Tag Archives: Travel

A nice day out

I like Vancouver. It’s my second favourite city on the planet. Well at least of those I’ve visited. Although I’ve got a soft spot for Berlin, and haven’t had time or money to visit Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore etcetera. Despite there being a Starbucks or Tim Hortons on every other corner. To be honest I prefer Tim Hortons coffee to Starbucks, firstly it’s cheaper, secondly it’s less bitter. Their doughnuts aren’t bad either. Although I’m more partial to an Apple or blueberry fritter for a cheap carb and calorie treat.

While we were in Vancouver we hopped on the Skytrain and I popped into the Telus ‘Science’ Museum because the Animals Inside Out exhibit was on, which I was interested to see. I was to be disappointed. What I found was somehow redolent of a 19th and 20th century travelling carnival freak show. Plenty of ‘Euw’ factor with the anatomy of people and animals on display, but woefully short on detail. For example; the Mako shark exhibit made little mention of what the Blue Dynamite with the short fuse was all about. Nothing about how it is one of the fastest sharks in the sea (Able to swim in bursts of over 80Kph), or that they run over 3.2 (12ft) metres long and more than 600kg (1300lb+). Little about habitat and diet (Apart from being a sea creature). The split down the middle Giant Squid display was impressive, As was the trifurcated Camel, but was there any information about the curious structure of the giant squids eyes? Not really. There was one museum staffer wandering around with an anatomised and plasticised human arm, inviting visitors to examine it, but as far as information was concerned, I found myself thinking this was the intellectual version of junk food. While the exhibition promised much in the way of mental nourishment, all it delivered was hollow emotion. The same was true for the the rest of the displays at ‘Science world’. Rather than have layers of information where, if interested, displays could direct people to where they could find out more, all they had were toys for toddlers, of which there was a plethora. Shrieking and pressing buttons, aimlessly playing without actually seeming to learn anything. A sort of Fisher Price level of ‘Science’. Which is a bit of a shame. Shrieking toddlers tend to put off older children and even young adults who want to know more about science in general.

Now all these observations could be dismissed as the rantings of an “Ignorant, angry old white guy”, a description which incidentally hits the quadruple target of being incorrect, ageist, sexist and racist by the way, but for the fact that what is on offer is a solution. A solution that is easily and more importantly affordable and which does not shut out key demographics like simply catering to noisy toddlers with toys. All that is required is a few bar code links and a web site with all the information you need to share, or perhaps about associated exhibits there isn’t room to display. All the kids have Smartphones capable of reading barcodes, right? Print out one of those rinky dinky square barcodes and paste next to a short description of the exhibit. Link the square barcode to various web sites containing more in depth information about said exhibit, and Robert, as they say, is the male sibling of your biological parents. Ta-daah! Using such a barcode while visiting should also enlist the visitor on the Museums Twatter, Crapchat, Instagrunt and Farcebook feeds so that if they’re interested, previous visitors will know when to come back again to see a real exhibit up close and personal. Thus generating much needed extra visits and gift shop revenue. A useful tool for Parents, Teachers and those who simply like to see real science and history stuff on display.

The same principal could be applied to Theatres, Cinemas, grocery stores, Aquaria, and Zoos for a relatively low overhead. Latest production or movie release, new product line, birth of a rare baby sea creature or mammal, all the novelty of the world can be brought rapidly and in depth into the public eye. For those interested of course. All the components are out there, all the institution or business would have to do is a little regular link maintenance. But then I’m just an “Ignorant, angry old white guy” with a broad technical education covering well over twenty years and a deep seated love of technology, so what do I know?

Any old road up. Mrs S and I had a nice day in Vancouver, and despite missing our bus for the ferry (By five minutes) and spending fifty minutes hanging around in the cold, got home with much to think about. We did pass by the Cirque Du Soleil, but as we’ve already seen one of their disappointingly lowbrow shows of mugging contortionists a couple of years ago, I declined to repeat the experience.

Who are these people?

Who are these crazies? Enslavers of minorities. Ham handed YouTube butchers. Mass murderers and killers. The ‘Islamic State’ or whatever. Where did they come from and who are they? Who gives, or gave them the them money to get started? Who has declared war on our way of life? Because war is where we are. We are at war, declared or not. We are at war with the miserablist philosophy of radical Islam. That which hates joy in the human heart. That which hates music and art. Specifically those who claim their brand of killjoy Islam should dominate the world. They picked this fight. Not the secular West. The Daesh (Arabic pejorative) chose to take their petty little tantrums out on civilians. Bunch of murderous shitheels that they are. A single Police dog is worth more than the whole damn crew of them.

Now we hear that two one of the organisers of the Paris attacks are still on the run and two more are dead. Others are under arrest. The Daesh (ISIL / ISIS, Al – thingummy wossname) are also going to be on the sharp end of shock and awe. From not just the French, but also the Russians. The UK is also going to pitch in against these murderous bastards. Even if it means keeping the unpopular and murderous Assad regime in power. Stuff the Yanks. Some of this is the current US administrations fault. They began airstrikes in support of the Syrian rebels and created a void for the Daesh to move in. I’m glad Trudeau has pulled Canadian forces out of that mess. We shouldn’t have been fighting Assad in the first place.

Yet from what I can see, the Daesh are simply one head of the Hydra. In order to destroy the threat the whole beast must be destroyed. It has to be burned out and cauterised at source. Root and branch. No quarter. No mercy. I think the French understand this. At the moment of writing they are going loaded for bear. It’s worth noting that France has Nuclear weapons and might just be tempted to test one on a Daesh stronghold. The Charles De Gaulle, currently deploying to the middle east in response to the Paris attacks, has just such a capability.

Well this is a bit steep Bill. My better self says. Aren’t you over reacting a bit? Mmmm. I don’t think so. A few short months ago I stood, sat, walked, and drank Cafe-au-lait on the very ground where some of the murders took place, admiring the culture, the architecture, the fashion sense and the agility of the local graffiti artists. We didn’t just do the main tourist spots, Mrs S and I took in what I call the ‘real’ Paris and tried our best to fit in and live like locals. Even if the proprietress of my favourite corner Boulangerie / Patisserie did take the piss out of my terrible accent and muffed French pronunciations. After I went back a few times for my morning baguette, I was always greeted with a happy smile. There was the kindness of neighbours when Mrs S broke her arm. Fortunately none of whom have flagged up as victims. Therefore I’m claiming an emotional connection to that area. We were, and still are planning a return trip as part of a larger European tour next year. London, Paris, Amsterdam Maybe Antwerp and Bruges. We weren’t put off by the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We won’t be put off now. Screw the Daesh. If they hadn’t got that bunch of losers to shoot up Paris, there would have been little excuse to implement the European passenger tracking system. Which I object to because I think it’s yet another nail in the coffin of civil liberties. Practically it means more bloody paperwork. More disclosure every time we fancy a nice holiday.

There is, however, a bright side. Parisian hotel and travel prices might go down a little if some people decide to call off their visits as a result of the attacks. I will need a new hat for sitting outside on sunny days. Speaking of which, some Parisians are choosing to sit outside cafe’s as an act of defiance. Which is very civilised. And very French. “You shoot down my countrymen? Pah! I drink Espresso at you, scum. Now go away before I order my afternoon cognac!”

Anyway, Mrs S and I are in Downtown Vancouver tomorrow. It’s work related, but we’ll be making this trip our main Christmas shopping visit as well. Bonne journee mes vieux. Have a nice day.

MH370 Found?

Aircraft debris has been reported washed up on the French colonial outpost of Réunion which could be the remains of missing flight MH370.

If they are, that would seem to confirm the most credible theory advanced by a professional pilot shortly after the crash. That theory being that a fire in the cockpit electrical systems known to plague older and less well maintained 777-200’s incapacitated the crew shortly after take-off. The crew managing to put the plane on autopilot before they passed out, automatically setting course for the nearest airport. Which it missed, flying on the same heading until it ran out of fuel. Meaning that the plane ditched a thousand or so miles west of Australia where the debris would have eventually been picked up by the Indian Ocean current and deposited on the beach at Réunion. If this is so, the same current should start depositing floating debris on the south eastern shore of Madagascar within the next few weeks or so. After another week or two, bits might even fetch up on Mozambique’s and South Africa’s shores. Which should give the crash investigators, with the help of some oceanographers, a better idea of where MH370’s cockpit recorders ended up. Google Maps has an interesting little map based timeline here, where all the reports and possible sightings of debris have been collated.

No conspiracy theories were consulted in the construction of this post. Mainly because the people who come up with the weird shit about alien abductions, stray black holes caused by the Large Hadron Collider and terrorists without a shred of credible evidence are probably (as always) ‘off their meds’.

Have a nice day, y’all.

Update 5th August 2015: Press conference has confirmed debris found is that of MH370. Also, a researcher at a German University has claimed that the search zone for the main crash site can be narrowed down by identifying the species of Goose Barnacles found attached to the debris. Link to press release and Youtube video of presentation (in German alas, but the closed caption translation is perfectly hilarious) here.

Still here then?

Well, we’re back. Enjoying a nice cool breezy day or three after the all-encompassing heat of the last seven. Mrs S and I are indulging our new found tastes for things like ‘Moscow Mule‘ cocktails. The ingredients for which are Vodka, lime juice and Ginger beer (Not ale, not enough Ginger). Very quaffable. Mrs S does like Cosmopolitans, but we didn’t have any of the right liqueur (Cointreau) in house, so I had to adapt and improvise with Stolichnaya. On its own, Ginger beer with a shot of Roses lime cordial over ice is very nice, but add Vodka and a generous squeeze of real lime and well, you’ll have to try it for yourself.

The various global crises keep grumbling on. The Greeks constantly wanting more money to pay their old age pensions, then shifting the bills onto someone else continues. The Chinese economic woes. Iran getting nuclear technology so they can build atomic bombs (That’s not going to end well). A surprise medical bill for four thousand Euro’s that should have been paid by our insurance company which has led to several frantic phone calls. Pension paperwork coming at us from all directions. Oh what jolly bloody fun. I’m not even of pensionable age yet, and they’re going to change the rules yet again. Good job I won’t be relying on a pension then. Hey ho. We’re taking it all in our stride.

Well, we’ve had a thoroughly nice time in the USA, apart from a few navigation hiccups on Saturday because our SatNav had a minor nervous breakdown caused by all the roadworks off the I-5 into south Tacoma. We had a wander around the American Car Museum and saw these. American 1930s classics Which cost the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of modern dollars in their day, such were the costs of hand coach building, even during the height of the American depression of the 1920’s and 30’s. Oh yes, and from the triumph of hope over experience department, these examples of Electric vehicles; Electric cars from the 20th century Their modern descendants only possible because of massive subsidies. While electric cars are superficially economical, they will always remain a fringe technology until the fuel / refuel issues can be fully addressed, or failing that, a small molten salt nuclear reactor, hydrogen or other non battery technology becomes practical for personal transport. You can probably hear the sound of my breath not being held from half a world away. Until a long time hence we’re probably stuck with the reliable(ish) Internal Combustion Engine. Seven litre Chevvy CamaroWhich on the plus side, has given us beauties like this Seven litre Chevrolet Camaro. It couldn’t match something like a Porsche on European roads of course, but on North American highways, it has the legs and legroom to just eat up those endless miles.

For those who protest about how much energy those naughty Gringos use, they forget the large distances between towns. You can walk down to the store to get the groceries, but that walk will take a long, long time. They also forget that continental North America is a bloody big place, and therefore tends to suffer from more extremes. Everything is bigger over here. Weather, distances, trees, and also the average fast food restaurant customer. We are talking three hundred pounds and upwards.

Anyway, back home in the more environmentally friendly land of British Columbia, I’ve just been given about twenty pounds of fresh figs which I have to find a use for. Do I make some preserve? Chop a few then soak in Vodka? Make Fig rolls (yum). Put a few out to ripen in my office? Apparently there’s a trick with a dab of Extra Virgin Olive Oil which hastens ripening. See these posts on a gardening forum. Treating figs with motor oil, we have been assured, does not work. At least if you want something vaguely edible afterwards. I may do all these things. There may be a progress report.

Bye for now.

Road trip, day five

On our way again, this time on the northbound leg of our little roadtrip around the northwastern US of A. Highway 101 all the way up to the fleshpots north of Astoria for a meal out and overnight stay before moving on to Tacoma for a couple of evenings, thence back to BC via the Coho ferry.

Restricted viewingIn the previous post, I made mention that the coastline of Southern Oregon is ‘pay-per-view’. As far as accessing most of the beaches is concerned, this is true, as in order to stop, no matter how briefly, in one of the National Parks that line this side of the USA, you need to have purchased a pass. We hadn’t, and seeing as there was no ticket booth at the places we entered, we simply did a 180 and went off in search of ‘beach access’, which we eventually found. Unfortunately the north wind was blowing, whipping the dry sand up into miniature sandscapes up and down the kilometres of beach. This particular stretch of beach looked to be suffering the curse of septic tank runoff from a nearby resort and a sizeable stretch of holiday homes. Which rather took the shine off things. It was either that or hire a dune buggy or ATV, which Mrs S would not be allowed to ride because of her recent injury. So we moved on.

Further north on the 101, there are more places to park to enjoy the huge expanses of yellow sand, the coastal highway squiggling more closely to the shoreline along mile after mile of almost deserted beach. Being a European trained driver, I was happily throwing our little SUV through tight corners which would not disgrace an English country A-road and wondering why there was no-one in my rear view mirror, even though I hadn’t been speeding (Honestly officer – I was being ever so good). Between Florence and Cannon Beach, Oregon (Well worth a stopover. Incredible beach. Try the Warren Inn for lunch) it’s a joy. Especially on such a sunny day as today. Great driving, good food, and the Universe totally failing to go ‘Foom’. The more northerly beaches are also great for kite flying, sunbathing or surfing. Although the wind needs to shift into the West to produce the best Pacific Breakers.

One of the things I’ve also noticed in passing have been visiting political campaigners. No doubt organising support for next years Presidential Elections. No Republicans as yet, but the the ‘Obama Mama’s’ (I think that’s who they are) whose vehicles are graced with a metallic ‘O’ inside the rear window, and a ‘Clintonite’ sporting a Hilary Clinton bumper sticker have been in evidence. No doubt infiltrating local meetings with their forced letterbox smiles and promises. (Never trust someone who smiles ingratiatingly all the time – they’re up to something.) Their vehicles all being late model and fairly new looking. They’re also mostly black, the vehicles that is. Something I found a trifle sinister. Considering the mess the golf pro currently ensconced in the White House has made of things, the thought of another Democrat in the form of a Clinton in the hot seat must make the blood of many Americans (and anyone else on the planet – apart from the more rabid mullahs) run icy cold. I mean, come on; even Sarah Palin would be a better choice for the first woman president of the USA. That’s not an edifying prospect either.

Never mind; as regards meals out, Mrs S and I had a minor culinary epiphany last night. We dined at a very nice seafood place where the fish was not encased in batter or smothered in cheese sauce. Instead of dessert, I voiced the desire for a Martini to round off what was a very pleasant repast. Mrs S concurred and we ordered two fairly dry fancy Martinis off the menu instead of the usual ‘death by chocolate’ so full of caloric energy it could power a Saturn 5 booster into orbit. Which turned out to be a good move. We walked back to our hotel with a lightness of step and sense of mild euphoria, rather than simply feeling weighed down and a little over indulged. Thus we have decided, in future, instead of dessert we’ll have Martinis instead. We’ll also forget wine with out meal, as that would rather be gilding the lily. Which has the dual effect of lowering the bill whilst at the same time making us look like a pair of visiting sophisticates (Snarf). Who knows? Perhaps we’ll start a trend.

On the topic of what to eat here in the Northwestern USA. Coastal eateries do what they call ‘Steamer Clams’ which I think are nicer than Moules Mariniere, which I’m also quite partial to. Try them. If you’re not professionally allergic to seafood, they are a treat. The best places manage to clean these delicacies so thoroughly that there is no detectable sand in them, which can put a crimp in your seafood dining experience.

Last item today; if you do one thing in your life. If you cannot gallop horses through the surf on a deserted Irish beach or run naked along a seemingly endless West Highland strand, screaming your ecstasy for the sheer exhilaration of being alive, hire an SUV and take a drive up and down Long Beach, Washington, USA. As Mrs S and I did this evening before sundown. Just look up how long it is. Go on. Do not under any circumstances take my word or anyone else’s for this. Twenty eight smegging miles. Okay, the beach speed limit is twenty five miles per hour (A beach with a speed limit, my life already), and bits of it are off limits during the Summer months but frankly I don’t care. You can drive further along Padre Island, Texas (One hundred and thirty miles) but it’s going to take a full construction crew with earth movers to eradicate the grin currently planted upon my face.

What can I say, I’m easily pleased.

Road trip, day four, hiatus

Back at the Pacific coast for a forty eight hour pause in the relentless round of road running. Although I will say this; Route 126 from Eugene, Oregon, out to the coast is a delight to drive. The bends are cambered, which in my book adds to the driving experience. I’ve mentally bookmarked it for a motorcycle ride sometime in the next twelve to eighteen months. It’s that good. Over fifty kilometres of lovely swooping right and left handers reminiscent of some great stretches of UK tarmac from my Halcyon riding days. Only there’s way more of it with nicer scenery and less traffic. Oh yes, and it’s currently being freshly resurfaced. Go for a run if you’re in the district in late August, early September.

The only downside of the Pacific coast, at least from what we’ve found in Oregon, is finding that a great deal of it is Pay-per-view. It is also very windy at the moment. Very sunny, but the breeze is stiff enough to thicken gravy. Then there are the jellyfish. Thousands of the little buggers, so barefoot isn’t a very intelligent choice in footwear at the waters edge. Miles and miles of sand though. All the way from California and northbound to Washington. Which the wind blows into metre deep drifts all over the beach. Some of the more mature dunes are as high as a block of condos and a bright yellowy white.

On an even nicer note, Mrs S treated me to a brand new Skagen Titanium wristwatch yesterday, which I wasn’t expecting. She said it was an apology for all the extra aggro I’ve been putting up with over the past few weeks since she broke her arm. Well, I have been more of a body servant, chauffeur, scribe and general factotum than usual. But it is nice to have the extra effort recognised. I like Titanium watches, the metal is light, matches your body temperature so much that you hardly know you’re wearing one. On the other hand it may have been because I was less than my usual decisive self and she wanted me to simply get a move on. She could have said “Bill.” In her meaning voice which would have done just as well.

Anyway. We have beer and Jameson’s in the hotel fridge. Some has even found its way down my willing throat, me havin such a terrible thirst, begorrah, said he, indulging his inner Irishman. I’ve also been introduced to the delights of Double Stuf heads and tails Oreos. Oh, the calories, the calories!

We’re both having a thoroughly splendid time. Hope you are too.

Road trip, Day three

Right, we’ve made it down to Oregon of all places. Down from the bleak vastness of the High Chaparral to the lush lower reaches of the Columbia river valley. Past four major hydro-electric dams and tens of square kilometres of those next best thing to useless twirly things.

When it comes to describing the good old US of A, the word ‘vast’ is so inadequate. ‘Huge’ is a vapid description of something so big that merely being humungous can only go halfway to describing a hundredth of the open country we’ve passed through. Towering waterfalls, highways so straight that their vanishing point disappears half way to the horizon. I thought Canada was big, but we mostly snuggle close to the 49th parallel to keep warm in winter. The US is, how should I put it, more three dimensional, spreading down from the 49th Parallel to the Mexican border. It’s almost like dipping a toe in the total perspective vortex.

Gas, or petrol is about a third cheaper then back home and doled out in US gallons, which are smaller than Imperial measure, 3.785 litres as opposed to 4.546. Which has made the conversion in my headometer run a little slower than usual when checking out the prices. I’m sure there’s an ap for this function, but I haven’t downloaded it yet. Growing up when I did, we had Imperial to Metric conversion drilled into us until it became second nature. Even now I can freely convert from pounds and pence into the old pounds, shillings and pence. Funny the way some things stay with you, isn’t it?

Hotels are good, the food is okay, but our southern cousins do have a predilection for frying everything, so the cuisine is not up to Parisian standards. Although their steaks are bloody wonderful. If there’s one thing the yanks do really well it’s a steak. Not burgers, but thumb thick slabs of juicy pinkness. The aftereffects of consuming a 10oz include making my stomach hug my spine as it goes ‘thank you – thank you’. So I’m in pretty good humour.

Short drive starting today, down to the West coast to begin the northbound leg of our trip. Listening to some of the locals talk about distance the other day, I noticed that they talk of journey times, not in miles or kilometres, but in hours. But in a country this size, it makes perfect sense.

Road trip, day two.

Clint Eastwood riding palelyWell that was interesting. Yesterday we started off pootling through thickly forested landscapes reminiscent of Upper BC, only to end up scooting down the Columbia River valley. This is territory I can only describe as ‘the Big lonely’, endless dry grass, horizon spanning expanses of chaparral, sagebrush and tumbleweed. I fully expected to see Clint Eastwood and his mule riding out of the East to greet us. Some of the tumbleweed we actually saw tumbling. Which was a sight more active than the crop of Wind Turbines we passed through.

I mean who takes these colossal wastes of money seriously? They only generate a maximum of twenty percent of rated capacity and rely on an unpredictable source. When that source isn’t available, they need energy from the grid to keep turning so their bearings don’t seize up. As a means of serious energy generation, they’re a very bad joke. Unless of course you’re one of those with their nose in the subsidies trough. Same for electric cars. They’re hardly any better than those built a hundred years ago. A dead end, junky technology that only really exists because of taxpayer dollar.

Anyway, that’s besides the point. This morning we’re back over the Cascade range of mountains and heading towards the jolly old Pacific Ocean before turning Northbound to head up the Coastal Highway. Hotels and ferries are booked, our fuel tank is full, the horizon beckons. There’s a whole world out there to explore. Well, a couple of States anyway.


And away we go!

We’re off! Away from conferences and nitpicking fine detail, away from the smoke shrouded hills of upper BC. Away from the terrible Vegetarian food which even some stalwart Vegans on the team were calling tasteless. Maybe the conference won’t be held at that place next year. I think the only thing stopping a lynch mob being formed for the catering staff is that lynching is so un-Canadian. Although from some of the grimaces I observed, there were definitely a few people who could have been persuaded.

On the final day we scooted off after the last meeting, only to run into a four hour delay, not at the US border, which we were expecting, but on the Sea to Sky southbound, where two motorcyclists got hurt hitting a Jeep Cherokee that had allegedly run out of petrol and had stopped in the outside lane. Considering the vehicle couldn’t have long passed a Gas station, that seems like someone just hadn’t bothered to fuel up, or was hoping to make Vancouver on just fumes. Who knows? We just pulled aside to let the emergency services though, wandered around, chatted, read books, walked dogs, watched some kids playing catch and in some cases seethed quietly until everyone had to do a three point turn, backtrack to the previous junction, then go up and around a couple of sleepy little suburbs until we were decanted back on the main drag. After that, the five minutes wait at the Peace Arch was a breeze.

Impressions of the USA so far? Mostly positive. Upstate Washington reminded me of our 2007 trip across Southern Ontario. To celebrate, we tucked into a steak each. Real food! Just a wonderful slightly bloody steak and salad each chased down by a modest dusty Californian Red, but to us we felt we’d escaped from dietary jail. There was rain too. A blessed strinkling. Just enough to remove the dust from the air. Free at last. Free at last! I think. Maybe. Probably.

Un mauvais quart d’heure

Yeah. Today has not been as happy a day as might have been. A creeping sense of FTW has shadowed my every waking thought, casting a pall over what has otherwise been a pleasant day. I know why. It’s been a year to the day when first my Mother, then my dog, died. I really don’t know whether to feel hopeless, sad or just plain angry. This mood will pass, I’m just having a bad quarter of an hour, that’s all. These feelings always fade like a morning fog, but while with you, serve as a reminder that you’re just as full of shit as the next guy. Kind of reassuring really.

Anyway. Tomorrow Mrs S and I set out on a little road trip which will eventually take us down south of the border for a little drive around the US of A. Just dodging the wildfires through Washington and Oregon. Nothing fancy. See the sights, sample the food and wine. Watch the people. Ignore the mass media. Intwerweb stuff will be patchy, but if I see anything vaguely noteworthy I’ll probably post about it, Wi-Fi permitting.