Tuesday, July 15, 2014

USA Final Week

As I mentioned in my last report I was very lucky to gain a lift from some people who lived near the ferry wharf at Anacortes so managed to overcome the problems with Amtrak and reach Friday Harbor on the San Juan islands late in the evening.

I stayed in a B&B and after a hearty breakfast was able to buy a day bus pass for the main island and went to a spot called The English Camp.  San Juan Island was the site of the last war between the USA and the British Empire in 1859 although no shots were fired in anger.
For 12 years both sides maintained a garrison on the island today known as English Camp and American Camp. Finally in 1872 Germany arbitrated in favour of the USA.

Near the English Camp is Mount Young, 650 feet (200 metres)  high and I climbed up and took photos.

I think Vancouver Island (Canada) is across the strait. At that time it was sunny and warm but in the afternoon clouds rolled in and it was grey and light drizzle for much of the rest of my time there.  After climbing the hill I had a look at the many preserved buildings of the camp. Apparently the English forces had a very pleasant stay. I was told a huge flag mast flies a Union Jack and it is the only place in the USA where it can be flown without the Stars and Stripes alongside. However the flag flying that day was the Star and Stripes, I guess understandable as it was July 4( Independence Day). When I left the town the street was lined with chairs in preparation for a parade later that day.

I walked around the point(about 1 mile) then instead of waiting for the hourly bus I followed the driver’s earlier suggestion to walk to the resort centre of Roche Harbor.  It was about 3 miles and rather hot and uninteresting. I took a detour to “wetlands” but they were quite dry.  When I reached Roche Harbor with what seemed like thousands of boats on a public holiday, it was almost time for the return bus to Friday Harbor. There I had an icecream and caught the bus in the opposite direction to Lime Kiln Bay and Whale Watcher’s point.
There are several pods of orcas in the area and the ranger said one pod had been there at 9.30am.  It was then after 4pm and they did not return.  At my B&B other guests with bicycles told me they had much more success but they were more flexible in their travel.

The following day I caught the ferry to another Island, Orcas island, which is larger but less populated. Again a bus trip across the island took me to Moran State Park and Cascade Lake. I was going to take the level walk of about 3 miles around the lake but met some others who were going to climb Mt Constitution 2,400 feet (730 metres) and 7 miles (11 km) return.  We had about 5 hours before the last return bus but my companions soon went ahead and after dealing with blisters and over 2 hours climbing I estimated I had walked just over 4 km and climbed over 600 metres to a point where there was a nice picnic area. I decided to have lunch and return down to the lake. I never saw the views but when I met my companions on the ferry back they told me it had been very misty. I returned down hill more quickly and sat for an hour with another icecream for the bus back to the ferry,

On Sunday I packed up again for the rather complicated trip to Seattle. It was back on the ferry to Anacortes. The 4 ferry trips over 3 days only cost me $6.50 as a senior. You just pay one way leaving the mainland and all trips between islands are free. I guess they make money on the cars. Being a holiday weekend, the car queues were long but plenty of room for foot passengers. At Anacortes I waited about an hour for a shuttle bus to Seattle airport, actually  2 buses, we had to change at one point. This took 3 hours then it was on the light rail for half an hour into Seattle and I found a very steep hill to my apartment.

I stayed 3 nights, again providing my own meals and taking it easy. The first day I wandered in Seattle, the main city, then the waterfront and the old town area of Pioneer Square where I spent a good hour in a museum about the Yukon Gold Rush when most prospectors started from Seattle. The second day I was more organised and took the monorail out to where the World Trade Fair was in 1962. I did not go up the Space Needle tower but visited the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum. I have included just one photo  but there were many examples of glass blowing by Dale Chihuly, many were set in the gardens.

Then to Pike St Markets where I did not make a good choice for lunch. I now realise why there were no queues at that takeaway fish and chip counter. After a rest back at my apartment I went to the sky viewing area at the Columbia centre. This was just 2 blocks from my apartment and much higher than the Space Needle. We took the lift to the 72nd floor. Then back down to the waterfront for a bus to the lakes and a ferry ride through the locks which allow large ships to enter the freshwater lakes. There was a spectacular view of Mount Rainier after we had gone out into Puget Sound.

Then one of the Seattle skyline.

The Columbia Tower where I had been earlier is the grey building on the right. The small building on the far right was built in the 1910’s and at the time was the highest building in the world outside of Manhattan.

I was lucky with very clear weather in Seattle which is known for cool cloudy weather. It was over 80’F every day. Apparently the west coast has had severe drought. I had very little rain on my trip.

The next morning I was on my last long train ride as I took the Coast Starlight again, this time to San Francisco. It was only an hour late. As the car attendant, who was far superior to my previous experiences, said. It was not late for Amtrak as it arrived on the same day.

However I had to leave my bags at the hotel for 5 hours and wander around the shops until I could get into my room and change. There are summer clothes sales on and I have splurged as much as I can fit into my bag without being overweight.

On Friday I took a tour to Muir Woods where I remember going on my first visit to San Francisco in 1980. This is now my 5th time in the city. I would have liked to use public transport but the shuttle from Sausalito to Muir Woods only runs on Saturday and I did not want to risk being on the wrong side of the bay when I had to catch a flight home. The tour took us across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Woods where the Sequoia or Coast Redwoods grow. These are the tallest trees in the world, the tallest is 112 metres but not in Muir Woods.

I think these grew to 75 metres. There are lots of walks but I only had time to do a 2 mile round trip before the bus took us into Sausalito.

 I left the bus here and after a good lunch I went by ferry back across the bay to San Francisco.

Last night I attended the San Francisco Opera production of La Traviata. I believed I would see Pene Pati from Sol e Mio singing one of the minor roles and was disappointed to see he was not in the cast. I have now learnt he withdrew from a scholarship with the San Francisco Opera in April and I bought my ticket in March. However it was an excellent performance and La Traviata provides a feast of great music.

I tried to finish and send this before leaving the hotel but was not successful. I am now at the airport waiting for my flight to Auckland. Security gets worse and worse. I even had to take my handkerchief out of my pocket and, as I refuse to part with my passport, they flicked through it after  I was body scanned.
 After leaving the hotel I spent over an hour waiting to board the cable car. I have travelled on it several times but still enjoy it.  I think the crowds are evidence that it would be great if they restored them in High Street, Dunedin. It would then only be the 2nd city with a cable car in the world.
After the cable car ride I took a trolley bus and then a normal bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.  I had wanted to do this in previous visits but this was the first time I managed it. I walked to the midpoint and back which was a real test of my fear of heights. As it is 2 km across, that meant my return walk was 2km.

After getting back to the city I wanted a coffee and found a shop called Nespresso. It is attempting to bring proper coffee to the USA. It was real upmarket, at a price, sitting in swivel armchairs with lots of waiters providing constant service. There were 3 types/strengths of coffee as well as decaffeinated, I chose a mid range strength. With a chocolate cake it came to $16 plus tip. Not your everyday choice and I did not take up the offer to join the Nespresso Club. Finally I collected my luggage and caught the train to the airport. Thankfully my luggage was not overweight but my hiking boots are in my carry on.

All being well I depart at 9.15pm arrive Auckland at 5.25am after more than 12 hours in the air then my flight to Dunedin arrives at 10.20am.

I have actually now returned home. We landed in Auckland on time but there was a thick fog and so my flight to Dunedin was over half an hour late. However many regional flights were cancelled. Dunedin was sunny but cold, there had been a heavy frost in the morning.


Davis said...

I'm delighted you've had such a wonderful sojourn here in the States!

JCF said...

"Apparently the west coast has had severe drought."

You got that right! (is HAVING)

I only hope true TREASURES like the redwoods of Muir Woods aren't harmed (if not by the drought, then by its constant companion, FIRE).

"It is attempting to bring proper coffee to the USA."

I don't know what you mean---but I guess you would say I don't know proper coffee, then (I'm assuming you must not worship at the Church of St. Arbuck's. I prefer Peete's, but I think Starbuck's is more than decent. I mainly make my coffee at home however. Freshly-ground Peete's!)

Dale Chihuly's glasswork is amazing!

Glad you had a great trip. Fifth time?! Wow, I'm sure you've seen a TON of places this (relatively well-travelled) native Yank hasn't...

Brian R said...

Thanks for reading and commenting on my travelogues JCF. We will have to disagree on coffee. Never heard of Peete's but I think Starbucks is the worst thing to have come out of Seattle. I note they all closed down in Australia except in the tourist areas as they could not compete with the locals. There is one in Dunedin for tourists which neither I nor, to my knowledge, any of my friends have ever entered. The Italians brought us good coffee. I found a nice coffee in a Gelateria in Seattle when I was almost in despair.

LilKittie said...

The USA have some great skylines, especially The Big Apple . May I ask how much did your trip cost? I've been planning something like that for months now, but I've heard that New York City is not very cheap, and the hotels are actually expensive. Is that true?

Brian R said...

My 6 week trip including flights to and from NZ, all other travel, accommodation and food plus a few souvenirs and 4 shows was just over $16,000 Australian.
In New York, Washington and Seattle I stayed in private apartments arranged by AirBnB. I now find this is the best way to go especially if staying at least 3 nights. It allows me to self cater for breakfast and some dinners. In New York the apartment for 5 nights cost Au$606. I was one person but the same price for 2. (it could sleep 4 but I think the price is then more) Very difficult to get a hotel at that price. However it was at 187th street but only 20 minutes in subway from downtown. That was a real find. Washington at Au$562 for 4 nights and Seattle at Au$451 for 3 nights were dearer. However the Washington was only a few stops from centre and the owners had many extras. The Seattle apartment was in walking distance near many major hotels. They each had room for just 2 people. The hotel in San Francisco was US$509 for 2 nights, quite poky, measly breakfast but very central.
I am now planning apartments in France, Germany and Austria for next year. However I do know enough French and German to shop in supermarkets.