Working on the bucket list!

Niagara – another one off the bucket list:

 

Originally we were going to go to Niagara Falls by ourselves, but we ended up teaming up with Daryl and Denise who drove us there. It took about three hours to Niagara-on-the-lake, where we had lunch at an English-type pub called The Olde Angel Inn, where the food was enjoyable but the prices touristy.

As the Falls came into view, we could see why the Canadian Falls are better than the ones on the USA side. The Horseshoe formation gives a more spectacular flow of water. Erosion means the Falls move farther upstream with each passing eon, something we don’t have to worry about.

It’s almost obligatory to do the Maid in the Mist, so for a cost of $16.50 and armed with our ponchos we joined the queue that very afternoon to experience Niagara Falls. Apparently tour groups tend to congregate in the mornings so we didn’t have to wait more than half an hour. Being warned that we would get wet, I opted to take my runners off and tie the shoelaces together and go barefoot, hanging the runners over my bum bag under the protection of the poncho. This proved to be a good move, as the water made its way wherever it could. It was a challenge trying to take photos of the power and the majesty of the Falls, while trying to keep the poncho tucked around one’s neck and legs at the same time. The boat ride takes about half an hour, and by the end you feel quite exhausted but also exhilarated. This visit had been “on my list” for thirty years, and it was well worth seeing another of the Great Wonders of the World.

Denise had booked us into the Hilton Fallsview, with rooms overlooking the Falls. We were up on the 32nd floor, which afforded us a good view.  She had also cleverly found a voucher that gave us discounts on dinner, plus a winery tour the following day, for only an extra $20, making a grand total of $179 (plus tax).

 

 

Brazilian Dinner:

 

No matter what price we saw in both Canada and USA, we always had to remember that annoying phrase “plus tax” – from hotel bill to souvenirs to restaurants. That’s one thing I love about Australia, that the price you see is the price you pay.

Since the weather had turned inclement, we decided to go to a restaurant within the hotel complex. The Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse was a fantastic choice. It was a buffet with a difference, where food waiters would go around to each table with a different meat. At each place setting was a coaster with the Brasa logo, one side red and the other side green. When you wished for some meat, you turned the green up, so that they knew whether to offer you anything, and red when you needed some respite. Salads to accompany the meat dishes were at a buffet table, and we were extremely impressed with the quality of everything there. Choices of sirloin, ribeye, chicken, lamb, and even pineapple meant that we all overate. It was a brilliant concept, and magnificently executed.

 

 

 

Maple leaf country

O Canada:

We boarded American Airlines Flight AA3857 to Toronto with mixed feelings. Dutchy was looking forward to meeting his modern day penfriend (internet buddy) Denise and her husband Daryl. Denise picked us up at the airport, and we finally found where she had parked the car. Since we were all hungry, sharing a large tasty plate of nachos at a nearby restaurant made sense before making the long two-hour journey to their house in the country.

Stopping at Markdale about 16 kms from their place, we found an ATM to get some necessary Canadian money. It’s funny how every different currency looks like play money, but at least the Canadians have a bit of colour on theirs, unlike the greenbacks of the US. We arrived at Kimberley the Beaver Valley to their house with the amazing windows. It’s reminiscent of the Amityville Horror House, set on six acres.

 

Blue Mountain – the new top:

 

There is a place called Collingwood half an hour away in the Beaver Valley, and we went down there to the shoresof Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, where we visited the LCBO, their version of a bottle shop. Prices of alcohol here seemed quite reasonable.

Then we went to a ski resort called Blue Mountain, which looks pretty in autumn (or fall), and which would look magnificent covered in snow. We are not snow aficionados, and being cold doesn’t thrill us either. As it was, after the heat of New York and Orlando, the temperatures in Canada meant long-sleeved tops, jackets and jeans, although the Canadians were enjoying what they thought was warm weather! It’s all relative, depending on what you are used to and from whence you have come.

Of course if there are shops, one must enter them. It is an unwritten law, usually amongst females. As we came upon a little boutique named Echo Trends, I saw a long-sleeved top in the window that caught my eye, so in we went. There was a rack with some reduced items on it, and I rather liked a white jacket, laughing as I said, “Look, it’s only $235, reduced from $650.” I tried it on, but they didn’t have my size. I thought it’s probably better that they didn’t, at that price. Then I found the top from the window. It was a designer top with really interesting prints and appliqués on it. I just had to try it on, but that was probably where I went wrong. I loved it and had to have it, as it had such a lovely line to it and looked really good on. At $250 it is the most expensive top I have ever bought. Dutchy had to come in and have a look. He usually tempers my spending with realistic thinking, but somehow this time he didn’t. Maybe he was appreciative that I had been open to visiting Canada; maybe I felt like splurging because I had embraced the idea of visiting strangers?! Not only that, but Dana the designer was there, so without further ado I lashed out, deciding that instead of buying a lot of smaller souvenirs from Canada, maybe this would be the only one. Also, with the thought of excess baggage looming, this seemed a good solution. Yes, there’s always a maybe. I announced in the shop, “If I buy this, I promise I won’t buy anything else.. until tomorrow,” which left them all laughing. This purchase was the source of much frivolity and stirring over the next few days, especially when Dutchy described my designer piece as “only a long-sleeved t-shirt.”

Beaver Tail:

As we were heading towards the car, we spotted a stand that was selling Beaver Tails, which are an interesting delicacy. It appears to be made from dough, stretched really thinly and then lightly fried, after which toppings are added. I would call it a twist on a pancake but a little crispier. Others call it a Canadian donut in the shape of a beaver tail. Denise ordered one for us to share, and paid for it herself, as she knew I had certainly spent enough on my “long-sleeved t-shirt.” Apart from the name being a bit suspect, I added to it by asking the guy if I could take a photo of him while he stretched it, obviously meaning the dough, but being deliberately misconstrued by the company I was in, particularly Dutchy. When I had chosen the chocolate hazelnut option, I hadn’t realised that it would be basically a nutella spread over it, with a sprinkling of sugar. I enjoyed it though.

 

 

From a cocktail party to the hot tub:

On Friday evening we accompanied Daryl and Denise to Donna and John’s house to meet a group of their friends in the valley. This is a fairly regular summer ritual they share, because once the snow comes it is harder to entertain. After a very pleasant evening, with drinks and nibbles, we were going to have dinner “in,” after a soak in the hot tub.

Out in the country you can see so many more stars than in the city, and while it was cool outside, the temperature in the Jacuzzi was ideal. Drinks and hot water helped relax tired muscles. The apprehension any of us felt was unfounded, as within a couple of days we were all good pals. The next day everyone felt a little seedy, but we had cemented our friendship and we look forward to their visit one day to Australia.

Country Canada:

The following day Denise took me along the Bruce trail for a walk. They live on the Niagara escarpment, and this trail wends its way through private property so that a long walk, or hike, can be enjoyed by everybody. You only have to follow the white markers on the trees ahead to ensure you stay on the trail and avoid trespassing.

We went to an unusually shaped restaurant called Ted’s Range Road Diner, which looked like the old army bunkers from days gone by to enjoy a hamburger for lunch.

A feature of their area is Old Baldy, which is like part of a cliff face jutting out from the mountain, to which we later drove and then walked above, enjoying the view of the Beaver Valley and the green ski runs.

Trailer trash to a birthday bash:

The following day was Denise’s birthday, so we went up to their trailer at Arran Lake an hour away. In mid October the park closes as the lake freezes over and who would want to go there in freezing temperatures anyway? At this time of year it was very pleasant, and we had a barbecue and met their fun friends Pat and Dennis. Jokes were made about trailer trash, which was nowhere near the truth. Their trailer is more like a small French apartment – everything you need in a compact environment, but with lots of space around it, as they have added an outdoor deck on which to entertain.

We whiled away the afternoon chatting, before returning to go out to dinner with other friends, Kerry and Sue, to Munshaw’s Bistro. Munshaw’s is a restaurant run by Chef Paul and his family, who are very personable and we enjoyed the evening immensely.

A bottle of Champagne as her birthday gift, carefully brought over from France, was much appreciated by Denise, and the good thing for us was that it removed significant weight from Dutchy’s suitcase!

Last day in New York:

Never forget 9-11:

We paid an emotional visit to the area where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood. When I went there in 1981 I souvenired a leaflet, which declared “The closest some of us will ever get to heaven” – shades of the Titanic? There is a temporary memorial which will move to the currently being built Freedom Tower. There were moving stories to read and then we walked over to an exhibition of photographs, taken by professionals and amateurs of various aspects of the actual event and the aftermath. As I was nearly crying at the beginning of this, imagine how I felt by the end.

After having been here in 2001, just ten weeks after those horrific events, where you could see roads buckled far away from actual Ground Zero, it is an air of positive hopefulness that I could feel. At the service we had attended in Middle Town, they spoke not of victims, but of survivors. Construction of the Freedom Tower is in full swing, and there is a special memorial also being built. Life goes on.

 

 

 

Little Italy, New York:

Recommended by my good friend Teri, we made our way to Little Italy, to source out a restaurant she had recommended. Teri is a real foodie, and anything she suggests is usually a winner. Taking the subway, we alighted at Grand Canal and walked up to find Little Italy, past markets and various places selling all manner of things, avoided by me only because of my precarious baggage weight.

We saw that many stalls were being set up, as apparently the next day was the start of a big food festival in Little Italy. Da Nico’s was very reasonably priced and delicious, a fitting end to our stay in New York.

 

 

Luggage and Central Park

Luggage:

As baggage allowances keep looming over our heads every time we are about to take a flight, Dutchy thought it was time to change luggage. The suitcase he had brought with him was the very large one that Bridget had taken over to Brazil for a year, but which weighed 6kg on its own, plus the wheels were getting decidedly wobbly. He chose a brand called Black Paw, which was supposed to have been made by Samsonite. The salesman could have told us anything, because of course we would be leaving in a day or so, and what recourse would we have?  It was a taupe coloured hard case with an expansion zip and four wheels, weighing in at only a few kilograms, allowing more weight for actual luggage. Since he was using a big backpack as his hand luggage he lashed out and purchased a large cabin-sized trolley case also, to use instead. We had noticed that a lot of people travelling had huge hand luggage as well as other bags, none of which seem to be weighed at check-in.

I have researched that you can purchase extra baggage allowance with Qantas for $25 for a domestic flight, one which we will be taking from Sydney to Melbourne after the cruise. I have been dreading being overweight (in more ways than one) on our return, so this could be the answer. I’m going to look into upgrading to business class with Frequent Flyer points also, which would serve the same purpose and not cost actual dollars.

As we have been travelling, our Korjo digital scales have been invaluable in working out how to pack our suitcases, rearranging things so that the checked baggage remains close to the allocated 23 kg. I have thrown out clothes as I work my way around the world in order to keep around the right amount, but it is becoming increasingly difficult as I buy more stuff!

The irony of this purchase came at JFK airport, when Dutchy picked up his brand-new case to put on the weighing machine and the side handle came off!! I was so proud of him when he didn’t hit the roof in frustration or anger or any of those emotions. Anybody who knows Dutchy would see that he definitely is in holiday mode, though he still gets anxious about missing flights, understandably.

Central Park:

At first we had contemplated taking a walk through Central Park, but after the previous day dragging our suitcases along, we were a bit tired. We knew we also had a lot of walking to do later, so we paid $80 to our “driver” to be escorted on a thorough tour of Central Park in a bicycle driven carriage. The horse-drawn ones were a lot dearer, and this was quite cute. Our heads were covered by the shade, but the lower legs could be getting a little sunshine while we were on the move. He was an Asian-looking guy from Uzbekistan, a country next to Borat’s home of Kazakhstan, with a slight Russian accent. Every now and then I would need to clarify something with him, with me being the translator for Dutchy. One example was the “sheep meadow” which is now the only place in the park where animals cannot go, where people lie around and/or sunbake, but he thought our driver had said “sheet metal” and he was relieved I was there to translate.

Given the way we were feeling, this money was well-spent, because if we had walked, we may not even have made it to the centre of the park, we would have been really tired, and then we may be at the mercy of someone charging too much just to get us out of there. At least we knew up front what we were up for, and we learned a fair bit also. It was amusing near the beginning of the journey, where there was a building that he told us had a generator that was powered by people like him cycling. I did a double take before I realised he was joking and also testing out whether we were even listening. As we were, he probably then gave us more information than had we not picked him up on it.

There is a statue in the middle of the fountain that is the geographical centre of the island of Manhattan, and the 843 acres that is Central Park was designed via a competition.

New York Food and Entertainment

New York, New York:

Train in from New Jersey to New York was a lot cheaper than in 2001. Not only is our dollar better than parity, with us only receiving 51 US cents for our dollar back then, but we had the girls with us and we bought two days’ worth of return tickets. This trip one-way cost under $30! Imagine if you didn’t work it out properly and you took a plane between destinations, from NJ to NY, and then having to get to and from airports! The time and expense and waste of a day would be crazy.

In my infinite wisdom, to avoid escalators or stairs in the subway after arriving at Penn Station New York, I suggested we walk to the hotel up on 7th Avenue and 55th Street. I had envisaged it would take about ¾ hour, because I had google-mapped directions which said walking would be half an hour. Tired hot bunnies finally arrived after an hour at their destination, the Wellington Hotel. Check-in time was ridiculously late, at 3pm, so we had to sit around awhile waiting for our room, which they upgraded to a king-size bed.

Out of all the accommodation we have had through this trip, I think the shower at the Wellington was the best, with wonderful water pressure. It also had a bath, very necessary at times after lots of walking.

On Broadway:

Hitting the street after a cup of tea with our trusty travel kettle, we made our way down to 47th Street and Broadway to “Tkts” where you queue up after 3pm to buy reduced price tickets for one of the shows. We bought tix for “Rock of Ages” for $76 each (plus tax), a saving of 40%, which played at the Helen Hayes theatre. A girl was handing out vouchers for free Tequila once you had purchased your ticket. We availed ourselves of this offer, as this was the one we had already decided to go to. I love an unexpected bonus. We had been told we were nine rows from the front, so we thought that sounded special, but it turned out we were also six or seven rows from the back, as it was a small theatre! It had an intimate feel about it, as we brought our Margharita in its plastic cup to our comfortable seats. I enjoy this trend of taking song hits and building a live musical around it. In this way it was similar to Mamma Mia, but with 80’s songs and a lot of comic relief. A few moustached men were in it too, so I was happy!

Carnegie Hall? No, take me to Carnegie Deli:

Diagonally across the road from our hotel sat the renowned Carnegie Deli. The walls are totally covered with autographed, framed photos of celebrities. We shared a Reubens open sandwich which was delicious. The waiter brought out a bowl of dill pickles to start, which is a tradition and quite tasty. Dutchy is a great fan of “Man versus Food” in which Katz’s Deli is visited, but this was far more convenient and probably very similar.

This ended up being a very late lunch or early dinner, as we had to be at the theatre by 7pm, so when the show had finished we returned to the Deli and purchased a piece of Baked New York cheesecake with strawberries. It cost $12.95 but they cut the huge serving in half and placed them into two containers to take away, with a plastic fork and serviette. That way we could have it for supper in our room, with a cup of tea. Dutchy thought he didn’t really like baked cheesecake, but obviously he had a previous bad experience. He is a convert now, as can be testified to by the fact that the following night we shared the Truffle Torte cheesecake for dinner!! Decadent but delicious.

 

New Jersey

From Amsterdam to Dusseldorf to New Jersey:

Picking us up from Newark Airport was my dear friend Teri, whom I met in 1981 when I had a Eurail Pass and backpacked around Europe for two months. I had been travelling on my own and we shared a carriage from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf. We can both chat, and the three hours just flew. As a family we visited Teri and Frank in 2001, and then I returned with my sister in 2003.

Going to the store for the American cookout:

Beautiful weather allowed for a barbecue on their deck, with their fun friends Janet and Ted. Earlier I had gone shopping to the “store” with Teri for supplies. Because I had run out of chewing gum I was asking for “chewy” and they found it amusing. It really is amazing how many words we pronounce differently as well as what we call things, as in the USA they call it “gum.” Shopping for alcohol I was impressed at how much cheaper it is in the USA. Australia is renowned for too many taxes on drinks. I found a double sized bottle, yes one and a half litres, of one of my favourite Australian merlots, Yellowtail, and it only cost US $10.99, plus tax. The pleasant evening flew.

What shall we do today? Plan A-Z

After we had been to ten-year-old Frankie’s practice for flag football, there were big discussions on when we would have dinner. It’s hard co-ordinating a large family and the daughters’ boyfriends and overseas guests with most suitable times and arrangements, especially when we had decided to go to the 9-11 tenth anniversary memorial service in the centre of Middletown.

Teri and I ended up going shopping while the guys went to the driving range. At the running store I purchased a new pair of Asics runners, which they call training shoes, to replace the ones I had been wearing. I did that with a few items on this trip. I also replaced a black camisole with a new one that has a beige abstract floral lacy part at the top, and goes very well with the skirt and sandals I brought with me.

The men met us at Billabong to look at watches and sunglasses for Dutchy, both of which need replacement. I told them all that Billabong was Australian, and finally I found information that said it was founded on the Gold Coast in the early 1970’s. We found a potentially suitable watch but thought we would look elsewhere as well, which took us to Macy’s at Monmouth Mall. Bingo, we managed to find a Seiko watch that was on clearance, reduced from $200 to $125. In this part of the world though, the price is marked before tax, so make sure you factor that in when shopping. Because we were from overseas, the saleswoman sent us upstairs to obtain a special voucher that gave us a 10 percent discount, thereby almost covering the tax.

Hooray for clearance sales: I managed to get a tankini and bikini bottom in a beautiful royal blue reduced at the end of the season, for under $20. Now I can throw out the brown ones I brought with me.

America remembers:

It was a sobering ceremony we attended, to commemorate 9-11 ten years ago to the day, where Middletown lost 37 people. Unfortunately we were standing for the whole hour, on top of the standing at Frankie’s practice earlier that day for over an hour. Walking is better for my Achilles than standing.

Thanksgiving dinner:

The family gathered for a pre-thanksgiving dinner, beautifully prepared by Teri. Since we don’t celebrate this occasion in Australia, it was a great idea. The pictures speak for themselves, with a spread of turkey, broccoli gratin, kugel, stuffing, sweet potatoes and cranberry jelly, followed by delicious cakes from The Flaky Tart.

Monday, Monday:

As Teri was teaching for the day, we stayed at the Massa Resort, enjoying blogging, their treadmill, some Body Balance and their swimming pool. Later, when she returned Teri drove Frankie and me to visit her mother Edna, who is 91 and amazing for her age. On my request she played a mini recital for me on the piano, still a magnificent pianist. It has inspired me to start practising again.

Dutchy and Frank bonded over Monday night football, which Australians call Gridiron to differentiate between our Australian Rules and theirs, which is entirely different. They drank Bourbon and did the obligatory “half-time hot tub.” Meanwhile Caitlin did a Keratin hair straightening treatment in my hair for a reduced price while we watched the remake of “Arthur” upstairs in her bedroom.

                                    

From Bahama Breeze to Disney World

Bahama Breeze:

Sharing a car park with our hotel meant it was not far to walk over to Bahama Breeze, a rather nice restaurant, for dinner.  A tropical ambience was evident, and the food was in generous portions, consisting of Coconut Shrimp and the Breeze salad for me, and chicken sliders, which were strips of chicken in small sweet buns for Dutchy. We were supposed to be sharing all the dishes, but that crumbed shrimp with the citrus-mustard sauce was mainly eaten by me, as they were such delicious morsels.

For the third time that day we didn’t have something sweet. Earlier we were tempted to have some fudge from Honeydukes at Harry Potter World, but didn’t, mainly because I was depressed about the recent discovery of the loss of my glasses, then later some afternoon tea, but decided the prices were rather exorbitant and we didn’t really need anything because we were about to leave the Park, and then after the generous portions at the restaurant we decided to forgo dessert and perhaps have cheesecake and Key Lime Pie for afternoon tea on our lazy day planned for between theme parks, which we did the following day.

Disney World:

We took the shuttle at 9.15am to Epcot, with a return time of 6.15pm set for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s hard to estimate exactly when you may want to leave, and to change the pickup time you had to give two hours’ notice. Realistically, though we had the Park Hopper which allowed us access to all four parks, we decided to forgo Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom and split the day between the other two parks.

I hate to admit it, but the Disney Magic has been somewhat extinguished for me. Why? Have I been too many times? Because I had desperately wanted to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disney World had been added to the agenda because it was also in Orlando, but now we agree we have had our fill. I never thought I would say that, but never say never.

However, we enjoyed the day, but funnily one of the highlights was visiting “France” for lunch. The staff all spoke French so I was happy to practise my favourite language, and delighted when I was told that I spoke French very well. We loved the cheese platter, baguette, tarte au fraises and the Napoleon. Perhaps the Americans cannot pronounce “millefeuille” successfully, so they have renamed it after Bonaparte? Delicious either way.

Disappointed that the Studio Backlot Tour had been cancelled due to refurbishment, we found another interesting thing to see, American Idol. It was done realistically, with three (American) contestants who had auditioned earlier in the day. That night they would have a winner from the heats who would receive a golden ticket to be at the head of the queue for auditions for the next real American Idol – shades of Willy Wonka.

Dutchy’s not big on rides, though his stomach can stand really hot and spicy food. I, on the other hand, don’t like my food too piquant, and yet I love roller coasters. Drop-type rides no, but up and down and over and round with g-forces thrown in excites me, such as the Aerosmith Rock’n’Roller. We filled in the rest of the day easily, when after being hot all day, suddenly the heavens opened an hour before pickup. We actually enjoyed the respite, sitting under an umbrella at a table being entertained by piped music from old television shows as diverse as Mission Impossible to the Addams Family. I managed to scrawl down this blog which was good time management, and at the end of the day was proud of myself that the only one souvenir I had purchased was what I had planned before I even left home – a movie clapper board.  Another season has ended but there are always fond memories.