Saturday, 8 November 2008

A Trip Back In Time With Jazz & Wine

For our first public holiday over here we took the quick (40 mins) ferry to Waiheke Island. Essentially it’s a microcosm of New Zealand – green lush landscape, rolling hills and gorgeous bays.

We stayed in a nice hotel/B&B named “Breakfast On The Beach”. Being the only guests staying that weekend and being in their house, it was like staying with your really rich auntie and uncle. The owners were like the 80’s version of Margo and Jerry Ledbetter in “The Good Life”!

Examples of their 80’s opulence -

- Being picked up by one of owners in his Miami Vice style – Left hand drive convertible.
- Smoked Salmon and caviar canapés
- Ferrero Rocher
- After Eight mints
- Mo-Hair bed covers (mmmmm soft and warm)
- The owner’s wife wearing an electric blue oversize jumper and matching ear-rings.
- The denim place mats and matching napkins.
- A small decanter of port and appropriate glassware left in our bedroom each evening.

We were told by everyone in the build to our holiday that Waiheke Island has “its own separate micro-climate”. It does – it rained just about constantly from the moment we arrived! Despite the rain we spent a lovely Sunday travelling by bus to various vineyards who were hosting the Islands annual Jazz Festival, culminating at the StoneyRidge vineyard – and to continue in the 80s theme they played the entire Sade album (“Diamond Life” for those who wanted specifics). Wine and Jazz = nice (although slightly marred by Sade)!

We also managed to find Irish bar in Waiheke. As you’ll know Irish bar’s the world over are famed for their warm welcome and chatty / friendly staff. There seems to be an exception to the rule – Waiheke Island! We arrived to a grunt of disapproval from the woman behind the bar and even the offer of a drink (surly a winner in any Irish bar!?) simply encouraged a response of “………….no”. In the bar there was a juke-box not only that but a free juke-box! Again you think, surely a winner- There was however one catch, someone (most likely our disenchanted Irish host) had but on roughly 3 hours of Gaelic music, some of which I’m pretty sure contained some strong anti-English sentiment.

We actually really enjoyed our time in Waiheke and we’ll defiantly head back, possibly not to the Irish Bar and probably not until summer!
Over the past month we’ve led a pretty quiet life. Weekends have been spent locally, around Mission Bay or St Heliers sitting out in the sunshine, walking and exploring. We do however have an event in the calendar … J’s 30th birthday is on Wednesday November 12th!

We’re also waiting for the arrival of Rob and Bernie Lanaway who are travelling around the world on their honeymoon. Copycats.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A Fat Russell Crowe & Some Places To Avoid

In May 2008 we wrote a quick top 5 places we'd like to live, perhaps influenced by recency - hence lots of USA placements. The list was -

New York
Chicago
Athens GA
Sydney
Christchurch

Continuing in High Fidelity style, here are October 2008 top 5 places we'd like to live ...(in no particular order!):

New York
San Francisco
Auckland
Athens GA
Rarotonga

Note: We really are loving living in New Zealand!!!

Also, here are our top 5 places not to live - (October 08)

1)Iraq - Pretty obvious, insurgents shooting at USA troops, USA troops shooting at anyone, no facilities, a government that doesn't work and screwed infrastructure. Mission accomplished!

2) Iran - Oh come on, we all know what's coming.

3) In any home with an Icelandic Bank mortgage.

4) Zimbabwe - Inflation running at 231000000% and 90%+ unemployment. Oh, and no particular love of "the white man".

5) Eastbourne - So full of old people it looks like a scene from Cocoon (possibly a bit harsh on Eastbourne but I've made the font small so it's unlikely anyone there will be able to read the blog)

A few more bit and pieces to report:

We watched "Body of Lies" last night which we both agreed was superb (not often that happens!). It ticked all the right boxes - political, spy-orientated thriller, with a hint of underplayed romance, cultural incompatibility and extremely good acting. And if you ever wondered what Russell Crowe would look like if he morphed into the fat Marlon Brando, see this film!

The honeymoon continues - We've booked our first New Zealand trip, to Waiheke Island for Labour day (a public holiday at the end of October.) Sun, sand and vineyards - what more could you ask for from a holiday?

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A Missing Stair-Gate & A Country With No Talent

The biggest news from our last couple of weeks has been saying goodbye to "The Hird Of Hirds" (Mark & Jen + Euan & Callum). They departed these shores last Sunday to move their life back to to the UK. Having had them live with us for two weeks it felt very strange to walk up-stairs to our lounge and not have to negotiate the child safety stair-gate. Hirds - We still miss you all!

Our routine continues pretty much as normal, work M-F, drinks on Friday night and then watching pre-recorded Premiership football on Sunday mornings. It'd be great if I could just manage to correct that M-F bit.

In regards to work - J has settled into her office job. She's a "Policy Administrator", she has her own desk / own e-mail and at this point AIG is still afloat - it's all good!

My work is somewhat up in the air - major changes in the HR department mean I'm saying goodbye to my "Solutions Consultant" job title - and hello to my new job title of "HR Consultant". It's a sad day - I was quite proud of such a meaningless title - It was only second to Gav Nunns who once presented me with his business card noting him as a "Knowledge Engineer". Nice.

Terrestrial TV over here is currently showing "New Zealand's Got Talent" This may be a shock to you but - FYI: New Zealand has NO talent. The acts range from a bartender pouring cocktails to a poor mans Gaelic jig band who note they are inspired by Scottish Gaelic bands - eh - isn't it the Irish jig?

The other thing that's running on TV over here is a series of anti-drink driving tv adverts. I've linked one to the blog - They do call it as they see it over here! Note: they did have one featuring a female drink driving, obviously it ended badly and was capped by the phrase - "if you drink and drive - your a stupid bit@h". They drew the line at this one, it never made the airwaves.

We think our favourite local barman is in fact an alcoholic! Last Friday we were feeling a Little antisocial and decided to go to a different bar after work (not our local - Tabac). Sitting down and enjoying a Corona we were surprised to see our barman friend stroll up to the bar in his work attire, order a vodka shot - hammer it in one and then walk out the door. Being inquisitive we decided to follow him - guess where he went - Tabac. He was at the start of a 8 hour shift. Hardcore (and possibly in need of help)!! Perhaps finding friends outside of bars/pubs is the way
forward!

We'll soon have visitors - We'll be saying hello to Emma (a friend of J's) in October shortly followed by a visit from Rob & Bernie in November. It'll be great to see some friendly faces. We've got plenty of room so if your reading this how about NZ as your next holiday destination - free accommodation!!!

Finally, we're planning to learn to drive early in the new year. That's right folks at the age of 30 I've decided it's time to get mobile!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Domestic Mayhem & AIG

Well it's been quite a month.

I guess anyone that knows myself or Janine will know that we flew back to the UK on the sad news that Malcolm had passed away. We'll never forget the support from our friends & family - Thank you all, we couldn't have got through it without you.

You may be interested to know that J has now got a permanent job in the CBD. She's working for American Insurance Group (AIG). Heard of them? .... If you've watched the news over the past month you should have ...

What a choice of company - on the plus side, an office job that means a 9-5, no weekends & a daily opportunity to wear nice shoes .... there are however a few downsides:

- William Hill have stopped offering odds on the company going bust.
- They are currently being investigated by the FBI
- This one concerns me the most ................. They sponsor .... I'm struggling with this ................ they sponsor... Manchester United FC!

Anyway, J has just survived day three and they've even paid her in advance - considering they're potentially going bust, quite a nice gesture!

We also have some housemates .....

Jennifer & Mark Hird, 2.5 children and two fish have moved in with us! Going from a quiet life with zero children to happy mayhem has been an unexpected pleasure! There is also the added bonus of a full pantry and someone as competitive as The Bad Man who enjoys playing on the Wii (note this is Mark not one of the kids).

As an example of Mark's competitive streak ... Whist writing this Mark has just confessed to once being challenged to fit 5 Cadbury's cream eggs into his mouth at one time (note - not by me), accepting the challenge he reaching a grand total of 4. Anyone care to challenge? Bad Man?

On popular request we've added on some video clips of where we live - feel free to browse from the menu on the left hand side of this page. Note the weather on the video clips - It's Winter and we hit 20 degree C!

Anyway, we will endeavour to keep the blog updated - please keep voting on the polls - it tells us people are reading!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

We live in Hobbiton

It's true - we have moved to what can only be described as "Hobbiton"! No, it's not due to being surrounded by small people with hairy feet (although there are a few) more that ...

- Everyone is super friendly - Bus stop conversations actually happen.

- The biggest news is "Cat Up Tree" type stuff, see (from the main NZ paper):
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10528004

- They just don't care - Eg: "Boobs on Bikes", see:
http://www.livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/08/20/Boobs_on_Bikes_draws_a_mixed_crowd

- At the Olympics New Zealand being slightly more successful than Tonga is a major success.

- The commute from home to work is 25 mins and does not include any of the following:

1) Waiting for a late train or buses
2) Having to stand on said late train or bus.
3) Having to stand on said late train or bus and being forced into a randoms armpit.
4) Having to stand on said late train or bus, being forced into a random's armpit and being subjected to beggars / druggies.

- The Kiwi's stay away from global politics. Seriously try and find something recent on the BBC regarding New Zealand that isn't something to do with a) the Olympics b) Rugby or c) Storms. Go on try, there's nothing!

Other big news - At least for myself and Mrs Smith is .... Lazy (our local bar in London) has closed! Now for many of you this will mean nothing, but for us it's really sad news! For those of you that know what life for us was like in London (noisy neighbours etc) you'll appreciate that for over a year Lazy was like a 2nd home! We're not really sure what happened - Personally I'm going for it closing down due to the fact that a major revenue stream moved to New Zealand. Actually, if the rumour mill is correct, the landowner put up the ground rent to such a point they couldn't operate a business and make a profit. The person who owns the land will demolish the building and put up flats - therefore making a tidy penny I'm sure. God bless you Lazy - gone but not forgotten.

Aside from getting into the work routine there's probably little else to tell you. Only that we went Kayaking in the sea last weekend. Note to self: The sea in winter is very, very cold - Do not repeat.

Christmas is now certain - Obviously not "Christmas" which is always certain, but rather us coming back to the UK for Christmas. December 22nd until early Jan. Be warned - presents will be pretty standard this year - Fake hobbit feet for one and all!

Oh ... a couple of new photo's have also been added, scroll down to view.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

It's Life Jim ...

Life in New Zealand (ie two weeks of life in New Zealand) is looking good. My job is now no longer completely alien and the 25 minute door to door commute is pretty special. J is enjoying the luxury of trying to find the job she really wants and may get a part time job to keep her in shoes.

We've had our first cyclone over here. A pretty crazy topical storm that meant we were completely housebound for 2 days - Nothing to do with ploughing through Series 5 of 24 on DVD, honest. :0)

Onto the more important news ... We've found a local!! It's not Mission Bay (close to us) but rather in the centre of Auckland. Small, virtually unmarked back street bar called Tabac (google it!).

We're on a friend hunt over here - don't worry no-one is being replaced. Although I should note that I'm quite shallow and in the past have found friendship closely linked to big fat presents arriving through the post! Applications to: 20A Rukutai Street, Orakei, Auckland 1071.

Final bit of news - it looks like we'll be heading back to England in December, just for a few weeks. It'll be great to catch up with everyone!

Keep us up to date with your news:

andrewsmith1@hotmail.com
jharrison103@yahoo.co.uk

or add comments to the blog.


ps: If you check the links on this page the Aqua Pacific advert "orr .. I've had a bit", (just classic) features the police woman who took me on my driving test in Rarotonga. Small world - or small island more accurately.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Nesting in New Zealand

When we arrived in Auckland 7 days ago we were homeless & jobless. This situation has now been remedied!

We have rented a beautiful 3 bedroom housed in Mission Bay 10 mins walk from the beach and a 20 minute bus ride from downtown. It's also 20 mins walk from some close friends (Mark & Jen Hird) who have made our transition to New Zealand really smooth. If you're reading this Mark / Jen - Thanks, we simply couldn't have done it without you!

I've also found work which will no doubt be a massive shock to the system! I have gained employment with the Bank Of New Zealand as a "Solutions Consultant"!

J is currently trying to set herself up as a music journalist so watch this space for NME's next big thing!

We are currently running a book on who's going to be the first person to come out and see us in New Zealand. Odds are currently running as follows:

9/4 - Rob / Bernie
3/1 - Matt / Lucy
4/1 - Beaker / Flo
6/1 - My Mum /Malc
7/1 - Bex
8/1 - Tom Threlfall
10/1 - J's Brother Al
12/1 - J's Sister Suzy / Neil
15/1 - Jim and Sarah
18/1 - J's Mum / Dad
19/1 - Beckie Jennings
20/1 - Anna Walsh
21/1 - G-Ham
22/1 - Gavin / Lesley Nunns
23/1 - Jane Skelton
24/1 - Nicola Lipson / Gary
32/1 - One of my Brothers (x3)
33/1 - Mathew / Ami Pickering
40/1 - Dave /Sarah Bowles
290/1 - Catherine Budd ... Are you still alive?

(Note: This has no bearing on who we want to come and see us!!!!!!)

5 quid minimum bet and you can't back yourself - Remember ... "It matters more when there's money on it"!

Don't forget to vote ... new poll now up and running.....

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Blimey it's cold!

Cook Islands = 30 degrees (min)
New Zealand = 10 degrees (max)

We're cold - brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

After an amazing month in the Cook Islands, we finally had to leave as there was a strong possiblity we might stay there for ever! We are now in New Zealand and have started to assimilate back into the real world, looking for jobs and somewhere to live. Boo!

We flew into Auckland but in an effort to delay the inevitable & extend the honeymoon (not sure when we stop calling it a honeymoon?!) we headed down to Christchurch to stay with Hoppy & Michelle for a few days. Having almost drunk / eaten them out of house & home, it's soon time to leave! Next week involves interviews for Andy in Auckland and an effort to become slightly less homeless.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Life's A Beach

Apologies for the lack of blog updates, as expected our time in the Cook Islands has been uneventful – Exactly as we wanted. Life quite literally is a beach.

How to create a simple life. Be on an island:-

• That’s 20 miles by 20 miles wide.
• Where the only bus routes are Clockwise & Anti Clockwise.
• That has nothing but “bounty beaches”.
• That has super friendly inhabitants.
• Where the only supermarket on the island has full shelves once a week when the cargo boat lands.
• Where everything closes on a Sunday, except the Churches & the Pubs (Hic! Amen.)
• Where you’ll never hear the annoying ring of a mobile phone – there aren’t any.
• Where petrol prices only change once every 3 months when a new shipment is delivered.
• Where the TV has only one channel but still manages to show Euro 2008!
• Where there are only two main roads. One “ocean circular road” one “inland circular road”.
• Where, even though restaurants aren’t abundant there is an Italian serving pizza (note: J’s a happy girl!).

Now I know I’ve got to be careful here; if you’re reading this and you’re not one of the “lucky retired” then you’ll probably have had, or are currently having (naughty internet use!) a day at work, the last thing you want to hear is about life in the sun. I’ll keep it short, it’s been a wonderful few weeks and the perfect answer to the excess of America. There – Done. That wasn’t so bad was it.

I should also mention we did meet our meet our first chavs - The lesser spotted Kiwi Chav. Our experience of Kiwi Chavs is based on a bus journey where we had the misfortune to be directly in front of them. The description is as follows:

- Drunk at 7am …. That’s right seven in the AM!!!
- Not afraid of giving the wife a good open handed “love tap” in public.
- Whistling at their children like dogs to get their attention.
- Peppering their sentences with swear words that’d make Roy Chubby Brown proud.
- A wife that is over 40 and dressing like a 14 year old.
- Two uncontrollable children whom the parents had no inclination or ability to control.

Ps: Life is amazing – Golden beaches, temperatures never below 20 degrees, drinks at mid-day (why not), lying in every day, sunshine each day, wonderful tans, great food and great company. Sorry – couldn’t resist.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Lost With A Scooter

We have spent the few days here whizzing around the Island on a scooter (Andy passed his scooter driving test out here – no doors to close!), swimming in the sea and cooking for ourselves. The greatest joy for me on the 1st day, after doing a bit of shopping was getting back to the flat and making myself a cheese sandwich - just cheese in bread - (if you’ve travelled through America, you’ll understand, simplicity in food is not their forte!). Enough of my self-imposed food issues – We are in paradise now!

Rarotonga itself resembles the island in Lost, with a big ominous volcanic rock at the centre, an impenetrable rainforest surrounding it, and a beautiful sandy beach (And probably the same amount of people living on it too!) Note: no black mist or polar bears to date.

Anyway, it’s been cloudy since we’ve arrived but still hot (25+), and the sea is perfect for swimming in. Andy swam out to the reef yesterday, and saw fish. I read a book on the beach and watched sand crabs scuttle about. I believe this is how our month will be spent. Happy Times!

Needless to say, we probably won’t be updating the blog too often over the next month – but keep leaving comments as it’s nice to know you still remember us (though once Andy’s beard is fully grown you may not recognise him).

Janine

Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Eating Of Squirrels

I must admit, I’m a little concerned that my friends and family consider to be a “squirrel eater”. It wasn’t even close (nine votes – you know who you are!) …. Is it something I’ve said, do I have a strange reaction that I don’t know about when I’m in the company of squirrels? Please enlighten me.

The correct answer to the poll was in fact – Option D (Janine has eaten more veggie burgers than pizza in America). I kid you not – It surprised me as well for the girl we all know to be something of a pizza addict but the veggie burger v pizza score came in at an astounding (12/6).

Thanks again for voting – I’m off to see if I can fulfill my apparent destiny, watch out squirrels.

Will the one person that did in fact get the answer correct please come forward to collect your prize.

Hippies’, Hot Stuff & Some Rather Impressive Hills

Having done our research as clever little travelers, by reading the Rough Guide, we knew San Fran had no train stop, so we booked our ticket to go to the nearest station – Oakland. The Rough Guide explicitly says Oakland is the ONLY connection to San Fran, whereas the nearest town, Emeryville, has NO transport at all. Just try to imagine the surprise of two travelers fast asleep in their bunks, hearing over the intercom that “If you’re travelling on to San Fran get off right now in, you’re at Emeryville – the ONLY connection to San Fran!” ….. We’re talking some very quick dressing (t-shirt inside etc etc) and a super quick exit from the Amtrak. Thanks once again Rough Guide!

We have now spent 5 very enjoyable nights in San Francisco. Great weather in a beautiful city with lots to see / do and lots of great places to eat / drink. The only one downside we found was the hills – They really are something special (see photo below). This meant a five minute walk from A – B became either a 2 minute journey (down) or a 20 minute journey (up). We now have extremely strong legs!

Now we’re getting towards the end of the USA experience I should note that it’s been an interesting cultural experience. Rather than talk about the difference is politics, poverty levels or socio-economic demographics I’ll say this ……. American restaurants just can’t spice their food (Hot Chicken Wings in Athens as the exception)! Now I’m not a “Vindaloo Boy” and never go crazy but English restaurants do know how to prepare a spicy dish. This was my firm believe when I arrived in San Fran and on eating another curry (note: given my boredom to date I did ask for something hot) another mild, mild, mild dish …. Then ………………………... Has anyone heard of Birds Eye Chilies’? ... Apparently the preparation of choice in San Fran is not to disseminate the spice over a whole dish, simply to throw kill-you-hot chilies into the food. It’s was J saying “are you Ok – you’ve gone very very red” that gave it away - Not to mention the fact that I thought I’d eaten a hot lump of coal!

It’s a popular belief in England that we have the “most surveyed country” (eg CCTV cameras) but I swear the yanks have us licked. I grant, you can’t see CCTV in every town centre, however when you see a sign on a bus saying “we are currently recording your picture (nothing new there) ……. “and your voice” you do start to think that society is being monitored closely over here. Do I feel safer for being monitored “no” … have I remained silent on local bus journeys “yes”.

As we had 5 nights in San Fran we went to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Aparently, to make an good / solid Indiana Jones film, the recipe is as follows:

- One portion of Eastern European bad guys (who can’t aim for love nor money)
- Two portions of rather angry natives (again see comment above for aiming skills)
- A heaped teaspoon of a greedy friend, who Indy just can’t quite save
- One portion of handsome man, preferably Harrison Ford (note if your HF is past its best, a fresher, younger HF substitute can be used)
- Three portions of rather elaborate ancient doors and booby traps
- One snake (obviously)
- More than a hint of nasty insect
- A dash of power mad villain
- Finally, top off with a nice clean Black and White plot – Morality is clear people!

Haight Ashbury is the Hippy part of San Fran, lots of tie-dye and incense burners. It has a bounty of vintage shops and something called “Amoeba Records”.
On entering Amoeba Records I honestly thought I’d lost my wife – It was the strange vacant glint in her eye, the slightly open mouthed expression and then fact that she almost sprinted into the music section. I should explain that Amoeba Records is an IKEA size store containing nothing but music and film. Folks, if you have a muso as a wife, expect to lose her, and a large portion of cash if you ever visit this establishment. (Note: Mum, more vinyl on the way home!).

Top 3 tourist things we did in San Fran:
1) Alcatraz – Excellent audio tour of the prison, smelt of bird poo.
2) Napa / Sonoma Valley Wine Tour – Beautiful countryside - Hic.
3) Went to the Golden Gate bridge (for those of you that don’t know this – J has a fascination with bridges – odd but true!)

New stop LA then the Cooks Islands!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Room With A View And A Basement Without One

3 Things we did in Seattle:

- Laughed hysterically at John Terry (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha - sorry – I just can’t help it! )
- Met J’s parents and went on the Mono-Rail (nowhere nearly as exciting as it ought to have been)
- Found a shop that sold English Tea (don’t take it for granted folks – You get withdrawal symptoms when deprived for more than a month!)

Two other stories from Seattle:

- Apparently announcing that you're on Honeymoon to anyone that will listen on arrival in a hotel gets you a great room – who knew? Thank you the Hyatt - The 29th Floor Hotel Suite which was without doubt bigger than our flat in London was a very pleasant experience (not to mention the complimentary chocolates and champers!). Janine did refuse to step within a meter of the hotel room window but who needs the edge of a room.

- The Seattle Underground Tour is overrated. When they have the audacity to announce (note: once payment has been received) that the “Underground Tour” is really “just walking round a few basements” you know you’ve been done. Factually interesting, visually deprived.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Mountain Views, Mashed Potato & A Minor Lapse Of Concentration

After spending a lovely day with my new Mum & Dad (ie Janine’s folks) in Seattle we headed over on the bus / ferry to Port Angeles where they now live.

To describe their new town as “different from Middlesbrough” would be like saying “John Terry was a little upset on Wednesday night”. J reassures me that Boro is not all smog, gak and heavy industry but even she acknowledges that Port Angeles with it’s clean air and mountain views is really something special. You know you’ve left Boro behind when you see deer in the back garden!

J’s parents, having just moved to the States are setting up their new life and America being America a big part of that is being able to drive the American way. J’s Dad took us out to the beach, a 160 mile roundtrip from Port Angeles through some gorgeous scenery. He was doing so well, mastering the stopping at junctions, traffic lights with no amber and keeping pace with the ever changing speed limits. There was however one brief lapse of concentration where he reverted to his natural English driving and drifted into the left hand lane …. Needless to say all the passengers in the car and the oncoming traffic reminded him where he was.

On our parental road-trip we stopped for sustenance at a lovely roadside café. If you’ve ever wondered where the animals heads go after a successful American Hunting Party has passed through the forest I give you the Forks Coffee Shop / Diner (aka: The Animal Graveyard Diner). Never outside an English stately home has such a fine selection of animal heads been displayed. See photo below for exhibit 1 of many.

Our trip to Port Angeles has left us well fed! J’s pining for home cooked food (like mama-used-to-make) was satisfied with mashed potato with gravy and cheesy scones courtesy of her mum; my constant craving for Steak (seriously – it’s like an addiction) was sated at J’s Auntie June’s with a meat feast BBQ (and significant portions of green stuff to placate the veggie one).

Thought for the day – If I put together all the animal parts that I’ve eaten in the USA would I be able to make a full creature?
- Pig Ribs
- Chicken Wings
- Beef Steak (multiple varieties)
- Lamb Shank

It’d be a monster – Albeit a very hollow, headless monster (faces & giblets are not on the menu!!).

A & J

Friday, 23 May 2008

Hoboville v Hotel Babylon & A Man With A Short Straw

After the Minneapolis experience and the missing Mississippi Mile we didn’t bother to read the Rough Guide to Vancouver and instead just headed out into the city to explore. It was all going so well – Nice shops (J found another great vinyl store), superb café’s / restaurants and nice cobbled streets. Then we turned the corner ……… BAM ……… HOBOVILLE.

The scene we were confronted with was Shaun Of The Dead meets Resident Evil Extinction meets 28 Weeks Later (minus the flesh eating , although it should be noted that just because we didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening). A whole 2 city blocks of nothing but homeless, druggies and hookers (and homeless druggie hookers!). Groups of people shuffling along the sidewalks, staring into the middle distance as though their life spirit had left them with last night’s vomit.

The following extract is taken from the Vancouver Rough Guide (read on the return to our zombie free hotel):

“It’s a grim sight – Derelict buildings, boarded up shops and battered streets; the domain of addicts, pimps, prostitutes and the homeless. It is strongly recommended that you avoid this area after dark and preferably during the day as well when you should consider a bus or taxi to pass through this area.”

Rough guide karma had kicked in, I will never doubt the Rough Guide again!

On a more upbeat note, the hotel we stayed at in Vancouver was amazing (Opus hotel)! A beautiful room, excellent location and once again a sandwich-man only a button press away. I mention the hotel, not to wallow in my sandwich-man world but rather to note something incredibly surreal about the establishment …. It was just like Hotel Babylon!!! Not just the décor but more the fact that everyone there was beautiful 24/7, from the people on Check In to the Bell Boy to the Sandwich Man (sorry – he had to get one more mention) they all looked like they were just out of filming - All it needed was an Ex-Eastender as hotel manageress and they’d be set.

During our stay we headed out to Stanley Park, a huge natural woodland area on the edge of Vancouver. Unfortunately the day we decided to do this it began raining and didn’t stop. Being weather hardened Brits, we laughed in the face of the torrential rain and headed out on bikes, up and around the 4 miles bike trail. We saw very few people (which was nice after the freaky zombie experience); very few people that is apart from one crazy man with a brolly (that he wasn’t using despite the rain), who kept popping up at various points along the way - Always in front of us, which was pretty odd considering we were on bikes and he was walking.

All in all, it was very pretty (ie green) and we got superb views of Vancouver bay (ie blue). We saw black squirrels (did anyone realise there was such a thing?), big Redwoods, and Janine even insists she saw a bear (although given that there aren’t any bears in Stanley park I’m somewhat skeptical and think this may in fact have just been a large black squirrel!).

Finally, we’ve now noticed it a few times over here – Americans have very defined job responsibilities and their not afraid to stick rigidly to them!

This couldn’t have been more apparent that on re-entering the USA from Canada. We pulled up to the American boarder Immigration / Customs to be met by a large building housing 6 turnstiles all with booths for paperwork inspection. The boarder station had some 15 Immigration Police all lolling around on our arrival just waiting for an opportunity to spring to life and fulfill their “Boarder Patrol Code” as advertised for all to see on large posters in the station. Point 5 of the code: “to process all entrants to the country with speed and respect” …. The operation looked like a coiled spring – At any second due to burst to life and show us all the American efficiency that has conquered the world..... Spring to life they did not!

15 border patrol men – 6 gateways – it shouldn’t take long to process 40 bus passengers should it? Well, no, it shouldn’t … and it wouldn’t if more that 1 of these 15 was actually doing anything other than sitting on their ass. Rather than open up extra gates and get us moving, 14 of the 15 police adopted the stance of “sorry Sir – we only process the US citizens”. This left one poor chap (short straw?) to process the 20 + non-US passengers. As per point 8 of the code “we welcome your comments and opinions in regards to our service” I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to the head of USA Immigration ………… Perhaps once I’ve safely exited the USA!

A & J

Ps: Thanks for all those that voted on the recent "Beard Poll" and especially to those that voted in favour of the furry chin. Given the draw (not quite sure how!) it's now been decided that beard growing will commence in the Cook Islands (ie after passing through USA immigration). For all of you that voted for the "Ginger Tramp" option - All I have to say is this ... I'm homeless and jobless, the beard is en-route - Deal with it! :0)

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A Rocky Ride....

We were both a little worried about 38 hours on a train together in a confined space. Any-how, just to report, J got off after 5 hours with a "headache" and I'm now single again.

Just kidding, the journey was actually OK and the views through the Rockies were just spectacular, we're still happily married and have just celebrated our first month anniversary.

Due to the length of the journey we'd booked a "roomette" - The next best thing to a bedroom on the train - It's a cabin with two chairs that converts into a bunk bed at night. Do you remember how much fun bunk beds were when you were children? The difference here being your bedroom wasn't rocking at around 45 degrees at random intervals during the night. Not being the most sensible fellow and lets face it ... a little childish I bagsied top bunk - On seeing the safety harness I realised this was an errant decision.

Meals on the train were a time to meet fellow travellers, chat about life, where they were going and why - Highlights as follows:

Breakfast with Pat. A really nice guy from North Dakota who we chatted to for a couple of hours before being asked to leave the breakfast car as they needed to tidy up for lunch. Pat if you're reading this it was a pleasure chatting to you and I hope you manage to make it through Dante - The Inferno. Keep in touch!

Over dinner we were seated with our first classic Fat White American - Nice guy but conversationally not that gifted and certinaly not blessed with a grasp of world geography. The conversation when something like ....

Yes - I'm sure the rivers do run faster in the West
Yes - It's impressive that your "one friend" did catch a 2 foot salmon.
No - Contrary to your firm belief, England is not further North than Canada. (The only thing we can think is that he got England confused with Greenland.)
Yes - Of course it's perfectly acceptable for you to have no inclination to leave Northern America. As you so eloquent put it - "why would I, everything you need is here".
Yes - Three slices of dessert cake is too much.

On arrival into Seattle we jumped for joy knowing our 38 hour train journey was over. Only to realise that we had another 3 hours on a bus to Canada - Not helped by a sizable portion of Canadian bureaucracy at customs.

No - I'm not a terrorist
No - I have no intention of going to a farm in Canada.
Yes - We are married but our names do differ on the passports.
No - I've never been to Canada before
No - After this interrogation I have no intent of living here.

We're now in Vancouver and slumming in a rather nice hotel called the Opus.

Yes - It is expensive.
No - I don't care.


A & J

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Missing Mile In Mini-Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a very pretty and small city with nice architecture, beautiful green spaces, an abundance of coffee shops and the biggest mall in the world (I kid you not - this place really does have the biggest mall in the world - They're so proud!). The only one, slight problem with Minneapolis is ................ There's sod all to do. Seriously, nada.

The first morning we set out to walk the city with our "must see sights" list taken directly from the Rough Guide.

Fact – The author of this Rough Guide (9th Ed) has never been to Minneapolis!

We went out to find the much touted “Mississippi Mile”. The Rough Guide describes the Mississippi Mile as “a great place to walk along the river with it’s impressive falls and numerous bars / restaurants for dinning and entertaining”.

It’s lies I tell you …………. LIES!!!

The Mississippi Mile is a tow path. The Mississippi Mile has zero bars and / or restaurants and I’ve seen more impressive waterfalls in the urinal of a men’s toilet (god – I’m so eloquent I could write for the Rough Guide – At least it’d be accurate!).

In sheer desperation for something to do we found ourselves in a games arcade, J’s numerous protests ceased on seeing “House Of The Dead (4)” picking up the pump action shotgun quicker than you can say Zombies (see photo below for the crazed zombie killer look!). We did obviously play numerous other games …… All I’ll say is that pool is my domain - Apparently Air Hockey is Janine’s.

The only person there enjoying the Zombie killing more that Mrs Smith was a 3 year old child being taught one of the basics of American life – How to shoot a minimum of 40 people per minute (again see photo – These people really exist!).

To carry on our “lets act like American Teenagers” phase we just had to go hang out in The Mall Of America. What can I say – It’s a mall …. it’s big …. In fact it’s very big.…. And it’s in America.

Even though we were in a nice hotel (The Grand) and pressing a button made a man appear at the door with sandwiches (god I love that button!), you'll be pleased to know that the traveller spirit has remained intact. Breakfast was provided by Goldman Sachs who occupied the meeting room across the hall, we snuck out of our room at 8am to steal their bagels and muffins. In addition the only time we drank in the hotel bar was "Free Cheese & Wine Hour" - Although on our request for a 4th glass of wine the waitress did get a little shirty. Damn cheapskates!

And that pretty much sums up our time in Minneapolis. We’re now preparing for a 38 hour train ride across the top of America … That’s right folks … you heard it here first …. 38 hours on a train. Oh god.

Chicago – Top 5

Well Chicago was quite simply amazing. Everyone raves about New York (and with good reason!) but Chicago is really up there in terms of a great city.

On arrival we dashed from the B&B over to a bar showing the final premiership games….. As usual the sports bar was packed with Man Utd – Pseudo Fans (have any of these people ever been to Manchester?). I managed to get through the whole Man Utd winning the league experience without mentioning a plane crash or noting the semblance of Rooney to Shrek. I still feel proud of myself.

We both looked on with disbelief & joy as Boro totted up 8-1 score line against poor Sven. Me thinks a new manger is on the cards.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for Crowded House – only the 4th time J’s seen them since they reformed last year…not quite stalking by your standards Bex, but up there…! They were playing in an intimate venue called the Vic Theater and we got there in good time to get to the front by the barrier. Highlights were Private Universe and singing along to Don’t dream it’s over & Weather with you. As they were less than a 1000 people in the audience it was a great atmosphere and the band were on good bantering form. After the 2 and half set J enquired about a set list from the underused security guy - he was no use, so I requested one from the roadie on stage: “Excuse me mate, Can I have a set list?” This came out as a cross between a Kiwi / Oz / Barrow boy accent, but we were obviously talking the same language as it seemed to do the job! Result – one happy wife!

The next day was spent exploring Chicago, and whilst perusing our map to work out the best way home we were accosted by a man who said “Follow me, I’m going that way” and off he sped with us behind him. Once we’d put aside the natural British tendency to consider any stranger that talks to you a potential killer, we discovered we’d found Doug, our temporary Chicago tour guide & American commentator. Doug, if you are reading this, thanks for helping us out and keep in touch!

Ray’s B&B was amazing and in a great location. On the street corner was a pub called the Corner (you don’t have to be creative here!), where we popped in for one on the way to get some food, realised the pints of Miller Lite were $1.50 and the pub had an ATM, and that we were in trouble! We then proceeded to spend the remainder of our Chicago budget drinking Miller Lite and asking the guys and the dog at the bar various inane questions about the rules of American sports (the dog wasn’t much help). To their credit they guys didn’t once call us stupid English, though they may have thought it!

Chicago was the 1st place we felt sad we hadn’t had enough in, and it goes on the top 5 of desirable places to live. In honour of High Fidelity here are the top 5 so far (in no particular order!):

New York
Chicago
Athens GA
Sydney
Christchurch

Now in Minneapolis so blog will follow …

A & J

Ps: Thank to all those who voted on the question of Debbie and Doyle - New poll will follow shortly - I think you'll like it!

Sodden Smugness...

It all begins with our departure from Memphis. As we were having our last meal in Memphis (you guessed it folks - more pork!) we could see the horizon getting blacker and blacker. As the rain clouds closed in we decided to hop in a taxi and get to the Amtrak a little early - better than getting wet right? As the cab door closed the heavens opened and two smug little Brits watched as others scrambled for cover. The torrential rain continued through the cab ride and when we pulled up outside the Amtrak station 2 hours early it was still hammering down.
As the cab pulled away the smugness subsided on the realization that we were on the wrong side of the station and no-where near the entrance. As we dashed around the station with our backpacks looking like something from "SAS Are You Tough Enough" (answer – no) we became more and more sodden with each second. At the station entrance we were informed that due to the weather a "sink hole" had blocked the track and we'd be taking a bus to meet up with our train further down the line. After a rather surreal hour of sitting in completely sodden clothes and watching "Once Upon A Time In Mexico" the fattest bus driver in the world announced he was leaving early. He muttered something about the other 18 passengers that had train tickets but hadn't yet arrived and then sped off into the night one hour early, leaving these poor people to whatever fate awaited them ... at this point the smugness returned. A new rule - Arrive early for travel in America!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Memphis City Pig Blues

Memphis just about done!

Did we:

A) Go and see Elvis's Graceland
B) Lap up the culture in museums and art galleries
or
C) Eat rather a lot of Pig.

.....

I guess no answer is required as we're in the "Pork BBQ Capital Of The World"! As you can imagine Janine has had her fill of culinary delights here - The term "Vegetarian" is not in the Memphis dictionary. It's not that they do bad veggie food ............. They don't do ANY veggie food! I've managed to sustain my wife on a healthy mix of fries and coleslaw (the sides which accompany my PIG!)

Jokes aside we have actually done some cultural / touristy stuff here in Memphis - The Museum Of Rock & Soul explained the progression from Blues to Rock & Roll and how it all started in Memphis (apparently they're also famous for music as well as grilled PIG! - Who knew!). We did have to compete for space in the museum with around 50 school kids who didn't seem to appreciate the experience - Screaming and running amok amongst the Elvis exhibits. We then boarded a paddle boat down the Mississippi only to find we were to be accompanied by another 50 hyper school kids. Apparently threatening to throw small children overboard is frowned upon - Again, who knew.

The music scene here in Memphis is pretty amazing - Like Nashville, there is live music just about everywhere you go but blues rather than country. Even as we're sat writing this a band is setting up at 2.15 on a Saturday afternoon. Obviously listening to live Blues musicians has been the reason we've visited so many different bars.....

Next stop is Chicago on an overnight sleeper tonight. Thank God no more Greyhound, at least not for a couple of weeks!

Ps: The pool score now stands at 17 / 8 to Mr Smith.

Pps: I will never eat Pig again - The growth of a snout may indicate that I've overdosed.

Ppps: No, we didn't go to Graceland.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Country Music, Chugging Monkeys & Curry

The journey to Nashville from Atlanta was again an socio-educational experience! Having now travelled Greyhound twice we've worked out the strategy - If you can't get there early enough to get to the front of the line (and therefore have your choice of seats), pick out the "clean / normal" people to sit in front of or behind once you board the bus. A sound strategy, yes? ..................................NO.

On boarding the bus we sat behind two "clean looking" people and took our seats with a sigh of relief - Unfortunately we didn't spot the two vacant seats directly behind us. Oh yes, you guessed it .... who's excited about the possibility of sitting together - The two smelliest hicks from the entire bus station. What can only be described a a smell akin to vomited beer, four day old sweat and I'm pretty sure one of them was carrying a dead animal. We are now officially the hobo-magnets.

Some good news - Throughout the journey I managed to resist both the constant urge to sing the deliverance theme tune (Dueling Banjos) and to scream "Squeal Piggy" at anyone that looked like a Hill-Billy (apparently not easy when just about everyone on the bus has mullets).

The main drag in Nashville was around three blocks of bars and restaurants all themed around country music and most having live acts which Janine liked very much. The patrons of these bars were .... how can I put this lightly .... not exactly young - In fact when one of the performers said to the audience - "Let's get some life into you" - The thought did cross my mind - "the only way that's happening is with some paddles and around 800 volts". I guess the post war generations haven't really embraced traditional 1940's country music.

Leaving the strip behind us we left the main area of Nashville in search of something a little less touristy. What we found was the "Debbie & Doyle Show". It was like being transported back to a 1950's working men's club in the deep South of America.

Lyrics such as "fat women in trailers, they feed their children well, fat women in trailers their husbands are in jail, fat women in trailers their shoes come in the mail".

&

"When you're screwing other women - think of me"

Are just among some of the classic lyrics that had the geriatric audience in hysterics. For anyone that wants to experience "Debbie & Doyle", and trust me your life isn't complete without this, follow the link below: (note: sound is highly recommended - turn on your speakers and enjoy!!)

http://www.myspace.com/thedoyleanddebbieshow

Janine would like me to point out that we did in fact find a bar with good music and talented musicians who did an amazing version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia".

I should also mention a games machine we found in Nashville - The best game being "Monkey Chug" - A game where you have to keep a monkey upright on it's bar stool whilst you feed it glasses of beer. Genius.

Finally, and this is completely random ............ I had the best (most authentic) curry I've had outside of India in Nashville. Unbelievably good, just honest simple veggie Indian food - Everyone aside from us was Indian and all eating with their hands .... so ... when in Rome.

We're now in Memphis - More news soon.

Miss you all!

A.

Ps: Please feel free to vote re: Debbie & Doyle.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

A Frankenstein Sandwich In Hot-Lanta.

We've left Atlanta now, and have just arrived in Nashville - yee haw!

Only a few words to say about Atlanta - People there don't listen!

1st example:

Taxi from Greyhound -

Us : Hi, we'd like to to go to 929 Ponce de Leon place, please.
Driver : You mean 293 Ponce de Leon Avenue?
Us: No. Ponce de Leon Place, definitely 929, there's a B&B there.
Driver: So 293 Ponce de Leon Avenue - There's a motel there.
Us: No. We've booked into a B&B at 929 Ponce De Leon Place.
Driver: No - It's definitely 293 Ponce De Leon Avenue.
Us: Look, this is our confirmation (showing the driver the printed confirmation including the address).
Driver: OK then.

This was followed by the driver pulling up outside 293 Ponce De Leon Avenue
Driver: This is your place.
Us: No its not.
Driver: Oh I thought you were just joking with me. I don't know where Ponce de Leon Place is!

Eventually we got our destination although he did drive past the street we wanted twice before heeding to our shouts from the back to make the turn!

2nd example:

English themed pub / bar with outdoor seating. We peruse the menu, no veg option on the sandwiches, so we ask - "Could you do a cheddar cheese sandwich, with some salad on bread?" Easy right? A slice of cheese, some lettuce and tomato in bread.

Oh but no, this causes confusion. Cheese? Yes. With Lettuce? Yes and tomato and mayo. Grilled cheese? No, cold cheese. Ok then. As the man said, "how hard is it to make a cheese sandwich - if we can't do that what can we do?"

When it arrives it is like nothing you've seen before. What was ordered was a cold cheese sandwich with salad ................

What was served was two slices of heavily fried greasy bread filled with half grilled cheese, mountains of mayo, and warm tomato & lettuce.

When the waitress asked (with a proud - "I did it" kind of smile on her face) "how did that compare with a cheese sandwich back home?" what could we say ..... "It was different." God bless America!

We stayed local in Atlanta due to the size of the city and our two days was mainly spent exploring Virginia Highlands.

Finally, due to the soaring temperature this trip is now officially sponsored by Corona.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Fact: We Love Athens, Georgia

That's right folks .... We've fallen in love with Athens, Georgia.

Top 10 Reasons To Love Athens:

1) It's HOT - three days of lovely hot weather.
2) It's young and vibrant - The only major thing in town is the University of Georgia which means that it's a dynamic scene.
3) It's just beautiful - Small tree lined streets are strewn with small independent bars and restaurants.
4) It's cheap, I mean seriously $1 beers!
5) The people are LOVELY! A big mention to Meredith (Cenco Bar) and Robyn (The Grit), it was great to meet you - keep in touch!
6) The music scene is amazing. Paying $6 to get into a club (more like a large garage) to watch 3 great local bands is not something you get elsewhere.
7) The food is unbelievably good - Weaver Ds - Automatic For The People's "Chicken & Gravy" was something to behold (see photo) and The Grit's Veggie food ensured we ate there twice in 2 days.
8) It's small and walkable - You can get from one side of town to the other in 30 mins.
9) The shopping - Janine says (and we know that if someone knows about this she does) .... Athens has best record shops she's ever been into (School Kid Records & Wuxtry Records). Note: Mum - more packages en route back to Doncaster.
10) Property price is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP (We have left ........ honest)

Friday, 2 May 2008

American City Lite Then Hicks, Homies and Hobos

Washington Done! Nice place, very clean but kind of "American City Lite" - Just didn't have much substance, when you go to "China Town" and there isn't a Asian in sight and it's packed with Pizza places you know something is mixed up. Some nice sights though.

A massive thank you to Joe Zertuche for letting us stay with him. Joe if you're reading this you really made it a fantastic trip. Also, Joe - thanks for letting use your tumble dryer!

From Washington we left at 6.30pm on an overnight sleeper service to Atlanta. The Amtrak was pretty impressive and good food! In the morning Janine thought she'd try here luck on the train and see if she could get a nice cup of tea. The server couldn't have looked more shocked if she'd asked him for his mum's hourly rate. "Coffee then please".

From Atlanta we got a Greyhound to Athens where we are now. Obviously by the fact that this is being written we made it but .... oh my god. We'd heard stories about Greyhound and those that use the service, I'd like to say to all those who expressed shock in our chosen transportation .... .. You were right, it's full of nutters.

To give you a snapshot of the demographic using Greyhound - In the terminus waiting for our bus we had a crazy old homeless lady sitting in front of us rocking manically and chatting to herself, to our left a group of chaps that looked like they'd just finished a pretty impressive rap video and right behind us (and generally scattered over the whole terminus) men with pure "Deliverance" style mullets - I'm telling you, rat tails are in!

Anyway, aside from the bus breaking down 4-5 times on the way here we have made it to the lovely green town of Athens. Funny thing is we've got another 3 Greyhound trips - I'll start growing my mullet!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Rocky, cheese-steak and a concise description of George Bush

Well that about sums up Philly!

A lovely , quaint and pretty small American city where the people couldn’t do more to help. People went out of their way to give advice on sites, tours and restaurant / bar recommendations. I don’t think either of us have been bought more free drinks in our lives than in the Cheese-Steak capital of the world.

The B&B we stayed in was something special - they even provided free cheese and wine from 5.30pm - 6.30pm nightly. As you can imagine like a red rag to a bull this service got exploited to the max.

More seriously it was a great way to meet other guests in the B&B and we ended up befriending 2 American couples and going out for dinner / drinks with them. After quite a few glasses of wine the conversation turned to politics and the danger flags should have gone up when the question was asked “So, what do you really think of our President?” Now what I should have said was “an interesting world leader who is perhaps misunderstood although his efforts in the middle east are noteworthy” ………….. what I did say was “he’s an idiot, a fool and possibly inbred!” Not sure we’ll hear from the lovely Americans again.

One of the highlights was without doubt running up the steps at the Museum of Art in true Rocky Balboa style. At the top of the steps whilst impressing the yanks with my nifty footwork / shadow boxing (?) a voice shouts “Andy” …………. It’s a guy that used to work in Balham branch of Halifax … he was actually really friendly given that my last encounter with him was to inform him he was sacked!!!!

On our way to Washington DC now, must remember to avoid more conversations about the President.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Goodbye to New York..(and also, how we spent the rest of the time there..)

We are now in Philadelphia, which seems all lovely & quaint. However, lots to tell about New York as we were too busy having fun to update this blog at the time!

So, after the last entry on the Thursday; we got bored of waiting for vintage stores to open, so we got a taxi to 81st & 5th Ave to what I can only describe as shopping heaven - Consignment stores...! Consignment stores are where really rich people give their clothes that they probably only wore once to a premiere or something for a tiny fee, meaning these stores can sell designer clothes for really cheap prices. For example the Prada suit Andy bought for $425 (200 quid), would have cost about $2000...same goes for my Armani black dress - $60 (30 quid!)which would have retailed at $1000. Don't worry, we already had money to splurge thanks to the money pot we had saved up so your kind wedding donations were not used in such a frivolous way!

After dropping off the goodies back at the hotel, we got changed and went out for steak at Quality meats restaurant. It's has fantastic decor and is a very cool place to eat, though it didn't cater too well for me. I asked about veggie options and was told I could have a selection of sides on a plate, as one on its own would not be enough. When the food arrived it was obscenely huge, I must remember Americans like big portions! Andy enjoyed a 12oz fillet which was apparently the best steak he has ever eaten!

Friday began with us buying a laptop for all my writing needs...it really is much cheaper over here for electronics. As we were walking past Virgin megastores we noticed Elbow were playing and doing a signing there at 12.30pm, so we got some lunch and then went to watch them. They were excellent, and in good Northern humour.

Next was the Sex & the City tour (thank you again Bex!!) which was 3.5 hours of fun - location sightings, video clips, free flirtinis, and fab cupcakes. The guide was really funny, and so excitable. And Andy was not the only man on the tour!

We went out for food, and drinks - found a great Thai noodle bar, then went to the Back Room - a really cool prohibition style bar, with no sign to the bar and you have to walk down a dark corridor to get to it. Once inside drinks are served in tea cups, and bottles are wrapped in brown paper! We spent all night there, drinking and talking to the bouncer who was guarding a door...people kept trying to get into that secret room but he was not budging, one lady even did a dance routine which ended a cartwheel in an attempt to get in! (We later found out the bar is owned by Tim Robbins & his friends, and it's his private lounge behind the door.)

Saturday was an early start to go and watch the football (8am) - We managed to find a sports bar that was showing 3 games (Pool / Boro / W.Ham). Result! The bar itself was a good place but unfortunately was filled to the rafters with very drunk Man United fans. GRRRRR.

Now ... they say you always see someone in NYC .... and yes ... we did. Mr Big (from sex in the city) was spotted next to our hotel and then ...... thinking it wouldn't get much better than Chris Noth .................................... We only saw BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!!!!!!!

After getting over the excitement of the star spotting we headed into the West Village and settled in a little bar with a great juke-box. Music on Saturday April 26th in Art Bar, NYC was exclusively chosen by Mr and Mrs Smith (note - They loved it!).

Thursday, 24 April 2008

New York City!

So here we are in New York City! Flight over was smooth, and Virgin premium economy was the dogs - most recommended (No, I didn't get paid for that endorsement...).

Got in early last night local time, and after checking in to our fab hotel, we decided to hit the town! Unfortunately, jet lag / time difference was difficult to fight, so after a few drinks in a great bar (possibly called the bar with no name, as it had no name) we went to get dinner - 2 New york pizza slices each!! Yum yum. We tried to fight the sleepy feeling, but another drink just pushed us over the edge, and we were in bed by 10pm....in our defence it was 3am UK time!

Today we woke up ridiculously early, so planned our days out then got breakfast - hitting the streets before 9am. Unfortunately no one opens up shops before 11am, so we've been walking about in the sunshine, which in New York is brilliant anyway.

We went to Yaffa Cafe (one of Andy's old New York haunts) for more breakfast, and are now in Alphabet City, waiting for some vintage stores to open, so we can go spend some cash!

Tonight we have a reservation at a restaurant called Quality Meats (I'm assured there's a veggie option, but it may turn out to be salad) and tomorrow we are on the Sex & the City tour - thank you Bex!!

Will keep you posted, all our love,

Janine

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Day One - To The Airport

It was all going way too smoothly, the wedding had gone to plan, the travels had been booked and confirmed and then ......

We got to Heathrow and as our hotel was pretty close to the terminal we thought we'd try and check in a day early to try and get the exit door seats. Janine didn't have a problem with the online Virgin check in . . . . I however did.

Upon talking to the nice Virgin people I was asked for my passport at which point the "nice" person dissapeared into a back room talking frantically into his mobile phone. When he returned I asked what all the chatter had been about, he informed me (very politely it must be said) that I had been flagged up as a suspected terrorist!!!!!!!!!!

Apparently the authorities have a "Robert Smith" on their "Watch List" ....

Anyway, after a detailed examination of my passport they have decided that I'm not their man and I can afterall fly to The Land Of The Free.

Andy

Ps can't believe the footy result last night ...... own goal ................really!!!???

pps my old, trusty, tried and tested rucksack has split open before it even made it to the USA!!!!

Monday, 21 April 2008

What A Day - Thanks To Everyone!

Well everyone was right - the day just flew by!

Thank you to everyone for the cards, gifts and making the day so special!

We're now in Doncaster frantically trying to pack and sort our lives out so that we can get onto the train to London tomorrow.