Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Home on the hill.  Nothing is as good as being at home sleeping in one's own bed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday 29th August

We have done a quick trip on the ferry up to Victoria on Vancouver Island.  This beautiful,  gracious city is the capital of British Columbia.  Soph had booked accommodation through Airbnb again – it was an interesting house, typical of the Victoria style, but the apartment was rather poky.  The young woman whose home it was moves out to stay with her boyfriend whenever she has a bnb booking.  When he gets a booking for his apartment, he moves in with her.  They are saving for a trip to New Orleans, both being music lovers.  There was a banjo, an accordion, an organ  and a washboard in her living area.  

We spent the day walking about Victoria, just soaking it in, and later in the afternoon, took an on-and-off bus trip.  Finished up with high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel overlooking the bustling Harbour.  Soph had advice that this was a must, and it was quite an experience (though expensive – but it was our last day together). 

Downtown Victoria looks beautiful in the summer – there are 1500 floral baskets hanging from lightstands.  All carry the same arrangement.  I suppose that is someone’s job, and they are currently planning next years bouquet.  All the electrical infrastructure was put underground some decades back, when they decided it was too ugly to tolerate.  The absence of poles and wires certainly improves the views.  

The Legislative Assembly is a big neo-baroque building (like Queensland’s) down by the Harbour.  It has 85 members – similar to Queensland again.  Standing in front of a statue of Captain Cook, I got into conversation with another woman who turned out to be Australian, with a son living in Victoria. Cook and his Lieutenant, Vancouver, had explored this coastline in 1788.  He got about – I must read a biography of him.  

The Harbour was full of all sorts of conveyances – from the big vehicular ferry Coho to a clutch of sea planes with their own dock.  Most appealing were the Harbour taxis, which really looked like dinky toys, and bobbed about on the water in a rather unsettling manner, it seemed to me. 

Our bus tour took us up Mt Tolmie, which gives a 360 degree view of Victoria.  It is the opposite of Sydney – where Sydney is built around the water, the water surrounds Victoria, at least on three sides.  The gracious suburbs of Uplands and Oak Bay have wonderful old homes, with deer on the lawns.  Though in some parts of town (not the Uplands and Oak Bay of course) lawns are brown.  Victoria is actually quite dry, having only 25 inches of rain in a year.  It rarely gets snow, and its temperatures are quite mild.  Never really cold (0 degrees only occasionally in winter) and never too hot in the summer.  Which is why there is a fairly strong population of retirees!

Businesses go all out with summer displays.
There is quite a lot of this mock-Tudor style in the housing.
Lots of trees.  Once out of downtown, every street is an avenue.
Craigdarrach Castle - built by John Dunsmuir, a Scot who came to Vancouver Island with nothing and became hugely rich through coal.  It has been restored and is open to the public now.
Life inside Craigdarrach.  A b it like Downton Abbey.  But they had hot and cold running water and electric lighting right through the five-story building when they first moved into it in 1890.

This one is for you Cath.  The tatting table in the Drawing Room.
No TV in our accommodation, so feet up listening to a Ted Talk from the iPod.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Saturday/Sunday 24th – 25th August

Back in Seattle. Seems a bit ho-hum after Alaska. 

On Saturday evening, wandering about the Seattle Centre – site of the World Fair in 1962 and now a community playground much like Brisbane’s South Bank – we came across this setup for playing boardgames. 

Great idea, especially as they have a bar too, so we enjoyed a glass of white and a game of Sorry! in the evening light and watched the crowds enjoying the late summer.  Next week is back to school here and it does seem that families are out giving the kids a last treat before routine resumes.  

Seattle-ites can still enjoy their fountains and water features, and kids were having a great time at this huge one. The object of their game was to race in and touch the dome and not get hit by the water spurts.  Most of them were sodden!

Walking back up the hill at about 7.30pm, we passed the Paramount Theatre, and noticed that the musical of Sister Act was on.  We bought tickets on impulse, this had been a favourite movie when the kids were growing up.  Alas, a disappointment.  I suppose after Whoopie Goldberg and Maggie Smith in the movie, anything else would have to come second.  But the main thing was the music – the stage show uses none of the music from the movie, a complete new score has been written.  And it was all screeched out with the sound system volume up super loud.  Soph and I gave in a left at the interval.  A first for me – to leave a musical. 

Sosqualmie Falls on Sunday afternoon.  A major hydro-electric power installation somewhat spoils the natural splendour here, but it is still a tourist venue.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friday 23rd August

Our last day in Alaska gave picture perfect weather.  We were reluctant to leave Bear Cottage – it was by far our most comfortable digs. And picturesque in setting.  Many places in the Alaskan towns are buried back in the woods, just a single track with a line of letterboxes on the main road to indicate that there are dwellings back in there.  These cabins were an instance of that.  Quiet and peaceful, lots of birds, squirrels and voles running about quite cheekily.

We had lots of time – our flight out of Anchorage was to be after midnight.  

The Exit Glacier was worth the hike up to its “toe”.  It, like all the glaciers, is receding because of climate change.  The bears have apparently been active in the area.  The warning signs here were the most explicit we have seen: “If the bear starts to eat you, fight back”.  Ice collapsing from the glacier has also been more extreme than usual, and access right up to the ice was closed off – much to Bede’s frustration – he really wanted to get there and walk on it. 

Lunchtime entertainment – we were on the Seward seafront – was provided by a sea otter.  It lolled about on its back, its head and feet sticking up out of the water, and rolled,  and clapped its own efforts and poked its head up and generally performed.  This is how they spend their time. And then they have a nap.  And then they do it all again.  All day. 

The Alaska Sea Life Centre at Seward is spectacular.  Such a good facility.  The animals are all rescued because abandoned or otherwise in distress.  The two juvenile sea otters were abandoned as pups, and are only 5 months old now.  We watched them for about half an hour, fell in love with them. The 2,400lb seal was also lovable.  But I felt sorry for him when he dragged himself out of the water and pulled himself along the decking with his front flippers.  Over a ton!

The centre is set up so that from level 3 you can see the surface of the water and the animals as they go up on rocks etc.  And then on level 2 you can see the underwater view.  So we really saw that bird, the murre,  that swims underwater by flapping its wings in the same way it does to fly in the sky.  When it comes back to the surface, it preens and flaps about and shakes and bows and carries on as if to say, “Oh what a clever bird am I”.  And it is. 

Driving back to Anchorage, we were treated to this sky.

And at a roadside railway museum, this cylindrical snow plough on the front of a train engine.  It spat the snow and debris out the top/side to a distance of 300ft.  

And letterboxes, for those who have planted themselves out in the backwoods where no self-respecting postman can be expected to venture. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday 22nd August

Our last major expedition, and Alaska did not disappoint.  The day was overcast and drizzly and fog obscured everything on the water.  The captain of the boat taking us on a cruise of the Kenai Fjords said weather conditions were ideal – no wind, little wave, and we probably would get some breaks in the cloud sometime during the day!  

He was  right – the conditions were ideal for viewing wildlife, and they duly cooperated.  A pod of six orcas (killer whales).  The captain knew them by name – all the captains know all the “residents”, as opposed to the “transients” whom they do not know.  Then a couple of humpbacks, who blew and breached and waved their tales at us.  Seals resting on ice floes “to warm up”.  Sea lions – I counted thirty-eight of them – draped about on a couple of rocks. An apparently shameless sea otter who put on such a performance, but the captain said that is how they spend their day – lolling and grooming themselves and rolling about in the water, then at night they get serious and go hunting.  There were lots of birds in the crevices of the mountain rock rising straight up out of the sea.  The captain had stories about all of them – the murre flies underwater, propels itself to depths up to 650 ft by flapping its wings. It can also still fly in the air, unlike the penguin which has traded its flight capability for underwater mobility.  Birds are fascinating.  I must take more interest in future . 

The murres lay their eggs in the crevices of the rock walls. The hatchlings, expecting to fly like mum and dad, step of the edge and flap their wings, and fall straight down into the water.  They then actually learn to fly underwater before flying in the air. 

The dark shapes are seals resting on the ice floes to warm up.

 Some of the 38 sea lions draped about the rocks.

Human wildlife trying to skip stones on the calm water by Fox Island.

Colourful bird added to plumage by buying a striped Alaskan beanie.

There were lots of glaciers, often three or four in view at a time, but we went right to the mouth of the Aialik Glacier – 1.5 miles wide at its entrance into the sea of the fjord.  Majestic and awesome – the sight and sound of hundreds of tons of ice breaking away and dropping into the sea was so powerful.  Like rifle cracks followed by rolls of thunder, then the massive spray of ice falling, falling ….