I have plenty to say about my time in the US. But for now I'll just paste in my facebook comment. Otherwise I'll be a blubbering mess.....
Thank you Sharon, Mary and Richard and Rick, Shirl, Gisela, Janet and Dave, Megan and Jim, Tara, Sheryl, Dennis and Denylle. And to everyone else whose paths I've crossed over the last 2 months (almost). Thank you all for making me feel so welcome and taking the time to show me around your special bits of the world. Thanks especially to Mary and Richard, Shirl, Janet, Sheryl and Dennis for taking me into your homes and being so generous. I appreciate it more than you can ever know. Extra special thanks to Mary for making me believe I can do this.
Later...... (from the other side of the pond).....
This is the next thing to go up to the International Space Station. It will be carrying tons of supplies. Once it's up there it'll becoma a storage cupboard for the space station. There are only two more scheduled Shuttle flights to the space station - October and next February. A third might go ahead if funding is approved by Congress.
Interesting place. $41 plus tax to get in on an ordinary day pass or $62 plus tax if you want to get up close and personal with the launch pads. We chose the cheaper option. Included in the ticket is a bus tour which takes in a stop at a gantry with reasonable views of the two Shuttle launch pads, the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit and the place where they work on stuff for the International Space Station. You can also take in a couple of IMAX 3D films and visit various other showcases along the way. We were there for about 8 hours and didn't see it all. As well as the tour spots we also looked at the Shuttle exhibit, the Rocket Garden, the memorial to astronauts killed in action and the souvenir shop :) Giant phallic symbols everywhere you looked. A lot of the science went way over my head but it was interesting nonetheless. If you're a space nut you'll love this place.
Today... not much. We all went out for breakfast which then turned into lunch. I came across the first waitress in all my travels so far who genuinely interacted with her customers. Such a pleasant change not to have the robotic "Is everything alright here?" Garden Bistro in Lakeland if you're ever passing through. Currently: doing laundry.
One more day here then on Monday it's back to Boston to catch my flight to the UK.
Daytona Beach is the Florida you see in the brochures and such like: miles of beaches with huge hotels and even huger condominium complexes lining said beaches. The difference at Daytona is that you can drive your car onto and along the beach. There's some controversy about that at the moment though as more and more people are being hit or run over by cruising vehicles. One poor 4 year old was killed just last week. Personally I can't think of any reason to allow cars on the beach - it's not just a question of safety but also of the environment. Anyway..... We're staying at Bahama House, 4th floor room with beach view. Apart from the cars it's a pretty damned good view! Take the lift downstairs, out the door, walk past the pool and we're on the beach. Cool. The hotel also has a happy hour from 5.30pm to 6.30pm when they put on free drinks. Excellent! :) Ate at Crabby Joe's last night, a place on a pier a few miles down the road. The windows were all open to allow the sea breeze to waft through, plus allowing the sound of the ocean to keep us company. There's fishing at the very end of the pier and every now and then people would wander through the restaurant carrying buckets and rods to go try their luck. Quite bizarre at first but you quickly get used to it. We ventured out into the ocean this morning. The weather is stinking hot so it was good to get wet. The undertow is pretty strong so I didn't get out too far. (However, I've yet to strike a beach with a stronger undertow than Woolamai at Phillip Island.) Played in the water for a couple of hours then it was time for lunch. Down to another restaurant on a pier, this time at Ponce Inlet at the end of the peninsula that Daytona Beach is on. This place overlooks the river that runs pretty much parallel with the ocean. Very pleasant setting. Also the biggest plate of pasta I've ever seen! The prawns (shrimp) were overcooked though. Then we did a quick check of the lighthouse - the tallest in Florida and second tallest in the US, so I'm told. You can actually climb this one to the top. The views would be pretty spectacular I imagine. I didn't do the climb. It was a thousand degrees out there and just standing in one spot to take a couple of photographs was almost enough to do me in. After that we headed back into Daytona itself. Sheryl wanted to show me the main pier, and a few other things. But I was struggling with the heat by this stage so we came back to the hotel. I don't think I've had a day under 30 degreesC since I left California on June 9th and today I think I reached the end of my tether. Next time I come to the US it won't be in summer. God knows what possessed me. That doesn't mean I haven't had fun or haven't enjoyed myself - I've certainly done that!! Anyway, we've just come back from dinner at the Oyster Pub - the closest place I've seen to an Aussie pub so far. I'm sprawled on the bed typing this with the sound of the ocean as a perfect backdrop. I love that sound. We're back to Lakeland tomorrow but I think we're going to make a detour via Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre on the way.
The Florida Southern College has the biggest collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright anywhere. This one is a chapel but reminded me strongly of Aztecs or maybe Mayans in the shapes and lines - made me think of the ceremonial masks worn by whoever it is I'm thinking off. Or something.
Sheryl and I went into Lakeland again yesterday afternoon. First off was the Polk Museum of Art. Haha, we got there 10 minutes before closing but the lady at the desk kindly let us in for free for a quick look around. There were a couple of very interesting exhibits. The Pre-Columbian artefacts were a good place to start. Reminded me of my youth when I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then we looked at the main feature - a collection of artworks by a black American artist, Lois M Jones. Quite fascinating. The pieces covered a 60 year period from the 1930s to the 1990s and included a range of styles and subject matter: water colours, acrylics, abstracts, landscapes, portraits, etc. Talented woman. The third exhibit we looked at was a collection of photographs - each one was of a family from a different country. Each family had their possessions spread out, outside their home, with an accompanying piece of text telling of their most prized possession and their hopes for the future. The contrast between the haves and the have-nots was startling. Some families were dwarfed by their material assets, some had very little at all. Hopes for the future ranged from "more income", "new car" "new VCR and TV" to "to survive". The photos weren't credited and if there was an explanation of the project then we missed it. I think they were all taken in the 1980s though. Very moving. From there we headed to the Florida Southern College which has the biggest collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Pretty much the whole college consists of his buildings. I can't say that I'm really a fan but the few buildings I saw were interesting. One in particular, a chapel, reminded me very much of Central American indigenous themes - it made me think of the masks worn by the Aztecs or Mayans (I'm not sure which I mean now) in the shapes and lines he'd used. I'll post the photo later and hopefully what I'm trying to say will make more sense then. There were plenty more buildings to see but I was beginning to really struggle in the relentless heat so we went off to find some air-conditioning! Had dinner in Fred's Southern Kitchen and I have to say that sadly I'm not really a fan of southern food. Too much fried this and that for me. Then, off to Lake Parker, one of the 14 or so lakes in town. The lakes are Sheryl's "happy place" - she's an excellent bird photographer (in case you didn't already know that :)). I finally got to give the new 70-200mm lens a decent workout. Saw herons, egrets, anhingas, moorhens, ospreys, a raccoon and an alligator! It was only a baby though, maybe 4 foot long. Still, I got a couple of cool shots of it so I was happy :) It was stalking a young moorhen - when we left it was patiently watching, just snout and eyes above the water, waiting for its chance.
Today we're off to Daytona for a couple of days. Looking forward to that :)
Record shop, selling mostly vinyl, in Lakeland. It was closed but when we looked in the window the guy inside opened up for us. This shot is of part of the wall that divides the main shop area from a live performance area down the back. The guy told us all about his plans for remodelling, moving this and that around, etc. I love it when people are so passionate about their music :)
No dramas on the flight from Boston to Orlando. Phew! The first thing I noticed about Florida is, surprise, surprise, it's hot! I'm staying with the lovely Sheryl and her family in Lakeland - about halfway between Orlando and Tampa. Houses are pretty much all single storey around here, which reminded me more of home than any of the other places I've been. Sheryl tells me that's because of hurricanes, not for any aesthetic reasons! Hurricanes. :o Lakeland is a pretty town - lots of lakes of course. Haven't seen any alligators yet though. There's a cool record shop in town: Evolution Records, selling mostly vinyl. The young guy there was so passionate about his shop, his plans for it, etc. Too cool. On the way out from the airport we drove by the Disney complex. That's not a theme park, that's a city! Disney owns Florida apparently. Could be true too. I've also been warned that the KKK has a big presence down here. Sheryl told me how a women's centre here couldn't be built for years and years because the Klan blocked it. Unbelievable. I just don't understand what makes people like that tick. The big statue in the park in town is of a Confederate soldier. I'm in the CSA (Confederate States of America) down here! I'd better be careful what I say in public ;)
I think we're off to photograph a lake or two tonight. Hoping for a gator pic :) Then off to Daytona on Wednesday.
Thank you Janet, Megan and Tara. Also Jim, Dave, Michelle, Maribeth, Jack and sundry others I've crossed paths with along the way over the last couple of weeks. I appreciate, more than words can say, all you've done to show me around.
Salem is, of course, famous for the witch trials of 1692/3. Over a 13 month period twenty-nine people were convicted of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, fourteen women and five men, were hanged. One man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to confess. Salem was originally settled by Puritans escaping religious persecution and oppression in England. I wonder what it is that makes the victims become the oppressors? It's a recurring theme in social and political history throughout the ages, right up to the present (Israel anyone?). The Puritans, it seems, were determined to eliminate any different or opposing views/faiths/beliefs. Accusations of witchcraft became the means to do this and public hysteria fuelled the flames. As it so often does.
Salem today is a tourist town. Ghost tours, witch museums, guided tours, souvenir shops, etc - all seemingly trying to outdo each other in macabre ghoulishness. If you want to buy black pointy hats and blood soaked fangs, this is the place to go.
Today is my last day in Massachusetts. Off to Florida tomorrow.
Sitting in a cafe the other day, reading a local music paper, I noticed that Jack White's latest band, The Dead Weather, were playing The House Of Blues in Boston. So... Janet and I decided we'd best go along and check them out. Of course, we didn't organise tickets beforehand and the gig was sold out by the time we got there. However, while waiting for dinner to arrive I went for a wander outside and managed to score two tickets at a not too inflated price. The guy actually called me over and did the deal over others who were also searching - wearing a Cure t-shirt comes in handy sometimes :) Anyway..... the House of Blues reminded me instantly of a venue in St Kilda (the Palace comes to mind but I'm not sure of I've got the right place) - open floor in front of the stage and balconies all round the upper levels. The band finally came on after a long wait with nothing happening. Too late to be fashionably so. Jack White certainly has a charismatic presence! He seems to be very tall which helps. He plays the drums in this outfit and it was hard to drag the eyes away from him as he sat (and sometimes stood) there flailing away. He drums more in the style of Keith Moon than John Bonham in that sense - arms all over the place, lots of movement, etc. The band sounded tight but the vocal mix was pretty ordinary. Vocals were shared between Jack and the female singer introduced as "the black hair down there". I didn't think much of her. The guitarist has the chops but he's no soloist. I enjoyed the rhythms the band produced, largely driven by Jack's drums and the bass player. Not too complicated but interesting nonetheless. It's a shame the vocals were so muddy and distorted. Some clarity there would have made this a great gig rather than just a good one. I did a bit of crowd watching at various times: except for the obligatory moshers down the front there was surprisingly little movement around the place. Janet started to not feel so good so we left before the end. Probably missed the best bits but I'd seen enough. They were okay and I'm glad we went, but they didn't make me want to rush out and buy the CD, or a t-shirt.
A trip to the beach. Yay! Salisbury beach, MA., to be exact. We went in the evening so didn't go for a swim - the Atlantic is a bit chilly. Did get my feet wet though :) I just love walking along a beach listening to the sound of the ocean. One of life's pleasures :) After a good long stroll we headed in to Salisbury itself to grab some pizza. Interesting little town - like a real flashback to the 1950s, especially the old fashioned amusement centre which didn't seem to have anything electronic. Cool.
Tonight we might be going to the House of Blues in Boston to see Jack White's band, Dead Weather. :)
Went on a whale watching boat ride with Janet yesterday. About $40 through bostonharborcruises.com and worth every penny. We drove to Alewife (the name of a fish, not the publican's missus!) to catch the train into Boston - station was closed due to flooding from the rain the day before. So, on to the shuttle bus..... I didn't think it had rained that much... but there's a sign I saw telling how the Boston subway was opened in the late 1890s. Don't think it's been updated much! Once you go down into the subway itself the first thing that hits you is the heat! I'd hate to be down there when it's busy, it'd be suffocating! Anyway.... Boston harbour is an interesting mix of the old and the new - the old red brick and the new glass and concrete. I know what I prefer and it isn't the latter. The harbour itself is littered with islands, tour boats and yachts. Very pretty. The boat trip goes for about 3 hours. It takes a while to get out to where the whales hang around, an area called Stellwagen Bank. Here the ocean is only about 100 feet deep and is used by the whales as a breeding ground. At least, I think that's what the tour guide said - bit hard to hear above the buffeting wind. Once a whale is sighted the boat slows right down to a stop and people get a good chance to watch the whales, take photographs, etc. The whales weren't singing today so weren't leaping upright out of the water. I did manage to fluke a couple of decent tail shots as they dove under water though. So cool. We stopped at four or five different spots to view the whales - a couple of Fin whales and some Humpbacks. They all have names and can be recognised, by those who know what they're doing, by their fins and markings. After what seemed like too short a time we headed back to Boston. Really, I could've stayed out there all day :) Back on shore in time for dinner. We met up with Michelle and ate at Legal Sea, right in the harbour area. Then Janet and I walked around Boston for a couple of hours before heading back to Lowell. Boston has so much historical interest - saw just a tiny fraction of what's on offer. Paul Revere's house, the Granary burying ground, Boston Common, the old State House (Boston's first public building, 1713), cobblestone streets, etc. Hopefully I'll get back into the city for another look around because there's so much still to see. I'm not sure what they put in the food at Legal Sea but Michelle went straight home because she felt ill and I was feeling none too flash by the time we got back to Janet's. Apart from that, it was a fantastic day :) I love the ocean and seeing the whales was truly awesome! Today I'm just lazing about doing not much.
Went back into Lowell yesterday - by car, not on foot! Checked out the commemorative park dedicated to Jack Kerouac who was from Lowell. Small park with marble (I think) triangular blocks inscribed with excerpts from his writings. It's not very well signposted but, if you're ever in the area, it's on Bridge Street, between Merrimack St and the green steel bridge. Down the next street on the left is the Boott Mill Museum. Lowell is full of old cotton mills and this one has been preserved as a mill. Most of the others seem to have been turned into apartments, condominiums or parking lots. $6 to get in. A fascinating place I thought. Many of the machines still operate and give an excellent idea of what it must have been like to work in these places. Noisy and dangerous! The museum is not just a history of the mill itself but also of the fortunes of Lowell as a whole - cotton manufacturing was the major industry here. While cotton was king the town prospered. But, like most single industry towns, it fell in a hole in the 20th century - and especially in the years after WW2. It seems to be largely a residential town now. Plus, there's the university (UMASS Lowell) so there's a fair student presence. Interesting place to wander around.
I've had a couple of lazy days doing not much, just enjoying the rest. Janet and Megan have taken me out and about - shopping, dinner, etc. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an interesting looking town. Good restaurants and shops that don't stock the usual, generic, tourist fare. I have to resist buying stuff though because I've got no room in my case for much of anything. Today I decided to walk into downtown Lowell. It's only a 2 or 3 mile stroll but it damned near killed me! It's hot in Massachusetts! Hot and humid. I took shelter in Barnes & Noble so now, of course, I have a couple more books - so much for not buying stuff! I bought Hammer of the Gods - the not so accurate biog of Led Zeppelin and Wild Ducks Flying Backward: the Short Writings of Tom Robbins. I thought the latter would come in handy while travelling, just to dip into here and there. Plus I've always liked Tom Robbins' writing. Also got a cool Kerouac t-shirt. Sadly it doesn't say "On The Road" though, that would have been perfect :) Off out to dinner shortly..... vegetarian tonight. Mmmmm.
Janet took me on a mini tour of New England yesterday. We started in Massachusetts, then New Hampshire and finished in Maine. Places in New England are a lot closer together than in the other states I've visited! The countryside is quite different to what I've seen so far. Lots of trees along the roads, more hills and, of course, the ocean. Saw the Atlantic Ocean so now I can say I've been coast to coast :) We visited the towns of Newburyport, Mass., Portsmouth, NH., York and the Nubble lighthouse, Maine. They are all very pretty and I had a great time wandering around playing tourist. It was good to see the ocean again. I didn't realise that I'd missed it until I saw it. There's that special 'waves hitting the shore' sound that you just don't hear anywhere else. I had to laugh in York when Janet told me she was taking me to "miles of sand" at Long Beach. The tide was in and there were just a few feet of rocks along the water's edge. :) Nubble lighthouse, Maine, is very cute. It sits on its own little island, accessible only by boat. The shoreline at this part of the coast is rocky, no sand, but it was so nice to just stand and look out to sea. Scuba divers kept popping up which was a bit startling at first :) Lots of lobster pot markers bobbing about in the water, so perhaps they were checking them out. Don't know. Eventually we headed back to Lowell, the town Janet lives in, and visited friends of hers. Played "Apples to Apples" and drank a proper home made margarita. Fun :)
Today is July 4th. We went to Janet's cousin's house in New Hampshire for a barbecue. Lovely property. Great hosts too :) Back to Lowell this evening and the roads were deserted. Everyone seems to be downtown Boston for the celebrations. There are hundreds of thousands of people down there. Far too many people for me! And we're both tired after a couple of big days. So we're at home watching it all on TV. Well, Janet is watching, I'm typing this :) Just for the record, I don't do the big Australia Day celebrations either.
I'm looking forward to exploring Boston during the week.
American Falls on the left, Horseshoe Falls on the right, Goat Island in the middle. Taken from Skylon Tower. The "bridge" that goes only half way across the river, behind the falls, is the thing that somehow regulates the flow of water over the falls - diverts water to the hydroelectric plants.
Day 2 at the Falls included another ride up the Skylon Tower for some daytime shots - worked much better! Also took in the view from Table Rock, right alongside the horseshoe falls. My mind just boggles at the amount of water. And not just at Niagara. Just one of Michigan's lakes would be enough to fix Australia's drought I reckon. The town of Niagara Falls is completely set up to exploit the tourist dollar. 300 (approx) hotels, countless gift and souvenir shops, restaurants and two big casinos. We saw a few private homes, but not many really. The big hotels - the Sheratons (there are two), the Radisson, the Hilton, the Marriot, etc, completely dominate the skyline and block the views of most of the older, smaller hotels and venues. Someone, I forget who, told us that most of that development has happened in the last 12 years or so. Parking is a killer! To go to the Skylon Tower and then to Table Rock cost $28 just in parking fees. Of course, if you're fitter than us you could probably walk and save a packet. The carpark at Table Rock directs you straight into a gift/souvenir shop area, which you have to go through to get out to the falls. I bought a couple of t-shirts but managed to resist most of the offerings. The Falls themselves, though, make it all worthwhile. They are a magnificent sight. Anyway, we left Niagara at about midday, planning to be back at Shirl's at about 6pm. Ha! Ha! Ha! We got to the 7 kilometres to the border sign and traffic just stopped. It hadn't even been heavy. About 3 and a half, maybe 4, hours later we crossed back into the US. Unbelievable. It took about 20 minutes to cross into Canada the day before under pretty much the same traffic conditions (before the jam, that is). So we got back to Shirl's at close to 10pm. Poor Gisela then had to drive another 90 minutes to her home. Mammoth effort. I was pleased to see, on facebook, this morning that she got home safely.
Then I packed up all my gear and caught a couple of hours sleep. Up again at 3.30am to get to Grand Rapids to catch a 6am flight to Boston, via Detroit. You'd think that would be easily done. But no, I was 3 minutes too late to check in my luggage and had to catch a later flight instead. And pay another $50. Detroit airport, by the way, does NOT have free wifi. Anyway, arrived in Boston a bit later than scheduled, but better late than never so it's all good. Janet picked me up and here I am at her lovely little place somewhere in the Boston area. It'll be nice to see the ocean again.
It's interesting, you know, where people want to take me, to show off their happy places - the Flint Hills, the Great Lakes, and now the ocean. Wide open spaces, natural features. Peace and quiet. There's something profound about that I think.
What a place to spend the last day of Month One of my Grand Tour! Gisela picked me up from Shirl's at 9am and we promptly headed north. Shirl had to go back to work and couldn't make the trip. That was a bummer. The drive to Niagara Falls took about 6 hours. Crossing the border took about 20 or 30 minutes and was painless - no finger-printing and photographing like when entering the US. The bits of Canada I saw from the road reminded me a lot more of Australia than the US does - something about the way the place is set out. More of a general feeling than anything to do with the details. We stayed at the Hampton Inn overnight - a Hilton subsidiary. Haha, now I can say I stayed at a Hilton hotel :) Nice room, plenty of space and the wifi works :) After settling in we decided to take a tour of the Falls area - the Canadian Illumination Tour for about $80. The tour included a bus drive around some of the other sights here - the floral clock, whirlpool, etc. It also includes a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat, which takes you right up close and personal with the falls. That was incredible. It was difficult to get decent pictures of the horseshoe falls though as it's partially hidden behind the mist and spray it throws up. I think I got some nice rainbow shots though. The mist and spray can be seen from all different parts of town - it throws it up pretty damned high! The last stop on the tour is the Skylon tower. We had to ride up to the viewing deck in the external lift/elevator. Didn't like that much hehe. The view from the top is spectacular though. The falls are lit up with coloured lights at night and look really pretty. My attempts to photograph the lights failed miserably though. We're going back up there today so I'm hoping to get some better shots. Won't be any lights though. Niagara Falls is quite a large town and caters almost exclusively to tourists. Something like 300 hotels and who knows how many souvenir shops! Okay, time to get moving. Today is the start of Month Two of my trip. The first month has been spectacular. Truly amazing. That's due solely to two things: 1. The amazing places I've seen. 2. The absolutely fantastic people I've met. I've been spoilt rotten and, haha, I love it :)