Yes, it’s dark and late at night on this side of the world, and I’m guessing where you are, it’s probably winter, the sun’s disappeared, the day is freezing cold, and you’ve having a hard time keeping warm.
Here, in the so-called land down under, which surprisingly a lot of people from the other side of the world do not know about, it is wet, and cool where it should be sunny and hot as well as humid.
Now, hang on, that can’t be true others don’t know about us, because we all know the world is round and there has to be something or somewhere opposite. I know that north we have China, and Europe, and further away, the United States.
Been to China, and Europe and the United States, so I know you’re all there, somewhere.
And, as you can see, the rain and the cold has amped up the boredom factor and pushing me to do anything other than writing. I have three jobs I’m supposed to be doing,
Editing Walthenson PI, a Private Detective novel
Writing two episodes of a serial story about surveillance going wrong, and
Finishing off the travelogue about our China trip
None of them is appealing to me at the moment.
Instead, I find myself looking at what is showing on Winter TV in the US, one of which is Snowpiercer, and is suitably cold. It’s also complicated, and sometimes a little hard to follow which means it takes two viewings to understand what’s going on.
Then there’s several of my favourites, FBI, The Rookie, a new show called The Equalizer, a new version of an old TV show I used to watch many years ago. Another was Bridgerton, which was odd but interesting since we like those Jane Austen like programs. Now there’s Miss Scarlett and the Duke, set in Victorian England.
There was Resident Alien, but it took a turn for the worse in the second episode, and I could take it or leave it, and The Blacklist, where Liz and Red are butting heads more than is necessary, and it’s time to get back to catching bad guys. If not, it might also drop off my viewing list.
A relatively unassuming lane leads to what could be described as a grand hotel, called Waitomo Caves Hotel.
The original hotel was built in 1908, and it was later extended in 1928. Part of it is ‘Victorian’, based on an eastern Europe mountain chalet, and part of it is ‘Art Deco’, the concrete wing, and a feature, if it could be called that, is none of the four corners are the same.
Views from the balcony show part of the surrounding gardens
and the town of Waitomo in the distance.
In gloomy weather, it does look rather spooky, and I suspect there may be a ghost or two lurking somewhere in the buildings.
All in all, this is just the place I was looking for to write into a story. A perfect blend of fact and fiction could make this into something else, or just plain hiding in plain sight.
If you are not skiing, not hiking, not horseriding, and have come for the fishing, this is the place to be.
There is something about a summer resort town in the middle of winter.
Or maybe it’s like this all the time. After all, I have been here in Spring and Autumn and it was just as deserted on the main street.
And not just deserted it is almost like a ghost town, and I suspect the few people that are here are the few hapless tourists wandering about wondering where everyone else is.
It’s about 2 pm and we are heading for the local Coffee club for lunch and coffee. It might be past lunch but I don’t think that’s the reason why there are so few customers
There is just no one here.
Perhaps it’s probably a different story on weekends when the city people come down for the snow and are passing through.
But, essentially, Taupo is a holiday town, and if you take a closer look, all you will see is cafe’s, dining establishments and motels. A quick tour of the shopping center shows more shops are closed or vacant than there are open.
It’s not surprising that a lot of businesses cannot survive, because to stay in business, you need a steady stream of customers all year round, not just in Summer.
Unlike their winter counterparts, the ski resorts who seem to have a different working model, take as much as you can while you can, they only have to operate a few months of the year, use non-permanent seasonal workers, and can adjust if there’s no snow.
An indication of just how much custom there is in Taupo in winter is trying to organize horse riding. Admittedly it is rather cold for both humans and horses, but not every day is a loss. We sought out the local Taupo horse riding establishment and found it closed for Winter. Understandable perhaps, but the more telling point was the fact it had a big sign up “Business for Sale”
I don’t fish, and aside from water sports, a summery thing to do, there is precious little to do there in winter, which could have it’s benefits.
Hang on, if I really want to disappear and can’t be bothered doing anything else except a walk to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee to be away from all the distractions long enough to finish a book, this is the place to go.
It’s just a pity with the COVID restrictions, we can’t go anywhere, even New Zealand.
I guess I’ll have to find something closer to home.
Ah, the memories of a long bygone past, you know, those days when we were allowed to leave the country, those days where nearly every other country in the world was safe, not a haven for an invisible virus that can kill as easily as a thug shooting you with a gun.
The end result is the same. You die, or end up far worse after than you did before.
And the likelihood of travelling any time soon is as distant as Venus.
So, it’s back to reminiscing this from several years ago…
I just spent 26 and a half hours in planes and in airport terminals getting home, and lost two days in the process. The 15th of January just didn’t exist for us.
This is what happens when you fly from Vancouver in Canada to Brisbane Australia, via Shanghai. The thing is, everywhere way, way overseas is a two-stop run. We have to break our journey somewhere, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and for the sake of managing delays at the originating end, we usually end up with a mid airports stay of five to ten hours.
It all means that when you finally arrive in Australia, you are tired, and look it. I feel sorry for the Immigration officials who must rarely see people looking good on their arrival.
This time we were fortunate to get back in the morning. To save being picked up by relatives we arranged for a limousine service, and it worked out well.
I couldn’t say the same for some of the pickup services overseas, but that was more the fault of the travel agent here than anything else.
It only reinforced my thoughts on travel agents, some are excellent, and some are complacent, relying too much on travel wholesalers whose knowledge of the products they sell is appalling.
The original bookings were fine, the agent we used knew her stuff. But she left and someone else took over, and not so good I’m afraid.
On the whole, it was an incredible expedition, from temperatures of 30 plus celsius to temperatures of -21 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely above 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
The highlight: Lake Louise in Canada. Everyone should see this place in Winter at least once in their lifetime. Certainly, my wife’s 65th birthday, spent there, was something she will never forget.
And the sleigh ride, in -14 or -15 degrees, well, we might be eligible to be declared stark staring mad, but seeing the frozen waterfall was just another of those magical moments that reinforces why we should be preserving the planet, not trying to destroy it.
This morning started with a visit to the car rental place in Vancouver. It reinforced the notion that you can be given the address and still not find the place. It happened in Washington where it was hiding in the back of the main railway station, and it happened again in Vancouver when it was hidden inside a hotel.
We simply walked straight past it. Pity there wasn’t a sign to let people know.
We went in expecting a Grand Jeep Cherokee and walked out with a Ford Flex, suitable for three people and four large suitcases. It actually seats 7, but forget the baggage, you’d be lucky to get two large suitcases in that configuration.
It is more than adequate for our requirements.
Things to note, it was delivered with just over a quarter of a tank of gas, and it had only done about 11,000 km, so it’s relatively new. It’s reasonably spacious, and when the extra seats are folded down, there is plenty of baggage space.
So far, so good.
We finally leave the hotel about half-past ten, and it is raining. It is a simple task to get on Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, initially, and then onto Highway 5, the Coquihalla highway for the trip to Kamloops.
It rains all the way to the top of the mountain, progress hampered from time to time by water sprays from both vehicles and trucks. The rain is relentless. At the top of the mountain, the rain turns into snow and the road surface to slush. It’s 0 degrees, but being the afternoon, I was not expecting it to turn to ice very quickly.
On the other side of the mountain, closer to Kamloops, there was sleet, then rain, then nothing, the last 100kms or so, in reasonably dry conditions.
Outside Kamloops, and in the town itself, there was evidence of snow recently cleared, and slushy roads. Cars in various places were covered in snow, indicating the most recent falls had been the night before.
We’re staying at the Park Hotel, a heritage building, apparently built in the later 1920s. In the style of the time, it is a little like a rabbit warren with passages turning off in a number of directions, and showing it is spread across a number of different buildings.
It has the original Otis elevator that can take a maximum of four passengers, and a sign on the wall that says “no horseplay inside the elevator” which is a rather interesting expression that only someone of my vintage would understand. And, for those without a sense of humor, you definitely couldn’t fit a horse in it to play with.
The thing is, how do you find a balance between keeping the old world charm with modern day expectations. You can’t. Some hotels try valiantly to get that balance. Here, it is simply old world charm, which I guess we should be grateful for because sooner rather than later it’s going to disappear forever.
In my writer’s mind, given the importance of the railways, this was probably a thriving place for travelers and once upon a time, there were a lot more hotels like this one.
That meant we had to make the journey from New York to New Jersey, by train. It involved the underground, or as New Yorkers call it, the subway, from Columbus Circle which by any other name was really, 80th street, to 34th street which apparently was the New Jersey jump-off point for us to get overground, well a lot of it was overground. So, were we going uptown or downtown?
Apparently, it was downtown, and to 34th Street on the A train.
You would not think this to be a difficult task, but for people not used to the subway, and where they were going other than some internet derived instructions, but without the help of a man at the station, just getting tickets may have stopped us dead in our tracks. With his help, we determined the return fare for three of us and then get through the turnstile onto the platform.
We get on the A train, but soon discover it was not stopping at all stations. There was for a few minutes, a little apprehension we might just simply bypass our station. Luckily we did not.
Now, finding your way to the New Jersey transit part of Penn station might appear to be easy, on paper, but once there, on the ground, and mingling with the other passengers which all seemed to be purpose going somewhere, it took a few moments to realize we had to follow the New Jersey transit signs.
This led to a booking hall where luckily we realized we needed to buy more tickets, then find the appropriate platform, and then get on the right train, all of which, in the end, was not difficult at all.
Maybe on the return trip, it might be.
At Newark Penn station it was momentarily confusing because the exit was not readily in sight, so it was a case of following the majority of other passengers who’d got off the train.
This led us to exit onto the street under the train tracks. Luckily, having been before to Prudential Stadium to buy the tickets, we knew what the stadium looked like and roughly where it was, so it was a simple task to walk towards it.
We were early, so it was a case of finding a restaurant to get dinner before the game. So was a great many others, and we passed about 6 different restaurants that looked full to overflowing before we stopped at one called Novelty Burger and Bar.
It looked inviting, and it was not crowded.
It was yet another excuse to have a hamburger and beer, both of which seemed to be a specialty in American. I could not fault either.
And soon after we arrived, this restaurant too was full to overflowing. Thankfully there were other Maple Leaf fans there because being in a room full of opposition teams supports can be quite harrowing.
That was yet to come when we finally got to the stadium. I was not expecting a lot of Maple Leaf fans.
We went to this game with high hopes. New Jersey Devils were not exactly at the top of the leader board, and coming off the loss in Toronto, this was make or break for whether we would ever go to another game.
It’s remarkable in that all the Ice Hockey stadiums are the same. Everyone has an excellent view of the game, the sound systems are loud, and the fans passionate. Here it seems to be a thing to ride on the Zambonis.
At the front door they were handing out figurines of a Devil’s past player, and it seems a thing that you get a handout of some sort at each game. At Toronto we got towels. And, finally, we were in luck
The Maple Leafs won.
And it was an odd feeling to know that even though their team lost, there did not seem to be any rancor amount the fans and that any expectation of being assaulted by losing fans was totally unfounded, unlike some sporting events I’ve been to.
Perhaps soccer should take a leaf out of the ice hockey playbook.
That also went for taking public transport late at night. I did not have any fears about doing so, which is more than I can say about traveling at night on our own transport system back home.
Oh, and by the way, there are train conductors who still come to every passenger to collect or stamp their tickets. No trusting the passenger has paid for his trip here. And, if you don’t have a ticket, I have it on good authority they throw you off the train and into the swamp. Good thing then, we had tickets.
To start with, we first joined this tour at stop number 6.
We had to find it first and that meant some pedestrian navigation, which took us first to the City Hall, a rather imposing structure, which we found later had a profound effect on Philadelphia sports teams.
According to the map, stop number 6 is Reading Terminal Market, Convention Centre, on 12th street on Filbert. This was where we bought the tickets and boarded the bus that had a rather interesting guide aboard.
His favorite says was “And we’re good to go.”
Soon we would discover that his commentary was more orientated towards a younger audience, not that it bothered us.
Given the time restraints, we had, this was always going to be about looking and learning.
Stop number 7
City hall, Love Park.
This we had seen on our walk from where we left the car at the Free Library, near the Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Park, the landmark that Rebecca had remembered from her last visit to Philadelphia. Of course, then, it was not quite so frozen.
Love park, of course, was only notable to us in that it had a sculpture in place with the word Love rather stylized. Apart from that, you’d hardly know it as a park
The city hall, well, that was something else, and when we looked at it, before going on the tour, it was a rather magnificent stone edifice.
After, well the guide filled us in, tallest building, highest and largest monument on William Penn, you get the gist. 37 feet tall, when eclipsed, the Philly sports teams all suffered slumps of one kind or another, until the problem was rectified. Interesting story.
Stop number 8
18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, or Logan Circle
This is the location of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. A place where the Pope decided to give an audience and sent the city into a spin.
The same church has very high windows for the reason in the early days there was a problem with people wanting to throw Molotov cocktails through the windows. A bit hard when they’re so high up.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, of course, is interesting in itself as an avenue, not only for all of the flags of many nations of those who chose to live in Philadelphia. We found ours, the one for Australia
This was also the stop where we needed to get off once the tour was finished, and time to head to the car, and go home, but that’s another story.
Stop number 10
Is that the stature of the Thinker, made famous, at least for me, from the old Dobie Gillis episodes, of God knows how many years ago?
Or, maybe it’s just the Rodin Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
There’s a whole story to go with that Statue and the fact it is one of many all over the world.
This one was made in France, cast in 1919 in Bronze, and is approximately 200cm x 130 cm by 140cm.
Stop number 11
Eastern State Penitentiary. NW corner of 22nd Street and Fairmont Avenue.
This had a rather interesting story attached to it and had something to do with ghosts, but I wasn’t listening properly to the guide’s monologue.
But, later research shows, the fact it was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Many also think it is haunted and is a favorite for visiting paranormal visitors.
Built around 1829, it was the first prison to have separate cells for prisoners. It held, at various times, the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutt
Stop number 18
The Philadelphia Museum of art, where we stop for a few minutes and look at the steps which were immortalized in the movie Rocky, yes he ran god knows how far to end up on the top of these steps.
Sorry, but I’m not that fit that I would attempt walking up them. The view is just fine from inside the bus. Of course, they might consider cleaning the windows a little so the view was clearer, but because it’s basically Perspex and scratched so that might not be possible.
Stop number 17
Back at Logan Circle, or Square if you prefer, but on the other side, closer to the Franklin Institute. Benjamin Franklin’s name is used a lot in this city.
After that, it’s a blur, the Academy of Music, the University of the Arts, Pennsylvania Hospital, South Street, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the USS Olympia, Penn’s Landing, and past the National Liberty Museum. I’m sure somewhere in that blur was the intention of seeing the Liberty Bell, but I think I heard that it was not on show, and only a replica could be seen.
So much for the getting as an opportunity to see the real liberty bell, crack and all..
We get off and stop number 27, or Number 1, I was not quite sure.
What were we after? The definitive Philly Cheese Steak.
Located at the bottom of Lake Taupo, in New Zealand, staying here would make more sense if you were here for the fishing, and, well, the skiing or the hiking, or just a relaxing half hour in the thermal pools.
I saw a sign somewhere that said that Taurangi was New Zealand’s premier fishing spot. I might have got the wrong, but it seems to me they’re right. On the other side of town, heading towards Taupo, there’s a lodge that puts up fly fishermen, and where you can see a number of them in an adjacent river trying their luck.
It’s what I would be doing if I had the patience.
But Taurangi is a rather central place to stay, located at the southernmost point of the lake. From there it is not far from the snowfields of Whakapapa and Turoa. Equally, at different times of the year, those ski fields become walking or hiking tracks, and the opportunity to look into a dormant volcano, Ruapehu.
It is basically surrounded by hills and mountains on three sides and a lake on the other. Most mornings, and certainly everyone is different, there is a remarkable sunrise, particularly from where we were staying on the lake, where it could be cloudy, clear, or just cold and refreshing, with a kaleidoscope of colors from the rising sun.
I don’t think I’ve been there to see two days the same.
However, Taurangi, on most days we’ve visited, is even more desolate than Taupo, both on the main street and the central mall. The same couldn’t be said for the precinct where New World, the local supermarket, a Z petrol station can be found. There it is somewhat more lively. The fact there’s a few more shops and a restaurant might help traffic flow.
There is also a mini golf course, and in the middle of winter, it is a bleak place to be, especially in the threatening rain, and the wind. It had also seen better days and in parts, in need of a spruce up, but it’s winter, and there are no crowds, so I guess it will wait till the Spring.
In the mall, there’s the expected bank, newsagent, gift shop and post office combined, and a number of other gift shops/galleries. But the best place is the café which I’ve never seen empty and has an extended range of pies pastries and cakes, along with the fast food staples of chips and chicken. Oh, and you can also get a decent cup of coffee there.
There are two other coffee shops but we found this one the first time we came, we were given a warm welcome and assistance, and have never thought to go anywhere else, despite two known change of owners.
But despite all these reasons why someone might want to stay there, we don’t.
We have a timeshare, and there’s a timeshare in Pukaki called Oreti Village. That’s where we stay.
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.