Archive for the 'Travel' Category

“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.



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


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.



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


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.



RED ROCK ROAMING – USACanada2018 Adventure – blogpost #3


Week three of this amazing adventure of ours could just as easily be dubbed “Red Rock Rejoicing”, “Red Rock Revelations” or “Red Rock Reflecting”. Whether it be the engineering wonder and size of Hoover Dam, the Red Rock of Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona or nearby Montezuma Castle …

or the sheer immensity of Grand Canyon or desert colour of the Verde Valley, I come towards the end of this week blown away by the wonder of God’s creation. Any number of songs of praise, ancient or modern come to my conscious mind. It want to sing so many of them. Magnificent!

To think we can share it with both our great friends Jan and Glenn as well as Diana and Tom (Dale’s sister and brother-in-law) is indeed a great joy.

Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression of the early 1930s and is a wonder of size, shape and engineering ingenuity. We walked and drove across it.

This was en route to the small Arizona city of Sedona. More than vortexes, crystals, beautifully tastefully architecture that blends with the surrounds, arty places, restaurants and coffee shops (we enjoyed Cafe Jose, Pumphouse and Glenn’s favourite – Sedonuts), Sedona is red rock country at its finest.

One simply cannot escape these incredible mesas arising here, there and everywhere across the landscape. Not hard to understand why many experience Sedona as such a spiritual place. Certainly with Christian spirituality, visits to the Church of the Red Rocks and the Chapel of the Holy Cross bore this out.

After two days in Sedona, we took timeout to drive up beautiful Oak CreekCanyon for two nights at Grand Canyon, staying at Yavapai Lodge just one kilometre from the South Rim, with elk in significant profusion roaming the woods around us. The free bus system around various places at the rim is excellent for moving people around. Many highlights: Dale and I took in sunrise and sunset together, I set off for part of the Bright Angel Trail and on Monday, I ended up walking 11 km before the day was through. Phew!

Countless magnificent views from the rim. The canyon – 1.6 km deep to the Colorado River below has to be seen to be believed.

My personal highlight was the 45 min plane flight the four of us took over the canyon … the canyon goes on forever. Magnificent! I surprised myself in doing the flight – I’m so NOT a risk taker.

After two days we drove back to Sedona via a long detour east of Flagstaff which took us to firstly the town of Winslow – highlights were the Indian crafts shop and time spent “standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona; such a fine sight to see …”

and not far away … the immense Barringer Meteor Crater, 1.2 km in diameter.

Our final couple of days here in Sedona have meant some swims, nice meals, catchup time for reading (Paul Simon biography finished!), travelling 15 down the road to nearby Cottonwood for firstly a three hour chuck wagon dinner then Western musical show at Blazin M Ranch. Great value for money

AND today … travelling the Verde Canyon Railroad.

Good, though nowhere near as personally enjoyable as the western show the night before. Dale has really shown a love for American Indian designed jewellery and wooden/bamboo flutes … with their distinctively beautiful sound and tuning.

I have so loved being back in this red rock part of God’s world this past week. There’ll be such fond memories from our time here.



USA-CANADA ADVENTURE 2018 – blog post#2

Hi folks

Week two of our adventure has been so different to the first. Week 1: around and beyond Kona, Hawaii – sea breezes, tropical weather, threat of hurricane, lu’aus, hula skirts, lush green, black rock from lava everywhere, the light of sunset skies.

Week2: Las Vegas – a hive of all sorts of activity amid the desolation of the Nevada Desert amid cloudless skies

Jan and Glenn, our friends from Cairns joined up with Dale’s sister and brother-in-law Diana Tom in a lovely Holiday Inn Resort, just one block back from the famous (and indeed infamous) Las Vegas Boulevard aka The Strip.

How easy it would be to be seduced by the bright lights, glitz, hedonism, falsity of so much on offer. It’s not called Sin City for nothing. There’s plenty to enjoy in/beyond Vegas (a car helps!) without getting into too much of that. You see, by and large we (such pure angels that we are 😀😀) were content to really enjoy various other pursuits … albeit quite a few in hotels along the Strip, be it …

  • a wonderful buffet at The Mirage
  • a whole day drive to Death Valley and back. The views from Zabriskie Point were stunning

  • another whole day drive through the desert to Zion Canyon/ Zion National Park. Not hard to see why it’s the 3rd most visited national park in the USA. Amazing rock formations and cliff faces, yet beautiful stream to walk along at the end of our informative Zion shuttle journey. Highly recommended.

  • relaxing swims in the pool and meals at the onsite Inspector Joe’s Bar and Grill
  • the fantastic Santana concert (140 minute set) at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues

  • last night’s mindblowingly beautiful, inspiring Love by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage. All six of us loved it … the show all being inspired by music from the Beatles. Just superb

  • en route to Sedona/Grand Canyon (week 3 coming up) checking out the famous Depression years-built Hoover Dam. This is a mighty feet of engineering, labour and dedication.

Oh … I also finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale and have started on a biography of Paul Simon.

So you can see, it’s been a great week. We’re having a great time!



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