Monday, 30 April 2012

Really doing different on Norfolk Island

I really can't think of anywhere in the world more conducive to total relaxation than Norfolk Island. Cars are not allowed to drive more than 50 kilometres an hour, often just 30, and must give way to cows and Kingston Geese. Every time you pass someone, they wave. Even children on bikes and pedestrians. It is delightful.
I potter about all week, making huge decisions about whether to have lunch at the Golden Orb or the Olive and whether to go for a swim at Emily Bay in the morning or the afternoon.
But there's also great excitement. The Pacific Guardian has arrived and although there's quite a swell running, they are unloading a horse in foal. 

As the crate is unloaded from the lighter, there's a round of applause from a large crowd of onlookers. I am astonished how word has travelled round the island, it seems that almost everyone has come to watch. The evolution has cost the owner $8000 Australian, including a hefty veterinary bill.
But it's too rough to unload much needed potatoes and eggs, so that will have to wait until the morning.
None of the men crewing the lighters are wearing life jackets or indeed don't appear to have any safety equipment at all; it really is a different way of life.
The Norfolk Island Bowls Club has an open afternoon, so I pitch up and find myself playing for Norfolk against New Zealand and Australia. For just $5, they throw in shoe hire, a set of bowls and sandwiches after the game. But no cups of tea; almost everybody is drinking beer. If you don't have proper bowling shoes, you can bowl in bare feet. I have been trying to adopt this almost universal island tradition, but my soft townie feet aren't up to it and, after a couple of days, splits and cuts are causing me grief.

The houses on Cascade Road seem mostly to be named after the type of roofs they have. Thus, we have Red, Blue, Green, Rusty and Rented. A vacant lot is named 'No Roof'.

I have been lent a car. Sue is off island at a funeral, so husband Don has kindly pointed me in the direction of her car. The key is in the lock. I don't use it a lot, but I enjoy going to the top of Mount Pitt and to visit the splendid Norfolk island Botanical Gardens, where there are more Golden Orb Spiders' Webs than I would have thought possible.

There are two funerals on the island. Norfolk Island pine caskets are provided by the Government at no charge and burials in the cemetery are also free. All the flags on the island are lowered to half mast and, at Saturday bowls, we are told that games can start early or late if we want to go to one of the services.
Islanders pay no taxes so, with free burials and whatnot, there's no money to repair the roads. Or anything else for that matter. So there are moves to bring in closer links with Australia, which will mean state-funded healthcare but taxes. Emotions are mixed and running high. The newly-arrived administrator, whose job is to liaise between the Island Government and authorities in the mainland is trying to be open about the process, but is getting grief in the 'Norfolk Islander' newspaper. The attack is pretty unfair because the originator is anonymous. But the following week, another anonymous letter leaps to his defence, so that's all right then. I can't think of many newspapers in the world which will print unsigned letters. But Norfolk really does do different.

The local police are trying to enforce laws on speeding and the wearing of crash helmets. But the island way of life is not conducive to mainland rules and regulations, so it's not an easy task. There's a view that the islanders get away with a lot, while the incomers are expected to toe the line. Very much a them and us scenario. The incomers say that marrying an islander is a good way of being able to do pretty much what you want without authority interfering too much with your life.

I am bewildered by Aussie speak. They seem to have a language all of their own. When I am told that 'I'll see you in the arvo', I have no idea that they are planning to see me later that afternoon. A 'trash and treasure' sale is a sort of posh jumble sale, while you'll have to look up 'shonky' for yourself. But I have just about got used to wearing thongs on my feet instead of flip flops.
On Sunday morning, there is more excitement. My host Mike and I pop down to Ball Bay, where the oil tanker Heracles is manoeuvring into position to offload, gas, diesel, aviation fuel and petrol. Secured close inshore by her anchors and stern ropes, it's quite a tricky operation, but great fun to watch.

Mike, a very talented chef, has been busy making all sorts of scrummy things for a party to mark Met Bureau colleague Tom's 60th birthday. At the event I become wine waiter and general factotum. It's great to meet a wide variety of local business owners, friends and neighbours and people from the island authorities.

All too soon it's time to leave this delightful spot. I can't think of many places where you can check in, then go off to have coffee and a bite of lunch in town before boarding the aircraft.

There's an absolute monsoon and everybody on the plane gets soaked during the walk across the tarmac and up the stairs.
I have the front three seats all to myself, but I can't sit down until the door is closed because the seats are covered with blankets to protect them from the downpour. But, even so, I feel the damp rising during the flight.
After take-off, there's quite a bit of turbulence, so I chat to the friendly Air New Zealand cabin crew, Hayden and Sandy, who have had a couple of days on the island in between sectors.

All too soon, the wonderful sight of Sydney Harbour, straight through customs and quarantine and into Australia proper.
With traffic jams. Queues.
And shoes.

Photos at:

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Saturday (as well as supper) disappears between San Francisco and Norfolk Island

I am sad to be leaving the Bay area. Although I first visited it more than forty years ago, it is only in the past couple of years that I have begun to really understand why, for so many people, it is a very special part of the world.
It is handy that the BART yellow line takes me from Moraga directly to the airport, a trip that takes almost exactly an hour.

Unusually for Air New Zealand, the check in is a shambles, with a problem at the single Business-Class check in desk causing delays for premium passengers. It doesn't help that the same line is being used for Premium Economy.

If that was unsatisfactory, the VIP lounge is a disgrace. With only one flight a day, Air New Zealand has a contract to use the Eva Air facilities. But, more than ninety minutes before boarding, the food has all gone, with not even a peanut or crisp available. People are drinking wine and beer out of coffee cups and my gin and tonic, without a slice of lemon, is in a wine glass. The place is packed with hardly a seat available, nobody is tidying up used crockery and the wi-fi is impossibly slow.
When Diane, the on-board Concierge arrives to greet her overnight passengers, she has a queue of people wanting to see her. She agrees that the situation is less than satisfactory and will put it in her report.
On board, I am disappointed that the jumbo-jet upper-deck has a very strange configuration of 10 Business-Class and 23 Premium-Economy seats, with no separation between the two. There are only two toilets for everyone, which is far less than you would expect. I get the impression that a lot of little Business Class touches in the facilities have been removed.

But the seat (only Air NZ and Virgin use them), the food and the service is the best I think you can get and I sleep solidly in my full-length bed for well over seven hours.
Disembarkation is slow, because there is no way for Business Class to be taken off before Premium Economy.
So, lesson learned. The Upper Deck in Air New Zealand's two 747's is much less satisfactory than the splendid configuration in the front cabin of their five Boeing 777-300ER's.

I left San Francisco on Friday evening, but it's now early on Sunday morning. Last year, flying in the opposite direction, I had a Saturday in New Zealand and another one in Los Angeles, so I suppose it has evened itself out. But it still feels weird that, having flown for only 13 hours, Saturday has simply vanished from my life.
International transfer at Auckland is very speedy, although I am surprised of the need to have another security check.
The Koru Lounge in Air New Zealand's Auckland International terminal is splendid, with a barista making all sorts of fresh coffee, another member of staff making light fluffy pancakes and there is as good a selection of breakfast fare as you will find anywhere.

But, more importantly, a really nice modern and spacious shower facility which gives me the opportunity to freshen up after the long Trans-Pacific flight.

Being the only 'Works-Deluxe' passenger on board my connecting flight, I have the first two rows of the Airbus to myself, so can sit on the right-hand side as folk are boarding, so they won't tread on my toes, moving to the left hand of the aircraft just before take off. Just before landing on Norfolk Island after the 90 minute flight, the pilot tells us that the best views will be had from the other side, so I move back again!
Just like last year, the local baggage handlers have no concept about unloading priority-tagged luggage first, so one of my bags is virtually the last off the plane. Luckily, the customs and immigration line moves quickly and within twenty minutes of landing, I am being greeted by my host for the week, Mike Collings.
Mike, who I first met on Lord Howe Island, is the boss at the Island's Bureau of Meteorology. He is working later in the afternoon, but there is plenty of time to have a splendid lunch and spend some time down at the wonderful Emily Beach where I swim and he walks, saying that it is FAR too cold at this time of year.

The island is every bit as wonderful as I had remembered. I was slightly apprehensive that a second visit would perhaps be a bit of a disappointment, but not at all. This five by eight km. drop in the vast south Pacific Ocean is an absolute delight. Nobody locks their cars or homes, the pace of life is so laid back it is almost horizontal and the island abound with wonderful fresh produce. Except potatoes. They have run out until the next supply ship arrives later this week.
Adan and Ruby, Chris and Sorrell's children from next door, arrive to invite Mike and I round for drinks, but, with Mike working, I am the only acceptance.
We are joined by Don, who teaches Science at the 300-pupil Island School and his wife, Sue. The kids are about to have a day off school for ANZAC day (having been back after the holidays for just one day), so I explain to nine year old Ruby what the acronym means. The parents soon put me right after I confuse the tripartite ANZUK force of the early 1970's with the abbreviated form of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps of the Gallipoli Landings of World War 1.
Despite excellent food, wine and company, my jet-lag means that I struggle to stay awake. Adan wants to 'verse' me at ping pong, which turns out to be an Aussie word for challenge. He's improved a lot in the past twelve months and races into a 10 point lead before I find my game and manage to secure a narrow victory. But I fear my winning days against him will not last for much longer.
At 2130, I collapse into bed and am rocking the rafters almost before my head hits the proverbial pillow.
It doesn't take long to settle into the island pace of life. I had intended to potter and, my word, this place is conducive for it. The REO Cafe in Kingston for coffee, the Golden Orb in Burnt Pines for lunch, Emily Bay for a swim. It really is a tough life on Norfolk Island. Mike later shows me the amazing web of a Golden Orb spider, with the large female in the centre and the much smaller male playing a bit part.

ANZAC Day is marked with a daybreak service. Hence, at 0540, Mike and I join about a third of the Island's 1100 population at the war memorial in Kingston. With the waves crashing against the nearby shore, the pitch-black area lit only the flickering flames of a small fire and the occasional flash of a torch, it is a very poignant ceremony as the Last Post is sounded. I am surprised that it all ends with a lusty rendition of God Save the Queen rather than Advance Australia Fair or some-such, but am reminded that the ANZAC contingent were all part of Her Majesty's Forces.

I return later for the mid-morning service, but it has nothing like the pathos of the earlier event.

Photos at:

Friday, 20 April 2012

Crossing a Continent – Sandwiches, San Francisco, and Sacramento

The transfer from the Desoto to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is delightfully quick and easy, as is the hand-back of the rental car to National. One zap with the scanner and I am 'good to go'. Brilliant.
Security is really busy and one of the TSA staff is being really pernicketty with my little man-bag. She scans it three times, searching it twice, before giving me the green light. I ask her what the issue was. My iPad, apparently, masking the other contents. I DID ask them if they wanted the offending item taking out. (I later discover a little note in both of my checked-in bags telling me that they've searched them as well. But no apology for the zip broken in the process).

Not being confident that United Airlines will give me any sustenance en route, I have prepared marmalade sandwiches for my journey. But a jolly fine breakfast is served between Florida and Houston, followed by lunch on the second leg to San Francisco.

Both flights are packed, with the airline looking for voluntary offloads; there are 27 standby passengers on the second leg, not one of whom will get a seat.
Just before landing at San Francisco, my attention is drawn to the extraordinary colours of the salt flats.

Jeff Smisek, the Chairman and CEO of United, waxes lyrically on the on-board video screens about how connected the airline is since the acquisition of Continental. But the reality is that the Continental staff on both the legs are still on the former airline's payroll and clearly don't feel part of the overall team. One Captain took great delight in telling us that it was 'A United flight, crewed by Continental Airlines personnel'.
If only Mr. Smisek got rid of his sour-faced cabin crew and kept the bright, cheery Continental staff, he'd be some way to improving things.
But at least he's managed to transport me across the continental US without losing either of my bags.
It's a marathon walk to collect aforementioned luggage at San Francisco, but an easy transfer to the Train to reach the BART.

I'm supposed to have a pass to travel on this excellent, reliable and frequent rapid transport system round San Francisco Bay, but their admin. is rather more sluggish than their trains, so I am without.
It's an hour on the yellow line to my stop at Orinda, so I tuck into one of my marmalade sandwiches. It is pointed out to me that eating and drinking on BART is forbidden and I am liable for a fine of up to $250 or up to 48 hours community service. Paddington Bear never had this problem!
At Orinda, I am met by Doug Crawford, my host, who has just become the proud owner of an iPhone. In the evening, we are joined at their Moraga home by his wife, Barb, both of whom have recently visited me in Norwich.
Next morning, Doug and I purchase $16.20 worth of tickets and set off on the BART for San Francisco. An email then bings into my iPad with my BART pass duly attached. Better late than never, I suppose.
Barb has suggested a visit to the Golden Gate Park, which turns out to be as splendid – and extensive – as she had suggested. 

I have a City Pass ( which not only gives me unlimited travel for 7 days on the Muni (the local buses and trams), but gets me into the California Academy of Sciences and four more attractions. Just as well I have a pass or I would be joining Doug in taking a deep breath when he discovers that his own ticket is an eye-watering $29.95.
We agree that the rainforests of the world and the aquarium are the best bits. 

I am disappointed with the planetarium show, which is computer-generated and, to my mind, over complex, even for children. The observation deck on the 'Living Roof' is interesting, if only to hear about the high-tech nature of it all.
We are meeting the Crawford's younger daughter, Leah, for lunch, but only after we have visited the Golden Gate Park's Shakespeare Gardens, where Doug and Barb were married.
Lunch is taken at Park Chow in nearby Ninth Avenue, which turns out to be excellent, with a wide choice of tasty food and some great local ales.
Leah's an Arsenal fan, so I tease her about a recent defeat by one of the relegation-threatened teams. But she takes it all in good part, confessing later that she would have had better reposts if she had known which team I support!
I enjoy the 71 bus back downtown, before catching the BART home. I resisted telling the bearded, tattooed, pierced man munching on a Subway sandwich opposite of the perils that such misbehaviour could bring.

I am booked onto the California Zephyr, which takes three days to go all the way from the San Francisco Bay area to Chicago. At Orinda, I use my BART pass, which takes the form of a long letter giving me permission to travel. But the staff are uncertain what to do with it until a supervisor can be called. The same thing happens when I exit at MacArthur.

I have to catch a little shuttle bus, the 'Emery Go Round', to reach the Amtrak station at Emeryville. the closest the California Zephyr actually gets to downtown. Most passengers arrive on a fleet of Amtrak California buses.

The Zephyr is not yet in, so I watch a huge freight train being prepared for its journey. It's so enormous that an engineer on a buggy is checking the couplings, while three locomotives get themselves connected.
My ticket on the California Zephyr doesn't have any seat reservations, which are handled by the on-board staff, depending on where you are getting off. They're expecting a full train, which is nice to hear, but this early in the trip, there's plenty of space. I head straight for the observation car, the Sightseer Coach, which has great views and really comfortable seating with electric points at each. 

A cheerful staff member in the cafe below tells me that the train crew will stay on board for six days, then get a week off.
There's a very useful route guide which, among many other points of interest, draws my attention to the 70 ships of the US Navy's Reserve fleet in Suisun Bay.

In no time at all, and well under the two-hour schedule, we are in the Californian State Capitol, Sacramento. ( As I pass along the train before making the short walk into Old Town, the friendly crew show me a couple of the very comfortable-looking sleeping compartments.

I am staying on board the Delta King (, a Glasgow-built stern-wheeler, that was completed in California in 1927. (The brass maker's plaque at the reception desk saying she was built in Newcastle is an Ebay purchase!) During the prohibition years, she and her sister ship had a successful and profitable career sailing between Sacramento and San Francisco.

In 1984, the Coyne family discovered her rotting away, saw the potential and five years (and $9 million) later, had her 88 cabins converted into 44 larger hotel rooms, with associated bars and restaurants.
My cabin is lovely, although rather lacking in power points by today's standards.
The location is perfect. Old Sacramento's plethora of bars, shops and restaurants, housed in beautifully restored buildings, are just a few steps away.
Lunch is taken under the splendid glass-domed roof of the Fat City bar and cafe before I set off on the tourist trail.
My principal reason for being in Sacramento is to visit the California State Railroad Museum (, which doesn't disappoint. I time my visit at the end of the day, when almost all the school parties have headed home. It's a great tactic, because I have the splendid museum almost to myself; the audience for the introductory film consists of just three of us!

It is undoubtedly the best railway museum I have ever visited. There are some great exhibits, including a sleeper train that, very effectively, gives the appearance of travelling through the night. I particularly enjoy the displays of china from some of the most famous pioneering railways of the great railroad age.
The museum has a tremendous section on model railways, outdoor displays too and can even offer a little trip on one of those hand-propelled vehicles you see in old films. It's absolutely splendid.

I take a walk along the river to see up close the rather gaudily gold-painted 'Tower Bridge' before adjourning for Happy Hour at Joe's Crab Shack where a pint of excellent Lagunitas beer is under three dollars.
After a recharge of batteries on the Delta King, I wander the board-walks of Old Town, finding a lot of the restaurants rather over-priced for an evening snack. But at the Old Sacramento General Store, I strike gold. Local entrepreneur, Iranian-born Hoss Entezari, has spotted a gap in the market and is offering pizza by the slice. Hoss, who went to school in the English south-coast resort of Brighton, persuades me to have a $9.99 Pepperoni Pizza, which is so large is does me not only for dinner, but for lunch on the next two days! Very tasty too.
It's been a tiring day and I retire early into my comfortable bed on the Delta King. After a couple of hours deep sleep, I have a rude awakening from an enormously long freight train clattering across the nearby bridge. I drift back off to sleep only to have the same thing half an hour later, a pattern that continues until I give up trying at 0430am.

Thus I am among the first to report for 7am breakfast, which is fine, with the exception of the potatoes which give the appearance and taste of having been prepared some days before.

After a quick visit to the Wells Fargo and Pony Express museum, where I actually withdraw some cash from their ATM, I buy a $6 day ticket, an absolute bargain, for the local Light Rail.

My first stop is the State Capitol, where my plan is to arrive at 9am opening to avoid the inevitable yellow school buses crammed full of ankle-biters. The plan works well. I get straight into the Assembly Chamber where a rather tedious tribute to Armenia is under way. There's even a contingent of Armenian Boy Scouts of America, which seems to me to be rather divisive to the idea of a Brotherhood of Scouting.

The Capitol, which was completed in 1874 is absolutely splendid and I feel privileged to have so easily been able to see State Government at work. Although, it has to be said, most of the members seemed to be more intent on fiddling with their Blackberries than paying rapt attention to the problems of Armenia.
I have planned to take the Light Rail all the way to Folsom, where one of 27 museums listed in the Sacramento guide is housed. But time doesn't allow, so I opt instead for the Leland Stanford Mansion.
Lawyer Stanford made his fortune after becoming President of the Central Pacific Railroad and subsequently became Governor of California.

I'm surprised to discover that I am in a tour group of just me and volunteer guide Michele gives me a great tour of this splendid house. Having been opened after a major restoration by California State parks in 2005 after time as an orphanage, the house now faces closure as a result of a big hole in State funding.
California's leading place of learning, correctly named Leland Stanford Junior University, was wholly funded by the family in memory of their son, who died in Florence aged nearly 16 after contracting Typhoid in Turkey.
I've run out of time to explore this splendid city because I am booked to return south on Amtrak's Capitol Corridor train which runs regular services between Sacramento, the Bay Area and San Jose.
The double-decker trains are really comfortable, with free wi-fi throughout, power supplies at your seat and a bar car.

The friendly conductor suggests that I should alight at Richmond, which is an easier transfer to BART than at Emeryville. I show my official pass letter to the gate agent, who peers at it for several minutes before looking at me and saying 'What's that?!

Tonight, after a splendid few days in California, I head to Auckland to connect to Norfolk Island. It's Friday and because I will cross the International Date Line during the night, Saturday, for me, just won't ever happen.

How weird is that?

San Francisco Information at:
Amtrak information is at:

Sacramento information:
Delta King:

All the photos from the first half of 'Around the World in 60 Days – Backwards' can be viewed at:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Greater Fort Lauderdale – Fun, food and frightful driving

United Check in at Lansing is painfully slow, largely down to both of the staff dealing with some problem or other. One is making a phone call, while the other abandons everyone else in the long line and just looks helpless. United just don't have a clue and, even worse, they don't care!
In Chicago, the gate transfer is easy and I while away my time between flights in the lounge.

As seems to be the case in United lounges, the food offering (as well as the surroundings) is pretty spartan, despite it being breakfast time. I ask at the desk what the catering will be in First Class en route to Washington and onward to Fort Lauderdale. The comment comes back : 'Eat as much as you can here'.
They weren't wrong. Between 11am and 5.30 pm, United and US Airways offer plenty of gin and tonic, but just snack baskets of crisps, nuts and biscuits. Just as well I secreted a couple of bananas and an apple into my bag.
The journey to Washington actually turns out to be really enjoyable. My travelling companion is a 17-year old Serbian from Belgrade, Aleks, who is on a tour of the States with his dad and several other members of his family. Aleks, who is intelligent, charming and engaging, speaks impeccable English. It turns out that he is at school in Switzerland and studying for the International Baccalaureate.
I look up Serbia on my iPad and realise just how little I know about the country. Embarrassing, really. Aleks knows so much about Scotland, Europe and a lot else besides. He isn't scared to question and challenge me, which I like. He promises to read my blog and I ask him to promote it to my new Serbian audience. As far as I know, he'll be the first follower in that country, although, with my audience fast approaching 15000 readers, people in many countries are now reading it.

United have sent me a little note with my boarding passes. Changing planes in Washington will be an absolute pain, involving going out of the security area in one part of the terminal and then re-entering it in another.
But it's nonsense. There's a well-signed little shuttle bus which takes me right there. As helpful, friendly, US Airways' Lisa says to me 'I won't even make you take off your shoes'.

US Airways won't let me into their lounge in Washington. Being a First Class passenger on their airline isn't enough. I have to pay $450 to belong to their Club. Or, says Carole Cloyd the lounge manager, have an American Express Platinum Card. Their entry rule is prejudiced against non-US travellers. Every other airline in Star Alliance grants you lounge access AND feeds you properly in-flight.
The lack of catering on the flights and their unwelcoming attitude to premium customers at the US Airlines' lounges is something I will take up with Star Alliance. The American airline members of that grouping really let down the product. While I am a great advocate of the value of the Business Class Round the World ticket, the perks for using it within the continental US truly are minimal.

I recommend Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport over Miami. Bags come to the carousel a lot quicker, plus there's a really fast and frequent shuttle to pick up your rental car from a state of the art facility nearby. In Miami, it's miles away and takes ages.
Today, plane to car is especially swift and I am pleased that National Car rental don't try to sell me more than I have booked on my Europcar account. I am in my Nissan Versa and on the road within 40 minutes of landing.

I stop by Publix to pick up some groceries. As always in American supermarkets, I am astounded by the size of everything, as well as the countless offers to get you to buy things. Hence I buy two packs of Thomas' English muffins (a product I don't think I have ever actually seen in the UK!). My friend Ken in Michigan swears by Bays Muffins and, having tasted an alternative, he is clearly a man of taste. I am also intrigued by liquid egg in a carton, which I have never encountered before; it turns out to scramble really beautifully. Having travelled all day without real food, I am starving, so I buy a large roast chicken for $9.99. The chicken comes with a choice of two 16oz side dishes, with a large choice of various coleslaws, potato salads etc., a pack of bread rolls and, wait for it, a GALLON of cold tea. Incredible. It lasts me for more than three complete meals; the tea I donate to the guest fridge at the Desoto Inn (

Steve, Josias and the rest of the team have been extra specially busy since I was last here a year ago. They are always trying to make improvements to this lovely little oasis. There's a colourful pain job, making the accommodation units look rather like seaside huts in the UK, a splendid new entrance and parking area, lots of new planting in the lovely gardens and a lot more besides.

Steve is celebrating the arrival of his Medicare card. It's a big deal in the USA. He reckons that he will save $5000 a year now that the Government will pay for his healthcare as a retiree rather than him having to fund it through a private scheme.

Apart from a monstrous hi-rise a couple of blocks away, this area of North Hollywood has managed to beat off the developers and is all the better for it. Laid back, totally peaceful (apart from the constant yacking of the ladies next door!) with a beach to die for just a few steps away.
With an estimated 34,000 rooms to choose from in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, I really am spoilt for choice. But here at the Desoto, guests are just spoilt.

From the beach, I watch the comings and goings from nearby Port Everglades. With more than fifty cruise ships coming and going each week, it's the busiest cruise passenger port in the world. The world's biggest cruise liner, Oasis of the Seas turns round on Saturday, her sister ship Allure the following day. Like clockwork, week after week. But the Caribbean is full to capacity of such giants, which is why the Mediterranean is attracting so many more vessels.
Unusually, there's a lot of seaweed on the beach; there are rumours that some of it might be radioactive from the Japanese Tsunami, but nobody seems to be at all worried by it and I can't believe that the American authorities would just leave anything really nasty lying about. At least I hope they wouldn't....

The tourist office in Fort Lauderdale ( is doing a clever 'Defrost your swimsuit' promotion, complete with an iPad app which rather cleverly puts my head on a very fit-looking young man's body wearing very skimpy Speedos. Hence, my friends have a field day when I post my new look on Facebook. Jessica at the CVB is much more kind. She says 'The beach looks good on you'. Nothing about my body at all. Hmm. Very diplomatic.

Steve, Josias and I head out for a meal at the California Pizza Kitchen. We decline desserts, because the red neon sign at the local KrispyKreme is lit. I am told that this means hot doughnuts, just off the production line. I would have taken them to eat at home, but that's apparently not the done thing. Eat them hot in the car for the best experience is what I am told – and what we do!

Having slept on my spectacles in New York on the first, totally jet-lagged, night of my trip, I head to Pearle Vision in the Oakwood Plaza to seek a solution. Store Manager Wendy Nixon expertly bends my frames into some semblance of their original shape and now I can put my head forward without my specs falling off. A deserved mention in despatches to Wendy.
There's so much to do in the area, that I always struggle to decide. But the Jungle Queen river trip ( is something I have planned to do for ages. Unfortunately, the heavens open as I arrive and I am marooned in my car for twenty minutes while the tropical storm passes. As the skies clear to leave us with a hot and humid afternoon, I board the boat with a minute to spare.

The trip on Fort Lauderdale's New River and linked canals doesn't disappoint. We sail past luxury houses and boats, many owned by big names and local entrepreneurs. A lot of properties and giant cruisers are up for sale, many repossessed by the bank; the financial crisis still bites hard, although there is clearly a lot of extreme wealth about.
The patter from the Captain on the Gypsy Queen is corny, probably not wholly accurate, but it's fun. We stop for an hour to see some parrots and monkeys in cages and some alligator wrestling. 

This involves a large Seminole Indian called Jonathan straddling a poor beast and encouraging the crowd to 'holler' their approval. The alligator has very large teeth indeed, while Jonathan wears some round his neck, which he has presumably extracted from other beasts. It all looks very dangerous and, to my mind, rather unnecessary in this day and age. All very well when the local Indian tribes were looking for food, but just to show tourists, no. Jonathan clearly eats very well indeed without gators. That, apart, it's an enjoyable and informative trip.

I manage to get to Stranahan House ( which I have tried to reach for several years. I was booked on a Sunday night ghost tour last year and am again this, but the minimum numbers were not reached and David Greig the friendly and welcoming weekend manager says looks like happening again, so I have hedged my bets and come to visit a day early.
Stranahan House is the oldest property in town. The publicity leaflet, the plaques and the website all say it dates from 1901, but Charlotte the elderly volunteer guide is adamant that this actual house is from 1906. But she does get a bit muddled at times. At one stage she points at a feather duster proclaiming 'This was for beating their rugs'.
The tour is quite interesting, with some really nice items on display, but I rather feel the all-adult party is being given the same spiel as they give to schoolchildren, which really doesn't work well with the audience.
I would have loved more time just pottering and looking, rather than being lectured to like a five year old, but I must say that sitting on the upstairs balcony overlooking the river is an absolute delight and worth the entrance money alone.

Nearby, I grab a bite in busy Las Olas Boulevard at 'Gran Forno Pronto' ( It's fascinating to sit at the counter watching the speed at which they put their tasty sandwiches together. I chat to the friendly Mexican guy whose hands are a blur as he literally paints olive oil onto the paninis, ciabattas and bruchettas, before filling them with all sorts of tasty things. They're really busy, which is not surprising, because the product is great.

I have been to Bonnet House ( before but was disappointed then that they don't allow visitors to take photographs inside. Sadly, they haven't changed the photographic rules, so I am unable to bring you a glimpse inside. At the time of my visit, there were a lot of people waiting. Barbara, our octogenarian volunteer guide appeared to be so scary with the reading of the long list of visit rules and regulations, that the equally divided party suddenly became 9 of us and 17 of them.
To be frank the 1920's house, designed by American artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, is pretty uninspiring, made from painted breeze blocks which were made on site. Only the quality of the liberally sprinkled art sets it apart. But the lovely gardens, a rare oasis in the middle of Fort Lauderdale's concrete jungle, are delightful. As it happens, Barbara's bark was worse than her bite, but she sure plays the school ma'm well.
I can totally understand a don't touch rule, where items are delicate, but Bonnet House takes it to extremes. Having said that, a recent wedding event guest, in an apparent act of over exuberance, managed to break a delightful piece of coral into several pieces, so maybe they do have a point.
Interestingly, the exit survey asks visitors whether a self-guided tour would be of interest.
Yes please! And relax the rules about photography!

Talking of silly rules, I declined a bike tour in Hollywood which demanded not one, but two waivers to be signed, effectively meaning that if I had an accident directly as a result of a badly maintained bike, or the guide sending me in front of a speeding car, then any consequence or injury was totally my fault. (My American lawyer friend says such waivers are not actually worth the paper they are printed on and are largely produced to try and persuade people who don't know that fact not to sue for damages).

The Bonnet House garden runs right down to Ocean Boulevard and it is rather gratifying to watch the cars promenading, bumper to bumper, from your rather lofty and superior perch
While on the subject of driving, the standards here are woeful. Having driven in many parts of the world, Americans in general, and southern Floridians especially, have to be among the most dangerous road users on the planet. I have watched people reversing with a phone clamped to their ear, totally oblivious of anyone around them. They suddenly switch lanes with no signalling of their intentions; I even saw one car make what was almost a left turn from the slow lane right across to the fast lane of the six-lane Interstate. Scary. People text while driving, the cars don't seem to have direction indicators, it really is madness. Mind you, I have taken and passed driving tests in two American States, both which were so easy and over so quickly, that they could have been passed by five year olds.

A lovely thing about having local contacts is you get to go to some lovely things which ordinary visitors would normally never discover. Hence Steve and Josias take me to the Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood for Sunday brunch. Their favourite eaterie there is ChillBar (run by Frank and Elizabeth Becker. Frank spends the evenings cooking steaks at the upscale Westin Diplomat Hotel. His undoubted talent is wasted there. The menu is astonishing in its creativity and complexity. 

Delicate parcels of exquisitely tasting organic produce. Frank, who has owned and run several restaurants, says the venture is great. 'Two days a week, eight hours a day. I can express myself here without the pressure and the horribly long hours of running my own restaurant full-time.'

I wander the market for an hour or more, picking up some wonderful olive oil as a gift for my next hosts, as well as some avocado honey from the Alexandra Kaufman's wonderfully stocked stall. ( I mention that her accent wouldn't immediately suggest she is a Kaufman, when Chilean Alex explains to me that her real name is in fact Alejandra Victoria de la Cerda Arenas.

For the umpteenth time in only a few days, I realise that I have again been speaking Spanish.

Southern Florida is like that.

Lots of photographs from the trip can be seen at: