I left Sydney with Japan Airlines and soon was landing in Tokyo. What a surprise at the airport. It was so clean and with many fine buildings. I was on my way to the United States, via Japan, and had a one-night stopover. After leaving the airport by swish express trains I was deposited outside a fine hotel. By this time, it was 10 pm.
Next morning, I ‘attended’ breakfast.
Wow! There was a whole room as far as the eye could see, into which were fitted tables laden with food. Every type of foreign food was available: Italian, French, German, Thai, Indian, Swedish, Chinese and Japanese. Soon, I was tucking into salted fish, followed by eggs and fresh hot bread, all washed down with many cups of good coffee. I noticed the price for paying customers – the equivalent of US$25.
I thought to myself, make hay whilst the sun shines!
Later, I walked around the local area and chatted with, or rather tried to talk to, the Japanese vendors, inspecting all the unusual and interesting items for sale.
Later that evening, I boarded the plane and was soon flying high over the Pacific Ocean. Early in the morning, I arrived in San Francisco and cleared customs. Outside the airport, I found a bus waiting to take me into the city. Only cost me US$3. On arrival downtown, I made inquiries and went by a local bus to the youth hostel, which overlooked the harbour. I never stay anywhere else – except hostels.
Soon, I was sharing a room with a crowd of German backpackers, male and female. Modern youth hostels are unisex and great fun. All the females spend a lot of time undressing and dressing beneath blankets. Naturally, all male eyes are keenly focused throughout this process. However, today’s modern women and men take everything in their stride.
The United States has changed. Nowadays, thousands of international tourists are encountered over the whole country.
My first excursion was a walk to the city and take a ride on the famous open-sided streetcars. I quickly discovered that, in the United States, all buses and transport was one fare for any distance, which I considered a great idea. However, you needed a constant supply of one dollar bills. Yes, they still use $1 bills. The driver accepts the money deposited in a big square box located beside him, and no change is given, so bad luck if you have only large bills, they must be dropped into the box too.
I jumped on every bus in San Francisco and explored all the interesting areas, such as the famous gay part of the city. Looking in the windows of clothing shops was fascinating, with all the outlandish and bright suits for sale to gay men.
I walked across the famous San Francisco Bridge and was joined by hundreds of tourists, all eager to reach the other side.
Underneath, cargo and passenger ships were moored or sailing the sea. Momentarily, my mind went back to when I sailed aboard the great ocean liner S.S. Orsova from this great port 40 years previously. At that time, I was in love with an English nurse who had been working in Canada. I had just finished doing the worst and most difficult job I had ever tried: working in a gold mine in the frozen north of Canada.
San Francisco is a hilly city and you need to gather your stamina for marches up and down hills around every corner.
It was in the fall when I visited and, all along the waterfront, street vendors were selling and barbecuing fresh salmon. It was so cheap, with huge portions served on paper plates, along with various pickles and fresh hot bread and butter. So yummy! Salmon has always been my favourite fish.
Before I left Australia, I had purchased two seven-day Greyhound Bus passes. Now, I was departing early one morning and soon passed through Reno, bound for Yellowstone Park, and a short stopover in the Mormon territory of Salt Lake City.
The arrival in West Yellowstone was unbelievable, the town looked like a wild west place, only had the appearance of being brand spanking new with freshly built pine buildings. I checked into a sparkling clean youth hostel that served as a souvenir shop too. Quickly, I reserved a bus trip for the next day to go right into the Park, and see the world-acclaimed sights there.
Seven next morning, saw me on a tourist coach which was packed with American pensioners on their annual holiday. The next seven hours was a splendid experience, viewing through the bus windows the majestic reindeers with huge antlers. On occasion, even a brown bear was seen in the far distance. Many was the time when a herd of reindeer was encountered standing still in the middle of the road, so all traffic was brought to a standstill. These deer were completely tame. Passengers rushed off the bus with their cameras clicking. There were constant cries of, “Stand here, Jean, whilst I get these antlers in focus.” Then there were screams of delight. “Oh!” “Ah!” “Wow!”, which went on for ages.
Eventually, we arrived at a huge chateau and, in every direction, geysers spouted from the ground hundreds of feet into the air. We were lucky, as a special favourite geyser was just about to erupt. This happens at 12 noon every day. Whoosh! Water raced up incredibly high in a single powerful jet stream.
Strolling about the area, I watched mud ponds of many colours bubbling away, some of which were huge.
And nonchalantly wandering around the whole park, were bison – literally hundreds of them. What magnificent and fierce-looking animals they were too! In greater numbers, were squirrels scampering along the ground. I was later to discover the whole of the United States and Canada is inundated with squirrels, which are considered a pest.
Late that evening, I journeyed on by Greyhound Bus to a one-horse town in Montana, where I had to wait for another bus that was scheduled to arrive at 2 a.m. I was advised by authorities to keep out of sight as I might get myself mugged. Nothing was open in this town and everywhere was an eerie black stillness. I hid round the back of a building and sat on my backpack to await the bus. Soon, I was joined by a young Danish schoolteacher who sat and chatted to me. She gave me some interesting information on Denmark.
Apparently, she was on one-year’s unemployment pay whilst her paid occupation was taken over by an unemployed person, so that the unemployed had a chance to earn good money. This is true job sharing. Evidently, this happened a lot in Denmark and suited both parties. I have learned in my travels that the English-speaking world could learn a lot from other countries’ Social Security systems. It seems that the Scandinavian countries have the best welfare systems in the world.
Next day, whilst sitting in the bus, I chatted to an English pensioner, who now lived on Long Island, so we naturally talked about America and the cost-of-living.
During the journey, we stopped at a café for refreshments, where I saw the sign: Bacon and Eggs. Wonderful, I thought. I accordingly ordered and waited. I was staggered to see the attendant pick up frozen bacon, crack eggs open and place all together on a bun, sliced and folded over, and then insert it in the microwave oven. A few minutes later, I was served something most astonishing! The meal was just like scrambled eggs and had no bearing to what I had imagined would be forthcoming.
This was the last time I ordered bacon and eggs in the United States!
How times had changed. I fully remember, in the 1950s, that Greyhound Coaches pulled into wonderful rest areas, with restaurants serving blueberry, loganberry pies and a complete multitude of delicious food, together with excellent coffee served with a glass of iced water.
Soon, I was arriving in Seattle which heralded the end of my bus pass.
Seattle has a wonderful food market right in the centre of town, where is displayed fresh fish of every type.
One good thing about youth hostels is the way you can cook your own meals in the kitchens provided. That night, I was again feasting on salmon. Next day, I spent a very pleasant time visiting the salmon-breeding hatcheries.
Huge pens kept the salmon in various sizes. I’d never realised that they were so big. Many were at least two feet (60 cm) long. There must have been hundreds of these beautiful fish awaiting their destiny. North America is where most of the salmon you consume in cans originates from. They must have icy cold water to spawn and bring that fantastic and lovely flavour that nowhere else in the world can reproduce. During my travels, I have sampled other salmon species but, as far as I am concerned, North American is the best!
Next morning, I walked to the railroad station and, at the kiosk, I handed over the Amtrak train pass I had purchased in Australia. I waited some time and was eventually given a great long stream of rail tickets for the different parts of my journey.
I had previously worked out my own schedule whilst in Australia from excellent timetables supplied by Amtrak in Washington, US, and airmailed to me free. It was necessary to make train seat reservations ahead, and I had a real problem planning, because as soon as I booked a seat, the Amtrak company cancelled the reservation due to financial slashing that was then taking place by the government of the day.
I eventually located my carriage and climbed aboard. The seating inside was spacious, with lift-up leg rests which comfortably supported your outstretched legs. These trains are vintage models from the old days of the forties and are painfully slow. It reminded me of the days when the Big Bands, such as Duke Ellington’s, toured. With much hooting, the train started to roll forwards. We travelled at a very leisurely pace, since American trains are not noted for speed. Most of the tracks are vintage too. The policy of the railroad company is to give priority to freight trains, and you see numerous and tremendously long freight trains passing by at all times.
The scenery was magnificent immediately we left town. All around us were giant Douglas fir trees.
We stopped in Portland and made for the youth hostel. Here I met a university female anthropologist from Sydney, also an American waiter who had worked in Australia. Later that evening, we all went out together to a local bar and passed a pleasant time exchanging travel experiences. The American was most informative and told me how he preferred working in America as a waiter. Although he admitted the actual pay rates were better in Australia, he said he made far more money in America through the wide-spread habit of tipping. His actual pay was therefore twice what he could earn in Australia.
I had an amusing experience in Portland. As I was leaving the railroad station, I jumped on a bus to take me to my destination. I had my backpack on my back and stumbled as I boarded the bus, and fell to the floor and uttered a somewhat ripe remark.
Like a chorus all the passengers on the bus called out, “Crocodile Dundee.”
This was no doubt due to my accent. Soon I was the most favourite passenger aboard the bus with everyone wanting to know what I was doing and where I was going. Many of them asked me to visit their homes.
A real friendly American encounter!
Next day, I was back on board the train and heading for Oakland. What a delightful journey! First of all, I could see in the distance snow-capped Mount St Helen, an active volcano, which had blown its top recently. All day, I sat in the observation car and looked through ceiling glass domes, it was just like being in the middle of a dense forest. The train ran round never-ending bends and, looking out through the gigantic windows, I could see the start and end of the train, that is how tight the bends were. Vivid green firs and redwoods greeted my sight. Most of the other passengers gasped. “Ooh!” “Ahh!” “Gee!” We passed tiny wooden settlements and occasionally saw inhabitants.
Later in the afternoon, an announcement was made. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are having Happy Hour in the bar, please come and enjoy Margarita’s at $1 each.” There was an immediate rush to the bar! I watched the bartenders, male and female prepare these drinks. First of all, the glass was wiped with salt around the edge and then the various ingredients were placed into the cocktail shaker. The bar attendant was shaking the cocktails for what seemed ages.
This Margarita was the best I have ever tasted, and I joined Americans in a delightful conversation comparing our views on life. I consumed two, or was it three? On the bar counter I noticed a glass jar, which was packed with dollar notes, and all Americans pushed in a dollar note as a tip for the staff. Tipping is an American way of life for all citizens, even the poorest tip in this way.
On arrival at Oakland, I transferred from the train and onto a waiting railroad bus, and was soon passing through the rich fruit and vegetable areas. Not long after, I was travelling through a winding maze of hills that stretched for miles. This was the outer regions of Los Angeles. Eventually, the bus pulled up outside the L.A. railroad station.
I visited the fast food area, sorted out what I desired and asked for a chicken sandwich. To my amazement, the snack bar server could not understand me and I realized she was speaking Spanish. I tried for sometime to make myself understood. Other attendants came to her assistance, still to no avail. Finally, a person who appeared to be the boss came over and asked me in English what I wanted. I was later to learn that this was typical in the southern part of America. All because of a huge influx of migrants from South and Central America. I soon gathered that Spanish was required in order to exist in these parts!
I had a comfortable night on the train, stretched out on my seat with the usual leg-rests, and awoke early next morning to be greeted by scenery just like I had seen in Hollywood western cowboy movies: flat sandy country and sharp peaks scattered all about. Early that morning, I arrived I in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Walking to the youth hostel, which was situated close by, I decided to have a rest day. I walked around and discovered where I caught the bus to the Grand Canyon.
Very early next day, I boarded the bus, which was crowded with Japanese and German tourists. The journey was about two hours. On arrival, I took a ride on a shuttle bus to the edge of the canyon and surveyed the vast opening in the ground, which stretched as far as the eye could see. The view of scenery so awe-inspiring.
Whilst sitting on a rock, soaking in the lovely surroundings, and eating sandwiches. I was immediately surrounded by squirrels, all eagerly awaiting their share. But notices were erected all about, ‘Do not feed the squirrels, they can bite.’
Of course, tourists cannot resist feeding these delightful and attractive animals.
I made inquiries about a plane trip over the canyon. I found out about the times of the bus to the local airport and made my way there. On arrival, I was amused to see the following sign in giant letters.
‘The biggest littlest airport in the world.’
So very American. It was so amazing, dozens of small planes with engines revving, were sitting on the tarmac in every direction, and as far as the eye could see. Many of these small planes were taking off and landing in a continuous stream. The fare was US$60 for a one-hour flight, and I had to join one of the dozens of queues.
I climbed aboard the tiny plane, which held six passengers. Whoom! And we were airborne, circling over the airport and soon headed for the Grand Canyon. Everyone aboard was excited. What an thrilling and fantastic sight! The plane edged its way into the canyon and flew amongst giant sharply-pointed peaks, some of which seemed to touch the wingtips as we flew further into the canyon. The canyon floor appeared to be so far below us. One passenger placed her hands over her eyes because she was scared to death and frightened the plane would crash. She called out, “I am terrified and cannot … and will not look!” The pilot reassured her and told her not to worry. Sometimes, we could see packhorses and humans making their way along the valley floor. They looked like ants. I noticed a great many planes flying in all directions, and also two helicopters hovering nearby.
I imagined a helicopter flight would be great fun. The sun was shining and bounced off the peaks and presented a wonderful kaleidoscope of colours. I understand the canyon stretches for 750 miles (1,200 km) in one direction. At times, we could see snow on some of the peaks. The pilot remarked that the whole area was deep in snow in winter. What a magnificent experience! I didn’t want it to end! It was one of the most thrilling adventures in my whole life. I shall never forget this trip.
Whilst waiting at the Flagstaff station for the train the next morning, the stationmaster came out and stood before the huge crowd of waiting passengers. This clearly was to be a pep talk. “Please board the train quickly.” Then he started to relate a story of what actually happened a few days previously.
“When the train comes in, it is so long that it covers two suburban roads that cross into town. By law, the train is not allowed to stay in this stationery position for more than a certain time, because it holds up traffic. For some reason, the train was delayed and overspent the allotted time. In the meantime, seated in a car in the waiting traffic was a very prominent university professor, who grew impatient and produced his mobile and telephoned the sheriff. Soon, the sheriff and his helpers arrived, made inquiries and then, low and behold, the train engineer was hauled off the train and placed under arrest and carted off to jail. The train was then left for many hours with no driver.”
The stationmaster assured everyone that this was a true story! The crowd talked amongst themselves over this event. Only in America could something like this happen, I thought.
My journey by train continued. We were now entering Indian territory and the loudspeakers in the carriage made an announcement, “We now have an Indian guide on board the train and she will tell you stories of the area we are passing through.” In all directions, there were sandy peaks that were tremendous in size. In fact, I felt I was actually taking part in a Hollywood western movie.
For the next hour, we listened enraptured as the guide explained how the cave-like dwellings that were passing before our eyes, were constructed high off the ground. This was my first contact with a real live Indian. My imagination went wild with the stories I knew so well. In England, in my boyhood, American history was compulsory and drummed into my very existence. My thoughts turned to the European pioneers who trekked across this arid landscape and were constantly attacked by hostile Indians.
I was told how the territory that once belonged to the Indians was now being returned to them. I gathered that profitable tourist businesses were being established, some with very swish hotels and facilities.
Late in the afternoon, I arrived at the railroad station for Santa Fé. I quickly joined a shuttle and was driven into town. Here, I was dropped off at my backpacking hostel, which looked like an Indian frontier fort. I was greeted by the female proprietor who had the most charming accent I have ever heard. I found it so pleasant I could have just stood and listened to her speak all day. That night, I joined a party of world travellers and downed a few beers, whilst listening to travel yarns.
Wandering around Santa Fé was extraordinary since the majority of the buildings were built of adobe mud brick. I visited the oldest house in the United States, which dated back to the 16th century.
It was here I first noticed American men in huge Stetson cowboy-style hats, all the men seemed to wear such a hat along with kneelength leather boots of all colours. Their ties were strange to my eyes, just a very narrow piece of material that was the same size from top to bottom.
I purchased my first T-shirts with Indian designs adorning them.
Purely by chance, I entered a gallery which sold magnificent paintings. I consider they were the most colourful and beautiful paintings I have ever seen. All had the colours of the surrounding desert. The prices ranged from $20,000 to $60,000 each. The female owner struck up a conversation with me and she and her assistants were rolling in laughter listening to my accent, likewise I was fascinated by their accents.
I fell in love with Santa Fé!
My train ride continued non-stop for two days across the plains until I arrived in Chicago. During the long journey, I could not help but notice the miles and miles of pay-tv-cables that stretched between poles and sagged perilously close to the ground. Many of the poles leaned over in a most dilapidated condition. I was also very aware of all the working-class Americans who live in aluminium trailer homes, which are situated on their own or rented blocks of land. Much of this area appeared poverty-stricken.
Whilst seated on a bench in the Chicago Railroad Station, waiting for my next train, I suddenly became aware of a young girl who hauled a great number of crates of beer from a bar and proceeded to set up a stall and sell beer. In a continuous loud voice she called out, “Buy your beer here … only one dollar.”
Office business men and women were going home and went over to this girl and collected a can of beer. I was aware of how everyone tipped this girl. I wandered over to buy a can myself and began to engage her in conversation. I was told this story: She bought the beer from the bar and sold it at the same price and depended entirely on tips in order to make a living. Never did I see a person not tip this girl and I worked out she could make $50 in one hour. No doubt about American ‘get up and go’!
My next trip was overnight to a train junction near Buffalo, and it was necessary for me to take a taxi into Buffalo, and then go by bus in order to reach Niagara Falls, since no suitable trains went that way in the early morning. Buffalo seemed a very run-down and seedy place. I walked to the youth hostel, and noticed the town was dilapidated and unkempt, which was surprising for a great tourist attraction like Niagara Falls.
The manager at the hostel gave me a map, on which certain streets were outlined with the words. ‘Don’t go here.’ I was told I might get mugged if I ventured into these areas. Also staying here I met once again the Sydney anthropologist.
Next morning, I walked to where the falls were located and was astonished at their sheer size. From one side of the river to the other, the gap was enormous, and a huge volume of water was racing by at a tremendous speed. I thought to myself, Should I fall in, I would have no chance of survival in that incredible Maelstrom.
I strolled across to the entrance of an unassuming building and joined a lift to the bottom of the falls. I purchased a ticket and was shown to the direction of a changing room, where I was handed a yellow oilskin and told to take off my boots and wear a pair of canvas rope-soled Indian moccasins. The attendant said, “The path is very wet and slippery.”
I set off and was flabbergasted at what I saw when I commenced to walk along the path. It went completely under the falls, and notices warned everyone to hang onto the rope railing which ran the whole length. Along with a party of about twenty people, I slowly made my way up steps, and down steps. Soon, I was beneath the mighty falls and the roar of water falling was thunderous and scary. I looked upwards and the top of the falls was a very long way above me. The sheer amount and force of the water pouring over was beyond belief. A strong wind created by the force of the waterfall blew and everyone had to struggle their way forward. I could see why I had been given an oilskin as I was literally being soaked by the amount of spray. The walk took about 30 minutes to completely cross the width of the falls. This was very exciting and I consider this a real tourist attraction and probably one of the best adventures in the world.
Completing the walk, I next boarded the vessel ‘Maid of the Mist’. This is a boat that crosses the lake and takes passengers right up to the falls. What a sight these majestic falls presented, a wall of water at least 200 metres (650′) across thundering down. The boat ventured right up alongside the falls, and with the continuous roar was impossible to hear anyone speak. We cruised around the lake and were covered in spray the whole time. Once again, the passengers were trying to take pictures without getting their cameras wet, an impossible task.
I boarded the train at Niagara Falls the following morning, and as soon as we were seated, the Negro conductor came round to check the tickets. His voice boomed out, “Where are you going?”
I replied, “New York.”
He repeated what I said and was hysterical with laughter. Evidently my accent amused him. During the remainder of the journey whenever he passed through the carriage he called out, “New York,” mimicking me.
For the life of me, I couldn’t see how it was that unusual. It didn’t worry me though as I thought American train conductors were very amusing and so much fun, keeping up a continuous barrage of banter.
The consequence of this was that a young lady seated directly in front of me, turned around and asked, “Where are you from?”
I replied, “Australia,” of course.
The next few hours was divided between gazing at the scenery and a most engaging conversation. Guess what? The young woman was a schoolteacher on vacation. We never stopped talking about topics as varied as working conditions, health problems and, of course, schools. Train trips are excellent for conducting conversations with strangers. Mostly, the passengers on my our trips were Americans. This was good as I learned a lot about America as it was at that time – in 1995.
This is far better than the solitary isolation of car travel.
Eventually, we pulled into Pennsylvania Station. At last, we had arrived in New York! I had always wanted to see New York again. This is the city that Australians yearn to visit most of all.
Immediately, I felt at home. I just love huge crowds of people. Everywhere was so alive with bustle and urgency. I was only stopping one night and decided to return. I made my way towards the ticket office, where I purchased a bag of tokens for use in the subway turnstyle entry. I worked out where the platform for subway #1 line went from and boarded a packed carriage for 103rd St and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.
We arrived almost as soon as we left, the trip being so quick. The greatest difficulty in all underground train systems is finding the correct exit. Normally, there are four. One for each direction. I pride myself on my good sense of direction and soon sorted this out. I walked up the stairs and found myself only one block from the international youth hostel.
This hostel is the largest (480 beds) and first one in America. It is housed in a $15-million renovation of a century-old neoclassical building, with almost an acre of gardens for sunning and sitting. It boasts a public restaurant – and a theatre. As in all hostels, there are common rooms, self-service kitchens and a cafeteria. Even a few king-size beds for couples! In each dormitory room, there are lockable storage wardrobes. There are telephones on every floor. Best of all, the hostel is open 24 hours per day and never closes. On entering the hostel, a strict security and ID system operates.
Never stayed in a hostel? This is the place to stay in one!
Although only there for one night, I found many people to chat with and spend an entertaining few hours to while away the time. I find motels and hotels far too dull, with too much isolation from other people.
Next morning, I returned to Pennsylvania Station and boarded a train to Montreal, Canada. My Amtrak train pass allowed me one visit to Canada, so I chose to visit the French part, so that I could practice my French.
The journey was very scenic and I travelled alongside the wonderfully blue Hudson River. We passed through Schenectady and Plattsburgh. On arrival in Montreal, it was pitch black. Putting my backpack on, I walked along the main street towards the hostel. This was a very modern hostel, where I had some fun practicing my French with the receptionist, the girl laughing all the time at my accent.
After booking in, I then went into the self-serve kitchen and made myself a quick meal, and then to bed early.
Next day, I went exploring and walked miles around all the narrow back streets. I had visited Montreal many years before, but nothing seemed the same. I only remembered the Mount, and all the squirrels. In fact, I was disappointed. The cost of living was much higher than the United States, and I found groceries in the supermarkets to be at least 20% dearer. The French-Canadian ‘No’ campaign was in full swing, and demonstrations were all the go. At that time, the French-speaking citizens wanted self-rule.
[In 1995, Quebec had a referendum whether to go with a succession from the rest of Canada, which the people of Quebec had been advocating for years. Whilst I was in Montreal, the ‘NO’ campaign was in full swing. No meaning ‘Yes’ to French partition. Confusing, eh?]
The most interesting part of Montreal is the underground city. Step on one of the many escalators and venture beneath the streets into another brightly illuminated city deep below ground. Walkways and arcades stretch for miles, with shops of every description. This has been built to defeat the long cold winters and try to make shopping more comfortable when snow is lying two to three feet deep on the surface. I understand that there are other such cities in Canada. It’s a great idea!
I left Montreal at four in the morning and walked through torrential rain towards the station. Here, I caught a bus for Burlington, and then joined the train once again. I passed through Waterbury-Stowe and White River. This was one of the most delightful train rides I have ever had the good fortune to make.
We passed tiny settlements with quaint wooden cottages. The foliage was out of this world because it was autumn (fall). I have never seen such glorious deep colours of amber, claret and sunburnt brown. The ground was carpeted with fallen leaves so deep I am certain I would have been swallowed up by them. The train was travelling so slowly that, at times, I felt I could lean out of the window and touch the graceful branches of the trees. This trip lasted 12 hours with constant twisting turns of the railroad entering spectacles of pure magic and dreamland. On either side, were small wooded hillsides. I always thought England had the best scenery in the world, but I was so wrong. New England is far superior. What a paradise for those folks fortunate enough to live there!
New York was back on the horizon, and we passed through the slums of Brooklyn before arriving back at Pennsylvania Station.
I booked into the New York Hostel for seven days. I decided to eat KFC that night.
Next morning, in order to savour the delights of this fantastic city, I walked all the way from the hostel to Times Square. Suddenly, I was at the impressive Lincoln Centre, the home of the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic and the New York Ballet. It is a complex of eight tremendous theatres, tree-filled parks, wonderful fountains and cafés. Just sitting there, watching the passing parade is really something special. Next door, is the New York Public Library, where free performances of every description are available. A promenade is nearby with the famous sunken ice-rink.
Moving along, I came to the Radio City Music Hall, which has 6,000 seats and which was once the largest cinema in the world. I was disappointed as I discovered there are only spectacle performances held at Christmas and Easter. When I lived and worked in the United States so many years ago, I had visited this theatre and attended a show and a movie. Then the famous Rockettes, who were showgirl dancers, performed as part of the show. I vividly remember the whole floor coming up out of the pit with a full orchestra playing. All this for a price of a movie ticket. What a pity – now only at Christmas and Easter.
Nearby, I came across the Donald Trump Tower Hotel. I looked inside at the gorgeous pink-marble lobby. All around, were gold-plated walls. The super-rich live here and they have very expensive shops to accommodate their expensive tastes.
I went into Tourist Bureau and obtained cut-price theatre tickets, which are only available for tourists. Wow! I obtained tickets for ‘Miss Saigon’ for $37 each at the top Broadway Theatre. Guess what, My seat was in front row in the centre on the balcony. Wonderful seat. When I went to the performance two days later, I was seated next to some Americans from New Jersey. During the interval, we chatted and I gathered they had waited for weeks in order to obtain tickets. I was so lucky!
Over the next few days, I explored shops like Macys, Bloomingdales and Saks.
I fell in love with Greenwich Village and its sidewalk cafés. One of the cheaper restaurants I came across sold all the displayed food by weight! Customers picked from the huge display of fish, steaks, olives, salads, pickles and sweets, and had them duly weighed. Paying by scales is typical of American ingenuity, I think.
One day, I went to Roosevelt Island on the steel tightrope tramway, which glides along high up in the sky. This is where garbage is collected by vacuum tubes. I did not see any rubbish anywhere. No cars are allowed, all transport being by electric buses.
New York is fantastic for the pedestrian, it is possible to walk everywhere. Pedestrians walk across the road and hold their hands up in front of traffic and make cars stop. With many people walking, they outnumber the cars.
One day, I observed hundreds of police lining the streets. The Pope was in town.
Another day, I walked the whole length of 5th Avenue, eagerly sampling with my eyes the delights in the windows of the swish and chic shops, also staring for ages at oh! so-elegant apartments. Many famous people live in these apartments.
On yet a another day, I watched the Christopher Columbus Parade. Many floats passed by with brightly-coloured clowns performing various acts. Thousands of police were standing alongside the footpaths.
From Battery Park, I took the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island and passed by the Statue of Liberty. The ferry costs 25 cents one way and the return is free. At night, young lovers spend the night going backwards and forwards endlessly, the cheapest date in town!
I went to Soho, Little Italy, Chinatown and the Garment District, where I noticed all the racks of the latest fashions being wheeled across the streets.
When it was time to go, I was sorry to leave New York. Many months could be spent exploring one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
Next day, I boarded the train for an overnight journey to Savannah in Georgia. I had always wanted to visit Georgia because when I was a teenager in England I had corresponded with an American girl pen-pal who lived there.
In the early morning, I awoke to misty skies and Spanish moss clinging in balls to the trees. The scene was so eerie. It was not unlike a Hitchcock movie.
A taxi driven by a young girl drove me into town and I booked into the youth hostel.
Walking around the town, I was impressed by the lovely mansions. One sight really astonished me. This was the shops that sold Negro women’s dresses and hats. The colour of the dresses was so striking, with multi-coloured voodoo adornments. Some of the hats had huge plumes of feathers, totally out of proportion to the size of the hats. Later, I noticed Negro women attired in such outfits, casually strolling along the streets.
Another day, I journeyed by the Showboat to see the sights along the mighty river. It made me think I was in Al Jolson territory.
One night, I awoke about 2 a.m. and, looking out of the window, observed across the square that crowds of people were pulling up in their cars to enter the large super-market. Simply amazing that people shopped at this time of night in a small town.
I left by train at 7 a.m. and, travelling via Jacksonville, pulled into Orlando, where I had a wait for the next train to New Orleans. The time, was used to walking down the town to the local supermarket to procure supplies.
The train to New Orleans was uneventful, excepting the crowds of American Pensioners that boarded. I had quite an interesting conversation with a guy from Seattle. We explored the difference between American and Australian rights for older citizens. Naturally, we ventured into the dining car and consumed a few glasses of beer. In all, it was a merry time.
New Orleans Station is situated right in the centre of town. I very quickly sorted out my directions and soon I was at the tram stop to catch the famous open-sided streetcar. This travelled along St Charles Avenue. The movie ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ came flooding back. Along the way, I kept my eyes glued to the passing parade. The most beautiful houses that I have ever seen, so romantic and like the southern movies that Hollywood makes so well. Any minute, I expected a southern belle complete with parasol to step out of one of the front doors!
Halloween was coming shortly, and on all the front steps of the houses there were huge orange pumpkins, which had been carved into faces and animals. Nearly every house had a skeleton hanging from the porch. At night, these skeletons were illuminated and created a fantastic scene of creepy-crawly terror.
I booked into the youth hostel and discovered that singers called ‘Sweet Adelines’ were staying there. Literally, hundreds of them were in town. The manager warned me to steer clear of the famous graveyard, which is surrounded by a high wall. Quite a few tourists had been attacked and robbed in previous days.
When visiting a restaurant, one of the strange customs I observed everywhere, was the American passion of drinking ice-cold tea. Instead of alcohol, giant thermos style flasks are placed on the tables with a never-ending supply of iced tea. This is all provided free with the meal and usually arrived at your table before the food is brought to you. Most peculiar. Whenever I ordered wine or beer, I noticed many people in the restaurants staring at me, for on all the alcoholic bottles are health warnings, very similar to cigarette packet warnings.
Strolling around town, I heard jazz booming out everywhere from the so numerous bars. Very often, girls in scanty clothing called out to me. They appeared to think I would go inside. Some even came outside and tried to drag me inside, endeavouring to entice me inside with offers of sex. Apparently, their main purpose was to get me inside the premises and then I would have to fork out lots of money for watered-down drinks.
The French quarter was unbelievable, with fancy wrought-iron balustrades on verandas of gorgeous vintage buildings in every direction. Once again, skeletons were hanging, and pumpkins on placed on chairs were everywhere.
Most fascinating were the shops that sold all the magical items for the Mardi Gras. Masks of fairyland appearance always adorned the walls. Oh, they were so lovely in all shapes, colours, sizes and visions!
I imagined being at the ball and wearing such a mask!
Jewellery was abundant and glittered from the material in many colours. Many hours were spent in these shops just examining the wonderful items for sale.
One day, I arranged a tour by bus to the Plantations. The finest one was Oak Alley Plantation, which was preceded by a quarter-mile long alley of 250-year-old oak trees. The young lady guide dressed in a Gone-With-Wind-ball-outfit presented amusing and fascinating stories of the original occupants. Towards the end, I was invited to sit on the verandah on a swinging seat to sip mint juleps. The rooms were just as I imagined from this bygone era. The sound of rushing water from the Mississippi River was right there too. Oh, how lovely to live there in a magical world of fantasy. I had fallen in love with New Orleans!
My train pass had now expired, so I used my Greyhound Coach pass to travel to San Antonio in Texas. The youth hostel was a huge mansion that had been converted.
The river front is a large elegant shopping centre of gracious shops and restaurants. I watched the daily show of the re-creation of the battle of the Alamo. This was carried out in front of the Spanish Mission. I thought this was so realistic, with military men dressed in uniforms of the period, rifles being fired, explosions from the cannons and clouds of smoke all around.
Moving on, I passed through Phoenix, where I was spellbound by the gigantic cactus trees. Police and immigration officials came on board the bus in this area looking for illegal immigrants from Mexico. Many Americans spend their retirement in this area.
Soon, I was in San Diego, it was here that I saw so many homeless people sleeping in the doorways of office buildings at night, also many men with placards around their necks, asking for work.
One extraordinary café had Harley Davidson motorcycles hanging from the ceiling.
The end of journey was near, so I went by bus to Los Angeles and on to Santa Monica, where I stayed in a wonderful modern youth hostel.
Next morning, I visited Venus Beach and had much fun watching young mothers pushing strollers, whilst mounted on roller-blades. Dozens of them whizzed along at incredible speeds. Everyone seemed to roller-blade. I also experienced the most amazing rap dancing by youngsters on roller-blades in lively competitive spirit.
I visited the famous Hollywood area where film stars leave their footprints in concrete. I happened to be there when Jim Carey carried out a handprint ceremony.
I was most impressed by the elegant shops of Beverly Hills during an all-day tour round the rich and famous homes of Hollywood. Actually, I saw a movie being filmed. I was given a distant peep at Madonna’s Home.
Los Angeles Airport is very near Santa Monica, so I was able to take a bus to it.
I flew home via Japan.
America is wonderful for outstanding scenery, sights and people, who are very friendly and helpful.