Sunday, May 27, 2012

Quick Thoughts Before I Go

Just packed up most of my stuff -- gotta get up in about six hours and head for the airport (boo!) -- but there are a few things I ought to report.

- Went this morning to Geek Mecca, aka the Forbidden Planet Megastore.  It opened at noon, and I got there about 10 minutes early.  I didn't want to be the Idiot American who stood outside the door waiting for the store to open.  When I walked 'round the corner and saw the shop, there were about twenty people waiting to get in.  I wondered if there was a book signing or something.  There wasn't.  Just a lot of geeks like me who had shopping to do.

- I try not to laugh at my fellow geeks, but there were a couple of girls there with obvious American accents who were alternately overwhelmed by the amount of Doctor Who stuff they had and really annoyed that all that Doctor Who stuff was not available on our side of the pond.  When they started to squee over the autographed John Barrowman biography, I had to stifle a giggle.

- I bought, um, way more stuff there than I thought I would.  Mostly stuff for me, from the Impulse Buy department.  Shut up.  And only one book -- although I discovered another book I wanted, which I then downloaded when I had dinner in a place with free Wi-Fi.

- Cillian Murphy is, in fact a crazy good actor.  Misterman, however, is one weird-ass play.

- So, I saw that show at the National, which gave me another opportunity to work out the route between Waterloo Station and the National Theatre.  This time, I tried it in reverse order.  During the day.  Walked from the National to Waterloo Station.  This was made easier by two maps posted along the way, and a street sign.  Also by the fact that, once you're anywhere near it, you can see this really ornate building which says "Waterloo Station" on it.  I still managed to have a hell of a time getting to it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I did it! Sort of.

Now, see, the problem with casting Adam Cooper as the lead in Singin' in the Rain is that you really just want to watch him dance, and there is only one solo dance for Don Lockwood in the whole damn show.  The upside is it's pretty damn magical.

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Way ahead.

::::dream sequence flashback to yesterday::::

Knowing that I had about 4 hours on a train today, and that I'd finished my last book last night at dinner, I spent a reasonable amount of time trying to get another book downloaded to my kiindle app with wifi that was being kind of dodgy for me.  Answer:  wouldn't work.  But I didn't really have to catch a train until somewhere between 11 and noon, so I could conceivably get out to a bookstore this morning (it opened at 10) and buy a dead tree book.

Except I didn't.  I got a late start this morning, and didn't get to the train station until about 11:20.  I would happily omit the part where I went to the wrong damn train station, but since it was something of a sign as of how the day would go, I probably should mention it.  I realized my mistake when I didn't see any trains to my destination on the destination board, cursed heartily, and went to the right place.  At this point, the only train I could take was the 11:55 -- it would get me to Sheffield at 2:00, and the show started at 2:30 -- with the theatre all of a ten minute walk from the train station, that would give me plenty of time -- but I would have preferred an earlier train.

Even making the 11:55 was a challenge.  Once I'd found the right train station (and the right ticket machines), the ticket machines decided not to take my credit card.  Or my other credit card.  This annoyed the crap out of me, but I had just enough cash to get the ticket.  Tried to reload my wallet by stopping at an ATM on the way to the platform, but one of the two ATMs was out of service, so the queue in front of the remaining one was way too long.  I counted the coins in my pockets (about 12 pounds) and got on the train.  (About 15 transit cops were standing around the platform -- apparently, the arriving train was carrying many loud football fans and nobody wanted any trouble.)

I hadn't eaten.  Anything.  The food trolley came by on the train.  They didn't have any decent sandwiches, so I bought a cup of tea and a bag of crisps (chips, to you).  

The train.  Arrived late.  By about 20 minutes.  They started apologizing when they were only 8 minutes late, and it just kept getting worse.  As the train pulled into the station, I realized my only hope of making the show was getting a taxi.  

On the plus side, there were plenty taxis waiting in line, and I was only third in line.  The minus side was that the person who was second in line had to load a ton of luggage in the cab, and we couldn't go around.

I didn't make it.  I was close.  I actually got my ticket at the counter before the play started, but they'd already closed the doors and wouldn't let me in until the first suitable break in the performance.  They had a TV set up out there, on which I was watching the first scene.  One usher was very apologetic -- both about how crappy the sound was on the television, and about how they would be unable to let me go to my nice seat damn near dead center, as I could only be seated way up on one of the sides (ten minutes in).  Wish I could say nice things about the other ushers, but they were talking loudly with the bartender -- had they been quieter, I could've actually heard the first scene on the television).  I did get in eventually (and, in the next blackout, moved to a marginally better seat from where they'd parked me).  Took me a while to stop cursing the train and settle in to enjoy the play, but I ultimately did, and was really glad I got to see it.

On the plus side, as I was seated so near the door, I was one of the first ones out when the show was over, and pretty much booked my way back to the train station.  The play ended at 4:00, and I needed to make the 4:27 train back to London.  For a minute there, I considered stopping to use the restroom at the theatre, but didn't want to risk it -- I could go at the train station.  Got to the train station in time.  (During which time, I actually thought about that crazy lady who wore adult diapers to make a long drive without having to stop to pee.)  Used the lovely (pay) toilets at the station, spent what was pretty much the very last of my money to buy a sandwich and apple slices for the ride home, and (hooray!) got more cash out of the ATM -- all before settling in my seat for the ride back to London.

I'm gonna be honest with you:  I owned up to going to the wrong train station.  And, in fact, if I hadn't overslept this morning, I would have taken an earlier train and not ended up missing out on my good seat at the show.  My fault.  See:  I own my mistakes.

On the train ride back to London, the train stopped about about 4 stations, although there were many other stations we passed.  This was what you might call an express train.  At the fourth station (where we were about 3 minutes late), they said, quite clearly over the loudspeaker, that this was the express to London, and NOT the one that made stops on the way.  If you needed the one that made stops on the way, wait all of 3 minutes for the next train.  (Not to mention there were all sorts of signs about this on the platform.)  I'm saying all of this because a bunch of people who got on at that fourth station got on the wrong train.  The conductor explained this at great length to the woman who sat down in front of me -- sorry, luv, you got on the wrong train -- you'll have to go all the way to London and take the next train back; terribly sorry, but we did explain it quite clearly; no, you won't be charged.

Ten minutes later, we learn that we're going to make an unscheduled stop at this lady's destination.  Apparently, so many people screwed this up that the conductor called her boss and got permission to make an unscheduled stop.  I asked the nice conductor if this would delay us for London.  She said by about 3 minutes.  (I didn't have the heart to ask if this would be on top of the 3 minutes we were already late.)  Most people on the train thought it was very, very nice of the train to bend its rules and make the unscheduled stop for the idiots.  Knowing that another 3 minutes would have made the difference between me getting in to my seat at the matinee and me standing there in the lobby watching the first scene on a TV, I wasn't all that sympathetic.

By the time we got to London, we were actually a bit closer to 12 minutes late.  Which meant I had a good 48 minutes to get to the theatre for Singin' in the Rain.

I am responsible for the next delay -- again, I will own this one.  There was a shop in the train station where I stopped to buy some gifts for folks back home.  (I'm leaving on Monday, and wasn't quite sure I'd have time to get back to the shop tomorrow.)  So, I mean, I stopped.  I realized this might mean I wouldn't have time for a restroom break before the show, but it was a trade-off I was willing to go for.

Before I got on the underground to get to the theatre (really really hoping that the theatre was where I thought it was), I realized I needed to put more cash on my Oyster card (underground tickety thing).  Tried to do so with my credit card, which was again rejected by the machine.  As was my second credit card.  And my third.  At this point, I decided it wasn't me.  Luckily, I had cash now.

Got to the theatre (yes, it was where I thought it was!) about ten minutes before the show.  There was a huge line at the theatre, though, because this show (unlike all of the others I've attended) was checking through everyone's stuff at the door.  We hear the "five minutes" bell when there are still about 80 of us standing outside the theatre in line, thinking, "really?"

I get in and get to my seat -- it's actually kind of funny -- from the lobby, I had to walk down a flight of stairs, through about three sets of doors, up some more stairs, and then I'm in the stalls (orchestra, to you).  Somewhere through the second set of doors, I saw the sign for the ladies' room, and decided to remember this for the intermission.  When trying to find this again, at intermission, it didn't entirely work.  When I exited through the nearest door, I was back in the lobby.  Retraced my steps and found my seat again, also the bar... not the can.  Followed another woman who looked as lost as I did, and was actually one of the first people in line because nobody else could find the bathroom either.  

(We skip past the point where I used the last of the toilet paper in my stall, so had to apologize to the next person in line.)

It ultimately was a very, very long line of women waiting for the restroom.  (Someone in line pointed out that this was probably because of all of the rain we'd just seen onstage.)  On the plus side, I took care of business so early, I was able to partake of the glorious British tradition of ice cream at the interval.

Totals for the day:
- 2 plays, 160 miles apart
- 3 (unexpected) presents for friends
- 2 delayed trains
- one cup tea, one bag crisps, one sandwich, one baggie apple slices, one ice cream
- five credit card denials
- 3 blisters on my feet
... and Adam Cooper dancing in the rain.

Totally worth it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Random Adventures in London

- The other day, I saw a production of Sweeney Todd.  When I mentioned that I was going to see it, my friend asked, "Haven't you already seen that show?"  I confess to a moment of total confusion -- the idea that I wouldn't want to see another production of Sweeney Todd was absolutely foreign to me.  I wanted to see different actors' takes on the roles, see what a new director did with it.  it was as if she'd asked "Haven't you already seen Hamlet?"  Sweeney isn't a show I see once and strike off my list; it's a show I keep seeing again and again, watching what new people bring to it.  I think I've just figured out how I define a "classic."

(When composing this post, I asked myself if I've seen more Sweeney Todds than Hamlets.  It's an interesting question.  Adding up stage, film, and television, I've seen, I think, eight Sweeneys and six Hamlets, although I feel like I'm missing a Hamlet.  This isn't to say I give the edge to Sondheim over Shakepeare -- Shakespeare wrote rather more, so it isn't surprising that I've spread out my viewings of his works.)

- Y'know, I'm kind of annoyed at all those jokes I hear on British TV about Americans being obese -- because I've seen a lot of Brits that tip the scales around here, and it isn't all tourists keeping those McDonald's restaurants open on every damn corner.  And then, while watching TV here, I caught the American export "Man vs. Food."  I apologize on behalf of my country.

- Had an adventure on the way to the theatre tonight.  I was going to the National -- I love going there, but I always get lost finding it from the nearest underground station (Waterloo).  Always, always, always.  That's just my way.  I often walk there from a different station (Embankment) -- it's further away (other side of the Thames), but at least I know the way.  I intended to leave 45 minutes to get from my flat (I've rented a flat for the week) to the theatre tonight, but got started a bit late, and only had a half hour.  I figured I wouldn't have time to walk from Embankment -- I'd have to go the Waterloo and hope I could find the damn place on the first try.

So, here I am, on the underground, three stops from Waterloo, and the train stops in the station and doesn't start moving again.  It's less than 20 minutes to showtime and I can't help but notice the train isn't going.  The helpful voice over the loudspeaker tells us that there's a suspicious package at the next station, so we're just going to sit here in the station before until they give us the "all clear."

Well, poop.

I give it about 2 minutes, and then realize that they probably haven't even approached the package yet (with the team in super suits).  I jump off the train.  I can walk it, but not in the now-fifteen minutes left.  But I could get a cab.  I am at Leicester Square -- tourist central -- the good news is: there will be a lot of cabs.  The bad news is: there wil be a lot of people in them.  I see a cab dropping off passengers and I pounce on it -- simultaneous to a local pouncing on it as well.  She asks where I'm going and it's the same general direction in which she's going.  She offers to share with me, have me dropped off at the theatre on the way to her destination, and pick up the tab for the cab.  (Those British, so very polite.)  I gratefully take her up on it, and we start driving to the other side of the river.  He's taking an odd route, and we eventually realize he's going to her destination first.  Polite British Lady (who had also been on the train stuck at Leicester Square) tried to get the cabbie's attention and have him drop me first -- I was on a tight deadline and she wasn't -- but he was on his cell phone and there are limits to how far you can go to get someone's attention and still be polite.  He drops her at her destination, she kindly pays him the meter plus an additional amount to get me to the theatre, and I, as politely as possible, tell him to step on it.

He drops me about a block from the theatre about a minute before showtime, and I run like hell.  As I enter the building, I hear the last-call bell.  The theatre is on the second floor (that's the third floor, to you and me) and I figure the elevator would be quicker.  I jump into the elevator, and share a ride with another American who was also stuck on the tube.  (She transferred to a different train and ended up on a two-line detour.)  We both go to the box office -- two of us, two box office attendants.  Other American goes to one attendant and is asked to show the credit card with which she purchased the ticket.  Other attendant asks me my surname and hands me the ticket while I'm still reaching for my credit card; she says, "Forget that; the show's about to start; you better run and get inside."  Very grateful to the attendant who put practicality over rules, I followed her instructions and ran.  Got my seat, apologized to the fellow next to me for my lateness, and had a good 30 seconds before the play began.  I noticed empty seats beside me and told him that "those people must be later than I am."  They were -- weren't allowed to sit down until the first convenient break in the performance, about 15 minutes in.  I'm sure they were on the same train, too.

- I've got a (potentially) tight connection on Saturday, between two plays in two different cities.  It should work  If the first show starts and ends on time, I should have plenty of time to make it to the train station, and if the train leaves and gets back to London on time, I should have plenty of time to get to the theatre.  But if I miss that train, I'm ... screwed really.  It's funny -- I depend so heavily on public transit when I'm here, but I tend to forget how fragile it really is.

- When I walked back from the theatre tonight (to Embankment), I walked across the Waterloo Bridge, which is a favorite walk of mine.  At the end of the bridge, though, I tend to hold my breath, as it requires walking past a place the homeless tend to use as a urinal, which smells a bit unpleasant.  This time, the bad smell was almost totally gone.  And I thought, "Wow, thet really are cleaning this place up for the Olympics."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The whole story

Really?  No takers?

OK then.  I expect the broad shot will make it more apparent:

Yep.  It's a model.  Of Hogwarts Castle.  (A damn impressive model.)  Courtesy the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.  I've actually been to the Warner Studio tour in California, and it's really one of your better studio tours, so I had some high expectations for this here one.  And I wasn't disappointed.  It's exclusively a Harry Potter tour, which covers three areas -- two soundstages and a backlot -- but they pack a lot of stuff in the limited space.

I mean, the whole thing starts with a short introductory film, where the 3 no-longer-child stars introduce you to things.  You might notice, during the film, that they're standing in front of the doors to the Great Hall.  The film ends; the screen ascends; and your tour guide is standing in front of those same doors.  She invites the group up, opens the doors, and bam, there it is:

(Forgive the mood lighting -- I didn't realize I'd had the flash off on my camera until partway through.)  There's a short intro in the Great Hall, at which point they pretty much let you loose.  You're in a fairly massive soundstage, in which they've set up a whole mess of the sets (Hagrid's Hut, the Gryffindor dorm, the Weasley's cottage, offices at the Ministry of Magic ...) as well as displays of props, costumes, and all sorts of other Harry Potter goodies.  You're really only escorted through the Grand Hall -- other than that, you've got one of them audio guide thingies, so you just type in the number corresponding to the exhibit you're looking at, and you get all necessary info.  I learned pretty early on that it was best to go out of order -- that way, you're more likely to see stuff when other people aren't crowding around it.  Still, it was a bit of a challenge to get photos without random other people in them.  Here's one, though.

I always like cute little details people might miss.  Here's one from the hair, wig and makeup peeps:

I thought that the statue from the Ministry of Magic was really impressive.  My audio guide thingie told me that this was actually sculpted out of foam.  Which I absolutely didn't believe when I looked as it, as it was painted and lit absolutely realistically.  But when I took some pictures -- by now, I'd put my camera flash back on -- it totally looks fake.  So, there's a lesson in here about lighting, I reckon.

I did take one picture with random other tourists in it.  This was, in part, because there was no way to get this shot without someone else being in it.  But the shot actually needs people in it, so I didn't really mind.  Consider these here tourists to be "extras" in my scene:

Yep.  Turn a corner and you're in Diagon freakin' Alley.  Not bad, eh?  They really did exceptional work dressing this set for the tour -- it looks real enough to shop in.  (I would have much rather shopped there than in the mandatory Gift Shop At The End of the Tour, in which every item was so insanely overpriced, I would have choked at these prices if they were in dollars instead of pounds.  I did end up buying a small gift for a friend.  Ten sheets of paper with the Hogwarts logo cost 8 pounds.  EIGHT POUNDS!  That's like $12.50.  A buck and a quarter for a sheet of paper.  How any parent could afford to send their kid to a school like that is beyond me.)

Where was I?  Oh, right, the photos from the tour.  They also had a few Harry Potter vehicles you could sit in or stand near or whatever -- photo ops, is what I'm saying.  So, my friends helped me out with one of them:

That's the Knight Bus (the sign reads:  "All Destinations.  None Underwater")

And I'm the total geek.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

OK... a taste

I did say something about actually taking pictures today, right?  Well, it's about midnight here, so I don't have time to do all my uploading.  But here's a picture I took of a castle I saw today.  Ten points to the first person to identify it.
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Monday, May 21, 2012

And... now I'm in London

(Clearly, I had to get the post about Vancouver written before I actually left on the next vacation.)

We begin, as we often do, with me buying a new wristwatch at the airport.  I am really annoyed by this.  At the top of my packing list, I note what I'm going to wear on the plane, and I actually wrote "watch" on it.  And still I didn't remember to wear the watch.  (I realized that I'd forgotten it, as per usual, when I was about to take it off to go through security.)  And it isn't like I didn't just do this a year or two ago.  That's it -- next time I'm just packing the damn watch in my carryon, because remembering to wear it is clearly beyond my ability.

The terminal from which I departed at LAX had something like 5 shops in it, and 3 of them sold watches.  The Duty Free shop had designer watches -- I didn't see anything for less than $100.  When I asked in the next shop (watches and sunglasses) for "the cheapest watch in the shop," she helpfully told me that they sold out of the $20 (ladies') Mickey Mouse watches.  She asked if I'd be interested in a child's Spongebob Squarepants model, and ultimately agreed that a tidy little Anne Klein ($55 -- the same thing I paid for a swatch the last time I did this) was the cheapest watch in the store.  The third shop (the "I Love LA" store) had one carousel of ugly off-label watches, all for $12.99, and very few actually ticking.  I ignored those watches (on the theory that I couldn't depend on one to give me the real time) and reluctantly coughed up the $55.  To discover that, on the plane, there was a decent breo sports watch in the airplane duty free for about $12.  

The whole watch thing made me very grumpy, and I had to remind myself that I was on vacation, so this was fun.

On the plane, I was sitting on an aisle with three people to my left.  I anticipated a family of 3 -- perhaps 2 adults and 1 kid.  What I had not expected was what I got:  grandma babysitting the 3-year-old and the 6-year-old, while mom and dad were livin' large up in First Class.  I was sitting next to the 6-year-old, and can safely admit to getting no damn sleep at all on this flight (possibly 15 minutes, which is probably worse than no sleep).  I was alternately awoken by: 6-year-old deciding to put his pillow on the armrest between our seats, resulting in his head poking me in the ribs; the kid's mom coming back from First Class to give the kid her Bose noise-cancelling headphones; the kid's mom again coming back and (despite the people sleeping around) speaking quite loudly to the kid (I assume this was so she'd be heard over the headphones); and the person in front of me constantly adjusting her seat.  (And that's omitting when the kid knocked his (thankfully empty) glass into my lap.  Not the best flight ... is what I'm saying.

So, when my international loaner phone from Verizon didn't want to download data (despite my having signed up for their global data plan), I just sat my annoyed self down on a chair in Heathrow, called Verizon Global Tech Support, and demanded that this, dammit, be made to work.  (Tech support didn't really help matters, but I eventually got it working myself.)

This started looking way way up when I found my flat.  I hadn't been able to find a reasonably priced hotel room, but I found a good rental flat on Flipkey and this one was exactly as described.  It's been newly renovated, and it's really quite lovely.  I'm pleased with it -- and the fact that there's a theatre bookshelf just across the way and a gelato shop on the corner ... well, BONUS.

Not much vacationy to actually report.  I went to the store and stocked my mini-fridge (yogurt for breakfast, fruit and veggies for snacks -- am I just naturally eating healthy on vacation or is it because this country still hasn't figured out pretzels?); found a retro clothing store for which I have a groupon (didn't buy anything, but I figured out my size in their clothes); and met my friends (the same ones I went to Vancouver with) for dinner.  We're not travelling together, we just happen to be both be here at the same time.

They took some pictures of their kid standing in a classic red phone box, apologizing that they're "dorks."  Tomorrow, however, we're going to be "geeks."  Total fine line.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012


The rest of the gang flew home shortly after Whistler, but, having never been in Vancouver before, I took a couple extra days to check the place out.

It was supposed to rain the first day that I was there.  This was annoying.  Pretty much everyone had recommended Stanley Park as the thing to see in Vancouver, and there didn't seem to be much point in wandering around a lovely park in the rain.  So, I figured I'd go to "a museum or something" on the first day, and then go to Stanley Park on the second day.  I went through a stack of tourist brochures, but couldn't really find much in the way of museums which interested me.  I just decided to go the nearest one and check out the art or artifacts or whatever the hell they had there.

But before I went, I also had the brilliant idea of having high tea.  (This was working on the assumption that Every Country Except The U.S. Which Used To Be Owned By Britain still does high tea.  This assumption has not yet been proven wrong.)  I found myself this blog over here, where some poor soul had painstakingly tried high tea all over Vancouver and reviewed them.  (Note to self: do this in Los Angeles.  It's a tough job, but ...)  The blog highly recommended a place called Urban Tea Merchant, which was less than two blocks from my hotel, and in the general direction of the museum.  It was fate, I tell you.

So I strolled over to the Urban Tea Merchant, where I sucked down a really awesome "Petite Afternoon Tea" (just enough food, and crazy tasty).  The place wasn't that busy, and nobody rushed me at all, so I took my time, enjoyed the meal, and did some reading.  (I was reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys on my kindle app.  More on the book later.)  And, as I was reading, I noticed the sky clearing.  Yes!  So, I tossed the phone in my bag, paid my bill, and figured, "what the hell, let's go to Stanley Park."  

It was a good walk down to the Park, but the weather was nice, it was largely downhill, and I was on vacation, so, no hurry.  By the time I got down to the park, I had myself a seat on a nice little park bench, and read a bit more right near this cherry tree.

(At least, I think it's a cherry tree.)

I sat there for about an hour, and then realized I should probably check out the rest of the park.  There's a lengthy walk around the edge of it (guidebooks said it takes a couple hours to do the circuit -- although I later heard that was an overestimate), and I wasn't up to walking that much.  I figured I'd start walking and then turn around at some point.  As it happened, they were just starting a trolley tour as I walked past, so I changed plans and took the trolley tour.  ("Where are you from?" "San Diego.")  It took us to various sites in the park, including these.

Totem poles!  I'm not normally crazy into totem poles or anything, but they were kind of the perfect thing to hit after a couple hours of Anansi Boys.  (Isn't it cool when it happens like that? You're just reading about all these animal-spirit-god things and then you hit the totem poles which are dealing with those same spirits.)

By the time I finished with the tour, it was just starting to get dusk-ish, so I headed back to the hotel.  I was well and truly wiped.  But I had a lot of planning to do.  (And a hockey game to watch.)  Now that I'd managed Stanley Park on the first day, I could plan something even more fun for the second (not rainy) day.

I again have to thank the internet for this.  It took a couple hours to put together, and it never would've worked had I not stumbled upon the right solution on TripAdvisor.  See, I wanted to go over to Vancouver Island, and see Butchart Gardens.  And maybe have tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.  But what with it not being high tourist season yet (indeed, the Very First Cruise Ship of the season was in Vancouver that day), they weren't running a full schedule of busses up to Butchart, and then I'd still have to take a tour bus to the ferry and ... the whole thing was turning into some crazy 12-hour day and I'd only get to the Gardens and nothing else.  And the internet said:  take a seaplane.  And rent a car once you get there.

The internet was right.  And, since there was just one of me, taking the seaplane wasn't crazy expensive.  (Although, honestly, this was in the running for one of the most expensive single days I've ever spent on vacation.)  Hell, I even got a cheap internet-only fare.  (And the seaplanes left from a terminal which was surprisingly close to my hotel.)

Quickie seaplane flight over to Victoria; walked over to the rental car place (where they tried to "upgrade" me to a station wagon -- dude, I'm on your island for one day, the only luggage I have is this tiny backpack, and you think I want a station wagon?); and made my way up to Butchart Gardens.  (On the way, I passed the line of people waiting for the bus up to Butchart, and realized I totally made the right call on the car thing.)

Butchart Gardens is a very pretty, very well-manicured set of gardens.  Look, I live near the Huntington, I know what good gardens look like.  Butchart is a lot smaller than the Huntington, but it makes up for it by actually designing each area and making it look all pretty, rather than just having a few hundred different breeds of roses all growing next to each other.  (Not to knock the roses; they're impressive.  This is just a different type of impressive.)  So, at Butchart, you get things like this:

I listen to music when I'm wandering around tourist attractions by myself.  Often, the music (on "shuffle") gives me something totally, laughably inappropriate for the circumstances.  Sometimes, it is crazy dead on.  Like when the music switched to the theme from Jurassic Park as I walked up an incline and this vista was revealed:


I finished with the Gardens, jumped in the car, and headed back.  I'd also read about Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian mansion being restored with original (and/or period) furnishings.  Since I had the freedom of my own damn car, I drove out to the castle and spent an hour or so checking out its nifty Victorianness.  Returned to the city with plenty of time for tea at the Empress.

I was so early, I had an hour to kill between returning the car and my tea reservation.  I had to gas up the car before returning it, and, on the way back from the gas station, I passed a sort of town square where there were folks hawking horse-drawn carriage rides.  Carriage rides!  I dropped the car off, walked back to the horseys, and signed up for a 45-minute carriage tour.  (The lady was pleased to have me -- she and the others had gone out there in the hopes of getting business from the cruise ship -- I was her firstest fare of the season.)  I'm also a pretty easy fare -- she asked if I wanted a tour of the harbor or the houses; I asked her to take me on whichever one she liked better.  She liked the houses, so we were off clippity-cloppity-ing down narrow streets, checking out neighborhoods of tightly packed Victorian homes (and even tighter garages -- it's a good trick fitting a car where a horse used to go).  They were adorable, and my driver had all sorts of cool stories about the history of the place.

Finished just in time for my leisurely tea at the Empress.  Where they addressed me by my last name, offered me reading materials, and would not let my teacup get empty.  I drink a lot of tea (and the "Empress Blend" is quite tasty), but, honestly, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get to the bottom of that cup without my wait-person picking up my teapot and refilling the cup (she mixed in the milk, too).  Service was impeccable; tea was tasty; mini-sandies were good (and plentiful).  (Too stuffed to have dinner that night.)  Finished tea with just enough time to walk back to the seaplane terminal and catch the next commuter flight (me and 10 people in business suits) back to Vancouver.

It was pricey, but I certainly can't be accused of not filling my day.  I managed to do everything I'd wanted and then some.  Great vacation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I'm alive!

And I made the foolish mistake of going on vacation with my tablet, not my netbook.  The tablet was fine for things like reading a book on the plane (indeed, way better for that than the mobile phone) but when it comes to typing things of great length, nothing beats a freakin' keyboard.  And this is coming from someone who is pretty darned fast at Swype.

ANYWAY, once I came back, the day job (and the night job) got a bit ahead of me, and I didn't have enough time to 'blog.  (And I wasn't getting much sleep...)  Yeah, yeah, excuses.  Let me just get on with the post-trip blogging.

I went up to Whistler with some friends for our more-or-less annual ski trip.  Although I don't ski.  (The five-year-old will soon surpass me in skiing prowess.)  As a place to go for non-skiing, I enjoyed Whistler a lot more than some of our other destinations.  There was tons to do in the village.  (As we happened to be there during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, there was even more to do in the village.  And we got to watch some of the "Big Air" competition.  Although, yes, there was that vague smell of burning rope hanging in the air.)  

As is traditional, we went tubing.  The Whistler Tubing Park (sponsored by Coca-Cola) has a few things going for it:  It's pristine; it is well-staffed by friendly people who are more than happy to give you a push or take a group photo; and they let you link up a bunch of tubes and go sailing down as a group.  This is the bad thing going for it:  It doesn't stop you at the end with an uphill slope.  Instead, you just continue sailing down a flat.  However, the little "magic carpet" lift which takes you back to the top of the hill starts way over there, a little ways up the hill itself.  Result:  once you have your minute or two of fun tubing down the hill, you grab your tube and haul it a substantial distance in the snow, part of it uphill, before you get to the lift.  I think we only tubed 6 or 7 times before we were too wiped to go on.  (And, because I was getting so hot and sweaty hauling my tube back to the lift, each time I got there, I was taking off another layer of clothing and just throwing it in the tube.  If we'd stayed much longer, I would've been tubing in a sports bra.)

I also took a morning to go on a zipline tour through the rainforest.  (Yes, there's a rainforest there.  Who knew?)  It was a really fun tour, and I must thank the folks in the Whistler Village Information booth for pointing me toward them.  The people in line in front of me were asking about zipline tours and were told there were two companies that did them, Ziptrek and ... the other one.  And they had the good sense to ask the difference between the tour companies.  Information Booth Lady said that with Ziptrek, your guides pull on the line to slow and stop you, while, with the other company, you stop by hitting a spring at the end.  Having had my fill of that particularly type of zipline four years ago, I signed up with Ziptrek.  This is seriously a full-service operation.  They really do stop you by controlling your speed -- your little wheelie clamp that's on the line ends up getting caught by a little wheelie clamp they send out at the end of the line, and then slowly bring you in.  AND they set up a photographer in a tree someplace to take really good pictures of you.  Check it.

Totally sweet. 

As we were getting into our harnesses before going out to the lines, one of the guides asked where I was from.  I said "L.A."  He asked if I followed hockey.  It seemed that "yes," was the answer they were looking for, so I said, "a bit."  Seems that our L.A. Kings had just beaten Vancouver in the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs the night before.  (Jokes from the couple from Vancouver telling them to give me "the bad harness" followed.)  I made a mental note to keep an eye on the playoffs and, if the Kings kept winning, to stop telling people that I was from Los Angeles.  I spent the next few days in Vancouver, telling everyone I was from "not Los Angeles, that's for damn sure."