Tag Archives: USA

Nebraska, 2011

The morning after  4th July, I awoke in the cabin at Sandhills to see stuffed animals on the walls and a small jetty leading to a lake outside. My bestie took me to meet the hunting dogs, Tank and Boots, and I was taken on a tour of the property by 4WD.

Rolled bales of hay lay scattered on wide plains, filled with buffalo. We saw the windmill, the tepee and flushed a few pheasants out of the trees. My besties dad is a bit of an expert in wildflowers and found a few for us along the way to enjoy. My bestie’s brother Chris kept horses on the neighbouring property and was working on re- building a traditional red barn.

Sandhills was undoubtedly a beautiful place and I could understand why much of the family didn’t leave. My bestie’s dad’s brother Jim lived next door and old Grandpa Hamilton still lived not far in the other direction.

The beauty of the land, was matched only by the great hospitality of the people living on it. My bestie’s dad was skilled in cooking buffalo ribs on a real smoker BBQ and his wife was a master in the kitchen making everything from homemade ice tea to jello pie, which I had never had before.

The next day we went tubing down the river with Jim’s grandchildren and their father Nick. I had never heard of the activity before and was terrible at it, but it was all in good fun.

There was complaining that the water was as cold as the Bering Sea and Chris told me stories about the possibility of getting shot if I didn’t stay on the river. Kind of like the ones Aussies tell about drop bears I think. The water was cold so that night we warmed up with a bonfire near the cabin and I had smores for the first time. Yummo!

On another day, we headed back into Stuart to help set up the town hall for cousin Laura’s wedding. The whole town pulls together for these special occasions and countless hours are spent decorating, creating and making everything just right. Now I understood why my bestie is so good at interior decorating!

Too soon it was time to leave and drive back to Omaha, this time with my bestie and during the daytime so I could see the countryside. Cornfields stretched as far as the eye could see and we saw real reindeers.

We also managed to fit in some shopping along the way of course. I bought a Huskers t-shirt and two semi formal dresses at JC Penny for about a tenth of the price they would be at home. We stayed with Chris for the night and went to a bar with real hot wings for dinner.

I feel incredibly lucky, not only to have met my bestie and be able to see where she came from; but to also have the opportunity to experience such unique part of the world with the lovely people who know it best. Looking forward to visiting you all again one day, hopefully soon.

Related posts: Independence Day, 2011, It’s an American Thing, USA Road Trip, 2007: Part 2

Independence Day, 2011

My besties parents picked me up at Omaha airport in the middle of the night and drove me back to their hunting lodge in the Sandhills of Stuart, Nebraska. We arrived in the very early hours of the morning and all of the ‘young ones’ were sleeping off the week of pre Independence Day celebrations in the cabin away from the main house.

The next morning, my bestie and I headed into town to catch the 4th July parade while everyone else surfaced. There were floats, horses with buggies, fire trucks and cars- both old and new. The street was decorated with a huge blue star, welcome banners had been hung and all the locals on the main street were camped outside their white washed houses to watch the action as it unfolded.

Stuart is a small but lovely little place and I have never been anywhere quite like it. Apart from the church, the water tank is the tallest structure in town, and the streets are wide. Everyone seemed to know each other and all the children who had moved away came home for the annual celebrations. My bestie ran into a cousin Brad whose family owned the local bus service and was driving one in the parade; so we hitched a ride to the oval.

Here was where we were meeting my bestie’s sister Janeen with her boyfriend, their brother Chris with his girlfriend, and my bestie’s boyfriend Andrew. We played all the games you play as a kid like leapfrog, sack races and the egg and spoon race. I entered the three legged race with my bestie which was hilarious.

The boys ran the bathtub race along the main street with my bestie as the passenger in an actual bathtub on wheels. This was closely followed by the duck races as the fire truck flooded the main street for the purpose. This was the kids favourite part, and secretly mine too as I collected a bright blue duck for a souvenir to take home.

We went to my bestie’s uncle Don and aunt Gini’s place in town for dinner, along with a whole lot of other family. With my bestie’s dad being one of 4 and her mum being one of 6, there was plenty of aunt’s, uncles and cousins.

Cousin Heather arrived and we all went to the only tiny pub in town, the Central Bar. This I could relate to coming from a small town myself, although we now had two pubs in my hometown. We all got a ride in a borrowed trailer back to the oval for the stock car races and 4th July fireworks once night fell. It was fabulous small town fun at it’s best, and this outsider really enjoyed the view from the inside.

Related posts: It’s an American Thing, USA Road trip, 2007, USA, 1990

It’s an American Thing

My favorite city in America is San Francisco with its Golden Gate Bridge. I can image myself living in one of the city’s terraces on a steep hill. A New York loft in Soho comes in a close second, just a short subway ride from Central Park.

And then there is Las Vegas, where you can see the whole world in one place, San Diego where you can see all the animals in the whole world in one place and Los Angeles where you can see all the stars in the whole world in one place.

One of my favorite trips in America was a Californian road trip along Route 66 and Big Sur- seeing the natural beauty of Joshua Tree National Park and the Grand Canyon plus the man made mansion Hearst Castle along the way. California just has so much to offer. There are ghost towns in the desert, seals on the coast and redwoods in Yosemite.

My bestie is from the tiny town of Stuart, Nebraska- a four-hour drive through cornfields from Omaha. I was lucky enough to be included in their annual 4th July celebrations and it was really something special to be welcomed as one of the family.

Of course, my love affair with American culture started early on with Snow White and a trip to Disneyland. I always wondered what it would be like to go to a real American high school like in Buffy, or a real American college like in Beverly Hills 90210 or go to a football game with real American cheerleaders like in Hellcats.

Anne Rice and Twilight peaked my interest in visiting the Deep South and Washington State. The Vampire Diaries and The Originals have made me want to visit Georgia and New Orleans. Gilmore Girls makes me want to go to New England and let’s not forget Sex and the City for New York inspiration, cosmopolitan style.

Which brings me to shopping of course. You can get anything you want at ridiculously low prices compared to Australia, which probably explains why most of us shop online these days.

There is the tasty simplicity of the classic American diner, the best Mexican food and margarita’s outside of Mexico and buffalo ribs smoked the right way. If you have room for desert, there is jello pie, smores and Twizzlers.

The country is so varied, that I can see why you may never want to leave. If you want mountains, you can go to Colorado, if you want water parks, you go to Florida, if you want a history lesson, you go to Washington DC.

I would love to visit a plantation in Louisiana, party for a night in Miami and drift up the coast of Oregon. It would be great to stay in a Boston brownstone, a Chicago skyscraper or a Hampton’s mansion.

The people are friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic about their country. Yes, America has a bit of something for everyone, and I guess that’s what makes the country so great in the first place.

Related posts: It’s a Canadian Thing, San Francisco, 2007- Part 1: Falling in love again, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road tip, 2007Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007New York, 2005, Part 2: Sex and the City Style, TV replays and movie marathons, USA, 1990

Seattle, 2007

My husband-to-be (HTB) arrived in Seattle and headed straight for the easy to spot Space Needle. The view of the snow on the mountains and waters of Pugent Sound was beautiful. The outline of Lake Washington and the houses of Queen Anne Hill could clearly be seen.

We passed the futuristically shaped Science Fiction Museum building on the way out and walked to the famous Smith Tower. Pioneer Square had bronze statues of firemen, the Merchant’s Café and Yesler’s sawmill.

Meeting at Doc Maynards pub, we embarked on the most bizarre tour I have ever been on- a tour of the underground. When Seattle was flooded with mud and sewerage, instead of excavating, they just built a new city on top of the old one.

Our first lesson was that the glass tiles on the ground used to be skylights for residences underneath and I have never looked at those tiles on the street the same again. We went found the hardware store under the Denny building and a red circular couch which was the only remaining identifiable debris from the Occidental Hotel located under the Corn building.

Under the Pioneer building we saw a temporary door, the original water system and tin walling made to look like stone. There was also an original crapper toilet, washing and coffee machines and an old cash register.

Back above ground we headed for the famous Pike Place Market with its plethora of fruit, vegetables, flowers, baked goods and seafood with added thrown fish. There were cute little hoof prints on the ground leading to the money box pig statue.

We found a sports bar that served real hot wings for dinner and a small pub close by that played live music and had gangster pop artwork on the walls.

The following day was another excursion to where my HTB wanted to go- the Museum of Flight. I actually really liked going on the actual Air Force One plane and the Concorde to learn about its contracting design. It was also interesting to see the car plane, stealth bombers and the dune buggy. My HTB enjoyed sitting in a jet plane and trying out the flight simulator; while I was much more partial to the World War 1 balloon and the old war planes painted with faces.

I wished we had more time to explore the islands of Pugent Sound by boat or drive up the Pacific Northwest coast through Oregon. However, we had run out of time and it was the bus to White Rock for us so that we could make it to my uncle’s house in Canada before Christmas.

Related posts: San Francisco, 2007, Part 2: This is not the end, San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again, USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

 

San Francisco, 2007, Part 2: This is not the end

The next day my husband-to-be (HTB) and I headed to Greenwich St with its rows of rounded houses and the Church of St Peter and Paul. I found my dream house and we got a great view of Coit tower from the top of Lombard St where you could really see the Z shape of the famous zigzag road.

From here we caught a cable car down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. I was excited to take a trip on such an iconic mode of transport and surprised to see the driver was in the centre of the carriage.

Fisherman’s Wharf had seal statues and dolphin topiary, so I knew straight away that it was my kind of place. We found an $8.98 store where my HTB cleaned up, buying jeans and t-shirts for only $8.98! All I found was a t-shirt by Sarah Jessica Parker. I didn’t even know she had a label, so I guess it never made it to Australian shores.

The number one thing my HTB wanted to do in San Francisco was go to Alcatraz. Another place I was not that keen on and wouldn’t have gone to if not for him, which actually turned out to be pretty damn interesting. Anyway, I am always up for a ferry trip, and the journey over affording views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland bridges did not disappoint.

We disembarked the ferry at Building 64 under the looming watchful eye of the guard tower. We passed the officer’s club, lighthouse and warden’s house before heading inside the prison and switching on our audio tour. We saw the shower room and a cell house. I could really imagine the sounds of city drifting over at night and it reminded me of Chateau d’ If in Marseille. How creepy it must have been to be a guard here cut off from the rest of the city.

The gun gallery was wisely close by to maximum security cell block D and we continued through the dining hall and kitchen to a cell block where a tunnel had been dug in an attempt to escape. We went inside the admin building where visitors signed in and ended the tour in the recreation yard where I took a great photo of my HTB posing as a prisoner.

Back on dry land, we took a local bus to Baker’s Beach for an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We were the only tourists on the beach and the bridge looked much clearer than the last time I was in San Francisco when it was obscured by fog.

Searching for the Alamo, we found the Panhandle instead and went into Golden Gate Park. I came to see lakes and real Bison so was happy when we found them. I liked the cute little Shakespeare’s garden that grows all the plants mentioned in his plays; and the gorgeous Japanese garden. I walked across a few stepping-stones, found a Buddha statue and stood at the top of Half-moon Bridge and took in the sight of waterfalls and bonsai trees.

Even though we had seen a lot, I knew that there was more of San Francisco that I wanted to explore and I hoped that I would be back in the wonderful city soon.

Related posts: San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again, USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007,  Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again

Being a fan of Party of Five and Charmed, I was in love with the city of San Francisco even before I revisited. I love the rows of terrace houses, the harbour that reminds me so much of Sydney and the hilly roads. Although, I’m sure if I lived here I would get sick of those hills after a while.

My husband-to-be (HTB) and I stayed in a small room in the Tenderloin district with an ethnic supermarket next door. I was a bit apprehensive about the area having just read a book about a prostitute that lived in the Tenderloin back in the days when it was a dangerous place to live. But that was years ago and it was a nice room, so I cast these fears aside.

We started our day with a walk up the Filbert steps on Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The walk up the long spiral staircase punctuated by murals made the climb interesting. From the top of the tower we could see all of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Oakland Bay Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Transamerica Building and Lombard Street. It was awesome.

Back down the hill, we went to Jackson Square with all its lovely old rounded buildings and colourful jazz murals. Murals was becoming a bit of a theme for the city! We found the foot of the Transamerica building, which turned out to be an office building.

Chinatown was pretty much like every other Chinatown all over the world- colourful with lion gates and the smell of incense in the air. I did get ripped off on the purchase of some postage stamps, which was new. Which just goes to show that no matter how much you travel, you can still become victim to a travel scam. I don’t think I ever sent postcards again after that.

The Macey’s in Union square was lit up and decorated with impressive Christmas decorations. Being the main square of San Francisco it was very busy with people rushing around running errands and shopping for Christmas presents. We found Lotta’s fountain nearby which was tinier than I expected and ran into a gay couple who gave us an Irish pub recommendation nearby.

The pub was packed, had good food, great beer and we met a guy who worked at Google. Gays and Google- you can’t get more San Fran than that!

Related posts: USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2

I’d only heard of the town of Barstow in a Sheryl Crow song, so was surprised to find that it was a town of bail bondsman and cheap motels. Even the local gas station attendant didn’t know where the centre of town was! I guess it was a song about Leaving Las Vegas; and Las Vegas it most definitely was not. We found a deserted cheap Mexican restaurant, had a huge burrito and retired early.

The next day, my husband-to-be (HTB) and I drove through the Napa Valley, clearly in the off season as none of the vineyards were open for business. We bunny hopped up Big Sur in a storm to avoid possible falling rocks and got the most crazy brooding photo of Point Sur.  I braved the weather to see a beach full of Elephant seals and stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Hearst Castle was my absolute favourite part of the road trip. We saw zebra’s grazing on our approach to the mansion, had a hot cup of seafood chowder and took the first timers tour out of the 6 different ones that are offered.

Starting at the gorgeous blue Neptune pool on the terrace, the guide took us to Casa del Mar guest house where I was quite taken with a painting of French princess. The Casa Grande (main house) was decorated for Christmas with a tree made entirely of red Poinsettia plants in the main hall. We continued on through the refectory, the dining room and the after dinner room. There was a private cinema and the indoor Roman pool which I wanted for my own.

Our stop that night was in Monterrey Bay where we saw sea lions and otters from the pier. It was a place I wished we had stayed longer on our trip.

We went to Santa Cruz, but it was the one week of the year that the boardwalk was closed. Instead we saw classic blue lifeguard towers, spotted fur seals and envied at the nice houses on Pacific Ave at Beach Hill. Dinner was at a restaurant on fisherman’s wharf from where we watched the sunset over Cowell beach.

Our last stop before hitting San Francisco was the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We went to Redwood circle, Old circle, Chimney tree and Redwood burl. The tall trees, like the father and mother of the forest, reminded me of Yosemite and the squirrels looked quite at home here.

Related posts: Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

Las Vegas, 2007

We had pre booked a room in Las Vegas at The Stratosphere for $30 a night on a mid-week deal. It seemed like a ridiculously low price to me, but my husband-to-be (HTB) explained that the idea is to get you in and gambling- which is where the hotels make their real money.

The Stratosphere, located at one end of the strip, is one of the older casino’s that was recently revamped with the inclusion of 3 big scary rides- Big shot which shoots you up the tip of the tall tower, XScream which dangles you over the edge and Insanity which twirls you around while hanging over the edge.

I personally wasn’t insane enough to try any of them, but I did enjoy the view of wedding chapel road from the top and the planes whizzing by at eye level past our room. They also have a good cheap all you can eat buffet and an fantastic American diner called Roxy’s.

My HTB and I took a stroll along The Strip, which was deceptively far from one end to the other as the casinos appear larger than life.

We passed the demolition site that used to be the Frontier and the new Wynn complete with waterfall. The Sahara rollercoaster screamed past us as we walked by the tent of Circus, Circus.

Treasure Island had a big pirate ship out the front and we went inside Flamingo’s to see the real life flamingos. We continued past Bally’s and stopped to take pictures with the tiger and dolphin statues at the Mirage.

The Rialto Bridge at the Venetian looked fairly authentic, as did the Victory of Samothe statue and Trevi Fountain at Cesar’s Palace. The replica Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe at Paris looked just like the real thing, only smaller; and it was bizarre to see the Empire State Building right next to the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York.

It was definitely awesome to be able to revisit so many of my favourite monuments from other parts of the world in one place.

The fountain show at the Bellagio was everything it promised to be and more and I couldn’t believe that they had live lions inside the MGM Grand casino which was flanked by a huge golden lion out the front.

We passed the Planet Hollywood, Monte Carlo and the horse and cart outside Excalibur, concluding our tour at the Luxor sphinx.

Walking back, we were intrigued by Margaritaville and the life size dressed up M & M’s. I also stopped at the shops at Cesar’s Palace for my Zara fix.

Suitably exhausted, I headed back up to our hotel room, while my HTB stopped at the Black Jack tables downstairs. The next morning he informed me that he had broken even.

Related posts: USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

USA Road trip, 2007

Who doesn’t love a road trip?

As my husband-to- be (HTB) and I rolled out of Anaheim in our hire car, we were about to embark on my favourite road trip to date.

We coasted along the Californian highway beside flat plains with white windmills surrounded by mountains.

Our aim for today was to visit Joshua Tree National Park. We stopped at a small information centre along the way to make sure we were going the right way. They were very friendly and helpful and we were able to find the entry gates to the park very easily after that.

At Key’s View it was actually snowing and we rugged up as we took in the sight of the Coachella Valley. We saw Pinto Mountain, Cap Rock and Skull Rock, which actually looked like a skull. There were also some very brave rock climbers in Hidden Valley.

There were many Joshua Trees of course and lots of varieties of cactus in the Cholla Cactus Garden, where we also spotted a coyote with her cubs.

Near sunset, we made it to Indian Cove and the fading light produced pretty colours on the surrounding rocks.

We stayed the night in a motel at Twenty Nine Palms. For dinner, we went to the local BBQ restaurant where I had the biggest jacket potato I have seen in my life and my HTB ordered half a rack of ribs which sure looked like half a cow. We couldn’t believe it when a man from a new army base came in and ordered two racks just for himself.

The next day we hit the famous Route 66 heading to Las Vegas. We were very excited to be on such an iconic road. This part was basically just two straight roads in the middle of nowhere with no petrol stations, so we were very surprised to see a man walking along the road with two shopping bags about halfway through the journey. Where did he shop when there were no shops to be seen? And where was he going?

We passed Bristol Dry Lake, Amboy Crater and crossed the Nevada Border.

Next stop Vegas Baby!

Related posts: Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

Los Angeles, 2007

My husband-to-be (HTB) and I landed in Los Angeles airport and headed straight for Hollywood. I had flown through LA airport many times, but had never stopped to see the city itself, apart from Disneyland.

This time it would be different. We stayed in a hostel a few blocks from Hollywood Boulevard. The hostel overlooked the parking lot of the club of the moment, Opera, which Brittany Spears had been known to frequent.

Surrounding us were the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood sign- from a very far distance- but still legible. We headed straight for the Boulevard to spot Marilyn Monroe and Keanu Reeves amongst the stars on the street.

At the Chinese Theatre, we found Eddie Murphy’s handprints out the front. I was awed by the Roosevelt Hotel, made famous by many movies I am sure, but by Charlie’s Angels 2 for me.

We saw the lovely old Captain Theatre, Capitol Records and the appropriately themed Egyptian Theatre. We had dinner in the Pig and Thistle– supposedly a haunt of celebrities. I had never heard of Fredrick’s of Hollywood, but the lingerie on display there was certainly show stopping, such as the colourful bra designed by Sharon Stone.

The next day we decided to walk down Melrose Ave and perhaps find Melrose Place. Yes, I know, walk- nobody walks in LA and we quickly discovered why. Melrose Ave is a very, very, very long road. And if that wasn’t enough of a clue, the school bus driver who laughed at us as he passed and called out that we were crazy definitely clued us in.

We passed Kermit the frog at the Jim Henson studio, funky boutiques and coffee shops along the way. I purchased a pair of warm gloves from Target- a reliable shop for a bargain the world over it would seem.

Giving up on Melrose Place, we got on a local bus past Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and the pier. The palm trees here are as numerous and the Spanish style villas.

My favourite thing about LA was the The Getty. The bus trip up the hill that wove through the gated houses of Bel Air was followed by a tram ride up to the museum. When we arrived at the top, the view of the city was breathtaking and we really felt like we were on top of the world.

We hit the museum courtyard at dusk and the orange hues of sunset made beautiful dappled light patterns on the white marble walls of the museum. I loved the marvellous Fran & Stark Sculpture Terrace and inside the museum I felt very lucky to see Irises by Van Gogh and that bridge painting by Monet.

Coming back down to earth, we window shopped Rodeo Dr by night, finding a red dress at Valentino that I could never afford. We also saw the famous Beverly Wiltshire Hotel (scene of Donna Martin’s disgrace on Beverly Hills 90210, or was it Brenda’s first time?) and took our picture with the big Christmas tree set up on the Spanish steps for the season.

We finished our Hollywood adventure where it began on Hollywood Boulevard with half price pitchers of Margarita’s at L’Scorpion. They sure can mix a top Mexican cocktail in California, and the multi coloured corn chips went together with them perfectly.

Related posts: USA, 1990