May 4th– 11th

Leaving Chicago

Our last day in Chicago – left the cases at the Amtrak Office and wandered galleries talking to nice people we met in them. Started raining so we went to cinema and saw State of Play…was good.. Walked out into absolutely torrential rain and we had no dry clothes to change into because our cases were locked away. ’Shall we get a taxi?’ I naively suggested but ‘ It’s only 20 minutes walk to the station’ I was told.

Forty minutes later, soaked through to my skin, standing on a corner waiting for the lights to change I was mildly (well, sort of) remonstrating (well, quite cross if I‘m honest) when a bus came hurtling round the corner and a meter high tidal wave of muddy puddle water totally drenched me. To my toes. Only me. Eddie was behind me.

I started to speak civilly again only when we got on the train (led there by a Redcap who was like Tom Hanks in The Polar Express) and were offered wine and cheese and biscuits and yet more wine by 3 of the funniest guys with the sexiest of New York accents…I didn’t actually think that people spoke like that outside of TV/movies. They were wonderful….imagine the smoothness of Idris Elba with the cheekiness of a young Will Smith. .

The compartment was fun and the journey not so much exciting as really varied ;- clapperboard houses in varying stages from burnt out hulks to miserable disrepair to manicured suburban; the mighty Hudson River; fishermen; all manner of boats from simple rowing to power to paddle steamers to rowing eights; the most beautiful, huge colonial mansions overlooking the river; familiar place names like Erie, Buffalo, Cleveland, Poughkeepsie, Garrison (where Hello Dolly was filmed) , Irvington (where Washington Irving lived and based Sleepy Hollow) and Westpoint…not at all what I expected but a massive fortress with ramparts (very post apocalyptic). As we neared New York we went through tunnels decorated with some very unusual, spooky graffiti .

The hotel was ‘Only 5 minutes walk’ away from Penn Station…opposite Madison Square gardens where 65 played…and it actually was!

New York

Sirens. Impatience. Neon. Staten Island. Sirens. Statue of Liberty. Brooklyn Bridge. World Trade Centre Site. (Young men of Afro American and Asian appearance were trying to sell photos of the actual attack. Hmmm. Distasteful and odd). Flat Iron building. Sirens. Museum of Modern Art. Radio City. Rockefeller Centre. Sirens. Times Square. Broadway. 42nd Street. . Chrysler. Grand Central Station. 5th Avenue. Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). Street Markets. Empire State Building. Sirens. Non stop. Police everywhere. Ladder 24 is just round the corner from the hotel and they are in and out a lot.

flatiron

The metro was crowded and the only seat left was next to a massive hulk of a guy – his thighs were bigger than my entire body. He was wearing a shirt that said (without the ….) ‘F… you, you f…… f… ’ and he had the most aggressive facial expression. And alarming posture. The train jerked and knocked me into him. In the quietest, most gentle voice he apologised ‘I’m so sorry ma’am, please forgive me.’

Standing next to a group of teenage boys, eavesdropping, we realized that we could only understand one word in ten and that America will soon have its own alternative language….The Wire has a lot to answer for.

We noticed in both Chicago and New York that an awful lot of people walk along, on their own, talking, laughing and occasionally arguing loudly with themselves. It looks really peculiar. Some were certainly smoking illegal substances (especially the one who head butted his reflection in a window). Others just had these odd things in their ears and were clearly communicating with the mother ship.

I loved this advert ‘Owning a car is so pre- recession.’

Couldn’t find anywhere that was showing the City/United Derby at 9 in the morning. It’s our fault City lost, when we watch in Sheffield they win.

Central Park…sunny but very windy. As we sat we were literally attacked by a giant pink dragon and then a ferocious shark. As the wind changed the kite runners moved away and we settled to watch a baseball game, a ‘Grannies for Peace March’ (which I was not qualified to join), posing young men showing off their Calvin Klein underwear, a young man who wandered aimlessly (through family picnics all celebrating Mothers Day) wearing a T-shirt that said ‘F… your mother’. …was he;- a) making a statement about commercialization b)oblivious c)a non English reading foreigner ? Answers on a postcard.

Our sons being thoughtful and far sighted, had given us a Christmas present which amazingly coincided with USA’s Mothers’ Day….. Tickets for The Jersey Boys on Broadway – to finish off our world trip with a musical extravaganza..

Ours sons are simply the best.

radio city

The show was (I have to say this at least once in America) AWESOME. Funny, musically excellent, sad, exciting, fast, slick….wonderful. And now we know what happened to inspire the song ‘Oh what a night!’

I don’t know how to finish this blog. I don’t even know what will happen to it then…will it disappear into the ether? But, we catch the plane tomorrow after we post this and will be home sometime on Tuesday 12th.

We have had a truly amazing few months, been privileged to have such experiences and I have loved sharing them by writing about them. Thank you for reading it.

What next?

Well, ………….what we call an end is often a beginning!

xx

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Colorado to Illinois

May 6, 2009

30th april-6th may

Denver

Mile High City and I am wearing a t shirt that says ‘Take a deep breath and get high’.

We travel from the motel in to the city on the metro gazing at the distant, hazy panorama of the Rockies. Everyone else is reading.

I fall in love with a huge blue bear which is peering into the Convention Centre. Every public building in Denver has a work of art outside it (how civilized!) but the bear is best.

We meet a man who recognizes our accents and is proud and delighted to show Eddie his i-phone with photos of him watching Manchester United on a recent trip to the UK!

We climb to the top of the Capitol building with an army of well behaved school children and got squashed in a lift with a real, live senator. We realise too late that we should have talked about Madeleine “our friend the MP” in a loud voice.

I almost buy leather straps that go on Indian pigtails and then realise that I am nearly 60 and it just won’t do.

We spend hours in the art museum at a Rock Concert Psychedelic Posters show…we make posters, write in hippy blogs, make groovy light shows, chill out to the big screen and remember concerts we have been to. It’s an exciting surprise to wash hands in the marble and chrome restrooms and hear the sink sing ‘Row, row, row the boat’. (there’s art and then there’s Art !!)

We discover the best bookshop – The Tattered Book Cover Store. It has wood everywhere, excellent coffee and food. You are actively encouraged to sit and read books and magazines at tables or on comfy chairs. I shall open one in Mossley.

blue beaar

En route to Chicago through Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

We stop for coffee and are complimented on our ‘so cool’ accents – this has happened several times now. Eddie helps mend the coffee machine so we can have some.

The radio stations are all playing classics (though we really got fed up with Maggie May which was played constantly) and the adverts are so entertaining. We are tempted to apply for the Buffalo Bill’s Home for the Recently Retired (from 55 upwards!) we giggle at husbands being encouraged to buy all sorts of rubbish ‘for the missus’ but we are most entertained by the one which explains how we can get hold of an exceptional bull to service our entire herd with superstar quality semen. You just don’t get this on Key 103.

We are regularly passed by monster men in monster pick up trucks with monster tool boxes in the back. They have stickers which say things like ‘Show us your hooters’. Another sticker says ‘American by birth. Lineman by choice’ and we are nowhere near Witchita!

Dead deer, coyotes and porcupines litter the sides of the highway.

Wind farms. Shiny aluminium grain silos. Trees heavy with dark pink blossom. It feels like spring today. We pass through Madison County but see no bridges. And then….then…we cross over a huge, huge, muddy river….it’s the Mississippi!!!

Chicago

Our hotel is in Chinatown on the outskirts of Chicago. It’s very pleasant and when the manager discovers that we are/were teachers, he invites us to join an Educator‘s Conference being held here and describe the Education System in the UK. It is so very tempting and there is free wine but we decline and drive in to drop off the car.

 Then we revisit old haunts which we last saw several year ago in freezing temperatures. It’ s so different now…a balmy spring day, tulips everywhere.

We find shops….shops…where I remember to my delight that clothes sizes are different here and I am automatically 2 sizes thinner. I only last 15 minutes trying to find a dress for Emma’s wedding (mainly because Eddie only lasted 5 before moving inexorably towards the Apple Store).

Best bit of Chicago so far has been the Newberry Library. If you haven’t read The Time Traveller’s Wife don’t bother reading the next paragraph. They have tours on days we weren’t here but a lovely man took pity on us (we were from the UK and he loved out accents) and we got our own private tour…it was fantastic., we met lots of interesting, very clever people and saw ancient manuscripts and maps. I didn’t mention TTTW cos it’s a very serious research building but I am almost certain that Audrey was there researching and I wanted to tell her that she wouldn’t remember me but we’d meet in 2012.…oh and then there was the naked young man in The Stacks. Wonderful. I plan to send our guide a postcard from the John Ryland.

Met some lovely, helpful people here, walked along Lake Michigan, admired the stunning architecture, saw a photographic exhibition, ate well and enjoyed wheat beer. Almost made a Chicago Cubs baseball game (next time, Rod?I want one of those big fingers to wave about) and discovered that modern contemporary art is sometimes, sometimes a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes but that Buckminster Fuller was a seriously clever guy.

We tried to see Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre. Yeah…tickets left…. only $250  EACH. Sigh. chicago

Wednesday…one more day in the city and then overnight train to New York.

April 29th

We had our last day’s walk in the mountains and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We had such a wonderful , beautiful time. We met 4 lovely Americans who were so thrilled about Obama and so apologetic about Bush.

We saw no-one else in the white wilderness that was the Rockies.

Sun.

Snow. Deep snow. Unexpected really deep snow.

snow 1

Sink steps.

Silence.

snow 6

Mountains.

snow 2

Snow angels.

snow 3

 

Trees.

Frozen lakes.

snow 4

Peace.

Birds.

clark's nutcracker

Sliding.

Sledging.

Panoramas.

snow 5

Exhilarating.

 Wet socks. Wet boots.

Next time we hire snow shoes because they looked brilliant

sandstorms to snowstorms

April 29, 2009

April 25th – 28th

We had changed plans and directions because of the severe weather warning in Yellowstone but the strong winds causing the snow further north were still in evidence here. As we drove Highway 89 in a haze of orange sand, Monument Valley was turning into a huge dust bowl before us.

If this had been our first visit we could have been disappointed that the colour was leached from the landscape and the familiar shapes were indistinct in the swirling sand – as it was, we’re lucky, we’ve been here before, so this just became a different experience.

We were surprised by the changes. The Visitors Centre has had a huge and very successful facelift – there is now a hotel which merges into the rock like Mesa Verde and offers rooms with fantastic views. For £140 you could sit on the balcony of your room, overlooking the Monuments and watch them in the sunrise, sunset, all the changes of light during the day AND starlight – wow. Anyone visiting in future should check this out. We had already booked in at Kayenta down the road and we wouldn’t normally pay anything like that price but it would be a spectacular treat!

Anyway. There we were gazing at the Monuments, the sky heavy with a maelstrom of sand and ….. we decided to go for a horse ride.

We can’t actually ride of course.

Sometimes I doubt our sanity.

I was Calamity Jean (my middle name is Jean and Eddie thought ‘Calamity’ was quite fitting) riding Blaze. Eddie was Jack Elam riding Romy.

Blaze and Romy eyed us nervously, clearly not convinced of our expertise in the saddle and clearly not relishing the idea of heading off into the blizzard of sand. It was so fierce that our Navajo guide Al couldn’t even get on his horse at first, then he couldn’t get it to move, then he nearly fell off. So – inspired with confidence we set off.

I thinks it’s fair to say that our rapidly acquired equestrian skills meant that our trusty steeds weren’t spooked by either the rattlesnakes, the circling vultures, the cattle skull, the tumbleweed that bowled past us at a rate of knots or the sand devils that whirled manically and randomly around us. We clasped the reins loosely, put one hand on the pommel and in the best cowboy style hunched our shoulders against the raging wind. Our mounts plodded through thick, drifting orange sand, clattered over smooth rocks and nimbly negotiated the ups and downs of the dry gulches. (How cool is that….real gulches!!) Aren’t horses clever?

We returned as jaundiced but triumphant desperados.

I imagine that the Corral Conversation went something like this;

Blaze; Good grief., I’m glad that’s over. Mine bounced about like a sack of potatoes.

Romy; Mine was OK…he gripped well….footballer’s thighs.

city slickers

Excited by our Lone Ranger adventure (Tonto didn’t mind) we continued by driving out to John Ford Point in the car, listening to epic music (Grails were most fitting) as we passed the Mittens, Three Sisters and the Elephant. We took ghostly photos as eventually the horizon disappeared completely and sky, Monuments and sand merged into one massive lavender grey blur.

usa-2-044

By sunset we were tucked in our motel room, drinking firewater and eating beans round the camp fire, the wind shrieking like crazy outside while we shared tales of daring exploits. Sorry, that’s just not true, we were expressing our admiration for people who make horse riding look easy , while the wind made an eerie and unearthly noise outside. Then with red rimmed and bloodshot eyes and a strangely awkward gait, we hobbled stiffly downstairs for a drink.

We have a few days to get to Denver so wanted to make the best of our remaining time in the mountains – quiet, lonely roads, fewer people, more beauty. As we travelled the quiet, lonely roads we passed a sign which said ‘Correctional Facility. Do not stop to pick up hitch hikers’ !!!!!. We didn’t !

Durango is a cowboy town with authentic, old buildings where even today, women walk on the side of the road opposite to the hotel to show they are not like the ladies of the night who used to work on the pavement right in front of the saloon! In Ouray there is an Ice Park for climbers and an amazing waterfall. This journey took place in a brilliant snowstorm. It freshened the snow that still covered the tops of the stunning San Juan Mountain Range. We snowballed, fell in deep holes, took photos and lost the camera case. Next morning the views were terrific.

snow time

Stopped overnight in a Polish owned motel….lots of dzien dobres with Zosia!!

 Wanting to extend our last views of snowy peaks we booked our motel in Estes Park and chose the picturesque route to get there instead of the more direct highway route – we had plenty of time. Oh, what a good decision, it was so gorgeous. The drive was twists, turns, sun, snow – lovely – 20 miles to go and we were looking forward to a good walk when we got there.

Another bend………and we found the road barred. With a big barrier. Across the road. Our road. The only road. The road we had been on for 3 hours. The road just 30 miles short of Estes. And a smiling Ranger (who was cheeriness personified) waiting to tell us “Hi there folks, how are you doing? Now, the barrier is down because the road ahead is blocked by a frozen, 25feet high snowdrift. You can’t get through. Let me show you photos of it.” We gaze in disbelief. It is certainly impassable. “ But don’t worry , you can still get to Estes – just go back the way you came and then go up the other side of the loop. It’s only 148 miles and you’ll be there in 4 and a half hours.

And we were.

In 3.

On the Road Again

April 25, 2009

19th – 24th April

Our last night in Fiji saw a wonderful sunset – grey and peach clouds reflected in the dead calm of the lagoon, rain smudging the horizon and pink and yellow streaks silhouetting palm trees. The guy in the room next to us had drunk too much Kava (it looks like muddy water and is clearly powerful local brew) and serenaded us through the night with several bouts of noisy barfing.

The flight was good – we left Nadi at 10.30pm on Sunday night in the rain and humidity, flew for 10 hours and arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon to unseasonal temperatures of 95 degrees! After circumnavigating the chaos that is LA airport we picked up our hire car, found a motel, helped the manager plan an itinerary for his forthcoming trip to London so he would give us his last room and finally slept. Next morning we escaped from LA and headed north stopping just outside Las Vegas on our way to the canyons. What to say about Las Vegas? Having been there before we refused to line the pockets of the entrepreneurs and challenged ourselves to spend (sorry, throw away,; sorry entertain ourselves to the cost of ) only $20. Eddie the Experienced Gambler gave me $2…I won $10 on my first go, $15 on my third…..Eddie enjoyed losing all of his on poker and a totally incomprehensible Indiana Jones game. We ended the evening entertained and solvent.

I got up early and tried to sunbathe by the pool (artfully decorated with astro turf) before we left in the morning but it was almost 100 degrees at 9.00am and I lasted only 10 minutes.

We spoke briefly to Paul and David and managed to say we were ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ which I thought made us sound really cool but they were at 65’s Leeds gig which was much cooler and couldn’t hear us properly.

Then….on then on the road again…bliss…sunshine and scenery., bisons and deer, panoramas and peace. We are lucky enough to have been to Zion with Rod and Gill…we passed through again and admired the fantastic shapes and colours but we were heading for Bryce Canyon which we saw once from a plane and have never forgotten.

What a place!! It has all the best bits of Grand Canyon, Arches, , Monument Valley etc but with its own uniqueness – a huge red amphitheatre filled with bizarre and beautiful rock formations called hoodoos – spectacular spires created by erosion. Some of them looked like fortresses, others like ancient temples, others like Mount Rushmore, others like Morph!! We went to Inspiration Point and….yes….we were.

We spent 2 days walking through burnt orange and terracotta trails, collecting pink and umber clay on our boots, meeting interesting hikers (who are thrilled with Obama!) and taking zillions of fantastic photos with which we will bore you on our return. Peekaboo Trail is so well named – every time we turned a corner there was another hidden view of slot canyons and of the truly amazing armies of hoodoos in different lights and from different perspectives. We absolutely loved it and finished by having coffee with very cheeky chipmunks overlooking one of the best panoramas of the trip.

We decided to return to the canyon at night to see the stars in an area totally unpolluted by any other light whatsoever. That means it was very, very, very dark. Wouldn’t you think that experienced travellers like ourselves would be well equipped for this? Hmmmm. We forgot the torch. Just as we turned the car headlights off in the carpark we saw a sign which said ‘Dangerous cliffs…don’t go near the edge’ (and this is for daylight hikers!!). It was pitch, pitch black and we had only the very dim and erratic light of the camera to stop us walking off the rim of this more remote, unfenced part of the canyon. We clutched each other so if one went over the edge, we both would and shuffled to where we could see shadows of trees etched against the sparkling sky. It really was a marvellous sight but quite scary and I have to say, we will watch Blair Witch with more respect from now on.

bryce canyon

Eddie the Cultural Chameleon has happily absorbed all sorts of interesting vernacular as we have travelled. He successfully tried slang Polish in Russia and even Mongolia; in China he ‘Nihaoed’ with the best; in Australia he said ‘Crikey’ and ‘G’day’ a lot. In New Zealand ‘No worries’ ‘No probs’ were commonplace. But here we were, only 3 days in the good ol’ U S of A and he’s already got the ‘Bagel with burr and jelly’ (bagel with butter and jam) down to a fine art. As we entered our third National Park, to be greeted by yet another young, blonde Ranger in a fetching hat and expensive dentistry, he smiled at her and asked ‘How you doing’ in his best Joey from Friends voice. I can’t tell you how funny it was – he didn’t even know he’d done it until he realized that I was collapsed in giggles. Priceless.

bryce 2

I bought some new shorts so it was inevitable that the weather would change and it did, so we’ve had to change our plans a little. We were heading for Yellowstone (Old Faithful and Yogi Bear) but a snowstorm has started and a severe weather warning (snow, rapidly dropping temperature, difficult driving conditions etc) issued. Sadly we haven’t got the clothes or car for the forecast….and anyway, the Park may close and it’s an extremely long drive just to get there and find it shut. So we’ve changed direction and are revisiting some favourite places.

We’ve driven along Highway 89 past Coral Pink Sand Dunes where they filmed The Greatest Story Ever Told, through cowboy country where The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, The Outlaw Josie Wales etc were filmed and stopped in Page where the classic ‘Rod Buys Cowboy Boots’ was made. The I-Pod shuffle magically divined where we were and provided a looping soundtrack of Tom Petty, Bob Seager and Neil Young. Excellent.

A Navajo guided trip to Antelope Canyon looked inviting and promised excellent photographic opportunities so off we went. They even threw in free exfoliation as we hurtled through the dunes on the back of a truck, clinging on desperately while sand flayed our faces. The Canyon is very narrow, spectacularly spiralled, and small furry caterpillars, lots of fine sand and sometimes even tarantulas (!) rain in through fissures above. By the time we returned we had sand lodged in every orifice. Eddie’s photos are just superb. (Of the Canyon, not our orifices!)

antelope 2

antelope canyon

So what’s next? Monument Valley, that’s what’s next.

fijian foughts

April 18, 2009

April 11th

 

Fiji

 

The weather has been excellent so far this trip and until we came here we had only had one day of rain since New Year.  We also  knew that  we were coming here to Fiji at the end of the rainy season,  so we can’t complain if it rains…….. but we’re in a place where there is not a lot to do except sit in the sun,  so if this blog is focused on the weather, that’s the reason.

We are on the south coast at the Bedarra Beach Inn – it’s virtually on a narrow beach, looks out over the reef and is surrounded by palm trees. We are in  the Honeymoon Suite!!! Don’t ask how (we  don’t know!)  but its certainly given rise to lots of comments from the staff. We have tiny resident gekkos, two balconies, a ceiling fan and a great shower. No TV anywhere in the hotel.

For the first  2 days, heavy grey clouds hurtled across the sky propelled by a really strong, really warm wind. The tall palm fronds were whipped into a frenzy and the breaking surf on the reef added to the swishing noise of an English storm. But it’s warm. Very warm  We  lazed on deck chairs, buffeted, as if by a tumble drier  (on the hottest setting)  looking over the lagoon and reef. I told Eddie not to sit under the coconuts (remember Keith Richard). He ignored me.  A coconut bounced off  the tree and missed him by inches. Eddie believes I made it happen with my super powers, just so that I would be right.

Every so often there was a heavy downpour. Usually a very heavy downpour.

Every so often, from a tiny break in the clouds, a fierce sun emerged for 20 seconds, seared the top layer of skin from our bodies and disappeared again.

On the 3rd day it rained seriously. For most of the day. But it was still warm. Very warm. And humid. Very humid. We sat and watched sheets of water pour down while each and every strand of my hair frizzed  manically.

We took a taxi and explored the local town. It took  two  hours and there was really nothing to see, just shops desperate for our custom. The railway bridge had collapsed in the serious floods of January and we were told stories of the main road being under 7 metres of water in places….it’s still full of potholes and we saw damaged houses.

On Day 4 we read the Fiji newspaper – that was an eye opener – several articles not printed and a stamp over the empty space saying ’Removed because of Government restrictions’ . Church groups figured in several stories and there were lots of indignant letters about the collapse of civilisation because of youthful disturbance. Not dissimilar to Ashton really.

The people are so unfailingly cheerful. Every time we leave our room we are met with a chorus of ‘Bula’ from every single person. The hotel is full of men and women in colourful, flowery  shirts who simply can’t do enough for us and who sound as if every day is just the best day ever. A small group of musicians entertain us every evening  (during Happy Hour) and they are just lovely – the Fijian songs are haunting but my favourites are Elvis classics ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’. and ‘Are you lonesome tonight?’

The staff all remind us  of Fiji time which is time to relax…their clock on the wall has numbers in the wrong order and in a jumbled heap at the bottom of the clockface .  They have a Scrabble set which is great and a lot of books which are really not my sort of book at all, but I am working my way through them  dispiritedly and plan to write a bodice ripping bestseller on return**.

 

We found somewhere to go on Day 5. The eco park was just a short walk away. Of course, now that we were going out it was sunny. We were greeted by a parrot that said  “Hello Darling”, iguanas that crawled over our shoulders and hair, a boa that slithered over  our arms, experimentally flexing to constrict our hands and the most beautiful turtles who ate everything we were allowed to feed them. It was a well kept, educational place…we were taught about how to use native plants for everything from baldness to tooth ache to digestive problems…and even how to revive someone who has tried to hang themselves by  pushing certain leaves up their nose while holding them upside down. That’ll come in useful.

fiji-iguanas1

 

I was finding this enforced relaxation a little too much so I started my bodice ripper.

**Stacey stepped from the minibus and looked around her with a smile. Strawberry blonde tendrils escaped from her sun hat and blew fetchingly around her slightly freckled face as she gazed at  the hotel where she planned to spend 2 weeks doing nothing more demanding than reading the latest offerings from the Richard and Judy Book Club. “Bula! Welcome” called the manager, bustling over to collect her suitcase. “Please sit and drink your complimentary cocktail as we check your booking”. Stacey sipped the pleasantly cool concoction as she eyed the other guests. Several older couples were chatting animatedly about their visit to a pottery that afternoon, a family with two excited toddlers headed for the pool, a young couple entwined in a corner seat whispered  quietly to each other and she felt a momentary pang of jealousy. If only…. no, she would not allow her thoughts to continue., she would be strong and move on. Her lip trembled slightly. “Miss Calvin, your room is ready , Number 65”. Startled, she tipped her glass, spilling the contents onto the low table. A smooth, muscular tanned arm leant over to rescue her drink, a velvety deep voice told her not to worry and she looked up into the depths of the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen.

 

Day 6 – another grey but warm day. We kayaked in the lagoon, we saw tiny electric blue fish in the coral. We did crosswords, played scrabble again, conversed with the 2 owners, discovered lots about Fiji, the coups, the Indo-Fijian balance, their opposing  philosophies,  the economy….we  gave them some good ideas for marketing their rather empty hotel. We were almost serenaded because we were leaving tomorrow but we aren’t, so they delayed it amidst much giggling because they had made a mistake.

Day 7

Heavy cloud but at the risk of succumbing to total inertia, we risked a walk and got absolutely sodden. Sodden. Thoroughly and completely sodden. But the light was lovely. I’ve made a list of some of  the things we have done to entertain  ourselves. We have; used dental floss to fish from the rocks; counted the number of songs about rain (45 and counting) ; made a raft out of driftwood, tied a sarong on as a sail and tried to paraglide over the reef so we could sail back to New Zealand;  played a ridiculous number of word games;  taught our resident gekkos to chase, catch and return cracker crumbs; created a game which requires huge dexterity  and a complex scoring system…it  involved throwing my knickers onto the revolving ceiling fan and seeing how long they last and how far they then fly. The last was the most fun.

 

Day 8.…..Tomorrow we fly from Nadi Airport to Los Angeles and we arrive 9 hours before we set off…how back to the future!! Then we  begin the last road trip of our World Tour.

 

P.S. The Bodice Ripper ends with the apparent villain (who is really the good guy of course though he doesn‘t tan well and it takes until the last chapter to find out who he is ) coming to rescue her from the floods in his yacht. She, however, has by then single handedly rescued an entire village by building a dam from coconut husks, taught them how to make and sell a world cure for baldness, thereby saving the community from a fate worse than death (I.e.becoming a tourist attraction) and flown off to New Zealand with Tracey the Manager of the Spa, her freckles glowing in anticipation.

 

 

 

NEW ZEALAND

 New Zealand is simply stunning. Go and see it. If you can’t do that, buy a book, watch a DVD and prepare to be awed.

Sand flies are creatures of evil.

South Island is superb, North Island has its moments

Best bits of South Island…..being with Rod and Gill, discovering the LOR locations (especially Deer Park Heights and Canaan Downs) and The Ring, Glaciers, Arthur’s Pass, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Nelson, Pancake Rocks., Abel Tasman. (Downside….sand flies stop you enjoying the fantastic beaches).

Best bits of North Island….seeing Steve and family, doing the Tongariro Crossing (volcanoes and craters), beautiful beaches. (Downside…not sure how to explain it, to say ‘it’s busier’ is ridiculous but there is an element of truth in that!)

 Queenstown and Nelson were a good size for towns, we decided we could easily live in either one. .. and in Devenport.

I have discovered that I don’t really like thermals/geysers etc and much, much prefer mountains and beaches. I would never need to see Rotorua again. Ever.

mount cook

MOTORHOME

We not only managed to survive, we ended up loving it…the flexibility and spontaneity were exactly what we wanted and staying in some really remote locations was brilliant.

 It isn’t a cheap holiday – you pay for driving round in your house – it would definitely be cheaper to hire a car and stay in motels etc. You save on meals because you can cook your own (and if you have your own personal chef, as I do, that’s fine) but then you may feel you lose out because having meals out is part of a holiday.

You realise that you don’t need anywhere near as many clothes as you think you need.

You realise that washing machines are truly wonderful inventions.

Living in such a compact space makes you very tidy.

NZ Holiday Parks are of a very high standard.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is great and has lots of cheap sites to park campervans in remote areas. You can also do Freedom Camping but not everywhere. The Department of Conversation on the other hand, talks a lot but does nothing about anything.

We had the luxury of a heater which worked from the diesel – we could leave it on all night if it was especially cold (we only did that twice, in remote areas but it was great putting it on in the morning just before we got up) and it could be left on and used to dry washing that hung in the shower as we were driving.

If by any chance your Scrabble has been taken on tour and then mislaid by a son, buy another or get it on your laptop. Add a book of card games for 2 players.

Never , ever, ever argue about the number of books you need to take – take them all and exchange/sell in the book shops you meet on your journey.

our van

April 4th – April 11th

GEYSERS AND GURGLES

Lonely Planet wrote about Kerosene Creek where you can sit in a natural hot spring. So we found it and we did. Everyone with creaking knees should have this facility.

Then on to Rotorua and Te Puia where steam shot out of the ground all over the place, mud bubbled and schlooped, making concentric circles on surfaces as grey and wrinkled as an elephant’s and a geyser exploded into action every hour creating vibrant and gaudy colours on the rocks around it.

geyser

The Maori Haka was really entertaining, I’m planning to give an Inset on facial expressions and body language on our return. I may mention tongues.

We spent the night in a park where the tent sites have underground heating from the thermal springs! Smelt odd though and the noises were flatulent to say the least.

Headed for the Coromandel Peninsula – beautiful, winding drive. Stopped at two stunning beaches – sea, surf, sun, solitude. Hahei Beach was perfect – small, quiet, excellent waves, bay dotted with small islands and rocks and best of all, no sand flies!

Apparently, the first rule of Frisbee Club is NEVER LOOK AWAY. After I narrowly avoided decapitation we settled into a very satisfying game while waiting for the sunset. It didn’t disappoint. Yellow, pink and grey clouds, fleeting moments of wow. So much so that we returned for a starry, starry night. Clouds made the stars slightly hazy rather than their usual extravagant selves but the moon was bathed in a golden halo and silvered the waves. And Eddie saw a shooting star!

Cathedral Cove is a much photographed beach with massive limestone rocks – the waves have created caves and interesting shapes. We were simply forced to stay there for a while in the sunshine, gazing on this natural beauty, then we drove round the peninsula admiring even more coastal views. Does this ever get boring? No.

cathedral cove

AUCKLAND

Handed the motor home over with real regret – we not only survived, we loved it. Auckland was full of people and cars…. and people and cars…and even more people and cars! We managed to miss seeing Sylar from Heroes at a Charity premiere of Star Trek but we walked on the same red carpet as he had done just 5 minutes previously.

We saw on the news that it was snowing on the south island….and it hailed as we were out…really, big hailstones. Today we went to Devenport – a short ferry ride across the harbour and very pretty. We sat in one of the many café bars, pretending we lived there and had a boat.

We saw KILLERS at the MEN, sorry the Vector Arena. They were good. They finished their set with ‘These things that we have done‘! (one for you Paul R.!!) and then their encore with ‘When we were young’ which was our Everest song (‘Can we climb the mountain, I don’t know‘…). The following day we were returning from a visit to penguins and stingrays, our bus got stuck briefly in rush hour traffic, we looked to our right and who should be ever so slowly passing us ….KILLERS…going to the airport ….they thanked us for going to see them, gave us their e mail details and asked us to pop in to see them in Las Vegas….no, they didn’t… but they would have if they’d just looked to their left.

Off to Fiji Saturday…not sure what to expect – it‘s warm but wet at the moment!

 

1st – 3rd April

 

MORDOR

The Grand Chateau, with Mount Ruapehu as a perfect backdrop, looks like the hotel in ‘The Shining’ and hosted the LOR filming. . We pretended we were residents as we drank and took photos. W e booked the van in at Whakapapa (bear  in mind that ‘Wh’ is pronounced as ‘F’ here and you will see why people giggle as they say it.).

Past here, the road to Mordor was perilous indeed. It started deceptively like The Shire with greenery and foliage  but all too soon the barren landscape of pumice stones, soldered to the purple grey, ashy soil made climbing difficult. Steep ridges and pinnacles with sheer drops added to the danger and  Meads Wall was especially scary. We rested there briefly,  preparing  mentally and physically for the assault on Mount Doom.

MOUNT DOOM

It loomed above the Tongariro Alpine Crossing  (described as ‘The Best Day Hike in New Zealand) , a volcano with cloudless blue sky…Mount Ngauruhoe (only nobody calls it that any more!) The walk was demanding, exhilarating and 13 miles of  stunning scenery. We ignored the signs about noxious gases issuing from the volcano and  climbed half way up Mount Doom (which, to be fair, was all that Frodo and Sam did). It was so   hard – like walking up a steep sand dune of thick volcanic ash sprinkled with  pumice stones of all shapes and sizes. We got half way up and   2 boulders (of lethal size) bounced merrily past us, unleashed by two young men who were ’skiing’ back down. We ‘skied’ back down too – it was fun but hell on the knees. Back to the walk – Red Crater, a gigantic work of abstract art in ochre, terracotta, umber and crimson – wow! Emerald Lakes – stunning. sky lines and views – wonderful. Smells of sulphur and heat eruptions – amazing!

red crater

Frodo and Sam had eagles whisking them away from Mount Doom, we  weren’t so lucky. The path was long, studded with luminescent  greenery in hot springs  but was eventually interminable. Notices warned that we should be aware of ‘sensitive, sub alpine plants’ and stick to the path. We walked miles  advising the plants that they were strong and beautiful and should not feel ‘below standard‘ we even gave assertiveness training.  By the end of our weary  helter-skelter they were feeling much better about themselves and prepared to take positive criticism. We, however, were knackered.

ITHILIEN

The Mangawhero Falls are below Mount Ruapehu and  any passer by would have seen two almost senior citizens playing with a large sliver of carrot and pretending to be Sméagol catching his fish in the pool there. Fortunately we were alone. We were also alone in our Private Pool in the thermal spa where we soaked in the mineral spring. Some like it hot!

catching fish


March 26th 31st

Last couple of days on South Island.

Nelson – beautiful place and guess what we found there…..we found the Ring!!! We saw Aragorn’s and Gandalf’s rings and we saw The Original Ring used in the film….and best of all, we HELD the massive Ring that was used in the close ups. It wasn’t melted by lava in Mount Doom after all, it still exists…and I held it!!! You know what that means don’t you!!

North Island

Beautiful sunset as we headed for North Island.

Stop 1;Wellington was keeping the Earth Watch Hour of Darkness as we arrived. It’s a windy place with spectacular views over the harbour, delightful houses on Oriental Bay and the surrounding hills… and lots of people taking exercise. It also has the most fantastic museum..Te Papa…if you need somewhere to take kids on a Sunday morning, this is it…we learnt lots about Maori History.

Stop 2;Palmerston North

Steve Dawson, Ann Marie and Lily Mae live there – we called in to say hello and meet 11 week old Lily. What a lovely life they have…Ann Marie is growing veg in the garden, looking after their lovely big house, she sorted out our washing and persuaded us to sleep in a proper bed …and all the while looking after a new baby! Steve has a really good school and is enjoying his job. He cooked us a great meal, we drank a silly amount of wine and were hugely entertained by the cleverest, most sociable and cutest baby…..she is a star…. and….she sleeps!!! We’ve left her a permanent reminder of us in the shape of a purple ‘Eddie the Elephant’ which plays music (how could we resist?)

lily mae

Stop 3; Napier

Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 Napier was completely rebuilt in Art Deco style and remains like that today. It’s one of the best examples of original Art Deco architecture in the world. Eddie loved it and has taken some superb photos. I put my flapper dress on and tap danced.

napier

Stop 4; Lake Taupo

Take a 100m wide , 4m deep fast flowing river and funnel it into a gap 15m wide and 10m deep and you get Huka Falls – a brilliant colour and scarily powerful.

Take a layer of magma which heats the earth above it and sends steam hissing through the fissures….add some mud pools, lots of noises and smells and you get the Craters of the Moon – lots of lovely colours and spookily prehistoric

Tomorrow our steps lead to Mount Doom…………..precious