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.

Basketball

Today’s afternoon walk only took me as far as KBC. The initial plan was to walk to the nearest barbershop, but it proved to be too far. If I could walk in a straight line across the international airport, it would have been a 20-minute walk. Going the long way round would take well over an hour and half. So my hair is still uncut, unkempt and certainly not making growing fast enough to give me a ponytail any time soon.

In the evening, we went to watch Kiran playing a couple of games of basketball. As we left the house, Liesel pointed out the moose. What moose, I asked, looking into the distance. That moose, said Liesel. Right by the car!

There’s a moose, loose, outside the hoose

Phil was coaching Kiran’s team and we watched from the gallery, with Una. Basketball is a very fast game, a lot more scoring than soccer, of course, and all the players were very skilful with the ball. Between the two games, Una took us to a nearby coffeeshop that shall remain nameless. No, it wasn’t the Voldemort Coffee shop.

Goal!!!
Yes, a very fast game

The venue was BHS. Not the now defunct UK chainstore, but Bartlett High School, way over on the other side of town.

The students are Bartlett Bears.

To round the evening off, Una took us to the Anchorage Ale House to watch and listen to an ’80s music covers band, I Like Robots. Really, ‘I Like Robots’ is the name of the band. (The copyrighted name for the Alaskan-based tribute band that we’re putting together is AnchoRage Against the Machine.)

I only had one beer, thanks
I Like Robots with all the best hits from the ’80s

We had a good old-fashioned singalong and had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Una’s friends, Lesley and Tina.

The place was heaving, really crowded, the music was loud, the hubbub was louder but man, was it a relief when we finally got seats! I think this is the latest we’ve been out, getting back home just before midnight. The Moon was peeping through the clouds accusingly.

Meanwhile, we’d missed the People’s Vote march in London. An estimated 700,000 people made it the second largest march ever in the UK. More people even than the total population of Alaska! No trouble, no violence, no arrests. A few weeks ago, 7,000 people attended the Leave Means Leave march and caused plenty of trouble. I hope I’m able to participate if there is a second referendum, especially if the option to remain in the EU is included.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught up on a few radio programmes and podcasts. Highlights include Danny Baker talking to Sir Bernard Cribbins and playing Right Said Fred by Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford! Who knew? And the now award-winning podcast Fortunately! with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which you sometimes have to listen to through your fingers.

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….

Cross-country Runs

Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins… we had to get up early as the cleaners were due at 7.30. We went out to the Bagel Factory for breakfast. Very nice bagel with far too much salad including bean sprouts that think they’re dental floss. And a huge gherkin (pickle) that even Liesel didn’t fancy.

Liesel had booked a massage at the gym so to keep her company, I walked fast on the treadmill for half an hour. Every time I do that, I think how much I prefer walking around outside. But I told myself that it was OK to be exercising inside when it’s so cold outside.

Boring photo of gym activity

Cold and wet. Klaus went out to run some errands, came back and told us about the big black cloud heading our way.

I was going to walk to Kincaid Park but by the time I’d got ready, it was raining really hard. Surely, I thought, they’ll cancel the cross-country race. But no.

In the end, I accepted a lift from Klaus and we watched the race that Asa took part in. It was cold and raining hard, just how I used to enjoy my cross-country runs at school. (I didn’t. See below(*))

Thanks to Jodi for the photo
Asa just finishing the race

There was a huge discrepancy between the actual temperature and what the internet told me. 16°C is 60°F. In fact, it was 47°F, a chilly 8°C.

47 chilly degrees
In a parallel universe, 60 degrees

We drove over to Aaron and Jodi’s in the evening for dinner and to be shown around the house. They’re off to New Orleans for ten days and Liesel and I are in charge of looking after Asa and Gideon!

They live downtown, nearer the city centre, so hopefully we’ll still be able to do some walking, even if much of it is inside the gigantic shops and department stores, away from the cold weather.

Did I mention that it has suddenly become really cold? Aaron commented that it was the first time he’d seen me wearing long trousers and long sleeves.

We have plans for our nephews: and that is meant in the best possible way, no manic laughter implied!!

(*) Yes, cross-country running wasn’t my favourite sports activity at school, mainly because I can’t run fast nor far, never could. I can still visualise the route through the woods at school, and how grateful I was when a friend, who lived nearby, showed us the shortcut.

A couple of years later, in a moment of madness, I volunteered to join the school team in a race which happened to be close to where I lived in Park Barn, Guildford. It was on what was then Bannister’s playing field, now occupied by Tesco. It was raining that day too, but at least I’d been taken most of the way home on the coach.

I was destined to come in last place from the very start, but my fate was sealed when, running back, my shoe became stuck in the mud and came off. Trying to pull a shoe out of thick clay, in the rain, while trying not to put the shoeless foot down and trying not to fall over was difficult but I managed. And yes, I secured my last place.

I was never picked for a cross-country team again, and I never volunteered.

To Pluto and Beyond

Kincaid Park is full of bears. At least, according to Jyoti, who saw two black bears in the valley, eating and otherwise minding their own business. She was hiking with Lisa and they made a hasty retreat. Sadly, no photos were taken.

When I later hiked in the same sort of area with Jyoti and her friend Cammie (sp?) (she has a broken arm), we had bear spray, just in case.

I walked there on my own today to watch Asa’s last soccer game of the season. Another opportunity to mess about with my smartphone camera.

Hardly a level playing field, right?

On the walk back, I encountered a moose on the shared path. Being gallant, and giving them the opportunity to take better pictures, I let the girls on bikes get between me and the moose.

Moose on the path and two cyclists
Oh no, more people. I’m off…

Late lunch for me was the soup and noodles from Siam Cuisine from a few nights ago. It was OK but I realised I should have left some of the interesting components too, and not eaten all the veg and tofu in the restaurant!

In other news, Una now has blue hair:

Una with blue hair

I’ve been scratching my head trying to think of a Pythagorean caption for this picture:

The bicycle on the hypotenuse is equal to…

In Kincaid Park, I visited Pluto. There’s a Light Speed Planet Walk in Anchorage that follows 5th Avenue and the coastal trail. You walk at the speed of light. Each step you take represents the distance light travels in one second, 300,000 km or 186,000 miles. So, just as light takes eight minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, here it takes eight minutes to walk from the model Sun to the model Earth. Pluto is of course the furthest from the Sun, taking five and a half hours to walk the full distance. What a shame Pluto is no longer considered a major planet!

The demoted Pluto

In the evening, a disparate group of ne’er-do-wells enjoyed a concert given by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. They were playing the music of John Williams, mainly famous for his film scores but he is a great composer of other works for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the re-opening of the Statue of Liberty for instance.

Some folks came dressed up:

Harry Potter

Music from ET brought back memories, of course. I first saw it with Sarah. Jenny was in utero and in her first scan, she looked just like ET, so that became her name. Until we decided Jenny might be better.

Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

The encore featured three themes from the Stars Wars films – taking us to a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars

It was a late night for all of us: me, Liesel, Leslie, Asa, Jyoti and Amrit.

Hikes and Bites

We seem to have settled into a routine of going for a walk or a hike and going out to eat or drink. That’s OK, that’s what holidays are for.

An early walk with Jyoti in Kincaid Park was interesting because we had to make a detour to avoid getting too close to a moose, not once, but twice.

Follow the yellow-leaf trail….
Mountain bikes presumably – maybe skiers treat this as a challenge too

And then, in the bushes, we saw a group of three mooses all together. Photos? Nah: I’m pretty blasé about seeing them in the wild, now. Yes, it’s still a thrill (for me, at least) to see them, but they all look the same in photos (no offence, mooses)!

Nice signing

Liesel and I had a late breakfast (early lunch) with another long-lost friend at Organic Oasis. We all chose the same item from the menu, but whereas the two ladies went for small, I chose big. We all agreed that none of us know what we want to do when we grow up, having had a succession of jobs, in offices and elsewhere, that in retrospect, were just a stop-gap until the real thing comes along.

The musical accompaniment here was songs by Paul McCartney, then by George Harrison and a bit later, by John Lennon. No solo Ringo Starr, unfortunately, but we did hear the Beatles’ Hello Goodbye just before we left!

Having slipped on the muddy trail a couple of times in the morning, Liesel decided it was time to buy some new trainers, from REI.

We had a coffee, of course, and by coincidence, Una was having lunch in the nearby Yak and Yeti and she joined us for a moment.

While Liesel was having more treatment from the physio, I went for a walk down towards the railway line and the inlet. Despite being close to the city centre, there was still plenty of Autumnal colour.

Actually nowhere near the railway station

Another bear loose in town

At 10:18 on Wednesday 3rd, Liesel’s phone made horrible noise. “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Well, the klaxon certainly stirred me from my near slumber. But where was my message? I had to wait until 10:28 for mine. And then I received a second message six minutes later. Was the test successful? On Twitter, I saw that someone had received the alert three times. Another person complained that soon afterwards, they’d been sent a message inviting them to a rally being held by the President, and was this related? And of course, there was some fun to be had:

Liesel wanted to go out to have some quality girl time, sans moi. At one point, her plans included having two lunches! In the end, she only had a light first lunch, anticipating a second, which then didn’t happen. Oops.

Meanwhile I went for a long walk to Carrs to buy a mirror to replace the one that broke a few days ago.

Only in Anchorage….
Not a model village, but a whole new neighbourhood built in a big hole

A man walking towards me said, conspiratorially, “And so, the sky’s walking today.” I thought, he thinks I’m a fellow Russian spy, or something, and I don’t even know the secret reponse. Then my brain kicked in and I realised that he’d really said, “It’s all us guys walking today.”

What a long walk, just to buy a hand mirror. Yes, maybe, but I rewarded myself with another massage while I was there.

As it was two days after International Coffee Day, on the way home, I felt obligated to stop at Kaladi Bros on Jewel Lake for one of their delicious lattes. With a breakfast burrito, this time, for a late lunch. Which was just enough fuel to get me home again. Except…

As I was walking home, Liesel drove by and picked me up. We delivered the chalk to the local elementary school. Chalk that was left over from the garage sale and has been in the boot of the car ever since. The staff at the school were grateful, so I hope the children have some fun with it.

At last, we decided on and bought a wireless speaker. It’s not too bulky, nor too heavy, and it means we can listen to music from both our phones anywhere in pretty good quality. And as I type, I can confirm: my phone can talk to two devices via Bluetooth at the same time!

Asa was supposed to take part in a cross-country run in the afternoon but as he wasn’t feeling well, we didn’t have to go and show support nor did we have to risk sending the runners the wrong way in our rôle as marshals! Instead, Liesel suggested to her parents that we go out for dinner.

We went to Siam Cuisine where I had a bowl of curry noodles with tofu and vegetables. When I say bowl, I mean it was nearly the size of a washing-up bowl. No way could I finish it, and I took the rest home in a carton. Klaus had oxtail soup and I recalled my favourite ever oxtail soup: from a vending machine at Waterloo Station, forty years ago or so!

Cafés and restaurants often (usually?) play music from the Beatles. Well, Siam Cuisine didn’t, they were playing Siamese music, I think. But they did have this blackboard as a nod to the fab four:

All you need is love…

Jyoti’s car is now just like me: re-tired. Yes, Jyoti took her car in to have the snow tyres fitted in anticipation of it being snowy and icy when she returns home from her forthcoming trip to Indianapolis and the east coast.

She drove us to Hilltop for a hike through the woods. It was quite chilly and I was very nearly tempted to put on my jacket. But I managed to stay warm enough, the trail was undulating and we had the place to ourselves. Apart from the lady near the beginning who walked by hurriedly with her dog close behind. Hurriedly, and we soon found out why: her big dog had left a big steaming pile on the trail. Very unusual for local dog owners.

The only other person came by on his mountain bike at about 90 mph. Twice. We saw a moose in the distance, thinking about having a go on the ski-jump. Other than that, and a spruce-head bird, nothing. Although Liesel was heard to say “There’s too much wildlife in Anchorage”.

Not all evergreens are ever green
Spot the moose eyeing up the ski jump

When Liesel and Jyoti are walking, they are also talking. I can’t talk that much. Don’t know what they’re talking about as I listen out for the sound of animals in the bushes!

And I think I’ve found out why they call Autumn ‘Fall’ in America: it’s because that’s when the trees start falling over like drunken teenagers or Judge Kavanaugh.

One…
Two…
Three… Timber!

Yes, I know we used to call it Fall in England too until a couple of hundred years ago, when we started to use the French word Automne!

Oh guess what I found in the email Spam folder? A message from the estate agent that sold our house, asking for a review. Here’s the link, it said, to make it easy for you. Except the link just took me to the page that I would see if I Googled the name of the estate agent. So, sorry, they won’t be getting a review.

In the evening, we joined chef Jyoti at her house for supper: aloo gobi, saag paneer and rice. Us two, Jyoti and Jyoti’s daughter’s boyfriend’s brother Calvin! It was cold and raining when we left, but we were well sated.

Soccer 2 Airports 1

Sunday was an early rise. We drove to Snow City Café and there we met Catherine, another friend from a long time ago. I think the last time we saw her and her husband Hans was when they took us out on their boat into Prince William Sound, maybe ten years ago.

She and Hans now live in a big house outside Seattle, bigger than the whole block of five flats where we now live! It was, as ever, great to see Liesel and Catherine picking up where they left off.

Liesel with Catherine

And while we were eating our breakfast, watching the fog slowly dissipate, who should come in but Una’s family!

After bidding farewell, we went for a quick walk before visiting Sagaya for coffee (me) and a cookie (Liesel) and then the really exciting part of the day: a trip to CostCo.

It’s the end of the outdoor soccer season in Alaska and in the afternoon, Gideon and his team played two games, which I though was a bit unfair, especially as their second opponents were fairly fresh.

We couldn’t walk to the venue on this occasion as it was by Waldron Lake. And I thought, what are the chances of that? Waldron Lake. Sam Waldron is a character in the Postman Pat stories. These were much enjoyed by Jenny and Helen when they were young and, of course, hinted at the final ten years of my working life. Jenny and Helen also liked another animated children’s TV programme, Rosie and Jim. Both were devised by John Cunliffe and the sad news is that he died this week. A slightly tenuous link there, but that’s how this old mind wanders during a football game!

Arsenal 07

As well as the games, we witnessed geese flying in the wrong direction if they thought they were heading south for the Winter.

Geese flying west for some practice
The perfectly calm Waldron Lake

Daylight now arrives much later in the morning. When you wake up, it’s dark, it could be 3 am or 7 am. So easy to go back to sleep until after 9 am. But I hope to hit that habit on the head pdq. We rose early yesterday and I’m sure I can do so more often than I presently do.

Liesel called downstairs to see if I was alright. Yes, thankyou, why? She’d felt an earthquake and I hadn’t. Unlike the one a few weeks ago, that I felt while in bed but Liesel had missed. Leslie had felt it at work that day too.

In the afternoon, I went for a long, solo walk. When I set off, the fog was still rising and I was able to enjoy the sight of some early afternoon dew.

Grass with dew

I enjoyed looking at the Fall colours again and wondered what do Americans use instead of the adjective Autumnal? Fallal? Fallic?

I wandered over to the airport hoping to take some exciting photos of aeroplanes, but the security fence that surrounds the airport is a bit intrusive.

I wanted to cross the road but this subway was too small

I saw one guy taking pictures with professional equipment. I didn’t take out my smartphone until I was well away from him: zoom lens envy is not a pretty sight and he had one the size of a World War 1 cannon.

A small aeroplane overhead
Ted Stevens Airport buildings with mountains in the background

Again the mountains were visible in the distance and I’m sure every time we see them, there is more snow on them. In fact, Liesel said that snow was forecast, on the Yahoo! site, for Anchorage at the end of the week. But I checked the BBC weather site, and it didn;t mention snow at all.

I had a quick look at deLong Lake on the way back and I’m glad I didn’t fall in deWater.

The slightly sloping deLong Lake

As it was International Coffee Day, on the way home, I felt obligated to stop at Kaladi Bros on Jewel Lake for one of their delicious lattes. With a bagel. Which was just enough fuel to get me home again.

And, as it’s the first day of the month (just where did September go?), I caught up with some of the monthly admin tasks. Yes, I found an activity even more exciting than going to CostCo!