Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Portland and onwards: the adventure ends

Into Los Angeles after a night of flying in the light. I always love flying in over snow peaks which we did, though the photos are unspectacular. The land ranged from circular agricultural fields to desert to ridges and peaks, some most spectacular. We will have to make a point of seeing more of the American countryside.

A wait for a number of hours in the Alaska terminal with just a few food outlets was dreary. Starbucks, Burger King and a fish restaurant left only one choice. We were astonished to be asked for proof of age when ordering a beer. We thought he was joking but he was very serious. The prawns and fish and chips were ordinary. Then a tarmac boarding for a good flight into Portland, arriving at about 11.00, so we hired our car and  were at the little apartment we like and into bed by 12.45. (though we thought it was morning of course).

Rather than deal with the visit chronologically I might show some aspects of Portland and then the family we had come so far to visit.

Portland is a city divided by a river and it has many bridges. They are either high, or lift or turn in the centre for shipping. High waters recently stopped some navy ships coming upriver. I didn’t set out to photograph them all but here are a few.

Freemont Bridge
Steel Bridge
Burnside bridge

The street from our place to our son’s and back became very familiar. We found the constant traffic lights that changed to green just ahead of the car made the drive at 30mph quite smooth and we loved the grid system that allowed us to make good guesstimates of how to reach a target corner.

Driving up Burnside (click to enlarge)
Evening traffic

I managed a few photos of the neon lights in shops and on buildings but they are ubiquitous, everything from a beer ad, to open signs to indicators of an ATM inside. Every shopfront has one it seems.

hearing test
Well, actually, it was night, and closed
Interesting juxtaposition
I don’t think this one closes

A few other sights around the town. The leaping deer is an icon of Portland and the golden building catches the light, even in a lowering storm.

Portland icon
Bancorp Tower

Plus wildlife we don’t have in Australia.


Smart squirrel eats the bird seed from the feeders above

We ate a number of lovely restaurants, mostly forgetting to take photos. One was Screen Door, which served Southern food. I loved my buttermilk fried chicken and creamy potatoes though the collard greens had flecks of fresh chilli and were at my limit of tolerance for heat (and I usually like hot curries). Nick ordered ruby trout and really enjoyed it. We passed on desserts after the massive portions of the main course because, in typical southern fashion, they were rich. We saw the strawberry dessert pass by, about 6 inches high and with huge helpings of cream. The atmosphere was great fun and people were lining up out the doors.

A great casual atmosphere in Screen Door

Another place was Meriwethers which uses its own home grown vegetables and sources its meat locally. There was a gorgeous, huge peony on the table, salmon pink, which had been grown on the farm. I had diver scallops on lentils, the lentils surprisingly rich with bacon and butter. Beautifully cooked scallops.


Of course we ate in a number of casual eateries at which grandson Ryden did his best to absorb food by osmosis through the skin and showed his generally sunny side. He is just the happiest of kids, loves his food and is quite self-sufficient at entertaining himself.

Beets and apricots, yum!
Love you dad!
Lunch is fun
I’m finished
Life is not going quite as planned right now

I mentioned the scenery. In typical Portland fashion the grey clouds descended after a few days and I had a burning urge to see Mt Hood clothed in snow. Finally, on the day we left the cloud lifted and we had a great morning at Rocky Butte taking photos of the mountains and of course, of our young “American family” who got married on this site.

Mt Hoodmumnry_edited-1
I can fly
Christine and Ryden
I can crawl
Mt St Helens looking meekfamily2-rockybutte
The family
I can walk, but not by myself

Me and dad and Mt Hood

As we flew out we could see the mountains from the plane too. But it was much harder to leave family and a very dear little grandson behind.

Coming into San Francisco was sudden and I only had time to get a shot or two of the city and the amazing (and never mentioned) salt pans on the harbour before we landed.

Bay Bridge, San Francisco
Salt pans in the harbour

We had about 6 hours to fill in the lounge in San Francisco and we were not impressed with the Business Lounge offerings from United. A red or white house wine, cheap spirits, coffee, tea and a few post-mix drinks and nibble snacks like trailmix, except less healthy, plus a bit of fresh fruit. We needed something more substantial as we didn’t board till 10.30pm. At least we got comfy seats and WiFi access so we spent time reading and doing photos.

The trip, however, was good. Smooth, and the lay flat beds worked well. The food was also quite good and the service professional. I actually slept for a number of hours which is unusual for me. And as dawn broke in Sydney (and the airport curfew lifted) we came in over Botany Bay. Home again.


The fact that the luggage didn’t make it was actually a blessing. It would be delivered to the door the next day. We rolled our carry-on out to the waiting shuttle and headed home for a long sleep.

That’s it folks. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Zurich: The last of Europe

We were flying Swiss, so needed to leave from Zurich to get directly to the west coast of the USA, a long trip. The train was an hour late in arriving and I have to say that the SNCF staff were most helpful, carrying our luggage for us to the waiting room, ensuring we knew how to make our connection or following ones in Lausanne and generally ensuring we were comfortable. It wasn’t the first time we had received great service from them.

The trip from Lausanne to Zurich was enlivened by a delightful woman who spoke about the countryside, insisted we change seats with her to face forward and thus get the best view and generally gave us a bit of a guided tour as we travelled as far as Freibourg, where she left us. Zurich station, which is huge, had lifts and escalators and was literally a block from our hotel, the Walhalla. Hotels in Zurich are expensive and while this was a renovated, clean, bright hotel, it was not exciting but was one of our most expensive stays. However, it was also on the tram-line which was convenient for seeing the city.

We derived some amusement from signs in the trams, especially the one about destroying the seats.


The trams themselves were very modern and roomy, with articulated carriages and frequent arrivals.


Tram interior

The first evening it rained quite heavily and we were happy just to look around nearby and then grab a meal at a beer hall in the station area. This was noisy and fun, good sausages and great rosti along with a large glass of beer. Beware the fattening qualities of Swiss/German food.


It was still grey and threatening the next morning which may have affected our relationship with this city. We found it expensive and not particularly appealing, though when I look back we packed a fair bit into the day. A tram to the lake waterfront began the adventure and we had a nice panorama of the town, especially the church spires, before we walked our way along the most expensive shopping street.


Zurich from the bridge at the lake front, Fraumunster and St Peters to the left, Grossmunster to the right

Opposite was a huge sculpture resembling a spider, called “Maman”. I wish I had taken more care in photographing it, as it is a work by artist  Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and is dedicated to her mother, who repaired tapestries. It is temporarily part of an exhibition of her works. While it looks a bit like driftwood, it is actually bronze.



We wandered up the shopping streets, admiring the jewellery (though not the watches which all seem heavy and clumsy these days) and the flower shops. The flowers were beautiful.

flowershop copy
Gorgeous flower shop
roses copy
Bunches of roses
eidelweiss copy
Potted edelweiss
Paeonies (note also the artichoke flowers at the back)

Other shops had cute (or confronting) signs. Loved the bubble blowing bear at a high window in a toy shop, but was not quite sure what to make of the ad for a men’s and women’s clothing store.

Bubble bear
ad copy

The city is bisected by the river Limmat which flows out of the Zurichsee. The tram travels down one side of the river and the main shopping streets are on the other side. There are a number of spires and clock towers, including the one on St Peters which has the biggest clock face in Europe. Photos were not allowed in any of the churches which was a shame because some of the windows were by Chagall and by Giacometti.


The Fraumunster (green spire) and St Peters Lutheran church with the large clock face

The pretty Fraumunster (1250)
The Grossmunster (cathedral, 1230)
Detail near the Grossmunster
Rich carving on the Grossmunster

We found the food very expensive and did not know where to find a place for a snack for lunch. We ended up in an Italian restaurant where we paid over 50chf for two pizzas and in the evening we had two mains and a beer each at a cost of 89chf. The hotel, bed and breakfast, was 235chf a night, or about $260, one chf being worth more than an Australian dollar. At these prices I wouldn’t want to holiday in Switzerland for too long.

In the morning they called a taxi (which had no meter) and off to the airport for the long haul to LA and thence to Portland. The Swiss food was quite good and the lie-flat beds very low to the floor but reasonably comfortable. We flew over Greenland and Iceland, so a Great Circle route which was a first for us, and totally in daylight outside which was disorienting. But a smooth flight.

And so the end of the European trip. I think we were ready by now to start the homeward journey.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dijon: City of surprises

After a few travel troubles that resulted in us arriving late at Dijon, we were met by our bubbly hostess Coco and driven to our apartment in the centre of town. Not only did she provide for us in every way within the apartment (eggs, ham, butter, bread, juice, milk, fresh fruit and home baked cake) but she also took us on a mini guided tour of the old town centre, pointing out items of interest, good places to shop and providing a potted history of the area. What a great welcome. www.myhomeindijon.com 

We spent what was left of the afternoon exploring the town centre, having a beer and then a nice meal of beef bourguignon before a welcome sleep. Coco had warned us that the following day was probably not the best for our stay, being Tuesday, so all the State Museums were closed and also being the French Fete de Musique, with bands set up all over town, including in the Place de la Liberation just down the street. While the music might be fun, it was also destined to run quite late into the night.

Dijon was a surprise to us, a very grand town with some magnificent buildings such as the Ducal Palace, several large churches, a market hall designed by Gustave Eiffel, a triumphal arch and some magnificent and very old mansions. The architectural detail was excellent with many carvings and embellishments, plus those lovely rooves tiled in several different colours.

Facing the Place de la Liberation is the Duke’s Palace, now municipal chambers and a fine museum (which was closed of course) and the tower of Phillipe le Bon with views over the town.


The Duke’s Palace (rather curved by the camera, in fact the facade is straight)

Architectural detail was interesting. We loved the seven little people holding up the columns of a building and the front of Notre Dame church was covered in gargoyles.

men7_edited-1 men6_edited-1 men5_edited-1 men4_edited-1 men3_edited-1 men2_edited-1 men1_edited-1

Notre Dame had a beautiful Rose Window and a graceful nave, plus a very old statue of the virgin, Our Lady of Good Hope, clothed in robes but with that extraordinary face found on very old religious carvings. She is 9th Century.

Rose window of the Last Judgement
The soaring nave
9th Century virgin

We also visited the church of St Michael, close by our apartment and with a rather grand exterior including a triple portal which contained some amazing sculptures with great detail.

St Michaels
The ornate facade, St Michaels
Carving on the portal
An emotional “entombment” scene

The cathedral of St Benignus seemed rather unremarkable at first. In the interior, the treasure was the very old crypt, the rotunda of which survived when other parts of the original church were damaged. The rotunda was built to shelter the grave of the saint, Benignus. Parts of the stonework were re-used from other buildings as was usual at the time, but there are two capitals where the artist has attempted to show a man with hands raised in prayer. Each successive carving got better until the final result.

The rotunda in the crypt, 10 centuries old
Painted chapel in the cathedral. It is quite rare these days to find such painted interiors. This one has even painted on “stained glass” windows.
The final carving on the capital in the crypt
Someone has to do the vacuuming!

The quality and quantity of the beautiful mansions and medieval streets was wonderful. Tall walls hid old mansions, (once called hotels) revealed through open gateways and often with explanatory signs about their heritage.

Hotel Legouz de Gerland, 1690
A Dijon street
Note the beautiful tiled roof

We spent some time just walking the town. I especially wanted to find the copy of the ice bear by Pompon, my favourite from the Musee D’Orsay, and there it was in one of the gardens, guarding the entrance. A pretty and restful place too, with a waterfall and an ornate pond.

Waterfall and pool
Pompon’s bear (he learned to be a stonemason in Dijon)
Decorative facade
Detail of the shiniest ever 2CV

The market in Dijon is housed in a beautiful market hall designed by Gustave Eiffel about 15 years prior to the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It appears to be cast iron and glass and has wonderfully wide aisles for ease of movement. The interior is foodstuffs, but outside the stalls range from beautiful flowers and vegetables to underwear, shoes, jewellery and even second hand clothes.

The graceful market buildingmarket-whiting
Whiting all fresh from the sea
Rows of disembodied feet sell pretty sandals

As the evening came on people gathered for the music and it was quite a festive air. There were a number of venues over the town and even our restaurant had a rather good chanteuse singing to the patrons outside. We listened for a while after returning to our room, then closed the double glazed windows. Definitely not enough time for this town.


Crowds gather in Place de la Liberation for the music festival

Next episode: Zurich