"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NYC - a love-hate relationship renewed

Although I'm back home in Oz, I thought I'd finish up the travel blog with some reflections on our time in NYC. I was here back in 1976, with two friends, and was not impressed with New York at the time. We did the usual things, saw the sights, but only stayed for three days and then took the bus to New Orleans. This time, we had booked 6 nights, and I was not sure what to expect; everybody I had spoken to was in love with NYC, so there must have been something to recommend it and I was happy to give it another go. It was Wayne's first time in NYC, and he was just stunned by the sheer size of it. We ended up staying at the New York Manhattan Hotel (nyma), a great little place in Little Korea. For NYC, it was relatively cheap and the location was excellent, steps from Macy's and the Empire State Building, and right next to the metro. Nyma had everything you would need, and although the rooms were a little small, we felt quite cosy there. I had planned to see so many things while in the 'Big Apple', but we ended up in the middle of a heatwave, so our energies were sapped and we concentrated our sightseeing in the mornings. We 'did' all the major sights - the ESB at night - glorious vistas of light, with the stars overhead. Times Square, as amazing at night as during the day, and wonders to behold every minute! Even the advertising is riveting! Every few seconds someone or something comes by and makes you go all goggle-eyed. One of the best things was a horse-and-coach ride in Central Park. As soon as you enter, the bustling city falls behind and you're in a beautiful treed oasis. New Yorkers love their park! It's a great space, the scene of many movies, and home to adorable squirrels. The Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty - the old girl still looks great. I saw Ellis Island, where my mother arrived in 1952, a young war bride. Wall Street, the centre of business both small and big, and the 'bull' a few blocks down. Got a giggle from the supersized 'Burger King' sign obscuring the venerable old Stock Exchange building, with George Washington looking down his nose at it all. Fancy 5th Avenue with the top retailers, and Rockefeller Centre, a hub of Art Deco art. Wayne explored the 'Intrepid' aircraft carrier, while I took in some of the amazing exhibits of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If I start takling about the MMA, I won't stop, it's simply the best. I saw the riches of so many civilisations, it made me think that if humankind can produce such wonders, it might even end up producing a beautiful version of itself. (ok, I was feeling whimsical). We met some of Wayne's cousins in Little Italy. This area was fun  to explore, because it is just a short couple of blocks, full of Italian restaurants. You turn a corner from Chinatown, and there it is. And then you turn a corner, and you're in little Vietnam! With everything for sale on the streets, things you know (fish, vegies), and things you don't know (?fungi, ?dried something), and things weird (buckets full of live toads; cryovac'd marinated duck egg yolks - now what would you need that for??). Talking about food (one of my favourite topics - yes, really, Nancy!), I must say that the quality of the food in the US (and Canada) is excellent. I haven't had a really bad meal anywhere. The ingredients are fresh and tasty, and often prepared very nicely. On the flip side, the size of the meals simply put me off most of the time. What a waste! The USA could feed three nations with the leftovers alone! And everybody eats donuts! I don't even dare look at one and gain 3lb., and I saw people having several for breakfast! Diabetes must be rampant. And burgers are on the menu even in the top restaurants. There is not much imagination involved in American food, Australia is way ahead in that respect. But I've had some excellent meals on our trip. Well, back to NYC. Ok, I liked it much more than the first time, but being me, I hate the crowds, the heat, the traffic, the smells, the begging, the sheer claustrophobia of the place - six days was quite enough, thank you!
Would I go back? Well, maybe on the way to somewhere else, if only to visit the MMA again, and the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Folk Art, and the Museum of the American Indian, and the Plaza hotel for high tea, and walk the Brooklyn Bridge, and take in a show on Broadway, and........

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baa Haba and Bahstan

We arrived in Bar Harbour in sparkling sunshine, and were 'tenderized' (as DH put it) to shore in cute little orange boats. The township already looked inviting and bustling with tourists, but we had to wait a while for our bus, which eventually turned up with a somewhat toffee-nosed guide who didn't explain the delay. Undeterred, we proceeded to enjoy whatever was offered, and headed to Acadia National Park, and a small horse-ranch inside the park. Two delightful percheron horses, Pete and Gob (don't ask) came along towing a carriage, and pulled us through the lovely forest, while the driver, Emily, explained all about Acadia Park, and especially the Rockefeller family's association with it. It was just such a great day for a leisurely ride, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I think, when I get home, I might get a trap & pony to go shopping in town! After a reluctant farewell, we continued our trip up Cadillac Mountain, from where we had a fantastic view of the sea, islands, and the Maasdam, which appeared very small from such a height. The mountainside does not have large trees, there is granite below, and little soil in which to develop roots, so big stone slabs were exposed atop the mountain. We wound our way down again and spent a while at "Geddy's", a very quaint bar/pub, enjoying the seafood and a cold drink. I was quite tickled with the signs all over the place, including the ones for the restrooms - "outboarders" and "inboarders". We had a couple of hours left before having to take the tenders over to Maasdam again, so I had a bit of a look in the shops. Bar Harbour certainly promotes the moose! They're everywhere, on most T-shirts and other tourist paraphernalia. Having not seen one moose, I mentioned to the shop attendant that all the moose stuff was a little incongruous, given the rarity of them, he went to defend the moose, saying there were a few thousand in the state! Hmm, ok....
The next day was the end of our cruise, and we left Maasdam behind, sadly, since I'm definitely turning into a cruise junkie! We took a cab to our hotel in Boston, then headed out and caught a hop-on-hop-off trolley. These are a great way to see any city, and Boston was no exception. Mind you, from balmy weather we went straight to a brisk, cool wind, and I just HAD to buy a Harvard hoodie - to keep warm! We had lunch at Quincy Market - what a blast! It seemed the whole of Boston was there at the time. We walked a short part of the Freedom Trail and admired the beautiful old brick buildings. The history of Boston is so complex and interesting, it would be nice to spend more than a night there. Boston's city is not big, easily traversed on foot. We really liked it there and would happily explore it another time.
And then it was time for New York.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maritime pleasures

It's taken a while to get back to the blog, and we've arrived in the big apple now. Still, I'd like to devote one blog to our time in the Maritimes, partly because this beautiful corner of Canada deserves time spent there, and also because part of the Maritimes, Prince Edward Island, is tied up with my personal family history. We arrived on the 'Maasdam' on 11th June, another beautiful, sunny, warm day. Rather than booking a shore excursion, we thought we'd get a rental car and explore the island by ourselves. As if it had been planned, a chap with an Avis board just arrived at the dock when we disembarked, and soon we were travelling eastwards, on Highway 1towards Wood Islands and Little Sands, in  a black Jeep Cherokee. It was nice getting out of cities, interesting though they were, and into farming country. PEI has rich, volcanic soil, making it perfect for the potatoes they grow there. It's a neat, hilly countryside with lots of farms, and little inlets cutting into the shore line. A short while later, we arrived at the Wood Islands light house, a pretty red and white structure on elevated ground, overlooking the sea. I found a book there about the early days of Wood Island, written by a lady who is probably related to me way back. My ancestors from Colonsay landed at Wood Islands on the "Spencer" in 1806, and eventually moved to a farm in Little Sands, a short drive away. Now, there are only a few farms - and a winery - left in Little Sands, but it felt as if a circle had been completed, with me standing where my great-grandfather probably farmed in the late 19th century. There is still some evidence of the strip-farms that were granted to the farmers in those day, long narrow strips of land, supposedly because the bullock teams tilling the fields were difficult to turn around. We stopped briefly at the Little Sands cemetery, and found lots of relatives there, MacNeills, McMillans,and Munns galore. The McMillan descendents from the immigrants on the 'Spencer' had also erected a memorial at the Wood Islands Pioneer Cemetery, which we also visited, before being driven away by mosquitos. This was all very satisfactory, and we returned to Charlottetown, for a lobster roll lunch, and visits to the Anne of Green Gables shop AND a quilt shop!
The next day we awoke in Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were whisked off by bus to see some of the Cabot Trail, a stunning area of coastline on the eastern side of NS. The scenery is truly magnificent, dramatic beaches, cliffs, and pounding seas, with wooded hillsides along the drive. I looked and looked for moose, but no luck! We stopped at a lovely old resort overlooking an ocean inlet, and saw eagles circling. Would have loved to drive the whole trail, but alas, no time. This is definitely a place I'd like to explore further.
Didn't get much time to explore Sydney, as we had to be back on board early.
Our last stop in the Maritimes was Halifax. We had booked a tour to Lunenburg, the 'prettiest town in Canada', founded by German settlers introduced by the British around 1753. First we stopped in Mahone Bay, a quaint little town with the typical colourful houses of the area, and some interesting churches. I just love the architecture of these places! The we got to Lunenburg, where our guide, a kilted gentleman called John, explained some of the history of the place. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the town is completely made of wood! We had time to explore on our own, and we admired the gorgeous old places and the harbour with its lobster and crab boats. We had a great lunch at the 'Grand Banker', which was delicious! What a life, when your main decision of the day is whether to have clam chowder or lobster!
I went for both! We then took a horse carriage through Lunenburg, and our guide explained lots about the old houses, showing us beautiful leaded windows, widows-walks, and the oldest house, predating the German settlers' homes. This is definitely a must-see destination when visiting this corner of the world!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Feeling French

We are in Montreal, in fact, it's our last evening here. I didn't blog from Ottawa, never got enough air-time. We loved Ottawa - not just because of certain friends who live there, but because it is a lovely, relaxed city with many things to see and do. It has beautiful old government buildings, and we were regular visitors to the Byward market, a place to unwind in pubs, cafes, and market stalls selling beautiful summer berries, flowers and vegetables. My favourite place to visit was the RCMP campus, where we got a tour of the RCMP museum, the stables, the training areas, and saw the wonderful horses! They're a cross between Hanoverians and thoroughbreds, between 15-17 hands high and have shining, dark chocolate colored coats. And I got to see the Van Gogh exhibition - wondering if it will come to Australia? The works were not very well known to me, many were still life paintings. It was interesting to see how his paintings changed with his mental status. Once he was out of the asylum, the paintings took on so much more complexity. As usual, I liked two of the paintings which did not 'rate' a postcard, but that's ok. Art is different for everybody. I also loved the Innuit art collection at the National Art Gallery, especially the carvings, they are so powerful! I love the Innuit sculptures, especially the 'dancing bear' and some of the owls, of course.
Montreal has been, shall we say, different! The French influence is, of course, unmistakable, and I had to dig deep for my vocabulary, although people happily switch to English when they see you're struggling. The city certainly has a different 'flavour' to other Canadian cities I've seen. The Vieux Port (old port) is beautiful, the Notre Dame cathedral an amazing work of art, the quartier Latin very quirky, vibrant and colourful. The students from the nearby Universite de Canada a Montreal look a lot less conventional than our lot at La Trobe! They're not afraid to be 'out there' in appearance! The students were protesting peacefully against increased student fees, and on the Grand Prix weekend, so the police was front and centre, the place was just crawling with them! I think they were probably spoiling for an excuse for a melee! Interesting how they all hung out near Dunkin' Donuts! The food is pretty good here too, one can actually find things other than hamburgers and fries! Can't fault the crepes, sweet or savoury. It's even fun watching TV here, all the US sitcoms are translated into French... I was watching a childrens' TV show - I could actually follow that! The French here is very different from the 'French' French I learned so many years ago.
Tomorrow we board the HAL "Maasdam" and head to Quebec.