Trip Of A Lifetime

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Arrrival In London

Well, we made it to London after all that manic travelling around the States. We were tired and I must admit, a little smelly, after the overnight flight from Toronto. But no rest for the wicked. We had to catch the train to Gloucester Street and then walk to our accomodation so that we could get ready for our first interview that afternoon.

London is as I remember it, but we've had quite a lot of sunshine during the day. It's bloody cold at night though. Jeepers!

Our first week (almost) has been so busy. We've had to organise our three temp agencies, get bank accounts and most inportantly, find somewhere to live! We do have accomodation until the 4th but nothing after that and we can't really afford to stay where we are. That has meant that we have to go to agencies, look on the Internet and search papers for suitable places and then get on the tube to find these places on foot. Half the time the places have been terrible and the other half of the time it's either already gone or has a heap of agency fees we weren't told about. There was a lot of freaking out going on.

Anyway we did manage to sign leases yesterday on a small studio apartment (this means small room that contains everything... bedroom, dining, lounge, kitchen and bathroom) in Willsden Green. The rent includes all bills and council tax, it's fully furnished and is close to the tude and a supermarket. That's all we need. Chip and Dale signed a lease for an identical apartment just across the road.

So with accomodation organised, the only thing we really need to worry about is work. Adie has had work since last Friday and he really needs a break. These schools are exhausting! The rest of us started yesterday. I can't really describe the experiences of others but I can talk about what I'm doing.

I went to the Haverstock School yesterday in Chalk Farm. I will admit that I walked past it because it actually didn't look like a school. It looked more like a hospital. It's three stories high and the front is all in frosted glass. Anyway, after security buzzed me through the front door, I made my way to the staff room to find out my teaching load for the day. Two year 7 maths, year 9 art and year 10 drama. Pretty cruisy considering I get paid for the whole day even though I only teach 4 out of 5 periods. For those of you who worked with me, the kids are pretty much the same as what we're used to, but if ours are a five on a scale of one to ten, these guys are pushing a seven. There are schools here where the kids are trying to bash through to an eleven, but I'm hoping I don't get sent there.

The day would have been fine except I have this little problem at the moment... I've lost my voice. I thought it was better when I got up on Monday, but today as I sit around not working because my voice is non-existent I think I maybe made the wrong decision. From talking to other supply teachers it seems as though there are two main problems with this type of work. The first is that the students see a supply teacher and turn feral. The second is that there is either no work left or the work left does not take up a full period or it's boring.

Here's a basic rundown of my first day in an English school:
Period 1- Students finish work with 20 minutes to spare, have to find a way to stop them wandering aruond too much.
Period 2- No class, but soem bright spark sets off a fire alarm so that we all have to stand outside in the cold.
Period 3- A drama class that has been put into a class room to do writtten work because, even though I'm drama trained and I've explained this to the head of drama, they're "year 10s."
Period 4- An art class where I can't get into the room for 20 minutes and then there's no work left, have to find a way to stop students from throwing pencils.
Period 5- A beautiful class where there was a maths support teacher who took the class for me while I helped to supervise. She used to do supply and talking to and watching her was really positive.

There is just so much going on at the moment. Adie and I can't wait to settle, have our own place, stop living out of a suitcase and start feeling less temporary. Less than one week!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oh Canada!

We are here in Toronto spending our last hour in a warm Internet cafe while it snows outside. Tonight we leave for London. We will arrive there by lunchtime (25th Jan)... for those of you who were asking.

We've done a lot of kicking back and relaxing while here in Toronto. Our first day saw us going to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner... we wanted to try something different... and an early night.

Sunday was our big day because we went to Niagara Falls. It took about 90 minutes to get there, and when you do it all seems a lot smaller than you expected it to be. Then you start considering just how much water is flowing here and it blows you away. We were also quite lucky to have sunshine, which meant that there was a constant rainbow in the mist off the waterfalls. It was just stunning.

Adie and I decided that due to this being a once in a lifetime kinda trip, we really should get in a helicopter and fly over and around the falls. Wow! How fantastic! This little helicopter, that kept flying sideways as it turned, took us over the whirlpool rapids, past the falls and then back around. We are so glad we did this because the views, not only of the falls, but also out over Lake Ontario to Toronto were just amazing.

This was such a good day's outing. Other things we did were:
  1. Eat lunch from the penthouse of the Sheraton Niagara with perfect views of the Falls.
  2. Watched an IMAX movie about the myths, history and daredevils who have all been involved with the area and the Falls.
  3. Tasted ice wine, which we found a little too sweet. They wait until the grapes are frozen solid to squish them. It means that there's no water left. Chip and Dale tried some champagne with a drop or two of ice wine in it and that sounds like it would be yummy. On it's own it's like straight wine cordial! We did find a fantastic bottle of white and we'd love to bring it to dinner to share with our family in East Grinstead... nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
  4. Saw the world's smallest chapel. It only holds 5 people!

When we got back to Toronto we met up with Chip and Dale and decided to go ice skating on a rink that is just opposite our hotel. Now, I've been ice skating before and am far too scared for my knee, so I became official photographer as the other three make their way around the rink. The first ten minutes were hilarious as none of them really knew what they were doing... and there were no handrails! Chip and Dale have had some experience roller-blading, so they eventually found a rythym. Adie has never, ever done anything like this and I was so proud. While his style was a bit wobbly and jagged, he did not fall over once. Well done I say.

So we ended up with a really busy Sunday and then two days of not much at all. We did go on a sight-seeing bus trip of Toronto yesterday, but there's not much here that we wanted to see. I guess we could have gone to the shoe museum or the ice hockey hall of fame, but we just couldn't find the motivation.

Today it's all about getting ready for phase II... London, where I might add all three Primary teachers already have work and I don't! I guess that just means I'll have to find ways to occupy my time. Theatre anyone?

Added Photos

We've just added some photos to 'Universal Studios', 'San Diego', 'Las Vegas', 'Grand Canyon' and 'Disneyworld'. So keep your eyes open and re-check those posts!

Friday, January 20, 2006

New York, New York!

What do you say about a city that has everything? And the lights... it's like Hong Kong here at night! We really like New York.

Our first day here started out as being a day for us to catch up on some sleep and not do too much, it didn't quite work out that way. About mid-morning we took the ten minute stroll to Time Square from our hotel and then we just wakled. We walked up to central park, where the squirrels were playing in the snow, and up and down Broadway just trying to absorb all that we were looking at.

We decided to see a show that night because we were in the right mood for it. As we were heading towards the line for half price tickets, a guy asked us if we wanted free tickets to The Late Show with David Letterman. We weren't going to say no to free tickets, so we ended up going there before heading out to see the musical Hairspray.

Letterman was interesting. The people who work for CBS pumping up the audience deserve some sort of medal. Jeepers, they really have to be on heavy duty energy tablets in order to keep everyone else excited. Oh, and my hands! I've never had to clap so much in my life! Or with such enthusiasm. The guest was Tatum O'Neal (who was boring and methinks, drunk) and they did do an audience shot. Hopefully our parents were able to tape it so we can look for ourselves in a year when we've forgotten all about it.

We rushed from the Ed Sullivan Studio (where Letterman is taped) to Hairspray, which is playing about one block away. We were seated immediately and the show started about ten minutes after that. Nice. They give free playbills here, so we had all of the cast information without having to fork out $15-$20. You can buy a full colour program if you like, but I was happy with the freebie. We both LOVED Hairspray! So much that we bought the soundtrack, which I'm hoping I"ll be able to listen to at some point between now and 2007... we don't have a CD player. The acting was full of energy, the music was catchy and it was a real feel good play with lots of funny bits. I've already said that if it comes to Melbourne, we're going to take our parents because it really was very good.

Since that first day things actually slowed down quite a lot. We met up with Chip and Dale and we all took one of those Hop On Hop Off bus tours together. We saw things like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the Statue of Liberty. Adie and I took the ferry out to Liberty and Ellis Islands and he got some great photos. Before getting on the ferry, we sat down with this guy in Battery Park who feeds the squirrels. They actually jump all over you and onto your hands to get the nuts. I thought this was so cool, and Adie took an excellent photo of a squirrel perched in my hand. We also went to the United Nations and took a tour around there. That was really interesting, but quick.

New York has turned out to be a good place for us to meet up with people. We saw Chip and Dale, and we went out to dinner just last night with Adie's Aunt Anne. We went to a Tepanyaki Restaurant (I can't remember the name) where they cook right in front of you. They seem to get a lot of famous people there too. They had a heap of celebrity photos on the wall. While we were there the runner up from the most recent American Idol was there. He didn't impress me though. The food was fantastic and the waiter did all these tricks with our food and his utensils.

Our hotel is lovely but I have to say, don't stay in a hotel with a "foreign head of state". All of the streets around our hotel are barricaded and there are extra security checks happening in the lobby. There are police and secret service all over the place and anti-terrorist units parked in the street. We don't know if we should feel ultra safe or concerned! Actually, the only inconvenience has been the wait for the elevators. The police can't say who exactly is staying in our hotel, although they've all been very nice when we've asked questions, but we figure that foreign head of state means prime minister or president and there is a Pakistani flag hanging out the front. You do the math.

I think that we could come back to New York and see a whole different side of it. We haven't had a chance to explore any of the village and there is so much good theatre, good food and good shopping. Next time I think we'd do it in warmer weather though. Both of us are feeling a little bit fluey due to the hot and cold of inside and outside, but we have our tylenol and dayquil to get us through.

Tomorrow we leave the United States for three days in Canada!

Kennedy Space Center

While in Orlando, we figured that we should get out of Disneyworld for a day and check out the Kennedy Space Center. It's a bit more educational and looked like it might be interesting. Besides, Adie likes planes and space shuttles really are the ultimate planes.

We took a bus out there and it was really interesting to watch the marshlands begin to surround us. It was also a bit scary to look out the window and see a real live alligator sunning himself on the side of the road! Apparently there are hundreds of them in the parkland around the space center... I'm glad we only saw the one. All of the land out there is protected, so as well as alligators, they have bald-headed eagles and a whole variety of birds and wild life. (We actually saw a bald-headed eagle nest which is supposed to be the size of a king-size bed!)

We started at the Astronauts Hall of Fame. It was kinda interesting and it gave us some background to what we were about to see. It also had a G-Force Simulator. Adie tried this out, but I was too chicken. He got up to 4 Gs and then felt a bit wobbly for the next two hours.

From the Hall of Fame we went on to the actual Kennedy Space Center. Again we watched some films to give us some background before we headed off to the launch site and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The launch site was interesting because they explained how they get the shuttles ready for a flight and then how they move them around etcetera. It's weird, I thought that this place was no longer in use and that it was all about tourism, but I was totally wrong. There's actually a flight scheduled for this month to send a thingie to Pluto! It's going to take it at least 15 years to get there.

Next we checked out the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This place has a whole lot of information about all of the individual Apollo missions as well as an actual rocket, the Saturn V. OMG this thing is huge! Adie was pretty impressed, and I have to admit so was I. We took the obligatory photos and ate lunch in the shadow of it's bulk.

Next we went back to the visitor's center where we walked through a replica shuttle before we watched an IMAX movie about man walking on the moon. (Incidentally, did you know that NASA intends to put man back on the moon by 2020?) The movie was narrated by Tom Hanks and it was really beautiful... and funny.

After the movie we were able to talk to an actual astronaut. His name was John Fabian and he has flown into space twice. The last time he flew was the mission just before the Challenger disaster, apparently he quit flying just days before that happened.

It's interesting, I didn't think that I would have a good time at the Space Center, but I really did. It put the whole notion of man in space into a context for me. It was fascinating, but I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to risk it! Space is beautiful though... and we must remember that, among so many other useful things, man flying beyond the stars has resulted in freeze-dried ice-cream.

What Makes A Bad Tour Guide

We've been on a lot of organised tours while here in the States and we've sort of worked out what makes a good tour guide and what we don't really enjoy in a tour guide. Recently, we went on a tour with a woman who exhibited all of the negative traits we could imagine. Luckily the location of the tour itself counteracted her. So here is my list of annoying tour guide traits...
  1. Being told the wrong time to meet the bus so that we have a 6am wake up instead of 7am.
  2. The bus being half an hour late on top of our being given the wrong time.
  3. Taking a really long time to get each individual member of the tour onto the bus. I do mean a very, very long time.
  4. Handing out time schedules like they are made of gold. "No, no, it's only one per family!" Make sure you have enough or tell us to get them at the location.
  5. Instead of waiting until everyone is on the bus to give instuctions, repeat them every time someone new gets on the bus... and use the same bad jokes each time.
  6. Calling yourself Mama Bear and inviting us to do likewise.
  7. Calling the passengers your "children" and going on and on about how you will protect your "children".
  8. Being pushy when telling your passengers what they should do at the location.
  9. Giving a choice of movie for the bus ride home and then when the passengers choose, telling them a thousand reasons why that's a bad choice and putting on something no-one wants. Something with frontal nudity and the f-word. There were children on the tour.
  10. Expecting a tip after having a terrible attitude all day.

Thankfully all other tour guides, bus drivers and organisers have not been like this one horror.


Disneyworld is really something that you have to see to believe. This place is gigantic! We stayed in Port Orleans, which is just one of the many resorts on the premises, and some of the parks took us a good half hour to get to by bus.

We visited four theme parks while here and I'll go through each one in turn.

Animal Kingdom
This was the first park we visited and parts of it reminded us of the San Diego Zoo. We saw a few shows here, like the Festival of the Lion King (which was fanstastic) and Pocahontas (which was clearly aimed at a three year old audience). We also went on an African Safari that not only gave us a chance to look at some animals, but it also tried to teach us about poaching. That's one thing that I have to say about Disney, all of the messages are really positive and often aim to either teach something to make us think about something. I really liked that. We only spent a few hours here before moving on.

Disney MGM
This park was one of our favourites and we even went back there the next day to do all of the things we ran out of time for. We arrived just in time for the motorcade of Disney characters up Main Street. It was actually really nice to see these characters and remember watching them as a kid. In terms of attractions, we did things like the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Sounds Dangerous, Lights Motors Action and Muppets 3D.

On our second day at Disney MGM, we decided to have lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. It was in our price range and we wanted something that wasn't just burgers for a chance. Well, we got a whole lot more than we were expecting. Yes, there was more than just burgers on the menu, but the entire restaurant was set up like a drive-in movie theatre. We were seated in 60s style cars that had been outfitted with tables and in front of us was a huge drive-in screen that kept playing old candy bar ads (including the one featured in the film Grease) and science fiction previews. It was so cool!

At night at Disney MGM, they do a huge fireworks show that features Sourcerer Mickey (our favourite Mickey), so we hung around for that. We got great seats, right up the front and we were ready for a great show... and it was a great show except for one thing. They create these fan shaped water things in the lake between the stage and the audience and then they project images onto these "screens". It looks fantastic, but when the wind is blowing towards the audience... yep, we got drenched! It was worth it though.

We arrived at Epcot pretty late in the day, and it had started to rain, so we didn't really spend all that much time here. It's a fascinating idea with all the innoventions and the different representative countries. We think that they need to incorporate Australia though! We wandered around and checked stuff out, but it was odd when we went to the pavillions for the different countries because we'd see something we liked and then we turn to each to say, "Maybe we should wait until we go there."

Epcot also has a fireworks show. This one is called Illuminations and again it was really quite fantastic... and we didn't get wet! They have a huge lake in the middle of this park and half way through the fireworks, they float out this giant world globe that has all these different images from the different countries projected onto it. It was beautiful.

We did go back to Epcot the next day because two friends (Chip and Dale) were there at the same time and we wanted to catch up. So, we went to China in Epcot for lunch. It was really nice to see someone from home. We'll also be able to catch up with them in New York and Toronto.

Magic Kingdom
The final park we visited was Magic Kingdom, this is a replica of Disneyland in California so we're glad we didn't go when we were on the west coast. This was my other favourite park. We did quite a lot of rides when we were here. All pretty tame though, like Stitch's Great Escape (that used smell to get the audience in the mood), the Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mickey's Philharmagic 3D, It's a Small World, Indycar Speedway and The Haunted Mansion. Magic Kingdom is full of good, wholesome, smile generating fun. We really enjoyed it.

The fireworks show here is called Wishes and it proved to be just as good as any of the others we've seen, but now that we've pretty much done a lot of it, we're quite tired. My advice... give yourself at least a week with a park hopper ticket if you decide to return to your childhood and have some innocent fun here in Disneyworld.

The Grand Canyon

Now, we've heard a lot of people telling us that they either drove or caught a bus to the Canyon from Vegas, and that's a long drive. We say fly. We woke up early to catch a bus to a small plane that flew around Vegas, over Hoover Dam and then on to the Grand Canyon. Not only was it reasonably fast (well, compared to driving anyway) but the views! And being able to watch the landscape change underneath us was fantastic.

As we flew to Hoover Dam, we had to fly over Lake Mead first. We are talking some of the clearest and bluest water you can imagine... and the lake itself is huge! Hoover Dam itself is actually pretty small from the air, but they told us that it took them two years of constantly pouring concrete to build it and that the amount of concrete used in it's construction could build a highway from the east to the west coast of America!

As we continued flying we started to get hints of what we might see later... all these smaller canyons that have been slowly eroding for centuries. And the colours! Reds, oranges, yellows, white, browns and greens! It really was spectacular.

When we landed we caught a bus to the south rim and we were able to explore a bit at two locations, Mather Point and Bright Angel. The views were just stunning and Adie took over 100 photos! One day if we have the money and the time, I'd love to do the mule trek down into the canyon and then camp there. Unfortunately there's a 22 month waiting list at the moment.

There was one disappointing thing, people had chosen to litter in this breath-taking national park. You'd think that being surrounded by such amazing natural beauty would make people think twice about leaving their coffee cup in the lower branches of a bush. I chucked it in the bin for them but really, how disgusting.

After stopping at the lookouts we were given lunch before heading back in the plane. It was a great experience and we're so glad we had the chance to do it.

Sorry No Photos

We thought we had the whole thing sussed when we bought Internet credit here in New York. The only problem is that the mega Internet cafe doesn't have any drives that we can stick our CDs into and the other Internet that does have drives won't let us access the CD once it's in.

All this means is that we'll have to update the photos either in Toronto or London. Either way we should be able to do it within the fortnight.

Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Las Vegas Or Should I Say Sin City

We arrived in Las Vegas where everything is huge and brightly coloured. We're staying in the Monte Carlo Hotel, which is also huge and brightly coloured. After settling in, we decided to take a walk along the strip. We figured that we could go up and down in an hour or so. WRONG! It took us an hour to walk past three hotels, including our own. I'm telling you... huge.

Anyway, we got back to our hotel to have dinner and all food in Vegas is either in a really expensive restaurant or it's a buffet. Pronounced boofet. We chose the buffet and man, that's a lot of food! We ate more in Vegas than I think we've eaten on the rest of our trip combined. Not because we were hungry, but because there was just so much choice!

Anyway, let me tell you about the hotels here. We went into only a few becuase of the distance mainly. The Bellagio is montrous, with a huge lake in the front of it. Why? I don't know. It is also incredibly elegant inside, and has one of the most amazing french patiseries in it where I bought the most fantastic chocolate creation I have ever had. Caesar's Palace takes up too much room and is in about three or four different sections. The statues out the front were enough to make you go wow.

There was also Aladdin: with it's simulated rainstorm inside the shopping arcade, Stratosphere: with fairground rides that hang over the 1100 foot tower, Paris: with it's replica Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph, The Venetian: with actual gondola rides, Treasure Island: with a life size pirate ship out the front, at least three different hotels with big waterfalls out the front, and the Luxor with it's giant lit pyramid. And I haven't even touched the surface!

Our hotel wasn't constrained by any particular theme, except maybe gambling. I have never seen so many slot machines! They have them everywhere, even at the airport! People are on those machines at all hours of the night, chucking their money away. How ridiculous!

Anyway, Vegas was certainly interesting but far too smokey, gambling addicted and sex oriented for us. We prefered the majesty of the Grand Canyon, which I'll talk about the next time I'm sitting at a computer.

Monday, January 09, 2006

San Diego

On our drive to San Diego, we encountered our first taste of heavy traffic. Luckily it wasn't quite peak hour, otherwise Adie could have blown a gasket. It added about an hour or two onto our drive time though.

San Diego itself is a really nice little city. We went there primarily for the zoo, but found that the people were really lovely. I guess it was because it's the low season, but the hotel upgraded our room so that we were on the top floor. This meant that Adie could clearly see all of the planes coming in and out of the airport. I think he was in heaven.

There were only really two things that we had time to do here. The first was to go to the San Diego Zoo and the second was to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe.

This zoo really is stunning. They have every bird and animal you could imagine, including koalas and wombats. While in the zoo we saw two live animal shows, took a 40 minute bus tour through the whole park and went on the skyfari, which is an arial tram.

Apart from the sheer size of this place, the thing that really struck Adie and I was the amounts of vegetation. It really was like walking through the jungle. All sorts of plants were on display, and they were given as much emphasis as the animals.

Some of the animal highlights were the polar bears, the hippopotamus (we got to see him both on land and in water), the gorrillas, the baby giraffe and the female riendeer with a full head of horns. Did you know that they shed their horns each year and grow a new set?

Anyway, we spent the entire day at the zoo and, while we didn't quite get to see everything, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Why We Seem To Post About So Many Places In One Go

The thing that you need to understand about hotels is that they all seem to be happy to offer free Internet access. On the surface this would seem like a great service, except that you need to have your laptop with you. Adie and I do not have a laptop with us because we had to return ours. For people like us, we can still access the Internet in our hotel but it varies from place to place. In Hawaii, it cost about $5 for 10 minutes and in San Francisco it was $15 for ten minutes. Hollywood had free Internet, but we had to stand at the reception desk in the lobby next to the people checking in.

This has meant that unless we could find an Internet cafe, like we did in San Francisco, with reasonable rates we've been limited by the amount of time we can spend online.

Here in Vegas, w have been able to get the Internet through our television set in the room for a really good price, but only for 24 hours... and with no CD drive. So, I'm trying to catch up on what we've done so far because I haven't been able to write for awhile. :)

Universal Studios

This morning we caught the metro to Universal Studios... and we then spent the entire day there, without managing to do everything!

Here's what we got to do:
  1. Saw "Shrek 4D". OMG, I love Shrek and this attraction was just fantastic! For anyone who has never done anything like this before, it's basically a new mini-storyline to the movie that is not only in 3D (yes, we wore silly-looking glasses), but it also includes physical enhancements. Eg. movement, moisture and wind. We really loved it. Have I said that before?
  2. Went on a "Studio Tour". This pretty much involved us sitting on a bus that went behind the scenes and into the actual studio area of Universal. It was really very interesting. We spent a lot of time on Wisteria Lane though.
  3. Watched "Animal Planet". This is basically a live animal show that uses everything from birds to cats, rats, dogs and monkeys to entertain the audience. And they did.
  4. Went to "Waterworld". This is perhaps where I laughed the hardest, and it had nothing to do with show. The show itself did have some amazing stunts in it, particularly when they crashed a sea plane in front of the audience. One word for those of you who may go to Universal one day (and this was the bit that had me laughing so hard), if they tell you that you WILL get wet sitiing in a particular seat... believe them!
  5. Rode "Jurassic Park- The Ride". Adie and I were both feeling a little nervous about this ride because it went into a big building and we had no idea what might be lurking there. By the time we got into the boat we felt quite relaxed and we enjoyed the leisurely cruise. Let's just say that pretty soon, while our worst fears were not confirmed, the drop was a bit steeper and longer than expected!
  6. Explored the "Special Effects Stages". As we were in line for this one a lady came out and asked for a male volunteer. Before any of us knew what was happening, Adie had his hand up. How unlike my boy! Anyway, he was chosen to help out and we were ushered to the front of the line. He had to sign a release form and then he was taken away from me.

Anyway, he had a ball up on stage, being chained to a wall moaning in what was supposed to be pain, and having his arm cut off. He did all of this so that the audience could learn about special effects and how they are created.

After the Special Effects Stage we pretty much went home. It had been a long, long day. There were so many rides that we didn't go on, but not much that we didn't see. Apparently the Universal Studios in Orlando is even bigger and better, but we'll have to save that for another trip because I'm hanging out for DisneyWorld!

Hollywood? Hollyweird? Holly-yawn!

We spent about three days in Hollywood all together, living on Hollywood Boulevard. Right in amongst it. Our hotel room wasn't quite ready when arrived so we left our bags at the hotel and wandered up and down the Boulevard. There were lots of stars on the sidewalk (which we found out celbrities have to apply for and then pay about $15000 for the priveledge of having) and there were lots of people standing around in costume. Some looked reasonably authentic, others didn't. Superman had shoved something rather large down the front of his pants that made me giggle rather loudly.

What we learnt in the two hours we walked around on Hollywood Boulevard is that it ain't what it once was. You could see glimpses of it, like at the Roosevelt, there was an area in the foyer that had a early 1900s Hollywood ambience about it and I could've stayed there all day. Most of Hollywood, however, is kinda dirty, over-priced, cheesy and built for tourism. I have to admit though, once we realised this it was no longer disappointing and we were able to find the good bits.

Good Bit #1: We went to see "The Chronicles of Narnia" in El Capitan, which is a monster of a movie theatre run by Disney. The movie itself was fantastic but even more so because of where we saw it. The theatre itself has two levels and we sat in the balcony. All around the theatre was memorabilia from the movie... and I'm talking actual statues from the set! As people were being seated there was a man playing the Wurlitzer organ and when he finished he just sunk into the stage. Then as the movie's overture played, the theate had set up little snow machines so we were snowed on. I can't think of a better way to see a film.

Good Bit #2: Actually seeing the Hollywood sign and learning the history behind it, i have to admit was pretty cool. It's just there. In the hills.

Good bit #3: Being there while a star was unveiled for Queen Latifah. Okay, to be honest we walked past as all these people and cameras were assembling. We asked this odd looking American woman what was going on. She told us and tried to give us a flyer to get signed. We looked at her, looked at each other, smiled and then went off to get some lunch. We were also there for the premier of the film "Bloodrayne". Again there was a big to-do. This time there was also red-carpet and parts of the street were blocked off for people wanting to see the stars. There was even a special section for the media. Adie and I had a similar reaction. Even when we realised that the after party was at our hotel. We chose sleep.

Good Bit #4: Universal Studios... but I think I'll make this a separate post

Farming Country

On our way to Hollywood, we stopped in two all-American farming towns. Fresno and Bakersfield. We ate lunch in Fresno, where everything was nice enough. The people were fine and the diner was almost clean, but everything seemed to lack a certain energy.

Then we drove on to Bakersfield where we found the cheapest (possibly not the smartest move) motel that we could. Again it was nice enough. It has a lumpy bed, a functioning toilet and over 100 television channels. The people here were a little more down trodden though. From the women at reception who put out the donuts for breakfast, to our neighbour who stood outside the front of his room smoking non-stop.

I can't say that this was in anyway the nicest, best or friendliest place we've stayed, but I'm really glad that we did. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest is really reminding me of all that Adie and I have. Family, friends, a beautiful home and good jobs with interesting people.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yosemite National Park

After picking up the car, and figuring out how to drive on American freeways, we started our trek to Yosemite. The most amazing thing about driving to this particular part of California is that you get to watch the scenery unfold around you. Every 15 minutes or so one of us would turn to the other and say "Oh, Wow! Look to your left. Do you see that?" It is just so incredibly breath-taking. We saw mountains, waterfalls, snow and rivers. All pristine and simply gorgeous.

Our hotel was quite literally on the Merced River. By literally I mean that when we open the back door there is one metre of decking, a fence and then the river. It's so loud! Luckily instead of keeping us awake, it was quite soothing as we fell asleep. When we woke up in the morning there was mist swirling over the river and obscuring the view of the mountains that we were in the middle of.

We decided to go into the park itself, which was only a few kilometres away. Again we were blown away by the beauty. There had been snow overnight and as we climbed higher there was more and more snow covering everything. We got some great photos of the snow capped mountains and ice covered sections of the river. The morning''s mist cleared really quickly and we ended up with some very brisk but spectacular weather as we explored Yosemite National Park.

From here we're going to Hollywood, with a brief stop in Bakersfield so that we can see a more ''average'' America.

Photo Update

We're having a little trouble finding a place that will copy our photos onto a CD so that we can put them in our posts, but rest assured that as soon as we get this done we will include some pictures of the places that we''ve explored since Hawaii.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

How do I love this city... let me count the ways. I do belive that we could live here quite happily given the right set of cercumstances... and if there was some way to remove the threat of earthquake.

We have been here for a couple of days now and, apart from the surly shuttle driver, our stay has been lovely. We are staying in the Westin St. Francis, which it turns out is some majorly historical hotel here in San Fran. Celebs have stayed here, so has royalty. It has also pretty much survived both major earthquakes in the past 100 years. It's the hotel that ruined Fatty Arbuckle's career and one that Shirley Temple has been in. Our bed is soft, which is pure heaven after the practically concrete bed in Hawaii.

Yesterday we went on a tour of the city, starting at Fisherman's Wharf. True to form, the driver/guide was somewhat sarcastic and repeated stuff all the time. It was good. Fisherman's Wharf is beautiful and has a perfect view of Alcatraz. From Alcatraz we started moving around the city, some highlights were seeing all the similar houses along the streets, cable cars, the gay district and Twin Peaks. From the vantage point of TwinPeaks, you can see the whole city. Luckily there wasn't too much fog and Adie was able to get some fantastic photos. (Noshie was cold, it was windy up that high and she satyed in the bus.)

From the city we went out to the main park here in San Francisco. It is seriously huge, but we only stopped at the Japanese Tea Garden which has been here since San Fran held the World Expo. It is filled with it's own history and beautiful statues, ponds and bonsai trees. Even through the rain it was tranquil and gorgeous.

Next we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, a highlight for Adie. Lots of pics were taken. It actually is a truly amazing looking bridge.

Once this tour was over we ended up back at Fisherman's Wharf where we jumped into a cue to pick up our tickets to Alcatraz. Now, if you don't believe this is a small world check this out. As Adie and I are waiting in line, we see someone else in a line to our right. I think, jeez he looks familiar. I ask Adie, he agrees. I call out this person's name and it's them. This is someone that I was good friends with as a teenager, but that I haven't seen in years. And here he was on his honeymoon! We were all a little freaked out after that.

Back to Alcatraz... it took barely any time at all to get to the island, or 'the rock' as some like to call it. Once there we got the spiel from one of the rangers before climbing up to the prison. And I do mean climb. It wasn't that long, but it is steep. The prison itself is pretty amazing. The conditions were horrendous and I really hope that all inmates were actually guilty. Cells were tiny and everything was cold and damp. The views, however, were sensational and I'm sure that whenever the inmates were working they were simply devastated when they looked across the bay. Apparently some cells could actually hear the "real" world when the wind was in the right direction. Now, that's what I call prison. We were dubious about it at first due to a bad experience the last time we were in England, but we took the audio tour. I'm glad we did, it was fantastic. Actual inmates and guards told the story as you walked through. Brilliant.

After returning from Alcatraz, we realised that we had to get back to the hotel and our options were cable car or walk. Now, you have to understand that the roads in San Fran are hills. Big, steep you've got to be kidding me hills! Did we take the cable car? No, we walked and my butt is still feeling it. I'm proud of us though.

We slept really well last night. Soft sheets, tired legs and lack of decent slumber for the past couple of nights. The only thing that woke me was all of the locals shouting "Happy New Year" at midnight.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Travelling with American Airlines

A couple of things to note when travelling with American Airlines.
  1. They don't feed you, even when you are in the air for over 5 hours! You must either bring food with you or eat before you get on the plane. How did we find this out? We were confused by all of the people in the airport lounge chowing down on huge sandwiches and other assorted foods. It turns out that they knew what was coming. Our travel agent could have told us. We were able to get a snack pack for $3 American which was okay and they did give us something to drink, so I guess next time we'll be better prepared.
  2. The seats are atrocious! My back is so stiff now. My cuddle pillow wasn't even enough to prevent pain.
  3. The baggage carousels get jammed and you have to wait for around 1 hour, if we're anything to go by and until people start asking questions, they don't think to tell you what's going on.
  4. Finally, if you take supershuttle from the airport to your hotel, make sure you tip the driver. After we had to wait over an hour in the rain for a shuttle the driver, who we'd already paid, got really quite narky with us when we didn't tip him. Rude!

Everything and everyone else, however, have been fantastic!

More From Hawaii

Ok, here goes. I'll try not to write too much because it could get boring. Here is a shot of Waikiki Beach, literally just outside our hotel.

This place is so clean! There are people on every street corner with cleaning trolleys and they do everything from cleaning to gardening to windows. It works really well.

We went to a Lu'au at Paradise Cove. It was really good, apart from the slightly lame Hukilau (pulling in the fishing net), because that was just cheesy. Adie got a tattoo and I made a woven head band, which I'm embarrassed to say I wore all night.

At the Lu'au we drank Mai Tai's and Pina Coladas, but we didn't get caught in the rain because the weather was perfect. We watched demonstartions of traditional Hawaiian stuff, including watching the pig being removed from the pit in the ground and then paraded around. The smell was fantastic, the sight... not so great.

We then all sat down to eat a delicous meal before watching the performance, which included some beautiful costumes, phenomenal fire-twirling and some of the most elegant and fast-paced but wiggles we've ever seen! We were sitting with other people on the tour so we had a chance to meet some people. In this instance it was Michelle and Tom from Iowa. Tom was an ecomomic advisor in the Clinton years. He said that Clinton really was a nice guy. I don't think he's that big a fan of the current party though. They were really nice. Michelle and I got up on stage at one point to learn how to hula. That was somehting I never thought I'd do, but there were 80 people on stage with me so no big deal. All in all it was a great time!

The next day we went on a tour of the island of Oahu. What a beautiful place! So much green and blue! It is winter though, so everything is really lush.

The first place we looked at is called Maunalua Bay, I think. It used to be a volcano until a section of it crumbled into the sea, now it's a bay filled with marine life and a gorgeous beach. (Do you like my bright yellow souvenir Hawaiian t-shirt?)

We also visited the Halona Blowhole, but it was too calm so no blowing, Waimalano, Nu'uana Pali and the Dole Plantation. It's a pineapple plantation, so Noshie got to eat ridiculous amounts of pineapple. Yum! We had lunch here, and while the food wasn't really all that spectacular, the service was unique because they use this as a place to give adults with mental disablity a place to work. I've never had such great service.

From lunch we went on to Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. We were allowed off the bus at Sunset Beach provided we promised not to go near the water because the currents are so unpredictable that two professionals in 2005 died there. We stayed away from the water. We then checked out a nut farm (macadamias mostly) and the Byodo-In Temple. We were a little shocked at the nut farm when three bus loads of young men got off to stretch their legs. It turns out that they are all new recruits who have been stationed on Hawaii, where there is a large barracks. I found it kinda sad, but our bus driver seemed to be pretty proud and patriotic.

All in all we really enjoyed Hawaii and would definitely come back to check out the other islands, especially Hawaii itself so that we can get up close and personal with a volcano.