Vampires in Vancouver

BC-99 took us to Vancouver and we admired the Canadian countryside. But as a highway, it was really just an extension of the I-5, south of the border.

We were very conscious of having missed celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee at home, so to make up for this, we decided to stay in Elizabeth Street, close to Queen Elizabeth Park. And after taking a few minutes to acclimatise to this new country, we walked up the road to the park, soaking up the rays.

View from the park

For lunch, we found our way to the restaurant at the top of the park, Seasons in the Park. It’s a very popular place. We could wait for a table on the patio, or we could sit at the bar. We chose the latter because we were hungry, because it provided a better view than from the patio and also because we were next to an open window letting in a nice breeze.

They are very proud of the fact that President Bill Clinton dined here once, a long time ago.

Seasons in the Park plaque

Not only does this plaque take pride of place outside the main entrance, there is a large wall display inside, including the menu.

And I have to admit, the food was very good, what a nice place.

Mount Seymour

We walked around, looking at the mountains and the clouds. It’s a hilly park though, so we sat down for a while, and we had to admire the lady in blue with her photographer.

Model

We confirmed that a sculpture was indeed a Henry Moore.

After a quick Whatsapp exchange with my nephew Rob, Liesel and I set off in roughly the direction of Main Street, commenting on the anemones and the snowball flowers.

Snowballs

At the café known as Breka, I knew Rob would turn up as soon as I went inside to use the toilet. It was good to see him after all this time, quite a few years. He moved to Vancouver from Christchurch 3½ years ago. His plan then of course was to visit NZ or be visited by his Mum, but then we all got loked in and locked down during the pandemic. He has Permanent Residence status, so he won’t be moving for a while.

Rob with Uncle Mick

We agreed to meet up the next day and after a much longer walk back to our b&b than we’d expected, and being ridiculously tired, we went straight to the land of nod.

We took a subway train to Olympic Village, where The Birds in The Square are enormous.

The Birds

In fact, the sculptures were made by Myfanfy Macleod in 2010 as part of the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. This was the year Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics and they hope to do so again in 2030.

We had a very nice day with Rob who showed us around his newly adopted city. The weather was perfect: sunny and warm.

Science World
Aquabus

The ferry, or Aquabus, that took us to Glanville Island was very small. And apparently, it’s not really an island any more.

Hawk

The local hawk’s job is to deter the seagulls from settling. They can be a menace, stealing our chips and ice cream. But what a cute little market. They’re certainly creative when it comes to recycling old books.

Bookpile

False Creek is the name of this inlet and it seems to be well used, we saw paddle-boarders, canoeists, as well as many other small boats, from the ferry ride to Kitsilano Beach.

Beach with driftwood

At Kitsilano, we found a Local Public Eatery. No, that’s not the generic term, it’s the name of the place where we had lunch. A very large lunch. The sort of lunch that makes it hard to get and walk afterwards. But somehow, we forced ourselves to move, albeit a bit more slowly and sedately.

Friends or foes?

We couldn’t decide whether this was a big fight or foreplay. We left them to it. The clashing beaks sounded like a keen knitter at her most enthusiastic.

Beached barge

I’m glad I wasn’t piloting this barge on the night of the storm that beached it. What an eyesore on English Bay Beach. Maybe it will be truned into a restaurant or something eventually. Attempts to shift it, even at very high tide, have failed.

Rob’s friend Priscilla was a very welcoming host at Vancouver Lookout. We rode up in a glass-sided lift and yes, I was very conscious of standing as far back as I could manage. There’s a 360° view of the city, and beyond. A cruise ship, The Grand Princess, was in town, and it felt good to literally look down on the cruisers below.

Vancouver Lookout was opened in 1977 by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon. As he gazed out from the  viewing platform, he was probably singing his dad’s song, ‘what a wonderful world’.

Roof gardens

Many of the buildings, especially new ones, have grass growing on the roof. 

It’s good that the First Nation peoples are being acknowledged. But I was totally bemused by the orthography devised for the native languages.

Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh

Time for another break and this time, we ordered a jug of sangria to share. It was still nice enough to sit outside, albeit under cover, and my left arm was cooking quite nicely before they turned off the powerful outdoor heating.

Rob and Liesel and I bade farewell and went our separate ways, knowing that we would meet again very soon under totally different circumstances. Thank you very much for a most enjoyable day out in Vancouver, BC, Rob!

I was going to write in the evening but my plans were thwarted by the grim reality that is dead batteries in the keyboard. So, in protest, I read my book instead.

It rained overnight and it hadn’t stopped by the time we left the b&b. What I forgot to say before though was that we were in fact staying in an old Roman villa. At least, you might think so when you walk over the mosaic in the hallway.

Mosaic

Our first destination today was Tsawwassen, the ferry port. We’d booked a ferry to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, intending to visit some gardens and see Victoria. But it rained. And rained. I won’t mention the rain again, but remember, it rained and rained all day today.

From the ferry, we looked out for whales and dolphins, but really it  was just too murky to see anything. Except grey sky and grey sky reflected in the water. We didn’t even see seals on any of the other small islands that we sailed by. On board The Spirit of British Columbia though: nice shops and eating opportunities.

Instead of visiting Butchart Gardens, which everyone has recommended, we went to the nearby Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Well, at least in was indoors. But there was much more to see than butterflies, oh yes.

Leaf-cutter ants
Stick insect
Scarlet mormon

Much of the entertainment here was provided, not by the wildlife, but by the school party that took great delight in pointing out butterflies that settled on their teachers’ shoulders for a second or two. Squeals of delight, yes, but some were a little bit wary.

Liesel made friends with a parrot, and I’m sure she taught it some bad words. I merely tried to get it to imitate the kookaburra’s call from my phone.

In Victoria itself, I found some batteries for the keyboard and we found a nice coffee bar.

The next ferry took us over the border to Port Angeles. Yes, back in the USA, as Chuck Berry used to sing.

The fog descended as we sailed, and yes, of course Liesel rolled her eyes when I recorded this ferry’s fog horn.

Fog descends on a cruise liner

Several other ferry passengers rushed out on deck at one point, but I didn’t know what the attraction was. A double rainbow, apparently. I’m sure it was very pretty.

We stayed at an old motel tonight. Nothing special, it had a roof and running water, but just what we wanted. We didn’t really need 12 towels, but 12 were supplied. We took a pizza back for supper. But this is America. The pizza was too big to finish in one sitting, so Liesel finished it for breakfast.

Port Angeles is a cute little town. I love the artwork and sculptures that adorn it. This piece I wasn’t sure about at first:

Mother and Child

But when I saw its title, Mother and Child, I realised how clever it is. Minimalism at its best, made by Bob Stokes.

Port Townshend is supposed to be even more interesting and lovelier, but we didn’t have enough time to visit on this occasion. Add it to the list.

The long drive along Route 101 took us through forests, including the Olympic National Forest, and small communities.

We stopped in Quilcene for lunch. Liesel pointed out the Sheriff’s car parked nearby. Well, I was on my best behaviour. We tried to take menus from the front desk but the woman told us to sit down and she’d bring menus over. OK. So we sat down and waited. And waited. People came and went. I used the toilet. We waited. We gave it five more minutes. We left. What a strange place.

We stopped at The Tides in Hoodsport for lunch. We were even more hungry by now of course. This was a nice little place, good food, bottomless coffee and I think you know a place is good if the locals use it.

We bypassed Olympia before turning north for Seattle and it was only now, back on the I-5, that it began to rain. Southcenter shopping mall was our immediate destination and somehow we ended up in The Chessecake Factory. For cheesecake, yes, and so much more. We ate too much again. There, I said it.

Cheesecake Factory

Cheesecake Factory don’t stint on their interior décor, I think it’s fair to say.

The car groaned under our increased weight, but don’t worry, we soon returned it to the rental facility. The shuttle delivered us safely back to Seattle-Tacoma airport.

And here we go again. Airport security. The sign said ‘Put everything in your bag to speed up the process’. Walk round the corner. Loud officer gives us a list of items to remove; iPad, e-reader, take off shoes and belt, empty your pockets. Go through this scanner. No, go to the end of that queue. Go through that scanner. It’s a mystery, oh it’s a mystery, sang Toyah in my head. We got through security, we got dressed, I think we collected all our belongings. We tried not to laugh at the man who’d paid to be fast-tracked through security when he was pulled to the side. There was some nice art at the airport, but I felt too intimidated to take any pictures.

Our flight was delayed, but the Texan lady kept us amused. Her chicken had laid a very small egg and her son was intrigued. When they cracked it open, there was no yolk!

This plane was bigger than the one that had taken us to Seattle all those weeks ago, and it was fully booked. But on arrival at Anchorage airport, for the first time ever, our one checked bag was the first to appear on the carousel. A perfect end to a long day. The taxi took us home and we made it to bed by about 2am.

And no, we didn’t really encounter any vampires in Vancouver. Not knowingly, anyway.

Fun in Ferndale

Setting off for a long drive is quite an adventure. Finding the I-5 and being told to stay on it for 267 miles before the first turning brings it into perspective. That’s longer than the drive from Northenden to Chessington when all sorts of ‘interesting’ roads are involved.

From Oregon to Washington

We crossed the border from Oregon to Washington across one of many truss bridges. The first stop was for coffee and scones in Vancouver WA at a place called Thatcher’s, a name I’m not usually fond of.

On the journey north, we received some devastating news from home. Helen checked in on our flat and, holding her nose against the pervading stench, made the discovery that we’d turned our fridge and freezer off at the mains before our departure.

Oh no

The food was no good, the freezer had defrosted but at least there was no major flood. High-five from the I-5, Helen, glad you were able to help!

There was a bit of a traffic jam before Seattle, but the queue of traffic on the other side, heading south, was much worse. We ignored plenty of rest stops as we enjoyed music from my phone, played on the car’s speakers via bluetooth.

I think I’ve commented on Samsung Music’s shuffle feature before: it’s not very intelligent. Today for instance, every 4th or 5th track was by David Bowie. And hardly any songs by female artists were played. To the point that Liesel even cheered when Björk turned up, and Liesel isn’t the biggest fan in the world!

First sign to Vancouver BC

This was a surprise too, seeing a sign for Vancouver BC so early. Have no fear, we’ll be there in a couple of days time!

A few spots of rain surprised us, but an even bigger surprise was finding the windscreen washer bottle was empty. So now, we wanted it to rain even harder to clean the windscreen a bit better.

Mount Vernon (somewhere)

Apparently, this is Mount Vernon, through the murk. Well, there hasn’t been a mountain picture for a while.

We arrived in Ferndale and it was great to see Holly again after all this time. If it weren’t for Covid, I think she and Jaxon would have come our way in 2020. So hello Holly, Pat, Jaxon, Damon and Kira. Newly-weds Tove and Sam weren’t around unfortunately.

Kira

After eating, all I wanted to do was sleep, really, so I can only imagine how tired Liesel felt after driving all day.

As is often the case, after completing my puzzles in the morning, I nodded off for a bit before getting up for breakfast. Pat went out for a walk with a friend while Holly took me and Liesel out for a bit of a drive.

Holly showed us the local High School which is huge, several buildings. There was a nice view of the mountains though. And, speaking of spectacular views, how about this? Chuckanut Drive was built in 1896 to connect Whatcom County wth places to the south, journeys previously taken by canoe, steamboat, sailing ship or train.

View from Samish Bay Lookout

What a peaceful place this is, Samish Bay. Only enhanced really by meeting a couple of cyclists who live in White Rock, BC, but who hail from Glasgow. I admitted to living in Manchester to which the guy asked ‘Manchester United?’ I replied that I was aware of their existence. They support rival teams in Glasgow, Celtic and Rangers, but seem to get on alright, out on the bikes.

Back in Bellingham, we walked along the boardwalk to Boulevard Park. We stopped for a coffee at Woods and I probably made a mistake by ordering such a large one. Especially when I had two more coffees later in the day, all non-decaffeinated.

Mick, Holly, Liesel

We spent a long time in Colophon Bookshop. I have so many book recommendations on my list, yet I can browse a bookshop and find dozens more that look interesting, intriguing or just fun. But I can’t keep adding to my list. In fact, I think there are enough books and people should stop writing them, give us a chance to catch up.

Selfie of the day

Here I am with Daniel Jefferson Harris, founder of Fairhaven, the part of Bellingham that we found ourselves in. We ate lunch at Colophon Café, and I think it’s fair to say I ate too much.

Honeysuckle

Naturally, I knew this was honeysuckle just as soon as Liesel and Holly reminded me.

Fairhaven has a very good toy shop too. I wanted to buy some of the jokes for myself but no, in the end, we just bought something for Martha and William.

Back at home, we ate salads for supper, solved the world’s problems, wrote some stuff and watched a Netflix show about a man and his octopus. Liesel couldn’t watch it all, but I’ll certainly watch it in full on another occasion.

I forgot that today marked the 49th anniversary of the removal of my appendix (and as a side effect, falling in love with a nurse). Right in the middle of ‘A’-level exams, and I even sat a couple of papers while in hospital. Maybe I’ll have a party for the 50th anniversary!

As I should have anticipated, I took a while to get to sleep after all that coffee in one day. I won’t make that mistake again.

Nonetheless, we got up early to say goodbye to Holly: some folks still have to go to work, unfortunately.

After breakfast and a nice chat with Pat, Liesel and I left to continue our trip northwards to Canada, land of the free, and of legal weed. On the way out of Ferndale, Liesel pointed out Mount Baker, 25 miles or so away.

Mount Baker

Of course I had to stop for another mountain picture. They’re still a novelty – especially when you live in Northenden, flat as a pancake.

The border guard was terse but efficient., asking whether we were carrying guns, alcohol or tobacco. Of course, the correct answer is, ‘I didn’t know we were supposed to be’, but common sense prevailed and I kept quiet.

Welcome to BC

So here we are in the best place on Earth, Beautiful British Columbia. Onto highway BC-99 to Vancouver, a relatively short drive away. They’re all short drives for me, Liesel does all the driving. I do the navigating and we usually end up in the right place.

Parties in Portland

After breakfast on another spontaneous workday for Liesel, we picked Suvan up and drove to Amrit’s office. I don’t really know what it’s like to work in there, but the view from the window is magnificent. A park outside and, of course, mountains in the background. I was tempted to fiddle with the office equipment, but I didn’t touch anything. Instead, leaving Suvan and Liesel to work, I went for a walk on yet another sunny day. I don’t know why sunny days in Anchorage still surprise me, but the word ‘Anchorage’ itself, I think, has a sort of synaesthetic link with cold and snow and discomfort.

The Cuddy Family Midtown Park has a playground and a pond and was very pleasant to walk through. Canada geese expect to be fed.

Be kind to geese

Not on my watch, baby! I didn’t have any food on me at all.

Anchorage Municipal Library aka Z J Loussac Public Library

Which is why almost as soon as I found the café in the library, I bought myself a muffin to go with the coffee. I made myself comfortable and spent the next few hours writing.

A few other people were there too, mostly studying or reading the newspaper. The homeless man used the facilities and made aggressive noises as if looking for a fight, but nobody paid him any attention and he soon wandered off.

I went for a longer walk, visiting New Sagaya for a coffee, that was good, but they had no WiFi, outrageous!

Telecoms

I passed by this telecommunications centre and checked, but no, my 4G signal was still not working properly. It comes and goes. Maybe I should have forked out for a local SIM card for these few weeks.

The signs of homeless people on streets or even in amongst the trees near the park is always  distressing. But the family flying the kite in the park cheered me up. Just as I arrived back at the office, I received a message from Liesel asking me to bring back an iced coffee. Well, if I’d had a decent signal, I might have received the message in time. Sorry, Liesel!

It was nice to see Amrit in the office now too, keeping an eye on Suvan and Liesel.

Back at home, after everyone else had gone to bed, I watched Spelling Bee on TV. This is a national contest for children aged 15 or under, and they do indeed have to spell some very unusual words. Just my thing, you’d think. And so it should be, but the TV presentation was awful. You see two contestants, then some waffle then a load of adverts. And I mean a lot of adverts. The interesting part of the show accounted for less than ten percent of actual broadcast time. What a shame for those children whose moment of glory was squeezed out by an advert for prescription only laxatives or something.

There are several channels playing music, called Music Choice. I found one playing Tiny Dancer, probably my favourite Elton John song, which I enjoyed before going to bed myself.

Woke up and got up early and had a jolly good stretch. Other than that, and a spot of packing, what a lazy day.

Mom drove us to the airport for the start of our next adventure. We flew to Seattle. But, before boarding the plane, what a palaver.

Going through Security, my Passport and boarding pass were deemed acceptable.  Then the queue split into two: Liesel went to the left, I to the right. Ok. Liesel was processed, scanned, bag X-rayed, no problem. Me? I’m just a trouble-maker.

I started to remove the electronics from my bag, as usual. Officer #1 aggressively: ‘Leave everything in your bag. If you want to take your things out, go to the back of the other line’. So I put my stuff back: Kindle, keyboard, and the pedometer which has caused so much concern on other occasions.

Do I take my shoes and belt off? ‘Yes, of course’. Was I beginning to get flustered? A bit. By mistake, I left the phone in my pocket, so that raised alarm when I went through the body scanner. (Meanwhile, nobody seemed at all bothered by the two trays with bags that nobody claimed ownership of.)

Officer #2 frisked me, and found the phone, which then had to go back and through the Xray machine in the other line. But wait, there’s more! The metal poppers on my pockets always set off a klaxon. Maybe your machine is a bit too sensitive?

So now I’m waiting for things from both sides: my bag, shoes and belt from this side and my phone from the other side, from where Liesel had emerged unscathed about three decades earlier.

I notice that the tray containing my bag has been pulled to the side. Officer #3 is going through another, female, passenger’s bag. Her problem? The ice pack keeping her insulin cool had thawed during the day. So it’s now full of liquid water. I expected Officer #3 to go through my bag, for whatever reason, in the fullness of time. I saw Liesel waiting patiently and tried very hard not to make any signs that might cause suspicion here in Paranoia Central. Officer #3  told me and the others waiting here to go behind the screen over there, which we did, about 5 or 6 of us. She looked through someone else’s bag first, but this was a quick process.

She then began to chat with a colleague.

Officer #4 (at last!) held up my my tray. ‘Is this anybody’s? No?’ Not giving me a chance, he started to take it away again. I had to shout that it was mine. I don’t like shouting at the best of times. But here? In a high sceurity zone? Where I really don’t want to attract any attention? If #3 hadn’t sent me so far away, I would have been on the spot when #4 picked up my bag.

He looked inside, and picked out my water bottle. Oh no. I think even he was surprised at how few drops of water there were inside. I wonder if he too thinks that this new machine is a bit too sensitive? Maybe we should leave our electronics in the bag and take out the water bottles? He was very polite as he gave me my tray but I was still stunned by the whole ridiculous process, I almost forgot to take it with me.

Still a bit war-weary I started to unhitch my hat from the bag, something I really didn’t need to do. I only tied it up there because it was a big deal last time, when it was perched on my head. What I should have been doing is putting on my shoes and belt. And breathe.

I know the rules change from trip to trip, from country to country, from airport to airport, but I think the rules should be consistent in the same place at the same time. And, if the new equipment being  tested (in place of the well-known Xray machine) can’t ignore a few drops of water in a bottle, then it would be no hardship for us to remove bottles from our bags, honest.

Liesel tweeted a complaint to TSA but has had no response. And having written it all down, I now feel purged of the whole sorry incident. Grrr. Whinge of the day.

What a relief to finally be able to sit down on the plane, a small QX E175, built by Brazilian company Embraer, although they’re now pretty much owned by Boeing.

There are no middle seats, everyone is by the window or by the aisle. And, according to the Alaska Air site: the E175 maximum takeoff weight is equivalent to approximately 10,000 Copper River salmon.

I read my book and did some puzzles but the main entertainment was provided by the gentleman sitting behind me. He had trouble stowing his bag under the seat in front. The steward was very patient as he spent several minutes trying to explain the concept of turning the bag sideways!

The flight was pleasant and what a surprise to see it turn dark outside after the Sun set.

Seattle

I suspect this is not the best photo ever taken from an aeroplane, of Seattle at night.

From the airport, a short bus ride took us to the car rental facility. The car was waiting for us and after a long, long day, Liesel drove us to our beds.

Red Roof was alright, and our room had been cleaned by Eulogia, which I thought was a beautiful name, specially since it contains all five vowels!

And you’ll never guess where we had breakfast the next morning? IHOP was a better bet than Denny’s, we felt. Neither of us could finish our omelettes. American portions win again.

We drove south through the state capital, Olympia, but I blinked and missed it. Apart from a couple of showers, it was a nice sunny drive to Portland, Oregon. We commented on how much longer the trucks and tankers are here compared with what we’re used to at home.

Funny old number plate

So: what did you think when you first saw this number plate? Liesel thought ‘squirt one’ but even though this isn’t an imaginary car, I read it as ‘square root of minus one’.

Our rental car on this occasion is a Toyota Prius and whenever we turn the engine off at the end of a trip, a message flashes up on the screen: ‘Check rear seats’. And every time I turn round to look, I see that they are in fact still there.

Also, it gives you a mark at the end of each journey telling you how good or bad a driver you are. Liesel was typically getting 70+ out of 100. (Once, later on, I sat in the driver’s seat trying to change the speed display from mph to kph. I was unsuccessful, drove absolutely nowhere, but was given  95 / 100!)

The plan was to meet people at The Rose Garden but we arrived a bit too late. Nevertheless, we had  a good workout here, walking up and down some of the steeper inclines.

Just a few of the gorgeous roses currently in bloom

The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was incredibly moving. As it should be.

Bronze representation of a child’s doll

The children’s toys are especially poignant. Such a contrast with the colourful roses just a short walk away.

We found our Airbnb in Portland, and it was no coincidence that we were greeted by Jyoti, Suvan, Gita and Troy as well as some of Jyoti’s relations who we’d not met before: sister Preeti, cousin Guddu, nieces Simran and Suchi.

We were gathered here for a few days to help Gita celebrate her graduation from Lewis and Clark College. She is training as Family Therapist and we’re all very proud of her.

Guddu put together a wonderful charcuterie but the main debate was on how to pronounce it. I think we spent most of the rest of the day chatting and eating and eating and mixing and chatting and eating. And dancing, although I still have this phobia of stomping on other people’s feet.

It’s the first time we’ve shared a b&b with lots of people we know, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere.

It was a bit overcast and even drizzly as we drove over to Gita’s house the following morning.

Pavement art

I think this literal splash of colour is celebrating June being LGBT Pride Month.

We walked to a nearby street food market on the site of Hawthorne Asylum. There was almost too much to choose from: food from Guyana, Korea, Japan, South Africa.

Rubbish!

The canopy over the table kept us dry: yes, it was still raining a bit. Despite this, we walked the long way back. Jyoti wanted to introduce us to Urbanite, a shop that sells everything, lots of old stuff, vintage items, treasures, works of art, things you don’t even know you don’t need.

Bluetooth speaker

This bluetooth speaker is bigger than usual, being based on the design of a drum. Try me! I did. I treated the shop to David Bowie singing Everyone Says Hi! What I really wanted to play was a recording of Martha and William laughing, but such an MP3 doesn’t exist on my phone. Yet.

After the fun and games in the shop, it’s despressing to see sights like this.

Tent in the street

Homeless people are living in tents all over the city. You might wake up one day and find someone camping on the pavement outside your luxury apartment. There are even ‘tent cities’ in some locations.

Back at Gita’s house, it was party time, party number 2! We met Gita’s housemates Jessica, Mark and Jackie. Many, many other people turned up, fellow students and tutors and family and friends. Music was provided by Abba, until the record stopped.

What a noisy, busy, happy hubbub. But so many people. Do something scary every day. OK. My opening line was something like ‘You’re not a big fan of big crowds. either, then?’ After which, Jan (I think that was her name, hard to be sure with all that background noise) and I had a really nice chat. I don’t why I find it so hard to talk to new people. Probably being told ‘you should be seen and not heard’ too often doesn’t help.

Pizza

A large truck pulled up outside and delivered a mountain of pizza, from CostCo, one of Liesel’s favourite places.

I spoke to Gita’s mentor about Prince and music and not at all about Gita, although I think I may have accidentally told Gita otherwise later on!

In the evening, there was the option of going to a parade, or going dancing, or going to bed. You have one guess…

In the morning, Liesel drove Guddu to the airport while I slept on obliviously. Liesel came back to bed but when we rose at about 9, there was nobody else around to say goodbye to. Today was the day of Gita’s Graduation ceremony, which looks like a marvellous affair.

Suvan, Gita and Jyoti

A rightly, very proud family, Gita’s worked really hard and I’m sure will continue to do so. Congratulations to you all.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I were driving north on Interstate-5. And that’s another story…

We go to Talkeetna

Jenny celebrated a birthday at home while Liesel and I were in Anchorage. I’m sorry we missed the party, but there’ll be plenty more later on. Happy birthday, Jenny!

Meanwhile, having been south to Juneau for a couple of days, it was now time to head north. We paid a return visit to Talkeetna, where we had our wedding party all those years ago.

The drive was uneventful, and sadly, one of the most notable features was the after effects of bush fires. Burnt trees from last year, or maybe several years ago. Despite the damage, some trees were trying to come back to life.

Burnt but regenerating trees

We drove through Willow, which at one point wanted to become the state capital. We stopped at Wasilla (famous for Sarah Palin) for coffee and use of WiFi (I went to Kaladi) and some shopping (Liesel went to Carrs). Nothing special.

In Talkeetna, we drove straight to Diane’s log cabin, where we stayed for a couple of nights. It’s secluded, in the woods, close to a pond (large pond, or small lake?) Surprise, surprise, Jyoti appeared!

Log cabin

The grebes on the water were determined not to swim too close to us. Maybe they had chicks to protect, but we’ll never know for sure. It was still warm and sunny, and we couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather.Diane,

Diane came by and we made our way into town. Well, Jyoti drive us into town.

Talkeetna itself was much more busy than we’ve ever seen it. There was the Arts Festival, there was live music and I’m sure some of the people were here to climb or explore Denali, the highest mountain in north America. Unfortunately, the Roadhouse has been closed since the pandemic. We were unable to go inside to check that the bottle top commemorating our marriage was still in place, nailed to the doorframe.

There’s a moose, loose, ootside the hoose

It’s always exciting to see wildlife but I wasn’t convinced by this moose. We spent some time looking at the various artworks on display. Would we like any of it in our flat? Yes, of course, some of it was really clever and attractive. Did we buy any? No. On another level, it’s just more stuff.

The live music was great though: I enjoyed listening to Lauren Crosby. She was meant to play the previous evening but, like us, her flight from somewhere extremely remote had been delayed. The organisers let her play a few songs this afternoon. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes an appearance on my next radio show… watch this space!

Also: Ukulele Russ played ukulele versions of rock songs such as Van Halen’s Jump. Did I think to record it? Not until it was too late, sorry.

While the girls were looking at more stuff in shops, I went for a quick walk along the main street, in search of coffee. I’d heard about the world famous espresso milkshakes offered by Conscious Coffee and of course, I tracked it down after visiting the wrong emporium first.

Softball

There was a sporting event in town too: softball. This is a variation on baseball, which is a variation on rounders, and there was quite a crowd watching the game. Including Jim, Diane’s husband, who she tracked down by locating his bicycle.

Back at the cabin, we sat beside the pond for a while. Did I go in for a swim? No: I dangled my feet in up to my ankles and told myself, it’ll still be here tomorrow!

We ate dinner outside too and it was nice to have a long, light evening, by the pond, without being bothered by mosquitoes or midges.

No official name, so: Mick’s Pond

The pond doesn’t have an official name, but all the local people refer to it in their own way, referring to previous occupants of their property, or to the men who built our cabin.

In fact, it didn’t really get dark all night. For the usual reason, I was up at about midnight and again about 2am, and it was light enough to read by. Did I mention mosquitoes? Well, one did manage to find its way into the cabin.We heard the high-pitched whine, but we never managed to track it down. On the other hand, it didn’t track me down either.

I’ve missed Jytoi’s fried eggs on toast so I was delighted when she offered to cook my breakfast in the morning. In fact, I probably accepted the offer far too quickly, before it had been fully vocalised.

Liesel is working for lawyer Amrit. Amrit and her husband Siri also have a cabin near Talkeetna. Jyoti drove us over to see them. Cabin? It’s huge! It’s a big barn that, at one point in its history, could have been turned into a boarding school. It’s a fascinating place, full of stuff, it’s not for me to call it junk, but lots of old books and hundreds of boxes of other… clutter, yes, that’s the word.

Amrit’s barn

In a feat of strength, I helped Siri carry a huge DeWalt saw to the back of his car. This is probably the heaviest item I’ve lifted for many years. Muscles and back were OK, but that 30 seconds of exercise were enough to leave me short of breath for a few minutes.

After showing us around the cabin/barn, Siri took us for a hike through the woods. I thought we were headed for nearby Sunshine Lake, but we didn’t find it. Maybe we were walking the boundary of the property, like we sometimes walk the parish bounds at home, but there were no stakes marking the different properties.

Jyoti, Amrit, Liesel, Siri

Eventually, what drove us back was the devil’s club, a really thorny, prickly, aggressive looking plant that was growing at the edge of the trodden path, but occasionally on it. No need to scratch our delectable legs more than necessary.

Devil’s club

If it had started walking towards us, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I’m sure it was partly the inspiration for John Wyndham’s triffids.

When away from the others talking, it was so peaceful: the only sound was birdsong, but other than the large American robin, I didn’t see any birds here.

Birch bark

This birch bark felt like thick paper and it gave me the idea of maybe pulping wood, and turning into paper. It would be ideal for writing on and maybe even for wrapping birthday presents.

Back at the cabin, I thought about going for a swim in the pond. It would be refreshing, after the hot, sweaty walk in the woods.

Just jump in, they all said. No, thanks. I climbed down the steps very slowly, getting used to the temperature. Or, letting my lower legs grow numb with cold. The water was refreshing yes, but just a little too cold for comfort.

In the end, I swam for just a few minutes. When I climbed out, I lied that it wasn’t the cold water that beat me, but remembering the dead fish we’d seen floating by yestertday.

Jim told us that it really was worthwhile going on a flight around Denali. You land on a glacier and have a quick walk and a quick gawk. We didn’t have time on this visit, although the weather was ideal for such an adventure.

Denali

But near Talkeetna, is a fantastic lookout point, so this was the best sighting we had of the mountain.

After tea and crackers, we bade farewell to Jyoti, who was heading back to Anchorage prior to flying to Portland.

It was Diane’s birthday, and she invited us over to her place for cake. There, we met Stacey and Troy, local artists, woodworkers and generally all-round good guys. They were off to Portland soon, too!

Everyone in Alaska has dogs. And in any group of people, everyone else is fond of the dogs and one of us isn’t that interested. So guess who the dogs come over to bother every time? They sniff and puff and pant and sit by my feet and beg for a stroke and I’m thinking, you’d get far more attention from everyone else in the room!

It’s been dry lately, almost a drought in Alaska. So there’s lots of dust in the air. And it’s far less humid than at home. I suspect this change in conditions has affected my fingerprints. I rely on this biometric to start my phone a hundred times a day. But just lately, it hasn’t recognised my fingerprints at all. And after five attempts, I get locked out for 30 seconds.

Take me home, dusty roads

There’s a 9-hour time difference between Alaska and home, so that meant Liesel had to attend an online WI meeting early in the morning. I think she enjoyed showing off the cabin and the pond to the ladies of the WI, before getting down to WI business.

We packed, locked up and drove back to Anchorage, again stopping briefly in Wasilla. In Anchorage, we visited Kohl’s where Liesel bought some shorts for our next little trip. She hadn’t brought any with her from home because, seriously, who expects heatwaves in Alaska?

Mountains again

Of course I had to take another picture of the mountains. And of course, I had to share it.

Just be grateful I didn’t take pictures of the game shows we endured on TV, Wheel of Fortune, Double Jeopardy, and another one whose name escapes me. There are some vey excitable, excited people in America!

I slept pretty well, albeit with some strange, vivid dreams that shall remain private.

We need to talk about Juneau

Jyoti picked us up, me and Liesel that is. Not physically, but in her car. We spent some time at her place and went for a short walk in the woods nearby, overlooking the bluff. We sat outside her condo for a while, admiring the tree that’s been chopped down (for some unknown reason) but is slowly trying to come back to life.

Jyoti’s regenerating tree

It was entertaining to watch the relationship between the dog, Basil, and the cat. Don’t ask who’s in charge, because it’s very hard to tell.

Jyoti kindly drove us to the airport and then back home so that Liesel could pick up her passport. Then back again to the airport. Did you know, Ted Stevens Airport at Anchorage is the fourth largest cargo airport in the world? At least, according to the mural inside.

We were flying to Juneau, the isolated state capital, only accessible by air and by sea.

My pedometer caused grief as we went through security: just because you never walk anywhere, doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t keep records of our daily perambulations, Sir, I thought but didn’t say out loud.

The flight was delightfully short: everywhere should be this close. As the plane started its descent, we saw Southeast Alaskan mountains for the first time. You can never have too many pictures of mountains. (Oh yes you can.)

Mountains (southeast Alaska)

Michael drove the shuttle bus to our hotel. Entertainment here was provided by an Indian lady berating her husband. Sadly, not in English. The ingratitude of the wife rose an octave when she saw the fairly dilapidated state of the Driftwood Hotel. It really does need some TLC. It’s supposed to be a completely smoke-free environment, but our room had the faint tinge of cigarettes from years past, which almost but not quite concealed the aroma of cleaning chemicals.

Having said that, our room was clean and comfortable and secure enough. We were on the top floor. Our friend Monica was staying here too while working in Juneau for a week. The staircase closest to her room was taped off. I don’t think it was long for this world.

It was lovely to see Monica, and she really didn’t deserve the extreme pain and grief I caused while hugging her and squeezing the shoulder injured a few weeks ago when she slipped on ice. I was mortified. There was no way I could undo the damage. If you’re reading this, Monica: once again, I am truly, truly sorry.

We drove to Auke Bay where we ate at the Forbidden Peak Brewery. At these breweries, each person is only allowed to consume 32 oz per day of alcoholic beverages. None of us reached this target. I ate salad and chips, which is my default option at these meat-heavy places. Very nice, very tasty.

On the way back to Juneau, we stopped off at Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes.

Mendenhall Glacier

It was too late to walk to and around the glacier on this occasion, but it’s been added to the ever-growing list of places to return to, one day.

A nearby hut displayed copious information about the glacier and the surrounding area. This hut had been invaded by a couple of families of swallows, we saw them nesting in the rafters.

Mountains (the view from our hotel window)

We slept well and as Monica was working, we rose quite early for breakfast. Needless to say, I was the slowest to get ready, but I soon caught up with Liesel and Monica at The Rookery. Even if Google Maps took me the really long way.

The barista drew a wonderful fern on my latté. I complimented him on his artwork, he said he’d give it a C. The second cup (yes, yes, I had a second cup, so what?) he thought he decorated better. C+.

Northern lights

The atmosphere is enhanced by photographs displayed on the walls. We won’t see the northern lights at this time of year in Alaska, so this is a good second best. Yes, I should have made a note of the photographer’s name, sorry.

Monica went to work, leaving Liesel and me to visit the museum. Which, strangely, is where Monica was working.

It covers the whole history of Alaska, from its first settlement from across the then Bering land bridge, the Russians, the Americans. Again, we were embarrassed by the white Europeans mission seemingly to disrupt and destroy any other culture that had survived for thousands of years.

Thunderbird screen

Xeitl X’een Thunderbird screen

In southeast Alaska, Tlingit clan history was preserved in precise detail between generations. Stories of their origins and early activities were passed orally over thousands of years. Elders coached young people to commit to memory these histories. Accuracy was very important. These histories are also represented in songs, personal and place names, and as symbolic crests on regalia, totemic carvings, and other decorated objects, To this day, clan history, tangible and intangible, is considered sacred property. This screen documents the history of the Thunderbird House of the Yakutat Tlingit. In the early 20th century, clan leader Frank Italio, Kuchein, commissioned the screen from artist Woochjix’oo Eesh (In Everybody’s Arms-Father), a L’uknax.ádi man. The Shangookeidi clan claims the thunderbird crest through their ancestors’ contact with the creature. At the center of the screen is the sculptural carving of the Thunderbird, and painted below this figure are two Shangookeidi ancestors. These figures may be young men, whose fatal encounter with a thunderbird’s feather is memorialized in a clan song. Four stylized raindrops fall down the sides of the screen, and two long black clouds float above the thunderbird’s wings. The faces all around represent hailstones, falling on the Thunderbird’s mountain home.

[Xeitl X’een Thunderbird Screen Thunderbird House (Xeiti Hit), Shangookeidi clan, Yakutat Tlingit, 11-3-845]

I’m glad I committed this story, from the museum, to memory: I just wish I knew what the Tlingit words all actually meant.

The focus was on south and southeastern Alaskan natives, which Liesel found particularly interesting since her previous knowlecge focused on the northern peoples.

Totem pole fragment of the first white man

This totem pole fragment marks the local people’s first encounter with a white man. You may think he looks familiar. The wood carver, over 100 years later, based his design on Abraham Lincoln, probably the most famous white person known at the time. The local Indians were considered a problem for the invaders. ‘The only solution of the problem of the Indian is found, it seems, in the simple theory that there are no good Indians except dead ones’. No, this isn’t from a current edition of The Daily Mail, it’s from Douglas Island News, December 1900.

Well, to cleanse our palates from the interesting, if sometimes disturbing, exhibits in the museum, we walked around Juneau, making our slow way towards the tram. There’s a map of the world marked out in studs on the boardwalk.

Map on the boardwalk (down by the sea…)

I wonder how many of the thousands of passengers from the cruise ships actually notice it?

Tram

This tram took us 1800 feet up Mount Roberts from where we enjoyed a terrific view of the town and the inlet. It’s a very popular destination for cruise ships, of which we saw four docked today, and a few different ones later on.

Cruise ships visiting Juneau

Disney Wonder: 2,400 passengers.
Viking Orion: 930 passengers.
Quantum of the Sea: 4,905 passengers.
Zuiderdam: 1,916 passengers.
That’s a substantial increase on the city’s resident population, about 32,000 people.

Up at 1800 feet, the last of the snow is melting. Liesel wasn’t interested in a snowball fight so, like a tourist, I just posed.

Mick v snow
So many restrictions!

Many towns have a surplus of pigeons. Not Juneau. No, here, ravens rule the roost, and I think their song (if it can be called a song) might well be my next ringtone.

Raven

Back down in town, our late lunch was a shared plate of nachos, nothing special, but with a nose-eye view of one of those ocean-going liners.

Take a bow

Our wandering continued, upwards. Inside the Russian Orthodox Church, we weren’t allowed to light candles in remembrance of our lost loved ones. It’s very dry here right now, and people are very conscious of the risk of fire.

Russian Orthodox Church

Cope Park marked the summit of our ascent on this occasion, nice and peaceful, with a river running through.

Did I mention how steep some of the roads are?
Cope Park

Given how much it snows here, I was surprised to see that most of the roofs aren’t as steep as this place.

Steep roofs (or is it rooves?)

There are stories of rooves (or is it roofs?) caving in under the weight of so much snow and ice. Yet we at home in England begin to worry when there’s more than half an inch of snow!

We found the Whale Fountain and sat there for a while. Monica set out to meet us but didn’t quite make it. Well, you wouldn’t, if you walk in exactly the wrong direction!

Takhu the whale
Takhu with bonus rainbow

I calculated the best place to stand in order to see rainbow colours in the water spray. Spherical geometry, trigonometry and knowledge of the refractive index of water all played a part. Really? No, I just stood with the Sun behind me, that worked.

We were delighted to see our hotel bedecked in bunting for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Nope, it was for America’s Memorial Day this weekend. Monica was back from work now, and we walked over to a restaurant called Salt for dinner. Several of Monica’s colleagues joined us: Ellen, Sarah (from the UK), James and there I’m afraid my memory runs out. James’s partner is one of a set of identical triplets. By an amazing coincidence, Monica has met with another identical triplet, from a different family, all interested in the field of restoration and preservation

Thinking I might have dessert, I had a so-called starter as my main course, a salad in fact. But: American portions, no dessert for me.

It had been a busy old day, lovely to meet some new people of course, but I was glad to find myself horizontal in bed, with no desire to read nor listen to a podcast. Zzz.

Sandpiper ravens

Next door to our hotel is The Sandpiper, probably so-called because of the ravens that have taken up residence here. This is where we broke our fast before another day of sightseeing.

I think Liesel and I very quickly came to realise how much we liked Juneau. And how we would like to spend more time here. But the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny on this occasion. It’s famous for its rain and occasional very strong winds, I wonder if we’d be so keen in such conditions? I commented on how nice it was not to see the the usual suspects, McDonalds and Starbucks, anywhere. Liesel said she had seen a McD, but it was much closer to the airport.

Impulse buying doesn’t only apply in supermarkets, when you grab a bar of chocolate at the check-out desk. Native gift shops are quite attractive too. There’s a lot here that we couldn’t buy, because we can’t take it out of Alaska, or into the UK, such as seal fur, walrus and mammoth ivory. But that didn’t stop Liesel buying a pair of earrings. Or me buying a tie. Yes. me, Mick, bought a new tie for the first time since I had long hair and a full beard. What on earth is going on?

Monica drove us to Jensen-Olsen Arboretum, where we enjoyed looking at and sniffing the flowers. Plus, a quick walk on the beach.

Jensen-Olsen Arboretum
Japanese wood poppy

A short drive away is the Shrine of St Thérèse. For someone who only lived to the age of 24, she seems like a good sort, and is very popular. The shrine did bring back a memory that I long ago buried though. When my Mum was dying, I wondered whether, as a lapsed Catholic, she might take some comfort from being visited by a priest. When I suggested this to Dad, the look of horror, fear, defiance, even hatred, on his face, told me that that was never going to happen. So sad.

National Shrine of St Thérèse
Merciful Love Labyrinth

No, we didn’t walk through the labyrinth: too risky, we might get lost. Or leapt upon by a hidden wild animal.

Driving back towards Juneau.
‘Why are those people letting their dog go to the other side of the road? And why are they taking pictures of it?’
‘That’s not a dog, it’s a bear.’

And it was, a black bear minding its own business noshing on something. Those people had stopped for the photo opp, but by the time we realised, we were too far away. Still, I can tick ‘black bear’ off the list, now!

There’s just one bridge between Juneau and neighbouring Douglas Island, and that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

I’m so insecure in my cultural awareness, I had to make sure it’s still ok to call this thing a totem pole.

Totem pole

It is, and this bright colourful one is right by Savikko Park, which is partly a nice sandy beach. We watched some people having fun in the sea, which I assumed would be quite cold because over the other side, you can see freshly melted snow running down the mountains.

Mountain (from Savikko Park) > snow > ice > water

Further along, there’s a nice trail on and around the old Treadmill mine. If you want to set up a mine of your own, there is plenty of discarded old (and sometimes rusty) equipment just left lying around.

Flange (used for flangeing, I think)

Actually, just leave it all where it is. Some of the mines are nearly half a mile deep, and I am reminded how lucky I am to be around in a time and place where I didn’t have to work in such places.

Wharf

This is what’s left of the wharf where all the equipment and supplies were delivered.

For a late lunch, we had pizza at The Island Pub, as recommended by a couple of people.

Back in Juneau, we rested by the whale fountain for a while. I noticed how prickly the grass was, but maybe it’s for walking on, not lying on.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry living on America’s West Coast were forcibly removed and incarcerated in isolated government internment camps.

In May 1942, the seniors at Juneau High School left an empty chair during their graduation ceremony to underscore the absence of their Japanese-American valedictorian, John Tanaka. By extension, this empty chair honors all of the Japanese uprooted from their homes and communities.

The Empty Chair Memorial represents the void the people of Juneau felt for their missing friends and neighbors impacted by this injustice. The names of those interned are etched on the bronze floor.

A time may come when these names will be forgotten, but the symbol of the empty chair will remind future generations of the lessons learned from this compelling and poignant story.

Yes, we made the pilgrimage.

Empty Chair Memorial

Monica literally drove us to the end of the road. This was south, along Thane Road, through a place called Thane, to the signs saying ‘This is the end of the road, turn around, go back, here be dragons’, or something. A reminder that Juneau can only be reached by sea and air.

Speaking of which, we returned to the airport where Monica dropped off the rental car, and we went through security before our flight back to Anchorage. And, in another first-time-ever scenario, my hat was searched. I was too, but my hat looks big, so, do you mind if I have a look at it?

Note to self: when smuggling contraband, the hat is no longer a safe hiding place

In and around Anchorage

After a relatively long walk yesterday, we thought we’d take it easy and just walk up to the coffee shop and back. I say ‘just’ but even that little jaunt helps us achieve our daily target of 10,000 steps.

Our eyes were of course peeled for moose and bears. But in the end, the most exciting wildlife we saw on this occasion was a family of bald eagles. When we first saw the chick in flight, we thought it was a crow or something. Then, seeing it pursued by an eagle, we thought it was dinner. Then we realised: both parents were showing their chick the ropes.

Bald eagles

This was our first visit to Kaladi Brothers Coffee this visit and, since it wasn’t too busy, we enjoyed our coffee inside.

On the walk back home, Liesel pointed out a mound of snow that hasn’t yet melted. I didn’t recognise it as such, it was covered in so much debris.

Dirty snow

This is a typical Alaskan scene. Cooler boxes airing outside the garage, while a pair of waders is taking the air on the washing line.

Coolers and Waders (not to be confused with the 1970s prog rock combo)

It is a very outdoorsy place, and when the weather’s this good, it’s easy to see why. But the weather isn’t always this kind of course. When it snows, it snows. You can easily lose a fire hydrant in the snow. So to make it easier to find, they attach a red and white pole to it. This shows how deep the snow can be at its worst. You could bury an entire upright Liesel in it.

Hydrant, hi Liesel

As suspected, I starred in this week’s advert for Boxx 2 Boxx back at home.

Boxx 2 Boxx ad

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a lovely nature reserve, and we can enjoy walking on its extensive boardwalk. Again, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the temperature was perfect. And again, you can’t escape seeing mountains way over there in the distance.

Boardwalk

There are several species of bird here, although we only saw a few flitting here and there, too fast to identify. Another family of eagles owned the sky while very pretty blue tree swallows stayed nearer our level.

Swallows

Another first for this visit was seeing a moose.

Moose

It seemed to be enjoying what it was eating. But we’d noticed the water here was a bit oily. This is effluent from residential and industrial premises. But the vegetation here prevents the nasty chemicals from entering the main body of water, so it all seems under control. I just hope the moose aren’t ingesting something really nasty.

We collected Jyoti from the airport. Her journey back from wherever she’d been was delayed by a food truck crashing into her aeroplane. They hadn’t boarded yet, but I can imagine the groan running around a planeful of disappointed passengers. So, we collected Jyoti but no luggage. This didn’t appear until late the following day.

In the evening, Liesel and I met up with Aaron and Jodi for a meal at a place called Ginger. The food was great, very flavourful, but I’d forgotten how large American meals are, and I couldn’t finish my curry.

I’d also forgotten that American toilets are different. I washed my hands and stood there for ages waiting for the air dryer to come on, only to realise it was in fact a paper dispenser. I’m glad nobody was there to witness my incompetence.

It hasn’t rained here for a long, long time, which means everything is dry, and it’s very easy for bush fires to take hold. As at home, these are often started by people lighting fires and barbecues in inappropriate places.

Liesel got up early, ridulously early, to visit the Strech Zone. I thought she’d come back about 6 feet tall, but apparently it’s not that kind of stretching. Just the muscles, and just enough to make you feel uncomfortable afterwards.

After breakfast, we drove over to Jyoti’s place where Liesel swapped me for Suvan, Jyoti’s son. Liesel drove him to Amrit’s office where he now works, at least part time, and I went for a nice long walk with Jyoti.

A small 7-petalled wonderflower

There are some small flowers, including this one with an unusual number of petals. Someone will tell us what it’s called!

The terrain was hilly in the forest over the way, something I’m not really used to any more. Basil the dog carried the bear bells so we didn’t have to. On the way back, a motorist stopped to tell us that there was a bear the other side of the roundabout: the roundabout that we’d just walked around. Yes, I’d like to see a bear in the wild but no, I don’t want to be that close!

We returned to Jyoti’s condo and then proceeded to drink coffee on a friend’s porch. That’s a bit presumptuous, I thought, but hey-ho, I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. We picked up our coffees from Kaladi Bros and yes, we really did go and plonk ourselves in someone else’s back yard.

Jetty on Sand Lake

Back yard? Patio? Jetty? I didn’t want to admit to my ignorance by asking, but what a vista to gaze upon each morning.

Carrie (sp? not sure) is a paediatrician and now lives right next to Sand Lake. She has a couple of little dogs.

Dog or Yoda?

What a lovely, peaceful place she has here,  well back from the main road.

Meanwhile, Liesel was at work with Amrit and Suvan. Before going out for dinner, Liesel had some errands to run. As she drove us round, I became more and more disoriented. Yes, I know the mountains are in that direction, but I would have struggled to find my way back if I’d needed to.

Catherine and Hans live in a fabulous house up the hill in the Golden View area. And the view is spectacular, looking out over most of the city.

Sunset over Anchorage

Catherine baked quiche and we ate outside, watching the Sun set. This picture was taken just before 10pm, although neither of us realised it was quite that late. It stays light here for most of the night!

They told us about a house fire that had recently taken place close by, down the hill a bit, and they watched the helicopters flying by at the height of their deck as they brought in large buckets of water to douse the flames.

What a long day that was, and I’m sure we both fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Touchdown in Anchorage

What a strange couple of days. Helen arrived from Australia one day, then Liesel and I went to Alaska the next. Oops, sorry: spoiler alert. Yes, it’s strange the way things worked out, but we’ll definitely spend more time with Helen later in the year.

Let’s start again. Helen was met at the airport by Jenny and William. We’d arranged to meet them later on, and William wanted to surprise us. When we arrived at their house, William was stomping about in his new Spidey shoes. The lights in the heels were flashing and he really wanted us to admire them. He invited me up to his bedroom which was darker, so easier to see the flashing lights. Then he pulled the bed covers back to reveal…
“Oh, a new cuddly toy?”
“No, it’s Auntie Helen!”

Helen’s plans this visit include a trip down south to see some friends. Today, we drove over to Bramall Hall, where we had lunch and spent some time feeding ducks and in the playground.

Liesel and Helen
William the duck feeder
Rhododendron

Back at home, Liesel and I did some more packing and I spent a long, long on hold on the phone before adding Helen to our car insurance policy. It didn’t cost anything in the end, but something as simple as that should be possible via the website. That would take some pressure off the under-staffed call centre.

Back at Jenny’s we had an Indian takeaway for our last meal before heading for Anchorage. Both William and Martha were in top form, very funny and engaging. Very happy to see Auntie Helen, and not just because she always comes bearing gifts. I was pleased to receive gifts of chocolate and TimTams, thank you Helen!

Helen, Martha and William with Jenny and Liam way over there

Liam drove us home in his car. We left our old jalopy for Helen to use. We went via the pharmacy to pick up the last of Liesel’s prescription. From the pharmacy where, at 8 o’clock that morning, we’d gone for the Covid test required before entering the USA.

Back at home, we finished the packing, prepared the flat to be deserted for a while and went to bed for a short sleep. The taxi picked us up at 4 in the morning. We thought we’d catch up on sleep on the long flight later on. Hah!

Manchester Airport was ridiculously busy that early in the morning, mostly for Easy Jet flights as far as we could see. We were off to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in the first place. It was good to be in the air, in my case, for the first time in over two years.

The myth of German efficiency was blown at Frankfurt Airport. We needed proof that we’d been vaccinated against Covid and a negative Covid test from within 24 hours. Without these documents, one uploaded at home yesterday and one stored on our phones and printed out, we would have had to complete a 7-page form supplied by the US authorities.

But at the first desk, the clerk didn’t even have a computer. So he couldn’t see our vax documents, nor my ESTA. Go to a second desk. The clerk here was busy chatting. Go to a third desk. At last, someone fully equipped to see that we were allowed to travel.

In the end, our flight was nearly an hour late taking off. Only at landing in Anchorage did we find out that some of the passengers were refugees from Ukraine. This ‘special’ group of people were allowed to disembark first. We didn’t know why: a sports team? A secret military operation? Nope, refugees, greeted by at least a couple of TV crews. I suspect if you see this footage, you’ll see me and Liesel at the back, gurning behind our masks.

Thomas Cook cup

The flight itself was uneventful, but this water cup brought back many happy memories of when I worked at this wonderful travel agents’ HQ in Peterborough. I wonder whether that horrible Cobol program IPP06 ever worked properly? Good to see the old stock being used and not just thrown away.

There be mountains

On seeing the first snow-covered mountain from the aeroplane, we knew we were very nearly at our destination.

On the Customs form, Liesel declared the chutney that we’d bought for a friend. This triggered a full search of all of our bags. They found an apple in mine, one that I’d forgotten to eat on the flight. I try not to commit crimes in the USA, yet here I am.

Going through immigration, the official asked to take a photograph of Liesel, something not previously required of an American citizen. When he asked to take my picture, I stood where Liesel had been standing. “Oh no sir, please stand over there, in front of the camera.” We suspect he didn’t get a picture of Liesel, but just didn’t want to admit that he’d asked for one in error. Welcome to the USA say the signs, and I always say to myself, I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome anywhere.

Liesel’s Mom drove us home from the airport, and I think I just slumped for the rest of the day. I dozed off a couple of times in flight, but I didn’t have a long, satisfying sleep.

It was good to see Mom and Dad, Leslie and Klaus again: Liesel has of course been here quite recently, helping them both through various medical interventions.

Our first night’s sleep here was interrupted when Klaus had a diabetic hypo, and required assistance from 6 absolutely gorgeous paramedics. Liesel’s words, not mine: they were all wearing masks so I couldn’t gauge how attractive they were. But they were all very supportive, attentive, informative and helpful. And they arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call.

Our first full day in sunny Anchorage was taken up by walking in the great outdoors. And it really was sunny, and very warm. Liesel and I walked along part of the coastal trail starting near Westchester Lagoon.

Kayaking in the lagoon

It’s very picturesque with the snow-covered mountains in the background, and thank goodness all the snow has thawed in the city itself.

Sandhill cranes

The sandhill cranes were on the mud flats, where we are advised not to walk. We followed a railway line for a while and I though I heard the hoot of a train approaching, but we never saw one.

The cargo ship being towed to the Port of Alaska was huge. Apparently 80% of everything that comes into the state is imported through this port.

We walked back to the car through a nice, quiet neighbourhood. The New Sagaya supplied our first coffee of this trip and my first bagel.

We drove to Una and Phil’s house, about half an hour away.

Old, old, old, old car

We followed this old banger for a while and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether it’s a Ford, a Daimler, a Buick, a Plymouth, a Chrysler or something else. Oh and look, there are mountains in the background.

Una’s parents are visiting from Florida too. Liesel and I haven’t seen them since Una’s investiture as a Judge nearly four years ago. Mom Lalita has written another book, this one about her family in India over several generations, and she kindly gave us a copy which we’re looking forward to reading.

Una, Phil, Liesel and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood: I think it’s fair to say it was a bit more affluent than where we’d been earlier in the day.

Just a small plane

There’s an airstrip just down the road, and later on, I filmed a small plane landing here.

Helicopter

Liesel turned down my invitation to sit on the chopper so I could take her picture. But here it is parked, or docked by the strip.

Just a small boat

There’s a new estate, or subdivision, here built in what looks like a big hole, just below the airstrip. I think these house are quite close together, given the amount of space there is in the largest state in the union. But you’re never too far from the sight of mountains.

New houses

Well that was a great walk, slightly hilly, hot and sweaty, but did I feel short of breath? Not at all. Not until I carried a bag of shopping up the short, steep drive back at home.

In the evening, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came over for dinner. While everyone else tucked into their marinaded steaks, I enjoyed my Quorn nuggets.

I think we both slept much better this second night. This, despite the fact that it’s only properly dark overnight for a couple of hours at this time of year. 

Packing and stacking

Well that was a strange week that was a strange week for the 1st time in many years we watched the Eurovision song contest well I didn’t watch it but it was on a didn’t watch it but it was on in the background I was doing something else had my nose in a puzzle I’ve had my nose in a puzzle roller book or something and looked up at the TV screen and I saw a Spanish singer’s bottom and I thought she’s getting my vote but I didn’t vote for anyone I didn’t vote for anyone in the end Ukraine one and the uk came 2nd for the 1st time in a 143 years.

That’s how good the dictation option is on my phone. It doesn’t seem too concerned with punctuation. And I’m sure I didn’t recite all those things twice all those things twice. But it is interesting to see how the screen changes as the phone tries to work out what I actually said. I’ll mostly edit the rest of this post, so it more closely resembles what I meant in the first place, in better English.

Liesel and I went for walk around around Northern Ireland (no, it was Northenden). We couldn’t believe the number of ladybirds we saw on the bushes, literally hundreds: it must be the ladybird mating season by the looks of it.

Ladybird giving another ladybird a piggy-back

The heron was on the island, cowering: I think he was hiding from the swarms of ladybirds, maybe he felt under threat.

Spot the heron

We also caught sight of that other occasional visitor to the river Mersey in Northenden: an old car tyre. Lovely to see him sitting near the island.

Tyres

And what’s this lurking in the bushes near Riverside Park? Somebody’s parked their scooter in a good place. I hope they can remember where they left it.

Where’s my scooter?
Artistic shot of the week

The day after I took this picture of the daisies on the lawn by our communal car park, the mowing crew came along and cut the grass, moss, dandelion stems and, sadly, the daisies.

My regular brain exercise each morning is to play Worldle, Wordle and Nerdle. This week I managed to achieve a winning streak of a hundred games. Except on the actual day, I forgot to grab a screenshot, so here it is from the following day! I was so proud, I even tweeted this image!

Liesel and I had a nice walk with the Northenden group, along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back. We sat outside for coffee at Box 2 Boxx, Shelly took a picture and it looks like I’ll appear in another advert soon, hooray!

And so it came to pass that we collected the children from school. Instead of taking them home, we took them to Bruntwood Park, through the woods behind their school. En route, William looked at a puddle, then looked at me, I slowly shook my head, he walked on by. We spent a lot of time in the fabulous playground, which was quite busy. Children were there from three or four different schools, going by their uniforms. William is definitely a climber.

William the mountaineer

We had a picnic on the glassy nose Yeah sausage rolls cumbers tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop. In English: We had a picnic on the grassy knoll (just a raised mound of grass, really). We had pizza, sausage rolls, cucumbers, tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop (ie, not home-made).

Martha the runner

There’s a great game there where the children have to run around and tap each post as the lights come on. It’s all electronic and they both found it great fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Martha run so far, so fast and for so long. Thank goodness this was before we sat down for our picnic!

The different arrangements today for looking after the children were for a very special reason. We took them home at about 5.30 and then after going home to our place to get raedy, we drove into Manchester for a concert that we’d first booked in September 2019. It had been postponed twice because of the pandemic and Covid restrictions, but at last, tonight was the night.

We’d never been to the Band on the Wall venue before but it’s a good little place. Mostly it’s standing only, but I asked for a couple of seats for us old farts and they were very obliging. We were here to see Tom Robinson. The show was meant to celebrate his 70th birthday but that was two ago now. Before the support act, Lee Forsyth-Griffiths, appeared, Tom himself came out on stage and sang a couple of songs for us early birds, those of us who had bothered to turn up in time to see the support act. He performed a revised version of his old hit What if we live to be 50? This remixed, remastered, updated version What if we live to be 80? was quite funny, especially since it still referred to carrying a packet of three.

Lee sang a few songs and the presence of his Mam and his sister in the audience didn’t affect his potty mouth at all!

It was a pretty good atmosphere all night although there was one scuffle right in front of us because of one man who was very drunk, so he was escorted off the premises.

Oops, Tom, electric guitar, Tom as PM

The Hong-Kong… hahaha… The encore was Power in the Darkness during which Tom always does a skit on some contemporary issue. This time of course of course, he channeled Boris Johnson and as he said afterwards, it’s all beyond parody now.

As we left the venue, we walked through the bar, and at the back was another performer whose name I missed, a lovely soul singer. So we stood around and listened while she sang Dancing in the Street. Twice! This was a nice surprise and a good way to to end the evening

Not Martha Reeves

The rest of this sort of in-between a week was in between a week was taken up with packing and checking all the paperwork and checking all the paperwork and everything that we need to do for we need to do for our trip to Alaska next week next week yes we are going away for 4 weeks and all these last minute and all these last minute jobs it all take 5 all these last minute jobs that should just take 5 minutes take a long time and then you find something’s gone wrong now when anyone finds something’s gone wrong or what a nightmare but we’re getting there we’re getting there. I hope you get the gist. Basically, we prepared for a few weeks away in Alaska.

We visited Windermere last week, so this week’s radio show was about lakes and other bodies of water, lots of songs about rivers, oceans and a couple of lakes. Enjoy it, it’s the last one for a few weeks…

What’s that, the last one for a while? Yes, while we’re in sunny Anchorage to visit Liesel’s family and friends, I won’t be making more shows. I would have to take so much extra stuff with me and even then, I might not find the time. But if you really want to listen to some earlier radio (and non-radio) shows, this link gives you the full list available so far.

I also uploaded a special one this week, and that was the tribute to Sarah first put together last year. Unbelievably, it’s now 21 years since we lost Sarah and she is still much missed and loved.

Black tulips and babies

Sadly, no space is deemed too small for the application of graffiti. Even the fairy doors in the local woods aren’t safe from such desecration.

Fairy door needs attention

It is now No Mow May in which we are invited to leave the lawn alone for the benefit of the very few pollinating insects left alive in this country. A lot of people are indeed not mowing, but sadly, the local council’s grass-cutters are out in force, cutting the grass and shredding the litter embedded therein. Ooh, I do like a whinge, don’t I?

We took Martha and William to Lyme Park for a nice, long, brisk walk in the sunshine. Well, that was the plan. After confirming the adventure playground was indeed open, we decided to play there for a while, then walk up to the folly known as The Cage, at the top of the hill, then return to the playground.

William is very adventurous and despite many pleas from us, he decided to cross the small stream via stepping stones and a log. Not the most stable of logs.

William and the wobbly log

He jumped onto the opposite bank, and gave a victory salute at the top. But oops, on the return trip, he slightly overbalanced and had to step into the water. He wasn’t too keen on wet shoes, socks and feet. And he momentarily sat down on a wet stone.

A few minutes later, when Liesel was helping him change his shorts, he apologised for ignoring her when she’d told him not to cross the water, which was very sweet.

Martha and William on a table top

They enjoyed many adventures and we hadn’t even reached the playground yet. Yes, you’re right. Martha is indeed wearing odd socks and, at this point, William is wearing no socks at all.

It was fun watching Martha going round and round on this strange little thing, with her ponytail flying.

Martha spinning

As she was spinning, I asked her what happens when she pulls herself in? Oh, it goes faster, she observed. And in this way, Martha discovered the law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.

The playground was great fun, so in the end, we didn’t make it as far as The Cage. Later, when Liesel and I fancied a cup of coffee, we parked the children up on the branch of a tree.

Martha and William sitting in a tree

Yes, again, you are very observant. Martha is indeed crossing her eyes, a trick that she’d learned from her cousin Emily!

Liesel and I didn’t really go to the café by ourselves, that would be irresponsible and we’d probably lose our jobs. We had coffee and we treated the children to an ice cream. Of course we did!

Our challenge now was to keep them awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

William enjoys his weekly dance class, and although we didn’t see him at his terpsichorean activituies, we did pick him up from the venue to take him to the zoo. We’ll miss these odd days out with William when he starts going to school 5 days a week, with his sister.

Where’s William?

He’s wearing his hoodie in this manner to keep the cold draught out. He did eventually succumb to sleep on the long drive to Chester Zoo.

As is often the case, it was a bit cooler here than at home, but that didn’t stop us from having a really nice day. Treetop Challenge is always number one on his list and today was no exception. Apart from seeing the elephants first.

William on the zipline

He now needs no assistance in finding his way around this Challenge, and he really has conquered the ziplines.

William (l) and Boris the Gorilla (r)

The Bird Flu crisis is now over and the flamingoes’ aviary was open for business. By which I mean we humans are now allowed inside and we can see these gorgeous pink creatures other than through a close wire mesh.

Flamingoes
William with an otter

We were so pleased that William was interested in seeing so many animals on this visit. He did want to visit the shop so we made a deal: we’ll go to the shop at the end but only if you don’t mention it again. And that worked pretty much all day. But then “You know that place I’m not allowed to talk about? Are we still going there?”

We went. But we also passed by the elephants one more time.

Baby elephant

Our challenge now was to keep him awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

Liesel had an appointment near home with a pair of physiotherapists’ very strong hands, so William and I visited Riverside Park playground back in Northenden. On the way, we picked litter, a job he really seems to enjoy. But of course, the playground was more fun. He made friends with Misha, a 6-, nearly 7-year old from Ukraine.

William and Misha

I had a nice chat with Misha’s Mum while his younger sister played with a doll and followed the boys around. Her husband is still in Ukraine and of course we hope the war ends soon so he can come and join his family.

Soon, everyone else had left the playground: just me and William left, waiting for Liesel to collect us and take him home.

After two days with a varying number of grandchildren it was time to move on and see some grown-up people. Late in the day, after I’d attended my medical appointments, we drove north to Windermere. By coincidence, we were staying in the same place as Helen and Steve from Chessington. We’d not seen them on our recent trip down south for various reasons, so it was good to catch up now.

We dined in a greasy spoon just down the road from the hotel, you know, the sort of place that sells all kinds of food: chips, pizza, kebabs, burgers. It was alright though.

Helen pointed out this picture in a shop window.

David Bowie

Well, we haven’t seen a David Bowie in a shop window for a couple of weeks, but this is a good one. The artist is Don Pearce and the artwork is outside our price range.

Liesel and I shared a four-poster bed and at first, we thought the mattress was too hard. But actually, it was alright and we both had a reasonable night’s sleep.

Breakfast was served by a lovely Scottish lady whose name I never did catch, after which we set off for Beatrix Potter’s old home, Hill Top, on the other side of the lake itself. Last time Liesel and I visited, many years ago, we took the ferry across and walked up the hill.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in some places, I couldn’t see what to do if we encountered another vehicle coming towards us. But we were very lucky in that respect.

The scenery is of course gorgeous, but this is also a good time of year to enjoy the azaleas and the rhododendrons as well. And the garden behind Hill Top is a very peaceful and pretty place to pass some time. The gardener, Pete, is doing a very good job.

Baby azalea

How do we know the gardener’s name is Pete? Well:

Gardener Pete

The parts of the garden that he’s not responsible for are totally Pete-free.

Black Tulips

When I first read The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas, as a school-boy, I thought it was a made-up flower. But no, they really exist and there are some here at Hill Top. One day, I might read the book again because I can’t remember the story at all.

Even though our tickets were timed, the house was still quite busy, just on the borderline of what we find uncomfortably crowded vis-à-vis Covid. Beatrix Potter had some cool stuff, including a doll’s house with furniture and other items that really aren’t made to scale.

Beatrix’s doll’s house
Selfie of the day

Bizarrely, I think of all the photos I took today, this is my favourite.

Watering can

It is so reminiscent of the Peter Rabbit stories, and I can only surmise that this is the original watering can from Beatrix Potter’s time.

Did I mention Peter Rabbit?

Warning: Peter Rabbit

We drove Helen and Steve back to Ambleside. Funny place, Ambleside: all the shops are named after mild exclamations.

Shops in Ambleside

We took Helen back to the guest house for a nap leaving Steve to enjoy a bus ride in peace and quiet.

The drive home was uneventful. But you can never go on the M6 without there being a traffic jam somewhere!

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, Liesel dragged me to asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Ikea. We haven’t been for a while and the thought of those juicy tender 50p veggieballs, well, how could I refuse?

In a strange case of pareidolia, here’s one of the machines in the café looking particularly grumpy with that thing in its eye.

Smiley tea machine

And back in Wythenshawe, there were more goslings near the path in Painswick Park.

Baby geese on land

And as if they’re not cute enough, there was again another family in the pond.

Baby geese on water

I just hope they stayed safe from the fishing lines on the opposite side.

There was a park bench on which I decided not to rest awhile, because of the nettles growing underneath and up through the gaps. I didn’t want to give my arsenic.

Uncomfortably numb, potentially

Here is evidence of Liesel’s latest craftwork.

This cross-stitch was a labour of love, and will be part of a collection being put together by the ladies of the WI to commemorate the 1948 London Olympics. No further details are available at this time. But jolly well done, Liesel!

Last week’s Wythenshawe Radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls, so this week it had to be Boys, Boys, Boys. Catch up here. Or don’t.

Walking in Memphis

Haha, no, not really, I’ve never been to Memphis. But we did do a lot of walking around our local ‘hood this week, three days in a row. Not as far as we wandered last week in London, of course.

Day 1. It was raining, but I didn’t let that deter me. Plus, I had to go out anyway to run some other errands. I was at first annoyed to see the Post Office was closed when it should have been open. I was concerned because I didn’t want to walk around in the rain any longer than necessary with a very important letter. The counter clerk let me in and I concluded my business.

Remember last week, the incident with the pharmacy? Well, they still hadn’t fulfilled my recent prescription. As requested, I paid a fifth visit only to be told once again that the item in question wasn’t in stock. It should be in tomorrow. I asked them to just send me a text message when it’s in, rather than having to go in every day of the off-chance. Two days later, I received the SMS, I went along, and eventually I was given my medication. Six visits for one prescription. I hope I never have to use this pharmacy again. Grrr.

Not only that, but there’s the issue of the fraudulent activity. Well, in the end, the card company said it wasn’t fraud, someone had just made a mistake. The money was refunded. So I returned the £9.35 in cash to the pharmacy, of course. But still, we’re unhappy with the staff’s lack of concern over what might have been a much bigger issue, whether fraudulent or otherwise.

Anyway, I interrupted the walk. It was wet.

A puddle

I don’t think I’ve included a photo of a puddle for a while, so here’s one for all the pluviophiles, limnophiles and toddlers.

Day 2. It’s hard to believe now, but I spent far too much time trying to remove dandelions from our garden in Chessington. Even then, I didn’t mind the odd one, but for some reason, it felt like they were taking over and not giving other weeds a sporting chance. But they can be quite attractive, when they’re in other people’s gardens or out in the wild.

What’s the time?

This walk started and finished at Benchill Community Centre, and on this occasion, Liesel and I were the only ones keeping Chantel company. It was a nice walk, despite being close to the very loud motorway.

Back in the Community Centre, we had coffee while being entertained by someone untangling a string of fairy lights.

Day 3. This is the walk that begins at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre. I was on my own this time, as Liesel chose to join the WI’s walk for a different walk.

Painswick Park was more about daisies than dandelions on this occasion.

Daisies

Further round the lake, I think most of today’s group of nine oohed and aahed at the sight of this young family.

Mr and Mrs Goose and their babies

There was another family in the lake, so maybe the goslings were just taking it in turns to have their swimming lessons.

Liesel has taken up the craft of cross-stitch. Very small stitches with a very short needle with a microscopic eye. The good news is, I knew exactly where the magnifying glass was.

This week’s radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls. Due to some technical issue beyond my ken, the first hour stopped after just 17 minutes. It’s repeated next Wednesday at 10pm, or you can listen at your leisure here: