|The plan||We plan to spend 4 days in Florida and fly to Los Angeles and travel overland to New York in 39 days days by the following route: Los Angeles → Las Vegas (4 hours by bus) → Salt Lake City (9 hours) → Denver (13 hours) → Des Moines (13 hours) → Chicago (7 hours) → Cleveland (7 hours) → Toronto (5 hours) → Quebec → Charlottetown → Boston → Washington DC (8 hours) → Philadelphia (3 hours) → New York (2 hours)|
March 22... Florida City, Florida - Although it may be harder to find, internet access here is fast at least - in fact, it is faster than a speeding bullet (which by the way is pretty fast). Since stepping onto US shores we have to admit we've felt more at home, largely because they speak the same language... Sort of... Nicole can't stop smiling at some of the accents we've heard - next to some of the Americans we've met, we sound like the Queen! (Of course, next to the British folk we've met we sound like total yobbos). We've found ourselves for the third night in Florida City, a small city south of Miami. After arriving at the huge airport, we threw ourselves at the mercy of the public transport system, in order to save a few dollars. The first problem was getting on the bus - finding it was a major task but not as hard as paying for the ticket - you must have the exact change or else you get a rude comment from the driver and sent away. We caught three buses and a train that day to arrive in Key Largo (south of Florida City, one of a string of islands connected by roads and bridges) just as the sun was setting magnificently. Optimistically, we bought a tent from the local "Big K-mart" which was indeed rather large, and went to the nearest campground. It was full - our timing had let us down - it is "spring break" = schoolies week. So we tried another two campgrounds but both were full. They didn't even have pity on us and offer us a patch of lawn even though we had our big backpacks on and must have looked a sight. (Those backpacks are heavy when you literally have to walk five miles). In desperation we walked to a fancy-looking motel, only to find out that EVERY bed in Key Largo was apparently taken. This reminded Graham of the Christmas story. But, luckily, we too found a nice inn-keeper, (a girl at the counter) who kindly made reservations for us at a motel in the next town (Florida City) 75 km north, and gave us a lift there on her way home. Although a little beyond our budget at $80 a night, the Comfort Inn was still a great relief at 11:30 at night... The next day we went to a church service at the Calvary Chapel with another motel-counter-girl (they're a friendly lot). The sermon was on the temptation of Christ (again - maybe God's trying to tell us something). After that we caught a bus down to Key Largo. The bus was 1 hour and 20 minutes late which seems to be a common feature here. Strangely enough we felt we were back in South America - the bus was full of ? Carribean people speaking ? Creole and once again we stood out of the crowd. Key Largo had been billed as "the place to snorkel in America" because of it's coral reefs. One man we met did tell us "it's no Great Barrier Reef though." Well, the aquarium at the visitor's centre was brilliant, and we were all excited. We donned our newly-acquired snorkels (also from Big K-mart) and made our way to the small roped-off section of beach we were allowed to swim in. There was no sand, just sharp rocks. There was no clear water only murky vision. There was one fish but he wasn't of the colourful variety. Obviously we had come at a bad time of year. But, we found some good nature trails and it was still an enjoyable day... Today we hired bikes and rode through a small part of the Everglades National Park. This was fantastic - much better than the famous Florida Keys. We'd heard it was a good place to spot alligators - no kidding! We rode right past one by the side of the road (within a couple of metres) within two minutes. We've been told these alligators don't eat people so we weren't too worried, but Graham thinks we would have run away if it was a crocodile in Australia. We saw lots of fish, turtles and heaps of interesting birds (including the great blue heron, which killed a ranger a few years ago by stabbing its beak through his skull... They should have "Steve Irwin, Heron Hunter" over here!). Tomorrow we go to Miami Beach (Hmmm... Nicole really should've bought a skimpier bikini...) Love Graham and Nicole.
March 27... Las Vegas, Nevada - Greetings from the city of glitz, glamour and gambling - the one and only Las Vegas. Sorry that we haven't written for so long but at US$6 an hour we thought we'd wait til we found a public library where we could email for free - so here we are. Well, for our final day in Florida we headed out to Miami Beach - sand of the rich and famous, and as everyone back home keeps reminding us, setting of C.S.I. Miami (funnily emough, neither of us has ever seen an episode - we'll have to compare when we get home). The beach is glorious - warm aqua water, minimal seaweed and fun waves. We'd forgotten how much fun splashing around on a beach could be - definitely worth a visit. The beach is lined with fancy hotels, posh clothing stores and expensive restaurants where fashionable-looking people sip martinis. We had a lot of fun watching the locals as we strolled the streets. We caught the bus back to the airport the next morning at 3:45 am - the city was wide awake and bustling even then. We arrived in L.A. in search of cheap accommodation - the bargain prices all seemed to be in Hollywood so we thought, "why not!?" - our hostel (in an old manor) was just off Hollywood Boulevard - the street with all the gold stars along the pavement. Somehow you get a feeling that things are all a bit unreal when you're staying on a road you've seen so many pictures of in TV Week. Tucked between the glamourous old theatres are shops ranging from the tacky to the seedy, with all sorts of things for sale - the most popular seem to be outrageous wigs and replica Academy awards... While the other hostel guests went out on the town, we settled in for a quite night - with spaghetti bolongnese made in the microwave and just the right movie to watch in Hollywood - Legally Blonde. Next day we put our feet to good use and walked to Sunset Boulevard to explore Beverly Hills 90210: luxurious mansions, landscaped gardens and people whizzing by in their Mercedes Benz convertibles... Actually, one of the first things we noticed about America was the difference in cars compared to Australia. In Adelaide, our humble 1985 Magna usually has plenty of company from the same vintage on the roads. Here, it's hard to spot a car made before 1995; and if it's not a sportscar, then it's a mega-ute (or should we say, "pick up truck"), almost always a Chevrolet. Speaking of cars... we've hired one for a month (a Chevrolet Cavalier), as it just seems to be the best way to see America. Catching public transport in the US had been time-consuming and didn't get us to all the places we wanted to see. Also, the accommodation costs are astronomical, and sleeping in the car at designated rest areas or in camping grounds is a lot cheaper. For example, we slept in the car last night (very comfortable, free) and then had a shower after a swim at the local swimming pool (beautiful, $2). The downside is the freeways - within a minute of picking up the car, Graham had to contend with eight lanes (each direction) of freeway traffic. Needless to say, he did well and outta be congratulated. (He found it somewhat nerve-racking; all character-building though). Our first venture with the car was to Disneyland, which was so much fun. The rides were really quite tame and even Nicole wasn't that scared. We even went on the tea-cups. There were a few really good rollercoasters and a very cool 3D show (Honey I Shrunk the Audience). There was something special about seeing the original theme park and we were both felt young and free for the day. We left late and started driving to Nevada, stopping to sleep on the way. The scenery has been remarkable - sweeping deserts and high mountain ranges, some magically snow-capped. Driving into Nevada is quite a sight - empty expanse of California on one side, large casinos, rollercoasters, monorail and flashing hotel signs immediately as you cross the border. We even saw pokies in the service station! Of course, we won't be spending a cent on gambling here but we plan on visiting all the outrageous casinos tonight - including the one with the replica Eiffel tower, half the size of the original... It's a bizarre place, Las Vegas... Love Graham and Nicole.
March 31... Salt Lake City, Utah - Well, Las Vegas defintely rates as the most over-the-top place on earth (so far). The city itself is quite pleasant, full of new housing developments surrounding the famous 'casino strip'. We took a stroll down this glittering road, beginning with the Mandalay Bay Hotel - it looks like it's solid gold. Then there's the Egyptian-themed Luxor, complete with pyramid, sphinx and beam of light 10 miles high... All along the road, the hotels try to out-do each other, with fancier lights, fountains and re-creations of famous buildings, from the Statue of Liberty to the Colosseum. While the architecture and fancy light displays impressed us, there was a lot in Las Vegas that isn't pretty at all - from the endless rows of pokies to the cards handed out all along the street advertising various prostitutes. We couldn't help but think what better things could have been done with all that money... We returned to our new-found home to sleep: the 24 hour Walmart Supercentre! Apparently the founder of Walmart (an enormous supermarket and department store chain) liked driving in his recreational vehicle (RV), and he got sick of having to pay to park his RV somewhere overnight. So, he made a policy of letting people park in the Walmart car parks (which are absolutely massive) overnight for free. And boy, are there plenty of RV users and truck drivers making the most of it. Of course, Walmart must benefit too as naturally we go in and buy dinner and breakfast there, after using the "restrooms" to brush our teeth. Our typical meal consists of bread, peanut butter, fruit, yoghurt and Pringles (they're actually really cheap here!). Our car has turned out to be extremely comfortable (which surprised Graham)... With our pillows we bought from Sears (another department store chain). Actually it's hard to find a shop that isn't a chain here - some of the chains include Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, Wendy's, Denny's, Subway, IHOP, Taco Bell, Del Taco, some other Taco one we can't remember the name of... and so on. We've figured out that you could drive across the continent and have the same thing for every single meal, no matter how small the town was that you stopped in. On leaving Las Vegas, we caught a church service at St Timothy's Episcopal Church, then drove on to Hoover Dam. There sure were a lot of signs pointing the way there, about every 100 metres. So when we got to the big expanse of water we proudly said on the video that we'd reached Hoover Dam. It wasn't until we saw the real Hoover Dam that we realised we'd been looking at Lake Mead. Anyway, Hoover Dam, was, well, just a big dam. So, we drove on. Crossing into Arizona, we headed for the Grand Canyon, via Route 66, and arrived just after dark, so we couldn't see it. So we pulled over, among the moose, (really, there were two very large moose right outside our car), and slept until sunrise. It was the coldest day ever, well, maybe not ever but our extremities sure were numb as soon as we stepped outside. The sunrise over the canyon was magnificent - it was much bigger than we could have imagined! We hiked down leisurely towards the bottom, from where we could see the Colorado River running through the canyon. Coming up was a different matter - certainly not leisurely, but still well worth it. The views were spectacular. We both think King's Canyon is beautiful, but the Grand Canyon, is just, well, more grand. That afternoon we drove north towards Utah and stopped at the pretty town of Kanab for our first sleep on a real bed for a few days. Our motel room gave us a chance to recharge all that electrical equipment we're carrying and do the washing. We knew we were in Utah, because apart from the Gideon's Bible in the room, there was also the Book of Mormon, there for our perusal. The next morning we drove to Zion National Park, which has stunning rocks and cliffs. In fact, the whole drive has passed through the most beautiful country we've ever seen - we didn't realise America had so much natural beauty. We even saw a squirrel who came very close to us. We arrived in the outskirts of Salt Lake City late in the afternoon. The city is surrounded by mountains covered with snow - it's very beautiful. In the evening we watched the Passion of the Christ. Neither of us have cried so much in a movie before. It was extremely moving, and was true to the Gospel. We both prayed that many people would see the film. "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed" [Isiah 53:5]...We slept in Walmart again then headed for the public library (gotta love that free internet). Now we're off to explore downtown Salt Lake City. Love Graham and Nicole.
April 1... Salt Lake City, Utah - This sure is an interesting place to visit. We spent most of yesterday in "Temple Square" - the Mormon heart of Salt Lake City. Actually we didn't intend to spend quite so much time there but they rope you into a free guided tour to see each thing! Having said that, the tours were fascinating. The architecture and gardens in the square are magnificent. There is an enormous temple (for private worship), tabernacle (for group gatherings), and convention centre (seating 21,000 people). We learnt all about the Mormon beliefs, including that Jesus visited the Americas after his resurrection, and plans to establish his Kingdom on the American continent. There's also the added "Book of Mormon" in addition to the Bible, that explains how some tribes of Israel sailed to America, becoming the ancestors of some American Indians. Of course, the original texts of the book of Mormon (from 600 BC to AD 400) which were discovered in the 19th Century, have conveniently "disappeared." It's all very interesting and bizarre. The people here are lovely and friendly, and strangely enough, this city has reminded us a bit of Adelaide... We went to the Great Salt Lake yesterday afternoon, to see what it would be like to be unsinkable, in the dense saltwater. We didn't swim - it stank too much!!! There is no worse smell in the world! Even adventurous Graham couldn't bring himself to swim in it in case the smell never went away! (Like the Bog of Eternal Stench!) And so, that brought a quick end to our day and we went back "home" to Walmart. Today we plan to see the snow. We're going to build a snowman, and if the skiing is cheap, give it a go. Then on to Yellowstone National Park. (We've decided to travel along a more northerly route than originally planned because it sounds more fun). Love Graham and Nicole.
April 4... Sioux Falls, South Dakota - We drove up to the mountains of Salt Lake City, but skiing was way too expensive - so instead we built a snowman (in a cemetery - it was the most isolated place). He was very cute with a rock nose, leaves for eyes and Graham's beanie. Then we drove north - we've passed through some interesting place names including Gillette (the best a man can get), Thermopolis (which we renamed pongopolis for the smelll of it's famous mineral hot springs), and Nicole's personal favourites - Sulphurdale and Chloride (perfect residences for a budding chemist). We stayed in a nice motel in Jackson (giving us a chance to have a shower after our Walmart stays) and the next morning drove into Grand Teton National Park. This is the home of 12 stunning snowy peaks. It was another good chance for us to play in the snow. We then drove onwards to Yellowstone National Park. We really looking forward to the large mammals and geysers here. As we drove, the snow on the side of the road became higher and higher... More installments later - unfortunately we have used up our free library time and have been asked to move on. Love Graham and Nicole.
April 5... Des Moines, Iowa - Continued from previous entry... So we were on our way to Yellowstone and the snow was getting higher and higher. Then we passed a sign - road closed in 18 miles. "Uh oh" we thought but looked closely at the map, and it looked like there was a side-road we could take about 16 miles away, that would connect up with another entrance. We were also running low on petrol ("gas" as they say over here), so we stopped off at the petrol station by the side of the road. It was closed - in fact, the petrol-pumps were half-buried in snow. Things weren't looking good. Anyway, the road and the side-road did in fact turn out to be blocked, and so we did one big U-turn. We found a park ranger a few miles down the road who laughed and told us that the park is always closed this time of year (we wish that the guide-book told us that!)... Our drive continued across northern Wyoming, through pine trees with snow, and very thick fog (at one stage we could see literally only a few metres in front of us, of course, this was on the scenic route we had especially taken). We passed deer and antelope roaming freely, and finally arrived in Rapid Falls in South Dakota where we tucked ourselves in for the night at the local Walmart Supercentre. The next morning it was time for some rock-solid patriotism, at Mount Rushmore (a giant carving of four presidents in the Black Hill mountains). We both kept calling it Mount Splashmore (from the Simpsons), until we realised it should have been called Mount Fogmore. The famous dudes (Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln) were totally covered in fog - you couldn't even see them from the nostril viewpoint right underneath them. But we waited, and by midday, it was now Mount Fogless giving us Mount Rushmore. Around Mount Fogmore are the coolest animals ever - white woolly mountain goats that look very much like Sully from Monsters Inc. You have to see them to believe them! We drove on and through the Badlands, which were, very bad indeed (in the best possible sense). This area is magnificent and is straight off the set of some science fiction set in another planet (in fact, Starship Troopers was filmed there). Here we also found a huge group of prairie dogs burrowing holes and generally looking cute. They are the second coolest animals ever. We continued on to Sioux Falls for a Walmart stay. The next morning we went to its free museum, which had exhibitions on the history of toilets, the history of clothes and the history of toys, all of which was extremely interesting. The museum is mostly known however for its exhibition on the Sioux Indians. Did you know that they used every last part of the Buffalo? (We mean every part! Including the bladder and stomach for drink bottles to carry water, scrotum for rattles and containers, and the dung for fuel. Yuck!) So onwards we drove to Vermillion and rushed through its museum of musical history (we got there 10 minutes before closing time). They had a massive array of instruments, mostly really weird ones, even the didgeridoo. There were heaps of squirrels in this small pretty town just running around in peoples' front yards. They are also very cute (the squirrels, not the yards - actually, the yards are cute too). Earlier that morning we had planned on looking for a church service for Palm Sunday. We had adjusted our watch one hour for daylight saving which we had heard was beginning, but we didn't realise we had also crossed time zones, so unfortunately, we rocked up to the church service right as it was finishing. So instead we stopped in Sioux City (this is a different place than Sioux Falls), just inside Iowa, and found a church with an evening service (Landmark Baptist Church). It was an interesting service (lots of "Amens" from the congregation, a rather fiery and loud preacher, and "thees" and "thous" etc were used). The people were very friendly, and a middle-aged couple invited us to stay with them for the night. They were a lovely couple, and we feel we have a much better insight into the culture and thinking of the conservative mid-west. We talked all about hunting, guns, taxes on petrol, the local indigenous people and of course the differences between Australia and America. They initially thought we were English from our accents. Most people here do. We really appreciated their hospitality. And so, today we've driven onwards, and reached Des Moines (the capital of Iowa), and plan to continue driving this evening towards Chicago. Lots of Love, Graham and Nicole.
April 6... Chicago, Illinois - Chicago is a beautiful city (which surprised us both), but parking and accomodation is very expensive. (As in $140 for a cheap hotel and $30 to park the car - ouch!). Last night we slept 100 km from Chicago in another lovely Walmart (the closest 24 hour store to the city). We heard on the radio that Walmart is the richest company in the world. (Of course, we're doing our bit to help the dollars flow in). After driving through both poor and wealthy neighbourhoods (that's a bonus about the car - you get to appreciate the suburbs better), we reached the city centre. Here there is a fantastic mix of fancy old buildings and sparkling skyscrapers, including the Sears Tower and John Hancock Centre, two of the tallest buildings in the world. The built up streets are offset by lovely parklands (sound familiar?) and Lake Michigan. We'd read about some great museums and a planetarium that were free on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, our guide book let us down, and the idea of free days had obviously been abandoned since it was written. The entrance fees were too much for our budget, and so we simply enjoyed the walk there, and admired the buildings from the outside. We'll stick to cheaper attractions - the library (enormous), the cultural centre and the art gallery. We saw a great little exhibition on the original "but there's more" guy, who started selling lots of gadgets that people didn't really need. The equivalent of today's Ab-Swing from the 50s and 60s included an egg scrambler (that scrambled the egg while still in the shell), a bagel-slicer (the inventor's girlfriend had cut her finger while slicing one the regular way), various Veg-O-Matic type kitchen appliances, and a kit to make your own plastic plants at home. We even had a chance to hear some live Chicago jazz (famous, so we hear)... which Nicole enjoyed and Graham survived. Yesterday along our drive, we stopped off at another university town (they're very pretty), and saw those Greek-letter-named sorority houses, just like in the movies (Sigma Nu, Sigma Chi, Delta Epsilon etc. - exactly what draws them to particular letters we don't know...). America's a funny place. Love Graham and Nicole.
April 9... Cleveland, Ohio - We've made it to Graham's Mum's hometown. Although Cleveland seems to be the butt of a lot of jokes in movies, (some call it "the mistake on the lake") we think it's really nice and very pretty. Unfortunately it's freezing though, and we're not even seeing it in winter! But first, back to Chicago. Not even the art gallery was free, so we gave up and got some Chicago-style pizza instead, at Gino's East. Their version of pizza is done "deep-dish" with a pie crust - it was great. The next day we went to Lincoln Park, along Lake Michigan. Here we had our best experience of Chicago. We'd noticed dozens of squirrels running around the park, seemingly unafraid of us humans. So we sat down, and started throwing our peanut butter sandwich towards them. Within seconds, squirrels were popping out of trees everywhere! They are SO cute when they're nibbling. It was such fun, and it was free! Next we went to the Lincoln Park Conservatory (where Nicole took many photos of beautiful flowers and ferns) and then to the free Zoo, which was also very enjoyable. They had some great modern exhibits, with aquariums for fish and penguins. We spotted only four Australian animals - kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, a green tree python and a West Australian wallaby. We get very excited when we see anything from Australia (even the flag - how crazy!) We drove out of Chicago (where the drivers are psycho) and after a few hours, finally left the suburban limits. The maze of concrete freeways and exits is a sight to behold, and one that still makes Graham nervous. We passed through Indiana, stopping only at Subway (we think Subway is the most popular chain here - they're literally everywhere; a town of two people would have one). Our destination was the Wooster Walmart, which proved very difficult to find at night, with no street directory, and Wooster being a town of 28,000 equating to one dot on a map. Eventually, with the help of various service station staff, we found it at 1:30 am and slept well. Next morning we drove the short distance to Amish Country (south of Canton), which was absolutely fascinating - one of the best places we've visited. We got a good overview of the history of these people at the visitor's centre. The Amish and Mennonites are Christian denominations that have their roots from the Anabaptist movement (believers in the baptism of adults only on confession of faith as a symbol of becoming a Christian), which began in Switzerland in the 16th Century. Because of religious persecution, they migrated to America, in an effort to preserve their unique way of life and beliefs. We learnt about the spectrum from old order Amish (the men wear the black hats and have impressive beards, the women wear little white hats, they don't use cars or electricity or telephones), the new order Amish (a little more modern), the conservative Mennonites (more modern again but still mainly farmers) and the liberal Mennonites (embrace modern living and education but maintain the same religious beliefs). Interestingly, the Mennonites shun all forms of violence, and refuse to bear arms or go to war. We asked a Mennonite lady what the people thought about the war in Iraq and she said almost all opposed it. (We heard on the radio on the same day that Ohio just legalised the carrying of concealed weapons anywhere...quite a contrast). It was a great experience driving around the towns and beautiful countryside, passing many horses and carts, women in traditional dress on bicycles, and men farming with horse-pulled ploughs. Eighty percent of the population of this county was Amish or Mennonite. There were many craft and woodwork shops, and we stopped off at an Amish restaurant for a hearty meal. The area had shades of Hahndorf, but was more old-fashioned. We tried to film and photograph only from the car because we felt rude taking pictures of what was "normal" life for these people, but we couldn't help but be fascinated by it. Our suspicions were confirmed when we asked one Amish man if it was rude to take a photo of him and he answered in the affirmative. Late that evening we drove on to Cleveland and stayed in a motel. We passed many many churches - much more than in Adelaide - this city should be called the City of Churches. Most churches were Baptist, of one variety or another. It was therefore easy for us to find a service for Holy Thursday. We're hoping to locate the church that Graham's parents got married in so that we can go to an Easter service there. Today we're looking for memories of Mum... Love Graham and Nicole.
April 14... Quebec City, Quebec, Canada - Where do we start? - so much to write about, so little time (which is lucky for you because we won`t be able to bore you too much...) Back to Cleveland... We stayed our first night in a motel, then headed off in the morning in search of family history. We started with the Knollwood Cemetery, to find the graves of Graham`s grandparents. From there, we knocked on the door of an elderly gentleman, Mr Jenkin, an old friend of Graham`s Mum. As total strangers and unexpected guests, he took us in and offered to put us up for a few nights. This turned out to be a great experience for us, and we think for him, too. He showed us around the town, from popular attractions, to suburban streets, to the sites of relevance to Graham`s family (Mum`s family home, high school and primary school, the church where she and Dad got married, and the university/hospital where we think they both met). He even took us out to lunch and dinner, and we joined him for some great Easter services at the Little Church in the Vale (built by his father, a carpenter). The people at the church were really friendly, and very interesting to talk to. We even fielded some questions about Australia that a few home-schooled kids had prepared! (Everyone`s knowledge about our country seems to start and end with Steve Irwin). We`ve decided we like Cleveland very much - it`s a beautiful place and the people are great. After a couple of days we drove on to Niagara Falls, on the border of Canada and America. The falls are HUGE! (but you already knew that...) We were surprised by the tackiness of the casino and haunted-house driven Canadian side. The American side was much less developed, but the views weren`t quite as good. We made it across to Canada in time to see the falls at night, when they are lit up by changing coloured lights - very pretty but very cold (it was 3 degrees celsius). We drove into Toronto that night - the traffic was unbelievable, far worse than anything in the USA. The city was massive, it just seemed to go on and on. We pulled over and slept in a quiet suburban street, as Graham was too tired to drive any further. The next morning, the radio dude cheerfully announced that today`s high would be a warm 8 degrees and currently it was 1 degree - yay. So, putting on all our clothing (eg for Nicole - stockings, socks, thermal underwear top and bottoms, tracksuit pants, trousers, long-sleeved top, warm fleecy jacket, raincoat, gloves and beanie) - we were still cold! So, we bought the first warm scarves we could find in Sears, which helped a little. (Remember, the high was eight, the low was well into the minuses!). Toronto had lots of teenage boys skateboarding, lots of sky-scrapers, and the CN Tower (the tallest free-standing structure in the world at 533 metres), but not much else that was free or terribly appealing to us. So, we headed off out of Ontario, to Quebec. Again, Graham got tired, so we pulled over in some small town somewhere, and slept. (Afterall one does need one`s sleep). The next morning, we bypassed Montreal, and as we continued north, Nicole`s dream came true - it snowed! We pulled over, and danced around, amazed to see that snowflakes really are intricate, and that snow really does just fall gracefully like on TV. During our snow-dance, we attracted the attention of none other than the police, who pulled over. They thought our car had broken down and that we were calling for help!! We explained that we were from Australia and had never seen snow fall, and they just laughed and told us to enjoy the day. We continued on through the snow, to reach the Parc Du Mont Tremblant National Park. We`d bought a Canada Lonely Planet Guide in Toronto (we felt lost without one), and had read about the great hiking and canoeing we could do there. Well, the Lonely Planet guides of the USA and Canada have some major flaws. They neglect to tell people like us, who are unfamiliar with the weather up here, that whole areas will essentially close down for months because the paths are covered with deep snow. The Parc Du Mont Tremblant is only worth going to in June or July, but you`d never get that impression from the Lonely Planet guide - you`d think you could hike all year round. Although the trails were closed, and the lakes were mostly frozen, we still enjoyed a short walk along a snow-covered road, and it was worth the drive north to see the snow falling... Quebec is quite different from anywhere else we`ve travelled in North America. Passing through the small towns, everything is in French and there is a more European look to things (at least, we imagine that`s what European things look like!). Nicole has been using her limited French at the bakeries and grocery stores, (Madame would be proud!) and Graham has been staring blankly when spoken to in French at the petrol stations - fortunately almost everyone speaks English as well and they help him out when he looks lost. Just before reaching Quebec city, we stopped at the Ice Hotel - unfortunately, like the Wicked Witch of the West, it was melting (it was in it`s deconstruction phase). We could still see a few walls standing though. (It`s a hotel made of ice that melts each spring, and is then rebuilt each winter, and tourists pay through the icy roof to sleep on an icy bed - coolness!) We drove into Quebec city and were immediately impressed by the old buildings and narrow streets - this place has a lot of character. We stayed in a old-fashioned pretty hotel, and for Graham`s 26th birthday dinner went to a French restaurant. The meal was delicious! Surprisingly, this is actually quite a cheap town. We haven`t actually explored the city yet, because our first stop has been the library to type the stuff that you`ve just read. Sorry it was so long! We`re off today to see the city on foot. Thanks for all your lovely emails over Easter. Love Graham and Nicole.
April 16... Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada - Nicole is smiling because we've reached Anne of Green Gables territory... On our second day in Quebec City, we wandered around the plains of Abraham, which was the site of the battle between the French and the British. The French lost the battle, which ended their hopes for a large North American colony. Among the snow-covered grass we could just imagine the bloody action that took place here, especially with the old cannons and numerous plaques dramatically describing events of the battle, such as where General Wolfe was "mortally wounded on the eve of glorious victory"! We then continued our walk along the wall that surrounds the city, taking in the impressive architecture. We passed the Chateau Frontenac, the world's most photographed hotel. We could see why, so we added another number to the tally. Throughout our meanderings, the ever-present smell of home-made soup wafted by, tempting us to buy another nice French meal, but we settled for our croissants left over from breakfast. The smell is what we will remember about Quebec City the most, especially when so many places in the USA have smelt so bad... We drove on across Quebec and into New Brunswick, stopping to sleep at a town called Woodstock. The next morning we drove on stopping only at a town called Moncton, to see Magnetic Hill - a supposedly natural wonder where you appear to roll up the hill in your car (a natural optical illusion). We renamed it Magnetic Hole - as like most things in Canada it was closed. It also appeared extremely tacky with the theme park surrounding it. We also wanted to see the phenomenon called the tidal bore - the tide here rises dramatically, causing a large "tidal" wave to travel into the rivers with the river-level rising up to 6 metres within a couple of minutes - at least that is what the guide book said. The river was frozen, the sea was frozen, everthing was frozen - alas no tidal bore. We spoke to a local though who said that it really wasn't very impressive since the building of the freeways had shrunk the river. There was a free museum in Moncton however, at which we saw fantastic pictures of the national parks in Canada as they appear in the two months of the year that they aren't covered in snow. So we drove on, crossing the largest bridge over icy waters in the world to Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately even though it is spring, it seems that we are too early to see the flowers and trees in bloom. Still, it is a very beautiful and serene landscape, with lots of fields and wooden houses and churches. We stayed the night in Charlottetown, and have found out that this place is the home of the foundation of Canada. We went to the parliament house (Province House) where we had a guided tour, watched the parliamentarians in session (the hot topic here has something to do with selling one of the large local fisheries) and saw an excellent video on Canadian history. We shamefully had very little clue about the formation of the country - in 1864 the four Atlantic colonies (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland) planned a meeting to form a new country. When the Canadian colony (present day Ontario and Quebec) heard about it, they gate-crashed the meeting because they wanted to be part of it too. Everyone it seems was worried about being swallowed up in American culture and law. (Things haven't changed!) So after a week of wining and dining everyone happily agreed to form a new country, went to London and a new country, Canada was formed in 1867. We wondered if Australia followed the Canadian example. They have a Lower House and a Senate here too, but their Senate is appointed by the Prime Minister through the Governor General... Anyway, we are off now to brave the rainy weather (in our car of course) to drive along some scenic roads to Green Gables and the area with Lucy Maud Montogomery lived... Love Graham and Nicole
April 19... Glocester, Rhode Island - Prince Edward Island, despite the snow, was just beautiful. We saw many of the Anne of Green Gables sites (and all for free because it was too cold for anyone to sit there and collect money). This included the Green Gables house and some lovely trails through the woods and "Lover's Lane." As we drove, we marvelled at the rivers and lakes that were frozen over; the Lake of Shining Waters had become the Lake of Icy Waters. One phenomenon that we just couldn't see enough of was the 'ice trees' as we called them. Because the temperature was hovering around zero, the branches of the trees had somehow become encased with ice, sometimes a few centimetres thick. They would tinkle like bells in the wind, occasionally dropping their icicles. Even the power lines were covered in ice, which periodically fell (with a loud crash if it landed on the car - quite scary!). After two days of driving through pretty scenery, we made our way out of Canada, and drove through Maine to Boston, Massachusetts. We both think the scenery in Maine has been the best so far - reds and pinks of deciduous trees against green pine trees, winding rivers and lakes... In Boston we battled the traffic-jammed streets to reach Harvard and MIT. We can now both reminisce about our day(s) at Harvard University... We saw the first public anti-war display in America - someone had spray-painted WAR under a stop sign so it read "Stop War" - it makes a contrast to what we hear on the radio and TV, although there was a major interview with George Bush on the TV last night which the analysts are saying will change the tide of opinion. Speaking of radio and TV, here's our record of what's over here. Firstly TV: the 9/11 Commission - non-stop reports flow covering the testimony of each witness, but no one attracted as much attention as Condoleeza Rice. We've decided that the news here is completely introspective and has absolutely no coverage of anything unrelated to America. CNN is the worst channel - CNNNN got it right, in fact, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Speaking of television channels, every motel has cable TV - you flick through 50 channels and can't find anything you want to watch. As for mentions of Australia, we've heard one official news story - the announcement that Australians, Britains and Japenese would be finger-printed when they come into America. The only other mentions (two) have been in reference to a radio station getting an email "all the way from Australia!" As for music, here's what's playing in the Mid-West: "I can Only Imagine" [Mercy Me], "You'll think of Me" [Keith Urban] with our favourite line, "take your cat and leave my sweater, we've got nothing left to weather," "Remember When" and some other country song about Cherry Coke. As for the East and Canada, hands-down winners are "100 years" [Five for Fighting], "White Flag" [Dido] and "My Immortal" [Evanescence]. The only other significant difference between East and Mid-West is that in the Mid-West, every second station (literally) will have a preacher giving (or occasionally yelling) a sermon, whereas in the East, there is much less Christian radio and more classical music. We've decided we quite like listening to some of the sermons. As for Australian music, there is one song that gets good airplay - "Down Under" [Men at Work] - in fact, we even heard it a few times in Chile, too. The only other songs we've heard are one by Savage Garden and one by Delta Goodrem - that's it. And we've listened to a lot of radio! ... On leaving Boston, we went through Plymouth, which is where the Pilgrims landed in America, (effectively the first British Colony) at the now less than impressive, "Plymouth Rock." Graham has renamed it "Plymouth Pebble" - it has worn away considerably since 1620. We've driven through Rhode Island, which makes state number 19, and we're on our way to Connecticut. Love Graham and Nicole.
April 21... Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - Nicole keeps thinking of this state as The Land of Pencils... who can comprehend the minds of women? We spent a night in the small town of Union, Connecticut, with Nicole's second cousin's family - Gabrielle, Raymond and their 4 year old daughter, Camille, who is very cute. As we drove around looking for their house, we thought how nice it would be to live in an area like this, quite similar to the Adelaide Hills. They have a great house on a 14 acre property, with resident squirrles, chipmunks, wild turkeys, deer and the occasional bear and moose! They treated us to a beautiful dinner and Ray took us on a night tour in his Jeep. The next day we followed their advice to hike in one of the nearby state parks of pine forest - very romantic. Gabrielle whipped up another delicious home-cooked meal for us last night, and then we drove off towards Pennsylvania in the evening. They were really pleasant people, and it was very interesting to hear their perspectives on American life, from politics to how to have fun with snow (they like to snow-mobile), especially since Gabrielle grew up in Australia. The drive to Gettysburg just kept getting better as we drove into warmer weather and the spring landscape (that we were expecting earlier). Even Graham has developed a new enthusiasm for blossoming trees and tulips... Love Graham and Nicole.
April 24... Washington,D.C., Maryland - We decided it was time we learnt some American history, so we headed off to the Gettysburg Museum, which was crawling with schoolkids on excursions. (No wonder they all know the Gettysburg address!) We learnt that the 3-day battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the civil war, during which 7 million bullets were fired and thousands of people died. Among the collection of rifles, revolvers and civil war debris, were some fascinating medical kits, (which looked more like tool kits) and scary stories from war surgeons. We moved on to the cemetery where Lincoln gave the famous 2 minute speech, and Graham recited what he could remember of it. In the cemetery were rows and rows of graves, mostly of unknown soldiers. As we drove out through the town, we passed about a thousand monuments but didn't stop to take in the details. We thought we'd squeeze in one more hike before hitting the big cities, and so drove down to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Spring had well and truly come here, with glorious purple blossoms and green trees everywhere. Then it was time to just relax, and catch up on that diary-writing (Nicole is 10 days behind...). It was our last night in Walmart - out of the 27 nights we had the car for, 14 were spent sleeping in the car, and another 4 courtesy of the hospitality of people and relatives we've met. It was then time to hit the interstates again, and take the car back to Washington D.C. airport. We'd driven 7613 miles!! The car had saved us a lot of money in accommodation - all up it was probably the same cost as getting Greyhound unlimited bus passes, but a lot more enjoyable... So now we're in Washington DC - capitOL of the free world (apparently). It has been surprisingly difficult to find accommodation here. On the first day we caught the train into the city centre, and called up quite a few hostels and cheap hotels only to secure the last room available at the wonderful price of US $80 in the HI Hostel. That was only for one night, and the next day (today), we've had to find another place to stay. After dozens of phone calls, we finally got one of the last rooms at a hotel 12 miles out of town, that costs the apparently very reasonable price of US $120. We miss the car. On the positive side, the hotel is right next to the metro underground railway system, and so it takes only 30 minutes to get straight into town. The town is actually a very interesting and packed place, with lots and lots of free stuff. We saw George W's backyard, and that nice mansion he lives in, from a distance of course, because it is highly fenced off. This is fortress America. We also have seen quite a few small political demonstrations, including the pro-abortion march (there is currently a bill in their parliament to ban late-term abortions), and an anti-nuclear weapons protest. Today we're off to the massive American history museum, which we started seeing yesterday but haven't finished... Love Graham and Nicole
April 26... Washington,D.C., Maryland - It's been an interesting few days in "DC"... We've visited some great museums, including the museum of American history, the air and space museum and the museum of natural history. These are enormous free museums. You can get lost in them so easily! At the history museum we found out all about those interstate freeways we've driven on, saw the letter Einstein wrote to Roosevelt urging him to get into the atomic bomb race to beat the Germans and found an entire section of photographs of when the Beatles came to America - Nicole had a lot of fun. We even saw some of the early computers, like the Apple II that Tackage, Stevee and Graham used to tinker with, and a Commodore 64, the Agzarian family computer for years. You'd be excused for thinking that almost everthing (such as the industrial revolution) had it's origins in America, but you soon get used to the American-centric view of life. The natural science museum was the best though, with a massive collection of crystals, an insect farm and even quite a lot on Australian animals... We've mastered their subway system here, which is easy to use. It's funny to watch people run to catch the next train, when the trains come every 4 minutes anyway - who can't wait 4 minutes!? There are plenty of monuments to see in Washington DC. There's the Washington monument, which towers above the sky-line, the Roosevelt memorial where there are lots of sayings about how America is a country that brings about peace and doesn't start wars, and there is the Lincoln monument which is crowded with millions (well almost) of people. One of the interesting things we saw near the Jefferson memorial was the lake next to it. It was covered in sludge and we could see dozens of dead fish (that stank) floating on the surface. Yet just 15 metres away there were plenty of fisherman happily fishing away, we can only hope it wasn't for their dinner... Yesterday, the city was crowded with a million people - for a large pro-abortion march. Today the city is littered with their banners that they didn't throw into the bin (We bet that these people claim to be environmentalists too, but with the number of trees that must have been cut down to make the banners, and the absolute disgrace of litter on the streets, we doubt they really are). We didn't see much of the march however, because we spent a looong morning in a gospel-choir style black baptist church. It was an experience to say the least. Plenty of impromtu music, singing, and shouting "hallelujah" and "praise Jesus." The angelic voices of the choir were counteracted by the yelling of the preacher man - who mind you gave a very good sermon about putting complete faith in God. We just wish it could have been a little lower in volume... We've bought our bus tickets to New York (leaving tomorrow), and tonight we plan on having a quiet night at the hotel in front of the cable TV - 2 hours of constant flicking of channels looking for something worth watching... Love Graham and Nicole.
April 28... New York City, New York - Graham always liked apples - his mum would testify to this. Now we're in the big apple, which we also like (but have decided it's just too big and busy). We have no idea why this place is named after a fruit - can anyone help us? We're staying in Queens at Tante Marie's house (Nicole's dad's aunt) who is super-friendly and extremely hospitable... We caught a bus from Washington to New York, which took about twice as long as was expected because the bus-driver got lost and couldn't find the bus terminal (it was his first day on the job). What surprised us was how angry the bus passengers got - they were hurling insults and swear words at the bus driver, who just grit his teeth and bore it, eventually getting us there. We then found the subway system and made our way out to Queens. Catching the subway here is quite an adventure for us. It is very, very, very crowded (add in a few more very's for good measure if you want). And it's colourful - this has to be the most multicultural place we've ever seen. Sitting on the subway, looking around we see people (and hear languages) from backgrounds as diverse as African American, African African (we've met people from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Zaire...), China, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Greece, Italia, Mexico, South America, England, Ireland and anywhere else you can imagine - it's a real melting-pot of cultures... Today we visited the site of the now-destroyed World Trade Centre. Unfortunately it is surrounded by a very large wall, but you can peak through the gaps to see a big hole in the ground, with a few cranes and workmen. They plan on building a garden memorial and a new office building in its place. The office building is going to be the tallest building in the world. We both feel that a garden alone would be better... After that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge getting a good look at the sky-scraper sky-line and glimpsing the Statue of Liberty in the distance... Oh, one more thing about New Yorkers - they often seem unable to tolerate simple common-sense. For example: A few years ago the mayor here introduced a zero-tolerance policy to curb crime. Well we reckon it has been a bit overdone. Today whilst using the internet in the public library in Queens, Nicole was reading emails, and Graham grabbed a chair from a table 1 metre away to sit next to her. He was immediately warned by another library user that he'd get in trouble because you weren't allowed to move chairs. He said he'd take his chances. Afterall, the chair had been moved a whole one metre from one table, to another. Well, within a minute a security guard was onto the case, and in a very mean voice Graham was told to put the chair back at once. So he did - but he showed them all by standing next to Nicole for the next 30 minutes. Oh the pettiness of pointless rules... Love Graham and Nicole
April 30... New York City, New York - We've had some very relaxing days in New York. Each day Tante Marie treats us to a huge breakfast and gives us sandwiches to take with us, then we head off to catch the bus then the train. There's two hours spent doing not much before reaching the heart of the city. (It's a good time just to look around at the hustle and bustle, listen to the languages and accents around you and just imagine how crazy it would be living here). Yesterday was our famous places in New York day - we started at Central Park, which is really quite pretty, although a little over-crowded. There were the mandatory squirrels everywhere, plenty of lakes and ponds with turtles in them, lots of rollerbladers, and heaps of sunbathers. We glanced up at the glamourous Chrysler Building and saw the Empire State Building towering even higher. We walked around Times Square, marvelled at the sparkly ads, and thought, if it's crowded now, imagine what's it's like on New Year's Eve! We found the world's biggest department store, Macy's, and marvelled at the multitudes of ties for sale. For a change of scene, we headed to the United Nations Headquarters. As we stood on International soil pondering the flags and the work that supposedly takes place there, it seemed like quite a contrast to all the glitz in the rest of town. After going through all the metal detectors, we made it inside, where there were some great photography exhibitions... Today was marked by more metal detectors and big queues, but it was all worth it. We caught the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Close up she looks really quite impressive and beautiful. Lucky she's tall so that we could get a good view among the crowds. Next was Ellis Island, where millions of migrants first arrived to start a new life in America. The Migration Museum here was very interesting, explaining the trends of migration over the last few centuries. We were even able to find out about migrants from Australia - 55,000 in total today live in the US (compare that with, for example, over 12 million from Italy)... Love Nicole and Graham
May 2... New York City, New York - The last couple of days have been at a slower pace, spending time with Tante Marie and Marie-Lou (Nicole's second cousin), and Sevan (her Armenian boyfriend). We've had a lot of fun with all of them, reminiscing about life in Australia, learning family history, and hearing their experiences of America, including their memories of September 11. That day is still very much in the minds of New Yorkers - it was even referred to several times in the sermon we heard today at church. This was our first time at an Armenian Orthodox church. Everything was very colourful and there was beautiful music, lots of symbolism and rituals. Although most of the service was in Armenian, there was an English translation in the service book so we could follow along. We've really enjoyed learning about and experiencing so many different types of churches in America... Marie-Lou treated us to some great cooking the last few nights, and we also got to try some Armenian food at the church one night. We also got a personal guided tour of the suburbs, as Sevan drove us past Long Island's mansions and marina. Now for one more day of relaxing before we leave... Our impressions of the US of A? It really is the land of opportunity - you have the opportunity to turn right on red lights, eat Subway 24 hours a day anywhere, significantly break the speed limit without getting in trouble (not that we did but everyone else does), meet people who think Australia is in Europe... and many more opportunities! It is very easy to get around (if you have a car). Internet cafes are almost non-existent (we use public libraries) and forget about finding a machine with Windows XP or a CD burner. They have weird showers and toilets, backwards light switches, and a scarcity of both ice-cream flavours and Cadbury chocolate. (We notice the important stuff!). The people are either really friendly and helpful or they're short-tempered and rudely impatient. They all look fashionable and well-dressed (or is that just because we're so scruffy?). Stunning scenery abounds, and wildlife is unexpectedly encounted everywhere. There's no shortage of monuments and memorials (the number of places whose claim to fame revolves around how Abraham Lincoln passed his time in their town is astounding). But the most noticeable thing of all? That wonderful word, FLAG. There are more flags on top of one service station here than in the whole of Australia... In short, we've loved it here, and have enjoyed discovering both the oddities and beauty of the country. We look forward to hearing from you and writing to you once we reach Europe, our next stop... Love Graham and Nicole
North America photos