Searching for locations: A typical diner, New York

We decided to have lunch in a traditional Diner.

On an early morning walk, I discovered the Brooklyn Diner, a small restaurant tucked away in a street not far from Columbus Circle, perhaps a piece of history from the American past.

After all, if you’re going to take in the sights, sounds, and food of a country what better way to do it than visiting what was once a tradition.

This one was called the Brooklyn Diner.  It had a combination of booths and counter sit down, though the latter was not a very big space, so we opted for a booth.

The object of going to a Diner is the fact they serve traditional American food, which when you get past the hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, takes the form of turkey and chicken pot pies among a variety of other choices.

Still looking for a perfectly cooked turkey, something I’ve never been able to do myself, I opted for the Teadition Turkey Lunch, which the menu invitingly said was cooked especially at the diner and was succulent.  I couldn’t wait.

We also ordered a hamburger, yes, yet another, and a chicken pot pie, on the basis the last one I had in Toronto was absolutely delicious (and cooked the same way since the mid-1930s)

While waiting we got to look at a slice of history belonging to another great American tradition, Baseball, a painting on the wall of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets field, long since gone from their home.

The Turnkey lunch looked like this

which didn’t seem to be much, and had this odd pasta slice on the plate, but the turkey was amazing and lived up to the menu description.

The Chicken Pot Pie looked like this

And looked a lot larger in reality than the photo shows.

But, sadly while it was not bad, it was a little dry, and could possibly do with using the more succulent thigh part of the chicken.

All of this was washed down by Long Island Ice Teas and Brooklyn Lager.

AS for the Diner experience, it’s definitely a 10 out of 10 for me.

The Perils of Travelling: Every plane trip is, well, different

The course of plane travel can run like clockwork, or rapidly come apart at the seems.

Every time you go to the airport, it can become an adventure.  Checking in, battling the airline’s kiosk, printing and attaching bag labels, going to bag drop, remembering that every airline does it differently.

Hong Kong airport is huge and there are endless boarding gates.  Being dropped off in the zone that belongs to the airline you’re flying is simple.  The next step is to find the aisle letter where your flight is checking in and then do the automated boarding pass and baggage label.

If it’s international travel which it is today, there’s the added stress of negotiating immigration and the duty-free stores.  We followed the rules, got there early, had the usual problems at the kiosk requiring the assistance of two Cathay Pacific staff, and finally made it to the initial departure concourse.

Next, there’s the temptation of overpriced airport food if you’re hungry which we are not.  But we have a McCafe coffee to satisfy a caffeine fix before the flight.

The shops are all expensive at the initial departure concourse, so we decide to see if there are other shops near our departure gate.  To get to our particular departure gate we descend to the train and get off at the 40-80 station.  It’s a short journey, and once back up on the concourse level we find a collection of more affordable shops where we buy every man and his dog a selection of sweets.

From there it’s a couple of travellators, which sounds rediculously short, but are, in reality, very, very long, to our gate and we get there ten minutes before boarding is supposed to commence.
Today we are traveling on an Airbus A350-900, a relatively new plane so you would think there couldn’t be anything wrong with it.  We had the same plane coming to Hong Kong and was, literally, plain sailing.

We find a seat in the gate lounge and wait along with everyone else.  I’m still surprised at the number of able-bodied people who take the disabled seats for the sake of being closer to the start of the line and worse was a woman who not only took up one of the seats but also another for her cabin baggage which was extensive.

Boarding starts late, and routinely for the first and business, and disabled passengers.  The rest now start to line up in the economy line.  Some people haven’t moved, perhaps they know something we don’t.

We eventually join the line and go through initial formalities while waiting.  And waiting.  As the minute’s tick by nothing is happening other than what appears to be growing consternation by the gate staff.  The tipping point for immediate concern is when the previously boarded passengers begin to come back through the boarding gate.

One of those who had been on board came our way and said there was a problem with the plane.  They were told it was due to technical difficulties the official non-scary description for your plane Is broken.  Because of consternation among the queued economy passengers, there was an official announcement that advised of the technical difficulties, and boarding would be delayed.

We all sit back down, but this time there were a number of disabled and elderly people who needed seats, and our able-bodied lady and her baggage didn’t move.  Shame on her.  We are lucky that where we were in the waiting line it was adjacent to nearby seats putting us closer to the head of the line when it reformed.

Now we were able to watch the other passengers jockeying for position to race to be first in the economy class boarding queue the second time around.  I think they realize they have the same seat if they are at the front of the line or the back.  Because we were all asked to sit down, those at the front of the queue would now find themselves at the end if they’d decided to sit and wait.

After a delay of about an hour and a half, we are finally boarding.  The worst aspect of this delay is losing our slot in the departures and I’m guessing this was going to have an effect on our actual takeoff time.  It appears to be the case.  Boarding does not take very long and shortly after the doors are closed we’re pushing back from the gate.

From there, it becomes a chess game when we get a slot.  We are in a queue of planes waiting their turn, and before the main runway planes are separated into two queues, and we are in the second.  Since we are the only one, I suspect we’re in the delayed take-off queue, and sit watching four or so other planes take off before we finally get on the runway.

All around us, planes seem to be going by and taking off while we wait, and wait, and wait…

On the plane, we discover one of the toilets is out of action so perhaps that was the technical difficulty.  It’s not full so one toilet down will have little effect. 

Leaving in the early afternoon will get us into Brisbane late at night.  It was meant to be around 11 pm, but with the delays, and possibly making up time in flight, it will now be after midnight when we arrive.  Fortunately, we have a 24-hour airport.

The flight from HongKong to Brisbane is without event.  Lunch after takeoff, then a few hours later, an hour or so before landing, we have dinner.  Both of us are not hungry.

We land after midnight, tired but glad to be home.  I guess it could have been worse.

After the anger, the serenity

I wanted to write a bit about how my day was going, and then I got angry.  It was a slow fuse because most of what I was angry about I’d been reading this morning.

And, yes, it’s about COVID 19, it’s about political leaders, those in power and those in opposition.

Listening to our opposition leader, briefly before I turned him off to watch a rerun of McHale’s Navy, it annoyed me that he had no answers to offer, only criticism.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone in the world.

Political leaders tended to blame everyone else for a pandemic that they universally were not prepared for, was totally unexpected, and looking like it’s going to be a huge disaster, not just here but everywhere.

The point is, we’ve had movies that have shown us exactly what happens, and I cannot imagine that anyone would say, well, that’s just in someone’s imagination.  Not it’s not.  Yes, it’s very, very real, and someone, no everyone, better sit up and take notice.

We live in a sophisticated world, where the bugs, viruses, sicknesses and getting smarter, and more resistant to the drugs we have.  Everyone knows it was inevitable, but who the hell is doing something about it?

The incompetence of the people who are supposedly in charge beggars belief.

Oh, God, I’m back on my soapbox.

Forgive me.

I’ll shut up about it now.

I’m trying to imagine what it’s like in the cold, because it’s the height of summer here.  IT’s not helping my imagination,  so let’s try…

It’s cold today, about 14 degrees Celsius, when it’s usually 27 degrees Celsius.  The sun is letting us down, and I suppose I should be grateful that we are not suffering from an ice age.

To be honest, I was seriously considering lighting the log fire.  Instead, we have reverse cycle air-conditioning, which is probably, in the long run, cheaper.

Have you seen how much it costs to buy wood?

But…

That could have made it difficult to write.

Not to come up with inspiration, but literally write, because my office is colder than a chiller room.  My beer in storage out here is colder than it is in the fridge.  Well, that sounded better in my head than on paper, but you get what I mean.

So, instead of writing, I sat down and binge-watched Sweet Magnolias, a light-hearted series from Netflix, and is of the same vein as Chesapeake Shores, etc, and more the sort of program I’d expect from Hallmark.

It was good.  It hooked me.

Three sets of lives intertwined in a largish town in middle America perhaps.  I heard Charleston mentioned so perhaps it was in South Carolina.

The good thing about it?  Not one mention of COVID 19.

Just good old-fashioned heartache, and trials and tribulations of trying to live your life, bumping up against the obstacles life throws up at you.

The town was called Serenity, so there’s a pun in there somewhere.

Maybe I’ll get some writing done tomorrow.

Searching for locations: Harbour Grand Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong

The Harbour Grand Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong, is a modern, but luxurious hotel, one that our travel agent found for us.

I was initially worried that it might be too far away from central Hong Kong, but a free shuttle bus that runs at convenient times took us to and from the hotel to the Star Ferry terminal.

The luxuriousness of the hotel starts the moment you walk in the front entrance with a magnificent staircase that I assumed led up to the convention center (or perhaps where weddings are catered for) and a staircase where one could make a grand entrance or exit.  Oh, and there’s a chandelier too.

We booked into a Harbourview suite, and it was not only spacious but had that air of luxury about it that made it an experience every time you walked into it.

But the view of Hong Kong Harbour, that was the ‘piece de resistance’

I spent a lot of time staring out that window, and it was more interesting than watching the television, which we didn’t do much of.   Most of the time, when we travel, TV is limited to International English speaking news channels.

This time we had several movies included with the room, but I still preferred to watch the endless water traffic on the harbor.

The lounge area had several comfortable chairs, an area for the bar fridge and tea or coffee making facilities and on the opposite side the usual table and chairs for those who came to conduct business

The bedroom was separate to the entrance and lounge.  Notable was the fact the room had two bathrooms, one in the bedroom, and one out in the lounge, perhaps for the guests who were having friends in.

We dined in one of the restaurants, Hoi Yat Heen, where we experienced Guandong cuisine.  I tried the roasted goose for the first time, and it was interesting to say the least.

There’s no doubt where we will be staying the next time we go to Hong Kong.

Searching for locations: Aratiatia Dam, Taupo, New Zealand

Aratiatia Dam water release, Taupo

The Aratiatia Dam, rapids, and hydroelectric power station are located on the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river.  It is about 16km from Taupo, and 6km from Huka falls, and there is a walking track, for the fit, of course, between the two water attractions.

This happens three or four times every day, depending on the season, and lasts about 15 minutes.  Water is released at the rate of about 80,000 liters a second, so it is quite a lot of water being sent through the rapids.

There are a number of viewing points, the most popular being from the bridge, where I took these photos, and 5 minutes down the walking track to the ridgeline where you can get an overview of the river.

This is looking towards the rapids, as the catchment leading to the rapids starts to fill

The pool is almost full and the excess is starting its journey towards the rapids

Now full, the rapids are at capacity as up to 80,000 liters a second are heading down a 28-meter drop heading towards the hydroelectric power station.

And once full at the bottom, there is a jet boat ride available for a closer view of the water, and a few thrills to go with it.

Searching for locations: Toronto, Canada

Usually, the transfer from the airport to the hotel is one of those serene moments after a long, or short, plane trip.

Usually.

Our first from Vancouver airport to the hotel was in something akin to a party bus, a stretch limousine that was very uncomfortable after 24 hours cooped up in an economy seat.  Surely they had a large enough SUV.

Apparently not.

This time around we got what the driver said was a town car, and our looks of amazement that it could take the three of us and 4 large suitcases and 3 cabin bags, was met with a shrug and a statement that the limo company had got rid of their larger cars a year ago.

This driver was determined.  He fitted the cases in, and we crammed in the back, all squishy.

But that was the best part of the journey.

We had the original kamikaze.  It was 140km or nothing, and being tossed about in the back of the car was just what we needed.

Score: 1 out of 10.

The driver just stopped long enough to toss the bags on the sidewalk and drive off, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Of course, the hotel didn’t have a 24-hour concierge and I guess it was part of a learning curve for staying in downmarket hotels.

So, we’re staying in a Doubletree by Hilton, a downmarket hotel chain that we have stayed in before, in Melbourne, Australia.  That was a pleasant and surprisingly good experience, leading to giving the chain another go in Toronto, Canada.

Its a case of chalk and cheese.  Maybe it’s the late hour, maybe it’s my expectations, but the experience was flat, and for a chain that Hilton has put its name to, maybe it’s time they started policing the hotel’s standards.

Not that the over the counter experience was bad, I just didn’t feel like I was welcome in the usual Hilton manner.

It’s a long time since I was a Diamond HHonors guest, and I was not expecting a lot, but being a member, at whatever level you are on, should count for something.

Today, it didn’t.

But it didn’t end there…

The room on first viewing was a disappointment, but on reflection, I think my expectations were geared to what we have had in Australia where real estate is less expensive and therefore the rooms are larger.

This also means most rooms have double queen or double king beds, not twin double beds.  I have not slept in a double bed for about 40 years, anywhere.

Of course, I should have read the fine print.

My bad.

So…

I go down to the front desk and ask if there are larger rooms.  Of course, there are, if you want twin double beds, or a king bed and a fold away bed, which we do not.

I understand their dilemma, the rooms are just too small to fit larger beds.

Lesson learned for the next time if there is a next time.

On the upside…

Breakfast is included, and it’s really good, and the service is above expectations.

Searching for locations: Central Park, New York

It’s a place to go and spot the movie starts, or perhaps their dogs.

It’s a place to go for long walks on idyllic spring or autumn days

It’s a place to go to look at a zoo, though I didn’t realize there was one until I made a wrong turn.

It’s a place to go for a horse and carriage ride, although it does not last that long

It’s a place to go to look at statues, fountains, architecture, and in winter, an ice skating rink

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more there that I don’t know about.

I have to say I’ve only visited in winter, and the first time there was snow, the second, none.

Both times it was cold, but this didn’t seem to deter people.

But…

We escaped, before the real cold set in, and made it back to the hotel.  We’re going to return because there’s more to see.

Like statues,

Sir Walter Scott, of Ivanhoe fame, a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian

Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist,  He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement

Christopher Columbus, hang on, how did he get in this collection?

Fitz-Greene Halleck was an American poet notable for his satires and sometimes called “the American Byron”

And someone who’s not dead, and not likely to freeze in the cold air, a drummer, who was doing his best to entertain the few people who stopped to list.

And he wasn’t all that bad, either.

Searching for locations: Oreti Village – No two sunrises are the same (2)

Oreti village

Pukawa Bay

North Island, New Zeland

On the southern tip of Lake Taupo

Three days after we arrive.  Cold.  Red Sky.

A warning that the weather is going to change.  Will it be rain or snow?

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It is as cold and peaceful as the first, but the sun is not yet shining.  All we have is this ethereal pinkish tinge to the sky

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Before the first clouds appear.  The surface of the lake is like a mirror, reflecting the sky, and clouds.

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How soon will it be before the boats begin to appear?

Another photograph from the inspirational pile…

It was a relic from the past, put back together by a dedicated group of volunteers who had not wanted the last vestiges of the past to disappear.

Train enthusiasts, the called themselves.

They’d put together a steam locomotive, five carriages, a restaurant car, and the conductor’s car. The original train might have been twice to three times as long, but these days, the tourist market rarely filled the train.

I was one of a group who made it their mission to visit and rate every vintage train, not only in this country, but all over the world. It was a sad state of affairs when I first began, with locomotives and carriages dropping out of the system due to lack of funds, but more disheartening, the lack of government assistance in keeping it’s heritage alive.

It seemed money was short, and there were better things to spend it on, like two brand new 737-800 jets just to ferry the prime minister and government officials around. Just think of what that quarter of a billion dollars could have bought in heritage.

But it is what it is.

What I had before me was one of the most recent restorations to check out, and on first glance, it was remarkable just how lifelike and true to age it was.

Of course, I was of an age that could remember the old railway carriages, what were called red rattlers because of the ill fitting windows that went up and down, allow fresh air, or in days gone by, smoke from the locomotive hauling the train. I had not travelled during the last glorious years of steam, but the carriages had lived on briefly before the advent of the sterile aluminum tin cans with uncomfortably hard seats.

These carriages were built for comfort, and my first experience had been a five hour trip from Melbourne to Wangaratta, in Victoria, on my way to Mt Buffalo Chalet, a guesthouse owned by the Railways.

That too had been a remarkable old chalet style guest house with a room and all the dining included. I always left after the week having put on weight. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, every day, and high tea on Sunday.

But this carriage, the polished wood that had shellac rather than varnish, highlighting the timber’s grain, the leather seats with generous padding, the curved ceilings with hanging lights, windows the could be opened and closed, allowing fresh air to circulate.

There was also a carriage with the passageway, and five or six separate compartments, each sitting six passengers. I remembered these well, having quite often ridden in one to work for some years when the country trains still ran.

It was always remarkable how a sight or a scent could trigger such memories.

For this carriage on this train, it used to ply the Gympie to Brooloo branch line from about 1915 onwards.

That was the history. It only went as far as Amamoor these days, it was still long enough to capture the sensation of riding the rails back in what is always referred to as the good old days, even if they were not.

Now for the ride….

© Charles Heath 2021

Searchings for locations: Oreti Village – no two sunrises are the same (1)

Oreti village, Pukawa Bay, North Island, New Zealand

On the southern tip of Lake Taupo

Our first morning there, a Saturday.  Winter.  Cold.  And a beautiful sunrise.

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This was taken from the balcony, overlooking the lake.

The sun is just creeping up over the horizon

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It gradually gets lighter, and then the sun breaks free of the low cloud

It lights up the balcony

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And the trees just beyond, a cascade of colorful ferns.

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It looks like its going to be a fine day, our first for this trip, and we will be heading to the mountains to see snow, for the first time for two of our granddaughters.