Sunday, September 07, 2008

New York, New York

It has been a dreadfully long time between posts! For the faithful blog followers:

Our alarm went off at a slightly unreasonable 3.45 am on the morning of flight to the Big Apple. The intent was to make it in plenty of time for our flight, leaving O'hare at the chirpy hour of 9am. Cam and I were still excited enough to stay positive, as we dragged our bags down to the Hilton loading dock, where our reliable driver from the airport had kindly told us to wait for our 5am ride. And so we waited....

And waited....

And waited....

After several calls to the transfer company ("our operating hours are between 9 - 5pm") and several attempts from the valets to try the front entrance, we admitted defeat at 5.30 and jumped in a cab...only to be honked off the road by our driver, who apparently had been waiting for us since 5 am....hmmmm.....

Anyhow, we made it safely to the airport and before long, our plane was floating down from the clouds - and there it was! The Island of Manhatten. I strained to get a glimpse of some familiar landmarks and yep! There was the statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. We had made it to the East Coast!

The next section of our trip is a little blurry as I think I blacked out from the terror that was our transfer from the airport to our hotel, through the streets of New York. Cam recalls the running of the red lights, the swaering and honking with a little more fondness than I. Unfortunately, there had been an accident in Manhatten that day and so our driver dropped us off about three blocks from our Hotel. Cam and I, ever the adventurers, trudged through the streets of New York with our luggage, in 25 degree heat and still a bit sluggish from the early morning rise, to reach our hotel. We had a quick rest, then decided to venture out and get some pizza...before turning in for the night.

The next day was the commencement of our Eastern Tour and saw us spend the morning travelling around the key sites of New York. We visited Stawberry Fields in Central Park (John Lennon memorial), drove down 5th Avenue past Tiffany's and the Rockefeller Centre, past the Flatiron building and then on to Ground Zero. The mood at Ground zero was quite subdued and our guide described the day of 5/11 - he had actually been in New York at the time.

The afternoon was to ourselves, so Cam and I decided to take a stroll up broadway and visit the discount ticket booth. We managed to get half proce tix to Chicago for that afternoon, which was a fantastic production of the show. We then wandered back through time square - stopping in at Toys R us on the way! - and then readied ourselves for our trip to upstate New York and Canada the next day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I just flew in from the Windy City! By Al

"...the Windy City is mighty pretty.."
After an eventful morning spent at LAX and then subsequently crossing a timezone into Chicago, Cam and I found ourselves in our 'limo' headed for downtown Chicago. It was a rather grey afternoon and at 4pm with peak hour traffic, I felt as if we were back in Sydney, on the M5. But then there it was! Sears Tower lead a display of the beautiful Chicago skyline and as we pulled into our Hilton accomodation, I had a good feeling about the Windy City. This was soon confirmed as we arrived in our suite and discovered two bathrooms - that's right, one each! It was an awesome sight.

Sears Tower and another building which I believe they refer to as 'The flask'

That night, we headed down for a quick meal (can you believe we were both asked for ID when we ordered a bottle of wine? I was insulted) and then turned in for an early night.
The next morning, we headed to the street to locate our hop on hop off bus for which I had pre-booked some tickets the previous night. Armed with a map, it was quite easy to make it around.

It was such a beautiful day - no wind at all! - and Chicago is now on my list of favourite and most beautiful cities. I liken it to Perth - wide streets, a structured layout and Tuplips everywhere! Down the median strips, in little gardens along the main was a lovely sight and reminded me of what Spring smelt like.

Our hop on hop off was an open top double decker and took us to the major sights. We took in the financial district, Millenium Park (home of the giant bean) and even Gotham City town Hall ;-)

The bean at millenium Park, The corn cob apartments, The Chicago Theatre and Gotham City Town Hall (or a building in the Financial District)
We explored Navy Pier, the amusement centre for Chicago, however it was quite deserted on this particular Friday afternoon. We had a bite to eat at McDonald's and strolled onwards, taking in the breathtaking blueness of Lake Michigan. Once again, the pictures speak for themselves but this calm stretch of vast blue seemed endless and it was hard to comprehend that it was actually a lake and not the ocean. Try as I might, I could not see Michigan on the other side...

Back on the bus and our next stop was the Magnificent Mile - LA has Rodeo drive, New York has 5th Avenue, Sydney has Castlereagh street and Chicago has the Magnificent mile. Magnificent by my assessment for the beautiful flowers surely; the name brand shops just didn't do anything for me.

At the end of the mile, Cam and I decided to take the free elevator to the 48th floor of the Hancock Building and enjoy a cocktail whilst marvelling over the city skyline.

Our last leg of the bus trip took us to the Theatre district, where we patiently waited in line for our free sample of Garrett's popcorn - and geez, it was good! My first taste of caramel corn - please sir, I'd like some more...!!

Arriving at the hotel in the early evening, we decided to try out the hotel pool and spa, where we met an Hawaiian couple who picked us as being from Australia! Woohoo! After a bout of relaxing, we returned to our suite and decided to spoil ourselves with some room service - yum again! And it looked so pretty.

The next morning, we had the alarm set for a 4am wake up call - we were bound for the Big Apple!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? By al

Continuing down the Big Sur Coast, we stopped in for morning tea at Santa Barbara. Another small town, similar to Carmel, we strolled down the main street but as it was before 10am, most of the shops were closed. Cam and I settled for a hot chocolate (Pete's hot chocolate - yum!) and we were back on the bus again.

We drove through Santa Monica but were unable to stop - we managed to snap some quick pics however and discovered that Bay Watch had been filmed there - exciting for some ;-)

Lunch time saw us arrive in West Hollywood and the group were dropped off at a food market and shopping centre. It was quite hot and Cam and I decided to have a wander through the stores, opting for an m&m and doritos lunch as opposed to a sit down one. :-)

After lunch, the exciting sight seeing began - we were off to Hollywood! We drove down Rodeo drive, through Beverly Hills and even past Marilyn Monroe's old home. Then we hit Hollywood Boullevard, which was an exciting highlight for me; the past two days hadn't been overly noteworthy. Hollywood Boullevard is lined by footpaths covered in Hollywood Stars which seemed to stretch for miles! We visited Mann's Chinese Theatre (my hand's fit Matt Damon's!.... and Jack Lemon's?!) and saw the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscar's are held. The Boullevard was a very touristy destination, so it was the quick and the dead trying to get some good snaps, but Cam and I did well.

Overall, Hollywood didn't have a magical feel about it - a little over-commercialised perhaps - but it was still great to see it and tick it off the list.

That evening, our tour ended and we spent one last night at the Hacienda before leaving the West Coast for Chicago the next day.

Carmel, Monteray and the Big Sur Coast - By Al

After our two days in San Fran, we hopped back on the bus and headed down the Big Sur Coast to Los Angeles. Along the way, we stopped off at a few places:
Carmel by the Sea

This is a rather exclusive seaside resort town where the well-to-do of California either have their weekenders or go to relax. We stopped in for a coffee break and Cam and I took a quick stroll down the centre of town - quite small, reminded me of Berry - and I decided to pick up the real estate guide. For an odd $17M, you can enjoy a lovely beach home by the ocean with golf course views...

A seaside resort which was likened to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, we didn't find a great deal of interest to us in this lunch stop. With a choice of seafood restaurant's serving clam chowder as our options, Cam and I decided to dine at Denny's ;-)

Big Sur
Fortunately after lunch, the trip down the coast got that little bit more intreresting. We took to Highway 1 and headed along the beautifully scenic winding cliffs of the Big Sur Coast. The photo's do the talking although of note, we came across some more sequioas and a beach of seals who were resting for the summer.
Yep, those are seals covering the beach! Cam poses with them.

That evening, we checked into a lovely hotel in the town of Pismo Beach (although I didn't see a beach anywhere...hmmm) and Cam and I enjoyed a delicious pizza for dinner. I asked if they delivered to Australia...they didn't :-(