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!

Lu-Lu Belle

Wednesday was the thirteenth anniversary of Liesel moving to England. We didn’t mark the occasion, mainly because we didn’t remember until the following day. Oh well, maybe next year.

But we did have a fantastic and fascinating 9-hour long trip on board the good ship Lu-Lu Belle.

Lu-Lu Belle

It was raining when we walked across the road to wait, under cover, for departure at 11 o’clock. It rained on and off all day, but that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the cruise and everything we saw. Captain Fred Rodolf has been cruising Prince William Sound since 1979 so he’s had plenty of time to perfect his commentary which was both informative and very funny.

He was very proud of the oriental rugs on Lu-Lu Belle, so we passengers all had to wipe our feet before going on board.

Just one of the oriental rugs

A boat’s wake is so-called because it wakes up any sea otters that happen to be asleep as the boat passes by.

And we did indeed wake up a few otters, in cold water, yes, but snugly warm with their 100,000 hairs per square inch.

Sea otters

We saw Valdez Glacier as we left the harbour, just, through the mist and the haze. Fred told us that the Valdez we’re staying in is not the original town. That was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. But why is there a place here at all? Because it’s the northern-most, totally ice-free harbour on the Pacific coast of America. It gets very cold but the sea doesn’t freeze here.

We passed by Glacier Island where we were met by the sight and the stench of sea-lions, great big lumbering slugs lolloping on the beaches.

Sea-lions

Fred told us several times that sea-lions weren’t very popular because they eat the salmon. And the Alaskan salmon industry is second only in size to its oil industry. The salmon population is closely monitored and if one year, not enough salmon return to spawn, then the permitted catch is reduced accordingly.

Further around the island, the boat nosed into several caves, yes, actually into the caves, to try and find some puffins. It was delightful to see them high up, nesting in the caves but it was impossible to get a decent photo from a moving boat while looking up, trying not to fall over and desperate not to drop the phone.

It really is a puffin

Pictures of humpback whales turned out a bit better. There was more time, they were further away and I was more steady on my feet. One of the whales resurfaced pretty much every seven minutes, but where he would appear was anyone’s guess.

Thar she blows!

One of the other passengers was eating ‘gorp’. I don’t know if that’s a well-known term for it, but trail-mix really is a different animal in these parts. At home, trail-mix is just a mix of nuts and dried fruit. Here in AK, it has nuts and raisins, yes, but it also includes little chocolate chips as well as M&Ms.

As we approached Columbia Glacier, we saw ice-bergs. Mostly quite small but there were some large ones too. Their blue colour is lovely, brought about by refraction in ice when all of the air has been squeezed out.

Sunbathing otter

Ice-berg

Approaching the glacier was something I never thought I’d do. Columbia has retreated several miles over the last forty years, and the leading edge is a mile and a quarter wide. From a few miles away, we could see mountains behind but as we approached to within a quarter of a mile, its 200 feet height obscured those mountains from view. That alone gave us an idea of the immense size of the glacier.

We heard chunks of ice crashing into the sea before we saw any calving. As close as we were, sound still reached us too late to be able to turn and look at the right place. It was a bit of a guessing game, but I think everyone saw a few splashes. A couple were big enough to generate waves that reached our boat, but, thank goodness, not strong enough to threaten us in any way.

Captain Fred let us watch the glacier and the calving for a good hour and just as we left, a tall pinnacle detached and fell over, though not while I was filming.

Columbia Glacier

Klaus will talk to anyone and everyone and somehow the crew discerned that it would soon be his and Leslie’s 50th wedding anniversary. They wanted to do something to mark the occasion, but as only one of the happy couple was present, Klaus received the gift of a free muffin!

Yin and yang, though. At some point when Klaus was on deck, the wind carried away his favourite cap, depicting Oregon Ducks, the football team of Leslie’s alma mater. American football, that is.

In the evening, for the first time in AK this trip, we dined out. Fu Kung Chinese but also Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and presumably other oriental cuisine.

Fu Kung good food

The following day when I went for a quick walk before leaving Valdez, I bumped into Captain Fred again. I asked him to keep a lookout for Klaus’s cap. He said he would, it’s probably being worn by a sea-lion though!

We had to check out of the campground in Valdez by 11am, much earlier than the state-run places, but at least we had good weather for much of the journey today. We had planned to camp one more night, by Lake Louise, but in the end, it was decided to go all the way back home to Anchorage. Klaus thought nothing of the four-hour drive, but then there is a lot less traffic here on the highways than we have to contend with on motorways between London and Manchester.

Being able to see the sights today was wonderful too. The Horsetail Waterfall was very popular with visitors.

We saw lots of lakes and glaciers and mountains as we drove westwards along the Glenn Highway. In places, it looked like a sheer drop to the left, the other side of the road.

The trees were noticeably different from place to place. Tall, bushy white spruce and birches were dominant in places. But in between, where the ground was swampy and the roots less strong, the trees looked really weak and feeble. These are black spruce.

Black spruce

When I saw black spruce a couple of days ago, I thought they were just trees recovering from a bush fire: not much foliage yet and blackened, wizzened trunks. But no, this is what they really look like. If you imagine a nice, thick, leafy spruce as being a healthy, well-fed fox’s brush, then black spruce are the tails of mangy foxes.

We were delighted to see a few groups of cyclists on the Glenn Highway, including one group of about six German girls. They were all doing well even though the road was quite hilly in places. Helped of course by the decent weather we were all enjoying.

I learned something else in the last few days. Where the road is rollercoaster-like bumpy up and down due to melting frost below the road surface, the term used is ‘frost heaves’.

We arrived back home about 6.30pm, and after a chat and something to eat, Mom and Dad went to bed and for the first time in nearly two weeks, the TV was turned on. 666 channels of absolute tosh. Liesel settled for a Harry Potter film.

Someone left the kayak out in the rain

We’re Off!

We’re off! After a couple of rather hectic and busy days in Northenden, we are now in London for the weekend. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. And today, although not planned, we walked just short of 20,000 steps. I feel fine but Liesel’s piriformis is a PITA still.

We think we’ve done all the last minute jobs that need doing when you go away from home for a while, but I keep thinking of things. Did we turn off all the devices? Computer? TV? Internet? Yes, yes and yes. Windows all closed and locked? Yes. Gas turned off? We don’t have a gas supply so that shouldn’t be a problem, but it still crossed my mind.

When we go abroad for a break, whether short or long like this one, we ask each other, do you know where the plug adapters are? No. Of course not. They’re all together in a small basket somewhere. But we’ve moved house, and they could be anywhere in the spare room and its 99 boxes, crates and piles of stuff. Oh well, we’ll just have to buy a new one, or two.

In between overseas trips, we sometimes come across the collection of plug adapters and we wonder why we have so many. Funny, that.

Yes, we have our passports and our tooth brushes, thanks for asking. Anything else is a bonus. Each of our backpacks weighs 9.9 kg, 11 lb, which we hope will satisfy the airlines’ limits. Plus, we each have a ‘handbag’. And that’s it: we are travelling very light.

On Thursday, before serious packing ensued, we joined Jenny to watch Martha and William swimming. Both were great and very happy in the water. But trying to undress William when he’s all sweaty is not very easy. Babies aren’t supposed to have temperature control, but he was having a jolly good try! After her swim, all Martha was interested in was a snack. Fair enough. We had coffee and a snack and Martha had a babyccino with bonus, unexpected marshmallows on top. Not sure her Mum was too pleased about that!

After lunch at Jenny’s, we went home and sweltered in the sweltering heat, yearning for, craving for, almost begging for a thunderstorm.

Everything, packing, printing stuff, moving around, was hard work. No, not a lot got done.

On Friday, we drove to Jenny’s and handed over the car key plus keys to our flat. She has been volunteered to pay a visit every few weeks to check everything is hunky dory. Our car will blot the view from the children’s playroom for a while, but I think they’re too little to worry about that, for now.

Here’s today’s obligatory ‘Martha’s brilliant’ paragraph. There’s a map of the world on the wall of the playroom, carefully hand-painted by Liam. When asked where Grandad and Oma are going on holiday, she points to Alaska, says ‘America’. Where does Auntie Linda live? Also America, but she points towards New England. Auntie Helen? Australia and she knows where that is. Unfortunately, England is hidden by a decorative leaf but she knows that’s where we all live.
She noticed that the blue of Greenland (I know, weird) was the same colour as the blue key on her toy piano. ‘I will get down, show you which one blue is’, she said, a 10-word sentence. She expands on ideas too. Mummy was packing for a trip, and she asked Martha to ask Daddy for his PJs. ‘Can I have your PJs, Mummy wants to pack them’, she said.

Martha planning her own travels

William is good fun too. He’s just turned eight months, and is a wriggler. He now crawls at full speed, blink and you’ll miss him spotting the smallest scrap of paper on the floor, or making a beeline for the cables near the TV. His head is magnetically attracted to the coffee table, that’s where he chooses to do most of his rolling over and sitting up. He understands a lot, can make a lot of noise but despite my best effforts, I don’t think ‘Grandad’ will be his first proper word.

We had lunch again with them all before we left. We had no car, now, so we walked to the bus stop. But I hadn’t anticipated such an emotional parting. Suddenly, the enormity of going away and leaving this lovely family behind hit us. We’ll talk to them and even see them online of course, but not for a long time in real life.

We had a sorbet on the way home as it was still very hot out, and we caught the bus the rest of the way. Last minute jobs all ticked off. A rubbish night’s sleep with some happy but forgotten dreams preceded an early rise.

Last night was the fantastic sight of the longest duration lunar eclipse this century. Not for us in the UK though where the clouds won. I had a quick look out of the window and could see there was no point going outside for a clearer view.

Everything was turned off, unplugged, locked and bags zipped and strapped. We left. We bade farewell to our new home and set off on our adventures. What a strange feeling. It still feels like we’re on holiday living in a new place, never mind going away for an actual holiday.

We took the bus into Manchester, walked to Piccadilly Station, caught the train to London Euston. It rained en route but not for long. In London, a bus to Kings Cross and then the Piccadilly line to Northfields where we are staying in an Airbnb for a couple nights. I realised what a good idea this was: if we have forgotten something important, there’s a sporting chance of being able to go home and pick it up. Hope we don’t need to, though.

Roseanna, our host, is very nice and friendly and knows how to make her guests feel welcome.

After a rest, we got the tube back to Leicester Square: Roseanna advised us that a bus, while more pleasant, would take far too long to get there.

It was cooler now, with a nice breeze to ruffle our hair a bit: Liesel’s more than mine, of course, since she has much more. We visited some tat shops looking for a specific item of tat, ‘a souvenir of London’, so to speak. But I remember the song of that name by Procol Harum, and we don’t need that sort of souvenir!

We stopped for a coffee and a snack at what we thought was a Japanese place. Nope: it’s Turkish. An easy mistake to make. We can recommend Simit Sarayi.

English might not be their first language

We walked towards Piccadilly Circus then to Trafalgar Square. Today was the day of Ride London, when a lot of otherwise busy roads are closed to motorised vehicles so that cyclists can have a go. And what a pleasant sight that is: we were slightly envious when we saw lots of families riding by St Martin’s in the Field.

We wandered through Charing Cross station where they were playing Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, for some reason. Then over the Millennium Bridge. ‘Bob Marley’ was singing one of my favourite songs, No Woman, No Cry. And, for the first time ever, after giving a busker some cash, I received a fist bump. Rasta.

On the South Bank, we decided not to walk on the beach.

The tide is high

Liesel called her Mom while I had a wander and tracked down an apple. Yes, still got to have an apple a day.

David in the Southbank skateboard park

We then walked along as far as and up onto Blackfriars Bridge where we waited for a bus. Not a sign. I looked at the app on my phone and it said there wouldn’t be one for at least half an hour. So we walked on, towards Kings Cross. A young Chinese girl had been waiting for the bus too, so we told her there wouldn’t be one for a while. We saw her several times on the way, also walking towards Kings Cross, or thereabouts.

There is a newly opened branch of Mildred’s and we were lucky enough to get a table straightaway. The original branch in Soho, where we’ve been a few times, is always packed and busy. And so was this new one. The food, all vegetarian and often vegan is terrific. We came away sated. Another recommendation for visitors to London.

Sitting next to us was a girl in a yellow skirt and her friend. She could talk the hind legs off a donkey and chose to do so, very loudly. Even the couple sitting on our other side kept giving her looks. No idea what she was blabbing on about, really, something about work, I think, but she didn’t waste a lot of time and energy breathing in. As they were getting ready to leave, I looked at Yellow Skirt’s friend. She had aged about thirty years in that time and looked bored stiff. Maybe it was her mother all along. It was noticeably quieter in the restaurant after they’d left.

A short walk to Kings Cross again, Piccadilly line again, back to our accommodation. The lighting in our room isn’t that bright but I can just see the keys on the keyboard. Liesel’s reading, listening to some music and nodding off.

Night night, Sooty, night night. No idea where that came from.

Visitors

Very exciting day, we had our first official visitors. Helen is here from Australia especially to see our new flat. Well, that, and to attend two weddings over the next few weeks. She visited us this afternoon with Jenny, Martha and William.

Martha was in top form, very chatty and curious about the things lying around. William was asleep and after he woke up and was fed, he was fun too. So close to crawling forwards but not quite, yet.

Helen arrived at Manchester Airport first thing in the morning and was met by the three of them. Martha and Helen chat to each other most days on the phone and I believe Martha still thinks Helen comes out of the phone when she’s here in person!

Helen, Martha, William, Jenny

The other visitor we had was the washing machine engineer. The spin cycle wasn’t working and in the end we had a new pump installed. Still, this inherited machine is in a far better state than the one we disposed of before we moved!

Yesterday, Liesel and I built the chest of drawers that we’d bought at Ikea. It’s always satisfying when it all works out and there are no bits left over! Now a lot of our clothes have been put away and our bedroom is beginning to look like a bedroom rather than a storage unit. The second bedroom really is a storage unit right now! Wall to wall boxes, crates, cases and bikes.

Yes, we will get the bikes out soon, but this morning we went into Manchester by bus as we had a couple of things to do there. In a first for both of us, we have rented a safe deposit box. This will contain all our really valuable items while we’re travelling.

Manchester is, obviously, very different to London. We’re no longer used to paying fares on buses but that’s the norm here. Also, the buses don’t display the name of the next bus stop, something we just take for granted in London.

We noticed the pavements in the city centre are really dirty. Yes, lots of chewing gum but the surface just looks really mucky. Maybe it’s because of the long, hot, dry spell we’re having.

Piccadilly Gardens, a small patch of green, was very busy, lots of workers having their lunch breaks there by the looks of it. The heatwave continues. It’s tempting to ask, does it ever rain in Manchester? What were we worried about?

Part one of our new bed was delivered this evening. The mattress. The base arrives on Thursday and then, at last, we’re hoping for a good, comfortable night’s sleep! We’ll have our internet connection on Thursday, too and then, ta-daaa, we’ll be able to book our travels! There is a lot to do indoors still, but we’ve only been here a week and we feel we’ve achieved a lot.