Tuesday, September 20, 2011


We're writing this from the Ketchikan Public Library as we take shore leave on our our "repositioning cruise" from Vancouver BC to China on the Diamond Princess, which continues on to Australia without us for a winter of cruising Down Under during the antipodian summer.

However, today's post will be a quick summary of our own repositioning from biking in Wisconsin to our departure from North America. We'll tell you about the cruise and our adventures en route and in China in future entries, but don't know if time and the Chinese government will give us that opportunity before our return to the US on November 22. If our past experience in China is any guide, we will probably be waiting those two months to tell you, since blogspot was on their Do Not Fly list last time around -- waaaay too subversive, it seems.

We took Amtrak west with no floods or other disasters blocking our way this time.  You can see our tandem making its way from the baggage car on the Milwaukee-Chicago train to the Southwest Chief, which took us via Kansas City and Albuquerque to LA.  Louise's son Brian was back from his acting gig at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago to pick us up.  He has been offered and has accepted the same job as understudy to three of the actors in Chinglish when it opens next month on Broadway.  With an open run, if the play has legs the odds are in his favor of reaching that acting pinnacle of pinnacles, a live appearance on the Great White Way!  We're already talking about a trip to New York next Spring.

We stayed in LA for a week to visit with Brian and his wife Ardy and our newest grandson, 1-year-old Cedro.  Also in town for her sabbatical year is daughter Lisa, husband Ray and two more of the grandkids, almost-7-y.o. Elise and 4-y.o. Issei.  Elise and Issei love to hang out with their cousin Cedro and vice versa, and we had some great beach weather while we were there to have a big family get-together.  Our week in LA also gave us plenty of chances to see Cedro try to get the knack of walking.  At sea yesterday our own walking looked kind of like Cedro's, but we'll wait 'til the next blog to tell you all the rest of the cruise details.

We had a nice adventure one day visiting the Getty Museum with Lisa, Elise, Ardy and Cedro.  You park or, in our case, get off the city bus next to the Interstate and a tram whisks you up the hillside to an amazing campus of gleaming white buildings filled with art, all for free other than $15 for parking for the automotive crowd.  They even offered us free use of a stroller for Cedro!   They also have a gallery where patrons can sit and sketch for a while, and Elise tried her hand, apparently with more of an eye for drawing than either of us has ever had.

The view to the skyscrapers of nearby Westwood and Century City and to more distant downtown LA was impressive, as is the art collection inside those buildings.  Though much of the work is from periods prior to our main interests, they did have a good grouping of Dutch paintings and two large rooms of pre-Impressionist and Impressionist works, including the energetic and colorful Irises painted by Van Gogh while he was recovering at the asylum of Saint-Remy; Monet's 1873 Sunrise, and Camille Pissarro's Hermitage Garden, Maison Rouge, painted in 1877.

We had an interesting bump during our stay.  Our rental apartment was on the second floor, and Ray was holding the elevator for the kids to get on after a visit with us.  It was a very impatient elevator, and started closing its doors sooner and more vigorously than Ray expected.  Before he knew what was happening, his keys went flying out of his hand and found, with an almost magnetic determination, that tiny crack between the elevator and the landing.  Poof! They were GONE!!!

A series of emails to the rental agent only resulted in a wait while she tried to find the owner to see what the owner thought could be done.  By day 3 Ray and Lisa had worked out a complicated set of contortions to make life work with only one apartment and one car key between them, when Jeff got the idea to pull out his cell phone, turn on the flashlight feature, and look down the crack while the elevator was on the lowest floor.  By golly, it was only 3-4 feet down to a remarkably clean cement floor, with almost no debris save Ray's set of 5-6 keys and car door clicker.  Back upstairs for a wire hanger and down again with Louise as designated door-holder, and he determined that the hanger was a few inches too short even though unwound to its full 3' length.  Back upstairs for another wire hanger and some creative work making the two parts stay attached to each other, then down again for another fishing expedition.  Bingo!  After about ten minutes team redtandem finally got just the right angle to snag the keys yet not drop them while hauling them up.  Luck continued to hold, and they came up through the narrow crack between elevator and landing without slipping off again.  Whew, that was an adventure!

After our one-week apartment rental was up we stayed on in LA two more days to do a road trip with Lisa and family to Ojai, a small town in the mountains 75 miles west of LA.  We had rooms at a nice motel with a swimming pool and hot tub that got good use, and paid a visit to a nearby farm that produces high-end olive oil.  Gourmet Lisa stocked up on several varieties, and found yet more outstanding items the next day at Ojai's remarkably good Sunday Farmers Market.

That evening we had a Thai dinner in town that featured a flaming crock of Tom Yum soup that was pretty impressive, as well as good tasting.  On the way home we got a call from Brian to tell us that he and Ardy had let themselves into Lisa and Ray's place and that supper would be ready for us when we got back to LA.  It is so nice to have kids who are better cooks than we are, and who play so well together even as adults!

At last we left LA, at least until we're back in late November.  We flew this time to Seattle, and the security procedures and sardine-in-a-can seating again reminded us, especially 6' 4" Jeff, why we generally prefer the 36-hour alternative on Amtrak's Coast Starlight.  Good friends Steve and Janet put us up at their place for a few nights and pulled out the suitcases we packed for China back in June and left at their place.  They are equally avid boaters as well as tandemers, and took us out for a trip on Puget Sound on Hobbes, their sailboat which performed as a motorboat this time around, given the wimpy 4 knot wind.  Then again, it was so calm we didn't have to have Dramamine hors d'oeuvres, which are always good things to avoid.

We filled our last day in Seattle with all sorts of adventures, including 3 immunization shots each, haircuts, last-minute shopping, and lunch at our condo as guests of Victor and Janice, who are renting it from us while we explore various corners of the world.  Less than 24 hours later we saw the condo one last time, ever so fleetingly, as the Amtrak Cascades took us along the edge of Puget Sound to Vancouver BC for our cruise departure.  We had two surprises in store for us, however.  One was the presence on board Amtrak of long-time friend Eric, an earth sciences professor at UW who is also, with stoker/spouse Julie, an avid tandemer.  He was travelling with his single bike to Mt. Vernon WA, a 25-mile bike ride away from the Washington State Ferry that runs to Friday Harbor, where he had a lecture to give the next day.  It was great to catch up with him and hear about his plans to buy a second tandem now that his kids are 7 and 10 years old, old enough to be stokers as Julie takes on a new role as captain of the second tandem.

The other surprise was the phone call a few days earlier from yet another tandem couple we've ridden a lot with, Don and Ericka, to tell us they would meet us in Vancouver!  They drove 25 miles, took a ferry, then a bus, then Vancouver's newest Skytrain, and made it right on time to our designated meeting spot in front of the Hudson Bay Company store.  In the next 24 hours -- they got a room at the same hotel we were using -- we caught up on each others' news, shared photos, and then said goodbye with our cruise ship the Diamond Princess in the background.  It's the larger white ship to the left of the Canada Place cruise terminal across Burrard Inlet, with a Holland America boat on the other side that we think was headed south for the winter.  You can also see Vancouver's high-capacity Sea Bus over Don's shoulder, headed to North Van to pick us up and drop us a few meters from Canada Place and our departure for China!  The second shot was from the Princess looking out one last time at Canada Place and downtown Vancouver after we'd made our remarkably quick and easy way through customs and onto our home for the next 23 days.

We'll close with two shots of shops in Vancouver's Chinatown.  It will be interesting to see how close -- or not -- they are in appearance to what we see in China itself in the coming months.

Here's hoping we get to update our blog while we're on the road in China.  If not, we'll tell all when we're back at Thanksgiving time!  'Til the next time . . .

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