Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A brief stay in Germany before heading east.

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

June 24, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

Arriving in Zurich we had 20 minutes to make our connection to Berlin. 

This involved a change of terminal. We made it with a few minutes to spare, but then had to wait an hour, as there was a discrepancy in the passenger list. 

It was a Saturday so Hayden and Andrea picked us up from the airport and took us back to their apartment. We immediately went round the corner for a coffee, which was served to us by an Australian. 

In the afternoon we went for a walk in Volkspark Friedrichshain. There were hundreds of Berliners enjoying the large green spaces. There are two ‘hills’ in the park that were once bunkers but are now covered in trees and vegetation. 

These are the only relief from what is a rather flat landscape in the Berlin area. 

Volkspark Friedrichshain is the oldest park in Berlin and at 52 hectares, the fourth largest. The oldest parts of the park were planted between 1846 and 1848, over the site a former vineyard.

After the Second World War the park was in the Soviet Sector.

 

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June 25, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

On our first ‘awake’ day in Berlin we did the touristy thing and went on a ‘Berlin from Below’ tour. 

This one was ‘Subways and Bunkers in the Cold War’. There are five tours that explore the city from a subterranean perspective. 

This was the story of how the Western Berliners used old subway tunnels from the 30s’ and new ones from the 80s’ to developed a series of civil defence shelters.

This was the time of the Cold War and both the East and the West were on high alert. They were ever mindful that a nuclear holocaust was just around the corner.

The underlying theme, of the presentation, was a sceptical one. Sceptical in that all the money that was spent on these precautions was really just part of a placebo effect.

It may have made the people of Berlin feel safe, but in effect it was useless.

Only 1% of the inhabitants could be housed in these bunkers. Compare this to the Swiss system of civil defence, where 120% of their population could be saved.

Unfortunately no photos were allowed on the tour – I wonder if there is thought of using these bunkers again.

In the afternoon we went to ‘The Art of Banksy’ exhibition.

This exhibition of Banksy’s work was totally unauthorised, created by his former agent, Steve Lazarides.

They have been estranged for over eight years.

Lazarides didn’t believe that he needed to get permission from the famous street artist, because he knew he wouldn’t get it anyway.

None of the work is ‘off the street’ but rather a collection of work that Banksy made for sale. Lazarides was more than likely the agent who sold the work in the first place.

There was a wide variety of work from screen printing, test images, oil paintings and even sculpture.

The exhibition has already been shown in a number of cities, including Melbourne.

It was not without controversy there, as it was ‘visually attacked’ by Melbourne street artist, Matt ‘Adnate’, two days before the opening.

Rats have always featured in Banksy’s work. When asked by Timeout Magazine in 2010, about his fascination with the rodents, he gave this typically self effacing answer:

“They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are the ultimate role model. I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said: ‘That’s clever it’s an anagram of art’. And I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”

The irony is, that there is a gift shop at the end of the exhibition. 

This goes against everything Banksy stands for. 

Late in the day we had a coffee at Oslo Coffee Bar, which is just around the corner from where Hayden works. The coffee is great but what stands out at this cafe is their re-usable, dishwasher safe, coffee cups made from recycled coffee beans.

Created by the product designer Julian Lechner, these unique coffee cups took three years to develop. They were first launched in 2015 and are made from Kaffeeform. This is an entirely new material, that recycles coffee grounds, combines them with a renewable raw material, which is then moulded into espresso, cappuccino and take-away coffee cups.

(To find out more visit: kaffeeform.com)

 

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June 26, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It was another day devoted to exploring more of Berlin.

Our first stop was at the site of the Führerbunker (Hitler’s Bunker). There is nothing there except a car park. It is certainly not a memorial and everything is done to play down its significance. 

The Führerbunker was an air-raid shelter near the Reich Chancellery. Built in two stages, 1936 and 1944, it was designed by Albert Spier and Karl Piepenburg.

Hitler spent the last few weeks of the war here, marrying Evan Braun, shortly before they both committed suicide.

Then, on a more sobering note we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is also known as the Holocaust Memorial.

Inaugurated in 2005, it was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineered by Buro Happold. The 19,000 square metre site is covered with 2,711 grey concrete slabs or stelae. 

There is believed to be no exact interpretation of the design but I felt the stelae had an erie resemblance to coffins.

It certainly makes you think and it is to be hoped that this thinking and reflection will continue in Germany for an eternity.

We walked from the Jewish Memorial down to the Berlin Cathedral or Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church in Berlin. 

There has been a church on the site since 1608. The current cathedral was built between 1894 and 1905 during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was designed by Julius Raschdorff in the High Renaissance style. 

It was extensively damaged during World War II and rebuilt between 1975 and 1993, when it was rededicated. The restoration work wasn’t finally completed until 2002. 

To my mind the Berliner Dom is yet another opulent church that’s had far too much money spent on glorifying clergy and monarchs, rather than helping the people of the parish. 

 

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June 27, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

There is so much recent history in Berlin – WWII and the rise of the Nazi state, the ‘Final Solution’ resulting in the Holocaust and the DDR rule of Berlin’s Eastern Sector.

We had decided to cover a bit of it all.

The  DDR Museum is located on the Spree River, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.

It’s small, crowded and very hands-on, giving the visitor a chance to look at and experience life in the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik)

There are three themed areas. Public Life, State and Ideology and Life in a Tower Block.

The museum was opened in 2006 and was initially privately funded. This was regarded by the public museums as a threat to their funding. 

One of the exhibits that caught my attention was of an East German Trabi. This quaint and very basic people mover was produced by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau from 1957 to 1990.

It was the laughing stock of the big West German auto manufacturers and the butt of many jokes.

One being: How do you double the value of a Trabi? Fill up the tank. 

The Trabi wasn’t entirely a dud as it had a plastic body on a monocoque chassis, front wheel drive and independent suspension. 

All unusual and contemporary features for a car at that time.

Hayden and Andrea understand my love of craft beer and took us to the BrewDog Craft Brewery.

They had thirty beers on tap, with great names such as Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club, Hop Fiction and at 0.5% Alcohol by Volume, my favourite, Nanny State.

BrewDog have a very alternative view on marketing, they have open-sourced their beer recipes, making them a form of Free Beer.

You won’t find the big brewers doing that.

Despite their punk approach, BrewDog, based in Ellon, Scotland, are an international brewery. They opened in 2007 and now produce bottled and keg beer for local consumption and export. They have bars throughout the UK and also in Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland, Florence in Italy, São Paulo in Brazil and of course Berlin in Germany.

BrewDog also has plans to open a brewery in Brisbane. This means that some of their excellent draught and bottled beers might end up down in Melbourne.

June 28, 2017. Berlin to Frankfurt and Kreuzwertheim, Germany.

The day didn’t go as well as we had planned. 

Firstly our plane from Berlin to Frankfurt was an hour late. Then when we went to pick up our Renault Eurodrive lease car – it didn’t have any number plates. They hadn’t come with the car when it was shipped from France. 

After many discussions between Michael, the Renault Eurodrive representative and Renault in France, we were taken back to the airport to get an Avis hire car. 

This was only after Renault Roadside Assist couldn’t get a car in down-town Frankfurt, as they were all booked out. 

They were reluctant to go to the airport depot as they charge a 21.5% surcharge, which wasn’t our concern as they were paying.

At the end of the day we found ourselves driving an Opel Mokka rather than a Renault Captur. 

Renault had booked the rental car for ten days. The big question was how quickly could they get our Captur, with number plates, delivered to us. 

After all we were heading into Eastern Europe, and moving further and further away from France.  

 

Part 2: New York and the eastern states.

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Mabry Mill, 1910

June 5, 2017. Roanoke, Virginia to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The sky was dark and foreboding on the morning we left Roanoke and the rain had returned. Our plan was to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, continuing our journey in the eastern states.

We stuck to the plan but didn’t get out of the car as the weather was too foul.

One stop we did make was at Mabry Mill. Built in 1910 this was a multipurpose mill that not only ground corn but was also a sawmill and a woodworking shop. 

We continued our drive into Winston-Salem.

The further south we moved, the better the weather became and by the time we reached the hotel the rain had stopped completely.

There were still some very dark clouds clinging to the horizon.

Winston-Salem has a population of nearly a quarter of a million people, so it’s a lot larger than we have been used to.

It is a ‘Twin City’ due to its duel heritage. It is also know as ‘Camel City’ because of the locally based tobacco company RJ Reynolds.

Salem is the older part of the two cities, first being settled in 1753 by Bishop August Spangenber and his followers on behalf of the Moravian Church.

In 1849 the Salem congregation sold some land to the north, this then became Winston in 1851.

Winston was a sleepy country town until Pleasant Henderson Hanes, his brother John Wesley Hanes and Richard Joshua Reynolds built their tobacco factories there in the 1870s. By the 1880s there were almost 40 tobacco factories in the town of Winston.

The Hanes brothers and Reynolds were fierce competitors for the next 25 years until in 1900  when Pleasant Henderson and John Wesley Hanes sold out to Reynolds. They then built a second life in textiles.

This became the famous Hanes underwear and hosiery company. 

That evening we caught an Uber up to the Foothills Brewing Company for dinner.

The rain had started again so walking was out of the question, even though it was very close to our hotel.

The food, wine and beer were excellent. There was also a great display of their ‘Retro’ posters on the walls around the dining area.

This was a brewpub in the old tradition. The waitstaff grovelled for tips, unlike their counterparts in the west and north central parts of the US.

After some discussion with the wait staff we discovered that they get paid $2.30 per hour.

Why would anybody work for that?

The simple answer is – they have no choice. There are no unions, to push for better conditions and pay, and the owners are so heavily taxed that they are not making that much money.

Well that was the story we were told.

 

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June 6, 2017. Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

‘Reynolda House Museum of American Art’ is the description that is now given to the RJ Reynolds family home in Winston-Salem.

It was the passion and brainchild of Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of RJ Reynolds.

The house was the centre piece of a 1,067 acre (4.32 square kilometres) estate just outside of the city centre.

Today the house has one of the finest collections of American paintings spanning three centuries.

It was designed by Charles Barton Keen (1868-1931), with construction starting in 1912 and completed in 1917.

Due to it’s low profile and wide verandas it was described by Katherine Reynolds as a ‘Bungalow’

It is far from any bungalow that we know, especially the Californian style.

The Reynolda House Estate was run on the style of an English estate in the 18th and 19th century. Think Downton Abbey.

Apart from the main house there was a self-sufficient estate that was run by Katharine Smith Reynolds. This consisted of gardens, facilities for recreation, a school, church, model farm and housing for the estate workers.

A short drive from the centre of town was the shell shaped service (gas) station. This single story Shell station, in the shape of a giant scallop shell, was built by R.H. Burton and his son, Ralph, in 1930. It is located at the corner of Sprague and Peachtree Streets in Winston-Salem. The owners decided to attract customers through a series of shell-shaped service stations.

A very good example of how literal 1920s and ‘30s advertising was.

 

Grove Arcade 1929

June 7, 2017. Winston-Salem to Asheville, North Carolina.

There was a lot to see and do in Asheville, so we just took the Interstate and made the trip as simple as possible. 

We had been told how great Asheville was by the owner of a wine store in NYC. 

She seemed to know her wines and craft beers and gave the city a great wrap, especially in regards to its off-beat culture. 

We found the Visitor’s Centre and they didn’t hesitate in sending us on the ‘Asheville Urban Trail’. 

This was a three hour, self-guided, walking tour of downtown. 

Apart from it’s vibrant arts culture Asheville has some of the best Art Deco buildings in the US. 

When most cities in the country were demolishing their ‘old’ buildings during the 60s Asheville was in a financial slump and had no plans for redevelopment. 

This saved the city and preserved its heritage. 

It is now one of the fastest growing regions in the country. 

Asheville was incorporated in 1797 and named after Governor Samuel Ashe. 

It also boasts the Basilica of St Lawrence and the Biltmore Estate.  

The dome of the basilica has a span of 58 by 82 feet (18 by 25 m) and is reputed to be the largest, freestanding, elliptical dome in North America.

While we were at the Visitor’s Centre we purchased, rather expensively, tickets to the Biltmore Estate. 

That was tomorrow’s adventure. 

 

Biltmore Estate 1895

June 8, 2017. Asheville, North Carolina.

America’s largest, privately owned home, Biltmore Estate, was built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1895. 

The work began on the house in 1895 and it took 1,000 workers to complete the project. Vanderbilt not only used local labourers but international artists such as Viennese sculpture Karl Bitter and Spanish architect Rafael Guastavio..

It was modelled on the French Renaissance chateau style, with characteristically steeply pitched roofs, towers, turrets, and extensive sculptural ornamentation.

It contains 255 rooms, and 43 bathrooms, which is surprising considering that George Vanderbilt was a bachelor at the time of its construction.

The name Biltmore derives from ‘Bildt’, Vanderbilt’s ancestors’ place of origin in Holland, and ‘more’, Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land.

Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to design Biltmore and Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape the 8,000 acre estate. 

This was Downton Abbey, but on a grander scale. 

George Vanderbilt and his wife Edith were Europhiles. They met and married in Paris in 1898. 

George Vanderbilt was an extensive traveller, visiting over 25 countries and crossing the Atlantic Ocean a total of 60 times in his life. 

He was an intellect, speaking three languages and having a love of art, music and science. 

Biltmore Estate is a huge drawcard for the Biltmore Foundation with 1.4 million visitors in 2016 alone.

 

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June 9, 2017. Asheville to Cherokee, North Carolina.

The main reason for going to Cherokee was to learn a little about the local Native Americans.

What made it even more rewarding was that we travelled on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get there. 

This was our third time on this scenic drive and to my mind the best yet. 

Due to the higher altitude, the wild flowers were still in bloom. 

At the Richland Balsam Overlook, which is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway we reached 6,947 feet (2,117 metres).

Blue Ridge Parkway is Americas’ longest linear park. It runs for 469 miles (755 kilometres) through Virginia and North Carolina. 

Construction was started during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 – that man did so much.

Museum of the Cherokee Indians was in the centre of the the town of Cherokee.

It was an interesting display that covered the aboriginals of the region through many periods, not just the Cherokee.

It showed the development of weapons from spears and throwing sticks to bow and arrow through the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian Periods.

One very interesting artefact was the Atlatl or throwing stick  - very similar to the Woomera.

Sequoyah was part Cherokee and in 1821 developed a written language for his people. He became know as ‘The man who made the leaves talk’

Another interesting character was the Anglo-American army officer, journalist and cartographer, Henry Timberlake (1730 or 1735 to 1765)

His memoirs published in 1765 had detailed descriptions of villages, houses, weapons and tools. All vital for anthropologists and historians when they uncovered archeological sites in the southern Appalachian region.

In May 1762 Timberlake returned to England with three Cherokee chiefs, who had expressed a desire to meet the king of England. They met King George III and had their portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

There are copies of these in the Cherokee Museum.

Unfortunately the Museum lacked academic rigour. There weren’t the usual facts, figures, dates and timelines that normally accompany the displays.

 

Cades Cove Loop Road

June 10, 2017. Cherokee, North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee.

We found, yet another, good coffee house in Bryson City, at Mountain Perks. The best coffee seems to be had at the places that roast their own beans.

If they roast they seem to care about the quality of their coffee.

Again getting to our destination was the purpose of the drive.

We took the Great Smoky Mountain National Park road from Cherokee. This was after consulting the staff at the Visitor’s Centre.

Unfortunately we had to do a little backtracking, as we were sent down a road that turned out to be closed. 

I blame the woman at the Visitor’s Centre, and the TomTom. 

They both should have known better. 

The road was surrounded on either side by stunning views, however it was, in parts, excruciatingly slow.

The mere glimpse of a bear or deer, however distant they were, caused the traffic to stop. 

The advice we received at the Visitor’s Centre was that this trip could take between two and four hours.

They were wrong about that as well, as it took more like five hours. It was worth it as the scenery was stunning.

The Great Smoky Mountains get their name from Cherokee tradition.

They are known as ’schaconage’ or ‘blue, like smoke’ because of their natural bluish haze.

In the evening we walked into Market Square in the heart of downtown Knoxville for dinner and discovered a small slice of ‘Euroamerica’. 

Market Square is a block long and surrounded by cafés, bars and restaurants – all with outdoor seating facing the square. 

There are buskers, musicians and lots of weird people, just as you would find in Barcelona, Paris or Berlin.

Being settled in 1786, Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee.

It was bitterly divided during the Civil War and was occupied by both the Confederate and Union armies.

During the 1920s the economy stagnated, but in 1982 the city hosted the World’s Fair which helped to rejuvenate it.

The Sunsphere Tower, erected for the World’s fair, dominates the city skyline.

It is a 266’ (81 metres) tall hexagonal steel truss structure with a 75’ (23 metres) gold glass sphere on top.

It’s so disco and so 80s.

 

World's Fair Park and the Sunsphere Tower

June 11, 2017. Knoxville and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Continuing with the Euroamerican theme in Knoxville we had breakfast at the French Market Crêperie, near Market Square. 

The croissant, crêpes and coffee were very French, however everything was served on disposable plates and cups – very American. 

After breakfast we wandered around Knoxville, it was Sunday and very quiet. I think we were the only tourists in town.

Like so many of the small towns and cities we have see, Knoxville has a mixture of 19th century and early 20th century architecture.

Some of the Art Deco buildings are fantastic and many are now being restored.

Modern architecture is hard to find. There are some contemporary office blocks, but no domestic buildings.

All houses, motels and hotels seem to hark back to the 17th, 18th and 19th century for their designs. Most are in timber and have a gabled roof.

It’s easy to see why Frank Lloyd Wright is so revered. 

I discovered a website that was devoted to domestic American architecture. It was titled, American Home Styles, 1600 to Today.

It covered the following styles:

American Colonial House Styles 1600s – 1800

Neoclassical House Styles 1780 – 1860

Victorian House Styles 1840 – 1900

The Gilded Age 1880 – 1929

Frank Lloyd Wright Styles 1901 – 1955

Bungalow Styles 1905 – 1930

Early 20th Century House Styles 1905 – 1930

Mid-20th Century House Styles 1930 – 1965

Modernist Houses 1930 – Present

‘Neo’ House Styles 1965 – Present

Spanish and Mediterranean 1600s – Present

French Styles 1700s – Present

Prefab Houses 1906 – Present

Dome Homes 1954 – Present

Frontier Houses 1600s – Present

Native American House Styles Prehistoric – Present

Two things caught my interest in this article.

One, Frank Lloyd Wright had his own section and two, a number of styles, that were started in colonial times, are still used today.

This is very evident when you travel around the US. There is so much of the older style of architecture that is still being built and so little contemporary designs.

It seems that there is an unwritten rule that forbids people designing or building modern homes.

In the afternoon we visited the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge. This is a 30 minute car trip from Knoxville.

The feature exhibition is all about the part that the town played in the Manhattan Project.

Both Thea and I had an interest in the story of the atomic bomb, as we had both read ‘Brighter than a Thousand Suns’ by Robert Jungk. This was the first account of the Manhattan Project and the German atomic bomb project.

Subsequently the book has been discredited, especially by the military head of the project, General Leslie Groves, who said:

“I wouldn’t place any reliance on anything in that book Brighter than the Suns. For example, he gave quotes attributed to me that were the direct opposite of what I had given him. He did that with everybody he talked to. I’d say that he was thoroughly discredited in the eyes of everybody who knew him.”

The Manhattan Project was a highly secretive US research undertaking, designed to develop the atomic bomb during the Second World War.

It took place between 1942 and 1945, culminating in the building of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

The line that has always been pushed by the US, is that by dropping the bomb they shortened the war and saved thousands, if not millions, of lives.

In 1942 President Franklin D Roosevelt was convinced by a group of US and foreign scientists that Germany, under Hitler, was capable of producing the bomb.

Albert Einstein authored a letter to Roosevelt imploring him to act quickly in the national interest.

Three sites were used in the Manhattan Project. Hanford in Washington, Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge in Tennessee.

The Oak Ridge facility was the biggest and at its peak housed 75,000 people, becoming the fifth largest city in Tennessee.

The layout of the exhibition was far too messy with an over abundance of conflicting information, both spoken and graphic. 

After three hours spent in the museum we felt that we had done the ‘book ends’ regarding the atomic bomb.

We had seen the destruction and misery it caused in Hiroshima, when we were in Japan in 2013. And then on this trip, where we saw how it was created.

Both the Japanese and the Americans put their own spin on the bomb, so we have seen both sides to this momentous part of 20th century history.

Apart from the Manhattan Project display, there were other exhibits covering nuclear fusion, oil and natural gas, plus a huge display on coal. 

Not surprisingly, very little was mentioned about renewable energy. 

We went back into Knoxville for dinner, this time to Gay Street. 

As we were walking in we kept seeing people carrying folded chairs. We thought that they were coming from a day at the river, as the temperature had skyrocketed over the last 24 hours. 

How wrong were we. 

After dinner we walked back into Market Square and there were about 600 people sitting, on ‘folded chairs’, watching a game of ice hockey on a big screen. 

They were there to watch their local team, which was from Nashville, a time zone away. 

The game was between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

This was part of the Stanley Cup final. 

Obviously a very important game, judging by the enthusiastic crowd. 

We left before the end, but later discovered that the Penguins beat the Predators, 2-0, winning the Stanley Cup. 

Fortunately we weren’t around to witness the crowd’s disappointment. 

 

June 12, 2017. Knoxville, Tennessee to Columbia, South Carolina.

Today was a longish drive to Columbia, our halfway stop before heading on to Wilmington and the coast. 

Again we went over the Great Smokey Mountains, but this time on the Interstate, not through the State Park.  

Apart from the erratic driving by some road users, both in cars and trucks, the roads are relatively easy to drive on. Once we were back in South Carolina, we could also cruise along at 70mph (112kph).

Just over the road from our hotel was the Carolina Ale House. 

The beer was excellent, the wine and food ok but the service was chaotic. 

The 13% tip seemed excessive.

 

Front Street Brewery posters

June 13, 2017. Columbia, South Carolina to Wilmington, North Carolina.

We drove into downtown Columbia and found the Wired Goat Cafe for a coffee, then started towards Wilmington on the coast. 

The temperate was much warmer now, so a few days by the sea would be welcome. 

All of our accommodation, apart from NYC with Ev and Steph, has been in hotels and motels. In Wilmington we decided to try an Airbnb and found one near the river. 

We had a bedroom, kitchen, dining room, sitting room and laundry on the top floor of  ‘Schubert Hall’ which was built in 1836.

It was great to be able to spread out for a few days.  

Wilmington is a port city, first incorporated in 1739/40 and named after Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington. 

We were staying in the downtown, Historic District which seemed to be set up for visitors. 

There were 11 breweries in town and one on the waterfront, just to the east. 

In fact, there seems to be a brewery or coffee shop on every corner. 

Which was very unfortunate as we only had three nights there. 

There was even a craft brewery just opposite our Airbnb. 

On our first night in Wilmington we walked back into town and had dinner at the Front Street Brewery. This is the oldest brewery in the area and by far the busiest. 

Most other places were empty, while there it was packed. 

They had five ‘Flagship’ draught beers and another five ‘Seasonals’, also on tap. 

I had the Port City IPA, it was the best India Pale Ale I had tried so far on the trip. 

This was also one of the first gastro breweries we had been to, on this trip, that actually had tanks on display. 

I believe that this adds a certain authenticity to the place. 

Each brew had its own poster on a rather impressive wall display. 

The graphics were great. 

 

Venus Fly Trap

June 14, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden was created by George Stanley Rehder Sr. who was known locally as ‘The Fly Trap Man’.

Stanley spent 25 years transplanting and cultivating fly traps pitcher plants and sundews.

The garden is tiny, only three quarters of an acre (3035.14 square metres) but full of flesh eating plants.

The Venus Fly Trap can only be found within a 75-100 mile radius of Wilmington. They can’t be found in the wild, anywhere else in the world. 

Being so rare, it’s understandable that there is a black market in these plants. In 2013 a thousand plants were stolen from the park. 

Valued at over US$20,000, this was not an isolated incident. 

Since then state law has made it a felony to nick Venus Fly Traps. 

In the afternoon we drove east to Wrightsville Beach and had a coffee at The Workshop. 

According to their business card they specialise in Sandwiches, Espresso and Fossils. 

The fossils were sharks teeth and there was also a large collection of shark’s teeth Jewellry for sale. 

The North Carolina number plates have the line: ‘First in Flight’. We wondered what on earth that meant, until we discovered that Orville and Wilber Wright made their first flight, in a heavier than air, fixed wing aircraft, in North Carolina in 1903. This was near Kitty Hawk, which is just up the coast from Wilmington.

 

Bellamy Mansion Museum, children’s stage

June 15, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina.

Time to get a haircut. 

After a bit of searching I found the Beale Street Barber Shop, which wasn’t actually in Beale Street but Castle Street. 

It’s named after the famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. 

This is a 1.8 mile (2.9 kilometre) strip that is significant in the history of the ‘Blues’

It was created in 1841 after a forgotten military hero and originally name Beale Avenue.

In 1903 Mayor Thornton of Memphis was looking for a music teacher for his band, the Knights of Pythias. He talked to his friend Booker T. Washington who recommended trumpet player, W. C. Handy. Thornton contacted Handy and Memphis became the home of the musician who created the ‘Blues on Beale Street’

Not surprising the Beale Street Barber Shop in Wilmington was a shrine to the Blues. There was also a lot of Rock and Country Music photos, records and memorabilia covering the walls.

Johnny Cash and Elvis were heavily featured.

There was even an old black and white TV playing video clips and a stage where bands perform on Friday nights.

We decided to make another trip to the coast this time to Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

No sooner did we reach the resort area of Carolina Beach than it started to rain. 

Then the rain got harder and harder. We have never experienced a downpour like it.

So much for our beach excursion.

Because we had a kitchen and the wherewithal to cook a meal, we decided to do just that.

The owner of the Airbnb had very kindly left us bacon and eggs. These were obviously intended for breakfast but we thought that they could be the start of a Spaghetti Carbonara.

As our beach trip was cut short we found a supermarket and got the rest of the ingredients we needed to make or ‘spag cab’.

Looking for something to fill in the rest of the afternoon we went to the Bellamy Mansion Museum.

It was built between 1859 and 1861, in a mixture of Neoclassical architectural styles, for Dr John D Bellamy.

The facade features a full colonnade of six Corinthian columns and is crowned with a belvedere, to allow the summer heat to escape from the lower levels.

Dr Bellamy and his wife Eliza had been married twenty years before they moved into the house. By that stage they had nine children and Eliza was pregnant with their tenth when they moved in.

No wonder they needed twenty two rooms.

Designed by architect James Frost, both enslaved and free workers were used in the construction. 

The house was taken over by federal troops during the American Civil War. It survived a fire, said to have been ignited by opponents of the Confederacy, in 1972.

It’s lucky to be still standing. 

Many of the rich, southern, plantation owners of the 19th century, were not only brutal to their slave workers but completely self possessed about their wealth. 

It was regarded as the ‘Gilded Age’. 

A phrase that was coined by Mark Twain, referring to a period that was glittering on the surface, yet corrupt beneath. 

It was a time of corruption, capitalism and conspicuous consumption. 

I have often wondered why most of the houses, especially the ones owned by wealthy people, were made of timber and not brick.

Our Bellamy Mansion guide said that timber was the main export in the area and it was more expensive than brick, especially if you used the best timber. 

Again they were being ostentatious.

This pales into insignificance when you consider that the Vanderbilt family imported marble from Italy to build their stately home.  

Before we cooked dinner, we walked over the road to Flytrap Brewing. Yet another craft brewery. 

It was literally, in a parking lot. 

They don’t serve food at the bar but there is a food truck, in the car park. 

Most of the seating is outside. Which was good as there was a live act playing, that was far too loud for the area. 

The rain held off – just. 

It was a true local, with people actually walking to get there, with their dogs. 

 

June 16, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina to Washington, District of Columbia.

It was a long day on the road, from Wilmington to Washington DC. 

The search for a wake up espresso was also long, ending at Morning Addiction in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. 

How very apt. 

Later in the afternoon, I needed, and Thea found, another coffee shop in Richmond, Virginia, called Brewer’s Café.

It was owned by AJ Brewer – I guess he was born to be a barista. 

We were meeting Ev and Steph in Washington and spending the weekend with them discovering DC. 

It was also their second wedding anniversary, another great reason to catch up. 

 

Capitol Building

June 17, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia.

DC means the District of Columbia.  We found this out the hard way, trying to locate our Airbnb on the SatNav. 

Washington DC is the compact capital of the USA and situated on the Potomac River, bordered by Maryland and Virginia. 

It houses the three branches of government: the Capital, White House and Supreme Court. 

Occasionally ‘The Donald’ lives there but it was the weekend and we suspected that he might be somewhere that treats him more favourably, like Mar-a-Lago. 

We found out later that he was ‘slumming it’ at Camp David.

His first visit since taking office. 

Our day was spent sightseeing. 

We started at the Capital Building and the Library of Congress. We then walked along the National Mall, detouring to the White House before ending up at the Lincoln Memorial. 

That evening we went to the Right Proper Brewing Company’s, Shaw Brew Pub for dinner

Apart from great beer, cheese was their specialty.

But they didn’t food match the beer with either the main course or the cheese, which was a pity. However Ev and I did discover that the Porter went very well with the Stilton.

 

Portraits of the American Presidents

June 18, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia.

In the morning we went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for some culture.

One of the main exhibitions was ‘Down these Mean Streets’ (Community and place in urban photography). The display examines how Latino photographers depicted America’s urban streets as the concept of inner cities started to emerge.

The American Presidents portrait gallery was undergoing renovation but there was still good representation of the presidential portraits.

Missing was the planned interactive part of the display.

I am sure that this would have helped the poor Aussies who have not really studied American history that closely.

Another interesting exhibition was ‘The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’. It featured works that had been created during the very opulent period from the 1870s to the 1920s.

The Gilded Age was a showcase for art and architecture that was funded by the enormous wealth that some American land owners and industrialists amassed during the time of slavery and industrialisation.

These families built their wealth through industry, shipping, railroads and real estate.

They built castles and filled them with the best art and artefacts that money could buy.

In the afternoon, after we dropped Ev and Steph off to get their bus back to NYC, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery.

This is where many of the dead from American conflicts have been buried.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War in 1864 and built on land that was owned by the wife of the Confederate Army commander, Robert E. Lee.

After wandering around we visited the Tombs of JFK and the Unknown Soldier.

There was a crowd building up around the tomb of the Unknown Soldier so we waited to see what it was all about.

It was the changing of the guard and it took nearly half an hour of pomp, ceremony, barking commands, clicking of heels and presenting of arms.

 

June 19, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia to New York City, New York State.

The drive into NYC was relatively easy – a lot easier than the drive into DC on the Friday afternoon. 

We drove along the Baltimore Parkway, an efficient freeway that runs through a tall, green, lush forest. 

After a coffee break in Baltimore we headed to NYC. We couldn’t avoid toll roads so got onto the New Jersey Turnpike. 

This was an experience.

Truckies or Truckers as they are known in the US are an ill disciplined group.

They believe they own the road and the road rules don’t apply to them. Fortunately the operators of the New Jersey Turnpike realise this and have segregated the trucks from the cars.

This makes for a much better driving experience.

After dropping off our bags at Ev and Steph’s apartment, we took the car back to Hertz.

We had covered 3,753 miles (6,040 km) in 32 days. 

All in all it was a relatively stress free drive, of less than 200 kilometres per day. 

The temperature was in the 90s F (30s C) for most of the day, that’s until a thunderstorm and the resulting deluge rammed into the city in the late afternoon.

Then the temperature dropped.

 

Grand Central Station

June 20, 2017. New York City, New York State.

Still doing the tourist thing, but without a panic to get all the sights ‘done’ we had a wander through NYC.

Grand Central Terminal, or Station as most people know it, was built in 1903 in the Beaux-Arts style.

While the facade is imposing it’s the interior concourse that is it’s main feature.

It measures 275 feet (84 metres) long by 120 feet (38 metres) wide. There is a four-faced brass clock that sits on top of the information booth and a large American flag hangs at one end. Put there just days after the September 11 attacks.

At one end is an Apple store complete with hangers-on availing themselves of the free WiFi.

Next was the Chrysler Building, the New York home of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, when I worked on Toyota in the 80s.

DFS had three floors of this classic 1930 New York skyscraper and was the largest agency in the city at the time.

Built for the auto giant Chrysler and designed by William van Alen, in the Art deco style, it was for about twelve months the world’s tallest building. Then the Empire State building came along.

The design of the decorative top of the tower was said to be inspired by the wheel caps of the 1920s Chrysler models.

The interior foyer area is equally inspiring with the decorative lift (elevator) doors and wall panels depicting 20th century transport.

New York Public Library was next on the list.

Completed in 1911 in the Beaux-Arts style, it is public in the fact that the public get to use it but it is financed privately.

Like most public places in the US, everything is privately paid for.

The main benefactor of the New York Public Library was Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886). He left the bulk of his fortune, about $2,4000,000 to build the library.

As stated in his will, he wanted to, “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.”

Like so many public buildings, a competition was held to find a suitable design – New York architects lined up to get in on the action.

The eventual winner was the firm of Carrier and Hastings. The corner stone was laid in 1902 and it was finally completed nine years later.

The response to the new library by the people of New York was astounding with between 30,000 and 50,000 visiting on the first day it was opened.

One of the most unusual exhibits in the library is ‘The Real Winnie-the-Poo and friends’.

These are the five dolls, Poo, Kanga, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger, that were given to Christopher Robin in the 1920s. They inspired the characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Poo books.

Why they are in America and not England is still a mystery to me.

 

Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees playing the Los Angeles Angels)

June 21, 2017. New York City, New York State.

We went to the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition at MoMA.

This was titled, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive. It was a celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth.

There were 450 examples of his designs, drawing, ideas, models, furniture and even publicity, covering his work from the 1880s through to the 1950s.

In his lifetime Wright designed over 1,000 buildings and realised about 500 of them. His work spans the era of optimism in the late 1800s through the Great depression of the 1930 and the post war boom period of the 1950s.

The exhibition reflected this and showed how his ideas developed and adapted to the rapidly changing society in the US.

As I have mentioned before, Wright was an architectural hero in the US. Even today he is regarded as a god, so much so that it would be hard for any architect to ever surpass him.

That evening we visited Yankee Stadium to see the New York Yankees playing the Los Angeles Angels.

Compared to cricket, there was little use of video technology. No spidercam or pitching (bowling) analytics.

I found it hard to concentrate on the game – I wasn’t alone. Most people fidgeted, talked and generally moved about during each innings. 

Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx and not the original ball park made famous in movies and TV shows.

This one was completed in 2009 and replaces the old park that is now known as Heritage Field, a public park. 

The current spectator capacity is for 47,422 fans.

I must admit that even through I played softball as a kid I have little knowledge of Major League Baseball and found the game hard to follow.

The evening ended with Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.

I guess that was to be expected.

 

Coney Island

June 22, 2017. New York City, New York State.

This was our last full day in NYC so we did the very touristy thing and went to Coney Island.

Situated in the borough of Brooklyn, Coney Island is known for its amusement parks, seaside resorts and hot dogs.

Fittingly, both Thea and Stephanie had a ‘dog’ for lunch from Feltman’s. They boast at being the creators of the original hot dog, which dates back to 1867.

Coney Island’s glory years were in the 1830s. Holiday hotels and fun parks for New Yorkers became the vogue.

Later in the afternoon we walk again through Greenwich Village, had a coffee in Blue Stone Lane, then went down to the Hudson River.

it was a casual day in NYC, but a lot of fun.

That evening we went to the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on the Upper West Side. It was founded in 1999 by Paul Stache and Frank Christopher and is regarded as a very influential New York jazz club.

The concept is that you book dinner and a show which lasts about 90 minutes – then you are out the door as new customers are waiting to come in.

That night Stephen Kroon’s Latin Jazz Sextuplet were playing. It was a great venue with excellent music, I just wished that it could have lasted longer.

 

June 23, 2017. New York City, New York State to Berlin, Germany. 

The morning was spent on boring things like backing-up computers and packing, before a final coffee at Mason Harlem. 

We had been there often enough that we were almost ‘locals’. 

Then it was the long Metro ride to JFK for our flight to Berlin. 

We had one final drink at Flyzone, one of the JFK’s airport bars. Again the beer was great.

I will miss American craft beers and the great bars that, no matter where they are, seem to be able to create an atmosphere. 

But I do wonder and worry about where America is heading under Trump,

As Hayden described the US. “It’s the bastard child of Europe.”

However this bastard now has an even bigger identity crisis.

 

 

Part 1: New York and the eastern states.

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

01_May 15, 2017_Tarrytown

May 11-18, 2017. New York City and Tarrytown, New York State.

After a very long flight from Melbourne, via Sydney and Los Angeles, we arrived in the Big Apple.

This was the first leg in another adventure – discovering new places and chasing our family around the world.

We are planning on being away for about ten months and the first part was all about family.

Over two years ago Evan and his wife Stephanie came to NYC. Steph had been offered a place, in the Masters program, at Columbia University.

We were in New York for her graduation and from there we were going to explore some of the eastern states.

Columbia University was first established in 1754 and was formerly known as King’s College. It was established by a royal charter from George II and was renamed as Columbia College in 1784, following the American Revolutionary war.

I wondered why a crown was on the crest of Columbia – the answer was in its history.

We arrived on a Thursday, just in time for Mother’s Day on the Sunday.

Jenny and Neil, Steph’s parents, were also in New York for the graduation and Ev and Steph had planned a Sunday lunch.

Where we were going and how we were to get there was a well kept secret.

A Mother’s Day mystery tour.

After a bus ride and a train trip we ended up in Tarrytown, about 40 kilometres north of Manhattan, on the Hudson River.

It was a wonderful surprise for everyone, especially the mums.

After an excellent lunch we had a stroll up and down Main Street in Tarrytown.

We even visited the local fire department and chatted with one of the local fireman, a huge 17 year old volunteer.

Then it poured down.

There was plenty of shelter, so we managed to get back to the station and New York without getting soaked.

The next few days were taken up with the graduation which is the subject of a separate post.

 

80 Church Lane, Bridgehampton

May 19, 2017. The Hamptons, New York State.

On our final day in NYC we picked up a Hertz rental near the Washington Bridge and made a very slow escape from the city.

The car was a white Nissan Sentra with cavernous boot space, so our bags and packs fitted in easily.

After our slow start we got onto Long Island and the speed increased as we hit the rural areas.

The Hamptons are the ‘escape’ towns for New Yorkers. They are quiet during autumn and winter but turn feral in the summer months.

We had arranged to spend time with our old friends, Cathie and Earl Gandel. They have had a house in Bridgehampton for over 40 years. It’s been both their principal residence and holiday home during that time.

The weather was very hot as we left New York and the Nissan’s air conditioner worked overtime. By the time we reached Bridgehampton it had dropped to a very pleasant 25°C.

The next day the New York weather had reached us and the temperature had risen to 35°C again.

In the morning Earl and Cathie drove us around the Hamptons and we caught a glimpse of some of the vast hedged estates that are home to rich and famous New Yorkers.

We stopped for lunch and had one of the notorious lobster rolls, a local specialty we were told.

Two serves were enough for the four of us.

We were back in the States and the servings were huge.

How quickly you forget.

Earl and Cathie had just sold the Bridgehampton house and were planning to move back to LA.

We spent two nights and a full day with Earl and Cathie.

I met Earl at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in 1982.

The agency was a partnership between Schofield Sherbon Baker in Sydney and Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) from New York.

The founding and primary reason for the creation of DFS was the servicing of the Toyota business in Australia.

Commercial vehicles were handled out of the Sydney office and passenger cars from Melbourne.

Earl was sent to Melbourne as General Manager and chief authority on all things Toyota.

Earl still has a love of cars and owns two beautiful vintage British sports cars – a 1949 Triumph and a 1950s’ MG.

Earl is retired but still holds honorary positions with the local fire station and historical society. While Cathie still works as a free-lance journalist.

 

Sterling Library, Yale University, New Haven

May 20, 2017. Bridgehampton, New York State to West Haven, Connecticut. 

It took three ferry trips to get from Bridgehampton, in New York State, to West Haven in Connecticut.

Two short and one long.

The longer journey was from Orient Point to New London. This is the only one we needed to book in advance.

We broke our trip at Greenpoint, with a good cup of coffee at Aldo’s, followed by a short walk.

It was a pleasant 80 minute boat ride, marred briefly by the beeping of a car alarm coming from a black BMW.

Our ferry was the New London, operated by Cross Sound Ferries.

We stopped in New Haven, the home of Yale University to explore the campus.

A strange feature of the city landscape, especially around the campus, were the ‘Personal emergency stations’. These were freestanding poles, with a blue light mounted on top and down below, an emergency button.

I can only surmise that students on the campus are at risk of muggings or other attacks. The poles were everywhere and placed at 50 metre intervals.

Wandering around the campus we also discovered the Women’s Table, a sculptural piece by the artist Maya Lin.

Maya Lin was a student at Yale and in 1993 designed the piece to celebrate the growing number of female students that have and will attend the university.

There were women at the university right from its very start in 1701. They were what was called ‘silent listeners’ and could only sit in on classes and not participate.

The first female students on record registered in 1837.

The hotel/motel prices in New Haven were over the top. Probably due to graduation season in Yale.

We therefore stayed out of the main centre in West Haven, at a small and rather run down motel.

Our evening meal was at Cask Republic, a brewpub with 43 beers and ciders on tap.

Again we were rewarded with a good meal, at reasonable prices, with excellent local craft beers and wines.

Thea has decided on a new strategy for accommodation. By staying out of the main town or city centres we can save on accommodation costs. That saving can then be spent on using an Uber to travel to where the action is.

So far it has worked well.

May 21, 2017. New Haven, Connecticut to Kingston, New York State.

We headed back into New York State, on our way to Kingston and the Catskills. This was via Scenic Byway 58 into Bethel.

Here we had a cup of coffee at Molten Java – the write-up and reviews were better than the coffee.

The drive into Kingston was again on a Scenic Byway. The countryside was verdant green with spring growth.

Kingston is a strange town as there is no apparent centre or commercial area. In fact there is very little accommodation at all in the town, with most of it being centred near the Hudson Valley Mall.

Luckily this was where we were staying.

Surprisingly I took no snaps this day.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

May 22, 2017. Kingston and the Catskills, New York State.

This was a day of country and culture.

Firstly we found a good coffee at Coffee Beanery. The guy was very anxious to find out how we discovered his café. He seemed surprised that we had Googled ‘good coffee close by’ and his name popped up.

We then headed into the Catskills for a drive.

The weather had turned cold and cloudy and rain was constantly threatening.

Part of our country drive took us along Railroad Avenue where we came across an old dilapidated hotel. It was a huge, rambling structure that was literally collapsing in on itself.

On the way to the Vanderbilt Mansion we discovered Kaaterskill Falls. This has been a tourist destination since the 1820s and is one of the highest waterfalls in New York State.

There are two stages to Kaaterskill Falls. The total height is 79m and the longest drop is 55m.

It was quite a hike up to the viewing platform but the views were worth it.

Even if everything was shrouded in mist.

In November 2016 a 30 year old hiker fell to his death. However it was winter and the ground was slippery with ice.

It took us almost two hours for the return trip and as soon as we arrived back at the car park, it started to rain.

We didn’t get to the Vanderbilt Mansion until late in the afternoon and the main building was shut. It was a little disappointing but we had enjoyed a great walk in the morning and you can’t do everything.

To add to it all, the mansion was undergoing major renovations and scaffolding adorned all sides of the Neo Classical construction.

The 54 room Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White and built between 1896 and 1899. It all sits on 85 hectares of formal gardens, woodlands and auxiliary buildings.

The estate originally dates back to 1764 when it was then used as agricultural land.

The Vanderbilt family were of Dutch origin and prominent during the ‘Gilded Age’ from about 1870 to 1900. They made their money through shipping and railroads. Two generations of the Vanderbilt’s were the richest family in America from the late 1800’s to the middle of the 20th century.

As with so many families that achieve great wealth, the Vanderbilt’s legacy only lasted three generations. It was described to us as ‘Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves’ with the first generation building an empire from nothing and the last generation loosing it all.

 

Deer at Ashokan Reservoir

May 23, 2017. Kingston to Ithaca, New York State. 

On the way to Ithaca and the Finger Lakes we stopped at the Ashokan Reservoir. The temperature was still fresh but it promised to warm up in the afternoon.

Construction on the reservoir was started in the early 1900s, with the first drinking water pumped to New York City in 1915.

It was a monumental project that used over 3,000 workers, all of whom were housed near the construction site.

It was ground breaking in that the authority offered food, housing, doctors, recreation and a broad education to the children of the workforce, as well as English classes to the immigrant families.

In the 1880s’ New York’s water supply was being stretched and the new Ashokan Reservoir promised to deliver 600 million gallons (2,271,247 litres) per day into the city.

The project displaced many locals from their farms and homes.

Once completed the system included four reservoirs and over 127 miles (204 kilometres) of aqueducts and tunnels.

The cost then was $177 million, today it would be over $4 Billion.

On the way to Ithaca we had a scare – there was a screeching of alarms in the Nissan.

Initially we thought it was a warning from the car, but nothing seemed to show up.

No lights or any indications.

Then we realised it was coming from our iPhones.

The alarm was from an alert, that had been put out by police, in regards to an abduction.

The offence had taken place hundreds of kilometres from where we were.

We still kept an eye out for the red Ford Pick-up truck.

In Ithaca we were staying out of town again and planned on getting an Uber to go to dinner.

There were no Ubers in Ithaca.

So we were back to the old, dated and extremely ineffective taxi system.

We were told that the taxi would be 20 minutes, it only took 10. We were also told it would cost $12, it only cost $10.

Maybe they are starting to learn.

 

1950 Chevrolet Pick-up Truck, Montour

May 24, 2017. Ithaca and the Finger Lakes, New York State. 

We found yet another excellent coffee at Montour House in Montour Falls.

The Montour or Sch-qua-ga Falls are a looming backdrop to this quaint little village – they seem to cascade right into the main street.

From there we drove to Geneva, along Seneca Lake, one of the many long narrow lakes in the Finger Lakes region.

Geneva it at the very top of Seneca lake and boasts a number of beautifully restored buildings from the turn of last century.

My favourite was the Romanesque revival YMCA building (1898) with its beautiful Art Nouveau typography on the facade.

From Geneva, on the shores of Seneca lake we then drove to Seneca Falls which is very close to Cayuga Lake.

The US women’s rights movement started in Seneca Falls in 1848. However it wasn’t until 1920 when women, across the US, actually got the vote.

The Seneca Falls Convention ran over two days, July 19-20 and attracted widespread attention. The convention’s Declaration of Sentiments became the single most important factor in spreading the news of the women’s rights movement around the US.

There is a life sized statue on the Seneca River, not far from the falls that depicts three women. This was the meeting between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, introduced by a mutual friend, Amelia Bloomer.

This chance meeting is said to have been the start of the suffragette movement in the US. This ultimately led to the Nineteenth Amendment to the American Constitution – the right for women to vote.

 

WWI Poster exhibition, Johnston Museum of Art, Cornell University

May 25, 2017. Ithaca, New York State.

Ithaca is the home of Cornell University.

Cornell, like Columbia and Yale, is another Ivy League, private University. It was established in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White.

Its charter was to make contributions in all fields of knowledge. From the classics to the sciences – from theoretical to the applied.

It has always been co-educational and non-sectarian. Ideals that were unconventional for the time.

As of 2017 Cornell claims amongst its 245,000 living alumni to have, 34 Marshall Scholars, 30 Rhodes Scholars, 29 Truman Scholars, 7 Gates Scholars, 56 Nobel Laureates and 14 living billionaires.

The currents students also like to drink.

We were in Ithaca just before the Commencements, or Graduation Ceremonies (This depends on whether your are starting or ending your academic year) and there were a lot of very ‘merry’ graduates.

They were harmless and who could blame them for letting off a bit of ‘academic or practical ‘ steam.

Ithaca, named after the Greek island, was founded in 1740 and incorporated in 1888.

Due to its large student population the voters are more liberal than upstate New York.

Ithaca hasn’t always been liberal leading. In the late 1800s, it was home to the Ithaca Gun Company, manufactures of high quality shot guns.

The company became the icon of the hunting and shooting world. The famous trick-shooter, Annie Oakley favoured, and promoted, Ithaca guns.

On our last day in Ithaca the weather turned foul so we visited the Johnston Museum of Art at Cornell University.

There was an interesting poster exhibition, immediately we entered the museum.

During WWI, posters went from artistically advertising products, to aggressively promoting propaganda for the war effort.

The exhibition was all about that transformation.

This was followed by an interesting retrospective of printmaking with artists such as Albrecht Dürer, William Hogarth, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, Antonio Canaletto and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Installations and diverse collections were also in the museum.

Thea even donated her old red iPhone case to an exhibition of Abandoned Red Objects.

It’s all about the art.

There was even an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup collection from 1969.

The entire collection was very eclectic, in that there were a small number exhibits from many periods.

This is probably due to the fact that almost everything was from a bequest or donated.

In the afternoon the weather hadn’t got much better so we went in search of a mall to replace Thea’s iPhone cover.

We then had a short drive and a quick walk to Ithaca Falls, which is almost in the centre of town.

This is the site of the infamous Ithaca Gun Company.

Much of the area has been fenced off, as it was polluted with lead from the factory.

Rehabilitation is still taking place.

 

Grey Towers near Milford

May 26, 2017. Ithaca, New York State to Milford, Pennsylvania.

We drove out of Ithaca and eventually got onto the NY 97, a scenic drive that took us down the Delaware River.

This is the border between New York State and Pennsylvania.

Near the junction of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Rivers we found the John A Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct that was built in 1847-1848 and opened in 1849. It is also known as the Roebling Bridge and was originally designed as an aqueduct that connected two parts of the Delaware and Hudson canal.

It has now been converted to carry vehicles and pedestrians.

We also found a public toilet, which is rather rare in the US.

The construction of the canal and the subsequent building of the Erie Railroad in 1848 help development in the Upper Delaware region.

Late in the afternoon we made our way to Grey Towers, a stately mansion on the outskirts of Milford.

Grey Towers was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built by the philanthropist and businessman James Pinchot in 1886.

The Pinchot family originally came from France and the mansion reflected their French heritage.

James Pinchot was deeply disturbed by the deforestation, caused by over logging in the US, and convinced his eldest son, Gifford Pinchot to consider a career in forestry.

After studying abroad, because no forestry schools existed in the US, Gifford went on to become the first Chief Forester. This was in the the newly created United States Forest Service, formed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

During his tenure, national forests more than tripled in size to over 170 million acres.

Gifford went on to serve two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania.

In 1963 Gifford Bryce Pinchot, son of Gifford, donated the property to the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

On September 24, 1963, President John F Kennedy dedicated the site to the American public in the hope of further promoting the ideals of conservation.

There is a monument to the Forest Service in the forecourt of Grey Towers.

 

Washington's headquarters, Valley Forge

May 27, 2017. Milford to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Our morning started with breakfast at the Village Diner, which was next to our motel.

Bad move.

It’s only saving grace was that their menu had been designed in the Googie style (1950s’ space age design genre)

The service was lazy and the food was poor.

Dissatisfied we headed to Philadelphia, via Valley Forge.

This was an interesting side trip as Valley Forge is regarded as one of the seminal locations in US history.

Valley Forge was the site of General Washington’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1777-78. This was the third year of what was the eight year War of Independence.

No battles were ever fought at Valley Forge.

The area became famous as the place where, though extreme hardship, the Continental Army survived a brutal winter and went on to eventually triumph over the British.

This is seen as the defining moment in the US – the time when the American spirit was established.

It’s a bit like our ANZAC Day.

Late in the afternoon we discovered the King of Prussia Mall. This has the dubious honour of being the largest, by rentable space, mall in the US.

To their credit they have a Bluestone Lane coffee shop. This is a part of an Australian chain, that now has 7 outlets in the eastern US.

They serve great coffee and much to Thea’s delight, Lamingtons.

That night we stayed in the university district of Philadelphia and discovered the White Dog Restaurant for dinner.

This proudly boasts being the first Philadelphia establishment to source all their ingredients locally.

True or not, their food was fantastic.

The restaurant’s design followed the ‘canine’ theme with dog busts on the walls. As well, cushions and art were all incorporated into the decor.

 

White Dog Restaurant, Philadelphia

May 28, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We were in Philadelphia for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

This is the day that Americans remember those who died serving in the American Armed Forces.

It is held on the last Monday in May.

It was about 5 km into the old part of Philadelphia, so we decided to walk, having been stuck in the car for the last few days.

Stupidly we stood in line to see the famous Liberty Bell, only to discover that our view was through a window.

Once we found the real queue it took 45 minutes to get inside.

Well the Liberty Bell is one of the patriotic touchstones in the US and this was the Memorial Day long weekend.

The Liberty Bell was commissioned in 1752 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly and was originally placed in the Pennsylvania State House.

While it is closely associated with the Declaration of Independence, there is no account of it actually being rung on July 4, 1776. However most historians agree that it probably was one of the bells rung on July 8, to mark the reading of the declaration.

The bell fell into obscurity until the 1830s’ when it was adopted as a symbol by the abolitionist societies who called it the ‘Liberty Bell.’

The bell has been recast twice, due to cracking and there is a large crack in the one on display. Since being retired it has made many road trips across the US.

We then continued on a few more kilometres down to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River.

There is a big Irish influence in Philadelphia. This is mainly due to the influx of Irish immigrants following the potato famine of 1847.

There is a large memorial to the Irish near Penn’s Landing  and many Irish pubs and bars in the city area.

We discovered The Plough and the Stars, a lively pub that was bursting at the seams with weekend revellers.

We managed to get an outside table. I think the locals knew something that we didn’t, as it wasn’t long before the rain came.

 

Portrait of Dr Hayes Agnew (The Agnew Clinic) Thomas Eakins 1889

May 29, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The rain held off and we again walked. This time to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was just over the Schuylkill River from where we were staying.

The steps leading up to the Museum were made famous in the Rocky movies, staring Sylvester Stallone. There is even a ‘Rocky’ statue out the front, and tourists line up to have their photo taken with him.

We spent three hours in the gallery, mainly concentrating on the America art that spanned the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The exhibit that caught my attention was Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’.

One hundred years ago this piece turned the art world upside down with its uniqueness and sheer audacity.

Duchamp created the concept of ‘readymades’ by taking mass produced items, and presenting them as art.

The ‘Fountain’ was a urinal that he purchased from the New York showroom of J. L. Mott Iron Works. He then signed it ‘R. Mutt’ and submitted it to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.

It was rejected.

Today the debate still continues as to whether it is object or art.

After our cultural experience in the gallery we went in search of more basic needs.

A good glass of wine and a local craft beer.

The 2nd Story Brewing Company, on Chestnut Street, fitted the bill.

Just next door is the Han Dynasty, a Chinese restaurant with a difference.

Despite the food descriptions being foreign to us the meal was great.

Fresh ingredients, manageable portions and full of flavour.

It was in an old bank and the lofty ceilings and timber features made it all the more impressive.

There was even a row of large clocks with world times displayed.

Unfortunately they didn’t work.

 

Eshleman's Covered Bridge, built 1845, rebuilt 1883

May 30, 2017. Philadelphia to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The morning we left Philadelphia was overcast and drizzling.

It didn’t improve.

It wasn’t so bad as we planned to spend the day driving in search of covered bridges and the Amish folk. There are a number of covered bridges around Lancaster and we had been to the Tourist Information centre to get a map.

We did stop in Lancaster for a coffee and visited the market. Built in 1730, it’s one of the oldest covered markets in the US.

There were once as many as 12,000 covered bridges in the US, today there are fewer than 1,500.

There is a romanticism associated with these quaint old structures, but they are entirely practical.

Their timber truss design allowed for a greater span and they were covered to give them greater longevity.

We drove around the area for about 20 miles (32 Km) and visited four of the bridges, each one was different.

Being in Amish Country we wanted to see if we could spot these traditional Christians. They have been made famous by their simple living, plain dress and a reluctance to adopt modern ways.

The Amish began with a schism in Switzerland between a group Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists, led by Jakob Andaman in 1693. Many in this group emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.

We did see many in farm yards and in their traditional horse drawn buggies. But what was surprising was a lot were also driving their John Deere tractors.

Obviously not all the Amish have rejected technology.

Historically we were travelling in the right direction.

Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, especially Valley Forge were the site of Washington’s winter encampment of 1777-78. These were the touchstones of the American’s strive for independence.

Now we were in Gettysburg, founded by Samuel Getty in 1761.

This is where the Civil War was won.

This war wasn’t about sovereignty but more about states’ rights and slavery.

Fought between 1861 and 1865 it was an idealogical battle between the north and the south.

In 1862 seven southern ’slave’ states individually declared secession from the US to form the Confederate States of America.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between July 1 and 3, 1863. The battle involved the largest number of casualties in the civil war and was the turning point. After three days of battle in Gettysburg, Robert E Lee’s army, of North Virginia, were defeated in their attempts to invade the north.

This changed the course of history.

Speaking to the locals, they say that if the north had lost then America would never have become ’The United States’ and world history would have been very different.

Given the current politics within the US, I wonder if that would have been such a bad thing.

Our accommodation in Gettysburg was right in the heart of town, at the Inn at Lincoln Square.

This was an historic house, originally built by Joel Buchanan Danner (1804-1885) in 1824. Joel B Danner was born in Liberty Maryland and was a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives between 1850 and 1851. He was probably comfortably retired from politics and running his hardware business when the Civil War broke out in his front yard in 1863.

Apart from a few modifications, the room we stayed in had an authentic 19th century feel.

There’d were even steps to get up into the four poster bed.

 

The Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest in Gettysburg

May 31, 2017. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The day was spent on the battlefields of Gettysburg.

It was suggested that we hire a guide for a few hours to escort us around the site. The guides were all booked out, so we purchased a CD pack and escorted ourselves.

The itinerary was intended to run for two and a half hours.

We took much longer than that – about five and a half hours.

We had a rough beginning, as we couldn’t find the start of the tour. After that it all went extremely well.

The guided tour was a mix of facts, yarns and dramatisations.

There are over 1,400 monuments dotted around the battlefield area, making it the largest open air gallery in the US.

That’s if you regard monuments as art.

One was of an indian chief, erected for the Tammany Regiment Memorial. The monument is a bronze statue of the Delaware Indian Chief Tammany standing in front of a teepee. Tammany was a friend to colonists in the early days of America and became the symbol for the powerful New York City political hall that raised the regiment.

It sits rather incongruously with the images of white men in uniform.

There were three CDs in the set, one for each day of that battle that was fought from July 1 to 3 in 1863.

Our final stop was at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This is set within the Gettysburg battlefield and was consecrated on November 19, 1863.

This is the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered the historic and eloquent ‘Gettysburg Address’

This must go down as one of the most monumental speeches in history.

Surprisingly it is only 272 words long, yet it expressed so much.

 

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mill Run

June 1, 2017. Gettysburg to Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

Mowing the lawn takes on a whole new meaning, once you escape the big cities.

Wherever we went, men and occasionally woman, sat astride their ride-on-mowers and ‘cultivated’ their lawns. This seems to be a national pastime at this time of the year. It’s needed, as there are so many blocks of land, about the size of a small European country, that need constant maintenance, especially in spring.

Our primary adventure for the day was a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

This is regarded by many as the finest piece of domestic architecture in America.

The irony is that he achieved this greatness by ignoring the brief.

Designed and built between 1935 and 1939 for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the house is cantilevered over a 30’ (9.1 metres) waterfall.

The Kaufmann’s owned a large estate at Bear Run and wanted the house to overlook the waterfall.

Wright decided to build the house over the falls instead.

It was part of Wright’s new architectural philosophy of incorporating the surroundings into the design. The stone used to construct the house came from a local quarry, also owned by the Kaufmanns.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed about 1,000 houses in his lifetime, 500 of those were created after Fallingwater, when he was in his 70s.

This is regarded as his best.

Fallingwater is so popular, that at the height of the season, 1,000 visitors file through the house every day.

On the day we were there it processed about 800 tourists.

You can only take pictures outside, as they believe it will hold up the tours if photos are taken inside.

If you want to photograph the interior, you can book one of the Photo Tours, but these only run in the early morning and are booked out weeks in advance.

I did try a grab a few snaps through the windows.

As with most of his designs, Wright also created the furniture, lighting and interior decor. So it’s a pity I couldn’t have captured a few more images.

Fallingwater was designed to be the Kaufmann’s summer house, so cooling was important. Wright, without using a traditional air conditioning system, utilised windows and the draft from the waterfall below to allow cool air to flow through the house.

 

The Strasburg Hotel

June 2, 2017. Uniontown, Pennsylvania to Strasburg, Virginia.

Heading south we crossed the Mason-Dixon line again. This is a line that was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, between 1763 and 1767.

The line ultimately became a symbolic and cultural division between the North and the South, especially in regards to slavery.

It is 250 years since Mason and Dixon were commissioned to survey the 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometres) of disputed territory.

The survey was a result of a disagreement between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware in Colonial America.

The two British surveyors used the most advanced equipment that was available in the day. The accuracy was so extraordinary, that even today it astounds the scientific world.

The countryside was green and heavily wooded. We went off the main road and had a great drive through the countryside on very narrow, winding roads.

Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles was released on May 26, 1967 in the United Kingdom and June 2, 1967 in the United States.

We were in the US on the 50th anniversary, so dutifully played the album as we were driving through Virginia.

It’s a classic.

We arrived in Strasburg, Virginia in the afternoon and decided to drive around town to see what was happening.

The drive was very short.

Strasburg, founded in 1761, is on the Shenandoah River and is know for pottery, antiques and Civil War history.

However most people would remember the name from the American folk song, ‘Oh Shenandoah’ This was recorded by many artists, including Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell and even Judy Garland.

For a change we were staying in an old colonial pub, the Hotel Strasburg. This was very different to our usual motel/hotel style accommodation.

The building was constructed in 1902, as a private hospital, but then became a lodging house.

It was restored in 1977 to its current state.

Antiques were everywhere and our computers and digital cameras seemed very out of place. Apparently the Hotel Strasburg used to be owned by one of the large antique dealers in the town and everything in the place was available to purchase.

 

Little Devils Stairs Overlook

June 3, 2017. Strasburg to Roanoke, Virginia.

Antiques are still big business in the US, well at least in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The vast majority of domestic architecture in the eastern US hasn’t changed in the last 100 to 150 years. Modern houses are very hard to find and even the decor in the motels and hotel we have stayed in seem to hark back to an older era.

That combined with the fact that the American War of Independence and the Civil War all loom large in the culture of these towns.

We found a great coffee shop in Front Royal, which is only about a twenty minute drive away from Strasburg.

There we met Bruce.

He lived in Front Royal and loved a chat. He was retired but had been a salesman, worked on the railroads and even in the funeral business.

There was music coming from the town square and Bruce told us that there was a Baptist revival meeting going on.

According to Bruce, another regular Font Royal activity happens on Wednesdays. This is when the Democrats and Republicans face off in the square, yelling and waving placards at each other.

The main part of the day was to be spent driving along the Skyline, a ridge road in the Shenandoah National Park, within the Blue Ridge Mountains

Bruce told us it was well worth it even if it was a little slow.

He wasn’t wrong.

The drive is 105 miles (169km) long with 75 overlooks on both sides of the road. However you are restricted to 35mph (55kph), which makes the trip very long indeed.

We drove from near Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south.

It certainly was a great drive, regarded by many as one of the best mountain roads in the US.

Apart from the day trippers on the road, there were many on bikes and an unknown number walking in the forests.

Every car park, leading to one of the many walking tracks, was full.

On the recommendation of the hotel receptionist we went to Billy’s for dinner. This was in the market area of Roanoke and about a twenty minute walk from the hotel.

From the outside Billy’s looked rather small and very crowned but when we got inside it was much larger than it appeared.

It was a beautiful balmy evening so we opted to eat outside.

The food was great and a change from burgers, sandwiches and over sauced pastas.

Uber is operating in Roanoke, so we booked one to bring us back to the hotel.

That’s when we met Perry, ‘The best Uber driver in the world’. They were Perry’s words not mine.

Apart from his huge ego, Perry did have some interesting innovations. One was a small blue illuminated Uber sign on the top of his car.

It did help us to find him. There was the 59th Annual Sidewalk Art Show in the streets around the market area and Perry was forced to park at the end of the streets, as the road in front of the restaurant was blocked off.

We saw Perry again the next day. His other job was in a hot dog stand.

I wonder if he made the best hot dogs in the world?

 

Taubman Museum of Art

June 4, 2017. Roanoke, Virginia.

In 1852 the town was known ‘Big Lick’, after a large outcrop of salt that drew wildlife to the site near the Roanoke River.

This name wasn’t well regarded by the locals, so in 1882 it was renamed to Roanoke and became an independent city in 1884.

One of the main attractions in Roanoke is the Taubman Museum of Art. This was designed by Randall Stout, a southern architect originally from Tennessee, and built in 2008.

For seven years Stout worked with Frank Gehry and this is very evident in his design.

The Museum is rather boxed in, with the railway line on one side and a bridge on the other.

This is ironic, considering that there is so much space in this city, most of it taken up by vast carparks

Fortunately the interior was much more spacious.

The collections in the Taubman place an emphasis on South Eastern US art. There was a small, rather diverse offering that ranged from 18th century colonial works to contemporary painting and arts and crafts.

One that I particularly liked was an installation of images projected onto four boxes filled with different foods. Entitled I am not in the business, I am the business it was created by Eva Rocha.

It was surprising how dramatically the images were altered by the background material.

There was also a collection of highly decorative handbags entitled, Earthly Delights by Judith Lieber.

She was born in Hungary in 1921 and after the war, in 1946, married an American GI, Gerson (Gus) Lieber, then moved to the US.

She obtained a traineeship at a handbag company and eventually became the first woman to join the Hungarian Handbag Guild.

In 1963 she founded her own company and became famous for her unique designs that featured animals, fruit, birds and snakes.

Her bags have been carried on the red carpet by the rich and famous, as well as a number of US First Ladies.

Another collection was some beautifully intricate metal work entitled, Metal Delicious by Alison Pack.

It was suggested that we go to the museum inside the visitor’s centre, however it was closed.

There was a small exhibition on Raymond Loewy in the foyer, so we had a wander around there instead.

Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) was a French born American industrial/graphic designer. He designed everything from famous corporate logos like Shell, Exxon and TWA, to Greyhound buses, Studebaker cars and the first Streamliner locomotive for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

He is regarded by many as the Father of Industrial Design in the US.

Later in the afternoon we walked down to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This concentrates on cars and trains, with the odd motorcycle and bus thrown in for variety.

A very interesting exhibit, in the train section, was an old mail sorting carriage. Most mail in the US moved on railroads, in Railway Post Offices cars, until the 1960s.

The term ZIP Code means Zone Improvement Plan and was used from 1963.

Who killed the electric car?

This was a question asked on the exhibit sheet from a 1996 General Motors EV1 Electric Car.

The vehicles were produced between 1996 to 1999 and only ever leased, not sold outright.

They were limited to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson but were popular enough to expand to San Francisco and Sacramento.

Then, in 2002 the program was discontinued. The majority of the cars were recalled and crushed. The remainder were given to museums with their power trains deactivated.

One has to ask why?

We then wandered back into downtown Roanoke for dinner.

Then it started to pour down, but it did clear long enough for us to walk back to our hotel.

No Uber that night.

Street dogs.

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

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In Colonia, Uruguay, they have a unique way of dealing with homeless dogs.

And there are quite a few of them.

The local animal welfare organisation has a list of the dogs and makes sure that they receive annual vaccinations, health checks and are sterilised.

The locals feed them, give them water and make sure they are cared for. Even the restauranteurs leave food out for them, once they have closed for the night.

We were told that the dogs never show aggression, which has helped them to become an accepted part of the community.

The dogs inhabit different areas of the town and are known to the locals and even have names.

There is even one group that follow the tourists, keeping them company while they explore this classic colonial town.

It is a symbiosis between those who needed help and those who could help.

Our tour guide told the story of one dog who was adopted, given a bright red collar and a home. Being separated from his street friends and the life he had grown up with, he became so depressed he would escape and return to the streets.

His owner eventually removed his collar and set him free – he was a much happier dog.

They are now an old group of dogs, and due to the desexing, dying out.

I think the people of Colonia will miss them when they’e gone.

The subway in the sky.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Mi Teleférico (My Cablecar)

La Paz in Bolivia is one of the highest major cities in the world, sitting at 3,640 metres. While the adjacent town of El Alto, which is part of the metropolis of La Paz, sits at 4,150 metres.

The Le Paz CBD is in a canyon that has been carved out, over millions of years, by the Choqueyapu River, while the residential areas cling to the surrounding mountain sides.

This topography presented the government of La Paz with a unique public transport problem.

The only public transport before 2014 was taxis and mini busses which are chaotic and unreliable.

The solution was Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car), an urban, mass transit system that spans the city and the suburbs.

Phase one was opened in 2014 and consisted of the Red, Yellow and Green lines. Phase two opened in 2017 adding a further two lines, Orange and Blue. A further six lines are under construction or planned.

This will make it the longest cable car system in the world, covering nearly 34 kilometres and the only public transport system to use cable cars as the primary mode of transport.

It was relatively easy to construct, as the footprint of the towers is small and less disruptive than building a rail or subway system. It is environmentally friendly as it runs on both solar and hydro electricity – there is also no noise or pollution.

Mi Teleférico is lateral thinking at its best.

“You’re welcome”

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Tray with receipt and cash

The US tipping phenomenon effects everyone.

In Eastern Europe, especially in the more remote places, if you speak English, you must be American.

Therefore you tip and tip well.

However there is often no service and in many cases a total disdain for actually serving you at all. This reflects their recent Russian heritage.

There has to be a happy compromise.

As I have bleated about before, the service industry in the US is a result of a corrupt capitalist ideology. It believes that it’s the customer’s responsibility to pay staff wages, as well as your food, not the restaurants.

This results in most Americans tipping when overseas at the same ridiculous rate that they do at home.

Something between 18% to 35%.

This ruins it for the rest of us and creates a false expectation within the service industry in these countries.

On the bright side there is little waste, as there is in the States, due to the use of proper washable crockery an cutlery.

When we do get great service, we don’t mind rewarding the staff – with about a 10% gratuity.

Then it’s a real reward not part of their salary.

Don’t follow, lead.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017
Laisvės-Alėja. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Laisvės-Alėja, Lithuania. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

As a tourist it’s easy to buy a package tour and visit the places that are high on the wish list.

This can have its problems.

The issue is that you are not alone, as there are millions following you.

As mentioned in a previous blog, this was highlighted in a BBC article about tourists flooding popular destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, Florence and some Greek islands.

And more recently Iceland.

It is expected that over 2 million people will have visited this spectacular and sparsely populated country in 2017 – completely overwhelming the local population of just 334,000.

This has been exacerbated by the influx of tourists from China, India and Russia, plus the growth of cruising.

Some of the popular destinations are so overrun with tourists that the locals are moving out during the high season.

This year 70 million tourists will have visited Spain.

Another factor that changes the state of the destination is the accommodation.

The more tourists there are, the more places they need to stay.

In steps Airbnb and other accommodation sharing businesses.

The result is that the locals move out, because their apartments are worth more when they are rented.

Apart from the sites, the other attraction in a destination are the locals.

Increasingly the only people you see in the tourist areas of Berlin, Athens and Santorini are other tourists.

Another casualty of excessive tourism is the loss of local cuisine.

Unless you venture into the backstreets of Geneva, Hamburg or Prague you won’t find much more than pizza and pasta.

The local restaurants all left with the locals and moved into the suburbs, well away from the tourists.

Try finding good Catalan food in the centre of Barcelona.

What is tourism about, if not experiencing the culture, food and people?

On this trip we have been to some big cities like Berlin, Helsinki and Warsaw. There English is always spoken and everything is relatively easy.

But you are not alone, tourists are everywhere.

The prices are higher and you are more likely to get fleeced, as the locals are aware of what the punters will pay.

While in many unexplored countries the prices are very reasonable.

This trip we have been fortunate enough to visit Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia. In Banská Štiavnica in Slovakia we seemed to be the only tourists that weren’t from Eastern Europe. Most seem to be from bordering countries, such as Hungary Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The countries we visited offered us an insight into Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. It also gave us a new perspective on the history and culture of these places, both before and after the Second World War.

Both the German occupation and subsequently the seizure by the Soviet Union left its mark. However the history before that was equally as turbulent, as invasion from neighbouring countries seemed to happen on a regular basis.

Travelling to unique places allows you to experience different people, cultures and geography. We discovered the ‘longest walking street in Europe’ in Lithuania and walked in a peat bog in Estonia.

However travelling in uncharted water isn’t without its difficulties.

Language can be an issue as English isn’t widely spoken and communication can be an issue. Especially when it comes to ordering from a menu that’s only in the local tongue.

Tour guides at these tourists sites tend to deliver the narrative in the language that most of the tourists speak and in many cases this wasn’t English.

Failing to find an English speaking guide we turned to the next best thing – maps and and printed information.

Even this had its problems, as on many occasions they weren’t printed in English either.

In large, well patronised, tourist towns you can always find a meal, at any time of the day or night.

When you are in these smaller places you have to eat when the locals eat, which isn’t necessarily when when you’re used to eating.

The benefit here is you are eating and talking with the locals and having a genuine tourist experience.

One of the real pleasures in visiting these off-the-beaten-track destinations is that you are an oddity to the locals and local tourists.

People want to engage you in conversation, just to discover; “Why on earth are you here?”

Graduation Day.

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

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“There’s a time a for joy

A time for tears

A time we’ll treasure through the years

We’ll remember always

Graduation day”

‘Graduation Day’ was a hit single for the Four Freshmen in 1956 and then covered by the Beach Boys in 1964.

The version by the Beach Boys is the one I remember best.

We had come to New York for Steph’s graduation and had no idea what to expect.

Graduations aren’t that big a deal in Australia and both Hayden and Even had missed theirs entirely.

Steph had just completed a two years Masters at Columbia University Teachers College (TC).

My vision, probably developed from 1960s US sitcoms, was of students, dressed in black academic gowns, throwing their mortar boards in the air at the conclusion of the ceremony.

There was much more to it than that.

My first big surprise was that the Columbia graduates didn’t wear a black gown, but sky blue.

The celebrations and presentations went on for three days. There were welcome drinks for the International Students and their families and friends on one night. This was followed the next day by the Masters presentation, called the Convocational, at St John the Divine. It was preceded by a light lunch and followed by a dessert of strawberries dunked in chocolate and chocolate chip cookies.

The following day was the ‘big one’.

It was called the ‘Commencement of 2017′ celebrations, however it was really the conclusion of the 2017 academic year.

It was attended by a crowd of over 30,000 guests and students, sitting in the hot sun, with most having no shade, not even a hat. That is apart from those clever people who improvised with headwear made from the Columbia newspaper.

It was huge.

It took close to two hours for everyone to be seated and the academic staff to parade in.

The speeches, awards and confirmation of degrees took another few hours.

Finally, when it was all over, I waited for the mass mortar board toss.

It didn’t really happen.

The biggest surprise to me was the tone of the speakers.

Without every mentioning his name ‘The Donald’ and his administration was put down in every conceivable way.

The President of Columbia, Lee C Bollinger, led the charge by reminding the graduates that they would always remember the graduation of 2017 as a dark year in the history of the US.

Another fascinating part of the event was discovering the history, and culture, of the Teachers College.

The Teachers College was founded in 1887 by Grace Hoadley Dodge. Today it has over 90,000 alumni in 30 countries.

It was the world’s first Teachers College and incorporated the study of educational psychology and educational sociology. It was also mindful of the vast number of immigrants entering the US and tried to incorporate their special needs in the teacher training. The founders insisted that ethics and the nature of ‘good society’ should also be a part of the curriculum.

No wonder both the college and the university are at odds with the Washington administration.

My favourite Africans.

Friday, March 31st, 2017

There are so many more animals to see in Africa than just the ‘Big Five’.

Sure the lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos might kill you but there are others that have their own intrinsic character, beyond their ability to take your life.

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Giraffes for their pure beauty and elegance. 

The supermodel of the animal kingdom with their extremely long neck and legs, as well as their come-hither eyes.

Measuring between 4.3 and 5.7 metres in height, they’re the tallest living terrestrial mammal.

They are most vulnerable to predators when drinking, as they have to spread their legs in order to get down to water level.

Currently there are believed to be six species of giraffe. The West African, Rothschild’s, Reticulated, Masai, Angolan and South African.

Their habitat ranges from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south and Niger in the west to Somalia in the east.

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Warthogs for their character. 

The ugly comedian – a combination of Marty Feldman and Rowan Atkinson.

The common warthog is a wild member of the pig family with a head and body length ranging from 0.9 to 1.5 metres and shoulder height from 63.5 to 85 centimetres.

With a disproportionately large head, two formidable tusks, steel wool for hair and skin that’s like extra course sandpaper, they are neither graceful nor beautiful.

Due to their short necks and relatively long legs they kneel on their front legs when they eat.

I am so taken by the warthog that I was given a pottery one for my birthday. It’s a very flattering representation of a truly ugly animal – it has pride of place in our living room.

There are four subspecies, the Nolan Warthog, Eritrean Warthog, Central African Warthog and Southern African Warthog.

They are found all over central and southern Africa.

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Hyraxes for their cuteness.

They seem to love life and enjoy just mucking about.

Hyrax have a number of nom de plumes and are also known as Dassies or Rock Rabbits. They measure between 30 and 70 centimetres in length and weigh between 2 and 5 kilograms.

They are closely related to elephants and dugongs but look more like a rodent. There are four species, the Rock Hyrax, Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax, Western Tree Hyrax and the Southern Tree Hyrax.

They can be found across Africa and the Middle East.

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Hornbills for their annoyance factor.

If their squark didn’t wake us up pre-dawn, then the banging on the window did.

They vary in length from 30 centimetres to 1.2 metres and are characterised by a huge, often brightly coloured, bill and strong neck (all the better to bang on the window with).

There are about 55 species ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines and Solomon Islands. There are 25 species found in Africa.

The hornbill is the most travelled of my favourite Africans – a true tourist.

Along the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth
to Cape Town, South Africa.

Friday, February 10th, 2017

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Day 1, November 11: Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma National Park.

The weather had certainly changed for the cooler as we commenced our trip west, from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

The change wasn’t just in the temperature, as everything else seemed very different to what we had become used to in other parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.

The roads, shopping centres and housing were much more western and white faces much more evident.

And the internet worked.

We drove into Jeffreys Bay, the home of Supertubes, one of the world’s most famous surf breaks. It was made even more notorious when Mick Fanning was nearly taken by a Great White in the opening moments of the 2015 J-Bay Open.

Remarkably he returned to the competition in 2016 and won.

A drive along the shopping strip at Jeffery’s Bay is like being in Torquay, Anglesea or Lorne. There are surf shops, cafes and all forms of associated surf culture.

Brands like Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver were all there.

It’s a pity they’re not Australian any more.

Continuing westward on the N2, past Storms River Gorge, our next stop was Tsitsikamma National Park to see the Grootboom or Big Tree. This massive yellowwood is believed to be around a thousand years old: about the time of the Norman conquest of England.

We spent the entire drive, from Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma, listening to Leonard Cohen.

It was November 11, 2016, the day we heard of his passing.

Thea, Hayden, Evan and I were great fans. Leonard’s music was often heard in our house and it played a big part in the soundtrack of our lives.

Our accommodation in Tsitsikamma was within the park and yet again we got given the honeymoon chalet.

What is going on?

The bonus wasn’t the king-size bed or the spa but the spectacular views. The accommodation consists of chalets and camp sites, all of them have sea views. However the ‘honeymoon’ chalet had a particularly good position with 180° views of the Indian Ocean crashing into South Africa.

 

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Day 2, November 12: Tsitsikamma National Park to Plettensnerg Bay.

We had planned to do the 3.5 hour Waterfall Walk in Tsitsikamma National Park.

That was cut short by rain.

The rain wasn’t so much the problem, but rather the rocks we had to scramble over to get there, became very slippery.

Tsitsikamma National Park covers about 80 kilometres of coastline and is a popular destination for visitors travelling along the Garden Route.

It was spring in South Africa and the wildflowers were in bloom.

We came across three Giant Green African Grasshoppers mating. Another sure sign that spring was in the air.

As the rain came down, I could hear our raincoats laughing at us from the back seat of the car – stupidly we had decided not to take them.

There was nothing left to do but to return to the visitor’s centre and console ourselves with a cup of coffee.

Then the sun came out.

Plan ‘B’ was to go on the Suspension Bridge Walk. This was very crowded but at least there was a boardwalk for the entire journey and no rocks to worry about.

When we returned to the visitor’s centre there was a group of Hyrax playing on the lawn.

They are very comical animals and seem to love life.

 

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Day 3, November 13: Plettenberg Bay.

We were told that very little is open on a Sunday night at Plettenberg Bay, but lunch is always available.

We decided to spend the morning at Birds of Eden free fight sanctuary. This was only a 25 minute drive away, so there would be time to visit before lunch.

It’s the largest single dome, free flight sanctuary in the world, inhabited by African species as well as birds from all over the world.

Many of the birds have been rehabilitated. We even spotted a galah called Rosie who had been rescued – in fact all the parrots in Birds of Eden are ex-pets.

Our lunch was at Equinox, a short walk from Swallow’s Nest, our guest house in Plettenberg Bay.

It was a contemporary restaurant, with great staff and excellent decor.

The food was very good as well.

If you’re a tourist in South Africa, it’s great value for money. We had a four course Sunday lunch for A$15 per head.

The bar prices for wine is also very inexpensive, with the average bottle costing around A$15.

Craft beer is again very reasonable, with a bottle of King’s Blockhouse IPA only costing A$4.

Equinox was right on Plettenberg Bay overlooking a large swell. Late in the afternoon a couple of surfers arrived and attempted to tame the waves. When the surfers left the birds moved in and then the Dolphins.

 

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Day 4, November 14: Plettenberg Bay to Knysna.

Unseasonable wet weather in the Western Cape kept us confined to short trips, or indoors.

It wasn’t a long drive from Plettenberg Bay to Knysna, our next stop. We therefore had time to do a bit of housekeeping.

Thea’s nails were in need of major reconstruction and my hair was looking rather scraggy.

The last cut was in Zanzibar.

I was told that the ‘Cutter’ was due in the salon soon.

A hour and a half later he turned up.

It was a Monday morning and I think he had slept in after a hard Sunday night. That’s if the energy drink he was downing was anything to go by.

This part of the drive would continue on The Garden Route, along the famous Route 62, and then onto Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

‘Coffee culture has come to the Western Cape.’ Well that was the theme in one of the many magazine articles I read while waiting for my haircut.

Knysna is on a narrow bay, fed by the Knysna River and surrounded by hills.

We were in Paradise, literally, as this was the name of the suburb we were staying in.

Before checking into Hamilton Manor, our guest house, we did a short circuit around the area.

Noetzie Beach in the Pezula Private Estate is a very weird place.

We had to drive for several kilometres, on dirt roads, to get there and our only access was to Noetzie Beach. The rest of the area was enclosed in electrified fences and large gates covered in razor wire.

The reason for the security are the ‘castles’ dotted throughout the the peninsula.

These are stately holiday homes, designed to look like stone castles, using the local rock and complete with turrets.

The strange thing is, that along the stretch of Noetzie Beach we could get to, they were sitting next to fibro-cement beach houses.

Quite a contrast.

Our next diversion was to Knysna Heads, the narrow opening to Knysna Bay.

On one side of the heads is a viewing area and housing while the other side is the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve.

The Southern Cape coastline is truly spectacular, with rugged rocks and a pounding Indian Ocean.

Parking is a strange affair in South Africa.

There are very few parking metres and the locals seem to control who parks where, for how long and at what cost.

There are official parking people or ‘car guards’ and they have a high-vis vest and identification to prove their authenticity.

Then there are the opportunists, who believe that there is money to be made by ‘pretending’ to be a parking official.

They may have a vest, of sorts, and no identification. They appear from nowhere, as soon as you approach a parking spot, and offer to “Watch your car, boss?”

For two reasons we decided to pay most of the people, official or not.

Firstly, in the hope that our car would be looked after and secondly, and more importantly, to give some money to the locals.

The suggested parking fee is somewhere between 20 and 50 cents Australian, so it wasn’t going to break the bank and it’s cheaper than parking metres.

 

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Day 5, November 15: Knysna to Oudtshoorn.

We drove along the N9 and then over the Outeniqua Pass and into Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich capital of the world.

We drove through the pass three times. All the best lookout points are on the right hand side, as you climb up through the pass, heading north from George. They are inaccessible from the left of the road, so we had to double back and then come down. Then of course we had to go through the pass again in order to get to Oudtshoorn.

There were two ostrich feather booms in South Africa, one between 1865 and 1870, the other between 1900 and 1914. The start of WW1 caused of the last boom to collapse. Fashion was the driver behind both booms and the price of the feathers soared. At one point during the first boom the value, per pound, of ostrich feathers equated to that of diamonds.

The town was named after Baron Pieter van Oudtshoorn, who became Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony 1772.

The town is full of grand old colonial homes, called ‘feather palaces’ that were built by the wealthy ostrich farmers, known as ‘feather barons’. There are also some magnificent public buildings such as the 1907 CP Nel Museum building and the NG Moedergemeente (Dutch Reformist Church) completed in 1879.

All signs of Oudtshoorn’s past glory.

There are similarities between cities in Australia such as Adelaide, Ballarat and Bendigo with Oudtshoorn. The difference is that Oudtshoorn made is wealth from feathers, not gold.

Parking was a different experience in Oudtshoorn. We arrived in the town just before lunchtime and decided to visit the museum first.

The temperature was on the rise again and there was no one around so we parked our car right out the front.

After touring the museum we walked a short distance to a cafe so Thea could get some lunch and I could get a coffee. When we returned to the car there were a few very dishevelled looking chaps hanging around the vehicles.

They made no attempt to even look like car guards and still expected me to pay for their protection, even though they had just turned up.

This lot went empty handed.

Craft beer, as well as barista coffee, is becoming very popular along the Garden Route.

I discovered Kango, a local craft brewery making a Larger and an IPA. Both are naturally brewed, the IPA was cloudy and both were very drinkable.

We had dinner at a local Italian/African, fusion restaurant.

The food was good, the wines inexpensive and the bill, so low that you wonder how its possible to make and serve a meal for that price.

What we didn’t know was that November was high season and the restaurants were full. We were told by our host to book in advance if we wanted a good one.

At the current prices I’m not surprised that many people are eating out.

 

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Day 6, November 16: Oudtshoorn to Hermanus.

This was going to be the longest drive on our trip.

We left Oudtshoorn at 10am and planned to have a coffee break on the way.

In Barrydale we discovered Diesel and Créme, a very funky cafe and western style bar serving good coffee, craft beer and an interesting menu.

It was in an old motor workshop and decorated with a eclectic selection of memorabilia, much with an automotive theme.

Very fitting being on Route 62.

Our drive to Hermanus took us over the Tradouws Pass on the R324. Again we drove both ways through the pass, as the only vantage points were on the return journey.

Hermanus is the whale centre of the Western cape and everything is geared to whale watching.

We had a drink at Coco, a very pleasant bar overlooking the Hermanus waterfront.

They even had binoculars on the wall, just in case you spotted a Southern Right Whale – we didn’t see any.

 

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Day 7, November 17: Hermanus to Stellenbosch.

All our accommodation in South Africa, apart from Stormsriver Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, had been in ‘Guest Houses’. These are a fusion between a boutique hotel and a B&B. Many are built in old homes that have undergone extensive renovations to accomodate tourists. We always had an ensuite and the facilities were first class.

They are similar to the ‘Casa Particulares’ in Cuba.

The first recorded guest house was established in 374 AD by St Basil the Great, in Caesarea, (or Kayseri) Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are many benefits of staying in guest houses, such as personalised attention, quietness, lower cost and the food.

A guest house breakfasts was always a good way to start the travelling day.

The Gumtree Lodge in Oudtshoorn, prided themselves on their local produce. At breakfast there was local cheese, cold meats, chutneys and even single origin African coffee. In the evening the owner, Phil Putzel, even ran a little bar serving wine and craft beer, all locally produced.

Running a guest house isn’t without its problems, as we discovered in Hermanus. As we headed to breakfast at the Potting Shed Lodge, we discovered the owner, David, cleaning out the small pond next to the slightly larger swimming pool.

He was looking for a frog.

Apparently its croaking had kept the guests awake for much of the night and they weren’t happy.

On the way to Stellenbosch we made three diversions. The first was to the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens at Betty’s Bay, then Stony Point to visit the penguins and finally Pringle Bay for coffee.

The botanical gardens is located between the mountains and the sea, with spectacular vistas of both. Then there’s the plants, a stunning array of indigenous flora that was in full bloom, all set in 10 hectares of cultivated gardens. There are about 1,600 plant species in the area, more diverse per unit area than any place on earth. We even discovered a critically endangered Geometric Tortoise wandering across the lawn.

African Penguins were originally called Jackass Penguin, due to their donkey-like braying.

They are the only penguin that breeds in Africa and can grow to a height of between 60 and 70cm. They have a distinctive pink gland above their eyes which is used for thermoregulation in the wildly changing temperatures of the southern oceans.

On the way back to the car park we came across a group of young Hyrax playing in the rocks.

At any age Hyrax are very cute.

At Pringle Bay the cafe offered Red Espresso. The waiter couldn’t explain what it actually was but I decided to have a double shot anyway.

It wasn’t coffee.

It’s made from ground Rooibos tea and then prepared in an espresso machine.

It has no caffeine.

Worth a try, but only once.

 

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Day 8, November 18: Stellenbosch.

In Stellenbosch the Hop-on Hop-off wine bus or Vine Hopper is the best way to visit some of the wineries, taste some wine and not get picked up for drink driving.

When we went to book the Vine Hopper we were told that it was full (remember this was November and the height of the tourist season).

Plan ‘B’ was to drive ourselves.

The company soon put on more buses so it was back to ‘A’ again.

The Vine Hopper offer three routes with seventeen wineries open for visitors. It was Friday and the Friday tour takes in the northern wineries – we visited four of them.

The Stellenbosch wine tours was one of the highlights of our South African adventure.

All the wineries we visited offered a unique experience, not just the wine but the ambience and location as well.

We followed the driver’s advice and had the full wine and cellar tour in Bergkelder, then wine tastings in Beyerskloof and Simonsig, followed by lunch in Delheim.

Like everything else we have come across as tourists in South Africa, generosity and value for money were key.

The tastings were a half serve in a full size wine glass. It was your choice how much you drank.

We soon learnt to pace ourselves.

There was no time limit or pressure to buy at any winery. The cost for five wine tastings averaged A$5 and the Vine Hopper bus was A$60 per person.

The bus gave us plenty of time at each location.

Each of the wineries strived to be individual and their marketing reflected this.

Bergkelder was ‘Following nature’s lead’ while Beyerskloof claimed to be ‘The home of Pinotage’. (Pinotage is a uniquely African variety of grape, being a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage vine stock). Simonsig, who first produced sparkling wine in South Africa was, ‘The Cuvée experience’ and Delheim, being out of town, was ‘Worth the journey’

Our wine regions in Australia, and possibly others around the world, could benefit from how Stellenbosch market their area.

Like the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula, Stellenbosch is close to a major city, Cape Town. Yet they offer a unique ‘wine experience’ with restaurants, accommodation and services all catering to the wine lovers.

Most people don’t do a day trip from Cape Town, to visit the wine region, they come and stay for a night or even two.

Apart from wine and tourism Stellenbosch is a university town and therefore has a thriving alternative culture.

After Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. It is situated on the Eerste River and is also known as the ‘City of Oaks’ due to the abundance of the trees that were planted by its founder Simon van der Stel in 1679.

Stel named the town after himself and Stellenbosch means ‘(van der) Stel’s Bush’.

The Dutch were excellent hydraulic engineers, which can be seen in Mill Creek, a canal that’s still runs down the main street.

 

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Day 9, November 19: Stellenbosch to Cape Town.

After a bit of gift shopping in Stellenbosch we headed for Cape Town, the final stop in South Africa.

On the way we drove via the other Cape Wineland towns of Franschhoek and Paarl. We then did a brief tour, circling around Table Mountain, before arriving at the Verona Lodge, our guest house in Cape Town.

We walked down to the V&A Waterfront, as we did every night, and got our first view of Table Mountain.

This 3 kilometre level plateau overlooks, and dominates, the city of Cape Town. It also seems to be a barometer to the local weather. When the ‘tablecloth’ rolls over the top, the winds are strong and the temperatures are cooler and when the mountain is clear, then so is the weather. The tablecloth is caused by orographic clouds that are created when wind rolls up the the mountain from the south-east and runs into cooler air causing the moisture to condense.

Contrary to science, there is also the legend that the tablecloth is caused by a smoking contest between the Devil and Van Hunks, a local pirate. Van Hunks was a prodigious smoker and the contest has been repeated yearly since the early 1700s.

Breaking dishes will be a constant reminder of African restaurants. It happened at least once a night in the majority of restaurants we visited.

If it’s not the crashing of plates, then it is the clatter of cutlery.

The staff, on the whole, have been fantastic but they do have a total disregard for the hardware.

We were told by one waiter, after we heard yet another crash in the kitchen, that a glass has a lifespan of about one week.

 

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Day 10, November 20: Cape Town.

As we do in many cities, we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and explored Cape Town. There were four routes covering the city, coast and wine areas.

First we did the city and then the coastal route. The most memorable part of the city route was a drive through District 6. This is an inner suburb of Cape Town that was laid bare during the sixties and seventies. Over 60,000 residents were forcible removed by the apartheid regime in an attempt to stop racial integration.

The place has become a shrine with little development. All that remains now are vacant blocks of land covered in long grass.

After the bus we went walking around Cape Town. This took us past St George’s Cathedral, the Anglican church made famous by Desmond Tutu and his stance against apartheid. The role this church has played in the fight for democracy and the anti apartheid movement has resulted in it now being known as the ‘people’s cathedral’.

Next was the Company Gardens, started by the East India Company in 1652. The gardens were originally planted to provide fresh vegetables to the Dutch trading ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East.

The first wine produced in South Africa came from grapes grown in the garden.

South Africa is a very multi cultural country. Muslims, Malays, Coloureds, Blacks, Whites, Indians and others all form part of the demographic.

But it’s not very equal.

Wherever we travelled there was little sign of a coloured or black middle-class. Admittedly we might have been in the wrong areas but even in the restaurants and bars of the V&A Waterfront there were very few non-whites.

South Africa is also diverse, with a wide variety of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic groups amongst its 52 million people.

According to the 2011 census, Africans make up the majority with 79.2%, Coloured, 8.9%, Whites 8.9%,  Indian and Asian, 2.5%  and Others, 5%

Cape Town has a population of 3.74 million people with the white folk making up 15.7 %, a lot more than the South African average.

It’s no wonder that there seemed to be a lot more white faces there.

In the afternoon we discovered the South African Jewish Museum in Hatfield Street.

The Jewish story in South Africa is an interesting one.

It makes absolute sense that the Jewish community in South Africa played an important role in the dismantling of the apartheid system.

They know a lot about racial discrimination.

Jewish lawyers were the only whites willing to represent the ANC members charged with crimes against the state.

There was even one lone Jewish voice, in the all white parliament, during the apartheid era. Helen Suzman fought for thirteen years, from 1961 to 1974, to give the Blacks equal rights.

 

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Day 11, November 21: Cape Town.

The departure point to Robben Island, at the V&A Waterfront, is known as the Nelson Mandela Gateway – this sums up the tone of the trip.

In many respects it’s all about Mandela.

However the history of Robben Island goes back to the end of the 17th century, when the Dutch used the island as a prison for political prisoners.

The island has also been used as a whaling station, leper colony and quarantine station.

During the Second World War it was fortified and became part of Cape Town’s defences.

Due to wide spread pilfering of artefacts by the tourists, you don’t get much freedom to explore Robben Island. After the 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Town you are met on the Robben Island wharf by an armada of buses. From there you are taken around to the various sites, which you view from your seat on the bus before being taken to the main prison complex.

On the bus the commentary was informative and graphic. So much so that a middle aged African American woman, sitting near us, was reduced to tears after hearing the countless stories of atrocities committed on Robben Island.

The guided tour around the main prison area is given by former prisoners and again they painted a very grim picture of life there.

The highlight for most was seeing Nelson Mandela’s cell – this was his home for 18 years from 1964 to 1982.

This is probably the most photographed site on the island.

 

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Day 12, November 22: Cape Town.

On our final day in Cape Town we planned to go to Table Mountain.

And, as it has been for all our time in the city, luck was with us again.

The tablecloth had cleared, the sun was out and the wind had dropped.

The cable car had only just re-opened, after being closed for over a week due to bad weather.

We booked our tickets online and within an hour we were on the mountain. We even got a rare parking spot metres from the front of the cable car station.

Table Mountain is a constant backdrop to Cape Town. It’s only 1,084 metres high but dominates the city.

The views from the top are stunning.

Our host at the guest house, Sean, suggested that we walk to Maclear’s Beacon on the northern side then take the rim track, on the southern edge, back. It was a great suggestion and we had spectacular views in every direction.

Maclear’s Beacon is a large cairn on the highest point of Table Mountain. It was built in 1865 by the Irish born South African astronomer, Sir Thomas Maclear (1794-1879) to assist in measuring the curvature of the earth.

Our luck continued, as the clouds converged just as we neared the end of our walk.

In the afternoon we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope.

So it seemed, did everyone else.

The placed was packed with bus and car loads of tourist racing to get a snap of themselves in front of the sign post for the Cape.

The Cape of Good Hope is the most south western point in Africa. It’s the spot where ships coming, from Europe, start to travel more eastward than southward.

We then drove to the Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular to the top.

The wind was so strong that we had to hold onto the hand rails to stop being blown into the Indian Ocean of even the Atlantic.

We were in Cape Town for four nights and each evening we would walk to the V&A Waterfront for dinner.

It was a pleasant 30 minute walk and there was a huge range of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Getting back to our guest house wasn’t as straight forward, as we had to take a taxi.

There were plenty around but they weren’t allowed to stop and pick-up a fare.

Traffic was controlled by security guards, dressed like real police, they were everywhere.

Actual coppers were nowhere to be seen.

On three occasions we managed to be able to corner a cab, negotiate a price and get in before he was forced to move on.

On our final night guards were again controlling the traffic, this time there were more of them and they had bollards. They were only letting taxis in that were pre booked.

We finally found a rogue driver outside of the control zone and flagged him down.

He explained that the security company and the big taxi groups had joined forces to control the price and keep the independent drivers from working the lucrative tourist areas.

The whole thing smelled of corruption – he wasn’t happy.

He told us that they were charging 100 Rand (A$10) to take the tourists back into the down town area.

This was about a five minute ride.

Our trip with him was about seven minutes and we paid 50 Rand (A$5).

The V&A Waterfront has interesting history, in that the ‘A’ in ‘V&A’ doesn’t stand for Albert, as you might expect. It actually stands for Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria. In 1860, as a 16 year old Midshipman in the Royal Navy, Prince Alfred visited the the Cape Colony and instantly became a hit with the locals. There is even a plaque on the waterfront commemorating the fact that he tipped the first truck of stone for the new waterfront breakwater.

Day 13, November 23 and 24: Cape Town to Melbourne.

It seemed fitting that on the flight from Cape Town to Dubai I watched the David Yates film, The Legend of Tazan. 

It was set in the Congo and nowhere near where we had been, but it was Africa.