Monthly Archives: June 2014

Notes from a small holiday

I’ve just come back from a months holiday.  I’m lucky, in that I’m self-employed, so I can choose when and how long to have as a break.  On the other hand, I’m unlucky in that I don’t get paid and have to fit it around client commitments.  What this usually means is I end up working for 11 months a year and then taking one big break instead of two weeks in summer, a week at Easter and so on and so forth.  Anyway, this years trip was to Vancouver, then up to Alaska, before returning to Vancouver via Seattle and Victoria.  Some thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The town of Ketchikan, AK, receives on average 142 inches of rain a year.  I was there for a day, and got sunburnt.
  • If you get the opportunity to see a Lumberjack Show, take it.  It is great fun and incredibly skilful.  Yyyyo-ho!
  • In the interest of furthering the good name of the UK around the world, I sat and had formal talks about trade and tourism with Mayor Stubbs of Talkeetna, AK.  I think they went well.  Obviously, in high level politics, the signs are subtle, but I think sitting, mewling and licking his leg indicated good progress.
  • I would like to congratulate Dodge, Inc of the USA for designing an automatic gearbox which is almost, but not quite, all of the time in the wrong damned gear.  And also for including a feature where the amount of time between mashing your foot to the floor and through the firewall and the ‘box responding by kicking down a couple of gears can be measured on a sundial.
  • GPSs ruin holidays.  Thanks to not having them, we missed a couple of turns.  This led to us:
    • Standing at the end of Anchorage airport runway having a good chat to a very fine fellow, while taking photos of Antonovs, the Boeing Dreamlifter and then the awesome sight of a Dakota DC-6 taking over right over our heads.
    • Finding a fantastic little cafe in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Coastal Kitchen Cafe, Port Renfrew, BC.  If you do the Pacific Marine Drive from Victoria, it is the perfect place to stop off for lunch.
  • Alaska is impossibly beautiful.  Photos and videos cannot do it justice.  If you ever get the chance to see it for yourself, grab it with both hands.  We only scratched the surface in a week.
  • Obviously this is from a UK perspective, but if you walk into a quiet bar in a small town in the middle of nowhere, on a sunny afternoon, proudly displaying your pistol in a holster for everyone to see, that says more about your attitude to other people that it does about theirs to you.  Of course, Alaska is quite right wing, and to be honest, having a shotgun in the house is kind of a sensible move in a place where the wildlife can kill you, but a move like that in a public just marks you out as a bit of a twat.
  • There are many words to describe being 7000ft up in the Denali National Park and standing on a glacier.  They include “awesome”, “incredible”, “unforgettable” but most of all, “silent”.
  • Stopped off in Wasilla, AK for ten minutes.  There must be something odd about the place, as scientific tests showed my IQ dropped 4%.
  • Listened to about 15 minutes of right wing Talk Radio.  Still haven’t decided whether it is the most incredibly clever manipulative bullshit I’ve ever heard or just the most utterly moronic discussion ever to hit my ears.  For 15 minutes, the topic was complaining about the Alaskan Senator voting with President Obama 97% of the time.  At no point did they say what the votes were for, so I’m not sure whether the Senator was voting to give all Alaskans $100,000 a year or to knife all babies in the womb.  It never actually got to that level of detail.  Just “the guy votes with Obama a lot.  What is with that?”  I genuinely don’t know whether that is an impressively stupid person on that show (in which case, I amazed he can tie his own shoelaces, let alone host a radio show) or a manipulative genius behind it all.
  • Exposure to US television makes you really miss the BBC.  And fear for what people are trying to turn it into.
  • A fairly neutral British accent can still snap US knicker elastic at 20 feet.  Canadian elastic, less so.
  • Whittier, AK, is one of the oddest places I have ever been to.  Accessed only by the longest combined rail/road tunnel in the world, it is a town of less than 200 people, most of which live in the same building.  There is also another building, the Buckner building, where they all used to live before is was damaged in an earthquake.  It is difficult to demolish the Buckner Building, so it stands there, derelict.  And someone has graffitied “the cake is a lie” on it, which is wonderful.
  • The sight and sound of a glacier calving into the sea has to be experienced at least once in everybodys life.
  • Alaska Highway 1 to Glenallen and Port Renfrew, BC to Lake Cowichan are two of the great drives in the world.
  • There is a huge difference between being ignorant and being proud of being ignorant. Painting your truck with a picture of the exploding Twin Towers and and the slogan “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11” is most definitely the former. One day I’ll win the lottery and park a truck on his lawn. It will be painted with “Everything I need to know about white, male Americans I learned from the Oklahoma Bombing, Sandy Hook, Columbine and various massacres and wars around the world” and see how he likes it.  Well, he won’t, but the point will be made.
  • The Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, AK is one of those cheesy re-hashes of old time saloon bars. There was a pianist doing ragtime songs and mixing up lyrics in an amusing way. Totally set up for tourists, totally cheesy and great, great fun.
  • Never forget what a mountain can do.  On the day we drove to Paradise, WA, and had the most perfect view of Mount Rainier, six people died trying to reach the summit.
  • Whilst wandering around Vancouver, I was stopped in the street and interviewed by CBC on the Bruins/Montreal Game 7 result.  Which I think, officially, makes me the British NHL hockey correspondent for CBC.
  • Sat watching a spectacular sunset from Prospect Point, Stanley Park, Vancouver, a guy on a bike rode by and shouted “Wow! Beautiful BC, eh?!” This is possibly the most Canadian thing ever said.
  • I’ve always wanted to go to the Yukon.  I’ve glimpsed it a small bit of it now, and I want to go back.
  • The Klondike Gold Rush was insane.  People were taking on some of the harshest environment in the world, dragging a ton (quite literally) of provisions along with them.  And if you stepped off the narrow path, it could be hours before you would find a place in line.  We went past a place called Dead Horse Gulch, where the horses, bought by the Gold Rushers would literally collapse and die under the strain.  The prospectors would simply turn around and get another one.
  • Navigating around Anchorage without GPS is really easy.
  • Navigating around Vancouver is impossible without GPS and blind luck.
  • Navigating on Trans-Canada 1, at night, through roadworks, is terrifying.
  • It is incredibly difficult to get your head around the concept that the major form of transport in some areas for people is not a car, but a float plane. Juneau is the State capital of Alaska.  There are no roads in or out – everything you see, trucks, cars, building supplies etc arrived either by ship or plane. Therefore, people in the more remote communities hop in a float plane and spend a day in the big town. If they can’t get home due to weather, they can’t get home.
  • We went to Hoonah, which is the third largest city by area in the entire United States.  Population: 800.
  • Alaska is the largest State in the US. Twice the size of Texas and covers about a fifth of the land mass of the Lower 48. In fact, I think they should not call it The Lower 48. They should say The Upper 1.
  • After getting away with it on several massive trips, the Bad Luck Gods caught up with us and took it out on our technology.  Currently broken: Fuji HS50 camera, a HTC phone and a Kindle.
  • God, I wish I could watch NHL hockey, live on a TV every night, at a reasonable hour.
  • Since July 1st last year, 262 moose had been involved in car accidents on Highway 1 in Alaska.  We almost made that 263, slamming down from 60mph+ to a halt to avoid one that decided it might want to wander across the road at some point in the near future.  Once we had come to a halt, it decided, “yep, right now, in fact”.
  • Despite this, moose are awesome.  Very gentle.  They will carefully eat apples or pears out of your hand, but offer them a banana and it will follow you home.  Across water, if necessary.  I wanted to try if I could get one to follow me onto a plane.
  • Speaking of animals eating, one of the more amusing things was seeing the interaction between a brown and a black bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.  Brown bears are predators for black bears and we were lucky enough to be there for feeding.  The two were fenced off but one brown bear was trying to threaten a black bear, who was having none of it.  I now know the bear noises for “give me the food or I’ll kick the shit out of you” and “Do you think I am stupid?  There is a bloody great big electric fence between us, so do me a favour pal and piss off.”
  • The one thing the US and Canada can’t get right is a decent cup of tea.  Once I got home after four weeks away, I immediately headed for the box of Yorkshire Tea with a look on my face that was a mixture of lust and murderous intent.
  • There is a general store/pharmacy chain called “London Drugs”. This is never going to be not funny.
  • Vancouvers Marine Building is a beautiful example of Art Deco design.
  • We always try to find one weird world record on holiday – last year the World’s Biggest Artichoke. This year, we saw the World’s Thickest Totem Pole.
  • Lake Hood in Anchorage is the best place in the world to photograph floatplanes.
  • In Victoria, they had closed off a street and were showing off brand new fire engines. They looked gorgeous, glinting in the sun. Turns out it wasn’t an exhibition, but a trade show. A trade show… for fire equipment. One slogan for a company selling equipment was “for serious firefighters”. Which is unfortunate, as it implies that some firefighters are just kind of messing around a bit for a laugh. Putting holes in the fire hose, letting the tyres down on the truck, that sort of thing. Firefighter japery, it is possibly a thing.
  • Number of variations encountered of “Where are you two from? “Manchester, UK”. “Cool, Manchester United fans huh?”: 17.
  • Number of variations encountered of “Where are you two from? “Manchester, UK”. “Cool, Manchester City fans huh?”: 0.
  • When you see a queue of people 20 deep waiting for fish and chips to be served out of a hole cut in a shipping container, you have got some of the best fish and chips in the world.
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