Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zoos and Zeppelins

The long-term readers around here know that I don't like to spend my birthday in the office, but rather try to get away and do new things, liking climbing relatively short mountains, getting hot stone massages, going on art hunts or sinkingd kayaks. This year I cheated a bit an ran things over into the next day, with a strange and brilliant day to wrap up my 53rd year and start my 54th.

The Lovely Bride and I started out in Tacoma, at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, which we had never been to before. The grounds spill down a hillside overlooking the sound, and this may be the most kid-friendly zoo I have ever seen. Many of the best vantage points (and some entire displays) were set at the 3-foot-high level. It is small zoo, but does have some unique creatures (walruses swimming upsides down, nurse sharks brooding in the depths of their tanks). It has a great Pacific Northwest Ocean exhibit. And as a bonus, the LB and I spent about a half hour watching a pair of zookeepers socializing a 6 month old clouded leopard cub. It was like playing with the housecat, except the cat in this case was at least 60 lbs.

From the zoo, a quick change into respectable dubs and to my favorite very very expensive restaurant, Canlis, for a long leisurely dinner, watching the sun set and the moon rise over Lake Union, and pretty much closing the joint. As is my wont, I went with the tasting menu with a flight of wines, which was wonderful. In this case, the tasting menu had a lot of molecular gastronomy in it (better cooking through chemistry). I usually post the menu, but in this case it does not do the meal justice, in the prosciutto course included both paper thin cuts and toasted wafers of the ham, served with vaguely identifiable but succulent cantaloupe and figs, or that the chicken course included homemade chicken sausage with a creamy texture like mozzarella, or that the ginger beer had encapsulated (reconstituted and re-formed) cherries in it. I could go into further details, but I went with the wine pairings, which were perfect and brilliant and left me a bit woozy at the end of it all. Of course, we had prepared for this eventuality, and caught a cab back to the suite we were staying in near the Seattle Center (with fireplace).

And then, the next morning, the Zeppelin. Yeah, you guys already know that airships can be blimps (no frame) and dirigibles (internal frame), and that Zeppelin is a model name (like Boeing or Ford). There is an outfit out of San Francisco called Airship Ventures which runs airship tours over the bay area, and they chose to come up here to Seattle to promote themselves. There was an article in the Seattle Times talking about it, and the Lovely Bride, sounding like a characgter from "Phineas and Ferb"said "I Know what we're going to do this Saturday - We're going on a zeppelin ride!".

We took the short (45-minute, merely hideously expensive) ride as opposed to the deluxe (90-minute, heart-stoppingly pricey) version. We took off from Paine Field, flew over the Boeing plant and the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier, made a long circuit over Possession Sound and Tulalip Bay, circled Gedney island, flew over Widby and Camano islands, sailed over the ferries, and back to our starting post. Boeing was test-flying the 787 while we were in the air, and we got to see that as well in flight.

And how was it? Amazing. I've ballooned, but that has always had the feeling of a stable platform at a height. The airship (the world's biggest, by the way - size of a 747 but much more manueverable) felt more like real flight. Oh, and you can put your head out the window, giving your hair a case of "zep-head". The initial takeoff and landing felt incredibly exciting, and in the air you could feel yourself cut through the sky. Plus the fact that the gondola was the size of a small bus, with room for a dozen people to move around relatively comfortable, and that windows were huge (including the entire rear of the gondola, giving an incredible view).

It was, all in all, a wonderful experience. The company will be out here until Labor Day, but the flights are apparently all booked up. They will be back in 2012, planning to take a sojourn east to the Oshkosh fly-in next year.

And it was a wonderful birthday, so wonderful that I actually fell asleep that evening in the middle of a Call of Cthulhu game. Yeah, I was all tuckered out, so much so that eldritch beasts could not rouse me from my slumber.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me a happy birthday (and John and Janice for the cake), and yeah, this was one of the best.

More later,