May 2014 Archives

in going places |

Woke up around 7am, the ship was already docked back at Pier 91 at Seattle. We didn’t have to vacate our cabin till 8am so we got breakfast from deck 14: cream of wheat, croisant, fruit. After breakfast and a last check, we took our luggage and bade farewell to our cabin. We had to take our own luggage down to the casino for assembly, our bags were full so it was a little bit strenuous, not helped by idiots who don’t even hold the lift doors. There was a short wait till our turn was called. It was less comfortable than using the ship’s services but it meant we were inside the terminal a lot faster.

Shuttle back to the carpark was uneventful, we were in the car and on our way by 9.15am. We’d rather struggle a short way with our luggage than have to wait around for a couple of hours on the ship.

On the way to Vancouver, on the I-5 we stopped at the outlet. Mum and I both bought jeans at $19.99, and mine were 501s to boot. Additional shopping at Gap and I also bought a pair of brightly coloured Kinvara 3s.

I delayed our stop and lunch till we were less than 30 miles from the border. Petrol (okay, okay, gas) is cheaper in the US than in Canada so I wanted to fill up as late as possible. We ended up having lunch at a Denny’s. After a week of good quality seafood and delicious king crab legs, we were pleasantly surprised at what we ordered. A three course set with salad, prime rib skillet and mini apple crisp for me, mini banana split for mum plus one diet coke came to $30 with tips. The skillet tasted quite alright.

There was no delay at the border, just a couple of standard questions, and we were back on BC-99. There was quite a bit of traffic in the city as soon as we hit the airport, we found the Ramada Inn on Granville with little problem and were checked in by 4pm.

yvr021canadaplace yvr034steamclock

We left the car with the hotel and walked about 30mins to the waterfront near Canada Place. Mum sat down to rest while I ran over to Gastown to take pictures of the steam clock.

yvr052richmondmkt yvr075richmktcane
yvr062kebab yvr066richmktsquid

Got the skytrain to Bridgeport and walked to the Richmond night market. From our research seemed to be a really great must-see market full of international food and events. Small $2.25 entrance fee for me and mum was free. Just as well, because we were extremely disappointed. Reminded us of the carnival fair around CNY, with stalls selling cheap, tacky stuff like toys, jewellry, household goods and iphone covers. The food stalls were the same—unmemorable Asian food like noodles, fish balls, yakitori sticks. We opted for the best we could find: a middle-eastern stall selling kebabs and grilled squid. It was really hot and I was dying for a beer, but I guess because of licensing they only had sugary, artificially coloured concoctions they called mocktails.

It also got way too crowded so we took the train back downtown and walked back to the hotel. Saw a 7-eleven nearby and bought some water.

in going places |

Woke up at 8am, buffet breakfast: egg white omelette with vegetables, 2 sausages, baked apple. As we near the end of the cruise, time to start packing our luggage. It didn’t take me long, but it did take mum a while. So i left her in the cabin and went to the chef’s demo at the theatre. The head chef demonstrated how to make gravalax, potato pasta and black forest cake. The banter with the maitre d’ seemed a bit forced. Afterwards they led us to tour a small part of the galley. It was very clean and there were some chefs working there, I guess the real work was done in areas out of bounds for passengers.

Lunch at the restaurant: clam chowder, spaghetti aglio e olio, tilapia taco, baked apple. I was looking forward to the pasta, but it was overcooked and underseasoned. The fish was really good, as was the dessert.

The afternoon was sunny so I walked around deck 15 while mum did deck 7. Stopped by one of the bars at the end of my walk and got an ultimate cooler cocktail — vodka, passionfruit puree, cranberry juice, watermelon juice. Good one to sip while reading.

gold364fish gold363vongole
gold365floating gold366souffle

Early dinner at 5pm: seafood trio, curry pumpkin soup, linguine vongole, curry fish (can’t remember name of the fish, it wasn’t one I recognised), floating island, sorbet, milk chocolate hazelnut soufflé. The soup, pasta and main were disappointing for our last meal — too much curry, not enough clams and too tough respectively. Dessert completely redeemed the meal. We had the same waiter as our first dinner, he remembered, and brought us extra dessert. We hadn’t ordered the soufflé and were mighty glad he brought it because it was great.

We docked at 7pm at Victoria. Apparently the Jones Act mandated that ships stopped at a foreign port so Victoria BC became part of many Alaskan cruise itinerary. Lovely evening, we assembled in the theatre for our excursion to butchart gardens. We had to join the excursion to ensure we got back to the ship. Our bus driver was a weirdo, she talked a lot of hot air and drove very slowly.

vic031sunken vic046sunken
vic058flowers vic125flower
vic155japanese vic148rose

Eventually we made it to the gardens at 8.30pm. Really neat, almost too neat, gardens with lots of separate garden areas, fountains and even a carousel. It became a race to see as much and photograph as much as possible before it got too dark. There was enough time to souvenir shop for magnets and we were back on the bus at 10.15pm. It would have been very expensive and difficult to go there on our own, it was obvious the gardens were opened specially after hours for the cruiseliners. It was one of those excursions where there was no other choice.

A quick tour around Victoria confirmed that it was somewhere worth returning to for a more in depth visit. Back on ship quite late. We opted for express walk off disembarkation so we didn’t have to leave our luggage outside.

in 101.1001 , challenges , going places |

Tasks #31-33 are to visit 3 new US states. #31 was Washington, this is the second one, I went to Alaska.

Alaska is the biggest state and one that is on many, many bucket lists. I read several books set in Alaska and the theme is very similar—city slicker goes to Alaska, has adventures, falls in love with the environment, perhaps even fall in love with someone living in Alaska, ends up moving there. And no wonder, the scenery is fabulous and it’s so peaceful. That said, it can be rough, lonely, cold and living standards isn’t as high as the US mainland leading to a high crime rate. So there are romantic notions, but reality may be very different.

It’s all moot anyway, I was only there as a tourist. Going on an Alaskan cruise is also on many, many bucket lists. We did a roundtrip from Seattle to the Inside Passage and saw the usual places: Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan.

There was water in its liquid form:


Water in its solid form:


There were whales:


and bald eagles:


and we ate a lot of delicious king crab:


The Inside Passage is only a small sliver of the state, there is still vast areas of Alaska worth exploring. Definitely worth returning.

posts: Juneau | Skagway | Glacier Bay | ketchikan
flickr sets: set 1 | set 2

in going places |


Woke up at 6.45am, the ship had already docked at Ketchikan. We didn’t have many plans so we had breakfast at the buffet: egg white omelette with vegetables cooked to order with grilled tomato, baked apple and watermelon. While waiting for Mum to get ready I saw a couple of bald eagles flying past.

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ket084creekstreet ket108creekstreet

By the time we made it to shore it was 8.30am. We got a walking map from the information centre and caught the free shuttle bus to the totem heritage centre. There was an entrance fee of $5 so we didn’t go in. Walked back to town along the river, to married man’s trail and then to creek street. Creek Street was the main attraction of Ketchikan, a boardwalk built over the Ketchikan creek with houses on stilts. Most of the buildings were touristy shops selling souvenirs, t-shirts, jewellry, salmon. We bought a 4-pack of smoked salmon to go with the canned salmon we bought in Juneau.

Mum decided to shop at this one store for a long long time, and I got impatient. There was very little time left before all aboard, sigh. It was a rush to go to the fish place to get takeaway king crab legs and to get final souvenirs.

ket161lunchfeast ket166kingcrab

In any event there was a long queue to get back to the ship because the forklift that was supposed to lift the gangplank malfunctioned. It took over an hour to clear the queue. We enjoyed our lunch feast of king crab legs together with some salad from the international café and salmon with salmon cakes from the salmon bake on deck 14.

gold331escargot gold332tianshrimcrab
gold335lobster gold334rockfish

Spent the afternoon reading, got an alaskan amber ale and a knob creek from the bar. Dinner at the restaurant, second formal night: escargot, tian of shrimp & crab, salad, cold apple & goat’s cheese soup, lobster, rockfish, baked alaska, cherry sorbet. Our waiter brought us extra portions of lobster so altogether we had 5 portions of mains. That needed some walking on deck 7 afterwards.

I put a load of laundry in, we got changed and went to see a show. This was called British Invasion and this time I recognised the songs: mainly Beatles, Queen and the Stones. Finished the last of the wine, two bottles was more than enough.

in going places |


Whole day cruising, the majority of the day was spent inside Glacier Bay National Park, part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site and one of the world’s largest international protected areas. It was probably the highlight of the entire cruise.

We woke up at around 7am but still missed sunrise. Rangers were already on board with commentary, we’d been inside the national park for a couple of hours and were headed straight to our glacier viewpoints. Didn’t want to waste any opportunity to watch the scenery, I went to the buffet and got breakfast back to the cabin. Didn’t feel like a heavy breakfast so mainly watermelon, melon, baked apple with some grits.

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The inside channels were quite narrow, no wonder only 2 ships were allowed in the national park every day. There were pieces of ice debris floating everywhere. The ranger spotted the bald eagle quietly perched on a piece of ice.

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First stop were the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. The GP did not look like a glacier at all, just a big wedge of black soil. The main attraction was Margerie, and it was magnificent.

glcr066margeriecalf glcr067margeriecalf

The ship stopped a quarter mile from the glacier and for the first 30mins the port side had the view. We went to deck 15 and joined everyone to watch. First sign of calving was a soft rumble, then a scratchy cracking, and then pieces of ice broke off. I was lucky enough to get the pictures on sports mode.

The second 30mins the captain turned the ship around so starboard faced the glacier. We went back to our own balcony to absorb more of the beautiful glacier, no more calving but it didn’t matter. Did not want to leave.

glcr103lamplugh glcr107lamplugh

The next glacier stop was Lamplugh glacier. The ship faced it head on so we went to the bow and got great views. Could see the ice in great detail. It was pretty windy so we didn’t stay long. The ship turned slowly and after about 45mins headed back down glacier bay. What a wonderful glacier experience.

Lunch was at the restaurant: grilled veg & cured meat, gazpacho, salmon cream cheese bagel, blueberry roulade, mint choc ice cream. Everything was good except the gazpacho tasted like diluted ketchup.

After lunch we went to a ranger presentation about why people come, return and stay at Alaska and Glacier Bay. The love of nature and the national park was so evident, I can definitely see the attraction. Fresh air, beautiful scenery, at peace with nature, very few neighbours. Perfect.

Walked about 25mins on deck 7, then spent the rest of the afternoon in our cabin reading or out on the balcony hunting for whales and other animals. Saw a sprout very very far away. There were quite a few seals that swum next the the ship, and birds too. All too far away and too fast to photograph. The memories are just fine.

gold311goatcheese gold312terrine
gold316scallop gold318choctrio

Got a pre-dinner snack of bratwurst and fries, just because I wanted to try the deck 14 grill. Opened the second bottle of wine, a really nice cabernet franc. Dinner at the restaurant: goat’s cheese soufflé, quail & venison terrine, salad, strawberry sorbet, diver scallop with cream sauce, chocolate trio, orange sorbet. The soufflé was rich, the terrine was the first fail I tried on the cruise (too salty, weird texture), everything else, especially the seafood, was good.

glcr154sunset glcr159sunset

Looked for our pictures at the picture gallery, at $19.95 it was too expensive to buy. Ran on the treadmill for about half an hour. Waiting for sunset at 9.39pm. The sky turned gold, then pink and purple. I thought I saw a dolphin; no one else seemed to be around, I felt like it was just me, the water and the dolphin.

in going places |

Woke up early for 7am arrival. Breakfast was cream of wheat, bacon, egg and baked apple. At dockside by 7.30am to wait for our tour bus to arrive. I’d booked the Emerald Lake bus tour with Dyea Dave Tours, another local company. Our driver Saskia arrived at 7.45am as promised, and there were 12 of us in the bus, the small group (and lower price) another advantage of booking independently.

skag016railway skag031welcome

We drove up the Yukon highway in fairly overcast weather, stopping at various points to see waterfalls or valley views. The biggest draw for Skagway is the White Pass & Yukon Route train and the bus route mirrors the train tracks on the same side or opposite side of the valley, with the advantage that we could stop whenever we wanted. The train ride itself was of course a draw, but well, it’s a train, we’ve been on the Flamsbahn so we weren’t bothered. After about an hour we got to the top of White Pass and the welcome to Alaska sign. Beyond that was the Yukon and Canada. The customs post was at Fraser, and we all held up our passports while the agent walked through the bus to check, the process took only a few minutes although there was a wait while we waited in line.

skag055railway skag061tutshi
skag071desert skag088emerald

Past Fraser we had a pitstop along the Chilkoot trail, a stop at Lake Tutshi, Carcross desert and then finally reaching our destination Emerald Lake. So pretty, the weather had cleared out and we could see the green of the lake clearly, caused by light reflecting through the deposits of calcium carbonate and clay at the bottom of the lake.

skag096carbakery skag107carbakerylunch

Backtracked to Carcross township, formerly known as Caribou Crossing. Tour excursions had grilled chicken buffet lunch at a big canteen type place, our tour guide brought us to a small bakery that offered homemade sandwiches, soup and baked goods. We had corn beef (our salt beef), swiss & sauerkraut sandwich, salmon chowder, rhubarb strussel and blueberry cake. $24 almost, not cheap. I also noticed I was the only one in our group to pay in CAD, so many posts in cruise forums from Americans asking if they can pay in USD, sigh. Places like Carcross will definitely accept, mostly because of the thousands of Americans who arrive without realising you use another country’s currency when you are in their country, but the clueless still get a shock when they get change in CAD. Again, another country.

skag127carstation skag141carbridge
skag152store skag159passportmoose
skag176carcross skag186carchurch

There was about an hour after lunch to explore the township. Carcross was the base of operations for many gold rush miners, and the haphazard and slightly desolate feel remained. The township was more like clusters of buildings that were a mix of old and new. The church, general store and station looked older while there was a newer block that had the information centre, a fish & chips place, a coffee place and a first nation store. In Canada what is known in the US as American Indians are referred to as first nationers. The pink general store was were most people headed for souvenirs and ice cream; they also had a little table where people could stamp their passports with a couple of cute stamps, self-service.

I bought a mini cinnnamon roll from the bakery before getting back on the bus, it looked so enticing on the tray. The journey back to Skagway was about 1.5hrs, and we napped for part of the way. We stopped at a lay-by and came across another tour bus where the driver had set up a spotter scope on a mother-and-kid mountain goat duo way up on the cliff. I could see them through the scope but could not see even a tiny white speck with just my eyes. We stopped at another viewpoint above Skagway and our driver dropped us off in town at around 2.30pm. WIth tips, it came to $200 for the two of us.

skag224house skag247redonion
skag277train skag267trainplough

We took our time walking around town back towards the ship. Bought magnets, hats, key chains and I got a free penknife. Like in Juneau there was an old timey saloon, this one called the Red Onion which was also a brothel. Difficult to go to drinking places with mum so we passed. The white pass train arrived back in town and I took some pictures. They also had this huge red drill engine parked at the yard, this was what they used in winter to clear snow.

gold275vealscaloppini gold277cassata

We were back on board at 6pm and headed to dinner. Our usual deck 5 place didn’t have any tables for two, so we were sent to Canalto restaurant at the back of deck 6, nornally used for traditional dining. We had a pair of great waitstaff but were seated in the middle of a noisy group, ah well. Dinner: seafood antipasti, cold peach bellini soup, veal scallopini, fettuccine alfredo, cassata with limoncello sorbet. It being Italian night we also got limoncello in the souvenir glass.

Ran a bit on the treadmill, read, and finished the bottle of pinot noir.

in going places |

jun007sunrise jun015channel

For some reason, woke up at 4.15am, just in time for sunrise. Took a few pictures then went back to bed, waking up at a more civilised hour of 8am. Breakfast from the buffet: bacon, hard boil egg, french toast, watermelon. Not bad, but I don’t think I want to have such heavy breakfasts all cruise.

Watched as we sailed through the fjords towards Juneau. Peaceful and pretty scenery. Disembarkation was noon. We didn’t book any excursions, I had prepaid the glacier express bus for Mendenhall glacier. The blue bus was distinctive and easily recognised from the tramway car park, about 5-10mins’ walk from where we were docked. $20 round trip, around 20mins to the glacier. They dropped us off at the car park, across from the visitor center.

jun075glacierfalls jun132glacier
jun121kayak jun111nuggetfalls

Just 5 mins from the visitor center and we were at the edge of Mendenhall Lake with already great views to the glacier. A friendly park ranger was there to give informed commentary. We followed the 1 mile nugget falls trail for even better views. Easy paved hike that was really great on a pleasant day, we didn’t see any bears although some reviewers commented that they had. Both the glacier and the falls were so huge, we got close enough to the falls to feel the spray. There were kayakers on the lake too. Very impressive and a must-see in Juneau.

Got the blue bus back to Juneau town and checked out the rows of independent tour groups there. I had at the back of my mind to take mum to a whale watching cruise, and we signed up for one at 5pm. That left us enough time for a late lunch. We both did research before the trip and agreed that we had to go to Tracy’s king crab shack.

jun192tracycombo jun198tracycrablegs

The crab shack was actually 3 shacks. Order at one, pick up drinks at the second and they cook the crab at a third shack. The line was long, but as the greeter said, study the menu and by the time we decided on what to order we would be near the head of the line. We ordered a combo of 1 king crab leg, 4 crab cakes and carb bisque plus an extra order of 1 leg. I was grumpy and thirsty so I ordered both the alaskan amber ale and the summer ale. Total bill just under $75. Not cheap, but it did not disappoint and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

jun241whale jun245whale

There was just about enough time to quickly explore the shops in town. Another popular destination would be the red dog saloon, but a) I’d just had 2 beers and b) it was too crowded. We met up with the whale watching group near the tramway carpark. The bus took us 25mins to Lake Auke to board the boat. We speeded to where whales had been seen and we ended up seeing humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and bald eagles. The whales were quite far away, and difficult to photograph. I got a nice video of the trail flip. The humpbacks started breaching, I was too late and only got the splash but later got the action pic from a fellow passenger. This was a really enjoyable evening out; there were only 14 passengers in the tour (vs 100-200 on a ship’s excursion), it was a nice evening and even if we only saw one whale it was worthwhile.

There was around 45mins after we got back to do more shopping. Bought magnets, salad paws, oven glove, ulu knife for me and spent a fortune on canned salmon. They were delicious canned salmon though.

The dining room was still open when we got back onboard so we had a late dinner: king crab provençale (yummy, more king crab), chilled apple soup (more yummy smoothie goodness), surf & turf, burned rhubarb napoleon with redcurrent sorbet. The prawns in the surf and turf was good if a bit salty; the steak came medium well even though I ordered rare. We’re coming round to the thinking that we should avoid red meat and stick with fish and seafood.

in going places |

Breakfast was at the restaurant. I had a some fruit followed by salmon cream cheese bagel. All pretty tasteless unfortunately. The tea was english breakfast but not strong enough—usual American mistake of adding the tea bag to not-boiling water instead of water to teabag.

There was a shopping event, with apparently low prices. Mainly clothes like t-shirts with Soutn America logos (guess that’s where the golden was previously), accessories like belts, scarves and hats. Really boring. I went and did laundry. $2 per load, I brought laundry sheets myself.

gold225mussels gold227mixedgrill

Lunch was at the restaurant: green lipped mussels, cobb salad, mixed grill, ice cream. Again, the seafood was good and the meat overcooked. I asked for a second helping of the mussels and I got a second helping.

gold121piazza gold143vines
gold136intcafe gold138intcafe
gold232rouladepistachio gold233cheesecakechoc

What’s new on Princess is the international café on deck 5, open 24hrs for soup, sandwiches, snacks, cookies, pastries and dessert. We got blueberry roulade, pistachio pudding, strawberry cheesecake and chocolate opera to enjoy in our cabin. There is zero possibility of going hungry on this cruise. Had to burn off some of that by walking around the deck, even though it was very windy.

gold259shrimp gold260bananasfoster

Formal dinner. Most people had changed, although I didn’t see many tuxedos or evening gowns. Mainly suits, ties, neat tops or sparkly outfits. Some were in normal casualwear but no one was bothered. Dinner was nice again: stilton mousse with waldorf salad, asparagus soup, shrimp danielle (grilled with rice), bananas foster. I had a glass of rosé.

There was a champagne waterfall show in the piazza after dinner, plus a crew presentation. The captain said a few words too. We went back to change before going to the show at the theatre. It was called Stardust and had songs from the 1940s-1960s. Mum recognized many of the songs but the only one I knew was Unforgetable.

Got a john jacob rye from the bar to try. It was okay.

in going places |

We woke up early, at 6.30am. Had breakfast, checked out and went to the Whole Foods nearby. Bought cous cous, salmon and a couple of bottles of wine. Princess allows one bottle of wine per person without corkage, so I was pleased to see local Washington and Oregon wines. We had time, so we thought we’d go to Pike Place market again, but there wasn’t a lot of parking.

Drove to pier 91 cruise terminal to drop off Mum and the luggage. Then proceeded to find our parking slot. I’d pre-booked parking at cruise parking that was about 5-10mins from the terminal, has free shuttle and was about $30 cheaper than the official terminal parking. Check-in at the cruise was straightforward, we were at the waiting area a little after 11am. At around 11.45am they started letting people onto the ship. Priority and disabled boarding came first so it was about 15-20mins before it was our turn. By 12.15pm we were in our cabin.

gold011stateroom gold015balcony

We had a balcony cabin, and it looked like the MSC balcony cabin. In fact, it turned out that cruise ships were pretty much all the same in terms of layout and deck arrangement. Just some cosmetic or small differences. I thought the cabin was a bit bigger, there was more storage space and the space between my bed and the balcony was larger, enough for 2 people to move around.

We learned a tip from online forums, that the buffet on embarkation day would be a scrum. Instead, we made our way to one of the dining rooms for lunch. We were seated at the same table as a wedding party. They were also experienced Alaska cruisers so we got a few pointers. Lunch was avocado & bay shrimp, beef tenderloin and apple tart with mint tea. Food was definitely better than MSC, the shrimp starter was really good although the beef was overcooked.

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gold063sanctuary gold071chess

Unpacked in our cabin, then it was time for the muster station drill in the theatre. After that, we took a walk around the decks, taking pictures and watching the sailaway party.

gold212crawfish gold213loveboat

Although we opted for anytime dining, we were outside the restaurant promptly at 5.15pm just before it opened. There was no problem getting a table for two. Dinner was red snapper ceviche mojito, frozen pineapple soup, crawfish etoufflé, flourless chocolate cake and we shared the signature Princess love boat dream which was a chocolate mousse. The seafood was really good and the frozen pineapple soup more like a smoothie. The chocolate desserts were good too. Turns out, corkage applies in the restaurant, even with the “free” bottle of wine. Doesn’t matter, they bring us water, so I’ll just have the wine in the cabin.

After dinner I went running on the treadmill for half an hour, then opened the bottle of cooper hill pinot noir, from Oregon. Nice.

in 101.1001 , challenges , going places |


Tasks #31-33 are to visit 3 new US states—visit, as in stop, go to places, photograph and experience as opposed to drive through. This is the first one, where I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time.

I travelled to Seattle via Vancouver with mum to go on an Alaskan cruise. Got there a couple of days beforehand as we’d never visited that part of the US before. Saw Pike Place Market, Space Needle, Chihuly Garden & Glass. People say it rains a lot in Seattle; aside from a little rain in the morning, we had really good weather so no complaints.

The highlight was definitely Chihuly garden. Well worth the price of the combo ticket with Space Needle. On the whole I liked Seattle (notwithstanding the homeless behind Pike Place market). It’s relaxed, pretty and doesn’t have the manic busy feel of New York or LA. They have fresh seafood at Pike Place market, access to great wines from Washington state and Oregon plus lots of craft beer choices. If I were a coffee drinker, it’s a big coffee city too.

Full writeup: here | flickr set: here

in 101.1001 , arts and media , challenges |

As soon as I read about Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle as part of our cruise research, I knew it was a must visit. Situated next to the iconic Space Needle, the museum is a showcase for the works of glass artist Dale Chihuly. I remember seeing the glass ceiling at the Bellagio in Vegas and thought it was brilliant.


The museum is organised into separate galleries that holds pieces that are colourful, intricate and breath-taking in detail. The first gallery has an early piece, Glass Forest, with vertical blown glass lit by neon. Just beyond features a room with an American Indian feel, of large glass bowls/ baskets and a tapestry made from blankets.


Then it’s the sealife room with a huge tower of blue seaweed and golden sea creatures hidden in the swirling mass.


The Persian Ceiling gallery had flowers in all colours suspended from the ceiling. Lighting effect brings the colour to the walls and floor of the room. This was the first room where I felt a big wow.

The next gallery was even more wow-worthy. Called Mille Fiori, Italian for a thousand flowers, it was like a big garden where everywhere you looked there was something new, something to study and discover. Many different shapes including spheres and stalks and leaves. There was just enough messiness for it to feel like it was based on a real garden.


Talking about spheres the next gallery was all about them. The Ikebana and float boat had perfectly formed glass spheres apparently inspired by blowing glass into a river in Finland. After the large hectic garden, this felt more peaceful as if the rowing boats were really floating on a river.


The small room next had chandeliers, and it brought us to the Macchia Forest. The pieces shaped like bowls were actually very technical in terms of colour. Instead of simple solid colours or patterns, there were unexpected specks scattered in the glass made by rolling the molten glass in other pieces of coloured shards before blowing. Truly great.

sea313chihuly sea316chihuly

The second part of the museum was the outside garden. The Glasshouse, the centrepiece of the museum, dominated the garden. A 40-foot tall conservatory with a 100-foot long piece in autumn colours. Seen from the right, the Space Needle loomed over it through the glass panels of the glasshouse.


And then we reached the garden, with a mixture of real plants and glass plants. A new vista at every angle and every perspective. Many of the spheres reflected the Space Needle in the background, giving a different backdrop.

A great find, a great museum, so happy we visited.

in going places |

Breakfast at the hotel, ham steak, scrambled eggs, waffle made from machine. They also have english breakfast tea so I could save my pg stash. By the time we were ready to had out it was already 10am. Sigh.

It was raining a little. Short walk to Seattle Center to take the monorail downtown. $2.25 for me and $1 for mum, the trip was around 1 mile, there were only 2 stops and took all of 2 minutes. Kinda fun, especially when the driver took one curve at a fast speed.

sea047chocwine sea045chocwine

First stop after we got off the monorail? Gap, Old Navy, A&F so mum could look for…I don’t know what she was looking for. It was boring. We finally made it out of the shops and walked towards the seafront. Found a nice shop that sold chocolate and wine, they had a wine and truffle tasting for $20, with great-looking local wines, but it was too early in the day. I wanted to go back later, but never got the chance.

sea052pikemkt sea055pikemkt
sea067crableg sea086crab

We spent a long time at Pike Place Market, for good reason. Great place, with stalls for fresh seafood, fruit & veg, flowers, snacks, nuts, souvenirs and trinkets. Bought apple chips and mum bought nuts. Opposite the market itself were specialist food stores including salmon, oil & vinegar, desserts plus the original Starbucks with a long, long queue. Apparently they still make coffee the original way, whatever that means. We obviously didn’t join the queue, but we did join the queue for piroshky piroshky bakery, a Russian bakery selling sweet and savoury pastries made onsite. We bought a salmon pât&233; pastry and a cardamom apple cinnamon roll.

sea112pikelunch sea114cinroll

We went back into the market to buy 2 portions of ready-to-eat alaskan king crab legs and apple cider. The area just behind the market at the sort of park/promenade was an uneasy mix of tourists and homeless; we found a table, ignored the people around us and enjoyed our lunch.

Underneath the market in post alley was the gum wall where people stuck pieces of chewing gum on the wall. Pretty disgusting. We left the market and walked up Pike. No hard rock shirt, it was a repeat. We found a Target and mum went to town buying vitamins and stuff. I bought a shower curtain liner. We carried our loot quite a few blocks uptown to the cheesecake factory. Shared our favourite red velvet cheesecake and I got a glass of an oregon pinot noir at $4 happy hour price. Happy.

sea163needle sea175needleplane
sea185needleview sea202needleview

Took the monorail back to our hotel to drop our shopping. I went to the lobby to print a combo ticket for space needle and chihuly garden to take advantage of the online discount. It was great to have our hotel so close to Seattle Center. By then the day had turned into a glorious blue sky evening. Even though our Space Needle slot was 6pm, it was still very much light outside and we took our time going around the observation deck. Great views.

We saw that part of the park had a bunch of stalls in what looked like a pop-up market so when we came back to ground level we walked over to explore the folklife festival. We heard music and saw a bunch of people dancing on stage to what turned out to be the anzanga marimba ensemble. Nice. There were stalls selling folksy clothing; the food stalls in contrast were all about deep fried food, hahaha.

sea301chihuly sea292chihuly

The visit to Chihuly garden and glass was higher on my to-do list (if the weather wasn’t nice, we wouldn’t have even bothered with space needle). The entire museum was a showcase for the studio art work of Dale Chihuly. There were separate galleries for different projects and works of art. So skilful, so intricate, every piece was interesting and fascinating.

sea312chihuly sea342chihuly

Great timing as we came to the outdoor garden part of the museum it was almost sunset. The highlight of the museum was the glasshouse with an intricate piece from the ceiling that allowed the space needle to act as background. Outside were many other pieces that reflected the space needle, very clever. We sat for a bit, visited the gift shop and wandered out.

By the time we left it was around 9pm, still a little light. Didn’t feel like eating but we went to walgreens again to get coke and I bought a beer from Pike Brewing company from the gas station around the corner. Interesting label, a tripel ale.

flickr set: seattle 251 photos, 6 videos

in 101.1001 , eating and drinking |

sea009fivepoint sea010fivepoint
sea012fivepoint sea011fivepoint

Tasks #69-73 are to visit five new restaurants in five different cities. This is the second one.

Mum and I got to Seattle after flying to Vancouver and driving down. By the time we checked into our hotel, got settled and everything it was too late to venture downtown. The friendly cashier at the nearby Walgreens directed us to the 5 point café which is somewhere between a diner and a bar. I had chicken fried steak and Mum had the steak dinner. Large portions and even though we were pretty hungry after our long day we couldn’t finish the large mound of mash that came with each dish. The food tasted okay, no complaints.

They also had nice craft beers, I had two: a Maritime Pacific dark and an amusingly named Northwest Crazy Bitch IPA. The bill came to $50 including tips.

in going places |


Final packing done quickly in the morning. Had salmon spread on crackers and oatmeal for lunch, then left at 12.30pm. Taxi, check-in, train and I was at the airport in less than 1 hour. Parents arrived about 10mins after I did, and I took Mum to the senior check-in counter so she didn’t need to queue up. Got through security with plenty of time to spare so we browsed through duty free. Tried a taste of Aberfeldy 12 and 21 plus Jack Daniels Honey, can always rely on duty frees for whisky tastings.

The plane arrived late at the gate so the flight was delayed about half an hour. It was a very full flight, even the middle seats were taken. I’d booked 2 aisle seats at check-in, G and H, and it proved to be a good decision because we both had a little bit of space and we could move around without disturbing other people. Lunch was fish, ice cream and beer. Pretty bland and forgettable. Watched Hobbit 1, I’d seen it before on a flight and I wanted to see it again. Then I discovered there was the entire season of The Great British Bake-off, so I started watching it, episode after episode. Wonderful. Breakfast was sausage and eggs with weak tea. At least CX knows the concept of tea.

Arrival at YVR was uneventful although there was a long wait at the luggage carousel, which stopped at one point. Luckily (or not), most passengers were waiting still, so it wasn’t our luggage specifically.

Car rental places was just across from the terminal in the car park. I’d booked through avis uk which gave me a better deal than avis us, so I used my uk licence and lloyds credit card. Hyundai Accent in white, a neat little car. We set off at 3.15pm with the mileage reading at 20,997km.

An easy drive down BC-99 to the US border, we got there at 4pm. Then there was an hour’s delay while we had to park, go into the customs building, queue up for a long time to wait for immigration. And all this despite us having visa waiver status and ESTA, plus they charged us $6 each admin fee. We never get charged admin fee at airports.

We got to Seattle around 6-ish. One way system and a bit of map misreading meant we got a tad lost. I wasn’t that worried, because I saw from the map I printed that the hotel is near the Space Needle and it was just a matter of finding the right street. And without a map or GPS I actually did, ha! The hotel was a modest Quality Inn, which worked out to be just over $200 per night including room, taxes and parking. Fairly large room, if a bit dark.

sea009fivepoint sea011fivepoint

It was getting late so time to find food. Walked to a nearby Walgreens to get toiletries and coke. The friendly cashier directed us to the 5 point café which is somewhere between a diner and a bar. I had chicken fried steak and Mum had the steak dinner. Large portions and even though we were pretty hungry after our long day we couldn’t finish the large mound of mash that came with each dish. The food tasted okay, no complaints. They also had nice craft beers, I was thirsty so I had 2: a Maritime Pacific dark and an amusingly named Northwest Crazy Bitch IPA. The bill came to $50 including tips.

Walked back to the hotel via the Space Needle, which looked very impressive at night. Showered, got on internet, pretty tired.

in arts and media |

weather weather

I’m almost packed, just last minute electronics and stuff to put in. Flight’s checked in; car booked; hotels booked; even parking at the cruise terminal is booked; printed everything that I could. I got replies from a couple of hotels I sent enquiries to, but it’s too late. If I make an enquiry, don’t take 2 weeks to respond, you’ll lose your potential customer.

Looks like the weather is pretty warm, mid- to late-teens, cooler in Alaska and in the mornings. Hoping for more sunshine. Probably just shirt sleeves in Seattle and Vancouver then my fleece rain jacket for Alaska. Mum is taking warmer clothing—she feels the cold much more than me. Happiness is flying to North America, with the 2 pieces luggage allowance it’s basically double what we can take usually.

What I’m looking forward to: scenery, scenery, scenery. A different cruise company, hopefully none of disgusting passengers from we-know-where like on Med cruises. We’re sure to go looking for places that serve king, snow and dungeness crab, have identified a few restaurant possibilities.

Talking about king crab, Discovery is celebrating its 20th anniversary by showing the first episodes of their most popular shows. I managed to catch The Greenhorn, S01E01 of Deadliest Catch. This is one show I’ve followed on and off over the years, and have tried harder to catch the last few seasons. Amazing to see all the boats from the first season and even more amazing that the Hansens and the Northwestern are still here, after 10 seasons.

There’s a crab boat excursion on board the Aleutian Ballad, which has now been converted to a tourist destination with crab pot demos and such like. It’s nothing like the original boat, and I don’t think sitting on plastic seats in calm waters is the same as watching the show. It’s in Ketchikan and we want to spend our half day there exploring the town so we haven’t signed up for any excursions.

in eating and drinking |


I discovered chinon at 10cases when I asked for a lighter red wine that wasn’t watery. It was a good price too. Chinon is a red wine from the Loire valley made of around 90% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. I’ve been seeing this chinon 2011 at a couple of supermarkets. It’s more expensive than the usual new world cabs and pinots and old world plonk, but half the price of my favourite chateauneuf. It’s light but has body. Fruity, easy on the palette and very little tannin aftertaste.

In other news, mm and I met for happy hour. Selected cocktails at half price. She had a Pimm’s Royale and I had a Tequila Smash which was tequila, ginger beer and I think the menu said a splash of Laphroaig or Stolichnaya (I was deciding between different cocktails so got the ingredients a bit mixed up).

in mind babble |


Of course, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Especially just before I go on holiday. Last time the fridge conked out, luckily there was enough time for the repair person to come, and it was just the fridge not the freezer. This is one time I’m glad we buy european appliances from a reputable dealer rather than from the high street.

Over the weekend, my hot water heater stopped working. It’d been raining very, very hard for the previous few days so moisture might have seeped into the heater and affected the pilot. The ceiling light next to the heater blew out too. Again, luckily the heater was from the gas company and I was able to book a repair appointment. Their earliest slot is on Tuesday though, so it’s been cold showers or going to parents’ place. It’s started to get warm, 30°C so cold showers isn’t a problem.

Then tonight as I was heading home, the bus broke down. The first sign was when it was turning from a side road to the main road and it slipped backwards. I didn’t think large buses had manual clutches — a normal car may slip when we don’t engage the clutch properly but I would have thought buses are automatics. The driver tried to start the vehicle multiple times, to no avail. We couldn’t have broken down at a worst place. The side road is narrow and connects from a large main road. It was useless to get off the bus, go to the next stop and wait for another bus because all the other buses were stuck behind our broken down bus. Not a great picture, but behind the #103 (our broken down bus) are all the others #23, #40 etc that could have gotten the passengers on their way. Luckily I was near enough home to be able to walk, even though it was 1.5miles, uphill, and it was hot, muggy and drizzling.

I got home, plugged into my mba and was greeted by a server error. No internet connection. What!?! The airport was on, network diagnostics showed wifi was working and connected. It was definitely not the wifi because both iphone and ipad worked. Seems to be a sporadic problem. Solved by shutting down and restarting. Phew.

Lesson learned: things will go wrong at inopportune moments. There is usually a silver lining though, so don’t panic (and carry a towel).

in going places , how the day went |


Could not sleep last night. At all. Gave up at 5am and moved to the living room, watching tv. Same programs as usual, just repeated. So so tired for the rest of the day.

Did some more research for the cruise. Checked with roll call at cruisecritic, checked I have everything printed, checked hotel prices, which resulted in a switch in hotels in Vancouver to the rather boring Ramada Inn—but they are having a 20% sale, so that sealed the deal.

Had to stay awake in the evening, with a back to back 2 episode run of junior masterchef US. Love masterchef, love love love junior masterchef Australia and the US version isn’t bad.

Time for bed. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

in arts and media , eating and drinking |

Went over to mm’s after her piano lesson to hang out. Pretty much doing nothing, I read travel and food magazines while she practiced then we watched sherlock holmes. Up to season 3 now. We could both have downloaded or streamed it but preferred to watch the dvds together, it’s more fun.

She requested lamb rack so I marinated it overnight in olive oil and rosemary. She has a small oven and initially I forgot to switch to upper and lower mode, but in the end it was all good. Succulent and nicely seasoned.

We were both tired, and we must have been tired because neither of us felt like or mentioned alcohol all evening.

in eating and drinking |


Went to happy hour with mm, the place we wanted to try was crowded (well, friday evening) so we went to another one nearby that actually had free tables and seats. Don’t know why, the drinks and service were both good. We just had a red wine each and shared an order of calamari. Didn’t want to have dinner there, they had mainly snacks only. Went to an authentic Malaysian restaurant only a few minutes’ walk away. It’s one of my dad’s favourite restaurants because of its authencity. We both ordered seafood laksa and I had a whole coconut as well. Very nice laksa, rich sauce, coconut and slightly spicy.

in techtalk |


A couple of random thoughts about web ads. This year marks the 20th anniversary of banner ads. If ever there was an invention that would generate so much discord, banner ads would be amongst the most reviled. Re/code asked a good question: has anyone said:

“Hey, did you see that awesome banner ad yesterday?”

The answer of course is a big no. People may remember good TV ads or print ads but most people’s reaction to banner ads, and most form of web ads, is ignore. No surprise, the more glaring and intrusive they are, the more people are turned off by them.


Whenever I use a public computer or one I haven’t set up I’m often flabbergasted at the amount of screen real estate that has been hijacked by ads. I googled a bit and found this example of that someone gave, of a page that has ads, ads, ads and a total of 8 words of actual content. I don’t know how old this screenshot is, and I have no intention of finding out.

Various forms of ad blockers are the most popular brower extensions. And even though they say it’s a must-have, lifehacker reported that ABP dramatically increases memory usage in firefox. What was surprising (actually not, considering lifehacker’s audience) were the commenters who said they’d tolerate slow loading times and even buy additional RAM rather than disable ABP. Fervent ABP users take the attitude of “allow ads over my dead body.”

The purveyers of ads always come out with the argument that without ad revenues they can’t continue to maintain their free sites. This argument never works. People who studiously block ads and nuisances will never click on an ad anyway; and nowadays with so many choices if one site shuts down a dozen will spring up in its place. Besides, whitelisting doesn’t really work because sooner or later the whitelisted sites will start serving annoying ads because sites that have ads are more concerned about selling things than providing a good user experience.

In any case, yes I’ve noticed firefox page loads are a little slower since the upgrade, may be it’s mum’s internet connection too. Doesn’t decrease my user experience, not compared with the alternative ad-filled scenario.

in about me |

one year ago


Good timing, a year ago I just got back from the norway cruise and posted my trip highlights. Great memories of Copenhagen, Kiel, Geirangerfjord, Flam, Bergen, Oslo and Dubai. How will the glaciers in Alaska compare with the fjords of Norway as I prepare for the cruise next week. I’ve been a bit down and meh about the trip (not related to the destination because…Alaska) and looking back at the highlights of the norway cruise cheered me up a little.

five years ago


For the five year lookback I’m going to cheat a little. On 14-May-2009 the post was about coldplay’s latest album which they were giving away as a free download. Aside from gossip inches about chris martin, I hadn’t noticed a lot of news about coldplay in 5 years.

The post that was important that week 5 years ago was on 16-May-2009, when I signed the lease for my chicago apartment. I had been living out of suitcases in a serviced apartment for 5 months so it was particularly exciting to finally have my own furniture and stuff. I would call that place home for the next 18 months and it’s probably my favourite out of all the places I’d lived in my life.

ten years ago

I did not make a single post during May 2004. Those were the early days of blogging and I was travelling quite a bit. The closest was 26-Apr-2004 when I complained of gaining weight. Nothing new, but it would be a good few years before I finally got round to seriously losing that weight.

in techtalk |


Trying to look for a way to stay connected whilst I’m in the US, both for the cruise and for the con later. There will be voice roaming on the ship but I’m not paying $69 for 100mins internet, especially since shipboard internet is notorious for being slow. It’s mainly for when we’re ashore, driving and at Seattle and Vancouver but mostly it’s for the trip to Chicago and Portland.

I’m not worried about voice, roaming isn’t expensive, calls are short and people will only call in an emergency. It’s getting wifi while on the go. In almost any major city in the world, it should be possible to walk into a telco store and buy a iphone-ready sim and a pre-paid data plan of some sort. The one potentially problematic country, Japan which isn’t on the GSM network, proved to be no problem at all because of the widespread usage of pocket wifi.

Oh, the biggest exception to this case is the US. I’ve come to the conclusion, as several have commented, that there is no such thing as a cheap, prepaid SIM in the US. There are 2 HUGE stumbling blocks: a) half the country isn’t compatible with the rest of the world, with Verizon and Spring on the CDMA network; b) AT&T, which is on GSM and the primary network provider as far as iphones are concerned, doesn’t like prepaid plans and, like most things US, doesn’t care about non-locals.

A bit of digging around shows that AT&T has a prepaid service called GoPhone that works out to be around $50-60 per month for 1GB data. The setup sounds very complicated and there are reports that they may refuse to sell the SIM for iphones, partly because of legacy monopoly issues and partly because they really want you to buy one of their phones.
There are AT&T powered companies like H2O, black, readysim, straighttalk that sell SIMs online, sometimes at stores like Best Buy, Walmart and supposedly can deliver to hotels. Cost is the same as official AT&T so I’m not sure what the difference is. The other GSM carrier is T-mobile, which also has a prepaid data plan costing around the same.

So $50-60 a month average. That’s steep. They are all phone oriented and not really user friendly. One other option is mobile broadband. There’s some good comparisons. After the initial cost of the hotspot, usage is generally cheaper. And several devices can be used. Seems like a lot of people use Virgin’s plan currently at $25 a month for 1.5GB. The device runs from $70 to $99.

The conclusion is, I’m still undecided. For the cruise I’ll probably just rely on whatever wifi I can catch and for the con, there’s time to research further.

in eating and drinking |


With all the hullabub about cruise planning and mum’s birthday cooking, I need a bit of a breather. There was frozen beer at the yacht club, which just hit the spot. Actually it’s not exactly all frozen, ethanol freezes at -114°C so a 5% beer will freeze at somewhere like -10 to -20&$176;C. The frozen beer, developed and introduced this year by Kirin, is more like a cold beer with a Mr Whippy-style frozen head that melted to regular beer top quite quickly. It’s supposed to keep the drink cooler longer, it’s more like a fun gimmick.

in eating and drinking , family first |

chocpancakecake01 chocpancakecake02

Mum’s birthday coincides with US Mother’s Day quite often, and this year for added bonus it’s on a Sunday. The disadvantage is that many restaurants bump up their prices or force people to order set meals so traditionally we never go out on Mother’s Day.

For lunch I made some of Mum’s favourites: rack of lamb with carrot, parsnips and sautéed potatoes and mushroom. This particular rack wasn’t trimmed, which is fine because I can French trim it; but for some reason untrimmed racks still have the central bone which makes it very hard to cut when done. I was struggling with it and the presentation suffered. I got it nice and pink though.

For dinner we did find a restaurant that didn’t have any mother’s day special. It’s the yakitori place we go to regularly for happy hour. We reserved a private room last time I was there with sis and we all had loads of yakitori and sake. For dessert I brought the cake I made earlier—the restaurant didn’t charge us extra for plates and forks.

I saw a pretty picture of pancake cake and it reminded me of the cake we had in Hokkaido which was cream cake wrapped in a pancake. There’s a different taste and texture with the addition of the pancake. Instead of doing layers of pancake, I made a standard victoria sponge and alternated layers of cake with pancake. The filling is melted chocolate mixed with hazelnuts and whipped cream. Topped with shaved chocolate and strawberries. Looking at the picture I guess I should have sliced it in three instead of two so it doesn’t loook so uneven. Tasted good, everybody seemed to enjoy it.

in going places |

Mendenhall Glacier Skagway White Pass Railway
images from flickr users bill & vicki T and michael bennett

One of the most pleasurable activities in trip planning is to look at sights and activities. We will have a total of 6 stops, so I was furiously looking them all up. Online resources as well as library—Fodor’s Alaska Ports of Call is a very, very useful book although it focuses too much on cruise excursions.

Juneau — we have the whole day there 11am-10pm. Most excursions are to Mendenhall Glacier, perhaps combined with whale watching. The glacier excursions are to the visitor center, with a view of mendenhall across the lake. To get on the glacier it’s either by helicoptor or a hiking expedition. I did the helicoptor to glacier trip in new zealand and mum doesn’t want to risk walking on ice so we are just aiming at going to the visitor center. Looking at pictures and videos, it’s definitely not second best, there are numerous trails that offer spectacular views of the glacier and the chances of seeing bears is quite high.

Ship excursions allow about an hour there, and the universal lament is that there is not enough time. There is a bus that goes there every 30mins $20 roundtrip. This means we can stay there as long as we want. We’ll go there straight after getting off the ship, then aim at getting back to town in the afternoon for an early crab dinner. If we see afternoon whale watching tours at the dock, we may go for that otherwise we’ll just stroll around town, visit a tourist trap bar or tour the beer brewery.

Skagway — whole day 6am-8pm. So many things to do. The main excursion is the white pass & yukon route train that goes between Skagway and Fraser in British Columbia. Add-ons include the suspension bridge, gold panning and dog sled rides. Suspension bridge sounds interesting, I’m a fan of Gold Rush and although the idea of dog sled rides is appealing it involves getting too close to dogs so yuck.

We will likely need to join a tour for our preferred option of train and bus combo that takes us to Carcross and Emerald Lake. There is a ship excursion option of course, and I’ve emailed a couple of independent tour companies. It’d be great if the independents have space, much prefer the smaller group.

If we can’t find an appropriate bus/train combo tour then I’ll want to go on the Jeep adventure where we drive ourselves to the summit.

Ketchikan — half day 7am-12.30pm. I thought we can walk around historic creek street, visit the heritage center or take a bus to one of the parks. More strenous activities include ziplining, karting, kayaking. There’s even a crab tour on board one of the early deadliest catch boats.

Mum likes the look of the wilderness cruise and crab fest for the all you can eat dungeness crab part. Plus we get to pull crab pots. Sounds good and we’ll have to go with the ship’s excursion on this one.

Victoria — evening 7pm-midnight. We want to go to butchart gardens but it may not be open—they only open till 10pm in the summer. If that is the case, we’ll just do a quick hoho bus tour or even better, walk inside the empress hotel and around the waterfront.

Seattle — 2 nights, 1 full day. A definite is pike street market, I envision us being there for hours. Space Needle, we’ll see. People flock to viewing points all over the world, from eiffel tower to empire state building, we always find those experiences a bit meh. Waterfront or may be the olympic sculpture park.

Vancouver — 3 nights, 2 full days. Mum did the homework on Vancouver and the first thing she identified are the markets — richmond night market, international night market and granville public market by day. We like markets. It being our last stop, the plan is to see what we can buy to bring home.

Activity-wise, there’s the capilano suspension bridge, especially if we skip the one at skagway. They also have a cliff walk, a treetop canopy walk as well as walking in the forest itself. Looks fantastic and at least half a day.

Another day can be spent at grouse mountain with a cable car, walking, bears and a 5-line zipline. The zipline takes 2.5hrs, even though mum won’t go she said I should. For some reason, I’m scared of heights, rollercoasters and bungee jumps but I went zorbing and I’m okay with the idea of ziplining.

in going places |

To recap, in Seattle I need to find hotels that offer park-and-cruise packages so I can leave the car there whilst we are on the cruise. I spent a lot of time looking and the results are disappointing, either because there aren’t many places with this package or the available ones have already been booked up. People plan and organise for their cruises, especially a big ticket one like Alaskan cruises, months or even a year in advance. We’re leaving in 2 weeks.

I found offers at Quality Inn, Knights Inn and Econolodge—motels around the Sea-Tac area, which is to the south of the city. The cruise terminal is around the middle and towards the north. These places say they have transportation to and from the terminal, but from online reviews and thinking about it myself, I’m not altogether convinced. In one case, their so-called transportation is to give you a link to book a town car or a minivan with Shuttle Express. Riiiiight. Of course, worst case scenario, there are taxis which potentially may be $50 or more one way.

The one place that is closer to the cruise terminal is hotel nexus in North Seattle. No wonder they still have places, the package, which works out to be around $450, doesn’t seem to be cancellable once booked.

Back to the drawing board. Find a hotel that is wallet-friendly, has parking for 2 nights and I’ll park at the cruise terminal. If the park-and-cruise package is in the $500 region and cruise terminal parking is at $140 then I have $360 for a regular hotel. Which sounds like a lot but is hard to find in Seattle during cruise season.

What is my bottom line? Given a choice, I prefer to be nearer downtown. One of the Kimptons, or the W is currently on special offer, or a b&b, or a real home at airbnb. These didn’t work. Too expensive, no availability or rooms with only 1 bed (no, Mum and I don’t share very well so we need a twin room). I did find a Quality Inn a few blocks from the Space Needle for $375. I consider the task complete. With a confirmed reservation, I can keep an eye on other offers in the next 2 weeks.

Burrard Street 2009 The Burrard Hotel
images from flickr users gord99 and miss604

Vancouver next. No complications with cruise parking and such, all I need is a decent place with 2 beds and parking. By now I’m getting tired of searching so I picked one that seemed reasonably priced, in a central location and has good reviews. The Burrard, according to its blurb, dates from 1956 and has been updated to a mix of fun, retro and design-chic. One of the tripadvisor comment says that it’s not for

stodgy and old people

which I find unfair to old people and a stupid comment in general. I think Mum will enjoy the modern design, if the pictures I found online are really indicative. It may be a bit noisy, if the guests are really as hip and young as they claim; plus they are pet friendly so…dogs, yuck. Anyway, I can cancel before arrival, so again I can look for others.

in going places |

I started doing research on excursions and activities, all organised in evernote. Then I realised I should do the hard stuff first — making sure all the logistics are in place. Even more research:

  • car rental vancouver—>seattle
  • hotel in seattle
  • how to get from hotel to cruise terminal
  • how to get from cruise terminal at the end of the cruise to car rental
  • car rental seattle —>vancouver
  • hotel in vancouver

Car rental first.

scenario 1
The logical thing is to do a one-way rental from YVR, then another one way from Seattle cruise terminal. Cheapest at kayak is Hertz at $116. I tried avis, budget, alamo—the usual suspects and got higher prices. Okay.

The trip back from Seattle I want to rent all the day to departure from YVR. For a 3 day one-way it’s $360 at Alamo (again via kayak). But I really want the car for a few more hours because of the timing of disembarkation and the flight but I don’t want to pay for an extra day. So we’ll hang around Seattle for a few hours, no biggie.

Total for 2 one-way rentals $482. Then I have to add taxi to and from the cruise terminal, around $60. Total for this scenario $542.

scenario 2

I have a really neat trick up my sleeve. I find from experience that it’s almost always cheaper booking through UK sites. And, bingo, avis UK gives me £35, or $56. Not getting a good bargain for the trip back though, around £370 or almost $600 pushing the total to $656.

scenario 3
I can pick the best of both scenarios though. Be a Brit one way and an American the other, which gives me a total of 56+360+60=$476.

scenario 4
Out of interest I checked how much it’d be to keep the car for the entire trip, to avoid one-way charges. Avis UK at £265 or $425 is a good bargain. But there’s also parking at the cruise terminal pushing the cost to $556.

There are pros and cons with doing two one-ways vs keeping the car throughout. Convenience is a big factor. With scenario 3, there’s a lot of schlepping and taxiing of luggage and because I’m travelling with mum convenience has to be factored in.

There is another option. A few hotels offer park and cruise packages where guests who stay a night can get up to 14 days free parking while they go on the cruise. They are usually located outside the downtown area, although with a car it’s not a problem. I need to look into this, so I can keep the car rental cost to the $425 from avis UK.

Just as well, it’s taken me hours to get this far. I need to start looking at hotels.

in going places |

Mum wants to go on another cruise, this time to Alaska. It’s one of the most popular bucket list items—it’s on my travel list. I had always thought it was way too expensive. Mum did all the initial research, talking to the travel agent and getting all the information about cruise companies and destinations. Many of the cruises are one-way north or southbound, starting or ending at Anchorage in the north and Seattle or Vancouver in the south.

The cost of the cruise itself isn’t too bad, it’s the cost of the flights that turned out to be prohibitive. Open jaw including a leg to or from Anchorage pushed the base total to over 30k (almost USD4,000, before tips and excursions). Mum wasn’t deterred, she kept looking and looking. She wanted Princess, and she found round trip cruises.

The choice between starting at Seattle or Vancouver was supposedd to be a no-brainer. Vancouver is a direct flight away whereas Seattle required a layover at LAX or SFO, pushing the cost back to 30k. I looked quickly on google maps, and it’s only 2.5 hours’ drive between the two cities.


We decided on the cheaper Vancouver flight and roundtrip cruise starting at Seattle. This means we can stay over at both places, which neither of us had visited before (layover at YVR doesn’t count). The ports on the cruise will be the usual: Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan with VIctoria thrown in. We get to go into Glacier Bay too, Princess being one of the companies with the required licence.

Total cost is less than 25k, or just over USD3k. Still expensive, will need to be disciplined with excursions.

in eating and drinking |


Clams was on sale at the supermarket, already shelled and blanched for less than 99p. Easy peasy dinner, pasta with clams and tomato. A little tomato paste with the cooking water and a dash of sriracha to give it a kick. The pasta is from my cupboard, but for the life of me I cannot remember its name—threw away the packaging when I transferred to the oxo container. I definitely know it’s store-bought. Small packet that I vaguely remember buying at Whole Foods or something like that. Can’t find it at pasta shapes dictionary. Argh, it’s gonna bug me all day.

Anyway, it all tasted really nice.

in being healthy , challenges |

This is the actual post on medium, I figured I should have a copy over here. As of about 20hrs after publication I have 3 views, so there is no danger of my invisibility being compromised.



The Challenge is a Fresh Challenge

I started taking part in fitness challenges back when it wasn’t awkward to hang around the livestrong website. Do x number of crunches, run y miles, track z calories. It was fun and, like most goal-driven tasks, gave me a sense of achievement when I was able to give myself a pat on the back when I completed the challenge. Go me!

The internet caters to many tastes and personalities and “people who like making lists and following them” are particularly well served. Bucket lists, wishlists and a proliferation of challenges abound. We can lose weight, take photographs, read books, design quilts—if you do it, someone will do it with you in the world wide web.

Or so it appears.

Initially the motivation for doing a challenge was for personal improvement and, as mentioned, a sense of achievement. I was happy operating in my cozy personal challenge bubble. Often my immediate family and friends only have a vague idea of what I was doing. Like an alcoholic or someone with a comic book addiction I hid my challenge activities in plain sight around daily routines.

Then came social media.

Nowadays it seems that nothing happens in life without it being broadcast on social media. Unfortunately I too have succumbed. It’s not enough to self-participate in a challenge, it has to be done with my facebook friends and every minute detail tweeted to my twitter followers. I cry silent tears if no one likes my status updates, and there is an unspoken competition with fellow challenge-takers—challengers?, challengemongers?—for the most original, the most fun, the most popular, the most challenging…challenge.

I run. I run alone. I do not like running in groups. So stop obsessing about impressing people who you’ve never met or only see occasionally and go back to basics. Stop labeling it. Give myself a set of goals for my own benefit, because ultimately I am the only one who matters.

in about me , being healthy , outside interests |

The challenge is a fresh challenge

I thought I’d give medium a go. Medium has impressive pedigree, founded by @ev and @biz from twitter. I check out posts there a few times a week, and there seems to be a common theme, at least the articles I enjoyed—tight writing on a variety of popular topics by a tech-savvy group of contributors. The Atlantic summarised it as:

a place to read articles on the Internet. Medium is a blogging platform, like Wordpress or Blogger. Medium is the new project from the guys who brought you Twitter. Medium is chaotically, arrhythmically produced by a combination of top-notch editors, paid writers, PR flacks, startup bros, and hacks.

Certainly, it feels somewhat like early blogger (before it was google-ized), or even harking back to the wild, wild days of early livejournal (before it got bought for no good reason by sixapart and is now russian-ized). All packaged in an astoundingly clean and oh-so-easy to use interface.

The design and the way articles are grouped in collections means that writing at medium has a different feel to writing on my own website, on tumblr or on facebook. Here on the website, I write whatever I like, and I indulge in topics that may only be interesting to me. Yes, it means I jump from topic to topic and despite it being in existence for 10 years, it’s virtually unmarketable. I don’t do much on tumblr and facebook/twitter updates are as throwaway as yesterday’s lunch leftovers.

Writing on medium is one step up, I guess. Although its referral system works much like reddit, which means my post will likely languish at or near the bottom, I still have a responsibility to write a coherent post, in case it does get some attention. I don’t want to have a popular or even viral post with typos, for instance.


I’m not at a point where I can write about tech, or food, or travel, or current affairs. So I picked a topic that is on my mind and allows me some room for musing. So, well, here’s the post: The Challenge is a Fresh Challenge, took me about half an hour to write.

It’s not clear to me whether the post will be published immediately or whether it needs to go through a review process. I like the discipline. Find a suitable title, write a tagline, write the article. I agree with Slate’s prognosis:

If I didn’t care about getting paid or having a job and just wanted to write something, Medium is the tool I would use.

in arts and media |


Rhett Miller was a reddit AMA recently. Now that brings back memories. My friend Mary, who I regrettably have lost touch with, introduced me to the instigator. I listened and enjoyed the music, especially Things that Disappear, but never looked him up. TIL I learned that he is a member of a Dallas band Old 97s and they just issued a new album to coincide with their 20th anniversary. The first single is appropriately called Longer than You’ve been Alive, which starts:

We’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive
Propelled by some mysterious drive

It’s available as a free stream and download. Click to listen and fill in box to download:

in easily amused |

The maker of Minecraft made a game in 48hrs as part of a challenge. This small game Drowning in Problems has been described as a

despair simulator

It takes only 10-15mins to play and takes you from the beginning:

to the start of life:

which then becomes a tedious chore as you face the dilemma of work vs stress vs creativity vs everything else:

It’s poignant and a very painful reminder of the pointless cycle of modern day life. There is no alternate ending, no cheat and it all goes back to nothing. It’s also quite addictive.

in random words |


I’m trying to continue with the momentum I’ve built up for PP and have been busy doing research online. The story is set within the Japanese community in Tennessee — Nissan and Toyota are two of the biggest employers in that region. I’ve bookmarked corporate websites, the local Japan-American society, newspaper articles, and even the nashville cherry blossom festival. I also came across an interesting book, Japanese Industry in the American South which is, according the its blurb:

an anthropological case study that describes whole industrial cultures found in three Japanese industrial plants in the American South. This book searches for answers to these questions: Why are Japanese industries coming to the American South? To what extent does Japan industrial management in the American South replicate the industrial relations model used in the home plants in Japan? What are the reactions of Americans toward the Japanese expatriates? At the same time, the book looks at the profound impact that the Japanese have had on Southerners.

Just reading the first few pages piqued my interest already. And then I looked at the price. $48 for the paperback and $39 for the kindle version. Seriously?! Yes, I recognise it’s an academic book, and someone had devoted much time and effort into researching and writing the book. But the way academic publishers artificially inflate the prices of their books is increasingly seen as out of date and even stupid.

However much I want to support all writers by buying their books, I’m refusing to pay exorbitant prices for an almost 20 year old book. Luckily there are many second hand options, so for around $5 including shipping I should be able to get my hands on a copy.

p.s. no, it’s not in the library system.


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