Category Archives: Vacations

Describing vacations we’ve taken.

Last Day in Vancouver

I haven’t mentioned the b&b we stayed at in Vancouver.  The West End Guest House was fascinating.  Built in 1906, it’s very central, between the center of the city and Stanley Park; you can walk to Robson Street for shopping and dining.  When we were there it was run by a young gay couple, and while I think they were in the process of refurbishing it (my diary suggests not everything was perfect), it now gets 5 stars from TripAdvisor.  And the breakfast conversation was amazing.   The other guests included a Scottish couple (leaving next morning for Moraine Lake near Banff, where we stayed in 2004), a British couple (eventually planning to go out to Tofino, before visiting a son in Melbourne), a Swiss couple, a Chinese couple, and an Iranian named Ali from Houston, Texas.  The Chinese couple didn’t talk very much, although another guest said that the man’s English was better than his Chinese!  We were there on the day of the Brexit referendum, and I remember having a long discussion on it with the British woman in the afternoon.

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Exploring Vancouver

When we go to Vancouver, we almost always visit Van Dusen Gardens. And so we did this time.  We spent an afternoon wandering around, looking at the changes they’d made since the last time.  We’ve been there so often I only took a few photos this time; click here to see the whole gallery.  I’ll share a couple of examples.  This is their swamp garden:

And this is the fountain in the lake, which is kind of their signature view:

Feel free to go look at the whole gallery, and also to check the gallery I shot when we visited in 2011 – click here for that link.

The second day we were there, though, we did something new.  We’ve found Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare company to be very rewarding, so we had bought tickets to their production of the Merry Wives of Windsor.  Instead of just going out there for the play, however, we decided to spend the entire day in Kitsilano, which is a charming district in Vancouver fronting on English Bay.  We’d stayed in Kitsilano before, but had never just hung out on the beach. 

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Waiting for the Ferry

After a pleasant weekend visiting our friends in Powell River, we drove off toward Vancouver.  Powell River being where it is, our first stop was the Saltery Bay – Earl’s Cove ferry terminal.  On a Monday morning, it wasn’t very busy, but the view was nice.

Saltery Bay Ferry terminal

Having nothing else to do, I got the camera out and went looking for things to photograph.  By gum, I found a bald eagle perching in a tree next to the terminal.

Bald eagle

He eventually flew down and landed on the sandbar, where I couldn’t get a decent shot of him.  I watched a 6-person canoe or scull paddle by:

Paddling down the inlet

Eventually the ferry came in:

Ferry arriving at Saltery Bay

The Saltery Bay ferry takes you just over the inlet to Earl’s Cove, after which you drive the length of the Sunshine Coast to the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay Ferry, which you take to the mainland.  Then you drive on into Vancouver.  I regret to say there are no reasonable photo ops from the Sunshine Coast Highway; it’s just a highway, mostly surrounded by tall trees on both sides.  Pretty; hardly photographic.  The drive takes about an hour and 20 minutes (79.8 km or not quite 50 miles). 

I took some photos from the ferry, of the area around the Langdale ferry terminal, and of the trip among the islands as we traveled down to Vancouver; if you’d like to see them, the whole gallery is called Ferry to Vancouver.

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At Sea on the Cruise Ship

I have no photographs from the cruise while we were at sea.  Frankly, the open ocean, or even the ocean relatively near the coast, is not very “photograph-able.”  It’s a flat blue expanse below a featureless blue sky, when it isn’t a flat gray expanse below a featureless gray ditto.  That’s why most of the photos I took were in port.  I’ll get to them in later posts.

If I ever cruise again, which is not a given, I’ll want to find a female friend to room with.  There weren’t any real problems with my roommate, except that she is very close friends with the couple who organized the trip, and she preferred to hang out with them.  She and I were the only people in our group who weren’t part of a couple.  I can’t speak for her, but I spent most of my meals alone in the buffet – or briefly alone.  I soon found that if I sat down at an empty table with 4 settings, within 10 minutes or so a couple would come along and ask if they could join me; and most of them were quite friendly and chatty.  So that was interesting, and passed the time.  It isn’t a way to make friends, but people on cruises tend to be quite friendly and outgoing.  I was amazed at the number of people who prefer cruising as their chosen vacation.  I had no idea.

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On to Powell River

Janet, a girl I went to high school with in Napa, California, married in the late ’70s, and she and her husband Wes moved to Powell River, British Columbia, where they stayed and raised 2 children.  When we’re in the area, we often go to visit them, and so in 2016. 

Where, you ask, is Powell River??  Well, it’s on the B.C. coast, just north of the “Sunshine Coast” (which I normally associate with rain).  From Vancouver it takes 2 ferry rides and about a half day driving.  From Victoria, still a half day driving but only 1 ferry ride, from Comox to Powell River.  It used to have a paper mill (Macmillan Bloedel), but that closed; now it’s mainly tourism.

Here’s the view across the strait from the Comox Ferry terminal, waiting for the ferry:

View from Comox Ferry terminal

The ferry looks like a ferry; there’s a photo in the gallery, to see the whole gallery click here

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Try Something New

I did something new in the summer of 2017.  I took a Princess Cruise – inside passage, to Alaska and back.  I didn’t do this on my own.  I sing with the Oakland Symphony Chorus, directed by Dr. Lynne Morrow of Sonoma State University.  Dr. Morrow – Lynne – is, among other things, a scholar of African American spirituals, and this cruise was her second effort at a floating seminar on the subject, ending in a single performance on the ship, the last night before we docked in San Francisco.  I couldn’t go the first time she did this, a couple of years ago, so when I got an email about it in September 2016, I signed up. 

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Albion Manor, Victoria

I don’t have any photos from the ferry ride over to Victoria from Seattle.  This is partly because it started at 7 AM, a time of day when I’m not fully functional.  Besides, you don’t see much of interest from a ferry, just a lot of water.  On that ride you didn’t even see many islands.  When we got to Victoria, we rented a car and drove to the bed and breakfast where we’d reserved a room, called Albion Manor.  (The link goes to a photo gallery; excerpts below.)  We enjoyed it very much.  First, it’s a beautiful house with varied and interesting decorations and gardens; it turned out one of our hosts had been a set designer, and still likes to pick up beautiful and odd items at auctions.  Second, our hosts and their staff ran the place very well and served us wonderful breakfasts.  Our room was in the basement and was very comfortable. Here’s a picture of the house.

Albion Manor

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A Night on the Train

As happens too often, I’m a year late blogging this vacation.  Oh, well.  My plan this time is to blog 2 years in parallel, but we’ll see. 

In 2016 we decided we hadn’t visited British Columbia in a while, so we set up a trip.  I was happy to learn that my friends Janet and Wes, who’ve lived up there since something like 1979, would be available if we came by on the dates we had in mind.  But our trip began unusually.  Instead of driving or flying, we decided to take the train – we booked a “bedroom” (a gross misrepresentation!) on the Coast Starlight, overnight from Oakland to Seattle.  The train was supposed to arrive at 9:30 PM; it was half an hour late and then we were off.

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Medieval Prague

Most of Prague, of course, is thoroughly modern.  If you leave the castle plaza on foot, though, you can walk down the New Castle Steps.  According to Waymarking.com, the New Castle Steps date to the 13th century, and paradoxically are older than the Old Castle Steps.  However, they don’t give a date for the Old Castle Steps (and since I don’t read Czech, my research was limited).  Here we are starting down the New Castle Steps, which have 220 steps and are 160 meters long.  I believe the little indented windows on the castle wall are arrow slits but I could be wrong.  I’d expect an arrow slit to be broad on the inside of the wall, where the archer was, and then narrow down to a small slit in the outside wall where the arrow could go out.  These are the wrong way round, if they’re really defensive.

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Exploring Prague – Castle and Cathedral

July 1 was our last full day in Europe.  Could we sleep in?  No way – the bus to the Prague Castle, where we had guided walking tours set up, left at 8:30 AM.  And yes, I’m willing to get up early to tour a medieval castle dating back to the 9th century (rebuilt multiple times, of course)!  In fact, we didn’t get into the Castle at all; we spent most the tour of the hilltop in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, a Gothic building.  The first interesting thing I saw was this wall:

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Yes, it’s an optical illusion – no matter how it looks, that wall is flat.  It’s etched in a technique called sgraffito, to give the impression of a wall decorated with diamond-shaped plaques.  It’s flat.  I put my hand on it. 

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