Category Archives: Europe – USA 2013

Day 45 – Tuesday, 21 May 2013 – Melbourne to Mildura

We landed in Melbourne on time and the sun was shining. We tried the new electronic check in through Customs but it only worked for Russ. He was able to make his way to the baggage carousel while I had to back track to the ‘Assistance Required’ aisle (along with a lot of other people whose electronic ticket was swallowed by the machine when they tried it too) and go through with human intervention.

It was fairly quick and painless and I then made my way to the carousel to find Russ. There was a public announcement that there was a delay to the removal of baggage from the airplane on our flight so we had to wait an extra ten minutes or so before the luggage belt began to turn and spit out baggage.

I had ticked that I had medicine to declare on my pass whereas Russ chose not to tick this box.  Anyway, we went through the line and were waved straight through to the exit without any dramas.

As the flight from Melbourne to Mildura is the earliest one we could catch it is a matter of propping ourselves in the gateway lounge and waiting for the last flight of our journey.

We grabbed a sandwich and cuppa along the way and some fresh water. I have been completing the Diary and Russ has wandered about listening to his audio book. We rang his Mum and let her know we had landed safely. And I texted the girls to let them know we would see them after Uni today.

It is almost time to catch our flight so I will close out by saying we have had a wonderful adventure with many highlights, lots of good memories and will definitely be glad to finally get home.

Day 44 – Sunday, 19 May 2013 – San Diego to Melbourne via Los Angeles

We had our last breakfast at the Blue Pearl. Russ is certainly going to miss his French toast for breakfast. Once back at our room we put up the Privacy sign and Russ put his ears in to meditate, as he does not expect to get much of a chance later.

I re-packed both the suitcases which had been disordered during our stay in San Diego. I even was able to throw out a few items that were no longer required (such as black tea bags, sugar satchels etc) and make sure that nothing had been left behind.

Russ kindly donated all his change of pennies to the staff. It is amazing that they still use one cent pieces in the States, and the $1 paper bill abounds. I am not sure what the Americans would do if they ever get rid of the paper dollar bill. They have already done so in Canada, and Australia prints many of the Canadian bills as we own the patent for the plastic notes.

Around 11:30am we gathered our belongings and headed across to Reception to check out. Rachael was once again on duty and laughed that we had had the same breakfast every day we had stayed at the Dana.

Don had the shuttle bus waiting out the front and soon appeared himself to load all the luggage. Russ and I were the only couple leaving but many of those who had attended a Conference were also departing on this shuttle.

They were dropped off first as they were all using South West or Alaska Airlines to return home, where as Don took us the extra mile or so to reach the American Eagle Airline area.

Every time we have had to go through security checks it has changed. Today we had to remove our shoes right up, and the metal objects had to be separated from other items to go through the scanners. The personal screening was done with one of the new scanners whereby you stand on the foot icons and raise your arms in the air and a bar whisks around the front of the cubicle and does a reading. Then you are requested to step out while the scan is revealed.

It is the only time I have had to remove my money belt around my waist and have it scanned through the x-ray machine all by itself. Each time they change what is expected it throws you, or it does me.

We managed to collect all our belongings (which fitted into seven trays – 7, I say) and then staggered over to seat to make sure we could put our shoes back on, and return everything to its correct place in the back packs.

We got a banana (good travel food) and a muffin as there was no yoghurt available. The lady at the check-in counter (before we went through security) had printed out all our passes and put our big luggage straight through to Melbourne. Russ had enquired if it would be possible to take an earlier flight to LA and she had printed us a Priority Waiting List pass just in case, but had informed us that she would not know if there were seats available on the next flight until much closer to the time.

As it happened, we were paged for the very next flight and it was somewhat of a debacle as many passengers were carrying on board a lot more than was allowed. Those with wheeled bags were made to leave them in the passageway to the plane and were uploaded as extra luggage into the baggage area. We were told our backpacks were fine, but I had to sit with mine under my legs as there was no room available to stow it in the cabin draws.

The plane flight was shorter than Mildura to Melbourne. One minute we were in the air, the next they told us we could use electronic devices, and five minutes later we had to turn them off and we landed. The really good thing about boarding at San Diego was that we had gone through security, and didn’t have to do so as the shuttle bus for American Eagle Airlines dropped us off in a secured area where we could change shuttles for the Tom Bradley International Terminal drop-off.

We made our way to the gate where our flight would depart at 11:25pm and it was in the newest section of the terminal which is still to be completed. We did have to walk a fair distance to get any food come tea time, but it was a pleasure to enter the ladies and have my choice of 16 cubicles.

Russ laid down on the floor and did his meditation and I attacked the Diary. We had a pretty good internet connection so after I had managed to complete a few days Russ uploaded it straight away. I then continued typing away before it was time to take a break and go and find some tea.

Russ stayed with the baggage and went hoofing along. I found some yoghurt with muesli, and wrap for Russ and a Danish for me, and got a decent cup of black tea for Russ and Earl Grey for me. We got talking with another couple who are from Melbourne and have been on a sea cruise. They developed colds and were not feeling real good, but glad to be travelling home. We were able to offer her the use of our power board as her adaptor was not working and she had almost exhausted her iPad battery.

I packed up everything about 10:30pm as were flying in an A380 Airbus and they have staggered boarding in order to be able to access both decks for their passengers.

Russ had tried to log onto Qantas and pay for an Exit Row on the flight but it kept rejecting his request. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the airport and made enquiries the exits seats had all been bought.

Needless to say, Russ was impressed at the amount of room he had when we finally got to our seats. We shared our three with Harry, who had been on a company trip to the south and they had spent some time in Las Vegas, before getting to LA.

The trip went smoothly, although we had three little babies seated in the middle exit and left hand side exit rows across from us and they were crying at different times during the night. We were served with dinner after we had boarded then the lights were turned off for a long period of time. They bestirred themselves periodically during the night to offer drinks of water to the passengers, but breakfast was not served until we were only about one and a half hours out of Melbourne. It makes for a very long 16 hour flight.

The food was good, and it was interesting that most of the flight crews were male, only a few of them female.  Sometime during the journey we crossed the International Date Line and lost a day.

Day 43 – Saturday, 18 May 2013 – San Diego 4

All too soon the holiday will be at an end. In the meantime we would enjoy every minute we had left.

We breakfasted at the Blue Pearl – same old, same old….. and checked in at Reception to confirm that we would be on the 12 noon shuttle to the airport tomorrow for our flight to Los Angeles with American Eagle as part of the Qantas Air Star Alliance. Don warned us that it was a very small section about a mile away from the major part of the airport so be prepared with some food. He mentioned that up to a few months ago they didn’t even serve meals in the area, but this is slowly changing.

Our flight out to Los Angeles is not until tomorrow evening, but it is not worth our while to extend our check-out time for later in the afternoon, and there is a possibility that we can get an earlier flight to LA and settle down there for the wait. Our flight to Melbourne does not leave LAX until 11:25pm, but we like travelling in the night time as we find it helps us adjust our internal clocks better once we get home.

Anyway, having made or shuttle booking and been informed about the airport we settled outside the Reception area to wait for the Trolley Bus complementary shuttle to take us to Old Town once again. We would board the first trolley bus to leave and would have to stay on board until we get to Stop 10 which is Balboa Park. It lets us experience a different driver and also we hear some of the same information about areas we have previously visited on the bus so lets it percolate better in the brain pan – or so I think!

Smitty was again the driver from the Dana to Old Town but our new driver there was BW. His name was Brian William, and he had used a variety of alternatives on that but more and more of the drivers were Brians or Williams so he decided it was easier to answer to BW.

We had an unusually lovely morning with the sun shining already, but the wind did have a bite to it. It took about an hour and a half to go past all stops before we arrived at Balboa Park where we intended to stay for the entire day until we needed to board the trolley bus back to Old Town at 3:25pm.

Balboa Park is vast. It was originally set up as a short term area for an Expo to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, and was still running in various guises many years after that. When it was decided that the buildings badly needed to be renovated and/or repaired the council determined that as it was a unique composition of architectural styles and history it would be better to re-build exactly as had originally been done.

It is a very picturesque sight. To give you some idea of the extent of interest we took 645 photos between us for the day at Balboa Park. There are acres of gardens dedicated to a particular plant or country as well as a Botanical Garden building, along with extensive water areas and museums. The place is packed during the week and then the locals arrive alongside the tourists on the weekend. Many of the places are open free of charge, and a minimal amount is charged at some other areas.

It is also where you can find the San Diego Zoo and the Miniature Train Ride for the kids. San Diego Zoo is world famous and is located in one of the canyons that abounds the acreage. We did not visit this but we did take a gander at the train ride.

The Cactus Garden, the Rose Garden, the Alcazar Garden (designed and donated by Spain) along with the Palm Garden are just a few of the things located at Balboa Park. There is a theatre called The Globe where many plays are performed, many different museums dedicated to particular items, and the Pipe Organ which is humungous.

The building extends in a semi-circle with the actual organ pipes located in the central chamber. Although the amphitheatre is open to the sky the organ can be closed to protect it from the elements. The organ music can be heard throughout the park when it is played. On Sunday afternoons they have recitals which are open to any member of the public. We were very lucky to have a local understanding day take place while we were there and the Professor was explaining how the organ was made and how it is preserved.

We spent a lot of time in the Botanic Garden building because of the display of orchids. We took photos of the Lily Ponds and the golden poi that live in it. We ventured into museums and into gardens. We made sure we got some water to drink, enjoyed an ice-cream when it was fairly hot at lunchtime, and had a banana and yoghurt for lunch itself. We walked for miles and miles and loved every minute of it.

You could go to Balboa Park every day of the week and still have things that you hadn’t managed to see or do. It is a marvellous experience.

We were plum tuckered out by about 2:30pm so we took to the park area that had some shady trees and stopped for a while. We were there waiting when the Trolley Bus arrived at 3:25pm and boarded it for our journey back to Old Town.

Unfortunately our new driver was called Vidal and I was not impressed with him. He spent so much time at each stop telling us about how great he was at magic and demonstrating magic tricks that he could not do his job of guide properly. He did not get a tip when we got back to Old Town.

Our trolley bus was waiting for us and we were lucky to be the first guests to be dropped off for the afternoon. Captain Bob was our driver and he was good.

Russ did his meditation when we got back to our room and I took the opportunity of downloading our many photos, batch converting them and putting titles to the best ones so they could be uploaded after dinner. We had our meal at the Blue Pearl – Russ went back to his steak and I tried the Philly Cheesesteak minus the onions. This is served on a hoagie (sourdough bun) with cheese melted all over the roast beef strips and mushrooms. Needless to say it was too big for me and I had to leave quite a lot. My cup of tea was lovely. American wait staff just can’t seem to comprehend that hot water should be poured over the tea bag, not add the tea bag to the pot of hot water once it arrives at the table.

We intended to have a sleep in tomorrow morning so as to be able to manage the extra-long day we would experience once we left the hotel.

Day 42 – Friday, 17 May 2013 – San Diego 3

This is officially a rest day. We slept in until 9:00am and took a leisurely breakfast over at the Blue Pearl – French toast and Oatmeal, as usual.

We then went back to the room and put out the Privacy sign and Russ read for a while before he fell asleep. I converted many photos and put names on them from the last many days, but I still didn’t get around to doing anything on the Diary. I did take the opportunity of uploading a few photos on Facebook and letting everyone know that we would shortly have more on the website.

We wandered over to the Firefly about 2:30pm and removed the sign off our door. We both decided to try the beer battered shrimps with French fries. They are actually what we call prawns, and the entrée dish was large enough to qualify as a meal in our eyes. It was hot and delicious, and Russ had a Seven Up and I had a pot of tea. We were decidedly full by the time we had finished.

Russ had updated his geo cache information and found out that there were several caches just in the Dana area itself. We set off, me with the camera as I was sure I would find something worthy to photograph (and provide cover for Russ while he dabbled in his hunting) and Russ with the GPS loaded with waypoints.

We wandered over a fairly extensive area and took pleasure in watching the terns dive for fish along the waterfront. The area to the south lawn of the Dana is a sheltered waterway used for ski boarding, fishing and canoeing. In fact, each year San Diego hosts the University rowing carnival and teams from all over the US arrive to participate.

Russ found several caches along the way and we crossed the major road to get to the area on the other side where there are different shops and business such as whale watching and boat rentals etc. Some of the hiding places of the geo caches were quite difficult to find but we persevered. I also found many things to take photos of along the way. I called it my artistic afternoon.

Back in the room Russ did uploaded and registered his finds and received his California badge. He then did his meditation and I prepared the backpack for our second trip on the Trolley Bus tomorrow. We completed the evening with some reading and decided that tea would not be required after our late lunch, even though we had done some exercise.

Day 41 – Thursday, 16 May 2013 – San Diego 2

We both got a good night’s sleep and were up early in the morning. We went across to the Blue Pearl for breakfast – you guessed it, Russ had French toast and I had oatmeal. At least we get a pot of hot water to make our tea and were able to have two from each pot. They even offered to make a cuppa to go at no extra charge.

Apparently at this time of the year San Diego has Grey May and next month is June Gloom. Because the currents of the Pacific in this region come up from the colder areas before swirling around the California coast it takes the water a longer time to warm up at San Diego than it does further up the California coast, and this affects the weather here.

The weather was overcast but the cloud cover was expected to burn off later in the afternoon. Russ decided he would only need his t-shirt, but he packed his poncho in case. I wore my windcheater and took my poncho also.

Don, the driver, had mentioned that the courtesy shuttle for the Old Town Trolley Bus arrived at the Dana at 8:30am each morning – not a minute later – for any pickups. We had already booked our Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour for two days in San Diego so we only had to present ourselves and our cameras and wait for it to arrive.

Our driver was Smitty, and the Dana was the first hotel for pick up so we got to see quite a bit of the area while travelling to other hotels before we went to Old Town. When you first step on the trolley Smitty hands you a pink sticker which identifies that you are on the Mission Bay route for pick-up and return. At Old Town you get off the courtesy trolley and validate your passes which are changed into two one day tickets. Then you wait for the next trolley to leave on the tour.

It is very well organised. The trolley buses leave Old Town every half hour. The entire tour of eleven sites takes approximately two hours from Old Town back to Old Town. If you want to get back to the hotel later in the afternoon via the courtesy shuttle you need to be back at Old Town before 4:15pm. They have handouts for all passengers which informs you of approximate times for each stop along the route throughout the day, and another for those of us from the Mission Bay area with our times of pick up from each site.

We determined that it would be much easier to do the entire tour and then go back where we wanted to spend time. We actually should have done Balboa Park on the first day, but ended up doing USS Midway instead. I was very glad to get to spend the extra time at Balboa, but it meant we then needed to hurry our time at Midway.

We took numerous numbers of photos and the weather did get better as the day progressed. Crossing the Coronado Bridge I was very grateful to be wearing the windcheater as the wind had a bit of a bite to it.

The windows on the trolley buses are plastic sheeting in the back and glass at the front. However, the glass ones can only be opened at the bottom, whereas the plastic ones can be rolled up and out of the way entirely, which makes for better photos.

San Diego is a lovely city. It is bigger than I expected, but it is sprawled out. It has been saved from becoming just another cityscape by the fact that the airport has no more room to expand, and therefore the buildings can be no higher than five storeys in most places to allow the planes to drop down onto the runway.

It is the busiest single only runway airport in the US. It has over 600 flights per day and they depart or arrive every ninety seconds. They are surrounded by military compounds so there is no place to go. Apparently the pilots say it is an interesting experience to arrive at San Diego airport.

The people are very friendly and cheerful, and a large number of ex-military personnel choose to retire here. Many of these people are volunteers at the USS Midway Museum – there is even a special group for any wives who are interested in being a part of the museum volunteer staff.

Coronado is not an island, but you won’t find that out from the people who live there as they like to foster this idea as much as possible. It is actually a peninsula and has been voted the best beach in the USA for many years. It actually has been voted in as the twelfth best beach in the world. As you travel along the promenade at the beach you see a lot of low sand dunes with salt friendly growth along the tops of the dunes. However, if you could see the same sight from the air you will find that the dunes spell Coronado.

Around the corner from the posh area of hotels and residences at Coronado is the Navy SEAL and Marine Training Facility. Navy personnel who pass the psychological examination and wish to become SEALs will then come to Coronado and undergo an extensive and very intensive training schedule for six weeks. Of the hundreds who undergo this training approximately only 30% manage to pass the ordeal and be presented with their Navy SEAL pin. Training updates continues to take place here for all Navy SEALs.

Before the Coronado Bridge was built to handle the excessive traffic which comes to Coronado on a daily basis, most to work at the Navy base, the only way to gain access quickly was on a fleet of ferries. It quickly became obvious that they would never be able to handle the increase in traffic that continues each year. Coronado is not a suburb of San Diego but is a municipality in its own right with its own Mayor etc. Many rich and famous people take their holidays, or make their homes, on Coronado. Many of the US Presidents have spent holidays on the island also. The last to do so was Bill and Hilary Clinton and family.

The major roads have a decent centre way down the middle of them and these have been planted out with a variety of trees and flowers.

It is important to understand here that when the San Diego area was first discovered by the Spanish nothing happened for two hundred years until King Carlos of Spain was afraid that Russian trappers coming down the Bering Strait would start to settle the area and it would be lost to Spain. This is when he sent the military and the missionaries to begin colonisation of the area.

The ground around the shore and deep harbour was flat and covered with sparse chaparral, sage brush and cactus. There were many rabbits, which were hunted by the Native American Indians in the area, but Coronado itself had no fresh water supply.

A lady called Mary Sessions was a botanist who lived in the San Diego area after it was settled and ceded to the US (including Coronado) and she spent many years collecting seeds from other countries. The local San Diego council asked her to provide trees and shrubs for them to use to populate the city area. She explained to them that she would be unable to assist them unless they were prepared to give her several hundred acres for her to plant the seeds before they could be transplanted into their final destinations.

Her many acres were provided up near Balboa Park, and Mary Sessions is known as the Mother of San Diego. Many of the trees and shrubs which grow in this area are from Australia, Spain, South Africa and the dryer parts of Brazil and Asia. The jacaranda trees were in bloom, and the Naked Coral Tree was seen in all its glory.

We heard lots of local history during the course of the Trolley Bus ride, but haven’t been able to remember as much as I would have liked to do.

By the time we made it back to Old Town and got on the courtesy bus back to the Dana we were both ready for a rest. As usual, Russ did his meditation and I downloaded the photos for conversion. I had managed to get the Picasa program in a free download so it was not quite as cumbersome a task as it had started out to be.

When Russ had completed his meditation he decided it would be worthwhile to try my cord with his computer. It worked! Halleluiah. We left the computer charging and went across to the Blue Peal for a late tea. The hot chocolate here is almost as nice as Turkey. Russ decided to have spare ribs tonight and I had chicken fettuccine (after I removed the offending vegetables that shouldn’t have been there in the first place – broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and zucchini).

Day 40 – Wednesday, 15 May 2013 – New York to San Diego

Well, where to begin. 4:30am came around all too fast but we were suitably present in the empty lobby and waiting for our car to arrive. They rang my mobile to confirm we were waiting and arrived about ten minutes later.

We had a pleasant and unexceptional trip to the airport and the driver was very helpful with information about where we needed to go when we got there. More security measures. We had to pass through two different check points and this time we had to remove our shoes, my plastic watch, the computers, all coins and the mobile phones. This also meant that the handbag and coats had to be in separate bins, and the computer in a bin by itself, and the backpacks by themselves. By the time I finally got through it all I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha and thought I was about to trip over my long shoe laces before I would get a chance to do them up.

We then sat and waited for our boarding call to the San Diego flight, and it was totally packed. It lasted for six hours and went through numerous time zones and across many states, but as Barbara would say, “If you don’t step on the soil they don’t count.”

When we landed in San Diego to beautiful sunny conditions with a light breeze it was 2:30pm. We knew we only had to ring the hotel – Dana on Mission Bay – and they would send around a shuttle bus to pick us up. We only had to wait for about five minutes before it arrived and Don, the driver, told us he was in the area so it was all good.

Even better when we got to the hotel was when Rachael, the Receptionist, told us she could upgrade our room for $10 extra per night, and then there would be one available for us to move into immediately. So, we did.

We took our luggage across to our room – we needed a map to find the way because the hotel is a resort style with individual two storey blocks set in parkland interspersed with hot swimming pools and parking areas – turned on the air conditioner to cool the room and ventured across to the Firefly for a quick afternoon meal for lunch. Russ had chicken strips with French fries (the real type) and I had clam chowder with sourdough bread. It was very nice and filled the hole.

Russ decided then that he should do his meditation and I decided I had lots of photos I could be working on converting from RAW to JPEG, so that’s what I did while he snored. When I needed to rest my eyes I did a bit of reading.

We ventured to the Blue Pearl for tea later in the evening. It is a bit more upscale than the Firefly, but not by much, however, we could get a decent meal at a decent price. Russ had steak and I had Salmon fillet.

Day 39 – Tuesday, 14 May 2013 – Washington DC to New York NY.

Roger was expecting a big day for his drive today as most of it would be through highly trafficked areas. We had our bags out at 6:30am and left at 7:30am right on time but depleted by four.

We had our normal morning stop for ablutions and drinks before heading to Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell. (I mistakenly put this next bit into the first part of Washington but I was wrong! See, I can admit it on the rare occasion that it happens.)

**Russ had developed a headache which was trying to become a migraine, so when we pulled up at the Liberty Bell Museum for a walk around and photo stop Russ chose to stay on the coach and have a sleep. Roger was particularly pleased with this as it gave him an excuse not to have to move the bus while he looked after one of the passengers.

The souvenir shop was present, as usual, and it amazes me where everyone packs their purchases and not use more than one case. Needless to say when we got back on board Russ was feeling much better.

At 1:30pm we again boarded the coach for our last leg back to New York. Barbara passed around some questionnaires for us to complete and assess her and Rogers’ performances. What could we say other than they were great. It was a closed report but I am sure they get feedback from the company once the surveys have been compiled.

It was a very brief stop off at Newark Airport and we said goodbye to another six people, including Judy, Jess and Kate. It was a much smaller selection who headed into the tunnel under the river to reach New York, and back to the Skyline Hotel once more.

We were all looking forward to a good sleep. Many of the group are spending several days exploring New York before returning to their respective homes around the globe.

Unfortunately, Russ and I have an early flight to San Diego and will need to get up at 4:30am in order to be at the airport in plenty of time to go through all the security procedures. We also have to leave Manhattan Island and cross to Queens to get to JFK airport.

We spoke with the Concierge before we went to Gossip for our evening meal – fish and chips were lovely! – and decided that, as you can’t order a taxi in New York – you can only flag one down – it was better for the peace of mind to order a town car and know it would arrive in the morning in plenty of time to get us to JFK  and pay the little bit extra, so that’s what we did.

We also discovered that the dropped computer would no longer charge and the battery was fast getting flat. This is a tragedy because most of the programs I use for photo conversion are on Russell’s computer, not mine, especially Zoom Browser.

Also, my tablet does not have an SD card reader so when I download photos I have to do so directly from the camera. This is a lengthy process as I only have Lightroom which can convert from RAW to JPEG, and it takes a lot longer than Picasa.

Day 38 – Monday, 13 May 2013 – Washington DC

I woke up this morning with the particular feeling that if I pushed myself today I would not last the rest of the holiday, so I bit the bullet and stayed in the hotel sleeping while Russ went off armed with his camera and instructions to take lots of photos.

I slept for at least three hours and decided that, as the hotel has laundry facilities, it would be a good idea to make use of them. I did a load of washing and got all except the seams on Russ’ jeans dry, but it shouldn’t take long to finish that off. I also took the opportunity to repack the suitcases and roll each item. It is amazing how much extra room becomes available when you roll everything. Of course, the extra jackets are too big to be folded, and he is wearing the polar fleece one, so they are folded and laid atop all else.

When he finally got back to the hotel Russ was exhausted. He also – ta da! – got lost. It is a first but it had to happen sooner or later. He immediately did some meditation and a lot of snoring. We decided that it was a lot easier to get Room Service than venture out and find something that may or may not be okay in the long run.

Some of the tour group left this morning (about four of them) and a few others will be dropped off at Newark Airport in New Jersey tomorrow afternoon before we make it back to New York.

This morning they had a guide to take them to the Korean, Vietnam War Veterans, and National WW2 Memorials, a stop for photos at the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as crossing the Potomac River to see the graves of American Heroes in the beautiful Arlington Cemetery.

Russ said it was an experience of a lifetime and he had enjoyed every minute. In the afternoon they had been dropped off at the Smithsonian Museum area once again and left to their own devices until 4:30pm. Russ joined Judy and her two daughters, Kate and Jess, and they walked and walked, took too many photos to mention and were all museumed out by the end of it. Judy and the girls will be leaving tomorrow at Newark.

I have to mention here that it was very unexpected to take part in a tour group where everyone enjoyed the company of everyone else. There were no cliques formed and the atmosphere was convivial throughout our journey. Barbara and Roger also commented how well the group had interacted together. We all seemed to share the same sense of humour, give or take a moment or two, and they expected Russ to make comment and chivvy Barbara whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Day 37 – Sunday, 12 May 2013 – Lancaster to Washington DC

This morning we left on time at 8:30am. Lancaster is a rural country town in winding hills, and very pretty.

Being a Sunday we went around the corner and down the road to visit a real Amish home and farm. The Amish themselves do not participate in the tourism business per se, but some of their retired people are happy to take the job of educators to the masses. As such, one of the houses first built in the area and lived in by an Amish family for 32 years, is now used as an education centre for tourist purposes. It was a fascinating insight to a people, culture and religion, and the man providing the information was grave, courteous and informative.

We then ventured further down the road and visited a place where many of the areas fruits and vegetables are tinned (which is really bottled and preserved), and many of their item stock were available for tasting. A lot of people bught

Today we only needed to travel 196km but Roger expected traffic to get much heavier the closer we got to Washington DC. It was a pleasant morning’s drive and the morning stop was at a new roadhouse. This roadhouse is built in the middle of the highway and is accessible from both sides of traffic. It is an excellent idea and would work well in Australia. There were also plenty of toilets and we did not have to queue for ages to use the facilities. There was also a Starbuck so we had two hot chocolates, grabbed yoghurt and bananas for lunch and then went outside to sit in the sun before we had to board the coach once again.

Russ had developed a headache which was trying to become a migraine, so when we pulled up at the Liberty Bell Museum for a walk around and photo stop Russ chose to stay on the coach and have a sleep. Roger was particularly pleased with this as it gave him an excuse not to have to move the bus while he looked after one of the passengers.

The souvenir shop was present, as usual, and it amazes me where everyone packs their purchases and not use more than one case. Needless to say when we got back on board Russ was feeling much better.

We moved onto the Smithsonian Museums (a collection of museums around the centre park area between Capitol Hill and the Obelisk, and all part of the Smithsonian in different buildings). Roger and Barbara went off to do some jobs and drop off the suitcases as we had a night excursion after the farewell dinner this evening, so time was limited.

We had a wonderful time wandering around various areas, stopped to have lunch, then continued on our way. We took a walk in the park and watched the people enjoying the fine weather. They flew kites, played ball with the children and chased the dog. We took lots of photos.

The coach was back to pick us up at 4:30pm and we were well walked by that time. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Old Town in Alexandria. It is a nice hotel but, of course, there is no electric kettle just the coffee maker. However, one improvement was that it had a fridge, and we are staying two days here. However, it cost me $3.00 to get a glass of milk!

The restaurant is okay and the food was plentiful, with oatmeal available. Russ, of course, had French toast……..

We gathered in the foyer at 6:00pm to be transported to our evening farewell dinner. Very unimpressive, and the service was woeful. By the time we had been served our meal and paid for our drinks (we were supposed to get one drink free, but only if you wanted to drink 7Up – the equivalent of our lemonade) it was time to get back on the coach and begin our evening excursion of the Illuminated Washington DC.

We began with a visit to the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, which is a truly impressive building. All the flags of the states of the US are featured in one of the halls, and in the other hall are the flags of US friendly countries who donated to the Kennedy Centre in some way, shape or form when it was first built. Yes, Australia is there, although I do not know what we donated.

We then went on to see the Jefferson Memorial and the WW2 Memorial. We passed the White House in the distance as coaches are no longer allowed to use the street directly in front of it, and we saw the illuminated Obelisk and Capitol Hill.

The WW2 Memorial is a fairly recent addition to the memorials around Washington DC. There have been memorials to the Korean War, Vietnam War, World War 1 and many other actions, but not the soldiers, sailors etc. who gave their lives during WW2.

It is a very impressive memorial and is in the shape of a circle (similar to Stonehenge) with a fountain in the middle. Each of the square granite blocks represents a state of the United States and each block is joined by a cable rope, one to the other all the way around. I think the photos (not yet uploaded as we lost them when the computer went down – hopefully now found once again) will be able to do some justice to the spectacle.

We then headed back to the hotel to sleep before an extended visit to many places in the morning.

Day 36 – Saturday, 11 May 2013 – Niagara Falls to Lancaster

Bags had to be out by 6:15am and we needed to be on the road by 7:15am in order to beat most of the tour coaches to the border crossing. Barb had warned us again that we could be spending a lot of time just waiting depending on the vagaries of the border crossing staff.

We headed straight to the Duty Free shop where they had our goods waiting for identification and pick up. Then we crossed the bridge and came to the border check point. We were the first coach there but had several vehicles in front of us.

Barbara explained that they were never quite sure what to expect each time they got to this point as it could vary significantly depending on the date and what events may be occurring in the area at the time. However, we set another record and had been removed from the coach and processed all within a twenty minute time frame. Both Roger and Barbara were very happy.

The weather was very overcast and fairly cool, which finally turned cold and rainy. It was good that the rain fell while we were in the coach but it made it very difficult to get any good pictures out the coach window.

We stopped for a morning break at a little place (I am not sure if we were ever told its name) and there were several shops to choose from for our morning tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Russ and I took a walk around the centre square area with our hot chocolate, then made our way back to the coach. The angels were smiling at us and it stopped raining while we had the morning tea break, and resumed shortly after the coach took to the highway once again.

We travelled southeast through the Appalachian Mountains and along a portion of the Susquehanna River into Pennsylvania Deutsch country in Lancaster County. This area is a major centre for the Amish community.  We drove directly to the Lancaster Host Resort where we were due to stay for the night. It is a fairly large complex, but is getting to show its age.

Barbara did mention that it was the best accommodation available in this part of the country. They also have a Convention Centre and two ballrooms. Being a Saturday there were two events being held in the resort. One was a wedding and the other was Prom Night for the local high school. All were dressed to the nines for their event and we got out of the coach in our everyday wear – like ducks out of the water. By this time the weather had improved somewhat which was good.

Dinner tonight was at the Hershey Farm – no Jenny, it has nothing to do with chocolates, but we did think of you. The Farm’s bakery items are the Shoofly Pie and the Whoopie Pie. We took part in a demonstration (we didn’t have to eat the final results, thank heavens, but were given samples to take with us when we left.

After the demonstration in which Russ took part with April for the Shoofly Pie, and two others did the duty for the Whoopie Pie, we went into dinner. It was a traditional family style meal and included fried chicken (not the least bit greasy), roast beef (that melted on your tongue) and ham balls (didn’t try them), along with three vege dishes (mashed potatoes with onion, beans and corn), sweet and sour relishes (I didn’t try them either!) fresh baked rolls followed by warm apple pie (which was nice but very sweet), shoofly pie (like treacle pie and also fairly sweet) and fresh vanilla ice cream. The meal was probably better than the Oh Canada Eh! Night overall, but both were okay.

There was the usual gift shop, but as most of the items were made in China they did not make many sales, and then we went back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.