If anyone ever tells you it is a breeze flying to America, they flew first class with first class drugs! Mind you, I believe champagne works quite well! Apparently Chris got through 3 movies while I snoozed – thank you lovely Virgin hostess with the champagne bottle!
Was thrilled to stretch my legs when we landed in LA… didn’t realise they were going to get quite that big a work out when we elected to steer the giant black suitcase between the international and domestic terminals. To be fair… I think Chris was trying to be helpful by offering the huge dark orifice as an alternative to the neatly packed paisley pink and purple number I had sat on in an effort to zip up before leaving from Noosa.
It really hadn’t been an issue between Brisvegas and Sydney, and it only reared its ugly head when we hit the statuesque wide hipped mahogany tinted Venus at the United Terminal – I suspect it had been a bad day in baggage handling land because she whipped that first svelte suitcase on to the conveyor belt with the kind of enthusiasm you would expect at a Mr Whippy truck. It was only as it was sailing down the belt that the big black bag got its weigh in… that girl’s eyes narrowed into nasty slits and she sallied forth with an invective that quite surprised me. There was no way she was willing to retrieve the bag that was tacking back and forth towards the tarmac.. albeit it was still within grappling distance. Noooo way! We stared with glazed fish like mouth movements as she explained the process of bubble wrapping the litres of Bundy rum we had purloined for our hosts in Washington, and were not allowed to carry on board… they were destined for the hold in the belly of the big black oversized bag! Sooooo… not only was it a nightmare to navigate the beast it was about to cost a fortune every time it leapt lovingly onto the scales!!! Yeahhhh welcome to United!!!
We lugged that bloody Bundy rum through LA, Denver, Pittsburgh, Charlotte & Asheville but frankly it was worth it… the joy on Tate’s face when he sunk that first shot was priceless and the laughter it generated throughout our stay with him and Ashley was without out doubt one of the joys of our trip.
The excitement of finally arriving in Denver was palpable – the drive from the airport felt like forever – which after two days flying was quite accurate, so it was with delight that we bounded into the hotel room and bounced on the beckoning bed… leaving it with a tinge of regret to greet our hosts for the evening clutching Tim Tams and Aussie kitsch as gifts.
I was enthralled by the stream of chatter flowing around me as we drove out of the city into the rosy tinged hills on the outskirts of town. Vic and his charming fiancée Heather had chosen an adobe fort built by a restaurant pioneer way back in the 60’s. Interestingly this qualified it for a historic listing – a theme that was to echo through our conversations with locals who are quite apologetic about their lack of ancient monuments – coming from a cityscape younger than theirs we were somewhat bemused. The setting was however delightful with views back to the city which slowly settled into a layer of twinkling lights as the sun set behind the red rock face.
I was thrilled with the menu, it had items on it I knew I would never get the chance to eat in Australia and toyed with the many options… elk and buffalo featured highly but in the end I was happy with my choice of duck with an ancho chilli sauce. The restaurant had been inspired by the owner’s book about food along the Santa Fe trail and built in the style of a historic fort from around the border with Mexico which influenced their choice of menu items, so I figured they would have a feeling for the ancho chilli which I have heard of but never had the chance to try. It was delicious – melt in your mouth duck with a rich velvety sauce. Our lovely hosts ordered an appetiser of elk and buffalo sausages so I got to sample the local fare in a smaller way than the massive platters that served as “entrees”. Really must research the reasoning behind this topsy turvey use of French!
(The results of my research into topsy turvey misappropriation of menu items has led me to the fascinating work of Dan Jurafsky – a professor of Linguistics at Stanford University who has interestingly managed to answer this worrying cultural difference for me – his research into the history of the word ‘Entrée”reveals that while entrée means “entrance” in French, back in the 16th Century it meant the first entrance of many main meat dishes after a range of complicated courses like soups and appetizers.
So for Centuries through France & Britain until the 1930’s Entrée meant the first of many meat dishes. Over the years it contracted into our modern menu to become an appetizer but in America it retained its original meaning and became the descriptor for the main meal.
So of course the American’s use of the word is the older more traditional one.)
We finished up the evening on the top floor of our hotel enjoying post dinner drinks against a lovely city view with a contingent of “Teamsters” partying in the background who I had taken as the cheer squad for a local sporting team. Best night’s sleep in living history – apparently it was all down to the pillows!
The airport at Charlotte opened my eyes to the hospitality of the south, we didn’t have a lot of time between connecting flights so I was primed for a run from one end of the terminal to the other – typically our plane arrived at the furthest possible point from our destination so the whirlwind rush was punctuated with gawping at the rows of rocking chairs lined up strategically to take in the view of planes shuttling up and down the runways.
The short hop from Charlotte to Asheville was my first inkling of the soft southern lilt that accompanies the steely focus of the folk down here…from the yellow tag pushing gate keeper to the slim blonde stewardess who rearranged the ballast in the plane by moving the tall, solid brunette from the front seat to the back and convinced the silver tongued salesman with the perfectly groomed whiskers and roving eye to join her.
It was a soothing distraction to watch the tagged hand luggage that was never going to fit in the scaled down overhead lockers chug up the conveyor into the hold of the little plane while other flights reclaimed theirs on the tarmac. It suddenly dawned on me that the dogs we had seen prancing around the airport terminals were actually destined to fly – in fact the poodle currently dancing around its owner’s feet in the tangle of carry on bags was evidence of its recent ascent .
The soft misty light that greeted us as we scanned the forecourt for our lift in Brevard was to linger for our stay in the lush mountains of Northern Carolina. Charming is the word that springs to mind as we turn each bend, the weathered silver barns, the porches bursting with pots of colour, flags unfurling in patriotic bursts of stary red and blue and more quaint rockers.
My eye was drawn to the yards with quirky bears holding up signs, giant plastic chooks guarding the fence line and my personal favourite – the collection of grazing life size cows emerging from stands of greenery.
Our warm funny host Nonnie generously offered her car to us while she taught school, this of course meant an early start, slightly sleep deprived and decidedly light headed we navigated Brevard to find the cafe proclaimed the local’s favourite. Not quite brave enough to order my own, My travelling companion provided me with my first taste of “grits”. I can now understand the naming rights of this concoction – I thought his view that this was the Southerners’ version of our much maligned vegemite was quite fitting.
We settled into the quiet mountainside, dawdling in the dappled light, relishing the wide deck cloaked by an amphitheatre of towering oaks and scattering of acorns. Loose arrangements to catch up with old friends for dinner drove us out of the house and into town to grocery shop and grab a sandwich. On the basis that the enticing combination of peanut butter, banana and something disgustingly sticky was probably never going to appear on another menu we ambled back to the Mayberry cafe and my adventurous taste tester fought his way bite by bite through the rich cloying mound of toasted mush.
Our third morning in Brevard was snug and quiet.. well at least for me.. I stayed in bed while the school run was conducted … it was with some shock that mid to late morning as I was considering brunch, a loud, almost Nonnie , but not, “HELLO THERE!!!” rang out through the house as the front door swung open… my mind raced trying to piece together the sequence of events that could have spirited her back from school without her car – I sprung dishevelled, hair springing in a curled frenzy from my head and wrapped hastily in a dressing gown to be hugged to death by a warm southern drawl in the form of Stuart. I have met some delightful souls over the years with names that seem totally out of kilter with their personalities… Stuart was simply too complicated to fathom. I am not sure she drew breath in the three hours or so that she sallied forth… we took it in turns to punctuate her story with murmurs of condolence and some semblance of empathy when we could, but on reflection, just the opportunity to vent was probably enough. The school run beckoned her away from the peaceful deck and I was reminded that we were to enjoy the foil to this frolic into domestic fracture in the form of her soon to be ex partner Trip who was joining us for dinner.
Trip folded me into his arms and hugged me so tight I thought I was going to expire… it was warm and comforting to be welcomed so wholeheartedly and I must admit to having felt a smile radiating from deep inside. I had been warned he was a shadow of his former girth, that his journey into sobriety had carved off some layers of padding… it certainly hadn’t quelled his exuberance or zest for story telling… as I listened I wondered how it was ever possible for two non stop talkers to have a meaningful relationship, as neither rarely drew breath, the margin for agreement would have to be very narrow – perhaps the 10 years of therapy was the sole opportunity for either of them to be heard. No wonder things floundered when the therapist retired.
Oh my goodness… New York Fifth Avenue… Tiffany’s dazzled beautifully as we wove our way through the gleaming glass counters, snaking towards the fragrance samples for a drenching of scent and then generously sharing it with the sublimely polished lift operator who smiled and delivered us back to the ground without complaint. After the disappointment of Trump’s trumped up gardens we were seduced into the modern marketing mecca of Apple’s glassed bunker on the edge of Central Park. It was chaotic! I was so disorientated that I thought the glass lift well was simply a place to coral small children – I was quite surprised when it suddenly lifted them off the ground.
Central Park was simply wonderful on a warm sunny afternoon after a fascinating Director’s tour of the ground floor of the Met – it was tempting to return for the upper level galleries but my feet were numb and my brain cells swirling with snatches of Tiffany leaded glass, smooth marble busts, gleaming bronzes, the Pharaohs and Romans dancing with medieval suited knights, all colliding with the next expansive gallery tacked on to the last. The enthralling Faberge Egg and Russian dolls seem a fine analogy of the experience – so much packed into an ever expanding space slowly munching its way through the immense greenery of Central Park.
I was quite excited on our last morning in New York, we had been up early, well I had been up early, assembling the ingredients we had taken so long choosing the day before at the Amish grocers a few doors down from our tiny pied-a-terre in Hell’s Kitchen, into sandwiches for our train ride to Niagara. The sheer range of choice was enough to put me in a spin, but the quality of the produce was quite a surprise, I am not sure why but I had an impression that Americans were the doyens of fast food and our diet would be restricted to corn dogs and pizza. I found a number of excuses during our stay to loiter in the aisles of this Aladin’s cave of treasures. They had a range of coffee beans with names and flavours I had never encountered in the suddenly paltry looking local Coles, they even had a grind your own machine (which I thought I had managed to break when I filled it with the pungent beans I had selected at the beginning of our stay – after 3 staff quizzed each other about the machine’s status, one confident young lady turned the paper receptacle around and it merrily started to roar). The multi grain organic loaf we had selected from the plethora of shapes and styles was a little sweeter than expected but teamed with the thick lean slices of rare roast beef, slivers of Swiss cheese, glossy tomatoes and organic butter, the stack of sandwiches were wolfed down with gusto. I am not sure if it is the languid nature of time suspended that has always coloured my trips on trains or hunger, but those train snacks were imbued with a burst of flavour that has managed to cling to the images flickering past the windows.
The countryside heading out of New York whispered of the end of summer, the lush greenery played against the water’s edge as we followed the river through upstate New York. The little hamlets we passed seemed to call out with stories of lazy summers at the end of fishing lines and baskets laden with fruit and berries. The glinting water and sweet isolated cottages tucked into neatly trimmed gardens and picturesque barns looming over huge vegetable plots hinted at a season spent with hoes and shears. The further North we travelled the mistier it became, autumnal hues started to peek out along the hedgerows and huge, fiercely orange pumpkins fought their way out of their green beds presumably ready to be harvested. Suddenly all the pumpkin beers and pies we had been plied with in Washington started to make sense.
It was raining by the time we got to Niagara Falls, I am not quite sure why I was so confused, perhaps it was the train conductors telling everyone to gather all their things regardless of whether they were getting off or not, and to wait for the Canadian border control officers to decide whether we were to alight or not, but when I tried to turn back after their perfunctory glance at my passport, they were adamant I had to go around the corner to the waiting room. Having dragged the Big Black Bag behind me and navigated the heavy door (with the help of a sympathetic passenger) I hopped from one foot to the other eyeing the restroom… looking for my absent travelling companions, I assessed the risk of someone running off with the Big Black Bag as negligible and rushed off to the loo. Still no sign of the others, I started to think I had perhaps erred in my compliance with the uniformed border guards. Fortunately, I had the good sense to back track a little and found my equally confused companion loading his suitcase into the back of a taxi scratching his head and exclaiming he thought I had been detained by the Canadians, but completely stumped by how they might have achieved this given I was ahead of him in the queue. I smiled sweetly and helped squeeze the Big Black Bag into the boot.
There was an envelope tucked into the wire screen of the swing door as we mounted the steps to the quirky house on Main Street. The unease of the unmetered taxi drive dissolved as I took in the charming old fashioned garden framing the turreted house with its slightly dishevelled clapboard siding. I could feel a chuckle building inside as I married the guest house’s name with my first impressions… it would indeed be “A Night To Remember”… or a few as the booking was to cover our stay in what was to turn out to be a sleepy little tourist town on the outskirts of normal. The welcome note looked like it had been passed through some kind of woodblock printing press harking back to the world before computers – blotches of whiteout hiding previous guests and our own names pressed in biro into the empty space. It was quirky and intriguing… the house was still and empty… a sign at the front door entreating us to remove our “outdoor” shoes added to the strange ghostliness of the place. I stared at the rise of timber stairs and was grateful as my travelling companion huffed the magical black case up to the guest floor. All the rooms were empty… their doors ajar… empty fireplaces gaping and chintzy bed linen waiting for the next round of guests. We had picked the Niagara Room.. I can’t remember why… but it was a dusky fading blue with sheer curtains shielding it from the outside light. The other rooms were larger with a sun room opening off the one at the front… we padded along the hallway comparing and settling into the cosy blue cocoon. We scanned the note and registered the hosts listed at the foot of it … smiling at “Doddy”… half expecting the household cat to appear flicking his tail in disdain.
We didn’t linger for too long… the whisper of the Falls was too enticing… we followed the rudimentary tourist map left on the hall table and wended our way towards the embassy suite where our friends had booked a comparatively palatial suite overlooking both the Canadian and American Falls. We were like excited children after a day cooped up inside… it was wonderful to stride through the early evening light taking in the almost crass commercial veneer of the old fashioned tourist destination… it was as though time had stopped somewhere in the early 70’s, the edges of suburbia smudging against the empty concrete forecourts of patron free drive ins and motels. Summer had apparently ended the week before and we had managed to clamber in between the cracks before winter arrived and forced the much anticipated boat ride through the Mist of the Falls off the water. It was not until we veered around the corner that the Falls opened up. We almost skipped to the inclinator separating the row of hotels starting to sparkle in the paling light down to the rock face that forms the falls. The sound of the water as we got close was almost deafening, it slowly merged into a background hum as we leaned over the guard rail to take in the immensity of it all.
The light was folding in as we made our way back up to the Embassy. I must admit I found it a little disconcerting when we stepped into a lift the size of a small room lined with people cradling drinks and mounds of cocktail nibbles in little fluted paper trays. The mystery was dispelled as we bumped into our friends in the foyer clutching their own paper trays of nibbles and “complimentary” drinks on their way back up to their room to enjoy the view that was absent in the bar distributing the drinks.
We arranged to meet later in the restaurant and worked our way to the reservations desk where my companion’s years of dealing with Americans paid off…the charm with which he secured the most delightful window front table was worthy of a drum roll of accolades! We retired to the bar where he was sadly underwhelmed by the attention of our gossiping waitress but the crisp golden Ontario pinot grigio that she finally produced was worth the wait and was exquisitely complimented by the plate of crab cakes that we nibbled on.
We were swept to our table with impeccable timing as our dinner guests arrived and proceeded to feast on the views and steak washed down with plenty of wine and beer. The light show bouncing off the waterfall was delightful, improved only by moving up to their room where we continued to toast the benefits of friends in high places!
Unbeknown to my chocolate appreciating travelling mate… girls have an inbuilt homing beacon that allows them to re-orientate themselves from any remote position in a city to the source of happiness and well being that they have recently focused on … this could be anything as simple as the Godiva Chocolate shop in New York with its selection of waffle filled ice cream cones; shelves stacked with inconceivable ingredients combined with melt in your mouth, creamy rich chocolate and plump almost ruby red strawberries skewered with molten chocolate and banana chunks. It is however, a formula that holds true for river cruises along the river in Chicago and even more sublimely … the unassuming street frontage of the Eaterly empire also in Chicago. An edifice that I had somehow missed on the taxi ride through the city from the airport but that both he and our travelling companions had been able to describe in enough detail to allow me to hunt it down through sheets of early morning rain on my mission to create a magical breakfast. I had even taken the extraordinarily sensible step of googling it first to ensure it would be open by the time I arrived there – which by my calculations would be just after 8am. Wending our host’s well designed umbrella – imagine a translucent bell that mushrooms around you like a cocoon allowing you to navigate through on-coming traffic in the form of conventional umbrellas wielded by rush hour warriors – I side stepped mirrored puddles and deep taxi cues marshalled by the whistles and hats of stoic building concierges and finally after many twists and turns… there I was 8 minutes past 8am… the doors swung open and my heart sank. The lauded food court amassed with the fresh organic produce I had imagined salivating over would not open until 10am.
I did pout a bit. Then the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted towards me.
But at least the ground floor had some basics.. an impressive range of organic milk, each labelled with the type of pasture, farm history and breed of cow, similarly the butter spelled out how it was churned and with what, the cream according to the label was just that… not some chemical confection spun with sugar, the eggs had been laid by happy hens clucking and pecking in Beatrix Potter like hedgerows and I even found a punnet of gleaming mixed berries, no doubt picked at dawn by Huck Finn.
We were able to start our first day in Chicago with pancakes dotted with bright red berries lovingly brushed with liquid chocolate. A little taste of what was to come.
Amazed by Toronto’s construction – every turn revealing another building emerging from the hoardings and scaffold. It certainly does seem to be worthy of the title “2nd largest city of skyscrapers”.
Our first night strolling through soaring mirrored buildings we stumbled across a quaint cafe in the eerily quiet downtown financial district ablaze with bright red pots of fuchsias and soft candlelight – tempted in by the lure of freshly shucked oysters, and won over by the spritely waitress who delivered the heaving platter in a matter of moments in spite of the promised time lag. The tang of freshly grated horseradish the perfect balance to the creamy molluscs. Sated and happy we wandered off to the waterfront with the promise of dessert – surely the local French influence would conjure up a crepe suzette in one of those little waterfront cafes. Sadly, it wasn’t until we got to Chicago at the end of our trip that I worked out google is the friend of crepe menu items.
Our rendezvous with our travelling companions was scheduled for lunch on Sunday at the soaring CN Tower – naturally macho man wanted to explore the sensation of hanging off the tallest building in sight and donned the most delightfully lurid red jump suit with fluorescent yellow straps to do so – no missing him should he fall!! Just for good measure he reiterated the location of his will and executor, I smiled and kept clicking the camera – what a joy this digital age has become. I must admit I whooped with excitement as the glass fronted elevator lifted off the ground and soared up above Toronto but not enough to entice me out into the wind and a skinny metal grated walkway.
Fortunately he survived – gasping for beer on his arrival at our table – he did look a little flushed! Mind you so did Phil, I was a little surprised at the table choice given the months of notice for our booking, they had chosen an inner banquette with Phil tucked into the furthest corner – turns out spinning restaurants give her vertigo. Made me chuckle as Toronto had been selected on the merit of its sky high dining experience. Nevertheless the views were spectacular, the food was sensational, albeit the chowder recipe was a challenge for the purists at the table, they were won over by the flavour, while in the background, Romanian Mike won waiter of the trip, his recommendation of pan roasted Ontario Pickerel was delightful, his prompt service and attention won all our hearts.
The warm hospitality of our exotic Toronto host was duly reciprocated with a roof top BBQ of marinated steaks, snags and salad ala Di, all washed down with copious beer and wine and loud Aussie chatter punctuated with Ghanaian squeals – I think the pre-BBQ Margueritas may have been my undoing, I was sweetly put to bed while our guests partied on into the wee small hours, hang-overs were de rigueur the next morning.
Loved the Bata Shoe Museum – shoooooes – a delightful perspective from which to frame the evolution of fashion, from the Otzi man’s functional straw filled boots to exquisitely embroidered smoking slippers lovingly fashioned by wives and sisters of the well to do. The Pleasures and Perils of Dress exhibition was an absolute delight – from deadly arsenic laced undergarments to fiery hoop dresses which claimed the lives of over 3000 fashion victims a year at the height of the crinoline craze – even Oscar Wilde lost TWO sisters to crinoline fire balls. Thank god for electricity and a more sensible dress code.
Wandering the laneways in the university district on our return from the Bata Museum wishing and hoping for a Parisian Crepe Van to magically appear, only to crane our necks to read the next food van extolling the virtues of wok tossed noodles! The faculty buildings spewing out pamphlet wielding zealots petered out and student housing took over, fading brownstones and old homes converted to boarding rooms, courtyards strewn with rusting chairs and bins bulging with take-out containers, apparently student fare is no longer shared steaming pots of lentil soup. Finally, a street of full of cheerful cheap eateries, almost every food trend represented and even a crepe shop.. but alas.. closed Mondays!
Standing on a street corner in downtown Toronto waiting for the lights to change – smooching – laughing after realising the blonde in the bright red sports car screaming around the corner was not shouting abuse but applauding us for making her smile.