The Retirees go Abroad – Prague and the Czech Republic – Here we found Paradise

The weather has taken a definite turn for the hottest. Many of the Czechs we speak to say that this is their hottest and driest summer. Friday, after recovering from our tour of Terezin we decided we would walk to Prague Castle early in the morning for breakfast. This is the best time to walk the streets of Prague – when the bloody tourists are still in bed. Here are some photos of the walk – the view to another bridge, the castle on the hill, the statue that grants you your wish 6 months later (see the bright spots – that is where people rub with their left hand whilst making their wish), the penguins, some chestnuts on a tree by the bridge, and a peculiar statue which includes a disinterested Turk on the left hand side.

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Through the gatehouse onto another square (that is a convent you can see in the background), then these modern hitching rails, a memorial to the students killed in riots against the Soviets invasion in 1948 and then we found Paradise. It could be the buffet breakfast or it could be the Gardens of Paradise adjoining the castle. We then went for a walk in the King’s vineyard. Here are the photos.

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The Czech Republic has a well recorded history. The lands formerly called Bohemia, Moravia and Lower Silesia, were settled by Celtic tribes then by Germanic tribes and then by Western Slavic tribes. According to a popular myth, the Slavic settlers come from Forefather Čech who settled at Říp Mountain and from this comes the name Czech Republic. Ethnic Czechs were called Bohemians in English until the early 20th century, referring to the late Iron Age tribe of Celtic Boii and their land Bohemia.

The lands were ruled by a King as the Holy Roman Empire for many hundreds of years until the last Wenceslas died without issue and his sister took over but married a Prince of Luxembourg, the most successful and influential of all Czech kings Charles IV, who also became the Holy Roman Emperor. After Charles the Hapsburgs came to power breaking up the Holy Roman Empire and creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia became part of that empire for the next 400 years until Ferdinand was shot and WW1 broke out. After WW1 Czechoslovakia was created with the help of Woodrow Wilson of the USA until 1939 when the Germans invaded then the Russians in 1948 until the “velvet revolution” in 1989 when Czechoslovakia was recreated only to be peaceably dissolved to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

We had read about the Marionette Theatre of Prague and this night we were determined to see the performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Dinner was at the U Prince Restaurant just beside the Old Town Square between Coyotes and Hard Rock Café. I think we made the right choice for us. We enjoyed it so much we returned for coffee and dessert.

The Marionettes was something to behold. The serious performance of Don Giovanni performed by Marionettes and their handlers left us uncertain as to whether it was enjoyed or stared at in amazement. From the orchestra leader who became bored then drunk throughout the performance to the handler who got impatient with the closing duet and tried to stop the show it was unique in all aspects. It claims to have been running for 15 years.

 

Bishops Visit – France and More – Battling the Dreaded M25

 

We set off this morning with the weather mild and sunny. Our planned route would take us through Northamptonshire and down to the M2 avoiding most of the dreaded M25. We have to use the Dartford Crossing and that is on the M25 – no avoiding it.

Our trip through Northamptonshire was very relaxing with little traffic and clear weather. “Tommy” predicted that we would have a trip of 4 hours to Canterbury and we were on target until coming close to London where we moved onto the M11 headed towards Docklands. Blue lights and sirens – a good indicator that things are not going to be smooth sailing. The traffic came to a stand still and for over an hour we crawled along the M11 until we reached the lorry stalled in the left hand lane blocking completely half of the freeway. At least we knew the cause. So often the blockage clears like stale water in the sink when the blockage is cleared and you never see the cause.

Even so the traffic jam had lost us 1 hour. We then moved along again with free flowing traffic until meeting the M25 and chaos. All we could see was red taillights to the horizon. This is the usual chaos at the Dartford Crossing so now we just had to be patient and navigate to Canterbury rather than any other one of a dozen destinations. We lost another hour finding our way through this chaos.

Having made the crossing we had the choice of the A2 (presently backed up to the M25) or the M25 which strangely cleared as traffic scurried like rats down other exits. The M25 is the obvious choice and our journey is underway again but we are still an hour from our hotel. Our expectation had been to arrive at sunset but these delays had changed our ETA to 1900 hours two hours after sunset.

Now I don’t know what Tommy had been smoking but from that point forward it seemed to find every narrow country lane and go around in circles until out of the blackness of the night a service station appears and Tommy says “you have reached your destination”. Our hotel is one of those freeway motels lurking behind a service station. Despite its location the hotel proves to be fine. The standard of the Holiday Inn Express has proven to be excellent everywhere we travel and we can recommend that chain.

Refreshed we are on the road to Dover early in the morning. No hassles getting to Dover where we visited the local museum with its 12,000 year old salvaged boat and its bronze age history then a quick trip to Deal (Yes a place called Deal and certain evidence of pre Aussie travellers) and back to line up for the ferry. Now a word of warning to all those intrepid travellers using their own car to travel through Europe – it has to be compliant but you can buy the kit on board the ship (Yeah right!). Well we bought the kit and now we are compliant – its not a gag.

 

The weather has turned decidedly grey and wet. We line up an hour before boarding and the wind picks up. The ferry is delayed by high winds in Calais so our departure is set back 1 and 1/2 hours meaning we arrive in Calais after sunset. Just makes driving a right hand drive car in the right hand lane a little more difficult. Although the crossing was not rough the ferry pitched sufficiently to cause Kerry some discomfort (not a good sailor).

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Cambridge Day 3

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

An Education at Cambridge

Our trip to Cambridge was somewhat harrowing. Kerry took a wrong turn on the roundabout to the service station at Peach Tree Park and Ride and was told by Tommy to “turn around when possible”. Rod and Kerry aware that Kerry had taken a wrong turn took a different wrong turn on the roundabout and found themselves heading toward Cambridge via Buckingham (due east). To remedy Kerry’s error we had to turn around and the queue onto the roundabout extended for about 2 miles. So we were half an hour behind Rod and Kerry.

We remained in contact via mobile phones. Tommy set us a course south onto the dreaded M25 and then due north before Maidenhead. About an hour into the trip Rod and Kerry hit road works and were delayed 50 mins whilst we made excellent progress. When we learned that Rod and Kerry were free of the road works we encountered “long delays” on the M25. These delays were similar to those encountered on our arrival into the UK. NOTE TO ALL TRAVELLERS – AVOID THE BLOODY M25!

In the end Rod and Kerry arrived at Saffron Waldron 5 mins ahead of us but due to the one way streets in the town we actually drove out of the town to turn around to get a car park. We registered and got the keys to our rooms. This is an old market town and the hotel is a renovation of a renovation. Our room was quite acceptable but Rod and Kerry drew the short straw and there was some considerable upset and debate about the accommodation. Once that was resolved we pulled out the cheese wine and beer and drowned our sorrows.

Next morning I was up early to move our car to the public parking as parking in the High Street was forbidden after 8.00am. We took breakfast in our room (Rod and Kerry had accumulated packets of cereal and bits and pieces). After breakfast we moved down stairs as we intended to use Rod and Kerry’s hire car to drive into Cambridge. I noticed the meeting room down stairs had been set up for a Rotary meeting so I went in and immediately noticed a Woolloongabba Rotary banner then a Stones Corner banner followed by South Brisbane and Brisbane banners. Kerry and I would call on the meeting later that evening.

Without the aid of Tommy but using Kerry’s IPhone we looked to park at the Trumpington St Park and Ride but nary a sign to direct us. So we ended up in the Grand Arcade extremely well placed for a visit to Cambridge. The only difference is the cost. Ultimately it cost us twenty pound for parking for four hours but the location in the heart of the city made up for it.

According to Oxford, “In 1209 a local woman was killed by a scholar. Seeking revenge the townsfolk hanged two of the scholar’s colleagues leading others to flee in fear. Some went to Cambridge where they founded another university” (Oxford Visitor’s Guide, Edition 5 2014).

According to Cambridge, “People had been living there for over 2,000 years. The Romans were there in AD 43 and the Saxons built a bridge across the River Cam in the 8th century followed by the Vikings who established a thriving river trade. 1209 saw the arrival of a rebel group of scholars who had been forced to leave after violent quarrels with residents of Oxford. These were the early founders of what is now the University” (Cambridge Official Map and Mini Guide).

In 1284 the foundations of Cambridge’s oldest college Peterhouse were laid and more colleges followed.

We started our exploration at a coffee shop before going onto the Information centre and purchasing the mini guide for the directions for the self – guided walking tour. The Information Centre is in Wheeler St and from there we proceeded to St Bene’t’s church, the county’s oldest surviving building with a clear Saxon influence (the bell tower was very much like the tower in Oxford). We then proceeded down Free School Lane passed the old Cavendish Laboratory where DNA was first unravelled and the atom split.

From there we found Pembroke College (many of the colleges share the same names as appear in Oxford). Cambridge seems to take a more open and non – commercial approach with there being no entry fee or barriers here. Pembroke was founded in 1347 by the widow of the Earl of Pembroke Mary de St Pol. In 1662 Bishop Matthew Wren kept his promise made whilst a prisoner in the Tower of London to build a new chapel for his old college and he roped in his cousin Christopher Wren to help. He, Matthew not Christopher, is buried in the crypt of the Chapel.

It has a luxurious court of grass surrounded by the ancient buildings forming the college. Here we were allowed into the chapel without restrictions (other than to respect the premises). The chapel is constructed with seats facing each other in “collegiate style” as was the case in all monasteries and followed by the colleges. In the ante chapel there is a beautiful 15th century alabaster depicting Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael with Mary giving judgment on a soul.

Outside the Chapel is a memorial to the past members of the college who died in the First World War. We were also allowed to walk in the gardens viewing the changing architecture over the years.

Across Trumpington St and down the way a few hundred yards is Peterhouse College. Access here was also readily offered. The chapel bore its age well but was clearly from an earlier time than the other buildings. We also were allowed to view the dining hall even though there was a lunch being held in there.

We then walked down Mill Lane to the river and had our first encounter with Cambridge Punt Tour sales people. This is the jump off point for the tours and they were not pushy at all.

We were now making up the tour as we went. We made our way to Queens Lane and into Queens College. Here we had to pay a fee of 3 pounds each but it was worth it. The college was founded by two Queens (Stephen Fry may have been a member but he was not one of the founding queens). The wives of Henry VI and Edward IV Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville respectively founded this college commencing in 1448. The buildings were very elegant and the dining hall exceptional but who ever allowed the 1970’s architecture of one of the newer buildings into the college needs to be called to account. While we were there a new building sympathetic to the old style used elsewhere in the college was being constructed so there seems no explanation for this incongruous architecture being introduced. Walnut Tree Court especially caught my attention with a large walnut tree and pretty bulbs flowering underneath it

Onto Kings Parade and the impressive and iconic Kings College. Built over 100 years and presided over by 5 kings including Henry VI, VII, and VIII this building is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Britain. It is also 7 pounds to enter and lunch is more important at the moment. This is where the Canal tour spruikers gather in numbers and are as annoying as bush flies from road kill on a hot summer’s day. Now the canal tour does look to be superior to Oxford and better value but we had to chase these bastards away – some were very persistent and annoying and would not take “No” for an answer.

We moved on to the square “Market Place” and true to its name there were markets selling all the usual wares. Unusually there were two bike repair shops set up in the pavilions and doing very brisk business. Lunch was a couple of pasties at 2.30 pm sitting in the sunshine which had decided to visit that afternoon but only for a short time. Lunch over, Rod and I prowled the market and found fresh figs the size of cricket balls. That is one thing very noticeable is the preference for seasonal produce. By 3.30 pm we were thinking about getting home not sure about the traffic and what the parking would cost us. Of course as we drove out of Cambridge all the Park and Ride signs jumped out at us. For some reason they all faced the driver leaving the city. Very strange!

We made it back to Saffron Walden and called into the hotel dropped our gear off and proceeded to look around the town. This is an old market town in Essex. It retains its rural appearance and contains buildings dating from medieval period onwards. There is evidence of settlement since the Neolithic period with a Romano British settlement followed by a monastery and after the Norman invasion a settlement the de Mandeville family (Earl of Essex) built a castle in the town. The castle was “slighted” by King Stephen in 1157 but the town remained within the confines of the old castle bailey battle ditches were dug further south and the town developed to the south and Market Square and in 1295 the Tuesday Markets were moved from Newbury and have been conducted at Saffron Walden ever since. The town claims it has the largest parish church in Essex and it certainly is large. St Mary’s the Virgin Church is dated from the end of the 15th century. The old buildings and jumble of shops makes the streets of the town very pleasant to stroll around.

We had dinner at Cross Keys a Tudor hotel and I suspect a more pleasant place to stay than our chosen hotel. The proprietor of the hotel has a relationship with D’Arenberg Wines from MacLaren Vale so good Australian wines are on the menu. The town is worth visiting and there are a number of other features I have not mentioned. If you want to check out Cross Keys visit www.theoldcrosskeys.co.uk. The town has had different names and gained “Saffron” when the growing of saffron brought fame and fortune to the community.

Arriving back at our hotel “Hotel Saffron”, we remembered the Rotary meeting and dressed in shorts and smelling of the dust of the road, we were dragged into the meeting and warmly welcomed by all. The story about the banners was that one of their members had visited relatives in Brisbane and had gone to meetings at each of the Clubs. So we were able to pass on greetings from Woolloongabba and Nottingham.

Here is the photographic proof.

 

EXPLORING UK , AND EAST COAST USA – Pictorial

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.