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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of all the things that have gone wrong this summer, I didn’t need this afternoon’s fire in the Berkeley hills:
It started at 5 acres and 3 hours later seems to be under control (at 10 acres). But I was here in 1991 for the Oakland Hills fire and it’s not anything you forget. I’m still nervous on hot days with an east wind. My husband is off backpacking, and there’s just a limit to what I could evacuate in my little car, all by myself. And the real test will be tomorrow – the 1991 fire was supposedly put out the day before, but it wasn’t all gone, and the next day’s stiff winds blew it up into a firestorm.
This one went from a 2 alarm fire to a 5 alarm fire in 3 hours, but I’m not the only one who remembers 1991. The local fire departments dumped resources onto it; last notice I find says it’s moving toward Contra Costa County, behind the Berkeley hills. I drove home from downtown Oakland this afternoon and saw the smoke, and it stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically; I kept driving).
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.
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:
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.
On this stay we performed the day after we arrived – twice, in fact. Our scheduled concert was at 6:30 PM, in the Church of the Holy Saviour, near the Old Town Square in Prague; but we had an appointment around 1 PM at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (the address is Ronalda Reagana, Prague 6), to perform at his Independence Day Celebration and attend the following reception. This was on June 30, in case you’ve been counting, and I still don’t know if he had the celebration early because we were in town or not.
On the 29th, we went out for our usual tour dinner at the cafe of the Municipal House, which was within long walking distance of the hotel; the walk took us through main downtown Prague. The restaurant was an absolute Art Deco classic; I remember the restaurant as very noisy and the pork schnitzel as tough, but my was the room gorgeous. In fact, it was gorgeous enough that we went back and had a much quieter lunch on the last day, during our exploration of Prague.
We all packed up again, piled into the now familiar black bus, and hit the road for Prague. I was surprised to find that, once we got out of Vienna, we were largely traveling on secondary roads – well paved and all that, but not freeways. This gave us a better look at the countryside, and the countryside between Vienna and Prague is gorgeous. It’s some of the most beautiful, immaculately maintained farmland you could imagine, and almost all rural. The photo below is just across the Czech border. (As always now, clicking on a photo will take you to the full Smugmug gallery.)
Czechia (the new name for the Czech Republic) had more woodsy areas interspersed with the farms. But I kept wondering about the road, until someone reminded me that, until the Soviet Union fell, Czechoslovakia (as it was then) was behind the old Iron Curtain, so you can drive from Vienna to Bratislava on a highway (Slovakia was not Soviet), but to Prague, you take back roads because nobody’s built the highway.