After all the fun of yesterday’s tour of Bangor, Maine and hearing all things Stephen King – today was a travel day to Boston. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed and checked out of the hotel and got them to ring us a cab at 9.15am (our bus is leaving at 11am from the bus depot – about 15 minutes away – I just want to get there early) The cab dispatch operator said it wouldn’t be too long – I bet you can see where this is going – so we sit and wait; and wait; and wait. At 10am I get the hotel staff to ring again and I am informed they will be there in a minute – 10.20am we get our cab and we are at the bus terminal at 10.40am – just really in time to check in and line up to ensure a good seat! It all worked out but still I’m learning after multiple trips overseas that you just gotta roll with the punches and go with the flow. Enough of the minor grips – the weather is glorious – not many people on the coach so I have a spare seat next to me and watch the passing countryside on the 4.5 hour drive to Boston.
We get a cab to our hotel and are checked in by 4pm – we know that we have missed the last hop-on/hop-off tour for the day so decide to walk a few blocks up from our midtown hotel to the Prudential Building (built in 1964 and 230 metres high) which has on the 50th floor a skywalk where you can enjoy tremendous views of Boston and its surrounds. It also has a small theatrette where we watched 4 short films on Boston’s history; it’s immigrant past and people; a beautiful view of the city from above and a lovely piece on the diversity of the children of the city. It truly is a magnificent city. We head down again and have dinner at what I suppose is a Cambodian outlet called Num Pang Kitchen. They have the best spicy lentil soup and a great rice and pork belly dish and a great side of roasted fresh vegetables. While eating we are able to plan tomorrow and write some postcards. Back to our hotel and sort out our laundry and finish up the blog – reset the clocks (end of daylight savings tomorrow) and look forward to a day out in Boston – starting with attending worship at the Old North Church – the very one from which two lanterns were lit in the steeple and Paul Revere took off on his famous ride.
A set of shots from the skywalk observatory – 230 metres above Boston
Friday 1 November was always going to be one of the highlights of our trip. For today was the day we did our Stephen King tour in Bangor, Maine. I apologise to all readers who are not King fans but my Mum and I are serious fans and we were bubbling with excitement as the weather cleared and we waited to be picked up. Our group ended up being 11 plus our driver/MC Jamie – an over-the-top extrovert – a Bangor born and breed local – the son of the owner of SK Tours – the only Stephen King approved tour in Bangor. Our three and a half hour tour took us around the town highlighting places and things mentioned in King’s books and featured in the movie adaptions. Of course the highlight were the stories Jamie told of Stephen and his wife Tabitha and how they rose from being a poor starving struggling family with two infant kids, with Stephen writing in spare hours from being a lowly paid English teacher. His first book, Carrie was the break-through and the rest is history. At the end of the tour we were shown his house -and next door – the guest house purchased. One of his guests was JK Rowling – author of the Harry Potter books – and Jamie reminded us that the two of them – Stephen King and JK Rowling are the most popular living writers on the planet today – Rowling worth over a billion and the King’s half a billion. One of the things pointed out is that the King foundation has sponsored and given a lot to the town of Bangor over nearly forty years. Stephen has a great love of Rock and Roll and has purchased a radio station in Bangor – which is completely DJ run and organised.
We spent time in the 400 acre Bangor cemetery – the place where Stephen King often walked and thought about his stories and where, as we were shown, he often got his character names – including both that of ‘Georgie’ and ‘Carrie’ – familiar to fans of his King’s work.
A lot of the spots shown were in relation to the book and movie ‘It’ – a story about an evil creature living in the sewers of Derry (King’s fictional town based on Bangor) which came out to feed on children every 27 years. The creature takes the form of a clown named Pennywise and we were taken to the street corner where the child Georgie was lured to his death down a storm drain. A photo opportunity was inevitable.
So many stories told by Jamie and even if only half are true they painted a picture of a great American author and his family, who although not perfect, were generous to the town which provided so much of the background to the stories which have entertained so many around the world including my Mum and me.
It’s an interesting fact that many people don’t really think through the itinerary for how it might play out in reality and today is a case in point. We are to fly on a 6am flight (Thursday 31 October – Halloween) from Buffalo to Boston. Sounds reasonable until you realise that you need to be at American airports two hours before hand to allow adequate time for everything in the land of the free and paranoid. So this means we are up at 2.45am – checked out and on a shuttle by 4 and at the airport by 4.15am. Luckily there are not many at this time of the day so we check in our bags in 20 minutes and are through security in 15 minutes. Now we have to sit around for an hour or so – Tim Horton’s (lovely Canadian breakfast chain I have grown to appreciate) to the rescue again as we have breaky and board our flight. A rough flight to Boston and we are early arriving at 7am. We get a cab to the South Station Bus depot where we know we have a 2.15pm bus to Bangor, Maine. We are able to check our luggage into storage and tackle the main agenda item for the day – getting me a replacement jacket as I left my one and only one in a cab at Niagara Falls! There is one Big Men’s store not that far from South Station and so off in a cab we go at 9am thinking it will be open. We get there and realise that no – it doesn’t open for another hour! Have I mentioned that it is now raining and a bit cold and chilly. We find a Starbucks – as you do – and waste a bit of time and see out the window this beautiful building. Upon a closer look it’s the Royal Historical Museum for National History – of course closed but still a beautiful sight. Next to it is a striking Congregationalist church – so we have managed to see a little bit of beauty while we wait.
I get a jacket and back to the Bus Station. It is a lovely building with a domed roof and nice art on the walls as well as the obligatory American flags. By the time of the 4.5 hour bus ride to Maine – we are pretty tired and both fall asleep on the rainy ride to Bangor. Why Bangor you may ask – well it’s Stephen King country and this is the real heart of our trip – our tour tomorrow – Friday – of the sights of Bangor (upon which King’s fictional town of Derry is based) which are mentioned in the films and books of one of our favourite authors.
A quite meal in a chain restaurant near the hotel and we are both ready for bed by 9pm. Another great day in our American saga!
Today, Wednesday 30 October, we had a leisurely sleep in to 7.30am and down for a lovely breaky at 8.30am. Pretty standard fare but the views of the Horseshoe falls to be had made up for it. We check out at 10.30am and get a cab to the Rainbow bridge and walk across from Canada to USA for the princely sum of $1 Canadian dollar to get through the turnstiles. While it was overcast you still get a good view of the falls on the bridge. On the American side we go through customs again and then organise ourselves a cab to our next hotel in Buffalo New York near the airport for our flight to Boston on Thursday. Now I have travelled in Asia and Europe and had some scary rides but this guy had a death wish and I suppose an internal desire to break every speed record on the way. After some close calls we made it safely to our hotel right next to the Buffalo airport – so we can get – wait for it – our 6am flight to Boston on Thursday. This means a 3.30am rise – 4am cab – and the whole check in and security thing again but at an ungodly hour. I am hoping that not many will be there. But as I always say, “If that is the worst thing to happen today – it’s been a good day.”
Bridal falls on the left and the Horseshoe on the right
After 4 hours sleep at our hotel in Toronto we are up, dressed and packed and walking down to Union Station. We stop at Tim Horton’s for breaky and make our way downtown in the early crisp morning air (7am) to the imposing Union Station building next to the CN Tower. We think we are catching a train to Niagara but no – as the theme of changed travel plans continues – we are on a bus due to a new bridge being built somewhere. A lovely hour and 40 minute coach ride in the fog – (if someone asks me what I saw in Toronto – I will say – nothing – it’s dark and foggy!) – we arrive at the depot in Niagara. We decide to stretch our legs and walk the 6 miles into the falls – (mistake!) Most of it was fun – level and eventually a view of the two famous falls – Bridal and Horseshoe – but the last 15 minutes was up a steep slope to our hotel and we collapsed onto our beds for a bit. The falls do not disappoint and we have a great afternoon getting up close and personal. 168,000 cubic metres of water goes over the falls every minute – it may not be the highest or biggest in the world but damn it sure is spectacular! Great day.
Well the adventure has well and truly begun. Mum and I are off on our Canada and American tour. Our first day has been a long one indeed – we started at Melbourne airport at 8.30am on Monday morning 28 October. This is an hour earlier than the needed three hours before our flight at 12.30pm on Virgin to LA but as my father used to say, “I’d rather be an hour early than 2 minutes late.” We are waiting at our gate to be informed the flight is delayed by 2 and 1/2 hours and is now set for 3pm. This means we are going to miss our connecting flight in LA for Toronto so I ring my travel agent and she says that they will rearrange flights for us and she will let the pick up company at Toronto know to expect us at a different time.
On the flight we are informed we have been moved to a flight 4 hours later leaving from LA at 3.40pm rather than 11.40am. So after long 13 hour flight we arrive in LA and like every other tourist – regardless of being in transit or whatever – we have to go through border security check – takes more than an hour and is frustrating but is the price paid by travellers to keep America Safe again. While waiting at our gate we learn that our original flight from LA to Toronto has been cancelled and if we hadn’t been changed to another flight due to a late departure in Melbourne – we would have been staying an extra day in LA because our new flight was fully booked and there were no flights til Tuesday for Toronto!
The only problem with our new flight was we both had to sit in the middle seats. For those of you who know me well I am a large lad so this wasn’t going to be a pleasant 4 and 1/2 hour flight but it turned out ok. We arrive in Toronto at 11.30pm – go through customs by midnight and are in our chauffeur driven car to our hotel in downtown Toronto to check in at 1am local time – 4pm Tuesday Melbourne time – almost 32 hours on the go – but we are here safe and sound if a little weary and leg sore. Off to Niagara Falls on 8.20am train tomorrow.
In honour of the fact that my Mum – Sandra – is tuning 70 in February 2020 and that we are both mad keen Stephen King fans – we are off – just the pair of us – to the States at the end of October.
We will be going to Bangor, Maine in the Northeast to do a Stephen King tour. As well we will be spending time in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, and LA. We will be seeing Niagara Falls and taking the train from Chicago to LA via Flagstaff to see the Grand Canyon. All in all – away for three weeks and back in November. I will endeavour to make regular posts of our trip.
The choir tour of the UK had been building to this day – the Australian Welsh Male Choir would join 15 other choirs to form a massed choir to sing at the Royal Albert Hall. After all the hard work and cramming I was ready as was my fellow choir members.
The day would prove to be a long one! We gathered at the RAH at 11.45am and were escorted – choir-by-choir up the many flights of stairs to our section of the top gallery which would be our ‘green room/changing room/waiting area.’ After a lot of sorting out and dry runs – we were marched to our door and led on stage, at 1pm! Facing the stage – our section of Baritones from the AWMC are on the right and three tiers up!
We rehearse for about 3 hours till about 4ish, when we are escorted off stage and marched to the Imperial College next door for an early dinner. Well, it takes a good hour and a half to get 800 or so men fed, and we are marched back to the RAH by about 6pm. We are on stage by 6.45pm and the concert starts at 7pm. On stage we are accompanied by the members of the Royal Welsh Guard Military Band. They are fantastic! High-lights for me of the concert are getting through the 7 difficult Welsh pieces with confidence; including singing ‘Llan Owen’ and ‘Gwinllan a Roddwyd I’m Gofal.’ (look up on you tube – versions of these beautiful but difficult songs to sing!) I especially enjoy listening to the band. Our MD Tom and accompanist Michelle conducted and played piano for the singing of the National Anthem – an honour for them (and us also!)
The concert finished at 9.30pm and it was nearly 11pm by the time we got back to our hotel and into the bar! Given that four other choirs were staying at the same hotel – it proved to be a noisy and glorious place to be as we sing and drink in celebration of a wonderful occasion. I call it a day around 1am and collapse into my bed exhausted. I can’t believe that it’s all over and tomorrow I will be flying back home after nearly seven weeks on the road.
I thank everyone who has been following my deeds via this blog. This entry will be the last for a while. But stay tuned – you never know!
We came down from Northampton on Wednesday (10 October) – we stopped at Bicester for lunch. Not the pretty tiny village near Oxford – no, the extraordinary fake shopping village that is basically a DFO for the large brands. Think (Melbourne people) ‘Chadstone’ stretched out into one street and outdoors! There is a chain of these ‘villages’ in China and Europe. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have had wandering up and down – looking for somewhere cheap to have a bit to eat and thinking to myself – this is truly the sad end of civilisation.
We arrived at our hotel in Kensington – after a massive battle with the London traffic – now the countdown was on for Saturday night’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall
Thursday (11 October) was for me a day of intense swotting. I had been to London several times before so didn’t feel the need to go out and about but many of our party did. West End shows were seen; many took the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ tour around. Others had specific places and things to see. However, the one thing on all our choristers’ minds was the fact that this night we were rehearsing with all the other international choirs, under the watchful eye of the host choir – the renown London Welsh and their imperious Musical Director. It is one thing to blend in with 800 others on the stage of the Royal Albert – another thing altogether to be with 100 and be examined! As it turned out the baritone section from the Australian Welsh were in the front row – mere metres form the ‘ears’ of the MD!
We survived – and two things emerged. One, we were not the worst choir to be participating, and two, thanks to Tom our MD, and some bloody hard yakka we did know most of the required material! We drove back to our hotel that night a confident choir ready to sing our hearts out!
On Friday (12 October), feeling that I could sight-see a bit, I took a No. 10 bus to the British Museum. It was my first time on an official London bus and I sat up top – watching Hyde Park; Kensington Palace; Marble Arch and Oxford St pass by. I love the British Museum and it was a delight to visit once more an ‘old friend.’ It was ironic that, having been in Cairo Museum six weeks ago, I felt better acquainted with the Egyptian section – but also sad that the ‘Rosetta stone’ is here and not there!
We had the great delight and privilege of singing this night at Australia House at a reception put on in our honour. Mr George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, was very pleased with our performance, and in fact, it was one of our best. An important occasion to shine and it may be the catalyst for other concerts back home.
One night to go to the BIG concert – very excited!
Yesterday morning (Monday 8 October) we left Cardiff for the scenic drive to Northampton. Unfortunately, the air-conditioning broke down in the bus and so we made an unscheduled stop in the little village of Stow-on-Wold. Once fixed we went onto our lunch stop at Banbury, a little market town made famous by the poem – Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse; Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. And she shall have music wherever she goes.
The cross, one of three from the ‘middle-ages’, has long gone, replaced by a mid-19th century memorial to the marriage of Princess Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Frederic of Prussia. Truth be told, apart from this memorial and the very modern statue of the lady on a horse, I didn’t find anything else to warrant a two-hour lunch stop!
We made our way into Northampton and the Park Inn – our accommodation for the next two nights. Being the first night in a new place, we had a choir dinner and of course, yours truly, along with my good Baritone friend John L, issued fines for misdemeanours committed by fellow choristers. All the money raised will go to charity – so far over 70 pounds!
After rehearsal on Tuesday morning we were led up to the Guild Hall of Northampton for a civic reception by the Mayor and Lady Mayoress. After a brief chat where he seemed eager to leave, we were passed to an aide who gave a very passionate talk about the history of Northampton and the beautiful guildhall. At the 50-minute mark we were still outside the hall examining each carving on the exterior of the 1864 building. I decided enough was enough – raced in for a private view of glorious main hall and then made my own way back to the hotel via the chemist for restocking on the drugs I am using to clear the voice. Many however took the opportunity to visit the leather museum- Northampton being of course famous for making leather shoes since the 12th century.
In the afternoon we made our way to the Abington United Reformed Church for our 10th concert. We were singing with the Northampton Male Voce Choir. The ladies of the church provided a wonderful afternoon tea and light supper. Their choir had 70 members. The interesting thing about them was an exceptional recruitment drive they did last year which gained the choir 35 new members! We did take notes! After the concert Tom, our MD was full of praise for the concert overall and for our performance – high praise indeed. The afterglow in the local pub was excellent but we were on such a high coming back on the bus that several of us went onto another pub for a few late night/early morning celebratory drinks.