Thursday 29 December 2011

Day 269: Melbourne Museum

Written by Antonia:

Today daddy and I went to the Melbourne museum. First we went to see some dinosaur skeletons. There were little videos of what they might have looked like in action. Daddy took a picture of me and a big bone a bit bigger than me. Next we saw crystals of all coulours shapes and sizes. Daddy wonders how they got the giant rock with crystals on them into the museum. Then we saw a 3D movie on going threw a lava tunnel. It was thery cool. Then we found lots of real stuffed animals from polar bears to okapi. We found something (that look like a camera-television) that you rotated that showed and gave the name of the animals. We got tired and went to see some mind illusions. It was time to go so we we walked to the tram and went back to the hotel.

Antonia resting after a hard day in the museum

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Day 267: Launceston TAS Australia

We drove back north from Middleton (just south of Hobart) Tasmania where we had been staying this month. On our way back, we stopped in Launceston which is about an hour from the ferry. We spent the night and since our ferry wasn't until 9pm, we had some time to explore the area a bit.

We took this lovely walk in Cataract Gorge which is like a city park next to the town. A couple nice suspension bridges for walkers and an old power plant (now decommissioned) at the end.

Friday 16 December 2011

Day 256: Cadbury's

Written by Antonia:

Daddy and I went for an hour and six minute drive to the Cadbury's chocolate factory in a town.  We got lost, then got parked and the air smelled like chocolate.  We bought nine chocolate bars and one long stick of chocolate to give for Christmas.

To make chocolate, you have to take the seeds inside the cocoa bean and dry them, then you take their covers off and turn them into cocoa powder.  The machine puts milk in it and turns it into chocolate, then gives it its normal form, dries it, wraps it, sends it, start again... Daddy and I and everybody else couldn't see inside the factory, but we watched a movie instead.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Day 248: South Bruny National Park

Bay on South Bruny Island
It feels strange to be waiting for a north wind for it to get warm, but we are in the southern hemisphere.  We got the north wind today and are frankly hot.  We went for a hike at the very end of Bruny Island, which is perhaps the most accessible piece of wilderness for us.  We have discovered that echidnas are pretty common around here, but it's only when they're hanging out on the beach that they're really photogenic.  We can all throw away all our other echidna pictures now.

A friendly echidna

In the evening we went to a sitar concert at a local 'pub', Brookfields at Margate, which is really a barn converted into an all purpose restaurant/meeting room/hangout/gift shop.  Although in some ways it looks a bit like the English countryside around here, there is a far higher density of very nice places to eat and fun things going on than I am used to in the rural parts of England that I know best.  The fact of being near a state capital shows, I guess.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Day 246: Wineglass Bay and Freycinet National Park

Wineglass Bay
Wineglass Bay is supposed to be Tasmania's most beautiful beach, hidden away in the Freycinet National Park.  We had a lovely day for hiking to it, and since you do have to hike, there were not too many people there.  We were sitting in the shade of a tree at the edge of the beach, when suddenly I got that feeling that someone was next to me.  I turned and found a wallaby looking over my shoulder at my sandwich with a polite but earnest expression on its face.  It was a very sweet wallaby, if a bit of a limpet, but I'm afraid it didn't get anything out of us.  After it eventually gave up on us, Mike saw some people give it some apple, and not long after he saw it being sick.  Now he has started going around telling off people who feed the wallabies.  He thinks they are extremely cute and he would like to have one as a pet.  They are certainly very gentle and unafraid.

From Wineglass Bay we crossed the narrow isthmus to Hazards Beach and came back to the car in a circuit.  We never did discover what hazards Hazard beach held, but it did have a lot of beautiful shells.

Monday 5 December 2011

Day 245: East Coast Natureworld

Mother and baby wallaby

Tasmania is bigger than we thought at first.  We had to book an overnight in a campground cabin in order to see the east coast.  It's still raining on and off today, so we went to the zoo to see Tasmanian devils (and a bunch of other animals).  The devils are so cute, they look like miniature bears - right up until they fall out with each other and start showing off mouths that open as wide as their bodies.  The keeper had raised three of them from when they were tiny, and the cutest thing is to see them attach themselves to the cuffs of his trousers and shut their eyes in ecstasy.  Not so cute is the way they crunch up the bones of the meat he gives them.  Most people know that Tasmanian devils in the wild are suffering from a fatal cancer they transmit to each other through biting.  The idea is that if the wild population becomes extinct, captive breeding programs like the one at this zoo will be able to release a new population of cancer-free devils.  It could be decades before we know how things will turn out.

Tasmanian devils falling out with each other

In the evening we went for a beach walk and saw this atmospheric effect, then Antonia (of course it was Antonia) spotted this fairy penguin.  It is probably a young one waiting for the adults to return in the evening.  Julia went out to see them on an organised tour, and did in fact see hundreds of them waddling up the beach.

Cool atmospheric effect

Saturday 3 December 2011

Day 243: Not Hartz Peak

Our hostess has a thing about saving water, which isn't surprising because we are dependent on rainwater here.  She was pointing out to Mike that aborigines wash by rubbing themselves with mud.  Today we put this procedure to the test and found it unsatisfactory!  Actually, it seems to have rained pretty frequently since we got here and there is plenty of mud around.  Today, we tried to go for a hike up nearby Hartz peak.  First, we drove down the wrong dirt track for several miles (but at least the car got a thorough 'washing').  Next, we drove to the peak, got out of the car and got back in again.  It wasn't quite a blizzard up there, but heading in that direction. We drove down again, found a place where it was much warmer and began picnicking in the sun.  Then we retreated back to the car to finish our picnic in a rain shower!  That is very typical of what the weather has been like here so far.  We did finally manage to go for three very lovely short walks, during which we only got rained on a bit.  Despite the constant mixture of mud and water, we still felt we needed showers when we got back!

Friday 2 December 2011

Day 242: Mike's birthday

Julia went on a cruise around the lower tip of Bruny Island and saw a humpback whale.  I stayed home and tried to catch up on various chores while making Mike's birthday dinner: oyster chowder, followed by roast turkey with all the usual trimmings followed by chocolate cake.  I am getting better at just fitting in to any kitchen and supply situation!  The internet is a bit slow here, which is frustrating for all of us, but this will not last.  Mike has already made friends with the owners and is planning to spend the rest of his time here helping them lay super high speed mega access.  Everywhere he goes, he leaves a trail of improved internet!

Thursday 1 December 2011

Day 241: Bruny Island

Somebody (who will remain nameless) called us at 4am with a computer problem that lasted for an hour, so we all got woken up and are exhausted (but on the plus side, I know all Mike's secret passwords!).  Meanwhile, Mike got pneumonia taking the call in his underwear, unless it's just the flu?!

The weather is nice! It's amazing.  We took the little ferry to Bruny Island immediately opposite us.  It is really two islands joined by an isthmus.  We visited the penguin colony on the isthmus and even though the adults were all out, we saw two young penguins in their burrow.  We hiked through Tasmanian woodland, past lagoons to the beach.  The trees here are all either in flower or have a new season's growth that's a different colour from the old.  The result is that the trees are quite colorful - actually they look as if they've been sunburned.  We found another echidna and are starting to get blase about them.  This one did not really want to pose for the camera.  It preferred to turn its back on us and bury its snout underneath itself, but we were more patient than it was.  We hiked to the beach which was lovely and unspoilt and actually pleasantly warm in a sheltered spot with the sun out.

When we got back, there was a kookaburra (I think) hanging around at the end of our driveway.  It took off, flew into a tree, dropped a foot or two then recovered.  I am suspecting them of not being the cleverest of birds!  Mike went to borrow an oyster knife and began shucking 24 oysters to make oyster chowder for his birthday.  I suppose he must be feeling better, but when someone callled from France to try to sell us solar panels, we remembered to turn the phone off.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Day 240: Port Arthur

We woke up to a solid wall of water.  The rain was obscuring the island opposite and the high tide brought the sea to within a metre and a half of our house.  It's kind of spooky and fascinating at the same time.  Julia and I decided to go to Port Arthur in the expectation that it wouldn't matter too much if it rained.  Port Arthur, right at the southern tip of Tasmania, is where the most rebellious of the original Australian convicts got sent for bad behaviour.  It looks like an idyllic English country village surrounding a ruined church and abbey.  In reality, life here was a nightmare.  For one thing, if this is an example of how cold it can be in midsummer, what must winter be like!  If you misbehaved at Port Arthur, at first they used to flog you, but then they decided this was barbaric.  Instead, they put you in a maximum security sensory deprivation prison with a hood over your head and a number instead of a name.  You were under constant surveillance, but not allowed to make contact with any other human being, visually or verbally.  You couldn't see outside, or read anything except the Bible.  If that didn't work, you got the dark cell for 72 hours where you couldn't see anything.  To deal with the results of this process, they built a lunatic asylum next to the prison.  They also had a paupers workhouse and kitchen for prisoners who had been freed, but were too institutionalised to survive in the real world.  What a system! 

When we got back, the weather had improved a bit and Mike and Antonia were out in the channel just in front of our house, wearing borrowed wellington boots and collecting oysters.  It looks like oysters are going to be the one thing that's cheaper in Australia than elsewhere.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Day 239: Tasmania

Our system for getting to the other end of Tasmania involves renting two small cars to drive all of us and our luggage, then returning one of them in Hobart the same day.  It pretty much went like clockwork though it was a bit gruelling.  The nice part is that the sides of the road are littered with very nice places to stop and eat breakfast and lunch.  The landscape is beautiful, the trees have a reddish tinge and an echidna decided to take a little walk across the road in front of Mike's car.  We have now seen both surviving monotremes in real life.  Our house turns out to be more 'on the beach' than I could possibly have imagined and everyone loves it, but I am too tired to want to do much more than sleep in it today.  In the evening, we looked out across the Entrecasteaux channel and saw more dolphins.

Monday 28 November 2011

Days 237 & 238: Passing through Melbourne

We got up very early to catch the train to Melbourne.  The best thing in Australia (and the US) is the ability to check your luggage.  The most strikingly different thing is the ambiance.  It is a lot more fun here.  Our train trip started with someone on the intercom reminding us of all the things that would get us thrown off the train (e.g. smoking in the toilets).  By the time they had finished, I knew three or four things not to do that I had never thought of before, but just in case I was short of inspiration, the train staff were cheerfully full of entertaining anecdotes of things people had done on their various watches.  It was a long journey, and by the time we were two thirds of the way through, the denizens of Car F, in particular, were getting bored.  They had already set off the smoke alarm in their toilet, and had taken to pulling the carriage handbrake as we left the station to see what would happen.  They were probably putting their feet on the chairs too, for which there is a fine.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the train trip was soon to end. A freight train had derailed the night before somewhere ahead and we couldn't get past.  We all got off at some little station somewhere, collected our luggage and piled into coaches.  The coach driver told us a couple more amusing anecdotes about people doing stuff they shouldn't then decided to put the procedure on automatic so he could concentrate on driving.  He played us a video called the Birdsville Track which is an ancient documentary about a guy who did the mail run across the Australian outback. It is full to the brim of things one shouldn't do.  By the time it was done, Mike was looking at Julia's maps, to see if the Birdsville Track still exists and whether he can do it and get into some entertaining form of trouble on the way. 

By the time we got to Melbourne at 8pm, our main consideration was to find food, so we tried asking the locals until we found a couple who are practically my brother's next door neighbours (they live within 10 miles of him).  They knew where there was a whole street of restaurants with outdoor seating.  These restaurants compete with each other fiercely so we got four meals and four drinks for the price of three meals, and considered the place blissfully cheaper than Sydney.

Even though Melbourne has paid tourist information people hanging out in the streets, we ran into the same couple as last night, who told us that the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus would take us all over the town centre for nothing, and so will the circular tram.  We got to see over the whole city in the morning and got off at the Royal Botanical Gardens for the afternoon.  Melbourne is lovely, very much like a European city (continental Europe).

We made it to the docks by about 5.30 to catch our ferry to Tasmania and found it very civilized.  They checked our luggage, made sure we weren't trying to import fruit or fish across the Tasmanian sea and let us into our very nice cabins - not quite as fancy as on the Zaandam, but still pleasant.  I was surprised that we weren't given a list of things not to do again, but the safety video was pretty hilarious.  We had a nice meal, in which Mike tried to fit all he could eat for 16 AUD on to a fairly small plate and went to bed.  As we exited the bottleneck of the bay that contains Melbourne into the real sea, lightning began flashing all around us so we fell asleep to a nice familiar pitching and rolling and thought of Julia who has a tendency to think she might get seasick.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Days 235 & 236: Sydney

I didn't even want to hear about leaving the ship, but the Australian immigration are aboard inspecting us all.  We respond by exchanging wild rumours about what they do to people who accidentally forget to declare any organic material they may have about their persons.  I went to have my hair cut and now look like a human being who hasn't been dragged through the backwoods for six months. It's one of the best and least expensive haircuts I've ever had, by a girl who is South African but has been living in London in the same area I lived as a student.  The next day the ship's boat-building contest was held in fairly rough seas (i.e. the ship's swimming pool which was showing a tendency to slosh over), and we ate a large Thanksgiving dinner.

Day 1 in Sydney
In Sydney, it is raining hard in Sydney but we somehow managed to see a lot of the major sights on the first day.  We are staying in the earliest settlement area called the Rocks, in a nice old house above the harbour.  It's about 15 minutes walk to the Opera House and the Botanic Gardens.  When we went to wander around, the first thing we found was a tea shop offering the most outrageously huge lemon meringue pies I've ever seen, and the second thing was a couple of interesting books.  So, Sydney made an excellent first impression despite costing too much and having bad weather.  How much too much it costs and which currency it costs least in is still a matter of debate.  In the evening, we met up with Julia who is over from Grenoble to hang out with us and visit family, though we won't really see her much for a day because she's off on a dolphin tour tomorrow.

Day 2 in Sydney
It's still raining so we bought ourselves tickets for the aquarium and went there.  The aquarium and a lot of museums and tourist attractions are around Darling Harbour which is loverly.  The first thing we saw was the duck-billed platypus tank which was very exciting.  The platypus was very active when we were there and very cute, but smaller than I expected.  The next exciting thing was the dugongs, of which there are two.  They eat lettuce constantly and are served by an all-day salad bar.  I'm glad I'm not a dugong, but I suppose they like it.  They are both quite young animals and they keep them separate quite a bit, because when they put them together they play so rough they hurt each other.  The best thing in the aquarium is the giant reef tank with classical music accompaniment..

When we emerged it was unexpectedly sunny so we went for dessert in a harbourside cafe.  Mike and I have different approaches to dealing with Sydney's outrageous expense.  Mine is to lunch on dessert and a glass of wine.  Mike's is to refuse to order anything at all, then help himself off our plates!  After 'lunch' we went back to the hotel to change into warm dry weather clothes and walked over Harbour Bridge which is just up the stairs from our hotel, then down through the Rocks weekend market.  The harbour is astonishingly busy and I couldn't help wondering how all the boats avoid bumping into each other.

The highlight of our visit was eating calamari and softshell crab on the harbourside in the evening.  Antonia (obviously it was Antonia) suddenly realised that the birds flying overhead were actually an exodus of large bats from the botanic gardens next door.  So that is Sydney: if you are stinking rich, you can sit by the water every night, sipping wine and eating nice food, watching everyone stroll along to the opera house in their pretty dresses, and the hoards of bats flying overhead.  It's a pretty nice life if you can get it.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Days 231 to 232 - New Caledonia

It took us a day to sail between Fiji and New Caleonia, which I spent in bed with a cold I caught while coming back from Dravuni on the tender.  I wasn't seriously ill, but I was quite glad to have an excuse to stay in bed and do nothing.  By the evening I was quite a bit better and, Mike and I went to see The Help since everyone has been talking about it.  It's the first movie I've seen since Avatar that wasn't an out-and-out kid's film.

Easo, Lifou, New Caledonia
Lifou is part of France of course, and our first impression is that we need not be too ashamed (being French!).  It is clean AND pretty AND has reasonable infrastructures for such a tiny place.  We walked around for a bit, through masses of butterflies, then went snorkelling on the far side and saw what Mike says is the best coral he's ever seen in his life.  There were also fish, sea cucumbers, multi-colored giant clams, and molluscs so it was generally beautiful.

Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
The part of Ile des Pins where we landed had even more infrastructure than Lifou and it's extremely strange to see cars, gendarmerie, post boxes, rubbish bins and all those other things in the French style, especially after being away for so long.  Speaking French to the people here is just like being in France, there is a whole lot less difference that in speaking French to, say, Canadians.  Ile des Pins is even more beautiful than Lifou.  I thought the trees here were extraordinary.  I could have spent ages looking at them but everyone else went to the beach (as usual).

Noumea, New Caledonia
I got called up by the New Caledonian immigration authorities first thing in the morning, which was fun, then went to visit Noumea.  Noumea is New Caledonia's main city and it isn't much to look at.  We decided we had a similar experience in Reunion, which we loved, but when we eventually got around to visiting the city, we wondered why we had.  On the other hand, the people there are very friendly and helpful.  We found ourselves shepherding a group of non-French speakers from our ship to the right bus, which is pretty much the blind leading the blind, except we know how to ask the locals for help.  We spent the morning at the Tjibao cultural centre, which is both beautiful and interesting, first of all for its architecture and secondly for its exhibitions of contemporary and modern art.  It has resources we couldn't benefit from because of our schedule: cultural shows and films and a library in which it must be amazing to do research.  Antonia settled into the library to read children's books about Oceanian mythology in French, and had to be removed with a crowbar.  I was quite glad to see her reading and speaking French after so long.

Friday 18 November 2011

Days 227 & 228: Fiji

Dravuni Island, Fiji
Dravuni is a paradisaical tropical island in Fiji with about 125 residents.  You can walk all round it in about an hour.  We arrived with our own 'little' community of over 2000 people (including crew).  This is not what I would consider a 100% ideal situation.  We tendered to the island and were greeted by a man with the aura of 'leader of the Parish Council' to put it in English terms, and he is clearly quite pleased to see us.  Behind him, everyone is lined up under the palm trees with little stands selling coconuts and sarongs. I am so not together on the 'visiting' part of this cruise that I was astonished to discover everyone looking very African, but we have now left Polynesia behind and entered Melanesia and I am just being useless.  I suppose this village makes lots of money from what Holland America pays them just to rent the use of their island for a day.  Obviously, there are pros and cons for everyone and I'm not sure what they all are.  I know I spent about an hour of the afternoon picking up trash which various members of our group had left strewn around their beach.  The weather got stormy and by 2.30pm, most of us had retreated to the ship, cold and wet, so the cultural performance team came on board.  They want to raise money to travel internationally, and I think this actually worked out well for them.  Without the competition of the beach, they had a full house in the ship's theatre and a basketful of donations at the end.

Lautoka, Fiji
Lautoka is a medium sized town with a real port, and I decided to spend the day on a photography project around the ship and port area.  It's a good choice of place because there's a sugar cane factory and a paper mill right outside the port, plus they're tearing up the road.  When I got back, I ruined one of the ship's flannels by trying to wash my face with it, but that's OK.  We all systematically ruin the pool towels which they give us to take to the beach.  I feel sorry for whoever does the laundry on this ship.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Days 220 to 226 - At Sea

We spent five more days at sea, during which we crossed the equator and various people went and kissed a dead fish and turned the front deck swimming pool into something that looked like the drainage ditch from a fishmonger's slab.  Most days I teach Antonia in the morning, send her to kid's club and do my own work in the afternoon, go to the gym twice, the hot tub once, eat three square meals a day and take in any events that seem particularly appealing.  It's very relaxing and I love being at sea.

Pago Pago, American Samoa
On the other hand, I am not so enchanted with port days, so I didn't go to see American Samoa, but stayed on the ship instead.  I decided that, given the time available, what I really like is ports.  I love the shapes of the containers, warehouses, cranes and ships, and the contrast between land and water.  The port at Pago Pago is especially beautiful.  It seems like everybody else is spending their whole time on beach days.

More sea days followed.  We have crossed through numerous time zones and the International Date Line.  Despite the fact that the ship's staff put rugs marked with the name of the day in the lifts, and remind us twice when we change time, we became confused and our various computers and watches all told different times and days.  To make matters worse, the ship time was not always the same as the gps time for reasons of convenience, I suppose.  It seems like a joke to say we have lost a day, but I am not really sure if we reached Fiji on the 227th or 228th day of our trip.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Days 215 to 219 - Hawaii

To reach Hawaii, we spent four days at sea, during which we got to know the ship and slipped into a routine so quickly it's seemed incredible to be going ashore.  There are about eleven kids aboard the Zaandam and a whole gang of them are about Antonia's age.  The only other girl is quite a bit younger than her, so she had a bit of a shaky start, but after a few days it went brilliantly.  I am sorry to say she abused of her bey blades and nintendo ds to gain social capital, and also dresses herself carefully in her least pretty and feminine attire before any kid's club session.  We soon learned we need not expect her to join us for dinner as she had prior engagements or was resting every single night.  I am not used to all this adult life and am wondering what the withdrawal symptoms will be like.

Antonia collecting water from aerial roots of a tree

Hilo, Hawaii
Mike went off with his friend Geoff, so Antonia and I took a taxi to a Japanese garden on the coast.  Really, we could have walked but the taxi driver did direct us to the best fish restaurant in the neighborhood.  It's really a warehouse where the fishermen deliver fish, but they have a shop for the public and a small kitchen with a few benches outside.  We spent the day looking at flowers, crabs, washed up coconuts and banyan trees and it is all very new and interesting.

Kauna, Hawaii
Mike went off with Geoff again, and we found Kauna less interesting than Hawaii.  Today we had to tender to shore which is a lot less convenient than having a gangway.  When we got to Kauna we realised the only things to do are shop or go to the beach.  We had forgotten our beach things and didn't really want to shop, but had very little choice.  In the end we rented a sea kayak and paddled out into the harbour to see what this strange structure is.  We had fun but also got soaked and sunburned.

Honolulu, Hawaii
I walked to the Bishop museum on foot, which meant I passed through the whole port area, chinatown and some residential areas.  It was kind of interesting.  There are a lot of people sleeping rough in the park in Hawaii, but on the other hand, there may be worse places in the world to have to sleep rough.  The museum is really beautiful.  The main room has the old fashioned museum architecture of panelled wood galleries around a tall central area (for hanging canoes and lifesize models of whales).  The exhibits on traditional Hawaiian life and on the history and politics of Hawaii were very well put together and organised.  In the evening, we discovered that the ship can take care of all the emigration procedures for me so that was handy.

On our second day, Mike hauled us out to Haunama Bay, a state park set aside to protect a beautiful bay with coral reef.  Getting there by public transport is frankly a nuisance, but it is very pretty.  You have to pay to go into the park, and watch a compulsory video begging you not to step on the coral.  We all went snorkelling, and Antonia (of course it was Antonia) swam with a sea turtle for several minutes and saw an unidentified stripey sea snake or eel as well as the usual fish and coral.

Nawiliwili, Hawaii
We rented a car - hurrah! - so I actually got to see what some of the interior of Hawaii looks like.  Really, we just drove up the center of the island taking photographs. At the end of the road on the wet side of the island, we had a beautiful rainbow at the end of the journey.  Then we returned to the dry side and ate shrimp.  This is pretty much all you have time to do on port days, when we're off the ship between 8.00am and 4.30pm - if you're very organised.  I have already decided I don't think much of cruising as a way of seeing places, though I love being at sea.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Day 210: Sailing from San Diego

OK - that's it!  No more United States ((except for Hawaii)!! Once you've seen the traffic in the LA basin, you don't need anymore!  This is the last of San Diego as we move out of the harbour.  The only thing of note that we did here is spend 4 hours trying to buy toiletries!  The picture below is our pilot boat standing off:

The Zaandam is pretty much like the Queen Mary II only a lot smaller.  We have a cabin with a window on the lowest deck.  You can kind of sit on the windowsill just above the waves and watch the sunset.  Shortly after taking this photo I was sipping a glass of wine and watching dolphins play in the bow wave just below me.  That's more like it!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Day 207: Las Vegas

We made it to Las Vegas at sunset, and the first thing we learned is that the hotels here are very large and very filled with casinos.  Well, actually, I guess Mike knew that already.  It is a long, long way from where we parked the van to our room on the 35th floor, and we are supposed to be repacking!  Everything here is set up to encourage you to spend lots of money in the Casino, so most other things are very inexpensive, but a lot of facilities like the pool and the fitness room shut down at 6pm, so people don't get distracted.  Then they start serving very cheap alcohol so that you can lose your inhibitions. 

Fake New York
I had my first experience of an all-you-can-eat American buffet, for free.  In fact, neither Mike nor I had to pay:  We did pay seventeen dollars for Antonia who ate next to nothing.  It's easy to see how people can get overweight on stuff like this.  Mike and I had five-course dinners, except I think he may have had five desserts as well.  Antonia had candyfloss for dessert. That would explain why we spent most of the next day mooching around the pool and in the hot tub.


The real reason for being here was to look at the architectural excesses of the strip.  My favorite is the shopping mall that looks like Venice, though the model of New York complete with roller coaster is pretty cool too. 

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Day 206: Zion National Park


Zion is one of the places where I could easily have spent more time.  It is at a pretty low altitude, and so warm that there were even mosquitoes in the campground.  This is a very good time to visit: you get red rocks, blue sky, and yellow cottonwood trees that haven't quite lost their leaves yet.  The shuttle had another four days to run, and private car traffic into the canyon is still banned, so it was not a madhouse.  That snow that was forecast for Bryce started falling on us as rain just as soon as we got settled down for the night.  The temperature had dropped by quite a lot of degrees by the morning but it was still kind of OK.

Fall droplets
We took the shuttle ride and a short hike, but then because we were pushed for time, we split up.  Mike went off to do photography on the east road into the park and I went to be with Antonia while she finished her junior ranger book.  This is Antonia's last park. We think she has done about 17 Junior Ranger programs and been to a couple of parks where we didn't do one.  This is her last National Park.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Day 205: Bryce Canyon

Unbelievably, Bryce Canyon is even higher up than the Grand Canyon.  It was going to get very cold on Monday night and snow on Tuesday night.  I forced poor Mike to check into a campsite where we could have an electric hookup and run our little electric heater.  To make matters worse, we got use of tbe swimming pool and hot tub at the hotel next door thrown in. Poor, poor Mike... I spent a very pleasant night being clean and warm plus I was able to do the breakfast washing up indoors and using hot water!!!

But we were not there for these creature comforts.  Bryce canyon is not a canyon at all, but an eroded plateau full of these things called hoodoos.  We went to a geology talk where the lady explained how to make them.  Start with some really impure, crumbly rock, subject it to stresses from two separate faults so that it cracks in a checkerboard pattern, then raise it to just the right altitude to get 200 freeze-thaw cycles per year.  That means we had no chance of sleeping at temperatures above 0C in October.

We spent the day looking at the hoodoos from the top and the bottom.  We left in the afternoon with just enough time to reach Zion national park before dark.

Monday 24 October 2011

Day 204: Glen Canyon Dam

Rafts below Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River
 On our rides back and forth across Navaho country, we noticed a pretty impressive power station facility.  Between Tuba City and Kayenta is what looks like an enormous grain tower.  It has a conveyor that crosses the road on a bridge and goes all the way to the top like a giant slide.  On the other side the conveyor bumps over at least two hills, and who knows how far it goes.  From the conveyor is an electric railway that carries 80 miles to Lake Powell where the generator is.  We kind of pieced this whole story together from seeing first the railway, then the coal tower and conveyor, then the three enormous chimneys of the generator.  This system produces huge amounts of electricity and supplies Phoenix, LA and other large cities.

The dam wall
The Glen Canyon hydroelectric dam is a smaller installation, but one you can visit!  I don't have to tell you too much about it since we have photographs. I was really glad that it coincided with a good lunch spot because we were able to see beautiful Lake Powell behind the dam, tour the dam, and see the skeleton of a cool feathered dinosaur they found as they were carving it out.  Now we are back in Utah, and getting really confused with all the time changes.  Utah does winter time, but Arizona has decided not to bother, so we changed three times in the last 24 hours.

Lake Powell behind the dam - it's very odd to see a blue lake in such and arid environment.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Day 203: Monument Valley

A formation near Monument Valley
Our destination today was Monument Valley which Mike had always wanted to visit.  It has two amazing rock formation that have appeared in a whole lot of films.  It is on Navaho tribal land and they have organised a park that works a bit like a National Park: same kind of visitor centre, same kind of facilities, but of course our National Park pass didn't work.  Anyway, we got to do this amazing 17 mile drive over rough dusty roads and admire the rocks that you can see here. 

The famous mittens

It was very nearly sunset by the time we finished so we decided to camp just over the road in Goulding.  By the time we had the campsite paid for, we realised we were just over the border from Arizona, in Utah.  It was 7.45, not 6.45 and we had better go find some dinner.  So we didn't even choose a camping spot, we went straight to a restaurant, with the aim of trying Native American food.  It seems like Indian taco is the real big thing in Indian territory.  At the contemporary art museum in Santa Fe, they even had a whole movie dedicated to Indian taco.  It is a taco shell, with beef chilli (usually), topped with cheese and chopped lettuce, onion and tomato.  We had also discovered fried bread in Taos.  This is where you take ordinary bread dough and deep fry it.  It comes up as an enormous puffy disk that is delicious, and not very good for you.  Combine these two things and you get what this restaurant was offering as Navaho taco.  If you don't feel like deep-frying bread dough, you can get a similar effect with Yorkshire pudding, henceforth to be known as the Yorkshire taco.

A hand looking for its mittens?