Monday, October 10, 2011

US Holiday - Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

I have made it home successfully. It was a great time away and could not have planned it any better. Saw some great sights and had a fantastic time catching up with friends. I will look to post pictures in the coming weeks. There are a few to go through.

I also wanted to give you some insight into my world. If you remember back to my Day 1 post ....

"Dad was not particularly impressed with the state of the house and wanted to see if he could vacuum. This resulted in a death stare and a vocal affirmation. "

Well I can confirm that I had what I call "An Unauthorised Parental Cleanup" event at my house whilst I was away. This is what I came home to.

Friday, October 7, 2011

US Holiday - Day 28 - Vancouver - Day 3

Day 28 - Thursday 6th October

Ah yes, the double tap of vodka of last night certainly did the trick. I slept well last night and the double tap of Nurofen meant I didn't wake with a head ache. Stuck my head out the window and ah grey skies again. Spewing! They did say it was going to be cloudy with some sunshine but it was a uniform grey.

Organised the transfer tomorrow from the hotel to the airport so in terms of things to organise for the rest of the holiday I was pretty much done. Then tried to pick my seat for the flight from LA to Sydney. Should have down this a long time ago and the options available were ugly. Oh well, lesson learnt.

Headed out around 11am and after getting some fuel for the day I headed down towards Granville Island. I caught one of the small ferries that move people around the False Creek area. Granville Island has a nice little market on it and the food and produce looked of great quality. I grabbed some food there before heading back over to Vancouver. I then walked along the shore line again and down into Stanley Park.

I completed a full circuit of the park which was approximately 9km. By the time I completed one circuit the sun started to come out so headed back along the waters edge into False Creek ending up near the 2010 Winter Olympic stadium which is just across the road from the hotel. There is a soccer match on tonight so lots of people about.

Body very weary after lots of walking over the past couple of days. This will be the final post because I wont be blogging much about the flight home.

Thanks for listening everyone.


US Holiday - Day 27 - Vancouver - Day 2

Day 27 - Wednesday 5th October 

Overcast day today and this was predicted. Got ready and headed out, grabbing a coffee and croissant for fuel. I then walked down towards and area called False Creek. Lots of sky rise apartments down this part of town and they all appear to be new. Along the waters edge there are separate walking and riding paths. I walked along the waters edge passing Granville Island. This has a market located on it and is a short ferry ride across from where I was. If the weather turns out well tomorrow I will look to get over there.

Kept on walking along under the Granville Street and Burnard Street Bridges and along Sunset Beach. I then headed back up into the populated areas of Vancouver and then into main shopping area. It was around lunch time so headed down to the food court that I visited yesterday and had some Chinese.

After lunch I headed into Gastown. This is an old area of Vancouver with restaurant, tourist shops, art galleries etc. That only took a short amount of time to do so headed along the length of Granville Street. Much the same as George Street in a way with at times, parts of King Cross. I then headed back to the hotel passing through Yaletown. This is a very nice part of Vancouver and has lots of boutique bars, restaurants, hair dressers, etc.

Decided to go for a bit of a walk later on in the evening. This is certainly where Vancouver excels over Seattle. I would have stepped out around 8pm and there were still lots of people out and about. I walked up to one of the main streets and then walked down one side. When I walked up the other side I noticed another street lit up with fairy lights so walked up that. I think the lights were put there to draw the punters in and it certainly did the job with me. Even thought it was Wednesday night shops are open till late, most to 9pm and others to 10pm. They do open later though, typically at 10am and I think having the shops open to later is a better idea.

To finish off the evening I walked down Granville Street again. This street to me seems like a bit of a mix between Oxford and George Streets at night. Bars, adult shops, restaurants and the odd beggar and drunken bum. Turned down into Yaletown and walked past some the boutique bars and restaurants on the way back up to the hotel. Stopped in at the bar down stairs for a steak and a couple of bed time vodkas.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

US Holiday - Day 26 - Seattle to Vancouver

Day 26 - Tuesday 4th October

Arrgh. Another early morning. Woke around 6am and snoozed for the next 15 minutes. Then it was time to get up. Got dressed and headed down to check out and I was on my way to the train station. I planned my route to be as much down hill as possible and after around 20 minutes I was at the train station. I walked into the foyer and immediately saw people lining up. This appeared to be different to the Amtrak journey that I had from Boston to DC. I was always going to check in my luggage but the lines were from seat allocations. Thankfully the line for business class was shorter than that of coach and only had to line up for a couple of minutes. I was able to get a window seat which was great. I then had enough time to grab a coffee and danish before boarding the train.

Business class got to board the train first which was another benefit but it didn't stop there. More on that later. My seat was at the rear of the second carraige and was a single seater rather than a 2 seater. Slowly the train filled up and we were then off north to Vancouver. We travelled under the city for a little while before reappearing down near the piers that I had walked along on previous days. As I looked out over the water the weather looked a lot better than what was predicted.

I wanted to have a bit of a snooze along the way but thought that would be unwise as the scenery around here is fantastic. The journey north hugged the shore line and stopped at around 5-6 stops before we crossed the border. We didn't stop at that point, but instead kept on going all the way into Vancouver. Once the train arrived, all the baggage was taken off and lined up and then the business class carriages got off first. Found my bag easy enough and then we I was in front of the immigration official. A couple of hard questions later I was officially in Canada.

Got out of train station and then walked across to the Skyway which is an elevated subway system. No lifts or escalators so dragged up the suit case up the flight of stairs until he last 2-3 steps when some dude decides to help me. I thanked him and it's at this point he asked me for some change to help a homeless person. I reckon he waited for me to do all the hard work before deciding to help me. I gave him $1USD.

Caught the Skyway one stop and then got out and walked the short distance to the hotel. Thankfully when I checked in my room was available so headed straight up dropped off the bags and then headed out. The weather seemed to be getting better and better by the minute so wanted to take advantage of the improving conditions. The front desk gave me a map and some ideas of places to check out and those areas to avoid after dark.

The streets are modern and appeared to have more people on them than Seattle. Just appeared to have some more vibe than what Seattle had which is a good start. Lots of tall apartment buildings as well. Visually it is a very appealing city, again surrounlded by water. I headed to the northern part of the downtown area which had a large cruise ship moored. I looked out across a large bay to parts of Western and Northern Vancouver. Very $$ part of Vancouver.

Sea planes were coming and going constantly and this appeared to be servicing tourists and locals. I then walked down to an area called Coal Harbour. I guess the equivalent area in Sydney would be a combination of Pyrmont and Cockle Bay. I then walked back into the centre of town and went up to the top of a building that had a circlular observatory deck. Certainly some good views from there.

By this time the body was feeling a bit weary so headed back to the hotel for a nap. Crashed on the bed for an hour or two. Later on in the evening felt a bit peckish so visited the restaurant down stairs and grabbed a meal and a couple of vodkas to ensure a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

US Holiday - Day 25 - Seattle - Day 4

Day 25 - Monday 3rd October

Didn't have to worry about rising early today. Today is the tour of the Boeing Factory and only had to be ready by about 9.30am for the bus pick up. Well 9.30am came around and a small bus turned up with 3 other passengers from other hotels. We then picked up another 3 people and then headed out towards Everett. This is a different air field to the one I passed on the evening that I arrived in Seattle which had the two 787's parked on the tarmac.

As we drove out towards Everett the bus driver gave us some history of Boeing and the Seattle area. I didn't realise that Boeing actually manufactured engines (Pratt & Whitney) and also had their own airline (United) before a government anti-trust type of case caused their separation. Seattle is also very dependent on Boeing for employment some 75,000 in Washington state alone. So when Boeing sneezed, Seattle caught a cold. This has changed over recent years with Microsoft. He went through a lot more than what I've just rambled on about but I don't want to send you to sleep.

After we got to the Boeing plant, the largest building by volume in the world, we got off the bus and went to where the start of the tour at Boeing's museum of flight. As no video or photo cameras are allowed we had to check in phones and anything else we had on us to lockers and a short time after we were on a bus going over to the "big" building. We got off, walked down some stairs then along a large tunnel underneath the production line I would say for 200-300 metres. We then caught a large elevator up to a viewing platform and we had the chance to look out over a production line for 747 cargo plane. Even though it looked like nothing was happening you could hear riveting taking place, hammering etc. That view across was spectacular and as all guys are engineers (they are nodding as they read this), it is like the Mecca of Mecca. For you ladies, imagine it as a production line of your favourite shoes being hand crafted by the gentlemen of "The Thunder from Down Under". 

Once we finished there, it was down the elevator and back up to the car park where we got the bus to another section of the plant. This next section was for the 777 and 787. Again we went down underneath the building for a walk then up an elevator. The first line we visited was the 777. This production line was different. It actually moves at 4.6 cm per minute. This way they have been able to save on the amount of space it takes to build the 777. Again didn't look like anything was happening but here we had planes (or shoes) being built.

We then walked across to the other side of the viewing platform and we were able to watch the 787 being assembled. On the side of the planes they say which airline it's for and one of them was for Ethiopian Airlines. Gees, so that is where our aid is going to. The 787 is not that big really. To me it looked similar to that of a 737, but the big difference is the materials being used. Rather than using aluminium, a lot of composite material such as kevlar and other plastics. The lighter materials equating to light plane and better fuel efficiency. Some of the other nice features include better pressurisation of the cabin leading to reduced jetlag, larger windows and the ability for the plane to change lighting conditions depending on where you are going so that your body experiences day, evening, night, morning etc.

So we finished up there, back onto the elevator, the short walk back to the bus and the tour was over. We got dropped back at the gift store and only had a short time to look around the museum before boarding the bus for the return trip back into Seattle. This tour was certainly worth while and it comes highly recommended.

Got back into Seattle and was dropped off around the Pike Street Market. I grabbed some lunch on the way back to the hotel and chilled there for a while. Later on in the evening I decided to head out again to get some shots at night. A little bit of drizzle around but not requiring an umbrella. Reminded me of the UK.

For dinner, I dropped into a Thai restaurant and had some satay skewers and a ginger chicken dish. Very nice and very filling and a nice way to finish the evening. Got back to the hotel and  packed for the early morning departure to Vancouver. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

US Holiday - Day 24 - Seattle - Day 3

Day 24 - Sunday 2nd October

Yep the weather is better today which is a good thing. So first cab off the rank is the Underground Tour at 11am. I was up and out the door walking down towards Pioneer Square. As I walked down there was a number of people in NFL shirts. I was early for the tour so continued onto the area around the NFL stadium. People were already getting into the spirit of the game and making their way into the pubs surrounding the ground. The car park located next door was also starting to fill up and people were setting up for the tailgating. BBQ's and marquees were setup and music pumping. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. NFL is huge here.

So it was now about time to get back to the get my ticket for the Underground Tour. At about 10.50am they started filing everyone into an old bar from the late 1800's located next door to the ticket office. There were over 120 people on the tour which was an amazing number. We were given a history of Seattle and the Pioneer Square area and why the tour was created back in 1960's. I feel that the Rocks area in Sydney and Pioneer Square in Seattle still exist because of the same reason, people familiar with the area not wanting it to be dug up or redeveloped.

After the history lesson we were split into three groups and we led a short distance to where we went underground to street level back in the late 1800's. It is funny to see windows in a basement that would have been on the first floor many years ago. I won't go on any further about the reasons why, you will have to learn this for yourself when you visit Seattle. There were 2 other sections that we visited underground before being led into the gift shop. I didn't buy anything.

Next thing I wanted to cover off was the Seattle Space Needle. So walked back up the hill towards the start of the monorail built at the same time as the Space Needle in the early 1960's. Didn't have to wait long for the monorail and the journey time to the Space Needle was event shorter. Now don't think that the monorail in Seattle is the same as the one in Sydney. It isn't. The Seattle Monorail looks better and can fit more people on it. After getting off the monorail I bought a ticket for the Needle and in no time I was up the top on the observation deck. The views are good in all directions and put a perspective on the layout of Seattle, it's hills and water. After doing some circuits getting video and photos I made m way back down and caught the monorail back into town.

I walked through to Pike Street Market before heading down to the waters edge. I was going to finish off the day with a 1 hr cruise. That left at 4pm and did a lap of the waters on the western side of Seattle called Elliot Bay. We first headed north passing the area around the Space Needle, then some parks, a grain ship being loaded and then south and passed ice breakers, cargo ships, Coast Guard boats before returning to the pier. I then proceeded back to the hotel and had an early night.

Tomorrow, the Boeing Factory and the last full day in Seattle.

Monday, October 3, 2011

US Holiday - Day 23 - Seattle - Day 2

Day 23 - Saturday 1st October

Yeah it is not looking good weather wise. Very grey outside. Got ready and headed out. Didn't bother with the SLR or the video camera, instead just taking the small little point and shoot. I decide to first head down the hill towards Pioneer Square. This is an old historic part of Seattle built on mud flats that have been built up over the years. After walking through the streets admiring the architecture I noticed that I was very close to the NFL and baseball teams that are based in Seattle. And looking at a rather large poster on the side of the NFL stadium there appears to be a match there tomorrow. All around the stadiums were pubs and shops selling jerseys and memorabilia. NFL is huge here.

Across the way was a train station so headed over there as I think it is the station I will be leaving from for Vancouver in a couple of days. The station was small but at least I know exactly where it is now. I then headed back towards Pioneer Square and purchased a ticket for Sunday for the underground tour. I got this tip from mum and dad so thanks Pat and JB. Now at this point I was only 2 blocks away from the piers that line the shore on  the western edge of Seattle. So I headed in that direction and started ticking off the piers one by one. There were some there dedicated to passenger, others a combination of car ans passengers. At this point I grabbed some lunch, some crumbed salmon and chips. Not bad.

I continued the walk passing piers that contained the aquarium, restaurants etc. I then headed up a hill towards the Seattle Space Needle. I always had the impression that it was the size of AMP Tower in Sydney. It is certainly not the tallest building in Seattle but where it is located in a fairly residential area means that it does look quite tall. Didn't go up to the observation deck, instead looking to leave that for Sunday if the weather is clear.

Headed back to the hotel at this point and then did some digging into other things to do if the weather is average on the remaining two days. One thing that caught my eye was a tour of the Boeing factory. We passed the Boeing field on the way into Seattle and they had two of the new 787's parked out there. So I decided to book it for Monday. Unfortunately no cameras allowed but will be interesting to see what they are up to out there.

Had a mid arvo nap and then chilled for the rest of the day in the hotel room. John and Trish gave me a call to let me know that they are safe and well.

Let's hope the weather is better tomorrow.

US Holiday - Day 22 - San Francisco to Seattle

Day 22 - Friday 30th September

Didn't get up early. Only had to be ready and checked out of the hotel by 10am for the airport shuttle. Did that with little difficulty. Had to wait about 15 minutes for the shuttle bus to arrive. I was the last on the run and had to stand all the way to the airport. It was a short journey of approximately 10 minutes. My stop was the last in the run at the airport itself.

The check in for the flight was pretty quick. Security checks was a lot easier then that experienced on Dulles Airport at DC. Flight was delayed leaving by about 30 minutes. The flight itself was short compared to the others, only about 90 minutes. Picked up my bag and then headed for where the airport shuttle in Seattle. That too was all pretty simple and within 10 minutes I was in a shuttle bus heading towards the hotel.

Of the three groups of passengers, my hotel was the first stop. Checked in and headed up to the room. Thought at this stage I would take advantage of the daylight that was still available so headed out to take a few pics. Seattle, in a way, is a bit like San Francisco. The city certainly isn't flat and has some step streets. The area of Seattle that I am in has a lot of modern buildings. Found my way down to the Pike Place Market. This is where they throw the salmon and do a lot of shouting in front of the customers. The original Starbucks is located close by. Lots of people walking through the markets, not a lot buying however.

Walked through some of the surrounding streets and then headed back to the hotel for a bite to eat and sort out some washing for the final week.

Have checked the weather for the next couple of days and not looking too good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

US Holiday - Day 21 - Yosemite National Park - Day 3

Day 21 - Thursday 29th September

Argh this is a holiday but I still seem to be getting up at ridiculous hours and today was no exception. I wanted to catch the same bus to Yosemite as I did yesterday. So the bag was pretty much packed from the night before. It was just a matter of having a shower, getting dressed, checking out. Caught the bus with no troubles and enjoyed the journey into the national park. Now the weather wasn't as good as it was on the previous two days. There appeared to be some high level cloud and the sun couldn't quite break through. But that is OK, the previous two days have been fantastic weather wise and I shouldn't really complain.

After grabbing some food I then headed out away from Yosemite Lodge towards the Visitors Centre. Along the way I took some photos of deers grazing and of the Yosemite Falls. Amazingly the amount of water flowing over the falls had appeared to have dropped even in the couple of days that I was there. Got down to the area around the Visitor Centre and dropped into one of the stores that are based in the valley. Bought some postcards to send back to people back at work. Spent the time to fill them out and went back to the post office to send them on their way.

Then started the 3km walk towards Mirror Lake which has some great views of Half Dome. I was a little bit concerned that at the start of the walk there was a warning about mountain lions. They suggested that you shouldn't walk on the paths alone or in the morning. I was doing both. Now if we revisit the Principles of Darwinianism I didn't have a buffer person to take the fall. It was :
  • Mountain Lion - Me
But that is OK, I was feeling bold and they have some suggestions on how to defeat a mountain lion attack. But along the way the odds improved :
  • Mountain Lion - School Kids - Me
Got down to Mirror Lake and started taking pictures then started walking back to Curry Village where I grabbed a bit to eat. I decided to then take one of the shuttle buses further up the valley and then started walking back. I passed numerous bear traps parked on the side of the road, ready to be moved into position to relocate problem bears. The interesting thing about Yosemite NP is that there are around 2000 employees either working as rangers or employees servicing the hotels, camp grounds, cafes, post office, medical centre, fire station etc. It is one big business.

For the rest of the day I walked trails and took photos and video where ever I could. Certainly enjoyed my time here and rejoined the bus back to SF at 3.45pm. We were then on our way by 4pm and got back to SF by about 9pm. I then caught a cab out to my hotel which was based right near the airport. I thought it was going to be easier for the next part of the journey, in this case Seattle. No early flight, so will have a bit of a sleep in.