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Aloha from Honolulu…

Aloha from Honolulu…

When I discovered that our return journey was routing us via Los Angeles, it seemed like a good opportunity to take in 3 days’ worth of R&R in Honolulu; the place I first came to way back in 1990. My children were teenagers and for many reasons it was a special holiday. In the intervening years, Waikiki Beach has changed somewhat and ‘grown up’. The hotels have obviously multiplied and grown in size and when you find all the major chains in one place you know tourism is a massive business. Our choice this time was the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. It is a huge village, more of a town, which is still growing, and on my third day there are large parts I have yet to discover. Similarly, every brand and fashion house is present too, and judging by the number of bags people carry, the dollars are pouring in. And yet……

 

Our days had “chilled and lazy” written all over them. Our first day was spent simply getting over an overnight flight and we were happy to laze by the pool in the hot sun (or, in Ann’s case, in the hot shade). By the second day, we were ready to step outside the complex and explore. First a beach walk (sand you sink right into), breakfast and a swim. The time just slips away, but plenty of time left for more of an expedition. Thanks to an unfortunate “loss” in Auckland, I needed to replace my missing iPad and research found that the cost here was the same in dollars as in pounds at home. That took us on a pleasant walk to an Apple shop, situated in a beautiful shopping mall. Job done (as well as a drink and early evening meal), so we wandered off to walk back but found a trolley bus service which, for $2 each, took customers to the major hotels on Waikiki Beach. Therefore, for a very small amount, we got a real Cook’s tour as well as a ride back.

 

Storms were threatened for today but, although hot and overcast, there was no rain, as yet. Our trolley ride had inspired us to investigate the original Waikiki Beach where, in the early 20th century, legendary surfer, Olympic swimmer and Waikiki native, Duke Kahanamoku, introduced the sport to the world. There stands his monument, complete with fresh lei, and we filled our shoes with sand as we watched today’s surfers take to the waves.

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Just along the road is what last night’s fabulous trolley driver, Nina, described as “the concrete jungle”. Shops, galleries and everything to tempt the wealthy hedonists who come to Honolulu for things of a more materialistic kind than the mighty surf. We found the Maui Brewing Company just after marvelling at a rarely seen Tesla showroom. The beer we could afford….just!

I really believed it was heaven on earth the last time I came but now the visitors seem to swamp the lovely, smiley, warm-hearted local people. It really is the 50th State of America and the Polynesian Villages seem to be just places for the tourists. I have had a lovely time but find my memories perhaps a little flawed. Maybe I left it too long to return and missed the changes during the intervening years.

It’s been lovely to see you, Hawaii, but now we are homeward bound. 5 am departure from the hotel and then flights to Los Angeles, Heathrow and Manchester. It’s been an amazing adventure over the last month and I can’t believe it is coming to an end…..until the next time.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Let’s get the jokes out of the way first… Hawai’i (note the apostrophe) makes me think of a Geordie asking, “How are yi?” Similarly, #sorry, Waikiki prompts me inwardly to ask, “Why not kiki?!”

Enough, we all cry.

We are towards the end of the longest holiday I’ve ever been on. Until last year but one, my longest holiday was a fortnight. However, when Ann and Kath mulled over this trip, I went along with it. Good decision? Yes, certainly!

This is our final holiday destination as we begin our flight back early tomorrow morning. The thrill of crossing the International Date Line masked the crossing of the Equator back into the Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, I only realised this when I suddenly recovered my sense of direction walking along the beach here. The position of the Sun is more important to me than I thought. Similarly, it’s a tick-off for me in that, when we get back to Manchester, we will have circumnavigated the globe!

So, what of Hawai’i…

I don’t think I had a clear expectation. Other than Hawaii Five-0 (the original!) and Elvis’ Blue Hawaii etc., I didn’t have much idea of what the place was like.

However, it’s somewhat akin to those memories except they’ve commercialised, gone bigger, brasher and, frankly, lost some of the tropical magic. Of course, we are greeted everywhere with, “Aloha!” but I wonder whether even that is just for the tourists. Waiters and waitresses alternate, after you’ve ordered with, “You got it!” or “My pleasure!” Talking of tourists, predominantly they are from the Far East – Japan, China and South Korea – with a much larger proportion of teenage girls than would be found in most resorts. Honolulu has a strong historical connection with those countries and, certainly, this U.S. State is very different from all 49 others.

Our ‘hotel’ is, genuinely, a village. Aptly called Hilton Hawaiian Village, it has more shops than St. Anne’s, I’m sure. It runs like clockwork and covers all 24 hours on the clock. So much to see and do without going off the campus. But, we did… on campus, we fo7nd Rainbow Tower (with the tallest mosaic in the world), Rainbow Lenai and Rainbow Bazaar with our own relatively tame Rainbow!

We walked along the beach, paddled in the Pacific, swam in one of the pools and indulged in laying in the sun. As we, also, needed to visit an Apple shop down the road, we found the most impressive Mall I’ve seen. The quality of the shops, eateries etc. was cosmopolitan and upmarket, indeed. We had spotted, whilst walking in the midday sun some quirky trolley buses and we decided to get one to return to the hotel. After missing the first call for our hotel, we stayed on board and had a great trip round nighttime Waikiki. Serendipity and worthwhile.

On the beach, we spotted an outrigger, Honolulu Police (without an Hawaii Five-0 sign and more. As we return to the UK, the memories will stay fresh for many years and these blog posts and photos will help. We, also, saw Diamond Head the name of the volcano and the hotel block we stayed in. Compare Elvis’ backdrop to my own photo.

Curiosity – the smell. We couldn’t place it. Possibly vegetable, flowers? Not floral, though. But, could be something else. Not sure.

Aloha!

 

Returning to Rotorua…

Returning to Rotorua…

Time to finally catch up on our day trip to Rotorua, which was so eagerly anticipated by me. The last time I did this trip I was on my own at the start of the biggest overseas tour of my life and, almost on a whim, I booked myself onto a coach trip to catch some of the things I would not see on my forthcoming cruise. Having had the most wonderful experience on that occasion, I was excited at the prospect of doing it again and sharing my enthusiasm with Carolyn and Ann. You know what they say about never going back?!…..

We had one of those tour guides/drivers who was the silent type! As we left Tauranga she talked a bit about Kiwi fruit, how millions were produced each year from this region and if you ate one anywhere else in the world it was likely to have been grown here. After that it was radio silence apart from complaining about the sulphur smell in Rotorua and urging us to be back on the bus quickly. No introduction to the places we were seeing, no information about the area, just a quick handover at each stop to a guide from the attraction. So, 40 people trying to hear what is being said by one guide on the move…….

 

Our first stop was lunch with an excellent performance by a group of Maoris. Ann met up with friends who emigrated from the UK and we all had just an hour before it was back on the bus ready to be decanted in a few minutes at Rainbow Falls. We saw lots of huge rainbow trout, various birds, lizards, etc, but it became apparent the ‘main event’ was the kiwi house. Of course, they are nocturnal birds, so very dim lighting and lots of “Shhhhh, don’t talk, they are sleeping”. Hmmm, lots of Americans on this trip. We did get our photo taken (with kiwis)….photoshop rocks!

 

Next was the wonderful Agrodome, which I had also visited. Lady bus driver issued tickets for sheep shearing show, already packed, so we craned necks and enjoyed what we could see. No time for the great trip around the farm I had so enjoyed, just a mad dash on the bus to the geo-thermal Park.

 

Nothing can spoil the majesty of the geysers but we were not cut loose to wander and were ushered for another talk on kiwis, followed by an in depth tour of the new Maori schools of woodcarving and weaving.

 

There were no details about Rotorua being the place where the earth’s crust is at its thinnest, nothing about the potential (and reality) of mud pools springing up overnight in the midst of houses and nothing about the training they need to give to children about not going into bushes to retrieve balls (in case of shrubs concealing boiling pools). So sad for those who had not enjoyed this really interesting information.

 

Our rapid return to our last night aboard Noordam contained one more stop: a photo opportunity to capture kiwi fruit vines!!!!

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Onwards and upwards. Rotorua, for me, is still a fascinating place, but then I know more about it. Auckland next for a couple of days.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Rotorua – pronounced, as best as I can write, as Rut-uh-rue-ha

We chose this excursion because of the Geographer in our midst as well as trying to recreate Kath’s memories. Ann, having taught about volcanoes, earthquakes, geysers, mud pools etc., thought she’d like to see them. Well, we did. We saw them, smelt them and felt them… just the moisture as the water vapour condensed. It was worth visiting although, as Kath indicated, we were disappointed at a number of levels and have put in a complaint to the cruise company about it.

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Nevertheless, looking at the positives,… we did get to see three kiwis. They were larger than I thought they were and we were reminded of the Kiwi Shoe Polish with an old advertising sign.

The Maori ‘traditional’ show we saw was excellent and better than the one on our ship. The passion that old and young feel for their culture is palpable in so many people. No more so by our guide at geo-thermal park who is having her chin tattooed to add to her tribe’s tattoos on her arms. This is called a ‘moko kauae’, Some traditions, in my view, are worth changing, perhaps.

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The Agrodome show – the parts we saw – were very impressive. The sheep dogs stole the show from the sheep and the sheep shearer. The New Zealand shepherds have moved from collies to hounds for shepherding and the barking to order (and silence on command) was as memorable as the doors running over the sheep’s back without them apparently, even flinching. Different breeds of sheep with the Marino the crowd’s favourite. The crown, by the way, predominantly Oriental. Interesting.

The kiwis in the photoshopped commercial photo weren’t real but the ones we actually saw were… except the stuffed one our guide had named Stuffy for obvious reasons. Stuffy had been killed some time ago and had been stuffed, albeit with only one eye!

A disappointing day but still not a waste. It’s just it could have, and should have, been better.

Finally, though, the falls had to be called RAINBOW FALLS and Kath was at her best. They even ‘gave’ us (when we paid!) a calendar.

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From Sounds to Fiords

From Sounds to Fiords.

 

2CCA1700-391B-44B2-BF86-0973654AA358There is a geographical difference between a Sound and a Fiord and we experienced both, but, for the purpose of the blog, let’s just say that we sailed through narrow channels of water, overlooked by towering mountains and close enough to feel the spray of a cascading waterfall. This adventure began at 6 am as the hardy souls amongst us spilled out onto the foredeck and waited for the dawn’s light to reveal the entrance to Milford Sound.

We were forewarned that this was one of the wettest places on Earth, but rain would add to the drama, the waterfalls and the almost ethereal quality of the vistas. And so it was. Wreaths of cloud clung to the mountains and the Sounds were largely silent, apart from the cry of sea birds. Dramatic indeed. Full marks to the navigator for taking us so close to the waterfalls and swinging the ship around 360 degrees to ensure everyone was almost close enough to bathe in the spray.

From Milford Sound we sailed into Doubtful Sound. It was doubtful that the sun would shine but….there were signs. By the time we had eaten lunch, watched an excellent Maori cultural show and enjoyed a rendition of the Hakka, we were cruising into Dusky Sound under bright blue skies and warm sunshine.

 

So, the dramatic, rain spattered photos of this morning became the picture postcards of this afternoon!! At 4.30 we were back in open water and cruising towards our next stop, Port Chalmers, from where we can pick up a shuttle bus to Dunedin.

Happy days in Hobart

Happy days in Hobart

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I know I have commented before on the blog about the friendliness of the Aussie folks but it is worth saying again that the people in Tasmania have, time and again, proved this to be a fact. Our time in Hobart, especially the day trip we took, was delightful.

We felt the need to see something of the Hobart area and selected a tour which covered a variety of activities. Our coach, along with a fabulous guide (a lady of a certain age) took us to Shene, a country estate restoration project where we found a couple whose lives were now dedicated to restoring an historic country estate. This dynamic duo, originally from Queensland, have brought their skills and enthusiasm to restoring the homestead and converting barns and outbuildings into function rooms and a distillery, now producing award winning gin and whisky. I had to smile as we saw the main house, still being lovingly restored, still with evidence of damp problems and still minus a proper kitchen…and then we visited the husband’s domain, the distillery, with its state of the art, gleaming machinery and no expense being spared. I hope they go on to achieve the even greater success their passion for the project deserves. I will watch out for an opportunity to buy Poltergeist Gin in the future – it has already won awards in London and San Francisco.

If anyone is put off visiting Australia by the thought of spiders, let me introduce you to one I found near the distillery.  Now that really is a big boy (or girl!).

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Our next stop was Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, another passionate project by a guy who is caring for indigenous animals as well as some who may be native to Australia but not Tasmania (koalas, wombats, etc). He has opened an animal hospital there and collects ‘casualties’ from across the state. Although many of the animals are nocturnal, most were happy to ‘appear’ so we saw the reclusive Tasmanian Devil at close quarters, a hungry and very cute wombat, a couple of dozing koalas and then happily fed the very docile kangaroos who loved having their chests tickled. Fabulous.

From there we went to a small historic town (Richmond) which comprises a single Main Street of shops and cafes. It was well worth the stop if only for the delights of an iced coffee, rich with home made ice cream. It is one of those towns with historic buildings, including a gaol, which just cry out to be looked at and admired.

The final visit was to a local wine producer who creates a whole variety of wines under the label ‘Puddleduck’. We sampled merrily but found only one which suited our palates. This might have been our lucky break as the cost of shipping a case back to England was well over £200 and bringing wine on board ship incurs a charge of $18 US per bottle. The initial cost of a bottle was more than double the cost of a good supermarket offering at home, so we left without buying any. Sad in a way as this was a family concern – we met two of them – and, again, they had the same passion for their work we had experienced at the previous stops.

We couldn’t resist the opportunity to get off the ship again and take an evening stroll around Hobart Harbour. It’s the only place on our voyage where we have had a couple of days in port. As we leave here, our next ports of call will be in New Zealand, so new experiences and much more to enjoy.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

It takes something special to make me feel ‘Wow!’ Having a kangaroo eat out of my hand and almost have a ‘conversation’ with me was one of those moments. The experience was symbiotic, it seemed. The kangaroo got fed and had its chest scratched – their small arms can’t reach – and I got so close to an animal which is iconic.

Well worth doing and the Animal Sanctuary does a great job. The day was another ‘scorcher’ as far as temperature was concermed and I smiled at the loos which instead of external doors, had chain curtains – albeit decorated with the ubiquitous stylised male and female figures.

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The other experiences of the day were, also, worth doing but, frankly, not as special for me.

Hobart is an interesting place and our guide was knowledgable and passionate about her town and state. In the recent history, they have had several natural problems but a significant manmade one was when a ship collided with the main bridge linking the two parts of the town. Attempting to go through the wrong span of the bridge, the ship collided and brought down the bridge. Cars plummeted into the river and multiple deaths occurred. The bridge, a five-lane highway, was out of action for a couple of years whilst engineers (and insurers) grappled with a ‘solution’. The destroyed pillar has not been replaced and the sunken wreck of the ship remains in the water where it sank. The bridge is, of course, fully repaired but now closed to all traffic when a ship is due to pass underneath as we observed last evening.

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Today began with rain but we ventured out after an early lunch as the weather cleared and meandered round the harbour and some of the town. Interesting statues illustrate the early journeys to the ‘bottom of the world’ and the Australian Antarctic Division is based here.

Two iced coffees (with cream!) made the free Wi-fi taste even sweeter to Ann and Kath.

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A final note as we eat ‘heartily’ as well as healthily… from the Bakery in Richmond…

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Burnie – a small town with a big welcome!

Burnie

Another brilliant day dawned and the sun was already cracking the flagstones when we docked at Burnie, our first Tasmanian port of call, at about 07.30. I had zero expectations (a) because it was Sunday in a small town and (b) because the total population was only 20,000. How wrong could I be? As we walked down the gangway there were the Mayor and Mayoress, he in his civic regalia and she beautifully dressed, waiting to offer a warm welcome. We went on to meet a large number of equally warm and friendly people, who drove the shuttle buses from the port to the town, and proudly stood by to answer questions, direct us to attractions and generally engage with these wonderful tourists who had graciously come to visit. They couldn’t do enough to please and it was a truly humbling experience. I am not sure that either the visiting Brits (a few of us) or the Americans (a lot of them) are known for their quiet appreciation of such generosity of spirit, but I saw a lot of smiles and chat being returned to our hosts for the day and felt glad that perhaps, for once, we represented our nations kindly.

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We were taken to a ‘Makers’ Workshop’ where local craftspeople created and sold their wares. It was all beautifully made and not outrageously priced, as in similar outlets. There was hand crafted paper, woollen items, exquisitely carved wood, hand crafted jewellery, paintings of all kinds, as well as a truly excellent coffee shop.

There was a stop at an Arts Centre, which exhibits local artists and photographers and doubles as a Town Hall and Performing Arts Centre. I think they opened up on Sunday especially for us.

Ann and I engaged in paddling and shell foraging along the beach, although I suspect we were not seeing the best of the beaches which would have been well clear of those surrounding the very industrial port area where our ship had docked. We took a stroll around the neat and clean town centre (mainly not open for Sunday trading) but the townsfolk were keen that we should see everything, including a rhododendron Park, supposedly in full bloom.

It may not have been the most stunningly beautiful port of call, but in terms of the people and their wonderful welcome, Burnie must begin to feature as a ‘must visit’ for more cruise lines and I am delighted to have had an opportunity to see this particular corner of Tasmania.

Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities

Well, what can I add… ?

Such lovely people. What Kath didn’t mention was that the town was hit by an employment catastrophe only a few years ago. The town of about 20000 had a wood mill which employed over 4000 directly. It closed and one can only imagine the thoughts of those people and their community. Memories of Welsh and Yorkshire villages destroyed when their mines closed came to my mind. It’s easier, I suppose, in an almost idyllic island to reinvent itself as a tourist destination than in the valleys of Wales or the ‘dark satanic mill’ infested Northern coalfields. Nevertheless, rebuilding communities destroyed by a corporate quirk takes courage and vision. Burnie has both. It also has many people who are committed to contribute voluntarily and cheerfully to welcoming each and every visitor with a generous smile and helpful guidance. They deserve success and we were happy to spend some money in the few shops open on Sunday.

I posted elsewhere that their Information Centre was probably the best I’d seen with certainly the best views and possibly the best coffee cups. Well worth a visit and a return someday

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Entertainment on board ship is varied and includes activities and evening entertainments. This afternoon, Ann and I went to watch the film ‘The Dressmaker’ starring Kate Winslet. A well-crafted piece. Stylised in part and the story developed at pace despite the flashbacks. Death, sadness, infirmity and illness strangely produced laughter from a number of the audience… including Ann! Hmm! The ending was theatre at its best with the mentally scarred heroine walking toward the camera with the backdrop of the devastated town aflame which she identified as the curse she had carried for her lifetime and had returned to exorcise. She seemed content… as were we..

I’m walking in sunshine

“I’m walking in sunshine”.

It was quite a shock to step out of the hotel this morning into a thick blanket of fog but, by the time we had breakfast and repacked the car, the sun had taken over and the heat was beginning to climb. In fact, a beautiful sight awaited us as we left Chattanooga and we looked at the surrounding mountains. The mist was clinging to the valley but the mountain tops were clear. A truck passed us loaded up with rocking chairs and we have seen hundreds of them in these parts, in cafes and bars, on porches and in hotels. Just plain wooden rocking chairs, devoid of any trimmings and, it would appear, devoid of any comfort, too.

We had a quite spooky experience with the mist en route. As we started a fairly steep descent into a valley, banks of thick mist appeared to climb towards us and we were quickly surrounded, albeit briefly. They make movies about that sort of situation!!

It was a relatively short journey to Cookeville, which is not that far from Nashville, our destination tomorrow. That is a story in itself because we had cancelled 3 hotel nights to accommodate our re-route provoked by Irma. Having pre-booked all our hotels through Booking.com, I thought it would be so easy to add an extra night to our stay in Nashville. It would appear that I had got some fabulous deals through booking early and the hotels with vacancies tonight were either hundreds of dollars or described as “just passable”. The hotel I booked from tomorrow was full. So, Cookeville it was and we arrived in time for me to find a Starbucks (great wifi) to FaceTime my youngest grandson, Oliver, on his second birthday.

We then set off to explore the area and feeling in need of a walk (about 30 degrees of hot sun with high humidity) we happened across Cummins Falls State Park. This offered a walk through fairly dense trees to some beautiful waterfalls. You could choose to take the upper paths and overlook the falls or climb over rocks and boulders to go swimming. Tempting, but looking was good enough.

With music much on our minds we set about discovering where we might enjoy a live performance this evening. Spankies, near the University…..perhaps not? Most of the others we have checked are offering non-stop juke boxes, so maybe we save ourselves for Nashville, where we are booked for a concert tomorrow.

As Carolyn posted on Facebook, we went for a very late lunch to sample the American true version of KFC. No fries but creamy mashed potato with gravy, and a ‘biscuit’ with butter or honey. So much nicer. People may say, “You didn’t really go to KFC?!” But we did and I loved it!

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

My new hip had a good workout today! Kath underplayed the walk to the falls. Over rough terrain and for a good distance both uphill and down dale.

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Punctuated by brief “Hi”s to other explorers and a lengthy conversation on the way back with a group from South Carolina. Needless to say, the topics ranged from Beatles’ music in the 60s through to the inevitable, for me, it seems, politics. On a musical front, I upset the Vietnam Vet (he wore the cap and told me his background) by not worshipping Elvis as a teenager and barely got away with my pacifism and disquiet about The Donald! Actually, it was very interesting to hear about the political situation and how Trump’s votes were often merely anti-Hillary. We also discussed the Charlottesville protests and responses. Despite husband and wife voting different ways in the Presidential election, they were united in their view that Obama was a divisive figure who, they felt (strongly) had encouraged ‘Liberals’ to want something for nothing. Was it racial? I fear it was and this was confirmed by our hotel elevator-sharing guy at the hotel who confirmed the same, as well as suggesting to Kath that he suspected, “You w*nkers are going out to get p*ssed”. Apparently, he has a Welsh friend who uses this phrase repeatedly! His views on the last eight years in the U.S. were also that blacks had become emboldened. Racial segregation is still an issue for the ‘South’ and the Civil Rights struggles are far from over. When discussing ‘Dreamers’ and the Mexicans, we agreed that all U.S. citizens, except Native Americans, were immigrants in some form. We parted amicably with the obligatory, “Have a good day!”

(On a lighter note, why do we feel that by replacing the odd letter by an asterisk in words like w*nkers somehow renders it more acceptable?!)

Anyway,… another quirk is when, on our Road Trips, we come across familiar names in unfamiliar places… Birmingham, Salisbury, … and today, Sparta! We’ve even found a town called Kathleen in Georgia (and another in Florida)!

And, for a chuckle, how about…

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So to music… Spankies didn’t have live music until 10 and others, including Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill, Father Tom’s Pub and Hooligan’s Half Irish Pub didn’t have live music – I rang them to ask! My last hope was where I fancied going because of one of my musical favourites from the 60s: Wooly Bully’s. Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs had a huge American hit in 1965 and, although only getting to No.11 in the U.K., was, and is, a favourite of mine partly because of the repetitive and offbeat lyric with thumping beat. I didn’t know until today that it was written about his friend’s cat!

As we discovered, we’ve changed time zones and Spankies would have been too late. So, live music – other than our own singing along to the radio in the car – is off. Tomorrow, we’re in Nashville and have tickets for the Grand Ol’ Opry with various artists including Crystal Gayle.

Before I finish, the sign at Cummins Falls ends with a useful epithet which would be worthwhile for all politicians, including the President, to take on board. #justsaying

“Water flows over these hands. May I use them skilfully to preserve our precious planet.”

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