Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More NYC

What does one do on a sunny August day in NYC? Go to the Statue of Liberty of course.

That was also the plan for thousands of other tourists, but thanks to our city passes we managed to skip our way to the front of the lines - VIP style.

After being packed onto our ferry we were taken to our first stop, the lovely lady herself.

Liberty isn't as tall as I'd expected but no less impressive - the perfect weather was a plus.

Fun fact of the day: the Statue of Liberty is actually coloured bronze, but the sea air turns it green - I think it suits her!

Much walking and photograph taking followed and once again we were packed onto our ferry for a short trip to Ellis Island.

The experience of being shepherded and crammed onto a ferry helped get us in the mood for Ellis Island - once the main point of entry for immigrants to the US.

You'd need a whole lot of time to really get anything out of Ellis Island and since we were running around we didn't get to see much at all.

Back in Manhattan we took a short walk uptown to Ground Zero.

Now a large construction site the city is looking to the future. But a memorial museum near by will make sure no one will forget the attack or the victims.

A timeline traces the events leading up to the morning of September 11, 2001 with remains of the towers on display.

The most moving part of the exhibit is the display of photos and mementos belonging to each person who was killed put together by the victims' families.

Since the loss of the Towers the Rockefeller Building has reopened its glitzy, art deco observation decks to the public and that's where we headed next.

Part of the Rockefeller Plaza (were 30 Rock is set), we arrived at the Top of the Rock just before dusk - and the place was insanely crowded.

There are three separate decks - each slightly higher than the last.

And, well, the views of the city speak for themselves....

More pics from NYC here

NY. NY (with a little bit of Dave)

After two months of travelling we made it - New York City!

This leg of our journey began in DC with a four hour long bus ride north to the Big Apple.

It's hard to explain approaching NY from the distance as the city comes into view. The bus made its way through the complex NY streets to drop us at our stop by Penn Station around 4:30pm.

Without time to think we were on the Subway catching the E train to Times Square followed by the N train to Queens.

Our hotel was in a great location just across the river and 10 minutes from the centre of town. There was a great cafe below the train serving fresh food and magnificent cupcakes and with a server who called Nick "Boss".

Our first full day in the city was a little aimless. We were trying to find a place to buy a City Pass (entry to the main sights) but ended up walking around the insanely busy Broadway area.

It was here we were approached by a man with a clipboard.

"Would you like to come to a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman?"

Hell yes! I'd tried getting ticket online under my and Nick's name, but with no luck. Going to the show was one of my top must-dos for NY.

All we had to do was answer a show related question correctly. Our question - "What is the name of Dave's production company?" Answer given by me: Worldwide Pants!

We have a winner.

The man with the clipboard told us to head over to the Ed Sullivan Theatre between 2-3pm to pick up tickets. People who were phoned for tickets got to sit on the floor while the rest of us sat up in the balcony.

Filming began sometime after 4:30. The theatre it small so even though we were up top we were still close to the action. First up was a video staring stage manager Biff Henderson. Next, a comedian warmed up the crowd then it was time for the Late Show band to take the stage before Paul came on.

Finally Dave makes his entrance and has a quick chat with the crowd before disappearing again for the real start of the show - tonight's guests: Christina Applegate, Miss Universe, some band and some comedian.

The band keeps the auidence entertained during the breaks and despit what looks like organised chaos everything runs smoothly on stage.

After the show we walked passed the Hello Deli and Rupert was inside sitting at the counter - I'll have to go back at some point for a photo!

To finish the night we took a stroll around Times Square with its bright lights and family friendly chains - still an impressive sight, but too commercial for locals.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Washington: A capital time in DC

Sorry about the pun, but I couldn't think of anything else. Washington DC, the US Capital. Home to the White House, Congress, museums and grand monuments Washington was the first place I visited where I really felt surrounded by a sense of history.

The White House
We stayed in Arlington VA, 10 minutes from the centre of town by metro - possibly the easiest train system I've ever ridden.
DC is a budget tourist's, and photographer's, dream. About a dozen Smithsonian Museums, Congress, the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial are all free to visit and within a fairly easy walk of each other.

Leafy green trees line the inner city streets and there are parks everywhere.

The Washington Monument
The Smithsonian Institute runs museums all around the main area of DC covering subjects from air and space, national history, natural history and American Indian Culture - there's easily a weeks worth of viewing if you can handle the crowds and pushy people.

Out of the above museums I'd recommend the Natural History Museum followed closely by the National History as the main ones to visit.

They are both mazes of artifacts and information you'd need hours to make sure you'd seen it all.

The Natural Museum has a huge collection of animals, dinosaurs, early human artifacts and precious stones, including the Hope Diamond.

One big hunk of blue rock - the Hope Diamond
The National Museum's prize piece is the original Star Spangled Banner - ridiculously huge - and Dorothy's Ruby Slippers.
We started out sight seeing at the top of the hill at Congress. A beautiful building, the only downside is we didn't get to explore the inside.

So they didn't really blow it up in that movie - Congress.
Following the gardens we walked all the way to the Washington Monument passed the reflecting pool and onto the Lincoln Memorial.

Me, the Monument and the Reflecting Pool

Ab Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial
To complete our trip we went to the National Holocaust Museum and Arlington Cemetery - the final resting place of JFK and hundreds and thousands of soldiers (over 30 funerals are held there each day).

Arlington Cemetery
Since we were right by the Pentagon we thought we'd pop by for a visit, but with reconstruction still underway after the 9/11 attack there wasn't much to see just a tall wooden fence blocking our view.

There was a policeman with a machine gun patrolling a maintenance area by the subway entrance as we were leaving - only in America... or France.

So that's two big thumbs up for DC. The only sucky thing was the lady who wouldn't sell me a Margarita with my dinner because she wouldn't accept my NZ driver's licence.

More pics from Washington DC here

Monday, August 23, 2010

Niagara Falls & our Canadian adventure – eh!

All thanks to a little miscalculation on our itinerary. Here we are in Canada!

We weren’t entirely sure we could get into Canada yet alone get back into the US. But after taking to a couple of people and a quick read of the Lonely Planet website we were 99.9 per cent sure we’d be fine.

We were staying on the US side of the falls a largely working class and industrial area just outside of Buffalo. It does have some good views, but it isn’t as naturally blessed as the Canadian side and amenity wise it has a long way to go.

Pretty much every friendly Canadian we met wanted to know why we weren’t staying on their side and offered some teasing words about their American neighbours.

All in all we crossed the bridge between America and Canada three times, each with varying degrees of hassle and questioning, but it was a fairly quick and painless experience.

We were expecting the falls to be inside a national park similar to the others we’ve seen on our travels, but civilisation is built up right around Niagara.

I also thought it was going to be a lot higher, but totally underestimated the width and size of it all.

You get so close to the raging water with only a waist high stone wall separating you from a rather large drop.

Dotted along the length of the falls are several early 20th Century buildings left from the old power station.

There are actually two falls you can see from the Canadian side the smaller US Falls and the large Canadian horse shoe falls – which is communally called Niagara Falls.

So much mist comes off the falls when you walk passed in certain places you get soaked and on a sunny day rainbows appear.

Not sure exactly what to do we bought a four adventure pass which included a walk to the white water rapids, a film showing the creation and journey of the Falls, a trip down to viewing platforms at beside and behind the wall of water and finally, a ride on the legendary Maid of the Mist.

With $10 Canadian left in my wallet we went for some good clean fun at the arcade.

Like the Grand Canyon, there's not too much you can say about the splendor that is Niagara Falls - you really have to see them for yourself.

Traveller’s tip: if you park at the $16 a day carpark and stay until after 10pm the booth person will be gone so you don’t have to pay! Nice!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, hi there Ohio

Poor Cincinnati, it is the newest recipient of the title “most unexciting city” on our trip which was fine for us because we were just in town to relax before a several days of long drives.

It didn’t help Cincinnati’s case that we were there in the middle of several large thunderstorms and torrential rain

Moving on from Cincinnati we found ourselves in Cleveland and with one afternoon in town we went straight to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

Just outside of the CBD, the Hall of Fame shares part of the Lake Erie shoreline with a science museum and the Cleveland Indians’ baseball stadium.

With hours of concert footage and interviews you could easily spend a full day at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Along with rock artefacts such as John Lennon’s guitar, David Bowie’s Ziggi Stardust outfit and Bon Jovi’s motorcycle there is a lot of serious music history – but not too serious.

The downsides: 1 - the building closes pretty early, the Hall of Fame at 5:30pm and the museum at 6pm and 2 – no photos! This is supposedly because most of the items are on loan and the artists don’t want them photographed, but I think it has more to do with the gift shop selling images and books.

I did manage to sneak this picture on my cell phone – it’s the suit John Lennon wore on the cover of St Pepper’s.

So, for now it’s goodbye to Ohio and hello to New York State – and who knows, maybe even Canada.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tennessee: Nashville Cats

How did we end up here – heading back westward? Somehow our itinerary was missing five days so we had extra time up our sleeves before we had to arrive in DC.

And Nashville Tennessee seemed like the perfect place to visit.

Staying a short drive from downtown, the first thing I did was book tickets to the Grand Ole Opry - "the home of American music" - the radio/live show that's been running since 1925.

The twice weekly show is back in its original venue after flooding earlier in the year closed the new complex in Opryland.

If we’d been there in two weeks we could have seen country superstars Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood (omg).

Driving into the city it’s hard to miss the giant Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with piano key-shaped windows.

The museum is wonderfully put together and would interest any music lover – country fan or not.

Interactive exhibits, movies and displays chart the development of Country and its influences.

Numerous guitars, fiddles, banjos and mandolins that belonged to the likes of Johnny Cash, Karl Perkins and Hank Williams are displayed throughout the museum.

On a more extravagant scale, the museum also has Elvis Presley’s golden car and golden grand piano.

The last part of the museum holds items from recent country superstars and exhibits based around song writing.

Final stop on the tour is the Hall of Fame honouring the important figures in Country Music history.

The main entertainment area is one block away from the Museum and is centred on Broadway. Not a terribly large area, from 2nd Ave to 5th Broadway is covered with bars, venues and souvenir shops – kind of like a mini New Orleans, but less seedy and more hillbilly.

A handy free bus service loops the city and we hopped aboard for the Tennessee State Capitol building and farmers’ market which seemed to be going through a series of renovations so was less than impressive.

Later on that evening, we came back in town at the Ryman for the Opry.

The building is very old with two circular levels. The design features many beams and posts means there are a number of seats where your view is more wood than performer.

With popcorn and drinks in hand, and an unblocked view, we settled in for the show.

Out group of performers ranged from old-time hall of famers who still have it to up and coming country heart throbs.

As the show is broadcast live on the radio the ads are recorded live by an announcer as well - in a very cheesy 1950s way. The song in the video above is a cover of the Johnny Cash number 'Luther Played The Boogie Woogie' by Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives.

The setlist for our outing was...
Friday August 13:
7:00: Mike Snider(host); Jeannie Seely; Jimmy C. Newman; Chuck Wicks
7:30: Ricky Skaggs(host); Jim Ed Brown; The Whites
8:15: Bill Anderson(host); The Grascals; Vince Gill
8:45: Marty Stuart(host); Riders In The Sky; Connie Smith

So next time you find yourself in Nashville make sure you check out the Opry!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Atlanta: Cola, crabs and CNN

Atlanta was a city I’d never given much thought to, but as we found out it has some neat attractions that don’t have much in common with each other.

Atlanta is the birthplace of Coca Cola and home to CNN Headquarters and an impressive aquarium.

We pulled up to our hotel just after 2pm and despite what the outside and surrounding area looked like it was nice and basic on the inside and close to the above attractions.

I found the people of Atlanta friendly and helpful – if you look even just a little lost you’ll have plenty of offers for directions.

A 10 minute walk away was the World of Coca Cola - part museum and part corporate showpiece. Oh, and you get to try over 60 different types of Coca-Cola drinks from over the world and you can have as much as you like!

Even as someone who thinks Coke is revolting, I found the collection of Coca-Cola advertising and products through the years fascinating though it would be in nice if they included more of the history – how did the inventor come up with the flavour? How did Coca-Cola become such a large, multinational company?

The museum features a large collection of Coke themed art - check out the NZ bottle in the backgroud...

Once you’ve toured the exhibits (or before and after if you’re like us) you come to the tasting room.

Divided into pods by region, Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America, you can sample your way around the globe.

Overall, Asia and South America had the nicest drinks (ummm to the Chinese fizzy watermelon drink) while Africa and Europe were largely hit and miss (Italians are sick with their drink of choice!).

Once you’ve sampled to your heart’s content you can pick up a free souvenir bottle of Coke made right there in the building.

Still recovering from the sugar high of the previous day we walked through the 1996 Olympic park to the CNN building.

The massive building has its own food court, hotel and shops. It would be a great place to work if you could get passed all the tour groups trotting by your office window.

The majority of the shows are filmed in the Atlanta studios (including AC 360) as is the CNN website and radio stations. Larry King is shot in LA while several opinion shows are made in New York.

The hour long tour goes by fast and you get to see quite a lot of CNN including listening in on the director and crew working on a live show and watching a presenter live in the studio.

If anyone who works at CNN reads this feel free to hook me up with a job at the London bureau.


Over the road, the Georgia Aquarium holds a collection of thousands of different species of fish and marine animals.

Exhibits include tropical, fresh and arctic water sea creatures including a chance to pat small sharks and stingrays.

Thankfully it wasn’t too jam-packed and it kept us entertained until closing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Georgia: I was down in Savannah eating cream and banana

Southern charm is everywhere in Savannah, Georgia. A national historic site, Savannah is a handsome town with 18th and 19th century architecture, 22 green city squares and a cobble stoned waterfront.

Three different operators give trolley car tours around town and they seem to cover the same route and point out the same sites. We took the cheapest tour, Oglethorpe, because it looked the best, but it wasn’t so great – average really. They would have a better chance of being the best if they didn’t spend so much time justifying why their tour was cheaper than the others and just getting on with providing a great tour!
Anyway, our driver/guide gave us a good overview and helped us get our bearings. He spoke very fast to get everything in and said he was “fixing” to do stuff a lot.

We got off the tour in Market Square and spent the rest of the day wandering up and down soaking in the atmosphere.

Movie buffs will find this interesting – beside a wall in Chippewa Square a famous bench sat and on that famous bench a famous speech was made…

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

That famous scene from Forrest Gump was filmed right here and now the locals know the park as Bubba Gump Square.

However, the bench was just a prop - you can see it in one of the town museums – and there never was a bus stop there either.

Dinner was at a little place on the waterfront where I had the best chicken, strawberry, pecan salad ever – and a pretty darn good piece of key lime pie!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Louisiana - The forgotten blog: Bounding on the Bayou

Well now how did that happen? I left out a whole adventure from the blog – and one of the coolest things we got to do – our Louisiana swamp tour.

Thirty minutes south of New Orleans and on our way to Florida several different operators run tours of Cajun country. I can’t think of why we chose Cajun Encounters other than their pamphlet looked good – and we chose well.

In the heavy southern air we waited with around 50 other people in the small (and airconditioned) gift and snack shop. When our local guides arrived we were split into two groups and boarded our river boats.

The journey began in a wide, open river. Here we saw a variety of birds and turtles and unique plant life.

The river winds and gets narrower - you are now entering alligator territory - Big Al’s to be precise.

Our guide tells us that Big Al is rarely seen by groups but his girlfriends frequently stop by. We were lucky as it didn’t take long for one of the giant females to appear.

We soon found out that gators like marshmallows and wiener hotdogs and they are a great way to get the animals to hang around so you can get a good look at them.

A short detour off the main river and we found ourselves in swamp land – green, lush and full of life, Spanish Moss drips off every tree.

Our guide joked that we could get out for a walk here if we wanted, but had to follow it with a disclaimer that just a few weeks ago an Australian girl and a Swiss guy took him up on the offer and were soon up to their waists in swamp water.

Back on the river we sailed passed a community of waterside properties.

Thankfully most of these houses escaped sever damage during Hurricane Katrina however one family wasn’t so lucky. The wind and flood waters carried their home up river and there it remains on top of a riverbank.

A few more gators later and we were back at the visitors centre. Next time you're in Louisiana you have to take a swamp cruise.