Joined May 2017 Message
  • Day21

    Just the two of us...

    June 27, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our final full day in Boston and sadly Tony and Betsy leave this morning. Their flight is quite early so we said our fond goodbyes the night before. Today, we check out of the Hampton Inn and we glam it up a bit for our last night at the downtown boutique hotel Fifteen Beacon. We got a good deal from Amex who also throw in early check in, late check out (very important), free breakfast, wifi and $100 credit.

    Crossing on the Charles River Bridge, we passed through some of the quaint Beacon Hill district which we promised to return to after we had checked in. No chance of an upgrade but our room was pleasant enough even if it did face onto office buildings rather than towards the park. This area of Boston was heaving and you felt that we had picked the most popular time to visit, the pavements sprawled with tour groups, familes and precarious segway riders following the historical freedom trail cleverly picked out in redbrick along the ground.

    We walked back to the quaint Beacon Hill area and had a look in some of the cosy antique stores that lined each side of the tree lined avenue. We also walked back some way over the Charles River Bridge to take a picture of the old Beacon Hill area crowned by the skyscrapers that sit behind in the financial district.

    We decided to go to the much lauded Museum of Fine Art which quite frankly was one of the finest and certainly largest art museums we have ever visited. It is quite impossible to see all the highlights in a day but we made a good attempt to. Botticellis sit across the corridor from Monets and there seemed to be no art period or style that wasn't covered. As you would imagine there was a huge amount of American art which covered painting, sculpture and design. Interestingly we saw a number of Turners which we had never seen before including a terrifying and sickening depiction of slaves being tossed over the side of slave ships to the awaiting mouths of fantastical sea creatures. Presumably they were ill or rebellious in some way. It reminded us again of the solemn history that we had learnt during our time in the southern states. The US really does art galleries so well and we were blown away by the organisation, selection and hanging. Thoroughly worn out we skipped our idea of going to a second art museum nearby and wandered instead through the Fenway Park enjoying the peace and tranquility before hitting the downtown area again and back to the hotel.

    We had an early dinner at the hotel restaurant which was a steak joint. The $100 credit was swallowed up almost immediately in cocktails and we battled through a rather tender though tasteless steak which had been ruined by the addition of far to much salt. It seems to be something we are experiencing a lot in US restaurants. Too much sugar or too much salt. I did like the cheese and bacon Tatertots though!

    We planned to head to the roof garden on top of the hotel but it was closed for the evening so we headed to nearby Boston Common but were beaten back by a sudden downpour. I grabbed a bag of M&M's to try and combat the saltiness on my tongue to no avail. Heading back to the hotel we slept deeply and immediately both looking forward to heading home tomorrow.
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    Walt Selby

    Oh wow what a stunning Turner although the subject matter leaves a cold chill

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  • Day20

    Birthplaces, libraries and the seaside

    June 26, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Our final full day together with Tony and Betsy we headed off today to John Adams' houses on the outskirts of Quincy. When we got to the visitors centre we were told that the introductory movie was broken so entrance was free. Typically for national parks everything was done so well. We were taken to John Adams birth house on a heritage tram. Built in 1735 it is surprisingly humble it sits on the side of what was the coast road. We learnt that every male seemed to be called John and every female Abigail. John Adams was the second president of the US and his son who was born in the next door house John Quincy Adams was the 6th. The tour was interesting and informative. Both houses offered their own quirks. Oddly the John Quincy house looked a whole lot newer but it was actually older than the John Adams house.

    After the birthplace homes we headed to Peacefield which was the far grander future home of John Quincy Adams. It was a fascinating tour led by a young enthusiastic guide. Of great note were the wonderful portraits on the walls of each generation of Adams and what made it very interesting was that the furniture and contents were intact and preserved so you really felt you had an idea of how the Adams family lived.

    In the garden was a huge stone library containing a large proportion of JQ Adams' books. It was amazing that you could scan the shelves and acknowledge what a learned and sophistacated man he clearly was. They were written in 10 languages of which JQ Adams spoke 7 fluently.

    After the tour we decided that because we had left the outskirts of Boston, it would be fun to explore further along the shore. The land curled around into an isthmus which at its end curled around to look back at Boston.

    We initially stopped at the Nantasket Beach on our way to Hull. The beach was crowded with visitors and locals and on the prom, a vintage merry go round spun within its beautiful, charming wooden enclosure, the remnants of Bostons 'Coney Island' called Paragon Park. We ate at Jacks Place across the road and had some incredibly fresh seafood in huge servings. Heading off afterwards we went on to Hull along a pleasant road with well kept beach houses lining each side. At the end of the isthmus we reached a lookout where we could look back towards Boston, just five miles away and all of the Bay Islands in between. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco Bay helped by watching the many ferries crossing between the city and more remote spots. After this we drove up to Telegraph Hill in Hull above a cemetery and topped by Fort Revere. We marvelled at the view and took a few pictures in the sun.

    After heading back to Boston, sadly in the rush hour, we decided to take a look in the Boston Public Library, a very grand edifice near Copley Park in the centre of downtown Boston. Built in 1848 and now containing 23 million items it was testement to the motto on the entrance arch 'Free for All.' Built on a grand scale it easily swallowed up all the visitors and students researching its resources. The walls were richly decorated with murals including some by John Singer Sargent, it is a mightily impressive place.

    After the library and a much needed gin and tonic, myself and Betsy headed to the huge Barnes and Noble to look at books. Hugely understaffed it was a chore to make a purchase and we wondered how long bricks and mortar book shops could hold out against online stores if they couldn't offer better customer service.

    Our final meal was at a simple Italian restaurant where we sat on the patio and enjoyed our last night together. Tomorrow Betsy and Tony sadly leave and we have one last day in the city.
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    Betsy Bell

    Such a wonderful account of a memorable and happy time with you both!

  • Day19

    J F K Presidential Library

    June 25, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    The following morning was bright and sunny and Tony had rented a car so we had a bit more flexibility. The plan was to go the the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. We went there six years ago and were surprised at how much development had taken place in the area since, but the library itself was the same, a splendid modern building set in a wonderful position on a promontory overlooking Boston harbour with the city in the background. With the sunlight, blue skies, water and white sails of little dinghies, the tall, white concrete and glass building was as impressive as the architect had intended.

    I think everyone who was alive at the time is able to remember exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated on November 22nd. 1963. Personally it was a startling month because earlier, on 6th November, our frightening but respected headmaster had suffered a heart attack and had died at school at the age of 60. For an eleven year old boy it was an abrupt learning process.

    I have often wondered whether the Kennedy reputation was rose-tinted because of his untimely death and maybe the jury is still out on the question of what his legacy might have been had he lived and served a full term, if not two. However the evidence of the museum indicates a person of rare intellect and experience, in politics, foreign affairs and war. I think I am able to say, without much chance of contradiction, that there is nobody today in politics, anywhere, with the breadth of experience achieved prior to his presidency by JFK and participation in a war as destructive as WW2 in the Pacific, where he acted heroically, was wounded and nearly died, gives any politician a focus not evident today. He was also quite a prolific author in his own right and his first book, published in 1938, was a response to Churchill’s about Britain’s lack of rearmament. Kennedy disagreed in some way with Churchill and consequently wrote his book. Before the war Kennedy travelled to the UK, Moscow and Berlin as well as other European destinations and his father was ambassador to Britain, so even as a young man his experience of the world was impressive.

    I have said elsewhere that the Americans have great skill in the field of museums and galleries and the display here of artefacts, photographs, books, speeches annotated for delivery, film and recordings is a masterpiece. It charts the life of a boy, admittedly born into privilege, who conquers ill health and physical weakness, enters the Navy even though rejected, to take the place of his elder brother killed in the air over Germany whose trajectory had been political, to enter congress and later to fight one of the closest presidential elections ever. Then as President to go after organised crime, be instrumental in bringing the emancipation of the slaves, instigated 100 years previously by President Lincoln, into some sort of final reality with the Civil Rights Bill, passed by President Johnson after his death, and navigate the Cuban Missile Crisis which I had not realised brought the world within a submariners itchy trigger finger to nuclear war.

    I was terribly impressed by the standard of his oratory, almost Churchillian in style, maybe not as mellifluous as that of Obama, but densely argued and challenging in a way you never hear today in this sound-bite world. At the present time of limited vocabulary seemingly available to Trump, it was a joy to the ear to hear Kennedy’s Massachusetts accent delivering such marvellous and challenging prose, which even 50 years later is still relevant. His inaugural speech, given in full, was worthy of the entrance fee alone and if you are able to find it on youtube somewhere I encourage you to listen to it in full. It was particularly poignant to see the speech, the actual sheets in large print, Kennedy had prepared for delivery in Dallas but which he never had the opportunity to deliver.

    A couple of quotes:

    Inaugural Address January 20th 1961.
    “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

    “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country”.

    Undelivered remarks prepared for Dallas, November 22nd. 1963.
    “We in this country, in this generation, are - by destiny rather than choice - the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility - that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint - and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men’. That must always be our goal - and the righteousness of our cause must always underline our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain’”.

    Whatever Kennedy’s long-term legacy might have been, I felt I had been exposed to a towering 20th century figure, the like of which I struggle to see today and am encouraged to do more reading about him. Like all great men, he was a flawed man and many will be interested in the details of those flaws which might have had a bearing on his later performance, but I am interested in finding out more of the essential man, whose unfinished life prevented any further development.

    Stepping out of the dark museum into the tall glass full-height corner of the building overlooking the sea, with sunlight streaming in and a giant stars and stripes hanging, I was in a stimulated and pensive frame of mind. We parted briefly from Tony and Betsy who were going to see an old friend and her family. Mike and I decided to walk along the waterside towards Boston in the beautiful afternoon. We passed beaches with Sunday swimmers, sun bathers and volley ball players, climbed a steep hill into the Beacon Hill area and then walked down Broadway until our legs tired, the weather threatened and we were in the concrete jungle of overpasses and highways. An uber took us to the Fairmont, a cocktail and the beautiful ceiling. Then Barnes and Noble’s bookshop called, after which we walked to the Atlantic Fish Restaurant. Being very early for our reservation, we sat at the bar and had some beers and got into conversation with an older couple (older these days probably being my age, but I am in denial). He was from Florida, she from Boston, so they have an enviable life in both places. He had been to London in his youth in the ‘70s so that was a point of contact and then there was always something Bostonian to talk about.

    Going to our table, thankfully before we were too ‘pickled’, Mike had scallops wrapped in bacon (delicious) and I had crab cake (not quite so interesting) and then we both ordered lobster. Now lobster is one of those sought after dishes that palls easily and on this occasion the meat had been taken out of the shell for us. I am sure they thought they were being helpful but it actually takes away part of the fun and interest of eating lobster and exposes the relative blandness of the meat. It’s awful to have to relate, but we had a hard time finishing it. Don’t tell any Americans I said this, but I have a sneaking feeling that British lobster has more flavour. We also drank a marvellous bottle of Pouilly-Fumé, a great accomaniment. With no room for desert, we paid the bill, called an uber and left.

    We must have tipped the waitress enough because she dashed out while we were waiting for our uber to give us our credit card which we had inadvertently left on the table with the bill. Getting back to the hotel, we had a cup of tea and rolled into bed after a full, thought provoking and energetic day.
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  • Day18

    Revolutionary Boston

    June 24, 2017 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 24 °C

    Having breakfasted, we set off to try to make our way into central Boston. Although the hotel is a little out of the way, it is very near to a bus station and tram and subway stop so we set off to try to figure out how to use it. The App ‘Citymapper', which we use a lot to help us get about in London, also works in Boston so we knew that we could use public transport, but as always actually understanding the ticketing system and then buying the tickets was an impossible feat of logic. So of course the first tickets we bought would not work on the subway. Once on the train we only had to go three stops to Faneuil Hall, an important 18th century building opened in 1743 (extended in the 19th century) where various ‘seditious’ pre-revolutionary meetings were held, especially ones relating to tea! We walked through a lovely fruit and vegetable market before heading to the Hop On-Hop Off bus stop.

    These tours look expensive at face value and maybe they are because we rarely hop back on, but they really are the best way to see a city and have it explained to you in double-quick time. It was rainy at first but by the time we got there it was sunny, hot and humid so we were pleased that we would be under cover even though it was open sided. The driver somehow gave the live commentary which was a little disconcerting when she was describing some exciting revolutionary meeting, declaration, ride or battle while gesticulating with both hands off the wheel or conducting the 1812 overture. She was good, and though she must have given the spiel hundreds of times, she was energetic and engaging, but it did sound like she was going to lose her voice. Unlike most American cities, central Boston is largely not on a grid system because it developed before the revolution in an ad hoc manner. Even after five days I am still finding it hard to work out where things are. There are areas dating back to the 18th and early 19th centuries which are narrow and quaint with gas street lamps, but there are also very attractive Victorian areas with wide tree-lined boulevards and quite a number of parks. Water is never far away, whether it be the shore line or the river. We learned that large parts have been reclaimed from the sea and now are in danger of inundation if the sea level rises much more, so the planners are preparing defensive pumping systems to combat this.

    The public buildings in Boston are magnificent. Boston Central Library, a rather square, forbidding building on the exterior, has amazing internal spaces with elaborate staircases, marble columns and wall paintings mostly in a late 19th century Pre-Raphaelite style, including a huge set around one room of the story of Sir Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail. Across the square is the Fairmont Hotel, dating from 1912, where the bar is a large room with tall windows and a heavily decorated tiber ceiling.

    Getting off the bus near the Boston Harbour Hotel, where we stayed six years ago at the start of our round the world trip, we found a place for a late lunch. Then we walked back to Faneuil Hall to pick up the ‘Freedom Trail’ which is actually marked in the pavement by a line of red bricks to direct you to all the important revolutionary buildings, grave yards, churches, old and new statehouses, massacre and battle sites and so on. Hopping back onto the bus again, we realised that it was going to take us a long time to get where we wanted to go but we were saved by an old guy from Georgia and his wife who said they wanted to get off, at which point he proceeded to tell everyone on the bus that he had a bit-part in the new Spider Man movie as Peter Parker’s teacher and insisted on shaking everyone’s hand. Mike, of course, was star struck!

    Realising that Paul Revere’s house was soon to close, we did a quick march there and seeing the crowds we sat outside in the square while Tony and Betsy went inside. We had seen it the last time we were here anyway. We then took a taxi to the Prudential Tower, a fifties/sixties building rather similar to Centre Point in London, which can be seen from all over the city. I don’t think the driver knew where he was going because he went so far out of his way I wondered if we were being kidnapped! When we were here last we had been able to go up to the bar at the top of the tower and have a drink and a seat while looking at the amazing view. This time we found that it had nearly all been converted into a restaurant with a small, uninviting internal bar area so we cheekily walked around as far as we could, getting in people’s way while we looked at the view and then beat a quick retreat without paying for the privilege.

    Heading for a French bistro style restaurant, we arrived very early for our table but all was well as the place was quite empty. Ordering a bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, we endeavoured to slow down our very Boston accented waiter, Rich, who seemed affronted when we said we wanted to linger over our drinks and chat. He softened somewhat when Betsy engaged him in conversation and let slip that it was near their 40th wedding anniversary, while asking about all the local Boston cinema celebrities. In the end it was hard to shut him up! Tony and Betsy were very much looking forward to Tarte Flambée, a reminder of their time living in Strasbourg.

    Having walked a lot, seen a lot, eaten a lot and drunk quite a bit, we decided that it had been a tiring day so we got a taxi back to the hotel, had a cup of tea and went to bed having had a thoroughly enjoyable day.
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  • Day17

    On to Boston

    June 23, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Decided to head straight off without breakfast to drop car off and head to get our flight. Rental drop off was fine and we had a beer and salad in for lunch airside while we waited for our flight time to get closer. We headed to the gate and then things started to go wrong. Due to a mechanical delay and an air traffic delay we were already holding a 45 minute delay, this slipped further and further with each announcement. We were then told that the plane had to be swapped out so that would carry a further 15 minute delay. We were then told that the gate had moved right to the other side of the airport. We grabbed our bags still in good spirits and headed over there only to be told when we got there that the gate had changed again and was back where we started from. Patience was starting to fray and when a further delay was added on we wondered whether it would have been better to have taken the train.

    When we eventually got on the plane we sat on the tarmac for an hour. Everyone was in a bad mood and we seemed to be surrounded by the most passive-aggressive fellow passengers in existence. It was a pretty lousy flight and we couldn't wait to get to Boston and grab an Uber into town.

    We got to the Hampton Inn in Cambridge and were a little disappointed. It seemed to be halfway between Boston and Cambridge and appeared to be in a rather grim area. But we were greeted with the smiling faces of Betsy and Tony and happiness prevailed. We headed across to a nearby shopping mall and had an okish approximation of Chinese food at PF Chang. My Ma Po Tofu was pretty good but it wasn't anything like how it should be. Betsy's Kung Pao we all agreed to be the best. We had such lovely conversations into the evening. We caught up with all their news and they got an idea of what we had discovered about the southern states. Soon the toll of the day started to make itself known and we headed to bed. Pillows seemed ok, mattress a bit bouncy and small. A/C noisy but we will sleep!
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  • Day16

    Second day in Charlotte

    June 22, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    We got up later than planned and appeared to have missed breakfast again. Instead we headed out to the Mint museum in Randolph in midtown. Driving through the leafy suburbs and impressive boulevards we felt more disposed to Charlotte. There is clearly a huge amount of wealth in he city judging by the impressive colonnaded villas. Through light drizzle we dashed across the car park arriving at the gallery just as it opened. We were here to see an exhibition named 'The Wyeths, three generations.'

    I had minor familiarity with The painting 'Christina's World' by Andrew Wyeth. This exhibition uniquely featured work by his father NC Wyeth and Andrews son Jamie Wyeth all extremely versatile and talented artists. After enjoying this we took a look at the permanent collection which we loved. Richard especially loved the English porcelain collection, curated better than any exhibition we have seen in London. I loved the South American ceramics which were in excellent condition bearing in mind their age at 500AD. It was an excellent reminder of our time spent in South America in 2011 as well.

    The afternoon was unremarkable. We bought some socks and underwear so we didn't need to do a further laundry load, we also decided to get our supper in from the local supermarket which happened to be Whole Foods or Whole Paycheck as it is known here. It made an expensive but unremarkable meal apart from the delicious but overpriced carrot cake.

    After much reading we finally drifted off to sleep only to be worked by a siren at 1:30 telling us that a fire alarm had been activated in the building and we were to leave immediately without using the elevators. For the first time, being on the 16th floor felt like a bad idea. We joined the solemn queue of other guests heading for the ground floor via the fire escape. Some in there pyjamas others with fully packed suitcases. We proceeded calmly but in the back of our mind was the terrible fire in London so we were relieved to exit the building to stand and watch the fire crew check the building. When it was revealed to be someone smoking in the bathroom we were allowed back in but the fire crew had deactivated the elevators so we had to wait another hour for them to come back. Finally we got into bed at about 3.00 and fell straight asleep.

    So time to pack again before heading off to our final stop. Boston and spending time with our friends Tony and Betsy.
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  • Day15

    Asheville to Charlotte

    June 21, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    A final long drive on our trip through the south as we head out to our last but one destination of Charlotte in North Carolina. The landscape was similar to our whole journey across the south ie dense forestry and rolling landscape. Only this was an even more so, huge walls of vines climbed up every surface including across telegraph poles and across their connecting lines.

    We took a more pleasant route away from the interstates through the charmingly named Batcave, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. Batcave was a disappointment. I expected a gaping cavern complete with thousands of hanging bats and tyre tracks from the Batmobile. All there appeared to be was a road disappearing into a bush and creepy gift shop across from it with a battered old psychedelicly painted car and a line of scarecrows with old dresses for clothes and pumpkin heads. Further on is the rather faded tourist town of Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is a stack of rocks on a precipice at the summit of a small mountain above the valley. There was a smattering of visitors but most seemed to be poking around the various rock and mineral shops and checking out the menus at the few eateries. Few appeared to be driving up to the rock to find out what the no doubt hefty admission charge was.

    After chimney rock we headed for Lake Lure and had a spot of lunch on its banks.

    On to Charlotte where we were staying downtown in a Hyatt. being on the 16th floor gave us great views over the city and outwards towards South Carolina. As green as any other state that we have experienced in the south.

    Perhaps unfairly we found Charlotte unremarkable. The top attractions seem to revolve around Billy Graham or NASCAR. perhaps we should have tried the N Carolina version of barbecue which is apparently vinegar based but we decided instead to go for a Mexican downtown which was pretty forgettable.

    At this stage of a long trip it is hard to keep going. We planned an early start tomorrow and a trip to midtown and beyond. We slept well despite the pillows being like a bag stuffed with rags.
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  • Day14

    Birthday in Asheville

    June 20, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Well, we have been travelling for 2 weeks now and had a restful 'holiday from the holiday' with Malcolm in Alpharetta. A first world problem I know, but to keep momentum going on an extended trip takes effort as the desire to go home slowly increases. Familiar comforts such as home cooked food, your own pillows and seeing friends and family become more important than exploring an art gallery or fine dining. It would be wonderful to be able to teleport home and just touch the walls again before carrying on.

    Today is my birthday and when you reach my age you are quite happy to find an excuse not to make a big fuss about it. We were in Asheville whose main attraction is the Biltmore Estate, which is a grand faux chateau on the outskirts of town famous for being the largest single ownership house in the country. Built in 1889, to many Americans this is unimaginably ancient but to us Brits it's pretty run of the mill. Some of us will have lived in houses older than that. At $70 a head it was pretty steep too so we decided to give it a miss.

    We arrived early into Asheville and dropped our bags off at the Windor hotel while we waited for the room to be readied. The hotel fitted snugly into the Asheville vibe which was heavily hip and trendy. Bursting with young people embracing a 'nouveau hillbilly' look which while at first was amusing, actually is an impressive nod and embracing of unsophisticated roots. First things first, we headed next door to the 'Mellow Mushroom' where we had 2 great slices of pizza (we had the veggie which we corrupted with added pepperoni) and also locally brewed beer. Asheville has numerous microbreweries around town and there were nearly 100 choices of beer on the menu.

    We then wandered around the town which had a real 'west coast' feel to it. Vibrant but possibly as multicultural as N Carolina gets, we immediately wished we had more than one day there. Street performers captivated diners seated out on the pavement, children played barefoot in the fountains to escape the mellow heat. The architecture too was unusual and had a huge European vibe. The Catholic Church was impressive, as well as several government offices downtown which had an Italianate feel. We headed back to the hotel and our room, or should I say apartment, was ready. It was huge! You could certainly happily move into it for a month if you wanted to explore Asheville further. They had kindly provided a bottle of champagne which we drank to celebrate or commiserate my final year in my 40s.

    For dinner that night I chose dim sum and man I'm glad I did. Our waiter, if you were in the wrong mood, could rub you up the wrong way as he was aggressive and scowling but also protective and oddly comradely. I quite liked him. When I ordered the local Sauvignon blanc he refused to bring it and said I should have the New Zealand. When I deferred he brought both and encouraged me to spit the local wine back into the glass if I wanted. I bravely swallowed it but it was truly awful. Our meal consisted of multilple dumplings and buns but these were pretty huge by Asian standards. Thankfully he stopped us ordering more and we just about ate the lot feeling full to bursting.

    The young lady on the front desk in the hotel told us that it was a great time to be in Asheville as it was the height of the very short 'firefly' season. She said that there were so many this year that you might even see them in public parks. After dinner as the sun was setting we headed down to the public park that we sat in to cool down in earlier that day. After a short while we saw what looked like white sparks rising from the grass, tiny spotlights every now and again from the corner of your eye. Feeling braver we crossed over the main road by bridge into a wooded park with few street lights. The natural feeling of fear was overcome by wonder as we watched the trees twinkle with the millions of fireflies signalling their fleeting maturity. It was truly magical and a wonderful ending to a memorable birthday in a memorable town.
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    Walt Selby

    Happy birthday great blog.

  • Day14

    Highlands to Asheville

    June 20, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    The hotel in Highlands was nice but in a twee sort of way. I do like these suite hotels that you get in the US where you have a lounge, bathroom and bedroom, giving you lots of space to spread and relax. Newly refurbished about a year ago the Park on Main Hotel was grey and white in a clapboard New England sort of way but I couldn’t escape the tweeness of it all somehow. We were greeted in the room by a card welcoming Mr. & Mrs. Mayer. We might not be the only ones to find this a bit gauche, but it would be equally odd for a non-married heterosexual couple, a father and son who were happy to share a bed or just two friends without hangups. The bed looked really comfortable and on first acquaintance seemed it too, but for me the pillows were solid and unforgiving and although we were able to switch the aircon off and sleep with the door onto the balcony open, I woke at 3.30 and was wide awake for hours and unfortunately my tossing and turning kept disturbing Mike. The up-side was being able to hear the night time noises, pitter patter of rain and the start of the dawn chorus. I did drop off about 6.30 for a couple of hours but I was glad the drive was not too long today.

    You can walk the full length of Main Street in less than 10 minutes and, like nearly everywhere in the South, we saw four churches. The 2010 census stated a full time population of around 940 individuals, so that’s a lot of churches for the population. The town is up-market and set up for tourists and had a number of hotels and B & Bs, including a chi-chi Relais and Chatueau hotel. It reminded us a little of Carmel in California between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Leaving Highlands, we travelled along a narrow and torturous road alongside a small, tumbling river. Meeting a large lorry spreading itself on a sharp bend was a shock to the system but otherwise it was a scenic route. Stopping at a tiny place called Dillsboro, we parked and had a wander round in the sunshine. What looked like a little used railway line ran through the town and I suspect the town had grown up because as a result of this and the junction of local roads but although it looked like a stain once existed, it must have been many years since a passenger train stopped there. It was a sleepy little village with a couple of greek owned restaurant/bars and a few touristy shops and a hairdresser and not much more. Rocking chairs on porches characterised the sleepiness of the place. Further on we came to a larger town called Sylva which had a lovely courthouse on the top of a hill as was probably the administrative centre for the area. We wandered around and checked out the shops and sights of the small town South and people watched. We are still looking for the item for our ‘memory shelf’ at home which would remind us of this holiday - we would love to find a model rocking chair as for us people sitting in rocking chairs on front porches distils the essence of the South more than anything. Pressing on we soon came to downtown Asheville and the Windsor Hotel. Parking was initially an issue and we had to wait for our room to be prepared, so we went out for an exploratory wander.
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  • Day13

    Alpharetta and Highlands

    June 19, 2017 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    Alpharetta was a haven of rest, but we were staying in a development inside Alpharetta called Avalon. Wikipedia says “Avalon, literally meaning "the isle of fruit [or apple] trees", is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudo-historical account Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain") as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann”. Geoffrey would be very surprised at the name being applied to this development but if not an island, it certainly feels like a bubble, a world within a world, insulated from external reality. It's a very high quality new development of apartments, shops, restaurants and hotels which has the huge advantage, rare in America, of being able to walk everywhere to everything you are likely to require, except possibly work or a supermarket. Convenient though it is, and the advantages are legion and obvious, I couldn't help feeling that it was like living in an uprated version of Meadowhall, a shopping centre outside Sheffield. Malcolm and Huj’s apartment was spacious and comfortable and though we were sad that Huj had already left to attend the funeral in England, it was great to have a reasonably extended time with Malcolm to do nothing but chill and chat.

    We drank, we slept, we talked and we ate. On the first night I developed a migraine type headache and felt decidedly unwell, to the point of feeling faint occasionally, which was rather worrying when sat at a table in an Italian restaurant while trying to listen to and partake in a serious conversation. The young waiter, Clint, was rather dopey and when asked if the tiramisu contained alcohol proceeded to give us the most peculiar answers. The following morning all thoughts of walking a local trail had evaporated, a casualty of hangovers, post-migraine fragility, high temperatures and humidity. Instead we sat around, drank coffee and chatted. Apart from going out to local restaurants from time to time, the visit rather unfolded along similar lines. It was a relief not to have to move on to another town and hotel or to have to make another long drive. It was also good to compare notes about the US with someone who had lived here for a year.

    On Monday morning we rose late and while Malcolm had to make some calls, we packed and then we went out for what proved to be a somewhat chaotic breakfast. Ordering coffee, we were told the barista had just ‘walked out’ so choices had just become very limited. Eventually we got a very good cafe latte. Mike’s order of grapefruit juice was not fulfilled as they had run out of juice, so unsweetened iced tea was provided. The poor waitress was at sixes and sevens, but we found it quite amusing. Afterwards we loaded the car, took our leave of Malcolm and set off for Highlands NC.

    The journey was uneventful and took us through pleasant and increasingly mountainous countryside. Highlands itself is at about 4000 feet so the temperature was comfortably much cooler. It has also been showery, which was rather welcome. When we checked in we were asked if we required sheets for the pull-out bed and the note on the bed welcomed Mr & Mrs Mayer, and there are four churches in this tiny town, so we did wonder if being gay is frowned upon here, but the small hotel is lovely, newly refurbished and built motel style around an inner courtyard. We do like these suite style American hotels. It's lovely to have a proper comfortable lounge as well as a bedroom.

    A tiny place surrounded by hills and forest, exploration of this small town did not take long and we had an excellent coffee outside the local, rather upmarket supermarket, before we wandered back for a while to relax and catch up on a bit of reading. Later Wolfgang’s Restaurant proved a great choice and the walk back along the deserted street in the cool of sunset was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat we have experienced. Now we are relaxing listening to the rain pitter-pattering outside the open window. No aircon tonight!
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    Walt Selby

    Hope you shake off the recurrent headache.


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