Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sky High Sunset and Sunrise

Yesterday we flew BHM-DEN-SEA. We left Birmingham around 3:00 p.m. and flew out of Denver around 6:00 p.m. local time, just in time to view the final few moments of a sunset from 36000 feet. We happened to be sitting on the left side of the plane, giving us a good view as we flew in a northwest direction.

This morning we were up bright and early (early at least) and flew SEA-SFO-JFK. The Seattle to San Francisco leg included a scenic sunrise. Again, we happened to be sitting on the left side and flying south, giving us a good view.

Our SFO-JFK leg was on United's Premium Service. We were fortunate that our upgrades cleared and we sat in Business Class, enjoying great service and a tasty meal. Tonight we're snug in a Hilton Garden Inn not far from JFK and we may wander into New York City tomorrow before taking off for ORD (Chicago) Monday morning to start our FlyerTalk MegaDo.

Grandchildren Are Special

Earlier this week we flew to Birmingham to visit Riley and her parents. Riley's going to take on the responsibility of being a big sister in a few weeks, and we're sure she's ready for that.

We enjoyed watching her get into the swing of things in her Kindermusik class. In fact, Grappa and Grappa (our current collective name) took her to Kindermusik all by ourselves and enjoyed singing along.

Mommy Kim and we all watched her listen to a story at the library activity hour before coloring her own mask.

We know she's precocious - after all, she's had her own blog since she was a newborn. We're looking forward to visiting her again in just a few weeks, and singing songs together on Skype in the meantime.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tilting at Alamo Rent a Car Windmills

We arrived in Birmingham a couple of days ago to visit granddaughter Riley and her parents. While having a fine time we also took a run at Alamo Rent A Car (the tilting at windmills reference) for what seems to be a strange business practice.

What it boils down to is that we found a great deal on a four-day rental for a full size car. Ordinarily, a full size car is loaded with features such as power seats or a sunroof. What we ended up with instead is a standard car. Our Hyundai Sonata isn't a bad little car, although it was obviously designed for a remote entry that it doesn't have. The only way to unlock the doors or the trunk is to first unlock the driver's door, and then push the buttons around the arm rest, a real nuisance.

Back in olden times, when cars didn't have remote entry units, there were locks on the driver's and passenger's side, and a lock on the trunk as well.

The Alamo people tell us that full size and standard are actually "the same," and offered explanations of mergers with National and changing categories to explain all this. Why, then, are they treated as separate categories on the Alamo site, and why do they charge more for the full size?

Good questions, we thought, and a post to our invaluable Flyer Talk elicited a prompt suggestion to ask it of the Alabama Attorney General's consumer affairs department, which we've now done as a public service.

Gosh but it's nice to have the time in retirement to attend to some of the minor injustices of life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Star Alliance Mega DO

What the heck is that? In a nutshell, some keen volunteer members of our very favorite travel website, FlyerTalk, in co-operation with Randy Petersen, the FT founder and frequent flyer guru, have set up a trip of a lifetime for serious travel geeks like us. A DO, by the way, is what FlyerTalkers call a gathering or get-together, a usage borrowed from British / Canadian English.

The Star Alliance Mega DO is a whirlwind tour that starts in Chicago and ends in Frankfurt. We'll be hosted by various airlines in the Star Alliance along the way, United, Continental (just joining the Star Alliance), Lufthansa, and SAS. In Frankfurt we'll board a charter flight which travels takes us first to OSL (Oslo Norway)and then to TLS (Toulouse France) before returning to FRA (Frankfurt). A highlight will be a tour of the Airbus factory in Toulouse France.

It's turned into quite a big deal, and there are rumors of some major media coverage. We know for sure that it represents an amazing feat of organization, largely by volunteers.

Here's an overview of the trip. We're already trying to get lots of sleep in advance of this schedule:

November 3rd

730AM United Airlines welcomes us to their home at Chicago O'Hare International Airport
1055AM Flight UA678 takes us to EWR
3PM Continental airlines welcomes us for a pre-flight tour at EWR. Space will be limited to participants that are on the official party flight, LH405. CO Insider will join the entire DO and I'm working with him to make an event to welcome Star Alliance new Star, Continental.
6:30PM Busses courtesy of Star Alliance will transport us to JFK
8:00PM Arrival at JFK. We take over the brand new LH lounges at JFK
9:45PM The official party flight, LH405 departs JFK with the two front sections of business class and half of coach filled with Flyertalkers!

November 4th

Program TBD, among things planned are: Watch the FT moderators go through Flight Attendant training, check out Lufthansas flight training facilities. Dinner with Jaan Albrecht, CEO of Star Alliance will start at 2000. (dinner is included in the charter price)

November 5th

0615 Pick up from the Sheraton
0730 FRA-OSL flight
0800 Participants starting at OSL gets welcomed by SAS
0930 The charter arrives OSL, parking at the SAS hangar
Program continues
1130 Main DO flight OSL-TLS
1430 Arrive TLS
The exclusive inside tour of the Airbus factory
1930 The charter flies TLS-FRA
2100 Arrive FRA
Official DO reception at LHs First Class facilities.

Friday November 6th

A day at LHs main base. Pick up at the Sheraton at 9AM
Overnight at LH Seeheim Conference Training & Conference Center.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Home Sweet Sehome

Just to remind ourselves as our pleasant spell of non-stop sunshine transmogrifies into the more typical later Fall clouds and rain, we do live in a lovely part of the world...

We're Village People, or Birch Bay Village people to be more precise. The Village, located on the North Side of Birch Bay Washington, was originally developed by Canadians in the late 1960s. It contains 1132 lots, of which more than 950 have been built upon. Here's a view of the Village from a nearby hilltop.

And now to slip past security into the Village itself...

The name of the road we live on, Sehome, is a Bellingham-area name supposedly derived from the the Nooksack S-yah-whom, apparently the name of an early Indian in the area. Its local pronunciation is "Sea-Home" - too bad we just can't spell it that way.

Our house from the front...

and the back, as seen across the man-made Thunderbird Lake...

Another view of Thunderbird Lake...

We never get bored with the view of Mount Baker, here looking across this side of Birch Bay from Sand Dollar Park, a couple of blocks from us...

We plan to return to peek at these as late-Fall and Winter weather inevitably arrives.

If They Live Down Under, Do We Live Up Over?

That and many other profound questions were discussed as we entertained our Aussie friends, Bill and Sue, during a week of typically glorious early-October weather (hmmm...). Their presence truly allowed us to look at our part of the world as tourists, something that everybody should try. We often don't fully appreciate what we have in our own back yard, whether it's the Harrison Hot Springs lakefront,,,

or, even closer, lunch at the Semiahmoo Resort as a pleasant reward for walking along the Semiahmoo spit...

Let's not forget our visits to two wineries in our neighborhood, Glacial Lake Missoula and Dakota Creek, not a bad way to spend part of an afternoon

Thanks for visiting us, Bill and Sue. Next time in Oz!

Visiting McCulloch's Wonder

The Kettle Valley Railway was an amazing feat of construction, built at great expense between 1910 and 1916 to provide an "all-Canadian" railway route through Southern British Columbia. Its Ontario-born Chief Engineer was Andrew McCulloch, and the railway became known as McCulloch's Wonder.

Alas, despite McCulloch's supreme accomplishment of railway engineering, maintaining the Hope-Midway route became too costly, given the snow that either closed or washed out the line on a regular basis. It was finally abandoned by the CPR in 1961.

The Othello Tunnels were an amazing feat of design, and McCulloch is supposed to have spent significant surveying time while suspended from the walls in a basket. The tunnels shortened the route and the grade. Even our photos below reveal their precise alignment.

The original First Blood, Rambo's first appearance on the silver screen, was filmed largely around Hope in 1981, and anybody who watches Sly Stallone (or his stunt double) taking that long dive to escape the long arm of the law, or hiding under water as the National Guard searches for him, will almost surely recognize the Coquihalla Canyon.

Kathy and Brian used to hike up the trail in the 1970s with our three young children. We were happy it eventually became a Provincial Park. Interesting details about that aspect can be found in a recent article in the Hope Standard.

Spawning Salmon at Sucker's Creek

Our Australian guests happened to be visiting us in early October, the time of year that the salmon make their amazing trek from the ocean back up the rivers to lay their eggs and die. As former longtime Hope B.C. residents, we knew Sucker's Creek well. When other organizations became involved in rehabilitating and upgrading the site (and it's a fine accomplishment!) the old name was deemed unsuitable, and it became officially known as "Kawkawa Creek," as posted on the elaborate sign in the new parking lot.

The District of Hope Council staked out their position on this back in 2002, as their Minutes show. "Furthermore, the area has always been known as Sucker’s Creek. When repairs are undertaken the Kawkawa Creek sign should be replaced with the name Sucker’s Creek." Yes, to the locals it will always and forever be Sucker's Creek, as the signs closest to the creek indicate. That'll show 'em!

You can play "spot the salmon" by clicking on the picture and looking in the lower right hand corner...

A brief video is below. Kathy worked the camera while Brian can be heard making helpful suggestions in the background: "Go, go, go! Get him? Oh, it's a rock. There's a fish. Did you get him?" etc.

Information about the life cycle of the Pacific salmon is readily available. It's a truly amazing facet of our natural world.

The Hope Slide

As part of our whirlwind two-day mini-tour of British Columbia's Lower Mainland, we drive a few miles up the Hope-Princeton (Crowsnest) Highway #3. A few miles East of Hope, British Columbia, nestled at one end of the Fraser Valley at the mouth of the Fraser Canyon and the Cascade mountains, we show our Australian visitors an impressive and still somber sight.

The Hope Slide is the largest such slide ever to have occurred in Western Canada. This aerial photo, obviously taken not too long after the slide, reveals the devastation it caused.

We also found a nifty video of a motorcyclist riding from Princeton to Hope in July 2009 while testing a Sony video camera. It really captures the drive quite nicely, and there's a good view of the Hope Slide at the end of the three-minute video. It can be found here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tourists in our own neighborhood

Why did we spend yesterday enjoying ourselves on a quick sightseeing tour of Vancouver? We were showing off the area to Bill and Sue, our Australian guests.

During a stay in Vancouver several years ago, they'd ridden the Grouse Mountain Skyride and also spent some time in Gastown, allowing us to remove those from our mini-list of must-see sights.

We crossed the border at the Pacific Highway "truck crossing," and after a very few minutes for Bill and Sue with paperwork inside we headed for downtown Vancouver and Chinatown. On a sunny day it's fun to wander around a Chinatown as large as Vancouver's and check out the food displays in particular. We eventually found a restaurant serving dim sum. It was adequate, not worth a writeup but not terrible, and reasonably priced.

After lunch we drove over to Stanley Park, and spent most of an hour driving the park road around the perimeter, stopping at the totem poles and Brockton Point.

During our stop there, Bill and Sue were excited to see a quartet of young raccoons emerge from the bushes to mooch food from tourists. It was fun to watch people from a country containing some of the most exotic animals in the world, from kangaroos to wombats to emus, eagerly snapping pictures of raccoons.

From Stanley Park we made our way to Granville Island, and again just wandered around to enjoy the atmosphere. In the Public Market, a young woman came up to Brian and identified herself as a former student. She was especially excited to see Kathy, her former band teacher, and we enjoyed a quick conversation with her and her family. Keely is well on her way to becoming a social worker and we wish her well! We were also quite impressed that we're still recognizable to former students eight years after we've retired.

Now it was time to head for home. We'd driven up Highway 15 all the way to Highway 1 and entered Vancouver over the Port Mann Bridge from the East. This roundabout route was due to an accident on Highway 99 that caused huge backups for much of the day. We heard that the transport truck full of jet fuel had now been removed so we headed down 99 just before 4:00 p.m. and were amazed at the lack of traffic. Another smooth border crossing, again with no more than five minutes wait at the Peace Arch crossing, and we were back in Blaine.

Today we're planning to show Bill and Sue some mountainous terrain by re-entering BC and driving them a little way beyond Hope. We'll stop at the Coquihalla Tunnels and the Hope Slide before driving up the "Coke" for some spectacular views.

Yes, it's fun to have visitors to remind us what a beautiful part of the world we live in, and motivate us to get out and see it. Vancouver is a fantastic city - we'll have to return someday, even without foreign visitors.