Friday, August 10, 2012

Continuation of 2012 world tour: USA .

New York, New York!---- and beyond,- by GLOBUS bus!

Our first stopover in the USA after a direct flight on a comfortable, but lengthy 12hour El AL flight from Tel Aviv was in the ‘Great Apple’,- New York City. We had 8 days to fill in prior to embarking on a 14-day bus tour to Mount Rushmore and across to the main national parks and canyons, finishing in 'Sin City',- Las Vegas.

 In New York we selected to stay at the Hampton Inn in Soho which was near the Canal Street subway. Having booked it on the internet we had no idea really about the area or the quality of the hotel,- but it proved to be a good choice from the point of view of price, position from which to explore all parts of New York and the surrounding ethnically diverse area, with quality shops and restaurants.

The next 8 days were spent walking our feet off,- firstly down South to Wall street and the 9/11 Memorial. Very impressive and emotionally moving. Long queues to first book your place and time of entry. Then a long walk around the construction site of the new buildings. Then exploring the 'holes in the ground', now water-filled concrete basins with the names of the victims on the surrounding parapets. It was hot and tiring, but full of people quietly looking into the wells and reading tghe names.
The gorgeous shopping area around Spring Street in Soho, (similar to our South Yarra/Chapel Street area at home in Melbourne) was next on our exploration itinerary;  next day we rushed to Times Square and queued up at the 'half tix' box Office to see what shows we could book for. On the following days we went on a Hudson River cruise around the Statue of Liberty; we strolled through Central Park; ate at the Carnegie Deli and also at the famous Katz’s Deli of "Where Sally Met Harry" fame on the last Friday evening. The latter was a disappointment,- after 124 years you’d think they could have renovated it a bit! The matzo ball soup was good though and the pastrami sandwich with great pickles was too much even for both of us!

We visited the most enormous electronics and camera store run by a Hassidic group as well as all the elegant 5th Avenue Department stores. We got lost around and inside the Rockefeller Centre and saw the magnificent English play, The War Horse at the Lincoln Centre. But most interesting was  visiting the huge Metropolitan Museum with their unbelievable temporary exhibition of Egyptian artefacts as well as their permanent treasure displays in that enormous edifice on the edge of Central Park. For us though, it was the impressive Museum of Jewish Heritage near Battery Park with its reflective glass wall overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where newly arrived immigrants first set foot on American soil early last century,- which was of immense interest  and it is highly recommended to be visited.

What did disturb us about New York city however was the inordinate amount of garbage which was piled up in plastic bags on every footpath towards the evening. It was probably picked up during the night, but walking to and from restaurant dinners was not pleasant having to avoid sometimes huge bags of refuse. The footpaths in general were also not maintained in very good condition, making walking quite hazardous!

We departed from New York to join a 14-day Globus “Parks & Canyons Spectacular” Bus Tour from Rapid City, South Dakota. This included Yellowstone National Park, as well as the Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and the UNESCO World Heritage Grand Canyon.

We started the tour at the incredible Mount Rushmore National Memorial,- the mountain carving of the four Presidents’ heads and the equally impressive  Crazy Horse Memorial still being built in honour of the fearless Sioux Indian Chief (of the Battle of the Bighorn fame). The latter project is still a work in progress with only the head being finished after 10years, while there is his body and his horse still to be carved. The original sculptor has since died and it is his widow and grown sons and equally talented daughter who are carrying on the project.

We then travelled though the ‘Wild West’ country of the 'cowboys and Indians' films of old,- with such towns as Deadwood, Sheridan, Cody on the way and through the Black Hills National Forest until we reached the magnificent YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. Here we stayed the night at the Old Faithful Inn, near the highest ‘old faithful’ geyser which blows high up nearly every hour or so and walked around all the hot pools alongside it. Inside the 30 by45-mile volcanic basin makes up most of Yelowstone National Park. The volcano erupted 1.3million years ago and again 640,000years ago. It is surrounded by towering mountains, canyons and waterfalls, lakes and free roaming animals as well as lots of geysers,- more than anywhere else in the world. We saw deer and bisons, but there are also bears and many other smaller native animals including wolves. Being the summer holiday season, the park was very busy with tourists and sightseers and I guess the animals kept away from all of us. We were apparently lucky to spend 2 days in the park driving and walking around, as most visitors apparently are just day-trippers.

We crossed from South Dakota, to Wyoming and Cody,- the ‘Buffalo Bill’ city with its mementos and Museum devoted to the greatest entrepreneur of his time; then Idaho and Jackson,- where we experienced a little of the wagon-train journeys of old as we were transported to a c'ook-out' and concert, accompanied by “Indians” and highwaymen,- variously attired horsemen as escorts! The scenery throughout as we crossed mountain passes up to 8-9000 feet, was quite breathtaking.

Then there was a change of scenery as we travelled towards Salt Lake City in UTAH, along the border with the Nevada desert. The headquarters of the Mormon Church and their main community center, this is a very clean and well set out city with its beautiful Temple Square, its huge Tabernacle, churches set in a glorious garden setting. Here we farewelled half the group on the bus and the rest of us continued to the canyon lands. The unbelievable  natural cliffside sculptures and structures at Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Lake Powell in Arizona and finally at the Grand Canyon in Nevada, are real wonders of the world. We walked and marvelled at it all and the photographers amongst us were in their element.

Travelling along 'Route 66' in the Nevada desert, past Hoover Dam, we reached our final destination the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas. We were happy to be deposited as usual in a most central hotel, Treasure Island, which allowed us to walk or bus to every other hotel and see all that had to be seen with ease in the 38 degree heat. A city of food, fun, shows and shops,- as well as the gambling, means that it attracts hordes of holiday makers at weekends and in the holiday season. It may have had the mobsters running the town at the beginning, but it appears that it was actually the ‘wowser’ Mormons who settled and developed it first. Today there is a satellite city or suburb of Las Vegas where there is no gambling allowed and is mainly populated by a Mormon community.
We saw the amazing David Coperfield performing his longstanding and amazing ‘magic’ illusions and tricks at the MGM hotel, as well as an equally longstanding and outstanding performer, Dione Celine in the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace. The show-biz history of Las Vegas’ performers is played out at the Planet Hollywood’s “Las Vegas Show” where we enjoyed reliving some of the entertainment world’s greatest performers in song and dance.

After this entertaining and relaxing weekend (where we enjoyed finally spending more than one night at a time in one place) we boarded our connecting flight to Los Angeles to embark on our non-stop 14 hour flight to Melbourne in the QANTAS Airbus380.

Air travel in the US as well as in most parts of the world these days of tight security is not such a pleasure, therefore we were glad to have travelled hassle-free by land mostly, keeping air travel to a minimum! Arriving home to less than 10 degrees was a bit of a shock to the system.
it was nice to meet our family and friends after nearly 2 months away.
 The first question was: where to next?
Will let you know!

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