Friday, September 30, 2011

US Holiday - Day 20 - Yosemite National Park - Day 2

Day 20 - Wednesday 28th September

Another early morning today. Was up around 6.30am so that I could be ready and out at the bus stop out of the front of the hotel for the 7.21am bus to Yosemite NP. The bus is called the YART (Yosemite Area Regional Transport) and brings in people from outside the park, be them employees or people staying outside the park itself. Bus took about 30-40 minutes to get up into the park and dropped us off in front of Yosemite Lodge. I grabbed a coffee and danish and then waited for the bus to arrive and take me and fellow passengers on the "Grand Tour".

As I waited lots of people were joining tours or just walking about the Yosemite Lodge. I watched as a large group of "geriatrics" congregated right in front of me. Now you might think that I'm being a bit harsh, but wait. The leader of the group was looking around seeing if everyone was there. She then had the great idea of getting people to count out aloud starting from the number one. By the end of the counting she would know if everyone was present and accounted for. So I counted along with them, one, two, three, four ... and we got up to the number fifteen, then there was a pause followed by everyone laughing. The next person to call out their number, sixteen in this case, had forgotten where they got up to. Ah, some early morning entertainment.
By around 9am the bus was heading up to the first stop which was Glacier point. After a 90 minute drive to the top of Yosemite Valley we were then looking down on an amazing view. We were able to admire Half Dome and some of the water falls still flowing down into the valley. Words can't really describe, so I'm not going to waffle here.

After spending a 45 minutes at the Glacier Point we got back on the bus and headed to our next stop on the tour, the Wawona Hotel. Here we had lunch and I shared a table with a young English couple and a older American couple. We only there for about 45 minutes before looking to head to our next destination which will be the Mariposa Grove.

The Mariposa Grove contains giant sequoia trees. These are redwoods of enormous size, volume and age. One of the trees, Grizzly Giant, has an estimated age of 1900 years old and is 60+ metres tall. Again, I am not going to waste my time with words here, because they and even pictures won't do the trees any justice. You need to see them for yourself. Hard to believe though that these trees are still only half the size of the coastal redwoods.They must be amazing.

The last stop on the Grand Tour was the view from Tunnel View again. This time the sun was much lower in the sky and again, what a view. The tour finished around 5.30pm and was back on the YARTS bus to the hotel, returning at around 6.30pm. Grabbed some food and settled in for the evening.
Tomorrow will be the last day in Yosemite, will it be enough?

US Holiday - Day 19 - San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

Day 19 - Tuesday 27th September
This was certainly an early start this morning. I wanted to be ready for the pickup to take me out to Yosemite. I was up around 6am and as I had packed and showered the night before it was just a matter of getting dressed and walking out of the room and checking out of the hotel. A small bus picked me up just before 6.30am and we then proceeded to pick up a few other passengers before heading to the Fisherman's Wharf.
At this point got off the smaller bus and picked up my tickets from a ticket window and waited for a bigger bus and more passengers to arrive. The bus then arrived and plonked myself on a seat. A few more passengers then got on the bus and then we were off. We headed west across the Oakland Bay Bridge. If a bad earthquake was to happen being on the lower deck of the bridge would not be the place to be but after a couple of minutes we were on the other side and the risk of death was reduced.
We travelled through Oakland and then onto the valley that runs a significant proportion of the California state. Couldn’t believe it was so dry, just amazes me time and time again. At around 10.30am we had our first stop and grabbed some breakfast. We then re-boarded the bus for the final leg through to Yosemite. Slowly but surely we started gaining some elevation. Almost straight away the scenery and terrain began to change. More trees started to appear and before long it started to dominate the view. By around mid day we had snaked our way close to the start of the Yosemite National Park and at this point we pulled into the hotel where I would be staying for the next two nights. Dropped off the bags before continuing into the national park itself.
The first stop in the park was a vantage point called Tunnel View. This has an elevated view back on the Yosemite Valley. All I can say is wow. I could spend time explaining what I saw here but simply Google image “Yosemite Valley” to get some idea. We then re-boarded the bus for the trip down into the valley again and onto the Yosemite Lodge where the bus dropped off all the passengers and I bid farewell to the rest of the bus.
Now by this time it was approaching 1.30pm and most people, including myself, into the café to grab some food. We had to line for a while and this was precious time that the passengers doing the single day trip were wasting as they had to be back on the bus just before 4pm. So I am very glad at this point to that I am spending the extra time.
After grabbing a burger I booked for tomorrow a “Grand Tour” of the park. This will take in Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove. This then left me with plenty of time to explore the rest of the valley. The first stop was Yosemite Falls which is still flowing, albeit slowly, this late in the season. From there I snake my way through the valley stopping off to take photos as they appeared. I had a deer walk only a couple of metres in front of me. Some stupid idiot chased him with small camera which was a little annoying other wise I would have got a few more shots. Then you have the little squirrels and what looks like chipmunks scurrying about. Damian, I’ve figured that 5 chipmunks would be required to make a nice “Chipmunk Kebab”.
It was now getting later into the afternoon and the sun was positioning itself nicely to light up Half Dome and I got some good pics. Then it was getting to the point where I wanted to catch a bus back to the hotel and on my way to the appropriate bus stop I noticed a whole heap of people on a bridge looking at something. I then realised it was a bear in the river so quickly took some video and a few photos. A crowd then followed the bear as it made it’s way out of the water and along into a meadow. I always made sure that I positioned myself in relation to the bear and other people according to the Principle of Darwinianism. Let me give you some examples.
  • Bear – Large person – Me
  • Bear – Old Person – Me
  • Bear – Child – Me
Caught the bus back to the hotel, only about a 30 minute drive and checked in. The room is quite large. There are 2 singles in one room and then a double in another. Lots of space for one person. Didn’t last long and was asleep by about 9pm as it will be an early day tomorrow.

US Holiday - Day 18 - San Francisco - Day 4

Day 18 - Monday 26th September
Woke up with the plan to make the most of the day in SF. I arose around 7am and looking out the window and up to the sky and couldn’t see any shades of blue. But after having a shower the sky was certainly more blue then grey. So by the time I had walked out of the hotel at 8am it was certainly going to be an absolutely stunning day. So the first place I wanted to visit was the Civic Plaza. Some great shots there and I continued onto some of the streets leading up to Alamo Square. This has some houses called the “Painted Ladies” and has great views back towards the city.
I then headed in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge walking up and down the hills that seem to pop out of no where. I then arrived in the suburb of Pacific Heights. Okay there is definitely some money in this suburb.  Some beautiful houses that overlook the San Francisco bay towards the east. From there I entered the Presidio and past the Walt Disney Museum. It was at this point there appeared to be some roadworks taking place which would prevent me from getting through to the Golden Gate Bridge. But I continued on thinking I would be able to get through the Presidio Cemetry. But no joy there and as I was preparing to turn around a car stopped and offered me a 7 day pass for the trolley cars. I readily accepted it.
Had to back track before I could then get on a road that took me down by the water. It was at this point I started having the unrestricted views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately there was a fog bank still sitting underneath the bridge. But never the less the view was awesome and hearing the fog horn going off put it into perspective. Grabbed a coffee and sat outside. It was at this point I noticed a cruise ship coming through the fog underneath the bridge. That explained all the fog horns going off. It was certainly a big cruise ship and looked to just miss the bottom of the bridge before making it’s way past Alcatraz Island before picking up a few tugs to put it into port.
I then waited for one of those hop on / hop off buses to arrive and got on for the ride through the rest of SF city. I stayed on the bus for one complete loop before getting off at the Golden Gate Bridge again. By this time the fog underneath the bridge had burned off completely so it was time to get some ideal pictures of the bridge. Absolutely no clouds and just beautiful blue sky. Lots of photos and video and walked across part of the bridge before reboarding the bus and getting off at Haight Ashbury. This is the old hippy part of town and the smell of pot was very pervasive as I walked down the main street. Lots of tattoo and piercing stores and alternative living.
After making my way through the main street I then headed back to Alamo Square for some shots with the sun in a better position. Lots of photos before walking back down to Civic Plaza and getting back on the “Hop On Hop Off” bus. Took the bus round to Fishermans Wharf where I got off and walked up to one of the starting points for the trolley cars. Only had to wait about 15 minutes to get on the trolley car. I was positioned on the outside of the car and used the ticket that the kind people gave me earlier on in the day. What a great score.
The trolley car travelled up the steep hills of SF and I got some great footage hanging loose out the side. Eventually got off the car near Union Square and whilst it was not high on the list of things to do in SF, I am certainly glad that I ticked that box.
After getting back to the hotel it was time to pack and see if I can catch up with one last person in SF, an ex-work colleague from my first job at DST. But unfortunately Sharon had a work function to attended and given it was her first day in SF, a bit too much to do in the one day.
Tomorrow will be an early  start as I head off to Yosemite National Park.

US Holiday - Day 17 - San Francisco - Day 3

Day 17 - Sunday 25th September

I have designated today as a catch up on washing and catch up with friends. The weather outside looked very grey and this was confirmed by the forecast. But the funny thing about San Francisco is the mirco-climates that exists. At times some suburbs will be in sunshine whilst ones next door will be fog bound.
So spent some time in the morning doing some washing and organised with a uni mate, Cam, to meet up in the afternoon. He had suggested we go up to an area of SF city called the Mission.  So headed out to meet Cam and his wife, Nicole, down on Market Street near where they turn the trolley cars around.
From there we caught the BART, the subway system in SF, a couple of stops to 16th Street.  From there it was only a short walk passed graffiti mural side streets to a restaurant where we grabbed a sandwich for a late afternoon feed. The streets are certainly hip and happening with the classic SF architecture.  The restaurants have queues going out the doors and you are served by chicks with tats and piercing, so they could easy work in JB Hifi or live or work around Newtown I guess.
Whilst Nic grabbed a nitrogen created ice cream, Cam and I wandered up the street and grabbed a coffee in  a large hip coffee store. Everyone had their Apple laptops out surfing the net. American’s are certainly very loyal to their own brands and so they should be.
After finishing our coffees we walked up to the 24th Street BART station and caught the subway back to where we started. It was great to catch up with some people whilst I’m travelling through the US. Cam and Nic also gave me lots of ideas for my last full day in SF. The weather forecast is not looking that good. They are saying cloudy until the PM. We will have to wait and see.

Monday, September 26, 2011

US Holiday - Day 16 - San Francisco - Day 2

Day 16 - Saturday 24th September

Okay, just in case you didn't know San Francisco has some hills. But I'll come back to that later.

The morning started under grey skies. It felt as if it wanted to rain but it couldn't bring itself to do so. I walked back along Market Street and took a left to walk down towards the Giants baseball stadium. Now I should have made the left a couple of streets before the one that I eventually took. Why? Well I was getting into some dodgy looking areas. Every second person appeared to have a cup out wanting change. The poverty over here in the US is pretty stark and there are reminders on every street corner.

Got down to the stadium and took some pictures and then walked along the edge of SF bay. I decided to follow this along and underneath the Oakland Bay Bridge before heading back to the SF Ferry Building. There was a lot of activity here with a growers market taking place. Lots of good and fresh produce being sold and eaten. After a wander through I kept on walking around towards the Fisherman's Wharf. A decent number of people were completing this walk along with people on push bikes.

Fisherman's Wharf is a bit of a tourist trap with lots of shops, piers for going on cruises and tours and heaps of restaurants. I then noticed a trolley car starting point so decided to walk up the hill that it came down. These streets are steep and can understand why the trolley cars are still being used. The walk up the hill was slow as I took time to enjoy views back over the bay taking in Alcatraz and the bottom half of the Golden Gate Bridge. There was still significant cloud cover so the sun had not broken through on the SF side but I could see across the water and see that the other side was in sun light.

I continued walking up the hill and just when you thought you got to the top, no, it's just a plateau before the next hill. I then got up to an area called Nob Hill and from there I made my way down and through China Town. Grabbed a late lunch before walking back to the hotel for a rest.

Headed out again early evening to grab some dinner. Had some Thai and that was quite nice. Huge servings as well. I feel bad leaving food on the plate. Did a bit of a walk around before returning once again to the hotel. Headed out one final time at around 8.30pm for some picture and video taking in the evening. Still a fair amount of people out and about at this stage. Grabbed some munchies on the way back to the hotel and retired for the evening.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

US Holiday - Day 15 - Washington DC to San Francisco

Day 15 - Friday 23rd September

Awoke to grey skies and rain. This didn't bother me considering I am flying out today. Had a shower and then finished packing my bag. Flight wasn't until 12.25pm and from what I had read it was only about a 40 minute drive up to Dulles Airport. Grabbed a cab from the hotel just after 10am and made slow going through the streets of DC. Once we got out onto the express way we made good time.

Strangely the express split into two with dedicated lanes for people going to the airport. Got out of the cab and then lined up to check in and drop off the suitcase. That was easy enough but then had to line up to get through the ticket & id check and security screening. Took a while to get through the screening but eventually got through.

From there it was time to catch a small train to drop you off into the appropriate part of the airport. All these small activities seemed to be adding up and only got to the gate about 15 minutes before they started boarding. And when we did start to board it ended up being a game of find a spot to put your carry on luggage. I can't believe the amount of luggage that people try to get onto the flight. I was in row 25 and by the time by row grouping was called to get onto the plane the overhead luggage was pretty much full. I managed to find a small spot to put the backpack in.

Flight was OK, managed to get some sleep along the way. We landed about 30 minutes early due to good tail winds. Only waited for about 10 minutes at the baggage claim to grab my big suitcase and then off to grab a cab. It was pretty much express way into San Francisco and before I knew it the cab stopped and the driver said the hotel is just around the corner. Sure enough it was and within no time I had checked in and was in the room.

Dropped off the bags and then started walking around. The hotel appears to be in a good location near to shops and transport. Found a Westfields and had dinner in the food court before walking all the way down to the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street. Wasn't much happening there but you could see that there were lots of shops based there.

Headed back to the room and chilled out for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow the weather is looking cloudy so not sure how much I will be able to get done.

US Holiday - Day 14 - Washington DC - Day 4

Day 14 - Thursday 22nd September

Gees the days are flying past over here at the moment. This will be my last full day in DC so need to make it count. First item to cover off is the visit to the National Archives building which contains the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. I got to the building at around 10.30am and there were only a small number of people in the line to get through security. Once through the checkpoint it was on to view the documents.

The layout is very simply, very large room and along one side you have a mural (or Muriel) with the documents in a very secure cases. The light is kept quite low to protect the documents. The writing on the documents are very faded but you can still make out the detail.

Next item to cover off is the Arlington National Cemetry. I decided to give the Washington subway a try and found it to be quite easy to use. Like with most underground train systems they use colour schemes to point people in the right direction. Only had to wait about 10 minutes before my train came along. From there it was probably a 15-20 minute journey stopping at around 5-6 stations along the way.

After getting out I then headed for the visitor centre and grabbed a map. The first and most easiest tomb to get to was JFK's. From there I walked up the hill to a house lived in my one of the General's Robert E Lee. This has vast views across of the Mall taking in the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument and Capital Buildings.

As I looked down on the mall I noticed two helicopters heading towards the Whitehouse that looked like Marine One, the president's helicopter. It then proceeded to land at the Whitehouse. But on checking the Obama schedule he was not in it at that point but instead the helicopter was going there to pick him up.

The next grave I wanted to visit was that of the Unknown Soldier so headed off in that direction. Along the way there were some memorials to the two lost space shuttles and the failed Iran hostage rescue mission. It was just on 1pm by the time I got to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier so had the chance to watch the changing of the guard. A very nice ceremony. So walked down off the hill along the roads that snake their way through the cemetry. So many graves here, just rows and rows of head stones.

Caught the subway back over to the Mall and had some lunch out on one of the many park benches. The final place to tick off was the National History Musuem. Certainly a large building with some great displays.

From there it was back to the hotel to spend my final night in DC. There has been so much to see and do and only having the limited days here certainly constricts what you can see. But it has been very enjoyable non the less with many highlights and little or non disappointments.

Tomorrow I will by flying out to San Francisco.

Friday, September 23, 2011

US Holiday - Day 13 - Washington DC - Day 3

Day 13 - Wednesday 21st September

The plan for today is to get on one of the many different tour buses that travel around DC and to see the sights. I chose the same group that we used up in Boston. They do a number of different loops around DC to cover off the vast area and I was happy with experience and flexibility.

I made the 10 block walk up to the starting point of the tours, purchased a ticket and was lucky to get on a bus straight away. From there we headed away from the main part of DC in a north western direction. This took us up into a hilly and leafy area where there are a lot of nice houses and where most of the consulates and embassies are located. We passed the Australian Embassy heading up to the National Cathedral. Unfortunately it was closed due to earthquake damage so the trolley did a loop around it before heading down into Georgetown.

Georgetown is a nice area of DC with lots of old brick houses in their original condition. I got off the bus and spent the next hour walking around the local streets taking photos before reboarding the bus and making our way back into DC before getting off. The bus stop is right across from the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot.

I then joined another bus which went on a different loop that takes in the main sights of DC including the Mall, Capital Building, Smithsonians etc. I stayed on the bus until the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This is a beautiful building with views back towards the Whitehouse across the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River. After being there for a while I then walked all the way back past the Smithsonian museums back up to the Supreme Court building which is behind the Capital Building. I had only wished the sun was out as the exterior of the building is marble. From there I walked onto the Union Station building and took some photos before reboarding the bus and continuing the loop.

It was after 4pm by the time we got down to the Lincoln Memorial. I thought of getting off to make the connection for the Arlington National Cemetry but wasn't sure if there was enough time to head over there and see what I wanted to see. Maybe leave that for tomorrow. So continued back into DC and got off before walking back to the hotel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

US Holiday - Day 12 - Washington DC - Day 2

Day 12 - Tuesday 20th September

Mum and dad please forgive me. I didn't take your advice about taking an umbrella and today the day started out with rain and I was umbrellaless.

Grabbed a coffee on my way from the hotel to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Only took me about 15 minutes to get there. I had searched along the way for a shop to buy an umbrella but there are no stores in this part of town. I was sort of hoping that they would have something in the gift store and once I got through the security check it was the first place I went to. Nothing on the first floor so I headed to the lower floor and bingo, found a small umbrella that I could stash in the backpack. OK, with that now dealt with it was time to check out all things aeronautical.

The main foyer has some amazing pieces. They include the Apollo 11 capsule, X-15, X1, SpaceShipOne to name just a few. This place is really amazing. You move to other parts of the building you then get to see a V2 rocket, a mock up of the Hubble Space Telescope, a Skylab module. Then you head up stairs and you are able to look at the original plane created by Wilbur and Orville Wright. There was also a planetarium so booked a ticket and enjoyed the shop narrated by Whoopi Golberg.

I spent around 3 hours in the museum before heading along the mall towards the Lincoln Memorial. The weather had improved and a few patches of blue sky became visible. I got a few shots of the Washington Memorial which is still closed after the earthquake from a few weeks ago. There are some cracks in it that still need to be OK'd the engineers.

From there passed the WWII memorial and onto the Lincoln Memorial. This is a fantastic monument and there were a lot of people enjoying it. Took pics and video before making the journey past the Vietnam Memorial and then onto the White House and the south lawn. I then walked around the other side of the building for some other additional shots. Then walked back towards the hotel passing numerous federal buildings including the FBI building. 

Weather again tomorrow is not looking good. Rain again is forecast so we'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

US Holiday - Day 11 - Boston to Washington DC

Day 11 - Monday 19th September

This morning was an early start. I was up just before 6am, got dressed and checked out. I then began the short walk towards the South Station. I was glad that I had done the walk the night before to the ticket and see how long it was going to take. Got to the station in around 10 minutes and didn't see anywhere to check in the luggage so made the assumption that it was just a matter of putting it on the train when it pulled up. Grabbed a coffee and waited for the train to be ready.

The departures board then indicated the platform # and it was just a matter of showing the ticket and getting on the train. Picked a good window seat and about 15 minutes later we were heading off towards Washington DC. We stopped at a couple of stations on the journey to New York and not before long the train was completely full. The scenery along the way was of classic wooden houses and townships around rivers and lakes. Quite a beautiful part of the world.

The train was quick at times when the track allowed. Unfortunately it was not all the time as high speed train travel is always a joy. By around 11am we were beginning to approach New York City. The train snaked it's way through the suburbs of Brooklyn and at times running parrallel to the East River before heading underneath it into Penn Station. The majority of passengers got off at this point before we got a few more and then headed south towards DC stopping at the odd station including Newark, Phildelphia and Baltimore.

It was around 2pm by the time we got to Union Station in DC. This is certainly a grand rail station, with lots of stunning stone work. Some whilst I was there grabbed a map and then headed towards my hotel. The journey only took about 15 minutes.

Got to the hotel and tried to check in but the room wasn't going to be ready until around 4pm. So dropped off the suitcase and headed out to take some pictures whilst I could. Dropped past the Capital building then headed towards the American Indian Museum. Once I had complete that then headed to the National Gallery of Art. I didn't bother with the modern pieces but went for the classics. Took in some great pieces of American, French, Dutch and Italian pieces. But this gallery is so large you ould need hours and hours. I only had about 45 minutes. 

It was close to 5pm at this point so headed back to the hotel and checked in. Not a bad room. Chilled out until about 8.30pm and then thought about getting some food. Dropped past the Capital building again and then Union Station before returning to the hotel. Couldn't find any places where I could get something to eat. So grabbed room services instead.

Tomorrow plan to cover off some more musuems as the weather isn't looking too good. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

US Holiday - Day 10 - Boston

Day 10 - Sunday 18th September

Gees the long pours that the American's do are certainly making there mark. I awoke to another headache and feeling pretty average. Had a shower and then headed down stairs for breakfast. Polished off some bacon, sausage and then some fruit.

Headed back up to my room and waited for Pete and Maggie to finished their breakfast. We all then headed down to the waters edge where we jumped straight on one of the ferry cruise that was included in the site seeing ticket we purchased yesterday. Only had to wait a short time before the cruise began and went around the Boston harbour. The morning was perfect weather wise, with blue skies and some scattered cloud although a little cool.

The boat stopped along the way to the USS Constitution, a naval warship from the late 1700's. We joined one of the guided tours that toured the top, gun and lower deck. Certainly an amazing ship to visit. Then visited another WWII era warship that is in permanent dry dock next to the USS Constitution. We then caught the boat back to pier where we left.

We all then grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading back to the hotel so that Pete and Maggie could check out and start the drive back to NJ. After bidding them good bye at around 2pm I then headed back to catch the trolley bus to another part of Boston that we had not yet visited. Stopped off and took some photos of the South Station, a beautiful building. Then reboarded the bus and headed back over to an area called Beacon Hill. This is a beautiful old area of Boston and had a good walk around. I then walked back to the hotel and had a breather to around 8pm.

I decided to check my tickets for the train journey to Washington DC tomorrow. All I had was a print out supplied by my travel agent. I then made the short journey back to South Station to see if I could sort the ticket out the night before the journey. On arriving I found an Amtrak self service ticket console, swipped my credit card, plugged in my reservation # and pow, was able to print out the two tickets. One for Boston to DC, the other for Seattle to Vancouver.

Finished off the evening by doing one final walk around Boston. This place is a great city. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

US Holiday - Day 9 - Boston

Day 9 - Saturday 17th September

Let's start with a statement, Boston is a fantastic city. It has been a wonderful experience so far. Got up around 7.30am and met Pete and Maggie for breakfast at around 8.30am. We had decided that we would take one of the open top buses/trolleys around Boston to figure out what to check out next. Fortunately we could sort out the tickets at the hotel and it was just a matter of walking down to the first stop and getting on.

The bus took us around all the major sights to see including an othe USS Constitution warship, Boston Common, the Cheers pub, Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox) and MIT. After a circuit we got off the bus and had a recharge at a local coffee shop in Beacon Hill before heading onto the Boston Common and up to some of the cemetery's in the centre of town. They have some of the major figures in American History buried there. We also checked out a local church and then back to the Boston Common which was hosting a Freedom Rally. Effectively this was a lets gather on the common and smoke a joint type of event.

We grabbed some food and then dropped by the Cheers pub before rejoining the bus and moving onto the Prudential Tower which offered views from the 50th floor of all around Boston. After enjoying the views we took a few more shots around the area before catching the subway back to where we initiall caught the bus. It was then a short walk back to the hotel where we had a break.

At around 8pm we walked down to the area around the aquarium and looked for a restaraunt. We settled for an Irish pub just back near the hotel. Had a nice meal and then a couple of drinks whilst two gents entertained the crowd with Irish songs. Tomorrow I will bid Maggie and Peter farewell as we enjoy anothe rday in Boston.

US Holiday - Day 8 - Last day in New York City

Day 8 - Friday 16th September

So this will be the last day in New York City. In a way I wished I had some more time here as there is so much to see and do. The last couple of things I wanted to tick off was going to a shop called B&H. Think of it as a massive superstore for all things photographic, video and audio related. The other place I wanted to visit was Central Park.

Didn't catch a bus into NYC as I had down on previous days. Instead it was time for the ferry. The journey is a simple one. Leave Pete and Maggie's apartment and walk to end of complex and then flag down the bus that passes by on a frequent basis. Get on board and then make the short journey to the ferry terminal. Once there grab a return ticket and waited for the ferry to arrive. The trip is only 10 minutes in length to cross the Hudson. Once you get off buses are available to run you up into town. I got off at 42 Street and caught the subway to 34th Street and walked up to the B&H shop.

Think of this store as "JB Hifi meets the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem". It is very hard to explain how the shop works but it is amazing and for tech/gadget freaks like myself this place was nirvana. So after making a couple of purchases for the video camera I left to catch a subway up to Central Park.

From there I wandered about the park taking pictures. The day was so awesome weather wise and the light so right on the buildings on Central Park West it was really a joy to take photos. Wandered all the way down to the end of the park before catching a subway back to 42 Street and then walking back to the ferry via photo call at the USS Intrepid, the aircraft carrier moored on the Hudson.

Only had to wait 10 minutes for the ferry and caught the waiting bus back to the local shops for a Starbucks recharge. Had lunch down by the water before taking my last shots of NY skyline.

Tonight we left for Boston. Headed to Secaucaus and picked Pete up at around 6.30pm. We then started the north east journey to Boston through the Friday peak hour. Traffic wasn't too bad until we encountered major delays about an hour out of Boston. We decided on a detour with the GPS's help through the back waters before getting back onto the main expressway into Boston.

We didn't make it into Boston until late, probably after 12am. Checked into the hotel and then headed off to bed.

US Holiday - Day 7 - New Jersey

Day 7 - Thursday 15th September

Woke up feeling really average today. The drinks from the night before had taken their toll. I eventually got up just before midday and grabbed some coffee and OJ. The day was overcast with a chance of rain so didn't venture into NYC. Instead Maggie and I headed out to one of the local cafe ./ dinners and had lunch. I chose turkey and stuffing with sides and it came out to be a big enough to feed a whole family. I barely touched it as the stomach was still a bit sketchy.

By this time the rain was starting to come down so got in the car and did a quick tour of Hoboken, a small town on the shore of the Hudson. From there we started to drive towards a large retail outlet called Jersey Gardens. People visit here with empty suitcases and then head straight to the airport with the luggage full. I didn't quite go to those lengths but bought some shirts and jackets.

From there headed back to Secaucus and was given a tour of the town where Peter works. There are a number of hotels here along with a convention centre. Added to that are your typically mall type shops. Returning home we waited for Pete to get home and then we headed out to the Meat Packing District in New York. We took a bus and a tube ride to get down to that part of town and tried to get into one restaurant but it was over an hour wait and it was already after 9.30pm at this stage. We found another nice restaurant just down the street. After a couple of starters at the bar we progressed through to the dining area to the mains. I had a fillet mignon and given I hadn't quite had breakfast or lunch it certainly satisfied my appetite.

Caught the subway back up to the Port Authority and then jumped onto a bus after a short wait. It was probably close to midnight by the time we got home.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

US Holiday - Day 6 - Brooklyn and the Financial District

Day 6

Another warm day here in New Jersey with clear skies. They weather forecasters did say there would be a slight chance of rain and so far it was looking real slight. The plan of attack was going to be Brooklyn and the lower part of Manhattan. Last night I did some reading as to the best way to get over to Brooklyn and which way to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. From the Manhattan side it is easy, just head to the City Hall and the entrance is just across the street. But from the Brooklyn side you have a choice of a number of subways to take. My preference was to walk over from Brooklyn to Manhattan as the sun is behind you the entire way making for some great pictures of the building skyline.

Catching the bus again from Pete and Maggie's was easy enough. Then caught the 2 train to Brooklyn getting off at Clark Street. To get up to street level you have to take a rather large elevator. I guess it is much the same as Convent Garden in the UK. It was funny as a nicely dressed business man got in and I saw him as the elevator got up to the street move his leg. All I heard was a squelching sound as his shoe and the elevator were one, connected either via a previous "pavement pizza" or a "number one" from the days before.

Once up at street level, I along with another couple, consulted the local map as to where to go. Ultimately I was after pedestrian access to the bridge but also getting underneath it to take some classic photos that you always see. I noticed on the map an area saying promenade so headed in that direction. The walk was short and passed through a very nice area of Brooklyn. Very leafy as well and the buildings are of the classic walk up stairs with basement underneath. If my memory serves me correctly I think they call them "brown stones". Okay enough of the history lesson.

The promenade didn't disappoint. Lots of benches for people to sit and enjoy the view and such a spectacular view it was. From left to right you have the Statue of Liberty then Lower Manhattan followed by the Brookyn and Manhattan Bridges. I walked away from the Brooklyn Bridge passing the odd 9/11 memorial. I am sure on the day it would have been full of people watching the impending doom take place. But on a more positive note they also have a great view of the new tower going up. Heading back towards the Brooklyn Bridge I headed down towards the water near where the East River Ferry arrives and departs from. Lots of foges around here probably on bus tours. I was still looking for my classic photo of the bridge so kept on walking until I came upon a park where I could take my shots.

From there I meandered in the direction of where I think the pedestrian access would start. Along the way other tourists, equally as blind, join you in the quest. Eventually we made it and we were on the bridge. Almost everyone walking across the bridge was a tourist. The odd bicyclist was a local but everyone had their cameras out enjoying the view and sun shine. The  access is split into two, with a pedestrian lane on the left and the bicycle lane on the right. It wasn't that packed which was good to get some opportune photos.

Got to the other side and by now it was just after 12pm. Sent Maggie an SMS to see where she was at as we were going to grab a bite of lunch. By about 1.15pm had caught up with Maggie and stopped into a dodgy deli. Grabbed a handburger and a Coke. Next we headed down to around where the WTC buildings were located. A lot of it was blocked off and you needed to have booked in to visit the WTC memorial. We skipped that and headed close to the "Freedom Tower" for some pictures. It looks like a very nice building and am a bit sad it was not completed when I got here. But they are making good progress which is fabulous to see.

From there we headed towards the water and then back up to Wall Street and took more photos. I will have to consult pictures and video that I took over 10 years ago and compare as I now think the roads around the NYSE are now pedestrianised.

By this point I was a bit beat, so we caught an express 2 back up from Wall Street to 42 Street and then walked through to the NY Port Authority and got on the 158 back out to New Jersey. I stopped off at Starbucks and had a Ice Mocha Frappacino with an extra shot of expresso. Certainly a fantastic drink to have when you want to cool down. On completion, headed back to Pete and Maggie's and checked the emails and did some washing.

Waited for Pete to arrive and then got ready to head out for some dinner. Downed a Jagermeister and a Vodka and orange before we left and when we got to the restaurant another couple of V&O's. The view was amazing along the Hudson River as we were aligned pretty much on 34th Street so the Empire State building was right in front of us. I had a tuna entree and salmon main which was very nice. I think by the end of the night we were all glad to see our beds.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

US Holiday - Day 5 - New York City

Day 5

Had a good nights sleep on the fold out bed that Steve and Belinda broke in. There is much to be said for not having to watch the clock but instead just get up when you want to. Had a shower and then grabbed some toast and coffee before getting a bus into NY Port Authority. This was so easy. About a 5 minute walk and a run across the road and then onto the bus straight into NYC. From there it was a couple of minutes to Times Square. It has changed since I was last there, most notably the reduced through traffic which has been replaced by pedestrian areas.

Took the usual photos and video and then headed east towards Grand Central Station. Stopped in there before moving on past the NY Public Library and onward to the United Nations building. Went through the security and had a bit of a tour around before leaving and heading back to the NY Library. The building was half in shadow half bathed in sunlight so wanted to wait before taking photos. Continued down towards Empire State building before walking back up to NY Public Library before catching the subway down to City Hall. The building was unfortunately closed off to the public so gave it a skip and went passed the Supreme Court building before heading into China Town (it still smells) and then onto Little Italy.

From there walked through Soho and then onto Washington Park . Soho was such an attractive place to visit. Lots of boutique restaurants and clothing stores. Washington Park full of people taking it easy and one guy playing a grand piano underneath the arch way. From there I meandered back to a subway station and caught an express back up to 42 Street station and then walked through back through to the Port Authority for the quick ride home. Stopped in to a super market and bought some vodka and juice and recharged by having Starbucks iced moccha.

In the early evening I ventured down by the water to take some shots of the NY skyline with the sun kissing the windows. There were some nice effects and hope the photos do it justice. Ended the evening with a light dinner and some TV.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

US Holiday - Day 4 - Los Angeles to New York

Day 4

Today was a very early start. Didn't want to miss the plane nor did I want to take a chance on the traffic in Los Angeles. On arriving in LA, the cab driver took me via an express way but thankfully this driver took me a different way. He arrived bang on 6am which meant I was just up before that and pretty much throughout the night clock watching. Next time I will look to do a flight during the middle of the day and thankfully the remaining flights on this trip are during that time frame.

The journey from the hotel to the airport was pretty quick. I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the roads or the lack there of. Arrived at the airport in around 30 minutes via the back roads of Santa Monica. Headed into the terminal and proceeded to do the auto check in. I had the option of either scanning the passport, scanning the credit card or putting in my electronic ticket number. The first two options didn't work so thankfully it accepted the electronic ticket number.

Next port of call was to check in with the bags. This involves going to a counter where they allocate you a baggage ticket but you then have to take it to another section of the airport for scanning. As the bag had padlocks on it I had to wait whilst it went through the xray machine and given the OK. Unfortunately it was not given the OK and I was asked for the keys. At this point I knew it was the two jars of vegemite that I had in the bag for Pete. The proceeded to open the luggage and then swab the jars and put it into the scanner. I was concerned when the screen went red but they swapped the latex gloves and tried again and all was good.

So the bag was scanned and given the all clear, now it was my turn. I had to go through a full body scanner. The thought my double handkerchief in right jeans pocket was suspect but once I showed them they said all was good and I was cleared.

Waited for around 30 minutes for the plane to start boarding. It looked like the gate was undergoing some work so we went down the aero bridge onto the tarmac and onto a bus for a 5 minute ride to the arse end of the airport where we boarded the plane. Did have to wait about 30-40 minutes for the second pilot to turn up and once he did and the flight checks were done we were off.

The flight to Newark was uneventful apart from the odd bit of turbulence. Coming into Newark we had great views of Manhattan as we travelled north to south. On landing it was a quick journey to the gate before departing and meeting up with Pete at the baggage claim.

Pete then drove me back to his place but not before I tried to get into the drivers seat. Rookie mistake. Didn't encounter too much traffic along the way and was back at his complex in no time. We were greeted by Tyson Beckford polishing his new Nissan GTR out the front of this place. He only lives a couple of doors up from Pete and Maggie.

Greeted Maggie and handed over the Vegemite. Am glad not to be carrying the extra weight around now. Had a glass or two of champagne and a quick bit to eat before dinner and a walk along the board walk with fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline.

Tomorrow will be venturing into New York to see the sights. No idea what I want to see. Maybe look in a few shops I think.

Monday, September 12, 2011

US Holiday - Day 3 - Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Day 3
Woke up a little bit later than normal. The body was feeling a bit average. I think a combination of sitting on the plane and all the walking over the past couple days. Started out with a ridiculous breakfast. Should have looked at the menu a little bit better than what I did. Tried to get through as best as I could but there was a certain amount of wastage.

Packed the cameras and then headed up to Wilshire Boulevard as I thought that the buses from there were going to take me down to Venice Beach. But on looking at the timetable and route it appeared to be different to what I had read on the Big Blue Bus website. So I started to walk down again to Santa Monica which took about 20-30 minutes. Popped into a chemist to get some nail clippers as the feet were getting sore from the walking. On asking one of the people for where I should look for the clippers there is a moments hesitation as they realise "this honky is not from around here".

Kept on walking down towards the sea side and took some video of a fire truck with sirens blaring. I will burn this onto a DVD and give it to my brother Damian. Certainly the quality is there for it to cover all birthday and XMAS presents out to 2015.

Got down to the pier at Santa Monica and started the walk towards Venice Beach. The day was absolute perfect for it. Whilst overcast at first, by about 11.30 the day cloud had burned off and was replaced with blue skies. The walk along the beach was pleasant with a lot of white and latino "culo" to look at. The beach along side the path was full of volley ball games and even caught sight of a strange game of "touch footy" being played. Looks like it must have been some expats.

Eventually got down to Venice Beach with lots of stalls along either side. One of the first stalls was for a pet psychic and that pretty much set the town for the rest. Heaps of homeless and the odd performer plying their trade. If I can offer a comparison it is a combination of Paddy's markets a dash of Byron Bay and a sprinkle of Centrelink. Ventured past the Muscle Beach Gym and then turned around and headed back towards Santa Monica. Dropped into a Starbucks and had an Ice Mocha recharge before catching he bus back to the hotel.

Caught up on a few emails and then got changed and headed back into Santa Monica shopping district in the early evening. Had a look at a couple of shops and made some purchases. Went for a bit of a walk and found a couple of people holding up signs saying that 9/11 was a government conspiracy. There were also a few unhappy campers giving them a mouthful and to be honest I think it is a low act to host this type of event on such an important anniversary.

Caught the bus back to the hotel. Had the pleasure of a drunk NFL supporter sit next to me for the length of my journey. To finish the evening I had a steak at the restaurant next to the hotel before booking a cab in the morning. It will be an early start to the day as I fly onto Newark airport to stay with Pete and Maggie.

US Holiday - Day 2 - Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica

Day 2 - September 10, 2011
Had a good nights sleep. Woke up a couple of times but then back to sleep with minimal effort. Got up around 7.30, had a shower and then headed down to the restaurant below the hotel. The restaurant is called IHOP ( and servers all food good and bad. I decided on the apple pancake and bacon/egg combination. It came out pretty quickly along with a Coke chaser it dealt with the hunger I had been experiencing.
I backed my bag ready to get picked up by Karen, Lawrence and Trevor. I only had to wait a couple of minutes before I saw their car pulled up and jumped in. First port of call was Beverly Hills. Certainly a nice part of town, very clean and pretty to look at. We walked down Rodeo Drive first and saw some amazing shops and cars. The most notable car was the Bugati Veyron. Lots of people taking photos of the car and we were among the masses. Moving on we did a full lap of Rodeo Drive before getting back into the car. Next stop was going to be the Hollywood Walk but along the way we drove up some famous streets lined with the tall palm trees. Lots of stunning houses, all gated and with semi circle drive ways.
We finally got to the Hollywood walk and parked the car and started to walk the length of the Hollywood Boulevard. At first there wasn’t a huge number of people but then the numbers started to grow. Along with the other tourists were the touters for tours of the stars. We kept on walking and eventually got up to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This was completely packed and just looked like a huge tourist trap. We did however have a iced mocha at Starbucks before walking back to the car.
From there we drove back along the Sunset Strip passing places like Whisky a Go Go and The Viper Room before doing a loop round passing suburbs such as Bel Air before getting back onto the Pacific Coast Highway and back to the hotel.
I chilled there for a while before getting ready to catch up with Lawrence, Karen and Trevor again for dinner. Prior to leaving I did some reading on the local bus routes and found out some interesting facts. The classic Doors song “The End” makes reference to the big blue bus. So as I came out of the hotel I saw the # 1 coming down the street. I was fortunate enough for the lights to turn green to allow me to cross the street and get to the bus stop before the bus went pass. Got on and paid the $1 journey cost. The bus ride was quick down Santa Monica Boulevard and got off and made the short journey to the Loews hotel where the guys were staying.
We had a drink out on the balcony of the stunning hotel. Lots of lounge beds and for the evening chairs around fire pits. The sunset was fantastic and it signalled time for us to grab some food. The guys made the suggestion of going back to a sports styled bar. The bar was certainly amazing with the wall behind the bar complete full of projector screens and plasmas. On each screen was a different college NFL game or baseball match. One of the games was a University of Southern California so there was a lot of local support. We were in the bar for about 15 minutes before being seated for dinner. I had a steak and certainly hit the spot. After dinner we went out for a walk and the place was still a buzz late in the evening. Then as I walked down I passed someone I thought I recognised. It was a couple that I had worked with back in UK and had not seen for over 10 years. He is Irish and she is Australian and had moved back to Australia at the same time that I did but now reside in Brisbane. Such a strange encounter.
I then bid the guys a good night as they had an early morning flight to Las Vegas. There were not many buses running at this time so I walked the 20 blocks back to the hotel and crashed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

US Holiday - Day 1 - Sydney to LA

Day 1
All good trips should start with last minute packing and for this trip it was not the exception. Mum and dad arrived just before 9am. Dad was not particularly impressed with the state of the house and wanted to see if he could vacuum. This resulted in a death stare and a vocal affirmation. Well the bag was packed and off we went a little behind time. The rainy weather also appeared to be effecting traffic and we had the joy of travelling along the M4 with the rest of Sydney. Once we got past Granville it appeared to get flowing again and made good progress onto Parramatta Rd and then the back way through through Petersham and Marrackville. We got to the airport and mum and dad dropped me off and a quick goodbye. Checking in was painless with only about a 10 minute wait. Decided to then go straight through immigration and gave Damian a quick call. Grabbed a bite to eat and had a look around the shops before making my way to the departure gate. Waited there a while until the gate opened. There was hardly anyone there and I thought the flight wasn’t going to be that full but slowly the crowd grew. They then opened up the gate and we watched as some dignitaries from the United Nations boarded the plane.
Boarding the plane for the rest of the crowd then begun for the rest of the normal people. The A380 is certainly a nice plane. My seat was in between the aisle and the window and then an older couple turned up. I said that I could move so that they could be together but for some reason the lady said no I’m happy with the aisle and so I ended up being piggy in the middle. The flight left pretty much on time with just some minor delays as other passengers transferred from flights coming in from Perth. There was also a funny announcement saying that people could not congregate around the toilets on the flight due to US regulations.
The A380 is certainly a beast of an aircraft. The seats are good with a fantastic entertainment system. You can pretty much watch any movie you want at any time. After we took off and passed through an initial round of turbulence I started to watch the latest X Men followed up by Thor and Source Code. I thought they were all good films and glad I had a chance to catch up on them.
For dinner there was a choice of a tortellini, beef or salmon. They run out of the beef pretty quickly but I was happy with having the salmon. Tried to sleep throughout the flight and didn’t have a whole lot of luck with that. There were small intervals of sleep but nothing substantial and I could free the body trying to cope with the little sleep that I had had over the previous nights. I was able to catch some more sleep before they served breakfast.
Landing into LA was interesting watching the webcam they had in the tail of the plane. It was a slow ride in and once we landed it was a short journey to the terminal. We then waited for the UN dignitaries to depart before we got the opportunity to depart.
When we got down to the immigration hall I was half expecting it to be completely packed out as I had heard it has taken people up to 3 hours to get through all the new checks that the US border has in place. I would have waited only about 20 minutes to go through and had my finger prints taken followed by a photo.
Then it was off to pick up my bag and had to wait only about 10 minutes for it to arrive. Then it was off to catch a taxi to the hotel. Traffic wasn’t too bad as we travelled along some of the freeways down into Santa Monica. Journey time was probably only around 25-30 minutes and tried to check in but given it was only 11am there was not going to be much chance of getting a room. So I dropped off my main bag and put on some shorts and then started to walk down towards Santa Monica beach.
The 20 block walk started to creep up on the body but was hanging in there. The first stop off was the beach and board walk. Heaps of tourists around and some interesting outfits as well. I then came back through and checked out the shopping mall/promenade. Grabbed a Starbucks coffee and croissant and that recharged the batteries.
Walked the 20 blocks back up to the hotel and was pretty stuffed by that point. Checked in and made my way up to the room. Watched some TV and had a snooze before getting in touch with some other friends who are going to be in LA. Will be heading up to Beverly Hills and Hollywood to check it out tomorrow.
Ah just saw an ad for Colon Flow. I can try it free for 30 days.