Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Train travel”

Freeway Free in France: Back to the 7me Arrondissement

My favorite pied a terre in Paris is the Jardin D’Eiffel, just off the market street Rue Cler (see above) by one block. 15 years ago when I first stayed the decor was dominated by giant yellow Monet-esque flowers on Royal blue  on drapes, pictures, and murals throughout (see below) , and the clientele favored busloads of Canadian and German students and tourists on a budget.

The old Jardin has undergone a 21st century revamp, and is now robed mostly in subtle shades of gray with some paisley drapes to brighten the feel (see above).  The elevator, however,  is no larger;  it can accommodate two people and two suitcases on if you are on friendly terms, or you can stash the suitcases in the elevator, push the button,and race the elevator up the stairs. DB and I are sharing a room facing the street – not the best, as the next door neighbor is the police station and we expect to hear sirens all night.  From the back rooms, if you lean out the window, you can glimpse the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived after an efficient breakfast at La Vielle Auberge, a lightning transit to the train station in Souillac, a bit of a hassle with ticket’s but we eventually got on the train and enjoyed four hours of French scenery, shading from Romanesque yellow sandstone  with steep-pitched roofs and bell-towers in the Dordogne to white stucco with mansard roofs and steeples in the Touraine.  Gare Austerlitz is large and bustling but well-signed, our Algerian taxi driver was friendly and expansive about  what we should be sure to see in Paris, and the staff at the Jardin welcomed us like old friends.

We took the Metro to the Place de ‘l’Opera and picked up our museum passes for two days of urgent museum – going.  This may be our last joint adventure for awhile, as we each have different plans for our stay in Paris.    WB missed the Louvre on her previous visit and expects to spend two days there, but wants also to fit in the renovated Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin, the Pere LaChaise cemetery, and perhaps a tour of the opera.  DM has a friend dating back to a working stint in London  who came to meet her and is staying at the Jardin, and also has a cousin who wants to return the hospitality DM showed him in the states, so after tonight’s dinner  she will not share evenings until Sunday. Dianne has not been in Paris in decades and has murky memories, so she may take the #69 bus tour around the city per Rick Steves’ recommendation and then follow her interests. 20160922_230844web

I have in mind the renovated d’Orsay tomorrow together with l’Orangerie which houses Monet’s water lilies, then there is another exhibit at the Grand Palais I want to find out about, and I need to visit Notre Dame and the Holocaust victims memorial and of course Berthillon’s ice cream and the Art Deco atrium of La Samaritaine, and Le Pere LaChaise cemetery with WB on Sunday.  Our walking tour will have been good prep for pounding all this Gothic pavement. Right now we are getting cleaned up in preparation for a celebration meal at l’Affriole, which it appears has developed enough of a reputation that Michele (who is French with family and friends in Lyon) had heard of it.

I am trembling at the potential cost.  But we have economized greatly up until now, having scrounged for lunches at the hotel breakfast buffets and having dinner and breakfasts prepaid during our hiking tour.

20160922_073111docWe decided to walk back from L’Opera (which was undergoing a revamp of its own behind a Rene Magritte-inspired façade) and stopped at a street-side cafe on Rue Tour Maubourg for wine, tea, and people -watching. We saw Cinderella’s glass coach go by, pulled by a rather ordinary brown horse and with two dotty English tourists inside.  Such is life in a tourist city.

Unfortunately l’Affriole did not live up to my memory. New management has revamped the decor here also, opening up the front of the place for sidewalk seating, which leaves one exposed to the curious glances of passers-by and other hazards.  In our case, a large dog decided to deposit an equally large souvenir on the sidewalk just by our table, and the dog’s owner loftily prepared to ignore the awkward incident until the restaurateur bounded out and demand she clean up after her pet.  She argued, gave in, and “cleaned up” by kicking the mess to the curb, then wiping her shoe carefully on the edge.  Not the most appetizing of beginnings.

The food, instead of bringing on the sort of ecstasy seen in “When Harry Met Sally,” did not measure up to either my memory or the best of the food we had enjoyed while hiking. So much for my “local expertise”.  But I still have a few 7me arrondissement aces up my sleeve.20160922_070928doc

 

 

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A Piece of My Mind: Could Local Lucre Grease our Wheels? (Los Altos Town Crier March 1, 2017)

P1050177cropI am a big fan of public transit, taking the train regularly to Sacramento and San Francisco to visit family, taking BART to the Symphony or to museums in San Francisco, riding Light Rail and Muni in San Jose and San Francisco.  But I am somewhat reluctant to recommend these services to some of my more fastidious friends, since CalTrain and BART in particular are more than a little grungy.

In the past 20 years I have traveled on public transit systems made similar to BART, and have seen cars and stations in Taipei, Atlanta, and Washington DC get upgrade after upgrade.  In the same period of time nothing has happened to BART, except that the forty-year-old cars have gotten dirtier, smellier, and more worn.  The windows have become so scratched that it is almost impossible to read the signage at each station (especially since very few of the station signs are lighted) and there has never been any interior electronic signage to tell where you are.  And the rails have become noisier and noisier, to the point where going around a bend in a tunnel is now acutely painful to the ears.  The noise is so intense that any on-board announcements are completely indecipherable.  When I take BART to San Francisco, I wear earplugs. 

So why can’t we update BART as often as Taipei updates its MRT?  Of course, we have an absurd idea that public transportation should be self-supporting, and with fares kept low there is little money for upgrades and maintenance.  Yet there are other public services that do not pretend to be self-supporting, and yet manage to stay up to date.  We don’t expect libraries to be self-supporting through their collection of fines, or schools to be self-supporting through sales of tickets to sports events and concerts.  Why can’t…. but wait a minute!  What do schools and libraries have that BART doesn’t have?  They have Friends!  They have Foundations! 

What if we had a BART Maintenance Foundation, similar to the Los Altos Educational Foundation which maintains our high level of school quality , and a Friends of CalTrain, as effective and dedicated as our Friends of the Los Altos Library?   And what if we could inveigle some of our more affluent local residents to become involved?  Just think what we could do!

Latest estimates for total electrification of CalTrain come to about $1.76 billion.  That’s a paltry 3% of Mark Zuckerberg’s current net worth.  A donation to the Friends of CalTrain would certainly earn him a bunch of LIKE’s and maybe a free engineer’s cap to wear when the hoody is in the wash. 

New BART cars are currently running about $3.2 million per car. Why not invite some of our technocrats to purchase naming rights to a BART car?  Certainly more prestigious than buying a Lamborghini that you can only drive in your underground garage because it is too expensive to crash test.  And think of all the rainbow-framed Windows  sending out a subliminal message! 

Upgrading the infrastructure of BART is a bit pricier – $3.5 billion per current estimate – but there are lots of opportunities for appropriate philanthropy. $915 million is needed to update the control system;  maybe one of those companies working on self-driving cars could help under-write the self-driving BART system.  Another $432 million will renovate the Maintenance Center in Hayward.  Might not another local company want to be LinkedIn for naming rights?  That leaves 107 miles of track to be maintained at  roughly $20 million per mile.   Why not set up an Adopt-A-Track program similar to the Adopt-a-Highway program which keeps our highways tidy?  There could be little mileposts along the track: “If you like this quiet ride, you’ll LOVE our electric cars!” “Our software keeps your sales on TRACK!” “Trains or data – easy access is our specialty!”

OK, so upgrading and maintaining public transit isn’t quite on the same cosmic level of good-deed-doing as curing cancer or eliminating malaria.  Still, this is an opportunity to improve the daily quality of life for an average of 430,000 daily riders. Who would like to step up?

Things to do now that Football is Finally Finished

20150130_161859webFootball season is over!  No more sitting in a cave watching pixels flash on a TV monitor while the sun is shining outside and all your vertebrae beg to be un-squished from that armchair!  What will you do with all this free time? Here are some ideas to get you started.  (Full disclosure:  we are not football addicts so we had a head start on alternatives!)20150125_115440web

 

Why not? Take public transportation to the city. Feel the freedom of not having that 2000 lb anchor dragging you into dark dank parking garages too far from where you really want to be. And there are great possibilities for people – watching.  (Can you see the little blond girl in pink sitting on her mother’s lap beyond the bicycle?  I missed the shot of her flopped upside down, hair streaming almost to the floor, as she solemnly regarded the world from a different point of view, but the memory gives me a smile every time.)

 

The Grove Restaurant on Mission Street, San Francisco

 

Why not? Eat at a restaurant you have never tried before. This is the Grove Restaurant on Mission Street, whose décor oddly evokes a ski lodge.  I wish I had stopped to take a picture of the delectable poached eggs on avocado toast which I was served here, but I was hungry and devoured them before I thought.  (They serve the breakfast menu all day.)

20150125_124259webWhy not? Check out a small specialized museum’s feature exhibit. This is the California Historical Society on Mission Street in San Francisco.  The excellent exhibit on Yosemite is closed now, but their next exhibit will feature the Pan-Pacific Exhibition of 1915 which gave us the Palace of Fine Arts and Treasure Island.  I think it’s a don’t miss! The exhibit hall also features a graceful staircase to the inaccessible second floor.  A plaque informs us that this is the Nancy Pelosi Staircase, as she first announced her candidacy for the US House of Representatives from this stairway. History is everywhere!

20150201_143932web Why not? Go for a walk in the woods. These twisted trees seem almost to be dancing in the sun next to the Crystal Springs trail in Huddart County Park on the Peninsula.

 

 

Why Not? Check out some public art.  The two figures are emerging from the walls of the Millbrae BART station.  The non-representational structure above graces a lawn at Stanford University.

Celebrate!

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Freeway Free in Spain: Toledo Transit

Bus to ToledoWe started off at a good hour for our expedition, arrived at the station in plenty of time to catch the 9:20 train, only to find that it was sold out. Next available train on a busy commute and tourist day was at 12:20. Scratch.

We went back to the hotel by Metro to save energy, I said something about our failed plans to the desk manager, and he replied quickly, “Why not go by bus?” Turns out the express bus leaves every hour, from a station about a half hour away by Metro.

With one thing and another we got to the bus station in time for the 11 AM bus and we were in Toledo by noon. A wonderful town for traipsing around.

The Last Supper - Toledo Cathedral facadeWe started with the awesome (in the original sense) cathedral, a soaring flamboyant Gothic/Baroque structure on the outside, with a wonderful Last Supper going on in sculpture across the front above the main door. If you look at it from the rise of steps across the plaze, you can see down onto the table where the sculpture was careful to provide both bottles of wine and a plate of rolls as required.
On the inside more of the same – a LOT more. In addition to the profligate use of gold from the New World to decorate altars, clothe icons, and create 10 foot-tall monstrances to hold the Host between communions, it contains more great paintings than they have room to hang or light or even identify decently – a whole set of Christ and the apostles by El Greco hung kitty corner to the viewer behind a grate, Titian, Correggio, and Rembrandt hung in a half-lit chapel on a temporary scaffold in front of the altar and again behind a grate.

St John and Cousin Jesus

St John and Cousin Jesus

The most awesome thing about the Toledo Cathedral is the detail – everywhere you look there is an artwork that would be worthy of its own exhibit in any other context.  For example, this mosaic of John the Baptist with his young cousin Jesus – at least 30 feet tall over the door of the cathedral – not even mentioned in the audio guide or anywhere else – but so powerful!

We got halfway through the audio tour and elected to pause for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant Winifred had located online nearby. (We are on a veggie kick since being greens-deprived in our first day in Madrid.) There are good and bad veggie restaurants – Madre Tierra  was excellent – a wonderful salad and then a cream of spinach soup so thick and rich I could have eaten it with a fork.

Virgin and Unicorn - Choir stall - Toledo Virgin M crowning a saint in ivory - Toledo Saint and demon contending- choir stall - Toledo Jacob and Esau? Choir Stall - Toledo

Then back to the cathedral for the rest of the tour of amazing carvings and sculpture.  (See some of the amazingly evocative carvings in the choir stalls above)

The art highlight – the Sacristy- was closed for renovation, which was probably a blessing in disguise. Otherwise we would never have made it to the El Greco Museum, which had a different set of apostles, much better displayed, hung in a setting designed to recreate a 15th century home such as El Greco might have lived in during his time in Toledo – quite charming.

Back to the bus, stopping for Winifred to pick up some mementoes and gifts. The express bus was full, so we took the milk run, whistle-stopping through a series of villages and small towns, letting off matrons who had been shopping for their week’s supplied in the supermercados of Toledo, taking up young people who had been visiting their families for the holiday and were headed back to Madrid – it was fun to make up stories to explain the meetings and partings.

Evening on the bus

Freeway Free in Merida: Ramblin’ round the Roman Ruins

Roman theatre in MericaIf you OD on medieval ruins in Caceras, you have options.  How about Roman ruins instead?  Merida, another World Heritage Site, is only an hour’s train ride away.

Wow!  Those Romans were some engineers!  Stuff they built 2000 years ago is still being used  in Merida, such as a magical open air theatre where we happened upon a kind of rock n roll High School Musical version of “The Rape of Europa” (That giant white caterpillar with black antennae is supposed to be Jupiter as a white bull).

Temple of Diana - Merida

The Temple of Diana has a 15th Century villa built INSIDE.

Roman bridge - Merida

A graceful bridge across the Guardiana River is used now by pedestrians and bicycles as part of an extensive trail network.

Arc of Trajan - Merida

Cars still rumble under Trajan’s Arch.

Roman road leads to ongoing archaeology

In many places the original Roman roads form the substrata for current city streets.

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Museo National de Arte Romano

And there is a great museum next to the theatre and amphitheater which makes sense of it all.

Freeway-Free in California – San Luis Obispo side streets

Moms&Kids fountainSan Luis Obispo is more than Higueroa Street and the Cal Poly Campus. Here are some of the highlights we discovered as we explored the side streets.

  • The San Luis mission – we visited  just as it opened. A mother with three toddlers in tow was inspecting the kid-friendly fountain in the plaza which shows a mother bear with two cubs and a little girl playing together. The mission is one of the more humble in the California String of Missions, but with lovingly painted interior decoration including fool-the-eye columns, and a dormant mission garden which must be lovely when the arbors and trellises are in bloom.Fremont theatre - day
  •  The flamboyant old Fremont theatre, an art-deco mashup that looks like it was assembled from carousel leftovers.  At night, the vintage neon lights up the whole street.Fremont  Theatre - night
  • Phoenix Books – this labyrinth  of used books is organized eccentrically – e.g. the historical novels of Bernard Cornwell can be found in the Mystery section, snuggled  next to the crime novels written by Patricia Cornwelll. Why? “Because they are married, don’t you think they should be together?” explains the owner. Bernard’s wife is named Judy, but that  is beside the point – The oddities of categorization only encourage browsing for the perfect book to be reading by the fire in our cosy B&B.
  • The upscale pedestrian mall which is tucked unobtrusively in between Monterey and Higueroa Streets.  The architecture is designed to blend in unobtrusively with  the mission and all those 1890’s buildings, but it includes a movie multiplex,  Chico’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and of course a Peet’s coffee on one corner and a Starbuck’s on the other, if you’ve had enough of organic and artisan for awhile.
  • Tiny Bubble Gum Alley off Higueroa between Garden Street and Broad Street. Someone stuck a piece of chewed bubble gum on the wall of this narrow walkway – then others copied this action about one million times – and there it is.Crossing the tracks in SLO
  •  .Tthe  elaborate trusses of the pedestrian overcrossing at the Railway Station which allows you to hike from downtown to one of the friendly rounded hills over looking the town and the campus without having to dodge cars or trains.
  • Down at the foot of Higueroa Street at the other end from the mall, you will see a family waving at you from the balcony of a homely 50’s motel… but wait!  that’s a mural!the Two-D Motel

Feeling hungry?  We liked:

  • the Big Sky Café – wonderful local produce, seafood, dairy, in a large, informal, bustling, and friendly  space – we ate here twice and didn’t run out of items we wished we still had room to try.
  • Ciopinot :   Definitely not the college hangout – mostly graying couples like us, or groups of thirty-somethings celebrating.  Excellent sea food, including “No Work Cioppino”  (that means pre-shelled clams and crabs – no bibs required!)
  • Novo :  if weather permits, opt for dining outside next to meandering San Luis Obispo creek, under trees hung with lanterns,  and walls decked with bougainvillea in bloom.
  • House of Bread (on Marsh Street at the foot of downtown) – the perfect place to buy bread to go with that artisanal cheese you bought at the Farmer’s Market.

NOTE:  I will be setting off on another adventure next week, so there will be a hiatus.  Read some past posts and stand by for further freeway-free travel!

Freeway Free in CA: San Luis Obispo by Train, Bike, and foot – Day 1

Coast Starlight arrives in San Jose

Beginning at the old San Jose Southern Pacific Station – now re-christened the Diridon Station in the mania to honor retiring politicians, thus adding immeasurably to the confusion of travelers (where the heck is Diridon?  And what happened to San Jose, where I need to get off?)

In front of the station, a horde of middle-schoolers, with half a dozen smiling chaperones (will they still be smiling at the end of this trip?)  They are training to Los Angeles.  Some are dressed for the 45-degree chill in the San Jose air; some are dressed in T-shirts anticipating LA weather – or maybe its just that the pre-teen metabolism is indifferent to cold.

We queue up to get an overnight parking pass, and are greeted by a smiling “San Jose volunteer host” who asks us if she can answer any questions, and is elated to learn that we are embarking on the Coast Starlight to San Luis Obispo.  “It is on time, so just wait here, and I will come to escort you to Platform One when it is time.” Wow –  this is a welcome improvement, and certainly beats the airport.

Dome Car on the Coast StarlightThe train is, in fact, a few minutes early – a first for my Amtrak experience.  Onto the train – the uniformed conductor assigns us seats in the coach car (not, thank hevvin, the one in which the pre-teens are traveling), and lets us know that we can pick any available seat in the adjoining dome car.  We stash our suitcases and immediately go to the dome car, where we find  seats nicely angled for looking out at approaching scenery and windows that have been freshly cleaned.  Fellow passengers include a large family of Amish, men and boys in dark trousers and suspenders, girls and women in white caps, busily occupied with their embroidery hoops.

Snow above San JoseWe coast out of the station and  past the back yards and graffiti-coated underpasses of central and south San Jose.  The sun is bright, the sky is blue, and even the graffiti looks vaguely festive.  We have had recent rain, followed by a cold snap, so we take off down a valley coated in electric green new growth, below snow-dusted hills. We travel alongside the freeweay for awhile, easily keeping pace with the southbound traffic, while pitying the jammed northbound lanes.

We ease our way through  Morgan Hill and Gilroy, postcard pretty in spring green, past the newly planted strawberry field in their plastic coats,past artichoke fields in various stages of maturity, through Elkhorn Slough with egrets and avocets strolling under the towers of the power plant at Moss Landing, making our first stop at Salinas.  I imagine John Steinbeck leaving from this charmless station to explore Cannery Row or start his Travels with Charley – it seems like a good place to be from rather than at.

Dining on the Coast StarlightOur turn in the dining car comes soon after Salinas.  The “table cloth” is  white paper and the “china” is  plastic coated cardboard, but there are flowers on the table and ample cloth napkins. We are seated with two young men, one vaguely Hispanic-looking in a sweatshirt and knit cap, the other  fairskinned and preppily attired.  The first was  on his way to El Paso, taking time off to back up his little brother, a boxer with a fight scheduled who needed “someone in his corner. He’s my little brother – what else could I do?” He took his cap off, revealing a shaven skull.  “My dad was a boxer, my uncle too;  I’m kind of the black sheep, going to college.”

The second  was French, on an exchange year at the University of Vancouver.  He had been in Canada since September and would be returning to Paris in April;  meanwhile he had been doing his best to see as much of the exotic west coast as he could –  Banff, the Yukon, Seattle, San Francisco, and points south.  He had visited New York several years earlier, and “this is a different world.”  His English escaped him and gestures took over as he tried to explain his meaning.

Coast Starlight on Horseshoe BendBy the time we had finished lunch, we were through Paso Robles and climbing up the Cuesta Grade, through tunnels, looping around 180 degree curves, with the Coast Highway at first far below, then finally paralleling the track as we eased into San Luis Obispo.

Why are we in SLO?  Because I craved a few days when I did not have to drive.  By train we arrived, by foot we traveled about 7 up and down blocks to our bed-and-breakfast, trailing our wheeled suitcases behind us like balky pets.   (Number of curbs without cut-outs for wheeling – 5.  Number of steps up to the door of our B&B – 9.  Number of steps up to our second-floor bedroom and parlor – 22.)Stairs - going up?

Stained-glass lit sitting room - Garden Hotel SLOOne look at the cozy sitting space at the Garden Streeet Inn, with  light filtering in through stained class windows and  comfy chairs inviting a good curl-up with one of the books from the library wall, and I was ready to nest.  But it was still afternoon, with plenty of daylight hours to go, so we stashed our stuff and stretched our limbs and set out to explore.

Next: Higueroa Street by night and by day.

Freeway-Free in California: Sacramento

Cars are convenient, but I find it intensely liberating to be without one. Why travel to a different locale if you are traveling withing your own bubble, complete with too familiar anxieties about parking, traffic, one-way streets, and so on? When possible, I go by other means. It is wonderful to discover how many other means there are, and what new adventures can be found when one is not chained to a steering wheel.

49er's stadium, Santa Clara

49er’s stadium, Santa Clara

Example – for our most recent day trip from the Bay Area to Sacramento we took the train. The Capital Corridor train pulls into the Santa Clara Great America station at about 7:30AM; we are early enough to see the new 49er stadium glowing with construction lights as it grows like a giant phosphorescent fungus adjacent to the station. The train is not crowded yet, so we pick plum seats in the upstairs and enjoy reasonably decent coffee from the café car.

I have written about the train experience here. After a quick three hours (one newspaper, two magazines, and part of a paperback, we debark at the old Sacramento Station, our goal being the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum, and a lunch date with our Sacramento-resident son and his wife.

He doth bestride our narrow world like a colossus...It is a grayish day, but our spirits are buoyed by interesting sight. On one side is the Gateway Arch that leads to the historic Old Sacramento neighborhood, on the other an angular light tower bestrides the path to central Sacramento like a giant’s Transformer or Erector set – I half expect it to fold itself up into a closetful of coat-hangers as we go by.Gateway Arch, downtown Sacramento
The Old Crocker Mansion is changed also; the original Victorian mansion was deeded to the city along with the banking family’s art collection; over the intervening century the mansion/museum has added a wing, then another wing, and now a modern new museum addition which dwarfs the original mansion. The Rockwell exhibit has drawn a wide spectrum of Sacramento citizenry: field-tripping students clutchingtheir study guides, a bevy of Red Had Clubbers In their cheerful scarlet and purple costumes, and even a vanload of art fans from the Lighthouse for the Blind wielding their red-tipped white canes.

Old Crocker Mansion Museum - SacramentoNew Crocker Museum - Sacramento

After appreciating the 350 Saturday Evening Post covers as best we can, we stroll over to Il Fornaio restaurant on Capitol Mall for lunch with the kids. Afterward we have time, so we go through the arch and the gaily painted tunnel to Old Sacramento. The wrought-iron balconies recall the French Quarter in New Orleans; a century of flood damage is hidden beneath the wooden sidewalks. Instead of building levees against the Sacramento and American rivers as their city subsided, Sacramentans simply built second and third stories on top of the “basement” floors which had originally been at ground level.Signage - Old Sacto
We stroll into some of the colorful tourist boutiques, check out the visitors’ center, and make our way back to the station through a surprising remnant of Chinatown featuring a memorial statue to Sun Yat-sen who seems to bless our departure.
If the day had been sunnier, we could have spent time on the Capital Mall exploring the Rose Garden, the Cactus Garden, the various war memorials, and the Stanford Mansion. Instead we caught the earlier train and peacefully read our way back to Santa Clara, gazing occasionally out at the poor folks stuck in their steel bubble gridlock on the neighboring freeways.

Next: the Coast Starlight to San Luis Obispo

Canada: the Alien Next Door – Day 7-8 – Kamloops -> Vancouver

Continental Divide

Another early day, another gourmet breakfast aboard our luxury train, the Rocky Mountaineer.  We head into our final day of mountain scenery – the northern Cascade range.  As our black-and-gold bubble threads its way in and out of tunnels and alongside the westward-bound Fraser River, we catch one postcard view after another: glimpses of bald eagles perched on power poles, rafters shooting through rapids, and funicular cars trundling on cables overhead.  We pass the Continental Divide (actually a tri-vide, as from this point rivers flow into the Arctic as well as into the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico). We follow the Fraser River down the slope, and too soon we are rumbling along next to  tankers and flatcars as we enter the railyard under the bridges of Vancouver – end of the line.  Rafters on the Fraser River

The  Hotel  Vancouver is the last of the chain of hotels built by the railroads to encourage travelers to tour westward. (They ran out of track at the ocean)  It is a stately building, with the hallmark high ceilings and decorative interior pillars that mark the Gilded Age of its birth.  It has been  renovated a few too many time, though – it doesn’t have the rich patina of age that coats its sister hotels in  Banff Springs and Edmonton.  I spied no exuberant self-congratulatory murals showing the founders, nor was there any truly campy pseudo-oriental or pseudo-Spanish décor left to amaze and delight.  Just large rooms, tasteful colors, and a lot of gilt paint to evoke the luxury intended by the builders. [p1050068web – (Kamloops-Vancouver folder)] Maybe it was the cafeteria-style breakfast option which broke the illusion of bygone grandiosity – can you image Jane and Leland Stanford pushing their trays along at a cafeteria?Hotel Vancouver Lobby

The  Hotel Vancouver is located in a bustling area near the University of Vancouver and the Art Museum.  I took advantage of a bright morning to enjoy a walk around the neighborhoodand includes architecture ranging from the ultra-classic columns of the  Art Museum to the playful ramps of the University Library.  This section of Vancouver has a sprightly, humourous vibe –the public art display called “soft rocks” which conists of giant beanbags ideal for sprawling in the sun, the pretty young fashionistas striding to work in their ridiculously impractical platform shoes, the bright banners on the buildings.  I would like to explore more but… Soft Rocks - Vancouver

We had planned an extra day or two in Vancouver, but family issues called us home a bit sooner.  I saw and heard so much that was new to me on this visit to the north  – places, politics and people surprised me at every turn.  I  only took baby steps in exploring this alien land.  Knowing that it IS alien, not just a colder clone of the US, still feels like a breakthrough. In this lifetime I hope to learn more. Vancouver Central (Hotel, Concert Hall, Art Museum)

Canada: The Alien Next Door – Day 6 (continued) – Kamloops

Lights of KamloopsIf you are traveling from Edmonton to Vancouver, you go through mountains.  If you are on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury tourist train, you are promised that you will the mountains in daylight.  The first day you see the Canadian Rockies.  The second day you see the northern Cascades.  And in between  you have to stop somewhere.  That would be  Kamloops.Kamloops Casino

After the historical majesty of Banff Springs, Kamloops is barebones, down-to-earth, and offers everything you need for a one-night stay.  There are at least two hotels with serviceable accommodations (we stayed at the Thompson).  There is a downtown, which features a brightly lit library and an even more brightly lit casino run by the Indian tribe whose reservation is across the river.  It is summer, and there is a college in Kamloops, so there is a lot of life on the streets even though it is mid-week.

Flood MarkerRiverside Park just over the railroad bridge sits at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Thompson River. Historically and pre-historically, the river has been even larger:  a marker at the edge shows the height of the river during several 20th century floods (Ankle, knee, and waist- high lines), during prehistoric times (head-high) and during the epochal flooding of 1894 (about twenty feet up there).

The park features lots of rolling lawn, graceful trees, a sandy beach, and a bandshell where free music concerts are given every night of the summer season (Heavy on the country-western genre.) Thanks to the balmy temperatures and the slow-moving river, it also features economy size mosquitoes, which limited our attention span for the concert.

RiversideBandshellWe strolled back from the park past a pizza parlor overflowing with families, an ice cream shop overflowing with children (including one practicing with a hula hoop). From the turn of the century opulence of the Banff Springs Hotel we had time traveled all the way to the 1950’s., We settled for dinner at The Noble Pig brewhouse, where the modest cuisine was considerably enhanced by the friendly service and outdoor dining.   I expected to see Ozzie and Harriet at the next table, with young David and Ricky fighting over the last piece of pizza.

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