Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The Longest Day

On Thursday the 18th January we got up for the last time in America, here's an account of the longest day in our lives.

Getting up, around 10 am, we spend most of Thursday the 18th hanging around the house and packing up, add a trip to Wallmart to get food for the flight and it's dinner time - cue Chellis who turns up to make us fried green tomatoes for our last supper. Having finished supper and said our cheerios to the family, we head off for Atlanta airport where our check-in is so early the next morning, we decide there's no point going to bed and might as well hang around a few hours extra there and let Brennen and Sarah get home to bed. Finally we board our flight and head for our connection at San Francisco. Arrive SFO, and have about 7 hours to kill so jump on a train into the city centre. Go for a walk along the shoreline, find a diner (I have possibly the best burger of my life), then head for pier 39, watch the seals and look across to the bridge and Alcatraz, then wander a little more before riding a tram back through the city centre. We find a little street cafe, have a coffee and spot a huge hotel with lifts shooting up and down the outside. Go to hotel, shoot up and down in the lifts and then get the train back to the airport. Board our flight to Auckland and spend the next 12 hours helping the old lady beside me work her in-flight entertainment (though it should be noted with about 30 on demand films and loads of TV programmes, and computer games, it was the best in flight system I've ever seen), get off plane and Meet Tanya (Nic's big sister), pop back to Tanya's for a bit, go for a walk up a hill to survey Auckland and through a lovely park, grab breakfast, then head round to Nic's uncle Brian who is having a family lunch following his 60th Birthday the night before. Meet all the family, head round to Nic's dad's which is to serve as our NZ HQ, have dinner, watch a bit of tele, pop out and look at Comet McNaught which is currently exciting New Zealand and then go to bed about 11pm Sunday the 22nd of January.

Quite the mission.

Sweet Home Alabama

The rest of the week was spent, just spending time with Sarah and Brennen and getting a flavour of deep fried southern life. Alabama is home to the world's nicest and most generous woman, Chellis, mother of Brennen. Chellis and her husband Jerry very kindly introduced us to the fine dining habits of the southerners and took us to lots of different restaurants around the area, including, most excitingly, a drive-thru diner. By the end of the week, I totalled up a fair number of new food experiences and I list them below for your perusal and awarded them a rating out of 5, 5 being good.

1. Beef Jerkey 3.5
2. Pork Scratchings -5
3. Low country boil 4 (meat and seafood platter)
4. Ocra 1 (deep fried side dish things)
5. Root Beer 5
6. Gritz -5 (wet porridgey cous-cousy thing)
7. Biscuits 2 (similar to scones but firmer)
8. Corn Bread 1
9. Gumbo 4 (brown soup with rice)
10. Corn Nuggets 3
11. Corn Dog 3
12. Fried green Tomatoes 4.5
13. Brunswick Stew 4.5
14. Twinkie -100
15. Moon Pie 2

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

From Alabama to Georgia

So finally we make it to Sarah and Brenen's and settle in to an easy few days, southern style. The first weekend there, the weather is unseasonably warm and we all decide that the best way to celebrate this is to go camping in a lovely town in Georgia, called Savannah. So, off we pop on a four hour drive across state borders and time zones to pitch our jumbo American sized tent in a lovely little camp site, tucked round the back, away from the jumbo American sized RVs, each trying to outdo the other with their satellite TV, 3 bedroom town house motor homes, probably with swimming pools in some of them.

Tent pitched, air beds inflated, we seize the evening and head off out for dinner, stopping at a seafood restaurant where one can look over to the alligator enclosure while chowing down. For those of a nervous disposition, there was also, obscurely, a bunny enclosure, separated by the grinning gators by chicken wire. Should anyone find themselves at the crab shack, tell me how many bunnies you count.

Fully fed we return to the camp site, looking forward to toasting our marshmallows over the camp fire and telling ghost stories through the night. However, on our return, we find a mystery story all of our own. What has happened to the bag of marshmallows we left on the picnic table? After little or no investigation, we decide a fat kid from one of the RVs obviously strolled passed and made light work of them but it would be a few hours later, when day broke and we found the cool box lying open on its side and a trail of food and wrappers leading into the hedges that we would discover the truth about the natural dining habits of raccoons.

The following day, we spent, in the town of Savannah itself. Savannah, is an enchanting town of yesteryear southern states America. It struck me at first that, oddly, it seemed in some ways, similar to a little Cornish village, the explanation would be in the stones used to cobble the roads and build the houses, coming straight from Plymouth as ballast in the bottom of the ships as they brought supplies to the colonies. This contemplation was quickly discarded on discovery of a sweet shop that made its own sweets on the premises and better yet, provided so many free samples that one didn't need to buy anything from it. Perhaps, the most most important note about Savannah though, is that it contains the church of the minister who wrote Jingle Bells. After discovering this fact, I must confess I tuned out somewhat from the rest of the open bus tour. What more is worth knowing about a town? Oh, I did discover one other fact, it is the home of the world's most monotonous tour guide. And, incidentally, it is also the home of Forest Gump, being the town where that and also 'midnight in the garden of good and evil' were filmed.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

We Make it to America (just).

So our journey has begun, and began it did at four o'clock in the morning on the 10th of January. First a flight to Heathrow, where we fought our way across to terminal 3, found the most pitiful, and only eating establishment in what must be the airport's worst terminal, hung around bored for a bit and then realised half an hour before boarding time, that we should have been in terminal 4. Raced across to T4, stood in a long queue full of people trying to skip it and made our way onto the flight for Washington.

What a fun flight we had. first of all, as we were all settling into our seats, pre-take off, a crazy lady further behind us, made her way up the entire compartment instructing everyone else, in no uncertain terms why they mustn't put their seat backs back or else we would all suffer the wrath. We could all be forgiven for thinking the nutter of the flight had made herself known but how wrong we were. About 5 hours into our flight, crazy lady number 2 comes to the fore. A lady of Somalian descent, we think, but now operating a hair braiding shop on Peach Street Atlanta, let loose a tyrade against the commander in chief, who she seemed to think we all knew personally. Apparently, we should all have known that her son was a marine, and what right did the US have for leading an assault against her personally. She had plenty to say, and wanted to make sure that everyone on the entire plane would listen to her. Sadly for her, her point seemed to be lost as the rest of us were far more interested in identifying the air marshalls who were no longer hidden amongst us, and the performance by the cabin crew as they instructed us to remain calm while we all had to sit down and buckle up. It was the best in-flight entertainment I can remember, comedy-thriller-slap-stick live action performance, great.

We arrived in Washington to transfer to our flight to Atlanta, where Nicola's sister, Sarah, and her husband Brennen were to pick us up, but thanks to United Airlines, now officially the worst carrier in the world, we were left stranded overnight, with no provisions of food, hotel or nuffink. Luckily for us resourceful chappies, we sorted ourselves out with both and successfully made it the following morning.