Friday, 5 September 2008

Mount Rushmore

We've just left the famous Mt. Rushmore Momument in South Dakota. Most people would recognise the gigantic face of the four past presidents immortalised into the granite rockside of Mount Rushmore. But how many people could put a name to those giant busts? Not these three travelling folk, nope, we struggled to find this grand memorial on the map just a couple of months ago, let alone be in such an informed position as to be able to impart huge swathes of knowledge on unsuspecting bystanders. So, as Washington, Jefferson, Rooservelt, and Lincoln (left to right.... check me out! Knowledge!) looked on all ponderous and whatnot, we sat in an ampitheatre awaiting both waht promised to be a glorious sun set and what we'd been told was an informative and entertaining talk and light show. Well.... firstly we had managed to cock up crossing a timezone barrier thingy and thus took out seats in the auditorium an hour before we needed to, and baring in mind we had planned to get a placve 20mins before we thought the show started so as to land directors box quality positions, this mean't that three over-eager Britons set up camp a cool 80 minutes prior to anything actually being due to start. If it hadn't been for a handful of holidaying Germans routinely having towels laidout in preparation as per normal for them at 7AM that morning we could have felt a wee bit silly!

Then this mis-named "show" began. A a burly woman in the guise of a park ranger emered on to the stage and began what can only be described as 30mins of American self-gratification. The loose theme was freedom, but if America ever needs a little reminder that it is a great country, does great things and stands for all that is truely great in the world then is need look no further than this little spectacle. I don't wish to sound bitter, I'm all in favour of patriotism, we could definately use a tad more over in our little corner of the owlrd, but this felt forced, over the top, and stank someone plugging a cause which had lost dight of what the four chaps on the hill had worked so hard to create.

That all said an done, Mt. Rushmore was a very interesting, nice place to go for a visit and is set in some spectacular scenery. I asked as to the criterea required to get ones swede (head) up on the wall, but it appears my two Managers Player and one Players PLayer of the Year awards aren't sufficient acolades to warrent whacking my mug up there, seems my days as centre defender supremo for Duffield Dynamos may have been all to no end.

Anyways, off now to visit a new place, meet new people, and attempt to find a decent cup of tea.


Having spent a night in one of the most dodgiest littlest motels we could find, such a motel that is regularly found in generic US horror films, we arrived in Chicago about 10 in the morning. Unfortunately we couldn't check into our hotel until about 3 so we took this as time to go exploring and to stretch our legs after the previous days 12 hours spent driving from Buffalo.

Illinois' Windy City manag3ed to keep us well and truely entertained for 5 days and through such wonderful activities as military airshows, trips to the top of the worlds 3rd tallest tower, and eating pizza in the exact place the deep pan variety was concieved, we managed to further expand our knowledge of this small insignificant country.

Inbetween leisurely jaunts around some of the most impressive and unique architecture to be found in one place, and learning about the delights of 'freedom' in a museum devoted to this very american buzz term. We made time to sample a truely American obsession. No, I don't refer to fast food (which we do in fact sample on a far to regular basis) and no, not a Starbucks 'Thin-Mochachinno-Latte-Expresso" (which I've descovered roughly translates into English-English as 'coffee') Nope, none of these i make reference to. Our first experience was to be of the all american sport, Baseball!

We opted to attend a match of the Chicago Cubs over their local rivals the Chicago Sox, due mainly down to the explosive and blatently massively biased reaction of a resident Chicago-er over which team to see, but also slightly because i refuse to take a team seriously that is named after an item of footwear, the Florence Flip-Flops failed to get a visit either when i was in Italy, for very similar reasons! As it turned out, the Cubs were playing the Cincinnati Reds (you'll never guess what colour they play in!?!) later that week, so when the day arrived, we packed up our day bags, complete with Bologna "ham" sandwiches and jumped on the Metro bound for the home of the Cubs, the Scout Hut Arena! Nah, it's actually called Wrigley Field, but with a name like Cubs i had to get a joke in there somewhere, they're just lucky i didn't go with the one i had for woggle!

Our plans were to buy tickets then head to the beach for a few hours before kick-off, or throw-off, or whatever starts this new sporty concept. But, as with all things we're attempted to plan on this trip of continual cock-ups, we were scuppered by some ludicrous rule that said once you'd bought your ticket on match day, you had to enter the ground. We didn't really fancy this, yet we didn't want to risk not getting a ticket at all, so a compromise was struck where-by we'd sit in a bar just outside the ground, I'd eat my body weight in burgers then we'd dash over to the ground if it looked to be getting busy. We got tickets, all be them standing only, and thus our first exhilerating Baseball experience began.

I say exhilerating... well that'd be a bit of an exageration to say the least. Baseball lasts for 3 hours and consists of 9 innings with the winner being the bunch of knee sock, tight trouser wearing chaps who has the most points on the board at the end. I always understood the best way to get points was to hit the ball and to occasionally amble your way round the pitch passing the three mounds of sand as you go, but alas, it would appear not. For the first 7 innings and over 2 hours, it would seem the aim of the game was to miss the ball three times and then to go and sit back down in your little hut again. I'm sure all this is just a plot to get the public to continually exchange Dollar for food stuffs from the widest array of consumable-goods-dispensing-agents I've ever been priviledge to see. These peddlers of snack based wares offered pretty much anything and everything a bored hungry ball fan could want. This was good news because by the 8th innings (and the 23rd hotdog) arrived, the players finally decided it was a good time to start trying and the Cubs manged to notch up 5 scores against a Cinncinatti team who failed to get on the score board at all, in fact their batters looked as though the could of been swinging blind, with a trout instard of a bat, and not even a good trout at that, a trout that was poor at sport and always got picked last! So with out 'team' winning 5-0, and out grasp of the rules still nowhere nearer absolution, we traversed the Chicago Metro singing the imaginative team chant of "Go Cubs Go" all the way home!

All this excitment brought to an end our Chicago adventure and the beginning of the road trip to San Francisco. We all agreed Chicago was a lovely city, picturesque buildings, tuneful Jazz bars, tastey pizzas, and a very very tall tower, but for 1 of us it was time to head home to the UK, proper food, proper washing, proper pubs, and best of all.... proper tea! Lucky girl if you ask me. For the rest of us, it's onwards to where-ever we land next!

Buffalo (upstate New York!) and Niagara Falls!

**Coming soon... maybe**

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Washington, New York, Boston, and Montreal!

It seemed fitting to start out wee expedition in the same place the wee nation of America houses it's great leaders.

Washington DC was hot, very very hot. Upon out arrival at the 'hotel' I'd booked only a week earlier, the only requirement we held as a must was that it possessed air conditioning. More important than electric lights, more important than four walls and a roof was the importance that our humble dwelling provided air of the conditioned variety! Not only was conditioned air present, but the presence of all the other above mentioned luxuries was noted aswell, great success!

Aside from having devices for the conditioning of air, Washington DC (which stands for District of Columbia by the way, not to be confused with the Spanish speaking South American country, there's regularly huddles of confused drug cartel folk at the airport wondering where it all went wrong!) has one of the largest collections of free museums and galleries in the world. Which is nice when your trying to work on a very strict budget, a strict budget we didn't let on about when we went for a drink at one the capitols most prestigious cigar bars, frequented by Senitors, Congressmen, and NBC weathermen alike! We played the English card an got treated like we owned a yacht or two each, little did they know that not only did we not own any fancy boats, but i get sea sick so any nautical purchases on my part would most likely only stretch to a lylo, maybe a double lylo if im feeling particularly affluent! Anyway, after explaining that just because we have English accents doesn't mean we know the Queen or David Beckham, we left Washington, left the White House, Captiol Hill, the Lincoln, Washington, and Roosevelt Memorials, left the Roosevelt Lake with its peddalos, left the Hard Rock Cafe and the live Estelle performance we saw, left DC and headed towards NYC instead!

I've been to New York before, been to the sights, seen the lights, and listened to the arrogance of some American shites, but I still managed to get captivated once again by the sheer size of everything, the hustle and the continual bustle. If you ignore some of the more self-important New Yorkers then this marvellous city would never get old, never fail to impress, and forever turn up new offerings to all who travel to her. As for our little quartet of wiery wanderers we found many a wonder to keep us out of trouble during our brief stay amoungst the trials and tribulations of the Big Apple.

Between spending our evenings getting nose bleeds by popping up the extremely high Rockefeller Tower to stare in awe at the spectacular New York skyline as it glistened and twinkled in the moon light glow, and taking tours in the ever present double decker, open topped buses over the bridge and into Brooklyn, we also found time to take in one of the famous Broadway productions. Our show of choice was none other than the multi-award winning Monty Python spinoff, Spamalot! Spamalot is immensly funny, full of all the gags and turns of phrase that made the TV show and the films so very successful. From the Eric Idol inspired depiction of old England, to the in no way steriotypical portrayal of miming, beret wearing, baguette wielding Frenchmen, I don't believe that any demograph was safe from ridicule, yet all seemed to enjoy the humour and my sides appear to have only just recovered from splitting so much!

During our 4 nights in Manhatten we slept in 3 different hostels (one of which was in the notorious Harlem nieghbourhood!) due to a series of cock-ups by the hostels in question, and no amount of artistry or colourful language with the pen could truely do justice to how much of a royal fiasco the whole affair turned out to be, so just know that things didn't go to plan and we all went a tad greyer because of it. On a plus note though, we got a couple of nights free accomodation which was a definate Brucey bonus for the budget!

From the ornate and exquisitely presented Grand Central Station we left the city that never sleeps and rode an Amtrak train up the East Coast to the historic city of Boston!

I didn't know a great deal about Boston prior to our visit. I was ignorant to the importance that this little Atlantic port had played during the War for Independence in the late 1700's. Nothing more notable than the now imfamous Boston tea party! Upon hearing about this little event of 1773 I was excited and buzzing with anticipation. I believed I may have found my place in the world, this Boston actually held a party honouring the wonderous majesty of a proper, well made, well heated, well brewed cup of good old fashioned tea! After a quick bit of research however I was shocked, shocked to the very core of my being. This sick excuse for a party was in fact when a bunch of drunk, unruly, barbaric colonials jumped a British tea carrying vessel and tipped all the caffeine based leafy goodness overboard! I decided I no longer could relate to these people, it was apparent I wouldn't fit in here so i rounded up my companions (who were off enjoying the excellant local whale-watching, the informative and entertaining freedom trail, or generally exploring the lovely heritage sites and olde times buildings) and we took refuge from this place of heinus 'tea-icide' across the border in the Canadian city of Montreal!

First thing to report about Montreal, it's French. Very very French! When I signed up for a trip around North America, I had based my decision to come along on the assumption that i wouldn't have to learn a new language to understand the menu where-ever i went. I'd spent far too long last summer sitting in cafes in Siberia trying to translate the hyrogliphics they call an alphabet, to spend time trying to work out my escargots from my canards! After a few failed attempts to get food with my middle english accent requesting "Poo-Lett" and a hand full of quizical looks when we offered a "Mer-See Boo-Coop" my accomplices and I did the only truely British thing to do and found a Thai take-away for food, and a Mexican bar to have a skin full in, thus avoiding any need to adapt to local culture!

Disappointed with our previous days efforts at bi-lingual integration we set out on our second day in Canada to explore the downtown history and the fascinating revolation that most Montreal residents consider themselves French first, Canadian second! Madness!?!

Our cultural enlightenment didn't last long however as we headed back in the United States after only 3 days in the land of the Maple leaf. Next onto Buffalo and a visit to Niagara Falls for the band of 4 travelling-folk!

USA 2008

It's funny to think that im in the greatest, most developed country in the world and I still can't get a good cup of tea! I'm in the land that brought the world Micky Mouse, McDonalds, and Michael Moore. However, other than a preference to names beginning with 'M', giant eared rodents, fatty grease based burger emporiums, and overweight socialists, what else can a counrty first concieved 232 years ago offer an band of intrepid travellers from the other side of the pond?

Our little voyage of discovery and enlightenment started as do all great chapters in history, with a dream. Not as profound and earth shattering as the night time visualisations and realisations that Martin Luther King must of enjoyed I'm sure, but slightly more attainable and realistic than the sleepy delusions of magical humanisation that a young wooden puppet entertained. No, our dreams of wide open roads, giant tall buildings and all things American began without a hitch on 1st August 2008!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Top 60 Trip Photos

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The Lands of Mongolia

As I write this I'm sitting in student flat in Wales looking out the window at the rain clouds, the wind, and the multitude of people milling about. A stark contrast if ever there was one to the vast expanse of the Mongolian countryside. It's strange to think back to the endless stretches of grass, and sand reaching to the horizon on all sides, dotted with the sporadic home tents of nomadic locals (called Yurts we learned!). And then to consider the British countryside when one is never more than a stumble away from the nearest settlement, or at least the nearest Pub!

Without much to offer to the casual tourist, the capital city of UlaanBator is a friendly place with a population of merely 800,000. The locals seem to take great pride in the capital as the centre of civilisation and development in a nation traditionally considered to be full of a bunch of wandering country folk. UB (as it is referred to, thankfully, as UlaanBator is both hard to say and spell, I saw 3 different spellings in Mongolia itself!) served for us as a night stopover to get a shower, eat some quality fodder, and join a tour to the rural lands. The shower was required due to being on a train for 2 nights without facilities previously and then heading to live in tents for 5 days without washing facilities either. So in the interest of all mankind we dragged our carcases to the bathroom and spruced up before we headed out for a slap-up meal at one of UB's most highly regarded restaurants (worst travellers ever! Avoided the ever present temptation of McDonalds throughout though... proud of that!).

It's within the fields of Outer Mongolia that the true beauty of this country lies, with it's sprawling landscape forever providing breath-taking views and mind-blowing panoramic visions. Over the 5 days we spent out in the sticks we travelled around by converted military jeep with dubious suspension, lived in Yurts with singing and dancing nomadic families, and ate local food which provided the largest bout of the "squirts" any of us have ever experienced... Mongolia didn't know what had hit it... to say we left our little bit of England in Mongolia would be an understatement! (My apologises to my mother for talking about such subjects publicly, but I felt people should know the truth, and it'd help paint a picture, of which thankfully there are none on this particular subject!) The food was indeed nice however, but we all agreed the Mutton failed to successfully disguise itself as a Lamb, credit was given for effort though.

For the scenery (and the enormous birds!) Mongolia was truly a spectacle only going there yourself could describe, one of those places on the map we all say we'd go back to in a shot if the opportunity arrived. Unfortunately, as in the wise words of Nelly Furtado, "All good things come to an end", and thus we had to pack up our little model Yurts, miniture flags, and warm salty milk before boarding the last and final leg of the trip in the direction of the 2008 Olympic Games, China's capital city, Beijing!

**(This was written as we left UlaanBator in the middle of September, but unfortunately i've not had chance to update the internet until now, sorry!)**