Sharks, Shrek and Churros

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Well, I always do: this year it would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He never made it to Japan, but his ship was on its way when the war there ended, having, as he told us, finished off the conflict in Europe.

So here we are now in Japan, experiencing everything it has to offer. Including, this morning, a very slight tremor. I felt the bed shake and in the kitchen, the pot of cutlery toppled over into the sink.

Here’s a clue to the Japanese experience we chose to experience today:

The Harry Potter Universal Studios train that we didn’t take

Yes, Universal Studios Japan is a two train ride from our abode. The entertainment began early as we again enjoyed the announcements at Osaka Station. The musical cues are fantastic, no simple ‘bing-bong’ here, you get a whole tune. I recorded a few minutes and when I edit it down, I’ll have a brand new ringtone.

The young lady sitting next to me on the train kept sniffing. I wanted to offer her a tissue but that would have been a mistake. In fact, to sneeze or blow your nose into a tissue here is considered rude. Sniffing is much more acceptable. If you use a tissue, you have to (try to) be very discreet. I tried the sniffing method but that still feels wrong and rude to me.

Universal Studios was a five minute walk from the station and apart from the Japanese script on all the signs, we could have been in America.

Merry Christmas!

Another Christmas tree getting us in the mood

That is indeed the Sun shining through the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We heard Christmas songs during the day too. We headed straight for Jurassic Park and my first ride was The Flying Dinosaur.

The pteranodon is scary-looking
The ride looks scary, there’s even a safety net, presumably to catch digestive tracts that people lose

OMG.

That was the best/worst ride I’ve ever been on. Incredibly scary and I will never do it again. It’s the longest rollercoaster in the world, reaching speeds up to 62mph, there’s a 120-foot drop, you’re lying facedown, prone, you’re taken through 360° loops at least twice and, and, and, my palms are sweating just reliving the experience. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s so fast, you can’t really see what’s coming, so there’s no anticipation. If you close your eyes, you might as well be inside the world’s maddest, fastest out-of-control tumble dryer.

I had to sit down for a while to recuperate from that. With a small cup of coffee and some soy beans.

The rest of the day was calmer: all good fun but much less frenetic.

The trio playing msuic was very good, and not playing Christmas songs which was a bonus.

A happy string trio

We were taken on an adventure in New York with Spiderman. Backdraft and Terminator 2 were both a bit disappointing. The former was just too much standing and watching people talk before a final few seconds of actual pyrotechnics. The latter was just too long a build-up for a couple of minutes of good special effects at the end. There’s a clever mix of film footage, real actors, lighting and effects but sometimes you feel that waiting in queues that long should be better rewarded.

Just a view of the water

Shrek 4D was very good. The 4th D is, I assume, the sensurround seating, you feel the horses galloping and the bump when you land hard. It was a very funny storyline too, even if we couldn’t entirely follow the Japanese dialogue.

As it’s so popular, we had a timed ticked for the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride. This was very enjoyable too, and probably the onlky time we’ll ever invade a game of Quidditch. Great stuff, and it was nice to see so many visitors dressed up in the Hogwarts School uniform.

Harry Potter’s battered Ford Anglia

Again, I told Liesel that I wish I still had my toy Ford Anglia from when I was little: it was blue/turquoise, the same colour as the one used in the Harry Potter films. I think I gave it to Garry next door.

Welcome to Hogwarts

Our churros were long, hot and very sweet, providing enough energy to keep going for three more rides. And bo9om. Five o’clock. Suddenly it’s dark. Twilight doesn’t get much of a look-in here.

Jaws entailed a nice gentle boat ride with the odd appearance of a shark. It really needs to see a dentist, though.

Boo!

We returned to Jurassic Park and again, I did the ride by myself. And yes, I did get wet: very wet. Liesel sent a picture of wet me to our grandchildren.

Mickey Drippin’ (as I used to be known)

And finally, at our second attempt, we went on the Minions ride. The ride was good fun, but again, I think the preamble was too long. Or maybe it just felt that way because we don’t know the language and consequently missed some very funny gags in the narrative.

We dined at that famous Japanese restaurant, Hard Rock Café, sitting at a table next to one of Beyoncé’s old basses, apparently.

We arrived home much later than anticipated. Probably fatigue and lack of concentration on our part meant that we didn’t notice that the train we were on had turned round and so we ended up paying a second vist to Universal Station. Oh well, it’s all an adventure, hey!

Dynamic Tokyo

Our organised tour of (some of) the great city of Tokyo began early. But since we’ve been waking up early anyway, it didn’t matter. The bad news was that rain was forecast for much of the day. In the end, we were extraordinarily lucky: dry and sometimes sunny, our day was very enjoyable even if, at the end, we were very tired.

Low clouds – a bit worrying to start with

We picked up the first bus close to Shinjuku Station. This is the busiest station in the known universe, with 3.6 million people coming and going each day through its 200 entrances and exits.

It’s pretty much surrounded by retail opportunities (shops) but the coffee shop wasn’t open that early, not even with that many potential customers.

Caw, what a racket this guy made

We watched the people and especially their shoes. This would have been enough entertainment for the day. Everything from flat, almost ballet, shoes to thigh length boots with stiletto heels. One girl must take her shoes off a night and put them in front of aeroplanes to stop them rolling away.

And if that wasn’t enough fun: the bus seats had these cute little attachments in case we fancied a game of bus basketball en route.

Little basketball hoops

Not cute enough for you? How about this dragon?

Baby dragon on the side of a building

We arrived at the bus station where we met up with our tour party. I’m not saying all Americans are loud but you can pretty much guarantee that in any mixed group of travellers, the loudest speakers will be the Americans. And we had a couple. You probably heard them too.

Hato Bus is named for the white dove of peace and I have to admire the clever logo: a combination of HB and four doves.

Clever Logo Award – prize winner

The first stop on our tour was Tokyo Tower, where we met Hello Kitty and had a view of the city from high up. Again, Mount Fuji eluded us.

Tokyo Tower

Yes, that was my first thought too: it looks like an Eiffel Tower knock-off!

The view showed buildings old and new. We learnt a lot about Japanese history, samurai warriors, the Shoguns, the emperors.

Old buildings and new ones

In fact, our guide, Atsushi, was very funny as well as very informative. He told us what to expect at the tea ceremony. We only had time for the fifteen minute version, not the full four hours, but it was an interesting experience. The little sweet was very sweet and the green tea, by comparison, was quite bitter. And as briefed, we told the the host that the tea was excellent, with lots of bowing.

Two teas, please
The bowl and yes, that is Mount Fuji in the middle

The venue was Happo-en, a popular location for wedding ceremonies. There were at least three taking place today, and we nearly got caught up in a couple of processions. I don’t think we ruined too many wedding photos, though.

Number 1 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 2 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos
Number 3 in a set of surreptitious wedding photos

The gardens are very peaceful, and the bonsai trees are amazing. They really are little old-looking and gnarly trees, so much moreso than any we’ve seen at home.

Kuromatsu – bonsai at the front, full-size tree behind

Umbrellas are an important accessory here but would you want to take yours inside a building? Lockable umbrella racks are located outside some venues.

A rack for your umbrella, ella, ella

We visited the Chinzanso Hotel for a Japanese style lunch. The meat and vegetables were cooked on on hot plate on the table. My veggie meal was prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen. We were given an apron to wear, and the waiters (is that the word?) tied them for us. Only the Australian lady needed it when she dribbled her ‘special sauce’.

This really was proper Japanese fare. My soup bowl was small, with tofu and vegetables. Then a bowl of rice, some salad items and more vegetables. All served with a certain amount of ceremony.

At this hotel, we encountered more weddings! And we saw a couple of young ladies wearing fabulous costumes and they were happy to pose for us, arigato.

Cute kimono, and very polite
Also very polite and friendly
Sacred Tree over 500 years old

After lunch, even I managed to stay awake for the ride to the Imperial Palace gardens. We were greeted by this Samurai warrior, who would give Stirling Castle’s Robert the Bruce a run for his money!

Samurai warrior

In another first, I purchased a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Yes, hot, almost too hot too handle. It was alright, too sweet if anything. We’re hoping to find vending machines selling items other than drinks (or cigarettes): after all, that is what Japan’s famous for!

We were taken along the Expressway to Tokyo Port.

Beautiful boat on the river

Unfortunately, our cruise along the Sumida river was not aborad this delightful looking vessel. Instead, we spent about 40 minutes down below and inside a normal, common or garden river cruise boat. Oh well. We lost count of the number of bridges we sailed under, with no two alike.

We walked along Nakomise Street with, apparently, 90 shops, mostly selling food items that we couldn’t identify. But we did try a couple of snacks. The deep fried, hot rice cake was surprisingly crunchy after beinmg dipped in soy sauce. The sweet bean paste filled cakes were different, but we probably didn’t need five for just the two of us.

We wandered around the Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa but couldn’t really appreciate the peace with so many thousands of people around.

Our old friend, rickshaw
Buddhist Temple
Pagoda next to the Temple

The bus took us back to Tokyo Station from where we took the train back to Shinjuku and our hotel. We were glad we’d booked the extra night here, we were ridiculously tired. We were meant to be carted about all day on buses and boats and yet somehow, we still managed to walk over eight miles. That’s OK for me, not so good for Liesel with her piriformis isssues.

We found a fast food restaurant where we had Japanese curry for supper. It was quick, it was tasty and only a five-minute walk back to our room.

All Blacks and Black Scones

We rose early with the Sun, ready for a long walk.

Sunrise from our hotel room window

Poor old Liesel was in a lot of discomfort pretty much from the start, but despite this, she pushed through and we ended up with 8 miles under our belts. Just don’t tell her physio.

The view from our hotel window, as you can see, isn’t very green, so we thought a walk to the park was in order. And my goodness, how busy the streets are at 8am. Everyone’s on a mission to get to work.

On the way to the park, we saw this triptych and we briefly thought how exciting it would be to watch Japan play the All Blacks while we’re here. Sadly, we have plans for that day and in any case, as the website says, ‘all packages are sold out’.

Japan v New Zealand All Blacks

Among other adverts, and there are thousands, we saw this one. Someone, please tell Louis Vuitton that there are millions of gorgeous Japanese girls here, you wouldn’t have to look too far to find one for your billboards.

The perfume probably smells like old socks, anyway

Then we turned a corner.

Look: trees!

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park has a long history, and is very popular both with locals and with visitors.

We saw some interesting animals, 0-, 2-, 6- and 8-legged.

Little Jesus bugs walking on the water’s surface tension
I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more
Koi waiting to be fed
Humans spoiling the view of a lake and its bridges
A pigeon dressed up for a day out

Finding our way around was easy. The map we picked up included coordinates where any two or more paths met. These coordinates matched the descriptions on the posts at the relevant junctions. So easy and such a contrast to the bright, colourful maps you get at UK attractions which are useless for actual navigation purposes!

I think because we’ve been through Autumn once already, the trees appeared, to us, to be ridiculously lush with leaves. The flowers were gorgeous too.

White flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)
Pink flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)
The giant Tulip Tree, not in bloom this time of year
Pretty, speckled flower (no prizes for telling us what it is)

The roses in the rose garden were blooming lovely and some, such as the New Zealand rose, were strongly aromatic.

A gorgeous but aromatic rose

[click here to smell the roses]

Yes, the park was very photogenic. And when it was time to wander back to the real city, it felt slightly anticlimactic.

Time for a snack.

A packet of Oreos fell into the cake mix by mistake
Black Rock Scone – we got one just to make sure it was meant to be black and wasn’t just burnt

We visited the Tokyo Municipal Government Buildings where, from the 45th floor, you can see the whole city. Well, nearly all.

The twin towers of the Government Buildings
The Cocoon: reminds us of both Beijing’s Bird’s Next Olympics Stadium and London’s Gherkin

I was hoping to see our hotel, and in particular, Godzilla, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything in that direction without paying to eat or drink something in the (expensive) restaurant.

One of the sights we want to see here is, of course, Mount Fuji. And today presented the first opportunity.

On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji
This is the view today

There’ll be more chances later on, of course.

On the way out, we stumbled across an exhibition about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. We thought we might come and watch, but we’ll have to decide nearer the time: it’s quite expensive.

The medals will be made from recycled metal
Say hello to the mascots, Miraitowa and Someity
The actual Olympic and Paralympic flags (small version)

At the top of the tower, I used one of the ubiquitous vending machines for the first time. I tried the Boss Coffee in a can.

Can of coffee – I’ll try anything once

We walked back towards our accommodation and passed this rather moving appeal for peace.

Love and Peace

We wanted to see the Hanazono Shrine. Without realising it, we’d walked right by it yesterday, but it’s really well hidden, which is a shame for such a beautiful building.

The bells
Buddha
The Shrine

In total contrast with this elegant structure, here is something really unusual: graffiti.

Ugly graffiti

Back at the hotel, we had a rest. Liesel had a bath and I went out for another walk, to buy some apples (XXL only) and to confirm where we’re supposed to be early tomorrow morning.

In the process, I noticed how fast sunset is. I went into a shop during daylight, came out and it was twilight.

For dinner, we went to Solah Spices Tokyo where I had 16 vegetable curry and Liesel had aloo gobi. Typical Japanese fare. But, it was located conveniently close to the hotel! And, it was very nice food: very nice, very tasty.

If you’re not interested in today’s toilet-based section, please scroll down to the picture of a little boy standing on a dolphin.

I was suprised and delighted by the number of toilets we saw in the park this morning. And I saw one of the legendary Japanese toilets, which are at floor level, so you squat, do what you need to do, then try to stand up afterwards. I imagine you need strong thigh muscles, but at least there’s a rail to help. I will give it a go, sometime, should the need arise.

Most of the public conveniences I’ve used have no hand towels nor hot air dryers, so I come out shaking my hands dry. It seems most people carry hankerchiefs with them to dry their hands.

The toilet seat in our hotel room is heated. The first couple of times, I just thought the plastic seat retained the warmth of the previous buttocks really efficiently. But no: it’s heated. The control panel on the wall is not as complicated as Asa and Gideon’s X-Box controllers, but very nearly so. The first night when I had my surprise bidet moment? I now realise it was because I’d pressed the wrong button by mistake: I totally missed the large ‘flush’ button.

Boy and dolphin: no idea what the story behind this is, either

Today’s general observation: we thought many more people would be smoking here in Tokyo. There are a few smokers, and we’ve smelt them inside a large games arcade but on the whole, we haven’t felt the need to wear surgical masks at all.

Kon’nichiwa, Tōkyō

The flight from Seattle to Beijing was delayed due to mechanical problems. This meant we had more time to pass at SeaTac and less time at Beijing, which in turn meant that we definitely wouldn’t have time to leave the airport and go sight-seeing in China for a short while. On the plane, we sat next to a kiwi lady who had lived in Beijing for several years and she told us about the smog. You can fly around the country in clear air then, suddenly, as you approach the capital, you hit a wall of brown.

The plane didn’t have plastic shutters over the windows: instead, they could be darkened to keep the light out. We were flying pretty much towards the west, but we lost the opportunity for good sunset photos.

That really is the Sun, through tinted windows

To paraphrase a David Bowie lyric: Where the heck did Wednesday go? We left Anchorage early Tuesday and would arrive in Tokyo very early Thursday morning. The day between was a very short period of time and the worst thing is, this will totally ruin my Fitbit statistics. How can I possibly walk 10,000 steps in one day when the day in question is just a couple of hours long and spent mainly inside the body of an aeroplane? I know, I know, this is even less significant than a first-world problem.

Crossing the International Dateline in this direction has had another unanticipated side effect. Liesel and I are now ahead of UK time rather than behind. This will take some getting used to. And to add even more confusion, British Summer Time ends this coming weekend.

Entertainment on this long flight was a multimedia experience. I listened to two (out of ten) episodes of a dramatised radio version of War and Peace. I read significant sections from the two books I currently have on the go (*).

I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it convinced me that this series of movies should perhaps become extinct. A nice surprise to see the old Detectorist Toby Jones in it though.

And, best of all, at last, I watched Hidden Figures, about the ‘colored computers’ who worked for NASA in the early 1960s, really talented mathematicians and engineers that happened to be black and female at a time when segregation was the norm. (A couple more years of Trump and we’ll be back there.)

Liesel watched Solo: A Star Wars Story and some episodes of The Big Bang Theory as well as some documentaries about Japanese wildlife.

One of the most ridiculous things is that the flight from Seattle to Beijing took us right over Anchorage. So we needn’t have got up so early, after all! Flying in Russian airspace was a first: but not having window seats, we saw less of Russia than Sarah Palin does from her bathroom window in Wasilla.

The cabin was sprayed with something that didn’t smell nice. But other than that, and the duration, I think we liked Hainan Airways. The cabin crew were really nice, and my new best friend is the Chinese girl who looked after me and my vegetarian needs.

We landed at Beijing, taxied for another couple of hundred miles and we still had to disembark in the middle of the runway and take a bus back to the terminal.

I think we would recommend Hainan Airlines

We found the gate for our outbound flight to Tokyo and made our home there for a couple of hours. Coffee and a muffin were had. Of course. And I learnt that the ¥ symbol is used for Chinese yuan as well as Japanese yen. Who knew?

We suddenly realised people were preparing to board the flight and, being British, we had to join the queue. No nonsense about gold members and business class going on first, one queue for everyone, this is China. But what a shame that again Liesel and I were separated by a few rows.

I was hoping to sleep but that didn’t really work out. These cabin crew members very friendly and helpful too.

こんにちは、東京

We landed in Tokyo about 00:25 Thursday, and were delighted at how warm it felt. We were dead tired, but being this warm in the middle of the night certainly lifts the spirits!

We found our hotel at the terminal, and were in bed within an hour. Even after a quick shower, the room was still too warm (!) to sleep in, until the fan kicked in.

Breaking news: in a first, I used the bidet for its intended purpose. It would have been nice if I’d been warned it was coming, but ooh, what a surprise. (Better than a hand coming out to wipe my bum, I suppose.) I’m not convinced, but it was an interesting experience.

We woke at a reasonable time, showered and checked out. The Pocket Wifi had been delivered as arranged so we should have access to wifi wherever we go in Japan. We are now both back on our UK phone numbers, albeit, if we use them, we’ll certainly pay for the privilege.

We bought tickets for the bus to Shinjuku Station. It was a very warm, bright sunny day and I think this alone made it easier for us to cope with the last tendrils of tiredness.

Tokyo wouldn’t be a proper city without water

It was a ten minute walk from the station to out next hotel, The Gramercy. Also known as The Godzilla Hotel.

Godzilla on the 8th floor of our hotel
Stoned Godzilla

We dumped our stuff and despite the temptation to lie down and go back to sleep, we went for a walk in the local area, to acclimatise and to find something to eat.

Fewer local people than anticipated were walking around wearing surgical masks and I’ve been too polite (too scared) to take a photo of them.

Lunch for me was jalapeño cheese toast and Liesel had scrambled eggs and pancakes with a sausage and other meat products. Typical Japanese fare.

We found apples on sale and we bought one. It’s huge, we’ll share it. I hope we can find some proper apple-sized apples next time.

The biggest apple in the world – and we ate it

We walked in a big loop back to The Gracery Hotel and then realised we walked around the less interesting parts of Shinjuku.

This young lady was cleaning the windows for her clients, a pair of moray eels, we think, maybe.

Window cleaning
Blue fishes

We always like random sculptures and this little chap blowing his own trumpet while riding a snail caught our eye.

Boy on a snail – I wish we knew the story

Riding a bicycle on the pavement seems to be accepted here, much moreso than at home. They go quite fast too, especially the old grannies. Younger, fitter people have found a brilliant way to carry two children around.

Child on the back, another on the front, marvellous

We went for a quick walk in the evening. It was dark at 5.30, very sudden and unexpectedly. Shinjuku is very busy, lots of bright lights, clubs, even English-style pubs. There are a couple of places that we’d like to visit, when we’re more fully awake and that need booking in advance.

Robot outside the Robot Restaurant

For supper, I had a pizza and Liesel had risotto. Typical Japanese fare.

We saw Godzilla from a distance too, not so scary that way!

Our Godzilla from street level

Looking at and taking photos of car number plates was an Alaska-based, temporary hobby. But when I saw two cars parked next to each other with mine and my sister’s birthdays, well, out came the camera, of course.

Mick and Pauline’s birthdays

The good news is that as we’re walking round a city rather than hiking trails in bear country, and it’s warm, I was able to wear my sandals today for the first time in several weeks. So, watch out for the return of tan lines on my feet.

(*) I am currently reading:

  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in our Genes by Adam Rutherford (in which I learned that I am descended from William the Conqueror).
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (I thought I should read some Japanese literature and this is probably the very first novel, written in the early 11th century and first published in the 16th).

Thirteen

We were hoping to visit Hope to join Una, Phil and Kiran for the day but Jyoti didn’t sleep much and Liesel’s knee wasn’t in a fit state to drive. It was also raining hard. All weasel excuses maybe, and I feel we let Una down, especially after her request to bring along some toilet paper.

Instead, we went out for breakfast with Liesel’s parents. Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant was very busy, lots of people and lots of stuffed animals. And upstairs, lots of photos from the old days.

Arctic fox (stuffed)
Beaver (stuffed)
Gwennie’s old car

The highlight of the day was the start of a new series of Doctor Who. There was a global simulcast, presumably to limit the number of spoilers. Jodie Whittaker is playing the thirteenth Doctor and we enjoyed this first episode. No, we didn’t watch it live, as we were out for breakfast. To make time for more adverts, BBC America didn’t bother with the opening titles nor the closing credits. So disrespectful to the production team.

There is a balcony outside the main bedroom at Klaus and Leslie’s house. It was built thirty years ago with half a dozen wooden planters attached. No plants can survive the winds that constantly bombard them. And a few days ago, one of the planters, earth and all, fell off and covered the Durango in soil. So this day, Liesel and I helped Klaus dismantle the rest of the planters before they had a chance fall onto my head.

In the process, the botttom fell out of one, missing Liesel, who was emptying the dirt by a rock wall. She did however suffere from water spray when we hosed the floor of the balcony down.

We met Una when she finished work and went for another walk along the coastal trail. Again, it was really clear and we could see Denali way over there.

View from the coastal trail

I found Jupiter, another point on the Planet Walk.

Jupiter on the coastal trail

On the return walk, for the first time, I felt the cold breeze and actually donned my jacket.

Una took us into the courtoom and we visited her office with the new artwork.

The court’s in session
Seal of the State of Alaska

How she gets any work done with a view like this is beyond me!

View from Una’s office window

The War Memorial in Delaney Park Strip is quite extensive, and it was very sad and moving to see that conflicts on the other side of the world are still claiming local lives.

Anchorage War Memorial
So sad and unnecessary

Twitter told me that there would be an announcement on BBC 6 Music about David Bowie. It was on at half past midnight our time and I couldn’t not tune in to listen! The exciting news is that there will be two TV programmes featuring David Bowie. The first is this month: an hour from the two-hour set he performed at Glastonbury in 2000. Then, next year, another documentary in the Five Years series. David Bowie: The First Five Years includes stories from his early auditions at the BBC, 1964-1968, I guess. I’ve asked Jenny to record both for me, but anyone else in the UK, please record these for me, I’ll come round and watch them when we get back, and I’ll be your best friend forever!

Despite staying up late, we had to get up early next day as Liesel had another physio appointment. More dry needling in the butt.

I walked up to Kaladi on Jewel Lake Road where she picked me up to go to CostCo, woohoo.

The main objective here was to receive our flu jabs. Flu shots, as they say here. My resistance had finally been worn down by the combined forces of my wife and two daughters and I had my very first flu vaccination. It didn’t hurt at all. Pulling the plaster off my hairy arm later did hurt. Liesel also had a tetanus jab. Hepatitis A and B was on offer too, but I’ll need time to think about that.

In the evening, Jyoti drove us to the Beartooth for dinner. Una joined us as did Suvan and Kayla. Later that evening, Jyoti left for Indianapolis. We’ll see her again in February, in Australia.

After all the needles poked into her today, I’m glad Liesel didn’t drink too much water, she would have leaked like a cartoon watering can.

Well Played, Kincaid

We visited the ZJ Loussac Public Library in Anchorage. Liesel was researching Japan while I enjoyed admiring glances from a young guy. Well, not me, but he did point approvingly at my portable keyboard and smartphone combo!

JK Rowling gets everywhere

Later in the day, we went for a quick walk to Kincaid Park and back.

The following day, we again walked to Kincaid Park, this time all the way to the football arena, soccer pitch, where Asa was playing again. Trotting towards us on the path was a baby moose, maybe looking for his Mom, but certainly not bothered by the humans walking and cycling by. Not as worried as my GLW, anyway! (Haha the picture looks upside down to me but the video played the right way up, so good luck!)

The air was perfectly clear, we could see mountains all round. We even saw Denali, the highest peak in north America, from a distance of about 136 miles. That’s how clear the air was.

Possibly one of the most picturesque stadiums around
Distant Denali looking fine

The soccer was a bit more controlled than the last time we’d seen a game here. The ball was only kicked into the surrounding bush a couple of times.

At halftime, I walked down to the Chalet and I was delighted to see some vending machines. I really fancied a coffee and the price was just $1.50. But I must have pressed the button for sweet brown sludge by mistake.

After walking back home, we had a bit of a rest before Pam and Owen picked us up. We joined Una’s Dance Party to celebrate her recent installation.

What a lovely cake this was!

It was a fun evening, many of Una’s family were there. Her aunt came all the way from India and as far as I know, we were the only vegetarians, so we hung out together! The venue was a house belonging to a friend of Una’s and by luck (!) there was a soundproof music and dance room at the back of the house.

The band was good, playing lots of well-known songs from the 1970s and 1980s. Just about everyone danced. I danced. And the good news is, I didn’t stomp on anyone’s foot. I also confirmed that I can’t take good pictures of people dancing while I’m jogging on the spot at the same time.

Adrianna and Ashwin (Una’s brother)
Blurry Christalyn with Neha
The three of them, back together
Una’s Aunt Sheela
Una and Phil

The clock on the wall was a repurposed vinyl album and I thought I recognised the triangle design. Close inspection revealed that it was indeed Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon!

Time: Dark Side of the Moon clock

Hope for the Best

Hope is one of the very early pioneer gold rush towns. Depending on who you believe, it’s named after one of the first prospectors or after the sense of optimism felt by the men. And the population was mostly men, just a couple of women to do the laundry and provide other services.

The population is now 159 according to the lady running the of Hope and Sunrise Museum.

Phil and Una have a cabin here which they share with three other families. They visit once a month and they invited us (me, Liesel and Jyoti) to join them this weekend. We’d had a late night Saturday, a good night’s sleep and a not too early rise on Sunday morning.

Taxi service in Hope

The rain was still falling, more drizzle, really, as we walked to Creekbend Café for breakfast. We hoped for an improvement in the weather because the one thing we wanted to do in Hope was to go for a walk.

After breakfast, Liesel and I paid a visit to the Museum. The history of the place is fascinating. We’re pretty well-off now in the early 21st century: we just can’t imagine moving away to a strange place, a new town even, hundreds of miles from home, on the off-chance of being able to find enough gold to make the trip worthwhile.

At the museum, there are some of the old huts and equipment. The huts were transported to the museum as they stood in the way of a new bridge built for the new Seward Highway some years ago.

Bigger than the one that used to be in Cedarcroft Road, Chessington
Quonset hut
Prospectors’ huts

I walked down to the campground, as close to the sea as I could get without squelching through the quicksand-like mudflats.

The view from Hope over the inlet

The weather had brightened so I was keen to go for a longer hike. So was Phil. But the three girls turned their noses up and stayed behind for girly time and girly chat.

Phil had recently heard of a trail that is only known by the locals, so I can’t reveal its top secret location. But it was a wonderful hike through the woods. And I can confirm that bears do do that there.

Bear poop, there was a lot of it

We looked out over the sea, The Turnagain Arm, from various places where the path approached the edge of the bluff. The tide was going out as revealed by the rocks and mud in the middle of the inlet. In fact, this is the site of the highest tide in the whole of the USA. There was a lot of fungi present, some edible, but I didn’t risk it. Where the soil had been washed away, trees now grow sideways out over the water.

A cartoon mushroom
My guide, Phil, a fun guy
Much more fungi
The inlet with mud and rocks revealed by ebbing tide
Tree hanging on by its fingernails

This was bear country, but we heard no animal sounds, not even birds, just the wind rustling in the trees. We turned back after a while and retraced our steps back to the car. On the drive back to the cabin, Phil showed me a log cabin newly built by friends of theirs. The logs used are from local trees.

There is another road that leads up towards the mountains. Phil has mountain-biked there, sometimes being taken to the top so that he can enjoy the ride back down. He offered to take me along this road, and it was indeed a very pleasant drive. Lots of fireweed, though mostly past its best. The sky by now was a beautiful blue colour and listening to Dark Side of the Moon was the unexpectedly perfect soundtrack to the ride.

Near the top of the road are some small lakes, known as tarns. This is a term I usually associate with the small lakes in the mountains in the north of England, it seemed odd terminology for outback Alaska. Beautiful, though, just the same.

Family of ptarmigan
Tarn

A campground was perfectly located, but again, the bear-proof food storage bins were a stark warning that we were in the bears’ domain.

Stream near the campground

On our return, the ladies had moved from the kitchen to the living room, but hadn’t ventured outside despite the improvement in the weather. Phil and I raved about the newly discovered and very secret trail. We decided to go back, all five of us this time, so that’s what we did. The tide in the inlet was even further out this time. The bear scat was still there, though I’m not sure Liesel believed me, or was impressed, when I said that on our first jaunt, it had still been steaming!

On the drive back to the cabin, we encountered real, live, actual wild moose. A Mum and her baby were eating the vegetation right by the road, although the baby retreated fairly quickly. It was nice, at last, to see wildlife land-based mammals bigger than squirrels and bunnies.

Moose and baby
Mama moose

Back at the cabin, we packed up for our departure but before that, we picked and ate tons of raspberries growing wild in the garden. Why haven’t the bears eaten them yet? Oh, they’d been by and had a few, aparently. I really didn’t expect to eat wild berries in Alaska, how can it ever be warm enough for such things to grow? This is my prejudiced gut feeling about Alaska but it’s not as bad as all that in the, admittedly short, Summer season.

Raspberries

On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped at the famous Double Musky Inn in Girdwood. Liesel has been talking about, salivating for and lusting after their cheese jalapeño rolls, so that’s what we bought. Very nice, very tasty. Plus, on the way in, a strange young lady gave me a hug, her equally intoxicated partner shook my hand and again I thought, what a friendly place this is. Jyoti asked if I knew these people. Well, I sort of do now!