Saturday, July 19, 2014

Putin

I HOPE HE ROTS IN HELL

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

USA Final Week


As I mentioned in my last report I was very lucky to gain a lift from some people who lived near the ferry wharf at Anacortes so managed to overcome the problems with Amtrak and reach Friday Harbor on the San Juan islands late in the evening.

I stayed in a B&B and after a hearty breakfast was able to buy a day bus pass for the main island and went to a spot called The English Camp.  San Juan Island was the site of the last war between the USA and the British Empire in 1859 although no shots were fired in anger.
For 12 years both sides maintained a garrison on the island today known as English Camp and American Camp. Finally in 1872 Germany arbitrated in favour of the USA.

Near the English Camp is Mount Young, 650 feet (200 metres)  high and I climbed up and took photos.


I think Vancouver Island (Canada) is across the strait. At that time it was sunny and warm but in the afternoon clouds rolled in and it was grey and light drizzle for much of the rest of my time there.  After climbing the hill I had a look at the many preserved buildings of the camp. Apparently the English forces had a very pleasant stay. I was told a huge flag mast flies a Union Jack and it is the only place in the USA where it can be flown without the Stars and Stripes alongside. However the flag flying that day was the Star and Stripes, I guess understandable as it was July 4( Independence Day). When I left the town the street was lined with chairs in preparation for a parade later that day.

I walked around the point(about 1 mile) then instead of waiting for the hourly bus I followed the driver’s earlier suggestion to walk to the resort centre of Roche Harbor.  It was about 3 miles and rather hot and uninteresting. I took a detour to “wetlands” but they were quite dry.  When I reached Roche Harbor with what seemed like thousands of boats on a public holiday, it was almost time for the return bus to Friday Harbor. There I had an icecream and caught the bus in the opposite direction to Lime Kiln Bay and Whale Watcher’s point.
There are several pods of orcas in the area and the ranger said one pod had been there at 9.30am.  It was then after 4pm and they did not return.  At my B&B other guests with bicycles told me they had much more success but they were more flexible in their travel.

The following day I caught the ferry to another Island, Orcas island, which is larger but less populated. Again a bus trip across the island took me to Moran State Park and Cascade Lake. I was going to take the level walk of about 3 miles around the lake but met some others who were going to climb Mt Constitution 2,400 feet (730 metres) and 7 miles (11 km) return.  We had about 5 hours before the last return bus but my companions soon went ahead and after dealing with blisters and over 2 hours climbing I estimated I had walked just over 4 km and climbed over 600 metres to a point where there was a nice picnic area. I decided to have lunch and return down to the lake. I never saw the views but when I met my companions on the ferry back they told me it had been very misty. I returned down hill more quickly and sat for an hour with another icecream for the bus back to the ferry,

On Sunday I packed up again for the rather complicated trip to Seattle. It was back on the ferry to Anacortes. The 4 ferry trips over 3 days only cost me $6.50 as a senior. You just pay one way leaving the mainland and all trips between islands are free. I guess they make money on the cars. Being a holiday weekend, the car queues were long but plenty of room for foot passengers. At Anacortes I waited about an hour for a shuttle bus to Seattle airport, actually  2 buses, we had to change at one point. This took 3 hours then it was on the light rail for half an hour into Seattle and I found a very steep hill to my apartment.

I stayed 3 nights, again providing my own meals and taking it easy. The first day I wandered in Seattle, the main city, then the waterfront and the old town area of Pioneer Square where I spent a good hour in a museum about the Yukon Gold Rush when most prospectors started from Seattle. The second day I was more organised and took the monorail out to where the World Trade Fair was in 1962. I did not go up the Space Needle tower but visited the amazing Chihuly Glass Museum. I have included just one photo  but there were many examples of glass blowing by Dale Chihuly, many were set in the gardens.


Then to Pike St Markets where I did not make a good choice for lunch. I now realise why there were no queues at that takeaway fish and chip counter. After a rest back at my apartment I went to the sky viewing area at the Columbia centre. This was just 2 blocks from my apartment and much higher than the Space Needle. We took the lift to the 72nd floor. Then back down to the waterfront for a bus to the lakes and a ferry ride through the locks which allow large ships to enter the freshwater lakes. There was a spectacular view of Mount Rainier after we had gone out into Puget Sound.


Then one of the Seattle skyline.


The Columbia Tower where I had been earlier is the grey building on the right. The small building on the far right was built in the 1910’s and at the time was the highest building in the world outside of Manhattan.

I was lucky with very clear weather in Seattle which is known for cool cloudy weather. It was over 80’F every day. Apparently the west coast has had severe drought. I had very little rain on my trip.

The next morning I was on my last long train ride as I took the Coast Starlight again, this time to San Francisco. It was only an hour late. As the car attendant, who was far superior to my previous experiences, said. It was not late for Amtrak as it arrived on the same day.

However I had to leave my bags at the hotel for 5 hours and wander around the shops until I could get into my room and change. There are summer clothes sales on and I have splurged as much as I can fit into my bag without being overweight.

On Friday I took a tour to Muir Woods where I remember going on my first visit to San Francisco in 1980. This is now my 5th time in the city. I would have liked to use public transport but the shuttle from Sausalito to Muir Woods only runs on Saturday and I did not want to risk being on the wrong side of the bay when I had to catch a flight home. The tour took us across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Woods where the Sequoia or Coast Redwoods grow. These are the tallest trees in the world, the tallest is 112 metres but not in Muir Woods.







I think these grew to 75 metres. There are lots of walks but I only had time to do a 2 mile round trip before the bus took us into Sausalito.


 I left the bus here and after a good lunch I went by ferry back across the bay to San Francisco.

Last night I attended the San Francisco Opera production of La Traviata. I believed I would see Pene Pati from Sol e Mio singing one of the minor roles and was disappointed to see he was not in the cast. I have now learnt he withdrew from a scholarship with the San Francisco Opera in April and I bought my ticket in March. However it was an excellent performance and La Traviata provides a feast of great music.

I tried to finish and send this before leaving the hotel but was not successful. I am now at the airport waiting for my flight to Auckland. Security gets worse and worse. I even had to take my handkerchief out of my pocket and, as I refuse to part with my passport, they flicked through it after  I was body scanned.
 After leaving the hotel I spent over an hour waiting to board the cable car. I have travelled on it several times but still enjoy it.  I think the crowds are evidence that it would be great if they restored them in High Street, Dunedin. It would then only be the 2nd city with a cable car in the world.
After the cable car ride I took a trolley bus and then a normal bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.  I had wanted to do this in previous visits but this was the first time I managed it. I walked to the midpoint and back which was a real test of my fear of heights. As it is 2 km across, that meant my return walk was 2km.



After getting back to the city I wanted a coffee and found a shop called Nespresso. It is attempting to bring proper coffee to the USA. It was real upmarket, at a price, sitting in swivel armchairs with lots of waiters providing constant service. There were 3 types/strengths of coffee as well as decaffeinated, I chose a mid range strength. With a chocolate cake it came to $16 plus tip. Not your everyday choice and I did not take up the offer to join the Nespresso Club. Finally I collected my luggage and caught the train to the airport. Thankfully my luggage was not overweight but my hiking boots are in my carry on.

All being well I depart at 9.15pm arrive Auckland at 5.25am after more than 12 hours in the air then my flight to Dunedin arrives at 10.20am.

I have actually now returned home. We landed in Auckland on time but there was a thick fog and so my flight to Dunedin was over half an hour late. However many regional flights were cancelled. Dunedin was sunny but cold, there had been a heavy frost in the morning.

Monday, July 07, 2014

USA Week 4 (and a bit)

Since leaving Washington there have been a few disappointments and frustrations but lots of wonderful scenery and happy coincidences.
The train journey of nearly 24 hours on the Cardinal from Washington to Chicago was through Virginia, West Virginia  and Kentucky into Ohio by nightfall. We crossed the Allegheny Mountains. While very scenic there were few opportunities for great photos through the trees.
At lunch the first day I sat with a couple from Cronulla, Sydney who were also crisscrossing the USA by train. We also had dinner together. The next morning they were a little concerned as we were running late and they had to make a connection to the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. However we were only an hour late and they would have been ok. To avoid that worry I stayed overnight in Chicago. There was a cool wind and as I walked along the lake shore the mist over the buildings was quite fascinating.



The next morning was spent in the Art Institute. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being the best art gallery in the USA. The number of impressionist paintings was amazing. 
Then it was back on the train, this time the Empire Builder which runs from Chicago to Seattle. Just after dinner and before reaching Minneapolis we crossed the Mississippi.



By the next morning we were in North Dakota and beginning to experience the significant delays this train has recently been experiencing due to oil freight blocking its path. Actually we had one of the better runs for the week and were only an hour and a half late into East Glacier.  I stayed the first night at the 100 year old Glacier Park Lodge which has the largest foyer of all the great National Park Lodges.

While right opposite the train station, it is not actually in Glacier National Park so the next morning I was on a shuttle into the park and to Many Glacier Lodge. It had a much more scenic location on a lake. The shuttle drive gave me the worst news. I had planned my whole USA trip around taking the bus to Going to the Sun Road. It goes over the Continental Divide and usually the road is open from June 20. I planned June 30. However 2 weeks earlier heavy rain and caused avalanches and the road was still closed. (I think it may have opened the day after I left.)
However on the shuttle I also met Lu-ann and her mother Mary from Indiana who were following the same itinerary as me. We had many meals together over the next few days and shared some of the frustrations, beginning with our rooms not being ready until after 4pm.
Just after I got into my room I had to rush down for a pre-booked ferry ride on the lake. It was actually 2 ferries with a short walk between the lower and upper lakes. The sky was overcast with intermittent showers so although I took many photos, better ones came in later days.

The next day was the bus ride which now only went 13 of the 50 miles along the Going to the Sun Road. However even this was very scenic and I sat up the front next to the driver. We went up to a point where we overlooked one of the many glaciers. The Red Buses were built in the 1930’s and have removable canvas roofs.
Here is of our bus with 2 Medicine Lake behind.

The tour was still 8 hours but went to alternate places which I was to see again during my stay there. While still disappointing it was not as bad as I feared when first hearing of the road being closed.
 In  the evening I walked about 4 km around the lake. I was only going to go part way as it is not wise to walk alone in bear country but met up with a couple who invited me to join them. There were quite a few groups walking. Back at the hotel I waited to see sunset over the Mountains from the back deck.


The next morning I joined a ranger led walk for safety. Besides having a canister of bear spray she regularly sang out “Ho Ho Bear, hikers coming through and clapped” The main thing is not to surprise them suddenly in their dining room. However we did not seek any bears, elk or moose just a few big horn sheep. I am not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
We walked to Bull Head Lake, about 10 km return although I had any extra 3 km return from the hotel to the ranger station. We only climbed about 300 metres. These photos were taken along the way, one of the Red Rock Falls.


We had lunch by the lake looking up at several glaciers. sadly they are rapidly retreating with climate change. I had hoped to go to Iceberg Lake which is higher and has floating ice in it until late summer but it was still blocked by snow and probably just as well as there would be more climbing and at over 1250 metres above sea level I was quite breathless.

In the late afternoon I was back on the shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge for the night. As the train was not due until late the next day I went down the village in the morning and had some huckleberry pie with my coffee. Huckleberries are very nice, a less sweet blueberry but cannot be farmed so only available in areas where they grow wild.

Then I caught the shuttle back to 2 Medicine Lake, where I took the photo of the red bus 2 days earlier. I was put on a waiting list for the 1pm ferry and luckily my name was called as that saved me a 3 km walk around the lake. When i got off the ferry most people were taking the short walk with a guide to Twin Falls about 3 km return but I met a young couple from Kansas city who were happy to have an old bloke join them and we walked the 8 km return to Upper 2 Medicine Lake taking it in turn to sing out “Ho Ho Bear, Coming Through”
I am so glad I did as, after struggling over a snow bank, I had the best view of my trip.


Back on the ferry and shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge where, after dinner, we waited until the train arrived 4 hours late at 12.20am.

When I woke we were nearly 5 hours late and it looked like I would miss my connections to San Juan Islands. I had booked a very cheap motel in Seattle just in case as it was the night before the July 4 Long weekend.

However, while explaining the situation to the car attendant, the lady in the next roomette overheard me and told me that she and her daughter were headed for their home in Anacortes where I needed to catch the ferry and her husband was picking her up.
So I got off at an earlier stop and was driven by Paul, along with Vicki and Emily for nearly 2 hours. Unfortunately I just missed the 4.45pm ferry but did get on the 8.20pm and arrived Friday Harbor on San Juan Island at 9.30pm. I will continue the story in a few days time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

USA Week 3

I have now completed 9 days in New York and Washington.  As I reported, I did very little the first day except washing, some food shopping and lazing around.  I took advantage of having a full apartment to myself with lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. I had to use the communal laundry but a full wash was just $1.50 and it was just along the corridor.
I did go for a long walk in the early evening in the nearby Fort Tryon Park. I was at the very top of Manhattan island. The park was full of joggers and dog exercisers and there were views over the Hudson River and on the other side across to the Bronx.

On Wednesday I caught the subway to the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It is the largest Anglican (Episcopalian) church in the world and the 4th largest Christian church. It is still not finished and when I visited in 2007, it was still largely hoarded up after a fire in 2001.

This was my fourth visit to New York so I was not interested in seeing all the usual sites. I headed for the top of Central Park which was nearby and planned to walk the full length (4 km) but as the temperature rose to 88’F (32’C) I only completed about half. There were some nice gardens and lakes and I think it would be unbearable to live in Manhattan without the park.  After checking the specials in the delightfully cool Macy’s, I headed back home to rest before going out for the evening.
I ate out in an Italian restaurant then went to the Lincoln Centre and a performance by the New York Philharmonic. They played Beethoven’s 2nd and 3rd Piano concertos with Yefim Bronfman on the piano. It was excellent. I would have liked to go to the Met but there was no opera that week. Instead they had the ballet Giselle. I saw that in Dunedin last year and sadly ballet is not my taste.

On Thursday I went way downtown to the High Line. I had wanted to go there on my last visit in 2010. They have converted an old elevated railway into an urban park which stretches for 1.6km.



It was a great walk in the now much cooler (but some light showers) weather and I found a good cappuchino. Finding good coffee in the USA is a challenge. I know I am spoilt in Dunedin which must have more little coffee shops for its population than any other city I know.  The High Line is a copy of  a similar project in Paris which I must visit next year. Yes I have already made one booking for a return to Paris in April 2015.

I had lunch in a Pret a Manger (ready to eat) store. I had eaten at one of  these in the UK . They have natural fresh sandwiches and fruit juices.
Then I visited Grand Central Station which is very impressive before queuing at Half Tix in Times Square. An hour and a half later I had a ticket for that evening’s performance of ‘Pippin” and I decided to catch the bus home. That was a big mistake. The guide book said it was a great way to see the city rather than the usual underground trip in the subway. The subway takes less than half an hour, the bus took just on 2 hours so the sightseeing wore a little thin. I had just time to eat and freshen up before returning (on the subway) to Times Square and the theatre. Pippin was bright and lively and at the end I quickly passed through the noise, crowds  and bright lights of Times Square( I now feel my age) and back by subway arriving at the apartment at 11.30pm.
On my first visit in 1980 I was too scared to go out after dark. New York is a great improvement these day and I have gone to musicals on each of my visits in 2007 and 2010.

Friday I went right down town to the recently opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The Memorial 

 opened in September 2011 but the Museum was only opened in May. Two pools with the largest man made waterfalls in the United States cascading down their sides are located within the footprints of the Twin Towers. Each pool is 1-acre, and together they are intended to symbolize the loss of life and the physical void left by the terrorist attacks.
I queued for half an hour for a ticket to the museum and the time allocated was 1.30. It was then 11.30 so I walked down to Battery park and bought a coffee then sat on the water front looking over at the Statue of Liberty. On the way back I photographed the new building.


The museum is big. There are many memorial items such as a destroyed fire engine, parts of the building and a memorial rug.

Most moving is a room which goes through the names, portrays photos and records memories by relatives or close friends.  There is the story of the original building of the towers and I was interested to see they were the first to be built by kangaroo cranes which are named  both due to the way they climb or jump as the building goes up and after the country where they were invented.

You could spend hours learning of the history of that day, air traffic control recordings and the few days after but I think most of us have watched it over and over already so I left after about 2 hours.
Again I returned to my apartment before heading downtown again. I certainly made use of my 7 day transport pass. This time it was to have dinner with 2 internet friends. I met Chuck when he visited Sydney in 2009 and on my visit to NYC in 2010 when I also met Cindy and was invited to her apartment. It was good to have dinner with company and  afterwards we strolled along part of the High Line again which was nearby.

On Saturday I had to pack up again and make my way to Penn Station and the train to Washington. The trip was just 3 hours  but the train was 50 minutes late departing and an hour late into Washington Union Station. I made my way on the metro to another apartment this time on the ground floor of a terrace with the owners upstairs. This even had its own washing machine and drier and the owners provided fruit, nibbles and coffee.

On Sunday I attended the National Episcopal Cathedral and was pleasantly surprised to find Bishop Gene Robinson was presiding. I met him about 6 years ago and he was kind enough to say he remembered. In the evening I went to the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts to see a performance of “The Lion King”. I enjoyed it very much and the centre is also an amazing building with great views over the river.

I saw all the memorials, White House, Arlington Cemetery, Library of Congress etc. back in 2007 but wanted to see some of the Smithsonian Museums.
I began on Tuesday with the National Gallery of Art (which I have only just discovered is not a Smithsonian museum but on the Mall with the others) The amount and variety of art is immense. After 2 hours I moved over to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden which displays contemporary art and photography. I do not think I stayed much more than 15 minutes. I then went to the National Museum of Natural History for its cafeteria but then spent time in the section on Oceans and Genome Science, both were interesting.
With very sore feet I decided that the National Museum of the American Indian would be most different for me to finish and it is a very unusual building

 with interesting exhibits and a movie.

On my travels, several people had advised me to visit George Washington’s Mansion at Mount Vernon. Therefore today I took a boat trip up the Potomac River (one and half hours each way) and spent 3 hours there with a tour of the house

 and wandering around the farm, slave quarters and gardens as well as Washington’s tomb. Besides being the founder of the Nation, I have learnt that he was very innovative in his farming practices.

I am now ready to head west on a train trip right across to the West Coast again. Tomorrow I will begin with about 23 hours on the Cardinal to Chicago.



Monday, June 23, 2014

A Wonderful Day

I am completely overwhelmed.

I planned my visit to Washington at least 9 months ago and wanted to attend Eucharist in the National Cathedral. I went there as a tourist on a weekday with my sister in 2007.
Last night I checked the website for the times and was floored to find it was a special service for Gay Pride Month.
The preacher was Rev Dr Cameron Partridge the first out trasngender priest to preach at the Cathedral.
And the presider was Bishop Gene Robinson the first openly gay man to become a bishop in the Anglican communion.
I met Bishop Robinson in Sydney probably 6 years ago when he came to St James, King Street and sat in the congregation. Of course he could not be officially welcomed , the jensenites would have been appalled.  However he came to a meeting afterwards and I met him and told him some of my story. He gave me a big hug.

At the end of today's service I introduced myself and he said he remembered which was nice of him
I cannot believe that I should have gone to the cathedral today of all days.

My photo of +Gene Robinson was taken while he was being interviewed.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

USA Adventures Week 2

I finished my first report when I arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota.
I joined a group of 43 to tour across some of the Western states by coach. Except for a couple from the UK who were originally from the Ukraine and were travelling with their sister from California, everyone else was from the States.
On Monday we did a tour of the Black Hills. I remember singing about them and Deadwood City which is nearby when I acted in “Calamity Jane” many years ago.
Our first stop was at the Mountain carving of Crazy Horse.

The task of carving the mountain is immense mainly done by one man and now his sons without any government finance  and they say it will take another 6 generations to complete.  It is the Indian response to the well known carvings of Presidents at Mount Rushmore which we visited in the afternoon. I took the opportunity there to do some bush walking under the faces.
We returned to Rapid City and I walked around the town looking at all the life size statues of the Presidents. They are all there except Obama. I was told the statue is installed several years after the President leaves office.

The next day we drove into Wyoming and, after lunch in the town of Sheridan, we drove into Montana and spent several hours at the Little Bighorn National Monument.

Knowing little about it, I thought I would be bored with 2 hours but was pleasantly surprised. I had heard of Custer’s Last Stand but no details. That has now been changed as we had 2 excellent historians. One guided us up to the Indian memorial, only built in 2003

 which I found very moving. Then on to the much older memorial to the 268 casualties of the 7th Cavalry. This was followed by an excellent talk describing the actual battle. The Indians won the battle but lost the war.  During this talk, under cover, we experienced the only real rainfall, a thunderstorm, that I have so far experienced. Nearby was a military cemetery which reminded me of those I have seen in France and Belgium.

That night we stayed in Billings, Montana and the following day we travelled south back into Wyoming and to Yellowstone National Park. We stayed there 2 nights in the Old Faithful Inn. The interior of the lobby is 5 storeys tall.

It is the largest log hotel, possibly building, in the world.
Nearby the Old Faithful Geyser erupts roughly every 90 minutes.

Our drive through the park visited many geysers and hot pools and Lower Yellowstone Falls

 which is higher than Niagara. We saw Bison

 and Elk and a number of smaller animals but no bears. On the 2nd afternoon I walked several kilometres up the valley from the Inn to other geysers (none of which erupted for me) and hot pools.

Of course I was reminded of Rotorua where I have also seen geysers and some beautiful hot pools. Yellowstone just has so many, I have seen 10,000 mentioned.

On leaving Yellowstone we crossed the Continental Divide and I had my photo taken with my “adopted” family.

 Doris from New Jersey, with whom I sat in the coach, and her granddaughter Brenda and great granddaughter Savannah from Florida. They are now on my mailing list along with Bill and Pablo of Texas who I met on tour.

We visited the Grand Tetons National Park which I thought was the most impressive scenery of the tour.

  We were able to appreciate this scenery from rubber rafts which floated down the Snake River for nearly 2 hours. We saw at least one bald eagle along with many other birds and also saw the work of beavers in cutting down trees and building their lodges. Finally as we got out of the raft we saw a Moose quite close up. Still no bears.

That night was spent in Jackson, Wyoming, a real wild west town with a stage coach and a gun fight acted out in the streets.

Saturday was much cooler and we could see snow falling on the hills but just a light drizzle for us. We entered the state of Idaho and stopped at the National Oregon Trail Museum in Montpelier. They explained what was needed to undertake the gruelling 3,500 km journey by wagon from the Missouri to Oregon. We experienced travel in a wagon and saw various mockups of campsites.
Then it was into Utah and finally to Salt Lake City where we visited the Mormon Tabernacle and the gardens of Temple Square and had a final dinner together.

I am not convinced that long coach tours are my thing.  I certainly saw more than if I had just travelled to Yellowstone and taken a local tour as originally planned and it was nice to have company along the way but the early departures day after day and the severe leg cramp I developed, luckily on the final morning, will make me think carefully about such a trip in the future.

I spent Sunday by myself again although I arrived for breakfast at the same time as our tour guide Larry.  I then walked about 2 km, getting that leg muscle working, to an Episcopal church for Eucharist on Trinity Sunday.  Returning to the city I found it hard to find anything open where I could buy lunch but eventually found a sort of food court in a supermarket.  I would not advise visiting Salt Lake City on a Sunday.
I walked up to the State capitol for a view over the city before catching the shuttle out to the airport and a hotel nearby.
This was necessary as United had changed my original 7.40am flight to a 6.15 departure on Monday morning.

We were early arriving Houston after a 2 and a half hour flight where I sat in the airport for 4 hours. The next flight left 40 minutes late and took nearly 4 hours to reach New York.
I reached the apartment about 8pm.

I have an apartment with full kitchen, lounge etc. It is cheaper than hotels in Lower Manhattan but is situated in Hudson Heights about 20 minutes away in the subway.

I have spent Tuesday sleeping in, late breakfast and shower, washing clothes, shopping and lazing around although I did take an evening stroll in Fort Tryon Park nearby. It is in the 30’sC and very humid. However, as in Paris last year, I find it good to unwind before getting on the road again. I must get moving tomorrow. I have 5 nights here in New York and will report from Washington next week.





Wednesday, June 11, 2014

USA Adventure Week 1

For those I have not recently contacted, I have begun a 6 week tour through the USA. The first week has mainly been travelling. I left Dunedin at 4pm last Monday and about 17 hours later was in my hotel in Los Angeles but it was still 4pm on Monday.

It was the first time I had visited downtown LA. I stayed there in order to be near the Union Station as I began the first of many rail journeys. However I spent Tuesday wandering in the area, mainly to recover from the flight and jetlag.

I visited the very modern Catholic Cathedral then found the Walt Disney Concert Hall which was built just 10 years ago and is very modern. I was pleased to find free entry and audioguide. It is futuristic in design which is difficult to photograph and there is a roof top garden.







 I was lucky that the main auditorium was open and a young woman was practising on the organ but photos were not allowed in there. I then wandered further through the city.

On Wednesday I boarded the Coast Starlight for 12 hours by train to San Francisco. I booked a roomette aalthough I was not travelling overnight but it was well worth it especially with free meals and coffee thrown in. I was a llittle disappointed in the coastal scenery.


 I guess I am spoilt with the coastlines of both NZ and Australia. I am told the US coastline is more dramatic further north but not in view from the train.

After just 9 hours in a hotel I was back on the California Zephyr for 32 hours to Denver. This did provide dramatic scenery with the deserts of Nevada and the Colorado Gorge.












I was surprised at some accents I heard and discovered that among my fellow passengers was a tour group from New Zealand. There were 14 Kiwis and 3 Aussies doing a rail journey right around the USA.

I spent 2 nights in Denver and Saturday I walked the long 16th Street Mall, discovered a People's Fair where I bought lunch, and in the afternoon visited the Denver Art Gallery. It was free for the first Saturday of the month but I paid to also see the exhibtion of Modern Masters, both European and American, which was very good and closing the following day. It is also a modern design
 



and I saw the first of what I believe will be a lot of American Indian Art. 



Sunday was back in the air, this time just over an hour flight to Rapid City in South Dakota. I am glad the shuttle insisted on picking me up at the hotel at 11.15am for a 2pm flight. The flight was delayed by thunderstorms. For a short while all outside ground staff were withdrawn due to lightning and there was a tornado watch in place. Our plane finally landed from Texas about an hour late but after boarding we were told we were overweight and 2 people had to be removed. When there were no volunteers, the last 2 to check-in were selected. Thankfully I stayed aboard and arrived Rapid City 90 minutes late.

I have joined a 7 night Coach tour here and have now completed 2 days 1 but will leave that until next time.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maya Angelou

In November 1999 I attended a conference organised by the International Association of School Librarians in Birmingham, Alabama. I had already attended a previous conference in Vancouver in 1997 and was later to attend one in Auckland in 2001. They were the stimulus for the renewal of my interest in overseas travel.

In Birmingham I heard Maya Angelou speak and I was astounded. I knew nothing about her before entering the lecture theatre. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired.
Since then I have bought all 6 of her autobiographical books (I have just learnt the 7th was published last year and have put it on my wish list). I also own "Even the stars look lonesome". They are in my main bookcase in the loungeroom with all books I consider important.  Sadly I have not read any of them since moving to New Zealand. I will remedy that this year.

After the conference ended I flew to Detroit and made my way to Chicago where I boarded the California Zephyr to San Francisco.  By coincidence my plans next Thursday are to again board the California Zephyr in San Francisco and travel as far as Denver.

There are lots of tributes on Youtube. I managed to find this small example of her inspiration which so affected me back in 1999.
May Maya Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory. 


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blue Mountains

Between Easter and Anzac Day my sister drove me up to the Blue Mountains where I lived for 28 years. We stayed 2 nights in Katoomba. Although all the places were well known to me, a few I had not visited for quite a few years before I left just over 4 years ago.

Of course the Three Sisters are the most well known view seen from Echo Point.

Mount Solitary. I have hiked out to there but quite a long time ago now.

I had to walk down at least part of the Giant Staircase to the Honeymoon Bridge. Being school holidays the crowds were offputting. Many times I have continued way further down another 1,000 feet to the bottom but not today.

The sandstone weathering is dramatic and some trees put up a struggle to survive.
Driving west past Narrow Neck. Often in winter school holidays  I would drive up here, buy lunch and eat it along the clifff looking over this view.

I have always preferred the view from Govetts Leap near the town of Blackheath.


And the Govetts Leap Falls
and the picnic area


Then to Mount York where the first explorers, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson discovered they had found the way across the Mountains.


Finally to Wentworth Falls, the view, the falls and the lake.