Friday, August 28, 2009

Travels in the USA

I have just posted to Germany an application for tickets and accommodation for the Oberammergau Passion Play in September 2010.
I attended the play in 1980 and on the train from Munich to Oberammergau I met Kathy and Peter, a couple from Johannesburg.  I travelled part of the Romantic Road with them and we kept up some correspondence, mainly Christmas cards. They visited Sydney twice in the 90's and I had dinner with them each time.
Early this year they asked would I join them on a reunion to next year's play. It is only held every 10 years. After some hesitation due to finances I agreed but sadly my emails to them for the last 3 or so months have had no reply. I have decided to go ahead and book anyway.
Perhaps I might buy a round the world ticket, as in 1980, and visit the USA again.

I spent 4 months in Europe in 1974, another 8 weeks in 1976 and 6 weeks in 1980. On that last journey I decided to return home via the States.
3 days were spent in New York which I hated at the time, it was a scary place (much better in 2007).  I did not go out after dark. I did the usual sights: round Manhattan ferry, Empire State, United Nations, a bus tour, Greenwich Village.

From there I travelled by train to Boston which was much more enjoyable. The taxi driver who took me to the station in New York told me I was mad to travel by train but I love sitting in a train watching the scenery pass by. The trip was through the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island to Massachusetts. I remember visiting Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill and the Old North Church and enjoyed the streets and squares. I felt much more comfortable than in New York.

I then flew across the States to San Francisco, California, at that time the mecca for all gay men.
However my wallet was stolen in a gay bar that first Saturday night. Sadly it included my Amex card. Sunday was a very frugal day (I had left some cash in my hotel room but still I ate at MacDonalds) but I was given cash by Amex on the Monday and I took a ferry ride around Alcatraz and a bus tour across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Muir Woods.  I flew home on the Tuesday via a stop in Hawaii (planes travel non-stop these days).  .

I did not travel overseas again for 17 years.

In 1997 I had a new career as a Teacher-Librarian and decided to attend the conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco. I spent 3 nights again in San Francisco, mainly at the conference, but did have company for a night out in the Castro and had another cable car ride to Fisherman's Wharf. I watched part of the seemingly endless Gay Pride march on the Sunday.
Being a bit daring I hired a car on the Monday to drive to Yosemite. I had driven in Europe in the 70's but was much older now and found left hand drive very scary. A librarian friend from LA drove up and stayed with me at a B&B in Yosemite. He insisted I drive to dinner the first night but decided he would make a better job of it the next day as he showed me the sights and we completed some walks in the wonderful scenery.
I managed to drive back to San Francisco, in fact my nerves improved immensely and, trying to find Emeryville Railway station where I wanted to leave my bag,  I made a u-turn and chased a bus which had the station name as its destination.  However I was glad to hand back the car and join the Coast Starlight express for a marvellous 24 hours to Seattle, Washington. Even though it ran many hours late, I fell in love with Amtrak. I walked on the platform in Eugene, Oregon.

A fellow teacher, contacted on the net, showed me around Seattle and being July 4, we finished the day by watching the fireworks in a park.
I then travelled by hydrofoil to Vancouver Island and spent a week at a Teacher-Librarian conference in Vancouver before visiting the Canadian Rockies.
On the way home I spent several more hours in San Francisco, enough time to buy several pairs of jeans.

In 1999 I again headed over the Pacific, mainly to attend another conference this time in Birmingham, Alabama.  I flew into Los Angeles and my Yosemite companion picked me up and drove me around the city: the beaches, Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I spent the night at his home before flying onto New Orleans, Louisiana.

I loved New Orleans and decided I must take my sister, who is a Jazz fan, there.
I took a river cruise to the Zoo, returned by street car, visited the Aquarium and, of course, wandered the French Quarter. Just 2 nights and I flew onto Birmingham for the 4 day Conference.
At the end of the conference I flew with a change of planes in St Louis, Missouri to Detroit, Michigan where I was met by a librarian with whom  I had been corresponding for a few years. She met me with her family (in case I was an axe murderer:-) and after having dinner with her mother-in-law in Detroit and a brief city tour, we drove to her home in Bronson. They were very hospitable but I did feel like a prize exhibit as I was shown off around Bronson and Coldwater and even taught two lessons to classes about to start a study of Australia. They drove me across Michigan to South Haven on the lake. I was driven to Kalamazoo where I said goodbye and caught the train to Chicago, Illinois passing through Indiana.

I had less than 24 hours in Chicago which was clearly not enough. I did go up the Sears Tower.  However I had another memorable time with Amtrak on the California Zephyr across the US for 2 nights and days. Through Iowa, Nebraska and into Colorado. I briefly alighted in Denver, Then to Utah. It was midnight in Salt Lake City so I did not see much, in fact nothing at all. I took another brief walk at a stop in Nevada before arriving for another visit in San Franciso. Just one night and day there before the flight home.

We now move onto 2007. As I said, I had made a resolution to take my sister to New Orleans and decided to tie this in with a visit to my favourite city of all, Paris. So I was again off on a round the world flight.

Back to Los Angeles, which we had both visited and not a favourite of either of us but a place to recover from jet lag. We stayed near the Airport but, believing we must try to adjust quickly, on the afternoon we arrived took a local bus to the beach at Santa Monica. The sea air blew away some of the fogginess of the brain.

The next day I had booked a tour to the Getty Museum and this was an excellent choice. Changed our whole perspective of Los Angeles, stunning building, great setting and excellent art work.

We flew onto New Orleans, apprehensive of what it might be like after Katrina. However we need not have worried. We stayed out in the Garden District but sadly the street car had not yet been repaired so we made many bus journeys to the French Quarter. Highlights were a culinary walking tour of the famous restaurants (we were the only ones with an excellent guide), dinner at Muriel's on Jackson, self guided walk in Garden District and a swamp tour including an unscheduled tour through some areas devastated by Katrina.

After 3 nights we flew via Charlotte to Charleston, South Carolina. I had to make a choice between Charleston and Savannah. A carriage ride was a great introduction the first afternoon. The next day we met friends who live in Birmingham and who had driven over to show us around. We visited the Middleton Plantation and the Aitken Rhett House in the town.
They drove us to the station the next morning and we boarded the Palmetto for the trip to Washington. This was not as memorable as my earlier Amtrak journeys especially as a fatal accident delayed us 4 hours and it was about Midnight into Washington. We, however, glimpsed the scenery of both South and North Carolina as well as Virginia.
Two full days in Washington, D.C. involved Arlington, Maryland, The Library of Congress, The Mall and an evening tour of the monuments on day one followed by many of the memorials again in our own time, the White House and the Post Office Tower on the second morning. A subway trip and a long walk found us at the National Cathedral in the second afternoon.

Then back on the train to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately we both came down with head colds as we left Washington. I will always blame George Bush.  However we managed a very interesting walking tour around Philadelphia and a wonderful dinner with more internet friends who blog here. We attended the Eucharist at St Mark's with Davis and had an otherwise lazy Sunday dealing with the colds.

Finally Monday on the train to New York passing through New Jersey.  As I wrote, I found it much more pleasant this second time round, it was my sister's first visit to the East Coast. I enjoyed travelling on the subway. We walked in Central Park, did a half circle cruise, took in Grand Central Station and Times Square.  Tuesday involved the Empire State, Battery Park, Trinity Church, Little Italy and the Guggenheim Museum (disappointing) In the evening we took in a Broadway show - Legally Blonde -  before visiting the Top of the Rock.
Our final day was the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine, the Museum of Natural History, Greenwich Village and Soho before travelling with luggage by subway out  to JFK airport and the overnight flight to Paris.
Therefore I have visited just half the states, though some very briefly or only seen from the train. 

So now I will consider making my 5th journey to the US in the second half of next year. I am most interested in visiting more of New England in Autumn (Fall) and perhaps Eastern Canada.
However no decisions needed until early in the New Year.


Fran said...

WOW - what travels!! And more to come. If you are anywhere near New England or NYC, I will move heaven and earth if I can possibly meet you.

Thanks for sharing this Brian, I will return to this post to read again and again.

Birdie said...

Wow! You really get around. You've seen more of the USA than I have, and I live here. Isn't that always the way it is, though? If you're ever near Indianapolis...

motheramelia said...

You are welcome to visit with me in Maine. I'm a pretty decent tour guide. Of course it's gorgeous in Northern New England in early October. Loved reading about your travels.

Brian R said...

Thanks Fran, Birdie and motheramelia. I would like to meet up with so many people from blogging.