Sunday, 6 July 2008

Victoria, Seattle (again), Denver, Wyoming, DC and NYC

I write this as I'm sat in the departures lounge at JFK. Yes that's right - my travels are finally at an end and I'm going home. I've wangled quite a good flight, leaving at 10:30pm and landing back at Heathrow at 10:20am. Thus with only 5 hours time difference and working on the basis that I get some sleep on the plane, I should have minimum jet-lag. Or that's the plan anyway. No doubt I won't sleep a wink and will be thoroughly grouchy on getting home. Still, I'll have the comfort of my own bed with no worry of having to be up before a 10am checkout - bliss :)

The last few weeks have been great. When I last wrote I was in a tiny town called Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It was quite a sweet place but dead to the world and I was quite pleased to get on to Victoria, which as well as being the main city on the island, is also the capital of British Columbia (Canada's Western-most province). Victoria was beautiful - I had good weather, the town is inescapably British in it's vibe, and the hostel was nowhere near as bad as I'd anticipated. It was without doubt dated, with I think 2 electric sockets between 16 beds and a distinctly 'institutional' feel, however I quite liked it. It was in a great location and perfect for venturing out for strolls along the harbour complete with ice cream (which as far as I could see THE thing to be done there). 

I did a tour of the Parliament, which was housed in a very beautiful building and was actually quite interesting. The very informative 40 minutes was ruined only slightly by the period-clad historical characters popping up along the way, though they did get full marks for effort. I also went to the cinema whilst I was there to see the Indiana Jones movie. I have to say even though it was a shocking story-line and ok, maybe Harrison Ford wouldn't survive a nuclear blast, I did quite enjoy it. And that was pretty much my Victoria visit!

I then got the 'Victoria Clipper' (a ferry) to Seattle as I'd been told that once you add up the fare back to Vancouver and the time it takes you to get past the land borders, you're better off going by boat direct, even though it's more expensive. It was so straightforward, and I was at my new hostel within hours of leaving my old one, so it was all in all a pleasant experience. And I didn't get sick, something that when boarding a boat has worried me ever since Kaikoura in New Zealand...!

Back in Seattle I yet again wangled quite a good bed (bottom bunks rule) and eventually found a socket that my straighteners would work in (it had been a frizzy few days...). I'd given myself 2 nights there so as to do all the things I'd wanted to do on my last trip, on the day in-between arriving and leaving, and so the next day I headed over to the Seattle Center to do the 'Experience Music Project'. I wasn't disappointed - it really is a fantastic museum. One of those interactive ones where you don't feel like you're just reading things the whole time. Whilst there I almost learnt how to play bar chords on the guitar (a long-standing ambition of mine which would have been realised had there not been an impatient German banging on the door of the booth), and after watching series of films on his life, now profess to be quite an expert on Jimi Hendrix. Or at least I now have a better idea of who he is and no longer think he's overrated (don't all shout at me at once). I also got a few pictures of the Space Needle up close and then had a nice dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in town. I'm now quite good at going to a restaurant on my own and chilling out with a book, my meal and a glass of wine. Not sure how much the waitress loved me sitting there taking my time though but oh well!

I then flew on to Denver on the Thursday, and after a misunderstanding with meeting my cousin at baggage claim I eventually met up with Tom as planned. There was however an hour of both of us sitting at either end of the baggage belt, as the flight status had come up as 'in range' which Tom thought (as would any normal civilian) meant that I hadn't landed yet. Anyways, all was fine in the end. We then met up with Donna and Jessie (his wife and daughter respectively) and had a lovely Chinese meal in town. I'd forgotten how easy to get along with (and cool!) my American family are and so I relaxed quite nicely and enjoyed myself. It's always a bit awkward when you're meeting up with family you've only met once after a long time, but it was fine and to be honest I was spoilt rotten for the weekend.

Tom and Donna had planned for us to drive up as a family to his parents ranch in Wyoming where their son Willie had been staying for a week anyway. We drove up in a real-live truck (this was very exciting for me) with motorbikes and kayaks strapped to the back (they're one of those 'active' families), and his parents, Bill & Mary, were seemingly pleased to meet me. We went on a hike as soon as we got there, which probably wasn't the best idea as I firstly didn't have the right footwear for such scrambling, and secondly, had been struck down that morning with what felt like the beginnings of flu. Still, I almost made it to the top of the hill and felt nonetheless quite proud of the achievement. The next day I straight up passed on the kayaking, feeling pretty awful after having pretty much no sleep on account of feeling rough. I was worried my hardcore American experience was going to be completely ruined by my illness, however on our final day there, I perked up enough to go on the back of my cousin's motorbike for a ride around the ranch. We got up to speeds of 60mph I'll have you know and even though I'm not a fan (I'm a wimp) I can see the attraction of the things.

Tom, Donna, Bill & Mary are all crazy about motorbikes and their garage is full of them. It should be mentioned that though Tom is my generation in the family, he is in fact a grown up and his parents are more 'elderly' grown ups. Thus, seeing a 70yr old couple having a ball riding around on their Kawasakis really makes you feel pathetic if you don't join in. So I did. But yes, that was my main 'adventurous outing' for the weekend.

We then drove back to Denver on the Sunday evening and Tom drove me to the airport Monday morning for my flight to DC. After a brief panic that my flight might no longer exist as Tom informed me that Frontier Airlines (my carrier) had been declared bankrupt the week before, I got on the flight fine and nothing was delayed.

I landed in DC to terrific heat - the East Coast in the summer really is quite unbearable. Such humidity! Still, my hostel had air-conditioning and so I can't complain too much. The next few days I hit all the major sites and monuments: the White House (tiny), the Lincoln memorial (surprisingly beautiful), all the war memorials, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and in general soaked up the 'important' feel to Washington life. It's quite an expensive city but very well-kept. There's loads of green areas and it's totally accessible on foot which makes quite a difference for taking it all in. Still, there's a lot I didn't do (i.e. any one of the millions of free and reputedly fantastic museums) and I think it's yet another place I'll have to go back.

Then after 2 days, I got the bus to New York. I should mention that I more specifically caught a MegaBus to New York and have to say that it was one of the nicest and cheapest bus experiences I've had my whole time travelling. MegaBus now operates in quite a few states over here and it cost me all of $5 for the 4 hour journey. The driver was lovely, the bus was brand new and clean, and they even put a movie on for us. Not bad for £2.50!! Anyway, it was an early bus and I made it to the city by lunchtime, and after checking in at my hostel, made it to not quite the back of the reduced broadway show tickets line (TKTS). They didn't have either the shows I wanted to see (Legally Blonde or In the Heights) and so I ended up just going straight to the box office for a ticket to the latter. I didn't get a reduced price by any means but I had a fantastic seat (something a lot easier to get when you're only looking for one ticket) and the show was pretty good. I didn't think it was as amazing as some of the reviews I'd read, but maybe that's because I didn't get a lot of the Hispanic-New Yorker in-jokes that pervaded much of the performance. Still, the actors were great and it's a pretty good soundtrack so I may get it when I get home.

I''m lucky enough that this was in fact my second visit to New York, and thanks to my parents insisting on the full cultural experience last time I was here, there was actually little that I wanted to see this time around. I saw Grand Central Station and the Public Library (both beautiful architecture) and being my last stop on my travels, I did quite a bit of shopping (Abercrombie was my downfall). I had wanted to do Ellis Island and see Ground Zero but with shocking weather today and 'inappropriate footwear' due to my being packed up ready to leave with my backpack in a locker already, and not fancying the boat journey in the rain, I didn't get those two done today as planned. Still, NYC still rates as one of the best cities in the world in my book (joint place with Paris and London for sure) and I loved my brief 48 hours here. It was Independence Day yesterday too, and so I felt it was a fitting end to my journey to celebrate my last night, stood on the pier at the southern-most tip of Manhattan, watching the fantastic fireworks in honour of the holiday (albeit in the rain)!

Today has been a bit odd as I'm obviously really looking forward to going home and seeing everyone, but I have had an awesome time these last 5 months and so the prospect of normality is a bit depressing. But still, my travels aren't over yet. I may have an action-packed final flight home (though I am hoping for a smooth journey)!

Still, will leave my final blog for when I get home (it feels presumptious to write it here - like I might not get home) and so will do thank-yous then. Fear not though, the final entry is in sight!

More tomorrow probably (for the last time...sniff)!

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