September 18 to October 27, 2013Since I'm 2 years behind with a write up of this holiday, it will be copiously illustrated but probably more concise as it proceeds!
Wed, Dec 18, 2013, Adelaide: We left on Qantas, after a delay of an hour. They gave us each $10 to buy a snack with which we managed a shared roll and drink between us at airport prices. Just as well as the soggy chicken tortilla on the plane was inedible. In Brisbane we had to change planes and wandered around following red International Airport signs for quite a while before asking for directions. Apparently we had to go to the international terminal via a bus, which we eventually caught from a small yellow bus stop outside. Airports ought to hire people who have never been there before and ask them to find their way using the signage supplied. Left Brisbane on Hawaiian Airlines at 18.30 after Peter was chosen for a thorough, random security check. Tea was quite good then that was it for the night-no trays of water or snacks.
Honolulu airport was quiet when we arrived with impressive Hawaiian murals and some fabulous chandeliers of what looked like amber. A taxi took us to the Hawaiian Prince Hotel for $48 but the room wasn't available until 11 am. We were allowed to leave our luggage and go up to the spa to shower but there was no one in attendance, the shower doors were semi transparent and we could only find hand towels to dry ourselves so that was a bit nerve wracking. Since we had 2 hours to wait we walked across to the Ala Moana Shopping Centre which we had heard about. Many people were camped rough in the park on the way, a sad contrast to the very high end shops in the centre. After a look around Macy's we had brunch in a good food court before returning to the hotel for a sleep. Later we caught the free hotel bus alighting one stop too soon because we couldn't understand the half page, hand drawn map supplied by the hotel, and the driver didn't speak English. We were in a forest of hotel walls overlooking a well hidden beach of gritty and clinging sand. A walkway wound along behind the glamorous hotels, fronting the ocean.
Thurs, Sept 19: Honolulu-San Francisco: The view of the marina in front of our own hotel was glorious and you could open the window and feel fresh air, which was wonderful. I would worry about having children in a room with a window that accessible, however. It was waist high and I'd made sure to lock it in case of sleep walking during the night. After a walk along more beach front hotels next morning we caught the bus to the airport.
On Hawaiian Airlines you had to pay for entertainment and the lunch was a bread roll with pork, a salad and some chocolate macadamia nuts. Very ordinary indeed. On arrival in San Francisco it was a taxi to the hotel, another $50, but we had decided not to economise this time because it's too exhausting using public transport. The Hotel Villa Florence was right in the centre of town and pleasantly old fashioned. We had pizza for tea at about midnight in a shop nearby.
Fri, Sept 20: San Francisco: Next morning we headed for Chinatown via the cable car which ran nearby, but since it cost $6 each for a trip however far we went, we decided to go right down to the terminus where we bought a 3 day transport pass for $22 each instead. I talked to a New Zealand lady from the Cook Islands who was there for the America's Cup. It was not going well because of terrible weather.
We caught a wonderful 1940s era tram back to Union Square. Apparently when everywhere else in the world was getting rid of their old trams, San Francisco bought them up and they are a great tourist attraction in themselves. In Union Square, near the hotel we had a hotdog. It tasted OK but after half an hour I started to feel very sick and was scared I wouldn't be able to go on our paid tour to Muir Park. Gradually the nausea passed, however. We were to be picked up from the hotel and hung around the foyer just in case and sure enough, about half an hour before the appointed time some guy turned up and escorted us to an old rattler bus parked around the corner. He proceeded to a number of hotels, jerking my sore neck all over the place in the process. Finally we arrived down near the pier to meet the actual tour, grateful it was to be in another bus.
The tour to Muir Wood crystallised our feelings about organised tours. You hardly have time to enjoy anything because there are so many instructions and warnings about where you have to be and when and you don't stop for the interesting things you pass. The driver was quite amusing but I was overwhelmed with sleepiness through most of his talk. The trees weren't as awesome as I expected. From the woods we drove to Sausolito and that was very lovely with pretty shops and houses and impressive window boxes and hanging baskets to beautify the place.
It was quite late when we returned so we ate at Bellini's, a swish Italian restaurant next door and then went to bed after checking on the pigeon on our bedroom air conditioner.
Sat, Sept 21: San Francisco: We woke early and Peter got some supplies for breakfast from a Walgreen stores nearby-Walgreens were everywhere. Despite the rain we decided to do our booked harbour cruise from Pier 39. The view of Alcatraz was good but it was impossible to get a good picture of the orange Golden Gate bridge or of the town in the fog and misty rain, and there was nothing happening for the America's Cup.
Back at Pier 39 we had a good look at the seals and lunch at a cosy bar before heading for Alamo Square and the painted ladies by bus, a route which Peter had planned very well. The houses were so pretty and we met some friendly locals in the square.
Sun, Sept 22: San Francisco-New York: It was an early start by bus for the airport from the hotel. Worryingly, the driver talked non stop on a hand held mobile the whole way. Arriving early for our flight we checked in our luggage at an outside counter and were asked if we wanted to volunteer. Since we didn't know what they were on about we said no but later, when the United check in counter opened, we found they had 'lost' 40 seats and ours were among them. It was pretty careless to 'lose' them since we had booked the seats months ago. They had obviously oversold but we were told to sit and wait, in no uncertain terms. We watched as our luggage took off without us, together with a Swiss couple who were in the same situation. The staff said we could get an American flight at 2.40 pm but the Swiss couple would go at 1.40 as their English wasn't as good. It was a long walk to the American terminal. They gave us restaurant vouchers, a whole $7 each. That wasn't even enough for a sandwich each so once again we had a shared sandwich and orange juice. We were also given 2x $300 vouchers for flying with United Airlines within the next year and within the USA. Big deal. We weren't flying anywhere else. Some internet work later showed that it is very difficult to redeem these vouchers they give out.
Just before we were due to leave, the poor Swiss couple turned up for the American airlines flight. We arrived at JFK at midnight, having wasted a whole day. At luggage pickup we were told to go to terminal 7 and take the air train 'over there' to the United office. The place was deserted but with Marian and Hubert we followed signs to the air train, on and on. Of course the air train had stopped working for the day. Constant announcements were broadcast warning against taking unofficial taxis so when 2 dodgy looking Middle Eastern men offered a taxi I was worried. Peter's hearing was too poor to have comprehended the messages and the Swiss couple also had a limited command of English so they hadn't understood but since there were 4 of us and one of the taxi driver we took a chance. He raced us over to the other terminal in 5 minutes at breakneck speed and demanded $10 each but I guess that was OK given the time of night. Then it was another long, long walk to the United office where we were surprised to find our luggage waiting unharmed and the staff interested to hear what had happened and quite sympathetic, nodding knowingly about the mess ups in San Francisco. We possibly could have shared a taxi with our Swiss friends to Manhattan but they were anxious to be off and there was a lot of luggage so we got our own taxi for $65 flat rate. The driver was Jamaican and very scornful of all the free help provided to people who are too lazy to work.
Mon, Sept 23, New York: Our hotel was the Salisbury located at 123 West 57th Street. It looked very ordinary, especially the lobby area, but the room was clean and comfortable with a useful little kitchen area. Slept late but made it to the 'special' $10 each beakfast next morning. It was the usual juice, cereals, sweet cakes and Danish though there was cheese.
At a train station we bought a 7 day transport pass and then caught the train to Grayline to catch the downtown loop tour. It was too much about the guide, as usual. Give me a pre-recorded tour every time. We got off at ground zero which was a huge work area. Going in was too complicated and expensive so after a walk around we had lunch at a fabulous deli where they had a great range of food-salads, pasta and other dishes. How it all worked was a bit mysterious until we discovered you paid by the weight of the plate.
We then caught the subway towards 34th street and the Empire State building but were very disappointed with the train system. From what we saw, each station was different, with different signage and organisation, none of the lifts worked and there didn't seem to be any working elevators either so it was the stairs or nothing. We had researched the stations near the hotel as a means of getting around but climbing all those stairs was impossible with sore bones. The buses worked OK. They were full of grumpy, elderly ladies who couldn't use the trains either. The Empire State involved much queuing but was most spectacular. I had expected a working building but I suppose with that many tourists it wouldn't be possible. It was interesting to see that there had been a great effort to make streets more attractive with big pot plants, hanging baskets and nature strips. When we were in NY in 1993 there seemed to be no trees or greenery. Near the hotel we passed the Dali market and a fabulous bakery/foodshop called Morton Williams the Fresh Marketplace. We bought breakfast supplies, blackberries and beautiful strawberries at a pound for $4. The food was much better than in 1993, and the fruit fantastic.
Tues, Sept 24, New York: We walked across to Central Park, only a block or so, to catch the Hop On, Hop Off bus again. A rickshaw driver from County Mayo wanted to take us on a ride and was quite amusing. Lots of people were lined up for the bus when someone came along and told us that we had to take the downtown loop to meet up with the uptown bus which wasn't coming to Cenral Park as advertised, for some reason. We got off at Times Square and had to walk quite a long way to meet the new bus where there was a long queue. We couldn't fit on the first bus but were first in line for the next one. Suddenly a woman came along and stood right in front of us. Peter said jokingly, "Look out, this lady is a VIP," because she had a VIP pass around her neck. She said "I pay for VIP pass. I go in front!" I pointed out that we also had paid for a ticket, though not a VIP one. Just then about 15 more VIPs appeared across the street and they all stood in front. Finally an employee explained that they had to pay a lot more for the VIP privilege. He was quite nice and I didn't really care, it was just the arrogant manner of the woman. The staff could have explained the system to everyone in advance. The whole tour was as disorganised as if they were doing it for the first time. It's not like they wouldn't have had plenty of practice.
The guide was a bit of a comedian. We drove along 5th Avenue and millionaires' row, through Harlem and past the Guggenheim Museum, alighting at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. The museum fee for adults was $25 but when we handed over the card she said, "We recommend $50." Peter, not the sharpest knife in the block, said, "Yes, $25 and $25, that's $50." She looked impatient but gave us the tickets. Funnily, I heard the girl at the next booth say, "We recommend $42," so they obviously scale what they recommend. We had a look at a great Egyptian display but were starving and headed for the cafe which was so discreetly marked that we wandered all over the place. The signage everywhere in the museum was woeful and the staff unhelpful. The public cafe was awful-lots of food bays but you had to pay somewhere else. There were no notices explaining how it worked and zero staff, apart from the cooks.
The exhibits were spectacular as was the building. We enjoyed the beautiful glassware including Tiffany windows and lamps etc. We had intended to go back to Central Park but my feet were killing me as usual so we returned to the hotel for a rest before tea at a nearby diner.
Wed, Sept 25, New York: Walked to the subway and caught a train to the Staten Island ferry. There were lovely views of New York from the ferry, including the Statue of Liberty. Going anywhere from the ferry involved a long walk so we looked at the small shops at the ferry landing and amazingly found a post office where I bought 10 stamps for post cards.
Back on the mainland we wandered around the piers and Old Battery building until we got to Wall Street. Having posed with the bull we had lunch at another by weight cafe and then caught the train to Grand Central Station. After a look around, Peter bought a Garmin GPS at a Best Buys store for $196-expensive, but not as dear as hiring one with the car. We walked for miles along 6th Ave then caught a bus home. We had found the double bed sloped and was narrow, so we were now sleeping one to a double bed.
Thurs, Sept 26, New York: Our last full day in town. Walked to Central Park and were met by Sean, the Irishman, again. He gave us a short rickshaw ride for $45 and pointed out where various films we had never heard of had been made. When I asked him if a lake was the one mentioned in "A Catcher in the Rye" he had never heard of the book. I suggested it was obligatory reading if you are going to be doing tours of Central Park. After a long look around we caught the train again to go to Macy's which was OK-very fancy on the ground floor but quite old fashioned and rather nice on upper floors. We looked for a bookshop but they didn't seem to exist. We bought tea to have in our room and re packed our cases while watching Obama on Obama Care.
Fri, Sept 27, New York-Long Island: Caught a taxi to pick up the car. The driver was very angry we were not going far but the money mounted up because the traffic was horrendous from the UN convention on in town. Many roads were blocked. The Alamo offices were difficult to find as usual, with just a tiny sign pointing upstairs in a car park. Our car was a dark red Chrysler 200 automatic. We had to get moving quickly as impatient hire car users were lining up behind us. Luckily Peter had planned the route as I couldn't get the GPS to work. We took a tunnel lane that was not very busy-it said card only-of course when we got to the checkpoint it was a special card, not a credit card. There were some angry toots but eventually we got through and headed towards the Hamptons, on Long Island, famous in so many books about New York. I always thought Hamptons were hills but they are several towns ending in 'hampton.' We drove towards Southampton which was a beautiful little touristy place with lovely flower displays and pretty architecture, dating from the 1600s.
We walked around the shops then headed for the Hilton Garden Hotel at Ronkoma. Tempers were fraught due to my inability to get the GPS working. After doing much needed washing just down the hall we skyped with the family and went next door to a fancy Italian place called Mama Mia. The food was good and the atmosphere pleasant.
Sat, Sept 28, Long Island-Stratford: Drove back along highway 495 towards New York. We tried to get help with the GPS at a service centre but no one had a clue so we had lunch and afterwards Peter restored settings on the GPS and it worked! We arrived in Stratford, Ct, to find the hotel we had booked and paid for online was terrible. The parking lot was so full of weeds that we thought it may have gone out of business and the wooden ramp up to the back door was falling apart. There was an old lady at the front desk and she was so pleasant and nice that we couldn't say anything. The bathroom was old and stained and there were cobwebs around the desk in the room. After a short rest we went to look at an antiques market I had seen advertised in a brochure. It was a huge blue shed with alcoves rented out by various vendors, crammed with all sorts of fabulous gear. The carnival glass was excellent but nothing was cheap.
We then drove around looking at the wonderful wooden houses, stopping off at a tag (garage) sale. The man there was very nice and said our hotel was welfare city and to get out of the place as it was full of bedbugs. For tea we went to a place recommended by the hotel-it had closed down but we went across the road to McCoy's Irish Pub and that was good. We actually slept quite well and even the bath wasn't too bad as long as you didn't think about it. It had become a sort of adventure by itself.
Sun, Sept 29, Stratford-Newport, Rhode Island: After breakfast at the hotel we headed for Middletown, Rhode Island through beautiful country and lovely coloured Autumn leaves. Arriving at midday we were able to have our room at the Howard Johnson Inn, Newport, and after a Dunkin Donuts lunch headed for the Newport mansions we wanted to visit. There was an open day at the Salve Regina University in the same street but we got a parking space and walked down to the Breakers. It was a very good headphone tour but you weren't allowed to take pictures. The mansion was stunning in size and decoration but in the gift shop there was only a very big book-no small guide.
From there we went to Kingscote, a less glamorous but pretty greyish wooden house. The guide was very nervous, insisting we all stay together, because a young German couple kept wandering off. When she pointed out a desk worth 7 million dollars, I understood her anxiety. We did some shopping at an interesting shopping centre nearby, fascinated by all the products being sold for halloween, and went back to the hotel for a rest, going out to Applebees for steaks at 8 pm. They were delicious, served with veges and a baked potato and we even had a 10% off voucher. A welcome change after non stop chicken.
Mon, Sept 30, Newport-Hyannis: After making our own breakfast we went down to the waterfront and walked around the Newport shipyard. It was full of magnificent yachts out of the water and being repaired. We walked all around the shore, looked at houses and then went along the mall where we had lunch in a tourist cafe. After lunch we headed for Hyannis, Mass. at Cape Cod. The hotel was quite pretty, grey painted wood, and the room attractive. It was not far from the beach and a boat was about to leave. We got tickets for $16 each and the boat took us to the Nantucket breakwater area near the Kennedy compound. Unfortunately it was grey, misty and cold and quite hard to see. In town the main street looked quite poor, the shops only staying open for elderly tourists. Even Newport looked rather run down. The financial crisis has definitely hit some of these places. Tea was at a Chinese restaurant where the food was very plentiful but rough and indigestible. Slept well.
Tues, Oct 1, Hyannis-Boston: Got going early and drove to the JFK Memorial further along the harbour. It was a beautiful setting on an equally beautiful day. There were many buses on American Heritage tours. Drove to Plymouth and parked at a parking metre which took credit cards-charge 50c per hour for up to 4 hours, which seemed most reasonable. We toured the Mayflower 2 for $10 each, also good value because of the actors playing the parts and giving details of life on board. It was quite a small boat for such a long journey.
Plymouth Rock was in a colonnaded pavilion nearby. In the old courthouse there was some good stuff but it was a bit ordinary for such an historical place. We noticed that many of the museums were about the sponsors as much as the contents and it was very annoying. From the courthouse we walked to the grist mill but didn't join the tour as it would take a while.
From there we drove on to Braintree near Boston. Our hotel was a Hyatt Place Hotel and looked rather glamorous but it was nothing special with a dark bathroom, a one cup at a time coffee maker and no hair dryer. We flaked out and slept and when we awoke decided to go to the new, incompleted shopping complex next door, rather than try to cross multiple highways to the centre across the road. We chose a Fridays. It was noisy with loud music and an oily waiter who really wanted us to have an appetiser but was quite interesting and convivial overall.
Wed, Oct 2, Boston: It was a fairly restless night with the ususal problem of heat and airlessness. We went down for the hot and cold buffet breakfast- cereals, stale bread, bagels and sweet pre frozen pastries, eggs on top of a slice of bacon on a waffle. The hotel bus took us to Quincy Adams Train Station for Boston, and we wanted to get off at Harvard. We were told to ring the hotel for transport when we returned but didn't have a phone with us. It was quite hot and I was not feeling well. At the university all the Asian tourists were touching the shoe of the statue of John Harvard for luck-it was quite shiny. The buildings were handsome but not well identified-we weren't sure if it was all the university or not. Catching the train back downtown we set off on the freedom trail. All the buildings had been the scenes for revolutionary activities.
I was desperate for the toilet so we headed for the main central hall. When we got there the toilets were closed because of the government shutdown. Seeing my desperation a lady told us the loos in the next building were downstairs. Luckily, upstairs was a busy food court. It was packed with tourists. We had Chinese. Most of the other choices were variations on clam chowder and shrimp. We had intended to check out a museum about the Boston tea party but I felt so bad we caught the train back. After a rest and booking future hotels we ate at the huge shopping centre across the highway intersection, at a place called 99 which was average. You have to give them credit in America for at least giving you a decent amount of room in a booth, even though there are only 2 of you.
Thurs, Oct 3, Boston-Quechee Gorge: At breakfast they ran out of hot water, glasses, crockery and some food. Supplying my own cheese and jam gave me better options. After checkout, headed to Salem and the witch museum. Parking was difficult but eventually found a carpark at 75 cents per hr which was good. The town was lovely and the witch museum had a terrific show to tell the history of the witch trials. There were a lot of people, but you could get up and walk around in the middle of the room as the scenes were up high on the walls during the presentation. We then went to a mall nearby before having lunch at Itaco. The cashier was quite contemptuous when I said I wanted a crisp taco with mince-she said they only had pulled meat and that mince is an American invention. In the end I had tostitas which were flat and crisp and quite expensive. We then had the pleasure of sampling Dave's toilets down the street-no water or flush just a chemical tank in the middle of town for some reason. From Salem we headed to the Quality Inn, at Quechee, Vermont.
It was a glorious drive among beautiful leaves. People actually ask if you are here for the leaves. It was quite an isolated place and there was an interesting shopping centre nearby, all wooden. It looked as though it was a winter skiing place but we were there in Autumn. Tea was at the hotel restaurant, Shaper Pie. Food was quite good and the service friendly. We spoke to a lady from Seattle but her husband was very unfriendly. The room was basic and the bathroom a squash but the surrounding bush was really beautiful. It was lovely to be out in the countryside away from cities.
Fri, Oct 4, Quechee-Quebec: It was a long and tiring drive along a variety of highways. We were improving in our use of the GPS but it did not give sufficient warning in advance. Had lunch at an outback sort of town among lakes and then made it uneventfully to the Hotel Manoir Victoria, Quebec, where the car was whisked away and parked for a mere $22 per day plus tax, of course. Another minion ran our suitcases up a 30 step flight of stairs right inside the door. The girl at reception had been an exchange student in Denmark near Odense for a year and had quite a long talk to Peter. Our room was very ordinary given the price. The bed was just a double and the desk was covered with the tea tray and ice tray. There were 4 lights but you could hardly see a thing, just like in Denmark. The fridge was in a locked cupboard and was full of stuff we didn't want -then there is no room for your own food. The towels were not replaced either. We quickly went for a walk to get the lie of the land since we were near the main street of the vieux ville.
All the shops were open but people were only looking. We ate at Cafe Michael and it was a long wait for the food. When it arrived my lasagna was luke warm so I sent it back. On return it was about 1 degree warmer. The salad was nice. On the way back to the hotel we walked forever trying to find an epicerie that sold milk for Peter's breakfast oats and kept passing the Helle Hansen store. I bought a chocolate icecream at the 24 hour snack bar next to the hotel and it was very nice. We slept like logs.
Sat, Oct 5, Quebec: Searched long and hard for a teller machine and found out they were hidden inside buildings. Walked to the most photographed hotel in the world, the Chateau de Frontenac in the main square. Unfortunately much of it was covered with scaffolding, but it was very impressive. The whole square was full of historical sites. We went to a son and lumière at the museum-it was mainly a film and a big floor model, bits of which lit up at appropriate times. I struggled to stay awake. From there we walked around the boardwalk next to the water. We couldn't find a public toilet as the town hall was being repaired so had to go back to the hotel. That was pathetic considering the thousands of tourists. We had lunch at the bakery we had seen the previous night. It was friendly and we talked to a smart and elegant older lady who liked to go there and meet people.
We walked up a staircase onto the old wall and for a very long way to the citadel. Didn't go in but took the governor's walk, 316 or so steps around the fort and back to the harbour with the famous hotel. It was a fabulous tour. After a rest we caught an electric bus outside the hotel just to do a little tour of the city but it was not a good idea. It was a little commuter bus with hardly any seats and a flat charge of $2. Tea was difficult. Many people were wandering around trying to decide where to go and nothing much appealed so we decided on Chinese again. It was a weird place and the food tasted peculiar.
Sun, Oct 6, Quebec-Shawinigan: After getting the car, headed to Chutes de Montmorency which someone had recommended. Caught a téléphérique (cable car with acute accents) to the top of the hill and walked around the mansion and close to the waterfalls. They were very impressive.
Reached hotel Auberge des Gouveneurs at Shawininigan by 2pm. It was no joke about this part of Canada being French speaking. Many people we came across spoke French only, especially the younger ones. We had a very nice ground floor room and walked down to the main street. Only a couple of shops were open. There were quite a few restaurants which shut at 7pm which seemed strange so we asked at the hotel. We eventually worked out they were offering a meal deal-soup, main course and dessert. It was a huge dining room and there were only 2 other tables occupied during our meal, but it was one of the best meals I have ever had. The soup was delicious, fresh, home made tomato and the main, steak, salad and frites, so nothing exotic, but the presentation and taste were amazing. Dessert was tarte de sucre which I didn't want but it came with 2 scoops of ice cream of choice and was included so we had tarte de sucre without the tartes. I had pistachio which was a mistake-too strong and too green. Peter had strawberry which was nice.
Mon, Oct 7, Shawinigan-Val David: Our aim was just to travel south and stay in little country towns along the way. We went to Walmart and bought an exercise book and card for Lena. For lunch we stopped at a tourist complex and ate at MacDonalds, though we were sick of hamburgers. I asked for a black tea but they only had flavoured teas so I asked for a cup of hot water and added my own tea bag. They thought that was quite funny and the manager kept talking about food 'to go' in English, obviously not knowing we were Australian rather than American. At Val-David, it was raining quite hard. Hotel La Sapinière was quite glamorous, chalet-like. We went to a nearby supermarket, Metro, which was very interesting with lots of pretty coloured vegetables.
We looked for cafes but everywhere was closed so we asked about tea at the hotel. The girl said we could have $10 off the 3 course meal but we were nervous as it was a fancy place. Then we found out most of the main courses were at least $29 so took the 3 course offer minus soup. It took more than 45 mins for the food to arrive, but it was very good, though not equal to the night before. There were only 4 people before us and 4 people came later. It was silver service and the waiter smooth but personally I wish they would stop moving the bloody cutlery around. Do they wash it or is it put back on another table?
Tues, Oct 8, Val David-Smiths Falls: Left Val-David at 9.30am after sending a Halloween/birthday card to Michael. The girl in the post office was delightful-levered a wasted bear stamp off a post card for me, glued it on the envelope and added the right stamps needed. Our destination was the Best Western Colonel by Inn at Smiths Falls. On the way we stopped for lunch at a gorgeous town called Carleton Place. The cafe in the main street was full of locals and served whole food type stuff. The shop had moulded tin walls and ceiling.
There was a beautiful French style town hall and pot plants abounded. By contrast, our next hotel was very ordinary, modern and with 6 police cars in the carpark, which made us a little nervous. The Smiths Falls Museum was a lovely old house, once a mill, built the same front and back for the mill on one side and the railway on the other. We were the only visitors and had a personal guided tour. The gardens and river were lovely.
Later we walked around the old part of town and it was so sad. These old towns in Canada and US ( and even here, to an extent) have got it all wrong. They build malls outside of town and all the old shopping areas are left to second hand shops and coffee shops that can barely scrape a living. They are just dead and falling apart slowly. Why not bring some life back by putting the shops in the old buildings? Everyone knows malls create as many problems as they solve. Ate at the Rob Roy Hotel next to a lovely old mill and stream. I had Irish stew-a weird concoction that was luke warm, thick and tacky and served with panini. Peter's chicken stir fry was OK. We had bumbleberry pie for dessert. It looked quite nice served with whipped cream but was stone cold and soggy. Google revealed that bumbleberries are not real but a mixture of berries. The guy serving was quite cheerful, unlike the locals, but was not interested in us at all. Scottish sounding pub, English speaking people, you'd think they'd ask where we were from, but in most places no one was friendly.
Wed, Oct 9, Smiths Falls-Cobourg, Ontario: After a restless night we drove to Cobourg, Ontario on the shores of Lake Ontario. It was a pretty retirement town but our hotel, the Comfort Inn was very ordinary and stank of peach air freshener. Lake Ontario was stunning, water as far as the eye could see and a beach with waves. There were shells, dogs running and sand but the edge of the water was green with an unhealthy looking green sludge when the water receded. The houses and apartments next to the marina were gorgeous and there was plenty of money in evidence. We had tea at a bar in a very basic block of shops. The interior was quite plush and the offer was $50 for 2-starter, main course and shared dessert. We both had steak as we were hanging out for meat. Dessert was an enormous slice of red velvet cake. A darts tournament was about to start and they were setting up the room.
Thurs, Oct 10, Cobourg-Niagara Falls: Left at 9.20 am on another lovely day. Went around Toronto which was enormous with endless suburbs and factories, reaching Niagara Falls at 1 pm. We could park at the Niagara Quality Inn but were not allowed to check in until 3pm. I noticed a funny lacy look at the end of the street and unbelievably it was the falls. They were truly awesome and just about 300m away. I had been quite blasé about them as you hear about them all the time, but they are just tremendous-the endless noise of water, the clouds of mist and dampness-I think it would drive you crazy. Houses and hotels and streets were all around. They were in the midst of suburbia. The begonias were huge and obviously loved the mist.
We watched people in boats at the base of the waterfall but decided it was not for us-it was scary enough just watching them from above. Had lunch in the nearby tourist service centre-very bad hotdogs and food generally, but good souvenirs. Walked back towards the hotel and had an icecream at Horton's where we sat and watched the world walk by in perfect summer weather. We decided that we would go to the sky tower revolving restaurant for tea as it was right next to our hotel and if you dined early, the ride up was free. We bought tickets on the way past.
Our room was crummy with ridiculous curtains that let in light all around and a stupid clear waterfall wash basin where you couldn't tell which was hot or cold or on or off and you could see all the gunk accumulated underneath the bowl. At 5 pm we wandered down to the tower and waited around with many others. After the lift up a snooty man asked us our names and said "Go right". We thought he was directing us down the corridor but that was wrong. They came after us, very irritated that we didn't understand their orders-a few small signs or some polite communication would have helped. You must wait to be seated. Our table was right next to a window and the view of the waterfalls was spectacular. The food was buffet style, quite nice but the choice limited-lots of cold meats but not many hot dishes-pork ribs, roast beef, chicken breast, crumbed chicken. The desserts were also quite nice. We got lost wandering around the observation decks but finally escaped to the big casino across the road where poor people were pouring money into slots.
Fri, Oct 11, Niagara Falls: You just have to wonder what they do to bread in America. It is inedible-dry, sweet, tasteless at all the hotels and there don't seem to be any bakeries. We took our dirty clothes next door to the Holiday Inn to wash them. That is an arrangement they have, it seems. The machines were efficient but it was a slow process and there were no chairs anywhere. Back at the hotel, after 2 hours of standing around, we set out for the shopping street but it was too far so we went back and got the car. The main drag had every take away place in America and endless souvenir shops. P wanted Subway but after our 2010 experience I refused, because of the bread.
We drove along the Niagara Parkway and all around the area to see the sights. For tea we went uptown and ate at an Applebee. Not a good idea this time as the steak was $8 more expensive than our last one and the food generally not good. Later there was a spectacular fireworks display which we could see from the verandah of the motel. It was hard to sleep with all the light and you could hear doors opening and closing and taps running, not to mention the frightening and constant roar of that waterfall.
Sat, Oct 12, Niagara Fals-Batavia, NY: Went back down to the waterfalls and took some more pics. We had $10 Canadian left so we checked out the souvenir shop. We could only afford a small totem pole, having seen absolutely no signs of Indian culture, worse luck, and there was a dollar left. We couldn't afford any of the 99c items , however, because with tax they were $1.12. It took us an hour to get over the Lewiston Bridge. There were hundreds of cars waiting.
Once through it only took us an hour to the town of Batavia. We found the Comfort Inn quickly. It was a well appointed room but stank of cigarette smoke. We walked around the town which had seen much better days, obviously. The museum was closed but the public buildings were very handsome-police building, firehouse, courthouse, prison-in the middle of a town. They were so lovely, but the streets are spoiled, like most of America by huge, ugly overhead cables.
We walked down a side street to look at the wooden houses and got talking to a rather rough looking guy who seemed to think we should be grateful because his uncle had served at Guadal Canal and saved us Aussies.
For tea we went to Bob Evans-$9.99 for 3 courses. The soup was like stew, the biscuits with it were scones. It was fascinating watching the other diners-old fashioned families and country people from the look of it. Back at the hotel we had our baths (all US hotels have good baths, unlike our crummy hotels and motels) and Peter went to sleep. I got up to go to the bathroom and the toilet was overflowing all over the floor. I pushed the lever to reset it but that water just kept on coming. I rang reception and the girl came up with a big blue towel and a plunger so I think this had happened before. She was apologetic but was the only staff on duty in the hotel and there were no empty rooms. We had to use the toilet in reception instead which was a trek. The room was bright from outside light shining in.
Sun, Oct 13, Batavia-Horseheads, NY: They halved the fee for our room. Personally, I thought because of the smoking and toilet they should have taken off more. We travelled past a number of small country towns and then saw a sign for Corning where corning glass is made.
It was a terrific museum with decorative and technical glass and had many interesting displays. A bus took us on to the Rockwell Museum of Indian art and then back to the carpark.
We struggled to find our Motel 6 at Horseheads because the GPS didn't recognise the address. It was beneath a tangle of highways and very difficult to find. It was a simple room, of course, but outside was a cute chihuahua and a squirrel. I was just about to go sit at a bench next to the French window when a group of motel workers plumped themselves down on it and proceeded to talk and smoke. Not only did we have to close the window but the curtains too for privacy, and they kindly left all their cigarette butts behind. We walked over to a nearby service station to get some supplies and later ventured out to a takeaway Chinese for tea. This was a terrifying experience, not just because of the food, as we had to negotiate several highway ramps. Too many motels are buit at the intersection of these huge highways. It may seem like a good idea in terms of traffic, but negotiating on and off ramps at night is dangerous.
Mon, Oct 14, Horseheads-Lewisburg: Drove through lovely countryside, barns and farms and dried corn to a covered bridge at Forksville. The bridge had been built by the man who built the general store.
The town was charming but run down. We also searched for another covered bridge nearby. Lunch was a bit extravagant at a newly re-built tavern. We had been travelling for hours and not found anywhere to eat or go to the toilet-this was quite a common experience in the US, despite being in areas where people were living. The Comfort Suites, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, were a step up, comfort wise. Lewisburg itself was a university town and very lovely.
The Barnes and Noble Bookshop was amazing in size and presentation over several floors but they didn't have any display folders-they hardly seem to exist in America. Tea was a shared steak and potato at the Towne Taverne because of our big lunch-it was busy and lively. The night was restless-too hot without the air conditioner, too noisy with it on.
Tues, Oct 15, Lewisburg-Gettysburg: Despite a big write up, breakfast was the usual stale bread and waffles. We stopped off at a Staples for a display folder, none, and at a Michael's store because I had heard they were wonderful for craft gear, and it was pretty good, a bit like Spotlight but better signed, though equally devoid of staff. Lunch was at a cafe in Gettysburg at One Lincoln Square. Peter had chilli soup which was like a stew and I had a sort of chicken burger. We had parked outside a shop selling things made out of gourds-quite fantastic. The square itself was most historic but we headed for the Battlefields Museum. No directions, as usual. We watched an introductory movie and went into the cyclorama which was a huge painting done by a French artist. It was most impressive.
Then we went through the endless museum-they all seem the same, too much writing and not enough actual things to look at. Bought some small souvenirs and went to a Giant supermarket to get fruit and later ate at a Perkins restaurant next to our Days Inn Hotel. We had a very extended breakfast and enjoyed it-bacon, eggs, hash browns and pancakes.
Wed, Oct 16, Gettysburg: Quite a good room but the usual problem in that the windows don't open so it is always air conditioning and noise. We drove to the Battleground and looked at all the amazing monuments-so many of them.
The cemetery was equally impressive. We wanted a souvenir from the Jennie Wade shop but then went on a tour of her house. She and 15 other people had died in the house and yard. We drove along those roads that were still open during the government shut down-monuments stood in random paddocks all over the place, including the famous wheat field and peach orchard. Had tea at the glamorous Pub and Restaurant and ordered a piece of cake for dessert. I am not exaggerating - the icing was 3 cms thick. The photo isn't very clear. Back at the hotel we did the washing-Maytag machines which were very efficient.
Thurs, Oct 17, Gettysburg-Lancaster, PA: Headed straight to Lancaster. Arrived quite early and drove around town. It was quite congested and there was lots of roadwork. Had lunch at Alice's Diner, a proper old style diner made of metal with Greek owners.
By then we could book into the hotel, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham. After a rest we headed out to the Amish Village and went on a bus tour-just us. It was really interesting though the Amish have some funny ideas about what they can and can't do. Wires aren't allowed so no electricity inside the house but mobile phones are OK, on the whole. The farms looked prosperous and the Amish were everywhere, trotting around in their little, narrow black carts and scooting along on their non bicycles. There were lots of cows and apparently they are very successful dairy farmers. It was interesting to see the corn used as maize.
After 7 pm we headed back out to eat and went to an Olive Grove we had seen, a trendy Italian franchise. We had to wait 25 mins as there were about a dozen people ahead of us, many so old we felt like youngsters. It was all very hip. The waitresses grabbed a high stand and used it to support big round trays when they served you. We encountered this several times in Pennsylvania. The shared salad was generous but the lasagna was luke warm and put together, not cooked together. We very much enjoyed our people watching-that's one of the best things about new places.
Fri, Oct 18, Lancaster-Hershey-Palmyra: Drove out to the Amish area again to take a few more pictures of the farms and equipment but it wasn't easy because the roads were so narrow and there wasn't pulling over room-the crops grew right up to the fences and the minute you stopped some lunatic would come up behind in a huge pick up truck. Eventually we headed for Intercourse, an unsuitably named Amish town nearby. It used to be Cross Keys but was renamed in the early 1900s. They did a big thing in post cards and had very nice farm type souvenirs. We headed for Hershey but stopped off at our next motel on the way. It was like a motel on the Nullabor-no frills, just a room with a bed. It was very rough but at least you could open the windows. We were getting very travel weary by now and had a nap and cleaned up some of our acquired junk before heading for the chocolate town of Hershey. We had lunch at a diner on the way. Peter had ham and bean soup which was like a casserole and I had a ham and cheese sandwich- thick ham and 4 cheese melted inside butter soaked bread which dripped fat-too much. I ordered black tea and she brought a pot of something that tasted like honeywater in a dirty crockery pot. The cup was shaped like a wine glass but made of crockery with a cup handle. They were selling old crockery and obviously used it in serving, but their heart wasn't in it. The women running the place were having a big fight about who was doing what shifts.
Next was the Hershey Museum. It was $9 each for seniors but the lab was closed. It was pretty boring and no free chocolate at all. He was a great benefactor, apparently, setting up an orphan school and the whole town which he modestly named after himself. To be fair, there were a few good things you could do like send an email and print off a chocolate passport. Our tummies were upset so we headed back to America's best value hotel and later ate at a rough pub nearby called the Rising Sun. It was OK, even if we were the only ones in the dining room.
Sat, Oct 19, Hershey-Palmyra-King of Prussia: Had breakfast in the motel front office-simple but quite well organised and they were cleaning our room before we even drove off. After a fairly easy drive to King of Prussia we set out for the Valley Forge Park. It was the firts day open after the government shut down. A trolley tour was about to leave so we joined it. The participants were very patriotic and the guides assumed that they were talking to fellow Americans. It was most interesting, especially the stops at the huts where they explained the life of the ordinary soldier. They demonstrated firing one of the blunderbusses which was great.
We toured the house where George Washington stayed.
On the way back to town we stopped at a very big shopping centre for lunch, and ate at a Wegmans. It was fabulous, a bit like David Jones food basement used to be, with counters selling foods of every kind.
The hotel was a Crowne Plaza, a step up from our last few places, but nothing special. Across the road was the King of Prussia shopping mall, one of the biggest in America. We were so sick of the food we were looking for something a bit more upmarket, but ended up eating in the food court -I had Taco Bell and enjoyed it and Peter at last had Subway. The shopping centre was full of many high end shops and quite glamorous, but there didn't seem to be many people in the shops. Our bed was too padded and the pillows were like rocks. No fresh air yet again.
Sun, Oct 20, King of Prussia-Philadelphia: Left early to return the car. It was unbelievable how hard it was to find where it had to go. I eventually had to run into the train station while Peter circled around outside and ask there where the Alamo office was. It was further down the block on top of a car park again. When we got there, I said, with gritted teeth, "You really should have a map which shows where to return the car." The girl attendant said, "Oh, they do have a map at the train station, but we only moved a year and a half ago so they haven't updated it yet," and she really wasn't joking. Our hotel was a pleasant older style place called Penn's View Inn near the river, but we couldn't check in because it was too early. We left our luggage, had a cup of tea and then went to look at the Liberty Bell and the Jewish Museum, both places very impressive.
We had a quick look at the visitor centre and then returned to the hotel, worn out. For tea we went to an Irish pub in Second St. It was a lovely old building but decorated garishly with horrible halloween stuff. The place was lively with an Irish band playing. I had a rack of lamb and Peter had pork chops. Both were excellent, served with peas, corn and potato bake. It was real food.
Mon, Oct 21, Philadelphia: Had an ordinary breakfast though the Italian style dining room was very nicely appointed. Walked to the historical sites including the Benjamin Franklin Museum which was fabulous- so interactive and entertaining. We didn't go to the regular museum because that was $16.50 each-just wandered around looking at the place-interesting historical sites everywhere.We had lunch at a food court in the bourse building-just like New York-we hadn't seen one of those since New York. Rested for a while then went down to Penn's landing and along the foreshore of the huge Delaware River. The place was fantastic with all sorts of steps, performance areas and a maritime museum including a number of ships among which was the sailing ship Moshulu, which I hadn't even known about. It is now a floating restaurant and one of the ships which came to SA for the grain trade, but sadly, it was shut.
In fact all the infrastructure looked a bit run down-like they had a huge project a few years ago and they have let things deteriorate. It is probably fine in summer. We had tea near our hotel, at the Victoria Hotel. There was a big game about to start between the Vikings and the Giants. We were interested because they had made lots of lame jokes about the teams at Valley Forge. back at the hotel we did a bit of washing and packing ready for departure to San Francisco.
Tues, Oct 22, Philadelphia-San Francisco: Hard bed and pillows but room was pleasant and you could open windows apart from the noise on the near highway being so bad. Left at about 10.30 am and got a taxi to the airport with a totally silent Sikh driver. At the airport it was too early to check in so we had to go inside to a United counter. There were at least 5 people doing nothing but we had to use a kiosk and check in online. We got through it, but it only printed out one luggage label though we paid $50 for the 2 and had seen both seat allocations. We went to the counter for help and the guy walked off, we thought to enquire. A lot of time passed and we asked what was happening. Finally a bright young lad turned up, fixed up the labels and told us where to go. All of this could have been done before, but they begrudge helping. Most people only fly every couple of years and the technology constantly changes. By the time we had got through customs we were totally exhausted. We skyped with Simon in his room in Montpelier-we could even see the flowers on his headboard but the sound was patchy. Eventually the flight left after this ridiculous ceremony of loading everyone by seat order and every other category they could think of. I'm sure "Now boarding, " worked just as well and everyone went at their own speed. We were astounded by the huge size of the onboard cases. They did offer free check in of bags about an hour before departure but I only heard it the once. Passengers after us struggled to find anywhere to put their things despite announcements earlier not to take up space with jackets-yet so many were doing it. Left about 40 mins late. Across from us was a hyperactive child who didn't stop for about 4 hours. The mother was unbelievably patient and so skinny. Got through the airport at San Francisco most efficiently and found a cab with a driver as talkative as usual. When Peter said Days Inn, he said, "Which one?" sarcastically, and we gave the address, one very near to the airport. At the end he said, "Have a great night," as we gave him the enforced tip. Yeah, you too, not. The hotel looked decrepit and there were seedy looking individuals hanging around in the foyer. We went across the road for some overdue food at Zorba's. We had minestrone, chips and bread and it was very good. There was a children's party going on with a big cake and families of all sorts of ethnicities. We were hoping they'd offer us a piece since we were the only other people there, but no luck. It was 10 pm San Francisco time but 3 hours later in Philadelphia. Back in the room there was a big corner spa bath. Peter tried it and said the water was only lukewarm. When it was my turn the water was stone cold. Then the toilet wouldn't flush. After our previous experience we checked the cistern but no go. Reception put us in a much bigger room next door. It had a lot of furniture and 5 windows next to the street lights but we slept for a while.
Wed, Oct 23, San Francisco-Honolulu: Woke about 5 am, had breakfast in the front office and waited for the 7 am shuttle bus, worried we should have got the 6 am. They had to pick up people at 4 differernt hotels and we were sweating. At the airport only 2 of the self checking machines were working so the staff took over and it was much faster. We boarded promptly and had good seats in the back row-45A and B. They served a snack and later we bought a sandwich. At the airport people had spent a lot of time ordering and negotiating about food. You could order it from some other provider and they would deliver it to the plane. In Honoluu we got a Vietnamese taxi driver to the hotel. He was very interesting and told us about his life as a boat person and living in San Diego. We headed straight for the food court at Ala Moana again, as we were hungry. On the way a policeman shouted at us as we were trying to cross the main road without going half a kilometre to the nearest lights. There was road work everywhere. He was shouting a lot as all the tourist were doing the same. The food court was packed and we were very tired and hot. Back at the hotel we flaked out and then went to eat at the so called Australian steak house nearby. It wasn't very Australian and the steak wasn't good. We slept fitfully, worried we mightn't wake up in time for the Pearl Harbour tour.
Thurs, Oct 24. Honolulu: We were up in time. Talked to some Americans from Georgia who were also waiting for the tour. They were older but enthusiastic and said the weather was much like Georgia. The bus went from hotel to hotel picking people up and the driver was very irritable. Once everyone was aboard he started doing the commentary in a very low key way and we could hardly hear him. He was mainly concerned that we knew where and when to meet the bus and didn't take pictures on the bridge going across to the Missouri. We wandered around the park and saw a wonderful rainbow ending right in the Arizona Memorial.
It was run like an army drill. Everyone had to go into the theatre to see a film about the Pearl Harbour attack. After the film we clambered onto boats, 150 at a time, and were taken across to the Arizona. It was most impressive. All the names were written on the white walls. Oil still comes up from the sunken ship, apparently and will continue to do so for years, and you can see bits of it rusting away.
We went back to the bus and were driven over the navy bridge to the Arizona. We managed to get a hot dog and chips at a funny little counter as we were quite hungry and then did the tour of the Missouri with a designated guide. It was a very big ship and the tour interesting, brought to life by the excellent knowledge of the young lady. She showed us where people had stood to sign the peace agreement at the end of WW2, including Sir Thomas Blamey. I told her that Dad had done Sir Thomas and Lady Blamey's washing and she said that almost everyone that comes on the ship has a direct connection.
The rest of the ship had been modernised during the 1980s so wasn't as exciting. The bus then wound about various historical parts of town and back to our hotel, Hawaii Prince. We were totally knackered, a combination of heat and humidity so had a long rest before catching the aforementioned hotel bus to the correct stop at Waikiki Beach. The streets were packed with tourist, most looking for somewhere to eat. There really weren't that many places- I suppose people eat at their hotels. After a long walk up and down the esplanade we settled on an upmarket pizza place. It was a half hour wait but interesting. The waiter was painful, describing the chef's salad with mouth watering detail. It was a small piece of lettuce with a handful of stuff sprinkled on top. The pepperoni pizza was excellent. The Americans do know how to make a good pizza.
Fri, Oct 25, Honolulu: It was a relief to relax and not have anything planned. We went to Waikiki by public bus. The water was very inviting, a lovely shade of pale blue and we watched a group of 4 young Japanese girls who looked cute in their bikinis and spent the whole time they were in the water taking selfies and doing poses as if they were in a synchronised swimming team-minus the swimming. Well they couldn't really swim or they might get their phones wet. The shops were crammed with goods to buy but we eventually reached a market area that was more in my price range. I had already bought a few small things at one of the ubiquitous ABC shops. They were everywhere and had great, well priced souvenirs and pearl necklaces. I was starting to feel faint in the humidity so we caught a bus back to the hotel. We slept but when I woke up I had a terrible pain in my sore neck and was having spasms. It hurt a lot. After a fight about tea, we went to the hotel next door which had a more casual look. In fact, the restaurant turned out to be very high class indeed and we were hardly game to eat, especially as I wasn't feeling well. No prices were marked-obviously if you could afford to eat there you didn't need to ask the price. Pork chops came with a garlic mash and slightly steamed asparagus-very nice. The pain was coming and going and I was worried that I mightn't wake up in the morning. Instead I woke up every hour on the hour.
Sat, Oct 27, Honolulu-Adelaide: Got up at 5.15 am and took a cab to the airport. Driver was quite amusing-saying we were honeymooners who should pay double. He played lovely music just right for our age, Cat Stevens and Nana Mouskouri. The check in was OK but they need more written instructions on how to get started. The plane left an hour late. The food was all right and the time passed quickly. In Brisbane we had to get a bus back to the domestic terminal. That plane was also late taking off. You had to pay for food on the plane so I tried to buy a simple sandwich to take with us, but there were thick great toasties and wraps and all sorts of combinations, but no sandwiches to be had. Michael met us at Adelaide and it was lovely to be home again, though the signs at the pickup are hardly welcoming.
It was a fabulous trip but holidays really make you appreciate home.
Holiday 2008 Beijing, Europe, Delhi