22 November 2007

22 November 2007 – Back home again

Bob and Mary both came and said farewell to us at the hotel as with five of us and our luggage, it was easier to take the hotel shuttle to the airport. It was sad to leave but this was our last travel before reaching home.

At Portland Airport, we had to do some quick repacking to avoid paying excess baggage fees and then they couldn’t print Amanda and the children’s boarding passes for the San Francisco onward legs. They also managed to place one of the children on their own in the plane so we had to get that changed at the gate. Marilyn and I were a few rows behind them.

We did a quick dash through the airport in San Francisco to find the check in desk to get Amanda’s seats but they were on the opposite side of the plane to us so we got ours changed to seven rows in front on the same side of the aircraft. Matthew swapped places with Marilyn once airborne and stayed there until just before breakfast in the morning. Matthew insisted that Errol play some of the games with him until Errol insisted that it was time to sleep.

In Auckland, we meet with David and Val Holmes (Amanda’s in-laws) and Paul and Hayley before catching our flight to Wellington. At least on this flight we were in the row just behind although on the opposite side of the aircraft.

We arrived in Wellington to a beautiful sunny day and gearing up for the Santa parade but we were too tired to participate so it was straight home and into unpacking. A neighbour helped with jumper leads to get the car started and Marilyn and Amanda did a quick shopping expedition so we had some food in the house.

Monday saw Marilyn off to work and Errol delivered the car to obtain a warrant of fitness and checked in to work. This was really a day of catch up and attempting to re-establish the old routines. That has been the pattern for the week although Errol has more flexibility than Marilyn. As a consequence, he has had an opportunity to fly kites and go swimming with Amanda and the children.

We might be back home but we will keep the blog running as there are plenty more adventures in store. Amanda graduates on 30 November and Errol finishes as a staff member at Massey University on 31 December 2007. Of course there will be continuing photographic expeditions and other activities to report on.

16 November 2007

15 November 2007 – The last stop, Portland, Oregon

There were two reasons to come to Portland. Oregon. These were meeting up again with Errol’s seventh cousin once removed, Bob Clearwater and his wife, Mary, and meeting Amanda and the grandchildren so we could fly back together to New Zealand.

Our first day with Amanda and the grandchildren was spent at the Oregon Zoo. The grandchildren enjoyed watching the sea lions swimming around. The housing was impressive and allowed us to look at them through a large glass window and watch them swimming close by. Matthew wanted to take some photos so I gave him my small digital camera and he went taking photos of anything and filled the memory card quickly. He learned quickly how to turn the camera on and off, and how to aim it to take pictures that he was sort of wanting. The other highlight of the zoo was the parakeets. We were able to buy a cup of nectar and the birds would land on your arm and drink the nectar. The children enjoyed this opportunity.

On the second day, Bob and Errol volunteered to look after the children while Marilyn and Amanda went to the embroidery shops. Bob and Errol’s first activity with the children was flying Mathew’s Thomas kite. This was followed by taking the children on the tram way (cable car) up to the hospital, to the Children’s museum, and to the Bee movie. From the hospital, they had really good view over the city to Mount Hood and to Mount St Helens. Marilyn & Amanda had a great day and came back well supplied with goodies.

For our third day, we visited Powell’s bookshop where Errol purchased some of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series books. Powell’s is worth a visit simply because of the range of new and used books, and the size of the shop itself.

To finish the day, we visited Mary’s gallery and studio where we saw some of her art work.

10 November 2007

10 November 2007 – Exploring Vancouver

Saturday was our time for exploring Vancouver. We planned to visit four locations but didn’t really allow for the time that we would need for each location. Our first intended destination was Capolina suspension bridge but this was closed for maintenance so we stayed on the bus as it was going to Grouse Mountain. We had no idea what this was but decided to explore anyway. It turned out to be a cable car to the top of a mountain where there was a ski field, grizzly bears, ice rink, restaurants, and large wooden sculptures. The views across Vancouver were also worthwhile. We found it amazing that such a mountain site was right on the doorstep of a big city.

After spending the morning there, we headed via the Capolina Mall to Stanley Park. We arrived there mid afternoon with some clear photographic objectives. We achieved these as well as getting another opportunity to photograph black and grey squirrels.

By the time that we reached a skytrain station, it was getting dusk so we decided to take the millennium loop and stopped off at the Metropolis Mall primarily to have an evening meal. This turned into an interesting exploration of a very large three storey mall. This mall didn’t have the amusement areas that the West Edmonton Mall had but in our view it seemed to have a better range of shops.

There was much more that we could have done in Vancouver but we had limited time.

09 November 2007

9 November 2007 – To Vancouver

We only have one more place after Vancouver to go before arriving back in New Zealand. However, getting here proved a long process. The train arrived in Jasper late meaning that we left there as dusk fell instead of giving us a couple of hours of daylight as we headed for Yellowhead Pass. This meant that we missed seeing some great scenery as we rolled out of Jasper. Over night we landed up stopped in a siding for an hour waiting for a freight train to have a knuckle between two carriages repaired. We did pass through the Fraser River Canyon in the morning light although the heavy rain lowered the light levels so we were unable to take any photos. At least that is what we were told in the morning. The result was reaching Vancouver two hours late.

Our only plan for Friday was to meet up with an electronic friend from the late 1980s when we used to run a Fidonet based bulletin board. Our designated meeting place was the Eighties Restaurant in North Vancouver. His Science Fiction group hold a weekly gathering there so we joined them. This proved to be a relaxing evening and a positive way to end an otherwise frustrating day. It is good to meet people face-to-face after having only corresponded with them using electronic means.

07 November 2007

7 November 2007 – Falls!!!

Today, we headed down the Icefields Parkway toward Banff. We didn’t fancy doing a four hour drive so we focussed on the things that we could get to and back during daylight. This included the Athabasca Falls and the Sunwapta Falls. Both squeezed their way through narrow channels in the rock and had spectacular ice formations hanging from the rocks. We could see how an ice bridge could easily form at both of these places.

We also experienced the difficulty of walking on icy paths caused by the compression of snow by numerous visitors. The steep paths without steps also made negotiation difficult especially when we only had walking shoes with limited tread.

Snow began falling while we were at Sunwapta Falls so we headed back to Jasper to explore the tramway that goes up the Whistlers. It wasn’t in operation which was disappointing but we could see the chalet at the top of the mountain. The guides say that there is a restaurant at the top and we suspect that it has magnificent views over Jasper and the surrounding area.

On return to the town, we again saw the elk wandering through the rail yard and on returning from having a pizza, we had a close encounter with four elk does in the park by the town’s information centre. The elks were really out on the town. It was quite funny as we were joking about not having seen any bears attempting to get food from the rubbish bins. Marilyn made a comment about not seeing bears in the dark and we suddenly realised that we were about 10 metres away from an elk grazing on the lawn of the information centre. While we attempted to get a photo, three more crossed the main road from the rail yard. Drivers slowed down to give them time to cross safely. Unfortunately our photos are too dark to really prove our story.

06 November 2007

6 November 2007 – Maligne valley

We awoke in the morning to see the elk roaming the rail yard just across from the hotel. It was quite a reasonable sized herd which included a ten point stag. A worker was endeavouring to move them on before another large freight train (100+ wagons) rolled into the yard.

After learning the cost of a wild life tour, we decided to hire a car for the time that we are here and explore some of the areas around the area. Many of the tourist attractions are closed as we are between the busy summer and winter seasons. This also means that there is less traffic on the road.

For today’s exploration, we went the full length of the Maligne valley road. This included exploring the Maligne canyon, Medicine Lake, and Maligne Lake. The travel guide said it would take one hour to get to Maligne Lake but we took three hours and of course lots of photos. Medicine Lake was interesting because at this time of year, its waters have drained into underground chasms and it appeared to be a snow, ice, and stream covered valley.

The beauty of the scenery with plenty of snow around encouraged frequent stops. One of these included a stop for a close encounter with an elk doe as she crossed the road in front of us and then waited to watch us attempt to take photos. Sadly there wasn’t much other wildlife that we could see.

Returning to Jasper, we took a side trip to the Jasper Lodge. This is almost a small town in its own right. Built on the side of a small lake and looking out toward the mountains behind Jasper, this would make an excellent retreat or conference venue in any season.

05 November 2007

5 November 2007 – Jasper

No, this isn’t Jasper, the friendly ghost. This is Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. There are friendly ghosts in the form of Elks on the town but that story can wait until later.

The train journey up to Jasper took us across the last of the prairies and into the Rockies. The recent snowfall was evident every where and increasingly so as we climbed higher into the Rockies. The Athabasca River and the rising peaks were steadily replacing snow covered fields and hay bales. Also as we got closer to Jasper, there were increased sightings of mountain sheep and elk. From the train it was difficult to photograph these but we did see them including a stag and a doe right next to the railway line. The train was also throwing up snow flurries coating the windows with slush.

Walking down the street in Jasper to our hotel, there was plenty of evidence that the elk are frequent visitors to town. Their calling cards were along the footpaths. After checking in to the hotel, we did a quick explore of the town before dusk and taking an early night.

04 November 2007

4 November 2007 – Edmonton

Our time in Edmonton was spent with Errol’s friend and assistant supervisor for his PhD, Kinshuk and his family. Also visiting was Michael Verhaart from EIT. Kinshuk is Michael’s primary supervisor. Errol did some work toward the completion of his thesis and he discussed his progress and his analysis with Kinshuk. This was a reasonably positive time.

We visited Athabasca University where Kinshuk is now the director of a department. Flurries of snow there meant that we didn’t really explore the area. Athabasca is a very small town with a population of about 3,000 people, about 150 km north of Edmonton.

On another day, we visited the West Edmonton Mall, the world’s largest mall. It has an imitation beach complete with a wave pool, an amusement park, two hotels, an ice rink, and a sea world complete with performing seal and flamingos. Yes, it does have a large number of shops and we visited a few but brought very little.

We also experienced our first real snow fall while in Edmonton. We woke this morning to discover that it had snowed over night but it had been a fine day yesterday and again today. We had actually gone for a walk last night to a local lake last night and Errol went back this morning to take some photos of the snow. The temperatures have certainly dropped.