Monday, October 25, 2010

Give them the boot

Or these Manolos for $2495. But the nearby dominatrix Jimmy Choo buckled stilettos were, even for a mere $1000, very poorly finished, I thought. So I didn't get them.

Canada, eh

Up at 5.30am to start the long, LONG day travelling home. Lovely muted grey-green scenery from the train Seattle to Vancouver - quite a contrast from the orange-blue dazzle of the last two weeks.

And now we have half a drizzly day to kill, so where else to spend it other than the Pacific Centre on Granville, to wander and to wonder. For instance, who has $1650 to spend on Guiseppe Vanotti's fetish?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Half full

In Tacoma now, on the home straight, with more than 1200 miles behind us (and considerably more than that ahead). There's a storm on the way, rolling in from the sea - but not quite yet, although it's finally cloudy and damp the way it's meant to be here. So we weren't able to see Mt Rainier as we drove through White Pass, or the glaciers that this artwork by Dale Chihuly represents.

We did have a lovely lunch in Eatonville, at Jebino's which is unexpectedly themed on the Rat Pack - and done with great enthusiasm and conviction too, as with all the themed places we've come across in our circuit. Good for them, to have a passion, and to pursue it.

Tacoma's delights have been limited by time for us to just the Washington State History Museum (history lite, with lots of hands-on things, verbal testimonies and re-enactments, but no punches pulled about less savoury aspects, such as the treatment of Chinese labourers, the drowning of Celilo Falls and Hanford's contribution to the end of the war - the plutonium for the Nagasaki A-bomb was made there).

Over the lovely Glass Bridge, the Museum of Glass is full of wonderful things, marvels of inspiration and construction, the best of it an installation opened just today; a frozen forest of clear glass trees and bushes with an icy mirror-glass stream winding through it. Just beautiful, and especially amazing as it was made simultaneously in Sweden and Wisconsin, co-ordinated over the internet. I would have liked to take a photo, but the guard said no - shamelessly, hypocritically, because I'd caught him doing exactly that when he thought there was no-one looking.

So here's part of the Chihuly Glass Bridge, which would look fabulous in sunshine, or lit up at night.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Little Treasures

Yakima's not the prettiest town we've visited, or the liveliest, or the richest - but it does have some treasures. One of them is its museum, which is beautifully presented and has some wonderful oddities amongst its collection: sheep-powered butter churner, anyone? There's something for everyone, but we were treated to a special view of one of the storerooms where Mike the curator happily showed us a selection of small marvels, like a hard-tack biscuit from the Civil War, a basket so finely woven that it held water, and stunningly fine bead-work items.

Then it was down to the Museum Soda Fountain, a vision in chrome and red vinyl, for a banana split and a milkshake that was headache-inducingly hard to suck through the straw. Yeah, I know: it's a hard life, eh.

Nearby Toppenish has an interesting Indian culture museum with a depressingly familiar story beneath its tepee roof and some startlingly - even creepily - lifelike mannequins dressed as notable figures in the history of the confederated tribes. In the town itself, there are 73 large-scale murals, many of them painted in a single day by a team of artists, watched by the townspeople sitting on specially-erected bleachers. In other words, it's a town where people come to watch paint dry.
And the day finished with another of Yakima's treasures, the Capitol Theatre and its improv show, which has launched the careers of Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert, amongst others. It was such a funny and professional show tonight, there's little doubt that the magic is still at work there.

Not -

- the lite option I'd envisaged.

Why would you bother?

The Team

.... After

Thank goodness for spell-check.

Before...

At Tony's Steakhouse in Yakima, enjoying happy hour.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Herzlich Wilkommen!

Fabulous night - goosedown pillows and duvet on a thick soft mattress in a four-poster frame - and a fabulous morning, with mist in the valley shot through by the rising sun that, thanks to being in a valley, was rising at a civilised hour. We were staying at the Abendblume pension in Leavenworth, for which battery issues yesterday postponed the photos.
The town is an amazing, bizarre place to come across: enthusiastically and comprehensively themed Bavarian, to rejuvenate what was a dying town in the '60s - with huge success. The buildings look authentic, the shops sell pretzels, home-cured sausages and beer steins, and there are even assistants wearing dirndls. I could maybe have done without the yodelling musak in the streets, but mostly it was a lot of fun and strangely convincing, especially in its real Alpine setting.
And even Macca's is in on the game.
Then we headed away along the Yakima River Valley, stopping off at Canyon River Ranch for a quick fly-casting lesson which, thanks to Craig here, turned out to be much easier than it looked. Here's a man who's happy in his work, despite having taken a huge pay cut to minimum wage when he took on this job: "It's all about balance. Being on the river looking out for deer and bighorn sheep, watching osprey swooping down to snatch a salmon out of the water: how could it be better than that?" How, indeed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Arty

American Indians are more laid-back (ha ha) than Andean Indians, despite the lack of coca leaves. The proof? This mountain silhouette, which here in Leavenworth is known as Sleeping Woman - whereas on the Inca Trail, a very similar outline is called Dead Woman Pass.

We met so many nice people today: Nancy from the Leavenworth Visitor's Bureau; the girls of the Icicle Creek Piano Trio, who played beautifully in front of a huge window framing trees and mountains bathed in sunlight; Rich at Mountain Springs Lodge, who made us want to be here in winter so we could go for a sleigh ride in the snow; Mike at Smallwood's Harvest, a fruit barn with heaps of fun stuff for kids, who spoke highly of New Zealand's Gala apple and gave us a heaped box of all sorts of apples, pears, nectarines and plums; and another Mike, Nancy's partner, who was excellent dinner company and left inspired with the idea of Rotorua's Zorb.

And we saw another of Dale Chihuly's works, at Sleeping Lady Lodge: a stunning icicle creation that apparently looks even more fabulous in the snow.
Sleeping Lady had an art trail with lovely salmon, ravens, glass and stone creations, including this granite wolf. I don't need to see a real one of these.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dam!

We ran into a few hiccups today: we couldn't do our floatplane ride to Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan because they've closed down for the season. Shame, it would have been something to visit a place that you can't reach by road - and we would have enjoyed the flight along the 55 miles of the lake between spectacular cliffs. Ho hum. So then we beetled off to see the Grand Coulee Dam mainly because the name set off an ancient earworm Woody Guthrie song - and got there five minutes too late for the tour of the powerstation and a drive across the dam. Damn!
But the Visitor Centre was very interesting, if a bit sad about the salmon and the local Indian tribes - and kind of wry, the bit about how when they were building this massive thing (biggest concrete construction in the world! Biggest since the Pyramids! Weighs 22 million tonnes!) there were serious doubts that so much electricity would ever be needed. And the drive back along Lake Burns and across what I want to call prairie land was just lovely on a bright autumn day with the sun dropping into the golden zone.
And today's animal? Artistically rusty mountain goats. I like them - but I'm hanging out for a coyote now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Lion Red? No, just a lion.

Continuing the wildlife theme, we came across this unexpected display in Hank's supermarket in the little blip of Twisp. Gives popping in to buy a beer a whole new interpretation. There were two aisles with mounted heads of deer and goats, and complete stuffed animals including a bear and a lion (African not mountain) on top of the chiller cabinets. Plus, in the entrance there was a wall of photos of people with prize-winning cattle, pigs, sheep etc at the local show, many of them proudly smiling kids draped around the animal's neck, with Hank's Mart written in as the buyer - so presumably these fine specimens ended up inside the chillers. Chilling.

But there was no wildlife at all on my horseback amble with Brendan through the muted scenery this afternoon, apart from one panicked chipmunk. It was rather bizarre as we clopped through an aspen grove alongside Beaver Pond and Brendan talked about his ambition to qualify as an astro-physicist and put men on asteroid Apophis when it comes around again in 2029. And him in his cowboy boots and Stetson, spurs a-jinglin'.
I had, of course, to sign a waiver before I was allowed to mount my horse, and I was impressed by its comprehensiveness, particularly Paragraph 7: "Propensity for an equine (horse) to run, buck, bite, kick, shy, stumble, rear, trample, scratch, peck, fall, make unpredictable movements, spook, down, jump, butt, step on a person's feet, push or shove without warning or apparent cause." Who wrote that? Roget?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Welcome to the Wild East

After a tussle with Hillary (GPS) over getting out of Bellingham this morning, we finally made it onto the North Cascades Highway and over the divide away from the moist green North-West into the rain-shadow dry gold North-West - which looks remarkably like Otago, as it happens, although with rather pointier mountains.

And more cowboys, especially in the town of Winthrop, which reinvented itself once the highway reached it in 1972 as a Wild West outpost (I seem to remember that in '72 even in New Zealand westerns had given up the fight with outer space - but never mind). So all the buildings have weathered wooden facades, there are hitching posts and cigar-store Indians, and Sheri's Sweet Shop (NEVER give in to more than one panda paw, take it from me) has Western saddles on wooden horses to park your behind on while you scoff enough sugar to induce palpitations.

Plus there are deer all over the place: pretty mule deer with big eyes and big ears, all the better to swivel at you photogenically while they imperturbably crop the grass right outside peoples' houses, and in amongst the cabins here at Sun Mountain Lodge up on top of a hill with 360 degree views of mountains and valleys and lots and lots of sky. Which was blue again, today. Amazing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Land of the Pumpkin-Eaters

You know that bit in Tennyson's poem The Lotos Eaters where it says, 'They came to a land in which it seemed always afternoon'? Well, America's like that for me, except that instead of afternoon, it's autumn. Fall. Our last three trips here have been in October, and before that in December-January, so the summer incarnation is totally unfamiliar to me, and autumn is the default season.

It's good, I like it. I like the colours of the trees, the low sun, the rich light; the pumpkins and Halloween decorations; the crisp evenings and the delight in a precious day of sunshine. Crunching through the leaves with the air clear and chill is as good a way to spend an afternoon as any, I reckon.

Today we took the ferry back to Anacortes, with a stop at Lopez Island, and Mt Baker dominated the scene, big and white and the focal point of every photo. We drove along the coast up to Bellingham where we joined dread-locked beanie-wearers at the Farmers Market in eating local food ('22 miles!') and listening to Irish music on an electric fiddle. Quinoa and smoked salmon cakes: yum.

Then we went to the American Museum of Radio and Electricity which was much more interesting than it sounds - literally hair-raising, in fact. The curator was really wired-up (ha) and enthusiastic, and excited about all the priceless exhibits which he showed us with the eagerness of a small boy, words tripping over each other, zig-zagging us through the displays as another favourite occurred to him.

I played a theremin extremely badly - look, Mum, no hands! - and was pleased to hear it was used in 'Good Vibrations'. That's a song my music teacher scoffed at back in 1968 and dismissed as something we'd have forgotten about before a year was out. You reading this, Mrs Lloyd?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

0 - 1 - 2 - 3

Another beautiful day! And time for breakfast too, at The Bean. Gotta be good. So it was off back to Lime Kiln Point to look for orcas again - or the humpbacks that are in the area too, they would do at a pinch - but there was nothing but sunshine and scenery, tch.
But then there was this fox, poking around in the grass quite unconcerned by us in the car just the other side of the fence. Beautiful animal - I've never seen a black one before. Very classy. We went on to Roche Harbour where the carillon in the pretty little church rang at midday, and then segued into playing 'Hello Dolly', which I thought was rather twee. Nice place though, lots of money here, in the big houses and big boats, but room for us ordinary folks too.
Next there were these deer, again pretty unbothered by us stopping the car and getting out to stalk them. This was back down the other end of the island where there were even more lovely houses and shiny boats.
And finally, back in Friday Harbor, chilling out at the marina after a day that did include some effort climbing up Young Hill above English Camp (not to be confused with American Camp, on the other side in the Pig War that gave a lot of soldiers pretty much nothing to do - certainly not any fighting), I came across these otters right there on the pontoon.

So, no orcas - but then, I could see them back in Auckland Harbour, if I'm lucky. Not so a fox or otters, or wild deer. Excellent day!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Working hard, here

It's not all beer and skittles being a travel writer, you know. Yesterday we had such a full programme that we had to get up too early to have breakfast at the hotel, and were so busy that not only did we not find time to have it later, we didn't manage to fit in lunch either. So it was a good thing that we had a complimentary meal at the Tulalip Casino and Resort, where our waitress looked after us so well, and was so friendly, that we didn't mind she had no idea where New Zealand was (on the other hand, she wasn't clear about Australia either, so that was sort of pleasing).

Being a frugal sort, all those pokies and craps and card tables we had to walk past to get to the restaurant were no temptation at all, though I did for form's sake throw away $1 on the Lucky Meerkat machine. Don't ask me how it worked, I just pressed buttons till all the money was gone and I could get up and go away again. I got a lot more satisfaction from the Bill Exchange machine, where if you put in a $100 note and pushed a button, it would set off a lot of thrilling whirring inside, after which it spat out five $20 bills. All the fun and none of the loss!

Today it was another early, empty-stomach start to drive up to Anacortes to catch the ferry to San Juan Island. Glossy pewter sea, blue mountains, green islands, and every so often a seal carving a V through the water. (We also mysteriously lost an hour: neither of us can explain how. Island time, I suppose.) Then Friday Harbor, a lovely apartment looking over the Sound, and a leisurely drive around the island hoping to spot some of the resident orcas, but missing out, so far.

This is a relaxed place, all about taking it easy, so that's what we're going to do for the next day. Ok, so there are a few skittles now and then.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alegria!

I could write about the beautiful day that started with fog over Puget Sound, continued with a cloudless blue sky and ended with a sepia silhouette sunset. Or the astonishing scale of the Boeing assembly plant at Everett. Or the fascinating story of the Russian Night Witches who flew biplanes at night and terrified the Germans in WW2, that we heard about at the Flying Heritage Collection. Or the corn maze and pumpkins at Swan Trail. Or the glitz of the Tulalip Resort and Casino and the glory of its fabulous creation by glass artist Dale Chihuly (just the $300,000-worth). I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work at Tacoma. 

But today's post has to salute the courage and endurance of the miners in Chile and the dedication and skill of their rescuers. What a brilliant result. Christmas come early, truly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunburnt in Seattle

Who'd've thought it? It's been so warm and sunny all day, and I've been outside for all of it, that now I have pink cheeks. Plus tired legs and a sore behind from biking 8 miles, and aching arms from kayaking all around Union Lake.

So, glowing cheeks, a glow of satisfaction from a good day's exercise - and the other sort of glow too, after all that unaccustomed exertion, so I'm hitting the shower.


Then back out again - for dinner and a second trip up the Space Needle for the night view. Busy day. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More sapphire than emerald

Howzis? Beautiful clear sunny day, warm, calm: fabulous weather, Seattle!

So, Pike Place Market for flying fish and giant shoes; up two towers (no steps); Gizmo the giant octopus being fed; Klondike Gold at the museum; and all sorts of street entertainment from buskers up to and including a pianist. Now there's dedication (his). Oh, and the Underground Tour with Richard - "You came here all the way from New Zealand - to go Downunder?"

And now I'm in the very first Starbucks, dutiful tourist that I am, with a pumpkin spice venti. Have I done all right for the first day?

Tomorrow it's biking and kayaking, so fingers crossed for more sunshine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

There to here in 26 hours

Well, that was a long way to come - but I'm sure it's going to be worth it. The 8pm Air NZ flight from Auckland was very civilised, and Premium Economy, though nowhere as sybaritic as the irritatingly empty Business Class, was much roomier than Economy and is clearly the way of the future when I'm having to *choke* pay my own way.

Vancouver was sunny and warm, and so clean and green and blue and lovely that I felt a little guilty about NZ having snaffled the '100% Pure' slogan, which would apply just as accurately there.

We only had a few hours in Vancouver before fronting up for the interrogation of the immigration man at Pacific Central railway station. That was a sweaty business because I had assumed that my visa from the Disneyland famil a couple of years ago, which is still valid, would do. Big mistake - especially as it had the dread words 'The Press' on it. Humble travel writer mistaken for investigative journo, refused entry to Land of the Free, left to wander the streets of Vancouver, homeless, while husband disports self alone in series of luxurious hotels - I could see it all. But then the grim official made me fill in a form of another colour, and all was well again.

And now, after a mostly dark but otherwise pleasant Amtrak experience, here we are in Seattle. And guess what? It's raining!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The answer to life, the universe and everything - in binary*

How cool is this? What a shame the Lotto ticket I bought this morning isn't for $10 million. I'll just have to take the extra $17m and suck it up, sigh.

*42

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Have duster, will travel

Going away on a trip would be so much pleasanter if all I felt the need to do was to throw some clothes into a suitcase - especially when, as for this outing, we're going from spring to autumn so there's no daunting leap of imagination required climate-wise, Auckland and Seattle being pretty much on a par right now. No, what makes it all infinitely more stressful is the unreasoning urge I have to a) settle my affairs and b) leave the house clean and tidy.

The filing, the paying of bills, and laborious translation of overdue greetings letters to the Guatemalan foster child? Well, even though I crept into journalism through the back door, I can recognise the Damoclean dangle of a deadline as well as the most grizzled old hack - and that's a good thing.
 
But b)? It's so illogical: if I have co-existed quite happily for the best part of a year with a windowsill in the laundry that's furry with dryer lint and mysteriously translocated washing powder, why is it suddenly urgent that I set to it with cloths and spray? Why hang the picture that's been leaning against the wall for months? Why mop the bathroom ceiling?

Catching up with the washing and ironing, yes: there'll be enough to do when I come back without that pile on the bedroom chair as well. And changing all the sheets: staying in lovely hotels, I'll be spoiled with fresh linen every day and won't want to come home to my normal foetid pit. But all that dusting and tidying and vacuuming of cobwebs from the downlights? It's a lot bother to go to, just so as not to offend the burglar.

(Note to whom: there will be someone at home while we're gone, whose specialty as it happens is leaving rooms looking professionally ransacked, so there's really no need to call in, thanks.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Greener grass in the Emerald City

Two of the hens made a break for it today - three times, laughing in the face of my feeble barriers. Never underestimate the determination of a Brown Shaver. They're so keen to get to the grass on the garden side of the fence, having seen off every blade in their run, that they will launch themselves, madly flapping, at the most unlikely gaps, and through sheer brute force will blunder through. So it's the scissors for them tomorrow morning: flight feathers cut short on one wing so they're unbalanced. Tch. I wouldn't mind so much, but I've just sprayed all the weeds in the garden, and that's a condiment they can do without.

We're lighting out for the Territory ourselves on Sunday: to Seattle, with a side-order of Washington state. It's going to be a busy trip, the itinerary sorted by helpful Tammy at the Washington State Tourism Office; but it will be fun and I'll enjoy seeing a new bit of America - and an especially scenic one at that.

On my walk this morning, though, I passed a bright green bird hanging off a stalk of purple flowers, sipping the nectar, and never broke my stride. I glanced at tuis rustling overhead with a flash of blue-black feathers, and looked away again. There was a great fat wood pigeon parked in a tree, its enormous breast a beautifully subtle teal colour; the yellow boat moored off Herald Island was bright in the sun; the new leaves were fresh green against the sky; and the irises are out in my garden at the same time as the wisteria with its heady perfume. It's a lovely time of year in a beautiful country that I take for granted and rarely think to photograph on an ordinary day. More fool me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday afternoon post

Ssssh. Even Google doesn't know about this: that there's a pharmacy in Manukau Road with a ripped-off Norman Rockwell mural on the side of it. Oh! Me and my big mouth!

As is evident from the picturesquely - and fortuitously selective - peeling paint, it's been there for years and years, through several changes of ownership though it's always been a chemist's as far as I know (I'm not an Aucklander). So seemingly they've got away with this infringement of copyright; because I'd bet my bottom dollar the original bright spark who thought, rightly, how appropriate this painting would be for his business, never approached Norman himself to ask permission (or his estate - he died in 1978).

I only ever see it on the way to the airport, so I associate it with exciting things - but a couple of years ago it was a teaser for what was to come, because on our Massachusetts trip we went to the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. It's a beautiful old heritage building set in parklike grounds where Norman's studio has been moved as well; it all looked fabulous in October with the fall foliage bright in the sunshine.

I know very little about art, but I know not to be a snob, so I thoroughly enjoyed cruising round the galleries studying some of the 570 paintings and drawings on display there, as well as the full set of 323 Saturday Evening Post covers down in the basement. My parents sometimes bought that magazine and I remember studying the covers with the sort of avid interest that only a bored child living in the pre-TV era could summon up; so some of them felt like old friends.

Sure they're sentimental and idealised, but also sweet and sincere and loving; and no-one could fault his skill with the brush. My current favourite, though I have many, is Breaking Home Ties, of the rough old farmer waiting with his scrubbed and eager son for the train that's to take him away to college. SO sappy, but beautifully done, with lovely detail.

And an amazing back-story too: the original was bought in 1960 for $900 by a cartoonist, who copied it before secretly hiding it away in case his ex-wife got her mitts on it. When he died, his sons discovered it behind a false wall in his house and Sotheby's sold it in 2006 for $15.4 million. The museum sold me this one for $2.50. Ssssh. Don't tell Google it's here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Help! Police!

The President of Ecuador got a bit of rough treatment the other day from his own police force, who were angry about losing their bonuses (not this sort of bonus, obviously). There was pushing and shoving, actual blows and tear gas, and that's not to mention the three people shot dead during the subsequent rioting in Quito and Guayaquil.

Guayaquil I could understand: it's a big port and has a reputation for being dangerous, but the Quito I saw was pretty civilised. I did jump when this man rushed out of a bank waving his gun
but it turned out he was just a courier guard with a flair for drama. The matronly lady who was accompanying us, Silvia, was very unimpressed: "Don't point that thing at me," she said, shoving past him and leaving him looking a bit chastened.

Who do you call when the police are the baddies? The army - and they weren't far away either when we were there, practising some sort of ceremony in the square outside our elegant old hotel, just across the road from the Presidential Palace where Correo delivered a defiant speech after he escaped from the police. It's to be hoped that the soldiers had something more threatening to use than these dummy-looking blades on the ends of bamboo canes.
I'm not too sure about this guy's sword, either - I wouldn't be surprised if it had been bought at the pinata shop round the corner where the bored-looking clown in the orange fright wig was hanging out all day. But that's a very genuine frowny face he's got.

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