Las Vegas – “Sin City”

Well, here we are in Las Vegas and had we known how much energy you need to explore “Sin City” in 43 degrees we would have got ourselves a prescription for “performance enhancing drugs” to prepare for it. This crazy place has 45 million visitors a year and 150,000 hotel rooms to accommodate them. The population of Vegas is 2 million. We are staying at Treasure Island which is in a good position on “the strip”. The strip is about 4.2 km long. On the way here Elvis is playin on this ‘ere bus to get us into the groove for “the Vegas experience”.We arrived in the afternoon and checked into the enormous Treasure Island Hotel. Just to get to the room you have to walk a distance past several restaurants and the very large casino. It is pure madness with a parade of trolley cases making their way to the elevators all day and all night.

So – out we go and we are gonna tolerate this heat because we have to do what everyone does here and that is walk the strip. Ken the tour guide has given us all a lesson on what to see. He has also told us that there are people on every corner giving out cards to men to entice them to meet up with “a lady of the night” let’s just say! Well in two days the boss only got approached 3 times. To be honest, he thought he was going to get a collection of those cards! The first day he didn’t get approached at all and wondered why. I told him it was because I was behind him making an angry fist at each of these guys as soon as they produced a card in his direction!! Not good for his ego tho!!!  

Everything you can imagine has been recreated here in Vegas. We visited the Venetian – well that is Venice recreated with gondolas, the Rialto bridge and shopping plaza; the Eiffel Tower is here with a replica of a cafe from the Champs Élysées in front of it; Caesar’s Palace has recreated Rome with its famous statues and who would have thought that the 12 apostles are sitting above Vatican City right here in Sin City! Well actually, on a closer look we notice a few of the “apostles” are naked so I am not sure what happened here. To get to the shopping plaza here at Caesar’s Palace you go on an escalator which ascends and descends in a spiral. There are magnificent fountains like the Bellagio fountains which we watched 3 times because each sequence to the music was different and amazing. We visited Penn hotel where the entire enormous foyer is a magnificent garden with the most beautiful flowers and plants, fountains and luxury in every corner. The Cosmopolitan hotel has the biggest chandelier in the world and there is a bar within it.

Now the people are something else – there are girls dressed in very little as Moulin Rouge dancers, cops, etc. I got distracted at one point and put my sunglasses on over the top of my other glasses and this was all because Elvis had come back to life before my very eyes. I can also report that Michael Jackson is here too – about a dozen of him actually. There are also versions of fat Elvis and thin Elvis. Mickey and Minnie come out at night and various other creatures wearing things that are very odd and often made out of very little if you get the drift! I swear some of these girls are suffering from memory loss (like us) and got up this morning and forgot to put on the shorts and top and are wandering around here in 43 degrees in their underwear! I can tell y’all that anything goes here in this city in the middle of the dessert. You know there is nothing much around Vegas but Vegas – it was created here in Nevada in the desert.

The boss isn’t very happy with me actually because I am having a problem with the cards to get into the rooms. I keep losing them and last night I found a collection of them in the little bag I only use when we go out at night. Now I am in a quandary as to whether I admit to him I have found this little collection or just shut up about it! Another problem that has arisen is that each day we move on we have the huge task of remembering what floor we are on and, even more importantly, what our room number is. We get out of the lift and turn left instead of right (or is it reft instead of light!!!) and run straight into a window or a wall! I wish I had packed the Tom Tom!

Last night we went to Cirque du Soleil “Mystere” at our hotel. This show has been playing here for about 15 years and was one amazing show. The stage went up and down in all sorts of shapes and forms; things appeared from the roof and sides of the theatre; performers were astonishing with the things they did and we were blown away with the whole performance and so glad we went. We went out onto the strip after the show to view the lights and I can tell y’all that it was over 30 degrees late at night! This place doesn’t seem to cool down in any fashion and the girls are still parading wearing itsy bitsies; the men are still handing out the cards and Elvis is still alive!

Yesterday we had a great excursion to the Hoover Dam. This is considered by many to be a marvel of engineering second only to the great pyramids of Egypt. We went in a big pink jeep but this time we weren’t jiggling around on a bench because it was very comfortable. We travelled out through Boulder City with the heat haze from the fires burning in California clouding the landscape a little. Boulder City was built to accommodate the workers who built the Hoover Dam. Originally, the workers who arrived to work on the dam lived in tents in the desert with their families. That would have been tough. Anyway, it has developed into a nice little city with a population of 15,000. The houses are nice – some are large. Apparently prior to the GFC the average 3-bedroom house was worth $325,000. It dropped after the GFC to $125,000. The effects of the GFC here in the US have been dramatic in places. A little bit of trivia too – property owners pay 1% of the value of the house in a combined property and schooling tax. Now Boulder City is quite a beautiful small city and Oprah Winfrey clearly agrees with me because she has a house here.

We arrived at the security checkpoint for Hoover Dam where all vehicles and persons get checked for bombs or any other device which threatens security. It appears that since 9/11 the security industry has grown because these checks are commonplace and searches are carried out before you enter many of these places of significance. Hoover Dam is truly enormous and, of course, the boss understands all this engineering but even for a dummy in the matter of physics like me it is impressive. The walls of the dam are 600 feet thick at the bottom and 45 feet thick at the top, and with no steel reinforcing! The lake level here on Lake Mead has dropped 120 feet and the states of Arizona and Nevada, which the dam spans, use all sorts of methods to conserve water. When we saw all those fountains playing in Las Vegas we wondered about that but they do and have won awards for it. The water is way more important to them than the power. Hoover Dam has 17 turbines and generates enough power for 1.2 million homes and to irrigate 2 million acres. By the time it was completed in 1935 6.6 million tons of cement had been poured into this dam which reaches a height of 726 feet above the canyon floor. At that time it was the tallest dam in the world and 96 men lost their lives during the build. Contrary to rumour, and the movie, no bodies are buried within that cement!

The boss thought he would just have a little go with $20 at the casino. Trouble was we wandered around and couldn’t work out how to play the slot machines and it was too late to enrol in a course to help us, although the TV in the room has an abundance of channels showing you how to play all the games under the sun. I tell you everywhere you go in this city there are casinos. Las Vegas is full of hotels, restaurants, shows, crazy people and casinos, casinos, casinos.

Breakfast is sometimes as big an education as ze problem of ze bathrooms. This morning, for example, the buffet restaurant was enormous and you get your morning exercise by doing three laps of the blimmin place just trying to find the cup of tea. This morning we did three laps trying to find fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereal and milk. The milk really got us – we had to employ help to actually find the milk machine even though it was labelled in huge letters. But then you had to place your bowl or cup under it and we felt like we were in a cowshed. There was a big stainless bar attached to this jolly machine. Well, we pushed, we pulled, we lifted it up and down and then the waitress clearly noticed the Kiwi oddballs struggling to get a drop of milk and came to our assistance! By the time you get everything you want you sink into your seat exhausted. We are also odd apparently because we don’t have three courses at breakfast time. You can have everything from bacon, sausages, fried potatoes, eggs etc to waffles, pancakes, every type of pastry on the market, fruit pies, muffins the size of a softball and every type of coffee, herbal tea or soda pop, slushies etc. But I can tell y’all that you try finding a piece of bread to make toast and English Breakfast tea and you have an enormous problem! You can do 10 laps of the buffet and sometimes not find that!

I divert for a minute because we are currently travelling in the desert and passing the jail where OJ Simpson is on vacation so we wave to OJ and I can tell y’all that there would be no fear of anyone escaping from this institution. For one thing there is nowhere to go or hide for miles and miles!

Today we have been “promoted” to the front seat on the coach and Tutti Fruitti is drivin along ‘ere with her HUGE tumbler of soda to keep her going! We have left sin city behind and we are happy that today the temperature drops to around 35 degrees. Yay! Oh deary me – we are drivin along ‘ere in the desert – nothing around us and then suddenly we see a HUGE sign for a brothel – right beside a place selling fireworks! Imagine that!!!!! There is nothing else around except for brothels and fireworks! Can you belieeeeeve it?

On a more serious note, as I write this our bus has broken down right on the edge of Death Valley. An alarm sounded and it turns out one of the fan belts has broken. We are presently at the side of the road here and the temperature is soaring to just over 100 degrees F. The tour guide and bus driver have been trying to contact the company to get some help pretty urgently because there are 29 people on this bus now with no air conditioning. We have all been outside to see if it is better but it is seriously hot and the breeze is hot. The update is that they are trying to get a belt that will fit and a mechanic from Tonopah which is about 1 1/2 hours away so we are going nowhere. Everyone is keeping up the fluids and another bus has just stopped to see if it can help but no luck. Mechanic arrived but didn’t bring the right tools so had to travel on to Beatty to get some. Eventually, after 2 1/2 hours sitting here in this pretty extreme heat the mechanic managed to fix the belt and it took all of 1 minute! Tutti’s next job is to turn this big bus on this narrow road. Not a heap of traffic here so she manages to get us turned so we can go back to Beatty and get some food and relief for a while because we are all very hot and the clothes are soaking wet.

On we go after getting cooled down but we have a big distance to travel on this long straight road as far as the eye can see. We pass salt flats and Joshua trees which provide no shade at all in this vast landscape. Some big dust devils are sweeping along the side of this very long straight road. In the midst of this we just saw a sign “For Sale – 4 acres”. Now the boss has a brilliant idea. He thinks he could buy this and set up a shop selling drinks in large containers, food and fan belts! Suddenly upfront there is a big truck rig swerving all over the road. We think the driver is having trouble staying awake.

We pass Goldfield which is an historic town with tumbledown cottages and huge yards of car wrecks which have been abandoned on this desert highway after they broke down. We get to Tonopah, a mining town with a population of 25,000. This is an interesting small town because it is here they do testing for the stealth bombers and also missile testing.

We turn off this longggggg highway 95 and onto 6 to and we start to head towards the mountains to exit the state of Nevada and back into California passing a large borax quarry on the way beside the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are considered the most stunning mountain range in the west and, oh my goodness, the landscape is becoming green and after days in the desert it looks magnificent. Suddenly it is raining when we get up to 7500 ft and we make our way to Mammoth Mountain and our lodge at the base of this rather large ski field. It has been a long day with unexpected excitement on the way. However, a meal and a welcome drink is awaiting us we are told so the company have handled this well.

Canyon Country – Arizona

We depart Kachina Lodge and travel out along the Desert View Trail around the rim and the Cameron Trading Post for a lunch stop. This is a big trading post run by the Navajo. We have been driving through land beside Indian Reservations (in this area there are 27,000 square miles of Indian Reservations) and at the side of the road we pass little markets selling jewellery and pottery. The jewellery is made from turquoise and silver and the pottery is in the colours of the clay and rock – shades of blues, greens, oranges, browns. Housing is basic with tiny simple houses propped on rock and sand. The drive is picturesque through the painted desert valley and on to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon and our accommodation is right on the edge of the enormous lake. Lake Powell is a reservoir which straddles the states of Arizona and Utah and there is a large dam called the Glen Canyon Dam. Our visit begins with a truly awesome boat cruise through the Glen Canyon. It is difficult to describe because the beauty of the huge canyon was amazing and, like the Grand Canyon, photos just cannot do it justice. It is a curious ensemble of amazing features – the huge rock with its patterns formed by water and wind towers above the boat; there are alcoves in the rock; there are huge jagged pieces stretching out from the walls; there are large cracks indicating the passage of time and events (mainly floods) and there are colour and strata changes everywhere you look. When we got to a narrowing of the canyon the skipper had to turn the boat in a very small space – so small you could literally reach out and touch the sides of the canyon – if you were silly enough! Of course, the boss just loved being in this ‘ere boat too!  

Today we had an early start to travel in to Page, a bustling little city here in what is known as Canyon Country. Page was established in 1957 to house workers who built the mighty Glen Canyon Dam here on the Colorado River and the second biggest dam after the Hoover Dam. We set off for a visit to the Antelope Canyon – another remarkable marvel of nature. We were taken by the Navajo owned company in open jeeps out of the city and then over a dusty sandy road in the desert and we jiggled along hanging on for dear life to get to the slot canyon here in the American Southwest. This has been featured on National Geographic and if you Google it you will see some pretty awesome photos. We then came back for breakfast and time to do the chores which involved getting out the amazing Scrubba bag and the blow up coathanger and putting the washing on the verandah to dry in about 30 minutes!  

We then set off for a raft trip on the river by the dam and in the Glen Canyon. We were taken two miles down a tunnel to descend 700 feet to the river and into the boat which took us 12 km up down the river observing the amazing sandstone walls of the canyon. We had a stop at a little beach for some cooling off time and I can tell you that even though we were melting in 41 degrees in that boat, the water was freezing!! Even so, when you are as hot as we were it was necessary to get in the water and put up with the pain of the toes aching just to cool ourrrrselves a little.  

The boss was pretty happy that we descended down in a tunnel where he could not see just how far down those blimmin rocks we were travelling! Otherrrrwise I can tell y’all that he would have been stayin at the top of those cliffs and not havin a barrrrr of this excursion!

So it was back via a stop a Safeways to get cold beers and lemonade and sit in our cool room and drink shandies to replenish the fluid – as you do!

Now the Hillary and Donald soap opera continues this week with the Democrat Convention in Philadelphia – a place we visited a few weeks ago. Oh yes – this roadshow (and the GOP Republican one which has just finished) has completely dominated the papers and TV channels here. In fact you would honestly think there was nothing else going on in the world – you flick through the TV channels and about eight are simultaneously running the same stories – ie the next chapter in the Hillary and Donald drama! Thank goodness the boss managed to find the Tour de France channel which was a very welcome relief!

We have crossed into the state of Utah now as we make our way to Bryce Canyon and the “Bonanza” music has been playing ‘ere on the bus! We are still in the desert with its expanse of orange sand and sage plants and we have just lost an hour. We are now in the heart of Mormon country and staying at Kanab which is a small western town and the Cowboys are evident – in fact the boss is regretting not packing his holster and leather vest with the fringes!!! To get there we drove through the Red Canyon in Dixie National Park to add to the woven tapestry of scenic places we are enjoying.

Bryce Canyon is a very different landscape with distinctly red rock formations with the hoodoos balancing on high towers of rock. It truly looks like a movie setting. The hoodoos are formed by water trickling into the rock and freezing. During the day the ice melts and water trickles into the soft rock and then freezes again so making a bigger crack. Over time water and ice chip away at the rock forming walls, then openings develop to form windows. When the top of a window breaks a freestanding tower is left behind – hence a hoodoo. Now, as you can see we are getting a crash course in geology ‘ere in this amazing place! We finished the day at a foot tappin country and westerrrrrn show and dinnerrrr and then outside to see the stars which were meant to shine brightly in the darkest place in the west – trouble was at 9.15 pm the sun was only just goin down.

Then it was on to Zion National Park – a magnificent park here in Utah. We drive through a mile-long tunnel and then switchbacks to get to the floor of this canyon which is primarily Navajo sandstone towering 800-1000 feet above us as we do the 2 mile walk to where the canyon narrows so much you would need to wade the river to continue. Several rockfalls are evident here but the walk is magnificently picturesque and in the shade (which is a relief on a 43 degree day) and fairly flat.  

We crossed into the State of Nevada very briefly for a comfort stop in Mesquite – temperature 43 degrees. I can tell y’all that we are excited any day when we see that the temperature ‘ere is less than 38 degrees!

We are now truckin right on in to Sin City – so Las Vegas ‘ere we come!

Grand Canyon, Arizona

We left LA to make our way to Palm Springs and the landscape changed very quickly. Suddenly there were vast plains of rock and sand surrounded by large barren mountains and a vivid blue sky. Not much grows in these conditions except for cacti, Joshua trees and creosote bushes. The Colorado River is the source of life for this dry Arizona desert. The landscape didn’t change for hours, then suddenly the green paddocks of alfalfa and date palms suddenly woke us from a little slumber because the change of colour in the landscape was a surprise.
Palm Springs – an oasis in the desert and a population of 42,000 and 354 days of sunshine a year. As we hop off the air conditioned coach we step into a sauna of 112 degrees Fahrenheit or 41 degrees Celsius. The first sign that we are in a rather hot climate was that the shop fronts are spraying out water as you walk along the road and I can tell you that after 20 seconds we are ready for it! However, the temperature was so hot that the spray was almost evaporating before it hit us. After about 20 minutes of walking we escaped into a Museum to get some relief from the heat – another 20 minutes of walking and into Ben & Jerry’s for a BIG smoothie! We chose to forget about the calories today! Who cares? In these temperatures we will do anything to cool down! Those people brave enough to walk their dogs here actually put booties on the dogs to protect their paws from getting cooked. On the journey again and another stop in Ehrenberg by the Colorado River and we are entertained on the journey by the dust devils or little twisters that are noticeable in the huge expanse of sand as they dance along the landscape.

Arizona is HOT and there are a huge number of big truck rigs on the journey. When we make a stop at a truck stop along the way for the usual queue at the restrooms, looking under the doors for feet etc, we notice that the drinking cups here are HUGE. No such thing here as a small bottle or glass of drink – the body obviously needs fluid and not just a small amount. The cups resemble small buckets actually!

So onto Lake Havasu and we are amazed to see this lake in the middle of this enormous expanse of sand, dust and rocks and we arrive at London Bridge Hotel – yes a wealthy American purchased London Bridge many years ago and rebuilt it right here in the desert! Can you belieeeeeve it? Well, we could but the walk down to it to take the photo was like being in the sauna. The photo was a quick one and then off to find the closest restaurant we could because the heat was intense. We ordered the 12 oz beer and 7-Up – 2 of them in fact! We did the washing and hung it out on the verandah and 1 hour later brought it in dry as a bone!

We now travel to the Grand Canyon – oh deary me in the middle of the desert we come upon a Land Sales office – what on earth is this about? Well, I am thinking you could buy as much land as you want but what on earth would you do with it? The boss isn’t tempted so that’s a huge relief because unless you could build an igloo I would not have a bar of it!!

We are now on Route 66 and the music is playing on the coach. Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles when it was built during the depression when people in Oklahoma needed to travel to California to get work – it officially became a highway in 1956 and is 2451 miles long. It was designed to enjoy the journey – it wasn’t the destination but rather the journey that was important. (If you went to see the Disney movie “Cars” it was really about Route 66). The highway went through little towns that grew into interesting stops for people travelling the route. As Nat King Cole said “you get your kicks on Route 66”. However, Dwight Eisenhower introduced autobahns or highways. He decided that cargo etc needed to be moved efficiently so the motorways now bypass a lot of the towns that were part of Route 66. Of course, the small towns eventually suffered because the traffic wouldn’t divert off the highway to visit them. So Route 66 is now not officially classified as a highway and parts of it have deteriorated.

Now the boss is almost dancing around today because Tutti Fruitti (she is the driver of this coach) called him a “young man” this morning. Well, she certainly needs to go to Specsavers, but he took the compliment and it has surely gone to his head! She didn’t call me “young lady” so he might be looking for a Trade In!! We’ll see about that! Now he has revved it up a notch and is singing along with the music playing in the bus here which is all the Route 66 stuff and he is almost dancing in the seat! Oh well – he’s sure getting his kicks on Route 66 but he’ll get over that when we get up to 7000 feet and he is struggling to breathe!

Next stop is Williams for lunch and as the altitude increases the landscape changes and we start to see a little green grass, juniper trees and as we get higher lots of Ponderosa pines. So the brown landscape gives way to green which isn’t lush but which makes it seem like at last there is life in the land. There are just a few cattle on the ranches and a bit more civilisation out here. Williams, Arizona, is an old logging town which bears the grim distinction of being the last place along the old route to be bypassed by the highway. It was here Route 66 officially ceased to be in 1984. The fur trade was alive and well here many years ago with beaver supplying the fur for those felt tip hats that were high fashion here. As we cross these plains we see curtains of rain falling in the distance and lightning strikes.

So here we are in the Grand Canyon staying right on the rim and we do a walk up and down the rim by the Bright Angel Trail near our hotel with the one in charge of the B’s staying right back from that rim. He managed to look out at the Canyon but certainly not look straight down, where in places it goes down one mile. To look out at this enormous Canyon is like looking at scenery on a grand scale with the rose coloured hues blending with the green and grey of the rock and 2 billion years of geographic history before your eyes. This ancient wilderness of rock is an ever changing palette of colour and light and as the afternoon progresses into evening the colours change. It is one amazing sight and no photos do it justice. People trek down right to the depths of the canyon and there are also mule treks available at different times of the year. Going down is one thing but coming back up would be entirely another and is certainly not for the faint hearted. 

I need to tell you something – the apprentice has had an epiphany……he has seen the Grand Canyon from top to bottom; left to right; he has seen the rocks up real close; he has ridden a mule to the depths of it; he has soared over it and dived deep down into it and he is so proud of himself. He did all this by purchasing a DVD at the souvenir shop. After presenting this to me when I arrived back from a walk to the rim and up to a lookout he told me that actually, if he had managed to get to the rim and he did have the misfortune to slip, because he has grown into a little round man he would have rolled down to the bottom of this ‘ere canyon and possibly up the other side without injury!!! On a sadder note, we saw a notice on a post in the park – a photo of a lady missing on the Blue Angel Trail since April this year.

I can tell ya’awl that we are having a right Westie experience ‘ere in the Arizona desert from the Davy Crockett and cowboy hats to the big buckle belts and neckties. Next stop Lake Powell, Glen Canyon and Bryce Canyon so more challenges for the apprentice!

Los Angeles

Now yesterday I told you that the Americans are stunned when you say you are from Noooooo Zeeeeeelund. They look at you as if you are a bit freaky (well perhaps we are of course). It is weird. Yesterday we were sitting in the bus on our tour to Ste Anne Canyon – we were the only non-Americans and the tour guide asked where everyone was from. So the lady sitting behind us taps us on the shoulder and tells us that she plays cards on the Internet with a lady who lives in our very own country. “Now tell me where in Nooooo Zeeeeelund do you live?” So we explain where we live and ask where her card-playing companion lives. “Well she lives in a town there that is very near Australia!” Heaven forbid. So we name the towns down the west coast that “are very near Australia” for her but no – it didn’t register at all.
I need to tell you something about ze bathroom. Actually specifically the public bathrooms. This is perplexing. They do not have something on the door indicating vacant/engaged – so you never know if the cubicle is vacant or not. This means almost every time you go into the “Ladies” you see little old ladies like me bending down trying to look under the door to see if any feet are in there. I feel like writing to the Minister in Charge of Public Conveniences to tell him/her that they need to contact the door handle company in Noooooo Zeeeeeelund and order several thousand of those simple little catches that will inform people if it is safe to go in and save little old ladies like me putting their back out just to see if it is safe to go to the loo. Unbelieeeeevable. These are the amazing experiences you get when you travel!

On Saturday we disembarked the ship in Montreal and flew over Milwaukee, Cedar Rapids, Colorado Springs and the mountains of Colorado where snow is still in the valleys. We flew over Bryce Canyon which was like looking down on a vast brown plateau of jagged pieces of a jigsaw puzzle not quite fitting together and then over the mountains of San Bernadino before landing in Los Angeles. Now we are back in the land of cars and 12-lane highways.

Sunday we had an absolute treat and the highlight of our adventure here. Larry and Cengiz are friends we made on the Tour de France trip in 2010 and they were with us again in France in 2013 and are two wonderful guys. We were picked up from our hotel at Redondo Beach at 7.45 and taken to a French Cafe for breakfast followed by a tour in Larry’s brand new Mercedes 4WD to Malibu, Santa Monica and Redondo beaches.  Larry showed the apprentice where he does his long rides on quiet roads but steady climbs.  He took us to Beverley Hills and we walked the beautiful shops of the famous Rodeo Drive – with the boss confiscating the VISA!!! Actually, I was afraid to even step into the shops because I had forgotten to polish the tiara and wear it and I can tell you I didn’t dare turn over a price tag in case I fainted on the spot! We went past Pepperdine University, Brentwood and admired the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean and I can report that when you see house numbers 25464 you know you are on a very very long boulevard! We were then taken to their house in the beautiful Rancho Palos Verdes – a gorgeous suburb with a Spanish influence on the hills above Redondo Beach and looking out to the Pacific Ocean. There we enjoyed a wine or two in the garden overlooking the sparkling sea and then to the Trump golf course for dinner also overlooking the ocean but with the added attraction of a whale which surfaced just for us! The boss had spent 7 days on the ship looking for whales!! To complete a great day we watched the beautiful sunset over Redondo beach ending the best day we have had since leaving home.  It was fabulous to spend a day with our very dear friends Larry and Cengiz.  Perhaps we might meet up with them in France sometime or we may even see them in NZ!

Now – ze bathroom. I have to tell you this because it is truly unbeleeeeeevable. At their magnificent home I had to use the bathroom (as you do) and the first indication that this might be a challenge was that when I opened the door the toilet seat lifted itself to “welcome” me! Heaven forbid – didn’t expect that and it freaked me out. Anyway, I sat – seat was warm and I was thinking that this was a pretty good bathroom. However, there was a rather flash and shiny panel beside the toilet which took my eye. It had options: Rear cleansing; rear cleansing soft; front cleansing; arrows to go up or down!!; pressure buttons to give more or less; then drying options – oscillating; pulsating. Well, this took a little while to work out you know because you have to try everything don’t you and I can report that all this really “tickled my fancy” – literally! I had to regain my composure some several minutes later and exit this room, collect my camera and go back and photograph all this technology. Then I sent the boss in to see if he could work it all out and tickle his fancy too! That bathroom should get an academy award in my humble opinion!
So now we have joined our next tour group and yay!! Eleven Kiwis join us and off we set this morning to do the tour of LA which we have seen before but I tell the boss that at our age we can do with a little repetition and reinforcement so we can remember it. We did the Hollywood strip where the Stars have stars in the pavement to commemorate their wonderfulness and there was hype in overdrive from the moment we set foot on the strip so we escaped up the stairs that the Academy Award nominees walk up to get to the theatre to receive those statues and make their speeches and we found a little oasis of nice shops and less people and had a little walk around. Tomorrow we leave early for Lake Havasu and the Grand Canyon National Park which means hot temperatures in the 40’s, keeping the hydration up and wearing very comfortable light clothes so we don’t melt into the pavement

New England Cruise

Bar Harbour – Maine

Well here we are aboard the ship and it is good to unpack the bags for a week. Of course the new challenge is – you guessed it folks! So this one has so many levers and taps that we heard at dinner that one couple had to phone for the cabin attendant to get a lesson in getting water to come out in the right place. Well…….. I asked them to repeat the instructions 25 times so I could at least remember half of it and save the drama of ze bathroom. Voila – it only took 5 minutes to get it all set up and, can you belieeeeeve it but warm water we have coming out of the right shower rose! Couldn’t believe it myself actually but it just goes to show that practice makes perfect – almost!

Anyway, first stop was Bar Harbour, Maine and what a beautiful harbour this is, made difficult for ze captain navigating this boat because of the hundreds and hundreds of lobster pots set down in the harbour. As I write this we are turning and navigating out in a zig zag course to avoid damaging these pots and ze US Coast Guard is right there keeping a very close watch. They have a man at the bow with what looks like an automated harpoon. Not sure what that’s for – perhaps to retrieve their lobster pots if we snag one somehow. We tendered in this morning to see the beautiful Acadia National Park – in drizzly rain and only 15 degrees but, thanks to the Kathmandu sales, we are cosy, warm and dry!! Now we are off to Halifax, Nova Scotia and we put the clocks ahead 1 hour to get onto Atlantic time.

Halifax – Nova Scotia and Peggy’s Cove

Back in Canada now and off to see Peggy. Halifax is famous for a few disasters, among them being the Titanic which went down off the coast. One hundred and fifty of those who lost their lives are buried in three cemeteries here in Halifax. We were also told that on 9/11 just after the planes hit the Pentagon and the Twin Towers and all surrounding airspace was closed, 40 flights had to land here in Halifax. 7000 passengers had to be processed and accommodated here in the local stadium until the airspace opened four days later. Also, Swissair flight 111 crashed off the coast near Peggy’s Cove in 1998. Oh deary me – this is all sounding quite depressing actually.

Halifax gets, on average, 60 inches of snow per year, although in the past five years, they have had in excess of 100 inches of snow. The average summer temperature is around 12 degrees and they are doing well if they get up to 15 degrees so not a temperate climate by any means but, of course, we are getting further north. Fishing, in particular the lobster catch, brings in $600 million annually with the season running from May-November. Forestry is declining because here they mainly produced newsprint and that’s in decline and they also have salt and rock salt mines in the area.

Now Peggy’s Cove is interesting. This is a beautiful but extremely rugged coastline with severe weather a little like the west coast of the South Island. There is a lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove standing tall on rocks which are glacial deposits – interesting rocks and, because of this solid ground all around the area all power/phone cabling is above ground and there are no cemeteries in the area because the ground is rock. Houses are built on this solid rock base. There are notices everywhere warning visitors to stay clear of the dangerous black rocks, ie ones with slippery growth on them, as in the last two years a visitor has drowned after being swept off the rocks by a rogue wave, never to be found. So the one in charge of the B’s gives me the orders – DON’T go off the track, DON’T go anywhere near those black rocks, DO stay close by, and, by the way, also watch out crossing ze road! Of course I obey everything he tells me!! Only 35 people live permanently in this little fishing settlement with its slightly run-down buildings propped up on rocks and stones. Most are in need of painting but the very rugged weather here deteriorates the exterior we are sure. Artists are sprinkled everywhere painting Peggy and little souvenir shops, stalls etc are run by locals for the hundreds of tourists who flock here like the Kiwis to see this very wild place. So the Kathmandu gear was worn again because the sou’wester blows here and on this nice day, I can tell you that if we hadn’t been eating so much over the past three weeks you might have seen us sail past. But of course we were anchored down well and truly. And I must tell you that the tour guide today took a very big risk. He wore a kilt – in the wind – and he bent over!!! 

Actually we have started exercising, brought about mainly because we get lost on this blimmin ship and we find ourselves at the wrong end at the wrong time. We made a commitment to use the stairs – all very well until you are lost and have to do them three times but we tell ourselves this will help us wear the clothes that the water over here has had the audacity to shrink in the wash. In fact something perplexing is happening because even the clothes we haven’t washed seem to be shrinking too so perhaps it is the air!

Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Today we are in Sydney and a beautiful day it is without a cloud in the sky. We have been told about 20 times by our tour director that there is nothing there except for an enormous steel fiddle on the wharf. He explained that a tour of Sydney would take about 3 minutes if you were dawdling. Well, he was almost right actually but we don’t dawdle so probably would have done it in 2 minutes but, as it happens, we set off on an excursion to Baddeck – home of Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel and daughters. The drive took 1 1/4 hours along part of the famous Cabot Trail which is considered one of the most scenic drives in North America along the Atlantic shoreline and into Breton’s Highland National Park. Now we felt like we were back home on a larger scale – beautiful scenery, lakes draining into the Atlantic and stopping the Atlantic waters coming into the lakes. Interesting. Beautiful peninsulas, lots and lots of lighthouses too on our way to visit Alexander’s Museum in the picturesque Baddeck. He was a very clever man, inventing lots of things including the telephone – kites, hydrofoils, tetrahedron building structures, desalinisation, air conditioning and over 40 years he tried to breed sheep that would produce twins – experiment failed but he was initially convinced that if sheep had multiple nipples they would produce twins – failure!! He gave up! So it was an “educational” day as we looked into the life of Alexander and I am thankful he invented that phone – I can’t imagine Georgia and Hannah without that phone you know. They would be totally lost and would have to find something else to hold onto and look at like a book or something! So we are back on ze boat and the Dutch Captain has just announced the plan for the overnight sailing to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and we are on ze way! Going to visit Anne tomorrow!

Charlottetown – Prince Edward Island

And we are visiting Anne of Green Gables fame. But first we explore Charlottetown which is a pretty little seaside town on PEI. This island has a population of 146,000 – Charlottetown has a population of 35,000 and is Canada’s birthplace. The island grows crops of canola and 25% of Canada’s potatoes. It is the tuna fishing capital of the world and, of course, lobster is plentiful. We were very fortunate in the township to come upon an amphitheatre adjacent to the Conservatory of Music and 12 very talented Canadian singers put on an absolutely wonderful energetic show of Canadian songs to tell the story of the history of Canada and its diversity. We set off on an island tour to travel the 50 km to Green Gables and this beautiful setting where the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, lived at the homestead with her Macneill grandparents for half of her life. Descendants now own the land and historic sight. We did the walk down Lover’s Lane – can you belieeeeeve it? No – probably not! It was very pretty indeed but no hand holding or sneaking into the bushes! Just a quick photo stop for the one photo a day the boss allows of us both! Oh deary me! Back on board to get lost again and do the usual laps of the various decks and stairs (which is good actually because of the problem with the shrinking waistbands that I told you about!) Dinner – oh no – we have to just force ourselves to do the three courses but “when in Rome” you just have to do it because you don’t want to offend do you? As we were having dinner the ship sailed under the amazing Confederation Bridge – the longest bridge in the world over ice-covered waters and a marvel of engineering. It is 8 km long and two lanes wide and takes approximately 10 minutes to drive over. The ship had to lower all antennae in order to get under the bridge and we got a close up view of the bridge supports which we were very close to. It is truly an amazing structure to see.

Quebec tomorrow, where we have already been for a few days so we have chosen to go out into the countryside to a vineyard along the Beaupre coast on the St Lawrence Seaway to Ste-Anne-Canyon where we go past the spectacular Montmorency falls. Quebec we love as it makes us feel we are back in France. Truly a very French city so ve ‘ave to try owa best to make owa selves understood.

Now I must tell you that I have had a promotion here on ze ship. It seems that everyone who comes to the laundry assumes I am running it. They ask how many coins need to go in? – How does it work? – How long does it take? Where is the detergent? How much does it cost? Of course I av all ze answers. Then when they hear the accent they ask “where are you from? When I proudly tell them New Zealand without a doubt the answer is “Jeez – Nooooo Zeeeeelund”. And you get the distinct impression they think it is just over the bay from that big opera house!


We woke early this morning to the very sad news that our dear friend Judith had passed away Friday in Hospice North Shore. Judith’s illness has been borne with dignity and courage and we have admired her spirit beyond belief. She and Ray have been the most loyal, caring and special friends to Vern and I and our thoughts today are with dear Ray, Richard and Kirsty, Oliver and Daniel and Jane and Craig, James and Sophie and also Marilyn, Donald and Ginny. Their loss will be hard to bear.
So our day in Boston was a little subdued as we thought of home, family and friends and just had a special day together. We went on a tour of this beautiful city, home of the Boston Red Sox, to see Boston Common, past Quincy Market, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is also a famous academic institute with graduates who include Kofi Annan, Buzz Aldrin and Benjamin Netanyahu and an hour-long tour of Harvard University where Brendan visited two years ago on his Travelling Fellowship. It was an awesome tour with an under-graduate student who was very entertaining and very knowledgeable and impressive. He also wore a t-shirt with “Hahvahd” on the front to make the point that the “r” is not pronounced – pretty easy for the Kiwis but very difficult for the Amerrrrricans here! Harvard is an 85 ha campus situated on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts which is over the Charles River here in Boston. 21,000 students are enrolled at Harvard, 7,000 undergraduates and only 5% of students who apply are accepted. So the famous people who attended Harvard and graduated include JFK, Barack Obama, George Bush, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Ban-Ki Moon. Some famous people who attended and did not graduate were Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Matt Damon and Natalie Portman. It has the largest university endowment in the world of over 35 billion last year. The buildings are rather English in design – as is a lot of Boston actually. After the business and craziness of New York, we loved this city with its more sedate pace and beautiful buildings and parks.

Last night we watched a live-stream on TV of the awful events in Dallas – not sure if it reached the news at home but five police officers killed in a protest most probably as a result of the police shootings of the two black men in the past week. There is something very wrong with this country and the presence of guns seems to be at the heart of it. It was frightening to watch last night. May this never happen in our homeland.

We have just come back from dinner with the other Kiwi couple. We used it to privately toast our dear friend and what she taught us during her illness – live every day as if it is your last.

A perplexing thing happened this evening at dinner. This guy standing at the bar near where we were sitting eating dinner suddenly waltzes over to Vern and gives him a shoulder massage. To make matters worse, he starts “flirting” with me! Now can you belieeeeeeeve it? I have kids older than this guy. Think he needs to go to Specsavers!

Only one minor challenge at this beautiful old Fairmont hotel at Copley Plaza – it took two of us to work out how to get hot water in the showerrrrr last night and it took a while! So tomorrow we climb onto a boat to go sailing through New England whilst our thoughts are very much back in Auckland with our dear friends and family.

New York

The city that never sleeps, so they say, and I can report it is true. When you have two days in New York you need to hit the ground running so we had a meeting on the bus to decide our plan. First thing was to hail a cab from the sidewalk which was a mission in itself with all the traffic, but which only took about 30 seconds because, as you know, those bright yellow cars are like swarms of bees all overrrrr the place. Soon as we sit down, the driver turns on the TV for us to entertain ourselves while he swerves to the left lane, the right lane, the lane that doesn’t exist at all and we bump around in the back seat very glad we don’t have far to go to get to the Staten Island Ferry terminal to catch the free ferry with the swarm of people that are waiting to board the boat. No soonerrrr is the last person over that yellow line and we are off to sail past the Statue of Liberty which is the purpose of this little adventure. There and back in just under an hour and another cab hailed to get us back to Times Square to catch the Hop on Hop off city lights tour over the Brooklyn Bridge to Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho etc. We have got this cab business down to a fine art now, except you have to know which end of the streets you want, ie North or South, or East or West. We totally confused our driver until we said Times Square……..everybody understands that here!!! The night tour was an interesting tour BUT the tourrrr guide for this was a man who informed us he used to be a tax auditor and we think he might have had his head in the figures for too long because, to be honest, he managed to point out a few things which were pretty obvious and he told us about 150 times about the iron buildings that were held together with big bolts and not supporting the building and the buildings with little windows had slaves and there was a staircase to get to the second floor. We couldn’t make out whether the heat had affected him badly that day or this was his usual commentary but by the end of it we didn’t want to hear another thing about those blimmin cast irrrrrrron buildings. Just to torture me further the boss then decided to quiz me on them for the remainder of the evening! To round off the day we went to the lounge here at ourrrrrrr Otel which is right in front of Times Square and we sat there at about 10.30 pm sipping beerrrrrr and wine and having a delicious supperrrrrr looking out at the crystal ball that rings in the New Yearrrrr herrrrre. Now this was amazing – there were thousands and thousands of people still out in the street at 11 pm. Shops still open and the place still humming. In fact we had to walk back a block and it was like trying to swim upstream. I was hanging onto Vern for dear life because I thought he might take the opportunity to make a run for it and leave me here lost in the middle of a sea of people. I didn’t let him!!
So Day 1 successfully navigated and we crashed into bed and slept (unlike the rest of New York I think). We woke to the sound of horns blaring, sirens blaring, construction workers working, traffic humming, and other guests banging their doors. Today we set off again on the Hop on Hop off (thank goodness for this bus with its mediocre guides – today’s said some very, what we would call “un-PC” things and we couldn’t believe what we were hearing). Anyway, off we went with the main aim of getting to the World Trade Centre site. This magnificent monument of north and south pools on the footprints of the Twin Towers is rather emotional to visit. The enormous square pools have water tumbling down from a surround bearing the names of all those who lost their lives in the buildings. The water tumbles down all four sides and onto a huge floor at the base of the pool which then in turn tumbles into a large square black hole in the ground. It is peaceful and beautiful and, as you watch it you can look up to the new World Trade Centre Tower One – Freedom Tower – which stands tall and regal almost guarding the whole site. There are beautiful trees planted around the entire area and people are just standing there in their hundreds rather quietly and you get the sense they are lost in their own thoughts about that dreadful day when a handful of men changed our world with their despicable actions. Those who lost their lives are named individually on the brass surrounds or the tops of both pools, in five horizontal rows – as you know, that’s a lot of names.

Whilst we were at Ground Zero, we also shared a few thoughts in memory of a young Kiwi, Jeremy Clarke, who went to Rosmini with Brendan, was Head Boy, played in the 1st Fifteen, and played rugby at Marist. He later went on to gain his commercial helicopter pilot’s license and was flying tourists over New York when he lost his life in a tragic crash over the Hudson River. The World Trade Centre memorials seemed an appropriate place to remember an exceptional young man living his dream who died way too soon.

Back on the bus past the United National building (didn’t see Helen – think she was busy today), up Wall Street, down 5th Avenue, up Broadway, past the Rockefeller Centre and the Empire State Building, lovely parks, hospitals, churches (which are tiny small Gothic structures sandwiched amongst hugely tall skyscrapers). We also passed the rather ugly yellow glass skyscraper called “Trump Tower”. Deary me! 35 degrees here today in New York – we are now sitting in rather wet clothes and needing fluid to keep ourselves going so decided to come back to the cool temperatures of our hotel and have a read of the Wall Street Journal before we all go out to dinner and a show.  

The day ended with dinner and a Broadway Show – On Your Feet – the interesting story of Gloria and Emilio Estafan and was a very enjoyable high energy show. So this very busy city hums 24 hours a day; there are a mix of people here you just don’t see anywhere – there are naked cowboys and cowgirls wearing nothing but a g-string and body paint playing their music and charging for photos in the street; there are musicians, magicians, dancers, entertainers on every corner; there are people dressed in anything from very little to very strange; there are countless homeless wheeling large trolleys of their worldly belongings to find a place for the day or night; there are rubbish bags heaped up like miniature mountains on the sidewalk waiting to be collected; there are police cars, ambulances, fire engines with sirens blaring trying to navigate an impossible course to the source of the emergency; there are shops still open at 2 am and construction workers still working at midnight and just to add to this strange melting pot there are road workers digging up roads all around the city adding to the constant chaos. And in case you are wondering……. Yes – I did get a photo of the naked cowboy but I didn’t have to pay because I was sitting atop the double decker bus and he posed and I snapped!! I got a freebie! Definitely didn’t get a selfie that’s for surrrrrrre. And the Apprentice did NOT get a photo with the naked cowgirls …….. he wasn’t allowed to!!

So we are sitting on the Amtrak relaxing for the 3-hour journey to Boston passing through Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island and on Saturday we board the ship for a week’s cruising through New England. That will be nice – Maine, Halifax, Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and back to Montreal. Oh – by the way I have to say we feel very thin and trim here in America – you know what I am saying don’t you! In saying this, we are, however, sure there is something wrong with the water here because it is shrinking the waistbands of ourrrrr clothes. This is very perplexing. The boss in engrossed in the Wall Street Journal, the Aussies are all wondering what the heck is going on at home with their election results, the tour guide Gary is running around the cabin tending to our every need and I am working diligently here to keep you all up-to-date with our adventurrrre.

Washington DC

Well, here we are in the nation’s capital city and tomorrow is July 4th. Now, of course, the Americans have all come to Washington which means the rest of America must be empty because I can tell you they are all here and we saw them today! Oh yes…… they were at Arlington Cemetery with us; they were at Lincoln Memorial with us etc.  
Arlington Cemetery is a beautiful place over the river here in Washington. Actually it is in the state of Virginia over the Potomac River. There are thousands and thousands of white headstones of the military set out in perfect rows on grass as smooth as velvet. No flowers or plants – families are only allowed to place fresh flowers at the graves of soldiers a few times a year. We walked up the hill to visit the gravesites of John F Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the two children that pre-deceased him, one of which was stillborn and was never given a name and the other was Patrick Bouvier. We also visited the graves of Robert and Ted Kennedy. We climbed the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial to visit enormous monument to honour the 16th President of the US, the Korean War Memorial (where New Zealand has a stone to commemorate the soldiers who fought in that war) and the very sobering Vietnam Memorial Wall which stretches far and wide and records the names of 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in the 17 years of that war. We went to see the White House, the Oval Office (which I always thought was up there on that balcony but found out it was an annex to the right of the White House, just one level so on the ground floor), Washington Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Capitol Hill and saw the Pentagon in the distance. We finished the day with a river cruise on the Potomac River and dinner. We weren’t sure if the Obama’s were home so we didn’t bother knocking on their door today. Actually I can promise you with all the security here at present we would not have got an inch past the letterbox.

4th July – Independence Day and we are right amongst it. Oh yes you can’t miss it because there are walking flags all around us. People are literally dressed in the flag – t-shirts, bandanas, hats, umbrellas, pants, sox, dresses and little girls look amazing in their little dresses with stars and stripes all over them. Kiwis – imagine this at home. How many of us rush out and buy black and white t-shirts, bandanas, hats, sox, dresses, etc for our national day? It is a wonder that Titewhai and her rellies up north haven’t passed a law forcing us to dress up for Waitangi Day.  

We decided to spend the day at the amazing Smithsonian Institute so our bus driver dropped us off behind the National Archives Building and there was a very long queue of people lined up to go in and view the Declaration of Independence – this queue was there all day. It rained this afternoon and they were queued in the rain and happy to stay there.  

We visited the Aeronautics and Space Museum first – amazing; the Natural History Museum next – incredible doesn’t begin to describe it; the Art Gallery next and the American History last. We did pretty well actually and our feet and backs signalled to us we had a big day! Thank goodness for Mel and Laura at the YMCA for their classes to help us get prepared for all this walking. We will never complain about that blimmin step box again!

There was a parade for July 4th – oh deary me – we had to cross the road amongst this chaos so ducked and dived to avoid enormous blow up animals, marching girls, a band and an army jeep. We are probably on security TV somewhere being watched but we made it to the other side and disappeared into the crowd as quickly as we could in case we became part of the parade pinned to the top of a blowup animal on wheels or tangled in the ropes being held to keep helium filled animal balloons from reaching the heavens. The day finished with a lovely meal in the restaurant of the Fairmont Hotel with a nice Aussie couple.

Just to finish off Independence Day, I have to report no problems with the shower BUT we have broken the toilet! Can you belieeeeeve it? However, the other Kiwi couple broke their shower – must be something special here about Kiwis and bathrooms. I told you before – I am convinced they know we are on the way and set up these challenges! The plumber has to come to owa room. Heaven forbid!

We are fortunate to be having this amazing trip but over the past few days our enjoyment is tinged with deep sadness for our very special friends at home who are dealing with their own sorrow. Our thoughts are constantly with them and their family. We feel so very far away.

Amish Country – Lancaster, PA

Well the day started off with the usual excitement of “another day, another city, another ‘Otel” which is fine if you know where you are and this morning I got things a bit mucked up. At breakfast Vern left to go back to the room to send an email and I stayed on to finish my cuppa which was a disaster because the first guy I think went to the tap and poured the waterrrrr into the teapot and it was terrible. Second guy did just a little better. Anyway, up I went in the lift and got off, went to the room number and tried the card to get in – no luck – banged on the door and happened to notice a card hanging on the door saying “Private” and wondered why on earth the boss had hung this on the handle. I banged again, tried the card and the handle again and then realised I was on the wrong floor – wrong room! Well I scarpered down that passageway so quick I would have beaten the record for passage running!  
Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the townships of Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse (I am not joking – thiz iz ze name of it!)

I have always had a fascination with the Amish people – the way they live, the clothes they wear etc so we loved the opportunity to learn more about these families and the simple way they conduct their lives. The family is at the very foundation of Amish life and anything that could interfere with simple family life is not permitted. The Amish are a Christian community who believe you should be remembered for who you are, not what you have. They originated in Zurich, Switzerland in the 1600’s and were called Anabaptists believing that children should not be baptised until they are capable of making that decision for themselves – around 16 years of age. They came to Pennsylvania in the 1600’s and here in Lancaster is the largest community in the world – approximately 33,000 Amish people and that number is increasing. Another group, called Mennonites also settled here but they have accepted progress by means of machinery and clothing. They all speak a dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a German dialect, and English. 

On the whole, they have large well-maintained homes but no electricity. They have large propane gas tanks and air power and some solar power to provide some comforts but, on the whole, their furnishings and home comforts are simple but functional. They have gas lamps but have started introducing LED lamps. They add onto their homes to accommodate generations. For example they add what they call a “Grandaddy” house to accommodate the grandparents so it is common to see what looks like three houses joined together that have been added on to accommodate other families. 

Married men have a beard but no moustache; single women wear a white apron and bonnet to signify purity; married women wear black or grey but not white. All women part their hair in the centre and pull it back into a bun and wear a bonnet.

Obviously there are no TV’s, radios, PC’s etc. Reading material is limited to Amish books written by Amish authors. This was interesting though because when I asked how aware they were of world events, the guy said he actually read the newspaper because he like to know what was going on in the world. Children start school at the age of 6 and leave at either 6th Grade or 8th Grade so, no what we know as, secondary education. They have one-room school houses (275 of them in Lancaster). All the students attend together and learn reading, writing and simple maths. Teachers are young girls who have finished their schooling.

There are no churches for the Amish. Church services are held either every Sunday or alternate Sunday’s in people’s homes. There is a wagon in the district which is used to deliver benches for seating to the home for the Church service. The family hosting the service feed the congregation – about 150 people after the service. Weddings are held at the home of the bride; funerals are held at the home of the deceased.

Families have an average of 7 children; 25% of families have 10 children or more. The Amish accept absolutely no Government handouts of any kind – no unemployment, no superannuation, no subsidies for their schools. They do not take out any insurances because if something happens like a fire, the community pull together to rebuild. This is known as “barn raising” and they rebuild immediately and quickly. By the way, in Lancaster English families live side-by-side Amish families so you see houses with electricity and next door Amish homes without it. They believe in modern medicine and access to surgery and hospitals. A lot of births take place at home with doctors who will tend the community because the Amish will never sue for medical misadventure – American doctors apparently do not tend home births for that reason. They can also call for a car or ambulance to get to hospital in an emergency.

A lot of Amish are farmers and their farms are 50 acres. Dairy farms milk 60 cows. They grow alfalfa, corn and tobacco. These farms are operated without tractors or any kind of modern machinery. They subsidise their farming income with other things as much as they can. For example the ladies make the most magnificent quilts and the farms we visited both had shops selling all sorts of quilted items. Queen sized quilts retail at $700 USD cash – no EFTPOS machines here. They do pay taxes and use banks. Now the telephones are interesting. They have realised they need a telephone for emergencies and for doing business BUT they are not in the house because this would be a distraction. There are little huts out in the field or beside the driveway for the telephone. Some people share their phone box with the neighbour and each time they make a call they write it in a book. When the bill comes they work out who owes what. Try this at home folks and test the reaction!  You will see  a photo below of the little phone box hut.They get around with their horse and carts – carts have suspension, braking system and LED lighting and cost them about $6,000 – $8000. On top of that they need the horse BUT they do not need fuel. Actually, I must tell you that petrol here is $2.30 a US gallon – do the maths and make the comparison. We saw scooter bikes used by the kids and teenagers. They are not allowed to have a push bike because that could potentially take them too far from home so the bikes have the handlebars, large wheel front and back and the basket but they stand on what looks like a scooter platform and push it along with one foot. Perhaps I might be safer on a bike like zis and then I might not bang into another bike in the Pauanui tunnel and land up in ze garden with a very sore shin and a bent bike basket!!

Young people are given freedom from the age of 16 to join youth groups – there are approximately 100 in Lancaster and each have approx 140 members. This allows them to meet future partners. They are all Amish groups of course. So there we have it – the fascinating world of the Amish – a community of people who are trying to preserve their simple life in the shadow of a changing world.

Niagara Falls

It is Canada Day – a public holiday, so the day starts off with everyone on the bus singing a loud rendition of Canada’s National Anthem and the driver flicking the interior lights on and off for visual effects. I have to report that we went to the $1 shop and purchased the necessary items to support Canada Day – can you belieeeeeeve it? It was on to Niagara Falls to be given a pink poncho like the other 5,000 visitors so two shrink wrapped Kiwis boarded the Hornblower to take a cruise to the base of the falls. I can report we were very pleased to be dressed in ze plastic poncho because the spray that comes off the falls is like being in a downpour. However, the sight is Magnifique and it crosses another thing off the bucket list to witness 6 million cubic feet of water a minute tumbling over this wonder of the world. This was followed by a visit to Niagara Lakes for lunch – a very picturesque area indeed – and checkin at the ‘Otel. Now ze problem here was that our room was on the 34rd floor and the one in charge of the B’s stepped into ze room and almost collapsed (seriously) – a serious panic attack of vertigo. We had to go down and request a room on a much lower floor so ended up comfortably on the 10th floor which was still much higher than the falls. The evening ended with a fireworks display for Canada Day – first time we have looked down on ze fireworks instead of looking up and I can report that Pauanui’s New Year fireworks were every bit as good as what we saw from ze 10th floor last night.
As I write this we are sitting at ze border. We rose early today to leave ze Otel at 7.15 am in order to try to be the first bus at ze border but NO! Four buses beat uz to it – the cheek of them! It is now 9 am and we are still sitting at ze border. The Border Official boarded ze bus without a “gidday, good morning, welcome to ze US of A or even a howdy”. He just asked how many and ordered uz all off ze bus. Now ze Kiwis are lucky because we have come via the US already so they have uz on their computer. But the Aussies are something else and it is taking quite a while to process them for heavens sakes. I am just a little concerned they are going to search the bus because I FORGOT I had a banana in ze bag. Thank heavens there are no sniffer dogs here at this border and no one filming Border Patrol! Then I learned that the only things you can’t bring in are tomatoes or peppers.  Whew what a relief!

Every so often we have to make notes as we travel because the Tour Director has things to tell us. An elderly lady on ze bus asked the Tour Director if he had a rubber she could borrow. She has obviously mucked up her notes! He nearly choked until the driver explained that she really wanted to borrow an eraser. We learned that Canadians call condoms “rubbers”. Heaven forbid – so glad we didn’t make a mistake writing owa notes!

Well here we are in the USA and the first thing we see is the golden arrrrrches and at ze morning tea stop you can buy potato chips and pretzels dipped in chocolate if you please. You can also buy a “small” piece of pizza which would only just fit on our dinner plates at home. Can you belieeeeeve it? Yes you can I am sure!

Now we are off to Lancaster – Amish country and we are visiting two farms.  But what will the bathroom be like?