MANCHESTER TO MANCHESTER
- VIA THE WORLD
By Rosie Reid
Sadly in March 1991, a good friend of my late Grandmother passed away. Miss Winifred Relfe, or Aunt Relfie, was over 90 and had known the family for many years. At the time of her death she was in hospital recovering from a broken hip and prior to this had been living in a home for the elderly.
In September of the same year, my mother received a letter from Aunt Relfie's solicitors informing her that my grandmother was one of six beneficiaries of Aunt Relfie's will. The will had, however, stated that, should my Grandma already be dead, that her share of the estate, which would otherwise have been divided between the remaining beneficiaries of the will, was to go to my Mum. This would not be a vast amount, but certainly not to be sneezed at The actual figure was yet to be finalized. When it was, my Mum would be informed.
Two months later Mum got another letter with the final accounts of Aunt Relfie's estate. Mum was asked to sign one copy of the accounts and return it to the solicitors who would then send Mum a cheque for about ten times the original figure.
To say Mum was surprised would be an understatement in the extreme. It is a wonder she didn't pass out. Once the whole family had agreed that no, she had not read it wrongly, and yes, it did say she was to get that much, Mum started to recover.
A few days later I asked if she had decided what to do with the money. She had not, and so asked if I had any suggestions. Well, yes I had as a matter of fact. One which I thought she might like. A lot.
Mum and I had always joked that when we won the pools, which we don't do, we would go and visit her cousin Ian in New Zealand. Well, now we could do just that. As I thought, Mum did like the idea. A lot. But it was not until 1993, that we were able to do anything about it, and by then, the idea had grown.
Having written to Ian to ask if we could stay and suggesting dates, we received a reply saying that it would be fine. We decided that we would have to stop off somewhere on the way to New Zealand and that it would be nice to see Hong Kong again (we had been to visit Ian's sister there eleven years previously). Mum then realised that once in New Zealand we would be half way round the world and that we may as well see some more of it by coming home the other way. Dad decided that Canada would be nice as he had always wanted to cross the Rockies by train.
I then pointed out that it would be a shame to fly over the Pacific and all those islands with white sandy beaches and palm trees etc., and not visit one. So we decided on a Fijian island. This had to be changed when booking the holiday, as it would not fit in with the rest of the trip, and we chose Honolulu in Hawaii instead. Something else that developed when the holiday was being booked, was a night in Sydney. In one version of the Itinerary we would have to change planes there, so someone suggested that we have a night there for the hell of it. Just to say we had been.
And so, the final Itinerary was:
- Three nights and four days in Hong Kong, staying at the City Garden Hotel
- One night and one day in Sydney, at the Holiday Inn Menzies
- Seven nights and six days near Christchurch, New Zealand, staying with relatives
- Two nights and two days at the Waikiki Resort Hotel, Waikiki, Hawaii
- Two nights and two days staying at the Coast Plaza Hotel, Stanley Park, Vancouver
- Two days on the Rocky Mountaineer train going to Calgary, staying in Kamloops for the night
- One night and one day in Calgary at the Delta Bow Valley Hotel
- And finally two nights and two days in Toronto, at the Westbury Howard Johnson Hotel, taking the bus down to Niagara on the first day
No, three weeks is not much time to 'do' the world, but we had a damn good try!
We had decided to fly from Manchester, but getting there in time to book in for a 10:30am flight was not easy and so we decided to go up to Manchester the night before and stay in a hotel. This would also give us somewhere to leave the car for the duration of the holiday. So, after leaving the cat at a cattery, double checking that everything was packed, especially passports, we set off at 10:00pm on Friday July 23rd to pick up my brother, David, from work and then carry on to Manchester, arriving at the hotel at about midnight.
We got up early the next morning to get the hotel courtesy bus to the airport and finally leave Britain for three weeks. Having checked in and got rid of our luggage we wandered round the airport to kill time before going through customs. After we had had our passports checked we went to the departure lounge and found the gate at which our plane was supposed to be. It wasn't there. There was however a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 standing near by, and after a while this was pulled over to the gate that we had been told we would be using. We did get a bit alarmed when one of the ground staff started wandering round muttering that she had lost the captain but she apparently found him a few minutes later and so we were allowed to board the plane and find our seats.
The seats on a Boeing 747 are arranged 3, an aisle, 5, an aisle, 3. Unfortunately we had four in a row in the middle and therefore we couldn't really see out of the window, which is nice even if all you can see is cloud, as it breaks up the monotony. After what seemed like a lifetime, we taxied down to the end of the runway whilst the air hostesses checked that all the seats were upright, all the tables were up and that everyone had their seat belt done up properly.
As the engines started to roar and we felt the acceleration we finally started to believe that we were actually on our way. We were actually going to Hong Kong, and beyond.
Forty seven minutes later we landed at Amsterdam where, having trundled straight over a bridge over a main road, we sat around for an hour, not able to leave the plane or use the toilets. That was when a window would have been very useful indeed. Not even the screen giving information about time, altitude, outside air temperature and maps, of various scales, giving location was working.
Having sat through one of the most boring hours imaginable, we finally took off again, next stop Hong Kong at about 9:30 am the next day local time. Anyone who has been on a long haul flight will know how monotonous it can be. The constant drone of the engines, the films which you either didn't see because they were naff or you've seen before (why do they never show the one you do want to watch which the in flight magazine says is good and so did everyone you know who's seen it?), the various radio channels all of which have one program which lasts about an hour and is then repeated, and the cabin staff constantly serving mouth-watering three course meals which you are too full to enjoy because you've done nothing to work off the last one but you feel you ought to at least try and eat because they look so nice (well, they did on all the flights we went on,) and anyway you've paid for them so you're entitled to them. And so, 14 hours later, after having flown over Moscow, Kathmandu, Darjeeling, Cox's Bazaar (?), Hanoi and various other places, most of which I slept through, and having filled in immigration forms, we finally started to descend over China ready to land at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong.
Landing at Hong Kong is much more exciting than landing at probably any other airport in the world. Depending on the wind, you either weave down through a valley lined with buildings before banking sharply and then touching down, or you come in straight over lots of little islands and the sea and look like you're going to hit the sea before the runway. Both ways the braking is much stronger than anywhere else. If it wasn't you'd go off the end of the runway and into the sea the first way, or straight in to the airport buildings the second. The first time we went to Hong Kong, back in 1982, we came through the valley in the buildings, this time we came in over the sea. I'm not sure which is the most scary. Either way, both times the plane stopped before we got either wet or squashed.
We had been told that Hong Kong in July was hot and humid, but nothing, other than spending four days in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, could have prepared us for the shock of stepping from an air-conditioned plane into an non air-conditioned walkway. It was like being smothered with a hot wet flannel and not being able to remove it. Once inside the actual airport we had the benefit of air-conditioning again while we waited for the customs staff to arrive and stamp our passports (being first thing on a Sunday morning they didn't arrive until after we did). This time, unlike the last visit, the customs officer had a new ink pad and so the stamp was legible, not just a fuzzy grey mess that may or may not have said Hong Kong.
After finding our way out of the airport buildings we located, or rather were located by, a courier, Gloria, who had our name on her list, persuaded us to book onto a tour of the Island the next day, and found us a car to take us to the hotel. Now, we had a job getting four large suitcases into the boot of my Dad's Volvo 343, but when we saw the limo that was to take us to the hotel we thought that would be no problem. We were wrong. We ended up with three cases in the boot that was held nearly shut with a bungee cord and the fourth on the seat next to the driver.
After a twenty minute drive along bumpy streets and through the tunnel to Hong Kong Island, we arrived at Electric Road and the City Garden Hotel. Where the garden was I'm not sure, but there was an area of concrete opposite the hotel with some trees in it, where each morning little groups of men and women gathered to practise their Ti-Chi and set themselves up for the day.
We checked in to the hotel and were taken to our rooms, which were next door to each other on the 18th floor. The view was interesting. The 'garden' outside the hotel was square and was surrounded on one side by the hotel and on the other three, by blocks of flats at least 35 storeys high. In one corner, through the gap between two of the blocks, you could just see a thin strip of the sea and a road that was built out on stilts over it.
By this time we were ready to collapse through lack of sleep, not having adjusted to the time change. And, just like last time, David was feeling ill. After a couple of hours sleep, Dad and I went to look for a shop that sold cans of pop, as the ones in the rooms were incredibly expensive. We walked along Electric Road and then up a covered walkway raised above the street to the main road and shops. The smell of Hong Kong at that time of year in that heat is not pleasant. It's a mixture of sewerage and rotting cabbages. We soon found a supermarket, bought a six-pack of pop and then headed back to the hotel to collapse once more.
By about nine o'clock at night we were ready for food and David claimed to be feeling a bit better. So, we headed once more to the main road where we found the only place around where we could buy a snack. McDonald's. Burgers and chicken sandwiches were bought and we sat down to enjoy them. At this point David decided that he wasn't feeling quite so well after all and that he didn't really want any food anymore, so he sat looking green while we ate ours. As soon as we left he decided that he really didn't feel well, he promptly threw up in the gutter and immediately felt much better. By now we were completely dead on our feet and so we returned to the hotel to collapse into a proper bed for the first time in about 36 hours.
Next day we rose early and made our way on the MTR (underground railway) to another hotel from which the trip would be setting out. On leaving the MTR station near the other hotel we noticed a shoe shop with a rather amusing name. It was called The Athletes Foot. We thought this was just an uninformed attempt at an English sounding name, but we later saw a branch of the same chain in Hawaii and so assume that it has a different meaning there. I've since seen them in France as well. Strange lot foreigners...
We found Gloria once more and were shown to the coach along with all the other, mainly British, tourists. The coach then left the centre of Hong Kong and made its way to Aberdeen on the other side of the island. Here we took a trip on a sampan round the Harbour, passing house boats covered with what looked like squid, hanging up to dry and of course the famous floating fish restaurants. On leaving the sampan, our photo was taken and then the photographer rushed off to develop the photos.
Next we were given a guided tour of a jewellery factory and shown the various stages and given the opportunity to buy, which we declined. The third stop on the whistle stop tour was Stanley and its market which we decided to return to later on in our stay. Finally we were taken to the top of the Peak to admire the view of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and then take the tram down to the bottom.
From the top of the Peak you can watch the planes landing at the airport and the boats crossing the harbour looking like toys in the distance. The Peak Tram is interesting to say the least. Most of the track is at a 45 degree angle and sometimes steeper. The floor of the tram is stepped so that you stand on the level. As it bounces its way down to the bottom of the Peak you can see the roofs of most of the skyscrapers you pass, many of which have swimming pools on them.
Once at the bottom it was back on the coach to return to our departure point. On the way the photographer reappeared to try and sell his wares. These consisted of a plate with our photo on, the photo on its own and several others of Aberdeen and the fish restaurants, all for HK$200. We decided to buy them as we wouldn't be able to get many pictures of the whole family together.
As it was gone midday, we felt that lunch was in order, and due to the extreme heat and humidity that we wanted something cold. The only place we could find that served cold food was an Italian restaurant called Mario's so we went there and ordered salad all round, and very nice it was too. Still not being totally adjusted to the local time, we then returned to our hotel and slept all afternoon.
In the evening we got the MTR, to escape the still hot and humid atmosphere outside, and went across to Kowloon where we walked round Nathan Road and the side streets looking in the shops and convincing several people that we did NOT want a 'copy watch' i.e. a fake Rolex. We went to the cultural Centre and Planetarium from where you can look across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. At night all the buildings are lit up and look like huge Christmas trees. Judging by the amount used, electricity must be cheap in Hong Kong.
At about 10 o'clock we decided that food was once more in order and that we needed to get out of the heat, and so we found another Italian restaurant called The Spaghetti House. Looking out of the restaurant window we watched all the comings and goings of the shops, which were still all open when we left at about 11 o'clock, and wondered how people cope with the heat and humidity all day, everyday, in the summer. Although Hong Kong is an amazing place, after four days we were glad to leave the heat and humidity behind and escape to the cooler climes of Australia in the middle of winter.
On Tuesday morning we took the MTR once more, this time to Jardine's Bazaar, another of Hong Kong's markets. Here we found that although the shops don't close until late, they don't open until late either, and so we had to wait until about 10:30 to see anything. After this we took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon where had lunch in another branch of Mario's in the Ocean Terminal and then went to the Cultural Centre once more to admire the view in daylight. It is just as impressive as by night even without the lights. Central Plaza, Hong Kong's tallest building and one which looks like a triangular Empire State Building, stands out not only because of its beauty, but simply because it towers above all the other buildings. The outside of it is covered with silver one way glass round the edges and gold in the middle which narrows to a point echoing the top of the building itself.
Having taken photos, including the obligatory "is the timer on the camera going to work or not?" photo, and just sat revelling in our surroundings for a while trying to ignore the heat, we wandered back down Nathan Road and the side streets off the other side of it. In Nathan Road itself you could buy a silk tie for about HK$90. As you went further away from it down the side streets the price gradually fell to about HK$15.
We were looking in one shop in Mody Street and Dad asked how much the silk shirts were. The reply from the owner, an Indian gentleman who apparently had relatives in Southall, was "cheaper by the dozen".
"I don't want a dozen", Dad said.
"You have six, he have six", replied the owner pointing to David. He then said "I make you a suit". Dad told him that we were leaving the next day, but apparently this wasn't a problem. Dad didn't want a suit but asked how much a jacket would cost. Having chosen the material, a cream silk and mohair mix, and the style, he was told that with a silk lining it would cost HK$2500. It was then that the haggling started.
Mum and I had decided to buy silk ties for Mum's relative for Christmas and had chosen eight for HK$15 and one for HK$25. These were quickly added to the deal. As were four silk shirts each for Dad and David. And a shirt made especially for Dad to go with his jacket. All for the equivalent of about ±250. Even David realised that this was a bargain and eventually we persuaded Dad to have the jacket and all the extras. We finally left to return to out hotel about 6:30pm after being assured that everything would be ready by 3:30pm the next day. Dad didn't really believe that it would happen, but the deposit we paid was a fair price for the ties and shirts that we were taking with us then, so he agreed and we returned to the hotel for dinner.
On Wednesday morning we caught a bus to Stanley and enjoyed a more leisurely stroll around the market than we had on Monday. I wanted to buy something with a dragon on for a friend who is mad about dragons. You may, like we did, think that this would be easy in Hong Kong. Wrong. The only thing that I could find was a cloisonné keyring, so he had to make do with that.
To take break from the heat, we went for a paddle in the South China Sea and a sit on the beach, watching an elderly man in a boat paddle out to a bigger boat to do some fishing. He had come from a shanty town on one side of a small peninsula, the other side of which were several blocks of very expensive flats. But then Hong Kong is like that. Extremes of poverty and wealth living side by side.
Returning to Kowloon and the Spaghetti House once more we had lunch, took photos of the Island and the went back to fetch Dad's jacket and shirt. When we arrived at the shop the jacket and shirt were hanging up ready and waiting. Dad tried the jacket on, decided it was a perfect fit and paid the balance. We then went back to the hotel to get our luggage and to wait for the airport bus.
After having checked in and got rid of our luggage, we went through customs, got another stamp, also legible, on our passports and waited in the departure lounge for our flight. We had been told the gate number and, as at Manchester, there was no plane at the gate. Eventually we were called to the gate and there was still no plane. We went through to another lounge and sat around for a bit longer.
After a little while we were herded onto buses and taken across the airport to the plane. This meant that we actually got to walk across the tarmac, well concrete, and up the stairs to the plane, although we were slightly put out that the first class passengers got a canopy over their stairs. And so, having taken our last breath of the stifling Hong Kong air, we boarded the plane for the 8 hour overnight flight to Sydney's Kingsford-Smith Airport amid sexist comments about the pilot being female. As we watched the lights of Hong Kong gradually disappear, (we had window seats this time), we said our last good byes and settled down to try and sleep or, in David's case, watch the film. It was 'A Far Off Place'. I saw the first five minutes and the last five, before watching the most spectacular sunrise over Australia, although Rolf Harris couldn't be seen or heard anywhere!
As we started our descent into Sydney, the Cathay Pacific cabin crew came round and spayed the cabin with disinfectant. On the immigration form we had to declare if we had been on a farm or near agricultural animals in the past month. We hadn't. Actually, immigration forms were a bit of a pain and by the end of the holiday if I never saw another one it wouldn't have been soon enough.
Sydney was overcast when we landed and the locals were complaining about the cold. It was 18 degrees centigrade. Room temperature. In the middle of winter. Yes, well, um. What a load of wimps. OK, we thought it was chilly at first, but we had started to get used to the heat of Hong Kong.
Having made it through customs and getting legible stamp number 2 in our passports, we made our way out of the airport to the taxi rank only to discover that the hotel bus was cheaper, and so we took that to the hotel. By the time we had checked in at the hotel, found our rooms, (next door to each other again), and got ready to go out, it was raining and the temperature had fallen to 15 degrees. But we only had one day, well afternoon by this time due to time changes, to see as much of Sydney as we could, and so after making enquiries at the hotel reception we set off for Circular Quay.
Here we got our first view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Now, I had always assumed from photos that both were the same size. I was wrong. And although the Opera House is big, the bridge makes it look small. A difficult feat admittedly, but it succeeds. At Circular Quay we found the offices of Captain Cooks' Cruises and booked on the Afternoon Coffee Cruise, reasoning that even if, as we had been told, there was nothing to see, we would at least be dry. Having done this we found a cafe and had some long overdue lunch. After lunch we boarded the boat for the cruise glad to be out of the now even heavier rain.
Now don't ask me why, but I had always thought that Sydney Harbour Bridge was right at the entrance to the Harbour and that the Opera House was 'inside' the harbour. I was wrong again. The Bridge is a couple of miles from the entrance and the Opera House is 'outside' the bridge. I also didn't realise quite how big Sydney Harbour is. It is very big. It has a coastline of about 150 miles and this is all right in the middle of Sydney.
As soon as the boat left the centre of Sydney the rain stopped and we could see a 'walnut whip' shaped cloud sitting over the downtown area. Sydney as seen from the harbour, even on a grey overcast day in the middle of winter, is beautiful. The houses on the Harbour are enormous and apparently very expensive as well as being gorgeous. Where there isn't any houses, the little bays in the Harbour look very much as they would have done if Captain Cook hadn't sailed straight passed the harbour entrance, dismissing it as small and insignificant over 200 years ago, but had gone in and seen them. They are still full of trees although now and then you can see a house on its own nestling amongst them.
On arriving back at Circular Quay, having just seen the boat used in the film 'The Bounty' with Mel Gibson, we walked round to the Opera House. We couldn't go inside as it was just closing, but we could be impressed by the outside and the sheer size of the building. It was then decided that it was teatime and so we walked back round to another cafe we had noticed opposite Circular Quay. Here we had fish and chips. Out of newspaper, something that hasn't been possible at home for years. And then, totally dead on our feet, we walked back to the hotel and crashed into bed.
Next morning we were up bright and early to get the bus back to the airport for the flight to Christchurch, New Zealand and yet another time zone.
The flight from Sydney to Christchurch was quite uneventful. We ate, as usual, and watched 'Mr Bean's Christmas'. In the middle of our summer. The Aussies on the flight found this completely hilarious and then became even more excited when we saw Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, sticking up through the clouds and covered in snow. It seemed that they were going skiing and the sight of snow was almost more than they could take. We had to strain to see it as once again we had seats in the middle.
The excitement of the loudest of the Australians subsided very quickly when we started to come in to land. He had already told one of the cabin staff that he didn't really like flying and that he liked landing even less. By the time the plane hit the runway, and the landing was slightly more bumpy than some I've experienced, he was practically screaming with fear.
The customs officials at Christchurch were probably the friendliest that we met, and having got another legible stamp in our passports we went to find Mum's cousin Ian. Dad saw him first and he fitted Mum's description of him well. Six foot plus, dark hair, a beard and glasses. Once hellos had been said, we made our way across the car park to Ian's 'van', as he called it, loaded in the luggage and then ourselves and set off for Loburn, a community just outside Rangiora, which is in turn not far from Christchurch. Once in Loburn we met Sonia, Ian's wife, and their children Jennifer and Mark. I'm told that I had met Ian and Sonia before, but I don't remember it.
The house was quite big, with a large lounge, a dining room, a big kitchen, a study, a toilet and Ian and Sonia's bedroom with en suite downstairs. Upstairs were Jennifer and Mark's rooms, a guest room and another bathroom. Mum and Dad had the guest room and David slept on Mark's floor. As they were having a Japanese girl, Mitzi, arriving the next day as part of an exchange, I slept in a caravan in the garden so that she could share Jennifer's room.
In daylight the next day we could see the extent of their 'section' (pronounced 'seek-shun' by all true Kiwis). It made our garden look silly. They had over an acre of lawn surrounded by trees, which are cut down in rotation every few years for firewood and more are planted. Where the 'section' sloped up to the road had been neglected a bit in recent years and so they had borrowed a neighbour's goat to clear it. A little way from the house, Ian was building a barbecue with a wooden wind break around it.
During our stay with them, Ian and Sonia lent us one of their cars and on our first day we went into Christchurch. We parked in Hagley Park and walked the short distance into the city centre. In the middle of the main square is the tiny cathedral. It is smaller than some parish churches in Britain. We went in and looked around before paying to climb to the top of the tower. Exhausted we reached the top and admired the view of the skyline which was so different to that of Hong Kong. Here there was no buildings more than 10 storeys high. Down below in the square was a very strange woman. She was standing on a chair and doing what may or not have been bird impressions.
Having come down the tower much quicker than we went up, we went back to the car for the picnic that Sonia had prepared for us. Word travelled fast amongst the local sparrows and the car was soon surrounded. After a little while the sparrows got braver and started to land on the car so we put crumbs on the bonnet for them which quickly disappeared. Eventually some of the sparrows became very brave and would take the crumbs from our hands.
After lunch we walked through the botanical gardens to the city museum. Here there were displays dedicated to the indigenous wildlife of New Zealand, the islands' history and the Antarctic expeditions that have departed from New Zealand. We then decided to get our first view of the Pacific Ocean, and so we drove a little way out of Christchurch along the coast to a long sandy beach. Here we had our first paddle in the Pacific, albeit wrapped up in jumpers and coats, wearing shoes and trying not to get our feet too far in the water. When we returned to Loburn for our evening meal, Mitzi had arrived and was duly introduced to everyone. After the meal we watched television and chatted. One of the things we discussed was the differences between N.Z. and the U.K. Like how in New Zealand schools, as well as fire drills they have earthquake drills, where everyone has to dive under their desk or stand in the nearest doorway.
On Sunday we went to a town north of Rangiora called Hanmer. Here there are natural hot springs in which, for a small fee, you can take a dip. On the way we crossed a bridge across a little valley and saw some completely mad Kiwis bungee-jumping from the bridge, but then the Kiwis do claim to be the inventors of bungee-jumping, don't they?
Whilst getting changed into our swimming costumes Mum and I realised how fundamentally silly what we were doing was. The air temperature was 9 degrees centigrade, it was the equivalent of February in Britain and we were about to walk outside in nothing but a swimming costume. Mad. We went into the nearest pool where the water was about 35 degrees and immediately jumped out again with a severe pain in our toes due to heat of the water and lack of heat of our toes. When we had got used to the heat we noticed the smell of sulphur from the water. It was very strong. After a while we needed to cool off, and so we jumped in to the pool of fresh water and then tried some of the other pools all of which were a different temperature, taking care not to get our heads under the water due to the risk of catching meningitis.
After about two hours we decided that our fingers and toes were quite prune like enough and so we got out and got changed. By this time we all smelt of sulphur as did our swimming costumes. In fact mine did for several months after, despite being washed, worn in the sea and in chlorine filled swimming pools. When we returned to the car we decided to try and find a nature trail Ian and Sonia had told us about. This was about five minutes out of the town and the scenery was gorgeous. The leaves were just starting to reappear on the trees and flowers were just spouting through the soil. The walk took about twenty minutes and afterwards we set off back to Loburn, noticing on the way that the bungee-jumpers had also gone home.
Back in Loburn, Ian and Sonia were entertaining the local 'Lone' Rangers. This is a branch of the Girl Guides, but as a lot of people in New Zealand live in the middle of nowhere everything is done by post. On this particular evening they were meeting to be presented with badges. After the actual ceremony there was a buffet and everyone chatted. Mum got talking to the Guides' District Commissioner, Anne Field, about things like the fact that sun loving plants have to be planted on a north facing wall in the Southern Hemisphere, and we were invited to dinner with her and her husband on Wednesday evening.
The next day, Monday, we went to Akaroa on Banks' Peninsula taking Mitzi with us. The view from the road down to Akaroa is beautiful and the scenery is very much like Scotland. Once in Akaroa, we went on a boat trip out of the natural harbour to the Pacific to try and see the Hector's dolphins that live there. It was a very cold and very windy day and we about froze, but having reached the entrance to the harbour, we did see two of the dolphins who seemed to enjoy swimming around and under the boat and chasing it. We also saw cormorants, a Maori village, the only place in New Zealand where palm trees grow wild and a sheep that has lived on a relatively small ledge for three years after falling from the cliff above.
On the way back the commentator pointed out a house and the hill above the water that is owned by a sheep farmer. The farmer couldn't get planning permission for a house, only for an agricultural building, and so to keep within the planning regulations and the law, once a year all the furniture is taken out of the house and put on the lawn. The sheep are then taken inside to be sheered, and afterwards the house scrubbed from top to bottom and the furniture put back.
When the boat had returned to Akaroa, we returned to the relative warmth of the car and set off back to Loburn. Just after we left Akaroa we passed a little bay and sitting on a rock right by the road was a penguin. Not a very big one, but it was definitely a penguin. No one else saw it and despite assurances from Ian and Sonia that you do get penguins there, I don't think they believed me.
On the news that night we saw that a fishing boat from the town of Greymouth, on the other side of South Island, had capsized on entering the mouth of the river and at least one of the crew had drowned. Ian and Sonia pointed out that Greymouth was where we would be going to the next day on the TranzAlpine Express.
We had to get up early (well, early for us when we're on holiday anyway!) to get to Christchurch Station to catch the train. The Station is brand new. It was built a few years before to replace the old one in the centre of the city as this was too big. It is now a science museum. For the use it receives, the new Station is quite big as well. In the morning three trains leave Christchurch at half hour intervals. One goes south to Invercargill, one goes north to Picton, and the third, the one we got, goes west to Greymouth. The Station then closes until the evening when the three trains return.
The train seemed bigger than those in Britain and the seats were a lot more comfortable. They were bigger and were covered with grey sheepskin that was incredibly soft. As the train left the Station we were given fruit juice and a sandwich. All part of the deal on a normal service train, this wasn't for tourists like the Rocky Mountaineer! It's a pity the service isn't the same in Britain. On leaving Christchurch at a speed that never rose above 40mph, (not much of an 'express' really, was it?) we crossed the Canterbury Plain, famous for its sheep, some of which we saw. Apparently there are 3 million people living in New Zealand. They share the land with 56 million sheep. That's nearly 19 sheep per person, and that's a lot!
The first stop was Springfield I don't think anyone actually got on or off, but the train had to stop to give Rosie, the station dog, her daily Railway Pie which she duly ate, not seeming to mind the vast array of cameras and camcorders pointing at her. On leaving Springfield the railway curved its way up into the Southern Alps following the Waimakariri River and we got our first glimpse of snow, although there wasn't much - it all fell the night before we left. We also saw something else. The train was being followed by a four wheel drive jeep type vehicle that had railway wheels. Apparently there was some repairs that needed doing somewhere and the only way to get there, and to a lot of the track, is by railway and so a normal road vehicle was adapted for the job.
Having passed through deep valleys, tunnels, across wide river flood plains and over narrow bridges above deep gorges, we reached Arthur's Pass, the highest point on the railway. Here the train stopped for a few minutes and we were able to get out and stretch our legs. Dad wanted a picture of the engine of the train and it was suggested that he would get a better picture from the other side of the train. Looking round there was no bridge to be seen and we realised that you could just walk across in front of the engine, a cardinal sin, punishable by death almost in Britain. Having done this, and taken a photo of us on the track to prove it, we returned to our seats and the train continued on its way to Greymouth.
After a while, and more valleys, tunnels etc. the scenery changed to rain forest, unchanged almost since primeval times. The next stop was a small town where the conductor announced that the train would be stopping to let a passenger off. A passenger. Not several, just the one, this 'express' was getting more of a joke every minute! Not long before reaching Greymouth we saw a curly haired pig in a paddock by the railway but we weren't quick enough to take a photo and it had gone on the way back. Maybe we all imagined it...
We arrived in Greymouth not long after a lunch of Railway Pies, (what else?) and the town was certainly living up to its name. It was grey, overcast and raining. Deciding that there wasn't much to do in Greymouth for an hour until the train left again, we got on the coach tour of the town recommended on the train.
Having been welcomed to the town, sorry city, by the town (city?) crier, the coach, or rather charabanc, set off on its tour of the highlights of Greymouth. The driver pointed out, (although we had a job to understand him as his accent was very strong), a shop that sells Jade, the harbour and on the day we were there the wreck of the fishing boat that had sunk the day before, as well a school or two, a hospital and... erm... well... that's it really, so the coach returned to the station for the return journey.
After the train had stopped to pick up the passenger who had got off on the way to Greymouth, we were served with afternoon tea, i.e. a cup of coffee and cake, again all part of the service. There wasn't much chance to take photos or video on the way back as the light was fading, but before it had gone too far David was able to video something that wouldn't even happen on a local train in Britain let alone an express. Every now and then the train would slow down in the middle of nowhere and the buffet steward would throw out bundle of something wrapped in polythene. Apparently these were newspapers and would be collected by someone who knew where to look for them.
And so the when the train slowed down once more we assumed that this was the reason. But this time the train stopped completely. Right across a level crossing. Jokes were made about the driver knowing that a bus was due and that he wanted to annoy its passengers. Then we noticed a house a little way up the road and someone joked that the train had stopped to let the owner of the house get off to go home and get their tea. So we were totally gob-smacked when we did indeed see someone get off the train and walk up the road and into the house before the train moved off.
When we arrived back in Christchurch at about half past six, it was dark and Ian was waiting to take us back to Loburn for tea and bed.
The next day we went to Christchurch again but this time we went to the International Antarctic Centre which is on the edge of the city near the airport. This is a modern museum dedicated to Antarctic exploration and the wildlife and ecology of the Antarctic. As well as exhibits about life at the pole for the scientists who live there, and the work they do, there are films and exhibits about the natural wildlife and the history of polar exploration. We had got half way round when a couple of school parties caught up with us and so we waited until they had passed us before carrying on.
On the way out we passed through the obligatory gift shop and found something that we had looked everywhere for at home before we left. An inflatable globe. Like Michael Palin had. We had been to every toy shop we could find at home and rung several more. Quite a few had a ready inflated beach balls with a globe on them, but none had an inflatable one. Not even in the home of plastic toys, Hong Kong, could we find one. And here we were in a museum in a country with more sheep than people and there in front of us was an inflatable globe. So we did what any normal people would, we bought one. As well as a few other things, like Kiwi earrings and a necklace, International Antarctic Centre socks (well my friend did say that she wanted a silly prezzie!) and a keyring, (David collects them).
Afterwards we went into the centre of Christchurch again and wandered around until we found the Thomas Cook's shop to confirm our flights. We also found a kite shop and as we had been unable to find a Chinese kite in Hong Kong, consoled ourselves with a New Zealand one instead. And I felt obliged to buy a toy Kiwi from the museum which we had gone back to as we hadn't had time to finish looking round it before. By now it was time to go to Anne and Edward Field's house for dinner.
Their house was quite near the centre of Christchurch and we had an enjoyable evening, discussing things like where Milton Keynes was. Anne was coming to Britain the following year to lecture about weaving and one of the places she was visiting was Milton Keynes. The only map she had of Britain however was a very old cyclists' map. It was printed before any motorways had even been planned. When we got home we sent her a new one.
On Thursday we went to a sheepskin shop in Christchurch where Mum bought her dead sheep. Actually it's a sheepskin steering wheel cover that is wonderful in the winter but David christened it Mum's Dead Sheep. Mum also bought a piece of sheepskin to go on the driver's seat in Gertie, her Morris Minor van. Unfortunately it never quite reached Gertie as the cat decided that it was very nice thank you and so it stayed in the house.
In the afternoon we re-packed our cases ready to leave early the next morning. When Mark returned from football practice in the evening we went to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve where, as well as having a very nice meal we actually saw a real live Kiwi. We had spent all week becoming more and more convinced that the New Zealanders are obsessed with them. There are pictures of them everywhere, advertising everything and anything. You can buy toy and model ones wearing and/or carrying anything, especially dressed in the All Black strip and carrying a rugby ball (New Zealanders are also obsessed with sport but rugby more than any other).
Willowbank has all sorts of animals and birds and before the meal we went round the enclosures and fed the ones that you can buy food for, although getting rid of the deer after you have fed them is quite hard. After a delicious meal we went round with a guide who showed us the rest of the animals and birds. These included kea, eels, ferrets, a possum and of course some kiwis. Kiwis are very strange birds. For a start they can't fly, and what is the point of a bird that can't fly? Secondly, they are a bit thick and as a result are now endangered. And New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis.... Anyway we saw some. Just. They weren't too keen on being seen even though they are nocturnal and it was night. It could have had something to do with having a torch pointed in their direction.... But that's beside the point, we saw some real live kiwis.
Next morning we were up early and having said our goodbyes to everyone and assuring them that we would return as soon as we could, Ian took us to the airport in Christchurch to get the plane to Auckland from where we would be flying on to Honolulu. The flight to Auckland took less than an hour, but they still managed to feed us breakfast, and on the way in to land they gave out sweets to help stop our ears popping. They were the only airline that did (ten Brownie points, as Dad would say). Once in Auckland we got the airport bus from the domestic terminal to the international one and went through customs to the departure lounge, assuring Mum that our cases would end up on the right plane even though we had checked them in for this flight in Christchurch.
A few hours after taking off from Auckland we landed at Nadi (pronounced nan-dy) airport in Fiji. As the plane descended through the clouds, the view out of the window, we had window seats again, could have been taken out of a book. Scattered here and there were islands of dark green, the ring of white around their edges fading into pale turquoise which in turn ran into the deep blue-green of the Pacific Ocean. It seemed unreal, but real it was and as the plane touched down we saw that the runway was lined with palm trees.
On top of the airport buildings was a crowd of Fijians waving at the plane as it trundled slowly towards them. Having been told that if we wanted to we could leave the plane and stretch our legs for an hour we decided that this would be a good idea and so put our shoes back on. The first thing we noticed on leaving the plane and walking outside, was the heat. It wasn't as bad as Hong Kong, but it was a close second. Inside the airport, the walls were covered with examples of Fijian art and traditional tools. In the centre of the upstairs lounge was a traditional Fijian fishing boat with its sails up. Mum and I felt that if we wanted to say we had really' been' in Fiji, we had better use the facilities, and so having eventually found them, we did just that.
After about an hour we were called back to the plane to continue up to Honolulu. And so having been in Fiji after all, if only for an hour, we taxied to the end of the runway, passed all the palm trees and took off seeing the picture book islands getting smaller and smaller.
Having crossed the International Dateline, we arrived in Honolulu on Thursday night even though we left New Zealand on Friday morning. The U.S. customs weren't nearly as bad as we had been told, and having survived them and got a legible stamp in our passports, we got a taxi to the Waikiki Resort Hotel. We arrived there at about midnight and were shown to our rooms. Mum and Dad decided that even though there were lifts, they couldn't be bothered to go to the higher of the two rooms and so David and I got that one. Once in the room we found a slight snag. There was only one bed, and so after convincing reception that yes we did want to change rooms right now, David and I moved to a different room on an even higher floor.
The next morning, we could see from the balcony of our room that Mum and Dad had drawn the short straw. The view of the sea from their room was obscured by a multi-storey car park. From our balcony however, David and I could just see over the top of it and therefore see the sea.
After breakfast, we got our towels, suncream and swimming things and walked the one block to the beach. It was perfect. The pavement, or should that be sidewalk?, gave way to white sand sloping down to the blue sea which in turn eventually became the sky. Here and there on the edge of the beach were clusters of palm trees and the sun was hot even though it was still morning. The sun was also strong, as I discovered later. I was lying on my stomach relaxing and enjoying the heat but I lost track of time and after about twenty minutes only, the backs of my thighs and my bum were burnt, (but not as badly as some of the Koreans on the beach!). It wasn't actually that painful until I sat down and then it really hurt.
In the afternoon we did what a lot of other people had done and bought some inflatable airbeds to mess about with in the sea. One was brilliant, but the other started going down straight away, and so David and I had to fight over it which resulted in the bangle that I had made in the first year of high school ending up at the bottom of the sea somewhere on Waikiki beach.
We spent the next morning by the hotel pool in the shade, until the sun moved round and I ended up with a mark from my bikini on one side and not the other! Which just goes to show how strong the sun was because I don't tan easily and it only took about ten minutes for the mark to appear. Dad got severely burnt on his ankles that morning, they were not only red and sore, but actually blistered. And so in the afternoon we went to an ABC drugstore and got some aloe gel. Amazing stuff, even if it is a rather violent green. It takes the heat away immediately. We also got something for the cold sore that I had got in New Zealand.
After a traditional American lunch, in Burger King, we wandered past the shops along the main street until we found a market. In the centre of the market was a Ban Yan tree which spread out to cover the majority of the market. A lot of the stalls were aimed at tourists and we felt that it was necessary to buy T-shirts to prove that we had actually been to Waikiki Beach. Mum also bought a traditional Hawaiian all in one trouser suit the legs of which are so wide it that looks like a dress. Dad however resisted the temptation to buy an Aloha shirt, (they're the really loud ones that Hawaiians do actually wear) but not the temptation to buy a hat, which according to an Aussie we met was a traditional Aussie hat, a Yank said it was a traditional Yankee hat, and Canadian claimed it was a traditional Canadian hat. I then went back to the hotel whilst Mum, Dad and David went in search of a canal that was shown on all the maps.
When the sun had cooled down a bit in the late afternoon, we went to the beach again for one last swim in the Pacific and we watched a spectacular sunset before going back to the hotel to sort out our cases and pack the last few thing that we had used that day. For me the sunset was probably the best bit of the stay in Hawaii. I had always wanted to sit on a white sandy beach with palm trees behind me and watch the sunset.
Having had another traditional American meal, this time in McDonald's, we collected our cases and got a taxi to the airport. Once again the customs officials weren't as bad as we had been told, but then maybe we just didn't look suspicious. And so after saying goodbye to white sandy beaches, blue sky and palm trees, we boarded the plane for the over night flight to Vancouver.
When we arrived in Vancouver the next morning it was overcast but warm. We got a taxi to the hotel and then discovered that Dad had got it into his head that we were staying in a different hotel to the one that we were actually booked into. So, we got another taxi to the right hotel, the Coast Plaza at Stanley Park.
When we had checked in, we were shown to our rooms, and once more Mum and Dad chose the lower of the two rooms and once more David and I got the best view. From the balcony of their room, Mum and Dad could see a load of grotty back streets. David and I could see across to the water and the Lion Gate Bridge. The actual rooms were the same. Both had two double beds, a settee and coffee table, TV, and bathroom, with wash basin, toilet and shower, and a kitchen area. These were definitely the biggest and best of the whole holiday.
Having slept for a couple of hours, we walked down to the sea at Stanley Park. We wandered around the park admiring the views and the wild life and trying not to get killed by the rollerbladers whizzing past very fast. At one point whilst walking along the waters edge, we saw a seagull that appeared to have a starfish stuck in its mouth and wasn't too sure what to do about it. In the woods in the middle of the park away from the water, was a lot of very friendly black squirrels that were quite willing to be photographed and videoed. A bit further on we saw a skunk run out of the bushes on one side of the path and into the bushes on the other side. Luckily for us he was in a good mood and wasn't smelling!
By the time we arrived back at the hotel my feet were killing me and we were all starving and so we went to a Thai restaurant that we had noticed near the hotel and had a very nice meal before crashing out for the night.
The next day we were up early for a coach tour of Vancouver as we had decided that this was the best way to see as much of Vancouver as possible. The first stop was the part of Stanley park dedicated to the native Indians which had some totem poles and from where you could see across to downtown Vancouver and then it was on to the Lion Gate Bridge. After this we went to get the ferry across to Granville Island for lunch and a look round the shops and by this time it had started to rain. While we were here Dad discovered that all the photos he had taken since just after we arrived in Hawaii wouldn't actually come out as the film in his camera wasn't winding on. Whoops!
After getting the ferry back across to the coach, we went across the Lion Gate Bridge to North Vancouver and a salmon hatchery where we could see the salmon using the specially constructed ladders to help them get up the river that has been dammed. By now it had stopped raining. Next stop was the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
This is a foot bridge across a river that is about 100 feet below it. On the other side of the bridge is.... nothing. It was built for the sake of building a bridge. As you walk across it, it wobbles from side to side and bounces up and down. Not a good idea for those with vertigo.
As we left to go to the Grouse Mountain Cable-car it had started to rain again. When we got there it was what Dad would call Scotch-misting. As the Cable-car went higher we gradually disappeared into the cloud and what would have been a really good view of Vancouver vanished from sight. At the top, all we could see was a lot of cloud. The gift shop was nice though...
Back at the bottom we got back on the coach and set off to the seacat terminal to go back across to Vancouver. The crossing only took about five minutes if that and before long we were back on the coach and heading for our hotel tired and hungry. The need for food once more drove us to the Thai restaurant and another very nice meal before bed.
We were up early on Tuesday morning to get a taxi to the station. On the way we passed the theatre where Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was on, starring none other than Donny Osmond. Oh dear. We also saw the stands for the forthcoming Vancouver Indy Car race.
Vancouver railway station is a very grand old building that probably doesn't get much use, as there aren't really many passenger trains nowadays. Loads of goods trains mind. Having checked in and once more said goodbye to our luggage, we waited until it was time to board the train. This was announced by all the staff standing by the way out to the platform and yelling at the top of their voices "all aboard".
Having found our carriage and our seats we settled down and waited to leave. Each carriage has its own steward/stewardess. Our stewardess was called Lina and was apparently working on the train as a summer job whilst at college. Shortly after we set off, she came round with breakfast for everyone.
On the Canadian railways there is a hierarchy in the priority given to trains. The first two classes are goods trains of various types and the third, and last, is passenger trains. This was demonstrated just outside Vancouver when the train stropped to allow a goods train to pass. Unfortunately for someone, who I hope wasn't late for work, this meant that our train stopped right across a level crossing. Just like in New Zealand, except that there was no house up the road and no-one got off.
As soon as the scenery started to get interesting, we noticed, as did everyone else in the carriage, the two, obviously retired, couples sitting behind us. They became known as John and Mrs John and Bruce and Mrs Bruce. Actually both John and Bruce were called John, but that would have been confusing, and anyway Bruce was Australian. As soon as something vaguely worth videoing appeared, Mrs John started to yell "John! John! Come over here John! No! Not there, here!" Or words to that effect. The sound on their video must be quite amusing. But what we want to know is, why didn't Mrs John just have the camera herself?
The highlight of the John and Bruce conversations was on the subject of Wales. Now David and I had noticed that the couple sitting opposite us were Welsh. It was hard not to with their accents, but John and Bruce obviously hadn't noticed and so the conversation went something like this;
J: I was born in Wales you know
J: Yes, I'm glad I wasn't brought up there though, horrible place
B: I know, I had a nasty experience in Wales once.
J: Oh, what was that?
B: Everyone was talking Welsh.
At this point John started to commiserate and David, the Welsh couple and I tried hard not to laugh hysterically!
The scenery soon started to get much more like the pictures in holiday brochures as the railway started to follow the Fraser River. There was another track on the other side of the river and every now and then the two lines swapped sides. Apparently the reason for this is that the two lines were built by two different companies at different times and the one that was there first used the best side of the river. However there is only room for one track on each side, and so, when the second company built their line they had to swap sides every time the first company had.
Before long we were passing by the Hell's Gate Canyon. This is a point on the river where, when the railway was being built, there was a rock fall and so the channel is very narrow. The result is that the water is flowing very fast indeed and even the Canadians agree that it is a bad idea to try and go through it in a boat of any description. There is as much water going through a gap about 35 feet across as there is going over Niagara Falls and believe me that's a lot of water! At places such as this, the train slowed down to allow everyone to get a good view and a good photo. (Cue Mrs John...)
After Hell's Gate we noticed that the water was a different colour on one side of the river than the other. Up until now it had been a muddy brown, but it started to be a greeny colour on the side nearest to us. Lina told us that this was because we were approaching the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. Unlike the Thompson, the Fraser doesn't pass through any lakes and so doesn't drop its sediment, giving it its muddy appearance. As we got closer, the difference became a definite line down the centre of the river.
We continued to follow the Thompson River, stopping now and then to allow a goods train to pass, until early evening when we reach the 'city' of Kamloops where we stopped for the night. We were taken on buses to various hotels and motels in the city and, luckily for us, John and Bruce were staying at a different hotel.
Having found our rooms, we went to the shopping mall across the road to try and find a money machine so that we could have some tea. This done, we went to the motel restaurant and had a very nice meal, although being Canadian, it could have done with the portions being a bit smaller.
During the night Mum and Dad were kept awake by the American tourists upstairs having showers and banging doors. This is the same tourists who, when they arrived got the wrong rooms, and when Mum pointed out their mistake, commented that they thought it was a long way to walk from the coach. The coach was parked about 50 yards away.
Next morning we were up early to get back on the train and to continue having a giggle at Bruce and John and their wives. After leaving Kamloops, and having passed log rafts and a dried up reservoir, the scenery really started to get like the Rockies are supposed to look. Rocky.
One of the highlights of the second day on the train was going passed Cathedral Mountain and through the Spiral Tunnels. These are actually more like a figure 8 than a spiral, but are still very impressive anyway. They were built to overcome the problem of a steep hill. The first tunnel goes round anticlockwise and comes out at right angles to itself higher up the mountain, crossing the track going into the tunnel. After a short straight stretch, you go into the second tunnel which goes round clockwise and again comes out at right angles to itself higher up the mountain. This means that trains are now going the their original direction but are a few hundred yards to the side of where they started and are higher up.
One thing that strikes you about the Rockies is the number of trees there are. This is quite often a bit of a pain as they get in they way when you want to take a photo. We had several photos that would probably have been quite interesting if they hadn't been close ups of trees!
In the afternoon Mrs John saw a bear. Everyone else saw a fuzzy blob that might have been a bear but could just as easily have been a tree stump. Later the Welsh lady admitted that she thought it was a bear as well, but she wasn't going to say that to Mrs John! One thing that everyone did see was a herd of elk crossing a river.
On arrival in Banff the resident entertainment, i.e. John, Bruce, Mrs John and Mrs Bruce, got off the train and everyone else gave a sigh of relief and started chatting.
As the evening meal was served, the mountains started to get smaller and become hills and these eventually flattened out into plains. And then Calgary came into sight. Sticking up in the middle of nowhere. There was no gradual build up to the downtown skyscrapers, they were just suddenly there, glowing orange from the setting sun.
We left the train, collected our luggage and made our way out of the station. We were glad that we didn't have to find it from the street as it was hidden away in the basement of a shopping mall. We had to get two taxis to the hotel as our luggage wouldn't fit into one, (we didn't have that much!).
Having learnt from previous experience, or so they thought, Mum and Dad decided to have the higher of the two rooms, which were on opposite sides of the hotel. As a result they had a view of a small area of grass with some 'interesting' sculptures and David and I had a view of.... a river, the plains and an amazing sunset. Ooops!
That evening Mum and Dad tried to ring a friend who lives near(ish) Calgary to arrange a time to meet her the next day. They had some difficulty but eventually got through only to find that Jenny wasn't in. Later however, Jenny rang them to say that she had had to go to Saskatchewan to the funeral of a nephew who had committed suicide.
The next day we wandered into the centre of Calgary and looked around the shops. The only thing we bought was new jeans for me and David. A lot of the shops sold everything you would ever need to be a cowboy or cowgirl, but there was nothing special. In fact the only photos I took were of Mum and Dad's room from the outside and the Hudson's Bay Company shop. The Hudson's Bay company was founded to sell the trappers' furs. Today about the only thing the Company doesn't sell is fur. The weather was sunny and warmer than Vancouver had been. Not that it was exactly cold there...
In the afternoon we got a taxi to the airport for the flight to Toronto. For once, as it was an internal flight, we didn't have to show our passports or fill in immigration forms which made a nice change. The flight took us across the boring flat bit of Canada that is just plains and wheat fields with not a lot to see really.
We arrived in Toronto at about 10pm and once more got a taxi to our hotel, the Westbury Howard Johnson on Yonge (pronounced 'young') Street. Apparently Yonge Street is the longest street in the world and you don't want to find yourself at the wrong end of it. It's a couple of thousand miles long or so we are told.
We were up bright (??) and early the next morning and got a taxi to the bus station as we didn't have time to find it on foot, although in actual fact it wasn't that far really. Once there we got our voucher exchanged for bus tickets and had some breakfast whilst we waited for the bus to Niagara to arrive.
The journey to Niagara takes just over an hour and on the way we were shown a video explaining the history of the Falls. This included the story of a small boy who, in the seventies, survived going over the falls after the boat he was in over turned. His father wasn't so lucky and his sister was pulled out of the water just before she went over as well. The boy is apparently alive and well and living in California where he is a Methodist minister.
Another story in the recent history of the falls is that of the scow (a type of boat) that has been sitting on rocks near the top of the falls since 1917. It broke lose from its mooring and drifted down stream with three people on board. One jumped over board and managed to swim to the shore, whist the other two stayed on and tried to save the boat. When they got very close to the top of the falls they too gave up and decided to open the bottom of the scow, let out the gravel that it was carrying and stop it. This succeeded but they then had to spend the next three days on the scow while it was decided how to get them off as the water there is flowing very fast.
Behind the scow you can see the mist rising up from the falls and you start to realise just how big they are. At Niagara there is in fact two lots of falls right next to each other; the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls. On their own the American Falls would be very impressive, but unfortunately for them they have the even more impressive Horseshoe Falls next to them, with only a two hundred yard stretch of land called Goat Island separating the two.
The first stop in Niagara itself was a restaurant for dinner. This was a buffet, which like all Canadian catering was enough to feed the 5000, and was included in the price of the trip. The restaurant was at the top of the hotel and looked out over both lots of falls.
After dinner the next stop was the Maid of the Mist. This has to be one of the most spectacular boat trips in the world. Before getting on the boat you are given a waterproof coat that, if you are my height, goes right down to your feet. If you're taller then you have to suffer wet ankles! Once on the boat you are taken right into the mist at the bottom of the Horseshoe Falls. You can't go into the bottom of the American Falls as there is loads of rocks in the way and anyway it wouldn't be as formidable. Once in the bottom of the Horseshoe Falls all you can see which ever way you look is the white of the mist and spray from the falls and the noise is deafening, like continuous thunder. Which is why the Indians called it Niagara, meaning 'thundering water'.
Next we went to the top of the falls and were able to watch millions of gallons of water go over every minute. In fact, it would take only about 2 hours to fill the entire British canal system from Niagara and only two and a half minutes to fill the Ashby Canal.
We also saw a very strange sight here. We were all sweltering in the heat and trying to get wet from the spray and walking along were some people from an Amish community. All the men were wearing thick black trousers, shirts done up to the neck, ties, black jackets and fedora style hats whilst the women were wearing thick black dresses, shawls and bonnets. How they didn't pass out from the heat I'll never know. I was wearing a sleeveless leotard and shorts and I was too hot! It takes all sorts.
The other thing we saw here was something that we had been told that we wouldn't actually see ever. A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the red ceremonial dress. i.e.. a Mountie looking like a Mountie should. And so, being tourists, we had to have our photo taken standing with him. Well, everyone else was and he was probably only an actor employed by the tourist board anyway, but who cares?
Next it was back on the bus and off to one of the two towers that over look the falls to get an aerial view of them. And very impressive it was too with the water sheeting down and the spray rising.
After this we left Niagara itself and went the Whirlpool. This is just up the river a bit and is where the river does a right hand turn. On the apex of the bend a pool has formed and as the river flows into it, instead of flowing clockwise round it, the river flows anticlockwise around the pool.
Back on the bus again, we next went to a fruit farm that sold the most amazing ice cream as well as maple syrup, both of which we felt obliged to buy.
After this it was off to Niagara On The Lake, a nearby town on the banks of Lake Ontario. The main tourist attraction here was a chemist's shop that hadn't changed since it opened at the end of the last century and is now a museum.
Finally, completely knackered, we set off back to Toronto and tea. This we had in a cafe near to our hotel. We all decided to have sandwiches and Dad was first to order. He asked for a tuna mayonnaise one and was then given a choice of rolls to have it in. Having chosen one, it was duly cut up and buttered and an full ice cream scoop of tuna mayonnaise was put in to it. Dad was impressed by this and felt that he was really getting his moneys worth. Then another full scoop followed. And a third and a fourth and a fifth. With all this filling the roll had to be held together with a cocktail stick. The other sandwiches were similar in size and while we ate them we tried to understand the baseball and American football games that were being shown on TV.
Next day, the last day of the holiday, we walked down to the CN Tower. Even though this is the tallest free standing structure in the world and literally towers (if you'll excuse the pun) above all the other buildings, it is remarkably hard to find if you are at street level. But find it we did and, having bought tickets to go up, we waited until the time stated on them before joining the queue for the lifts. To pass the time in between, we sat and watched a little Chinese girl enjoying a pastime that is obviously popular world-wide; chasing pigeons!
Having queued for the lifts and finally got in one, we went up to the first, lower level, of the Tower. The lifts are glass, travel at about fifteen miles per hour and give a wonderful view of the ground rushing away from you. The lower level is about 114 storeys high, the same height as the downtown skyscrapers and has a cafe at which we had lunch, looking out over Lake Ontario and watching seaplanes landing and taking off.
After lunch and after having had a good look at the view from the lower level, we paid and queued for the lift to the 'Skydeck'. This is the equivalent of 147 storeys up and is 1465 feet high, and believe me - that's high! The glass of the Skydeck slopes in at the bottom, allowing you to look straight down, which until you've got used to the height just looking out horizontally, is not a good idea. There were quite a lot of people walking round up there clinging to the back wall and wishing that they hadn't gone up, and even David's video camera blacked out when he pointed it straight down! Although that was probably water from Niagara that it was objecting to and not vertigo at all... Once you've got used to the height and can appreciate it, the view is absolutely incredible. The downtown sky scrapers which look so high from street level (which they are), seem small and a long way below you. The people on the ground are like ants and even the lower level seems a long way down.
Having fully appreciated the views, we went back down to the ground, once more in a see-through lift. This however is not as fun as going up in one. The ground seems to rush towards you far too fast. But this survived, we walked slowly back down Yonge Street to the hotel looking in the shops as we went. About the only thing that we bought was a new pair of sunglasses for me and a pair of tights for Mum from the Hudson's Bay Company, just so that she could get the carrier bag.
Back at the hotel we changed, collected our luggage and got a taxi to the airport, where we checked in for the last time (and the only time we couldn't get seats together) and got rid of our luggage for the last time. This done, we admired the clock, which was made to look like there was a lot of little men turning it, before we went through customs and the electronic archway for the last time. This was the only time that I set it off, although I'm not too sure why. David, on the other hand, felt that he wasn't trying hard enough if he didn't set it off! Once we had taken off and had been fed, we settled down to either watch the film or go to sleep. When we were woken at about 6am British time, my brain was still working on Canadian time and I couldn't cope with eating food then. This enabled me to achieve the impossible; persuade an airhostess that I didn't want any food. Not an easy feat by any means, but I actually succeeded.
As we descended through the cloud over the Isle of Man, something we had joked about was actually happening: it was raining! It had stopped by the time we landed at Manchester though.
Having survived the immigration people and got our cases back, we then had to brave the customs official. Luckily for us though, he was as tired as we were, it being only 8am on a Sunday morning. We had made a list of everything that we had bought along with how much it cost in the local currency. After doing several calculations a figure was arrived at and paid.
Out in the foyer of the airport, Dad went to phone hotel to get them to pick us up, but saw the driver there instead and so after he had run some people to the hotel he came back for us.
At the hotel, we had breakfast and then set off back down the M6, through Newcastle Under Lyme, Lichfield and Tamworth to home, picking the cat up from the cattery on the way. The cat was none the worse for her holiday, although she apparently hardly ate during the third week.
Once home we couldn't wait to tell someone all about it and so we went round to our friends and got it off our chests onto them. Finally, by the evening we were all completely dead on our feet and collapsed into bed early exhausted but having enjoyed every minute. Although maybe David didn't enjoy throwing up in Hong Kong.....