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Victoria to Seattle

February 15, 2017 – Victoria, BC, Canada to Seattle, WA, USA via Victoria Clipper catamaran ferry

Clipper Navigation calls me this morning to let me know they are advancing the departure date of the sailing from 5PM to 2PM in order to avoid the predicted strong winds. I quickly finish packing and tidy up what I need to at home before calling a taxi at 12:30PM to take me to the ferry terminal downtown. I’m the first passenger there, but the waiting lounge soon fills up. We pre-clear US Immigration in the terminal shortly after 1PM, and we are all aboard about 15 minutes later. I have six window seats all to myself since there are very few passengers on this sailing.

Serving staff and lots of empty seats in the main cabin

Serving staff and lots of empty seats in the main cabin

They announce that tea and coffee are free on this sailing, and beer is on sale for US$3, so I order a Pike Place IPA and a smoked Provolone sandwich as a mid-afternoon snack/dinner. We hit some bigger waves around 3PM for about a half hour or so.

The captain takes us directly across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Dungeness Point near Port Angeles in order to keep our time in rough seas to a minimum. We pass Whidby Island on our left and the Point Wilson lighthouse at Port Worden Historic State Park on our right near Port Townsend. The rain is really streaming down the windows of the boat as we proceed through Puget Sound towards Seattle. I’m seated beside four women from Louisiana, who’s accents are a hoot to listen to.

Route map - Dungeness Bay

Route map – Dungeness Bay

Once we dock at Pier 69, all the passengers with no checked luggage get off first, then the rest of us claim our bags and go through US Immigration and Customs. None of the agents have computer terminals on this end, unlike in Victoria where my passport was scanned. I catch a taxi outside the terminal, and he takes me the 10-15 blocks through rush hour traffic to the Best Western Plus Pioneer Square hotel. I picked this hotel because it is about six short blocks to the King Street Train station where I will show up tomorrow morning to begin my train journey to Tucson, Arizona.

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Arizona Astronomy in February 2017

Garry's observatory with 20" and 25" telescopes

Garry’s observatory with 20″ and 25″ telescopes

An astronomy buddy of mine who has a home in the rural desert grasslands in southern Arizona invited a few of us from the local astronomy group to come down for a week of observing under dark skies in February 2017. I quickly took him up on his generous offer, since not only does his place have very dark skies, it is also located in a high elevation area in southeastern Arizona. We also get to make use of his very well-equipped observatory at a site that typically has 330 clear days (and nights) per year.

Instead of flying to Phoenix or Tucson, I decided to take the Victoria Clipper catamaran from Victoria to Seattle, overnight in Seattle, and then take the Amtrak train all the way to Tucson. I have never taken an overnight trip on a train before – this trip will take two days with a change of trains in Los Angeles. I’m really looking forward to the experience of slower and gentler travel. I will have a Roomette both ways, so I will be treated like a VIP, having my own bed, small private room, and meals included.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles has a reputation of being one of the more interesting and scenic train routes in the USA, especially when it travels along the coast north of LA during daylight hours. The Sunset Limited takes me from LA to Tucson and back, but this is mainly during the night, so not much scenery will be visible on this route, just sleeping!

Amtrack route from Seattle to Tucson via LA

Amtrack route from Seattle to Tucson via LA

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Old Dubai

February 9, 2015 – Monday – Old Dubai – first full day of the tour

I’m awakened by the 5:30AM call to prayer outside. I sleep a bit longer and then go to breakfast at 7AM, since we depart on tour at 8AM. The buffet breakfast served downstairs is great: lots of choices, freshly made hot and cold food, very good coffee, and great table service.

We meet our local guide Kais (or Qais) this morning as we board our bus outside our hotel. He is Tunisian, but has lived and worked in Dubai for the last 10 years with his wife and daughters.

This morning, we walk along the Creek in the historic Bastakia Quarter, which has souqs and some fascinating displays of Emirati culture. The Ruler’s Court is located in this area, which is where the sheik still receives delegations of local people. Vendors in the souqs in this area sell spices, gold, perfume, and more. We take an abra (small taxi boat) to cross the Creek, and have lots of time to explore all the nooks and back alleys – it’s like a shopping mall full of specialty shops!

We have lunch alongside The Creek at Al Bandar restaurant. We have a variety of salads, hummus & another spread, pita bread, grilled lamb sausage and chops, chicken chunks, vegetables, french fries, and non-alcoholic beverages and water. Fresh fruit is served for dessert. There are some scrawny small cats lurking around, loudly begging for table scraps. Our guide Kais smokes a hookah, and one of our group tries it too.

This afternoon we photograph the lovely exterior of Jumeirah Mosque and later drive through the ruling family’s residential area, making a stop at the famed Burj Al Arab hotel, supposedly the only seven-star hotel in the world. Driving out onto the Palm Jumeirah Island reveals a world unto itself: lush homes (all waterfront), very posh shopping districts, high end business offices and towers, and a still developing resort complex.

Rush hour traffic back into the city means it takes well over an hour for our final stop of the day in New Dubai’s Marina District. This is a superb example of beautiful modern architecture combined with futuristic urban planning – a dream come true for architects and community planners. We leave after the sun sets to return to our hotel, the Arabian Courtyard Hotel. By this time, most of us are sleeping in the bus due to jet lag.

There are only 950,000 Emirates citizens. The rest of the 9 million people living in the UAE are foreign workers. When asked on CNN why Dubai is so “over-the-top”, the current sheik states that he feels it is his obligation to give his people the very best of everything possible.

Dubai is one of several sheikdoms in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai only gets 5% of the oil revenues of the UAE, but is traditionally a trading centre, and specializes in transportation. The Dubai port and airport are the biggest hubs in this area, and support extensive business interests both here and abroad.

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Cinque Terra

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Seafood stew cooked in an amphora
After driving from Rome, we turn off the Autostrada and drive down a steep valley to Vernazza, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights. Since today is Saturday, there are lots of Italians here on weekend get-aways. We are staying in the Hotel Punta Mesco, a nice hotel located about a block off the main street, so it is nice and quiet.

This evening, we have a group meal at Ristorante Belvedere in old town. They cook a rich seafood stew of squid, fish, and mussels in an amphora and then pour it out into big bowls and we serve ourselves family-style.

2014.09.14 – Sunday – Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Riomaggiore village
Today is our “vacation from our vacation”…in other words, a free day. I take the little ferry on a round trip from Monterosso al Mare, where out hotel is located, and go to Vernazza, Corniglia (hill town, no ferry stop), and Riomaggiore. On the way back, the ferry stops at Manarola and Vernazza, before terminating at Monterosso. I had planned to get off in Vernazza, see the town and walk back to Monterosso, but after seeing the crowds in the square at Vernazza, I decided to stay on the ferry and return to Monterosso.

I have lunch with a couple from our group, and then just chill out in my hotel room for a while. My ground floor room has a small patio, so I catch up on some journaling and annotate my photos while sitting outside. Our hotel hosts a Happy Hour this afternoon for our group – pizza, cheese, cold meats, bread, wine, and Limonchella. I fill up on the delicious pizza since they have lots, and skip dinner!

2014.09.15 – Monday – Cinque Terre, Italy to Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

After leaving the Cinque Terre this morning, we bypass Genoa and Milan and we cross the border into Switzerland at Lugano.