PC 46 A Tale of Three Cities

Sandwiched either side of our trip to Alaska in June, we visited three cities in North America; Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco, all part of great grandfather George’s travels. I know there are many of you who will know these cities intimately, some of you living there as I write, but I thought I could just record my own observations.

I think Seattle, up there in the top left corner of Washington State, is unknown to most Europeans – or perhaps that’s the way those that live here want it to be. It’s simply gorgeous, a city astride sea inlets and overshadowed by a huge mountain, Mount Rainier. I say ‘overshadowed’ but this is not strictly true as the highest mountain of the Cascade Range lies some 60 miles to the south; the snow-caped peak of this active volcano is clearly visible from the city – providing it’s not raining, and apparently it rains a lot in Seattle!

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Mount Rainier

Seattle is the home of large American corporations such as Boeing, of Microsoft, of Starbucks …….. and of Nordstrom. Who? Nordstrom! Founded in 1901 by Swede John Nordstrom, it’s told that Swedish immigrants in America found it difficult to buy shoes big enough; maybe you didn’t know that they have big feet? Nordstrom started as a shoe shop but now has over 300 department stores in 38 states in the USA. It has an enviable reputation for exceptional customer service.

All waterfront cities offer their inhabitants the option to commute to work by boat and Seattle is no exception; ferries crisscross the harbour and even connect with Victoria, on the south end of Vancouver Island in Canada. On Puget Sound, Seattle’s surrounded by islands, evergreen forests and to the west the enormous Olympus National Park. It rains a lot in Seattle but they make good coffee; I have a T shirt from Seattle: “When it rains, we pour!” (Ho! Ho!) We were extremely lucky and had hot, dry sunny weather. Near the city waterfront is Pike’s Place Market, a jumble of little stalls and shops over three floors, and a magnet for tourists. On the street level there’s a fish stall where staff physically throw huge salmon between them, and rig fish with wires so that, when tweeked, they appear alive, much to the horror, and amusement, of the watching crowds.

I have cousins in Vancouver who are descendants of great grandfather George’s brother Arthur, so we could not visit Alaska without dropping in here. A flight from Anchorage took us to Vancouver, and a short ride on the Skytrain dropped us close to our hotel on the harbour. Vancouver is a bustling coastal city of some 600,000 people of every colour and creed; there is a young vibrant feel about the place. Five years ago it hosted the Winter Olympics, and its location, surrounded by sea and mountains, invites outdoor pursuits of every variety. After a lovely catch-up over dinner, a 90 minute ferry ride the following morning took us to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, home to a first cousin whom I had not seen for 40 years or so!

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It was here I saw for the first time George’s original ‘My Darling Eva’ letters; my photocopies do not do justice to this wonderful personal treasure trove of local news, thoughts, feelings, worries and inquisitive questions about his family back in London. I forgave my hand for shaking slightly as I held these family heirlooms from over 100 years ago.

Vancouver Island is an absolute delight; it’s ‘Chill Out’ Island – with kayaking, sailing, flying, trekking, yoga (even Bikram!) and the like – but little swimming as the water is just too cold. We flew back to Vancouver after two nights by float plane; what a way to travel!

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The historic octagonal Hudson’s Bay Company Fort, the Nanaimo Bastion, dating from 1854

George had lived in Reno, Nevada and in San Francisco from 1880 for at least a decade, working in the gold mines and sharing with Eva the joy of having their three children born here. When we were in the Pantanal in Brazil last year, we met a delightful American couple who said: “Do drop in if you’re passing San Francisco!” (as if!!) When we looked at some maps San Francisco seemed quite close to Vancouver; and I had a first cousin (once removed) living here …… so it seemed a good idea to tack onto this Alaskan trip another city connected with George, San Francisco.

We stayed downtown, and on the first morning hired bikes and rode out over a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. We were not alone (!) and it’s the only place I have been where they have a huge carpark …… for bicycles! A light lunch and we were back on a bike-friendly ferry to the city. Some shopping and then dinner with my relative; interesting to learn of the opportunities of internet-savvy businessmen in this city. The following morning, up the hill, down the hill ….. to Fisherman’s Wharf, which was the jumping off point for the tour of Alcatraz, the notorious historic prison sitting on an island in the bay. Strange to stroll around a complex that once housed some of America’s most hardened criminals from 1934-1963, and was now a major tourist attraction. Remember the films, ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’, ‘The Rock’ and ‘Escape from Alcatraz’? Well, the birdman was a psycho who had no birds in the prison …… and no one escaped and remained alive.

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A fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge

We met our ‘Pantanal’ chums, had some lunch, drifted about Telegraph Hill, admiring the stunning views in all directions, and then drove inland to where they lived, a quaint little place called ‘Alamo’, (See PS below) about 30 miles east of San Francisco, near Walnut Creek. So nice to see where others live, away from a tourist city. After dinner we caught the Bay Area Rapid Transit back into the city centre and prepared for our flight back to the UK the following day.

So there you have it, memories of people, places and things from this summer; mere scribbles you might say.

Richard Yates – richaryates24@gmail.com

P.S. As a young boy I read about The Alamo, of Davey Crocket with his Racoon-skin hat and Jim Bowie with his knife; they were our comic book folk heroes, even if we weren’t American! In fact The Battle of The Alamo, a fort in the city of San Antonio, was between rebellious Texans and the Mexican Army. Fought in March 1836, all the 200 defenders of the fort were killed within 2 hours.

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