Cruising New Zealand’s fjords—then off to Sydney

The next day was spent cruising down some of the most beautiful waterways I have ever seen. New Zealand has earned its reputation for jaw-dropping scenery. This day was totally on the water, and we spent most of it on our balcony watching the world go by.

First one was Dusky Sound:

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We had the option of going down onto the foredeck—a place usually reserved for crew—in order to view the coastlines on a closer level. When we got to Milford Sound, we went down there, but didn’t stay long since there was a steady stream of people joining us. It was also cold and foggy. After a few minutes of taking up space along the rails, we decided to go back to our room to have the privacy of our own balcony.

Not long after this decision, the fog cleared up and the scenery came into its own. We were also a lot warmer, since our semi-enclosed outside space kept the winds out.

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(A perfect end to a perfect day.)

This lovely trip took most of the day, and then we were on our way to Sydney.

Neither of us is sure, but it was probably that night when we started to get paper menus at our (paper-covered) dinner table. It was also when we saw staff washing down walls, sterilizing handrails, and wiping doors and support columns. This definitely caught the attention of everyone on board—you could hear people talking about it, and asking each other what was going on. Paramount in the backs of everyone’s minds, I’m sure, was the question of whether someone had contracted the covid virus.

Eventually, the information came over the loudspeakers: someone had contracted a gastrointestinal illness. We all breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped that was going to be the sum total of our excitement for the rest of the cruise.

As we got closer to Sydney, the temperature outside got hotter and hotter. It got to a point where I couldn’t do my walk around the ship. So we spent a lot of time watching movies in our room.

Toy Story 4: probably five times

Gemini Man: about the same number of times

…and a ton of cricket matches

Paul actually got to a point where he understood the game—somewhat. I didn’t pay that much attention.

At one point, I decided to go to the library to do some more writing. But when I opened the door to the room, all I could smell was cigar smoke (the cigar room was next door), so that area was right out. The only other place I could find that was quiet enough for me to be able to write was the internet café. This worked out really well, until I fell asleep in my chair. But I still got some writing done; just not as much as I had hoped for.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I worked on the story. It sits beside me here, in its white binder, waiting for me to continue. One of these days I’ll get going on it again.

We got into Sydney Harbour not long after sunup, and what a great photo opportunity! The Opera House was silhouetted against the rising sun, and it was gorgeous. We spent a lot of time taking pictures of it, and of Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was glorious in the morning light.

 

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After breakfast and packing, there wasn’t much else to do. Well, except for going into sped-up-heart mode yet again because no one was being permitted to get off the ship…

There were numerous calls on the loudspeaker for anyone who had not been feeling well to report to the medical floor. I have to wonder if anyone actually did that.

I can see the scenario:

Person 1 to Person 2 (in a whisper, of course): You were sneezing a bit this morning, and your eyes look irritated. Shouldn’t you…

Person 2: Hell no. I want off this ship. If it gets worse, I’ll deal with it then.

Yeah, I just can’t see much cooperation. We all just wanted to get off and go about the rest of our lives.

We did finally get off, but it seemed forever. And you can bet that delay info got to the people onshore.

Still, the threat of covid had not gotten to the realm of reality yet in this part of the world, so life went on.

We got to the Grace Hotel, our home for the next couple of days. And was it gorgeous! So Art Deco—and I love that architecture. Inside and out, plus the bar attached to it.

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Our room was fantastic too. They even gave us a bottle of chilled champagne to greet us! I felt like royalty.

We took off from there to Darling Harbour, and to the Hard Rock Café, where we had lunch.

 

 

 

Such views from there! So many different styles of architecture and history. I was totally agog at all the action going on around us, in the form of refitting and new construction. Three buildings especially caught my eye.

We took a walk around the Harbour to check out what was to be seen, and had a great time capturing everything in pictures.

  

 

   

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That night we had kangaroo for dinner. That was SO yummy!

So ends our first day in Sydney. The next day would be a whirlwind of activity.

My next blog will take in the rest of our adventure in Sydney, which included a dinner cruise aboard a tall-masted ship. And I hope that I’ll get that done soon.

 

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Oh (not so) Little Town of Dunedin

PORT CHALMERS AND DUNEDIN

I don’t remember the excursions the cruise staff had planned for here. Perhaps they were something really exotic and fun and an enduring memory. But Paul and I made our own memories this day, unencumbered by someone else’s ideas.

First thing we saw when we finally got going was the piles of logs awaiting shipment – mainly to China. So that is exactly what they weren’t doing. I wonder if they ever did get to their destination.

Port Chalmers looks like a town that was built especially for the cruise ship trade, but of course it wasn’t. Our first view of the elegant architecture of the town, which meandered up the hill to a very large church, made us eager to get off the ship and explore.

There was a cavernous port authority building that we all had to pass through first, so that the excursioners could all get sorted and to their buses. It was crowded, even with just our ship in port. But we finally made it through the sea of humanity to the outside, where we were greeted by very nice people who wanted to see our very nice ship card IDs.

I remember railroad tracks—they curved from a tunnel cut into the mountain, and ran past an old hotel–which was named, aptly enough, The Tunnel Hotel. I kinda wished we could have spent the night there.

Actually, I could probably have spent a couple of days there. Hopefully there will be a next time.

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On we went, and into town.

There weren’t too many people roving the place, as it was still early. And neither of us do much shopping, so we trekked the main street a bit.

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When that got to as far as we could go (and that wasn’t far), we decided to take the uphill road to the church which had so intrigued us.

The only resident to greet us that morning was a cat, who was very social indeed. We petted and talked to it for a short time—until it rolled onto its back. Paul and I have had bad experiences when cats do that—we have both been hammered by teeth and claws in those situations.

So we said a hasty good-bye and headed on.

Well, here was the church,

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and here was the steeple. No matter how hard you looked, though, there weren’t any people.

Well, it was a weekday, so it didn’t surprise us.

We walked around the outside of it and took many pictures,

and on our way back to the road we met a nice Australian lady, who was there visiting family. Said she’d gone to this church as a child, and was looking forward to Sunday services. After a few minutes of the formalities, she offered to take our picture, which we gladly agreed to.

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Then she was off around the building and we didn’t see her again, except when she was making her way back down the drive to the road.

Well. Okay. Port Chalmers done. Now what?

We decided to take the shuttle bus into Dunedin, which is where we spent a large section of the day. It was not a long ride, and we were soon in what was actually a rather large metropolis.

Quick note of trivia: The settlers of Dunedin, homesick for their native Scotland, gave the town this name because it was the ancient name of the Scottish city of Edinburgh.

The bus let us off in a town square, which had a lovely tribute to various poets and writers who had had connections here.

We had a quick look at them, but we were more interested in homing in on the first of many fantastic edifices (edifi?): St. Paul’s Church.

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Beautiful place! Many stairs.

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Then there was the Municipal Building next door, which was just as jaw-dropping as the church, in my estimation. We absolutely love the details that we find in the buildings we peruse, and this one had plenty.

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Now it was time for a good look at the sculptures and such.

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Those were interesting—but what really caught my eye were the benches and tables that dotted the area.

What a great use for old pallets! I want to try to make some of these when the weather here finally gets a bit more cooperative.

Our next idea took us out of the main area of town, and on our way towards the train station.

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Why? Because train stations are often buildings of very exquisite architectural beauty. And this one was no exception.

The outside, the inside, the gardens—all of it was grand! I took a lot of pictures of the plants and flowers, in order to see if I could replicate them on a small scale in my own yard. I haven’t tried it yet—again, the weather here isn’t cooperating long enough to give it a try.

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On our way we also saw the first of several very clever pieces of street art. We made sure to send our daughter copies of these, since this is the type of art that she draws.

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Another thing that kept catching my notice was a huge building way up the hill.

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From where we stood, it looked like a castle. And there was a castle on the map we had—but it didn’t seem to be in the right place. Well, we figured, what the heck. A good stretch of the legs before lunch.

Ah man, was it ever! I think the street’s angle rivaled some of San Francisco’s finest offerings.

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And of course, my knee was less than cooperative—lately it had been greeting me in the morning with painful twinges that made it hard to walk. The pain usually wore off in about a half hour, but that climb gave it something else to complain about.

We took a side street in order for me to get my knee back in order, and this road took us past what was the coolest abandoned building I had ever seen!

Oh, did the story ideas flow! It had to have been abandoned—no one would allow all of that to fall into disrepair and still be using it. The church seemed in good shape, which was puzzling.

When I get my writing muse back, this place is going to get a lot of use in another horror story.

Okay—back up the hill. And we finally made it! We looked down the (flat) side street—and there it was in all its majesty.

The Castle!

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Or—no. It turned out to be the Otago Boys’ High School.

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Well, pook.

But was it worth the walk up there? You better believe it! Even though we couldn’t go into the grounds and nose around, the whole expedition was totally worth it. The architecture was terrific—and of course there had been that creepy building.

It was a crap shoot finding our way back to the town square, but our wanderings took us down another really cool street, and this one had some fantastic street art.

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Once we got back to the town square, we had lunch at a restaurant called “Ratbags” – named after what cheaters and rapscallions are called there. I loved the interior, and the food was pretty good too.

Then we boarded the bus and returned to Port Chalmers, where we decided to hike the hill past the church, and on up to a point above the ship. Because, hey, exercise.

 

Wouldn’t have missed this adventure for the world either. The views were tremendous,

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and there was a sculpture garden up there that we would have missed had we simply gone back to the ship.

http://www.insidersdunedin.co.nz/attractions-insider/2014/3/18/hotere-garden-oputae

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Later that evening, we sat in one of the bar areas on the ship, had our drinks (Paul always had a margarita, and I seemed to gravitate toward gin and tonics), and watched the trucks drive into the freight yard below us and get boxcars loaded onto them. It was interesting to see how the machinery in the freight yard worked.

This was our last day off the ship until we arrived in Sydney, so it was a good thing that we got as much exercise as we did. I do believe that it was at about this time that things started to get decidedly weird, what with the virus rumors flying about. The next few days got us to thinking that it was high time this voyage was over, and that we were on our way home.

Next day–a trip through the fjords, and what makes this land so breathtakingly beautiful.

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Wandering around New Zealand

On to the next adventure…

We arrived in Picton fairly early in the morning, which is always a good thing.

The first thing we noticed was piles and piles of logs; we had heard earlier that New Zealand was very big on the export of this wood. The species, for those who are interested, is Pinus Radiata, or Monterey Pine. And it originated in California.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_radiata

It takes about 30 years for the trees to mature in New Zealand, and then they’re harvested and shipped to China. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot of shipping to that area lately.

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I think this is where we first started to see the seriousness of the pandemic that would blossom after we got home.

There were a couple of nice ladies who handed out little flower bouquets as we got off the ship. It was not lost on me that we would not be able to take these home—immigration restrictions being what they are. So, I made sure to take pictures of them so that we would have something to remember them by.

The first thing we saw after getting off the ship and through the welcome tent (with maps and souvies galore) was a train station. I love train stations—they are such lovely harbingers of times past.

Paul and I spent more than a few minutes photographing this train.

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I don’t know what the excursions were for this stop—we restricted ourselves to only a few for the entire cruise. They are expensive! We always figure that, if the general area interests us enough, we’ll come back on our own and explore at some future time.

I should interject here that the number of people on our cruise was comparatively small, what with the rumors of the rapidly-spreading virus coming out earlier on. All of us passengers were getting to where we were afraid to even sneeze or cough in public. This “rumor” would become very real to us as time progressed.

We had to board a shuttle bus to get into town, and most people veered right when we got off. We veered left, in order to see the Edwin Fox, the second-oldest merchant ship in the world.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Fox

A far cry from what it used to look like. We didn’t go in to see the whole thing—we didn’t want to spend the money or take the time to do so. Hell, there were taverns to experience—get the priorities straight!

We turned back and passed through a nice little plaza, which was dedicated to an event in New Zealand history. It led to a WWI memorial, and through that to the town proper.

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However, we opted to walk along the marina and over a bridge, to not much more than a trail beside the water. It didn’t go far, but that didn’t matter. Paul and I always prefer the road less traveled. You can see so much more that way.

Such as our cruise ship peeking out from her mooring.

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And the odd sea star…

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We did finally go into town. Lovely old architecture…

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This motorbike is a rental–you can go sightseeing in this thing!

 

 

 

 

 

There was a craft market going on that day, and I was able to pick up some nice souvenirs.

The public restrooms took a bit of getting used to, however. Green and red lights letting you know if the room was occupied—forgive the reference, but it was somewhat like how you could tell if a confessional was occupied or not.

Once you were in, a recorded voice let you know how long you could stay in there.

Then there was the elevator music to keep you entertained as you did your business.

I think that was the most unusual bathroom/toilet experience I’ve ever had—outside the first time I came across a bidet (in Hawaii).

It was now after 11am, and time to check out the taverns/pubs. Hey, the sun’s over the yardarm somewhere in the empire.

The first one was the Seabreeze, which had a pretty decent offering. But still not like homegrown. Sorry, guys. Decent WiFi though.

I craved the ability to access my Facebook and e-mail the whole time I was on this trip. This was something that was not inexpensively attained, I can tell you.

We went back to the ship to have lunch and to drop off our purchases. Then we went back into town.

Seamus’ Irish Bar was next. I loved the atmosphere of this place. Gotta be the Celt in me.

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After a bit more perambulating, we headed back to the ship. Hey, someone had to keep the bartenders busy!

***Akaroa***

Another early morning—and our last planned excursion. The weather had been holding beautifully, and today was no exception.

We had to take a tender (shuttle boat) to the shore, and it was pretty rough going.

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We sat across from a couple who had taken this cruise twice in a row—hadn’t gotten off at the end of the first go-round, and had seen most of all they had wanted to see. They had loved the whole experience, but were looking forward to the end of it. Talking to them took our minds off the rough waters we had to get through to get to shore. What a great idea, though, if you can afford it—just staying on and “once more around the park, James.” I like the idea.

The buses for the trek to the sheep farm were waiting for us, and there was no delay in getting on the road. As we went on our way, I couldn’t help noticing how much the plant and tree life looked so much like what we have in Oregon. I confess that I missed a lot of what the bus driver told us because I was too busy taking pictures of the outside.

We arrived at the sheep farm, and most of us gravitated immediately to the lineup of dogs that was leashed to the edge of the walkway. Most of them were very happy to greet us. And we were happy to cozy up to them as much as possible.

We were ushered up into the barn, where we were entertained by Murray, the owner of the sheep farm. He had some fun tales to tell us. I think my mother-in-law probably had heard most of these too—she and my late FIL had been to the same farm years before.

We got to see how the sheep were sheared. Even though these particular animals were raised for their meat, they still had to be sheared twice a year or their wool would overgrow, and they would not be able to move. Their wool was not top-quality, so was sold to be made into cheap carpeting.

Everyone got to line up and get their picture taken with a sheep. Man, those guys are big!

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Then we saw how quickly Hannah, Murray’s daughter-in-law, could get that wool off the critter. She was fast—which is good, because sheep have very little patience for such things.

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Afterward, we were ushered out to a field, where Hannah demonstrated how she used the dogs to round up the sheep and get them to go where she wanted. That was an incredible feat! I wish I had video coverage, but I misread the icons on my phone and wound up shooting movies of the grass at my feet. So very wrong…

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The next item on our agenda was tea and scones at the house. I didn’t care about those—the yard got my attention. Absolutely gorgeous!

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We got a little more info about the planned forests on the way back to Akaroa, but it’s been too long and my memory has lost the details. But we did get to stop and take pictures of the astounding scenery.

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And when we got into town, we met (briefly) Murray’s father, who was still driving shuttle buses to the farm. He’s in his late 80s—and still going strong. Impressive!

I had seen a sign announcing church services at noon somewhere along the route on our way out of town, and I was really wanting to find it again. We hadn’t been to church for two weeks, and it was really starting to bother me. So, as we wandered along the street by the waterside, I kept my eye out for the information.

 

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And finally—there it was!

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So we went.

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Church was lovely. Short, but lovely. I remember it fondly, because it was one of the last times we were able to go to Mass.

Afterward, we explored the rest of the town.

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Folks were having lunch alongside the water, and the gulls were there in force to help them eat it. Whenever someone threw a scrap of food, the birds would all rise up in a body and go after it. I remember being more than a bit concerned when they took an intense interest in a baby sitting in a stroller. Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” came to mind.

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Fortunately, these gulls had not been unionized yet, and the kid stayed safe.

We had lunch at a nice outdoor place, the name of which escapes me now, and spent the rest of the day wandering around town.

There was a lighthouse located the other way out of town, but we didn’t know how far it was. The maps were not really helpful concerning distances. But we decided to check it out anyway.

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Thankfully, it was only about a half-mile out. We took some random pictures and headed back toward town.

The day went quickly, and we soon found ourselves aboard the ship and onto the next adventure.

And I will post about that on another day.

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A visit to Middle Earth, a.k.a. Wellington

We got into port very early that day. In fact, it was one of the few mornings where we saw the sun as it was still coming up over the horizon (Paul more than me—I was up later).

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We did the whole breakfast/theatre wait/onto the bus shuffle as before. Then it was off to visit Middle Earth.

What was really cool is that our tour guide had actually been in the Lord of the Rings trilogy AND in “The Hobbit.” He was a body/stunt double for one of the dwarves in the latter, and a Nazgul in the Trilogy. So, of course, he knew a lot of background and behind-the-scenes stuff about the movies. Perfect for this job, I would say. I was going to remember his name, but it’s been too long since the trip, and that info is buried under too many days away from it.

(Looks more like Hagrid from “Harry Potter” to me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway—our first stop was the WETA Studios (https://www.wetaworkshop.com/). This was where all of the cool special effects and costumes and brainstorming for the backdrops all came from.

The lobby was fantastic…

…and the interior workshop was even more so. Unfortunately for the folks back home, tourists are not allowed to take pictures in there. Copyrights and all that sort of thing.

Again, it’s been too many weeks, and I don’t remember much of what was told us by our guide. I do remember one thing: the armor that the elephant-thing riders wore was fashioned with the plates facing upward—because they would have been fired on from below and therefore couldn’t have armor plating that allowed for gaps in the downward position.

So we were off again, after buying the requisite souvenir things. So many cool options—but in our case anything we bought had to be somewhat flat and easy to stow. Not a lot of room in our luggage as it was.

Our next stop was the pine forest atop Mt. Victoria, where a lot of the outside shots had been done. It looked an awful lot like Oregon—I could have been hiking at Silver Falls instead.

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We trotted down several paths, and got a lot of interesting movie info along the way.

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A couple of things stand out in my memory:

  1. There is a scene in the first of the trilogy movies where the hobbits fall down a hill and fetch up against a tree. Sam says something like, “I think I broke something,” and produces a busted carrot from his pocket. In reality, the stunt hobbits had done the rolling, and Sam’s stunt double DID break something—a rib. He had to be transported to the hospital!
  2. Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) did not know about the LOTR books when he was cast. All he knew was that it was an adventure movie. At that time, he was some 30 pounds overweight. In his mind, he knew that this type of movie would require him to be much thinner and in better shape. So when he reported for filming, he had been working out and had lost all that weight. Peter Jackson made him put it all back on again!
  3. When you see all the hobbits running, you might notice that Sam is not there. It’s because all that weight he gained back made it impossible for him to keep running for all the takes that Jackson filmed for every scene.

There was so much more. I wish I could have written it all down right then and there.

Our last stop was at the top of Mt. Victoria, in order to get a good look at the entire Wellington area and environs. Gorgeous views!

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The second part of our day was spent wandering around Wellington on our own. We took lots of pictures, sampled beer in a couple of places, and generally enjoyed ourselves until evening, when we had to get back on board the ship again.

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Wellington’s Capitol Building–we’re told it’s the ugliest building in the country. Do you agree?

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It’s becoming more and more apparent—cruises are meant merely to give people a tantalizing taste of different ports of call, so that they will come back and stay for longer periods of time.

My next entry will be the lovely port town of Picton. I don’t know when that will be, but it will happen at some point.

Hope you’re enjoying this travel blog!

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Anchors Aweigh!

FEB. 4 – ANCHORS AWEIGH!!

We were up and out of the hotel early enough on Tuesday morning. After the all-essential visit to the coffee shop around the corner,

we hired an Uber driver and got ourselves to the ferry building in order to do a lot of waiting.

The old building was actually kinda cool, especially the structure of the roof.

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And eventually we were able to get on board our ship.

Ta-da! The Jewel!

No, no, no—not the Pearl. Although I thought I saw Johnny Depp in the crowd waiting to get on. Meh—wasn’t.

Here’s the NCL Norwegian Jewel:

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Once on, we checked out our room,

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dropped off what baggage we had (our big luggage would show up later that evening), and wandered around the ship a bit.

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I like the little red fish in the carpet pattern–it’s so ME.

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We couldn’t get too involved in anything, because the mandatory fire drill was imminent.

At least we didn’t have to stand outside on the deck like we did on our first cruise. With the life vests on. Sitting in a lounge area was a whole lot better.

Once that was over, it was time to start making that drink package work for us.

I think I met my favorite cruise person that day. He was a bartender who worked at the back of the ship, and he was about as cheerful as a box of pushpins, or maybe a week in Siberia. But I liked him because he wasn’t afraid to be himself. I have to admit, the cheerfulness of the staff was getting to me by the end of the cruise.

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Leaving Auckland–we’ll be back some day…

Day passed into night, which gave us more opportunities for nice photo ops.

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Paul got this one—he spent a lot of time trying to get it right. A floating ship does not make zoom pictures come out very nicely:

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DAY 2 – GISBORNE, and a visit to a very small place

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We would be going to a place today that I had been looking forward to the most.

But first, breakfast—and having to go through the washy-washy-happy-happy gauntlet. The cruise personnel were very big on keeping things clean, which I understand. The whole covid-19 was still a rather nebulous thing, but the staff on a ship is always on the alert.

But there was one guy who sang at us while he hosed us down with the spray bottle. Loudly. And non-morning persons such as I were looking for ways to pitch him overboard.

Then we had the obligatory wait in the theatre, after which we would get our stickers and get off the ship. Buses awaited us, which would whisk us off to our various destinations.

I do have to say that this was one of the less-populated cruises I have been on, which made for less crowding wherever we went.

The ride to Hobbiton was a delight—all that beautiful New Zealand scenery you see in shows and movies is so very real.

Our guide told us some cool things about the making of “The Hobbit” and “LOTR” on the trip over, and during the walk through Hobbiton.

One: The people scouting for places to film LOTR saw this area from their helicopter, and knew they wanted to film here. When they went to the owner’s house and knocked on the door, little did they know that The Rugby Match Of The Season was on the telly. The owner told them to go away until the game was over. They came back later, and he was happy to let them use his land. Under one condition—that they return it to exactly how it was before they changed it.

Two: They did exactly that, and the farmer was happy—until he noticed people wandering around his sheepland.

When he asked them what they were doing there, they asked if this had been where LOTR had been filmed. He started really liking the notoriety, and when he was approached about using his land for “The Hobbit,” the proviso this time was that they made the changes permanent. He’s made a lot of money off that decision…

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Unfortunately, there isn’t–and has never been–anything behind those doors.

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If I’m not mistaken, they shot the tavern/inn scenes here. It’s the real deal now–at least the tavern part.

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See that tree behind our tour guide? It’s completely fake. All those leaves? They were tinted a certain color and added one by one to the tree. Then Peter Jackson came along and said that they were all the wrong color. They had to be taken down and re-dyed, they stuck back on the tree.

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Bilbo’s house. There are a couple of interesting things about this place.

One: there’s a scene that has Bilbo and Gandalf sitting here watching the festivities at Bilbo’s birthday party. The sun is going down.

Problem–this bench faces east. They had to film the sun coming up and then play it in reverse for the movie.

Two: The sets of the inside were created for smaller heights. So when Gandalf bumps into the chandelier–that was part of the script. When he bangs his head on the arch–that was the real thing.

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Samwise Gamjee’s house.

One: Sam’s kids in the movie were his actual children.

Two: that smoke from the chimney–fires are set in special areas every day so that smoke billows out all day long.

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I pretty much decided that, if these places were real, I’d be living here right now.

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The vegetation and critters were very real.

After Hobbiton, we went back to the town of Tauranga, and spent a good part of the day wandering around there. Not a big place, but pretty.

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Early in the evening, we set out again. Of course, we had to make sure that the gin and tonics were fresh and that the margaritas were just right…hee hee.

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We spent a lot of evenings taking pictures of sunsets. Morning sunrises—no…

DAY 3 – GISBORNE—or not…

I’m glad we didn’t have an excursion to Gisborne—the water was too choppy for the boats to take us to shore. Ah well…I’m betting the residents of the place were only too happy to be left alone for one day. Businesses, probably not so much.

One of the few times we caught the early-morning sky.

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Yeah, doesn’t look good…

So—what to do? I got the opportunity to wear out my shoes a bit on a 5-mile or so walk—around and around the ship on the promenade deck. I was excited when we were joined by a pod of dolphins alongside—they didn’t stay with us long, but that was one nice blessing to see!

I also got some writing done on my next book, “The Dead Shouldn’t Drive.” I spent the afternoon in the library, and wrote until my eyes glazed over.

Paul and I met up later, and we did some more drinking at various watering holes around the ship. There really are a lot of things to do all day on a cruise ship, but none of them really appealed to either of us. Shows, crafts, cooking demos, etc.—not really our thing. We did see a couple of shows, but not this night.

And we learned early on that getting a room above the main entertainment area was probably not a good idea. At least the shows were over by 10pm.

The next day we would be in Wellington, and that excursion was going to be related to the LOTR movies as well. I could hardly wait!

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A whirlwind visit to Auckland

Going though TSA—this time the sensors didn’t like my box of protein bars…Or was it the total pat-down because I had earbuds in my pocket? (Oops…)

Be my guest, kids. Whatever floats yer boat…

A short flight, and then we were in Auckland.

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First thing I noticed once we got out of the airport terminal was that every third person in this city is an Uber driver.  We had to wait for quite some time before our driver got to us—there was a sea of vehicles all picking travelers up in a very small space.

I let Paul have the front seat—he wanted to talk to the driver, and I, well, didn’t. I wanted to see what we were passing. Who knows when we’d get here again?

So—our hotel. What can I say about it? Comfortable, mostly. Convenient, yes.

Air conditioning? Nope.

This was as close as it got to A/C.

Luckily the summer was on its way out, so it wasn’t really hot. But it was humid. That was hard on me, especially on the uphills and downhills. Which were everywhere.

And where do a couple of travelers from the west coast of the States go for dinner their first night in Auckland? Why, to a New York-style pizza place, of course.

It seemed that no matter where we walked, all we saw were Thai or Indian restaurants. Or Hong Kong BBQ. None of these have ever interested me. I wanted something New Zealandish. No luck. So, pizza.

Good food—no A/C.

I have to say that I was enthralled by the architecture around us, which represented so many different building styles from across centuries. Paul was too—we sure took a lot of pictures!

Lots of street art too.

There was one bit that we passed several times before we even noticed it.

Birds in a box

All too soon our evening was over, and we had to retire to our hotel room. Fortunately, it cooled off pretty well during the night.

 

AUCKLAND, NEXT DAY

One day to play tourist, so we had to get to a lot of places for very short periods of time.

We decided to take the ferry over to Devonport, which is across the harbor from Auckland. Our main reason was so that we could get some good pictures of Auckland’s skyline.

While we were in line waiting to get on the ferry (did I tell you that tourists are in lines a lot? Yep, thought so.), a man rushed up to us and asked us to hold his place in line while he bought a ticket. There was no one behind us, so we figured what the hey.

Turns out he was a chatty fellow, and was a big fan of beer. He made his own at home, much like us. And he was able to clue us in to some of the lesser-known brewpubs in the area—always a good thing to know. We had a nice time talking to him all the way over, then said our good-byes when we went ashore.

We didn’t explore Devonport, because we just didn’t have the time. We took our skyline pictures, and a few of the town, and got back on the ferry.

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You see that Sky Tower building? That was where we were headed to next—via one of the brewpubs our friend told us about.

This was very close to the Tower, and was called The Brewers’ Cooperative.

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I did like the beer here, but I have to say that most of the places I visited on our trip didn’t meet up with my expectations for dark beer. Of course, I have been spoiled by the breweries in my own state—especially the offerings from McMenamins. Those guys know how to brew beer!

We got to talking with the bartender, and he was from—tah-dah!—Seattle! He says he loves it in Auckland, and I can’t blame him.

We also met a couple who had just gotten off their cruise ship and were visiting Auckland as a stop along the way. The four of us chatted and watched the Super Bowl (which was being televised on a Monday, due to that International Date Line thing).

We didn’t have time to stick around for much of it, because it was time for us to go up the Tower and have lunch.

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(The lobby was all dressed up for Chinese New Year.)

But before we went all the way to the top, we stopped at the observation deck and had a look around at the city.

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The coolest bit about the restaurant is that, like Seattle’s Space Needle, it revolves—one full turn an hour. It took us that long to have a nice, leisurely lunch, so that worked out well.

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I actually took a picture of what I ordered, but I don’t know what is was now, and the coloring of the picture doesn’t make it look all that appetizing. But then again, I don’t like pictures of food.

After that, we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, but we didn’t do any hopping, since it was getting on in the afternoon and the buses were going to stop running in an hour or so. We sat up top with a couple of other States-ers and talked about this and that.

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I also learned that my team lost the Super Bowl game. Da bums!!

Once we were back to our starting point, Paul and I tried out another of the suggestions made by our friend on the ferry—Vulture’s Lane. That one was tough to find, but well worth the effort, if only for the décor.

On our way back to the hotel, we took a detour in order to visit Brothers Beer, one of the better-known breweries in the area. Here we had a beer flight—five or six small glasses of different beers. Decent, but the taste buds longed for home.

(Rogue is one of OUR breweries. What a delight to see the name so far from home–and on an Oregon license plate to boot!)

We had a bite of dinner outside a small restaurant as evening wore on, and were delighted to see how the area was lit up by various colored lights.

That was it for our only full day in Auckland. Next posting will be in a few days, at which time I will blather on about coffee shops and lines and ships and such.

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The Lands Down Under–Days 1 & 2 (mostly)

DAY 1 & 2

Well, we got to San Francisco without a hitch…

There’s that quote taken from Robert Burns which goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men…,” indicating that stuff has just gone sideways. That was pretty much what happened after we arrived in SF.

I’d like to add a bit to Mr. Burns’ line: “The best-laid plans of mice and men had better have a lot of wiggle time in between events.”

We checked through, undergoing the usual TSA hooey (this time around, the scanner didn’t like my Kindle—this was just the beginning of my security-checkpoint adventures), and found out that our flight to Fiji was going to be delayed by three hours. I joked that we could go rent a car and visit Paul’s mom, since we had so much time, but we tried the local beers in the airport taverns instead. Once you’re in the airport, it’s wise to stay there.

Ya gotta love cellphones and wi-fi. At least it gave us something to do besides walk the corridor and look out the windows.

Late into the evening, the announcement came over the system: our flight had been cancelled.

The lot of us who had been waiting all this time trooped to the ticket agents to see what could be done next.

There is a bewildering number of ticket agencies and corridors and airlines at this airport, and I suspect that they all trade off locations with each other now and again—some deliberately, so the employees can have a good laugh at our expense. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland, the way they have these ticket counters set up. I was fully expecting a white rabbit with a pocket watch to come bounding out from between the aisles and run out the door.

You get used to standing in line when you’re on vacation…

When we finally got to the ticket counter, the very nice person in attendance got us booked on a flight that was to leave at 9ish in the morning. And the airline paid for all of us to stay overnight in a five-star hotel!

No, not all in the same room. Don’t be silly…

Now the trick was to go outside and find the hotel shuttle. This is not as easy as you might think. There are some four floors where you can go outside and wait for something. We tried a couple of them, as did a family with small twins. We discussed with them which choice would be the most feasible, since the floors were not clearly marked for people who had been sitting in an airport terminal for six hours.

Paul and I went downstairs, they went upstairs. We didn’t find what we needed down there, and started back up, in time to see the family go outside to the area we had decided was the wrong one. But they were too far away to get their attention. I worried about them getting to their hotel in due time, but we couldn’t do much about that, since we were in the same fix.

We went up two flights—nope, this was the terminal’s train.

Back down, and there was the sign as big as you please. Crap.

We went out to wait, and were soon on our way to the hotel.

The hotel also gave us $50 each to use on food, which is what we did in the morning.

 

OK, now we’re into the next day.

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The flight took off an hour late, and landed in Nadi, Fiji, without any problems.

I didn’t have to worry about sleeping on the flight, since it was during the day. The weirdness was that, after crossing the International Date Line, we lost a day. That is truly a bizarre feeling—but nowhere near as weird as when we came back.

So—Fiji. This was supposed to be a layover of a few hours, and then we were to have been on our way to Melbourne for a couple of days.

And this is what the luggage tags told the handlers.

And this is why we got to about panic level when our luggage did not come out the flappy door and ride around on the track.

We were not alone in the world of lost luggage. The family of four, a slightly older couple traveling alone, and a young surfer dude were also looking for their stuff. The family was especially concerned, since the kids were in diapers and they had none left.

Paul finally went over to Customer Service, and a very capable, very friendly young lady was able to conjure it all up within minutes. The handlers had probably piled it in a space marked “?” somewhere in the deep vacuum of the luggage-dumping area.

Yay—we had our luggage. Now to get our flight to Melbourne taken care of.

Sigh.

Our nice Customer Service lady did her best to find us a flight out that day, but there just wasn’t anything available. Best that the airline could do was a flight that would get us to Melbourne two hours AFTER we had to be in the air for Auckland. This was not going to happen.

She and Paul played Dueling Cellphones for the next few minutes, and he found us a flight on Air New Zealand that would take us straight to Auckland. That one would still leave the next morning, but at least we would be able to be in the right city for our cruise.

Good-bye to Melbourne, and hello to even more expense.

And here we were in Fiji as night fell…

Well, guess what. The airline arranged for us to stay in yet another five-star resort. They arranged for a taxi to take us there, since it was a 40-minute ride from the airport. (Longer, actually, because the taxi driver was extremely fun and chatty, and took us there by the more scenic route. Not that we could actually see anything, but he seemed to want to have a long conversation. We weren’t paying for the ride, so what the hey?)

Again, we were given meal money—this time $100 each. And we did have dinner there.

It would have been splendid if the humidity hadn’t been like 220%. The heat index must have been staggering. I prefer to be able to breathe when I eat, but I survived.

Holy moley, what a beautiful hotel room!

And the next day—what a fantastic view from said room!

We fell in love with Fiji right then and there, and we will be going back at some time in the future.

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At breakfast, the staff had closed the screens to keep the birds and insects out (their dining area was built like the lanais in Hawaii, so the night before all of the screens had been open). But there was one bird—or maybe several—that was very clever. It would wait until someone opened the door, then swoop in and find food to steal. Someone on staff would chase it out again, and the process would be repeated again. I loved it!

Soon enough, it was time to go on to Auckland. And this is where I am stopping for now.

Next time I get to write, which might not be right away, Auckland will get its share of the limelight.

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The end…for now

DAY 10 – TULSA TO OKC

Our last full day on this adventure.

A lot of what we drove to/through was taken from the Route 66 phone app. The darn thing no longer wants to open, so it’s off to the Internet for details.

First site out of the gate today was the “Buck’s on Route 66 Meteor Man.” Yet another of those Muffler Man statues gone off to new adventures.

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A little way down the road (within walking distance) were two more items of interest:
The Meadow Gold sign…
https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/26920

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…and the mural next to it.
You Said We Couldn’t Do It, But We Did

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We had started out our day at a coffee shop, which had some really lovely pictures displayed of some Art Deco buildings. We loved them—so sleek looking!

Were we surprised when we came across them in reality! We saw the top of this one, which is a UMC church property, from quite a distance. We were immediately drawn to it.

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You’ll notice there’s not a lot of traffic. That’s because the locals were starting to batten down the hatches under a tornado watch. We, of course, were clueless. Where we’re from, there are always storm warnings, and most of them fizzle out. I had seen the tornado warnings on TV, but had shrugged them off.

Anyway, once we were through with this monolith, we found some more not much further on.

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We got every angle we could shoot, then kept driving—straight on to the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza.

Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza, Tulsa, Oklahoma

There was a lot to see here. Paul went across the bridge and down to the park proper. My legs didn’t want to deal with the downgoing and the back-up-coming, so I just experienced it from a distance.

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You can see where Old Route 66 used to be.

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And here is a clue as to what was upcoming, weather-wise. I think this was where I started to take those warnings seriously.

This was a hoot—Crybaby Hill.

And, yes, there’s a story—and more—behind it.
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cry-baby-hill-tulsa

Onwards and southwards.

This train was part of the Route 66 Historical Village in Tulsa (in the area known as Red Fork).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Fork,_Oklahoma
http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMMWX0_Frisco_4500_Steam_Engine_Tulsa_Oklahoma_USA

The rain was making itself known at this point, so we did a drive-by camera shot here and kept going.

Time to eat something! Breakfast was definitely needed by this time.

We stopped off at Ollie’s Station Restaurant, which was a train lover’s heaven. All kinds of train paraphernalia, signs, and models. There were even model trains running on tracks close to the ceiling. It was fun to sit there and watch them.
https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/oklahoma/ollies-train-restaurant-ok/

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We had a window seat, which meant being able to take a few pictures of the buildings across the street. Kind of abandoned-looking in this area.

Quick note: There are 106 miles between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Incredible the amount of interesting places to see between here and there.

Next town: Sapulpa

And the World’s Largest Gas Pump.

Not an original Route 66 thing, but quirky enough to be included.
https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/59598

There was a Trolley and Train Museum in town. We didn’t stay long.

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And the Rock Creek Bridge…
https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/bridge18_Rock_Creek_Sapulpa.html

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Bristow was next, and the only thing we found there was an old Chrysler-Plymouth sign. As with all else, there is some history behind it:
https://www.theroute-66.com/bristow.html#motor

I’m thinking this was a drive-in. It was between Bristow and Stroud.

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And to go along with Rock Creek Bridge, we have Rock Café in Stroud. Not to be confused with Hard Rock Café, which is a whole different world.

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Here’s a really cool original Route 66 sign:

There were a number of fun things in Davenport.

 

Like the Early Bird Café–which looked as if the birds, early and late, had flown a long time ago.

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Here’s a gas station that’s been turned into an antique store. Seems appropriate.

This was something I wish we’d been able to stop and explore. But those clouds were getting more serious by the minute.

On we went—next town was Chandler, where we saw the Lincoln Motel. Still in business—yay! Bet that sign looks great at night.

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And another one of those teeny-tiny cute gas stations. This one was built in the 1930s.

When riding the Route, it’s always good to reference as many sources as possible. I completely forgot about the sites in Warwick—good thing we had our phone app.

Actually, the two sites were on the same property. We stopped for the 1920s-era outhouse,

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and stayed on to check out the Seaba Motorcycle Museum.

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https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/seaba_station_warwick.html
(I do have to admit, my main draw to the museum was its updated bathroom.)

This place deserved a quick pic—the Boundary Inn in Luther, OK.

Interesting info about it: http://www.theboundaryon66.com/

Arcadia, OK, was next. Some really fun stuff here.
The Hillbilly Bed and Breakfast was photo-worthy, but info on it was difficult to find. Still in business.


The 1898 Round Barn was stuffed full of memorabilia. I found the empty attic area the most fascinating though.

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Then we came upon the World’s Largest Soda Bottle.

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I was hoping it would be a real soda bottle, but it turned out to be an art thingy of sorts. Still, it’s pretty impressive.

The adjacent store, Pops, was fun to go into. Nothing but bottles of soda. I was hoping to find guarana, but no luck there. That’s a Brazilian soda, and hard to find in the US.

There were probably things to see on the rest of the way to Oklahoma City, but the weather was just getting more and more threatening. Time to make haste!

Edmond was our last town before we reached OKC. We stopped just long enough to take a picture of the 1889 Territorial School and a shot of the Redkey’s Flour tower. The latter’s relationship to Route 66? No idea. It just looked to be in the correct era.

We finally reached Oklahoma City in the early afternoon. Our first stop was the State Capitol, which was actually very difficult to get to. Not because of the traffic, but because the roads around it are so convoluted.

Very empty. All personnel had been excused so they could find a safe place to hunker down until the tornado threat was over. We were reminded of that by a friendly passerby as we were walking towards the Capitol building.

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So—yeah. At this point we started to take this weather thing a little more seriously.
But—so much to see! And when would we be back? So we did what we could while we could do it.

Hey! Another Tower Theatre! Such a popular name!

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And a bar called “Bunker Club”—how appropriate, given the weather.

Then a real quick drive by the Milk Bottle Grocery.

A little bit of a drive more, and we came across the Gold Dome.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Dome

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Mutt’s Hot dogs was our final stop—remember how we started this trip? Dog to Dog.

We made haste toward the hotel we had booked, but our progress slowed way down when we noticed the area that we had to pass through to get there. Let’s just say that the wearing of brass knuckles was probably mandatory. When we got to the place, we quickly cancelled our reservation and turned tail.

Luckily there was a hotel near the airport that had a vacancy—the same one we’d stayed at on our last trip.

My cousin and aunt felt it best to stay at home, so we didn’t get to see them this time around. Can’t blame them–I hope we can make amends in better weather.

Because of the threat of hail, we decided to take the car back to the rental agency that night. Best to leave it in the hands of the owners in the case of really nasty hailstones.

Back at our hotel, we kept a sharp eye on the weather forecasts—which wasn’t hard, considering every TV channel had been overridden by this situation. I didn’t know if I should change into my PJs or just stay dressed.

Once the alarm went down by a couple of notches, we relaxed a bit and were able to get to sleep.

 

LAST DAY—OKC to Dallas to home

Our last day was decidedly different from what we had expected.

We headed for the airport in the morning, where we found out that our flight to Dallas had been cancelled.

However—and this was the best part of the day—we heard the desk agent further down the counter advise her customers (who were in the same boat as us) to rent a car and drive to Dallas. It was only a couple of hours’ drive away.

And we had expected a huge layover in Dallas anyway.

So we did just that—and after a bit of a drive and more pleasant scenery, we got to DFW in plenty of time for our flight. No weather problems at all—although I did see a huge billboard downed in a field. By weather or by time, I have no idea.

There was one sign that made me cringe—an advertisement for Uranus Fudge Factory. And this is a Route 66 thing. “The best fudge comes from…” you get the idea. Ugh!

It was doubly wonderful to get home, away from wind and hail.

***

And that’s it.
You probably won’t hear of another incredible trip on here until the first quarter of next year. That’s when we’ll be hitting Australia and New Zealand.
Until then—happy trails!

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One day, three states

DAY 9 – MAY 19 – SPRINGFIELD MO TO TULSA OK

With some reluctance on my part, we left that cute motel for parts south and west.
The only thing that I would not miss was a leak through the wall that soaked the carpet in front of the bathroom. We could have done without that. But when it rains in the Midwest, it really rains. And an old motel has a lot of leaky places.

Springfield, MO – a town like many others. Except for the multi-police-car chase that sped past us going the other way. That was certainly different.

We went past the Tower Theater (1948 – 1997) – it has one of those classic art-deco style façades. Too bad it no longer operates; I would have loved to see inside.


And the Shamrock Court Motel was just too cute to pass up.

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Interesting info I stumbled onto when looking up more about the place – it was built in 1931, and constructed entirely of hand-placed Ozark stone. There’s something about the architecture being “complete with ‘Sunburst” and ‘Diamond’ patterns,” but the description (from a realty company) was poorly written, and it’s hard to tell what they meant.

And on to Paris Springs, and Gay Parita Station.
Wow, was this place fun! So much to see!

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The manager/proprietor, who took over from the now-deceased couple who put this place together, was a real character. Chatty as a magpie! He was really eager to share his knowledge—luckily, we were pretty much his sole audience.
He recommended three places that could not be passed up—even wrote them down for us. So, we took his advice and visited them. I don’t even know if they’re in the Route 66 books. They are, however, indelibly etched in my memory.


This truss bridge was built in 1926, and is still in pretty good shape. It led us straight into Item #1 on his list–Spencer, MO.

This info is from The Illustrated Route 66 Historical Atlas, by Jim Hinckley:
Having learned of plans for a new highway, Sidney Casey bought the entire town of Spencer, which consisted of a vacant store and two acres of land, for a reported $400.00 in 1925. With the flow of traffic on Route 66, Casey’s enterprise, consisting of a service station, café, barbershop, and garage flourished. However, the realignment of US 66 in 1961 to bypass the (truss) bridge wholly eliminated business. The Francis Ryan family acquired the property in 2011 and refurbished the façades to their 1930s appearance.

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All well and good, but we must push on.

The next thing on our Gay Parita host’s list was Red Rock II, which was absolutely fascinating.
Here’s a bit of info about this place, taken from the Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles:
…This town…(was) created by a local artist northeast of Carthage. Red Oak II is a village—partly the original Red Oak—that was brought over from its original location more than twenty miles away and installed here, presumably to attract nostalgia-minded travelers—and it keeps growing. It features a multitude of vintage structures, including…filling stations, and several residences, both occupied and otherwise. There’s even a mock cemetery.

Red Oak II, Missouri – A Stroll Through the Past

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We got to talking with a lady who lives there. She was an absolute delight—told us more about the site than we could possibly remember. She had her own place there, where she lived with her rescue dogs.
She told us that people tended to drop their unwanted dogs near the town, and she had adopted three of them. These pups looked pretty happy with where they had ended up.

Terrible that people would just treat their pets as throwaway objects.

Lowell Davis, the mastermind behind this town, also created the “Crap Duster” sculpture in Carthage.

This is a replica of a flying manure spreader. Now THERE’S a job with a lot of potential–yech!

The Route 66 Drive-In here in town is still in business. We couldn’t get any closer, as it’s private property and it wasn’t open at the time.


We passed by the DeSoto Plymouth Building,

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either before or after the Boots Motel in Carthage—the third item on our Paris Spring’s friend’s list.

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What’s cool is that this place is back in business! I would have loved to see the inside. Such a funky exterior!

And on to Joplin, where we saw…almost nothing. There were sites noted in the books we read, but they weren’t readily found, and we were feeling the time pinch.

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We saw, but didn’t go into, Wilder’s Steakhouse. Have to say, the place had a great sign.

Then, Toto, we found ourselves in Kansas. Just when we crossed the state line, I do not know. But there we were, rolling into Galena.
This is where we found “Cars on the Route”

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http://www.kansastravel.org/4womenontheroute.htm
and the “Murder Bordello.”

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Galena’s Murder Bordello

I would have loved to explore more of both, but neither was open.

Now, what’s really handy about many of the places along the Route is that they have restrooms open to the public. This way we can take care of two items of interest at the same time.
This was true of Nelson’s Old Riverton Store in Riverton, KS. The building was built in 1925 and is still going strong. (I think the bathroom had pretty much the original plumbing. But beggars can’t be choosers.)

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Also in Riverton was the Rainbow Bridge Loop, which we almost missed. Luckily we were able to backtrack and get into a good parking spot for pictures.

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This sign says it all:

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Baxter Springs was our last stop before we entered Oklahoma. Just a couple of drive-by shutter-shots—a tank on the grounds of the Fort Blair Historical Site, and a 1930s-era Phillips 66 station.

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Um…Toto? Guess what. We’re not in Kansas anymore…again.

On to Quapaw, OK. The name of the town is not pronounced the way it looks, which is something I didn’t know. The city-limits sign made sure that visitors knew this. A quick look-up on the interwebs refreshed my memory—it is pronounced “O-Gah-Pah.” The town is named for the tribe, which is a member of the Sioux nation.

The things you learn…
https://route66mc.com/town.php?ID=353

We made a quick stop to take pictures of Dallas’ Dairyette, which is now closed. I couldn’t find any info or history about the place; we had found it on our Route 66 phone app, but I can’t access it now.

Next stop—Commerce, OK. The two sites we wanted to see were pretty much away from any, er, “commerce.” They had nothing around them to support the tourists they were trying to attract.

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Which turned to our advantage—no cars or people to get in the way of our picture-taking.

The Dairy King

was right across the street from the cutest, tiniest gas station I have ever seen.

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Our next town was Miami, OK, where we had a very brief picture-stop at Waylan’s KuKu Burger.

The Coleman Theater in Miami was a place we couldn’t pass up—yet we did. Luckily, we were able swing back around and find parking on a side street. We came out with the cameras snapping.

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http://www.colemantheatre.org/opening-weekend
Such beautiful architecture! Bet it’s haunted too. So cool!

And now—on to Afton.
We got out to take pics of the Packard Showroom,

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but the building across the street from it was even more interesting.

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The Rest Haven Motel was a challenge to find, since the address was not easily available from any sources. Another one of those loop-back-and-try-again sites. (It’s at 1st St. and Mulberry, if anyone’s interested.)

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The Avon Motel, or what is left of it, was fascinating.

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I would have loved to explore inside the rooms, but there were a lot of rusty nails lying about, with the nastier bits straight up and waiting for feet to puncture, so I had to give it a pass.
The most memorable part of this site was not the motel. We were there with another couple who was taking pictures also, and it turns out that the woman’s grandparents had spent their honeymoon there! I hope it had less tires in the rooms back then.

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(I could make a really bad joke about motels and “being tired,” but I’ll refrain…)
http://www.route66times.com/l/ok/afton-avon-motel.htm

Clanton’s Café, in Vinita, seemed like not much, but it had a surprising bit of history on its property.

And another old motel—the Chelsea in, well, Chelsea—was a short stop…

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And Claremore had an old motel and a cool bridge…

Now, Catoosa has a very recognizable Route 66 icon—the Catoosa Whale. I’m sure you’ve seen this in photo shots here and there.
But it was nothing like I thought it would be.
The park it was in was much smaller than I was expecting. But it was just as quirky as the whale within it.

Even the bathroom was a bit on the odd side.


Fishing was allowed, but only catch-and-release. The pond was so small, though, that I’m sure there was only a handful of scarred, punctured fish swimming around in there. I visualize a sub-surface Gothfish culture thriving, with all the fish vying for “street cred” in the form of lip holes and hook scars.

More history:

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We stayed long enough to get in some good shots, then it was on the road again.

The Arrowood Trading Post was worth a drive-by shot.

It was a bit of a drive further to Tulsa,

and our overnight digs at the Campbell Hotel.
This was a pretty cool-looking place, and we took a good number of pics.

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To tell the truth, I was hoping to catch a ghost or two. Oh well…

We went to the Hard Rock Casino for dinner, where I bought another shirt.

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Then we did some neon-hunting on the way back to the hotel. There were some really terrific examples—Paul worked hard at getting good shots of them.

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And that brings this day to a close.

The next day would be our last full day on this trip, and was the most memorable one—for reasons we never expected.

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The “Show Me” State shows us a lot!

DAY 8 – Fenton MO to Springfield MO

We traveled backwards a little, so that we could catch a few of the places we had to pass up in the waning light of the day before.

First on the list was Grant’s Farm. This is Ulysses S. Grant’s actual property, which he’d called “Hardscrabble Farm.” We thought it would be one of those places where you could walk around and get a feel for the history of the place.

Umm…

My feeling is that, wherever dead presidents go to hang out, poor old Ulysses S. is getting ribbed in perpetuity.

Here’s what I mean:
Washington’s Mt. Vernon has rolling hills and a grand house, and one feels a quiet dignity while strolling through the grounds.
And Monticello—well, Jefferson’s home is also a grand spectacle.
We’d seen where Lincoln had lived and worked—all of these places are treated with respect.

Unfortunately for Grant’s Farm, it was bought by a certain beer corporation, and is thus a tiny section of a grand beer garden and kiddie petting zoo.
To see what we’d come for, we had to board a tram. As we passed the farm,

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there was no slowing down. Just a quick two-minute narrative, and then we were through a pair of gates and surrounded by wild animals. Well, kinda wild. Free-range examples of a variety of ruminants, mostly.

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The tram let us off at a combo zoo and bier garten, and there was no way back to the Farm. Believe me, we tried.
So we skedaddled. And the only way out was through the bier garten, and onto another tram back to the parking lot.
Poor ol’ US Grant…

A couple more sights in St. Louis – Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard, a fixture here since 1941 (that dish seems to be a big thing in the Midwest), and the Donut Drive-In. I’m sure there was a reason for stopping here, but I can’t find anything in my books. It was a cool-looking place though.

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East of Eureka, inside the Route 66 State Park, is the partly-demolished Meramec River Bridge. (Funds are currently being gathered together to rebuild it.) An original bit of the Route comes right up to the edge. There’s a visitor center there too, which we skimmed through, and then we were off again.

Got stuck behind about 100 Jeeps – I am not exaggerating here. We passed them going the other way, and then when we left the park, we found ourselves at the end of a very long line of them. No idea what was going on there.

As I look at all the pictures we took this day, I wonder how we found enough time to hit all of the places we got to. Especially with events such as the above. And getting turned around because of that GPS monster.

Next—Pacific, MO, and the Red Cedar Inn. It’s now closed, but at one time (circa 1934), it had a bustling clientele.

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The Diamond Inn Motel and the Gardenway Motel, both in Villa Ridge, shared a common highway sign, which makes it seem that they weren’t competitors.

In fact, there’s a sign in the reception area visible from the window:

Both of these places are dead and gone. In fact, we didn’t even find the Diamond Inn.
The Gardenway gave me the creeps. I decided to get up close and look into the windows—and was I surprised! The rooms still have furnishings! Granted, they’re piled up and thrown around a bit—but there’s still stuff there. Even TVs! I had to wonder what happened to make the staff leave all this behind. The business closed in 2014, from what I could find on the interwebs. The building itself has been there since the 1930s.

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Also in Villa Ridge is the remains of The Diamonds Restaurant. It was originally built in 1927, and rebuilt after a fire in 1948. I don’t know how long it’s been closed, but there was stuff inside that building too.

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Our last picture stop in Villa Ridge was at the Sunset Motel. This one was built in 1945 and, although no longer in use, still seems to be in better shape than the previous ones we saw. I read that the sign’s neon has been restored—too bad we weren’t there at night to see it.

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This motel was just outside Villa Ridge, on the way to Stanton. Now this was one of those “is it an authentic Route 66 thing or just a dump?” kind of places. We didn’t stop long enough to find out.

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Then there were the Hot and Cold Water Towers in St. Clair. Paul found this one on the Route 66 phone app, and I’m not finding much info about its history. What I did find claims that the towers were a municipal practical joke. All the other towns had one water tower, so St. Clair put up two and labeled them. Ya gotta love the Midwest!

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Another motel—the Delta Motel in Stanton MO, was another place that still had furnishings. Some of the doors were gone, and you could see right inside at beds and such. No broken windows to peer through. The pool fascinated me—I don’t know why. I guess it’s because the concrete around it could still be seen in some places.

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This water tank got me dreaming—and thirsty:

It’s in Bourbon, MO, which is a very terrific name for a town. There are rumors as to how the town got its name, but I didn’t find any that could prove its claim.

We passed by the Circle Inn, which was opened in 1932 and is still in business. The food has changed down through the years, but it must still be good. It looked like it was closed when we went through though.

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Paul was getting a bit sleepy by this time—I think the previous night was his turn to have insomnia. Fortunately we found our next stop, the Missouri Hick Restaurant in Cuba, in short time.

He had a short nap in the car as I roamed around taking pictures.

Right next door was the Wagon Wheel Motel. It’s been restored to its original look, and I read that it’s a great place for Route 66ers to stay.

We had several hours of sightseeing to do, so that didn’t fit in with our itinerary. Maybe next time…

The Four-Way Restaurant in Cuba used to be a filling station. Sure is a cute building.

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We had to go quite a ways out of our way to find our next stop—Bob’s Gasoline Alley—but it was well worth the trip.
Gluseum.com states that this museum has the largest collection of Route 66 gasoline memorabilia in the Midwest. It was started by Bob and Darlene Mullen in 1995, and takes up a lot of their property. We didn’t see anyone else around while we there, which meant we could take as many pictures as we wanted and no one would get in the way. We probably spent more time there than we should have—but it had so much to look at!

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We got back to the Route and continued on to Fanning, where we stopped for pics of the World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair.
https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/17781
Where’s the largest one, you ask? Here:
https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-rocking-chair
I’m just glad that thing doesn’t actually move. If it rocked on your foot, you would never forget it!

The next item on our list was the Route 66 Motors in Dillon. My sources speak highly of this place, but it must have seen quite the decline since then. There was nothing there that spoke of tourist-friendly. It had a cool sign though.

The Mule Trading Post, with its giant hillbilly (which was put there not so long ago), has all the markings of a closed and abandoned establishment—until you drive up to it. It’s still doing a thriving business selling Ozark souvenirs.

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We saw some folks out back that we hadn’t seen in many a year—the A&W Family. That sure took us back. I remember the few times my family went out to eat—and A&W was usually the place. It had the staff that came out to take your order, then brought it out on a tray and hooked it over your car door. Oh, those root beers! I remember them well.

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Something definitely not part if the Route 66 history, but certainly fitting when it comes to unusual, is the half-scale replica of Stonehenge, which was carved with high-speed water jets. This is located on the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. We didn’t know if we would find parking, so our first pictures were a drive-by. Fortunately we found a parking lot above it and were able to get a few good pictures.

Also in Rolla was the Totem Pole Trading Post, still in operation. We took a few pictures, then left. As you can probably tell, we don’t collect curios or souvenirs. Just pictures. They don’t take up any shelf space, and we never have to dust them. I like that.

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Now for REALLY old fixer-uppers, you can’t miss with John’s Modern Cabins and Vernelle’s Motel, side-by-side in Doolittle. These were a remodeler’s dream. Or nightmare. You decide.
I was thinking that the grass-choked concrete in front of it was Route 66—but it wasn’t. It’s a bypassed bit of Highway 44, which had replaced Route 66. Even the new gets chucked out—wow.

As we got into Devils’ Elbow (named for a bend in the river that caused logjams), the skies opened up on us. We got a couple of pictures of the Elbow Inn and the Vintage Bridge, and decided enough was enough.

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We got into Springfield MO in the early evening, and easily found the Rail Haven Motel, which is where we stayed that night. By then the rain had stopped, and I took a ton of pictures while Paul checked us in. This was my favorite motel on this entire trip.

We had dinner at Doe’s Eat Place, a restaurant we chose for the unique name. Turns out it had Route 66 history too!
http://doeseatplace.com/history.html

By the time we finished dinner, it was dark out, and the area didn’t seem like a good place to hunt neon. So we headed back to the motel and were soon tucked in and sound asleep.


The next day would find us trundling through three states, and ending up in a casino in Oklahoma.

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