her brother. They were twins, about seven, he dressed in a suit and she a pink dress and tiara. (The Empress has tailored their famous Afternoon Tea to suit the tastes of even the tiniest globe-trotters.) The little girl batted her eye-lashes at Davis. He smiled. She giggled as if sprinkled by fairy dust.

“Kristin’s so genuine,” Dominique spoke softly, “so nice. She acts like she really wants us to have a nice time. It’s so sincere…it’s creepy.” She sat back and took another sandwich from the tray of lusciousness. “I mean creepy in a good way.”

Davis shoveled a delicate Smoked Salmon Pinwheel into his mouth and rolled his eyes. “What is that?”

“It’s lox,” I took one. “My favorite.”

“That’s sooo good.”

“I like the décor.” Dominique admired the beautiful burgundy and cream walls, tapestries and dark woods of the traditional Edwardian style room, as she settled back – a queen sipping her tea.

“I love the dishes.” I held up my cup. The Royal Doulton china is produced especially for the Empress, but dates back to George V. “And the Green Tea Cheesecake, of course.” I placed one of each yummy dessert on my elegant blue and gold rimmed plate.

When it was time to go, the kids were reluctant to leave such luxury and impeccable service. It was then I knew I’d successfully introduced them to a cultural experience they’d never forget.

Back on the Clipper we played cards again all the way back to Seattle. I had worried all morning that my grandchildren would not rise to the classic occasion. It never dawned on me that the splendor of place and tradition would lift their dispositions to meet the grandeur of the day – and that they’d actually like it.

The 5th annual Victoria tea festival:  On February 12 & 13 2011 you have the opportunity to explore  new teas from around the world.

The Fairmont Empress (721 Government St Victoria BC)

Make Reservations early: Fairmont Empress Fairmont Empress: (250) 389-2727

Dress code: casually elegant; no flip-flops, torn jeans, short shorts, cut off’s, beach wear, or baseball caps.

Cost: $44 – $55 CAD per person.  The Prince and Princess Tea is approximately $18 CAD plus taxes. Tiara optional!

Tip: While waiting for your reservation take The Fairmont Empress Tour starts at 10:00am (11am winter season.) in front of the Fairmont Empress store located next to the Tea Lobby (on the Belleville Street) at 9:55 a.m.

The tour runs 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The hotel has a captivating history, and you’ll learn all sorts of interesting tid-bits about the hotel, and some of the people who have been residents, guests and even “ghosts” within its walls.

Tour Cost: $10.00 + tax Canadian for Adults; $5.00 + tax for children 6-12 years; children under 6 are free. Tickets can be purchased at the Dining Reservation Desk at the Fairmont Empress or by reserving ahead by calling 1-250-995-4688.

A few years ago the Christmas ‘spirit’ had eluded me until my husband, Joe, took me to Victoria for a pre-Christmas break and shopping trip. When we left the Victoria Clipper dock there was a line-up of decorated vintage horse carriages – the shimmering street lights of green, red and gold were festooned with swags of evergreen. The vanilla lights of the Parliament building were lit and the little steamer ferries were having a Santa parade in the harbor – complete with Christmas trees, decorated boats, reindeer, and Christmas music. Come to find out it’s an every year event put on by the popular Harbour Ferries of Victoria.

As if strolling through the crisp harbor, seeing the lights, the horse carriages, listening to carolers, and having Santa wave from his boat wasn’t enough, when we arrived at our hotel the lobby bustled with Christmas preparations. Green-striped, pink-polka dotted and red-leotard-clad elves with furry red and white velvet stocking caps were everywhere…a caravan of five, three-foot-tall elves scurried past us vigilantly delivering a long garland to a bigger elf who waited patiently on a ladder next to a half decorated tree. The smell of cinnamon, and the merry sound of Christmas jingles filled the halls. The music of children laughing lifted my spirits like nothing else could.

Every year, during the Festival of Trees event at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the Victorian corridors, entryways and parlors are transformed into a lush forest of magnificently garlanded trees to raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital. This annual happening was formed nearly twenty-years ago to raise funds in support of excellence and innovation in treatment, care and research at BC Children’s Hospital.

Sponsors of this affair are neighboring businesses, organizations and dedicated individuals – who I assume were the larger elves – who decorate the trees in a sometimes zany, often cheeky, but always stunning style. We were lucky to have arrived on a day when the children were there. It was a special treat – besides, what’s Christmas without the sound of busy elves and happy children. Now I know where to go in search of holiday spirit.

The trees are on display all through The Fairmont Empress (721 Government St) over the holiday season which begins Thursday November 25, 2010, with the kick-off decorating gala. The trees can be viewed through to January 4, 2011.

For a list of festive holiday events at the Fairmont Empress Fairmont Empress: (250) 389-2727

Click here to book your getaway package from Seattle to the Fairmont Empress on the Victoria Clipper.

For more from this guest writer, see Literary Liasons, by Mindy Halleck.

In Vancouver’s main downtown is one of the most famous shopping Mecca’s in the northwest. Recently, my granddaughter, Dominique and I journeyed from Seattle to check out the highly acclaimed Robson Street. Shopping with her can be a challenge; she’s eighteen, and I’m, well…let’s just say I’m not, so finding just the right place was critical.

Robson Street runs parallel to Georgia Street, and is conveniently situated in the heart of downtown. We easily walked from the lively harbor on a blissfully blue and cloudless fall day. Within moments we arrived at Robson Street where we found world class boutiques, restaurants, and bustling corner cafes. Of course we found coffee first, at one of the two ubiquitous Starbucks that face each other on the corner of Thurlow and Robson.

I was concerned that it may be a tug-of-war day since we have such diverse fashion interest; she often rolls her blue eyes back in her pretty head at my choices, and I hers. But, Robson delivered.

As a younger shopper, Aritzia was Dominique’s favorite store. She also liked Buffalo, Level and Below the Belt. All of these stores were like fashion magnets to the swarms of teen girls from Italy, China, Japan and America who cruised Robson.

Clothing for we fashion conscious over eighteen girls can also be found throughout Vancouver; Jacob at 1142 Robson was one of my favorites; voted Vancouver’s best women’s clothing store. Robson also exhibits other big-name brands: Armani, Ferragamo, Club Monaco, BeBe, Zara, Laura Ashley, Guess, Banana Republic, Swatch, Nike, Levi’s, Body Shop, and Gap. And popular Canadian stores, like M.A.C., Roots, Boys Co., Aritzia and Lush. (Robson Street Store Directory)

Stanley Park

Robson Street was the perfect choice for our excursion, and as far as I could tell there was absolutely none of that immature eye rolling – hers or mine.
One thing my granddaughter and I always agree on is Chinese food. So, to refuel for the afternoon we had a quick lunch at Hon’s Wun Tun House for their famous wun-tun noodles. If I lived in Vancouver the hectic, but friendly and affordable Hon’s would be a regular stop for me. Yum!

To walk off our noodles we headed toward 1000-acre Stanley Park. It was amazing! My granddaughter loved watching the paddle surfing, teenage boys, and eating greasy fries at the beach café. There are gorgeous trees, a seawall path, a swimming pool and the Vancouver Aquarium. We agreed to plan another trip just to enjoy the park. What a treat tucked alongside this cosmopolitan city.

Gastown Trolley, Vancouver, BC

Gastown Trolley

Then, we walked back to the vibrant Gastown – named after ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton who established the first saloon, giving birth to Gastown – the oldest section of Vancouver. We photographed Gastown’s famed, Steam Clock and trolley cars along its cobbled streets.

There is so much to do in Vancouver. One day was not enough. We’re planning a more major shopping and site-seeing trip next time.

Robson Street is walking distance of the lively Chinatown, Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium, Gastown, and the Vancouver Library.

At Clipper Vacations you can book an all inclusive trip, Amtrak train ride plus you can stay at the Listel Hotel on Robson street, to take full advantage of shopping and dining. The Listel Hotel is a boutique style hotel featuring original works of art displayed throughout the hotel and even in the guestrooms.

“Vancouver City” video is an artistic collaboration between InnerLife Project with TimeLapseHd

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