Sunday, 25 December 2011

Eleven Pipers Piping.....

Day 25: Ooooh, two blogs in one day, what's happening??? I actually have time to blog, that's whats happening.
Christmas day was spent relaxing in the hotel.  I had stocked up on nibble food at the store across the road on Christmas Eve and we ate so much at breakfast that we didn't feel like going out for lunch.  There were a few restaurants in the pretty street nearby that were offering Christmas Banquets but we liked staying inside for the day.  At 5pm we dressed up warm and drove into the city to walk around the White House on a day that we thought would be less busy in the city - it was packed!  We finally managed to find a park near the White House and walked around both sides of it as well as walking to the Washington Monument.  We were disappointed to see protestors out the front of the White House.  I kind of felt like it was ruining the spirit of Christmas and was feeling sorry for the President's family until I learned that they were in Hawaii - not sure what the point of protesting was then - hmmmm.
As we were walking around Tiahna wanted to sing Christmas carols.  It kind of made it feel more like Christmas walking around in the cold in Washington DC singing carols.  We were having difficulty with the 'Twelve Days of Christmas', we couldn't think of what all twelve were.  I ended up approaching a lovely looking family and asked them for their assistance.  The young girl knew all of the words and we discovered that it was the Piping Pipers that we kept missing, finally we were able to complete our song.
We noticed crowds lining up near a huge Christmas tree.  This time I approached two men and asked them if they knew why people were lining up.  We learned that they were lining up to see the 'National Christmas Tree' and all of the state trees surrounding it.  We decided we could see the tree fine from where we were standing on the side.
We then drove around to the Lincoln Memorial, parked again and spent a little bit of time there.  Gary and I have seen this all before but we wanted Tiahna to see it all since she has seen several of these landmarks in movies.
Gary then went to look at the Jefferson Memorial but Tiahna and I were too cold so we waited in the car.  We finally all have good warm jackets but unfortunately my toes and fingers still freeze.
Headed back to the hotel where Tiahna and I went down to the spa and then came back up for room service and red velvet cake - what a yummy way to finish Christmas!

Squirrels, squirrels everywhere....

Day 21: Hmm, I seem to have gotten a little bit behind again - sorry.  We decided to head to Washington one day early.  We had accommodation booked from the 22nd but decided an extra day to explore would be good.  On our way we decided to drop in to the Marine Core National Museum at Quantico.  We took a wrong turn first and were very upset to realise as we were waiting in queue that a man had just been run over by a car.  It was pouring with rain and it appeared that he was one of the security people on duty.  He was lying face down in front of the car and didn't appear to be moving.  There were plenty of people around him including Military Police so we kept moving and prayed for him along the way.  Made me think about what the laws are in the US in regards to providing first aid.  I know what they are in Australia because of my First Aid Certificate but I'm not sure what they are here - are you allowed to provide first aid, can someone sue you if something goes wrong? Decided that it's best to stay clear if possible,  goodness knows Americans are so big on suing you could end up in a lot of trouble.
Finally found the Museum and had a quick look around - very informative.  Arrived at our hotel at approx. 6.30pm.  We're staying at the Hilton Garden Inn at Arlington.  It's one exit away from the hotel Gary and I stayed in last time but much nicer.  We were able to renegotiate our prices and now have a full breakfast included every morning for less than the price we originally booked for. The area we are in is very quaint with a street all lit up with white Christmas lights and lots of cafes etc. - so cute.
Day 22: Yay - our visit to the Pentagon has arrived - I've been looking forward to this forever.  Security is quite tight so handbags and phones were left in the car.  No photography is allowed in the Pentagon however I later regretted not having the phone to take photos of the 911 memorial outside.  Everyone else on the tour had handbags and phones but in the information we received it advised that by not having these items would make your security clearance quicker.  If ever anyone goes in future, take your bag and phone with you, it's not a big deal.
A tour guide took us through the Pentagon.  It is huge.  The hugest low level office facility in the world.  It has it's own shops, cafes, Department of Transport and even a Bank.  The bank has been rated as the World's safest bank - go figure.  The Pentagon was originally built with three levels above ground and two below but soon had another level added at the top when it was discovered they couldn't house all the offices they needed to.  The Pentagon has the world's largest 'No cover, no salute' area in the gardens in the centre.  Generally when military personnel are outside they must wear their hat.  When they have their hat on, lower ranking personnel need to salute higher ranking members.  Since this area is meant to be for relaxation and lunch etc people would forever be saluting eachother hence the 'No cover, no salute' rule.
We learned that when the terrorist attacks took place on September 11 the area that was hit by the plane was being renovated and most of the offices were closed.  This area had also had reinforced steel added to the framework which stopped the plane from continuing further into the Pentagon and adding to the fatality numbers.  If the plane had hit from any other direction the amount of people injured and killed would have increased dramatically.
Did you know that the date of the 911 attack was exactly 60 years from the Pentagon groundbreaking day? (Also, have you ever thought about the fact that the emergency call number for America is 911?)
We also saw replicas of paintings by an artist named John Trumball.  They have an interesting story to them which I'll tell you about when I get back.  He had a habit of painting himself into his paintings and doing a few naughty things just to see if he could get away with it.
After our trip to the Pentagon, we walked around the Capitol Building and then took Tiahna into the Library of Congress which she was very interested in seeing.  For those of you that recall, Nicholas Cage has to go into the Reading Room in the Library of Congress to find the Presidants Book in the 'National Treasure' movie.
In the parks near the Captiol Building there are Squirrels everywhere.  Now it's time to learn how we say squirrel - it's pronounced skee-els - got it?  Good. One squirrel (who we named Reginald) allowed us to come up really close to him and he even touched Tiahna (I think he thought she was going to steal his nut and pushed her away).  We got some great photos and video of him.
Went to check out some outlet stores in the evening. (The shops are open to 11pm here every night - what will I do when I get home?)
Noticed yet again that stacks of people in America smoke and take their dogs shopping with them.
Day 23: Today we went for a tour of the Captiol Building. Security made me throw out my spray deodorant:( Maybe they thought I was going to spray someone in the face with it.  We saw the original John Trumbull paintings here, but they didn't tell us the interesting stories about his artwork.  We visited the room where President's bodies are displayed when they pass away.  Did you know that former President John Quincy Adams actually died in the Captiol Building.  He became unwell and moved to a couch in a side room where he passed away.
We were able to go into the House of Reprsenatatives because we were there with our Australian Passports.  Americans have to organise it through their Congressman's office.  Unfortunately no-one was there as they had finished up the day before, it would have been great to witness an actual session. Unfortunately there was no jigging for Gary this time as there were armed guards inside.  We popped back to the LIbrary of Congress again for Tiahna to use the 'Passport' that she had been given on our first visit.
Then we were off to the 'National Archives' so that Tiahna could see the original 'Declaration of Independance' and 'Constitution'.  Once again, Tiahna's interest was because of the 'National Treasure' movie.
At this point we found out that the 'Washington Memorial' was closed for repairs and we wouldn't be able to take Tiahna inside.  Gary and I visited on our last trip and it was amazing going to the top and looking across in the four directions to see the 'White House', 'Lincoln Memorial', 'Capitol Builiding' and 'Jefferson Memorial'.  Disappointing not to be able to go inside this time, but we'll still walk around it.
Day 24: Christmas Eve. Today we went to Mount Vernon.  This is the home of George and Martha Washington.  We had booked the 'National Treasure' tour for Christmas Day but as you would have read in an earlier blog this had been cancelled.  Mount Vernon is an amazing place and worth a visit if ever you're over in this dirction.  You learn a lot about George Washington and the life he lived.  George Washington was a farmer and at the end of his Presidency when the people requested that he continue he turned down the offer believing that democracy should allow someone else to take over and because he wanted to return to farming.  The grounds and tour are great.  Tiahna was disappointed to learn that there are no tunnels under the house as depicted in the movie.  We did see the corner stone that Nicholas Cage uses to open the secret door when he kidnaps the President however the real centre of it is a heart not an arrow.  Maybe a heart was too girly???
Did you know that George Washington developed a throat infection and because his throat swelled up so much he basically suffocated to death after three days.
We then travelled to 'Arlington Cemetary' to show Tiahna the tomb of the unknown soldier, we arrived in time for the changing of the guard which is an emotional experience.  Tiahna says the soldiers on guard will get a real shock when the rapture happens!!  We also visited the graves of the Kennedy family.  The grave for Former President JFK and his family is quite grand while Former President Robert Kennedy has a simple white cross slightly removed from the rest.  There is a seperate section in the Cemetary where those killed in the Pentagon on September 11 are buried.
A quick stop on the way back to the hotel for last minute Christmas shopping and then Ben and Jerry's for dinner - yum.
We were very sad that we didn't have a tree of decorations so I made a Christmas tree out of a magazine by folding all of the pages in at the top and then adding red tissue paper decorations. Hey presto - a Christmas Tree! I couldn't find any christmas wrapping paper at the shop near us so I bought 'Transformers' paper instead - Tiahna will love it.
Day 25: Christmas Day - but no snow yet:(  It's Ok, the day isn't over yet we could have white cover on the ground by the end of day.
Exchanged our gifts and planning a nice relaxing day.  Possibly later we'll pop out to see the White House, Washington Memorial and Lincoln Memorial.  Hopefully the car parking will be a lot better in the City when everything is closed - fingers crossed.  Then tomorrow we'll visit the Smithsonian Museums.
Well you're all up to date.
Merry Christmas everyone!!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Chai Latte and Chicken Twisties

I know, I know - it's been forever, so grab a comfy chair and a yummy drink and sit down for a nice long read. Now where were we?.......
Day 13: Had a bit of a sleep-in at Charleston. Yay!! Then caught up on the washing (wish the room service took care of that too).  We went for a drive and found some beautiful old plantations but it cost more to look in them than what it was worth so we didn't bother.  Afterwards we found some outlet shops and Tiahna bought some nice Kenneth Cole boots whilst I found a nice pair at Nine West - gotta love the cheap labels here.  Tiahna and I also bought some sunglasses (shhh, hers are for Chrissy - it's ok she knows). Had dinner near the shops and then noticed a frozen custard place across the road.  Gary has been telling me about frozen custard since our last trip but I've never seen it and was beginning to wonder if he had mixed it up with frozen yoghurt. We headed across the road only to discover that it had closed three minutes earlier - oh well, there's always tomorrow.
Day 14: Oh no, discovered late last night that my gold anklet was missing.  Tore the hotel room apart hunting for it and felt most upset.  It was a gift from Tiahna several years ago and has been broken and repaired several times in Oz - how silly of me to bring it to the US!! I couldn't remember putting it on the day before so rang the last hotel to see if we had left it there - no joy:( We prayed as a family that my anklet would be returned to me (and my drivers licence that Gary had managed to drop out of my wallet somewhere in the car at the start of our trip - didn't give him the passports this trip, didn't think he'd be dangerous with my wallet in the car!!!).
We checked out of the hotel and headed back to the frozen custard shop.  I decided to run into the Kenneth Cole and Nine West on the off chance that my anklet had fallen off whilst trying on boots.  Nine West had it sitting in a drawer hoping that I'd come back - Yay God!!
Headed across to have some frozen custard only to discover that the shop didn't open for another two hours, so I'm still waiting to try this 'amazing' dessert.
We drove on to Asheville where we stayed in the basement apartment of David & Janie who attend the C3 church in Asheville (no internet so therefore no blog for several days).  We had dinner with our friends Steve, Gerorie and their daughter Jess at Longhorn Steakhouse.  Steve and Georgie also have a daughter Amy and a son, Daniel who stayed at home to complete homework.
Day 15: Today we started at the Asheville Mall so that Tiahna could buy some clothes for her 'Build-A-Bear', Ashe-leigh which we made for Tiahna at the same store during our visit three years ago.  We also made a Koala 'Build-A-Bear' for Nick and Emily's new son - David who was born last week.  Nick and Emily are the Pastors of C3 in Asheville.  We named the Koala 'Kenny' to tie it in with the Gold Coast and also because we thought Emily would sound cute saying it with her Southern accent.  Tiahna and I then went shopping at Victoria's Secret - gotta love it.  We had dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant called 'Nona-Mia'. They gave us the left-overs in an alfoil swan, Tiahna loved it.
We then had a dessert stop at Nick and Emily's place and had our first Peanut Butter Pie - a little bit rich for all of us.  Aria (Nick's daughter) has been looking forward to meeting Tiahna for ages so we all had a great time.  It was weird, it didn't feel like it had been three years since we last saw them, more like three weeks.  Everyone just fitted back into old conversations and acting as if no time had passed at all.  We knew then that it would be hard to leave them again.
Day 16: Gary spent the morning with Steve while Tiahna and I shopped (again!).  In the afternoon we all rested and then went to see 'Sherlock Holmes' with Steve, Georgie and Jess.  I had one of those HUGE enormous popcorns that are in a round tub like the large KFC meals (it's ok, I shared with Jess and we only finished half of it).  It was somewhere around this date that the bears got into the bird feeders at the back of the place we're staying. Nice bear!!
Day 17: Today we met Nick and Emily for breakfast at a cute cafe called 'Morning Glory'.  It's walking distance from their place, they live in a really quaint town called 'Black Mountain'. In the afternoon we drove to the mountains to a pre civic war house next to a river with a huge outdoor fireplace.  The house belongs to David and Janie (they own half of Asheville I believe) so we could use the facilities whilst still freezing outside near the fire.  We went with Steve, Georgie and family and their friends, Tim, Alyssa and daughter Olivia (their older daughter, Julia wasn't ready on time so missed out). We made smores - yummy.  Will have to do that with y'all when we get back.  Gary and Steve took the kids four-wheel driving and nearly killed them all but weren't laughing as much when they blew a tire. Lucky for us all that Tim 'Bear Grylls' was with us to change the tyre (Gary and Steve were failing with both of them trying), and make us a fire to stay warm.  We would have died out there if we were only relying on Steve.  So cold, but so much fun.
Day 18: We attended C3 church in the morning and had planned to head to Richmond, Virginia straight after church but everyone convinced us to stay and attend the Leadership dinner that night.  Kind of felt like we were imposing but with Nick's puppy dog eyes and Steve's constant nagging we agreed.  We had lunch at a Jamaican place - Nine Mile - the best.  Have to figure out how to cook like that when I get home. After lunch we went to 'Grove Park Inn' to look at all of the Christmas Trees and Gingerbread houses.  We went there on our last trip and I wanted Tiahna to see how amazing it was.  We bought Georgie and Gary a 'Redneck' wine glass each.  It's a jar turned into a wine glass (Georgie was drinking our of a glass jar on the day we arrived so it was very fitting).  You'll have to google the place, it's amazing!!
In the evening we went to the dinner and said our goodbyes to everyone. Sniff.
Day 19: Travel Day.  Left Asheville at 10.30 and headed towards Richmond, Virginia.  First stop was to Henry River Mills where Tiahna was able to walk around one of the sets of the upcoming movie 'Hunger Games'.  We went scrounging to see what 'souveneirs' we could find that were left behind by the cast and crew.  Managed to locate a pen with the name of an agency on the side so we're sure someone important (like Alexander Ludwig - what is her fascination with him?) must have used it to make changes on their script - that's our story and we're sticking to it! Got lots of happy snaps so that when the movie comes out we can say we've been there.  We then continued driving until we stumbled upon Duke University and went for a look see, couldn't get a park anywhere though because the 'Boys Choir' was performing that night - seriously. Booked into our hotel and washed clothes and hair - boring.
Day 20: (Phew, we're almost there).  Today we went sightseeing.  We drove around Richmond and went inside the Capitol Building (where Gary snuck into the Senate Chamber gallery and proceeded to do a jig) and the Governor's mansion.  The architecture is awesome!  We then drove past the Coliseum (Joe, WWE is on there tonight, you should have seen all of the trucks outside) and then around the Richmond International Raceway (the outside, not the actual track).  We had dinner at Chipotle (Mexican) and received an email to advise that the tour we had arranged for Christmas day was cancelled.  We were meant to be doing a 'National Treasure' tour at Mt Vernon but someone had stuffed up and it wasn't meant to have been advertised for Christmas Day. Hmm, what to do for Christmas now?
Now for a few trivial points:
-Did you know that Buffulo sauce is really, really hot? Me neither - my poor mouth.
-The weather has been unseasonably hot here.  Everyone is quite surprised - pooh. Soooo, you all need to pray for a white Christmas for us.
-The water here is soft and awesome.  My hair is soooo soft and shiny all of the time.
-My driver's licence was located after a very thorough search of the card - Yay God again!
-It's really annoying having to dry clothes in a dryer - the clothes shrink, especially my jeans (and no wise cracks about it being the take-away food and not the dryer).
Finally, in case you're wondering about the title for this blog - they are the things I'm desperate for. Chai Latte and chicken twisties, it's all I want.  Starbucks does make a chai, but it's the spicy tea kind - not that great.  And chicken twisties!!! They don't even have anything close, everything is cheese and they're not good.  So if you head out today, have a chai latte and some chicken twisties and think of me.....
Until next time

Monday, 12 December 2011

LIfe is like a box of chocolates....

Day 11:  Up very early this morning and out of the hotel by 7am.  Drove for nine and a half hours until we reached Savannah, Georgia - now that's a road trip! Checked into another 'quaint' hotel in the historic area (this one was really nice, they had yummy home baked cookies upon our arrival) and then went for a drive to look around.  So glad we did, the historical streets of Savannah are beautiful.  There are lots of 'sqaures' which have a park in the middle and houses around the edges and all of the houses are just like the big houses with verandahs that you would imagine being in Savannah.  Everyone had their Christmas decorations covering the houses and lovely lights everywhere.  Even the shopping street was lit with thousands of little white lights.  In the US everyone traditionally puts up their Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving - watch out Gary, this gives me license to put up our tree even earlier next year!!  We drove around the square where Forrest Gump quoted his famous line, 'My Momma always said life is like a box of chocolate' how excitement!
In the Civic Center one block down from us we noticed that Amy Grant was performing but unfortunately we had arrived too late to do anything about it:(
Day 12: Happy Anniversary!! Today is our 19th anniversary, what a better way to start the day than waking up in beautiful Savannah? Well, maybe waking up in beautiful Savannah when it's not raining.  Lucky we went for our drive last night because we didn't get to see very much today.  Drove on to Beaufort where we had planned to stay a night but ended up making a day of it instead.  We went to visit the Parris Island Marine Training Base.  Gary was in heaven, we had to go through a security clearance to get in.  We sat in the car not game to move while they checked our passports and made sure that we were safe to let in.  I think there was some concern about Gary for a little while but they let us in anyway.  It was great visiting the museum and watching the new trainees.  Did you know that when they're new they can't tuck their pants into their boots? They have to earn the right and only get to fold them up until such a time as they receive their band to balloon their pants over the top of their boots. Hmmm very strict.
Continued on to Charleston where we have booked into a very nice hotel and will do our sightseeing tomorrow (and hopefully some washing).

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A bit of Bon Jovi and Michael W. Smith

Day 8:  Today we went to visit the Kennedy Space Centre (or should I write Center).  This of course was part of Gary's dream for the trip but I must admit I was very excited as we drove towards the NASA building - it's the one you see on a lot of movies and TV shows, it has the NASA symbol on the right and the American flag on the left.  The building itself is huge and although not as tall as the Empire State Building, if you broke the Empire State building into pieces it would only fill a third of the NASA building.  The Yankee Stadium would fit on the roof of the building and still allow for an acre sized car park!!  This huge NASA building is known as the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and until recently has been closed to the public.  We had the opportunity to go inside and even take photos, it was amazing.  We visited the launch pads of Apollo and the shuttles.  Visiting these areas and the Astronaut Hall of Fame was quite surreal, especially reading about those who have lost their lives.  I was amused that with all the advanced technology that is around they still make a lot of things quite simply - for example, to clear the gravel road way after the crawler moves a rocket or shuttle somewhere they drag fence wire by chains behind a truck to even out the gravel again.  It was quite interesting learning about the shuttles too.  Did you know they install a Coke machine on them so that they can drink some liquid coke, or that they have designed a special make-up kit for female astronauts to store their make-up in. Wow, the little trivial things we learn along the way.
The size of everything is absolutely amazing and mind blowing!! Roy, I waved to you across the water.
We had dinner at 'Cracker Barrel' - Tiahna's first visit and it was nice having real food again.
Decided to have a change in plans, as you do on a road trip.  Despite the plan to head up the East Coast we all voted to drive West and visit New Orleans - How exciting!!!
Day 9: Woke up early and left to head West at 7am.  We headed up to Jacksonville, passing through Daytona Beach (yep, we drove past the speedway to check it out) and St Augustine, the oldest town in the States.  The drive from Cape Canaveral to New Orleans is a tiring 10 hours so Gary and I took turns driving whilst Tiahna alternated between sleeping and watching movies in the back seat.  I listened to quite a bit of Bon Jovi (yes, I'm a fan) and then Gary switched to Michael W. Smith when it was his turn to drive.  We all sang a long and must have looked like quite a jovial car to those passing us by.  Finally got to leave Florida and experience Alabama and Mississippi before entering Louisiana where we were staying at the Garden District (just next door to the French Quarter) in New Orleans.  One of the first things we noticed as we crossed a very long bridge into New Orleans were the large buildings that still had windows destroyed and a lot of damage from Hurricane Katrina.  Most the the City has been repaired but in some places you can still see the results and imagine the horrific impact this hurricane must have had in this area.  We were very surprised at the size of New Orleans - as you drive in it just looks like another HUGE city, but we were interested in the French Quarter and the areas known for their Jazz. 
We arrived at our hotel which we knew was a quaint registered historic building that had been restored, but were not prepared for how small and cold our room is.  Tiahna is sleeping on a sofa bed that is in the room you enter through the door and Gary and I need to navigate our way up a tight spiral staircase to an area about 4m x 4m which has a queen bed, a bedside table and nothing else. There is a small bathroom next to Tiahna and that's the whole room.  Quaint, hmmmm?
After checking in we headed down to Bourbon St which we had been told would capture the heart of New Orleans. Oh My!!!! It was worse than Las Vegas.  We were all expecting lots of eating areas and music (in particular - Jazz). Well there was lots of eating areas, lots of music, lots of alcohol, lots of drunks and lots of very crude pictures - even Vegas wasn't that bad.  The place smelt of booze and I couldn't believe that we had exposed Tiahna to a place like this.  We were all sorely disappointed and couldn't believe that we had driven all this way for something like what we were experiencing.  Luckily a friend had suggest another particular street (Frenchman St where the locals go)so we drove there and at least got to experience a little bit of the heart of New Orleans there.  Picked up some yummy pizzas and headed back to the hotel for a well deserved rest.
Day 10: Well, thank goodness.  Day 10 has restored my impression of what New Orleans should be.  We caught the streetcar into the middle of the Garden District and visited the Lafayette Cemetery.  Just what you would imagine it to be like.  Did you know that in a lot of areas in Louisiana people have to be buried in vaults because if they are buried in the ground their bodies rise to the surface (freaky)?  After that we took the streetcar to the French Quarter and walked down Royal St which is filled with antiques and artwork.  We went past the St Louis Cathedral just as a bride was arriving, walked through Jackson Square where people sell artwork and perform and then went to the French Market place.  On our way back the bridal party were leaving the Cathedral marching down the street with a Jazz band.  The bride and bridesmaids all had parasols, the cathedral bells were chiming and all of the guests were waving white cloths in the air following the band walking along the streets.  Very much like you would imagine a traditional African American New Orleans wedding to be except that everyone was white (there, I said it, may not be racially correct but I'm not sure how else to explain it).
We then took the streetcar back to the hotel, jumped into the car and drove past the City Park (not sure why it received such a high rating on trip advisor - hope we were at the right place) and dropped Gary at the Louisiana Music Factory whilst Tiahna and I sought out a haunted house.
Then back to the hotel for an early night and blog updating.
Until tomorrow.....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Who knew my daughter and husband could out-shop me?

Well, Day 7 ended up being bigger than we could have imagined.  Started off with Gary heading out to do some errands and Tiahna and I went to take some photos and visit a souvenir shop nearby.  Camera ran out batteries so not many photos were taken and the shop ended up being dodgy so no purchases were made.  We then all met up and headed to the Florida Mall which wasn't that exciting either.  From there we headed back to the outlet stores.  Who knew my daughter and husband could out-shop me? Yes, I know that those of you who know Gary are sitting there in shock - the man who never wants to go to the shops becomes a shopaholic once we reach American soil. Tiahna and Gary both made a lot of purchases at Guess and Tiahna got a lovely new watch at Fossil.  From there we went to Downtown Disney - OMG - we spent several hours there and still didn't see it all!  As we walked along one vendor gave us a huge free bag of fairy floss - Disney is truly the land where dreams come true! We then decided to drive around the Disney Parks to try and see the Disney castle. We drove for ages and still didn't come across it - I swear the whole of Disney is the size of the Gold Coast, it's huge.  After that it was quite late and we were going to head back to the hotel but I knew Gary had wanted to see downtown Orlando so we kept driving and went through the City centre, it was very pretty and packed even though it was Tuesday night.  Made it back to the hotel at midnight very exhausted.
Day 8 - Late check-out, lunch at The Golden Corral which served a buffet of fantastic homestyle food.  Pot roast, meatloaf, veges etc. Very yum - I'm soooo sick of take-away! We then drove to Cape Canaveral, drove around for awhile and checked into a hotel for an early night. Can't wait until tomorrow.......

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The days keep rolling by....

Finally, a catch up day!  A chance to sleep-in a bit and do everything that needs doing before we head on to our next town. Now to catch you all up.  After our busy Key West day we had to make the decision about visiting the Bahamas.  We had all hoped that this would fit into our schedule but after a lot of research and question asking we discovered that all of the ferries to the Bahamas had ceased operation in September - aargh, so close and yet so far.  Our only option was to fly over which would cost approximately $1000 for the 3 of us.  We had also discovered that unless you were planning on going to the private resorts it was pretty much just another town.  We decided that it just wasn't worth the time and money so it was promptly crossed off our list.  We have learned along the way that some things sound more glamorous than they actually are so we're not obsessing over the things that we thought were important. So....
Day 4 - Tiahna and I both slept in - yay. We then checked out of The Best Western at Miami (despite still not receiving our sim card that had been ordered before we left Australia - more on that later) and headed up to Orlando - a three and a half hour drive.  Checked into a Choice hotel for $44 a night including breakfast - accommodation is so cheap here.  We then went shopping at some Premium Outlets (Thanks Ton for the VIP membership sign up, saving lots of money on already cheap prices!!!). Whilst I'm on the point of cheap prices - here is my current top USA tip: If you have RACQ membership bring the card with you.  RACQ is part of the AAA group here in the US, we've had cheap accommodation and discount at theme parks including all purchases in parks. So worth it!!
Day 5 - Gary and Tiahna had a sleep in.  We spent several hours trying to sort out our mobile phone issues - what a hassle.  Gary had done his homework and pre-purchased a sim card in the US before we left Australia.  It had to be sent to a US address so we had it sent to our friends who forwarded it to our Miami hotel so it would be there when we arrived - unfortunately it never showed up.  The problem here is that none of the prepaid sims for the major companies that allow data usage work on iPhones - how stupid!! Anyway that's why we haven't been able to give you a phone number for us.  I've emailed it through to several people now so hopefully everyone that needs it will have it.
After this we had lunch at the world's largest McDonalds.  Then more outlet shopping (a different centre this time) and Tiahna has bought her very first real Guess handbag and matching purse - one happy girl!
Day 6 - Woke up early and headed to 'Islands of Adventure' which is one of the Universal Parks.  So many choices to make - which parks, how many days??? Bottom line - there are 2 major choices - Disney or Universal.  Disney is made up of 4 individual parks and you have to pay for entry into each, Universal has 2 which is also separate entry.  We had always agreed that we'd go to 'Islands of Adventure' as Tiahna wanted to visit 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter'. None of us were interested in Universal (Gary and I visited it in LA), and we had all been to Disney in LA.  We decided to visit the one park and see how we felt about Disney after that.  Also (next tip) despite what people tell you, it is possible to upgrade your tickets once you are in the park so it's a great idea to buy a one day ticket and decide if you want to upgrade after that.
We had a fantastic day at 'Islands of Adventure', it is easy to visit in 1 day.  We spent half the day at Harry Potter and the other half visiting the rest of the park.  Tiahna went on the 'Forbidden Journey' ride 4 times (once was enough for Gary and I), 'The Dragon Challenge' 1 time and 'The Hulk' 1 time.  We had lunch at 'The Three Broomsticks' which was quite yummy - I even had 'Butter Beer' to drink which I really enjoyed.  A very enjoyable place to visit - Beck and Josh would love it!! Lots of great photos to show you all.  Decided a drive past Disney and a walk along 'Downtown Disney' would suffice so that was it with theme parks (we're really not that into them anyway).
And that brings us to.......
Day 7 - Catch up day.  We have little bits and pieces we need to do before moving on to Cape Canaveral tomorrow where we will visit the Kennedy Space Centre - stay tuned!!
Love you all

Friday, 2 December 2011

Three Days in....

Uh, oh, three days in and this is my first chance to blog - so don't check this space daily - I'm too busy road tripping to blog every day!!! Sooooo, to update you till now.....
Day 1 - all arrived safe and sound (including the luggage) at around 7pm Wednesday 30/11 - which despite only being 11 hours after leaving 8am Wednesday morning was in fact a tiring 26 hours of traveling. Took a shuttle straight to the hotel (after trying to find the shuttle for about 45 minutes - Miami International Airport is huge!) and then all crashed for the night. Great room - thank goodness!
Day 2 - up early for breakfast at the hotel (had a yummy omelette made especially for me by the chef) then back on the shuttle and back to the airport to pick up the rental car. We had paid for a full-size vehicle but had a coupon code for a free upgrade but apparently there where no premium cars available.  Gary pushed a little and asked the lady he had been buttering up to double check for him. Surprise, surprise, suddenly a red Chrysler C300 was available - yay, just what Gary prayed for. 
After collecting the car we drove to the everglades where we went on an airboat ride and got to see alligators - one named Lilly came right up to the boat and was opening her mouth wide for us - nice teeth.  A bit further down we found some baby alligators - they were only one year old and each was about 30cm long - there were nearly a dozen of them - we didn't see their mother (Finger Biter) but our tour guide informed us that if wanted to meet mum we just needed to pick up one of the babies.  We all declined the offer.  Saw a few other alligators along the way and we could have gone to a information show but after being to Australia Zoo we weren't that interested in the alligator talk - the tour guide couldn't understand it - CRIKEY!
Feeling completely exhausted (may have something to do with the fact that at home it was the early hours of morning) we all went back to bed to sleep for a few more hours.  Dragged ourselves up at 7pm and then headed down to Miami Beach to see the night lights and walk along a mall.  I have never seen so many restaurants crammed into one place.  After a short visit to the Apple store and a bit more walking we drove through Downtown Miami and then back to the hotel making a brief stop at iHop.  Informed the waiter we were iHop virgins and all enjoyed pancakes (Gary had new york cheesecake pancakes and Tiahna and I shared the chocolate chip). We also shared a gingerbread hot chocolate and caramel (carmel here) hot chocolate - the biggest drinks we've ever had - would fit 4 Max Brennars in this cup.
Day 3 (Phew, finally catching up to real time). Woke at 6am (Gary's a hard task master on road trips), yummy breakfast (again) and then off for a drive along the Florida Keys.  Tiahna and I started off quite enthusiastically singing 'Beach Boys' Kokomo (must learn the words properly one day), but by the time we reached the real 'Key Largo' were feeling a little flattened that you drove out of the place just as quickly as you drove into it:( Kept traveling down 'Highway 1' along the various 'Keys' (I wish the song said them all in order that would have been more fun!) and eventually (after 3 hrs 30mins) found ourselves at Key West - Wow! well worth the drive.  What an amazing place. We had a tour of 'Truman's Little White House' where 7 Presidents have stayed.  We got to go into the rooms that they used and I made sure I was the last to leave one of the rooms so that I could close the door using the same door knob that 7 Presidents have touched (I know - very corny - but I love that stuff).
We then walked around some of the streets of Key West and eventually visited the 'Most Southern Point of the USA' which is 90 miles (notice the American talk) from Cuba. As we headed back towards Miami we quickly stopped for me to dip my toes in the Gulf of Mexico (I could hear Roy in my head telling me I should do it, I knew he'd be disappointed in me if I didn't).
After finally getting back to Miami we had dinner at a Mexican place called Chipotle recommended to us by a friend in Australia who has lived in the states for several years.  We're so glad he told us about it - the food was great and vibe in the place was awesome.
Well that's it for a perfect day, until next time...
Point to ponder: Why do we drive on the opposite side of the road and have the steering wheels on the other side??? Is there a genuine reason for it?
Love u all

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Time to leave

Oh wow! I can't believe it's the night before we leave.  Do I have time to sit here typing??? Of course not, but since I started this blog and then promptly forgot I started it (that's not like me now is it?) I figured a very quick update was in order.
So, the rest of the plans went well - or maybe just okay.  A few hiccups with car insurance - why will a company insure Australians one week and then not the next????? Just took some sweet talking and nice emails and that problem was fixed.
Had to take the dog to the vet to get some sedation tablets - for those of you who know Tinkerbell 5 minutes in a car with her is unpleasant let alone 4 Hours!!! Unfortunately for Gary's parents, sedation does nothing for Tinkerbell and she still whined the whole trip. Oh dear :(
Have spent the last week planning daily what needs to be done, but tonight it's all falling in to place.
The mail is stopped, the lawn will continued to be mowed and my friend Veronika will water my plants. Should all work well.
Soooo, tomorrow we catch the 8.25am train to the domestic airport and then a 11.25am plane to Sydney.  From there to Dallas and then Miami, where currently it is 30 degrees.  Hot, hot, hot and here I was thinking I only had to pack winter clothes.
Talking of packing - I don't like the fact that Qantas has cut their baggage allowance from 2 lots of 32kg each to 2 lots of 23kg each!!! How will I bring home all of my shopping???
Well, time to finish packing and get to bed for a nice final nights sleep in my big comfy bed. Have just given all of our garbage to a friend to throw in his wheelie bin - he wasn't really impressed with his Christmas present but I couldn't really leave it in our bin for 6 weeks could I????
Love you all and can't wait until tomorrow!!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

US Countdown

Well - only 63 days until we leave on the trip of a lifetime! But who's counting?  Thought I'd better figure out how to set up a blog so that friends and family can read about our trip as we travel.  Sorry, all you Facebook fans, you'll have to get used to checking my blog for regular updates - tried facebook but definitely doesn't work for our family.  Since booking our tickets so long ago (best to get in early for the best airfare prices) it now seems like our trip planning is going on forever.  As most of you would know, we are the type of people who like to have a road trip where we drive where we want, when we want.
Checklist thus far:
Airfares purchased - Tick
Rental Car booked - Tick
Car Insurance organised - Tick (well kind of just waiting for the GBP to work in my favour again)
Money converted - Half Tick (is there such a thing?)  Half changed, half to go - once again waiting for exchange rates to work in my favour.
Accommodation booked - Nada - where's the fun in that, we only know where we're going to stay when we get there. Ok, Ok, don't freak out. We've booked the important places - arrival hotel, Washington DC for Christmas week and New York for New Year's Eve. We're not totally stupid!
So, I could keep blogging with other arrangements, plans and anticipation but then what would I blog about next time?
Keep watching.