Sunday, December 8, 2019

December surprise

Hard to believe that we've been stationary for nearly a month already! Sundance RV Resort just sucks you in and the time flies by.

Naturally we got right back into darts on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were taken care of.

Friday evening sees us at the Elks Lodge for dinner, usually with all our Elks friends from the park.

We decided at the spur of the moment to go up to Tempe AZ (which is a suburb of Phoenix) for a Detective Dinner Theater. We treated ourselves to a night in a hotel too to avoid a 50 mile drive home afterwards.

It was a fun night, first you have to give yourself a "Code Name" before you enter. Dinner was a nice 3 course meal and we both chose fish for our entree, a tasty baked cod dish.

The stage was set when the "Victim" staggered in and the chase was on! The various actors were in the audience but nobody knew who they were. Clues were presented, everyone had to figure it out for themselves! It was both funny and entertaining and although Barbara and I got the right suspect (after being suspect by our fellow table mates for a while) we didn't get all the clues.
We had a few drinks afterwards and slept soundly. The next morning we found time for a visit to the local Elks and to Jerry's Artarama (a big art store) before heading home.

Art naturally is consuming much of my time, with different groups on Monday, Tuesday and 2 on Thursday!! I have spent most of my time completing work I hadn't finished rather than starting anything new, but that's very satisfying too and means I don't have a cupboard full of half finished paintings.

Out of the blue one of my nephews asked if I had any photo's of my sister Beryl from when we were younger. She turns 80 in December and they were planning a surprise party for her back in our hometown in England.

Finding photo's wasn't difficult but it lit an ember. What if WE showed up as a surprise too? Humm.

Barbara was on board as soon as I mentioned it so I started looking up flights from Phoenix to Manchester UK. $1750 each! Ow. We can't justify that.

I have used a travel search app in the past. Called "Hopper", it takes where you want to leave from and where you want to go. When you tell it when you want to go it starts searching continuously for fares across all airlines and routes. Then it searches for similar places and dates and lets you know the alternatives. Finally it watches for trends in fares, so if they are going up or down it notifies you.

The big difference was that from Manchester to home would be about 40 miles. London to home? 240 miles.So what next? Fly, rail or drive from London?

There came a shock, flying those 240 miles would cost MORE THAN THE 5000 MILES FROM PHOENIX TO LONDON!! Rail fares weren't much cheaper.

My niece works for and their price for renting a car for a week was about $400 so that settled it we would be driving. But that meant we would have transport during the week too and could go and see some of our friends and relatives at same time.
As the time got closer I started thinking about flying again. I love flying. I loved my job because it involved a LOT of travel around the world and occasionally I miss that.

I was sitting early one morning watching TV (I usually wake up around 5am), and a thought came flitting into my head. "It will be good to travel again". Then the other side of my brain broke out laughing. "Dummy, all you do is travel now!!"

We had tickets thru Virgin Airlines but they code share with Delta. Code sharing means they have one flight but both airlines can sell tickets on it! Which is great if Virgin's ticket is 1/3rd of the price of Delta's, but the service is the same.

We thought about the hassle of checked in bags and picking the bags up at the carousel, it's always a pain and a delay. We finally decided to just do carry on bags. We were only going for a week and better still we could do laundry at our daughter's house so we only took clothes for 4 days.

Bill ran us up to the airport (Thanks Bill) so no long term parking. Karen will pick us up on the way back (Thanks Karen). Seemed like everything was set.

The reality of travel around Thanksgiving made us plan on getting to the airport in plenty of time to allow for rush hour traffic in Phoenix and the huge crowds at the airport.

So how did the plans go?

The day before our flight we watched the weather channel and there was a big snow storm predicted for Minneapolis our stop over on the way to London. Humm.

The traffic we expected in Phoenix? NONE! 

The huge crowds at the airport? NONE!

BUT before we left home the airline sent a message saying that the flight to Minneapolis was delayed 2 hours and that was bad news because we only had an hour to get on the flight to London. We still went to the airport early.
Departure gate
At the check in we asked what our alternatives were. They said "No Problem". It turned out the earlier flight to Minneapolis was also delayed 2 hours so it would actually be leaving an hour before our scheduled flight. Amazingly they had free seats and before we could blink we were going thru security.

The early flight was 2 hrs late but we left an hour before we were supposed to!
If you haven't flown lately, security and immigration has changed completely. It's all based on facial recognition now and you slide your passport into a scanner while it takes your picture! We were TSA pre approved and it was so easy.
Snow at Minneapolis
Minneapolis had snow on the ground but the runways were clear, time for a drink, then we were taking off for London. We were not looking forward to travelling Delta. When I traveled for a living I avoided them as generally their customer service was poor and seats uncomfortable.

This was a complete surprise. Excellent service, great food, free booze, great entertainment system. It made the 8 hr flight a lot nicer. This is the 2nd time we've been pleasantly surprised by airline service, last time we flew to England 2 years ago British Airways was excellent and cheap too. Maybe there's enough competition that they have had to improve?

Heathrow is not my favorite airport. Its old and worn. I ALWAYS have problems renting cars there and have been ripped off royally a few times. With my niece working for Rentalcars,com I was hoping for a smooth ride.

I was wrong. Rentalcars had offered me full coverage insurance for $12 a day which I accepted and I got a confirmation e-mail which warned me not to accept any attempts by the rental company (Europecar) to sell me more.

Now the $88 a day had turned into 88 Pounds a day, which is about a 30% increase. Further they said they didn't show any insurance coverage and that would be an additional $60 a day! I showed them the e-mail but they pointed out that it didn't have any details of the policy which  they could put on the agreement. We called Rentalcars on a conference call call and they denied all knowledge of any insurance despite me giving them the confirmation number. Being a cool calm collected guy I blew my top!! I cancelled the reservation without penalty and we caught the shuttle bus back to the terminal.

As we got off their shuttle, the shuttle for National Rental pulled up and we got on it. We talked to them and mentioned we have a Shamrock membership with them. Immediately they jumped in and made the whole thing seamless, we told them we wanted the cheapest they had.

We then got offered a free upgrade to the next size up which naturally we took, but as we walked across the lot the rep said what size car would you really like and we ended up with a very nice SUV with with all the bells and whistles. A Vauxhall Mokka.

Vauxhall is a GM brand in UK
That all made the 250 mile drive to our hometown (Birkenhead) easier. The comfortable car was a pleasure to drive and the adrenaline from the fight with Europecar kept my jet lagged body awake for the next 5 1/2 hrs.
This is the daytime HIGHS for UK
We were staying with my middle sister Jackie, she apparently had blabbed to my older sister Beryl who now knew we were coming to the surprise party which wasn't a surprise party anymore.

Our daughter Sally didn't know though so there was still one surprise left.
Sally Iain and Niail
The party was a great time, aunt's cousins, nephews and neices. Sally nearly fell thru the floor when we walked in. Our grandson Niail didn't figure it our for a little while then he was all over us. His sister wasn't there having gone to the ballet with a friends family.

Safety team standby the candles

Beryl gets help from Niail with the candles
Much catching up was done.

Beryl dancing (Right)

Nieces dancing

Nephews watching dancing

Cousins, nieces, wives
We dropped by Ken and Angie's house and managed a quick visit before they left the following day for a trip to Prague. Quite a coincidence as when we went to visit Barb's sister Hilary, Barb's brother and his wife Linda were all there as THEY were leaving the following day to go to ...Prague!! It turned out they were on different trips though.

The rest of the week we spent spoiling the grand kids as much as possible, we took them for a walk in the local park, picked them up from school and took them toy shopping. We all had lots of fun.
But a week doesn't last long. We were soon packing the bags again and driving back to London for the flight home.

Walking in the park

Grandma gets to play
We had a great time and apologize to the many friends and relatives who we didn't get time to see. We intend to spend the entire summer in 2021 in UK so we will get to see you then, in fact you might get tired of seeing us!

A stop for lunch and a thatched cottage

A cozy pub for lunch
Now to try and get our sleep patterns back to normal!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


I can't believe it.
Thank you all so much.

What the heck is he talking about??

My little blog turned 50,000 hits today!!

I'm amazed and humbled, thanks for following our travels and my ramblings

Brian and Barbara

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Sedona and south.

Water and electric sites for $15 a night and a free dump station just around the corner, what else can you ask for?

Things are winding down for our winter break but we have a few things to do before then. From Bisbee we circled back thru Casa Grande and then headed up to Prescott Valley again but instead of staying with John and Debbie we dropped in at a Shanty Shakers RV Rally at Orchard Ranch RV Resort.

A happy bunch of Shanty Shakers
We like to surprise people and I think we achieved that. Our hosts Garth and Judy had everyone over for dinner TWICE and had side trips to local spots laid on. A potluck at John and Debbies, catching up with everyone's news and San Diego happenings filled in the rest of the time!

Our gracious hosts Garth and Judy (right)

We had a nice trip to Jerome up a winding mountain road AZ 89A. The Miata was in heaven powering thru the hairpin bends. Barbara only said “Oohhh: a couple of times.
Jerome iis one of many mining towns in Arizona

Pretty soon it was all over and we had to decide where to go for the next week. November 1st was approaching rapidly and with it our arrival at Sundance 1 for another winter. It's amazing that will be the 5th winter out of the last 6 that we will have been in Sundance!

Sedona is famous for the vivid red rocks
So what to do? I am due to be in another paint out in Sedona in mid November. We've heard a lot about the place which is rightly famous for the Red Rocks on which it is built. In order to have a feel for the place we decided to spend a few days exploring the area first.
Flowering cactus
We stayed at the Elks Lodge which unfortunately was closed for most of the time, and from there we looked around.

The Church on the Rock
First impressions where of traffic. This place is jammed with it! Driving south on 179 along a marked scenic highway we saw a backup that lasted 3 miles coming the other way. There weren't any wrecks on the road, it was pure congestion. Every scenic overlook was full, stopping at the Church on the Rock we found the last parking space, People were everywhere pushing and shoving. Not our kind of place at all.

Time to move on and we have less than a week before the big winter layover, but only a couple of hundred miles to go so we thought about where we would like to spend the next 4 days and the Escapees North Ranch came up.

Wickenburg is a Western Town. Even the street signs wear cowboy hats!!
A pleasant spot about halfway to Casa Grande and part of our RV'ing and Escapee history since we did “RV Boot Camp” before we even bought an RV.

One of the several Antique Stores
Since then we stayed there in the first couple of weeks fulltiming whilst we waited for the house to sell and again when our friends Graham and Elaine came over from England and we went to the Blue Grass Festival.

This is where Elaine bought her Fox Fur stole that she wears in 1940's events in UK.
That all seems so long ago! North Ranch was just as we remembered it, low key and friendly and fairly busy. It won't be much longer until the snowbirds stream in after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Naturally we visited the Elks Lodge! We collect the unique “Pins” (Badges to our UK friends) that each lodge have and when we checked we didn't have one from here. As usual a great big Elks welcome awaited us and we were soon chatting away with a whole new group of friends. They invited us to partake in a dice game and we won a drink for 25c. We were invited back the next night for dinner and Bingo and because my membership number ended in zero we won another drink for 25c so dinner for 2 and 2 rounds of drinks came to less than $20! We had a tough time tearing ourselves away, but we had to.

November 1st means it's our last day traveling for this year. We are due back in Sundance today for our winter stay. E-mails are arriving for the various groups and clubs we are involved with, we can feel the call of “Home”. Fill the rig up with propane, put the fuel stabilizer in the tank and fill it for the last time. Back the rig into our “New” space (It points us the opposite way from the one we've been in previously, which gives the patio shade during the day). Set the jacks, put out the slides, set the satellite dish, plug in the power, water and sewer.

We're HOME!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Bisbee AZ

We managed to surprise several of our friends in the park by showing up unannounced!!

The thing driving us right now has been the prospect of the Bisbee Plein Air Festival. 

Plein air is a French term which translates to“Open Air”. It is the painting of objects in natural light. From an artists perspective it is more challenging than painting in a studio or from a photograph because as the sun moves so do the shadows. Clouds come and go, cars park and drive off and people are fascinated watching the painting progress so they stop to talk. I find it very fulfilling.

This is my first ever competitive painting event and I only started painting plein air “Officially” last winter. As a result I was like a cat on a hot tin roof before the start and I was fighting my anxiety for the first day and a half.

The paintings had to be done in and around Bisbee and the last day had to be in Old Town Bisbee. You could paint as many paintings as you wanted but only 4 maximum could be entered for judging.

Being a newbie I decided to paint out of the way in Warren which is where the mine's upper management lived. There were some very nice “Craftsman” style houses and a few very large mansions. I chose an adobe style white church to paint but it didn't come out well. 
The Adobe Church

Talking with other more experienced artists I learned some of the tricks of Plein Air painting. The big one being to pick a colorful subject to paint. White isn't colorful!!

The second day I advanced into the town and found a gateway with patinated copper angel statues which appealed to me, and I really enjoyed painting them.

The Angel

For the third and final day I chose a store called “The Emporium” which was very colorful and let me sit in the shade as I painted. I only just completed it before the finish time.

The Emporium

Judging it turned out was far less stressful than I had imagined, as once I had set up the paintings in the park the artists were told to leave for an hour as the judges did their thing. All paintings were to be unsigned to eliminate any bias.

Set up in the park
There were many glorious paintings, 35 artists had entered up to 4 works each so there were lots to chose from. I was happy being among other artists and found several I already knew which made it even better. After the judging the public were given the chance to purchase any of the paintings and one of mine (the Angel) sold! So that paid for my entry fee!

The judges and winners

We are both happy with my art
We were camping at the Sierra Vista Elks Lodge during this event and they really looked after us. With dinner on Monday and Wednesday, breakfast on Sunday they keep you fed and we won free drinks in their daily draw. Water and electric sites for $15 a night and a free dump station just around the corner, what else can you ask for?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Roaming Las Vegas

 The big fall is know locally as “The Niagara of the West” as it has a greater drop than Niagara although it is much narrower.

The evenings are getting colder. Next week's weather forecast shows temps below freezing at night. Guess which direction we are heading? SOUTH!

It seems like we are being drawn back to Arizona. Actually that's a pun because it's art events that are happening that is making us go!

Rt 93 keeps on heading south and we kind of like driving a road it's whole length. This one ends in Wickenburg AZ. We've been there before and we have some great friends just North of there, John and Debbie. We began our RV adventures at the same time and we all looked at the same coach as our first class A purchases. We bought the Rexhall and they bought the Country Coach we'd seriously considered. So that's where we are headed before we start into art!

Las Vegas is on the way and strangely we kind of like the place. Strange because neither of us gamble. But there is much more to Vegas than just the casinos so we stayed in Boulder City, at the Elks Lodge naturally!
We had a rainbow during a thunderstorm! Couldn't get the lightning and rainbow in the sae shot.
We arrived on Taco Tuesday, progressed thru Burger Thursday, got invited the the Annual Picnic Saturday and finished with spaghetti on Wednesday! We are definitely going to have to diet when we get back to Casa Grande!
The Hard Rock sign
A pool hall sign

Between meals we explored the Neon Museum and Red Rock Canyon (one of Vegas's secrets). We discovered the International Food Market which has an incredible variety of foodstuffs from all over the world. We spent $80 in a heartbeat on all the English specialty stuff we can't get anywhere else, plus some Indonesian sauce mixes we've never seen anywhere else but here.

John and Debbie in Prescott Valley welcomed us with open arms and Gizmo their dog with licks! A week flew by. I had promised myself I'd paint at Watson Lake Park and finally did but before we could blink we were headed South again with a plan to stay 2 nights at the Phoenix Elks while I attended the monthly members meeting of the Arizona Plein Air Painters Association.

Gizmo my lap dog!
Watson Lake Park

Bud and Judy and us.
In a great surprise Bud and Judy Swartwood friends from our motorcycle days in San Diego saw we were in town at the same time they were visiting friend here. In the blink of an eye we were sitting catching u on each others news over coffee. We just live for these unexpected meetings. Nice seeing you Bud and Judy.

Being the “No plans kids” we found ourselves in Phoenix at 11am and not in the least ready to stop. We decided immediately the we'd carry on to Casa Grande and spend an extra 2 days there at our winter “Home” before carrying on towards Bisbee where I have an art event coming up.

We managed to surprise several of our friends in the park by showing up unannounced!!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Kalispel and South

So thanks to Flanagan Mazda in Missoula, Wayne and Lynn and North American RV Park for rescuing us from a bad day and making it into an exceptional day!

Glacier NP
So what are our first impressions of Glacier National Park?

Seemed like all the turnouts were full, the lodges are supposed to be nice but there was nowhere to park.

Morning mountains
The scenery is spectacular though so when you eventually find somewhere to stop it's very nice.
So still at the lake
It turned rainy the second day and rained for another 3 days on and off. We discovered a local bar just down the road that had good draft beer and a couple of dart boards so between exploring Columbia Falls and Whitefish we managed a little practice for our winter darts nights!
It was relaxing being in the same spot for 7 days and I broke out my paints for a while. We spent a little time cleaning up the rig and restocking the fridge, then sat with the maps and decided where we would go next.
The traditional Glacier tour buses
I have a painting event coming up in October in Bisbee Arizona so we looked at a straight line south from Glacier and there is a single road that goes from Kalispel Montana to Wickenburg Arizona! Hwy 93. We are into roads like this one, no Interstate, scenic. We are in no rush so we decided we'd do it. Besides it's getting cold at night so time to head South!

What a spectacular road 93 turned out to be. From Kalispel it runs down the west side of Flathead Lake and into the mountains passed the National Bison Range near Missoula. From there it follows the Salmon river which is stunningly beautiful and for the most part unspoiled. We stopped in Idaho in the town of Salmon and discovered the birthplace of Sacagewea who was the guide for Lewis and Clarke's expedition.

National Bison Range near Missoula


Although the park is beautiful the treatment of the tribe is terrible
The next day we turned off 93 onto 75 which is marked as scenic on our map. This followed the Salmon into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and over the Galena Pass and picked up the Big Wood river thru Sun Valley.

In all it was 500 miles of continuous beauty, I don't believe we have ever experienced anything to compare with it.

At the end of all that we stopped near Jerolme Idaho at the Elks Lodge. What a night we picked! They have their own golf course and it was their annual charity golf tournament. Dinner was a roasted pig! We no sooner sat down than we were pulled into a conversation with Dave and Liah who told us what was happening. There were raffles and door prizes. For every drink you bought you got a ticket. Every 15 minutes they pulled a ticket and you got to choose a prize. My ticket was the first one pulled! Then Barbara won a big gift basket in the other raffle, we had a blast.

Dave and Liah arranged to hook up with us the next morning to show us one of the local sights.

One of great things about visiting Elks Lodges is talking to the members and finding out the great places to see and do. Dave and Liah told us about a new National Historic site being developed nearby.
Minidoka guard tower
Minidoka was one of the camps that the US government opened in 1942 to house over 9000 Japanese American who were forcibly moved from the West Coast after Pearl Harbor. The size of the place is mind boggling although little of it remains. When it reached it's peak it was the 7th largest population center in Idaho. Whole families were housed in a single un-insulated tar paper building with no bathing facilities except in a separate communal ablution block and a single pot belly stove for heat in Idaho's bitter winters. Until the camp became self sufficient with its own farm the interns were forced to subsist on poor quality rations brought in by train. They were eventually liberated after winning a major court case but remained uncompensated for their internment.

Raw wood interiors and no insulation
A very thought evoking place and thanks Dave and Liah for showing it to us.
Twin Falls, the Niagara of the West.
We also visited Twin Falls Idaho where surprisingly there are twin waterfalls! The snake river has carved a huge gorge that runs east/west across several rivers and streams which naturally tumble down the walls of the gorge. The big fall is know locally as “The Niagara of the West” as it has a greater drop than Niagara although it is much narrower.