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.