Thursday, June 29, 2017

USA 2017 / South Dakota Part 2

The family gathered for lunch on the Sunday at Lake Hendricks.
As requested deep fried turkey was on the menu.
This is something we never see in Australia. The cooking process seems to be a little dangerous for the uninitiated but not in the capable hands of the bro.


It and the other dishes and sides tasted great.
It was a fun day.
After the stress of the day, our hostess, Lisa, needed a little relaxation. What better than the local casino for a few hours. Our impromptu date evening sprang into action.
Who won? Who lost? That is for only we two to know.
Next day was warm, sunny and windless.
Time to fish!
Armed with my $43 Minnesota fishing license, we launched the pontoon boat and set off trawling around the lake, at first with lures and then with live bait (leeches and worms).
It was a beautiful, peaceful cruise with some stunning scenery.
But after 4 fish, not even a bite.

Then, as a huge storm began to brew on the horizon, we headed for 'port'.
Within thirty minutes the rain pelted down and the wind blew once more and the temperature plummeted.
Nothing to do but retire to the local golf club bar and sink a few beers and eat a burger for supper.
Back home a little later, weather conditions had improved but it had become really cold. Despite this we sat on the dock until late evening (it doesn't get dark until nearly 10pm) and fished some more. The bro caught three nice walleye and I lost a huge what was thought to be a northern pike. They do put up a great fight especially on light gear and line.
Northern Pike

Next morning it was back to Elkton

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

USA 2017 / South Dakota Part 1

The word was that check in and security at Newark airport could take up to 2 hours and traffic, even early in the morning, could be bad so we placed a 5am wake up call and ordered a 6am pick up .
The drive to the airport took 20 minutes along a basically deserted highway and security was so quick we were air side by before 7am.....our flight was at 10am!
Were we just lucky or was UA airline forum just plain wrong?
Time then for a very expensive airport breakfast.
We arrived early in Chicago and transferred to our flight to Sioux Falls in plenty of time.
The UA flight attendant on this leg was, surprisingly, an Australian. For once I had no language problems ordering a coke and ice.
We picked up our rental and headed into town for the first of many Caribou coffees.
I had ordered a small Nissan Versa but somehow we ended up with a huge (for us) six seater Chevrolet Traverse. In the end we both fell in love with this car. It was a bit hard to park initially and a little thirsty but with the cost of petrol the equivalent of only $A0.75L, who cared!

Then it was off the Elkton to stay for a few days with sister Kelly.
We spent the next few days catching up with family, a financial planning meeting, eating (Mexican and Culvers struck off the list), clothes shopping (Kohls), coffee drinking and relaxing.
The weather was a little miserable ie. cold, wet and windy. One afternoon in Sioux Falls we took refuge in the Minnehaha County Administration Building due to a severe weather and tornado alert.
After breakfast at Perkins (love those pancakes!) a few days later, our destination was Hendricks MN and the bro's lake side home on the SD side.
It was mayfly hatching season and they were swarming. The birds were there too, feasting. It was like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. The birds' tummies were so full they couldn't fly let alone get off the road and out of the way of cars.
The mayfly swarms can be so thick they show up on weather radar.

The Saturday dawned cold, windy, wet and miserable.
The day brightened a little when the co driver brought home a dozen yummy donuts from the local bakery for breakfast. Not that I ate all of them of course.

Our plans for fishing in tatters, the bro and I headed into Brookings for an Armed Forces Day display at the Armory. This was very interesting and we had the chance to 'ride' a Humvee desert warfare simulator. The bro was the gunner and I was the driver. The fact I was driving continuously on the wrong side of the road (as pointed out by the instructor "He must be from England") apparently was blamed for us 'taking out' a high number of friendlies.

That evening after a stop at the local Bank micro brewery in Hendricks for some really nice beer, we were a little further north in Gary, SD for dinner at the Rock Room Bar and Grill in the Buffalo Ridge Resort.
This was once the first South Dakota School for the Blind which was a collection of nine buildings on 37 acres. For more than 60 years it served as the state’s educational facility for blind children.  

Average enrollment at the school was 55 to 60 students per year.
From the beginning, the course of instruction offered at the school followed closely what was taught in the common schools of the state. In addition to the regular curriculum, braille was taught, as was gymnasium, industrial work, piano tuning, broom making, chair caning and upholstery, as well as domestic science.

The school was self-supporting with its own dairy, pigs, beef, chickens and gardens.
The garden produce was stored in the root cellar, which is now the wine cellar for the Rock Room Bar and Grill.

In 1961, the school was moved to Aberdeen SD and in the early 1980s the buildings became vacant. Although vandals, weather, and vermin took their toll on the structures, none of the buildings had been altered and most were considered structurally sound and in good condition. The beautiful neoclassical- and classical-revival designed complex includes classrooms, administration offices, dormitories, barns, boiler building, playground, unique water fountain in an old flower garden, and a gym/auditorium with a stage.

In December of 2008, a local entrepreneur purchased the campus from an estate and the restoration of the complex began.
After dinner, we were able to explore all the underground tunnels (just wide enough for the blind students to feel their way) that connected the buildings to protect them from the severe winter weather.
Then it was back to prepare for a family reunion lunch next day with, at the co driver's request, a deep fried turkey.

Monday, June 26, 2017

USA 2017 / New York City Day 4

Day 4 saw us on the subway and heading for the Guggenheim Museum.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright the building is cylindrical, wider at the top than the bottom.

Its unique ramp gallery extends up from ground level in a long, continuous spiral along the outer edges of the building to end just under the ceiling skylight.

It is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art.
Important works include those by Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh and 32 works by Pablo Picasso.
The co driver was particularly interested in the Kandinsky collection.
I think I liked the building more than the art.
There was a T-shirt in the gift shop which said “Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn't.” which was a message I took on board
For lunch we headed back to midtown to the 2nd Ave Deli which is now on 33rd St.
Most tourists head for Katz's Deli (think the "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally) for their Jewish deli experience so I was looking for something a little quieter.
This alternative was a perfect choice filled with business people and family groups. The food was excellent and the service friendly and devoid of any 'tude prevalent in the other place.

I had Matzoh Ball Soup with Carrots and Noodles and half a hot pastrami sandwich with cole slaw, pickle and Russian dressing and a HUGE serving of fries on the side. The co driver had a traditional hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard and shared my fries.
It don't get much better than that!
Walking back to the station was the only glimpse we had of the Empire State building.
And this time around we managed totally to avoid Times Square.

Next stop was the Strand Book Store with its huge collection of new and used books.
As of July 2016, the store claims to have 2.5 million volumes.
The New York Times called The Strand "the undisputed king of the city’s independent bookstores."
The co driver was after some out of print quilting books and found one of the two.
The day had really heated up and we were quickly running out of steam so we abandoned our program eg. revisit the High Line, and headed back to the hotel in preparation for our farewell dinner with 'the kids'.
The selected venue was the Highlands Restaurant in Greenwich Village mainly because they serve haggis.
Nick and the daughter shared Scotch eggs as starters and the co driver and I shared smoked haddock and blue crab cakes with market greens, blood orange and citrus-chilli aioli.

The haggis, neeps and tatties were terrific and I couldn't resist the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
This was all washed down with a good bottle of Sancerre, Domaine Martin, Chavignol, France, 2016.
Roll us all outta there! 
So our time in the city that never sleeps was up.
It was good to see where Nick and the daughter were living and to know they were happy in their jobs and new environment. 
I don't think they will be heading home any time soon.
And they really went out of their way to show us around with plenty of places off the usual tourist route.
Next stop for us.....South Dakota.

Friday, June 23, 2017

USA 2017 / New York City Day 3

Day 3 saw a complete change in the weather with it being much warmer and sunny.
We started with breakfast just down the road at one of our hotel's recommendations, the 12 Chairs Cafe. 
Excellent food and coffee!
Then the daughter met us for a day exploring 'their' part of New York ie. Brooklyn.
We started at DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) with its great views across the East River towards Manhattan.

The walk along the river is lovely. Lots of people and families were out enjoying the Sunday sunshine
The daughter and the co driver rode a great old fashion merry go round (Jane's Carousel) virtually under the Brooklyn Bridge. It can be fully enclosed for winter.

Then we explored Brooklyn Heights with all its lovely homes followed by a nice light lunch at a French Patisserie.

Next on our list was the Brooklyn Transit Museum.
What a find!
It displays historical artifacts of the New York City subway, bus, commuter rail and bridge and tunnel systems under the administration of the MTA and is located in the decommissioned Court Street subway station in downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights

On the platform level, two fully powered and operational subway tracks contain many historic examples of New York City subway and elevated railway equipment on permanent display. Preserved rail cars date as far back as the predecessor companies that came before the New York City Transit Authority.
Most of the subway cars in the fleet are operable and they are frequently used for subway excursions run by the Museum and New York City Transit on various parts of the system. The subway cars are fully furnished with vintage advertising placards and route maps, completing the period atmosphere inside the vehicles.
It was easy to spend a couple of hours here.

Then we headed for the daughter's and Nicko's apartment in Fort Greene.
She and I explored the area for a while until we got caught in a huge downpour. Luckily there was a awning nearby which we shared cheek by jowl with 10 others for about 15 minutes. Those sheltering under trees in Fort Greene Park  opposite were not so dry.
It's a nice leafy neighbourhood (in summer anyway) with some lovely old houses and brownstones and has a good 'feel' about it.

That evening it was BBQ at the Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
What an amazing place.
Situated in a very industrial area, the restaurant specializes in authentic, pit-smoked meats prepared in the classic Southern technique of smoking on oak wood. 
It also serves up a wide selection of traditional sides and dessert. Two bars feature craft beers, a wide range of American whiskeys, seasonal cocktails and reasonable wine.

In classic barbecue style, it's walk-up service to the counter on a first-come, first-served basis until that day’s specially cooked offerings are sold out. Nicko and the daughter 'did' the line while the co-driver and I manned the table. It took nearly an hour to get our meal but it was more than worth it.
To make the wait more enjoyable we all ordered drinks from the bar and people watched as couples and large families with kids of all ages dug into the wonderful food.
We ate pulled pork, beef ribs, mac and cheese, mashed potato and corn bread.
The meat falls apart on eating and is both intensely peppery and slightly sweet. It's served on butcher paper-lined metal tray with the sides in paper cups. Nothing fancy here except the food.
For us, a 'must do' in NYC!
Filled well above the plimsoll line, we ubered it 'home'.
Another great day.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

USA 2017 / New York City Day 2

Day 2 dawned cold, very wet and windy.
The four Aussies were not thwarted however.
Armed with umbies and dogged determination, we set off via the subway to Museum of the City of New York.
Here the exhibitions included:
New York at Its Core which follows the 400 year story of the city’s rise from a striving Dutch village to today’s “Capital of the World.”

Posters and Patriotism covers the time when the United States entered World War I in April 1917, and New York City's artists and illustrators were enlisted in the war effort.  Many of them worked for the federal government’s new Division of Pictorial Publicity. This exhibition examines the outpouring of posters, flyers, magazine art, sheet music covers, and other mass-produced images created by these New Yorkers to stir the American public to wartime loyalty, duty, and sacrifice.

 A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960 examines New York through the lens of photographer Todd Webb.
Featuring more than 100 images, accompanied by entries from Webb’s own journal, the exhibition highlights Todd Webb’s personal exploration of the city that enthralled him while providing an expansive document of New York in the years following World War II.

Webb’s images captured the city’s contrasts—from Midtown’s skyscrapers to the Lower East Side’s tenements, from high-powered businessmen in the Financial District to the remnants of old ethnic enclaves in Lower Manhattan.
This is a marvellous museum. It needs many hours to absorb the content here. Unfortunately information over load tends to creep in after a while. It's a place earmarked for a return visit.
After a brief walk from the museum in pouring rain through the top end of Central Park to a nearby station, it was back on the subway to the World Trade Centre.
Here we stopped for lunch at Eataly.
Spread over 3700m2 (40,000 sq ft), this marketplace features thousands of imported Italian products and local seasonal specialties, including everything from the simplest sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and dried pasta to the fresh truffles and aged Modena balsamic vinegar.
At open-kitchen stations experts make house made products right before your eyes, from fresh pasta shapes to irresistible pastries.
I have never seen so much fresh food in one place.
In addition, there are five restaurants, nine take-away counters, two cafes and a wine bar.
Our meals there were first class.
Then we explored the WTC transportation hub, the Oculus.
This is an amazing structure both from inside and out.

We made our way outside in now what were really atrocious weather conditions to visit the WTC twin memorial pools.
A very sombre place with the new building, this day, disappearing high into the clouds.
But finally the weather had won, so we ubered to the Marlton Hotel for drinks and a warm up and dry off.
Then off, a few doors down, to the burger joint for one of the best burgers and fries ever.
And the co driver is still raving about the root beer float.

Another busy day well planned by our now 'local' guides.

Monday, June 19, 2017

USA 2017 / Sydney to New York City

Our flights across the Pacific and the continental USA were uneventful. Spare seats beside us for the long haul but 100% full plane for the last leg which did not encourage any sleep when we really needed it.
The immigration formalities using the APC at SFO went without a hitch and it was nice to be finally admitted to the USA after all these years as a couple.
Our driver picked us up at Newark Airport baggage claim and whisked us off to the Marriott Courtyard in SoHo, New York City. This hotel turned out to be exactly what we were looking for ie. not too expensive (by NYC standards), handy to transport and restaurants and quiet.
From check in at Sydney to our room in downtown Manhattan took 27 hours.

After a shower and a freshen up, tiredness seemed to miraculously vanish.
Drinks anyone? Sure!
I had read about The City Winery just down the road. It is a music venue, tasting room and restaurant.
The music venue was at full throttle and unbelievably loud so we opted for the much quieter restaurant where we had a small meal and tasted some of their barrel wines by the glass. The low sulphur Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc were excellent.
Then it was lights out! In more ways than one.
Next morning we were up and about early.
Breakfast was in Greenwich Village at Pasticceria Rocco which was yummy.
The daughter had included our weekly subway tickets in a care package she had kindly organized and had sent to our hotel so we headed to the Staten Island ferry wharf without delay for a (free) return trip across the Hudson River, before the tourist hoards arrived, to blow out the cobwebs.
This must be one of the great free tourist attractions in the world.

The view of the NYC and Jersey City skylines plus a close up view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are unbeatable.

Back in lower Manhattan, we walked a short way to the National Museum of the American Indian which was in a beautiful building, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, and is a part of the Smithsonian Museum.
Here they had wonderful exhibits dedicated to the native American tribes from all over north America as well as those from the indigenous people of south and central America.
There was also a Native Fashion Now exhibition which featured contemporary garments, accessories, and footwear spanning a variety of genres and materials by designers who have crossed cultural boundaries by utilizing creative expression and cultural borrowing.

Then another short walk to see the Charging Bull and the recently installed Fearless Girl which are a feature of the Financial District with the latter creating some controversy.

Another short walk to Stone Street which is one of the oldest streets in the city. This cobblestone thoroughfare is now dominated by restaurants. We were a bit early for lunch so sat for a while with some light refreshments and decided to get some lobster rolls from Luke's (recommended by the daughter) and have a picnic lunch in Battery Park.

I had a lobster roll Maine-style which is a quarter pound of that seafood served chilled on a buttered, griddled New England split-top bun with a swipe of mayo, a dash of lemon butter and a sprinkle of their 'secret seasoning'.
The co driver opted for a Luke’s Trio which is half a lobster roll, half a crab roll and half a shrimp (prawn) roll. I got to finish the latter.

Battery park was a great place to people watch with so much going on. It is the departure point for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island cruises. There is plenty of seating, food vendors and outdoor restaurants among the trees and is home to the World War II East Coast Memorial and its stunning eagle sculpture.

Then we headed back to the hotel via the Purl Soho yarn shop to freshen up before finally meeting up with the daughter, after work, at Rubirosa Ristorante in Nolita for a great pizza and a cold bottle of delicious Verdicchio.
Nicko joined us later for drinks at the Grey Dog just across the road from the restaurant before jet lag descended with a vengeance and it was time for us to hit the sack.
A full on Day 1!

Monday, June 12, 2017

USA 2017

By the time this post is published we will be well into our trip to the USA.
Stops this time around include New York to see the daughter and Nicko and Sioux Falls, SD, to visit with the co driver's family.
We have also planned a little getaway in Iowa catching up with some Chicago friends.
As usual we will be flying United Airlines.
They now have the Dreamliner (Boeing 787-900) on the trans Pacific route. It will be interesting to see how this new aircraft compared with the Boeing 777 that was flown for a short time previously although I still miss the lumbering old 747 that was on the route for decades.

Flight times have not changed much with it still being just under 14 hours from Sydney to San Francisco. Then after a 2 1/2 hour's transfer time it's another 5 1/2 hours the Newark on the always uncomfortable Boeing 757.
Hopefully the new Automated Passport Control (APC) system will have sped up and simplified the immigration and customs procedure at SFO.
Am sure we would have been glad to hit the sack at our hotel in SoHo after over 24 hours straight travel.
And hopefully we won't have been beaten up and forcibly removed from any of the UA flights.
Posts of our adventures coming soon!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Wollemi Pine Update

Back in July 2007, I posted about a Wollemi Pine tree we had been given as a present.
Previously only known as a fossil some 90 million years old, around 100 mature trees of the species were discovered in a very remote and virtually inaccessible part of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and became known as the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis).
One of the world's oldest and rarest trees, the pine underwent an intense propagation program and eventually became commercially available.
Ours arrived in a pot

After a few years nurturing it on our back porch until it became pot bound, we planted it in our garden.
Ten years on it is doing well despite an attack by some strange looking insects a few seasons ago which completely destroyed its growing point.

It has recovered from that, growing a new one, and continues to be a pleasure to look at.
The bark and leaves do have that prehistoric look about them.