|NEW YORK CITY TO ATLANTA - November 2004.|
We started on an evening flight to Toronto, with a fancy hotel at the airport for a few hours, then on to NYC at 9:15 AM. We flew into La Guardia airport after circling Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It was a glorious sunny day with lots of colour in the trees. We took a cab to our hotel one block from Times Square and started walking.
We headed to Central Park then on to the Ed Sullivan Theatre where David Letterman has his show, and we saw the Soup Nazi restaurant from Seinfeld. We went to a noisy deli for lunch enjoying meatloaf and reubens. The accents and behaviour of the people was typical 'in your face' New York. We spent quite a bit of time watching the crowds and lights of Times Square with all of the TV studios and multi-story neon signs. We went to another deli for take out of pastrami, rye bread, potato salad, and cheescake. We spread it out on the bed back at the hotel and had a real feast. The pastrami had a peppery crusty edge to it and the cheese cake was very soft and rich.
The next day we went on a day bus trip around Manhattan. We had the same tour guide that we had 3 years ago when we went the first time. This time we went to the Statue of Liberty and were able to walk into and around the statue. There was heavy security as it was only opened to the public since August. They even had a detector that you stood in that blew three blasts of air at you to detect explosives! They had a nice museum to explain how the statue was made and designed. All of the copper was hand-pounded over wood moulds. It is a very elegant site in the sunshine with the towers of Manhattan across the harbour.
Then the tour went on to the UN to see the security council and the general assembly. All of the furnishings at the UN looked very 70's being quite old. There were a lot of displays of gifts from countries to the UN such as a huge village scene from China, carved out of wood and ivory, and a replica of the royal barge of Thailand.
The next day we went on a huge walk all of the way down Broadway from Central Park to Little Italy and China Town. We had lunch at the first Pizzeria in the USA in Little Italy. The pizza had a hand tossed crust with homemade tomato sauce with a touch of fresh parmesan cheese and fresh basil. With the pizza we had a grilled portabella mushroom drizzled in olive oil with a salad. A very simple and wonderful lunch. It gave us energy to head back north up Park Avenue to our home on Times Square.
We went into Grand Central Station with a vast interior space with a hand painted roof. It is an architectural gem that was at one time going to be demolished. We also went to Macy's department store on 34 St. which is 11 stories and covers one square block. It still has wooden escalators which I have seen in a number of movies.
The next day we went to Trump Tower for a coffee from "The Apprentice" reality show. It had an interior wall in the lobby that was made into a waterfall with water cascading down the rusty coloured marble. They just opened the new Times Warner Centre on Central Park which cost 1.5 billion and has two 80 story office and residential towers with the top apartments going for $40 million.
The NYC Marathon was taking place that weekend so there were runners everywhere speaking all languages. We went to Democracy Plaza at Rockefeller Centre where all of the TV networks had set up their broadcasting for the Election.
The next day we picked up our rental car and began the battle of the New York traffic. It took about an hour to get into the Lincoln Tunnel entrance to New Jersey. A number of lanes had to merge to get into the 2 lane tunnel. I saw a truck and a small car actually pushing against each other in the merging dance. It was amazing to watch. After coming out of the tunnel on the New Jersey side, sunlight and the high speed New Jersey turnpike awaited. You could see Manhattan across the water as you headed into the New Jersey countryside.
Taking an exit to the Garden State Parkway we headed to Atlantic City. The fall colours were very beautiful with the dense forest on both sides of the road. You had to constantly look for spare change as the road was a toll road. Driving into Atlantic City you could see the casino towers on the beach and all of the street names from the Monopoly game. The boardwalk stretches for miles above the sand with the open atlantic breakers on one side and the casinos, stores, and take out food places on the other. We had lots of fun playing the nickel slots, enjoying lots of free drinks and conversations with our fellow gamers.
The next morning we walked the boardwalk again in crystal sunshine and enjoyed Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee. We then headed south to Salisbury, Maryland heading through rural areas with small towns and lots of hidden police cars. Speeders beware, their taxes are low but they make up for their lack of revenue with speeding tickets! We went through the first state of Deleware which had no sales tax so the shopping at Wal Mart was very good. We crossed a huge bridge over the Bay. It felt that you were heading up into the sky with the angle of ascent onto the middle of the bridge.
The next day we headed south across the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. The crossing was a combination of two tunnels and two bridges and a few causeways for several miles for a toll of $12. It saved us from having to wait for ferries. It was very windy with the waves lashing the causeway trying to knock us around. It was quite amazing to head under the water at 50 miles an hour into a tunnel!
We then drove through Virginia into North Carolina starting to see cotton fields and large homes, some abandoned. We stopped at our first BBQ place with the waitress calling us Shueg and Shueggar. The BBQ was very good consisting of pulled pork with a vinegar base, hush puppies, which are small corn fritters, and fried okra with iced tea on the side.
Heading down to New Bern, North Carolina we had a night at a B&B in the historical district. We had a big second floor corner room with a 4 poster bed. The house was built around 1820 and was occupied by the Union army for most of the civil war. The district around the hotel was interesting with lots of old houses and buildings. Pepsi Cola was invented at a pharmacy in New Bern, which they have now turned into a museum and soda parlour. The breakfast the next day included homemade bundt cake, fruit salad, and french toast stuffed with cream cheese, and sauteed bananas.
Heading south to South Carolina we started to see a lot of development in the Myrtle Beach area with lots of tourist traps and retirement golf resorts. We stopped at a BBQ buffet restaurant in a small town. The parking lot was full so we knew that the locals were there! They had the best BBQ food that I have ever eaten and we left barely able to walk. We had the next night in Charleston at a nice hotel in the historic district. It was nice walking around along the bay and through the old city market. We had breakfast in an old cafe with an omelete of the day of swiss cheese, tomato, and mushrooms with grits on the side.
The next day we headed west through rural roads to Aiken to our next B&B at a big old house in the cotton fields. We had a nice walk through the cotton with all of the unusual birds and flowering weeds by the roadside. The house was built in about 1830 and was a battleground during the civil war. They had found lots of bullets, buckles, and cannon balls in the fields around the house. There was supposed to be a ghost of a small girl reported as the house was used as a hospital for a while. We had breakfast with the owner in her kitchen the next day with lots of conversation and good food.
The last night was spent in downtown Atlanta with walks to CNN Centre
and historic Auburn Ave. to see the Martin Luther King burial site and
museums. It is a very poor area with lots of homeless people who want to be
your tour guide.
© 2004 Kevin Berg
|UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND - April 2004.|
We had a lovely 12 night break to the UK and Ireland. I am still ready to get up at 5 AM with the jet lag!
We started by flying to Edinburgh after landing in London. We had a hotel close to the royal mile and Edinburgh Castle. There were fields of daffodils everywhere and lots of blossoms of various types. The weather in Edinburgh was composed of torrential rain for 10 minutes followed by strong sun. The weather for the rest of the trip was dry and mostly sunny making it great for long walks.
We went to the Scotch Whisky Museum for an education on the creation of Scotlands' famous liquid. Then we went on a bus tour and a boat ride on Loch Lomond, a drive through the Trossach mountains, and on to Stirling castle and the Wallace monument to see the battlegrounds between the Scots and the English in the 13th century.
We flew to Belfast to see the launch ramp for the Titanic and the walls separating the Loyalist and Republican areas. A taxi driver who had lived through the troubles took us on a tour. We saw the graveyard for the hunger strikers and all of the headstones had been smashed! We saw a variety of Wall Murals containing amazing art work and a number of memorial gardens to the troubles.
One of the pubs in downtown Belfast had booths with swing doors for privacy. I have never seen this anywhere else. The pub had ornate walls and ceilings with beautiful carved wood and was quite amazing!
Then we took a train to Dublin through the border country and down along the sea. In order to reserve tickets ahead of time we went first class on the train . The seats were adjustable and we had lunch service. What a wonderful way to travel!
In Dublin we went to the Jameson Distillery and walked for miles around the various areas. One of the pubs dated from 1297 and was very small and dark with a fireplace. We went on another day trip to Glendalough which is a 6th century monastic settlement and then up into the Wicklow mountains to see the peat bogs.
Flying back to London we went to the Imperial War Museum and then to the theatre to see "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat".
We had lots of really good meals on the trip and sampled a diverse variety of whiskys and beers. The fish and chips right out of the takeaway shops was very fresh and the bangers and mash in the pubs were very good. The fresh salmon with parsley sauce and new potatoes were delicious! We were served lots of beef and guinness pie and a type of seafood pie with fresh and smoked fish. They are served in a bowl with a puff pastry lid.
A lot of the pubs in Scotland had a dozen varieties of scotch whisky to sample. Some were very mellow and others were quite harsh. The variety of soda breads in Ireland were very good accompanied by lots of different home made soups. We had toffee pudding with ice cream in London which was quite traditional and very good.
Now it is back to work to wait for the giant Visa bill!
© 2004 Kevin Berg
|SPAIN AND PORTUGAL - December 2003.|
We got back from Spain last Friday night without any problems due to flight delays or security concerns.
We used up all of our airline points to fly first class, so it made a long trip quite enjoyable. We had personal entertainment systems on the transatlantic flights. A small DVD screen with an assortment of movies and TV shows. We had Tenderloin and Lobster Tails, plus lots of fancy deserts and cheese plates. They had smoked salmon appetizers before the meals. On the SpanAir flight from Frankfurt to Madrid we had authentic spanish cuisine with a cold vegetable salad with little cubes of potato, a breaded pork cutlet, and a tomato/eggplant stewed vegetable assortment. The return SpanAir flight had a crab omelet with american sauce and a walnut cake with nut sauce. They were highlighting the cuisine of the Basque region which is the most highly acclaimed in Spain.
It was a very nice trip with weather ranging from 14 C in Madrid to 18 in the Costa del Sol. The nights in some of the northern areas got close to freezing but the sun was out everyday without any rain or snow.
We started in Madrid with a free day before the bus tour started. We stocked up on wine, cheese, olives, and bread and went walking with a compass and street map. Madrid is about 2.5 million people with an extra 2 million coming into the city from the adjacent areas each day. All of the kids were out of school and everybody was away from work so it was a very nice time to travel in Spain. Madrid has a number of large old parks similar to Hyde park in London, and a number of large plazas with large statues and fountains. All of the buildings are 6 stories tall with lots of 16th century buildings such as the Plaza Mayor where they used to have bull fights and the Royal Palace which was built in the 17th century.
The bus contained only 18 people with 30 seats empty. Two other buses were in the convoy which had 30 and 40 people on them. We were lucky, having lots of room. The tour director was a Spanish lady with a photographic memory for dates in history. We headed south to Toledo which is the old capital before Madrid was chosen in the 1550's. It is in a dramatic location on a steep hill surrounded on 3 sides by the Tagus river which eventuallly we would see again later in Lisbon, Portugal. There is a medieval synagogue which was turned into a church. All of the Arabs and Jews were kicked out in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs Isabelle and Ferdinand. That was the same year as Columbus's voyage. Most synagogues were destroyed but this one survived as it was being used as a church. We went on a walking tour of the old city with a labyrinth of ancient streets with buildings closing off the sky above. We went to a metal factory to see a variety of products such as gold inlaying and sword construction. Toledo was the main source of the fine quality steel that was present in ancient Spain. I bought a small arab sword and holder that looks good on the buffet. Not the kind of thing that you would take on the airplane in your carry-on!
Heading south of Toledo we headed to an overnight in Cordoba. This was the capitol of the Moors before the Catholics took over. The Arabs invaded from North Africa around AD 700 and stayed until 1492. They had more culture , education, and tolerance, than the rulers that came after with their inquisitions. We stayed at a nice hotel up in the hills with all of the millionaire villas around and a nice view of the valley in the morning. We went on a tour of the Cathedral in Cordoba which was combination of Jewish, Arab, and Catholic construction. It is quite amazing how they could keep adding on to previous buildings to make something useful.
The trip continued south to Granada through parched plains of La Mancha with the whitewashed windmills and the novels of Don Quixote. We stopped at a small village for lunch with tiny white stone houses. For lunch we had Lentil soup, and Spanish Omelettes (egg and potato). Granada is close to the Sea separated by the Sierra Nevada mountain range of 12,000 feet snow covered mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day with some of the flower fields in bloom and the snowy mountains above. We went on a tour of the Alhambra which is a huge arab fortress built in the first century. It was built into the mountainside with double walls and a variety of gardens, ornately designed islamic rooms, and views to the valley below. The arab king had a prayer room that faced mecca. Water for the fountains and gardens was piped from the mountains above. We had some free time in Granada to have a pizza and beer at an outside cafe watching all of the people getting ready for Christmas. We also went to a large tented market full of african products from immigrants from Senegal. As well we stopped in a noisy bar to have a beer and free tapas (small pork sandwich and olives) before we got back on the bus. We had a large variety of Tapas on the trip such as cold seafood salad with shrimp, mussels, fish, and diced onions and bell peppers.
After Granada we headed south west through the mountains to the Costa del Sol and Torremolinos. We heard that the mountainous area was where a lot of resistance fighters were based in the abortive struggle against Franco in the 30's. He ruled with an iron hand for 40 years, and now the monarchy is back with King Juan Carlos. They have had quite a disruptive history, but things are looking much better now. We had a couple of days on the ocean at Torremolinos at a beautiful hotel. The ocean was boiling with a storm coming in from Africa. It was still sunny but the waves were very big. The area gets a lot of British tourists so all of the menus were in English and there were a few British style pubs. We went to a little mountain village with views down to the ocean and lots of whitewashed flower covered buildings and winding alleys. Then we went to a fish lunch down on the water with fried anchovies, baby squids, tiny buttery clams, fried grouper, and baked salt encrusted sea bass which was very moist and tasty. They cook it with the salt covering and then break it off before they serve it.
Next we headed west to Gibraltar. We had to cross two border guard posts with Spanish and British armed guards inspecting everyones passport. Then the bus had to cross the runway to get into the Rock. We went on a little tour of St. Georges Caves where they made a military hospital and now use them for concerts. We then climbed the rock in our little taxi to the top to see the Apes. There were a whole assortment of orangy macaques grooming, eating, and jumping on the tourists. They were very friendly and not in the least afraid of anybody. The view from the top of the mountain was about 1000 feet to the blue Med, and 11 miles to Africa across the Strait. You could see how strategic a location it was!
Heading northwest through the Sherry region of Jerez we saw a bunch of Bull farms where fighting bulls are raised. We stopped at a Bull fighting themed restaurant for lunch and had a lovely pot roast meal. Our next big stop was Seville with the 1992 expo and the 1929 expo buildings all around. The 1929 expo was held just before the stock market crash which was not good timing. Seville was the base for exploring the new world with a vast amount of wealth accumulated during those years. Old Seville is surrounded by walls and is a rabbit warren of twisty streets and small outdoor cafes and bars. There is a giant cathedral and another arab/christian palace to see. We had a bunch of tapas at a few locations such as eggplant souffle, deep fired shrimps, cod baked with grape sauce, potato salad, sardines, deep fried calamari, paella, and chicken skewers.
We headed into Portugal next to Lisbon. We had lots of time exploring the city with its grand avenues built in the 1750's after the great earthquake, the old castle on the hill with views of the city, the 3 mile wide Tagus river, and the Alfama district which is a maze of dead end streets, steps, and ancient buildings that were not touched by the quake. We went to a theme dinner with entertainment such as traditional dancers, and Fado singing. Fado is a mournful type of folk singing, and the dancing seemed to be similar to gypsy dances. Portugal is a lot more multicultural than Spain with 1.5 million immigrants from the their former colonies in Africa. People didn't mind you speaking English, and were very friendly.
Heading back to Madrid we stopped for the night in Salamanca which is another old city of squares, walls, and churches.
It was a lovely trip with lots of nice memories, and lots of new knowledge about the history of the Iberian Peninsula.
© 2003 Kevin Berg
|NEW ORLEANS AND THE SOUTH - November 2003.|
We started at New Orleans getting there at night. The first morning we headed into the French Quarter for Coffee and Chicory and Beignets (fresh square doughnuts with icing sugar piled on). We enjoyed the delights on the levee over the Mississippi river watching the big ships sailing past. The river is about a mile wide at that point and 60 to 200 feet deep. The day was very hot, about 90 degrees with high humidity. Everybody was taking it easy in the Big Easy. We had lunch at a small cafe with the breeze blowing through. Lunch consisted of a big platter of BBQ Shrimp and french bread washed down with lots of ice tea. The shrimp were huge with the heads on. They cook them in a sauce of butter, fresh herbs, and BBQ spice.
After lunch we headed east to Biloxi Mississippi to the Imperial Palace Casino and Hotel for the night. The drive to Biloxi is along the Gulf with some of the whitest beaches on earth, and the large graceful mansions facing the sea. We had a room on the 27th floor looking out over the swamps.
After playing lots of Blackjack and Slots, and not getting any richer, we headed east the next day to Panama City Beach Florida. We stopped at the Golden Corral restaurant in Destin, Florida on the way. It is a chain of buffet restaurants with an incredible selection for a low price. The hotel that I had booked was closed, and the guy cleaning the pool said that our reservation was at the other Best Western in town. It was a weird feeling looking for your hotel and finding it abandoned. The other hotel was very nice, being ocean front with a balcony. We watched the sunset with some cold beers.
The next day we walked the beach, suntanned, and swam in the pool in the morning. There was a huge triathalon taking place with hundreds of bicycles going past. A sting ray and lots of fish were visible in the crystal sea. We headed north east to Jacksonville in the morning, following small rural highways through pine forests and towns that had seen better days. We stopped at a BBQ restaurant on the way west of Talahassee. Rounding a curve, we saw a pink ceramic pig on a pole. Instantly we know that a BBQ place was there. It was Tiny's BBQ, with Tiny at 350 pounds and suspenders heading into the smoke house at the back. An immense portion of smoked pulled pork, and sides of potato and macaroni salad followed, washed down by giant glasses of the perennial Iced Tea.
It is so amazing being on a driving tour, not knowing what is around the next corner. We made it to about 20 Wal Marts on the trip to give us a modern shopping experience combined with long distances through the dense forests. Heading into Jacksonville, we had a place on the ocean. Two oceans in two days with 320 miles in between.
The next day we headed to the stadium for an NFL game. We had tail gate party tickets before the game with a beer and a nice BBQ buffet included. Lots of fans from Indianapolis were there of all ages enjoying the game. During the tailgate party the cheerleaders showed up along with the mascot driving an ATV on 2 wheels. We enjoyed the game and all of the hype, then headed north to Savannah Georgia. Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in the south with the graceful houses, lots of public squares, and giant oaks with spanish moss. We had breakfast at one of the cafes mentioned in the book (In the Garden of Good and Evil). It was Carny's restaurant which has been around since the 1920's. We had shrimp omelettes and pecan waffles.
Heading west through rural Georgia with the rolling hills and peach trees, the kind of place that would be nice to spend some quiet time in, we stopped at Peach, Georgia to buy peach jam and candied pecans. Then heading into Montgomery, Alabama we visited the state Capitol, M.L. King's Church, Civil Rights Memorial to the Fallen, and Alabama Town. Alabama Town was a collection of very old houses with audio tape explaining the history of 1800's Alabama. They had an old roadside tavern where settlers stopped for the night, an old cabin with a morning and an afternoon porch, and an old mansion with adjacent slave quarters. The next stop was Selma, Alabama to see the Voting Rights Museum and the start of the 50 mile walk on Montgomery in 1965 to protest the lack of voting rights and segregation. They were very brave people, being attacked by water hoses, dogs, and clubs.
Everybody is so friendly in the south with constant greetings and smiles. It sure is different from a lot of other parts of the US. Heading wast to Meridian Mississippi we stopped at a B&B in a huge white 1905 mansion with the pillars in the front. We had a glass of wine in the evening on the balcony, with breakfast served in the dining room the next morning. We were served fruit salad with granola and yogurt, followed by pancakes with home made pecan syrup and spicy creole sausage. I got to play the grand piano in the living room.
Heading south to New Orleans, we had a couple of nights at a converted French Carriage house in the French Quarter. It was quite noisy with all of the party animals returning from Bourbon Street at all hours of the night. We enjoyed lots of Muffellettas (fresh sandwiches compressed with olive salad, meats and cheeses).
Back to work to pay the VISA!
© 2003 Kevin Berg
|ENGLAND - Easter 2003|
The next day back in London we walked about 20 miles on a beautiful day through Chelsea to Battersea Park and then to Picadilly . When our feet wore out we took the tube (underground) back. There were hundreds of people in Green Park by the palace catching rays.
The next day we went to Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesties Theatre close to Leicester Square. We are going to see a number of the twenty year old plays before we see any of the new productions.
The next day we joined our tour bus for a 3 night 4 day tour of England, Scotland, and Wales. Heading out of London driving through the Cotswold hills, our first stop was at Stratford upon Avon to see Shakespeare's House and Grammer School. The river with all of the rental houseboats was quite idyllic. The bus driver was from the border country between England and Scotland and was very hard to understand. The tour director was very formal and from Cheltenham. They were the consumate odd couple and made for quite a number of humourous moments. It is amazing how they can drive those huge vehicles through 1100 miles of narrow country roads with stone fences on either side without a problem.
Our next stop was to Canterbury to see the bombed cathedral, and the new cathedral rising from the ashes. They were ringing all of the bells in the old church as it was Easter Sunday.
Our next stop was the Roman city of York with the medieval walls, the shambles of shops, and the York Minster cathedral that took several hundreds of years to build. That night we stopped in the small town of Darlington at an old manor house set in the grounds of a golf course. Dinner was included and a beautiful morning walk through the grounds after falling asleep to the sounds of numerous birds.
The first stop the next day was to the remnants of Hadrians Wall which was built by the Romans to keep the northern barbarians in line around 100 AD. The wall was 15 feet high and contained towers and garrisons every few miles.The next day we headed to the Scottish Border through the mist in the high country where nothing was growing except dwarf gorse (a kind of cactus), and heather. It was very wild country, the scene of clan fighting and banditry for hundreds of years.
Dropping down into Scotland we stopped at Jedburgh to see the old Abby and Mary Queen of Scotts house. Heading into Edinburgh we had a couple of hours for serious shopping before heading on a tour of the Castle with our guide Blood and Guts. He was a local guide dressed in a kilt and full of Scottish humour and history. The castle has 7 gates to pass through in a spiral pattern before you reach the main buildings. The view from the top was about 1000 feet straight down with vistas for miles around. That night we stayed in a Holiday Inn on the top floor with one wall entirely made of glass giving us a view of the castle and all of the major buildings and churches in Edinburgh. We had a large grocery store close by, so we bought supplies including Romanian wine, English Cheese, German Salami, and Scottish crusty buns and headed back to the room to watch British TV. For dessert we had mini scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The next day we headed out the of the perpetual fog of Edinburgh to the sunlight of the countryside. We stopped at Gretna Green on the border where eloping couples from England headed north to get married. We headed to the lake district with hundreds of baby lambs and scenery out of the stories of Beatrix Potter. We had a boat ride on Lake Windermere which is England's largest lake of 10 miles long and one mile wide. There were permits for 40,000 boats to use the lake.
Our next night was in Liverpool to see the cavern where the Beatles made their first performances and the history of shipping companies like the White Star Line of Titanic fame.
Heading south the next day to
Chester, a beautiful Roman city with covered shopping streets known as the
Rows. Then we journeyed to North Wales for incredible scenery and a stop for
lunch in a Welsh village. Wales is bilingual with English and Welsh spoken.
Welsh is an ancient language based on Celtic history before the Romans came.
The final stop on our UK journey was to the Wedgwood china factory to have a tour and to buy a
few beautiful plates and bowls. For a slight defect in the pattern you could
get quite a good deal. The factory is located on a 300 acre estate, so I
had a nice long walk through the countryside to see the green of England.
© 2003 Kevin Berg
|TRAVELS WITH KEVIN - TRAVEL, RECREATION, AND CULINARY LINKS|