Saturday, 21 September 2013

Vancouver and Home

Ah well the time has come the walrus said .....
Nearly but not quite. I am writing this at the airport in Vancouver after going thru all the checks. Of course we are early. No one is surprised about that so I will continue on!
Yesterday we travelled on our faithful on off bus again and went on a dinky little (read very little) ferry across to Granville Island which is like a huge market covering the whole island. Bliss for me at least and lots of foody things for Ian to look at as well. I even found a patchwork shop and found a gorgeous baby quilt pattern which I had to have. When we returned to the hotel I discovered it was by an Australian designer! Who would have though that.
After lunch which we enjoyed listening to a Cuban band that were great, we caught the bus back to Canada Place and watched the tugs pulling huge loads into the harbour, including an crane on a barge. Amazing feats of strength for such little boats. There were also heaps of seaplanes coming and going and a paddle steamer too. There is certainly plenty of activity out on the river.
An early return to the hotel to look at the cases and decide not to do them until the morning.
We have been thinking of some of the fun things we have heard and seen and forgotten to blog about so here's a couple of late reminiscences:
From the Rocky Mountaineer when we saw a Big Horn Sheep - the females have small upright horns but the males are ....... Hornier!  True, I kid you not from the mouth of our guide who comes from Sydney. I know you think it sounds like an Ian joke but its not although he may well use it again.
When we were in Stanley Park we were shown the children's water park which has all of the exciting spurts of water coming up just like home but this one has an additional feature of an air drier which blows down warm air on the children as they run underneath. Our guide explained that the hot air comes from the legislature building so its sure never to run out!
Can't think of any more funnies so here's hoping for an uneventful trip home with Flat Norah safe in my handbag after her huge adventures.

Friday, 20 September 2013


It takes us a bit of time to recover after the train trips and the crew on the Rocky Mountaineer refer to this as train legs, we call it train lag! Nevertheless after settling into the hotel and a good nights rest we are off and at the walking again.
Our first day was spent checking out the area and relocating to our final hotel. Did we tell you that we had to buy another suitcase? Well we purchased one at WalMart and as we were walking to the hotel with our cases one wheel fell off! Ian had to carry it the last little bit! Ah, we'll what a sight we must have been!
The next morning we purchased our hop on hop off tickets and started our usual routine of going around on the bus and deciding what we needed to see during the next two days. You really have no idea what there is to see in these cities unless you have a guide and these buses have been fantastic for us. 
Our first stop after being on the bus for a while was Stanley Park which is the north western point of Vancouver and covers 400 hectares of land and is one of the biggest urban parks in the world. We had a great tour guide when we changed buses at the beginning of the park tour who was able to tell us all about the park and especially about the Douglas Fir trees. Which reminds me that this Christmas my Douglas Fir Teee is coming out in all his glory so if you don't like the talking he does, don't visit  at Christmas.
The Western Red cedars are so beautiful, straight and tall and the preferred trees for totem poles which was our first stop supposedly for ten minutes, but there are always latecomers, cue Ian mumbling! The bus driver said to us that the only difference between a tourist and a hitchiker is one second! Ian had found his soulmate! Another amusing comment was from the bus driver from the Rocky Mountaineer who told us to make sure we took all our belongings as he had enough for his garage sale already. Some of these drivers have been very witty indeed.
Anyway back to Stanley Park. There was a huge storm in 2006 and you can still see the evidence of Mother Nature's fury with parts of the park decimated as the trees, some hundreds of years old, fell like dominoes in just two hours. The trees had been able to survive mans attempts at logging because they were so strong and so close together on very steep ground, but a combination of very shallow root penetration due to the granite they were growing around and their close proximity to each other, meant that when the 100mph winds and torrential rains blew they fell one against  the other like dominoes.
After Stanley Park we got back on the bus and went to Gastown which has beautiful Victorian buildings and cobblestone streets and over 180 boutique shops and restaurants. I loved it! It also has the only steam powered clock which puffs steam constantly and chimes on the quarter hour. It really is a very pretty clock as you can see on Facebook. Absolutely fascinating and attracts a great crowd nearly all the time. 
After that we walked up to Canada Place and visited the 1812 War of Independence short film and exhibition. Wars seem to have dominate the history here too as we found in the US.
Not content with that for the day we went to see The Butler which is a great movie. Why we have to be on holidays to go to the movies is one of life's great unanswered questions but there you are. Two movies, Phantom of the Opera in New York as well.
To top off a busy (!) day we the ran across the road to Rogers Arena to watch the Ice Hockey match between the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers. What a spectackle that is and this is only preseason, so we assume it gets a lot tougher and rougher than last night. It was great fun, and flat Norah scored again with a photo with Fin the Vancouver mascot. The goals were all shot in the first of three twenty minute periods with Edmonton coming out winners. We were on Edmonton's side but surrounded by Vancouverians so we kept our cheers relatively subdued! 
A great day in Vancouver and only one to go.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Rocky Mountaineer - Day Two

We awoke after a great night's sleep to find it was raining and had been for quite a while. Our start was a more civilised 7.15 and we were all eager to get going back on the train.
After breakfast we began to see a change in the countryside as we travelled and also in the colour and the way in which water travelled along. We came to the Thompson and Fraser River confluence where you could see how the two rivers met by the colours. One was the beautiful blue and the other in the muddy mineral affected glacial water. An amazing sight! 
We passed through many small settlements along our journey and many locals seem to make it part of their routine to stand on their porches, often with a glass, greet and wave to us. At level crossings, many got out of their cars and waved, made us feel so special. 
The crew were telling us that one elderly lady was always at her back fence to wave very enthusiastically over a very long period of time. Eventually a couple of crew members decided that they would like to give her a care package to thank her for her cheery welcome. Once the package was assembled, on their next journey past her home, the train slowed right down and the package was thrown from the train for her to collect.
A week later there was a call to the office of the Mountaineer asking for a manager to call. It took a while and a couple of calls from the caller to get a response from the office but when they did the caller said ...
"how did you know....?" 
"How did we know what, sir..." 
"How did you know it was my mother's 90th birthday on the day you threw her that package....?"
An "oh gosh" story!
We also saw the parts of the river where the Canadian team train for their canoeing and water rafting and its no surprise they are as good as they are, what an amazing natural boiling cauldron it is! 
Further along we were able to see work in progress as the First Nations people are setting up their salmon drying racks is the start of their annual harvest. The First Nations people are the only ones allowed to harvest the salmon in this area and it is a process deeply steeped in tradition and as one of our guides has a First Nation background we were able to hear how important it has always been to maintain this tradition of families gathering together under the guidance of the elders and learn how to get the best salmon and to share them with the family, in what has been a tradition for 7000 years.The Parks Department patrol the area to ensure only authorised fishermen participate and if any unauthorised nets are found these are cut, the fish then distributed to the elders who in turn give them to their people.We saw many young salmon and a couple of really large fish in the beautiful clear water.
One town we passed through was called Hope. Hope was founded through gold mining although not very successfully as this is where the phrase "Live in Hope, die in despair" started. Oh dear, it's a bit sad that story. However there is another claim to fame for Hope, Rambo was filmed there and according to our tongue in cheek guide, a large contingent of Sylvester Stallone's crew were there purely to apply the oil he needed to make his body look so good! 
All too soon we were at our destination in Vancouver and it was really sad to say goodbye to our lovely crew, pick up our bags, yes there is retail therapy on the train (yay for me!), and make our last trip as part of our tour to the hotel.
We have to say that this trip was absolutely one of the greatest highlights of our trip and the manner in which it was conducted was a perfect compliment to the magnificent country we travelled through. We wish we could do it again as we know it would seem all new and different. It's too much to take in all in one visit.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Rocky Mountaineer

Our Rocky Mountaineer adventure began very early as we were instructed to have our bags ready in our room for pickup at 6.15am which meant we had to be ready then too as there was to be minimum hand luggage taken on board. The best thing was that once our luggage was taken we wouldn't have to worry about it at all as it would be delivered to our room when we stopped for the night in Kamloops.
We were late getting away on the train which didn't leave until 9.15 but the send off from the station was great fun, complete with a Royal Canadian Mounted policeman in full dress uniform waiting to greet us. We were invited to have photos taken with him and flat Norah was very pleased with hers! Also waiting to greet us smiling and waving were the staff from the train, waving flags and seeming to be very pleased that we had arrived. After enjoying juice, tea and coffee one of the staff proceeded down the platform playing her bagpipes. Truly a great introduction to the day ahead.
We boarded our train walking along red carpet if you don't mind and settled into our domed carriage which gave us a fantastic view of the countryside. When Ian was organising this part of the trip we decided it was a once in a lifetime bucket list thing so we went for gold - literally - Gold Leaf class and it was well worth it.
Once we had gone through all the usual safety instructions, including to please take note of
the step down from you seat - it will always be there, please don't forget, some people do after a few, or many wines and it is not a good look to fall down or up for that matter. Our great crew were full of good fun and made us laugh many times with their subtle and not so subtle comments.
Breakfast was the first order of business, and like each meal was served downstairs in the beautiful dining room and was three courses. Oh dear, there is going to be some serious changing of habits next week, but anyway that's for next week. In the meantime, we decided to do as everyone else did and enjoy!
We started off in Banff and made our way not too swiftly through the mountains and tried to take in the spectacular country that is the Rocky Mountains and I so wish I didn't know John Denver's song Rocky Mountain High because it played over in my head all day so I told Ian so he had to put up with it too! The dome enabled us to see the huge mountains in all their glory and enjoy the Bow River beside and below us. The water is so blue and moves gracefully along. You really need a swivel head to take it all in and Ian was taking photos both from within the dome and out on the vestibule which was a totally different view from our elevated seating.
Unlike our previous experience, we didn't have to take to  the siding as much as there was not quite as many goods trains in the morning, although in the afternoon it increased and as some of the goods trains are nearly 2km long and can't fit in the sidings our stops were more frequent, but it gave us more time to enjoy the scenery, always a bonus.
There were so many stories of the privations experienced by the early settlers but one we can remember is how Kicking Horse River was given its name. The early expedition comprised one doctor and a dozen or so men. The doctor's horse was startled and ended up in the river. Horses being so important to the survival of these early travellers, saw the doctor jump into the river to guide the horse back to safety.This accomplished, he soon found himself back in the river retrieving yet another horse which when back on terra firma proceeded to kick him so badly he was unconscious and to the rest of the party seemed dead. As they had no medical knowledge they decided to bury him and proceeded to dig a grave close to the rivers edge. Just about the time they had finished the grave and were about to commit the poor doctor to the grave, he awoke and told them he was fine! Hence Kicking Horse Creek was named!
As the day progressed, it was more beautiful scenery and awesome views everywhere, interrupted by more food including three course lunch, all refreshments we needed, or just wanted. 
When it seemed that we would be arriving late into Kamloops, it was decided to offer us dinner on the train which was not expected and we had a lovely meal whilst we watched the sun go down and the country took on another look in the late evening. As it turned out we arrived just over an hour late into Kamloops for our night in a very nice hotel, and straight to bed for another magnificent day on Monday!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Banff last day

Today is our last day here in Banff so we were up and out early to make the most of it. Our hotel for last night was The Fox Hotel and Suites which we just think was so great and we had a great dinner in the hotel at Chili. Ian is now converted to ribs and I expect that considerable research will take place when we get home in order to replicate the delicious flavours we have enjoyed here. I'm guessing the purchase of a smoker BBQ will be on the priority list. For someone who wouldn't even try them at home this has been somewhat of a revelation!
We had decided to try to see the museums that the tourist advisor suggested so first off we went to the Indian Trading Post and Museum which was fascinating and we have added a little knowledge of the Aborigines from this area. We were able to learn how they were affected by the arrival of Europeans in the late 1700's.  Of course with the arrival of the Europeans came the diseases which decimated the people but also came the treaties which were supposed to provide them with some stability. It's easy to be wise with hindsight, but its easy to compare our own treatment of our Indigenous people too.
We did learn that the Europeans brought the beads which the Aborigines used to embellish their clothes, shoes, saddles and just about anything and the skill they displayed is remarkable and beautiful.
The babies were kept snug in beautifully embellished "moss bags" which were made from animal skins tanned and soft and decorated with the beads. The really interesting feature of the moss bags is that the babies were wrapped in moss to absorb the babies fluids and keep them warm at the same time. When this became soiled it was discarded and replaced with clean and fresh moss. The museum card described this form of diaper as efficient, clean and very environmentally sound as they returned the moss to the ground! The baby in the photo certainly looked very happy!
Then we moved on to see the Parks Museum which was the first museum actually built as a museum in Banff and was established before electricity was available. It is superbly crafted from local wood and quite a magnificent building in itself even before you see the huge range of birds and animals on display which have been collected over the past 100 and more years.
Then our last museum was the Whyte Museum which is a far more contemporary museum containing a wide range of general history items detailing the development of the Rockies.
We returned to the Fox via the excellent public bus service to collect our belongings. There was a great service which the Fox had for us in that they issued us with bus passes so we could travel the whole town right up to the Gondola and also to the Fairmont Hotel where we are now for free. A great way to have a free hop on hop off bus service.
We are now at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs which is where we will be picked up from to begin our trip on the Rocky Mountaineer tomorrow. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Our flight to Calgary passed without incident after we reminded ourselves that Friday 13th was just a date and had nothing to do with anything!
We boarded the bus for Banff and had a terrific trip for nearly two hours. As we travelled out from the airport the landscape began to change dramatically from nearly flat to the most beautiful mountains we have ever seen. It didn't seem to matter which way you looked it was beauty in every direction.
The camera was in overdrive and this is only the beginning as we have two nights in Banff before we board the Rocky Mountaineer for our two days to Vancouver.
We are staying at The Fox Hotel in Banff for one night then transferring to the Fairmont Banff Springs. The Fox is a great hotel, full of character and we keep imagining how gorgeous it would look with a fire in the fireplace and snow outside. 
To maximise our time here we headed up to the gondola which was a fantastic experience taking only eight minutes to take us to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in a fully enclosed gondola cabin. The views were just amazing all around us and when we stepped out of the gondola we were able to spend as much time as we wanted just taking in the magnificent views all around us.
Then we returned in the gondola and watched the evening rolling in on the way down the mountain, only imagining what we will see from the Rocky Mountaineer in a couple of days.
Back in the bus and returning to the hotel for dinner, ready for a couple of museums tomorrow. Banff is right up the top of our all time favourites list now and Flat Norah was very busy having her photo taken in a whole range of places. In the Tourist Information Centre in Banff we came across an Aussie girl who has moved here from Byron Bay, and she loves it!

Edmonton last day

On the morning of our last day in Edmonton we went by public transport out to Old Strathcona which has some lovely old features including the railway station which was very interesting. Our bus trip took us through the campus of the University of Alberta which is huge and has many lovely old buildings spread out over a large area. We seemed to be in university town of most of our trip. One thing we did notice was the cheerfulness of the students, how courteous they were and how happily they stood up to give others a seat. When they departed the bus en masse there was a happy chorus of thank you's for the bus driver which we thought was very nice.
For our last night we went to the movies. We always talk about going to the movies at home and rarely do, so we really enjoyed "The Family", with Robert deNiro and although it was fairly heavy on violence it was a great night.
Our next move is by plane from Edmonton to Calgary and then bus to Banff.


Friday, 13 September 2013


We arrived in Edmonton off the train nearly 90 minutes late but that seems to happen a bit! It was a fantastic experience and we have seen so much more than big cities now!
We caught a cab to the hotel which is the Fantasyland Hotel at the West Edmonton Mall. You can have a Fantasy room here which has a theme, African is one and there are a whole host of ther options. They are outrageously expensive so we had opted for a regular room. As we arrived early we had to wait for a few hours for a room to be a available and the first room was on the eighth floor and had bunk beds but a jacuzzi and was that ok? Yup we said just dying for a shower and freshen up so off we went. Our elevator opened up to the craziest kids carpet, street signs on the walls and neon lighted cars as well. We were certainly on a kids floor!
We were very relieved to find our room very ordinary except for the huge jacuzzi in one corner complete with mirrors on the wall and ceiling! It's all good fun and we were so pleased to get in a clean up ready to be with Margaret and John and the girls for dinner. 
We had a lovely walk with Margaret and John and then met Allison and Stephanie and their children for dinner. We had a great time chatting and catching up as the years seem to have flown since Kate had her holiday here after the family had returned from Australia after their time on exchange in Shepparton.
We reorganised our cases yesterday morning which is becoming quite a task and then hit the mall. It is the most wonderful place and I can see that if our grand babies were let loose they would never want to leave. There is every activity known to man for fun here for kids and grown ups alike. From the huge and I do mean huge water park to galaxy land and ropes quest, deep sea world and the ice palace. We went to a show here with seals and penguins too. Honestly it is just amazing and has to be seen to be believed. Not to mention the shops, restaurants and cinemas. But not a single patchwork shop. sigh!!! Ian is relieved, although Margaret did take me to one on the afternoon we spent with them!
Last night after dinner we were walking through the mall and came upon the beginning of an ice hockey game. This was fabulous fun to watch so we were able to watch an hour of ice hockey to add to our experiences of a sporting nature. Boy is it a fast moving game, you can hardly believe these players are on skates and racing around the ice chasing a small rubber puck! They have so much protective gear on it is incredible to see how they race from one end to the other. A great night!
This morning we watched as the rink was prepared for another day of skating.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Winnipeg to Edmonton

Well here we are in Edmonton after what was a wonderful trip on the train. We went for a tour in Winnipeg whilst the train was being serviced and new passengers loaded on. In total there were over 500 on the train so we were quite a small town on the move. 
Our tour of Winnipeg was very informative and if it hadn't been raining there were some beautiful English styled gardens we would have loved to spend more time in with amazing sculptures throughout.
We saw some of the most magnificent private homes which were established last century on the fortunes made from trade through transport on the train line we were on.
The State Legislature Building was absolutely magnificent created from stone quarried locally and in some parts has fossils contained within the stone. There are two huge life size bisons at the foot of the staircase up to the senate room and an amazing painting at the top of the stairs. Above us a huge dome just finished this magnificent building, although it seems politics are the same everywhere as we were comforted to hear! Their politicians don't seem to be the most admired people either.
There is also a diversity of agriculture and as Warwick told us canola is huge in the area. Their harvesting practices are really interesting. The canola is quite green when harvested green and pushed into furrows from where it seems to sit until it dries out and is then picked up. We watched last night as the harvester went on its mission through the field. We were surprised to see so much harvesting late into the evening, particularly when it had been wet. We didn't see what happened when it dries out only the cut stage and the bare field after it is collected. 
There were also lovely fields of sunflowers, some  with their heads down all facing the same way, others still bright and yellow heads facing straight up to the sun.We also saw a lot of wheat.
Still not much wildlife although we have seen a squirrel or two. The Canadian squirrels are black and just a little body and a huge fluffy tail. When Ian tried to photograph one it ended up looking like it was a foot long in the photo as it was running so fast.
Plenty of beaver hides but no sign of life and a bison farm from a distance, even from a distance you can see they are immense animals.
The train arrive in Edmonton two hours late and we are now at the hotel hoping to get into our room before we meet the Osbornes at noon. Very excited.
We are staying at the Fantasyland hotel in the West Edmonton Mall. It's a bit like Las vagas without gambling, what a hoot!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Last day in Toronto

Today is our last day in Toronto and we awoke to rain, unseasonal for the time of year. We reorganised our cases first thing as we will be checking in our cases for the next leg to Edmonton and will only need changes for the three nights on the train.
We set out from the hotel planning a day on the bus checking out a few things we hadn't had time for on our first day but the weather beat us and we filled in the morning on a drippy bus, deciding when we reached the market place to leave and go through the market which was indoors. It's very much like the Vic Market and if we were self catering it would have been heaven on a stick! Not feasible today but we did manage two punnets of raspberries for $5.00 which Ian is really enjoying. Way beter than the ones we buy at home, and a quarter the price.
We moved on to the Mill Street Brewery as it was lunch time and enjoyed a great light lunch and a couple of beers. Well Ian had two -  all will know one is enough for me! It was a great place to enjoy our last lunch in Toronto which we have really enjoyed. 
Back to the hotel and the opportunity for us to catch up on emails and get the blog up to date again before we pick up our cases and head to the station for our 10pm train. 
There are a few things we have learnt about Toronto on our bus travels which amused us so before we forget - there is a system at four intersections called "scrambling" which means pedestrians can cross to whichever corner they like and this is announced over the p.a so you know it's time to "scramble"!
The original Trivial Pursuit questions were verified in the Toronto Reference Library which is one of 94 libraries in the city of Toronto. 
The University of Toronto Library has been rated as the third best University Facility in the world, and takes great pride in its academic record which has seen a number of Nobel prizes. Another claim to fame is the development of insulin, and the confirmation of the existence of  'black' hole, and first operational electron microscope.
The sporting achievement of the football team on the other hand saw 49 matches over 7 seasons all lost. When they did have a victory finally it was over a team who had half of its players suspended for drug use, however apparently it didn't stop them celebrating as if they had won the premiership! Apparently things have improved now!
There is a photo of a car with wheels running, which hangs off the side of a building here which has four tv networks working within and it is called "breaking news"!
Can't think of anything else now, but more from Edmonton, our next stop.

Niagara Falls

Yesterday was a big day as it was high on our list of must dos to go to Niagara Falls and they did not disappoint. We left our hotel at 8.45 am and after a mixup, namely the tour organisation did not have us registered for a tour we set off for the falls via several pick-ups. Am not going to spoil the blog with the details, but suffice to say, we don't recommend zoom tours! 
When we finally arrived at the falls, they were awesome, magnificent, whatever you like to say, but we were blown away. The water approaches the falls at considerable speed and appears to be 6 feet or so deep immediately before going over, so the volume is extraordinary, creating a considerable cloud of mist all around. The ability to get so close is incredible, as the viewing area is directly beside the falls, and only about 3-4 metres above the water level. We tried to imagine what possessed the crazy people who went over in a barrel were thinking and came up with ..... nothing!
The trip on the Maid of the Mist boat was terrific, and definitely a highlight as we went right into the mist, and got quite wet, but fortunately our poncho worked a dream, and we remained dry. Our ponchos made us look like a collection of Smurfs, but no one wanted to brave the trip without it!
After a lunch at the Fallsview Restaurant we went on to tour a number of sights around the falls including the Niagara on the Falls township which was just like the cover of a chocolate box, so pretty with all the hanging baskets full of summer colour and lovely old shops with some really tempting gifts including a Christmas Shoppe, who would have thought that I would want to go in there. About as likely as Ian walking past a cake and pastry shop and withstanding the temptation to buy a chocolate brownie covered in chocolate, heart attach material but he did any way. I didn't buy anything at all as I may have indulged earlier in another Cristmas Shoppe in Boston.
We also went to two wineries. It's area specialises in Ice Wine which is a beautiful dessert wine, so of course we enjoyed that. The ice wine is quite expensive as it can only be made from grapes which are frozen on the vine and have been at a very low temperature for three days. The grapes are harvested in the evening from 9pm until 5am by hand with no gloves on to ensure the fruit is not damaged. It tased very very nice and certainly made the trip home more bearable.
We arrived back at the hotel 2.5 hours late so you can I imagine how happy Mr. Punctual was, but Niagara Falls you were magnificent.

PS Ian finished this blog after Suey imbibed at the Mill St Brewery!
Not True, but he help with spell check!

Friday, 6 September 2013


A new day dawns, and we are up and at it! After a little shopping, including two pairs of Sketchers for me. Believe me, this girls feet are working hard. I have already thrown out a pair of new sandals which I brought from home as they fell apart and my feet were feeling every pebble, so at last I have comfort!
We have bought hop on hop off bus tickets again as they are really the best way to get around and we get a great overview of the city we're in. Today we discovered this is a town with a lot of academics starting the new year and O week is in full swing. It seems to play out the same wherever you are with the customary dressing up, scavenger hunts, begging for donations by singing very loudly on street corners etc. etc.Very entertaining.
There is a lot of construction going on and as was explained to us this is the best time of year to get the new infrastructure up before the weather turns too cold. That's the time for the internal fixings to happen. There are a lot of walkways underground for the same reason. We're not thinking we'd be much good in the winter. Snow is strictly for looking at and admiring on the television at Christmas.
Our bus tour took us past many beautiful old buildings as well as the new of which there is also plenty. However there is a requirement if a new building is proposed where an important or heritage building still exists, that the design must incorporate at least the facade. In many places its looks really good. There is one place we didn't fall in love with and that is the new facade on the Royal Ontario Museum, but I guess they're not too worried about what we think. Apparently you either like it or hate it. Hate is probably a bit strong,but love it ..... not so much!
For lunch we went to a diner called Johnny Rockets, a traditional American style diner exactly out of Happy Days. Took a photo of Flat Norah there while Ian tasted a beer called A Flying Monkey's Optical Illusion - sounds a bit scary, but was ok except very full on hops flavour.
Our tour guide was really great and is currently studying for his Doctorate in Education, after completing this his great love is teaching. He studied for a semester in Brisbane so he understands Ian's reluctance to drive here. For part of the journey we were the only occupants of the bus so he sat down with us a we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted. Really spoilt.
At the moment it is the Totonto International Film Festival and there ar supposedly hundreds of famous people here so you never know who we might see tonight.
We've identified a couple of boutique breweries here which we are hoping to get to after tomorrow as we are off on our tour of Niagara Falls for the day which we are really looking forward to.
Then on our last day we have until 10pm for our next train departure so really a whole day more to explore.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


Hello Canada!
A bit of a different experience today on our long trip from Albany to Toronto. Our train left Albany at 10.03am and all was fine. We were anticipating the same interesting although longer trip today that we have had previously on trains.
It was long but not very interesting though very green and plenty of trees along the line so we couldn't see very much of the surrounds as we sped along. The first leg of our trip took six hours which is fine because at least you can get up and move around.
We were getting close to the border when we reached the town of Niagara which was little more than a railway siding and people alighted off the train seemingly in the middle of the yard and walked to the station. A little strange we thought at the time. We were a little surprised when we reached the border between America and Canada. To say it is underwhelming is probably too kind. It looked more like a deserted Spagetti Western set. We had to leave the train with all our luggage and there were four steep steps down from the train to the ground, proceed around a corner to go through border inspection. That was fine, we must still look ok then into another room to wait with our fellow travellers supposedly for the remaining 45 minutes before the train continued on to our destination of Toronto. Apparently Border Protection were having some difficulties because it was over an hour before we started to get back on the train. Thank goodness for business class, at least we were back on first for the remainder of the trip, another two hours, finally arriving at 8pm to a deserted station undergoing renovation and not very user friendly.
At last the hotel and we are very pleased to have that day behind us. Not sure what tomorrow brings yet, we'll see how we wake up!
No photos today so just another one on Facebook from the great museum in Albany.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Today we returned to Albany which is where we had hired the car from. Now I don't need to be reminded why we decided to train more of this trip than drive! It was certainly less stressful than driving from New York last time, but to say we are both relieved to have left the car behind and return to trains is an understatement. However, there have been no u turns across highways and median strips this time I'm glad to report. Today was the first day back at work here after a long weekend so it was considerably more hectic than when we picked the car up on Sunday.
We have to say that the drivers here are very courteous and patient. Pedestrians get priority and we were told that if you as a pedestrian and even look like you might like to cross, cars should and are obligated to stop, regardless of whether you are at a crossing. We've been guilty today of standing, contemplating which way to go on a street corner whilst a very patient driver waited for us to make up our mind. Thank goodness our driver told us, as you all know how patient Ian is and he has had to chill out and leave his road rage behind him! 
When we arrived back in Albany we found our hotel, checked in and took off to explore.
We had to find a Wal Mart in order to buy another suitcase as our weight is getting a little dangerous so that was a revelation in itself. You can buy ANYTHING at Wal Mart! Just picked up a few essential quilting supplies whilst Ian was considering the suitcase!
Barnes and Noble are fantastic for books and coffee at the same time so that worked well The magnificent buildings here which we had only had a very brief look at when we arrived. The architecture is absolutely magnificent on the State Building, the University and many others. We just walked around in amazement and took heaps of photos. We also found a park where all the trees had power points on them, if only we could find them in Australia when we are travelling. It was off to find the New York State Museum which we had (well, Ian had) looked at before we came and seen that they had a Civil War Exhibition which we thought would be really interesting after seeing quite a lot of Civil War historic locations in Vermont. It was a fantastic exhibition and we now feel that we have a much better understanding of  the Civil War and the War of Independence. 
As a bonus, we found they also had a fantastic display of September 11, including a fire truck which had been destroyed and a lot of information about the tremendous and meticulous amount of work undertaken to ensure as much information could be gleaned from the debris in the aftermath.
There was also information about the new USS New York which has 7.5 tons of steel in the bow which has been recycled from the twin towers and the dedication and strong desire of those who now serve aboard to honour those who died.
In this same area there are many antique fire engines dating back over 100 years. Boy did those firemen earn their money!
As a bit of light relief there is also the front of the Sesame Street house with some notable characters. I hope Flat Norah appreciated how lucky she was to be on the set of Sesame Street. It certainly took us back in time!
All too soon it was five o'clock and the museum was closing so regretfully we had to leave, although we had only seen a small number of the displays and co hold have spent hours longer.
Dinner was at a restaurant chain called Ruby Tuesday which we discovered is like Sizzlers and we were so pleased to be able to have lots of salad which we are really starting to crave. There was a double chocolate dessert which Ian couldn't resist and which he deserved after driving today!
Today is our last night in the US, tomorrow is our first day in Canada so bringing out the Canadian currency ready for the next adventures. Toronto here we come!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Today is our last day in Bennington and we started out with Ian dropping me off at the Museum for another look at the quilt while he went out for a bit of a look around Bennington.
When I had finished and picked up some more maple syrup drops - yummy, we went to find the cemetery where Jane and her husband are interred. This time we were lucky and have photos to remind us of our visit.
Whilst there Ian saw a couple of trucks going down the road at full speed which fortunately he was able to snap photos as they sped past. All good, both our interests satisfied!
Lunch at a diner was not quite what we had expected but that happens when you try not to go to KFC or something  like that!
After lunch we went to the huge Bennington Battle Monument which is 306ft, 4 1/2in tall and fortunately has an elevator to the observation deck. From the deck we were able to see the valleys and rolling hills of Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. 
The Bennington battle was between Lieutenant Colonel Freidrich Baum who was in command of the troops and ordered to advance to Bennington to seize valuable military stores. He was sent by Lieutenant General Burgoyne who believed the region around Bennington to have loyalist support and the only resistance to be the remains of a scattered American militia regiment retreating from Fort Ticonderoga. What Burgoyne did not know was that Brigadier General John Stark was nearby in Manchester with 1,500 reinforcements and had joined Seth Warner and his Vermont militiamen.
'"There they are boys! We beat them today or Molly Stark sleeps a widow tonight!"  - Brigadier General John Stark, August 16, 1777.
Victory to Vermont! 
We have really enjoyed our time in Vermont. It has been a lovely hiatus between very busy cities, and we have seen many gracious homes and beautiful lush green country, quite tropical in climate and very steamy during our visit.
Tomorrow we are back to Albany for one night then on to Toronto by train.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Bennington, Vermont

Today was a very exciting day. We left our hotel in Albany by taxi and located the car hire centre not far from the airport. The car we have hired is very similar to our Hyundai so is easy to drive except they drive on the wrong side of the road and you sit on the wrong side too! 
Fortunately, our experience has been better than last time, we've stayed on our side of the road and not given ourselves or anyone else for that matter a heart attack! We learnt our lesson and didn't pick up the car in New York which proved to be fairly traumatic last time, just ask Kate and Pete.
The drive to Vermont was only an hour and was very pleasant. It's been lovely to really leave the cities behind for a couple of days and step out into the country. It's a long weekend here so traffic conditions are fairly busy as there is a huge garlic and herb festival happening and the crowds stretched right through town by the time we left the museum at noon.
The reason we have come to Bennington is to go to the Bennington Museum to see the "Dear Jane" quilt which is 150 years old this year. The quilt lives in the museum and is displayed for about one month or so each year. The quilt went on display yesterday and when we arrived at opening time at ten today another lady from Australia had been yesterday. I think the staff are a little mystified that folks would come all that way to see the quilt. 
The quilt now needs to be preserved and so it is mounted on a board, displayed at the back of the museum protected from direct light by a partition. When you walk around the partition a light comes on to the quilt and there it is!  It was truly amazing for me to see the quilt for real. I have been working on my own Jane for a number of years and finally I'm up to quilting it and can see the finish line in sight so I poured over the quilt for an hour and a half, mostly by myself but joined by a lovely local lady who makes miniature quilts who was also in awe of the beauty of Jane's quilt. 
The quilt is all hand stitched and quilted and the quilting is so fine and even, it is quite breathtaking. When you stand back you can see how Jane had arranged the blocks with a green block in the middle and colours radiating out from there. I couldn't believe how clear the colours were. The reds especially looked very vibrant as did the browns and cheddar yellows. There are no repeats in fabric and a great diversity of prints. There are also many joins of fabrics and additions of tiny slivers of fabric to make the blocks come together. I just loved how Jane had made use of what fabrics she had at hand. Some of the fabrics in my quilt have been pieced together too as I really loved some fabrics and had to join them to enable me to have them in my quilt. Some of the blocks have sashings whilst others have sashings of irregular sizes too in order to make the rows come together.
The quilt is perfect and yet has imperfections which some modern quilters would frown at but I just love it more for that. I know now that the Jane I am making will be just like that, it will have my imperfections and I will love it too. It is such a relief to realise that such a thing of beauty has its own idiosyncrasies that make it a work of art.
The quilt is in amazing condition with very little marking and no obvious damage at all. There are no seams coming away and no holes in the fabrics. The quilting is delicate and is done to enhance the blocks not to dominate. You look at the blocks and admire the quilting. No doubt the smallness of the blocks and the density of quilting around some of the pieces has contributed to its longevity, but at the same time some of the pieces are no bigger than my little fingernail so they have tiny seam allowances which have stood the testament of 150 years. 
It is so frustrating not to know more about the history of the quilt but I guess the mystery is part of the charm.
We left the museum at midday having contributed to the financial viability of their gift shop, and found a nearby brewery (yup, back on the breweries again) for lunch. After a walk around the street, again finding some "must haves" we went in search of the covered bridged which are really amazing. They were originally constructed to protect the wooden bridges from the elements and are now a great tourist attraction. We are amazed at the beautiful timber work in these constructions. The beams inside the bridge are enormous and must have been enormously heavy to manoeuvre in place.
Off to our hotel to plan for the next day's adventure here, hopefully finding Jane's grave which we couldn't locate today.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Boston to Albany - New York State

Before I forget about the game. Any fans of Spicks and Specks will know Barry Morgan and his organ. Well we swear he plays at the Red Sox games!
Sadly we are on the move again, although we could have spent longer in Boston. I certainly could have gone back to Winmill Fabrics in Chauncey Street! Great fabrics, great service and great prices.
Anyway, off to the station we go and get on our first train for our journey to Albany,New York State. We are now convinced that train travel is for us. Our first leg took us to New York Penn Station and then on to Albany. The train follows the Hudson River and it was a lovely ride with great scenery the whole way. We are travelling Business Class all the way but today we could have been just as comfortable in coach class although more crowded.
We were met at the station in pouring rain by the courtesy bus from the hotel and taken on a tour by the young driver who is very knowledgable and rightly proud of his city which has some magnificent buildings which are beautifully maintained even if not in use. There is a mixture of modern architecture too but it all seems to sit well together.
Tomorrow we are out to the airport to pick up a car for our only driving experience on this trip to get us to Bennington in Vermont for a very special date in the Bennington Museum. You wouldn't believe it but they have issued flood warnings here so we are hoping all is well in the morning. Come hell or high water we are going, even if by canoe!
Even tho' its only Saturday here, Happy Fathers Day to all the dads.

Boston - last day

Firstly, apologies for the scratchiness of the last blog. It was done on a train from Boston to New York, Penn Station and the wi if kept dropping out.
Our last night just had to be spent at another Red Sox game and we were able to get tickets before the game down just behind the home base. Fantastic view and quite different from our upstairs perspective from Wednesday night.
The whole game is just so much fun to be a part of and so much effort is made to involve the supporters. This month has been special for the Red Sox as they have been concentrating their fundraising efforts for their "Jimmy Fund" which they have been associated with for sixty years this year and have raised countless millions. Friday night they had a young boy make the very important "play ball!" call and a sweet little girl battling cancer threw the first ball and made a really good fist of it.
At both games long time supporters are honoured on the ground, as well as  staff who have had long service together with exceptional performance.  It's is all played out on the big screen and the staff who receive awards are able to bring their families and enjoy the game. On Wednesday night a special part of the opening was devoted to the family of the young university policeman who was tragically killed in his police car in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. His family all stood around the pitchers mound and threw a ball each to throw the first ball. Everyone cheered and all the players were there to lend support and offe sympathy. Such a waste of great potential.
They don't have any glitz, just good honest team spirit and the anthem sung with real pride and LIVE. Anyone sick of Julie Anthony singing ours?
Then the game starts and we are really enjoying it now we have a better understanding. It moves along quite quickly and on Friday we had a very obliging Bostonian sitting with us who even googled the answers to our questions when he opulent tell us himself. It was a close game this time and we won 4-3 which was very exciting.
The photo in Facebook is of the Red Socks mascot and is what crackerjack our bus driver used to be. We did try to catch the ball a couple of times but no luck..


Go Red Sox! Just a teaser!
On our last day we were pleased to see the return to summer and set off on the trolley car again, this time for a look around the park in the centre of Boston, where we found the beautiful duck in a row which Barbara Bush had commissioned for the park. there is another set in Moscow which Mrs Bush gave to Mrs Gorbachov. Apparently on Mothers day many children come dressed as ducklings and it is quite a sight. Then we  walked along part of the Freedom Trail which concentrates on the history around Boston and in particular its role in the Independence of America, before our tour of the USS Constitution.
 The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat in the world. This is verified each year when it goes out into the harbour and fires its cannons on the 4th of July. Incidentally, Crackerjack told us that recently the neighbours in the very palatial homes adjacent to the shipyard, petitioned for the salute to be discontinued as it disturbed them. Really ....... On the Fourth of July ????? Crackerjack showed his disdain by leaning on the horn of the trolley as he told us!!!! A very funny man.
Our tour guide on the Constitution was a young man dressed in the naval sailors uniform of the period. He was brought up in New Orleans and left after the cyclone, returning a few years later and joining the Navy. He was a very amusing guide and certainly made us feel as tho' we were a part of the everyday activities on board. It was incredible to think that there were 500 sailors on board when the ship was fully operational. The cannons on the top deck  were very impressive but the ones below on the gun deck were even larger and if not correctly positioned had a kickback equivalent to 35 mph, which would be the impact of being hit by a car in a very confined area. Back to the top deck where the riggings on the masts which are 220 feet high we heard how these were manned at two levels and of course no one was sent up there on fine sunny days, and as our guide told us he has to go up there as part of his regular training and its not fun.
At the next level were the eating, sleeping and livestock quarters. Oh for the life of a sailor - not. The ordinary sailor was allowed four hours sleep on a rotation basis in the hammocks which would do my back in. The low ceilings would have killed Ian on his first day. the hammocks clearly told us that men in these days were much smaller! For company, in addition to the other sailors, if you were a lower rank sailor you were sleeping in the middle of the ship together with the livestock require to sustain the men on their voyage. Chickens were on the upper deck because of the smell, but the cows and goats and bullocks were right beside them in the manger. Then there was the issue of cows getting sea sick. Yuck! There were two cooks on board for the five hundred men. One was a fully trained cook and the other knew nothing about cooking as he was usually a sailor who had lost the ability to be an active sailor either through losing a limb, an eye or too old. The fully trained chef looked after the captain exclusively and the other, well guess! Apparently meals were rather random for them. 
The Captain and his officers had very nice quarters up the front of the ship and their lives must have been much better.
We were told not to touch any of the brass on the ship as we were toured around or we would be hunted down, brought back and made to polish it as our guide was not keen to do it himself, very amusing man, but with his deep booming voice it was hard to know if he was kidding.
Whilst we were down In the living, eating sleeping and gun quarters we role played the battle between the USS Constitution and the British vessel the Guerrier  which was when the USS Constitution gained its notoriety as "Ironsides" when the British sailors said that the cannons bounced off the sides of the ship. There is no iron in this ship just superbly crafted timber comprising two different types of oak making up 22 inches thick. Because of this the Constitution was able to sink the British vessel.  We were so excited!
After our great tour we resumed our walk and found our way to a lovely small park with a very moving dedication to the servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. It comprised three wire walls in a semi circle covered in dog tags. A very sobering reminder of the reality of war here.
Then we found Paul Revere's house which doesn't look big enough to accommodate his 16 children but maybe they slept in shifts too!

Saturday, 31 August 2013


Boston day two was a busy one again even though we had arrived back late from the baseball. We started out on the trolley bus with a fantastic tour guide named Crackerjack. What he doesn't know about Boston just isn't worth knowing we decided. 
We had intended hopping off early and grabbing breakfast but he was just too good so we waited until Quincey Market which was a great place to wander through. 
Boston has so much history and we are totally immersed in Paul Revere now and his 16 children produced in 22 years. No, the first one Sarah,  didn't wear out. Poor thing caught smallpox three months after the birth of their eighth child and died. In the custom of the time he mourned extensively and remarried six months later and went on to have eight more children. Apparently he would have been neglecting his children if he had not married again quickly. A busy man who needed to work at a number of jobs including casting bells, a dentist and a number of other occupations to support his growing family. He also championed the cause of American Independence from the British. We really loved hearing Crackerjack explain all the intricacies of the ride leading up to the war and saw where the Declaration of Independence was read from for the first time and where it is reenacted each year on the Fourth of July. 
We visited the cemeteries within the area where so many early members of the Boston founding fathers are buried. In one cemetery there are estimated to be 5000 burials but maybe as many as 7000 as families were buried one on top of each other and the gravestones didn't necessarily say who was in each plot. It was also common for pennies to be put over the eyes of the deceased and not uncommon for grave robbers to come at night and remove them.
The day was the coolest we had had and despite Crackerjack telling us that it would lift it didn't. In fact it went downhill and was raining in the afternoon so we decided on a harbour cruise, where incredibly the heaters were on. Just like home, four seasons in one day.
The cruise was very interesting and we saw Boston from a totally different perspective. We had decided to go back early as we were feeling the need for an early night so found a great Thai restaurant, and then off to bed.

Friday, 30 August 2013


Lucky I did a blog for the first part of yesterday because last night was a whole blog on its own. We have been watching the baseball at home for some time and had decided we would like to see some live sport on this trip whether it was hockey, football, basketball or baseball. Because of the seasons, baseball was it and where better than Boston? So we had been practicing being Red Sox fans in readiness for what we thought would be really fun.
Ian booked tickets at home, picking out what we thought looked pretty good tickets for what we wanted to spend so we were all prepared. We walked quite a way to the subway and being cool about subways now got on the train to Fenway Park. When we arrived at the station it was really easy to find Fenway Park. Just follow the sea of Red Sox fans!
We arrived at the ground before 5pm, although the game didn't start until 7.10pm. We found the location of our gate D and stood watching the street performers until Ian realised we had purchased priority seating which entitled us to go in early! 
After we found our seats which were really great and gave us great views of "Our" team's dugout and close by home plate, we had to have a real American hotdog and it was good! The game was underway at 7.10 after a very moving opening with the National Anthem sung by a Stage 4 cancer survivor. We have noticed everywhere we have gone patriotism is very important and given enormous respect. This month the Red Sox are concentrating their fundraising events around the cancer charity they support and everyone is very supportive. In fact philanthropy  is very evident both large and small here and even right back to the Statue of Liberty which was was a gift from France, all installation costs were met by the public.
Anyway, back to the game. It was the most fantastic sporting event we have ever been to and we we able to follow what was happening and had a full view of the game. And the Red Socks won which was even better, 4 - 3 after we scored a home run in the bottom of the 8th innings. Then a big push to the subway with thousands of others for a squashy return trip. By the time we got back to the hotel we were stuffed!
In face we had such a great time we may well go again before we leave!

Thursday, 29 August 2013


Our first full day in Boston is going to be a two part blog because it really is a big day! We left the hotel after breakfast and braved the subway. Once we worked out, with help from poor hapless commuters who really wanted to get to work and leave us to our own devices, how to purchase tickets from the auto machines, we were on our way to Lowell for the New England Quilt Museum. 
It took two trains and 45 minutes, but it was a lovely step away from the city and out where houses are houses and not multi storey apartments.
When we arrived in Lovell we took the advice of the people in the fabric shop and caught a cab. The cab driver was the first cab driver who actually engaged in conversation and took us through Lovell, telling us briefly along the way the history of the cotton mills in the area which were extensive. The tall brick buildings are still there and some have been converted into apartments. Some of the streets still have the original bluestone pavers, are very uneven and totally charming. The shops are lovely and original and the whole area is just picturesque.
The New England Quilt Museum was just fantastic. All the quilts which were on display, both in the special cheddar exhibition and the gallery displays were beautifully displayed. and I will have enough photos to make an album on its own. I was in awe of the precision minuscule hand quilting on all the quilts. Something to aim for and I can't believe these quilts were worked in poor light and without all the modern trappings we have now. I guess some of them were worked in the evening under candle light after daily chores too. 
We returned with only limited purchases, I'm hanging out for a visit to the shop again.
Tonight .......... The Red Socks Ball game can't wait!!! 


We arrived in Boston after a lovely train trip from New York and found a taxi to take us to the hotel which is right opposite the hospital, but very quiet. One thing we are very impressed with is that we can open a window and have fresh air! So far the tour organiser is doing just fine and thinks he is pretty marvellous - I do too.
When we arrived there were two parcels awaiting us. Bet the Girgarre quilters are going to be happy when we come home! We're rearranging our luggage as one of them weighs 22lbs and would cost a fortune to post so we may post home some of our luggage so we can fit it in our cases.We went to the post office and checked on the web and it seems the best solution. 
On our way back from the Post Office we stumbled upon a fabric shop which is officially heaven. Fabrics for $4.00 a yard, all just what I love and I was able to buy 1/4 yard cuts.
The couple who own the shop were so lovely and Ian chatted to the man for ages as he cut my fabrics, quite a few and I may have to go back. 
Whilst we were there we were told of a quilt museum which is featuring a "cheddar quilt" exhibition. We went back to our room, me very happy with my little bag of fabrics, contemplating more and how to get back there, with my sense of direction, Ian knows I won't go by myself!
Lovely dinner at the hotel, we've learnt to order to share as much as possible for lunch and only have one course for dinner. As before the meals are huge and it is amusing to see how many people "bag" their leftovers. Not sure how well they travel or if the dogs just live well. By the way there were plenty of dogs and big ones in both Washington and New York, even with apartment living, big dogs are very popular.
Busy day planned for our first full day.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Last day New York

For our last day in New York we started our day as usual with the bacon and egg at McDonald's right next door to the hotel. Maccas are nearly as frequent here as Starbucks, one on every corner is the phrase!
Sustained, we started off with the Uptown bus (notice how familiar we are with terms now)! Billy Joel wasn't there but we heard all about all the famous people who live around there and saw where John Lennon sadly met his end and where Yoko still lives. apparently, as our tour guide informed us, anyone who has met her says she is a lovely lady. Glenn Close and a whole host of other celebrities live there and it is hardly surprising. It is a beautiful part of the city and the buildings are amazing. So beautiful, and so well maintained. 
We left the bus and walked through a small part of Central Park which was just so lovely. We had heard about how large the park was and how diverse it is in the design, and no wonder it is huge. It must have been amazing as it was being built and there were hundreds of men working on site. The irony was that when it was finished there was no way that the families of the men who worked on site for six days and only went home for one day, could come and enjoy the park. It was initially built for the rich who lived close by. Later transportation was established and now it is a park for everyone with various areas designed with different needs in mind. We could have stayed there all day, except of course I would have been lost if Ian had walked away!
Then for a contrast, it was off for the Harlem Tour which was certainly a contrast. This city is so diverse and colourful and yet in some areas the poverty is extreme. Public housing  is very highly sought after and 220,000 are on the waiting list. We learnt how important it is to be in a property where the rent is fixed and can only rise by a small percentage each year and long fixed leases are very highly sought after.
As  areas become more popular and properties are bought up the landlords sometimes try to buy out tenants leases, renovate the properties and treble the rents. Great if you can afford the rent but it only puts more pressure on the other rental options. 
Another interesting thing is that very few people have cars here, although from the traffic you wouldn't know. Most of the number plates are from out of town though. It costs as much as apartment rent to find a garage for a car and the waiting list, unless you have a fistful of cash is ten years. There is really no permanent street parking and in many streets cars just seem to double park, for how long we didn't know! The bus seems to charge down past the cars with abandon and we just hold our breath.
Overall a fascinating time again in New York. And of to Boston tomorrow.

New York

In the city that never sleeps, we don't much either. In an effort to make the best of our time here, day three saw us up and out early. First stop was our bus to the Statue of Liberty via Battery park which was spectacular and Flat Norah was in awe of the size of the Lady Liberty.
Back on the bus and on to the Rockafeller Centre and the FDNY and Gap shops for some retail therapy. Our bus tickets have been invaluable in enabling us to see parts of New York we couldn't possibly reach other than in taxis as there is a limit as to how far we can walk, and as many will know my geography is so lousy. I have at least mostly mastered which way to turn as I come out of our room to go to the lift, no really it's true!
We went out after dinner which we bought at the local grocery store for the night tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn and surrounds and we had a fabulous look at the sights from a totally different perspective. 
Back to the hotel and Times Square is even more fantastic late at night. We could have had photos taken with any number of performers. I was a bit surprised Ian didn't want to line up with the ladies clad only in expertly applied body paint, but he withstood the temptation! It would have made Flat Norah blush!

Monday, 26 August 2013

New York 2nd day

We only had half a day on Friday after our train from Washington but it was great to have the opportunity to see Phantom so early in our visit.
On the first morning we were off with our New York bus tickets to explore. The Empire State Building was our first stop and the views were spectacular all the way around the tower. It is amazing to think that way back in the 1930's this building went up in 13 months. We were told that to build a building like this at that time the expectation was the loss of one life for each floor but the whole building of 102 storeys plus only saw the loss of 5 lives. One worker opened the lift door and looked to see how far away the lift was and found out.
In order to minimise the time workers wasted going down for breaks, a cafeteria was erected every 20 floors, smart move, the workers were happy and the construction went very quickly. The steel for each floor had to be delivered immediately it was required as there was no where on the site to have materials stored. The building finished 6 inches shorter than expected due to the weight of the building.
Then it was off to see my one and only wish (well for New York at least), a visit to the City Quilter store where Flat Norah had her photo taken. sadly it was not what I had expected and Ian is somewhat relieved. I'm still going to look everywhere we go, I've been seriously constrained for a year at home in anticipation of quilt heaven, so we will continue!
Back on the bus and some more successful retailing at the Century 21 store. 
We next visited St. Marks Church which became one of the very important places the first responders and construction workers went to during the 9/11 disaster. It is an amazing place and was certainly a very important focal point for a long time and became a refuge for the workers to rest and when you look at the pews many show the scars of the workers resting fully clothed and exhausted, still with the equipment belts on which marked the wood. Then on to the 9/11 temporary museum and the 9/11 memorial which is an amazing and very emotional tribute to that event which has changed America for ever. It is so real to see the wall in the museum with photos and details of family members missing and then confirmed as lost at the memorial and to know that it happened not long after our previous visit to New York. We have often talked of the "random acts of kindness" we experienced. on the subway last time and of the generosity of the gentleman who gave us free tickets to Annie Get Your Gun and wondered if they worked in the towers. A trip back on the bus, dinner and that was the day done.

Washington to New York

We left our lovely little hotel in Washington and decided to catch a bus to the station to begin our training adventure. We decided when we were planning this trip to try to take trains instead of flying as looking out at clouds doesn't really achieve very much except transport us from one place to the next and it also involves a lot of sitting around, waiting, waiting.
For a dollar each we hopped on the bus for the station and had breakfast after being issued with our tickets which we have pre booked before we left home. The train trip was great and we saw a lot of interesting sights along the way to New York. Then we decided to take a cab to the hotel which is right in the middle of Times Square. Taxis are a unique way to travel, I'm sure everyone agrees and New York taxi drivers are very special. It was a speedy and somewhat eventful trip. I did remark to the receptionist when we arrived at the hotel that I had started the trip with dark hair, although my passport shows me for the fibber I am! It was swift anyway and surprisingly cheap, although when you factor in  the therapy we may need on our return, maybe not! If you don't have a horn in your car you wouldn't be able to drive around here!
Anyway we arrived and unpacked and went straight out to Times Square which was full on with the evening excitement in the city that never sleeps. Our hotel room doesn't get dark unless we draw all the drapes as the illuminated signs light up as if it is daylight. Also fairly constant are the sirens as the emergency vehicles try to negotiate the traffic for the many calls they have. It really is a mad town but after just a day you get used to it and it becomes fun.
We had decided to try and see a show whilst we were here and as the last minute ticket office is directly opposite our hotel we went to have a look and decided to jump in and see Phantom of the Opera which we had seen before and is one Ian really enjoys so that was our first night in New York. Off and running, there is so much to see and we are learning we can't sit around, 'cos times a wastin'.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Washington - last day.

Our last day in Washington began early as we wanted to cram in as much as we could. Our first stop off the bus was Arlington National Cemetery which we had visited last time but deserved another look. We were really lucky to arrive on the day that the Secretary of Defence was also visiting so there were some extra ceremonies in his honour which we were able to see.
Firstly, we walked up a the steep hill past hundreds and hundreds of uniform white individual
headstones which in themselves are a very solemn reminder of the number of servicemen and women who are interred at the cemetery. We went to the eternal flame at JFK 's burial site where members of his family also now rest.
Then it was on to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the changing of the guard, but before that, for the benefit of the distinguished guest there were three magnificent cannons set up and as we arrived they issued a ninteen gun salute. I can assure you that we were truly astounded at the noise and you could feel it as well. We both said how terrifying this must have been to the soldiers, especially as there were so many young soldiers to hear the cannons going off in anger as well as other artillery. 
The ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is very moving and complex in the precision with which it is delivered. The soldiers who are the guards there have to pass a very stringent set of criteria to achieve this honour and it is very highly sought after. We were told by a tour guide that the ceremony takes place in the same manner all day and night every day of the year and is never varied except for the frequency of the change during the summer.
Dring the terrorist strike on September 11 it continued and even during the earthquake and typhoon when the men were ordered to stand down. They refused this order and had to tie themselves down to remain safe. They are very dedicated to their job and perform it with great dignity. 
We also visited the memorial to the astronauts who died and the men who died trying to rescue the hostages in Iran. It certainly is an amazing place and as we left we saw a ceremonial horse being led for a funeral of which there are 30-40 each day.
Back on our bus and on to the Holocaust Museum where we intended to spend a couple of hours. We arrived at 1pm  in time for a 30 minute guided tour and then went on to the rest of the Museum ourselves. Before we knew it it was 5pm and we were too physically and mentally exhausted to do any more than get on to the bus and return to the hotel. I really can't describe the Museum except to say it was an experience we both shall never forget and one not to be missed. One of the most incredible history lessons we have ever had.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Another great but long day in Washington. Making full use of our hop on hop off tickets again we went to the Crime and Punishment  Museum which was fascinating. Some of the methods of punishment were almost too descriptive but its very hard not to read to the end and then be very grateful for not being born in the era of hung drawn and quartered!
The museum described crime and punishment from the earliest to the most recent and we were impressed with all the meticulous displays. There was even a section on the art and craft some long term prisoners undertake to pass their time. As Maxwell Smart would say " if only they had used their skills for good not evil!"
The museum is also the set from which the Americas Most Wanted is filmed and the statistics of the crimes they have assisted in solving are staggering.
After two hours at the museum we went on to Madame Toussards  and could have very easily mistaken many of the figures for real people. It is really somewhat disconcerting how real they are and we decided it was time for Flat Norah to sit with some really distinguished company so we chose Rosa Parks who said " When that bus driver ..... Ordered us up and out of our seats , I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winters night".  December 1st  1955. So began the Montgomery Bus Boycott after her arrest, which catapulted Martin Luther King into the Civil Rights movement. It's also appropriate as we discovered this afternoon that the reason Washington is beginning to look like a barricaded town is that this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the " I have a dream" speech. It will be a huge weekend here.
Ian had his photo taken with a display to commemorate September 11 firefighters which we will see much more of when we visit New York in a couple of days. 
After lunch we took a river cruise and saw Washington from a different perspective which was lovely. Cooler too as it has been warm here again today.
One more full day tomorrow with a trip to Arlington and the Holocaust Museum which we are expecting to be really worthwhile.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


We arrived in Washington last night after two flights from Las Vegas. We started our day at 4am,catching our first flight to Los Angeles then a quick (45minutes) change over to our flight to Washington.  We came in to Washington Dulles airport which is quite a way out but considerably less expensive. Ian (hereafter referred to as an excellent travel agent!) had organised the transport via a bus which delivered us to our hotel which is just gorgeous. We arrived at 7pm, tired but really pleased we had started the day early as the traffic is pretty chaotic in the evening.
For my quilting friends, think William Morris and that is what it is. Tudor style and William Morris decorating and we love it. I'm looking at the drapes in the room and wondering if they would miss just one of the because I couldn't fit all of them in the case!
Anyway enough of the hotel! We were up and out at 10 this morning after a lovely breakfast in the dining room and hopped on the bus for which we have a two day ticket. We spent a good part of the day on the bus taking in the sights and changing bus routes to make the most of our hop on hop off opportunities. We finished the day with a visit to the American History Museum which was very interesting. One of the exhibits was about the First Lady's  and had a number of their inauguration gowns. Michelle Obama's gown was absolutely breathtaking. There were also some really interesting displays of American culinary history and a replica of Julia Childs kitchen and details of her influence.
Of course a horse drawn hand operated fire pump caught Ian's eye and there was also a lot of details of the Civil war which we found fascinating. Oh by the way a quilt started for a first son in 1920 and finished 20 years later as a full size quilt. Good to know there are others who take a long time to finish quilts!
Tomorrow we will be out earlier with a long list of places we marked out today.   We think Flat Norah has recovered sufficiently for an outing after we bought sticky tape for some minor repairs today so who knows where she will pop up!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Day Two Grand Canyon

Today was a very exciting day which started with us leaving the hotel at 6am in a stretch limo for the helicopter station at the airport. At 7am after briefing us on the days activities we left for the Grand Canyon via Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam both of which were incredible. The flight in was amazing as we watched the change in the country. There is no doubt in our minds that a helicopter is the way to see the Grand Canyon and we seemed to hover in the air for periods of time but we were really on the move constantly. 
The country appears parched, desolate and yet there is all this evidence of water running through, truly incredible. The Hoover Dam is enormous and spectacular in its construction and was constructed in one continuous concrete pour 24 hours a day for almost 18 months.
After the trip out we went right down onto the canyon for a trip along the river which enabled us to see it from a different perspective. Back into the chopper for a ride back to the top and opportunity to get up close to the rim at a couple of spots. Quite scary as they have no fencing at all, unlike Aust. where everything has to be fenced these days. Very big on everyone's rights here, and they probably have a right to fall if they choose. We looked over a number of interesting examples of American Indians housing, and had a magnificent lunch right at the edge with the most enormous crows watching on. The last bit was the trip back to Vegas and a run right down the strip for a birds eye view of all of the major casino/hotels. All in all a wonderful day at one of the marvels of the world.
Here is where I should present a photo --- wish I could but still can't seem to get a photo from my photo stream on the I pad to go on to the page in a decent size. Any help much appreciated .... Please? In the meantime I will put one on Facebook. Suffice to say Flat Norah is having a great time and now has a Certificate to prove she has been to the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Las Vegas

Hot, hot and hotter! Today is our first full day in Vegas and the weather is extremely hot. We had purchased tickets for the hop on and hop off bus so we set off at 10am and went on a tour of the sights of the strip and surrounds and saw how totally huge everything is here. As soon as one building is finished and is declared the biggest, it seems someone builds another, bigger and better although with the more challenging economic recent times the construction seems to have been somewhat quiet lately with a number of sites waiting for better times. 
We stopped off at the Premium outlet complex to purchase some shorts and a t shirt for Ian as jeans are way too hot for here and he now feels much happier.
Tomorrow is our big day here with a six am start for our Grand Canyon Helicopter tour which will be fantastic. As the weather forecast is for hot again we will no doubt be pleased to return here in the early afternoon.
It seems that we are in the minority here as we haven't spent any money on gambling yet, which puts us in the 5 % of visitors. Some facts we gleaned on our tour included the reason why the carpets are so awful (allegedly) in the casinos is so you look up from the floor all the time and then look at the gambling tables and slot machines!  There are no clocks so you can be assured of losing track of the time. The same reasoning applies for windows - can't see how late it is! Also something we hadn't noticed until it was pointed out - the exit signs are very small, guess if you can't find your way out you stay and spend! 
We met a lady in the elevator today who was returning to the poker table after going to her room to refresh after playing all night! Maybe she is spending our share!