Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Day 2 - Singapore

We were still operating on Australian time which is 2 hours ahead so we were up and out the door early for our first stop, Gardens by the Bay, which is relatively new, very lush and attractive.

We went into the flower dome which had plants from around the world and the first garden was easy for us to identify as it was Australian. The specialist garden on display was tulips, beautifully done with sculptures and mock Dutch shops, the variation in the colours was extraordinary.

Next stop was the cloud forest which had the most superb vertical gardens and cascading water however part way through we did wonder why we were visiting a man-made cloud forest when we have been to natural ones in places like Costa Rica and Rwanda.

We  left Gardens by the Bay and crossed the river walking past the sporting stadium on the water until we got to the Merlion statue which was engulfed with tourists. From there we walked to Chinatown and caught the train to Little India. The heat and humidity was pretty draining and K decided she needed a break so we headed back to our apartment to recuperate  before heading out for the evening.

We caught the train to Boat Quay and found a nice roof top bar on the river with a fabulous view of the impressive Marina Sands building before finding a good Indian restaurant with a table right on the edge of the water, which after 16km of walking for the day we felt we deserved. We need to eat up on spicy Asian food as we are sure it will be thin on the ground in Eastern Europe.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Day 1 - Melbourne to Singapore

Our flight was leaving at the very civilised time of 12.10pm so we caught a taxi to the airport and on the way tried to check to see whether it was on time. We had a bit of trouble finding the Scoot flight and that's when we discovered that while we might think we were flying Scoot they had actually merged with Tiger. The flight was fine, though Kathryn did get into a bit of a fight with the guys in front of us who decided to put their seats back about 3 milliseconds after the seat belt sign went off. 

Once we arrived at our little Airbnb apartment we walked down the street for dinner at a cheap corner restaurant and called it a night.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Day 225 to 227 - Homeward bound

Buffalo (USA) to Melbourne (Australia)

Day 225

Never buy a cappucino in the USA.
We started the long journey home with a flight from Buffalo to Los Angeles, stopping over in Chicago. The first flight was about an hour and 20 minutes, from a sunny Buffalo to an overcast and rainy Chicago. After waiting around another hour or so we took the next leg to LA, which was a flight of over five hours.

Once we landed we had to wait over half an hour for the shuttle to our hotel, where we'd booked an extended stay so we could have a very late checkout the next day.

Dinner was some very tasty Thai food from a restaurant just down the road from the hotel, just what we needed!

Day 226

Our flight wasn't until 10:30pm, so we took the local bus to visit Venice Beach. We had some lunch by the boardwalk, walked along the beach and checked out the sights. There was some really good skateboarding going on, but the muscle beach bit where we expected to see a bunch of himbos working out was pretty much empty.

After that it was back to the hotel to pack, then another visit to the Thai restaurant before taking the 7pm shuttle back to the airport for the flight home.

We didn't get much further though, after three hours in the airport and another three hours sitting on the plane, we still hadn't gone anywhere. There had been some sort of system error making it difficult to check people in, and it turns out the delay to our flight meant that the flight attendants would exceed the legal limit for hours worked, so the flight was cancelled. We were booked onto an 11:30pm plane the next day, and sent on our way with food vouchers (US$60 for three meals for two people), and information on getting our additional hotel costs refunded.

While waiting in line to rebook our flight we had been able to use the airport's free internet to book a room at the Hyatt next to the airport (the airline was paying), but many people were having difficulty finding a room.

Day 227

An extra day in LA, without transportation - great! At least the hotel was nice, and we'd booked another extended stay with a 7pm checkout, so we pretty much lazed around all day, before leaving for the airport at 7pm.

LA .... so picturesque when you stay near the airport
After checking our bags in we used our meal vouchers that were issued the previous night to get dinner at the airport, we had some trouble but in the end managed to get a reasonable meal as well as a few snacks for the trip.

Our 11:30pm flight was an extra flight that was scheduled because of the problems, so the atmosphere was different to a normal flight, everyone was chatting about what had happened and it was all a bit friendlier usual. We found out that some people had been unable to find any accommodation, so had stayed in the airport all night and all day, we were very lucky that we had been able to get a room.

When the flight finally took off everyone cheered and clapped ..... and 16 or so hours later we landed in Melbourne.

The End

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day 224 - Autumn colours


Having seen the Falls yesterday we didn't have much planned for today, we had read that there were some Amish communities in New York State, and when we did some research we found they were less than an hour from where we were staying, so we jumped in the car and headed south.

As we drove through the countryside the autumn colours were amazing, a mix of green, yellow and red leaves in the trees. We saw many Amish along the way, giving us a friendly wave as they drove their horse and cart along the side of the road, or working in the fields. At one spot we passed an Amish school, all the kids were playing outside, dressed in the same black and white clothing and all wearing wide brimmed hats. The Amish homes were generally easy to tell - washing lines full of plain black, white and blue clothing, no power lines running to the house, and a cart or buggy parked nearby.

We had hoped to stop in at some of the Amish farms to buy some produce or baked goods, but as it was a Tuesday the main places we were interested in were closed, they generally only open later in the week. There was one shop we wanted to visit and they said they were open but we needed to phone, as we didn't have a US phone that wasn't much use to us, and kind of funny that we were in Amish land but needed a phone. What was interesting was that we were in serious Trump country, the front lawns were plastered with Trump promotion and the occasional "Hillary for Prison" signs.

Later on at home as we were pottering about when we had a visit from a couple of deer, who had jumped the fence into the back yard and were munching on leaves. The older one wasn't too phased by us, but as soon as the younger deer saw us it jumped back over the fence and ran away, soon followed by the other one. There was deer repellent (whatever that is) hanging on the fence so we were sure the house owners wouldn't have been as thrilled about seeing deer in the back garden as we were.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Day 233 - Over the border


What's he doing at Niagara Falls?
Today we visited Niagara Falls, which are about an hour's drive from where we are staying. From our place in Angola we took the scenic route as far as we could along the edge of Lake Erie, past mansions on huge properties with great lake views. It is still a bit strange to see that most people don't have front or even side fences between their neighbours, it was only the biggest houses that had a gate and a fence.

We started with US side of the falls and walked around the state park, before visiting the observation deck and the boat platform to get closer views of the falls.

After that we walked across the bridge to the Canadian side of the border, where the view of the falls was spectacular, especially as it had turned into quite a beautiful day. As we walked along the promenade by the river to admire the view the number of people grew, it was getting super busy. We later found out that it was a public holiday in both the US (Columbus Day) and Canada (Thanksgiving).

After the falls we walked up into the town of Niagara Falls (the Canadian one) to see what that was like, it was one of the most overtly commercial places we have ever visited, it was like an amusement park, with a row of garish chain restaurants and tourist attractions - we are so glad we decided not to stay near the falls!

On the way back into the US we each had to pay 50 cents each to go through the turnstiles into the immigration area - one of the most ridiculous instances of needing to pay to enter a country, since going the other way into Canada cost us nothing, and the machine ate K's money and she ended up jumping over the barrier anyway!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Day 232 - Heading North

New York City to Buffalo

We had a short flight today from New York to Buffalo, all pretty smooth travelling, arriving in Buffalo around 1pm.

We weren't able to check into our Airbnb until 4pm, so after picking up our rental car we drove into Buffalo. It was sunny but not warm at all, the cold wind coming off the water kept a real chill in the air. We had some lunch and explored the Canalside area which was pretty quiet, the busiest area was near the naval museum which had a huge warship you could visit, though we didn't bother.

No, we're too scared to try these
Fron there we drove to our Airbnb in Angola right on the edge of Lake Erie, stopping along the way to pick up some groceries at what is possibly the largest supermarket we've ever seen, once again we were spoilt with choice and spent much longer there than we really needed to.

The place we are staying at is an old wooden house with a view of the water, so this should be a nice base for us for the next couple of days before we start the long journey home.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Day 231 - Half-decent coffee does exist in NYC!

New York City

Today is our last full day in NYC, and the grey skies and drizzly rain reappeared. We headed off to the tiny flea market at Hells Kitchen which wasn't able to hold our interest for more than five minutes - almost not worth the trip.

However around that area we were running into people dressed in superhero costumes, and we figured out that the NYC Comicon was on. We followed the crowds and had a look at some of the costumes people had dressed in, at one stage there was a group of people (many of them in Spiderman costumes for some reason) doing a bit of breakdancing, which was fun to watch for a while.

From there we walked to a cafe near Times Square which was advertised as having "Australian-style" coffee, and had a flat white. The main differences between the coffee here and what we had become used to in the US were that a) it actually tasted OK, and b) the small coffee was actually a small coffee. Of course we met some other Aussies there, and they told us that this was their 10th visit in 10 days.

After our proper coffee fix we caught the subway down to the south end of Manhattan. We weren't really paying attention though, and somehow we ended up in Brooklyn, so had to change trains and return to Manhattan - how did that happen? When we finally made it to the correct station we managed to evade the horde of touts trying to get us onto a boat to the Statue of Liberty. and reached Battery Park, where we walked in the rain along the Esplanade, getting a final look at the Statue of Liberty.
Why are there skyscrapers in the Nullarbor?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Day 230 - The Nexus of the Universe

New York City

Yet another beautiful day, and warmer than yesterday as well, so we broke out the shorts and took to the streets again, walking all the way from our apartment on 105th St to the "Nexus of the Universe" (according to Kramer from Seinfeld, anyway) at the corner of 1st St and 1st Avenue, passing through many different districts of Manhattan along the way.

After walking all that way we rested by taking the subway back, then headed out again a short while later to follow the path on the edge of the Hudson River to the Boat Basin on W 79th St, After a couple of drinks there while soaking up the sun, we headed back to the place we'd visited yesterday afternoon.

There we got talking to a New York couple who presumed we were living here as we were in such a non-touristy area, that's one of the good things about Airbnb, you can stay in "non-tourist" areas and (maybe) get a bit of an idea of how the locals live.

Interestingly, even though the US is a lot more like home when compared to the other countries we've visited on this trip, we've found that free wifi at restaurants and bars isn't as widespread here as it is in Central and South America. That's possibly because everyone has a smart phone with internet access, though places like Starbucks have it, as you can tell by the number of people who seem to be parked there for the day with their laptops (nearly all Apple Macs of course!).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Day 229 - Thanks Google Maps

New York City

We awoke to another nice day, so it seemed a shame to waste some of it, but we had already decided that we'd visit the Museum of Natural History. We walked there from our apartment, and found it wasn't too busy, the good thing about visiting museums on a nice weekday is that they are relatively quiet.

There were at least a couple of highlights in the museum. First there was the various animal sections, with lifelike models of animals of all sizes set within realistic scenery, made from the actual skin, teeth and bones of animals killed in the wild - we had no idea bears could be that big! There was also a very impressive dinosaur display with lots of reconstructed skeletons.

We didn't want to spend too long inside though, so the lovely day inspired us to head further afield, and we caught the train to the Bronx. It was obvious not long into the train journey that the demographics had changed, and once we started walking the streets of the Bronx we felt at times that we were back in South America, some parts of the suburb were quite run down and different to the nice clean part of Manhattan we'd been staying in.

USA's national bird - behind bars!
We used Google Maps to plot a course for us from the station to the "real" Little Italy in the Bronx, and for some reason it directed us to go through a part of the Bronx Zoo. On the way through we managed to get a look at the Birds of Prey exhibit, which included a lone tawny frogmouth from Tasmania. What we found espeically sad though was the Andean condor that was huddled on the ground in a corner. After having seen these majestic birds in the wild in the Andes soaring at a great height, it really seems cruel to lock birds like this in a cage where they're not able to fly at all. We are not exactly sure how we managed to get in to see any of the exhibits in the zoo, as we didn't pay to get in, and we exited through a gate that was closed to the general public.

The Little Italy in the Bronx was an area with lots of Italian restaurants, and some shops/delicatessens - a little similar to the one in Manhattan, but presumably more authentic as it was frequented largely by the local Italians, many of which were out on the street chatting to each other, and we couldn't see any other tourists while we were there.

We caught the train home again and finished the evening at the riverside bar we'd visited yesterday. .

We've been the following the news about Hurricane Matthew, so we are glad we left the Caribbean and Florida only a short time ago, somehow on this trip we have managed to be a couple of weeks behind or ahead of the major storms during this part of the year (first Earl and now Matthew).

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day 228 - At the top of NYC

New York City

A beautiful day in NYC without a cloud in the sky meant we started the day off with a walk through the streets of Manhattan. Overall the traffic here has been quieter than we expected and the roads in the city area seem to be less congested than at home, though today it seemed a little more lively with more pedestrians walking and shopping - must have been because it was a nicer day.
The Maccas of shoeshine places?
We had bought combined tickets when we visited MOMA that included entry to the Top of the Rock, which is the observation deck of the Rockefeller building. We had put off visiting in the hope that the grey skies and weather would improve and it paid off as today was perfect.
The lift the to the 67th floor is incredibly fast and made more exciting by a glass ceiling so you can see how fast you are barreling upwards. The three different levels on the top were all interesting and the views were clear and spectacular, even if we couldn't agree whether it would have been better to see the view from here as soon as we arrived to get a better understanding of the layout, or whether it's better to wait a few days after you've had a chance to explore at ground level.

Autumn sunset in NYC
After that we headed home, and after doing some research on the local area to find a nice spot to spend the rest of the afternoon we found an outdoor restaurant/bar close to our apartment and watched the sun set over the Hudson River.