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!