Sunday, 21 December 2014

Trains, planes, automobiles and a ferry too

California has been suffering drought conditions all year… and then we showed up. In the last ten days a third of its annual rainfall fell from the skies and each evening we have been tuned into the Weather Channel on TV  in our motel room in an attempt to dodge the downpours. And by and large we have been successful.
Locals we have encountered, as we have have made our way north from Los Angeles to Vancouver have inevitably commented “You guys must right at home with this weather”. It’s certainly been colder than home, that’s for sure.
Our first day driving north from LA up the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay was amazingly dry though, but pretty overcast, but by day two, after a night at Morro Bay, a rock slip closed Highway One, a few miles short of Big Sur, and we had to make a 50 mile detour to get round it.

We check out Muscle Beach, below the pier at Santa Monica

In Morro Bay with Morro Rock in background

Morro Bay with our Chevvy Equinoz SUV
We rolled along in a big Chevvy Equinox SUV; a bit of a gas guzzler compared to what we are used to at home, but very comfortable and it stuck to the wet road like glue, which was just as well, with the dozens and dozens of hairpin bends we had to negotiate, often with a big drop down a sheer cliff and not much of a barrier between you and the roaring Pacific.
We got to Santa Cruz on my birthday. I know Santa Cruz as the Ukulele capital of the US, though we saw no evidence of that as we roamed around, just an awful lot of elderly men and women looking for hand-outs in around its famous boardwalk.
The following day we arrived in the Bay area of Oakland for the weekend. We have been to its more famous neighbour San Francisco, across the water, so were delighted when a family friend in the city of Oakland invited us to stay. Carolyn turned out to be a great tour guide and pulled out all the stops to show us the area, despite student riots upsetting her schedule.
Her pal Kate popped over bearing a variety of acoustic instruments, which included a uke. Being a Beatles fan we found a number of tune to play together and it was great to get my hand around a guitar again – it’s been a while – especially her very rare 1938 Martin which sounds fabulous and is in great condition. She thinks it is worth several thousand dollars! We had a great weekend with Carolyn, went to a concert in somebodies house, which was unique and very intimate, visited Berkeley and the old state capital Benicia and even found time for Sunday lunch in a traditional American diner.

Lunch in diner in Oakland. Not too sure about having fruit on the plate, but this is California

Kate on her 1938 Martin and me go through some old Beatles tunes.

We swapped the very “hairy” Highway One for Highway 101 on leaving Oakland, after a quick stop in Sonoma in the driving rain. 101 swoops between hugging the coast and cutting though the forests of giant redwoods which line the road and are a feature of the coastline. It certainly is a spectacular route, rain or sun. We drove some of this road back in 2003 but I couldn’t remember much of the detail. However, we did stay one night in the same motel that we did 11 years ago, for it was difficult to forget it. The Curly Redwood Lodge in Crescent City is constructed from a single giant redwood, so was a refreshing change from the Motel 6’s and Days Inns we were inhabiting most evenings.

Cruising through the forests of Giant Redwoods
By the time we crossed into Oregon and got to Florence, the weather was really starting to be a concern, so we ditched our coastal road and heading inland to pick up Interstate 5.
Now we were really moving and soon got to Portland and into Wahington State. We overnighted in its neighbouring city of Vancover, Washington. The city father’s there crow in their tourist literature that their Vancouver was founded 30 years prior to its Canandian upstart 150 miles to the north over the border. It was a pleasant stay and we could escape the rain in the giant Mall, beside the hotel.
An early morning journey on the Amtrak Cascades service from Seattle to Vancouver

And to finish our US leg we spent much of last Friday in Seattle, a city we have visited several times. Amazingly (for Seattle) it didn’t rain until we left the following morning. I like Seattle, though not driving around it. Pat is not quite as much a fan as I am. It’s the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Kurt Cabain and Starbucks though it’s main tourist claim to fame is Pike Street Market where they have turned selling fish into a comedy routine that involves a lot of throwing salmon, crabs, and other creatures of the sea huge distances between the traders to great cheers from the assembled crowd. Our overnight accommodation was in Chinatown and we had a crazy meal, ordering stuff we were not at all sure about, though we gave the “Bulls Balls” and “Pork Bladders” a miss. We worked those out. Everything we had ordered arrived in one huge bowl. Very tasty is was.

Part of the entertainment at Pike Street Market in Seattle
A three-hour train journey on the Amtrak Cascades line, brought us very comfortably, but very slowly into Vancouver Saturday lunchtime. Our internet research into how to get from the station to the ferry terminal north of the city, helped us considerably and despite driving rain, it was a smooth crossing across to Vancouver Island.
So now we are in Parksville, which is a few miles north of Nanaimo, on the islands west coast, where we are staying for Christmas and New Year with Pat’s sister Monica, Garry and all their family, who we will see over the next few days. Parksville is a coastal resort and I am looking forward to seeing it, if it ever stops raining.
Finally, I spent much of last night playing with my new uke, which I had built in the US and shipped here. I have been hoping that I would not be disappointed with it. I had high expectations… I was not disappointed.

Toodaloo chums 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Winter drawers on!

Blimey! It’s getting a bit cold now. December has arrived and with it has been some pretty cold night. But we have been nicely tucked up, snug as a bug, in our little steel tube, though our solid-fuel fire has been on permanently of late.

A cold morning at Mercia Marina. Spot TCW. We are right in the centre of the picture. Our more affluent neighbours, in their wide beams are to our right

Many of the residential boats in the marina have festooned their roofs with Christmas lights and our next door neighbour has a full-size reindeer and sleigh on his roof, along with a Christmas tree and presents. He finally switched them on today. The marina has a competition each year for the best decorated boat, and I think John, next door, is definitely in with a shout.

Our next door neighbours Christmas lights

On reflection, we haven’t been on the boat much over the last week or so. We hired a car from our friends at Enterprise last Friday and whizzed down to see our pals Dave and Caroline in Gloucester (great meal Caroline) and all their dogs. Pat really likes Gloucester and we were able to stroll around the quay again.  We spent almost a week there last summer, waiting for the Severn to subside . Then on Sunday morning we drove to Leicester to see some boating pals, Dave and Angie, who we met and cruised with on the Leeds and Liverpool this summer. They are in the process of building new houses for themselves and their daughter on a plot of land in their village. It’s an exciting project, that has not been easy to pull off. And while I recall our time in Liverpool, our mate Fred on “Chyandour” found this professional photo, taken while we were in Salthouse Docks in July. I think I am going to get a copy made by the photographer, who seems to specialise in Liverpool city scenes.  Here it is. Thanks Fred.

Anna-Jane Nielsson's shot of TCW at rest in the centre of Liverpool

Pat and Toby (star of next year's national Jack Russell calendar) get better acquainted, down in Gloucester

It’s a real novelty for us going anywhere by car, let alone having one at our beck and call, but last night I resisted the temptation of driving into Derby to the great ukulele club there, and caught the bus, despite lots of hanging around. The chap I sat next to was very useful and nimble up and down the fretboard and sang well. It transpired he used to play guitar in “Wishbone Ash”, a respected Seventies rock band, who, if my memory serves me well, had two lead guitarists. His daughter is also a member.

We both remain fairly healthy, though I always seem to have some sort of niggle. My gout came back late last week, though not nearly as bad as the last time. Pat is convinced it is self-inflicted, due to too many pints of beer, and she may be right, though the medical jury is still out on what it is caused by. Dave, in Gloucester, gets it regularly, and had some “super-douper” anti-inflamitory’s handy, which seemed to do the trick and it seems OK now.

Our pontoon pals from Jay and Ibis at The Green Man, Willington
And for a last hurrah, our pals on the pontoon went out on Tuesday evening into Willington for “Pie Night” at The Green Man. This was a bit of a mis-nomer, for the pub had just one pie on the menu, but it was very good, I must say. We aim to return to Mercia next year, which, at the moment, might be early September so we can immerse ourselves in the social scene more. And after a visit to our builders at Kingfisher Narrowboats on Tuesday, we have decided, all being well, to take the boat out of the water and into their dry dock next autumn to have it “two-packed” again. This will protect the boat, below the water line, for another three years, or possibly more. It also gives us the chance to touch up the paintwork and possibly replace our batteries, but that’s a long way off.

The boat is currently full of bags, boxes and cases. We have one case of winter clothes, for whatever, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia can throw at us and one of summer clothes, for Southern California, and New Zealand.

We leave the marina tomorrow and travel back down to Welwyn Garden City for dentists (fear a filling is due) and the doctors to get a bumper load of prescriptions, then it’s out for a major Chinese feast with our my male mates, most of whom I have known for 40 years, while Pat is joining a smaller ladies group at an Italian restaurant, both in Potters Bar.

We then have the weekend and next Monday and Tuesday to visit lots of family and friends before flying out to LA on Wednesday. I suspect the next blog will be before Christmas from Vancouver Island. We’ll wish you a Merry Christmas then.