Thursday, 28 July 2011

East Coast to the West Coast – Bringin’ the Heat

Being a west country boy I feel an affinity to western areas, (southwest England, southwest China even south west ish Japan are home to my favourite places in these countries. Western Canada bar Banff (which is actually still western Canada) is my favourite part of Canada too. This in mind in America I have started in the middle and worked east, so it was about time I began the loop back to the west, California to be exact.

Despite my western affinity I have very much enjoyed my time in the eastern board, for previous endeavours in Boston, Washington and Chicago(Midwest) see my previous posting, if you can be bothered.

Moving swiftly on to new adventures. We headed southeast outta DC and went straight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is Miami’s cheaper, less pretentious, less poseur esque brother in law. First stop off after meeting our host, Williams was a trip to ‘Duffys’ which as you may have guessed is a bar, shocking. They served 32 oz (2 pints) of beer for the measly cost of $3.50! What is this madness you ask, well it turns out in Florida they like to drink and they like it cheap.  To further cement this fact we went out in the evening and it gets better.  After paying a ‘hefty’ $5 cover charge we gained entry to a bar with 3-4-1 drinks at $5 a pop, money back already! BUT also they had girls wrestling in jelly… I don’t know why but it was quite enjoyable. At this point I probably decided I didn’t want to leave… ever.

In the next few days we had some fun, we attempted to play ‘soccer’ in a field when it was far too hot to do anything. We went alligator hunting on a fan boat, we saw four though the main fun was the fan boating. We held baby alligators and then went to play with some puppies at the pet store. It being hot ‘n’ humid we hit the beach a few times and watched lightning strike out at sea, deciding it was probably not a good idea not to be in the sea, we as usual headed to a bar for dinner. In every city we have visited we have seen lightning (more on this later) We sampled some malls (air conned,) honed skills at beer pong and cruised around Miami just to see all the fakery and posing of the wannabe rich and famous. I did not rate Miami and luckily we were not based here as mentioned. Fort Lauderdale is huge though with everything being about 20 minutes’ drive away.  


View from our Florida accomodation

On our last full day, as it was the Miss Williams birthday and anniversary we sorted out a Boat and went cruising in the inter-coastal area. This was sweet and a great way to spend a day looking cool and island hopping, the welsh one lost his glasses as we went over some wake too fast, too cool.

On 'Penny Island'

Florida over and done with we went off to Austin, Texas. I was particularly excited by this trip because I wanted to see if everyone in texas does actually wear hats and cowboy boots, they do. First thing you need to know about Austin is that it’s more alternative and liberal than the rest of Texas, a fact they pride themselves on. This is quite apparent in the airport by the abundance of t-shirts stating ‘Keep Austin Weird’

We met are host for this week, a one Maggie McGrath who immediately knowing we were ‘thirsty’ from our flight took us to a bar for free Nacho’s. Just kidding, she took us there for Margheritas! Welshie ordered a Mexican one and it was so strong he could only legally be served 2 of them and NOTHING ELSE. Keeping on the Austin ‘weird’ theme the bars were cool and different.

It being damn hot during the first full day we went to an outdoor pool/spring to cool off during the day and in the evening took in some free Blues in a park.

It being Texas there are two foods I should really note. BBQ (of course) and Mexican. We went to the original ‘Salt Lick’ for tasty tasty meat sold by the Pound! We loved it so much we got more BBQ the second day for lunch. We ate the Mexican food most when we were drinking, in one bar; ‘Chuyas’ during happy hour they had endless free chips and dip (this is quite common in these parts) On the last day Maggie took us for a ‘Mexican Breakfast’ which turns out to be the same Mexican food as normal, with scrambled egg occasionally.

Back to the tourist thing we saw the national museum of Texas and got a [free] tour of the Capitol building from Maggie’s friend Bogan. Having mostly explored Austin we got out of town and headed to a German town named Friedricksburg, on the way to this was the Brewery where we had a tour which ended in a rather large fridge (a brilliant escape from the heat) – we tried free beer and I bought a t-shirt.Afterwards we saw a deserted private airport which was quite cool. In the evening we had dinner and popped into ‘Luckenbach Ranch’. At this point someone might add in something like this being the ‘real America’ but that’s stupid because it’s all real America. But having said that, this is the ‘country’ America is often depicted in film. They had a country band playing  with couples wearing cowboy hats dancing in a large open walled building and a big longhorn(a cow) that you could pose with. On the way home we watched a Thunder Storm roll in across the plains, more epic lightning.

Hypnotoad graffiti

'Lone Star'

Blues on the green

Old Plane

Beer Saloon at the Ranch

On the last day we floated down the San Marcos river. This consists of renting a tube, a tube for beer and a cooler to put beer in. Then supplies acquired you simply float down the river, that simple. This was awesome, we drank far too much and caught the sun. True Brits’ abroad as you were, we even got our accents abused “you’re not from Bristol, you don’t sound Bristolian” or to Welshie “that’s the worst fake British accent I’ve ever heard”… pure comedic brilliance if you ask me. In the evening an a quick dinner at Hooters we watched Roller Derby, this was a bit disappointing actually and not nearly as fun as the film (Whip It, check it out) then we hit ‘dirty six’ for more drinking into the early hours.

Austin is cool and laid back, its only real downside is its quite huge making driving a must. It has however made the list and has successfully filled the ‘would do again or recommend to a friend’ tick box
This is a whistle stop review so far, Vegas is next and well what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas so that’s It – ok we gambled, went to a pool party at Caesars Palace and drank on the roof of Pure, otherwise just go watch the Hangover that’s exactly what happened. We are now in the west coast thus completing the journey to the west coast and the end of this blog.

Sunset from our hotel room in Vegas
Following this, a list of top sites so far in my travels.

Also I have added Welshies blog to the links at the top of the page, parental advisory suggested at your discretion.

The Would do again list

The ‘Would do again or recommend to a friend’ list

The idea of this list is simple, things that have stood out at being particularly good or memorable that aren’t completely re-creatable so without further ado in no particular order :

1.      Everest at 3am in the moonlight.
2.       Lake Louise and the Colombian Ice field & Glacier
3.       Whistler Zip Lining & Biking (even adults can do the zip, I did it with a group of retirees)
4.       Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, China (the walk no cheating)
5.       Pandaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas, Chengdu
6.       Mt Fuji, cycling around the lakes.
7.       Osaka Aquarium (absolutely huge whale shark)
8.       Roppongi Tower, Tokyo  at night (not actually sure its called that)
9.       CN Tower, Toronto.
10.   Cape Cod Road trippin’
11.   Lake Michigan swimming
12.   Songpan, Horse Trekking – China (cold as fuck but totally worth it)
13.   Floating the ‘San Marcos’
14.   Yangshuo River cruise and getting lost in the karsts
15.   Hiro’s parents getting you wasted on expensive whiskey (and basically being a westerner in China)

    Wednesday, 13 July 2011

    Midwest to the Northeast - An American Tale

    "Half the fun is getting there..."
    I often quote this line as it usually seems relevant to my adventures. We have an exception that  proves the rule. Greyhound are an epic fail of a company. It took me twice as long to reach Chicago from Buffalo (Niagara) because they over booked the coach TWICE and didn't have extra coaches... Common sense states you only sell tickets for which you have space...This is SIMPLE maths. Last time I ever use Greyhound. Despite this I had some fun bad mouthing Greyhound with the other disgruntled passengers.

    Eventually after 8 hours in the station I was on a bus to Chicago. The 'windy city' such named because its politicans talk as much air as it does blow around the city. I met Mr Gill after a pint where some Police commented on my nice looking pint of German beer. We headed out to saunter the delights of Chicago's evening activities, bars, cheap pizza and seedy but friendly 'dive' bars. Both knackered from our respective travels, being very drunk it was time for a new day.

    Chicago is quite big, tis home of the 'skyscraper', Obama, deep dish and some other things like gangsters. We saw the first Skyscraper on a rather dull walking tour. It wasn't even very big. Despite this we left the tour saw some much cooler buildings and walked along navy pier.
    (photo is not of the first skyscraper, in fact I've no idea what these buildings are)

    In the evening we went to check out 'Taste of Chicago' - food was expensive for what it was, but was interesting. They had a sweet tractor though. We got tickets and hoodwinked some more off a Cop eating a rather large turkey leg. He expressly told us not to spend them on beer.... this is obviously police code for "go and buy beer" so we did. Our barman only took half the tickets he was supposed to so at this point we are 2 nil up against the Taste - Free coupons and free beer.
    Eventually we went in search of food, after Welshie made friends with another officer of the law. We eventually settled for Deep Dish Pizza... I hate to say it, but this was a big highlight. It was very very tasty.

    In later days we spent a lot of time at the beach. We saw some fireworks and drank with the director of Transport for Chicago. He was called Chuck and took us to a cool Blues bar.

    Boston came next. Boston has a rich history which they are very proud of... or to put it more accucrately; a history of rebellion against the British which they constantly ram down your throat. Guys it was 235 years ago, get over it. Despite this, I got a lot of love for Boston. More casual than Chicago and much less skyscrapers. we did the usual tourist traps, a trolley tour, the Bruins stadium(they are the team who beat Vancouver), a harbour cruise and of course the Cheers bar - Nobody knew our names, I was the only Sam, it was full of tourists but it has to be done.

    We took a trip down Cape Cod in a car, this was excellent. We went to Provincetown, a big gay town with men in vests offering pedicures. Then we hit the beach as it was very hot!  It being new England everywhere was named after a place in the south west ie, Truro, Plymouth, Taunton etc. This shot below was taken in Falmouth!

    Other things I enjoyed in Boston, was of course Clam Chowdaaaaaaa. Which is superb and comes in a bread bowl. I also got very drunk, some people blame this on 4Loko, both times this has been drunken bad things have happened BUT I blame Hiro, both times I have been drinking with Hiro it has ended odd and it was his friend who got the Tequila's in.

    Anyway next day nursing severe hangovers we walked around Harvard. Here is Andrew 'relaxing' as any true student would at Harvard.

    Last real sights we saw were some graves. Namely 'Samuel Adams'... you probably know him from the beer (its how I know him). Lastly we ate/drank near the harbour in a place called 'Dicks Last Resort...' where they proudly claim to 'be and act like dicks'

    Rounded off the North-East US tour with a trip to DC. Obvious sites include White House, Capitol Hill, Lincoln memorial, Washington Monument etc etc and about a million free museums. It was bakingly hot here(35+), making any sight seeing an arduous effort and the museums air con an absolute godsend. The museums were excellent, ranging from the Natural History to Air/Space.

    We also took in Arlington Cemetry, Holocaust Memorial museum and the Pentagon. The latter being rather dull except for a 9/11 memorial.
    Washington, as you'd expect from the stately capital is rather stately! All the sites are neatly arranged near each other and overlook one another in quite an organised fashion.

    In a strike of genius ironic hilarity. The Dalai Lama was in town for a conference on buddhism. This meant there were lots of monks and hippies also around for the conference. I could have heard him talk if I paid the £££ it cost. This is ironic because earlier in the trip I had been to Tibet and his palace which he himself cannot because of the Chinese. The Chinese have 'asked' Obama to council his meeting with the Dalai Lama, which is completely ridiculous. Further proof that Tibet isn't part of China.

    Lastly, and probably rather uninteresting to 99% of the world, I quite like the Metro stations. They all seem identical and look exactly like they do in Fallout.
    Miami tomorrow for humidity galore but a beach at least.

    Friday, 1 July 2011

    Hockey, Mountains, Lakes, Glaciers and Towers (Going up to come down)

    This post may contain numerous inaccuracies and not all the photos as I have not uploaded them yet. Its been a while since I last post and obviously this post should cover the whole of Canada.
    The title references most the things I did in Canada. I went up quite a few things, and so I also came down.

    I arrived in Vancouver smack bang at the beginning of the Stanley Cup Play Offs. They even had the hockey broadcast in the immigration hall. This set the scene for the first couple of weeks. Hockey, Hockey and Hockey.

    After spending a few days in Vancouver, I headed off to Victoria to meet my friend Mercedes who is currently working as a Naturalist for a whale watching company. In Victoria we saw some sites, I had a canadian breakfast (Pancakes, Bacon and Maple syrup). We saw some things, the houses of parliament for BC, a farm, won a quiz etc etc. Mercedes also took me Whale watching, we saw a Humpback which was pretty cool.

    We also watched the Canucks win their second game of Hockey. I returned to Vancouver, took in a few more sights, ran around Stanley Park and watched more Hockey, this time on the street. The atmosphere was excellent and are what I will remember (no riots for me) Canucks eventually lost but by then I had headed to Whistler. Before I left, I went to Hip-Hop Kareoke was which absolutely fantastic. I loved Vancouver, it is chilled, interesting and I met lots of interesting people (despite the hostel being full of jobseekers :P)

    Whistler, was the next stop. It was alot of fun. I spent far too much money on 'Adrenaline Junkie' activities. Firstly hurtling down mountains via Zip Lines, including a 2200ft line which was awesome. After this I threw myself down mountains on a Bike. Also totally worth it and a lot of fun, also absolutely knackering.

    The next step was an overnight bus to Banff. Banff, is one of those picturesque little towns surrounded by mountains and despite being a small town it is rather fun due to it being so close to 3 skiing resorts. In Banff itself I went to the 'hot springs' - which aren't a patch on the numerous springs in Japan but was a nice relax after the long bus. The second activity in Banff was Sulphur Mountain. Due to injury I got the cable car up to the top and walked to the adjacent mountain for epic views of the valley.
    The best thing I did in/around Banff was a day trip to Lake Louise and the Colombian Ice field. Both completely astounding wonders of Nature...
    I also saw some wild Bears, Two Black Bears and one Grizzly :)

    Banff was rounded off by a stint in the bar with a French Canadian Ska Punk band. There is alot more to do in Banff; hiking, canoeing, biking etc.

    Next up was Calgary. Im going to be honest here, I didn't really like Calgary, This may be due to my own annoyance of spending longer here than I wanted to due to my own misbookings. In the same sense it was being rebuilt, seemed to lack cohesion and lacked city feel. The main reason I went here was to visit Hooters, purely because I've been to Hooters in five other counties and now six. Ironically there is a Hooters in Toronto making this whole excursion totally pointless. However I did visit the Zoo, and that was excellent (and hilarious - see slightly rude pics). I know my Dad has a contact in Calgary but I just didn't feel it, As mentioned that may have been my own fault.*

    * I met a girl in Boston, and she also thinks Calgary sucks.

    Escaping Calgary I flew to Toronto. Due to previously mentioned misbooking I only had one full day in Toronto. Cramming in as much as I could, I enjoyed Toronto and am disappointed I had so little time to take it in. I walked around a lot, saw the Hockey hall of Fame, City halls, (both old and new, the new one was rubbish 70s modern carp) I finished Toronto off with a trip up the CN Tower, the views were excellent as usual. The last thing I did in Toronto was have some proper Canadian food, the national dish of 'Pountine' for those that don't know, Poutine consists of Chips, Gravy and Cheese Curds. It was surprisingly nice.

    The last Canadian experience was Niagara Falls. One again a natural breathtaking beauty. However alot of the 'sights' around the falls are costly experiences. I would say that some are not worth it. For instance on the America side, there is a viewing platform that barely shows you anything that costs $15... yet if you walk around you get much closer and its free. Either way Niagara falls was excellent, I quite want to go back in Winter to witness it while frozen, which no doubt will again be quite a sight.

    That whistle stop review of Canada is all for now. I am in Chicago, I have met up with Welshie and as such shenanigans are occurring. However, for this you shall have to wait until the next time.
    Will post the photos when I get the time. Are plenty on the FB or Picasa in the meantime. (links to the topt)

    Lastly, Witnessed some Chicago thunderstorms today which were pretty cool.