Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shakedown trip

We've had a wonderful trip up north. We spent a few days on Quadra Island with old Cornell grad-school friends who recently moved there; we didn't get to see them often enough when they lived in Ontario, so it's great that they're relatively close now. Quadra is a beautiful island off the east coast of Vancouver Island. We'd only been there once before, when we were kayaking in the area, so we did a bit of walking and car exploration. On one walk we saw over a hundred bald eagles, mostly juveniles, soaring in slow lazy circles over the bay. We enjoyed helping our friends babysit their three grandchildren one evening. Les also had fun spending time with the family dogs and cats. Chucky, our kayak, is now going to live on Quadra, so we'll have many happy reasons to return.

View from the end of the road on Quadra Island

Leo pulling the kayak on its wheels
Arlyn reading to Forrest, Leo, and Ivy

We then had a couple of days in Vancouver at CelticFest. The Welsh men's choir concert was excellent, and included an equally good performance by an Irish dance group. We saw lots of short performances and workshops: fiddlers, dance groups, various combos, etc. Les especially enjoyed the workshop on the uilleann pipes, an Irish instrument somewhat similar to bagpipes, and a favorite of Les.

The St. Patrick's parade was fun. Remembering how three years ago I had found it difficult to see through the street crowd, this time I shlepped a plastic stool from Seattle, and Les enjoyed teasing me about it. During the parade I didn't need it, because we found a retaining wall to stand on. So the stool was sitting on the sidewalk when suddenly a woman rushed up, shouted "I need to borrow your stool!" and bolted off with it. How bizarre, we thought. We watched her race up the block to a horse leading a carriage in the parade.

Our stool saves the day!
She got up on the stool, and—with some difficulty—replaced a decoration which had evidently fallen off from the horse's head. So my stool played an important part in the parade, and Les was quite impressed at my foresight! The only negative in Vancouver was cigarette smoke on the streets; we're both very sensitive to it, and we know that it will be a potential problem in Europe.

We found a lovely, deserted beach on Lummi Island
Yesterday we visited Lummi Island off the Washington coast. It was our first time there, and we were surprised at how different it is from the nearby San Juan Islands. In circumnavigating the 10-mile long island, we saw hardly any people (population is about 900), and definitely no tourist attractions. We then drove to Anacortes to spend the night. Today, our final day of nine, we're going to have lunch with an Esperanto friend as we pass through Whidbey Island. Today is also the 8th anniversary of our daughter Julie's death, so we've been thinking about her a lot the last few days.

This trip was meant to be a "shakedown" trip for the big one this summer. Doing this blog entry while on the road, for instance, is more challenging than doing it at home on the large computer. We saw some attractive waterfowl on the ferry to Lummi, which might have been rhinoceros auklets or some kind of puffin, but I wasn't able to identify them online; it felt like I really needed my bird guide back at home. After years of printing off one or more New York Times crossword puzzles each day, we're learning to solve them online, but it's not nearly as enjoyable that way.

We tried out two credit cards and two debit cards in a foreign country—Canada—to see which ones incurred foreign transaction fees. We resolved a banking problem with the help of Skype, so it's nice to know that we can take care of financial matters while we're away. We tried out our new Visa card that has a chip; we had to open a new bank account to get it, as our regular bank doesn't offer a chip yet, and we know we'll want that feature in Europe. We discovered that it's best to have a PIN for the chip credit card, which apparently our bank only issues on request. I'm glad we're learning these things now, and not while we're in Europe.

Les created a new system for keeping track of cash and credit card expenses on our laptop, so we'll be able to reconcile online bank statements on the road. We confirmed that Pandora doesn't work outside of the U.S. (boo hoo), also that Netflix streaming works but the selections are more limited. When a new user ran into a problem with Les' MorseKOB program, other users around the country jumped in with suggestions; it gives Les confidence that support for the program will not depend solely on him during our long trip.

So, all in all, we've had a most enjoyable and successful week. Les says, "It's been the best vacation ever!" But, then again, he often says that. :-)