Friday, September 21: More better blues (and country, and rock, and pop)

Friday we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I took no pictures.

I usually don’t take pictures in museums, not because they don’t let you, but for one of two reasons:

– the scenes are usually uninteresting

– taking a picture of a picture (or sculpture, or …) doesn’t appeal to me

The museum itself was moderately interesting. If you are a real fan, then they have a pretty solid collection of artifacts related to your favorite artists: guitars, shoes, boots, belts, costumes, hats, suitcases, etc. There are a few interpretive displays to help understand how the blues combined with Irish music to create traditional country music. There’s little interpretation of how country morphed into today’s blend of country, pop and rock.

Don’t stop believing … how crowded it gets, September 2018

In the evening we went back to Broadway to see some more music in the bars. Like last night, what we heard was far from the music that used to be broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry. The song we heard more times than any other was (wait for it …) Don’t Stop Believing. I always liked this song back in the day (it was released in 1981), but I’m suffering from severe over-exposure now. It’s everywhere – weddings, bar mitzvahs, political rallies, Memphis, Nashville, on my Pandora mixes. Enough already!

A really good, really loud band in a really crowded venue, September 2018

Here’s some more of the playlist from last night:

  • Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry)
  • Country Road (John Denver)
  • My Girl (Tempations, Rolling Stones, and everyone else)
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears)
  • Drops of Jupitor (Train)
  • Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
  • You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)

There were also straight country songs, but they were outnumbered by the rock and pop stuff

I really don’t mean to criticize the musical tastes of people around here. I liked most of the music I heard, country and not-country. I just find it amusing that Don’t Stop Believing is the most popular (by the number of performances I heard) song in the home of country music. In one bar, the band (who were very good) asked the audience “do you want to hear more country, or pop, or rock” and rock won by a substantial margin.

The crowds are out of control, September 2018

It was crowded Thursday night (don’t these people have to work?), and Friday even more. And by 11:00, people were losing their inhibitions somewhat.

Thursday, September 20: Music City, USA

We left Memphsis, Home of the Blues, and headed on up to Nashville, the center of that music juggernaut known as Country Music. This ride was much shorter than the six hour trek down to Memphis: an easy three hours.

We’re staying here at the Hermitage, the old-school fancy hotel downtown. The first thing we noticed when we walked into the room was the Tennessee state capital outside the window.

Tennessee State Capital, September 2018

The room itself was lovely, as it was hand-picked by Sally. While the style was similar to that of the Peabody in Memphis, this was superior in every way: size, fit & finish, view, and of course price.

Hermitage Hotel, September 2018

After another exhausting but finally satisfying dinner trying to find some food that didn’t contain forbidden substances, we walked over to Broadway to find some music. The contrast with Beale Street was immediate and huge.

The bluesmen (1) on Beale Street appeared to me to be playing for tips and fun, with no expectation of making a career or living from it. In fact, most of them appeared to be fairly well along in years, past the time when they’re thinking about any career at all. In contrast, what we saw this evening were much younger musicians, with a high caliber of musicianship, and either working as musicians or trying to make a career (2).

Nashville’s Broadway crowds, September 2018

The demographic differences for both the musicians and audiences is also pronounced. In Memphis the musicians are mostly black, with an occasional white guy thrown in. The audiences are mostly white, but also mostly older tourists (3).

In Nashville the musicians we saw today were all white. The audiences were all white and ranged from youngsters who needed to show ID to a small number of older folks. While some were no doubt tourists like us, most appeared to be relatively local folks in town to party. And both the street and the bars we walked past were all very crowded, although we only made it one block before we settled into Dierks Bentley’s Wiskey Row.

The band was quite good (and loud), and they were playing what passes today for country music. Here’s part of the setlist we heard (4):

Don’t Stop Believing (Journey), Summer of 69 (Bryan Adams), Space Cowboy (Steve Miller Band), Living On A Prayer (Bon Jovi), Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash), Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf), Santeria (Sublime), Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash), Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood), The Grange (ZZ Top).

We liked all the music. And they sang it with southern accents, and put in a few country licks. But the definition of country has been stretched beyond recognition.


(1) I saw exactly two woman singing on Beale Street.

(2) Women were also much more represented, although still a minority of the performers.

(3) Like Sally and me.

(4) There were a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, which I assume were “country” hits.

Wednesday, September 19: Civil Rights in America (and more Memphis)

Many years ago, we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. We subsequently visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Last year we visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Today we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Human antipathy and cruelty to “others” is universal and endless.

MLK was killed on the balcony outside 306, shots came from across the street, September 2018

This museum is built in, and alongside, the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered 50 years ago on April 4. He joined a long list of Americans murdered because they fought for civil rights, or were simply African American. His death was sadly not the last.

King’s room, September 2018

Slavery in the Americas was massive and pervasive. By 1860 55% of the people in Mississippi and South Carolina were slaves. Louisiana, Florida and Georgia were all mid-40s. Overall, 13% – about 1 in 8 – people in the US were slaves.

Rosa Parks in the front of the bus, September 2018

The battle for freedom and equal rights began before the African slaves ever reached our shores, continued on the plantations, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, and to today.

The Uber driver taking us back to the hotel asked if we enjoyed the museum; “enjoy” doesn’t really describe it. But we were very glad to have gone.


After resting up for a bit, I went out for a walk. It was 95 degrees, sunny and humid today, so I wasn’t expecting to get far. But here’s what I found.

Guitars in many colors, September 2018

There’s a Gibson guitar factory here which gives tours, but I had no reservation and couldn’t get in. But the showroom was a colorful cornucopia of guitars.

A streetcar named MATA, September 2018

There is a city beyond Beale Street’s three blocks. For instance, Main Street is a long pedestrian mall served by electric streetcars. There are, however, almost no pedestrians to be seen. Is it the heat? There are restaurants and discos, shops and offices. But I saw extremely few actual people.

Rollin’ on the river, September 2018

The Mississippi River is only a few blocks away. Other than a tourist riverboat, and a barge train heading up-river, there was no one there either.

After dinner at a nice restaurant on Main Street, we walked back to Beale Street to get another music fix.

Bikes on Beale, September 2018

What we found was the Bike Night on Beale. Hundreds of bikes and bikers completely fill Beale Street’s three blocks every Wednesday during the summer. There was a competition of glitz, and a competition of volume between the bikers and the bluesmen.

Tuesday, September 18: Going to Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee

If you not only like music, but like to know about how it came about, then there are two must-see sights in Memphis: Graceland and Sun Studio. The two are intertwined: Sun Studio is where Elvis auditioned for Sam Phillips and where he recorded his first earth shaking albums.

Vintage gear in Sun Studio, September 2018

Sam Phillips was a Memphis recording engineer who got tired of seeing other record labels make the big money off the records he recorded, and started his own record company in the 1950s. What is arguably (1) the first rock-‘n’-roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston, was recorded there in 1951. Ike Turner composed the song and played keyboard. The list of artists who recorded there includes Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, James Cotton and Junior Parker. Later, rockabilly and country artist such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis came through.

But it was a 19 year old kid who pestered Phillips for a year that set off a chain of events and changed the music world in 1954. Elvis Presley, playing with two musicians that Phillips had hooked him up with (5), cut “That’s All Right”. And the rest is history.

Sun Studio itself is tiny, and the studio is lined with vintage instruments and equipment still used several days a week for recording sessions.

After lunch we went out to Graceland. The “Mansion” is a large house which wouldn’t look outsized in a lot of upscale neighborhoods in the New York suburbs. It is incredibly glitzy, in a 1960s and 1970s kind of way. The property contains a number of outbuildings, including a horse barn, racquetball court, a garage for golf carts, etc. All the trimmings of someone who had no constraints on what toys to buy.

Graceland interiors and graves, September 2018

Across the road, there is a large museum/theater/shopping/eating complex. We watched a bit of one of Elvis’s terrible movies, where he played the singer in a band who also is a race car driver (2). We saw a lot of glitzy costumes. There are rooms dedicated to Lisa Marie Presley, his only child and heir (3).

Clothes fit for a king, September 2018

We also saw glitzy clothing in Lansky Brothers, the so-called “Clothier to the King” (4). While Sally encouraged me to go for it, I resisted.

Beale Street Blues, September 2018

This being Memphis, I couldn’t resist going back downtown Beale Street to hear some more blues.

————

(1) The argument is made by Sun Studio and Sam Phillips.

(2) Spinout, (1968), also starring Shelley Fabares as a romantic interest.

(3) Lisa remains owner of the Mansion itself and 15% of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which owns all of the licensing rights to Elvis and his work.

(4) So-called by Lansky Brothers.

(5) Scotty Moore and Bill Black, who would perform in Presley’s band for many years.

Tuesday, September 18: Honorary Duckmaster

The last post told you about the Peabody Duck March: a bunch of ducks swim around in a small lobby fountain all day, then the hotel sells a ton of drinks as tourists hang out in the lobby for upwards of an hour before to watch them walk down the red carpet to the elevator.

Yes, the ducks walk down a red carpet and take the elevator to their living quarters on the roof.

We happened to get back to the hotel from our afternoon excursion at exactly the right time, so we bellied up to the rope to watch them walk, I mean March, up close. Little did we know that we were in for a special treat today: there was an Honorary Duckmaster assisting in the ceremony.

Miss Tennessee anointed Honorary Duckmaster, September 2018

Christine Williamson, Miss Tennesse 2018!

Marching ducks, walking Miss Tennessee, September 2018

She successfully helped to herd the ducks down the carpet and into the elevator. We were very excited to be there to witness this historic event!

Monday, September 17: Memphis Blues

Monday we took the longest one-day drive we’ve ever done: 420 miles, going from Lexington south and west to Memphis. While we left in the rain, it was pretty uneventful except for when the iPhones’ clocks all changed an hour. I didn’t realize that the line between Eastern and Central time runs through the middle of Kentucky and Tennessee. This actually gave us an extra hour on a day when we could use it.

Ducks ready to March, September 2018

The Peabody in Memphis is an institution, and they have their renowned Duck March in the lobby twice a day. As the name suggests, a bunch of semi-trained ducks walk from the elevators to the lobby fountain in the morning, and back in late afternoon. We managed to arrive and snag a choice (although not prime) viewing spot among the crowds for what is ultimately watching some ducks walk for about a minute. But the hotel gets to sell a load of drinks while everyone is waiting.

The lobby is quite nice and ornate. The room itself is not up to (our) modern standards – only a tub shower, no minibar, ugly carpet, no obvious color scheme other than “all”. We can see the Mississippi River a few blocks away from our window, and both Arkansas and Tennessee across it. And there is a concierge on the floor, along with a nice buffet breakfast and afternoon drinks (1).

Eric Hughes Band, September 2018

But we didn’t come to Memphis for the hotel – we came for music and music history. In the evening, we walked over to Beale Street, a few blocks away. Beale Street is three blocks of bars with a lot of music, mostly blues. We settled into one and had dinner, and wound up staying for the first hour of the show. The Eric Hughes Band was rockin’.

BB and WC Handy were here, September 2018

After walking Sally home (2), I came back to find some more music and watch the people in the street. Despite Memphis being 63% black (3), The people I saw were 95% white, and 50% old (4). We were pretty much all tourists, as further evidenced by the big busses parked a couple of blocks away.

Music playing and people dancing, September 2018

None of that stopped the musicians, however. I heard everything from blues, to great funk/soul, to three white boys playing acoustic guitars, to a poor black woman singing Hotel California by reading the words from her phone and making up the melody as she went along.

————

(1) The afternoon drinks don’t start until after the renowned Duck March, as they wouldn’t want to stop you from buying drinks in the lobby.

(2) Like a good southern gentleman.

(3) 2006-2008 American Community Survey, via Wikipedia.

(4) My eyeballs.

Sunday, September 16: Bourbon Day

The area around Lexington has two main exports: thoroughbred horses and bourbon. We decided to spend the day visiting the second of these, as we are more likely to consume that product in the future (1).

There is a marketing group of distilleries which together run the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Which is really not much more than a list of distilleries grouped near each other. I looked at the group near Lexington and chose three to visit. Then our schedule (2) wound up with us being in Lexington on Sunday, when all the distilleries run shortened tour hours. Then I thought none of the tours required reservations, when it turned out that several do. So the end of all of this is that we wound up visiting two distillaries today rather than the three we had intended. Which, in turn, wound up being perfect.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, September 2018

The first stop was Wild Turkey. $11 per person for a one hour tour, including a tasting of four varieties. The tour guide was mediocre, the tour was superficial, and the bourbon was just okay.

Caleb and bourbon in the barrel, September 2018

The second stop was Buffalo Trace. Free. Caleb, our guide was excellent. No reservations, first come, first served. The tour was 90 minutes, Very detailed, with losts of questions and answers. The tasting yielded two drinks Sally liked, plus chocolate candy chasers.

Art collection, 21C Museum Hotel, September 2018

I think I mentioned the other day that this hotel chain – 21C Museum Hotels – is serious about their art. Here are a few samples from the Lexington branch.

We finished off the day with a great steak dinner at Tony’s, a few blocks from the hotel.

—————

(1) The last time either Sally or I was on a horse was in college, when we took horseback riding to meet half of our PhysEd requirement. It didn’t end well.

(2) Many of you know that we rescheduled this trip from the spring, which resulted in the days we are in certain spots becoming suboptimal. But all is good.

Saturday, September 15: Lexington, KY

Saturday we took a long drive to Lexington, the heart of horse racing and bourbon in Kentucky. As we knew, this trip involves more and longer drives than our previous ones, because as we’ve experienced the places closer to home we need to drive further to see new stuff. This drive was 280 miles, and took us almost five hours including a stop at our new favorite fast food place, Sheetz (1).

21C Hotel, September 2018

We’re staying at the 21C Museum Hotel. Their deal is that they actually have art galleries in their public spaces, and the exhibit at the exhibition hotel was very enjoyable. The hotel itself is very modern and streamlined compared to the country inns we were in for the last two stops.

Latino Festival, September 2018

After dinner, we walked around a bit and came across a Latino Festival around the block from our hotel. Music, food, people in costume, etc.

Sunday morning in Lexington, September 2018

Sunday morning I went for an early walk. Saying the city was quiet is an understatement.

—————–

(1) I mentioned the other day I had no idea what the name Sheetz means. I now know: the chain was started by Bob Sheetz in 1952.

Friday, September 14 – Traveling to West Virginia

We left our little Inn after a hearty family-style breakfast with our new friends from last night. The innkeepers served a full breakfast, but you got what they made – in this case, a cheese omelette, sausage, fried potatoes, English muffin, a pear swimming in sweet cream, etc. While it wasn’t to our taste, everyone else seemed to like it.

John Brown in Harper’s Ferry, September 2018

On our way, we made a quick stop in Harper’s Ferry, another historically significant location about 20 minutes from the Inn. Harper’s Ferry is where the abolitionist John Brown attacked a US armory, and was ultimately captured by an Army unit headed by Colonel Robert E. Lee. Today it’s a National Monument and a restored village, which is very cute. Unfortunately, the weather continued to not cooperate and we left after about 30 minutes, as it was drizzling.

Retro candy in Harper’s Ferry, September 2018

But not before Sally scored some retro candies in a retro candy shop.

Lewisberg is coolest, September 201&

The trip down to Lewisberg, WV was pretty much all interstates. About 3/4 was heading south on I-81, which was chock full of trailer trucks. Several of the drivers didn’t seem quite in control of their rigs, moving in what seemed to be an uncontrolled fashion across their lane. This made me pretty nervous, and I kept my distance as much as possible. Then we headed west on I-64, which took us across the mountains, was much more picturesque, and had almost no trucks.

Seriously retro hotel, September 2018

Lewisberg is the self-proclaimed “cutest town in America”, and all four blocks are indeed cute. Our hotel, the Historic General Lewis Inn, is shabbily elegant. Which is to say, it was probably very nice 150 years ago, but could definitely use an update. The bathroom in our room is definitely smaller than the one on our cruise ship last year (1). The electrical wiring is all surface mounted on the walls, as the rooms didn’t have outlets when it was built.

A long climb ahead, September 2018

And it goes without saying that there were stairs. Many stairs.

——————–

(1) Sally insists that the hotel was built without en suite baths, and our bathroom was originally a closet. I can’t argue with that.

Thursday, September 13 – Keedysville, MD

Today we drove about 270 miles down here to Maryland. When I selected this place to stop, I was trying to find towns along the way to Lexington, KY to break up the drive, but it turns out this is where the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, was fought 156 years ago this weekend. About 87,000 Union and 38,000 Confederate soldiers fought here, and 23,000 of them died on September 17, 1862.

More about that later.

As I mentioned previously, we packed a little differently on this trip, making an attempt to isolate some stuff that can live in the car. For this first stop, at least, it worked – I carried less, and less heavy, stuff up the flight of stairs to our room (1). It remains to be seen if this organization deteriorates over time.

We pulled off the road for lunch and found a chain we have never heard of before, Sheetz (2). It’s a gas station, convenience store, and restaurant. You order on touch screens, and can extensively customize your order: we got turkey subs, and chose bread type, quantity of meat, size of sandwich, toppings, spreads, dressing, etc. The food was tasty and fresh.

We’re staying here one night at the Antietam Overlook Farm, and it indeed overlooks the National Battlefield. We did the driving tour this afternoon, and unfortunately the on-and-off rain made it less enjoyable (?) than otherwise (3). “Enjoyable” is a difficult word here, as we were where 23,000 men – almost 1 in 5 – died in a few hours. This battle was a tragedy of errors on both sides. Apparently, Lee attacked because he thought the Union army was smaller and in poor shape; in reality, they were in better shape than his army. Similarly, McClelland was tentative in pursuing Lee before and after the battle because he thought the Confederates had more men than they actually did. Lincoln fired McClelland for failing to finish off Lee, which could have shortened the entire war.

I only took a few pictures there, because (a) the weather was bad, and (b) all you see are grassy fields and trees, with monuments to the various Northern units that fought there. It’s only reading about what went on that you begin to appreciate it.

As you drive around, you see the spots where various fights occurred. It’s hard to picture these poor men dying at a rate of 32 per minute. Of course, the big shots back in Washington and Richmond were not in any immediate danger – but isn’t that always the way of war? The old fools make the war, and the poor and young die.

Confederate cannons, Antietam, September 2018

It’s clear to me, at least, that the old fools running the Confederacy were wrong for so many reasons – chief among them, that they were sending their own youth to die so they could continue to enslave other human beings. But were the old fools in Washington right? They were fighting primarily to prevent the southern states from leaving the Union; slavery – at least in the South – was something they had long acceeded to. Was it worth 620,000 American soldiers’ lives to keep the idea of the United States alive?

In any event, 156 years after the Battle, we’re staying at a lovely little inn.

Antietam Overlook Farm, September 2018

We had a great dinner at the Bavarian Inn, just across the Potomic River in West Virginia. It was the first time in WV for either Sally or me. We ate in the Ratskeller downstairs rather than the fancy, white tablecloth restaurant upstairs.

Bavarian Inn, September 2018

When we returned to the Inn after dinner, we found the five other guests sitting in the lounge chatting and enjoying an after-dinner drink. We joined them and we all chatted about retirement, traveling and grandchildren. Very pleasant.

—————–

(1) Our rooms are never on the main level. And these small places never have elevators or luggage porters.

(2) I’m not sure what the name is all about, but they play with it on the menu: you can get “burgerz”, “wingz”, etc.

(3) I seem to recall the weather was equally poor when we toured Gettysburg 12 years ago.

Saturday, August 4: The Oregon Coast – Where have I been?

So, this post – as the title suggests – was supposed to be up about four weeks ago, but I mysteriously disappeared from the interwebs.  No blogs, no Instagram, no Flickr, no nuttin’.  Those of you who should know, know why.  Those who don’t, shouldn’t.  But here’s what I would have said about our penultimate day in Oregon.

————————————————————————————————————–

If you’re like me, you assumed that Portland – like Vancouver and Seattle – was a port (1) at the ocean, or nearby in a bay of some sort. And like me, you would be wrong. Portland is actually about 80 miles inland on the Williamette River where it flows into the Columbia River. It is a port, but only a river port.

_em21719

View from Oswald State Park towards Manzanita, August, 2018

Since we had traveled east into the mountains yesterday, today we travelled west to the shore. Sally’s nephew took us on a grand tour, first taking some backroads (some on gravel) through the Tillamook State Forest out to Manzanita, and then along the coast to Tolovana.

Oswald SP Beach Rock, August 2018

..

Driftwood, Oswald SP, August 2018

Scenes from a wedding, Manzanita, August 2018

More driftwood, August 2018

Hollow tree, August 2018

And that’s the end of the tale of this trip.


(1) “Port”-land – get it?  It fooled me.

Friday, August 3: Portlandia

There was no post yesterday, Thursday. All we did was pack up and leave Seattle, and drive to Portland. This marks 42 states (plus DC and PR) that I’ve visited. There was nothing special about the drive; I-5 all the way down. The Sentinal Hotel, where we’re staying, is very eclectic: it’s a moderately sized hotel, with a very friendly and energetic young staff, and a very lively bar scene in the evenings.

Sentinel Hotel, Portland, August 2018

We had dinner with Sally’s niece and nephew last night, in a very Portlandish brew pub. Good food, and good beers.

Today we spent with Sally’s nephew and his wife. They moved here a couple of years ago, bought a house and love living here. They offered to show us around, so we went out to their place and the four of us spent the day driving around the countryside. From Portland, we headed east through the Columbia River Gorge.

We are family, August 2018

Multnomah Falls, August 2018

Multnomah is allegedly the “most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest”, according to the National Park Service. It certainly was busy enough on a Friday afternoon.

Bonneville Dam and salmon ladder, August 2018

From there we continued up the Gorge, stopping at another lesser waterfall, and then decided to see the Bonneville Dam. The Columbia River has massive and powerful water flow, and there at 14 dams on the main river itself, plus another 46 on its tributaries. This dam is not the largest by a long stretch, yet was impressive in its power. The salmon ladder was also interesting, although we didn’t see any salmon.

Kool kars, August 2018

Brilliant, August 2018

Our last stop for the day was the town of Hood River, cleverly located where the Hood River flows into the Columbia. We expected a cute little town, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a Street fair with a dozen or more classic cars from the WAAAM (1). There were a number from the 50s and 60s, which tickled my imagination and brought back memories of lusting after hot rods and muscle cars as a youth. Among them was a 1970 powder blue Oldsmobile 442 convertible, similar to one that Sally’s cousin drove. And a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible, like the one I owned for about 9 months in 1969. This one was nice, mine (49 years ago!) was already a heap.

Hubba Hubba hula, August 2018

Several of us – including me – braved using hula hoops that were laying around. We wound up having dinner in a pub in town, and got home pretty late (for us).

———-

(1) Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, conveniently located in Hood River.

Wednesday, August 1: Pioneer Square and SAM

We had two more items on our list of potentials, both of which we accomplished today.

“Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, August 2018

The first was the Seattle Art Museum,which is just three blocks (downhill) from our hotel. Honestly, it was never a “definite” on our list. In fact, it wasn’t until we got here and I was browsing the options that I decided it would be a nice thing to do. Interestingly, we’ve probably been to more museums on this trip than most of our past trips.

SAM exceeded our expectations.

Native American sculptures, August 2018

While the exhibit space only covered two floors in the building, we found most of them very interesting (1). The Basquiat piece is phenomenal, IMHO. There was a major exhibit of photographs by Edward S. Curtis, who took on the task of documenting Native Americans and the West while running a photography business in Seattle. There was a large collection of contemporary sculptures by Native Americans (2).

There was a collection of Asian porcelain, some Australian Aboriginal art, some classical American art, renaissance Italian and Spanish art.

After spending more time than we had expected at the Museum, we Ubered over to Pioneer Square.

UPS park and Firemen’s monument, Pioneer Square, August 2018

Pioneer Square is technically a small park at the edge of a district that has taken on its name. It’s billed as Seattle’s first neighborhood, but what we see now is not what was originally built there starting in 1852. Sadly, it all burned in the Great Fire of 1889. Many of the buildings, and most of the architectural styles, date from the rebuilding after the fire.

Wall art and tents on the sidewalk, August 2018

Seattle, like Vancouver, has a very visible homeless population. There was no section of the city that we were in that was free of them, but the small collection of tents pitched on the sidewalk in this area was notable.

We ended the day with dinner in the seafood restaurant in the hotel, as we had a credit from our travel agent to spend. It was very good, and almost everything Sally asked about was available garlic-free. And the credit was useful, as the salmon I had was $4,800 (3).

——————-

(1) That excludes, of course, the modern abstract art like a wooden box that played recordings of the box being made, or the painting of a square titled “Square”. Or the mostly black canvas with a white “X” going from corner to corner, which was described as showing the texture of darkness, and the separation created by the X.

(2) The term “Native Americans” is in some sense misleading – it somehow implies they originated in this country, while they actually migrated (from Asia) like everyone else. I like the Canadian nomenclature: First Peoples. It correctly connotes that they were (merely) the first here, not that they arose here spontaneously.

(3) Just kidding. But it was the most expensive item on the menu.

Sunday, July 29: Whidbey again

I was up early, so I went out for a walk along the beach at Double Bluff. There’s a county park there which extends a few hundred yards west from the small parking lot. Then you’re apparently on your own, and can walk as far on the beach as you care (1). There are tons of driftwood along the beach, and people have used some of the bigger pieces to make crude structures along the sand.

Beach structures, July 2018

Our first stop was Fort Casey Historical State Park. Two points of interest: a nice lighthouse, and the remains of a turn-off-the-(20th)-century fort.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, July 2019

Of course, the most desirable thing to do when confronted with a lighthouse or other tall structure is to climb up. Which I did.

Lighthouse spiral stairs and view from top, July 2018

Ft. Casey never saw real action. Built in the 1890s, it was obsolete by the time WW I ended in 1918. It was used for training during WW I, and then reactivated during WW II as an induction center. In addition to a number of structures, there are two huge 10″ cannon (2) on display.

Top Gun, July 2018

After much debate, we decided to go explore an “Art Trail” maintained on the island. This is where you can drive around and visit artists in their studios, where you can see how they work and they can try to sell some of their art. A fair trade.

Artist’s Workbench, July 2018

The first artist we tried was a woman who makes metal jewelry and small boxes. Her studio was down a narrow dirt road, and in the lower level of her house. Although it was Sunday, she was extremely gracious in explaining how she worked, and showing us the results. We didn’t buy anything.

The second one we tried was an art store located on a farm that’s turning itself into a tourist-focused mini-mall. We didn’t buy anything there, either.

By this time we were hungry, so we headed back to Langley with the vague thought that we would head out again after a late lunch. That never happened. Instead :

Chillin’, July 2018

Despite snacking the day away on our deck, we decided to walk a couple blocks and have dinner anyway. And then back to start packing, as we leave Whidbey in the morning.

———-

(1) I cared to walk 1.5 miles out, and the same back 😉

(2) A 10″ cannon shoots shells that are 10″ in diameter.

Tuesday, July 31: Seattle

Seattle offers a discount booklet of admission vouchers for seven attractions, of which you can do five. We took a look, and thought we would do two and perhaps a third, so we passed on the booklet. We headed over this morning to take in the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and The Museum of Pop Culture. Turns out the hotel has a complimentary car service around central Seattle, so we opted for this for the 10 minute ride.

Dale Chihuly is a Washington Native who works extensively in very complex glass sculptures. His works and installations are big, and the technical diffulties in constructing his works are significant.

I’ll just let them speak for themselves. They all have names, but I don’t remember any of them.

Chihuly Garden and Glass, July 2018

Up next was the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP), which had a number of exhibits we looked at: fantasy in popular culture (movies, books, etc ), Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. Both musicians were from Washington. We didn’t bother with the video game or Marvel characters exhibits.

Guitar sculpture at MoPOP, July 2018

From there we took the monorail back to downtown. The monorail and the entire Seattle Center, where these attractions along with the Space Needle and lots of other stuff, were built for the World’s Fair in 1962.

We tried to have lunch at PF Chang’s, which sounded encouraging when the waiter said they have a special menu of garlic-free items. If you’ve ever been in Chang’s, you know the menu is pretty long. So here’s the complete menu of garlic free items:

  1. White rice
  1. Brown rice
  1. Tofu with asparagus, broccoli, shiitake and carrots
  2. A number of deserts

Obviously that wasn’t going to work. But we found a great restaurant called the Yard House with 110 beers on tap. We only tried two. But the food was also good.

Later in the afternoon we went to an area called Ballard, where there are a couple of blocks of cute stores and restaurants. We saw them. We didn’t buy anything or eat anything. But on the way back, Sally found a chocolate store and bought something. They had a very cool piece of art, a larger-than-life portrait made out of different colored miniatures.

You have a chocolate face, July 2018

Monday, July 30: Leaving Whidbey

Well, that’s a negative headline. How about “Going to Seattle?” Because that’s what we did. But Whidbey Island was very nice, the Inn was very nice (especially sitting on the deck looking at the water). We were not anxious to leave. And who knows what Seattle will bring?

Washington State Ferry, July 2018

Like our previous two transfers, this trip involved a ferry. Unlike them, there is no reservation – it was a short ferry ride (20 minutes), and close to the hotel (20 minutes), but we had no idea how long the line would be. The ferries run every 30 minutes, and the two of them have a maximum capacity of 270 cars per hour. I checked the wait time on Sunday afternoon, and it was over two hours, but that was clearly the weekend traffic heading home. I started checking this morning, and the report and traffic cams (very hitech) showed no line. As it turned out, we got on the first ferry after we arrived and only waited about 30 minutes.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel, July 2018

The ride down to Seattle was uneventful. We checked in at the Fairmont Olympic (room not ready, of course), went for lunch, then unpacked. Sally had arranged for the best available view, which included a glimpse of Elliot Bay in the distance.

View from a room, July 2018

After unpacking, we had to decide how to spend the remainder of the afternoon. We made the obvious choice, which was Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market, July 2018

Pike Place is a combination of a touristy T-shirt/souvenir/food & drink area, and a working market specializing in fish, produce and meat. It was extremely crowded, even on a Monday. One of the highlights is the original Starbucks, which we walked past. There were two lines outside: a formal one to get inside and get your favorite drink, and an informal one to get your picture taken in front of the store. We did neither.

Waiting at Starbucks #1, July 2018

We wanted to stop for a drink, but none of the places I checked out around the Market had A/C, and they were pretty warm inside. And they all had that “worn” feel that some people prize. So we headed back towards the hotel and stopped in a wine bar.

Waiting at the Crocodile, July 2018

Later I went out for dinner, and tried a place that the concierge recommended that had light fare and live music. Unfortunately, there was a line to gain admission and I didn’t feel like waiting. So I found a Bar & Grill and had a pleasant enough meal.

Market Bar & Grill, July 2018

Saturday, July 28: Langley, Whidbey Island

To start, let’s straighten out the name: Joseph Whidbey was an Englishman and Master of the HMS Discovery who explored this area with Captain George Vancouver and Lt. Peter Puget. He returned to England, and retired from seafaring. But left his name here. Langley is a small town on the southeastern coast of the island.

Escaping the fog, July 2018

We took the ferry back from SJI, which arrived about 35 minutes late to pick us up. No explanation was offered, of course. But then we ran into a dense fog a few miles off of Anacortes, our destination, which slowed the ferry to a crawl. That cleared things up, so to speak. From the ferry terminal we drove over an hour (plus a lunch stop) to Langley. So we wound up arriving later than we planned, but we’re on vacation, so who cares?

The Inn at Langley, July 2018

Out hotel here is a 26 room boutique on the water. The driftwood from yesterday sits on the tiny beach directly below our 2nd floor balcony, which looks across Possession Sound to Camino Island, and the city of Everett on the mainland 10 or 15 miles away. The room is quite nice: simple rather than ornate, large enough without being huge. What is overdone, however, is the “special dinner” in the hotel restaurant. $160 pp, plus wine, tax and tip. Judging by the not-very-impressive continental breakfast this morning, it’s overpriced.

Early morning in Langley, July 2018

I was up early this morning, so I took a daybreak walk around a town that wasn’t really up yet. By the time I came back at 7:30, none of the restaurants in town were open yet.

Langley scenes, July 2018

After breakfast Sally and I went for a shop tour of 1st Street, which is where the Inn is. The shops were nice enough, and she bought something nice. We had lunch, then retired back to read.

To cap off the afternoon, we did something I don’t think we’ve ever done while traveling – we went to see a movie. I rather enjoyed Incredibles 2.

Thursday, July 26: A couple of walks

English Camp and Block House, July, 2018

This morning I went for a hike. Nothing on SJI is particularly hilly, but the highest point on the island – Young Hill at 650′ – is conveniently located in a National Historical Park, namely the English Camp area. This was the northern counterpart to the American Camp which I described yesterday, and which is located at the south shore. Where the American Camp is sparse and sandy, the English Camp is wooded and hilly. The UK also invested more money in the camp during the dispute, as they were one of the richest countries in the world at the time, with a thriving settlement in Victoria on Vancouver Island only a few miles away. The Americans, on the other hand, were consumed by the Civil War and never really invested much in their base.

Sitting in an English garden, in the sun, July 2018

The English Commander insisted on a formal garden for the enjoyment of the officers’ wife’s. Of course.

View from Young Hill, July 2018

The climb up to the summit of Young Hill was actually 650′, since I started from sea level. It was a good climb, rewarded with views of SJI, the neighboring islands, and the Olympic Peninsula.

The lower building is our hotel, the upper is a private residence, July 2018

After returning to Roche Harbor, Sally and I had lunch and then walked around the property some more. The marina is beautiful and there were a fair number of yachts for sale in the $1-5m range.

Scenes from the marina, July 2018

Plus all the usual services: a post office, seafood for sale, RIBs waiting to ferry you to your yacht, etc.

Wednesday, July 25: San Juan Island

Today was our first full day in SJI and we set out to explore.

First a bit about this place, which we unexpectedly found ourselves staying at. Roche Harbor Resort is located at the site of a 19th and 20th century lime company called (wait for it …) Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Company. In 1956 the 4,000 acre property was bought, the lime operation was shuttered, and it was converted into a resort. Many of the old building have been repurposed into facilities for the resort, which now has hotel accommodations, condos and private lots with private houses. And a 400 slip marina.

Market, July 2018

Since there’s a grocery store on premises, we bought some supplies and ate breakfast in the room, which is quite nice and has a covered porch with an excellent view of the marina.

Views of Roche Harbor Marina (not from our room), July 2018

After a late breakfast and some relaxation, we took off for an island tour. Our first stop was Friday Harbor, the only real town on the island and where our aborted hotel stay was to take place (1). Our immediate reaction on arrival was that we were in Martha’s Vineyard: the ferry dock, the restaurants facing the harbor, the same stores selling the same stuff, the real estate agents. I don’t mean this in a negative way; it’s a pleasant little place with a downtown of perhaps 8 blocks altogether. The whole island is not very crowded, which is surprising considering it’s the last week in July and the weather is beautiful here. It’s also not empty, but we had no problem getting a table outside with a harbor view without any wait at all.

Friday Harbor, July 2018

There are only a few sightseeing opportunities on SJI and we set out to see two of them. The history of the island is that the San Juan Islands were the subject of a 12 year saber-rattling between the US and UK over ownership, as the issue was unclear from the terms of the Treaty of Oregon of 1846. In 1859, the British and the US both established army camps on the SJI to protect their interests while the diplomats worked on a solution. These were at opposite ends of the island and called the American Camp and English Camp (clever, I know). We went to see the American Camp. It’s a mostly desolate strip of land along the south shore, with two structures still standing and miles of beaches to walk.

In deference to Sally’s ankle (not to mention the fact that there really wasn’t much to see), we walked in to see the two buildings at the parade grounds, then walked out. We never got as far as the beach, it would have been too much.

Historically interesting, but visually not exciting. Oh yeah, the dispute was settled in 1872 by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who was selected to be an impartial judge and decided in favor of Americans. I don’t know why he was given this job, nor why he decided what he did. But everything here would probably cost less if we were paying with Canadian dollars 😉 .

Lime Kiln State Park and lighthouse, July 2018

The last scheduled stop was Lime Kiln Point State Park, the site of a very picturesque lighthouse and also renowned for Orca sightings. The location is indeed pretty, and Orcas are indeed sighted in the channel adjacent to the park. However, your chances of seeing one if you watch for an hour is less than 1%, so we didn’t stay very long.

While we were driving, Sally had mentioned that there was a goat farm that we could think about visiting. So we pulled over and did a bit of googling, but couldn’t find anything. Then, just before we got back to the resort, we passed an alpaca farm. So we stopped and looked around the alpaca products shops – sweaters, scarves, jackets, stuffed animals, etc. perhaps we should have been looking for this 😉 .

———-

(1) For those keeping track, we were in-and-out of hotels four times yesterday: out of the Rosewood Georgia in Vancouver, in and out of the Friday Harbor Inn (complete with me lugging all our stuff up and down a narrow flight of stairs) and in to the Roche Harbor. Neither of the latter two seem to believe in bellmen.

Monday, July 23 – Gastown, finally

(Note: this should have been posted yesterday, but I got distracted.)

Today we screwed up our courage and went back to Gastown, which you’ll recall we were unable to find on Friday. It seems we were a couple of blocks off and were in the middle of the skid row, which gives a distinctly different experience than we were expecting. This time we decided to take no chances: we took a taxi to the Steam Clock at the heart of Gastown. Seven minutes later we were there.

Gassy Jack and the Steam Clock, July 2018

Gastown allegedly got its name from a character named Gassy Jack, so called because he liked to talk a lot, hence “gassy”. He was an Englishman who owned a bar or two in the area for a few years, but also lived in many other places in BC and California during his 44 year life. He worked as a merchant seaman, and failed as a miner. Anyway, there’s a statue, so the story must be true.

Looking for a place to eat, July 2018

The core of Gastown is a few blocks along Water Street filled with bars, restaurants, clothing and decorating stores, gift shops, galleries, etc. The area was once the core of Granville, which grew and was renamed Vancouver in 1887 as the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built. The surrounding blocks are a bit more residential, and also quite trendy.

The overwhelming majority of the people we saw in Gastown were either shop workers or tourists, many of them from the giant cruise ships which inhabit Vancouver all season. As with our day yesterday, the crowds were just short of “too much”. We had no trouble walking on the sidewalk, nor getting a table for lunch.

Since we’re way past the souvenir stage, our shopping is generally very casual and we rarely actually buy anything. But it was pleasant today, and we enjoyed the area.

Art, but not “Art”, July 2018

After walking home, we rested for a while then went across the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery. They had a number of exhibits on their four floors of gallery space, much of which was terrible. I’d say the worst piece was a video of the (female) artist and a man taking turns washing each other. I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t get it, because I’m highly confident there’s nothing there to “get”. But there were also paintings by one of BC’s most famous artists, and another set by an artist from Ontario. These were mixed at best, with some interesting pieces, but a lot of stuff I wouldn’t hang in my house.

Tuesday, July 24 – A long and stressful day with a good ending

I realize I never posted about our last day in Vancouver, which included finally finding Gastown. But that will have to wait as today was … quite a day.

The plan for the day was to leave our hotel in Vancouver at 9:30, drive about an hour to the US border, wait on a line, then go to the airport in Bellingham to rent a car. From there, drive about an hour to the 2:00 pm ferry to San Juan Island. And check into our harborside hotel in Friday Harbor. We should have had plenty of time (he said, giving away the punch line).

Ferry to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, July 2018

So we did leave the hotel at 9:30. We had a reserved a car and driver through the hotel, and it turned out to be Matt, our guide from Saturday. About 30 minutes into the drive, we hit standstill traffic on the highway. At first I thought we had reached the line for the border already, but after a while Matt told us that this was some traffic problem. We crept along for quite a while, but after about 30 minutes of next-to-no progress, we started investigating alternate routes. Matt and I discussed some options (1) and we exited the highway and took a loop around the jam.

Once we were back in motion, we checked the helpful website that the Canadian Border Patrol maintains showing wait times at the crossing. They said no wait at first, then later changed it to 20 minutes.

We wound up waiting about 45 minutes.

We finally got to Bellingham International Airport about 11:50 am, and we had been told we needed to be on line to board our reserved ferry by 1:00-1:15. And it was about an hour away. I rushed into the terminal to the car rental desk, hoping there was no line. The only customer was saying thank you as he left, and the clerk got me set expeditiously.

Throwing our bags in the car with help from Matt, we said a hurried goodby, set our destination in Waze, and took off.

We pulled up to the ferry toll booth at 1:00 pm exactly.

After boarding and departing precisely at 2:00, we took a few deep breaths and started to relax and enjoy the smooth one hour ride out to San Juan Island and our hotel, the Friday Harbor Inn. Little did we know that the day had more surprises in store.

Shortly after checking in the Inn a few hundred yards from the ferry dock, we knew we had another problem. Rather than a narrative, here is a summary of why you should never stay there:

1. There was loud construction going on outside our room from 9-5 each day, unless they work late.

Partial Harbor View, Partial Construction View, July 2018

2. The bathroom had a water closet for the toilet. The rest of the room – sink, large tub, etc. – was open to the bedroom across the tub. . Yet there was a a door into the bathroom through another wall.

Notice the door coming into the open bathroom from the left!, July 2018

3. There was a room safe in the closet, about 7’ off the floor; Sally couldn’t reach it and I couldn’t see what was in it.

4. The room was advertised as a “Partial water view”; it included a “partial parking lot view” and a “partial construction site view”.

5. We had a 2nd floor room. Getting there involved climbing narrow stairs, and there was no help carrying our bags up there (the room was $419 per night).

6. The room was very small: no storage space to put our stuff away, and barely enough room to open our bags on the floor.

7. Room looked like a motel but at resort prices.

8. They offered a “special dinner” at this mediocre motel for $160 pp plus drinks, tax and tip.

9. In-room A/C was a free-standing unit standing in the corner. You could get a headache from the noise. If you didn’t already have one from the construction.

Like everything, there are positives to the Friday Harbor Inn:

1. It’s right in Friday Harbor, the main town on the island.

2. The desk clerk was nice and helpful – he found us a room at the Roche Harbor Resort. Which is where we are now, and which is great. We got the last room in this very large resort, and it’s a great room, overlooking the marina. Thanks, Morgan.

Roche Harbor Resort: Full Marina View, no construction, July 2018

So that’s all for now. I’m tired.

————–

(1) I obviously have no idea how to get anywhere in BC, but Waze and Google Maps are ever present.

Monday, July 23 – Downtown Architecture

Vancouver’s business district, known as “Downtown”, has changed dramatically in recent years, with construction of striking new office buildings and public spaces surrounding and dwarfing the older buildings. Here is a selection of images.

Provincial Court House, July 2018

Courthouse gardens looking at Vancouver Art Gallery, July 2018

Reflections, July 2018

Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza, July 2018

Rosewood Hotel Georgia lobby, July 2018

Nighttime Alley, July 2018

Rosewood Hotel Georgia, July 2018

Sunday, July 22 – Outside the city

Today was our day to visit some very touristy attractions in the suburbs.

Vancouver is on the water, of course, and the shield formed by Vancouver Island provides for excellent boating and water sports. But if you go in the other direction, you find forests and mountains. In fact, you find a rain forest, which is what the British Columbia coastal area is. As for mountains, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort is only 75 miles from Vancouver. And it’s huge: over 5,000′ of elevation, 450″ of snow each year.

But we didn’t venture quite that far.

About 30 minutes from Downtown is Grouse Mountain, a much more modest 1,600′ elevation and maybe 20 trails. They have a gondola which operates in the off-season and have a number of activities on the mountain. Nearby is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a pedestrian bridge which runs a couple of hundred feet above a river gorge.

We hit Capilano first. It’s really a private park, with the main bridge leading to an area covered with fir forests and having a number of wooden walks which you access by crossing the 450′ suspension bridge. There’s also a “canopy walk”, a series of smaller bridges about 100′ above the forest floor.

Capilano Suspension Bridge, July 2018

This being a beautiful Sunday, and so close to Vancouver, Capilano was already crowded when we arrived around 10:30 (it got much worse later in the day). After a short wait, we started across the suspension bridge. Sally had been concerned about the bridge. As a suspension bridge, it is quite wobbly as you cross it, and both ends get a bit steep as you walk down onto the bridge and then up. So she tried it, and then turned back.

Treetops Adventure, July 2018

I continued, and spent about 30 minutes going on the Treetops Adventure, as they call the walk high up. I walked around a bit at ground level before making my way back across the bridge. As you can see from the pictures, it was anything but a quiet commune with nature. The crowds were just short of too much, and as I said, the lines were longer when we left than when we arrived.

Grouse Mountain Skyride, July 2018

From there we took a public bus to Grouse Mountain and rode the gondola up. Again, the crowds were not quite at the level of a problem yet. We got on the first gondola after we got to the line, although it was pretty full. At the top we walked around for a while then I had lunch in the summit lodge. Sally bought a muffin, and we sat on the deck and enjoyed the weather and views.

50 mile view towards Vancouver Island, July 2018

It’s hard to see in the pictures because of the haze, but Vancouver Island is visible in the distance. According to the signboard, visibility was 50 miles today.

Joe Forte’s, July 2018

After an unfortunate incident back at the hotel with our room not being made up yet, we had a pleasant dinner at Joe Forte’s, a seafood and chop house a few blocks away. Joe Forte was not a famous politician, nor the name of the founder of the restaurant. Rather, he was a city lifeguard renowned for teaching hundreds of children to swim in the early 20th century. Why someone decided naming a restaurant after him made sense, I don’t know. The place is large, noisy and has a piano player who loves pop from the sixties and apparently gets paid by the note. It also has a garlic-laced menu. A fillet mignon pre-seasoned with garlic? Really?

Saturday, July 21, Vancouver

After our experiences being unable to find either Chinatown or Gastown on Friday, we decided to hire a car and guide and let someone else do the thinking. I tried contacting a couple of guides listed on Tours By Locals, but we couldn’t make a time work on such short notice. Daphne, a really excellent concierge at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, secured a guide with no problem at all. I expected to pay through the nose due to the hotel markup, but I think the price was competitive with TBL.

Matt, our guide, was a very nice fellow who was able to show us a good time, and also show us his picture on billboards and store windows around town – he also works as a model, runs competitively, and does other things to make ends meet along with guiding. We got the four hour city tour from the back seat of a long-wheelbase MB S500. Instead of walking for hours, we probably walked for 30 minutes (a real advantage given Sally’s ankle) and listened to Matt describe what we were looking at.

Stanley Park: Sally @ Totem Polls, Bassman @ Lion’s Gate Bridge, July 2018

Here’s what you see in Vancouver: Stanley Park, Yaletown, Chinatown, Gastown, Granville Island, the West End, West Vancouver and Downtown. We saw them all. I took a few pictures, but honestly, it’s hard to find interesting pictures when all you do is stop at the photo-op stops for a couple of minutes and otherwise ride in a car.

Thai Festival, July 2018

This weekend there’s been a Thai Festival in the park across the street from our hotel. So we walked over to see what we could see. In addition to the obvious things – some people in traditional dress, Thai food, etc., there was a stage with Thai dance, singing, and a classic rock band singing songs with a Thai accent.

We didn’t want to chance the food at the Thai festival, we we wandered around and found a pub that gave us some salads around 4:00 for “lunch”. Which pretty much killed Sally’s appetite for dinner. So later I went out and walked down Granville Street, which turns into a very funky neighborhood. Lots of dive bars, cheap restaurants, people hanging on the street, marijuana dispensaries (1), nightclubs that patted down patrons before entry, some less fortunate people who obviously needed care. This was way more visually interesting than the four blocks of trendy restaurants in Yaletown.

Granville Street, July 2018

I found a decent enough bar, and got a salad with some grilled chicken, and had a local draft. Suited me fine.

————

(1) Marijuana will become legal across Canada on October 17, 2018. Right now medicinal marijuana is widely available at least in BC

Friday, July 20 – Vancouver, BC

We landed an hour early, which is very strange. The schedule was 8:00am departure and 11:30am arrival, which make for a 6 1/2 hour flight after accounting for the fact that we are in Pacific Time here, and three hours behind. Our actual flying time was just over 5 hours, and we spent 20 minutes taxiing at EWR. But I’ll take it.

Pizza gets a haircut, July 2018

Of course, our hotel room wasn’t ready when we got there, we we dropped the bags and went out to explore and get some lunch. I’m not sure where we wound up; we went through what purported to be Chinatown, but didn’t see a single restaurant. So we walked over to the Gaslight district, where we found an pizzeria which did not add garlic to the tomato sauce. Winner! They had an interesting way of serving the individual pies: with a scissor.

The next challenge was getting home, as by this time Sally’s ankle was aching. Taxis in Vancouver are rare on the street, and there are no Uber/Lyft/etc. After failing to flag one down, I tried ordering one online which seemed to be working, but the driver called and said the address he had for us was miles away from us and he wasn’t coming. I finally managed to flag one down, but it took 20 minutes or more until we were inside.

The ride to the hotel was about 10 minutes.

Rosewood Hotel Georgia, July 2018

As the hotel had called while we were eating, we knew that the room would be ready when we got there. And it was, with our bags already in the room (1).

After resting for a while, we went downstairs and tried to eat in the hotel bar. But everything interesting was garlic-infested. So we went out to a noisy but pleasant restaurant where we managed to get some good food.

It’s 9:00pm, the sun won’t set for another few minutes, and we’re pretty tired. We were up at 4:30, and it’s after midnight back east. So that’s all for tonight.

———————

(1) We are saving money left and right. Not only did we avoid tipping a bellman to bring the bags up to the room, but our taxi driver from the airport dropped us at the side door and we avoided the doorman as well.

Airports are depressing places

EWR Terminal C, Gate 97, July 21

We got here as scheduled. No Uber’s would accept our ride, but a Lyft came right away. The security was normal, under 10 minutes with TSA-Pre.

The gate is – always! – as far from the curb as possible. But we’re here. We have a place to sit, and the flight is on time.

The gate is on a lower level in the terminal – no windows. We have the usual moveable rows of five conjoined blue leatherette chairs to relax in.

Anyway, it’s boarding time. Talk to you from the other side.

The Bassman Cometh

So, to my double surprise:

1. A few of you have been asking if The Bassman will be blogging about our upcoming trip, and …

2. I opened up the blog and the last entry was exactly one year ago (tomorrow).

New Jersey, July 19 – All my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go

I guess the excitement of our last trip, the excitement of our national political discourse, and the excitement of what’s been going on in our household have kept me out of the blogosphere.

In case you missed it, I/we missed the spring this year. Sally broke her ankle in March, which resulted in her loving husband providing 24×7 nursing and home care. This effort was compounded (1) by our decision to renovate our ground-floor bedroom, requiring us to (a) move all the stuff we own out of said bedroom, and (b) move most of the stuff to a couple of smaller (2) bedrooms on the second floor of our house. We also had to cancel a three week trip we had planned for May; you’ll have to wait until September to read about the rescheduled edition.

But anyway, it’s July, Sally’s sufficiently healed, and we fly tomorrow morning to Vancouver, BC to begin a two+ week journey through the Pacific Northwest. We’ll stay close to the coast, visit the San Juan Islands, Seattle, and end in Portland.

Packing for this trip seems relatively stress-free. Compared to our last major trip to Africa, we need a lot less preparation.

First off, pretty much anything we forget, break or lose we can buy along the way. If we can’t find it locally, Amazon awaits. Especially in Seattle, which is where Amazon lives 😉 . That was not true in Africa – what we brought was what we had. Even in Iceland, we assumed we couldn’t acquire much.

Second, we don’t expect the relatively extreme weather we had in African and our previous trip to Iceland. Cold weather clothing and heavy rain gear is just not required. I’m expecting moderate summer weather, maybe a shower here or there, and a few cool mornings. But since we won’t be running around in an open car at 6:00am, even if it’s cool overnight it won’t affect us much.

Finally (and this affects me alone), this trip doesn’t require the same photography planning as either Africa or even Iceland. I don’t need the heavy, specialized long lenses for animal photography, nor do I really need the same backup planning. I’ll take a few extra pieces just in case, but not much.

So the alarm is set for 4:30am, my bags are all-but packed, and we’re ready to go.

——————————————–

(1) The effort was compounded. The fracture was not, although Sally – never one to do something halfway – broke both her tibia and fibula.

(2) “Smaller” is technically correct, as it describes the relationship between the size of the new rooms and the ridiculously large bedroom we normally occupy. Further, one of the rooms acts merely as my closet and dressing room. And neither is really “small” by any objective measure.

We went on safari

This was, without a doubt, one of the best trips we ever took. Sally would say it was the best. We spent nine days in four camps, eight days in three cities (1), and three days traveling to and from Africa.

Final Collage

The cities were pleasant and/or informative. I would say we are both much more knowledgeable about South Africa’s history than we were before the trip, and much more aware of the conditions on the ground. My biggest learning was this: South Africa, under Nelson Mandela’s leadership (2), transitioned from the horrific oppression of apartheid to a functioning though messy democracy inclusive of all people, one which still faces significant issues. And it did so without a civil war, and without a bloodbath.

The camps were something else. While we knew what lions, giraffes and elephants looked like we had no idea of how they lived. We had no idea how they interacted with all the other wildlife in the bush. We had no idea how the ecosystem that is the bush worked, and how the pieces all fit together. It was sad and gruesome to watch the lions catch and kill the water buffalo, but the alternate outcome is clear: if the lions don’t catch and kill their prey, they will die. That is truly the circle of life.

The animals were spectacular. The birds were spectacular. As I mentioned, Africa could turn you into a birder – there’s so much to see.

While the city hotels were, well, hotels, the camps were a completely new experience for us. They are a strange combination of luxury and roughing it.

Luxury: you never touch your luggage, there’s food and drink set out for you throughout the day, the view from your tent/villa is extraordinary (3). Your every whim is catered to, within the limits of what the camp staff can accomplish in the bush. Free laundry. Hot water bottles and blankets in the game drive vehicles as well as your bed (4). Watching the sunset from a private pontoon boat with a G&T in your hand, just the two of you (and your guide). Sitting for an hour and watching an animal live. A free high end camera to use (5). Binoculars to use (5).

Roughing it: no heat in two camps, limited in another. No electricity in one camp. Dim lights at best. You’re not allowed outside after dark. Limited or no wifi in three camps, and no phone service (even to call the front “desk”). Driving around at dawn and after sunset, in the cold and even the rain, in open vehicles. We were cold, a lot.

I’m not sure whether to characterize being flown from camp to camp in your own private plane as “luxury” or “roughing it”.  It was, as the pilots said, “a little rough”.  At the very least it was new for us.

But there was another dimension to the trip, one that made this different than any other trip we’ve taken.

Mind blowing: being close enough to lions to touch them, although you don’t dare reach outside of the vehicle. Watching a male ostrich chase a female across the plain at high speed. Watching a leopard cub annoying it’s mother, just like any toddler. Hearing a pride of lions, which surrounds you, announcing to the world that they’re there with their roars. Seeing hundreds of water buffalo appear out of the brush and cross the meadow in front of, and all around, you. Seeing lions bathed in the golden light after sunrise. Seeing two lions catch the scent of, chase down and kill their prey. Seeing hyenas anxious to get the scraps the lions left, but afraid the lions are still around. Seeing an elephant herd rush to protect their young from a leopard, bellowing all the time. Watching a father baboon caring for and playing with a newborn, and a (slightly) older sibling joining in the fun. Seeing a herd of elephants come down to the river to drink, and to play in the mud.  Sunrise and sunset over the delta.  Rushing through the brush in our open Land Rover as our guide tried to follow some animal’s tracks.  Following a pack of wild dogs as they patrolled their territory, looking for food. 

Did I mention the birds?

And I’m sure I have forgotten maybe one or two (6).

Once we had decided on this trip, I gathered up my camera gear and went to the Bronx Zoo to see if I could actually take pictures of animals. I got some good portraits. But I may never go to a zoo again. The idea of seeing these animals confined to cages (even “big” cages camouflaged as natural areas) is just so unappealing. The animals don’t interact with any others as they normally would; they don’t hunt or forage, but get fed by humans. Life for animals in the bush is unforgiving, but it’s life. It’s not cruel; the concept doesn’t exist.

20170809 Africa 2017 _EM26670

Perhaps there’s a lesson there for all of us. Perhaps all of Africa, where we all came from, is a lesson for all of us.


(1) I use the term “city” loosely regarding Vic Falls.

(2) Countries seem to do better when they have good and effective leaders.

(3) Jack’s Camp excepted; there we saw a bush.

(4) An attempt to offset the lack of heat in the tents, or a roof and windows in the vehicles.

(5) A camera in one camp, binoculars in two.

(6) John Sebastian, Younger Generation.

Victoria Falls

Imagine you took Niagra Falls and put it down in the middle of the wilderness, hundreds of miles from anything. Just rugged mountains upstream, with no industry to encourage any commerce and therefore shipping on the river. Hundreds of miles of scrub brush downstream, with rocky and dry land unsuitable for crops.

Then you built a large Victorian style hotel by the Falls, and a railroad to deliver tourists. A small town would grow up around the hotel to support the workers and provide some services to visitors – restaurant, gift shops, art galleries, cheaper hotels and campgrounds.

You would have Victoria Falls.

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM27913

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?, August 2017

David Livingstone, the famous English explorer and missionary, was the first European to see the Falls. The Zambeze River, which forms the Falls, is also the local border between Zimbabwe, where we stayed, and Zambia. The town of Livingstone is a few miles away in Zambia.

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM27904

Everything you need to know about Victoria Falls, August 2017

After six nights on safari in Botswana, Vic Falls (1) was a good decompression point before our long journey home. While the hotel is large and fairly luxurious, it does show it’s age somewhat, and the service is not as crisp or attentive as the other places we’ve stayed on this trip.  Even the Cape Grace Hotel in CT (2) had much better service than this.

As far as I can tell, there are four things you can do in Vic Falls.

  1. You can visit the Falls.  That’s why you’re here.
  2. You can take a helicopter ride over the Falls.
  3. You can take a boat ride on the Zambeze RIver upstream from the Falls.
  4. You can take a safari ride through the bush near town, either in a motor vehicle or on an elephant.

We opted for (1) and (3).  (2) seemed uneccesarily risky for the 12 or 22 minute view, while (4) seemed uneccesary after nine days in the camps.

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM27919

Horseshoe Falls section, August 2017

The Falls stretch for over a mile wide and about 250-350′ high.  It’s impossible to see the entire width of the Falls from any vantage point on the ground; that is only possible from the air.  We were wisked over to the Falls, which is surrounded by a National Park, by our guide as soon as we arrived at the hotel around 3:30 in the afternoon.  This is actually the best time to visit, as the late afternoon sun is behind you and you get rainbows in the mist rising from the water.  The falls themselves are mostly in Zambia, but the best viewing points are on the Zimbwabwe side of the river.

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM27968

Big rainbow, August 2017

When we visited the US National Parks several years ago, we were impressed  by the apparent stupidity of people who felt they were invincible, and that the parks were just as safe as Disneyland.  That behavior is not limited to the US; we saw people bathing in pools a few feet from the edge of the waterfall.  Craaaaazy.  Or Darwinian …

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM27972

Not likely to pass on their DNA, August 2017

20170812 Africa 2017 _EM28000

Victoria Falls Bridge, August 2017

Just downstream of the Falls the Victoria Falls Bridge spans the gorge for 650′, and about 420′ above the river.  It was comissioned by Cecil Rhodes, the British mining magnate who gave his name to Rhodesia (the predecessor to Zimbwabwe and Zambia), the Rhodes Scholarship, and was a founder of the De Beers diamond firm.  He was also an unabashed white supremacist.

Victoria Falls Hotel Collage.jpg

Victoria Falls Hotel, August 2017

The next day we hung around the hotel, and went for a walk into town where we found a large market place that seemed to specialize in large stone and wood sculptures. Despite the tempations, we managed to not buy anything.

At 3:30 we went on our last activity, a sunset cruise on the Zambeze River complete with snacks and unlimited drinks.  Our last African sunset …

Zambeze Cruise Collage


(1) Just like Joburg is local slang for Johannesburg, Vic Falls is how Victoria Falls is referred to around here.

(2) “CT” = Cape Town