Sunday, September 30, 2007

Still smoke free...

I just noticed the counter at the bottom of this page for the first time in a while and noticed that it is now over 1000 days since my last cigarette. So far so good.

Fortunately, temptation has continued to keep it's distance although I have to wonder that even if I did decide to start again, where I would find the time. As I am no longer allowed to smoke at work, in the pub, or even in the car, I'd probably have to learn to smoke in my sleep...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Just one of those moments...

As I drove home tonight and looked towards the impending rain clouds, I noticed what was probably the clearest, most perfect rainbow I've ever seen. To top it off, the radio started playing "Somewhere over the rainbow" by Eva Cassidy. Magical.

I've been looking since I got home earlier this evening, but I can't see the pot of gold lying around anywhere.

"Have I checked under the bed" did you say?

No, it's a nice place I've got here with indoor toilet and everything...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First day back...

I woke up before the alarm went off this morning.

I managed to slip straight back into the usual get-ready-for-work routine.

I remembered to drive on the left hand side of the road and that my car wasn't an automatic.

I even got to work early to get a headstart on the day.

Good job there were only 286 e-mails waiting for me.

Still, it's a little nearer to the weekend...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Enough about the holiday already...

OK, time to shut up about the holiday now. For anyone who's interested, I've created a Flickr account to share some of my photos which you can access here.

Apparently, I'm only allowed to share 200 pictures with the free account, but that should be enough to give you a flavour of what we saw...

The last hurdle...

Well I'm back in good ol' Blighty again although my return wasn't without incident.

The flight back to the UK was fine; 8 hours of just sitting around really, either in airport lounges or on the planes themselves. The fact that the guy next to me for the main flight had the worst B.O. and bad breath I've encountered for quite sometime can't really be blamed on the airline.

My arrival at Manchester airport sailed through so quickly that I was only 20 minutes from sitting on the plane to collecting my luggage and getting on the train. Unfortunately, things came to a grinding halt at Sheffield were they suddenly announced that due to a track-side fire they were terminating the service and nobody seemed to have any kind of clue as to what alternative transport would be provided. After an hour or so of standing around with still no information forthcoming from the station staff, I tracked down an alternative train myself and finally managed to get home.

Having had very little sleep in the previous 24 hours, I got my head down for an hour when I got home, after which of course it was time for some long overdue exercise for the Hobgoblin muscles...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Just for the record...

Anyone who knew me 15 years ago will recall my previous trip to St Louis and the hundreds of photos of the gateway arch I brought back.

Well I couldn't leave here without sharing one with you all so here's a view of the arch from inside the Busch Stadium...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making the most of the day...

As I said last night, today was my last full day so we wanted to cram in as many things as possible, as I guess tomorrow morning will soon disappear while getting everything ready for the flight home.

We started the day with a trip to St Louis Zoo. Yes, I know I was only at San Diego Zoo a few days ago but I had to decide for myself which one was the better and I have to say St Louis won hands down. OK, they didn't have the pandas, but they appeared to have a greater selection of animals, more of each, and they were presented in such a way that they had more room to move around and also to provide clear photo opportunities for us visitors. Oh and did I mention it's free? Well unless you are a St Louis tax payer and even then I suspect it's still a bargain.

From there we crossed Forest Park to look around the St Louis Art Museum. Now I'm not really the art gallery type but this was well worth the look around. Unsurprisingly there were several really beautiful items and equally, some which to my mind were simply ridiculous, but what do I know? Who am I to say when a fluorescent light in a white room becomes a piece of art?

This afternoon we had a brief tour around the city to see some of the places from my last visit, after which we headed into Harrah's; my first time in a "proper" casino. Not even slightly tempted by the poker tables, I settled for grabbing a free drink and blowing an extravagant $7 dollars on the slots before deciding I was far too bored to stay much longer. Still it did provide the first person of this trip to ask if I was from England and whether I lived near the Queen. Of course, I answered that she only lives a couple of hours away.

Tonight in my newly acquired Cardinals shirt and baseball cap, I got to see my first ball game and once again I'm pleased to report that it completely lived up to my expectations. It would have been better if the Cardinals had come away with a decent result, but the atmosphere in the stadium was electric all the same and it was good to see such a range of people of all ages all enjoying themselves without even the merest hint of any trouble.

On the train back, I was chatting to Steph about life, the universe and pretty much everything when I noticed a lady "of advancing years" standing in the aisle and felt obliged to do the British thing and offer my seat, although she politely declined. As we all got off the train she commented to Steph "What a charming husband you have" and despite protestations that we live in different countries, she refused to leave the matter there. So, I suppose you could say that this is the second time I've been out of the country and unexpectedly found myself married.

Oh boy, am I in trouble when I get home...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back to base...

I was told a couple of days ago that there is a country song somewhere that says the best way to see Amarillo is through a rear view mirror. To be fair, the view from the rear view mirror this morning was somewhat obscured as the sun had yet to rise when we left. All the same, it sounds a bit harsh to me as although I admit it may not be the most picturesque place I've visited, the people were certainly nice enough. Except maybe for the guy who appeared to be taking a pee in the ice dispenser at the gas station last night. Takes all sorts I guess.

I was surprised to see the number of speed traps on the last leg of our journey today. It appears that the emphasis here is to hide away and try to catch people speeding, whereas at home there is more focus on deterrent. From what I've seen, both approaches are as ineffective as each other, although of course I wouldn't dream of exceeding the legal speed limits anyway.

We've had a CB handset in the car for most of the journey which has been useful to hear tip offs about delays from local truckers and entertaining to hear the banter between them. We had a nice comment this morning from one guy who had obviously spotted the antenna on the car from his truck "Stick behind me little four-wheeled friend and I'll get you wherever you're heading!"

So this evening, after 11 days covering 4808 miles with and 202 photos (and that's just mine), I'm pleased to report that we made it safely back to St Louis, having covered everything on our original agenda and a few bonuses to boot.

As each of the "lasts" are slowly creeping up, tomorrow sees my last full day here so we have some local sightseeing planned during the day followed by a trip to Busch Stadium to watch the St Louis Cardinals.

Well you have to take in everything you can, it could be a little while before I get back here again...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sha-la-la, la-la, la-la, la...

I know the way to Amarillo - in fact I'm sat in my hotel room there right now typing this.

So what's been going on? Well yesterday was our last day in Arizona, the weather came up trumps so we spent the day catching up with more local attractions. Firstly off to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where I got the chance to see plenty of real grown up cacti rather than the tiny attempts I've nurtured at home in the past. As a bonus I got the chance to handle a snake (stop making your own jokes up) while we were talking to one of the guides there.

In the afternoon we visited the Titan Missile Museum; a local missile silo complete with Titan missile intact. Do you know, they are really sensitive about which buttons they'll let you play with?! Joking aside, this is a genuine silo, complete with missile (both obviously long since rendered safe) and the extremely well-informed guide managed to keep us interested and one particularly over enthusiastic smart-arse in his place (no, it wasn't me). Kind of scary when you realise exactly what this single installation would once have been capable of, but really interesting all the same.

We've had 11 hours on the road today, including my first attempt at 6 lane driving through Albuquerque, and I'm pleased to report car and passengers survived the ordeal. We arrived at the hotel as planned this evening and you can't spend the night in cattle country and not enjoy a steak dinner so tonight we headed out to Hoffbrau Steaks just down the road who obliged in excellent form with a 10oz porterhouse with steak fries and salad. I'm hardly a lightweight these days in terms of appetite or physique, but still chose to overlook the numerous offers of eating a whole 72oz steak to get it for free.

I'm sad to say that it's all coming to an end rather too quickly now. Tonight is the last night in a hotel and tomorrow is the last day on the road, but there's still a few exciting events lined up in St Louis before I fly home so please keep checking in...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weather's here, wish you were beautiful...

White man came to desert and brought rain. Lots of rain actually, complete with thunder and lightning. It's not the tragedy that it might initially appear as the rain is needed in this part of Arizona and so far, we have managed to keep the to-do list ticked and up to date in the dry spells. So seeing as I am stuck inside right now waiting for the sun to re-appear, I'll give you a quick update.

Yesterday morning we paid a visit to San Diego Zoo and as zoos go, it is a very good one. Very well laid out with a variety of walks and enclosures exhibiting almost every kind of animal you would wish to see.

The problem I find with zoos is that once you have seen a few good ones it's hard to find something new, but here of course I got to see pandas for what I'm quite sure is the first time.

Three pandas in fact; one sleeping in his tree, another munching through his bamboo breakfast and the new arrival via the Panda Cam that you can also see here. All wrapped up in around three hours and then time to hit the road again and wave goodbye to California.

Seeing as Pete had done most of the driving to L.A. and back the previous day, I thought it only fair to take the lion's share of the journey from San Diego to Tucson. It started of predictably as a pleasant drive through a 107 degree California desert, but as we crossed the border into Arizona we hit rain and dusts storms - an unexpected module of my international driving skills course. There's little you can do really other than slow down and get on with it, but I'll admit it was a relief to come out of the third consecutive storm intact.

Bright weather again this morning so we headed off to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. I've never been much of a plane spotter, but the huge array of aircraft on display coupled with the fascinating commentary of our guide made for a fascinating trip out.

Well it looks like the sun has appeared again and there's still plenty to get done before we leave Arizona Tuesday morning and head for Texas ...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Well, seeing as we are there...

As I said from the beginning, the biggest advantage of a holiday such as this is the flexibility to deal with whatever ideas arise and make spontaneous changes to the original plan.

Much as San Diego is a lovely place, it did seem a shame to be in California and not take a trip to visit one of the most well-known places in the world - Los Angeles. It was about a three hour drive from where we were but I was genuinely excited at the prospect of touring Hollywood and the surrounding districts, although it turned out to be remarkably different from my expectations.

First we went through to Beverly Hills and found a bargain parking spot at only $1 an hour, then set about looking around the shopping area in Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard before taking a drive around to look at the hugely extravagant dwellings that apparently pass as homes for some people.

From there on we drove into the areas where I expected to see a more traditional Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, but I was surprised to see a complete contrast to our previous location. Sure, we got pictures of the Chinese Theatre and Kodak Theatre and waded through the multitude of souvenir shops in the area. Unfortunately, I was completely taken aback by how run down the surrounding area was and the number of people who were literally rummaging through litter bins apparently looking for food. Talk about how the other half lives.

To end on a more positive note, I finally got to dip my toes in the Pacific, polished off another excellent meal in the same restaurant as last night and finished off the evening with another set of photos of that incredible sunset.

And to think everyone complained about the number of arch photos I took last time I was across here...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Halfway point...

After a morning driving through the deserts in Arizona and California, we arrived in San Diego just after lunch and exactly as planned. SeaWorld occupied most of the afternoon and despite being swamped with souvenir shops and corporate sponsorship blurb, the performing dolphins and killer whales probably justify the entrance fee alone.

After a delicious seafood platter at The Green Flash overlooking Pacific Beach, we just got out in time to see the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean.

Nothing more to say today really...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Clear skies ahead...

I could write all night about the amazing scenery as we drove from Santa Fe through New Mexico and into Arizona, but I'll save it until I get the photos on Flickr or somewhere similar. Most importantly, we've finally left the rain behind and the long awaited sunshine came out to greet us to the southern leg of our journey.

As a result of another spontaneous change last night, we decided to bring forward something from next weeks agenda and I now need to update the 30 things list as I add Mexico to the countries I've visited. That said, I can't say that I've really seen Mexico; having spent around 25 minutes wandering around being constantly hassled by touts to buy dubious Rolex watches, genuine Mexican jewellery and pharmaceutical products of all descriptions, we decided we'd seen enough and headed back to the border.

We headed back north to a little town called Tubac just north of the Mexican border where they had an intriguing collection of sculptures. We also stopped off at this point for some genuine Mexican Green Chilli Stew which went down very well despite it being around 97 in the shade!

This afternoon we headed up Madera Canyon where aside from the beautiful views over Green Valley (here he goes with his scenery again), we got a chance to check out some of the local wildlife.

Early night tonight in preparation for another early start tomorrow, but all being well we'll get to San Diego for lunchtime to see what delights await us there...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lost for words...

It's not often that words fail me but today they did.

The weather has done it's best to dampen spirits, but a combination of dogged determination and the ignorance to ascend 13000ft up a mountain in t-shirt and jeans have rewarded me with the most incredible scenery I've ever seen.

From the plains of heading into Colorado, to the top of Pikes Peak (or as near as weather would allow); through the Garden of the Gods and into the beautiful backdrop of the New Mexico horizon, the imagery I've seen today has left me absolutely gobsmacked.

As an added bonus, we made up enough time to skip our intended stopping point tonight and we got to Santa Fe in time for an unexpected look around which was a real treat (despite my camera batteries dying on me).

I really ought to be posting loads of pictures to support this lot, but I also need to get on with enjoying the break. So in the meantime, I'll leave you with the little taster above and tomorrow we'll see what Arizona has to offer...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And they're off...

It's fair to say that the weather has been less than kind since my arrival in the USA, although yesterday we managed to get out between showers to re-visit the Gateway Arch (OK guys, I've not taken any pictures this time - yet); finish off shopping for the last few essentials and catch Sh-Boom playing a free gig in a local park.

Sh-Boom are clearly a really talented bunch of guys and although we didn't manage to catch the entire two hour performance, the hour or so that we did see would indicate that they put on a very entertaining show. I doubt we'll ever see them in the Grimsby area, but do check their website and if they are playing near you, I recommend you go and see them. Oh, and don't pay any attention to the continued references to "oldies".

It seems my trips over here obviously imply some kind of baptism of fire. The last time I came across, I had never flown and chose to take my first flight over 10 hours. This time I had never driven abroad and after a brief spin around a local car park I contributed today to around 350 miles in the first leg of our 4200 mile journey.

The weather forecast continues to look "interesting" here in Colorado, but temperatures in Arizona and California over the next few days offer some serious sunshine potential. So time to sign off and get some kip; if the weather is clear enough tomorrow morning, we've a 13000ft mountain to climb.

Don't be silly, of course I'll be climbing it in the car...

Friday, September 07, 2007

What a hoot...

It's around 2:20am here, but as my body thinks it's 8:20 and that it should be awake I thought I'd sign in and say hello. The noise from the crickets takes a bit of getting used to again; honestly, if I hear Peggy Sue one more time tonight...

Anyway, greetings from the USA. I made it across, around 21 hours after my alarm went off this morning and several hours behind schedule, but I'm here nonetheless. To be fair, the journey was pretty smooth and the only real delays were in avoiding bad weather and in immigration where nobody could decide where we should be queuing and kept moving us all back and forth for an hour or so. I did get the chance to read the whole of Peter Kay's autobiography "The Sound of Laughter" though which is a bloody good laugh incidentally and well worth a look.

The unfortunate outcome was that by the time they'd finished questioning, taking finger prints and digital photos, I'd missed my connecting flight and had to collect my bag and book another one. No big deal; I've seen too many episodes of Airport to get as stroppy and animated as many of the others had chosen to.

No, the only hairy part of the journey was at the very beginning when the taxi driver dropped me at Cleethorpes station shortly before 5.00am with the kind warning "Oh by the way mate, don't go wandering off the station on your own, the pubs haven't been closed for long and there's plenty of idiots out causing trouble." Marvellous. I'll just hang around a deserted station platform on my own for half an hour then trying not to get mugged. What a great start.

Anyway on a happier note, we rounded the day off with Pete treating us to a meal in a local restaurant. Have you ever heard of Hooters? No, I bet you haven't; OK, whatever you say. It's a great place - great food; very reasonably priced; they serve a great iced tea and the waitresses? Clearly they have an established selection criteria and I'm certainly not about to complain. In fact, I wonder if they open for breakfast...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Gullibles Travels...

I really thought I'd organised everything to slip away from the office un-noticed really early this afternoon, but having dealt with all of the "just before you go's" I had to settle for a little early.

Whatever, at least that's it for a while now and I'm certainly ready for this break. We're planning to have a laptop with us and there are several WiFi spots along the way so if I get the chance, I'll be posting blog entries in lieu of postcards.

Either way, sooner or later, there's bound to be details of the 2007 American Adventure on here, so watch this space...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Weight watching...

People who know what a routine freak I am will not be surprised in the slightest to hear that:

~ My bags were packed for the holiday almost a week before I was due to set off.
~ I have a handful of envelopes with all of my travel documents sorted and separated for incoming, outgoing, important documents and copies of everything
~ I have sent copies of the rough itinerary and contact details throughout to Little Sis and the folks
~ My taxi is booked to arrive at the station well before the train is due to leave.
~ The train tickets were bought in advance to ensure I get to the airport three hours before the flight is due.
~ I carefully planned out and selected what I need to take with me to ensure it would all fit in my smallest case, which is small enough to constitute hand luggage. I even re-measured my case to ensure it met regulations. Which it did.

I've been following a checklist for the last week or so to make sure everything is done by the time it needs to be and I thought I'd been pretty thorough, but there's always something else.

For some reason, I awoke at an unearthly hour this morning and realised that I hadn't checked the maximum weight (of hand luggage) I was allowed to carry on and it's a good job I did. 6kg!!! I've taken heavier packed lunches to work than that. The empty case weighs over 2kg!

Even with my most economical packing, there is no way I can get it that light, so it looks like I'm checking my bag in. And if that's the case (no pun intended), I might as well re-pack and take a bigger one, allowing room for a few more souvenirs.

Honestly, I've never planned so hard for such a spontaneous event...

Monday, September 03, 2007

A couple of reasons to smile...

I spend enough time on here wittering about drivers being inconsiderate, but today praise is due to the Morrisons petrol tanker driver I followed home earlier this evening.

Fair do's, I sighed when he didn't turn off where I expected him to and headed off into the windy country road ahead of me. However, as soon as we reached the first reasonable passing point he flashed his left indicator tolet me know the road ahead of him was clear and I could get past. Top bloke indeed.

Secondly, we were discussing TV themes in the pub Friday night (as we are inclined to do after a beer or two) and I was delighted tonight to find the opening and closing themes to one of the ones we were trying to remember.

For the opening theme follow this link, scroll down to "Listen to samples" and listen to track 4
For the closing theme follow this link and listen to track 8.

Now, if you are about the same age as me and were brought up in the UK, you should have memories come flooding back of watching telly while you were on a sickie from school...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Game over...

Last night saw the latest reality TV spectacle come to a close; let's hope for the last time, as each series seems to plunge further and further into the depths of superficiality.

Despite initial interest in this years activity in the BB house (due to it being populated in the main by young females), I rapidly lost interest after the media attention grabbing episode when Emily got evicted. I can't deny that her use of the n-word was inappropriate and incredibly naive, but there was clearly no malice intended when she used it and I still believe she was a scapegoat for Channel 4 & Endemol to make amends for the earlier celebrity fiasco.

I didn't go out of my way to watch the final eviction show last night, although it was playing to a minority of half-interested people in the corner of the pub. It was a surprise to overhear that Brian was the winner - I really thought the twins had the prize in the bag.

Still, I doubt there are any losers when they will all earn a tidy sum in return for selling their souls to the media over the next few weeks.

I doubt I'll be the first or last to say it, but at least this years winner will be the first one in the UK who actually is a big brother...

All meat and a real treat...

One of the highlights of a typical Friday night in the Tap is the meat draw. Although sometimes dismissed as a bit corny, it is somewhat of a pub tradition and despite what some might think, there's no shortage of ticket sales in time for the big draw around 9:30.

Why would I be posting about it partcularly? Well it's fair to say that I've had my fair share of good luck in it. I've seldom bought more than a couple of strips of tickets, but my continued success has become something of a standing joke at the bar.

On more than one occasion, I've tried to disprove any possible "fixing" by swapping tickets with one of the regulars, but my numbers are still called and invariably they are numbers received during the swap.

As a result, my freezer is now generously stocked with two pork joints, two gammon joints, a lamb joint, a chicken and several remaining cuts from grill packs so I'm guessing the regulars will be pleased that I will not be there for the next three Fridays.

And when I get back from my trip, I suppose it might be a good idea to look into the Atkins diet...