171003 Bar Harbor

Excursions to Bar Arbor’s idyllic natural surrounds, including Mount Desert Island’s coast and Acadia Nation Park are just some that are available.

Bar Harbour! Sounds interesting but then, it is tucked away in the Maine State of the far North East of the USA away from the mainstream touristy areas, so not much is ever heard of Bar Harbour in Australia. The NBC News rarely has to visit, it seems. But lots of tourists visit and there’s very good reason for them to wander around this mainly National Park region.

Our ship sneaks in in the early morning, making its way through all the lobster fishing spots laid in the harbour. Many fishermen have been out collecting lobsters for the restaurants to serve to cruise boat vacationers that invade the village for a day. And what a lovely little fishing village it is; well manicured lawns and gardens all around and shopkeepers ready early for the influx of prospective customers for the day. Yesterday, the Ovation of the Seas was here and today the Regal Princess is here with us. But the season of cruise boats only lasts for 4 or 5 months before it is just too cold for anyone to go on vacation.

We had chosen to go on a 2-hour walk around the Arcadia National Park. Only a small group of people thought of the same option, and so it was easy to get along between stops where a guide provided us information on the geological structure or the foliage of the coastline. Our 2-mile walk took about an hour of walking. The scenery looking out over the region was fabulous with sunshine and blue sky to match, again. Although there are no mountains in the area, the slight increase in altitude was enough to give us some autumn colours we had really come for.

We returned to the pickup point and continued to walk around the lower coastline near the village to just enjoy the clean air and sunshine and watch fishing boats pass by.

After dinner and the evening show in the main Vista Room theatre, the BB King Band with its loud slow, and fast, blues music filled the small theatre.

Tomorrow, we are off to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada.

171002 Boston

Early in the morning, our cruise boat will berth at Boston. There are various excursions to choose to do or, you can just sit around the ship. Often the spa areas have discounts on their treatments at this time, but be warned if you do. The prices are way above those charged for similar treatments in Australia.

After a full day at sea, we arrive into Boston early in the morning for a ‘duck tour’ of the city. What’s a “duck tour” you ask? From back in the days of the war, Boston is renowned for using these amphibious vehicles for city tours. They were used by the military, during assaults in difficult terrain. Cumbersome to look at and difficult to board, the tour commences with a view of the city through the eyes of our guide dressed in, who knows what, but he is very informative and privy to interesting stories of past presidents and politicians that Boston is famous for. We saw where John F Kennedy lived, and where Marilyn Munroe is said to have visited, often. (Oh, the private life of politicians is revealed years later by historians with a bent for the unusual – even his platform shoes have clear plastic heals housing famous goldfish. Of course, they are guarded by his flared white trousers of the days of Elvis).

This “duck” also takes us on a tour of the city with a river view, and some of the passengers are invited to drive the thing up river while the driver/captain takes his “unionised” break. We have certainly been blessed again with beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies. Initially, we were going to go back to the ship for lunch then return to the city for our self-guided walking tour of the ‘touristy stuff’, but decide that a sleep on the deck is well worth the ‘effort’; oh, and then another ice-cream. Are you counting, John?

Tomorrow we will be at Bar Harbour.

170930 New York to Boston

We try to complete our Group Tours with a Cruise to give our clients a holiday, with a bit of fun and sightseeing thrown in. We board the ms Zuiderdam and check into our Verandah Staterooms for a wondrous cruise.

There’s something about cruising that gets my mind and body into relaxation mode. Many think that you have to be well off financially to cruise, but these days, cruising is for all, whether it be a 3 day familiarization cruise out of Sydney or a 104 day world cruise visiting 50 ports along the way, the prices per day, are not all that exorbitant.

Departure or arrivals at dockside are busy times until you are on the ship. Some ships carry over 5,000 passengers which makes embarkation or disembarkation, a very involved and active process. When immigration is involved, that adds to the confusion and paperwork, required to be completed by each of the excited passengers. All are looking forward to a calm ocean and lots to do. Ships’ staff make sure there is plenty to do or, if you like, nothing to do. I prefer an even mix.

Although our departure pier is not too far from our Times Square accommodation, we find out that at 10:30 on a Saturday morning, New York is still alive from the night before. Our 8-minute drive becomes almost an hour. There is bedlam at the cruise wharf as there are 3 passenger ships changing over passengers on the one day. However, without too much problem, our suitcases being cared for, we board before mid-day and await our 8:00pm departure. The other two ships cast off around 4:00pm so we have a free departure and are able to view the lights of New York as we head out to sea.

The statute of Liberty is floodlit and stands out from the darkness as we cruise on by. Some keen photographers were complaining that the movement of the ship and the darkness of the night meant they were getting light flares on their camera shots. Shutter times and aperture settings were played with to get the right exposure for a good photo of “the lady”.

During the first few hours of a cruise, orientation is important and many are found just wandering about, to see just what this ship has to offer; what packages are being offered in the spa, are the classes worth attending? does the shop have good bargains? etc. Many passengers get lost for a time but all find their way to the dining rooms without too much hassle. It is said that passengers put on 1.2 pounds of weight per day on a cruise so they want to prove that fact. It is not unusual to see a grossly overweight person ‘pigging-out’ at 4:00pm or even 11:00pm

For the first time, we chose to purchase a package that gives us access to the spa facilities from 6am to 10pm almost every day of the cruise. Massages are expensive on a cruise and the cost of the hydro for two of us is less than one 90-minute massage for one person. There is a large pool with air and water jets to massage the body, a couple of steam rooms and a dry sauna, and a lazy boy bed that is heated to give you 20 minutes of relaxation to end your self-treatment. Membership numbers are limited and so there is no waiting around to use the facilities. I’m sure we will give these facilities a good workout.

There are 5 or 6 restaurants on board this ship for just 1600 passengers. But they are well used. Scenic has organised a lunch when the 60 of us can get together to keep that Aussie Spirit and new friendships going, just in case you haven’t met up with fellow travellers while wandering around lost.

After a good night’s sleep, (I think the most we have had in a night on this tour), we keep to our exercise program and are in the gym for an hour. A walk around the 3rd deck turns out to be a winter walk and we move into the gym out of the cold. The gyms on a ship are there to encourage people to change their lifestyle and to take off that 1.2 pounds of flesh gathered the day before. However, always be careful of costs that can come around when you go to the ‘health and fitness’ lectures that are available. There are many ‘unfounded’ new programs being trialled on ships and what better way to conduct that trial than amongst people who are on a cruise and trying to change their lifestyle? We got ‘dudded’ one cruise and we returned the miracle product the following day.

Our first day is a ‘sea day’, which is a great time to take a nap in the morning and a nap in the afternoon and enjoy doing nothing the rest of the time. Yes, we used the hydro package twice, once in the morning and then again at the end of the evening. The stage shows on a cruise are always well done, and the one last night was the best I had seen on any of the cruises we have been on previously.

I managed to say “no” to the evening dessert at dinner. Now that’s a plus and worth many brownie points.

Tomorrow, we are down to do a ‘duck’ tour of Boston; an interesting way to see a famous city.

 

170929 New York

Whether you approach it by sea, land or air, New York is one of those rare cities that can inspire love at first sight. There comes a particular moment when that stunning Manhattan skyline suddenly comes into view, when it’s image converges abruptly with the stark reality of its glittering buildings.

Today is the day we explore the buzzing New York on a hop-on-hop-off double decker bus – take the top front seat to experience the thrills of the city’s traffic. The evening is an experience never to be forgotten as we enjoy a show on Broadway.

I’ve never sat at breakfast looking out at a scene of neon lights and flashing video. This morning, we did. Before us was the end of yesterday or was it the beginning of today; I’m not really sure, as this city seamlessly joins each day with colour, business, noise, and people so well. Apples don’t sleep and neither does the BIG Apple. Breakfast was so-so, before we headed out to explore this active city.

We had paid for hop-on-hop-off bus tickets and so boarded the one heading towards the Statute of Liberty. Yes, still lots of hooting of horns and general New York traffic noise. At the stop for the 9/11 memorial, we decided to get off and explore the two holes made by terrorists back a few years ago. We all remember when we were when we heard this sad news. Since all the rubble has been cleared, two large square holes have been made into waterfalls with the water appearing to fall into bottomless oblivion. Very impressive!

Even in this busy city, you can still meet up with people you know from your group. Two ladies, travelling together in our group, were looking a little lost trying to turn the map around to the direction of the layout. They asked if they could spend the day with us for piece of mind as they knew I carry a GPS. We walked towards the pier and then further on (we had the wrong pier) to catch the ferry out to the Statute of Liberty. Our cruise ship will pass by ‘the lady’ tomorrow evening but all will be dark at 8:00pm. There was a long security process prior to getting on the ferry to the island. We could have gotten off to explore the land but time started to get away from us and we needed to be back at the hotel for a 5:00pm dinner appointment before the nights show. We stayed on the ferry the full journey.

The New York subway interested us to take us back to Times Square but the hop-on-hop-off ticket seller convinced us that it would only take 40 minutes to get back. Not true! 80 minutes, which meant we needed to hurry to be ready for a highlight of the tour.

After a ‘community’ meal, we had a little culture and pizzaz added to our tour. “Hello Dolly” with Bette Midler as the main actress, was on and we had purchased tickets within our tour with Scenic. The costumes and stage sets were something to behold and the singing was perfect too. For some, they will remember the steep stairways to the ‘bleaches’, and back down again. A great show which you should try to include in your visit to New York if you do so within the next few months. Bette is now 72 and keeping up with the youngins but the show wont go on forever.

After a quick wander through the three levels of the M and M shop next to our hotel, it was definitely time for bed.

Tomorrow, we board the ms Zuiderdam for a 10 night cruise up the Atlantic coast around Halifax and back to Quebec, the starting point for our tour.

170928 Washington to New York

On our way to New York, we stop over and explore the historic Philadelphia. The BIG APPLE wants to care for us at the Renaissance New York, right on Times Square, for two nights.

Another early start and our bus driver is well versed in the directions to get us out of the Washington and onto the correct expressway or turnpike towards New York, our final destination before boarding our cruise boat. I checked with our driver for the costs of the tollways and he was not too sure, although had an idea that many of the toll costs were less than $3.00 a pass; one may have been $15.00. The tunnel across to New York was $15 for cars and trucks but for coaches it is just $3. That’s very good prices compared to most of the paid expressways in Australia. He made mention that a German company had been buying up some tollways and the prices had gone up 3 to 5 fold on take over.

We took a short stop at a service centre for morning tea. There were over 12 food and coffee outlets and many of them were very busy; would you believe at one coffee outlet, you had to wait 15-20 minutes to get served.

Philadelphia is the home to the original writing of the constitution and all things American. A one hour tour is not long but we crammed a few famous sites into it; the Art Museum where the famous Roxy movie star did his stance that you see a groom attempting to his bride.

Eventually, the famous New York skyline came into view and everyone on the coach became ‘recharged’ for the visit to the Big Apple. I don’t see the reason for the nic name as there is not an apple tree in sight. Traffic is very heavy and is stop start all the way to our hotel from the tunnel crossing; apparently in front of us, police were attending a stabbing of a Uber driver and that caused the traffic mayhem. Our hotel Renaissance is at Times Square, in fact, the restaurant view has the best view for those who enjoy neon flashing lights and huge screens. We notice a few “family” street names – not bad – two in 20 minutes, however, we didn’t lay claim to them; Jay Street was named after a famous rapper.

We are in NEW YORK! Oh dear! The Yarra Valley isn’t so bad after all. The traffic is at a stand still and regularly, someone wants everyone to know that their car has a horn. And then the chorus begins. Sirens whirl from everywhere and at times you think you are in Paris – the place of blaring police sirens.

Tonight is the last night, before winter, that the red topless buses are doing night tours. So soon after our arrival, we line up for the bus. It turned out our bus didn’t have it’s whisperer working and so the guide had to shout from the front of the bus all the information he had to share about sites along the way. Someone from our group said he was very good and made their tour something worth doing. My hearing is pathetic in open spaces and so missed the commentary the whole journey. Lights are lights but the view from the Manhattan Bridge is one of the best.

We arrive back to our hotel around 9:00pm and realise that we haven’t had a meal so we check out the hotel restaurant and that ‘best view of Times Square’. Suddenly, it was 11:00pm and time for bed.

Tomorrow is free time to look around this very busy city.

170927 Washington DC

Today is history day as we take a guided tour of Washington DC and learn of its influence in the USA.

Federal Capital Cities are always interesting. It is here that we see how taxpayers’ funds are spent on making the city look good, be functional and liveable for the residents. The first fact we learned about Washington was that over a million people make their way each day from home into the capital city for work. That’s an enormous influx compared to the normal population of less than 800,000.

Two of our close friends back in Australia have become related years ago, through the marriage of their children. The kids and their family, are currently living in Washington. I sent a message to each of the parents, “We are in Washington. Who do you want me to say ‘Hi’ to?”. One of them responded, “Say Hi to my son Corey.” The other asked us to say Hi to Donald Trump, Ted Wilson, and the grandies. Interesting. One thinks of his son only; the other thinks of his grandies and his boss. The wife is not mentioned. So I said “Hi, Kellie”, just in case she felt left out. Thanks Max. Thanks Traff.

Today has been the longest city tour we have experienced. That is expected with so much history and well known buildings and landmarks to be included in the tour. Our city guide is well versed, of course, in the intricate ways of government and the many dates that need to be told in order for the story to be flowing and factual. They do a great job and appear to love it, which is a bonus for both their employers and us.

We visit the Arlington National Cemetery first. The rows and rows of short identical tombstones highlight the dominance of warfare and family losses in everyone’s life. There are over 300,000 graves with over 450,000 deceased. You can be buried here if you have served or been a spouse of a military person, or a child under the age of 18 whose parent has served. Past presidents and their family, or their close famous friends, can also be buried here. The Kennedy Family graves feature in our short one-hour tour of the cemetery.

The parklands around the capital are green and well kept, even with squirrels bouncing between the trees gathering supplies for their families. The weather was warm and sunny.

Various other landmarks are included in the tour such as The Abraham Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, The Washington Tower and The Capital Building. It is difficult to get a close view of The White House so we are taken to a spot to view from the rear entrance. Mr Trump is away for the day to return later in the afternoon. All exhibits are on a “Grand” scale and become embedded in the memory even more so than a picture can do. My memory for figures and dates is rather lucid so it would be wrong of me to regurgitate what I ‘might’ have heard, so if you want to glean from Mr Google’s powerful search facilities, that information is probably similar to the information our guide provided to us.

It seems silly, but we didn’t take the option of visiting the infamous Smithsonian Institute, which is so full of magnificent displays. Instead, we returned to our hotel, took lunch, and then a nap, or two, before heading out to dinner at ‘The Irish Pub’ in Georgetown a few blocks away.

Tomorrow is another ‘travel’ day to the Big Apple, with a city tour of Philadelphia along the way.

 

 

 

170926 Lancaster to Washington DC

Firstly, a local guide explains the Amish culture, faith and the way of life. The nation’s capital offers a complete change of pace, as we discover through a two night stay at the Fairmont Washington DC.

At 6:00am of a morning, this little town of Lancaster is very much awake. I did not know why and I still don’t know why. Perhaps it is a town that provides employees to another larger town somewhere else.

After breakfast, a guide was waiting at the Amish village to show us around a few farms and aquaint us with the lifestyle of these ‘different’ people. Firstly, we are driven to a couple of dairy farms. The farms are generally an average of 70-90 acres of very fertile land. The grass is green and healthy. Large sections of paddocks are growing corn, we would call it maize, to be used for cattle feed in the winter months. Crops of lucerne and various vegetables are well cared for. The Amish live very simply and use very old-fashioned methods of farming and living. There are no TVs, no electricity to the houses. Horses pull carts and farm machinery.

The dairy herds number 50 or so high volume milk producers. Stalls have names of the cows on each of them and each cow comes to its own stall without being coaxed. Milking is done using a vacuum pump into a churn first then carried to the vat for collecting by the dairy co-op. House yards are all neat and tidy for us all to enjoy.

Families average 7 children per household. Everyone works for the benefit of the farm. Children go to school to Year 8, which is the government requirement. There are many schools in the area as each school has just the one teacher for the 25-30 grade 1-8 students that attend. As soon as the student is 15, they are allowed to stop attending to work the farm or in the carpentry shop. Those that want to go to school beyond 18 are required to go to another community. We spent some time in a house with the school room attached, learning of the teaching philosophy that is followed.

Transport is by horse and buggy, the “street” ones are glassed-in with a windshield. The fields are worked with horses pulling the sowers, mowers and carts.

The house is simple with the kitchen table being the main focus of family activity. Meals are wholesome and mealtime is a time of family discussion and involvement. Children usually marry by 23, often by 18, when they leave the protection of the family. In old age, the parents live in an adjacent house to one of their children and there they stay for the rest of their lives. The cemetery is very plain with just a small headstone.

Handcrafts and home built furniture and games are a specialty for some. Church and religion form much of the reasons why families follow the traditions and cultures of by gone days.

After our visit to the Amish village and lifestyle, we stopped by another touristy village for the gift shop run. The village name is “Intercourse” for which there were many humorous number plates, tee-shirts and articles proudly displaying the place name. (We nearly purchased a new number plate for the motorhome but thought we might have too many making remarks or sounding horns as they drove by.) We passed by Chiropractor which, well, you can read his street sign.

Our destination for the day was Fairmont Hotel in the nations Capital, Washington, which means tomorrow is a lot of walking to see the tourist mecca spots.

170925 Niagara Falls to Lancaster

Welcome to the USA. Today we arrive to savour a traditional home-style Amish feast, then settle in to the Marriott Lancaster at Penn Square.

A very early start to the day today commenced with the alarm sounding off at 5:15am. Firstly, we have to cross over the Ontario River and into the United States of America. What bedlam there was in the line to get into the restaurant for breakfast at 6:20am. It worked out that if we had arrived 10 minutes late we would have still found a table for 4 without having to be treated like cattle being marched to the local abbatoir.

There were 5 coaches already in the line at immigration when we arrived at 7:30am, so a long wait was put in place, some sleeping, others playing technology games, some writing blogs. I was a little offended to hear our driver and tour director inform the customs official that we had 29 Australians, 1 American and 1 Canadian on board – no mention of a New Zealander. (How dare they include New Zealander as an Australian because New Zealand is geographically ‘near’ to Australia, lol. I bet the Canadian Tour Director would protest if we included her as an American if down-under). 90 minutes later we were on our way on American soil heading towards Lancaster in Pennsylvania and the Amish territory.

These people, although religious, are grounded well in the manual ability to accomplish many of the trades and lifestyles associated with habits of 100 years ago. In some ways, the commune way of living is a worthwhile system for collective survival, but to make it mandatory that a specific religious flavour be the centre of that community prevents individual needs and philosophies to be developed. However, many western advanced processes are now being used within the Amish business and education systems, in order to survive the materialistic nature of man’s habitation and demands.

After checking into our hotel in Lancaster, we travelled out to the town called, wait for it, Intercourse. No Joke – they have all sorts of town names over here. It’s where Amish demonstration villages are located for tourists. The purpose for tonights visit is to experience an Amish meal done the way they do; full and hardy family style.

Tomorrow, we will visit the village again to here the story of why and what the Amish have to offer.

 

170924 Toronto Niagara Falls

When someone says “Water Falls”, the Niagara Falls are often the first to be mentioned. After taking the tour of the falls, we will marvel at the view from our Fallsview room at the Hilton Hotel and Suites just right at the Falls to experience a Special Stay.

Today was a day of “lines”. A line to those who have travelled in America is really a que of people – waiting. Although the coach journey was efficient, our line-ups were efficient too but loaded with other tourists waiting for the event or sequence of viewing or experiencing something worth waiting for.

We arrived in Niagara mid morning to join the line towards the Hornblower Cruises along the Ontario River in front of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls. I noticed a zipline and wished I could ‘float’ towards the falls, but not to be. Our visit to the region is just for one night with very little free-time. Included in the line-up for a cruise on the river, is the distribution of a red poncho to shelter us from the consistent mist spray from the falls.

It’s also a time of ‘push and shove’ as some races are well known to ‘fight for survival’ in their childhood. That carries over to adulthood, it seems, and is evident. Fortunately, the weather is on our side so far this tour. Bright sunshine helps with good photos and today we have been blessed.

After boarding something like 2-300 passengers, the boat cruises across the river towards the American Falls and thence up to the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border. The Niagara Falls has the highest volume of water flow in the world. Having seen all three major tourist attractions in the water fall category now: Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls and now Niagra Falls, I would rate them, on the experience I had, as Iguazu number 1, Victoria number 2 and Niagara as number 3. There would be many with valid arguments to have them in a different order and many would say that other waterfalls are better, but I am only considering the falls, which have become ‘tourist meccas’. My favourite non-tourist falls are in Wells Gray Park in British Columbia.

For our lunch break, we were taken to the beautiful little town of Niagara-on-the-lake. I had the feeling that the local council, residents and business owners are proud of their clean, quaint and attractive village which is, in its own way, a mecca for garden lovers. The shops and nature strips are well supplied with colourful flowers and foliage. Autumn colours were starting to show especially through polarised sun-glasses.

Because I had taken a helicopter flight over the Victoria and Iguazu Falls, when the opportunity to take a flight over Niagara Falls came, I jumped at it so my “comparison judgement” would come from all three types of viewing: from below, eye level and helicopter altitude. And here goes another line – initially it was to be 45 minutes but we waited over 2 hours before being whisked up and away. Yes, the Horseshoe Falls show a similar shape to what their name implies. They are a very, busy set of falls, which is confirmed by the amount of spray hanging above the falls forming a ‘perpetual cloud’. Because I was filming full time, I didn’t manage to take any stills of the falls during the flight, so you will have to wait for the movie version.

You always ‘dream’ of a magnificent view from your hotel room while on a Scenic Tour for at least one night; that dream became a reality this evening. The photos are taken from our 34th room and 33rd level restaurant. It seemed that at some time during the night, the falls are given a ‘rest’ and don’t have any tourist “gauking” at them for a time, when the evening spot lights are turned off.

Tomorrow is a transit day down through part of New York State and into the State of Pennsylvania, where we will experience the lifestyle of the Amish people.

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