The Plan

Starting off in Sydney we head over to the US for a few days in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and finally over to the Big Apple. Then off again, down to Cuba for about 18 days for some old cars, cigars and Baccardi. After that we head north, this time to Toronto in Canada for a whistle stop before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. One of the highlights there will be a week down on the Isle of Wight. Jetting off again we will then spend approximately the next two months driving around Italy and France. After all that hard work we journey over to Greece where we will island hop using the local ferry systems, with 3 nights on Santorini, 3 nights of Mykonos and 3 nights on Paros. Yep, we love doing the tourist stuff! Finally we begin the long haul home stopping off on the way in Honkers for a little retail therapy.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Farewell Toronto

We are sitting in Pearson waiting for our flight to LHR which has been delayed an hour or so.  Not to worry, we were tasting the local beers in the airport pub and are now feeling no pain.
So Toronto, what do I say.  My second time here and it is still the most boring of cities. Probably alright if you are a local but very little to entertain visitors.
We rode the ferry over to Toronto Island and had a good walk, then went back and rode the lift to the top of the CN Tower for a great view of the city. There has been an enormous amount of construction here in the last few years with hi rise apartments hugging the lakes edge.
We spent a lot of time in the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and were fascinated by the section on the North American indians, their history, costumes and general way of life.
Of course, the main reason to visit this town is to see Niagara Falls. We hopped a bus there yesterday and spent a few hours in the freezing cold admiring the falls.  They are beautiful, but as we have both visited Victoria Falls twice they are just no way as impressive.
So that is the wrap up for Toronto.  Next time we visit it will be to the west coast.
We have really suffered in the cold.  After the high 30's of Cuba we were plunged into days where the max temp was about 9 degrees. Bbbrrrrr. Fingers crossed London will be warmer.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lots of Rum and Old Cars

Our arrival in Havana was not without drama. Havana airport is manic, getting through immigration is unbelievable, as you go one by one into a small room where you are interrogated by a person who could have belonged to the Gestapo.  When finally passing through immigration then collecting the baggage, naturally you head toward the way out, looking for the welcoming agent to take you to the hotel. Wrong.  We got outside, no agent and could not catch a cab because the money exchange office is in the terminal and you can't get back in.  In most countries that is not an issue as you can use a credit card.  Not here.  Cuban money or tough titties. Eventually it all got sorted and we got money and a taxi to our hotel. Never a dull moment.
But after a bad introduction to Cuba we fell in love.  The place is delightful.  Just as you imagine it to be.  The old cars are considered to be part of the Cuban heritage and it is forbidden for them to be sold outside of Cuba. These cars are the pride and joy of the Cubans and there are hundreds of them in every town, some are a little worse for wear, belching thick black smoke out the exhaust and body work that is held together with what looks like putty and duct tape, but most are the pride of their owners.
The towns are a riot of colour, buildings are painted in every colour of the rainbow.  The roads leave a lot to be desired and despite the old cars in the towns there is not a lot of traffic outside the city areas, which is just as well as the roads are quite rutted – but not as bad as Madagascar.
Every form of transport is in use.  People get around on foot, bicycle, and bicycle with carriage attached.  Horses are another common form of transport, be it horse and cart or horse and carriage.  It is not unusual to see a horse being ridden bare back through the city and town streets.  Trucks are another form of transport with many converted into a very basic form of bus, some with roofs, minimal seating and people squeezed in standing up like sardines in a tin.
The days are hot, very hot and as is normal in the tropics the afternoon sometimes brings cooling showers.
The Cubans are very patriotic and have no love for the good old USA.  Fidel, Raul and Che are spoken of with great love and respect and the longer we stayed the more we came to appreciate the efforts of those guys and the revolutions that have taken place in the country over the last 200 plus years. The Cubans have every right to be very, very proud. It was so interesting to hear the stories of their revolutions over the centuries, from the days of slavery to the overthrow of Batista and the arrival of Castro.  Of course their view is quite different to that which we have been brain washed over the years, they have had a rough trot.
Tourism is big, especially at the moment as it seems the whole world wants to get there before the Americans arrive later in the year with the easing of tensions and travel between the countries.  We all know the Americans will wreck the place. The only good thing about the impending invasion is that the standard of hotels, transport and food will not suit the Americans so hopefully they will stay away in droves.  Also Cuba says they will insist that that there are no McDonalds, KFC etc and also that if there are new hotels etc built, then Cuba must have the majority holding. We shall see.
What is delightful is walking around and not being crashed into by people using mobile phones, they are rare down there.  People actually walk along the streets and talk to each other – what a strange thing to do!!!
So what did we do.  Well we visited the Australia sugar farm which was once huge but sadly is not longer.  It was near Australia that Fidel had his headquarters during the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
We visited museums, had train rides through sugar plantations, cruised around on various boats and generally sat around in bars and restaurants drinking the cheap beer and rum and of course, took 1 or 2 photos.
It has been a good group, most of whom belong to either PCC or DYCC, no getting to know you stuff, from the 1st rum we were fine.
When the sun goes down every town and city becomes party central.  The city squares are the venues for various musicians who bring all their own band equipment, speakers and amplifiers.  The locals all dress up and let their hair down.  Great stuff.
We had almost 4 full days in Havana.  What a city.  Back in the 30's when this place was a mecca for the world's trendies it must have really rocked.  There is just a beautiful feel to the place, like visiting a time warp. The architecture is mostly Art Deco but sadly it is, for the most part, in a very sad state of repair.  A faded rose.  We did the Hemingway thing, walked the streets, even rode around the city in a 1940's open topped Oldsmobile and drank more rum.  We needed to leave to dry out but will miss the $1.50 beers and $2.50 Pina Coladas.
What we will not miss are the 3, 4, 5 and 6 piece bands that descend upon every eatery at lunch and dinner.  They insisted on playing Beseme Mucho and Guantanamera loudly and pretty much in your ears, they scrambled what was left of our rum soaked brains.
But apart from that grumble, Cuba – we love you.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

New York, New York

Sore feet and aching legs probably best describes our New York adventure. Not long after we arrived we hopped the Staten Ferry over to Manhattan to begin our exploration. We hopped aboard the open top bus and did part of a tour downtown but got off at the Brooklyn Bridge as it was on our bucket list to cross.  Cross it we did, all the way to Brooklyn and back.  The wind was blowing, there were hoards of people.  The walkway is actually above the traffic and not particularly wide add to that the bike riders who think they own the path and it ends up being a wee bit frantic.
On our first full day, we again rode the ferry over then walked around to the ferry wharf to take the ride over to the Statue of Liberty.  The weather turned a little wet, so it was a bit bleak over there - we did a lap around the statue then headed back over to Manhattan.  We then walked up to the 9/11 memorial, two huge square recessed waterfalls that you look down into.  Around the outside walls are engraved the names of all those who died.  Again the weather was not being kind so we set off to walk up to Times Square.  For those who have been to New York before you will know that the walk from South Ferry to Times Square is bloody miles.  We did manage to find a great cafe where we partook of the best cup of coffee we have had since leaving home.  Decent coffee is unheard of in this country - Starbucks is considered the best!!!!
Wandering even further we reached the Empire State Building.  Rode the lift up to the 86th floor and looked out into fog and mist.  The rain was still with us.  There were moments when the clouds parted and a great view opened up, but blink and it was gone. That night we found a great bar on 8th Ave and enjoyed a great meal and a couple of IPA's.
Next day, the rain had stopped but the wind arrived but we were out again and really learned how to use the subway - the fastest and best way to get around NYC.  We went to the Discovery Centre in Times Square and saw the most amazing exhibition called Body Worlds.  People actually donated their bodies to this particular exhibition.  Called Plastination the (dead) bodies have their skin removed, they are then sawn up in different ways and the end result is the human body on display. Bones, muscles, organs, the lot.  Absolutely fascinating.
Later we visited the Top of the Rock - the viewing area at the top of the Rockefeller Centre.  This time we were only on the 64th floor, no rain this time, a beautiful clear view all over NYC - but the wind was horrific.  It had been blowing all day, but up there it was freezing, needless to say we did not stay long.  We finished the day again with another couple of IPA's and a great dinner.
Today we visited the Guggenheim Museum. The architecture of the building was what attracted us there as it is so advanced in it's style, both inside and out.  For that I would give the place 10 out of 10.  As for the exhibitions, well do data projectors connected to an electric cord which is plugged into and old shoe appeal to you as art?  Perhaps a word or two in letraset on coloured paper may appeal more.  Neither of those exhibitions appealed to us.  Surely they are joking. We left quite disgusted and headed across the road to Central Park where we walked from 86th Street to 42nd Street to Grand Central Station, took a few happy snaps, then hopped the metro and ferry back over here to Staten Island.
NYC is a frantic city, it is alive and it is real.  Unlike the ghastly LA and the plastic Las Vegas.
This will be the last post for about 3 weeks now.  Tomorrow morning we head out of JFK bound for Grand Cayman Island then to our connecting flight to Havana, Cuba.  Internet and mobile phone services are almost unavailable, so the next post will come to you from Toronto, Canada sometime near the end of April.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Las Vegas Experience

Las Vegas was a great experience.  Although we arrived in the early evening it did not take us long to get out to hit the pavement to wander along the strip and gawk at the architecture that is Las Vegas.  We were staying at Excalibur, which from the outside looks like some fantasy castle from back in the days of King Arthur.  It is a bit tired when compared to some of the other casinos but the room rate was fine. For those who have been before, it is next door to New York, and Luxor and across the road from MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay.  There are pedestrian overpasses everywhere connecting most of the casinos so getting around on foot is quite painless.  The architecture of the casinos is extreme to say the least, New York looks just like New York and visiting Luxor is just like being in Egypt.  The outside is a pyramid and inside the ceiling follows the roof line and of course there is a sphinx in the centre.  Amazing.  We wandered around most of the casinos, but would you believe, we must be one of the vary rare couples who did not even put a cent in a slot machine. At night the streets are alive with people, but during the day it is the opposite.
Funny thing - we had the TV on yesterday while we were waiting to check out of the hotel and a very serious guy was reading the news, the news item was about backyard pools and infant drownings. The news reader said 'there have been 5 drownings in Nevada in recent weeks, two of them were fatal'.  What???
Moving along......we actually came to Las Vegas to visit the Grand Canyon.  We had pre-booked our trip and it was absolutely fantastic.  It was a very small group, about 12 people and we were picked up at about 6.15 am.  The drive to the south rim took 5 hours, but was so worth the travel.  I had been to the west rim before but the south rim was awesome, spectacular.  We were dropped off at a car park and then walked about 2 and a half miles to a pick up point to take us back to our hotel.  We had 3 hours to do the walk and we needed every minute of it.  Needless to say we took heaps of photos.  When standing on the rim and looking down it is about a mile  to the bottom, it is a giddy making experience.  The colours of the walls of the canyon are just beautiful, from reds, greys, blues, magentas, the rock formations are incredible, with huge rocks balancing upon other huge rocks, wind blown archways and caves.
We did not get back to our hotel till about 7.30 pm so no partying for us that night.
Next morning we again had an early start, this time to the Valley of Fire.  Lucky us, we were the only ones on the tour, so we felt very special.  This trip was also amazing and very different to the Grand Canyon.  Our guide allowed us to stay in places as long as we liked, no pressure, so we really were able to soak up the magnificent scenery.  Red, red sandstone cliffs, which again had been weathered over the milleniums to create some absolutely glorious formations.  So another great day and no partying that night.
Our last day was spent wandering the strip and then packing for our flight later that day to New York.
So that now brings us to New York, where we arrived about an hour or so ago.  We are staying over at Staten Island which is only a free ferry ride away from Manhattan.  We are staying in the wildest B & B, its a turn of the century old house divided up into various rooms.  We have a gynormous bedroom, a kitchen complete with shower recess (yes in the kitchen) then a separate loo (not in the kitchen).  At $120USD per night it is a bargain.
When we arrived at JFK we queued for the taxi, and one was allocated to us, the driver put our bags in the boot, then an argument started between our driver and the guy who allocates taxis to passengers.  These guys almost came to blows, the cabbie wanted to take us, the JFK guy was telling us to get out of the cab and we were stuck in the middle.  The cabbie won but cursed and swore all the way to Staten Island then couldn't find the B & B.
So thats it for now.  We are about to head out to discover the delights on the Big Apple.