Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Road Trip : Los Angeles

So our final stop on the road trip was Los Angeles. We drove into town 24 hours after the news of Michael Jackson's death was made public, and Hollywood which is crazy at the best of times, was on a whole other level. The day before I had joked to Jim that we would "probably arrive at about the point they started selling the the commemorative t-shirts" - I was wrong, they made them overnight and they were on sale several hours before we rolled into town.

We stayed just off Hollywood Boulevard and from the moment we arrived there were people in Michael Jackson t-shirts, playing his music in their cars and talking about him on the street... weird, really weird.

The funny thing is that I had actually been quite a big Michael Jackson fan about 20 years ago, which coincidentally was also when I was last in LA.

We walked past the crowds at the makeshift shrine on the Walk Of Fame a couple of times, and on our last day when the queue was shorter, decided we really should spend 5 minutes waiting to see it, just because we were there. (see above left)

Away from the craziness of Hollywood our 36 hour stopover gave us a chance to visit somewhere else I hadn't been for two decades... Universal Studios.

For anyone else who also last visited it in the 80s, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you by saying that they have dismantled the Back To The Future set! However, they still have the San Francisco earthquake with the collapsing ceiling and flood, and they've added one of the sets from War Of The Worlds, Desperate Housewives (above) and a brilliant 4D Shrek movie...

So, with our pockets significantly lighter, we are safely back in Ralston. It's quite strange to be honest, because after having our shipping sent a few days before our holiday, I think we both felt that we had left for good, but 3 weeks today we'll be flying out of Medicine Hat and on to the UK. I think I have finally made a decision about the future of Blackie the cat, but I'll reveal that in a few weeks..

Oh and to answer another question I have been asked a lot... the blog will be continuing in Cyprus, but I'm not quite sure what it will be called!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Road Trip : San Francisco

Onwards to California and despite driving through temperatures that topped 100F, disappointingly it was high 60s for our couple of days in San Francisco. It was the first visit for both of us and I must say I was surprised at how much small town charm it has. We stayed very close to Fisherman's Wharf in the nautically themed Argonaut Hotel.

During our 2 days, we walked a few of the ludicrously steep hills, tracked down the house they used for the film Pacific Heights (long story!) both walked and drove down Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world) photographed the Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies (see left) walked among the enormous redwood trees in Muir Wood and of course did the Alcatraz tour.

The boat trip to the island and audio tour of Alcatraz (on personal mp3 players) was pretty fascinating, but I was a little disappointed by the huge crowds of people. It seems to be a problem with anything touristy in America!

So it's day 14 and Jim has driven for about 22 hours since we picked up the Mustang in Seattle on Monday, I have dozed through most of it, so shouldn't really complain, but our packed itinerary is exhausting and we are both quite looking forward to being able to wash our clothes, eat home cooking and rest a bit! California & Oregon deserve a fortnight to themselves and a much slower drive up the coast, maybe we'll have a chance to come back and do that one day...

Tonight we have arrived at our last port of call, Los Angeles, which is crazy at the best of times, but after Michael Jackson's death yesterday it is on a whole other level, people selling RIP t-shirts on every street corner and news helicopters hovering over our hotel, but more on that in a few days...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Road Trip : Seattle & Oregon

We had a flying visit to Seattle after Vancouver Island. We traveled by train, which would have been a fantastic experience, were it not for the fact that 30 minutes short of our destination we were stopped in our tracks (literally) by a fatality on the line ahead of us. In the end we got in to our hotel about 3 hours later than scheduled at 1am.

Hotel 1000 however was worth the wait... a really fantastic hotel in a great location. We hadn't had particularly high expectations of Seattle as it was merely a stop en route from Canada to San Francisco, but we actually loved it.

We had Sunday brunch in the rotating restaurant at the top of the space needle (see photo above) which was a bizarre but rather brilliant experience. After that we spent the rest of the day at the Experience Music Project and the Sci-Fi museum next to it. Jim got a military discount and I got a student one (thanks to my OU photography course) so a good day all round!

In Seattle we picked up our hire car to drive the west coast to Los Angeles. Jim had been fantasising about getting a Mustang since we booked it, but they were very reluctant to let one out on a one way hire, so gave us a Chrysler Seabring instead.... However, when we got it back to the hotel we realised the convertible mechanism was broken, and to cut a VERY long story short, 12 hours later we were driving out of Seattle in a brand new (6 miles on the clock!) red Mustang with a free satnav - Jim hasn't stopped grinning yet!

Seven hours south, we overnighted at another great B&B, the Rogue Forest. A wonderful cabin in the woods with an open fire, and a river rushing past. It was a great shame we were only there for a night, but maybe we'll have a chance to come back one day.

From Grants Pass, we had a brief stop at the Wildlife Images sanctuary where I at last got to see a bear (!!) as well as cougar, bob cats and raccoons!

From there it was another six hours drive through the beautiful Oregon countryside (with the temperature steadily increasing) to California and San Francisco.... we are staying here in the Argonaut Hotel for three nights and then its on to LA on Friday.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Road Trip : Tofino & Ucluelet

The second half of our Vancouver Island trip took us up to the Pacific coast to Ucluelet and Tofino. As we drove from Victoria over the mountains, the sky began to darken and the misty grey skies that this section of the coast is so well known for, rolled in!

Despite the fact that nearly every photo of Tofino I had seen before the trip had shown these kind of conditions, we were relatively lucky with half of our four days on the coast managing a bit of sunshine.

Most of our activities took us out on the water. Our first trip was whale watching in a RIB in the rain! Despite immersion suits and wet weather gear, we came back drenched, but managed to see several killer and grey whales, a sea otter and a seal.

On Wednesday Jim had a surfing lesson off Chesterman Beach while I mooched round in the mist taking photos and yesterday we were back out on the boat for a wildlife viewing trip. As I think has been well documented on this blog, after two years in Canada I still have yet to see a bear (except if you count a very small blob on a hillside). Everyone I know out here has seen bears, even Jim. The people on the boat trip the day before us even saw 8 bears..... we went out and saw none at all!

I have less than 5 weeks left in Canada - so will some kind bear please humour me with an appearance or I'll begin to believe I have been the victim of some elaborate wind up!

So, three days on the water and we finished our visit to Tofino on the water too, by flying back to Vancouver on a Tofino Air float plane, more of a treat for Jim than me - 45 year-old single engine planes don't inspire me with confidence!

So we're back on the mainland and tomorrow it's on to Seattle by train.... In the meantime, lots of photos on my Flickr account here

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Road trip : Victoria

Yesterday we arrived at the wonderful Abbeymoore B&B (see left) in Victoria on Vancouver Island. After so long on the prairie, I really can't express how good it was getting out on the water on the boat that brought us across from Vancouver!

The ferry took about 90 minutes, half of which was open water in the channel between the island and the mainland and the other half was negotiated through an inlet. This second part of the trip was particularly stunning with lush green land meeting the water, blue skies and seals swimming alongside the boat, it reminded me a bit of Cornwall, just a bit more tropical!

Coming over to Vancouver Island has made us appreciate the vastness of Canada even more. The country is so enormous that they have an island more or less the size of the UK bolted on as an after thought! Clearly we've been here too long because we have adopted the same attitude as North Americans visiting Britain, which is we'll do the whole thing in 6 days, it's not that big!

So tomorrow, we're moving on to Ucluelet, from where we'll also visit Toffino, but back to Victoria for a moment...

We have thoroughly enjoyed our brief stop here. The town is small enough to wander round in a day and full of charm with a lovely colonial feel to it. On the advice of the B&B owners we had lunch at the excellent Red Fish Blue Fish on the quay. Its a fish and chip restaurant operating out of two ISO containers with an almost constantly long queue of people lining up for food. (see photo below) I had two spicy pacific fish tacones, which were amazing!

The B&B has also been excellent. We picked it because it was the number one rated guest house on Tripadvisor and we certainly haven't been disappointed! Ian & Anne are charming hosts, the room is stunning and our breakfast this morning was delicious - in fact, my only complaint was that Ian cooking his own supper tonight smelt so good that it forced us to go out and find dinner!

So tomorrow we will collect our hire car for the 4 hour drive up island to Ucluelet, where we expect the weather to be overcast and damp!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Breathing space...

I thought I had better do a quick update between the chaos of packing and our imminent departure on our two week road trip on Friday.

The last week or so has been a little stressful...The removal men came on Thursday and in the chaos, our passports managed to get packed! (Something we have since discovered many people have done!)

As a result over the last 4 days there has been much talk of getting to Cyprus on a 'NATO travel order' and altering the route of our road trip to keep us in Canada, but thankfully after a 5 hour round trip to Calgary, Jim has managed to get them back. Would you believe they were in the first box he looked in?

We are also selling off everything we can't take with us. I was particularly sad to see our dishwasher go today, but as we only have about 17 days left when we will actually be in the house, it had to go!

Blackie the cat is very unsettled by it all. As I have mentioned in this blog before, she had had at least 4 homes before we got her when she was about 3 years-old. I am still not quite sure what the best thing to do for her is when we move. We have had a quote to ship both her and Macy the dog, but the flight to Cyprus is long and potentially stressful for an animal (particularly a cat I think) We would love to take her, but I need to be sure we are doing it for her best interests and not ours. I could probably find another family for her in the village here and then we could rehome another cat in Cyprus... But in my mind, neither option is particularly satisfactory...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Packing and sewing projects

We are currently in the midst of packing our possessions for shipping. The shipping assessor came on Tuesday and concluded we have 14.42 cubic metres. Our allowance is only 10.65, so we are desperately trying to squeeze things into boxes tightly before they come to collect it tomorrow.

Army life has its perks, but packing up an moving your whole life every two years, although invigorating, is also laborious.

At the same time as packing we are also selling off our remaining possessions one by one. My hair straighteners went tonight and our Ikea units go on Sunday. I keep being asked if I am selling my Norco bike, but its definitely coming with us!

In the meantime I wanted to show off a few things I have made recently. Firstly an upcycled skirt made from old bedding for my niece Millie.

Secondly, the base families organisation ran a competition recently to design a family coat of arms. I am not good at drawing, so I quilted mine and I won first prize!

The microphone symbolises my job, the sheep, where Jim and I met in the Falklands and at the bottom is his cap badge. The Latin inscription translates as "seize the beer".

And finally my french press cosy. Design (slightly modified) courtesy of House On Hill Road, which at last means and end to my husband wrapping the oven gloves round the coffee to keep it warm.

You won't be surprised to learn that I'm keeping my sewing machine back till the second shipment. I still have a few more things to make before we go!