Our Big Apple Adventure continues.

imageHere I am in my Parisian garrett, living the writers life, hardly a garret but being in Paris on a writers course and I still haven’t finished writing about the last few days of the amazing trip with my wonderful friends! Now I am going to try to finish being in America, despite the sun shining outside on a late autumn day and the thought of cycling alongside the Seine to the Eiffel tour being rather appealing.
Back to New York, Judy went to the FedEX office on business which all extremely frustrating and very stressful. In the meantime Cheryl and I cycled the length and breadth of Central Park, the wind whistling through our hair as we sped down the hills, finding the Stuart Little pond, the Alice in Wonderland statue which was commissioned by Georges Delacorte, a philanthropist, so that children could visit and experience the wonder of Lewis Carroll’s story. It is not only children who experience the wonder as we both did too, as did all those we saw, including the skateboarders who zoomed in to sit on the mushrooms and have their photos taken. SO cool, they said! Helen walked through Central Park, getting lost, but we met up after a while and walked to the Frick Collection. The house itself is a treat, being one of the few remaining Gilded Ages mansions in New York, and gave us an insight into the lives of the super wealthy at that time. Henry Clay Frick amassed a great dal of art during his lifetime, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Gainsborough, as well as the occasional Turner and Constable, and a rather lovely Renoir almost hidden under the grand staircase! It didn’t seem right that one man should have so much for himself, particularly given that his involvement in the Homestead strike in Pittsburgh where 9 steel workers were killed by the detectives he had employed to break the strike , many injured, thousands were sacked and those who returned to work were paid half their previous wage. Fortunately for us Adelaide Frick, his wife, left the house and paintings to the nation on her death so we can enjoy them today! A much more modest exhibition was housed in the basement, that of the drawings of Andrea da Sarno (1486-1530) drawn in preparation for his larger paintings. They were simply exquisite.
On Friday evenings from 4 until closing at 8pm MOMA does not charge admission, so along with most of New York we dashed there, via the Apple and Armani stores both of which feature glorious staircases! We saw Monet’s water lilies, Miro, Magritte, Van Gogh, and a huge, and sometimes weird, collection of Picasso’s sculptures. Walking home along 5th avenue, stopping briefly at the Rockerfeller Centre to watch the ice skaters!
Saturday saw me and Cheryl walking back to Central Park for some art shopping whilst Judy and Helen sought religion in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Judy was happy when she finally had a good coffee! Libraries are places I love to visit but unfortunately the famous reading room at the New York Public Libray was closed. St Patrick’s Cathedral was closed to those not going to mass, the Rockerfeller Centre (for cocktails) was closed. We decided this was a sign to go for retail therapy instead! Our first time in the US, we had been pretty restrained up until then but the 40% off sale at Banana Republic and the beautiful colourful clothes at Desiquals proved irresistible! Eataly, one of my favourite places in Chicago, has a branch in NY but it was so, so busy! This was the first time we were met with a New York attitude, we thought we were waiting for a table but apparently this unmovable New Yorker had been there long before us and there was absolutely no way she was going to allow us to have that table, her death stares defeated us and we went to the Alongquin for cocktails, to the Blue Bar, instead, as recommended by one of Helen’s patients who is 94! It has been refurbished since Lady Pat’s day but I think some of the charming waiters are still there! After cocktails and shopping we decided dinner in our beautiful apartment was a good option, looking over the sparkling skyline of New York. Cheryl and I did sneak in a prosecco at the gorgeous, miniature bar, The Pocket Bar, on our way home from grocery shopping!
On Sunday, we headed for Newport after picking up our car, which we had to fill up with petrol, an adventure in itself! We saw Shelagh and Max, who had been so generous in lending us their apartment, only briefly for a coffee to tell them about our New York adventures and hear about their cruise, down the East Coast, from Montreal to New York, one for the bucket list! We met at the Gotham West Market, wish we had had time to eat there too. Continue reading


New York, New York!

imageThis post may look quite long but it is worth reading! We did so much and had such fun we want to write about it all! And there is still more of our girls trip to come, not sure when I will get to write about Paris but since I have a little more time here my posts may be more frequent and I can catch up with myself!
Back to the girls trip! We took the train from Washington to New York, it was such an easy way to travel. No check in, no security to contend with and so good to stretch our legs and buy breakfast from the cafe carriage. The scenery was beautiful, big blue lakes or long rivers reflecting the fall colours, whitewashed weatherboard houses and masts. A cold welcome to Penn station as we struggled with the minuscule and difficult to operate lift but we finally reached the street to be shouted at by the officious man in charge of the taxi rank.
The first of many scary rides in a yellow New York taxi and we arrived at our apartment on w45th, between 10 and 11th, in Hells Kitchen. We walked through the front door to fabulous views, 22 floors up. The New York skyline right there! Hells Kitchen is so called because a local gang took the name of Hell’s Kitchen, which was more or less a slum, in 1835. Davy Crockett called this area the lowest and filthiest area in the city. No longer so with glamorous apartment blocks and small, trendy wine bars and restaurants galore.
Judy set off to catch up with her nephew, Duncan, whilst we walked the High Line, a disused section of railroad which was repurposed (such an American word!) to become a park, with great views of the Hudson River and the New York skyline. At one end is Chelsea Market, which we explored and then headed back to our apartment to cook ourselves a glorious meal, sometimes it is just too hard to go eat out, even in New York City! First World problem! We had made our plans for the following day which changed completely when Judy came home with some great ideas!
We started at Duncan’s office as he wanted to show us the view from his office on the 32nd floor, adjacent to the The Freedom Tower. We saw his apartment and by chance his wife who had come out onto their roof terrace, he pointed out Robert de Niro’s apartment, amazing, and the view of the Ground Zero Memorial which we then visited. One of my friends wrote so eloquently of her feelings when she was here recently “here the flow of water washes away the destruction of a moment of madness. The magic of remembering moves me to the space of openness, where lives were lost and hearts are healed. What a magical space has been created to support that process. I am moved” and so were we, to tears. The mood was sombre and sad, even more so when we walked past the Fireman’s memorial, where the sense of loss was palpable.
We walked on to Battery Point, seeing the Statue of Liberty In the distance. From our vantage point she looked quite small but in fact from the bottom of the pedestal on which she stands to the tip of the torch the statue, designed by Gustave Eiffel and a gift from the French people, stands a massive 305 feet and 6 inches, she herself being 111 feet and 6 inches tall, with a 35 foot waistline. The seven rays on her crown represent the seven oceans and continents indicating the universal concept of Liberty, the broken chains that lie at her feet the broken shackles of oppression and tyranny. How much hope has passed her by as the million of immigrants came to make new lives for themselves? There was an interesting exhibition on Battery Point featuring enormous world globes decorated to show us how we could make our lifestyles more sustainable, an exhibition especially for me, as Judy said! We had to stop for coffee (finally something that tasted like coffee, according to Judy and Helen!) and snacks at The World Famous Gourmet Market, so famous that Helen was shouted at “no photos, lady!” as she tried to take a photo of the magnificent, massive pizzas that were being made!
Next stop uptown to the Whitney Museum, more of Mrs Whitney when we get to Newport! We loved the Archibald Motley exhibition, he was a Jazz Age Modernist (1891 – 1981), who with bold colours and movement visually chronicled twentieth century life. He was one of the first black artists to attend the School of Art Institute in Chicago. He says of his portraits, which were not commissioned, that he wanted to bring about a better understanding between the races by educating both black and white audiences. One the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their racial identities, on the other hand, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism. We then explored the rest of the museum, along with a party of perfectly made up and beautifully dressed New York ladies, one of whom was wearing the biggest diamond we had ever seen. I have to admit that they were almost as interesting as the rest of the artworks! We repaired for reviving drinks at Gansevoort St, wandered through the Meat packers market, went to Shelagh’s local recommendation of a farm to table restaurant, The Marshal for our pre-theatre dinner, where the Brussels sprout salad was to die for! Brussel sprouts are definitely having their moment, as we read in a gourmet food shop brochure! St Malarchys chapel, the actors chapel, was open and opposite the theatre so popped in, lit our candles whilst Judy wrote a prayer for us all. The irony was not lost on us as we made our way across the road to see the Book of Mormon, one of the funniest, clever and most irreverent shows we have ever seen, we could not think of a single group of people that they didn’t offend at some point! I think I might have to see it again as I was laughing so much that I missed a lot, the pace was cracking and acting, singing and dancing superb. Gotta love a Broadway show! We were just by Time Square so had to see the lights and go into my favourite store, the M and M store, three storeys of M and M products, from M and Ms themselves to pjs, leather coats, handbags, anything you want M and M themed!
I think I should stop there and go out and wander through my new neighbourhood, the 1er arrondisement in Paris! There is still one more day in New York to go and then Newport before I even reach Paris!
In the meantime Simon is working hard at Arrowsmith, much more chipper as his time on the 6 handed clocks is improving, though it goes up and down day by day, generally it continues to improve. The term is going by too quickly, the six week yoga course has finished already! Where did that six weeks go? As well as the cognitive improvement exercises there has been time spent on mindfulness and EQ sessions which are all about confidence building and self esteem boosting, much needed for students who, because of their learning difficulties, have been told they are failures for a long time and who see themselves as such. One of most exciting results of the Arrowsmith programme is to see the blossoming of confidence as the cognitive exercises work their magic, not magic really as we see how much hard work goes into those exercises, but it feels like magic!

Greetings from Nashville, y’all!

imageOur last day in New Orleans started with breakfast at Pere Antojnette, which unfortunately we wouldn’t recommend as it was expensive and our rubbery omelettes were too long in the making!
We dashed over to catch the bus to the Swamp tour. Whilst waiting we talked to a tour guide, rough and ready, we were taken aback as he told us how he had been banned from going to Commanders Palace as he had broken the security guards arm after the guard touched his hat! “Don’t touch my hat, I’lll break your arm!”. The swamp tour was great, the swamp itself was quite different to my expectations, not dark and damp and smelly, it was beautiful and peaceful. Our Captain Nolan was informative, telling us about the ecology of swamps, the animals, about growing up in a Cajun community in the bayou. Cajuns came from Arcadia when they were expelled by the English, what a coincidence that Simon and I were in Arcadia in Nova Scotia earlier this summer. I had no idea that many of the Arcadians had ended up in New Orleans! The native people couldn’t pronounce Arcadians so they became known as Cajuns. The term Creole came from the Spanish word for the first born, so Creoles can be of any nationality born in New Orleans. The main difference in the cuisine is that Cajuns use a roux as their sauce base whilst Creoles use a tomato base, the end result being very different flavours! The highlight of the tour was holding a baby alligator, her tummy was so incredibly soft!
After that Cheryl went shopping, we all met for dinner at the Two Sisters courtyard, which was pretty average and expensive. Since Cheryl and I hadn’t been to Preservation Hall we joined the queue and were thrilled to get in and find spots right near the front, the band was great, we love the fun they had playing fabulous jazz! Whilst we were there Helen and Judy went for washing machine margaritas and astronauts! No astronauts tonight! They went to a bar where old rock n rollers were on stage, and the only drinks served were exploding hand grenade drinks, every glass from cocktail to shot glass was hand grenade shaped! Helen and Judy were home in bed when we got back!
Up early, too early to mention, Helen was up at 2.30, 3,30, 4.30 in anticipation of our early start! We were picked up by Marie from the “Christ is the only hope” cab service, and had a perfect journey apart from Helen who was stopped at every turn. Flew via Charlotte which was the most civilised of airports with white rocking chairs for waiting passengers!
Arrived to the best decorated Halloweeen house. It was a shame that Simon was away for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, staying with one of his fellow students, with no internet connection on the farm, The T, , he would have loved to see Jeff’s house on FaceTime. Then again perhaps it would have given him ideas for Halloween house decorating and I don’t think I’d want to live in a Halloween grotto for the month of October! Inside the house was spacious, luxurious and beautiful. We loved it! Such a contrast to our last accomodation where we were squeezed in on top of each other. We talked with Jeff our host who suggested that we should have dinner at Urban Grub and then go onto The Ryman, great suggestion! We had a delicious meal, beautiful crab for Cheryl, ribs for Judy, pork for Helen and smoked chicken for me and then rushed to The Ryman where we discovered that the time was an hour earlier than we thought it was! We lucked out with our tickets, in the front row of the balcony, the first act was Judah and the Lion, a fantastic band with so much energy, great songs and voices, we loved them. They were followed by Ben Rector who was obviously very well known as a boy done good from Nashville. Ben Rector was fabulous! great songs, romantic and sensitive, danceable and fun! we made friends with some beautiful young women who came and chatted to us at the start of the concert and were so excited that we were from Australia, were in Nashville. They came back to see us at the end to check that we had had a good time! As we went out from the concert and were making our way down Broadway a breathless beautiful young woman caught up with us asking us how we enjoyed the concert and telling us Y’all were such fun!  We were very touched that these all these lovely young women were so thrilled to meet us!

We got turned away from the Wild Horse Saloon where we planned to go boot scooting after the concert, Cheryl didn’t have any photographic ID with her! We couldn’t believe that we weren’t allowed in! Anyway, we went back to our beautiful house and the bottle of wine that Jeff left for us! Not a bad alternative after our early start!

Who would have thought that The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum would keep us engrossed for hours? It was fascinating and very well curated and we were all amazed at how many country and western songs we knew!  We saw Elvis Presley’s shiny Cadillac which was exactly as the guide book had put it, tacky as all get out! It is so very shiny because the paint contains ground-up pearls, diamonds and fish scales! The door handles and anything that would otherwise be silver coloured is gold plated! There was a great section featuring the session musicians who usually go unrecognised, each had a booth where you could play snatches of songs they had played on, together with quotes from the stars with whom they played. There is clearly so much respect for these musicians within the music industry which was great to see. We finished in the Country Muisc Hall of Fame itself, a rotunda which, says the brochure, inspires reverence for the deepest rots of the music and the highest aspirations of the membership. Well, we had a hard time not giggling as the bronze plaques honouring the members were so incredibly ugly and the artists unrecognisable, not quite the reverence that was expected!

Next stop, Belmont Mansion which Is set in the midst of Belmont Univeristy which has grown up around it. The house was built in 1853 and was unique in its design at the time. It was the first house in Nashville to have gas lighting and Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatam had a gas plant built in the grounds to provide the gas, as you do! Her first husband died unexpectedly after only seven years of marriage, leaving her a huge estate, each of her subsequent husbands had to sign an pre-nuptial agreement ensuring her money remained hers! She was a woman ahead of her time! The house houses an eclectic collection of her momentous from her Grand Tours of Europe from statues to dinner services. During the American Civil War ,Adelicia travelled to New Orleans, a much longer journey for her than the quick plane flight that we took, to retrieve her cotton harvest, getting both Confederate and Union generals to help her, she then sold it, illegally, to England, making herself an enormous amount of money, $500,000, at that time, It was a fascinating insight into the life and times of this remarkable and formidable woman, well worth doing.

Another thing that was well worth doing was going to the Wildhorse Saloon, if only for our new motto – let go of the reins! Also, for the boot scootin’! Cheryl wanted to be line dancing as her birthday rolled in, so at midnight she was up on the dance floor, joining in as if she had been born in Nashville! Not one of us was as adept at Cheryl but we all enjoyed the lesson that we had at 1am! It was fun, and mad, and made up for our disastrous meal at Husk earlier in the evening.

Cheryl’s birthday Brunch on Sunday at Kitchen Notes was fabulous, light fluffy omelettes, platters of fruit, endless cups of tea. We walked it off as we walked along the Walk of Fame where musicians from all genres of music are recognised for their contribution to music, it was a strange collection and the plaques were once again somewhat disappointing as we thought it would be hand or prints a la Hollywood, but no, only a plaque with a name. The walk to the river and the new pedestrian bridge was very pleasant in the blazing autumn sunshine, listening to the cheers roaring out of the football stadium on the other side of the river as we walked across, looking back across to the Nashville skyline. Time to move on, after saying goodbye to Jeff, the best Airbnb host ever!

Onto culture in Washington DC!



imageThis is such a beautiful city to wander, meandering through the small winding streets of the old town, stopping to take photos whilst admiring the rich colours of the buildings and the extraordinary variety of architectural styles. That was my afternoon, having spent the morning catching up with an old friend, breakfast went on for over three hours but then again, after fifteen or so years there is so much to catch up!
On the recommendation of our lovely guide, Ireena, I made my way to Municipal House, a fabulous Art Deco building and then to the Powder Tower, one of the most recognisable buildings in Prague. 188 steps later I had the most magnificent view over the rooftops of Prague, definitely worth the climb! I wandered back to the Charles Bridge as I didn’t feel I did it justice yesterday in terms of taking photos as I was so absorbed in the history that Ireena was describing. More wandering, more photo opportunities before I happened upon a tiny cafe, time for some warming tea! The cafe was set in the palace where Milos Forman filmed Amadeus, which I will now have to watch again with new eyes, looking for streets through which I have wandered.
On to the Mucha exhibition which was stunning, not only in the beauty of his posters, his most famous being that of Sarah Bernhardt, but also the breadth of his works, including many drawings. Another place worthy of a visit.
Back again to Municipal House, where I was joined by the husband of one of Michael’s colleagues who was also not allowed at the Conference Dinner. We went instead to a concert “The best of Mozart and Dvorak”. It seemed the most apt option given that Swan Lake was being performed by 3 dancers, dancing to music on a CD, and all over in an hour! I am sure the musical amongst you would have felt the choice of pieces at our concert was rather pedestrian but for me it was divine. What is not to love with the Serenade in G major, A Little Night Music, Divertimento KV136 – Allegro and Il Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony featured in the programme, particularly as we were seated only a couple of metres from the musicians of the Prague Music Chamber Orchestra.
A drink at The American Bar, the very definition of Art Nouveau architecture, and now I am here, about to write all my postcards and pack! I can’t quite believe that this time tomorrow I will almost be back in my quirky apartment with Simon! This will seem like a dream! As I said to Michael my extraordinary ordinary life is not ordinary at all, I think I am amazingly lucky to have an extraordinary extraordinary life!

PJ Sunday, followed by ice hockey and carols at Lang Pioneer Village


PJ Sunday, followed by ice hockey and carols at Lang Pioneer Village

What a great day! Still in our pjs at lunch time but a quick change and putting on several layers we headed off to the Memorial Hall to watch Shanah and her team, The Kawartha Komets, play in a fund-raising match against the Peterborough Petes. The Kawartha Komets are raising funds to send their players to the Special Hockey Games in the USA in May. As their website states “the Jack McGee Kawartha Komets was launched in 2009 to give girls & boys, teens and adults with physical, emotional and/or neurodevelopmental challenges an opportunity to play the game they love.

Young people with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Down Syndrome and other challenges can enjoy playing non-contact hockey and build lasting relationships with others who share their love for hockey. The only requirement is that the player must be able to stand on skates.”
The Komets teams (junior, intermediate and senior) are based on skating ability, not age, so there were some players who looked so tiny compared to the Petes (who are in the junior hockey league, aged 16 to 20 years old). The Petes were founded in 1956, are the oldest continually operating team in the junior hockey league and have produced many players who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League, a fact of which they are justifiably proud! It was great to see them playing together with the Komets and now I’d like to go to a match with someone who can explain to me what is going on! Perhaps we should go and see the Toronto Maple Leafs (shouldn’t that be leaves!) next!
We left a little early to go to the Lang Pioneer Village with our Aussie friends – there was a special night looking around the village which is complete with every a village would have had in the Pioneer days – an old school house, the general store, a blacksmiths, a carpenters, and houses of the time, and for this special event there were carollers, sleigh rides and the Nativity story. The Nativity story was told by the local vicar (think Vicar of Dibley) as actors played out the story, complete with a real baby and a real donkey, together with shepherds, real sheep and lambs though there were no camels with the three wise man (the one wearing ugg boots didn’t look quite as authentic as the other two!)! The story was interspersed by carols. It was quite lovely. The photo is not great as, being a Pioneer Village, there is no electric lighting so the lighting was dim, but hopefully you can make out the donkey, blocking the view of Mary and the baby Jesus, but maybe you can see Joseph who was trying to make the donkey move to the side!
We were glad of our hot apple ciders just before to keep us warm and I had my first mince pie of the season! We then stopped in at the (very small) Town hall where there were two jolly men singing carols on request so it was with Frosty the Snowman and White Christmas, amongst others, ringing in our ears that we made our way home! It feels much more like Christmas now!

Historic Peterborough


Historic Peterborough

This oh so pretty house was built in 1837 for Dr Hutchison, who came from Scotland, and was enticed to stay by the people of Peterborough by the building of his house. He lived in the house with his wife, Molly, and they had 11 children, of whom 8 survived to adulthood. The tour of the house gave a fascinating insight into the life in that period, with authentic furnishings – the doctors surgery was particularly interesting for me, being a doctor’s daughter and wife! The surgical equipment was not so different to that used today but there were only about 20 little glass bottles in the medicine chest, with whisky being used as an anaesthetic! The doctor was often paid in kind so didn’t have a luxurious lifestyle and often had to travel great distances to make a house call, sometimes up to 2 days travelling. His wife spent most of her time in the “keeping room” on a lower level on the right of the house – a large room with a big fireplace and all cooking, roasts, bread, cakes and biscuits, was done on an open fire – it appeared surprisingly easy to cook the delicious gingerbread men but I suspect that there is quite an art to knowing how to get the coals to the right heat and to know where to hang the metal plate for exactly the right level of heat so that you cook rather than burn whatever you are cooking! There was a day bed in the corner for the children to rest on and a crib connected to a rocking chair for the baby and most probably one of the older children to rock the baby to sleep.
We also had a chance to try to write with a quill, it is a messy and difficult thing to do! My piece of paper was covered with lots of black inky blobs rather than legible writing. Once nibs had been invented I fared a little better though it was still an arduous process, far easier to be sitting here typing on my computer!
One of the doctors cousins stayed with the family for two years whilst trying to establish himself in Canada. He was Sir Sandford Fleming, who surveyed a great area of Canada and his equipment is the bedroom in which he stayed in Hutchison House. Of the his achievements, one of the most significant was his proposal for world standard time after missing a train because, at that time in Canada, different states had different time zones! There is a community college in Peterborough which is named Fleming College after this former famous Peterborough resident.
Just as at the Canoe Museum I was struck by how hard life used to be and what fortunate lives we have now by comparison. I was lucky enough to go with a tour organised by the New Canadian Centre on which there were people from many different countries, making a new life for themselves in Canada just as Dr Hutchison had done so long ago.