Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ready for home.

On our last day in New York we woke up to the sun and it was warm enough to wander around with just jumpers on(at times).  Since it was sunny we decided to make the most of the day and headed for 5th Avenue to wander and window shop.
We started off at Grand Central Station as Kathi had never been there.  It was as beautiful as I remembered it and is definitely a “must see” if you are visiting here.  A wander through their food court encouraged us to stop for coffee shortly afterwards.
Back on 5th Avenue we stopped to view the skaters at the Rockefeller Centre who were having great fun in the autumn sunshine.  

A number of shops are already being decorated for Christmas. 

A quick visit to Tiffany’s allowed Kathi to get information about a gift that she had received and then we headed for Central Park.  
Unfortunately the upper part of 5th Avenue was hoaching with folk because of the parade and the weather and it became really uncomfortable fighting our way through the crowds so we gave up and headed back to Times Square to have another attempt at getting theatre tickets.  There were a few tickets on offer but none at prices that we wanted to pay so we headed back to the hotel to crash and then go out for a nice meal.
Well tomorrow I’m heading home.  I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone.  Withe the exception of Santa Fe my trip has gone exactly as planned and it has been great fun.  I would tell anyone to do it.  There are places that I would love to go back to:
New Zealand
Santa Diego
One that I wouldn’t go near again - I think that you can guess that one.  
Like any trip there are bits that I would do differently if I was doing it again but there is nothing that I regret.  One or two things that I wanted to do but wasn’t able to and lots of things that I never imagined I would get the opportunity to do.  
I was asked earlier last week if I was excited about going home and I replied that I wasn’t but the nearer that I have got to today that feeling has changed. I’ve done what I wanted to do and I’m ready for home.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

New York

We arrived in a freezing New York, where there was still snow to be seen on the ground a few nights ago.  It was definitely a winter’s night.  The traffic on the way in from the airport was incredible.  It took us over 90 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel, which is 8 blocks from Times Square.
It was so cold that after having a meal and walking round Times Square we decided that the hotel beckoned us.  Next morning we set out to explore.  A bus ticket took us all over Manhattan from north - south, east to west.  When we found ourselves stuck in traffic again around 4.30 enough was enough.

Yesterday we decided to head down to lower Manhattan to take a trip on the Staten Island ferry, see New York from the harbour and visit the new World Trades Centre.  In our innocence we thought that we could could do that in a morning.  We might have managed it if it hadn’t been Veterans‘ weekend here so there was a ceremony at the World Trades Centre all morning.  Off we  went on the Staten Island ferry instead.  Since it was a dreich day the views were not splendid but the mist was beginning to rise as we came back over. 
From Staten Island it is clear to see the damage that Hurricane Sandy has done to the New York area.  Work continues to drain water, restore power, get businesses back to work etc.
The ceremony at the World Trades Centre hadn’t quite finished so we waited in line for a wee while before it reopened.  Then we had to go through security, queue again, wait and finally walk through the site.  I can’t say that I was really keen to go but everyone said that we should.  The new buildings are rising out of the ashes, the memorials are in place but there is something about the place that makes you glad to leave.  Both Kathi and I felt that it is not somewhere that we would be telling folk that it is a “must see”.

We left lower Manhattan just before 4pm.  It had been an exhausting day.  Returning to our hotel it felt as if tourists had been shovelled into New York during the day.  There just seemed to be crowds everywhere.  We had thought about going to the theatre but teh queues for tickets were big so we decided to leave it until today.  Instead we went on a trip round New York by night, which was fun if rather cold.  I do not want to go across the the top deck of the Manhattan bridge in the dark ever again!

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Nashville airport is an entertainment hub.  I’m not sure that it means to be but it is.  As I got off the plane a country duet was sitting in the lounge playing for all incoming flights.  I picked up my luggage and then sat down to wait for Kathi’s flight.  I can honestly say that I have never sat in a rocking chair at an airport before and I don’t imagine that I ever will again! I had quite a few hours to wait because her flight was delayed and I listened to several different types of country music while I waited.  In addition all the big music stars have recorded welcome messages etc and they were played over the loudspeaker as each flight arrived.  at one point I thought I must look like Granma Clampett from the Beverley Hillbillies sitting in her chair on the porch listening to music. Kathi was shattered when she arrived so we just made for our hotel, got a meal and crashed.  
Next morning we set out to explore Nashville.  It really is a surprisingly beautiful city.  We wandered downtown and got a lot of information from the Tourist info and then headed across Broadway to visit the first of the honky tonks that they recommended. 

These open at 10am and start serving beer etc immediately, the singers/bands etc also start then too, so there we were at 10.30 nursing a beer and listening to a very good singer/musician.  After one we decided that needed to go and explore the city and come back in the afternoon, so off we went on a trolley tour, which showed us most of what we wanted to see in Nashville and allowed us to jump off and on for 2 days.

One of the places we went back to visit was Rymans, the place that many think of as the original home of the Grand Old Oprey but it was actually its third home.  It was a really interesting place to look around and while we were doing so Snow Patrol and Noel Gallagher were setting up for a concert that night.
Unfortunately the weather started to turn quite cold in the last afternoon and since Kathi had a nasty cold we didn’t make it back to Broadway.
Next day we spent quite some time in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Music.  We could easily have spent the whole day there but since we wanted to get out to Music Row and see all the recording studios there and we were going to Rymans to hear the weekly recording of the Grand Old Oprey that night our time was limited. We did manage to see most things from all the platinum discs to the costumes to some cars.  

The Grand Old Oprey is actually still a radio programme complete with adverts for the different sponsors. It was a little like going back in time.  Kathi and I were amazed at the number of people who just got up and walked around the auditorium while the different acts were singing.  It seemed really rude.  After the show we decided to tour the honky tonks and try and catch up on the election results.  Some of the acts we saw on Broadway were really good.  One was atrocious.  Some of the folk in the various audiences were as much of an entertainment as the acts.  While we were listening to the musical entertainment the election results were coming in.  It wasn’t long after we arrived in one of the bars that Obama was declared the winner to the complete disinterest of most folk around us.  It was quite strange.  Tennessee is not a Democratic state but we thought there would be some reaction.  I stayed up to hear Romney concede and Obama accept the Presidency . 
The next morning we decided to go out to the site of the “new” Grand Old Oprey and we were advised to visit the Gaylord Oprey hotel.  They are situated a good half hour outside Nashville.  The hotel was huge but antiseptic.  It was beautifully decorated for Christmas but quite honestly it could have been anywhere in the world. The new site of the Grand Old Oprey right beside the hotel didn’t have the same ambience as Rymans. Kathi and I came away glad that we had stayed in Nashville and had the opportunity to visit Rymans.
Both Kathi and I have had a great time here. It’s somewhere we would both come back to. Tomorrow we are off to New York and by this time next week I’ll be home.  In many respects it doesn’t seem that long since I left. 

Monday, 5 November 2012


Well I arrived in Houston a few days ago and met up with Linzi.  Although I’ve met loads of nice and /or interesting people on this trip it was lovely to meet up with a familiar face.  I think I was just at the point where I needed that without actually realising it.
Linzi and I have been dashing about all over the Quilting world and parts of Houston ever since.  I really don’t know where the days and nights have gone. 
irst off we had to go to the Winners’ Presentation at the Convention Centre the evening that I arrived.  Just a small affair - about 1,000 people( we were told later).  Linzi came in 3rd in the Machine Quilting class and was awarded a prize of $300.  I was so proud of her -the only British, never mind Scottish, winner in the show.  
I won’t bore you with anymore quilty talk because I know that most of you are not interested but here is a picture of her with Sherry the Best in Show winner.
We went to several more events over the next few days.  Some of them were interesting and some of them were not but that is always the case at these shows.  
Houston was never going to be about sight seeing.  It was about the International Quilt Show so I’ve seen nothing of the city other than the streets around the hotel and a few places that we went to eat.  Two of Linzi’s friends from Wisconsin took us out to restaurants on Friday and Saturday.  On Friday we went to Goode Company.  a Texas BBQ joint.  It was a fairly basic little shack decorated for the most part with dead animals and cowboy memorabilia.  It wasn’t the best place to get photos because the lighting was minimal.  We ate outside on a porch on benches.  Our food choices- brisket, BBQ pork ribs, some fish dishes and an interesting mixture of vegetables.  The meal was brilliant and I got to try a Texan beer, which was okay.

The bar next door had a huge armadillo “ornament” outside which was beautifully lit up!?!

On Saturday night we went to Ibiza which, as its name would suggest, was Spanish based.  We had a lovely meal but it was at quite the opposite end of the restaurant continuum from the previous night. Both were equally good just different.

As I type this I am sitting at the airport waiting to fly to Nashville.
I have had a lot of fun in Houston with Linzi, met some really nice people, been entertained by them and seen some amazing sights - quilts and people.  Nashville will have to try hard to beat this.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

San Antonio

 I arrived in San Antonio on Saturday night after a long bus journey.  The bus left El Paso in sunshine and within 45 minutes we were in the middle of the desert - brush land with an overcast sky.  It was as if all the colour had been drained from the environment.  It stayed like that for the next 5 hours.  Gradually the colour started to come back into the landscape but it was so gradual that it was almost unnoticeable until suddenly we were back into colourful landscape about an hour outside San Antonio.  
I’m glad that I don’t live in some of the towns I’ve stopped in very briefly. both on the bus and the railway.  I take back what I’ve said about some of the wee towns across Central Scotland.
San Antonio is a beautiful city unlike any that I have been in.  Obviously at its centre is the Alamo.  Now believe it or not I do mean right at the centre as in one of the town squares.  I thought that it would be on the outskirts but it’s not.  It’s a site that means  a great deal to Americans probably comparable to Bannockburn. However we don’t treat it with the same reverence.  

Like much of old San Antonio the Alamo was saved by a group of women in the early 20th century who refused to allow the city fathers to destroy building and ares of the city which the women felt neded to be preserved.  So the Alamo, an almost sacred site to Americans, doesn’t belong to the government, the state legislature  or indeed the American equivalent of the National Trust but the Daughters of the Texas Revolution.  The Riverwalk which stretches for almost 20 miles through and around San Antonio was also saved by the same group.  Given that it is this that gives San Antonio its character today it was a very good save because if it had been covered over into an underground river the city today would be a totally different place.

Unlike many towns/cities in the Southern part of the USA on the border with Mexico many of the missions built during the 17/18th century have been preserved.  Without these missions San Antonio, Santa Fe and others would not exist today.
San Antonio is a very attractive city to visit, easy to walk around in and well worth a visit.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

El Paso

I arrived in El Paso a couple of nights ago via a Greyhound bus.  The journey was quick given the distance that we covered.  Most of it was through desert land where you could occasionally see the lights of small towns off in the distance.  There were a number of occasions when there were lights flashing across the desert from installations( electrical I think) but it may have been from a few military bases.  Rosewell was one of the towns that we passed so I could see why some folk might think that those lights were UFOs but 
really it was evident where they were coming from.

El Paso is part of Texas.  It’s the furthest west that you can go into Texas I am told, but it is actually nearer to towns in New Mexico and Mexico than any in Texas. New Mexico is kind of like an inverted isosceles triangle with El Paso at the point taking up all the space left this side of the Rio Grande. On the other side is Mexico.  From where I am sitting at the moment I could be in Mexico in 10 minutes - walking.

In some respect El Paso reminds me of many British towns where the commercial areas have moved out to the outskirts of town leaving very little in the centre.  El Paso has taken the bold step of 
placing their convention centre right in the middle of town and surrounding it with 7-8 large museums.  So there is a look of affluence until you turn a corner and there is the older part of town which needs to be regenerated.

The Plaza square, which is the centre of town has a water fountain crowned by 3 alligators.  Now you might ask why.  Apparently up until the late 1960s there was a pond there and the city kept 3 alligators in it.  No particular reason that anyone could give me. it just seemed like a good idea.  Maybe it was useful for getting rid of people that the city didn’t like.  It’s certainly one of the oddest things that I have seen.  The folk of El Paso still call the square “La Plaza de los Lagartos”(Alligator Plaza) and not San Jacinto, its official name.

El Paso is making the effort to keep a number of its old buildings but unfortunately not early enough.  Of those that remain probably the one that they’re most proud of is maintaining the Paso del Norte hotel.  It is not particularly beautiful externally although it is supposed to be a good example of early 1900 century American architecture but it has the most beautiful Tiffany dome in its dining room.
Just outside is a statue to Fray Garcia who found El Paso del Norte.

On the outskirts of  the city centre is the Magoffin House, which was built in the 1870s.  It is an adobe house, which was then lime washed. It is probably more the kind of house that we were used to seeing in cowboy films.  Up until the 15 years ago it was owned by the same family but it had come down through the female line and the name of the family is now Glasgow and has been for the last 90 years.  There must be some Scottish heritage in there.

Well I’m off to San Antonio in the morning and I am expecting that to be quite different.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

On Route 66

I left Santa Fe yesterday to make my way to Albuquerque once again by train.  This was my shortest train journey but it was a bit strange.   I had to return to Lamy to catch the train.  Lamy is in the middle of nowhere.  There is a train station, a community library which uses the window ledges of the station and a few empty train carriages.  Now I didn’t explain in my last blog that this part of the railway is single tract so both trains use the same line at some point, which means that at some point one train holds up the other.  Trains around here don’t appear to run to time because of the “passing places”.  So we sat in the middle of nowhere for a wee while and then the train came and we all got on...... to a train full of Amish.  There were 3 “coach” carriages. 2.5 were full of Amish men, women and children.  Honestly I was looking for Harrison Ford and Kelly McGuinness.  Can I just say that I have met quite a few Amish people in my trips here but meeting a lot of them after a night and a day on a warm train ..... maybe not the best time to do so.

Albuquerque sits on what is know as Historic Route 66.  
In fact Albuquerque had the only crossroads of Route 66, which is commemorated there. For a short while in the 1930s you could drive from Denver to El Paso( North to South) and L.A. to Chicago( West to East and the roads linked there.

Albuquerque has made a real effort to maintain the buildings which were around at the time that Route 66 came into being. 

However this was only after it tore down a building of historic interest to the town and caused huge amounts of public uproar.

Apparently you have seen huge amounts of Albuquerque on TV and in films.  Because of the diversity of housing types, the weather and tax relief it fills in for many locations in America and sometimes Europe( not Britain).  Johnny Depp has finished filming “The Lone Ranger” here and Denzel Washington was in town filming. I’m presuming that The Lone Ranger was also filmed in the desert. On teh subject of buildings here is a very strange one built by Bart Prince who seems to be a well known architect(?).  This is his home.

It receives a lot of visitors almost all of whom  are turned away.  However William Shatner was filming in the area and his his chauffeur brought him to see the house.  When Bart opened the door to Captain Kirk and his opening words were”Beam me up Scotty”, he got to stay for tea.

Here’s how to celebrate Hallowe’en Albuquerque style.  I thought that this might appeal to Bah Humbug.

Albuquerque is a lovely city to visit, warm, friendly and with lots to see.  I would have liked to spend more time here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Amtraking to Santa Fe

I left San Diego on another train which took me up to Los Angles along the coast.  It was a lovely run, saw some lovely beaches, and amazing stations. 

Once in Los Angles I had to get from one track to the next one to get my next train to Lamy, New Mexico.  Unusually there was an actual tunnel under the track.  Usually you just have to walk across the tracks which I find a bit strange because you have to watch for trains all the time.  
Since the journey was going to take just under a day I booked a roomette.  I’m glad I did but this was one occasion when British Rail does it better.  

My roomette had two seats which made down into a bed at night.  If two folk had been in it I think we would have been playing “kneesy” for a good part of the journey. When the bed was made up and I lay down I would say from wall to wall was probably about 5 and half feet across.  Anyone over 6 feet couldn’t have stretched out.  The second bunk was above my head. Since the edge of the bed was 6 inches at the most from the door I don’t think I would have liked it all if there had been two of us. It was dark by the time  we left the outskirts of Los Angles so I didn’t really see any of the scenery until the next morning.  As a sleeping car passenger I had dinner, breakfast and lunch on the train as it was part of the ticket.
Seats were allocated in the dining car so I met different people at each sitting.  We talked about the election, my trip, class reunions, the scenery, which was mostly desert but very colourful. All in all it was a very pleasant journey.  Then we arrived in Lamy.  The scenes where you see a station in the middle of nowhere exactly describes Lamy.  From there there was a shuttle to take me into Santa Fe.

Santa Fe is very different to other towns that I have been in.  It is almost exclusively built in the Pueblo Indian style with input from the Spanish-Mexican empire. Generally the houses are built of adobe brick often with a hacienda. 

Santa Fe is one of the oldest towns in America.  Some parts of it date from the early 1600s.  It was built round  a village square, bordered on one side by the Palace of the Governors and shops around the other sides.  

In Santa Fe when you get married you then parade through the town to your reception.

I’d like to say that I had a wonderful time in Santa Fe but I didn’t, it was the lowest point of this trip.  In fact it’s the only low point I’ve had.  I won’t go into what happened here.  Some of you know what happened and those who don’t can hear about it later.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

USS Midway

Well, I think that the only person who will enjoy this blog is Archie but I may be surprised.  
To get started San Diego is one of the major navy bases of the US.  The majority of its aircraft carriers are stationed here when not on active duty and so when it was time to mothball the USS Midway it was decided to do so here.  However rather than just mothball it the powers that be decided to turn it in to a museum.  

My hotel is in, what is now called, the Gaslamp Quarter however it was originally called the Stingaree area because it was very near the harbour and you could get stung there quicker than swimming with stingrays.  So since I was so near to the harbour I decided I would pay a quick visit to the USS Midway.  How wrong was I? 4.5 hours later wrong.  
It was an amazingly interesting museum.  It’s obviously stocked with all the aircraft of whatever sort ever that ever flew off the Midway’s decks.  As you enter the Hangar deck you are given an audio soundtrack which will guide you round the whole carrier.  
It’s simply a case of keying in the number attached and listening but in addition there are videos from an airman or someone from the carrier telling you about a particular incident associated with the plane / helicopter. Many of the exhibits also have a docent  beside them.  No idea what “docent” means.  It’s not a term associated with museums at home but it is frequently used here.  Anyway, these particular docents were all retired servicemen, who in one capacity or another had served on board the USS Midway.  They were all very happy to answer questions about the aircraft, themselves or anything else.  So between the three methods you are treated to an interactive experience throughout your visit. 

Here is one example.  This little plane( and I can’t remember what type it is) was the last plane to land on the deck of the Midway during the evacuation of  Saigon.  It was flown by a Vietnamese air force pilot, who had circled the Midway several times to drop a letter off.  This pleaded for permission to land.  The Admiral on board finally gave permission in the last minutes of the evacuation so the pilot was only able to make one attempt.  Luckily he was successful.  When he opened his hatch the men on board realised that he also had his wife and small baby sitting alongside him. What they did not realise until a few minutes later was that he had another 4 children crammed into the fuselage. They had been there for several hours.  The docent beside the plane was one of the men who had helped to pull the children out of the plane.  He had 2 children of a similar age himself and could not believe how the pilot’s four had all stayed in the limited space for so long.

Some of the many exhibits.  I have more but there is a limit to the internet upload for a blog.

The Tomcat - the type used in TopGun
 Standing on the air traffic controller’s spot.  The Safety net should a landing go wrong is just below me.(I’m not kidding and it’s for the controller to jump into. I’m about 100 feet above the water here)
 Pilots’ lounge - the chairs used all have a name for each pilot in the corp who is on active duty.  Pilots wait here to be called on deck.

The Flight deck  - takeoff

The bridge, captain’s and admiral’s quarters