The last post

This morning I am sitting down for what will probably be the last time, to reflect on yesterday’s activities and to sign off as we pack our bags and get ready for the return flight. On Wednesday morning Andrew picked us up and we drove through the streets of Vancouver to a delightful little coffee house tucked away amongst the street trees. We sat at a bench facing the open window and watched the locals going about their business; walking dogs, meeting friends for breakfast and picking up their morning coffee. There was a little drizzle about but nothing significant enough to prevent us from enjoying the morning. It was lucky that Stuart and Andrew went flying yesterday! Although the planes are still flying today, there is low cloud and the mountains that surround the city are all but invisible.

Having finished breakfast, Andrew took us on something of a Cook’s tour of Vancouver’s light industrial area. He had commissioned a piece from a fellow who transfers photos onto wood for Ruth’s birthday and it was ready to be picked up. We were once again impressed by Andrew’s skills on the road, he is a very capable driver, especially given that everything happens backwards!!

From there we drove on the the Gastown district, one of the older parts of town that, having been neglected during the 70s and 80s, has been restored and revamped and now houses beautiful small breweries, shops catering to the large number of visitors to the city and a range of lunchtime temptations. We wandered up and down, made some last minute purchases and then opted for tacos for lunch, in the hippest little Mexican restaurant I’ve seen. Food and service were excellent, as they have been everywhere.


The Gastown district features a steam clock that toots rather than chimes the familiar Westminster melody

Once again, the hanging baskets made the place a real joy to wander and the lovely street lamps were a reminder of Paris or London.



In the afternoon, I opted for a few hours to myself while the Paynes went back to Stanley Park for a walk and another fruitless search for beavers and raccoons.

Ruth and Andrew joined us for dinner, the last meal we would all share, at one of the waterside restaurants that are only a block or two away and we had a very pleasant evening. Walking back to our apartment we had the good fortune to stumble across one of the local residents – a skunk – making its way home. It was very funny and entertained us with its antics but declined to be photographed, disappearing into the bushes every time we pointed a camera at it.Oh well … no beavers or raccoons but one skunk!!

Now it is Thursday morning and all that remains to be done is to pack our bags and head out to the airport. Andrew has kindly offered to take us. Our plane leaves at 3.55pm so we will probably go out early and have some lunch. Having picked up an extra Monday on our way over, we will kiss goodbye to Friday on our way back! The joys of crossing the International Date Line!

I am looking forward to seeing everyone again and sharing stories of our travels. Lots of love to you all …








Seaplanes and Beavers

Tuesday was something of a ‘day off’. We relaxed in the morning, reading the paper and catching up on a few chores. Alison was keen to have a look around the shops so while Andrew and Stuart went down to the harbour in search of a joy flight, she and I walked up into the city and explored all that Vancouver has to offer.

Stuart and Andrew’s flight was in a De Havilland Canada Otter Turbo Prop, one of many that conduct business on the waterfront. They had 20 minutes of sightseeing, up and down the harbour and out amongst the islands, enjoying an aerial view of some of the places we have visited.

plane 3

This isn’t my picture but it shows the type of plane Stuart and Andrew went up in.

Meanwhile, Alison and I strolled along Robson St, the main shopping street, looking at the fashions and enjoying the ambience. We explored Hudson’s Bay, one of Canada’s department stores, and saw lots of lovely things but didn’t make any purchases! We headed home later in the afternoon to meet up with the boys.

We decided to eat in on Tuesday night so we made our way back to Urban Fare and bought steak and fish, salad and potatoes, cherry pie and icecream. Ruth wasn’t going to finish work until later on so we decided to go out for a walk, encouraged by Andrew’s promises of beavers and raccoons. We walked from our apartment, down to the harbour and then along the boardwalk towards Stanley Park. There were thousands of people out cycling and walking their dogs and enjoying the sunshine. Rain is forecast for the next few days. We walked and walked – looking in ponds, listening for gnawing and keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife.


Not a very good picture but at least it shows you the harbourside walk we took and some of the numerous craft that reside there.

Alas, it was not to be. The closest we can was a glimpse of the rear end of a raccoon as it headed for the hills! There were plenty of signs indicating that beavers were about – but no beavers.


Stuart suggested that the crew had knocked off for the day and were at home with their feet up, enjoying a couple of cold ‘beaverages’. Groan.

By the time we got home, Ruth had finished work and we had earned a couple of cold ‘beaverages’ of our own. Alison supervised the preparation of dinner and everyone lent a hand and the evening concluded with leftover birthday cake and some TV. Very relaxing.

We hope that you are surviving the cold weather. We keep checking the forecast and wondering how you are going.

Lots of love from us all …


Grouse and Nightingales

Monday morning was a slow one. We had a sleep in, read the paper, searched in vain for a TV channel broadcasting news and waited for Andrew and Ruth to join us. Like us, they had celebrated Andrew’s birthday by sleeping in and enjoying a relaxing morning.

At about 11.30am, we set off in search of lunch, exploring the streets of Vancouver’s CBD as we went. The streets are tree lined, the day was sunny and warm and the locals were intent upon their Monday morning business, giving us an ideal opportunity to stroll leisurely towards what Andrew and Ruth had heard was a wonderful place to sample the local fare. The cafe is called Medina and the queue outside was testimony to its reputation. Ruth put our name down with the extraordinarily efficient maitre de and we walked another block to a hole in the wall coffee shop with tables and chairs on the sidewalk where we did some people watching and waited for our allocated time to arrive.


Lunch was a rustic affair in a beautifully renovated space that featured exposed pipes and beams and a menu  that was interesting and featured lots of local produce.

The afternoon had been reserved for a trip to Grouse Mountain, in winter a ski field and in summer a place for picnicking and outdoor activities. Grouse Mountain is only about 10km from town, making it easily accessible for families and tourists alike. We took a cable car to the top, resisting the temptation to follow Jeremy’s example and RUN up the mountain!! It’s a kind of Jacob’s Ladder on steroids that covers 2km and rises 850m! Oh to be young and fit.


The view from the cable car – it’s difficult to capture the depth of field with a camera that’s really a phone! The forest was beautiful and the purple mountains in the distance were spectacular.

Once on Grouse Mountain the first port of call was a visit with Grinder and Coola, two orphaned grizzly bears that have a permanent home there. The afternoon was warm and Grinder put on a show swimming and playing in their waterhole, just like a little kid. There were oohs and aahs from the spectators.


Grinder playing with water reeds

The bears were followed by an hilarious lumberjack show featuring three young men with remarkable skills and a gift for comedy. There was axe throwing, log chopping, tree climbing and a number of slapstick moments when things ‘almost’ went terribly wrong. Funnily enough, one of the three appeared to be wearing a wide brimmed Bunnings hat!! The things you see in Canada!

From there we were treated to a birds of prey show featuring a bald eagle, a vulture, a barn owl, a hawk and a falcon. The young woman in charge was very knowledgeable and talked about the birds’ natural instincts and skills in the air, bringing them very close to the audience. They were beautiful creatures; the owl was the sweetest little thing we’d ever seen and the falcon was amazing.


Andrew meets a falcon


Alison next to some of the amazing daylilies we saw growing in the gardens that were a lovely part of the park

We caught the cable car down again and had about an hour before we headed out to an amazing restaurant called Nightingales to celebrate Andrew’s birthday properly.  The food was sensational, very modern and interesting, and the evening was a great success, culminating in coffee and cake and a conversation with home!


It was really nice to have a little talk and to see you all together. We think of you all the time. Mum, you would love the street trees and gardens here and you’d be even more critical of Perth’s meagre efforts on this direction. Dad, the view from our apartment features thousands of boats ranging from tiny ferries to massive ocean liners, as well as an endless stream of seaplanes landing and taking off right on our doorstep. We could set you up with a pair of binoculars and you’d be happy for hours!

We all send lots of love and hope that all is well at home …








Sunday in Vancouver

This morning Andrew and Ruth picked us up and we headed to Granville Island which is an island in the same sense that Herrison Island is an island! You are there before you know it! Granville Island is the home of a massive daily market that sells everything from fresh produce to gourmet baked goods and arts and crafts.

We admired the craftsmanship of hand made brooms, browsed silver jewelry, debated whether or not to buy artwork by a local artist (and didn’t!) and then had lunch. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels … yum. We ate sitting on the dock watching the water traffic.


Ruth, Andrew, Stuart and Andrew having lunch al fresco

The boats pottering about on the harbour provided free entertainment, particularly the tiny water taxis that nipped in and out dropping people off and picking people up.


Surely we’ve seen this fellow before in a Little Golden Book


The view from Granville Island back towards Vancouver


These are just a few of the goodies on offer.

We returned home for a rest and a change of clothes before heading our to dinner at the Steam Brewery, a local small brewery that does a fine job. Gerry and Clare Browne, Alison and Stuart’s friends from their Abu Dhabi days, met us, along with their two sons Dara and Ross. Dara had his girlfriend Amanda in tow and Ross brought an old school friend, Josh, who is coming to Perth to work, so there was quite a tribe of us. We ate good pub food and sampled the beer before heading home to bed.

Tomorrow is Andrew’s birthday and we are looking forward to celebrating with him. Ruth has the day off work which is lovely. Hope everyone at home is well and surviving the cold weather (and each other!!).

With love




Saturday in Vancouver

After a late night, Andrew let us have a sleep in – blissful. The apartment we are in features excellent beds and good sound proofing – no tap dancers upstairs – so we all slept very well. Andrew and Ruth arrived promptly at 10am and we piled into the Chevrolet Traverse SUV that Andrew had hired to facilitate our sight seeing.


Vancouver to Gibsons by ferry

Today we headed north across the Lionsgate Bridge to Horseshoe Bay where enormous ferries plow back and forth between the mainland and various islands and coastal destinations. We lined up and waited our turn before driving aboard, parking and making our way onto the deck to enjoy the spectacular scenery and fresh air. The clear water, green hills and purple mountains created an impression not unlike New Zealand – you can just about feel the good health in the air.


Fresh air on the deck


Ruth and Andrew on deck

The 40 minute ferry ride brought us to Gibsons, a beautiful little coastal town that has no access by road, making it effectively an island, in terms of commerce and culture, if not geography. The homes nestle in the folds of the hills that run down to the bay and the little street that runs along the foreshore is packed with quaint shops selling local produce and good coffee. The town proper is several kilometres inland where they have a little shopping centre and a school and all the things a town needs.


Looking down to the water from Gibsons

We browsed the shops on the waterfront buying local olive oil and balsamic vinegar before waiting our turn for a table at Smitty’s Oyster House where the queue of eager diners foretold the quality of the food and the lively ambience. We ate exceptional seafood, grooved along to music that took us back to the days of our youth and enjoyed a local beer.


The hanging baskets in Gibsons reminded me of England – gorgeous double begonias in a range of vibrant colours

After lunch we motored around the coast, saw the place Andrew and Ruth’s friend was married last month and ended up at a local small brewery where organic produce was on offer, along with the a number of beers. It was a sunny day and the beer was good. The result was predictable! We relaxed into the kind of soporific lethargy that only comes from drinking beer on a warm afternoon and so. when Stuart asked casually what time the ferry left and Ruth checked the timetable, we found ourselves with the barest margin in which to get back to the dock. Andrew did a great job getting us there and we were among the last vehicles allowed onto the ferry!

Back ashore, we took the coast road home and enjoyed the spectacular views and equally spectacular real estate. We stopped in at Urban Fare for provisions then headed up the Ruth and Andrew’s apartment for a barbeque and a glass of local syrah. It was a lovely end to a wonderful day. Andrew and Ruth are terrific hosts and it is great to have some time to spend with them.


Alison and Andrew


Andrew and Ruth at home in their apartment

Hannah – thanks for the photo of Smoke. Good to see she’s not fading away. Hope everything is going well with you all in WA. Is Phred behaving herself? The weather doesn’t look too bright – 14 degrees! Brrrr. Take care …



Time flies …

Today is Saturday! I blinked and two days disappeared! I will spend a few minutes before breakfast reflecting on Thursday and Friday, our last day in San Francisco and our trip north to Vancouver.

Thursday morning we returned to the Hollywood Cafe for breakfast – more fresh fruit and pancakes this time. The line to get in stretched out the door and down the footpath and as we were eating al fresco, our breakfast was the subject of envious glances and hushed conversation in any number of languages. We have been interested in the number of European travellers here in SF. Loads of Italians and Germans and French families looking elegant in stylish matching  puffy jackets which seem to be all the rage. We got into the lift one morning and greeted the woman who was already aboard and she smiled and in a broad Southern accent, told us that it was lovely to hear people speaking English that she could actually understand!!

Alison and Stuart opted for a serious challenged on Wednesday morning, walking up Lombard Street, SF’s famous crooked street. The hill is so steep that the road has been constructed in a series of hairpin bends. Stuart assured us that the incline was about 45 degrees and having walked up some much shallower hills in the last few days, I declined to accompany them. The last thing two Aussie wallabies need is a muddle-headed wombat trying to keep up with them! I have just Googled Lombard St and discovered that it’s actually 27 degrees! I’m still debating whether to burst Stuart’s balloon!


The San Francisco Town Hall

I stayed at Fisherman’s Wharf and did some reading and some people watching. In the afternoon we reconvened at the Hotel Zephyr and decided to ride the trolley buses up to the Town Hall and see some parts of the city that we’d neglected. I think we went a few stops too far and suddenly there were intimidating men in groups playing loud music and exchanging small packages for rolls of money! We kept our eyes down and marched on back to the well worn tourist trails where the people are colourful and interesting, but not doing drugs right there on the street!

We looked in the shops including Macy’s, one of the USA’s big department stores, and strolled through the fine, French inspired, area surrounding the Town Hall. One of our trolley bus drivers was a fascinating African American man who had travelling the world playing piano with a jazz band. He had lived in Sydney for two years and visited Perth. By the time we reached our destination we were old mates and it was tempting to quote Crocodile Dundee and say “S’pose I’ll see ya round”.

Thursday night we opted for a traditional American hamburger at the Diner attached to our hotel. The Hotel Zephyr has been a great base, Stuart did his research and we were centrally placed with all the amenities we could need – with the possible exception of a bar. The Hotel had a lovely courtyard and games area that really lent itself to sitting around in the evening but no bar!! Our rooms were large and well appointed and the only drawback seemed to be the ‘family of bloody tap dancers that appear to be living upstairs’. It reminded me of the flat on Tate Street where just occasionally we’d think that the people upstairs wore stilettos  and dropped things on the floor just to annoy us!

Friday morning our alarms were set for 4.30am  and we were at the airport in plenty of time to have some breakfast and catch our flight north to Vancouver. Andrew was there to meet us and it was wonderful to see him. There were hugs all round and a few tears. We were soon installed in our apartment and once again Stuart had done a brilliant job.


The view from our apartment – overlooking Vancouver Harbour

We’re on the 21st floor of an apartment building a few streets from the waterfront and a similar distance from Ruth and Andrew. Andrew introduced us to Urban Fare, the Herdies of downtown Vancouver and we stocked up on the essentials before heading home. I opted for a nap while Stuart hit the gym and Alison had a rest and enjoyed the view.



Alison and Andrew stock up on essentials at Urban Fare


Summer colours! Three quarters of the Payne family, bringing home the bacon … and cereal and berries and cheese and bread

Last night we caught the ferry across Vancouver Harbour to the markets on the north shore and had a browse before having dinner on the dock side. By the time we got home it was late and everyone fell into bed, grateful not to have any early morning commitments.


Alison enjoying a Caesar, the local version of a Bloody Mary, made with tomato juice, clam broth, hot sauce and vodka


The view from the restaurant – just beautiful

Everyone is well and happy and enjoying the amazing experiences we are sharing. We think of you all often. Did mum win at bowls? Did dad have to play bingo or make pizza with Richard? Did Hannah remember to feed Smoke? Take care of each other …

Lots of love


P.S. I haven’t had time to edit this so I hope you’ll forgive any errors. Mx

Alcatraz and city sights

Wednesday was another busy day. We were up early and Stuart (who is our Chief Research Officer) had done his homework and lead the way to the Hollywood Cafe where we sat at an outside table (beneath a bar heater!) and ordered from a menu that included everything from eggs and French toast to pancakes and fresh fruit. It was a terrific breakfast – speedy service, great food and even a proper coffee machine!


Beautiful fresh fruit and crab omelettes at the Hollywood Cafe, San Francisco

We made our way down to Fisherman’s Wharf where Pier 33 was the starting point for our Alcatraz Tour. They obviously do great business, our ferry was full and it was only one of many that make the journey each day. Alcatraz – or the Rock – is close to San Francisco, easily visible and only a short ferry ride out into the bay. Some of the buildings have been restored and some are all but ruins, creating an eerie, bleak feeling, despite the bustling tourist trade. Mum, we thought of you as we walked up the very steep winding road to the prison proper which sits on the top of the island. We all agreed that we needed our cruppers!! Funny how these things become part of family language.


The view from Alcatraz back towards San Franciso

We picked up our audio sets and headphones and listened to an excellent commentary which lead us through the prison, pointing out the features and functions of the various rooms and telling stories about the inmates, the escape attempts and riots that are part of the prison’s history. The stories, based on interviews and diaries, were voiced by different people, creating the effect that the inmates and wardens were telling their own stories. It was quite powerful. In the background you could hear the sounds of prison life, men calling out to each other, cutlery and dishes clattering in the refectory, the shouts of wardens. It was outstanding.


Cells – 9′ by 5′

I discovered that Alcatraz and my classroom have similar rules – ‘Work hard on whatever task you are given’ and ‘Unruly shouting, catcalling and the making of noise will not be tolerated’ featuring prominently. I bought a couple of replica signs to hang in my classroom which will only serve to confirm what the students already suspect, that school is a prison from which there is no escape.

We came back to the mainland in time for lunch and then picked up a city tour that Stuart had pre-booked. The bus took us meandering through the various districts of the city and the driver provided a very comprehensive commentary, covering the historical, social and political evolution of the city. San Francisco has been badly damaged by earthquakes and fire on several occasions and has had mass migrations from Asia, Europe and South America so it is an enormously diverse city that has been built and rebuilt several times. The gays and lesbians decided that if they were going to be able to live safely they needed to live together so over a number of years they congregated in one little neighbourhood where they set up businesses and bought apartments and generally supported each other. Now it is a vibrant neighbourhood with more little gardens and rainbow flags than you can poke a stick at.


A group of terraced apartments – you have to excuse the reflections, taking photos through bus windows isn’t ideal.

Alison was delighted with the quaint Victorian architecture we saw; you may have heard of the Painted Ladies – four beautiful terrace houses painted sweet pastel colours that have featured in several TV shows and movies. It was a warm, sunny afternoon – the first we’ve had and Al was rude enough to point out that on several occasions when she turned to talk to me I seemed to be ‘resting my eyes’! I can’t imagine what she means.


The last remnant of the World Fair  (1915), the Palace of the Fine Arts, now a museum and cultural centre

We were back at our hotel at about 5.30pm so we freshened up and headed over to Pier 39, a bit like a bigger version of Hilarys Boat Harbour, where we had a pre-dinner drink then a meal in a Mexican restaurant. One of these days Alison and I will learn to order one meal between the two of us – servings are huge! I had a chili pork dish which was served with rice and something they assured me was refried beans but which had the colour and consistency of something that Phred and Smoke would have thoroughly enjoyed!! I left that right where it was! We browsed the souvenir shops, bought some local chocolates and headed home for a well earned cup of coffee. Another really enjoyable day …

Lots of love from us all


Wine tasting in the Napa Valley

We walked the streets of San Francisco last night, enjoying the various ethnic neighbourhoods and having look at the beautiful architecture. Much as Sydney has its terrace houses, San Francisco has lovely three story apartments, painted pale colours, with bay windows looking onto the street. They are graceful and pretty, and in various states – repaired, renovated, loved and neglected. There is still daylight saving here, so the evening was long and pleasant. We ended up in ‘little Italy’ where we had a meal and shared a half bottle of red. Wild times in the old town!

This morning we were up early and ready for our 8.15 pick up by Extranomical Tours. We drove through the seemingly omnipresent fog, over the Golden Gate Bridge and on to the Muir Woods where we saw huge Redwoods and Sequoias. We walked through the woods following a beautifully maintained path designed to keep the tourists off the greenery. We had been promised squirrels and chipmunks and maybe even deer but we saw nothing … nothing at all. Not one bird, not one beast! Eerily silent and very green.


Alison and Stuart – Muir Woods

We continued on up into the hills north of San Francisco to the Mayo Family Winery, a small operation producing about 60,000 bottles pa. A tour tour and several tastings were upstaged by the winery dog, a shaggy thing that may (or may not) have had some poodle in it, who was front and centre for the whole event. The wine was good but no better than anything we have at home.


Checking out the oak barrels at Mayo Family Winery

We had lunch in Sonoma, an interesting little town with lots of history. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to wander before moving on to Madonna Estate and Cline Cellars. By this stage we had tasted our way Sonoma County and couldn’t tell our zinfandels from our viogniers!! The afternoon was warm, the first bit of Californian summer we have seen, and the drive back through the Napa Valley was picturesque, more than a little reminiscent of our south west, though much more undulating.


Still terrible at selfies but at least you can see the fog on the Bridge!

Amazingly, San Francisco was still shrouded with fog and low cloud when we returned via the Golden Gate Bridge and we soon had our jackets on again. We had a rest and then caught a cable car to Union Square where there was a full band of black musicians busking on the footpath.People were dancing and enjoying the music – a lot of fun. Dinner was barbecued ribs and vegetables and by the time we got home we were well and truly buggered. Time for sleep. Alcatraz tomorrow – can’t wait.

Thinking of you all and sending love …


Safely in San Francisco

An early morning in Perth saw us on our way to Sydney where we waved to Jeremy as we passed through. The flight to San Francisco was uneventful – good food, a few movies, a bit of reading and a sleep. Alison tells me that I slept more than she and Stuart put together which is why I am tucked up in my room typing this while the Payne’s have a few minutes rest. The QANTAS staff were lovely and Stu was a picture of peace in his Olympic commemorative pyjamas! Al and I opted to keep our clothes on!!

San Francisco was remarkably quiet when we arrived. Stuart had booked a car to pick us up and the drive to our hotel had us looking around exactly like the tourists we are. Crossing the international date line means that it’s still yesterday for us. SF is shrouded in fog or very low cloud which is apparently not unusual but it’s certainly not the sunny California we had imagined. Various people have told us that the fog is generated by the SF geography and that a few miles out of town it will be fine and sunny.

After checking in to our (very nice, very central) hotel, we headed out for a walk along the docks. Fisherman’s Wharf is very famous and filled with restaurants and souvenir shops.


Yes Mum … I’m still pretty hopeless at taking a decent selfie!

We ate at a traditional seafood restaurant for lunch – clam chowder, crab sandwiches and local beer – then strolled along the waterfront and took a tour of the Bay on a ferry.


Alison a Stuart – equally thrilled by my insistence on taking pictures.

The commentary was excellent, the sights interesting (if partially obscured by fog) and the wind nippy. Alison and I had our coats on but Stu was a bronzed ANZAC in a shirt. By the end of the tour he had retreated to the ferry’s cabin.


The Golden Gate Bridge, head in the clouds.


Alison and Meredith and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tomorrow we are off to the Napa Valley so I think that tonight will be an early dinner and a quiet time. Hope all is well at home. We are thinking of you.







Departure date arrives

I find that two years have had a detrimental effect on my blogging skills but I shall soldier on, if only to ensure that experiences are shared and pictures are saved. We leave in the early hours of tomorrow morning. My case is only half packed but my relief lessons are written and all is well at home. Smoke has inspected the inside of Mum’s case and volunteered to come along and keep me company. Sadly, I have had to decline her offer. She and Hannah will have to stay at home and keep things going here. I am looking forward to seeing Andrew and Ruth and celebrating their birthdays in Vancouver.