101 things about me

Monday, 30 August 2010

Priceless...

Calls to Spirit Air in search of missing luggage, that were never answered or retuned? 33
Cost of one night at dodgiest hotel in Atlantic City - $200+
New grey hairs due to stress in last 24 hours - 94
Tissues required for tears of frustration and exhaustion due to lack of sleep - 3

Cost of taxi to (and from) airport to enquire if bag had shown up (due to them NOT answering calls or responding to messages) - $62

The relief at having been reunited with Mum's luggage?

PRICELESS!

(now we are off to the beach - also priceless!)
Thank you so much to my USA blogging friend LG who offered her assistance in case we needed it. You are without doubt a shining star (and also priceless!)

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Bed bugs! Bed bugs! Bed bugs! There, now just try not to itch, I dare you!


Seriously, up until now we have been having a dream run. The weather has been good, we have been catching up with old friends and hanging out doing the touristy things... we've been having a great time. Sure we have had blips along the way... where we haven't been able to work out a bus timetable, or internet hasn't been available, or people have been snappy... (Oh actually, that would probably be me!) but boo hoo! Really we have been travelling along very nicely thank you very much.

Until today, that is.

It started with Mum's luggage going missing in action. Maybe it got homesick and decided a side trip back to Australia was in order. Maybe it is vacationing in the Bahamas, or maybe it's just decided to stay in Detroit (beats me why, I for one couldn't wait to get outta there!)

And if it is stolen? Then screw the effers who took it, because, quite frankly, it's really messed with our plans dammit! And I hope you are happy with your old ladies knickers!

But the luggage going missing is just the half of it... or at least the catalyst for the miserable parts of our day in any case.
Let me have a whinge, get it all off my chest and then I can begin to like America again. Because right now, the love affair is over.* Right now I am sitting in some dingy little hotel room, somewhere in no-mans land between two casino precincts in Atlantic City, with the door locked, too afraid to turn on the TV in fear of electrocution, having just eaten bad takeaway pizza for dinner so that we could get back to our hotel in the relative safety of daylight.*

Right now, Mum is trying to decide which of my t-shirts she can wear in the morning. And I have just finished checking my bed for bugs.* And for most of the day, we have been waiting for someone/anyyyyyone to call us to let us know if they have managed to track down Mum's bag. To even answer the help number we have been calling for the last 4 hours would be nice.

We hadn't even decided whether to stay here or head down the coast, but once we realised Mum's luggage had not appeared, we were out of options. We had to stay and hope that the bag was returned, and we had to find accommodation... in a City that thrives on the tourist dollar... on a Saturday night... in peak season... And so we called the number given to us at the airport and arranged it all over the phone.

Big mistake... Paying over the phone, was big mistake number 2. Staying in a hotel called Super 8? Not so lucky!

Apparently it is a busy weekend. Apparently there are few spare beds in the entire city of Atlantic City. And accordingly, rates rise becuase of it... and so we have ended up paying WELL over what we have paid for ANY of the accommodation we have had so far, for a hotel that is FAR WORSE than anywhere we have stayed thus far. In fact 'slumming it'* would be a fair description.

Think gunge, think stripper bar next door*, think sirens and noisy neighbours (and it's only 8pm) and you are on the right track so far... We can't wait to leave in the morning. And rest assured we will be leaving in the morning, WITH OR WITHOUT Mum's bag!

*Don't panic, I am prone to exageration.
Canada update and photos on the way, just had to get this off my chest!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Niagara Falls... This is a time to look before you leap... or better yet, look & don't leap...

video
WOW.

Niagara Falls.
What can I say?

There were lots of tourists, though probably not as many as had it been sunny & warm! Yes, it rained. And the sun didn't make an appearance all day.
And, it was touristy (what do you expect, this place draws nearly 30 million visitors each year, of course it was touristy!)

But you know what? Despite these minor things, it didn't matter.
We had a great day.

We were awestruck what we saw...
From our very first view at the top of the falls, the energy was incredible. It was here we got our first impression about just how much water was going over the falls and the strength of the flow.

Catching the ferry "Maid of the Mist" was a highlight without doubt. It took us right to the base of the falls where we bobbed about in the swirling waters and felt the full force of the wind and spray generated by the millions of litres that cascade 60 meters over the falls every minute. We managed to get prime position on the top front part of the boat and had the best view and also the most drenching of showers!

The falls were totally amazing. From above, from behind and from below... it was... wow... incredible.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It was a great day.

Thanks so much to Sharon & Marie for taking us!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Finding lost friends the old fashioned way...

When my Mum and I first booked our trip to the States, we talked of tracking down Canadian friends that we had lost touch with over 30 years ago. Mum sounded doubtful, I was eager but not too hopeful (I had been searching facebook for them with no luck) and Dad didn't offer much help or advice.

Weeks went by and our departure date loomed, and then, just a week before we left... (seemingly) out of the blue, we get an email from Canada! From the very people we were hoping to see!

Seems technology was not the answer, it was good old fashioned snail mail that came to the rescue... sent by silent Dave (my Dad). Without us knowing, he had penned a letter and sent it away to our last point of contact, with a request that whoever lived at the address (if it wasn't them), that the letter be forwarded to our friends! And so it was... by strangers, by friends, by family, and finally into the hands of our friends.

And the letter was scanned and sent on to children (now adults), friends were reconnected and emails and facebook finally caught up with traditional means of keeping in touch! Who would have thought!

And so. For the last few weeks, Mum and I have been trying to co-ordinate a trip to Canada. Three days ago, it was all getting a little bit crazy. Flights connecting from Boston to Toronto saw us havinbg to fly via Florida!!! Thankfully Sharon came to the rescue with some local advice and we are on the way...

And tomorrow we will be sitting with old friends and sharing a cup of tea over 30 years of memories. Not sure how it will be, but have no doubts there will be lots of laughter and probably a few tears too!

Good one Dad , you are awesome!
And full of surprises!  xx

The photo is from a trip we did together over 30 years ago. I'll update that sometime in the next couple of days!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

4 hours to Boston with a singing bus driver...


We arrived in Boston on Tuesday, having sadly farewelled Jim and Cindy and Tanglewood and journeyed 4 hours south with a singing busdriver as entertainment...

Now you may think this sounds horrendous, but really he was pretty cool... He showed amazing patience when one of the passengers realised she had left her purse behind and he turned around and went back, he laughed and chatted to passengers at each new stop as the bus continued to fill to capacity, and he sang a song over the intercom between the movies! I know! Crazy huh?

But do you wanna know what sealed the award for best bus driver in the world? When a passenger asked if they had time to have a cigarette at one of the stops? He said, no... that none of us wanted her stinking out the bus!!! No messin, straight down the line - no.

So anyway, for 4 hours on a bus, it wasn't all that bad, and as I said, we arrived on Tuesday and it's now Friday and this is my first Boston post (tut tut!)

But, before you complain, I have gotta tell you, it's been go go go since we got here... My Mum has turned into the tourist terrorist. What can I say, the teacher in her (and her love for histroy in particular) has come out big time!

She has collected brochures, researched the highlights and the hidden gems and we have attacked Boston with no less enthusiasm than that of a military campaign!

We have walked the Freedom Trail, and been introduced to tales of scandal and rebellion, we have travelled to Salem and mixed it up with the witches, we have visited the MFA (the Museum of Fine Arts), we have trolleyed around the town via Cambridge and Fenway Park (home of the Red Sox!), we have crossed Boston Common in all directions, and watched squirrels, children and baseballers play. We have braved the "T" (Boston's train and subway system) and survived (it's actually very easy) and when we have been lost, or looking confused, others have come to our rescue! People have been friendly and patient.

... we have shopped, and eaten well, and gone to the theatre, and we have crashed every night into crisp sheets in room 515 at The Park Plaza (very nice hotel, thanks very much wotif).

And I am exhausted!

But seriously, life on vacation continues to be a bowl (or should I say, a big handfull) of cherries!* The sun shines brightly, and the breeze is warm. And all goes well.

*Cherries $2.99 per lb... mmm mmm mmmmm (sorry Mum, I just ate the last one!)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lobster ice-cream really does exist... Taste Test USA #3















And let me tell you (through hard cold experience)... it IS NOT a good combination!

And the smile on the lobster's face? Revenge dear readers, no doubt about it.

Sweet lobster revenge.




It's a dodgy mix of sweet vanilla ice-cream with frozen chunks of lobster... and was always going to be a baaaad taste sensation, but I had to give it try regardless of the risk - just to give it a go, and to say I did!


Not surprisingly, it left a decidedly awful taste in the mouth...
(Thankfully nothing that a serve of oreo cookie ice-cream couldn't fix!)

Rating:
Cinta: 0/10
Shirl (Mum): 0/10
Buy again? Never, unless of course I am buying it for some other sucker to give it a go and so I can see the look on their face! This little treat can definitely stay in the Northern hemisphere!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Enjoying Acadia National Park, pop-overs and more glorious sunshine


















I've gotta tell you, Maine is turning on the most amazing weather. Today has been another perfect day full of sunshine and bright blue skies. And we have been out all day enjoying it!



We are now on Mt Desert Island (pronounced 'dessert', as in sweets, by most people here) and home to Acadia National Park. It's Mid Coast Maine at it's finest. Lots of little inlets and seaside villages, boats in deep blue waters, craggy coast lines with the woods right down to the coastline and stark white homes peeping through at the waters edge... and of course lots and lots of tourists.

We arrived in darkness late last night and wandered into the centre of the town of Bar Harbor for breakfast this morning... sitting in the sun overlooking the village square. There were quite a few people around, and it seems everyone is enjoying such a beautiful place to be out and about.

There are free mini shuttle buses around much of the island, encouraging visitors to leave their cars at their hotels or off the island all together, and they service many of the local sights and walking trails. Cyclists seem to love the place too and despite the numbers of people, the pace is still very mellow.

We ventured along the coast jumping on and off the buses where we pleased, walked along beachside trails dipping our feet in the ocean (yikes that was cold) and being introduced to the delights of pop-overs at the cafe on the edge of Jordan Pond.










For those of you that have not had the pleasure, a pop-over is not unlike a yorkshire pudding. Quite large and puffy and slightly crispy on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside.

It seems they have them with anything from lobster stew or clam chowder to a sweet option with butter and jam. Both Mum and I opted for the sweet and balanced it with a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade, which came with a small jug of sugar water on the side (which it needed!)





Afterwards we walked around Jordan Pond, a total of just over 3 miles, which was really lovely (and hopefully walked off much of the pop-overs!), and then around the village of Northeast Harbor before heading back to Bar Harbor.

We are hoping to stay until Monday when the weather is forecast to change, and then start heading south to Boston.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Taste Test USA #2 - Peanut Butter m&m's






More m&m's...

This time, Peanut Butter m&m's.

Seems that Americans really love their peanut butter and their chocolate, and more often than not, they have them both at the same time...





And so, I guess, it made sense that m&m's should come in a peanut butter version in the USA. And naturally, (being the thorough investigator that I am!) I had to try them too!

The actual candy (notice my USA terminology there) looked much like a normal m&m. Except, these little sweeties had been into the steroids and had really buffed up. Almost muscular in appearance!

As for taste, there was no mistaking it. Definitely peanut butter. Even to the extent that they were just a bit claggy and sticky on the top of the mouth. I liked them, but I can't say I luuurved them... and my Mum (who hates peanut butter) thought they were palatable.

Rating:
Cinta: 5/10
Shirl (Mum): 3/10 (for the chocolate, not the peanut butter!)
Buy again? Probably not (though I would if I was chocolate desperate!)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Driving on the right side (which for me is the wrong side!)

It's a weird thing navigating a world where cars are on the right side of the road. It's especially weird when there are just SO MANY CARS, and the road rules are different too. To be perfectly honest, I would be quite ok relying on public transport, and in the cities we will. But here on the outskirts of Lincolnville (pop. 2000) public transport doesn't really exist. And so car it is!

Yesterday Jim and Cindy loaned us their car and we set off to local town Camden. I kept telling myself, at every intersection, at every traffic light... drive on the right hand side... stay right... look in ALL directions... double check... Watch the speed limit... stay alert... stay right...

Despite knowing that the gears were on the right hand side, I was continually trying to change gears with my door handle - good reason to keep that locked!! Thankfully the foot pedals are the same and the gears are not reveresed, or I would have been in real strife!

It was quite nerve racking and I can't say I really enjoyed the driving side of it, but it did allow us the freedom to go where we liked and have a bit of a look around without having to disturb other peoples plans.

So, off we went to the pretty town of Camden, where the sun shone brightly for another day and tourists wandered in and out of shops and (you guessed it) more eateries! We met up with Cindy (there for a meeting) and sat by the water overlooking the busy harbour and later lunched in the park at the top of town and watched the harbour from a higher vantage point.









After that we took a short drive to Beech Hill, where we climbed through blueberry fields to a small cottage at the top and were treated to vast views across the entire region. With stunning views and a soft breeze, it was the perfect place to cool down and sit a while.











Later, when we were home, Jim took us out to grab some lobsters from a local lobsterman and we had a meal of fresh lobster for dinner. Messy, but very very nice. The price is incredible. A dozen cost just under $70. That's just over $5 each. Thanks guys - what a treat!

No, we didn't eat them all, we had one each and the rest will be used over the coming days and sent down south to Jim and Cindy's son Silas with Tyler, (their oldest son) who is visiting.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Lincolnville beach, Lobster sandwiches and lots of sunshine... can't beat it!

Yesterday was a day for rest and relaxation for us here. We did a pretty good walk down to the local town and back and soaked up the sun! There was never much at Lincolnville beach twenty years ago that I remember, though it has changed a little since then. The pebbly beach remains as always (of course), lots of stones and only sand when the tide goes out, there is a ferry that goes to the nearby island of Islesboro, a few new shops and about 4 eateries, all offering lobster in all forms from salad and sandwiches to lobster dinners.

Given that Maine is the "lobster state of the USA" it had to be done.





Lobster sandwiches with slaw (coleslaw) and fries was really nice, especially as we ate with a view across the water and sun on our backs. We followed with a trip to Islesboro on the ferry, a drink and ice-cream in the sun sitting with waterside outlook (on those old style beach chairs), a trip back on the ferry, and a pint of soda at the local pub (also new) before the hike back up to home. It was a good day. And don't worry, we worked it all off with the walk back up the hill!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Stepping back 20 years...




Twenty years ago I was in the USA for the first time.
I was in traveling mode then, 22 years old and seeing the world with a backpack on my back. When I applied to go to Summer Camp in the USA through an organisation called Bunac, I filled out the application, sat an interview and left the rest in the hands of fate.





Tanglewood was where I was introduced to the summer camp way of life. And I loved it. Atfer one week of training and team building, the kids arrived. Some enthusiatic and full of bravado, others not so keen and needing more encouragement. Where nowadays they are stripped of their mobile phones and ipods, way back then they were not permitted to bring walkmans!



I remember the first meal, where the noise rose as counsellors settled their kids into the routine and they started to talk, squeal, yell and laugh with each other with mouths full and stories to tell...

And where kids sang before and after meals and all my dreams of summer camp USA came to life. It was like living in a movie!




There were leeches in the river where we swam, no electricity in the cabins, woodpeckers in the birch trees and porcupines in the field. And always an incredible meal waiting (much of it accompanied by maple syrup!!)

Six one week sessions and a two week session in the middle, a new batch of kids arrived every week and we were always on our toes. Of course when the kids weren't there, the counsellors had time to themsleves and lifelong friendships were built. For years now, Tanglewood has been calling me back. I have dreamed of coming here often and when I decided to return to the States, this was top of my destination list.













Camp directors Jim and Cindy have welcomed me and my Mum warmly into their home (not far from camp) and yesterday we had a tour of camp and across the weekend a small reunion of friends from the time.







And whilst there have been a few changes, a few more grey hairs, a few less hairs (in the case of the guys) and the addition of kids and partners, really we are not that changed at all. The way we laugh is the same, our smiles, our voices and our manner is all totally recognisable.

And we all remembered Tanglewood with fondness and light. It has been fantastic to visit and reconnect again.



Later in the week we hope to have lunch there with the kids which should be fun.

*Mum and I are the two in red. Love the fact that we all have big smiles on our faces!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Taste Test USA #1 - Pretzel m & m's



It occured to me yesterday, as each day seems to bring a new food to sample or a new slant on something we have in Aus, that I might add in a new theme to some of my posts whilst here, where I'd share my food tasting adventures along the way, in honour of all that is crazy or new in food here in the USA.

Welcome to Taste Test USA number 1.



You can only imagine my delight when I went into a drug store yesterday and saw a range of m&ms not available to us in Aus. I love m&ms. Crispy, plain, Peanut, mmmm, they are hard to resist. And here the temptaion is going to be even greater, because the range is far more extensive and enticing!

The ones that first captured my attention? Pretzel m&ms! Seriously.
Crunchy, Salty, Sweet. An odd combination, but I HAD to try them.
(Let's face it there's everything in one little pack)
And I have to tell you, they got the thumbs up from me.
They are about the size of a peanut m&m and not at all like a pretzel in appearance.
Quite crispy, definitely still chocolately, but also with a hint of salt.
mmmmmmmm
Take a good look at the pack - the orange m&m has an xray of his stomach, and there is a curved pretzel inside. Cute AND tasty.

Rating:
Cinta: 8/10
Shirl (Mum): 8/10
Buy again? You bet!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Pretty Portland...




Even though we were rather frazzled after such a long time on and off planes and crossing time zones, we ventured into Portland downtown area yesterday afternoon to have a look around.

Everything is new and different.

Houses up to the footpaths and people sitting out front watching the world go by, traffic lights that seem to take an age to allow for pedestrians, which everyone seems to ignore (except us in fear for our lives!), bagels for lunch with so many options for fillings and spreads we don't know what to choose, money that all looks the same and tiny coins.

It's that jetlag phase where everything seems slightly off balance and decisions take longer than normal.


Portland is pretty. We walked into town and found ourselves in downtown Portland precinct in about 20 minutes. It's what I would expect from a New England town, lots of weatherboard buildings and lots of tourists. Also, it's quite arty. So many galleries and little specialty shops. Very cool.

Found a gorgeous paper shop that was hard to resist, and had to walk past the Museum of Art, with plans to return today with more energy and clearer heads. Wandered down past lots of shops to the waters edge. Where seagulls squalked, tourists checked the deals for whale watching and evening cruises, and waterfront diners ate lobster sandwiches.

What can I say, it's a good place to be.

And now it's Friday morning and we have both had 11 hours of solid sleep, we are ready to head out again and get to it... once it's light that is (it's just on 5am, so probably a bit early yet!)

Oh yes, I did get that swim in the hotel pool. We hoped it would wake us up so we could last another few hours... we lasted about 20 more minutes. But the swim was just perfect.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

We've arrested your Mum and sent her back to Australia...

So it was a long flight. Really long. 14 hours which seemed to stretch to days. By the time we arrived in Los Angeles we were both already feeling pretty wiped out (I had worked the day I left and we left at 8.45 pm so with little sleep, we both felt as if we had been on the move for hours)

Anyway.

We arrive at LA, where we have to go through immigration and passport checks. Mum and I queue and go to separate desks to be processed. I get through first and Mum is still being checked and looking a little confused.

There is something wrong with her passport and visa. They don't match.

No probs, I say, I'll go and get the luggage and meet you back here once they have it all sorted out. And off I go.

Thing is, I start getting a little anxious when I am the last to collect my luggage and not only has Mum not appeared, she has disappeared. I can't find her where I last saw her. She is NOWHERE to be seen!

So I find the official who had been dealing with her, and after he was finished with his current group, I asked him if he knew where my Mum had gone.

He looked me straight in the eye and said: "We have arrested her and sent her back to Australia".

Now, I have always been told these guys are not ones to joke around and so, I was thinking something was definitely wrong. And that very possibly Mum was hyperventilating somewhere at the prospect of a 14 hour return trip to Australia without as much as a taste of a NYC hotdog!

What do you mean? Are you serious? Arrested?

The look on my face must have made his day and he seemed to respond accordingly, with smiles, laughter and reassurance that he was "only joking"!!!

Who said these guys didn't have a sense of humour???
He was an absolute cracker!
Aye aye aye!

No need to worry, my Mum was eventually processed and let into the country and we went on our merry way.

We have just arrived in Portland Maine, about 30 hours after leaving Melbourne. It's midday and as we need to keep moving so that we don't crash too early. The weather is warm and the pool is beckoning...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Making a list and checking it twice...

Passport - check.
Tickets - check.
Money/credit cards - check.

Flat cleaned, paperwork sorted, bills paid.
Check, check, check.

Washing done - check.

House sitter organised - check.
Late minute catch ups with friends - check.

Work replacement organised - check.

Lift to airport booked - check.

Tim tams, cherry ripes, caramello koalas packed?
Check check check.

Ready to go?
check!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Two...




















Peace.

(just 2 sleeps peeps)