Merry Christmas everyone! I am not afraid to say Ho Ho Ho, I am a woman and I don't find it offensive at all!
Well it is 8.30am on Christmas morning. I have had SO much fun here in Michigan for Christmas so far, and I don't doubt that I will have more fun today and beyond.
Yesterday was a pretty relaxing day, spent chilling and catching up on the small mountain of laundry I accumulated in New York. But then Terri and Dan took me to Dan's family Christmas Eve dinner, which was SO much fun. I felt so welcome there, and they have the most beautiful Christmas traditions. They also have small kids in their family, which always makes Christmas magical. Such cute kids they all are too.
The highlight for me was Santa coming to visit. Everyone, not just the kids, had a fantastic time, and it was very special that the hostess of the house, Dan's aunt, asked Santa to include me too! So here I am with Santa...
We had a delicious dinner, and again, everyone made me feel so welcome and I had so much fun.
From there we went on to spend some time at Terri's aunt's house, which was also lovely and welcoming.
And yes, it's a white Christmas! We haven't had a REAL lot here in Dearborn at Terri and Dan's house, but we've had some, which is all that matters. There is a little on the ground outside (enough to lob snowballs!) and make it good and cold! There was more out at Terri's aunt's place, I wish I'd have taken photos. But here is Terri and Dan's street:
And here I am all rugged up out at Frankenmuth on Sunday:
No laughing at the hat or this is what you will get:
And if you doubt how cold it is there... check out the creek:
I'm loving it!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas everyone! I am not afraid to say Ho Ho Ho, I am a woman and I don't find it offensive at all!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 11:22 PM
Hello from Michigan!
Yes, I have arrived safe and sound in Michigan, after a rather gruelling trip from NYC on Greyhound. I spent half of Saturday browsing around the area close to my hotel in NYC, doing a little Christmas shopping, a little hot chocolate drinking, a little bookstore browsing. Lugged my stuff all to the Port Authority Greyhound station about 2pm (thankfully I was helped to get a taxi from the hotel by Carlos from my hotel's lovely wife, sadly I never found out her name) and then lined up for almost 2 hours to get on my bus to Toledo.
Once on the bus, the driver told us that he would only take us as far as Cleveland, where a connecting bus would meet us. That's ok, at least I was going in the right direction! Got to Cleveland at 1am... and then discovered that I had almost 3 hours of layover there until my connecting bus to Toledo. So yes, as many of you back home who got my text messages will know, I spent three hours sitting on the floor of Cleveland Greyhound station, on my towel, in line for the next bus! Just how I love to spend the wee small hours of the morning.
But eventually I was on the bus to Toledo, I slept the whole way and then got off with low trauma, and only had to wait about 10 minutes for Terri and Dan to make it from Dearborn, MI, as the bus was a little early. They picked me up and took me back to their house here in Dearborn, where I could finally have a shower, and we just chilled for a bit until it was time to head out for some breakfast and face the day!
Went to Bob Evans for breakfast. I experienced a Bob Evans restaurant in Florida and liked it - good home style cooking for a good price, but their breakfasts are even better! Huge, like everything else in the US, and delicious. I felt so much better after that shower and a feed.
We then went out towards Frankenmuth, a town with a lot of German history, that is all Bavarian feel. Very much a tourist place, but awesome fun, particularly at Christmas. We stopped at an outlet mall on the way, and of course, I shopped! Two of my favourite stores, Bath and Body Works and Lane Bryant. REALLY cheap stuff.
Once at Frankenmuth, we stopped at Bronners Christmas Store. This is a massive, MASSIVE store entirely devoted to Christmas. You name the Christmassy thing, you will find it at Bronners. I can imagine it's pretty weird to go there at any other time of the year, but on the 23rd of December it was awesome fun. Except for the Christmas carol karaoke. There's only one thing worse than regular karaoke, and that's Christmas carol karaoke!
From there we went into Frankenmuth itself. It's a gorgeous town, all Bavarian style shops and restaurants. It was SO cold yesterday though - very, very windy and snowing on and off. I loved every minute of it, even if it was a bit of hard work keeping warm enough when we were outside. You will see photos later of me in my daggy hat, gloves and scarf.
Browsed shops and then had a late lunch of a half sandwich and soup with hot chocolate, and then browsed some more (trying to keep out of the cold outside) until it was time to take up our reservations at Zehnders famous chicken restaurant. YUMMO!! We had their buffet dinner and it was so good. I can see why their chicken is famous, it's fried chicken that isn't greasy or heavy or overly salty. It's just good! Particularly with bucketloads of mashed potatoes and gravy!
Drove around Frankenmuth then to look at the beautiful Christmas lights all through the town, and then headed back to Dan and Terri's house. I didn't last long before I was asleep (considering I'd had about 3 hours sleep in the past day and a half, I was doing pretty well!) and apparently they even stopped off at Terri's Dad's house on the way home and I didn't even wake up!
This morning I have woken to find more snow outside on the ground, it's just gorgeous. So special for Christmas Eve!
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 1:25 AM
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Charming aren't I? But it's the reality of sub-freezing weather. Your nose runs. Then it freezes. And you get wee booger icicles. And they hurt too.
As well as the frozen nose, I have very, very sore feet. I have walked and walked and walked today, I don't know how far. A long way!
But despite the cold (which I am enjoying, really) and the sore feet, it has been worth every moment. New York City is the most amazing place, it's incredible. It's also insane, but in a nice kind of way. I think a lot of people think of it as dirty, or rough, but other than being crowded and noisy, I haven't felt at any way nervous or intimidated by it. The crowds and the noise wear you out pretty quickly (that's why it's nice to sit in this quiet, warm internet cafe, even if it is expensive) but you see and do so much with it, it's totally worth it.
So what have I done today? Well, I managed to work out how the subways work (it's really easy once you get the gist of it) and took myself uptown to 77th Street, so I could see Central Park and go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Had a look around the posh area of Park and 5th Avenues, walked along the outside of Central Park (too cold to stay outside too long so I didn't go through the park) and then went up to the Met. It's HUGE, you could spend all day there and still not see everything. I tried to see everything but realised how fast time was going so I dropped some areas right off so that I could concentrate on the stuff that interested me the most. I loved the Greek and Roman/Ancient Near Eastern exhibit, the Armor and Armory, and the Egyptian art. But the best exhibit for me was without a doubt the 19th and early 20th Century Paintings and Sculpture. Mostly because they had several of my favourite artists works... Pierre-Auguste Renoir. As well as other Impressionists (Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Manet, Gaugin... all artists who's work I adore). I spent a lot of time gazing lovingly at those works, and got some beautiful photographs too.
From there I caught the Subway again at 77th Street and headed downtown to Grand Central Station. It looks exactly as it does on television. And for Christmas they have a light show thing projected on the walls of the main concourse (which is what you see in movies and TV with that clock in the centre) which was rather pretty.
I then walked along 42nd Street down to Times Square (more like fought my way down there - it's insane for Christmas) and then made my way back down 6th Avenue to the Radio City Musi Hall (home of the Rockettes). Again, it was a battle at that end of town. Back to Grand Central Station and on the subway again (I'm a bit of a subway expert now, LOL) back here to Union Station on 14th Street to head back towards the hotel.
Tomorrow I am off to Michigan (catching a bus out of here at about 3.30pm) and I will arrive there early Sunday morning. I'm there for Christmas with the lovely Mandie and the lovely Terri, until the 28th when I head back to Chicago for my last leg of this trip. Phew!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 7:28 AM
Friday, December 21, 2007
Ok, I'm descending into song lyrics again. That's what happens when I see something that is so iconic and awesome, I'm afraid.
Yeah so I'm in New York City!! I can't really believe it to be honest. I wish I could post some photos for you but they'll have to wait until I get to another computer, as this one isn't compatible to my camera thingy.
Well I arrived at Penn Station yesterday at about 11am. Took me some time to get my luggage and then get a taxi over to my hotel on 2nd Avenue. I arrived early (check in wasn't for another hour and a half) but Carlos, the owner allowed me to checkin early as my room was already prepared for me. 2nd Home on 2nd Avenue is a perfect hotel for me. Nothing fancy, but spotlessly clean, safe, relatively quiet (as quiet as NYC can be) and close to everything I could need. Carlos and his wife are ultra helpful and friendly, and it's a great rate.
Well I was rather exhausted after 24 hours travelling from Tampa, so I attempted to have an afternoon nap when I got to the hotel, but I was way too excited so I got myself all rugged up (there is snow on the streets here still!) and went exploring. Walked down 14th Street, and found an authentic NY pizza place. Had the biggest slice of pizza I've ever seen (like half a normal pizza you buy from Dominoes or something) and a Pepsi and it cost me $4.
Walked some more down 14th St until I found Union Square, where they are having a big holiday market. Browsed around there for an hour or so (what, you're surprised I went shopping?) and bought myself a couple of keepsakes, and then made my way back towards my hotel. Stopped off to get a bite to eat to take back to the hotel, and was fast asleep by 9pm!
Today was so busy, I am surprised I'm not sacked out in my hotel room now! I got up at about 7am, showered, dressed and ventured out to find some breakfast. Found a little place called City Gourmet on 14th Avenue where I had possibly the best cup of coffee I've had in America (not as good as I had in Canada at Wild though), a croissant and a banana, and an apple juice to go. All for like $7. And that's in NYC where things are expensive!
Went back to the hotel to chill a bit until my Big Apple Greeter arrrived. Big Apple Greeter is a fantastic service offered in New York for visitors to have a volunteer show them around the city... for FREE. My B.A.G, Sheila, was a dynamic retired lady from Queens that knows this city inside out! And is a ball of energy! We walked so far today, I certainly worked off any and all of what I've been eating lately!
She first took me via subway to Ground Zero, the site of 9/11. I have to say, I wanted a look to see the place for myself, but didn't expect to be as moved as I was. I was brought to tears just by being at the site. It's not just a scar on NYC, or on the USA, but really a scar on the whole world that ALL of us have suffered some way or another from. It's amazing that NYC has survived and prospered after suffering such a violent attack on them.
We then went through the Wintergarden, a lovely glass building with palm trees growing inside that it was very clear a lot of nannies bring their charges to play and interact when there is cold weather. All these cute little tots in the garden part. We sat there for a bit and looked at some maps, and then decided to head to Chinatown. WHOA, that's one big Chinatown!! It felt very familiar to me, Chinatowns the world over are all very similar. But the vastness could not be compared with anywhere I am sure. On our way to Chinatown she took me through the City Hall area and the best thing... I got to see the big court building - the same one that you see on Law and Order:SVU all the time (yes, I am a SVU junkie!)
We then went over to Little Italy, had a wander through there and made our way to Katz Deli, which is where they filmed THAT scene in When Harry Met Sally. You know, the scene where Meg Ryan fakes the orgasm. I had a corned beef and mustard on rye (well, we shared one, they're massive!) and soaked up the atmosphere. Great deli, if you're ever in NYC, you must go have a sandwich there.
We then headed over to SoHo, which is all designer shops and chi-chi-poo-poo these days. But the architecture is beautiful, and it has to stay that way thanks to city governance. So the old buildings that were the manufacturers zone of the time that they were built are still the same.
Finally she took me on the Subway to South Ferry, so I could say goodbye to her (after like 5 hours of walking!) and take the Staten Island ferry to get a look at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. It's free, and only takes just over an hour to do the round trip. Was very cool!
And then I did something very brave. I caught the subway from South Ferry ALL BY MYSELF back here to Union Square. I am so proud of myself!! It was one thing that really daunted me.
So tomorrow I feel all brave and enlightened to be able to go and explore by myself!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 8:40 AM
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Well I have moved on from Florida. Caught an Amtrak service from Tampa to NYC... don't get me started on Amtrak!! Word of advice, don't spend your money on a monthly USA rail pass. The services are WAY too limited and you end up having to spend MORE money. Thank God for dodgy old Greyhound is all I can say. But thanks to Amtrak, I am not able to make my Pennsylvania leg of my trip, and have to go straight to Chicago instead. Not that it is a chore to spend time with Missy, Danny and Stephanie, but it's very disappointing to not be able to see Karen, Autumn and Mari. That bit sucks.
So, what have I done since I last blogged? So much! Mum Barb and Poppa Bob certainly kept me moving, that's for sure. Those two wore me out... and they're old enough to be my grandparents!
Well, let's see. There was lunch at an authentic Cuban restaurant, for Cuban sandwiches and Devil Crab. The crab was nice, the sandwich was divine. I can't even remember the name of the little town, it was out in the middle of nowhere, but it was good food! Here's a picture of the restaurant...
And then another day we went out to Tarpon Springs, a kind of tourist area known for it's sponge diving by the Greek community. Lots of interesting history to the sponge industry (yes, it is interesting!) and Barb and I did a boat tour of the Anclote River out to Anclote Key. I really enjoyed that, so much to see and learn. Here are some photos...
An authentic sponge diving boat.
Look at the view!
Actually, look at the SKY!
My favourite boat seen that day. It was called "Pirates Ransom". I bet it cost one!
There is some serious money out that way. Check out these houses:
Another day we went in to Tampa, and had a look around Ybor City, the old cigar making district of downtown Tampa. Heavily Cuban influenced, there is a museum where you can see a cigar maker working at his craft, good markets on the weekend with lots to browse and the little houses dotted around that are those that the cigar makers would have lived in are so cute! Here is one:
This is a Cuban man who was hand making cigars in the museum. I got to practice a tiny bit of Spanish with him.
Then we went to have a look at Tampa University, as the main building used to be a hotel, and was bought by the University and restored. A fantastic building! It must have been glorious in it's heyday as a hotel.
Nice views of the city from Plant Park outside too:
The museum inside had a Victorian Christmas exhibit on, with each room decorated in a different Victorian theme for Christmas. Really pretty:
But sadly, yesterday I had to leave Mum Barb and Poppa Bob and Sammie the Big Sook Pit Bull (who tore the kitty toy I bought up for him in about 6 minutes. Not a violent tearing, but a lay down and just nibble and work at it until all his gizzards came out all over the floor!) and head up to New York City. 2 hours later on a bus (Tampa to Orlando) and 23 hours later than that on a train (Orlando to NYC) and I'm here! Have found this internet cafe around the corner from my hotel, so that will keep me amused after sunset when I don't want to be wandering around NYC alone!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 7:19 AM
Thursday, December 13, 2007
One weary, footsore traveller here tonight. Barb and I took ourselves off to Lowry Park Zoo today, here in Tampa.
It's very cool, a lovely zoo that has the animals in enclosures as close to natural as they would be in the wild. Most of them are part of breeding programmes for endangered species, or injured animals that could not be rehabilitated. And they're all very happy and content looking. Quite like Australia Zoo, only not on such a huge scale.
Well you know me. Beeline for the birds, if you know me you know I love birds. And first off I found some rainbow lorikeets that you could feed. Now you'd think, being an Australian living on the Eastern coast, I'd get thoroughly sick of rainbow lorikeets right? Wrong! Even if they do wake me up at 4am in the morning, I still love them. See?
That's my hand there.
Me and Barb, with our lorikeet friends
And this guy was some other kind of lorikeet that I didn't recognise. Yes, that's my hand again.
Another favourite were the flamingoes. I didn't realise that the colour in them was so vibrant:
There were all kinds of other animals to experience.
From big babies:
To little babies:
From active, sociable ones:
These guys ate out of our hands and slapped the water to soak us, and liked to be tickled.
To more retiring types:
From those that kept their distance and just observed:
To those that got a little closer and more interactive:
(Look, it's got eyelashes like Floss!)
And then there were they shy type, that didn't much care for the intrusion of visitors and their cameras:
To those of a little more exhibitionist nature:
All in all it was a great day. And to top it off, if I wasn't quite so sure how far I was from home, I found this to remind me.
(For those who don't know, it says Indooroopilly, a suburb of Brisbane, and is about 15 minutes from my house)
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 9:50 AM
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Hello from sunny Florida. Like Queensland, it's the Sunshine State, and it's definitely living up to it's name at the moment. It's December, winter... and today was about 28C! Bizarre! I actually didn't bring any warm weather clothes with me, so I had to go to Wally World and invest in some cheap shorts. That's cheap shorts, not cheap shots. I already have plenty of those.
Yesterday was great fun. Mum Barb and Poppa Bob took me out to Fort De Soto, which is on the Gulf of Mexico coast a little south of Tampa. We started with breakfast at the Atlanta Bread Company (good bagels and coffee) on the way out, then stopped off at one of the spots Poppa Bob was looking for one of his geocaches. He spends a lot of time doing that, he should be able to map this area blindfolded!
We arrived at Fort De Soto and had a look around the fort. It's been there since before the Civil War, and has a long and colourful military history. Sadly it didn't lend itself to photographing at all, but the views from the top of it... wow!
On down to the pier for what we really came for... FISHING!
Now I love to fish, but I am notorious for never catching anything. So I wasn't at all surprised to see people around me catching, but all I was doing was drowning prawns. Barb landed something well before me, even if it was a little one:
I believe this is called a Pin Fish.
After awhile, Bob said that the people at the end of the pier were all doing well catching Lady fish, as there were a lot of bait fish under the pier. So he changed my rig and we moved down there.
First line he cast out for me (I couldn't work out how to cast his fishing rod) I was whizzing back in and BANG! Something on the end of it. And something big!! Got it all the way up to the pier, hauled it up the side and the damn thing slapped the side of the pier as I was trying to get it over the railing and dropped off back into the water! A Lady fish, at least 18 inches long! BAHHHHH!!!
Bob saw it. He agrees it was a big one. He'll sign a statutory declaration to prove it if you don't believe me!
Soon after that, Barb landed a nice little trout. Not big enough to keep but it was a pretty fish. Only thing is we're not sure it survived being caught, it swallowed the hook and took us ages to get it out to throw it back:
Ages went by and Barb landed a couple more pin fish, when I got Bob to change my rig back to prawn bait and tried again, and finally it happened... I landed myself moby dick...
Massive, isn't he? Of course, I thought he was a bit big for me to gut and fillet, didn't have a knife big enough, so I tossed him back.
A little later, I picked up his big brother...
That was enough fishing for us. Actually more than anything I was getting a tad sunburnt, so it was time to move on. We went for a late lunch at Bob Evans Steakhouse (pot roast sandwich with fries and coleslaw - really tasty) and then a bit of shopping at WallyWorld, before heading home and collapsing.
I had such a great day yesterday, mostly I just enjoyed being around Mum Barb and Poppa Bob, letting them fuss over me and parent me! It's not something I'm used to and it was lovely. I think they had as much fun as me hooting and hollering when I caught something, and Bob spent ages showing me how to cast on his fishing rod and tying new rigs for me. Such fun!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 8:19 AM
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I promise, I've exhausted my repertoire of San Francisco song lyrics now...
Day two in San Francisco turned out to be the most stunning weather. Clear and cool, with a wee bit of wind to keep one on one's toes, it made for an amazing day of sightseeing. Not to mention fantastic photos.
David was our tour guide again, and he didn't let us down on day two. We started with breakfast at the delightfully named Squat and Gobble, famous for it's crepes. They were good, mighty good. A bit of a browse around the fun shops in the area of West... (where I fell in love with a pink paisley laptop bag that was sadly out of my budget and I'm still pining for it) and then back into the car to head out to Pier 39. (Which I forgot to mention we had done some shopping at the night before).
David took us through Castro, the well known gay and lesbian district of San Francisco. It's a colourful, open, funky and clearly very accepting neighbourhood. Possibly one of the biggest flags I have ever seen dominates the area, and it looks magnificent:
And I have an artistic shot taken out of the window of the moving car:
Once at Pier 39, we found that we could take an hour long ferry tour around San Francisco Bay for just $21 each. Well worth the money, even if the recorded voiceover is mega, mega cheesy. I think it was supposed to be Captain Nemo, but it was just Captain Pathetic! But we tuned it out and generally just watched the sights of San Francisco from the open top deck of the ferry.
The Golden Gate Bridge:
The seals that have made the pontoons at Pier 39 their home:
Once back on dry land, it was time for some souvenir shopping (you all know me and my postcard habit) and a Ben and Jerry's ice-cream before heading back to the flat that Jacquelline shares with David and Manon. But on our way, David took us via these beautiful houses, that you may recognise:
Of which my favourite was this one:
And the ones in a nearby street were just as pretty, I liked this one best:
The black house to the left was for sale... anyone want to go in with me to buy it as a holiday home?
And also via the City Hall building, which is pretty spectacular too:
Once we got back to Pacifica we took a walk along the sea front to watch the sunset, though it was so windy we couldn't walk far. But I did get a rather spectacular view, as the photos show:
We ended the evening with yet another fine Dim Sum meal! Unlike tacos, I could never get sick of Dim Sum!
Off to Florida next, the weather's likely to be markedly different down there!
Posted by Sleepydumpling at 12:04 PM