Boeing and Seattle Center (23 Apr)

Next on the agenda for Seattle was the obligatory factory tour of the Boeing plant in Everett (north of Seattle), with the “largest building by volume in the world”. Arriving at the site you’re hit with the size of the place, with planes all over the place and some very large buildings.

On the booking site you are told – no cameras, phones or any form of electronic device. And at the ticket counter, and when you line up for the tour, and when you sit in the theatrette (twice) and when you get on the bus. “If they find one on you in the factory, they will confiscate it and it’s very hard to get it back”, said the lady. Didn’t seem to be a lot of checking out at the assmebly plant.

You take a bus out and the tour guide explains the four types of passenger jet made here; 747, 767, 777, and 787. I questioned whether they were still making the passenger 747 given the success of the A380. At which point I discovered the tour give was a marketing plant – Boeing could do no wrong in her eyes. Oh, well moving on.

The assembly plant is infact huge. Six wide bays (wide enough for the wingspan of most of the planes) that stretch back a few hundred meters. When you stand up on the viewing galleries seeing partially assembled planes stretching off into the distance, you can’t help but be impressed. You access the building via tunnels underneath the facory floor that are reminiscent of a good James Bond film.

90 minutes later and I’m off downtown to have a look at the Space Needle and areas around it. Then the heavens opened up! Apparently this happens a lot in Seattle. I did the Space Needle and had a (bad) Starbucks coffee in the viewing area.

The Gehry designed Museum of Popular Culture (MoPoP) is an impressive building. His architecture does my head in, but you can’t say it’s boring.

The Armory is an equally impressive building, even if it’s just a big food hall now. I’d loved to have explored this area further, but I had a plane to catch back to Dallas. Next time.

Seattle and Olympic National Park (22 Apr)

I’ve not been to Seattle before, so when I was faced with two weeks in Dallas (and  having done the three top tourist things to do in Dallas – all to do with the Kennedy Assasination), I decided it was worth a look. Getting into the cool forests of the north-west has been on my list for some time.

After a late arrival last night, I was up early and on the road. I took the road/bridge route from the airport, down to Tacoma and then around to Port Angeles, a leasurely 2.5 hour trip. My first “wow” moment was coming around a corner and seeing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with the snow-capped peaks of the national park in the distance.

I had hoped to get up into the snow, but on arrival at the National Parks office in Post Angeles, I was informed that it was closed. But I’d be able to see lots of waterfalls and moss-covered rocks. The range suggested I head around to the road heading up to the Sol Duc falls. The road (Hwy 101) passes through pine forests, cascading streams and Lake Crescent before turning off into the park itself . I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entry was free (“National Parks Week”). Lake Crescent is impressive even on a drizzly day (lots of low clouds hugging the hillsides).

In the park I stopped at a few places that took my fancy. What stood out the most were the trees covered in a golden moss everywhere.

And the aqua colour of the water.

Both the Sol Duc and Marymere falls were worth the damp traipse through the amazing rainforest.

I took a different route home, via the Bainbridge Island-Seattle ferry. You can’t do Seattle without doing the ferry.

All the Seattle photos can be found at:

Florida – South Beach and Key West (1-2 Apr)

I recently had a week in Miami teaching a class. I arrived a couple of days early to try to beat the jetlag prior to teaching (it didn’t). Miami does nothing for me, and I hate the traffic (worst drivers in America), but it was a good excuse to revisit South Beach and Key West.

I’d had a weekend in Miami many years ago and was keen to see South Beach (SoBe) at night, with all the art deco buildings lit by variously coloured neon. I must admit I was a bit disappointed. The place is looking a bit rundown and some of the main hotels were being renovated (including the one used in The Bird Cage).

I couldn’t even get a decent Mexican meal after being ignored at a highly recommended restaurant.

The next morning I headed down to the Florida Keys. I’d also done this drive many years ago, but I’d forgotten how far it actually is to Key West. Much of the early part of the drive is inland and single-lane. But after a while you get to the bridges and waterways that the Keys are known for.

It was hot and sticky at Key West. My main aim was to visit the two Crazy Shirts shops on Duval St., which I did. Duval St. is the main shopping street in Key West stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. I love the old timber guest houses. I also found a French Patisserie that had some amazing coffee. It’s a long drive but it’s worth it (pity about the Sunday afternoon traffic coming back).

All the Florida 2017 photos can be found at:

The earlier South Beach (2005) photos (daytime) are at:

The Key West photos from 2005 are at:

Around Ancient Greece (5 Mar and 10 Mar)

Following the mega trip in the countryside, the plan for Sunday was a more leisurely trip around Athens taking in the standard tourist sites, on foot. It was a glorious blue-sky but cool day.

I headed out from the hotel down past the birthplace of the modern Olympics (Panathenaic Stadium) and then to the complex containing the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Arch of Hadrian. Being the nervous tourist, I was a bit worried when it seemed you didn’t need to pay to enter the gated/fenced area. I was to find out why later.

The Acropolis dominates from everywhere around central Athens – every time you turn around it’s staring down at you.

From here it was across the road and down some back streets to the Acropolis Museum. This is a modern museum built in the shadow of the Acropolis with many artifacts preserved. It’s built on many ruins, so in places you look down and realise you’re on a glass floor with ancient walls meters below. Apparently you’re not allowed to take photo’s in some parts.

From here is was up the Acropolis. I didn’t have to pay here either. Seems that on the first Sunday of the month all the sites are free. That would explain why it was wall-to-wall locals. I passed the Theatre of Dionysus and continued up the hill to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a very impressive theatre.

There’s a slight logistical problem in accessing the sites on top of the Acropolis – there’s only one single way on to the top of the hill. There were thousands of people trying to get through a small entrance two-people wide – it took ages. The top of the Acropolis is like some large garden supplies yard with building rubble everywhere and giant cranes covering the Parthenon. Still it was worth the effort, and crowds. The view out over Athens is amazing, and if you work at it you can get a photo without scaffolding or cranes.

From here it was back down the hill (over half an hour to get off the hill). Across from the Acropolis (south-west) is a small hill that gives amazing views back to the Acropolis. I returned there on the Friday evening. I was hoping to see the Temple of Hephaestus, but it closed at 3pm (and the lady was pretty insistent of me not entering at 2:50). So I wandered back to the hotel.

The following Friday evening (10 Mar) I headed back with camera and tripod hoping to get some reasonable evening shots. I started with the area around the Acropolis.

I couldn’t wait for sunset, so I wandered around the popular shopping district and around the catholic cathedral, with lots of little greek orthodox churches in the most interesting places (like in the middle of the main shopping mall).

This was one of my favourite shots, the cathedral seen from one of the little laneways. I finished the evening with a few shots of the Aropolis lit up at night. After the cathedral I was tempted to head back to the hotel, but decided to try exploring a few back alleys and found some interesting spots.

All the Athens photos can be found at: