Boston

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?

Toronto

So……. an Australian lady on the tour bus asks the tour guide just as the bus is leaving if it can wait while she goes back to the gift shop to return some goods. He asks her if he can organise it so that the bus isn’t delayed – no, not possible. She tells him she bought a bunch of calendars to give her friends but she forgot that Australia is one day ahead of Canada!! Can you belieeeeeeve it?
Now as we were about to leave Ottawa to drive to Toronto and President Obama is in town, our Jamaican bus driver announced he can drive ze bus OBAMA self!
Toronto is a bustling city with many many very high rise towers on its skyline and is the financial hub of of Canada with many of the banks and financial institutions having their head office here. In the centre of the city there are also many very high rise buildings of condominiums which are privately owned. This is aside from apartment buildings which are developed and owned by one company and rented out to tenants. If you read the papers here you would think you are reading the NZ Herald – overseas buyers are driving up the prices of residential and commercial buildings in Canada and the Government is looking into ways of slowing this down. Today’s paper says 64% of these buyers are Asian. Part of the concern here is that the houses are purchased but not occupied and in some residential areas, people now have empty houses all around them and so grounds become neglected etc.  

The day started with a visit to the CN Tower – 533.33 metres and was the world’s tallest tower for 34 years. It was built primarily to communications because with so many high rise buildings here there was an effect on communications and, with so many large companies, banks, etc here it was vital that this problem was remedied. So I went up the tower in fear and trepidation staring at the wall of the partially glass elevator instead of the windows in case I collapse onto the floor (which would not be good because part of that is also glass just to raise the blood pressure even more). The one in charge of the B’s did not go anywhere near that tower – he does not like heights and so he went to the beautiful aquarium which he said was magnificent and he thoroughly enjoyed it and only had to cope with fish swimming and not his head swimming around. I can’t say I loved the visit up the tower but I did love the views on a glorious morning. This little challenge was followed by a city tour and then a free afternoon. I must tell you something about the city tour – we saw a marijuana shop; next door was a condom shop and over the road was a shop called Kanga – Aussie Pies. Do you think their clientele go from one to ze other and then onto ze next finishing off with ze pie?? Not sure but it is a possibility I think.

We decided to escape the city for the afternoon and got a ferry to the Toronto Islands just a 10-minute boat ride away and we did a 7 km walk around the islands which was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. We came across a group of trainee Surf Life Savers – interesting because the beach is actually on LAKE Ontario – no surf here but they are here to do their lifeguard duties just the same.

So Toronto is in my good books – no problems viz ze Showa last night. Can you belieeeeeve it? All the levers worked; I didn’t drop ze soap and no dinner plate with water pouring out of it up above to squirt me in the face and send me into a spin. They felt sorry for me – I just know it!

Ottawa

Mama Mia deary me ze secret service are all over ze ‘Otel this morning. We get into the lift to go up and zere iz zis serious looking tall man, earpiece in ‘is ear and ze blimmin lift goes down. Ze door opens, he looks out, gets back in and we go up. Then we hear zat ze Mexican President is staying at owa ‘Otel. We go outside to get into ze coach and the Polize are here in vast numbers. Now we on our way to Ottawa and we hear zat ze Mexican President iz following uz for heavens sakes! Not only zat but he is being joined by President Trudeau and President Obama – the three Amigos will be zere wiz uz. Magnifique! But ‘ow many blimmin secret service people vill be zere as well? I vill keep you posted on zis little matter.
We drove to Ottawa via Parc Omega which is a safari park in Notre Dame de Bonsecours just north of a place called Montebello and about 85 km from Ottawa. It is home to much wildlife including red deer, moose, black beers, raccoons, elk, coyote, red fox, bison, black bears, wild boar, caribou (reindeers), Arctic wolves and Arctic fox. We had a picnic lunch and then boarded a bus with no windows. The bus also had no suspension or creature comforts of any kind at all so we bumped around the 15 km ride with a driver who was from the back of beyond. BUT it was amazing to be up so close to the animals. We were given bags of carrots to feed some of them – they wandered right on up to the bus as if they were going to a Michellin star restaurant for lunch.

We also drove through a large lumbar region and many many big trucks on the freeway loaded with timber. We also passed large subdivisions. This is curious because in the various subdivisions all the houses are exactly the same design – no difference at all. Lego houses all in a row – quite attractive but all the same. However, much much cheaper to purchase than real estate in our fair city at home.  

Now while I think of it, I want to tell you about the Immigration Policy here in Canada. They take 25,000 refugees a year here and they only accept families. This, of course, is helpful for their integration into a whole new society because children go to school, etc etc and this helps the parents to integrate into a community. But if you want to Immigrate here the Government tells you where you must live and you must stay in that city for three years. If you attempt to shift from that nominated city, it’s “Au Revoir” home you go sunshine!  

Another Government policy is interesting. For every new commercial building that is built the developers have to spend 1% of the cost of the development on artwork which may be a piece of sculpture, a monumental fountain etc etc. This has introduced some magnificent pieces of artwork all over the country and the people obviously treasure and appreciate art. Now, strictly speaking, this is a Catholic country – just like France. There are churches everywhere just like in Europe. But, people are not attending church like they used to. That beautiful Notre Dame in Montreal has only approximately 100 parishioners going regularly to Mass each Sunday. So some of the churches are being converted into centres for art and culture, theatre etc.

Now if any of you have seen in the news over the past few weeks an enormous sinkhole appeared in the street in Ottawa – HUGE. It happened at a busy time of day. A bus full of people passed by just seconds before it happened. Unfortunately for a truck driver who parked illegally, his truck ended up in the sinkhole (he won’t park beside a NP sign again will he!) Anyway, you can Google it and see – it was enormous and it is about 100 m from owa ‘Otel. Heaven forbid – it was a burst water main that caused this catastrophe and I still have to learn how to get ze Showa going tonight – it doesn’t bear thinking about does it!

Ottawa is a beautiful city with the Riedel Canal in its centre. However, the three Amigos are here – Police EVERYWHERE – road barriers EVERYWHERE – Secret Service EVERYWHERE – even on the river in boats. This morning we had to bring forward our departure to Toronto because of road closures happening etc etc. 

Now – ze bathroom! So after the flood of ze bathroom in Quebec this one is totally different (of course – zey know ze Kiwis are coming zo zey set ze challenge don’t they – I am totally convinced of zis!) Anyway, I get into the Showa and I see, to my relief there is a hand held Showa so I take it off the attachment and hold onto it and go to turn it on. Zis should be easy thinks I. But there are three levers – maybe it’s for hot, cold and warm. Turn ze first handle – nothing ‘appens. Turn ze second and voila – we have water but cold. Turn ze third – no change. Eventually we have hot water – yay!!! In I get and I am holding the hand held thingy and everything is going well until I drop ze soap and bend down to pick it up and I haven’t noticed but there is a dinner plate thingy above me with water pouring out of it too and it gets me straight in ze face. I drop ze hand held thingy and it lands upside down and now I am getting water coming up at me. Heaven forbid, it is like being in the garden and the blimmin sprinkler is on – top and bottom are now getting water from all directions and I still don’t have ze soap. You know what I am saying don’t you!!

So our last night in Ottawa is spent with Betty and Reg – lovely Canadian friends of our neighbours Anne and Michael and we met them when they stayed in Auckland. They have travelled an hour to come into town and meet us for dinner and a lovely evening we had sitting under the trees at an Italian restaurant enjoying good company. They took us to another little shack to have Beaver Tails for dessert – not what you are thinking. Beaver Tails are like long thin donuts and you can have any topping you want – we had sugar and cinnamon and delicious they were. So that lovely evening ended our visit to this really nice city. We say farewell and onto Toronto we go.

Quebec City

After a nice drive from Montreal and a stop on the way at a Sugar Shack where maple syrup is made, we arrived in Quebec and here we are comfortably ensconced in Le Chateau Frontenac at the edge of the St Lawrence River inside the wall of this beautiful city. What a magnificent place this is. It reminds me a little of Lyon and Avignon actually as I sit here looking to the window across to the other side of the river. Last evening we had walk after dinner and it was like being in the heart of France with musicians, singers, people dancing, circus performers doing their thing in the little park areas and lots of people enjoying a quiet meal at the hundreds of cafes. Magnifique!
This morning the boss and I (actually I am the tour leader but I let him demonstrate his skills today – as you say Shane, he is the apprentice!) went on a walk to get a good look at this older part of the city. We went down, down, down from Le Chateau Frontenac, which is at ze top of ze ‘ill, right to ze bottom by ze river. This was a good idea until it came to coming back up ze blimmin ‘ill and we decided to get the Funicular. This afternoon we did a gastronomic walking food tour. Now zis was interesting. We went to seven little restaurants and we had different types of wine, organic and otherwise, we had refreshing cool cider, we had the local drink of Caribou. 

Now that was an experience actually because Caribou is whiskey, port and maple syrup and yesterday we had it chilled and it was nice. Today it wasn’t chilled and it was just like ordinary port. We had a local delicacy called Poutin which is twice fried potatoes, gravy and cheese; maple syrup + maple syrup fudge + maple syrup tea; buckwheat pancakes stuffed with ham and cheese and lastly chocolat – save the best for last they say! Then we waddled back up to ze ‘Otel and went to the gorgeous bar overlooking the St Lawrence River and ze boss ‘ad a cool beer and I ‘ad a cool Pinot Grigio and very nice it was.


Now I am going to finish off by NOT commenting on ze bathroom other than to say that last night we ‘ad a flood in ze bathroom. Deary me – I turned off ze water, pulled back ze curtain and voila – blimmin water all over ze entire floor of ze bathroom. C’est la vie!


That was the gospel according to TL………..Tour Leader………aka Shannon.   Now for some observations according to the Apprentice….aka Vern.

Canadian drivers are so courteous they put Kiwi drivers to shame…….yes, that includes all of you too!!!!  Don’t jay walk here, cross the road at the intersections.  But you can step onto the road at the intersections and the drivers have already figured that you were going to cross and have stopped 50 metres before. Where you are.   In Kiwiland you would now be dead, but here, they just give you a wave!!!!   Our guides tell us that it is the same all over Canada.

Drink driving is taken very seriously here……..ie totally zero tolerance.  No ifs, no buts, no maybes.   Any sign of alcohol and its $3000 instant fine and 18 month loss of licence, and no option to appeal.  Road toll has dropped dramatically as a result.
Why do 998 Canadian pedestrians walk towards you on the footpath on your LHS and 2 Kiwis walk towards them on the LHS……….. Because they drive on the RHS of the road and walk on the RHS of the footpath.    It takes a bit of getting used to for a geriatric Kiwi I can tell you!!!

They are bilingual here…….French first and English second.  Interesting to watch them start speaking to you in French then realise you are not Canadian and continue in English……smart buggers these Canadians but a bit confusing for a dumb apprentice.

Have been a bit upside down since arriving and wake up not long after midnight to spend the rest of the nite looking at the ceiling in the dark and listening to all the sounds a hotel makes during the nite……….don’t laugh…..you would be really surprised what you can hear…………what goes on on tour stays on tour though!!!   But today I was very fortunate to wake much later at 5am.   Thanks to my brother Shane who lent me the book Wild Boy, the story of nineteen year old Brando Yellavich walking around the coastline of NZ, I decided to read this book whilst I waited for the breakfast hour to arrive.  It is a fascinating book about the life story of an ADHD child.   Couldn’t help feeling emotional about the difference of the two worlds.  Sumptuous meals versus possums, or goats, or seagulls.   Read it if you are interested in adventure and pushing limits.  Quite humbling when you are privileged like we are at present.  Thanks Bro.  Really enjoying the story.

Fascinated when we went to the bar tonight to enjoy a beer at the end of a hot day……32 degrees.   Asked for a Canadian beer, and in response asked if I would like a Stellar………..Oh that would be good….nice Canadian beer, eh!!!   Also great to see Kiwi wines in hotels here, Kim Crawford in Montreal, and others here in Quebec.

Montreal could teach us Aucklanders a lot about opening up the waterfront (riverfront in their case) to the people and move the port out of town.   Done a great job here and the riverfront is a great hive of activity.

And in case any of you think I am not  doing my training whilst I am away……..I am pleased to report that there are many many cyclists riding on the roads and cycle paths here and I watch them all the time,, so training is going well!!!

Hope all is going well for all back home.   See you some time in the spring!!!!

The Apprentice

Quebec …… Here we come!

Well the shockwaves from Brexit have reached these shores with every TV channel now abandoning the Donald and Hilary circus and focusing on the UK. The main big news channels here appear to have dedicated themselves to reporting every move and every word coming from the Donald and Hilary but today there is only one thing on the screens and it is the Brexit earthquake rocking Europe and, possibly the world.

We had a lovely tour of this interesting city on the St Lawrence River today starting with what is almost another city underground zis ‘Otel. You see winters here are harsh – temperatures can get down to minus 40 below. Now that is a tad cold you must admit and so they had the good sense, when the Metro was built in the 70’s, to create this enormous network of underground passageways which lead from the subway and convention centre right up to hotel lobbies, apartment lobbies, buildings where large companies conduct business etc etc. There is over 30km of these passageways linking the Metro with buildings. If you are very fortunate, when the snow has reached a depth which makes it impossible to open the garage door unless you also own a snowcat (the average snowfall here in winter is 300 cm), and if you live in one of these apartment buildings, you may be able to reach the subway via your local passageway, get off and arrive at your place of work via another one. The tour guide today suggested we should return in October to witness the magnificent fall colours and then again at Christmas to see the amazing Christmas tree they erect in the underground shopping centre we visited this morning! Having been in Banff many years ago at the end of December and the temperature being -29 degrees, I can tell you ve vill not be returning at that time of year!  The tour ended with a visit to the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica.

This city, along with many others in Canada is French through and through. For all intents and purposes you could be in the centre of France so I feel very at home here. However, the difference here is that it is a truly bilingual place – everyone speaks at least French and English. So zat is very helpful ven you need to order ze baguette with jambon and fromage!

Now you just will not believe this (well you might actually!) We have just had a nice dinner with the group and the Tour Guide (Shane – that isn’t me – I didn’t get the job!) gave a little talk about BATHROOMS. Can you belieeeeeve it? He even gave out notes about all sorts of things and one whole section on ze bathrooms. It says “Your biggest challenge on this holiday (besides not eating too much great food) will be to figure out how to turn on your BATHROOM taps. You may have to twist knobs, push buttons or turn dials (stomping your feet does not help!) If all else fails, just contact reception.” Then he goes on to give a talk about the fact that we are staying in ‘otels which are old Chateaus and, although beautiful, ze plumbing is not! Oh heaven forbid – how did zis ‘appen?? I will keep you posted on ze problems viz ze bathrooms. I am now regretting not sending Vern on a plumbing course at Bassett Plumbing! Tomorrow we set off for Quebec and the mysteries of ze bathroom at Le Chateau Frontenac. I will phone ahead and ask that they leave the “Bathroom for Dummies” manual on our bed.

Bonjour Montreal….

And a very early 7.15 am arrival to greet the day in a drizzly Montreal. Can you belieeeeve it? We had to go to the $1 shop and get two plastic ponchos because the raincoats were in the bag at the ‘Otel. Fortunately the rain stopped and we didn’t have to run around like two vacuum packed Kiwis! It has been a long night, day, night, day and we are a little tired.  I want to tell you something because I know you are all concerned about ze bathrooms. You see I told you that Trip Advisor had advised that it would be no problem at all and we don’t expect it will be because they are clean and relatively “normal” by Kiwi standards BUT the first set of bathrooms you come to after Immigration at LAX (where everyone who has been crammed onto an Air NZ 12 hour flight suddenly has the urge to “go”) has only THREE cubicles in the Women’s. One of these is for “Disabled” BUT the disabled cubicle is locked if you please! There are 14 of us in the queue and, I can tell you that by the time it was my turn I was almost disabled myself. Now this isn’t funny at all because it is very obvious that disabled passengers are not expected to have the need to use the bathroom on a Tuesday! Unbelieeeevable! Do you think this is one of the “Donald’s” brilliant ideas along with building the wall and shipping all the Mexicans back home? So needless to say, the one in charge of the “B’s” had a long wait for me because the Men’s bathroom on that concourse had been better planned and, clearly, no men are disabled are they?

Next stop was to go for a walk in the fresh air BUT 999 taxis are roaring around all the terminal buildings and we only wished we had thought to pack some of that canned Kiwi air that is being shipped out of our clean land because the air we were breathing sure as heck wasn’t fresh. We decided we needed a drink – not sure why because I sure as the sky is blue wasn’t going back to that bathroom with the 2 cubicles and the locked one. We found a little place and saw on the board “Smoothies – strawberry and chocolate”. The one in charge of the B’s seats himself down because it now seems that I am in charge of food and drink as well. So I go to the counter. The sweet lass says “Hi therrrrre Mam, what would you like?” I order two strawberry smoothies. “Sorry Mam, we got no binanarrrrs.” I tell her I didn’t want a binanarrrrr smoothie, I wanted STRAWBERRY (for Pete’s sake they aren’t even on offer according to the menu). “Yes Mam but we outa binanarrrrs”. It now seems certain I have “KIWI IDIOT” tattooed on my forehead because I am finding this very hard to comprehend. “If you wanna strawberry one it means it will only have strawberries in it!”  Oh heaven forbid – I wished to heck we had decided on a Sprite!

So now we are in Montreal recovering from all this stress and we have only been away from home about 36 hours. We met two women from Dunedin that will be on our tour and there was a very long limous-i-n-e waiting to bring us to the ‘Otel. All good. Tomorrow we will take it easy and stay out of trouble in readiness for the excitement to follow! Well, zat is ze plan anyway.