Tuesday, July 29, 2008

28th July - San Francisco

Well. Life certainly is not boring. And it's days like these you really wish you had normal hearing so you can sort things out yourself.

It started last night. I hit the sack at 8pm as I was simply exhausted. Mike went out and searched for a beer and dinner and walked the streets. He felt someone brush up against him, but didn't think anything of it.

Until.... this morning. Where's my wallet??

We unpacked everything. Went through every pair of shorts and trousers. Every nook and cranny. Every drawer and pocket. We unpacked and repacked everything. No wallet to be found. It was lost - good and proper. $250 USD cash, Credit cards, Drivers license - G O N E!

We found out where the police station was so, instead of going on our city wide tour, we walked down 5 blocks to the police and wrote up a report for insurance purposes. There is no hope of it being handed in, because of the number of homeless around the area he was.

We told the police we needed help to ring to cancel the credit card as we couldn't hear on the phone. Not a problem. He wrote everything down - fortunately Mike had written his card number in a note book so we had all the information. Unfortunately due to budget constraints the station couldn't make a toll call so they told us to go to the Southern Station on 850 Bryant. I asked if we should take a taxi - but they said no - walk it.

So we walked it. After an hour we finally found it, but not before asking several people if we were on the right track. We were but were told to 'watch our backs as it's unsafe'. Lovely.

The police are behind glass and you talk to them via a phone. We couldn't do that so we told them we were deaf and they passed us pink paper through the glass with written messages. We were told to go to the 4th floor to room 454 and ask for the Robbery Inspector. Before we could get to the lifts, we had to go through a security check like the airport!!

We were seen by a Sergeant Scott Warnke. He was simply brilliant, and went well out of the way to help us. He spent a good two hours with us, ringing NZ for us and cancelling the credit card, and then organising a replacement with Mastercard International that will be delivered to Mike tomorrow morning between 8 and 10am at the hostel. He will be able to use the card, but not at any ATM to withdraw cash.

This lovely police officer then DROVE us down to Fisherman's Wharf afterwards so we could spend the afternoon down there. Now that is really going above and beyond and we are truly truly grateful for his help.

We then spent the afternoon at Fisherman's wharf wandering around. We had lunch at the Boudin Bakery = clam chowder in Sourdough bun - it was wonderful = slurp - yum. We watched this duck-like diving bird dive under the water and attack 3 seagulls from underwater which was hilarious. The seagulls complained bitterly!

Onto Pier 39 and took photos of the sealions, then wandered around the shops. Caught the cable car back up to Union Square then walked back to the hostel. Got back about 8pm. So all in all a good day, apart from the initial panic from Mike this morning!! I kept Mike calm though - re-iterating that there was absolutely nothing we could do about it but sort it out.

City tour tomorrow now - at least the lost wallet gave us something different to do :)

27th July - San Francisco

Wasn't up toooooooo early this morning - 9am! We finalised our packing, then had the leftover cheesecake for breakfast (oink oink). We had some porridge too! See - told you I'm turning into porridge! Steven then dropped us at our backpackers hostel in Union Square. It's a bit of a dump, but clean, and we have our own room where we can lock up - so it's safe. Close to the shops so thats good too. After dropping off our luggage, we headed up to Circuit City. I was finally able to get Wendy's birthday present there at a reasonable price. We then walked down to the downtown area and went window shopping. I enjoyed it at Sak's fifth Avenue. Particularly at the Jimmy Choo's handbag section. Handbags only $2300 usa. Thought about getting one each for all my female friends. It's the thought that counts isn't it?

Picked up some lunch in the Macy's foodcourt - we went to a mexican place - yummy food and the chef is apparently famous, but obviously not famous enough for me to know about it downunder! Wandered around Macy's store - tried on a few of the sale clothing, but didn't buy anything - I actually think I'm too tired to appreciate anything. Saw lots of clothes that Anne and Wendy would love - but they're not here to try them on - all clothes on sale - 60% reduce so some real bargains in there. By this time it was close to 6pm - and it is FREEZING in SFO. I only had a tshirt on - so we headed back to the hostel.

Caught up on emails and started reading another book. I've had it. Actually to be honest - I want to come home now. I've had enough of sightseeing, walking, shopping, and sleeping in hostels. I'm sure if I get a decent nights sleep tonight I will feel more energetic for tomorrow's plans. We're doing the double decker sightseeing tour around the city - stops at 12 different places and we can get on/off all day long. Nothing planned for Tuesday - would like to go to Yosemite but it's too expensive at $130 for the day. Alcatraz was completely booked out - we tried to book it over a week ago and it was booked out then. We have most of the day on Wednesday too before we fly out at 7pm for Hawaii for 3 days. I want to lie on the beach and do nothing!!

26th July - San Bruno

We had a day at Steven's yesterday - Steven went off to help a friend with a roof, while I slept in and caught up with some sleep, caught up with emails and my blog, did 3 loads of washing (ugh - even on holiday I have to do laundry!!), read my book - finished it, snoozed, and generally lazed around all day long. It was absolute bliss, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact, even now, I would like nothing better than to blob out on my sofa in my lounge all day - but thats a few more days away yet.

Steven came home around 8pm, and he and Stacey brought dessert, and another friend Rachel to meet us. Dessert was from the Cheesecake Shop (Yum), and they picked up Key Lime Flavour - oh bliss bliss. It was beautiful. Later on we realised we hadn't eaten so Steven cooked us up some Soup - so we ate dessert first - thats okay though - life is uncertain so you should always eat dessert first! We talked well into the early hours of the morning so was pleased to hit the sack, but was very sad to say goodbye to Stacey whom I've felt like I've known for years already.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

25th July - San Diego - San Francisco

Shuttle was on time. Yawn. Too early for me. Got to the airport at 5.00 and was through check in and security by 5.20am. Our flight wasn't until 6.30am. So found some breakfast food and a cup of tea and had that. Thank goodness I did that because we got no food on the plane. Nothing except water. Flew Virgin airlines. New plane, but made a terrible scraping
noise as it went down the runway. I told Mike that was his suitcase wit his leather boots dragging as they couldn't fit it in the plane.

The plnae had little TV's behind the screen like the international flights, but if you wanted to watch a movie you had to pay $7.00. We did find a free CNN channel to watch, but it was a little disconcerting watching the news about the Qantas flight with a hole in the fuselage while we were flying to San Francisco. In the end I turned it off and tried to sleep for an hour. Rested my head on my hand over one of my eyes - and fell asleep. When I woke up the pressure on my eye meant everything was blurry for about an hour - couldn't see at all!!

Steven picked us up - I lost Mike again as I thought he was behind me - but he was using his phone so didn't see me as I thought he did. Steven found him though so that's okay. PIcked up our luggage then piled into Steven's car, and came back to his place. It felt like we were 'home' again. We then reorganised ourselves, and Steven drover us out to Muir Woods- the large redwood park famous in San Francisco. We went via the Golden Gate bridge and took photos. At Muir woods we walked the main track - very peaceful and beautiful. We saw and photograhed two wild deer - one still with its spots - Bambi :) We lost Mike again at Muir Woods but found him again shortly after! After leaving Muir woods we went to Stinson Beach - highway one but north instead of south. Had lunch in a bar and grill - very nice. I was starving as it was now 2pm and we hadn't eaten since 5.30am. Drove back towards San Francisco stopping at various viewing places for photos.

Went into San Francisco and parked car in North Beach area then walked for miles taking photos of the architecture to the Ferry buildings where we met Stacey - Steven's partner. Walked through Little Italy, Chinatown, Vietnam area and the sex shop area as well. All very very interesting! And yes - we went into one of the sex shops to check out prices and see what goodies Americans have! We didn't buy anything though!!! We then caught a taxi to our Italian Restaurant where we were booked into and had such a fun night of laughing, joking, teasing and eating. I ordered a Lobster Lasagne - was very beautiful but too rich after all my porridge eating!! Could only eat a tiny amount. After dinner walked back tot he car and we dropped Stacey at home, then came back to Steven's. Had a couple of Kahlua's then hit the sack.

it's now 25th July - and we're having a quiet day today - doing emails, catching up on washing, snoozing, reading and rejuvenating our stumps! We head back to San Francisco City tomorro where we have about 3 days in the city itself. Running out of dosh so am being careful now. Got to leave a bit for Hawaii :)


24th July - San Diego, Tijuana Mexico - San Diego

Got up earlier today and caught the blue line trolley to the International Border, then walked into Mexico. Got a bit lost when we got there so caught a taxi to Revolucion Street for $5. Tijuana is known to be a bit dicey so wanted to take no chances. Mexico is so different t anywhere I've been. Dry, dusty, hot and very poor. The sellers along the street are very aggressive trying to sell you things. If you stopped and bought one, you would immediately be surrounded in old women and children begging you to buy their wares.

At first because of what we had been told, we were very wary, but soon relaxed a bit and took out our cameras. Kept our wits about us though. Met some lovely people - Mexicans are generally happy people, and nice, with some rip off artists. We walked around for a few hours and bought a few things. I got some leather belts very cheap. Mike bought some leather
boots - very nice ones at that too. In the end we got sick of being haggled so headed back over the border. Bought some Kahlua (big bottle for $12 at the border duty free. Nice stuff! Mike got some Tequila. We've already drunk half the kahlua (sharing it with Steven in SFO). We need to drink it up as it's too heavy to take home with us!

Back to the trolley bus, passport stamped and back to the hostel. Packed up some of Mike's gear - trying to fit his boots in his luggage. We then headed to the pub around the corner and had a game of 10 pin bowls. I hate the game but still managed to get three strikes. Mike plays league in NZ and so was out of my league.

We then met Linda Binns from the SWC and took her to the kiwi pub on 6th and E st. Lots of kiwi stuff around the pub - including rugby jerseys, surfing memorablia and the toilets were named the Long Drop. It was ladies night so all wine was half price, so we bought a bottle of Matua Valley Pinot Noir for and shared that. After drinking the wine - Linda had to
leave us, so Mike and I walked around the Gaslamp area and down to the Exhibition area looking for somewhere to eat. There is a comic convention on in San Diego - with 120,000 attendees, which meant that place is packed so we finally found a spot at Subway where we shared a $5 footlong sub. People were wandering around dressed up as their favourite comic characters. Reminded me a bit about 'Furries'.

Got back to hostel about 10pm, wrote all my memory cards to CD and HDD, booked airport shuttle and tried to sleep. No go. I think I got maybe 2 hours sleep as I had someone sleeping above me in a bunk that tossed and turned which shook the bed all night. Shuttle picking us up at 4.45am! Gulp.

23rd July - San Diego

Up early again today - but Tiffany at Hooters must have worn him out as he took ages to get ready so didn't get away until 10am. We got on the trolley bus near our hostel and got off at San Diego's Old Town. Wandered through Old Town for a bit. It was very hot, then got tickets for the Old Town Trolley Bus City tour. It takes you around the whole of San Diego and you can get and off as you please.

We got off first at the harbour by the Maritime Museums. Denis Conners racing boats were on display and you could pay (through the nose) to ride on them. We decided not to. Back on the bus and passed the USS destroyer museum. Got off at Seaport Village and wandered around. Too expensive so just had a yoghurt icecream and sat in the shade and listened to a woman wailing - I mean singing. Back on the bus again, and over the Coronado Bay Bridge. Got off at Coronado hotel and walked along the promenade along the beach front. Mike pretended to be a guest of the hotel and went in and used their facilities to get changed (hotel guests only). He went for a swim, while I lay on the beach in the sun for half an hour. Water was dirty - oily from the naval base/shipyeards. After the swim Mike once again pretended he was a guest and went in and used their towels and showers while I sat primly outside!!

The hotel was fantastic - we wandered through it afterwards, and had a beer at the bar and pretended to live the life of Riley for a while. Afterwards, walked back to the bus and got the ride back to Oldtown via Balboa Park. Got to Oldtown about 4.15pm and then caught the Number 9 bus to Seaworld. We were rather shocked at the price of Seaworld, $61 so visited the 'guest relation' desk. Explained we were from NZ and only had a few hours (which we did), and that we were deaf. The result was that we got in for half price $30.50. A much better price.

Seaworld was huge. My feet were killing me. Mike had blisters. I think this meant that we didn't enjoy it as mjch as we would have liked. However we walked around taking photos - sea otters, orcas, beluga whales, turtles polar bears dolphins. Had some dinner, went on the arctic Ride then rushed over to be on time for the 8pm Shamu Show (Shamu RocksO. Very good but my photos won't turn out - got a bit dark. Left that and went by the moray eel's. Got to touch one - very slimy! I didn't think they would feel slimy - I expected it to be more like a shark skin - but no - slimy slimy - ewww!

Took the #8 bus back to oldtown, and jumped on the trolley bus back to our hostel at 10pm - 12 hours of walking. I have no feet left. You can call me stumpy!

Found out the manager of Lucky D's hostel where we're staying is a kiwi - and co-incidentally comes from Northcote - and lives in Lake Road - the same road as me. How coincidental is that??? - Almost as coincidental as bumping into the Restalls in London Picadelly Tube at Rush hour 25 years ago!!

22nd July - San Diego

Got up early - 7.30am Free breakfast on 3rd floor (why is it that we always seem to get the top floor of a hostel when we have heavy baggage? - no elevators - we have to walk up 4 flights of stairs.) The breakfast was only sugared cereal so I headed to the room and got one of our packaged porridges to fill the gap.

Wandered to broadway and caught the #7 bus to the Zoo. On the way we saw lines and lines of homeless people - many of them elderley, queueing up for food at the Salvation Army soup kitchen. Very very sad.

Arrived at the zoo at 9am. it's simply huge. We got in for half price because we were deaf. I like playing this deaf card when it works like this. We purchased the full ticket and got the audio tour first. I couldn't hear anything that was said, but we got a good overview of where everything was from this tour. Started walking, starting with the rare Francois Langurs. The panda exhitibition was fantastic, and the aviaries were great too. Needless to say I took many many photos. I"m not sure how I'm going to fit everything on my computer when I get home. We got lunch about 2pm, then took the gondola up to the Polar bears. Like the hippo exhibit, you could view the underwater which was interesting. Back down the gondola, we were going to leave, but found the reptile/snake pit so ended up going through that as well. Saw a huge Burmese Python which was albino so a gorgeous yellow and white colour. Would make lovely shoes (Just kidding!)

Out of the Zoo we then walked through Balboa Park. By this time it was 5.30 so none of the museums were open, but still gorgeous to walk through the spanish architecture. We needed to find our way back to the hostel, so caught the free trolley back up near the zoo, and found the bus stop. We were told the hostel was miles away so should catch the bus, not walk, so
we did, but ended up that we could have walked as our stop was only two blocks away. We got back to the hostel at 8pm - I was too tired - so just had porridge for dinner and headed to bed, while Mike once again pounded the pavements in search of something more substantial. He found it in the form of Tiffany at Hooters!!! I'm sure I'm going to get Scurvy as I haven't been able to find suitable fresh fruit and vegetables while I've been away. I think I'm turning into porridge!

21st July - San Luis Obispo - San Diego

We had a great breakfast. I wandered outside again in the hope to get a photograph of a humming bird but there were none to be seen. We left around 9am. Stopped for photos before we had even left the property! Such a gorgeous area. We left the freeway and went into San Luis Obispo township itself. Gorgeous township. WE found a Sports Authority store and stopped in there. I finally managed to get my pair of Teva Walking Sandals I had been trying so hard to find. They were on sale too so very pleased. I also bought some casual shoes, so thats two pairs of old shoes I can now throw out while I'm over here, which was my intention all along.

Got back on the road at 10.30am. Stoped again at Carpenteria State Beach for a coffee and a sandwich. Looks beautifully tropical - white sands and tall palm trees. From there we started heading inland to LA, but got a bit lost, so got back off the US101 and took the 23 South over the Santa Monica Mountains back to the coast. I was driving - snd found the mountains a little hairy - narrow roads, very windy - very steep but beautiful views so glad we did it. We came out just north of Malibu - so filled up with gas and then headed to the beach. Malibu beach and the area was beautiful. Huge homes, white sands. I kept my eye out for George Clooney in the hope I could bring him back to NZ. But no luck unfortunately. Sigh!

Back into the car and carried driving down the coast. Stopped at Santa Monica Pier. Parking cost $8 (gulp) but we decided we're only here once and for a short time so let's do it. Walked over the sand, under the pier, then up onto the pier on the other side. Wandered through the games/rides and up to the top of the wharf. Then back to the car. All very lovely and so nice to see it in person after seeing it in movies so many times.

We left at 4pm (rush hour in LA), and got onto the 405 South away from the coastline. Decided that we just needed to get to San Diego now. You think Auckland traffic is bad? Try driving in 8 lanes each way of bumper to bumper traffic. I will never complain about Auckland's traffic woes again. Well - not for a month anyway!

Onto the CA 73 which turned into the I5 South. I'm so amazed that each freeway merges onto another freeway, which merges onto another freeway. We have a lot to learn in NZ :) We stopped at Oceanside (I think that's where Grease was filmed), and had dinner at Spanky's Pizza. Sounds a bit suss but they are world famous for their 28 inch pizza's. You have to see it to believe it - it was simply HUGE. WE didn't have one but did see others that did. Back onto the freeway all the way to San Diego Airport where we had trouble locating the car rental place to drop of the car. Finally found it after about an hour of driving. After paying for the rental car, they provided us with a free shuttle to the airport, where we then picked up an Airport Shuttle to our hostel. Hostel is a big place, clean, secure, $25 a night including breakfast. I hit the sack straight away - too tired, but Mike went out and pounded the pavements looking for a beer and meal. Guess I'm showing my age!!

20th July - San Francisco - H1 - Monterey - San Luis Obispo

20th July - San Francisco - Highway One, Monterey, San Luis Obispo.

Steven woke me up at 6am. I was in such a heavy sleep it took me ages to work out where I was. He cooked us porridge for breakfast so we wouldn't get hungry and stop off everywhere, drew us a map to get to highway one from his place, packed up the car and we took off. The map was easy to follow - Stevens house in San Bruno is not far from highway one.

We first stopped at Pigeon Point at a lighthouse. We took photographs but the lighting wasn't that good. A bit foggy and overcast. Drove through Santa Cruz - didn't stop as we didn't think there was much to stop for, even though it is famous for it surfing. Looked cold. Second stop was in Monterey. WAlking to the wharf we came across a drunk asleep on park bench - I took a photo, but then felt guilty as next minute 2 fire paramedics, 4 cops and 2 ambulance drivers were there with him. I wondered if he was dead - but we saw him move - thank goodness. All up he had about 8 people attending to him.

It was FREEZING in monterey. I bought a fully lined jacket to keep me warm for $20. So cheap - made in China, but it did the job of keeping me warm and I'll be able to use it in NZ again. We wandered down the wharf keeping a look out for wildlife. Monterey is famous for whale watching, sea otters, harbour seals (spotted). I managed to get a few good photos of spotted harbour seal. I eventually wandered over to another part of the wharf and spotted a sea otter - was so excited about getting one in the wild I didn't check my camera settings - so not sure if it will turn out.

I lost Mike while at this wharf - so headed back to the car to find him waiting for me. He had bought a great coffee - mexican latte. Because I had taken so long I had to forfeit my chance of a coffee, however his coffee was fantastic - and fortunately for me he was driving and forgot he had it - so I drank most of it anyway!!!

Back on the road we stopped a few more times. The views were incredible. Just before the Hearst Castle we stopped in a viewing area to stretch our legs, and saw what we thought were chipmunks. We fed them - they were gorgeous. We were later told they were ground squirrels. However we still found them fascinating and I took some good closeups. They were taking
food out of our hands and they would let us stroke their paws.

Up to Hearst Castle. The castle is absolutely stunning with some very rare pieces of art from Europe/china. Incredible tour by a very knowledgeable guide. Bought a few knick knacks in the shops then carried on to San Luis Obispo to David and Diana's place. We found the Men's Colony (prison) okay, but still managed to get lost after that but eventually found our way.

David and Diana's house is really beautiful, and it was great catching up with them again after the reunion and we had a very enjoyable evening. We loved the pukeko's and kiwi's in the garden. I also saw a couple of hummingbirds but couldn't get close enough to photograph them However glad I just saw them.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 11 - 18th July - Sacramento - Lake Tahoe - San Francisco

Were up at 5.30am, packed up, carried luggage downstairs, cooked up some porridge for breakfast, had one teaspoon of it, then the shuttle arrived, so had to bin breakfast and get into shuttle. Damn - I was hungry. Shuttle cost $39 for the three of us (another hosteller came with us - Raul - also had a hearing impairment, that we met the night before. He asked if he could come with us and we said yes.

Shuttle dropped us off at the rental car place. We had ordered a midsize car - but they didn't have one ready, so they upgraded to a big SUV! Very comfortable - even bigger than the van we had going from Montreal to Chicago in 2006 - very nice too. Not too gas hungry.

I drove first. Everytime I went to indicate to turn, I turned the windscreen wipers on, but apart from that I was okay. Drove all the way to Lake Tahoe - stopped for breakfast at Tahoe City as we were starving by then. IT took two hours to drive up. After breakfast drove down the side of the lake and found a carpark. Walked to the beach to find a booth selling tickets for a boat trip on the lake, leaving in 10 minutes. So we decided on the spur of the moment that this would be the best way to see the lake. The ticket 'boy' asked if I was over 55. I told him that just for insulting me, he could give me the discount anyway. He did!!!

The boat trip was beautiful. Very blue water, hot and sunny. Mountains all around, even with a bit of snow up top still in mid summer. Place was crowded with lots of Americans holidaying there. The lake is the 2nd largest body of water in North America - isn't that big in square miles (92), but very very deep. Apparently if the USA ran out of water, it could supply every single american with enough water for 3 years. If it emptied, it would take 700 years to refill naturally.

The boat took us to emerald bay - very very beautiful. Took loads ofphotos as usual.

Back to the car after the trip (2.5 hours), and left Tahoe and made our way back to Paul's. We dropped Raul back in Sacremento - Mike was driving this time - several times he drove on the left, so I will probably drive the next leg down. Arrived Stockton about 5.00pm Google maps are excellent for navigating around USA. We picked up our luggage we had left there, said our goodbyes to Paul, then drove to San Francisco to Steven's place in San Bruno. It was great to see Steven again - he hasn't changed a bit - doesn't look a day over. The only difference is he now sports two cochlear implants (blue ones) on his ears. I asked if that made him 'bi'? We talked until Midnight. Fantastic.

Am very sunburnt from the lake trip -because we had no idea we would go out on the boat, I didn't pack the sunscreen. I have a touch of sunstroke - which is uncomfortable but not as bad as Tahiti 2 years ago. San Francisco is cold - 12C compared to the 38C in Tahoe!! Foggy. Tomorrow it's just washing, and taking it easy for a day!!

We start driving to San Luis Obispo on Sunday, we'll be back in SFO on the 25th - so no internet until then!!

Day 10 - 17th July - Sacramento

We were up early and walked with our luggage the 4 or so blocks to the hostel. Much much nicer - clean, airy - an old victorian villa. It was fantastic and only $23 a night. While we are not exactly 'youth' we could still stay there. Our room wasn't quite ready - so we placed our luggage in storage and hit the streets of Sacramento. First up was breakfast. We found an amazing place called Jim's Denny's, a little outpost a few blocks away and a very historic landmark. Breakfast consisted of a pancake - bigger than the dinner plate it came on, and some hash browns. NOt very healthy I know but we were hungry. People there were really friendly, and I finally got a cup of tea I could call 'tea'. We couldn't eat all our breakfast so got a 'doggy bag' to feed the squirrels down in the park.

Walked to the State Capitol building and tried to feed the squirrels, but they weren't interested. Didn't even want to be photographed, so dumped the doggy bag in the trash and carried on. Wandered through the State Capitol building, home of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Very impressive. Then wandered back up the other way to Enterprise Rentals and booked a mid size car for tomorrow.

Back down past Capitol Building and wandered through a mall that took us to Old Sacramento. Very interesting - old buildings, fantastically historic place. Very hot - about 37C by 2.00pm. Mike wanted to walk through a museum. I had had enough though - the heat had sapped all energy and we had been walking since 8.00am. We headed back to the mall and air-conditioning. I wandered through Macy's but couldn't find anything I liked, but I did find the shop for those nice body lotions and got a few presents. Wandered around the mall until about 5.00pm. Walked back to the hostel. I was too tired for dinner so just made up some porridge. Mike went out with another hosteller, and hit the sack - was asleep by 9pm!!!

The bargain of the trip was a pair of Guess Sunglasses. They were $40.00. But they had a sale sticker on them so I asked their price. They scanned them and they were $8.57. I took them!!!!

Day 9 - 16th July - New Jersey - Philadelphia - Houston - Sacramento

Got up early - zipped u luggage and sat talking to Jazzy for a while. We then packed up the car and took us to a nearby town called MontClair (Upper). We walked around the town taking photos of the historic buildings then had a cold drink in a diner before heading off to Newark - Penn Station to catch our train back to PHiladelphia.

For some reason catching the train is the hardest thing for me to do, and I was very nervous. When asked why - I narrowed it down to not hearing where the train was, missing my station, and ending up in Alaska somewhere. My fears were unfounded. We sat next to a guy also travelling around USA who was getting off at the same station. He just happened to live in San Luis
Obispo where we were heading on the 20th.

The train was 20 minutes late, and when we got to the station, we had to catch another train to the airport. Because of construction the trains were going every hour, instead of every half hour. This cut our airport check in time very close, but we managed to arrive at the airport at 4.10pm before our 5.40 flight. Queues for security were long though. Mike got stung with a $50 fee for overweight baggage - 12 pounds overweight. I was also slightly overweight by about 4 pounds, but was allowed to take 2 pounds out of my luggage to put in my backpack and thus didn't have to pay the fee. Weird - it's weight still being carried on the plane!!!

Arrived in Houston - had dinner at Wendy's as it was the only thing open that was 'okay' as far as food was concerned. Caught another plane to Sacramento. When we arrived we 'lost' our luggage, but found we were standing at the wrong carousel!!! Once we had the luggage, we caught a super shuttle to the Hostel we were staying at. On the way our shuttle had a crash on the freeway. Trying to merge into a lane while someone else was merging and had a side on crash. We had to wait for the cops to come, then give statements - we our now registered with CHIPS!

By the time that was sorted out (about 2 hours) we arrived at the hostel to find it CLOSED. No one there to open up at all. So the shuttle driver drove us around and found a dive of a place for us not far from the hostel. However, it was 3am and we were stuffed and a bed is a bed. Our alternative was to sleep in the park!!! It cost us $72 usd for this dive - not bad I guess!!!

Day 8 - 15th July - Quiet Day

Had a quiet morning sorting out luggage and printing out maps for the next part of our trip. Booked a hostel in Sacramento. Jazzy went to the gym, and when she got back she dropped me off at a masseuse to work on my terrible feet. So swollen. The masseuse was wonderful - the team masseuse for the New Jersey Jets.

I was picked back up again half an hour later. Jazzy took us to an ATM so we could get more cash, then took us to lunch at a family restaurant. Lovely. After lunch she drove us to her sisters in Winchester County where we spent the day by the pool swimming and talking and having a great day.

After dinner we had had dessert - the Great American Apple Pie. Jazzy then drove us to Macy's where I managed to pik up the fossil watch I had wanted last xmas, for $61. It was $120 on sale in NZ so I was pleased with that.

Back to Jazzy's to pack - spent until 2.30am finalising Sacramento and helping Mike pack and throw out lots of stuff that wasn't necessary to cart back to NZ.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 8 - July 14th - New York City

We left to go into NYC about 9.30am after rush hour. We went over the George Washington Bridge and drove down the Hudson Parkway along the river. Very pretty. It's quite exciting to see the city again, although I wasn't as excited as my first time 2 years ago, but it was nice to see Mike really excited - like a kid in a candy store!!

Jazzy parked at the Museum of Natural History carpark. You think parking expenses in Auckland is bad - but this was $27 for two hours!! Entry to the museum was free as Jazzy is a member of some sort. We decided to spend no more than two hours at the museum as we only have one day in NYC to see it all!! We decided to see the Dinosaurs, the African Animals and Great North American birds, finishing with the Ocean life.

The Dinosaurs were incredible. I have to admit I thought they would be boring - but the display was amazing, and I've never seen such complete skeletons, and so massive. Hard to believe vegetarians could get so big!! The African Animals were quite incredible too as the diaramas were over 100 years old, history bringing Africa to New York many years ago. The newer diaramas of the North American Birds were not so good, and they were not as old either, which is probably why! Ocean Life was okay - with a blue whale above at life size, making you feel small in comparison.

We left the museum at midday, and Jazzy dropped Mike and I off at B and H Camera/Video. This big shop was even bigger than last time I was there as they had added another floor. Now there are about 30 counters just for SLR digital photography, and another 25 or so for digital point and shoot. They were full too. They have a great system, you go in and tell them what you want, they order it, attach a slip of paper to a carton on a conveyor belt, which is sent round collecting the goods from each department that they order online. When finished you pay at a checkout, then proceed to the exit where you pick up your goods on the way out. Anyway - I told them of my problem with my focusing on my Canon - and it WAS the spot metering as I thought it was. The guy fixed it right there and then so I once again have a perfectly working Canon 20D, and there was no need for me to upgrade to the 40D. (Drat!!) I did buy some memory cards (2 x 4gb), and a bean bag tripod, and a gorilla pod for an SLR - smallish items that don't take too much room.

Mike bought a camera - a Sony H50 point and shoot with all the bells and whistles. Very light and compact - quite impressive. Has a zoom equivalent to a 500mm which is lovely, but still not fast enough for bird photography - so I'll stick to an SLR!

After we left B and H we bussed down to the Soho/Greenwich Village area and walked around the local shops. We heard some explosions or muffled sounds, and the ground shook, then about 3 minutes later about 25 cop cars came screaming down the street in a procession. We still have no idea what it was all about, but our thoughts did turn to 9/11. The ground shaking WAS probably a subway train underneath, but allthe cop cars did make us wonder... However, we carried on in the opposite direction, and stopped for lunch at Max Brenners. Yum. The hot chocolate was to die for!

After lunch we walked to the Empire State Building via Madison Square. We stopped for a while as we found some very tame squirrels that entertained us. I managed to take a photo of two of them having sex in the park. I'm going to call it 'Sex in the City'! A New Yorker was ignoring the signs 'Do not feed the squirrels', and feeding them Brazil Nuts, and gave us a few so we could feed them too. Very cute. Yeah Yeah - I know they're rats with tails - but they're still cute!

Carried on to Empire State building and decided to go up it. $19 (ouch), and lots of people so long queues for the lift. It went up the first 80 floors in 1 minute. My ears did not like it. More queues for the next 6 floors so they opened up the stairwell and we climbed the last 6 floors in the heat! That was actually quite tough going. Up outside - it was all push and shove - too many people and you could hardly get a spot to take photos. In that regard, the Rockefeller Centre that we went up in 2006 was much better. However, I managed to push and shove like the rest of them and got some decent photos! Back down 80 floors in 1 minute - by this time my ears really hurt!

My feet were sore too from all the walking, so we got a bicycle taxi to Times Square. It was a great way to see New York, and we forgot to tip the guy! I still can't get used to tipping and this tax they add onto everything! We wandered around Times Square for a while, it was getting dark and once again I felt this buzz, or sense of excitement that you only find in NYC. Amazing place. We did go into the M and M shop, 3 floors of M and M's and tubes and tubes of them from ceiling to floor filled with the same colours, so you can choose your favourites! I didn't get any though, it's far too hot and they would melt too quickly!

We then wandered back down to 42nd St and 8th Av to the Port Authority and caught the bus back to Jazzy's at 9.40pm. The bus driver was REAL grumpy. I got on and asked for a ticket to Little Falls.

'Where's your ticket?' he asked.
'I'm buying it now from you'. I said.

He was about to kick us off, but I calmly explained that I was from NZ, didn't know anything about pre-buying tickets as no one had told me about it, and we had been to the information centre. He grudgingly sold me a ticket on the bus. I then asked him to tell me when we were at our stop as I'm new - but when he we got there, he wasn't sure about it and couldn't help at all. Fortunately I recognised the landmark from 2006 and got off at the right place.

Came in and got online and booked the hostel at Sacramento for 16th July.

Day 7 - Philadelpha - New Jersey

Now starts the vacation part of the trip. Kim woke me up at 3.00am to say a final bye as she left to go to the airport to catch her flight home. She emailed me later to say that the hotel wanted to pay for the whole room, even though Cathy had already paid my share of it, and had the receipt. They ended up having to wake Cathy up at 3.15am to come down and sort it out, and apparently Cathy was really pissed off with the Hotel (and quite rightly so!) While this was going on I slept upstairs blissfully unaware of the problems I was causing!!

We meet Jazzy at 8.30am for breakfast in the hotel. Ate, got luggage, packed up car, checked out and vroomed up the freeways to New Jersey in Jazzys hot sports car. Unfortunately we couldn't put the top down as we had too much luggage. It took about 90 minutes to get to Jazzy's home in Little Falls, New Jersey. I actually recognised landmarks as we got close to her place so obviously my memory is still intact!

We unpacked a bit and then Jazzy took us to a New Jersey diner for lunch. Great food, not expensive and NJ diners are meant to be very unique in the USA. She then took u to a mall and I bought some New Balance running shoes for $34.00 (eat ya heart out running team!!), and also 3 pairs of Levi's. No tax on clothing in NJ and Levi's are wonderfully cheap. Back to Jazzy's for a lovely swim in the pool then got onto emails - have to yet book a hostel in Sacramento, and a rental car. I wonder if we could persuade USA to drive on the left for 3 weeks while I'm there???

For dinner we were taken to a moroccan restaurant in MontClair, NJ. It was absolutely divine food and finished with a refreshing mint tea - almost a syrup.

Day 6 - 12th July - Philadelphia

Breakfast smorgasbord in the hotel- paid for by the club this morning which was very nice. After breakfast there was a town meeting to talk about future conventions and where they will be held. It seems many want a mini one down in New Zealand - so Mike and I will organise that for the future.

Abbie came through from New Jersey to meet Kim and I. We know Abbie through her blog about her journey to cochlear implantation. She is absolutely gorgeous and it was fantastic to meet her. So much fun. Unfortunately I couldn't spend too much time with her as I was booked on the Philadelephia Art Museum Tour.

We met everyone in the lobby and caught the Philly Phlash, which dropped us off right outside the museum. We had a guide, and we were given receivers to wear around our neck. I plugged my cochlear audio cable directly into this and attached it to my implant. Heard perfectly - didn't even need to lipread. But the cable kept falling out out of the implant the connection is so loose and wasn't happy about this, particularly as it cost me $164!!!!

The Guide took us through several sections and concentrated on one or two art pieces in each section. It was absolutely fascinating, and have to say this is the best art museum I've ever been to. I was in awe with some of the art, and how old it all was. I feel NZ is sadly lacking in comparison! After the museum we headed back to the hotel in the Phlash. I really wanted to see the State Penitntiary but had no time, it was tooooo hot, I had sore swollen feet, without about 6 blisters that were bothering me.

Mike and I stopped for a shared Flatbread, then I went back up to my room and put my feet up for about 45 minutes. Back downstairs at 5.30pm and got to spend a bit more time with Abbie. Bid on the silent auction - and managed to win a set of three dri-brix for my CI dry-n-store. Paid $11 for 3, and they're $7.00 each in NZ!! Sat with Marianne and Martin Locke at the banquet.

Spent a bit of time in the lounge bar afterwards saying goodbyes then went upstairs and packed. Had to say Bye to Kim = very very sad. She lives in Seattle and one day I hope to get up to stay with her.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 5, 11th July - Philadelphia

Breakfast had been so terrible the day before we got up an hour earlier and headed down to Cosi with Kim and Lorne and had omelette sandwiches instead. Much more filling, and healthier than the 9g sat fat yoghurts on offer!

Workshops in morning. After the workshops, I took Kim, Paul, and Lorne to Elthrey's Alley as they couldn't find it. So here is a NZer leading around Americans!!! I wanted to go back as some of my photos didn't turn out. There is something very very wrong with my camera - its not focusing properly. Will get it looked at in New York.

After Elthrey's Alley we caught the Phlash to Reading Terminal market - no way we were going to walk - far too hot. So hot Mike took off his shirt. We came across some state police in bright yellow shirts on bicycles. I took a photo so they came over to check us out. I explained I was from NZ, and they let me take more photos of them. I jokingly asked if it was legal to walk around topless and pointed at Mike. One of them said.. 'If I had a body like yours I'd be walking around with my shirt off too!!'

Hmmmmmmmmmmm !!

Had lunch in the Reading Terminal Market back at the Amish stall again. I had another apple dumpling. At this rate I'm going to turn into a dumpling but they are so divine. After lunch caught the Phlash to the Mutter Museum - the medical anomaly museum with Mike & Paul. Very interesting stuff - I didn't know humans could grow horns! From there we walked back to the hotel - about 24 blocks all up - a long way - very very hot and I was really grumpy when I got back as my feet were killing me. They still haven't recovered - they are twice the size they should be and very painful. This happened last time I was in America too, so wonder if it's the combination of walking and flying.

Had Dinner wth Dwyane and Cheryl from Ohio - whom I've been talking to for about 12 years online. So nice to meet them after all this time. Also met up with Lori Singer - another american from another list I'm on who heard I was in town and came looking for me!!! Another late night socialising at the bar!!

Day 4 - 10th July - Philadelphia

UP at 8.00 then down to the first workshop. By 8.30am was so tired could hardly keep eyes open. I think this was because the breafast provided was really poor - pastries only, which I hate. They did have a yoghurt there as well which I thought was healthy, until I looked at the nutrition info to find it had 9g of saturated fat!! My poor heart!

By 11.00am I was so tired I slipped out of the workshops and went back to bed and slept til 12.30pm. Met the Duck group at 1pm in lobby, then walked down to the Duck tour. A bus tour round Philly that takes you over land and on to the Delaware River. It wasn't that good- but it did give you an indication of areas to explore later. The Delaware River was filthy - and if you think Auckland Bridge is bad - the bridge over the river is rusting really badly - you could see it!!

After the Duck Tour Mike and I headed over to South Street - a famous street in America. We called in on the Liberty Bell on the way. Took lots of photos - incredible architecture - red bricks, OLD OLD. South Street was a real education too. An eclectic mix of sex shops, condom shops, restaurants, irish pubs, designer fashion, homeless people, drug addicts, historical landmarks tourists, police and doorways covered with graffiti. I managed to get a photo of a woman being arrested. All highly entertaining and interesting!!! We lunched at a boring establishment - but cheap - Subway - $5 for a footlong sub which we shared. $2.50 each!!

At the End of South Street we found the Vietnam Memorial, then the Korean one, then found an old historical building which was the first stock exchange of USA. Back to the hotel to change the memory card of my camera. Silly me left my 2gb flash card at home by mistake, so only have two 1gb ones - which is difficult when you shoot in RAW mode. We then walked to Elthrey's Alley which is USA's Oldest street. I'm sure I thought Quebec City street was older, but Elthrey's Alley is actually Trademarked (law) as the oldest street so it must be!! The alley was incredible - lots of photos, Walked to Benjamin Franklins Graveyard after that - but it was closed and I never did get back to get more photos of it. Txted Kim to find out where she was - she told me City Tavern, so we walked over in the general direction of that - Walnut Street and 2nd. On the corner of Walnut St and 2nd, I txt Kim again to find out where she was, to find she had left a message to say she wasn't at city tavern afterall but at Rotten Ralphs!!! We just happened to be standing right outside it - so up the stairs to sit with them and while away a few hours. Back to the hotel for non existent hot chocolate - no hot drinks available in hotel after 10pm. Ludicrous!!

Footsore and weary!


Day three - 9th July - Philadelphia

Met everyone at breakfast. Breakfast took 1 hour to arrive - terrible service in this hotel. After breakfast Mike, Paul, Kim, Ruth-Ann and I walked to the visitors centre and caught the zoo shuttle - the Phlash (philly flash) for $2. It's America's first zoo, smaller than Auckland's, but had some incredible animals in it. I enjoyed the rare animal encounter and got some (hopefully good) photos of the very rare monkey called a langur (coche or something). They also had a great reptile and amphibian encounter - of which there were bright purple poisonous frogs and lots of huge snakes! We finished at the zoo at 1.30pm, and picked up the shuttle. Mike and I got dropped off at the Reading Terminal Market while the others went on back to the hotel.

Market was great- I went to the amish food stall and had a roast turkey sandwich ( a half portion though ) and finished with the genuine apple dumpling. The apple dumpling was divine. We wandered through the market then wandered up the main street (Market Street). It was so hot that we had to keep going into different shops to cool down in their air-conditioning. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was soaked in perspiration - it was about 36C plus 99.99999% humidity. Ugh. Got back to hotel at 5pm and had a swim to cool down in the roof top pool.

Registration party (start of convention) started at 7pm. Mike and I took the NZ wine we had with us and offered up a NZ wine tasting. It went down very well!! Talked to everyone until 11pm then hit sack!


Day 2 - 8th July - Stockton - Philadelphia

The Stretch Limousine arrived on time and took us out to Sacramento airport - another hour of travelling. Just as well we got food at the mall as nothing was open at the airport.. We flew in an old old continental plane- no games or videos, and only a drink and a bag of nuts. Slept maybe for an hour - but very uncomfortable. I have to admit I was jealous of business class on this flight!

Landed at Houston. Huge huge airport - big food courts, shops for miles, and miles and miles of walking to get to our terminal to get the next plane. Stopped for breakfast - yoghurt and a banana - nothing else appealed. Too much fried stuff here - no wonder some Americans are huge. Went into a an amazing leatherware shop - hats at $415 and boots at $350 all covered in rhinestones!

After breakfast found our gate and boarded straight away. Arrived Philadelphia 12.00 noon, found baggage and got a $10 shuttle to our hotel. Remembered a little of Philadelphia from last trip when we drove past it on the way to DC. Beautiful city - university area was fascinating.

Checked in, but my room wasn't available, but we found some of the convention attendees - easy to spot - just look at ears - if they're wearing hearing aids/implants - you can be sure they're one of us. We wandered along and found a food court and had lunch (Bourse House). When I got back room was ready so I went up and slept from 2 to 5pm. Left a note for Kim (my room mate) to wake me up when she got in from Seattle.

Got up and dressed and went to Lobby and met Wayne Roorda - a volunteer for Advanced Bionics (like my voluntary work with Cochlear) and he took me out for dinner. I've known Wayne for many years on another email list, but not this SWC Convention one - it was merely a coincidence that he found out I was in PHL for this convention and he happens to live there.

Man it's hot in PHilly - very humid. After dinner the heavens opened and a huge thunderstorm which did cool down the weather a bit. Sat in the pub after dinner and talked to lots of people until 1.am. Woke up at 5.30am!!! Argh! I need more sleep!!!


Day one - USA

Flight was very long - in the past 48 hours I think I've only had about 4 or 5 hours of sleep - snatched when I can only. The flight was uneventful except for an arrogant kiwi male sitting behind me who stole my blankets while I was sleeping, and my pillow when I put my head forward for a minute. I got it back the first time, but the second time he stole it while I was sleeping!!! I asked the hostess for another one and she made him give it back to me. The cheek!!

Flying into SFO youculd see a little of the gorgeous coastline but was very 'foggy'. The fog was actually smoke from all the bush fires.

We flew through customs and USA immigration. Paul was waiting for us wearing the Tshirt he bought off Redbubble of mine so he was easily recognisable. He had a surprise for us in the form of a stretch Limo which took us from the airport to his place in 90 minutes. This stretch limo was a super stretch one - and just the three of us in the back!! He's ordered it to take us to the airport at Sacremento tonight too - picking us up in an hour.

It was a pleasant 22C in SFO when we arrived, so nice after our storm antarctic winter storms in NZ. However it was not so balmy in Stockton where Paul is - it was a boiling furnace and 38C. Paul tells us that we picked the hottest day to arrive. I seem to make a habit of picking extreme weather, as wehn I arrived in Montreal in 2006, I arrived at the coldest - minus 31C. However I think I'd take the Minus 31 over plus 38 any day!

As soon as we refreshed ourselves with a COLD shower we ordered a taxi and popped down to the mall and got something to eat. We were also desperate for some cold air-conditioning. Shopping with 2 men is no fun. Will have to go back on my own!

After dinner at the mall, we went to T-Mobile and got served by two men in bright pink shirts. Mike and I bought a phone each so we can at least txt each other in case one of us gets lost or separated. Cheap as chips - a Nokia 6710 was $29.99 plus $25 prepay. We can dial 611 when we leave to have the phone unlocked for free for use in NZ. So Anne - don't worry about buying a new Nokia - I have one here for you on my return.

We're about to head out shortly for the philadelphia part of our trip - the Say What Club hearing loss convention and will be on that side of the US for 8 days. A little cooler than here, no stingy eyes from the smoke, but humid so probably just as hot as 38C!!

Flight is at 12.15am and I'm so tired!

Will update blog when I can.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Gone to the U.S.A.

Well - the time has finally come around and in just a few hours I'll be leaving to go Auckland Airport to catch my flight to San francisco. I am just this minute getting excited for the first time.

I will try to update this blog with my travels when i get a chance but not sure how often I will be at a computer.

I will be glad to leave this cold damp cold freezing Auckland weather behind and jump into summer. I will think of everyone back in New Zealand shivering in cold when the lakes finally run dry and the lights and heat go out :) I'll try and bring back a little can of sunshine for you all on my return.

Have fun in my absence, I know I will be :)