Seven Weeks – France Norway UK and Ireland

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Seven Weeks – France Norway UK and Ireland
Part 1

I am in the Eva Air business class lounge facing a 19 hour delay before our next flight and you know I don’t care. Just had a shower. What a fantasy that is. The only thing missing is the personal attendant to rub your back.

I have answered my emails reviewed the results of the Easts directors retreat reviewed the amended budget and shot off some questions to the CFO and oh yes Kerry and I have discussed our day. We plan to take a free half day tour to Longshan Temple, the Presidential office building, Chiang Kai-shek memorial Hall, Martyrs Shrine and the Taipei Mall (hunting and gathering again).

A walk around the terminal for an hour or so and back to the lounge. This gave us the opportunity to check out the weather – shitty to say the least. Kerry is still over tired and does not feel up to the tour in rainy weather. Cancelled the tour. Killed time walked the entire terminal 1, 2, 3, and 4 – they all join up.

Finally on the plane and business class is a treat. Next stop Paris (only 13 hours flying). The trip was probably the bumpiest trip I have ever had and the layout of the seats meant that Kerry and I could barely see one another and over that period it becomes annoying.

Landed at Charles De Gaulle and waited for the luggage and waited and waited. Extremely high winds made it impossible to unload our plane. Got the luggage and collected the car. Set the GPS and off to Amboise in the Loire Valley we go. Interesting trip just under 2 hours but how the scenery changed. The suburbs of Paris looked dirty and cold while the country side around Amboise is clean and fresh but also cold. Amboise has been around since the Neolithic times when it was settled by a Celtic group called the Turones, occupied by the Romans and the first signs of a castle appeared in the 4th century AD. Clovis the King of the Franks met Alaric King of the Visigoths on Ile d’Or (the island in the Loire river just off Amboise) in 503AD (no idea why) but this gives you some idea that when I say the buildings here are a real mixture of old and new and the roads are all designed for donkey carts that its true.

Jet lag caught up with on the first day. We found our hotel, walked to the Tourism office bought our tickets for the next day’s adventures and came back for a nanna nap and I woke again at 3.00am.

Our HotelOur Hotel/Downtown Amboise

Downtown Amboise

Up bright and early – hey who played around with my watch its 7.45 am? It’s overcast so no idea of the time therefore slept in. Never the less we left the hotel on time to visit Clos Luce, Leonardo da Vinci’s last home (gifted to him by Francois 1st). It’s a bit more than a home but not quite a chateau. It is surrounded by lovely gardens and contains a history of da Vinci’s engineering designs and inventions from military to civil. Even had Kerry interested (oops spoke to soon she’s sitting down – time to move on).

Clos Luce

Clos Luce

We had chosen to walk but it’s another shitty day weather wise windy and wet which made the entrance to Castle Amboise a bit treacherous. The castle is in the middle of the city and as we walked to the castle we noticed that the castle walls contained houses. I don’t know when but people have constructed house in the castle walls. They are privately owned so we could not see inside but quite different. Les Troglodytes – Oui!

Troglydites

Troglodytes

The castle itself is only part of the original (about 50% I guess has been demolished over time). What remains was interesting. Da Vinci is buried there. He lived in Amboise only 3 years before dying and in his will he asked to be entombed in the St Florentin church in Castle Amboise and when this was demolished they dug up his bones some coins (by which they determined these were da Vinci’s bones) and reinterred him in the St Hubert Chapel also in the castle grounds (where you can see him today).

Castle Amboise

Castle Amboise

Church

St Hubert’s Chapel

 

Home for a sandwich and then we drove to Chateau Chenonceaux. Now this place is unique in that it is built in the river Cher with a short timber bridge on one end and a 60m bridge connecting it to the other side (the bridge was covered in by Catherine de Medici (wife of Henri II) after his death and after she took the chateau back from Henri’s lover Diane of Poitiers (for whom Henri acquired the Chateau). The “bridge “was turned into a banquet hall by Catherine and the chateau changed hands a few times up to 1945 but is now a heritage building. It is not opulently fitted out but is interesting because of the various people who have called it home since 1521.

Chenonceaux

Chenonceaux

 

"the Bridge" - Chenonceaux

“the Bridge” – Chenonceaux

Back in Amboise we noticed a very old building containing a quaint restaurant across the road from the hotel (across the road – you can see into the restaurant and vis a versa – the road is 6m wide from the wall of our hotel to the wall of the restaurant). So we had drinks in the living room of the hotel browsing the local picture books on the sites of the Loire Valley then ambled across the road for dinner. But for the fact it was blowing a gale and probably close to 0c it was lovely. To bed to dream and check the internet. Bugger! We had planned to visit Futuroscope outside Poitiers but it is closed until February 14 – one of our goals was to go back to Futuroscope but now we are going to miss it. In France when something says on its web site opening in February do not think they mean the 1st of February.

Next morning breakfast in our hotel room (porridge and a cuppa) and travel onto Chinon and the Fortresse Royale. Amboise was like a village you see all over France – history in every house and town planning for donkey carts and pedestrians. I enjoyed the town but I am a 21st century boy and looking forward to an Ibis Hotel in Poitiers.

On the road again and we made good time down to Chinon. As seems usual in France the GPS “Tommy” has the difficulty of finding its way in the villages but this time it was the town of Chinon. “Turn right” it said and all I could see was a barely sealed road connecting houses with an uncertain end round a corner. So I missed the turn but my co-pilot insisted we go down that path. Within 50m we came to a roundabout and on the third exit a bloody big sign “Chinon – medieval citie” and “Fortresses Royale – Parking”. Under co – pilot instructions I went back to the muddy lane and down we went until we shocked a French woman walking her dog who politely told us yes you can get to the fortress this way but it is better to go over there as there is parking for the car (at least that is what we determined as she was as good with English as we were with French – avoided running over the dog).

Got to the parking and then to the visitors centre then to the fortress. Sited on a rocky outcrop (as usual) it towers over the city. It is actually three forts in one. The oldest Coudray Tower is where the last of the knights Templar were held after Louis Philippe ordered the arrest of all members of the temple. The Middle Tower contains a very interesting display on the history of the fort (last used for military purposes in the 15th century) the visits by Joan of Arc to Charles VII and the archaeology discoveries. It also contains the bell tower (which we climbed after it rang 12noon) and this is an additional 5 stories above the fort and probably 100m above the city. (It is said that the bell has rung over Chinon since 1399 and this is where the “Plantagenet” started life when Geoffrey V Count of Anjou took the nickname “Plantagenet” after a sprig of broom he wore in his hat and his son Henri II became King of England through his mother). So Chinon remained a little bit of England through Richard the Lion Heart and then King John who lost the fortresse to Philippe Auguste King of France and Chinon became part of France for the first time. As you can see I enjoyed this part.

Coudray Tower

Coudray Tower

Middle Tower

Middle Tower

 

Finally there is the Tower of St Georges which was not really part of the military defences but the royal suites and administration centre for France under Charles VII. The emblem for the city is three towers. After the reign of Charles VII Chinon loses popularity and the last fortification work was in 1560. Thereafter it falls into disuse and comes close to destruction in 1854. In the intervening period many parts of the three towers and principally the third one is destroyed (the visitors centre is located where the third tower once stood). It is now a listed historic monument and as you can see some significant historical moments occurred here. Great fun for me not so much for Kerry who become angry and distressed (and rightly so) when I went exploring in the Coudray tower and the cells below ground.

We notice there is an elevator on the side of the cliff about 50m from the visitors centre so we went in search of a hot chocolate in the town. Just like Amboise its design is from other eras and has a mixture of the oldest and the older throughout. Found the hot chocolate in a Tabac – not much open on a Sunday had a sandwich in the car then off to Poitiers. We arrived about 2.00 booked in settled in and I had a nanna nap. After dinner in a very interesting pub called Au Bureau we strolled the streets and are keen to see it all in daylight.

Still waking early despite the lack of sunlight and the overcast weather. Breakfast in our room, packed up checked out then strolled the medieval city which has been transformed by modern paving in the narrow streets and limiting traffic to essential commercial traffic. But Mondays are strange in that none of the shops opened before 2.00pm. Visited a Romanesque church Notre Dame Le Grand Dame said to be the oldest church in France (12th century) and it still has some of its original frescos.

Notre dame Notre Dame Le Grand Dame

another church Poitiers

Eglise la Porchaine Poitiers

Spotted a cafe – well actually we smelt it first – so we shot over for a hot chocolat. Met a French woman who teaches French to foreign students and they in turn are teaching her English and she practised on us. We also visit another Romanesque church Eglise la Porchaine unusual because it is square and has a 3 storey square bell tower. It is still raining and very little open so we decide to trek on to Dampierre sur Boutonne to visit Cousin Terri and her husband Mick. We arrived just about lunch time.

Dampierre is a rural village of about 50 homes about 1 hour west of La Rochelle. Mick and Terri have lived here (I’m not certain) 15 years plus (I first met my cousin when she visited Dad and Mum in Brisbane and then returned the favour in 1990 when she and Mick lived in Brighton Hove and Mick bought and sold motors.) Shortly thereafter they moved to Dampierre to renovate an abandoned house and create “gites” French holiday accommodation, Mick turned his hand to renovating for other Poms taking advantage of their EU status to invade France once again. One of the projects they have taken on is the renovation of a house at Leger. Mick’s youngest son Daniel is visiting (he also has bought and renovated abandoned houses) and over lunch we talk them into showing us the progress with this renovation (Daniel says it still looks like a WW1 house on the Somme). So we drive toward Aulnay through the back blocks of the back of beyond to Leger. It is as pretty as I remember it. An abandoned house with granny flat looking across open French fields. Today one of Terri’s neighbours is planting a plot of potatoes with a garden fork – a centuries old scene. There is still a lot of work to be done but they are both still enthusiastic about the project. A combination of poor holiday seasons and Mick’s health not permitting him to work has seen a shortage of cash for the project but still Mick has performed a lot of the fundamental reconstruction needed. Personally and Mick now agrees he agrees he should have bull dozed the house and started again but that would not have the same charm, Back to Dampierre a warm fire and hot meal. Kerry has developed a sore throat and goes to bed and I bore Terri Mick and Daniel with photos and we reminisce about Dad’s emigration as a 19 year old to start a new life in Australia.

Its early once again – cannot seem to sleep past 4.00am. Still dark and cold but it must be time for a cuppa to start the day. Raining windy and cold. We decided to visit the donkeys (not open on Tuesdays) and go to La Rochelle to see if our memories of the town are true. So we drove over to the donkey farm where we saw the local breed of donkey brought back from extinction through one stallion and careful breeding. Long ears and a hairy coat they look a little strange.

Donkeys

L’Assinere Baudet Du Poitou

Then we travelled out to the coast to La Rochelle. It was windier and colder making it difficult to find the town we remembered. But we did buy a Euro millions ticket and out popped two tickets = a good omen and Kerry who had been longing for a crepe citron got her crepe.

St Malo sea wall

St Malo sea wall

Weather does not improve so we head home for a warm fire and a cuppa. Mick and Terri arrived later and we put on some nibbles before dinner. Terri pulls out her Euro Millions ticket and we agree to pool our chances.

Next morning happy birthday to Kerry and up early to travel to Le Mont St Michel and St. Malo. Mick cooks us a hot breakfast and makes us lunch as well while Terri checks the lotto results. The weather has cleared to a fine day. After breakfast and the disappointment that we missed out on Euro millions it is farewell and hit the road. As we approach the address of our accommodation, Kerry has serious doubts about its location. We are driving through vacant paddocks and ancient farm villages but suddenly Le Mont appears behind all the villages and our accommodation comes into view. It turns out to be perfect, well located and cheap.

Le Mont St Michel

Le Mont St Michel

Meet the proprietor (who cannot speak English) but we muddle through then off to St Malo. Fabulous old walled city but even the GPS got lost in the city. So we parked outside then walked through fighting a fierce storm with strong winds and rain. It is too early for dinner so we decide to go back to Le Mont and a nice restaurant there for a birthday dinner for Kerry. Nothing opens before 7.00pm so in frustration we go home and have vegemite sandwiches and a cup of tea. Try again tomorrow.

The next morning we dine on a sumptuous continental breakfast and leave for the Mont. Extraordinary the car parking available for excursions to the Abbey. After parking we walked to the navette (bus) and travelled with hundreds of Japanese tourists to the Abbey (they thought it was the Tokyo underground and 100 tried to get on a fifty seater bus). At the Abbey we tried to lose them by walking up onto the ramparts and then up the stairs to the Abbey but there they were at the top and we tripped thought the Abbey together (giggling teenage Japanese girls doing stupid poses for their cameras all the way around). We got a surprise when we tried to pay to get in – a computer malfunction meant we got a free entry (gratuitie). The Abbey is large on a monumental scale and being on top of an island mountain it is a bloody long way up (hence a defibrillator at the top of the steps). The Abbey is a labyrinth of rooms passages and halls and kept us interested for hours. There is a garden like a roof garden which on one side is open to the sea sky and air (hence they have installed a perspex sheet to stop silly Japanese girls from falling out which I am certain they would have done – they all crowded around the opening like they did on the bus). Had a nice lunch and then returned to the area on the land – it has hotels a supermarket and restaurants all on a grand scale – the tourists in summer must be as thick as blow flies on a carcass.

View back to the main land

View of the abbey

View of the abbey

 

 

Back to our B&B room for a nanna nap and dream about tomorrow

EXPLORING UK , AND EAST COAST USA – Pictorial

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Date – March Two thousand and thirteen AD

– First Mates Log

DESTINATION:              EXPLORING UK, AND EAST COAST USA

It all started with a 60th birthday and a flight from Brisbane to London. Premium economy seats were very comfortable but not until we reached Taipei – bloody Qantas don’t have premium economy on this shared leg. Arrive in London and onto to the London express to Paddington and then a cab ride through Hyde Park to our apartment. Pleasant surprise it was a one bedroom apartment with kitchen dining lounge large bedroom and bathroom. It also had a balcony which was green as it never saw the sun but received every chilling wind. No thoughts of a BBQ on the balcony. Day one went exploring and found the Natural History Museum a few streets away. After 3 – 4 hours we probably saw 1/3 of the available exhibits. So we needed some shopping therapy. But we went about it the hard way walking to Kensington High Street then along the edge of Kensington Gardens up to Harvey Nicks and Harrods where Kerry got her Harrod’s store card by buying a number of pairs of shoes.

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Figure 1Natural History Museum Kensington

The next day Terri and Mick arrive and off we go to explore the Albert and Victoria Museum. Wow! It is difficult to describe the wealth of exhibits at this one place. Whew – off to the National gallery in Trafalgar Square to meet Mick’s sister Margaret for a drink, but not too late as we went to see “Matilda”.  Wonderful show with outstanding set design and acting by the whole cast but directed more at kids.

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Figure 2 Victoria and Albert Museum

Next day we took the Big Bus to see London. We sat atop the open bus in bloody freezing weather so by the time we reached the Tower of London we decided it was lunch time and found a pub and some warmth. Part of the tour included a boat ride down the Thames from Tower of London to Parliament House caught the bus and then back to Point West. The following day we shared a cab to Victoria Station and there farewelled Mick and Terri and picked up our hire car. Kerry then drove to Long Eaton where we picked up Frances and the entire product for the Move It Trade Show. 3 hours up and then 3 hours back to London set up the trade display (great position). Now we had promised David and Veronica we would catch up with their first born Tiffany and deliver some contraband for her birthday (vegemite, Twistees, and other Australian delicacies). I planned a clandestine meeting that night at an unknown pub off Edgeware Rd. Paddington. Everything went to plan except it was curry night at the pub. So after handing over the goodies we bored her with our travel tales. At about 10.00 pm we farewelled Tiffany who graciously thanked us for a wonderful evening.

First day at the Trade Show

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Figure 3 Move It at the Olympiad

and obviously I was not required out side of taking some photos so back to the shops to top up the fridge and complete the washing. I had made contact with an old colleague Angus Innes and his wife Kath. They have been working in the UK for the last ten years but always like to hear from “the old country” so we caught up at La Poule au Pot at Sloane Square. Lovely little French restaurant and great company but now getting a bit tired. Day two and Kerry heads off to Olympia Earls Court and I go to the Natural History Museum to finish off what I did not see before – well after 4 hours I’ve had it and there is still more.

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Natural History Museum Kensington

The London Bus Tour had introduced me to Primark – cheap clothes and as I packed light I needed some more clothes. $32 and I have 2 new shirts 2 pairs of trousers and some new underwear plus I had a great walk down Oxford St. from Marble Arch to Tottingham Court tube station. Then I had to go to Olympia to pick up Kerry and Frances and all the gear. We were parking the hire car under the apartment along with the Porsche Cayenne the Bentley and 5 Porsche sports cars. The following day its back to Long Eaton but fitting all the gear plus suit cases Frances and boyfriend in a Ford Focus – big ask but we got it done. On the way Kerry gets me to call Babeco and order something which screws up our cash card and HSBC account. As a result we had no cash in Long Eaton. We visited the new show room for Glitter and Dance UK and what a difference. The new premises are far more presentable airy and light but somewhat cold. So we bought some carpet remnants to carpet the office area and the samples area. With the help of Mitch (Frances boyfriend) we laid these bits and cleaned up the kitchen toilet area. We also took the opportunity to visit Nick and Selina Smith at Attenborough Textiles (the old residence of G&D) to introduce Frances, view the new fringing range and invite Nick and Selina to the new premises for a christening drink and dinner at the place of their choosing. After the christening drinks we left Frances and Mitch to clean up while we went to dinner (the boss can do that). Dinner was at the Dayles on a weir in Derby. It would have been picturesque except for the rain wind and snow. Exceptional food and service but we paid for it. But as a thank you to Nick and Selina for the last 4 years it did the trick. The next day we finished off the chores at the shop farewelled Frances and Mitch leaving them with instructions for future additions to the shop. Travelled back to London to find Heathrow flights had been cancelled and there was no room to be found around the airport. We got lucky. A disabled room (a room for disabled people) came available at Premier Inn at Hayes (yes HAYES) 15 minutes from Heathrow by car (with GPS). We dropped the car off the following morning and felt really good that everything was going to plan (even the UK debit card was freeing up). Caught the shuttle to Terminal 3 and headed off to Toronto on my birthday. Well almost – something fell off the plane so we sat on the tarmac waiting for it to be repaired. Premium economy again and it was great. Watched two movies – Cloud Atlas and Lincoln but somehow we were not seated together but on opposite sides of the plane. This enabled Kerry to whisper in the steward’s ear that it was my birthday and I was presented with a bottle of French Champagne. This was to play a role later on as we were carrying a bottle of Grant Burge sparkling pinot (a gift to me for finally retiring). Welcome to Toronto – grey and bleak also. Jumped the shuttle to Niagara Falls 1 hour late not knowing this was not a direct shuttle but a journey through the suburbs and villages to Niagara Falls. Two hours later (about 8.00 o’clock at night) we arrived in a windy freezing and empty Niagara Falls. Checked in ordered room service and looked out our “Falls view” window to see mist but no falls – they don’t light them up at night during winter. So we put the French bottle in the bar fridge and popped the top out the Grant Burge and tucked into dinner. The end of my birthday and I am now 59. Up early next morning to see the Falls – mist and more mist. But there are two! The semi circular falls on the Canadian side and the USA falls and we could not see either clearly. Determined to see the Falls we set off on foot with brief directions from the staff. We discovered an alternate route (all usual routes being closed for winter!) through the Casino (YES a Casino). Even so it was a 20 minute walk to the edge of the Niagara River and our first view of the USA Falls and the Canadian Falls in the distance. But the camera died apparently I had to recharge the battery. So a further frosty walk up to the Canadian Falls (the weather was cold Kerry was Frosty) and what a sight to behold. Then a brain storm – we would walk back to the hotel and recharge the camera and come back by cab to the Falls on the way to the station.

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Niagara Falls

You have not felt cold until you have been to Canada. The walk back about 40 minutes in bright sunshine was still extra cold due to the wind but we got there and then after setting the camera to recharge we went to get a coffee at the Casino. Fabulous and grand it drew us in like fish into the net. But we only had yankee dollars a situation fixed with an aussie credit card. Kerry won as usual. But returning to the main story we caught the cab and down to the Falls and Kerry got her photos. Now to the station – then we learn that we have to go to the USA – across the Rainbow Bridge (which we could see was jammed with traffic),

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Canadian / US border Rainbow Bridge

and through the border gates to the Amtrac station. Well it was 11.45am and our train left at 12.35pm (we thought the train left from the Canadian side). Homeland security refused us entry at 12.20pm. Our visas only permitted entry to the USA by air not land (F**K!). As we had travelled by taxi we had to be accompanied by our driver to get our visas. The driver assured us that we would get our visas and still get the train -“they are very quick”. As soon as we walked in I knew it was not going to be quick, Oriental families, Latin families and various couples were there in front of us. It took two hours to get our visa, Kerry sweet talked the ticket officer to transfer our tickets to the following day and our cab driver( oh yes he was still with us) took us to a hotel for the night. Just as Niagara Falls is pretty and modern Niagara USA is a dump. Our hotel was 3 stars but a dump. Just depressing and old but beggars cannot be choosers. The Marriott was well and truly behind us. It was at this time I found that I had left the GPS cover in the hire car at Heathrow and that I had packed the opened and unsealed Grant Burge and left the French champagne at the Marriott. Well our train left at 6.35 am and we did not want to miss it so up at sparrow fart caught a cab (yesterday’s fare ended up being USD$120.00) and caught a train to New York. Well if it wasn’t the most tedious, boring and prolonged journey – nine and half hours – to New York. I saw some of the dirtiest litter strewn parts of North America. But New York made up for it. After arriving at Penn Station (Pennsylvania station) Kerry took charge and led us in a circle eventually finding our Hotel in 32nd street “Korea town”. It turned out to be a great location for us. After booking in we wasted no time and went shopping – Lord and Taylor in 39th street then on to 42nd street Times Square and points beyond then walked back to the hotel. Friday was over. Saturday we bought our underground passes and went downtown walked around the World Towers site.

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World Tower work site

then onto the Hudson River board walk and walked for an hour down to Battery Park did the ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Is. Then the helicopter ride over New York. Walked to the subway and went up to Bloomingdales – by the time we got out of the subway it was snowing and we were glad to get indoors. Sunday was a big day starting off with a trip over to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens (they call it Long Island City for some reason). We took the 36th street train and talk about broken down and ramshackle and yet once we walked over to the Museum the surroundings changed dramatically for the better. The museum was great fun – a history of the moving image and interactive tools we felt like kids at the kindergarten. Back to the Big Apple – Manhattan Island – and we went over to the Intrepid Museum – an old aircraft carrier moored in the Hudson River with old fighter jets, the Concorde and space shuttle on display. After that we walked from 12th Ave over to Times Sq. (Broadway and Sixth Ave) to purchase theatre tickets to Spiderman.

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the USS INTREPID

Spiderman (a musical) is some thing to behold – arial stunts and bizarre costumes as well as song and dance. On the spectacle element it is hard to beat but the underlying story and music was average. Late night so we plan a sleep in tomorrow. Rise and shine it is a work day. We are to visit Nipkow, Spandex House and Fred Franknell but another load of washing first. So back to 30th Street and while Kerry was washing i went for a walk from 5th Ave to 9th Ave around the block and back again a full half hour at a quick pace. Then over to Penn Station to collect our tickets and check out where we had to go to catch the train- we were not going to miss this one either. Nipkow (Jackie and Regina) was interesting viewing all the fabrics and listening to their gossip but had to run to meet Mark at Spandex House. A very quick walk along a few blocks to 39th St and there it is. Strange it has a familiar look – glitter everywhere with cardboard tubing in use for all kind of things. Mark was a charming 68 year old Jewish gentleman very glad to be in our company. Off to lunch at his favourite pub accompanied by Asvir – an Indian from near Bombay (the accent was still distinct) and Fiji. He has family in Brisbane and is familiar with Australia. No fabric just lunch. Then off to Fred Franknell which turns out to be a woman (third generation of the Franknells) and we collect a parcel and view the sparkly trims. The parcel is quite heavy so we hike back to 32nd Street to off load. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing some shopping and then resting for the next leg of our journey – Philly. Snow begins to fall about 6.00pm suggesting it will be a wet trek to Penn Station which it was. We arrived in time and caught the train Business Class down to Philadelphia. Upon arriving we were impressed by a large almost Roman looking station and immediately got the impression that life was not as hectic here. Caught a cab beneath tall Ionian columns and travelled to the old part of the city. The cab driver looked puzzled when we told him the name and address of our hotel – not a good start. However we travelled directly to city hall and the traffic and into Chestnut Street – #2000 Chestnut Street and our hotel – 300 Chestnut! Well when he pulled up at 3rd and Chestnut and said here it is I could not see any hotel. There was a run down pub and then I spotted it the awning over the single door saying “Society Hill Hotel”. It turns out this is one of the oldest areas in Philly and this was likely from the revolution. Rang the bell and we were finally greeted by the cleaner who told Kerry that we were 4 floors off the ground, there was no lift, that the room had only been paid for 1 night and we could not have our room for another couple of hours. Well all I could see was me carting the luggage to the nearest 5 star hotel but the cleaner showed us a room (after much pleading) and explained that our suite had a lounge as well as the bedroom. Resigned to our fate we took the luggage to the 2nd floor and then set out to explore Philly. As it turned out we were located in the heart of the old city. We took the bus tour for the afternoon and then walked around our area finding some very interesting spots like Elfreth St, with the same house from 1770 and a Union Jack flying from one of them. Quite surprising how much of the British influence is still apparent. We had a nice dinner and planned our next day. Back on the fourth floor we found our suite which was comfortable but very basic. The next morning we found our favourite breakfast spot – a cafe which had two “u” shaped benches and stools along either side. You ordered a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 and got a cup of coffee or in my case tea on entry as you sat down. Office workers and tradesmen came and went and carried on a familiar banter with the staff. They did a take away service as well. Fully provisioned we set off for the visitor centre a huge building purpose built to inform on the city from its foundation through the revolution as capital of the United 13 States up to the present day. we were lining up to get our tickets to Independence hall where the colonies met to determine the future of the colonies as British subjects where the constitution was signed and the declaration of independence was signed.

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Independence Hall

The city is all about the heritage and formation of the USA – most interesting. We saw the liberty bell and some of the other heritage buildings relating to that time.

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Liberty Bell

Our bus tour the previous day had singled out the Penn University Archaeological Museum and the Mutter (pronounced “Mooter”) Museum of medical specimens. The first museum (there are three major main universities in the city itself) had vast quantities of artefacts as it conducts its own digs world wide but most interesting to me was the information on the Zuni, Hoppi, Navajos and Apache tribes of New Mexico and Colorado. Then on to the Mutter and thank God we had lunch before going there. Gruesome specimens in jars, skeletons and pock mark faces. For example the cast of the skeletons of conjoined twins who lived conjoined at the belly button had wives and 21 children and the intestine of an individual who had 42lbs of faeces in this blocked intestine. Very interesting but not nice! The next day was time for some shopping therapy on foot so we walk over to Reading Terminal Markets which is similar to South Melbourne or Phrahan Markets but located in an old disused railway terminal in the centre of town onto which they have tacked a modern exhibition centre and hotel. Around the corner is city hall but wait there’s Macys. Now that is an impressive building with the world’s largest organ still operating inside. But there is no one to play the organ today. After therapy we proceed at somewhat of a dead end (tired from trying to do too much) and we walk past the South East Pennsylvania Transport Authority building and see an old trolley car in the basement so in we go and we end up in the subway riding to 69th street in West Philly. Oh dear some of this is not pretty and the people begging. We witness what we thought was a genuine person in need of help being evicted from the car by SEPTA personnel. Back in the city we felt like doing a movie and saw “EMPEROR” with Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones. Good show. We had dinner at National Mechanics and then home to bed. Another busy day coming up as we are travelling to Washington. Next morning after breakfast at our favourite spot we returned to the rail station bound for Washington DC.

An uneventful journey through boring country side but I had plenty of time to continue this story. We arrived at Union station. Shit! It is huge and impressive on the scale of Russian buildings in St. Petersburg and just as ornate. This is going to be some town if this is just the railway station. A short cab trip over to K Street and Pennsylvania Ave (that’s right they have named their streets after the alphabet, the states, and the numerals – hardly seems that original). The Sofitel Hotel was also impressive with the staff thinking they were in Paris greeting us in French but the luxury and service was outstanding. Our room was on the top floor but no view except we could see all the other apartments without a view. We had a huge king size bed, glorious shower – every thing that we did not have in Philly. Once again it is a great location. We could not waste any time so off to the Concierge and book the night tour and a play for Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Centre. Then out into the open air – wow! It must have been -2C. Rugged up, we went on a walk and said hello to our neighbours (within 300m) the Obamas. A kindly coloured family living in a plain white house – lots of fuss though with blokes on the roof with binoculars and guns.

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White House

They told us there would be a good service for Palm Sunday at their church – St Johns just across the park and they would be mighty pleased to see us there on Sunday. We said we would think about it.

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St John’s Church

Down the road is the Renwick gallery and around the corner this bloody great obelisk comes into view. So we wandered around made friends with some furry locals and after walking for a couple of hours and seeing all these huge sandstone buildings home for a rest before the big night. The night tour started at 7.30pm -2C and a 25 knot breeze giving a wind chill lowering the temperature to -8C. Capitol Hill was first and after that every major monument in the city. If it had lights on at night we visited it. So by 11.00pm we return to the hotel. The tour was far too long the commentary very amateurish and the bloke expected a tip – he was back on the job after doing something else for 6 months and had not rehearsed his dialogue. Still it was a good way to see the sights even though I was frozen to the bone. The thing they don’t tell you is that most of these monuments and public buildings are a great distance from bus parking – we walked a few further miles that night.

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Capitol Hill

A late start the next day and we took the circulator bus over to Georgetown – an older part of town and very much worth the visit. We walked through the main street (the same silly naming system applied) and down to the Potomac River where the old wharves had been converted to parks and walk ways. Following our noses we came across the John F Kennedy Performing Arts Centre – a bit hard to miss as it was two city blocks in size. Just fantastic but well off any pedestrian track so when Kerry saw a shuttle bus we jumped aboard where ever it may go and ended up at George Washington University Hospital and two blocks from the circulator bus stop. Siesta time so back to the hotel – we were going to the theatre. That night we made our way to the RR theatre to see “Capitol Steps” to find out it is a political satire that has been going on for more than 30 years satirising the government and parties and a lot of other things in song. Fantastic! It was so slick and parodied every bit of the stupidity you read about in the papers – the pirates of Somalia plea for financial aid was just side splittingly hilarious. Another late night! So what do we do the next day Sunday we thought we would take up the invitation from those nice folks at the white house and we went to church. After church a healthy breakfast at the hotel then we get the metro out to old Alexandria town. In the beginning Maryland and Virginia were to provide the land for Washington so the port of Alexandria was handed over to the Feds but Virginia changed its mind and took all that part south of the Potomac River back including Arlington and Alexandria. On the way we dropped into Arlington Cemetery, and saw the memorial to women in war saw innumerable headstones and the Kennedy memorial. I don’t think he would have been that famous if he lived. Then we went onto King Street at Alexandria (finally some proper names). Older than Georgetown and in some respects prettier. After walking a few miles around there we headed back to the hotel and rest. Feet up on that big bed order room service and relax.

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Arlington Cemetery

Last day with our flight to JFK in NY at 7.00pm so we went to the Newseum. This is a museum on the reporting of the news starting with books from Aristotle to Magna Carta and part of the history of the printing press and television. Some areas are also interactive so in some respects similar to the Museum of the Moving Image. One last visit to the Sofitel to get our luggage then off to Ronald Reagan DCA and our flight to NY and London. Over night a snow depression has moved in so guess what our flight is delayed so our connector to London will be missed. At least we have not got to pay for the cab driver to wait with us this time. We managed to catch a connector to London at 12.00 midnight arriving in London at 11.00am approximately and a two day stay at the Kensington Close Hotel.

Unpack the luggage and extract the diamontes collected in NY to send on to Frances. We picked up the package from Babycoe for Carly. Clearly we were not going to fit these into our suitcases. Down to the Post Office we send the diamontes and then onto the underground to go to Harrods. We had lost the greeting cards when losing our travel folder so Kerry wanted to replace them. Very tired so room service and off to sleep. Next day a late start but a big day planned. Into town we visit the Shard. Viewing platforms start at 69th floor and go up to 72nd floor of this unusual building. The railways look like toys from this height. Unfortunately the day was over cast and visibility is not very good and the camera battery flat.

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The Shard

Next we went to see the Textile and Fashion Museum. Unexpectedly it was about a bloke that knitted and not what we expected at all. We then went into the West End planning to see a show. We settled on “the Thirty Nine Steps” and after buying our tickets we went to a Casino near by – Kerry won again. We had dinner at the Slug and Lettuce Pub followed by the show which is an unusual performance by 4 actors two of whom played multiple parts from secret agents to highland inn keepers and coppers. Very funny! Next day repack again for the flight home. Then we fill in time with a walk through Kensington Gardens -wind blowing and temperate VERY COLD – but we find a nice restaurant in Westbourne Gardens called Cote so we settle in for a long lunch after which we walk over to Portobello Rd and then catch the underground back to the Hotel. Now the wearisome return journey begins.

After what seems a lifetime of travel we are met by Kerry Hayes at Brissie Airport. A great holiday which once again demonstrated how lovely Brisbane is as a place to live.