Thursday, September 29, 2016

Finding Your Seat

Ugliest Seats on the Ship
Sharing a ship with almost 2000 other folk, means sometimes having to line up for things like the dining room, pizza, or the ice machine, but you get used to it and the ships manage things well enough so that it is not much of an inconvenience.

Getting the best seats is another issue, and has been a BIG problem on some ships. The ships of the Carnival Line, for example, are known as “Party” ships and the popular spots are those loungers around the various pools or on nice sunny Caribbean afternoons, the loungers with just the right access to the sun. Trying to fit as many exciting activities into a small space, resulted in a severe shortage of the best loungers and I heard stories of fist fights resulting over prime locations. It is not unheard of to arrive on the sun-deck only to find every lounger already occupied by a book, a pair of shoes or a towel, and often these items sat there for hours reserving the lounger for
Empty Deck Chairs
someone. Although most ship crews do not like to perform discipline on passengers reserving prime locations, one ship actually had a policy of removing items left more than 15 minutes to free up chairs. There was a huge bin on the deck full of items “Left-behind” on chairs. On one ship I discovered an entire area with chairs occupied by items rather than people. I found a simple solution, by moving the chairs with objects obtaining suntans into the shade and bringing two chairs from unpopular areas into the area for us to use. It was worth it to watch the annoyed expression on people’s faces when they arrived back hours later to find that their prime location chairs were still waiting but were no longer in as quite a desirable location. I just sat there looking innocent.
No One Here

Saving Those Good Seats
Now that was on “Other” ships. The Holland America Ships cater to a slightly different, slightly more retired, cliental. Here, it is not a problem getting a nice comfy lounger up on the deck; they are mostly unoccupied. It is the comfy armchairs in the quiet corners with windows that are all occupied, and just as on the “Party” ships, the same strategy seems to be employed. I am constantly hearing folk putting the “Other Lines” down with their “lower class passengers”, but it is funny how those comfy arm chairs are being used to cradle old books, sweater vests, shopping bags, and other personal items while their owners are off attending lectures, having a pre-lunch snack, or looking for bargains in the shops.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Docking in Astoria

Sailing into Astoria
Almost There
I enjoy cruising. I like the “boring” sea days where we just sail, covering distance across the oceans. Most people however go on cruise vacations to visit new towns, cities and countries, so the ships normally spend whole days tied up in various locations. Here passengers are expected to go ashore and spend their hard earned retirement savings supporting the local tourist economies. The boat normally sails overnight and often we just seem to mysteriously be docked at a new port when we get up in the morning. Unless you are up very early, you don’t feel or see this operation; it just happens. It is one of those necessary operations that the cruise lines try to do when it does not disturb people’s vacations.

Pulling in the Ropes
Today, docking it Astoria Oregon, was different. Not only did we arrive later, my balcony provided a front row seat for the entire operation. As we finished breakfast I felt the ship slow, and so I knew we were approaching port. I got to watch the ship and saw how everything worked, from entering the port to actually getting secured to the wharf.

Pulling in the ropes
It is not a fast process, taking well over an hour from when we started maneuvering to when the gangway was opened to funnel the shopping-deprived passengers into the town. The ship first did a complete turn, basically spinning completely around, so later this evening when we leave we can sail straight out of the port. It is quite the sight to watch a 935 ft. ship slowly spin 180° in the water. Once this was done with tug boats, but now the ship thrusters make these work-horses of the harbor unnecessary, and the ship can turn on a dime and then slowly move sideways into place without making a ripple in my glass of wine. Once close enough to the wharf, ropes are thrown out from the ship and workers on shore catch them and pull first light ropes and then the huge heavy ropes which are used to secure the ship to the shore. No fancy sailor knots are required; loops are put over large posts on the wharf, and the boat winches everything tight.
Going Ashore

Then once all the paperwork formalities are completed successfully, the gangway is attached, gates are opened and the tourist dollars start flowing ashore.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Back to Butchart's

A break among the flowers
My mother loved to garden, and years ago when she visited Butchart Gardens outside Victoria, BC, she could not stop raving about it, so when we finally made it to the west coast we visited, pushing a young daughter around the pathways in a stroller. We enjoyed it enough that we returned on another visit to Vancouver Island, and with a morning to spare before catching a ferry to the mainland, we went back again this year. As usual the fabulous plant and flower displays continue to impress.

The Butchart Boar!
The original Mr. Butchart produced Portland cement, and needed limestone for the process. Outside Victoria, he operated a large limestone quarry, and when it was exhausted his wife decided to turn the ugly hole in the ground into a garden. Over the years it grew until it was not only the quarry, but the surrounding properties and is now a popular tourist attraction pulling in millions of visitors every year.

The Butchart’s original house and property are now surrounded by beautiful gardens, and
Even the garbage cans have plants
you can spend hours wandering through the various styles of gardens. There is the original quarry which has a beautiful fountain in one end, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, an Italian garden a Mediterranean garden and even a bog garden.

We have been here at various times through the year, and the gardens are always beautiful. The beds are constantly maintained by an army of gardeners; producing near
The Original Quarry garden
perfect displays all the time. As we wandered among the flowers I noticed one corner that did not look that good, but returning a few minutes later, the offending non-perfect plants had been dug out and replaced.

My mother was right, the gardens are beautiful, and if you are visiting the Victoria area, a side trip to this attraction should be on your to-do list. But, really these pictures do a better job of describing Butchart than the writing. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Living on the Water

Party Boat
One thing we have discovered since we started traveling is that we like being on the water. In Spain we were half a block from the Mediterranean, in Portugal we were in a fishing town, Budapest had us overlooking the Danube, Chester was on the River Dee, and living on a narrowboat for two weeks in England was a favorite vacation adventure. In Italy we were landlocked, and to be honest we missed the water.

Living on the Water
Now here we are off on a 43 day cruise across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, and will be on the ocean for weeks and weeks. What better way to start this adventure than a water taxi to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the floating homes there, and see how people actually “Live” on the water here in Victoria.

Watch out for float planes!
The weather forecast for Victoria was calling for rain, so we did not expect much, but although we woke to a downpour, the sun came out and we had a pleasant day. We walked down to the inner harbor across from the famous Empress Hotel, and caught a cute little water taxi out to Fisherman’s Wharf. Now there were a few fishing boats down at one end of the wharves but this is mostly a tourist attraction now, with floating homes, restaurants, and souvenir shops outnumbering the actual fishing boats.

Water Taxi
The water taxis are cute little boats that actually look too top-heavy to be seaworthy, but they scoot around Victoria’s harbor ferrying folks wherever they wish to go. In fact they even do a special Water Taxi Ballet in the summer. Check it out on youtube . . . Our taxi got us safely to Fisherman’s wharf, dodging float planes, ferries to Seattle, and various other Victoria Harbor watercraft, depositing us at the wharf, with a cheerful “See you on the way back”.

A house on a boat
Regis is a big fan of the many HGTV “Home Improvement”, shows including the “My Floating Home” series where they build houses that are moored in harbors, canals or rivers. Here at Fisherman’s Wharf we actually got to see some of these floating houses. It was interesting to wander down the wharf and see these unique homes. There was everything from a little Hobbit house to a converted boat with a huge party patio on the roof.

Our return water taxi pilot told us that one recently sold for around $250,000.00 and the monthly mooring fee is $800.00, so I do not think I am buying one any time soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

123 Good Bye

Yes, there is a Volvo under there . .
Over 30 years ago, I bought a 1967 Volvo 123GT. I had just rebuilt another 1967 Volvo including extensive bodywork and a complete engine rebuild, so I thought this much rarer sport model would make an interesting project. There were thousands similar Volvos based on their tough and reliable B18 engine. They were exported all over the world under various names, Volvo 122, Volvo Amazon, and Volvo Canadian. These cars were even manufactured right here in Halifax Nova Scotia for years. Unlike the thousands of “Regular” Volvo 122 style cars, there were only 1500 of the sport model 123Gts manufactured. The 123 I acquired was bought by the original owner while he was stationed in Sweden and then imported to Canada. I drove it home, and parked it in my garage awaiting restoration.
Red and Rusty

I will blame the initial procrastination on my children. With work and two young children, the Volvo got pushed onto a “back burner” for a while. With the arrival of the second child, a new house was designed and built, and I made sure that a nice garage was included in the back yard to house my 123 as it awaited restoration to its former glory.

As the years went by, it got used to store gardening supplies, softball stuff, and even lumber. Thirty years later you could barely see it under all the “Stuff”. Many friends who visited on a regular basis never even knew there was an old Volvo sitting forlornly in the garage.

A good one at the Museum of Transportation.
One good friend who is also a “Volvo Guy” would give me a poke every few years to try to get the project underway, but somehow, something else always got in the way.

“I’ll start working on it next year . . .”

“I’ll begin work on the Volvo once I get settled in the new house . . .”

“I’ll wait until the Children are in school . . .”

“Life is pretty hectic . . . the Volvo will wait a while . . .”

“That old 123 will make a great retirement project . . .”

Need some carburetors?
Well, all of those things came and went, and I seemed busier than ever once I retired, and finally after a couple of years enjoying not working, I came to the realization that I was never going to actually “get to work” on the old Volvo. I put feelers out among the “Volvo People” out there on the Internet, and found out that there was quite a bit of interest in my car. I had a couple of local people come look at it, and had one fellow all the way from Belgium who expressed interest. Finally one fellow from the US, who I had been corresponding with through e-mail finally mentioned “How Much?”.  By this time I had serious doubts if the car could even be brought back. It had been in the garage for over 30 years, but it arrived there in its original red with a heavy dose of Nova Scotia salt-air rust, so I exchanged many pictures of the car's many good points as well as the holes and corrosion. I had driven it home when I bought it, but now the engine would not turn, and the rear brakes were impossible to move. He still wanted it, and we agreed on a price, I arranged to get long lost paperwork and title, and the car was sold. I got a cheque in the mail and he promised he would be up to get the car.
Packed up and ready to go.

He would be up to get it in the spring . . .

He was coming in the summer . . . .

Perhaps the late summer . . .

Fall is the best time to visit Nova Scotia anyway . . .

At this time, the car was no longer officially “mine”, but it was still occupying a spot in my garage, and I just wanted it gone. Twice I was told he was on his way and I got everything ready to transport only to be told he wasn’t able to make it.

Reluctantly onto the truck.
I think he finally realized I was getting annoyed and I was told someone else was going to pick up the car. I reattached the rusty fenders, put the bumper back on, tried to free up the rear wheels, and packed all of the parts I could manage into the interior and the trunk. Two guys arrived with a tip truck and the fact that they kept calling me “Young Fellow” gives some indication of their ages, but together we managed to pull the old Volvo reluctantly out of the garage and onto their truck.

You would think that after living with it for over 30 years I would have been sad to see it go, but in reality I had long ago realized I was never going to drive it again, and I am glad to free up the space in the garage.
Away it goes . .

Now I am thinking that something else might look good there . . . . perhaps a little convertible something?