Too Young for River Cruising or …… so I Thought!=

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Avalon Felicity

My perception of river cruising through Europe was that this form of holiday best suited the much older traveller or for people who had low activity levels so when my sister mentioned she’d like to take a river cruise down the Rhine River my immediate response was “We’re not old enough yet” and “I’ll be bored sitting in my room or the bar whilst floating slowly down a river for 8 days”. We continued to discuss the pros and cons of a river cruise…even though we’d never known anyone who had taken a river cruise ….eventually I said ‘Ok, we’ll go with you”. I’m sure I had been sipping on a glass of wine when I uttered those words but the conversation very quickly moved to dates. Before I knew it we were all going on a river cruise in July 2017…all I had to do was find the cruise that fitted Darelle’s annual leave dates.

I spent quite some time researching various river cruise options, weighing up value for money, inclusions and what was really important to have and what wasn’t – I chose an Avalon Waterways 7 day Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel. Avalon also fitted in with the dates perfectly. A couple of other friends decided to join us as well….the more the merrier!!

Excursions and alcohol, at mealtimes, was included and outsized of mealtimes we had to pay for our drinks but that wasn’t an issue for us as we weren’t big drinkers so a couple of drinks in the lounge of an evening wasn’t going to break the bank. Ty and I also don’t take holidays then worry about every extra item we might have to pay for … that would make for a miserable holiday if we did. I also didn’t think paying a thousand dollars extra with a different cruise company to have unlimited alcohol was a sensible option. Granted the higher priced river cruise ship could possibly have larger staterooms, a 24 hour butler service and more dining options but your stateroom is for sleeping so you’re very rarely in it. Avalon also had waived the single supplement and when you have several single people in the party that is a very big saving. If we like this type of holiday I’m sure, at some stage, we’ll try a different brand for comparison. I read reviews on various companies, some friends knew people who had toured with Avalon previously – some customers were happy some weren’t. I read reviews and listened to the relayed experience of others then weighed up the pros and cons to make my own decision. My only concern was the water levels…a friend had travelled several years prior and the water levels were extremely low so they spent more time being bused from one town to the next and spent very little time on the ship. Water levels were not something that could be controlled…we had to hope that this would be a good year for the rivers.

The day of embarkation arrived and cruise check in was at the Movenpick Hotel. We weren’t sure where the Movenpick was in relation to our hotel so we booked a taxi to take us and our luggage from our hotel. The cost from the Hilton to the Movenpick was around €12 so the distance between both hotels was not great. Cruise ship embarkation time was 4pm so we had an hour to wait before the coach would pick us up to deliver us to our river cruise ship. Beer, soft drinks, tea and coffee was on offer in the large meeting room during the wait.

The bus duly arrived and we were driven to the pier…..it was an extremely short ride. The pier was just over a small bridge from the Movenpick. Not even a 10 minute bus ride….it took longer to get in the bus than it did to reach the pier. After boarding the ship and being given our cabin keys Ty and I decided to walk back to Central Station to a pharmacy, it was then we discovered if we had walked under the rail bridge, less than 100 metres from the Hilton, at any time during our stay we’d have realised the Pier was just a 10 minute walk away. We could’ve easily wandered down with our bags however Lesley has a damaged knee so walking can be difficult for her. She would not have managed the walk pulling her luggage along. Taxi was right thing to do. We still laughed when we saw how close we were.

We’d already been in Amsterdam for 3 days but we get an extra day and night in Amsterdam as the ship does not sail until Monday night. We knew our river cruise itinerary included a canal cruise so we didn’t worry about about taking one during our 3 days. Seemed a waste of time to do the same cruise twice.

Our ship was the Felicity and we had a panorama cabin on deck 3 one cabin down from a suite. Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and there were no balconies – we had a sliding door. Perhaps the later models have the balcony with chairs. Nonetheless it wasn’t a deal breaker just a little disappointing. It was also a rarity to be able to leave the door or curtains open overnight due to other ships docking right up close and personal – window to window at each town. So if you jumped out of bed in the morning to see where you where and check out the view the only view you saw was another ship’s cabin window. If the people in that cabin had their curtains open and were looking out at the same time they’d get a very nasty shock to see a naked man or woman looking back at them! Not a very pretty sight at all and we’re not in Amsterdam where people choose to go to see and visit the special windows so best to keep those curtains firmly closed overnight and don’t open them till you’re fully clothed.

 

  • Food was excellent and well presented
  • More intimate with only 130 guests on board
  • Staff were very welcoming
  • Personal service
  • Cleanliness of staterooms and common areas was excellent
  • Dining staff who always enjoyed a joke and had a smile
  • Number of excursions included in the price
  • Ship was in good condition overall

Dislikes:

  • Morning excursions commenced at 8.30am….we didn’t have to take them and could’ve rested but, you know how it is, we didn’t want to miss out on anything…lol
  • Weather….it was chilly bordering on cold some days and rainy…yes, I hear you saying “suck it up princess” but it is the European summer!
  • Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and no balcony. Photos shown were of newer ships in the fleet.
  • Pace of excursions were frustrating when less mobile people joined the active group instead of their group.

Would we take another river cruise……we’re already talking about it!! Only problem is there are so many to choose from…should we cruise Portugal, the French waterways or Russia and the Black Sea area? I’ve already cruised the Russian waterways, Ty hasn’t, but I’d do it again……….

Planning our next European vacation 2017

The Beginning:

About 18 months ago we were sitting around the dining table with one of my sisters and the talk turned to travel….as it invariably does when I’m around…..and where we’d like to visit next in Europe. We started with Romania and Poland then somehow the conversation moved to the Black Forest and parts of Germany. My sister, Darelle, fancied a river cruise through Germany taking in the Black Forest. ‘Hmm, not so sure I’m old enough for a river cruise’ I said and Ty chipped in ‘and if she isn’t old enough I’m certainly not river cruise material!’ I’d been to a number of the towns the cruise visited previously but perhaps relaxing on a river cruise would be good for us. Darelle had never been to Paris either so we agreed that for the year of her ‘big’ birthday we’d take a river cruise, spend some time in Paris, revisit Belfast as well as catch up with family and friends in the Midlands UK. I also had an idea for a small group tour I wanted to trial.

The Planning:

The planning stage had began the minute we agreed on the river cruise and my mind went into overdrive, some people take drugs or alcohol to excess, gamble or have a mania for exercise to get the adrenalin flowing….for me I just need to plan a trip!! Unfortunately for Ty it’s a little more stressful as my trip planning affects our household budget and he can be prone to the odd panic attack. At those times I reassure him that I’m not overspending, we’re fine and, to make him feel more at ease, I keep the costing spreadsheet firmly hidden.

As well as wanting to ensure Darelle sees the places on her dream list it was only fair to include some of the places on my bucket list not just revisit places. There are a couple of towns on the Rhine river I’ve not visited yet, Colmar is one such town, and there are others. There are also a couple I’ve visited twice previously but I’m good to visit again. It’s easy to miss some little quirky item or piece of information when we’re touring on our own so a guided tour often gives up some secrets. On the other end there is Donegal and Sligo in Ireland….on my list every visit to Ireland I’ve done over the past 40 years…..finally I’ll make it.

Once we decided on the river cruise that suited us I then looked at the other places and put them into the spreadsheet. Placing these ideas into chronological order could have been challenging luckily, however, the cruise companies advertise the dates of the European river cruises 12 to 18 months ahead so I used that as my starting point. The spreadsheet quickly took shape and after a little more juggling the plan was in place.

For me planning where to go is the easiest part of any holiday….accommodation can be more difficult with so many hotel choices, reviewing websites, pricing and our expectations. This is often the longest stage of organising any trip.

The Base Itinerary

As you can imagine, with 5 travellers, our itineraries are varied….. we’ve commenced the journey together but as the tour progresses several will branch off to other areas.

  1. Day one arrive Amsterdam for 3 days
  2. Embark Avalon Felicity for a 7 night river cruise to Basel Switzerland.
  3. Paris 2 nights
  4. 7 night Chateau and Champagne tour returning to Paris for a further 3 nights
  5. Ireland, Northern Ireland and U.K. will be the final 2 weeks of our

The Duration:

I know what you’re thinking, ‘how strange to place the duration or length of the trip this far down in the organisation cycle’. All I can tell you is that I’m a little different to most people organising a holiday. The ‘where I’m going’ is most important and I do have a timeframe in my mind but it’s not listed on the spreadsheet and it’s not agreed to at the beginning. I let the places and distances help me work that out. When it goes over the time that I know to be reasonable
“How do I know what’s reasonable” you’re thinking….WELL when Ty asks how long this holiday will be and he goes into meltdown when I give him my calculations I know I need to look at condensing!!

We’re away from home for 38 days in total…just over 5 weeks. I don’t think 38 days sounds as long as 5 weeks…what do you think?

Who has joined us and who hasn’t:

In the beginning we were 4 travellers, Ty, myself, Darelle and Troy (aka Lord Lunchalot in previous blogs). Several months later we became. A party of 6 with Lesley and Jacinta joining the trip. However, Lord Lunchalot felt he couldn’t make the trip due to work commitments and dropped out so we became 5. We were a little disappointed when Lord Lunchalot dropped out but I have no doubt we’ll cope.

As mentioned above we start this European holiday in Amsterdam via Guangzhou flying with China Southern. We’ve flown with this airline to Europe previously. Darelle is not keen on flying at all but is improving. Four of us are flying business class with China Southern with our 5th companion flying Qantas with an upgrade request in place ….. at the time we left there was no word on her upgrade. We have our fingers crossed for her. Flying on different carriers also means we arrive early morning and Jacinta arrives at the hotel late afternoon.

We’re doing this one in style, although, as you know, dear reader, I try to do all my trips in some sort of style! The limousine picked us up from our home for the 2 hour drive to the airport hotel….no early morning rush for us just a nice leisurely evening before a very short walk to the international terminal.

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The Flight

Departing passengers no longer need to complete the departure card and electronic gates have replaced customs officers in booths which makes things a little easier. It also helped that we received express path cards from the check in desk. Three of us passed through baggage and body screening with relative ease however Lesley was stopped for a body search as she has had a knee reconstruction and the scanner picks up the metal. Lesley did tell the officer about this, however the woman continued to pat down her legs and when Lesley complained of her hurting the leg another officer told a her to place Lesley in the body scanner but the officer ignored him, he tried again several times to tell her to place the traveller in the scanner but she continued to carry on her frisk search. Eventually she let Lesley through and we carried on to the Skyteam Lounge for breakfast.

The flight was uneventful and on time. However, Guangzhou airport is a little disjointed as many international flights arrive and then taxi to an area away from the main terminal. Passengers are bused from this outside area to the terminal building with business class passengers being transferred in a mini bus. This was not the most comfortable ride …. we had to place our handbag and hand luggage on our laps. The airport is very big and very spread out but given they’re now a hub for passengers transferring to/from Europe the airport should be upgraded to allow more planes access to an aero bridge making a better customer experience.

Transferring to your next flight is not that much fun either. Our flight left from terminal 4 but it didn’t actually taxi out from terminal 4. Terminal 4 is down a set of escalators that didn’t actually work so we walked down the non moving escalators carrying our cabin baggage. Didn’t bother us as we didn’t have a lot but some passengers had several bags. There was a lift which was extremely slow because of the number of bags many people had which didn’t allow for large numbers to ride the lift at any one time. This area is more like a basement and certainly does not have enough seating for the number of flights leaving from this transit lounge. China still needs to work on this area to have all international flights able to connect to an aerobridge. I know busing your customers back and forth to planes sitting out in various holding areas creates lots of employment but it certainly doesn’t add to the customer experience at all. When our flight number was called we were taken to buses for the ride out to the plane.

We had a 5 hour layover which was mostly spent in the VIP lounge where we had the time to shower and change into more comfortable clothing for the overnight leg. I booked in a time for my shower as had a number of other people. The attendant on her way to collect the next people in line when a man, who had just walked into the lounge, stopped her and said he wanted to take a shower now. He was quite angry when told there were others waiting before him and he raised his voice at the young lady. Everyone in the lounge was looking at him…

Darelle and Lesley both had a meal at 1am after leaving Guangzhou for AMS. Lesley all 5 courses, Darelle just the main. We opted out and went to sleep – we couldn’t eat another thing… When I went to see them after breakfast Darelle is munching on chocolates – the snack and drinks bar was in their little section and ‘it’s lunchtime at home’ was her excuse!! Glad we didn’t have a snack bar in our section Ty would have wanted the seat opposite.

I had prearranged a transfer to our hotel in Amsterdam so when we arrived we were expecting to see as person holding a sign with our name on it….no, no sign to be seen. I looked at the voucher and read that we needed to be at a meeting point, a red and white square, we could see signs to meeting point and headed that way as Ty wandered off in the other direction to find the driver. He was much more successful than us and came back weigh him just as Darelle and Lesley decided to go in the opposite direction to find the meeting point. A little like a group of sheep being herded. The driver then had to find the rest of the herd whilst telling us to stay exactly we here we were…’we could go and find them as we know what they look like’ I said. ‘No, tell me what they’re wearing I will find them’ and he did! That sorted we headed to the car.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and straight to our rooms. Time for a shower, unpack a little and head to the executive lounge for morning tea. Well, morning tea for Ty and I but I suspect Darelle and Lesley will opt for a second breakfast.

Let the holiday begin…………..

Amsterdam

Amsterdam DamrakA little bit of history to start…..

Amsterdam was founded in 1250 when a dam was built beside the River Amstel. The population is around 800,000

We’re staying at the Doubletree by Hilton near Central Station a 10 minute stroll to Damrak and the centre of the city. I’d booked us into executive rooms with access to the executive lounge. Of course an exec room in Amsterdam is not going to be the same as an executive room in Sydney. I liken the executive room here to a deluxe room in a Sydney Hilton but with a small bathroom. As with most hotels in Europe the rooms are smallish. Given we don’t spend our days in the room I can cope…just!

The weather in Amsterdam certainly wasn’t being too kind to us. It obviously didn’t appreciate the distance we had travelled to see this city! We were in the lift after our morning tea, or in Darelle and Lesley’s case, second breakfast, returning to our rooms to gather our rain gear Darelle suddenly burped very loudly. Surprising even herself by the volume….we looked around in amazement then broke into laughter as she was clearly embarrassed by this….er….mishap. Thank goodness we were the only 4 in the lift at the time.

It was raining, windy and 13 degrees when we left the hotel heading for Damrak street. Rain coats and jackets firmly in place we fought the wind, the cyclists, the crowded station square and the intermittent downpours to make it to the shopping district. It is summer holidays so schools and universities are closed and people across Europe are on holiday. I think most of them have come to Amsterdam especially the students. Amsterdam is an especially popular place for people from the UK and Ireland to have their bucks and hens nights/weekends.

Oh, before I continue I must tell you that if reading the whole blog is a little daunting or you just like my lists you’ll find ‘like/didn’t like’ lists below for you to skim through….

One very noticeable change since my previous visit was the cruise docking area on Damrak. Of course there were many new glass buildings dotted around as well. The charm, for me, is old Amsterdam and it’s history. If a building in Amsterdam is crumbling and needs to be repaired or rebuilt it has to look the same as the original including any lean it may have had. I know modern buildings are a necessity especially for hotels (I don’t like hauling luggage up tiny spiral staircases to my room in the attic) but I do think keeping to the original is a great way to hold onto the history and streetscape even if it’s just the old facade that has been kept. Hmm better not let Ty read this paragraph…he would say ‘you don’t haul your luggage up numerous flights of tiny stairs your husband does that for you’. Yes, he’s correct, however I have done that in a previous life. These days I do my best not to book us into ancient buildings where there is the probability of no lifts……given we’re only into the first week of the holiday I better not say too much more on this subject……….just in case!!

Our wandering took us away from one shopping district into a different type of shopping district….the red light district with it’s offerings of ladies, all shapes, sizes, nationalities on display, if not every window then every second window, gift shops selling erotica, dope smoking equipment, all sorts of foods and sweets containing Marijuana, sex museums, prostitution museums, peep shows ….. you name it it’s there. There’s also the many pubs, cafes and restaurants and the churches. The canals are very pretty here with the huge baskets of brightly coloured flowers handing from either side of the bridges that cross the canals. The combination of canals, bridges, many bikes and the flower baskets make for some great photography….CA you would love it.

We didn’t spend too much time here because I had booked us on a Red Light district tour tonight so we’d hear plenty of information about the history of the area then and Jacinta was also arriving this afternoon. We started the stroll back to our hotel. We stopped along the way to take some photos and it was at one of these locations I lost my little travelling companions, Ted and Dog. Ted had travelled with me for 10 years and dog joined us about 8 years ago. Ty gave the little Teddie to me to ‘look after me’ when I was travelling without him and Dog was a Valentines’ gift a couple of years later. I had taken them out to take their photo and then placed them back in my bag…..they were sharing a section of the bag with my camera and at some point I’ve lifted the camera out again and I think they’ve fallen out ….. We walked back to the hotel and it wasn’t till I was in our room that I realised they were missing….we made a mad dash back to the the place I last had them and retraced our steps from there…..they were nowhere to be found. Needless to say I was devastated because they hold great sentimental value, they weren’t valuable in the sense of price but valuable because they were gifts from my husband. Ty tried to console me by saying someone has probably picked them up and given them to a little child who’ll love them. That they don’t need to look after me for him now ‘cos we’re always together. I know some would say I’m a little strange being upset because I lost a couple of fluffy toys and that’s fine – we all have our little idiosyncrasies and mine is to be sentimental whether it be over a person, place or an object someone dear to me gives me.

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Last photo of my travelling companions

Jacinta arrived around 3.00pm we gave her time to freshen up, unpack a little then we headed back out to find a place for dinner. Later we would meet our tour guide at the designated spot Damrak 26. There were quite a few people on our tour so it could be hard to get to see everything up close….not that we needed to get too close to some of the objects in the windows!

There are less ladies in windows today than were there 10 years ago. The industry is more controlled including the number of windows available. The weird and wonderful objects available for purchase have increased as well…I’m sure. More S&M than I remember seeing in windows on previous visits or perhaps I was just too embarrassed to take a good look in my younger years!!! Maybe it was just that our tour guide, on this occasion, was stopping by more of these shops, getting us to move in closer for a better look, as he described what the items were used for. There are some very strange fetishes out there….each to their own I suppose …… still it can’t be denied there are some strange puppies sitting behind closed doors. Difference is what makes the world go round so they say so ‘viva la difference’!

We passed a number of bars with rowdy patrons singing, swearing, shouting or just hanging out the doors and windows but all with glasses or bottles of alcohol in hand. There were large numbers of girls stumbling along the pavements in various costumes and under the influence of alcohol. As the tour ended we noticed a commotion going on at the side of the canal, several ambulances were parked in the narrow street, girls were shouting…..English girls on a hen’s night. How did I know it was a hen’s night? The dress and the Bride to be was dressed in her finest little pink dress with veil and all manner of sex toys and other objects swinging from her neck. She was shouting and crying as the paramedics removed her from the main scene of the chaos. We could see a girl shouting and trying to put her leg over the barrier that protected people from falling into the canal. She had obviously taken something that made her want to commit suicide or perhaps she, give the benefit of doubt, just decided take a late night plunge into the canal. Whatever the reason the paramedics were not having any of this on their watch and suddenly they lunged at her, threw her to the ground, handcuffed the screaming girl and placed her in the ambulance. All the while the bride to be was screaming and crying and continued to do so as the ambulance drove off with her friend in it.

Our hotel, as well as having several restaurants, had a Starbucks. As we know Starbucks is not the best coffee however it’s consistent. Consistently good or bad – up to the individual – I’m just saying there was a Starbucks and we dropped in a couple of times. There are two guys, working very long hours, who just spend the day having a laugh and a good time. The first time I ordered coffees the happy young man with the dark curly hair taking my order started talking about the weather. “Lovely day” he said. “Wind and rain is not a good day to me” I replied with a smile “I want sunshine”. He very quickly replied with ” I’m confident the sun will shine so I’ve got my bikini on under my clothes ‘cos I thought I’d go to the beach after work”. Then a song comes on and they both start singing and dancing as they make the coffees and take orders. They were the same every day we called in and we thought it was great and obviously so did all the other customers…the place was very busy.

We’re all getting in lots of walking, 3 of us are wearing items that measure our steps…..not saying the brands as I try not to endorse any products……consequently there is a bit of competition happening. It makes for interesting outings especially if someone is falling behind the others in the step count.

 

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Perfect bicycle for Ty and I

List of places visited, tours taken and other random items:

  • Put rain gear on before leaving the hotel
  • Walked main pedestrian malls, venturing in and out of many shops along the way.
  • Took our rain gear off
  • Stood around in Dam Square viewing the scene, people watching, taking photos whilst ensuring people don’t photobomb our photos.
  • Put the rain gear back on again
  • Found a cafe for coffee….yes, coffee, no cookies or odd looking cigarettes were had on this walk – I know we’re very boring. We did venture into the shops selling all kinds of interesting bits.
  • Tried not to breathe too deeply in some of the streets whilst we wandered from one canal area to the next canal. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana and if we stood around inhaling long enough we’d probably just sit on a step in a haze going nowhere. Yeah man……
  • Take the rain gear off again
  • Gasson diamond buyers and jewellers of Amsterdam and the world

Things I liked

  • The view of the river and parts of the city from our room
  • Red light district walking tour – definitely worth it.
  • When the rain stopped and the sun came out…….on our 4th day in the city
  • All the diamonds available at Gassons
  • The two guys in Starbucks at the Hilton…whatever they were on should be given to all the grumpy, unhappy people out there in retail world!

Things I didn’t like

  • The intermittent downpours of rain and the icy wind…this is the Northern summer!
  • Losing my little travel companions of 10 and 8 years….devastated.
  • Bitter coffee
  • The crowds….so many visitors in this great city.
  • The ringing of bicycle bells which told me I was walking on a bike lane and in danger of being run over by an angry cyclist.

 

Dallas TX and the Story of Two Presidents

Today was a presidential museum day and the first stop on our tour was The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza or, as it was previously known, the Texas School Book Depository. The 6th floor is located in  what is now the Dallas County Administration Building.  The cost to park was $7.00 and entry fees to the exhibit is $16 per person. This is where, after 4 different investigations by several different bodies and many conspiracy theories, it was agreed Lee Harvey Oswald set up his gun at a corner window on the 6th floor behind stacks of boxes to shoot and kill President John F Kennedy.  He had the opportunity to do this as the presidential motorcade passed by the building. For those of you too young to remember, this unfortunate and senseless event took place on November 22, 1963.

Road motorcade drove down before turning to drive by Dealey Place

Road motorcade drove down before turning to drive by Dealey Place

Even though I was a quite young I remember the events well. So deep is the imprint in my memory of that day and the days after many of the photographic exhibits seemed like they came from my photo album.

As well as focusing on all parts of the assassination and the investigations into the assassination the museum chronicles the life of JFK, other events/happenings/culture of the 1960’s, including the music, the presidential campaign details and his legacy.  One part of the exhibit focused on Jacqueline Kennedy and the fashion icon she became.

6th floor cnr window book depository Dallas

6th floor cnr window book depository Dallas

It’s certainly comprehensive and has more than 75 exhibits on this floor including photographs, recordings and other memorabilia such as the invitation to the luncheon he was to attend.  A number of exhibits (photographs and film footage) were donated by ordinary people that were part of the crowds waiting for the president’s motorcade to pass by.

One person to capture the most comprehensive view of the shooting was a clothing manufacturer named Abraham Zapruder who was standing on a raised section of concrete almost directly in line with the car carrying the President and his wife. Zapruder was using his colour home movie camera….it was a silent movie camera. This piece of film was used as part of the investigation and most of it is the footage we’re used to seeing. Zapruder’s film captures the 2nd shot to the Presidents’ head.

The area where the shooter hid to carry out this dreadful deed has been recreated and sits behind a class wall…naturally the FBI took away the boxes he had stacked around him and some he used as a kneeling pad. Consequently visitors aren’t able to stand at the 6th floor window but are able to look out nearby and see what the shooter saw. The gun used by Oswald is also on show behind a glass case.  I thought it a little strange that one exhibit item was the suit Detective Leavelle, handcuffed to Oswald when Oswald was shot by Ruby, was wearing. The suit was on a mannequin in a glass case with an explanation about the suit, what it was made of, how it was given/lent to him by a family member and so on. It also included the shoes he was wearing on the day.  Perhaps Leavelle donated it and it may be of interest for the style of suit worn in 1963.

We weren’t permitted to photograph any part of the artefacts, documents or photographs in the museum.  Security staff walk in and around the visitors and the exhibits constantly so as notorious as they are for ignoring ‘no photograph’ rules not even a Japanese visitor with a camera could get away with taking a sneaky photo.

However the 7th floor was all accessible and this floor healed information about the 1960 election campaigns.  We weren’t really interested in this and Ty said ‘There’s no point in going up the stairs it’s only information about the campaigns’.  I looked at him and continued to walk towards the stairs. ‘Are you going up the stairs?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I am’ I replied as I walked towards the first step.

He was correct; there were posters and documents regarding the political campaigns but looking past that there was a security guard leaning against a wall and behind her was an area with nothing in it but floorboards and a couple of windows.  This was above the window where Oswald sat….I could see a man over by the window and as I looked back the security guard said ‘ You can go over there and look out the last window you’ll see the whole scene and you can take photos’. ‘Thank you’ I said as I walked on past her towards the window.  Ty followed…we looked out the window at the corner of Elm St and Dealey Place and could see the white X a little further down the road in the middle lane of the 3 lane one way street. X marks the spot where the 2nd shot hit JFK in the back of the head.

X marks the spot where car was when second bullet hit JFK

X marks the spot where car was when second bullet hit JFK

I don’t think too many others looking at the campaign exhibits realised that from these 2 windows we could see where the motorcade traveled along N Houston, turned into Elm and passed by Dealey Place. The famous grassy knoll was in view as well. We wandered around outside for a short time taking more photos of the surrounding area which look pretty much as it did in 1963.

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George W Bush Library

George W Bush Library

It was time for lunch before our next museum – the George W Bush Jnr Presidential Museum & Path to the Presidency.  There are 13 Presidential libraries in the US and these are mainly in the areas each President represented not necessarily where they were born or grew up. GWB was neither born or grew up in Texas but he married a Texan and made Texas his home.

This is the first Presidential Museum and Library we have visited…not something  I’d think of doing given I don’t have a lot of interest in US politics. Visiting the  JFK museum is a little different. However, our friend CA, from Denver suggested we visit GWB museum for the artefacts and other interesting pieces on show here.  So we’re on our way to SMU as the museum and library stands within the grounds of the Southern Methodist University.  The buildings within the University themselves are well worth a drive through!

We arrive at the designated parking area and take a ticket…$5 for the first hour and .75 cents for each half hour after that. Ok, ticket in hand we look for a parking spot that is a little shaded from the 105 degree F heat….good luck with that….most of the spaces with a touch of shade have a sign stipulating the spot is for hybrid or electric vehicles!  How many hybrid or electric vehicles do museum visitors drive we wondered. Eventually we found a spot with a tree at the side and one at the front which would hopefully provide enough shade to stop the car from becoming a furnace.

Walking up to the building I think to myself have large and imposing the building is and how amazing those windows and doors are…..they’re huge. There’s that adage coming to mind again – everything  is bigger in Texas! Pushing open the giant timber and glass door we stepped into a massive tiled atrium with a wall listing every person or group that donated money to build this Library/Museum. The cost to visit was $17 per adult.

Tickets in hand we walked down to the other end of a very large hall to be met by two members of the museum staff.  These ladies were very friendly and one lady asked where we came from, when we told them the taller lady said her neighbour came from Brisbane. So this lady knew quite a lot about Australia which was very nice.

More than 10 minutes later we were still chatting about Australia, the US, dangerous snakes, travel and all sorts of other things and probably would have been there longer but there were other museum visitors they needed to attend to.  My husband is Mr Have a Chat so best we move on or these ladies wouldn’t get any work done! This part of travel is great, being able to meet people and having a chat you learn so much about their country, cit or town and themselves as well.  We certainly did that with these ladies..they were lovely with a great sense of humour.  Eventually we thought we’d better take in the museum…lol. Unfortunately we never exchanged names but Ty did give one of the ladies our card, if you happen to read this blog ladies, thank you for your hospitality and the information you bestowed on us about Texas and the GWB!!

For those not really aware of George W Bush he first took office in January 2001 and was the 43rd President of the USA. He was not born in Texas but grew up in Texas and was the Texas State Governor prior to being President. The library and museum holds millions of records from his administration.  The first section of the museum included the election campaign, early days in office and the world events happening at the time.  Lots of photographs to look at and articles to read.

There is a very informative and moving display on the tragic events of 9/11.  The exhibit is centred around four themes; Compassion, Freedom, Opportunity and Responsibility.  The first part of the display is highly emotive as it shows the planes flying into the North and South Towers, The Pentagon and the last plane that didn’t make it’s destination because the passengers heroically tried to disband the terrorists.  There are the voices of the passengers as they made phone calls to loved ones saying their goodbyes, the images of the faces of New Yorkers on that morning as they watched in disbelief as the planes hit each tower.  Further images of people escaping though the dust and dirt in downtown Manhattan. Images we had seen a hundred times but it doesn’t matter how many times you see them you still have to stand and watch in horror as this dark day unfolded.  Probably, for me, the most memorable part of this room was the list of every persons’ name that died that day and the huge steel beam is 22 feet tall and stands in the centre of the exhibit all twisted and disfigured by the extreme heat of the inferno.

Steel Beam 9/11

Steel Beam 9/11

I suppose you think it odd I didn’t say the phone calls or the images of the people running away covered in dust but those images aren’t new to me. As raw and disturbing as they are it’s the piece of metal and the names that adds another dimension to the horror. We’ve visited the 9/11 memorial in New York as well and that’s an extremely sad experience as well.

The next exhibit was the Decision Points Theatre which covered the crises during the Presidency. These included the Iraq and subsequent war, Hurricane Katrina, Americas worsening economic woes and takes us through his decision process for all of these and more.

A fun and uplifting part of the visit was walking into a full size replica of the Oval Office when George W Bush was President.  Each President, or his wife, redecorates and changes some features of the Oval Office.  In this museum many of the artefacts in the room came from the Oval Office.  Family photographs sit in the same places they sat in the real office, a painting of Abraham Lincoln given to Bush hangs on one wall, the Presidential desk (named the Resolute desk)  is a replica of the desk used by many of the Presidents. When Truman was in the White House he had a moveable piece of sculptured timber added to the middle section of the desk to his the fact he was in a wheelchair.  This piece can be slid across if the President wishes or, as in the case of the Kennedy children, it was a good place for a game whilst dad was working.hide.

Oval Office

Oval Office

Every visitor is able to take the opportunity to sit in the Presidents chair for a photograph.  George Washington’s portrait looks on from the opposite end of the room.

After taking the touristy photos in the Oval Office we moved on to another theatre and exhibit featuring the Bush family and their dogs and cat.  The short film featured their daughters speaking about their parents and it also showed some funny situations as George W Jnr was a practical joker putting a very human perspective to the person with a number of photos of him on the Oval Office playing jokes on his staff.  This film portrayed them showed as any regular family and George B poked fun at himself quite regularly.

We chose not to visit the campaigns exhibit , as with Kennedy, we aren’t really interested in the history of US Presidential campaigns.  We stepped out into the huge hallway again and I could see something running along the frieze of the hall I looked up and saw an amazing display of people in different dress through the ages.  As I pointed it out to Ty one of our lovely ladies wandered over and told us about the wall – it’s a 360 HD screen that is one of a kind.  It is 20 foot tall and one section of the video shows all 44 US Presidents. We looked around to see how many we could recognise but 360 degrees but the human neck is not designed to swivel 360 degrees so we missed many I’m sure. Why didn’t I turn my whole body around in a circle?  Because I would’ve fallen in a dizzy heap on the floor.

Time to leave, we had another short chat with the ladies, bid them good bye and walked back out into the 105 degree day. Thank goodness the trees were now shading a large portion of the car however it was still like an oven in there just a hot oven rather that a frying pan.

Thank you CA for suggesting we visit GWB’s library we gained new insight into a President’s daily life and learned a few more interesting facts about the US.

If you’re visiting Dallas put these 2 places on your itinerary….well worth it especially for historical value.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memphis and All Things Elvis

Graceland

Graceland

Turning onto Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis after a 5 hour drive from Nashville to finally visit Graceland was very exciting.  A visit to the home of Elvis Presley has been on my wish list since I was a teenager, long before the term ‘bucket list’ became part of our vocabulary. In those days the wish was to just stand at the gates of Graceland and hope for a glimpse of Elvis.  After his death the wish changed to visit the house and see inside.  We followed the directions and drove into the parking area….it was $10 to park the car in this large open, unshaded car park.  I opened the car door to oppressive heat, over 106 degrees, the weather report said it actually reached 113 degrees for a short time early afternoon.  No breeze at all so and 90% humidity it was very uncomfortable.  With my luck, now I’m finally here, I’ll melt into the pavement before I get to the house.

There were several tour packages available, to choose from, ranging from $42 to $80 for front of line tickets.  We looked around at numbers of visitors and decided there wasn’t a need for front of line so chose the $47.50 plus tax package which gave us access to the house and grounds including the memorial garden, car museum, aircrafts and other bits.

After purchasing the tickets we moved out to the front of the building to line up for the shuttle bus which takes visitors across the road to the house.  Of course you can’t move too far in the line until you have the obligatory photo.  At a cost of $35 we didn’t purchase them – our own photos would suffice.  Once we moved on from this we received headsets, a little further along the line we received an iPad set up with pictures and audio for the tour of the house and grounds. Although the house is 3 storeys and basement visits are restricted to the main level and the floors below.  Several reasons have been given for this over the years…when Ty first visited they were told the timber floors of the upstairs area would not be able to withstand hundreds of people per day walking on them and now we were told the family wished to keep the upstairs private. Whatever the reason the choice to open or not open areas belongs to the Trust and it didn’t impact me in any way not being able to see that section of the house.

Graceland sits on 14 acres of beautifully kept lawns and includes a stable area where horses are kept.  The main floor of the house consisted of a large entry hall, a dining room on the left, 2 lounge rooms on the right, further along the hall was the bedroom and ensuite of Elvis’ parents.  Several of his mothers’ dresses and ha drags were hanging in the wardrobe.  The kitchen was next and it seemed a little small or perhaps cramped is a better description, there were a number of shelves, cupboards and benches housing a myriad of appliances.

Main level Lounge Rooms

Main level Lounge Rooms

The next part of the tour took us into the pool room, heavily patterned cotton material covered the walls and ceilings. A very long room was next, green carpet on floors, walls and part of the ceilings.  It was the Jungle Room and housed carved wooden animals such as giraffes and monkeys with a large fireplace at one end and an oversized teddy bear lounging in an equally oversized lounge chair and a jungle bar at the other end. This was the room where Elvis recorded the song  Moody Blue. There were several other lounge rooms in the house, each with their own bar.  We were informed Elvis wanted to ensure whoever was in the house at the time could find their favourite drink in the any bar in any lounge they were sitting in.

Pool Room

Pool Room

Moving on past the jungle room we descended a small number of stairs and turning to the left we found ourselves standing at the entrance to a sunken lounge room decorated with bright yellow cushions, bright yellow bar top and accessories, walls of yellow, the mirrored tiles on the ceiling made quite an effect and gave the room a very sunny outlook given there were no windows in this room.  Three televisions sat side by side so guests could watch 3 different channels at once if they wished.

After visiting the yellow room I wasn’t sure what colour to expect in the next room. We descended another small set of stairs further into what possibly would have been the basement when the house was originally built. At the bottom of the stairs we were on a landing with a bar on the right and another sunken lounge on the left.  This room was brown in decor and contained several lounges, chairs and a piano. The audio guide told us Elvis was in this room, playing the piano and singing with friends before saying he was going up to bed and shortly after ‘Elvis left the building’ permanently. The  lid of the piano was open as he had left it.

We paused for reflection at the top of the stairs. I know I imagined that last morning with everyone casually sitting around the room making music and enjoying the moment, then the devastating moment of disbelief the people in the room found out Elvis was dead.

The tour continued to the racquetball room which now displays many items from the 1970s including Elvis’ stage jumpsuits and copious awards, many posthumous. Most people stepping  into such an array of memorabilia  gasped or stared open mouthed at the amount of gold and sparkle in this room.   The trophy room was equally impressive.

Trophy Room

Trophy Room

This room also showcased his gold and platinum record awards as well as listed donations he made to charity and individuals.  Elvis was an extremely generous person not just to his friends and staff but to total strangers who needed a helping hand. Previously this area housed a large electric stock car track. Now it tells the story of his incredible music career.

Vernon Presley looked after Elvis’ finances and staff management at Graceland. Also, all fan mail and other mail was received at his office which stands separately behind the main house. Outside his office is a standard swing set that Elvis purchased for Lisa Marie.

Last on the tour is the Memorial Garden a very serene and, as you would expect, well maintained area where the graves of Elvis, his mother, father and maternal grandmother rest.  There is also a plaque for his twin brother. Fresh flowers adorned his grave and an eternal flame given by Joe Esposito, other family and close friends to the family in remembrance.

The grave

Viewing the house and especially the racquetball room and trophy room really brings home just how important he was to the music industry and the generosity of the man himself.  It was a very moving experience, sad in a way, that he died so young and that his private life had to revolve around Graceland and it’s surrounds. Whether you were a fan of Elvis and his music or not no one can deny his great presence within the music industry and with his untimely death a huge talent was lost.  As I mentioned above the Jungle Room was where the Moody Blue album was recorded Ty was very excited to see that room; I’m sure he would have loved to sit in the room and just soak it all in…close his eyes and dream of being part of that recording session.

The  memorial garden was the final part of the tour…fitting in a way.  We wandered along the driveway to await the return shuttle which would take us back to the gift shops, eateries, Elvis’ airplanes and car museum.

Whilst in gift shop torrential rain for about 15 mins. Enough to make it more humid. Spent way too much money in gift shops but I knew I would!  Once in a lifetime bucket list visit I had to spend up big…..as you can imagine I don’t have a lot for my money….

We had a quick lunch of something horrendous, visited the car museum and airplanes.  Our tickets included  another 2 museums but I felt I’d seen enough and knew enough about Elvis not to continue with another museum because I also wanted to visit Sun Recording Studio.  It was already 3.45 and Ty didn’t think we had time, thought they would be closed by the time we found it.  However, I was not leaving Memphis without going to Sun Studios as well.  Google is a wonderful thing and as it was still raining I asked Ty  if he could check please.  He did and we found the last tour was 5.30pm so at 4pm we headed to the carpark – the rain had stopped and steam was now rising from the hot, wet asphalt…looked odd and eerie.

Sun Studios

Sun Studios

Sun Studio was a 15 minute drive from Graceland..not too difficult to find with the GPS.  Luckily there was an extra tour at 5pm due to numbers otherwise we would have to wait till 5.30 and it was 4.35 now. The studio is beside Taylor’s Cafe which has been on the site naps long as the studios have and access to the studio tour is via the cafe. When you step into the cafe you step back in time from the young man sitting at the cash register playing the harmonica to the fabulous old photographs, posters adorning all the walls and old newspaper clippings.  I love these old places that have resisted change or owners have been savvy enough to recognise they are sitting on a goldmine of history and choose to keep these places open to share the history with all lovers of music and musicians.

The actual studio  is still the same as it was in the 50’s,  it’s still a working studio. We were standing on the spots where Elvis stood, Jerry Lee Lewis played the piano and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins stood.

Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash

Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash

How do I know that, you’re thinking, because x marked the spots where each of them stood one night when Elvis called in to see Sam Phillips and he contacted the other three and asked them to come down ‘cos Elvis was here. Sam knew this would be amazing so secretly recorded the whole evening of these music icons chatting, laughing and jammimg over a few beers  however Elvis was contracted to RCA by then and Sam couldn’t afford to be sued again so he had to shelve this rare event.

The old studio musical instruments are still there, the ceilings have not been changed, the soundproofing has stood the test of time exceptionally well.  The only new piece was the drummer’s seat.  Ty was chuffed to see they had chosen the same seat he has with his drum kit.  This was the drum kit U2 used when they recorded some of the Rattle & Hum album in the 90’s. The original microphone is still there and we got a chance to hold it and take photos but the guide said do not kiss it or get too close everyone from Muddy Waters to Elvis, Johnny Cash, BBKing, Jerry Lee Lewis and a cast of hundreds sang into that mic so who knows what it’s harbouring.

Recording studio

Recording studio

The studio was closed for 25 years because it became too small and there was no room for expansion but it was decided to reopen it and people such as Bono, come to record here to stand in the footsteps of Elvis and other famous artists.

Ty, of course, was most interested in the drum kit and now has a dream to record and cut a cd in that studio to be able to share a record label with the great artists above.

If you’re in Memphis to visit Graceland and you love your music do not leave without paying a visit to Sun Studios Ty was very happy that I had forced the visit. I’m sure he knew of Sun Studios but hadn’t realised the full importance of this place to music especially rhythm and blues then rock and roll.  So take time to visit you’ll  learn a whole lot more about the beginnings of music and the great artists of the early years who shaped the industry.  The cost of entry is $12 per person it’s well worth it.

There is so much more that I could talk about but, at the risk of boring my reader, perhaps another time.

 

In the words of Willie Nelson’s song – On the road again..

The next destination on our US road trip is Atlanta, Georgia.  This is a long drive requiring an overnight stop somewhere yet to be determined.  We have a total of 5 nights accommodation over the trip open due  to some of the large distances between our destinations. Tonight will be one of those nights where we’ll stop when Ty has had enough driving.

No matter what research you do on driving distances between cities no amount of research can tell you how long it will take to drive out of a city so whatever the driving hours are if it’s a major city, such as Dallas, add an extra hour. We drove out of Fort Worth at 11.30am and crossed the Louisiana State Line at 3.45pm after a 20 minute hold up due to an accident, a 30 minute lunch break and a fuel stop.  There are no rest areas on the freeways on the section of Texas we drove through so if a loo break is required or even a break to stretch and walk around you need to go off the freeway and to the outskirts of a small town to a service centre.

It was time for a fuel stop and when purchasing fuel at most US garages it’s a pay first then fill up so Ty went in, paid $30, came back with his receipt, filled up the car and was just closing his drivers’ door when the girl from the garage came running out pointing to him and saying ‘Y’all have to pay for your gas’.  He had paid for the gas but she wasn’t listening, receipt in hand he followed her back into the garage where he was again told he hadn’t paid for his fuel.  He showed the receipt and it turned out the cashier didn’t understand his accent and he paid for pump 5 instead of pump 4.  No apology for their mistake just quite rude as they now had to reverse transfer the $30 from pump 5 to pump 4.  Another customer waiting at the cashier apologised to Ty for the rudeness of the 2 staff members saying it was well known in the area that these particular garage cashiers are very rude to customers and she felt embarrassed given he was a visitor.

We had stopped at a small town named Terrell for lunch, options were Granddad BBQ house or Starbucks….we opted for Starbucks.  We had sandwiches with a cheese and fruit platter. A healthy option I thought and goodness knows in some of these places healthy options are hard to find.

Exit offerings

Exit offerings

After lunch we drove on with the only scenery, mile after mile, being large leafy trees. We crossed the State Line into Louisiana around 3.45 pm. We had been told to be very careful driving through Louisiana because the police highway patrol would book a driver if the car was travelling 1 mile over the State limit so to be sure and drive within the limit.  Ty set the cruise control once we hit the freeway.

By 5.30pm the trees were becoming monotonous and I needed a reprieve from this repetition of greenery luckily a billboard noting the eateries available at the next exit came into view…the round green Starbucks logo was on the list. Right turn Ty, break time. The name of this little town was Ruston.  Starbucks was quite busy and we’ve found so many younger generation sit in Starbucks using the free wifi but not drinking or eating anything. Guess wifi is expensive in the US but if I owned a cafe and people took up space for customers to use the wifi I’d be more than a little annoyed.

Sitting to have our coffee and share a slice of lemon cake (the best thing about Starbucks) we were chatting when a black* woman at a table across from us looked up from her book and asked where we were from.  This lady told me she had met an Australian before at New Orleans airport when the airport was snowed in. She was very happy to now be able to tell people she had met 3 Aussies. It seemed a little like me saying I’d seen a meerkat up close, I love meerkats.  The charming lady then told us that her daughter married an Englishman and they live in Zurich,Switzerland. She visited for a few weeks every year.  As we were leaving this lady asked us what we did for work and told us she is an English professor and was very interested in languages and accents…..’Oh bugger’ I said to Ty in the way many of us Aussies do ‘she probably thought we didn’t speak well at all’

*As far as I’m aware it is not offensive in US to describe someone as being black or white it’s the way they describe themselves.  We in Aus are way too precious.

Just as we were leaving Starbucks a grossly overweight couple were also walking out with 2 large frappes loaded with cream EACH.  I said to Ty ‘surely they’ve got others in the car they couldn’t drink 2 of those each…I couldn’t even drink one that size’.  ‘Perhaps they are taking them home to someone’.  No, there was no one else in their truck as they sat there drinking them.

As Willie Nelson said in his song…..On the road again………for a few more hours before we stop for the night.  The fun thing will be finding decent accommodation for the night and one with a vacancy.  At 6pm we crossed the Mississippi State Line and we drove on for another hour and 40 minutes when, just outside Jackson, we decided to stop for the night. Thinking Jackson would be too busy and may be difficult to find a hotel we opted for a town named Clinton.  Clinton is the 10th largest city in Mississippi with a population around 25,000. There was a choice of hotels, Holiday Inn, a Quality Inn, Motel 6 and Hampton Inn by Hilton plus a couple of others.  We chose the Hampton Inn and luckily they had a room available…a king suite.  Michelle, the concierge was very friendly and we were pleasantly surprised as the suite was quite good, very large and roomy. Not what I was expecting from an off ramp/exit hotel.  Our next challenge was to find somewhere decent to eat…these off ramps are great if you want a snack or burger but a higher standard of restaurant is rare.  So we asked Michelle if she could give us some  direction on where to eat and she did.  Michelle suggested a restaurant called Pastability in the small shopping centre a short walk behind the Holiday Inn.

On the road again

On the road again

 

By now it was quite late and we hoped the restaurant was still open. It was, well, we saw the sign for the restaurant but it was over a shopfront that was for lease. ‘That sign says the restaurant is for lease’ I said to Ty disappointed “I was really looking forward to a good meal’.  Just as I’d said that a voice from around the back of a car said ‘The restaurant has moved y’all need to go down here’ she gestured towards a laneway. ‘Thank you’ we both said as we walked past a group of people chatting by a car.

The Italian Restaurant was huge but instead of reminding me of Italy it reminded me of France with the large vases of sunflowers and pictures of fields of lavender. Of course we weren’t locals and, as we’d been learning, not many travellers visited these towns so when we stepped through a door and spoke people were generally surprised, then asked where we were from and most comments were ‘where’d y’all come from’, ‘we’ve never met an Australian before’ or ‘what y’all doing here’ but the one we heard the most ‘I love your accent I wish I had that accent’.  I thought how funny we Aussies don’t really have much of an accent and these people have great accents but they want ours!

Dinner was amazing and the chef (Dave) came out to tell me he would adapt the recipe for me because my first choice had garlic so I was prepared to choose something else. I appreciated that because that’s when you know the food and the sauces are made fresh. The food was distinctly Italian but the chef and, I assumed, his wife certainly weren’t. No down south home cooking here just great tasting Italian with fresh ingredients. So if you ever get to Clinton Mississippi or if you are passing Clinton Mississippi make sure you drop in.

No coffee places in sight…oh, plenty if you want the black bitter coffee but I like my lattes.

We left Clinton at 9.40 am and crossed the Alabama State Line at 11.15am and the scenery was the same thick tree lined motorway as yesterday.  I wish I could write in the car on such long journeys, imagine how much writing I could get done, but I have a tendency to get car sick so singing along badly to music is my only option to stave off boredom.  A few more miles and we stopped for lunch at a place called Mountville.  This was the preferred stop because there was a Wendy’s and Wendy’s does a great salad called a “summer berry salad’ which has the obligatory kilo of lettuce with sliced freshly cooked grilled chicken, strawberries, blackberries, feta cheese with a blackberry vinaigrette and crunchy pieces of dried apple.  I was hungry so when I saw baked potato with sour cream on the menuI thought I should have that too!  The salad was very good but the baked potato could have been better..I eat baked potato for the dollops of sour cream I can put on it so if the amount of sour cream is measly  and doesn’t cover every mouthful of potato I won’t eat the potato…this was the case here. Ty had a burger as usual.

We eventually crossed the Georgia State Line at 3.40pm and arrived in Atlanta 2 hours later.

The people we met along the way in the South were so friendly and helpful we really enjoyed meeting them and chatting to them. Obviously most people visit the well known parts of the US such as West Coast, Vegas and parts of East Coast including New York, Boston and Niagara Falls but the Southern States have much to offer as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to know a Honky Tonk named Billy Bob

The last paragraph of the previous blog mentioned us leaving the pharmacy and walking across the car park to the car….that’s when it happened.  Ty said to me ‘Look at how this truck is parked, no one can get around her’ as I looked around to see what he meant I tripped and fell.  Yes, Sir Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz, I tripped again and this time I didn’t damage my ankle I damaged both knees…blood everywhere. What is it with me and holidays?  I seem to either get a horrid cold/infection or fall over. This time I’ve managed both so perhaps I could look at it that I must now be cured of these holiday annoyances. I’m being positive and thinking this to be the case. Oh, and to clarify, the truth wasn’t what we Aussies think of as a truck but a ute (think those large Toyota Utes) on a case of steroids.  Yes, I did get a look at it as Ty helped me up off the roadway, placed me in the car and hurried back to the store to purchase antibiotic cream and band aids.

Returning to the hotel I walked by people as quickly as possible hoping to get to the lifts before the blood started running down my legs again. What a mess I was!  About 2 hours later,  wounds cleaned, disinfected and band aids applied, change of clothing (pants not skirt) we headed towards the historical Stockyards area of Fort Worth.

Traffic was bad, didn’t matter what time of day, every lane on every flyover (overpass/underpass) was heavy with traffic…we decided they didn’t have a real peak period it was a continual peak. We won’t complain about our commute anymore…well for at least a week or two after we return home or until the first accident causes major traffic chaos.

Forty five minutes later we drove into the carpark behind Billy Bob’s. We paid the man $15 for parking and purchased the tickets for the concert at the box office just inside the main door of the bar….$16 per person for this country artist and his band that we’d never heard of.  Well let’s be more specific, Ty had never heard of him, I’m certainly not a country music officianado. It was more the atmosphere of the place that Ty was trying to convey to me and seeing a live concert would help. Tickets purchased we then decided to go back to the historic Stockyard Station area for a wander, a little shopping and to find a place to have some food.

FW Stockyards

We needed to be back at BB’s by 8pm for our cultural evening of all things country and suddenly it was almost 7pm. “Ok, we need to find somewhere to eat, have you had enough of shopping?” Ty said. Does a shopper ever have enough of shopping? Silly question but I knew he was keen to get to BB’s so I put down whatever I was looking at and we headed out the door to find food. It soon became clear that choices of food in this area of the historical part of town were in short supply.  The busiest place was an indoor/outdoor eatery named Bullock Burger. Fabulous, I thought, but not many other choices down here so let’s do it.  They had White Zinfandel on their menu…place can’t be too bad! Oh yes it can….my wine was served in a plastic glass.  “One consolation” I whispered to Ty, “is they don’t measure the alcohol serving”. My plastic glass was full.

When we left the Stockyard Station and commenced the walk to BB’s ithe temperature was still in the high 90’s at 7.40pm.  The whole area was buzzing with families and couples, a number of walking tour groups passed us and buskers were on most corners. One Texan couple had two steers tethered to a fence wearing saddles with a sign offering people to have their photos taken sitting on them, for a price of course.  I felt sorry for the cattle.

I had never seen so many cowboy hats and cowboy boots being worn in one place by both genders.  It was fabulous, great atmosphere, trucks of all sizes and colours being driven around the streets. A large number looked to me to as big as a semi trailer cab. I couldn’t drive one ‘cos I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to see through the windscreen although my initial problem would be getting into the truck itself. I’d need a stepladder or a leg up every time. It also amused me when we saw a car with 2 people in the front seat both wearing their cowboy hats…both hates almost touched in such closeness so it looked quite comical.  No one removed their hats when they were indoors either.

As we passed by an indoor rodeo arena we noticed a very old truck parked at the front, it’s claim to fame was being owned by a 1970’s rodeo I champion. Not sure, if, over 40 years later, it’s still relevant but given I’m not a follower of rodeo riders and their championships who knows.  We still took photos with the old truck! Placed next to the newer Dodge RAM 2500 this li’l old red beaten up thing would look like a Tonka toy.

Arriving at our destination Ty opens the main entrance door to Billy Bob’s and stands back as I walk in and my cultural evening of all things country begins….beer, cowboys, cowgirls, country music, bull riding, fried foods and country music.  The man checking our tickets said, as he stamped our hand, ‘Y’all enjoy yourself tonight’.

As we round the corner of the hallway we find ourselves in a wide open space. A little further on and to the left is the large gift shop, on the right, the indoor rodeo ring and seating on both sides for spectators.  There are 2 championship shows a night on Friday and Saturdays at $4 per person entry. Of course it wasn’t a straight walk in to the arena we had to pass the small rodeo hall of fame on the way. Back out into the main section of the bar there were games machines, not poker or slot machines, the type where you put your money in and try to pick up some toy or chocolate bar.  This was Texas so what do you think, dear reader, would be in one of the game machines?  Cowboy hats, foam oversize cowboy hats, all colours of the rainbow and you might think they’re so large they’d be easy to pick up and hold but we watched a few people try and fail. We moved on to the bar area….now forget your normal small pub bar area think of you favourite drinking hole bar and triple it at least.  That was the main bar but there were also 30 serving stations. I’ll now list some of the other areas found in Billy Bob’s, the largest Honky Tonk in the world.

Chrome house band

  • capacity for up to 6000 people
  • free Line dancing classes
  • live bands every weekend
  • a pool hall with around 12 pool tables
  • a photo stop
  • a large dance floor
  • 2 banquet rooms
  • meeting rooms
  • permanent main stage plus another stage used by the house bands
  • Honky Tonk kitchen including a pizza kitchen, a Texas BBQ and private dining space

The main stage act was Sam Riggs and his band.  Naturally I’d never heard of him but, surprisingly, nor had Ty but thousands of others had because when we purchased our tickets there wasn’t a lot of seats left in the main stage area.  The main act didn’t come on till 10pm so we had plenty to keep us occupied until then.  The house band for this week was “Chrome”.  Apparently house bands play for a week and any band can apply to be the house band of the week by sending a demo cd.

After wandering around this huge venue we settled at a table at the edge of the dance floor and secondary stage to listen to the house band.  Ty went to get the drinks and came back with a vodka and orange for me instead of a wine.  He laughed as he told me the barmans’ reaction when he asked what choice of wines they had. The barman looked at him as if he had 2 heads then replied ‘Wine? Y’all can’t drink wine here, this is a Honky Tonk, we serve beer and spirits’.  I drank vodka for the rest of the evening!

The people watching was amazing, the way the girls/women dressed, many in pretty little dresses and cowboy boots, or tiny shorts with diamonties on the pockets and belts with a sparkly top, cowboy hat and boots.  Age was no barrier to what you wore with your cowboy boots.  The boys and men wore their cowboy boots and hats with jeans or trousers and even shorts.  Young or old, it didn’t matter, once that country music started they were all on the floor dancing pretty much the same country style of dancing.  There was the professional couple who glided around the floor in perfect step to the music, the couple who seemed terrified of what they were doing that she never smiled at all, seemed like she was there under sufferance and had a definite cat’s bum look. Her partner seemed to be concentrating very hard…I decided they were learners still counting the steps.  There was the twenty something professional in tiny shorts and tank top stretched over her largish body very much in demand by several male dancers.  I was surprised by the number of teenage couples and couples in their early twenties taking to the floor and dancing to the music.  The music Chrome was playing  is what I think of as country rock, not the slow ‘found your dog, got the wife back and the Chevy truck managed to start again today’ type of slit your wrist stuff.  Upbeat country and the dancers loved every minute of it, except for the couple counting their steps and looking terrified.

The first championship rodeo was starting at 9pm so we decided to divert to the rodeo arena.  We watched about 5 rodeo riders strut their stuff and 4 time out of 5 the bull won… However, rider and bull 6 burst into the ring and this bull was a little angrier than the previous ones.  He threw the rider almost trampled on him and stomped on one of the diversionary clowns. Rodeo arena He bailed up the other clown and refused to leave the ring.  He threw dirt up and chased anyone who tried to move him out of the ring.  Eventually they sent in another bull assuming he would head back out the gate and the crabby one would follow.  Not so, they ganged up and kicked dirt all over the patrons sitting behind them as they snorted and stomped from one side of the arena to the other.  These bulls were enjoying themselves only looking up to charge anyone who tried to remove them. Things were at a stalemate. After 10 minutes an announcement was made saying the championship was called off because they needed to remove the Bulls from the arena.

Wandering back to the main bar area it was very clear the whole place was starting to fill up and eventually it was time to move to the main showroom area (just behind the secondary stage). Before this the house band played a song that had as many patrons as possible attempting to get a spot on the dance floor for a group line dance. Once again we were surprised at the ages of many of the line dancers but then again it’s Texas and it’s total country unlike Australia with small pockets of country music fans. Quite an amazing sight.

We sat back to watch the crowd moving in to main stage and noted it was a mix of ages from late teens to late 70’s maybe even 80 year olds.  Whoever this Sam Riggs is he’s popular with everyone. We thought that it might be a sign that it was going to be a good night and also unusual because, in general, the younger generation may like some of the middle aged rockers or country music stars especially if they grew up with their parents listening to these artists but not usual that someone in their 70’s might be interested in a young country music up and coming. As Ty said, this is Texas and I’m learning things are different in Texas!  In a good and interesting way.

It was 30 minutes over the start time when the band stepped out onto the stage, the crowd went wild, we looked at each other in surprise, when suddenly the screams and shouting in the room grew in it’s intensity.  Sam Riggs, the main act, had stepped up through the smoke haze onto a raised dais.  A young man who thanked the room for helping him get to where he is today.  The crowd went wild again.  I was astounded, I hadn’t heard screams like this since Ty took me to see Tim McGraw in Sydney and he is a ‘big’ name in country music.  I was also surprised by age of crowd and their reactions at Sydney concert.  A member of the group of people sitting on our table obviously knew the guitarist as he kept waving and yelling at him to get his attention telling his companions how nervous he would be.   Eventually the guitarist acknowledged him and that seemed to satisfy his ego.

 The crowd knew the words to all the songs, there were no slow songs (thank goodness) and there appeared to be no responsible service of alcohol as some of the females around us became quite drunk falling over people, taking seats that weren’t there’s and just being a nuisance. Apart from a few incidences everyone was in a grand mood and enjoying the evening.  Half way through the event the singer stopped to ‘God Bless America and all our prayers are with the families of the Policemen shot’ he went on to say respect your police force, look after your fellow Americans and more patriotic words of encouragement.  That small diversion from music almost brought the house down.

We left Billy Bob’s around 1.30 am and I have to say we both had a great time – one of the most entertaining night outs I’ve had for awhile.  The place is extraordinary, I’ve seen lots of bars on my travels but nothing like this place.  I enjoyed the music and the people watching.  If you’re ever in Fort Worth this is one place you should go…especially on a Friday or Saturday night….it seems to be the only place in Fort Worth to be.

So what’s a Honky Tonk….there are some slightly different definitions; a loud, rowdy bar  typically full of hillbillies enjoying country music or a cheap noisy nightclub or it can refer to a type of music.  To me it’s all of the above  it was loud, there were a few hillbillies and it was definitely noisy but it’s the best fun…..y’all gotta do it.

Plus, the people of Texas are so very friendly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gas Monkey, Flyovers and The Medical Centre

Gas Monkey

Gas Monkey

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast whilst deciding our plan for the day. There was no rush to see lots of attractions….Ty had 2 on his list, Gas Monkey Garage and Billy Bob’s.  I wanted to go back to the historical Stockyard area and, as Billy Bob’s was there we decided to head out later in the day. A little bit of shopping would be acceptable as well.  However, I had left home without a prescription tablet I required so we needed to find a medical centre.

Gas Monkey Garage was voted first on the list given it was on the other side of Dallas from where we were staying.  The drive was about 45 minutes, over, under and around lots of flyovers and then through the suburbs.

The GPS took us to the address without any trouble.  As we turned into the street we could see the car park was full of people wandering around near the gift shop and others looking through a very high wire mesh fence towards the workshop.  Yes, they have the applicable gift shop. I also noticed a number of other businesses had signs up forbidding parking by Gas Monkey visitors.  Obviously a popular stop on a man’s bucket list. Boys Toys.  As I said above there were 2 sections to the complex with a large fence separating the visitor car park from the garage workshop. The fence had a sign “No entry filming in progress” but that sign is probably a permanent fixture as they wouldn’t want visitors wandering around the workshop and I doubt after one visit there’d be a need to return.

Of course, when you watch the show things look quite different. They utilise the whole area, including the visitor car park, when filming plus they use better looking streets for the driving scenes.  The streets we drove on to the Garage were a little, um, rough around the edges with lots of pot holes this certainly didn’t look like the street used on the show.

After taking photos of the outside area we went into the gift shop where he purchased the obligatory Gas Monkey t shirt for $30.  I, on the other hand kept my hands firmly in my pocket.  Hmm, perhaps I should visit more of these types of places think of the money I’d save!!!  The gift shop was dark inside not sure what that’s all about because it was difficult to see the goods.  Also, I observed at least 4 staff members wandering around the store so having a to show doing up old cars and selling them off is obviously a lucrative business……for this company anyway.

T shirt purchased, photos taken, no sign of the Gas Monkey team at all, time to leave.

Dallas Fort Worth has to be the flyover capital of the world.  I have never seen so many flyovers in use and flyovers being built in one city in my time travelling.  The words ‘everything is bigger in Texas’ is correct.  They also need to add the words and more spread out because there is so much space between buildings outside the city centres. The cities of Dallas Fort Worth are spoken about as one city so my perception was they were so large they grew and merged as one. However, there is a large amount of space between Dallas and Fort Worth, including suburbs (almost towns) in between and green fields and multiple flyers.  We spent our few days in Fort Worth and never touched on Dallas.

 

Dallas flyover

Dallas flyover

 

Finally arriving back at the area near our hotel we decided to have a bite to eat then find a medical centre.  Just happened as we drove around to the eateries there was a ‘walk in’ medical centre. ‘That will do’ I said to Ty.  The price for the service was also on the window…$65….which we thought was reasonable.

Ty parked the car and over we wandered.  The waiting room was empty so that was a good sign we wouldn’t have to wait long.  Famous last words.  I had to complete a multitude of forms, show my id, hand over the payment and then take a seat.  The cost was $65 for appointment and $20 for the script.  We expected more given all we’d heard about US medical costs.

Shortly after we sat down 2 patients came out from the rooms and then there was us…….and, then there was us……..and there was still us in the waiting room over 1 hour later.  Eventually I was called in by a male wearing green hospital dress.  He asked me to place my handbag on the counter and step on the scales…hmm, only after a replacement script but anyway they had no more patients waiting so dutifully I stepped on the scales.  I was then ushered to a room where I sat on the chair but he says ‘could you sit on the bed please?’ I thought it odd but I comply.  He takes my blood pressure asks all sorts of questions such as:

  • when did I have my bloods done last (blood test)
  • when did I have my last mammogram
  • when did I have my last bone density test

All the time I’m thinking is this normal for a prescription? So I answered with ‘within the last 6 months’ to every question of ‘when did you have……’ Safer option ‘cos I didn’t want to be rushed off for a blood test or any other test.

The questions came to an end as he stood up said ‘The doctor will be with you in a moment’. I’m sure he saw the look of surprise on my face – I thought he WAS the doctor!  Not more than 1 minute later he was back with a clipboard holding a questionnaire ‘I need you to complete this please’.  I took a look at the 2 full pages of questions and mumbled to myself ‘good luck with that’.  Another 15 minute wait, a quiet knock on the surgery door and in walked a short grey- haired lady in green garb and I thought ‘not another intern to take more notes’. The lady introduced herself as the Doctor.  Once again she asked the same questions and finally, wrote the prescription. I told her I wasn’t completing the questionaire and she said just write that on the bottom and sign it.  The centre owner required it apparently.  I expected the script to be handed to me by the doctor…..not so.  Doctor stood, said ‘very good to meet you’ and ‘I travelled to London and York recently which I thoroughly enjoyed’. I replied ‘UK does have some great places to visit’ and so we had a brief conversation about travel and our time in London and York. All the while I’m thinking I’d better get the script and leave or Ty will think I’ve been kidnapped’.  After our brief conversation she left the room saying the other person will come back shortly to sign me out.

At home we see the doctor, they write the script we leave. Perhaps US medical care is more thorough than ours because they have 2 different processes they take the patient through. Realistically this has to be costly and poor use of staff time.

The intern came back and said ‘Please follow me I’ll take you to the sit window’. ‘Ok’ I replied.  As we walked around the next corner we steeped into another corridor and I could see an exit sign at the very end….yes, I thought, I’m almost there.  ‘Please follow this corridor and on the right you will see a desk and chair in front of a window please sit there and the clerk will check you out’.  As I sat down I could now see Ty standing and looking around I waved but he couldn’t see me.

The clerical person who was looking through items in a filing cabinet, looked across at me and said ‘I’ll be with you in a moment’. Tis was the longest time I’d ever spent to get a prescription…..I think they need a time management course to sort them out.  Eventually I was given my handwritten prescription, a hand written prescription.

When I walked out the exit door Ty was staring at the door I had entered through….when he saw me he said ‘What took so long it was just a prescription? It was an interesting exercise, I was happy to be able to replace my tablets and I learnt a little about the US medical system.  We thought we’d be paying much more for the visit and the script so that was a pleasant surprise.

The doctor did tell me that the cheapest place to get a script filled was CVS….right in the SuperTarget store near us.  Next stop CVS but as we walked up to the car the engine seemed to be running or was it.  Yes, it was, Ty thought he’d turned if off but he hadn’t so the car was lovely and cool as it has idled away for over an hour in 100 degree (40c) heat.  You may be wondering how this was possible…..well, the car is started by a push button and you just carry the keys on your person to lock/unlock the doors.  Ty hadn’t pushed the button to turn the car off but he had locked the doors.

Prescription filled, cost was $15.58 for 90 day supply, we walk back to the car for the short drive to the hotel for a little relaxation in readiness for a late night….we’re heading to Billy Bob’s the worlds largest honky tonk… What’s a honky tonk you’re thinking?  No idea but I’m sure the next blog will cover that!!

 

 

 

 

Country and Cowboys Dallas Tx

Our big trip this year is to the USA – a road trip – my husbands’ choice. Ty loves a road trip and he loves the US of A. So four and a bit weeks driving around parts of America is a dream to him. I’m a little more reserved on that front. Europe is my ‘thing’ and I find the US daunting in a number of ways but more of that later.
This trip we have been lucky enough to find a house sitter for our beloved old cat….it’s winter in Australia and placing her in a cattery, although she would be well looked after, didn’t sit well with us this time. We placed an advert on a house sitting website and, amongst others, Janelle applied for the task, her references were excellent and, it seems, puss even liked her when she came to introduce herself and meet us so Janelle is looking after the house and puss for the duration of our holiday.
We hadn’t booked business class tickets this time we had a large number of frequent flyer points so crossed our fingers and decided to use them to request an upgrade. Luckily, we received a text message the day before our flight to say we had received the upgrade on the Sydney/ Dallas leg. That message helped Ty get through his last working day before his leave commenced and we all know how hard that last working day before our annual leave can be. It’s the best feeling walking out that door of your office knowing you won’t be back for a month…..damn do we really have to go back? No more talk of work….we’ve got a great adventure ahead. Admittedly people who trek the highest mountain or kayak down a raging river would not think our holiday was an adventure but I’ve got to find the smallest meals available in the US and, trust me, that’s an adventure for me, people that know my eating habits will agree.
We arrived at the airport around 10am and checked in, straight through customs and up to the Qantas business class lounge for breakfast by 10.40am. Champagne and orange juice was a good choice whilst I decided on what to eat! Well, as the song says ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere’. The departure time for our flight was 1.00pm boarding from 12.15.
After settling into our seats the cabin crew came around to offer champagne and collect our breakfast menu choices. One of the cabin crew came along and in conversation, jokingly,asked why my last name was different to Ty’s. ‘What is wrong with his name that you don’t want to take it?’ It was a lighthearted conversation as Ty made comments about me still using my previous name in case I wanted to go back to my previous husband. However the funniest part was when another cabin crew member came up to hand out the US entry cards. Staff member said when she first looked at Ty’s name she read it as ‘tv starr’ and thought he might have been travelling incognito and not wanting anyone to recognise him by name either. Later, after dinner, Ty opted for a cheese plate but as he doesn’t like blue vein they were making a special plate for him. When another crew member brought the plate up he said ‘ Here you are Mr tv starr’. So I suppose for the rest of the flight he will be known as tv starr. I did say to Ty just as well my name is different otherwise they’d be calling me Mrs tv Starr!
‘Where are we visiting in the US’ I hear you asking. Well, be patient, I was getting to that…..
As I mentioned we are flying into Dallas/Fort Worth and we’ll stay here for couple of days. Might find me some cowboy boots or not! Read that sentence with a Texan accent.
From Dallas we head to Atlanta, Washington DC, New York, Boston, Niagara Falls, Nashville, Memphis, Denver to visit friends and back to Dallas for a day or two before heading home. A total road trip of 31 days and a couple of those days are long on the drive bit. We have 5 nights with no accommodation booked because we will drive for as long as we can on those days. These drive says will take us around or through Chicago Illinois , Kentucky, Kansas and a couple of other undecided places. So, my valued readers, keep an eye on my blogs I’ll do my best to keep them updated as we travel around.
Quite a few of the passengers have changed into their Qantas pj’s so I think it’s also time for me to settle back and relax on the flight…the cabin crew have made my bed and I’m thinking a massage is in order before I retire. A masseuse in business class you’re saying…..no the seat has an inbuilt massage feature. I’ve also resisted the urge to put the pj’s on….I’m not sure I want to be one of the crowd in my grey pj’s with black kangaroo on the front. There’s no male/female difference in shape or design. Although I think the pj bottoms are a good idea as it will stop your pants from becoming all creased whilst you’re sleeping.
Flying into Texas a large body of water came into view and lots of green space…this surprised me given my perception of Texas was a dry state with hardly any water or lush green grass. The body of water is Lake Worth. Dallas Fort Worth airport area is massive although getting out of airport was relatively painless the longest wait time was for our luggage. The weather was extremely hot but a welcome change from the winter at home.
Conveniently the bus to the car rentals area arrived within a minute of us reaching the pick up point. Once on the bus Ty pointed to an advert on the bus for a café open from 7am to 8pm in the car rental centre. Now who wants to sit around a car rental centre? Most of us want to pick up the car and head to our hotel or next destination not linger around a car rentals area. When we arrived at the centre it was set out very much like a shopping centre. The main feature taking pride of place in the centre was a very large statue of a 2 bulls on a platform suspended from the ceiling.
By quart to 3 we had the car packed and ready to head to our hotel for a very welcome shower. Leaving the airport was easy, the freeways are 4 and 5 lanes each way and we couldn’t help but comment that Dallas loves a flyover or 2 or 3….they are everywhere! The GPS told us the hotel was a 15 minute drive from the airport however that was without the traffic factor. Traffic had slowed a bit and suddenly all lanes of traffic came to a halt. We eventually arrived at the hotel around 4pm.  Car temperature gauge was showing 104 F outside.
The hotel is in a quiet area of Fort Worth, not isolated though, there is a shopping complex across the road.
Showered, refreshed we headed to The Stockyards, a historical area where cattle was brought in to Texas for sale and distribution. Cowboy town full of bars, museums, venues with country music artists, rodeos and shops selling cowboy and cowgirl clothing. We were starving so chose the H3 steak restaurant for dinner. Did we have steak? No I had the lemon shrimp and Ty chose the pork…..we decided to have guacamole dip and corn chips as our appetiser…..the dip was made at the table with 2 avocados! Our hunger pains had dulled our knowledge of the American love affair with large quantities of food per person at each sitting and our pact to share our meals. Well, we did share the dip but before the main meals arrived so did a large salad for each of us. We struggled through what we could and the prawns were amazing so I couldn’t waste those. I needed a drink and the post mix Coca Cola wasn’t very drinkable. The water mixed with the syrup had a strong flavour so my only other option was a Margarita…mango and pineapple. Once again forgetting the upsize of everything I ordered one….the glass it came in looked more like a mini fruit bowl and weighed as much as a fruit bowl full of the heaviest fruit you could find. I managed to lift it off the table and towards my mouth….luckily it came with a large straw. I made a comment to the waitress about the size it and the size of a margarita at home. ‘Would you like another nip of alcohol to add to it’ she asked. ‘No’,I replied laughing ‘another nip and instead of walking along the street I’d be crawling and that’s not a good look’.

After dinner we wandered around town for an hour or so to walk off dinner. At 8pm we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow it’s all about country, Cowboys and Gas Monkey garage. Stay tuned……..

 

Celestyal Cristal Ports of Call part 2

The port of call today is Cesme (meaning fountain) Turkey.  Cesme is situated on the Aegean coast.  The town is a 15 minute drive from Alacati or 45 minutes from Izmir.  This area is much less touristy than Bodrum and has a very vibrant nightlife (so we were informed). Unfortunately our excursion to an exclusive resort for an afternoon of relaxation prior to attending a nightclub to sample the vibrant nightlife was cancelled.  We were thoroughly disappointed with this as the information and pictures contained on the cruise website looked amazing.  Cesme has an interesting history as does most of the Greek Islands and Turkish coastline towns and cities.

After docking in Cesme we  disembarked the ship, walked through customs and, before going out into the street,  changed a small amount of euros to Turkish Lire.  There was nothing around us except a few houses opposite the terminal, a mechanic shop and, to the right, a boat yard and marina.  We deliberated for a while and discussed pricing with a taxi driver, it was very expensive so we shuffled our feet, looked around us and deliberated some more and decided to take a stroll to town, others were taking taxis but we thought a stroll in the heat would be more satisfying….plus we thought the taxi driver and his friends were overcharging us.  IMG_6451The ship docks a little way out of the town here and it’s a pleasant walk to the centre where Cesme castle is the most prominent feature. In fact no taxi is needed at all as on the way back we discovered a very pretty walkway with shops on either side, with walls and overhead timber beams draped with beautiful pink and deep red bougainvillea,  which took us from the main street directly to the port area.

Whilst walking to town we discussed what we should do for the day and evening as the ship will dock here till 11pm.  ‘The beach’ was the call from the three men, I didn’t mind as long as I have a lounge to lie on and a beach umbrella I’m fine. Sitting or lying on a towel on a sandy beach does not appeal to me – I like my comforts. Reaching the  centre of town we spied a tourist centre.  ‘Let’s go in and see which beach they recommend and the best way to get to it’. Anyone who has visited this are of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas know it’s a very casual, laid back area so we weren’t surprised to walk in to the office and find no one staffing it.  After 10 minutes or so a man stepped in through a side entrance, seemingly from another store, to inform us the agent would be back shortly so could we please take a seat.  ‘Certainly, no problem’ I said as we continued to look through brochures we’d picked up.  Another 15 minutes passed before the agent returned.  He very pleasantly told us which beach was the best and which number bus would take us there as well as pointing us to the bus stand.

Cesme boardwalk

Cesme boardwalk

Cesme street

Cesme street

 

 

 

 

Altinkum Beach was the choice and bus stop D was a short 2 minute walk from the tourist centre. The trip would take 20 minutes and was an amusing ride.  Entry/exit to the bus was via a side door. we stepped in and realised very quickly the little 16 seater was crowded so for the first part of the journey we all stood.  We passed our money down to the bus driver via Troy, who stood closest to the driver at this point.  There were many stops along the route and the little bus became very crowded, absolutely no more standing room so we started to pass stops unless a passenger wanted to alight with their shopping. As it became more crowded the fare for each new passenger was passed through many hands to reach the driver.  It was similar to playing ball tag where a small round ball is passed from team member to team member overhead.  Change was passed back in the same way.

Thankfully seats eventually became available for the final part of the journey – it was exhausting handing money back and forth to the driver, and dangerous, especially when he took a sharp corner!  As we were playing our game of ball tag  I’m certain our little Turkish bus driver was playing his own game of  how far you can fling a standing passenger as you take a corner at 40 mph.

Several beaches came into view and the views did not disappoint.  The bus finally reached it’s last stop, Altinkum Beach, and we alighted a little dishevelled from being thrown around and overheated from lack of air conditioned comfort but we still enjoyed the experience. Holidays are all about our experiences so soak them up whether you deem them to be good or bad.

Cesme beach goers

Cesme beach goers

I love the European beach culture of renting a sun lounge and umbrella for an hour, several hours or a whole day…Australia has beautiful beaches but our councils lack forethought in this area.  Although if they did take this on you can be sure we would be paying a premium for this service rather than allowing the entrepreneur to set up a little business in a section of the beach.

Cesme yuki

Ice cream truck

For the privilege of renting 4 sun lounges, 2 umbrellas, access to a shower/change rooms and toilet we paid the young man 20 Turkish lira. One Turkish Lira is equal to approximately Aus.48 cents  or US.33cents so under $10 for the day between 4 of us. A can of coca cola was 5 Turkish lira.

The weather was beautiful and after soaking up the surroundings for 15 minutes it was time to venture into the Aegean Sea.  I let Ty and Troy head off first to test the water temperature, they gave the thumbs up to signal me that it wasn’t too cold and to join them.  I headed across the extremely hot sand, very gingerly, to meet the water.  Silly mistake I had crossed boiling hot sand to reach water that looked so inviting but was about 5 degrees Celsius.  So here is my warning to you dear reader – Altinkum Beach is beautiful,  the view across the blue Aegean horizon amazing and very peaceful, the water is crystal clear but it is freezing cold, so cold it’s like stepping into an ice bath!  So when your friends are in the water and signalling to you that it is not at all cold do not believe them!!  Did I put more than my toe in the water?  Yes, I did but it took a little while, once in up to my neck and my heart had recovered from the shock it was enjoyable. Getting out was another matter once out of the water I ignored any further encouragement to get me back in.  My body wouldn’t recover from a second shock in one day.

After several hours we decided to head back to town for a wander around and then afternoon tea.  Food, food and more food is the main focus when travelling with men, especially so with Gorging Gonz.  Troy (Lord Lunchalot) was the first to avail himself of the shower and toilet facilities at this section of Altinkum Beach.  I thought I’d wait for him to report back before I went to change – I’m always a little wary as some amenities can be quite primitive (another reason not to like camping).  I was right to wait…his face said it all as he looked at us whilst walking back. The shower/change room was very small and the floor was full of water making it difficult to change without getting all your clothes wet and the toilet was  hole in the ground – not a fancy hole in the ground, no, no place to plant your feet or bars to hold onto whilst you do what you need to.  So I decided to struggle to dry myself and change clothes inside 2 towels being held around me by Ty.  We did our best to keep my modesty in tact, perhaps on a German beach I could’ve whipped my cossies off, towelled dry and redressed without anyone blinking an eye but we were in Turkey. Anyway Germany would have had very modern facilities for the beach goers…..hmmm the German sunlovers would still have stripped off in full view.  Got to give it to some of the European natives they aren’t shy when it comes to nakedness.

We had a 20 minute wait for the little bus so we wandered around looking at the other beach areas and their offerings of sun lounges and umbrellas.  Each little area had a different colour scheme for their umbrellas and lounges. The bus arrived but he wouldn’t be ready to leave for another 10 minutes, we could sit on the bus if we like.  No, way too hot to take our seats this early, we’ll board just before he leaves!!

Ios (Niós as locals call it) is the number one party island in the Greek Islands at the moment as well as being Homer’s resting place.  It is a very hilly island with most of the houses built on a hilltop…fabulous blue roofs and whitewashed walls with the rich pinks of bougainvillea’s adding rich colours to the surrounds.  Houses on Ios have the same characteristics of the other islands in the  Cyclades group but I never tire of seeing those colour combinations.  The population of Ios is around 2100 and Chora (pronounced Hóra), the main village, is perched on top of a hill.  There are a number of beaches on Ios and one  popular and well-known beach is Manganari.

The ship isn’t able to dock at the port so tender boats are used to ferry us to the island. The dock area has a number of small shops and a couple of restaurants but all the action is up on top of the cliff. We took the bus to Chora at a cost of 1.80 euro each and stops a short walk from the access to the main village.  A man, the image of Richard Clapton, sat beside Troy on the bus.  Richard Clapton is a 70’s rock’n’roll singer still doing the rounds in the Australian music industry.

Stepping off the bus I spied a great view of 2 blue roofed, white walled churches… We headed across a car park, up several sets of modernish stairs until, in front of us, a number of tiny alleyways appeared.  Not knowing which was the best alley to take we followed others.  The alleys snaked their way to the left and also to the right but we climbed stair after stair straight ahead to the very top of the village, well, as far as the body wanted to go in the heat..

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Hora (Chora)

 

 

Many steep winding stairs later we arrived just below the The church of Virgin Mary Gremiotissa.  By now we were very hot, legs starting to ache a little from all the stairs  so we stopped at the sign pointing to the Church.  Hmm, will we carry on?  yes, it’s only a little further so on we pushed and reached the side of the Church…too many people crowded around the end of the alley plus Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz were saying words like ‘coffee’ and ‘rest’.  We retreated to the alley below where we saw a number of cafes. A table became vacant at one of the cafes, Louis cafe. Lord Lunchalot promptly sat!  Not one of us argued..we happily parked our bottoms on the other chairs, we didn’t realise how thirsty we were even though we all carried water on our trek. By the time we had sat Lord L has already checked us in on Facebook.  Which lead me to ask ‘what did we do on holidays before Fb and the desire to ‘check in’ came along’? No reply just a wry smile for LL.   Anyway – our legs were also very thankful for the break as we still had to make our way  down this cliff.  I, for one, also needed a loo break and the bathroom in this cafe was interesting.

Most of these cafes are are built in tiny spaces so need to be creative with how that space is used – cafe Louis was particularly creative.    The  toilet and wash basin was at the top of a thin spiral staircase which I likened to spiral pasta it was very tight with only 1 foot fitting on each step.   I certainly wouldn’t attempt it after a couple of drinks – going up might be ok but coming down could be very challenging.  The room itself was indeed tiny, no room to even think about swinging the proverbial cat, even difficult to close the door without sucking as much of your body in as possible – I didn’t dare breathe out for fear of being forever ensconced in one of the tiniest loo I’ve ever visited. However I managed to get back out the door and negotiate the tiny steps on the spiral staircase without incident.  Troy had to duck as he inched his way up the staircase because the ceiling became very low the further up the staircase you went. After we’d all paid a visit to the little room we talked about the fact the cafe is a bar in the evening and wondered how many patrons had fallen over the wrought iron railing whilst trying to negotiate the downhill run.

Drinks finished, body rested, we  headed in a different direction to reach the bottom and eventually the bus stop. For those who want to know costs – an iced frappé cost 2.50 euro and a 500 ml bottle of water was .50 euro cents.

Ios has 365 churches but 361 of them would need to wait for our next visit…so many churches on one tiny island so little time!

Syros was another island where the excursion we had chosen was cancelled so we were left DSC03326to our own devices but that wasn’t a big issue.  We were happy wandering around the villages ourselves.  Syros was an evening port of call so we thought it appropriate to sample the fare of the restaurants.  After strolling around several streets and alleys looking at menus we came across a very pretty alley and decided we will eat at one of these places.  We chose Kouzino and we certainly weren’t disappointed.  Lovely open air setting with tables covered in butchers paper…odd you’re thinking?  We thought it a little strange until we noticed the crayons in a pot on the table – something to keep the kids  occupied whilst waiting for dinner…..in our case it was the adults!!

We were surprised  to find the wife of the restaurant owner was an Australian.  We were all a little envious of her idyllic lifestyle.  Don’t we all dream about living on a beautiful Greek island eating the amazing fresh foods, soaking up the colours of the sea, the houses and the landscape?

The food at Kouzino was amazing, the service was friendly, good choices of wines, the evening was warm AND they let us draw on their tablecloth! What more could you want, oh, the prices, well it cost 35 euros for entrée, mains, one dessert (yes you guessed it Gorging Gonz) and a  bottle of wine. We voted this restaurant 5 out of 5….could not fault anything!!

Cape Sounion was one port I was very excited about.  This is where the Temple of Poseidon is situated on the edge of a very high cliff majestically facing the Saronic Gulf.  The sunsets are supposed to be magic but ours was a morning excursion but I didn’t mind I was just excited to be here. The Temple  was thought to be built around 440BC and knowing you’re  standing in the shadows of this massive man made structure over 2000 years old leaves you in awe. So many different emotions filled my mind as I walked around the building.  Thoughts of the craftsmen that created the Doric columns by hand, no modern machines to pattern the columns, the labourers assembling the columns and placing them in position.  Transporting the columns too…just so hard to comprehend the amount of effort required.  They did and amazing job and the view of the temple and the sea in the background is stunning, so stunning to the eye I’m sure the photos we took don’t do the view justice.   DSCN2969

Our guide was a little lacking in her approach for the english speaking tourists.  No surprise here when the english speaking were asked to wander around the Temple on our own and return to her in 40 minutes after she had completed her information session for the non english speaking on the excursion.  We wandered back at the allotted time.It was extremely windy on this headland so it was no surprise when the tour guide asked to borrow a woman’s pamphlet which also held her entrance ticket that it blew away when the guide opened the pamphlet.  We then watched as the guide ran after the ticket trying to retrieve it but, as in comedy sketches, the ticket would blow away in another direction just as she almost reached it.  Eventually it blew over a fence – so her souvenir of her visit was gone forever and we only received a 15 minute history lesson rather then the 40 minute the other group received.  Oh, well, I knew most of the history anyway and the wind was becoming annoying!  I was happy to head back down to the cafe and souvenir shop.

Back on board sitting playing UNO in our favourite bar with our favourite bartender we talked about the islands we’d visited, the state of the cruise in general and unanimously agreed our favourite island on this trip was Kos.  A week relaxing on Kos would be ideal.

I have enjoyed 5 cruises prior to this one including 2 with Louis cruises (owners of Celestyal Cruise Lines) and have never encountered excursions being cancelled or being offered when they weren’t available.  We were disappointed but as you have read we overcame the disappointment and enjoyed our own little excursions.

My final blog on this cruise of the Greek Islands will be a like/dislike blog requested by a number of my readers.  Also remember feedback is always welcome!