Archive for October, 2018

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWPOINTS – USACanada Adventure 2018 – final post (#8)

Hi. We got into Brisbane around 6.15 am yesterday (Saturday). Something like 43 hours between getting out of bed in New York City and going to bed back home in Australia.

We’re now enjoying a week’s downtime at the beach before we both go back to work.

We enjoyed the most amazing seven weeks away in so many beautiful and memorable parts of the USA and Canada. This was and will always be the trip of a lifetime. Thanks to all who followed our adventures. As one does, much planning goes into a trip like this – dreaming, saving, organising, consulting, purchasing, changing and so on. Suffice to say we fully expected most of what lay ahead of us . However, amid all of these expectations came many unexpected highlights. Here are a few ... in no particular priority or chronological order unplanned trip highlights

Ice hockey game and early-season snow in Moose Jaw , Saskatchewan, Canada.

Our Grand Canyon plane flight. Never ever been game to go on something like this. So glad I did. I truly surprised the non-risk taking side of me.

  • The desert experiences, Death Valley, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. Stunning beauty and fresh revelation of God’s wonder & magnificence.

Lake Louise hotel view. Don’t think I’ll ever forget opening up our hotel room window curtains to see this. Wow. Wow! The Rockies. Another “Wow!”

Hawaii botanical gardens. Diana and Tom were keen that we see these … to the north on the Big Island. Beautiful orchids and much more.

Dale’s free dessert at the Fairmont Lake Louise. Having clumsily mentioned, as we reserved a dinner table there, that Dale’s birthday was over a month earlier, they proceeded to offer us an ice cream sundae for dessert. “Quite large,” was their only prior comment. Too right!

School of Rock musical near Times Square, NYC. Yes – I was keen to see this show, but didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Did those kids rock!?!

Sedona short walk to great views

Trail of Tears exhibit at DC Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. Very moving recount of the Cherokee journey then and since.

• Dale was “taken” by the array of – Winslow American Indian crafts, music and jewellery pat a Winslow store as well as the giftedness of Jesse Kalu – bamboo flute craftsman, poet and native performer

The beach and waterways near Kill Devil Hills, OBX, North Carolina. Sure I love any beach, but our brief time there made me want to come again.

Gettysburg Battlefield bus tour. Hadn’t planned this two hour tour. So glad we did.

Blazin M Ranch night. We visited this “theatre restaurant” with a difference while in Sedona. Great night and excellent value. We were too full for the announced seconds.

Central Park pedicab tour. Apart from a brief foray into the Strawberry Fields/Imagine section 11 years ago, we had never made it deeper into this massive and beautiful NYC asset. A great one hour experience.

  • Rocky Mountaineer. We knew this would be a combination of expensive and wonderful. Little prepared us for just how superb it would prove to be. Worth every one of many, many cents 😀

  • Time with our family and friends. Of course, I knew our trip would feature this highly. Our travels with Diana and Tom andJan and Glenn, as well as Dan, BJ & Dana; but also catching up with Sherry and Wayne as well as Maria, Mark, Max, Bonnie and Jim … all of this so valued and cause for deep thanksgiving.

Now … just a few things I won’t miss or were unexpected lowlights

• Americans so love to serve these little half-and-half UHT thingies for coffee in restaurants (of all types). Urggh! So glad to get onto that Qantas plane in NYC whereupon they served milk from a jug.

• Drivers failing to indicate while changing lanes, zipping in and across freeway traffic

• The Budget rental car being cancelled on us by a seriously unscrupulous employee in downtown Pittsburgh. We didn’t need such unnecessary stress. Good news: took two weeks, but thankfully Budget refunded the $1000 initially non refundable

• Missing out on seeing Hamilton via the lottery … just wasn’t prepared to pay $500 AUD for tickets

• That’s about it!

Thanks for following our travels and reflections, folks.

Time surely for some music blogging. Just need to get into some fresh songwriting.

Fresh. That’s how I’m feeling.

Blessings,

David

DC & NYC – USACANADA Adventure 2018 – blogpost #7

Hi. I’m typing this almost an hour out of Washington DC, the USA capital. We’re on Amtrak’s NE Regional service to Boston. We took advantage of Amtrak’s Red Cap Service to get our profusion of suitcases etc from the Union Station taxi rank to the Union Station train. Thanks Tyrone. The $20 was well worth it!

We’re getting off in Penn Station, right in Manhattan, New York City; our final night in North America on what has been an amazing trip. Yet we’re both ready to head home. A show or two in NYC and some time in Central Park will cap it all off well. Anyhow, let me backtrack.

Leaving our lovely Kill Devil Hills beachside lodgings at the Outer Banks, we farewell Diana and Tom, who have shared much of the preceding weeks with us. Great company, hospitality and opportunity to catch up … at so many superb locations.

Skirting many historic areas around Chesapeake Bay, we make it finally to our AirBnB unit in inner suburban DC late afternoon, the last hour or so being really tedious, tense and tiring as yours truly as driver negotiates closed off-Ramps, narrow DC streets, confusing GPS instructions and more.

The AirBnB I booked ages ago proves excellent (we’d recommend it) with full kitchen, roomy lounge and separate bedrooms. As we go find some breakfast basics nearby we’re quickly impacted but the socio-economic imbalances around us. One side (our side) of the nearby arterial road has well kept houses and lawns;the other – run down and derelict. Encounters with desperate homeless folk proves an ongoing aspect of our time in the capital. A further observation- as “Anglos” we are clearly a racial minority. Over the next four days we’ll note that the majority seem to be African- American and some hispanic.

After a tiresome Saturday, while Jan and Glenn successfully negotiate DC public tra sporting (our AirBnB hosts leave us four loaded Smartrip cards!!) Dale and I have a really easy day … spending time at a nearby shopping mall. We needed that sort of day.

Monday comes and having purchased two-day Hopon Hopoff Big Bus tickets we explore the buildings, sights, memorials and feel of downtown DC, including several of the brilliant, much-heralded Smithsonian museums.

Having been to Australia’s capital Canberra a few times over the years and aware of its layout and buildings, it makes an interesting exercise in comparison checking out DC. I think Canberra scrubs up well!

Significant moments over Monday and Tuesday’s sightseeing? Certainly,

  • the Smithsonian museums. We’d need at least a week to check out most of them, so I sufficed with the Air and Space, American Indian and American History and Culture.

  • I enjoyed going deeper amid-museums with my fascination with the Wright Brothers aviation legacy and seeing Julia Child’s kitchen.

  • Mindful of Dale’s distant part-Cherokee heritage I was deeply saddened as I reflected amid a poignant Trail of Tears display … and then inspired at the Cherokee Nation’s eventual rebuilding

  • Lincoln Memorial. We saw this by day and by night. Wonderful testimony to a great, although complex President.

  • Our walk from the Washington Monument, past the WW2 Memorial, alongside the long Reflecting Pool up the steps into the Lincoln Memorial was quite lovely … and all of it under sunny DC skies.

  • The night bus tour. Spending brief time at the Korean War memorial was something meaningful,

We get into Penn Station, whereupon the “fun” begins. Wee got tickets (sort of) online for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock at 2 pm. Our train gets in on time at 12.40 pm. We have to get our near-Zelows store amount of luggage up several floors onto the streets of Manhattan, catch a cab (I tried booking one) to our 45th street boutique hotel then hot foot it to the Winter Garden Theatre for the show.

Well … wasn’t that “fun”. Two wonderfully helpful Amtrak Taff take pity on us and our luggage and get us to the taxi rank. We wait there for seemingly forever before we get in. The Manhattan traffic is at a standstill, anyone who’s caught a downtown Manhattan can, especially near Times Square knows that well. Unbeknown to us, various high profile Democrats of the eminence of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have in the past 24 hours received suspicious packages. CNN headquarters in Manhattan does too.

Yet, we make it to our hotel, hotfoot it (well as best one does in an elevator) to room 705 and then at 1.45 fast walk our 60-something legs to the show. School of Rock is fantastic – based on the 2003 Jack Black movie, with a classroom of high-energy and musical instrument-playing kids with a rocky AndrewLloyd Webber score. Great fun!

Dinner at Applebees and being on a theatrical roll, we get standing only seats @ $27 each for the much heralded The Book of Mormon. I find the show a bit of a mixed bag. Pros: its satire on organised religion, great singing and acting, very cheeky (though often below the belt in more ways than one) humour. Cons? Pretty crude (check – extremely crude) in parts … show would have been just as engaging if that aspect had been tempered … but I remember that along with Robert Lopez (think songs in Frozen) the show’s written by the team behind South Park. Say no more. That said, glad to see it, though equally glad we paid no more than $54.

Next morning, mindful that we’re within walking distance of Central Park, we set off and eventually get a really personable Belarusian pedicab driver to take us on a60 minute park tour … all of this under beautiful NYC autumn skies. It was a lovely experience … with some beautiful fall colours on the trees.

Back at the hotel, we rest/nap before the 100 minute shuttle bus crawl to JFK airport, first leg to Los Angeles, before the usual pre-midnight flight home to Brisbane.

So many wonderful memories over the previous seven weeks, along with a few things I will certainly not miss, once back home in Australia. However, you’ll have to read the next and final blog of mine (well, for this incredible adventure) to discover what these are. That’s a fun job for the LAX airport lounge.

Blessings (& wow, there have been so many!)

David

“Local” and family time – USACANADA Adventure 2018 – blogpost 6

Hi again.

What an enriching week we’ve had; lots of reconnecting with people and places from Dale’s earlier years, time with family and lots of delightful sightseeing … amid some decidedly cool and windy weather. I type this from a Starbucks in a Washington DC shopping mall … enjoying just my second flat white coffee since this adventure began. We’re having a slower day, with sightseeing-in-earnest beginning tomorrow. The final hour or so of driving into and through DC was exhausting to say the least. Today is the day for the “Four R’s” – rest, reading, (w)riting and retail therapy😀

So …

We left Cleveland behind and headed east to places that were part of Dale’s upbringing – eastern Ohio towns like Garrettsville, Aurora Meadows, Mantua and Streetsboro. Many highlights:

  • Showing Jan and Glenn around

  • Overnighting with Dale’s high school friend Sherry and husband Wayne at Shailersville

  • Delighting again in the beauty of woods and rock faces at Nelson Ledges, right on the continental divide

  • Honouring Dale and Diana’s late Dad, enjoying breakfast together at Miller’s Family Restaurant, Garrettsville, followed by a quick visit to “Dale’s RiteAid” across the road 😀

  • Visiting the Fenstermaker Road,Garrettsville property once occupied by Mom and Dad for 40 years. Lot’s more.

Then … off to our adventure’s first of two AirBnB nights – at Aunt Lydia’s Guesthouse at Bird-in-Hand, Lancaster County, right in the heart of Amish country. When I booked the place (which turned out brilliantly. … apart from a lack of a spoon for Glenn and his cereal) I was ever mindful of another Aunt Lydia, the complex character in The Handmaid’s Tale. This Lydia, along with husband Daniel were thankfully poles apart from the fictional Lydia. Their home had typical rolling Lancaster County farmscape all around. Daniel offered to be our tour guide for a few hours – wonderful. And yes, we took opportunity to engulge in genuine Pennsylvania Dutch country cooking😀

The weather was a bit ordinary but that barely got in the way of our experience there.

We’re headed to Gettysburg but we could not avoid (there being a few chocolate tragics among us) of detouring via Hershey and the iconic Hershey’s Chocolate World. We felt like kids in one humongous candy store. Well worth it, especially the free 30-minute tour.

Then … off to Gettysburg, centre of the pivotal three-day American Civil War battle in which led to an enormous loss of life in what stands as the costliest armed conflict ever on North American soil. The pacifist in me is repulsed by any sort of conflict but somehow I have such admiration for the devotion of soldiers from both sides for the cause they defended. That said, I can but wonder what sort of USA we would have this day had the Confederacy won that Gettysburg battle … slavery and all that. I can’t help but wonder at some of the deeply entrenched societal problems and indeed bigotry in the States present to this very day. Here are some pics, some from an excellent two-hour bus tour Dale and I took. Great tour guide. Places like Cemetery Hill, Seminary Hill and Little Round Top these days assume near-legendary status.We learnt so much. And yes, I took home a copy of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address from 1863, one of the English language’s greatest piece of prose and oratory.

After two nights in a well-appointed Quality Inn at Gettysburg (right next door to the battlefield and including a heated indoor pool), we take the long drive to Kill Devil Hills at the Outer Banks, North Carolina. This is an out of the way, delightful series of beaches on these long, skinny sand-dunes islands stretching hundreds of kilometres. Off the coast of here pirate Blackbeard raged centuries ago … hundreds of ships have met their doom of the coast too. Hence many famously styled lighthouses. We joined Diana and Tom for the final three nights of their stay there … at lovely accommodation virtually right on the sand dunes and special hospitality. Remember – this is an extremely hurricane-prone area. Highlights?

  • Our day trip to the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and nearby Rodanthe. Jam was keen to get a pic (she succeeded) of a house used in the 2008 Richard Gere movie based there

  • The beach. Unkept and beautiful

  • Checking out the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The actual site where their initial successful flights took place is just down the road. Inspiring … says I who’ll travel home in four days in a huge Boeing 787 Dreamliner for 14 hours. The Wright’s first flight lasted 12 seconds

  • Checking out the seaside town of Duck and their legendary Duck Donuts. Beautiful views of Currituck Sound on a lovely sunny autumn day

  • Breakfast at Henry’s. With Dale’s Dad we frequented the restaurant four years ago. You know you’re at “seafood central” when this is on the breakfast menu.

We could so easily have stayed longer here. There was an “out-of-the-wayness” of our lodgings that – who knows – expenses aside – might get us back here one day. Wouldn’t that be nice!

We need to head to the nation’s capital and some serious sightseeing there … including the Smithsonian Museums. It also marks our final days on this trip with our great friends Glenn and Jan. It’s been truly wonderful travelling once again with them. I think all of us are looking forward to warmer (though not too warm climes).

They head home via a few days in Hawaii? Us? We Amtrak it to NYC on Wednesday … hoping via the Hamilton lottery to get tickets to that show on Wednesday evening. Otherwise it might be School of Rock. We head home on Thursday evening.

Until my final post.

Blessings,

David

Through the Rockies, onto Pittsburgh & Cleveland … plus some roadbumps … USACANADA Adventure 2018 … blogpost 5

Hi

When I last blogged we were at gorgeous Lake Louise. Our journeys since have taken us further into the Canadian Rockies.

En route to Jasper, Alberta, we enjoyed a whole day tour along the Icefield Parkway, amid stunning scenery, my highlight being the Ice Explorer tour of Athabasca Glacier … part of the Columba Icefield. Amazing.

Having overnighted it in Jasper, we set off the next morning (overnight in semi-arid Kamloops) on a much- anticipated two-day Rocky Mountaineer journey through to Vancouver. Easily the most expensive touristy thing we’ve ever parted cash for … but no regrets. We were treated big time … with wonderful scenery seen through large glass windows along with wonderful hospitality, meals and commentary by our carriage staff. Here’s a few pics chosen from many …

We overnighted in a nice harbour front hotel in Vancouver, tried to find a reasonably-priced restaurant in Gas-town, but apart from enjoying the clock there, ended up at A&W for dinner. They do nice burgers!

Tuesday morning, we were able to take our time waking. Nice after the early starts of the two previous mornings. Then it was off to Vancouver airport, via Salt Lake City to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – home of Diana and Tom, Dale’s sister and brother law and other family members Maria, Mark and Max. Great hospitality was their gift for the next three nights.

Highlights included

  • Seeing Mark and Maria again. Maria is Dale’s niece … I was privileged to preside at their wedding in the woods of Pennsylvania back in 2013.
  • Checking out the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburg
  • Delighting in the wonderful Conservatory greenhouse
  • Noting a memorial to Stephen Foster – who lived the sad final years of his life in Pittsburgh
  • Having dinner at an upmarket hamburger restaurant called Burgatory. For Aussies, think Grill’d up several notches.
  • Hearing some of my nephew Max’s music and seeing some current artwork of his. He is so gifted
  • Indulging close to the stage of an Elton John concert – part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. He and ban were superb in their no-interval 160 minute set!

That’s some of the highpoints. Two low points

  • Our breakfast experience at a pancake restaurant ( a national chain) which will go unnamed, except to say it rhymes with “bus stop”. It took several of us 70 minutes to get the entirety of our meal. Service and management systems were non-existent (not my past experience to be fair). Really sad. Lots of complaining to management by me. They did not charge. Sigh.
  • That was nothing compared to our experience six hours later when Glenn and I went to the downtown office of the rental car company with whom we had booked and prepaid for the use of a vehicle for the final fortnight of our eastern USA road trip. Can’t say too much as a claim is currently “live” for refund compensation. Just know that the rep there (the rental company rhymes with “fudge it”), after all sorts of accusations being levelled at me by the rep, including disputing whether as Australians we could even rent a vehicle in the U.S. or have insurance (I could say more but better not (:- … the rep proceeded to cancel the prepaid booking on us … but only after putting a formalised rental agreement in place. We were shocked, staggered, angry, bewildered and much more. We were due to leave for Cleveland Ohio at 7 the next morning. Thus followed (no exaggeration … a two hour dinner break aside) four hours of repeated (say … 10) calls to this company, each time regurgitating the story, inevitably being put through to another person over the phone … the line invariably going dead.

Well … I’m mildly confident I’ll get the refund … eventually. The only sour note on what has been the holiday break of a lifetime.

Well .., we ended up getting a good deal on a larger vehicle with Thrifty and were able to head off to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this morning. The RRHOF is a great place to visit. A real must. A nice dinner (along with Tom and Diana) Bonnie and Jim made for a nice conclusion to a satisfying day.

Tomorrow we head east to that part of Ohio where Dale grew up. Looking forward to that.

Blessings

David

Families & Fantastic sightseeing – USACANADA Adventure 2018 – blogpost #4

Greetings

Our adventure’s fourth week has been so different to the desert, heat, humidity and more of the first three weeks.

I write this on a Friday from a fourth floor Lakeview room of the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise … in the Canadian Rockies. Beautiful.

Last Friday we left beautiful Sedona (yes, I know I’m using “beautiful” just once or twice) en route to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada – right in the heart of the Canadian prairies. Our flights took us firstly to Toronto and Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina. All went smoothly until my checked in suitcase never made it to the carousel. Anyhow, Air Canada all-apologetically delivered in late the next day.

A feature of so many of our North American travels over the years has been the quantity and quality of time spent with families. Sure, as we’ve been so blessed this trip, we’ve certainly done the touristy stuff and revelled in it, but nothing quite matches spending time within folk in their own home OR at least with them in a holiday apartment.

We’ve been blessed for much of the past week to spend time with Barry and Dianna, brother and sister in law of Glenn and Jan from Cairns, our much loved friends and travelling companions from Cairns. Barry is Glenn’s older brother. Both Barry and Dianna lavished us with hospitality, good humour and much local knowledge. So did Glenn’s sister, Donna.

So … our five nights based in Moose Jaw included:

  • drive out of town to see a herd of 80 bison … bison being important in Canada’s history, including their First Nations heritage. Yes, we enjoyed bison burgers for dinner the next evening.

Making it to breakfast at another Canadian icon, Tim Hortons … and then walking forever in minus zero temperatures to Walmart the other side of Moose Jaw

⁃ Really enjoying a Western Hockey League ice hockey game. A great experience.

⁃ Setting the alarm for 3 am to watch an anticlimactic NRL grand final on my iPad.

⁃ Visiting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage centre at Depot, their training centre in Regina.

⁃ Being part of an earlier than normal Canadian Thanksgiving Meal. Thanksgiving in Canada is about a month earlier than the States and while the foodstuffs are similar the historical basis is much different!

And then, just two days ago, we set off on a 10 hour drive to Calgary, the starting point of our five day Rocky Mountain adventure. Much snow either side of the highway, but great time travel on the Trans-Canada highway … the country’s highway #1. We made it to our airport hotel just before dinner, enjoyed a soup dinner (nice food, lousy service) and turned it in for the night.

Friday morning’s minus 4 temperature greets us as we head off by coach toward the Rockies and Banff.

Upon checking in, we walk the Main Street of Banff … Rocky Mountains all around us, before taking the Banff Gondola way up to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

You see, the Rockies have been on my bucket list for decades. I’ve flown over them a few times, delighted in countless John Denver songs inspired by them, but never seen and experienced them until now. Yes, “experience” is certainly the word!

If one ever makes it to Banff, taking the eight minute Banff Gondola ride up to 7500 feet high Sulphur Mountain is something to do. Blessed with a picture perfect day we could delight in magnificent views in all directions, including from a huge viewing window – yes, in the men’s disabled toilet!!

It’s an experience we will never forget. I could overdose you on pictures from the experience. Here are just a few😀

And today … while the weather was not quite as good, our Rocky Mountaineer experience (coach for the first half) took us – helped by good-humoured driver Brad to such sights as the Spiral Tunnels (inenguity to enable a train to get down a mountainside safely), Emerald Lake and much more.

However, much though I’ve seen the images in countless magazine pictures and TV docos, nothing quite prepares me for the sheer beauty and awesomeness of looking out from our hotel window onto Lake Louise. Magical, helped by a decent helping, albeit a bit muted, of sunshine. So, so beautiful.

We’re feeling incredibly blessed and grateful right now.

Blessings

David


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