A Travellerspoint blog

Homeward bound

sunny 19 °C

Houston Airport reflects it's city! I will say no more. As much as I love flying Singapore Airlines, I think my next visit to USA will depart from a different city via a different airline. I do have to admit that we are here rather early as we had to check out of the hotel. Singapore Airlines hadn't even set up its check-in area yet and we seem to be the only Singapore flight departing from here today. At least there is a Starbucks!

Our big adventure is at an end and we have survived with no major mishaps. Traveling nowadays is so much easier and safer with constant internet and phone access (Yay again for Vodafone). It is also easier in an English speaking country (although they did have trouble understanding us at times!). I have found Americans to be generally very friendly and helpful, particularly north of Houston. However I haven't found them as 'genuine' as the Europeans. Maybe they are less used to tourists, or maybe they just don't feel the need to sell themselves.

I love a lot of things about America. I actually really love seeing the patriotism. Yes, they are somewhat over the top, but they adore their country and display it proudly. The US flag is everywhere and the National Anthem is heard often. I think Australians could learn a lot from the way Americans appreciate and acknowledge their freedom and their way of life (despite the many problems they still have). I also love the diversity of this country. Having now been here 3 times, I have experienced many different landscapes and cultures. I love the excitement of New York City and Las Vegas, but also the amazing beauty of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park. And there is so much more to see............

America certainly has some weird food ideas. They love condiments! Everything is flavoured or added to. Ordering can be very complicated. Do you want ketchup, mayo, mustard, ranch, caramel, cream with that? Pickle is standard on or with everything. Fries, or a packet of chips, is also a normal accompaniment to almost all meals. It is impossible to get a skinny coffee and they have no idea what a 'flat white' is! I have noticed the meal sizes are smaller than we had previously experienced, but still many times Kate and I could have ordered a meal to share.

Tipping is crazy! The whole concept is flawed. Service providers are underpaid by their employers and have to supplement their wage with tips. It is a self-perpetuating evil. As long as we continue to tip, businesses will continue to underpay their staff - but if we don't tip, the workers can't make a living. So, although tipping is theoretically 'optional', it actually is necessary and expected. Restaurants now print out a recommended tip (15%, 18% or 20%) on the bill to make it easier but sometimes include the tip in the total (a trick for tourists to watch out for!). To complicate things (which irritates me the most), the tip is not necessarily given directly to the service provider but may be pooled among all the workers. So, we are now not tipping according to individual service. Providing a big tip doesn't often actually reward the provider of good service, and vice versa. And don't get me started on having to tip taxi drivers, hotel room cleaners and even baristas.......
However, having said all that, the service we received in EVERY single restaurant we visited in USA was exceptional and put Australia to shame. We had better service in the smallest diner in Spokane than many of the expensive restaurants anywhere in our country. So, maybe I shouldn't whinge too much!

I will end on a positive! We have had a great holiday and are returning home healthy and safe. I know Kate has had an awesome experience and will remember this trip forever. It certainly lived up to her expectations (surpassed them in several aspects) and I know it has inspired her to travel again (without me next time!). I think we actually made good traveling companions. Although she has a few quirks (I don't have any), we never had a major argument or fight. She was happy to wander and explore with me, but also spend time on her own. I also enjoyed this opportunity to spend more time with my daughter and learned a lot about her passion for this strange grunge music (which I still don't like!).

Thank you all for reading this blog. It really started just as a journal for my own benefit because I'm getting old and forgetful but I'm happy that others enjoyed reading about our adventure. Until next time..........................

My last Rocky Road Toffee Apple

My last Rocky Road Toffee Apple

Posted by gunny64 13:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

NASA

sunny 21 °C

The last full day of our American adventure! We woke up to a very smoggy Houston but I was determined to make the most of the day and get to the Space Centre. As previously mentioned, NASA is on completely the opposite side of Houston to our hotel - probably equivalent to the distance from Mandurah to somewhere past Joondalup. Google suggested the return taxi trip would cost over $350! The only option apart from hiring a car (not an alternative after having seen the spaghetti freeways) was to catch a bus. Feeling confident from yesterday's success, we embarked on our last adventure. I have to admit the bus system was exceptional and ran on time to the minute! The return trip for both of us cost $13 (although it took over 2 hours each way) and we didn't get stabbed or shot. I'm feeling very pleased with myself.......

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The Lyndon B Johnson Space Centre is a huge area run by NASA where they train astronauts. It is also still the site of Mission Control for space travel and management of the International Space Station. We started off with a 90 minute tour through the Space Centre. It was fascinating. First stop was the actual Mission Control where the Apollo missions were coordinated. It is hard to believe that the computer they used was the size of a room and had far less capability than my Samsung phone.

Mission Control Centre

Mission Control Centre

Old Mission Control (1)

Old Mission Control (1)

We then went on to the training facility. There was even an Orion model on display. The Orion is the new spacecraft designed to carry people into space beyond the moon, including Mars.

Training facility

Training facility

Orion

Orion

Rover

Rover

Next stop was a life sized test module of the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo missions. It is enormous and housed in a massive warehouse.

Saturn V

Saturn V

We then went back to the Visitors Centre and watched a few propaganda type movies. There were also some great displays including real moon rocks and we were able to go inside the cockpit of a space shuttle.

Space shuttle

Space shuttle

Shuttle cockpit

Shuttle cockpit

Moon rocks

Moon rocks

Touching a piece of the moon!

Touching a piece of the moon!

Original rover

Original rover

Model astronauts

Model astronauts

Overall a great day. Of course, my entry wouldn't be complete without some discussion about food! Kate directed us to a restaurant at the 'House of Blues' in Downtown Houston. The meal was average but the (white) Sangria and Key Lime Pie were awesome........

Sangria

Sangria

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

Tomorrow we leave for home :( and :) There are quite a few hours of waiting at the airport so I will then compose my final blog entry for this trip.

Posted by gunny64 19:08 Archived in USA Tagged houston Comments (0)

Houston, YOU have the problem!

sunny 24 °C

Sorry about the title - I'm running out of clever ideas! We have only been in Houston for 24 hours so I shouldn't pass judgement yet......but, seriously, this place is crap! We are here because it is where our plane home leaves from. I decided to leave plenty of time in case we got snowed in at Spokane (haha) so now we have 3 days to spend in this rather unpleasant city.

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Anyway, before I start whinging too much about Houston, I'll go back to the Sleater-Kinney concert. Kate had a wonderful time! She'd bought a ticket but wanted to line up early to get a good spot so joined a few other hard-core fans 3 hours early. She made some great friends in that time including a guy who has seen Pearl Jam 128 times!! Although they didn't play her favourite song, she still enjoyed the show. She and her new friends stayed around afterwards and were rewarded by meeting the band. Kate managed to score an autograph on the set list. Very excited!!

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Back to Houston......I had some trouble deciding on a hotel as it was a bit confusing about the layout of the city. Well, now I know why! This is the 4th biggest city in USA and it is extremely spread out and disjointed. There are great distances between places of interest and the traffic is chaotic. I ended up picking a hotel near the airport which seems to have been a reasonable decision. I have to admit some of the problem is my own doing. I decided it was time for Kate to experience what it could be like without Daddy and his wallet! So, instead of paying a small fortune for taxis, we are slumming it on the local bus system. Haha this has been interesting! We were the only white faces on the trip downtown this morning.

Anyway we made it downtown but there was nothing to see! It is very different to any other city I have been. The downtown area is mostly just offices with almost no shopping areas or tourist attractions. We would have seriously found nothing at all except we happened to come across a sort of tourist officer who pointed us to some hidden 'places of interest'. The best advice was to go to the 60th floor of the tallest office block for a free view of the city.

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I was absolutely determined to have ribs in Texas. We consulted the almighty Google and picked several options. The first had shut down! However, we struck gold with the second. Papas Bar-B-Q has been in Houston since 1967. Although in a somewhat seedy area, the ribs were spectacular and it was worth the effort (and risk).

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Giving up on Downtown, we decided to try the 'Galleria'. This is a separate built up area of Houston 1/2 hour out from Downtown. We found the appropriate bus and ventured into the wilderness. The Galleria is a very upmarket area centred around an enormous mall containing an ice rink. The vibe was certainly different and there were other tourists (only there for the shopping). But, a mall is a mall and really no different to Garden City!

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Back on the bus and a very long trip during peak hour to our hotel. I deserve a wine and Cinnabon!!

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So, tomorrow is our last full day in USA. Sadly it has to be in Houston. The only place I want to see is the NASA Space Centre. Although it is right at the other end of the city, I think it might be worth the effort. Wish us luck!!

Posted by gunny64 19:16 Archived in USA Tagged houston Comments (0)

Sleater-Kinney

sunny 12 °C

Today is the big day - the Sleater-Kinney concert! The band tour bus has arrived and is parked outside the venue across the road from our hotel but no glimpses yet of the girls. For those of you uninitiated into the world of grunge, Sleater-Kinney is a 'riot grrrl' group which is a feminist punk movement from the 1990s. They were pretty big in their day but disbanded about 8 years ago. They have just released a new album and this is the first concert of their reunion tour. One of the members, Carrie, is the main actress in an American TV series called Portlandia.

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We started off the day hunting down a diner. Kate wanted to have breakfast at one of those places where the guys from Supernatural go! We found 'Frank's Diner' 10 minutes walk away.

Frank's Diner

Frank's Diner

I have to admit it was pretty cool. The diner is a train carriage with little booths or you can eat at the counter. I decided to try fried green tomatoes and eggs. Yummy!

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes

Kate decided to fill up her tank of 'fun facts' and went to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. This is a Smithsonian museum just out of Spokane specializing in American Indian history.

MAC Spokane

MAC Spokane

I'm not really into American history so went off exploring. Oh, it's so nice to be back in Washington where I can get a good coffee (or maybe it just seems better when mixed with marijuana fumes!!). The weather today was amazing. The sky was blue and it was an unbelievable 12C. In fact, I was chatting to the waitress at a cafe who told me she had NEVER seen a February day like this. Normally there is at least a foot of snow!! I just wandered around enjoying the sunshine. Not much happens in Spokane on a Sunday.......

Posted by gunny64 19:10 Archived in USA Tagged spokane Comments (0)

Spokane

overcast 10 °C

Well here we are in Spokane (pronounced Spokan). It is the 2nd largest city in Washington and it's claim to fame seems to be that the World Expo was held here in 1974. This is not a place I would have chosen to visit and doubt I will ever return, however it is quite pretty considering. There is a roaring river running through the centre of town and beautiful sculptures scattered around.

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This time of the year is usually exceptionally cold in Spokane and everything is covered in snow. On this day 12 months ago, it was -15C! Obviously I was reticent about coming here and made sure to bring plenty of winter woolies. However, they are having a 'heat wave'! It is the warmest February since 1950 and today it is a massive +10C (although it feels somewhat less because of the the wind chill factor)! I actually feel a bit cheated.......this is all the snow I could find. Can't make a snowman out of that :(

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Kate was determined to visit a park. It was cold and raining but she lured me with the promise of a warm cafe to sit in while she went exploring. I reluctantly agreed and we caught the bus to the suburbs. Clearly this park would be amazing in any other season, however it is desolate and rather uninteresting in winter. AND the cafe was closed! We wandered around trying to imagine the scenery......

Manito Park

Manito Park

Another 'garden'

Another 'garden'

Rose garden

Rose garden

Roses tucked up for winter

Roses tucked up for winter

We did see a little wildlife.....

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There was, however, a redeeming feature. We found a greenhouse! Firstly, it was deliciously warm! But I have to admit it was also pretty spectacular - filled with flowering daffodils, orchids, pineapples and an awesome cactus garden.

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Our hotel is interesting! It is one of those old fashioned L-shaped motels that has been given a really cool facelift. There are huge modern portraits and murals scattered on all the walls (inside and out) and everything is clean and modern. The rooms are tiny but functional. We are located right in the centre of Spokane and directly opposite the venue for Kate's eagerly anticipated concert tomorrow night.

Ruby Hotel

Ruby Hotel

Posted by gunny64 17:23 Archived in USA Tagged spokane Comments (0)

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