Perth – Family Time

Here we are now in Perth for 10 days ahead of us heading home. Perth is home to Logan and Tara and now Charlie our youngest grandson who was born on the day that we left New Zealand – back on 6 August 2019. Carol’s oldest brother Trevor has come over from New South Wales to meet up with us, but also to have time with Logan, Tara and Charlie. Carol’s sister Linnie then joined us here on the Saturday – with her spending a week with us here as well to catch up with family. Perth has been turning on the heat for us – on the Friday after we arrived, we survived a 40-degree day – time was spent inside with the AC, or in the shade, but any wind that there was, was a hot wind so no respite. A local routine with Logan and Tara is to head up to Ellenbrook to Bunnings and over to the shopping mall – we have made plenty of trips up there in the past week. Logan treated us to some barbequing pleasures on more than one occasion – he has a barbeque for all purposes it seems. Logan and Tara had some friends over on the Saturday and we all enjoyed a nice meal and a couple of cold ones – it was feeling like a holiday. Logan has a water feature that he picked up so on the Sunday we all trekked out (2 vehicle convoy required) to the Lilly Farm and Logan and Tara picked up some water lilies and a bag of gold fish who were then transferred into the water feature in the back yard.

On the Monday morning I had a job interview first thing (7am WA time) but once I had that out of the way, we all loaded up (Linnie and Trevor included) and made our way up and over to Hillary’s Boat Harbour where we boarded the ferry over to Rottnest Island. The ferry was full which surprised us for a Monday morning – obviously we weren’t the only ones on holiday today. The day was hot – the sea breeze as we worked our way across to Rottnest (a distance of 22 km’s from Hillary’s) was a welcome relief. This was the first time to Rottnest for all of us and we had a great day. We loved the ride across in the fast ferry – there were a load of cargo seas moored way out in the Perth Bight or whatever the bay area our from Perth is called. The ride over to the island took us 45 mins – besides the boat being full with passengers, the favoured mode of transport on the island is the bicycle, and so loads of the passengers had hired bikes at Hillary’s to take over to the island for the day or days. Obviously Rottnest is famous for its furry little inhabitant – the Quokka, and you don’t have to go too far on the island to see them. Reality is those that you do see are the opportunist ones that are out in the daytime to feed on what the tourists will give them, whereas Quokka are actually nocturnal and so the best ones are tucked away somewhere during the day, only to come out in the evening. They weren’t plentiful, but there were a few pelican’s to be spotted – do love a good pelican either flying, sitting or swimming. The island is home to something like 350 permanent residents – probably those aligned with working on the island. That said we didn’t see much in the way of houses – although there are a load of beach bach’s that look to be very popular and that is what most visitors to the island stay in. The main / only entry point onto Rottnest is at Thomson Bay where the ferries all dock / depart from, and there main shopping, retail and dining options for the island are based.

We took the opportunity to hop on the Island Hop On Off bus – the island covers something like 19 square kilometres and has tourist bus that stops at something like 15 key spots around the island, so for us, it was a great way to see the island as we hopped off and on at a couple of different spots. Our first stop was at the West End of the island – we were told if you headed off from this point the next land mass you would come upon would be Madagascar. At West End there were some great rock formations, and a large NZ Fur Seal colony so we enjoyed having a good look at what this fantastic little island had to offer. We then got back on the bus and rode it back up the island and got ourselves off at the Geordie Bay area where there were some great boats / launches moored in this lovely bay. It was hot out but we found some shelter down on the beach and I jumped in the Indian Ocean to cool off. Carol and Linnie were less impressed by the cool of the water but dipped their toes (on average the island runs a few degrees cooler than the mainland). We had to board the ferry back by 4.30pm so we got ourselves back to Thomson Bay and found the Rottnest Hotel to have a cool beer and a basket of fries ahead of getting back to the dock. Rottnest was great – we all loved our day on the island if you haven’t been out there before we would recommend it as a must do if you are in Perth for a vacation. We all boarded the ferry and again, enjoyed our run back over to Hillary’s – a good day had by all.

On the Wednesday, Tara had to work, so her and Charlie headed off to the pre-school, whilst we all headed on out to Fremantle for the day. We dropped Carol and Linnie off to go and have a look at a neat sculpture park / display along the waterfront area, whilst the boys headed to the West Australia Army Museum which Trevor (Vietnam veteran) wanted to check out. The museum was great – there was a load more in the museum for me to absorb than I’d expected so it was very good. We passed 3 hours with the aid of the guided tour that we had – Trevor and our guide shared stories back and forth and had a great time, with Logan and I making up the numbers. We left the museum and met the girls down at the Fremantle waterfront at the local dining institution that is Cicerello’s Fremantle – a very popular spot for fish and chips and seafood – fresh from the local waters. We all enjoyed a great meal of local fish and chips before having a wander around the downtown area – Fremantle has a really nice vibe to it, with its old restored buildings, and the waters edge right there. Traffic builds up early on the highways around Perth, and we got ourselves caught in a couple of bottlenecks but it wasn’t too bad and we were soon back with Tara and Charlie to share stories from the day. Thursday saw us heading downtown for Logan and Tara to show some of Perth off to Trevor and Linnie. First stop for us was the recently revitalised Elizabeth Quay area down on the Swan River. Standing proudly there recently restored is the ever-impressive Swan River Bell Tower which stands over 80 metres tall, with 18 bells that chime away during the day. The quay area is also where the downtown ferries to Rottnest Island also depart from.

The Elizabeth Quay complex is a mixed-use development with cafes, ferry terminal, and high-rise apartment buildings. The quay has a very nice inner harbour that one of the local ferries (that plies across the bay) departs from. We were surprised though by all the jellyfish in the waters in this area. We had a good wander around and then we drove us to the really nice Kings Park area for a great picnic. The park area is really nice – the park is perched up on the hill overlooking the heart of Perth. The park had been the venue for a concert the day prior (Aha and Rick Astley), and they were still parking up after the event as we made our way into the park. On the edge of the park is the State War Memorial which has an eternal flame burning – very fitting location looking out over the city. The shade offered by the park was a very welcome reprieve from the 37-degree temperatures today. We had a great time in the park ahead of working our way back home for the evening. Carol and I had an early start to our Friday (well most mornings this past week were early courtesy of Charlie stirring early for Nana Carol to step in), dropping Logan out to the airport at 4.30am for him to head out to camp for the week – was great of him to adjust his shift to have this week with us. We got back to the house around 5am and nabbed a couple of hours sleep before Charlie rose for the day so that was a bonus. Our Friday consisted of taking Tara out for lunch – she took us over to a really nice restored pub in Guildford where we all had a nice lunch before we headed up to the Midland shopping mall and covered some steps traipsing around the mall – ended up being too much for Trevor and I – we retreated to the seats outside until the girls were done.

On Saturday, Carol’s brother Murray who lives in Albany (4 hours south of Perth) came up for the weekend to catch up with Tara and Charlie, and also to take his brother Trevor back south with him for a couple of weeks. Trevor and I had plans for the 3 of us to head down the road to the car museum at Whiteman Park, but Murray was a lot later arriving than expected, so Trevor and I spent the afternoon watching the Supercar racing from Adelaide, so not all bad. The girls had gone off with Tara and Charlie for a baby shower, so once we were all back, Murray treated everyone to some oysters he’d brought up, and fresh lamb chops for our dinner – that and a couple of drinks and we were all had a very nice evening. On the Sunday, Murray and Trevor dropped Linnie round to us and we all had an early lunch before Murray and Trevor started their trek back south to Albany. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon – which did include one last trip up to the Ellenbrook Mall. Tara and Carol took Linnie off to the airport mid evening for her to catch flights to Melbourne and then over to NZ so she can connect with family down south for the week. Monday being our last day with Tara and Charlie, we took the opportunity to babysit Charlie for the morning as Tara had to go off to work for the day. Charlie performed like a saint and was in a great mood for us, so that really helped. A walk around the block and then we dropped him off to Tara at the day-care for a couple of hours.

Carol and I spent our afternoon prepping some meals for Tara to put in the freezer, and then set about the task of packing our bags again – well Carol took charge of that in order to make sure my weight was down a bit. Fortunately we had managed to load Linnie up with some bits and pieces to take home for us as he bag limit was greater than ours, so we were very fortunate on that front. The balance of our time here was spent enjoying some more moments with little Charlie ahead of us having to get a cab out to the airport late evening in preparation for our 1am flight to Melbourne. The run to Perth Airport from Logan and Tara’s is probably 25 mins when you get a good run, so at 10pm we should be pretty right. From here we hop over to Melbourne for our last few days ahead of heading home – yep, back to Christchurch this coming Friday – 28 February – the trek is almost at an end. The Perth temperatures haven’t disappointed – it’s been hot this week – hotter than we would want to be comfortable but we’ve loved our time over here again. Just when we will be back next I’m not sure but we know Charlie will be sprouting up in no time at all, so we’d best not leave it too long.

New York to Perth

The flight from New York to Doha was scheduled to be something like 12 hours but with a good tail wind, the bumpy journey saw as arrive into Doha, Qatar around 1.5 hours early. We flew in over the water and the city of Doha essentially materialises out of the sand – a similar experience to Dubai where all around is sand and then all of a sudden you have skyscrapers and infrastructure in the middle of nowhere. Hamal International Airport is the operational base for Qatar Airlines – as you might expect, and is the second largest airport in the Middle East – I think I read somewhere that they spent something like $16 Billion building this airport. The airport is made up of one large terminal which is split into 5 main concourses – all of which is very nice, with a large Duty Free and Retail area – the airport has some nice architecture to it and is quite spread out – so much so that they have a light rail train that runs within the main terminal to get passengers from one side to the other. We had a substantial layover in Doha and now with being early we figured it wouldn’t hurt us to us to see if we couldn’t score a hotel for a few hours to freshen up. Issue was it took us atleast an hour of going back and forth within the main terminal to finally find the transfer area to arrange this. But as luck would have it, the airline put offered us a room in town so that was a real bonus. It took us another 30 mins to get all this sorted and then we were underway, heading into the city of Doha – very exciting. The ride from the airport into the town area is around 20 – 30 mins – the airport is based right up on the edge of the Persian Gulf. The skyline varies – you can see all the infrastructure that has gone in to support the city of Doha, and then you have a couple of large blocks of sky-scrappers on the horizon, and you are back to the vastness of a desert country as you might expect.

Sharing our taxi into the city was an Australian traveller from the same flight – he had the enviable job of being a superyacht skipper. He’d docked the yacht and was heading home to Perth – he did a month on, month at home. I was very interested talking with him about the yacht itself and where he spent the year sailing, what the lifestyle was like – very cool. After whizzing our way towards the city, we were dropped off at a nice hotel and provided with a very nice room – the biggest room we had been in, in some time. We took the opportunity as night closed in on us to have a walk down town but we didn’t get too far – but enough to wet the appetite that this could be a nice spot to come back to – but maybe only for a couple of days. To be honest we got our best views of Doha later that evening when we flew out – getting a nice view of The Pearl – Qatar – the inner city circular harbour residential development that is in essence a large manmade circular island full of high rise apartment buildings – at night all lit up it looked very impressive. As to the hotel, having stretched our legs we enjoyed the opportunity to have a bite to eat, a good shower and then grabbed a couple of hours sleep before being whisked back out to the airport at around 11pm. The night air was very mild – very pleasant. Even at this hour of the night the road back to the airport was busy, as was the airport – there were loads of people transiting through the airport – our yacht skipper suggested they were probably work away workers – they were all loaded up with stuff. Re-checked in we had a couple of hours to kill so had a wander around the terminal – there were a couple of nice new cars on display, and a large oversized teddy-bear in the centre of the terminal.

The bear is called the Lamp Bear (it has a lamp over its head) and it cost the crazy sum of $6.8 million to build a few years ago – not sure what that was all about. Anyway, we had a look around and then got ourselves parked up ready to board the A380 Airbus that would take us across to Perth. This leg was scheduled to take 11.5 hours and we finally pushed off from the gates at around 2.15am and as noted, we got a great view of the city of Doha under lights – a great way to view the city. Despite best efforts, there was no sleeping for me on this leg – but the time pasted not too badly and it wasn’t too long before we approach the West Australian coastline and came into land at Perth at @ 6.15pm. The plane was held back from coming into the gate for something like 20 mins, but finally we were off and into the heat of Perth – I think it was still 32 degrees outside. After a bit of a naff customs process – my e-passport wouldn’t work and so I had to do things the old fashion way, and then we got pulled up for a scan but finally with bags in hand we came out to find Logan and Carol’s brother Trevor there to meet us – roll on family time here in Perth.

New York – Manhattan Part Two

As forecast, Sunday morning dawned cool and fresh, but we packed up in Paterson, said our goodbyes to Elizabeth Summers and made our way back up to the bus station to head back into Manhattan for our final stint. We arrived in at the Port Terminal Station – I think it’s noted as the busiest bus station in the US if not the world with 8000 buses a day coming and going and over 160 million passengers a year – big numbers (not as big as Penn Station in Manhattan – that train and bus station is recorded as the busiest train station in the world with over 600,000 passengers transiting through the station each day). We got through the station and headed up to the hotel to check in and drop our bags off. From there we went off and brought tickets for one of the local Hop On Hop Off buses. Despite the cool weather we headed out and completed the Uptown and Harlem tour which took us our pass Central Park, a couple of the large Art Museums, and back through Time Square – the loop taking us around 2 hours. We were freezing cold having ridden in the open top bus so we headed back to the room to have a cuppa to warm up before heading out again, this time to complete the Downtown tour. It was getting dark before this loop was completed and despite it being Sunday, the downtown traffic was crazy busy – we spent an age just crawling along. This loop took us down to the southern tip of Manhattan, through the Wall Street area and along the 911 Memorial area, before winding its way back into the middle of Manhattan. We no sooner finished that loop and we headed around the corner to hop straight onto the Manhattan Night Time loop, which took us down through SoHo, Little Italy, China Town and then over the Hudson River into lower Brooklyn before looping back over and back up into the heart of Manhattan.

Bused out for one day we headed back to get a bite to eat before heading back to collapse into bed back at the hotel. On Monday morning we got up and enjoyed the hotel breakfast before heading out to get the early bus to complete the Bronx tour. The day was wet and cold, but the bus we boarded had a covered roof so we were good to go. This bus again took us up and around Central Park and the Harlem area before heading across the river into the Bronx where the centre piece is Yankee Stadium. The bus then winds back across the river and up into the heart of the city again. Once we got off the bus we headed back onto a downtown bus and rode it down to the Battery Park area at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Despite the rain we wandered up through the Wall St area, getting pics with the bronze bull before heading over to the 911 area where there is an amazing piece of architecture called the Oculus which is a shopping mall within a very cool structure. The Oculus is part of the wider 911 complex which includes the memorials – two large sunken water features with names of those that were victims of this event. Then you have the striking One World Trade Centre – the tallest building in New York (and maybe the US). We wandered around taking in all that this area has to offer – it’s all very nicely done. We then made our way over to where the complimentary ferry departs from. We boarded the 3pm ferry that proceeded to take us out past Ellis Island and then the Stature of Liberty. Despite the grey mucky day, we got up close to the island and got great views of the stature. To see it on a sunny day would provide a different perspective again, but we were very grateful for the views we had today.

To my surprise we then set sail around the corner of Manhattan and on up into the Hudson River. We crossed under the Brooklyn and then Manhattan Island bridges before heading well up the Hudson – giving us great views of Brooklyn and also the southern side of Manhattan. We felt the cruise was great – we had good commentary and covered a lot of ground, well water, but it was really good. We were away for 1.5 hours and then docked back at the terminal. From there with the evening closing in on us and rain steady, we wandered up the road to connect with a Hop On bus to get us back into the heart of the city. Again traffic was heavy, but the bus was covered so we were happy to ride. We made it back into town and then headed off to get some dinner and settle in for the evening. Tuesday represented our last day in the US and it again started off grey and damp. We stocked up with the hotel breakfast before packing our bags one last time. We stored our bags with the hotel before heading out for one last Hop On bus loop. We took the Uptown tour so we could get off at the art museums – Carol opting for the Guggenheim, whilst I went to the Smithsonian Museum of Design which resides in the Carnegie home – a very impressive building – the inside detailing and woodworking was something else. Going our separate ways, we each had varying art experiences – both of which were a little curtailed with exhibits closed off at both locations. That said, we enjoyed our time checking out a couple of unique and valued NYC sights. Leaving the museums we then popped in to have a brief look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – this would have been on the to do list but we were running out of time and had a decent walk ahead of us back to the hotel.

We soaked up what we could at the Met and then headed off on foot something like 50 blocks to get back downtown to the hotel. Rain in downtown Manhattan presents a new hazard – the umbrella. It was amazing our oblivious some people were with their umbrellas – not bothering to lift them up but leaving you to duck around them to avoid – should have been the other way round I think. We made it back long enough to get a cuppa at the hotel and no sooner sat down with that and our arranged airport shuttle turned up (early) to collect us for the trek out to JFK Airport. The shuttle had to complete a number of pick ups and they took us the best part of 40 mins before we finally started headed out to the airport proper – a distance of only around 15 miles, and yet it took us an hour and a half with the heavy traffic to finally get out to the airport and get unloaded. We pulled into JFK International Airport – the second largest in the world we were told and to back that up it has 8 main terminals to boot – we had to get off at Terminal 8. We’d banked some time and had ourselves to the airport in plenty of time. As tends to be the case when you have time, things weren’t crazy busy and we flowed through customs and screening with no issue. We parked up in the lounge area and sat back to reflect some on our time here in New York, but also the US. I think I will summarise our time in the US in a separate entry, so for now, it’s goodbye USA – hello Doha and then Perth as we start our trek homeward bound.

Paterson New Jersey

Making our way back to the Port Authority terminal, we got directions as needed and found our way to the gate where the buses to Paterson New Jersey depart from. We had a house sit to close cover us for the following five days which just about sees our time in the USA coming to a close. Paterson is only a little over 20 miles from Manhattan, but riding the bus, the trip takes you atleast an hour – if you have a good run. Paterson is I think the 3rd largest city in New Jersey with a population of around 150,000. Paterson was well known for being a big industrial town – the heart of it being based on fabric mills, but with the industry closing, the area has suffered somewhat – I guess its fair that I describe it as a lower socio area. We enjoyed the bus ride out to Paterson but arrived a little early to go straight to the house sit so we found a bite to eat and killed some time before finding Yvonne’s home which is an apartment in what was one of the main silk mills in Paterson. Living with Yvonne here in the apartment is Elizabeth Summers – a 3-year-old Yorkie – cute little dog, who is well spoilt by her owner. Yvonne took us through things locally, and we then headed out with Elizabeth for a walk so that Yvonne ‘could slip away without her seeing her do so’. Back to the apartment, we settled in to making Elizabeth comfortable with us. We had a quiet day Wednesday in the apartment – getting Elizabeth out for a couple of walks, despite the cold day that developed. We enjoyed a quiet day entertaining the dog and catching up on some email duties (Blog entries).

Thursday was a cold damp day but we headed off in the morning to get a bus back into Manhattan for the day. We arrived into the Port Authority terminal and stepped back out into the madness that is Manhattan / New York City – the place is alive all the time it seems. Not surprising when you look at the scale of NYC – a population of over 8.6 million has to go somewhere. From the terminal we made our way a number of blocks over to the Hudson River to where the aircraft carrier Intrepid is berthed – the base of the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. The aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1974 and berthed up the Hudson River some time thereafter. The aircraft carrier is now an interactive museum with aircraft on the deck to explore and the internals of the carrier as well. I didn’t push my luck and do the museum visit – I’ve been very lucky with all that I’ve seen and we’ve been fortunate enough to do a carrier museum previously in San Diego (the USS Midway). I satisfied my appetite for all things naval and aviation and had a good wander around the docks and got a few pics – the display includes a British Airways Concorde on the dock below the carrier – maybe a visit for another trip to New York. From the Intrepid we wandered back along the waterfront (a lot of work is being down refurbishing some of the abandoned dockland areas – Google are establishing new offices and a retail space in one of the old dock buildings and there is a really neat project underway at the old Cunard Pier 54 site which will be a very cool looking floating garden that will simply be called ‘Pier 54’ and which is due to open next year) – West Side Highway / Joe DiMaggio Highway, down to the Chelsea / Gramercy area which is where the Highline walk commences (at the old Chelsea Meat Packing area that looks to have been refurbished into a very up market part of town with boutique stores and dining). We only found out about this area through a friend back home who was in the New York late last year and came upon the area (to our surprise we haven’t located a dedicated NYC Welcome Centre for visitor / tourist info).

The Highline is a stretch of disused subway / Metro line that cuts through some really nice parts of lower to mid-Manhattan, along the track lines. The tracks have been out of use for years by the looks of some of the trees and bits growing up through the tracks, but the developers have done a great job with the paving’s and walkway surfaces, the benches  that have been installed and the art installations that are regular to break up the otherwise amazing spectacle that is the Manhattan skyline. The architecture is great – we walked alongside / through some amazing looking building – some old, some very retro, some very new – I’m loving it. The walkway runs out on you all to soon at the Hudson Yards complex – a big block that looks out on the Hudson River a block away. This complex is amazing – there is ‘The Shed’ which is a huge moveable canopy that slides into and out from the neighbouring building for concerts and events. There’s a very flash retail space at the base of the huge new building which I think is called the ‘Edge’ – this building will (opens next month) have the highest open-air viewing platform in NYC on the 100th floor – sure to give amazing views out over this amazing island. The real standout in the area is a structure / piece of art called ‘Vessel’ – it opened last year and is a honeycomb like structure that rises 16 stories – you have 154 separate flights of stairs – 2500 steps in total, and 80 landing areas for you to stop and soak up all that this amazing structure offers you. It was designed by a British architect who has some other popular structures here in Manhattan. The Vessel is an amazing piece of architecture and engineering – and is very very impressive.

Wrapped with all that we had seen on this grey day in Manhattan we wandered back up town to the bus terminal and only had a short wait before a bus pulled up to take us back out to Paterson. It was raining and getting dark by the time we got back out to the area but we called into the local market and picked up a few supplies before getting back to find Elizabeth exciting to see us home for the evening. We had a quiet start to our day on Friday – after all, it was our wedding anniversary, so we had a nice morning reflecting on our journeys to date, and plans moving forward. The day was cold and windy, but we wrapped up and headed across town to find the Paterson Great Falls Welcome Centre. This area is run by the National Park Service and the team there were great giving us a whole lot of insight into the formation of this area. We knew that Paterson had some history as an industrial city, but little did we know that Paterson was credited with being the first City of Innovation to be developed here in the US. Alexander Hamilton who was one of Washington’s key supporters, founded America’s first planned city of innovation and industry in 1792, helping to drive the US as the world’s largest and most productive economy. Paterson became a manufacturing hub for locomotives, textiles, silk, machine tools, and then in the early 1900’s, aircraft engines. The area was in fact at one time the US’s largest producers of locomotives, and produced nearly half the nations silk stocks. Colt made their first guns in the area, and the area is credited with being the home of the world’s first operable submarine.

Central to the area, and needed to provide all the power required for all this progress, is the Great Falls Hydroelectric Plant which sits on the Passaic River. The waterfalls here are 77 ft high and 300 ft long, making them the second largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi (second to Niagara). The power plant fed the cities industrial appetite. We had a great wander around the falls and then we found our way up to Hinchliffe Stadium that was erected in 1932. It was thought that the stadium would be the site of the ’32 Olympic Games, but I don’t think they went ahead with the depression? The stadium is in a state of disrepair, but the National Park’s Service has taken charge of the site which is the Park Service’s only stadium site in the US, and there are plans to restore the site to his glory days of the 30’s – 50’s when it was site / base to the Negro Baseball League, football and also Speedway – some of the pics of the Speedway action from the 40’s and 50’s looked great. From this area we made our way over to the Paterson Museum where the volunteer was only too happy to take us through the museum and impart all the info that they could. The museum is home to info on the original Indian inhabitants in the corner of New Jersey, the train industry, textile mills, aviation and marine developments, a very cool collection of early Colt weapons, and a great Gasoline Alley tribute to the speedway and racing shops that operated in the area. Really surprised but pleased by finding what we did today, and learning what we had, we headed off back to the apartment, just as a low shower of snow came down. The weather was really cold, but there was blue sky, and snow coming down – what a combination.

On Saturday we rose to a fine but very cold day. Carol got Elizabeth out for a quick walk round the block and then we headed down to get a bus back into Manhattan. We’re getting use to the ride in and out – some of the sights are looking familiar but it’s a good way to ride. We got out of the bus terminal to be hit with a very cool wind chill but we pushed on – heading east today – up towards the East River. Along the way we went in and had a nice look around Central Park Station – very nice facility. Next along the road was the Chrysler Building – another of New York’s iconic buildings. From there it’s a couple more blocks and you are outside the United Nations complex – main building and I think the General Assembly Hall. The facility was all locked up today – during the week you can tour through the area. The UN is just one block back from the East River and so has one of the best outlooks over onto Brooklyn – the skyline over there looking good as well. With the cold biting hard at us we headed back uptown a few blocks and found something warm to eat before heading on to see the Empire State Building. We didn’t go up to the observation deck – just a look through the foyer area for us today. We then headed downtown to the iconic Flatiron Building – the one that sits on a corner and looks like a slice of cake from above. Unfortunately the building was being renovated at the moment so was largely shrouded in scaffolding but you get a sense for what the building is. We headed back into the heart of Manhattan going past Madison Square Garden – which is not a garden as such but a building complex that takes up the block. We made it back to the bus terminal and got ourselves a bus back to Paterson.

Just as we arrived into Paterson, the white flurry stuff began to fall again, but not in enough volume to be an issue – touch wood that continues to be the case until we are gone from these shores. Despite the cold we got back to the apartment and found Elizabeth excited to see us so we got her out for a walk around the block before warming ourselves back up for the evening. Tomorrow Sunday sees us heading back into New York for our last two nights back here in the US. Our stint here in Paterson has been good – the location was convenient for getting in and out from Manhattan. Being on foot we have been a little limited in how far we could go locally, but Paterson comes across as a bit of a mix – it obviously had been a very progressive area 100 years ago, but it appears that progress caught up with Paterson and the city has deteriorated the past 20 years or more. That said, its still a hub for a load of people, and there’s a mix of retail, businesses and homes in the area. One of the concerning factors in the area and New York for that matter is that you really can’t seem to escape the sound of cars honking horns as they grow impatient, or emergency services rushing somewhere with their sirens blaring – maybe it simply has something to do with the scale of this area. We will wait to see how our Sunday dawns but fair to expect it will be cold again. We look forward to getting back into Manhattan and making the most of the next couple of days.

New York / Manhattan – Part One

As had been our experience with Greyhound, the bus today again ran late, but eventually we were on board and away but not for long. Less then 10 blocks away from the bus terminal the bus pulled over – the emergency door had come open in transit and wouldn’t lock into position, so after standing on the side of the road for an hour or so a replacement bus finally arrived and we boarded that and go away proper this time for New York. We’d been due to arrive in New York by 1pm – with the dramas experienced that turned out to be 2.30pm but we still enjoyed the ride and the experience of travelling up from Philadelphia. It seemed that for long stages of our trip were following water – firstly the Delaware River and then I think it was the Hudson River that separates the mainland with Manhattan Island. We passed Newark International Airport – a big airport and one of 3 main airports in the wider New York area. We passed another big energy plant sucking water from the nearby river, and then the skyline of Manhattan comes into view – impressive. There’s a bit bridge that spans the river but we went under the river instead – via the Lincoln Tunnel that travels 1.5 miles under the Hudson River (another impressive engineering feat). The long tunnel saw us pop up in central Manhattan at the Port Authority Terminal – very handy. We were staying only a couple of blocks up from the station so very handy for us despite the float of people that greeted us in the station and then out on the main streets. With the hotel found (40 floors and over 400 rooms), we took our room on the 20th floor and headed out to see some of New York / Manhattan.

I was like a kid in a lolly shop – I kept stopping Carol to go wow, look at that building, look at that. Carol was here in New York 10 years ago – to run the marathon with her sister Netty, so Carol took me in hand and led me uptown. I was in awe of the skyline – I didn’t have strong expectations for New York, but for me the architecture and skyline were amazing – very cool experience. We wandered up one of the main streets, stopping and steering as we went, and found our way to Time Square which was buzzing with people. We found some info out on Broadway shows but nothing jumped out at us, so we just checked out some shops and buildings and enjoyed all that we were experiencing as the evening closed in on us and the neon’s of Time Square came into their own. My first impression was that New York was like London on steroids and then maybe some – it’s just alive, and stretches up into the clouds all around you – there are some big buildings here. Still buzzing from this first taste of New York we found somewhere to eat and then wandered a bit more before heading back to the hotel. On Tuesday we made the most of the hotel breakfast – along with all the other guests it seemed – the place was packed, but it was a bonus to have a nice hot breakfast. We stored our bags with the hotel and then headed off on foot to go down 8th Avenue to Central Park. The day was overcast and a bit misty but improved as we went, and made for good walking conditions.

We made it to Central Park and the good volunteer at one of the info stations kindly suggested a good route for us to take. We found our way around to the John Lennon Memorial – Strawberry Fields and then on around to the Belvedere Castle. The castle had recently been totally restored and they’d done a great job. Next stop was the Alice in Wonderland statue – supposedly the most Instagramed spot in Central Park. You then head around to the Bethesda Terraces – a really impressive point in the park with old mosaics, great sandstone carving adorning the terraces – very cool. From there you head back down The Mall area which looked familiar from movie scenes shot in the park – the lanes all lined with benches and statues. The bottom end of the park was the setting for some of the closing scenes of Home Alone 2. The skyline around the park is really impressive – on the 8th Avenue side there are some large gothic like apartment blocks that the likes of Steve Spielberg and Gerry Seinfeld live in. The south end is soon to be home to a couple of the tallest buildings in New York – the Central Park Apartments is the 2nd or 3rd tallest building in NY at over 1550 ft – supposedly they wouldn’t let them build a tower on the top otherwise it might have been the tallest building in the skyline – as it is I think they stated it would be the tallest apartment building in the Western Hemisphere.

We left the peace of the park and came back out to the hussle and bussle of 5th Avenue. We wandered along passing one amazing building after another, intermixed with the occasional church and cathedral. We went into and had a look at St Patricks Cathedral – I think it’s noted as the largest cathedral in the USA – very impressive inside. We found the Rockefeller Centre and the ice-skating ring that you see in the movie sets, at the base of the large building. We wandered around really impressed by what New York / Manhattan was offering us and we look forward to exploring the city more, but for now we had to make our way back to the hotel to collect our bags and to then make our way to transit out to Paterson New Jersey where we will be based for the next few days, but we will be back in the heart of Manhattan on Sunday, excited to see some more of this impressive area.

Philadelphia

We had a bit of a wait at the bus station – the trend with Greyhound seems to be to keep their customers waiting and not say too much, but we were then on the bus and heading on out of Washington DC. The trip through to Philadelphia with stops would take around 3.5 hours, and we were rewarded with some more great countryside to see for the first time. First main stop for us was the city of Baltimore – the most populous city in Maryland – our bus route would follow Interstate 95 which flows up the eastern side of the US and through all the eastern US states. Baltimore is another large city with a population of over 600,000. One of the main sights that greets you as you come into the city though is their rubbish / power generation plant – they burn local rubbish to make steam which is then used to make power – impressive but also a bit of a sight in the heart of a large city. From Baltimore the I95 follows the last of the Chesapeake Bay inlet before you cross over in Delaware and find yourself following the large Delaware River north. Our plan had been to take a few days to head back down through this area and go around and over the Chesapeake Bay but our schedule has changed as we have one further house sit in New Jersey to see our time out here in the US, so one trip to come back and do as the waterways on this eastern side of the US are pretty special, plus there is the bonus of the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel at the bottom of the bay that I want to span at some point (23 miles of engineering marvel over and under the Chesapeake Bay).

Stretching over into Delaware – the last state we needed to span on our travels we stopped in city of Wilmington which sits on the banks of the Delaware River. Up and down the river there was signs of industry drawing water out of the river for their production sites – power plants, and manufacturing sites. Our time in Delaware would be all too sort, but nevertheless we spanned Delaware before moving back into Pennsylvania and pushing on for Philadelphia. There’s only around 30 miles that sperate Wilmington and Philly so not a long final push for us. As we near Philly you pass the International Airport and then come up alongside the Delaware River and Philadelphia Harbour. The US Navy obviously have a strong presence here as there was a load of new and also old US Navy hardware tied up / docked along the inner port area. Downtown Philadelphia greeted us with sunshine, but in the shade of all the large buildings, it was fresh, and even a little cold. Philadelphia is another large city – with a population of nearly 1.6 million. And whilst it was busy downtown, it wasn’t too bad pulling our bags the mile and a half to the Fairmont area – the exercise generating enough heat. We met Paula the home owner briefly before she had to head off to work, and were left with Jack – the energetic 2-year-old Golden Retriever – living here in a single bedroom apartment. As it would turn out, the area we were in was all about apartment living and the local streets were busy with other apartment dwellers walking their dogs – some big some small. Across from where we were staying there was a Doggie Day-care that looked to do a roaring trade – the window was always lined as we headed out with Jack for a walk.

We took Jack out for a bit of a walk to get our bearings locally and then dropped him back to the apartment so we could head down to the market to get some supplies. Our routine for the week ahead was to walk Jack later in the evening before we planned to head off for bed so we generally headed out in the cool (just above zero if we were lucky) of the evening around 9-10pm. Our walks oriented us on the neighbourhood – loads and loads of apartments – mostly older buildings that had been given another life as an apartment. Thursday dawned fine but cool so we headed out for a good morning walk with Jack – we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – home of the Rocky steps, and then along the Schuylkill River which flows up and through Philadelphia. Along the river they have done a nice job with restoring / beautifying the area. There’s a really nice collection of old rowing club houses along one of the stretches of the river and over the winter they have the houses lit up with lights – there’s also ice skating in the park nearby – all very nice. We were rewarded with loads of squirrels doing their thing – they are fun to watch. There were loads / there are loads of nice statues in and around the city of Philly so loads to look at and take in. I had a job interview to connect with that afternoon and with that out of the way we headed into town again to have a bit of a look around and get a few more supplies. Back home we walked Jack later that evening.

On Friday with our morning walking duties covered, Carol and I headed uptown to the Liberty Square area to see the famed Liberty Bell – crack and all. Exploring the history locally, we made our way back up town to the Reading Markets – a very popular spot for eating and buying fresh produce and meats. The place was buzzing with people – we enjoyed a few nice samplers as we went around. Having had a good look around downtown we headed back for Jack and got him out for a good walk again. On Saturday I went off on my own in search of the Simeone Auto Museum – that no one at the local Philly Visitor Centre had heard of and yet, it was again voted the world’s best auto museum last year – a little hidden secret in South Philadelphia. I connected with a couple of buses to get myself across to Sth Philly – spread out along the Schuylkill River was a large petroleum plant or plants – just seemed to stretch on as far as the eye could see. From the bus stop I had a walk of less than a mile to quite an industrial type area where I found the museum. Simeone was / is a local neuro surgeon here in Philadelphia who has done very well for himself and with his spare change went out and amassed one of the most significant collections of rare sports car. The collection is certainly not one of the largest with only around 80 cars in total, only going up to 1975, but it comprises significant sports / racing cars from vintage to mid-70’s. He has had cars win at Pebble Beach – some of the cars in the collection were one of only 7, 10 or 20 ever built – we are talking rare metal here. The museum is nicely set out in the eras that the cars competed.

I took my time and took in all that the museum had to offer – great cars, some nice displays and old videos playing. I spent a good 3 hours soaking up the place before making my way back over to catch the first of my buses back into central Philly. They don’t advertise the museum overly – anyone that follows cars will know of the place and will find it if they are in Philly – and it looked like they were happy keeping things that way even considering the notoriety they have gained being voted the world’s best. I made it back to the apartment and connected back with Carol who’d had a great day doing some exploring of her own. Jack was pleased to see us as we headed out and around the neighbourhood again. Sunday was Super Bowl Day here in the US so we headed out early to take in the Philly Museum of Art – stopping for a picture opportunity with Rocky before running up the famed Rocky movie steps – once was enough today. The Museum of Art – pay as you like on the first Sunday of the month, so cost effective for us today, has an amazing collection – I have to admit I can’t get my head around some art these days – what were they thinking??? The museum had an amazing collection of armour and weaponry from this period and that was pretty amazing to look over. The museum is home for some special pieces by Van Gogh and others – Carol will be ashamed I can’t remember them all – she was certainly in her happy place taking in all that the museum had to offer. I left Carol to it and headed back to the apartment as I had a couple of interviews lined up that afternoon, so I did those whilst Carol found a couple more art museums to enjoy.

With the interviews over and Carol home from a big day of art viewing we sat down and took in our first Super Bowl game proper – and interesting and very drawn out game but it was still okay. Game over we got Jack out for a late walk and then heard game goers making their way home as we settled down for the night. It’s a funny area – drivers, people in general seem pretty impatient around the place as car horns are hooted with good frequency. Mind you drivers seem to just stop in the middle of the road to drop off and pick people up so it could all get a bit frustrating around the streets here. Monday morning had us out early walking Jack one last time before trying to clean the apartment up ahead of us leaving. Jack is such a hairy dog there was dog fur everywhere. With bags packed and the apartment left as we’d found it, we bid Jack good bye and headed off (Paula would be home to him in a few hours). The day in Philly was lovely – the sun was shining and it was finally warming up – quite unseasonal for this time of year but the city was expecting 15 degrees or more today, so it was nice for walking uptown to the bus station once more. After a solid 30 min trudge pulling bags along, I was pleased to finally see the Greyhound sign once more. With that we would wait for our bus to go. Philadelphia had been a good experience for us – loads to see and do and despite its size it didn’t feel too bad. But it’s time to move on again – almost for the last time here in the US – next stop New York.

Washington DC

Having really enjoyed our previous North Carolina train journey, we were excited about the ride ahead. Just before 9am the train pulled into the station at Burlington and I managed to lug our bags up and onto the train and we got settled in for the ride. Our scheduled arrival in Washington wasn’t until maybe 5pm so we had all day to enjoy our rail trip – a nice way to travel. The train made regular stops as we worked our way north out of Nth Carolina and over into Virginia. The landscape as we worked our way up into Virginia was great – there were some great waterways in Virginia that feed out into Chesapeake Bay – the largest being the Potomac River. Around Quantico VA there was a large Marine base right on the edge of the river. We had some good waterways / bridges that we had to cross – all very cool. Would have enjoyed some more time looking around this wider Chesapeake Bay area, so maybe on a subsequent trip – we just like areas around the water. The train made good time and pulled into the central Washington DC Station – Union Station at 4.15pm. We had to fight our way through the masses to get through the station and find the Metro line that we take us ‘up town’ towards where we are staying. With tickets purchased we had to effectively push our way onto the Metro, bags and all and get cosy with everyone off for the 4 stops we needed to travel. Getting off at Farragut Square we only had to walk 3 blocks up town to the hotel where we were staying – very handy. That evening we headed out for a bit of a walk to do some orientation and came upon the National Geographic building / offices, which includes their museum. It was too late to go in today, but one for Carol to come back to. Even this short walk around in the early evening was giving us a really good vide for Washington DC.

Saturday morning we were up and out – we had some places to see and some more orientation of the city to sort. We headed down towards the Washington Monument – the monument, an obelisk was finally completed in 1885 after a very stop start history. It was at that time the tallest structure in Washington DC. It stands 555 ft high and interestingly it was constructed of 2 varying types of brick so when you look at it you can see the lower part is in one, and the taller section is in a slightly different tone of brick. From the monument we headed into the National Mall area – the home of the Smithsonian. We started by going to the Smithsonian Castle where they have info on all the museums in the area. The castle – which was the first museum for the Smithsonian was built in 1849 – the Smithsonian being formed in 1846 from the funds of an Englishman scientist James Smithson who never actually came to the US but asked that his wealth be donated to the forming of a museum in the US – very generous. At the castle there is a display from each of the museums so you can get a taster of what you want to view.

For me, first off was the Air and Space Museum so I headed from the castle down the mall (which is in effect a large parked avenue area) to the Air and Space. Unfortunately the museum is currently in the midst of a major renovation (7-year project) and over half of the displays are closed off whilst the renovation work takes place – emm, disappointing. That said, the place was buzzing with people – the museums are all free to enter, so a really popular spot at weekends especially when its cold outside, to come and look around. The Air and Space Museum had a load of interactive areas aimed specifically for kids. I’d expected the museum would take me 6 hours or so to explore, and maybe if everything was open to view, it would have, but even in it’s cut back state it still took Carol and I the best part of 3 hours to do the museum justice (key planes on display include the X-1 Sound Barrier breaker, Spirit of St Louis and the Apollo Lunar Landing Module. One interesting display for me was one of the huge propellers that is mounted on the wall, and which comes from I think it was the Boeing Wind Tunnel – it was huge and very impressive – and in the wind tunnel itself, it had 2 of them side by side.

From Air and Space, we wandered up to Capital Hill and had a good look around the grounds and fountains here – big impressive complex. From there it was a long walk back to the hotel, and it was getting dark by the time we got back – load of steps having been covered today. Sunday dawned fine so we again headed off early and started by headed down and around the White House area. There are just so many amazing old, big buildings dotted everywhere around Washington DC – great. Not catching any glimpse of Donald at the White House we wandered up to the National WW2 Memorial – a very impressive monument. There was loads to take in – the memorial was opened in the early 2000’s and was a nice tribute. The monument sits at the eastern end of the Reflection Pool so we wandered along it to the imposing Lincoln Memorial that sits atop the west end and then looks our and across the Potomac River and over to the Arlington area. There were loads of people around but we had a good look around including the little museum that sits a floor below the main statue. Moving back down from this area you have the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – a long wall with the names of those that lost their live in this conflict. A little memorialed out, we wandered back up to the National Mall area and found the American History Museum – another impressive museum. We just spent our time looking around the ‘On the Move’ display which chronicled the US changes in transportation from ship, rail, to road. Today saw Chinese New Year celebrations taking place so we headed up to the Chinatown area to catch up on some of this. Carol and I then went our separate ways – I headed off to the US Navy Museum and Carol headed for the Botanical Gardens and a couple of the galleries in the area. Another big step day completed.

We kept things going on Monday by heading off early and getting down to the Natural History Museum for opening time at 10am. We had a good look around the amazing collection of gems that they are currently displaying, and covered off the other main museum displays. From there we headed uptown to the Washington Convention Centre where the Washington DC Auto Show was on for 2 weeks so we had a look around some great classic cars, but also all the new releases from all the main car producers – very impressive (but not one Skoda to be seen anywhere). It was dark again by the time we made our way our and headed back to the hotel – a load more steps having been covered again today. On Tuesday Carol and I headed off in separate directions – Carol had art and National Geographic on her agenda – for me I was going in search of planes. I got away early heading up to one of the Metro stations and riding it as far as it would take me out to an area called Wiehle-Reston (I guess it was an outer suburb of Washington but the area was city like). From there I had to connect with a bus to take me over to the Chantilly area where the Dulles International Airport is located. My trip took me a bit over an hour, but saw me arriving at the entrance to the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Centre of National Air and Space Museum (connected to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum like its big brother), which is based to the side of the airport. Udvar-Hazy is a billionaire aircraft lessor who donated a load of money for this amazing facility to be established, and had the complex named in his honour – wow.

The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum opened in December of 2003 and it was amazing. They don’t have the largest collection of aircraft (they have around 200 main pieces on display), and they certainly don’t have one of every type of aircraft, but they had a great mix and they had an amazing way of displaying their collection with something like 100 aircraft, missiles and spacecraft handing suspended from the roof of this very large complex (the main complex / hanger covers 6 football fields and is then supported by the space hanger that juts off to the side of the main hanger. You can walk the main floor and then you can go up 6 floors to the upper board walk which runs pretty much the entire length of the main hanger to view the craft hanging suspended, at eye level – very cool. Even with all the aviation museums I have been so lucky to see with our time away, this museum presented me with some real gems in the form of an amazing collection of some experimental German and Japanese aircraft from WW2, and a flying wing – very cool, and something to give me a real buzz to have seen. Additional the museum is home to the original Enola Gay B-29 Super Fortress, an Air France Concorde, and one that I didn’t think I would be so in awe of was the Space Shuttle Discovery displayed in its raw state showing the wear and tear of its space travel – was amazing to be up close to this (we’ve seen a couple of shuttles now, but now had that natural patina finish that the Discovery displays here at this museum.

A trip to the gift show saw me laden with the museum book (there were 3 books I wanted and had to scale my choice back to just one for now), and that it was time to think about heading back towards Washington DC (I spent the batter part of 4 hours with my jaw dropped going around this amazing complex – and reflecting on just how lucky I’ve been to have such an amazing experience visiting such museums – thank you Carol for supporting this. The bus and then the train saw me back into the Metro station in Washington (frustrated with the Metro card experience and cost incurred, but I was back). I no sooner got back to the hotel and made a cuppa and Carol messaged to say she was finishing up at the National Geographic Museum so I headed over there to meet up with her and we found ourselves somewhere to have some dinner and respectively reflect on all we had seen and experienced today. Wednesday started off cool but fine and saw us heading back uptown with bags in tow to get to the Metro station back over to Union Station for us to get to the Greyhound depot. The Metro was crazy busy through to the first stop – we were packed in like sardines, but then it thinned out a little and we had room to move once again. We found our way up and through the station – they are big complexes in their own right with shopping malls included etc. With tickets in hand it was time to move again, with our time in Washington DC coming to a close. I probably didn’t have high expectations for this city but I have to say the city vibe was great – the city is big with over 630,000 in the wider DC area, but it was good to get around, people were good, there wasn’t too much homelessness for the most part – maybe they are in some of the outer areas? There’s loads to see and do, and considering the likes of the Smithsonian related museums are free to view, they are amazing facilities to have available for the traveller. There’s more we could have done and seen here, but we were thankful the winter weather was kind and supported all the walking around Washington that we undertook. Certainly a place to recommend and explore some more – some other time.

House Sitting Burlington Nth Carolina

We’d arranged to drop the rental car off by 11am so Ashley our house-sitting host had us on her door step not too long afterwards as Enterprise Rentals was only a few hundred metres down the road from their home. Henry and Ellis met us with excitement at the door and Ashley welcomed us in. Henry is a 6-year-old Standard English Bulldog – he had some great character too him and was good fun. Ellis is a bit younger at maybe 3 years old and appeared to be a bit of this and a bit of that. Unlike Henry that was pretty laid back, Ellis liked the attention – to the point that he almost needed the attention – he liked to be rubbed and up in your face as much as possible. Ashley and Dan don’t have any children at this stage and so Henry and Ellis fill that role for them. To say that have the run of the place was a fair statement – they live on the couch and sleep on and in the bed with Ashley and Dan – emm, going to be some changes for the week ahead. We sat and caught up with Ashley going over the in’s and outs of the house, and then Carol and I headed up the road to the local supermarket to get some supplies. We hadn’t long been back and Dan arrived home – so that afternoon was largely spent getting to know them and sharing some of our adventures with them along the way.

That evening Ashley and Dan took us for dinner at a little dinner that Ashley helps out at – was about 30 mins south of Burlington in a little area known as Snow Camp. Dinner was very popular with patrons standing wating for tables to become available. We headed back to the house and were greeted by Henry and Ellis. Ashley and Dan headed off early the following morning (4am) and so Henry made himself comfortable with us parking up on the bed with us. Despite the weather being fine, it was no longer shorts and tee shirt weather as the temperatures struggled to get up to much above 5 degrees in the coming days. Our daily routine consisted of a good walk with the dogs but we did have some dramas on our first outing on Saturday morning. Ashley had left us a key – but in her rush, it wasn’t the house key and so we found ourselves locked out. Thankfully Ashley has a very understanding neighbour who holds a spare key for them and he was able to get us back in – out of the cold. With keys now in hand, we were able to move around with greater confidence locally – phew. Besides walking the dogs and the occasion trip up to the supermarket to restock, the majority of our time was spent tending to the dogs – Ellis needed lots of rubs and attention, whereas Henry was happy to go with the flow and rule the roost.

On the Wednesday we took advantage of the generosity of Ashley and borrowed her car to head over towards Charlotte to an area called Mooresville where there are a number of car museums – this area north of Charlotte is right in the thick of NASCAR country, with a number of garages bases locally. The trip over was around 120 miles and took best part of 2 hours but we got to see some more of the state on our way back and forth (following I77, 85 and 40). First up was the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame (downtown Mooresville also has an Auto Racing ‘Walk of Fame’ for locals to enjoy). This museum had a really nice collection and the volunteer was quite endeared by the fact we were from NZ. She knew a Kiwi with a motorsport shop nearby and insisted on contacting him. Max Crawford is a strong name in NZ motorsport and has been based in the US since 1980 making sports / racing cars for the local market. When I spoke with Max he was in transit to Daytona for the 12-hour race where they had cars competing. Max was very generous in offering for someone to show us around his garage which was around 30 mins away from Mooresville, but we simply run out of time to do so which was unfortunate (but it was very good of him to offer to host us / have his team locally host us). Enjoying my time at the Hall of Fame, the volunteer then let us into a real gem across the road – over from the museum there is a classic car consignment dealer and boy did they have some great cars for us to view (I think Carol will agree there collection was amazing, and yes, if we had a few dollars there were a few options there we would happily have brought home with us).

The cars, many of which were car show ready, had a range of prices, but for the most part, the pricing really wasn’t too bad when you looked at the condition of the cars. I think it took us well over an hour just to browse the car yard. From there I headed down the road to the Memory Lane Car Museum – a good collection which includes one of the largest NASCAR collection in the US. A nice collection, but I still think the highlight today was the classic car yard we found. We headed back to Burlington – managing to miss any rush hour related traffic, and got back to the dogs and headed out for a late walk – which I think they appreciated. Thursday dawned a bit finer than earlier in the week so I braved the shorts for one last outing here in the US as we walked the dogs, picked up some bits at the shops and readied the house ahead of Ashley and Dan arriving back later that night. Friday morning was an early start for us and for Ashley who got up and offered us a lift up the road to the local train station – we headed off at 8am with the train due 8.45am. We said our goodbyes to Ashley – and the dogs of course and headed off – our North Carolina house sits having drawn to a close. We’d really enjoyed our time in this part of NC – but crikey the temperature has changed in the past couple of weeks – but there again, it is supposedly winter here, so we really can’t complain – but I do miss wearing my shorts daily.

Road Trip to the Outer Banks – NC

Robyn and Frank very kindly ran us up the road to the rental car place in Chapel Hill and with car keys in hand we said out good byes to them both but promising to keep in touch. We were going to spend the next couple of days checking out the Outer Banks area of North Carolina. We saw some info on the area when we were first in the state a few months ago and were keen to get back to this area if the opportunity arose – which we have now made happen. Picking up our car we started to head east. We had to firstly work our way ‘across the triangle’ which involved heading through Cary and then out through Raleigh – the main hub of the triangle. We primarily stuck to Highway 64 which runs east to west across North Carolina. We stopped at an area called Plymouth for a break – this was the scene of one of the state’s more significant Civil War battles (I think Plymouth was a Union held area, whom the Confederates then drove out of the area). Plymouth is also at the base of the Albemarle Sound waterway that forms the upper portion of the inner Outer Bank area – if that makes sense (it does if you follow a map). You have the Albemarle Sound to the north of the inner passages and Pamlico Sound to the south – big inner waterways that are of course fed from and into the Atlantic on the eastern coastline of North Carolina. Off these main sounds are a number of feeder channels, sounds and rivers – it’s a huge waterway and very interesting. Further east and we stopped at the little town of Columbia which is effectively the end of the 4-lane roadway heading west – dropping us back to a good 2 lane highway for the remainder of the run to the Outer Bank.

Columbia had a good Visitor Info Centre and the team there were good sharing their ideas and views on where to go and where not to go in the area. Just to the east of Columbia is the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge – when you see the area, you could understand it being good Alligator country – loads of waterways, very marshy. The surrounding area – Alligator Refuse and Tyrrell County is also supposed to be home to the US’s largest group of Black Bears, so the Wildlife team at Columbia gave us a map for a route we could take through the refuge – to look for bears, and or maybe some alligator (and area of this land to the south is military land and is used as a bombing range – presumably it is free of much wildlife and bears?). We drove slowly around this area looking for bears and co but to no avail – nothing much was spotted bar some swans (the area has a huge swan migratory every year), Kingfishers and turtles. Getting back out onto the main road (Highway 64) we crossed a very impressive bridge over onto Roanoke Island – the bridge spanning around 5 miles of the waterway – nice piece of engineering. Roanoke Island is a descent sized island on the inner waterways – long and narrow and is home to the old town of Manteo. To the north of this area – northern tip of Roanoke Island is where the British first tried to colonise the US back in the late 1500’s. A group of people from England were dropped on the island but mysteriously disappeared within a couple of years (maybe the alligators got them???) – it would be another 50 years or so before the British would try to colonise the area again.

Another nice bridge spans the waterway that divides Roanoke Island from the Outer Bank proper – have to say the US do build some good bridges – the way they span the waterways as they do has really impressed me. With the inner waters covered we were now on the Outer Banks at the town of Nags Head. Now I have to be honest and say I really didn’t expect the Outer Banks area to be very populated – I’d expected it to have a random selection of holiday batches or homes here and there. Instead this stretch of the Outer Banks that runs around 20 miles of more is just one town after another – Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and it’s just full of houses and they are all very large and very high (to try and capture views out onto the Atlantic). Dotted along the coastline you then have all the mandatory motels and accommodation options, shopping and food outlets that support the local population. It looks like for the most part the Outer Banks area if a full-on place over the summer months, but in the winter, things pull back – not that today felt much like winter, with the sun shining nicely for us. The Outer Banks is obviously home to the first powered flights at Kitty Hawk, and so I suppose I had naively factored on the area still being quite remote. Obviously there are good stretches (North and South of Nags Head) that are sparsely populated, but in this central hub, it was really surprising. A lot of the homes appear to be vacation type set ups – Book a Bach type arrangements maybe?

We were starting to run out of daylight, so turning left onto the main road on the Outer Bank – Highway 12, we headed south in the direction of Hatteras (Cape Hatteras is the sight of a famous US lighthouse – being one of the most eastern most points of this Atlantic coastline). We didn’t get anywhere near as far as Hatteras as we were left aghast at the Oregon Inlet Bridge that we crossed. Turns out it is a new bridge that opened only in Feb 2019 I think and it spans one of the main channels that feeds in and out of the Atlantic. You could see this bridge to the south when we crossed over from Roanoke Island even though it was a good 5 miles to the south – it’s such a big structure. The bridge is 2.8 miles long and rises to 90 feet above the waterline. It cost just over $250 million to build and is named the Bonner Bridge – as it runs alongside the old Herbert C Bonner Bridge that it replaces (work is still ongoing to remove most of the old bridge – some parts of it are to be left as fishing piers and the like). We were both really impressed with this piece of engineering – its amazing just what can be achieved – money permitting obviously. The bridge connects the main part of the Outer Banks with the southern Hatteras Island chain (the Outer Banks are a collection of islands either linked by bridge, such as the Bonner Bridge, or by ferry – a couple of ferries are needed to get right to the bottom of the Outer Island bank). We moved south a bit more before stopping at an area known as Pea Island where there is another wildlife refuge – we stopped just in time to catch the sun setting over the inner waters of the Outer Banks area – very nice and a great way to draw our day to a close. Another treat was the sky that was just lined / laced with vapor trials – not sure why there were so many in this area but they crossed this way and that way – quite the sight as well.

Turning back north, we headed back over the Bonner Bridge and into Nags Head where we set about finding some accommodation for the night. We opted for a spot right up towards Kitty Hawk and have about 15 miles of waterfront area to cover before we found our spot for the night (I think it was called the Days Inn Wright Brothers or similar as it was in the area of the memorial – very handy). Our motel was on the beach front and the lady at the counter was telling us about the Ghost Craps you can see on the beach, so we grabbed our torches and headed out onto the beach in the dark, but to no avail – no crabs sighted by us tonight. We enjoyed a bit of an exploratory walk up the beach before heading back to our room – sand and all. We enjoyed a really good breakfast at the motel on the Thursday morning and then headed across a couple of blocks to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. No flight pilgrimage to the US would be complete without coming to the spiritual home of where it all began, so I was just so grateful that we had the opportunity to come here. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is run by the US National Parks Service, and so our NP’s membership got us into the complex for free – bonus. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the place – obviously a lot has happened in the almost 120 years since he Wright Brothers flew year – the area has obviously built up, and the landscape has changed from what I believed to be like a big flat sand dune area back at the start of the 1900’s. The Memorial outlined the history of the Wright Brothers really nicely, and they had a replicate of the 1903 Wright Flyer on display. There was some really good info to take in – really well done.

We opted for the guides talk at 11am and were entertained by the young volunteers telling of life back in the area in 1900 -1903 and the trials and tribulations of the Wright Brothers – he did a great job. The area has the Kill Devil Hills – well it’s really only one hill now, as it’s backdrop. The hills were where the Wrights first undertook glider flights to understand better how powered flight might pan out. Back in the day, summers were crazy hot and mosquito ridden – winters were calmer but cooler with it so a lot of the Wrights time in the area was from around Sept – December 1900 – 1903. There’s a replicate of their hut and hanger on display – this was where they lived and worked when in the area trying to master flying. Then you have the track that they launched from in December 1903 and there are 4 markers capturing the lengths that Wilbur and Orville Wright flew on that day – 17 December 1903. When you look at the pictures from the time, it was a pretty desolate and hostile environment but it was what they wanted as they wanted both the right wind conditions for flying, but also isolation as they refined how to fly. I think the story goes that once they completed their flights on the morning of December 17 1903, they had to walk 4 miles to get a telegraph off to their father to say they had done it. The Wright Brothers had the foresight to have someone take photos on the day – story goes that one of the local surf live savers was challenged with clicking the camera bottom at just the right time – with the realisation that to get the pictures developed would then take a couple of months from the time they were taken. Fortunately as history depicts, he got it right and captured the famous image of lift off – no pressure.

There’s a large National Memorial up on the top of Kill Devil Hill that was inaugurated in 1928 I think it was and it’s a really nice fitting tribute to this achievement. Unfortunately some rat bags had stolen one of the basks that sit at the back of the memorial – of Orville Wright. I think the Park Service lad said it had been retrieved, but it’s just such a shame to think that people can be silly enough to do such things. Reality will be in time that the memorial will end up being fenced off in order to protect it – which would be a real shame. Down below the hill is another full-sized sculpture of the Wright Flyer that we climbed onto for photo opportunities. I have to say that I came away from this area with a much greater appreciation for just what was achieved by the Wright Brothers. I’ve always been into what goes faster and looks good, goes better, but it’s really important not to lose sight of where it all began – this sandy flat spot on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – very cool. Still buzzing from the experience, we headed north to the ‘end of town’. Up above Kitty Hawk the Outer Bank stretches north for I think 60 miles of so – you have the area of Corrolla where some native horses (from the early colonisation I think) still roam. The road runs out and to get back onto mainland North Carolina you have to head all the way back down to Kitty Hawk where you can cross another big waterway bridge back onto the mainland. Alas we didn’t have time for that loop, so we headed back down to Nags Heads and over to Manteo where we drove to the north of the island to take the old bridge (another great waterway bridge – getting my quota down here) back across Croatan Sound and the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.

We took some of the wildlife trail again around this area in search of bears, and or alligators, but really only spotted turtles – loads and loads of small turtles up on branches in the waterway sunning themselves. Rather than following the 64 back west, we dropped south and then west on Highway 264 which cut around the southern side of the refuge, with Pamlico Sound to our left / south. The 264 took us through a mix of refuge landscape and then out into farm land as we made our way back west. We made our way through some small settlements – there were waterways on the southern side feeding out into Pamlico Sound, and waterways up into rivers heading inland – a real mix of landscape for us. We passed through the town of Washington and on through to the city of Greenville just as darkness started to close in on us. We called it quits for the night in Wilson a big junction town / city which has Highway 264 crossing east to west, and Interstate 95 running north to south. We found a motel for the night and settled in having had a pretty special day and having really enjoyed our limited time out on the Outer Banks area – would love to be able to spend more time in the area as there was so much water, great bridges, history, varying landscapes and a lot of boats – on Roanoke Island there were a number of large boat building operations – something further I would have liked to have explored.

On Friday morning dawned very fresh and cold – but fine. We had to get up and on the road pretty early for the final push over to Burlington. The run was only around 100 miles but with us having to skirt around the triangle and in and around the cities of Raleigh and then Durham before we would get over to Burlington, we thought it best to get on the road earlier and give ourselves plenty of time. As it turns out it was an easy run for us and we had time to call at the Burlington Train Station to purchase tickets for the train through to Washington DC on Friday 24 January – our next stop after we complete our housesit in Burlington. I have to say I love this smaller road trips – and the bigger road trips for that matter that Carol and I have been taking. Our central location in North Carolina providing the ideal opportunity for us to go east, south, and back west as we want to – very handy. The Outer Banks was a gem – a real surprise with just how big the area was, but a true gem of an area to explore.