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NOTE: Clicking on the dates will take you to the corresponding photo album page for the day, while clicking on the place name (if it is a link) will take you to the track for the day. Clicking on the activity will take you to the corresponding diary entry, which is recorded later on this page.
Note that the link to the track for the day will download a file. You will need Google Earth to open this file. Otherwise, open the MyGPSfiles application, and drag the downloaded file onto it.
Within the blog, the date in the title is a link that takes you to the photos for the day, and the day of the week will bring you back to the itinerary.
All dates and times are local times. This can give anomalous results when travel across time zones is involved.
|Place (Track)||Time||Activity (Blog)|
|0||28 Jun||Melbourne||1210 NZ124 MEL-AKL
2005 NZ24 AKL-YVR
1835 NZ4589 YVR-SEA
|Fly to Seattle|
|1||29 Jun||Seattle||Gym and Gemmy Bars|
|2||30 Jun||Seattle||Nursery, Locks and Salmon, Lunch and Tuna, Dinner and Salmon|
|3||01 Jul||Seattle||On Raspberry and Window Jam(b)s, and new friends|
|4||02 Jul||Seattle||On Carrying Canoes and Lumber|
|5||03 Jul||Seattle||Shed and Community Building|
|6||04 Jul||Seattle||Say Can You See?|
|7||05 Jul||Seattle||Desperate for a Despot|
|8||06 Jul||Seattle-Mt Baker-Seattle||Mission to Mt Baker - Impossible|
|9||07 Jul||Seattle||Making a ShedLoad|
|10||08 Jul||Seattle-Spokane||Cruising and Past Cruising Friends we passed|
|11||09 Jul||Spokane-Polson||Breakfast in Washington, Lunch in Idaho, Dinner in Montana|
|12||10 Jul||Polson-East Glacier||Logan Pass: Pass, but not Credit|
|13||11 Jul||Glacier National Park||Two Medicines Later|
|14||12 Jul||Glacier National Park||Logan Pass and St Mary's Lake|
|15||13 Jul||East Glacier-Kalispell||A Cliff-Hanger Walk|
|16||14 Jul||Kalispell- Moses Lake||Revisiting Old (?) Haunts|
|17||15 Jul||Moses Lake-Seattle||Niagara, eat your heart out!|
|18||16 Jul||Seattle||Let There be Light!|
|19||17 Jul||Seattle||Hang It All!|
|20||18 Jul||Boston||Quack! Quack!|
|21||19 Jul||Boston||Down with Braintree and Up with Alewife|
|22||20 Jul||Boston, Massachusetts||2300 Rotterdam departs||depart Boston, arrive Cruising|
|23(1)||21 Jul||Bar Harbour, Maine||1000-2000||Bar Harbour, Barb, arbor and harbour|
|24(2)||22 Jul||At Sea||Fit for Sailing|
|25(3)||23 Jul||Sydney, Nova Scotia||0800-1700||Hot-wiring the third floor extension|
|26(4)||24 Jul||Corner Brook, Newfoundland||0800-1700||A Captain Cook at Corner Brook|
|27(5)||25 Jul||Red Bay, Labrador||0800-1500||Red Bay, Labrador, but no dog day today!|
|28(6)||26 Jul||At Sea||Barb slightly at sea, and a dog day without Labrador|
|29(7)||27 Jul||Qaqortoq, Greenland||1000-1800||The Gods were Smiling on Us!|
|30(8)||28 Jul||Cruising Prince Christian Sund||A Sound Day for Photographs|
|31(9)||29 Jul||At Sea||Land Ho! NOT!!|
|32(10)||30 Jul||Reykjavik, Iceland||0800 Ship arrives||Don't blow your top!|
|33(11)||31 Jul||Reykjavik, Iceland||1700 Ship departs||Getting into Hot Water|
|34(12)||01 Aug||At Sea||I want to be this funny when I am 100|
|35(13)||02 Aug||At Sea||Rough Times, no lettuce - but plenty of wine|
|36(14)||03 Aug||Alesund, Norway||0700-1600||Barb's birthday in her favourite place|
|37(15)||04 Aug||Eidfjord, Norway||1000-1800||Time Team revisted|
|38(16)||05 Aug||At Sea||I shall not want|
|39(17)||06 Aug||Rotterdam, The Netherlands||0700 Ship arrives||Windmills and Waterbuses|
|40(18)||07 Aug||Rotterdam, The Netherlands||1600 Ship departs||The Three Rotterdams|
|41(19)||08 Aug||At Sea||des Trois Tours et des trois lectures|
|42(20)||09 Aug||Dublin, Ireland||0800-1945||Dublin Deckers|
|43(21)||10 Aug||Douglas, Isle of Man||0800-1800||Plenty of Steam|
|44(22)||11 Aug||Belfast, Northern Ireland||0800-1800||Bank Collapses and Sectarian Violence in Belfast|
|45(23)||12 Aug||At Sea||At Sea with all Talk and no Action|
|46(24)||13 Aug||At Sea||Best Beer on Board|
|47(25)||14 Aug||Akureyri, Iceland||0800-1700||Icthus and Chips|
|48(26)||15 Aug||Isafjordur, Iceland||0800-1700||Backing up the fjords|
|49(27)||16 Aug||At Sea||Mariners marinated|
|50(28)||17 Aug||Cruising Prince Christian Sund||A Fog Sound Day for Photographs|
|51(29)||18 Aug||Nanortalik, Greenland||0700-1300||Nan or Dalek?|
|52(30)||19 Aug||At Sea||The Cuckoo is Calling|
|53(31)||20 Aug||St Johns, Newfoundland||1200-2000||St Johns: Putting on the Poutine|
|54(32)||21 Aug||At Sea||At Sea: Busy, busy, busy|
|55(33)||22 Aug||Halifax, Nova Scotia||0800-1600||Halifax with no rain|
|56(34)||23 Aug||At Sea||At Sea: Sending us packing|
|57(35)||24 Aug||Boston to Buffalo||0700 Ship arrives||Ships, cars, buses, trains - but no planes|
|58||25 Aug||Niagara to Waterloo||4 cases of Wine Tasting|
|59||26 Aug||Waterloo||Catching our breath for the next exercise|
|60||27 Aug||Waterloo to Stratford and back||Out for a Dammed Spot of Shakespeare|
|61||28 Aug||Waterloo to Port Stanley and back||Little and Large Railways|
|62||29 Aug||Waterloo to Cambridge||Plenty of Food!|
|63||30 Aug||Waterloo to Wilmot and Blair||Past glories of the industrial age|
|64||31 Aug||Toronto to Vancouver||Cars, Planes, Trains, and walking|
|65||01 Sep||Vancouver||False Creek Ferries|
|66||02 Sep||Vancouver to Richmond||A Pricey Sort of Day|
|67||03 Sep||Vancouver Waterfront||Waterfront Revisited|
|68||04 Sep||Vancouver Rayne and Tristan||Vancouver with Rayne and without Rain|
|69||05 Sep||Vancouver to Victoria and Butchart Gardens||Floatplanes, Butchart Gardens, N&L, Ann Harris: all in one day!|
|70||06 Sep||Vancouver and Stanley Park||Circumperambulating the Park|
|71||07 Sep||Vancouver to Melbourne||Day 71 (or not)|
|72||08 Sep||Vancouver to Melbourne||Home (sort of) at last!|
Although we were both awake at 5am this morning, we had got ourselves sufficiently well prepared that we could afford to lie in until after the 6am news, when John got up and made a leisurely pot of tea. "Leisurely", because we had packed the computers and hence needed not to allow ourselves time to read the Age.
John had a last minute trip over to 5 to feed the chooks (but no need to open the door, because the new remote control from 7 was working beautifully!), and collect the disk backup to transport to Nathan. For those not aware of our new regime, Nathan and I have agreed to store copies of each other's files, and the first pass is being done by "sneakernet" because of the size of our data collections (I pretty well filled an 8TB disk)!
David was happy to drive us down to the station, and we said goodbye to him and Jemima at the Glen Waverley drop-off point, in time to catch the 8:01 train. A walk across the platform at Flinders St straight into a Southern Cross-bound train, and a short walk thereat to the SkyBus to the airport. This was not quite as good a connexion, as we just missed a bus, but they run frequently enough that we only spent 10 minutes waiting.
At the airport, a little confusion over finding the right checkin counter (counter J is now right down the back of the departures area), but a quick checkin followed, expedited by the business class priority queue. (Oh so nice to go business class!) We found our way to the "temporary" airline lounge for Air New Zealand, where we breakfasted on yoghurt, fruit salad, and some very nice scrambled eggs and baked beans. When we arrived the lounge was virtually empty, but it has filled up slowly, and as I write this, is now about 50% full. I did sink my principles a bit, and had a NZ Mac's beer before 12noon, but I told myself that it was simply to get my body clock acclimatised to the 7 hour leap forward for the rest of the day. So it was really 6:30pm, well within allowed drinking times.
The gate opens in 10 minutes time, so I shall sign off now and upload this, so that you can be as up-to-date as possible with our doings!
This part I am writing an hour and a half out from Vancouver, so there is not much to report, other than to say that travelling business class is just the ant's pants. It is how it should be for all airport travelling, except of course, that there is always going to be a distinction of some sort. Just the act of getting on and off aircraft is intrinsically discriminating, so with profit as a motive, why not charge people more to be at the front of the queue? It sort-of goes against my socialist tendencies to pay more for the priviledge of going straight to the priority boarding queue and boarding without having to wait for others, but I have to say, it is nice. Not to mention all the other stuff like good food, good service, a bed to actually sleep in, gadgets that actually work, and, at the other end, getting off first! Enjoy it while you can, John!
(Vancouver airport) Duh. Not so fast, John. Air NZ have lost my suitcase with all my clothes and one of those 8TB disks in it. We had to wait for 60 minutes for the last container of luggage to come off, because the Canadian baggage handlers left a container on the tarmac! I hope they all get fired. But even when those items of baggage came through, John's was not one of them. There is no indication of where it is - still on the tarmac, still at Auckland, already gone to Seattle (unlikely). Who knows? We don't even know who to blame, AirNZ or Vancouver luggage, which is always a worry, as they then simply blame each other and take no responsibility.
We are now sitting in the departure lounge waiting for our Seattle flight to board, and drinking a (well-deserved) beer at 9:45am Melbourne time. Doesn't the body adapt quickly?
(Ballard, Seattle) What a long day! A short 35 minute flight from Vancouver to Seattle went without a hitch, although because the aircraft was a Dash-8 (made by Bombadier, who also make trains, note), it did not have room in the overhead lockers for our carrions, so we had to part with them on the tarmac where they went into a priority hold. John was a little reluctant to part with his, given the recent experience with his suitcase, but the ground agent insisted. And yes, there was no room in the overhead lockers when we got on, although one other passenger did have a battle with his item. More with the physical space than the bureaucratic space, however.
Upon landing in Seattle at 18:40, we went to collect our one baggage claim item and make a formal request for the missing item. But the woman at the baggage enquiries counter insisted that we should watch the carousel, and just as she said that, John's bag arrived! I think it was coincidence, but I was impressed nevertheless. Our thinking is that because the bag had been mislaid, the handlers at Seattle put it straight on the Seattle flight, rather than sending it through customs. My most unlikely scenario (see above) actually came to pass! Since we had already made a declaration about its contents, I guess they were not too fussed about the apparent breach of protocol. It did have a "standby" ticket attached, and still had its "priority" label from Melbourne. But we were sufficiently relieved that it had arrived without further ado that we were prepared to overlook a heap of solecisms in its processing!
Nathan and Lynne were on hand within 5 minutes of us arriving at the waiting area "kerbside", and we were soon at NW58 St., Ballard (Nathan and Lynne's place). As it was by now 8pm, we walked up to Matador, a Mexican restaurant that N&L frequent, for dinner, where we all ate Carnitos el Pastor, which, according to my pig Spanish, means "minister meat". Maybe appropriate in these back-stabbing political times?
Back home, Nathan insisted that we watch a TV progamme on British beer with James May, but I have to admit that I watched a lot of it through my eyelids. So after that it was a collapse into the blow-up bed, and the end of a very long day.
We were up and ready for gym at 0830! Since Nathan had his regular training session at this time all four of us went together for a 5 minute walk up to 24th Ave NW and the gym - somewhat shorter than our usual gym walk. Nathan organised us to get signed in on a week's pass ($US35 including tax!), and Barb and John proceeded to follow Trent's instructions, as per his written sheet, while Nathan and Lynne did their respective usual things.
Afterwards, we walked back via the Grassroots Bakery to pick up a loaf of pumpernickel bread for breakfast. It wasn't called pumpernickel, but some other fancy yuppie name, but it was basically pumpernickel in texture. A slice of that, porridge, and a cup of coffee comprised breakfast.
Then followed a few hours of various things: reading emails, writing blogs, installing software, and just generally sorting things out. Nathan wanted John to help with replacing a window moulding that had show some evidence of rot - namely, fungi growing out of it! It was a bit like that song about moving pianos. Once the moulding with the mould was out, we found more moulding in. So that bit had to come out, too. Yet more rot set in. So out with the rotten bits. Lots of siding had to come off to get at the next bit, and so it went on. Even the whole window came out, so that by the end of the day, we had demolished half the side of the house (well, maybe a quarter). Nathan declared that he was happy that all the baddies had been removed, and Lynne ordered some new bits from the timber yard that will be delivered tomorrow, and it will soon be good as new! Well, that's the theory.
There was time at 1830 to pay a visit to the Wallingford (next 'burb to Ballard) farmers' market, where we bought lots of raspberries (or "ra-ras" as Jemima calls them), and a couple of cans of beer. Big cans, to, 32 fl.oz. or 0.95 litres! Then we wandered over to the Wallingford shopping strip, where Lynne and Barb did yarny things, and Nathan and John did beery things at a wonderful shop called BottleWorks, which sold only beers and ciders. We had a tasting, had a pint, and then bought 14 different bottles of beer from all around the world. I say "around the world", but that is mainly in the spirit of "world cup" in American-speak, or "National Gallery" in Victoria-speak. I think there is one German and one French beer amongst them (no Australian, but we sort of didn't care about that).
Back home for a late dinner, and we watched one episode of "British Bake Off". I am not usually a fan of cooking shows, but this one was slightly more sensitive than most, and the person who got knocked out was not belittled or humiliated in any way, and took her defection with pride.
Then to bed, crash.
A long lie-in this morning, as we did not have to be anywhere, Lynne had a medical appointment, and Nathan was working. But we (Barb and John) got going by 10, and did a gym session from 1015 to 1055, then showers and (home) coffee.
Three of us (Lynne, Barb and John) off to the Sky Nursery in Shoreline at noon, where we browsed amongst lots of annuals in full bloom. Lynne bought a few more plants for her own colourful garden (see yesterday's and today's photos), and then we headed home to hang out washing and collect Nathan before going to lunch at the Kiss Cafe just down on Market St (the main Ballard high st). John had a tuna melt, while Barb took a BLT sandwich. Then Nathan returned home to work, while the rest of us explored the Hiram M. Chittenden locks and salmon ladder. There were a few salmon running the ladder, and I took lots of photos, so I hope a few of them are presentable.
Then we watched a locking of a big barge, and numerous small pleasure boats, and I even managed to get a video of the uneven water levels when the lock gates opened. This is because the upstream side is fresh water, while the downstream side is seawater. Fresh water is less dense than sea water, so when the lock valves are opened, it takes a higher level of fresh water to balance the pressure from the sea water. Then, when the lock gates are opened, there is a mini surge of water through the opening fissure, and the levels are different by about 10cms. Fascinating, and I think I captured it adequately on a movie. Then back home, where Barb had a snooze, and John did some computing, and helped Nathan repairing the kitchen window.
Lynne cooked us "fish and chips" for dinner, with a difference. She bought a nice big salmon (not from the locks, I hasten to add!) and fried it with some steamed vegatables and roasted sweet potato and ? chips. We ate al fresco, out between the flower and vegetable gardens. Did I tell you that Lynne's garden was part of the Sustainable Ballard Edible Garden Tour? They had their garden open the weekend before we arrived, and consequently Lynne has tizzied up the garden to be at its best - and it is looking lovely, with blooms everywhere. We even had the edible part, with home-grown peas in our dinner.
After dinner, Nathan decided that we needed to visit "Home Despot", the name he calls Home Depot. It is very like our Bunnings, but the nearest one was about 8 miles away, so it was a bit of a hike. After some searching (you know what Bunnings is like!), we found the thing he was looking for - sticky sided flashing. This is to put around the kitchen window when we get to put it back. Oh, and by the way, this afternoon we did replace the panel that had rotted, so now it is just a question of replacing the window, and reshingling the whole area. Won't take long.
It was after 10pm when we returned, so just time for checking the email (come on, write to us, you bastards!) and then bed.
We started the day with a trip to the gym again. Nathan had his regular PT session at 0930, so we all trooped along with him at that time.
Barb helped Lynne make raspberry jam with the raspberries we bought at the Wallingford market, while Nathan and John both worked on their respective computers. After lunch, Lynne, Barb and John went off on a shopping expedition to Macy's, where John bought a new pair of trousers to complement the solitary non-suit pair he had brought with him. (This was all according to the plan we hatched before leaving.) Lynne also bought Nathan a new belt.
Back home, Nathan and John installed the flashing around the kitchen window, re-inserted the window and its surrounding moulding, and then replaced most of the shingles that had been removed in the rot-destroying frenzy last Wednesday, leaving only a few shingles that had to be cut in to complete the job.
Then at 1830 we headed off up the street to the local community garden, where the organisers of last Saturday's Edible Garden tour were having an al fresco picnic tea. It was all very interesting, and the enthusiasm of the various gardens was quite tangible. There was much "have you tried X?" and "how did you go with Y this year?", etc.. We finished at the garden of Gail and Jerry, a garden to which I related, as it was built on quite a steep slope, albeit in the opposite direction to our house at 5 Fran Ct. Given that we shall have to do a bit of landscaping once the rebuild is finished, I got a few ideas from Gail and Jerry. They trotted out some bottles of wine once we had finished looking at the garden, and we sat around their rock fire (a gas ring under a collection of river pebbles, which looked quite effective), and chatted on for an hour or so, until it got dark. Nathan and Lynne had not met them before, and I said to them on our way home that G&J would be good friends to cultivate, as they seemed to have very similar interests to N&L. N&L agreed.
It was late when we got home, so there was little more activity until sleep overwhelmed us all.
Lynne headed off at 9 this morning to see what the queues were like at Portage Cafe. She phoned back to say that she had a table booked for 0935, so we had to scurry a bit in getting up, showering, and generally getting ready. No time for gym!
Portage Cafe is a regular favourite everytime we come to Seattle. It is hedonistic in best American style, serving only breakfasts (they close at around 1130 in the morning!), and offering a particular line of items that include the "berry bar", a buffet full of every sort of berry and/or fruit that is available in season. I usually go for buckwheat pancakes, since they are not so sweet as the regular pancakes, but this time I went all patriotic and had Red, White and Blue Pancakes (red strawberries and raspberries, white cream and blue berries on top of Bluebird Farms organic heirloom flour pancakes!)
And before you ask why I was being patriotic for the 4 July long weekend, I would point out the red, white and blue are the colours of our flag. And of a heap of countries you might not feel so patriotic about too, like North Korea, Russia and Cambodia. Let's just hope that the election returns a result that is good for Australia.
Suitably charged for a day's work, we returned to NW58St and started on the shed building. There is some disagreement between Nathan and Lynne about the motivation for this. Lynne says that it is to house all Nathan's "stuff" in the garage: Nathan says it is to house all Lynne's "stuff in the garage. I guess some stuff from the garage will go in it when it is finished. The one thing they seemed to agree upon is that it will house the lawnmower.
First task was to dig the foundation. We had this finished by 6pm, and by 7:30pm the flooring was laid. My task in all this was to act as assistant labourer to Nathan, carrying timber back and forth, and digging, shovelling and wheelbarrowing as needed. But to be fair, Nathan did his grunt part as well. We called it a day after that!
Nathan's friend Kit called by at about this time, so we had a beer, and then shared sausages and mash for dinner. We sat around talking until well after 11pm, but which time, both Nathan and I were dropping off to sleep as we talked!
I'm not sure whether it is jet lag, or just relaxing after all the stress in getting here, or simply the late nights that we are keeping because of the lengthy twilights, but we seem to be sleeping in in a very indulgent way. This morning I woke up three times from 0615 onwards, but went back to sleep again for half an hour or more. So it was almost 9 o'clock by the time we did actually surface.
Lynne headed off to the Ballard Farmers' Market at 11, and Barb and I followed a half-hour later (no gym this morning). We must have chased each other around the market, because we did not catch up to Lynne. But we did buy a few things ourselves: bread, cheese, cherries, an interesting fruit called a nectarcot, which is a hybrid nectarine and apricot, and a small box of Jon Boy absinthe caramels, John's favourite!
Then back to NW58St, and to work building the shed, with only a brief pause for lunch. We finished the framing for two walls, and the small return section to the big door. While we were busy doing all that, Lynne and Barb went back to Ballard Reuse and collected the doors and windows left behind yesterday. Nathan and I were impressed at how they managed to fit them into Lynne's Honda Fit (=Jazz in Australian models), although the price paid was that Barb had to walk home!
While all this was taking place, the neighbours across the back laneway decided to renew part of their fence, aided and abetted by Nathan's encouragement, and his offer to help the young son (Hayden) and his friend (Elijah) to actually do the work. Hayden's mum Polly was also there to supervise. Once we had finished the shed walls to the extent described above, Nathan said he willing to call it a day, as the next bit was quite complicated (the wall with windows and an angled door), and he was a little concerned that his tiredness might cause mistakes. So he gave his full attention to the fence repair, and supervised Hayden and Elijah in their use of his drop saw and nail gun.
All of this good neighbour stuff then turned into dinner time, and we shared a BBQ tea with Polly, her husband Andrew, their two sons Hayden and Cameron, and friend Elijah (not to mention their dog Riley). Nathan's friend Kit also joined us, and he brought along dessert in the form of some very delicious cup-cakes. We had a good time of sharing and chatting, and again, it was dark but the time we said goodbye, crossed the laneway back to NW58St, chatted with Kit for a bit more, and then retired.
Up bright and early to head off to the gym, a bit after 8:15am, and we were home an hour later (we did a few more exercises than the alloted 30 minutes). Nathan and John worked on the shed, Barb read a book. We finished the shed framing, including the tricky wall with windows, and got most of the wall siding up. Barb even helped attach a few shingles once all that was done.
There was just time afterwards for dinner before we set off for Gasworks Park by bus (a nice new trolley bus on route 44), getting off at Wallingford and walking a mile or so down to Union Lake. We arrived there about 8:30 and had to line up in a big long queue, occasioned by a bag inspection at the gate. The young man in front of us, whom we chatted with while waitiing, was carrying a skate board, and they would not let him in because of that! I did feel a bit sorry for thebloke after he had waited all that time (about 20 minutes).
We found a spot on a grassy knoll with a good view of the lake, and waited. And waited. John spent the time fiddling with his camera, Nathan sprawled out on the grass, and Barb and Lynne talked. The fireworks were supposed to start at 10pm, but it was not until 10:15 tat a low-flying helicopter dragging a huge USA flag underneath announced the start of the firework display. Of course, all the patriotic Americans started singing "Oh say can you see ...", but not very well.
The fireworks themselves were pretty spectacular. John and Lynne were furiously trying to take photos of various shapes and sizes. I found that using the tripod was a waste of time, and I did well enough hand-holding the camera, taking both stills (using a 2s exposure), and movies.
After the fireworks were over, we waited a bit before joining the huge throng of people leaving. I commented to Barb that it was bigger than an MCG crowd, but I think that was becuse there were fewer exits from the park, and fewer pathways away from the park, as it is on the pointy end of a peninsula into Lake Union. Anyway, we got to Fremont where the bus left, and the queue was so long that we decided to walk home along the Burke-Gilman pathway - a distance of 5.8kms. We got home at 12:15am and all collapsed to bed!
Today we realized that time was running out for us to do some of the Seattle things we wanted to do - in particular, a visit to Pike Market. So we got going a bit before 12 (early for us!), and left Nathan behind, as he said he was not that interested in Pike Market. We got to 24th Ave NW, when Lynne announced after consulting the timetable, that we could catch a trolley bus to the University of Washington, and catch the new light-rail subway into the city. She rang Nathan to report this, and he immediately changed his mind, so we had to wait for him to catch us up, time enough for me to have a Starbucks coffee. Yes, OK, it was Starbucks, but it was handy, and it only cost $2.14!
Said itinerary, once Nathan had caught up, went smoothly, and we were soon in the city where things did not go so smoothly. All the places we found that looked interesting enough to eat in were not Lynne and gluten free friendly. This escalated a bit, until, when I said, "let's go inside and check if they can do gluten-free", and came back to report that they could, Lynne rejected the possibility and suggested that we eat there, and that she would find somewhere else.
So the three of us had a nice lunch at the Fonte Restaurant (in First Ave) of antipasto, hummus plate, goat cheese and artichokes, pappadella bolognese, and nuts and olives. Then we wandered down to Pike Market to find the tie-dye place (easy to spot!), where John bought two (!) replacement tie-dye T-shirts, and Barb bought a small T-shirt for Jemima.
Then home again, this time via the number 18X express bus, to do more work on the shed. We installed the small door frame (a hassle, as we discovered that the floor was not perfectly level!), and the ridge beam. You can see the progress here. Then dinner, after which Nathan decided that he needed to get the laser-light sheets to fit to the roof after we had done the rafters. There was some debate as to whether this was warranted, given that they were unlikely to fit in the Fit, and whether we would have time to do it anyway. But Nathan was desperate to visit the "Home Despot" as he calls the place, so off we all went. And yes, they would not fit in the car. But he bought some hangers for the rafters, so he did not feel too much like it was a wasted trip.
Home, where we found that Nathan's new computer (a 12-disk-bay server) had arrived, so Nathan had to power it up and install Ubuntu. He had only moderate success, as none of the 12-disk-bays had any disks!! So off to bed.
We planned to visit Mt Baker today, but there was a fair bit to do before we could head off. Nathan had his regular gym session at 10, so Barb and I went up a quarter of an hour before that to book ourselves in for a single day ($10 each!), and did our 30 minutes plus before walking back to 2819, having a shower each, and packing the car and otherwise getting ready. We managed to get going by about 11:30, and zoomed north along the I5, as we had done on a couple of previous visits, turning off at Bellingham along route 542 East.
We stopped at Glacier, a little town before the road left the river plains, and bought some lunch pickings: bagels, cheese, pepperoni, corn chips, and a plate of chopped fruit. We headed on up into the mountains until we reached heather Meadows, a delightful picnic spot with a splendid view of Mt Shuksan, and the Heather Meadows lake in the foreground. The only sour note was the pesky Grey Jays, who pestered us for food, and one cheeky bird actually made off with half of Barbara's bagel!! She was most miffed about that, but fortunately, we had bought two each, so she did not go completely hungry.
Then on up the road a short distance to "Artists' Point", or, as John called it, "Arctic Point". The car park was clear, but everything around was covered in a foot or so of snow, which made for some picturesque photos. Unfortunately, Mt Baker, the whole point of coming here, was covered in cloud, so the most picturesque photo of all was just not possible. There were quite a few other tourists there, but it was not crowded. Nathan was disappointed that we could not climb to the top of nearby Table Mountain, but the others of us agreed that it was too cold and icy, even with jumpers on. So after a half-hour or so, we headed back down.
On the way home, we stopped at several lookouts and vantage points that we did not have time to do on the way up, and spent a bit of time walking along the banks of the Skagit River, with its very melt-watery look, and with lots of rapids. We did not see any salmon jumping, unfortunately.
We side-tracked the I5 going south to travel along the delightfully named "Chuckanut Drive", the original north-south road through the area that opened up the northern plains to the early settlers. It has a few picturesque lookouts over Skagit Bay and Puget Sound, and the first north-south railway ran along here (and still does). Did not see any trains, though.
Very late home, and first tried the Skillet Kitchen for dinner. It was 5 minutes past 9, and they had shut the kitchen at 9! So we walked across to Matador, which was still open, and doing a roaring trade! I had Home-made Pork Chorizo tacos, and Barb had Fajitas Mushroom, and both of us could not finish the portions. So we got doggy-boxes to take home for breakfast!
Not much left of the evening, and after so much needed plugging in of various electronic devices, we all went to bed to recharge ourselves as well.
Most of the day was tken up with shed building, although we did make a point of first finishing the window frame. It was a bit of a miserable day, and we had to stop several times and take the tools inside as it started raining. The rain was never intense, but it was enough to slow down progress. We did manage to get all but one set of rafters up, so the shed is looking much more like a shed now.
After dinner (which was, strangely enough, leftovers) we went for a quick trip to Fred Meyers, a large Target-like place that sold most everything. John got a new pair of underpants and Dockers (he likes them!), and Nathan also lashed out on some undies. We also bought some beer for the trip starting tomorrow. Home and a bit of packing for the trip, then bed.
Much last-minute packing, and a trip by Nathan to thhe chemist to pick up his medicine saw us ready to depart. But no! Nathan had taken Lynne's keys with him, so the plan to drive by the chemist and pick him up did not work. Instead he had to walk home again, so we only got away at 11:30 (which was sort of what we had predicted, knowing how slow our starts had been over the last week).
We drove out through Sammamish, where Nathan had a work friend he wanted to visit, while Lynne drove Barb and John to the other side of Sammamish to meet Bob and Laurie Flemer, friends from our last cruise round South America. It was great to see them again, and to see the grand house that they have. Bob made me very jealous showing me his workshop complete with lathe, bandsaw, drill press and lots of other wood-working tools.
We had lunch at the local Issaquah Brewery-restaurant, where both Bob and John had a Brutal Reubens sandwich, Barb had a salmon roll, and I forget what Laurie had. These were complemented by the local beers, John with a Brutal IPA (to match the Brutal Reubens!), and Barb had a "White Frog" beer. All accompanied by much more chatting, about kids, about travel, about life and everything.
Then back to Bob and Laurie's house, where we chatted some more while waiting for Lynne to pick us up. Then back to Nathan's mate's house, collected him, and set off on the I90.
First major stop was at Ellensburg, where we strolled aound the town, and admired the many art deco buildings there. One large mural advertising a local tailor's caught my eye. "Fitterers" it said. Another example of how American english has diverged from British english over the years, rather like the American usage of "gotten". Both were common words two hundred years ago, but British and Australian usage has dropped the 'er' and 'en' suffixes.
Then on to Spokane, spoken as "Spocan". It was after 9 when we arrived, and we headed straight for a restaurant that we knew was still open - the "Wild Sage". It was a significant find, and we dined very well. So much so that Nathan and Lynne were already talking about how they could wangle a return visit in the near future! John had duck breast, Barb had chicken breast and goat cheese, and both of us declared they were amongst the best. All washed down with some local beers!
We were fortunate in booking into "La Quinta" at this late hour, but it proved a very comfortable hotel, with all the conveniences we could wish for - namely, wifi! A sound sleep soon overtook us all as we lay weary heads upon soft pillows.
Today was interesting as we had Breakfast in Washington, Lunch in Idaho, Dinner in Montana. Let me elaborate.
A slow start (as usual), with breakfast at an interesting restaurant called Old European, which was sort of Dutch, but heavily Americanised. For example, there were things that were called aebleskivers (which are really Danish in origin!), and which are supposed to be battered apple fritters, but in practice were little more than fried batter blobs, with a variety of possible flavourings and/or fillings. Barb had a Mediterranean Goulash which was really omelette with vegetables. John and Nathan had things called German Potato Pancakes, which were basically big potato rostis (hash browns). John wasn't mad on his, as the potato was sliced rather large, and as a consequence were not that well cooked. Oh well, it was interesting!
Following breakfast we decided to explore a bit of Spokane, particularly the area used in 1974 for the World Fair. It has been attractively preserved, even if few World Fair artefacts remain. For example, we found a place identifying where the Australian exhibit was, but the only thing left of it was a sundial.
Undoubtedly the highlight was a ride on the 1902 Loof Carousel by John and Barb, Nathan and Lynne abstaining, but required to take photographs of the reversionary behaviours of their elders. Then followed a ride on the skyrail, a cableway ride over the Spokane waterfalls. That was fun! We followed that with an inspection of the falls on foot, and the associated rapids. All in all, an impressive waterway.
We eventually realised that with the late start and all this exploring, it was now very late to start travelling, but travel on we must. So we hit the I90 onwards towards Idaho, reaching Couer d'Alene around 3ish. Couer d'Alene's name comes from the French fur-traders that frequented this area in the 19th century, but of course the true pronunciation has been lost, and it is now called "core da lane". It is a beautiful city, very proud of its image, and reminiscent of the best of the Gold Coast. Situated on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, it is a popular tourist destination, with lots of high class hotels, resorts and the like.
We had a very late lunch in C d'A, al fresco on the "sidewalk" at the Cafe 107, which was also an Art Gallery and Wine Bar. But again, we were running late, so we could not linger, and had to hit the road again, crossing the border into Montana. We had a rest stop at St Regis, where we sent the Flemings a postcard of the local sights, and had a delicious huckleberry ice cream each (bar Lynne). Now I always thought that "huckleberry" was a made-up name to go with "hound", but apparently not. They are very similar to blue-berries, perhaps not quite as sweet, but very popular as a food compliment/condiment. For example, Barb had huckleberry dressing on one of her salads at some lunch stop. John had a rare sighting of a train going past.
We headed on to Missouli (the capital of Montana, bet you did not know that!) where we had planned to spend the night, but there was not a bed to be found. We tried La Quinta, no joy. The Hilton, also no joy, but he did have a list of places where there were spare beds. We rang ahead, but each was now "no vacancy", so we made a decision to press on to Polson, the next major town. But not before ringing ahead to book a room at The Red Lion, and then having dinner at the Tamarack Brewery, where we had a beer sampler between the 3 drinkers. The sampler came with 12 different beers, for a total of 4 american pints or 3 australian pints. We did not care, and Lynne was driving!
But this did all mean that we did not get into Polson until after midnight, and we were glad that we had now booked ahead. Bed collapses all round.
Given that we could not identify from a web search any suitable breakfast venue, we decided to eat in the hotel breakfast room. As Lynne woud say "meh!", meaning it was rather so-so, with fairly boring and limited selections available. Most of it too sweet anyway, and boring old brewed coffee.
Off we set to Glacier National Park, stopping at Flathead Lake for a quick check of the view. Entry to parks in Montana is free for all Montana residents, but "out-of-state" visitors pay a $6 fee. Fortunately, when Lynne explained that we just wanted to look at the view, the gate keeper gave us a hand-written pass saying "15 minute visitor pass", and waved us through. So we went and checked the view - very nice. There was a couple swimming in the lake, who did not seem to be complaining about the temperature, but when I felt the water, it did seem rather cold. So we left them to it, and returned our pass on the way out.
We next stopped in Kalispell at The Split Rock Cafe, a fascinating old building of which the cafe was just a part, but you culd see its history in all the decor. Lovely tiffany light shades, and the piece de resistance, an old mobile ladder which had been kept for its historical significance, but was no longer used in anger. It had a very neat trackwork bearing at the top, which allowed it to move past all the hangers supporting the trackwork. Not easy to see at first glance, so I took a couple of photos to (hopefully) show its working. Oh, and by the way, I had a reubens sandwich which was excellent, but I could not eat it all!
Then an hours drive to West Glacier, where we entered the Galcier National Pak, and started a long climb up to Logan's Pass. The higher we went, the worse the weather got. We did have some cloud cover as we entered the park, but by the time we got to Logan's Pass, it had closed in, and was all fog and rain. We had planned to stop there, but the car park was full (I don't know why, there wasn't anything to see!). But the scenery still showed an impressive side when glimpsed through all this, and we were impressed enough to plan a return visit over the next 3 days to see if we could see it in better conditions. Barb and I still managed to take 540 photographs nevertheless!
The scenery coming down the other side was just as impressive, and as we got lower, so the weather also improved! We arrived in East Galcier at a quarter to 7, just as the Amtrak train was leaving. The Glacier Park Lodge is one of those classic railway-built places that had huge followings between the wars, but the second world war rather killed off its clientele (like many other railway artefacts). It had definitely seen better days, but it was still impressive. We dined in the "Great Northern Dining Room", impressive, but the menu did not uphold the standards of the 30s. It ws OK, but nothing to write home about. OK, so I will stop writing about it right now.
Except to say that I had a rather nice chicken and wild rice Gumbo, while Nathan had a pot roast, which he also liked. We shall return to this theme tomorrow.
Headed off to Two Medicine camping ground this morning to try and catch the 1pm boat cruise. Stopped along the way at the Running Eagle trail, along which we walked to the Running Eagle waterfall. This was a most intruiging waterfall, as the water literally came out of the rock face! It was a rock arch, effectively a tunnel, as you could not see theother side from the face of the waterfall. It fascinated us for quite some minutes, and many photographs were taken!
Then on to the Two Medicine Visitor Centre, where we found that the 1pm boat was booked out, but that we were "wait-listed", and that they always "undersell". So we watched the water flow down the river, had the lunch we bought at the Lodge, and prepared iurselves for the 1pm departure. Sure enough, there was enough room for us and we boarded the boat.
We had an erudite, but unpolished commnetary from the guide Walter, while Karl steered the boat. Once ashore at the other end of the lake, Walter then led us on a 2mile hike to Twin Falls, almost as fascinating as Running Eagle in that two waterfalls had separate launching points, but almost met at the foot of the falls. More photographs!
We made our own way back to the landing place, and had a 20 minute wait for the boat to arrive. The scenery was reasonable photogenic, but there was a limitation on the amount of sun that was allowed to shine, so the photos were not as good as they might have been.
Back to the Glacier Park Lodge, where we had dinner. This time, John had the Pot Roast and Nathan the Gumbo, but when asked if he wanted mild or spicy, he chose spicy - a bit of a mistake as it turned out, as it was very spicy! Interestingly, when I had the Gumbo last night, it was only slightly spicy, and I was not asked for my preference. Probably just as well!
Logan Pass - full; back down again stopping at lookouts; Two Dogs Restaurant for lunch (John: double r ranch burger; Barb - caesar salad); booked for launch cruise on St Mary's Lake at 4, wait listed again but got on, cruise was much prettier, with a better commentary from Kyle - we saw a bear! hurry back to catch the Amtrak trin (but John got the time wrong); dinner in Great Northern again (John game hen, Barb salmon)
We had planned an early start so that we could get to Logan Pass before the car park got full, but we slept in, and did not get away until after 10. So the car park was full again when we got there, and the clouds had descended upon us anyway, so we gave up a second time, and decided to go back down, this time stopping at all the viewpoints as the weather permitted. At least it was not raining.
One particular spot was good - Lunch Point. True to name, there were lots of people eating lunch there (it was by now past noon), but the really worthwhile reason for stopping was that there was a Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep mooching about. People were keeping their distance from it, as apparently it had charged at someone earlier for getting too close, and its big horns did look like they could do some damage if you were on the wrong end of them!
The scenery was good, especially as at lower altitudes, the sun was shining through the clouds, and the interplay of sunlight on the mountainsides made for some good photos. We decided to stop at the Rising Sun landing, to go for a boat ride, but elected to eat first at the Two Dog Cafe, where John had a "double r ranch burger" (really just a plain old hamburger), and Barb had a salad. But it were sufficient.
Back to the landing ramp, where we just got beaten to the booking office by someone who wanted 11 tickets, so consequently, there was no space for us! Again, we went on a waiting list, and while waiting, did a short walk along the lake foreshore. There were lots of wildflowers!
Then back in time for the boat departure, and yes, there was space for us, so on we went. A nice young man named Kyle was our guide, and he was a bit more experienced than Walter the other day, and fielded all the questions with authority. The only question he could not answer was Nathan's: "Why are there so many cracks in the rocks at 45 degrees to the water hewn cracks?" (which were of course vertical). Various theories were put forward, but none entirely satisfied us all.
At the far end we went for a short walk to view a waterfall, then returned to the boat. On the way back, someone spotted a bear walking along the far side of the lake, so Kyle steered a little closer (he was not allowed closer than 250yds) so we could take photos. The bear was visible for a long time, as the path he was following went through a recent rockfall, free of vegetation, and we could all follow him as he ambled along on all fours, quite oblivious to our presence. So a Big Horn and a Grizzly all in one day!
We belted back to Glacier Park in time for what John thought was the 17:45 arrival of the Amtrak train, but after an hour of waiting (he nearly gave up twice), the train arrived and departed, with much shutter popping. Then the penny began to dawn ... we had kept our cameras on Pacific Time, and Montana runs on Mountain Time. Hence the hour wait! Nathan and Barb were watching all this from the Hotel balcony, sipping a quiet beer, so they probably got the better deal ...
Dinner in the Dining Room again, John had the roast game hen that Barb had the pther night, while Barb had a salad. Then to bed.
After packing all our stuff, we set off early to Logan Pass, where we found a car space in the very foggy car park. Nathan and John set off at 10am on the Highline trail, while Barb and Lynne stayed to walk to the Hidden Lake.
The Highline trail went down the hill a little way, where we met a Park Ranger young woman, who told us that the trail we were on was now part of the Canada to Mexico Rocky Mountain Trail. She hinted that there were no problems on the trail, except to watch out for bears!
The trail was completely fogbound, which meant no problems for the normal part of the trail, but then we got to the cliff-side part of the trail. This is a sheer cliff face on one side, and a sheer precipitous drop on the other, with a path that was only 0.8m wide in parts! There was a wire "hand-rail" on the cliff side, which saw John intiallially edging along hanging on the the hand-wire! As I said to Nathan, "one advantage of the fog is that you cannot see how far it is to the bottom", but I had to eat my words a bit, as on the way back in partial sun, I swaggered along not holding the hand-wire, and boasting to Nathan that it was far scarier when the fog was down!
It took us 2 hours to reach the mini-glacier that we had spied from the road yesterday, and we decided to call it quits at that point. We had come 5kms, and to get to the end of the trail at The Loop, required another 13kms of walking! So we turned and went back the way we had come. We thought we might make a faster pace on the way back, since we would not need to stop and take so many photos, but a) the lighting had changed and the fog had lifted, so we did take as mny photos, and b) we were tired as well. So it was just after 2pm that we returned to Logan Pass, but no sign of the women.
15 minutes later they turned up on a shuttle bus, having caught one down to Avalanche Creek, where the weather was better, and they could go for a walk and not get freezing cold. So once reunited, we set off down the hill towards West Glacier, where we had lunch at 4pm!
Then on to Kalispell where we had a room booked at the Hilton Garden Inn. We booked in, then went off for dinner. After one unsuccessful attempt (30 minute wait to get in), we found ScottiBelli, an Italian restaurant. It was very good, catering for Lynne with a minimum of drama (unlike lunchtime). John had Gnocci Gorgonzola, Barb had Pasta Asparagi. The an ice cream from the Sweet Peaks ice cream palour two blocks away, recommended by the waitress in ScottiBelli! Yummy! Then back to the Hilton, and bed.
We managed to leave the hotel by 9:30 this morning, and headed straight for the split rock cafe (where we had lunch on Sunday (10 Jul 2016). Barb had a California Benedict (avocado, tomato and spinach on a muffin with hollandaise sauce), while John had a regular Eggs Benedict. All good, with a good 3 shot espresso coffee, the best breakfast we have had on the road so far.
Travelled from Kalispell on the I2 towards Spokane, with John's turn in the front seat for a change. This meant he could catch up on a bit of this blogging, since there has not been a moment to do so over the last 7 days!
We stopped at Libby to have lunch at the Cabinet Mountain Brewery. This was a cute little place with plenty of beer, and a few items of food. But they could do GF, so Lynne was happy. The other three all tried different sorts of beer (Nathan scotch ale, John Bucklebeat ESB (Extra Special Bitter) and Barb wheat beer. Then Nathan went and ordered a sampler of 6 beers (6 x 4oz, or 2 US pints), so we had to help him with that. Interestingly, Montana has a law that prohibits any licensed establishment from selling more than 48 fl oz to any one individual, so each of us had a little card to count the number of (US) pints each of us had had. Nathan won with 3 ticks, although, as I said, Barb and I did help him.
On the road again, this time on the 395, we stopped at the Albeni Dam on the Pend OReilly River to look at an impressive railway bridge, and the dam itself and associated power station, which was not all that big, but more notable for being built in 1951.
Then on to Spokane itself, specifically to dine at the Wild Sage restaurant (where we had dinner on Friday 8 Jul 2016). Again, an excellent meal. John had the same as last time (duck breast, follwed by creme brulee), but Barb changed her selection to a Filet Mignon (with a glass of red). Then back on the I90/I2 road to Moses Lake for hotel and bed.
After trawling the web to find a suitable breakfast site, we gave up and elected to eat in the hotel. Lynne had enough GF cereal to make her own breakfast, and the rest of us survived on muesli (very sweet) and scrambled eggs - or in John's case, eggs benedict, but with a bagel, not a muffin, and no poached eggs or hollandaise.
At the registration desk, John helped himself to one of the lollies in a bowl on the counter. No sooner than he had started sucking, he realised his mistake. It was a jalapena lolly! He got no sympathy from his fellow travellers, but when he suggested that we stop for some espresso, there was a resonance with his suggestion. The first place we tried had too long a queue, which was moving slowly, if at all. So we drove on to the next. These espresso places appear all around the mid-west. Little drive-up sheds, with a window each side, and bare room to swing a group carrier inside. I should have taken a photo of one, but at the time, I didn't realise what a culture icon they were. I was more interested in the coffee (which was good).
On to Soap Lake, so named because the water actually feels soapy. It is due to local deposits of sodium bicarbonate (along with numerous other minerals), and this concotion has led to claims of all sorts of healing properties. Indeed, the native Indians called the place "Smokiam", which means "healing waters", and the early settlers called it "Siloam", aided no doubt, by the biblical reference in John 9. Interestingly, according to wikipedia, "Soap Lake ... has the highest diverse mineral content of any body of water on the planet."
Then on to Lake Lenore, where we walked up to visit a series of caves in the cliff faces, where we had a wonderful view of the valley below, with the series of lakes, and the traffic scurring along the highway like ants.
What I (and Barb) did not realise at the time was that we were travelled through a vast prehistoric flood aftermath. The next place we stopped at, known as Dry Falls, had a visitor centre with displays and videos that explained it all. Apparently the Clark Fork River further up the watershed got cut off by a galcier from Canada during an ice age, and created a huge lake. IIRC, it contained 100 million cubic miles!!! of water. That is a shedload of water. Guess what? It burst through the ice, and rushed down the valley at speeds of up to 65 miles an hour (110kph), carrying huge boulders in its path, some floating on or in ice floes, but most just being swept along. Dry Falls was where it came to the end of a plateau, and so became a HUGE waterfall 5.6km long, and 120m high! It carried a water flow of ten times the current flow of all the rivers in the world combined!!
If you are not impressed by that penultimate paragraph, go back and read it again. The scale of this just blew me away - as it must have done to any living thing in its path. To this day, there are huge rocks hundreds of kilometers away, just plonked in the middle of vast open spaces. They are too big to move, and farmers just plough around them. I did take a photo of one such.
Apparently, the geologist who first suggested this (J. Harlen Bretz) was the reason behind these so-called "scablands" was laughed at for 30 years. He researched and published on it from 1923, but it was not until 1954 that his theory was officially recognized by the wider group of geologists, and he received the Penrose Medal, the Geological Society of America's highest award in 1979 at the age of 96. And I like his parting shot: "All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over."
Everything else in the day was an anticlimax. We drove on to Libby, where we had (late) lunch at the Coyote Pass Cafe. John had a humungus "Ruebon" sandwich, and Barb had an even humungusier cobb salad. Then a stop in Leavenworth for ice creams and buying some indulgences for a young lady, then zoom! for Ballard and the Skillet Diner for dinner. I hate to go on about food like this, but I did restrict myself to only a half "ribs 'n fries" out of respect for my stomach. At least I had no trouble in getting to sleep.
Nathan and I spent the whole day getting the roof to the shed finished. We added the final rafter, did the noggins, then installed the laser light sheeting. Fortunately, no great traumas to the bodies, or even the hands of either Nathan or John, as we did take the precaution of wearing gloves while handling the timber.
In the meantime, Barb and Lynne went to the Zoo, but I cannot relate what happened to them, since I wasn't with them. But they got home in time to admire the finished product, and we all had a beer in the shed to celebrate. We consumed all of the growlers (32 fl oz each) of beer that we bought at the Cabinet Mountain Brewery, a River Red, and a Jalapena Hefeweisen - very welcome!
The disks that Nathan ordered this morning arrived, so John and Nathan bought started some backing up. We had dinner (sausages and veg) on the garden seats outside, then watched an episode of "Pie in the Sky" before retiring for our last night in Seattle.
Last day in Boston, so we were up early to go down to the Portage Cafe. Barb and John set off at 8:15 to get a table, and were joined 15 minutes later by Nathan and Lynne. John had the buckwheat pancakes, his regular (if you count once every 12-18 months as "regular"), and Barb had a goat cheese omelette.
Back at 2819, N and J proceeded to hang the doors on the shed - which was not a trivial task, as one of the doors weighed a ton, and the hanging stud (as we found out) was not perfectly upright or square. Several false starts of packing and repacking saw it hung, only to find out that it did not close freely, due to too much packing in one corner. So off it came again, more fiddling, and then finally! Hung so that it not only closed freely, but was square in its frame. After that, the lighter door was easy, and we finished that after lunch.
Meanwhile, B and L had gone off to the market to buy supplies, and returned in the early afternoon. Barb started the packing for the next leg of our journey, only to find that somehow we had acquired much more stuff than we arrived with, and she had a difficult time getting everything in. Oh dear. And we are only a third of the way through our trip!
Dinner was roast pork, Nathan and Lynne's usual Sunday night fare. Then off to the airport, with a fairly quick run through the city. We said our farewells at the drop-off point, and then did all the check-in nonsense. Barb was somewhat brave and ordered two large coffees (which were espressos!) from the Dilettante Cafe. I asked her if she was planning to sleep much, and she replied 'not really'! But once in the air, with the lights dimmed (the day had just 20 minutes left), we settled back and relaxed.
The night did not pass well - Barb felt unwell during the night, as though she was going to faint. She got her head down in my lap, and suffered a bit with feelings of nausea, but when I pressed the attendant call button, and the hostess brought a drink of water and some cold flannels, she seemed to perk up. Oops. Let me rephrase that. She seemed to recover somewhat. Still not 100%, but enough to cope with the stresses of landing and "debarking", as the Americans put it.
In view of the circumstances, we caught a taxi to the Revere Hotel, which made things easy. The original plan was to catch a train into the city from the airport, but that would have been a bit too much for our stessed minds. Once in the hotel, at about 8am, we collapsed on the bed, and did not resurface until about 10:30. We showered, felt human again, and visited the concierge to find out how to do the Duck Tour that had been recommended to us at Seattle airport.
The Duck Tour started at the Prudential Centre, a couple of blocks walking distance. The concierge also recommended a good place for breakfast, or rather brunch, so on our way we dropped in to The Friendly Toast, where we recharged with Georgia Reubens (John), and BLT Benny (Barb). And cups of (American) coffee.
We were early for the ducks, but there was a waiting place in the shade, and we were not fussed at having a quiet opportunity to just sit and reflect. At 1:15, we boarded "Charlie River", just one of the 28 replicas that they company has of the WWII DUKW vehicles.
The Duck trip was fun. Lots of interesting history as we drove through Boston's streets, and we had an entertaining guide in "Justine Time", who claimed to be a time traveller, stuck in the 21st century. Now where have I heard that theme before?
Once on the river, the wind was quite vigorous, so much so that we had to close a few windows to stop the bow spray blowing back in. Justine even invited passengers to come up to the front to have a "drive" of the Duck while on the lake. But we must have been having fun, as all too soon the trip was over, and we were back at the Prudential Centre.
An urge for coffee seized us, but guess what? In the large shopping area on the bottom two floors of the PC, there were NO cafes! Two places sold american coffee (brewed), but no espresso. Can you imagine that in Melbourne? We settled for Dunkin' Donuts, as the alternative was Starbucks, and the queue there was a bit long. But the coffee was no better.
Back to the Revere. After some blogging and photo catch-ups, we started looking for food. There was a bar in the hotel, but there was no one in it. We had a beer (J) and a mohito (B), then went looking outside the hotel. We recalled walking past a restaurant on our way back from the Duck Tour, so we headed there. The menu on the door outside looked good, but once we got inside, discovered the menu was not the same, due to renovations happening in the dining area. So we sat in a little alcove off the bar and had the alternative menu - at this stage we did not feel like trying to find somewhere else. We had a shared Fritto Misto for starters, and it was excellent! The mains were not quite as good, for example, John's Grilled Octopus and Beans had very nice beans, and the octopus was OK, if a little overdone, but there were only 4 pieces of octopus. I thought that a little stingy. Barb had Cornish Game Hen, but commented that the hen was not very gamey. John had a local IPA, and Barb had a glass of Gruner Vetliner. They were acceptable!
The plan today was to do Havard in the morning, and the Aquarium in the afternoon, with breakfast on the way, lunch at Havard or Aquarium, and dinner back near the hotel. We set out walking to South Station, on the Red Line to Hardvard, looking for breakfast places on the way. We saw none, until we were just across the road from the station. I said to Barb "there will be plenty of eating places in the station", but it did quite come to that. 50m from the station we spotted Susan's Deli Of Course (sic), so we went in, thinking it might be a bit of a dive. But it was actually quite pleasant, with good service. We each had the special "Tomato, Spinach and Cheese Omelette" with rye toast, and judged it good value at $7. Across the road our choice was vindicated. Yes, lots of eating places, but all chains, like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds, etc., places we would not normally choose to eat at.
We bought tickets at the "commuter" ticket counter (as distinct from the "Amtrak" counter, and followed the clerks advice to catch the Outbound train (so marked on the platforms). John was a little intrigued that we were going to Braintree, as he thought we should be heading to Alewife. By the time we got to the next station, we had confirmed the mistake. The clerk gave us misleading advice, sine the train we were supposed to be on only became "outbound" from Park Station. I would have thought that South Station, being the main central station in the city was the target of all inbound, and that all trains starting from there were outbound. Like British practice, where inbound is "down", and outbound is "up", trains going through the terminus effectively change direction. So the clerk wasn't really wrong, just confusing. The station signage didn't help either.
So we jumped ship (or rather train) at the next station Broadway, straight across the platform to a waiting inbound train, and recommenced our journey to Harvard, counting off the stations as we went to ensure no further mistakes!
At Harvard, we surfaced right next to Harvard Square, where we were to meet the tour guide. This tour was a free add-on to yesterday's duck tour, and the tour guide, a "sophomore" business studies student named Cormac (sophomore students have completed first year, as opposed to "freshmen" who have not). Cormac knew his stuff, and was entertaining in delivering it. "How many Harvard students does it take to screw in a light bulb? One. He just holds it up to the socket, and the world turns around him!" We had an entertaining 90 minutes of his history and anecdotes, and he was one service person I had no qualms about tipping - he was worth it!
A cup of (proper) coffee at the Peet's Cafe in Winthrop Gardens, and then a technical train journey on the Red Line/Orange Line/Blue Line to get to the Aquarium. Boston has not yet caught up with the key metro idea of every (colour) line crossing every other (colour) line, in spite of being the first metro system in the US. Such a mechanism means that a journey from any station to any other station involves at most one change of train. Oh well, I guess one could argue that it is still a better system than Melbourne's, although the fact that one of the trains (the Green Line) is really a tram does open up the competition in Melbourne's favour, and I also guess that once you take trams into account, Melbourne does win!
The Aquarium was absorbing. We watched fish in the big central tank which has glass windows over 3 stories being fed by divers, and the best part of this was the three giant turtles swimming around. But we also saw in the other exhibits, octopusses (it is not "octopii" I am told, Robert Fleming, I hope you know the reason why!), piranha, poisonous frogs, and la piece de resistance, a touch tank where you could acually feel the rays as they swam past. I said to the guide "I hope I am not going to do a Steve Irwin here", and she replied, "no, these are all harmless to humans". Phew. The skin is like a very fine velvet in texture, very soft, so much so that some mistake it as "slimy", but that is quite unfair. The rays did not seem to mind being touched, and would swim backwards and forwards past the outstretched hands.
We left the Aquarium at 5:30 after watching the seal training session, and found a street-side bar to stop for a beer (J) and mohito (B). Suitably refreshed, we walked back to the hotel through the Boston Common.
Dinner started out as an intention to revisit the Post 390, but we got sidetracked by "Legal Sea Foods", a Massachusetts chain with a very good reputation (all the Presidents since Nixon have dined here). We had Boston Clam Chowder each, followed by a Grilled Assortment (B), and Fisherman's Catch (J). All very excellent, although John did complain about having too many (sic) chips with his fried fish, clams, calamari, prawns, mussels, etc.. I say "sic", because that's what eating them all would have done. Back to the hotel to prepare for the morrow.
Did gym in the morning, and I think I skinned my elbow doing the bridge and stretch exercise. Anyway, it is quite painful, and a blandle (Hurst folklore for bandaid) was required. We ate at the in-house buffet, which was expensive, but it did buy us a bit more time to get organized, and the photos had not finished uploading. They will become difficult once we are at sea. Checked out after breakfast, leaving our bags with the concierge.
We then walked to the Museum of Science (30 minutes), and spent the next 3.5 hours walking around the fascinating exhibits. Just for Pam, we took a photograph of the Happy Face Spider. While at the museum, we had lunch at the Riverside Cafe overlooking the Charles River, and watched Ducks waddling their way up and down the river.
Took the Green Line train (really a tram, with its own dedicated right of way) back to the hotel, collected our bags, and caught a taxi to the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal. Now you would think a wealthy place like Boston could afford a decent terminal, but this one must rank with Valparaiso as one of the worst organized cruise terminals in the world. It was an old WWI vintage wharehose, slightly jazzed up with a big neon sign, but otherwise rather unsalubrious, and with very poor passenger facilities. Since we had made a point of not arriving when the passenger information said embarkation was open, we had little trouble in walking through the almost non-existent queues. The only slight hassle was John not coping with a poorly designed (with yet again, poorly informed guidance on what was required, consistent with the whole ethos of the place) form for entry into Canada. Huh? We were getting on a ship to cross the Atlantic, and while Canada was one of the stops, no other countries we were to visit required any forms to be filled out. My theory (yet to be disproved) is that it is a ruse by Canada to keep Trump supporters out of the country - or, at least, to make life hell for them. Trouble is, it also annoyed us non-Trump supporters).
However, our tardiness backfired slightly, as we got on board just in time to do the lifeboat drill, all 150 people in lifeboat number 8 crammed together in one small corner of the deck, having our names called out by a woman with a broken loud-hailer against the dozen other lifeboat musters all doing the same thing, but with working loud-hailers. Add to that the background chatter of 75 women all talking like sopranas in rehearsal, and you get an idea of the chaos. Once over, we repaired to the Lido Deck for a beer (J: Boddington, B: Stella), but they had not quite got their act together either, as they could not find the beers, and when they did arrive, they were warm!
We had to wait for the suitcases to arrive in the cabin, and it was not until after 7 that they did, so there was some frantic unpacking in order to get ready for dinner at 8. But we need not have hurried, as there were huge lines (I use the American word, as one could not dignify the throng as a "queue") of people, and they did not open the doors until 8:10.
We met two other couples at our table, number 62, Mike and Pam, from (near) San Francisco, and Sid and Lorraine, from Boston. They seem nice enough - Pam lives up to her namesake in Barb's sister, and Sid is ever so slightly eccentric. More on them later, I am sure. Put it this way - we were about the third last table to leave the dining room, so we must have been enjoying ourselves! Then to bed, and a relaxing sleep, knowing that we would not have to move camp for another 34 nights!
John awoke early at 6:30, and our morning cup of tea arrived at 7am, as planned. We had a leisurely cup of tea, which rather set the pace for the rest of the day. Breakfast (fish) in the Lido, where we sat with a couple from Boston, Klara and Everett (sp?), who had done several cruises with HAL before, including the Antarctica trip earlier this year (we did it last year). They were also very interested in Australia, as they are going there in Jan/Feb next year, and so quizzed us on all the things to see.
After breakfast, a bit of catching up on photos and blogs, and then we headed into Bar Harbor on one of the tenders. It was a nice sunny day, and we strolled around the town, first buying some sunscreen, and then stopping in the Route 66 Bar to buy a beer and apply it. (Beer was applied to mouth, sunscreen to arms and neck.) The barman was very friendly and chatty, and when we said that we planned to walk along the shore trail, he told us to go to the very end, turn right, walk up to the Main Street, and go to the Lobster Bay Co for the best lobsters!
Which we did. There was a bit of a wait, but it was worth it. The lobsters (we had one each) were very fresh, and ever so sweet. All washed down with a pint (US) of beer. Woopeedoo!
A slow stroll back down Main Street, looking in various shops, and stopping at an ice cream palour for ice cream. We could not remember which one it was we tried in 2006 and found that it had no ice cream because of a power failure, but this one had plenty of ice cream! Barb had a Black Raspberry Disaster (don't ask me why it is called that), and John had two scoops, BRD and Salted Caramel. Yummy, although we both noticed some faint lobster tang to our fingers as we licked the ice cream!
We were restrained in our purchases - only two postcards, and NO milk jugs! Not that we saw many of the latter, and of those that we did, they were either too expensive, too big, or too unpretty to buy. Back to the pier where they was a lengthy queue - but we all fitted. The tenders take 150 people, and there is a long delay once back at the ship because everyone has to go through a security screening - bags are X-rayed, and body metal scanners are in use. Given that a lot of passengers have mobility problems, this further exacerbates things. Oh, and Barb spotted 2 dophins jumping through the water on our way back.
The remainder of the afternoon was quiet, John doing some computer tidy-ups, Barb reading a book (through her eyelids), until it was time for dinner. The missing couple turned up (and indeed were first at the table), Judy and Paul from Canada. Again, some jolly discussion around the table, so I think all couples will fit in. John continued the seafood theme, having a Smoked Seafood Sampler (he had been sampling all day anyway), followed by the Yukon Fisherman's Salad, and Cheese Board (after they had run out of his first choice, bread pudding); while Barb had Smoked Seafood Sampler, followed by Atlantic Trout, then Cheese Board. Then bed.
PS Why Bar Harbor, Barb, arbor and harbour? I managed to take a photo in Bar Harbor of Barb standing in an arbor with a view of the harbour. (:-)
Up bright and early for a 6:30 cup of tea, followed by 7am gym. We went to an "abs and core" fitness session, led by an instructor, with the first 25 minutes being abs exercises (mainly yoga, according to Barb), and the second 25 minutes being core exercises, with an option to leave between. The place was fairly full, so when a half dozen or so elected to leave at half-time, it did make for a bit more room, and a few less people to laugh at the futile efforts that Barb and I made. I commented on such to Barb afterwards, and she (being in a better position to see) said not to worry, most of the others did not cope well either! So we both felt like we had had a session with Trent, our regular PT.
Then a quick shower before breakfast, following which John went to the "Interdenominational Bible Study" (i.e., not catholic!) led by a bloke called Jeff, who was reasonably liberal in his outlook. We started looking at the book of Jonah, and he made a point that whether or not you believed that Jonah was swallowed by a whale for 3 days (and 3 nights, according to Jesus), there were still important lessons to be learnt from the context and allegory of the story. Amen, brother!
Coffee in the Explorations Lounge (which might become a habit) at 10, followed by a talk in the Showroom at 11 by Location Guide Barbara on the "upcoming" ports of call. She was entertaining enough, and caused an outbreak of laughter when she pointed out that on one rainy day in Corner Brook she visited all 9 Tim Horton's in the town! Donna Robinson, eat your heart out!
We lunched on the Lido Pool Deck, along with 2000 other people who had the same idea, so we had a wait commensurate with yesterday before lunch arrived (Dog Paddle, J; ? B). Then at 2pm we had a wine tasting, with 4 of the wines from the two packages on offer. From there, straight to a very interesting talk by Captain Paul Eschenfelder (a retired history professor) on The Boston Tea Party, and the politics of the early colonialists. Another example of the Poms being less compassionate than Peter Dutton, with disastrous consequences for them. Ah well, you can argue that we would not be Australians if it had not been for those Tea Party revolutionaries!
On to 5pm, when we went to sip and savour (with a 'u', I ref.se to .se the american spelling) where we had a meatball ("Veal and Sage Polpettina") and a glass of Blauer Zweigelt, an Austrian red. We met Patricia, another John, and Bill. The red was OK, but at $52 a bottle, I would not be buying any.
Dinner in the evening was our first formal attire dinner. John was brave and had les escargots, which were softer and less rubbery than he recalled when eating them in Paris. But he wasn't all that impressed nevertheless - as Barb says, all you can taste is the butter and garlic. That was followed by an Artichoke and Heritage Carrot Soup, but to the agreement of all around the table who had it, a little boring. John and Barb both had the Roast Duck Breast with a rather interesting cranberry pudding as a side. Interesting, but not earth shattering. We both agreed that the duck we had at Wild Sage in Kalispell was better. Dessert was Balsamic Strawberries (each), but they were not as good as Deb Amos's ones!
Arrived in "the second best" Sydney in the world (according to Jessica, the (Australian) Culinary Arts Specialist!) and after breakfast in the Lido, we set off to walk the town. Last time we were here, 10 years ago, we took a shore excursion, and did not have much time to explore the place, so it was effectively all new. We sort of followed the recommended walking trail, but at one stage we decided to double back to a cafe we had past, to have a coffee. Perhaps it was because we did not see any other cafes, and this one in particular advertised espresso coffee. So we stopped for elevenses, and took advantage of the free wifi to upload all the recent tracks we have not been able to process.
From there we headed straight out along Prince St to a shopping centre marked on the map. John thought he might be able to get a US power socket double adapter, and thereby hangs a tale. But first I should fill you in on the problem.
There are two sockets for general use within the cabin - one US, and one European. We had brought Oz adapters for both, but the sockets were so close together that both could not be plugged in simultaneously. On the Australian side we had a power board with 6 sockets, the sort of thing you can get in Woolies, and which we knew from past experience would cover all our charger needs. One adapter covered that. But we had also acquired in Seattle a new disk, with a power supply ("battery eliminator") that had US pins. Now you know what these things are like, they are usually much wider than the sockets into which they plug, and often mean you cannot use adjacent sockets. That was exactly the case. I could just get the wall wart for the disk drive in, but at an angle, such that bare pins were exposed, and the connection was not sound. It needed a solution. A neat double adapter would do nicely.
Hence the trip to the shopping centre. We found several shops that might have what we were after, but no joy. The equivalents of Woolies and Bunnings in Canada (or at least, Sydney, Nova Scotia) don't seem to stock adapters and power boards. But the very last shop in the chain, called mysteriously "The Source" did have power boards - but no double adapters. So at the cost of $C35.00, we bought a power board with the key feature, a narrow plug, which would fit the power socket on board. Problem solved!
Or so I thought. When we returned to the ship, all packages have to be X-rayed, and they pulled out the power board. "Not allowed", they said. "Uh oh", I thought, here we go again, "this is Dubai all over again" (see The Dubai Experience. So I challenged them. "Why is it not allowed?" "Safety" was the reply. "Aha", I thought, "I have them". "OK", I said, "I want to speak to the Chief Engineer about this. I am an electrical engineer myself, and this board is needed to improve the safety of the cabin". While this clearly impressed the security guy, he wasn't going to give in. "You will have to see the front office to make an appointment", he said, "Meanwhile I shall have to confiscate this." Then as an afterthought, he offered as consolotation: "You will get it back when you leave the ship"!
So I hot-footed it to the front office. Discerning readers will note that I did not say "hot-wired it to the disk drive", although that thought did cross my mind. I was fortunate in encoutering a very polite and sympathetic German woman, Gesa, on the desk, who listened to my story, and responded with "Dr Hurst, we will get your board to you this afternoon". The fact that she knew my name and title suggested that she already had been warned I was coming! Sure enough, a phone call not 15 minutes after I had returned to my cabin from Gesa said that I could collect the board from the office. So more hot-footing saw me down at the office where she proferred not my power board, but a Holland American one, and a story that this was the "preferred" power board, and that the company would refund me the cost of the one I had bought! She even offered the bonus that if I wanted to keep it, then I could collect it on my way off the ship, since they could not use it!! That wasn't entirely necessary, but I thought that the Robinsons might well want an extra power board, so I said yes. We shall see on that front later. In the meantime, computers and disk are happy, and David OHS son will be proud of my safety finesse.
So the rest of the day was a little anti-climactic. We returned to shore, and wandered up to the Jost House, an old 18th C house which had been owned by the Jost family for around 100 years, but which now is a museum. It cost $3 each to get in, but we only had $C3 between us. John elected to wait outside while Barb had a look, but the guy on the front desk would not hear of that, and waved us both through for the $3. It was a fascinating house, and had had a 3rd floor added to the original 2-floor setup. Just like our house, eh? Hope that is in the family for a 100 years, too! Jemima, are you taking notes?
Back on board again in time for Sip and Savour, where we had a prawn bruschetta and Rosemount Chardonnay. "Oh no", said Barb, who hates chardonnay. But Sasha the professional sommelier, and John, the amateur one, persuaded her to try it, and she agreed that it wasn't too bad after all!
Dinner at 8 with a full table again, and a strong topic of conversation being comparing travel stories from around the world. My little adventure this afternoon with the power board proved welcome, as I do detect that there is a certain antagonism towards Holland America amongst all the guests. By the way, did I tell you that they are all 5-star mariners? We are the underdogs, being only 4-star mariners! Thank you, Lord, for reminding us to be humble.
We all went to the show afterwards, although we did not sit together, it being rather full by the time we got there. It was a two-sister act, Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, playing Celtic music, including things like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata set to Celtic rhythms!!! Boy could they sing, dance and play! Very talented.
Woken up at 6:30 by the tea tray arriving. Slowly scoffed that down, only to suddenly realize at 7am that we were supposed to be at the gym for stretch and abs work, so rapidly donned gym clothes and belted up to deck 8. 45 minutes later, suitably hot and sweated, returned to cabin for a shower before breakfast, and then a leisurely stroll onto the dock at Corner Brook. We enquired about how far the railway useum was, and were told that it was a 20 minute walk, and yes, they were open today. So we strolled off in the opposite direction to everyone else, and arrived at the museum 25 minutes later (we stopped for some photos). Unfortunately, we had spent all our Canadian dollars in Sydney, and the entrance fee was $3 each. Not even having one fee like yesterday, we reluctantly turned away and headed back. But John did get a few photos of the one steam loco that they had, which was outside the museum on display. Either they have no vandals, or the local youth respect their heritage, and the loco was in good condition (but not serviceable). So back to the ship.
We arrived at the dock just as the next shuttle bus was leaving, so we hailed it, jumped on, and had a ride into the city centre, where we cashed up (a little too late!) We asked, and were advised that just nearby there was a good coffee shop, called "Brewed Awakening". But on the way there we saw the local United Church, so we went in for a look to find that the congregation was assembling for sunday service. So we elected to stay. Friendly mob, with a greeting from the pulpit of the "cruise friends" and a good sermon on Mt 6:1-21 called "But the world owes me this ..." by the Rev John van Vliet. The service was short, 45 minutes, and no short cuts were taken, Neil. I also liked the fact that they referred to retired ministers as "Ministers Emeritus"!
So then we made it to Brewed Awakening, where we had the best coffee since Nathan, together with a thick oatcake, yum, yum. What next? We set off on the Stream Trail, which would have been much better without the 'r', and an 'n' instead of the 'l'. The trail ran alongside a river (which probably explains the 'r'), and ended at a small dam, called the Glynmill Pond, which was and is used for the pulp and paper mill still running in Corner Brook. We returned to the city and stopped at the Moose and Crown for a pint each (and they were proper pints, too). Barb had Stella, John had a Rickards Red, which he enjoyed, and which Barb would have enjoyed had she known in advance how nice it was. Ah well, we'll just have to come back!
Suitably refreshed, we decided to walk up to the Captain Cook Memorial. Here, "up" was the operative word. It was all "up"hill, and quite steep at that too. The good news was that because it was so steep, we got to the top sooner. There was a tour bus at the top, but they were on a tight schedule and we weren't, so they had soon gone. It was a fabulous view, very reminiscient of the view from the lookout at Juneau in Alaska. That we could do with more breath, since there was a cable car to take us up, but at least at Corner Brook we could feel more virtuous for having walked up (thanks, Trent!)
The site commemorated one of Cook's first expeditions, and apparently he did such a good job of surveying and charting the Newfoundland coastline, that that secured for him the gig of going to the Pacific and charting Australia. Just think - without this experience for Cook, we all might have been French or Dutch (or perhaps Ital-i-an?)
The journey down was a breeze, coolingly assisted by a sea breeze to offset the ordures (have I spelt that correctly?) of climbing up. We walked all the way back to the ship, where a cup of tea in the Lido further refreshed us, then to Sip and Savour with a good pairing of tomato and buffalo mozzarella with an Italian Pinot Grigio.
At 7 there was a small gathering (by invitation), about a dozen, of Australians, with a 20% discount on drinks. This was slightly disappointing, as we were led to believe that there were about 30 Australians on board, and a couple of Kiwis. As one bloke (Mike) next to me put it, if they had offered free beer, they would have had everyone along! A few more friendships and acquaintances were struck up, and then it was time for dinner. Barb had two mains instead of an entree and main, because she wanted to try the Breton Cod and the Mushroom Strudel. The strudel we had had before, and liked it, and it was almost as good the second time around. Barb said that the cod was very sweet and very nice. John had mussels, borscht and the strudel. We both had Chocolate Delight, a very indulgent dessert!
John left early to catch the movie at 9:30 (The Shipping News), while Barb went to the show, which was a Four Seasons cover group playing all their old songs. We both enjoyed our respective entertainments. Then bed.
Up early with morning tea at 6:30, then gym at 7. I did my Trent set of exercises, while Barb did the stretch and abs workout with the class. Then a shower before breakfast, and an early start on the tenders.
On shore by 9:30, a kind woman gave Barb one US dollar to buy a map, as we had not brought any money ashore, thinking that the maps (like everywhere else) would be free. With the aid of this map, we walked up the hill to see the cute little Canadian United Church, and then visit the Information Centre to watch a video on the early whaling history of the place. Apparently it was populated by Basque whalers in the early 16th century, and there has been intensive archaelogical activity to learn more about them, to the point that the whole area is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The centre was fascinating in its exposition of all this history.
After exhausting all the history, Barb decided to catch a small ferry across to Saddle Island to see some of the diggings, and remains of the whaling stations, while John headed back to the ship, seeing a pod of seals frollicking in the waters as he was belting along in the tender.
We rejoined for lunch in the Lido (sushi and asian), then watched the departure process, before heading off to hear Paul Eschenfelder's talk on the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Then a cup of tea in the lido, where we found some left-over Lobster Rolls, very yummy. Sip and Savour featured an Australian wine, Penfold's Koonunga Hill chardonnay, with a "shrimp, caper and spring onion bruschetta", very nice.
Saw our first icebergs as we travelled north. Dinner was very quiet - just the two of us. John had Seared Black Pepper Duck Breast, Parmesan-Coated Pork Loin, and Warm Espresso Date Pudding. Barb was nnot feeling 100%, and we went to bed to the pleasant sounds of the fog horn blaring every two minutes.
Barb was not feeling brilliant this morning, and forgot to put out the tea menu, so no tea in bed. John nobly got dressed and went up to the Lido to get two cups of tea and buns (and he had to make two trips, because it was too much to carry for one trip.) In spite of these ministrations, Barb still did not feel like breakfast, so John ate alone.
At 9 o'clock, John went off to the Bible Study, and by 9:45 when he came back, Barb had brightened up considerably, enough to go down to the Explorer Lounge for a cup of coffee. The only free table had a chess board set up on it, so we had a game of chess, with John reminding Barb about the rules as we went. It was not really a slaughter, as John could not remember the tactics all that well anyway, and we each rubbed each others pieces out very rapidly. The end game followed, with John down to 2 rooks, a bishop and 1 pawn, and Barb down to 1 pawn. Even so, John could not remember the appropriate end-game play, and the game ended in a stalemate, with Barb unable to move, but not in check! It seemed a fair enough result, given our rustiness.
To the Showroom at 11 to hear Barbara the travel person talk about the next few ports of call. The Showroom was packed, and we had to stand the whole time. But it was interesting enough, and we did garner a few hints. Barb is annoyed that she did not realize that Greenland uses Danish kroner, and we have some at home, but did not bring it! Rats! We will just have to come back again.
Lunch in the Lido, and then blogging and snoozing in the afternoon, until 3pm, when we went to hear the next talk in Captain Paul Eschenfelder's series. Today it was Iceland, Land of Fire, Ice, Free Men and Empowered Women. He covered everything from plate tectonics, geothermal heating, the oldest parliament in the world, and emancipation of women. Did you know that women in Iceland got the vote in 1882? Just as well, because their parliament has been running for over a thousand years!
We had to hand in our passports at 4 because of some Schengen constraint - something to do with Brexit perhaps? Anyway, all non Europeans had to do this, including the US citizens, which I felt made it worth the hassle. Good to see the Yanks getting some of their own bureaucratic nonsense.
Then sip and savour at 5 - again an Aussie wine, Penfolds Koonunga Hill cabernet, paired with a rare roast Beef Spirals with Horseradish Mustard. John had two. or so. We met Tim from Oregon, and Marie (who is 94!) and Hap (95!) from north NY state. Wow. If I am gadding around like those two in my mid nineties, I will be amazed. and old.
Dinner with a full house tonight. John had New England Clam Chowder, Spaghetti Puttanesca, and Griller New York Striploin Steak, but his attempt to have the puttanesca as an entree failed, and both pasta and steak dishes came out together! So he had to eat them both quickly to avoid holding everyone else up! Then because he wanted to go to the movie, Dad's Army, he had to skip dessert.
The movie was quite funny, but the british humour did not appeal to many of the audience, and about 1/4 of the original crowd left by halfway through. It was a different cast to the TV series, but the same set of characters, and the same good scripting.
Today was quite amazing, as it was quite foggy when we got up, but as we came into Qaqortoq, the sun broke through, and we had an amazingly brilliant day! Barb did gym (stretch and abs), while John did his Trent exercises, then breakfast. As we ate breakfast, we entered the waters of Qaqortoq and the fog lifted. We were in time to catch the second tender of the morning, and landed next to a small shop - which had maps of the town, but only for sale at $US1 each, and we had no money between us! Fortunately, a woman standing near overheard our plight, and gave Barb the dollar to buy it. We didn't know her, and haven't seen her since on the ship. Having just heard Geoff the on-board minister talk about Justice (getting what you deserve), Mercy (not getting what you deserve), and Grace (getting what you don't deserve), I think that was a very graceful act by this stranger.
The map was very useful, too. We walked up the hill through the town, seeking out lookouts to get a view of the very beautiful fjord in which we were anchored. We found several, but each time we though we could do better, and pressed on ever higher. Eventually we came across another couple doing the same thing, who told us that along this particular road, which led to a saddle, you could get a view across to the next inlet, and distant views of glaciers. So we hiked up there, to get a view not just of glaciers, but also of several icebergs floating about.
We then struck out across the tundra, walking alternately on volcanic rocks and thick, spongy peat moss, toward a set of cliff tops. We were rewarded with a superb panorama of the Qaqortoq township and the Rotterdam at anchor! Several photos later, we pondered how to get down again. Going back the way we came was obvious, but we thought we could do better. Some trial and error later (fortunately the error did not involving falling over any cliffs!) we found a small track that led down a cleft in the rock face, and we found ourseves back in the township on one of the higher streets on the map called Nakkartartik, and followed a set of wooden steps leading straight down the mountainside back to the harbour. We felt very pleased with ourselves for this adventure!
Back in the town centre, we wandered around looking at various sights, including a fountain which dated from 1927 ("the oldest and biggest fountain in Greenland"!), and a lovely church built in 1822. Incidentally, we had wondered why all the local flags were at half-mast, and at 2 o'clock a peal of bells rang out, and with that much excited talk amongst all around. The word filtered back (into English) that it was in honour of the town's bellringer, who died a few days ago, and whose funeral was this afternoon at 3:30pm. Clearly some local affection for this character, whomever he was, ran very high in the community.
We tendered back to the ship for a very late lunch (after 3 by the time we got our burgers from the Dive-In bar). Then afternoon nap until Sip and Savour. Smoked salmon and capers with a Chilean sauvignon blanc, both very good. Chatted with Tim from Portland again.
We had an eerie departure from Qaqortoq. After the beautiful day, as we headed back out of the fjord, the fog bank descended upon us again. Or rather, we ran back into it. I took lots of photos tring to capture that eerieness, but I am not sure I succeeded. Judge for Yourself!
Dinner was at a new time (7:45pm), in an effort to solve some of the problems arising from the fact that 80% of the ships passengers want to eat early. They might be fixing it for them, but they have buggered it for the late sitting. The movies now start at 9pm, which is impossible to make with only an hour and a quarter for dinner, and it is not much better if you want to go to the show instead, as that starts at 9:30. On the Prinsendam, they both started at 10pm, and everyone was happy. What ever happened to fair goes?
But they had sped the service up, which made a slight improvement, to the point where we did make the start of the show, instead of coming in 15 minutes late. All this in spite of a full dinner (Barb had tuna carpaccio and penne carbonata), while John had something. I cannot tell you what that was, because although I took photos of it all, as is my want, it was a newly formatted card on the camera, and it no longer wants to talk to my computer. That will have to wait until I get back home and appropriate cables to try.
The show was by Scott Harris, a Canadian comedian, and he was pretty funny. The only bit we didn't laugh at was where he parodied a number of Canadian/US TV commercials, which of course meant nothing to us. But we did have a few laughs at the rest of his act.
Today was a day just like yesterday. Fog when we awoke, but as we entered Prince Chrisitan Sound, the sun broke through, and continued to shine for the rest of the day, until we exited the sound at about 5:30pm. Needless to say, the sun made for perfect photography weather. It was hard to stop taking more photographs than needed! Between the two of us, we took 401 photos today, so you have been warned before you click on the photos link. We saw a large sel basking on an ice floe, and while John was off at the Bible Study discussiong Jonah and the Whale, Barb actually saw a whale! (Well, actually, the bible doesn't say a whale, just a large fish, but who knows what it was? (sings) "and that's just as probably as Jonah and the Whale").
We did have porridge for breakfast out on the rear deck of the Lido, to remind ourselves of the Arctic trip on the Prinsendam, when we cruised the Magdalena Fjord in Iceland. A few more people around this time!
Barb went to Capt. Paul's talk on the Vikings, which she said was interesting. Did you know that the Vikings actually fought with the Crusades? I didn't. We saw several (about 12) glaciers, but only 2 which actually came down to the sea. The captain did doughnuts in front of one, so that people still lying in bed on either side could see how spectacular it was.
As we cruised out of the sound, the fog returned, and we went off to Sip and Savour, where we had chocolate paired with a Rosemount Shiraz - very in your face!
Dinner was formal, and we had a young mech. engineer called Jort join us at the table. I'm not sure he knew what had hit him, because even though Mike and Pam were off at the Pinnacle, the rest of us gave him a good quizzing, and Lorraine stepped up a gear and gave him a serve about how their cabin was still flooded! Poor bloke! I don't think he was in a position to do much about it, as he was an engine room engineer, not a plumbing engineer.
But the dinner was good, especially as the ship provides the wine when officers dine with the passengers. Most everybody had crab legs, but John went with the Seared Duck Breast with Apricot. The Double Chocolate Cheesecake was pretty special, too!
We went to the show to see The Unexpected Boys do covers of various Broadway hits. Good singing, a lot of it unaccompanied.
Barb went off to gym (stretch and abs) at 7am, but John felt like snoozing on. We had breakfast in the Lido (again), and then John went off to Bible Study for another Jonah and the whale session, while Barb listened to the other Barbara on the forthcoming ports of Alesund and Eidfjord. Found time for a coffee in the Lido there somewhere.
After lunch, John went to hear Capt. Paul again, this time on his role as an aircraft pilot, where he talked about the issues confronting pilots crossing the Atlantic. One thing I did not realize is how tidal the flow is. In the morning, most flights are eastboaund, while afternoon and evening is dominated by westbound flights. As Paul pointed out, this is not ideal when you are constantly flying into the sun! Meanwhile Barb read.
We did 30+ minutes at the gym, this time doing the Trent exercises. Then we went to the 6pm showing of the movie "Land Ho!", which was effectively a travelogue about Iceland. There was an attempt at a plot, but it never grabbed us, and the film ended very limply, with us both expecting more story to follow. We felt we were very brave and/or masochistic sitting all the way to the end. Many people did walk out!
Dinner was only 6, as Sid and Lorraine were absent without leave. Barb had Smoked Trout with Sweet and Sour Red Beets, Crispy Crab Roll, Quali with Apricot Bread Stuffing, and dessert of Cheese Platter, while John had Crispy Crab Roll, Roasted Shallot and Butternut Squash Soup, Tagliatelli alla Conti, and Chocolate Creme Caramel for pudding.
Did not go to the show ("The Midnight Hour", "well known iconic songs given an updated treatment"), as it sounded a bit boring, and as the clocks go forward an hour, decided we needed the sleep instead.
Something went wrong with our morning tea this morning. Probably because John wrote out the request to hang on the door. He probably hung it the wrong way, or something. Anyway, we changed the time from 6:30 to 7:00, and that probably threw the wait staff. At 7:38 when it hadn't arrived, I said we should go and have breakfast, because we had an 8:30 meet in the showroom for our excursion. So we did. When we returned after breakfast, there was the tea tray, but no tea. We had a pot of coffee instead! Barbara even got as far as putting a tea bag in the cup, and pouring coffee over it before she realized the mix-up. Anyway, there was no time to have it, so we abondoned it and set off for the showroom.
In no time at all, we were lining up to get into this huge modified Ford F350 pick-up, which was basically a stretched 4WD seating 10 passengers. I pushed Barb forward to get into the front seat, whereupon we discovered the first hassle of the day - the running board was 600mm above ground, and Barb could not quite swing herself up on it. A bit of pushing by John saved the day, to the amusement of several of the other passengers! Our driver, whose name was Pioli (or similar) in Icelandic, but suggested we call him Paul, showed Barb how to navigate the step by using an intermediate step at the back, and then walking along the running board. He was then very helpful all day, each time we got in and out, by standing next to Barb as she navigated this precariousness, and literally giving her a shoulder to lean on. John meanwhile, sitting on the driver's side, had no such advantage, and had to swing himself up and down each time. Ooof!
Off we went out through the back blocks of Rejkavik to our first stop, called "Laeviende" (sp?), or "End of the Road" in english. So called because the lava tube has no normal opening out of which the lava flowed, but just stops suddenly, presumably because of a very old cave-in. We had hard-hats and touches, and rather gingerly entered the tube (through a cave-in!) to find that most of the way we could walk almost upright, with only a couple of spots that required all-fours progression. We went about 800m into the tube, noting all the lava stalagmites and stalactites (based on different minerals to the usual carbonate forms), and at the end, the bones of a dead lamb, possibly which got lost, but more likely dragged in by a fox. Paul made us switch all our torches off at the end, and keep silent, so in total darkness and almost silence, the only sense was the sound of dripping water. Quite eerie! One of our party commented that it was the first time that she had ever experienced total darkness like that.
Out of the lava tube, back in the car, we headed to a hot springs area. But first Paul wanted to show off his car. We went off-road along a dirt track, with some very steep side tracks that had no other purpose than hooning. Barb tried to take a movie, but she is not yet sure how it has come out. Then to a nearby lake, whose name I have forgotten, where Paul hooned in and out of the water, to, as he put it, "wash the car"! Great fun, until the people in the back seat discovered that one of the window seals was not, and they were getting wet!
Next stop was at Seltun, where steam was issuing through cracks in the ground, and there were pools of boiling water everywhere. It also had the added attraction (?) of a distinct hydrogen sulphide smell, which would come in waves as the wind blew the vapours from each hole in one's direction. All very fascinating, but smelly.
Then on to an extinct volcano (well, nothing has happened here for 2000 years, that's about as extinct as one gets on Iceland), where we hopped (perhaps jumped is a more operative word) out of the car, and climbed on foot up the side of this volcano - perhaps 50m? - to per in at the top. Again, "climb" is not the best word to describe our ascent. It was a bit "two steps forward, one step back", as the path was very slippery with loose scoria underfoot. Going up was not too bad, but I worried about coming down. Still it was a nice view of the surrounding countryside from the top, and looking down into the crater we could see - lots of igneous rocks.
As predicted, coming down was a little concerning. Paul helped Barb and John down the trickier parts (we were the oldest and least able members of the party, even with all our gym!!), and we did make it to the bottom with only one or two minor oopsies.
Then on to Grundvik, as small fishing port, where we stopped at the Bryggjan KaffiHus for lunch, which was a delicious lobster soup. Time to relax and stretch the legs a bit, and finish lunch off with a coffee and a chat with our travelling companions.
Then to another volcano, which was sort of extinct. It was one of a chain of volcanos, shifting over a hot spot in the magma, and leaving a quite scalable (20m) cone on each eruption. The one we went up was not spewing lava, but steam was issuing from just about every crack in the ground, so there was clearly some geothermal activity underneath. Indeed, the local authorities had installed a bore to tap into the steam, to use it for geothermal power generation, but it had not yet been connected, and steam was just blowing out the nozzle at the top of the well. Quite noisily! Again, a good view, especially of the chain of volcanos, and some nervous moments descending.
Then we returned to the ship, arriving back a bit after 3pm. Time for a cup of tea and a glass of lemonade, then a bit of leg recovery time before sip and savour. Only 8 people there tonight, because of all the excursions going on.
Time left to write up today's exploits, and then dinner with just Paul and Judy (from Vancouver). We had a great chat. Both Barb and John had two lots of starters (oink, oink), the Seared Scallops, and then the Duck Pate, before French Onion Soup (John), and Chilled Rhubarb Soup (Barb). John had the Prime Rib of Beef (rare), and Barb had Asparagus Rissotto, before John made a complete pig of himself with Creme Brulee. We will need to climb three volcanos tomorrow!
A really early start today, so we had tea at 6am, then a short breakfast in the Lido before joining the group in the Showroom for the Blue Lagoon at 7:15. There were only 19 of us (there should have been 25, but as the guide said, maybe they partied too much last night?) A 45 minute ride out to The Blue Lagoon saw us changed and in the hot springs at 8:30.
How can I describe it? The temperature of the water was 38-42C, and it had the wierd effect of making hot and cold patches in the water. I say "cold", but it was of course relative. "cold" was when you stood up and let the wind blow over your body. John carefully took his camera with him, and left it on the side of the pool when not taking photos, so it did mean keeping a wary eye on it. We had ourselves a silica mud pack on the face, and because it was on the face, I have now put it on face book. Write your own comment.
All too soon the hour and a half allowed swept by, and we had to get out and change. There was a very slick system of change rooms and showers (you are required to shower without bathers before entering the lagoon), and reversing the process was just as slick. You wore an RFID bracelet that identified you and your locker, and allowed you to buy drinks while in the pool, but we did not avail ourselves of that option, since we had no Icelandic Kroner. But the experience was very refreshing, and great fun. You could see in other people's faces that they were enjoying it too.
Back to the ship, where we had a cup of coffee, read and computed, and then went to have a quick bite of lunch.
Lunch was quick because our plan for the afternoon was to walk into the city, some 4.5 kms away. We set off at 1300, and trotted along, stopping to take the occasional photo, and to watch the schools of fish in the water churn up the surface every so often. Intrguingly, even though there were obviously a lot of fish in the water, none of the surrounding sea birds appeared the slightest bit intereted.
We reached the Opera House just after 2pm, and elected to have a look inside. From the outside, it is one of those Corker-Denton-Marshall style buildings with few vertical lines, and the main front wall is a series of glass panels with an odd tessellation that makes it look like an unstable Lego building. Inside, the effect continues, to the point where Barbara commented at one stage that the floor was not level. I pointed out that the (drinks) bar was parallel with the floor, and that they surely would not build a bar where the drinks might all slide to one end! But you get her point.
We had a very nice cup of coffee in the restaurant/cafe there. John had a cappuccino, and commented on the "poppa mimi" froth on the top. We do miss young Jemima! Fortunately, the restaurant accepted credit cards, as we again had no local currency.
After exploring all the levels of the opera house, we noticed an interesting social commentary. There were plenty of people around, with a lot just reading, using laptops, or even just sleeping on the many chairs, sofas, lounges and soft benches around. Some had their whole families accompanying them. It seems that the opera house is a good place to just "hang out" for Reyjkavikians! No doubt that was aided by the very clement weather we were having. A local commented that shorts and T-shirts were not usual attire in Iceland!
We visited the gift shop, where John spotted a cute little milk jug, which Barb promptly bought, along with some local scenic bookmarks for her friends in the bookclub. Then the long walk back to the ship, where we arrived at about 1545. We went straight to the Ocean Bar, where customs agents were processing local sales dockets to refund the 14% sales tax/GST whatever. It was a straightforward process, and the refund goes back into the credit card.
Since we were in the Ocean Bar, and it was Happy Hour, we stayed for drinks - 2 Mohitos for Barb, 2 Grolschs for John. While we were enjoying them, Tim from Portland joined us, and asked what the drink of the day was. "Blue Lagoon" was the reply! It was an omen, so we ordered 2 BLs ourselves (one each), and enjoyed them as we chatted with Tim. Then it was time for Sip and Savour, so we headed off there for a nice pairing of cheese (Old Amsterdam, Leiden, Gouda) and a Californian cabernet sauvignon.
Time for a quick nap before dinner, with a full table. Paul demonstarted his trick of extracting a cork from inside a wine bottle, but he rather spoilt the effect by pretending a lot of magical hoo-hah in doing it. I suggested that he was better at bullshit than at magic, but he dismissed it as "professional jealousy"! We all had a ball of laughs.
Clocks going forward 1hr again tonight, so we retired early.
Barb went off to gym this morning, but John piked out. Then breakfast, and John went to Bible Study - well, actually, he went off expecting an "interdenominational Service" but the programme was wrong, and it was Bible Study instead. Just as well, as it was the last of Jonah. Then coffee at Explorers' Lounge, then Barb read, while John computed.
We had pizzas on the back deck of the Lido for lunch. They were very good, nice light crispy crusts. Then John went to hear Tommy Sue Montgomery, whom we had on the South American tour, and found to be a poor public speaker. However, she did seem to have lifted her game somewhat and was easier to listen to this time around, talking about the politics and visioning of Iceland. It is rather sad to see how other countries are pushing ahead, while Australia is becoming more and more backward. Iceland has turned itself around from the great disasters of the GFC, from which it suffered tremendously. Australia on the other hand, weathered the GFC very well, but has fallen further and further behind other developed countries and wasted its significant advantage.
Sip and Savour at 5pm. This has become the single fixed point in the day, eclipsing even our nightly 8pm dinner, which has been buggered up by HAL's feeble attempts to coordinate dinner, movie and show times. We had a Chilean merlot "Los Riscos" (check name?), paired with (check daily pgm?), both good.
At 6pm, apropos of the changed times, we went to the earlier showing of the movie, called "The 100-year old man who climbed out the window and disappreaded", a very Swedish name for a very funny film, completely quirky, but most enjoyable. See it if you cn, but be prepared for the subtitles! We did gamble a bit on the new time, since the film was 115 minutes long, and overflowed into dinner time by 10 minutes. But we (almost) ran to the dining room (still in our T-shirts), and were not too late,especially as only Pam and Mike were the other dinner guest, and our lateness did not delay the serving process. (It might have been different if all 8 were there, as the serving speed is inversely related to number at the table, and the bigger tables are always the last to leave.)
So we also were able to go to the show - an English magician called Michael Whie, and his partner contortionist, Hulan. Very impressive, both of them!
A rather rough night, with a 3 metre swell causing a fair amount of pitching, which led to all the squeaky, not screwed down tightly things in the cabin creaking and groaning all night. Managed to sleep, but lots of people complaining!
Barb went off to gym, but John didn't. Nothing to do with the weather, he hastens to add. Instead, breakfast in the Lido, then John to Bible Study, only to find that the leader, Geoff, was off sick and it had been cancelled. So he joined Barbara in the showroom to hear about forthcoming Rotterdam.
Then coffee, reading and computing (like I am doing now, 3 days later) in the Explorations Cafe, until lunch time. The ship had run out of lettuce and tomato, so no salad bar, and we did the Dive-In instead - burgers with no lettuce or tomato!
At 2 we went to the dining room for an International Wine Tasting, which we both agreed was the best tasting we have experienced on a HAL ship. It was organized as 5 separate tables, each representing a different country (France, Italy, USA, Chile and Australia), and each serving a white and a red. It was an "all you can drink" affair, so there was a great deal of enthusiasm at the start. But as the one-pot screamers gradually phased/passed out, it was down to those wine drinkers who knew what they wanted, and settled into a more sober (?) affair. I shall detail later the wines we tried, and the comments made. As Barb said, "no duds"!
We barely had time to recover from that wine fest before it was time for sip and savour, where we enjoyed mush, onion and cheese tarts with a 2015 Austrian riesling, which was not too sweet. We had a bit of a discussion about a phrase on the bottle "spiritus vinosi Gruberialis", noting that the wine was called Gruber Roschitz, from Roschitz. The eventual consensus was that it meant "the spirit of the vines from Gruber", but my Latin is still very rusty.
Dinner was a fancy affair in the Pinnacle, with fellow diners Sid and Lorraine, Mike and Pam, in honour of Pam's birthday (but with some acknowledgement of Barb's tomorrow!). We all started with an amuse bouche of a raw tuna cerviche, then John had prawn cocktail (at Pam's insistence), steak tartare, 10oz filet mignon (blue rare) with peppercorn sauce, and dessert of a vanilla souffle. In between main and dessert we had a fanfare of a special birthday cake for Pam, and we all got to share a piece of that cake. So it was a bit of a pig-out! Oh, and Barb had Dungeness Crab Cake (Pam pronounced it with a hard 'g'), Lobster Bisque, Seafood Cioppino (basically Zuppe di Pesce), and dessert of Berries and Sabayon (Zabaglione). She did not escape the pigginess, but then, she did have an imminent birthday to celebrate.
Of course, all this took a long time to serve and digest, so it was well after show time when we finished (and we were the last table to leave! again), so from the Pinnacle we retired straight to bed.
We booked a later morning tea at 7, apropos of a slight sleep-in for Barb's birthday, and this meant no gym for Barb (or John). We did not go to the Lido for breakfast, but decided to head straight for the Radisson, thinking that if they had the same setup for breakfast as they did 10 years ago, we would eat there. But alas! Sic transit gloria mundia. Their breakfast was a buffet, but it had become very conventional, and they only had some pickled herring and smoked mackarel, and not much of that, and for NOK145 each (approx $A29), we thought it too expensive, even allowing for the nostalgia factor.
So we turned to scaling Fjellstua, and its 418 steps. We had a slight disagreement with the number of announced steps, since we both recalled that on our previous climb, we counted 417 steps, and disagreed with the published figure of 418. So to set our minds at rest, we started climbing and counting. They had improved the pathway quite significantly since we were here, with a new concrete flight of steps. Every so often, at intervals which defied correlation with any mathematical sequence, a metal insert would announce the step number, which never agreed with my count. In the end, and with the assistance of Barbara drawing my attention to this or that view or flower, I lost count anyway. So I still not able to verify or disprove that the published 418 steps is not the correct number!
At the top, we took time to drink in the view. The facilities at the top had also been refurbished, and the cafeteria under the lookout level was open and inviting. Barb bought two coffees, a Norwegian pancake, and a Danish pastry. The pancake was spread with sugar and cream, and was consequently too sweet, but the danish was very yummy! We sat at a table by the window and just basked in the memories of our previous two trips here. The danish was in fact so yummy that we lashed out and bought another one, and John tried to use up some of the NOK28 he had in small change, but the cake we had came to NOK35, so he had to split a note anyway, and ended up with more coins than he had to start with! Now NOK1 = 0.17AUD, and it is the smallest coin in circulation (at least, that we came across), so you do get a feel for how expensive things are in Norway. That danish cost more than $A6!
We had a map, which showed a walking path down to the city "sentrum", so we followed that. It was much more gentle than the stairs in terms of grade, and less busy, so we had time to appreciate the environment a little more. Back in the city we strolled around looking at the buildings (and taking photos), and did a bit of shopping. Barb bought a Norwegian milk jug, and we found the photo shop we had visited in 2006, where John bought Barb a new camera bag for the camera she bought in Seattle, which was starting to suffer from a lack of protection. Then to a cafe near the town hall at the Kremmegaarten Shopping Centre where we had more coffees and tried the Norwegian pancake again, this time with brown cheese, a Norwegian specialty, which was much less sweet than the first one, and hence more enjoyable by both of us.
Then back on board for lunch, where lettuce had re-appeared on the menu, so salads we again in order. We wasted little time in returning ashore to visit the Alesund Kirke, which this time wanted money (NOK20) to go in, so we skipped that, and walked down to the harbour breakwater, out along it to get a view of the harbour that we had not seen before, before returning to the ship at 3pm for an early 4pm sail away. We went up to the Crow's Nest expecting to see a "Herring Sail Away", but that did not appear until after 3:30, so we contented ourselves with a beer (John), and a special acquavit offer with complimentary shot glass (Barb). Barb didn't like it much, but at least we got the shot glass!
As a birthday treat, we went to the Canaletto, where we shared a meal of proscuitto, caponata, seafood pappadelle, and veal. The veal came with more pasta which was a bit too much for the two of us, and did not really go with the veal. This was followed by limoncello creme, and two glasses of limoncello, again with complimentary shot glasses! Very nice espresso to follow, and the whoe dinner was washed down with a bottle of Barbera d'Asti.
John went to the movie (since the Canaletto times were not locked to the fixed seating times of the dining room) and saw "The Wave", a film about the rockface of the Geirangerfjord sliding into the fjord and creating a huge tsunami. It was quite electrifying, and nobody walked out of the theatre until it was over! In the meantime, Barb read.
Scenic cruising of the Hardanger Fjord as we awoke this morning. The tea delivery man pointed this out to us, so we were able to watch some scenery float by the window as we sipped our tea. Fortunately, none of it generated any tsunamis.
But not for long. Barb went off to gym at 7, and John followed 15 minutes later. I must say that the time zips by when you are pedalling a bicycle while majestic snow-covered peaks drift by! Maybe I should make a suggestion to Fitness First to have a channel dedicated to travelogues? Or start-up my own company? "Cycle to Fuji" "Crusing the Bosphorus on Bike", and similar titles could be a winner here?
This all continued during breakfast, and by 10am we were tied up at the end of the Eidfjord (a tributary of Hardanger) with the eponymous town at its end. We went ashore, found a map, found a cafe with wifi, and downloaded the GPS maps. I have to say that the question we now ask is not "do you have coffee?", but "Do you have internet? yes? We'll have two cups of coffee then"!! Then off on what was advertised as a 90 minute walk, but which took us more like 150 minutes. We stopped to take photos, admire the lake, struggle up hills, look at Viking graves, admire the farms, talk to the pigs, and generally explore. The route took us up to what the locals call "the Terrace", but of course, they do it in Norwegian, and pronounce it more like "der Terrace". It is 100m above sea level, quite flat, and good farming land. A lot of the Viking graves have indeed been obliterated by cultivation (I can just hear Tony Robinson agonizing over that!), but a lot still survive as little heaps of stones. There are purported to be about 900 sites that have been identified, so they are easy to spot. It was an eerie feeling, thrusting onself back 1500 years to when this was an Iron Age dwelling site.
At the end of the Terrace, there was an excellent lookout with great views out over Eidfjord and the town itself, together with the Rotterdam tied up at the very small dock used just for cruise ships. Clearly a very popular cruise ship destination! A rather precipitous descent down a narrow footpath brought us out onto the upper streets of the town (a bit like Qaqortoq, indeed), from whence it was a short, steep walk back to the town centre.
We returned to the ship for lunch, and then set out for another walk, this time to visit the two churches that the town boasts - one built in 1309 by a woman ruler in penitence for drowning her husband (!), and the other built in 1981 to replace it. We chanced into Sid and Lorraine, who accompanied us as far as the churches, but then went off to do their own thing. Unfortunately both churches were closed and locked, and there was no opportunity to see the evolution of 7 centuries of church worship, cheek by jowl.
We walked on a little further, and found a local woman selling locally made bread, and ostensibly coffee. The coffee was brewed, so we passed on that, but we did buy a cinnamon bread roll for NOK35, which was delicious! We also visited the quay-side hotel, but the beer there was very pricey - NOK45 for a 200ml glass - that's about $A7.80 - so we passed on that as well, and went back to the ship in time for sip and savour (Norwegian Stuffed Eggs, and a Chef Rudi 2014 Chardonnay from Washington, both good). Dinner in the dining room, but missing Sid and Lorraine. Barb thought she had escaped the usual dining room birthday treatment, but still got an Indonesian "Happy Birthday" from the dining room staff, along with all the usual banging and crashing of dining utensils and trays!
For dinner, we ate (John) Mulligatawny Soup, Short Ribs, and a slice of birthday cake; while Barb had Mulligatawny Soup, Vegetable Cutlet, and of course, her birthday cake. We also started a new bottle of wine, a Chilean Merlot which we had at an earlier sip and savour. No show or movie, but an early night.
The tea man arrived early today at 6:20, so a slightly more leisurely cup of tea before Barb went off for her 7am stretches. Then breakfast in the Lido, and John to Bible Study for the first of a series on Psalm 23, or the "23rd Psalm" as Geoff pointed out - the only Psalm to be referenced in this way (with the ordinal rather than the cardinal number). We only got a few verses into the psalm, but there were some good points to be made. I reflected upon how the "I shall not want" seems very appropriate (too appropriate?) as we are waited on hand and foot during our cruise. We do feel very fortunate to be treated like this.
The rest of the sea day followed in very relaxed form, with little to want. Coffee in the Explorations with reading and computing. John went to hear Paul Eschenfelder talk about the young Winston Churchill, which was very interesting, and well received by the virtually full house in the showroom. More reading and computing before lunch, which was pizzas up on the back deck of the Lido, then down to our cabin for more ... you guessed it, reading and computing. As I sit here typing, it's only 5 minutes to the next major excitement: Sip and Savour!!
S & S saw us say farewell to the wine waiter Ian, who has been a very affable young man looking after the wine side of the catering. He is changing roles at Rotterdam, and will still be on the ship, but doing (inter alia) the Canaletto, so we should see him around. The sip was a Napa Valley Merlot from the Stone Cellars company, and the savour was brie wrapped in phyllo pastry. All quite yummy.
Formal dinner tonight, or as HAL likes to put it, Galah Night. Well, OK, they spell Gala a bit differently, but it amounts to the same thing. People dressing up like galahs. Paul even had a grey suit with pink bow tie and pink cummerbund, but I refrained from pointing out that he had galah colours on. Usual fun and repartee, and we did have a full complement of people. John had Foie Gras, Cauliflower Soup, Surf and Turf, and Tiramisu, while Barb had Foie Gras, Cucumber Apple and Pear Salad, Mushroom Ravioli with Lobster Tail, and Angel Food Cake. This latter was more like a fluffy ball of chamois, and was rather difficult to cut. All agreed that it was not meant to be quite like that! Most of the company shot through at 9:45 to catch the show, but Barb and I stayed on to finish our drinks and watch the sunset. Then bed.
Came in fairly early this morning. Barb was awake at 4am and said that we had entered the Rotterdam canal/river by then, so we were docked by the time I awoke with the arrival of the breakfast tray. Barb had ordered a light breakfast with the tea, so we had sliced banana and Greek yoghurt for breakfast before getting dressed for adventure.
We asked for advice from Barbara the shore activity advisor as we came ashore, and she told us how to get to Kinderdijk by "waterbus". But before that, a cup of coffee from a barista who knew his stuff, and as we said to him, his was the best coffee we had had since leaving Melbourne! Thus charged we walked out of the terminal and started sight-seeing. The first thing we looked at was the ol Holland Amerika Lijn building, now a hotel, but still a very interesting Dutch building, with a lovely pair of copper cuppolas onnatop.
The across the Erasmusbrug, a lovely new cabled-stayed bridge, with opening span and tram tracks across. The engineering that went into lifting the tram overhead wires was pretty interesting, and I would love to have seen it in operation. One of our fellow passengers did see it opening, and (non-technically) commented on the impressiveness of the wire-lifting process. But unfortunately we did not see it.
We found the wharf where the waterbus left (after several false starts). The wharf was pretty full, and once on board, there was no room to swing a Friesan cow. There were several rumours flying around: a) you could book on-line, and it was cheaper; b) you could buy a return ticket; c) you could buy a combined waterbus and kinderdijk ticket, and it was the best deal of all; and d) none of the above. You guessed it, d) is the correct answer! You could only buy a one-way ticket, and it cost EUR4 each.
That was probably as well, because once we got to Kinderdijk, it turned out that you didn't actually need a ticket to go in, it was free to wander about and look at all the windmills. The tickets were only if you wanted to go inside a windmill, or take a boat cruise. Since we had been inside a working windmill before, we elected to just do the walking bit.
It was quite a walk, too - 1 km to the end of the first dijk, where we elected to turn around and head back (partly because of all that water having a suggestive effect upon us both), and on return we (after suitable ablutions) decided to stop at the little restaurant/public house nearby and have a beer. Also because we had an hour and a half to kill before the next waterbus back! But we were suitably armed with fistfuls of pixels of windmills, and felt that we had earned it.
We had two rather nice local beers, called Grimbergen. Barb had a "blond", and John had a "tripel". The former had an alcohol content of 6.7%, the latter 9%! That is a heavy beer! Or should I say They are heavy beers, as even 6.7 is heavier than most Australian beers. We only had the one each, that seemed adequate somehow.
We also had lunch there: John a very filling smoked salmon bagel, Barb a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Barb felt that she still had some room, so when we ordered coffees to finish off a delightful meal, she ordered a slice of apple pie as well. Yum, yum!
Soon enough it was time for the 2pm waterbus, and we paid the bill and wandered across the road to the boat landing. I have to say that Dutch drivers are very polite to pedestrians. You only have to look like you might be crossing the road, and they screech to a halt. Just like the North Americans, and quite unlike Australians!
We watched the passing sights, since unlike the outward journey, we had some window seats, and could take some photos. We were back at the Erasmus bridge by 1440, so we decided to walk up to the rather unusual market building for a look at it. On the way, we stumbled on the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, which was actually in the water! Lots of little VIOSes "Vooruitgang is Ons Streven" (or push tug to you and me) and other "lopen" (boats), and one or two things to fascinate John, such as cranes and railway locomotives.
On to the market, which is a huge building in the shape of a stretched upside-down horseshoe, which murals of fruit and veg on the ceiling. The walls are so big, they contain apartments!!! You have to see it to believe it!
Barb took a picture of the adjacent square houses on their edges, but didn't know we could go in (or we would have). We were told later that they are as awkward inside as they look.
We also peeped inside the adjacent cathedral, but they wanted money to go in, and we thought that was a bit much to charge regular church goers. Besides which, it looked rather spartan inside from what we could see.
Then we walked all the way back to the ship, somewhat footsore, especially Barb, who had developed a blister on her foot. We were back in time for Sip and Savour, this time cold meats (because the cooks were busy with kitchen restocking) and Black Opal Shiraz 2015 (from SE Australia). A chance for a little restup before dinner, which we had for company just Pam and Mike. John had Duck Pate Galantine, Dutch Green Pea Soup, Fresh Grilled Haddock and Green Pea Emulsion, and a hasty Chocolate Cake. Barb had French Onion Soup, the haddock, and Chilled Peach Soup. It was a hasty dessert, as we were wanting to get to the movie, Eddie the Eagle, about the Englishman who made it to the 1988 Calgary winter olympics, in spite of many hurdles (or should I say ski jumps?) Quite entertaining, with a happy ending.
A lazy start to the day, as we did not have to be anywhere in particular, and we ordered morning tea (and breakfast) for 7:30. We had to get our passports stamped for leaving the Schengen area, which puzzled us a bit, since we hadn't actually left. We asked the immigration officer did this mean we could not go ashore, and he said the was "no problem". So we were left rather puzzled. But we stopped at the little coffee stall in the terminal, where there was a girl serving this time, and the coffee was just as good as yesterday, so we quickly dismissed the passport puzzle.
We decided then to walk across to the SS Rotterdam, which was not far from our mooring. Our path took us across an interesting slice of Rotterdam, with some run-down dock areas that are seeing early signs of restoration and investment. One wharehose, for example, advertised fresh food and produce, and looked like a fledgling business about to take off, but being a Sunday, it was closed, and we could not see whether its engines were running or not.
Another interesting "square" (in quotes because it looked like like a market square, but was actually triangular) had several cafes, bars and restaurants around the perimeter, but the only one that was open was called "Koppe Sousou" (Indonesian for coffee with milk, and indicating the Dutch colonial links), and did not impress us enough to be clients.
So we pressed on towards the Rotterdam Mark 4 (ours is Mark 6), and went aboard. Note that the two Rotterdams can be distinguished by their engine room equipment - the "SS" Rotterdam being a "Steam Ship", meaning that its main propulsion was via steam turbines driven by (4) steam boilers (which was state of the art at the time), while the "MS" Rotterdam is a "Motor Ship", meaning that its main propulsion unit are marine diesel units, driving electric generators which in turn drive electric motors for the propulsion screws.
The SS Rotterdam has an interesting history, built in Rotterdam in the mid 50s, and launched in September 1958, so it was very nostalgic for John, bringing back many memories of ship life in 1961. It was a two-class ocean liner until 1968, when it was converted to a cruise liner. Indeed, it spent some years switching roles from summer to winter, as the liner traffic between Rotterdam, Southampton and New York was taken over by jet travel, and was sold out of Holland Amerika hands in 1997 to become SS Rembrandt for a different cruise line, Premier Cruises. The company collapsed in 2000, and she lay abandoned in the Bahamas for 4 years, before being slowly converted to a floating hotel and convention centre, and towed back to Rotterdam in 2008 to be permanently moored in the Maashaven, just near the cruise terminal, in which guise we now visited it.
Entrance was free, but limited to the open areas. We had time on our hands, so we decided to do a full tour of the engine room and closed areas (EUR16 each). Since the engine room tour was with a guide and took an hour, we elected to do that first, as the other part was with a hand-held audio guide, and one could do it at ones own pace.
Perhaps this was a mistake, as we ended up with a guide who did not speak English, and we had to rely upon the audio guide anyway, which, fortunately, did cover the engine room areas. But the guide did not always give us the correct number for the guide, and hence we got rather confused in places where the commentary clearly disagreed with what we were seeing. John's enginerring knowledge did get us through a bit of it, but it was not what we felt we had paid for. About halfway through the tour then, when the tour following caught up with us (because the Dutch guide did waffle on well beyond the recorded english commentary, and clearly was far more enthusiastic to keep his 2 (two!) dutch guests happy than to look after the 2 english-speaking people (us), we abandoned tours and switched to the following tour and its english speaking guide - who was much more personable and much less garrulous, responding more to questions than focussing upon a lecture. We did take a few photos to try and capture the spirit of the engine room.
The rest of the ship, as I have intimated, was at our own pace. We were fortunate in that a lot of the rooms which would normally be closed for convention/function activities were not in use, and so we could see inside them. Each had its own guide who could explain in more detail (and in english!) the interesting features of each room, such as the bars, the smoking room, the club room, the dining room, the theatre, the ballroom, and so on. The ballroom, for example, had been used to host a wedding the previous evening, but had been restored in a frantic morning tidy-up to its normal splendour.
Once we had done all the passenger facilities, we then got to visit the bridge, the chart room, the radio room, the captain's cabin(s), officers' cabins, lifeboats etc.. The (audio) guide made a point of picking out all the art work around the ship, commenting that the ship was virtually a floating art gallery of famous dutch artists from the mid 20th century, and that one could do a separate art tour of the ship if one so wished.
We bought a book from the shop about the latest Rotterdam (the one we are on), and then had to skedaddle a bit, since we had to be back on board the MS Rotterdam in time for the departure muster safety drill at 3pm. This involved more standing around for 30 minutes whilst our names were called and ticked off the passenger list. What happens if you miss that drill? Well, we did on our last cruise when we returned from the Iguazu Falls and the plane was delayed getting back to Buenos Aires. We had to do a make-up drill the next day. And if you fail that, you get compulsorily disembarked at the next port!
While the muster was taking place, we were entertained by a local singing group ashore, singing lots of sea shanties and dutch folksongs. They had to stop each time there was a shipboard announcement, as they just got drowned out by the loudspeaker firepower!
We then went to the Crows' Nest for the sailway at 4pm, only we didn't sail away. There was a "brightstar" event - medical emergency - which meant someone had to be evacuated from the ship. Apparently (according to the rumour mill, which works beautifully on ship), a woman fell and broke her leg near the forward lifts, and as she could not be treated on board, had to be taken off the ship to a waiting ambulance, all of which took some time.
Eventually we did get away, with the local port authority running its fire tug with hoses all playing away making huge plumes of spray alongside!
Then it was Sip and Savour, with Dutch Bitterballen (deep fried potato mash and other bits), accompanied by a Light Horse Californian Pinot Noir. We read and computed until dinner, which was with 6 of us, as Lorraine and Sid were missing (no one knew why). John had Mille-Feuille of Duck Pate, Chilled Strawberry Soup (very nice!), Master Chef's Italian Meatloaf, and for dessert, a cheese plate which included some Old Amsterdam (yum, yum)! Barb, meanwhile, had Mille-Feuille of Duck Pate, Heart of Romaine Lettuce Nicoise, Fresh Norwegian Cod Fillet with Lime Aioli, and for dessert, the cheese plate with Old Amsterdam. Then bed.
Because the clocks got set back one hour, we had an extra hour's sleep. This is the quid pro quo for all those hours that we lost on the way over! Much better to travel west! We both went to the gym, Barb to do her stretch and abs workout with the class, John to do his Trent exercises. Shower, then breakfast, then Bible Study for John on Psalm 23 (continued), and Barb went to hear the new ship-bord speaker Melwyn Ford talking about women pirates.
Lunch was pizzas on the back Lido deck "The Retreat", washed down with a beer. It was pleasant enough, but the weather was not that exciting, and we went back inside almost as soon as we finished. At 2pm it was a talk by Excursion Advisor Barbara on what to see and do in Douglas and Belfast that attracted our joint qttention. But it was marred by some poor planning on the part of HAL, with Michael Cruise Direcor interrupting Barbara mid-talk to tell all passengers that they had to present passports to the UK immigration people in the Attrium. Now we did know about this, and we had a scheduled time of 2:30 to 3 to do ours, and we had planned to do this after the talk. It made quite a few people grumpy, particularly as everyone rushed to do Michael's bidding, and huge queues formed! But I didn't go when called, which meant that 20 minutes later, when I did go, there was no queue - as it should have been without Michael's intervention!
Then straight into the next talk by (Dr) Helena Aves on "The Birth of The Atlantic Ocean", and the geology of the plate tectonics. Much of it we had heard before in general terms, but she did add a bit of specificity about the American and Eurasian plates, and the rift valley in Iceland.
John's throat, after listening to all these talks, was in need of a beer, so we went to the Ocean Bar for Happy Hour, where Barb had two drinks of the day, "After 8"s (Kahlua, Baileys and Creme de Menthe), while John had two Grolschs, but took one back to the cabin for Ron ("later, ron"). Then Sip and Savour! An "angel on horseback", but with a date rather than a prune, so I am not sure what that might be called? "devil on horseback", maybe? Accompanied by a Bordeaux Chateau des Trois Tours, which was not that popular.
Then at 6 John went to see the movie "The DressMaker" on Barb's recommendation. Barb had seen it before, and was not feeling too bright, so she stayed in the cabin. It was a rather dark movie, full of revenge and bitterness.
Then dinner with full complement of diners. John had Smoked Mackerel with Lentils and Apple Horseradish, French Onion Soup, Thyme-Roasted Rack of Lamb, and cheese plate; Barb had Sweet Tomato and Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Baked Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna, and no dessert. Everyone shot through just before 9:30 to catch the show, except Paul, with whom we chatted on for another 20 minutes or so before retiring for the night. Paul did take the lift in the wrong direction, so we said another goodnight to him in the lift lobby as we got to deck 6, and then a 3rd goodnight when we got to our cabins, as his is on the starboard side almost immediate opposite ours! As we had all had a double ration of rum tonight, there was a fair amount of merriment surrounding the three-stage goodnight!
Usual 6:30 start with tea, then Barb off to gym (but not John, tsk, tsk), followed by breakfast, then headed ashore. We were lulled by the forecast of 15 C, "getting warmer", and so wore our tie-dye T-shirts. That was a mistake. As soon as we joined the line for the double decker shuttle bus (called appropriately, a "Dublin Decker"), we froze, as the wind sprang up. And that was to be the scenario for the rest of the day. Out of the wind, OK, in the wind, not OK. The sun did try to shine occasionally, but the wind won.
The shuttle deposited us in Merrion Square, so we first strolled around in the parkland and gardens in the square, trying to stay out of the wind. A few flowers were in bloom, which together with our Seattle shirts attracting many comments (most positive!), brightened things up a little.
From Merrion Square we headed towards Trinity College, stopping at a bakery shop for a take-away coffee, which was good. We finished our coffees by the Trinity College Oval, and then strolled around. Interestingly, the campanile was the only thing that John recognized from his visit 30 years ago! Trinity College were a little secretive about their public toilet locations, but we eventually found one - near a huge queue for the Book of Kells. We did not join the queue, thinking that our viewing those 30 years ago would surely suffice a lifetime!
After leaving TC, we chanced upon the "Irish Whiskey Museum", and thought "why not?" For EUR16 each, we had a very informative guide (who surely had kissed the Blarney Stone), telling us all about "Uisce Beatha" (Gaelic for Water of Life) and the history behind it. The tour ended with a tasting of 3 quite different whiskeys (and I spell it that way to preserve the 'e' in 'whiskey', which is the way the Irish spell it, to distinguish it from Scotch Whisky). I cannot remember the names of all three, but the last, Powers, was my favourite of the three (but not Barb's!)
Back out on the street we braved the wind until we got to an old bank, now converted to a restaurant, called simply "The Bank". It was beautiful inside, and they offered a bowl of soup and a sandwich for EUR10, so we paused there for lunch. John had potato and leek soup, and a "Hero's Sandwich" (proscuitto, lettuce, pickle, sun-dried tomatos), washed down with a pint of O'Hara's Red Ale, while Barb had cauliflower soup and a chicken and mayonaisse baguette. John had to finish the baguette, it was more than Barb's jaw could chew!
Suitably refreshed, we wandered on to Castle Dublin, which used to be the government offices before the Easter Uprising, and then the Department of Taxes and Excises after. Inside we found a very interesting Museuem of excise, all about the customs and excise over the ages. We spent a good half an hour there, before wandering on and slowly making our way down to the Liffey River, and from there down through the Temple Bar, which was absolutely jam-packed with tourists! We came out the otherside before realizing that we had not had a pint of Guiness. It was one of our plans to go to St James and do the Guiness factory tour, but we sort of ran out of time, as it was a fair distance further. So as consolation we found a pub a bit off the beaten track called "The Palace", where we stopped for the aforementioned pint, while Barb had a "Red Shandy" (red ale and lemonade).
That gave us the energy to tackle the walk back to the ship, some 3kms or so, which took us just under an hour, stopping to take some more photographs along the way. Then Sip and Savour, with Irish Stew (boring) and Spanish Temperanillo 2011 (OK, but not brilliant).
Dinner was just 4 of us, Pam and Mike. John had Burrata and Zucchini, French Onion Soup, Duck Breast a l'Orange, and cheese plate, while Barb had Burrata and Zucchini, Duck Breast a l'Orange, and Peach Melba Sundae. We followed that with the show, Irish comedian George Casey, who was the spitting image of Grant Carman, and twice as funny (sorry, Grant!). Then bed.
We had to scurry a little this morning to get to the Showroom in time for our 8:30 departure, but we need not have worried, because some snafu between the tenders and the local ferry ship meant a delay of 30 minutes or so. But since it was an organized tour, they held everything for us, and we were on the Manx Electric Railway by 09:20. We took the very back row in the open "toast-rack" trailer, so that we could get a good view out the back.
The tram ride was a bit bumpy, with some very tight curves in places, and lots of inaccurate track. John manged to stop the tram at one spot, when he sat on the throw-over seat in front of the two of us, and sat facing the rear. The conductor stopped the tram, walked back to where we were sitting, and said "I am sorry sir, but you must face the direction of travel". John made suitable apologies and obeyed, but internally he thought "WTF!?" He coud not see any reason as to why this should be the case, for safety reasons or otherwise. Indeed, facing to the rear is better if the tram had to stop suddenly. But apart from putting it down to a combination of bureaucracy and officiousness, thought no more of it until writing this blog. The upside was that a few people thanked me for stopping the tram so that they could take photos of the surrounding heather!
A fascinating ride otherwise to Laxey, where we alighted for the Snaefell Mountain Tramway. This tramway is on a gauge of 3'6", as opposed to the Manx Electric Railway, which is 3'. Apparently the reason is that the two were planned to be the same gauge, but it was thought necessary to add a third rail for the Fell rack and pinion system, and the extra 6" would be necessary to accomodate this third rail. The whole line was therefore built (in the record time of 7 months!) with the Fell rail, but just as the line was being commissioned, tests indicated that the trams could cope with the 1 in 9 grades without using the third rail. So the trams were never fitted with the Fell mobile components, and the third rail is only used in emergencies for additional friction braking! Ah, the trials of breaks of gauge!
So we trundled with friction adhesion up the mountainside, pausing to admire the large Laxey Waterwheel, the largest operating water wheel in the world. Its rotary motion is converted into reciprocating motion by a crank, which drives a long timber beam that transmits the reciprocating motion some 100s of metres to the mine head, there to drive a pump through a bell crank (which we could not see from the railway). But we took some movies of the wheel in motion, which at some stage I might get round to adding to this blog.
The summit was shrouded in mist, so there was not much of a view. We had time for a cup of (espresso) coffee and a walk to the actual summit, before it was time to reboard the tram and return back to Bungalow where we alighted the tram and boarded a bus, which took us down the TT motorcycle circuit all the way back to Douglas.
In Douglas we seached for and found a Post Office, where Barb was able to buy some stamps, and John was able to exchange our Jersey pound notes for Sterling pound coins (one of which was actually a Manx pound coin, but it was the same size and weight as a Sterling one, so I did not worry too much. We then looked for a pub, and some lunch, but had some difficulty finding such.
Eventually, down by the harbour, we found The British, which was exactly what we were looking for, and the staff were very friendly and helpful, too (makes a change from most English pubs!) Barb had a baguette with blue cheese, cranberry and meat, washed down with a half pint of cider, while John had a pork and apple pie, together with a pint of Obels MPA (Manx Pale Ale), which was so nice he had another half afterwards.
We decided to go and look at the railway station, not expecting to see much, but there in the platform was a train with a steam loco "G.H.Wood" at the head. John raced down the platform to get a photo of the loco, since it was clear that it was about to leave. But Barb found the conductor, who suggested that we could catch the train, change at CastleTown to a waiting train, and be back in time for the last tender! It was a bit touch and go, as we didn't have enough money, but the conductor let us both ride for the price of one, so we were very grateful! The weather wasn't exciting, but we had a pleasant trip on the down, with a Mancunian woman and her two kids sharing the compartment, so we were able to swap stories about Manchester with them. They were holidaying at Port St Mary, and were catching the train back after some shopping in Douglas.
As promised by the conductor, on reaching CastleTown, there was the return train, hauled by another steam loco "Hutchinson", so we just had time to take a photo of it, join the train, and head back to Douglas. There was an English couple in this compartment (who had the usual prejudices about Australia, "deadly snakes and spiders", and an interesting character who claimed to be half British, half Australian, was now living in Yorkshire, and was a passenger on the Rotterdam! At this our anxiety at getting back to the ship on time abated, as he had obviously done his homework about catching the train, and assured us that we would have plenty of time.
Which we did. We walked from the railway station back via The British to take a photo of it, since we had forgotten to do so at lunch time. Resisting the temptation to have another pint, we went back on the tender, and were back on board a little after 4pm. Time enough to do Sip and Savour with Stilton Stuffed Mushrooms (brilliant!), and a Snoqualmie Riesling (very nice). The ship also was delayed leaving because of the island ferry schedules interfering with tender operations again.
Dinner with all table guests present, and John had Steamed Mussels, Curried Pasta Fagioli Soup, Indian Red Lentil Dahl (very good, but we did have to ask for more mango chutney), and cheese plate. Barb had just the Dahl. Dominic (the wine waiter) made a bit of a boo-boo, because when I asked for the red wine from last night, he brought a new bottle and opened that without first checking with me, and then realized his mistake. He was a bit embarrassed about that, and offered the open bottle to us gratis, which I didn't think was entirely necessary, but as it seemed to be the Holland America way of apologizing to passengers when things go wrong, I did not argue the point! As I said to him later, the Spellbound cabernet sauvignon was perhaps my favourite amongst the wines, so it was a propitious mistake.
We skipped the show and movie, and just went to bed instead.
This morning's plan was to find the local branch of the Bank of Scotland, from whence we hoped to extract some pounds sterling from the long-quiescent account when we were in St Andrews. We had extracted money previously on visits to the UK, but we had recently received a letter saying that as we had not used the account for a while, they were placing a hold on the account - which could be re-activated by visiting any branch. We looked up Belfast on their web site, and found that they had a branch at 11-22 Bedford St, Belfast. All good, so we thought.
With this in mind, we headed off on the shuttle bus (we had to wait for a second bus, as the queue was quite long), which dropped us next to the City Hall, from whence finding Bedford St was not too difficult. We found 11-22 Bedford quite quickly, but there the trail went cold. As we approached it, Barb saw the flattened building site opposite, and said, "Oh no, I bet that's the place", but John, spotting the numbers 11-22 on the building ahead, said "no, it's not, but there's still time for it to go belly up". How right he was! As we walked in the door, I said to Barb "there's no sign for the Bank of Scotland". On asking at the reception desk, they said, "Oh, you are not the first people to ask for that, but there has not been a Bank of Scotland here since we started working here, several years ago!" I suspect that they closed the branch after the GFC, and the various pulling of heads in by banks in general.
So with no money, what were we to do? Around the corner, we found an ATM, which did take pity on our plight, and doled out GBP40 against our Mastercard. Slightly more expensively than we had hoped, but beggars can't be choosers!
We saw a nice building, reminiscent of St Giles in Edinburgh, and went closer. On the street level, there was a shopping mall called the "Spices Mall", but it was rather non-descript, and did not have any enticing cafes. Turns out it was the Presbyterian Church Assembly Building, and had been deliberately designed to imitate St Giles. We tried to see inside the Assembly Hall, but the bloke who did the tours was on his "break", and would not be back until 11. So we gave up on the Assembly Building, and went searching further afield.
While wlking along, we chanced upon one of the various info boards describing the history of Belfast. This one described the Grand Opera House, and The Crown Bar, back in the opposite direction from whence we had come. So we wandered back to look at them, and take pictures. The Opera House was in rehearsal, so we couldn't see inside that. The Crown Bar was closed, not open until 11:30, so we elected for a) a visit to the Caffe Nero, where we had coffee and a bun, and free wifi, then b) the Great Northern Railway Station, which might have been in the north, or to the north, I won't deny that, but "great" it wasn't. Just three platforms, all with rather boring DMUs coming or going.
We eventually killed enough time that the Crown Bar opened, so we went inside. Beautiful tile work everywhere, with a great bar (obviously nicked the "great" from the station across the road), and lots of little "snugs" to sit in and drink your beer, while plotting on how to blow up a bus, or commit other mayhem. We paused to drink a pint of Belfast Ale and a half of Irish Cider and take some photos.
Back to wandering the streets. We were sort-of looking for the Cornmarket, as Barb remembered that from 1986 when an armoured car stopped in the street, and a troop full of soldiers all armed to the teeth got out. It freaked Barb enough that she had a vivid memory of it, but when we found the Cornmarket street, she said she could not remember any of the street detail! Fortunately there were no armoured cars or armoured soldiers today.
More wandering brought us to Victoria Square (but no Glenelg trams), which is a large shopping mall akin to the size of The Glen. We saw nothing we wanted to buy, however, and struggled to find an eating place to match our modest ambitions. In that process, we did walk all the way to the top of the dome, from whence you got a 360 degree of the city skyline, including a view of the Rotterdam out in the docks.
We settled for two bowls of soup, GBP3.95 each, for lunch, and that was fine. Then we started to walk back to the ship, pausing to look at, and take photographs of, the Albert Clock, the Jaffe Fountain, the Customs House, the Big Fish, the old Laughan Docks (soon to be gentrified), and the Rotterdam Bar, long past any custom, let alone gentrification!
Back on board and time for a bit of a snooze before Sip abd Savour, with Caprese and an Italian Pinot Grigio, rebottled as the house Canaletto wine. Jessica recommended tonight's movie, which started at 6pm, and called just "'71". It was all about a Nottingham boy in the British Army, stationed as a "peace keeper" to Belfast during The Troubles in 1971 (hence the title). It was confronting! His mate was brutally shot during a street riot, he was separated from his unit, and the rest of the film was about his escape from the Provisionals who were out to kill him. The problem with the film, and what made it so chilling, was that no one could be trusted, with families and friends turning against each other, betrayals left right and centre, and behind it all, a very callous attitude on the part of the army hierarchy.
Dinner followed straight after, and it took some time into dinner before we quite recovered from watching the film, and were able to converse more normally with our dinner colleagues. John had a Dialogue of Salmon Tartare with Avocado (very nice), Chilled Sour Cherry Soup (beautiful), Linguine Carbonara (too heavy), and Angel Food Cake (very chocolatey); while Barb had Salmon Tartare with Avocado, Oven-Baked Eggplant Parmigiana (too bready) and a Mango Sundae. Then bed.
A big bang at 4:30 this morning, as the ship hit some almighty wave. It was big enough to wake just about everyone on board, and was a talking point all day. Back to sleep, though. Both off to the gym this morning, where we both did the stretches, then John went off and did his Trent exercises while Barb continued with the class abs work. John did have a bit of trouble with the dumbbell squats, as the ship was heaving so heavily (and a lot of people were heaving, too!) He decided that machines were the go in this weather, so quickly switched away from dumbbells and balancing exercises!
After breakfast, John went to Bible Study (more on Psalm 23) at 9, Barb went to hear Barbara the On Location guide at 10, and then we both went to hear Melvyn Foster at 11 talk about Captain Bligh of Bounty fame. Apparently, history has done him a great wrong, and he was greatly liked by his men. The mutiny was all about the sailors wanting to go back to their "wives" in Tahiti, and nothing to do with any ill-treatment by the captain or indeed anyone. The mob that should bear the greatest blame was in fact the British Navy, who were quite indifferent to the troubles that Bligh had to cope with, and set him off on what was really a quite futile expedition. Were it not for Bligh's great navigation skills (which he learnt from James Cook), the loyalists cast adrift in a boat would all have perished.
After lunch, another talk at 2pm by Helena Aves on glaciers. Again, nothing I didn't really know before, but interesting nevertheless. Then at 3:30 we had to collect our passports, in the funny game of now you have them, now you don't, that Holland America seem to be playing.
Sip and Savour at 5 was a very nice chicken tandoori, paired with a Deakin Estate Pinot Noir 2014, also good.
We had a formal dinner tonight, aka "Galah Night", with Mike and Pam missing. John had Oysters Rockefeller, Orange-Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail (translation: Orange Prawn Cocktail), Angry Striped Bass with Garlicky Clams (mine was actually quite happy), and dessert of Chocolate Souffle. Barb had Honey Pineapple, Salad of Arugula and Frisee, Angry Striped Bass with Garlicky Clams, and Balsamic Strawberries.
We went to the show to hear Carlos Bonell, an English-Spanish classical guitarist who was very good, and we both enjoyed it very much. Pity there was not a better crowd, although the number of philistines on board ship does not surprise me at all.
Barb off to gym in the morning (not John), but it was a leisurely start, as we had to put the clocks back an hour last night. Then breakfast, much the usual (eggs benedict), before off to Bible Study and some more on Psalm 23. I think Geoff is working the sheep and shepherd theme a little too vigorously, as it seems an obvious comment to me, and spending four sessions talking about the first four verses does seem a bit of overkill. Still, it is interesting.
Then some work on my blog, and the latest program (to download images automatically) before joining Barb in the showroom to hear Melvyn Foster talk about whales and dolphins, quite interesting, and I learnt something new, too. Look up Pelorus Jack, for example.
On our way to lunch, we bumped into a couple that we had been exchanging greetings with, as we recognized each other from our previous cruise on the Prinsendam. We got to chatting, and spent some 20 minutes in the Deck 7 corridor just talking about cruises and things. They are Carlyle and Sue Wells, and a very friendly couple from Texas.
Lunch was on the Lido Deck, with fish and chips from the Dive-In, a special for the day. They were very nice too, washed down with a bottle of Grolsch each. Then an indulgence with ice cream cones, Barb chocolate, John rum and raisin.
After lunch some more computing, while Barb went to snooze at the Helena Aves talk on The Titanic Forces of Nature. Then at 3pm beer tasting (or rather, an ale tasting) in the MIX bar for John. This he greatly enjoyed, chatting with Tim from Oregon, and a woman from Vancouver (did not get her name) while we supped on Bass Ale; Galway Bay Porter; Guiness (Foreign Export Stout); and Galway Bay Full Sail IPA. The last one was my favourite, but it was a close run thing against the Guiness. Indeed, I preferred them in reverse order of tasting. Here are the notes I made:
At 5pm the usual Sip and Savour, this time with a marinated prawn and Rosemount Estate Chardonnay - both good.
Dinner was missing Sid and Lorraine again. John had Meditteraneum Mezze Plate (so-so), Norwegian Seafood Bisque (good), Sweet and Sour Vegetable Tempura (rather nice), and Banana and Coconut Cream Trifle.
Morning tea did not quite happen this morning. John opened the door to the room service steward, but the tea tray did not look right. There were no tea cups or tea pots! When we checked the order, it appeared that Barb put "2" against the honey choice, rather than the tea choise. Sort of understadable, as it was in the same position on the line above! So we ate our one piece of toast each (without honey, at least for John - I think Barb ate her honey just to prove something), and then headed off to breakfast after reading our emails (which were not much, why aren't youse mob writing to us?)
After breakfast, we set off ashore. Our plan was to follow the longer walk on the map we were given at the quay, with an auxiliary plan to visit the Botanic Gardens on the return path. We followed a very nice path along the foreshore, marred only by lots of poo that we had to dodge. We thought at first that this was dog poo, but the consistency and frequency of (small) turd sizes made us suspicious. Sure enough, we came across a large flock of geese ruminating on the grass alongside the path, and ascribed to them the blame. Seems they like the warm asphalt at the end of the day to sleep on, and of course, poo on.
What with poo dodging, and photo taking (lots of nice reflections shots, as the wind was almost non-existent), the time passed quickly and we were at the end of the path. Our return was via a different way, through lots of old houses (and indeed, the old Akureyri township), and slowly up the hillside to the Botanic Gardens. These were wonderful, and we spent about 2 hours exploring what was really a small area of gardens, but richly planted with all sorts of endemic and Arctic hardy plants. We found the cafe, where a nice espresso and chocolate croissant (John), and cafe latte and blueberry muffin (Barb) refreshed our spirits, at least from the feet up.
Then we wound our way back to the ship, passing the local swimming pool (thermally heated, with lots of kids enjoying it), duck and geese refuge (a little smelly), and the local church, which happened to have been designed by the same designer as designed the Hallgrimskirke in Reykjavik, but on a slightly smaller scale (Akureyri is the second largest twon in Iceland).
Unfortunately, the church had a sign on the door saying (in both Icelandic and English) "the church is closed due to a baptism". Note the wording. I shall return to this and the cjurch later.
So we continued our walk down through the rest of the main shopping area, noting the many restaurants and cafes, all of which seemed to be doing a roaring trade - but whether this was because of the quality of their coffee or of their wifi was not immediately clear, as everyone seemed to have their heads buried in a smartphone, some with earphones plugged in, and listening attentively, others with earphones in, but talking furiously at their phones, in voices that implied their listeners were not paying adequate attention.
We walked on back to the ship, partly because we did not see anywhere that appealed, and partly because we had no Icelandic money (yet more Krone?). So lunch on the ship at the Lido. At least we did not have to pay for this.
So givn that we still had all the afternoon free, and we were not able to see inside the church, we decided to walk back to the church and up the hill again. It was still closed. The sign about the baptism had gone, but it was just as firmly closed as before. We had mistakenly assumed that "closed for baptism" meant that once the baptism was over, the church would open. Nup. Not open until 5pm, exactly when the ship was due to depart! But I was somewhat resigned to this. It seems that the northern hemisphere churches have an active policy of discouraging cruise ships. Nearly all the churches we have visited either want money to see inside, or are shut. Contrast with South America, where they were all open, and generally free. If not free, usually just a donation requested, which I find a far more Christian approach.
So back to the ship, empty handed, and perhaps empty souled as well. Well not quite. We stopped at a little lookout by a statue of something or other (perhaps a whale tail?) and sat and took in the view over the fjord. John exercised his arm at skimming stones over the almost mirror-like water, and felt some satisfaction with that. That, and the view, was perhaps more soul-restorative than any church interior.
Also, as we left the lookout we watched a guillemot diving under the water, which was so clear and still that you could see it "flying" under the water. Very informative in terms of bird observation, and fascinating to watch.
Sip and Savour was Balsamic Strawberry and Mozzarella on a cracker, with a French Beaujolais (the name of which I did not record). After S&S, we went out the front of the ship on Deck 6 to watch for whales, along with a few other hardy souls. I say hardy, because once the ship was underway and out from the harbour, the wind became quite viscious, and we got rather cold. But patience was rewarded, as we saw a couple of whales (humpback) and got a couple of photos, amidst a great deal of celebration by all the hardy whale watchers.
Later, at dinner, we had just sat down, when more commotion from the back of the ship drew our attention to a pod of dolphins cavorting in the wake of the ship.
Dinner was a little special. Judy had organized for the table tonight for us all to have fish and chips, British style. We all joined in, and Paul declared that it was the best meal (10/10) he had had on board ship! So the dinner tally was, for John: Tuna Carpaccio, Smoked Seafood Chowder, Fish and Chips, Tartufo (a chocolate thingo, with a rich dark chocolate mousse, very yum); while Barb had Tuna Carpaccio, Smoked Seafood Chowder, Fish and Chips, and Tartufo.
We had lots of birthdays/anniversaries, to the point of 5 lots of "Serta Mulia", the Indonesian equivalent of "Happy Birthday". Here are the words, as transcribed by Bonny:
Panjang Umurnya Panjang Umurnya Panjang Umurnya Serta Mulia, Serta Mulia ... Serta Mulia ... Serta Mulia!I gather, though I am not 100% sure, that they translate roughly as "a long life, and a happy one".
We all went to bed very happy!
Barb was up early and got some pictures as we entered Eyjafjordur, but John was slower off the mark, as was morning tea. We reversed into the mooring, and this meant our (port) side was facing the wharf, so we watched the whole process of turning the ship around, backing in, then close manouevering up against the wharf. All quite fascinating, and this meant we were late for breakfast.
But no great matter, as we did not have to be anywhere, and Isafjordur is a small place. We went ashore at 9:24, and set up the hill towards what we thought was a scenic lookout. But when we got to it, it was a huge great gabian wall, built to prevent a repeat of the disastrous 1995 avalanche that wiped out several houses and killed a few people (I don't know the exact numbers, check this later on google). While others were climbing the wall (it was possible), we thought it would not be encouraged, and anyway, there was a good view of the town from the top of the path. We followed the path a different way down, came out at the edge of the town, and then walked back into the township proper.
Met Paul and Judy sitting on a seat, who gave us the good oil on the cafe places and wifi places (not necessarily synonymous), and we followed their advice into a good coffee house with not so good wifi. Barb had an Icelandic Bun, and John had a nut toffee slice, both very enjoyable and suitably local. Then back to the ship, via the old part of town, with lots of corrugated iron. The more modern houses were made from concrete, but clearly corrugated iron was at sometime very much in fashion. Much of it had seen better days, too! But then, I guess maintenance would be a problem here with freezing winters and lots of salt spray. We noted that many concrete footpaths were very cracked, no doubt due to the frost getting into small cracks and inexorably making them larger.
We had lunch at the Dive In, two burgers, both generous enough with sauce and innards to make them challenging to eat without them going everywhere, washed done with a beer. We had thoughts of returning ashore, but it started raining, and we had pretty well covered the (quite) small town, so we read and computed until a) 16:30 and all aboard, when we watched the depature process, and b) 17:00, with Sip and Savour and departure time for the ship. Lo and behold, the sun came out just as we slipped the moorings and headed off! S&S was without Sasa, as he was off with the cellar master's dinner, so we got the good oil from Glaze on a ?? wine, and a simple grilled vegetables antipasto from Jessica (cooks were busy, too!)
Dinner with just Sid and Lorraine. John had Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon (Sid kindly gave me one of his pieces of salmon), Duck Pate Galantine Pistachio, Filet of Beef Wellington, and Creme Brulee. Barb had Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon, Cream of Four Mushrooms, Vegetable Tagine with Apricot-Almond Couscous, and the Cheese and Fruit.
Afterwards the show, with a comedian Basil, who had a lot of American-specific jokes, so he was not that funny. Some laughs, and a lot of picking on people in the front rows. Sometimes it works, sometimes it didn't.
Up early at 6am, largely thanks to clocks going back 1 hour overnight. Morning tea at 6:30, then gym for us both at 7am, followed by breakfast at 8:15, then straight to Bible Study (John) and Barbara On Location Guide talk (Barb) at 9am. John had to go straight there because he forgot to take his state room key with him at breakfast time. A brief assignation in the coffee lounge at 9:45 (and borrowing of Barbara's key) before the next activity at 10:30, the Mariners' Presentation and Brunch.
Some might describe this as quite boring. It was very similar to a graduation, except that I was not reading out the names. In this case, it was those people who had amassed 100 days of travel with HAL, and who collected a "copper" medal (when we received it, it was "bronze"). While it went on for an hour, it was facilitated with 2 glasses of champagne, and there was the promise of a "brunch" afterwards.
Which turned out to be quite fun. We sat at a table with Pam and Shraga, two acquaintances we met at lunch in Puerto Varas in Chile on our South American cruise. With them were their two friends, Bev and Jim, who were also on the South American cruise, but whom we had not met. We all had fun swapping stories and reflecting on travel experiences (as one is wont to do on board cruise ships!)
After lunch we took in the two back-to-back talks, firstly from Melvyn Foster on "Lore and Legends and Tales of the Seven Seas", which was very entertaining, and then Dr Helena Aves, on "The Vikings from a Geological Viewpoint", an interesting enough theme, but a little spoiled by her stilted speaking style, and some inaccuracies.
Sip and Savour at 5pm was Spanakopita with a Snoqualmie Riesling. Barb thought the riesling too sweet, but to John it seemed quite in keeping with its style, and besides which, it went well with the salty spanakoita.
Dinner with the full crowd, and we had some fun with TJ's birthday. Now TJ is one of the waiters, along with Bonny (did I mention Domenic the wine waiter?), and several tables decided to get some back on TJ with the birthday singing. Not only did we do the Indonesian one (Serta Mulia), but we (our table) sang the English "Happy Birthday" as well! I think he enjoyed it all. No doubt his waiter friends will keep reminding him!
John had all French: Frogs' Legs Provencale, French Onion Soup, Beef Bouguignon, and Kiwi Pavola. OK, so the last one isn't French, but I did have the Creme Brulee last night, and two straight seemed a little too indulgent.
We went to the show: "Not Really the Three Tenors" (because one was a baritone) who sang well, and did several pieces in close harmony. A mixture of operatic, musical and pop, interspersed with some ad libbing jokes with the audience. We both felt that they could have skipped the latter, and done two more songs, but who's being churlish?
Up very early, again with the extra hour of sleep to thank. No gym because our gear was still at the laundry, so we were able to have a very leisurely morning tea, and stroll up to breakfast at 8am. We shared a table with Sid and Lorraine, and I made the mistake (?) of commenting on an article in the New York Times about Trump and his failure to pay taxes. "Do you believe everything you read in the papers?" was Sid's reply. "Not really" was my reply, on which Sid seized and pointed out that the New York Times was basically a leftist rag. Rather typical of right wing people, I thought, "shoot the messenger, just like the Liberals and their posturings about ABC bias".
At about that time, the fog lifted, so the subject got changed rather sharply. Lorraine was not going to waste her breath on arguing with me, and made it very clear what she thought of me and my political opinions! But with the sun shining on the entrance to the fjord, we made our excuses and left to go and watch the fjord from the front deck.
Bible Study got the flick, I am afraid, since there was no way Psalm 23 could compete with God's majesty, right at hand, on all sides of the ship. We watched the sheer cliffs drift by, and when we reached the first glacier, the captain did a full 360 rotation of the ship, so that all could dwell on its beauty.
And so the day passed. We had a break from scenery at 10 to have coffee, and then went back to the scenery. There was evidence that fog had been around, but most of us gave thanks for that, as it made for somewhat more sensual scenery compared to the straight sunlight we had on the eastward passage (see day 30). John had to make a cabin visit at around 12noon, and took the opportunity to take a movie as we rounded the bend out of the sound, and into the next fjord, which was so heavily fog laden that the ship started blowing the foghorn. It made for some haunting scenes, particularly with the echo taking many seconds to die away against the many granite cliffs (I haven't timed them, but 10 seconds is not an exaggeration).
After that, John got hungry, so he left a note for Barb in the cabin and went up to Dive In for lunch. The hamburgers took 25 minutes, because everyone else seemed to have the same idea, but it was at least that long before Barb came looking for me, so we did end up eating together. The beer I bought for her was still cold anyway, although when she complained about how cold her fingers were, I suggested that she hold them in the beer for a few seconds to warm them up!
Back to the scenery. Again, the fog did not hang around long enough to be a problem, and the photographs were soon snapping away happily. All 258 of them! We might have to delete one or two. All 256 of them!
At about 3pm we exited the sound, but the scenery did not stop. The captain decided to take us up a fjord that no cruise ship had entered before, and he even promised a gold mine at the end. So we steamed up through the archipeligo of islands (yes, a tautology, I know, but it sounds better) towards the ?? fjord (I must look these names up when I get home), and yet more stunning scenery. There were parts, particularly when more exposed to the open ocean, where we were fog bound, but as before, once inside the fjord, the gog seemed to dissipate, and it was bright sunlight at the point where we turned around, at the gold mine. I have to say that the gold mine was abandoned just after the first world war, and there was not much left, and we did not have time to go ashore and fossick. But the scenery was golden!
We had to tear ourselves away from this feast to go to Sip and Savour, because the savouries were lobster spring rolls, paired with a Chef Rudi Chardonnay 2014. Barb did not like the wine, but declared the spring roll nice.
Dinner was missing Sid and Lorraine, who were at the Pinnacle. John had Captain's Antipasto Plate, French Onion Soup, Fresh Iceland Halibut Caddy Ganty, and Rudi Sodamin's Double Strawberry Cheesecake. Barb had Summer Vegetable Soup, Fresh Iceland Halibut Caddy Ganty, and Rudi Sodamin's Double Strawberry Cheesecake. We missed the show, another comedian, and we felt commedienned out.
Off to gym in the morning. I finished first, so I went back to the cabin to retrieve a camera, and then back to the gym so that we could get a photo of the two of us in the on-board gym to show Trent on our return. Rad the gym instructor kindly took the photo for us.
A light breakfast of toast and Vegemite (since the Vegemite pot had been found), and then at 9am we joined the queue in the Ocean Bar to go ashore. It was a bit of a wait (30mins), but we were ashore by 9:40 with hundreds of other passengers, effectively doubling the size of the small township for the day. We collected a map, identified a route to follow, and set off.
First stop was the small church, which surprisingly, was open. Not only that, but there was an organist playing "Nearer My God To Thee", so we sat in contemplation for 5 minutes or so, then checked out the pew bibles and hymnals, which we all in Inuit - see Psalm 23 and John 3:16 for example.
Then on to an "Open Air Museum", a section of the township that had not seen any recent (re)building, and was effectively a time team capsule of life in the village at the beginning of the 20th century. We had to pay USD5 each to get in, but it was worth it, and the proceeds go to a community support fund. Inside each (original) house, there were collected artifacts about different aspects of village life - baking, animal husbandry, radio communication, minerals (including stuff on the gold mine we saw yesterday), and the like. All very fascinating, and we spent 50 minutes or so wandering around.
Then we completed our planned trail around the village, noting the fairly consistent (spartan) architectural style of the buildings, and the very Inuit features of the population (many of whom were out and about, presumably because of the cruise ship in town). See for example these two young boys sitting on a light pole support at the wharf, and these young boys doing what young boys the world over do (and getting told off by one of the Rotterdam seamen!) We did stop in the tourist information centre - no milk jugs, but I did ask how the town's name should be pronounced: "with a 'd', not a 't'". So think Dr Who, and you will get it right!
Tender back to the ship after a bit of a wait again, and we headed to "The Retreat" on Deck 8 for pizzas, and a leisurely watch of the ship departing the harbour.
The afternoon was spent reading and computing again, until Sip and Savour time with Pot Stickers (pork dumplings) and a Red Guitar (Spanish) Temperanillo/Ganache red wine. OK, I guess, but I am always a little suspicious of Grenache blends, since I am not that keen on Greanche by itself. It was pleasant enough that I was tempted to have two glasses.
Dinner (a formal night) was without two of our number. Pam was indisposed, and Mike said that she had retired for the night to get some sleep. Paul was also missing, but I missed Pam's explanation of why. John had Foie Gras and Rhubarb, Thai Chicken and Forbidden Rice Soup, Seared Duck Breast with Apricot, and Crepe Souffle. Barb had Foie Gras and Rhubarb, Seared Duck Breast with Apricot, and Tequila Poached Pear. After dinner we went to hear the pianist Tomono Kawamura play some classical piano items (inter alia): Chopin (Revolutionary Sonata), Schumman (Etude in C sharp minor), Tchaikovsky (Nutcracker), Mozart (Rondo alla Turka) and Grieg (Hall of the Mountain Kings). Then bed.
Quiet day today. Barb off to gym at 7, John caught up with email and blogging. Breakfast, then John to Bible Study at 10, but he had to apologise to Jeff as he left early to catch Melvyn Foster and "From Wind and Sails to Steam and Steel". But a misunderstanding at the end saw Barb have coffee in the Endeavour Cafe without John, and then John have coffee in the Endeavour Cafe without Barb.
Most of the day was spent reading. Barb finished 2 books, I finished one "The Cuckoo's Calling" by J.K.Rowling (under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith). Slow starting, but once I got to the last third, it was all downhill, and a bit of the Harry Potter style started to come through.
Had lunch in the Lido, then more reading. Sip and Savour at 5, with smoked fish and the Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc that we enjoyed in the dining room recently. Dinner without Sid and Lorraine, so their dissembling over a chance remark the previous night by Lorraine that they had shared a bottle of wine "with friends", even though they had told us at the start of the voyage that they "didn't drink" created a hot topic of conversation. The feeling by the others at our table was that she did not count us as friends. A mutual feeling, I might add. My view is that Lorraine thinks Trump is fantastic (see breakfast on 17 Aug), and that it is OK to "be economical with the truth". Amongst all the dinner companions we have had on cruises, she stands out as being the "weakest link".
Morning tea woke us up, in spite of the extra 30mins sleep. We both went to the gym, then shower, then breakfast. The morning was a bit hectic, as we went to hear Melvyn talk about the Atlantic Cruise Liners, but had to leave early, as we wanted to catch the Culinary Arts Show with Patricia from Sip and Savour do her prize-winning recipe "Buttermilk Pannacotta", along with two other winners, David ("Grandma's Blueberry Grunt") and Charlotte ("Fly Away Birds from Italy"). It was quite entertaining, and in a sense everyone was a winner - Patricia's dish to be served at dinner on the last evening, Charlotte's to be used for Sip and Savour, and Gary's to be served at lunch on the last day.
During this time, we docked in St John's (it was now 1130 or so), and consequently, we were ready (and so were many others) to go ashore just after 12. We headed first for the Railway Coastal Museum, where we spent an hour wandering around the exhibits. Newfoundland being an island, it was as much about the coastal ship traffic as about the railway, which unfortunately closed in 1988, and there is little to be seen as evidence of its existence, apart from the very nice station building in which the museum was housed. Outside they had a diesel loco and two passenger cars on a short stretch of track that went nowhere. The rest of the rail yards had been turned into car and truck parks. Sic transit gloria mundi!
We headed back towards the city and ship berth at 1330, and walked through the city centre and on to Signal Hill. The road was very steep, and we plodded along, while lots of vehicular traffic roared past us, and lots of people came jogging (!) down the hill. But once at the top, the view was spectacular, and climbing to the top of Cabot's Tower gave a great 360 degree view. Signal Hill was the site of Marconi's famous wireless telegraphy experiment, in which he proved that it was possible to use radio waves to transmit information across the Atlantic. This was not thought to be possible, because of the curvature of the earth, but what scientists of the day did not know (nor did Marconi, for that matter) was the existence of the Heaviside Layer, which reflected the radio waves back to earth. That took another 20 years to discover.
We set off back down again via a different "scenic" route, which involved lots of wooden steps and boardwalks, and lots of rough uneven pathways, at times quite precipititous, and rivaling the "Highline" path in the Glacier National Park (see A Cliff-Hanger Walk, 13 Jul). At the start of the path we met Jim and Genna from Connetticut, and we swapped stories and photo taking duties along the way, although we didn't actually walk together - the path did not allow that!
We were very footsore when we got back to the city, and went looking for a beer. We passed several faux-Irish pubs, and just as we were about to give up, got back to the Yellow Belly Brewery and Pub that we had seen on our way to the Railway Museum. So in we went. John had 2 pints, one of Irish Red, and one IPA, while Barb had a half of wheat beer - all locally brewed. To make sure we were not drinking on an empty stomach (it was by now after 5pm, and we had not had any lunch!) we also ordered a "poutine", a Canadian specialty of chips and gravy, with other various side condiments. The very description had put us off tasting it previously on the trip when we were in Canada, but the opportunity of trying a sweet potato version of it here was too much to pass up. And I am glad we did! It was quite a delightful taste, and I would certainly have it again if I ever pass this way again.
We missed Sip and Savour, but bumping into Jim and Genna again made us realize that it was a good one to miss, as the savoury was "poutine", and Jim and Genna said that it wasn't very good. Whether that was because of the prejudices that they had acquired or not we could not say, but we did recommend the Sweet Poutine at the Yellow Belly to them, and they took our advice. We haven't seen them since, I hope it all went well for them!
Dinner with just Paul and Judy, who were a bit late to the point of us starting before they arrived. We were planning on going to the movie which started at 9:30, so we apologised to them, but it did not matter in the end as they caught up on our courses, and we were all in time for the movie. John had Portugese Fish Cakes (OK), White Bean Soup Piermontese (like pea soup, and very nice, with bits of chorizo in it), Broiled New York Strip Loin (great piece of meat!), and Dark Cherry Frozen Yoghurt (yum!). Barb had Graved Salmon with Shrimp, Chicken Scallopini, and Blood Orange Ice Cream.
We went to the movie, starting later at 9:30 and shown in the showroom. It was "The Grand Seduction", which we had seen before, but was well worth a second viewing. Unfortunately John found his seat a bit uncomfortable, but because of all the walking today still found it difficult to keep awake. Bed brought blessed relief from very footsore legs!!
Both off to gym this morning, then breakfast, then John to the Interdenomination Church Service to hear Jeff talk on "soft words", how we should talk (and listen to people) without judgement. What I have called in Glen Waverley circles as "accept and affirm".
At 1000 we both headed to the showroom to hear Barbara Location Director talk about the Halifax explosion of 1917. This was the greatest man-made explosion in history until Nagasaki, and remains the greatest accidental explosion to this day. It makes a fascinating story, and I have made a note to look it up further when I get home, and get faster (and cheaper!) internet.
John stayed on to hear Helena Aves talk about fracking, and its environmental and financial consequences. The bottom line is that every well is different, so blanket rules don't work well, but even without any environmental consequences, the finances don't stack up! So why are the oil companies pushing it so hard? Answer: so they can keep any competitors out, and keep the whole oil oligopoly intact. Meanwhile, Barb read.
Lunch was poutine on the Lido Deck, and I have to say, it was not as bad as it has been made out. We first tried it with standard "french fries", which were OK, and then with sweet potato fries, which were even better. I could not quite see why there is so much division about them. Yes, the concept sounds a bit off-poutine (sorry!), but don't knock it if you haven't tried it!
At 2pm, with stomachs now suitably lined, we went to the Pinnacle to participate in an expensive wine tasting. At $200 a bottle, you could understand why they charged $70 per person to participate! We had 4 wines altogether: Perrier Belle Epoque 2007, Dom Perignon 2004, Taitinger 2004, and Krug NV Grand Cuvee. Each was paired with an appropriate appetiser, respectively: oxtail bruschetta, stuffed prawn, mushroom cappucino, and limoncello cream. All very nice, but Barb and I both preferred the Dom Perignon.
At bit of quiet time before Sip and Savour, for which we were late, and missed our chairs around the piano (called "the ring of fire" by some). We had steak and blue cheese with a pear salsa, paired with a California red wine whose name escapes me for the moment. John liked it, but Barb didn't.
Then, busy day that it was, we went upstairs to the Crows Nest for cocktails, and a "meet the captain" function. We had trouble getting near the bar, so it was a while before we got our free mojito/beer and were able to sit down. But we didn't get to mingle much - no one came near the empty table we sat at. (Is there a message there, I wonder?)
Finally, the main event at the end of the day - we went to the Pinnacle again to share dinner with Pam and Mike, who were celebrting their (54th) anniversary. They were easy company, and I think we find them the most relaxing couple amongst the 3 that we share dinner with usually. Barb had lobster bisque, mushroom ravioli (which she said was a bit dry), and macadamia ice cream. John went with crab cakes, crab legs, and Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake. We started a bottle of Nobilo Sav Blanc, but due to a slight mixup, it was from the wrong package. We finished off the last of the Lote 44 from last night, and the local wine steward did not realise that that was from our previous package, and so gave us the Nobilo, the more upmarket package! I should apologise to Dominic tonight about the mixup - I hope it does not come out of his commission!
John fell asleep as soon as he hit the pillow, but Barb struggled a bit to nod off - "too much food" was her comment.
Barb off to gym, but no John. We breakfasted as quickly as possible, and got ashore by 0930. With the aid of a map we collected at the termnal we set off to follow the red walk around town, stopping at Goverment House, the Burial Ground, St Mary's Basilica (with a young woman organist practising her scales on the pipe organ), the new Town Library (very nice, with a welcome cafe to stop a refresh ourselves). The eather was very humid, although not warm, and we were both wearing too much clothing. Barb could take hers off easily enough, but John's extra was a singlet, so the loos in the library provided a welcome opportunity to divest myself of the extra clothing.
After coffee we climbed up the hill to the Public Gardens, and strolled around them (they are not that large). There was a definite recollection of having to run through this garden in the rain 10 years ago! We spent a good while there, admiring all the things we were too drenched to take in 10 years ago, and particularly admired the dahlia display that was in full bloom.
Climbing further up the hill, we looked at the Citadel from the outside for a few minutes, before deciding to pay the $10 each to go in. There was certainly plenty to see, and the highlight was the noon-day gun ceremony, carried out by young blokes in full militia regalia, and ending with a very loud bang! I took a movie of it, but my sound system does not currently deliver much in the way of a bang, so that might have to wait until we get home, too. Basically, the place was like a big castle from anywhere in the UK, and the firing of the cannon reminded us of a similar experience at St Elizabeth's Castle in Jersey, 2013.
Moving right along, we walked down the hill to Argyle St, where our ship's map said there was a good lobster and oyster restaurant. We found it easily enough, and sat outside as the sun slowly found its way out of the clouds. We settled on two "maine" lobsters, with a glass of local wine for Barb, and a pint of Alexander Keith's IPA for John. The lobsters were great, and of course, much of the pleasure comes not just from the eating, but the challenge of hunting down every morsel of tasty flesh from the claws and legs! We had a very decadent time!
Then down the hill a bit more to the harbour shoreline, where there was a boardwalk that took us back to the ship. The place was buzzing, but unforunately we did not have enough time to take in all the attractions, such as the Maritime Museum. We have to save something for next time!
Back at the ship Barb wanted to check out the shops at the docks, so we wandered along the wharf service area to where the Veendam, a sister Holland America Line ship, was moored. The place was pretty busy, with two cruise ships in, but neither of us saw anything we really wanted to buy (like milk jugs). John headed back to the ship for (another) well earned beer, and Barb came a little later, but still early enugh to beat the huge crowd that gathered on the gangway, and delayed the ship leaving by 20 minutes! We watched the departure from the front of deck 6 until we were well away, and enjoyed the mutual horn blasting as the two HAL ships passed.
We had our last happy hour in the Ocean Bar, joining with Tim and Della Sue, Bob and Carol, for a pair of mojitos, then straight into Sip and Savour and Charlotte's winning appetiser of "Fly Away Birds", paird with some Frescobaldi Chianti, which was very nice, and quite unlike most of the chiantis we had previously drunk.
Then to the formal or "gala" night dinner, with everyone there. Much photo taking and swapping of emails, etc.. But the real highlight was the fact that Barb and I both had lobster again - two lobster dinners in one day! How is that for decadence?
For the record, John had Prawn Cocktail, Parsnip Soup, Lobster Tail, and Tiramisu. Barb had almost the same: Prawn Cocktail, Parsnip Soup, Lobster Tail, and Flourless Chocolate Cake. We tried to order a bottle of the Frescobaldi Chianti that we had had for Sip and Savour, but Domenic said they were out, and brought a different bottle of chianti. But it was like all the other chiantis we had previously tasted, and we rejected it, settling instead for the trusty friend of Spellbound. Oh, and did I mention the bottle of champagne that Mike brought to share with us all? It was a great thought, and was slightly marred by Mike knocking over his glass and breaking it. Oops!
It was a great day, and we retired quite exhausted. No problem sleeping tonight.
Morning tea at 6, then both to gym for the last time at 7. After showers, off to breakfast. Trying to have smaller breakfasts as we plan to bring our eating habits back to normal!
Last Bible Study for John at 9, with lots of farewells. Then coffee at Explorations Cafe, followed by Melvyn Foster talking about liners at war (John), and cooking demo (Barb). We went (for the first time) to lunch in the dining room, and I think it was the right decision to not eat there on a more regular basis. Certainly the general standard of food has declined. We went partcularly to try the last prize-winning recipe by David, called "Grandma's Blueberry Grunt", and while the blueberries were nice, the dumplings were a bit chewy, as they had not been freshly cooked. Still, we had some good company, with Lucille and Howard, Jack and Gerry.
The afternoon was spent packing. John focussed on the technical stuff, Barb focussed on the clothing. We managed to organize ourselves down to only one carry-on bag, since there was no weight restriction on the other carry-on bag, and we were able to fill it to the gunwales with "stuff". How we shall manage when it comes to flying, I'm not sure. But flying business class should help with the luggage allowance!
A pause in packing for a cup of tea in the Lido, and a friendly chat with a couple who sat with us - for once we did not go through the usual routine of introductions and the "where are you from?" questions, as that seemed all unnecessary at the blunt end of the cruise.
Last Sip and Savour, coconut chicken and a Spanish white wine. John composed a little limerick as a farewell to Jessica, which went something like this:
There was a young lass called Jess, Who at 5 each day would confess: "At the Sip and the Savour You'll taste every flavour Even though the thing looks a mess!"followed by a toast to Jessica's good health! This was followed by lots of photos and farewells. The sip and savour crowd had developed a good community (as evidenced by the support for Patricia's cooking), and the transientness of it all was perhaps evidenced best by the fact that we did not all rush around collecting email addresses. Funny that?
More packing before dinner. John collected his power board, and returned the Holland America one. Slowly everything was squeezed in by the time dinner came around. All our table was present, and there was again a strong cameradie. Many crew renditions of "Serta Mulia", and a big dance around the dining room by all the crew, as in the past, but this time with no sparklers (fire risk, you know).
We polished off the Spellbound, and collected our last bottle from the package - the Torrontes that we had started with, 5 weeks ago. We shall share that with the Robinsons. John had Shrimp Cobb Salad, French Onion Soup, Strip Loin with Wasabe Crust (blue), and Patricia's Buttermilk Pannacotta - of which we had two helpings! Barb had Shrimp Cobb Salad, Tomato Soup, Salmon Caesar Salad, and the Buttermil Pannacotta. A most yummy "last supper"!
Some last minute squeezes to get the three bags out in the corridor by 2230, ahead on the midnight deadline, and then bed.
Awoke at 0515 and got up at 0530. Had a shower and got dressed before tea arrived, so time to read the paper in a leisurely fashion, as we had downloaded it last night in using up the last of our expensive slow, internet. Breakfast at 0730, and the Lido cafe was quite full. Everyone wanted to organized when the bell went, I guess.
But the bell did not go until well after 0830, some 30 minutes late. Our disembarkation time was 0915, so after the last minute tidy-ups, we just had to sit and wait. We did have to go and see the US immigation officials before 9, but by leaving it until 0845, we were able to walk straight through, with no queues at all. I guess that's what happes when you have plenty of time n your hands?
John finished off his shipboard logs, while Barb read in the sun coming in on the verandah. Once finished, John joined Barb on the verandah, only to get his legs splashed 5 minutes later, as the crew started washing the windows upstairs!
Eventually at 0945 we got called, and as we walked through the ship to get to the gangplank, we were struck by how quiet and deserted the ship seemed. We were amongst the last to leave! There was a little angst on collecting our luggage, as one piece was not with the other two, and Barb had to search extensively before she found it. Then, of course, being amongst the last batch to leave, the queue for the taxis was quite long, and we had to wait another 30 mins or so to get to the head of that queue.
The driver dropped us right at the door of South Station, and was a little miffed when Barb gave him only a 2c tip! She thought she was typing in dollars to the credit catd machine (which invites you to enter a tip amount separately), but it was entering cents, which prompted the driver to exclaim "What! only 2cents tip?" Barb apologised, and gave him a dollar note instead - which happened to be her last dollar, so she coudn't tip any more anyway.
We found the Amtrak desk, and were told that we should congregate back there at 1230 to be led to the replacement bus. So we had another couple of hours to kill, filled in by a) pigging out on the free fast wifi, b) a large cup of coffee each, and c) a beer (John) and cider (Barb)
At 1245 we were led out to a bus, and duly climbed aboard, before setting off at 1256 (not 1250 as advertised). What can I say about the bus trip? It was prettu boring - there was little scenery of interest, and although we barrelled along the Interstate Highway (I90 as it happens), at every town where the train would have stopped, we had to make a big detour from the turnpike onto stop-start city traffic, all of which was very tedious. If we had not had to make those replacement stops, I reckon we ould have been in Albany in half the time! Still, what would that have gained us? Another 2 hurs waiting tie in Albany? Ah, but it would have been 2 hours less couped up in a bus!
You will notice a big absence of lunch in all this. We should have had something to eat at South Station before we left, but it wasn't lunch time then. We did get a couple of small bags of snacks on the bus, but thet were hardly lunch. So we just grinned and bore it ...
At 1806 we turned into Rennselaer Staion, which was the change over point (Rennselaer is the town on the other side of the river to Albany). Chaos sort of reigned for a while, since nobody quite seemed to know what was to happen. Eventually after asking someone, we discovered that our bags had to be carried by ourselves, as they had not been "checked" at Boston. Great Gerkhins, nobody told us that we had to check the bags in at Boston! No wonder Amtrak has such a bad name. They seem to go out of their way to be not so much unhelpful, as just not helpful full stop.
So we struggled with our two heavy suitcases, and not quite so heavy carry-ons up the "elevator" into the terminal, which was in fact buit across the railway tracks. We had time for a cup of coffee, or so we thought, and Joh had a hot dog to assuage his lack of lunch. No sooner had we sat down with the coffee than a garbled PA announcement suggested something about train 4449, so Barb went to ask. Yes, they were calling passengers for the train, but it was "not boarding yet". So we had to stand around with 4 suitcases and a cup of hot coffee each, for no good reason!
5 minutes later, they did start to "board the train", and we found our way to the second fron carriage, car 4912, seat 2, and Kevin our conductor helpfully put our big suitcases in an empty compartment.
What can I say about train travel? Only that it is infinitely better than bus travel! We had a cosy little compartment, which turns into two beds, and as I type this, I am sitting in the day seats below while Barb snoozes in the upper berth above. We are now only an hour away from Buffalo, and the time has gone a lot faster than it did on the bus. Not only that, or perhaps the cause of that, is that we have power and wifi to entertain ourselves as we travel - now in darkness, so not much to see out the window, but still far less boring than on the bus where we could.
We dined in the diner car, on a meal that left us yearning for Holland America Food. It was included in the fare, so it meant we didn't have to pay for it, and that soften the hard landing a little. But given that we had not had lunch, it was welcome enough. John had a somewhat undercooked lasagna (but the tomato sauce was good), and Barb had fish, which she said was "OK". We had dessert, a cheesecake, and chocolate tart thing, which were shared, but one would have been enough, particularly if the chocolate tart, as it was very rich!
Back in the cabin, Barb got the conductor to lower her bed. Now I say "lower", because the bed slid up and down on a spring loaded guide, so it was easy enough to do, but once lowered, manouvering oneself on to it was a challenge. There was no ladder like on the Overland, but you had to climb up via the lavatory and the wash basin. This is not as drastic as it sounds, since both came with reinforced lids, and were clearly intended to be the steps to the bed! As Barb wanted to lie down, she took the upper bed, but John asked the conductor to leave the lower bunk tucked away, so he could sit on the seats and just watch the lights go by - and keep the GPS running, so that he could see how close we were getting.
We were running late, but Barb's clock was on time, and at 5 to midnight woke up and said "Have we missed Buffalo?" rather anxiously. I was able to reassure her that we had not, and that we were about 25 mins late. At 15 past midnight, the conductor came to check that we were ready, and at 20 past we pulled into Depew, the stop for Buffalo. As we alighted the train, there were Jim and Donna waiting for us! A few joyous hugs all round, and we bundled ourselves and luggage into the car and headed off. As we were leaving, I noticed that the train had appeared to double in length, so we must have acquired another train set, although I don't know where. My understanding was that the train was in two sections, one from Boston (which of course, did not run), and one from New York, combining at Albany. So maybe the New York section joined at Schenectady or somewhere, due to the trackwork? There was lots of new track between Albany and Schenectady, so maybe that was the reason? I guess I shall never know ...
Anyway, I digress. Back to Jim and Donna. They had booked us into a motel in Niagara Falls, so a half-hour trip to the motel and much catch-up conversation saw us in the motel somewhat after 1am, and a tumble into bed. Phew!
The arrangement this morning was that we would meet in the restaurant for a proper breakfast, as opposed to the diner and scratch breakfast. Because there were no tea-mak-facs in the room (there was a coffee maker, but using it for tea gives tea with a funny taste), Barb and I decided to go to the restaurant early and have a proper cup of tea. But the restaurant was closed. So we had to go to the diner anyway, and had a boring breakfast of buttered toast, once the Robinsons had joined us. We found out later that the restaurant opened at 0820, but did not help us much.
The bus was late picking us up, but we settled down once on board. There were only 4 others with us, two couples, Brianne and Dylan from Toronto, and Nicole and Kan from Edmonton. Gus, the driver, introduced us all, and as we travelled to the first winery, told us all about the history of Niagara-On-The_Lake, the soils, the climate, the grapes, the wineries, the families ... He was a mine of information, and very personable and helpful.
The first winery was PondView, where we inspected the vines (of malbec) before entering the winery tasting room. Each couple had an assiette of comestibles, and Keith, the wine presenter, then led us through tasting 4 wines, and commenting on which comestible went with which libation.
The wines were (in order of tasting): chardonnay 2013, cabernet franc 2012, cabernet sauvignon 2013, and riseling icewine 2013. What to say? All good, but of course, the red wines were light in style, being relatively cold climate wines. Barb actually liked the chardonnay, which was a first, and everyone liked the icewine. The food was a selection of guoda cheese, parmesan cheese, blue cheese, prosciutto, salami, caper berries sundried tomatos, and olives.
Next stop was the Silversmith brewery. What's a brewery doing on a wine tour you ask? John thought it would be a good thing, and they agreed. :-) We had four beers to taste (again in order) Bavarian (?) Breakfast Wheat, Black Lager, Hill 145 Golden Ale, Dambuster Pale Ale (sorry about the vagueness, but I didn't take a photo of the names). The last of these was the most bitter at 30 BU, but it was not bitter enough to my taste. I commented on this to the hostess, and she gave me a taste of an IPA, 52 BU, which was much more to my taste. It wasn't one of the Silversmith beers, but one from a brewery down the road, which is why they didn't offer it in the first place. But it all reinforced my perception that IPAs remain my favourite!
Oh, and the food? Pickled beans, gouda cheese, blue cheese, pastrami (but more like what we would call corned beef), olive tapenade, chicken pate with pistacio, and "beer nuts", which were actually toffee encased peanuts. All went well with the beers, although opinions were mixed about the beer nuts.
The next stop was at the Rancourt winery, this time with just 3 wines on offer. This time, the food selections were a little different. There was a long cheese bread stick, a salad of slaw, beans and beets, and a meat pie. Actually the meat pie was beef and stilton, and everyone thought that was very good, especially with the third wine. The wines themselves were: Noble Blanc 2013, Rose 2015, Merlot 2012. We enjoyed them all!
Next stop was Southbrook, a modern, organic, biodynamic winery, using a range of organic processes to keep their carbon footprint low. Here the wines were: Triomphe Riesling 2015, Vosges Chardonnay 2013, Cabernet Franc 201 2013, and out of left field, Framboise, a wine made from raspberries! Quite deliberately paired with these were a bean and goat cheese salad, a leiden-style cheese, smoked duck breast, and a chocolate brownie. Again, they were all most delightful.
We made a habit of buying one bottle for each couple at each winery (not counting the brewery), and each place allowed us to try their tasting bar after we had tasted the supplied offerings. So overall, counting these additional tastings, we worked out that we tasted over 24 different wines and beers during the day! It was a brilliant outing!!
Gus dropped us back at the motel at about 5pm, and we piled into Donna's car for a quick spin around Niagara. We stopped at a little cafe called Queen Charlotte, which served afternoon teas and suppers in the English fashion. Barb and I had tea (LST for John, English Brekkie for Barb), while Donna and Jim had coffees. All very pleasant, and in a real sense, a welcome relief from alcohol!
Then it was time for "Oh Canada, Eh?", a dinner musical about things Canadian. The cast of 6 were also the table servers, and dinner consisted of salad, pea soup, fish/beef/chicken with beans/spuds/carrots, and a sponge cake for dessert. The singing was great, although many of the songs were unknown to us. You might recall "American Woman", "Allouette", "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen) - all written by Canadians.
Once that was over, we had to make our way to Waterloo. Donna drove all the way, with Barb in the front passenger seat keeping her awake. Certainly the men in the back seat did not do that. We got to Talock Dr at abou 11pm, and after sorting a bit of luggage out, all collapsed into bed, ready for another day.
Not. We woke up at 9am, and managed to get dressed about an hour later! Breakfast became brunch, and it was not until after 1 that we actually got out of the house.
First task was to retrieve Jim's car, which he had left in the Kitchener GO Bus car park when he went to Toronto the day before! I didn't quite understand how he got back without collecting it, but it all part and parcel of Jim's travelling style.
The the boys and girls split up. Jim and I went in search of construction, while Barb and Donna went off to do some secret women's business. Now I say "construction" as a noun with a very specific Canadian meaning. There are two seasons in Canada: "winter" and "construction". Winter is defined as that time of year when you cannot do construction, because of snow, ice and general weather inclements. Construction is when you can. And there is a lot of it about, particularly as they are ripping up all the roads to put in a light rail system.
And being light rail, it seemed like a good opportunity to check on progress. So Jim drve me around to all the places he could think of where there was a road ripped up, or tracks being laid. You can appreciate that at times we did attract some curious, even challenging, stares from people around. Wandering around construction sites in a non-regulation HiVis shirt (one of my tie-dye ones!) did attract some attention. But since I took lots of photos, I suspect people either thought I was either a railway official checking on progress (unlikely), a railway gunzel (not quite so unlikely) or a nut case (most likely), nobody seemed moved enough to challenge us. So forgive me, today's photos are full of light rail construction, and little else.
We stopped at a supermrket and a LCBO (pronounced "lick-bo") to get some supplies, and when we arrived home, found that the women were already there, and had started on the nibblies and drinks. So we continued.
At about 6, Nathan Skyped in. We had sent him a message to call us when convenient to him, so we took the opportunity to wish him a Happy Birthday, and to check how things were doing. He seemed quite chirpy.
Then dinner (chicken on the BBQ), and after dinner we scratched our heads to think of what we might do to celebrate some forthcoming special birthdays (David Morgan, Jim Robinson and John Hurst all turn "50" next year). At the centre of the discussion was the nature of the rule "cannot visit any place to which any of the party had previously been". It was agreed that this rue was too inflexible, and it was revised to "a place which gives all members of the party a new travel experience". With this in mind, we came up with the following list:
A slightly slow start to the day, but there was not much on the agenda for the morning, so getting away by 1040 with our picnic for lunch was deemed to be a good start. We headed for Stratford on Avon (the Ontario version), and found a great spot in the park by the river to have said picnic of left-over chicken, tomato, cucumber, blue cheese and pink lemonade (drinking alcohol in public places is banned in Ontario!) That was followed with cherries and peaches, so it was a picnic to remember!
Then it was time to walk across to the Festival Theatre for a performance of Macbeth. The first half was quite long (hour and 45 minutes), so we were glad of the free glass of wine at intermission, thanks to J&D being members of the Festival Theatre. As I said to the others:
Put malice aside; 'tis strange to hear the Scottish Play act out in Canadian accent.(in my crude attempt to express myself in Shakespearian style.) But on to the second half, and more murders until MacDuff brings Birham Wood to Dunsinane Castle and Macbeth's final denoument. We all felt it was a most powerful production, and it got a standing ovation from the audience (although I do think North Americans are easily given to standing ovations - perhaps it is because they all suffer from theatre knee, like me?) The one criticism I would make is that there were a few people who did not understand theatre etiquette - coughing all during MacDuff's most poignant eulogy for his wife and children, and talking noisily at the most inappropriate times.
Then home by a different route, with a dinner whizzed up by Donna of gazpacho, chicken, salad, vegies and corn. The corn was fresh, and most succuent. Then Iain and Elaine dropped by to say hello, so we had a good chat with them about us, and about them, while we supped on strawberries, blueberries and icecream. We talked until well after 9, when it was time for them to drive back to Toronto - in spite of Donna's exhortations to stay overnight! Then to bed.
Down south today, to the shores of Lake Erie. Our first stop was at Port Stanley, where we arrived with 15 minutes to spare for the 11am departure of the Port Stanley Tourist Railway. This train runs on several kilometres of preserved track of the old London and Port Stanley Railway, using a small 1500HP diesel electric loco and several old box cars converted to passenger cars, Puffing Billy style, with open sides (but no kiddie rail). It was ever so cute,and restricted to 15 mph, so we had a 45 minute ride to get to Whyte's Park, through a mixture of holiday houses (in Port Stanley) to open farm land (further out). A particular highlight was passing through the smallest "Union Station" in North America, so called not because it had multiple railway companies using the one staion, but because the (very) small hamlet it served was called "Union"!
We had 20 minutes or so to get off and wander around at Whyte's Park, take photos of the loco, of the various bits of rolling stock they had preserved there, including a huge great snow plough. Then back on for a slightly faster return, due to the fact that it was all downhill back to Port Stanley. Interstingly, they did not run the loco around, but "propelled" the train, with the conductor (an affable old chap) standing watch at the rear (now front) of the train, and communicating with the driver by radio. So it wasn't really propelling the train, but more a case of providing a bit of resistance against the falling grade.
Back in Port Stanley, we drove a couple of 100 metres to the beach, to a place called "GT's", a grill bar right on the beach front. There we had a beer or two, and lunch, which for John was fried perch and chips, and Barb a rather humungous salad. All good!
A quick stroll on the beach, and to wonder at the huge expanse of fresh water. I mean, beaches on a fresh water lake, where you could not see the other side of the lake, was a rather mind-boggling thought for we dry-climate Australians. This was brought home to me even more bogglingly, when I saw a seagull drinking the water! Well, of course it would, being fresh, but the juxtapositioning of seagull, beach, and water just screamed salt water to my inner conscousness so much that the very thought of it still confronts me.
We retraced our path back to St Thomas, where we checked out the statue of Jumbo, the world's largest elephant, tragically killed when he stepped in the path of a steam locomotive, back in 1885. The statue was life size, and Jim and I could just about stand upright underneath it.
Then to the railway yards, and the very impressive station at St Thomas. It is not as long as the Flinders St platform no.1, but it was the longest station building in Canada, serving 4 different railway companies, as well as being the headquarters of the Grand Trunk Railway. The caretaker (if that is his proper title?) allowed us up to see the first floor gallery, which was full of historic photos, and included the dormitory for the workers in the railway restaurant, who would have to be on hand at all hours for trains that stopped at the station, in the days before dining cars.
Then to the Elgin County Railway Museum, just across the railway yards (which were largely empty, as most of the rails have been taken up). This was a bit of an exercise in wishful thinking, as they had tons and tons of exhibits, but not the infrastructure to allow people to wander round and look at it all. The most impressive exhibit was 5700, a Canadian National Hudson, with driving wheels over 6 feet and 24 inch cylinders. Wow! To have seen it in action would have been most awe inspiring. It was gob-smacking enough as a static exhibit.
We checked out the model railway as well. It was based upon the local rail scene, with a model of the St Thomas Station, and the branch line to Port Stanley, etc.. The guide turned it on for us, so that we could see the model trains belting around the tracks. Quite an impressive layout, with much attention to detail.
Next stop was Port Burwell, where the Canadian Navy's HMCS Ojibwa submarine was preserved. It was not entirely clear why it was there, but it formed part of the Maritime Museum, although it was not open for inspection. It could do with a little TLC, too.
Further along the coast of Lake Erie, we detoured out to Long Point, a classic beach holiday house location. It is a long narrow isthumus (hence the name), with lots of swamps and wetlands. We took the time to stop and check these out, and were rewarded with a grey heron standing motionless in the swamp.
Then it was time to head for home. There was a lovely sunset on the way. Chicken curry for dinner, some catch up on photos, then bed.
Today we set off to explore Cambridge (Ontario). We left bit after 9, and as Cambridge is not that far from Kitchener, which is not that far from Waterloo, we were in Cambridge an hour later. Donna drove us by back roads, rather than the main highway, so that we could see a bit of the interesting features, like the many farms, the big Toyota company (Canada still has a motor manufacturing industry), and the posh houses (Cambridge is in commuting distance from Toronto, just). There is so much corn grown in Ontario that I think they should call it Corntario :-)
We stopped in Cambridge (in the part formally known as Galt) at the Grand Cafe, right on Queen's Square, and had a coffee all round. Then a walk around the square, admiring the two Presbyterian Churches that were diagonally opposite across the square! There must be a story there, but it was not obvious.
Then on for more signt-seeing, including the lovely Langdon Hall, in which Barb was particularly interested, as her mother's maiden name was Langdon. Nice place, but we decided not to eat there as lunch was $55 per person.
On to Louie's Soup and Burger joint, which was a favourite of Donna's. They only do soup and burgers, but the choice in burgers was quite overwhelming. 20 different toppings, and 14 different sauces, for example. John commented that he had never had such extensive choice, and that it had got quite confusing, especially as the soup could come as a separate dish, or as a side, and it changed how it was charged. Then the travel card decided to have a hissy fit, and needed coaxing to work. Donna thought that I was railing against the establishment, but I hastened to explain (or at least, tried to) that I just got overwhelmed with the choices. When the food came, it was really good, but I had to admit in the end that the 8oz burger was a bit much, and the 5oz would have done quite well, thank you!
So we rolled ourselves out back into the car, heading off for home, and an hour or so later were back at Tatlock Ct, where we all relaxed for another quiet hour until David and Karen, with all their kids (Wesley, Edward and Clara) turned up. It was good to see the again - last time we were here, Clara was only a few months old (she is 2 weeks younger than Jemima) when we last saw her, so it was very impressive to she how she had developed, and to compare her growth with Jemima (she is much closer to the median than Jemima is!)
We shared a bounteous meal of hot dogs and sauerkraut with David and Karen, and had a good chat with them about their world, and in particular, the joys and tribulations of teaching. All too soon they had to leave, so we wished them well "until the next time"!
After they had left, and as the sun was setting, we headed out to a nearby farm road outside the city lights, where we looked for the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, only 0.06 degrees apart. We think we found them, but it was had to resolve the two with the naked eye. Our deserted farm road turned out to be quite busy, as 4 cars went past, and a mennonite horse and buggy! Once the planets had set, we returned home to find Jim and Donna's new student tenants moving in for the start of the academic year. That was very much our cue to retire as well.
Again, a soft start to the day, and we got going by 0930. First stop was Conestoga Mall, so Jim could go and collect his computer from the Apple Store. Only problem was, he didn't collect it - they had not done one of the things he had asked them to do. Then on to St Jacob's Market for coffee and apple fritters, the best in the world!
Then on to a little town called Wilmot, and a lovely old building called Castle Kilbride. Built by a Scottish immigrant called James Livingston (born in Kilbride, Scotland) who started a linseed oil company and made a fortune, the building fell into disrepair when the 3rd generation was no longer able to maintain it. It was bought by a developer, but his plans fell through, and the county council bought it and restored it.
And very well restored it has been. It is quite beautiful inside, and every room had an info board about its purpose and history. We wandered through, taking our time. They did request "no photos", but I snuck a couple in, and we spent the best part of an hour and a half exploring the place.
Then we attempted to find the Sheave Tower. What's a sheave tower? Look at the photo of one, and see if you can guess its purpose.
Give up? Its purpose is to improve the efficiency of a water driven mill, by divert part of the downstream race through a turbine which drives a pulley around which a continuous loop rope runs, and the rope emerges from the slots to travel 300' back upstream to the mill, thereby adding an extra 15HP to the grinding proess. Sort of an afterburner, if you get the analogy.
The process of getting to this place was a little tortuous, since the road on which it was was closed, due to a culvert replacement. Indeed, the culvert was for the mill stream itself, and of course, we approached it from the wrong side to start with. Even when we came down the correct side, it was not obvious, so we had to ask the workers at the culvert replacement site (it was a huge hole!) They were quite helpful, pointing out that the path started from behind their crib hut, so it was no surprise that we had trouble finding it. But the tower itself was about 50m down the path, so once we had the path, we found the tower.
By now it was 1430, and we had an appointment in Cambridge at 1500. So off we set to "The Bent Elbow", which was due to open at 3pm. So imagine our consternation when we arrived right on the dot of 3 to find that the sign out the front said "open at 4"!! Jim exclaimed "but the web site said 3!", to which we all responded "and you believed that?" We tried the door, more in frustration than hope, and surprise, surprise, it was open! "Ah, that sign is old" exclaimed the very friendly bar woman, and ushered us to a table, and gave us the beer menu. I think it fair to say that I have never seen such a comprehensive beer menu. It was a small book, one beer per page, and about 3cm thick. There was too much choice! But we settled down to leaf through it all. There were 39 draught beers on tap, so we did not even bother looking at the cans and bottles section.
John settled on "The Arrogant Bastard", with an IBU of 145!! The blurb on the page said "You probably won't like this beer", so John saw that as a challenge. It was certainly a beer that would not be to many people's taste - very hoppy, and with a VERY bitter after taste. But John enjoyed it enough, arrogant bastard or no. Barb preferred a sampler of three beers, including a framboise, a beer made from raspberries, and quite sweet. Donna also went for the sampler, and Jim selected a dark beer called Wellington. We all enjoyed our selections, and the men even went and ordered another pint, John choosing a Boneshaker IPA (IBU=65, somewhat more modest than the Arrogant Bastard, and slightly preferred), and Jim a Railway Junction Stout (which he said was less preferred to the Wellington).
All of that was accompanied by food. Barb and John shared a poutine, which we both agreed was as good as the St John's experience. It was a beer tasting up there with the wine tasting in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and better than the Silversmith Brewery. Although having 39 draughts on tap did give the Bent Elbow a distinct advantage!
Then we headed back to Waterloo, stopping via Conestoga Mall again so that Jim could collect his computer, and a slight detour via the light rail depot, where we were told (most politely) by a security guard that we could not take any photos. "But if you go over to the bridge there, you can take photos, and I cannot stop you", he pointed out. Ah, the delights of bureaucratic rules! So we went back via the said bridge, and John took his photo of the depot. Then home, and dinner of leftovers.
The evening was spent doing some packing for the morning, and a last few discussions about future plans. Then early bed.
Up early to finish packing, strip the bed, and generally tidy up. A quick spot of cornflakes for breakfast, and then it was goodbye to Donna, as we set off with Jim to Pearson Airport. Coincidentally, Jim had to go to the airport himself, as he was flying to Dallas on one of his strange fly somewhere to get a cheap airfare deal. He did explain it, but it was too complicated to keep hold of the essential features!
We were at the airport by 10, where we said goodbye to Jim, and made our way through the maze of checkin procedures - which was not helped by the fact that our flight to Vancouver did not appear on the departures board! So we had to ask, and were told just to line up at one of the checkin counters. No problem!
Then we repaired to the Air Canada lounge, and whiled away the next hour and a half catching up on this diary, until it was time to board. Barb thought the gate was D28, and we duly headed off in that direction, only to find it (right at the end of the terminal) deserted with its next scheduled departure at 1510 to Ottawa. A quick check of the boarding pass revealed that the real gate was D38, which just happened at the other end of the terminal. A long walk still got us there in time, and we boarded - seats 1A and 1C, right at the front, and with a bulkhead in front of us, ha!
A nice lunch of salad, grilled salmon, and choc chip cookie with ice cream, washed down with a glass of red wine helped to while away the 5 hours flying time. I am writing this now as we travel over the Rockies, just south of Calgary, and an hour out of Vancouver. Arriving at the Rockies was accompanied by much bumping about, and very high cloud. But having power to plug the laptop into, and switching between this diary and Solitaire Til Dawn meant the time has passed easily.
An on-time smooth landing, and due to our seat position, we were first off the plane! Not only that, but our luggage was amongst the first to pop up the carousel, so we were quickly lined up for tickets on the train. The ticket queue moved slowly, however, so that broke the smooth flow. Once on the train, no problems. We alighted one stop before the end, and lugged our luggage up to street level to get our bearings.
We were 11 blocks from the hotel, and there was no obvious way to catch a bus (miki, anyone?), and only one taxi went past, obviously full. So we walked. Took us about 30 minutes, towing our 2 suitcases and 2 carry-on bags. But a friendly reception bloke, a shower, and a bit of a nano-nap saw us back into life.
We asked the friendly reception man for the nearest grocery and beer shops, and a place to eat later. He pointed us in the direction of the shops, and recommended the White Spot as a good pub style eatery, about 2 blocks away. So we first went shopping for some bread, cheese, milk, and beer, collected them, and returned to the hotel to deposit them, before heading off to the White Spot, which we found quickly enough. It was pretty well what we were looking for, a few interesting beers, and food like ribs, salads and hamburgers to go with them. We both elected to try the sampler of 4 beers, with a quinoa salad (Barb), and a half baby ribs (John), with a side of sweet potato chips. The latter were lovely, and make me think that we should push for more of them back home.
The beers that we had were: (John) Stanley Park Brewing SunSetter Summer Ale, Nat Bailey on Tap, Nat Bailey Pale Ale, and Driftwood Fat Tug IPA; (Barb) Stanley Park Brewing SunSetter Summer Ale, Granville Island Brewing Hey Day Hefeweizen, Nat Bailey Lager, and Lone Tree Dry Apple Cider. All were quite pleasant (particularly the IPA!), but we both thought that the cider was a little too bland.
Then we were just about falling asleep at the table, so we headed back to the hotel and turned in for an early night.
Up early, because of the 3 hour jet lag, but we had provisioned up the evening before and had tea and bread for morning tea, almost like home! Then down early for breakfast (on the concierge's advice, but it was still busy). A bit Poulson-like, but John found a bagel to toast, and Barb found sme cereal, so we were happy.
Our plan for the day was to explore False Creek, using the little ferries that run from landing to landing all along the inlet. It is called "False Creek", as it is not a creek at all, but just an inlet off Burrard Inlet. But it is very busy, and there are lots of marinas along both shores. To get to the first landing involved a bit of walking along Vancouver's famous seawall, which was pleasant enough, in spite of the lowering weather. We recognized the beach as soon as we saw it, as we must have visited it 10 years ago.
At the first landing, called "Aquatic Centre", we decided to get an all-day "hop-on, hop-off" pass, so we could do whatever landings we liked. It worked well, and we changed our plans as the day went along, and as the weather changed from rainy, to cloudy, to slightly sun, and then back again.
Our first stop was at Granville Island, to visit the market there. On the way in, we encountered a chatty old lady selling lemon curd. She gave us a taste, and boy, was it nice! We had to explain that we could not take it home with us, or we might have been sorely tempted. The we explored the inner market - which was just as we remembered it from 2006. We bought a couple of nibbley things in case we felt nibbley, and then headed back to the landing to catch another ferry.
"Ferry" is perhaps a pretentious term for the little water craft. They are really more like water taxis, running to a set route. The ones we were on only took 12 passengers at a time, and the helmsman was also the conductor and deck hand. They had a sort of a conning tower steering position, with a clerestory roof to look out, but half the time they were not in it, steering instead from the deck level while collecting fares and talking to passengers. If you want to see what they look like, here's a picture.
We travelled in this ferry all the way up False Creek to The Village, the old Olympic Village, now all setup as apartments. From there a short walk to the Telus World of Science, a sort of a Questacon like building with hundreds of moveable, twistable, pushable, turnable, yankable, viewable, listenable and watchable experiments/exhibits/explanations/exigeses. In short, a 10 year-old's delight!
Barb and I spent a good 3 hours in there, which included lunch in the cafeteria of burger and sweet potato chips, and a couple of demonstrations. One of the demonstrations was about bubbles, and we both thought that Jemima would have just LOVED it! We mooched around from exhibit to exhibit, until the screaming kids finally got to us, and we thought it time to leave. Back to the ferry.
This time we only went one stop, getting off at BC Place, the bid football stadium. It is not as big as the MCG (65K v 100K), but it was impressive nevrtheless. It has been remodelled since we were here 10 years ago, and somewhere I have photos of the old, smaller place.
We had to walk around BC Place to get to the Vancouver Public Library, which had been recommended as a place to visit. We had a little trouble finding it, but it was worth the walk. We stopped to have a coffee in the forecourt of the library, while we took in the scale of the building.
Then we walked back to the ferry landing, and caught the next ferry back to Granville Island, where we jumped off to go and buy some sweet corn for dinner, and some icewine to take home. Then the False Creek Ferry again, all the way out to the Maritime Museum, but as it was getting late, we forewent the opportunity to visit, and did not get off the ferry, but backed tracked one stop to our original boarding point, where we alighted and walked back along the seawall to the hotel.
It did start to drizzle a bit on the way, so we detoured into a cafe/bar, attracted by the "happy hour" sign. Barb had a Berlini ($1 off for happy hour), and John had an IPA, but that was not on the happy hour list. Hmmmf! I remember the days when happy hour meant all drinks were cheap, not just a select few! But we were paying for the shelter as well as the view, so we took it all in good humour.
The rain stopped, so we paid up, and walked the rest of the way home. Pretty big day all told, and so we stayed in, Barb cooking up the sweet corn from the market for dinner. That pretty conked out the day.
We had a slower start to the day, since we did not have to be in town until 11am. We set off at 9:30ish, allowing time to stop along the way at a Blenz Coffee shop for our morning ritual. Then uptown to the corner of West Georgia and Granville, at the corner of "The Bay", as Pat had describing it, meaning the Hudson Bay Company, incorporated in 1670 by English Royal Charter, and at one time the world's largest landowner. We were slightly early, but had been waiting only 5 minutes when Pat turned up.
After the hugs and greetings all round, we turned to discussing what we might do. One of the suggestions was to go out to Richmond and meet Graeme, Pat's husband. As we had not met him on the two cruises that we shared with Pat, this seemed like a good idea. So we boarded the Skytrain at City Centre, and journeyed out to Bridgeport, where Pat had left her car. Then a short drive to Richmond, where we turned into Pat's driveway and met Graeme.
Their house is set out in farmland, but is rapidly getting overtaken by suburbia - lots of Asian immigrants! Sound familiar? Yes, and they all build big McMansions on small plots of land. Seems a bit crazy, but that's progress for you.
Graeme was introduced by Pat as "a bit of a nut", to which I said, "We'll get along famously then". Much laughter. And that characterized the rest of the day. Graeme was not able to drive, as he has just come out of surgery for a detached retina, and said that he could only see through one eye. But that did not seem to daunt his spirit, and he was great company, along with Pat.
We then headed off to a little fishing village called Steveston. I say "little", but at one time it was quite large, boasting a fishing cannery plant, and lots of fishing boats. We ate lunch in a cafe on the waterfront, John had clam chowder and fried calamari, while Barb had crab cakes. All very delectable! Then Pat, Barb and John did a tour of the cannery, while Graeme did some errands at the hardware shop.
The cannery was a static exhibit, but much of the machinery was still in place, and it was all brought to life by the story boards alongside each machine. Two things we did learn: it was incredibly noisy when it was in operation, and it was incredibly smelly to boot! Amazingly, when the plant was closed in 1988, what fish was still in the plant was just left there to rot, and so when the plant was restored in the early 2000's, they had to clean up tons of fish carcasses! Ooo-err! We spent 40 minutes wandering around, marvelling at all this, by which time we needed to rescue Graeme.
Graeme then did a great job of navigating us back to our hotel, and Pat did her best to stymie his navigation, taking us via the University of British Columbia, Spanish Banks, and Jericho Beach, before crossing the Granville Bridge, and weaving through the back streets of southern Downtown Vancouver. We said goodbye to them outside our hotel, and promised to keep in touch.
Then a beer on the balcony, before we went up Denman Street to see what was for dinner. We settled on the Mongolian BBQ place, but we had to wait 20 minutes before getting a table, then another 20 minutes in the food queue. The system was that you got a bowl, filled according to your taste from 4 kinds of meat, 30 kinds of vegetables, and 12 different sauces. Then you handed it to a cook, who cooked it on this immense BBQ plate, so sizzling hot that it was cooked in about 30 seconds, then scooped back into your bowl, ready to eat (well, when it had cooled down a little). It was great, and the food tasted good, too!
Back to the hotel soon after 8, watched a little TV (far too many ads!), then bed.
Slower start to the day. John had a waffle for breakfast, which was against his better judgement, but as my father used to say "You have to do these things to see how bad they are". The day's plan was to do the waterfront, so at 0930 or so we walked down to the shore of Burrard Inlet, and then headed along the seawall towards the CBD. It was coolish, but not Ballychulish, and John wore just a long sleeved shirt, but Barb felt the coolishness a little more, and donned her jacket. As is our wont, we took the jackets along with us as insurance against the rain, but we did not have any significant rainfall during the day, and John never got to put his jacket on.
We detoured via the floatplane "aerodrome" to check that our bookings for Monday were OK - which they were - and that there was nothing else we had to do. "Bring some ID" was the only injunction, which we would likely have done anyway. Then on to a cafe, called "De Dutch" where we had a coffee and admired the float planes taking off and ... well, not really landing. What do you call it when a float planes comes down from the sky? I assume that they would call it something astronautical like "splash down". Maybe the captain saying "we are about to splash" might alarm the passengers too much? I guess we shall find out on Monday!
Then on to the first of the convention centres. Vancouver is one of the world's most liveable cities (after Melbourne), because it has two convention centres, right next to each other. Indeed, we saw number two being built when we were here in 2006. There were hoardes of people around, but whether they were convening for a convention, or passengers from the two cruise ships in port, or just Vancouverians just buying coffee from the variety of cafes around was not clear.
Did I mention the cruise ships? The HAL ship Nieuw Amsterdam was one, and the Coral Princess was the other. The NA was much bigger than the Rotterdam (it had an extra 2 decks, and was noticeably longer), but the Coral Princess was that much bigger again! We both thought that they were nonsensically large, and that simple things like going ashore would be nightmares in terms of managing the number of people, given that it is not done well on the smaller ships. But I have no evidence.
We walked out to the end of Canada Place, and back, when John started to feel hungry. That waffle was high GI, and while it made you full at the time, does not cut any mustard in terms of getting you through the day. So what did we feel like? More high GI food! We had to try the appropriately named "Fatburger" chain. John had a standard burger, Barb had vegetarian, and they filled the void. And lasted the rest of the day too, so not quite as bad as a waffle. Urgh. Why do I do it? Longing to get back to home and normalcy.
Then down to the railway station, which we had visited before, but took another photo to prove that we had been there twice. Up the street a bit, and there went up the Harbour Central lookout tower. Now no longer the tallest building in Vancouver, it still commands an impressive overview of the city, and we fell in with a guided commentary about the landmarks that could be seen. The girl giving it had a strong accent which made for a bit of a challenge, but we could not accuse her of being soft-spoken. She had one of those piercing voices that could be heard across a noisy room, and was!
Including her tour, we spent an hour or so wandering around the viewing platform, reading all the info boards about this and that landmark, all very interesting, and the weather improved as we watched. Indeed, the sun was out when we got back to ground level, so we wandered down to Gastown just in time to see the Steam Clock chime 3pm. Then to the end to admire the statue of "Gassy Jack" (so called because of the area in which he lived, and his ability to tell tales.
As I said, it was now bright and sunny, so we wandered back towards and past Canada Place, taking more photos of things we had already photographed, only this time in sun. We returned to the hotel about 1630, and put our feet up for a while, and read email and things. Then at about 1815, John was inveigled by Barb to whizz up to the supermarket to buy a tin of soup for dinner, and on his return, we sat on the balcony with a beer before tackling said soup. A spot of ice cream to finish, and then an early night. We don't seem to have quite shaken the Atlantic/Pacific time zone change yet.
There was some confusion over just how we were meeting Rayne and Tristan this morning. Their emails had not always been succesful in reaching us, and the last one we received before today said that they would come by the Lord Stanley Suites at 12noon and "pick us up". But then, just this morning, another one arrived saying that we would have lunch at Prospect Point in Stanley Park, and it was a "45 minute walk". This made John think that we were to walk to Prospect Point and meet them, but Barb thought otherwise. So she rang Rayne, and he explained that they would come by the Stanley suites, no problem.
We spent the morning otherwise in catching up with diaries and blogs, and at 10 to noon, wandered out the front to wait for them, and while we were whiling away the time, suddenly Rayne and Tristan snuck up on us, and made us both jump. We were looking for a car, but they had walked, and hence the confusion over walking to Prospect Point! It was a sunny day (for a change), and it was indeed a pleasant 45 minute walk through the middle of the park, with Rayne navigating using his smartphone GPS, and all the while we were catching up on news and swapping stories. It was almost too pleasant, since the air was quite humid, and we had all worked up a bit of a sweat by the time we got to PP.
We had a look at the view, then went into the restaurant. The front of house waiter was a bit surly, and told us that there was a 30 minute wait, but did not take our name, and then disappeared. We waited another 10 minutes before he came back to take our name! I think he was hoping that we would just go away. Anyway, having got our name registered, we went back outside and sat enjoying the atmosphere and view, and continued our discussions.
The 30 minutes rolled by quickly enough that they turned into 25 minutes, and we sat down to a beer or two, and salmon burgers all round, except John, who had salmon fish and chips - which was absolutely brilliant! A lovely crispy thin batter, fully cooked, and two firm tasty chunks of salmon made it one of the best F&C I have ever tried! It was a great lunch, in spite of the grumpy waiter who started it off.
Rayne and Tristan had organized for us to join them at their regular Sunday evening family dinner, with Tristan's parents, who also lived in the city. So we walked back across the park, up to Granville St where they had an apartment on the 25th floor, checked that out, then went south to Yale where T's parents were.
Pat and Jen (?) were lovely people who welcomed us in like we were family. We met Tristan's sister, Sydney (sp?), who looks just like her sister, and with a personality to match. Jen had had cancer, and was recovering from treatment, so she was slightly out of action, but that did not deter her hospitality. We had a great chat before tea, which was something that Tristan, Sydney and Pat had jointly cooked up - basically curried chicken pieces with rice, and a whole heap of side platters like avocado, pickles, broccoli, zucchini, and so on. It was all very nice.
All too soon the sun was setting, and we realized that we would need to leave. We said some very fond farewells, as we appreciated greatly the hospitality that Pat and Jen had shown to us. Tris and Rayne walked with us back to Granville St, where we said more fond farewells, and they we set off alone back to Lord Stanley. We did a few odd chores before retiring early, as we had a 6am start in the morning!
Up bright and early this morning, because we had an 8am flight. We were out of the hotel by 7, with a raw bagel and apple each, which we ate on the way to the Vancouver Seaplane Port. Checked in with no problems, and enjoyed a complimentary coffee and cake while waiting (be nice if all airlines did this!)
We boarded at 0750, and sat back to enjoy the new experience. John took a movie of the take-off, and I really must get round to adding moviews into the web page so you can see them, dear reader. And while I am about it, thank you to those who have journeyed all this way with us, we do enjoy your vicarious company!
A 30 minute flight to Victoria, and a rapid splashdown (I never did discover what the correct technical term is). It is amazing how quickly the floatplanes pull up, but I guess the extra friction of the water versus rolling tyres does make a difference. We were quickly "deboarded" as they say (I say "disembarked", but I am a pedant), and we walked the short distance to the front of the Empress Hotel, where the CVS bus was waiting, but no Lynne or Nathan.
We boarded the bus anyway, and at 2 minutes to 9, Lynne and Nathan appeared on the horizon, and just made it in time. Some problem with finding food, I gather, and Nathan is never very good until he has had some breakfast.
We seemed to get every red light on our way out of the city, and we had plenty of opportunity to listen to Blake the Bus Driver tell us all about the points of interest in the town. What was touted as a 30 minute drive to Butchart Gardens thus turned into a 45 minut one, and it was close on 10am by the time we collected our tickets and had gone through the entrance. We, of course, made a bee-line to the coffee shop, where we all took the opportunity to top-up on breakfast as well.
Those of you who have not been to the Butchart Gardens will just have to go and see them, because there is no way I can begin to do justice to them in words. I think it is fair to say that they are the most colourful, planned, interesting gardens I have seen, and they certainly fulfil one of the cardinal rules about landscaping that I learnt from my evening courses in landscaping - make the eye want to see around the next corner all the time. Each flower bed just attracts attention, and draws you on the see how it changes as you follow the paths around. We last saw it in May, when tulips were out, and this time it was the turn of begonias, but as I gathered from all the guide material, they have flowers in bloom at all seasons of the year, as well as the more perennial shrubs and trees that as so well meshed together. Those of you who have been to see the gardens will know just what I mean.
It was a pity that the weather was not more celebratory, but the overcast skies did slowly clear, and the last third of the gardens did have significant amounts of sun to show them off even better. We had lunch in the Blue Rose (?) cafeteria, and then visited the gift shop, where we added some new place mats to our collection. We caught the 2pm bus back to Victoria, and Barb rang Ann Harris on the way to arrange a place to meet.
Ann is a close friend of Pat Price's, and we met her on the same cruise, viz, last year's South American trip. We had a wild ride together with Pat and Ann out to Olinda, a suburb of Recife, and had a few chuckles together over the memories of that. We found Ann as arranged on the steps of the Empress, and wandered up the main shopping street of Victoria to find a coffee/tea house, settling on Murchie's, which was good. We had a great chat with Ann, and although she had only just met Nathan and Lynne, brought them into the conversation with ease.
All to soon it was time to leave - our plane was due out at 6, so we wandered down to the docks, and had time to walk around to the Grand Hotel (where we stayed in 2006), and back again, where we said goodbye to Ann. Nathan and Lynne joined us for a beer/cider in the Flying Otter bar, just next to the seaplane port (which happens to be the busiest seaplane port in the world, with over 230 aircraft movements a day, a fact to which I am indebted to Blake the Bus Driver).
Some quick swigs, and then it was time to say goodbye to Nathan and Lynne as well. Again the excitement of another float plane ride, and this time I took a movie as we came in low over Stanley Park for a splashdown. We walked home via the supermarket, where we bought another tin of soup, and then heated that up for dinner once back at the apartment. We also took the opportunity to clean up as many leftovers as we could, and started to organize ourselves for packing up in the morning. It was a great day, and as Barbie said, it was great to finish up the travels with a bang!
This morning we upped and had breakfast first, and then started packing in earnest. All was stowed away in our four bags, three checkins and one carryon (but not counting the raincoat bag, which we carted with us all day as rain insurance!) These we left with David, the friendly receptionist/manager, and we set off around Stanley Park. We did this 10 years ago when we visited Vancouver the first time, so it seemed appropriate to do it again.
But first we went to the supermarket to buy some bus tickets. Apparently you can buy tickets on the bus, but you have to pay coin, and you don't get a transferrable ticket for the train, so buying them at the supermarket saved us money. Then we went for coffee - somewhat in vain, as the one place we found that we had not tried previously did not have an espresso machine. It was a "De Dutch" chain, which we had enjoyed on our waterfront day, but this was a different shop, and not quite as big or comprehensive. We apologised, and left, deciding to make a start on the walk first, then pick up a coffee somewhere in the park.
This we did at the first loo stop. It was a place we had visited 10 years ago, but on the bus tour, when it was all go,go,go, and now we had more time on our hands. And talking of loo stops, we managed to pick up a map which did show where all the loos in the park were, which was much better than last time, when we had to walk nearly the whole way around before we found one. They are not well sign posted! Anyway, the coffee was espresso, and fine.
We were not in a particular hurry, so we ambled along, looking at all the points of interest. We were approaching the Lion's Gate Bridge at about noo, so we detoured along a track that effectively took us straight up the (steep) hillside to Prospect Point, which we had visited with Rayne and Tristan. A quick admire of the view, and then we gave the restaurant another go. The surly waiter was there, but not on the door, and the place was not nearly so busy, as it was back to a normal working day, an we walked straingt in.
John had the salmon fish and chips again, and Barb did this time too, on the strength of John's recommendation. Just as good the second time around, too!
Then back to the seawall walk, but this time along a track that was far more gentle in slope, returning to the seawall about 1.5kms further along. More loo stops, then we cut inland across the park nexus to the city part of Vancouver, past the Lost Lake, with lots of gulls, and a turtle or two.
Back to the hotel to collect our bags, and set off for the bus. We had to wait a bit, and when it came, it was pretty full, but people did make room for us and our bags. An easy transfer to the train, which was also full, this time only Barb got a seat, at least until halfway or so, when the train emptied of all the non-airport travellors.
Checkin wasn't quite open, but we only had to wait 10 minutes, and we got priority checkin, and then repaired to the business lounge, where Barb made herself a Bloody Caesar, and John had a Guiness, while waiting for the 1915 boarding time. I must say, the real difficulty with travelling business class is not so much the expense, as the feeling that you get used to the extra level of service, and don't want to give that up! I have already commented on the priority boarding and the like, and of course Barb's number one advantage is the lack of fainting in business class. I don't know what they do to the air in business class, but I suspect they up the level of smelling salts so that elderly ladies don't faint so much.
And of course, the meals are so much better in business class (John's number one). We had an excellent smoked salmon entree, and a very nice burger and pickles, followed by a cheese plate. Barb had a chicken thingy entree, cod and spaghetti, and the cheese plate. With very nice wines to accompany all of this, too. Then we settled back to enjoy some movies: The Martian, Hobbit Part 1, and Hobbit Part 2. Then we fell asleep!
Today didn't exist for us, as we crossed the date line, and jumped straight from Tuesday to Thursday.
We both had a reasonable night's sleep - 6 hours or so, but I wasn't counting. While it might have been 8am by body clocks, it was only 3am local time. But we still had breakfast, which was very nice. Fresh fruit and yoghurt, followed by a toasted bagel with bacon, caramelized onion jam and BBQ sauce. I know it doesn't sound like everyone's cup of tea for breakfast, but believe me, it was good, and suited me nicely. Barb was boring, and had scrambled eggs or similar. Just managed to finish the Hobbit part 2 as we came into land.
One thing I do not understand about transit lounges. We came straight off the aircraft having been through Canadian security, then while still in the quarantined area, we had to go through NZ security! Just where did they expect us to pick up any knives, aerosols, etc.? It is things like that that get up people's noses, and give the whole process of airport security a bad name.
At last through to the lounge, but we had forgotten that on the way over we had trouble finding it, and again, there were no signs indicating where to find the replacement lounge. I complained to the receptionist when we did find it, and commented that it was just like Heathrow, move things around and don't provide detour information. She did get the perjorative overtones of my remark, and exclaimed "Oh no!". But I doubt that anything will change until they finish their refurbishment.
Barb had another breakfast in the lounge, but my bagel was doing nicely, thank you, so I just had coffee. We spent the time catching up on email, and reading the news (thanks to fast internet!) Then back to board flight NZ123 to Melbourne.
An uneventful flight to Melbourne, 3 hours and 20 minutes, time enough to finish the Hobbit part 3, and to have another breakfast! This time I had the scrambled eggs!
A very fast exit from Tullamarine, thanks to the new streamlined e-immigration systems, so much so that we beat Beth to the pick-up point. But she was there in 20 minutes, and the weather was pleasant, so we were happy just to sit and catch our breath, and sit on terra firma for a while. A smooth ride back to 7 Fran Ct, and we were home in pleanty of time for lunch. David dropped in the say hello before going off to the dentist, but we didn't see Jemima until he picked her up at 5. She got excited at seeing Nanma, but was a little awed at seeing me. :-(
One of David's friends came round for tea, which was home-made nachos, and all the more delicious for being so. But the jet-lag took its toll, and we collapsed into bed at about 8:30pm, trip over, but happy to be home, even if it was a home that we had only lived in previously for a week!
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