Sunday, 24 June 2012

Last Days in America

We continued on to Boston in Maine where we had three days to explore this historic town. We had a brief introduction to the town by our guide/driver and were ‘set free’ at Quincy Market for lunch and a browse through the lovely shops and market stalls there. Later we had a local guide who walked us through the oldest parts of the town and gave us more of the history of the town. Dinner with all the group at a great Italian Restaurant was great fun as by now we had all got to know each other quite well so there was much banter and laughter.

After breakfast we walked to the nearby “USS Constitution” which is a 18th century restored warship (still owned by the US Navy). Full security was needed to board her and as Peter had photo identity (his Aussie driving licence), he was allowed to enter. However I didn’t (passport was back at the hotel), so as a prospective terrorist I was not allowed to board and had to be content with browsing in the Museum. Later we followed the Freedom Trail and walked up to Bunker Hill, site of the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. By chance we were there on the anniversary and re-enactors were preparing to stage a commemoration ceremony. We spent some time talking to several of them and enjoyed their talks about the battle.  One re-enactor was surprised to learn that the Revolutionary War resulted in Australia being settled several years later. Well, the English had to dispose of their convicts somewhere else when America removed the welcome sign.  Later we boarded a ‘hop on/hop off’ trolley bus which was a great way to see more of the city with very well informed drivers giving a commentary. We stopped – well, we had to, didn’t we? – at Cheers Pub, the exterior of which was used in the popular TV series quite a few years ago. As you can imagine there was a plethora of Cheers souvenirs.   Lunch was again at Quincy Market with a little time for shopping, too. We found a luggage shop and bought another suitcase to cope with all we had acquired on this trip.

We had our farewell dinner this evening at the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the United States – the Union Oyster House which had begun in 1826 although the building is considerably older having been built in 1742. Seafood, especially lobster, is extremely popular in Maine and of course, it was on the menu at the Union Oyster House.

With two of our group leaving early to return to New York, the remaining 5 of us are off to Cape Cod for a day trip. I’d come down with a dreadful head cold, so spent much of the trip lying across the wide rear seat and in this way slept on and off for a good part of the way. I came to occasionally at necessary stops and a quick look at the beautiful scenery but in the end slept most of the morning and through lunch time which Peter tells me was at ‘The Tug Boat’ where the group was served a beautiful seafood casserole. Ah well. He very kindly brought me out a buttered bread roll for when I awoke. Wasn’t he kind?

In the afternoon (when I was feeling alive again) we continued down to the end of the Cape and spent an hour or two at lovely Province Town. There is an extremely tall pillar as a memorial to the early settlers and an absolutely wonderful little museum with relicts of the early sea-captains and explorers who made the Cape their home. Arrived back in Boston latish and set to with the packing up of our entire luggage.

Breakfast at 8pm for the five of us, plus our guide – the last time! Two were staying on in Boston for a few days, and one was flying home from Boston. We boarded, for the final time, the Black Maria for the five hour drive to New York. At New York said a fond farewell to Bob our driver/guide and then we found ourselves back at the Holiday Inn for a our last night. Out to Georgio’s Grill for our own farewell dinner then back for a quiet night in re-arranging the packing.

We had a free morning in New York as our flight home didn’t leave until 5pm, so we booked tickets online for the 9/11 Memorial site. We had only seen the re-building site from afar during our earlier day in New York at the beginning of the tour, so we lined up with all the many different nationalities at 9.30am, went through security and were then led into the fenced area where the twin towers were destroyed in that horrific terrorist attack 11 years ago. The footprints of those towers are now reflective pools surrounded by bronze panels into which are cut all the names of those who perished. The pools are more like deep square wells, with water cascading down all sides of the square like waterfalls but to my mind seeming to represent all the tears shed for the almost 3,000 souls lost. The water then cascaded down into the depths of the earth towards the many floors which were under the towers. Surrounding the pools are open grassed areas with paving and many plantings of new trees including one tree which had only just survived the disaster but had been carefully removed then nurtured back into good health and eventually returned to the site. There will eventually be a semi-circle of five buildings ‘sheltering’ the pools; two of these are already well advanced. The site is beautiful and the many visitors were quiet and respectful, our minds filled with the terrible images we had seen on television of the horror.

Back at the hotel, we boarded the airport shuttle at 12 noon and slowly made our way through the heavy New York traffic to JFK terminal for the flight to Los Angeles, then to board the massive Qantas Airbus A380 for the 16 hour trip home. Peter was lucky enough to be seated with no seat in front of him so could stretch out his 6’ 1” frame (there was a covered hatch to the floor below) and I had an empty seat beside me. Not often have we managed to be so comfortable on such a long flight.

Impressions of America
The food portions were huge – and often fried. There was an enormous range of fast food outlets but no-where did they make a decent cup of tea, sadly. We did enjoy the free glass of iced water always placed before us even before we picked up the menu. Bacon was always streaky bacon and fried to a crisp. Grits were interesting! Biscuits (like our scones) were mostly covered with ‘gravy’ but was usually a white sauce flavoured with bacon or mushrooms. Po-boys are down-south ‘sandwiches’ prepared like Subway subs. Lamb does not feature often on menus and, speaking of menus, we were surprised to find that ‘EntrĂ©e’ means the main course. However, that said, we did dine very well throughout the trip.

We loved our American experience – the patriotism was not a surprise, but the warmth and many kindnesses we were shown was humbling. People were genuinely astonished, to our amusement, at the distance we had travelled. We began the trip aboard the wonderful steamboat - The American Queen, with seven days on the Mississippi River. Absolutely loved the quirkiness and, of course, the jazz music in New Orleans. We were awe-inspired at the genius of Thomas Jefferson and his Monticello plantation. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball at Turner Field in Atlanta and all the hoo-ha that goes with it.  We loved the musical “Once” in New York. Thought the archaeological dig at Jamestown was fascinating.  Enjoyed the day in Amish Country and talking to some of the people there. The north east countryside was magnificent – we particularly liked the mountains and trees in Vermont and Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, and would love to see those areas again in Fall (autumn). It would be magnificent.

Would we visit again? Absolutely!

Until our next trip, dear friends, au revoir!

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