Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A walk to the Turkey Point light house

As some of you may know, I am planning to do the Wainright Coast to Coast walk across England, starting in the middle of May. You can read about it here.

Instead of my usual blog format, I am thinking about doing something a little different where the photos are tied to the map of the route. As a test, I tried doing this on the walk to the lighthouse. Let me know if this approach works for you or not.

Clink on this link. The photos appear as a slideshow and the position on the trail is highlited. You can also zoom in or out and clicking on a photo or a red pin will show the view at that point.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Robin at Beijing Airport

A day or so after Robin got back to Sydney she sent us an epistle about her trip home via Beijing. I found it interesting so I asked her permission to post the relevant parts. She can't imagine who would be interested but if I find it worth a read, I suspect there will be others.

So when I arrived in Beijing I actually felt completely fine. Immigration/customs was very easy. All the signs had English on them and the customs people were all friendly. I went through a special international transfers line and wound my way seemingly around all different levels of the airport to these small almost deserted immigration and customs kiosks specifically for international transfers getting my boarding pass printed and my passport looked at, and even went through a dedicated x-ray machine for intern'l transfers where I was greeted by 3-4 young people about my age who all acted as though they hadn't seen anyone come through in hours.

That was probably the most interesting thing about the airport, there was no one there. I imagine the domestic portion must have been more busy. I passed gate after gate with no one there, you will see one picture through the window to the other gates which also has no one there. The airport ceiling was impressively tall. They had a little shopping area with all kinds of fancy shops like Bulgari and LaCoste, plus a few souvenir shops selling silk scarves and panda dolls and teapots and so on. Of course they also had the requisite traditional Chinese building with accompanying pond of carp. There were a lot of staff around for how few passengers there were. It was a bit weird though, besides the shop assistants there were some people who were obviously security, maintenance people (who mainly seemed to be corralling shopping carts from the shopping section because the whole airport was already extremely clean) who there seemed to be two levels of, one for in the airport and one for out with the planes. But there were also a lot of young people about my age walking around in smart long black wool overcoats and doing not much. They all had ids and were mainly around the shops so I guess they were sort of information/help people? No idea, they all mainly seemed to be hanging around so I never saw any of them do whatever it was their job to do. So I assume they were some kind of customer service people who were idle because there were no customers. I would see 5 or 6 hanging around in some of the larger shops positioned throughout the shop and just chatting to each other. 

In some of the photos you'll see how ridiculously hazy it was. It got much worse even in the time I was there. These photos are of when I first arrived, two hours later you could see the body of the plane at your gate and pretty much nothing else clearly. But I looked it up and apparently that was a really high level of smog ( It was also quite cold. 

So anyway then we all got on the Air China plane which was a perfectly fine plane and I was really tired so I probably slept over half the flight. It was more similar to a typical United flight except it had screens in the back of the seats. It was mainly Chinese movies and shows but they had some current TV shows in English, and weirdly a selection of old movies such as Cleopatra (with Elizabeth Taylor) and How to Marry a Millionaire. The food was okay/typical airline, you had a choice of an Asian meal or a western meal so I had beef with noodles & miniature bok choy for dinner and eggs/hash brown for breakfast. Everything was obviously announced in Mandarin first and then English. All the flight attendants had their hair done in exactly the same way and they changed into these cute red apron outfits to serve food and then would get back into their old school red flight attendant suits with a little scarf around the neck when it was time to land. They were all very pretty and young (under 30-35 I'd say) but their service wasn't as polished as the long haul United flight attendants who are usually older. They had one older woman sort of directing the whole operation.

Anyway I didn't see much of Russia, Mongolia or China because mainly I was either sleeping or in the case of Russia everyone else was sleeping and it was pretty bright outside so I didn't want to disturb other people. I took a peek a couple times and saw a massive river in Russia called the Lena River, I think. The scenery was very dramatic, mountainous and of course snow-covered.


If you want to read more about the Beijing smog while Robin was at the airport, check this out. One can only begin to imagine the health problems the people of Beijing will be having in a few years.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The third anniversary of my retirement

My mother's birthday was January 11 and three years ago I thought it would be an excellent day to retire.  Fortunately it was not raining or snowing, so Robin and walked my usual loop around the community.

So here is Robin with the tree growing out of her head taking the same photos I took. She flies back to Sydney via Beijing tomorrow and Marianne and I have really enjoyed having her home. Now that she has finished her degree she seems more relaxed.

Robin requested that I make a pizza so I was happy to oblige. It was a white pizza with chicken, mushrooms and some spargel (white asparagus) that I bought at the local Aldi's. We all agreed it turned out very well.

When we were in Pittsburgh last weekend, our friends Larry and Mary from Pittsburgh gave us a bottle of bubbly which I opened to celebrate the occasion. It is called "Pittsburgh Bubbles n'at" and was made by a winery called  Le Vigne in California. Apparently, the phrase n'at is in common use in Pittsburgh. I don't know how Mary and Larry got hold of this bottle but for a short review let me say that this particular wine was semi sweet with a short finish. It went fine with the white pizza but it was definitely not the equal of the ten year old Ridge and Heitz Cellars wines that Larry produced for our dining pleasure last weekend.

So what is on the travel agenda for this year?

In the middle of May I head off to England to do the first half of a walk across England from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay. It's known as the Wainright Walk. I stop at Richmond where Marianne will join me and we will fly to Amsterdam for a three week house exchange. We then return to England where I will then complete the second half of the walk. We will then do a two week exchange with a family in Birmingham before heading home.

Later in the year we are planning to fly to Seattle, drive down the coast to Oakland to visit one of my nieces.  We then fly to Australia for a few weeks and hopefully spend a couple of weeks in the South Island of New Zealand on the way home.

So there will be plenty of blog material coming up in the next year.

Retirement is wonderful!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Library of Congress

We continued down the street from the Supreme Court to the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building).

Because the collection is so large, the Library of Congress is actually housed in several buildings in the Washington area. The main building of interest for tourists is the Thomas Jefferson Building.

The grand entrance to the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Robin and I were taken by this ornate lamp which you can see at the left of the preceding photo.

Fortunately, another door was open. We had to go through airport type security and I even had to remove my belt. There were not as many guards as in the Supreme Court however.

The interior is very ornate and the style is called 'American Renaissance'.

We arrived in time to take a guided tour (free) which started off with a short video. Even though it was a very cold day, there were a lot of people waiting to take the tour and we were divided up into groups of 15.

Our guide was a former college President and he was excellent. Most of the tour took place in the large chamber at the entrance to the Library. The Library was built by a team of Italian workman who had come to Chicago for a World Fair. According to the guide, the women who posed for many of the the paintings on the ceilings and walls were local prostitutes.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in most of the library except in this large entrance chamber. It is all very impressive however.

Apparently the red colour was all the rage at the time.

I sneaked a picture of this ceiling that reminds me of the ceilings of some of the Washington Metro stations.

Mosaic floors. According to the guide, they were actually constructed in Italy, attached to paper and then sent to Washington to be laid.

The ban on photography meant that I could not take a photo of the room that most interested me, the Main Reading Room. It's design heavily influenced the design of the Main Reading Room in the State Library in Melbourne and I was curious to see the original. 

You can see the Thomas Jefferson original here and the Melbourne version here. To be honest, I can't understand why taking photographs of the Thomas Jefferson Reading Room is forbidden. Perhaps they think the flashes would disturb the patrons reading at the desks. Not that there were too many readers at the time we were there.

I still like the British Museum Reading Room the best.

My sister Anne sent a good link with more photos of the Library.

Robin and I both enjoyed our visit however and this is something I wouldn't mind doing again one day. 

After lunch with a former work colleague and her husband we wandered down to the Natural History Museum. I don't get too excited looking at stuffed animals, but Robin enjoyed it.

A sign we passed near the Supreme Court. I wish Congress would take some notice of it.

The Supreme Court

Robin and I usually try to visit Washington while she is home. This time we decided to visit the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the Natural History Museum if we had time.

As usual, we took the MARC train which is a commuter train that runs from Perryville to Union Station in Washington. Since I am now the old codger, I qualify for the half price $5.50 fare each way. The train ride is really quite enjoyable and the views across the Susquahanna River are usually spectacular.

We arrived to a very cold Washington. 

When you exit Union Station you get pretty good views of the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

Official Washington is filled with impressive buildings.

It was so cold the flowers were wilting.

The Supreme Court facade was being worked on so they had used the same technique we had seen in Europe where they cover the building with cloth painted to show what you would normally see.

The insides are quite impressive and I was intrigued by the spiral staircases.

A large Christmas tree still on display.

Entrance to an elevator.

We had just missed the guided tour so we could only get a glimpse of the Court Room. 

A corridor of power.

If you are interested in what exactly the Solicitor General does for a living behind this door, click on the link.

An outdoor area where it looks like staff could relax on a nice day. It would have been a bit difficult to relax out there on this particular day with the bitter cold.

Some of the detail in the building. A lot of money was spent on this decoration.

You wonder what really goes on down the corridor behind the gate. It's probably more boring than you can imagine, or more exciting.

Inside the old elevator. There was still a human operator who bemoaned that these days she just pushed the buttons for the appropriate floors instead of operating the old lever.

There was a display of the detail on the portico.

It was the first day of Congress sitting and there were guards everywhere in the building. I asked one of them how many guarded this building and the answer was 108 people. I may have the number wrong but it was still well over 100. These poor sods were out there in the bitter cold just standing around.

As my mother would say, this building is a oncer. Once was enough but it was interesting.

Robin returns for a visit

It was a last minute thing but we managed to use frequent flier miles so that she could fly home from Sydney the day after Christmas. We had to drive to Dulles in the rain to pick her up at midnight, but we were glad to do so. Her good friend Amanda came along for the ride as well.

So here is the young lady with my new umbrella that I will be taking with me on the walk across England in May. The umbrella folds up into a very tiny package and hopefully will keep some of the rain off my face.

The next day my sister and brother-in-law arrived and the following day Robin, Ric and I walked to the light house. Some snow had fallen and here is the view across to the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Behold the gloom.

Robin enjoys wearing my old coat that I bought in Copenhagen in 1974. It's very heavy but very warm and it feels very cosy.

Poor Robin was  bit under the weather with a cold and being inconsiderate brutes, Ric and I left her behind. Actually Robin told us to go on ahead. Here she is coming slowly along the path as we headed back from the light house. 

Behold the gloom.

At least Robin got her revenge by giving me her cold.

Robin works at a very upscale chocolate shop in Sydney and she brought back several boxes including one with quite a few of the Cassis variety which are our favourites. They are absolutely delicious. Bomboys are not in the race compared to these.

She returns to Sydney via Bejing on Saturday and more photos may be added later to this blog so check back.