Grouse II

26 05 2013

I like to do the Grouse Grind after work on Thursdays. Nothing obsessive you understand (Moi?!). But being as last Thursday was my Geburtstag, I gave myself the night off. By last night I was feeling slothlike. I’m doing some charity 5km race next Sunday, so I had to “get out there” and went for a run around the local environs. Today looked a bit rainy so I figured the Grind would be quieter, and drove over to the North Shore to partake in the madness.

Wrong! It was heaving. I smiled at myself clucking at some BMW driver trying to drive against the relentless flow of arriving grinders. Plainly a newb and unaware that the other way (hinted at by the Exit sign) was the way out. I gave him a disapproving look, which as a BMW owner he was plainly unaccustomed to.

Fortune smiled upon me and someone was leaving just as I cruised past. Some deft reversing and the trusty steed was parked.

Most of the hike was uneventful, but I do so enjoy catching up and over-taking the young bucks and buckesses that regularly storm past me earlier on the trail. They can usually be found gasping at the side of the path, or in the case of the less well brought up – right in the middle of the path.

By the half-way mark, I was feeling in a groove and quite fluid in my stride. There’s an artsy seating bench at the half-way mark which I have overheard several people mistake for a mountain biking “stage”. It seems to not occur to people that mountain biking and Grouse Grinders would be a disastrous mix. Anyway, as I arrived, the bench was covered with a handful of 20-somethings trying to catch their breath. I was a bit peeved that they weren’t offering their seats to the various ladies that were pausing to also catch their breath. I was itching for one of them to offer me a place, so I could rebuff them with sarcastic comments about how they needed the rest more than me. Alas they were all too rude to offer their elders a seat, and I stood to quaff from my water bottle. They all set off just as I was ready, but I passed them only two switch-backs later.

It was quite a trip in all though. I saw TWO babes in arms on the trail. One being breast-fed at about the 3/4 mark. The other was plainly not happy about proceedings and was clearly audible from way off.

Just as I got to the top, there was someone blocking most of the trail having a rest. I was about to make some comment when I noticed that they had a prosthetic leg. I was completely knackered by then, and I can’t imagine the extra effort and bodily stresses it must make to do the route with a prosthetic limb. Kudos!

Despite it feeling really humid, and me being convinced I’d done a shoddy time, I was actually 2 minutes faster than last week at 1:24.

English: Part of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver...

Part of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver BC, showing part of the hiking path. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My one over-riding impression though was about how much perfume and/or cologne people seem to think appropriate for a hike in the woods. It was overpowering at times. Somehow it seemed so out of place with the scenery – but then again, so in keeping with all the “look at me” attire that the typical walker was wearing. I wonder if Lululemon would be in business still if the Grouse Grind were to close.





Slept quite well in Seattle

22 05 2013

We just had a long weekend here in BC. Queen Victoria had a birthday conveniently close to my own, so plus or minus a week I get an extra day off to enjoy my encroaching dotage.

This year Mrs E and I went for an overnight visit to Seattle. It’s probably about a decade since we last visited, and I was keen to take some photos of the MV Kalakala. On our last visit we’d taken one of the tours on the ex-WWII Ducks – amphibian trucks – and had seen the Kalakala when it was still on Lake Union. As it turned out, that was too ambitious a goal and we never got to Tacoma to see the old tub in its current moorage.

As we drove down, we stopped off at the outlet stores near Tulalip in the hope of snagging some wacky Converse high tops or cheap skinny Levi’s 511s. Not quite sure how, but somehow we only ended up with a Le Creuset casserole dish. Moral of the story being never take Mrs E when you’re out bargain hunting.

We pulled off the motorway at Everett to find the Starbucks promised by a siren road sign. As we came to the junction at the end of the slip-road we were met with a blind choice. No hint of which direction would lead to the beverage emporium. For no particular reason I selected the innocent sounding “20th St SE” to the left, and almost immediately regretted it as the road became a long bridge and then a highway promising Wenatchee as a potential destination. Thankfully it emerged in a rural hamlet called Lake Stevens (sans café, incidentally) which at least offered a few residential turnings and therefore the means of salvaging the mistake before too much drinking time was lost.

No matter, we’d just head back the other way and no doubt be enjoying a “London Fog” before we knew it. No such luck. One block past the motorway, and we were in Deadsville, USA.

Now, in fairness, sitting here at home with the full power of Google Maps at my fingertips, I can see lots of cafés and places we could have stopped in Everett. I’ll remember that in the extremely unlikely event I ever again feel the urge to visit.  At the time though, it seemed deader than an engineering student’s potted plant. On the other hand, we were also spared “Seattle Reptiles” on Hewitt Ave, so on balance, I think we were ahead.

Deciding that the Starbucks road sign was in fact simply lying, we tried to find the entrance back to the motorway and to test our luck elsewhere. At this point I began to realise that road signage in the US is a matter left in the hands of the local village idiot rather than treated with the reverence it is rightly due. I swear we did three laps underneath the I5 before we zeroed in on an unlikely junction that thankfully, if a little unexpectedly, launched us back on our Southern journey. Mrs E made several remarks about “turning into your dad” and pantomime shooting me with loaded fingers, but we were back in familiar territory and heading once more in the right direction.

Our next attempt at refreshment was somewhat better signed, but in return lead us straight into a block-long traffic jam. Eventually we pulled into the Walmart carpark in Martha Lake and walked around the corner to Starbucks. Here I enjoyed an outrageously expensive “panino” (but not as you know it Jim) with my London Fog.

Searching for that last link, I finally discovered why Starbucks are so rabid about echoing “Earl Grey Tea Latte” when you ask for a London Fog. It seems London Fog is a proprietary name for a tea blended exclusively by Carnelian Rose Tea Co. of Vancouver, WA. Starbucks no longer used the name after being informed of the potential trade name conflict. Doesn’t seem to bother Murchies, JJ Bean or any other tea shop I’ve frequented in the Lower Mainland.

Where was I? Oh yes – Martha Lake. So, refortified with the requisite caffeine injection and over-mustardised sarnie, we set about sorting out accommodation for when we reached Seattle. It turned out there was some conference on that weekend, and HotelTonight.com gave dire warnings of the lack of cheap offerings. In the end we went for the “sight unseen” alternative at Hotwire.com, and after signing away $200 including tax, we were informed we were booked in the Red Lion hotel on 5th Avenue – nice and central. Described as a boutique hotel, we reminded ourselves that if it was REALLY bad, we could always drive home again.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and 5th Ave turned out to be trivial to find once we left the motorway on reaching Seattle. I almost missed the underground parking because I was looking at the old British red phone box at the Elephant & Castle pub that is in the basement of the Red Lion. An anonymous block of a building, it didn’t look particularly inspiring from the outside, but once we were in the lobby I began to get more impressed. It immediately began to demonstrate its 3.5 stars as we were very politely welcomed and checked in. I couldn’t help but smile as a couple walked in off the street looking for a room and were offered their cheapest at $100 more than we had just signed up for. We were in a king size room, but the young lady on the desk asked if we’d mind sitting for a while whilst she checked if the room was in fact ready. We were a good 30 minutes ahead of the official check-in time, so a curt “come back at 4pm” wouldn’t have been out of order. Instead though, she returned in a few minutes most apologetic for making us wait and gave us the keys and a smile.

Round about this time I began to notice that Seattle service staff are at least as polite (and probably more so) than Vancouver’s. I also noticed a lot of openly gay couples (which indicated to me a very embracing, open city culture), and no litter whatsoever. When I arrived in the Lower Mainland from the UK, I was in awe at how clean Greater Vancouver was. Seattle makes it look like a rubbish tip. To be sure it has its grungy bits, and I noticed myself taking a particularly firm grip on my camera once or twice, but on balance it felt pretty safe.

Our room was lovely. This is where the “boutique” comes in. It’s a large faceless hotel on the outside – just like a Marriott or a Holiday Inn anywhere in the world. On the inside though, it felt individual. It had everything any other hotel room might have – TV, tea making facilities, chairs, desk, bed. But the decor was smart and modern. Not that neutral beige I always dread so much in big name hotels. The rooms were wheelchair accessible, and though I don’t need to make use of it just yet, it was nice to know that if I did, there was a folding seat in the shower, as well as a detachable shower head for those hard to reach places…

Dumping our clobber, we headed off to REI, replete with the map given to us by the friendly desk-wallah. A large biro X marked our destination, just in case we missed the giant REI logo right next to it. Once there time (and money) drifted away, and before long it was almost tea time. We headed to the Space Needle, and took the monorail back to Nordstrom’s just a block or so away from the hotel. The Seattle Center (sic – it’s a proper name, so I can’t spell it “properly”) had a large outdoor Chihuly collection, but it was cleverly hidden behind large hedges and I wasn’t going to pay money to see it.

Back at the hotel we dumped our purchases, freshened up, and headed out once more. Having grown quite attached to the young lady on the desk, I asked for her recommendation for a fish restaurant and she steered us to Blueacre on 7th and Olive. It was already filling up as we arrived, and the greeter met us with a disdaining eye. Plainly she wasn’t local as she was not in possession of the hitherto ubiquitous warm friendly smile. Having asked for a table for two, I honestly thought she was about to grunt that without a reservation we were SOL. Instead she reluctantly admitted that there were tables to be had in the bar area, and she could follow us with menus. Novel idea I thought. Menus in a restaurant.

Thankfully this turned out to be a minor aberration in my theory of the friendliness of Seattlites, and the waitress was attentiveness personified. We started with cocktails, and I couldn’t resist the Bond-inspired Vesper. I was disappointed to not be asked if I’d like it shaken or stirred, but one can’t have everything I suppose. Mrs E partook of a “Victimless Crime” which appeared to consist of gin, various citrus things, aniseed and “bubbles”.

A plate of oysters casbarian turned out to be baked with bacon bits, stuff, things and whatnots. Actually, it was apple smoked bacon, spinach, fennel and anise. By the time I’d finished my pan blackened Alaskan rock fish in blue cheese sauce I was fit to burst. I think it was the exquisitely done (not at all greasy) onion rings it came with.

Full menu is here if you want to torture yourself more.

The walk back to the hotel was much needed, and though still quite early, sleep came quickly.

Sunday morning came early and was announced by the rhythmic pounding of the next door neighbour. Nothing saucy… we were right next to the hotel gym, and some eager beaver was hammering away on the treadmill. Rather than being grumpy, I got up and went and did 30 minutes on the elliptical machine myself. I worked up quite the sweat – to the extent that two days later as I write this, my calves are still a bit sore. Parking was good until 4pm, so we checked out, loaded our stuff into the car, and went exploring. Naturally we headed for Pike Place Market, which was vibrant and colourful.

We dined on sticky buns (I found some “healthy” seed and nut biscuit thing. It might have been healthier if it wasn’t large enough to feed a platoon), and managed to find a coffee establishment without the green mermaid on it. A swift amble along the waterfront, and back around to the hotel via Nordstrom’s Rack to appease Mrs E’s shopping urge, and we were done.

Coming back through the border was a little bit of pantomime. We have Nexus, and I’m not totally sure what the rules are for duty free, as I usually only get asked “did you buy alcohol or tobacco?” to which the answer is always “no”.

This time though, this was the transcript:

Nice customs lady: Did you buy anything, or were you given anything?

Me: I’m sorry, what? (I was thrown by the “given anything” part)

Less nice customs lady: I said – did you buy anything, or were you given anything?

Me: Yes – we spent about $450

Sighing customs lady (plainly this was potentially a form-filling occasion for her): How long were you gone for?

Me: Overnight

More heavily sighing customs lady (plainly the wrong answer, and forms and pens were beckoning): And what did you buy?

Me: We bought some clothes and a casserole pan.

Raised eyebrow customs lady: Was any item more than $200?

Me: No

Relieved customs lady (this was a pen-pushing event deftly averted, it seems): Thank-you. Goodbye.





The view from here

4 05 2013

As I mentioned previously, today I added The Chief’s First Peak to the list of places I’ve been. It was a lovely day with the views absolutely stunning.

I only hope the many climbers on the Chief’s famous faces were being appropriately careful in their enjoyment, and were well supplied with sun screen and lip balm. The iPod’s ability to dynamically build this image as I wafted it unceremoniously in the air is nothing short of amazing. Kudos Apple (and people who know me will agree that that is not something I lightly offer to The Dark Empire).

Click on the image to see a bigger version. The wiggly road to the left is the Sea to Sky highway, linking Vancouver to the left and Whistler to the right.

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC





Ben Canales – Crater Lake

13 04 2013

Couple of years old now, but simply stunning.

Glad to see he dug a small “cold well” at the entrance to his tent.

ben canales – Search Results – Intelligent Travel.





Of Death Star and Doncaster

31 03 2013

So we all trekked off to the Auto Show on Friday. Quite a pleasant day out. We then went to the Bellaggio Café for lunch, opposite Canada Place in Vancouver. Near the Giant Blue Sperm. (It’s Art. It’s also German. Just sayin’…)

I have to say that the food was pretty good. The spelling though?! Interesting at the very least. It’s no connection at all with Bellagio (one g) in Las Vegas. There were no fountains or Dale Chihuly glass art.

Now I’m a big fan of Eddie Izzard‘s work. Mainly his stand-up, but also his straight acting. Up there with the best bits though is “Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen”. So famous in fact that it has been done in Lego and re-enacted word perfect by pre-pubescent boys a thousand times on YouTube. If by some fate of nature you’ve made it through life thus far without having seen it, try this video. If you’re well aware of Jeff, Sir Lord Vader of Cheam, then read on. Or eat cake. Your choice.

Now, I’d never actually heard of Penne Arrabbiata prior to Eddie Izzard, and I’ve never seen it on a menu. I thought it was one of those made up names. I once tried ordering the popular-in-Canada Alfredo sauce with my pasta on a trip to Northern Italy to howls of laughter and questions as to who in the name of all that is edible was this Alfredo chap?! Same with Latte – unknown in small town Italy.

Imagine my surprise then to see Penne Arrabbiata on the menu in Bellaggio’s. I opted in the end to share a proper Italian-style pizza (less crust than topping, unlike typical North American 2″ deep doughy monstrosities) with Mrs E., so can’t attest to the quality of the Arrabbiata sauce. Nor, I’m afraid can I attest to what a chocolate mouse tastes like. Even if serverd with ice-cream. Look carefully at Royal Chocolate in the photo…

Chocolate rodents on the menu at Bellaggio Café

Chocolate rodents on the menu at Bellaggio Café

Our waitress was very attentive but unfortunately it was other staff who delivered the actual orders. These others seemed to think it odd that we might want side plates in order to share our chicken wings, or regular plates off which to eat our pizzas. On the first attempt we were given teacup saucers!
The actual waitress, as I mentioned, was very attentive though. She was also English. Better – she was from Yorkshire. I know this because she told me so. Years ago, a French Canadian once told me that one need never ask if someone was from Yorkshire, as they’ll have already told you. C’est vrai! She’d married a bloke from Leeds it seems.

Over the space of our lunch we both politely circled around and determined our origins. I’d been in Canada 12 years, she 4. I was from “near Bradford” (in galactic terms at least – actually Silsden), she “from Doncaster”. My sister was born in Doncaster. Later, I said I’d spent my first 4 years in a village called Skellow, but couldn’t recall how close to Donny it actually was. It’s a suburb, she said. It’s where she’s really from! We agreed it was indeed a small world, and went our separate ways.

I just checked on Google Maps at what the old street looks like now. The one I spent my first four years on. Learning not to eat Play-Doh, alongside other life lessons. Watching the Vietnam war on black and white TV.  The old house is still there – and yes: that’s the A1 in spitting distance over the road. The Great North Road built by the Romans, and used ever since for moving untold volumes of goods North/South in England. “Go play in the fast lane of the A1″ was a common repost when I was at school in later years. It really was incredibly possible…

Where QE spent his early years

Source: Google Maps – Where QE spent his very early years





And so the wheel turns

30 03 2013

What a lovely weekend so far! Highs of 17, despite a cool start.

It was Good Friday. (It’s good any day, in my book…) Mrs E and I took our two remaining offspring and their friends to the Vancouver International Auto Show. Don’t worry – First Born is away at University, she’s not met a gruesome end or anything.

The last time I went to a motor show, it was at the massive National Exhibition Centre in the UK’s Birmingham. Maybe it’s because I was only about 13, but I remember it as being humongous! A whole day to even begin to scratch the surface. There were lorries and fire engines and all manner of things. Not just cars.

Vancouver Auto Show was a much more leisurely affair despite claiming to be Canada’s third largest. (Perhaps the fourth largest is some pub car-park). We got there good and early, safe in the knowledge that Vancouver doesn’t really rise until early afternoon. We spent about 2½ hours there in all… and saw everything. It was just the one large room. The crowds were only just arriving as we left. It didn’t close until 10pm, so I felt a little sorry for the floor staff. A very long day… especially on a Bank Holiday!

Mrs E had gone to scout out a replacement for our aging Honda Pilot. Now the kidlings are moving on to their own things we don’t need such a bus any more, and she delighted in sitting in the driver’s seat of various more sensibly sized offerings from Subaru, VW, Honda and Mazda. Oh – and Mercedes, Audi and BMW… just because she could. It really was a very pleasant couple of hours. No sales pressure at all. Most weird! It was slightly bizarre that all the gear knobs were missing from the manual cars. I couldn’t decide if they had been stolen, or removed to prevent them being stolen. I suppose I could have asked. The staff might have enjoyed the distraction.

I entered every competition I could, and managed to get a sly chuckle from the young lady at the ICBC stand. She was a bit of a hipster with large framed glasses with no lenses. Along with a couple of other folk I’d encountered at other stands, she was bemoaning the temperamental behaviour of the tethered iPads being used for data entry. “Be patient – it’s an iPad” seemed to be all that was needed to explain things. I has pressing, she was pressing, she was holding my finger to press. All to no avail. In the end, I tried my bestest “finger-tip caress”. The word “caress” seemed to cause her fits of giggles. But it didn’t work either. In the end, we found that if you sneaked up on the iPad and pressed the on-screen button when it wasn’t looking, it seemed to work OK. And no – I didn’t get her phone number. Number 3 offspring was there watching.

Chevrolet had a couple of concept cars on show, and were asking people to vote on them. I asked the young lady what it was all about and she explained that they were testing market reception to the Code 130R and Tru140S in Toronto. My face caused her to think, and then she blurted “I mean Vancouver”. Chevrolet claim Vancouver was their Canadian debut for the concept cars so I can only think she herself was the Torontonian. The show runs 10am to 10pm and was already a few days old. I’ve staffed trade shows. I know the evenings can be, er, fluid. I suspect she was just tired. Very tired.

One of the first booths we went to was Fiat. The cinquecento (500 to you) looks very familiar to my European eye, though I wait to see how resilient the famously rustable Italian bodywork proves on the Wet (sic) Coast. I did happen to notice that the booth manager had done their job well, and the “500″ logo was parallel with the floor on all four wheel hubs. A little detail to be sure, but just helped to show that care had been taken.

The highlight for me of course were the “super cars”, or “exotics” as they were being billed.  (Believe it or not – I know next to nothing about cars. Or sport. Or the finer points of beer. My manhood has been called into question on more than one occasion due to these facts). There was the Jaguar F-type; the Aston Martin Vanquish; Lotus Evora; Lamborghini Gallardo; some Maserati or other (not that big on them); ditto some Ferrari (red of course)… but then, oh – delight! The McLarens. A brace of MP4-12Cs. One in red, one in a lovely shade of grey.

The Aston Martin was modelled in “Silver – Skyfall Silver”. With obsidian black and spicy red interior.

But the wheels! The wheels were all over the place on the “exotic” cars!

It was as if to say “Look, if you’re paying $15k for a Fiat, we’ll put some effort in and make the car look the best it can. If you’re willing to pay $300k for the McLaren though… Come on… who care’s if it even has wheels?!”

They have a point, perhaps.





On Jaffa Cakes and Socks

27 03 2013

Second born came home the other day. She’d been on a school band trip to the UK and France. By all accounts it was a bit disappointing. They spent most of their time there travelling between places rather than actually at places. It culminated in a couple of hours free time to go shopping in Paris.

On a Sunday morning.

Paris, you’ll recall is in France – a nominally Catholic country.

Though shops in La Défence were indeed open… they were ejected from the coach nowhere near there, and therefore were condemned to wander the streets of Paris sans distraction! Still – she brought home most of the Euros I’d given her.

They’d previously spent an entire day going to/from Chartres. Chartres has a cathedral with stained glass windows with a very special blue. It also has… it has… well, it has a cathedral. (These were PNW teenagers remember, not culture vultures who think centuries old stained glass and the science of colour is quite interesting really.)

Source: Wikipedia – Chartres Blue

At least when they were in the UK they got to see Stonehenge and Bath. Not Woodhenge though.

You think I’m joking don’t you? Second born did too. I shit you not – there’s a Woodhenge too near Avebury. Kind of the prototype, I suppose. (The post holes are marked with slightly more resilient concrete posts now.)

Wikipedia: Woodhenge marked now by concrete posts

She was very kind in getting everyone presents though, on her return. Mine were beyond awesome. Firstly a box of Jaffa Cakes! I did share a couple today at work to rapturous, if slightly confused reception. Jaffa Cakes are a British delicacy made by McVitie’s the biscuit company. Oddly, in Canada there’s a French pretender sold by the LU biscuit company, known as Pim’s Orange.

I found this picture of Jaffa Cakes on a web site called “Tea & Sympathy” a very English phrase – despite it being a New York site.

Source: Tea & Sympathy. Jaffa Cakes

There I also found the following delightful quotes:

An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of 1.” – George Mikes
Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on.” – Billy Connolly
The British have an umbilical cord which has never been cut and through which tea flows constantly.” – Marlene Dietrich

I also found a good image of the French pretender on Amazon, for comparison. One can’t deny it’s a little more polished. More refined. Chic. In a word – French.

Source: Amazon – LU Pim’s Orange

But that was not all. No – far from it! She also fed my obsession for socks. The more weird and wacky the better. Slowly, slowly my preference is being met in BC, but it’s been a long time coming, and needs regular supplementation from Europe. To date it’s mainly via H&M which is a Swedish company and somehow manages to get around the “boring sock” mandate so rigidly enforced in the North American market. That unwritten rule ensures that most North American men wear only black, grey or Darwin-forbid: white socks. The more daring might go as far as brown, but that’s your lot! I can’t help but feel the market here must surely be ready for socks of more than one colour! Or indeed a colour! I am not averse to wearing neon orange or lime green, if only I could find them! (I used to own a pair of each bought in Germany 8 years ago. Falke was the brand. Their subsequent demise was a low point in my life).

She brought me two pairs of quite jaunty socks from TOPMAN in the UK. Bless her.

source: TOPMAN - Aztec and stripe socks

Source: TOPMAN – Aztec and Stripe Socks

Source: TOPMAN - Geo Fox Socks

Source: TOPMAN – Geo Fox Socks





Customer Service

18 03 2013

I rang my folks yesterday (Sunday).  My dad answered. We don’t speak that often these days. Father/son/alpha-male kind of thing I suppose. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. They moved there when I was 4 years old. Silsden still had cobbled streets back then. It’s been a while since I was 4 years old…

Source: Random Thoughts from the life of a Random Thinker

The conversation subjects were quite diverse, which was pleasant. As I said – we don’t talk often, and usually if it’s he who answers the phone I am promptly passed to “yamum”. I gather the mater wasn’t in, as he kept talking at length. At last I brought the subject around to their recent holiday trip up the Norwegian coast in search of The Northern Lights. They’d originally planned to see the lights off the coast of Alaska, and stop in to see our little outpost on the way. I guess Norway was significantly closer in the final analysis.

My dad recounted a tale of one fellow passenger who was loudly demanding his money back for the entire trip since he’d not seen the Aurora Borealis. Ignoring for a second that, as a natural phenomenon, it doesn’t appear on cue for tourists, the phenomenon had in fact been sighted several times during the trip – three by my own dad, and potentially other times in addition. The cruise itinerary makes it perfectly clear that – though likely – a sighting is not guaranteed. Some people…

As they arrived in Norway, they were told by the tour courier that the ship was delayed further North, as there had been heavy storms preventing its progress. They were to fly North to meet it and continue as planned from there. No biggy. They were pampered and enjoyed the transfer reasonably well. My parents were travelling with Titan Travel, and they have greatly enjoyed adventures all over the world with them for no less than 12 years! They recognised the  tour guide from a previous trip to New Zealand, and he asked what adventures they were expecting on this trip. My pater is no spring chicken at 73, but he and mum had pre-paid for 5 day trips along the cruise including such adventures as dog-sledding and snowmobiling. Jealous, or what?!

This then caused a stir because the tour guide only had them on his lists for two of the five trips they were expecting. Obviously a cock-up, but weird they were on some of the lists rather than none/all. The fees had been pre-paid (£1,100 or about $1,700), receipts issued, blah, blah, but no explicit confirmation that they’d been booked on the five trip… and they weren’t.

Now, given that this guy’s sole role on the cruise is to be the contact for his little tour group, he was by all accounts next to useless. After actually uttering the words “what do you expect me to do about it now?” he basically shrugged his shoulders and told my folks they’d have to claim their fees back once they got home. As my dad said to me though – he’s knocking on a bit, and the chances of him having an opportunity to go dog-sledding or snowmobiling ever again are slim to nil. He was sure to tell me that they did enjoy the cruise itself, but obviously were left at a bit of a loss on three days they’d expected to be “living large”.

Not a great customer service win there, Titan! Mistakes happen, but it’s how you deal with them that matters.

One of the reasons I’d called though was that the other Sunday was Mothers Day in the UK. There, it’s all part of the spring festival vibe, daffodils being sent home with kids in their droves, that sort of thing. I’d arranged a small package from Betty’s of Harrogate, and both Betty’s and the Royal Mail had sent me a steady stream of (no doubt automated, but never-the-less…) emails telling me my order was confirmed, was ready for shipping, had been shipped, and ultimately had indeed been delivered on the day I requested.

Gift Box

Source: Bettys

As an ex-pat with a mum several thousand miles away, this sort of service (on the few years I remember to invoke it!) is a Darwin-send. I was in no doubt that they’d extracted money (which seemed painless at the time), had kept their side of the bargain and sent something, and ultimately had ensured that it had arrived as agreed. I half expected them to let me know my mum had made her first cup of tea with the contents of the parcel, and report she was refusing to share the biscuits!

A small thing in the end. Just a few highly automated emails. But I felt I’d been kept “in the loop”. So much so I’d use them again. Customer Service. With capital letters!

Fast forward to yesterday (actually – it was he same day. I’m messing with your mind!). Mrs E and I found ourselves in Vancouver visiting the Bloedel Conservatory. My camera greatly enjoyed the outing.

Orchid in Bloedel Conservatory

Orchid in Bloedel Conservatory

Regular readers may recall that on Friday the 8th, myself and a couple of colleagues visited Romer’s Burger Bar in SW Burnaby. If not – it’s blogged here. Well it was kinda-sorta on the way home and Mrs E seemed a little peeved I’d been off enjoying myself without her. She was driving, so we made a small detour and headed to Kerr St for tea. It was a pleasant evening, but I’d forgotten (being a Brit!) that it was St. Patrick’s day, and everyone seemed to find it amusing to dress in green and offer lurid drinks to passers by. I don’t expect such exuberance on St. George’s day, unfortunately.

We were seated immediately and ordered our burgers and chips. We went for some fancy chips with garlic and other poncy trimmings. Mrs E’s got a bit of an allergy thing with vinegar and studiously avoids dressings such as mustard. She also dislikes cheese. So, when she selected an impressively meaty option she carefully told the server to skip the Gorgonzola cheese. A few minutes later our appetising burgers arrived, and we were off to the races. Except…

Mrs E is a little more cautious than most, and lifted her burger bun to see… mayonnaise! Her face grimaced and was still holding the pose when the server returned to ask how things were going.

“The menu didn’t say there’d be mayonnaise” was her statement.

True enough, but it’s not exactly a shock to discover it lurking in a North American burger in my experience. (Mine had undisclosed mustard, just for the record). In a heartbeat the server whisked the burger away, promising another – sans sauce.

True to her word, another burger unsullied by dressings was delivered, and she said the manager “had taken care of the fries” because of the mistake. I protested that there had been no mistake, just a misunderstanding, but to no avail. ‘Twas done. I was so impressed by the attitude, and over-correction of the very minor incident that I didn’t even mention that she’d failed to return my wife’s cutlery, forcing her to eat her burger in a most un-English way! :)

This was definitely “up there” in positive Customer Service experiences. No push-back or argument from the server – just a rapid resolution. And to get a little off the bill to-boot.  Sure a plate of fries isn’t going to make much difference to their bottom line, but it was the gesture. Deliberately going beyond what was strictly necessary.

Would I go back? Of course! Would I recommend it to others? I think I just did.

Now, if only Titan Travel executives ate there too…





Falklands vote will not end dispute

13 03 2013

Politics aside and all that… don’t you just love the suit?!

Full story at the Vancouver Sun: Falklands vote will not end dispute.

Vancouver Sun: The suit to end all suits

Vancouver Sun: The suit to end all suits





You’re ‘aving me on!

12 03 2013

Are you familiar with the Monty Python “String Sketch”? If you are, the rapidly expanding scope of the proposed TV ad may seem a little familiar as you read on…

OK – The Dolomites. North-Eastern Italy. Rugged, beautiful scenery. Good place for Adidas to shoot a couple of young people in their sports clothing out “doing stuff” in the great outdoors. But we need something more…

No not Archbishop Makarios, how about uni-cycling?

Not enough? Then extreme uni-cycling! (Like there’s some layman’s form for the general public?!)

Watch Stephanie Dietze and Lutz Eichholz “extreme uni-cycling” down a tretcherous mountain path in the Dolomites.

I shit you not…

The sound-track is German, but if you’re not a polyglot, don’t worry. Believe me – it’s a visual treat!

Extreme Mountain Unicycling – YouTube.








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