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Welcome to John's blog of our flight across the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver and Seattle, and return via MS Noordam, stopping over in Hawaii, Tahiti, et al.
Navigating these pages: In the following itinerary, there are several columns describing the day. Text within [brackets] in the heading line explains the purpose of the link to the corresponding item.
Within the diary entries, the date heading is a link to the photo page (as for the itinerary). The day of the week/ordinal number is a link back to the itinerary, and the day's title is a link to the track (as for the itinerary).
These pages are under construction, and may have anomalous entries. Note that the pages will change over time as I edit in travel progress. Note also that when the document refers to 'John', the author is assumed, unless stated otherwise.
Holland America Noordam Itinerary for this trip.
|-1||13 Sep (Tue)||15:55-16:55 (+10)||Tullamarine||Travelling Companions||Park Royal Hotel, Tullamarine||ArriveCAN, Eticket, Insurance, CovidCertAJH, CovidCertBJH||5636|
|0||14 Sep (Wed)||
|MEL-AUK; AUK-YVR||Seattle down in the Business Car l'aisle||
|on board||Cross International DateLine (-)||6013|
|1||14 Sep (Wed)||-14:15(-7)||Vancouver||The Canadians don't like us!||Vancouver||Fairmont Waterfront||ETA-AJH, ESTA-AJH, ETA-BJH, ESTA-BJH, Fairmont Waterfront||6956|
|2||15 Sep (Thu)||all day||Vancouver||test the test, walk the walk, talk the talk||Vancouver||Fairmont Waterfront||Fairmont Waterfront||28262|
|3||16 Sep (Fri)||1030 (-7)||Vancouver; Victoria||fly to Victoria; sightseeing||Victoria||Bedford Regency||Harbour Air, Bedford Regency||11015|
|4||17 Sep (Sat)||1700 (-7)||Victoria||
travel to Seattle by ferry
|Victoria-Seattle||Nathan and Lynne||Victoria Clipper||9998|
|5||18 Sep (Sun)||Ballard||Market Day in Ballard||(no track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||11420|
|6||19 Sep (Mon)||Ballard||At home in Ballard||Ballard||Nathan and Lynne||8543|
|7||20 Sep (Tue)||Ballard||Green Lake||(no track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||1327|
|8||21 Sep (Wed)||Ballard; Gold Creek||Gold Creeking Knees||GoldCreek||Nathan and Lynne||San Diego COVID Test Sites||5972|
|9||22 Sep (Thu)||~1130-2030 (-7)||Ballard; Sunrise||The Road to Sunrise||Sunrise||Nathan and Lynne||10022|
|10||23 Sep (Fri)||Ballard||The Smartphone Ballard||Sunset||Nathan and Lynne||7376|
|11||24 Sep (Sat)||Ballard||Fan-tastic!||(no track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||updated boarding pass available||1703|
|12||25 Sep (Sun)||Ballard||Father-Son projects||(no track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||4449|
|13||26 Sep (Mon)||Ballard||Saw back, Sore dust||Carkeek||Nathan and Lynne||7299|
|14||27 Sep (Tue)||Ballard; Seattle||We Piked on the Tie-Dye||Seattle||Nathan and Lynne||10279|
|15||28 Sep (Wed)||Ballard||Condoms for Columns||Ballard||Nathan and Lynne||7556|
|16||29 Sep (Thu)||Ballard||Planning Plenums and Supervising Cider||Cider||Nathan and Lynne||2828|
|17||30 Sep (Fri)||Ballard||Fan-tasmagorical||(No track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||3008|
|18||01 Oct (Sat)||Seattle; Winthrop||Seattle-Winthrop||Seattle-Winthrop||The Wrangle Inn||5158|
|19||02 Oct (Sun)||Winthrop||The Blue Lake||BlueLake||The Wrangle Inn||20655|
|20||03 Oct (Mon)||Winthrop; Seattle||Winthrop-Seattle||Winthrop-Seattle||Nathan and Lynne||6896|
|21||04 Oct (Tue)||Ballard||Rings around the Hood||(No track recorded)||Nathan and Lynne||1949|
|22||05 Oct (Wed)||1150 (-7)||Seattle; San Diego||Southward Bound||Seattle to SanDiego||The Urban Boutique Hotel||4280|
|23||06 Oct (Thu)||San Diego||Putting the C.A.R.T. before the horse||CovidTesting||The Urban Boutique Hotel||10098|
|24||07 Oct (Fri)||San Diego||San Diego Zoo||The Zoo||The Urban Boutique Hotel||11919|
|25 (0)||08 Oct (Sat)||17:00(-7) scheduled, 21:00 actual||embark Noordam||depart San Diego||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||details||9001|
|26 (1)||09 Oct (Sun)||at sea||Holland America all at Sea||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||6958|
|27 (2)||10 Oct (Mon)||at sea||Holland America still at Sea||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||5436|
|28 (3)||11 Oct (Tue)||at sea||Internet Overboard!||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||8547|
|29 (4)||12 Oct (Wed)||at sea||Exercising all parts of the body||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||2000 Pinnacle Dining||5883|
|30 (5)||13 Oct (Thu)||1900-2400 (-10)||at sea; Honolulu||Honolulu||San Diego to Hawaii (too big)||Noordam||4367|
|31 (6)||14 Oct (Fri)||0000-2230||Honolulu||Diamond Seekers a Head||Honolulu, Hawaii||Noordam||19020|
|32 (7)||15 Oct (Sat)||0800-1930||Kahului, Maui||Queen Ka'ahumani Centred||Kahului, Hawaii||Noordam||11690|
|33 (8)||16 Oct (Sun)||0800-1700||Kona||Kona and coffee-less||Kona, Hawaii||Noordam||2000 Rudi's Sel de Mer (tender)||9302|
|34 (9)||17 Oct (Mon)||0800-1800||Hilo||The Hi's and Lo's of Hilo||Hilo, Hawaii||Noordam||14007|
|35 (10)||18 Oct (Tue)||at sea||John wining again!||20221018-Hawaii-Polynesia-1.html||Noordam||3674|
|36 (11)||19 Oct (Wed)||at sea||We have/are mugs for coffee||20221019-Hawaii-Polynesia-2.html||Noordam||5700|
|37 (12)||20 Oct (Thu)||at sea||
||20221020-Hawaii-Polynesia-3.html||Noordam||2330 Cross Equator||4899|
|38 (13)||21 Oct (Fri)||at sea||Gym-tly does it - not!||20221021-Hawaii-Polynesia-4.html||Noordam||4617|
|39 (14)||22 Oct (Sat)||at sea||Diversions||20221022-Hawaii-Polynesia-5.html||Noordam||5623|
|40 (15)||23 Oct (Sun)||0800-2230||Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia||Sharp spotting of sharks, but could not Raise any rays.||Bora Bora, Bora Bora to Uturoa||
1245 Shark/Ray Encounter;
Coral Garden Snorkel
|41 (16)||24 Oct (Mon)||0800-1730||Uturoa, Raiatea, French Polynesia||HAL is just cancelled||Uturoa||Noordam||12912|
|42 (17)||25 Oct (Tue)||0800-1700, 2100-||Bahia d'Opunoha, Moorea, French Polynesia; Pape'ete||At Last! We Rays a Smile||Moorea||Noordam||(tender)||3606|
|43 (18)||26 Oct (Wed)||-1700||Pape'ete, Tahiti, French Polynesia||Franglais Manglais||Papeete||Noordam||7700|
|44 (19)||27 Oct (Thu)||at sea||Ra-ra for the Rarotonga Island||Papeete-Rarotonga||Noordam||5256|
|45 (20)||28 Oct (Fri)||0800-1700 (cancelled)||at sea (Rarotonga, Cook Islands: cancelled)||Ta-ta for the Rarotonga Island||Rarotonga to Tonga (too big)||Noordam||(tender, too rough)||6974|
|46 (21)||29 Oct (Sat)||1730-1015||at sea||Somelier and so merry, eh?||Rarotonga to Tonga (too big)||Noordam||Cellar Master's dinner, Pinnacle||5755|
|47 (22)||31 Oct (Mon)||at sea||Bach to Recitals||Rarotonga to Tonga (too big)||Noordam||Cross Dateline (+)||4876|
|48 (23)||01 Nov (Tue)||0800-||Nuku alofa, Tonga||Tonga the longa way round||Tonga Tour||Noordam||5832|
|49 (24)||02 Nov (Wed)||-1700||Nuku alofa, Tonga||The Tonga, the shorta||Nukualofa||Noordam||1300 Island Hop Kayaking Adventure (cancelled)||11723|
|50 (25)||03 Nov (Thu)||at sea||the Great Pharmacy Phake Phraud||Tonga to Noumea, day 1 (too big)||Noordam||5051|
|51 (26)||04 Nov (Fri)||at sea||Gannets on the Dive-In||Tonga to Noumea, day 2||Noordam||5677|
|52 (27)||05 Nov (Sat)||0800-1700||Noumea, New Caledonia||Up the proverbial creek||Noumea||Noordam||0840 Dumbea River Kayaking||5650|
|53 (28)||06 Nov (Sun)||at sea||Marinating Lunches||Noumea to Brisbane, day 1 (too big)||Noordam||1130 Mariners' Lunch||5118|
|54 (29)||07 Nov (Mon)||at sea||The Pinnacles of Something||Noumea to Brisbane, day 2||Noordam||2000 Pinnacle Dining||7384|
|55 (30)||08 Nov (Tue)||0800-1800||Brisbane||Australian Border Farce||(No track recorded)||Noordam||7462|
|56 (31)||09 Nov (Wed)||at sea||Can-not-a-letto||Brisbane to Sydney, day 1||Noordam||1930 Canaletto||5687|
|57 (32)||10 Nov (Thu)||at sea||A Pod of Dolphins||Brisbane to Sydney, day 2||Noordam||4328|
|58 (33)||11 Nov (Fri)||at sea||Cocktails and SeaDay Tails||Brisbane to Sydney, day 3||Noordam||6774|
|59 (34)||12 Nov (Sat)||0700; 1600-1735||SYD-MEL QF463||Farewell to new friends||Sydney to Melbourne||5 Fran Court||15576|
|60||13 Nov (Sun)||5 Fran Court||Back to Normal, ie SNAFU.||(No track recorded)||5 Fran Court||3944|
Today was a less stressful day compared to yesterday. We did not have to deal with broken ArriveCan web pages, or indeed, any web pages. I do not understand why web page designers cannot get such simple things as filling a form in right. My sticking point yesterday was in trying to enter a phone number. Any combination of country codes, with + signs or without, just do not work. Even when I copied my number using the US system ('-' signs, rather than spaces), it did not work. Guess how I solved it? Well it was Barb's suggestion actually: copy the phone number of the hotel in which we were staying. That worked! I only hope they don't try and ring them, or we will probably be denied entry to the country.
Well, no matter, Barb's attempt to use the systems worked, and she found that she could enter a 'travelling companion' to go with her. So that's what I am on this trip. A travelling companion, just along for a ride and to carry the bags.
As it has turned out, I didn't even do that. We had ourselves all ready and packed by 2pm, and then just twiddled our thumbs until a) the rest of the family turned up, and b) closely followed by the taxi at 5 minutes to 4. We said our goodbyes to the family, save Jemima who was feeling sad, and just waved. Then the taxi man loaded our bags into the taxi (see what I mean?), and we were off!
We arrived at the Park Royal Hotel at Tullamarine, checked in and started to relax. I have to say the last two weeks have been a little stressful, what with sebaceous keratosis removal, a colonoscopy, and a visit to the dentist to talk about the long term future of my teeth. Not the best start to a holiday! But a cup of tea in our hotel room, and all was well.
We then went down to t'bar and had a most welcome (and expensive!) beer each, followed by dinner in the restaurant. Barb had salt and pepper calamari for entree, while John had nachos. Barb's was by far the better choice, as the nachos, although it had the quality, somewhat overdid the quantity, and John was left gasping after finishing that. Which was slightly unfortunate, as we had ordered a very expensive piece of eye fillet each, very blue, and we both (actually) had trouble finishing that!
Then retired to our room, watched the delightful TV series on "Old Peoples' Home for Teenagers", and then fell asleep.
Woke at 7am, and slowly got going. We had a paper paper delivered, which Barb read, while John fossicked around with his electronics. We checked out at 9am, and walked over to the International Departures. It was a bit chaotic, as the Air NZ checked required one to do the initial checkin at a computer kiosk, and the place was overrun. We found one that the previous users had had difficulty with, saying that it wasn't working, but we had no trouble with it. Then joined the queue for the business class bag dropoff, and that's when the problems actually did start.
Firstly, there was very confusing signage, with the checkin desk just labelled "Premium Class". Althought there were three such queues, we (and everyone else) were told to join just the centre queue. Although there were three clerks behind the desks, only one seemed to be doing anything. As you might surmise, the queue moved very slowly. Then, without any warning, the other clerks sprang to life, and latecomers quickly joined the two empty queues. You can imageine the angst that this caused. But the positive side was that the queue(s) moved much faster, and we soon went through the Australian Border Forceless security check.
Ha! The queue we joined broke down as soon as we joined it, with an item tray jamming in the X-ray machine. I pointed out that they should open the next row machine, rather than trying to unjam it, and amazingly, they seemed to take my advice!! But in the chaos of moving all the item trays across, any semblance of order was completely screwed, and the chaos continued as the trays came out in arbitrary order, and people were scrambling all over the place to find their belongings. To cap it all, my belt triggered the personal metal detector, so I had to take my belt off, and find my belongings as my trousers became hell-bent on kissing the ground.
So I write this in the relative peace, luxury and tranquillity of the business lounge, having had breakfast and two cups of coffee - I am a raving lunatic until I have my morning coffee - and waiting in an unaccustomed relaxed frame of mind. One stress point that I have identified is the continual state of thinking that there must be something that I have forgotten to do/bring/prepare, and reaching the point where it all is irrelevant, because we have what we have, and if we don't have it, there's not much we can do about it until we reach Vancouver and can buy the missing/misplaced/forgotten whatsi.
Boarding was straightforward, as was the flight. We had a very nice lunch on the flight - baked snapper, followed by panna cotta, accompanied with some wines, champagne to start, then a nice Coonawarra cab sav. John read an interesting article on computer security on his iPad, and then it was time to land.
Our connection time in Auckland was short, only 2 hours, which soon passed in the business lounge. Boarding was not quite so straightforward as in Melbourne, as the gate was miles away (a 10 minute walk) from the lounge, and they issued a boarding warning, on the basis that many people would ignore the advice about allowing plenty of time. We didn't, and arrived in plenty of time and so we just had to stand around at the gate waiting - but we were the first to board anyway.
How do you describe a 12hr 40m flight? Most people who have flown such distances will know the answer - with tedium. We did discover that they had the whole of session 2 of My Life is Murder on the watch list, so we both binged on that a bit - John devouring 6 of the complete 8 episodes, Barb just 5. Then there was a very nice dinner, even better than lunch, to while away another hour or two. John had champagne followed by a NZ Pinot noir aperitif, then bocconcini starters, baked Marlborough smoked salmon (verry nice!), chocolate ice cream with dessert wine (ditto), then a cheese selection with port and coffee!
So 12.33 hours did go reasonably quickly, with some sleep periods here and there between MLIM episodes, and lots of turbulence seat belt warnings.
We landed in Vancouver at the appointed hour (14:15 local time). and walked our way down countless corridors and lobby areas to the immigration area. It was a huge collection of computer kiosks, with green lights to indicate which ones were free. Intriguiningly, many people simply queued at the first machine they came to, and did not notice the dozens of green light machines. We were not fooled by this, and found a green machine quickly. But it was just as well there were dozens of machines, as it took a while to process our two documents, by which stage many others had twigged to the system.
Then on to the ArriveCan check place, to check that we had valid vaccination documents. That took little time, but I did notice a sign that said "We may randomly select some passengers to undergo full antigen tests". Nothing was said by the (somewhat grumpy) clerk, so I thought, "OK, we don't have to do a test"
Wrong! THey don't do it on the spot, they send you an email saying that you have to do it! And because we had flight mode on, and phones on no data roaming, it was not until we had caught the train to the hotel (Fairmont Waterfront no less!) in downtown Vancouver and connected to WiFi that the message saying that John had to do a "random" antigen test was received. That was bad enough, but get this. The testing site is at the airport!!! What the f##$%^*^%@@! It was too late at this stage to go back, so we started to rearrange our plans for tomorrow, when a very kind young woman took us under her wing and explained how to deal with it. There were several protracted phone calls while Barb and this woman (who had at one stage been a government employee, and hence knew much of the process) waited on bureaucrats to extract the pencils from their various bodily orifices and sort out the problem. This was somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the lounge where all this took place had a bar, and two G&Ts each helped settle the nerves.
The upshot (fingers crossed) is that tomorrow, with only a slight detour from our planned walk around Stanley Park, we can visit the Shoppers Drug Mart in Davie St and get the test done on the spot. Watch this space!
A quick shower in our room - which, incidentally is quite delightful with views over the harbour and Canada Place, and a toilet where you can sit and look out over W Hastings St., the Lion's Head Bridge, and Grouse Mountain - and then off to Steamtown for a MOST welcome beer (Heroic Red, which seemed appropriate) and 2 Pale Ale Sausages (Barb had a Mohito and Western Bay Chowder). Then back to the motel and bed.
Sleep in! What a wonderful feeling! Up to the 9th floor lounge for breakfast, first a cup of tea and croissant, then coffee and hot food, before preparing ourselves for the experience of getting John covid-tested.
We had to walk down to Davie St (about 1.5km) to the Shoppers Drug Mart (don't you like the name?), where we joined a queue of other grumpy Australians who had been randomly pinged. We chatted with a bloke from Emu Plains (Western Sydney), and waited for 25 mins before John got tested. It seemed to be a full PCR, with mouth and nostril swabbing, but once done, the bloke said I was free to go, as the result would be emailed to in in 2 days. I refrained from saying that I would likely be out of the country by then, but instead asked him what would happen if the test were positive. He replied "They will contact you and inform you what needs to be done." At that stage I knew I would be out of the country before anything happened!
So we left the Shoppers Drug Mart with much lighter hearts than with we went in. A quick stop for a couple of take-away cups of coffee, and we continued on to the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculpture by Japanese artist Yue Minjun in Morton Park, where we drank the coffees, admired the laughing faces, and shared a joke or two with other surrounding admirers.
Then started the Stanley Walk proper. We did realize that we were doing the walk in the opposite direction to that recommended, but given the number of people walking in the same direction as us, we didn't think it mattered too much. Our first stop was at Second Beach (for a comfort stop), then on to Third Beach where it started raining. It wasn't too bad until we got to Siwash Rock, where it started more heavily. But we buckled up our raincoats, and pressed on.
By the timw we got to the Lion's Head Bridge, it had stopped, and we were able to have a short break just on the landward side of the bridge. We admired the "Girl in a Wetsuit" before eventually rounding the Brockton Point Lighthouse, followed shortly by the Nine O'Clock Gun, which is fired at 9pm each day with what is described (we did not hang around to hear it) as "a very loud report". That marked the point of finally heading back to civilisation, as evidenced by a) Deadman's Island, b) the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, c) the Vancouver Rowing Club, and finally - a public toilet.
We had in mind visiting a nice restaurant that we had been to last time we were in Vancouver, but sadly, it was just a hole in the ground, having been bought out by developers for another high rise apartment block. So on further, on by now very tired legs, to Cadero St and the eponymous restaurant, which proved to be even better than our demolished memories. A pint of beer and fish and chips proved to revitalise worn and weary legs and spirits, and we were then able to complete the last kilometre or so back to the Fairmont.
But we did stop at the Harbour Air Terminal on the way, just to check our booking for tomorrow, and to confirm that our luggage was not over the weight limit. Well, it turned out that it was, but it was not a "pay more money" limit, it was a "not guaranteed" limit. They would not promise that it could travel on the same flight, but one bag might need to be bumped to a following flight, no extra charge. The advice was to "come early".
A quick freshen up at the hotel, and then it was off on the Metro to Metro Town, where we met Rayne and Henley waiting for us. For those of you who don't know Rayne, he is an old school friend of David's with whom we have become quite friendly as well. He and his wife Tristan are both delightful people, and always welcome us with open arms. We walked back to their apartment where Rayne cooked dinner for us, and we talked and talked until it was time for Henley's bed - whereupon Rayne very kindly offered to drive us back to our hotel. The talk continued in the car, mainly about Rayne and Tristan's forthcoming return to Australia, where Rayne has a job in Noosa. Did I mention that Tristan is Canadian? She is understandably apprehensive about moving to a new country, but I think she has the strength of character to cope with that.
But on returning to the hotel, we did not have the strength of anything, and collapsed into bed.
We awoke much earlier this morning, around 6:30am, so there was leisurely packing of the suitcases before heading up to breakfast. John decided to try some of the cold fish meats, and did not regret it, although Barb stuck with the hot food. We checked out a bit before 9am, and walked to the Harbour air terminal, where we were able to deposit all our bags, and then enjoyed another (!) cup of coffee, this time made by a trained barista, who was a bit of a wag. She indulged in a bit of repartee with us, and we all had a good laugh. Amazing what things going right can do for one's spirits!
Afore too long, they called us to board, and the dozen or so passengers dutifully filed out to the wharf and boarded the plane, as instructed by the pilot. Barb and I finished up in the two front seats directly behind the pilot, and with an excellent view out the right hand side of the aircraft. The roar of the engine soon has us hurling across the water, and in about 30 seconds we were airborne. Amazingly, these twin otters climb relatively slowly for the first few minutes, but there must be some skin effect, because once we were clear of the water by about the height of the plane (say 4m?), climbing became much more pronounced - which was just as well, as we flew over the top (not underneath!) the Lion's Head Bridge.
The flight itself was a tad over 30 minutes, most of it across the Strait of Georgia and numerous islands, with the last quarter of the trip across the south end of Vancouver Island. Unlike takeoff, the approach to landing (?) is very steep, and the plane drops from its cruising altitude of 2500m to 0 in a very short time (about 5 minutes). One almost drops into the water, rather than glides in very smoothly. And as soon as touch down occurs, the drag of the water slows the plane down very quickly. But taxi-ing to the terminal itself is quite slow, because of the need to avoid wash.
We were on the wharf and re-united with our luggage by 11:30, and made our way up to Government St where the Bedford Regency was located. All we could do at this stage was to leave our bags there, as the room was not ready to check-in. So we wandered off, and found a delightful pub called the Bard and Banker, with an ornate Victorian (sorry!) decor of wood panelling and gold chandeliers. We settled on a cup of chowder and a beer each, and just relaxed while enjoying the atmosphere.
I must say that in sharp contrast to the officialdom in Canada, the local people are most courteous and helpful. We had a delightful waitress who engaged us in conversation, and wished us well as we left. She was one wait staff person I felt earned her tip. We left the Bard and Banker quite refreshed, even if our feet and legs wanted to stay behind.
We then walked around the Inner Harbour to the Clipper Terminal to check on our trip tomorrow. Again, the woman behind the service counter was most helpful - or was it that we were the only people in the terminal, and she was glad of someone to talk to? John, stop being a cynic. She did give us very helpful advice, telling us to go over to the little kiosk in front of the Empress and talk to the man there about tickets and transport to Butchart Gardens tomorrow. She told us that we could check our bags in two ways - for travel in the hold, or on board, and that we could check our bags in in the morning, so we would not have to worry about them while visiting Butchart Gardens. She even suggested where to get a cup of coffee while waiting for the bus in the morning!
With that information under our belt, we headed back to the Empress, calling in at the kiosk man to buy bus tickets for the morrow. He was also most helpful, explaining that not only need we not buy them then and there, but we could buy a combined bus and gardens ticket from him on the morrow, explaining that there was no rush of demand, and that 1030 would be plenty of time to catch the 11:00 bus, and that 1500 should be the bus to get back in time for the 1700 sailing of the ferry. Again, friendly and polite, unlike the Government of Canada ArriveCAN mob.
Since we were in front of the Empress, we were seized by a thought that we should have afternoon tea there. There was a small patio in front of The Empress, so we asked there. Not only tea, but we could have a glass of bubbly to start. This we did, and indulged even further by following those with a bowl of very delicious icecream. By the end of that, tea didn't really seem necessary.
We reluctantly dragged ourselves away, and headed back to our hotel room where we had a 1700 zoom meeting scheduled with the Robinsons and our regular Saturday morning Coffee Group. (Yes, it was Friday evening, but you have to allow for the time zone difference.) It was great catching up with friends, especially as we had missed the previous week's session. We (Barb and I) did have a lot to relate!
After the zoom we thought we might have a spot of dinner. Neither of us were very hungry, so we went looking for somewhere that was not upmarket, but not necessarily grotty either. A pub seemed the most likely choice, but every one that we stuck our heads into seemed to be as noisy as all get out (and catering to a much younger demographic). Eventually one helpful door spruiker suggested we try the Churchill just down the road. Turns out that that was the bar next door to our hotel! It was relatively quiet, so we went in and sat down. Over came a waiter and we ordered a beer and some sparkling water, and 2 poutines! (Yes, even Barbara!) Then he told us that the noise would "kick off" shortly, so we said, "bring us the poutines and we'll eat them and clear off."
We just finished the poutines when the noise level did increase markedly. Given that it was all coming from a DJ who seemed to juggling mp3 tracks on a laptop, we were a little put out, so we finished the beer and put ourselves out. Fortunately, the noise, although evident in the hotel lobby, was very muted in our bedroom, and we soon zonked out to sleep.
A bit chaotic getting ourselves going this morning, and it was not until after 0830 that we quit our room, paid the bill, and lobbed into Murchie's just down the road for breakfast. Breakfast was not all that exciting, being a croissant that was microwaved, and a scone that was stodgy, both filled with scrambled eggs and scrambled bacon. To cap it off, when John poured tea from his teapot, the tea curled back along the spout, ran off the bottom, and splashed all over his trousers! All this while dealing with a table that was wobbly and slopey at the best of times, but when faced with spiddly teapots and a short leg, just created a mini-Bay of Biscay on the tea tray.
John did solve the short leg by making a gully trap of a tea bag under the leg, which stopped the teapot from bowling wides, but did nothing for the big wet patch at long on in John's trousers.
It was then time to cart the bags to the other side of the Inner Harbour, to the FRS Clipper Terminal, and check them in. No problem there. Then to Starbucks (!) for coffee, and on to the bus ticket man (actually a woman at this time of day), and bought our tickets for both bus and gardens. Sat on a park bench to drink our coffee and wait for the bus.
The bus arrived, and we were the first to pile on, so we sat in the fron seats looking out the front window, the seat prized by everyone on a tour bus, but usually occupied by the guide. As it turned out, Joe the driver was also the guide, and he did a pretty good job of keeping up a running commentary on the places we passed. We arrived at Butchart Gardens at 1140, and made our way in with no problems.
A slight problem was what do we do with the 3 hours we had there? We had been to the place several times before (indeed, twice), so we could be selective. First of all, the Sunken Garden, where begonias were very much the thing. Then to the Ross Fountain, where we had a great deal of fun (?) trying to take a selfie with the fountain in the background. We struggled with this so much that two passers-by offered to take it for us, but John wanted the challenge, so he persisted.
We went looking for the peep hole through the hedge at the bottom of the gardens, but were fooled by the recent redevelopment of that area to allow summer seasonal boat trips on Butchart Sound. We did find the peep hole eventually, and took the mandatory photo through it. We wondered around the Japanese Garden, but did not explore its interior much, preferring to head on to the Italianate Garden, where there happened to be a gelateria - so an ice cream each and a chance to sit down and enjoy the flowers was very much the go.
After that, a cup of tea seemed in order, so we stopped at the Coffee Shop (!) to buy two cups of tea. Barb wanted a devonshire, but the girl at the counter did not know what that meant, so Barb had to explain - imperfectly, because she got a rock cake and not a scone!
Once the teas were finished, it was pretty much time to catch the bus back to Victoria. This time it was a double decker with an open top, so we sat up there and enjoyed the wind in our faces. The bus detoured via the Clipper Terminal, so we did not have to walk far, but we did have to wait in the queue for boarding, at 1600, and then enjoyed free nibbles and a paid beer in the "Comfort" class in the very front seats. Departure was on time, at 1700.
A smooth ride across the Juan de Fuca straits (pronounced One-der-Fooker!) and then down the Puget Sound to Seattle. Disembarkation was slow, but it did not matter, as Nathan and Lynne were late, and arrived shortly after we exited from the Immigration control. Hugs all round, and back to 2819 NW 58th Street for a dinner of sausage and veg. We watched a bit of TV together, then collapsed into a freshly made bed (quite literally - Lynne assembled the base in the afternoon before we arrived!)
A very lazy start to the day, with our first chance to not have to get up and go and do something! A few housekeeping things on the computer, and then adding the new 5TB disk that Nathan had bought for me while we were in transit. It will make backups a little less stressful, as it will not be running out of space soon.
After lunch we went for a walk down to the Hiram J Crittenden Locks, the infrastructure that maintains a constant (fresh water) level in the Union Canal from the tidal (sea water) Shilshole Bay. An interesting sideline to the lock operation is that because fresh and sea waters have different densities, when the valves are opened to equalize the levels in the lock, the levels are not actually equal, and the sea water is at the lower level. This has the consequence that when the gates are opened, there is an inrush of fresh water into the sea water chamber until the levels are actually equal. Got that?
We watched a few boats go throught the lock - there is a constant stream of boats in both directions wanting to pass through - then headed across to the weir, where we first watched the salmon swimming around in the downstream (sea) side of the weir, and then to the fish ladder, where we watched the fish jumping up the ladder. The larger fish do the jumping; smaller fish tend to just swim up the laminar flow of water coming over the weir. Each weir in the fish ladder is only a foot or so (30cm) high, so that is not such a big deal for the salmon.
Alongside the fish ladder are a set of windows set underground, where you can go and sit and watch the fish swiming through. Most of the salmon we could see were Coho Salmon, but there are two other main sorts, Sockeye and Chinook. You can get up close and personal to the fish, and they tend to swim slowly through each stage of the ladder, in order to "catch their breath", so you can follow the odd individual fish. See my photos page for some images.
We walked back under the railway bridge (no trains 😥), and then to the beach area at Shilshole Bay to admire the view, before heading up the hill back home. We enjoyed a "beer o'clock" on the deck, and admired the new view from 3 stories up. In the evening we watched TV, Darby and Joan, a rather interesting drama set in Far North Queensland - then to bed.
An even lazier day at home, apart from a short junket to the local supermarket to buy some shampoo, which we had neglected to bring with us. So far it had not mattered, as each hotel had had little complimentary bottles of the stuff, but Barb decided we could no longer impose upon our hospitality for shampoo. Of course, we also bought more supplies, particularly in the beer o'clock department.
In the afternoon, Nathan helped me upgrade my operating system from 18.04 to 20.04. It had been a problem doing that in Melbourne, as something had broken, and I didn't have a clue as to how to fix it. But Nathan worked his way through it, and after an hour or so of downloaded new libraries and packages, Ubuntu 20.04 burst into life quite happily!
Another beer o'clock, and then to walk it off, We walked down to Shilshole Bay again, this time to see the sunset over the Olympic Mountains. It was impressive. It was all over in a matter of minutes, but many photos were taken. Then back home, and while Barb and Lynne cooked dinner (some sockeye salmon), Nathan and I made a simple box joint on the CNC machine as a test run for the exhaust fan mounting he is planning for the kitchen. After the sockeye, we socked our eyes on more TV (Darby and Joan again)!
Very little to report in my blog today. Barb went with Lynne on her eye appointment, and used the time to walk around Green Lake. John stayed home and restarted his backup process on the new disk, which had got some of its electrons in a spin, due to it being an NTFS disk, rather than an ext4. Reformatted it, and after a day's worth of copying picture files, it seems to be OK.
We had beer o'clock on the roof of the greenhouse again, and amused ourselves by seeing how far we could throw pistacio nut shells. (Answer: not very far.) Watched TV again in the evening, another episode of Darby and Joan, then to bed.
A short trip out this morning to Fred Meyer's, a huge Target-like store, known affectionately by Ballard residents as "Freddies", so that Barb could buy a pair of bathers, as she discovered before we left that all her old ones had died, and were not worth bringing. Lynne bought some bras and fruit too, but other than that it was a fairly focussed and short duration visit.
In the afternoon the plan was to visit the Space Needle, but the weather was very smoky due to bushfires burning around Seattle, so Lynne thought a trip to the country would be better. We headed up the I-90 some 50 miles past Snoqualmie to Gold Creek Reserve, a popular picnicing spot. Incidentally, did you know that it is the longest continuous highway in the US, and the third longest in the world, after Australia's Highway 1, and Canada's TransCanadian?
We walked around Gold Creek Pond, a natural swamp area turned into a lake by the mining done to build the I-90 back in the 50s. It is now the subject of an extensive environmental re-establishment project, with attempts to re-vegetate and better water manage the environmental systems, particularly with a view to re-establish the salmon population which was nigh on wiped out.
But the area still has a lot of natural beauty, being a river valley nestling between huge mountain peaks. The only thing that would come close in Oz are things like the Megalong Valley (Blue Mountains) and King's Canyon (NT), but they are fairly unique features, whereas the Gold Creek Park was just one site among many spread almost around every corner in the Rockies.
As I say, we walked around Gold Creek Pond, stopping many times to admire the view and/or take photos. A side track took us right out onto a small peninsula into the lake, where there was a magnificent panorama. Other spots naturally leant themselves to sweeping panoramas, and there was the occasional wildlife to shoot as well.
Back home along the I-90, being stopped (or rather, really slowed down) by roadworks just before we got back to Redmond. Some spirali bolognese for dinner, then we watched Midsomer Murders before bed.
We are rather getting used to waking up at late hours, now that our mornings are no longer driven by alarm clocks. Not that there ever was much of a reason to get up at 7am, but getting up at 8:30 doesn't have that much more cachet!
Spent the morning catching up on this blog and generally reading email, newspapers, etc.. Around 1130 we set off for Sunrise, a popular picnic and trail head near Mount Rainier. It is about 120km by road from Seattle, and about 1950m in altitude. The drive takes about 2 hours, as although the first 40kms is along the I-5, the last 40 kms is up steep windy roads. We reached Sunrise about 1330, and went for a short walk to take in the various spectacular! views of Mount Rainer, only another 2000m higher than we were. It was still extensively snow covered, even at the end of summer, so it did look most impressive.
We had a picnic lunch, and watched the squirrels and jays as they checked us out. There are strict injunctions not to feed the animals, but they didn't know that, and obviously many of the people they see didn't know that either, for they had clearly learnt that people picnicking was something to be checked out. But all they got from us were a few scraps that fell from the table.
At 3ish we packed up and headed out to Tipsoo Lake, another popular picnic spot in a scenic valley beneath Yakima Peak and Naches Peak, on the edge of the Mount Rainier National Park. Again very scenic, and this time we walked around the lake and inspected its two ancillary lakes, Upper Tipsoo Lake, and Lower Tipsoo Lake.
Our perambulations were made somewhat more interesting by the fact that Nathan wore his Gandalf robes and hat, so that Lynne could take atmospheric photos of Nathan in quasi-Middle Earth territory. I must say, he did look the part!
Then back down the mountains and headed home. We stopped in Enumclaw (interesting name!) for dinner at "The Mint", where we had some typical American fare - John had a Bacon-Pepper Jack Burger with waffle cut sweet potato "fries", and Barb had a Mushroom Burger, also with sweet potato fries. Lynne, being gluten free, had a salmon steak, and Nathan had a Mac Burger and potato "pots". (The "Mac" refers to the type of cheese, not the brand of burger.)
Then on home, getting there about 2030, all quite exhausted. Accordingly, we all had an early night, and collapsed into bed.
The window cleaners came today, so there was much kerfuffle as Lynne and Nathan rushed around making sure all the windows were accessible. There is an incredible amount of "stuff" lying around, mainly as a left-over of the house renovations, and as Lynne explained, they just haven't had time to either file it away, or decide whether to dispose of it, and if so, how. Shades of our renovations!
I busied myself trying to download photos of various kinds. I managed to cope with the cameras proper, but the smart phones proved a bit too smart for their own good. (Or too smart for me, whichever you, dear reader, thinks is a fair thing.) It turns out that Apple (bless its heart) has changed the format of the photos that it takes, to a thing called "HEIC" ("High Efficiency Image Container"). After fixing all that (thanks Apple), I then tried to download Barb's phone's photos. She had a deal of difficulty just getting them to upload to Google Drive, and after several false starts, we finally got them onto GD. But then I could not download them to my laptop from GD. Barb was no help because she had gone shopping. So I busied myself with something else. When she came back, I explained the difficulty. "Look," I said. "see what happens when I click download." ... Well what do you know, they all downloaded! I tell you, the world is against me!
The afternoon was spent then dealing with the barrage of newly downloaded photos, since Barb had not evacuated her phone since April. That does take a bit of time especially when the photos all intersperse with the already downloaded images. I tell you, managing the photos from two cameras and two smartphones is not for the faint-hearted!
We had beer o'clock on the greenhouse roof, and then went for a walk to Sunset Point afterwards. It was a bit of a hike, about 2.5km, and all uphill - so I for one was a bit weary when we got there. We were a bit late for the sunset itself, but it was not one of the stupendous ones, with a lot of cloud around. Almost worth the walk.
On the way back, we stopped at Kit's house. Kit is one of Nathan's friends from Amazon with whom he still maintains contact (no doubt aided by the fact that Kit lives only 3 blocks away). Kit collects telephone booths, but no, he doesn't have a Tardis (yet). We checked out the two that he has had recently delivered, and then talked PV panels, as Kit is about to install 8kW of panels on his roof.
Bought take-away Thai for dinner. I had an interesting dish called Kao Phad Phu, aka "Cow Pad Poo" by the less restrained members of the family, but was actually stir fried rice with Dungeness Crab, very nice poo. Barb had a Massaman Beef curry, called Gang Gae, but it was not quite the same as the Massaman Curries we have in Oz (slightly sweeter and less spicy). Then TV (Midsomer Murders) and bed.
Another day at home, but this time working on the kitchen fan assembly. We cut out the backing plate for the fan assembly, affixed it to the support posts, and hung the fan in place. It looks very good! (You can see photos of it on the photos page.)
Today being Saturday, Nathan did not have to work, so we set about working on several house projects. Firstly, we did a bit of planning. Always a good idea, don't you think?
We worked out a plan for how the fan flue exhaust would work. The problem was that the hood flue and exhaust port in the ceiling a) did not line up, and b) were of different diameters. Rather than make the flue, which was a large wiggly flexible 6" diameter pipe, wiggle its way to a smaller 4" exhaust duct, with all the attendent wiggle support and beautification treatment, we decided to just send it straight up, using the supplied stainless steel trim, into a suitably sized plenum chamber that covered the space between the top of the flue, and the bottom of the exhaust duct. That plenum box could be made of timber, and would look suitably decorative.
We made some tangible process in removing the ring frame, sanding and glueing it, and adding a couple of cross rails to give it extra stability and hanging space. While the glue was drying, we turned our attention to the stairwell handrails, currently non-existent. The first task there was to add the last Newell post (the upright stanchion at the top and bottom of each handrail support). This was complicated by the fact that it had to mortise into some irregular floorboards (which was also the reason why Nathan had left it until last).
After much measurement, and double measurement, we cut out the offending bits using the CNC machine, which is a wonderful boon, I have to say. I want one, but where would we put it? Plonk! It dropped in like a bought one.
Would it believe it? It was already beer o'clock! The rest will have to wait until tomorrow.
Spent the morning doing some tiying up of the garage. Cleared a lot of offcuts, and swept the floor of lots of sawdust. Hardly recognize the place now! But it was hard work, and my back keeps complaining.
After beer o'clock, Lynne took us for a drive to Carkeek Park, just north of Ballard, and overlooking Puget Sound. It was a patch of virgin Seattle-area native forest, with lots of criss-crossy tracks across it. We did a walk to the top of the summit in the park , and then down back along the sea front, with views over Puget Sound. We even saw a couple of trains run past! It was good to see that some of the original habitat has been preserved, and we enjoyed our walk around the park.
Back home to watch TV - another hilarious episode of The Grand Tour - then bed.
Another quiet morning. Nathan had to work, so we busied ourselves with reading the paper and such like. About 1130 Lynne drove us into the CBD, where we did some sightseeing. First the International Fountain, then the Armoury, where we had a snack (John had a Guiness Irish Stew Pie, Barb an orange slurpie), before heading into the Chihuly Glass Gallarey and Gardens.
We had been here before, but it was good to renew the experience. It is quite difficult to describe, as saying that it is lots of blown glass sculptures does not do it justice. The colours of the glass just have to be seen to be believed! Every room in the gallety was filled with a kaleidoscope of whirly, brightly coloured glass blobs, tubes, bowls, spheres, stalks, leaves - you name it! It is just amazing, and even though there are only three primary colours, every glass object seemed to project yet another different primary colour!
We watched a demonstration of some glass blowing by a couple of local artists, quite fascinating as they turned several blobs of glass into a delicate glass vase, Barb didn't like the colour of it, but was very taken with the example from yesterday's blowing event, which had been cured and was on display. We bought a few things in the shop, but their internet was down, so they could not take payment for the items. The problem was solved by leaving the items there, and we promised to pick them up and pay for them on our way home, when it was promised that the internet connection would be working again.
Then we caught the monorail to the other side of the CBD, and the Pike Street Market. Unfortunately, our goal of buying some new tie-dye T-shirts was frustrated, as the stall vendor had clearly gone out of business due to Covid. There were indeed lots of vacant stalls, and very few people around, so it was not surprising to see how much it had become a shadow of the once bustling market place.
John by this stage was feeling quite weary, so finding a bar seemed like a good idea. A glass of local red ale (thanks to some advice from a gentleman at the bar) was exactly what John needed to revitalize his spirits, and Barb had a cider, which once in-cider, revitalized her! We then walked back to the monorail and caught it back to the Space Needle, after a little idiocy from the local platform crew saw us just miss the previous train. Grrrr!
We perused the shop at the foot of the Space Needle, but did not find anything to our liking, so we went back to the Chihuly Shop to collect our goodies and pay for them (now that their internet was working), and then back to the car.
Lynne drove us via Queen Anne (a suburb of Seattle) to look at the views. Queen Anne would be a bit like Brighton in Melbourne: lots of lovely sea views, and pricey houses, but no beach. Then home to another beer o'clock, because we could not let Nathan miss out on a BO'C! Pizza for tea, then TV, then bed.
Another day at home, this time building the wooden surround for the support column in the main room. Nathan had to work, so Barb and John did the leg work. John thought he had measured twice, but when he cut the first piece of wood and tried it, it was an inch short! Turns out he had measured the backing piece of timber, and not the pole itself. The backing piece of timber was there just to provide something to nail the facia board to, as the pole itself was steel, and difficult to affix directly to. So Nathan had previously made up a rough timber surround for the pole, and as it was "rough", the lengths of timber were only approximate. The one that I measured happened to be the longest, and almost reached the ceiling, but not quite (1" not quite).
But after a bit of soul searching, we realised that by placing this short piece at the back of the pole, the one inch gap was hidden by some other timber work, so with that little drama out of the way, we pressed on. The other pieces of timber had to be ripped, so there was a bit more work there, but never fear, we did measure everything 3 times to make sure! By beer o'oclock, the nearly finished product was looking quite professional, and I think Nathan was quite happy with it. There is a little more staining of the timber to be done, but since staining is Lynne's project (she is staining quite a deal of timber at the moment anyway), we left that to her.
After beer o'clock, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood, looking at houses and generally enjoying the cool night air. The weather has been quite pleasant - a gentle rain this morning was all the rain we have seen since being here - and in the low 20s. Nathan's house is well insulated (one of his pet drivers), and so T-shirts are very much the preferred clobber. His greenhouse can get up to 40 when the sun is shining, but his heat transfer system ensures that it does not get any higher, storing the excess heat in a big underground tank of water, and feeding it back to the greenhouse at night. A very low emission climate system!
Then of course. after the walk and dinner, we watched TV. Another episode of The Grand Tour, a BBC program with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, where they do quite amazing (and stupid) things with cars. Not just cars either - the last episode we watched had them driving boats down the Mekong River in Vietnam! Outrageously funny.
Our usual relaxed slow start to the day, reading the paper, catching up on email, etc.. Nathan and I continued our work on the Range Hood, with lots of planning and discussions about the exact parameters for the flue and plenum chamber.
Let me explain a little bit about those issues. Turns out that the flue is in two parts: a flexible and extensible 6" pipe, and two stainless steel surrounds for that pipe, that slide together to give a variable length glossy surround to the flue pipe. The whole thing was not helped by the fact that the hood was meant to be installed against a wall, but we were mounting it frre-standing, so we had to worry about the back aspect of the flue as well. Add to that the fact that the ceiling was higher than the maximum reach of the flue, and you can appreciate the complexities of the task that we faced.
Oh, and did I mention that the exhaust hole in the ceiling (which Nathan had prepared earlier) did not line up with the line of the flue? Eerks. It was a three-dimensional Chinese wood puzzle.
We solved most of the problems by introducing a plenum chamber. This was a box that sat on the ceiling, had a hole in the top for the exhaust hole to the outside world, and a hole in the bottom (on the opposite corner) for the flexible pipe from the hood, and a base plate to affix the metal surround to. The box was to be surround by a fascia of douglas fir, to make it look nice, and to match the rest of the wood fittings in the house.
A special added feature that the bought versions did not have is a bypass valve, which allows a certain percetage of the air exhausted to be feed back into the room, thereby avoiding pumping warmed air to the outside.
But all this had to wait, because in the afernoon we were invited to a cider presssing by Bob Hamilton, who is the bloke who provided accomodation to Nathan and Lynne while their house was being elevated. Bob had a neat little press that had an atteachment to chew the apples up into small bits, and drop them in the press barrel, and then by sliding it across to the press section, squashes all the juice our into a bucket, which we then decanted into empty soft drink bottles. It was quite a production line, and while we were watched, quite a few neighbours turned up with their apples, and Bob would press them into bottles for their use. Quite a little community celebration of harvest!
Back home to start work on the actual construction of the range hood system, and we did get far enough that Nathan was able to use it to cook dinner for the evening, which was a noodle stir fry. We enjoyed that while watching more TV, the end of the Grand Tour we started last night, then a full episode of Midsomer Murders. Then bed.
A hard day's work finishing the construction of the range hood and ancillary bits and pieces. You can see the result on the photo page. We all agree it was a job well done, and the finished product looks quite skookum, a First Nations word meaning "strong".`
Barb and Lynne walked down to Shilshole Bay to see the sunset, and then collected dinner from the local Indian take away place, which we ate while watching Darby and Joan, followed by anothe episode of Doc Martin.
Got going a bit earlier than usual, so that we could set off for Winthrop. Set off up the I5 North a bit after 1130 (?), turning off the I5 at Arlington to head east to Darrington, where we had lunch at the Red Top Tavern. Barb had a burger, and John had a "loaded nachos" (nachos with extra Japeno Peppers, tomato and onion on top), both things which we all agreed were "very American diner-type fare". While we were there, a woman called Mary Kay came and sat at our table, and chatted away. She was quite entertaining, being a local who lives out in the woods, with lots of stories about life with bears and cougars! Turns out she was born in Ballard, so there was much hoo-ing and ha-ing about the Ballard connection with Nathan and Lynne. All a bit of fun.
From Darrington we continued on via Highway 20 to Diablo Point, a spot we tried to visit in 2012, but which had been closed by federal labour bans. The view did rather make up for it, especially as it was a cloudless day, unlike the one we missed in 2012. The only down side was that is was a bit smoky from the local "wildfires". Even so, lots of photos to make up!
On to Washington Pass, again a spot which we revelled in in 2012, but in slightly inclement weather, and where the local lookout (or as the Yanks say "outlook") was also closed, this time we were able to take in the entire beauty of the "outlook". It was a 200 degree view of very majestic mountains, including one called "Liberty Bell", and the grandeur of it all was highlighted by the tiny ribbon of road that ran at a very steep angle down the rocks face to a 180 hair pin bend at the end of the valley. Again, lots of photos.
Pressed to our final destination, Winthrop, and checked in to our Air BnB, The Wrangle Inn. It is pleasant enough, and suits our needs, although the ceilings are threateningly low, especially for Nathan. We have the downstairs bedroom, Nathan and Lynne are in one of the upstairs ones.
Then we walked down to the local brewery. The Old School House Brewery, where we had a few beers and ciders, depending on taste. I had a rather nice IPA called "The Ruud Awakening", 8% ABV, 80 IBU. Then back home to kill some time, because we could not get into the restaurant of choice, called The ArrowLeaf Bistro, until after 8. Drove over there (it wasn't in the town centre), and went straight in. We had a beautiful dinner, John had Duck Confit Croquettes (absolutely delightful), followed by Flatiron Steak and waffle fries (very tasty), and then Creme Brulee. Barb had Seared Scallops, Mushroom Cassolet, and Pomegranate and Pistacio Cheesecake.
Nathan very generously paid, as I suspect it was all rather pricey "fine dining". Back to the BnB and bed.
The first task today was to find breakfast. Nathan had done some homework, but opening hours were clearly in a state of flux, due to the end of summer, and several of the places we looked at were either closed, or not doing breakfast. But we did find one - obviously the same one that many other visitors had also found, as the place was pretty busy.
It was a typical american "diner", with lots of diner-type options - eggs any way, burgers (for breakfast?), biscuits and gravy (a unique option - "biscuits" means "scones"!) I chose Eggs Benedict (with some trepidation), Barb scrambled eggs, both with "toemaato juice", and of course coffee, from the bottomless cup. Nathan went for the "biscuits and gravy", brave soul.
Partly because of the numbers there, we had to wait ages for the food to arrive. But no matter. We chatted away, and were joined by two local americans as the house was full up, and we were 4 at a table for 6. When the food arrived, Barb got a bit of a surprise, as the scrambled eggs came on a saucer, no toast, no nothing else. But my eggs benedict made up for it, so I shared some of mine with Barb once she had polished off the eggs, and Lynne chipped in with a quarter of an avocado that she didn't want.
Then back to the BnB where we gathered things together for our day trip to the Blue Lake hike. Blue Lake is a circ lake, formed by a glacial moraine blocking the end of a valley, and it is particularly impressive, as it is over 1500m above sea level. The trail head is 31 miles from Winthrop, and we set off about 1130. We started the hike at 1215, and trudged on up the somewhat rocky path. We were slow walkers, and were continually passed by younger and fitter hikers - some even carrying babies and toddlers in back-packs!
But we battled on upwards (all 1050ft of it), pausing fairly frequently to take photos of the overwhelming scenes around us. We reached the lake just before 1400, which was not bad, as the guide book said it was an hour and a half's hike. We sat on a rock and gasped at the scenery. At least, that's what I'm telling you, but really, we were just gasping for breath after that climb.
20 minutes we spent there, and could have spent longer, but we were conscious that the climb down would be even harder, so we set off. Going down has the advantage that you know how far it is to the bottom, but as I said to Barbara on several occasions: "the road goes ever on". Eventually we limped into the car park, and enjoyed a well-earned can of fizz to oil up all our joints again.
The car trip back to Winthrop seemed bliss for the simply reason we could all sit down. Just before the Methow River, we stopped at a Cidery, for not "beer o'clock", but "cider o'clock". Barb and I shared a sampler of ciders, giving a choice of 6 different ciders from the very dry and quite acidic "Sly Fox", made from Foxwhelp apples. Barb did not like it, but John, after pulling a face on the first mouthful, said it "grew on him". Barb's choice was the second driest cider, "Black Raven", a dry cider sweetened with blackberry juice. For the record, the remaining ciders were 3) Howling Wolf (John's second choice), 4) Pinnacle Goat (nice nose, odd flavour), 5) (forgotten), and 6) Honey Bear (too sweet).
For dinner, we settled on the Mexican Cantina (there wasn't much choice once the weekend was past - the place seemed to be only open for Friday and Saturday nights!) The menu was hard to read in the dim light, so John had to have it translated for him, and he chose a chicken burrito, Barb chose a Pollo Mole, a chicken in chocolate sauce! John's was far too big, and we had to order a doggie bag - but it was nice (and spicy).
Then back to the BnB and bed.
Again, finding breakfast was the first challenge of the day. As I said above, the options at Winthrop become very limited after the weekend (it is very popular with Seattle people, and the population swells remarkably at weekends - but becomes non-existent during the week.) We settled on a bakery, which not only offered the usual bakery items, but some breakfasty items like quiches and egg dishes. John had a red pepper and artichoke quiche, Barb had a mushroom scramble, and Nathan had a veggie scramble. All were deemed quite acceptable, as was the coffee.
We walked down the river to inspect the pedestrian suspension bridge, built in 2011, and clearly quite popular, although it did not appear to go anywhere, disappearing in what looked like a baseball field. Maybe in baseball season it comes into its own?
We wandered the mainstreet for a bit, and had an ice cream before heading back to the BnB to pack and head off, pausing only to fill the car with petrol. Then back along Highway 20 (the way we came in), and stopped at Washington Pass to admire the views, both from the bottom, and from the viewpoint which we visited on Saturday. The views were made somewhat more interesting (?) by the quite strong overhang of smoke, coming from the bushfires down south.
We stopped several times along the highway to take photos, including Diablo Viewpoint, which was so smoky we could hardly see the water in the dam! I took a couple of photos anyway for comparison with Saturday's. On through Darrington and Arlington, the same way we had come up, but not stopping this time. There was one spot that Lynne thought was worth a look, but the car park was full, so we didn't. Home at about 6pm, and ordered Thai take-away again. John paid, quite expensive, especially when one takes the exchange rate into account (about $160!) Watched Grand Tour rubbishing French cars, then two episodes of Darby and John, as we wanted to finish the series before we left.
Our last day in Seattle! A particular effort to get the last few bits of the wood-working projects done. We manage to mount the Range Hood Ring, and get it pretty level. This "ring" is a wooden rectangle mounted on the back of the Range Hood supports, and extending to the ends of the island workbench over which it sits. The idea is borrowed from a similar, but much smaller, iron ring that we have mounted in our kitchen at home, and on which one can hang hooks for hanging various kitchen tools, such as ladles, beaters, skillets, and the like. It is much bigger than ours, and has wire ropes for added support. But we got it dome, modulo some tensioning of the wires once it is loaded up with utensils.
The girls went for a walk down to the Hiram M Crittenden Locks, and then a last beer o'clock before home-cooked fish and chips by Lynne. She uses an air fryer to cook the chips, and they come out pretty well, I have to say. Then a double episode of the Grand Tour around Columbia, and the final episode of Darvy and Joan, before an early night (by our standards), becuase of the need to pack first thing in the morning.
Got cracking early on the packing, and were all ready by 9am, so there was time for some brakfast. Said goodbye to Nathan, and Lynne kindly drove us down to SeaTac Airport, where we had few hassles in boarding our Delta Airlines 737 to San Diego.
It was 2 hours 20 minutes, very smooth, but contrary to the pilot's advice, it was not a sunny day in SD, but rather a little foggy, even at 3pm in the afternoon. Caught a taxe to the Urban Boutique Hotel, where we had booked a comfortable room, just round the corner from the Little Italy area of San Diego. Had a bit of rest and recover before venturing out at 5pm yo find a bar and restaurant, which we found fairly quickly just around the corner in said Little Italy area. The restaurant was called Ironside, and it was an exclusively seafood restaurant. Difficult choices to make, particularly as there were 4 dishes that seemed to have everything: Oysters, Prawns (shrimp in US-speak), Rockfish Cerviche (a sort of a poisson cru), and Shrimp Aguachile (spicy prawns). They came in 4 sizes: "Big", "Bigger", "Biggest", and "Holy Shit!". All but the smallest also had lobster - we settled for "Big", and it was big enough for 2.
A beer and a sparkling wine were most welcome accompaniments, and we even had room to share a "Chowder and Fries", chips sloshing around in a bowl of chowder, a sort of a south-western version of the Canadian Poutine, if you know what that means. The waiter was great fun, and we decided that we would have to return on one of the two nights we have left in SD to try all the other dishes that we did not have room for.
But we did have room tonight to some ice cream, at the boutique ice cream shop two doors down. The flavours were like nothing you ever imagined would be ice cream - Barb had Strawberry Balsamic and Black Pepper, while John had Pear and Blue Cheese. "Blue Cheese ice cream?!" I hear you say? It was out of this world. One minute you would be slurping on the very pear flavoured ice cream, and the next you would be brought up short with a lump of blue cheese. Absolutely amazing!
We listened to a very good busker drumming away in the little plaza on the way back to our hotel, and then plonked ourselves back into our room to recover before retiring.
Breakfast was the first item on the menu for today, and we went around the corner into Little Italy, and tried the restaurant with the long queue out the front. But it was the wrong demographic, with lots of loud music (albeit a cover of an ABBA hit), so we gave it a miss. Across the road was a place called Frost Me, so frost me, we went in. It turned out to be just what we wanted. Quiet, good coffee - the best we have had since leaving Melbourne (sorry, Nathan) - and Salmon Bagels with Lox on. ("Lox" = cream cheese). It was so good we even had a second cup of coffee!
Then to the second item on the menu - Covid testing (known here as a "CART" - Covid Antigen Rapid Test. Talk about putting the cArt before the hoRse.) This is where Holland America has fallen in a big heap over Covid testing. Lots of information sent out to us - all wrong! Whenever we have tried to email or ring them, you either get no reply, or spend hours waiting. Whatever information comes back is just wrong. It is clear that HA are just making it up as they go along, and could not care less about people having Covid tests.
So we headed down to the Cruise Terminal to see what we could find - nothing! The whole port was a "Restricted - NO Entry", so no joy there. An information booth nearby was slightly more helpful, in that the girl said she didn't know, but would look it up. Turns out to be a health centre/hospital about 6 miles out from the CBD, and the girl's advice was to "catch an Uber or taxi".
Stuff that for a joke, we thought, so tried plan B. This was to check out local pharmacies, which we were told by someone, forget who (NOT HA!), would do an "authorized antigen test". So we turned to Mrs Google (the females are always more helpful than the males), and asked for a list of the "pharmacies nearest you". [Aside: I always thought US chemists were called "drug stores", but here they seem to be called "pharmacies". Canada has "drug marts", however, see 15 Sep. End Aside] We headed for the nearest one, where a helpful pharmacist said that they didn't do them, but Remedy Pharmacy on Cedar St did do them. So off to the eponymously named Remedy Pharmacy. Yes, they did them, but we had to make an appointment, and it would cost $US110 each!! Coughed up (is that the right word?) the money with as much grace as we could muster, and made an appointment for 2:30pm. There were 2 other Australian couples in the pharmacy, both booked on the Noordam, and both doing what we were doing, also after much frustration and hassle!
Back to the hotel via a local coffee shop (also good coffee), and then put our feet up until 2:20, when we went back to the pharmacy, and had a good chat with the same Australians, who had made appointments immediately prior to us, and were waiting for their results. We had our tests administered in the street outside the shop (it was a small pharmacy, and quite belied its importance to the travelling non-US fraternity). It was not long - the usual 15 minutes, when the pharmacist came out with the test results, which were negative, but with the names of the next couple who were waiting to get tested! Oops! Barb pointed out the error, and the pharmacist scurried off to correct the documents. Chatted with that next couple who were Canadians from Prince George, where Jim and Donna had just been. We pointed out that they should have grabbed the documents and run off, but Donald (the bloke) pointed out that the documents had the wrong birthdays (ours), and they would never have gotten away with it!
(Did you notice that Americanism creep in?) The pharmacist soon brought out the correctly titled documents, and we said to Donald and Susan "see you on the ship!", before taking a photo of the historic moment, and leaving for a celebratory ice cream. Same place as last night, but different flavours: Barb had Black Cat Liquorice and Lavender", John "Cold Brew Coffee and Cashew Praline". Yum, Yum. Then back to the hotel to catch up on emails and wait for beer o'clock to come around.
At beer o'clock, we set off to see what we could find. We first went to The Sorrento, as a spruiker had told us earlier in the day that happy hour was from 3 to 6. But at 5 o'clock, the new spruiker told us that happy hour finished at 5. So we said "thanks, but no thanks, you lied to us" and walked away. I do hope they got the message.
So we tried the pub across the road, The Princess, a "British" pub selling Guinness and Newcastle Brown. Well, the Brown was off, but the Guinness was working, and indeed, the bubbles did go downwards. So John had a Guinness and Barb a Blackthorn Cider, and we sat outside enjoying them, and watching the passing parade. Once finished, we walked across the road (India Street) to The Ironside, but they had no tables outside, and inside was so noisy that we could not even hear the host say that there were tables inside, so we walked away from them, too.
We walked around for a bit, and settled on a restaurant called Nonna's (Grandma's in Italian), where John had Arancini (best he'd ever had, he said) and Polpo e Calamari Fritto (deep fried octopus and calamari), while Barb had Caprese and Gamberi somethingorother (prawn and mushroom). Very nice, but we did feel a bit rushed. John had planned to zip back to the hotel and get our jumpers, as it was getting a bit cold as the sun went down, but no sooner had they cleared the primi than they whisked out the secundi, so no time for jumpers. By the time we had finished, it was getting pretty dark, so at 1900 we headed back to the hotel, doing a lap of the block just so that John could click over 10000 steps on his fitbit.
A quiet evening in the hotel room followed. Barb asked the receptionist if she could fix the internet on her computer, but it was an Apple, and Apple (bless their hearts) had done something to make it difficult to get the internet, so she couldn't. All our other devices (including John's iPhone) could get the internet, so it is clearly some funny non-standard protocol that Apple had used on her computer. Ain't technology grand?
The plan today was to go to the zoo, but first we had to do breakfast. And what better place to do breakfast than then cafe "Frost Me" that we found yesterday? So we headed there, and ordered coffees, closely followed by food. John switched to a California Bagel, which was tomato, capers, red onion, cream cheese, cucumber, lettuce and basamic; which was quite nice, but not quite as good as the salmon yesterday. Barb switched to the Avocado on Toast, but was rather disappointed with it. Not quite the same as the Aussie versions. The coffee was as excellent as yesterday, tho'.
Then we set off down Kettner Boulevard to the Santa Fe Railroad Depot, where we caught a 215 bus to the zoo. The Seniors fare was $1.25 each (half the adult fare), but Barb only had a $5 note, and the driver had no change. "Get on anyway" he said, so we did.
We soon arrived at the zoo, and started taking photos! We talked to a guide person at the entrance, and she suggested that we first do the guided tour bus ride around the zoo, just to get our bearings, and see what we would like to look at in more detail. This we did, and decided that the top priorities were the polar bears and the penguins. So we set off on a circuituous route that would take us past those attactions.
But there were many distractions along the way, the most notable of which were the snow leopards, which Barb has absolutely adored ever since seeing a couple at Gerald Durrell's Zoo in Jersey. We watched one for some time, standing on one leg, balancing with his front paw, while using the other to try and hook some meat hanging from the roof! He did succeed, but only with some effort. We both admired the huge feet these animals have, along with a very long and bushy tail, which together with their delightful shadings of grey, wite and black, make them a quite beautiful animal.
We found the (one) polar bear, who was out strolling in his enclosure, but no sooner than I took the camera out, he disappeared into his den. So I have one photo of his bum end disappearing into darkness, never to be seen again, at least as long as we had patience for.
Polar bears do need something cold, so we bought icecreams at the nearby Artic Traders, and polished them off. Then we headed for the penguins. I had thought that there might be a variety of penguins, such as we had seen in the Falkfands in 2015, but the only ones at San Diego were the African penguins, which we did not see in the Falklands! While watching two penguins in a corner of the enclosure through a special viewing window, we noted that one was called Jack and the other Lori. Turns out that Jack had a strong motive for inviting Lori into the seculded corner. But it was all over before I could whip my camera out to capture the passionate moment, and Jack and Lori mooched off, dusting down their feathers as they did so, to the entertainment of all the onlookers, and the puzzlement of the youngsters in the crowd.
The next dalliance was at the colourful bird enclosure (not sure of its formal name, but that is descriptive enough), where we had fun trying to photograph some of the most brightly coloured birds you could image. Not an easy task, as as soon as you got one lined up in the viewfinder, and pushed the shutter than they would dart, leaving a blurry image if you were lucky, and an empty branch if you were not.
By this stage it was 3:30, and we were beginning to flag. We headed in the direction of the exit, passing the koala exhibits as we went. I did try to explain to some American woman who kept calling them "koala bears" that they were not bears, just koalas. I think she thought I was mad. She probably voted for Trump anyway.
We headed out the exit, and got to the bus stop, where we had to wait a quarter of an hour for the next bus. But we both had weary feet, so sitting down and waiting was good.
We walked back along India Street to Little India, and tried to get into Ironsides. But they were already full, so we added our names to a waitlist, and they promised to text us when a table was ready. So we cheekily crossed the street to another restaurant, called Davani's, where we had a beer each to while away the time, and a little snack of "Roman Artichokes", which were most scrummy. That diversion was enough, because just as we had finished and were about to go back to the hotel to wait, the text message came, so we returned to the Ironsides, sat at our table, and ordered two Gruner Veltliners and the Bigger dish of seafood!
Do you remember the Big dish from Wednesday night? The Bigger had 12 oysters, 8 prawns, and half a lobster as well, so we really felt pigged out (or is that PBiggered out?) by the end. No ice cream tonight, for two reasons. The first is pretty obvious, the second is that the queue for ice creams went round the corner, so we just staggered back to our hotel and retired, ready for embarkation on the morrow.
The first order of the day was packing, and we managed to get all that done by 0830 or so, in time to get to Frost Me by 0845. Usual fare: John had Salmon Bagel with Lox, Barb a California Bagel, and the usual excellent coffee (2 cups each!). Then back to the hotel to check out, and we walked along Columbia St, down Cedar St, along the West Harbour Drive to the B Street Pier, where the Noordam was docked. I tell you all this, because I thought I had the tracker on and it would show the route, but somehow or other I stuffed that up, and it wasn't until we had lined up to embark that I discovered the tracker was not on. Bah!
We were of course, very early, so we sat in a nearby park, and were shortly joined by a Canadian couple who were also booked on the Noordam. We got chatting, and swapped stories about how Covid had affected our lives and particularly, our cruising lives. We had time for a beer, even though the sun had not helped by being slow to get over the yard arm.
The embarkation process was a complete schemozzle. Although we lined up at the gate at the appointed hour of 1150, it was clear that the gate staff had no idea what it was that they were supposed to be doing. They held us back, while allowing people who said that they just wanted to check baggage in to go straight through. Of course, they never came back, and just went through the boarding process that we were supposed to be doing. Eventually a woman (who was not wearing a "Grumpy Old Woman" T-shirt) came up and organized a protest. It was clear that most of the people in the line did not know what was going on either, because once the official whom this woman coralled asked "who is here for the 1150 boarding?", only a half dozen or so people put up their hands!
So we belatedly got into the actual boarding queue, and went through the health queue (show us your vaccination papers), the boarding queue (show us your boarding pass), the security queue (show us your laptops) and the pat down queue (show us your armpits). We actually skipped the visa queue (show us your Australian visa) and were about to disappear up the ganplank when a woman grabbed John (figuratively, I hasten to add) and asked "Did you leave a camera bag at the security scan?" "Yipes" I said, (or words to that effect), and raced back, doging various security people who tried to rugby tackle me to the ground, and got to the X-ray counter, where a very kindly gentleman handed me the camera, and said "I believe this is yours". Phew! Did I feel like I had just used up a Get Out Of Jail Free card (or two. or three). Back through the line of rugby tacklers, and rejoined Barb to climb the escalators for boarding.
Perhaps the other queues did not hold any more terrors, or maybe John was so relieved that he just said "yes" to everything, but we had to run the gauntlet of cameras (show us your vacation side, show us your Holland America side) and an embarkation queue (show us your boarding pass - again). Finally! We were on the ship.
Oh. I forgot. There was one queue we missed out on. Remember me saying that there were all these people claiming to want to check in baggage? Well, we were never asked if we wanted to check in baggage. When we got to the security queue, we asked someone if we had to put our suitcase through the X-ray machine, which is something one would never do at an airport. "You should have checked that in earlier" was the reply. I think I got a bit snarky at that point, and I made it quite clear to the woman that we were never afforded that luxury. "So you'll just have to take it on board yourself" was the rather lame reply, whereupon I pointed out that it was not me who should apologise, but Holland America. She did have the grace to offer a John Howard style apology ("I'll do it if you insist, but I'm not really that sincere".)
The upshot was that we sank our principles, and wheeled the suitcase into a lift. Our principle is not to use any lifts while on board, but to always take the stairs. I reconciled this by arguing to myself that it would have gone up in the lift if it had been checked in properly, so no extra (carbon) emissions were created.
A half-hour or so of organizing our luggage into our room, and then we made a bee-line for the Lido deck and the Dive In Bar for a Jalapenos hot dog (John), and a Free-style burger (vegetarian). Oh, and a beer.
The afternoon was spent trying to connect to the internet. This process involved a complex series of steps, of which opening the wifi network and connecting was just one step of about 6. The first step, for example, said to "turn on airplane mode". Now to any normal thinking person, does that sound like something you need to do to connect to a cuommunication system? No, I didn't think so either. But I followed the steps, and it didn't work. Not on my laptop. Not on my iPad. But it did on my iPhone. Duh. And once it worked on the iPhone, it then worked on the laptop. But still not the iPad. Duh again. And I can't blame Apple, like we did in the hotel, because the iPhone worked?? And I won't even begin to try and understand what went on with Barb's laptop and phone.
We had a beer in the Crows' Nest Bar at 1800, reflecting on the day's activities, and then some more quiet time in out room before dinner. John had worn his Noordam T-shirt all day, but received no comments at all about it, so he changed shirts for dinner, and we trotted down to the dining room. We were seated at a table of 8, with Kathleen, Jenny (both Sydney), Kaye, Chris (both Kiwis), Sheree, Leonard (New York), and they were a delightful bunch of people. I sat next to Leonard, who was a school teacher, principal and then school inspector for a whole bunch of schools around New York. He had had a pretty intensive working life, but still seemed to be taking things in his stride.
The engagement of the group could be ascertained from the fact that we were the last table to leave the dining room at after 2200, just as the ship left the wharf. The ship was only 5 hours late leaving.
Our first day, and off to a wonky Hal start with morning tea and toast. I say "wonky", because the toast was only 1 slice, which was probably a blessing in disguise, as it was sickly sweet american bread. Ugh. Intriguingly, shortly after we finished it, we had a phone call to ask how we enjoyed the morning tea! Well, I did politely and with great restraint tell him that the bread was not to our liking, and did they have any "real bread". He reeled off a list of alternatives, of which only one or two were mentioned in the menu, including sourdough bread. Now why would you bake a bread and not tell people about it? Unless it is because they know people will complain, and then they can shut them up with their preferred choice. Or am I being too cynical?
We had booked the tea for 0730. It was really 0830, as our clocks went back an hour overnight, and it was at this point that we discovered that the internet did not work! This was particularly serious, as our FitBits rely upon having internet access to update their time zones and resynchronize. But that would have to wait. Breakfast beckoned.
We had breakfast in the dining room. We were seated at a table for four, which I personally found quite amenable, as it means that you can actually have a conversation that does not involve shouting across the table as though we were all at GOMERs. And having a conversation was actually very enjoyable. We were with a Kiwi couple, Steve and Jen, who had lived in Warrigal and Bairnsdale, so they had a certain familiarity with Victoria. We got on famously, to the point of swapping room numbers and vowing to meet up again.
Then to the Explorations Cafe and proper coffee. We chatted there with Laura from Tucson, and compared notes with how Phoenix always did so much better with infrastructure compared to the regional areas of Arizona. "Just like Victoria", we said.
We visited the guest services to see what they could do about John's laptop and connecting to the internet. The short answer is Nothing! The crunch was that Linux will not let you turn on both airplane mode and wifi mode at the same time, as is required by the peculiar HAL protocol as detailed yesterday. I complained bitterly about this, pointing out that Linux 20.04 is not an old system, and that changing the protocols like this is hardly an inclusive strategy. Her answer was that it was a "security issue", to which I replied that even better security would be obtained if they had no internet at all for anyone, but that didn't seem to go down well.
We went for lunch in the Lido, and lost each other, as Barb went to the salad bar, and John to the curry bar, and then we chased each other around the Lido deck trying to find one another once we had our food. But we did eventually meet up.
The afternoon was mostly spent reading in the sun. John did manage to get connected to the internet on his iPhone (which does allow airplane mode and wifi simultaneously!) and read the paper (The Age), while Barb read her kindle.
At 1800 we went to the Lincoln Centre to hear the quartet (minus one, who missed the boat!) play some Mozart pieces for piano, violin and viola. Then to the captain's welcome at 1845, which was a bit of a fizzer, even though there was no fizz. Instead of the usual glass of champagne along with canapes, we just got a voucher ticket for a glass of champagne at any of the bars afterwards. Not really the same thing, especially as there was some performance afterwards, and we all shot through in disgust at no happy hour.
Cashed in the voucher at the Ocean Bar, and made our drinks linger until dinner time, which was a Gala Dinner. Only 5 of us there though - Sheree was feeling crook, and Kathleen and Jeanette were nowhere to be seen (but we had seen them at the Captain's non-event). John had a rack of lamb, and Barb a filet mignon (blue!) and we polished off a bottle of Brut Rose (Cremant d'Alsace) between us.
Morning tea at 0700 this morning. Still not quite right - John's teapot had a leak in the side, so that when you poured the tea, it also came out from the side of the teapot, pouring all over the table! Duh. HAL fails again.
After breakfast in the dining room, we did our usual visit to the Explorations Cafe for some proper coffee, and then, at 1100 we went to the World Stage to hear Jordan give a quite professional talk on whales. She did have some help via a recorded interview with Craig SomebodyOrOther, who was an ocean biologist, but even so, it was very polished.
Then back to our room briefly for me to collect my laptop and try and sort out the internet problems that I was having with it. Down to deck 1, where like yesterday, while I was standing in the queue, a woman came up to me and said "Can I help you sir?" to which I started to relate my problems with the internet. Why I got singled out of the queue, I don't know, unless they somehow know that there is a cranky 5-star mariner fuming in the line. But it did seem to puzzle and annoy the others in the line.
So this woman (who did appear to know something about the internet system, although not Linux) went through the process of trying to connect my laptop to the internet. It all seemed to hinge on having both flight mode and wifi on at the same time, to which I expressed some surprise, as the two modes are quite incompatible, and indeed Linux turns the other off automatically when you turn on one of them. So there was no way of making any progress with the laptop.
But then I remembered that it was dual booting, so I rebooted it into Windows, and lo and behold, Windows allows you to have both flight mode and wifi on at the same time! I was just getting to the stage of being able to test a connection to the internet, when my battery went flat! (It is on its last legs) Bah! Humbug! I bet that HAL never tested their modifications with a Linux box.
By then it was nearly 1300 and time for the talk on Volcanoes, so I joined Barb in the World Stage again to hear an oceanologist called Christine talk about the formation of the Hawaiian islands, and about what one can see around the volcanic eruptions taking place. Very interesting.
Then lunch in the Lido, after which we retired to our room again, where John started to draft two letters, one an important personal matter, and two a letter of complaint to Holland America about the crap treatment we have received.
But there only so much muted crankiness that one can put to paper before it all gets to you, so at 1730 we padded down the stairs again firstly to the Pinnacle Bar for a quick drink, and then at 1800 to the Lincoln Centre (I spelled it correctly, they cannot) to hear the resident half quartet play one at a time a) the Italian Concerto (on piano), and b) one of Bach's solo violin works. The piano was pretty good, but the violinist did fluff a few notes. (To be fair, it was a difficult piece.)
Then back to our room for a solo piece on computer (i.e., this blog) until dinner time. I did get a followup call to my problems with the laptop, but it was quite unhelpful, as they had misinterpreted the problem I was having. I had asked if port 22 (SSH) was closed, thinking that might be why I could not connect. ping worked, but an ssh connection just timed out, with no response. Their answer was not a yes/no response to "is port 22 closed", but rather "On looking at the logs, we could find no evidence of an SSH request". Well, that was probably because the system would not let me on to the internet itself!
For dinner, we had our full complement of guests: Chris and Kaye, Leonard and Sheree, Kathleen and Jeanette, myself and Barb. The conversation flowed pretty well, and we ended up talking about the aftermath of 9/11, particularly as Leonard was in the thick of it, commuting from New Jersey to New York each day. He said that his regular commute of 1 hour turned into 5 hours in the direct aftermath of the tragedy, and that he was continually having to put up with FBI officers patrolling the schools that he worked with (because of the number of non-caucasian races in his schools).
Dinner itself had a Canadian Thanksgiving theme, so we celebrated with our Canadian friends, Jim and Donna (absent), and Sheree (present) by having turkey for mains, and pumpkin pie for dessert. The pie was very nice!
John ordered a bottle of Cote du Rhone, but was a bit suspicious when a tasting portion was poured, as the wine had a distinct orange colour. One taste confirmed it - the wine was off, so the bottle was whisked away and another brought. This one was OK, in fact it was very good, so John enjoyed that while Barb finished off the Singing Gruner Veltliner from our first night.
Morning tea at 7. This time the toast was overdone, and very dry and brittle. I don't think we have quite cracked the most appropriate combination yet. The tea is fine, although not enough hot water, but we need to keep circulating through the various alternatives of something to eat with it.
Breakfast with Bernie and Shereen from Maroopna (near Shepparton), although we did get into trouble for the order in that sentence. "Shepparton is near Maroopna" was the way they preferred to put it. They were good company, and we swapped stories about losing baggage on airlines - they had had a horror story about their flight over to the US.
Explorations Cafe as is becoming our norm, and then lining up at guest services to ask about the internet, as is also becoming the norm. Slightly more success, I did manage to connect to the internet on my iPad, although it was a bit marginal - the internet is so slow that one could be forgiven for thinking that it was indeed still broken.
Back to our room for blog writing and reading until lunch time. Lunch was in the Lido again, but John had a great deal of difficulty getting his lunch. He went back to the curry counter as has become his want, and asked for the sweet and sour fried fish. But they were out of it, so he said he'd wait. After ten minutes he got worried that Barb might not know what had happened so he went looking for her. Found her, and suggested she sit down and start eating, while he went back and waited a bit more. The server said another ten minutes, but having committed to it, and feeling like sweet and sour was his preferred choice, he hung on. It appears that they made a special serve just for him, as the server came with a wok and tipped it all into his bowl - all two pieces of fish! And it was cold.
But the bread and butter pudding afterwards did ameliorate the lunch situation somewhat. The place was full, so we sat at a table with another couple, but they were Swiss, and did not have much english, so conversation was limited.
After lunch we decided to sit on our verandah, and just enjoy the sea air - which had us nodding off very quickly. The afternoon went very quickly!
At 1615 or so we went for a walk around the Promenade deck. Three laps equals a mile, so we were told, so we did 3 laps. Barb did a bit more, while John admired the sunset, which was just before 1800. We were therefore late for the Lincoln Centre recital, and missed the start of one of Bach's viola pieces, but it was full of little catchy tunes, and we enjoyed it well. Then some Brahms' Hungarian Dances (4 and 5), finished off with Bartok's Folk Dances, also well known and played.
Then to the Ocean Bar for a leisurely G&T, in time for dinner at 2000, where we were the only starters at the table, so we had a quiet menage a deux, and finished much earlier than the previous 3 night!
The first thing we had to do today was a Covid RAT. These were distributed to all passengers by the cabin staff, and we had to carry out the test, write out names on a piece of paper, put the test strips on the paper, and then take a photo of the whole thing once the 10 minutes developing time had elapsed. Then we had to show the results to the cabin staff. Later in the day, the captain made an announcement that "very few" of the passengers had not tested negative, and accordingly, we were no longer required to wear masks (although they are "encouraged"). What happened to the few who did test positive was not revealed = presumably they have to quarantine in their cabins.
As we lined up at breakfast, we found ourselves just in front of our friends Steve and Jen, so we had a table of four, and rejoined the comprehensive conversation we started 2 mornings ago. They a hiring a car at Hilo, and invited us to join them, so we were most pleased to accept. Turns out their son was also affected by ADHD, so we swapped a lot of stories on that front!
Then to Explorations Cafe, giving the Guest Services stall a miss, as we have no given up on getting our computers to connect to the internet. We do have phones and iPad connected, so that will get us through to Hawaii at least.
In the Explorations, we met Stuart and Pamela from Stirling, SA, so the information that John was born in Stirling gave us a bit of common ground to start the conversation. We chatted with them until it was time to go and hear the Port Talk on Honolulu. It was pretty missable. The cruise director, Jordan, obviously had a set spiel to give, and did not have much first hand knowledge of the places she was talking about, for example she did not know opening and closing times of several of the attractions, nor that one of the ones she talked about was actually closed (according to a member of the audience, who did seem to know the local detail a bit more). We bumped into Steve and Jen as we were leaving, and they agreed that the whole talk was a bit of a waste of time.
Then a very quick lunch at the Lido, because John wanted to head off to the Craft Beer Tasting in the BillBoard Bar. It did seem to be a rather small group of beer lovers, and about half of the 9 people there were Australian! But Noel behind the bar did know his stuff, and gave us an entertaining and informative talk about 4 beers: Pike (as in Pike Place) "Space Needle", Pike "Kilt Lifter", Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Lagostas "Sumpin' Jumpin'". The first two are Washington beers, the second two Californian. After we had finished the fourth beer, Noel brought out a bonus beer, the Pike "Holland Hazy" IPA, which all agreed, was not in the same league as the first 4. But the fun did not stop there, as his parting remark to the regular bartenders was to use up all the beer that had been put aside for the tasting, so we each had another couple of glasses of the Kilt Lifter and Pale Ale. I got chatting with Bob (a Kiwi, now living in the US), Norm (a Queenslander), and Tom (not sure where in Oz he was from?). We had a great time yakking about life and beers, beers and life.
With that much beer under my belt, Barb thought it was time for the gym when I got back to the cabin, without falling over. So up to deck 9 (which was a gym exercise in its own right, climbing all those stairs) and the gym, where we spent an hour going through the list of exercises that Chan had given us. This was made doubly tricky, because first we had to translate Australian gym machine names into American gym machine names (they are not quite the same!), and Australian kilogram untis into American pound units. So there was also a fair bit of brain exercise, as well as other parts of the body. Incidentally, we bumped into Steve and Jen in the gym as well - they had felt the need for some exercise too! Then, because we were already on deck 9, a well-earned cup of tea in the Lido afterwards.
Quiet time in our cabin followed. No more beer, no more exercise. We nearly missed the Lincoln Centre recital, and got the last 2 free seats in the auditorium. We missed the announcement of the first piece, which took most of the time, but they filled in with some Kriesler show-off pieces, "love lost", "love's joy", "Rosemarie" and "Spanish dance".
Chatted to Nathan and Lynne via Facebook Talk before changing to glad rags and heading off to the Pinnacle Grill at 2000. John had steak tartare, beef tenderloin with lobster dumplings, and creme brulee. Barb had iceberg wedge salad, beef tenderloin with lobster dumplings, and chocolate souffle. All washed down with half a bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon (+ blends) served in a beautiful decanter. You can read about it in my wine notes (yet to be transcribed).
Down to breakfast as soon as we were dressed, where we were joined by Steve and Jen. Usual jolly chat ensued. Topics ranged over GOMERs, camper vans, solar panels, wine growing, feijoas, quinces, home fruit growing and cooking, etc., etc. That was followed by coffee in the Explorations Cafe, and while John finished reading the paper, Barb went and changed some money, and booked us on a shore excursion at Uturoa, Raiatea, French Polynesia.
We lunched at the Dive-In. I have a "Jack Knife", which purported to be a Bratwurst sausage in a bun, but it was nothing more than an ordinary pork sausage. Barb had a portobello burger, but said that the portobello was more of a portopico. But we enjoyed the beers!
In the afternoon we watched DUNE on our in-room TV. Barb said it followed the book as much as she could remember, but I sruggled with the continuity a bit, as it kept jumping back and forth between the sub-plots. But it was entertaining in an action-packed sort of way, and it passed the time until 1630, when land came in sight, so we went up to the Lido to have a cup of tea, and watch the island of Oahu get closer, then the promontory of Diamond Head, and finally the city of Honolulu itself. Docked on time at 1900 when we tried calling David via the 4G signal we were now receiving from Honolulu (instead of the rubbish HAL room wifi). That was only partly successful as he was still working, and said to call back later.
Dinner with Leonard, Sheree, Chris and Kay (no sisters Kathleen and Jeanette). We left dinner early so that we could reconnect with David, which was more successful, as we did get to see David, Jemima and Hades. The others were nowhere to be seen (to be fair, Beth was still at work). Did not make much progress on debugging the chook door, which apparently has stopped working.
We had breakfast with a new couple, David and Debbie Steele from Toronto, Ontario who were good company. We do seem to be doing well with the people we meet at breakfast, as they are all most pleasant people to chat to, and we usually have a bit in common, even if it is only what cruises we have done!
Then set off to catch a bus to Diamond Head. We had some rather inconsistent advice on how best to do this, but Mr Google eventually settled the argument when we looked him up, and he said to walk up South St (at the end of the port terminal) for 14 minutes, and catch a number 2 bus, which we did, and it delivered us right to the base of Diamond Head.
Well I say, right to the base, which it would have done, except that the driver had a rest break scheduled two stops from the end, so we had to walk the last two stops! Given that it was a fair hike into the crater (via a tunnel), and then up the side of the crater, it was not much in the scheme of things. We were pleased to see that they had improved pedestrian access through the tunnel, making it one way at a time for vehicular traffic, and had widened the "sidewalk". Previuosly (4 years ago) there was nothing separating pedestrians from 2 lanes of traffic, and cars would whizz past in the semi-gloom quite frighteningly. Perhaps they had had a couple of incidents to prompt the redesign? Anyway, it was now much less stressful getting through the tunnel.
One thing we had not reckoned on (and the cruise director failed to tell us about) was the need to have reservations to enter the Park. Fortunately there was a sign at the entrance detailing what was required, and a QR code to send you straight to the reservation booking web page. The page did not say how much the reservations were, so I blindly clicked the "pay" button with fingers crossed that it was not going to fiendishly expensive (it was not - $US5.00 each)
Once inside the crater, we paused at the information centre to buy a bottle of water (it wasn't that hot, about 28C, but it was sunny, and we knew it would be hot climbing the hill, all 730 feet of it). The bottle came in handy, as we paused at convenient seats along the way to catch our breath and quench our thirst with a mouthful of water. Nearly at the top, we passed a family in some distress, as Grandpa was out of breath, and was refusing to take his mask off, despite protestations from the rest of his family. We thought nothing more of it, until later.
We did pass Steve and Jen coming down from the top, so we stopped to have a brief chat with them, as we had not seen them at breakfast. Steve, ever the comedian, offered us a puff of Ventolin at $1 a puff, but we politely declined and continued our ascent.
Well, it was worth it - as we knew from previous experience (see 2018) that it would be. A delightfully sunny day (remember the water?) and the views in every direction were spectacular. We spent about 20 minutes at the top, before decided to descend.
On the way down, we noticed a helipad, perched precariously (that phrase is just for Matt) on a ledge, and I made a mental note that I would not want to be boarding a helicopter at that location! Descending a few more steps, we noticed a helicopter descending, and blow me downdraught, it landed on the helipad we had just passed! As we were watching this and taking photos, 4 firemen carrying first aid kits and a stretcher came zooming up the path (not puffing or red-faced like we were), and joined the helicopter.
The actual landing was just out of sight from us, so we could not see what they were doing, and my first thought was that it was some sort of exercise. But then we remembered the elderly gentleman on the way up, who had had trouble breathing, and we thought of him. The helicopter took off, and landed at the bottom of the crater, where there was an ambulance waiting, so we feared that it might not have been a drill after all. We were too far away to see the detail of what happened below, but we hoped that the outcome was not serious. Good to see how quickly they responded though, and how quickly they got up and down the mountain.
At the bottom we walked back through the tunnel and down the hill to the bus stop that we would have got to bar the driver rest break earlier. We caught a number 2 bus into Waikiki (free because we didn't have the right change!) where we found the cafe at which we had had lunch in 2018. We had a pineapple smoothie each, which comes in a hollowed out pineapple, with several slices of the extracted pineapple alongside. We also shared a plate of pulled pork tacos, which we not that exciting except for the excitment of eating them without dribbling pork, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise all down one's shirt!
Then on to an Urban Outfitter's shop, where we bought John a new belt. He only brought one because of the weight restrictions on the float plane, and the one that he had was showing serious signs of wear. A spare one could prove most handy!
Then stopped by at the Maui Brewing Company where John bought a Double Overhead beer. I don't know whether it was an overhead camshaft or an overhead con-trail, but it was double bitterness at 80 IBU! Most welcome. (Barb drank water.)
Our final task was to catch a bus back to the ship. On advice, we caught a 42 (and now could pay the exact change $2.50) which dropped us at the end of the port terminal road, and soon we were back on the ship in the Ocean Bar, quaffing more beers. We felt we had earned them!
Dinner was on our own, but the waiters made up for it. First they gave us double dessert, and a free coffees, and then they presented us with a cute little pencil sketch by one of the wait staff (Joko) of the two of us! It was well done, particularly as we both thought he had managed to make us look a lot younger! After dinner, another chat with David, where we decided that what was wrong with the chook door required the removal of the side panel of the shed, an exercise best left until our return. David promised to operate the door manually until then.
We arrived in Kahului at the appointed time (0700), but because they were short staffed in the security centre in the port, there was a bit of a delay in clearing the gangway. Not that we were very fussed, as we had not booked any excursions, and only planned to walk to the shopping centre and back.
The delay was resolved by about 0930, and we disembarked the ship around 1000. The port is not really a passenger port, and we were disgorged into an industrial estate with a narrow walkway through it, that took several turns and crossed several roads, made all the more complicated by a high security chain wire fence on both sides of the 1m wide pathway!
We found our way eventually onto Queen Ka'ahumanu Avenue, and walked along it for about 1.2km until we came to the eponymously named Queen Ka'ahumanu Mall. It was much like any other mall, except that it was open air with big (waterproof) shade cloth covering the whole complex. They were holding a "job fair" in the central atrium, with a spruiker on stage calling out all the offers around the place. Not that we could understand him much - he did not know how to speak publically, and spoke to fast, and that, together with his accent, meant we caught only about every 3rd word.
We walked the four arms of the crucifix-shaped ground plan, over both floors, but did not see any exciting shops. We did go into a food-courty sort of place, where we bought two cold drinks and sat at tables while we drank them.
We did take a couple of pictures of the mountains around Kahului from the car park top floor, and then headed back to the ship, arriving in time to collect some lunch from the Lido. In the afternoon, we watched a James Bond movie "No Time To Die" starring Daniel Craig as JB007, amd then did a bit of blogging until dinner. There were 6 of us there, missing the two sisters Kathleen and Jennifer, but the rest of us had a good chat.
Had a little glitch this morning with our tea order. 0700 came and went, and no tea tray. 0715 passed, and we started to worry. But just then, we had a phone call from room service to ask "When would you like your tea delivered?" Apparently, Barb forgot to put the time on the order card last night! So I said, "as soon as possible, please", and withing 5 minutes, it arrived. We checked the card, and yes, there were no bananas (or delivery time, either).
We had breakfast with Bernie and Denise, from Maroopna, whom we met earlier, and a new couple, John and ? from Manchester. We talked about how Maroopna had been cut off by the floods, and Bernie said their house was OK, but his son's house was in trouble, and had moved into Bernie and Denise's house for security. All a bit scary! On the other hand, the two John's talked about Manchester, and how it had changed since we were there in 1980. Explorations Cafe for coffee afterwards.
It was a tender port, and as 5-star mariners, we did not need tender tickets, but just walked straight through the queue of people waiting. A short tender ride to the wharf, and we started walking along the main street. There were a few coffee shops, but nothing took our fancy until we got to the Kona Inn, which was more of a shopping centre than a pub per se. Most of the shops were junk, but one called Buba and Finn's caught our eye. We decided to try their shakes, and John ordered a Dragon Fruit one (very pink), and Barb a Mango one (not pink). They proved very welcome, and much better than a cup of coffee, as it was warm and very humid. Bumped into Steve and Jen as we were leaving.
From the ship we had seen a big hotel complex on the shore, and John thought it might be the hotel he stayed in for the IFIP conference he went to here on Kona in 1989. So we decided to walk to it to check it out. It was a kilometre or two along the foreshore, but barring the humidity, it was a pleasant enough walk. We stopped at a local market to check that out, and Barb briefly toyed with the idea of buying a new hat, but all the ones they had were too big, so no new hat.
The hotel did look very familiar, as it had a large open air undercroft, and a bit restauranty space under it. Our initial thought was that it was the place, but when we got back to the ship and looked up the photos from 1989, it was definitely not the right architecture. We did spot another similar structure along the coast, but as it was at least another 2 kms along, it would have been out of the question to walk to it. We were exhausted and hot enough as it was.
Back to the ship via tender and in time for lunch at the Lido. Then a quiet afternoon doing internetty things while we had a T-Mobile connection for the phone, and an Optus Roaming connection.
In the evening we did Rudi's Sel de Mer ("salt of the sea"). I had thought it was going to be a bit like a sommelier's dinner, but it was really more like a regular Pinnacle dinner, but with a strong seafood orientation. But the service let it down badly. It was very slow, and although we had arrived at the appointed time (2000), we did not get our first course until 2055. We had ordered a bottle of wine, but it arrived thoroughly chilled, to which we complained, but there was not much alternative. There was a big delay there, as they insisted our glasses were "red" glasses, and needed to be swapped, but the "white" glasses took at least 15 minutes to arrive.
Eventually the first course arrived: John had "Seafood Tower", and Barb had Marseille Buiabasse. Barb got the best of the deal. The Seafood Tower was more of a gimmick, with three nesting glasses, each with one component of seafood. The smallest on top was the octopus (two tentacles), the middle one was prawn (three squibby prawns), and the bottom one was crab meat. There was a reasonable amount of crab meat, all mushed up in a mayonaisse, but what let the whole thing down was each was on a bed of very limp lettuce, made to bulk it up, but having the opposite effect of making the seafood look inconsequential.
The chef came around to each table, and made the mistake of stopping by to ask us how things were going. Instead of him serving us, we gave him a serve instead. He looked a bit shattered, and clearly did not know what to say, but he did mumble some apology and said he would investigate. So far, no evidence of that.
But maybe something did happen, because things improved after that. John's Dover Sole Meuniere was deftly deboned by Troy at the table, and Barb had Blue Marlin which she said was very nice. Dessert was Crepes Suzette for John, not quite flambed, but drenched in a lovely light caramel sauce, and Barb had Tarte Tatine, also much appreciated. We had coffee to follow, but in a reversal of our usual proclivities, John had a cappucino and Barb an espresso! Then to bed, but we did get up to see Kileuea at night emitting a distant red glow into the night sky..
We ordered a full in-room breakfast this morning, as we needed to be away early. John had Raisin Bran and yoghurt, followed by a Bagel with Smoked Salmon, as well as the usual cup of tea. Barb had Passionfruit Yoghurt, but there was no passionfruit in it!
The reason we were up early was that we were meeting Steve and Jen at 0800 to disembark and hire a car to drive over to sight-see the volcanos. We caught a mini bus shuttle to the airport, where one could hire cars, and then so ensconced, to the Volcano Highway to get out to the Hawaiian Volcanos National Park.
We chatted along the way, which was relatively monotonous (the way, not the chat!). Lots of rainforest, with bamboos and tree ferns being the obvious plants. It was about 22 miles to the Volcano Visitor Centre, which was our first stop. We listened to the Park Ranger give a short spiel, and set off for a walk to see the Kilauea eruption. For the New Zealanders, it was a bit boring too. A few fumaroles emitting steam, and a large expanse of solidified lava. The scale of the crater was perhaps the most striking thing.
We walked around to a few different vantage points, but the view was much the same. A drive around to the other side of the crater did not reveal any new surprises, other than a few more fumaroles. So then we went back to the car and drove on to the Thurston Lava Tube. A bit of a walk (downhill then uphill!) to get to the entrance, and we passed Chris and Kaye, Len and Sheree on our way. The tube was large enough to stand upright in, not not that well light, and our phone torches did little to brighten it up. I did try to get a photo of it, but somehow my camera was on manual and the two pictures I took were very underexposed (i.e., black). It was reasonably impressive, but we hurried through simply because there was not much to see! Then a fair walk back retracing our steps, as it had been a fair walk there, when anticipation had been a much stronger motive than reflection was on departing.
After the lava tube, we followed the Chain of Craters road, stopping at several craters and lava flows to take photos. We followed the road all the way to the coast, where we saw how much extra land had been created by the volcano since John's visit in 1989. I think we all found that spectacle much more impressive than the craters and lava tubes!
At the very end of the road, there was a 400m walk to see the Holei Arch, a natural bridge formed out of lava flows and akin to the old "London Bridge" on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Not quite as impressive as London Bridge and impossible to get to, but at least it was still standing.
Then it was time to head back. We stopped at Volcano Village, looking for some lunch, and we were all dying for a beer. We found an unpretentious cafe and bar called the Thai Thai Restaurant, and we had spring rolls and papaya salad, washed down with our own choice of various beers. Very enjoyable!
There was a slight navigational issue on the way back. Jen wanted to detour to see the Rainbow Waterfall, but the rest of us were more nervous about getting back to the ship. The latter opinion won the day, which was just as well, as we had difficulty in finding a petrol station that would take foreign credit cards (some sort of security issue?) But after two false starts, we did find one that had a cashier in attendance, who was able to authorize the credit card and we filled up, before returning the car at the airport, where we had to wait for the shuttle to get us back to the ship.
While waiting for the shuttle to arrive, John had a win. A couple of girls walked past, and one said as she walked past "here, have this, 'cos I can't take it on the flight" and handed me an unopened can of Hilo beer. It was slightly warm, but very drinkable nevertheless, and the others were all very jealous of my fortune.
The beer was quaffed as the shuttle arrived, and it was a quick trip back to the port terminal and reboarding at about 1645. Then a quiet time in the cabin until 1900, when we went down to the ocean bar for a Mai Tai (Barb) and a Kilt Lifter (John), and chatted to a couple Fred and Jennifer from Texas until dinner time.
Dinner was the usual 6. John had French Onion Soup followed by Chicken Schnitzel (very filling!), and then a cheese board for afters. Again, backwards coffee, John with latte and Barb with double espresso.
The first of another string of 5 sea days, because we are no longer calling at Christmas Island (Kiribati) due to some HAL stuff-up. This morning we also received a letter saying that our kayaking shore excursion at Raiatea has been cancelled, so that makes 4 of our planned excursions cancelled!
Tea at 0700, followed by breakfast in the dining room, and joined by Steve and Jen. Then coffee in Explorations, blogging and email in our cabin, lunch in the Lido at 1215, and then to the Lincoln Centre Stage at 1330 for a recital by at last the quartet, as their cellist had joined them in Honolulu. We heard a delightful piece by Schumann, and it was particularly good to have the cellist with us, as the last movement of the sonata has a very tuneful cello melody.
We listened to the very end it was so good, and as a consequence, were late for the wine tasting at 1400. This was a 5-star mariner event, put on by the ship's cellar master Rodel. We shared a table with Chris and Kaye, and had 4 wines to taste (not counting the glass of champagne on arrival); A Californian rose "Sunny with a Chance of Flowers" (yuk. I gave it 1 out of 10); Chardonnay Deakin (3.5); Grand Barossa Shiraz (8); and Sonoma Zinfandel (6.5). The middle two were Australian, the other two Californian.
Rodel gave us a bit of a spiel about tasting: what to look for, what flavours, the meaning of its colour, and so on, before describing each wine in more detail and inviting us to taste it. He ran it as a fairly interactive session, asking questions about how we had interpreted his commentary in the light of each wine. I did have an argument with him when he said that screw cap wines did not mature in the bottle - I pointed out that I had many screw caps in my cellar, and they aged just as well (if not better - less spoilage) as the cork bottled wines. Ah well, "chacun a son gout" as they say.
Then to our cabin for afternoon siesta, aided and abetted by wine at lunch time :-) At 1700, we decided to watch a film. On a whim, we elected to watch "It happened one night", a 1934 film starring Clark Gable and Claudia Colbert. It was in the comedy section, but I would have classed it more as a romance. We watched it to the sweet end (not bitter!) and decided that we never will need to watch it again.
Then it was time for dinner, or almost. We went and sat in the Ocean Bar for a few minutes, but did not have a drink, as we knew we needed to properly address the non-chilled bottle of Oberon Sav Blanc that we had discussed with the Cellar Master earlier.
Dinner was the usual 6. I think we have seen the last of Kathleen and Jennifer. Their "better offer" has clearly come to fruition, and we have not heard a peep from them since. But we enjoyed each other's company, and had the usual chatty dinner, talking about the day's events, not to mention other events from the distant past. John had a prawn cocktail, surf and turf, and creme brulee. Barb had a date and goat cheese salad, Sea Bass, and a cheese board.
We had a choice of the Oberon Sav Blancs, which we had had in the Sel de Mer dinner the other night, and which I had raised the issue of the serving temperature with Rodel, the cellar master at the wine tasting. It was interesting, as when we had it in the Pinnacle, they said there was only one bottle left, and that was presumably a 2014 vintage, same as the one we had had. Here we were presented with 2 bottles - one "semi-chilled", the other room temperature, and both 2017 vintage! Cannot trust HAL at all. We chose the room temperature one, but something in between would have been better. However, having made a fuss about it all, we decided not to rock the boat any more, and drank about 3/4 of it over dinner. It was fine. Then to bed.
We joined Larry and Lorelle from San Diego at breakfast, and had a pleasant time chatting with them. John proved to be both invisible and inaudible as far as the waiter was concerned, though. First he omitted tp collect my order, and walked away from the table once he had Barb's order. I had difficult in attracting his attention again. Then he misheard my request for "raisin bran" and brought instead a "raisin bun". Again, difficult in flagging him down to correct the error. Not that it mattered. The hot course arrived before any sighting of the raisin bran, and when the raisin bran did arrive, I was well into the pancakes and no longer felt in a raisin bran mood.
We chatted on nevertheless with Larry and Lorelle and enjoyed meeting them. After breakfast, we repaired to Explorations Cafe for proper coffee, and managed to secure said coffee in ceramic mugs. The key word was ceramic - previously we had been unable to get coffee in anything but take away cups, or small china cups. Asking for mugs had had no effect. One has to ask for ceramic mugs!
Today was a gym day. We went up to the gym on level 9. We decided that just walking up the stairs from deck 5 to deck 9 was enough of a warm up session! We worked our way through all the exercises that Chan had laid out for us, including a couple that he hadn't, and it was not until 1115 that we finished. Barb went up to the Crow's Nest on the rumour that we had heard that there were books up there. She found that there were, but only big picture boots, or books in foreign languages, neither of which really met the need.
Then to the Lido for lunch, as we had decided to go to the recital at 1330. Now that the cellist has joined them, they are putting on 2 recitals a day, and this first one was a Mozart sonata, I think the one they had planned to do between San Diego and Honolulu - if they had had a cellist! I think they played better now that they are a full quartet.
Then back to our cabin, where we somehow managed to kill time until 1700. It is not clear to me how time passes on board ship. Sometimes it seems to go faster, whether that is because there are none of the usual time markers (for example, we usually have the radio on at home, so we hear the time calls), or whether it is in spite of the lack of time markers I am not sure. There are regular punctuations of the day - for example, the captain gives a PA announcement at noon each day, telling us about the weather, the ship's position, speed, etc.. But on sea days there is a certain sameness to every hour of the day - the sea looks the same, and it goes past the windows at the same rate all the time, the ship rocks gently from side to side, etc.. Maybe that's it? We get put to sleep without knowing it, and consequently time passes quickly. Other theories, anyone?
At 1700 we decided to watch another movie: Spectre, a James Bond film, and in fact the immediate predecessor to No Time to Die, which we watched the other day. We clearly should have watched them in the reverse order, because much of the plot evolved in that order, and we sort of knew the outcomes of each little twist in the tale that we watched.
Nevermind, it made the time progress even faster, and it was soon time for the second recital of the day. The program here was an all-American composer list, and had some quite lively and vivacious music: Copland's Rodeo; Dave Brubeck's Blue Grass Rondo a la Turque; Leonard Bernstein's Mambo from West Side Story; and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Foot tappers, the lot of them, and very enjoyable.
Then a drink in the Ocean Bar, and dinner. Given that we had lost 2 of our company, the others had organized two of the chairs at the table to be removed, so it was now just a six-person table, and we all had a bit more room to be comfortable. We chose a Chilean red wine from our package, but it turned out that the cellar had run out of that label, so we chose an alternative that Len and Chris had been selecting, and commented that it was a Chilean wine that had some good characteristics. Once I had tasted it however, I was not quite so impressed - the transition from middle to back palate was a bit abrubt, and detracted from the balance of the wine. But it was quite drinkable, nevertheless.
This morning at breakfast we shared a table with Alan and Kathy from Kansas City. Alan had a PhD in agricultural economics (the first PhD I have met on board), and he and Kathy had done a lot of cruising, including to Australia. Alan said he had done a sabbatical at an agricultural college in Oz, but he could not remember where! After some prompting from me, he recalled that it must have been UNE at Armidale, especially after I pointed out that I had done an ACS Accreditation Visit there, and had seen at first hand some of the argicultural research being undertaken there.
Explorations, of course, and then we tried to lodge our passports with the ship, as passports were required to visit French Polynesia. But the queues were long, and took some time to diminish, so Barb had to pop back and forth to check on the queue length. At least the lodgement desks were set up on each deck, so no more stair climbing was involved. Remember what I said about out principle of no use of the lifts? My spreadsheet now says that we have climbed 187 floors since embarkation (and descended the same number). Not sure whether we are getting better or worse for the effort?
Lunch in the Lido, followed by the 1330 recital in the Lincoln Centrem where we heard a most stirring piano quartet by Brahms, full of fire and romantic melodies. I think it was in G Minor, must look it up when we get home. Definitely worth another listen.
But I had to leave as soon as it was finished, because it went until 1410, and I wanted to hear the talk by the chief engineer in the showroom. I belted from the Lincoln Centre to the showroom, almost the full length of the ship, as quickly as possible, and was in time to hear about half of his talk, which was actually an interview with Jordan, the cruise director. But there was a Q&A session afterwards, which was probably more interesting. Lots of semi-technical questions like "How much fuel does the ship carry?" (A:64,000 metric tonnes), "How far will that take us?" (A:10,000 nautical miles), "What is the draft of the ship?" (A:8m), etc. But I drew a laugh with my question: "What has been your most embarassing moment as Chief Engineer?". (A: failing my promotion)
We watched "Three Coins in a Fountain", a classic film from the 50s, made famous by its eponymous theme music and song. I don't know that it had much else to recommend it, as the story line was quite vacuous, but the scenery of Rome did make it into one of those "We've been there!" episodes of some note.
Dinner with the usual 6. John had French Onion Soup, followed by Lasagna (not as good as Beth's homemade one), and Cheese Board. It was notable, as 5 of us all had the cheese board, Sheree (who is lactose intolerant) was the odd one out. She was quite miffed, as she said she loved cheese, but was no longer able to eat it.
At breakfast we were seated at a 6-seater table, with 3 other guests: Lloyd, Patricia and Mavis, all from Cornwall. We swapped stories about life in the UK, but we had to abruptly change the subject when I asked "Whom do you think will be the next Prime Minister?" and Mavis answered "We hope it will be Boris"!
In the Explorations Cafe, I asked if they could do a machiato, to which they expressed not coffee, but ignorance. So I patiently explained how to make one, and to their credit, elected to take it on. I have to say that the result was not bad, although it did have a little too much staining with milk. It was very hot like a long black, and thanks to the froth covering, it took log time to drink it.
Then to the Gym. We tackled some new exercises which we had not previously tried, and struggled with a) identifying the appropriate machines, and b) just what weights we should use, given the difficult we had converting between kilos and pounds, and then back again. This came to a head when we tried to do the shoulder press. There was no machine to do that, so we tried with Chan's suggestion of using dumbells, but we came to the conclusion that either he had suggested the wrong weights, or that the weights do not translate accurately from machine to dumbell. I started with a 25 pound weight in both hands (approx 10 kilos), but that proved impossible to do. One theory was that because the ship was rolling quite significantly, it put added effort into keeping the weights and arms upright. but I'm not sure that would have accounted for the gross discrepancy between what we remember on the machines, and what we experienced with the dumbells.
I think whatever the reason, we overexerted ourselves, and now I am carrying a sore neck, due to possibly stretching a tendon in the shoulder while shoulder pressing 25 pounds. Whatever. Steve and Jen were in the gym while we were there, and we swapped gym stories with them. Turns out that Jen was a competition swimmer in her day, but after dislocating a knee, retired from competition.
Al lunch we bumped into Steve and Jen again, and shared a table with them, while we carried on the conversations started in the gym.
Straight after lunch we went to a "Port Talk", this time on French Polynesia by Jordan, who took us through Bora Bora, Uturoa, Moorea, Papeete. Interesting, she spent some time promoting the kayaking trip on the Faaroa River in Uturoa - the very shore excursion that we had booked, but which had been cancelled due to "operational reasons". So if "operational reasons" were the reason it was cancelled, why was it still operating? Not impressed, HAL.
After the talk, we retired again to our cabin, where we watched another movie "The Holiday", which was about two women whose love lives fell apart, and agreed to swap houses for two weeks as a getaway from men and their miseries, only to discover new men in their lives that led to, you guessed it, a "happy ever after" ending. It was actually more entertaining than my prosaic description suggests, and we both thought it the best of the romantic comedies we have so far watched.
There were no recitals today as the string quartet had other commitments, so we relaxed until dinner time, and joined "the usual 6" at dinner. The table is a lot more intimate now that 2 chairs have been removed, and we feel that everyone can now be part of the conversation, particularly where previously they had been sitting next to the empty chairs. Barb did not eat anything tonight, as she was complaining of diverticulitis-like symptoms, and only drank water. John had steak tartare (not as good as in the Pinnacle), sweet and sour pork (I've had better), and a raspberry mousse, which came out in the form of a long pink sausage-like "thing", which tasted much better than it sounds. You can see a picture of it at my pink sausage thing.
Missed breakfast in the dining room, as Barb was still not feeling well. John went up to the Lido instead for breakfast, and restrained himself to a plate of smoked salmon and cold meats. Then we both went down (somewhat earlier than usual) to the Explorations Cafe for coffee. Then we retired back to our cabin so Barb could rest.
At 1105, John went up to the Lido deck to see what was happening with the "Crossing the Equator" ceremony (1.5 days late!). Couldn't see much because of the crowds, so went up to deck 10, where the crowds were thinner, and it was a better vantage point. Watched 10 minutes of the malarking around, then went into the Crow's Nest to look at the view forward. Bumped into Steve, and shouted him a beer while we admired the view. We were joined by Jen once the Neptune tomfoolery was over, and we finished our beers. Then back to join Barb in the cabin.
After lunch in the Lido, back to the cabin, where we watched The Mountain Between Us, starring Kate Winslett and Idris Elba as two strangers who survive a light plane crash high in the mountains in the snowy Rockies, and who successfully navigate their way down the mountains and out into civilastion, only to fall in love, and then turn their backs on all the plans they had made. Quite moving, really.
Then dinner in the dining room with "Les Six".
Barb still not well, so John dined alone again in the Lido, but was joined in the Explorations Cafe by Barb for a coffee We had a shore excursion booked for 1230, so our plan was to go ashore before 1000, and explore a bit of the town. It was a tender port, so we planned to take all our swimming gear with us as we stooged around to avoid having to return to get it. We walked up and down the main street, but there were NO cafes open anywhere! We did find a supermarket that was frantically busy, but we could not buy anything because they would not take our credit card. Duh.
We did hear some beautiful singing at one spot as we walked along the road, so we investigated, and found a rather large church tucked away half a block from the main road. John recorded the singing on his smartphone, and it was quite heartwarming, not only for the singing, but also the little kids frolicing around at the back of the church while all this was going on.
At 12ish, we repaired to the wharfside to pick up our shore excursion, which no, was NOT cancelled, but it was postponed! To 1300, not 1230. So a bit more twiddling of the thumbs until 1300, when we did actually board a boat, and sailed away out to the reef, out past the island Mauaohunoa to the other side (where it was still protected by the atoll) and dropped anchor in the shallows. Kitted up with a mask and snorkel, we jumped into the water (only 5 feet deep) and swam around. Before too long, I saw a few sharks (black tipped reef sharks, quite harmless), but Barb didn't see any, in spite of them swimming past her a couple of time. It wasn't until she went to get back on the boat that she saw any, and then 4 showed up all around her! She was quite impressed, as were most of us. But we did not see any rays.
The up with the anchor, and we moved on to another spot, this time a little deeper, and on entering the water, we were able to see corals in every direction. The corals themselves were not as good as the Great Barrier Reef corals, but they were full of brightly coloured tropical fish. We spent nearly an hour there looking at the miriads of underwater structures, and their inhabitants.
Weighing anchor again, we went back to the harbour, this time around the other side of the island, and were delighted to see a pod of dolphins frolicking inside the lagoon. There must have been at least a dozen of them, and the driver stopped the boat so that we could all get a better look at them. Unfortunately, I had only my phone with me to take pictures, and that just was not up to the job of capturing these elegant creatures as they looped out of the water. But I do have the memories.
Back to the wharf, and straightway transferred to a tender and back to the ship. After a welcome shower to rid ourselves of the salt water and wash the bathers a bit, we went up to the Crows Nest, and enjoyed a drink while chatting to Richard from Ohio, Tricia from Florida, and Gail from the Gold Coast (whom we met a few nights ago with Steve and Jen). Then it was dinner time. Barb still not eating, but did join in the conversation, and did comment that the swimming had eased her pain significantly, so we are hoping that tomorrow will be more improvement.
Barb feeling better. so back to dining room breakfast. Seated with Evelyn and Richard, whom we met last night in the Crows Nest. As he said, what are the chances of that? I'm tempted to say 1 in 1600, but I'm no statistician!
Went ashore at about 1020, and asked at the Tourism Office for a map, saying that we wanted to walk up the mountain (Tapoio). She told us that the track was closed and had been for the last 4 years! Another triump for the misinformation peddled by Jordan, who seems to do absolutely no homework at all about the things to see and do in each port.
So with that shore excursion also cancelled, we asked where we could walk! She said "go out to the main road, and turn right" - except that she pointed left! On asking for clarification, she said words to the effect of "oh, the other left"!!
So we went the other left, and walked for several kilometres towards the airport, nearly getting to see it, except for the fact that the walking track marked on our map was closed:: Yet another triumph of HAL shore excursion cancellations! So at that point we turned around and walked back to the ship. But it was a worthy junket, as we clocked up 10,000 steps as we climbed the steps to our cabin.
Oh, and John's card refused to scan on re-entry, and the scanning clerk suggested we go to guest sevices to get a new card. Since we were on deck 0 (HAL calls it "deck A", but they are clearly not computer scientists), it was an easy jump to guest services, where a new card was issued on the spot. Clearly it is something they have to do fairly frequently.
Lunch in the Lido, and a beer was in order to reward myself (Barb just had lemonade). We met up with Jen and Steve, at which Jen confessed that she had overcharged us for the Hilo trip, and apologised most profusely (and Unnecessarily, as we thought it was a great gesture on their part to invite us along).
Then to our cabin, where we watched another movie "Saint Judy", all about an American lawyer who took up the case of an Afghan refugee seeking asylum in the US. The case came down to the interpretation of refugees being "under persecution for their beliefs", and the US state argued that she was persecuted because she was a woman - to which Saint Judy retorted that being a woman was not a political or religious belief! She won the case, and the US law was changed to reflect the fact that some fanatical groups (Taliban) persecute women because they are women. Not much has changed since, has it?
Then up to decks 10 and 11 to watched the Uturoa sail away, and some "scenic cruising" through the atolls that surround Raiatea. This incolved some pretty fancy navigation through the deep water channels, and we took lots of photos to show how shallow the atolls were. Then to the Crows Nest for a drink until 1900, when we retired to our cabin to prepare for dinner.
Dinner with the usual, and Barb started to eat a bit more at dinner. I had sweet corn soup (OK), and Blackened Mahi Mahi (very nice), followed by creme caramel. The usual chattiness, but we were not the last to leave tonight - two other tables were still seated when we broke up. We will have to lift our game tomorrow!
No breakfast this morning, as Barb had booked an excursion late yesterday, and HAL did not have enough time to cancel it, so off we went on the excursion. Encountered Len and Sheree there, who had only booked the excursion on a similar last-minute whim.
It was a slightly bumpy ride in the tender, as we had to cross the navigation channel, and the seas were running a bit high. But we were soon on the Moorea excursion boat and headed off to look firstly at the impressive valley in which the Noordam was moored.
Then to a different spot to the west (? check) of the town, where it was quite shallow, and the boat anchored so that we could all go for a swim. Here there were sting rays aplenty, swimming all around us, and one could reach out and touch them. Their skin was beautifully soft and smooth, but we were warned not to attempt to touch their undersides, as that was where the moth was, and apparently they can inflict a nasty bite. They are called sting rays, but the sting is not harmful to humans (?), so no danger of doing a Steve Irwin! Took a few pictures of Barb touching one.
Then back into the boat, where we motored on to a motu, or island, where lunch was cooking. We were caught in a rain squall as we went, and I think they cut short our time in the water because of the approaching rain. But the rain had stopped by the time we reached the island, so we had time to sit around and chat. We shared a table with Len and Sheree, and chatted away until there was demonstration of how to make poisson cru by one of the crew. He was a bit of a joker, and toyed with the audience as to what happened next, throwing in a lot of jesting comments to keep us all laughing along with him.
Then lunch. It was quite impressive, with salads, barbequed chicken, sausages and tuna, along with slabs of poisson cru (yum!), and cans of soft drink (beer would have been better!) It was all good fun, and we were entertained while eating by a 3-man band of ukuleles and rubbish bin cello (literally: an upturned rubbish bin with a string in the middle tied to a pole, and plucked along to provide a double-bass style foundation!)
After lunch there was an opportunity to swim in the lagoon, but we did not take it, preferring to just sit around enjoying the atmosphere. We had about an hour or so of this, but the fact that the ukuleles kept playing started to grate a little after a while, and we were keen to get going by this stage.
Get going we did about 3pm, and we sailed straight into a rather short but fiece rain squall! We could see the thunder clouds forming, and then the winds hit us, followed by very cold, sharp, rain, and everyone immediately dived under their towels for protection. I managed to snap a photo of everyone hiding, but at some peril to my smartphone, I have to say. The rain was that fierce and driving that anything in the open just got wet.
But it was over quickly, and we were soon back at Bahia d'Opunoha. The ukuleles struck up with You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine, which was quickly taken up by the assembled wet throng, amid much laughter and chattering (of teeth?)
A short tender ride back to the ship, and we retired to the Crow's Nest for that aforementioned beer, along with Len, and later, Kaye and Chris. Then it was time for dinner and the usual reflections on the day's activities.
While at dinner, we docked in Papeete, but we were having too much fun on board to worry about that!
A very still night, as we were safely in the port of Papeete. On looking around, we could hardly recognize anything we had seen ten years ago, as there had been significant development around the place. Access to the town from the ship was a bit circuitous, as there was a high rise building of some sort going up right at the land side of the wharf at which we were docked. We did go ashore after breakfast, and wandered around the town centre, looking at the various shops. About the only thing we recognized was the Avis Rent-a-Car site, where we hired and returned the car we had on the island post-Aranui.
We did find the market, and that was also a bit more familiar. We found a bar (Cafe Maeva) on the first floor of the market and ordered a coffee (Barb) and a beer (John), neither of which was all that exciting. But they did give as a chance to sit down, and start talking to a French couple from Normandie, who were holidaying in Tahiti. The conversation was a bit funny - we talked to them in French, they talked to us in English! I think they won. They had some beautiful underwater photos of rays, sharks, dolphins, and even a whale! I think both sides enjoyed the challenge of the conversation.
Then back to the ship for lunch. Well, Barb did not feel like lunch - although she said that her diverticulitis was better, she had developed a bit of a pain lower down the abdomen, and thought that 3 days of not eating any solid food might be responsible. So John went up to the Lido Poolside for a Dive-In Dog and a beer by himself.
A quiet time in the cabin followed, with reading. John tackled the Gustave Eiffel biography, and read all about Eiffel's entanglement with the building of the Panama Canal (French version). We did spend some time watching the crew of the superyacht Lonian replace the liferafts on the yacht, and when they had finished that, or it got boring, perhaps even both, we went up to the Crow's Nest for a beer, where we met Len, then later Kaye and Chris (yes, same as yesterday!) and had a beer and a yak together until 6, by which stage we had left Papeete.
We watched a short documentary on the building of the Panama Canal (American version), which told quite a different story to that which John had just read, and when that had finished, it was time for dinner. (Insert usual bits here.) John had a "beet cured salmon", and "pork medallions with brussel sprouts". He chose the latter because of the brussel sprouts, but when the dish arrived, it had exactly one brussel sprout, cut in half! No matter, it was the least exciting component on the plate, and the rest of it was quite good, particularly the sweet potato mash. He followed it with a cheesecake, which wasn't a cheesecake, but was more of a lemon mousse. Ah well.
We went to the gym straight after the coffee, and tackled the various exercises in the context of a heaving ship. Being right at the front of the ship exacerbated the pitching motion, which meant one had to time the lifting of weights with the pitching down of the ship, otherwise you had to cope with the added inertial forces. Chan had lightened the suggested weights, which was welcome, but we still tried to do something approaching our regular regime, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.
From gym we went straight to the talk on Rarotonga, and were surprised to discover that the "world stage" was quite packed out, to the point where people were sitting in the aisles. We sat right up the back, and could not see much of the accompanying slides, and only snippets of the talk, but decided that there was not much that was going to attract our attention. There was a short walk to a waterfall which sounded nice, but it required a 20 minute (?) bus ride for which we had to pay cash money in either Cook Island or New Zealand dollars, neither of which we had, so it got shuffled to a low priority. All academic anyway, as it turned out.
Lunch at the Lido, where we met Allison from Mansfield, and had a pleasant chat with her. She was a farmer, but fortunately had been spared the worst of the floods.
At 1400, we decided to scratch the afternoon, and watch the movie The Da Vinci Code, which John had seen before, but not Barb. It was 3 hours long, so it did need a solid commitment to watch it. And watch it we did, with a couple of comfort stops in the middle (no ad breaks!). Barb thought it did follow the book reasonably accurately, but John was not so sure. Whether he was not sure that it followed the book accurately, or whether he was not sure whether he was not sure, he was not sure. Maybe it is time to read the book again? I'm not s...
Talked to Nathan and Lynne at 1830. We were supposed to talk to them yesterday, but clean forgot, thanks to Panama. Fortunately they were home and semi-expecting us, so we had time for an hour's chat, before it was time to ready for dinner.
There were two novelties to tonight's dinner. The first was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, occasioned by its listing on the Gala Night menu, and the fact that we were between wine packages. It was beautiful!
The second novelty was John's demonstration of how he taught his grandchildren to eat spaghetti. Well, actually, fettucine in this case, and a very nice fettucine frutti de mare. But the demonstration consisted of placing one piece of a fettucine strand in one's mouth, and then winding one's ears on each suck of the strand. A big favourite with grandchildren, and quite amusing to watch for adults as well. Then a chance remark by Chris about keeping the strand out of one's beard prompted a variation on this theme, by treating the beard as a lever (or string pull) rather than a winder for each suck on the strand. Not only did it bring the table to complete laughter, but it also spilled over (the laughter, not the fettucine) onto neighbouring tables. This had the subsequent consequence that when we were breaking up at the end of the meal, a woman from one of those neighbouring tables came over to congratulate us on our very happy mood. We promptly invited her and her partner to join us at our table tomorrow night, to which she responded with enthusiasm! So could be interesting tomorrow!
Oh, and by the way, John had crab and scallop cerviche as well as the fettucine, and then a wonderful (dark) chocolatey Italian dessert called Gianduiotto ("G-an-dwee-otto"). It was the Italian version of "death by chocolate". Barb had Roasted Celeriac Pecorino Soup, Grilled Shrimp Provencal and the Gianduiotto.
To breakfast in the dining room, where we shared a table with Frank and Yurgen (?), from North Melbourne. She (not sure we caught her name correctly) was from Normandie originally, and still had quite a French accent. So we talked a bit about our French experiences.
While chatting away with them, the captain came over the tannoy to announce that he was cancelling the tenders to the island, because of the swell (2m, he said), which meant that waves were breaking over the landing platform on deck B, and it was unsafe not only for passengers and crew, but also the equipment, particularly the lifeboats, as damage to one of them could compromise the emergency capabilities of the ship.
The cpatain consoled us with "scenic cruising", meaning that we would do a circumnavigation of the island, so that people could see all the things that they would be missing. Not sure that that was really much consolation!
And indeed, when we went up to the Explorations Cafe, we were joined by Steve and Jen, who had organized a car to drive around the island, and stop at a resort for lunch - so they were quite disappointed to miss out.
We watched as the ship circumnavigated Rarotonga, and then headed off towards Tonga. Then followed some catch-up computing and reading in the cabin, before John decided we should have "elevenses", so we went down to the explorations Cafe again, and then decided that we should do some exercise, so we walked around deck 3 three times (= 1 mile) and then went to lunch in the dining room, where we had a pleasant chat with a Canadian from Calgary (didn't catch his name), and a couple from Florida.
After lunch we watched another movie - this time Falling for Figaro, with Joanna Lumley as a very idiosyncratic bitchy opera voice teacher, and Hugh Skinner and Danielle Mcdonald in the male and female lead parts. Lovely music, accompanied by beautiful Scottish Highland scenery. Enjoyed this film very much.
Cup of tea at the Lido Deck, then to the Crows Nest (since that was only 1 deck up at the time, and we are avoiding strair climbing a bit!) where we met Chris, Len, Kaye (in that order), and enjoyed a few beers.
Relaxed until dinner time. The two people whom we had invited to join us, didn't. Well, Lynne did, but only to tell us that Russ had hurt his leg, and his mobility was too impaired to make it to dinner. So we were back to our usual 6, and our usual fun and laughter. John had a very nice salmon rosette with caviar, followed by tandoori chicken (OK) and cheeseboard. Barb had samosas, tandoori chicken, and carrot cake. All the women had the carrot cake, and they all agreed it was very good. We also started our second wine package, Cellar No. 2, with a bottle of Sav Blan from Marlborough, NZ. OK, but they served it too cold again.
Clocks back an hour last night, so we had the usual hassle of adjusting all our clocks on cameras, watches, laptops, phone and tablets (did I miss anything?) We passed our sister ship Zuiderdam travelling east at 8am, to the accompaniment of much Horatio Hornblower-ing! Because of the extra hour's sleep, the dining room was full this morning, and we had to share a table of 10 (!) But it was OK. I sat next to a woman from Boston (but born in Montreal) called Louise, and she was pleasant company.
Did the usual Explorations Cafe, then John retired to the cabin to catch up on various computing tasks (blog, photos, time zone updates, etc.) We decided to skip lunch on account of the relatively late breakfast and early (and comprehensive) dinner. Barb went to the Port Talk on Tonga, but came back early as the theatre was packed out again, and it was only Jordan with her usual misinformation.
We watched Romancing the Stone in the afternoon, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, which was quite fun. Then it was time to get ready for our Cellar Master's Dinner, which started at 1730. We were joined by Len and Sheree, Chris and Kay, and each of us had a vast array of glasses in front of us at the table. Here is a summary of the dinner events:
Note that there was no 30 October, as we crossed the dateline and jumped straight to 31 October - Halloween!
Awoke with a sore tooth, the rear lower right molar that has been giving trouble. I do hope it clears up by itself, as it is going to be difficult otherwise!
Had breakfast with Steve and Jen, who gave me $A50 which she said was the refund for the Hilo trip. I protested, and said that it was not necessary, but she insisted. So at least I have some cash money when we reach Brisbane!
Explorations Cafe, and then quiet time in the cabin, doing housekeeping things on the computer. Barb wanted a hamburger, so we went up to the Lido Deck for a Dive-In hamburger and hot dog, accompanied by a beer each. A short digression late in the afternoon to the shops to see if they had any pain killers for my tooth. They had, but it was for children! Ah well, might as well try it!
Then down to the Lincoln Centre to hear the quartet play a sonata by Schumann, which ran ever so slightly overtime, so we had to dash to the World Stage to hear a naturalist Leah talk about flora and fauna on New Caledonia,
Then back to the cabin to watch a movie, The Great Alaskan Race with Brian Presley as Leonhard Seppala, Treat Williams as Dr.Welch. It was OK, but more of a documentary than a plot-laden action movie. Based on a true story, it details the events leading up to a diphtheria outbreak in the remote village of Nome, and the efforts by dog teams to bring in a vaccination serum in time to save many Inuit children in the village.
After the movie off to the Lincoln Centre again to hear the Bach 6th French Suite played on the piano, followed by a violin partita. After that we just moved along the corridor to the Pinnacle Bar, where we joined a table with Geoff and Janet Fairless from Brisbane, who were very pleasant company. Then it was time for dinner - fortunately the tooth is now not so worriesome.
Les Six still has not materialized into Les Huit, and we are about to give up on Lynne and Russ. But we had fun together as Les Six. John had some herrings for entree, followed by some seared tuna. Barb and I both asked for the tuna to be blue rare, and it was exactly so when it turned up. We were most delighted with that dish. Barb had cheese plate to follow, John went with a chocolate mousse. We spent some time discussing what we might do on the morrow, but came no closer to a plan than that we would meet at 0915 on the wharf, and see what we could find.
Got going as briskly as we could muster this morning, so that we could make our 0915 wharf rendezvous. Had breakfast in the dining room, but by ourselves. Then a bit of a rush to get organized for the 0915 meet, which we made, but only after John went to the wrong "tent".
We negotiated a deal with a "taxi" driver (actually a free-lancer, and not a register taxi at all) for a guided tour around the island. The driver's name was Tuakoi, and he was a pleasant and courteous driver, and seemed to know the island well. The deal was $US35 per person, which was a bit of a problem, as we did not have any cash, and he clearly did not take plastic.
Anyway, we set off, and headed east to the far end of the island, where Abel Tasman landed in 1675 (check this!). Along the way, saw many interesting sites, including local crops (tapioca, sweet potato, tamarind, taro, sweet corn, and of course, coconut trees!), schools, villages, many roadside stalls, and thousands of Mormom churches! There were also quite a few Seventh Day Adventists, a few catholic ones, and occasionally a Wesleyan/Methodist one, but by far and away the main religion seemed to be The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, referred to familiarly by Tuakoi as the "LDS" churches.
On the way back from Abel Tasman's landing site (by a different road), we stopped at the Tsunami Rock, so named because it was washed into its present position by the tsunami of Jan 2022 (check this). All very easy to note, but it is not until you see how big the rock is that the true scale of this glib statement explodes beyond comprehension! It was at least 20m high and looked for all the world as though it had been there since the dawn of time. You can see a picture of it here. How that rock was "washed" to it present position does extend the imagination somewhat. It was at least 50m from the sea. When you hear that the tsunami wave was 15m high, one can start to understand the forces at work!
The next point of interest was the Mapu'a Vaea Blowholes. Here wave action has eroded the coastline into multiple fissures in the rock, each with narrowing venturis funneling the wave action into a water spout extending high above the rock line. It was very spectacular, so much so that I only took two still photos of the waves blowing, preferring to use video mode to capture the actual action.
We each had a coconut to drink after viewing the blowholes. The coconuts were quite immature, and had little flesh, but the drink was refreshing, and slightly fizzy. I thought it was a sign of some fermentation, but Kaye said that young coconuts can have that taste. Anyway, it was refreshing in the hot humid climate of Tonga.
The next interesting point of interest was the "Three Headed Coconut Tree", so called because the top had branched out with two extra branches, each with their own crown and collection of coconuts. It was a sufficiently well-known landmark that all the road signs nearby mentioned it, and it apparently is the only know three headed coconut tree known. Clearly a remarkable mutation!
Then to Captain Cook's landing site in 1777. Not a great deal to see, other than several plaques to mark the spot, including one to memorialize the visit of Queen Elizabeth II on 7 Mar 1970. On to the old royal burial ground in the old Tongan capital of Lapaha, impressive for the huge lumps of stone used in its construction.
Next we visited the Trilitium (check), or Ha'amonga 'a Maui, a giant doorway and lintel made from huge lumps of rock. It is thought to be used to mark the winter and summer solstices with some "notches" marked on the lintel, but we could not find anything resembling the notches?
That was effectively the end of the tour, but we did have to get back to the ship, which took another 50 minutes or so, especially as the traffic slowed down quite significantly once we got back to Nuku'alofa. We were back on the ship in time for lunch, but we settle just for a coke in the Ocean Bar, so that we did not have to climb the stairs all the way to the Lido on deck 9! We were quite exhausted, John especially, but it was not that clear why we should be so exhausted, as we had spent most of the time sitting in a car!
To the Crows Nest at about 1630 and found Chris, later Kaye, then Len. Had a beer or two. Dinner avec Les Six.
The second day at Nuku'alofa, and our plan was to do the 2 hour walk around the town, according to the map that we got from the Tourisme Office yesterday. But first breakfast. We bumped into Geoff and Janet in the dining room, and arranged to meet for drinks in the Pinnacle Bar this evening at 1800.
We set off on the walk, but one of the problems we had not counted upon was the distinct lack of street signs, so it was a little difficult navigating, which we sort of had to do by "blind reckoning"! As one of our objectives was to find a pharmacy, that further compounded the navigation problem, as at each intersection, we would have to do a quick reccy of what shops were in each of the streets before choosing a path, which of course may not have been the suggested route to take in terms of the tour.
We did eventually find a pharmacy, not too far off our intended route, and it was a matter of moments explaining to the pharmacist that we wanted some ointment for John's hives. Have I mentioned the hives before? These have been a continuing problem for John, surfacing in the evening, often in concentrated patches, and usually very itchy. We did have some cortisone cream, which alleviated the itchiness somewhat, but it was rapidly running out, and we needed to replace it.
"No problem", said the pharmacist, and picked a box of DermAid from the shelves and gave it to us. We duly tapped our Westpac Mastercard, and it approved almost instantaneously. That was significant in its own right, but we did not appreciate it at the time. We collected the receipt for 930 XPF, set off again, and thought no more of it.
We completed the walk, stopping at various places to admire the view, read the memorial tablets, check out various churches, and otherwise take photos. We returned to the ship in time for a late lunch in the Lido, and then we watched Mr Church in the afternoon, starring Eddie Murphy as the lead character. A poignant film about human relations.
Then to the Crows Nest, where we got the slightly disturbing news that the 930 XPF receipt was for about $600, if it was in Tongan currency (panga'a). That rocked us a bit, and made us feel that we may have been victims of some form of fraud, aka the Great Pharmacy Phraud of 2022. There was not much we could about it straight away, as we were just leaving Tonga, and thus losing our low cost internet and phone connections. Made a mental note to tackle it first thing in the morning, when the ship's internet might be a little faster.
Then to the Pinnacle Bar, where we were to meet Geoff and Janet - who were waiting for us. Had a gin and tonic with them, and a pleasant chat. They told us the news that the Brisbane Cruise Terminal had moved to the mouth of the Brisbane River, and out of range of the City Cats, and that a taxi ride to the city would be $50. That also set us back a little, and we thought that we might just not bother going into Brisbane city if that was the case. Why do the authorities make such stupid decisions? Certainly not with the convenience of tourists in mind, which makes one wonder about all the hype that is spewed over looking after tourists - not!
Dinner chez Six. Not really any need to comment further.
Quiet day, except for the start. Barb woke at 0500 and tried to login to Westpac to see what the Pharmacy Phraud registered as on our account. It took a lot of testing by the internet (of our patience) to finally get through about 0600 to discover that the amount was in Polynesian Francs (XPF), with about 50 XPF to the TOP, and the 930XPF translated to $A12.19. Phew, not the Pharmacy Phraud aphter all! Henceforth we shall call it the Great Pharmacy Phake Phraud of 2022.
So the rest of the day travelled in a more relaxed way - apart from breakfast. We were sat at a table for 6 for breakfast, a nice table next to the rear windows of the dining room, with a mesmorizing view out over the ship's wake. Well, that was just as well, as the other four breakfasters were all Canadian, and spent the whole breakfast talking about things Canadian, and where they spent their holidays. It was as though we just didn't exist. Even when we had someting of Canadian interest to inject into the conversation, we could not get a word in edgeways. Rather disappointing, and the first real social disaster we have struck in the dining room.
After dining, explorations. Then gym. I think we are making some progress, but we have been pushing ourselves to go higher with the weights. Sometimes that works, sometimes not! Then lunch in the Lido, followed by back to the cabin and a movie A Walk in the Woods, based on a book by Bill Bryson, and starring Robert Redford as BB. It was enjoyable, but a little pedestrian.
That finished in time for us to go up to the Crows Nest with the iPad. The plan was to ring Nathan and Lynne for our weekly chat, while having a beer. But the connection was soooo lousy and slow, that we all agreed that little purpose was to be served by trying to continue, so we rung off early. Still had the beer, tho'. We were joined by Chris, Kaye and Len and chatted until 1730, when we made our excuses to go and get changed for dinner, particularly in time for a) the Lincoln Centre Quartet playing ballet pieces by Tchaikovsky, Katchaturian, Delibes, and Stravinsky. It was a repeat of a concert they had done before, but it was enjoyable second time around. The second b) was a show by Cantare, a group of 4 blokes singing well known pop songs in close harmony. They were jolly good!
Finally we made it to dinner (a Gala Night), and so did Lynne and Russ, the couple we had invited several nights ago to join us at our table. They fitted in very well, and there was some regret at the fact that we hadn't got things going earlier on, or we could have been even more boisterous. As it was, we were again the last table to leave!
We had breakfast at a table by ourselves this morning, after yesterday's gaffe, and enjoyed the company much more. John has finally decided that the best breakfast choices are: tomato juice with a good dash of Worcestershire sauce, Raisin Bran with a peach compote, smoked salmon omelette, and if one must have coffee, coffee with a dash of milk in it. How to upset the habits of a lifetime.
While blogging after breakfast, Barb noted that there were a couple of gannets flying around. So John took his camera up to deck 9, where one could get out on the front of the vessel (they have blocked off all the cabin-level access doors, another HAL solecism), and took a few photos - or rather, tried to take a few photos - of the gannets cruising around the vessel, occasional diving into the sea to catch fish. Very challenging trying to track the birds with a tele lens, and keeping them in the frame at all times! I think of the 50 or so photos that I took, about 3 are actually usable. Thank heavens for digital cameras!
Gym, then lunch at the Lido, followed by a movie: Billy Elliot starring Jamie Bell in the title role, Gary Lewis as his father, and Julie Walters as his ballet teacher. Another tear jerker, as Billy overcomes all sorts of obstacles to become a ballet star, in spite of his coal mining background.
Then to the Crows Nest, as is our now usual practice, for a drink with Chris, Kaye, and Len. The Crows Nest was actually a bit full, and one of the waiters suggested that we use the Oak Room, a smaller private room, with only 4 tables in it. There were two other parties there when we arrived, but they all left before we finished.
Dinner chez Six
Had a small breakfast of raisin bran with morning tea, instead of the usual slice of toast, because our shore excursion was leaving at 0900, and we did not think the service would be fast enough that we could get through breakfast in time. Assembled in the showroom at 0840, but nothing happened for a while, and it was not unti 0900 that we got to board the bus.
The trip to the Dombea River took a half hour, and was slightly extended because the driver (a woman) overshot the turning, and had to do a three point turn on a narrow road to get back. I must say she did it pretty well, and I would have fretted a bit over turning a normal car on those roads!
We had a quick safety introduction, donned life jackets, grabbed a paddle each, and then carried our Kayaks down to the river. This was when I first started to feel a little apprehensive, as we were walking on gravel, carrying a kayak, while wearing wet shoes that had very little in the way of soles. Accordingly, our feet felt every little gravel corner, and that was only while traversing the dry bits. It was worse once we got to the river itself, as the rocks at the bootom were thankfully no longer sharp, but what they lacked in sharpness they more than made up for in slipperiness!
Once in the kayak of course, that problem disappeared, and we settled in to the pleasant solitude of just hearing the paddles dipping in the water as we all paddled along.
Until we got to the portage bit. We had to get out of the kayak, and then carry it over the slippery rocks that formed the non-navigable part of the river, and then get back into the kayak. We failed this bit. I noticed a one stage that the kayak began to feel extra heavy. I turned around to see - no Barbara! She had apparently wussed out over traversing the slippery rocks, and called for one of the guides to assist her. He helped her to the bank, from whence she stood and watched me wrestle with the kayak. Fortunately, the guide came and helped me, but we did not get back into the kayak until all the rest of the party had long since rejoined the paddle, leaving us to furiously catch up.
We paddled on until we came to another portage, where we were given a choice: portage over the rocks, and paddle on for another 300m, or park the kayaks and just go for a swim. Since we a) did not enjoy the previous portage, and b) we were already soaking wet, we elected for the swim alternative. The water was wonderfully refreshing, and not at all cold (unlike the Ovens River in spring!) Oh, and by the way, did I mentioned that it had been raining? Not that we cared much, but it did mean that anything we had managed to keep dry, was no longer. Hence swimming was a straightforward choice.
We had a quick drink of a tropical fruit juice, watched the returning paddlers all shoot the rapids, and then paddled off downstream. We got to do our own version of shooting the rapids, at the aforementioned tribulated portage, and I have to say, going downstream was a lot easier that porting upstream. But all too soon we were back at the starting point, and once again the hassle of negotiated those #$%^@ slippery rocks while carrying the kayak out of the water and on to the bank. Fortunately, we did not have to carry them back up to the assembly point.
Back on the bus we retraced our tracks back to the ship. On the way, there was evidence of a serious car crash - a small red SUV lying on its side. It reduced traffic to a single file in alternate directions, but it did not delay us too much. It had occured much earlier, as we saw Steve and Jen at Dombea River, and they had commented that they were delayed by this accident on the way up. No idea of the severity of harm to the occupants.
We had a big lunch (or at least, John did) on the Lido Pool Deck, as we had had a rather light breakfast, followed by some sustained physical activity, and the hunger cells were firing. After lunch, the usual afternoon movie, this time The 355, which was eminently forgettable. All about spies (all of whom were women) banding together to defeat a machiavellian plot to take over the world. Sort of James Bond-y, but without the panache.
Then Crows Nest for afternoon drinks. Chris and Kaye retired early to go and watch the Women's World Cup Rugby, leaving Barb and myself talking to Len about education.
Dinner with the Six again. Somewhat quieter night tonight, perhaps because of the somewhat miserable rainy day. John had pumpkin soup (nice, but not as nive as our homemade version), Smoked Pork Loin with Sauerkraut (reminiscent of Georges, Lyon, but the sauerkraut was not sauer enough) and Banana Crisp. It was commented that there used to be a "crisp" dessert every night in the "old days", but that seems to be another of the HAL cutbacks.
Skipped breakfast again this morning, this time because we had invites to the Mariners' Lunch starting at 1130, besides which, we have probably been eating too much. Had coffee in the Explorers' instead, and a bun to tide us over until lunch time. Then some blogging until 1030, when we returned to Explorations for another coffee.
Thus charged, it was soon time to meet the Cochranes for the Mariners' Lunch, at which most of us had a prawn starter, and Barb had parsnip soup, followed by the mains, for which we all had a very nice piece of barramundi, followed by lamingtons, presumeably because we are approaching Australia! All the while our waiter Nathan (!) plied us with some nice champagne, which helped the conversation along. He also dropped the comment that he knew about our reputation for being the last to leave at dinner, and he blamed Joko for spreading the word!
After lunch I just had time to book our flights home from Sydney to Melbourne, and pay for them ($1370, booking number 6ZSU7D) before we headed off to the Lincoln Centre to hear the string quartet play an early string quartet by Faure. Very nice, and made me think I should look it up when we get home.
In the afternoon, more blogging. Hooray, I am now up-to-date! Only remains to download all the updated files once we get near some proper internet. Incidentally, I gave Qantas a serve because they asked for feedback, so I pointed out that their webpages are quite inappropriate for slow internet connections. Bet they do nothing about it, though.
Watched Big, Bigger, Biggest, a short movie about the construction and engineering behind the new Panama Canal, which touched upon significant milestones in the development of canals, such as the Briave Canal (connecting the Loire with the Seine), the Bridgewater Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal, and explaining how each of them solved new engineering problems. The only omission that I thought they had made was their failure to mention the Rhone-Danube Canal, which pioneered the use of multiple storages for emptying the lock chambers as a means of saving water.
Then to Crows Nest for Happy Hour, and a beer (actually, first a Bloody Caesar) and a chat with Kaye, Chris and Len. Watched the sunset from the deck in front of the gym, and then retired to our cabins.
Dinner with Les Six. The ship that we saw in the distance while watching the sunset passed us - could not see what it was, even though it was brightly lit up and clearly a cruise ship. Told later it was a P&O ship.
We had breakfast with Les Six this morning, as we had organized at dinner last night. Usual jolly fun! Then only time for a very quick cup of coffee at Explorations, before we all lined up in the Showroom for the 4/5 star Mariner Photo. This was (for us, at least) a new innovation, and involved up to a dozen passengers lining up on the stage alongside the captain and hotel manager, with officers and staff standing at the foot of the stage in front. When it came to our turn, we thought we would be all together, but we got split up, even to the point of them trying to put me on the opposite side of the stage from Barbara! But I made a fuss (one of my specialities!) and they found room for me on the very end of the line.
Then we attended an interesting talk by Leah Dunn, the naturalist, on octopuses of Australia. There are 226 of them apparently, out of a world-wide collection of species of about 550, or about half, and a lot of them are quite beautiful and/or intelligent, and/or idiosyncratic. David would have loved the talk!
Then gym, and it was a cardio day, so Barb did the cross trainer, and I did the rowing machine, for a full 30 mins. Had a good Trent line by the end! (The "Trent Line" is the point at which the band of sweat reaches on your T-shirt, measured from the neck downwards.)
By the end of gym, we both wanted to sit down and just recover for 10 minutes, so we went into the Lido, found an empty table, and just flopped. Then along came a woman who insisted that she had "reserved" the table by leaving some books on it. There were 4 seats at the table, but she and her husband (who did not say anything) insisted that they were quite unable to share the table, She even went and fetched one of the officers, who when he saw that there was no real conflict (the tables are after all, a shared resource) simply walked away without saying anything. She kept up her muttering until I finished my drink, stood up and said "Madam, I hope your days continues as you have elected to start it", and walked off! What an a#$%hole!
Then I retired to our cabin, while Barb went for a walk around the deck. I watched a move No Way Home, a Spiderman-based movie, which had a pretty silly plot, and was not that coherent, so it is not worth recommending. Then time for Crows Nest drinks, followed by showtime in the Showroom with Cantare again, singing various love songs.
Then we had dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. This was our second "package" dinner, which we had planned well in advance, but the others in The Six thought it a good idea, and had booked as well = although they thought that we were celebrating some special occasion, and so they booked a separate table. They were quite quiet until we had finished our dinner, and went and joined them, whereupon the table suddenly became quite rowdy, and - you guessed it - we were again the last table to leave!
The food was good, the wine (Elena Walch Gewurtztraminer, Italian) was still served too cold (they did warm it up a little for us!) John had steak tartare, Maine lobster, and chocolate souffle, while Barb had Jumbo Prawns followed by Jumbo Scallops, and then chocolate souffle. We did taste-for-taste with the lobster and scallops, and followed the lot up with a Grand Marnier (John) and Baileys Irish Cream (Barb).
Arrived in Brisbane at 0700 at the brand new, prentiously named Brisbane International Cruise Terminal (BICT). It is in the middle of nowhere, or more precisely, at the mouth of the Brisbane River, on the wrong side of the airport, with absolutely no public transport, and little pedestrian access.
We had previously advised that we did not intend to leave the ship, since there was little to see, little to do, and access to anything else involved a $US21 shuttle ride into the CBD. However, the Australian Border Farce insisted that all passengers should detrain, complete immigration, and that the ship be emptied of passengers before anyone would be allowed to rejoin! As you can imagine, this would have been absolute mayhem if there were no structure to it, but even with some form of structure, ABF and HAL combined to make the experience unpleasant and unnecessary.
The so called "structure" was that people were allocated to 16 different groups, numbered 1 to 16, and sorted according to "desired" time of disembarkation. There are approximately 1600 passengers on board, so that makes each group around 100 people. As we had said we did not want to leave, we were put in group 16 - the last group to be called.
But the wonderful new gangway structure had other ideas. Around group 7, it decided that it did not want to be adjusted for the changing tidal height, and they had to take it out of service. But not before they spent some 40 minutes trying to get it to work. While watching all this from our verandah, I said to Barbara, "they have 2 gangways, why don't they use the other one?" About 5 minutes later, what I had said must have made its way through the tortured mind of some ship/port engineer, and the second gangway was started up! Of course, it took another 10 minutes before it was operational, with the net result that people in groups 7 and 8 had to stand around for over an hour!
By 1100 they finally called group 16. Having started at 0800 hours with group 2 (for some strange reason, probably to do with shore excursion timings, the groups were called in "approximately" numerical order!), they had taken over 3 hours to process the 1600 passengers.
But wait, there's more! Apparently the last half a dozen or so people were still asleep, or perhaps they were hiding - whatever, they had to search the ship to find the last few passengers to get them off and processed before we could rejoin the ship. This took about an hour and a half, so it was after 1230 before we were allowed to reboard. The wonderful new terminal had absolutely no shops or cafes, but it did have a free wifi, so many people took out their phones and started using that - feeble as it was, it was still far faster and easier to use than the broken Noordam system.
We found a coffee cart outside the building, obviously set up by an smart entrepreneur who realized that their would be high demand for good coffee (it was!), so we sat and enjoyed a coffee while we rang David on John's phone and had a chat with him while we waited.
Once back on, we could have lunch in the Lido, which was ever so quiet - I think there might have been only half a dozen tables in use over the whole restaurant, which is normally so humming with people that find a table is difficult (see yesterday for some of the difficulties).
We watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the afternoon. We had both seen it before, but it was a bit of escapism, and believe me, we needed to escape from the clutches of Border Farce!
To the Ocean Bar for a drink at 1900, where we were soon joined by the Cochranes and San Filippos, before heading off to dinner. This was more subdued than usual, and Sherry looked very tired to boot, so we had an early night. Another reason for retirng early was that there was a total lunar eclipse, and 4 of us went up to deck 11 to get a good view of the "Blood Moon". Then we hit the sack too.
As arranged last night, we met Lorelle and Larry at the dining room for breakfast, and then to Explorations for coffee.
After coffee and a suitable pause to let it settle, we headed off to the gym, for Week 4, Day 1. Then to the Lido for lunch.
In the afternoon we watched The Aftermath, starring Kiera Knightley as the wife of a British colonel who is seconded to Hamburg in Dec 1945 to oversee the restoration of the city post second world war. Knightley falls in love with the owner of the requisitioned house that the colonel is given, and the the film is about the tensions not only in that relationship, but also the relationship between the occupying British forces and the German peoples. Very poignant.
Dinner in the Cannaletto with Les Six. Len had some trouble with his main course - he ordered fish, but got scallopine instead. They took that back, but then were unable to find/cook/deliver the fish, so he ended up having meat balls instead! Len made light of it, but it was not a good process, and it marred an otherwise pleasant evening.
Slow start to the day, particularly as the clocks went forward one hour, and we had one less hour of sleep, thanks to daylight saving in NSW. Breakfast in the dining room at the very back of the ship overlooking the ship's wake, starting with a couple who did not stay long, as they took a dislike to sitting in a seat bathed in sunlight. They could have moved up a seat out of the sun, but presumably they didn't like the look of us, as they left without saying a word to us.
No matter, as we were soon joined by a couple from Shropshire, and Louise from Boston (whom we had met before, see day ??) They were quite pleasant company, and we talked about life in the UK, and travelling, and cruising. They had recently retired, and were looking forward to being able to do a bit more travelling. Sort of like us, in a way.
After breakfast we went to Explorations, but after some debate, we elected to get take-aways, as the Ask The Captain session was about to start in the showroom at 1030. Mark Rowden's talk was quite polished and very interesting, as he talked about his background in sailing, his home life, and his career with HAL, before going into the more technical details of being a captain on a large passenger cruise ship.
His talk lasted well over an hour, so it was time for lunch after it finished, and as we were at level 3, we elected to have lunch in the dining room for a change. We ended up seated with Gordon and April from Lynwood (in Seattle). They were both born in Ballard, so we had some common ground to talk about. Gordon was an engineer in the US Navy, while April was very much into knitting and yarns and stuff like that, so we thought they would have had a lot to share with Nathan and Lynne.
After lunch (again, we were the last to leave!) we watched another movie Belfast, a story about life in Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles in the early 70's. It was quite poignant, but not so much of a tear jerker as yesterday's movie.
Then it was time to ring up Nathan and lynne, and have a chat with them. While we were doing so, we saw a large pod of dolphins off the port side, so we had to stop while we struggled to get some photos of the dolphins swimming alongside the ship. They were about 500m away, so not what you'd call close, but close enough to zoom in and catch some of them as they surfaced for air. (Aside: Why are they a "pod" of dolphins? They don't have any feet!)
Then to the Ocean Bar for a quick drink before dinner, which was a Galah night. John decided to have Les Escargots, we he enjoyed, and then another Beef Tenderloin (we do get a lot of them on this ship), and finishing with a creme brulee. Barb had Apple, Pear and Cucumber Salad, followed by Tangerine Glazed Duck Breast, and then Chocoate Decadence. Met the new wine master.
After dinner there was a special event: the chocolate pigout. That was not what it was called officially, but it was the practice, particularly given Barb's choice of dessert.. Waiters with trays of various chocolate goodies were wondering round deck 2, foisting said goodies on to both suspecting and unsuspecting passers-by. As I write this, I have two dessert spoon-sized slabs of both dark chocolate raisins, and chocolate almonds. We are pigged out, so those remanents will keep unti the morrow.
Breakfast in the dining room for the (second) last time. We were at a table with Gordon and April from yesterday's lunch, together with Mark and Patricia (?) from Denver, Colorado. Both Gordon and Mark are engineers, Gordon EE, and Mark, civil. A very pleasant breakfast, although I did have a little trouble hearing people above the background noise. Perhaps my hearing is going?
Then Explorations, followed by blogging and reading in our cabin until it was time for gym. After gym, lunch in the Lido where not only was there mussels and prawns for the asking, but also free beers were handed round with the compliments of the captain!
We kicked on after lunch to the Crows Nest, where cocktails were being served. This was a gesture by the captain to offset the disappointments of the disrupted itinerary of the trip, and the shortening of the trip by one day. Barb and I struck up a conversation with a woman from Brisbane called Alison (?), and we chatted for an hour or so, well after the free drinks had run out!
We nearly lasted until regular happy hour, sitting and watching the sea roll by. The ship was not travelling at full speed, because we had had 3 days to get from Brisbane to Sydney, which is normally done in 2 days, so we were only travelling at about 11-12 knots. We had a few moments to get started on the packing at least, and then had happy hour with Chris, Kaye and Len, followed by yet more packing.
Dinner with Les Six for the last time, and we all finished off our wine packages, except us, so we ordered our last bottle to take with us - the Meiomi Pinot Noir, which we had enjoyed previously. The conversation was a bit subdued, but we nevertheless enjoyed the company until it was time to leave. At the last minute we agreed to meet for breakfast tomorrow, so as Kaye said, "we don't have to say our goodbyes just yet". But I did manage to say goodbye to Russ and Lynne at the next table, who had joined us one evening to swell our table back to 8, and who had provided us with more entertainment in the form of a wine bottle cork sleight of hand trick. I am still working on perfecting that trick!
Les Six had organized a last meal together for breakfast, which we had arranged for 0700 as a reasonable compromise between normal times, and the need to be ready for disembarkation. It was a somewhat subdued meal together for the once lively table 301, partly because of our collective sadness at our happy times coming to an end, and partly because we had said most of the things we wanted to say at dinner last night.
We said our goodbyes, and then did our usual pilgrimage to Explorations Cafe for one last coffee. We bumped into Steve and Jen there, and arranged to do some sightseeing of Sydney together. Our groups were called while we were still enjoying our coffee, so Barb and I disappeared for 10 minutes to collect our things from our cabin (S & J had their luggage with them), and once the coffee was disposed of, joined the queue to disembark.
Disembarking was quite painless - it was the waiting around afterwards that got to us. Firstly, there was no ferry to Barrangaroo as promised by the web page. Secondly, there was no shuttle bus that would take us and our luggage (clearly, the shuttle bus was only for those staying on the ship!). Thirdly, there was no other public transport, and the taxi queue was miles long. I could not believe that the authorities could allow such a disorganized disembarkation as this! No wonder the Ruby Princess was such a disaster. They clearly had learnt nothing from that experience.
So we sat and waited. Barb and I had another cup of coffee at the cafe. White Bay had had enough time to organize a cafe at least, unlike Brisbane. After an hour or so, the taxi queue had almost disappeared, and we joined it. Nobody joined the queue after us, so it was clear that we were among the last to get away. But we still had to wait for taxis to clear the ranks, and they were arriving rather haphazardly. At last one arrived. We had hoped for a maxi taxi, since we had a lot of luggage, but the driver was optimistic that he could fit all our luggage in - and he did!
The ride to Circular Quay was long, and a little hair raising. We had at least 4 near misses from both our driver changing lanes, and other drivers changing lanes. Sydney traffic has not improved from our time here in the 70s - in fact, quite the opposite! To add to that, the fare came to $120! We were a bit gob-smacked at that, but I didn't really have a chance to argue the point, as we only discovered it after the taxi had driven off. $90 for the actual fare, and $30 for luggage and service fee.
At Circular Quay, we found a left luggage place that would take our bags ($10 each item!), so we deposited them, and then went for a walk around past the Opera House, and then along the edge of the bay to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. The weather was beautiful, and we took lots of photos along the way, with the classic background of Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Very photogenic.
On our way back from Mrs M's Chair, we stopped at a cafe on Circular Quay called WhaleBridge. where we ordered beers/ciders and a bowl of chips all round. Part of the reason for all plonking for the same thing was that there was no waiter service to order - one had to scan the QR code on the table, and order through a web page on one's phone! Needless to say, it was far more complicated than it need be, hence our frustration with it. But the chips and beer did come, although there was some confusion over what size beers Steve and I had ordered!
After that (very healthy) lunch, we returned to the left luggage, collected the same, and then climbed the escalators to the railway station above, where the next train to come along was bound for the airport. So we were at the airport by 1430, where we said goodbye to Steve and Jen at the parting of the paths to Virgin (them) and Qantas (us), with due promises to keep in touch.
Time for a beer and a bit of internet updating before we had to head off to the gate for a 1625 boarding (delayed by the late arrival of the aircraft, and we were lucky, as it had come from Adelaide and was the last Qantas plane to leave Adelide before the storm hit there. A rather bumpy ride to Melbourne, where we were met by David, Jemima and Tabitha who were all excited to see us, as we were them.
Lots of chat on the way home to Fran Court, and we were home by 1900, where Beth had dinner prepared for us, most welcome. Thank you, David and Beth! Now starts the unpacking and reorganizing process ...
Today was set aside to address several of the urgent tasks, such as fixing the chook door, and getting all my files copied from everton to newport. Both of these tasks were somewhat tedious and not running to plan, in the case of the chook door because I found several things that were broken, and I had to fix them one by one. Even now, I am not that confident that the repairs will be robust enough, and so I have set aside a new project to re-engineer the controller module so that it is more robust.
The file copying was really just tedious, as it took a while to do. Things were not helped by the fact that the small UPS took it upon itself to give up the ghost, so I had to climb around under the desk to replug everything.
But there's plenty to do tomorrow. And the next day. And the next ...
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