Friday, September 21, 2007

I'll be watching you

When you get to London, you really must make time to go to the Tower of London. The building is magnificent, the history is fascinating, and the views are great. A Beefeater leads the tour from the entry gate to the concluding chapel. The chapel is bittersweet as the bodies of the victims of the Tower are often buried beneath your feet. Depending on your station in life and your gender, you may have been executed just steps outside the chapel (Henry VIII was a particularly vigorous user of the chopping block outside the chapel).

It is not until you get home that you have the time to inspect the photos and notice that it is not a lamp that you have photographed with the Gherkin, it is a security camera.

Hi, officer!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Looking up!

In 1887, this was a muddy spot, busy with workers assembling a giant Erector set. Welcome to the heart of the Eiffel Tower. We were standing in line to buy tickets for the stairway and the line snaked around underneath the landmark. We had plenty of time to look around and look up. A few hundred steps later, we were looking back down at this very spot. We've never taken the elevator to the first level, we've always taken the stairs.

The Restaurant Jules Verne is spectacular, I'm sure, but above our budget, so to speak. There's a restaurant on the Tower, Altitude 95, that we really enjoyed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What is this quintessence of dust?

As we were riding along the Iron Horse rail-trail, we passed farms and open range. One of the farmers near Cle Elum seemed to be a bit of an artist. You can see two of his creations in this photo.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iron Horse Trail

We just completed a little bike ride.

We started in Thorp, WA, on Saturday morning. The day was sunny and clear with temperatures into the low 70's or so. We were riding the Iron Horse Trail (State Park), the old right-of-way for the Milwaukee Road rail service across Washington. Unfortunately for us, someone had been dumping new gravel on the trail and the headwinds were always against us. This made for quite a challenge across almost 40 miles of trail through Cle Elum and into Easton. This photo features one of the tunnels that we rode through on the first day.

Don't get me wrong: it's a great trip and a lovely trail as it winds along the river and through the farming country. But the sheer labor of the trip is daunting - going westward is a hard ride.

After the noble struggle, we had a wonderful dinner and evening in Easton State Park. I recommend getting a camp site closer to the lake and away from the highway.

The next morning, we got up early and had a hearty breakfast. The overcast had come in overnight and the sky was gray. The cooler temperatures made riding a bit easier, the trail was much improved, and even the headwind seemed to give us a break. Well, a little break. We blazed through the first part of the trip up into Snoqualmie Pass and took a rest at Hyak. We were just at the mouth of the Snoqualmie RR Tunnel: 2.3 miles of darkness and cold. A pretty cool ride on a bike, but that 50 degree air just takes it out of you! We came out the western end into more overcast and a trace of rain. The rain mounted as we descended and soon we were wearing those brown stripes and spitting the grit out of our teeth. It's rare that I've wanted fenders on my bike.

I'm afraid my behind got the worst of the trip and I was pretty glad to see the end of the trail. I got out of my sodden clothes and headed home.

Maybe next year we'll do it all again.

Here's to St. Pancras

In honor of the opening of the new high-speed rail service between London and Paris, here's a view of St. Pancras station, the London terminus of the service. We were staying at a nearby hotel and caught this fantastic building on a sunny day. Too bad they don't build them like this anymore. Once I might have complained about how ugly the building was, but now I am so tired of glass boxes and mindless rectangular grids that my eye has learned to appreciate the detail and fine craftsmanship of the older buildings. Just down the block is the British Library, but other parts of the neighborhood are in disrepair. I'm sure that will change dramatically as the impact of the renovations and the new rail service kick in. Isn't this the one from which Harry Potter and Ron Weasley fly off in the stolen car? King's Cross Station (with Platform 9-3/4) is around the corner.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Logan's Run and Splash

On a recent return flight from Boston, I had a window seat on the airplane. For some odd reason (explained shortly), we seemed to be taking the scenic tour of the airport. We taxied all over the place and finally ended up by the water on the northeast side of the airport.

We had dutifully boarded the airplane, backed from the gate at the appointed time, then gone on our merry little tour. It became ominous when we stopped on a taxiway instead of near the end of a runway. It became downright bad when the pilot shut off the engines. After a few minutes of delay, The Dreaded Announcement came: there had been fog in New York City all day, all NY-bound flights were delayed, and we had been given a ground-hold for forty minutes.

Stop me if you disagree, but don't you think They Knew About This when we were still somewhat comfortable in the gate area at the terminal? Is there some reason that we had to get on this little aluminum tube, taxi about the scenic parts of Boston, and then wait out on the tarmac before taking some sort of action? I'm not the claustrophobic type, but I'm not stupid either. Don't answer that.

While on the exciting tour - at no additional cost to the public, I hasten to add - we went past an area of houses that overlooked the water separating the airport from the towns of Revere and Winthrop. There were some nice little marinas there with boats bobbing on their leashes.

And then there was this party barge.

It must be really bizarre to spend any time sitting under that little umbrella... as the landing airplanes come roaring a hundred feet over your head. It must surely cause the conversation to waver every 60-90 seconds on a busy day when every landing slot is taken. And the TSA really lets these people sit there? I don't care - I can't see them as a credible threat - but if I can't take more than three ounces of toothpaste on an airplane, why would they allow this?

I suppose I have ruined someone's day by even mentioning this in an obscure corner of the Internet, but I just had to ask. Sorry.

As to the title? Look here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You lookin' at me?

I have occasion to go motoring on the waters of Howe Sound, British Columbia, Canada. I was recently puttering along, minding my own business, when I saw this seal. Now that used to be a common thing, then the pollution started killing the ecosystem, but enlightened regulation has restored water quality, so the wildlife is coming back. So seeing a seal is no longer quite the thrill it used to be - they're getting quite common. However, one usually sees only the head gliding through the waves. At first, a seal looks like a dog who has gone seriously astray. "Whoa! What are you doing out here, little puppy?" Then the seal will spot you, the head dips down, and the curving back slips under the waves. Oh, that was a seal!

Well, this fellow was unusual because he was floating so high. He's clear out of the water, so I slowly headed closer to find out what was causing this. Sure enough, he's found a bit of flotsam, a deadhead, to sun on. He kept those curious eyes on me the whole time and never moved a muscle but in his neck. He kept a close watch on this odd thing sharing the seas with him, but it never became threatening. I puttered away, leaving him to bask on a sunny day at the end of August, 2007.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not in Kansas anymore

We had a fantastic weekend for backpacking into the Cascades. We started from a trail head near Skykomish, WA, and climbed the trail into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. After hiking up through the woods, a lake came into view and the trail followed along the western shore. We took a camping spot next to a large rockslide and set up tents along the beach. The trail is very short - not over two miles - so we finished the day with a hike toward Bear Lake and Deer Lake. The weather was cooperative - the stars that night were fantastic and the Milky Way was clear.

Dorothy Lake, September, 2007.